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´╗┐Title: Who Cares? A Story of Adolescence
Author: Hamilton, Cosmo, 1872?-1942
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Who Cares? A Story of Adolescence" ***

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WHO CARES?

A STORY OF ADOLESCENCE


by

COSMO HAMILTON



TO

MY YOUNG BROTHER

ARTHUR

WHO PLAYS THE GAME



"Another new novel?"

"Well,--another novel."

"What's it about?"

"A boy and a girl."

"A love story?"

"Well,--it's about a boy and a girl."

"Do they marry?"

"I said it was about a boy and a girl."

"And are they happy?"

"Well,--it's a love story."

"But all love stories aren't happy!"

"Yes they are,--if it's love."



CONTENTS


PART ONE

SPRING IN THE WORLD


PART TWO

THE ROUND-ABOUT


PART THREE

THE GREAT EMOTION


PART FOUR

THE PAYMENT



PART ONE

SPRING IN THE WORLD AND ALL THINGS FOR THE YOUNG


I

Birds called. Breezes played among branches just bursting into green.
Daffodils, proud and erect, stood in clumps about the dazzling lawn.
Young, pulsing, eager things elbowed their way through last year's
leaves to taste the morning sun; the wide-eyed celandine, yellower than
butter; the little violet, hugging the earth for fear of being seen;
the sturdy bourgeois daisy; the pale-faced anemone, earliest to wake
and earliest to sleep; the blue bird's-eye in small family groups; the
blatant dandelion already a head and shoulders taller than any
neighbor. Every twig in the old garden bore its new load of buds that
were soft as kittens' paws; and up the wrinkled trunks of ancient trees
young ivy leaves chased each other like school-boys.

Spring had come again, and its eternal spirit spread the message of
new-born hope, stirred the sap of awakening life, warmed the bosom of a
wintry earth and put into the hearts of birds the old desire to mate.
But the lonely girl turned a deaf ear to the call, and rounded her
shoulders over the elderly desk with tears blistering her letter.

"I'm miserable, miserable," she wrote. "There doesn't seem to be
anything to live for. I suppose it's selfish and horrid to grumble
because Mother has married again, but why did she choose the very
moment when she was to take me into life? Oh, Alice, what am I to do? I
feel like a rabbit with its foot in a trap, listening to the traffic on
the main road--like a newly fledged bird brought down with a broken
wing among the dead leaves of Rip Van Winkle's sleeping-place. You'll
laugh when you read this, and say that I'm dramatizing my feelings and
writing for effect; but if you've got any heart at all, you'd cry if
you saw me (me of all girls!) buried alive out here without a single
soul to speak to who's as young as I am--hushed if I laugh by mistake,
scowled at if I let myself move quickly, catching old age every hour I
stay here."

"Why, Alice, just think of it! There's not a person or a thing in and
out of this house that's not old. I don't mean old as we thought of it
at school, thirty and thirty-five, but really and awfully old. The
house is the oldest for miles round. My grandfather is seventy-two, and
my grandmother's seventy. The servants are old, the trees are old, the
horses are old; and even the dogs lie about with dim eyes waiting for
death."

"When Mother was here, it was bearable. We escaped as often as we
could, and rode and drove and made secret visits to the city and saw
the plays at matinees. There's nothing old about Mother. I suppose
that's why she married again. But now that I'm left alone in this house
of decay, where everybody and everything belongs to the past, I'm
frightened of being so young, and catch looks that make me feel that I
ought to be ashamed of myself. It's so long since I quarreled with a
girl or flirted with a boy that I can't remember it. I'm forgetting how
to laugh. I'm beginning not to care about clothes or whether I look
nice."

"One day is exactly like another. I wander about aimlessly with nothing
to do, nowhere to go, no one to speak to. I've even begun to give up
reading novels, because they make me so jealous. It's all wrong, Alice.
It's bad and unhealthy. It puts mutinous thoughts into my head.
Honestly, the only way in which I can get the sort of thrill that I
ought to have now, if ever I am to thrill at all, is in making wild
plans of escape, so wild and so naughty that I don't think I'd better
write about them, even to you, dear."

"Mother's on her honeymoon. She went away a week ago in a state of
self-conscious happiness that left Grandfather and Grandmother snappy
and disagreeable. She will be away four months, and every weekly letter
that comes from her will make this place more and more unbearable and
me more restless and dangerous. I could get myself invited away. Enid
would have me and give me a wonderful time. She has four brothers.
Fanny has begged me to stay with her in Boston for the whole of the
spring and see and do everything, which would be absolutely heaven. And
you know everybody in New York and could make life worth living."

"But Grandfather won't let me go. He likes to see me about the house,
he says, and I read the papers to him morning and evening. It does me
good, he considers, to 'make a sacrifice and pay deference to those
whose time is almost up.' So here I am, tied to the shadows, a prisoner
till Mother comes back--a woman of eighteen forced to behave like a
good little girl treated as if I were still content to amuse myself
with dolls and picture books! But the fire is smolderin Alice, and one
fine day it will burst into flame."


A shaft of sunlight found its way through the branches of a chestnut
tree and danced suddenly upon the envelope into which Joan had sealed
up this little portion of her overcharged vitality. Through the open
windows of her more than ample room with its Colonial four-post bed,
dignified tallboys, stiff chairs and anemic engravings of
early-Victorianism, all the stir and murmur of the year's youth came to
Joan.

If her eyes had not been turned inward and her ears had not been tuned
only to catch her own natural complaints, this chatter of young things
would have called her out to laugh and tingle and dance in the haunted
wood and cry out little incoherent welcomes to the children of the
earth. Something of the joy and emotion of that mother-month must have
stirred her imagination and set her blood racing through her young
body. She felt the call of youth and the urge to play. She sensed the
magnetic pull of the voice of spring, but when, with her long brown
lashes wet with impatient tears, she went to the window and looked out
at the green spread of lawn and the yellow-headed daffodils, it seemed
more than ever to her that she was peering through iron bars into the
playground of a school to which she didn't belong. She was
Joan-all-alone, she told herself, and added, with that touch of
picturesque phrasing inherited from her well-read mother, that she was
more like a racing motorboat tied to a crumbling wharf in a deserted
harbor than anything else in the world.

There was a knock on her door and the sound of a bronchial cough. "Come
in," she said and darted an anxious look at the blond fat face of the
clock on the mantelshelf. She had forgotten all about the time.

It was Gleave who opened the door, Gleave the bald-headed manservant
who had grown old along with his master with the same
resentfulness--the ex-prizefighter, sailor, lumberman and adventurer
who had thrown in his lot with Cumberland Ludlow, the sportsman, when
both were in the full flush of middle age. His limp, the result of an
epoch-making fight in an Australian mining camp, was emphasized by
severe rheumatism, and the fretfulness of old age was heightened by his
shortness of breath.

He got no further than: "Your grandfather--"

"I know," said Joan. "I'm late again. And there'll be a row, I suppose.
Well, that will break the monotony, at any rate." Seizing the moment
when Gleave was wrestling with his cough, she slipped her letter into
her desk, rubbed her face vigorously with her handkerchief and made a
dart at the door. Grandfather Ludlow demanded strict punctuality and
made the house shake if it failed him. What he would have said if he
could have seen this eager, brown-haired, vivid girl, built on the slim
lines of a wood nymph, swing herself on to the banisters and slide the
whole way down the wide stairway would have been fit only for the
appreciative ears of his faithful man. As it was, Mrs. Nye, the
housekeeper, was passing through the hall, and her gasp at this
exhibition of unbecoming athletics was the least that could be expected
from one who still thought in the terms of the crinoline and had never
recovered from the habit of regarding life through the early-Victorian
end of the telescope.

Joan slipped into Mr. Cumberland Ludlow's own room, shut the door
quickly and picked her way over the great skins that were scattered
about the polished floor.

"Good morning, Grandfather," she said, and stood waiting for the storm
to break. She knew by heart the indignant remarks about the sloppiness
of the younger generation, the dire results of modern anarchy and the
universal disrespect that stamped the twentieth century, and set her
quick mind to work to frame his opening sentence.

But the old man, whose sense of humor was as keen as ever, saw in the
girl's half-rebellious, half-deferential attitude an impatient
expectation of his usual irritation, and so he merely pointed a shaking
finger at the clock. His silence was far more eloquent and effective
than his old-fashioned platitudes. He smiled as he saw her surprise,
indicated a chair and gave her the morning paper. "Go ahead, my dear,"
he said.

Sitting bolt upright, with her back to the shaded light, her charming
profile with its little blunt nose and rounded chin thrown up against
the dark glistening oak of an old armoire, Joan began to read. Her
clear, high voice seemed to startle the dead beasts whose heads hung
thickly around the room and bring into their wide, fixed eyes a look of
uneasiness.

Several logs were burning sulkily in the great open fireplace, throwing
out a pungent, juicy smell. The aggressive tick of an old and pompous
clock endeavored to talk down the gay chatter of the birds beyond the
closed windows. The wheeze of a veteran Airedale with its chin on the
head of a lion came intermittently.

They made a picture, these two, that fitted with peculiar rightness
into the mood of Nature at that moment. Youth was king, and with all
his followers had clambered over winter and seized the earth. The red
remainders of autumn were almost over-powered. Standing with his hands
behind him and his back to the fire, the old sportsman listened, with a
queer, distrait expression, to the girl's reading. That he was still
putting up a hard fight against relentless Time was proved by his
clothes, which were those of a country-lover who dressed the part with
care. A tweed shooting-coat hung from his broad, gaunt shoulders.
Well-cut riding breeches, skin tight below his knees, ran into a pair
of brown top-boots that shone like glass. A head and shoulders taller
than the average tall man, his back was bent and his chest hollow. His
thin hair, white as cotton wool, was touched with brilliantine, and his
handsome face, deeply lined and wrinkled, was as closely shaved as an
actor's after three o'clock. His sunken eyes, overshadowed by bushy
brows, had lost their fire. He could no longer see to read. He too
heard the call without, and when he looked at the young, sweet thing
upon whom he was dependent for the news, and glanced about the room so
full of memories of his own departed youth, he said to himself with
more bitterness than usual: "I'm old; I'm very old, and helpless; life
has no use for me, and it's an infernal shame."

Joan read on patiently, glancing from time to time at the man who
seemed to her to be older than the hills, startlingly, terribly old,
and stopped only when, having lowered himself into his arm-chair, he
seemed to have fallen asleep. Then, as usual, she laid the paper aside,
eager to be up and doing, but sat on, fearful of moving. Her
grandfather had a way of looking as though he would never wake up
again, and of being as ready as a tiger to pounce upon her if she tried
to slip away. She would never forget some of the sarcastic things he
had said at these times, never! He seemed to take an unexplainable
delight in making her feel that she had no right to be so young. He had
never confided to her the tragedy of having a young mind and an old
body, young desires and winter in his blood. He had never opened the
door in his fourth wall and let her see how bitterly he resented having
been forced out of life and the great chase, to creep like an old hound
the ancient dogs among. He had never let her suspect that the tragedy
of old age had hit him hard, filling his long hours with regret for
what he might have done or done better. Perhaps he was ashamed to
confess these things that were so futile and so foolish. Perhaps he was
afraid to earn a young incredulous laugh at the pathetic picture of
himself playing Canute with the on-coming tide of years. He was not
understood by this girl, because he had never allowed her to get a
glimpse into his heart; and so she failed to know that he insisted upon
keeping her in his house, even to the point of extreme selfishness,
because he lived his youth over again in the constant sight of her.
What a long and exquisite string of pearls there could be made of our
unspoken words!

The logs glowed red; the hard tick of the pompous clock marked off the
precious moments; and outside, spring had come. But Joan sat on with
mutinous thoughts, and the man who not so long ago had stalked the
beasts whose heads and skins were silent reminders of his strength, lay
back in his chair with nodding head.

"He's old," she said to herself, "dreadfully, awfully old, and he's
punishing me for being young. Oh! It's wicked, it's wicked. If only I
had a father to spoil me and let me live! If only Mother hadn't
forgotten all about me in her own happiness! If only I had money of my
own and could run away and join the throng!"

She heard a sigh that was almost a groan, turned quickly and saw two
slow tears running down her grandfather's face. He had been kicking
against the pricks again and had hurt his foot.

With all the elaborate care of a Deerslayer, Joan got up, gave the
boards that creaked a wide berth--she knew them all--and tiptoed to the
door. The fact that she, at eighteen years of age, a full-grown woman
in her own estimation, should be obliged to resort to such methods made
her angry and humiliated. She was, however, rejoicing at one thing. Her
grandfather had fallen asleep several pages of the paper earlier than
usual, and she was to be spared from the utter boredom of wading
through the leading articles which dealt with subways and Tammany and
foreign politics and other matters for which she had a lofty contempt.
She was never required to read the notices of new plays and operas and
the doings of society, which alone were interesting to her and made her
mouth water.

Just as she had maneuvered her way across the wide, long room and was
within reach of the door, it opened and her grandmother hobbled in,
leaning on her stick. There was a chuckle from the other end of the
room. The blood flew to the girl's face. She knew without turning to
look that the old man had been watching her careful escape and was
enjoying the sight of her, caught at the moment when freedom was at
hand.

Mrs. Ludlow was one of those busy little women who are thorns in the
flesh of servants. Her eyes had always been like those of an inspecting
general. No detail, however small, went unnoticed and unrectified.

She had been called by an uncountable number of housemaids and footmen
"the little Madam"--the most sarcastic term of opprobrium contained in
their dictionary. A leader of New York society, she had run charitable
institutions and new movements with the same precision and efficiency
that she had used in her houses. Every hour of her day had been filled.
Not one moment had been wasted or frittered away. Her dinner parties
had been famous, and she had had a spoke in the wheels of politics. Her
witty sayings had been passed from mouth to mouth. Her little
flirtations with prominent men and the ambitious tyros who had been
drawn to her salon had given rise to much gossip. Not by any means a
beauty, her pretty face and tiptilted nose, her perennial cheerfulness,
birdlike vivacity and gift of repartee had made her the center of
attraction for years.

But she, like Cumberland Ludlow, had refused to grow old gracefully and
with resignation. She had put up an equally determined fight against
age, and it was only when the remorseless calendar proved her to be
sixty-five that she resigned from the struggle, washed the dye out of
her hair and the make-up from her face and retired to that old house.
Not even then, however, did she resign from all activity and remain
contented to sit with her hands in her lap and prepare herself for the
next world. This one still held a certain amount of joy, and she
concentrated all the vitality that remained with her to the perfect
running of her house. At eleven o'clock every morning the tap of her
stick on the polished floors was the signal of her arrival, and if
every man and woman of the menage was not actively at work, she knew
the reason why. Her tongue was still as sharp as the blade of a razor,
and for sloppiness she had no mercy. Careless maids trembled before her
tirades, and strong men shook in their shoes under her biting phrases.
At seventy, with her snowy hair, little face that had gone into as many
lines as a dried pippin, bent, fragile body and tiny hands twisted by
rheumatism, she looked like one of the old women in a Grimm's fairy
tale who frightened children and scared animals and turned giants into
cowards.

She drew up in front of the frustrated girl, stretched out her white
hand lined with blue veins and began to tap her on the
shoulder--announcing in that irritating manner that she had a complaint
to make.

"My dear," she said, "when you write letters to your little friends or
your sentimental mother, bear in mind that the place for ink is on the
note paper and not on the carpet."

"Yes, Grandmother."

"Try to remember also that if you put your hand behind a candle you can
blow it out without scattering hot grease on the wall paper."

"Yes, Grandmother"

"There is one other thing, if I may have your patience. You are not
required to be a Columbus to discover that there is a basket for soiled
linen in your bedroom. It is a large one and eager to fulfill its
function. The floor of your clothes closet is intended for your shoes
only. Will you be so good as to make a note of these things?"

"Yes, Grandmother."

Ink, candle grease, wash basket--what did they matter in the scheme of
life, with spring tapping at the window? With a huge effort Joan forced
back a wild burst of insurrection, and remained standing in what she
hoped was the correct attitude of a properly repentant child. "How long
can I stand it?" she cried inwardly. "How long before I smash things
and make a dash for freedom?"

"Now go back and finish reading to your grand father."

And once more, trembling with anger and mortification, the girl picked
her way over the limp and indifferent skins, took up the paper and sat
down. Once more her clear, fresh voice, this time with a little quiver
in it, fitted in to the regular tick of the querulous clock, the
near-by chatter of birds' tongues and the hiss of burning logs.

The prim old lady, who had in her time borne a wonderful resemblance to
the girl whom she watched so closely,--even to the chestnut-brown hair
and the tip-tilted nose, the full lips, the round chin and the spirit
that at any moment might urge her to break away from
discipline,--retired to carry on her daily tour of inspection; and the
old man stood again with his back to the fire to listen impatiently and
with a futile jealousy to the deeds and misdeeds of an ever-young and
ever-active world.



II


Joan was thankful when lunch was over, and murmured "Amen" to grace
with a fervor that would have surprised an unimaginative and
unobservant person. Like all the meals in that pompous dining-room, it
was a form of torture to a young thing bubbling with health and high
spirits, who was not supposed to speak unless directly addressed and
was obliged to hold herself in check while her grandparents progressed
slowly and deliberately through a menu of medically thought-out dishes.
Both the old people were on a rigid diet, and mostly the conversation
between them consisted of grumbles at having to dally with baby-food
and reminiscences of the admirable dinners of the past. An aged butler
and a footman in the sere and yellow only added to the general Rip van
Winklism, and the presence of two very old dogs, one the grandfather's
Airedale and the other Mrs. Ludlow's Irish terrier, with a white nose
and rusty gray coat, did nothing to dispel the depression. The six
full-length portraits in oils that hung on the walls represented men
and women whose years, if added together, would have made a staggering
grand total. Even the furniture was Colonial.

But when Joan had put on her hat, sweater and a pair of thick-soled
country boots, and having taken care to see that no one was about, slid
down the banisters into the hall on her way out for her usual lonely
walk, she slipped into the garden with a queer sense of excitement, an
odd and unaccountable premonition that something was going to happen.
This queer thing had come to her in the middle of lunch and had made
her heart suddenly begin to race. If she had been given to self
analysis, which she was not, she might have told herself that she had
received a wireless message from some one as lonely as herself, who had
sent out the S.O.S. call in the hope of its being picked up and
answered. As it was, it stirred her blood and made her restless and
intensely eager to get into the open, to feel the sun and smell the
sweetness in the air and listen to the cheery note of the birds.

It was with something of the excited interest which must have stirred
Robinson Crusoe on seeing the foot-prints on the sand of what he had
conceived to be a desert island that she ran up the hill, through the
awakened woods whose thick carpet of brown leaves was alight with the
green heads of young ferns, and out to the clearing from which she had
so often gazed wist fully in the direction of the great city away in
the distance.

She was surprised to find that she was alone as usual, bitterly
disappointed to see no other sign of life than her friends the rabbits
and the squirrels--the latter of which ambled toward her in the
expectation of peanuts. She had no sort of concrete idea of what she
had expected to find: nor had she any kind of explanation of the wave
of sympathy that had come to her as clearly as though it had been sent
over an electric wire. All she knew was that she was out of breath for
no apparent reason, and on the verge of tears at seeing no one there to
meet her. Once before, on her sixth birth day, the same call had been
sent to her when she was playing alone with her dolls in the
semitropical garden of a hired house in Florida, and she had started up
and toddled round to the front and found a large-eyed little girl
peering through the gate. It was the beginning of a close and blessed
friendship.

This time, it seemed, the call had been meant for some other lonely
soul, and so she stood and looked with blurred eyes over the wide
valley that lay unrolled at her feet and, asked herself what she had
ever done to deserve to be left out of all the joy of life. From
somewhere near by the baying of hounds came, and from a farm to her
left the crowing of a cock; and then a twig snapped behind her, and she
turned eagerly.

"Oh, hello," said the boy.

"Oh, hello," she said.

He was not the hero of her dreams, by a long way. His hair didn't curl;
his nose was not particularly straight; nor were his eyes large and
magnetic. He was not something over six feet two; nor was he dressed in
wonderful clothes into which he might have been poured in liquid form.
He was a cheery, square-shouldered, good-natured looking fellow with
laughter in his gray eyes and a little quizzical smile playing round a
good firm mouth. He looked like a man who ought to have been in the
navy and who, instead, gave the impression of having been born among
horses. His small, dark head was bare; his skin had already caught the
sun, and as he stood in his brown sweater with his hands thrust into
the pockets of his riding breeches, he seemed to her to be just exactly
like the brother that she ought to have had if she had had any luck at
all, and she held out a friendly hand with a comfortable feeling of
absolute security.

With some self-consciousness he took it and bowed with a nice touch of
deference. He tried to hide the catch in his breath and the admiration
in his eyes. "I'm glad it's spring," he said, not knowing quite what he
was saying.

"So am I," said Joan. "Just look at those violets and the way the
leaves are bursting."

"I know. Great, isn't it? Are you going anywhere?"

"No. I've nowhere to go."

"Same here. Let's go together."

And they both laughed, and the squirrel that had come to meet Joan
darted off with a sour look. He had anticipated a fat meal of peanuts.
He was out of it now, he saw, and muttered whatever was the squirrel
equivalent for a swear-word.

The boy and girl took the path that ran round the outskirts of the
wood, swung into step and chimed into the cantata of spring with talk
and laughter.

There had been rather a long silence.

Joan was sitting with her back against the trunk of a fallen tree, with
her hands clasped round her knees. She had tossed her hat aside, and
the sunlight made her thick brown hair gleam like copper. They had come
out at another aerie on the hill, from which a great stretch of open
country could be seen. Her eyes were turned as usual in the direction
of New York, but there was an expression of contentment in them that
would have startled all the old people and things at home.

Martin Gray was lying full stretch on the turf with his elbows up and
his chin on his left fist. He had eyes for nothing but the vivid girl
whom he had found so unexpectedly and who was the most alive thing that
he had ever seen.

During this walk their chatter had been of everything under the sun
except themselves. Both were so frankly and unaffectedly glad to be
able to talk at all that they broke into each other's laughing and
childish comments on obvious things and forgot themselves in the
pleasure of meeting. But now the time had come for mutual confidences,
and both, in the inevitable young way, felt the desire to paint the
picture of their own particular grievance against life which should
make them out to be the two genuine martyrs of the century. It was now
a question of which of them got the first look-in. The silence was
deliberate and came out of the fine sense of sportsmanship that
belonged to each. Although bursting to pour out her troubles, Joan
wanted to be fair and give Martin the first turn, and Martin, equally
keen to prove himself the champion of badly treated men, held himself
in, in order that Joan, being a woman, should step into the limelight.
It was, of course, the male member of the duet who began. A man's ego
is naturally more aggressive than a woman's.

"Do you know," said Martin, arranging himself in a more comfortable
attitude, "that it's over two months since I spoke to any one of about
my own age?"

Joan settled herself to listen. With the uncanny intuition that makes
women so disconcerting, she realized that she had missed her chance and
must let the boy have his head.

Not until he had unburdened his soul would she be able, she knew, to
focus his complete attention upon herself.

"Tell me about it," she said.

He gave her a grateful look. "You know the house with the kennels over
there--the hounds don't let you miss it. I've been wandering about the
place without seeing anybody since Father died."

"Oh, then, you're Martin Gray!"

"Yes."

"I was awfully sorry about your father."

"Thanks." The boy's mouth trembled a little, and he worked his thumb
into the soft earth. "He was one of the very best, and it was not
right. He was too young and too much missed. I don't understand it. He
had twenty-five years to his credit, and I wanted to show him what I
was going to do. It's all a puzzle to me. There's something frightfully
wrong about it all, and it's been worrying me awfully."

Joan couldn't find anything to say. Years before, when she was four
years old, Death had come to her house and taken her own father away,
and she had a dim remembrance of dark rooms and of her mother crying as
though she had been very badly hurt. It was a vague figure now, and the
boy's queer way of talking about it so personally made the conventional
expressions that she had heard seem out of place. It was the little
shake in his voice that touched her.

"He had just bought a couple of new hunters and was going to run the
hunt this fall. I wanted him to live forever. He died in New York, and
I came here to try and get used to being without him. I thought I
should stay all alone for the rest of my life, but--this morning when I
was moping about, everything looked so young and busy that I got a sort
of longing to be young and busy again myself. I don't know how to
explain it, but everything shouted at me to get up and shake myself
together, and on the almanac in Father's room I read a thing that
seemed to be a sort of message from him."

"Did you? What was it?"

"'We count it death to falter, not to die.' It was under to-day's date,
and it was the first thing I saw when I went to the desk where Father
used to sit, and it was his voice that read it to me. It was very
wonderful and queer. It sort of made me ashamed of the way I was taking
it, and I went out to begin again,--that's how it seemed to me,--and I
woke everybody up and set things going and saw that the horses were all
right, and then I climbed over the wall, and as I walked away, out
again for the first time after all those bad weeks, I wanted to find
some one young to talk to. I don't know how it was, but I went straight
up the hill and wasn't a bit surprised when I saw you standing there."

"That's funny," said Joan.

"Funny--how?"

"I don't know. But if you hadn't found me after the feeling that came
to me at lunch--"

"Well?"

"Well, I'm sure I should have turned bitter and never believed any more
in fairies and all that. I don't think I mean fairies, and I can't
explain what 'all that' stands for, but I know I should have been
warped if I hadn't turned round and seen you."

And she laughed and set him laughing, and the reason of their having
met was waved aside. The fact remained that there they were--youth with
youth, and that was good enough.



III


There was a touch of idealism hidden away somewhere in Martin's
character. A more than usually keen-eyed boy had once called him "the
poet" at school. In order that this dubious nickname should be
strangled at birth, there had been an epoch-making fight. Both lads
came out of it in a more or less unrecognizable condition, but Martin
reestablished his reputation and presently entered Yale free from the
suspicion of being anything but a first-rate sportsman and an
indisputable man.

There Martin had played football with all the desired bullishness. He
had hammered ragtime on the piano like the best ordinary man in the
University. With his father he rode to hounds hell for leather, and he
wrote comic stuff in a Yale magazine which made him admiringly regarded
as a sort of junior George Ade. It was only in secret, and then with a
sneaking sense of shame, that he allowed his idealistic side to feed on
Browning and Ruskin, Maeterlinck and Barrie, and only when alone on
vacation that he bathed in the beauty of French cathedrals, sat
thrilled and stirred by the waves of melody of the great composers,
drew up curiously touched and awed at the sight of the places in the
famous cities of Europe that echoed with the footsteps of history.

If the ideality of that boy had been seized upon and developed by a
sympathetic hand, if his lively imagination and passion for the
beautiful had been put through a proper educational course, he might
have used the latent creative power with which nature had endowed him
and taken a high place among artists, writers or composers. As it was,
his machinelike, matter-of-fact training and his own self-conscious
anxiety not to be different from the average good sportsman had made
him conform admirably to type. He was a fine specimen of the eager,
naive, quick-witted, clean-minded young American, free from "side,"
devoid of mannerisms, determined to make the utmost of life and its
possibilities.

It is true that when death seized upon the man who was brother and pal
as well as father to Martin, all the stucco beneath which he had so
carefully hidden his spiritual and imaginative side cracked and broke.
Under the indescribable shock of what seemed to him to be wanton and
meaningless cruelty, the boy gave way to a grief that was angry and
agonized by turns. He had left a fit, high-spirited father to drive to
a golf shop to buy a new mashie, returned to take him out to Sleepy
Hollow for a couple of rounds--and found him stretched out on the floor
of the library, dead. Was it any wonder that he tortured himself with
unanswerable questions, sat for hours in the dark trying with the most
pitiful futility to fathom the riddle of life, or that he wandered
aimlessly about the place, which was stamped with his father's fine and
kindly personality,--like a stick suddenly swept out of the current of
the main stream into a tideless backwater, untouched by the sun? And
when finally, still deaf to the call of spring, his father's message of
courage, "We count it death to falter, not to die," rang out and
straightened him up and set him on the rails of action once again, it
was not quite the same Martin Gray who uttered the silent cry for
companionship that found an answer in Joan's lonely and rebellious
heart. Sorrow had strengthened him. Out of the silent manliness of
grief he went out again on the great main road with a wistful desire to
love and be loved, to find some one with whom to link an arm in an
empty world all crowded with strangers--and there stood Joan.

