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Title: The Cords of Vanity: A Comedy of Shirking
Author: Cabell, James Branch, 1879-1958
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Cords of Vanity: A Comedy of Shirking" ***

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THE CORDS OF VANITY

A Comedy of Shirking

Revised and Expanded Edition

by JAMES BRANCH CABELL

with INTRODUCTION by WILSON FOLLETT



To

GABRIELLE BROOKE MONCURE

_Plus sapit vulgus, quia tantum, quantum opus est, sapit._



AN INTRODUCTION

by Wilson Follett


Mr. Cabell, in making ready this second or intended edition of THE
CORDS OF VANITY, performs an act of reclamation which is at the same
time an act of fresh creation.

For the purely reclamatory aspect of what he has done, his reward (so
far as that can consist in anything save the doing) must come from
insignificantly few directions; so few indeed that he, with a wrily
humorous exaggeration, affects to believe them singular. The author of
this novel has been pleased to describe the author of this
introduction as "the only known purchaser of the book" and, further,
as "the other person to own a CORDS OF VANITY". I could readily enough
acquit myself, with good sound legal proofs, of any such singularity
as stands charged in this soft impeachment--and that without appeal to
_The Cleveland Plain Dealer_ of eleven years ago ("slushy and
disgusting"), or to _The New York Post_ ("sterile and malodorous ...
worse than immoral--dull"), or to _Ainslee's Magazine_ ("inconsequent
and rambling ... rather nauseating at times"). These devotees of the
adjective that hunts in pairs are hardly to be discussed, I suppose,
in connection with any rewards except such as accrue to the possessors
of a certain obtuseness, who always and infallibly reap at least the
reward of not being hurt by what they do not know--or, for that
matter, by what they do know. He who writes such a book as THE CORDS
OF VANITY is committing himself to the supremely irrational faith that
this dullness is somehow not the ultimate arbiter; and for him the
pronouncements of this dullness simply do not figure among either his
rewards or his penalties. So, it is not exactly to these tributes of
the press that one reverts in noting that THE CORDS OF VANITY, on its
publication eleven years ago, promptly became a book which there
were--almost--none to praise and very few to love. After all, its
author's computation of that former audience of his--his actual
individual voluntary readers of a decade ago--appears to be but
slightly and pardonably exaggerated on the more modest side of the
fact. If there were a Cabell Club of membership determined solely by
the number of those who, already possessing THE CORDS OF VANITY in its
first edition, recognize it as the work of a serious artist of high
achievement and higher capacity, I suspect that the smallness of that
club would be in inordinate disproportion to everything but its
selectness and its members' pride in "belonging".

Be that as it may, the economist-author, on the eve of his book's
emergence from the limbo of "out of print", prefers that it come into
its redemption carrying a foreword by someone who knew it without
dislike in its former incarnation. No contingent liability, it seems,
can dissuade Mr. Cabell from this preference. An author who once
elected to precede a group of his best tales with an introduction
eloquently setting forth reasons why the collection ought not to be
published at all, is hardly to be deterred now by the mere
inexpediency of hitching his star to a farm-wagon. His own graciously
unreasonable insistence must be the excuse, such as it is, for the
present introduction, such as it is. If there may be said to exist a
sort of charter membership in Mr. Cabell's audience, this document is
to be construed as representing its very enthusiastic welcome to the
later and vastly larger elective membership.

And if, weighed as such a welcome, it proves hopelessly inadequate, at
least it provides a number of possible compensations by the way. For
instance, that _New York World_ critic who damned the book but praised
its frontispiece of 1909, has now a uniquely pat opportunity to
balance his ledger by praising the book and damning this foreword,
which, more or less, replaces the frontispiece. Similarly, the more
renowned critic and anthologist who so well knows the "originals" of
the verses in _From the Hidden Way_, can now render poetically perfect
justice to all who will care by perceiving that both the earlier
edition of this book and the author of this foreword are but figments
of Mr. Cabell's slightly puckish invention.

But these pages must not be, like those which follow, a comedy of
shirking. They will have flouted a plain duty unless they speak of the
sense and the degree in which this novel, during the process of
reclaiming it, has been actually recreated. Perhaps the matter can be
packed most succinctly into the statement that Mr. Cabell's hero has
been subjected to such a process of growth as has made him
commensurate in stature with the other two modern writers of Mr.
Cabell's invention. As _The Cream of the Jest_ is essentially the book
of Felix Kennaston and _Beyond Life_ that of John Charteris, so THE
CORDS OF VANITY is essentially the book of Robert Etheridge Townsend.
Now, this Townsend has accomplished a deal of growing since 1909. By
this I do not mean that he is taken at a later period of his own
imagined life, or that he fails to act consonantly with the extreme
youth imputed to him: I mean that he is the creation of a more mature
mind, a deeper philosophy, a more probing insight into the
implications of things. A given youth of twenty-five will be very
differently interpreted by an observer of thirty and by the same
observer at forty, very much as a given era of the past will be
understood differently by a single historian before and after certain
cycles of his own social and political experience. The past never
remains to us the same past; it grows up along with us; the physical
facts may remain admittedly the same, but our understanding accents
them differently, finds more in them at some points and less at
others. So Robert Etheridge Townsend remains an example of that
special temperament which, being unable to endure the contact of
unhappiness, consistently shirks every responsibility that entails or
threatens discomfort; and the truth about him, taking him as an
example of just that temperament, is still inexorably told. But his
weakness as a man becomes much more tolerable in this second version,
because it is much more intimately and poignantly correlated with his
strength as an artist. One is made to feel that he, like Charteris,
may the better consummate in his art the auctorial virtues of
distinction and clarity, beauty and symmetry, tenderness and truth and
urbanity, precisely because his personal life is bereft of those
virtues. Less than before, the accent is on the wastrel in Townsend;
more than before, it is on the potential creator of beauty in him. The
earlier readers will hardly count it as a fault that Mr. Cabell has
contrived to make his novel, without detriment to any truth
whatsoever, a far less unpleasant book. Sardonic it still is, by a
necessary implication, but not wantonly, and with a mellowness. The
irony, which at its harshest was capable of rasping the nerves, has
become capable of wringing the heart.

Other reasons there are, too, for holding that THE CORDS OF VANITY is
certain to make its second appeal to a many times multiplied audience.
Since divers momentous transactions of the years just gone, the whole
world stands in a moral position extraordinarily well adapted to the
comprehension of just such a comedy of shirking; and especially the
world of thought has received a powerful impulsion toward the area
long occupied by Mr. Cabell's romantic pessimism. There is perhaps
somewhat more demand for satire, or at least a growing toleration of
it. Moreover, by sheer patience and reiteration Mr. Cabell has
procured no little currency for some of his most characteristic ideas.
Chivalry and gallantry, as he analyzes them, are concepts which play
their part in the inevitable present re-editing of social and literary
history. _The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck_, _The Cream of the Jest_,
and _The Certain Hour_ have somewhat to say to the discriminating,
even on other than purely aesthetic grounds; _Beyond Life_ is on the
threshold of its day as the _Sartor Resartus_ of one side, the
aesthetic side, of modernism;

"_Of_ Jurgen _eke they maken mencion";_

and THE CORDS OF VANITY is but the first of the earlier books to be
reissued in the format of the uniform and accessible Intended Edition.

While THE CORDS OF VANITY was out of print, a fresh copy is known to
have been acquired for twenty-five cents. Copies of a more recent work
by the same hand--a tale which has been rendered equally unavailable
to the public, though by slightly different considerations--have
fetched as much as one hundred times that sum. This arithmetic may be,
in part, the gauge of an unsought and distasteful notoriety; but that
very notoriety, by the most natural of transitions, will lead the
curious on from what cannot be obtained to what can, and some who have
begun by seeking one particular work of a great artist will end by
discovering the artist. In short, it is rational to expect that the
fortunes hereafter of this rewritten novel will very excellently
illustrate the uses of adversity.

Not, I repeat, that any great part of the reward for such writing can
come from without. According to Robert Etheridge Townsend, "a man
writes admirable prose not at all for the sake of having it read, but
for the more sensible reason that he enjoys playing solitaire"--a not
un-Cabellian saying. And, even of the reward from without, it may be
questioned whether the really indispensable part ever comes from the
multitude. A lady with whose more candid opinions the writer of this
is more frequently favored nowadays than of old has said: "Every time
I hear of somebody who has wanted one of these books without being
able to get it, or who, having got it, has conceded it nothing better
than the disdain of an ignoramus, I feel as if I must forthwith get
out the copy and read it through again and again, until I have read it
once for every person who has rejected it or been denied it." One may
feel reasonably sure that it is this kind of solicitude, rather than
any possible sanction from the crowd, which would be thought of by the
author of this book as "the exact high prize through desire of which
we write".

WILSON FOLLETT.

CHESHIRE, CONNECTICUT

_May, 1920_



        CONTENTS:

        THE PROLOGUE

     I  HE SITS OUT A DANCE

    II  HE LOVES EXTENSIVELY

   III  HE EARNS A STICK-PIN

    IV  HE TALKS WITH CHARTERIS

     V  HE REVISITS FAIRHAVEN AND THE PLAY

    VI  HE CHATS OVER A HEDGE

   VII  HE GOES MAD IN A GARDEN

  VIII  HE DUELS WITH A STUPID WOMAN

    IX  HE PUTS HIS TONGUE IN HIS CHEEK

     X  HE SAMPLES NEW EMOTIONS

    XI  HE POSTURES AMONG CHIMNEY-POTS

   XII  HE FACES HIMSELF AND REMEMBERS

  XIII  HE BAITS UPON THE JOURNEY

   XIV  HE PARTICIPATES IN A BRAVE JEST

    XV  HE DECIDES TO AMUSE HIMSELF

   XVI  HE SEEKS FOR COPY

  XVII  HE PROVIDES COPY

 XVIII  HE SPENDS AN AFTERNOON IN ARDEN

   XIX  HE PLAYS THE IMPROVIDENT FOOL

    XX  HE DINES OUT, IMPEDED BY SUPERSTITIONS

   XXI  HE IS URGED TO DESERT HIS GALLEY

  XXII  HE CLEANS THE SLATE

 XXIII  HE REVILES DESTINY AND CLIMBS A WALL

  XXIV  HE RECONCILES SENTIMENT AND REASON

   XXV  HE ADVANCES IN THE ATTACK ON SELWOODE

  XXVI  HE ASSISTS IN THE DIVERSION OF BIRDS

 XXVII  HE CALLS, COUNSELS, AND CONSIDERS

XXVIII  HE PARTICIPATES IN SUNDRY CONFIDENCES

  XXIX  HE ALLOWS THE MERITS OF IMPERFECTION

   XXX  HE GILDS THE WEATHER-VANE

        THE EPILOGUE: WHICH SUGGESTS THAT SECOND THOUGHTS--



THE PROLOGUE

_"In the house and garden of his dream he saw a child moving, and
could divide the main streams at least of the winds that had played on
him, and study so the first stage in that mental journey."_



_The Prologue: Which Deals with the Essentials_


_1--Writing_

It appeared to me that my circumstances clamored for betterment,
because never in my life have I been able to endure the contact of
unhappiness. And my mother was always crying now, over (though I did
not know it) the luckiest chance which had ever befallen her; and that
made me cry too, without understanding exactly why.

So the child, that then was I, procured a pencil and a bit of
wrapping-paper, and began to write laboriously:

"DEAR LORD

"You know that Papa died and please comfort Mama
and give Father a crown of Glory Ammen

"Your lamb and very sincerely yours

"ROBERT ETHERIDGE TOWNSEND."

This appeared to the point as I re-read it, and of course God would
understand that children were not expected to write quite as straight
across the paper as grown people. The one problem was how to deliver
this, my first letter, most expeditiously, because when your mother
cried you always cried too, and couldn't stop, not even when you
wanted to, not even when she promised you five cents, and it all made
you horribly uncomfortable.

I knew that the big Bible on the parlor table was God's book. Probably
God read it very often, since anybody would be proud of having written
a book as big as that and would want to look at it every day. So I
tiptoed into the darkened parlor. I use the word advisedly, for there
was not at this period any drawing-room in Lichfield, and besides, a
drawing-room is an entirely different matter.

Everywhere the room was cool, and, since the shades were down, the
outlines of the room's contents were uncomfortably dubious; for just
where the table stood had been, five days ago, a big and oddly-shaped
black box with beautiful silver handles; and Uncle George had lifted
me so that I could see through the pane of glass, which was a part of
this funny box, while an infinity of decorous people rustled and
whispered....

I remember knowing they were "company" and thinking they coughed and
sniffed because they were sorry that my father was dead. In the light
of knowledge latterly acquired, I attribute these actions to the then
prevalent weather, for even now I recall how stiflingly the room smelt
of flowers--particularly of magnolia blossoms--and of rubber and of
wet umbrellas. For my own part, I was not at all sorry, though of
course I pretended to be, since I had always known that as a rule my
father whipped me because he had just quarreled with my mother, and
that he then enjoyed whipping me.

I desired, in fine, that he should stay dead and possess his crown of
glory in Heaven, which was reassuringly remote, and that my mother
should stop crying. So I slipped my note into the Apocrypha....

I felt that somewhere in the room was God and that God was watching
me, but I was not afraid. Yet I entertained, in common with most
children, a nebulous distrust of this mysterious Person, a distrust of
which I was particularly conscious on winter nights when the gas had
been turned down to a blue fleck, and the shadow of the mantelpiece
flickered and plunged on the ceiling, and the clock ticked louder and
louder, in prediction (I suspected) of some terrible event very close
at hand.

Then you remembered such unpleasant matters as Elisha and his bears,
and those poor Egyptian children who had never even spoken to Moses,
and that uncomfortably abstemious lady, in the fat blue-covered
_Arabian Nights_, who ate nothing but rice, grain by grain--in the
daytime.... And you called Mammy, and said you were very thirsty and
wanted a glass of water, please.

To-day, though, while acutely conscious of that awful inspection, and
painstakingly careful not to look behind me, I was not, after all,
precisely afraid. If God were a bit like other people I knew He would
say, "What an odd child!" and I liked to have people say that. Still,
there was sunlight in the hall, and lots of sunlight, not just long
and dusty shreds of sunlight, and I felt more comfortable when I was
back in the hall.


2--_Reading_

I lay flat upon my stomach, having found that posture most conformable
to the practice of reading, and I considered the cover of this slim,
green book; the name of John Charteris, stamped thereon in fat-bellied
letters of gold, meant less to me than it was destined to signify
thereafter.

A deal of puzzling matter I found in this book, but in my memory,
always, one fantastic passage clung as a burr to sheep's wool. That
fable, too, meant less to me than it was destined to signify
thereafter, when the author of it was used to declare that he had,
unwittingly, written it about me. Then I read again this

_Fable of the Foolish Prince_

"As to all earlier happenings I choose in this place to be silent.
Anterior adventures he had known of the right princely sort. But
concerning his traffic with Schamir, the chief talisman, and how
through its aid he won to the Sun's Sister for a little while; and
concerning his dealings with the handsome Troll-wife (in which affair
the cat he bribed with butter and the elm-tree he had decked with
ribbons helped him); and with that beautiful and dire Thuringian woman
whose soul was a red mouse: we have in this place naught to do.
Besides, the Foolish Prince had put aside such commerce when the Fairy
came to guide him; so he, at least, could not in equity have grudged
the same privilege to his historian.

"Thus, the Fairy leading, the Foolish Prince went skipping along his
father's highway. But the road was bordered by so many wonders--as
here a bright pebble and there an anemone, say, and, just beyond, a
brook which babbled an entreaty to be tasted,--that many folk had
presently overtaken and had passed the loitering Foolish Prince. First
came a grandee, supine in his gilded coach, with half-shut eyes,
uneagerly meditant upon yesterday's statecraft or to-morrow's
gallantry; and now three yokels, with ruddy cheeks and much dust upon
their shoulders; now a haggard man in black, who constantly glanced
backward; and now a corporal with an empty sleeve, who whistled as he
went.

"A butterfly guided every man of them along the highway. 'For the Lord
of the Fields is a whimsical person,' said the Fairy,' and such is his
very old enactment concerning the passage even of his cowpath; but
princes each in his day and in his way may trample this domain as
prompt their will and skill.'

"'That now is excellent hearing,' said the Foolish Prince; and he
strutted.

"'Look you,' said the Fairy, 'a man does not often stumble and break
his shins in the highway, but rather in the byway.'....

"Thus, the Fairy leading, the Foolish Prince went skipping on his
allotted journey, though he paused once in a while to shake his bauble
at the staring sun.

"'The stars,' he considered, 'are more sympathetic....

"And thus, the Fairy leading, they came at last to a tall hedge
wherein were a hundred wickets, all being closed; and those who had
passed the Foolish Prince disputed before the hedge and measured the
hundred wickets with thirty-nine articles and with a variety of
instruments, and each man entered at his chosen wicket, and a
butterfly went before him; but no man returned into the open country.

"'Now beyond each wicket,' said the Fairy, 'lies a great crucible, and
by ninety and nine of these crucibles is a man consumed, or else
transmuted into this animal or that animal. For such is the law in
these parts and in human hearts.'

"The Prince demanded how if one found by chance the hundredth wicket?
But she shook her head and said that none of the Tylwydd Teg was
permitted to enter the Disenchanted Garden. Rumor had it that within
the Garden, beyond the crucibles, was a Tree, but whether the fruit of
this Tree were sweet or bitter no person in the Fields could tell, nor
did the Fairy pretend to know what happened in the Garden.

"'Then why, in heaven's name, need a man test any of these wickets?'
cried the Foolish Prince; 'with so much to lose and, it may be,
nothing to gain? For one, I shall enter none of them.'

"But once more she shook her glittering head. 'In your House and in
your Sign it was decreed. Time will be, my Prince; to-day the kid
gambols and the ox chews his cud. Presently the butcher cries, _Time
is!_ Comes the hour and the power, and the cook bestirs herself and
says, _Time was!_ The master has his dinner, either way, all say, and
every day.'

"And the Fairy vanished as she talked with him, her radiances thinning
into the neutral colors of smoke, and thence dwindling a little by a
little into the vaulting spiral of a windless and a burnt-out fire,
until nothing remained of her save her voice; and that was like the
moving of dead leaves before they fall.

"'Truly,' said the Foolish Prince, 'I am compelled to consider this a
vexatious business. For, look you, the butterfly I just now admire
flits over this wicket, and then her twin flutters over that wicket,
and between them there is absolutely no disparity in attraction. Hoo!
here is a more sensible insect.'

"And he leaped and cracked his heels together and ran after a golden
butterfly that drifted to the rearward Fields. There was such a host
of butterflies about that presently he had lost track of his first
choice, and was in boisterous pursuit of a second, and then of a
third, and then of yet others; but none of them did he ever capture,
the while that one by one he followed divers butterflies of varying
colors, and never a golden butterfly did he find any more.

"When it was evening, the sky drew up the twilight from the east as a
blotter draws up ink, and stars were kindling everywhere like tiny
signal-fires, and a light wind came out of the murky east and rustled
very plaintively in places where the more ambiguous shadows were; and
the Foolish Prince shivered, for the air was growing chill, and the
tips of his fingers were aware of it.

"'A crucible,' he reflected, 'possesses the minor virtue of continuous
warmth.'

"And before the hedge he found a Rational Person, led hither by a
Clothes' Moth, working out the problem of the hundred wickets in
consonance with the most approved methods. 'I have very nearly solved
it,' the Rational Person said, in genteel triumph, 'but this evening
grows too dark for any further ciphering, and again I must wait until
to-morrow. I regret, sir, that you have elected to waste the day, in
pursuit of various meretricious Lepidoptera.'

"'A happy day, my brother, is never wasted."

"'That appears to me to be nonsense,' said the Rational Person; and he
put up his portfolio, preparatory to spending another night under his
umbrella in the Fields.

"'Indeed, my brother?' laughed the Foolish Prince. 'Then, farewell,
for I am assured that yonder, as here, our father makes the laws, and
that to dispute his appreciation of the enticing qualities of
butterflies were an impertinence.'

"Thereafter, pushing open the wicket nearest to his hand, the Foolish
Prince tucked his bauble under his left arm and skipped into the
Disenchanted Garden; and as he went he sang, not noting that, from
somewhere in the thickening shadows, had arisen a golden butterfly
which went before him through the wicket.

"Sang the Foolish Prince:

  "'Farewell to Fields and Butterflies
  And levities of Yester-year!
  For we espy, and hold more dear,
  The Wicket of our Destinies.

  "'Whereby we enter, once for all,
  A Garden which such fruit doth yield
  As, tasted once, no more Afield
  We fare where Youth holds carnival.

  "'Farewell, fair Fields, none found amiss
  When laughter was a frequent noise
  And golden-hearted girls and boys
  Appraised the mouth they meant to kiss.

  "'Farewell, farewell! but for a space
  We, being young, Afield might stray,
  That in our Garden nod and say,
  _Afield is no unpleasant place.'"_


3--_Arithmetic_

In such disconnected fashion, as hereafter, I record the moments of my
life which I most vividly remember. For it is possible only in the
last paragraphs of a book, and for a book's people only, to look back
upon an ordered and proportionate progression to what one has become;
in life the thing arrives with scantier dignity; and one appears, in
retrospection, less to have marched toward any goal than always to
have jumped and scrambled from one stepping-stone to another because,
however momentarily, "just this or that poor impulse seemed the sole
work of a lifetime."

Well! at least I have known these moments and the rapture of their
dominance; and I am not lightly to be stripped of recollection of
them, nor of the attendant thrill either, by any cheerless hour
wherein, as sometimes happens, my personal achievements confront me
like a pile of flimsy jack-straws.

What does it all amount to?--I do not know. There may be some sort of
supernal bookkeeping, somewhere, but very certainly it is not
conformable to any human mathematics.



 _THE CORDS OF VANITY

"His has been the summer air, and the sunshine, and the flowers; and
gentle ears have listened to him, and gentle eyes have been upon him.
Let others eat his honey that please, so that he has had his morsel
and his song."_



1.

_He Sits Out a Dance_


When I first knew Stella she was within a month of being fifteen,
which is for womankind an unattractive age. There were a startling
number of corners to her then, and she had but vague notions as to the
management of her hands and feet. In consequence they were perpetually
turning up in unexpected places and surprising her by their size and
number. Yes, she was very hopelessly fifteen; and she was used to
laugh, unnecessarily, in a nervous fashion, approximating to a whinny,
and when engaged in conversation she patted down her skirts six times
to the minute.

It seems oddly unbelievable when I reflect that Rosalind--"daughter to
the banished Duke"--and Stella and Helen of Troy, and all the other
famous fair ones of history, were each like that at one period or
another.

As for myself, I was nine days younger than Stella, and so I was at
this time very old--much older than it is ever permitted anyone to be
afterward. I cherished the most optimistic ideas as to my impendent
moustache, and was wont in privacy to encourage it with the
manicure-scissors. I still entertained the belief that girls were
upon the whole superfluous nuisances, but was beginning to perceive
the expediency of concealing this opinion, even in private converse
with my dearest chum, where, in our joyous interchange of various
heresies, we touched upon this especial sub-division of fauna very
lightly, and, I now suspect, with some self-consciousness.


 2

All this was at a summer resort, which was called the Green
Chalybeate. Stella and I and others of our age attended the hotel hops
in the evening with religious punctuality, for well-meaning elders
insisted these dances amused us, and it was easier to go than to argue
the point. At least, that was the feeling of the boys.

Stella has since sworn the girls liked it. I suspect in this statement
a certain parsimony as to the truth. They giggled too much and were
never entirely free from that haunting anxiety concerning their
skirts.

We danced together, Stella and I, to the strains of the last Sousa
two-step (it was the _Washington Post_), and we conversed, meanwhile,
with careful disregard of the amenities of life, since each feared
lest the other might suspect in some common courtesy an attempt
at--there is really no other word--spooning. And spooning was absurd.

Well, as I once read in the pages of a rare and little known author,
one lives and learns.

I asked Stella to sit out a dance. I did this because I had heard Mr.
Lethbury--a handsome man with waxed mustachios and an absolutely
piratical amount of whiskers,--make the same request of Miss Van
Orden, my just relinquished partner, and it was evident that such
whiskers could do no wrong.

Stella was not uninfluenced, it may be, by Miss Van Orden's example,
for even in girlhood the latter was a person of extraordinary beauty,
whereas, as has been said, Stella's corners were then multitudinous;
and it is probable that those two queer little knobs at the base of
Stella's throat would be apt to render their owner uncomfortable and a
bit abject before--let us say--more ample charms. In any event, Stella
giggled and said she thought it would be just fine, and I presently
conducted her to the third piazza of the hotel.

There we found a world that was new.


 3

It was a world of sweet odors and strange lights, flooded with a
kindly silence which was, somehow, composed of many lispings and
trepidations and thin echoes. The night was warm, the sky all
transparency. If the comparison was not manifestly absurd, I would
liken that remembered sky's pale color to the look of blue plush
rubbed the wrong way. And in its radiance the stars bathed, large and
bright and intimate, yet blurred somewhat, like shop-lights seen
through frosted panes; and the moon floated on it, crisp and clear as
a new-minted coin. This was the full midsummer moon, grave and
glorious, that compelled the eye; and its shield was obscurely marked,
as though a Titan had breathed on its chill surface. Its light
suffused the heavens and lay upon the earth beneath us in broad
splashes; and the foliage about us was dappled with its splendor, save
in the open east, where the undulant, low hills wore radiancy as a
mantle.

For the trees, mostly maples of slight stature, clustered thickly
about the hotel, and their branches mingled in a restless pattern of
blacks and silvers and dim greens that mimicked the laughter of the
sea under an April wind. Looking down from the piazza, over the
expanse of tree-tops, all this was strangely like the sea; and it gave
one, somehow, much the same sense of remote, unbounded spaces and of a
beauty that was a little sinister. At times whippoorwills called to
one another, eerie and shrill; and the distant dance-music was a
vibration in the air, which was heavy with the scent of bruised
growing things and was filled with the cool, healing magic of the
moonlight.

Taking it all in all, we had blundered upon a very beautiful place.
And there we sat for a while and talked in an aimless fashion. We did
not know quite how one ought to "sit out" a dance, you conceive....


 4

Then, moved by some queer impulse, I stared over the railing for a
little at this great, wonderful, ambiguous world, and said solemnly:

"It is good."

"Yes," Stella agreed, in a curious, quiet and tiny voice, "it--it's
very large, isn't it?" She looked out for a moment over the tree-tops.
"It makes me feel like a little old nothing," she said, at last. "The
stars are so big, and--so uninterested." Stella paused for an
interval, and then spoke again, with an uncertain laugh. "I think I am
rather afraid."

"Afraid?" I echoed.

"Yes," she said, vaguely; "of--of everything."

I understood. Even then I knew something of the occasional
insufficiency of words.

"It is a big world," I assented, "and lots of people are having a
right hard time in it right now. I reckon there is somebody dying this
very minute not far off."

"It's all--waiting for us!" Stella had forgotten my existence. "It's
bringing us so many things--and we don't know what any of them are.
But we've got to take them, whether we want to or not. It isn't fair.
We've got to--well, got to grow up, and--marry, and--die, whether we
want to or not. We've no choice. And it may not matter, after all.
Everything will keep right on like it did before; and the stars won't
care; and what we've done and had done to us won't really matter!"

"Well, but, Stella, you can have a right good time first, anyway, if
you keep away from ugly things and fussy people. And I reckon you
really go to Heaven afterwards if you haven't been really bad,--don't
you?"

"Rob,--are you ever afraid of dying?" Stella asked, "very much
afraid--Oh, you know what I mean."

I did. I was about ten once more. It was dark, and I was passing a
drug-store, with huge red and green and purple bottles glistening in
the gas-lit windows; and it had just occurred to me that I, too, must
die, and be locked up in a box, and let down with trunk-straps into a
hole, like Father was.... So I said, "Yes."

"And yet we've got to! Oh, I don't see how people can go on living
like everything was all right when that's always getting nearer,--when
they know they've got to die before very long. Because they dance and
go on picnics and buy hats as if they were going to live forever.
I--oh, I can't understand."

"They get used to the idea, I reckon. We're sort of like the rats in
the trap at home, in our stable," I suggested, poetically. "We can bite
the wires and go crazy, like lots of them do, if we want to, or we can
eat the cheese and kind of try not to think about it. Either way, there's
no getting out till they come to kill us in the morning."

"Yes," sighed Stella; "I suppose we must make the best of it."

"It's the only sensible thing to do, far as I can see."

"But it is all so big--and so careless about us!" she said, after a
little. "And we don't know--we can't know!--what is going to happen to
you and me. And we can't stop its happening!"

"We'll just have to make the best of that, too," I protested,
dolefully.

Stella sighed again, "I hope so," she assented; "still, I'm scared of
it."

"I think I am, too--sort of," I conceded, after reflection. "Anyhow, I
am going to have as good a time as I can."

There was now an even longer pause. Pitiable, ridiculous infants were
pondering, somewhat vaguely but very solemnly, over certain mysteries
of existence, which most of us have learned to accept with stolidity.
We were young, and to us the miraculous insecurity and inconsequence
of human life was still a little impressive, and we had not yet come
to regard the universe as a more or less comfortable place,
well-meaningly constructed anyhow--by Somebody--for us to reside in.

Therefore we moved a trifle closer together, Stella and I, and were
commonly miserable over the _Weltschmerz_. After a little a distant
whippoorwill woke me from a chaos of reverie, and I turned to Stella,
with a vague sense that we two were the only people left in the whole
world, and that I was very, very fond of her.

Stella's head was leaned backward. Her lips were parted, and the
moonlight glinted in her eyes. Her eyes were blue.

"Don't!" said Stella, faintly.

I did....

It was a matter out of my volition, out of my planning. And, oh, the
wonder, and sweetness, and sacredness of it! I thought, even in the
instant; and, oh, the pity that, after all, it is slightly
disappointing....

Stella was not angry, as I had half expected. "That was dear of you,"
she said, impulsively, "but don't try to do it again." There was the
wisdom of centuries in this mandate of Stella's as she rose from the
bench. The spell was broken, utterly. "I think," said Stella, in the
voice of a girl of fifteen, "I think we'd better go and dance some
more."


 5

In the crude morning I approached Stella, with a fatuous smile. She
apparently both perceived and resented my bearing, although she never
once looked at me. There was something of great interest to her in the
distance, apparently down by the springhouse; she was flushed and
indignant; and her eyes wouldn't, couldn't, and didn't turn for an
instant in my direction.

I fidgeted.

"If," said she, impersonally, "if you believe it was because of _you_,
you are very much mistaken. It would have been the same with anybody.
You don't understand, and I don't either. Anyhow, I think you are a
mess, and I hate you. Go away from me!"

And she stamped her foot in a fine rage.

For the moment I entertained an un-Christian desire that Stella had
been born a boy. In that case, I felt, I would, just then, have really
enjoyed sitting upon the back of her head, and grinding her nose into
the lawn, and otherwise persuading her to cry "'Nough." These virile
pleasures being denied me, I sought for comfort in discourteous
speech.

"Umph-huh!" said I, "and you think you're mighty smart, don't you?
Well, I don't want you pawing around me any more, either. I won't have
it, do you understand! That was what I was going to tell you anyhow,
you kissing-bug, even if you hadn't acted so smart. And you can just
stick that right in your pipe and smoke it, you old Miss Smart Alec."

Thereupon I--wisely--departed without delay. A rock struck me rather
forcibly between the shoulder blades, but I did not deign to notice
this phenomenon.

"You can't fight girls with fists," I reflected. "You've just got to
talk to them in the right way."



2.

_He Loves Extensively_


I saw no more of Stella for a lengthy while, since within two days of
the events recorded it pleased my mother to seek out another summer
resort.

"For in September," she said, "I really must have perfect quiet and
unimpeachable butter, and falling leaves, and only a very few
congenial people to be melancholy with,--and that sort of thing, you
know. I find it freshens one up so against the winter."

It was a signal feature of my mother's conversation that you never
understood, precisely, what she was talking about.

Thus in her train the silly, pretty woman drew otherwhither her
hobbledehoy son, as indeed Claire Bulmer Townsend had aforetime drawn
an armament of more mature and stolid members of my sex. I was always
proud of my handsome mother, but without any aspirations, however
theoretical, toward intimacy; and her periods of conscientious if
vague affection, when she recollected its propriety, I endured with
consolatory foreknowledge of an impendent, more agreeable era of
neglect.

I fancy that at bottom I was without suspecting it lonely. I was an
only child; my father had died, as has been hinted, when I was in
kilts.... No, I must have graduated from kilts into "knee-pants" when
the Democracy of Lichfield celebrated Grover Cleveland's first
election as President, for I was seven years old then, and was allowed
to stay up ever so late after supper to watch the torchlight parade. I
recollect being rather pleasantly scared by the yells of all those
marching people and by the glistening of their faces as the irregular
flaring torches heaved by; and I recollect how delightfully the cold
night air was flavored with kerosene. In any event, it was on this
generally festive November night that my father again took too much to
drink, and, coming home toward morning, lay down and went to sleep in
the vestibule between our front-door and the storm-doors; and five
days later died of pneumonia...In that era I was accounted an odd boy;
given to reading and secretive ways, and, they record, to long
silences throughout which my lips would move noiselessly. "Just
talking to one of my friends," they tell me I was used to explain;
though it was not until my career at King's College that I may be said
to have pretended to intimacy with anybody.


 2

For in old Fairhaven I spent, of course, a period of ostensible study,
as four generations of my fathers had done aforetime. But in that
leisured, slatternly and ancient city I garnered a far larger harvest
of (comparatively) innocuous cakes and ale than of authentic learning,
and at my graduation carried little of moment from the place save many
memories of Bettie Hamlyn.... Her father taught me Latin at King's
College, while Bettie taught me human intimacy--almost. Looking back,
I have not ever been intimate with anybody....

Not but that I had my friends. In particular I remember those four of
us who always called ourselves--in flat defiance, just as Dumas did,
of mere arithmetic--"The Three Musketeers." I think that we loved one
another very greatly during the four years we spent together in our
youth. I like to believe we did, and to remember the boys who were
once unreasonably happy, even now. It does not seem to count, somehow,
that Aramis has taken to drink and every other inexpedient course, I
hear, and that I would not recognize him today, were we two to
encounter casually--or Athos, either, I suppose, now that he has been
so long in the Philippines.

And as for D'Artagnan--or Billy Woods, if you prefer the appellation
which his sponsors gave him,--why we are still good friends and always
will be, I suppose. But we are not particularly intimate; and very
certainly we will never again read _Chastelard_ together and declaim
the more impassioned parts of it,--and in fine, I cannot help seeing,
nowadays, that, especially since his marriage, Billy has developed
into a rather obvious and stupid person, and that he considers me to
be a bit of a bad egg. And in a phrase, when we are together, just we
two, we smoke a great deal and do not talk any more than is necessary.

And once I would have quite sincerely enjoyed any death, however
excruciating, which promoted the well-being of Billy Woods; and he
viewed me not dissimilarly, I believe.... However, after all, this was
a long, long while ago, and in a period almost antediluvian.

And during this period they of Fairhaven assumed I was in love with
Bettie Hamlyn; and for a very little while, at the beginning, had I
assumed as much. More lately was my error flagrantly apparent when I
fell in love with someone else, and sincerely in love, and found to my
amazement that, upon the whole, I preferred Bettie's companionship to
that of the woman I adored. By and by, though, I learned to accept
this odd, continuing phenomenon much as I had learned to accept the
sunrise.


 3

Once Bettie demanded of me, "I often wonder what you really think of
me? Honest injun, I mean."

I meditated, and presently began, with leisure:

"Miss Hamlyn is a young woman of considerable personal attractions,
and with one exception is unhandicapped by accomplishments. She plays
the piano, it is true, but she does it divinely and she neither
crochets nor embroiders presents for people, nor sketches, nor
recites, nor sings, or in fine annoys the public in any way
whatsoever. Her enemies deny that she is good-looking, but even her
friends concede her curious picturesqueness and her knowledge of it.
Her penetration, indeed, is not to be despised; she has even grasped
the fact that all men are not necessarily fools in spite of the
fashion in which they talk to women. It must be admitted, however,
that her emotions are prone to take precedence of her reasoning
powers: thus she is not easily misled from getting what she desires,
save by those whom she loves, because in argument, while always
illogical, she is invariably convincing--"

Miss Hamlyn sniffed. "This is, perhaps, the inevitable effect of
twenty cigarettes a day," was her cryptic comment. "Nevertheless, it
does affect me with ennui."

"--For, the mere facts of the case she plainly demonstrates, with the
abettance of her dimples, to be an affair of unimportance; the real
point is what she wishes done about it. Yet the proffering of any
particular piece of advice does not necessarily signify that she
either expects or wishes it to be followed, since had she been present
at the Creation she would have cheerfully pointed out to the Deity His
various mistakes, and have offered her co-operation toward bettering
matters, and have thought a deal less of Him had He accepted it; but
this is merely a habit--" "Yes?" said Bettie, yawning; and she added:
"Do you know, Robin, the saddest and most desolate thing in the world
is to practise an _etude_ of Schumann's in nine flats, and the next is
to realize that a man who has been in love with you has recovered for
keeps?"

"--It must not be imagined, however, that Miss Hamlyn is untruthful,
for when driven by impertinences into a corner she conceals her real
opinion by voicing it quite honestly as if she were joking. Thereupon
you credit her with the employment of irony and the possession of
every imaginable and super-angelical characteristic--"

"Unless we come to a better understanding," Miss Hamlyn crisply began,
"we had better stop right here before we come to a worse--"

"--Miss Hamlyn, in a word, is possessed of no insufferable virtues and
of many endearing faults; and in common with the rest of humanity, she
regards her disapproval of any proceeding as clear proof of its
impropriety." This was largely apropos of a fire-new debate concerning
the deleterious effects of cigarette-smoking; and when I had made an
end, and doggedly lighted another one of them, Bettie said nothing....
She minded chiefly that one of us should have thought of the other
without bias. She said it was not fair. And I know now that she was
right.

But of Bettie Hamlyn, for reasons you may learn hereafter if you so
elect, I honestly prefer to write not at all. Four years, in fine, we
spent to every purpose together, and they were very happy years. To
record them would be desecration.


 4

Meantime, during these years, I had fallen in and out of love
assiduously. Since the Anabasis of lad's love traverses a monotonous
country, where one hill is largely like another, and one meadow a
duplicate of the next to the last daffodil, I may with profit dwell
upon the green-sickness lightly. It suffices that in the course of
these four years I challenged superstition by adoring thirteen girls,
and, worse than that, wrote verses of them.

I give you their names herewith--though not their workaday names, lest
the wives of divers people be offended (and in many cases, surprised),
but the appellatives which figured in my rhymes. They were Heart's
Desire, Florimel, Dolores, Yolande, Adelais, Sylvia, Heart o' My
Heart, Chloris, Felise, Ettarre, Phyllis, Phyllida, and Dorothy. Here
was a rosary of exquisite names, I even now concede; and the owner of
each _nom de plume_ I, for however brief a period, adored for this or
that peculiar excellence; and by ordinary without presuming to mention
the fact to any of these divinities save Heart o' My Heart, who was,
after all, only a Penate.

Outside the elevated orbits of rhyme she was called Elizabeth Hamlyn;
and it afterward became apparent to me that I, in reality, wrote all
the verses of this period solely for the pleasure of reading them
aloud to Bettie, for certainly I disclosed their existence to no one
else--except just one or two to Phyllida, who was "literary."

And the upshot of all this heart-burning is most succinctly given in
my own far from impeccable verse, as Bettie Hamlyn heard the summing-up
one evening in May. It was the year I graduated from King's
College, and the exact relation of the date to the Annos Domini is
trivial. But the battle of Manila had just been fought, and off
Santiago Captain Sampson and Commander Schley were still hunting for
Cervera's "phantom fleet." And in Fairhaven, as I remember it,
although there was a highly-colored picture of Commodore Dewey in the
barber-shop window, nobody was bothering in the least about the war
except when Colonel Snawley and Dr. Jeal foregathered at Clarriker's
Emporium to denounce the colossal errors of "imperialism"....

  "Thus, then, I end my calendar
  Of ancient loves more light than air;--
  And now Lad's Love, that led afar
  In April fields that were so fair,
  Is fled, and I no longer share
  Sedate unutterable days
  With Heart's Desire, nor ever praise
  Felise, or mirror forth the lures
  Of Stella's eyes nor Sylvia's,
  Yet love for each loved lass endures.

  "Chloris is wedded, and Ettarre
  Forgets; Yolande loves otherwhere,
  And worms long since made bold to mar
  The lips of Dorothy and fare
  Mid Florimel's bright ruined hair;
  And Time obscures that roseate haze
  Which glorified hushed woodland ways
  When Phyllis came, as Time obscures
  That faith which once was Phyllida's,--
  Yet love for each loved lass endures.

  "That boy is dead as Schariar,
  Tiglath-pileser, or Clotaire,
  Who once of love got many a scar.
  And his loved lasses past compare?--
  None is alive now anywhere.
  Each is transmuted nowadays
  Into a stranger, and displays
  No whit of love's investitures.
  I let these women go their ways,
  Yet love for each loved lass endures.

  "Heart o' My Heart, thine be the praise
  If aught of good in me betrays
  Thy tutelage--whose love matures
  Unmarred in these more wistful days,--
  Yet love for each loved lass endures."

For this was the year that I graduated, and Chloris--I violate no
confidence in stating that her actual name was Aurelia Minns, and that
she had been, for a greater number of years than it would be courteous
to remember, the undisputed belle of Fairhaven,--had that very
afternoon married a promising young doctor; and I was draining the cup
of my misery to the last delicious drop, and was of course inspired
thereby to the perpetration of such melancholy bathos as only a
care-free youth of twenty is capable of evolving.


 5

"Dear boy," said Bettie, when I had made an end of reading, "and are
you very miserable?"

Her fingers were interlocked behind her small black head; and the
sympathy with which she regarded me was tenderly flavored with
amusement.

This much I noticed as I glanced upward from my manuscript, and
mustered a Spartan smile. "If misery loves company, then am I the
least unhappy soul alive. For I don't want anybody but just you, and I
believe I never will."

"Oh--? But I don't count." The girl continued, with composure: "Or
rather, I have always counted your affairs, so that I know precisely
what it all amounts to."

"Sum total?"

"A lot of imitation emotions." She added hastily: "Oh, quite a good
imitation, dear; you are smooth enough to see to that. Why, I remember
once--when you read me that first sonnet, sitting all hunched up on
the little stool, and pretending you didn't know I knew who you meant
me to know it was for, and ending with a really very effective,
breathless sob--and caught my hand and pressed it to your forehead for
a moment--Why, that time I was thoroughly rattled and almost
believed--even I--that--" She shrugged. "And if I had been
younger--!" she said, half regretfully, for at this time Bettie was
very nearly twenty-two.

"Yes." The effective breathless sob responded to what had virtually
been an encore. "I have not forgotten."

"Only for a moment, though." Miss Hamlyn reflected, and then added,
brightly: "Now, most girls would have liked it, for it sounded all
wool. And they would have gone into it, as you wanted, and have been
very, very happy for a while. Then, after a time--after you had got a
sonnet or two out of it, and had made a sufficiency of pretty
speeches,--you would have gone for an admiring walk about yourself,
and would have inspected your sensations and have applauded them,
quite enthusiastically, and would have said, in effect: 'Madam, I
thank you for your attention. Pray regard the incident as closed.'"

"You are doing me," I observed, "an injustice. And however tiny they
may be, I hate 'em."

"But, Robin, can't you see," she said, with an odd earnestness, "that
to be fond of you is quite disgracefully easy, even though--" Bettie
Hamlyn said, presently: "Why, your one object in life appears to be to
find a girl who will allow you to moon around her and make verses
about her. Oh, very well! I met to-day just the sort of pretty idiot
who will let you do it. She is visiting Kathleen Eppes for the Finals.
She has a great deal of money, too, I hear." And Bettie mentioned a
name.

"That's rather queer," said I. "I used to know that girl. She will be
at the K. A. dance to-morrow night, I suppose,"--and I put up my
manuscript with a large air of tolerance. "I dare say that I have been
exaggerating matters a bit, after all. Any woman who treated me
in the way that Miss Aurelia did is not, really, worthy of regret. And
in any event, I got a ballade out of her and six--no, seven--other
poems."

For the name which Bettie had mentioned was that of Stella Musgrave,
and I was, somehow, curiously desirous to come again to Stella, and
nervous about it, too, even then....



3.

_He Earns a Stick-pin_


"Dear me!" said Stella, wonderingly; "I would never have known you in
the world! You've grown so fa--I mean, you are so well built. I've
grown? Nonsense!--and besides, what did you expect me to do in six
years?--and moreover, it is abominably rude of you to presume to speak
of me in that abstracted and figurative manner--quite as if I were a
debt or a taste for drink. It is really only French heels and a
pompadour, and, of course, you can't have this dance. It's promised,
and I hop, you know, frightfully.... Why, naturally, I haven't
forgotten--How could I, when you were the most disagreeable boy I ever
knew?"

I ventured a suggestion that caused Stella to turn an attractive pink,
and laugh. "No," said she, demurely, "I shall never never sit out
another dance with you."

So she did remember!

Subsequently: "Our steps suit perfectly--Heavens! you are the fifth
man who has said that to-night, and I am sure it would be very silly
and very tiresome to dance through life with anybody. Men are so
absurd, don't you think? Oh, yes, I tell them all--every one of
them--that our steps suit, even when they have just ripped off a yard
or so of flounce in an attempt to walk up the front of my dress. It
makes them happy, poor things, and injures nobody. You liked it, you
know; you grinned like a pleased cat. I like cats, don't you?"

Later: "That is absolute nonsense, you know," said Stella, critically.
"Do you always get red in the face when you make love? I wouldn't if I
were you. You really have no idea how queer it makes you look."

Still later: "No, I don't think I am going anywhere to-morrow
afternoon," said Stella.


 2

So that during the fleet moments of these Finals, while our army was
effecting a landing in Cuba, I saw as much of Stella as was possible;
and veracity compels the admission that she made no marked effort to
prevent my doing so. Indeed, she was quite cross, and scornful, about
the crowning glory being denied her, of going with me to the
Baccalaureate Address the morning I received my degree. To that of
course I took Bettie.


 3

I said good-bye to Bettie Hamlyn rather late one evening. It was in
her garden. The Finals were over, and Stella had left Fairhaven that
afternoon. I was to follow in the morning, by an early train.

It was a hot, still night in June, with never a breath of air
stirring. In the sky was a low-hung moon, full and very red. It was an
evil moon, and it lighted a night that was unreasonably ominous. And
Bettie and I had talked of trifles resolutely for two hours.

"Well--good-bye Bettie," I said at last. "I'm glad it isn't for long."
For of course we meant never to let a month elapse without our seeing
each other.

"Good-bye," she said, and casually shook hands.

Then Bettie Hamlyn said, in a different voice: "Robin, you come of
such a bad lot, and already you are by way of being a rather frightful
liar. And I'm letting you go. I'm turning you over to Stellas and
mothers and things like that just because I have to. It isn't fair.
They will make another Townsend of my boy, and after all I've tried to
do. Oh, Robin, don't let anybody or anything do that to you! Do try to
do the unpleasant thing sometimes, my dear!--But what's the good of
promising?"

"And have I ever failed you, Bettie?"

"No,--not me," she answered, almost as though she grudged the fact.
Then Bettie laughed a little. "Indeed, I'm trying to believe you never
will. Oh, indeed, I am. But just be honest with me, Robin, and nothing
else will ever matter very much. I don't care what you do, if only you
are always honest with me. You can murder people, if you like, and
burn down as many houses as you choose. You probably will. But you'll
be honest with me--won't you?--and particularly when you don't want to
be?"

So I promised her that. And sometimes I believe it is the only promise
which I ever tried to keep quite faithfully....


 4

And all the ensuing summer I followed Stella Musgrave from one
watering place to another, with an engaging and entire candor as to my
desires. I was upon the verge of my majority, when, under the terms of
my father's will, I would come into possession of such fragments of
his patrimony as he had omitted to squander. And afterward I intended
to become excessively distinguished in this or that profession, not as
yet irrevocably fixed upon, but for choice as a writer of immortal
verse; and I was used to dwell at this time very feelingly, and very
frequently, upon the wholesome restraint which matrimony imposes upon
the possessor of an artistic temperament.

Stella promised to place my name upon her waiting list, and to take up
the matter in due season; and she lamented, with a tiny and
pre-meditated yawn, that as a servitor of system she was compelled to
list her "little lovers and suitors in alphabetical order, Mr.
Townsend. Besides, you would probably strangle me before the year was
out."

"I would thoroughly enjoy doing it," I said, grimly, "right now." She
regarded me for a while. "You would, too," she said at last, with an
alien gravity; "and that is why--Oh, Rob dear, you are out of my
dimension. I am rather afraid of you. I am a poor bewildered triangle
who is being wooed by a cube!" the girl wailed, and but half
humorously.

And I began to plead. It does not matter what I said. It never
mattered.

And persons more sensible than I found then far more important things
to talk about, such as General Alger's inefficiency, and General
Shafter's hammock, and "embalmed beef," and the folly of taking over
the Philippines, and Admiral von Diedrich's behavior, and the yellow
fever in our camps and the comparative claims of Messrs. Sampson and
Schley to be made rear-admiral; and everybody more or less was
demanding "an investigation," as the natural aftermath of a war.


 5

Stella's mother had closed Bellemeade for the year, however, and they
were to spend the winter in Lichfield; and Stella, to reduplicate her
phrase, promised to "think it over very seriously."

But I suppose I had never any real chance against Peter Blagden. To
begin with,--though Stella herself, of course, would inherit plenty
of money when her mother died,--Peter was the only nephew of a
childless uncle who was popularly reported to "roll in wealth"; and in
addition, Peter was seven years older than I and notoriously
dissipated. No other girl of twenty would have hesitated between us
half so long as Stella did. She hesitated through a whole winter; and
even now there is odd, if scanty, comfort in the fact that Stella
hesitated....

Besides Peter was eminently likeable. At times I almost liked him
myself, for all my fervent envy of his recognized depravity and of the
hateful ease with which he thought of something to say in those
uncomfortable moments when he and I and Stella were together. At most
other times I could talk glibly enough, but before this seasoned
scapegrace I was dumb, and felt my reputation to be hopelessly
immaculate ... If only Stella would believe me to be just the tiniest
bit depraved! I blush to think of the dark hints I dropped as to
entirely fictitious women who "had been too kind to me. But then"--as
I would feelingly lament,--"we could never let women alone, we
Townsends, you know--"


 6

One woman at least I was beginning to "let alone", in that I was
writing Bettie Hamlyn letters which grew shorter and shorter.... Her
mother had fallen ill, not long after I left college; and she and
Bettie were now a great way off, in Colorado, where the old lady was
dying, with the most selfish sort of laziness about it, and so was
involving me in endless correspondence.... At least, I wrote to Bettie
punctually, if briefly, though I had not seen her since that night
when the moon was red, and big, and very evil. I had to do it, because
she had insisted that I write.

"But letters don't mean anything, Bettie. And besides, I hate writing
letters."

"That is just why you must write to me regularly. You never do the
things you don't want to do. I know it. But for me you always will,
and that makes all the difference."

"Shylock!" I retorted.

"If you like. In any event, I mean to have my pound of flesh, and
regularly."

So I wrote to Bettie Hamlyn on the seventh of every month--because
that was her birthday,--and again on the twenty-third, because that
was mine. The rest of my time I gave whole-heartedly to Stella....


 7

They named her Stella, I fancy, because her eyes were so like stars.
It is manifestly an irrelevant detail that there do not happen to be
any azure stars. Indeed, I am inclined to think that Nature belatedly
observed this omission, and created Stella's eyes to make up for it;
at any rate, if you can imagine Aldebaran or Benetnasch polished up a
bit and set in a speedwell-cup, you will have a very fair idea of one
of them. You cannot, however, picture to yourself the effect of the
pair of them, because the human mind is limited.

Really, though, their effect was curious. You noticed them casually,
let us say; then, without warning, you ceased to notice anything. You
simply grew foolish and gasped like a newly-hooked trout, and went mad
and babbled as meaninglessly as a silly little rustic brook trotting
under a bridge.

I have seen the thing happen any number of times. And, strangely
enough, you liked it. Numbers of young men would venture into the same
room with those disconcerting eyes the very next evening, even
appearing to seek them out and to court peril, as it were,--young men
who must have known perfectly well, either by report or experience,
the unavoidable result of such fool-hardy conduct. For eventually it
always culminated in Stella's being deeply surprised and grieved,--at
a dance, for choice, with music and color and the unthinking laughter
of others to heighten the sadness and the romance of it all,--she
never having dreamed of such a thing, of course, and having always
regarded you only as a dear, dear friend. Yes, and she used certainly
to hope that nothing she had said or done could have led you to
believe she had even for a moment considered such a thing. Oh, she did
it well, did Stella, and endured these frequent griefs and surprises
with, I must protest, quite exemplary patience. In a phrase, she was
the most adorable combination of the prevaricator, the jilt and the
coquette I have ever encountered.


 8

So, for the seventh time, I asked Stella to marry me. Nearly every
fellow I knew had done as much, particularly Peter Blagden; and it is
always a mistake to appear unnecessarily reserved or exclusive. And
this time in declining--with a fluency that bespoke considerable
practice,--she informed me that, as the story books have it, she was
shortly to be wedded to another.

And Peter Blagden clapped the pinnacle upon my anguish by asking me to
be the best man. I knew even then whose vanity and whose sense of the
appropriate had put him up to it....

"For I haven't a living male relative of the suitable age except two
second cousins that I don't see much of--praise God!" said Peter,
fervently; "and Hugh Van Orden looks about half-past ten, whereas I
class John Charteris among the lower orders of vermin."

I consented to accept the proffered office and the incidental stick-pin;
and was thus enabled to observe from the inside this episode of Stella's
life, and to find it quite like other weddings.

Something like this:

"Look here," a perspiring and fidgety Peter protested, at the last
moment, as we lurked in the gloomy vestry with not a drop left in
either flask; "look here, Henderson hasn't blacked the soles of these
blessed shoes. I'll look like an ass when it comes to the kneeling
part--like an ass, I tell you! Good heavens, they'll look like
tombstones!"

"If you funk now," said I, severely, "I'll never help you get married
again. Oh, sainted Ebenezer in bliss, and whatever have I done with
that ring? No, it's here all right, but you are on the wrong side of
me again. And there goes the organ--Good God, Peter, look at her!
simply look at her, man! Oh, you lucky devil! you lucky jackass!"

I spoke enviously, you understand, simply to encourage him.

Followed a glaring of lights, a swishing of fans, a sense that Peter
was not keeping step with me, and the hum of densely packed, expectant
humanity; a blare of music; then Stella, an incredible vision with
glad, frightened eyes. My shoulders straightened, and I was not out of
temper any longer. The organist was playing softly, _Oh, Promise Me_,
and I was thinking of the time, last January, that Stella and I heard
The Bostonians, and how funny Henry Clay Barnabee was.... "--so long
as ye both may live?" ended the bishop.

"I will," poor Peter quavered, with obvious uncertainty about it.

And still one saw in Stella's eyes unutterable happiness and fear, but
her voice was tranquil. I found time to wonder at its steadiness, even
though, just about this time, I resonantly burst a button off one of
my new gloves. I fancy they must have been rather tight.

"And thereto," said Stella, calmly, "I give thee my troth."

And subsequently they were Mendelssohned out of church to the
satisfaction of a large and critical audience. I came down the aisle
with Stella's only sister--who afterward married the Marquis
d'Arlanges,--and found Lizzie very entertaining later in the
evening....


 9

Yes, it was quite like other weddings. I only wonder for what
conceivable reason I remember its least detail, and so vividly. For it
all happened a great while ago, when--of such flimsy stuff is glory
woven,--Emilio Aguinaldo and Captain Coghlan were the persons most
talked of in America; and when the Mazet committee was "investigating"
I forget what, but with column after column about it in the papers
every day; and when _Me und Gott_ was a famous poem, and "to
hobsonize" was the most popular verb; and when I was twenty-one. _Sic
transit gloria mundi_, as it says in the back of the dictionary.



4.

_He Talks with Charteris_


It was upon the evening of this day, after Mr. and Mrs. Blagden had
been duly rice-pelted and entrained, that I first talked against John
Charteris. The novelist was, as has been said, a cousin of Peter
Blagden, and as such, was one of the wedding guests at Bellemeade; and
that evening, well toward midnight, the little man, midway in the
consumption of one of his interminable cigarettes, happened to come
upon me seated upon the terrace and gazing, rather vacantly, in the
direction of the moon.

I was not thinking of anything in particular; only there was a by-end
of verse which sang itself over and over again, somewhere in the back
of my brain--"Her eyes were the eyes of a bride whom delight makes
afraid, her eyes were the eyes of a bride"--and so on, all over again,
as at night a traveller may hear his train jogging through a
monotonous and stiff-jointed song; and in my heart there was just
hunger.


 2

Charteris had heard, one may presume, of my disastrous love-business;
and with all an author's relish of emotion, in others, chose his
gambit swiftly. "Mr. Townsend, is it not? Then may a murrain light
upon thee, Mr. Townsend,--whatever a murrain may happen to be,--since
you have disturbed me in the concoction of an ever-living and
entrancing fable."

"I may safely go as far," said I, "as to offer the proverbial penny."

"Done!" cried Mr. Charteris. He meditated for a moment, and then
began, in a low and curiously melodious voice, to narrate

_The Apologue of the First Conjugation_

"When the gods of Hellas were discrowned, there was a famous scurrying
from Olympos to the world of mortals, where each deity must
henceforward make shift to do without godhead:--Aphrodite in her
hollow hill, where the good knight Tannhauser revels yet, it may be;
Hephaestos, in some smithy; whilst Athene, for aught I know,
established a girls' boarding school, and Helios, as is notorious,
died under priestly torture, and Dionysos cannily took holy orders,
and Hermes set up as a merchant in Friesland. But Eros went to the
Grammarians. He would be a schoolmaster.

"The Grammarians, grim, snuffy and wrinkled though they might be, were
no more impervious to his allures than are the rest of us, and in
consequence appointed him to an office. This office was, I glean of
mediaeval legend, that of teaching dunderheaded mortals the First
Conjugation. So Eros donned cap and gown, took lodgings with a quiet
musical family, and set _amo_ as the first model verb; and ever since
this period has the verb 'to love' been the first to be mastered in
all well-constituted grammars, as it is in life.

"Heigho! it is not an easy verb to conjugate. One gets into trouble
enough, in floundering through its manifold nuances, which range
inevitably through the bold-faced 'I love', the confident 'I will
love', the hopeful 'I may be loved', and so on to the wistful, pitiful
Pluperfect Subjunctive Passive, 'I might have been loved
if'--Then each of us may supply the Protasis as best befits his
personal opinion and particular scars, and may tear his hair, or
scribble verses, or adopt the cynical, or, in fine, assume any pose
which strikes his fancy. For he has graduated into the Second
Conjugation, which is _moneo_; and may now admonish to his heart's
content, whilst looking back complacently into the First Classroom,
where others--and so many others!--are still struggling with that
mischancy verb, and are involved in the very conditions--verbal or
otherwise--which aforetime saddened him, or showed him a possible
byway toward recreation, or played the deuce with his liver, according
to the nature of the man.

"Eros is a hard, implacable pedagogue, and for the fact his scholars
suffer. He wields a rod rather than a filigree bow, as old romancers
fabled,--no plaything, but a most business-like article, well-poised
in the handle, and thence tapering into graceful, stinging
nothingness; and not a scholar escapes at least a flick of it.

"I can fancy the class called up as Eros administers, with zest, his
penalties. Master Paris! for loving his neighbor a little less than
himself, and his neighbor's wife a little more. Master Lancelot!
ditto. Masters Petrarch, Tristram, Antony, Juan Tenorio, Dante
Alighieri, and others! ditto. There are a great many called up for
this particular form of peccancy, you observe; even Master David has
to lay aside his Psalm Book, and go forward with the others for
chastisement. Master Romeo! for trespassing in other people's gardens
and mausoleums. Master Leander! for swimming in the Hellespont after
dark; and Master Tarquin! for mistaking his bedroom at the Collatini's
house-party.

"Thus, one by one, each scholar goes into the darkened private office.
The master handles his rod--eia! 'tis borrowed from the
Erinnyes,--lovingly, caressingly, like a very conscientious person
about the performance of his duty. Then comes the dreadful order,
'Take down your breeches, sir!'.... But the scene is too horrible to
contemplate. He punishes all, this schoolmaster, for he is
unbelievably old, and with the years' advance has grown querulous.

"Well, now I approach my moral, Mr. Townsend. One must have one's
birching with the others, and of necessity there remains but to make
the best of it. Birching is not a dignified process, and the endurer
comes therefrom both sore and shamefaced. Yet always in such
contretemps it is expedient to brazen out the matter, and to present
as stately an appearance, we will say, as one's welts permit.

"First, to the world--"


 3

But at this point I raised my hand. "That is easily done, Mr.
Charteris, inasmuch as the world cares nothing whatever about it. The
world is composed of men and women who have their own affairs to mind.
How in heaven's name does it concern them that a boy has dreamed
dreams and has gone mad like a star-struck moth? It was foolish of
him. Such is the verdict, given in a voice that is neither kindly nor
severe; and the world, mildly wondering, passes on to deal with more
weighty matters. For vegetables are higher than ever this year, and,
upon my word, Mrs. Grundy, ma'am, a housekeeper simply doesn't know
where to turn, with the outrageous prices they are asking for
everything these days. No, believe me, the world does not take
love-affairs very seriously--not even the great ones," I added, in
noble toleration.

And with an appreciative chuckle, Charteris sank beside me upon the
bench.

"My adorable boy! so you have a tongue in your head."

"But can't you imagine the knights talking over Lancelot's affair with
Guenevere, at whatever was the Arthurian substitute for a club? and
sniggering over it? and Lamoracke sagaciously observing that there was
always a crooked streak in the Leodograunce family? Or one Roman
matron punching a chicken in the ribs, and remarking to her neighbor
at the poultry man's stall: 'Well, Mrs. Gracchus, they do say Antony
is absolutely daft over that notorious Queen of Egypt. A brazen-faced
thing, with a very muddy complexion, I'm told, and practically no
reputation, of course, after the way she carried on with Caesar. And
that reminds me, I hear your little Caius suffers from the croup. Now
_my_ remedy'--and so they waddle on, to price asparagus."

Charteris said: "Well! we need not go out of our way to meddle with
the affairs of others; the entanglement is most disastrously apt to
come about of itself quite soon enough. Yet a little while and
Lancelot will be running Lamoracke through the body, while the King
storms Joyeuse Garde; a few months and your Roman matron will weep
quietly on her unshared pillow--not aloud, though, for fear of
disturbing the children,--while Gracchus is dreadfully seasick at
Actium."

"But that doesn't prove anything," I stammered. "Why, it doesn't
follow logically--"

"Nor does anything else. This fact is the chief charm of life. You
will presently find, I think, that living means a daily squandering of
interest upon the first half of a number of two-part stories which
have not ever any sequel. Oh, my adorable boy, I envy you to-night's
misery so profoundly I am half unwilling to assure you that in the
ultimate one finds a broken heart rather fattening than otherwise; and
that a blighted life has never yet been known to prevent queer
happenings in conservatories and such-like secluded places or to rob a
solitude _a deux_ of possibilities. I grant you that love is a
wonderful thing; but there are a many emotions which stand toward love
much as the makers of certain marmalades assert their wares to stand
toward butter--'serving as an excellent occasional substitute.' At
least, so you will find it. And unheroic as it is, within the month
you will forget."

"No,--I shall not quite forget," said I.

"Then were you the more unwise. To forget, both speedily and
frequently, is the sole method of rendering life livable. One is here;
the importance of the fact in the eternal scheme of things is perhaps
a shade more trivial than one is disposed to concede, but in any
event, one is here; and here, for a very little while in youth, one is
capable of happiness. For it is a colorful world, Mr. Townsend,
containing much, upon the whole, to captivate both eye and taste; a
world manured and fertilized by the no longer lovely bodies of persons
who died in youth. Oh, their coffins lie everywhere beneath our feet,
thick as raisins in a pudding, whithersoever we tread. Yet every one
of these poor relics was once a boy or a girl, and wore a body that
was capable of so much pleasure! To-day, unused to gain the fullness
of that pleasure, and now not ever to be used, they lie beneath us, in
their coffins, these white, straight bodies, like swords untried that
rust in the scabbard. Meanwhile, on every side is apparent the not yet
out-wasted instrument, and one is naturally inquisitive,--so that
one's fingers and one's nostrils twitch at times, even in the hour
when one is most miserable, very much as yours do now."

For a long while I meditated. Then I said: "I am not really miserable,
because, all in all, one is content to pay the price of happiness. I
have been very happy sometimes during the past year; and whatever the
blind Fate that mismanages the world may elect to demand in payment, I
shall not haggle. No, by heavens! I would have nothing changed, and
least of all would I forget; having drunk nectar neat, one would not
qualify it with the water of Lethe."

I rose, not unhandsome, I trusted, in the moonlight. I was hoping Mr.
Charteris would notice my new dress-suit, procured in honor of
Stella's wedding. And I said: "The play is over, the little comedy is
played out. She must go; at least she has tarried for a little. She
does not love you; ah! but she did. God speed her, then, the woman we
have all loved and lost, and still dream of on sleepy Sundays; and all
possible happiness to her! One must be grateful that through her one
has known the glory of loving. Even though she never cared--'and never
could understand',--one may not but be glad that one has known and
loved in youth the Only Woman."

"The Only Woman has a way of leaving many heirs, Mr. Townsend, that
play the deuce with the estate."

"--So to-morrow, like the person in _Lycidas_, I am for fresh fields,
Mr. Charteris. And indeed it is high time that I were journeying,
since she and I have rested, and have laughed and eaten and drunk our
fill at this particular tavern; and now it is closing time. A plague
on these foolish and impertinent laws, say I quite heartily; for it is
cold and cheerless outside, whereas here within I was perfectly
comfortable. None the less I must go, or else be evicted by the
constable; so good-night, my sweet; and as for you, Madam Clotho, pray
what unconscionable score have you chalked up against me?"

I grimaced. "Heavens! what an infinity of sighs, sonnets,
lamentations, and heart-burnings is this that I owe to Fate and
Decency!"

Charteris applauded as though it were a comedy. "In effect, Marian's
married and you stand here, alive and merry at--pray what precise
period of life, Mr. Townsend?"

"I confess to twenty-one at present, sir, though I trust to live it
down in time."

"I would hardly have thought you that venerable. Well, I predict for
you a life without achievements but of gusto. Yes, you will bring a
seasoned palate to your grave,--and I envy you. We open Willoughby
Hall next week, and of course you will make one of the party. For you
write, I know; and you will want to talk to me about editors and read
me all your damnable verses. Nothing could please me more. Good-night,
you glorious boy."

And the little man wheeled and departed, leaving me to reflect, with
appropriate emotions, that I had been formally invited to visit the
founder of the Economist school of writers.


 4

"He said it," I more lately observed--"yes, he undoubtedly said it.
And he wrote _Ashtaroth's Lackey_ and _In Old Lichfield_ and _The
Foolish Prince_, and he knows all the magazine editors personally, and
they are probably only too glad to oblige him about anything, and--Oh,
may be, it is only a dream, after all." My heart was pounding, but not
with sorrow or despair or any other maudlin passion; and Stella was
now as remote from my thoughts as was Joan of Arc or Pharaoh's
daughter.



5.

_He Revisits Fairhaven and the Play_


So I went to Willoughby Hall, which stands, as you may be aware, upon
the eastern outskirt of Fairhaven. My reappearance created some stir
among the older students and the town-folk, though, one and all, they
presently declared me to be "too stuck-up for any use," inasmuch as I
ignored them in favour of the Charteris house-party,--after, of
course, one visit to Chapel, which I paid a little obviously _en
prince_, and affably shook hands with all the Faculty, and was
completely conscious of how such happenings impressed us when I, too,
was a student.

So much had happened since then, and I felt so much older,--with my
existence so delightfully blighted, too,--that it seemed droll to find
Colonel Snawley and Dr. Jeal still sitting in arm chairs before
Clarriker's Emporium, very much as I had left them there ten months
ago.


 2

By a disastrous chance did Bettie Hamlyn spend that spring, as well as
the preceding year, in Colorado with her mother, who died there that
summer; and to me Fairhaven proper without Bettie Hamlyn seemed a
tawdry and desolate place; and I know that but for Mrs. Hamlyn's
illness--a querulous woman for whom I never cared a jot,--my future
life had been quite otherwise. For, as I told Bettie once, and it was
true, I have found in the world but three sorts of humanity--"Myself,
and Bettie Hamlyn, and the other people."

So I still wrote to Bettie Hamlyn on the seventh of every month--
because that was her birthday,--and again on the twenty-third, because
that was mine.

And I thought of many things as I walked by the deserted garden, where
there was nothing which concerned me now, not even a ghost. I did not
go in to leave a card upon Professor Hamlyn. The empty house
confronted me too blankly, with its tight-shuttered windows, like
blind eyes, and I hurried by.


 3

Meanwhile, this was the first time for many years that Willoughby Hall
had been occupied by any other than caretakers; and Fairhaven, to
confess the truth, was a trifle ill-at-ease before the modish persons
who now tenanted the old mansion; and consoled itself after an
immemorial usage by backbiting.

And meanwhile I enjoyed myself tremendously. It was the first time I
was ever thrown with people who were unanimously agreed that, after
all, nothing is very serious. Mrs. Charteris, of course, was
different; but she, like the others, found me divertingly naive and,
in consequence, petted and cosseted me. I like petting; and since
everyone seemed agreed to regard me as "the Child in the House"--that
was Alicia Wade's nickname, and it clung,--and to like having a child
in the house, I began a little to heighten my very real boyishness.
There was no harm in it; and if people were fonder of me because I sat
upon the floor by preference, and drolly exaggerated what I really
thought, it became a sort of public duty to do these things. So I did,
and found it astonishingly pleasant.


 4

And meanwhile too, John Charteris could never see enough of me, whom,
as I to-day suspect, Charteris was studying conscientiously, to the
end that I should be converted into "copy." For me, I was waiting
cannily until he should actually ask to see those manuscripts I had
brought to Willoughby Hall, and should help me to get them published.
So there were two of us.... In any event, it was just three weeks
after Stella's marriage that Charteris coaxed me into Fairhaven's
Opera House to witness a performance of _Romeo and Juliet_, by the
Imperial Dramatic Company.

I went under protest; I had witnessed the butchery of so many dramas
within these walls during my college days, that I knew what I must
anticipate, I said. I had, as a matter of fact, always enjoyed the
Opera House "shows," but I did not wish to acknowledge the harboring
of such crude tastes to Charteris. In any event, at the conclusion of
the second act,--

"By Jove!" said I, in a voice that shook a little. "She's a stunner!"
I jolted out, as I proceeded to applaud, vigorously, with both hands and
feet. "And who would have thought it! Good Lord, who would have
thought it!"

Charteris smiled, in that infernally patronizing way he had sometimes.
"A beautiful woman, my dear boy,--an inordinately beautiful woman, in
fact, but entirely lacking in temperament."

"Temperament!" I scoffed; "what's temperament to two eyes like those?
Why, they're as big as golf-balls! And her voice--why, a violin--a
very superior violin--if it could talk, would have just such a voice
as that woman has! Temperament! Oh, you make me ill! Why, man, just
look at her!" I said, conclusively.

Charteris looked, I presume. In any event, the Juliet of the evening
stood before the curtain, smiling, bowing to right and left. The
citizens of Fairhaven were applauding her with a certain conscientious
industry, for they really found Romeo and Juliet a rather dull couple.
The general opinion, however, was that Miss Montmorenci seemed an
elegant actress, and in some interesting play, like _The Two Orphans_
or _Lady Audley's Secret_, would be well worth seeing. Upon those who
had witnessed her initial performance, she had made a most favorable
impression in _The Lady of Lyons_; while at the Tuesday matinee, as
Lady Isabel in _East Lynne_, she had wrung the souls of her hearers,
and had brought forth every handkerchief in the house. Moreover, she
was very good-looking,--quite the lady, some said; and, after all, one
cannot expect everything for twenty-five cents; considering which
circumstances, Fairhaven applauded with temperate ardor, and made due
allowance for Shakespeare as being a classic, and, therefore, of
course, commendable, but not necessarily interesting.


 5

"Well?" I queried, when she had vanished. I was speaking under cover
of the orchestra,--a courtesy title accorded a very ancient and very
feeble piano. "Well, and what do you think of her--of her looks, I
means? Who cares for temperament in a woman!"

Charteris assumed a virtuous expression. "I don't dare tell you," said
he; "you forget I am a married man."

Then I frowned a little. I often resented Charteris's flippant
allusion to a wife whom I considered, with some reason, to be vastly
too good for her husband. And I considered how near I had come to
remaining with the others at Willoughby Hall--for that new game they
called bridge-whist! And I decided I would never care for bridge. How
on earth could presumably sensible people be content to coop
themselves in a drawing-room on a warm May evening, when hardly a
mile away was a woman with perfectly unfathomable eyes and a voice
which was a love-song? Of course, she couldn't act, but, then, who
wanted her to act? I indignantly demanded of my soul.

One simply wanted to look at her, and hear her speak. Charteris, with
his prattle about temperament, was an ass; when a woman is born with
such eyes and with a voice like that, she has done her full duty by
the world, and has prodigally accomplished all one has the tiniest
right to expect of her.

It was impossible she was in reality as beautiful as she seemed,
because no woman was quite so beautiful as that; most of it was
undoubtedly due to rouge and rice-powder and the footlights; but one
could not be mistaken about the voice. And if her speech was that,
what must her singing be! I thought; and in the outcome I remembered
this reflection best of all.

I consulted my programme. It informed me, in large type at the end,
that Juliet was "old Capulet's daughter," and that the part was played
by Miss Annabelle Alys Montmorenci.

And I sighed. I admitted to myself that from a woman who wilfully
assumed such a name little could be hoped. Still, I would like to see
her off the stage...without all those gaudy fripperies and
gewgaws...merely from curiosity.... Then too, they said those
actresses were pretty gay....


 6

"A most enjoyable performance," said Mr. Charteris, as we came out of
the Opera House. "I have always had a sneaking liking for burlesque."

Thereupon he paused to shake hands with Mrs. Adrian Rabbet, wife to
the rector of Fairhaven.

"Such a sad play," she chirped, "and, do you know, I am afraid it is
rather demoralizing in its effects on young people. No, of course, I
didn't think of bringing the children, Mr. Charteris--Shakespeare's
language is not always sufficiently obscure, you know, to make that
safe. And besides, as I so often say to Mr. Rabbet, it is sad to think
of our greatest dramatist having been a drinking man. It quite
depressed me all through the play to think of him hobnobbing with Dr.
Johnson at the Tabard Inn, and making such irregular marriages, and
stealing sheep--or was it sheep, now?"

I said that, as I remembered, it was a fox, which he hid under his
cloak until the beast bit him.

"Well, at any rate, it was something extremely deplorable and
characteristic of genius, and I quite feel for his wife." Mrs. Rabbet
sighed, and endeavored, I think, to recollect whether it was _Ingomar_
or _Spartacus_ that Shakespeare wrote. "However," she concluded, "they
play _Ten Nights in a Barroom_ on Thursday, and I shall certainly
bring the children then, for I am always glad for them to see a really
moral and instructive drama. That reminds me! I absolutely must tell
you what Tom said about actors the other day--"

And she did. This led naturally to Matilda's recent and blasphemous
comments on George Washington, and her observations as to the rector's
dog, and little Adey's personal opinion of Elisha. And so on, in a
manner not unfamiliar to fond parents. Mrs. Rabbet said toward the end
that it was a most enjoyable chat, although to me it appeared to
partake rather of the nature of a monologue. It consumed perhaps a
half-hour; and when we two at last relinquished Mrs. Rabbet to her
husband's charge, it was with a feeling not altogether unakin to
relief.


 7

We walked slowly down Fairhaven's one real street, which extends due
east from the College for as much as a mile, to end inconsequently in
those carefully preserved foundations, which are now the only remnant
of a building wherein a number of important matters were settled in
Colonial days. There Cambridge Street divides like a Y, one branch of
which leads to Willoughby Hall.

Our route from the Opera House thus led through the major part of
Fairhaven, which, after an evening of unwonted dissipation, was now
largely employed in discussing the play, and turning the cat out for
the night. The houses were mostly dark, and the moon, nearing its
full, silvered row after row of blank windows. There was an odour of
growing things about, for in Fairhaven the gardens are many.

Then it befell that I made a sudden exclamation.

"Eh?" said Charteris.

"Why, nothing," I explained, lucidly.

It may be mentioned, however, that we were, at this moment, passing a
tall hedge of box, set about a large garden. The hedge was perhaps
five feet six in height; Charteris was also five feet six, whereas I
was an unusually tall young man, and topped my host by a good
half-foot.

"I say," I observed, after a little, "I'm all out of cigarettes. I'll
go back to the drug-store," I suggested, as seized with a happy
thought, "and get some. I noticed it was still open. Don't think of
waiting for me," I urged, considerately.

"Why, great heavens!" Charteris ejaculated; "take one of mine. I can
recommend them, I assure you--and, in any event, there are all sorts,
I fancy, at the house. They keep only the rankest kind of domestic
tobacco yonder."

"I prefer it," I insisted, "oh, yes, I really prefer it. So much
milder and more wholesome, you know. I never smoke any other sort. My
doctor insists on my smoking the very rankest tobacco I can get. It is
much better for the heart, he says, because you don't smoke so much of
it, you know. Besides," I concluded, virtuously, "it is infinitely
cheaper; you can get twenty cigarettes all for five cents at some
places. I really must economize, I think."

Charteris turned, and with great care stared in every direction. He
discovered nothing unusual. "Very well!" assented Mr. Charteris; "I,
too, have an eye for bargains. I will go with you."

"If you do alive," quoth I, quite honestly, "I devoutly desire that
all sorts of unpleasant things may happen to me for not having wrung
your neck first."

Charteris grinned. "Immoral young rip!" said he; "I warn you, before
entering the ministry, Mr. Rabbet was accounted an excellent shot."

"Get out!" said I.

And the fervour of my utterance was such that Charteris proceeded to
obey. "Don't be late for breakfast, if you can help it," he urged,
kindly. "Of course, though, you are up to some new form of insanity,
and I shall probably be sent for in the morning, to bail you out of
the lock-up."

Thereupon he turned on his heel, and went down the deserted street,
singing sweetly.

Sang Mr. Charteris:

  "Curly gold locks cover foolish brains,
  Billing and cooing is all your cheer,
  Sighing and singing of midnight strains
  Under bonnybells" window-panes.
  Wait till you've come to forty year!

 "Forty times over let Michaelmas pass,
  Grizzling hair the brain doth clear;
  Then you know a boy is an ass,
  Then you know the worth of a lass,
  Once you have come to forty-year."



6.

_He Chats Over a Hedge_


Left to myself, I began to retrace my steps. Solitude had mitigated my
craving for tobacco in a surprising manner; indeed, a casual observer
might have thought it completely forgotten, for I walked with curious
leisure. When I had come again to the box-hedge my pace had
degenerated, a little by a little, into an aimless lounge. Mr. Robert
Etheridge Townsend was rapt with admiration of the perfect beauty of
the night.

Followed a strange chance. There was only the mildest breeze about; it
was barely audible among the leaves above; and yet--so unreliable are
the breezes of still summer nights,--with a sudden, tiny and almost
imperceptible outburst, did this treacherous breeze lift Mr.
Townsend's brand-new straw hat from his head, and waft it over the
hedge of trim box-bushes. This was unfortunate, for, as has been said,
the hedge was a tall and sturdy hedge. So I peeped over it, with
disconsolate countenance.


 2

"Beastly awkward," said I, as meditatively; "I'd give a great deal to
know how I'm going to get my hat back without breaking through the
blessed hedge, and rousing the house, and being taken for a burglar,
may be--"

"It is terrible," assented a quite tranquil voice; "but if gentlemen
_will_ venture abroad on such terrible nights--"

"Eh?" said I. I looked up quickly at the moon; then back toward the
possessor of the voice. It was peculiar I had not noticed her before,
for she sat on a rustic bench not more than forty feet away, and in
full view of the street. It was, perhaps, the strangeness of the
affair that was accountable for the great wonder in my soul; and the
little tremor which woke in my speech.

"--so windy," she complained.

"Er--ah--yes, quite so!" I agreed, hastily.

"I am really afraid that it must be a tornado. Ah," she continued,
emotion catching at her voice, "heaven help all poor souls at sea! How
the wind must whistle through the cordage! how the marlin-spikes must
quiver, and the good ship reel on such a night!" She looked up at a
cloudless sky, and sighed.

"Er h'm!" I observed.

For she had come forward and had held out my hat toward me, and I
could see her very plainly now; and my mouth was making foolish
sounds, and my heart was performing certain curious and varied
gymnastics which could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be
included among its proper duties, and which interfered with my
breathing.


 3

"Didn't I know it--didn't I know it?" I demanded of my soul, and my
pulses sang a paean; "I knew, with that voice, she couldn't be a
common actress--a vulgar, raddled creature out of a barn! You not a
gentlewoman! Nonsense! Why--why, you're positively incredible! Oh, you
great, wonderful, lazy woman, you are probably very stupid, and you
certainly can't act, but your eyes are black velvet, and your voice is
evidently stolen from a Cremona, and as for your hair, there must be
pounds of it, and, altogether, you ought to be set up on a pedestal
for men to worship! There is just one other woman in the whole wide
world as beautiful as you are; and she is two thousand years old, and
is securely locked up in the Louvre, and belongs to the French
Government, and, besides, she hasn't any arms, so that even there you
have the advantage!"

Indeed, Miss Annabelle Alys Montmorenci was of much the same large,
placid type as the Venus of Milo, nor were the upper portions of the
two faces dissimilar. Miss Montmorenci's lips, however, were far more
curved, more buxom, and were, at the present moment, bordered by an
absolutely bewildering assemblage of dimples which the statue may not
boast.


 4

"I really think," said Miss Montmorenci, judicially, "that it would be
best for you to seek some shelter from this devastating wind. It
really is not safe, you know, in the open. You might be swept away,
just as your hat was."

"The shelter of a tree--" I began, looking doubtfully into the garden,
which had any number of trees.

"The very thing," she assented. "There is a splendid oak yonder, just
half a block up the street." And she graciously pointed it out.

I regarded it with disapproval. "Such a rickety old tree," I objected,
sulkily.

Followed a silence. She bent her head to one side, and looked up at
me. She was now grave with a difference. "A strolling actress isn't
supposed to be very particular, is she?" asked Miss Montmorenci. "She
wouldn't object to a man's coming by night and trying to scrape
acquaintance with her,--a man who wouldn't think of being seen with
her by day? She would like it, probably. She--she'd probably be
accustomed to it, wouldn't she?" And Miss Montmorenci smiled.

And I, on a sudden, was abjectly ashamed of myself. "Why, you can't
think that of me!" I babbled. "I--oh, don't think me that sort, I beg
of you! I'm not--really, I'm not, Miss Montmorenci! But I admired you
so much to-night--I--oh, of course, I was very silly and very
presumptuous, but, really, you know--"

I paused for a little. This was miles apart from the glib talk I had
designed.

"My name is Robert Townsend," I then continued; "I am staying at Mr.
Charteris's place, just outside of Fairhaven. And I am delighted to
meet you, Miss Montmorenci. So now, you see, we have been quite
properly introduced, haven't we? And, by the way," I suggested, after
a moment's meditation, "there is a very interesting old college here--
old pictures, records, historical association and such like. I would
like to inspect it, vastly. Can't I call for you in the morning. We
can do it together, if you don't mind, and if you haven't already seen
it. Won't you, Miss Montmorenci? You really ought to see King's
College, you know; it is quite famous, because I was educated there,
and no end of other interesting things have happened within its
venerable confines."

She had drawn close to the hedge. "You really mean it?" she asked.
"You would walk through the streets of this Fairhaven with me--with a
barn-stormer, with a strolling actress? You'd be afraid!" she cried,
suddenly; "oh, yes, you talk bravely enough, but you'd be afraid, of
course, when the time came! You'd be afraid!"

I had taken the hat, but my head was still uncovered. "I don't think,"
said I, reflectively, "that I am afraid of many things, somehow. But
of one thing I am certainly not afraid, and that is of mistaking a
good woman for--for anything else. Their eyes are different somehow,"
I haltingly explained, as to myself; then I smiled. "Shall we say
eleven o'clock?"

Miss Montmorenci laid one hand upon the hedgetop and slowly twisted
off four box-leaves what while I waited. "I--I believe you," she said,
in' meditation; "oh, yes, I believe you, somehow, Mr. Townsend. But we
rehearse in the morning, and there is a matinee every day, you know,
and--and there are other reasons--" She paused, irresolutely. "No,"
said Miss Montmorenci, "I thank you, but--good night."

"Oh, I say! am I never to see any more of you?"

A century or so of silence now. Her deliberation seemed endless.

At last: "Matinees and rehearsal keep us busy by day. But I am
boarding here for the week, and--and I rest here in the garden after
the evening performance. It is cool, it--it is like a glass of water
after taking rather bitter medicine. And you aren't a bad sort, are
you? No; you look too big and strong and clean, Mr. Townsend. And,
besides, you're just a boy--"

"In that case," cried Mr. Townsend, "I shall say goodnight with a
light heart." And I turned to go.

"A moment--" said she.

"An eternity," I proffered.

"Promise me," she said, "that you will not come again this week to the
Opera House."

My brows were raised a trifle. "I adore the drama," I pleaded.

"And I loathe it. And I act very badly--hopelessly so," said Miss
Montmorenci, with an indolent shrug; "and, somehow, I don't want you
to see me do it. Why did you mind my calling you a boy? You _are_, you
know."

So I protested I had not minded it at all; and I promised. "But at
least," I said, triumphantly, "you can't prevent my remembering
Juliet!"

She said of course not, only I was not to be silly.

"And therefore," quoth I, "Juliet shall be remembered always." I
smiled and waved my hand. "_Au revoir_, Signorina Capulet," said I.

And I took my departure. My blood rejoiced, with a strange fervor, in
the summer moonlight. It was good to be alive.



7.

_He Goes Mad in a Garden_


"And, oh, but it is good to be with you again, Signorina!" cried I, as
I came with quick strides into the moonlit garden. I caught both her
hands in mine, and laughed like an ineffably contented person. There
was nothing very subtle about the boy that then was I; at worst, he
overacted what he really felt; and just at present he was pleased with
the universe, and he saw no possible reason for concealing the fact.

It was characteristic, also, that she made no pretence at being
surprised by my coming. She was expecting me and she smiled very
frankly at seeing me. Also, in place of the street dress of Tuesday,
she wore something that was white and soft and clinging, and left her
throat but half concealed. This, for two reasons, was sensible and
praiseworthy; one being that the night was warm, and the other that it
really broadened my ideas as to the state of perfection which it is
possible for the human throat to attain.


 2

"So you don't like my stage-name?" she asked, as I sat down beside
her. "Well, for that matter, no more do I." "It doesn't suit you," I
protested--"not in the least. Whereas, you might be a Signorina
Somebody-or-other, you know. You are dark and stately and--well, I
can't tell you all the things you are," I complained, "because the
English language is so abominably limited. But, upon the whole, I am
willing to take the word of the playbill,--yes, I am quite willing to
accept you as Signorina Capulet. She had a habit of sitting in gardens
at night, I remember. Yes," I decided, after reflection, "I really
think it highly probable that you are old Capulet's daughter. I shall
make a point of it to pick a quarrel as soon as possible, with that
impertinent, trespassing young Montague. He really doesn't deserve
you, you know."

Unaccountably, her face saddened. Then, "Signorina? Signorina?" she
appraised the title. "It _is_ rather a pretty name. And the other is
horrible. Yes, you may call me Signorina, if you like."


 3

She would not tell me her real name. She was unmarried,--this much she
told me, but of her past life, her profession, or of her future she
never spoke. "I don't want to talk about it," she said, candidly. "We
play for a week in Fairhaven, and here, once off the stage, I intend
to forget I am an actress. When I am on the stage," she added, in
meditative wise, "of course everyone knows I am not."

I laughed. I found her very satisfying; she was not particularly
intelligent, perhaps, but then I was beginning to consider clever
women rather objectionable creatures. There was a sufficiency of them
among the Charteris house-party--Alicia Wade, for instance, and
Pauline Ashmeade and Cynthia Chaytor,--and I thought of them almost
resentfully. The world had accorded them not exactly what they most
wanted, perhaps, but, at least, they had its luxuries; and they said
sharp, cynical things about the world in return. In a woman's mouth
epigrams were as much out-of-place as a meerschaum pipe.

Here, on the contrary, was a woman whom the world had accorded nothing
save hard knocks, and she regarded it, upon the whole, as an eminently
pleasant place to live in. She accepted its rebuffs with a certain
large calm, as being all in the day's work. There was, no doubt, some
good and sufficient reason for these inconveniences; not for a moment,
however, did she puzzle her handsome head in speculating over this
reason. She was probably too lazy. And the few favours the world
accorded her she took thankfully.

"You see," she explained to me--this was on Thursday night, when I
found her contentedly eating cheap candy out of a paper bag,--"the
world is really very like a large chocolate drop; it's rather bitter
on the outside, but when you have bitten through, you find the heart
of it sweet. Oh, how greedy!--you've taken the last candied cherry,
and I am specially fond of candied cherries!" And indeed, she looked
frankly regretful as I munched it.

I thought her adorable; and in exchange for that last candied cherry I
promised her some of the new books,--_David Harum_ certainly, and,
_When Knighthood Was in Flower_, because everybody was reading it, and
Mr. Dooley, because they said this young fellow Dunne was nearly as
funny as Bill Nye....


 4

In fact, the moon seemed to shine down each night upon that particular
garden in a more and more delightful and dangerous manner. And I being
a fairly normal and healthy young man, the said moonshine affected me
in a fashion which has been peculiar to moonshine since Noah was a
likely stripling; my blood appeared to me, at times, to leap and
bubble in my veins as if it had been some notably invigorating and
heady tipple; and my heart was unreasonably contented, and I gave due
thanks for this woman who had come to me unsullied through the world's
gutter. For she came unsullied; there was no questioning that.

I pictured her in certain execrable rhymes as the Lady in _Comus_,
moving serene and unafraid among a rabble of threatening, bestial
shapes. And I rejoiced that there were women like this in the world,--
brave, wholesome, unutterably honest women, whose very lack of
cleverness--oh, subtle appeal to my vanity!--demanded a gentleman's
protection.

As has been said, I was a well-grown lad, but when I thought in this
fashion I seemed to myself, at a moderate computation, ten feet in
height,--and just the person, in short, who would be an ideal
protector.

Thus far my callow meditations. My course of reasoning was perhaps
faulty, but then there are, at twenty-one, many processes more
interesting and desirable than the perfecting of a mathematical
demonstration. And so, for a little, my blood rejoiced with a strange
fervour in the summer moonlight, and it was good to be alive.


 5

Thursday was the twenty-third of the month, so upon that afternoon I
wrote to Bettie Hamlyn, in far-off Colorado.

It was a lengthy letter. It told her of how desolate her garden was
and of how odd Fairhaven seemed without her. It told how I had half
changed my mind, and would probably not go to Europe with Mr.
Charteris, after all. Bettie had been at pains, in the letter I was
answering, to expatiate upon her hatred of Charteris, whom she had
never seen. My letter told her, in fine, of a variety of matters. And
it ended:

"I went to the Opera House on Monday. But that, like everything else,
isn't the same without you, dear. The woman who played Juliet was, I
believe, rather good-looking, but I scarcely noticed her in worrying
over the pitiful circumstance that the Apothecary and the Populace of
Verona had only one pair of shoes between them. Besides, Mercutio kept
putting on a bathrobe and insisting he was Friar Laurence.... I would
write more about it, if I had not almost used up all my paper. There
is just room to say--"


 6

This was, as I have stated, on Thursday afternoon. Upon the following
evening--

"And why not?" I demanded, for the ninth time.

But she was resolute. "Oh, it is dear of you!" she cried; "and I--I do
care for you,--how could I help it? But it can't be,--it can't ever
be," she repeated wearily; and then she looked at me, and smiled a
little. "Oh, boy, boy! dear, dear boy!" she murmured, half in wonder,
"how foolish of you and--how dear of you!"

"And why not?" said I--for the tenth time.

She gave a sobbing laugh. "Oh, the great, brave, stupid boy!" she
said, and, for a moment, her hand rested on my hair; "he doesn't know
what he is doing,--ah, no, he doesn't know! Why, I might hold you to
your word! I might sue you for breach of promise! I might marry you
out of hand! Think of that! Why I am only a strolling actress, and
fair game for any man,--any man who isn't particular," she added, with
the first trace of bitterness I had ever observed in her odd, throaty
voice. "And you would marry me,--you! you would give me your name, you
would make me your wife! You have actually begged me to be your wife,
haven't you? Ah, my brave, strong, stupid Bobbie, how many women must
love you,--women who have a right to love you! And you would give them
all up for me,--for me, you foolish Bobbie, whom you haven't known a
week! Ah, how dear of you!" And she caught her breath swiftly, and her
voice broke.

"Yes," I brazenly confessed; "I really believe I would give them all
up--every blessed one of them--for you." I inspected her, critically,
and then smiled. "And I don't think that I would be deserving any very
great credit for self sacrifice, either, Signorina."

"My dear," she answered, "it pleases you to call me old Capulet's
daughter,--but if I were only a Capulet, and you a Montague, don't you
see how much easier it would be? But we don't belong to rival
families, we belong to rival worlds, to two worlds that have nothing
in common, and never can have anything in common. They are too strong
for us, Bobbie,--my big, dark, squalid world, that you could never
sink to, and your gay little world which I can never climb to,--your
world that would have none of me, even if--even _if_--" But the
condition was not forthcoming.

"The world," said I, in an equable tone--"My dear, I may as well warn
you I am shockingly given to short and expressive terms, and as we are
likely to see a deal of each other for the future, you will have to be
lenient with them,--accordingly, I repeat, the world may be damned."

And I laughed, in unutterable content. "Have none of you!" I cried.
"My faith, I would like to see a world which would have none of you!
Ah, Signorina, it is very plain to me that you don't realize what a
beauty, what a--a--good Lord, what an unimaginative person it was that
invented the English language! Why, you have only to be seen, heart's
dearest,--only to be seen, and the world is at your feet,--my world,
to which you belong of rights; my world, that you are going to honour
by living in; my world, that in a little will go mad for sheer envy of
blundering, stupid, lucky me!" And I laughed her to scorn.

There was a long silence. Then, "I belonged to your world once, you
know."

"Why, of course, I knew as much as that."

"And yet--you never asked--" "Ah, Signorina, Signorina!" I cried;
"what matter? Don't I know you for the bravest, tenderest, purest,
most beautiful woman God ever made? I doubt you--I! My word!" said I,
and stoutly, "that _would_ be a pretty go! You are to tell me just
what you please," I went on, almost belligerently, "and when and where
you please, my lady. And I would thank you," I added, with appropriate
sternness, "to discontinue your pitiful and transparent efforts to
arouse unworthy suspicions as to my future wife. They are wasted,
madam,--utterly wasted, I assure you."

"Oh, Bobbie, Bobbie!" she sighed; "you are such a beautiful baby! Give
me time," she pleaded weakly.

And, when I scowled my disapproval, "Only till tomorrow--only a
little, little twenty-four hours. And promise me, you won't speak of
this--this crazy nonsense again tonight. I must think."

"Never!" said I, promptly; "because I couldn't be expected to keep
such an absurd promise," I complained, in indignation.

"And you look so strong," she murmured, with evident disappointment,--
"so strong and firm and--and--admirable!"

So I promised at once. And I kept the promise--that is, I did
subsequently refer to the preferable and proper course to pursue in
divers given circumstances "when we are married;" but it was on six
occasions only, and then quite casually,--and six times, as I myself
observed, was, all things considered, an extremely moderate allowance
and one that did great credit to my self-control.


 7

"And besides, why _not_?" I said,--for the eleventh time.

"There are a thousand reasons. I am not your equal, I am just an
ostensible actress--Why, it would be your ruin!"

"My dear Mrs. Grundy, I confess that, for the moment, your disguise
had deceived me. But now: I recognize your voice."

She laughed a little. "And after all," the grave voice said, which
was, to me at least, the masterwork of God, "after all, hasn't one
always to answer Mrs. Grundy--in the end?"

"Why, then, you disgusting old harridan," said I, "I grant you it is
utterly impossible to defend my behaviour in this matter, and, believe
me, I don't for an instant undertake the task. To the contrary, I
agree with you perfectly,--my conduct is most thoughtless and
reprehensible, and merits your very severest condemnation. For look
you, here is a young man, well born, well-bred, sufficiently well
endowed with this world's goods, in short, an eminently eligible
match, preparing to marry an 'ostensible actress' a year or two his
senior,--why, of course, you are,--and of whose past he knows
nothing,--absolutely nothing. Don't you shudder at the effrontery of
the minx? Is it not heart-breaking to contemplate the folly, the utter
infatuation of the misguided youth who now stands ready to foist such
a creature upon the circles of which your ladyship is a distinguished
ornament? I protest it is really incredible. I don't believe a word of
it."

"I cannot quite believe it, either, Bobbie--"

"But you see, he loves her. You, my dear madam, blessed with a wiser
estimation of our duties to society, of the responsibilities of our
position, of the cost of even the most modest establishment, and,
above all, of the sacredness of matrimony and the main chance, may
well shrug your shoulders at such a plea. For, as you justly observe,
what, after all, is this love? only a passing madness, an exploded
superstition, an irresponsible _ignis fatuus_ flickering over the
quagmires and shallows of the divorce court. People's lives are no
longer swayed by such absurdities; it is quite out of date."

"Yes; you are joking, Bobbie, I know; yet it is really out of date--"

"But I protest, loudly, my hand upon my heart, that it is true; people
no longer do mad things for love, or ever did, in spite of lying
poets; any more than the birds mate in the spring, or the sun rises in
the morning; popular fallacies, my dear madam, every one of them. You
and I know better, and are not to be deceived by appearances, however
specious they may be. Ah, but come now! Having attained this highly
satisfactory condition, we can well afford to laugh at all our past
mistakes,--yes, even at our own! For let us be quite candid. Wasn't
there a time, dear lady, before Mr. Grundy came a-wooing, when,
somehow, one was constantly meeting unexpected people in the garden,
and, somehow, one sat out a formidable number of dances during the
evening, and, somehow, the poets seemed a bit more plausible than they
do today? It was very foolish, of course,--but, ah, madam, there _was_
a time,--a time when even our staid blood rejoiced with a strange
fervour in the summer moonlight, and it was good to be alive! Come
now, have you the face to deny it,--Mrs. Methuselah?"

"It has not been quite bad to be alive, these last few hours--"

"And, oh, my dear, how each of us will look back some day to this very
moment! And we are wasting it! And I have not any words to tell you
how I love you! I am just a poor, dumb brute!" I groaned.

Then very tenderly she began to talk with me in a voice I cannot tell
you of, and concerning matters not to be recorded.

And still she would not promise anything; and I would give an arm, I
think, could it replevin all the idiotic and exquisite misery I knew
that night.



8.

_He Duels with a Stupid Woman_


Yet I approached the garden on Saturday night with an elated heart.
This was the last evening of the engagement of the Imperial Dramatic
Company. To-morrow the troupe was to leave Fairhaven; but I was very
confident that the leading lady would not accompany them, and by
reason of this confidence, I smiled as I strode through the city of
Fairhaven, and hummed under my breath an inane ditty of an extremely
sentimental nature.

As I bent over the little wooden gate, and searched for its elusive
latch, a man came out of the garden, wheeling sharply about the hedge
that, until this, had hidden him; and simultaneously, I was aware of
the mingled odour of bad tobacco and of worse whiskey. Well, she would
have done with such people soon! I threw open the gate, and stood
aside to let him pass; then, as the moon fell full upon the face of
the man, I gave an inarticulate, startled sound.

"Fine evening, sir," suggested the stranger.

"Eh?" said I; "eh? Oh, yes, yes! quite so!" Afterward I shrugged my
shoulders, and went into the garden, a trifle puzzled.


 2

I found her beneath a great maple in the heart of the enclosure. It
was a place of peace; the night was warm and windless, and the moon,
now come to its full glory, rode lazily in the west through a froth of
clouds. Everywhere the heavens were faintly powdered with stardust,
but even the planets seemed pale and ineffectual beside the splendour
of the moon.

The garden was drenched in moonshine--moonshine that silvered the
unmown grass-plots, and converted the white rose-bushes into squat-figured
wraiths, and tinged the red ones with dim purple hues. On every side the
foliage blurred into ambiguous vistas, where fireflies loitered; and the
long shadows of the nearer trees, straining across the grass, were wried
patterns scissored out of blue velvet. It was a place of peace and light
and languid odours, and I came into it, laughing, the possessor of an
over-industrious heart and of a perfectly unreasoning joy over the fact
that I was alive.

"I say," I observed, as I stretched luxuriously upon the grass beside
her, "you put up at a shockingly disreputable place, Signorina."
"Yes?" said she.

"That fellow who just went out," I explained--"do you know the police
want his address, I think? No," I continued, after consideration, "I
am sure I'm not mistaken,--that is either Ned Lethbury, the embezzler,
or his twin-brother. It's been five years since I saw him, but that is
he. And that", said I, with proper severity, "is a sample of the sort
of associate you prefer to your humble servant! Ah, Signorina,
Signorina, I am a tolerably worthless chap, I admit, but at least I
never forged and embezzled and then skipped my bail! So you had much
better marry me, my dear, and say good-bye to your peculating friends.
But, deuce take it! I forgot--I ought to notify the police or
something, I suppose."

She caught my arm. Her mouth opened and shut again before she spoke.
"He--he is my husband," she said, in a toneless voice. Then, on a
sudden, she wailed: "Oh, forgive me! Oh, my great, strong, beautiful
boy, forgive me, for I am very unhappy, and I cannot meet your eyes--
your honest eyes! Ah, my dear, my dear, do not look at me like that,--
you don't know how it hurts!"

The garden noises lisped about us in the long silence that fell. Then
the far-off whistling of some home going citizen of Fairhaven tinkled
shrilly through the night, and I shuddered a bit.

"I don't understand," I commenced, strangely quiet. "You told me--"

"Ah, I lied to you! I lied to you!" she cried. "I didn't, mean to--
hurt you. I did not know--I couldn't know--I was so lonely, Bobbie,"
she pleaded, with wide eyes; "oh, you don't know how lonely I am. And
when you came to me that first night, you--why, you spoke to me as the
men I once knew used to speak. There was respect in your voice, and I
wanted that so; I hadn't had a man speak to me like that for years,
you know, Bobbie. And, boy dear, I was so lonely in my squalid
world,--and it seemed as if the world I used to know was calling me--
your world, Bobbie--the world I am shut out from."

"Yes," I said; "I think I understand."

"And I thought for a week--just to peep into it, to be a lady again
for an hour or two--why, it didn't seem wicked, then, and I wanted it
so much! I--I knew I could trust you, because you were only a boy. And
I was hungry--_so_ hungry for a little respect, a little courtesy,
such as men don't accord strolling actresses. So I didn't tell you
till the very last I was married. I lied to you. Oh, but you don't
understand, this stupid, honest boy doesn't understand anything except
that I have lied to him!"

"Signorina," I said, again, and I smiled, resolutely, "I think I
understand." I took both her hands in mine, and laughed a little.
"But, oh, my dear, my dear," I said, "you should have told me that you
loved another man; for you have let me love you for a week, and now I
think that I must love you till I die."

"Love him!" she echoed. "Oh, boy dear, boy dear, what a Galahad it is!
I don't think Ned ever cared for anything but Father's money; and I--
why, you have seen him. How _could_ I love him?" she asked, as simply
as a child.

I bowed my head. "And yet--" said I. Then I laughed again, somewhat
bitterly. "Don't let's tell stories, Mrs. Lethbury," I said; "it is
kindly meant, I know, but I remember you now. I even danced with you
once, some seven years ago,--yes, at the Green Chalybeate. I remember
the night, for a variety of reasons. You are Alfred Van Orden's
daughter; your father is a wealthy man, a very wealthy man; and yet,
when your--your husband disappeared you followed him--to become a
strolling actress. Ah, no, a woman doesn't sacrifice everything for a
man in the way you have done, unless she loves him."

I caught my breath. Some unknown force kept tugging down the corners
of my mouth, in a manner that hampered speech; moreover, nothing
seemed worth talking about. I had lost her. That was the one thing
which mattered.

"Why, of course, I went with him," she assented, a shade surprised;
"he was my husband, you know. But as for loving,--no, I don't think
Ned ever really loved me," she reflected, with puckering brows. "He
took that money for--for another woman, if you remember. But he is
fond of me, and--and he _needs_ me."