It was natural that he should believe, under those circumstances, that
he and she did not meet by mere accident, that they had been brought
together by design--all the more natural when he listened to her story
of mental and physical imprisonment and came to see, during their daily
stolen meetings, that he was as necessary to her as she was to him.
Every time he left her and watched her run back to that old house of
old people, it was borne in upon him more definitely that he was
appointed in the cosmic scheme to rescue Joan from her peculiar cage
and help her to try her wings. All about that young fresh, eager
creature whose eyes were always turned so ardently toward the city, his
imagination and superstition built a bower of love.

He had never met a girl in any way like her--one who wanted so much and
would give so little in return for it, who had an eel-like way of
dodging hard-and-fast facts and who had made up her mind with all the
zest and thoughtlessness of youth to mold life, when finally she could
prove how much alive she was, into no other shape than the one which
most appealed to her. She surprised and delighted him with her quick
mental turns and twists, and although she sometimes made him catch his
breath at her astoundingly frank expression of individualism, he told
himself that she was still in the chrysalis stage and could only get a
true and normal hang of things after rubbing shoulders with what she
called life with a capital L.

Two weeks slipped away more quickly than these two young things had
ever known them to go, and the daily meetings, utterly guileless and
free from flirtation, were the best part of the day; but there was a
new note in Joan's laugh as she swung out of the wood and went toward
Martin one afternoon.

He caught it and looked anxiously at her. "Is anything wrong?"

"There will be," she said. "I just caught sight of Gleave among the
trees. He was spying!"

"Why do you think so?"

"Oh, he never walks a yard unless he has to. I thought I saw him eying
me rather queerly at lunch. I've been looking happy lately, and that's
made him suspicious."

"But what can he do?"

"What can't he do! Grandmother's one of the old-fashioned sort who
thinks that a girl must never speak to a man without a chaperon. They
must have been a lively lot of young women in her time! Gleave will
tell her that I've been coming here to meet you, and then there'll be a
pretty considerable row."

Martin was incredulous. He was in America in the twentieth century.
Young people did as they liked, and parents hardly ventured to
remonstrate. He showed his teeth in the silent laugh that was
characteristic of him. "Oh, no! I'll be all right. Your grandfather
knew my father."

"That won't make any difference. I believe that in a sort of way he's
jealous of my having a good time. Queer, isn't it? Are all old people
like that? And as to Grandmother, this will give her one of the finest
chances to let herself go that she's had since I set a curtain on fire
with a candle; and when she does that, well, things fly, I assure you."

"Are you worried about it?"

Joan gave a gesture of the most eloquent impatience. "I have to be,"
she said. "You can't understand it, but I'm treated just as if I were a
little girl in short frocks. It's simply appalling. Everything I say
and do and look is criticized from the point of view of 1850. Can't you
imagine what will be thought of my sneaking out every afternoon to talk
to a dangerous young man who has only just left Yale and lives among
horses?"

That was too much for Martin. His laugh echoed among the trees.

But Joan didn't make it a duet. "It wouldn't be so funny to you if you
stood in my shoes, Martin," she said. "If I had gone to Grandmother and
asked her if I might meet you,--and just think of my having to do
that,--she would have been utterly scandalized. Now, having done this
perfectly dreadful thing without permission, I shall be hauled up on
two charges,--deceit and unbecoming behavior,--and I shall be punished."

The boy wheeled around in amazement. "You don't mean that?"

"Of course I mean it. Haven't I told you over and over again that these
two dear but irritating old people look down at me from their awful
pile of years and only see me as a child?"

"But what will they do to you?"

Joan shrugged her shoulders. "Anything they like. I'm completely at
their mercy. For Mother's sake I try to be patient and put up with it
all. It's the only home I've got, and when you're dependent and haven't
a cent to bless yourself with, you can't pack up and telephone for a
cab and get out, can you? But it can't go on forever. Some day I shall
answer back, and sparks will fly, and I shall borrow money from the
coachman, who's my only friend, and go to Alice Palgrave and ask her to
put me up until Mother comes back. I'm a queer case, Martin--that's the
truth of it. In a book the other day I came across an exact description
of myself. I could have laughed if it hadn't hit me so hard. It said:
'She was a super-modern in an early-Victorian frame, a pint of
champagne in a little old cut-glass bottle, a gnome engine attached to
a coach and pair.'" She picked up a stone and flung it down the hill.

One eager wild thought rushed through Martin's brain. It had made his
blood race several times before, but he had thrown it aside because,
during all their talks and walks, Joan had never once looked at him
with anything but the eyes of a sister. As his wife he could free her,
lift her out of her anomalous atmosphere and take her to the city to
which her face was always turned. But he lacked the courage to speak
and continued to hope that some day, by some miracle, she might become
less superlatively neutral, less almost boyish in her way of treating
him. He threw it aside again, tempted as he was to take advantage of a
chance to bribe her into becoming his wife with an offer of life. Then
too, she was only eighteen, and although he was twenty-four and in the
habit of thinking of himself as a man of ripe years, he had to confess
that the mere idea of marriage made him feel awfully young and scared.
And so he said nothing and went on hoping.

Joan broke the silence. "Everything will be different when Mother comes
back," she said. "I shall live with her then, and I give you my word
I'll make up for lost time. So who cares? There are three good hours
before I face Grandmother. Let's enjoy ourselves."



IV


Martin couldn't settle down after his solitary dinner that night.
Several times he had jumped out of his father's reading chair and stood
listening at the window. It seemed to him that some one had called his
name. But the only sounds that broke the exquisite quietude of the
night were the distant barking of a dog, the whirl of an automobile on
the road or the pompous crowing of a master of a barnyard, taken up and
answered by others near and far.

Each time the boy had stood at the open window and peered out eagerly
and wistfully, but nothing had moved across the moon-bathed lawn or
disturbed the sleeping flowers. Under the cold light of the stars the
earth appeared to be more than usually peaceful and drowsy. All was
well.

But the boy's blood tingled, and he was filled with an unexplainable
sense of excitement. Some one needed him, and he wanted urgently to be
needed. He turned from the window and ran his eyes over the long, wide,
low-ceilinged masculine room, every single thing in which spelled
Father to him; then he went back to the chair the right to sit in which
had been given to him by death, persuaded that over the unseen wires
that stretch from heart to heart a signal had been sent, certain that
he was to hold himself in readiness to do something for Joan.

He had written out the words, "We count it death to falter, not to die"
on a long strip of card in big bold letters. They faced him as he sat
and read over and over again what he regarded as his father's message.
It was a call to service, an inspiration to activity, and it had
already filled him with the determination to fall into step with the
movement of the world, to put the money of which he was now the most
reluctant owner to some use as soon as the necessary legal steps of
proving his father's Will had been taken. He had made up his mind to
leave the countryside at the end of the week and meet his father's
lawyers and take advice as to how he could hitch himself to some
vigorous and operative pursuit. He was going, please God, to build up a
workmanlike monument to the memory of his father.

Ten o'clock struck, and uninterested in his book, he would have gone to
bed but for the growing feeling that he was not his own master, that he
might be required at any moment. The feeling became so strong that
finally he got up and went into the hall. He couldn't wait any longer.
He must go out, slip into the garden of the Ludlow house and search the
windows for a sight of Joan.

He unbolted the front door, gave a little gasp and found himself face
to face with the girl who was in his thoughts.

There was a ripple of excited laughter; a bag was thrust into his hand,
and like a bird escaped from a cage, Joan darted past him into the hall.

"I've done it," she cried, "I've done it!" And she broke into a dance.

Martin shut the door, put the bulging suit-case on a chair and watched
the girl as she whirled about the hall, as graceful as a water sprite,
with eyes alight with mischief and animation. The sight of her was so
bewitching, the fact that she had come to him for help so good, that
his curiosity to know what it was that she had done fell away.

Suddenly she came to a breathless stop and caught hold of his arm.
"Bolt the door, Marty," she said, "quickly, quickly! They may send
after me when they find I've got away. I'll never go back, never,
never!"

All the spirit of romance in the boy's nature flamed. This was a great
adventure. He had become a knight errant, the rescuer of a damsel in
distress. He shot the bolts back, turned out the lights, took Joan's
hand and led her into his father's room.

"Turn these lights out too," she said. "Make it look as if everybody
had gone to bed."

He did so, with a sort of solemn sense of responsibility; and it was in
a room lighted only by a shaft of pale moonlight that fell in a pool
upon the polished floor that these two utterly inexperienced children
sat knee to knee, the one to pour out her story, the other to listen
and hold his breath.

"I was right about Gleave. He was spying. It turns out that he's been
watching us for two or three days. When I went back this afternoon, I
got a look from Mrs. Nye that told me there was a row in the air. I was
later than usual and rushed up to my room to change for dinner. The
whole house seemed awfully quiet and ominous, like the air before a
thunderstorm. I expected to be sent for at once to stand like a
criminal before Grandfather and Grandmother--but nothing happened. All
through dinner, while Gleave tottered about, they sat facing each other
at the long table, conducting,--that's the only word to describe it,--a
polite conversation. Neither of them took any notice of me or even once
looked my way. Even Gleave put things in front of me as though he
didn't see me, and when I caught the watery eyes of the old dogs, they
both seemed to make faces and go 'Yah!'"

"It was weird, and would have been frightfully funny if I hadn't known
that sooner or later I should have to stand up and take my dose. Phew,
it was a ghastly meal. I'm certain I shall dream it all over again
every time I eat something that doesn't agree with me! It was a great
relief when at last Grandmother turned at the door and looking at my
feet as though they were curiosities, said: 'Joan, you will follow us
to the drawing-room.' Her voice was cold enough to freeze the sea."

"Then she went out, her stick rapping the floor, Grandfather after her
with his shoulders bent and a piece of bread on the back of his dinner
jacket. The two dogs followed, and I made up the tail of that queer
procession. I hate that stiff, cheerless drawing room anyhow, with all
its shiny cases of china and a collection of all the uncomfortable
chairs ever designed since Adam. I wanted to laugh and cry, and when I
saw myself in the glass, I couldn't believe that I wasn't a little
shivering girl with a ribbon in my hair and white socks."

Some one whistled outside. The girl seized the boy's arm in a sudden
panic of fright.

"It's all right," he said. "It's only the gardener going to his
cottage."

Joan laughed, and her grip relaxed. "I'm jumpy," she said. "My nerves
are all over the place. Do you wonder?"

"No, tell me the rest."

Joan's voice took on a little deeper note like that of a child who has
come to the really creepy bit of his story. "Marty," she went on, "I
wish you could have heard the way in which Grandmother let herself go!
She held me by the scruff of my neck and hit me right and left with the
sort of sarcasm that made me crinkle. According to her, I was on the
downward path. I had done something quite hopeless and unforgivable.
She didn't know how she could bring herself to report the affair--think
of calling it an affair, Marty!--to my poor mother. Mother, who'd never
say a word to me, whatever I did! She might have out-of-date views, she
said, of how young girls should behave, but they were the right views,
and so long as I was under her roof and in her care, she would see that
I conformed to them. She went on making a mountain out of our little
molehill, till even Grandfather broke in with a word; and then she
snapped at him, got into her second wind and went off again. I didn't
listen half the time. I just stood and watched her as you'd watch one
of those weird old women in one of Dickens' books come to life. What I
remember of it all is that I am deceitful and fast, ungrateful,
irresponsible, with no sense of decency, and when at last she
pronounced sentence, what do you think it was? Confinement to the house
for a week and if after that, I ever meet you again, to be packed off
to a finishing-school in Massachusetts. She rapped her stick on the
floor by way of a full stop, and waved her hand toward the door. I
never said a word, not a single one. What was the use? I gave her a
little bow and went. Just as I was going to rush upstairs and think
over what I could do, Grandfather came out and told me to go to his
room to read something to him. And there, for the first time, he let me
see what a fine old fellow he really is. He agreed with Grandmother
that I ought not to have met you on the sly. It was dangerous, he said,
though perfectly natural. He was afraid I found it very trying to live
among a lot of old grouches with their best feet in the grave, but he
begged me to put up with it because he would miss me so. He liked
having me about, not only to read to him but to look at. I reminded him
of Grandmother when she was young, and life was worth living.

"I cried then. I couldn't help it--more for his sake than mine. He
spoke with such a funny sort of sadness. 'Be patient, my dear,' he
said. 'Treat us both with a little kindness. You're top dog. You have
all your life before you. Make allowances for two old people entering
second childhood. You'll be old some day, you know.' And he said this
with such a twisted sort of smile that I felt awfully sorry for him,
and he saw it and opened out and told me how appalling it was to become
feeble when the heart is as young as ever. I had no idea he felt like
that."

"When I left him I tried hard to be as patient as he asked me to be and
wait till Mother comes back and make the allowances he spoke about and
give up seeing you and all that. But when I got up to my room with the
echo of Grandmother's rasping voice in my ears, the thought of being
shut up in the house for a week and treated like a lunatic was too much
for me. What had I done that every other healthy girl doesn't do every
day without a question? How COULD I go on living there, watched and
suspected? How could I put up any longer with the tyranny of an old
lady who made me feel artificial and foolish and humiliated--a kind of
doll stuffed with saw dust?

"Marty, I couldn't do it. I simply couldn't. Something went snap, and I
just flung a few things into a suit-case, dropped it out the window,
climbed down the creeper and made a dash for freedom. Nothing on earth
will ever take me back to that house again, nothing, nothing!"

All this had been said with a mixture of humor and emotion that carried
the boy before it. He saw and heard everything as she described it. His
own relations with his father, which had been so free and friendly,
made Joan's with those two old people seem fantastic and impossible.
All his sympathy went out to her. To help her to get away appealed to
him as being as humane as releasing a squirrel from a trap. No thought
of the fact that she was a girl who had rushed impulsively into a most
awkward position struck him. Into his healthy mind no sex question
thrust itself. She was his friend, and as such, her claim upon him was
overwhelming and unarguable.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked. "Have you thought of anything?"

"Of course I have. In the morning, early, before they find out that
I've bolted, you must drive me to New York and take me to Alice
Palgrave. She'll put me up, and I can telegraph to Mother for money to
buy clothes with. Does it occur to you, Marty, that you're the cause of
all this? If I hadn't turned and found you that afternoon, I should
still be eating my soul away and having my young life crushed. As it
is, you've forced my hand. So you're going to take me to the magic
city, and if you want to see how a country cousin makes up for lost
time and sets things humming, watch me!"

So they talked and talked, sitting in that room which was made the very
sanctum of romance by young blood and moonlight. Eleven o'clock slipped
by, and twelve and one; and while the earth slept, watched by a million
glistening eyes, and nature moved imperceptibly one step nearer to
maturity, this boy and girl made plans for the discovery of a world out
of which so many similar explorers have crept with wounds and
bitterness.

They were wonderful and memorable hours, not ever to be lived again.
They were the hours that all youth enjoys and delights in once--when,
like gold-diggers arrived in sight of El Dorado, they halt and peer at
the chimera that lies at their feet--

"I'm going to make my mark," Martin said. "I'm going to make something
that will last. My father's name was Martin Gray, and I'll make it MEAN
some thing out there for his sake."

"And I," said Joan, springing to her feet and throwing up her chin,
"will go joy-riding in the huge round-about. I've seen what it is to be
old and useless, and so I shall make the most of every day and hour
while I'm young. I can live only once, and so I shall make life spin
whatever way I want it to go. If I can get anybody to pay my whack,
good. If not, I'll pay it myself--whatever it costs. My motto's going
to be a good time as long as I can get it, and who cares for the price?"

The boy followed her to the window, and the moonlight fell upon them
both. "Yes," he said, "you'll get a bill, all right. How did you know
that?"

"I haven't lived with all those old people so long for nothing," she
answered. "But you won't catch me grumbling if I get half as much as
I'm going out for. Listen to my creed, Martin, and take notes, if you
want to keep up with me."

"Go ahead," he said, watching the sparkle in her eyes.

She squared her shoulders and folded her arms in a half-defiant way. "I
shall open the door of every known Blue Room--hurrying out again if
there are ugly things inside, staying to enjoy them if they're good to
look at. I shall taste a little of every known bottle, feel everything
there is to feel except the thing that hurts, laugh with any one whose
laugh is catching, do everything there is to do, go into every booth in
the big Bazaar; and when I'm tired out and there's nothing left, I
shall slip out of the endless procession with a thousand things stored
away in my memory. Isn't that the way to live?"

From the superior height of twenty-four, Martin looked down on Joan
indulgently. He didn't take her frank and unblushing individualism
seriously. She was just a kid, he told himself. She was a girl who had
been caged up and held in. It was natural for her to say all those wild
things. She would alter her point of view as soon as the first surprise
of being free had worn off--and then he would speak; then he would ask
her to throw in her lot with his and walk in step with him along the
street of adventure.

"I sha'n't see the sun rise on this great day," she said, letting a
yawn have full play. "I'm sleepy, Marty. I must lie down this very
instant, even if the floor's the only place you can offer me. Quick!
What else is there?" Before he could answer, she had caught sight of a
low, long, enticing divan, and onto this, with a gurgle of pleasure,
she made a dive, placed two cushions for her head, put one little hand
under her face, snuggled into an attitude of perfect comfort and
deliberately went to sleep. It was masterly.

Martin, not believing that she could turn off so suddenly at a complete
tangent, spoke to her once or twice but got no other answer than a
long, contented sigh. He stood for a little while trying to make out
her outline in the dim corner of the room. Then he tiptoed out to the
hall, possessed himself of a warm motor-rug, returned with it and laid
it gently and tenderly over the unconscious girl.

He didn't intend to let sleep rob him of the first sight of a day that
was to mean so much to him, and he went over to the open window, caught
the scent of lilac and listened, with all his imagination and sense of
beauty stirred, to the deep breathing of the night.... Yes, he had cut
through the bars which had kept this girl from taking her place among
the crowd. He was responsible for the fact that she was about to play
her part in the comedy of life. He was glad to be responsible. He had
passionately desired a cause to which to attach himself; and was there,
in all the world, a better than Joan?

Spring had come again, and all things were young, and the call to mate
rang in his ears and set his heart beating and his thoughts racing
ahead. He loved her, this girl that he had come upon standing out in
all her freshness against a blue sky. He would serve her as the great
lovers had served, and please God, she would some day return his love.
They would build up a home and bring up a family and go together up the
inevitable hill.

And as he stood sentinel, in a waking dream, waiting for the finger of
dawn to rub the night away, sleep tapped him on the shoulder, and he
turned and went to the divan and sat down with his back to it, touched
one of Joan's placid hands with his lips and drifted into further
dreams with a smile around his mouth.



V


It was ten o'clock in the morning when Martin brought his car to a stop
and looked up at the heavy Gothic decorations of a pompous house in
East Fifty-fifth Street. "Is this it?"

"Yes," said Joan, getting out of the leather-lined coat that he had
wrapped her in. "It really is a house, isn't it; and luckily, all the
gargoyles are on the outside." She held out her hand and gave Martin
the sort of smile for which any genuine man would sell his soul.
"Marty," she added, "you've been far more than a brother to me. You've
been a cousin. I shall never be able to thank you. And I adored the
drive with our noses turned to the city. I shan't be able to be seen on
the streets until I've got some frocks, so please come and see me every
day. As soon as Alice has got over her shock at the sight of me, I'm
going to compose an historical letter to Grandmother."

"Let her down lightly," said Martin, climbing out with the suit-case.
"You've won."

"Yes, that's true; but I shouldn't be a woman if I didn't get in the
last word."

"You're not a woman," said Martin. "You're a kid, and you're in New
York, and you're light-headed; so look out."

Joan laughed at his sudden gravity and ran up the wide steps and put
her finger on the bell. "I've written down your telephone number," she
said, "and memorized your address. I'll call you up at three o'clock
this afternoon, and if you've nothing else to do, you may take me for a
walk in the Park."

"I sha'n't have anything else to do."

The door was opened. The footman was obviously English, with the art of
footmanism in his blood.

"Is Mrs. Gilbert Palgrave at home?" asked Joan as if the question were
entirely superfluous.

"No, miss."

"Are you sure?"

"Quite sure, miss. Mrs. Palgrave left for Boston yesterday on account
of hillness in the family, miss."

There was an awkward and appalled silence. Little did the man suspect
the kind of blow that his statement contained.

Joan darted an agonized look at Martin.

"But Mr. Palgrave is at 'ome, miss."

And that galvanized the boy into action. He had met Gilbert Palgrave
out hunting. He had seen the impertinent, cocksure way in which he ran
his eyes over women. He clutched the handle of the case and said:
"That's all right, thanks. Miss Ludlow will write to Mrs. Palgrave."
Then he turned and went down the steps to the car.

Trying to look unconcerned, Joan followed.

"Get in, quick," said Martin. "We'll talk as we go."

"But why? If I don't stay here, where am I to stay?"

"I don't know. Please get in."

Joan stood firm. The color had come back to her face, and a look of
something like anger had taken the place of fright. "I didn't tell you
to march off like that. Gilbert's here."

"That's why we're going," Said Martin.

"I don't understand." Her eyes were blazing.

"I know you don't. You can't stay in that house. It isn't done."

"I can do it, and I must do it. Do you suppose I'm going back with my
tail between my legs?"

"If we argue here, we shall collect a crowd." He got into the car and
held out his hand.

Joan ignored it but followed him in. She was angry, puzzled,
disappointed, nonplussed. Alice had no right to be away on such an
occasion. Everything had looked so easy and smooth-sailing. Even Martin
had changed into a different man, and was ordering her about. If he
thought he could drive her back to that prison again, he was
considerably wrong. She would never go back, never.

The car was running slowly. "Have you any other friends in town?" asked
Martin, who seemed to be trying to hide an odd kind of excitement.

"No," said Joan. "Alice is my only friend here. Drive to some place
where I can call up Gilbert Palgrave and explain the whole thing. What
does it matter about my being alone? If I don't mind, who should?
Please do as I say. There's no other place for me to go to, and wild
horses sha'n't drag me back."

"You sha'n't go back," said Martin. He turned the car up Madison Avenue
and drove without another word to East Sixty-seventh Street and stopped
in front of a small house that was sandwiched between a mansion and a
twelve-story apartment-house. "This is mine," he said simply. "Will you
come in?"

A smile of huge relief came into Joan's eyes. "Why worry?" she said.
"How foolish of us not to have thought of this before!"

But there was no smile on Martin's face. His eyes were amazingly bright
and his mouth set firmly. His chin looked squarer than ever. Once more
he carried out the suit-case, put a latchkey into the lock and threw
back the door. Joan went in and stood looking about the cheery hall
with its old oak, and sporting prints, white wood and red carpet. "Oh,
but this is perfectly charming, Marty," she cried out. "Why did we
bother our heads about Alice when there is this haven of refuge?"

Martin marched up to her and stood eye to eye. "Because I'm alone," he
said, "and you're a girl. That's why."

Joan made a face. "I see. The conventions again. Isn't there any sort
of woman here?"

"Yes, the cook."

She laughed. There was a comic side to this tragedy, after all, it
seemed. "Well, perhaps she'll give us some scrambled eggs and coffee. I
could eat a horse."

Martin opened the door of the sitting room. Like the one in which she
had slept so soundly the previous night, it was stamped with the
character and personality of the other Martin Gray. Books, warm and
friendly, lined the walls. Mounted on wood, fish of different sizes and
breeds hung above the cases, and over the fireplace there was a
full-length oil painting of a man in a red coat and riding breeches.
His kind eyes greeted Joan.

For several minutes she stood beneath it, smiling back. Then she turned
and put her hand involuntarily on the boy's shoulder. "Oh, Marty!" she
said. "I AM sorry."

The boy gave one quick upward glance, and cleared his throat. "I told
you that this house is mine. It isn't. It's yours. It's the only way,
if you're to remain in the city. Is it good enough? Do you want to stay
as much as all that?"

The puzzled look came back. For a moment Joan was silent, worrying out
the meaning of Martin's abrupt and rather cryptic words. There seemed
to be a tremendous amount of fuss because she happened to be a girl.

Martin spoke again before she had emerged from the thicket of inward
questions. She was only eighteen, after all.

"I mean, you can marry me if you like." he said, "and then no one can
take you back." He was amazed at his courage and hideously afraid that
she would laugh at him. He had never dared to say how much he loved her.

She did laugh, but with a ring of so much pleasure and relief that the
blood flew to his head. "Why, Marty, what a brain! What organization!
Of course I'll marry you. Why ever didn't we think of that last night?"

But before he could pull himself together a man-servant entered with an
air of extreme surprise. "I didn't know you'd come home, sir," he said,
"until I saw the suit-case." He saw Joan, and his eyes rounded.

"I was just going to ring," said Martin. "We want some breakfast. Will
you see to it, please?" Alone again, Martin held out his hand to Joan,
in an odd, boyish way. And she took it, boyishly too. "Thank you,
Marty, dear," she said. "You've found the magic carpet. My troubles are
over; and oh, what a pretty little bomb I shall have for Grandmamma!
And now let's explore my house. If it's all like this, I shall simply
love it!" And away she darted into the hall.

"And now," said Joan, "being duly married,--and you certainly do make
things move when you start, Marty,--to send a telegram to Grandmother!
Lead me to the nearest place."

Certain that every person in that crowded street saw in them a newly
married couple, Martin tried to hide his joy under a mask of extreme
callousness and universal indifference. With the challenging antagonism
of an English husband,--whose national habit it is invariably to stalk
ahead of his women-kind while they scramble along at his heels,--he led
the way well in advance of his unblushing bride. But his eyes were
black with emotion. He saw rainbows all over the sky, and rings of
bright light round the square heads of all the buildings which competed
in an endeavor to touch the clouds; and there was a song in his heart.

They sat down side by side in a Western Union office, dallied for a
moment or two with the tied pencils the points of which are always
blunt, and to the incessant longs and shorts of a dozen telegraph
instruments they put their epoch-making news on the neat blanks. Martin
did not intend to be left out of it. His best pal was off the map, and
so he chose a second-best friend and wrote triumphantly: "Have been
married to-day. Staying in New York for honeymoon. How are you?" He was
sorry that he couldn't remember the addresses of a hundred other men.
He felt in the mood to pelt the earth with such telegrams as that.

"Listen," said Joan, her eyes dancing with mischief. "I think this is a
pretty good effort: 'Blessings and congratulations on her marriage
to-day may be sent to Mrs. Martin Gray, at 26 East Sixty-seventh
Street, New York.--Joan.' How's that?"

It was the first time the boy had seen that name, and he blinked and
smiled and got very red. "Terse and literary," he said, dying to put
his arms round her and kiss her before all mankind. "They'll have
something to talk about at dinner to-night. A nice whack in the eye for
Gleave."

He managed to achieve a supremely blase air while the words were being
counted, but it crumbled instantly when the telegraphist shot a quick
look at Joan and gave Martin a grin of cordial congratulation.

As soon as he saw a taxi, Martin hailed it and told the chauffeur to
drive to the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue. "We'll
walk from there," he said to Joan, "--if you'd like to, that is."

"I would like to. I want to peer into the shop windows and look at hats
and dresses. I've got absolutely nothing to wear. Marty, tell me, are
we well off?"

Martin laughed. She reminded him of a youngster going for a picnic and
pooling pocket money. "Yes," he said, "--quite."

She sat back with her hands crossed in her lap. "I'm so glad. It
simplifies everything to have plenty to spend." But for her exquisite
slightness and freshness, no one would have imagined that she was an
only just-fledged bird, flying for the first time. Her equability and
poise were those of a completely sophisticated woman. Nothing seemed to
surprise her. Whatever happened was all part and parcel of the great
adventure. Yesterday she was an overwatched girl, looking yearningly at
a city that appeared to be unattainable. To-day she was a married woman
who, a moment ago, had been standing before a minister, binding herself
for good or ill to a man who was delightfully a boy and of whom she
knew next to nothing. What did it matter--what did anything matter--so
long as she achieved her long-dreamed-of ambition to live and see life?