I did not say anything; and after a little she went on, with a quick
lift of speech.

"Oh, what a queer life we have led since then! You can't imagine it,
my dear. He has been a tavern-keeper, a drummer,--everything! Why,
last summer we sold rugs and Turkish things in Atlantic City! But he
is always afraid of meeting someone who knows him, and--and he drinks
too much. So we have not got on in the world, Ned and I; and now,
after three years, I'm the leading lady of the Imperial Dramatic
Company, and he is the manager. I forgot, though,--he is advance-agent
this week, for he didn't dare stay in Fairhaven, lest some of the men
at Mr. Charteris's should recognize him, you know. He came back only
this evening--"

She paused for a moment; a wistful quaver crept into her speech. "Oh,
it's queer, it's queer, Bobbie! Sometimes--sometimes when I have time
to think, say on long Sunday afternoons, I remember my old life, every
bit of it,--oh, I do remember such strange little details! I remember
the designs on the bread and butter plates, and all the silver things
on my desk, and the plank by my door that always creaked and somehow
never got fixed, and the big, shiny buttons on the coachman's coat,--
just trifles like that. And--and they hurt, they hurt, Bobbie, those
little, unimportant things! They--grip my throat."

She laughed, not very mirthfully. "Then I am like the old lady in the
nursery rhyme, and say, Surely, this can't be I. But it is I, boy
dear,--a strolling actress, a barn-stormer! Isn't it queer, Bobbie?
But, oh, you don't know half--"

I was remembering many things. I remembered Lethbury, a gross man,
superfluously genial, whom I had never liked, although I recalled my
admiration of his whiskers. I recollected young Amelia Van Orden, not
come to her full beauty then, the bud of girlhood scarce slipped; and
I remembered very vividly the final crash, the nine days' talk over
Lethbury's flight in the face of certain conviction,--by his father-in-
law's advice (as some said) who had furnished and forfeited heavy bail
for the absconder. Oh, the brave woman who had followed! Oh, the brave,
foolish woman! And, for the action's recompense, he was content to
exhibit her to yokels, to make of her beauty an article of traffic.
Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven. And then hope
blazed.

"Your husband," I said, quickly, "he does not love you? He--he is not
faithful to you?"

"No," she answered; "there is a Miss Fortescue--she plays second
parts--"

"Ah, my dear, my dear!" I cried, with a shaking voice; "come away,
Signorina,--come away with me! He _doesn't_ need you,--and, oh, my
dear, I need you so! You can get your divorce and marry me. Ah,
Signorina, come away,--come away from this squalid life that is
killing you, to the world you are meant for, to the life you hunger
for! Come back to the clean, lighthearted world you love, the world
that is waiting to pet and caress you just as it used to do,--our
world, Signorina! You don't belong here with--with the Fortescues. You
belong to us."

I sprang to my feet. "Come now!" said I. "There's Anne Charteris; she
is a good woman, if ever lived one. She used to know you, too, didn't
she? Well, then, come with me to her, dearest--and tonight! You shall
see your father tomorrow. Your father--why, think how that old man
loves you, how he has longed for you, his only daughter, all these
years. And I?" I spread out my hands, in the tiniest, impotent
gesture. "I love you," I said, simply. "I cannot do without you,
heart's dearest."

Impulsively, she rested both hands upon my breast; then bowed her head
a little. The nearness of her seemed to shake in my blood, to catch at
my throat, and my hands, lifted for a moment, trembled with desire of
her.

"You don't understand," she said. "I am a Catholic--my mother was one,
you know. There is no divorce for us. And--and besides, I'm not
modern. I am very old-fashioned, I suppose, in my ideas. Do you know,"
she asked, with a smile upon the face which lifted confidingly toward
me, "I--I _really_ believe the world was made in six days; and that
the whale swallowed Jonah, and that there is a real purgatory and a
hell of fire and brimstone. You don't, do you, Bobbie? But I do,--and
I promised to stay with him till death parted us, you know, and I must
do it. I am all he has. He would get even worse without me. I--oh, boy
dear, boy dear, I love you so!" And her voice broke, in a great,
choking sob.

"A promise--a promise made by an ungrown girl to a brute--a thief--!"

"No, dear," she answered, quietly; "a promise made to God."

And looking into her face, I saw love there, and anguish, and
determination. It seemed monstrous, but of a sudden I knew with a dull
surety; she loved me, but she thought she had no right to love me; she
would not go with me. She would go with that drunken, brutish thief.

And I suddenly recalled certain clever women--Alicia Wade, Pauline
Ashmeade, Cynthia Chaytor--the women of that world wherein I was
novitiate; beyond question, they would raise delicately penciled
eyebrows to proclaim this woman a fool--and to wonder.

They would be right, I thought. She was only a splendid, tender-hearted,
bright-eyed fool, the woman that I loved. My heart sickened as her
folly rose between us, an impassable barrier. I hated it; and I revered
it.

Thus we two stood silent for a time. The wind murmured above in the
maples, lazily, ominously. Then the gate clicked, with a vicious snap
that pierced the silence like the report of a distant rifle. "That is
probably Ned," she said wearily. "I had forgotten they close the
barrooms earlier on Saturday nights. So good-bye, Bobbie. You--you may
kiss me, if you like."

So for a moment our lips met. Afterward I caught her hands in mine,
and gripped them close to my breast, looking down into her eyes. They
glinted in the moonlight, deep pools of sorrow, and tender--oh,
unutterably tender and compassionate.

But I found no hope there. I lifted her hand to my lips, and left her
alone in the garden.


 3

Lethbury was fumbling at the gate.

"Such nuishance," he complained, "havin' gate won't unlock. Latch mus'
got los'--po' li'l latch," murmured Mr. Lethbury, plaintively--"all
'lone in cruel worl'!"

I opened the gate for him, and stood aside to let him pass toward his
wife.



9.

_He Puts His Tongue in His Cheek_


It was not long before John Charteris knew of the entire affair, for
in those days I had few concealments from him: and the little wizened
man brooded awhile over my misery, with an odd wistfulness.

"I remember Amelia Van Orden perfectly," he said--"now. I ought to
have recognized her. Only, she was never, in her best days, the
paragon you depict. She sang, I recollect; people made quite a to-do
over her voice. But she was very, very stupid, and used to make loud
shrieking noises when she was amused, and was generally reputed to be
'fast.' I never investigated. Even so, there was not any real doubt as
to her affair, in any event, with Anton von Anspach, after that night
the sleigh broke down--"

"Oh, spare me all those ancient Lichfield scandals! She is an angel,
John, if there was ever one."

"In your eyes, doubtless! So your heart is broken. Yet do you not
realize that not a month ago you were heartbroken over Stella
Musgrave? Child, I repeat, I envy you this perpetual unhappiness, for
I have lost, as you will presently lose, the capacity of being quite
miserable."

"But, John, it seems as if there were nothing left to live for, now--"

"At twenty-one! Well, certainly, at that age one loves to think of
life as being implacable. But you will soon discover that she is
merely inconsequential, and that none of her antics are of lasting
importance; and you will learn to smile a deal more often than you
weep or laugh."

Then we talked of other matters. It was presently settled that
Charteris was to take me abroad with him that summer; and with the
thorough approval of my mother.

"Mr. Charteris will be of incalculable benefit to you," she told me,
"in introducing you to the very best people, all of whom he knows, of
course, and besides you are getting to look older than I, and it is
unpleasant to have to be always explaining you are only my stepson,
particularly as your father never married anybody but me, though,
heaven knows, I wish he had. Of course you will be just as wild as
your father and your Uncle George. I suppose that is to be expected,
and I daresay it will break my heart, but all I ask of you is please
to keep out of the newspapers, except of course the social items. And
if you _must_ associate with abandoned women, please for my sake,
Robert, don't have anything to do with those who can prove that they
are only misunderstood, because they are the most dangerous kind."

I kissed her. "Dear little mother, I honestly believe that when you
get to heaven you will refuse to speak to Mary Magdalen."

"Robert, let us remember the Bible says, 'in my Father's house are
many mansions,' and of course nobody would think of putting me in the
same mansion with her."

It was well-nigh the last conversation I was to hold with my mother;
and I was to remember it with an odd tenderness....


 2

Upon the doings of myself in Europe during the ensuing two years I
prefer to dwell as lightly as possible. I had long anticipated a
sojourn in divers old-world cities; but the London I had looked to
find was the London of Dickens, say, and my Paris the Paris of Dumas,
or at the very least of Balzac. It is needless to mention that in the
circles to which the, quite real, friendship of John Charteris
afforded an entry I found little that smacked of such antiquity. I had
entered a world inhabited by people who amused themselves and
apparently did nothing else; and I was at first troubled by their
levity, and afterward envious of it, and in the end embarked upon
sedulous attempt to imitate it. I continued to be very boyish; indeed,
I found myself by this in much the position of an actor who has made
such a success in one particular role that the public declines to
patronize him in any other.


 3

It was during this first year abroad that I wrote _The Apostates_,
largely through the urging of John Charteris.

"You have the ability, though, that dances most gracefully in fetters.
You will never write convincingly about the life you know, because
life is, to you, my adorable boy, a series of continuous miracles, to
which the eyes of other men are case-hardened. Write me, then, a book
about the past."

"I have thought of it," said I, "for being over here makes the past
seem pretty real, somehow. Last month when I was at Ingilby I was on
fire with the notion of writing something about old Ormskirk--my
mother's ancestor, you know. And since I've seen what's left of
Bellegarde I have wanted to write about his wife's people too,--the
dukes and vicomtes of Puysange, or even about the great Jurgen. You
see, I am just beginning to comprehend that these are not merely
characters in Lowe's and La Vrilliere's books, but my flesh and blood
kin, like Uncle George Bulmer--"

"And for that reason you want to write about them! You would, though;
it is eminently characteristic. Well, then, why should you not
immortalize the persons who had the honor of begetting you--oh, most
handsome and most naive of children!--by writing your very best about
them?" "Because to succeed--not only among the general but with the
'cultured few,' God save the mark!--it is now necessary to write not
badly but abominably."

"What would you demand, then, of a book?"

I meditated. "What one most desiderates in the writings of to-day is
clarity, and beauty, and tenderness and urbanity, and truth."

"Not a bad recipe, upon the whole, though I would stipulate for
symmetry and distinction also--Write the book!"

"Ah," said I, "but this is the kind of book I wish to read when, of
course, the mood seizes me. It is not at all the sort of book, though,
I would elect to write. The main purpose of writing any book, I take
it, is to be read; and people simply will not read a book when they
suspect it of being carefully written. That sort of thing gets on a
reader's nerves; it's too much like watching a man walk a tight-rope
and wondering if he won't slip presently."

"Oh, 'people!'" Charteris flung out, in an extremity of scorn. "Since
time was young, a generally incompetent humanity has been willing to
pardon anything rather than the maddening spectacle of labour
competently done. And they are perfectly right; it is abominable how
such weak-minded persons occasionally thrust themselves into a world
quite obviously designed for persons who have not any minds at all.
But I was not asking you to write a 'best-seller.'"

"No, you were asking me to become an Economist, and be one of 'the few
rare spirits which every age providentially affords,' and so on. That
is absolute and immoral nonsense. When you publish a novel you are at
least pretending to supply a certain demand; and if you don't
endeavour honestly to supply it, you are a swindler, no more and no
less. No, it is all very well to write for posterity, if it amuses
you, John; personally, I cannot imagine what possible benefit you will
derive from it, even though posterity _does_ read your books. And for
myself, I want to be read and to be a power while I can appreciate the
fact that I _am_ a sort of power, however insignificant. Besides, I
want to make some money out of the blamed thing. Mother is a dear, of
course, but, like all the Bulmers, with age she is becoming tight-fisted."

"And Esau--" Charteris began.

"Yes,--but that's Biblical, and publishing a book is business. People
say to authors, just as they do to tailors: 'I want such and such an
article. Make it and I'll pay you for it.' Now, your tailor may
consider the Imperial Roman costume more artistic than that of today,
and so may you in the abstract, but if he sent home a toga in place of
a pair of trousers, you would discontinue dealing with him. So if it
amuses you to make togas, well and good; I don't quarrel with it; but,
personally, I mean to go into the gents' furnishing line and to do my
work efficiently."

"Yes,--but with your tongue in your cheek."

"It is the one and only attitude," I sweetly answered, "in which to
write if you indeed desire to be read with enjoyment." And presently I
rose and launched upon

_A Defence of That Attitude_

"The main trouble with you, John Charteris, is that you will never
recover from being _fin de siecle_. Yes, you belong to that queer
dying nineteenth century. And even so, you have quite overlooked what
is, perhaps, the signal achievement of the nineteenth century,--the
relegation of its literature to the pharmacopoeia. The comparison of
the tailor, I willingly admit, is a bad one. Those who write
successfully nowadays must appeal to men and women who seek in fiction
not only a means of relaxation, but spiritual comfort as well, and an
uplifting rather than a mere diversion of the mind; so that they are
really druggists who trade exclusively in intoxicants and hypnotics.

"Half of the customers patronize the reading-matter shops because they
want to induce delusions about a world they know, and do not find
particularly roseate and the other half skim through a book because
they haven't anything else to do and aren't sleepy, as yet.

"Oh, in filling either prescription the trick is much the same; you
have simply to avoid bothering the reader's intellect in any way
whatever. You have merely to drug it, you have merely to caress it
with interminable platitudes, or else with the most uplifting
avoidances of anything which happens to be unprintably rational. And
you must remember always that the crass emotions of half-educated
persons are, in reality, your chosen keyboard; so play upon it with an
axe if you haven't any handier implement, but hit it somehow, and for
months your name will be almost as famous as that of my mother's
father remains the year round because he invented a celebrated
baking-powder.

"It is all very well for you to sneer, and talk about art. But there
are already in this world a deal more Standard Works than any man can
hope to digest in the average lifetime. I don't quarrel with them,
for, personally, I find even Ruskin, like the python in the circus,
entirely endurable so long as there is a pane of glass between us. But
why, in heaven's name, should you endeavour to harass humanity with
one more battalion of morocco-bound reproaches for sins of omission,
whenever humanity goes into the library to take a nap? For what other
purpose do you suppose a gentleman goes into his library, pray? When
he is driven to reading he does it decently in bed.

"Besides, if I like a book, why, then, in so far as I am concerned, it
_is_ a good book. No, please don't talk to me about 'the dignity of
literature'; modern fiction has precisely as much to do with dignity
as has vaudeville or billiards or that ridiculous Prohibitionist
Party, since the object of all four, I take it, is to afford diversion
to people who haven't anything better to do. Thus, a novel which has
diverted a thousand semi-illiterate persons is exactly ten times as
good as a novel that has pleased a hundred superior persons. It is
simply a matter of arithmetic.

"You prefer to look upon writing as an art, rather than a business?
Oh, you silly little man, the touchstone of any artist is the skill
with which he adapts his craftsmanship to his art's limitations. He
will not attempt to paint a sound or to sculpture a colour, because he
knows that painting and sculpture have their limitations, and he,
quite consciously, recognizes this fact whenever he sets to work.

"Well, the most important limitation of writing fiction nowadays is
that you have to appeal to people who would never think of reading you
or anybody else, if they could possibly imagine any other employment
for that particular vacant half-hour. And you cannot hope for an
audience of even moderately intelligent persons, because intelligent
persons do not attempt to keep abreast with modern fiction. It is
probably ascribable to the fact that they enjoy being intelligent, and
wish to remain so.

"You sneer at the 'best-sellers.' I tell you, in sober earnest, that
the writing of a frankly trashy novel which will 'sell,' is the
highest imaginable form of art. For true art, in its last terms, is
the adroit circumvention of an unsurmountable obstacle. I suppose that
form and harmony and colour are very difficult to tame; and the
sculptor, the musician and the painter quite probably earn their hire.
But people don't go to concerts unless they want to hear music;
whereas the people who buy the 'best-sellers' are the people who would
prefer to do _anything_ rather than be reduced to reading. I protest
that the man who makes these people read on until they see how 'it all
came out' is a deal more than an artist; he is a sorcerer."

And I paused, a little out of breath.

"What a boy it is!" said Charteris. "Do you know, you are uncommonly
handsome when you are talking nonsense? Write the trashy book, then. I
never argue with children; and besides, I do not have to read it."


 4

It thus fell about that in the second European year, not very long
after my mother's death, _The Apostates_ was given to the world, with
what result the world has had a plenty of time wherein to forget....
It was first published in _The Quaker Post_, with pictures by Roderick
King Hill, and in the autumn was brought out as a book by Stuyvesant
and Brothers. I made rather a good thing cut of it financially; but
the numerous letters I received from the people who had liked it I
found extremely objectionable. They were not the right sort of people,
I felt forlornly.... So I endured my plaudits without undue elation,
for I always held _The Apostates_ to be, at best, a medley of
conventional tricks and extravagant rhetoric, inanimate by any least
particle of myself,--and its success, say, as though the splendiferous
trappings of an emperor were hung upon a clothier's dummy, and the
result accepted as an adequate presentation of Charlemagne.

In other words, the book was the most unbridled kind of balderdash,
founded on my callow recollections of the Green Chalybeate,--not the
least bit accurate, as I was afterward to discover,--with all the good
people exceedingly oratorical and the bad ones singularly epigrammatic
and abandoned and obtuse. I introduced a depraved nobleman, of course,
to give the requisite touch of high society, seasoned the mixture with
French and botany and with a trifle of Dolly Dialoguishness, and
inserted, at judicious intervals, the most poetical of descriptions,
so that the skipping of them might afford an agreeable rest to the
reader's eye. There was also a sufficiency of piddling with unsavoury
matters to insure the suffrage of schoolgirls.

And a number of persons, in fine, were so misguided as to enthuse over
the result. The verb is carefully selected, for they one and all were
just the sort of people who "enthuse."


 5

I was vexed, however, at the time to find I could not achieve an
appropriate emotion over my mother's death. The news came, to be sure,
at a season when I was preoccupied with getting rid of Agnes Faroy....
I have not ever heard of any rational excuse for the quite common
assumption that children ought to be particularly fond of their
parents. Still, my mother was the prettiest woman I had ever known,
though without any claim to beauty, and I had always gloried in our
kinship; for I believed her nature to be generous and amiable when she
thought of it; and the cablegram which announced the event aroused in
me sincere regret that a comely ornament to my progress had been
smashed irrevocably.

For a little I reflected as to whither she had vanished, and decided
she had been too futile and well-meaning ever to be punished by any
reasonable Being. Yet how she would have enjoyed the publication of my
book!--without any attempt to read it, however, since she had never,
to my knowledge, read anything, with the exception of the daily
papers.... And besides, I disliked being unable to have the
appropriate emotion.

But I simply could not manage it. For here, in the midst of the Faroy
mess,--with Agnes weeping all over the place, and her brothers
flourishing pistols and declaiming idiocies,--came the news from Uncle
George that my mother had left me virtually nothing. She must have
used up, of course, a good share of her Bulmer Baking Powder money in
supporting my father comfortably; but she had always lived in such
estate as to make me assume she had retained, anyhow, enough of the
Bulmer money to last my time. So it was naturally a shock to discover
that this monetary attitude was inherited from my mother, who had been
cheerfully "living on her principle" all these years, without
considering my future. I had no choice but to regard it as abominably
selfish.

"I think Claire was afraid to tell you," wrote Uncle George, "how
little there was left. In any event, she always shirked doing it, so
as to stave off unpleasantness. And when we cabled you how ill she
was, it now seems most unfortunate you could not see your way clear to
giving up your trip through the chateau country, as your not coming
appeared to be on her mind a great deal at the last. I do not wish to
seem to criticize you in any way, Robert, but I must say...."

Well, but you know what sort of nonsense that smug gambit heralds in
letters from your kindred. Even so, I now owned the Townsend house and
an income sufficient for daily bread; and it looked just then as
though the magazine editors were willing to furnish the butter, and
occasional cakes. So the future promised to be pleasant enough.


 6

Charteris had returned to Algiers in the autumn my book was published,
but I elected to pass the winter in England. "Of course," was Mr.
Charteris's annotation--"because it is precisely the most dangerous
spot in the world for you. And you are to spend October at Negley? I
warn you that Jasper Hardress is in love with his wife, and that the
woman has an incurable habit of making experiments and an utter
inability to acquire experience. Take my advice, and follow Mrs.
Monteagle to the Riviera, instead. Cissie will strip you of every
penny you have, of course, but in the end you will find her a deal
less expensive than Gillian Hardress."

"You possess a low and evil mind," I observed, "since I am fond, in
all sincerity, of Hardress, whereas his wife is not even civil to me.
Why, she goes out of her way to be rude to me."

"Yes," said Mr. Charteris; "but that is because she is getting worried
about her interest in you. And what is the meaning of this, by the
way? I found it on your table this morning." He read the doggerel
aloud with an unkindly and uncalled-for exaggeration of the rhyming
words.

  "We did not share the same inheritance,--
  I and this woman, five years older than I,
  Yet daughter of a later century,--
  Who is therefore only wearied by that dance
  Which has set my blood a-leaping.

                              "It is queer
  To note how kind her face grows, listening
  To my wild talk, and plainly pitying
  My callow youth, and seeing in me a dear
  Amusing boy,--yet somewhat old to be
  Still reading _Alice Through the Looking-Glass_
  And _Water-Babies_.... With light talk we pass,

  "And I that have lived long in Arcady--
  I that have kept so many a foolish tryst,
  And written drivelling rhymes--feel stirring in me
  Droll pity for this woman who pities me,
  And whose weak mouth so many men have kissed."

"That," I airily said, "is, in the first place, something you had no
business to read; and, in the second, simply the blocking out of an
entrancingly beautiful poem. It represents a mood."

"It is the sort of mood that is not good for people, particularly for
children. It very often gets them shot too full of large and untidy
holes."

"Nonsense!" said I, but not in displeasure, because it made me feel
like such a devil of a fellow. So I finished my letter to Bettie
Hamlyn,--for this was on the seventh,--and I went to Negley precisely
as I had planned.


 7

"We were just speaking of you," Mrs. Hardress told me, the afternoon
of my arrival,--"Blanche and I were talking of you, Mr. Townsend, the
very moment we heard your wheels."

I shook hands. "I trust you had not entirely stripped me of my
reputation?"

"Surely, that is the very last of your possessions any reasonable
person would covet?"

"A palpable hit," said I. "Nevertheless, you know that all I possess
in the world is yours for the asking."

"Yes, you mentioned as much, I think, at Nice. Or was it Colonel
Tatkin who offered me a heart's devotion and an elopement? No, I
believe it was you. But, dear me, Jasper is so disgustingly healthy
that I shall probably never have any chance of recreation."

I glanced toward Jasper Hardress. "I have heard," said I, hopefully,
"that there is consumption in the family?"

"Heavens, no! he told me that before marriage to encourage me, but I
find there is not a word of truth in it."

Then Jasper Hardress came to welcome his guest, and save from a
distance I saw no more that evening of Gillian Hardress.



10.

_He Samples New Emotions_


It was the following day, about noon, as I sat intent upon my Paris
_Herald_ that a tiny finger thrust a hole in it. I gave an inaudible
observation, and observed a very plump young person in white with
disfavour.

"And who may you happen to be?" I demanded.

"I'm Gladys," the young lady responded; "and I've runned away."

"But not without an escort, I trust, Miss Gladys? Really--upon my
word, you know, you surprise me, Gladys! An elopement without even a
tincture of masculinity is positively not respectable." I took the
little girl into my lap, for I loved children, and all helpless
things. "Gladys," I said, "why don't you elope with me? And we will
spend our honeymoon in the Hesperides."

"All right," said Gladys, cheerfully. She leaned upon my chest, and
the plump, tiny hand clasped mine, in entire confidence; and the
contact moved me to an irrational transport and to a yearning whose
aim I could not comprehend. "Now tell me a story," said Gladys.

So that I presently narrated to Gladys the ensuing

  _Story of the Flowery Kingdom_

  "Fair Sou-Chong-Tee, by a shimmering brook
  Where ghost-like lilies loomed tall and straight,
  Met young Too-Hi, in a moonlit nook,
  Where they cooed and kissed till the hour was late:
  Then, with lanterns, a mandarin passed in state,
  Named Hoo-Hung-Hoo of the Golden Band,
  Who had wooed the maiden to be his mate--
  For these things occur in the Flowery Land.

  "Now, Hoo-Hung-Hoo had written a book,
  In seven volumes, to celebrate
  The death of the Emperor's thirteenth cook:
  So, being a person whose power was great,
  He ordered a herald to indicate
  He would blind Too-Hi with a red-hot brand
  And marry Sou-Chong at a quarter-past-eight,--
  For these things occur in the Flowery Land.

  "And the brand was hot, and the lovers shook
  In their several shoes, when by lucky fate
  A Dragon came, with his tail in a crook,--
  A Dragon out of a Nankeen Plate,--
  And gobbled the hard-hearted potentate
  And all of his servants, and snorted, _and_
  Passed on at a super-cyclonic rate,--
  For these things occur in the Flowery Land.

  "The lovers were wed at an early date,
  And lived for the future, I understand,
  In one continuous tete-a-tete,--
  For these things occur...in the Flowery Land."


Gladys wanted to know: "But what sort of house is a tete-a-tete? Is it
like a palace?"

"It is very often much nicer than a palace," I declared,--"provided of
course you are only stopping over for a week-end."

"And wasn't it odd the Dragon should have come just when he did?"

"Oh, Gladys, Gladys! don't tell me you are a realist."

"No, I'm a precious angel," she composedly responded, with a flavour
of quotation.

"Well! it is precisely the intervention of the Dragon, Gladys, which
proves the story is literature," I announced. "Don't you pity the poor
Dragon, Gladys, who never gets a chance in life and has to live always
between two book-covers?"

She said that couldn't be so, because it would squash him.

"And yet, dear, it is perfectly true," said Mrs. Hardress. The lean
and handsome woman was regarding the pair of us curiously. "I didn't
know you cared for children, Mr. Townsend. Yes, she is my daughter."
She carried Gladys away, without much further speech.

Yet one Parthian comment in leaving me was flung over her shoulder,
snappishly. "I wish you wouldn't imitate John Charteris so. You are
getting to be just a silly copy of him. You are just Jack where he is
John. I think I shall call you Jack."

"I wish you would," I said, "if only because your sponsors happened to
christen you Gillian. So it's a bargain. And now when are we going for
that pail of water?"

Mrs. Hardress wheeled, the child in her arms, so that she was looking
at me, rather queerly, over the little round, yellow head. "And it was
only Jill, as I remember, who got the spanking," she said. "Oh, well!
it always is just Jill who gets the spanking--Jack."

"But it was Jack who broke his crown," said I; "Wasn't it--Jill?" It
seemed a jest at the time. But before long we had made these nicknames
a habit, when just we two were together. And the outcome of it all was
not precisely a jest....


 2

She told me not long after this, "When I saw Gladys loved you, of
course I loved you too." And I hereby soberly record the statement
that to have a woman fall thoroughly in love with him is the most
uncomfortable experience which can ever befall any man.

I am tolerably sure I never made any amorous declaration. Rather, it
simply bewildered me to observe the shameless and irrational
infatuation this woman presently bore for me, and before it I was
powerless. When I told her frankly I did not love her, had never loved
her, had no intention of ever loving her, she merely bleated, "You are
cruel!" and wept. When I attempted to restrain her paroxysms of
anguish, she took it as a retraction of what I had told her.

I would then have given anything in the world to be rid of Gillian
Hardress. This led to scenes, and many scenes, and played the very
devil with the progress of my second novel. You cannot write when
anyone insists on sitting in the same room with you, on the irrelevant
plea that she is being perfectly quiet, and therefore is not
disturbing you. Besides, she had no business in my room, and was apt
to get caught there.


 3

I remember one of these contentions. She is abominably rouged, and
before me she is grovelling, as she must have seen some actress do
upon the stage.

"Oh, I lied to you," she wailed; "but you are so cruel! Ah, don't be
cruel, Jack!"

Then I lifted the scented woman to her feet, and she stayed
motionless, regarding me. She had really wonderful eyes.

"You are evil," I said, "through and through you are evil, I think,
and I can't help thinking you are a little crazy. But I wish you would
teach me to be as you are, for tonight the hands of my dead father
strain from his grave and clutch about my ankles. He has the right
because it is his flesh I occupy. And I must occupy the body of a
Townsend always. It is not quite the residence I would have chosen--
Eh, well, for all that, I am I! And at bottom I loathe you!"

"You love me!" she breathed.

I thrust her aside and paced the floor. "This is an affair of moment.
I may not condescend to sell, as Faustus did, but of my own volition
must I will to squander or preserve that which is really Robert
Townsend."

I wheeled upon Gillian Hardress, and spoke henceforward with
deliberation. You must remember I was very young as yet.

"I have often regretted that the colour element of vice is so oddly
lacking in our life of to-day. We appear, one and all, to have been
born at an advanced age and with ladylike manners, and we reach our
years of indiscretion very slowly; and meanwhile we learn, too late,
that prolonged adherence to morality trivialises the mind as
hopelessly as a prolonged vice trivialises the countenance. I fear
this has been said by someone else, my too impetuous Jill, and I hope
not, for in that event I might possibly be speaking sensibly, and to
be sensible is a terrible thing and almost as bad as being
intelligible."

"You are not being very intelligible now, sweetheart. But I love to
hear you talk."

"Meanwhile, I am young, and in youth--_il faut des emotions_, as
Blanche Amory is reported to have said, by a novelist named Thackeray,
whose productions are now read in public libraries. Still, for a
respectable and brougham-supporting person, Thackeray came then as
near to speaking the truth as is possible for people of that class. In
youth emotions are necessary. Find me, therefore, a new emotion!"

"So many of them, dear!" she promised.

"I do not love you, understand,--and your husband is my friend, and I
admire him. But I am I! I have endowments, certain faculties which
many men are flattering enough to envy--and I will to make of them a
carpet for your quite unworthy feet. I will to degrade all that in me
is most estimable, and in return I demand a new emotion."


 4

Well, but women are queer. There is positively no way of affronting
them, sometimes. She had not even the grace to note that I had taken a
little too much to drink that night.... But over all this part of my
life I prefer to pass as quickly as may be expedient.


 5

I remembered, anyway, after Gillian had gone from my room, to write
Bettie Hamlyn a post-card. It was no longer, strictly speaking, the
twenty-third, but considerably after midnight, of course. Still, it
was the writing regularly when I loathed writing letters that counted
with Bettie, I reflected; and virtually I was writing on the twenty-third,
and besides, Bettie would never know.


 6

And thereafter Gillian Hardress made almost no concealment of her
feeling toward me, or employed at best the flimsiest of disguises. All
that winter she wrote to me daily, and, when the same roof sheltered
us, would slip the scribblings into my hand at odd moments, but
preferably before her husband's eyes. She demanded an account of every
minute I spent apart from her, and never believed a syllable of my
explanations; and in a sentence, she pestered me to the verge of
distraction.

And always the circumstance which chiefly puzzled me was the host of
men that were infatuated by Gillian Hardress. There was no doubt about
it; she made fools of the staidest, if for no better end than that the
spectacle might amuse me.

"Now you watch me, Jack!" she would say. And I obediently would watch
her wriggling beguilements, and the man's smirking idiocy, with
bewilderment.

For in me her allurements aroused, now, absolutely no sensation save
that of boredom. Often I used to wonder for what reason it seemed
impossible for me, alone, to adore this woman insanely. It would have
been so much more pleasant, all around.

But, I repeat, I wish to have done with this portion of my life as
quickly as may be expedient. I am not particularly proud of it. I
would elide it altogether, were it possible, but as you will presently
see, that is not possible if I am to make myself intelligible. And I
find that the more I write of myself the more I am affected by the
same poor itch for self-exposure which has made Pepys and Casanova and
Rousseau famous, and later feminine diarists notorious.

Were I writing fiction, now, I would make the entire affair more
plausible. As it stands, I am free to concede that this chapter in my
life history rings false throughout, just as any candid record of an
actual occurrence does invariably. It is not at all probable that a
woman so much older than I should have taken possession of me in this
fashion, almost against my will. It is even less probable that her
husband, who was by ordinary absurdly jealous of her, should have
suspected nothing and have been sincerely fond of me.

But then I was only twenty-two, as age went physically, and he looked
upon me as an infant. I was, I think, quite conscientiously childish
with Jasper Hardress. I prattled with him, and he liked it. And so
often, especially when we three were together--say, at luncheon,--I
was teased by an insane impulse to tell him everything, just casually,
and see what he would do.

I think it was the same feeling which so often prompted her to tell
him, in her flighty way, of how profoundly she adored me. I would
wriggle and blush; and Jasper Hardress would laugh and protest that he
adored me too. Or she would expatiate upon this or that personal
feature of mine, or the becomingness of a new cravat, say; and would
demand of her husband if Jack--for so she always called me,--wasn't
the most beautiful boy in the world? And he would laugh and answer
that he thought it very likely.


 7

They were Americans, I should have said earlier, but to all intents
they lived abroad, and had done so for years. Hardress's father had
been thoughtful enough to leave him a sufficient fortune to
countenance the indulgence of this or any other whim, so that the
Hardresses divided the year pretty equally between their real home at
Negley and a tiny chateau which they owned near Aix-les-Bains. I
visited them at both places.

It was a pleasant fiction that I came to see Gladys. Regularly, I was
told off to play with her, as being the only other child in the house.
It was rather hideous, for the little girl adored me, and I was
beginning to entertain an odd aversion toward her, as being in a way
responsible for everything. Had Gillian Hardress never found me
cuddling the child, whose sex was visibly a daily aggrievement to
Jasper Hardress, however conscientiously he strove to conceal the
fact,--so that in consequence "I have to love my precious lamb for
two, Jack,"--Gillian would never, I think, have distinguished me from
the many other men who, so lightly, tendered a host of gallant
speeches.... But I never fathomed Gillian Hardress, beyond learning
very early in our acquaintance that she rarely told me the truth about
anything.

Also I should have said that Hardress cordially detested Charteris,
just as Bettie Hamlyn did, because for some reason he suspected the
little novelist of being in love with Hardress's wife. I do not know;
but I imagine Charteris had made advances to her, in his own ambiguous
fashion, as he was apt to do, barring strenuous discouragement, to
every passably handsome woman he was left alone with. I do know he
made love to her a little later.

Hardress distrusted a number of other men, for precisely the same
reason. Heaven only is familiar with what grounds he had. I merely
know that Gillian Hardress loathed John Charteris; she was jealous of
his influence over me. But me her husband never distrusted. I was only
an amusing and ingenuous child of twenty-two, and not for a moment did
it occur to him that I might be in love with his wife.

Indeed, I believe upon reflection that he was in the right. I think I
never was.


 8

"Yes," I said, "I am to meet the Charterises in Genoa. Yes, it is
rather sudden. I am off to-morrow. I shall not see you dear good
people for some time, I fancy...."

When Hardress had gone the woman said in a stifled voice: "No, I will
not dance. Take me somewhere--there is a winter-garden, I know--"

"No, Jill," said I, with decision. "It's no use. I am really going. We
will not argue it."

Gillian Hardress watched the dancers for a moment, as with languid
interest. "You fear that I am going to make a scene. Well! I can't.
You have selected your torture chamber too carefully. Oh, after all
that's been between us, to tell me here, to my husband's face, in the
presence of some three hundred people, without a moment's warning,
that you are 'off to-morrow!' It--it is for good, isn't it?"

"Yes," I said. "It had to be--some time, you know."

"No, don't look at me. Watch the dancing, I will fan myself and seem
bored. No, I shall not do anything rash."

I was uncomfortable. Yet at bottom it was the theatric value of this
scene which impressed me,--the gaiety and the brilliance on every side
of her misery. And I did not look at her. I did just as she ordered
me.

"I was proud once. I haven't any pride now. You say you must leave me.
Oh, dearest boy, if you only knew how unhappy I will be without you,
you could not leave me. Sweetheart, you must know how I love you. I
long every minute to be with you, and to see you even at a distance is
a pleasure. I know it is not right for me to ask or expect you to love
me always, but it seems so hard."

"It's no use, Jill--"

"Is it another woman? I won't mind. I won't be jealous. I won't make
scenes, for I know you hate scenes, and I have made so many. It was
because I cared so much. I never cared before, Jack. You have tired of
me, I know. I have seen it coming. Well, you shall have your way in
everything. But don't leave me, dear! oh, my dear, my dear, don't
leave me! Oh, I have given you everything, and I ask so little in
return--just to see you sometimes, just to touch your hand sometimes,
as the merest stranger might do...."

So her voice went on and on while I did not look at her. There was no
passion in this voice of any kind. It was just the long monotonous
wail of some hurt animal.... They were playing the _Valse Bleu_, I
remember. It lasted a great many centuries, and always that low voice
was pleading with me. Yes, it was uncommonly unpleasant; but always at
the back of my mind some being that was not I was taking notes as to
precisely how I felt, because some day they might be useful, for the
book I had already outlined. "It is no use, Jill," I kept repeating,
doggedly.

Then Armitage came smirking for his dance. Gillian Hardress rose, and
her fan shut like a pistol-shot. She was all in black, and throughout
that moment she was more beautiful than any other woman I have ever
seen.

"Yes, this is our dance," she said, brightly. "I thought you had
forgotten me, Mr. Armitage. Well! good-bye, Mr. Townsend. Our little
talk has been very interesting--hasn't it? Oh, this dress _always_
gets in my way--"

She was gone. I felt that I had managed affairs rather crudely, but it
was the least unpleasant way out, and I simply had not dared to trust
myself alone with her. So I made the best of an ill bargain, and
remodeled the episode more artistically when I used it later, in
_Afield_.



11.

_He Postures Among Chimney-Pots_


I met the Charterises in Genoa, just as I had planned. Anne's first
exclamation was, "Heavens, child, how dissipated you look! I would
scarcely have known you."

Charteris said nothing. But he and I lunched at the Isotta the
following day, and at the conclusion of the meal the little man leaned
back and lighted a cigarette.

"You must overlook my wife's unfortunate tendency toward the most
unamiable of virtues. But, after all, you are clamantly not quite the
boy I left at Liverpool last October. Where are your Hardresses now?"

"In London for the season. And why is your wife rushing on to Paris,
John?"

"Shopping, as usual. Yes, I believe I did suggest it was as well to
have it over and done with. Anne is very partial to truisms. Besides,
she has an aunt there, you know. Take my advice, and always marry a
woman who is abundantly furnished with attractive and visitable
relations, for this precaution is the true secret of every happy
marriage. We may, then, regard the Hardress incident as closed?"

"Oh, Lord, yes!" said I, emphatically.

"Well, after all, you have been sponging off them for a full year. The
adjective is not ill-chosen, from what I hear. I fancy Mrs. Hardress
has found you better company after she had mixed a few drinks for you,
and so--But a truce to moral reflections! for I am desirous once more
to hear the chimes at midnight. I hear Francine is in Milan?"

"There is at any rate in Milan," said I, "a magnificent Gothic
Cathedral of international reputation; and upon the upper gallery of
its tower, as my guidebook informs me, there is a watchman with an
efficient telescope. Should I fail to meet that watchman, John, I would
feel that I had lived futilely. For I want both to view with him the
Lombard plain, and to ask him his opinion of Cino da Pistoia, and as to
what was in reality the middle name of Cain's wife."


 2

Francine proved cordial; but John Charteris was ever fickle, and not
long afterward an Italian countess, classic in feature, but in coloring
smacking of an artistic renaissance, had drawn us both to Switzerland,
and thence to Liege. It was great fun, knocking about the Continent
with John, for he knew exactly how to order a dinner, and spoke I don't
know how many languages, and seemed familiar with every side-street and
back-alley in Europe. For myself, my French as acquired in Fairhaven
appeared to be understood by everybody, but in replying very few of the
natives could speak their own foolish language comprehensibly. I could
rarely make head or tail out of what they were jabbering about.

I was alone that evening, because Annette's husband had turned up
unexpectedly; and Charteris had gone again to hear Nadine Neroni, the
new prima donna, concerning whom he and his enameled Italian friend
raved tediously. But I never greatly cared for music; besides, the
opera that night was _Faust_; the last act of which in particular, when
three persons align before the footlights and scream at the top of
their voices, for a good half hour, about how important it is not to
disturb anybody, I have never been able to regard quite seriously.

So I was spending this evening sedately in my own apartments at the
Continental; and meanwhile I lisped in numbers that (or I flattered
myself) had a Homeric tang; and at times chewed the end of my pencil
meditatively. "From present indications," I was considering, "that
Russian woman is cooking something on her chafing-dish again. It
usually affects them that way about dawn."

I began on the next verse viciously, and came a cropper over the clash
of two sibilants, as the distant clamour increased. "Brutes!" said I,
disapprovingly. "Sere, clear, dear--Now they have finished, '_Jamais,
monsieur_', and begun crying, 'Fire!' Oh, this would draw more than
three souls out of a weaver, you know! Mere, near, hemisphere--no, but
the Greeks thought it was flat. By Jove! I do smell smoke!"

Wrapping my dressing-gown about me--I had afterward reason to thank the
kindly fates that it was the green one with the white fleurs-de-lis,
and not my customary, unspeakably disreputable bath-robe, scorched by
the cigarette ashes of years,--I approached the door and peeped out
into the empty hotel corridor. The incandescent lights glimmered mildly
through a gray haze which was acrid and choking to breathe; little
puffs of smoke crept lazily out of the lift-shaft just opposite; and
down-stairs all Liége was shouting incoherently, and dragging about the
heavier pieces of hotel furniture.

"By Jove!" said I, and whistled a little disconsolately as I looked
downward through the bars about the lift-shaft.

"Do you reckon," spoke a voice--a most agreeable voice,--"we are in any
danger?"

The owner of the voice was tall; not even the agitation of the moment
prevented my observing that, big as I am, her eyes were almost on a
level with my shoulder. They were not unpleasant eyes, and a stray
dream or two yet lingered under their heavy lids. The owner of the
voice wore a strange garment that was fluffy and pink,--pale pink like
the lining of a sea-shell--and billows of white and the ends of various
blue ribbons peeped out about her neck. I made mental note of the fact
that disordered hair is not necessarily unbecoming; it sometimes has
the effect of an unusually heavy halo set about the face of a
half-awakened angel.

"It would appear," said I, meditatively, "that, in consideration of our
being on the fifth floor, with the lift-shaft drawing splendidly, and
the stairs winding about it,--except the two lower flights, which have
just fallen in,--and in consideration of the fire department's probable
incompetence to extinguish anything more formidable than a tar-barrel,
--yes, it would appear, I think, that we might go further than
'dangerous' and find a less appropriate adjective to describe the
situation."

"You mean we cannot get down?" The beautiful voice was tremulous.

And my silence made reply.

"Well, then," she suggested, cheerfully, after due reflection, "since
we can't go down, why not go up?"

As a matter of fact, nothing could be more simple. We were on the top
floor of the hotel, and beside us, in the niche corresponding to the
stairs below, was an iron ladder that led to a neatly-whitewashed
trapdoor in the roof. Adopting her suggestion, I pushed against this
trap-door and found that it yielded readily; then, standing at the top
of the ladder, I looked about me on a dim expanse of tiles and
chimneys; yet farther off were the huddled roofs and gables of Liége,
and just a stray glimpse of the Meuse; and above me brooded a clear sky
and the naked glory of the moon.


 3

I lowered my head with a distinct sigh of relief.

"I say," I called, "it is infinitely nicer up here--superb view of the
city, and within a minute's drop of the square! Better come up."

"Go first," said she; and subsequently I held for a moment a very
slender hand--a ridiculously small hand for a woman whose eyes were
almost on a level with my shoulder,--and we two stood together on the
roof of the Hôtel Continental. We enjoyed, as I had predicted, an
unobstructed view of Liége and of the square, wherein two toy-like
engines puffed viciously and threw impotent threads of water against
the burning hotel beneath us, and, at times, on the heads of an excited
throng erratically clad.

But I looked down moodily, "That," said I, as a series of small
explosions popped like pistol shots, "is the café; and, oh, Lord! there
goes the only decent Scotch in all Liége!"

"There is Mamma!" she cried, excitedly; "there!" She pointed to a stout
woman, who, with a purple? shawl wrapped about her head, was wringing
her hands as heartily as a bird-cage, held in one of them, would
permit. "And she has saved Bill Bryan!"

"In that case," said I, "I suppose it is clearly my duty to rescue the
remaining member of the family. You see," I continued, in bending over
the trap-door and tugging at the ladder, "this thing is only about
twenty feet long; but the kitchen wing of the hotel is a little less
than that distance from the rear of the house behind it; and with this
as a bridge I think we might make it. In any event, the roof will be
done for in a half-hour, and it is eminently worth trying." I drew the
ladder upward.

Then I dragged this ladder down the gentle slant of the roof, through a
maze of ghostly chimneys and dim skylights, to the kitchen wing, which
was a few feet lower than the main body of the building. I skirted the
chimney and stepped lightly over the eaves, calling, "Now then!" when a
muffled cry, followed by a crash in the courtyard beneath, shook my
heart into my mouth. I turned, gasping; and found the girl lying safe,
but terrified, on the verge of the roof.

"It was a bucket," she laughed, "and I stumbled over it,--and it
fell--and--and I nearly did,--and I am frightened!"

And somehow I was holding her hand in mine, and my mouth was making
irrelevant noises, and I was trembling. "It was close, but--look here,
you must pull yourself together!" I pleaded; "because we haven't, as it
were, the time for airy badinage and repartee--just now."

"I can't," she cried, hysterically. "Oh, I am so frightened! I can't!"

"You see," I said, with careful patience, "we must go on. I hate to
seem too urgent, but we _must_, do you understand?" I waved my hand
toward the east. "Why, look!" said I, as a thin tongue of flame leaped
through the open trap-door and flickered wickedly for a moment against
the paling gray of the sky.

She saw and shuddered. "I'll come," she murmured, listlessly, and rose
to her feet.


 4

I heaved another sigh of relief, and waving her aside from the ladder,
dragged it after me to the eaves of the rear wing. As I had foreseen,
this ladder reached easily to the eaves of the house behind the rear
wing, and formed a passable though unsubstantial-looking bridge. I
regarded it disapprovingly.

"It will only bear one," said I; "and we will have to crawl over
separately after all. Are you up to it?"

"Please go first," said she, very quiet. And, after gazing into her
face for a moment, I crept over gingerly, not caring to look down into
the abyss beneath.

Then I spent a century in impotence, watching a fluffy, pink figure
that swayed over a bottomless space and moved forward a hair's breadth
each year. I made no sound during this interval. In fact, I do not
remember drawing a really satisfactory breath from the time I left the
hotel-roof, until I lifted a soft, faint-scented, panting bundle to the
roof of the Councillor von Hollwig.


 5

"You are," I cried, with conviction, "the bravest, the most--er--the
bravest woman I ever knew!" I heaved a little sigh, but this time of
content. "For I wonder," said I, in my soul, "if you have any idea what
a beauty you are! what a wonderful, unspeakable beauty you are! Oh, you
are everything that men ever imagined in dreams that left them weeping
for sheer happiness--and more! You are--you, and I have held you in my
arms for a moment; and, before high heaven, to repurchase that
privilege I would consent to the burning of three or four more hotels
and an odd city or so to boot!" But, aloud, I only said, "We are quite
safe now, you know."

She laughed, bewilderingly. "I suppose," said she, "the next thing is
to find a trap-door."

But there were, so far as we could discover, no trapdoors in the roof
of the Councillor von Hollwig, or in the neighbouring roofs; and, after
searching three of them carefully, I suggested the propriety of waiting
till dawn to be melodramatically rescued.

"You see," I pointed out, "everybody is at the fire over yonder. But we
are quite safe here, I would say, with an entire block of houses to
promenade on; moreover, we have cheerful company, eligible central
location in the very heart of the city, and the superb spectacle of a
big fire at exactly the proper distance. Therefore," I continued, and
with severity, "you will please have the kindness to explain your
motives for wandering about the corridors of a burning hotel at four
o'clock in the morning."

She sat down against a chimney and wrapped her gown about her. "I sleep
very soundly," said she, "and we did both museums and six churches and
the Palais de Justice and a deaf and dumb place and the cannon-foundry
today,--and the cries awakened me,--and I reckon Mamma lost her head."

"And left you," thought I, "left you--to save a canary-bird! Good Lord!
And so, you are an American and a Southerner as well."

"And you?" she asked.

"Ah--oh, yes, me!" I awoke sharply from admiration of her trailing
lashes. The burning hotel was developing a splendid light wherein to
see them. "I was writing--and I thought that Russian woman had a few
friends to supper,--and I was looking for a rhyme when I found you," I
concluded, with a fine coherence.

She looked up. It was incredible, but those heavy lashes disentangled
quite easily. I was seized with a desire to see them again perform this
interesting feat. "Verses?" said she, considering my slippers in a new
light.

"Yes," I admitted, guiltily--"of Helen."

She echoed the name. It is an unusually beautiful name when properly
spoken. "Why, that is my name, only we call it Elena."

"Late of Troy Town," said I, in explanation.

"Oh!" The lashes fell into their former state. It was hopeless this
time; and manual aid would be required, inevitably. "I should think,"
said my compatriot, "that live women would be more--inspiring"

"Surely," I assented. I drew my gown about me and sat down. "But, you
see, she is alive--to me." And I dwelt a trifle upon the last word.

"One would gather," said she, meditatively, "that you have an
unrequited attachment for Helen of Troy."

I sighed a melancholy assent. The great eyes opened to their utmost.
The effect was as disconcerting as that of a ship firing a broadside at
you, but pleasanter. "Tell me all about it," said she, coaxingly.

"I have always loved her," I said, with gravity. "Long ago, when I was
a little chap, I had a book--_Stories of the Trojan War_, or something
of the sort. And there I first read of Helen--and remembered. There
were pictures--outline pictures,--of quite abnormally straight-nosed
warriors, with flat draperies which amply demonstrated that the laws of
gravity were not yet discovered; and the pictures of slender goddesses,
who had done their hair up carefully and gone no further in their
dressing. Oh, the book was full of pictures,--and Helen's was the most
manifestly impossible of them all. But I knew--I knew, even then, of
her beauty, of that flawless beauty which made men's hearts as water
and drew the bearded kings to Ilium to die for the woman at sight of
whom they had put away all memories of distant homes and wives; that
flawless beauty which buoyed the Trojans through the ten years of
fighting and starvation, just with delight in gazing upon Queen Helen
day by day, and with the joy of seeing her going about their streets.
For I remembered!" And as I ended, I sighed effectively.

"I know," said she.

"'Or ever the knightly years had gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a king in Babylon
And you were a Christian slave.'"

"Yes, only I was the slave, I think, and you--er--I mean, there goes
the roof, and it is an uncommonly good thing for posterity you thought
of the trap-door. Good thing the wind is veering, too. By Jove! look at
those flames!" I cried, as the main body of the Continental toppled
inward like a house of cards; "they are splashing, actually splashing,
like waves over a breakwater!"

I drew a deep breath and turned from the conflagration, only to
encounter its reflection in her widened eyes. "Yes, I was a Trojan
warrior," I resumed; "one of the many unknown men who sought and found
death beside Scamander, trodden down by Achilles or Diomedes. So they
died knowing they fought in a bad cause, but rapt with that joy they
had in remembering the desire of the world and her perfect loveliness.
She scarcely knew that I existed; but I had loved her; I had overheard
some laughing words of hers in passing, and I treasured them as men
treasure gold. Or she had spoken, perhaps--oh, day of days!--to me, in
a low, courteous voice that came straight from the back of the throat
and blundered very deliciously over the perplexities of our alien
speech. I remembered--even as a boy, I remembered."

She cast back her head and laughed merrily. "I reckon," said she, "you
are still a boy, or else you are the most amusing lunatic I ever met."

"No," I murmured, and I was not altogether playacting now, "that tale
about Polyxo was a pure invention. Helen--and the gods be praised for
it!--can never die. For it is hers to perpetuate that sense of
unattainable beauty which never dies, which sways us just as potently
as it did Homer, and Dr. Faustus, and the Merovingians too, I suppose,
with memories of that unknown woman who, when we were boys, was very
certainly some day, to be our mate. And so, whatever happens, she

"Abides the symbol of all loveliness,
Of beauty ever stainless in the stress
Of warring lusts and fears.

"For she is to each man the one woman that he might have loved
perfectly. She is as old as youth, she is more old than April even, and
she is as ageless. And, again like youth and April, this Helen goes
about the world in varied garments, and to no two men is her face the
same. Oh, very often she transmutes her fleshly covering. But through
countless ages I, like every man alive, have followed her, and fought
for her, and won her, and have lost her in the end,--but always loving
her as every man must do. And I prefer to think that some day--" But my
voice here died into a whisper, which was in part due to emotion and
partly to an inability to finish the sentence satisfactorily. The logic
of my verses when thus paraphrased from memory, seemed rather vague.

"Yes--like Pythagoras" she said, a bit at random. "Oh, I know. There
really must be something in it, I have often thought, because you
actually do remember having done things before sometimes."

"And why not? as the March Hare very sensibly demanded." But now my
voice was earnest. "Yes, I believe that Helen always comes. Is it
simply a proof that I, too, am qualified to sit next to the Hatter?" I
spread out my hands in a helpless little gesture. "I do not know. But I
believe that she will come,--and by and by pass on, of course, as Helen
always does."

"You will know her?" she queried, softly.

Now I at last had reached firm ground. "She will be very tall," I said,
"very tall and exquisite,--like a young birch-tree, you know, when its
new leaves are whispering over to one another the secrets of spring.
Yes, that is a ridiculous sounding simile, but it expresses the general
effect of her--the _coup d'oeil_, so to speak,--quite perfectly.
Moreover, her hair will be a miser's dream of gold; and it will hang
heavily about a face that will be--quite indescribable, just as the
dawn yonder is past the utmost preciosity of speech. But her face will
flush and will be like the first of all anemones to peep through black,
good-smelling, and as yet unattainable earth; and her eyes will be
deep, shaded wells where, just as in the proverb, truth lurks."

But now I could not see her eyes.

"No," I conceded, "I was wrong. For when men talk to her as--as they
cannot but talk to her, her face will flush dull red, almost like
smouldering wood; and she will smile a little, and look out over a
great fire, such as that she saw on the night when Ilium was sacked and
the slain bodies were soft under her stumbling feet, as she fled
through flaming Troy Town. And then I shall know her."

My companion sighed; and the woes of centuries weighed down her eyelids
obstinately. "It is bad enough," she lamented, "to have lost all one's
clothes--that new organdie was a dream, and I had never worn it; but to
find yourself in a dressing-gown--at daybreak, on a strange roof--and
with an unintroduced lunatic--is positively terrible!"

The unintroduced lunatic rose to his feet and waved his hand toward the
east. The dawn was breaking in angry scarlet and gold that spread like
fire over half the visible horizon; the burning hotel shut out the
remaining half with tall flames, which shouldered one another
monotonously, and seemed lustreless against the pure radiance of the
sky. Chill daylight showed in melting patches through the clouds of
black smoke overhead.

It was a world of fire, transfigured by the austere magnificence of
dawn and the grim splendour of the shifting, roaring conflagration; and
at our feet lay the orchard of the Councillor von Hollwig, and there
the awakened birds piped querulously, and sparks fell crackling among
apple-blossoms.

"Ilium is ablaze," I quoted; "and the homes of Pergamos and its
towering walls are now one sheet of flame."

She inspected the scene, critically. "It does look like Ilium," she
admitted. "And that," peering over the eaves into the deserted
by-street, "looks like a milkman."

I was unable to deny this, though an angry concept crossed my mind that
any milkman, with commendable tastes and feelings, would at this moment
be gaping at the fire at the other end of the block, rather than
prosaically measuring quarts at the Councillor's side-entrance. But
there was no help for it, when chance thus unblushingly favoured the
proprieties; in consequence I clung to a water-pipe, and explained the
situation to the milkman, with a fretted mind and King's College
French.

I turned to my companion. She was regarding the burning hotel with an
impersonal expression.

"Now I would give a deal," I thought, "to know just how long you would
prefer that milkman to take in coming back."



12.

_He Faces Himself and Remembers_


Into the lobby of the Hôtel d'Angleterre strolled, an hour later, a
tall young man, in a green dressing-gown, and inquired for Charteris.
The latter, in evening dress, was mournfully breakfasting in his new
quarters.

Charteris sprang to his feet. I saw, with real emotion, that he had
been weeping; but now he was all flippancy. "My dear boy! I have just
torn my hair and the rough drafts of several cablegrams on your
account! Sit down at once, and try the bacon, since, for a wonder, it
is not burnt--and, in passing, I had thought of course that you were."

Instead, I took a drink, and went to sleep upon the nearest sofa.


 2

I was very tired, but I awakened about noon and managed to procure
enough clothes to make myself not altogether unpresentable to the
public eye. Charteris had gone already about his own affairs, and I did
not regret it, for I meant, without delay, to follow up my adventure of
the night before.

But when I had come out of the Rue de la Casquette, and was approaching
the statue of Gretry, I came upon a very ornately-dressed woman, who
was about to enter en open carriage. I stared; and preposterous as it
was, I knew that I was not mistaken. And I said aloud, "Signorina!"

It was a long while before she said, "Don't--don't ever call me that
again!" And since the world in general appeared just then to be largely
flavoured with the irresponsibility of dreams, it did not surprise me
that we were presently alone in somebody's sitting-room.

"I have seen you twice in Liége," she said. "I suppose this had to come
about. I would have preferred to avoid it, though. Well! _che sara!_
You don't care for music, do you? No,--otherwise you would have known
earlier that I am Nadine Neroni now."

"Ah!" I said, very quietly. I had heard, as everybody had, a deal
concerning the Neroni. "I think, if you will pardon me, I will not
intrude upon Baron von Anspach's hospitality any longer," I said.

"That is unworthy of you,--no, I mean it would have been unworthy of a
boy we knew of." There was a long pier-glass in these luxurious rooms.
She led me to it now. "Look, Bobbie. We have altered a little, haven't
we? I at least, am unmistakable. 'Their eyes are different, somehow',
you remember. You haven't changed as much,--not outwardly. I think you
are like Dorian Gray. Yes, as soon--as soon as I could afford it, I
read every book you ever talked about, I think. It was damnably foolish
of me. For I've heard things. And there was a girl I tried to help in
London--an Agnès Faroy--"

"Ah!" I said.

"She had your picture even then, poor creature. She kissed it just
before she died. She didn't know that I had ever heard of you. She
never knew. Oh, how _could_ you!" the Neroni said, with something very
like a sob, "Or were you always--just that, at bottom?"

"And have you ever noticed, Mademoiselle Neroni, that every one of us
is several people? In consequence I must confess to have been
wondering--?"

"Well! I wasn't. You won't believe it now, perhaps. And it doesn't
matter, anyhow." Her grave voice lifted and upon a sudden was changed.
"Bobbie, when you had gone I couldn't stand it! I couldn't let you ruin
your life for me, but I could not go on as I had done before--Oh, well,
you'll never understand," she added, wearily. "But Von Anspach had
always wanted me to go with him. So I wrote to him, at the Embassy. And
after all, what is the good of talking--now!"

We two were curiously quiet. "No, I suppose there is no good in talking
now." We stood there, as yet, hand in hand. The mirror was candid. "Oh,
Signorina, I want to laugh as God laughs, and I cannot!"


 3

But I lack the heart to set down all that brief and dreary talk of
ours. How does it matter what we said? We two at least knew, even as we
talked, that all we said meant in the outcome, nothing. Yet we talked
awhile and spoke, I think, quite honestly.

She was not unhappy; and there were inbred Lichfeldian traditions which
prompted me to virtuous indignation over her defects in remorse and
misery. There were my memories, too.

"I don't sing very well, of course, but then I'm not dependent on my
singing, you know. Oh, why not be truthful? And Von Anspach always sees
to it I get the tendered of criticism--in print. And, moreover, I've a
deal put by. I'm a miser, _he_ says, and I suppose I am, because I know
what it is to be poor. So when the rainy day comes--as of course it
will,--I'll have quite enough to purchase a serviceable umbrella.
Meanwhile, I have pretty much everything I want. People talk of course,
but it is only on the stage they ever drive you out into a snow-storm.
Besides, they don't talk to _me_."

In fine, I found that the Neroni was a very different being from Miss
Montmorenci....


 4

Then I left her. I had not any inclination just now to pursue my fair
Elena. Rather I sat alone in my new bedroom, thinking, confusedly,
first of Amelia Van Orden, and how I danced with her a good eight years
ago; of that woman who had come to me in remote Fairhaven, coming
through the world's gutter, unsullied,--because that much I yet
believe, although I do not know.... She may have been always the same,
even in the old days when Lichfield thought her "fast," and she was
more or less "compromised,"--and years before I met her, a blind,
inexperienced boy. Only she may then have been a better actress than I
suspected.... I thought, in any event, of those execrable rhymes that
likened her to the Lady in _Comus_, moving serene and unafraid among a
rabble of threatening bestial shapes; and I thought of the woman who
would, by this time, be with Von Anspach.

For here again were inbred Lichfieldian traditions of the sort I rarely
dare confess to, even to myself, because they are so patently hidebound
and ridiculous. These traditions told me that this woman, whom I had
loved, was Von Anspach's harlot. I might--and I did--endeavor to be
ironical and to be broadminded and to be up-to-date about the whole
affair, and generally to view the matter through the sophisticated eyes
of the author of The Apostates, that Robert Etheridge Townsend who was
a connoisseur of ironies and human foibles; but these futilities did no
good at all. Lichfield had got at and into me when I was too young to
defend myself; and I could no more alter the inbred traditions of
Lichfield, that were a part of me, than a carpet could change its
texture. My traditions merely told me that the dear woman whom I
remembered had come--in fleeing from discomforts which were unbearable,
if that mattered--to be Von Anspach's harlot: and finding her this, my
traditions declined to be the least bit broadminded. In Lichfield such
women were simply not respectable; nor could you get around that fact
by going to Liége.

There was in the room a _Matin,_ which contained a brief account of the
burning of the Continental, and a very lengthy one of the Neroni's
appearance the night before. Drearily, to keep from thinking, I read a
deal concerning _la gracieuse cantatrice américaine._ Whether or not
she had made a fool of me with histrionics in Fairhaven, there was no
doubt that she had chosen wisely in forsaking Lethbury, and the round
of village "Opera Houses." She had chosen, after all, and precisely as
I had done, to make the most of youth while it lasted; and she
appeared, just now, to harvest prodigally.

"On jouait Faust," I read, "et jamais le célèbre personnage de Goethe
n'adore plus exquise Gretchen. Miss Nadine Neroni est, en effet, une
idéale Marguerite à la taille bien prise, au visage joli éclairé des
deux yeux grands et doux. Et lorsqu'elle commença à chanter, ce fut un
véritable ravissement: sa voix se fit l'interprète rêvée de la divine
musique de Gounod, tandis que sa personne et son coeur incarnaient
physiquement et moralement l'héroine de Goethe"....

And so on, for Von Anspach had "seen to it," prodigally. And "Oh,
well!" I thought; "if everybody else is so extravagantly pleased, what
in heaven's name is the use of my being squeamish? Besides, she is only
doing what I am doing, and getting all the pleasure out of life that is
possible. She and I are very sensible people. At least, I suppose we
are. I wonder, though? Meanwhile, I had better go and look for that
preposterously beautiful Elena. And a fig for the provincial notions of
Lichfield, that are poisoning me with their nonsense! and for the
notions of Fairhaven, too, I suppose--"


 5

Then Charteris came into the room. "John," said I, "this is a truly
remarkable world, and only hypercriticism would venture to suggest that
it is probably conducted by an inveterate humourist. So lend me that
pocket-piece of yours, and we will permit chance to settle the entire
matter. That is the one intelligent way of treating anything which is
really serious. You probably believe I am Robert Etheridge Townsend,
but as a matter of fact, I am Hercules in the allegory. So! the
beautiful lady or America? Why, the eagle flutters uppermost, and from
every mountain side let praises ring. Accordingly I am off."

"And you will cross half the world," said Charteris, "in the green
dressing-gown, or in the coat which Byam borrowed for you this morning?
I do not wish to seem inquisitive, you understand--"

"No, I believe I am through with borrowed coats--as with yours, for
instance. But I am quite ready to go in my own dressing-gown if
necessary--"

I wheeled at the door.

"By the way, I am done with you, John. I am fond of you, and all that,
and I sincerely admire my chimney-pot coquette--of whom you haven't
heard,--but, after all, there are real people yonder. And by God, even
after two years of being pickled in alcohol and chasing after women
that are quite used to being chased--well, even now I am one of those
real people. So I am done with you and this perpetual making light of
things--!"

"The Declaration of Independence," Charteris observed, "is undoubtedly
the best thing in imaginative literature that we Americans have as yet
accomplished; but I am sufficiently familiar with it, thank you, and I
find, with age, that only the more untruthful platitudes are endurable.
Oh, I predicted for you, at our first meeting, a life without
achievements but of gusto! Now, it would appear, you plan to prance
among an interminable saturnalia of the domestic virtues. So be it!
but I warn you that the house of righteousness is but a wayside inn
upon the road to being a representative citizen."

"You are talking nonsense," I rapped out--"and immoral nonsense."

"It is very strange," John Charteris complained, "how so many of us
manage to reduce everything to a question of morality,--that is, to the
alternative of being right or wrong. Now a man's personality, as
somebody or other very properly observes, has many parts besides the
moral area; and the intelligent, the artistic, even the religious part,
need not necessarily have anything to do with ethics--"

"Ah, yes," said I, "so there is a train at noon--"

"And a virtuous man," continued Charteris, amicably, "is no more the
perfect type of humanity than an intellectual man. In fact, the lowest
and certainly the most disagreeable type of all troublesome people is
that which combines an immaculate past with a limited understanding.
The religious tenets of this class consist of an unshakable belief that
the Bible was originally written in English, and contains nothing
applicable to any of the week-days. And in consequence--"

I left him mid-course in speech. "Words, words!" said I; and it
appeared to me for the moment that words were of astonishingly trivial
import, however carefully selected, which was in me a wholesome,
although fleet, apostacy of yesterday's creed. And I sent a cablegram
to Bettie Hamlyn.


 6

It was on the trip homeward I first met with Celia Reindan. I then
considered her a silly little nuisance....

For I crossed the Atlantic in a contained fury of repentance for the
wasted months. I had achieved nothing that was worthy of me, and
presently I would be dead. Why, I might die within the five minutes! I
might never see the lagging minute-hand of my little traveling clock
pass that next numeral, say! The thought obsessed me, especially at
night. Once, in a panic, I rose from my berth, and pushed the
minute-hand forward a half-hour. "Now, I have tricked You!" I said,
aloud; for nervously I was footing a pretty large bill. At twenty-three
one has the funds wherewith to balance these accounts....

I wanted to live normally--to live as these persons thick about me, who
seemed to grow up, and mate, and beget, and die, in the incurious
fashion of oxen. I wanted to think only from hand to mouth, to think if
possible not at all, and to be guided always in the conduct of my life
by gross and obvious truisms, so that I must be judged at last but as
one of the herd. "And what is accustomed--what holds of familiar
usage--had come to seem the whole essence of wisdom, on all subjects";
for I wanted just the sense of companionship, irrevocable and eternal
and commonly shared with every one of my kind. And yonder was Bettie
Hamlyn.... "Oh, make a man of me, Bettie! just a common man!"

And Bettie might have done it, one considers, even then, for I was
astir with a new impetus. Now, with a grin, the Supernal Aristophanes
slipped the tiniest temptation in my way; to reach Fairhaven I was
compelled to spend some three hours of an April afternoon in Lichfield,
where upon Regis Avenue was to be met, in the afternoon, everyone worth
meeting in Lichfield; and Stella drove there on fine afternoons, under
the protection of a trim and preternaturally grave tiger; and the
afternoon was irreproachable.


 7

By the way she looked back over her shoulder, I knew that Stella had
not recognized me. I stood with a yet lifted hat, irresolute.

"By Jove!" said I, in my soul, "then the Blagdens are in Lichfield!
Why, of course! they always come here after Lent. And Bettie would not
mind; to call on them would be only courteous; and besides, Bettie need
not ever know. And moreover, I was always very fond of Peter."

So the next afternoon but four, Stella was making tea for me....



13.

_He Baits Upon the Journey_


"You are quite by way of being a gentleman," had been Stella's
greeting, that afternoon. Then, on a sudden, she rested both hands upon
my breast. When she did that you tingled all over, in an agreeable
fashion. "It was uncommonly decent of you to remember", said this
impulsive young woman. "It was dear of you! And the flowers were
lovely."

"They ought to have been immortelles, of course," I apologised, "but
the florist was out of them. Yes, and of daffodils, too." I sat down,
and sighed, pensively. "Dear, dear!" said I, "to think it was only two
years ago I buried my dearest hopes and aspirations and--er--all that
sort of thing."

"Nonsense!" said Stella, and selected a blue cup with dragons on it.
"At any rate," she continued, "it is very disagreeable of you to come
here and prate like a death's-head on my wedding anniversary."

"Gracious gravy!" said I, with a fine surprise, "so it is an
anniversary with you, too?" She was absorbed in the sugar-bowl. "What a
coincidence!" I suggested, pleasantly.

I paused. The fire crackled. I sighed.

"You are such poor company, nowadays, even after the advantages of
foreign travel," Stella reflected. "You really ought to do something to
enliven yourself." After a little, she brightened as to the eyes, and
concentrated them upon the tea-making, and ventured a suggestion. "Why
not fall in love?" said Stella.

"I am," I confided, "already in that deplorable condition."
And I ventured on sigh number two.

"I don't mean--anything silly," said she, untruthfully. "Why," she
continued, with a certain lack of relevance, "why not fall in love with
somebody else?" Thereupon, I regret to say, her glance strayed toward
the mirror. Oh, she was vain,--I grant you that. But I must protest she
had a perfect right to be.

"Yes," said I, quite gravely, "that is the reason."

"Nonsense!" said Stella, and tossed her head. She now assumed her most
matronly air, and did mysterious things with a perforated silver ball.
I was given to understand I had offended, by a severe compression of
her lips, which, however, was not as effective as it might have been.
They twitched too mutinously.


 2

Stella was all in pink, with golden fripperies sparkling in
unanticipated localities. Presumably the gown was tucked and ruched and
appliquéd, and had been subjected to other processes past the
comprehension of trousered humanity; it was certainly becoming.

I think there was an eighteenth-century flavour about it,--for it
smacked, somehow, of a patched, mendacious, dainty womanhood, and its
artfulness was of a gallant sort that scorned to deceive. It defied
you, it allured you, it conquered you at a glance. It might have been
the last cry from the court of an innocent Louis Quinze. It was, in
fine, inimitable; and if only I were a milliner, I would describe for
you that gown in some not unbefitting fashion. As it is, you may draft
the world's modistes to dredge the dictionary, and they will fail, as
ignominiously as I would do, in the attempt.

For, after all, its greatest charm was that it contained Stella, and
converted Stella into a marquise--not such an one as was her sister,
the Marquise d'Arlanges, but a marquise out of Watteau or of Fragonard,
say. Stella in this gown seemed out of place save upon a high-backed
stone bench, set in an _allée_ of lime-trees, of course, and under a
violet sky,--with a sleek abbé or two for company, and with beribboned
gentlemen tinkling on their mandolins about her.

I had really no choice but to regard her as an agreeable anachronism
the while she chatted with me, and mixed hot water and sugar and lemon
into ostensible tea. She seemed so out of place,--and yet, somehow, I
entertained no especial desire upon this sleety day to have her
different, nor, certainly, otherwhere than in this pleasant, half-lit
room, that consisted mostly of ambiguous vistas where a variety of
brass bric-à-brac blinked in the firelight.

We had voted it cosier without lamps or candles, for this odorous
twilight was far more companionable. Odorous, for there were a great
number of pink roses about. I imagine that someone must have sent
them--because there were not any daffodils obtainable, by reason of the
late and nipping frost--in honour of Stella's second wedding
anniversary.


 3

"Peter says you talk to everybody that way," quoth she,--almost
resentfully, and after a pause.

"Oh!" said I. For it was really no affair of Peter's. And so--

"Peter, everybody tells me, is getting fat," I announced, presently.

Stella witheringly glanced toward the region where my waist used to be.
"He isn't!" said she, indignant.

"Quite like a pig, they assure me," I continued, with relish. She
objected to people being well-built. "His obscene bloatedness appears
to be an object of general comment."

Silence. I stirred my tea.

"Dear Peter!" said she. And then--but unless a woman of Stella's sort
is able to exercise a proper control over her countenance, she has
absolutely no right to discuss her husband with his bachelor friends.
It is unkind; for it causes them to feel like social outcasts and
lumbering brutes and Peeping Toms. If they know the husband well, it
positively awes them; for, after all, it is a bit overwhelming, this
sudden glimpse of the simplicity, and the credulity, and the merciful
blindness of women in certain matters. Besides, a bachelor has no
business to know such things; it merely makes him envious and
uncomfortable.

Accordingly, "Stella," said I, with firmness, "if you flaunt your
connubial felicity in my face like that, I shall go home."

She was deaf to my righteous rebuke. "Peter is in Washington this
week," she went on, looking fondly into the fire. "I had planned a
party to celebrate to-day, but he was compelled to go--business, you
know. He is doing so well nowadays," she said, after a little, "that I
am quite insufferably proud of him. And I intend for him to be a great
lawyer--oh, much the greatest in America. And I won't ever be content
till then."

"H'm!" said I. "H'm" seemed fairly non-committal.

"Sometimes," Stella declared, irrelevantly, "I almost wish I had been
born a man."

"I wish you had been," quoth I, in gallant wise. "There are so few
really attractive men!"

Stella looked up with a smile that was half sad.

"I'm just a little butterfly-woman, aren't I?" she asked.

"You are," I assented, with conviction, "a butterfly out of a queen's
garden--a marvellous pink-and-gold butterfly, such as one sees only in
dreams and--er--in a London pantomime. You are a decided ornament to
the garden," I continued, handsomely, "and the roses bow down in
admiration as you pass, and--ah--at least, the masculine ones do."

"Yes,--we butterflies don't love one another overmuch, do we? Ah, well,
it scarcely matters! We were not meant to be taken seriously, you
know,--only to play in the sunlight, and lend an air to the garden
and--amuse the roses, of course. After all," Stella summed it up, "our
duties are very simple; first, we are expected to pass through a
certain number of cotillions and a certain number of various happenings
in various tête-à-têtes; then to make a suitable match,--so as to
enable the agreeable detrimentals to make love to us, with perfect
safety--as you were doing just now, for instance. And after that, we
develop into bulbous chaperones, and may aspire eventually to a kindly
quarter of a column in the papers, and, quite possibly, the honour of
having as many as two dinners put off on account of our death.
Yes, it is very simple. But, in heaven's name," Stella demanded, with a
sudden lift of speech, "how can any woman--for, after all, a woman is
presumably a reasoning animal--be satisfied with such a life! Yet that
is everything--everything!--this big world offers to us shallow-minded
butterfly-women!"

Personally, I disapprove of such morbid and hysterical talk outside of
a problem novel; there I heartily approve of it, on account of the
considerable and harmless pleasure that is always to be derived from
throwing the book into the fireplace. And, coming from Stella, this
farrago doubly astounded me. She was talking grave nonsense now,
whereas Nature had, beyond doubt, planned her to discuss only the
lighter sort. So I decided it was quadruply absurd, little Stella
talking in this fashion,--Stella, who, as all knew, was only meant to
be petted and flattered and flirted with.

And therefore, "Stella," I admonished, "you have been reading something
indigestible." I set down my teacup, and I clasped my hands. "Don't
tell me," I pleaded, "that you want to vote!"

She remained grave. "The trouble is," said she, "that I am not really a
butterfly, for all my tinsel wings. I am an ant."

"Oh," said I, shamelessly, "I hadn't heard that Lizzie had an item for
the census man. I don't care for brand-new babies, though; they always
look so disgracefully sun-burned."

The pun was atrocious and, quite properly, failed to win a smile or
even a reproof from the morbid young person opposite. "My grandfather,"
said she in meditation, "began as a clerk in a country store. Oh of
course, we have discovered, since he made his money and since Mother
married a Musgrave, that his ancestors came over with William the
Conqueror, and that he was descended from any number of potentates. But
he lived. He was a rip at first--ah, yes, I'm glad of that as well,
--and he became a religious fanatic because his oldest son died very
horribly of lockjaw. And he browbeat people and founded banks, and made
a spectacle of himself at every Methodist conference, and everybody was
afraid of him and honoured him. And I fancy I am prouder of Old Tim
Ingersoll than I am of any of the emperors and things that make such a
fine show in the Musgrave family tree. For I am like him. And I want to
leave something in the world that wasn't there before I came. I want my
life to count, I want--why, a hundred years from now I _do_ want to be
something more than a name on a tombstone. I--oh, I daresay it _is_
only my ridiculous egotism," she ended, with a shrug and Stella's usual
quick smile,--a smile not always free from insolence, but always
satisfactory, somehow.

"It's late hours," I warned her, with uplifted forefinger, "late hours
and too much bridge and too many sweetmeats and too much bothering over
silly New Women ideas. What is the sense of a woman's being useful," I
demanded, conclusively, "when it is so much easier and so much more
agreeable all around for her to be adorable?"

She pouted. "Yes," she assented, "that is my career--to be adorable. It
is my one accomplishment," she declared, unblushingly,--yet not without
substantiating evidence.

After a little, though, her gravity returned. "When I was a girl--oh, I
dreamed of accomplishing all sorts of beautiful and impossible things!
But, you see, there was really nothing I could do. Music, painting,
writing--I tried them all, and the results were hopeless. Besides, Rob,
the women who succeed in anything like that are always so queer
looking. I couldn't be expected to give up my complexion for a career,
you know, or to wear my hair like a golf-caddy's. At any rate, I
couldn't make a success by myself. But there was one thing I could do,
--I could make a success of Peter. And so," said Stella, calmly, "I did
it."

I said nothing. It seemed expedient.

"You know, he was a little--"

"Yes," I assented, hastily. Peter had gone the pace, of course, but
there was no need of raking that up. That was done with, long ago.

"Well, he isn't the least bit dissipated now. You know he isn't. That
is the first big thing I have done." Stella checked it off with a
small, spear-pointed, glinting finger-nail. "Then--oh, I have helped
him in lots of ways. He is doing splendidly in consequence; and it is
my part to see that the proper people are treated properly."

Stella reflected a moment. "There was the last appointment, for
instance. I found that the awarding of it lay with that funny old Judge
Willoughby, with the wart on his nose, and I asked him for it--not the
wart, you understand,--and got it. We simply had him to dinner, and I
was specially butterfly; I fluttered airily about, was as silly as I
knew how to be, looked helpless and wore my best gown. He thought me a
pretty little fool, and gave Peter the appointment. That is only an
instance, but it shows how I help." Stella regarded me, uncertainly.
"Why, but an authorman ought to understand!"

Of a sudden I understood a number of things--things that had puzzled.
This was the meaning of Stella's queer dinner the night before, and the
ensuing theatre-party, for instance; this was the explanation of those
impossible men, vaguely heralded as "very influential in politics," and
of the unaccountable women, painfully condensed in every lurid shade of
satin, and so liberally adorned with gems as to make them almost
valuable. Stella, incapable by nature of two consecutive ideas, was
determined to manipulate the unseen wires, and to be, as she probably
phrased it, the power behind the throne....

"Eh, it would be laughable," I thought, "were not her earnestness so
pathetic! For here is Columbine mimicking Semiramis."

Yet it was true that Peter Blagden had made tremendous strides in his
profession, of late. For a moment, I wondered--? Then I looked at this
butterfly young person opposite, and I frowned. "I don't like it," I
said, decisively. "It is a bit cold-blooded. It isn't worthy of you,
Stella."

"It is my career," she flouted me, with shrugging shoulders. "It is the
one career the world--our Lichfield world--has left me. And I am doing
it for Peter."

The absurd look that I objected to--on principle, you understand--
returned at this point in the conversation. I arose, resolutely, for I
was really unable to put up with her nonsense.

"You are in love with your husband," I grumbled, "and I cannot
countenance such eccentricities. These things are simply not done--"

She touched my hand. "Old crosspatch, and to think how near I came to
marrying you."

"I do think of it--sometimes. So you had better stop pawing at me. It
isn't safe."

I wish I could describe her smile. I wish I knew just what it was that
Stella wanted me to say or do as we stood for a moment silent, in this
pleasant, half-lit room where brass things blinked in the firelight.

"Old crosspatch!" she repeated....

"Stella," said I, with dignity, "I wish it distinctly understood that I
am not a funny old judge with a wart on his nose."

Whereupon I went away.



14.

_He Participates in a Brave Jest_


Stella drove on fine afternoons, under the protection of a trim and
preternaturally grave tiger. The next afternoon, by a Lichfieldian
transition, was irreproachable. I was to remember, afterward, wondering
in a vague fashion, as the equipage passed, if the boy's lot was not
rather enviable. There might well be less attractive methods of earning
the daily bread and butter than to whirl through life behind Stella.
One would rarely see her face, of course, but there would be such
compensations as an unfailing sense of her presence, and the faint
odour of her hair at times and, always, blown scraps of her laughter or
shreds of her talk, and, almost always, the piping of the sweet voice
that was stilled so rarely.

Perhaps the conscienceless tiger listened when she was "seeing the
proper people were treated properly"? Yes, one would. Perhaps he ground
his teeth? Well, one would, I suspected. And perhaps--?

There was a nod of recognition from Stella; and I lifted my hat as they
bowled by toward the Reservoir. I went down Regis Avenue, mildly
resentful that she had not offered me a lift.


 2

A vagrant puff of wind was abroad in the Boulevard that afternoon. It
paused for a while to amuse itself with a stray bit of paper. Presently
the wind grew tired of this plaything and tossed between the eyes of a
sorrel horse. Prince lurched and bolted; and Rex, always a vicious
brute, followed his mate. One fancies the vagabond wind must have
laughed over that which ensued.

After a moment it returned and lifted a bit of paper from the roadway,
with a new respect, perhaps, and the two of them frolicked away over
close-shaven turf. It was a merry game they played there in the spring
sunlight. The paper fluttered a little, whirled over and over, and
scuttled off through the grass; with a gust of mirth, the wind was
after it, now gained upon it, now lost ground in eddying about a tree,
and now made up the disadvantage in the open, and at last chuckled over
its playmate pinned to the earth and flapping in sharp, indignant
remonstrances. Then _da capo_.

It was a merry game that lasted till the angry sunset had flashed its
final palpitant lance through the treetrunks farther down the roadway.
There were gaping people in this place, and broken wheels and shafts,
and a policeman with a smoking pistol, and two dead horses, and a
horrible looking dead boy in yellow-topped boots. Somebody had
charitably covered his face with a handkerchief; and men were lifting a
limp, white heap from among the splintered rubbish.

Then wind and paper played half-heartedly in the twilight until the
night had grown too chilly for further sport. There was no more murder
to be done; and so the vagabond wind was puffed out into nothingness,
and the bit of paper was left alone, and at about this season the big
stars--the incurious stars--peeped out of heaven, one by one.


 3

It was Stella's sister, the Marquise d'Arlanges, who sent for me that
night. Across the street a hand-organ ground out its jingling tune as
Lizzie's note told me what the playful wind had brought about. It was a
despairing, hopeless and insistent air that shrilled and piped across
the way. It seemed very appropriate.

The doctors feared--Ah, well, telegrams had failed to reach Peter in
Washington. Peter Blagden was not in Washington, he had not been in
Washington. He could not be found. And did I think--?

No, I thought none of the things that Stella's sister suggested. Of a
sudden I knew. I stood silent for a little and heard that damned,
clutching tune cough and choke and end; I heard the renewed babblement
of children; and I heard the organ clatter down the street, and set up
its faint jingling in the distance. And I knew with an unreasoning
surety. I pitied Stella now ineffably, not for the maiming and crippling
of her body, for the spoiling of that tender miracle, that white flower
of flesh, but for the falling of her air-castle, the brave air-castle
which to her meant everything. I guessed what had happened.

Later I found Peter Blagden, no matter where. It is not particularly to
my credit that I knew where to look for him. Yet the French have a
saying of infinite wisdom in their _qui a bu boira_. The old vice had
gripped the man, irresistibly, and he had stolen off to gratify it in
secret; and he had not been sober for a week. He was on the verge of
collapse even when I told him--oh, with a deliberate cruelty, I grant
you,--what had happened that afternoon.

Then, swiftly, his demolishment came; and I could not--could not for
very shame--bring this shivering, weeping imbecile to the bedside of
Stella, who was perhaps to die that night. Such was the news I brought
to Stella's sister; through desolate streets already blanching in the
dawn.

Stella was calling for Peter. We manufactured explanations.


 4

Nice customs curtsey to death. I am standing at Stella's bedside, and
the white-capped nurse has gone. There are dim lights about the room,
and heavy carts lumber by in the dawn without. A petulant sparrow is
cheeping somewhere.

"Tell me the truth," says Stella, pleadingly. Her face, showing over
billows of bedclothes, is as pale as they. But beautiful, and
exceedingly beautiful, is Stella's face, now that she is come to die.

It heartened me to lie to her. Peter had been retained in the great
Western Railway case. He had been called to Denver, San Francisco
and--I forget today just why or even whither. He had kept it as a
surprise for her. He was hurrying back. He would arrive in two days. I
showed her telegrams from Peter Blagden,--clumsy forgeries I had
concocted in the last half-hour.

Oh, the story ran lamely, I grant you. But, vanity apart, I told it
with conviction. Stella must and should die in content; that much at
least I could purchase for her; and my thoughts were strangely nimble,
there was a devilish fluency in my speech, and lie after lie was fitted
somehow into an entity that surprised even me as it took plausible
form. And I got my reward. Little by little, the doubt died from her
eyes as I lied stubbornly in a drug-scented silence; a little by a
little, her cheeks flushed brighter, and ever brighter, as I dilated on
this wonderful success that had come to Peter Blagden, till at last her
face was all aflame with happiness.

She had dreamed of this, half conscious of her folly; she had worked
toward this consummation for months. But she had hardly dared to hope
for absolute success; it almost worried her; and she could not be
certain, even now, whether it was the soup or her blue silk that had
influenced Allardyce most potently. Both had been planned to wheedle
him, to gain this glorious chance for Peter Blagden....

"You--you are sure you are not lying?" said Stella, and smiled in
speaking, for she believed me infinitely.

"Stella, before God, it is true!" I said, with fervour. "On my word of
honour, it is as I tell you!" And my heart was sick within me as I
thought of the stuttering brute, the painted female thing with tumbled
hair, and the stench of liquor in the room--Ah, well, the God I called
to witness strengthened me to smile back at Stella.

"I believe you," she said, simply. "I--I am glad. It is a big thing for
Peter." Her eyes widened in wonder and pride, and she dreamed for just
a moment of his future. But, upon a sudden, her face fell. "Dear,
dear!" said Stella, petulantly; "I'd forgotten. I'll be dead by then."

"Stella! Stella!" I cried, and very hoarsely; "why--why, nonsense,
child! The doctor thinks--he is quite sure, I mean--" I had a horrible
desire to laugh. Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven.

"Ah, I know," she interrupted. "I am a little afraid to die," she went
on, reflectively. "If one only knew--" Stella paused for a moment; then
she smiled. "After all," she said, "it isn't as if I hadn't
accomplished anything. I have made Peter. The ball is at his feet now;
he has only to kick it. And I helped."

"Yes," said I. My voice was shaken, broken out of all control. "You
have helped. Why, you have done everything, Stella! There is not a
young man in America with his prospects. In five years, he will be one
of our greatest lawyers,--everybody says so--everybody! And you have
done it all, Stella--every bit of it! You have made a man of him, I
tell you! Look at what he was!--and then look at what he is! And--and
you talk of leaving him now! Why, it's preposterous! Peter needs you, I
tell you--he needs you to cajole the proper people and keep him steady
and--and--Why, you artful young woman, how could he possibly get on
without you, do you think? Oh, how can any of us get on without you?
You _must_ get well, I tell you. In a month, you will be right as a
trivet. You die! Why, nonsense!" I laughed. I feared I would never have
done with laughter over the idea of Stella's dying.

"But I have done all I could. And so he doesn't need me now." Stella
meditated for yet another moment. "I believe I shall always know when
he does anything especially big. God would be sure to tell me, you see,
because He understands how much it means to me. And I shall be
proud--ah, yes, wherever I am, I shall be proud of Peter. You see, he
didn't really care about being a success, for of course he knows that
Uncle Larry will leave him a great deal of money one of these days. But
I am such a vain little cat--so bent on making a noise in the world,
--that, I think, he did it more to please my vanity than anything else.
I nagged him, frightfully, you know," Stella confessed, "but he was
always--oh, _so_ dear about it, Rob! And he has never failed me--not
even once, although I know at times it has been very hard for him."
Stella sighed; and then laughed. "Yes," said she, "I think I am
satisfied with my life altogether. Somehow, I am sure I shall be told
about it when he is a power in the world--a power for good, as he will
be,--and then I shall be very perky--somewhere. I ought to sing _Nunc
Dimittis_, oughtn't I?" I was not unmoved; nor did it ever lie within
my power to be unmoved when I thought of Stella and how gaily she went
to meet her death....


 5


"Good-bye," said she, in a tired voice.

"Good-bye, Stella," said I; and I kissed her.

"And I don't think you are a mess. And I _don't_ hate you." She was
smiling very strangely. "Yes, I remember that first time. And no matter
what they said, I always cared heaps more about you, Rob, than I dared
let you know. And if only you had been as dependable as Peter--But, you
see, you weren't--"

"No, dear, you did the right thing--what was best for all of us--"

"Then don't mind so much. Oh, Bob, it hurts me to see you mind so much!
You aren't--being dependable, like Peter, even now," she said,
reproachfully....

Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven.



15.

_He Decides to Amuse Himself_


I came to Fairhaven half-bedrugged with memories of Stella's funeral,
--say, of how lightly she had lain, all white and gold, in the
grotesque and horrid box, and of Peter's vacant red-rimmed eyes that
seemed to wonder why this decorous company should have assembled about
the deep and white-lined cavity at his feet and find no answer. Nor,
for that matter, could I.

"But it was flagrant, flagrant!" my heart screeched in a grill of
impotent wrath. "Eh, You gave me power to reason, so they say! and will
You slay me, too, if I presume to use that power? I say, then, it was
flagrant and tyrannical and absurd! 'Let twenty pass, and stone the
twenty-first, Loving not, hating not, just choosing so!' O Setebos, it
wasn't worthy of omnipotence. You know it wasn't!" In such a frame of
mind I came again to Bettie Hamlyn.


 2

It was very odd to see Bettie again. I had been sublimely confident,
though, that we would pick up our intercourse precisely where we had
left off; and this, as I now know, is something which can never happen
to anybody. So I was vaguely irritated before we had finished shaking
hands, and became so resolutely boyish and effusive in my delight at
seeing her that anyone in the world but Bettie Hamlyn would have been
quite touched. And my conversational gambit, I protest, was masterly,
and would have made anybody else think, "Oh how candid is the egotism
of this child!" and would have moved that person, metaphorically
anyhow, to pat me upon the head.

But Bettie only smiled, a little sadly, and answered:

"Your book?--Why, dear me, did I forget to write you a nice little
letter about how wonderful it was?"

"You wrote the letter all right. I think you copied it out of _The
Complete Letter Writer_. There was not a bit of you in it."

"Well, that is why I dislike your book--because there was not a bit of
_you_ in it. Of course I am glad it was the big noise of the month, and
also a little jealous of it, if you can understand that phase of the
feminine mind. I doubt it, because you write about women as though they
were pterodactyls or some other extinct animal, which you had never
seen, but had read a lot about."

"Which attests, in any event, my morals to be above reproach. You
should be pleased."

"To roll it into a pill, your book seems pretty much like any other
book; and it has made me hold my own particular boy's picture more than
once against my cheek and say, 'You didn't write books, did you, dear?
--You did nicer things than write books'--and he did .... I hear many
things of you...."

"Oh, well!" I brilliantly retorted, "you mustn't believe all you hear."
And I felt that matters were going very badly indeed.

"Robin, do you not know that your mess of pottage must be eaten with
you by the people who care for you?--and one of them dislikes pottage.
Indeed, I _would_ have liked the book, had anybody else written it. I
almost like it as it is, in spots, and sometimes I even go to the great
length of liking you,--because 'if only for old sake's sake, dear,
you're the loveliest doll in the world.' There might be a better
reason, if you could only make up your mind to dispense with
pottage...."

The odd part of it, even to-day, is that Bettie was saying precisely
what I had been thinking, and that to hear her say it made me just
twice as petulant as I was already.

"Now, please don't preach," I said. "I've heard so much preaching
lately--dear," I added, though I am afraid the word was rather
obviously an afterthought.

"Oh, I forgot you stayed over for Stella Blagden's funeral. You were
quite right. Stella was a dear child, and I was really sorry to hear of
her death."

"Really!" It was the lightest possible additional flick upon the raw,
but it served.

"Yes,--I, too, was rather sorry, Bettie, because I have loved Stella
all my life. She was the first, you see, and, somehow, the others have
been different. And--she disliked dying. I tell you, it is unfair,
Bettie,--it is hideously unfair!"

"Robin--" she began.

"And why should you be living," I said, in half-conscious absurdity,
"when she is dead? Why, look, Bettie! even that fly yonder is alive.
Setebos accords an insect what He grudges Stella! Her dying is not even
particularly important. The big news of the day is that the President
has started his Pacific tour, and that the Harvard graduates object to
his being given an honorary degree, and are sending out seven thousand
protests to be signed. And you're alive, and I'm alive, and Peter
Blagden is alive, and only Stella is dead. I suppose she is an angel by
this. But I don't care for angels. I want just the silly little Stella
that I loved,--the Stella that was the first and will always be the
first with me. For I want her--just Stella--! Oh, it is an excellent
jest; and I will cap it with another now. For the true joke is, I came
to Fairhaven, across half the world, with an insane notion of asking
you to marry me,--you who are 'really' sorry that Stella is dead!" And
I laughed as pleasantly as one may do in anger.

But the girl, too, was angry. "Marry you!" she said. "Why, Robin, you
were wonderful once; and now you are simply not a bad sort of fellow,
who imagines himself to be the hit of the entire piece. And whether
she's dead or not, she never had two grains of sense, but just enough
to make a spectacle of you, even now."

"I regret that I should have sailed so far into the north of your
opinion," said I. "Though, as I dare assert, you are quite probably in
the right. So I'll be off to my husks again, Bettie." And I kissed her
hand. "And that too is only for old sake's sake, dear," I said.

Then I returned to the railway station in time for the afternoon train.
And I spoke with no one else in Fairhaven, except to grunt "Good
evening, gentlemen," as I passed Clarriker's Emporium, where Colonel
Snawley and Dr. Jeal were sitting in arm chairs, very much as I had
left them there two years ago.


 3

It was a long while afterward I discovered that "some damned
good-natured friend," as Sir Fretful has immortally phrased it, had
told Bettie Hamlyn of seeing me at the theatre in Lichfield, with
Stella and her marvellous dinner-company. It was by an odd quirk the
once Aurelia Minns, in Lichfield for the "summer's shopping," who had
told Bettie. And the fact is that I had written Bettie upon the day of
Stella's death and, without explicitly saying so, had certainly
conveyed the impression I had reached Lichfield that very morning, and
was simply stopping over for Stella's funeral. And, in addition, I
cannot say that Bettie and Stella were particularly fond of each other.

As it was, I left Fairhaven the same day I reached it, and in some
dissatisfaction with the universe. And I returned to Lichfield and
presently reopened part of the old Townsend house .... "Robert and I,"
my mother had said, to Lichfield's delectation, "just live downstairs
in the two lower stories, and ostracise the third floor...." And I was
received by Lichfield society, if not with open arms at least with
acquiescence. And Byam, an invaluable mulatto, the son of my cousin
Dick Townsend and his housekeeper, made me quite comfortable.

Depend upon it, Lichfield knew a deal more concerning my escapades than
I did. That I was "deplorably wild" was generally agreed, and a
reasonable number of seductions, murders and arsons was, no doubt,
accredited to me "on quite unimpeachable authority, my dear."

But I was a Townsend, and Lichfield had been case-hardened to
Townsendian vagaries since Colonial days; and, besides, I had written a
book which had been talked about; and, as an afterthought, I was
reputed not to be an absolute pauper, if only because my father had
taken the precaution, customary with the Townsends, to marry a woman
with enough money to gild the bonds of matrimony. For Lichfield,
luckily, was not aware how near my pleasure-loving parents had come,
between them, to spending the last cent of this once ample fortune.

And, in fine, "Well, really now--?" said Lichfield. Then there was a
tentative invitation or two, and I cut the knot by accepting all of
them, and talking to every woman as though she were the solitary
specimen of feminity extant. It was presently agreed that gossip often
embroidered the actual occurrence and that wild oats were, after all, a
not unheard-of phenomenon, and that though genius very often, in a
phrase, forgot to comb its hair, these tonsorial deficiencies were by
the broadminded not appraised too strictly.

I did not greatly care what Lichfield said one way or the other. I was
too deeply engrossed: first, in correcting the final proofs of
_Afield_, my second book, which appeared that spring and was built
around--there is no harm in saying now,--my relations with Gillian
Hardress; secondly, in the remunerative and uninteresting task of
writing for _Woman's Weekly_ five "wholesome love-stories with a dash
of humor," in which She either fell into His arms "with a contented
sigh" or else "their lips met" somewhere toward the ending of the
seventh page; and, thirdly, in diverting myself with Celia Reindan....


 4

That, though, is a business I shall not detail, because it was one of
the very vulgarest sort. It was the logical outgrowth of my admiration
for her yellow hair,--she did have extraordinary hair, confound her!
--and of a few moonlit nights. It was simply the result of our common
vanity and of her book-fed sentimentality and, eventually, of her
unbridled temper; and in nature the compound was an unsavoury mess
which thoroughly delighted Lichfield. Lichfield will be only too glad,
even nowadays, to discourse to you of how I got wedged in that infernal
transom, and of how Celia alarmed everybody within two blocks of her
bedroom by her wild yells.


 5

I had meanwhile decided, first, to write another and a better book than
_The Apostates_ or _Afield_ had ever pretended to be; and afterward to
marry Rosalind Jemmett, whom I found, in my too-hackneyed but habitual
phrase, "adorable." For this Rosalind was an eminently "sensible
match," and as such, I considered, quite appropriate for a Townsend.

The main thing though, to me, was to write the book of which I had
already the central idea,--very vague, as yet, but of an unquestionable
magnificence. Development of it, on an at all commensurate scale,
necessitated many inconveniences, and among them, the finding of
someone who would assist me in imbuing the love-scenes--of which there
must unfortunately be a great many--with reality; and for the tale's
_milieu_ I again pitched upon the Green Chalybeate,--where, as you may
remember, I first met with Stella.

So I said a not unpromising farewell to Rosalind Jemmett, who was going
into Canada for the summer. She was quite frankly grieved by the
absolute necessity of my taking a rigorous course of the Chalybeate
waters, but agreed with me that one's health is not to be trifled with.
And of course she would write if I really wanted her to, though she
couldn't imagine _why_--But I explained why, with not a little detail.
And she told me, truthfully, that I was talking like an idiot; and was
not, I thought, irrevocably disgusted by my idiocy. So that, all in
all, I was not discontented when I left her.

Then I ordered Byam to pack and, by various unveracious
representations, induced my Uncle George Bulmer--as a sort of visible
and outward sign that I forgave him for declining to lend me another
penny--to accompany me to the Green Chalybeate. Besides, I was fond of
the old scoundrel....


 6

When I began to scribble these haphazard memories I had designed to be
very droll concerning the "provincialism" of Lichfield; for, as every
inhabitant of it will tell you, it is "quite hopelessly provincial,"
--and this is odd, seeing that, as investigation will assure you, the
city is exclusively inhabited by self-confessed cosmopolitans. I had
meant to depict Fairhaven, too, in the broad style of _Cranford_, say;
and to be so absolutely side-splitting when I touched upon the Green
Chalybeate as positively to endanger the existence of any apoplectic
reader, who presumed to peruse the chapter which dealt with this
resort.

But, upon reflection, I am too familiar with these places to attempt to
treat them humorously. The persons who frequent their byways are too
much like the persons who frequent the byways of any other place, I
find, at bottom. For to write convincingly of the persons peculiar to
any locality it is necessary either to have thoroughly misunderstood
them, or else perseveringly to have been absent from daily intercourse
with them until age has hardened the brain-cells, and you have
forgotten what they are really like. Then, alone, you may write the
necessary character studies which will be sufficiently abundant in
human interest.

For, at bottom, any one of us is tediously like any other.
Comprehension is the grave of sympathy; scratch deeply enough and you
will find not any livelily-coloured Tartarism, but just a mediocre and
thoroughly uninteresting human being. So I may not ever be so droll as
I had meant to be; and if you wish to chuckle over the grotesque places
I have lived in, you must apply to persons who have spent two weeks
there, and no more.

For the rest, Lichfield, and Fairhaven also, got at and into me when I
was too young to defend myself. Therefore Lichfield and Fairhaven
cannot ever, really, seem to me grotesque. To the contrary, it is the
other places which must always appear to me a little queer when judged
by the standards of Fairhaven and Lichfield.



16.

_He Seeks for Copy_


I had aforetime ordered Mr. George Bulmer to read _The Apostates_, and,
as the author of this volume explained, from motives that were purely
well-meaning. To-night I was superintending the process.

"For the scene of the book is the Green Chalybeate," said I; "and it
may be my masterly rhetoric will so far awaken your benighted soul,
Uncle George, as to enable you to perceive what the more immediate
scenery is really like. Why, think of it! what if you should presently
fall so deeply in love with the adjacent mountains as to consent to
overlook the deficiencies of the more adjacent café! Try now, nunky!
try hard to think that the right verb is really more important than the
right vermouth! and you have no idea what good it may do you."

Mr. Bulmer read on, with a bewildered face, while I gently stirred the
contents of my tall and delectably odored glass. It was "frosted" to a
nicety. We were drinking "Mamie Taylors" that summer, you may remember;
and I had just brought up a pitcherful from the bar.

"Oh, I say, you know!" observed Uncle George, as he finished the sixth
chapter, and flung down the book.

"Rot, utter rot," I assented pleasantly; "puerile and futile trifling
with fragments of the seventh commandment, as your sturdy common-sense
instantly detected. In fact," I added, hopefully, "I think that chapter
is trivial enough to send the book into a tenth edition. In _Afield_,
you know, I tried a different tack. Actuated by the noblest sentiments,
the heroine mixes prussic acid with her father's whiskey and water; and
'Old-Fashioned' and 'Fair Play' have been obliging enough to write to
the newspapers about this harrowing instance of the deplorably low
moral standards of to-day. Uncle George, do you think that a real lady
is ever justified in obliterating a paternal relative? You ought to
meditate upon that problem, for it is really a public question
nowadays. Oh, and there was a quite lovely clipping last week I forgot
to show you--all about Electra, as contrasted with Jonas Chuzzlewit,
and my fine impersonal attitude, and the survival of the fittest, and
so on."

But Uncle George refused to be comforted. "Look here, Bob!" said he,
pathetically, "why don't you brace up and write something--well! we'll
put it, something of the sort you _can_ do. For you can, you know."

"Ah, but is not a judicious nastiness the market-price of a second
edition before publication?" I softly queried. "I had no money. I was
ashamed to beg, and I was too well brought up to steal anything
adroitly enough not to be caught. And so, in view of my own uncle's
deafness to the prayers of an impecunious orphan, I have descended to
this that I might furnish butter for my daily bread." I refilled my
glass and held the sparkling drink for a moment against the light.
"This time next year," said I, as dreamily, "I shall be able to afford
cake; for I shall have written _As the Coming of Dawn_."

Mr. Bulmer sniffed, and likewise refilled his glass. "You catch me
lending you any money for your--brief Biblical words!" he said.

"For the reign of subtle immorality," I sighed, "is well-nigh over.
Already the augurs of the pen begin to wink as they fable of a race of
men who are evilly scintillant in talk and gracefully erotic. We know
that this, alas, cannot be, and that in real life our peccadilloes
dwindle into dreary vistas of divorce cases and the police-court, and
that crime has lost its splendour. We sin very carelessly--sordidly, at
times,--and artistic wickedness is rare. It is a pity; life was once a
scarlet volume scattered with misty-coated demons; it is now a yellow
journal, wherein our vices are the hackneyed formulas of journalists,
and our virtues are the not infrequent misprints. Yes, it is a pity!"

"Dearest Robert!" remonstrated Mr. Bulmer, "you are sadly _passé_: that
pose is of the Beardsley period and went out many magazines ago."

"The point is well taken," I admitted, "for our life of to-day is
already reflected--faintly, I grant you,--in the best-selling books. We
have passed through the period of a slavish admiration for wickedness
and wide margins; our quondam decadents now snigger in a parody of
primeval innocence, and many things are forgiven the latter-day poet if
his botany be irreproachable. Indeed, it is quite time; for we have
tossed over the contents of every closet in the _menage à trois_. And
I--_moi, qui vous parle_,--I am wearied of hansom-cabs and the flaring
lights of great cities, even as so alluringly depicted in _Afield_; and
henceforth I shall demonstrate the beauty of pastoral innocence."