"Then I can go ahead," she added, "and dress as becomes the wife of a
man of one of our best families. I've never been able to dress before.
Trust me to make an excellent beginning." There was a twinkle of humor
in her eyes as she said these things, and excitement too. "Tell me
this, Marty: is it as easy to get unmarried as it is to get married?"

"You're not thinking about that already, surely!"

"Oh, no. But information is always useful, isn't it?"

Just for a moment the boy's heart went down into his boots. She didn't
love him yet; he knew that He intended to earn her love as an honest
man earns his living. What hurt was the note of flippancy in her voice
in talking of an event that was to him so momentous and wonderful. It
seemed to mean no more to her to have entered into a lifelong tie than
the buying of a mere hat--not so much, not nearly so much, as to have
found a way of not going back to those two old people in the country.
She was young, awfully young, he told himself again. Presently her feet
would touch the earth, and she would understand.

As they walked up Fifth Avenue and with little gurgles of enthusiasm
Joan halted at every other shop to look at hats that appealed to Martin
as absurdly, willfully freakish, and evening dresses which seemed
deliberately to have been handed over to a cat to be torn to ribbons,
it came back to him that one just such soft spring evening, the year
before, he had walked home from the Grand Central Station and been
seized suddenly with an almost painful longing to be asked by some
precious person who belonged wholly to him to share her delight in all
the things which then stood for nothing in his life. Then and there he
fulfilled an ambition long cherished and hidden away; he touched Joan
on the arm and opened the elaborate door of a famous jeweler. He was
known to the shop from the fact that he and his father had always dealt
there for wedding and Christmas presents. He was welcomed by a man in
the clothes of a concert singer and with the bedside manner of a family
doctor.

He was desperately self-conscious, and his collar felt two sizes too
small, but he managed to get into his voice a tone that was
sufficiently matter-of-fact to blunt the edge of the man's rather
roguish smile. "Let me see your latest gold-mesh bags," he said as
ordinary, everyday people ask to see collar studs.

"Marty!" whispered Joan. "What are you going to do?"

"Oh, that's all right," said Martin. "You can't get along without a
bag, you see."

Half a dozen yellow, insinuating things were laid out on the shining
glass, and with a wonderful smile that was worth all the gold the earth
contained to Martin, Joan made a choice--but not hastily, and not
before she had inspected every other gold bag in the shop. Even at
eighteen she was woman enough to want to be quite certain that she
possessed herself of the very best thing of its kind and would never
have, in future, to feel jealous of one that might lie alluringly in
the window.

"This one," she said finally. "I'm quite sure."

Martin didn't ask the price. It was for his bride. He picked it up and
hung it over her wrist, said "The old address," nodded to the man,--who
was just about to call attention to a tray of diamond brooches,--and
led the way out, feeling at least six feet two.

And as Joan regained the street, she passed another milestone in her
life. To be the proprietor of precisely just such a gold bag had been
one of her steady dreams.

"Marty," she said, "what a darling you are!"

The boy's eyes filled with tears.



VI


It was an evening Martin would never forget.

His suggestion that they should dine at Delmonico's and go to the
Empire to see Ethel Barrymore, accepted with avidity, had stirred Joan
to immediate action. She had hailed a taxi, said, "You'll see me in an
hour, Marty," and disappeared with a quick injunction to have whatever
she bought sent home C.O.D.

It was actually two hours before he saw her again. He thanked his stars
that he had enough money in the bank to meet the checks that he was
required to make out in quick succession. Joan had not wasted time, and
as she got into the car to drive away from that sandwich house of
excited servants, two other milestones had been left behind. She was in
a real evening frock, and all the other things she had bought were silk.

They drove straight home from the theater. Joan was tired. The day had
been long and filled with amazements. She was out in the world at last.
Realization had exceeded expectation for the first time in history.

The sand-man had been busy with Martin's eyes too, but he led the way
into the dining room with shoulders square and chin high and spring in
his blood. This was home indeed.

"What a tempting little supper!" said Joan. "And just look at all these
flowers."

They were everywhere, lilacs and narcissi, daffodils, violets and
hothouse roses. Hours ago he had sent out the almost unbelieving
footman for them. Joan and flowers--they were synonymous.

She put her pretty face into a great bowl of violets. "You remembered
all my little friends, Marty," she said.

They sat opposite each other at the long table. Martin's father looked
down at Martin's wife, and his mother at the boy from whom she had been
taken when his eager eyes came up to the level of her pillow. And there
was much tenderness on both their faces.

Martin caught the manservant's eyes. "Don't wait," he said. "We'll look
after ourselves."

Presently Joan gave a little laugh. "Please have something yourself.
You're better than a footman. You're a butler."

His smile as he took his place would have lighted up a tunnel.

"I like Delmonico's," said Joan. "We'll often dine there. And the play
was perfectly splendid. What a lot of others there are to see! I don't
think we'll let the grass grow under our feet, Marty. And presently
we'll have some very proper little dinner parties in this room, won't
we? Interesting, vital people, who must all be good-looking and young.
It will be a long time before I shall want to see anyone old again.
Think what Alice Palgrave will say when she comes back! She'll
underline every word if she can find any words. She wasn't married till
she was twenty."

And presently, having pecked at an admirable fruit salad, just sipped a
glass of wine and made close-fitting plans that covered at least a
month, Joan rose. "I shall go up now, Marty," she said. "It's twelve
o'clock."

He watched her go upstairs with his heart in his throat. Surely this
was all a dream, and in a moment he would find himself rudely and
coldly awake, standing in the middle of a crowded, lonely world? But
she stopped on the landing, turned, smiled at him and waved her hand.
He drew in a deep breath, went back into the dining room, put his lips
to the violets that had been touched by her face, and switched off the
lights. The scent of spring was in the air.

"Come in," she said, when presently, after a long pause, he knocked at
her door.

She was sitting at a gleaming dressing table in something white and
clinging, doing her hair that was so soft and brown and electrical.

He dared not trust himself to speak. He sat down on the edge of a sofa
at the foot of the bed and watched her.

She went on brushing but with her unoccupied hand gathered her gown
about her. "What is it, Marty?" she asked quietly.

"Nothing," he said, finding something that sounded curiously unlike his
voice.

She could see his young, eager face and broad shoulders in the
looking-glass. His hands were clasped tightly round one knee.

"I've been listening to the sound of traffic," she said. "That's the
sort of music that appeals to me. It seems a year since I did my hair
in that great, prim room and heard the owls cry and watched myself grow
old. Just think! It's really only a few hours ago that I dropped my
suit-case out of a window and climbed down the creeper. We said we'd
make things move, didn't we?"

"I shall write to your grandfather in the morning," said Martin, with
almost comical gravity and an unconscious touch of patronage. How
childlike the old are to the very young!

"That will be nice of you," answered Joan. "We'll be very kind to him,
won't we? There'll be no one to read the papers to him now."

"He was a great chap once," said Martin. "My father liked him awfully."

She swung her hair free and turned her chair a little. "You must tell
me what he said about him, in the morning. Heigh-ho, I'm so sleepy."

Martin got up and went to see if the windows were all open. "They'll
call us at eight," he said, "unless you'd like it to be later."

Joan went to the door and opened it and held out her hand. "Eight's
good," she said. "Good night, Marty."

The boy looked at the little open hand with its long fingers, and at
his wife, who seemed so cool and sweet and friendly. What did she mean?

He asked her, with an odd catch in his voice.

And she gave him the smile of a tired child. "Just that, old boy. Good
night."

"But--but we're married," he said with a little stammer.

"Do you think I can forget that, in this room, with that sound in the
street?"

"Well, then, why say good night to me like this?"

"How else, Marty dear?"

An icy chill ran over Martin and struck at his heart. Was it really
true that she could stand there and hold out her hand and with the
beginning of impatience expect him to leave a room the right to which
had been made over to him by law and agreement?

He asked her that, as well as he could, in steadier, kinder words than
he need have used.

And she dropped her hand and sighed a little. "Don't spoil everything
by arguing with me, Marty. I really am only a kid, you know. Be good
and run along now. Look--it's almost one."

The blood rushed to his head, and he held out his hands to her. "But I
love you. I love you, Joany. You can't--you CAN'T tell me to go." It
was a boy's cry, a boy profoundly, terribly hurt and puzzled.

"Well, if we've got to go into all this now I may as well sit down,"
she said, and did. "That air's rather chilly, too." She folded her arms
over her breast.

It was enough. All the chivalry in Martin came up and choked his anger
and bitterness and untranslatable disappointment. He went out and shut
the door and stumbled downstairs into the dark sitting room and stood
there for a long time all among chaos and ruin. He loved her to
adoration, and the spring was in his blood; and if she was young, she
was not so young as all that; and where was her side of the bargain?
And at last, through the riot and jumble of his thoughts, her creed of
life came back to him, word for word: she took all she could get and
gave nothing in return; and "Who cares?" was her motto.

And after that he stood like a man balanced on the edge of a precipice.
In cold blood he could go back and like a brute demand his price. And
if he went forward and let her off because he loved her so and was a
gentleman, down he must go, like a stone.

He was very white, and his lips were set when he went up to his room.
With curious deliberation he got back into his clothes and saw that he
had money, returned to the hall, put on his coat and hat, shut the door
behind him and walked out under the stars.

"All right, then, who cares?" he said, facing toward the "Great White
Way." "Who the devil cares?"

And up in her room, with her hand under her cheek like a child, Joan
had left the world with sleep.



PART TWO


THE ROUND-ABOUT

I


Alice Palgrave's partner had dealt, and having gone three in "no
trumps" and found seven to the ace, king, queen in hearts lying before
her in dummy, she wore a smile of beatific satisfaction. So also did
Alice--for two reasons. The deal obviously spelled money, and Vere
Millet could be trusted to get every trick out of it. There were four
bridge tables fully occupied in the charming drawing-room, and as she
caught the hostess' eye and smiled, she felt just a little bit like a
fairy godmother in having surrounded Joan with so many of the smartest
members of the younger set barely three weeks after her astonishing
arrival in a city in which she had only one friend.

Alice didn't blind herself to the fact that in order to gamble, most of
the girls in the room would go, without the smallest discrimination, to
anybody's house; but there were others,--notably Mrs. Alan Hosack, Mrs.
Cooper Jekyll and Enid Ouchterlony,--whose pride it was to draw a hard,
relentless line between themselves and every one, however wealthy, who
did not belong to families of the same, or almost the same,
unquestionable standing as their own. Their presence in the little
house in East Sixty-seventh Street gave it, they were well aware, a
most enviable cachet and placed Joan safely within the inner circle of
New York society--the democratic royal inclosure. It was something to
have achieved so soon--little as Joan appeared, in her astonishing
coolness, to appreciate it. The Ludlows, as Joan had told Alice with
one of her frequent laughs, might have come over in the only staterooms
on the ship which towed the heavily laden Mayflower, but that didn't
alter the fact that the Hosacks, the Jekylls and the Ouchterlonys were
the three most consistently exclusive and difficult families in the
country, to know whom all social climbers would joyously mortgage their
chances of eternity. Alice placed a feather in her cap accordingly.

Joan's table was the first to break up. She was a loser to the tune of
seventy dollars, and while she wrote her check to Marie Littlejohn, a
tiny blond exotic not much older than herself,--who laid down the law
with the ripe authority of a Cabinet Minister and kept to a daily
time-table with the unalterable effrontery of a fashionable
doctor,--talked over her shoulder to Christine Hurley.

"Alice tells me that your brother has gone to France with the Canadian
Flying Corps. Aren't you proud of him?"

"I suppose so, but it isn't our war, and they're awfully annoyed about
it at Piping Rock. He was the crack man of the polo team, you know. I
don't see that there was any need of his butting into this European
fracas."

"I quite agree with you," said Miss Littlejohn, with her eyes on the
clock. "I broke my engagement to Metcalfe Hussey because he insisted on
going over to join the English regiment his grandfather used to belong
to. I've no patience with sentimentality." She took the check and
screwed it into a small gold case. "I'm dining with my bandage-rolling
aunt and going on to the opera. Thank goodness, the music will drown
her war talk. Good-by." She nodded here and there and left, to be
driven home with her adipose chow in a Rolls-Royce.

Christine Hurley touched a photograph that stood on Joan's desk. "Who's
this good-looking person?" she asked.

"My husband," said Joan.

"Oh, really! When are we to see something of him?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Joan. "He's about somewhere."

Miss Hurley laughed. "It's like that already, is it? Haven't you only
just been married?"

"Yes," said Joan lightly, "but we've begun where most people leave off.
It's a great saving of time and temper!"

The sophisticated Christine, no longer in the first flush of giddy
youth, still unmarried after four enterprising years, was surprised
into looking with very real interest at the girl who had been until
that moment merely a hostess. Her extreme finish, her unself-conscious
confidence and intrepidity, her unassumed lightness of temper were not
often found in one so young and apparently virginal. She dismissed as
unbelievable the story that this girl had been brought up in the
country in an atmosphere of early Victorianism. She had obviously just
come from one of those elaborate finishing schools in which the
daughters of rich people are turned into hothouse plants by sycophants
and parasites and sent out into the world the most perfect specimens of
superautocracy, to patronize their parents, scoff at discipline, ignore
duty and demand the sort of luxury that brought Rome to its fall. With
admiration and amusement she watched her say good-by to one woman after
another as the various tables broke up. It really gave her quite a
moment to see the way in which Joan gave as careless and unawed a hand
to Mrs. Alan Hosack and Mrs. Cooper Jekyll as to the Countess Palotta,
who had nothing but pride to rattle in her little bag; and when finally
she too drove away, it was with the uneasy sense of dissatisfaction
that goes with the dramatic critic from a production in which he has
honestly to confess that there is something new--and arresting.

Alice Palgrave stayed behind. She felt a natural proprietary interest
in the success of the afternoon. "My dear," she said emotionally,
"you're perfectly wonderful!"

"I am? Why?"

"To any other just-married girl this would have been an ordeal, a
nerve-wrecking event. But you've been as cool as a fish--I've been
watching you. You might have been brought up in a vice-regal lodge and
hobnobbed all your life with ambassadors. How do you do it?"

Joan laughed and threw out her arms. "Oh, I don't know," she said, with
her eyes dancing and her nostrils extended. "I don't stop to think how
to do things. I just do them. These people are young and alive, and
it's good to be among them. I work off some of my own vitality on them
and get recharged at the sound of their chatter. People, people--give
me people and the clash of tongues and the sense of movement. I don't
much care who they are. I shall pick up all the little snobbish stuff
sooner or later, of course, and talk about the right set and all that,
as you do. I'm bound to. At present everything's new and exciting, and
I'm whipping it up. You wait a little. I'll cut out some of the dull
and pompous when I've got things going, and limit myself to red-blooded
speed-breakers. Give me time, Alice."

She sat down at the piano and crashed out a fox-trot that was all over
town. No one would have imagined from her freshness and vivacity that
she had been dancing until daylight every night that week.

"Well," said Alice when she could be heard, "I see you making history,
my dear; there's no doubt about that."

"None whatever," answered Joan. "I'm outside the walls at last, and
I'll go the pace until the ambulance comes."

"With or without Martin Gray?"

"With, if he's quick enough--without, if not."

"Be careful," said Alice.

"Not I, my dear. I left care away back in the country with my little
old frocks."

Alice held out her hand. "You bewilder me a little," she said. "You
make me feel as if I were in a high wind. You did when we were at
school, I remember. Well, don't bother to thank me for having got up
this party." She added this a little dryly.

With a most winning smile Joan kissed her. "You're a good pal, Alice,"
she said, "and I'm very grateful."

Alice was compensated, although her shrewd knowledge of character told
her how easily her friend won her points. "And I hope you're duly
grateful to Martin Gray?"

"To dear old Marty? Rather! He and I are great pals."

But that was all Alice got. Her burning curiosity to know precisely how
this young couple stood must go unsatisfied for the time being. She had
only caught a few fleeting glimpses of the man who had given Joan the
key to life, and every time had wondered, from something in his eyes,
whether he found things wholly good. She was just a little suspicious
of romances. Her own had worn thin so quickly. "Good-by, my dear," she
said. "Don't forget you're dining with me to-morrow."

"Not likely."

"What are you doing to-night?"

"Going to bed at nine o'clock to sleep the clock round. I'm awfully
tired."

She stood quite still for many minutes after Alice had gone, and shut
her eyes. In a quick series of moving pictures she saw thousands of
little lights and swaying people and clashing colors, and caught
snatches of lilting music and laughter. She was tired, and something
that seemed like a hand pressed her forehead tightly, but the near-by
sound of incessant traffic sent her blood spinning, and she opened her
eyes and gave a little laugh and went out.

Martin was on his way downstairs. He drew up abruptly. "Oh, hello!" he
said.

"Oh, hello!" said Joan.

He was in evening clothes. His face had lost its tan and his eyes their
clear country early-to-bed look. "You've had a tea-fight, I see. I
peered into the drawing-room an hour ago and backed out, quick."

"Why? They were all consumed with curiosity about you. Alice has
advertised our romantic story, you see." She clasped her hands together
and adopted a pose in caricature of the play heroine in an ecstasy of
egomania.

But Martin's laugh was short and hollow. He wasn't amused. "How did you
get on?" he asked.

"Lost seventy dollars--that's all. Three-handed bridge with Grandfather
and Grandmother was not a good apprenticeship. I must have a few
lessons. D'you like my frock? Come up. You can't see it from there."

And he came up and looked at her as she turned this way and that. How
slim she was, and alluring! The fire in him flamed up, and his eyes
flickered. "Awful nice!" he said.

"You really like it?"

"Yes, really. You look beyond criticism in anything, always."

Joan stretched out her hand. "Thank you, Marty," she said. "You say and
do the most charming things that have ever been said and done."

He bent over the long-fingered hand. His pride begged him not to let
her see the hunger and pain that were in his eyes.

"Going out?" she asked.

Martin gave a careless glance at one of B. C. Koekkoek's inimitable
Dutch interiors that hung between two pieces of Flemish tapestry. His
voice showed some of his eagerness, though. "I was going to have dinner
with some men at the University Club, but I can chuck that and take you
to the Biltmore or somewhere else if you like."

Joan shook her head. "Not to-night, Marty. I'm going to bed early, for
a change."

"Aren't you going to give me one evening, then?" His question was
apparently as casual as his attitude. He stood with his hands in his
pockets and his legs wide apart and his teeth showing. He might have
been talking to a sister.

"Oh, lots, presently. I'm so tired to-night, old boy."

He would have given Parnassus for a different answer. "All right then,"
he said. "So long."

"So long, Marty! Don't be too late." She nodded and smiled and went
upstairs.

And he nodded and smiled and went down--to the mental depths. "What am
I to do?" he asked himself. "What am I to do?" And he put his arms into
the coat that was held out and took his hat. In the street the soft
April light was fading, and the scent of spring was blown to him from
the Park. He turned into Fifth Avenue in company with a horde of
questions that he couldn't shake off. He couldn't believe that any of
all this was true. Was there no one in all this world of people who
would help him and give him a few words of advice? "Oh, Father," he
said from the bottom of his heart, "dear old Father, where are you?"

The telephone bell was ringing as Joan went into her room. Gilbert
Palgrave spoke--lightly and fluently and with easy words of flattery.

She laughed and sat on the edge of the bed and crossed her legs and put
the instrument on her knee. "You read all that in a book," she said.
"I'm tired. Yesterday and the night before... No... No... All right,
then. Fetch me in an hour." She put the receiver back.

"Why not?" she said to herself, ringing for her maid. "Bed's for old
people. Thank God, I sha'n't be old for a century."

She presented her back to the deft-fingered girl and yawned. But the
near-by clatter of traffic sounded in her ears.



II


Gilbert Palgrave turned back to his dressing table. An hour gave him
ample time to get ready.

"Don't let that bath get cold," he said. "And look here. You may take
those links out. I'll wear the pearls instead."

The small, eel-like Japanese murmured sibilantly and disappeared into
the bathroom.

This virginal girl, who imagined herself able to play with fire without
burning her fingers, was providing him with most welcome amusement. And
he needed it. He had been considerably bored of late--always a
dangerous mood for him to fall into. He was thirty-one. For ten years
he had paid far more than there had been any necessity to keep
constantly amused, constantly interested. Thanks to a shrewd ancestor
who had bought large tracts of land in a part of Manhattan which had
then been untouched by bricks and mortar, and to others, equally
shrewd, who had held on and watched a city spreading up the Island like
a mustard plant, he could afford whatever price he was asked to pay.
Whole blocks were his where once the sheep had grazed.

Ingenuity to spend his income was required of Palgrave. He possessed
that gift to an expert degree. But he was no easy mark, no mere
degenerate who hacked off great chunks of a splendid fortune for the
sake of violent exercise. He was too indolent for violence, too
inherently fastidious for degeneracy. And deep down somewhere in a
nature that had had no incentive to develop, there was the fag end of
that family shrewdness which had made the early Palgraves envied and
maligned. Tall and well built, with a handsome Anglo-Saxon type of
face, small, soft, fair mustache, large, rather bovine gray eyes, and a
deep cleft in his chin, he gave at first sight an impression of
strength--which left him, however, when he spoke to pretty women. It
was not so much the things he said,--light, jesting, personal
things,--as the indications they gave of the overweening vanity of the
spoiled boy and of a brain which occupied itself merely with the fluff
and thistledown of life. He was, and he knew it and made no effort to
disguise the fact, a typical specimen of the very small class of
indolent bystanders made rich by the energy of other men who are to be
found in every country. He was, in fact, the peculiar type of
aristocrat only to be found in a democracy--the aristocrat not of blood
and breeding or intellect, but of wealth. He was utterly without any
ambition to shine either in social life or politics, or to achieve
advertisement by the affectation of a half-genuine interest in any
cause. On the contrary, he reveled in being idle and indifferent, and
unlike the aristocrats of Europe he refused to catch that archaic
habit, encouraged at Eton and Oxford, of relating everything in the
universe to the standards and prejudices of a single class.

Palgrave was triumphantly one-eyed and selfish; but he waited, with a
sort of satirical wistfulness, for the time when some one person should
cause him to stand eager and startled in a chaos of individualism and
indolence and shake him into a Great Emotion. He had looked for her at
all times and places, though without any troublesome optimism or
personal energy, and had almost come to believe that she was to him
what the end of the rainbow is to the idealist. In marrying Alice he
had followed the path of least resistance. She was young, pretty and
charming, and had been very much in love with him. Also it pleased his
mother, and she had been worth pleasing. He gave his wife all that she
could possibly need, except very much of himself. She was a perfectly
dear little soul.

Joan only kept him waiting about fifteen minutes. With perfect patience
he stood in front of an Italian mirror in the drawing-room, smoking a
cigarette through a long tortoise-shell holder. He regarded himself
with keen and friendly interest, not in the least surprised that his
wife's little friend from the country so evidently liked him. He found
that he looked up to his best form, murmured a word of praise for the
manner in which his evening coat was cut and smiled once or twice in
order to have the satisfaction of getting a glimpse of his peculiarly
good teeth. Then he laughed, called himself a conceited ass and went
over to examine a rather virile sketch of a muscular, deep-chested
young man in rowing costume which occupied an inconspicuous place among
many well-chosen pictures. He recognized Martin, whom he had seen
several times following the hounds, and tried to remember if Alice had
told him whether Joan had run away with this strenuous young fellow or
been run away with by him. There was much difference between the two
methods.

He heard nothing, but caught the scent of Peau d'Espagne. It carried
his mind back to a charming little suite in the Hotel de Crillon in
Paris. He turned and found Joan standing in the doorway, watching him.

"Did you ever row?" she asked.

"No," he said, "never. Too much fag. I played squash and roulette. You
look like a newly risen moon in her first quarter. Where would you like
to go?"

"I don't know," said Joan. "Let's break away from the conventional
places. I rather want to see queer people and taste different food. But
don't let's discuss it. I leave it to you." She went downstairs. She
might have been living in that house for years.

He followed, admiring the way her small, patrician head was set on her
shoulders, and the rich brown note of her hair. Extraordinary little
person, this! He told his chauffeur to drive to the Brevoort, and got
into the car. It was possible at that hour to deal with the Avenue as a
street and not as a rest-cure interrupted by short spurts.

"Would you rather the windows were up, Gehane?" he asked, looking at
her through his long lashes.

"No. The air's full of new ferns. But why Gehane?"

"You remind me of her, and I'm pretty certain that you also could do
your hair in the same two long braids. Given the chance, I can see you
developing into some-thing like medievalism and joining the ranks of
women who loved greatly."

They passed the Plaza with all its windows gleaming, like a giant's
house in a fairy tale.

Joan shook her head. "No," she said. "No. I'm just the last word of
this very minute. Everybody in America for a hundred and fifty years
has worked to make me. I'm the reward of mighty effort. I'm the
dream-child of the pioneers, as far removed from them as the chimney of
the highest building from the rock on which it's rooted."

Palgrave laughed a little. "It appears that you did some thinking out
there in your country cage."

"Thinking! That's all I had to do! I spent a lifetime standing on the
hill with the woods behind me trying to catch the music of this street,
the sound of this very car, and I thought it all out, every bit of it."

"Every bit of what?"

"Life and death and the great hereafter," she said, "principally life.
That's why I'm going out to dinner with you instead of going early to
bed."

The glare of a lamp silvered her profile and the young curve of her
bosom. Somewhere, at some time, Palgrave had knelt humbly, with strange
anguish and hunger, at the feet of a girl with just that young proud
face and those unawakened eyes. The memory of it was like an echo of an
echo.

"Why," said Joan, halting for a moment on her way to the steps of the
old hotel, "this looks like a picture postcard of a bit of Paris."

"Yes, on the other side of the Seine, near the Odeon. Our grandfathers
imagined that they were very smart when they stayed here. It's one of
the few places in town that has atmosphere."

"I like it," said Joan.

The hall was alive with people, laughing and talking, and the walls
with the rather bold designs of the posters. A band, which made up in
vim and go what it lacked in numbers, was playing a selection from "The
Chocolate Soldier." The place was full of the smell of garlic and
cigarette smoke and coffee. There was a certain dramatic animation
among the waiters, characteristically Latin. Few of the diners wore
evening clothes. The walls were refreshingly free from the hideous gold
decorations of the average hotel.

Men stared at Joan with undisguised interest and approbation. Her
virginity was like the breath of spring in the room. Women looked after
Palgrave in the same way. Into that semi-Bohemianism he struck a rather
surprising note, like the sudden advent of caviar and champagne upon a
table of beer and pickles.

They were given a table near the wall by the window, far too close to
other tables for complete comfort. Waiters were required to be gymnasts
to slide between them and avoid an accident. Palgrave ordered without
any hesitation, like a newspaper man finding his way through a daily
paper.

"How do you like it?" he said.

Joan looked about her. Mostly the tables were occupied by a man and a
woman, but at a few were four and six of both in equal numbers, and
here and there parties of men. At one or two, women with eccentric
heads sat together in curious garments which had the appearance of
being made at home on the spur of the moment. They smoked between
mouthfuls and laughed without restraint. Some of the men wore longish
hair and the double tie of those who wish to be mistaken for
dramatists. Others affected a poetic disarrangement of collar, and
fantastic beards. There were others who had wandered over the border of
middle age and who were bald and strangely adipose, with mackerel eyes
and unpleasant mouths. They were with young girls, gaudily but shabbily
dressed, shopgirls perhaps, or artists' models or stenographers, who in
dull and sordid lives grappled any chance to obtain a square meal, even
if it had to be accessory to such companionship. The minority of men
present was made up of honest, clean, commonplace citizens who were
there for a good dinner in surroundings that offered a certain stimulus
to the imagination.