"Saul among the prophets," Uncle George suggested, helpfully.

"Quite so," I assented, "and my first prophecy will be _As the Coming
of Dawn_."

Mr. Bulmer tapped his forehead significantly. "Mad, quite mad!" said
he, in parenthesis.

"I shall be idyllic," I continued, sweetly; "I shall write of the
ineffable glory of first love. I shall babble of green fields and the
keen odours of spring and the shamefaced countenances of lovers, met
after last night's kissing. It will be the story of love that stirs
blindly in the hearts of maids and youths, and does not know that it is
love,--the love which manhood has half forgotten and that youth has not
the skill to write of. But I, at twenty-four, shall write its story as
it has never been written; and I shall make a great book of it, that
will go into thousands and thousands of editions. Yes, before heaven, I
will!"

I brought my fist down, emphatically, on the table.

"H'm!" said Mr. Bulmer, dubiously; "going back to renew associations
with your first love? I have tried it, and I generally find her
grandchildren terribly in the way."

"It is imperative," said I,--"yes, imperative for the scope of my book,
that I should view life through youthful and unsophisticated eyes. I
discovered that, upon the whole, Miss Jemmett is too obviously an urban
product to serve my purpose. And I can't find any one who will."

Uncle George whistled softly. "'Honourable young gentleman,'" he
murmured, as to himself, "'desires to meet attractive and innocent
young lady. Object: to learn how to be idyllic in three-hundred
pages.'"

There was no commentary upon his text.

"I say," queried Mr. Bulmer, "do you think this sort of thing is fair
to the girl? Isn't it a little cold-blooded?"

"Respected nunky, you are at times very terribly the man in the street!
Anyhow, I leave the Green Chalybeate to-morrow in search of _As the
Coming of Dawn_."

"Look here," said Mr. Bulmer, rising, "if you start on a tour of the
country, looking for assorted dawns and idylls, it will end in my
abducting you from some rustic institution for the insane. You take a
liver-pill and go to bed! I don't promise anything, mind, but perhaps
about the first I can manage a little cheque if only you will make oath
on a few Bibles not to tank up on it in Lichfield. The transoms there,"
he added unkindlily, "are not built for those full rich figures."

Next morning, I notified the desk-clerk, and, quite casually, both the
newspaper correspondents, that the Green Chalybeate was about to be
bereft of the presence of a distinguished novelist. Then, as my train
did not leave till night, I resolved to be bored on horseback, rather
than on the golf-links, and had Guendolen summoned, from the stable,
for a final investigation of the country roads thereabouts.

Guendolen this afternoon elected to follow a new route; and knowing by
experience that any questioning of this decision could but result in
undignified defeat, I assented. Thus it came about that we circled
parallel to the boardwalk, which leads uphill to the deserted Royal
Hotel, and passed its rows of broken windows; and went downhill again,
always at Guendolen's election; and thus came to the creek, which
babbled across the roadway and was overhung with thick foliage that
lisped and whispered cheerfully in the placid light of the declining
sun. It was there that the germ of _As the Coming of Dawn_ was found.

For I had fallen into a reverie over the deplorable obstinacy of my new
heroine, who declined, for all my labours, to be unsophisticated; and
taking advantage of this, Guendolen had twitched the reins from my hand
and proceeded to satisfy her thirst in a manner that was rather too
noisy to be quite good form. I sat in patience, idly observing the
sparkling reflection of the sunlight on the water. I was elaborating a
comparison between my obstinate heroine and Guendolen. Then Guendolen
snorted, as something rustled through the underbrush, and turning, I
perceived a Vision.

The Vision was in white, with a profusion of open-work. There were blue
ribbons connected with it. There were also black eyes, of the
almond-shaped, heavy-lidded variety that I had thought existed only in
Lely's pictures, and great coils of brown hair which was gold where the
chequered sunlight fell upon it, and two lips that were inexpressibly
red. I was filled with pity for my tired horse, and a resolve that for
this once her thirst should be quenched.

Thereupon, I lifted my cap hastily; and Guendolen scrambled to the
other bank, and spluttered, and had carried me well past the Iron
Spring, before I announced to the evening air that I was a fool, and
that Guendolen was describable by various quite picturesque and
derogatory epithets. And I smiled.

"Now, Robert Etheridge Townsend, you writer of books, here is a subject
made to your hand!" And then:

 "Only 'twixt the light and shade
Floating memories of my maid
Make me pray for Guendolen."

After this we retraced our steps. I was peering anxiously about the
roadway.

"Pardon me," said I, subsequently; "but _have_ you seen anything of a
watch--a small gold one, set with pearls?"

"Heavens!" said the Vision, sympathetically, "what a pity! Are you sure
it fell here?"

"I don't seem to have it about me," I answered, with cryptic, but
entire veracity. I searched about my pockets, with a puckered brow.
"And as we stopped here--"

I looked inquiringly into the water.

"From this side," observed the Vision, impersonally, "there is less
glare from the brook."

Having tied Guendolen to a swinging limb, I sat down contentedly in
these woods. The Vision moved a little, lest I be crowded.

"It might be further up the road," she suggested.

"Oh, I must have left it at the hotel," I observed.

"You might look--" said she, peering into the water.

"Forever!" I assented.

The Vision flushed, "I didn't mean--" she began.

"But I did," quoth I,--"and every word of it."

"Why, in that case," said she, and rose to her feet, "I'd better--" A
frown wrinkled her brow; then a deep, curved dimple performed a similar
office for her cheek. "I wonder--" said she.

"Why, you would be a bold-faced jig," said I, composedly; "but, after
all there is nobody about. And, besides,--for I suspect you of being
one of the three dilapidated persons in veils who came last night,--we
are going to be introduced right after supper, anyway."

The Vision sat down. "You mentioned your sanatorium?" quoth she.

"The Asylum of Love," said I; "discharged--under a false impression,
--as cured, and sent to paradise.

"Oh!" said I, defiant, "but it _is_!"

She looked about her. "The woods _are_ rather beautiful," she conceded,
softly.

"They form a quite appropriate background," said I. "It is a veritable
Eden, before the coming of the snake."

"Before?" she queried, dubiously.

"Undoubtedly," said I, and felt my ribs, in meditative wise. "Ah, but I
thought I missed something! We participate in a historic moment. This
is in Eden immediately after the creation of--Well, but of course you
are acquainted with that famous bull about Eve's being the fairest of
her daughters?"

"It is _quite_ time," said she, judicially, "for me to go back to the
hotel, before--since we are speaking of animals,--your presence here is
noticed by one of the squirrels."

"It is not good," I pleaded, "for man to be alone."

"I have heard," said she, "that--almost any one can cite scripture to
his purpose."

I thrust out a foot for inspection. "No suggestion of a hoof," said I;
"and not the slightest odour of brimstone, as you will kindly note; and
my inoffensive name is Robert Townsend."

"Of course," she submitted, "I could never think of making your
acquaintance in this irregular fashion; and, therefore, of course, I
could not think of telling you that my name is Marian Winwood."

"Of course not," I agreed; "it would be highly improper."

"--And it is more than time for me to go to supper," she concluded
again, with a lacuna, as it seemed to me, in the deduction.

"Look here!" I remonstrated; "it isn't anywhere near six yet." I
exhibited my watch to support this statement.

"Oh!" she observed, with wide, indignant eyes.

"I--I mean--" I stammered.

She rose to her feet.

"--I will explain how I happened to be carrying two watches--"

"I do not care to listen to any explanations. Why should I?"

"--upon," I firmly said, "the third piazza of the hotel. And this very
evening."

"You will not." And this was said even more firmly. "And I hope you
will have the kindness to keep away from these woods; for I shall
probably always walk here in the afternoon." Then, with an indignant
toss of the head, the Vision disappeared.


 3

I whistled. Subsequently I galloped back to the hotel.

"See here!" said I, to the desk-clerk; "how long does this place keep
open?"

"Season closes latter part of September, sir."

I told him I would need my rooms till then.



17.

_He Provides Copy_


So it was Uncle George Bulmer who presently left the Green Chalybeate,
to pursue Mrs. Chaytor with his lawless arts. I stayed out the season.

Now I cannot conscientiously recommend the Green Chalybeate against
your next vacation. Once very long ago, it was frequented equally for
the sake of gaiety and of health. In the summer that was Marian's the
resort was a beautiful and tumble-down place where invalids congregated
for the sake of the nauseous waters,--which infallibly demolish a solid
column of strange maladies I never read quite through, although it
bordered every page of the writing-paper you got there from the
desk-clerk,--and a scanty leaven of persons who came thither,
apparently, in order to spend a week or two in lamenting "how very dull
the season is this year, and how abominable the fare is."

But for one I praise the place, and I believe that Marian Winwood also
bears it no ill-will. For we two were very happy there. We took part in
the "subscription euchres" whenever we could not in time devise an
excuse which would pass muster with the haggard "entertainer." We
danced conscientiously beneath the pink and green icing of the
ball-room's ceiling, with all three of the band playing _Hearts and
Flowers_; and with a dozen "chaperones"--whom I always suspected of
taking in washing during the winter months,--lined up as closely as was
possible to the door, as if in preparation for the hotel's catching
fire any moment, to give us pessimistic observal. And having thus
discharged our duty to society at large, we enjoyed ourselves
tremendously.

For instance, we would talk over the book I was going to write in the
autumn. That was the main thing. Then one could golf, or drive, or--I
blush to write it even now--croquet. Croquet, though, is a much
maligned game, as you will immediately discover if you ever play it on
the rambling lawn of the Chalybeate, about six in the afternoon, say,
when the grass is greener than it is by ordinary, and the shadows are
long, and the sun is well beneath the tree-tops of the Iron Bank, and
your opponent makes a face at you occasionally, and on each side the
old, one-storied cottages are builded of unusually red bricks and are
quite ineffably asleep.

Or again there is always the creek to divert yourself in. Once I caught
five crawfishes there, while Marian waited on the bank; and afterward
we found an old tomato-can and boiled them in it, and they came out a
really gorgeous crimson. This was the afternoon that we were Spanish
Inquisitors.... Oh, believe me, you can have quite a good time at the
Chalybeate, if you set about it in the proper way.


 2

Only it is true that sometimes, when it rained, say, with that hopeless
insistency which, I protest, is unknown anywhere else in the world; and
when Marian was not immediately accessible, and cigarettes were not
quite satisfactory, because the entire universe was so sodden that
matches had to be judiciously coaxed before they would strike; and when
if you happened to be writing a fervid letter to Rosalind Jemmett, let
us say, the ink would not dry for ever so long:--why, it is true that
in these circumstances you would feel a shade too like the wicked Lord
So-and-So of a melodrama to be comfortable.

Yet even in these circumstances, reason told me that the Book was the
main thing, that the girl would be thoroughly over the affair by
November at latest, and that at the cost of a few inconsequent tears,
she would have meanwhile immeasurably obliged posterity. And I knew
that no man may ever write in perdurable fashion save by ruthlessly
converting his own life into "copy," since of other persons' lives he
can, at most, reproduce but the blurred and misinterpreted by-ends, by
reason of almost any author's deplorable lack of omniscience. Yes, the
Book was the main thing; and yet the girl--knowingly to dip my pen into
her heart as into an inkstand was not, at best, chivalric....

"But the Book!" said I. "Why, I must be quite idiotically in love to
think of letting that Book perish!" And I viciously added: "Confound
the pretty simpleton!"...


 3

So the book was builded, after all, a little by a little. Hardly an
evening came when after leaving Marian I had not at least one excellent
and pregnant jotting to record in my note-book. Now it would be just an
odd turn of language, or a description of some gesture she had made, or
of a gown she had worn that day; and now a simile or some other rather
good figure of speech which had popped into my mind when I was making
love to her.

Nor had I any difficulty in preserving nearly all she said to me, for
Marian was never a chatterbox; yet her responses had, somehow, that
long-sought tang it wasn't in me to invent for any imaginary young
woman who must be, for the sake of my new novel, quite heels over head
in love.

And I began to see that Bettie was right, as usual. I had portrayed
Gillian Hardress pretty well in _Afield_; but by and large, I had
always written about women as though they were "pterodactyls or some
other extinct animal, which you had never seen, but had read a lot
about."

And now, in looking over my notes, I knew, and my heart glowed to know,
that I was not about to repeat the error.

So the Book was builded, after all, a little by a little. And a little
by a little the summer wore on; and in the lobby of the Main Hotel was
hung the beautiful Spirit of the Falls poster of the Buffalo
Exposition; and we talked of Oom Paul Krüger, and Shamrock II, and the
Nicaragua Canal, and lanky Bob Fitzsimmons, and the Boxer outrages; and
we read _To Have and To Hold_ and _The Cardinal's Snuff Box_, and
thought it droll that the King of England was not going to call himself
King Albert, after all.

And then came the news of how the President had been shot, "with a
poisoned bullet," and a week of contradictory bulletins from the
Milburn House in Buffalo. And there were panicky surmises raised
everywhere as to "what these anarchists may do next," so that Maggio
was mobbed in Columbus, and Emma Goldman in Chicago; and Colonel
Roosevelt was found, after days of search, on Mt. Marcy in the
Adirondacks, and was told in the heart of a forest that to-morrow he
would be at the head of a nation. And the country's guidance was
entrusted to a mere lad of forty-three, with general uneasiness as to
what might come of it; and the dramatic tale of Colonel Roosevelt's
taking of the oath of office was in that morning's paper; and Marian
and I were about to part.


 4

"It will be dreadful," sighed she; "for we have to stay a whole week
longer, and I shall come here every afternoon. And there will be only
ghosts in the woods, and I shall be very lonely."

"Dear," said I, "is it not something to have been happy? It has been
such a wonderful summer; and come what may, nothing can rob us now of
its least golden moment. And it is only for a little."

"You will come back?" said she, half-doubtingly.

"Yes," I said. "You wonderful, elfin creature, I shall undoubtedly come
back--to your real home, and claim you there. Only I don't believe you
do live in Aberlin,--you probably live in some great, gnarled oak
hereabouts; and at night its bark uncloses to set you free, and you and
your sisters dance out the satyrs' hearts in the moonlight. Oh, I know,
Marian! I simply _know_ you are a dryad,--a wonderful, laughing,
clear-eyed dryad strayed out of the golden age."

"What a boy it is!" she said. "No, I am only a really and truly girl,
dear,--a rather frightened girl, with very little disposition to
laughter, just now. For you are going away--Oh, my dear, you have meant
so much to me! The world is so different since you have come, and I am
so happy and so miserable that--that I am afraid." An infinitesimal
handkerchief went upward to two great, sparkling eyes, and dabbed at
them.

"Dear!" said I. And this remark appeared to meet the requirements of
the situation.

There was a silence now. We sat in the same spot where I had first
encountered Marian Winwood. Only this was an autumnal forest that
glowed with many gem-like hues about us; and already the damp odour of
decaying leaves was heavy in the air. It was like the Tosti thing
translated out of marine terms into a woodland analogue. The summer was
ended; but _As the Coming of Dawn_ was practically complete.

It was not the book that I had planned, but a far greater one which was
scarcely mine. There was no word written as yet. But for two months I
had viewed life through Marian Winwood's eyes; day by day, my
half-formed, tentative ideas had been laid before her with elaborate
fortuitousness, to be approved, or altered, or rejected, just as she
decreed; until at last they had been welded into a perfect whole that
was a Book, bit by bit, we had planned it, I and she; and, as I dreamed
of it as it would be in print, my brain was fired with exultation, and
I defied my doubt and I swore that the Book, for which I had pawned a
certain portion of my self-respect, was worth--and triply worth--the
price which had been paid.... This was in Marian's absence.

"Dear!" said she....

Her eyes were filled with a tender and unutterable confidence that
thrilled me like physical cold. "Marian," said I, simply, "I shall
never come back."

The eyes widened a trifle, but she did not seem to comprehend.

"Have you not wondered," said I, "that I have never kissed you, except
as if you were a very holy relic or a cousin or something of that
sort?"

"Yes," she answered. Her voice was quite emotionless.

"And yet--yet--" I sprang to my feet. "Dear God, how I have longed!
Yesterday, only yesterday, as I read to you from the verses I had made
to other women, those women that are colourless shadows by the side of
your vivid beauty,--and you listened wonderingly and said the proper
things and then lapsed into dainty boredom,--_how_ I longed to take you
in my arms, and to quicken your calm blood a little with another sort
of kissing. You knew--you must have known! Last night, for instance--"

"Last night," she said, very simply, "I thought--And I hoped you
would."

"What a confession for a nicely brought up girl! Well! I didn't. And
afterward, all night, I tossed in sick, fevered dreams of you. I am mad
for love of you. And so, once in a while I kiss your hand. Dear God,
your hand!" My voice quavered, effectively.

"Yes," said she; "still, I remember--"

"I have struggled; and I have conquered this madness,--for a madness it
is. We can laugh together and be excellent friends; and we can never,
never be anything more. Well! we have laughed, have we not, dear, a
whole summer through? Now comes the ending. Ah, I have seen you
puzzling over my meaning before this. You never understood me
thoroughly; but it is always safe to laugh."

She smiled; and I remember now it was rather as Mona Lisa smiles.

"For we can laugh together,--that is all. We are not mates. You were
born to be the wife of a strong man and the mother of his sturdy
children; and you and your sort will inherit the earth and make the
laws for us weaklings who dream and scribble and paint. We are not
mates. But you have been very kind to me, Marian dear. So I thank you
and say good-bye; and I pray that I may never see you after to-day."

There was a sub-tang of veracity in my deprecation of an unasked-for
artistic temperament; the thing is very often a nuisance, and was just
then a barrier which I perceived plainly; and with equal plainness I
perceived the pettier motives that now caused me to point it out as a
barrier to Marian. My lips curled half in mockery of myself, as I
framed the bitter smile I felt the situation demanded; but I was fired
with the part I was playing; and half-belief had crept into my mind
that Marian Winwood was created, chiefly, for the purpose which she had
already served.

I regarded her, in fine, as through the eyes of future readers of my
biography. She would represent an episode in my life, as others do in
that of Byron or of Goethe. I pitied her sincerely; and, under all,
what moralists would call my lower nature, held in leash for two months
past, chuckled, and grinned, and leaped, at the thought of a holiday.

She rose to her feet. "Good-bye," said she.

"You--you understand, dear?" I queried, tenderly.

"Yes," she answered; "I understand--not what you have just told me, for
in that, of course, you have lied. That Jemmett girl and her money is
at the bottom of it all, of course. You didn't want to lose her, and
still you wanted to play with me. So you were pulled two ways, poor
dear."

"Oh, well, if that is what you think of me--!"

"You see, you are not an uncommon type,--a type not strong enough to
live life healthily, just strong enough to dabble in life, to trifle
with emotions, to experiment with other people's lives. Indeed, I am
not angry, dear; I am only--sorry; for you have played with me very
nicely indeed, and very boyishly, and the summer has been very happy."


 5

I returned to Lichfield and wrote _As the Coming of Dawn_.

I spent six months in this. My work at first was mere copying of the
book that already existed in my brain; but when it was transcribed
therefrom, I wrote and rewrote, shifted and polished and adorned until
it seemed I would never have done; and indeed I was not anxious to have
done with any labour so delightful.

Particularly did I rejoice in the character for which Marian Winwood
had posed. Last summer's note-book here came into play; and now, for
once, my heroine was in no need of either shoving or prompting. She did
things of her own accord, and I was merely her scribe...

I would vain-gloriously protest, just to myself, that the love scenes
in this story were the most exquisite and, with all that, the most
genuine love scenes I knew of anywhere. "By God!" I would occasionally
say with Thackeray; "I _am_ a genius!"

Besides, the story of the book, I knew, was novel and astutely wrought;
its progress caught at once and teased your interest always, so that
having begun it, most people would read to the end, if only to discover
"how it all came out." I knew the book, in fine, could hardly fail to
please and interest a number of people by reason of its plot alone.

I ought to have been content with this. But I had somehow contracted an
insane notion that a novel is the more enjoyable when it is adroitly
written. In point of fact, of course, no man who writes with care is
ever read with pleasure; you may toil through a page or two perhaps,
but presently you are noting how precisely every word is fitted to the
thought, and later you are noting nothing else. You are insensibly
beguiled into a fidgety-footed analysis of every clause, which fatigues
in the outcome, and by the tenth page you are yawning.

But I did not comprehend this then. And so I fashioned my apt phrases,
and weighed my synonyms, and echoed this or that vowel very skilfully,
I thought, and alliterated my consonants with discretion. In fine, I
did not overlook the most meticulous device of the stylist; and I
enjoyed it. It was a sort of game; and they taught me at least, those
six delightful months, that a man writes admirable prose not at all for
the sake of having it read, but for the more sensible reason that he
enjoys playing solitaire.

I led a hermit's life that winter; and I enjoyed that too. Night, after
all, is the one time for writing, particularly when you are inane
enough to hanker after perfected speech, and so misguided as to be the
slave of the "right word." You sit alone in a bright, comfortable room;
the clock ticks companionably; there is no other sound in the world
except the constant scratching of your pen, and the occasional far-off
puffing of a freight-train coming into Lichfield; there is snow
outside, but before your eyes someone, that is not you exactly,
arranges and redrills the scrawls which will bring back the sweet and
languid summer and remarshal all its pleasant trivialities for anyone
that chooses to read through the printed page, although he read two
centuries hence, in Nova Zembla....

Then you dip into an Unabridged, and change every word that has been
written, for a better one, and do it leisurely, rolling in the mouth,
as it were, the flavour of every possible synonym, before decision.
Then you reread, with a corrective pen in hand the while, and you
venture upon the whole to agree with Mérimée that it is preferable to
write one's own books, since those of others are not, after all,
particularly worth reading in comparison.

And by this time the windows are pale blue, like the blue of a dying
flame, and you peep out and see the sparrows moving like rather poorly
made mechanical toys about the middle of the deserted street, where
there is neither light nor shade. The colour of everything is perfectly
discernible, but there is no lustre in the world as yet, though yonder
the bloat sun is already visible in the blue and red east, which is
like a cosmic bruise; and upon a sudden you find it just possible to
stay awake long enough to get safely into bed....


 6

Thus I dandled the child of my brain for a long while, and arrayed it
in beautiful and curious garments, adorning each beloved notion with
far-sought words that had a taste in the mouth, and would one day lend
an aroma to the printed page; and I rejoiced shamelessly in that which
I had done. Then it befell that I went forth and sought the luxury of a
Turkish bath, and in the morning, after a rub-down and an ammonia
cocktail, awoke to the fact that the world had been going on much as
usual, that winter.

Young Colonel Roosevelt seemed not to have wrecked civilization, after
all, according to the morning _Courier-Herald_, despite that Democratic
paper's colorful prophecies last autumn in the vein of Jeremiah. To the
contrary, Major-General McArthur was testifying before the Senate as to
the abysmal unfitness of the Filipinos for self-government; the Women's
Clubs were holding a convention in Los Angeles; there had been terrible
hailstorms this year to induce the annual ruining of the peach-crop,
and the submarine Fulton had exploded; the California Limited had been
derailed in Iowa, and in Memphis there was some sort of celebration in
honor of Admiral Schley; and the Boer War seemed over; and Mr.
Havemeyer also was before the Senate, to whom he was making it clear
that his companies were in no wise responsible for sugar having reached
the unprecedentedly high price of four and a half cents a pound.

The world, in short, in spite of my six months' retiring therefrom,
seemed to be getting on pleasantly enough, as I turned from the paper
to face the six months' accumulation of mail.


 7

A few weeks later, I sent for Mr. George Bulmer, and informed him of
his avuncular connection with a genius; and waved certain typewritten
pages to establish his title.

Subsequently I read aloud divers portions of _As the Coming of Dawn_,
and Mr. Bulmer sipped Chianti, and listened.

"Look here!" he said, suddenly; "have you seen _The Imperial
Votaress?_"

I frowned. It is always annoying to be interrupted in the middle of a
particularly well-balanced sentence. "Don't know the lady," said I.

"She is advertised on half the posters in town," said Mr. Bulmer. "And
it is the book of the year. And it is your book."

At this moment I laid down my manuscript. '"I _beg_ your pardon?" said
I.

"Your book!" Uncle George repeated firmly; "and scarcely a hair's
difference between them, except in the names."

"H'm!" I observed, in a careful voice. "Who wrote it?"

"Some female woman out west," said Mr. Bulmer. "She's a George
Something-or-other when she publishes, of course, like all those
authorines when they want to say about mankind at large what less
gifted women only dare say about their sisters-in-law. I wish to heaven
they would pick out some other Christian name when they want to cut up
like pagans. Anyhow, I saw her real name somewhere, and I remember it
began with an S--Why, to be sure! it's Marian Winwood."

"Amaimon sounds well," I observed; "Lucifer, well; Larbason, well; yet
they are devils' additions, the names of fiends: but--Marian Winwood!"

"Dear me!" he remonstrated. "Why, she wrote _A Bright Particular Star_,
you know, and _The Acolytes_, and lots of others."

The author of _As the Coming of Dawn_ swallowed a whole glass of
Chianti at a gulp.

"Of course," I said, slowly, "I cannot, in my rather peculiar position,
run the risk of being charged with plagiarism--by a Chinese-eyed mental
sneak-thief...."

Thereupon I threw the manuscript into the open fire, which my
preference for the picturesque rendered necessary, even in May.

"Oh, look here!" my uncle cried, and caught up the papers. "It is
infernally good, you know! Can't you--can't you fix it,--and--er--
change it a bit? Typewriting is so expensive these days that it seems a
pity to waste all this."

I took the manuscript and replaced it firmly among the embers. "As you
justly observe," said I, "it is infernally good. It is probably a deal
better than anything else I shall ever write."

"Why, then--" said Uncle George.

"Why, then," said I, "the only thing that remains to do is to read _The
Imperial Votaress._"


 8

And I read it with an augmenting irritation. Here was my great and
comely idea transmuted by "George Glock"--which was the woman's foolish
pen-name,--into a rather clever melodrama, and set forth anyhow, in a
hit or miss style that fairly made me squirm. I would cheerfully have
strangled Marian Winwood just then, and not upon the count of larceny,
but of butchery.

"And to cap it all, she has assigned her hero every pretty speech I
ever made to her! I honestly believe the rogue took shorthand jottings
on her cuffs. 'There is a land where lovers may meet face to face, and
heart to heart, and mouth to mouth'--why, that's the note I wrote her
on the day she wasn't feeling well!"

Presently, however, I began to laugh, and presently sitting there
alone, I began to applaud as if I were witnessing a play that took my
fancy.

"Oh, the adorable jade!" I said; and then: "George Glock, forsooth!
_George Dandin, tu l' as voulu._"


 9

Naturally I put the entire affair into a short story. And--though even
to myself it seems incredible,--Miss Winwood wrote me within three days
of the tale's appearance, a very indignant letter.

For she was furious, to the last exclamation point and underlining,
about my little magazine tale.... "Why don't you stop writing, and try
plumbing or butchering or traveling for scented soap? _You can't
write!_ If you had the light of creation you wouldn't be using my
material"....

--Which caused me to reflect forlornly that I had wasted a great deal
of correct behavior upon Marian, since any of the more intimately
amorous advances which I might have made, and had scrupulously
refrained from making, would very probably have been regarded as raw
"material," to be developed rather than shocked by....



18.

_He Spends an Afternoon in Arden_


I had, in a general way, intended to marry Rosalind Jemmett so soon as
I had completed _As the Coming of Dawn_; but in the fervour of writing
that unfortunate volume, I had at first put off a little, and then a
little longer, the answering of her last letter, because I was
interested just then in writing well and not particularly interested in
anything else; and I had finally approximated to forgetfulness of the
young lady's existence.

Now, however, my thoughts harked back to her; and I found, upon
inquiry, that Rosalind had spent all of May and a good half of April in
Lichfield, in the same town with myself, and was now engaged to Alfred
Chaytor,--an estimable person, but popularly known as "Sissy" Chaytor.


 2

And this gave an additional whet to my intentions. So I called upon the
girl, and she, to my chagrin, received me with an air of having danced
with me some five or six times the night before; our conversation was
at first trivial and, on her part, dishearteningly cordial; and, in
fine, she completely baffled me by not appearing to expect any least
explanation of my discourteous neglect. This, look you, when I had been
at pains to prepare a perfectly convincing one.

It must be conceded I completely lost my temper; shortly afterward
neither of us was speaking with excessive forethought; and each of us
languidly advanced a variety of observations which were more dexterous
than truthful. But I followed the intractable heiress to the Moncrieffs
that spring, in spite of this rebuff, being insufferably provoked by
her unshakable assumptions of my friendship and of nothing more.


 3

It was perhaps a week later she told me: "This, beyond any reasonable
doubt, is the Forest of Arden."

"But where Rosalind is is always Arden," I said, politely. Yet I made a
mental reservation as to a glimpse of the golf-links, which this
particular nook of the forest afforded, and of a red-headed caddy in
search of a lost ball.

But beyond these things the sun was dying out in a riot of colour, and
its level rays fell kindlily upon the gaunt pines that were thick about
us two, converting them into endless aisles of vaporous gold.

There was primeval peace about; an evening wind stirred lazily above,
and the leaves whispered drowsily to one another over the waters of
what my companion said was a "brawling loch," though I had previously
heard it reviled as a particularly treacherous and vexatious hazard.
Altogether, I had little doubt that we had reached, in any event, the
outskirts of Arden.

"And now," quoth she, seating herself on a fallen log, "what would you
do if I were your very, very Rosalind?"

"Don't!" I cried in horror. "It wouldn't be proper! For as a decent
self-respecting heroine, you would owe it to Orlando not to listen."

"H'umph!" said Rosalind. The exclamation does not look impressive,
written out; but, spoken, it placed Orlando in his proper niche.

"Oh, well," said I, and stretched myself at her feet, full
length,--which is supposed to be a picturesque attitude,--"why quarrel
over a name? It ought to be Gamelyn, anyhow; and, moreover, by the
kindness of fate, Orlando is golfing."

Rosalind frowned, dubiously.

"But golf is a very ancient game," I reassured her. Then I bit a
pine-needle in two and sighed. "Foolish fellow, when he might be--"

"Admiring the beauties of nature," she suggested.

Just then an impudent breeze lifted a tendril of honey-coloured hair
and toyed with it, over a low, white brow,--and I noted that Rosalind's
hair had a curious coppery glow at the roots, a nameless colour that I
have never observed anywhere else....

"Yes," said I, "of nature."

"Then," queried she, after a pause, "who are you? And what do you in
this forest?"

"You see," I explained, "there were conceivably other men in Arden--"

"I suppose so," she sighed, with exemplary resignation.

"--For you were," I reminded her, "universally admired at your uncle's
court,--and equally so in the forest. And while Alfred--or, strictly
speaking, Gamelyn, or, if you prefer it, Orlando,--is the great love of
your life, still--"

"Men are so foolish!" said Rosalind, irrelevantly.

"--it did not prevent you--"

"Me!" cried she, indignant.

"You had such a tender heart," I suggested, "and suffering was
abhorrent to your gentle nature."

"I don't like cynicism, sir," said she; "and inasmuch as tobacco is not
yet discovered--"

"It is clearly impossible that I am smoking," I finished; "quite true."

"I don't like cheap wit, either," said Rosalind. "You," she went on,
with no apparent connection, "are a forester, with a good cross-bow and
an unrequited attachment,--say, for me. You groan and hang verses and
things about on the trees."

"But I don't write verses--any longer," I amended. "Still how would
this do,--for an oak, say,--

"I found a lovely centre-piece
Upon the supper-table,
But when I looked at it again
I saw I wasn't able,
And so I took my mother home
And locked her in the stable."

She considered that the plot of this epic was not sufficiently
inevitable. It hadn't, she lamented, a quite logical ending; and the
plot of it, in fine, was not, somehow, convincing.

"Well, in any event," I optimistically reflected, "I am a nickel in. If
your dicta had emanated from a person in Peoria or Seattle, who hadn't
bothered to read my masterpiece, they would have sounded exactly the
same, and the clipping-bureau would have charged me five cents.
Maybe I can't write verses, then. But I am quite sure I can groan." And
I did so.

"It sounds rather like a fog-horn," said Rosalind, still in the
critic's vein; "but I suppose it is the proper thing. Now," she
continued, and quite visibly brightening, "you can pretend to have an
unrequited attachment for me."

"But I can't--" I decisively said.

"Can't," she echoed. It has not been mentioned previously that Rosalind
was pretty. She was especially so just now, in pouting. And, therefore,
"--pretend," I added.

She preserved a discreet silence.

"Nor," I continued, with firmness, "am I a shambling, nameless,
unshaven denizen of Arden, who hasn't anything to do except to carry a
spear and fall over it occasionally. I will no longer conceal the
secret of my identity. I am Jaques."

"You can't be Jaques," she dissented; "you are too stout."

"I am well-built," I admitted, modestly; "as in an elder case, sighing
and grief have blown me up like a bladder; yet proper pride, if nothing
else, demands that my name should appear on the programme."

"But would Jaques be the sort of person who'd--?"

"Who wouldn't be?" I asked, with appropriate ardour. "No, depend upon
it, Jaques was not any more impervious to temptation than the rest of
us; and, indeed, in the French version, as you will find, he eventually
married Celia."

"Minx!" said she; and it seemed to me quite possible that she referred
to Celia Reindan, and my heart glowed.

"And how," queried Rosalind, presently, "came you to the Forest of
Arden, good Jaques?"

I groaned once more. "It was a girl," I darkly said.

"Of course," assented Rosalind, beaming as to the eyes. Then she went
on, and more sympathetically: "Now, Jaques, you can tell me the whole
story."

"Is it necessary?" I asked.

"Surely," said she, with sudden interest in the structure of
pine-cones; "since for a long while I have wanted to know all about
Jaques. You see Mr. Shakespeare is a bit hazy about him."

"_So_!" I thought, triumphantly.

And aloud, "It is an old story," I warned her, "perhaps the oldest of
all old stories. It is the story of a man and a girl. It began with a
chance meeting and developed into a packet of old letters, which is the
usual ending of this story."

Rosalind's brows protested.

"Sometimes," I conceded, "it culminates in matrimony; but the ending is
not necessarily tragic."

I dodged exactly in time; and the pine-cone splashed into the hazard.

"It happened," I continued, "that, on account of the man's health, they
were separated for a whole year's time before--before things had
progressed to any extent. When they did progress, it was largely by
letters. That is why this story ended in such a large package.

"Letters," Rosalind confided, to one of the pines, "are so
unsatisfactory. They mean so little."

"To the man," I said, firmly, "they meant a great deal. They brought
him everything that he most wished for,--comprehension, sympathy, and,
at last, comfort and strength when they were sore needed. So the man,
who was at first but half in earnest, announced to himself that he had
made a discovery. 'I have found,' said he, 'the great white love which
poets have dreamed of. I love this woman greatly, and she, I think,
loves me. God has made us for each other, and by the aid of her love I
will be pure and clean and worthy even of her.' You have doubtless
discovered by this stage in my narrative," I added, as in parenthesis,
"that the man was a fool."

"Don't!" said Rosalind.

"Oh, he discovered it himself in due time--but not until after he had
written a book about her. _As the Coming of Dawn_ the title was to have
been. It was--oh, just about her. It tried to tell how greatly he loved
her. It tried--well, it failed of course, because it isn't within the
power of any writer to express what the man felt for that girl. Why,
his love was so great--to him, poor fool!--that it made him at times
forget the girl herself, apparently. He didn't want to write her
trivial letters. He just wanted to write that great book in her honour,
which would _make_ her understand, even against her will, and then to
die, if need be, as Geoffrey Rudel did. For that was the one thing
which counted--to make her understand--" I paused, and anyone could see
that I was greatly moved. In fact, I was believing every word of it by
this time.

"Oh, but who wants a man to _die_ for her?" wailed Rosalind.

"It is quite true that one infinitely prefers to see him make a fool of
himself. So the man discovered when he came again to bring his foolish
book to her,--the book that was to make her understand. And so he
burned it--in a certain June. For the girl had merely liked him, and
had been amused by him. So she had added him to her collection of men,
--quite a large one, by the way,--and was, I believe, a little proud of
him. It was, she said, rather a rare variety, and much prized by
collectors."

"And how was _she_ to know?" said Rosalind; and then, remorsefully:
"Was it a very horrid girl?"

"It was not exactly repulsive," said I, as dreamily, and looking up
into the sky.

There was a pause. Then someone in the distance--a forester, probably,
--called "Fore!" and Rosalind awoke from her reverie.

"Then--?" said she.

"Then came the customary Orlando--oh, well! Alfred, if you like. The
name isn't altogether inappropriate, for he does encounter existence
with much the same abandon which I have previously noticed in a muffin.
For the rest, he was a nicely washed fellow, with a sufficiency of the
mediaeval equivalents for bonds and rubber-tired buggies and country
places. Oh, yes! I forgot to say that the man was poor,--also that the
girl had a great deal of common-sense and no less than three longheaded
aunts. And so the girl talked to the man in a common-sense fashion--and
after that she was never at home."

"Never?" said Rosalind.

"Only that time they talked about the weather," said I. "So the man
fell out of bed just about then, and woke up and came to his sober
senses."

"He did it very easily," said Rosalind, almost as if in resentment.

"The novelty of the process attracted him," I pleaded. "So he said--in
a perfectly sensible way--that he had known all along it was only a
game they were playing,--a game in which there were no stakes. That was
a lie. He had put his whole soul into the game, playing as he knew for
his life's happiness; and the verses, had they been worthy of the love
which caused them to be written, would have been among the great songs
of the world. But while the man knew at last that he had been a fool,
he was swayed by a man-like reluctance against admitting it. So he
laughed--and lied--and broke away, hurt, but still laughing."

"You hadn't mentioned any verses before," said Rosalind.

"I told you he was a fool," said I. "And, after all, that is the entire
story."

Then I spent several minutes in wondering what would happen next.
During this time I lost none of my interest in the sky. I believed
everything I had said: my emotions would have done credit to a Romeo or
an Amadis.

"The first time that the girl was not at home," Rosalind observed,
impersonally, "the man had on a tan coat and a brown derby. He put on
his gloves as he walked down the street. His shoulders were the most
indignant--and hurt things she had ever seen. Then the girl wrote to
him,--a strangely sincere letter,--and tore it up."

"Historical research," I murmured, "surely affords no warrant for such
attire among the rural denizens of tranquil Arden."

"You see," continued Rosalind, oblivious to interruption, "I know all
about the girl,--which is more than you do."

"That," I conceded, "is disastrously probable."

"When she realised that she was to see the man again--_Did_ you ever
feel as if something had lifted you suddenly hundreds of feet above
rainy days and cold mutton for luncheon, and the possibility of other
girls' wearing black evening dresses, when you wanted yours to be the
only one in the room? Well, that is the way she felt at first, when she
read his note. At first, she realised nothing beyond the fact that he
was nearing her, and that she would presently see him. She didn't even
plan what she would wear, or what she would say to him. In an
indefinite way, she was happier than she had ever been before--or has
been since--until the doubts and fears and knowledge that give children
and fools a wide berth came to her,--and _then_ she saw it all against
her will, and thought it all out, and came to a conclusion."

I sat up. There was really nothing of interest occurring overhead.

"They had played at loving--lightly, it is true, but they had gone so
far in their letter writing that they could not go backward,--only
forward, or not at all. She had known all along that the man was but
half in earnest--believe me, a girl always knows that, even though she
may not admit it to herself,--and she had known that a love affair
meant to him material for a sonnet or so, and a well-turned letter or
two, and nothing more. For he was the kind of man that never quite
grows up. He was coming to her, pleased, interested, and a little
eager--in love with the idea of loving her,--willing to meet her
half-way, and very willing to follow her the rest of the way--if she
could draw him. And what was she to do? Could she accept his gracefully
insulting semblance of a love she knew he did not feel? Could they see
each other a dozen times, swearing not to mention the possibility of
loving,--so that she might have a chance to reimpress him with her
blondined hair--it _is_ touched up, you know--and small talk? And--and
_besides_--"

"It is the duty of every young woman to consider what she owes to her
family," said I, absentmindedly. Rosalind Jemmett's family consists of
three aunts, and the chief of these is Aunt Marcia, who lives in
Lichfield. Aunt Marcia is a portly, acidulous and discomposing person,
with eyes like shoe-buttons and a Savonarolan nose. She is also a
well-advertised philanthropist, speaks neatly from the platform, and
has wide experience as a patroness, and extreme views as to
ineligibles.

Rosalind flushed somewhat. "And so," said she, "the girl exercised her
common-sense, and was nervous, and said foolish things about new plays,
and the probability of rain--to keep from saying still more foolish
things about herself; and refused to talk personalities; and let him
go, with the knowledge that he would not come back. Then she went to
her room, and had a good cry. Now," she added, after a pause, "you
understand."

"I do not," I said, very firmly, "understand a lot of things."

"Yet a woman would," she murmured.

This being a statement I was not prepared to contest, I waved it aside.
"And so," said I, "they laughed; and agreed it was a boy-and-girl
affair; and were friends."

"It was the best thing--" said she.

"Yes," I assented,--"for Orlando."

"--and it was the most sensible thing."

"Oh, eminently!"

This seemed to exhaust the subject, and I lay down once more among the
pine-needles.

"And that," said Rosalind, "was the reason Jaques came to Arden?"

"Yes," said I.

"And found it--?"

"Shall we say--Hades?"

"Oh!" she murmured, scandalised.

"It happened," I continued, "that he was cursed with a good memory. And
the zest was gone from his little successes and failures, now there was
no one to share them; and nothing seemed to matter very much. Oh, he
really was the sort of man that never grows up! And it was dreary to
live among memories of the past, and his life was now somewhat
perturbed by disapproval of his own folly and by hunger for a woman who
was out of his reach."

"And Rosalind--I mean the girl--?"

"She married Orlando--or Gamelyn, or Alfred, or Athelstane, or
Ethelred, or somebody,--and, whoever it was, they lived happily ever
afterward," I said, morosely.

Rosalind pondered over this dénouement for a moment.

"Do you know," said she, "I think--"

"It's a rather dangerous practice," I warned her.

Rosalind sighed, wearily; but in her cheek at about this time occurred
a dimple.

"--I think that Rosalind must have thought the play
very badly named."

"_As You Like It_?" I queried, obtusely.

"Yes--since it wasn't, for her."

It is unwholesome to lie on the ground after sunset.


 4

"I had rather a scene with Alfred yesterday morning. He said you drank,
and gambled, and were always running after--people, and weren't in
fine, a desirable person for me to know. He insinuated, in fact, that
you were a villain of the very deepest and non-crocking dye. He told me
of instances. His performance would have done credit to Ananias. I was
_mad_! So I gave him his old ring back, and told him things I can't
tell _you_,--no, not just yet, dear. He is rather like a muffin, isn't
he?" she said, with the lightest possible little laugh--"particularly
like one that isn't quite done."

"Oh, Rosalind," I babbled, "I mean to prove that you were right. And I
_will_ prove it, too!"

And indeed I meant all that I said--just then.

Rosalind said: "Oh, Jaques, Jaques! what a child you are!"



19.

_He Plays the Improvident Fool_


Now was I come near to the summit of my desires, and advantageously
betrothed to a girl with whom I was, in any event, almost in love; but
I presently ascertained, to my dismay, that sophisticated, "proper"
little Rosalind was thoroughly in love with me, and always in the back
of my mind this knowledge worried me.

Imprimis, she persisted in calling me Jaques, which was uncomfortably
reminiscent of that time wherein I was called Jack. Yet my objection to
this silly nickname was a mischancy matter to explain. There was no way
of telling her that I disliked anything which reminded me of Gillian
Hardress, without telling more about Gillian than would be pleasant to
tell. So Rosalind went on calling me Jaques; and I was compelled to put
up with a trivial and unpremeditated, but for all that a daily,
annoyance; and I fretted under it.

Item, she insisted on presenting me with all sorts of expensive
knick-knacks, and being childishly grieved when I remonstrated.

"But I have the money," Rosalind would say, "and you haven't. So why
shouldn't I? And besides, it's really only selfishness on my part,
because I like doing things for you, and _if_ you liked doing things
for me, Jaques, you'd understand."

So I would eventually have to swear that I did like "doing things" for
her; and it followed--somehow--that in consequence she had a perfect
right to give me anything she wanted to.

And this too fretted me, mildly, all the summer I spent at Birnam Beach
with Rosalind and with the opulent friends of Rosalind's aunt from St.
Louis.... They were a queer lot. They all looked so unspeakably new;
their clothes were spick and span, and as expensive as possible, but
that was not it; even in their bathing suits these middle-aged
people--they were mostly middle-aged--seemed to have been very recently
finished, like animated waxworks of middle-aged people just come from
the factory. And they spent money in a continuous careless way that
frightened me.

But I was on my very best, most dignified behavior; and when Aunt Lora
presented me as "one of the Lichfield Townsends, you know," these
brewers and breweresses appeared to be properly impressed. One of
them--actually--"supposed that I had a coat-of-arms"; which in
Lichfield would be equivalent to "supposing" that a gentleman possessed
a pair of trousers. But they were really very thoughtful about never
letting me pay for anything; in this regard there seemed afoot a sort
of friendly conspiracy.

So the summer passed pleasantly enough; and we bathed, and held hands
in the moonlight, and danced at the Casino, and rode the
merry-go-round, and played ping-pong, and read _Dorothy Vernon of
Haddon Hall_,--which was much better, I told everybody, than that
idiotic George Clock book, _The Imperial Votaress_. And we drank
interminable suissesses, and it was all very pleasant.

Yet always in the rear of my mind was stirring restively the instinct
to get back to my writing; and these sedately frolicsome benevolent
people--even Rosalind--plainly thought that "writing things" was just
the unimportant foible of an otherwise fine young fellow.


 2

And in September Rosalind came to visit her Aunt Marcia in Lichfield,
to get clothes and all other matters ready for our wedding in November;
and Lichfield, as always, made much of Rosalind, and she had the honor
of "leading" the first Lichfield German with Colonel Rudolph Musgrave.
My partner at that dance was the Marquise d'Arlanges....

I was seeing a deal of the Marquise d'Arlanges. She was Stella's only
sister, as you may remember, and was that autumn paying a perfunctory
visit to her parents--the second since her marriage.

I shall not expatiate, however, concerning Madame la Marquise. You have
doubtless heard of her. For Lizzie has not, even yet, found a time
wherein to be idle; she has been busied since the hour of her birth in
acquiring first, plain publicity, and then social power, and every
other amenity of life in turn. I had not the least doubt even then of
her ending where she is now....

She was at this time still well upon the preferable side o! thirty, and
had no weaknesses save a liking for gossip, cigarettes, and admiration.
Lizzie was never the woman to marry a Peter Blagden. Once Stella was
settled, Lizzie Musgrave had sailed for Europe, and eventually had
arrived at Monaco with an apologetic mother, several letters of
introduction, and a Scotch terrier; and had established herself at the
Hôtel de la Paix, to look over the "available" supply of noblemen in
reduced circumstances. Before the end of a month Miss Musgrave had
reached a decision, had purchased her Marquis, much as she would have
done any other trifle that took her fancy, and had shipped her mother
back to America. Lizzie retained the terrier, however, as she was
honestly attached to it.

Her marriage had been happy, and she found her husband on further
acquaintance, as she told me, a mild-mannered and eminently suitable
person, who was unaccountably addicted to playing dominoes, and who
spent a great deal of money, and dined with her occasionally. In a
sentence, the marquise was handsome, "had a tongue in her head," and,
to utilise yet another ancient phrase, was as hard as nails.

And yet there was a family resemblance. Indeed, in voice and feature
she was strangely like an older Stella; and always I was cheating
myself into a half-belief that this woman I was talking with was
Stella; and Lizzie would at least enable me to forget, for a whole
half-hour sometimes, that Stella was dead....

       *      *      *      *      *

"I must thank you," I said, one afternoon, when I arose to go, "for a
most pleasant dream of--what we'll call the Heart's Desire. I suppose I
have been rather stupid, Lizzie; and I apologise for it; but people are
never exceedingly hilarious in dreams, you know."

She said, very gently: "I understand. For I loved Stella too. And that
is why the room is never really lighted when you come. Oh, you stupid
man, how could I have _helped_ knowing it--that all the love you have
made to me was because you have been playing I was Stella? That
knowledge has preserved me, more than once, my child, from succumbing
to your illicit advances in this dead Lichfield."

And I was really astonished, for she was not by ordinary the sort of
woman who consents to be a makeshift.

I said as much, "And it _has_ been a comfort, Lizzie, because she
doesn't come as often now, for some reason--"

"Why--what do you mean?"

The room was very dark, lit only by the steady, comfortable glow of a
soft-coal fire. For it was a little after sunset, and outside,
carriages were already rumbling down Regis Avenue, and people were
returning from the afternoon drive. I could not see anything
distinctly, excepting my own hands, which were like gold in the
firelight; and so I told her all about _The Indulgences of Ole-Luk-Ole_.

"She came, that first time, over the crest of a tiny upland that lay in
some great forest,--Brocheliaunde, I think. I knew it must be autumn,
for the grass was brown and every leaf upon the trees was brown. And
she too was all in brown, and her big hat, too, was of brown felt, and
about it curled a long ostrich feather dyed brown; and my first
thought, as I now remember, was how in the dickens could any mediaeval
lady have come by such a garb, for I knew, somehow, that this was a
woman of the Middle Ages.

"Only her features were those of Stella, and the eyes of this woman
were filled with an unutterable happiness and fear, as she came toward
me,--just as the haunting eyes of Stella were upon the night she
married Peter Blagden, and I babbled nonsense to the moon.

"'Oh, I have wanted you,--I have wanted you!' she said; and afterward,
unarithmeticably dimpling, just as she used to do, you may remember:
_'Depardieux,_ messire! have you then forgotten that upon this forenoon
we hunt the great boar?"

"'Stella!' I said, 'O dear, dear Stella! what does it mean?'

"'You silly! it means, of course, that Ole-Luk-Oie is kind, and has put
us both into the glaze of the mustard-jar--only I wonder which one we
have gotten into?' Stella said. 'Don't you remember them, dear--the
blue mustard-jar and the red one your Mammy had that summer at the
Green Chalybeate, with men on them hunting a boar?'

"'They stood, one on each corner of the mantelpiece,' I said; 'and in
the blue one she kept matches, and in the other--'

"'She kept buttons in the red one,' said Stella,--'big, shiny white
buttons, with four holes in them, that had come off your underclothes,
and were to be sewed on again. One day you swallowed one of 'em, I
remember, because you _would_ keep it in your mouth while you swung in
the hammock. And you thought it would surely kill you, so you knelt
down in the dry leaves and prayed God He wouldn't let it kill you.'

"'But you weren't there,' I protested; 'nobody was there. So nobody
ever knew anything about it, though may be you--' For I had just
remembered that Stella was dead, only I knew it was against some rule
to mention it.

"'Well, at any rate I'm _here_,' said Stella, 'and Ole-Luk-Oie is kind;
and we had better go and hunt the great boar at once, I suppose, since
that is what the people on the mustard-jars always do.'

"'But how did you come hither, O my dear--?'

"'Why, through your wanting me so much,' she said. 'How else?'

"And I understood....

"So we went and slew the great boar. I slew it personally, with a long
spear, and with Stella clasping her hands in the background. Only there
was a nicked place in the mustard-jar, where I had dropped it on the
hearth some fifteen years ago, and my horse kept stumbling over this
crevice, so that I knew it was the red jar and the buttons we were
riding around. And afterward I made a song in honour of my Stella,--a
song so perfect that I presently awoke, weeping with joy that I had
made a song so beautiful, and with the knowledge I could not now
recollect a single word of it; and I knew that neither I nor any other
man could ever make again a song one-half so beautiful....

"Since then Ole-Luk-Oie--or someone--has been very kind at times. He
always lets me into pictures, though, never into mouse-holes and
hen-houses and silly places like that, as he did little Hjalmar. I
don't know why....

"Once it was into the illustrations to the _Popular Tales of
Poictesme_, and we met my great grandfather Jurgen there. And once it
was into the picture on the cover of that unveracious pamphlet the
manager of the Green Chalybeate sends in the spring to everybody who
has once been there. That time was very odd.

"It is a picture of the Royal Hotel, you may remember, as it used to be
a good ten years ago. Both fountains were playing in the sunlight,
--they were torn down when I was at college, and I had almost forgotten
their existence; and elegant and languid ladies were riding by, in
victorias, and under tiny parasols trimmed with fringe, and all these
ladies wore those preposterously big sleeves they used to wear then;
and men in little visored skull caps were passing on tall old-fashioned
bicycles, just as they do in the picture. Even the silk-hatted
gentleman in the corner, pointing out the beauties of the building with
his cane, was there.

"And Stella and I walked past the margin of the picture, and so on down
the boardwalk to the other hotel, to look for our parents. And we
agreed not to tell anyone that we had ever grown up, but just to let it
be a secret between us two; and we were to stay in the picture forever,
and grow up all over again, only we would arrange everything
differently. And Stella was never to go driving on the twenty-seventh
of April, so that we would be quite safe, and would live together for a
long, long while.

"She wouldn't promise, though, that when Peter Blagden asked to be
introduced, she would refuse to meet him. She just giggled and shook
her sunny head. She hadn't any hat on. She was wearing the
blue-and-white sailor-suit, of course."....


 4

But a servant was lighting up the front-hall, and the glare of it came
through the open door, and now the room was just like any other room.

"And you are Robert Townsend!" the marquise observed. "The one my
mother doesn't approve of as a visitor!"

Madame d'Arlanges said, with a certain lack of sequence: "And yet you
are planning to do precisely what Peter Blagden did. He liked Stella,
she amused him, and he thought her money would come in very handy; and
so he, somehow, contrived to marry her in the end, because she was just
a child, and you were a child, and he wasn't. And he always lied to her
about--about those business-trips--even from the very first. I knew,
because I'm not a sentimental person. But, Bob, how can you stoop to
mimic Peter Blagden! For you are doing precisely what he did; and for
Rosalind, just as it was for Stella, it is almost irresistible, to have
the chance of reforming a man who has notoriously been 'talked about.'
Still, I see that for Stella's sake you won't lie as steadfastly to
Rosalind as Peter did to Stella. It is none of my business of course;
oh, I don't meddle. I merely prophesy that you won't."

But those lights had made an astonishing difference. And so, "But why
not?" said I. "It is the immemorial method of dealing with savages; and
surely women can never expect to become quite civilised so long as
chivalry demands that a man say to a woman only what he believes she
wants to hear? Ah, no, my dear Lizzie; when a man tries to get into a
woman's favour, custom demands that he palliate the invasion with
flatteries and veiled truths--or, more explicitly, with lies,--just as
any sensible explorer must come prepared to leave a trail of
looking-glasses and valueless bright beads among the original owners of
any unknown country. For he doesn't know what obstacles he may
encounter, and he has been taught, from infancy, to regard any woman as
a baleful and unfathomable mystery--"

"She is never so--heaven help her!--if the man be sufficiently
worthless."

"I rejoice that we are so thoroughly at one. For upon my word, I
believe this widespread belief in feminine inscrutability is the result
of a conspiracy on the part of the weaker sex; and that every mother is
somehow pledged to inculcate this belief into the immature masculine
mind. Apparently the practice originated in the Middle Ages, for it
never seemed to occur to anybody before then that a woman was
particularly complex. Though, to be sure, Catullus now--" "This is not
a time for pedantry. I don't in the least care what Catullus or anyone
else observed concerning anything--" "But I had not aspired, my dear
Lizzie, to be even remotely pedantic. I was simply about to remark that
Catullus, or Ariosto, or Coventry Patmore, or King Juba, or Posidonius,
or Sir John Vanbrugh, or perhaps, Agathocles of Chios, or else
Simonides the Younger, has conceded somewhere, that women are, in
certain respects, dissimilar, as it were, to men." "I am merely urging
you not to marry this silly little Rosalind, for the excellent reason
that you _did_ love my darling Stella even more than I, and that
Rosalind is in love with you." "Do you really think so?" said I. "Why,
then, actuated by the very finest considerations of decency and
prudence and generosity, I shall, of course, espouse her the very next
November that ever is."

The marquise retorted: "No,--because you are at bottom too fond of
Rosalind Jemmett; and, besides, it isn't really a question of your
feeling toward _her_. In any event, I begin to like you too well, Bob,
to let you kiss me any more."

I declared that I detested paradox. Then I went home to supper.


 5

But, for all this, I meditated for a long while upon what Lizzie had
said. It was true that I was really fond of "proper" little Rosalind
Jemmett; concerning myself I had no especial illusions; and, to my
credit, I faced what I considered the real issue, squarely.

We were in Aunt Marcia's parlour. Rosalind was an orphan, and lived in
turn with her three aunts. She said the other two were less unendurable
than Aunt Marcia, and I believed her. I consider, to begin with, that a
person is not civilised who thumps upon the floor upstairs with a
poker, simply because it happens to be eleven o'clock; and moreover,
Aunt Marcia's parlour--oh, it really was a "parlour,"--was entirely too
like the first night of a charity bazaar, when nothing has been sold.

The room was not a particularly large one; but it contained exactly
three hundred and seven articles of bijouterie, not estimating the
china pug-dog upon the hearth. I know, for I counted them.

Besides, there were twenty-eight pictures upon the walls--one in oils
of the late Mr. Dumby (for Aunt Marcia was really Mrs. Clement Dumby),
painted, to all appearances, immediately after the misguided gentleman
who married Aunt Marcia had been drowned, and before he had been wiped
dry,--and for the rest, everywhere the eye was affronted by engravings
framed in gilt and red-plush of "Sanctuary," "Le Hamac," "Martyre
Chrétienne," "The Burial of Latané," and other Victorian outrages.

Then on an easel there was a painting of a peacock, perched upon an
urn, against a gilded background; this painting irrelevantly deceived
your expectations, for it was framed in blue plush. Also there were
"gift-books" on the centre table, and a huge volume, again in red
plush, with its titular "Album" cut out of thin metal and nailed to the
cover. This album contained calumnious portraits of Aunt Marcia's
family, the most of them separately enthroned upon the same imitation
rock, in all the pride of a remote, full-legged and starchy youth, each
picture being painfully "coloured by hand."


 6

"Do you know why I want to marry you?" I demanded of Rosalind, in such
surroundings, apropos of a Mrs. Vokins who had taken a house in
Lichfield for the winter, and had been at school somewhere in the
backwoods with Aunt Marcia, and was "dying to meet me."

She answered, in some surprise: "Why, because you have the good taste
to be heels over head in love with me, of course."

I took possession of her hands. "If there is anything certain in this
world of uncertainties, it is that I am not the least bit in love with
you. Yet, only yesterday--do you remember, dear?"

She answered, "I remember."

"But I cannot, for the life of me, define what happened yesterday. I
merely recall that we were joking, as we always do when together, and
that on a wager I loosened your hair. Then as it tumbled in great
honey-coloured waves about you, you were silent, and there came into
your eyes a look I had never seen before. And even now I cannot define
what happened, Rosalind! I only know I caught your face between my
hands, and for a moment held it so, with fingers that have not yet
forgotten the feel of your soft, thick hair,--and that for a breathing
space your eyes looked straight into mine. Something changed in me
then, my lady. Something changed in you, too, I think."

Then Rosalind said, "Don't, Jaques--!" She was horribly embarrassed.

"For I knew you willed me to possess you, and that possession would
seem as trivial as a fiddle in a temple.... Yet, too, there was a
lustful beast, somewhere inside of me, which nudged me to--kiss you,
say! But nothing happened. I did not even kiss you, my beautiful and
wealthy Rosalind."

"Don't keep on talking about the money," she wailed. "Why, you can't
believe I think you mercenary!"

"I would estimate your intellect far more cheaply, my charming
Rosalind, if you thought anything else; for of course I am. I wanted to
settle myself, you conceive, and as an accomplice you were very
eligible. I now comprehend it is beyond the range of rationality, dear
stranger, that we should ever marry each other; and so we must not. We
must not, you comprehend, since though we lived together through ten
patriarchal lifetimes we would die strangers to each other.
For you, dear clean-souled girl that you are, were born that you might
be the wife of a strong man and the mother of his sturdy children. The
world was made for you and for your offspring; and in time your
children will occupy this world and make the laws for us irrelevant
folk that scribble and paint and design all useless and beautiful
things, and thus muddle away our precious lives. No, you may not wisely
mate with us, for you are a shade too terribly at ease in the universe,
you sensible people."

"But I love Art," said Rosalind, bewildered.

"Yes,--but by the tiniest syllable a thought too volubly, my dear. You
are the sort that quotes the Rubaiyat. Whereas I--was it yesterday or
the day before you told me, with a wise pucker of your beautiful low,
white brow, that I had absolutely no sense of the responsibilities of
life? Well, I really haven't, dear stranger, as you appraise them; and,
indeed, I fear we must postpone our agreement upon any possible
subject, until the coming of the Coquecigrues. We see the world so
differently, you and I,--and for that same reason I cannot but adore
you, Rosalind. For with you I can always speak my true thought and know
that you will never for a moment suspect it to be anything but irony.
Ah, yes, we can laugh and joke together, and be thorough friends; but
if there is anything certain in this world of uncertainties, it is that
I am not, and cannot be, in love with you. And yet--I wonder now?" said
I, and I rose and paced Aunt Marcia's parlour.

"You wonder? Don't you understand even now?" the girl said shyly. "I am
not as clever as you, of course; I have known that for a long while,
Jaques; and to-night in particular I don't quite follow you, my dear,
but I love you, and--why, there is _nothing_ I could deny you!"

"Then give me back my freedom," said I. "For, look you, Rosalind,
marriage is proverbially a slippery business. Always there are a
variety of excellent reasons for perpetrating matrimony; but the rub of
it is that not any one of them insures you against to-morrow. Love, for
example, we have all heard of; but I have known fine fellows to fling
away their chances in life, after the most approved romantic fashion,
on account of a pretty stenographer, and to beat her within the
twelvemonth. And upon my word, you know, nobody has a right to blame
the swindled lover for doing this--"

I paused to inspect the china pug-dog which squatted on the pink-tiled
hearth and which glared inanely at the huge brass coal-box just
opposite. Then I turned from these two abominations and faced Rosalind
with a bantering flirt of my head.

"--For put it that I marry some entrancing slip of girlhood, what am I
to say when, later, I discover myself irrevocably chained to a fat and
dowdy matron? I married no such person, I have indeed sworn eternal
fidelity to an entirely different person; and this unsolicited usurper
of my hearth is nothing whatever to me, unless perhaps the object of my
entire abhorrence. Yet am I none the less compelled to justify the
ensuing action before an irrational audience, which faces common logic
in very much the attitude of Augustine's famed adder! Decidedly I think
that, on the whole, I would prefer my Freedom."

It was as though I had struck her. She sat as if frozen. "Jaques, is
there another woman in this?"

"Why, in a fashion, yes. Yet it is mainly because I am really fond of
you, Rosalind."

She handed me that exceedingly expensive ring the jeweler had charged
to me. I thought her action damnably theatrical, but still, it was not
as though I could afford to waste money on rings, so I took the trinket
absent-mindedly.

"You are unflatteringly prompt in closing out the account," I said,
with a grieved smile....

"Good-bye!" said Rosalind, and her voice broke. "Oh, and I had
thought--! Well, as it is, I pay for the luxury of thinking, just as
you forewarned me, don't I, Jaques? And you won't forget the
hall-light? Aunt Marcia, you know--but how glad _she_ will be! I feel
rather near to Aunt Marcia to-night," said Rosalind.


 7

She left Lichfield the next day but one, and spent the following winter
with the aunt that lived in Brooklyn. She was Rosalind Gelwix the next
time I saw her....

And Aunt Marcia, whose taste is upon a par with her physical
attractions, inserted a paragraph in the "Social Items" of the
Lichfield _Courier-Herald_ to announce the breaking-off of the
engagement. Aunt Marcia also took the trouble to explain, quite
confidentially, to some seven hundred and ninety-three people, just why
the engagement had been broken off: and these explanations were more
creditable to Mrs. Dumby's imagination than to me.

And I remembered, then, that the last request my mother made of me was
to keep out of the newspapers--"except, of course, the social
items"....



20.

_He Dines Out, Impeded by Superstitions_


Within the week I had repented of what I termed my idiotic quixotism,
and for precisely nine days after that I cursed my folly. And then, at
the Provises, I comprehended that in breaking off my engagement to
Rosalind Jemmett I had acted with profound wisdom, and I unfolded my
napkin, and said:

"Do you know I didn't catch your name--not even this time?"

She took a liberal supply of lemon juice. "How delightful!" she
murmured, "for I heard yours quite distinctly, and these oysters are
delicious."

I noted with approval that her gown was pink and fluffy; it had also the
advantage of displaying shoulders that were incredibly white, and a
throat which was little short of marvellous. "I am glad," I whispered,
confidentially, "that you are still wearing that faint vein about your
left temple. I thought it admirable for early morning wear upon the
house tops of Liege, but it seems equally effective for dinner parties."

She raised her eyebrows slightly and selected a biscuit.

"You see," said I, "I was horribly late. And when Kittie Provis said,
'Allow me,' and I saw--well, I didn't care," I concluded, lucidly,
"because to have every one of your dreams come true, all of a sudden,
leaves you past caring."

"It really is funny," she confided to a spoonful of _consomme a la
Julienne_.

"After almost two years!" sighed I, ever so happily. But I continued,
with reproach, "To go without a word--that very day--"

"Mamma--" she began.

I recalled the canary-bird, and the purple shawl. "I sought wildly,"
said I; "you were evanished. The _proprietaire_ was tearing his hair--no
insurance--he knew nothing. So I too tore my hair; and I said things.
There was a row. For he also said things: 'Figure to yourselves,
messieurs! I lose the Continental--two ladies come and go, I know not
who--I am ruined, desolated, is it not?--and this pig of an American
blusters--ah, my new carpets, just down, what horror!' And then, you
know, he launched into a quite feeling peroration concerning our
notorious custom of tomahawking one another--

"Yes," I coldly concluded into Mrs. Clement Dumby's ear, "we all behaved
disgracefully. As you very justly observe, liquor has been the curse of
the South." It was of a piece with Kittie Provis to put me next to Aunt
Marcia, I reflected.

And mentally I decided that even though a portion of my assertions had
not actually gone through the formality of occurring, it all might very
easily have happened, had I remained a while longer in Liege; and then
ensued a silent interval and an entree.

"And so--?"

"And so I knocked about the world, in various places, hoping against
hope that at last--"

"Your voice carries frightfully--"

I glanced toward Mrs. Clement Dumby, who, as a dining dowager of many
years' experience, was, to all appearances, engrossed by the contents of
her plate. "My elderly neighbour is as hard of hearing as a
telephone-girl," I announced. She was the exact contrary, which was why
I said it quite audibly. "And your neighbour--why, _his_ neighbour is
Nannie Allsotts. We might as well be on a desert island, Elena--" And
the given name slipped out so carelessly as to appear almost accidental.

"Sir!" said she, with proper indignation; "after so short an
acquaintance--"

"Centuries," I suggested, meekly. "You remember I explained about that."

She frowned,--an untrustworthy frown that was tinged with laughter. "One
meets so many people! Yes, it really is frightfully warm, Colonel
Grimshaw; they ought to open some of the windows."

"Er--haw--hum! Didn't see you at the Anchesters."

"No; I am usually lucky enough to be in bed with a sick headache when
Mrs. Anchester entertains. Of two evils one should choose the lesser,
you know."

In the manner of divers veterans Colonel Grimshaw evinced his mirth upon
a scale more proper to an elephant; and relapsed, with a reassuring air
of having done his duty once and for all.

"I never," she suggested, tentatively, "heard any more of your poem,
about--?"

"Oh, I finished it; every magazine in the country knows it. It is poor
stuff, of course, but then how could I write of Helen when Helen had
disappeared?"

The lashes exhibited themselves at full length. "I looked her up,"
confessed their owner, guiltily, "in the encyclopaedia. It was very
instructive--about sun-myths and bronzes and the growth of the epic, you
know, and tree-worship and moon-goddesses. Of course"--here ensued a
flush and a certain hiatus in logic,--"of course it is nonsense."

"Nonsense?" My voice sank tenderly. "Is it nonsense, Elena, that for two
years I have remembered the woman whose soft body I held, for one
unforgettable moment, in my arms? and nonsense that I have fought all
this time against--against the temptations every man has,--that I might
ask her at last--some day when she at last returned, as always I knew
she would--to share a fairly decent life? and nonsense that I have
dreamed, waking and sleeping, of a wondrous face I knew in Ilium first,
and in old Rome, and later on in France, I think, when the Valois were
kings? Well!" I sighed, after vainly racking my brain for a tenderer
fragment of those two-year-old verses, "I suppose it is nonsense!"

"The salt, please," quoth she. She flashed that unforgotten broadside at
me. "I believe you need it."

"Why, dear me! of course not!" said I, to Mrs. Dumby; "immorality lost
the true _cachet_ about the same time that ping-pong did. Nowadays
divorces are going out, you know, and divorcees are not allowed to.
Quite modish women are seen in public with their husbands nowadays."

"H'mph!" said Mrs. Dumby; "I've no doubt that you must find it a most
inconvenient fad!"

I ate my portion of duck abstractedly. "Thus to dive into the
refuse-heap of last year's slang does not quite cover the requirements
of the case. For I wish--only I hardly dare to ask--"

"If I were half of what you make out," meditatively said she, "I would
be a regular fairy, and couldn't refuse you the usual three wishes."

"Two," I declared, "would be sufficient."

"First?"

"That you tell me your name."

"I adore orange ices, don't you? And the second?" was her comment.

"Well, then, you' re a pig," was mine. "You are simply a nomenclatural
Berkshire. But the second is that you let me measure your finger--oh,
any finger will do. Say, the third on the left hand."

"You really talk to me as if--" But this non-existent state of affairs
proved indescribable, and the unreal condition lapsed into a pout.

"Oh, very possibly!" I conceded; "since the way in which a man talks to
a woman--to _the_ woman--depends by ordinary upon the depth--"

"The depth of his devotion?" she queried, helpfully. "Of course!"

I faced the broadside, without flinching. "No," said I, critically; "the
depth of her dimples."

"Nonsense!" Nevertheless, the dimples were, and by a deal, the more
conspicuous. We were getting on pretty well.

I bent forward; there was a little catch in my voice. Aunt Marcia was
listening. I wanted her to listen.

"You must know that I love you," I said, simply, "I have always loved
you, I think, since the moment my eyes first fell upon you in
that--other pink thing. Of course, I realize the absurdity of my talking
in this way to a woman whose name I don't know; but I realise more
strongly that I love you. Why, there is not a pulse in my body which
isn't throbbing and tingling and leaping riotously from pure joy of
being with you again, Elena! And in time, you will love me a little,
simply because I want you to,--isn't that always a woman's main reason
for caring for a man?"

She considered this, dubious and flushed.

"I will not insist," said I, with a hurried and contented laugh, "that
you were formerly an Argive queen. I mean I will not be obstinate about
it, because that, I confess, was a paraphrase of my verses. But Helen
has always been to me the symbol of perfect loveliness, and so it was
not unnatural that I should confuse you with her."

"Thank you, sir," said she, demurely.

"I half believe it is true, even now; and if not--well, Helen was
acceptable enough in her day, Elena, but I am willing to Italianise, for
I have seen you and loved you, and Helen is forgot. It is not exactly
the orthodox pace for falling in love," I added, with a boyish candour,
"but it is very real to me."

"You--you couldn't have fallen in love--really--"

"It was not in the least difficult," I protested.

"And you don't even know my _name_--"

"I know, however, what it is going to be," said I; "and Mrs. 'Enry
'Awkins, as we'll put it, has found favour in the judgment of
connoisseurs. So after dinner--in an hour--?"

"Oh, very well! since you're an author and insist, I will be ready, in
an hour, to decline you, with thanks."

"Rejection not implying any lack of merit," I suggested. "This is
damnable iteration; but I am accustomed to it."

But by this, Mrs. Provis was gathering eyes around the table, and her
guests arose, with the usual outburst of conversation, and swishing of
dresses, and the not always unpremeditated dropping of handkerchiefs and
fans. Mrs. Clement Dumby bore down upon us now, a determined and
generously proportioned figure in her notorious black silk.

"Really," said she, aggressively, "I never saw two people more
engrossed. My dear Mrs. Barry-Smith, you have been so taken up with Mr.
Townsend, all during dinner, that I haven't had a chance to welcome you
to Lichfield. Your mother and I were at school together, you know. And
your husband was quite a beau of mine. So I don't feel, now, at all as
if we were strangers--"

And thus she bore Elena off, and I knew that within ten minutes Elena
would have been warned against me, as "not quite a desirable
acquaintance, you know, my dear, and it is only my duty to tell you that
as a young and attractive married woman--"


 2

"And so," I said in my soul, as the men redistributed themselves, "she
is married,--married while you were pottering with books and the turn of
phrases and immortality and such trifles--oh, you ass! And to a man
named Barry-Smith--damn him, I wonder whether he is the hungry scut that
hasn't had his hair cut this fall, or the blancmange-bellied one with
the mashed-strawberry nose? Yes, I know everybody else. And Jimmy Travis
is telling a funny story, so _laugh_! People will think you are grieving
over Rosalind.... But why in heaven's name isn't Jimmy at home this very
moment,--with a wife and carpet-slippers and a large-size bottle of
paregoric on his mantelpiece,--instead of here, grinning like a fool
over some blatant indecency? He ought to marry; every young man ought to
marry. Oh, you futile, abject, burbling twin-brother of the first patron
that procured a reputation for Bedlam! why aren't _you_ married--married
years ago,--with a home of your own, and a victoria for Mrs. Townsend
and bills from the kindergarten every quarter? Oh, you bartender of
verbal cocktails! I believe your worst enemy flung your mind at you in a
moment of unbridled hatred."

So I snapped the stem of my glass carefully, and scowled with morose
disapproval at the unconscious Mr. Travis, and his now-applauded and
very Fescennine jest....


 3

I found her inspecting a bulky folio with remarkable interest. There was
a lamp, with a red shade, that cast a glow over her, such as one
sometimes sees reflected from a great fire. The people about us were
chattering idiotically, and something inside my throat prevented my
breathing properly, and I was miserable.

"Mrs. Barry-Smith,"--thus I began,--"if you've the tiniest scrap of pity
in your heart for a very presumptuous, blundering and unhappy person, I
pray you to forgive and to forget, as people say, all that I have
blatted out to you. I spoke, as I thought, to a free woman, who had the
right to listen to my boyish talk, even though she might elect to laugh
at it. And now I hardly dare to ask forgiveness."

Mrs. Barry-Smith inspected a view of the Matterhorn, with careful
deliberation. "Forgiveness?" said she.

"Indeed," said I, "I _don't_ deserve it." And I smiled most resolutely.
"I had always known that somewhere, somehow, you would come into my life
again. It has been my dream all these two years; but I dream carelessly.
My visions had not included this--obstacle."

She made wide eyes at me. "What?" said she.

"Your husband," I suggested, delicately.

The eyes flashed. And a view of Monaco, to all appearances, awoke some
pleasing recollection. "I confess," said Mrs. Barry-Smith, "that--for
the time--I had quite forgotten him. I--I reckon you must think me
very horrid?"

But she was at pains to accompany this query with a broadside that
rendered such a supposition most unthinkable. And so--

"I think you--" My speech was hushed and breathless, and ended in a
click of the teeth. "Oh, don't let's go into the minor details,"
I pleaded.

Then Mrs. Barry-Smith descended to a truism. "It is usually better not
to," said she, with the air of an authority. And latterly, addressing
the facade of Notre Dame, "You see, Mr. Barry-Smith being so much
older than I--"

"I would prefer that. Of course, though, it is none of my business."

"You see, you came and went so suddenly that--of course I never thought
to see you again--not that I ever thought about it, I reckon--" Her
candour would have been cruel had it not been reassuringly
over-emphasized. "And Mr. Barry-Smith was very pressing--"

"He would be," I assented, after consideration. "It is, indeed, the
single point in his outrageous conduct I am willing to condone."

"--and he was a great friend of my father's, and I _liked_ him--"

"So you married him and lived together ever afterward, without ever
throwing the tureen at each other. That is the most modern version; but
there is usually a footnote concerning the bread-and-butter plates."

She smiled, inscrutably, a sphinx in Dresden china. "And yet," she
murmured, plaintively, "I _would_ like to know what you think of me."

"Why, prefacing with the announcement that I pray God I may never see
you after to-night, I think you the most adorable creature He ever made.
What does it matter now? I have lost you. I think--ah, desire o' the
world, what can I think of you? The notion of you dazzles me like
flame,--and I dare not think of you, for I love you."

"Yes?" she queried, sweetly; "then I reckon Mrs. Dumby was right after
all. She said you were a most depraved person and that, as a young
and--well, _she_ said it, you know--attractive widow--"

"H'm!" said I; and I sat down. "Elena Barry-Smith," I added, "you are an
unmitigated and unconscionable and unpardonable rascal. There is just
one punishment which would be adequate to meet your case; and I warn you
that I mean to inflict it. Why, how dare you be a widow! The court
decides it is unable to put up with any such nonsense, and that you've
got to stop it at once."

"Really," said she, tossing her head and moving swiftly, "one would
think we _were_ on a desert island!"

"Or a strange roof"--and I laughed, contentedly. "Meanwhile, about that
ring--it should be, I think, a heavy, Byzantine ring, with the stones
sunk deep in the dull gold. Yes, we'll have six stones in it; say, R, a
ruby; O, an opal; B, a beryl; E, an emerald; R, a ruby again, I suppose;
and T, a topaz. Elena, that's the very ring I mean to buy as soon as
I've had breakfast, tomorrow, as a token of my mortgage on the desire of
the world, and as the badge of your impendent slavery." And I reflected
that Rosalind had, after all, behaved commendably in humiliating me by
so promptly returning this ring.

Very calmly Elena Barry-Smith regarded the Bay of Naples; very calmly
she turned to the Taj Mahal. "An obese young Lochinvar," she reflected
aloud, "who has seen me twice, unblushingly assumes he is about to marry
me! Of course," she sighed, quite tolerantly, "I know he is clean out of
his head, for otherwise--" "Yes,--otherwise?" I prompted.

"--he would never ask me to wear an opal. Why," she cried in horror, "I
couldn't think of it!" "You mean--?" said I.

She closed the album, with firmness. "Why, you are just a child," said
Mrs. Barry-Smith. "We are utter strangers to each other. Please remember
that, for all you know, I may have an unbridled temper, or an imported
complexion, or a liking for old man Ibsen. What you ask--only you don't,
you simply assume it,--is preposterous. And besides, opals
_are_ unlucky."

"Desire o' the world," I said, in dolorous wise, "I have just remembered
the black-lace mitts and reticule you left upon the dinner-table. Oh,
truly, I had meant to bring 'em to you--Only _do_ you think it quite
good form to put on those cloth-sided shoes when you've been invited to
a real party?"

For a moment Mrs. Barry-Smith regarded me critically. Then she shook her
head, and tried to frown, and reopened the album, and inspected the
crater of Vesuvius, and quite frankly laughed. And a tender, pink-tipped
hand rested upon my arm for an instant,--a brief instant, yet pulsing
with a sense of many lights and of music playing somewhere, and of a
man's heart keeping time to it.

"If you were to make it an onyx--" said Mrs. Barry-Smith.



21.

_He is Urged to Desert His Galley_


She had been a widow even when I first encountered her in Liege. I may
have passed her dozens of times, only she was in mourning then, for
Barry-Smith, and so I never really saw her.

It seems, though, that "in the second year" it is permissible to wear
pink garments in the privacy of your own apartments, and that if people
see you in them, accidentally, it is simply their own fault.

And very often they are punished for it; as most certainly was I, for
Elena led me a devil's dance of jealousy, and rapture, and abject
misery, and suspicion, and supreme content, that next four months. She
and her mother had rented a house on Regis Avenue for the winter; and I
frequented it with zeal. Mrs. Vokins said I "came reg'lar as
the milkman."


 2

Now of Mrs. Vokins I desire to speak with the greatest respect, if only
for the reason that she was Elena Barry-Smith's mother. Mrs. Vokins had,
no doubt, the kindest heart in the world; but she had spent the first
thirty years of her life in a mountain-girdled village, and after her
husband's wonderful luck--if you will permit me her vernacular,--in
being "let in on the groundfloor" when the Amalgamated Tobacco Company
was organised, I believe that Mrs. Vokins was never again quite at ease.

I am abysmally sure she never grew accustomed to being waited on by any
servant other than a girl who "came in by the day"; though, oddly
enough, she was incessantly harassed by the suspicion that one or
another "good-for-nothing nigger was getting ready to quit." Her time
was about equally devoted to tending her canary, Bill Bryan, and to
furthering an apparently diurnal desire to have supper served a quarter
of an hour earlier to-night, "so that the servants can get off."

Finally Mrs. Vokins considered that "a good woman's place was right in
her own home, with a nice clean kitchen," and was used to declare that
the fummadiddles of Mrs. Carrie Nation--who was in New York that winter,
you may remember, advocating Prohibition,--would never have been stood
for where Mrs. Vokins was riz. Them Yankee huzzies, she estimated, did
beat her time.


 3

It was, and is, the oddest thing I ever knew of that Elena could have
been her daughter. Though, mind you, even to-day, I cannot commit myself
to any statement whatever as concerns Elena Barry-Smith, beyond
asserting that she was beautiful. I am willing to concede that since the
world's creation there may have lived, say, six or seven women who were
equally good to look upon; but at the bottom of my heart I know the
concession is simply verbal. For she was not pretty; she was not
handsome; she was beautiful. Indeed, I sometimes thought her beauty
overshadowed any serious consideration of the woman who wore it, just as
in admiration of a picture you rarely think to wonder what sort of
canvas it is painted on.

Yes, I am quite sure, upon reflection, that to Elena Barry-Smith her
beauty was a sort of tyrant. She devoted her life, I think, to the
retention of her charms; and what with the fixed seven hours for
sleep--no more and not a moment less,--the rigid limits of her diet, the
walking of exactly five miles a day, and her mathematical adherence to a
predetermined programme of massage and hair-treatment and manicuring and
face-creams and so on, Elena had hardly two hours in a day at her
own disposal.

She would as soon have thought of sacrificing her afternoon walk to the
Musgrave Monument and back, as of having a front-tooth unnecessarily
removed; and would as willingly have partaken of prussic acid as of
candy or potatoes. She was, in fine, an artist of the truest type, in
that she immolated her body, and her own preferences, in the cause
of beauty.

Nor was she vain, or stupid either, though what I have written vaguely
sounds as though she were both. She was just Elena Barry-Smith, of whom
your memory was always how beautiful she had been at this or that
particular moment, rather than what she said or did. And I believe that
every man in Lichfield was in love with her.

But, in recollection of any person with whom you have had intimate and
tender intercourse, the pre-eminent feature is the big host of questions
which you cannot answer, or not, at least, with certainty....


 4

For instance: the night of the Allardyce dance, after seeing Elena home,
I stepped in for a moment to get warm and have her mix me a highball. We
sat for a considerable while on the long sofa in the dimly-lighted
dining room, talking in whispers so as not to disturb the rest of the
house: and Elena was unusually beautiful that night, and I was more than
usually in love, more thanks to three of the five drinks she mixed....

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she stated, sighing.

I did not say anything.

"Oh, well, then--! If you will just promise me," she stipulated, "that
you will never in any way refer to it afterwards--"

So I promised.... And the next day she met me, cool as the proverbial
cucumber, and never once did she "refer to it afterwards," nor did I
think it wise to do so either. But the incident, however delightful,
puzzled me. It puzzles me even now....


 5

In any event, she was not only beautiful but exceedingly well-to-do
likewise, since her dead father and her husband also had provided for
her amply; and Lichfield sniggered in consequence, and as a matter of
course assumed my devotion to be of astute and mercenary origin. But I
had, in this period, a variety of reasons to know that Lichfield was for
once entirely in the wrong; and that what Lichfield mistook to be the
begetter of, was in reality--so we will phrase it--the almost
unnecessary augmenter of my infatuation. Of course I did not exactly
object to her having money....

Meantime Elena was profoundly various. I told her once that being
married to her would be the very next thing to owning a harem. And in
consequence of this same mutability, it was as late as March before
Elena Barry-Smith made up her mind to marry me; and I was so deliciously
perturbed that the same night I wrote to tell Bettie Hamlyn all about
it. I had accepted Rosalind more calmly somehow. Now I was dithyrambic;
and you would never have suspected I had lived within fifty miles of
Bettie for an entire two years without attempting to communicate with
her, for very certainly my letter did not touch upon the fact. I was, in
fine, supremely happy, and I wanted Bettie, first of all, to know of
this circumstance, because my happiness had always made her happy too.

The act was natural enough; only Elena telephoned, at nine the following
morning, that she had altered her intention.

"My regret is beyond expression," said I, politely, "I shall come for my
tea at five, however."

She entered upon a blurred protest. "You have already broken my heart,"
I said, with some severity, "and now it would appear you contemplate
swindling the remainder of my anatomy out of its deserts. You are a
curmudgeon." And I hung up the receiver.

And my first thought was, "Oh, how gladly I would give the gold of Ormus
and of Alaska just to have my letter back!" But I had mailed it,
shuffling to the corner in my slippers, and without any collar on, in
the hushed middle of the night, because my letter had seemed so
important then.


 6

"Will you not have me, lady?" I began that afternoon.

"No, my lord," she demurely responded, "for I've decided it would be too
much like living in my Sunday-clothes."

And "I give it up. So what's the answer?" was my annotation.

"Oh, I'm not making jokes to-day. Why are you so--Oh, as we used to say
at school," she re-began, _"Que diable allais-tu faire dans
cette galere?"_

"I was born in a vale of tears, Elena, and must take the consequences of
being found in such a situation."

She came to me, and her finger-tips touched my hand ever so lightly.
"That is another quotation, I suppose. And it is one other reason why I
mean not to marry you. Frankly, you bore me to death with your
erudition; you are three-quarters in love with me, but you pay heaps
less attention to what I say about anything than to what Aristotle or
some other old fellow said about it. Oh, that I should have lived to be
jealous of Aristotle! Indeed I am, for I have the misfortune to be
hideously in love with you. You are so exactly the sort of infant I
would like to adopt."

"Love," I suggested, "while no longer an excuse for marriage, is at
least a palliation."

"Listen, dear. From the first I have liked you, but that was not very
strange, because I like almost everybody; but it was strange I should
have remembered you and have liked the idea of you ever since you went
away that first time."

"Oh, well, this once I will excuse you--"

"But it happened in this way: I had found everybody--very nice, you
know--particularly the men,--and the things which cannot be laughed at I
had always put aside as not worth thinking about. You like to laugh,
too, but I have always known--and sometimes it gets me real mad to think
about it, I can tell you--that you could be in earnest if you chose, and
I can't. And that makes me a little sorry and tremendously glad,
because, quite frankly, I _am_ head over heels in love with you. That is
why I don't intend to marry you."

And I was not a little at sea. "Oh, very well!" I pleasantly announced,
"I shall become a prominent citizen at once, if that's all that is
necessary. I will join every one of the patriotic societies, and sit
perpetually on platforms with a perspiring water-pitcher, and unveil
things every week, with felicitous allusions to the glorious past of our
grand old State; and have columns of applause in brackets on the front
page of the _Courier-Herald_. I will even go into civic politics, if you
insist upon it, and leave round-cornered cards at all the drugstores, so
that everybody who buys a cigar will know I am subject to the Democratic
primary. I wonder, by the way, if people ever survive that malady? It
sounds to me a deal more dangerous that epilepsy, say, yet lots of
persons seem to have it--"

But Elena was not listening. "You know," she re-began, "I could get out
of it all very gracefully by telling you you drink too much. You
couldn't argue it, you know--particularly after your behavior
last Tuesday."

"Oh, now and then one must be sociable. You aren't a prude, Elena--"

"However, I am not really afraid of that, somehow. I even confess I
don't actually _mind_ your being rather good for nothing. No woman ever
really does, though she has her preference, and pretends, of course, to
mind a great deal. What I mean, then, is this: You don't marry just me.
I--I have very few relations, just two brothers and my mother; yet, in a
sense, you know, you marry them as well. But I don't believe you would
like being married to them. They are so different from you, dear. Your
whole view-point of life is different--"

I had begun to speak when she broke in: "No, don't say anything, please,
until I'm quite, quite through. My brothers are the most admirable men I
ever knew. I love them more than I can say. I trust them more than I do
you. But they are just _good_. They don't fail in the really important
things of life, but they are remiss in little ways, they--they don't
_care_ for the little elegantnesses, if that's a word. Even Arthur chews
tobacco when he feels inclined. And he thinks no _man_ would smoke a
cigarette. Oh, I can't explain just what I mean--"

"I think I understand, Elena. Suppose we let it pass as said."

"And Mamma is not--we'll say, particularly highly educated. Oh, you've
been very nice to her. She adores you. You won _her_ over completely
when you took so much trouble to get her the out-of-print paper
novels--about the village maidens and the wicked dukes--in that idiotic
Carnation Series she is always reading. The whole affair was just like
both of you, I think."

"But, oh, my dear--!" I laughed.

"No, not one man in a thousand would have remembered it after she had
said she did think the titles 'were real tasty'; and I don't believe any
other man in the world would have spent a week in rummaging the
second-hand bookstores, until he found them. Only I don't know, even
yet, whether it was really kindness, or just cleverness that put you up
to it--on account of me. And I do know that you are nice to her in
pretty much the same way you were nice to the negro cook yesterday. And
I have had more advantages than she's had. But at bottom I'm really just
like her. You'd find it out some day. And--and that is what I mean,
I think."

I spoke at some length. It was atrocious nonsense which I spoke; in any
event, it looked like atrocious nonsense when I wrote it down just now,
and so I tore it up. But I was quite sincere throughout that moment; it
is the Townsend handicap, I suspect, always to be perfectly sincere for
the moment.

"Oh, well!" she said; "I'll think about it."


 7

That night Elena and I played bridge against Nannie Allsotts and Warwick
Risby. I was very much in love with Elena, but I hold it against her,
even now, that she insisted on discarding from strength. However, there
was to be a little supper afterward, and you may depend upon it that
Mrs. Vokins was seeing to its preparation.

She came into the room about eleven o'clock, beaming with kindliness and
flushed--I am sure,--by some slight previous commerce with the
kitchen-fire.

"Well, well!" said Mrs. Vokins, comfortably; "and who's a-beating?"

I looked up. I must protest, until my final day, I could not help it.
"Why, we is," I said.

And Nannie Allsotts giggled, ever so slightly, and Warwick Risby had
half risen, with a quite infuriate face, and I knew that by to-morrow
the affair would be public property, and promptly lost the game and
rubber. Afterward we had our supper.

When the others had gone--for my footing in the house was such that I,
by ordinary, stayed a moment or two after the others had gone,--Elena
Barry-Smith came to me and soundly boxed my jaws.

"That," she said, "is one way to deal with you."

A minute ago I had been ashamed of myself. I had not room to be that
now; I was too full of anger. "I did make rather a mess of it," I
equably remarked, "but, you see, Nannie had shown strength in diamonds,
and I simply couldn't resist the finesse. So they made every one of
their clubs. And I hadn't any business to take the chance of course at
that stage, with the ace right in my hand--"

"Arthur would have said, before he'd thought of it, 'You damn fool--!'
And then he would have apologised for forgetting himself in the presence
of a lady," she said, in a sorry little voice. "Yes, you--you _have_
hurt me," she presently continued,--"just as you meant to do, if that's
a comfort to you. I feel as though I'd smacked a marble statue. You are
the sort that used to take snuff just before they had their heads cut
off, and when _they_ were in the wrong. And I'm not. That's always been
the trouble."

"Elena!" I began,--"wait, just a moment! I'm in anger now--!" It was not
much to stammer out, but for me, who have the Townsend temper, it was
very hard to say.

"You talk about loving me! and I believe you do love me, in at any rate
a sort of way. But you'll never forget, you never _have_ forgotten,
those ancestors of yours who were in the House of Burgesses when I
hadn't any ancestors at all. It isn't fair, because we haven't got the
chance to pick our parents, and it's absurd, and--it's true. The woman
is my mother, and I'll be like her some day, very probably. Yes, she
_is_ ignorant and tacky, and at times she is ridiculous. She hadn't even
the smartness to notice it when you made a fool of her; and if anybody
were to explain it to her she would just laugh and say, 'Law, I don't
mind, because young people always have to have their fun, I reckon.' And
she would forgive you! Why, she adores you! she's been telling me for
months that you're 'a heap the nicest young man that visits with me.'"

Afterward Elena paused for an instant. "I think that is all," she said.
"It's a difference that isn't curable. Yes, I simply wanted to tell you
that much, and then ask you to go, I believe--"

"So you don't wish me, Elena, in the venerable phrase, to make an honest
woman of you?"

She had half turned, standing, in pink and silver fripperies, with one
bared arm resting on the chair back, in one of her loveliest attitudes.
"What do you mean?"

"I was referring to what happened the other night, after the Allardyce
dance."

And Elena smiled rather strangely. "You baby! how much would it shock
you if I told you no woman really minds about that either? Any way, you
have broken your solemn promise," she said, with indignation.

"Ah, but perfidy seemed, somehow, in tone with an establishment wherein
one concludes the evening's entertainment by physical assault upon the
guests. Frankly, my dear"--I observed, with my most patronizing languor,
--"your breeding is not quite that to which I have been accustomed, and
I have had a rather startling glimpse of Lena Vokins, with all the
laboriously acquired veneering peeling off. Still, in view of
everything, I suppose I do owe it to you to marry you, if you insist--"

"Insist! I wouldn't wipe my feet on you!"

"That especial demonstration of affection was not, as I recall,
requested of you. So it is all off? along with the veneering, eh? Well,
perhaps I did attach too much importance to that diverting epilogue to
the Allardyce dance. And as you say, Elena--and I take your word for it,
gladly,--once one has become used to granting these little favors
indiscriminately--"

"Get out of my house!" Elena said, quite splendid in her fury, "or I
will have you horsewhipped. I was fond of you. You would not let me be
in peace. And I didn't know you until to-night for the sneering,
stuck-up dirty beast you are at heart--" She came nearer, and her
glittering eyes narrowed. "And you have no hold on me, no letters to
blackmail me with, and nobody anywhere would take your word for anything
against mine. You would only be whipped by some real man, and probably
shot. So do you remember to keep a watch upon that lying, sneering mouth
of yours! And do you get out of my house!"

"It is only rented," I submitted: "yet, after all, to boast
vaingloriously of their possessions is pardonable in those who have
risen in the world, and aren't quite accustomed to it...." There were a
pair of us when it came to tempers.


 8

And I went homeward almost physically sick with rage. I knew, even then,
that, while Elena would forgive me in the outcome, if I set about the
matter properly, I could never bring myself to ask forgiveness. If only
she had been in the wrong, I could have eagerly gone back and have
submitted to the extremest and the most outrageous tyranny she
could devise.

But--although I would never have blackmailed her, I think,--she had been
mainly in the right. She had humiliated me, with a certain lack of
decorum, to be sure, but with some justice: and to pardon plain
retaliation is beyond the compass of humanity. At least, it ranks among
achievements which have always baffled me.



22.

_He Cleans the Slate_


It was within a month of this other disaster that Jasper Hardress came
to America, accompanied by his wife. They planned a tour of the States,
which they had not visited in seven years, and more particularly, as his
forerunning letter said, they meant to investigate certain mining
properties which Hardress had acquired in Montana. So, not unstirred by
trepidations, I met them at the pier.

For I was already in New York, in part to see a volume of my short
stories through the press--which you may or may not have read, in its
elaborate "gift-book" form, under the title of _The Aspirants_,--and in
part about less edifying employments. I was trying to forget Elena, and
in Lichfield it was not possible to induce such forgetfulness without
affording unmerited pleasure for gabbling busybodies.... It was not in
me to apologise, except in a letter, where the wording and interminable
tinkering with phraseology would enable me to forget it was I who was
apologising, until a bit of nearly perfect prose was safely mailed; and
I knew she would not read any letter from me, because Elena comprehended
that I always persuaded her to do what I prompted, if only she
listened to me.

As it was, I talked that morning for an hour or more with fat Jasper
Hardress.... Even now I find the two errands which brought him to
America of not unlaughable incongruity.


 2

For, first, he came as an agent of the Philomatheans, who were
endeavouring to secure official recognition by the churches of America
and England of a revised translation of, in any event, the New
Testament.

He told me of a variety of buttressing reasons,--which I suppose are
well-founded, though I must confess I never investigated the matter. He
told me how the Authorised Version was a paraphrase, abounding in
confusions and in mistranslations from the Greek of Erasmus's New
Testament, which, as the author confessed, "was rather tumbled headlong
into the world than edited." And he told me how the edition of Erasmus
itself was hastily prepared from careless copies of inaccurate
transcriptions of yet further copies of divers manuscripts of which the
oldest dates no further back than the fourth century, and is in turn,
most probably, just a liberal paraphrase, as all the others are, of
still another manuscript.

So that the English version, as I gathered, may be very fine English,
but has scarcely a leg left, when you consider it as a safe foundation
for superiority, or pillorying, or as a guide in conduct.

I suspect, however, that Jasper Hardress somewhat overstated the case,
since on this subject he was a fanatic. To me it seemed rather quaint
that Hardress or anybody else should be bothering about such things.

And as he feelingly declaimed concerning the great Uncials, and
explained why in this particular verse the Ephraem manuscript was in the
right, whereas to probe the meaning of the following verse we clearly
must regard the Syriac version as of supreme authority, I could well
understand how at one period or another his young wife must inevitably
have considered him in the light of a rather tedious person.

And I told him that it hardly mattered, because the true test of a
church-member was the ability to believe that when the Bible said
anything inconvenient it really meant something else.

But actually I was not feeling over-cheerful, because Jasper's second
object in coming to America was to leave his wife in Sioux City, so that
she could secure a divorce from him, on quite un-Scriptural grounds.
Hardress told me of this at least without any excitement. He did not
blame her. He was too old for her, too stolid, too dissimilar in every
respect, he said. Their marriage had been a mistake, that was all,--a
mismating, as many marriages were. She wanted to marry someone else, he
rather thought.

And "Oh, Lord! yes!" I inwardly groaned. "She probably does."

Aloud I said: "But the Bible--Yes, I _am_ provincial at bottom. It's
because I always think in nigger-English and translate it when I talk.
It was my Mammy, you see, who taught me how to think,--and in our
nigger-English, what the Bible says is true. Why, Jasper, even this
Revised Version of yours says flatly that a man--"

"Child, child!" said Jasper Hardress, and he patted my hair, and I
really think it crinkled under his touch, "when you grow up--if indeed
you ever do,--you will find that a man's feeling for his wife and the
mother of his children, is not altogether limited by what he has read in
a book. He wants--well, just her happiness."

I looked up without thinking; and the aspect of that gross and
unattractive man humiliated me. He had reached a height denied to such
as I; and inwardly I cursed and envied this fat Jasper Hardress.... I
would have told him everything, had not the waiter come just then.


 3

And the same afternoon I was alone with Gillian Hardress, for the first
time in somewhat more than two years. We had never written each other; I
had been too cautious for that; and now when the lean, handsome woman
came toward me, murmuring "Jack--" very tenderly,--for she had always
called me Jack, you may remember,--I raised a hand in protest.

"No,--that is done with, Jill. That is dead and buried now, my dear."

She remained motionless; only her eyes, which were like chrysoberyls,
seemed to grow larger and yet more large. There was no anger in them,
only an augmenting wonder.

"Ah, yes," she said at last, and seemed again to breathe; "so that is
dead and buried--in two years." Gillian Hardress spoke with laborious
precision, like a person struggling with a foreign language, and
articulating each word to its least sound before laying tongue to its
successor.

"Yes! we have done with each other, once for all," said I, half angrily.
"I wash my hands of the affair, I clean the slate today. I am not polite
about it, and--I am sorry, dear. But I talked with your husband this
morning, and I will deceive Jasper Hardress no longer. The man loves you
as I never dreamed of loving any woman, as I am incapable of loving any
woman. He dwarfs us. Oh, go and tell him, so that he may kill us both! I
wish to God he would!"

Mrs. Hardress said: "You have planned to marry. It is time the prodigal
marry and settle down, is it not? So long as we were in England it did
not matter, except to that Faroy girl you seduced and flung out into the
streets--"

"I naturally let her go when I found out--"

"As if I cared about the creature! She's done with. But now we are in
America, and Mr. Townsend desires no entanglements just now that might
prevent an advantageous marriage. So he is smitten--very
conveniently--with remorse." Gillian began to laugh. "And he discovers
that Jasper Hardress is a better man than he. Have I not always known
that, Jack?"

Now came a silence. "I cannot argue with you as to my motives. Let us
have no scene, my dear--"

"God keep us respectable!" the woman said; and then: "No; I can afford
to make no scene. I can only long to be omnipotent for just one instant
that I might deal with you, Robert Townsend, as I desire--and even then,
heaven help me, I would not do it!" Mrs. Hardress sat down upon the
divan and laughed, but this time naturally. "So! it is done with? I have
had my dismissal, and, in common justice, you ought to admit that I have
received it not all ungracefully."

"From the first," I said, "you have been the most wonderful woman I have
ever known." And I knew that I was sincerely fond of Gillian Hardress.

"But please go now," she said, "and have a telegram this evening that
will call you home, or to Kamchatka, or to Ecuador, or anywhere, on
unavoidable business. No, it is not because I loathe the sight of you or
for any melodramatic reason of that sort. It is because, I think, I had
fancied you to be not completely self-centred, after all, and I cannot
bear to face my own idiocy. Why, don't you realize it was only yesterday
you borrowed money from Jasper Hardress--some more money!"

"Well, but he insisted on it: and I owed it to you to do nothing to
arouse his suspicions--"

"And I don't hate you even now! I wish God would explain to me why He
made women so."

"You accuse me of selfishness," I cried. "Ah, let us distinguish, for
there is at times a deal of virtue in this vice. A man who devotes
himself to any particular art or pursuit, for instance, becomes more and
more enamoured of it as time wears on, because he comes to identify it
with himself; and a husband is fonder of his wife than of any other
woman,--at least, he ought to be,--not because he considers her the most
beautiful and attractive person of his acquaintance, but because she is
the one in whom he is most interested and concerned. He has a
proprietary interest in her welfare, and she is in a manner part of
himself. Thus the arts flourish and the home-circle is maintained, and
all through selfishness."

I snapped my fingers airily; I was trying, of course, to disgust her by
my callousness. And it appeared I had almost succeeded.

"Please go!" she said.

"But surely not while we are as yet involved in a question of plain
logic? You think selfishness a vice. None the less you must concede that
the world has invariably progressed because, upon the whole, we find
civilisation to be more comfortable than barbarism; and that a wholesome
apprehension of the penitentiary enables many of us to rise to
deaconships. Why, deuce take it, Jill! I may endow a hospital because I
want to see my name over the main entrance, I may give a beggar a penny
because his gratitude puts me in a glow of benevolence that is cheap at
the price. So let us not rashly declare that selfishness is a vice,
and--let us part friends, my dear."

And I assumed possession of the thin hands that seemed to push me from
her in a species of terror, and I gallantly lifted them to my lips.

The ensuing event was singular. Gillian Hardress turned to the door of
her bedroom and brutally, as with two bludgeons, struck again and again
upon its panels with clenched hand. She extended her hands to me, and
everywhere their knuckles oozed blood. "You kissed them," she said, "and
even today they liked it, and so they are not clean. They will never
again be clean, my dear. But they were clean before you came."

Then Gillian Hardress left me, and where she had touched it, the brass
door knob of her bedroom door was smeared with blood....


 4

When I had come again to Lichfield I found that in the brief interim of
my absence Elena Barry-Smith, without announcement, had taken the train
for Washington, and had in that city married Warwick Risby. This was, I
knew, because she comprehended that, if I so elected, it was always in
my power to stop her halfway up the aisle and to dissuade her from
advancing one step farther.... "I don't know _how_ it is!--" she would
have said, in that dear quasi-petulance I knew so well....

But as it was, I met the two one evening at the Provises', and with
exuberant congratulation. Then straddling as a young Colossus on the
hearth-rug, and with an admonitory forefinger, I proclaimed to the
universe at large that Mrs. Risby had blighted my existence and
beseeched for Warwick some immediate and fatal and particularly
excruciating malady. In fine, I was abjectly miserable the while that I
disarmed all comment by being quite delightfully boyish for a whole
two hours.

I must record it, though, that Mrs. Vokins patted my hand when nobody
else was looking, and said: "Oh, my dear Mr. Bob, I wish it had been
you! You was always the one I liked the best." For that, in view of
every circumstance, was humorous, and hurt as only humour can.