"Who are they all?" asked Joan, beating time with a finger to the
lilting tune which the little band had just begun, with obvious
enjoyment. "Adventurers, mostly, I imagine," replied Palgrave, not
unpleased to play Baedeker to a girl who was becoming more and more
attractive to him. "I mean people who live by their wits--writers,
illustrators, actors, newspaper men, with a smattering of Wall Street
brokers seeking a little mild diversion as we are, and foreigners to
whom this place has a sentimental interest because it reminds them of
home. Sophisticated children, most of them, optimists with moments of
hideous pessimism, enthusiasts at various stages of Parnassus, the peak
of which is lighted with a huge dollar sign. A friendly, kindly lot,
hard-working and temperamental, with some brilliance and a rather high
level of cleverness--slaves of the magazine, probably, and therefore
not able to throw stones farther into the future than the end of the
month. This is not a country in which literature and art can ever grow
big; the cost of living is too high. The modern Chatterton detests
garrets and must drive something with an engine in it, whatever the
name it goes by."

There was one electrical moment during the next hour which shook the
complacency of every one in the larger room and forced the thoughts,
even of those who deliberately turned their backs to the drama of
Europe, out across the waters which they fondly and fatuously hoped cut
off the United States from ever being singed by the blaze. The little
band was playing one of those rather feeble descriptive pieces which
begin with soft, peaceful music with the suggestion of the life of a
farmyard, and the sound of church bells, swing into the approach of
armed men with shrill bugle calls, become chaotic with the rush of
fearful women and children, and the commencement of heavy artillery,
and wind up with the broad triumphant strains of a national anthem. It
happened, naturally enough, that the particular national anthem chosen
by the energetic and patriotic man who led the band at the piano was
"The Marseillaise."

The incessant chatter and laughter went on as usual. The music had no
more effect upon the closely filled room than a hackneyed ragtime.
Suddenly, as the first few notes of that immortal air rang out, a
little old white-haired man, dining in a corner with a much-bosomed,
elderly woman, sprang to his feet and in a voice vibrating with the
fervor of emotion screamed "Vive la France--vive la patrie!" again and
again.

Instantly, from here and there, other men, stout and middle-aged,
lifted out of their chairs by this intense and beautiful burst of
feeling, joined in that old heart-cry, and for two or three shattering
minutes the air was rent with hoarse shouts of "Vive Joffre," "Vive la
France," "Vive la patrie," to the louder and louder undercurrent of
music. Indifference, complacency, neutrality, gave way. There was a
general uprising and uproar; and America, as represented by that olla
podrida of the professions, including the one which is the oldest in
the world, paid homage and tribute and yelled sympathy to those few
Frenchmen among them whose passionate love of country found almost
hysterical vent at the sound of the hymn which had stirred all France
to a height of bravery and sacrifice never before reached in the
history of nations.

There were one or two hisses and several scoffing laughs, but these
were instantly drowned by vigorous hand-clapping. The next moment the
room resumed its normal appearance.

When Palgrave, who had been surprised to find himself on his feet, sat
down again, he saw that Joan's lips were trembling and that there were
tears in her eyes. He gave a little laugh, but before he could say any
thing, her hand was on his arm. "No, don't," she said. "Let it go
without a single word. It was too good for sarcasm."

"Oddly enough, I had no sarcasm ready," replied Palgrave. "When our
time comes, I wonder whether we shall have an eightieth part of that
enthusiasm for our little old tune. What do you think?"

"Our time? What time?"

"The time when we have to get into this melee or become the pariah dog
among countries. I don't profess to any knowledge of international
affairs, but any fool can see that our sham neutrality will be the most
costly piece of political blundering ever perpetrated in history. Here
we are in 1915. The war's nine months old. For every day we stand aside
we shall eventually pay a year's bill."

"That's all too deep for me," said Joan. "And anyway, I shan't be asked
to pay anything. What shall we do now?"

"What would you like to do? Go on to the Ritz and dance?" He had a
sudden desire to hold this girl in his arms.

"Why not? I'm on the verge of getting fed up with this place. Let's
give civilization a turn."

"I think so." He beckoned to his waiter. "The check," he said. "Sharp's
the word, please."

The Crystal Room was not content with one band. Even musicians must
sometimes pause for breath, and anything like a break in the jangle and
noise might bring depression to the diners who had crowded in to dance.
As soon, therefore, as the left band was exhausted, the one on the
right sprang in with renewed and feverish energy. Whatever melody there
might have been in the incessant ragtime and fox trots was lost beneath
the bang and clang of drum and cymbals, to which had been added other
more ingenious ear tortures in the shape of rattles and whistles.
Broken-collared men and faded women struggled for elbow room like a
mass of flies caught on sticky paper. There was something both
heathenish and pathetic in the whole thing. The place was reekingly hot.

"Come on," said Joan, her blood stirred by the movement and sound.

Palgrave held her close and edged his way into the crowd between
pointed bare elbows and tightly clasped hands.

"They call this dancing!" he said.

"What do you call it?"

"A bullfight in Hades." And he laughed and put his cheek against her
hair and held her young slim body against his own. What did he care
what it was or where they were? He had all the excuse that he needed to
get the sense and scent of her. His utter distaste of being bruised and
bumped, and of adding himself to a heterogeneous collection of people
with no more individuality than sheep, who followed each other from
place to place in flocks after the manner of sheep, left him. This girl
was something more than a young, naive creature from the country,
childishly keen to do everything and go everywhere at fever
heat--something more than the very epitome of triumphant youth as clean
and sweet as apple blossoms, with whom to flirt and pose as being the
blase man of the world, the Mr. Know-All of civilization, a wild flower
in a hot house. Attracted at once by her exquisite coloring and
delicious profile, and amused by her imperative manner and intolerant
point of view, he had now begun to be piqued and intrigued by her
insurgent way of treating marriage and of ignoring her husband--by her
assumption of sexlessness and the fact that she was unmoved by his
compliments and looked at him with eyes in which there was no remote
suggestion of physical interest.

And it was this attitude, new to him hitherto on his easy way, that
began to challenge him, to stir in him a desire to bring her down to
his own level, to make her fall in love and become what he called
human. He had given her several evenings, and had put himself out to
cater to her eager demand to see life and burn the night away in crowds
and noise. He had treated her, this young, new thing, as he was in the
habit of treating any beautiful woman with whom he was on the verge of
an affair and who realized the art of give and take. But more than ever
she conveyed the impression of sex detachment to which he was wholly
unaccustomed. He might have been any inarticulate lad of her own age,
useful as a companion, to be ordered to fetch and carry, dance or walk,
go or come. At that moment there was no woman in the city for whom he
would undergo the boredom and the bruising and the dementia of such a
place as the one to which she had drawn him. He was not a provincial
who imagined that it was the smart thing to attend this dull orgy and
struggle on a polished floor packed as in a sardine tin. Years ago he
had outgrown cabaret mania and recovered from the fascination of
syncopation. And yet here he was, once more, against all his
fastidiousness, playing the out-of-town lad to a girl who took
everything and gave nothing in return. It was absurd, fantastic. He was
Gilbert Palgrave, the man who picked and chose, for whose attentions
many women would give their ears, who stood in satirical aloofness from
the general ruck; and as he held Joan in his arms and made sporadic
efforts to dance whenever there was a few inches of room in which to do
so, using all his ingenuity to dodge the menace of the elbows and feet
of people who pushed and forced as though they were in a subway crush,
he told himself that he would make it his business from that moment
onward to lay siege to Joan, apply to her all his well-proved gifts of
attraction and eventually make her pay his price for services rendered.

He had just arrived at this cold-blooded determination when, to his
complete astonishment and annoyance, a strong, muscular form thrust
itself roughly between himself and Joan and swept her away.



III


"Marty!" cried Joan.

There was a curious glint in Martin's gray eyes, like the flash of
steel in front of a window. His jaw was set, and his face strangely
white.

"You said you were going to bed."

"I was going to bed, Marty dear."

"What are you doing here, then?"

"I changed my mind, old boy, and went out to dinner."

"Chucked me in favor of Palgrave."

"No, I didn't."

"What then?"

"He rang up after you'd gone; and going to bed like an old crock seemed
silly and feeble, and so I dressed and went out."

"Why with that rotter Palgrave?"

"Why not? And why rotter?"

"You don't answer my question!"

"Have I got to answer your question?"

"You're my wife, although you don't seem to know it; and I object to
Pargrave."

"I can't help that, Marty. I like him, you see, and humble little
person as I am, I can't be expected to turn my back on every one except
the men you choose for me."

"I don't choose any men for you. I want you for myself."

"Dear old Marty, but you've got me forever!"

"No, I haven't. You're less mine now than you were when I only saw you
in dreams. But all the same you're my wife, and I tell you now, you
sha'n't be handled by a man like Palgrave."

They were in the middle of the floor. There were people all round them,
thickly. They were obliged to keep going in that lunatic movement or be
run down. What a way and in what a place to bare a bleeding heart!

For the first time since he had answered to her call and found her
standing clean-cut against the sky, Martin held Joan in his arms. His
joy in doing so was mixed with rage and jealousy. It had been worse
than a blow in the mouth suddenly to see her, of whom he had thought as
fast asleep in what was only the mere husk of home, dancing with a man
like Palgrave.

And her nearness maddened him. All the starved and pent-up passion that
was in him flamed and blazed. It blinded him and buzzed in his ears. He
held her so tight and so hungrily that she could hardly breathe. She
was his, this girl. She had called him, and he had answered, and she
was his wife. He had the right to her by law and nature. He adored her
and had let her off and tried to be patient and win his way to her by
love and gentleness. But with his lips within an inch of her sweet,
impertinent face, and the scent of her hair in his brain, and the wound
that she had opened again sapping his blood, he held her to his heart
and charged the crowd to the beat of the music, like a man intoxicated,
like a man heedless of his surroundings. He didn't give a curse who
overheard what he said, or saw the look in his eyes. She had turned him
down, this half-wife, on the plea of weariness; and as soon as he had
left the house to go and eat his heart out in the hub of that swarming
lonely city, she had darted out with this doll-man whom he wouldn't
have her touch with the end of a pole. There was a limit to all things,
and he had come to it.

"You're coming home," he said.

"Marty, but I can't. Gilbert Palgrave--"

"Gilbert Palgrave be damned. You're coming home, I tell you, if I have
to carry you out."

She laughed. This was a new Marty, a high-handed, fiery Marty--one who
must not be encouraged. "Are you often like this?" she asked.

"Be careful. I've had enough, and if you don't want me to smash this
place up and cause a riot, you'll do what I tell you."

Her eyes flashed back at him, and two angry spots of color came into
her cheeks. He was out of control. She realized that. She had never in
her life seen any one so out of control--unaccountable as she found it.
That he would smash up the place and cause a riot she knew
instinctively. She put up no further opposition. If anything were to be
avoided, it was a scene, and in her mind's eye she could see herself
being carried out by this plunging boy, with a yard of stocking showing
and the laughter of every one ringing in her ears. No, no, not that!
She began to look for Palgrave, with her mind all alert and full of a
mischievous desire to turn the tables on Martin. He must be shown
quickly that if any one gave orders, she did.

He danced her to the edge of the floor, led her panting through the
tables to the foot of the stairs and with his hand grasping her arm
like a vice, guided her up to the place where ladies left their wraps.

"We're going home," he said, "to have things out. I'll wait here." Then
he called a boy and told him to get his hat and coat and gave him his
check.

Five minutes later, in pulsating silence, both of them angry and
inarticulate, they stood in the street waiting for a taxi. The soft air
touched their hot faces with a refreshing finger. Hardly any one who
saw that slip of a girl and that square-shouldered boy with his unlined
face would have imagined that they could be anything but brother and
sister. The marriage of babies! Was there no single apostle of common
sense in all the country--a country so gloriously free that it granted
licenses to every foolishness without a qualm?

Palgrave was standing on the curb, scowling. His car moved up, and the
porter went forward to open the door. As quick as lightning, Joan saw
her chance to put Martin into his place and evade an argument. Wasn't
she out of that old country cage at last? Couldn't she revel in free
flight without being called to order and treated like a school-girl, at
last? What fun to use Palgrave to show Martin her spirit!

She touched him on the arm and looked up at him with dancing eyes and a
teasing smile. "Not this time, Marty," she said, and was across the
sidewalk in a bound. "Quick," she said to Palgrave. "Quick!" And he,
catching the idea with something more than amusement, sprang into the
car after her, and away they went.

A duet of laughter hung briefly in the air.

With all the blood in his head, Martin, coming out of utter surprise,
made a dash for the retreating car, collided with the porter and stood
ruefully and self-consciously over the burly figure that had gone down
with a crash upon the pavement.

It was no use. Joan had been one too many for him. What, in any case,
was the good of trying to follow? She preferred Palgrave. She had no
use, at that moment, for home. She was bored at the mere idea of
talking things over. She was not serious. She refused to be faced up
with seriousness. She was like a precocious child who snapped her
fingers at authority and pursued the policy of the eel at the approach
of discipline. What had she cried out that night in the dark with her
chin tilted up and her arms thrown out? "I shall go joy-riding in that
huge round-about. If I can get anybody to pay my score, good. If not,
I'll pay it myself, whatever it costs. My motto's going to be 'A good
time as long as I can get it, and who cares for the price!'"

Martin helped the porter to his feet, stanched his flow of County Kerry
reproaches with a ten-dollar bill and went back into the Crystal Room.
He had gone there half an hour ago with a party of young people to kill
loneliness and forget a bad hour of despair. His friend, Howard
Oldershaw, who had breezed him out of the reading room of the Yale
Club, was one of the party. He was in the first flush of speed-breaking
and knew the town and its midnight haunts. He had offered to show
Martin the way to get rid of depression. Right! He should be put to the
test. Two could play the "Who cares?" game; and Martin, cut to the
quick, angry and resisted, would enter his name. Not again would he put
himself in the way of being laughed at and ridiculed and turned down,
teased and tantalized and made a fool of.

Patience and gentleness--to what end? He loved a will-o'-the-wisp; he
had married a butterfly. Why continue to play the martyr and follow the
fruitless path of rectitude? Hadn't she said, "I can only live once,
and so I shall make life spin whichever way I want it to go?" He could
only live once, and if life was not to spin with her, let it spin
without her. "Who cares?" he said to himself. "Who the devil cares?" He
gave up his coat and hat, and went back into that room of false joy and
syncopation.

It was one o'clock when he stood in the street once more, hot and wined
and careless. "Let's hit it up," he said to Oldershaw as the car moved
away with the sisters and cousins of the other two men. "I haven't
started yet."

The red-haired, roistering Oldershaw, newly injected with the virus of
the Great White Way, clapped him on the back. "Bully for you, old son,"
he said. "I'm in the mood to paint the little old town. I left my car
round the corner in charge of a down-at-heel night-bird. Come on. Let's
go and see if he's pinched it."

It was one of those Italian semi-racing cars with a body which gave it
the naked appearance of a muscular Russian dancer dressed in a skin and
a pair of bangles. The night-bird, one of the large army of city
gypsies who hang on to life by the skin of their teeth, was sitting on
the running board with his arms folded across his shirtless chest,
smoking a salvaged cigar, dreaming, probably, of hot sausages and
coffee. He afforded a striking illustration of the under dog cringing
contentedly at the knees of wealth.

"Good man," said Oldershaw, paying him generously. "Slip aboard,
Martin, and I'll introduce you to one of the choicest dives I know."

But the introduction was not to be effected that night, at any rate.
Driving the car as though it were a monoplane in a clear sky, with an
open throttle that awoke the echoes, Oldershaw charged into Fifth
Avenue and caught the bonnet of a taxicab that was going uptown. There
was a crash, a scream, a rending of metal. And when Martin picked
himself up with a bruised elbow and a curious sensation of having
stopped a punching bag with his face, he saw Oldershaw bending over the
crumpled body of the taxi driver and heard a girl with red lips and a
small white hat calling on Heaven for retribution.

"Some men oughtn't to be trusted with machinery," said Oldershaw with
his inevitable grin. "If I can yank my little pet out of this
buckled-up lump of stuff, I'll drive that poor chap to the nearest
hospital. Look after the angel, Martin, and give my name and address to
the policeman. As this is my third attempt to kill myself this month,
things ought to settle down into humdrum monotony for a bit now."

Martin went over to the girl. "I hope you're not hurt?" he asked.

"Hurt?" she cried out hysterically, feeling herself all over. "Of
course I'm hurt. I'm crippled for life. My backbone's broken; I shall
have water on both knees, a glass eye and a mouth full of store teeth.
But you don't care, you Hun. You like it."

And on she went, at the top of her voice, in an endless flow of farce
and tragedy, crying and laughing, examining herself with eager hands,
disbelieving more and more in the fact that she was still in the only
world that mattered to her.

Having succeeded in backing his dented car out of the debris, Oldershaw
leaped out. His face had been cut by the glass of the broken
windshield. Blood was trickling down his fat, good-natured face. His
hat was smashed and looked like that of the tramp cyclist of the
vaudeville stage. "All my fault, old man," he said in his best
irrepressible manner, as a policeman bore down upon him. "Help me to
hike our prostrate friend into my car, and I'll whip him off to a
hospital. He's only had the stuffing knocked out of him. It's no worse
than that.... That's fine. Big chap, isn't he--weighs a ton. I'll get
off right away, and my friend there will give you all you want to know.
So long." And off he went, one of his front wheels wabbling foolishly.

The policeman was not Irish or German-American. He was therefore
neither loud nor browbeating. He was dry, quiet and accurate, and it
seemed to Martin that either he didn't enjoy being dressed in a little
brief authority or was a misanthrope, eager to return to his noiseless
and solitary tramp under the April stars. Martin gave him Oldershaw's
full name and address and his own; and the girl, still shrill and
shattered, gave hers, after protesting that all automobiles ought to be
put in a gigantic pile and scrapped, that all harum-scarum young men
should be clapped in bed at ten o'clock and that all policemen should
be locked up in their stations to play dominoes. "If it'll do you any
good to know it," she said finally, "it's Susie Capper, commonly called
'Tootles.' And I tell you what it is. If you come snooping round my
place to get me before the beak, I'll scream and kick, so help me Bob,
I will." There was an English cockney twang in her voice.

The policeman left her in the middle of a paean, with the wounded taxi
and Martin, and the light of a lamp-post throwing up the unnatural red
of her lips on a pretty little white face. He had probably gone to call
up the taxicab company.

Then she turned to Martin. "The decent thing for you to do, Mr. Nut, is
to see me home," she said. "I'm blowed if I'm going to face any more
attempts at murder alone. My word, what a life!"

"Come along, then," said Martin, and he put his hand under her elbow.
That amazing avenue, which had the appearance of a great, deep cut down
the middle of an uneven mountain, was almost deserted. From the long
line of street lamps intermittent patches of light were reflected as
though in glass. The night and the absence of thickly crawling motors
and swarming crowds gave it dignity. A strange, incongruous Oriental
note was struck by the deep red of velvet hangings thrown up by the
lights in a furniture dealer's shop on the second floor of a white
building.

"Look for a row of women's ugly wooden heads painted by some one
suffering from delirium tremens," said Miss Susie Capper as they turned
down West Forty-sixth Street. "It's a dressmaker's, although you might
think it was an asylum for dope fiends. I've got a bedroom, sitter and
bath on the top floor. The house is a rabbit warren of bedrooms,
sitters and baths, and in every one of them there's some poor devil
trying to squeeze a little kindness out of fate. That wretched taxi
driver! He may have a wife waiting for him. Do you think that
red-haired feller's got to the hospital yet? He had a nice cut on his
own silly face--and serve him right! I hope it'll teach him that he
hasn't bought the blooming world--but of course it won't. He's the sort
that never gets taught anything, worse luck! Nobody spanked him when he
was young and soft. Come on up, and you shall taste my scrambled eggs.
I'll show you what a forgiving little soul I am."

She laughed, ran her eyes quickly over Martin, and opened the door with
a latchkey. Half a dozen small letter boxes were fastened to the wall,
with cards in their slots.

"Who the devil cares?" said Martin to himself, and he followed the girl
up the narrow, ill-lighted staircase covered with shabby carpet. Two or
three inches of white stockings gleamed above the drab uppers of her
high-heeled boots. Outside the open door of a room on the first floor
there was a line of milk bottles, and Martin sighted a man in shirt
sleeves, cooking sausages on a small gas jet in a cubby-hole. He looked
up, and a cheery smile broke out on his clean-shaven face. There was
brown grease paint on his collar. "Hello, Tootles," he called out.

"Hello, Laddy," she said. "How'd it go to-night?"

"Fine. Best second night in the history of the theater. Come in and
have a bite."

"Can't. Got company."

And up they went, the aroma following.

A young woman in a sky-blue peignoir scuttled across the next landing,
carrying a bottle of beer in each hand. There was a smell of onions and
hot cheese. "What ho, Tootles," she said.

"What ho, Irene. Is it true they've put your notice up?"

"Yep, the dirty dogs! Twelve weeks' rehearsals and eight nights'
playing! Me for the novelties at Gimbel's, if this goes on."

A phonograph in another room ground out an air from "Boheme."

They mounted again. "Here's me," said Miss Capper, waving her hand to a
man in a dirty dressing gown who was standing on the threshold of the
front apartment, probably to achieve air. The room behind him was foggy
with tobacco smoke which rose from four men playing cards. He himself
was conspicuously drunk and would have spoken if he had been able. As
it was, he nodded owlishly and waggled his fingers.

The girl threw open her door and turned up the light. "England, Home
and Beauty," she said. "Excuse me while I dress the ship."

Seizing a pair of corsets that sprawled loosely on the center table,
she rammed them under a not very pristine cushion on the sofa.

Martin burst out laughing. The Crystal Room wine was still in his head.
"Very nippy!" he said.

"Have to be nippy in this life, believe me. Give me a minute to powder
my nose and murmur a prayer of thanksgivin', and then I'll set the
festive board and show you how we used to scramble eggs in Shaftesbury
Avenue."

"Right," said Martin, getting out of his overcoat. How about it? Was
this one way of making the little old earth spin?

Susie Capper went into a bedroom even smaller than the sitting room,
turned up the light over her dressing table and took off her little
white hat. From where Martin stood, he could see in the looking-glass
the girl's golden bobbed hair, pretty oval face with too red lips and
round white neck. There, it was obvious, stood a little person feminine
from the curls around her ears to the hole in one of her stockings, and
as highly and gladly sexed as a purring cat.

"Buck up, Tootles," cried Martin. "Where do you keep the frying pan?"

She turned and gave him another searching look, this time of marked
approval. "My word, what a kid you look in the light!" she said. "No
one would take you for a blooming road-hog. Well, who knows? You and I
may have been brought together like this to work out one of Fate's
little games. This may be the beginning of a side-street romance, eh?"

And she chuckled at the word and turned her nose into a small
snow-capped hill.



IV


Pagliacci was to be followed as usual by "Cavalleria." It was the swan
song of the opera season.

In a part that he acted as well as he sang, Caruso had been permitted
finally to retire, wringing wet, to his dressing room. With all the
dignity of a man of genuine feeling and sensitiveness he had taken call
after call on the fall of the curtain and stood bent almost double
before the increasing breakers of applause. Once more he had done his
best in a role which demanded everything that he had of voice and
passion, comedy and tragedy. Once more, although his soul was with his
comrades in battle, he had played the fool and broken his heart for the
benefit of his good friends in front.

In her box on the first tier Mrs. Cooper Jekyll, in a dress
imaginatively designed to display a considerable quantity of her
figure, was surrounded by a party which attracted many glasses. Alice
Palgrave was there, pretty and scrupulously neat, even perhaps a little
prim, her pearls as big as marbles. Mrs. Alan Hosack made a most
effective picture with her black hair and white skin in a
geranium-colored frock--a Van Beers study to the life. Mrs. Noel d'Oyly
lent an air of opulence to the box, being one of those lovely but all
too ample women who, while compelling admiration, dispel intimacy.
Joan, a young daffodil, sat bolt upright among them, with diamonds
glistening in her hair like dew. Of the four men, Gilbert Palgrave,
standing where he could be seen, might have been an illustration by Du
Maurier of one of Ouida's impossible guardsmen. He made the other
three, all of the extraordinary ordinary type, appear fifty per cent,
more manly than they really were--the young old Hosack with his
groomlike face and immaculate clothes, the burly Howard Cannon, who
retained a walrus mustache in the face of persistent chaff, and Noel
d'Oyly, who when seen with his Junoesque wife made the gravest
naturalists laugh at the thought of the love manners of the male and
female spider.

Turning her chair round, Alice touched Joan's arm. "Will you do
something for me?" she asked.

Joan looked at her with a smile of disturbing frankness. "It all
depends whether it will upset any of my plans," she said.

"I wouldn't have asked you if I had thought that."

Joan laughed. "You've been studying my character, Alice."

"I did that at school, my dear." Mrs. Palgrave spoke lightly, but it
was plain to see that there was something on her mind. "Don't go out to
supper with Howard Cannon. Come back with me. I want to talk to you.
Will you?"

Joan had recently danced in Cannon's huge studio-apartment and been
oppressed by its Gulliveresque atmosphere, and she had just come from
the Fifth Avenue house of the Hosack family, where a characteristically
dignified dinner had got on her nerves. Gilbert, she knew, was engaged
to play roulette at the club, and none of her other new men friends was
available for dancing. She hadn't seen anything of Martin for several
days. She could easily oblige Alice under the circumstances.

So she said: "Yes, of course I will--just to prove how very little you
really know about me."

"Thank you," said Alice. "I'll say that I have a headache and that
you're coming home with me. Don't be talked out of it."

A puzzled expression came into Joan's eyes, and she turned her shoulder
to Palgrave, who was giving her his most amorous glances. "It doesn't
matter," she said, "but I notice that you are all beginning to treat me
like a sort of moral weathercock. I wonder why?" She gave no more
thought to the matter which just for the most fleeting moment had
rather piqued her, but sat drinking in the music of Mascagni's immortal
opera entirely ignoring the fact that Palgrave's face was within an
inch of her shoulder and that Alan Hosack, on her other side, was
whispering heavy compliments.

Alice sat back and looked anxiously from the face of the girl who had
been her closest friend at school to that of the man to whom she had
given all her heart. In spite of the fact that she had been married a
year and had taken her place in the comparatively small set which made
up New York society, Mrs. Palgrave was an optimist. As a fiction-fed
girl she had expected, with a thrill of excitement, that after marriage
she would find herself in a whirlpool of careless and extravagant
people who made their own elastic code of morals and played ducks and
drakes with the Commandments. She had accepted as a fact the
novelist-playwright contention that society was synonymous with
flippancy, selfishness and unchastity, and that the possession of money
and leisure necessarily undermined all that was excellent in human
nature. Perhaps a little to her disappointment, she had soon discovered
how grotesque and ignorant this play-and-book idea was. She had
returned from her honeymoon in November of the first year of the war
and had been astonished to find that nearly all the well-known women
whose names, in the public imagination, were associated with decadence
and irresponsibility, were as a matter of fact devoted to Red Cross
work and allied war charities; that the majority of the men who were
popularly supposed to be killing time with ingenious wickedness worked
as hard as the average downtown merchant, and that even the debutantes
newly burst upon the world had, for the most part, banded themselves
together as a junior war-relief society and were turning out weekly an
immense number of bandages for the wounded soldiers of France and
England. Young men of high and gallant spirit, who bore the old names
of New York, had disappeared without a line of publicity--to be heard
of later as members of the already famous Escadrille or as ambulance
workers on the Western front. Beautiful girls had slipped quietly away
from their usual haunts, touched by a deep and rare emotion, to work in
Allied hospitals three thousand miles and more away--if not as
full-blown nurses, then as scullery maids or motor drivers.

There were, of course, the Oldershaws and the Marie Littlejohns and the
Christine Hurleys and the rest. Alice had met and watched them throwing
themselves against any bright light like all silly moths. And there
were the girls like Joan, newly released from the exotic atmosphere of
those fashionable finishing schools which no sane country should
permit. But even these wild and unbroken colts and fillies, she
believed, had excuses. They were the natural results of a complete lack
of parental discipline and school training. They ran amuck, advertised
by the press and applauded by the hawks who pounced upon their wallets.
They were more to be pitied than condemned, far more foolish and
ridiculous than decadent. They were not unique, either, or peculiar to
their own country. Every nation possessed its "smart set," its little
group of men and women who were ripe for the lunatic asylum, and even
the war and its iron tonic had failed to shock them into sanity. In her
particularly sane way of looking at things, Alice saw all this, was
proud to know that the majority of the people who formed American
society were fine and sound and generous, and kept as much as possible
out of the way of those others whose one object in life was to outrage
the conventions. It was only when people began to tell her of seeing
her husband and her friend about together night after night that she
found herself wondering, with jealousy in her heart, how long her
optimism would endure, because Gilbert had already shown her a foot of
clay, and Joan was deliberately flying wild.

It was, at any rate, all to the good that Joan kept her promise and
utterly refused to be turned by the pleadings and blandishments of
Cannon and Hosack. They drove together to Palgrave's elaborate house, a
faithful replica of one of the famous Paris mansions in the Avenue
Wagram and sat down to a little supper in Alice's boudoir.

They made a curious picture, these two children, one just over twenty,
the other under nineteen; and as they sat in that lofty room hung with
French tapestries and furnished with the spindle-legged gilt chairs and
tables of Louis XIV, they might have been playing, with all the gravity
and imitative genius of little girls in a nursery, at being grown up.

While the servants moved discreetly about, Joan kept up a rattle of
impersonalities, laughing at Cannon's amazing mustache and Gargantuan
furniture, enthusing wildly over Caruso's once-in-a-century voice,
throwing satire at Mrs. Cooper Jekyll's confirmed belief in her divine
right to queen it, and saying things that made Alice chuckle about the
d'Oylys--that apparently ill-matched pair. She drank a glass of
champagne with the air of a connoisseur and finally, having displayed
an excellent appetite, mounted a cigarette into a long thin
mother-of-pearl holder, lighted it and sank with a sigh into the room's
one comfortable chair.

"Gilbert gave me a cigarette holder like that," said Alice.

"Yes? I think this comes from him," said Joan. "A thoughtful person!"

That Joan was not quite sure from whom she received it annoyed Alice
far more than if she had boasted of it as one of Gilbert's numerous
gifts. She needed no screwing up now to say what she had rather timidly
brought this cool young slip of a thing there to discuss.

"Will you tell me about yourself and Gilbert?" she asked quietly. There
was no need for Joan to act complete composure. She felt it. "What is
there to tell, my dear?"

"I hope there isn't anything--I mean anything that matters. But perhaps
you don't know that people have begun to talk about you, and I think
you owe it to me to be perfectly frank."

Even then it didn't occur to Joan that there was anything serious in
the business. "I'll be as frank as the front page of The Times--'All
the news that's fit to print,'" she said. "What do you want to know?"

Alice proved her courage. She drew up a chair, bent forward and came
straight to the point. "Be honest with me, Joan, even if you have to
hurt me. Gilbert is very handsome, and women throw themselves at him. I
did, I suppose; but having won him and being still in my first year of
marriage, I'm naturally jealous when he lets himself be drawn off by
them. The women who have tried to take Gilbert away from me I didn't
know, and they owed me no friendship. But you're different, and I can't
believe that you--"

Joan broke in with a peal of laughter. "Can't you? Why not? I haven't
got wings on my shoulders. Isn't everything fair in love and war?"

Alice drew back. She had many times been called prim and old-fashioned,
especially at school, by Joan and others when men were talked about,
and the glittering life that lay beyond the walls. Sophistication, to
put it mildly, had been the order of the day in that temporary home of
the young idea. But this calm declaration of disloyalty took her color
away, and her breath. Here was honesty with a vengeance!

"Joan!" she cried. "Joan!" And she put up her hand as though to ward
off an unbelievable thought.

In an instant Joan was on her feet with her arms around the shoulders
of the best friend she had, whose face had gone as white as stone. "Oh,
my dear," she said, "I'm sorry. Forgive me. I didn't mean that in the
least, not in the very least. It was only one of my cheap flippancies,
said just to amuse myself and shock you. Don't you believe me?"

Tears came to Alice. She had had at least one utterly sleepless night
and several days of mental anguish. She was one of the women who love
too well. She confessed to these things, brokenly, and it came as a
kind of shock to Joan to find some one taking things seriously and
allowing herself to suffer.

"Why, Alice," she said, "Gilbert means nothing to me. He's a dear old
thing; he's awfully nice to look at; he sums things up in a way that
makes me laugh; and he dances like a streak. But as to flirting with
him or anything of that sort--why, my dear, he looks on me as a little
boob from the country, and in my eyes he's simply a man who carries a
latchkey to amusement and can give me a good time. That's true. I swear
it."

It was true, and Alice realized it, with immense relief. She dried her
eyes and held Joan away from her at arm's length and looked at her
young, frank, intrepid face with puzzled admiration. It didn't go with
her determined trifling. "I shall always believe what you tell me,
Joan," she said. "You've taken a bigger load than you imagine off my
heart--which is Gilbert's. And now sit down again and be comfortable
and let's do what we used to do at school at night and talk about
ourselves. We've both changed since those days, haven't we?"

"Have we? I don't think I have." Joan took another cigarette and went
back to her chair. Her small round shoulders looked very white against
the black of a velvet cushion. If there was nothing boyish or
unfeminine about her, there was certainly an indefinable appearance of
being untouched, unawakened. She was the same girl who had been found
by Martin that afternoon clean-cut against the sky--the determined
individualist.

Alice sat in front of her on a low stool with her hands clasped round a
knee. "What a queer mixture you are of--of town and country, Joany.
You're like a piece of honeysuckle playing at being an orchid."

"That's because I'm a kid," said Joan. "The horrible hour will come
when I shall be an orchid and try and palm myself off as honeysuckle,
never fear."

"Don't you think marriage has changed you a little?" asked Alice. "It
usually does. It changed me from an empty-headed little fool to a woman
with oh, such a tremendous desire to be worthy of it."

"Yes, but then you married for love."

"Didn't you, Joany?"

"I? Marry for love?" Joan waved her arm for joy at the idea.

Alice knew the story of the escape from old age. She also knew from the
way in which Martin looked at Joan why he had given her his name and
house. Here was her chance to get to the bottom of a constant puzzle.
"You may not have married for love," she said, "but of course you're
fond of Martin."

Joan considered the matter. It might be a good thing to go into it now
that there was an unexpected lull in the wild rush that she had made to
get into life. There had been something rather erratic about Martin's
comings and goings during the last week. She hadn't spoken to him since
the night at the Ritz.

"Yes, I am fond of him," she said. "That's the word. As fond as I might
be of a very nice, sound boy whom I'd known all my life."

"Is that all?"

Joan made a series of smoke rings and watched them curl into the air.
"Yes, that's all," she said.

Alice became even more interested and curious and puzzled. She held
very serious views about marriage. "And are you happy with him?"

"I don't know that I can be said to be happy with him," said Joan. "I'm
perfectly happy as things are."

"Tell me how they are." There was obviously something here that was far
from right.

Joan was amused at her friend's gravity. She had always been a
responsible little person with very definite and old-fashioned views.
"Well," she said, "it's a charming little story, really. I was the
maiden who had to be rescued from the ugly castle, and Martin was the
knight who performed the deed. And being a knight with a tremendous
sense of convention and a castle of his own full of well-trained
servants, it didn't seem to him that he could give me the run of his
house in the Paul and Virginia manner, which isn't being done now; and
so, like a little gentleman, he married me, or as I suppose you would
put it, went through the form of marriage. It's all part of the
adventure that we started one afternoon on the edge of the woods. I
call it the cool and common-sense romance of two very modern and
civilized people."

"I don't think there's any place in romance for such things as coolness
and common sense," said Alice warmly. "And as to there being two very
modern and civilized people in your adventure, as you call it, that I
doubt."

Joan's large brown eyes grew a little larger, and she looked at the
enthusiastic girl in front of her with more interest. "Do you?" she
asked. "Why?"

Alice got up. She was disturbed and worried. She had a great affection
for Joan, and that boy was indeed a knight. "I saw Martin walking away
from your house the night you dined with Gilbert at the Brevoort--I was
told about that!--and there was something in his eyes that wasn't the
least bit cool. Also I rode in the Park with him one morning a week
ago, and I thought he looked ill and haggard and--if you must
know--starved. No one would say that you aren't modern and
civilized,--and those are tame words,--but if Martin were to come in
now and make a clean breast of it, you'd be surprised to find how
little he is of either of those things, if I know anything about him."

"Then, my dear," replied Joan, making a very special ring of smoke,
"you know more about him than I do."

Alice began to walk about. A form of marriage--that was the phrase that
stuck in her mind. And here was a girl who was without a genuine friend
in all that heartless town except herself, and a fine boy who needed
one, she began to see, very badly. She, at any rate, and she thanked
God for it, was properly married, and she owed it to friendship to make
a try to put things right with these two.

"Joan, I believe I do," she said. "I really believe I do, although I've
only had one real talk with him. You're terribly and awfully young, I
know. You had a bad year with your grandfather and grandmother, and the
reaction has made you wild and careless. But you're not a girl who has
been brought up behind a screen in a room lighted with one candle. You
know what marriage means. There isn't a book you haven't read or a
thing you haven't talked over. And if you imagine that Martin is
content to play Paul to your imitation Virginia, you're wrong. Oh,
Joan, you're dangerously wrong."

Settling into her chair and working her shoulders more comfortably into
the cushion, Joan crossed one leg over the other and lighted another
cigarette. "Go on," she said with a tantalizing smile. "I love to hear
you talk. It's far more interesting than listening to Howard Cannon's
dark prophecies about the day after to-morrow and his gloomy rumblings
about the writing on the wall. You stand for the unemancipated married
woman. Don't you?"

"Yes, I do," said Alice quickly, her eyes gleaming. "I consider that a
girl who lets a man marry her under false pretenses is a cheat."

"A strong word, my dear!"

"But not too strong."

"Wait a minute. Suppose she doesn't love him. What then?"

"Then she oughtn't to have married him."

"Yes, but it may have suited her to marry him."

"Then she should fulfill the bargain honestly and play the game
according to the rules. However modern and civilized people are, they
do that."

Joan shrugged her round white shoulders and flicked her cigarette ash
expertly into the china tray on the spindle-legged table at her elbow.
She was quite unmoved. Alice had always taken it upon herself to
lecture her about individualism--the enthusiastic little thing. "Dear
old girl," she said, "don't you remember that I always make my own
rules?"

"I know you do, but you can't tell me that Martin wants to go by
them--or that he'll be able to remain a knight long, while you're going
by one set and he's keen to go by another? Where will it end?"

"End? But why drag in the end when Martin and I are only at the
beginning?"

Alice sat down again and bent forward and caught up Joan's unoccupied
hand. "Listen, dear," she said with more than characteristic
earnestness. "Last night I went with the Merrills to the Ziegfeld
Follies, and I saw Martin there with a little white-faced girl with red
lips and the golden hair that comes out of a bottle."

"Good old Martin!" said Joan. "The devil you did!"

"Doesn't that give you a jar?"

"Good heavens, no! If you'd peeked into the One-o'clock Club this
morning at half past two, you would have seen me with a white-faced man
with a red mustache and a kink in his hair that comes from a hot iron.
Martin and I are young and giddy, and we're on the round-about, and
we're hitting it up. Who cares?"

There was a little silence--and then Alice drew back, shaking her
pretty neat head. "It won't do, Joany," she said, "it won't do. I've
heard you say 'Who cares?' loads of times and never seen anybody take
you by the shoulders and shake you into caring. That's why you go on
saying it. But somebody always cares, Joany dear, and there's not one
thing that any of us can say or do that doesn't react on some one else,
either to hurt or bless. Martin Gray's your knight. You said so. Don't
you be the one to turn his gleaming armor into common
broadcloth--please, please don't."

Joan gave a little laugh and a little yawn and stretched herself like a
boy and got up. "Who'd have thought it? It's half-past twelve, and
we're both losing our much needed beauty sleep. I must really tear
myself away." She put her arm around Alice and kissed her. "The same
dear little wise, responsible Alice who would like to put the earth
into woolens with a mustard plaster on its chest. But it takes all
sorts to make up a world, you know, and it would be rather drab without
a few butterflies. Don't throw bricks at me until I've fluttered a bit
more, Ally. My colors won't last long, and I know what old age means,
better than most. If I were in love as you are, my man's rules would be
the ones I'd go by all the time; but I'm not in love, and I don't want
to be--yet; and I'm only a kid, and I think I have the right to my
fling. This marriage of mine is just a part of the adventure that
Martin and I plunged into as a great joke, and he knows it and he's one
of the best, and I'm grateful to him, believe me. Good night. God bless
you!"

She stood for a moment on the top step to taste the air that was filled
with the essence of youth. Across a sky as clear as crystal a series of
young clouds were chasing each other, putting out the stars for a
moment as they scurried playfully along. It was a joy to be alive and
fit and careless. Summer was lying in wait for spring, and autumn would
lay a withering hand upon summer, and winter with its crooked limbs and
lack-luster eyes was waiting its inevitable turn.

"A short life and a merry one!" whispered Joan to the moon, throwing it
a kiss.

A footman, sullen for want of sleep, opened the door of the limousine.
Some one was sitting in the corner with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Marty! Is that you?"

"It's all right," said Gilbert Palgrave. "I've been playing patience
for half an hour. I'm going to see you home."



V


"You are going home?"

"Yes," said Joan, "without the shadow of a doubt."

"Which means that I'd better tell the chauffeur to drive round to the
One-o'clock, eh?"

"I'll drop you there if you like. I'm really truly going home."

"All right."

Joan began to sing as the car bowled up Fifth Avenue. Movement always
made her sing, and the effect of things slipping behind her. But she
stopped suddenly as an expression of Alice's flicked across her memory.
"You'll catch Alice up, if you go straight back," she said.

"Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire! I wonder why it is the really good woman is
never appreciated by a man until he's obliged to sit on the other side
of the fireplace? I wish we were driving away out into the country. I
have an unusual hankering to stand on the bank of a huge lake and watch
the moonlight on the water."

Joan was singing again. The trees in the Park were bespattered with
young leaves.

Palgrave controlled an ardent desire to touch with his lips that cool
white shoulder from which the cloak had slipped. It was extraordinary
how this mere girl inflamed him. Alice--Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire! She
seemed oddly like some other man's wife, these days.

"Suppose I tell your man to drive out of the city beyond this rabble of
bricks and mortar?"

But Joan went on singing. Spring was in her blood. How fast the car was
moving, and those young clouds.

Palgrave helped her out with a hot hand.

She opened the door with her latch-key. "Thank you, Gilbert," she said.
"Good night."

But Palgrave followed her in. "Don't you think I've earned the right to
one cigarette?" He threw his coat into a chair in the hall and hung his
hat on the longest point of an antler. It was a new thing for this much
flattered man to ask for favors. This young thing's exultant youth made
him feel old and rather humble.

"There are sandwiches in the dining room and various things to drink,"
said Joan, waving her hand toward it.

"No, no. Let's go up to the drawing-room--that is, unless you--"

But Joan was already on the stairs, with the chorus of her song. She
didn't feel in the least like sleep with its escape from life. It was
so good to be awake, to be vital, to be tingling with the current of
electricity like a telegraph wire. She flung back the curtains, raised
all the windows, opened her arms to the air, spilled her cloak on the
floor, sat at the piano and ragged "The Spring Song."

"I am a kid," she said, speaking above the sound, and going on with her
argument to Alice. "I am and I will be, I will be. And I'll play the
fool and revel in it as long as I can--so there!"

Palgrave had picked up the cloak and was holding it unconsciously
against his immaculate shirt. It was the sentimental act of a virtuoso
in the art of pleasing women--who are so easily pleased. At the moment
he had achieved forgetfulness of boudoir trickery and so retained
almost all his usual assumption of dignity. Even Joan, with her quick
eye for the ridiculous, failed to detect the bathos of his attitude,
and merely thought that he was trying to be funny and not succeeding.

It so happened that over Palgrave's shoulder she could see the bold
crayon drawing of Martin, brown and healthy and muscular, without an
ounce of affectation, an unmistakable man with his nice irregular
features and clean, merry eyes. There was strength and capability
stamped all over him, and there was, as well, a pleasing sense of
reliability which gained immediate confidence. With the sort of shock
one gets on going into the fresh air from a steam-heated room, she
realized the contrast between these two.

There is always something as unreal about handsome men as there is
about Japanese gardens. Palgrave's hair was so scrupulously sleek and
wiglike, his features so well-balanced and well-chosen, his wide-set
eyes so large and long-lashed, and his fair, soft mustache so
miraculously precise. His clothes, too, were a degree more than
perfect. They were so right as to be a little freakish because they
attracted as much attention as if they were badly cut. He was born for
tea fights and winter resorts, to listen with a distrait half-smile to
the gushing adulation of the oh-my-dear type of women.

He attracted Joan. She admired his assurance and polish and manners.
With these three things even a man with a broken nose and a head bald
as an egg can carry a beautiful woman to the altar. He was something
new to her, too, and she found much to amuse her in his way of
expressing himself. He observed, and sometimes crystallized his
observations with a certain neatness. Also, and she made no bones about
owning to it, his obvious attention flattered her. All the same, she
was in the mood just then for Martin. He went better with the time of
year, and there was something awfully companionable about his sudden
laugh. She would have hailed his appearance at that moment with an
outdoor cry.

It was bad luck for Palgrave, because he now knew definitely that in
Joan he had found the girl who was to give him the great emotion.

She broke away from "The Spring Song" and swung into "D'ye Ken John
Peel with His Coat So Gay?" It was Martin's favorite air. How often she
had heard him shout it among the trees on his way to meet her out there
on the edge of the woods where they had found each other. It was
curious how her thoughts turned to Martin that night.

She left the piano in the middle of a bar. "One cigarette," she said,
and held out a silver box.

Palgrave's hand closed tightly over her slim white arm. In his throat
his heart was pumping. He spoke incoherently, like a man. "God," he
said, "you--you take my breath away. You make my brain whirl. Why
didn't you come out of your garden a year ago?"

He was acting, she thought, and she laughed. "My arm, I think," she
said.

"No, mine. It's got to be mine. What's the good of beating about the
bush?" He spoke with a queer hoarseness, and his hand shook.

She laughed again. He was trying his parlor tricks, as Hosack had
called them one night at the Crystal Room, watching him greet a woman
with both hands. What a joke to see what he would do if she pretended
to be carried away. He might as well be made to pay for keeping her up.
"Oh, Gilbert," she said, "what are you saying!" Her shyness and fright
were admirable.

They added fuel to his fire. "What I've been waiting to say for years
and never thought I should. I love you. You've just got me."

How often had he said those very words to other women! He did it
surpassingly well. She continued to act. "Oh, Gilbert," she said in a
low voice, "you mustn't. There's Alice." Two could play at his pet game.

"Yes, there is Alice. But what does that matter? I don't care, and you
don't. Your motto is not to care. You're always saying so. I'm no more
married to Alice than you are to Gray. They're accidents, both of them.
I love you, I tell you." And he ran his hand up to her shoulder and
bore down upon her. Where were his manners and polish and assurance? It
was amazing to see the change in the man.

But she dodged away and took up a stand behind the piano and laughed at
him. "You're an artist, Gilbert," she said. "It's all very well for you
to practice on women of your own age, but I'm an unsophisticated girl.
You might turn my head, you know."

Her sarcasm threw him up short. She was mocking. He was profoundly
hurt. "But you've chosen me. You've picked me out. You've used me to
take you to places night after night! Don't fool with me, Joan. I'm in
dead earnest."

And she saw with astonishment that he was. His face was white, and he
stood in a curious attitude of supplication, with his hands out. She
was amazed, and for a moment thrilled. Gilbert Palgrave, the woman's
man, in love with her. Think of it!

"But Gilbert," she said, "there's Alice. She's my friend." That seemed
to matter more than the fact that she was his wife.

"That hasn't mattered to you all along. Why drag it in now? Night after
night you've danced with me; I've been at your beck and call; you used
me to rescue you from Gray that time. What are you? What are you made
of? Unsophisticated! You!" He wasn't angry. He was fumbling at reasons
in order to try and get at her point of view. "You know well enough
that a man doesn't put himself out to that extent for nothing. What
becomes of give and take? Do you conceive that you are going to sail
through life taking everything and giving nothing?"

Martin had asked her this, and Alice, and now here was Gilbert Palgrave
putting it to her as though it were an indictment! "But I'm a kid," she
cried out. "What do you all mean? Can't I be allowed to have any fun
without paying for it? I'm only just out of the shell. I've only been
living for a few weeks. Can't you see that I'm a kid? I have the right
to take all I can get for nothing,--the right of youth. What do you
mean--all of you?"

She came out from behind the piano and stood in front of him, as erect
as a silver birch, and as slim and young. There was a great indignation
all about her.

His eager hands went out, and fell. He was not a brute. It would be
cowardly to touch this amazing child. She was armed with fearlessness
and virginity--and he had mistaken these things for callousness.

"I don't know what to say," he said. "You stagger me. How long are you
going to hide behind this youthfulness? When are you going to be old
enough to be honest? Men have patience only up to a point. At any rate,
you didn't claim youth when Gray asked you to marry him--though you may
have done so afterward. Did you?"

She kept silent. But her eyes ran over him with contempt. According to
her, she had given him no right to put such questions.

He ignored it. It was undeserved. It was she who deserved contempt, not
he. And he threw it back at her in a strange incoherent outburst in
which, all the same, there was a vibrating note of gladness and relief.
And all the while, unmoved by the passion into which he broke, she
stood watching with a curious gravity his no longer immobile face. She
was thinking about Martin. She was redeveloping Martin's expression
when she had opened the door of her bedroom the night of her marriage
and let him out. What about her creed, then? Was she hiding behind
youthfulness? Were there, after all, certain things that must be paid
for? Was she already old enough to be what Alice and this man called
honest? Was every man made of the stuff that only gave for what he
hoped to get in return?

His words trailed off. He was wasting them, he saw. She was looking
through his head. But he rejoiced as to one thing like a potter who
opens the door of his oven and finds his masterpiece unbroken. And
silence fell upon them, interrupted only by the intermittent humming of
passing cars.

Finally Palgrave took the cigarette box out of Joan's hand and put it
down on a little table and stood looking more of a man than might have
been expected.

"I've always hoped that one day I should meet you--just you," he said
quietly; "and when I did, I knew that it would be to love. Well, I've
told you. Do what you can for me until you decide that you're grown up.
I'll wait."

And he turned and went away, and presently she heard a door shut and
echo, and slow footsteps in the street below.

Where was Martin?



VI


She wanted Martin. Everything that had happened that night made her
want Martin. He knew that she was a kid, and treated her as such. He
didn't stand up and try and force her forward into being a
woman--although, of all men, he had the right. He was big and generous
and had given her his name and house and the run of the world, but not
from his lips ever came the hard words that she had heard that night.
How extraordinary that they should have come from Alice as well as from
Gilbert.

She wanted Martin. Where was Martin? She felt more like a bird, at that
moment, than a butterfly--like a bird that had flown too far from its
nest and couldn't find its way back. She had been honest with Martin,
all along. Why, the night before they had started on the street of
adventure, she had told him her creed, in that dark, quiet room with
the moonlight on the floor in a little pool, and had frankly cried out,
"Who cares?" for the first time. And later, upstairs in her room, in
his house, she had asked him to leave her; and he had gone, because he
understood that she wanted to remain irresponsible for a time and must
not be taken by the shoulders and shaken into caring until she had had
her fling. He understood everything--especially as to what she meant by
saying that she would go joy-riding, that she would make life spin
whichever way she wanted it to go. It was the right of youth, and what
was she but just a kid? He had never stood over her and demanded
payment, and yet he had given her everything. He understood that she
was new to the careless and carefree, and had never flung the word
honest at her head, because, being so young, she considered that she
could be let off from making payments for a time.

She wanted Martin. She wanted the comforting sight of his clean eyes
and deep chest and square shoulders. She wanted to sit down knee to
knee with him as they had done so often on the edge of the woods, and
talk and talk. She wanted to hear his man's voice and see the
laughter-lines come and go round his eyes. He was her pal and was as
reliable as the calendar. He would wipe out the effect of the
reproaches that she had been made to listen to by Alice and Gilbert.
They might be justified; they were justified; but they showed a lack of
understanding of her present mood that was to her inconceivable. She
was a kid. Couldn't they see that she was a kid? Why should they both
throw bricks at her as though she were a hawk and not a mere butterfly?

Where was Martin? Why hadn't she seen him for several days? Why had he
stayed away from home without saying where he was and what he was
doing? And what was all this about a girl with a white face and red
lips? Martin must have friends, of course. She had hers--Gilbert and
Hosack and the others, if they could be called friends. But why a girl
with a white face and red lips and hair that came out of a bottle? That
didn't sound much like Martin.

All these thoughts ran through Joan's mind as she walked about the
drawing-room with its open windows, in the first hour of the morning,
sending out an S. O. S. to Martin. She ought to be in bed and
asleep--not thinking and going over everything as if she were a woman.
She wasn't a woman yet, and could only be a kid once. It was too bad of
Alice to try and force her to take things seriously so soon.
Seriousness was for older people, and even then something to avoid if
possible. And as for Gilbert--well, she didn't for one instant deny the
fact that it was rather exciting and exhilarating for him to be in love
with her, although she was awfully sorry for Alice. She had done
nothing to encourage him, and it was really a matter of absolute
indifference to her whether he loved her or not, so long as he was at
hand to take her about. And she didn't intend to encourage him, either.
Love meant ties and responsibility--Alice proved that clearly enough.
There was plenty of time for love. Let her flit first. Let her remain
young as long as she could, careless and care-free. The fact that she
was married was just an accident, an item in her adventure. It didn't
make her less young to be married, and she didn't see why it should.
Martin understood, and that was why it was so far-fetched of Alice to
suggest that her attitude could turn Martin's armor into broadcloth,
and hint at his having ceased to be a knight because he had been seen
with a girl--never mind whether her face was white and her lips red,
and her hair too golden.

"I'm a kid, I tell you," she said aloud, throwing out her justification
to the whole world. "I am and I will be, I will be. I'll play the fool
and revel in it as long as I can--so there. Who cares?" And she laughed
once more, and ran her hand over her hair as though waving all these
thoughts away, and shut the windows and turned out the lights and went
upstairs to her bedroom. "I'm a selfish, self-willed little devil,
crazy about myself, thinking of nothing but having a good time," she
added inwardly. "I know it, all of you, as well as you do, but give me
time. Give me my head for a bit. When I must begin to pay, I'll pay
with all I've got."

But presently, all ready for bed, she put on a dressing gown and left
her room and padded along the passage in heelless slippers to Martin's
room. He might have been asleep all this time. How silly not to have
thought of that! She would wake him for one of their talks. It seemed
an age since they had sat on the hill together among the young buds,
and she had conjured up the high-reaching buildings of New York against
the blue sky, like a mirage.

She had begun to think again. Alice and Gilbert between them had set
her brain working--and she couldn't stop it. What if the time had come
already when she must pull herself together and face facts and play
what everybody called the game? Well, if it had, and she simply
couldn't hide behind youthfulness any longer, as Gilbert had said, she
would show that she could change her tune of "Who cares?" to "I care"
with the best of them! "I'm only a little over eighteen. I don't know
quite what it is, but I'm something more than pretty. I'm still not
much more than a flapper--an irritating, empty-headed,
fashionable-school-fed, undisciplined, sophisticated kid. I know all
about that as well as they do. I'm making no pretense to be anything
different. Heaven knows, I'm frank enough about it--even to myself. But
it's only a phase. Why not let me get over it and live it down? If
there's anything good in me, and there is, it will come out sooner or
later. Why not let me go through it my own way? A few months to play
the fool in--it isn't much to ask, and don't I know what it means to be
old?"