So in requital, on the following morning, I mailed to Mrs. Risby some
verses. This sounds a trifle like burlesque; but Elena had always a sort
of superstitious reverence for the fact that I "wrote things." It would
not matter at all that the verses were abominable; indeed, Elena would
never discover this; she would simply set about devising an excellent
reason for not showing them to anybody, and would consider Warwick
Risby, if only for a moment, in the light of a person who, whatever his
undeniable merits, had neither the desire nor the ability to write
"poetry." And, though it was hideously petty, this was precisely what I
desired her to do.

So I dispatched to her a sonnet-sequence which I had originally
plagiarized from the French of Theodore Passerat in honour of Stella. I
loathed sending Stella's verses to anyone else, somehow; but, after all,
my one deterrent was merely a romantic notion; and there was not time to
compose a new set. Moreover, "your eyes are blue, your speech is
gracious, but you are not she; and I am older,--and changed how
utterly!--I am no longer I, you are not you," and so on, was absolutely
appropriate. And Elena most undoubtedly knew nothing of Theodore
Passerat. And Stella, being dead, could never know what I had done.

So I sent the verses, with a few necessitated alterations, to the
address of Mrs. Warwick Risby.


 5

I had within the week, an unsigned communication which, for a long while
afterward, I did not comprehend. It was the photograph of an infant,
with the photographer's address scratched from the cardboard and without
of course any decipherable postmark; and upon the back of the thing was
written: "His has been the summer air, and the sunshine, and the
flowers; and gentle ears have listened to him, and gentle eyes have been
upon him. Let others eat his honey that please, so that he has had his
morsel and his song."

I thought it was a joke of some sort.

Then it occurred to me that this might be--somehow--Elena's answer. It
was an interpretation which probably appealed to the Supernal
Aristophanes.



23.

_He Reviles Destiny and Climbs a Wall_


But now the spring was come again, and, as always at this season, I was
pricked with vague longings to have done with roofs and paven places. I
wanted to be in the open. I think I wanted to fall in love with
somebody, and thereby somewhat to prolong the daily half-minute,
immediately after awakening in the morning, during which I did not think
about Elena Risby.

I was bored in Lichfield. For nothing of much consequence seemed, as I
yawned over the morning paper, to be happening anywhere. The Illinois
Legislature had broken up in a free fight, a British square had been
broken in Somaliland, and at the Aqueduct track Alado had broken his
jockey's neck. A mob had chased a negro up Broadway: Russia had demanded
that China cede the sovereignty of Manchuria; and Dr. Lyman Abbott was
explaining why the notion of equal suffrage had been abandoned finally
by thinking people.

Such negligible matters contributed not at all to the comfort or the
discomfort of Robert Etheridge Townsend; and I was pricked with vague
sweet longings to have done with roofs and paven places. If only I
possessed a country estate, a really handsome Manor or a Grange, I was
reflecting as I looked over the "Social Items," and saw that Miss
Hugonin and Colonel Hugonin had re-opened Selwoode for the summer
months....

So I decided I would go to Gridlington, whither Peter Blagden had
forgotten to invite me. He was extremely glad to see me, though, to do
him justice. For Peter--by this time the inheritor of his unlamented
uncle's estate,--had, very properly, developed gout, which is, I take
it, the time-honoured appendage of affluence and, so to speak, its
trade-mark; and was, for all his wealth, unable to get up and down the
stairs of his fine house without, as we will delicately word it, the
display and, at times, the overtaxing of a copious vocabulary.


 2

I was at Gridlington entirely comfortable. It was spring, to begin with,
and out of doors in spring you always know, at twenty-five, that
something extremely pleasant is about to happen, and that She is quite
probably around the very next turn of the lane.

Moreover, there was at Gridlington a tiny private garden which had once
been the recreation of Peter Blagden's aunt (dead now twelve years ago),
and which had remained untended since her cosseting; and I in nature
took charge of it.

There was in the place a wilding peach-tree, which I artistically sawed
into shape and pruned and grafted, and painted all those profitable
wounds with tar; and I grew to love it, just as most people do their
children, because it was mine. And Peter, who is a person of no
sensibility, wanted to ring for a servant one night, when there was a
hint of frost and I had started out to put a bucket of water under my
tree to protect it. I informed him that he was irrevocably dead to all
the nobler sentiments, and went to the laundry and got a wash-tub.

Peter was not infrequently obtuse. He would contend, for instance, that
it was absurd for any person to get so gloriously hot and dirty while
setting out plants, when that person objected to having a flower in the
same room. For Peter could not understand that a cut flower is a dead
or, at best, a dying thing, and therefore to considerate people is just
so much abhorrent carrion; and denied it would be really quite as
rational to decorate your person or your dinner table with the severed
heads of chickens as with those of daffodils.

"But that is only because you are not particularly bright," I told him.
"Oh, I suppose you can't help it. But why make _all_ the actions of your
life so foolish? What good do you get out of having the gout, for
instance?"

Whereupon Mr. Blagden desired to be informed if I considered those
with-various-adjectives-accompanied twinges in that qualified foot to be
a source of personal pleasure to the owner of the very-extensively-hiatused
foot. In which case, Mr. Blagden felt at liberty to express his opinion of
my intellectual attainments, which was of an uncomplimentary nature.

"Because, you know," I pursued, equably, "you wouldn't have the gout if
you did not habitually overeat yourself and drink more than is good for
you. In consequence, here you are at thirty-two with a foot the same
general size and shape as a hayrick, only rather less symmetrical, and
quite unable to attend to the really serious business of life, which is
to present me to the heiress. It is a case of vicarious punishment which
strikes me as extremely unfair. You have made of your stomach a god,
Peter, and I am the one to suffer for it. You have made of your
stomach," I continued, venturing aspiringly into metaphor, "a brazen
Moloch, before which you are now calmly preparing to immolate my
prospects in life. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Peter!"

Mr. Blagden's next observation was describable as impolite.

"Fate, too," I lamented, in a tragic voice, "appears to have entered
into this nefarious conspiracy. Here, not two miles away, is one of the
greatest heiresses in America,--clever, I am told, beautiful, I am sure,
for I have yet to discover a woman who sees anything in the least
attractive about her,--and, above all, with the Woods millions at her
disposal. Why, Peter, Margaret Hugonin is the woman I have been looking
for these last three years. She is, to a hair, the sort of woman I have
always intended to make unhappy. And I can't even get a sight of her!
Here are you, laid up with the gout, and unable to help me; and yonder
is the heiress, making a foolish pretence at mourning for the old
curmudgeon who left her all that money, and declining to meet people.
Oh, but she is a shiftless woman, Peter! At this very moment she might
be getting better acquainted with me; at this very moment, Peter, I
might be explaining to her in what points she is utterly and entirely
different from all the other women I have ever known. And she prefers to
immure herself in Selwoode, with no better company than her father, that
ungodly old retired colonel, and a she-cousin, somewhere on the
undiscussable side of forty--when she might be engaging me in amorous
dalliance! That Miss Hugonin is a shiftless woman, I tell you! And
Fate--oh, but Fate, too, is a vixenish jade!" I cried, and shook my fist
under the nose of an imaginary Lachesis.

"You appear," said Peter, drily, "to be unusually well-informed as to
what is going on at Selwoode."

"You flatter me," I answered, as with proper modesty. "You must remember
that there are maids at Selwoode. You must remember that my man Byam,
is--and will be until that inevitable day when he will attempt to
blackmail me, and I shall kill him in the most lingering fashion I can
think of,--that Byam is, I say, something of a diplomatist."

Mr. Blagden regarded me with disapproval.

"So you've been sending your nigger cousin over to Selwoode to spy for
you! You're a damn cad, you know, Bob," he pensively observed. "Now most
people think that when you carry on like a lunatic you're simply acting
on impulse. I don't. I believe you plan it out a week ahead. I sometimes
think you are the most adroit and unblushing looker-out for number one I
ever knew; and I can't for the life of me understand why I don't turn
you out of doors."

"I don't know where you picked up your manners," said I, reflectively,
"but it must have been in devilish low company. I would cut your
acquaintance, Peter, if I could afford it." Then I fell to pacing up and
down the floor. "I incline, as you have somewhat grossly suggested, to a
certain favouritism among the digits. And why the deuce shouldn't I? A
fortune is the only thing I need. I have good looks, you know, of a
sort; ah, I'm not vain, but both my glass and a number of women have
been kind enough to reassure me on this particular point. And that I
have a fair amount of wits my creditors will attest, who have lived
promise-crammed for the last year or two, feeding upon air like
chameleons. Then I have birth,--not that good birth ensures anything but
bad habits though, for you will observe that, by some curious freak of
nature, an old family-tree very seldom produces anything but wild oats.
And, finally, I have position. I can introduce my wife into the best
society; ah, yes, you may depend upon it, Peter, she will have the
privilege of meeting the very worst and stupidest and silliest people in
the country on perfectly equal terms. You will perceive, then, that the
one desirable thing I lack is wealth. And this I shall naturally expect
my wife to furnish. So, the point is settled, and you may give me a
cigarette."

Peter handed me the case, with a snort. "You are a hopelessly conceited
ass," Mr. Blagden was pleased to observe, "for otherwise you would have
learned, by this, that you'll, most likely, never have the luck of
Charteris, and land a woman who will take it as a favour that you let
her pay your bills. God knows you've angled for enough of 'em!"

"You are painfully coarse, Peter," I pointed out, with a sigh. "Indeed,
your general lack of refinement might easily lead one to think you owed
your millions to your own thrifty industry, or some equally unpleasant
attribute, rather than to your uncle's very commendable and lucrative
innovation in the line of--well, I remember it was something extremely
indigestible, but, for the moment, I forget whether it was steam-reapers
or a new sort of pickle. Yes, in a great many respects, you are
hopelessly parvenuish. This cigarette-case, for instance--studded with
diamonds and engraved with a monogram big enough for a coach-door! Why,
Peter, it simply reeks with the ostentation of honestly acquired
wealth,--and with very good tobacco, too, by the way. I shall take it,
for I am going for a walk, and I haven't any of my own. And some day I
shall pawn this jewelled abortion, Peter,--pawn it for much fine gold;
and upon the proceeds I shall make merriment for myself and for my
friends." And I pocketed the case.

"That's all very well," Peter growled, "but you needn't try to change
the subject. You know you _have_ angled after any number of rich women
who have had sense enough, thank God, to refuse you. You didn't use to
be--but now you're quite notoriously good-for-nothing."

"It is the one blemish," said I, sweetly, "upon an otherwise perfect
character. And it is true," I continued, after an interval of
meditation, "that I have, in my time, encountered some very foolish
women. There was, for instance, Elena Barry-Smith, who threw me over for
Warwick Risby; and Celia Reindan, who had the bad taste to prefer Teddy
Anstruther; and Rosalind Jemmett, who is, very inconsiderately, going to
marry Tom Gelwix, instead of me. These were staggeringly foolish women,
Peter, but while their taste is bad, their dinners are good, so I have
remained upon the best of terms with them. They have trodden me under
their feet, but I am the long worm that has no turning. Moreover, you
are doubtless aware of the axiomatic equality between the fish in the
sea and those out of it. I hope before long to better my position in
life. I hope--Ah, well, that would scarcely interest you. Good morning,
Peter. And I trust, when I return," I added, with chastening dignity,
"that you will evince a somewhat more Christian spirit toward the world
in general, and that your language will be rather less reminiscent of
the blood-stained buccaneer of historical fiction."

"You're a grinning buffoon," said Peter. "You're a fat Jack-pudding.
You're an ass. Where are you going, anyway?"

"I am going," said I, "to the extreme end of Gridlington. Afterward I am
going to climb the wall that stands between Gridlington and Selwoode."

"And after that?" said Peter.

I gave a gesture. "Why, after that," said I, "fortune will favour the
brave. And I, Peter, am very, very brave."

Then I departed, whistling. In view of all my memories it had been
strangely droll to worry Peter Blagden into an abuse of marrying for
money. For this was on the twenty-eighth of April, the anniversary of
the day that Stella had died, you may remember....


 3

And a half-hour subsequently, true to my word, I was scaling a ten-foot
stone wall, thickly overgrown with ivy. At the top of it I paused, and
sat down to take breath and to meditate, my legs meanwhile bedangling
over an as flourishing Italian garden as you would wish to see.

"Now, I wonder," I queried, of my soul, "what will be next? There is a
very cheerful uncertainty about what will be next. It may be a
spring-gun, and it may be a bull-dog, and it may be a susceptible
heiress. But it is apt to be--No, it isn't," I amended, promptly; "it is
going to be an angel. Or perhaps it is going to be a dream. She can't be
real, you know--I am probably just dreaming her. I would be quite
certain I was just dreaming her, if this wall were not so humpy and
uncomfortable. For it stands to reason, I would not be fool enough to
dream of such unsympathetic iron spikes as I am sitting on."

"Perhaps you are not aware," hazarded a soprano voice, "that this is
private property?"

"Why, no," said I, very placidly; "on the contrary I was just thinking
it must be heaven. And I am tolerably certain," I commented further, in
my soul, "that you are one of the more influential seraphim."

The girl had lifted her brows. She sat upon a semi-circular stone bench,
some twenty feet from the wall, and had apparently been reading, for a
book lay open in her lap. She now inspected me, with a sort of languid
wonder in her eyes, and I returned the scrutiny with unqualified
approval in mine.

And in this I had reason. The heiress of Selwoode was eminently good to
look upon.



24.

_He Reconciles Sentiment and Reason_


So I regarded her for a rather lengthy interval, considering meanwhile,
with an immeasurable content how utterly and entirely impossible it
would always be to describe her.

Clearly, it would be out of the question to trust to words, however
choicely picked, for, upon inspection, there was a delightful ambiguity
about every one of this girl's features that defied such idiotic
makeshifts. Her eyes, for example, I noted with a faint thrill of
surprise, just escaped being brown by virtue of an amber glow they had;
what colour, then, was I conscientiously to call them?

And her hair I found a bewildering, though pleasing, mesh of shadow and
sunlight, all made up of multitudinous graduations of some anonymous
colour that seemed to vary with the light you chanced to see it in,
through the whole gamut of bronze and chestnut and gold; and where,
pray, in the bulkiest lexicon, in the very weightiest thesaurus, was I
to find the adjective which could, if but in desperation, be applied to
hair like that without trenching on sacrilege? ... For it was spring,
you must remember, and I was twenty-five.

So that in my appraisal, you may depend upon it, her lips were quickly
passed over as a dangerous topic, and were dismissed with the mental
statement that they were red and not altogether unattractive. Whereas
her cheeks baffled me for a time,--but always with a haunting sense of
familiarity--till I had, at last, discovered they reminded me of those
little tatters of cloud that sometimes float about the setting
sun,--those irresolute wisps which cannot quite decide whether to be
pink or white, and waver through their tiny lives between the
two colours.


 2

To this effect, then, I discoursed with my soul, what time I sat upon
the wall-top and smiled and kicked my heels to and fro among the ivy. By
and by, though, the girl sighed.

"You are placing me in an extremely unpleasant position," she
complained, as if wearily. "Would you mind returning to your sanatorium
and allowing me to go on reading? For I am interested in my book, and I
can't possibly go on in any comfort so long as you elect to perch up
there like Humpty-Dumpty, and grin like seven dozen Cheshire cats."

"Now, that," I spoke, in absent wise, "is but another instance of the
widely prevalent desire to have me serve as scapegoat for the sins of
all humanity. I am being blamed now for sitting on top of this wall. One
would think I wanted to sit here. One would actually think," I cried,
and raised my eyes to heaven, "that sitting on the very humpiest kind of
iron spikes was my favorite form of recreation! No,--in the interests of
justice," I continued, and fell into a milder tone, "I must ask you to
place the blame where it more rightfully belongs. The injuries which are
within the moment being inflicted on my sensitive nature, and,
incidentally, upon my not overstocked wardrobe, I am willing to pass
over. But the claims of justice are everywhere paramount. Miss Hugonin,
and Miss Hugonin alone, is responsible for my present emulation of
Mohammed's coffin, and upon that responsibility I am compelled
to insist."

"May one suggest," she queried gently, "that you are
probably--mistaken?"

I sketched a bow. "Recognising your present point of view," said I,
gallantly, "I thank you for the kindly euphemism. But may one allowably
demonstrate the fallacy of this same point of view? I thank you: for
silence, I am told, is proverbially equal to assent. I am, then, one
Robert Townsend, by birth a gentleman, by courtesy an author, by
inclination an idler, and by lucky chance a guest of Mr. Peter Blagden,
whose flourishing estate extends indefinitely yonder to the rear of my
coat-tails. My hobby chances to be gardening. I am a connoisseur, an
admirer, a devotee of gardens. It is, indeed, hereditary among the
Townsends; a love for gardens runs in our family just as a love for gin
runs in less favoured races. It is with us an irresistible passion. The
very founder of our family--one Adam, whom you may have heard of,--was a
gardener. Owing to the unfortunate loss of his position, the family
since then has sunken somewhat in the world; but time and poverty alike
have proven powerless against our horticultural tastes and botanical
inclinations. And then," cried I, with a flourish, "and then, what
follows logically?"

"Why, if you are not more careful," she languidly made answer, "I am
afraid that, owing to the laws of gravitation, a broken neck is what
follows logically."

"You are a rogue," I commented, in my soul, "and I like you all the
better for it."

Aloud, I stated: "What follows is that we can no more keep away from a
creditable sort of garden than a moth can from a lighted candle.
Consider, then, my position. Here am I on one side of the wall, and with
my peach-tree, to be sure--but on the other side is one of the most
famous masterpieces of formal gardening in the whole country. Am I to
blame if I succumb to the temptation? Surely not," I argued; "for surely
to any fair-minded person it will be at once apparent that I am brought
to my present very uncomfortable position upon the points of these very
humpy iron spikes by a simple combination of atavism and
injustice,--atavism because hereditary inclination draws me irresistibly
to the top of the wall, and injustice because Miss Hugonin's perfectly
unreasonable refusal to admit visitors prevents my coming any farther.
Surely, that is at once apparent?"

But now the girl yielded to my grave face, and broke into a clear,
rippling carol of mirth. She laughed from the chest, this woman. And
perched in insecure discomfort on my wall, I found time to rejoice that
I had finally discovered that rarity of rarities, a woman who neither
giggles nor cackles, but has found the happy mean between these two
abominations, and knows how to laugh.

"I have heard of you, Mr. Townsend," she said at last. "Oh, yes, I have
heard a deal of you. And I remember now that I never heard you were
suspected of sanity."

"Common-sense," I informed her, from my pedestal, "is confined to that
decorous class of people who never lose either their tempers or their
umbrellas. Now, I haven't any temper to speak of--or not at least in the
presence of ladies,--and, so far, I have managed to avoid laying aside
anything whatever for a rainy day; so that it stands to reason I must
possess uncommon sense."

"If that is the case," said the girl "you will kindly come down from
that wall and attempt to behave like a rational being."

I was down--as the phrase runs,--in the twinkling of a bed-post. On
which side of the wall, I leave you to imagine.

"--For I am sure," the girl continued, "that I--that Margaret, I should
say,--would not object in the least to your seeing the gardens, since
they interest you so tremendously. I'm Avis Beechinor, you know,--Miss
Hugonin's cousin. So, if you like, we will consider that a proper
introduction, Mr. Townsend, and I will show you the gardens, if--if you
really care to see them."

My face, I must confess, had fallen slightly. Up to this moment, I had
not a suspicion but that it was Miss Hugonin I was talking to: and I now
reconsidered, with celerity, the information Byam had brought me
from Selwoode.

"For, when I come to think of it," I reflected, "he simply said she was
older than Miss Hugonin. I embroidered the tale so glibly for Peter's
benefit that I was deceived by my own ornamentations. I had looked for
corkscrew ringlets and false teeth a-gleam like a new bath-tub in Miss
Hugonin's cousin,--not an absolutely, supremely, inexpressibly
unthinkable beauty like this!" I cried, in my soul. "Older! Why, good
Lord, Miss Hugonin must be an infant in arms!"

But my audible discourse was prefaced with an eloquent gesture. "If I'd
care!" I said. "Haven't I already told you I was a connoisseur in
gardens? Why, simply look, Miss Beechinor!" I exhorted her, and threw
out my hands in a large pose of admiration. "Simply regard those
yew-hedges, and parterres, and grassy amphitheatres, and palisades, and
statues, and cascades, and everything--_everything_ that goes to make a
formal garden the most delectable sight in the world! Simply feast your
eyes upon those orderly clipped trees and the fantastic patterns those
flowers are laid out in! Why, upon my word, it looks as if all four
books of Euclid had suddenly burst into blossom! And you ask me if I
would _care_! Ah, it is evident _you_ are not a connoisseur in gardens,
Miss Beechinor!"

And I had started on my way into this one, when the girl stopped me.

"This must be yours," she said. "You must have spilled it coming over
the wall, Mr. Townsend."

It was Peter's cigarette-case.

"Why, dear me, yes!" I assented, affably. "Do you know, now, I would
have been tremendously sorry to lose that? It is a sort of present--an
unbirthday present from a quite old friend."

She turned it over in her hand.

"It's very handsome," she marvelled. "Such a pretty monogram! Does it
stand for Poor Idiot Boy?"

"Eh?" said I. "P.I.B., you mean? No, that stands for Perfectly
Immaculate Behaviour. My friend gave it to me because, he said, I was so
good. And--oh, well, he added a few things to that,--partial sort of a
friend, you know,--and, really--Why, really, Miss Beechinor, it would
embarrass me to tell you what he added," I protested, and modestly waved
the subject aside.

"Now that," my meditations ran, "is the absolute truth. Peter did tell
me I was good. And it really would embarrass me to tell her he added
'for-nothing.' So, this far, I have been a model of veracity."

Then I took the case,--gaining thereby the bliss of momentary contact
with a velvet-soft trifle that seemed, somehow, to set my own grosser
hand a-tingle--and I cried: "Now, Miss Beechinor, you must show me the
pergola. I am excessively partial to pergolas."

And in my soul, I wondered what a pergola looked like, and why on earth
I had been fool enough to waste the last three days in bedeviling Peter,
and how under the broad canopy of heaven I could ever have suffered from
the delusion that I had seen a really adorable woman before to-day.


 3

But, "She is entirely too adorable," I reasoned with myself, some
three-quarters of an hour later. "In fact, I regard it as positively
inconsiderate in any impecunious young person to venture to upset me in
the way she has done. Why, my heart is pounding away inside me like a
trip-hammer, and I am absolutely light-headed with good-will and charity
and benevolent intentions toward the entire universe! Oh, Avis, Avis,
you know you hadn't any right to put me in this insane state of mind!"

I was, at this moment, retracing my steps toward the spot where I had
climbed the wall between Gridlington and Selwoode, but I paused now to
outline a reproachful gesture in the direction from which I came.

"What do you mean by having such a name?" I queried, sadly. "Avis! Why,
it is the very soul of music, clear, and sweet and as insistent as a
bird-call, an unforgettable lyric in four letters! It is just the sort
of name a fellow cannot possibly forget. Why couldn't you have been
named Polly or Lena or Margaret, or something commonplace like that,
Avis--dear?"

And the juxtaposition of these words appealing to my sense of euphony, I
repeated it, again and again, each time with a more relishing gusto.
"Avis dear! dear Avis! dear, _dear_ Avis!" I experimented. "Why, each
one is more hopelessly unforgettable than the other! Oh, Avis dear, why
are you so absolutely and entirely unforgettable all around? Why do you
ripple all your words together in that quaint fashion till it sounds
like a brook discoursing? Why did you crinkle up your eyes when I told
you that as yet unbotanised flower was a _Calycanthus arithmelicus_? And
why did you pout at me, Avis dear? A fellow finds it entirely too hard
to forget things like that. And, oh, dear Avis, if you only knew what
nearly happened when you pouted!"

I had come to the wall by this, but again I paused to lament.

"It is very inconsiderate of her, very thoughtless indeed. She might at
least have asked my permission, before upsetting my plans in life. I had
firmly intended to marry a rich woman, and now I am forming all sorts of
preposterous notions--"

Then, on the bench where I had first seen her, I perceived a book. It
was the iron-gray book she had been reading when I interrupted her, and
I now picked it up with a sort of reverence. I regarded it as an
extremely lucky book.

Subsequently, "Good Lord!" said I, aloud, "what luck!"

For between the pages of Justus Miles Forman's _Journey's End_--serving
as a book-mark, according to a not infrequent shiftless feminine
fashion,--lay a handkerchief. It was a flimsy, inadequate trifle,
fringed with a tiny scallopy black border; and in one corner the letters
M. E. A. H., all askew, contorted themselves into any number of
flourishes and irrelevant tendrils.

"Now M. E. A. H. does not stand by any stretch of the imagination for
Avis Beechinor. Whereas it fits Margaret Elizabeth Anstruther Hugonin
uncommonly well. I wonder now--?"

I wondered for a rather lengthy interval.

"So Byam was right, after all. And Peter was right, too. Oh, Robert
Etheridge Townsend, your reputation must truly be malodorous, when at
your approach timid heiresses seek shelter under an alias! 'I have heard
a deal of you, Mr. Townsend'--ah, yes, she had heard. She thought I
would make love to her out of hand, I suppose, because she was
wealthy--"

I presently flung back my head and laughed.

"Eh, well! I will let no sordid considerations stand in the way of my
true interests. I will marry this Margaret Hugonin even though she is
rich. You have begun the comedy, my lady, and I will play it to the end.
Yes, I fell honestly in love with you when I thought you were nobody in
particular. So I am going to marry this Margaret Hugonin if she will
have me; and if she won't, I am going to commit suicide on her
door-step, with a pathetic little note in my vest-pocket forgiving her
in the most noble and wholesale manner for irrevocably blighting a
future so rich in promise. Yes, that is exactly what I am going to do if
she does not appreciate her wonderful good fortune. And if she'll have
me--why, I wouldn't change places with the Pope of Rome or the Czar of
all the Russias! Ah, no, not I! for I prefer, upon the whole, to be
immeasurably, and insanely, and unreasonably, and unadulteratedly happy.
Why, but just to think of an adorable girl like that having so
much money!"

All in all, my meditations were incoherent but very pleasurable.



25.

_He Advances in the Attack on Selwoode_


"Well?" said Peter.

"Well?" said I.

"What's the latest quotation on heiresses?" Mr. Blagden demanded. "Was
she cruel, my boy, or was she kind? Did she set the dog on you or have
you thrashed by her father? I fancy both, for your present hilarity is
suggestive of a gentleman in the act of attendance on his own funeral."
And Peter laughed, unctuously, for his gout slumbered.

"His attempts at wit," I reflectively confided to my wine-glass, "while
doubtless amiably intended, are, to his well-wishers, painful. I
daresay, though, he doesn't know it. We must, then, smile indulgently
upon the elephantine gambols of what he is pleased to describe as his
intellect."

"Now, that," Peter pointed out, "is not what I would term a courteous
method of discussing a man at his own table. You are damn disagreeable
this morning, Bob. So I know, of course, that you have come another
cropper in your fortune-hunting."

"Peter," said I, in admiration, "your sagacity at times is almost human!
I have spent a most enjoyable day, though," I continued, idly. "I have
been communing with Nature, Peter. She is about her spring-cleaning in
the woods yonder, and everywhere I have seen traces of her getting
things fixed for the summer. I have seen the sky, which was washed
overnight, and the sun, which has evidently been freshly enamelled. I
have seen the new leaves as they swayed and whispered over your
extensive domains, with the fret of spring alert in every sap cell. I
have seen the little birds as they hopped among said leaves and
commented upon the scarcity of worms. I have seen the buxom flowers as
they curtsied and danced above your flower-beds like a miniature
comic-opera chorus. And besides that--"

"Yes?" said Peter, with a grin, "and besides that?"

"And besides that," said I, firmly, "I have seen nothing."

And internally I appraised this bloated Peter Blagden, and reflected
that this was the man whom Stella had loved; and I appraised myself, and
remembered that this had been the boy who once loved Stella. For, as I
have said, it was the twenty-eighth of April, the day that Stella had
died, two years ago.


 2

The next morning I discoursed with my soul, what time I sat upon the
wall-top and smiled and kicked my heels to and fro among the ivy.

"For, in spite of appearances," I debated with myself, "it is barely
possible that the handkerchief was not hers. She may have borrowed it or
have got it by mistake, somehow. In which case, it is only reasonable to
suppose that she will miss it, and ask me if I saw it; on the contrary,
if the handkerchief is hers, she will naturally understand, when I
return the book without it, that I have feloniously detained this airy
gewgaw as a souvenir, as, so to speak, a _gage d'amour_. And, in that
event, she ought to be very much pleased and a bit embarrassed; and she
will preserve upon the topic of handkerchiefs a maidenly silence. Do you
know, Robert Etheridge Townsend, there is about you the making of a very
fine logician?"

Then I consulted my watch, and subsequently grimaced. "It is also barely
possible," said I, "that Margaret may not come at all. In which
case--Margaret! Now, isn't that a sweet name? Isn't it the very sweetest
name in the world? Now, really, you know, it is queer her being named
Margaret--extraordinarily queer,--because Margaret has always been my
favourite woman's name. I daresay, unbeknownst to myself, I am a bit of
a prophet."


 3

But she did come. She was very much surprised to see me.

"You!" she said, with a gesture which was practically tantamount to
disbelief. "Why, how extraordinary!"

"You rogue!" I commented, internally: "you know it is the most natural
thing in the world." Aloud I stated: "Why, yes, I happened to notice you
forgot your book yesterday, so I dropped in--or, to be more accurate,
climbed up,--to return it."

She reached for it. Our hands touched, with the usual result to my
pulses. Also, there were the customary manual tinglings.

"You are very kind," was her observation, "for I am wondering which one
of the two he will marry."

"Forman tells me he has no notion, himself."

"Oh, then you know Justus Miles Forman! How nice! I think his stories
are just splendid, especially the way his heroes talk to photographs and
handkerchiefs and dead flowers--"

Afterward she opened the book, and turned over its pages expectantly,
and flushed a proper shade of pink, and said nothing.

And then, and not till then, my heart consented to resume its normal
functions. And then, also, "These iron spikes--" said its owner.

"Yes?" she queried, innocently.

"--so humpy," I complained.

"Are they?" said she. "Why, then, how silly of you to continue to sit on
them!"

The result of this comment was that we were both late for luncheon.


 4

By a peculiar coincidence, at twelve o'clock the following day, I
happened to be sitting on the same wall at the same spot. Peter said at
luncheon it was a queer thing that some people never could manage to be
on time for their meals.

I fancy we can all form a tolerably accurate idea of what took place
during the next day or so.

It is scarcely necessary to retail our conversations. We gossiped of
simple things. We talked very little; and, when we did talk, the most
ambitiously preambled sentences were apt to result in nothing more
prodigious than a wave of the hand, and a pause, and, not infrequently,
a heightened complexion. Altogether, then, it was not oppressively wise
or witty talk, but it was eminently satisfactory to its makers.

As when, on the third morning, I wished to sit by Margaret on the bench,
and she declined to invite me to descend from the wall.

"On the whole," said she, "I prefer you where you are; like all
picturesque ruins, you are most admirable at a little distance."

"Ruins!"--and, indeed, I was not yet twenty-six,--"I am a comparatively
young man."

As a concession, "In consideration of your past, you are tolerably well
preserved."

"--and I am not a new brand of marmalade, either."

"No, for that comes in glass jars; whereas, Mr. Townsend, I have heard,
is more apt to figure in family ones."

"A pun, Miss Beechinor, is the base coinage of conversation tendered
only by the mentally dishonest."

"--Besides, one can never have enough of marmalade."

"I trust they give you a sufficiency of it in the nursery?"

"Dear me, you have no idea how admirably that paternal tone sits upon
you! You would make an excellent father, Mr. Townsend. You really ought
to adopt someone. I wish you would adopt _me_, Mr. Townsend."

I said I had other plans for her. Discreetly, she forbore to ask what
they were.


 5

"Avis--"

"You must not call me that."

"Why not? It's your name, isn't it"

"Yes,--to my friends."

"Aren't we friends--Avis?"

"We! We have not known each other long enough, Mr. Townsend."

"Oh, what's the difference? We are going to be friends, aren't
we--Avis?"

"Why--why, I am sure I don't know."

"Gracious gravy, what an admirable colour you have, Avis! Well,--I know.
And I can inform you, quite confidentially, Avis, that we are not going
to be--. friends. We are going to be--"

"We are going to be late for luncheon," said she, in haste.
"Good-morning, Mr. Townsend."


 6

Yet, the very next day, paradoxically enough, she told me:

"I shall always think of you as a very, very dear friend. But it is
quite impossible we should ever be anything else."

"And why, Avis?"

"Because--"

"That"--after an interval--"strikes me as rather a poor reason. So,
suppose we say this June?"

Another interval.

"Well, Avis?"

"Dear me, aren't those roses pretty? I wish you would get me one, Mr.
Townsend."

"Avis, we are not discussing roses."

"Well, they _are_ pretty."

"Avis!"--reproachfully.

Still another interval.

"I--I hardly know."

"Avis!"--with disappointment.

"I--I believe--"

"Avis!"--very tenderly.

"I--I almost think so,--and the horrid man looks as if he thought so,
too!"

There was a fourth interval, during which the girl made a complete and
careful survey of her shoes.

Then, all in a breath, "It could not possibly be June, of course, and
you must give me until to-morrow to think about November," and a sudden
flutter of skirts.

I returned to Gridlington treading on air.


 7

For I was, by this time, as thoroughly in love as Amadis of Gaul or
Aucassin of Beaucaire or any other hero of romance you may elect
to mention.

Some two weeks earlier I would have scoffed at the notion of such a
thing coming to pass; and I could have demonstrated, logically enough,
that it was impossible for Robert Etheridge Townsend, with his keen
knowledge of the world and of the innumerable vanities and whims of
womankind, ever again to go the way of all flesh. But the problem, like
the puzzle of the Eleatic philosophers, had solved itself. "Achilles
cannot catch the tortoise," but he does. It was impossible for me to
fall uncomfortably deep in love--but I had done so.

And it pricked my conscience, too, that Margaret should not know I was
aware of her identity. But she had chosen to play the comedy to the end,
and in common with the greater part of trousered humanity, I had, after
all, no insuperable objection to a rich wife; though, to do me justice,
I rarely thought of her, now, as Margaret Hugonin the heiress, but
considered her, in a more comprehensive fashion, as the one woman in the
universe whose perfections triumphantly overpeered the skyiest heights
of preciosity.



26.


_He Assists in the Diversion of Birds_

We met, then, in the clear May morning, with what occult trepidations I
cannot say. You may depend upon it, though, we had our emotions.

And about us, spring was marshaling her pageant, and from divers nooks,
the weather-stained nymphs and fauns regarded us in candid, if
preoccupied, appraisement; and above us, the clipped ilex trees were
about a knowing conference. As for the birds, they were discussing us
without any reticence whatever, for, more favoured of chance than
imperial Solomon, they have been the confidants in any number of such
affairs, and regard the way of a man with a maid as one of the most
matter-of-fact occurrences in the world.

"Here is he! here is she!" they shrilled. "See how they meet, see how
they greet! Ah, sweet, sweet, sweet, to meet in the spring!" And that we
two would immediately set to nest-building, they considered a foregone
conclusion.


 2

I had taken both her firm, warm hands in salutation, and held them, for
a breathing-space, between my own. And my own hands seemed to me two
very gross, and hulking, and raw, and red monstrosities, in contrast
with their dimpled captives, and my hands appeared, also, to shake
unnecessarily.

"Now, in a moment," said I, "I am going to ask you something very
important. But, first, I have a confession to make."

And her glad, shamed eyes bemocked me. "My lord of Burleigh!" she softly
breathed. "My liege Cophetua! _My_ king Cophetua! And did you think,
then, I was blind?"

"Eh?" said I.

"As if I hadn't known from the first!" the girl pouted; "as if I hadn't
known from the very first day when you dropped your cigarette case! Ah,
I had heard of you before, Peter!--of Peter, the misogynist, who was
ashamed to go a-wooing in his proper guise! Was it because you were
afraid I'd marry you for your money, Peter?--poor, timid Peter! But, oh,
Peter, Peter, what possessed you to take the name of that notorious
Robert Townsend?" she demanded, with uplifted forefinger. "Couldn't you
think of a better one, Peter?--of a more respectable one, Peter? It
really is a great relief to call you Peter at last. I've had to try so
hard to keep from doing it before, Peter."

And in answer, I made an inarticulate sound.

"But you were so grave about it," the girl went on, happily, "that I
almost thought you were telling the truth, Peter. Then my maid told
me--I mean, she happened to mention casually that Mr. Townsend's valet
had described his master to her as an extraordinarily handsome man. So,
then, of course, I knew you were Peter Blagden."

"I perceive," said I, reflectively, "that Byam has been somewhat too
zealous. I begin to suspect, also, that kitchen-gossip is a mischancy
petard, and rather more than apt to hoist the engineer who employs it.
So, you thought I was Peter Blagden,--the rich Peter Blagden? Ah, yes!"

Now the birds were caroling on a wager. "Ah, sweet! what is sweeter?"
they sang. "Ah, sweet, sweet, sweet, to meet in the spring."

But the girl gave a wordless cry at sight of the change in my face. "Oh,
how dear of you to care so much! I didn't mean that you were _ugly_,
Peter. I just meant you are so big and--and so like the baby that they
probably have on the talcum-powder boxes in Brobdingnag--"

"Because I happen to be really Robert Townsend--the notorious Robert
Etheridge Townsend," I continued, with a smile. "I am sorry you were
deceived by the cigarette-case. I remember now; I borrowed it from
Peter. What I meant to confess was that I have known all along you were
Margaret Hugonin."

"But I'm not," the girl said, in bewilderment. "Why--Why I _told_ you I
was Avis Beechinor."

"This handkerchief?" I queried, and took it from my pocket. I had been
absurd enough to carry it next to my heart.

"Oh--!" And now the tension broke, and her voice leapt to high, shrill,
half-hysterical speaking.

"I am Avis Beechinor. I am a poor relation, a penniless cousin, a
dependent, a hanger-on, do you understand? And you--Ah, how--how funny!
Why, Margaret _always_ gives me her cast-off finery, the scraps, the
remnants, the clothes she is tired of, the misfit things,--so that she
won't be ashamed of me, so that I may be fairly presentable. She gave me
eight of those handkerchiefs. I meant to pick the monograms out with a
needle, you understand, because I haven't any money to buy such
handkerchiefs for myself. I remember now,--she gave them to me on that
day--that first day, and I missed one of them a little later on. Ah,
how--how funny!" she cried, again; "ah, how very, very funny! No, Mr.
Townsend, I am not an heiress,--I'm a pauper, a poor relation. No, you
have failed again, just as you did with Mrs. Barry-Smith and with Miss
Jemmett, Mr. Townsend. I--I wish you better luck the next time."

I must have raised one hand as though in warding off a physical blow.
"Don't!" I said.

And all the woman in her leapt to defend me. "Ah no, ah no!" she
pleaded, and her hands fell caressingly upon my shoulder; and she raised
a penitent, tear-stained face toward mine; "ah no, forgive me! I didn't
mean that altogether. It is different with a man. Of course, you must
marry sensibly,--of course you must, Mr. Townsend. It is I who am to
blame--why, of _course_ it's only I who am to blame. I have encouraged
you, I know--"

"You haven't! you haven't" I barked.

"But, yes,--for I came back that second day because I thought you were
the rich Mr. Blagden. I was so tired of being poor, so tired of being
dependent, that it simply seemed to me I could not stand it for a moment
longer. Ah, I tell you, I was tired, tired, tired! I was tired and sick
and worn out with it all!"

I did not interrupt her. I was nobly moved; but even then at the back of
my mind some being that was not I was taking notes as to this girl, so
young and desirable, and now so like a plaintive child who has been
punished and does not understand exactly why.

"Mr. Townsend, you don't know what it means to a girl to be poor!--you
can't ever know, because you are only a man. My mother--ah, you don't
know the life I have led! You don't know how I have been hawked about,
and set up for inspection by the men who could afford to pay my price,
and made to show off my little accomplishments for them, and put through
my paces before them like any horse in the market! For we are poor, Mr.
Townsend,--we are bleakly, hopelessly poor. We are only hangers-on, you
see. And ever since I can remember, she has been telling me I must make
a rich marriage--_must_ make a rich marriage--"

And the girl's voice trailed off into silence, and her eyes closed for a
moment, and she swayed a little on her feet, so that I caught her by
both arms.

But, presently, she opened her eyes, with a wearied sigh, and presently
the two fortune-hunters stared each other in the face.

"Ah, sweet! what is sweeter?" sang the birds. "Can you see, can you see,
can you see? It is sweet, sweet, sweet!" They were extremely gay over
it, were the birds.

After a little, though, I opened my lips, and moistened them two or
three times before I spoke. "Yes," said I, "I think I understand. We
have both been hangers-on. But that seems, somehow, a long while ago.
Yes, it was a knave who scaled that wall the first time,--one who needed
and had earned a kicking from here to Aldebaran. But I think that I
loved you from the very moment I saw you. Will you marry me, Avis?"

And in her face there was a wonderful and tender change. "You care for
me--just me?" she breathed.

"Just you," I answered, gravely.

And I saw the start, and the merest ghost of a shiver which shook her
body, as she leaned toward me a little, almost in surrender; but,
quickly, she laughed.

"That was very gentlemanly in you," she said; "but, of course, I
understand. Let us part friends, then,--Robert. Even if--if you really
cared, we couldn't marry. We are too poor."

"Too poor!" I scoffed,--and my voice was joyous, for I knew now that it
was I she loved and not just Peter Blagden's money; "too _poor_, Avis! I
am to the contrary, an inordinately rich man, I tell you, for I have
your love. Oh you needn't try to deny it. You are heels over head in
love with me. And we have made, no doubt, an unsavoury mess of the past;
but the future remains to us. We are the earthen pots, you and I, who
wanted to swim with the brazen ones. Well! they haven't quite smashed
us, these big, stupid, brazen pots, but they have shown us that they
have the power to do it. And so we are going back where we belong--to
the poor man's country, Avis,--or, in any event, to the country of those
God-fearing, sober and honest folk who earn their bread and, just
occasionally, a pat of butter to season it."

The world was very beautiful. I knew that I was excellent throughout and
unconquerable. So I moved more near to her.

"For you will come with me, won't you, dear? Oh, you won't have quite so
many gowns in this new country, Avis, and, may be, not even a horse and
surrey of your own; but you will have love, and you will have happiness,
and, best of all, Avis, you will give a certain very undeserving man his
chance--his one sole chance--to lead a real man's life. Are you going
to deny him that chance, Avis?"

Her gaze read me through and through; and I bore myself a bit proudly
under it; and it seemed to me that my heart was filled with love of her,
and that some sort of new-born manhood in Robert Etheridge Townsend was
enabling me to meet her big brown eyes unflinchingly.

"It wouldn't be sensible," she wavered.

I laughed at that. "Sensible! If there is one thing more absurd than
another in this very absurd world, it is common-sense. Be sensible and
you will be miserable, Avis, not to mention being disliked. Sensible!
Why, of course, it is not sensible. It is stark, rank, staring idiocy
for us two not to make a profitable investment of, we will say, our
natural endowments, when we come to marry. For what will Mrs. Grundy say
if we don't? Ah, what will she say, indeed? Avis, just between you and
me, I do not care a double-blank domino what Mrs. Grundy says. You will
obligingly remember that the car for the Hesperides is in the rear, and
that this is the third and last call. And in consequence--will you
marry me, Avis?"

She gave me her hand frankly, as a man might have done. "Yes, Robert,"
said Miss Beechinor, "and God helping us, we will make something better
of the future than we have of the past."

In the silence that fell, one might hear the birds. "Sweet, sweet,
sweet!" they twittered. "Can you see, can you see, can you see? Their
lips meet. It is sweet, sweet, sweet!"


 3

But, by and by, she questioned me. "Are you sure--quite sure," she
queried, wistfully, "that you wouldn't rather have me Margaret Hugonin,
the heiress?"

I raised a deprecatory hand. "Avis!" I reproached her; "Avis, Avis, how
little you know me! That was the solitary fly in the amber,--that I
thought I was to marry a woman named Margaret. For I am something of a
connoisseur in nomenclature, and Margaret has always--_always_--been my
pet detestation in the way of names."

"Oh, what a child you are!" she said.



27.

_He Calls, and Counsels, and Considers_


"I am now" said I, in my soul, "quite immeasurably, and insanely, and
unreasonably, and unadulteratedly happy. Why, of course I am."

This statement was advanced just two weeks later than the events
previously recorded. And the origin of it was the fact that I was now
engaged to Avis Beechinor though it was not as yet to be "announced";
just this concession alone had Mrs. Beechinor wrested from an indignant
and, latterly, a tearful interview.... For I had called at Selwoode, in
due form; and after leaving Mrs. Beechinor had been pounced upon by an
excited and comely little person in black.

"Don't you mind a word she said," this lady had exhorted, "because she
is _the_ Gadarene swine, and Avis has told me everything! Of course you
are to be married at once, and I only wish _I_ could find the only man
in the world who can keep me interested for four hours on a stretch and
send my pulse up to a hundred and make me feel those thrilly thrills
I've always longed for."

"But surely--" said I.

"No, I'm beginning to be afraid not, beautiful, though of course I used
to be crazy about Billy Woods; and then once I was engaged to another
man for a long time, and I was perfectly devoted to him, but he _never_
made me feel a single thrilly thrill. And would you believe it, Mr.
Townsend?--after a while he came back, precisely as though he had been a
bad penny or a cat. He had been in the Boer War and came home just a
night before I left, wounded and promoted several times and completely
covered with glory and brass buttons. He came seven miles to see me, and
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him, for I had on my best dress and was
feeling rather talkative. Well! at ten I was quite struck on him. At
eleven perfectly willing to part friends, and at twelve _crazy_ for him
to go. He stayed till half-past, and I didn't want to think of him for
days. And, by the way, I am Miss Hugonin, and I hope you and Avis will
be very happy. _Good-bye!_"

"Good-bye!" said I.


 2

And that, oddly enough, was the one private talk I ever had with the
Margaret Hugonin whom, for some two weeks, I had believed myself to be
upon the verge of marrying; for the next time I conversed with her alone
she was Mrs. William Woods.

"Oh, go away, Billy!" she then said, impatiently "How often will I have
to tell you it isn't decent to be always hanging around your wife? Oh,
you dear little crooked-necktied darling!"--and she remedied the fault
on tiptoe,--"_please_ run away and make love to somebody else, and be
sure to get her name right, so that I shan't assassinate the wrong
person,--because I want to tell this very attractive child all about
Avis, and not be bothered." And subsequently she did.

But I must not forestall her confidences, lest I get my cart even
further in advance of my nominal Pegasus than the loosely-made
conveyance is at present lumbering.


 3

And meanwhile Peter Blagden and I had called at Selwoode once or twice
in unison and due estate. And Peter considered "Miss Beechinor a damn
fine girl, and Miss Hugonin too, only--"

"Only," I prompted, between puffs, "Miss Hugonin keeps everybody, as my
old Mammy used to say, 'in a perpetual swivet.' I never understood what
the phrase meant, precisely, but I somehow always knew that it was
eloquent."

"Just so," said Peter. "You prefer--ah--a certain amount of
tranquillity. I haven't been abroad for a long while," said Mr. Blagden;
and then, after another meditative pause: "Now Stella--well, Stella was
a damn sight too good for me, of course--"

"She was," I affably assented.

"--and I'd be the very last man in the world to deny it. But still you
_do_ prefer--" Then Peter broke off short and said: "My God, Bob! what's
the matter?"

So I think I must have had the ill-taste to have laughed a little over
Mr. Blagden's magnanimity in regard to Stella's foibles. But I only
said: "Oh, nothing, Peter! I was just going to tell you that travelling
_does_ broaden the mind, and that you will find an overcoat
indispensable in Switzerland, and that during the voyage you ought to
keep in the open air as much as possible, and that you should give the
steward who waits on you at table at least ten shillings,--I was just
going to tell you, in fine, that you would be a fool to squander any
money on a guide-book, when I am here to give you all the necessary
pointers."

"But I didn't mean to go to Europe exactly," said Mr. Blagden; "--I just
meant to go abroad in a general sense. Any place would be abroad, you
know, where people weren't always remembering how rich you were, and
weren't scrambling to marry you out of hand, but really cared, you know,
like she does. Oh, may be it _is_ bad form to mention it, but I couldn't
help seeing how she looked at you, Bob. And it waked something--Oh, I
don't know what I mean," said Peter--"it's just damn foolishness,
I suppose."

"It's very far from that," I said; and I was honestly moved, just as I
always am when pathos, preferably grotesque, has caught me unprepared.
This millionaire was lonely, because of his millions, and Stella was
dead; and somehow I understood, and laid one hand upon his shoulder.

"Oh, _you_ can't help it, I suppose, if all women love by ordinary
because he is so like another person, where as men love because she is
so different. My poor caliph, I would sincerely advise you to play the
fool just as you plan to do,--oh, anywhere,--and without even a Mesrour.
In fine go Bunburying at once. For very frankly, First Cousin of the
Moon, it is the one thing worth while in life."

"I half believe I will," said Peter.... So he was packing in the interim
during which I pretended to be writing, and was in reality fretting to
think that, whilst Avis was in England by this, I could not decently
leave America until those last five chapters were finished. So, in part
as an excuse for not scrawling the dullest of nonsense and subsequently
tearing it up, I fell to considering the unquestionable fact that I was
in love with Avis, and upon the verge of marrying her, and was in
consequence, as a matter of plain logic, deliriously happy.

"For when you are in love with a woman you, of course, want to marry her
more than you want anything else. In nature, it is a serious and--well,
an almost irretrievable business. And I shall have to cultivate the
domestic virtues and smoke cheaper cigarettes and all that, but I shall
be glad to do every one of these things, for her sake--after a while. I
shall probably enjoy doing them."

And I read Bettie Hamlyn's letter for the seventeenth time....


 4

For Bettie had answered the wild rhapsody which I wrote to tell her how
much in love I was with Elena Barry-Smith. And in the nature of things I
had not written Bettie again to tell her I was, and by a deal the more,
in love with Avis Beechinor. The task was delicate, the reasons for my
not unnatural change were such as you must transmit in a personal
interview during which you are particularly boyish and talk very fast.

Besides, I do not like writing letters; and moreover, there was no real
need to write. I was going to Gridlington; what more natural than to
ride over to Fairhaven some clear morning and tell Bettie everything? I
pictured her surprise and her delight at seeing me, and reflected it
would be unfair to her to render an inaccurate account of matters, such
as any letter must necessarily give.

Only, first, there was the garden of Peter's aunt,--which sounds like
an introductory French exercise,--and then Avis came. And, somehow, I
had not, in consequence, traversed the scant nine miles that lay as yet
between me and Bettie Hamlyn. I kept on meaning to do it the next day.

And the next day after this I really did.

"For I ought to tell Bettie about everything," I reflected. "No matter
if the engagement is a secret, I ought to tell Bettie about it."


 5

When I had done so, Bettie shook her head. "Oh, Robin, Robin!" she said,
"how did I ever come to raise a child that doesn't know his own mind for
as much as two minutes? And how dared that Barry-Smith person to slap
you, I would like to know."

"Now you're jealous, Bettie. You are thinking she infringed upon an
entirely personal privilege, and you resent it."

"Well,--but I've the right to, you see, and she hadn't. I consider her
to be a bold-faced jig. And I don't approve of this Avis person either,
you understand; but we poor mothers are always being annoyed by slushy,
mushy Avises. I suppose there's a reason for it. She'll throw you over,
you know, as soon as _her_ mother has had an inning or two. That's why
she took her to Europe," Bettie explained, with a fine confusion of
personalities. "Only she just wanted any quiet place where she could
take aromatic spirits of ammonia and point out between doses that she
has given up her entire life to her child and has never made any demands
on her and hasn't the strength to argue with her, because her heart is
simply broken. We mothers always say that; and the funny part is that if
you say it often enough it invariably works far better than any possible
argument."

I told her she was talking nonsense, and she said, irrelevantly enough:
"Setebos, and Setebos, and Setebos! I don't think very highly of Setebos
sometimes, because He muddles things so. Oh, well, I shan't cry Willow.
Besides there _aren't_ any sycamore-trees in the garden. So let's go
into the garden, dear. That sounds as if I ate in the back pantry,
doesn't it? Of course you aren't of any account any more, and you never
will be, but at least you don't look at people as though they were a new
sort of bug whenever they have just thought a sentence or two and then
gone on, without bothering to say it."

So we went into Bettie's garden. It had not changed....