She hadn't been along that passage before. It was Martin's side of the
house. She hadn't given much thought to Martin's side of anything. She
tried a door and opened it, fumbled for the button that would turn the
light on and found it. It was a large and usefully fitted dressing room
with a hanging cupboard that ran all along one wall, with several
doors. Two old shiny-faced English tallboys were separated by a boot
rack. Between the two windows was a shaving glass over a basin. There
was a bookcase on each side of the fire-place and a table conveniently
near a deep armchair with a tobacco jar, pipes and a box of cigarettes.
Every available space of wall was crammed with framed photographs of
college groups, some showing men with the whiskered faces and the
strange garments of the early Victorian period, others of the
clean-shaven men of the day, but all of them fit and eager and
care-free, caught in their happiest hours. It was a man's room,
arranged by one, now used by another.

Joan went through into the bedroom. The light followed her. There was
no Martin. It was all strangely tidy. Its owner might have been away
for weeks.

With a sense of chill and a feeling of queer loneliness, she went back
to the dressing room. She wanted Martin. If Martin had been there, she
would have had it all out with him, freely and frankly. Somehow she
couldn't wave away the idea any longer that the time had come for her
to cross another bridge. Thank God she would still be young, but the
kid of her would be left on the other side. If Martin had been there,
she would have told him some of the things that Alice had said about
being honest and paying up, and left it to him to say whether the
girlhood which she had wanted to spin out was over and must be put away
among her toys.

Alice and Gilbert Palgrave,--curious that it should have been those
two,--had shaken her individualism, as well as something else, vague
and untranslatable, that she couldn't quite grasp, that eluded her
hand. She sat down in the deep chair and with a little smile took up
one of Martin's pipes and looked at it. The good tobaccoey scent of it
took her back to the hill on the edge of the woods, and in her mind's
eye there was a picture of two clean eyes with laughter-lines coming
and going, a strong young face that had already caught the sun, square
shoulders and a broad chest, and a pair of reliable hands with
spatulate fingers clasped round a knee. She could hear birds calling.
Spring was in the air.

Where was Martin?



VII


It was the first dress rehearsal of "The Ukelele Girl," to be produced
"under the personal direction of Stanwood Mosely." The piece had been
in rehearsal for eleven weeks.

The curtain had been up on the second act for an hour. Scene designers,
scene painters and scene shifters were standing about with a stage
director, whose raucous voice cut the fuggy atmosphere incessantly in
what was intended to represent the exterior of a hotel at Monte Carlo.
It more nearly resembled the materialization of a dope fiend's dream of
an opium factory. What might have been a bank building in Utopia, an
old Spanish galleon in drydock, or the exterior of a German beer garden
according to the cover of Vogue occupied the center of the scene. The
bricks were violet and old gold, sprayed with tomato juice and marked
by the indeterminate silver tracks of snails. Pillars, modeled on the
sugar-stick posts that advertise barber's shops, ran up and lost
themselves among the flies. A number of wide stairs, all over wine
stains, wandered aimlessly about, coming to a conclusion between
gigantic urns filled with unnatural flowers of all the colors of a
diseased rainbow. Jotted about here and there on the stage were
octopus-limbed trees with magenta leaves growing in flower pots all
covered with bilious blobs. Stan Mosely didn't profess to understand
it, but having been assured by the designer that it was art nouveau,
which also he didn't understand, he was wholly satisfied.

Not so the stage director, whose language in describing the effect it
had upon him would have done credit to a gunman under the influence of
cheap brandy and fright. The rehearsal, which had commenced at eight
o'clock, had been hung up for a time considerable enough to allow him
to give vent to his sentiments. The pause enabled Mosely, squatting
frog-wise in the middle of the orchestra stalls, to surround himself
with several women whose gigantic proportions were horribly exposed to
the eye. The rumble of his voice and the high squeals of their laughter
clashed with the sounds of the vitriolic argument on the stage, and the
noises of a bored band, in which an oboe was giving a remarkable
imitation of a gobbling turkey cock, and a cornet of a man blowing his
nose. The leader of the band was pacing up and down the musicians'
room, saying to himself: "Zis is ze last timer. Zis is ze last timer,"
well knowing that it wasn't. The poor devil had a wife and children to
feed.

Bevies of weary and spirit-broken chorus girls in costume were
sprawling on the chairs in the lower boxes, some sleeping, some too
tired to sleep, and some eating ravenously from paper bags. Chorus men
and costumers, wig makers and lyric writers, authors and friends of the
company, sat about singly and in pairs in the orchestra seats. They
were mostly bored so far beyond mere impatience by all this
super-inefficiency and chaos as to have arrived at a state of
intellectual coma. The various men out of whose brains had originally
come the book and lyrics no longer hated each other and themselves;
they lusted for the blood of the stage director or saw gorgeous mental
pictures of a little fat oozy corpse surrounded by the gleeful faces of
the army of people who had been impotent to protest against the lash of
his whip, the impertinence of his tongue or the gross dishonesty of his
methods.

One other man in addition to the raucous, self-advertising stage
director, Jackrack, commonly called "Jack-in-office," showed distinct
signs of life--a short, overdressed, perky person with piano fingers
and baldish head much too big for his body, who flitted about among the
chorus girls, followed by a pale, drab woman with pins, and touched
their dresses and sniggered and made remarks with a certain touch of
literary excellence in a slightly guttural voice. This was Poppy
Shemalitz, the frock expert, the man milliner of the firm, who was
required to make bricks out of straw, or as he frequently said to the
friends of his "bosom," "make fifteen dollars look like fifty."
Self-preservation and a sense of humor encouraged him through the
abusive days of a dog's life.

Sitting in the last row of the orchestra, wearing the expression of
interest and astonishment of a man who had fallen suddenly into another
world, was Martin. He had been there since eight o'clock. For over six
hours he had watched banality emerge from chaos and had listened to the
blasphemy and insults of Jackrack. He would have continued to watch and
listen until daylight peered upbraidingly through the chinks in the
exit doors but for the sudden appearance of Susie Capper, dressed for
the street.

"Hello, Tootles! But you're not through, are you?"

"Absobloominlootely," she said emphatically.

"I thought you said your best bit was in the second act?"

"'Was' is right. Come on outer here. I can't stand the place a minute
longer. It'll give me apoplexy."

Martin followed her into the foyer. The tragic rage on the girl's
little, pretty, usually good-natured face worried him. He knew that she
had looked forward to this production to make her name on Broadway.

"My dear Tootles, what's happened?"

She turned to him and clutched his arm. Tears welled up into her eyes,
and her red lips began to tremble. "What did I look like?" she demanded.

"Splendid!"

"Didn't I get every ounce of comedy out of my two scenes in Act One?"

"Every ounce."

"I know I did. Even the stage hands laughed, and if you can do that
there's no argument. And didn't my number go over fine? Wasn't it the
best thing in the act? I don't care what you say. I know it was. Even
the orchestra wanted it over again."

"But it was," said Martin, "and I heard one of the authors say that it
would be the hit of the piece."

"Oh, Martin, I've been sweating blood for this chance for five years,
and I'm not going to get it. I'm not going to get it. I wish I was
dead." She put her arms against the wall and her face down on her arms
and burst into an agony of tears.

Martin was moved. This plucky, struggling, hardworking atom of a
remorseless world deserved a little luck for a change. Hitherto it had
eluded her eager hands, although she had paid for it in advance with
something more than blood and energy. "Dear old Tootles," he said,
"what's happened? Try and tell me what's happened? I don't understand."

"You don't understand, because you don't know the tricks of this rotten
theater. For eleven weeks I've been rehearsing. For eleven weeks--time
enough to produce a couple of Shakespeare's bally plays in Latin,--I've
put up with the brow-beating of that mad dog Jackrack. For eleven
weeks, without touching one dirty little Mosely cent, I've worked at my
part and numbers, morning, noon and night; and now, on the edge of
production, he cuts me out and puts in a simpering cow with a
fifteen-thousand-dollar necklace and a snapping little Pekinese to
oblige one of his angels, and I'm reduced to the chorus. I wish I was
dead, I tell you--I wish I was dead and buried and at peace. I wish I
could creep home and get into bed and never see another day of this
cruel life. Oh, I'm just whipped and broke and out. Take me away, take
me away, Martin. I'm through."

Martin put his arm round the slight, shaking form, led her to one of
the doors and out into a narrow passage that ran up into the deserted
street. To have gone down into the stalls and hit that oily martinet in
the mouth would have been to lay himself open to a charge of cruelty to
animals. He was so puny and fat and soft. Poor little Tootles, who had
had a tardy and elusive recognition torn from her grasp! It was a
tragedy.

It was not much more than a stone's-throw from the theater to the
rabbit warren in West Forty-sixth Street, but Martin gave a shout at a
prowling taxi. Not even policemen and newspaper boys and street
cleaners must see this girl as she was then, in a collapse of smashed
hopes, sobbing dreadfully, completely broken down. It wasn't fair. In
all that city of courageous under-dogs and fate-fighters, there was not
one who pretended to careless contentment with a chin so high as
Tootles. He half carried her into the cab, trying with a queer
blundering sympathy to soothe and quiet her. And he had almost
succeeded by the time they reached the brownstone house of sitters,
bedrooms and baths, gas stoves, cubby-holes, the persistent reek of
onions, cigarettes and hot cheese. The hysteria of the artistic
temperament, or the natural exaggeration of an artificial life, had
worn itself out for the time being. Rather pathetic little sobs had
taken its place, it was with a face streaked with the black stuff from
her eyelashes that Tootles turned quickly to Martin at the foot of the
narrow, dirty staircase.

"Let's go up quiet," she said. "If any of the others are about, I don't
want 'em to know tonight. See?"

"I see," said Martin.

And it was good to watch the way in which she took hold of herself with
a grip of iron, scrubbed her face with his handkerchief, dabbed it
thickly with powder from a small silver box, threw back her head and
went up two stairs at a time. On the second floor there was a cackle of
laughter, but doors were shut. On the third all was quiet. But on the
fourth the tall, thin, Raphael-headed man was drunk again, arguing
thickly in the usual cloud of smoke, which drifted sullenly into the
passage through the open door.

With deft fingers Tootles used her latchkey, and they slipped into the
apartment like thieves. And then Martin took the pins out of her little
once-white hat, drew her coat off, picked her up as if she were a child
and put her on the sofa.

"There you are, Tootles," he said, without aggressive cheerfulness, but
still cheerful. "You lie there, young 'un, and I'll get you something
to eat. It's nearly a day since you saw food."

And after a little while, humanized by the honest kindness of this
obvious man, she sat up and leaned on an elbow and watched him through
the gap in the curtains that hid her domestic arrangements. He was
scrambling some eggs. He had made a pile of chicken sandwiches and laid
the table. He had put some flowers that he had brought for her earlier
in the evening in the middle of it, stuck into an empty milk bottle. In
her excitement and joy about the play, she had forgotten to put them in
water. They were distinctly sad.

"Me word!" she said to herself, through the aftermath of her emotion.
"That's some boy. Gee, that's some good boy." Even her thoughts were
conducted in a mixture of Brixton and Broadway.

"Now, then," he said, "all ready, marm," and put his handiwork in what
he hoped was an appetizing manner on the table. The hot eggs were on a
cold plate, but did that really matter?

Not to Tootles, who was glad to get anything, anyhow. That room was the
Ritz Hotel in comparison with the slatterly tenement in which she had
won through the first unsoaped years of a sordid life. And
Martin--well, Martin was something out of a fairy tale.

Between them they made a clean sweep of everything, falling back
finally on a huge round box of candies contributed the previous day by
Martin.

They made short work of several bottles of beer, also contributed by
Martin. He knew that Tootles was not paid a penny during rehearsals.
She laughed several times and cracked one or two feeble jokes--poor
little soul with the swollen eyes and powder-dabbed face! Her bobbed
hair glistened under the light like the dome of the Palace of Cooch
Behar under the Indian sun.

"Boy," she said presently, putting her hand on his knees and closing
her tired eyes, "where's that magic carpet? If I could sit on it with
you and be taken to where the air's clean and the trees are whisperin'
and all the young things hoppin' about--I'd give twenty-five years of
me life, s'elp me Bob, I would."

"Would you, Tootles?" A sudden thought struck Martin. Make use of that
house in the country, make use of it, lying idle and neglected!

"Oh," she said, "to get away from all this for a bit--to shake Broadway
and grease paint and slang and electric light, if only for a week. I'm
fed up, boy. I'm all out, like an empty gasoline tin. I want to see
something clean and sweet."

Martin had made up his mind. Look at that poor little bruised soul, as
much in need of water as those sad flowers in the milk bottle.
"Tootles," he said, "pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and be
ready for me in the morning."

"What d'yer mean, boy?"

"What I say. At eleven o'clock to-morrow--to-day, I'll have a car here
and drive you away to woods and birds and all clean things. I'll give
you a holiday in a big cathedral, and you shall lie and listen to God's
own choir."

"Go on--ye're pullin' me leg!"

She waved her hand to stop him. It was all too good to joke about.

"No, I'm not. I've got a house away in the country. It was my father's.
We shall both be proud to welcome you there, Tootles."

She sprang up, put her hands on his face and tilted it back and looked
into his eyes. It was true! It was true! She saw it there. And she
kissed him and gave a great sobbing sigh and went into her bedroom and
began to undress. Was there anything like life, after all?

Martin cleared the table and drew the curtains over the domestic
arrangements. He didn't like domestic arrangements. Then he sat down
and lighted a cigarette. His head was all blurred with sleep.

And presently a tired voice, called "Boy!" and he went in. The
all-too-golden head was deep into the pillow and long lashes made fans
on that powdered face.

"Where did you pinch the magic carpet?" she asked, and smiled, and fell
into sleep as a stone disappears into water.

As Martin drew the clothes over her thinly clad shoulder, something
touched him. It was like a tap on the heart. Before he knew what he was
doing, he had turned out the light, gone into the sitting room, the
passage, down the stairs and into the silent street. At top speed he
ran into Sixth Avenue, yelled to a cab that was slipping along the
trolley lines and told the driver to go to East Sixty-seventh Street
for all that he was worth.

Joan wanted him.

Joan!

Joan heard the cab drive up and stop, heard Martin sing out "That's all
right," open and shut the front door and mount the stairs; heard him go
quickly to her room and knock.

She went out and called "Marty, Marty," and stood on the threshold of
his dressing room, smiling a welcome. She was glad, beyond words glad,
and surprised. There had seemed to be no chance of seeing him that
morning.

Martin came along the passage with his characteristic light tread and
drew up short. He looked anxious.

"You wanted me?" he said.

And Joan held out her hand. "I did and do, Marty. But how did you
guess?"

"I didn't guess; I knew." And he held her hand nervously.

She looked younger and sweeter than ever in her blue silk dressing gown
and shorter in her heelless slippers. What a kid she was, after all, he
thought.

"How amazing!" she said. "I wonder how?"

He shook his head. "I dunno--just as I did the first time, when I tore
through the woods and found you on the hill."

"Isn't that wonderful! Do you suppose I shall always be able to get you
when I want you very much?"

"Yes, always."

"Why?"

She had gone back into the dressing room. The light was on her face.
Her usual expression of elfish impertinence was not there. She was the
girl of the stolen meetings once more, the girl whose eyes reflected
the open beauty of what Martin had called the big cathedral. For all
that, she was the girl who had hurt him to the soul, shown him her
door, played that trick upon him at the Ritz and sent him adrift full
of the spirit of "Who cares?" which was her fetish. It was in his heart
to say: "Because I adore you! Because I am so much yours that you have
only to think my name for me to hear it across the world as if you had
shouted it through a giant megaphone! Because whatever I do and
whatever you do, I shall love you!" But she had hurt him twice. She had
cut him to the very core. He couldn't forget. He was too proud to lay
himself open to yet another of her laughing snubs.

So he shook his head again. "I dunno," he said. "It's like that. It's
something that can't be explained."

She sat on the arm of the chair with her hands round a knee. A little
of her pink ankle showed. The pipe that she had dropped when his voice
had come up from the street lay on the floor.

His answer had disappointed her; she didn't quite know why. The old
Marty would have been franker and more spontaneous. The old Marty might
have made her laugh with his boyish ingenuousness, but he would have
warmed her and made her feel delightfully vain. Could it be that she
was responsible for this new Marty? Was Alice too terribly right when
she had talked about armor turning into broadcloth because of her
selfish desire to remain a kid a little longer? She was afraid to ask
him where he was when he had felt that she wanted him, and she hated
herself for that.

There was a short silence.

These two young things had lost the complete confidence that had been
theirs before they had come to that great town. What a pity!

"Well," he asked, standing straight like a man ready to take orders,
"why did you call?"

And then an overwhelming shyness seized her. It had seemed easy enough
in thought to tell Martin that she was ready to cross the bridge and
be, as Alice had called it, honest, and as Gilbert had said, to play
the game. But it was far from easy when he stood in the middle of the
room in the glare of the light, with something all about him that froze
her words and made her self-conscious and timid. And yet a clear,
unmistakable voice urged her to have courage and make her confession,
say that she was sorry for having been a feather-brained little fool
and ask him to forgive--to win him back, if--if she hadn't already lost
him.

But she blundered into an answer and spoke flippantly from nervousness.
"Because it's rather soon to become a grass widow, and I want you to be
seen with me somewhere to-morrow."

That was all, then. She was only amusing herself. It was a case of
"Horse, horse, play with me!"--the other horses being otherwise
occupied. She wasn't serious. He needn't have come. "I can't," he said.
"I'm sorry, but I'm going out of town."

She saw him look at the clock on the mantelshelf and crinkle up his
forehead. Day must be stretching itself somewhere. She got up, quickly.
How could she say it? She was losing him.

"Are you angry with me, Marty?" she asked, trying to fumble her way to
honesty.

"No, Joan. But it's very late. You ought to be in bed."

"Didn't you think that I should miss you while you've been away?"

"No, Joan. Look. It's half-past two. A kid like you ought to have been
asleep hours ago." He went over to the door.

"I'm not a kid--I'm not" she burst out.

He was too tired to be surprised. He had not forgotten how she had
hidden behind her youth. He couldn't understand her mood. "I must get
to bed," he said, "if you don't mind. I must be up pretty early. Run
along, Joany."

He couldn't have hurt her more awfully whatever he had said. To be
treated like a naughty girl! But it served her right, and she knew it.
Her plea had come back like a boomerang.

"Well, have a good time," she said, with her chin high. "I shall see
you again some day, I suppose," and she went out.

It was no use. She had lost him--she had lost him, just as she had
discovered that she wanted him. There was a girl with a white face and
red lips and hair that came out of a bottle. Martin watched her go and
shut the door, and stood with his hands over his face.



VIII


Mr. and Mrs. George Harley had made an appointment to meet at half-past
eleven sharp on the doorstep of the little house in Sixty-seventh
Street. Business had interrupted their honeymoon and brought them
unexpectedly to New York. Harley had come by subway from Wall Street to
the Grand Central and taken a taxicab. It was twelve o'clock before he
arrived. Nevertheless he wore a smile of placid ease of mind. His
little wife had only to walk from the Plaza, it was true, but he knew,
although a newly married man, that to be half an hour late was to be
ten minutes early.

At exactly five minutes past twelve he saw her turn off the Avenue, and
as he strolled along to meet her, charmed and delighted by her
daintiness, proud and happy at his possession of her, he did a thing
that all wise and tactful husbands do--he forced back an irresistible
desire to be humorous at her expense and so won an entry of approval
from the Recording Angel.

If they had both been punctual they would have seen Martin go off in
his car to drive the girl who had had no luck to the trees and the wild
flowers and the good green earth.

Joan's mother, all agog to see the young couple who had taken life into
their own hands with the sublime faith of youth, had made it her first
duty to call, however awkward and unusual the hour. Her choice of hats
in which to do so had been a matter of the utmost importance.

They were told that Mr. Gray had gone out of town, that Mrs. Gray was
not yet awake and followed the butler upstairs to the drawing-room with
a distinct sense of disappointment. The room still quivered under the
emotion of Gilbert Palgrave.

Rather awkwardly they waited to be alone. Butlers always appear to
resent the untimely visitation of relations. Sunlight poured in through
the windows. It was a gorgeous morning.

"Well," said George Harley, "I've seen my brokers and can do nothing
more to-day. Let the child have her sleep out. I'm just as happy to be
here with you, Lil, as anywhere else." And he bent over his wife as if
he were her lover, as indeed he was, and kissed her pretty ear. His
clothes were very new and his collar the shade of an inch too high for
comfort and his patent leather shoes something on the tight side, but
the spirits of the great lovers had welcomed him and were unafraid.

He won a most affectionate and grateful smile from the neat little lady
whose brown hair was honestly tinged with white, and whose unlined face
was innocent of make-up. Mrs. Harley had not yet recovered from her
astonishment at having been swept to the altar after fifteen years of
widowhood by this most simple and admirable man. Even then she was not
quite sure that she was not dreaming all this. She patted his big hand
and would have put her head against his chest if the brim of her hat
had permitted her to do so.

"That's very sweet of you, Geordie," she said. "How good you are to me."

He echoed the word "Good!" and laughed and waved his hands. It was the
gesture of a man whose choice of ready words was not large enough to
describe all that he longed and tried to be to her. And then he stood
back with his long legs wide apart and his large hands thrust into his
pockets and his rather untidy gray head stuck on one side and studied
her as if she were a picture in a gallery. He looked like a great big
faithful St. Bernard dog.

Mrs. Harley didn't think so. He seemed to her to be the boy of whom she
had dreamed in her first half-budding dreams and who had gone wandering
and come under the hand of Time, but remained a boy in his heart. She
was glad that she had made him change his tie. She loved those deep
cuts in his face.

"Very well, then," she said. "Although it is twelve o'clock I'll let
her sleep another half an hour." And then she stopped with a little cry
of dismay, "Let her! ... I'm forgetting that it's no longer in my power
to say what she's to do or not to do!"

"How's that?"

"She's no longer the young, big-eyed, watchful child who startled us by
saying uncanny things. She's no longer the slip of a thing that I left
with her grandparents, with her wistful eyes on the horizon. She's a
married woman, Geordie, with a house of her own, and it isn't for me to
'let' her do anything or tell her or even ask her. She can do what she
likes now. I've lost her, Geordie."

"Why, how's that, Lil?" There was surprise as well as sympathy in
Harley's voice. He had only known other people's children.

She went on quickly, with a queer touch of emotion. "The inevitable
change has come before I've had time to realize it. It's a shock. It
takes my breath away. I feel as if I had been set adrift from an
anchor. Instead of being my little girl she's my daughter now. I'm no
longer 'mammy.' I'm mother. Isn't it,--isn't it wonderful? It's like
standing under a mountain that's always seemed to be a little hill
miles and miles away. From now on I shall be the one to be told to do
things, I shall be the child to be kept in order. It's a queer moment
in the life of a mother, Geordie."

She laughed, but she didn't catch her tears before they were halfway
down her cheeks. "I'm an old lady, my dear."

Harley gave one of his hearty, incredulous laughs. "You, old. You're
one of the everlasting young ones, you are, Lil," and he stood and
beamed with love and admiration.

"But I've got you, Geordie," she added, and her surprised heart that
had suddenly felt so empty warmed again and was soothed when he took
her hand eagerly and pressed it to his lips.

Grandfather and Grandmother Ludlow, Joan and many others who had formed
the habit of believing that Christopher Ludlow's widow would remain
true to his memory, failed utterly to understand the reason for her
sudden breakaway from a settled and steady routine, to plunge into
belated matrimony with a self-made man of fifty-five who seemed to them
to be not only devoid of all attractiveness but bourgeois and rather
ridiculous. But why? A little sympathy, a little knowledge of human
nature,--that's all that was necessary to make this romance
understandable. Because it was romance, in the best sense of that much
abused word. It was not the romance defined in the dictionary as an
action or adventure of an unusual or wonderful character, soaring
beyond the limits of fact and real life and often of probability, but
the result of loneliness and middle age, and of two hearts starving for
love and the expression of love, for sympathy, companionship and the
natural desire for something that would feed vanity, which, if it is
permitted to die, is replaced by bitterness and a very warped point of
view.

Christopher Ludlow, a wild, harum-scarum fellow who had risked his life
many times during his hunting trips, came to his death in a prosaic
street accident. For fifteen years his widow, then twenty-five, lived
in the country with his parents and his little daughter. She was at
their mercy, because Christopher had left no money. He had been
dependent on an allowance from his father. Either she lived with them
and bore cheerfully and tactfully with their increasing crotchetiness
and impatience of old age, or left them to eke out a purposely small
income in a second-rate hotel or a six by six apartment barely on the
edge of the map. A timid woman, all for peace, without the grit and
courage that goes with self-direction, she pursued the easy policy of
least resistance, sacrificed her youth on the altar of Comfort and
dwindled with only a few secret pangs into middle age. From time to
time, with Joan, she left the safe waters of Lethe and put an almost
frightened foot into the swift main stream. As time went on and Spring
went out of her and Summer ripened to maturity, she was more and more
glad to return from these brief excursions to the quiet country and the
safe monotonous round. Then the day came when her no longer little girl
came finally out of school, urgent and rebellious, kicking against the
pricks, electrically alive and eager, autocrat and individualist rolled
into one. Catching something of this youthfulness and shocked to wake
to a realization of her lost years, she made a frantic and despairing
effort to grasp at the tail-end of Summer and with a daughter far more
worldly than herself escaped as frequently as possible into town to
taste the pleasures that she had almost forgotten, and revive under the
influence of the theater and the roar of life. It was during one of
these excursions, while Joan was lunching with Alice Palgrave, that she
caught an arrow shot at random by that mischievous little devil Cupid,
which landed plum in the middle of a heart that had been placid so
long. In getting out of a taxicab she had slipped and fallen, was
raised deferentially to her feet, and looked up to catch the lonely and
bewildered eyes of George Harley. They were outside their mutual hotel.
What more natural and courteous than that he should escort her into the
hotel with many expressions of anxious regret, ascend with her in the
elevator to their mutual floor, linger with her for a polite few
minutes in the sunlight that poured through the passage windows and
leave her to hurry finally to her room thrilling under the recollection
of two admiring eyes and a lingering handshake? She, even she, then, at
her time of life, plump and partridge-like as she was, could inspire
the interest and approval of a man. It was wonderful. It was absurd. It
was ... altogether too good to be true! Later, after she had spent a
half-amused, half-wistful quarter of an hour in front of her glass,
seeing inescapable white hairs and an irremediable double chin, she had
gone down to the dining room for lunch. All the tables being occupied,
what more natural or disconcerting than for this modern Raleigh to rise
and rather clumsily and eagerly beg that she would share the one just
allotted to himself.

To the elderly man, whose nose had been too close to the grindstone to
permit of dalliance, and who now, monied and retired, found himself
terribly alone in the pale sun of St. Martin's Summer, and to the
little charming woman of forty, led back to life by an ardent and
impetuous girl, this quite ordinary everyday incident, which seemed to
them to be touched by romance, came at a moment when both were
pathetically receptive. They arranged to meet again, they met again,
and one fine afternoon while Joan was at a theater with Alice, he spoke
and she listened. It was in the more than usually hotel-like
drawing-room of their mutual hotel. People were having tea, and the
band was playing. There was a jangle of voices, the jingle of a musical
comedy, the movement of waiters. Under the leaves of a tame palm which
once had known the gorgeous freedom of a semi-tropical forest he
stumbled over a proposal, the honest, fearful, pulsating proposal of a
man who conceived that he was trying hopelessly to hitch his wagon to a
star, and she, tremulous, amazed, and on the verge of tears, accepted
him. Hers presumably the dreadful ordeal of facing an incredulous
daughter and two sarcastic parents-in-law and his of standing for
judgment before them,--argument, discussion, satire, irony, abuse
even,--a quiet and determined marriage and a new and beautiful life.

"What a delightful room," said Mrs. Harley. "It looks so comfortable
for a drawing-room that it must have been furnished by a man."

"We'll have a house in town by October, around here, and I'll bet it
won't be uncomfortable when you've finished with it."