 6

Nothing had changed. It was as though I had somehow managed, after all,
to push back the hands of the clock. Fairhaven accepted me incuriously.
I was only "an old student." In addition, I was vaguely rumoured to
write "pieces" for the magazines. Probably I did; "old students" were
often prone to vagaries after leaving King's College; for instance, they
told me, Ralph Means was a professional gambler, and Ox Selwyn had
lately gone to Shanghai and had settled there,--and Shanghai, in common
with most other places, Fairhaven accorded the negative tribute of just
not absolutely disbelieving in its existence.

Nothing had changed. The Finals were over; and with the noisy exodus of
the college-boys, Fairhaven had sunk contentedly into an even deeper
stupor, as Fairhaven always does in summer. And, for the rest, the
unpaved sidewalks were just as dusty, the same deep ruts and the puddles
which never dry, not even in mid-August, adorned Fairhaven's single
street; the comfortable moss upon Fairhaven's roofs had not varied by a
shade; and George Washington or Benjamin Franklin might have stepped out
of any one of those brass-knockered doorways without incongruity and
without finding any noticeable innovation to marvel at.

Nothing had changed. In the precise middle of the campus Lord Penniston,
our Governor in Colonial days, still posed, in dingy marble; and the
fracture of the finger I had inadvertently broken off, the night that
Billy Woods and I painted the statue all over, in six colours, was white
and new-looking. Kathleen Eppes had married her Spaniard and had left
Fairhaven; otherwise the same girls were already planning their toilets
for the Y.M.C.A. reception in October, which formally presents the "new
students" to society at large; and presently these girls would be going
to the germans or the Opera House with the younger brother of the boy
who used to take them thither....

Nothing had changed; not even I was changed. For I had soon discovered
that Bettie Hamlyn did not care a pin for me in myself. She was simply
very fond of me because, at times, I reminded her of a boy who had gone
to King's College; and her reception of me, for the first two days, was
unmistakably provisional.

"Very well!" I said.

And I did it. For I knew how difficult it was to deceive Bettie, and in
consequence all my faculties rose to the challenge. I did not merely
mimic my former self, I was compelled, almost, to believe I was indeed
that former self, because not otherwise could I get Bettie Hamlyn's
toleration. Had I paused even momentarily to reflect upon the excellence
of my acting, she would have known. So I resolutely believed I was being
perfectly candid; and with constant use those older tricks of speech and
gesture and almost of thought, at first laborious mimicry, became
well-nigh involuntary.

In fine, we could not wipe away five years, but with practice we found
that you would very often forget them, and for quite a while....

I had explained to Bettie's father I was going to board with them that
summer. Had I not been so haphazard in the progress of this narrative, I
would have earlier announced that Bettie's father was the Latin
professor at King's College. He was very old and vague, and his general
attitude toward the universe was that of remote recollection of having
noticed something of the sort before. Professor Hamlyn, therefore, told
me he was glad to hear of my intended stay beneath his roof; hazarded
the speculation that I had written a book which he meant to read upon
the very first opportunity; blinked once or twice; and forthwith lapsed
into consideration of some Pliocene occurrence which, if you were to
judge by the expression of his mild old countenance, he did not find
entirely satisfactory....

So I spent three months in Fairhaven; and Bettie and I read all the old
books over again, and were perfectly happy.


 7

And what I wrote in those last five chapters of my book was so good that
in common decency I was compelled to alter the preceding twenty-nine and
bring them a bit nearer to Bettie's standard. For I was utilising
Bettie's ideas. She did not have the knack of putting them on paper;
that was my trivial part, as I now recognised with a sort of scared
reverence.

"Of course, though, you had to meddle," I would scold at her. "I had
meant the infernal thing to be a salable book. To-day it is just a
stenographic report of how these people elected to behave. I haven't
anything to do with it. I wash my hands of it. I consider you, in fine,
a cormorant, a conscienceless marauder, a meddlesome Mattie, _and_ a
born dramatist."

"But, it's _much_ better than anything you've ever done, Robin--"

"That is what I'm grumbling about. I consider it very unfeeling of you
to write better novels than I do," I retorted. "But, oh, how good that
scene is!" I said, a little later.

"Let's see--'For you, dear clean-souled girl, were born to be the wife
of a strong man, and the mother of his dirty children'--no, it's
'sturdy', but then you hardly ever cross your T's. And where he goes on
to tell her he can't marry her, because he is artistic, and she is too
practical for them to be real mates, and all that other
feeble-mindedness? Dear me, did I forget to tell you we were going to
cut that out?"

"But I particularly like that part--"

"Do you?" said Bettie, as her pen scrunched vicious lines through it.
Then she said: "I only hope she had the civility and self-control not to
laugh until you had gone away. And 'We irrelevant folk that design all
useless and beautiful things,' indeed! No, I couldn't have blamed her if
she laughed right out. I wonder if you will never understand that what
you take to be your love for beautiful things is really just a dislike
of ugly ones? Oh, I've no patience with you! And wanting to print it in
a book, too, instead of being content to make yourself ridiculous in
tete-a-tetes with minxes that don't especially matter!"

"Well--! Anyhow, I agree with you that, thanks to your editing and
carping and general scurrility, this book is going to be," I meekly
stated, "a little better than _The Apostates_ and not just 'pretty much
like any other book'."

"Do you know that's just what I was thinking," said Bettie, dolefully.
She clasped both hands behind her crinkly small black head, and in that
queer habitual pose appraised me, from between her elbows, in that way
which always made me feel I had better be careful. "Damn you!" was
her verdict.

"Whence this unmaidenliness?" I queried, with due horror.

"You are trying to prove to me that it has been worth while. This nasty
book is coming alive, here in our own eight-cornered room, with a horrid
crawly life of its own that it would never have had if you hadn't been
learning things my boy knew nothing about. That's what you are crowing
in my face, when you keep quiet and smirk. Oh, but I know you!"

"You do think, then, that, between you and me, it is really coming
alive?"

"Yes,--if that greatly matters to the fat literary gent that I don't
care for greatly. Yes, the infernal thing will be a Book, with quite a
sizable B. I am feeding its maw with more important things than a few
ideas, though. The thing is a monster that isn't worth its keep. For my
boy was worth more than a Book," she said, forlornly,--"oh,
oceans more!"


 8

All in all, we were a deal more than happy during these three very hot
months. It was a sort of Lotus Eaters' existence, shared by just us two,
with Josiah Clarriker intruding occasionally, and with echoes from the
outer world, when heard at all, resounding very dimly and unimportantly.
I began almost to assume, as Fairhaven tacitly assumed, that there was
really no outer world, or none at least to be considered seriously....

For instance: Marian Winwood had come to Lichfield, and wrote me from
there, "hoping that we would renew an acquaintance which she remembered
so pleasurably." It did not seem worth while, of course, to answer the
minx; I decided, at a pinch, to say that the Fairhaven mail-service was
abominable, and that her letter had never reached me. But the young
fellow who two years ago had wandered about the Green Chalybeate with
her had become, now, as unreal as she. I glimpsed the couple, with
immeasurable aloofness, as phantoms flickering about the mirage of a
brook, throwing ghostly bread crumbs to Lethean minnows.

And then, too, when the police caught Ned Lethbury that summer, it
hardly seemed worth while to wonder about his wife. For she was,
inexplicably, with him, all through the trial at Chiswick, you may
remember, though you were probably more interested at the time by the
Humbert trial in Paris. In any event, no rumor came to me in Fairhaven
to connect Amelia Lethbury with Nadine Neroni, but, instead, a deal of
journalistic pity and sympathy for her, the faithful, much-enduring
wife. Still quite a handsome woman, they said, for all her suffering and
poverty.... And when he went to the penitentiary, Amelia Lethbury
disappeared, nobody knew whither, except that I suspected Anton von
Anspach knew. I could not explain the mystery. I did not greatly care
to, for to me it did not seem important, now....


 9

Meantime, I meditated.

"I am in love with Avis--oh, granted! I am not the least bit in love
with--we will euphemistically say 'anyone else.' But confound it! I am
coming to the conclusion that marrying a woman because you happen to be
in love with her is about as logical a proceeding as throwing the cat
out of the window because the rhododendrons are in bloom. Why, if I
marry Avis I shall probably have to live with her the rest of my life!

"What if that obsolete notion of Schopenhauer's were true after
all,--that love is a blind instinct which looks no whit toward the
welfare of the man and woman it dominates, but only to the equipment a
child born of them would inherit? What if, after all, love tends,
without variation, to yoke the most incompatible in order that the
average type of humanity may be preserved? Then the one passion we
esteem as sacred would be simply the deranged condition of any other
beast in rutting-time. Then we, with the pigs and sparrows, would be
just so many pieces on the chess-board, and our evolutions would be just
a friendly trial of skill between what we call life and death.

"I love Avis Beechinor. But I have loved, in all sincerity, many other
women, and I rejoice to-day, unfeignedly, that I never married any of
them. For marriage means a life-long companionship, a long, long journey
wherein must be adjusted, one by one, each tiniest discrepancy between
the fellow-wayfarers; and always a pebble if near enough to the eye will
obscure a mountain.

"Why, Avis cannot attempt a word of four syllables without coming at
least once to grief! It is a trifle of course, but in a life-long
companionship there are exactly fourteen thousand trifles to one event
of importance. And deuce take it! the world is populated by men and
women, not demi-gods; the poets are specious and abandoned rhetoricians;
for it never was, and never will be, possible to love anybody 'to the
level of every-day's Most quiet need by sun or candlelight.'

"Or not to me at least.

"In a sentence, when it comes to a life-long companionship, I prefer not
the woman who would make me absolutely happy for a twelvemonth, but
rather the woman with whom I could chat contentedly for twenty years,
and who would keep me to the mark. I am rather tired of being futile;
and not for any moral reason, but because it is not worthy of _me_. In
fine, I do not want to die entirely. I want to leave behind some not
inadequate expression of Robert Etheridge Townsend, and I do not care at
all what people say of it, so that it is here when I am gone. Oh, Stella
understood! 'I want my life to count, I want to leave something in the
world that wasn't there before I came.'

"Now Bettie--"

I arose resolutely. "I had much better go for a long, and tedious, and
jolting, and universally damnable walk. Bettie would make something
vital of me--if I could afford her the material--"

And I grinned a little. "'Go, therefore, now, and work; for there shall
no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.' Yes,
you would certainly have need of a miracle, dear Bettie--"


 10

I started for that walk I was to take. But Dr. Jeal and Colonel Snawley
were seated in armchairs in front of Clarriker's Emporium, just as they
had been used to sit there in my college days, enjoying, as the Colonel
mentioned, "the cool of the evening," although to the casual observer
the real provider of their pleasure would have appeared to be an
unlimited supply of chewing-tobacco.

So I lingered here, and garnered, to an accompaniment of leisurely
expectorations, much knowledge as to the fall crops and the carryings-on
of the wife of a celebrated general, upon whose staff the Colonel had
served during the War,--and there has never been in the world's history
but one war, so far as Fairhaven is concerned,--and how the Colonel
walked right in on them, and how it was hushed up.

Then we discussed the illness of Pope Leo and what everybody knew about
those derned cardinals, and the riots in Evansville, and the Panama
Canal business, and the squally look of things at Port Arthur, and
attributed all these imbroglios, I think, to the Republican
administration. Even at our bitterest, though, we conceded that
"Teddy's" mother was a Bulloch, and that his uncle fired the last shot
before the Alabama went down. And that inclined us to forgive him
everything, except of course, the Booker Washington luncheon.

Then half a block farther on, Mrs. Rabbet wanted to know if I had ever
seen such weather, and to tell me exactly what Adrian, Junior--no longer
little Adey, no indeed, sir, but ready to start right in at the College
session after next, and as she often said to Mr. Rabbet you could hardly
believe it,--had observed the other day, and quick as a flash too,
because it would make such a funny story. Only she could never quite
decide whether it happened on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, so that, after
precisely seven digressions on this delicate point, the denouement of
the tale, I must confess, fell rather flat.

And then Mab Spessifer demanded that I come up on the porch and draw
some pictures for her. The child was waiting with three sheets of paper
and a chewed pencil all ready, just on the chance that I might pass; and
you cannot very well refuse a cripple who adores you and is not able to
play with the other brats. You get instead into a kind of habit of
calling every day and trying to make her laugh, because she is such a
helpless little nuisance.

And tousled mothers weep over you in passageways and tell you how good
you are, and altogether the entire affair is tedious; but having started
it, you keep it up, somehow.


 11

In fine, it is a symbol that I never took the walk which was to dust the
cobwebs from my brain and make me just like all the other persons, thick
about me, who grow up, and mate, and beget, and die, in the incurious
fashion of oxen, without ever wondering if there is any plausible reason
for doing it; and my brief progress was upon the surface very like that
of the bedeviled fellow in _Les Facheux_. Yet I enjoyed it somehow.
Never to be hurried, and always to stop and talk with every person whom
you meet, upon topics in which no conceivable human being could possibly
be interested, may not sound attractive, but in Fairhaven it is the
rule; and, oddly enough, it breeds, in practice, a sort of family
feeling,--if only by entitling everybody to the condoned and
matter-of-course stupidity of aunts and uncles,--which is not really all
unpleasant.

So I went home at half-past seven, to supper and to Bettie, in a quite
contented frame of mind. It did not seem conceivable that any world so
beautiful and stupid and well-meaning could have either the heart or the
wit to thwart my getting anything I really wanted; and the thought
elated me.

Only I did not know, precisely, what I wanted.



28.

_He Participates in Sundry Confidences_


I was in the act of writing to Avis when the letter came; and I put it
aside unopened, until after supper, for I had never found the letters of
Avis particularly interesting reading.

"It will be what they call a newsy letter, of course. I do wish that
Avis would not write to me as if she were under oath to tell the entire
truth. She communicates so many things which actually happened that it
reads like a 'special correspondent' in some country town writing for a
Sunday morning's paper,--and with, to a moral certainty, the word
'separate' lurking somewhere spelt with three E's, and an 'always' with
two L's, and at least one 'alright.' No, my dear, I am at present too
busy expressing my adoration for you to be exposed to such
inharmonious jars."

Then I wrote my dithyrambs and sealed them. Subsequently I poised the
unopened letter between my fingers.

"But remember that if she were here to _say_ all this to you, your
pulses would be pounding like the pistons of an excited locomotive!
Nature, you are a jade! I console myself with the reflection that it is
frequently the gift of facile writing which makes the co-respondent,
--but I _do_ wish you were not such a hazardous matchmaker. Oh, well!
there was no pleasant way of getting out of it, and that particular
Rubicon is miles behind."

I slit the envelope.

I read the letter through again, with redoubling interest, and presently
began to laugh. "So she begins to fear we have been somewhat hasty, asks
a little time for reconsideration of her precise sentiment toward me,
and feels meanwhile in honour bound to release me from our engagement!
Yet if upon mature deliberation--eh, oh, yes! twaddle! _and_
commonplace! and dashed, of course, with a jigger of Scriptural
quotation!"

I paused to whistle. "There is strange milk in this cocoanut, could I
but discern its nature."

I did, some four weeks later, when with a deal of mail I received the
last letter I was ever to receive from Avis Beechinor.

Wrote Avis:

DEAR ROBERT:

Thank you very much for returning my letters and for the beautiful
letter you wrote me. No I believe it better you should not come on to
see me now and talk the matter over as you suggest because it would
probably only make you unhappy. And then too I am sure some day you will
be friends with me and a very good and true one. I return the last
letter you sent me in a seperate envelope, and I hope it will reach you
alright, but as I destroy all my mail as soon as I have read it I cannot
send you the others. I have promised to marry Mr. Blagden and we are
going to be married on the fifteenth of this month very quietly with no
outsiders. So good bye Robert. I wish you every success and happiness
that you may desire and with all my heart I pray you to be true to your
better self. God bless you allways. Your sincere friend,

AVIS M. BEECHINOR

I indulged in a low and melodious whistle. "The little slut!"

Then I said: "Peter Blagden again! I _do_ wish that life would try to be
a trifle more plausible. Why, but, of course! Peter meant to go chasing
after her the minute my back was turned, and that was why he salved his
conscience by presenting me with that thousand 'to get married on,' Even
at the time it seemed peculiarly un-Petrine. Well, anyhow, in simple
decency, he cannot combine the part of Shylock with that of Judas, and
expect to have back his sordid lucre, so I am that much to the good,
apart from everything else. Yes, I can see how it all happened,--and I
can foresee what is going to happen, too, thank heaven!"

For, as drowning men are said to recollect the unrecallable, I had
vividly seen in that instant the two months' action just overpast, and
its three participants,--the thin-lipped mother, the besotted
millionaire, and the girl shakily hesitant between ideals and the habits
of a life-time.

"But I might have known the mother would win," I reflected: "Why, didn't
Bettie say she would?"

I refolded the letter I had just read, to keep it as a salutary relic;
and then:

"Dear Avis!" said I; "now heaven bless your common-sense! and I don't
especially mind if heaven blesses your horrific painted hag of a mother,
also, if they've a divine favor or two to spare."

And I saw there was a letter from Peter Blagden, too. It said, in part:

I am everything that you think me, Bob. My one defence is that I could
not help it. I loved her from the moment I saw her ... You did not
appreciate her, you know. You take, if you will forgive my saying it,
too light a view of life to value the love of a good woman properly, and
Avis noticed it of course. Now I do understand what the unselfish love
of woman means, because my first wife was an angel, as you know ... It
is a comfort to think that my dear saint in heaven knows I am not quite
so lonely now, and is gladdened by that knowledge. I know she would have
wished it--

I read no further. "Oh, Stella! they have all forgotten. They all insist
to-day that you were an angel, and they have come almost to believe that
you habitually flew about the world in a night-gown, with an Easter lily
in your hand--But I remember, dear. I know you'd scratch her eyes out. I
know you'd do it now, if only you were able, because you loved this
Peter Blagden."

Thereafter I must have wasted a full quarter of an hour in recalling all
sorts of bygone unimportant happenings, and I was not bothering one way
or the other about Avis ...


 3

In the moonlighted garden I found Bettie. But with her was Josiah
Clarriker, Fairhaven's leading business-man. He shook hands, and
whatever delight he may have felt at seeing me was admirably controlled.

"Now don't let me interfere with your eloquence," I urged, "but go right
on with the declamation."

"I make no pretension to eloquence, Mr. Townsend. I was merely recalling
to Miss Hamlyn's attention the beautiful lines of our immortal poet,
Owen Meredith, which run, as I remember them:

  "'I thought of the dress she wore that time
    That we stood under the cypress-tree together,
  In that land, in that clime,
    And I turned and looked, and she was sitting there
  In the box next to the stage, and dressed
    In that muslin dress, with that full soft hair
  And that jessamine blossom at her breast.'"

"But I am not permitted to wear flowers when Mr. Townsend is about,"
said Bettie. "Did you know, Jo, that he is crazy about that too?"

"Well--! Anyhow, Meredith is full of very beautiful sentiments," said
Mr. Clarriker, "and I have always been particularly fond of that piece.
It is called _'Ox Italians.'_"

"Yes, I have been previously affected by it," said I, "and very deeply
moved."

"And so--as I was about to observe, Miss Hamlyn,--you will notice that
the poet Meredith gowned one of the most beautiful characters he ever
created in white, and laid great stress upon the fact that her beauty
was immeasurably enhanced by the dainty simplicity of her muslin dress.
This fabric, indeed, suits all types of faces and figures, and is
Economical too, especially the present popular mercerised waistings and
vestings that are fast invading the realm of silks. We show at our
Emporium an immense quantity of these beautiful goods, in more than a
hundred styles, elaborate enough for the most formal occasions, at fifty
and seventy-five cents a yard; and--as I was about to observe, Miss
Hamlyn,--I would indeed esteem it a favour should you permit me to send
up a few samples to-morrow, from which to make a selection at, I need
not add, my personal expense.

"You see, Mr. Townsend," he continued, more inclusively, "we have no
florists in Fairhaven, and I have heard that candy--" He talked on,
hygienically now....


 4

"And that," said I, when Mr. Clarriker had gone, "is what you are
actually considering! I have always believed Dickens invented that man
to go into one of the latter chapters of _Edwin Drood_. It is the
solitary way of explaining certain people,--that they were invented by
some fagged novelist who unfortunately died before he finished the book
they were to be locked up in. As it was, they got loose, to annoy you by
their incredibility. No actual human being, you know, would suggest a
white shirtwaist as a substitute for a box of candy."

"Oh, I have seen worse," said Bettie, as in meditation. "It's just Jo's
way of expressing the fact that I am stupendously beautiful in white.
Poor dear, my loveliness went to his head, I suppose, and got tangled
with next week's advertisement for the _Gazette_. Anyhow, he is a deal
more considerate than you. For instance, I was crazy to go to the show
on Tuesday night, and Josiah Clarriker was the only person who thought
to ask me, even though he is one of those little fireside companions who
always get so syrupy whenever they take you anywhere that you simply
can't stand it. The combination both prevented my acceptance and
accentuated his devotion; and quite frankly, Robin, I am thinking of
him, for at bottom Jo is a dear."

I laid one hand on each of Bettie's shoulders; and it was in my mind at
the time that this was the gesture of a comrade, and had not any sexual
tinge at all. I wished that Bettie had better teeth, of course, but that
could not be helped.

"You are to marry me as soon as may be possible," said I, "and
preferably to-morrow afternoon. Avis has thrown me over, God bless her,
and I am free,--until of course you take charge of me. There was a
clever woman once who told me I was not fit to be the captain of my
soul, though I would make an admirable lieutenant. She was right. It is
understood you are to henpeck me to your heart's content and to my
ultimate salvation."

"I shall assuredly not marry you," observed Miss Hamlyn, "until you have
at least asked me to do so. And besides, how dared she throw
you over--!"

"But I don't intend to ask you, for I have not a single bribe to offer.
I merely intend to marry you. I am a ne'er-do-well, a debauchee, a
tippler, a compendium of all the vices you care to mention. I am not a
bit in love with you, and as any woman will forewarn you, I am sure to
make you a vile husband. Your solitary chance is to bully me into
temperance and propriety and common-sense, with precisely seven million
probabilities against you, because I am a seasoned and accomplished
liar. Can you do that bullying, Bettie,--and keep it up, I mean?"

And she was silent for a while. "Robin," she said, at last, "you'll
never understand why women like you. You will always think it is because
they admire you for some quality or another. It is really because they
pity you. You are such a baby, riding for a fall--No, I don't mean the
boyishness you trade upon. I have known for a long while all that was
just put on. And, oh, how hard you've tried to be a boy of late!"

"And I thought I had fooled you, Bettie! Well, I never could. I am
sorry, though, if I have been annoyingly clumsy--"

"But you were doing it for me," she said. "You were doing it because you
thought I'd like it. Oh, can't you understand that I _know_ you are
worthless, and that you have never loved any human being in all your
life except that flibbertigibbet Stella Blagden, and that I know, too,
you have so rarely failed me! If you were an admirable person, or a
person with commendable instincts, or an unselfish person, or if you
were even in love with me, it wouldn't count of course. It is because
you are none of these things that it counts for so much to see you
honest with me--sometimes,--and even to see you scheming and
play-acting--and so transparently!--just to bring about a little
pleasure for me. Oh, Robin, I am afraid that nowadays I love you
_because_ of your vices!"

"And I you because of your virtues," said I; "so that there is no
possible apprehension of either affection ever going into bankruptcy.
Therefore the affair is settled; and we will be married in November."

"Well," Bettie said, "I suppose that somebody has to break you of this
habit of getting married next November--"

Then, and only then, my hands were lifted from her shoulders. And we
began to talk composedly of more impersonal matters.


 5

It was two days later that John Charteris came to Fairhaven; and I met
him the same afternoon upon Cambridge street. The little man stopped
short and in full view of the public achieved what, had he been a child,
were most properly describable as making a face at me.

"That," he explained, "expresses the involuntary confusion of Belial on
re-encountering the anchorite who escaped his diabolical machinations.
But, oh, dear me! haven't you been translated yet? Why, I thought the
carriage would have called long ago, just as it did for Elijah."

"Now, don't be an ass, John. I _was_ rather idiotic, I suppose--"

"Of course you were," he said, as we shook hands. "It is your unfailing
charm. You silly boy, I came from the pleasantest sort of house-party at
Matocton because I heard you were here, and I have been foolish enough
to miss you. Anne and the others don't arrive until October. Oh, you
adorable child, I have read the last book, and every one of the short
stories as well, and I want to tell you that in their own peculiar line
the two volumes are masterpieces. Anne wept and chuckled over them, and
so did I, with an equal lack of restraint; only it was over the noble
and self-sacrificing portions that Anne wept, and she laughed at the
places where you were droll intentionally. Whereas I--!! Well, we will
let the aposiopesis stand."

"Of course," I sulkily observed, "if you have simply come to Fairhaven
to make fun of me, I can only pity your limitations."

He spoke in quite another voice. "You silly boy, it was not at all for
that. I think you must know I have read what you have published thus far
with something more than interest; but I wanted to tell you this in so
many words. _Afield_ is not perhaps an impeccable masterwork, if one may
be thus brutally frank; but the woman--modeled after discretion will not
inquire whom,--is distinctly good. And what, with you only twenty-five,
does _A field_ not promise! Child, you have found your metier. Now I
shall look forward to the accomplishment of what I have always felt sure
that you could do. I am very, very glad. More so than I can say. And I
had thought you must know this without my saying it."

The man was sincere. And I was very much pleased, and remembered what
invaluable help he could give me on my unfinished book, and what fun it
would be to go over the manuscript with him. And, in fine, we became
again, upon the spot as it were, the very best of friends.


 6

It was excellent to have Charteris to talk against. The little man had
many tales to tell me of those dissolute gay people we had known and
frolicked with; indeed, I think that he was trying to allure me back to
the old circles, for he preoccupied his life by scheming to bring about
by underhand methods some perfectly unimportant consummation, which very
often a plain word would have secured at once. But now he swore he was
not "making tea."

That had always been a byword between us, by the way, since I applied to
him the phrase first used of Alexander Pope--"that he could not make tea
without a conspiracy." And it may be that in this case Charteris spoke
the truth, and had come to Fairhaven just for the pleasure of seeing me,
for certainly he must have had some reason for leaving the Musgraves'
house-party so abruptly.

"You are very well rid of the Hardresses," he adjudged. "Did I tell you
of the male one's exhibition of jealousy last year! I can assure you
that the fellow now entertains for me precisely the same affection I
have always borne toward cold lamb. It is the real tragedy of my life
that Anne is ethically incapable of letting a week pass without
partaking of a leg of mutton. She is not particularly fond of it, and
indeed I never encountered anybody who was; she has simply been reared
with the notion that 'people' always have mutton once a week. What, have
you never noticed that with 'people,' to eat mutton once a week is a
sort of guarantee of respectability? I do not refer to chops of course,
which are not wholly inconsistent with depravity. But the ability to eat
mutton in its roasted form, by some odd law of nature, connotes the
habit of paying your pew-rent regularly and of changing your flannels on
the proper date. However, I was telling you about Jasper Hardress--" And
Charteris repeated the story of their imbroglio in such a fashion that
it sounded farcical.

"But, after all, John, you _did_ make love to her."

"I have forgotten what was exactly the last observation of the lamented
Julius Caesar," Mr. Charteris leisurely observed,--"though I remember
that at the time it impressed me as being uncommonly appropriate--But to
get back: do you not see that this clause ought to come here, at the end
of the sentence? And, child, on all my ancient bended knees, I implore
you to remember that 'genuine' does not mean the same thing as
'real'...."


 7

Meanwhile he and Bettie got on together a deal better than I had ever
anticipated.

Charteris, though, received my confidence far too lightly. "You are
going to marry her! Why, naturally! Ever since I encountered you, you
have been 'going to marry' somebody or other. It is odd I should have
written about the Foolish Prince so long before I knew you. But then,
_I_ helped to mould you--a little--"

And resolutely Bettie said the most complimentary things about him. But
I trapped her once.

"Still," I observed, when he had gone, and she had finished telling me
how delightful Mr. Charteris was, "still he shan't ever come to _our_
house, shall he?"

"Why, of course not!" said Bettie, who was meditating upon some cosmic
question which required immediate attention. And then she grew very
angry and said, "Oh, you _dog!_" and threw a sofa-cushion at me.

"I hate that wizened man," she presently volunteered, "more bitterly
than I do any person on earth. For it was he who taught you to adopt
infancy as a profession. He robbed me. And Setebos permitted it. And now
you are just a man I am going to marry--Oh, well!" said Bettie, more
sprightlily, "I was getting on, and you are rather a dear even in that
capacity. Only I wonder what _becomes_ of all the first choices?"

"They must keep them for us somewhere, Bettie dear. And that is probably
the explanation of everything."

And a hand had snuggled into mine. "You do understand without having to
have it all spelt out for you. And that's a comfort, too. But, oh," said
Bettie, "what a wasteful Setebos it is!"



29.

_He Allows the Merits of Imperfection_


I was quite contented now and assured as to the future. I foreknew the
future would be tranquil and lacking in any particular excitement, and I
had already ceded, in anticipation, the last tittle of mastery over my
own actions; but Bettie would keep me to the mark, would wring--not
painlessly perhaps--from Robert Townsend the very best there was in him;
and it would be this best which, unalloyed, would endure, in what I
wrote. I had never imagined that, for the ore, smelting was an agreeable
process; so I shrugged, and faced my future contentedly.

One day I said, "To-morrow I must have holiday. There are certain things
that need burying, Bettie dear, and--it is just the funeral of my youth
I want to go to."

"So it is to-morrow that we go for an admiring walk around our
emotions!" Bettie said. She knew well enough of what event to-morrow was
the anniversary, and it is to her credit she added: "Well, for this
once--!" For of all the women whom I had loved, there was but one that
Bettie Hamlyn had ever bothered about. And to-morrow was Stella's
birthday, as I had very unconcernedly mentioned a few moments earlier,
when I was looking for the Austin Dobson book, and had my back turned
to Bettie.


 2

Next day, in Cedarwood, a woman in mourning--in mourning fluffed and
jetted and furbelowed in such pleasing fashion that it seemed
flamboyantly to demand immediate consolation of all marriageable
males,--viewed me with a roving eye as I heaped daffodils on Stella's
grave. They had cost me a pretty penny, too, for this was in September.
But then I must have daffodils, much as I loathe the wet, limp feel o.
them, because she would have chosen daffodils.... Well! I fancied this
woman thought me sanctioned by both church and law in what I did,--and
viewed me in my supposedly recent bereavement and gauged my
potentialities,--viewed me, in short, with the glance of adventurous
widowhood.

My faith (I meditated) if she knew!--if I could but speak my thought to
her!

"Madam,"--let us imagine me, my hat raised, my voice grave,--"the woman
who lies here was a stranger to me. I did not know her. I knew that her
eyes were blue, that her hair was sunlight, that her voice had pleasing
modulations; but I did not know the woman. And she cared nothing for me.
That is why my voice shakes as I tell you of it. And I have brought her
daffodils, because of all flowers she loved them chiefly, and because
there is no one else who remembers this. It is the flower of spring, and
Stella--for that was her name, madam,--died in the spring of the year,
in the spring of her life; and Stella would have been just twenty-six
to-day. Oh, and daffodils, madam, are all white and gold, even as that
handful of dust beneath us was all white and gold when we buried it with
a flourish of crepe and lamentation, some two years and five months ago.
Yet the dust there was tender flesh at one time, and it clad a brave
heart; but we thought of it--and I among the rest,--as a plaything with
which some lucky man might while away his leisure hours. I believe now
that it was something more. I believe--ah, well, my _credo_ is of little
consequence. But whatever this woman may have been, I did not know her.
And she cared nothing for me."

I reflected I would like to do it. I could imagine the stare, the
squawk, the rustling furbelows, as madam fled from this grave madman.
She would probably have me arrested.

You see I had come to think differently of Stella. At times I remembered
her childish vanity, her childish, morbid views, her childish gusts of
petulance and anger and mirth; and I smiled,--oh, very tenderly, yet
I smiled.

Then would awake the memory of Stella and myself in that ancient
moonlight and of our first talk of death--two infants peering into
infinity, somewhat afraid, and puzzled; of Stella making tea in the
firelight, and prattling of her heart's secrets, half-seriously, half in
fun; and of Stella striving to lift a very worthless man to a higher
level and succeeding--yes, for the time, succeeding; and of Stella dying
with a light heart, elate with dreams of Peter Blagden's future and of
"a life that counted"; and of what she told me at the very last. And,
irrationally perhaps, there would seem to be a sequence in it all, and I
could not smile over it, not even tenderly.

And I would depicture her, a foiled and wistful little wraith, very
lonely in eternity, and a bit regretful of the world she loved and of
its blundering men, and unhappy,--for she could never be entirely happy
without Peter,--and I feared, indignant. For Stella desired very
heartily to be remembered--she was vain, you know,--and they have all
forgotten. Yes, I am sure that even as a wraith, Stella would be
indignant, for she had a fine sense of her own merits.

"But I am just a little butterfly-woman," she would say, sadly; then,
with a quick smile, "Aren't I?" And her eyes would be like stars--like
big, blue stars,--and afterward her teeth would glint of a sudden, and
innumerable dimples would come into being, and I would know she was
never meant to be taken seriously....

But we must avoid all sickly sentiment.

You see the world had advanced since Stella died,--twice around the sun,
from solstice to solstice, from spring to winter and back again,
travelling through I forget how many millions of miles; and there had
been wars and scandals and a host of debutantes and any number of
dinners; and, after all, the world is for the living.

So we of Lichfield agreed unanimously that it was very sad, and spoke of
her for a while, punctiliously, as "poor dear Stella"; and the next week
Emily Van Orden ran away with Tom Whately; and a few days later Alicia
Wade's husband died, and we debated whether Teddy Anstrother would do
the proper thing or sensibly marry Celia Reindan: and so, a little by a
little, we forgot our poor, dear Stella in precisely the decorous
graduations of regret with which our poor dear Stella would have
forgotten any one of us.

Yes, even those who loved her most deeply have forgotten Stella. They
remember only an imaginary being who was entirely perfect, and of whom
they were not worthy. It is this fictitious woman who has usurped the
real Stella's place in the heart of the real Stella's own mother, and
whom even Lizzie d'Arlanges believes to have been once her sister, and
over whom Peter Blagden is always ready to grow maudlin; and it is this
immaculate woman--who never existed,--that will be until the end of
Avis' matrimonial existence the standard by which Avis is measured and
found wanting. And thus again the whirligig of time, by an odd turn,
brings in his revenges.

And I? Well, I was very fond of Stella. And the woman they speak of
to-day, in that hushed, hateful, sanctimonious voice, I must confess I
never knew. And of all persons I chiefly rage against that faultless
angel, that "poor dear Stella," who has pilfered even the paltry tribute
of being remembered from the Stella that to-day is mine alone. For it is
to this fictitious person that the people whom my Stella loved, as she
did not love me, now bring their flowers; and it was to this person they
erected their pompous monument,--nay, more, it was for this atrocious
woman they ordered the very coffin in which my Stella lay when I last
saw her. And it is not fair.

And I? Well, I was very fond of Stella. It would be good to have her
back,--to have her back to jeer at me, to make me feel red and
uncomfortable and ridiculous, to say rude things about my waist, and
indeed to fluster me just by being there. Yes, it would be good. But,
upon the whole, I am not sorry that Stella is gone.

For there is Peter Blagden to be considered. We can all agree to-day
that Peter is a good fellow, that he is making the most of his Uncle
Larry's money, and that he is nobody's enemy but his own; and we have
smugly forgotten the time when we expected him to become a great lawyer.
We do not expect that of Peter now; instead, we are content
enough--particularly since Peter has so admirably dressed his part by
taking to longish hair and gruffness and a cane,--to point him out to
strangers in Lichfield as "one of our wealthiest men," and to elect him
to all civic committees, and to discuss his semi-annual sprees and his
monetary relations with various women whom one does not "know." And the
present Mrs. Blagden, too, appears content enough.

And as Stella loved him--

Well, as it was, Peter was then off on his honeymoon, and there was only
I to bring the daffodils to Stella. She was always vain, was Stella; it
would have grieved her had no one remembered.


 3

Then I caught the afternoon train for Fairhaven, and went back to my
capable fiancee.

But I walked over to Willoughby Hall that night and found Charteris
alone in his queer library, among the serried queer books and the
portraits of his "literary creditors." When I came into the apartment he
was mending a broken tea-cup, for he peculiarly delighted in such
infinitesimal task-work; but the vexed countenance at once took on the
fond young look my coming would invariably provoke, and he shoved aside
the fragments....

We talked of trifles; apropos of nothing, Charteris said, "Yes,--but,
then, I devoted the morning to drawing up my will." And I laughed over
such forethought.

The man rose and with clenched fist struck upon the littered table. "It
is in the air. I swear to you that, somehow, _I_ have been warned. But
always I have been favoured--Why, man, I protest that never in my life
have I encountered any person in associating with whom I did not
condescend, with reason to back me! Yet today Death stands within arm's
reach, and I have accomplished--some three or four little books! And
yet--why, _Ashtaroth's Lackey_, now--Yes, by God! it is perfected speech
such as few other men have ever written. I know it, and I do not care at
all even though you piteous dullards should always lack the wit to
recognise and revere perfected speech when it confronts you. But
presently I die! and there is nothing left of me save the inefficient
testimony of those three or four little books!"

I patted his shoulder and protested he had over-worked himself.

"Eh, well," he said, and with that easy laugh I knew of old; "in any
event, I have been thinking for a whole two hours of my wife, and of how
from the very beginning I have utilised her, and of how good and
credulous she is, and of how happy I have made her--! For I have made
her happy. That is the preposterous part of it--"

"Why, yes; Anne loves you very dearly. Oh, I think that everybody is
irrationally fond of you, John. No, that is not a compliment, it is
rather the reverse. It is simply an instance of what I have been
brooding over all this afternoon,--that we like people on account of
their good qualities and love them on account of their defects. I
honestly believe that the cornerstone of affection is the agreeable
perception of our superiority in some one point, at least, to the
beloved. And that is why so many people are fond of you, I think."

He laughed a little. "And _de te fabula_--Yet I would distinguish. You
think me a futile person and not, as we will put it, a disastrously
truthful person, and so on through the entire list of all those
so-called vices which are really just a habit of not doing this or that
particular thing. Well! it is no longer _a la mode_ to talk about
God,--yet I must confess to an old-fashioned faith in our Author's
existence and even in His amiability. I believe He placed me in this
colourful world, and that He is not displeased because I have spent
therein some forty-odd years pleasurably. Then too I have not wasted
that pleasure, I have philanthropically passed it on. I have bequeathed
posterity the chance to spend an enjoyable half-hour or so over one or
two little books. That is not much to claim, but it is something."

John Charteris was talking to himself now.

"Had I instead the daily prayers of seven orphans, or the proud
consciousness of having always been afraid to do what I wanted
to,--which I take to be the universally accredited insurance of a
blissful eternity,--or even a whole half-column with portrait in the New
York papers to indicate what a loss my premature demise had been to
America,--or actually all three together, say, to exhibit as the
increment of this period, I honestly cannot imagine any of the more
intelligent archangels lining up to cheer my entry into Paradise. I
believe, however, that to be contented, to partake of the world's
amenities with moderation as a sauce, and to aggrieve no fellow-being,
except in self-protection, and to make other people happy as often as
you find it possible, is a recipe for living that will pass muster even
in heaven. There you have my creed; and it may not be impeccable, but I
believe in it."

"You have forgotten something," I said, with a grin. "'One must not
think too despondently nor too often of the grim Sheriff who arrives
anon to dispossess you, no less than all the others, nor of any
subsequent and unpredictable legal adjustments.' See, here it is, your
own words printed in the book."

"Dear me, did I say that? How nicely phrased it is! Well! you and I have
defiantly preserved the gallant attitude in an era not very favorable
thereto. And we seem to prosper--as yet--"

"But certainly! We are the highly exceptional round pegs that flourish
like green bay-trees in a square hole," I summed it up. "Presently of
course our place knoweth us not. But in the mean while--well, as it
happens, I was recalling to-day how adroitly I scaled the summit of
human wisdom when I was only fourteen. For I said then, 'You can have a
right good time first, any way, if you keep away from ugly things and
fussy people.' And at twenty-five I stick to it."

"I wonder now if it is not at a price?" said Charteris, rather
mirthlessly. "Either way, you have as yet the courage of the
unconvicted. And you have managed, out of it all, to get together the
makings of an honest book. I do not generally believe in heaping
flattery upon young authors, but if I had written that last book of
yours it would not grieve me. Even so, I wonder--? But it is dreary
here, in this old house, with all my wife's high-minded ancestors
chilling the air. Come, let us concoct some curious sort of drink."

I looked at him compassionately. "And have Bettie staying up to let me
in and smelling it on me! You must be out of your head."

And then Charteris laughed and derided me, and afterward we chatted for
a good two hours,--quite at random, and disposing of the most important
subjects, as was our usage when in argument, in a half-sentence.

It was excellent to have Charteris to talk against, and I enjoyed it.
Taking him by and large, I loved the little fellow as I have loved no
other man.



30.

_He Gilds the Weather-Vane_


But I would not go along with Charteris the next morning when he came by
the Hamlyns' on his way to King's College. I could not, because I was
labouring over a batch of proof-sheets; and as I laboured my admiration
for the very clever young man who had concocted this new book augmented
comfortably; so that I told Charteris he was a public nuisance, and
please to go to Tillietudlem.

He had procured the key to the Library,--for the College had not opened
as yet,--and meant to borrow an odd volume or so of Lucian. Charteris
had evolved the fantastic notion of treating Lucian's Zeus as a tragic
figure. He sketched a sympathetic picture of the fallen despot, and of
the smokeless altars, girdled by a jeering rabble of so-called
philosophers, and of how irritating it must be to anybody to have your
actual existence denied. Did I not see the pathos of poor Zeus's
situation with the god business practically "cornered," and the Jews
getting all the trade?

I informed him that the only pathos in life just at present was my
inability to disprove, in default of abolishing, the existence of people
who bothered me when I was busy. So Charteris went away, just as Byam
brought the mail from the post-office.


 2

There were two cheques from magazines. Life was very pleasant, in a
quiet uneventful world. The _Fairhaven Gazette_ for the week had come,
too, to indicate that, as usual, nothing of grave import was happening
in an agreeably monotonous world. True, the Bulgarians were issuing an
appeal to civilization on the ground that they objected to being
massacred, and cyclones were wrecking towns and killing quite a number
of persons in Florida, and the strikes in Colorado were leading to
divers homicides; but in Fairhaven these things did not seem to matter.
And so the front page of the _Gazette_ was, rightfully, reserved for
Plans of the College for the Session of 1903-4....

I looked again. The President was explaining that he had intended no
discourtesy to Sir Thomas Lipton by declining to attend the
Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club dinner; Major Delmar had failed to beat
Lou Dillon's time, on the same track; the National Dressmakers'
Association had declared that the kangaroo walk and Gibson shoulders
would shortly be eschewed by all really fashionable women; and these
matters were more interesting, of course, but certainly no cause for
excitement. Well, I reflected, no news was good news proverbially; and I
was content to let the axiom pass.

In fine, there was nothing to worry over anywhere. And the book was
going to be good, quite astonishingly good....

And yonder Bettie waited for me, and I could hear the piano that
proclaimed she was not idle. I was ineffably content; and at ease within
a rather kindly universe, taking it by and large....

"Quite a nice Setebos, after all! a big, fine generous-hearted fellow,
who doesn't bother to keep accounts to the last penny. I heartily
approve of Setebos, and Bettie ought not to rag Him so. She would think
it tremendously nice and boyish of me if I were to go impulsively and
tell her something like that--"

So I decided I had worked quite long enough.


 3

But as I reached out toward the portieres, a man came into the room,
entering from the hall-way. And I gave a little whistling sound of
astonishment and hastened to him with extended hand.

"My dear fellow," I began; "why, have you dropped from the moon?"

"They--they told me you were here," said Jasper Hardress, and paused to
moisten his lips. "My wife died, yonder in Montana, ten days ago last
Thursday,--yes, it was on a Tuesday she died, I think."

And I was silent for a breathing-space. "Yes?" I said, at last; for I
had seen the shining thing in Jasper Hardress's hand, and I was
wondering now why he had pocketed the toy, and for how long.

"It was of a fever she died. She was delirious,--oh, quite three days.
And she talked in her delirium."

I began to smile; it was like witnessing a play. "Yonder is Bettie and
my one chance of manhood; and blind chance, just the machination of a
tiny microbe, entraps me as I tread toward all this. I was wrong about
Setebos. Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven."

I said, aloud: "Well, Hardress, you wouldn't have me dispute the
veracity of a lady?"

But the man did not appear to hear me. "Oh, it was very horrible," he
said. "Oh, I would like you, first of all, to comprehend how horrible it
was. She was always calling--no, not calling exactly, but just moaning
one name, and over and over again. He had been so cruel, she said. He
didn't really care for anything, she said, except to write his hateful
books. And I had loved her, you understand. And for three whole days I
must sit there and hear her tell of what another man had meant to her! I
have not been wholly sane, I think, since then, for I had loved her for
a long time. And her throat was so little that I often thought how easy
it would be to stop the moaning and talking, but somehow I did not like
to do it. And it isn't my honour that I mean to avenge. It is Gillian
that I must avenge,--Gillian who died because a coward had robbed her of
the will to live. For it was that in chief. Why, even you must
understand that," he said, as though he pleaded with me.

And yonder Bettie played,--with lithe fingers which caressed the keys
rather than struck them, I remembered. And always at the back of my mind
some being that was not I was taking notes as to how unruffled the man
was; and I smiled a little, in recognition of the air, as Bettie began
_The Funeral March of a Marionette_....

"Yes," I said; "I think I understand. There is something to be advanced
upon the other side perhaps; but that scarcely matters. You act within
your rights; and, besides, you have a pistol, and I haven't. I am
getting afraid, though, Jasper. I can't stand this much longer. So for
God's sake, make an end of this!"

Jasper Hardress said: "I mean to. But they told me he was here? Yes, I
am sure that someone told me he was here."

I think I must have reeled a little. I know my brain was working
automatically. Gillian Hardress had always called me Jack; and Jasper
Hardress was past reason; and yonder was Bettie, who had made life too
fine and dear a thing to be relinquished....

"Jasper," someone was saying, and that someone seemed to laugh, "we
aren't living in the Middle Ages, remember. No, just as I said, I cannot
stand this nonsense any longer, and you must make an end of this
foolishness. Just on a bare suspicion--just on the ravings of a
delirious woman--! Why, she used to call _me_ Jack,--and I write
books--Why, you might just as logically murder _me_!"

"I thought at first it was you. Oh, only for a moment, boy. I was not
quite sane, I think, for at first I suspected you of such treachery as
in my sober senses I know you never dreamed of. And I had forgotten you
were just a child--But she was conscious at the end," said Jasper
Hardress, "and when I--talked with her about what she had said in
delirium, she told me it was Charteris whose son we christened Jasper
Hardress some two years ago--"

I said: "I never knew there was a child." But I was thinking of a
hitherto unaccounted-for photograph.

"He only lived three months. I had always wanted a son. You cannot fancy
how proud I was of him." Hardress laughed here.

"And she told you it was Charteris! in the moment of death when--when
you were threatening me, she told you it was Charteris!"

"It is different when you are dying. You see--Gillian knew that eternity
depended on what she said to me then--" He spoke as with difficulty, and
he kept licking at restless lips.

"Yes,--she did believe that. And she told you--!" I comprehended how
Gillian Hardress had loved me, and my shame was such that now it was the
mere brute will to live which held me. But it held me, none the less.
Besides, I saw the least unpleasant solution.

"I suppose I can't blame you," I said,--"for if she told you, why, of
course--" Then I barked out: "He was here a moment ago. You must have
come around one corner, in fact, just as he turned the other. You will
find him at Willoughby Hall, I suppose. He said he was going
straight home."

For I knew that Charteris was at King's College, a mile away from
Willoughby Hall; and, I assured myself, there would be ample time to
warn him. Only how much must now depend upon the diverting qualities of
Lucian! For should the Samosatan flag in interest, John would be leaving
the College presently; and there is but one street in Fairhaven.


 4

I had my hand upon the garden-gate, and Hardress had just turned the
corner below, going toward Cambridge Street, when Bettie came upon
the porch.

"Well," she said, "and who's your fat friend, Mr. Sheridan?"

"I can't stop now, dear. I forgot to tell John about something which is
rather important--"

"Gracious!" Bettie Hamlyn said; "that sounds like shooting. Why, it is
shooting, isn't it?"

"Yes," said I.

"--Quite as though the Monnachins and the Massawomeks and all the other
jaw-breakers were attacking Fairhaven as they used to do on alternate
Thursdays, and affording both of us an excellent opportunity to get
nicely scalped in time for dinner. So I don't mind confessing that it
was against precisely such an emergency I declined to turn out an
elaborate suite of hair; and now I expect the world at large to
acknowledge that I acted very sensibly."

"It is much more likely to be some drunken country-man on his monthly
spree--" I was reflecting while Bettie talked nonsense that there had
been no less than four shots. I was wondering whom the last was for. It
would be much pleasanter, all around, if Hardress had sent it into his
own disordered brain. Yes, certainly, three bullets ought amply to
account for an unprepared and unarmed and puny Charteris....

So I said: "Well, I suppose my business with John must wait for a while.
Besides, Bettie, you are such a dear in that get-up. And if you will
come down into the garden at once, I will explain a few of my reasons
for advancing the assertion."

Standing upon the porch, she patted me ever so lightly upon the head.
"What a child it is!" she said. "I don't think that, after all, I shall
put twenty-six candles on your cake next week. The fat and lazy literary
gent is not really old enough, not really more than ten."

"--And besides, apart from the proposed discussion of your physical
charms, I have something else quite equally important to tell
you about."

"Oh, drat the pertinacious infant, then I'll come for half an hour. Just
wait until I get a hat. Still, what a worthless child it is! to be
quitting work before noon."

And she would have gone, but I detained her. "Yes, what a worthless
child it is,--or rather, what an unproverbial sort of busy bee it has
been, Bettie dear. For his has been the summer air, and the sunshine,
and the flowers; and gentle ears have listened to him, and gentle eyes
have been upon him. Now it is autumn. And he has let others eat his
honey-which I take to include all that he actually made, all that wasn't
in the world before he came, as Stella used to say,--so that he might
have his morsel and his song. And sometimes it has been Sardinian honey,
very bitter in the mouth,--and even then he has let others eat it--"

"You are a most irrelevant infant," said Miss Hamlyn, "with these
insectean divagations--Dear me, what lovely words! And of course if you
really want to drag me into that baking-hot garden, and have the only
fiancee you just at present possess laid up by a sunstroke--"



_The Epilogue: Which Suggests that Second Thoughts--_


So I waited there alone. Whatever the four shots implied, I must tell
Bettie everything, because she was Bettie, and it was not fair I should
have any secrets from her. "Oh, just be honest with me," she had said,
in this same garden, "and I don't care what you do!" And I had never
lied to Bettie: at worst, I simply had not told her anything concerning
matters about which I was glad she had not happened to ask any
questions. But this was different....

Dimly I knew that everything must pivot on my telling Bettie. John was
done for, the Hardress woman was done for, and whether or no Jasper had
done for himself, there was no danger, now, that anyone would ever know
how that infernal Gillian had badgered me into, probably, three
homicides. There might be some sort of supernal bookkeeping, somewhere,
but very certainly it was not conformable to any human mathematics....
And therefore I must tell Bettie.

I must tell Bettie, and abide what followed. She had pardoned much. It
might be she would pardon even this, "because I had been honest with her
when I didn't want to be." And in any event--even in her loathing,--
Bettie would understand, and know I had at least kept faith with her....

I must tell Bettie, and abide what followed. For living seemed somehow
to have raised barriers about me a little by a little, so that I must
view and talk with all my fellows more and more remotely, and could not,
as it were, quite touch anybody save Bettie. At all other persons I was
but grimacing falsely across an impalpable barrier. And now just such a
barrier was arising between Bettie and me, as I perceived in a sort of
panic. Yes, it was rising resistlessly, like an augmenting mist not ever
to be put aside, except by plunging forthwith into hours, or days, or
even into months perhaps, of ugliness and discomfort....

It was the season of harvest. The leaves were not yet turned, and upon
my face the heatless, sun-steeped air was like a caress. The whole world
was at full-tide, ineffably sweet and just a little languorous: and bees
were audible, as in a humorous pretence of vexation....

The world was very beautiful. I must tell Bettie presently, of course;
only the world was such a comfortable place precisely as it was; and I
began to wonder if I need tell Bettie after all?

For, after all, to tell the truth could resurrect nobody; and to know
the truth would certainly make Bettie very unhappy; and never in my life
have I been able to endure the contact of unhappiness.





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Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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