The raucous shouts of men crying an "extra" took Harley quickly to the
open window. He watched one scare-monger edge his way up one side of
the street and another, whose voice was like the jagged edge of a rusty
saw, bandy leg his way up the other side. "Sounds like big sea battle,"
he said, after listening carefully. "Six German warships sunk, five
British. Horrible loss of life. But I may be wrong. These men do their
best not to be quite understood. Only six German ships! I wish the
whole fleet of those dirty dogs could be sunk to the bottom."

There was nothing neutral or blind-eyed about George Harley. He had
followed all the moves that had forced the war upon the nations whose
spineless and inefficient governments had so long been playing the
policy of the ostrich. He had nothing but detestation for the vile and
ruthless methods of the German war party and nation and nothing but
contempt for the allied politicians who had made such methods possible.
He had followed the course of the war with pain, anguish and bated
breath, thrilling at the supreme bravery of the Belgians and the
French, and the First Hundred Thousand, thanking God for the miracle
that saved Paris from desecration, and paying honest tribute to the
giant effort of the British to wipe out the stain of a scandalous and
criminal unpreparedness. He had squirmed with humiliation at the
attempts of the little, dreadful clever people of his own
country,--professors, parsons, pacifists and pro-Germans,--to prove
that it was the duty of the United States to stand aloof and unmoved in
the face of a menace which affected herself in no less a degree than it
affected the nations then fighting for their lives, and had watched
with increasing alarm the fatuous complacency of Congress which
continued to deceive itself into believing that a great stretch of mere
water rendered the country immune from taking its honest part in its
own war. "Oh, my God," he had said in his heart, as all clear-sighted
Americans had been saying, "has commercialism eaten into our very
vitals? Has the good red blood of the early pioneers turned to water?
Are we without the nerve any longer to read the writing on the wall?"
And the only times that his national pride had been able to raise its
head beneath the weight of shame and foreboding were those when he
passed the windows of Red Cross Depots and caught sight of a roomful of
good and noble women feverishly at work on bandages; when he read of
the keen and splendid training voluntarily undergone by the far-sighted
men who were making Plattsburg the nucleus of an officers' training
corps, when he was told how many of his young and red-blooded
fellow-countrymen had taken up arms with the Canadian contingents or
had slipped over to France as ambulance men. What would he not have
given to be young again!

He heaved a great sigh and turned back to the precious little woman who
had placed her life into his hands for love. The hoarse alarming voices
receded into the distance, leaving their curious echo behind.

"What were we talking about?" he asked. "Oh, ah, yes. The house. Lil,
during the few days that I have to be in the city, let's find the
house, let's nose around and choose the roof under which you and I will
spend all the rest of our honeymoon. What do you say, dear?"

"I'd love it, Geordie; I'd just love it. A little house, smaller than
this, with windows that catch the sun, quite near the Park, so that we
can toddle across and watch the children playing. Wouldn't that be
nice? And now I think I'll ring for some one to show me Joan's room and
creep in and suggest that she gets up."

But there was no need. The door opened, and Joan came in, with eyes
like stars.



IX


Three o'clock that afternoon found the Harleys still in Martin's house,
with Mrs. Harley fidgetting to get George out for a walk in order that
she might enjoy an intimate, mother-talk with Joan, and Joan
deliberately using all her gifts to keep him there in order to avoid it.

Lunch had been a simple enough affair as lunches go, lifted above the
ordinary ruck of such meals by the 1906 Chateau Latour and the
Courvoisier Cognac from the cellar carefully stocked by Martin's
father. From the psychological side of it, however, nothing could well
have been more complicated. George had not forgotten his reception by
the Ludlows that day of his ever-to-be-remembered visit of
inspection--the cold, satirical eyes of Grandmother, the freezing
courtesy of Grandfather, and the silent, eloquent resentment of the
girl who saw herself on the verge of desertion by the one person who
made life worth living in intermittent spots. He was nervous and
overanxious to appear to advantage. The young thoroughbred at the head
of the table who had given him a swift all-embracing look, an
enigmatical smile and a light laughing question as to whether he would
like to be called "Father, papa, Uncle George or what" awed him. He
couldn't help feeling like a clumsy piece of modern pottery in the
presence of an exquisite specimen of porcelain. His hands and feet
multiplied themselves, and his vocabulary seemed to contain no more
than a dozen slang phrases. He was conscious of the fact that his
collar was too high and his clothes a little too bold in pattern, and
he was definitely certain for the first time in his life, that he had
not yet discovered a barber who knew how to cut hair.

Overeager to emphasize her realization of the change in her
relationship to Joan, overanxious to let it be seen at once that she
was merely an affectionate and interested visitor and not a mother with
a budget of suggestions and corrections and rearrangements, Mrs. Harley
added to the complication. Usually the most natural woman in the world
with a soft infectious laugh, a rather shrewd humor and a neat gift of
comment, she assumed a metallic artificiality that distressed herself
and surprised Joan. She babbled about absolutely nothing by the yard,
talked over George's halting but gallant attempts to make things easy
like any Clubwoman, and in an ultra-scrupulous endeavor to treat Joan
as if she were a woman of the world, long emancipated from maternal
apron strings, said things to her, inane, insincere things, that she
would not have said to a complete stranger on the veranda of a summer
hotel or the sun deck of a transatlantic liner. She hated herself and
was terrified.

For two reasons this unexpected lunch was an ordeal so far as Joan was
concerned. She remembered how antagonistic she had been to Harley under
the first rough shock of her mother's startling and what then had
appeared to be disloyal aberration, and wanted to make up for it to the
big, simple, uncomfortable man who was so obviously in love. Also she
was still all alone in the mental chaos into which everything that had
happened last night had conspired to plunge her and was trying, with
every atom of courage that she possessed, to hide the fact from her
mother's quick solicitous eyes. SHE of all people must not know that
Martin had gone away or find the loose end of her married life!

It was one of those painful hours that crop up from time to time in
life and seem to leave a little scratch upon the soul.

But when quarter past three came Mrs. Harley pulled herself together.
She had already dropped hints of every known and well-recognized kind
to George, without success. She had even invented appointments for him
at the dentist's and the tailor's. But George was basking in Joan's
favor and was too dazzled to be able to catch and concentrate upon his
wife's insinuations as to things and people that didn't exist. And Joan
held him with her smile and led him from one anecdote to another.
Finally, with no one realized how supreme an effort, Mrs. Harley came
to the point. As a rule she never came to points.

"Geordie," she said, seizing a pause, "you may run along now, dear, and
take a walk. It will do you good to get a little exercise before
dinner. I want to be alone with Joan for a while."

And before Joan could swing the conversation off at a tangent the
faithful and obedient St. Bernard was on his feet, ready and willing to
ramble whichever way he was told to go. With unconscious dignity and a
guilelessness utterly unknown to drawing-rooms he bent over Joan's
reluctant hand and said, "Thank you for being so kind to me," laid a
hearty kiss on his wife's cheek and went.

"And now, darling," said Mrs. Harley, settling into her chair with an
air of natural triumph, "tell me where Martin is and how long he's
going to be away and all about everything."

These were precisely the questions that Joan had worked so hard and
skilfully to dodge. "Well, first of all, Mummy," she said, with filial
artfulness, "you must come and see the house."

And Mrs. Harley, who had been consumed with the usual feminine
curiosity to examine every corner and cranny of it, rose with alacrity.
"What I've already seen is all charming," she said. "I knew Martin's
father, you know. He spent a great deal of time at his house near your
grandfather's, and was nearly always in the saddle. He was not a bit
like one's idea of a horsey man. He was, in fact, a gentleman who was
fond of horses. There is a world of difference. He had a most
delightful smile and was the only man I ever met, except your
grandfather, who could drink too much wine without showing it. Who's
this good-looking boy with the trustworthy eyes?"

"Martin," said Joan. "Martin," she added inwardly, "who treated me like
a kid last night."

Mrs. Harley looked up at the portrait. An involuntary smiled played
round her mouth. "Yes, of course. I remember him. What a dear boy! No
wonder you fell in love with him, darling. You must be very happy."

Joan followed her mother out of the room. She was glad of the chance to
control her expression. She went upstairs with a curious lack of the
spirit of proprietorship. It hurt her to feel as if she were showing a
house taken furnished for the season in which she had no rights, no
pride and no personal interest. Martin had treated her like a kid last
night and gone away in the morning without a word. Alice and Gilbert
had taunted her with not being a wife. She wasn't, and this was
Martin's house, not hers and Martin's ... it hurt.

"Ah," said Mrs. Harley softly as she went into Joan's bedroom. "Ah.
Very nice. You both have room to move here." But the mass of little
filet lace pillows puzzled her, and she darted a quick look at the tall
young thing with the inscrutable face who had ceased to be her little
girl and had become her daughter.

"The sun pours in," said Joan, turning away.

Mrs. Harley noticed a door and brightened up.

"Martin's dressing room?" she asked. "No. My maid's room!" Joan said.

Mrs. Harley shook her head ever so little. She was not in sympathy with
what she called new-fashioned ideas. It was on the tip of her tongue to
say so and to forget, just this once, the inevitable change in their
relationship and speak like mammy once more. But she was a timid,
sensitive little woman, and the indefinable barrier that had suddenly
sprung up held her back. Joan made no attempt to meet her halfway. The
moment passed.

They went along the passage. "There are Martin's rooms," said Joan.

Mrs. Harley went halfway in. "Like a bachelor's rooms, aren't they?"
she said, without guile. And while she glanced at the pictures and the
crowded bootrack and the old tallboys, Joan's sudden color went away
again.... He was a bachelor. He had left her on the other side of the
bridge. He had hurt her last night. How awfully she must have hurt him!

"When will Martin be back?"

"I don't know," said Joan. "Probably to-morrow. I'm not sure." She
stumbled a little, realized that she was giving herself away,--because
if a bride is not to know her husband's movements, who is?--and made a
desperate effort to recover her position. "It all depends on how long
he's kept. But he needed exercise, and golf's such a good game, isn't
it? I sha'n't hurry him back."

She looked straight into her mother's anxious eyes, saw them clear, saw
a smile come--and took a deep breath of relief. If there was one thing
that she had to put up the most strenuous fight to avoid, in her
present chaotic state of mind, it was a direct question as to her life
with Martin. Of all people, her mother must be left in the belief that
she was happy. Pride demanded that, even to the extent of lying. It was
hard luck to be caught by her mother, at the very moment when she was
standing among all the debris of her kid's ideas, among all the broken
beams of carelessness, and the shattered panes of high spirits.

She was thankful that her mother was not one of those aggressive,
close-questioning women, utterly devoid of sensitiveness and delicacy
who are not satisfied until they have forced open all the secret
drawers of the mind and stuck the contents on a bill file,--one of
those hard-bosomed women who stump into church as they stump into a
department store with an air of "Now then, what can you show me that's
new," who go about with a metaphorical set of burglar's tools in a
large bag with which to break open confidences and who have no faith in
human nature.

And with a sudden sense of gratitude she turned to the woman whom she
had always accepted as a fact, an institution, and looked at her with
new eyes, a new estimate and a new emotion. The little, loving, gentle,
anxious woman with the capacity of receiving impressions from external
objects that amounted to a gift but with a reticence of so fine and
tender a quality that she seemed always to stand on tiptoes on the
delicate ground of people's feelings, was HERS, was her mother. The
word burst into a new meaning, blossomed into a new truth. She had been
accepted all these years,--loved, in a sort of way; obeyed, perhaps,
expected to do things and provide things and make things easy, and here
she stood more needed, at the moment when she imagined that the need of
her had passed, than at any other time of her motherhood.

In a flash Joan understood all this and its paradox, looked all the way
back along the faithful, unappreciated years, and being no longer a
child was stirred with a strange maternal fellow feeling that started
her tears. Nature is merciless. Everything is sacrificed to youth.
Birds build their nests and rear their young and are left as soon as
wings are ready. Women marry and bear children and bring them up with
love and sacrifice, only to be relegated to a second place at the first
moment of independence. Joan saw this then. Her mother's altered
attitude, and her own feeling of having grown out of maternal
possession brought it before her. She saw the underlying drama of this
small inevitable scene in the divine comedy of life and was touched by
a great sympathy and made sorry and ashamed.

But pride came between her and a desire to go down on her knees at her
mother's side, make a clean breast of everything and beg for advice and
help.

And so these two, between whom there should have been complete
confidence, were like people speaking to each other from opposite banks
of a stream, conscious of being overheard.



X


Day after day went by with not a word from Martin. April was slipping
off the calendar. A consistent blue sky hung over a teeming city that
grew warm and dry beneath a radiant sun. Winter forgotten, spring an
overgrown boy, the whole town underwent a subtle change. Its rather
sullen winter expression melted into a smile, and all its foreign
characteristics and color broke out once more under the influence of
sun and blue sky. Alone among the great cities of the world stands New
York for contrariety and contrast. Its architecture is as various as
its citizenship, its manners are as dissimilar as its accents, its
moods as diverse as its climate. Awnings appeared, straw hats peppered
the streets like daisies in long fields, shadows moved, days
lengthened, and the call of the country fell on city ears like the thin
wistful notes of the pipes of Pan.

Brought up against a black wall Joan left the Roundabout, desisted from
joy-riding, and, spending most of her time with her mother, tried
secretly and without any outward sign, to regain her equilibrium. She
saw nothing of Alice and the set, now beginning to scatter, in which
Alice had placed her. She was consistently out to Gilbert Palgrave and
the other men who had been gathering hotly at her heels. Her policy of
"who cares?" had received a shock and left her reluctantly and
impatiently serious. She had withdrawn temporarily into a backwater in
order to think things over and wait for Martin to reappear. It seemed
to her that her future way of life was in his hands. If Martin came
back soon and caught her in her present mood she would play the game
according to the rules. If he stayed away or, coming back, persisted in
considering her as a kid and treating her as such, away would go
seriousness, life being short, and youth but a small part of it, and
back she would go to the Merry-go-round, and once more, at twice the
pace, with twice the carelessness, the joy-ride would continue. It was
all up to Martin, little as he knew it.

And where was Martin?

There was no letter, no message, no sign as day followed day. Without
allowing herself to send out an S. O. S. to him, which she well knew
that she had the power to do, she waited, as one waits at crossroads,
to go either one way or the other. Although tempted many times to tap
the invisible wire which stretched between them, and to put an end to a
state of uncertainty which was indescribably irksome to her impulsive
and imperative nature, she held her hand. Pride steeled her, and vanity
gave her temporary patience. She even went so far as to think of him
under another name so that no influence of hers might bring him back.
She wanted him to return naturally, on his own account, because he was
unable to keep away. She wanted him, wherever he was and whatever he
was doing, to want her, not to come in cold blood from a sense of duty,
in the spirit of martyrdom. She wanted him, for her pride's sake, to be
again the old eager Marty, the burning-eyed, inarticulate Marty, who
had brought her to his house and laid it at her feet with all that was
his. In no other way was she prepared to cross what she thought of as
the bridge.

And so, seeing only her mother and George Harley, she waited, saying to
herself confidently "If he doesn't come to-day, he will come to-morrow.
I told him that I was a kid, and he understood. I've hurt him awfully,
but he loves me. He will come to-morrow."

But to-morrow came and where was Martin?

It was a curious time for this girl-woman to go through alone, hiding
her crisis from her mother behind smiling eyes, disguising her anxiety
under a cloak of high spirits, herself hurt but realizing that she had
committed a hurt. It made her feel like an aeroplane voluntarily landed
in perfect condition at the start of a race, waiting for the pilot to
get aboard. That he would return at any moment and take her up again
she never doubted. Why should she? She knew Martin. His eyes won
confidence, and there was a heart of gold behind his smile. She didn't
believe that she could have lost him so soon. He would come back
because he loved her. Hadn't he agreed that she was a kid? And when he
did come back she would take her courage in both hands and tell him
that she wanted to play the game. And then, having been honest, she
would hitch on to life again with a light heart, and neither Alice nor
Gilbert could stand up and flick her conscience. Martin would be happy.

To-morrow and to-morrow, and no Martin.

At the end of a week a letter was received by her mother from
Grandmother Ludlow, in which, with a tinge of sarcasm, she asked that
she might be honored by a visit of a few days, always supposing that
trains still ran between New York and Peapack and gasolene could still
be procured for privately owned cars. And there was a postscript in
these words. "Perhaps you have the necessary eloquence to induce the
athletic Mrs. Martin Gray to join you."

The letter was handed to Joan across the luncheon table at the Plaza.
She read the characteristic effusion with keen amusement. She could
hear the old lady's incisive voice in every word and the tap of her
stick across the hall as she laid the letter in the box. How good to
see the country again and go through the woods to the old high place
where she had turned and found Martin. How good to go back to that old
prison house as an independent person, with the right to respect and
even consideration. It would serve Martin right to find her away when
he came back. She would leave a little note on his dressing table.

"No wonder the old lady asks if the trains have broken down," said Mrs.
Harley. "Of course, we ought to have gone out to see her, Geordie."

"Of course," said George, "of course"--but he darted a glance at Joan
which very plainly conveyed the hope that she would find some reason
why the visit should not be made. Would he ever forget standing in that
stiff drawing-room before that contemptuous old dame, feeling exactly
like a very small worm?

The strain of waiting for Martin day after day had told on Joan. She
longed for a change of atmosphere, a change of scene. And what a joke
it would be to be able to face her grandfather and grandmother without
shaking in her shoes! "Of course," said Joan. "Let's drive out to-day
in time for dinner, and send a telegram at once. Nothing like striking
while the iron's hot. Papa Geordie, tell the waiter to bring a blank,
and we'll concoct a message between us. Is that all right for you,
Mother?"

Mrs. Harley looked rather like a woman being asked to run a quarter of
a mile to catch a train, but she gave a little laugh and said, "Yes,
dear. I think so, although, perhaps, to-morrow--"

"To-day is a much better word," said Joan. She was sick of to-morrow
and to-morrow. "Packing won't take any time. I'll go home directly
after lunch and set things moving and be here in the car at three
thirty. We can see the trees and smell the ferns and watch the sun set
before we have to change for dinner. I'm dying to do that."

No arguments or objections were put forward.

This impetuous young thing must have her way.

And when the car drove away from the Plaza a few minutes after the
appointed time Joan was as excited as a child, Mrs. Harley quite
certain that she had forgotten her sponge bag and her bedroom slippers,
and George Harley betting on a time that would put more lines on his
face.

There was certainly more than a touch of irony in Joan's gladness to go
back so soon to the cage from which she had escaped with such eagerness.

There had been no word and no sign of Martin.

But as Joan had run upstairs Gilbert Palgrave had come out from the
drawing-room and put himself deliberately in her way.

"I can't stay now, Gilbert," she had said. "I'm going into the country,
and I haven't half a second to spare. I'm so sorry."

He had held his place. "You've got to give me five minutes. You've got
to," and something in his eyes had made her take hold of her impatience.

"You don't know what you're doing to me," he had said, with no sign of
his usual style and self-consciousness, but simply, like a man who had
sat in the dark and suffered. "Or if you do know your cruelty is
inhuman. I've tried to see you every day--not to talk about myself or
bore you with my love, but just to look at you. You've had me turned
away as if I were a poor relation. You've sent your maid to lie to me
over the telephone as if I were a West Point cadet in a primitive state
of sloppy sentiment. Don't do it. It isn't fair. I hauled down my
fourth wall to you, and however much you may scorn what you saw there
you must respect it. Love must always be respected. It's the rarest
thing on earth. I'm here to tell you that you must let me see you, just
see you. I've waited for many years for this. I'm all upheaved. You've
exploded me. I'm different. I'm remade. I'm beginning again. I shall
ask for nothing but kindness until I've made you love me, and then I
shall not have to ask. You will come to me. I can wait. That's all I
want you to know. When you come back ring me up. I'll be patient."

With that he had stood aside with a curious humbleness, had gripped the
hand that she had given him and had gone downstairs and away.

The country round Peapack was in its first glorious flush of young
beauty. The green of everything dazzled under the sun. The woods were
full of the echo of fairy laughter. Wild flowers ran riot among the
fields. Delicate-footed May was following on the heels of April with
its slight fingers full of added glory for the earth.

There was something soft and English in the look of the trees and
fields as they came nearer to the old house. They might have been
driving through the kind garden of Kent.

Framed in the fine Colonial doorway stood the tall old man with his
white head and fireless eyes, the little distinguished woman still
charged with electricity and the two veteran dogs with their hollow
barks.

"Not one blushing bride, but two," said Grandmother Ludlow. "How
romantic." She presented her cheek to the nervous Mrs. Harley. "You
look years younger, my dear. Quite fluttery and foolish. How do you do,
Mr. Harley? You are very welcome, Sir." She passed them both on to the
old man and turned to Joan with the kind of smile that one sees on the
faces of Chinese gods. "And here is our little girl in whose marvellous
happiness we have all rejoiced."

Joan stood up bravely to the little old lady whose sarcasm went home
like the sharp point of a rapier.

"How do you do, dear Grandmamma," she said.

"No better than can be expected, my love, but no worse." The queer
smile broadened. "But surely you haven't torn yourself away from the
young husband from whom, I hear, you have never been parted for a
moment? That I can't believe. People tell me that there has never been
such a devoted and love-sick couple. Martin Gray is driving another
car, of course."

Joan never flicked an eyelash. She would rather die than let this
cunning old lady have the satisfaction of seeing that she had drawn
blood. "No, Grandmamma," she said. "Martin needed exercise and is
playing golf at Shinnecock. He rang me up this morning and asked me to
say how sorry he was not to have the pleasure of seeing you this time."
She went over to her grandfather and held up a marvellously equable
face.

The old dame watched her with reluctant admiration. The child had all
the thoroughbred points of a Ludlow. All the same she should be shown
that, even in the twentieth century, young girls could not break away
from discipline and flout authority without punishment. The smile
became almost gleeful at the thought of the little surprise that was in
store for her.

The old sportsman took Joan in his arms and held her tight for a
moment. "I've missed you, my dear," he said. "The house has been like a
mausoleum without you. But I've no reproaches. Youth to youth,--it's
right and proper." And he led her into the lofty hall with his arm
round her shoulder.

There was a sinister grin on Gleave's poacher-like face when Joan gave
him a friendly nod. And it was with a momentary spasm of uneasiness
that she asked herself what he and her grandmother knew. It was evident
that they had something up their sleeves. But when, after a tea during
which she continued to fence and play the part of happy bride, she went
out into the scented garden that was like an old and loving friend,
this premonition of something evil left her. With every step she felt
herself greeted and welcomed. Young flowers as guileless as children
waved their green hands. Heads nodded as she passed. The old trees that
had watched her grow up rustled their leaves in affectionate
excitement. She had not understood until that very moment how many true
friends she had or how warm a place in her heart that old house had
taken. It was with a curious maternal emotion that clouded her eyes
with tears that she stood for a moment and kissed her hands to the
right and left like a young queen to her subjects. Then she ran along
the familiar path through the woods to the spot where she had been
found by Martin and stood once more facing the sweep of open country
and the distant horizon beyond which lay the Eldorado of her girl's
dreams. She was still a girl, but she had come back hurt and sorry and
ashamed. Martin might have lost his faith in her. He had gone away
without a word or sign. Gilbert Palgrave held her in such small respect
that he waited with patience for her to come, although married, into
his arms. And there was not a man or a woman on the Round-about, except
Alice, who really cared whether she ever went back again. The greedy
squirrel peeked at her from behind a fern, recognized his old playmate,
and came forward in a series of runs and leaps. With a little cry Joan
bent down and held out her hand. And away in the distance there was the
baying of Martin's hounds. But where was Martin?



XI


"Rather beg than work, wouldn't he? I call him Micawber because he's
always waiting for something to turn up."

Joan wheeled round. To hear a stranger's voice in a place that was
peculiarly hers and Martin's amazed and offended her. It was
unbelievable.

A girl was sitting in the long grass, hatless, with her hands clasped
round her knees. The sun lit up her bobbed hair that shone like brass
and had touched her white skin with a warm finger. Wistful and elfish,
sitting like Puck on a toadstool, she might have slipped out of some
mossy corner of the woods to taste the breeze and speculate about life.
She wore a butter-colored sport shirt wide open at the neck and brown
cord riding breeches and puttees. Slight and small boned and rather
thin she could easily have passed for a delicate boy or, except for
something at the back of her eyes that showed that she had not always
lived among trees, for Peter Pan's brother of whom the world had never
heard.

Few people would have recognized in this spring maid the Tootles of
Broadway and that rabbit warren in West Forty-sixth Street. The dew of
the country had washed her face and lips, and the choir voices of
Martin's big cathedral had put peace and gentleness into her expression.

She ran her eyes with frank admiration over the unself-consciously
patrician Joan in her immaculate town clothes and let them rest finally
on a face that seemed to her to be the most attractive that she had
ever seen, for all that its expression made her want to scramble to her
feet and take to her heels. But she controlled herself and sat tight,
summoned her native impertinence to the rescue and gave a friendly nod.
After all, it was a free country. There were no princesses knocking
about.

"You don't look as if you were a pal of squirrels," she said.

Joan's resentment at the unexpected presence of this interloper only
lasted a moment. It gave way almost immediately before interest and
curiosity and liking,--even, for a vague reason, sympathy.

"I've known this one all his life," she said. "His father and mother
were among my most intimate friends and, what's more, his grandfather
and grandmother relied on me to help them out in bad times."

The duet of laughter echoed among the trees.

With a total lack of dignity the squirrel retired and stood, with erect
tail, behind a tuft of coarse grass, wondering what had happened.

"It's a gift to be country and look town," said Tootles, with
unconcealed flattery. "It's having as many ancestors as the squirrels,
I suppose. According to the rules I ought to feel awkward, oughtn't I?"

"Why?"

"Well, I'm trespassing. I saw it in your eyes. 'Pon my soul it never
occurred to me before. Shall I try and make a conventional exit or may
I stay if I promise not to pinch the hill? This view is better than
face massage. It rubs out all the lines. My word, but it's good to be
alive up here!"

The mixture of cool cheek and ecstasy, given forth in the patois of the
London suburbs, amused Joan. Here was a funny, whimsical, pathetic,
pretty little thing, she thought--queerly wise, too, and with all about
her a curious appeal for friendship and kindness. "Stay, of course,"
she said. "I'm very glad you like my hill. Use it as often as you can."
She sat down on the flat-topped piece of rock that she had so often
shared with Martin. There was a sense of humanity about this girl that
had the effect of a magnet. She inspired confidence, as Martin did.

"Thanks most awfully," said Tootles. "You're kinder than you think to
let me stay here. And I'm glad you're going to sit down for a bit. I
like you, and I don't mind who knows it."

"And I like you," said Joan.

And they both laughed again, feeling like children. It was a
characteristic trick of Fate's to bring about this meeting.

"I don't mind telling you now," went on Tootles, all barriers down,
"that I've come up here every evening for a week. It's a thousand years
since I've seen the sun go to bed and watched the angels light the
stars. It's making me religious. The Broadway electrics have always
been between me and the sky.... Gee, but it's goin' to be great this
evening." She settled herself more comfortably, leaned back against the
stump of a tree and began to smile like a child at the Hippodrome in
expectation of one of the "colossal effects."

Joan's curiosity was more and more piqued, but it was rather to know
what than who this amazingly natural little person was. For all her
youth there were lines round her mouth that were eloquent of a story
begun early. Somehow, with Martin away and giving no sign, Joan was
glad, and in a way comforted, to have stumbled on some one, young like
herself, who had obviously faced uncertainty and stood at the
crossroads. "I'd like to ask you hundreds of questions," she said
impulsively. "Do you mind?"

"No, dearie. Fire away. I shan't have to tell you any fables to keep
you interested. I broke through the paper hoop into the big ring when I
was ten. Look! See those ducks flyin' home? The first time I saw them I
thought it was a V-shaped bit of smoke running away from one of the
factories round Newark."

She had told Martin that. His laugh seemed still to be in the air.

"Are you married?" asked Joan suddenly.

"Not exactly, dearie," replied Tootles, without choosing her words. But
a look at the young, eager, sweet face bent towards her made her decide
to use camouflage. "What I mean is, no, I'm not. Men don't marry me
when it isn't absolutely necessary. I'm a small part chorus lady, if
you get my point."

Joan was not quite sure that she did. Her sophistication had not gone
farther up than Sixty-seventh Street or farther down than Sherry's, and
it was bounded by Park Avenue on the one side and Fifth Avenue on the
other. "But would you like to have been married?" All her thoughts just
then were about marriage and Marty.

Tootles shook her head and gave a downward gesture with an open hand
that hardly needed to be amplified. "No, not up to a few weeks ago.
I've lived by the stage, you see, and that means that the men I've come
across have not been men but theatricals. Very different. You may take
my word. When I met my first man I didn't believe it. I thought he was
the same kind of fake. But when I knew that he was a man
alright,--well, I wanted to be married as much as a battered fishing
smack wants to get into harbor." She was thinking of Marty too,
although not of marriage any more.

"And are you going to be?"

"No, dearie. He's got a wife, it turns out. It was a bit o' cheek ever
to dream of hitting a streak of such luck as that. All the same, I've
won something that I shall treasure all the days of my life.... Look.
Here come some of the mourners." She pointed to three crows that
flapped across a sky all hung with red and gold.

Joan was puzzled. "Mourners?"

"Why, yes. Isn't this the death bed of a day?"

"I never thought of it in that way," said Joan.

"No," said Tootles, running her eyes again over Joan's well-groomed
young body. "That's easy to see. You will, though, if ever you want
every day to last a year. You're married, anyway."

"Not exactly," said Joan, unconsciously repeating the other girl's
expression.

Tootles looked at Martin's ring. "What about that, then?"

Joan looked at it too, with a curious gravity. It stood for so much
more than she had ever supposed that it would. "But I don't know
whether it's going to bind us, or not."

"And you so awfully young!"

"I was," said Joan.

The girl who had never had any luck darted a keen, examining glance at
the girl who had all the appearance of having been born lucky. Married,
as pretty as a picture, everything out of the smartest shops, the
owner, probably, of this hill and those woods, and the old house that
she had peeped at all among that lovely garden--she couldn't have come
up against life's sharp elbow, surely? She hoped not, most awfully she
hoped not.

Joan caught the look and smiled back. There was kindness here, and
comradeship. "I've nothing to tell," she said, "yet. I'm just beginning
to think, that's the truth, only just. I've been very young and
thoughtless, but I'm better now and I'm waiting to make up for it. I'm
not unhappy, only a little anxious. Everything will come right though,
because my man's a man, too."

Tootles made a long arm and put her hand on Joan's. "In that case, make
up for it bigly, dearie," she said earnestly. "Don't be afraid to give.
There are precious few real men about and lots of women to make a
snatch at them. It isn't being young that matters. Most troubles are
brought about, at your time of life, by not knowing when to stop being
young. Good luck, Lady-bird. I hope you never have anything to tell.
Oh, just look, just look!"

Joan followed the pointing finger, but held the kind hand. And they sat
in silence watching "the fair frail palaces, the fading Alps and
archipelagoes, and great cloud-continents of sunset seas." And as she
sat, enthralled, the whole earth hushed and still, shadows lurking
towards the east, the evening air holding its breath, the night ready
behind the horizon for its allotted work, God's hand on everything, it
was of Marty that Joan thought, Marty whom she must have hurt so deeply
and who had gone away without a word or a sign, believing that she was
still a kid. Yes, she WOULD make up for it, bigly, bigly, and he should
be happy, this boy-man who was a knight.

And it was of Martin that Tootles, poor, little, unlucky Tootles,
thought also. All her life she would have something to which to look
back, something precious and beautiful, and his name, stamped upon her
heart, would go down with her to the grave.

And they stayed there, in silence, holding hands, until the last touch
of color had gone out of the sky and the evening air sighed and moved
on and the night climbed slowly over the dim horizon. They might have
been sisters.

And then Joan rose in a sort of panic. "I must go," she said nervously,
forgetting that she had grown up. "Good night, Fairy."

Tootles stood up too. "Good night, Lady-bird. Make everything come
right," and held out her hand.

Joan took it again and went forward and kissed the odd little girl who
was her friend.

And a moment later Tootles saw her disappearing into the wood, like a
spirit. When she looked up at the watching star and waved her hand, it
seemed all misty.



XII


"And now, Mr. Harley," said Grandmother Ludlow, lashing the
septuagenarian footman with one sharp look because he had spilt two or
three drops of Veuve Cliquot on the tablecloth, "tell me about the
present state of the money market."

Under his hostess's consistent courtesy and marked attentions George
Harley had been squirming during the first half of dinner. He had led
her into the fine old dining room with all the style that he could
muster and been placed, to his utter dismay, on her right. He would
infinitely rather have been commanded to dine with the Empress of
China, which he had been told was the last word in mental and physical
torture. Remembering vividly the cold and satirical scorn to which he
had been treated during his former brief and nightmare visit the old
lady's change of attitude to extreme politeness and even deference made
him feel that he was having his leg pulled. In a brand new dinner
jacket with a black tie poked under the long points of a turned-down
collar, which, in his innocence, he had accepted as the mode of
gentlemen and not, as he rightly supposed of waiters, he had done his
best to give coherent answers to a rapid fire of difficult questions.
The most uneasy man on earth, he had committed himself to statements
that he knew to be unsound, had seen his untouched plate whisked away
while he was floundering among words, and started a high temperature
beneath what he was perfectly certain was lurking mockery behind
apparently interested attention.

If any banker at that moment had overheard him describing the state of
the money market he would have won for himself a commission in the
earth's large army of unconfined lunatics.

The old sportsman, sitting with Joan on his right and his
daughter-in-law on his left, was more nearly merry and bright than any
one had seen him since the two great changes in his household. His
delight in having Joan near him again was pathetic. He had shaved for
the second time that day, a most unusual occurrence. His white hair
glistened with brilliantine, and there was a gardenia in his
buttonhole. Some of the old fire had returned to his eyes, and his
tongue had regained its once invariable knack of paying charming
compliments. In his excitement and delight he departed from his rigid
diet, and, his wife's attention being focussed upon George Harley,
punished the champagne with something of his old vigor, and revived as
a natural result many of the stories which Joan and her mother had been
told ad nauseam over any number of years with so much freshness as to
make them seem almost new.

Mrs. Harley, wearing a steady smile, was performing the painful feat of
listening with one ear to the old gentleman and with the other to the
old lady. All her sympathy was with her unfortunate and uneasy husband
who looked exactly like a great nervous St. Bernard being teased by a
Pekinese.

Joan missed none of the underlying humor of the whole thing. It was
amusing and satisfactory to be treated as the guest of honor in a house
in which she had always been regarded as the naughty and rebellious
child. She was happy in being able to put her usually morose
grandfather into such high spirits and moved to a mixture of mirth and
pity at the sight of George Harley's plucky efforts. Also she had
brought away with her from the girl she called the fairy a strengthened
desire to play the game and a good feeling that Marty was nearer to her
than he had been for a long and trying week. It's true that from time
to time she caught in her grandmother's eyes that queer look of
triumphant glee that had disturbed her when they met and the same
expression of malicious spite at the corner of Gleave's sunken mouth
which had made her wonder what he knew, but these things she waved
aside. Instinct, and her complete knowledge of Mrs. Cumberland Ludlow's
temperament, made her realize that if the old lady could find a way to
get even with her for having run off she would leave no stone unturned,
and that she would not hesitate to use the cunning ex-fighting man to
help her. But, after all, what could they do? It would be foolish to
worry.

Far from foolish, if she had had an inkling of the trap that had been
laid for her and into which she was presently going to fall without
suspicion.

The facts were that Gleave had seen Martin drive up to his house with
Tootles, had watched them riding and walking together throughout the
week, had reported what he had seen to Mrs. Ludlow and left it to her
fertile imagination to make use of what was to him an ugly business.
And the old lady, grasping her chance, had written that letter to Mrs.
Harley and having achieved her point of getting Joan into her hands,
had discovered that she did not know where Martin was and had made up
her mind to show her. Revenge is sweet, saith the phrasemonger, and to
the old lady whose discipline had been flouted and whose amour propre
had been rudely shaken it was very sweet indeed. Her diabolical scheme,
conceived in the mischievous spirit of second childhood, was to lead
Joan on to a desire to show off her country house to her relations at
the moment when the man she had married and the girl with whom he was
amusing himself on the sly were together. "How dramatic," she chuckled,
in concocting the plan. "How delightfully dramatic." And she might have
added, "How hideously cruel."

But it was not until some little time after they had all adjourned to
the drawing-room, and Joan had played the whole range of her old pieces
for the edification of her grandfather, that she set her trap.

"If I had my time over again," she said, looking the epitome of
benevolence, "I would never spend spring in the city."

"Wouldn't you, dear?" prompted Mrs. Harley, eager to make the
conversation general and so give poor George a rest.

"No, my love. I would make my winter season begin in November and end
in February--four good months for the Opera, the theatres, entertaining
and so forth. Then on the first of March, the kind-hearted month that
nurses April's violets, I would leave town for my country place and, as
the poets have it watch the changing skies and the hazel blooms peep
through the swelling buds and hear the trees begin to whisper and the
throstles break into song. One loses these things by remaining among
bricks and mortar till the end of April. Joan, my dear, give this your
consideration next year. If your good husband is anything like his
father, whom we knew very slightly and admired, he is a lover of the
country and should be considered."

"Yes, Grandmamma," said Joan, wondering if Marty had come back and
found her note on his dressing-table.

"Always supposing, of course, that next year finds you both as much in
love as you are to-day,--the most devoted pair of turtle doves, as I am
told." She laughed a little roguishly to disguise the sting.

"They will be," said Mrs. Harley quickly. "There is no doubt about
that."

"None," said Joan, looking full at the old lady with a confident smile
and a high chin. Would her grandmother never forget that escape from
the window?

"Why suggest the possibility of a break?" asked Mr. Ludlow, with a
touch of anger. "Really, my dear."

"A little joke, Cumberland, merely a little joke. Joan understands me,
I know."

"I think so," said Joan, smiling back. Not on her, whatever happened,
would she see the white feather. Some one had told the tale of her
kid's rush into the heart of things and her many evenings with Palgrave
and the others, when "Who cares?" was her motto.

The old lady went on, with infinite artfulness. "During the coming
summer, my love, you should look out for a pleasant little house in
some charming part of the country, furnish it, put men to work on the
garden, and have it all ready for the following spring."

"I know just the place," put in George. "Near a fine golf course and
country club with a view across the Hudson that takes your breath away."

"That might necessitate the constant attendance of a doctor," said Mrs.
Ludlow drily, "which would add considerably to the expenses. I would
advise the Shinnecock Hills, for instance, which are swept by sea
breezes and so reminiscent of Scotland. Martin would be within a
stone's throw of his favorite course, there, wouldn't he, Joan?"

"Yes, Grandmamma," said Joan, still with a high head and a placid
smile, although it came to her in a flash that her statement as to
where Martin was had not been believed. What if Grandmother knew where
Martin had gone? How absurd. How could she?

And then Mr. Ludlow broke in again, impatiently. The effect of the
champagne was wearing off. He hated feminine conversation in
drawing-rooms, anyhow. "Why go searching about for a house for the
child when she's got one already."

"Why, so I have," cried Joan. "Here. I'd forgotten all about it!"

Nothing could have suited the old lady so well. Her husband could not
have said anything more right if he had been prompted. "Of course you
have," she said, with a cackle of laughter. "I had forgotten it too.
Mr. Harley, can you believe our overlooking the fact that there is a
most excellent house in the family a gunshot from where we are all
sitting? It's natural enough for me, who have never met Joan's young
husband. But for you, my love, who spent such a romantic night there!
Where are your wits?"

Joan's laugh rang out. "Goodness knows, but I really had forgotten all
about it. And although I've only been in it once I've known it by sight
all my life. Martin's father had it built, Papa George, and it's
awfully nice and sporting, with kennels, and tennis courts, and
everything."

"Yes, and beautifully furnished, I remember. I dined there several
times, years ago before Mr. Gray had--" Mrs. Harley drew up short.

Mrs. Ludlow finished the sentence. "A little quarrel with me," she
said. "I objected to his hounds scrambling over this property and wrote
pithily to that effect. We never spoke again. My dear, while we are all
together, why not personally conduct us over this country house of
yours and give us an unaccustomed thrill of excitement."

"Yes, do, darling," said Mrs. Harley. "George would love to see it."

"I will," said Joan. "I'd adore to. I don't know a bit what it's like,
except the hall and the library. It will come as a perfect surprise to
me."

"A very perfect surprise," said Mrs. Ludlow.

Joan sprang to her feet. "Let's go now. No time like the present."

"Well," said Mrs. Harley cautiously, though equally keen.

"No, no, not to-night. Bear with your aged grandparents. Besides, the
housekeeper and the other servants will probably be in bed. To-morrow
now, early--"

"All right," said Joan. "To-morrow then, directly after breakfast.
Fancy forgetting that one possessed a country house. It's almost
alarming." And she put her hands on her grandfather's shoulders, and
bent down and kissed him. She was excited and thrilled. It was her
house because it was Martin's, and soon she would be Martin's too. And
they would spend a real honeymoon in the place in which they had sat
together in the dark and laid their whispered plans for the great
adventure. How good that would be!

And when she went back to the piano and rattled off a fox trot,
Grandmother Ludlow got up and hobbled out of the room, on her tapping
stick, to hide her glee.



XIII


It was ten o'clock when Joan stood once more in the old, familiar
bedroom in which she had slept all through her childhood and
adolescence.

Nothing had been altered since the night from which she dated the
beginning of her life. Her books were in the same places. Letters from
her school friends were in the same neat pile on her desk. The things
that she had been obliged to leave on her dressing-table had not been
touched. A framed photograph of her mother, with her hands placed in
the incredible way that is so dear to the photographer's heart, still
hung crooked over a colonial chest of drawers. Her blue and white bath
wrap was in its place over the back of a chair, with her slippers
beneath it.

She opened the door of the hospitable closet. There were all the
clothes and shoes and hats that she had left. She drew out a drawer in
the chest. Nothing had been disturbed.... It was uncanny. She seemed to
have been away for years. And yet, as she looked about and got the
familiar scent of the funny little lavender sachets made by Mrs. Nye,
she found it hard to believe that Marty and Gilbert Palgrave, the house
in New York, all the kaleidoscope of Crystal rooms and restaurants, all
the murmur of voices and music and traffic were not the elusive
memories of last night's dream. But for the longing for Marty that
amounted to an absorbing, ever-present homesickness, it was difficult
to accept the fact that she was not still the same early-to-bed,
early-to-rise country girl, kicking against the pricks, rebelling
against the humdrum daily routine, spoiling to try her wings.

"Dear old room," she whispered, suddenly stretching out her arms to it.
"My dear old room. I didn't think I'd miss you a little bit. But I
have. I didn't think I should be glad to get back to you. But I am.
What are you doing to me to make me feel a tiny pain in my heart?
You're crowding all the things I did here and all the things I thought
about like a thousand white pigeons round my head. All my impatient
sighs, and big ambitions, and silly young hopes and fears are coming to
meet me and make me want to laugh and cry. But it isn't the same me
that you see; it isn't. You haven't changed, dear old room, but I have.
I'm different. I'm older. I'm not a kid any more. I'm grown up. Oh, my
dear, dear old room, be kind to me, be gentle with me. I haven't played
the game since I went away or been honest. I've been thoughtless,
selfish and untamed. I've done all the wrong things. I've attracted all
the wrong people. I've sent Marty away, Marty--my knight--and I want
him back. I want to make up to him bigly, bigly for what I ought to
have done. Be kind to me, be kind to me."

And she closed her arms as if in an embrace and put her head down as
though on the warm breast of an old friend and the good tears ran down
her cheeks.

All the windows were open. The air was warm and scented. There was no
sound. The silent voices of the stars sang their nightly anthem. The
earth was white with magic moonshine. Joan looked out. The old creeper
down which she had climbed to go to Martin that night which seemed so
far away was all in leaf. With what exhilaration she had dropped her
bag out. Had ever a girl been so utterly careless of consequences then
as she? How wonderfully and splendidly Martinish Martin had been when
she plunged in upon him, and how jolly and homelike the hall of his
house--her house--had seemed to be. To-morrow she would explore it all
and show it off to her family. To-morrow.... Yes, but to-night? Should
she allow herself to be carried away by a sudden longing to follow her
flying footsteps through the woods, pretend that Martin was waiting for
her and take a look at the outside of the house alone? Why not? No one
need know, and she had a sort of aching to see the place again that was
so essentially a part of Martin. Martin--Martin--he obsessed her, body
and brain. If only she could find Martin.

With hasty fingers she struggled with the intricate hooks of her
evening frock. Out of it finally, and slipping off her silk stockings
and thin shoes she went quickly to the big clothes closet, chose a
short country skirt, a pair of golf stockings, thick shoes and a
tam-o'-shanter, made for the drawer in which were her sport shirts and
sweaters and before the old round-faced clock on the mantelpiece could
recover from his astonishment became once more the Joan-all-alone for
whom he had ticked away the hours. Then to the window, and hand over
hand down the creeper again and away across the sleeping garden to the
woods.

The fairies were out. Their laughter was blown to her like thistledown.
But she was a woman now and only Martin called her--Martin who had
married her for love but was not her husband yet. Oh, where was Martin?

And as she went quickly along the winding path through the trees the
moon dropped pools of light in her way, the scrub oaks threw out their
arms to hold her back and hosts of little shadows seemed to run out to
catch at her frock. But on went Joan, just to get a sight of the house
that was Martin's and hers and to cast her spirit forward to the time
when he and she would live there as they had not lived in the city.

She marvelled and rejoiced at the change that had come over
her,--gradually, underminingly,--a change, the seeds of which had been
thrown by Alice, watered by Palgrave and forced by the disappearance of
Martin, and brought to bloom in the silent hours of wakeful nights when
the thought of all the diffidence and deference of Martin won her
gratitude and respect. In the strong, frank and rather harsh light that
had been flung on her way of life it was Martin, Martin, who stood out
clean and tender and lenient--Martin, who had developed from the Paul
of the woods, the boy chum, her fellow adventurer, her sexless Knight,
into the man who had won her love and whom she needed and ached for and
longed to find. She had been brought up with a round turn, found
herself face to face with the truth of things and, deaf to the
incessant jangle of the Merry-go-round, had discovered that Martin was
not merely the gallant and obliging boy, playing a game, trifling on
the edge of reality, but the man with the other blade of the penknife
who, like his prototype in the fairy tale, had the ordained right to
her as she had to him.

And as she went on through the silvered trees, with a sort of dignity,
her chin high, her eyes sparkling like stars, her mouth soft and sweet,
it was to see the roof under which she would begin her married life
again, rightly, honestly and as a woman, crossing the bridge between
thoughtlessness and responsibility with a true sense of its
meaning,--not in cold blood.

She came out to the road, dry and white, bordered by coarse grasses and
wild flowers all asleep, with their petals closed over their eyes,
opened the gate that led into the long avenue, splashed through the
patches of moonlight on the driveway and came finally to the door under
which she had stood that other time with dancing eyes and racing blood
and "Who cares?" ringing in her head.

There was no light to be seen in any of the front windows. The house
seemed to be fast asleep. How warm and friendly and unpretentious it
looked, and there was all about it the same sense of strength that
there was about Martin. In which window had they stood in the dark,
looking out on to a world that they were going to brave together? Was
it in the right wing? Yes. She remembered that tree whose branches
turned over like a waterfall and something that looked like a little
old woman in a shawl bending to pick up sticks but which was an old
stump covered with creepers.

She went round, her heart fluttering like a bird, all her femininity
stirred at the thought of what this house must mean and shelter--and
drew up short with a quick intake of breath. A wide streak of yellow
light fell through open French windows across the veranda and on to the
grass, all dew-covered. Some one was there ... a woman's voice, not
merry, and with a break in it.... When the cat's away, the mice, in the
shape of one of the servants...

Joan went on again. What a joke to peep in! She wouldn't frighten the
girl or walk in and ask questions. It was, as yet, too much Marty's
house for that--and, after all, what harm was she doing by sitting up
on such a lovely night? The only thing was it was Martin's very own
room filled with his intimate things and with his father's message
written largely on a card over the fireplace--"We count it death to
falter, not to die."

But she went on, unsuspecting, her hand unconsciously clasped in the
stern relentless hand of Fate, who never forgets to punish.... A shadow
crossed the yellow patch. There was the sound of a pipe being knocked
out on one of the firedogs. A man was there, then. Should she take one
look, or go back? She would go back. It was none of her business,
unfortunately. But she was drawn on and on, until she could see into
the long, low, masculine room.

A man was sitting on the arm of a sofa, a man with square shoulders and
a deep chest, a man with his strong young face turned to the light,
smiling--

"Marty," cried Joan. "Marty!" and went up and across the veranda and
into the room. "Why, Marty," and held out her hand, all glad and
tremulous.

And Martin got on his feet and stood in amazement, wide-eyed, and
suddenly white.

"You here!" cried Joan. "I've been waiting and wondering, but I didn't
call because I wanted you to come back for yourself and not for me.
It's been a long week, Marty, and in every hour of it I've grown. Can't
you see the change?"

And Martin looked at her, and his heart leaped, and the blood blazed in
his veins and he was about to go forward and catch her in his arms with
a great cry...

"Oh, hello, Lady-bird; who'd have expected to see you!"

Joan wheeled to the left.

Lying full stretched on the settee, her settee, was a girl with her
hands under her bobbed hair, a blue dress caught up under one knee, her
bare arms agleam, her elfin face all white and a smile round her too
red lips.

("White face and red lips and hair that came out of a bottle.")

Martin said something, inarticulately, and moved a chair forward. The
girl spoke again, cheerily, in the spirit of good-fellowship,
astonished a little, but too comfortable to move.

But a cold hand was laid on Joan's heart, and all that rang in her
brain were the words that Alice had used,--"white face and red lips and
hair that came out of a bottle.... Don't YOU be the one to turn his
armor into common broadcloth."

And for a moment she stood, looking from Marty to the girl and back to
Marty, like one struck dumb, like one who draws up at the very lip of a
chasm.... And in that cruel and terrible minute her heart seemed to
break and die. Marty, Marty in broadcloth, and she had put it in his
hands. She had turned him away from her room and lost him. There's not
one thing that any of us can do or say that doesn't react on some one
else to hurt or bless.

With a little gasp, the sense of all this going home to her, Tootles
scrambled awkwardly off the settee, dropping a book and a handkerchief.
This, then, this beautiful girl who belonged to a quarter of life of
which she had sometimes met the men but never the women, was Martin's
wife--the wife of the man whom she loved to adoration.

"Why, then, you're--you're Mrs. Gray," she stammered, her impertinence
gone, her hail-fellow-well-met manner blown like a bubble.

Catching sight of the message, "We count it death to falter not to
die," Joan summoned her pride, put up her chin and gave a curious
little bow. "Forgive me," she said, "I'm trespassing," and not daring
to look at Marty, turned and went out. She heard him call her name, saw
his sturdy shadow fall across the yellow patch, choked back a sob,
started running, and stumbled away and away, with the blood from her
heart bespattering the grasses and the wild flowers, and the fairies
whimpering at her heels,--and, at last, climbing back into the room
that knew and loved and understood, threw herself down on its bosom in
a great agony of grief.

"Be kind to me, old room, be kind to me. It's Joan-all-alone,--all
alone."



PART THREE


THE GREAT EMOTION

I


Mrs. Alan Hosack, bearing a more than ever remarkable resemblance to
those ship's figureheads that are still to be seen in the corners of
old lumber yards, led the way out to the sun porch. Her lavish charms,
her beaming manner, her clear blue eye, milky complexion, reddish hair,
and the large bobbles and beads with which she insisted upon decorating
herself made Howard Cannon's nickname of Cornucopia exquisitely right.
She was followed by Mrs. Cooper Jekyll and a man servant, whose arms
were full of dogs and books and newspapers.

"The dogs on the ground, Barrett," she said, "the books and papers on
the table there, my chair on the right-hand side of it and bring that
chair forward for Mrs. Jekyll. We will have the lemonade at once. Tell
Lestocq that I shall not want the car before lunch, ask Miss Disberry
to telephone to Mrs. John Ward Harrison and say that I will have tea
with her this afternoon with pleasure, and when those two good little
Sisters of Mercy finally arrive,--I could see them, all sandy,
struggling along the road from my room, Augusta; dear me, what a
life,--they are to be given luncheon as usual and the envelope that is
on the hall table. That will do, I think."

The man servant was entirely convinced that it would.

"And now, make yourself comfortable, dear Augusta, and tell me
everything. So very kind of you to drive over like this on such a sunny
morning. Yes, that's right. Take off that lugubrious Harem veil,--the
mark of a Southampton woman,--and let me see your beautiful face.
Before I try to give you a chance to speak I must tell you, and I'm
sure you won't mind with your keen sense of humor, how that nice boy,
Harry Oldershaw, describes those things. No, after all, perhaps I don't
think I'd better. For one reason, it was a little bit undergraduate,
and for another, I forget." She chuckled and sat down, wabbling for a
moment like an opulent blancmange.

Minus the strange dark blue thing which had hidden her ears and nose
and mouth and which suggested nothing but leprosy, Mrs. Jekyll became
human, recognizable and extremely good to look at. She wore her
tight-fitting suit of white flannel like a girl and even in that clear
detective light she did not look a day over thirty. She painted with
all the delicacy of an artist. She was there, as a close friend of
Alice Palgrave, to discover why Gilbert had not gone with her to the
Maine coast.

"I haven't heard from you since we left town," she said, beating about
the bush, "and being in the neighborhood I thought it would be
delightful to catch a glimpse of you and hear your news. I have none,
except that I have just lost the butler who has been with me for so
long, and Edmond is having his portrait painted again for some club or
institution. It's the ninth time, I believe. He likes it. It's a sort
of rest cure."

"And how did you lose that very admirable butler? Illness or
indiscretion?"

"Neither. Commerce, I suppose one might call it. It appears that one of
these get-rich-quick munition men offered him double his wages to leave
me, and Derbyshire couldn't resist it. He came to me with tears in his
eyes and told me that he had to make the sacrifice owing to the
increased cost of living. He has a family, you know. He said that the
comic atmosphere of his new place might bring on neuritis, but he must
educate his three boys. Really, there is a great deal of unsung heroism
in the world, isn't there? In the meantime, I am trying to get
accustomed to a Swiss, who's probably a German spy and who will set up
a wireless installation on the roof." Then she dropped her baited hook.
"You have a large house party, I suppose."

"Yes," said Mrs. Hosack, swinging her foot to keep the flies away. The
wind was off the land.

"Primrose is so depressed if the house isn't full. And so the d'Oylys
are here,--Nina more Junoesque than ever and really quite like an
Amazon in bathing clothes; Enid Ouchterlony, a little bitter, I'm
afraid, at not being engaged to any one yet,--men are horribly scared
of an intelligent girl and, after all, they don't marry for
intelligence, do they?--Harry Oldershaw, Frank Milwood and Courtney
Millet, all nice boys, and I almost forgot to add, Joan Gray, that
charming girl. My good man is following at her heels like a bob-tailed
sheep dog. Poor old dear! He's arrived at that pathetic period of a
man's life when almost any really blond girl still in her teens
switches him into a second state of adolescence and makes him a most
ridiculous object--what the novelists call the 'Forty-nine feeling,' I
believe."

Bennett brought the lemonade and hurried away before his memory could
be put to a further strain. "Tell me about Joan Gray," said Mrs.
Jekyll, letting out her line. "There's probably no truth in it, but I
hear that she and Martin have agreed to differ. How quickly these
romantic love matches burn themselves out. I always say that a marriage
made in Heaven breaks up far sooner than one made on earth. It has so
much farther to fall. Whose fault is it, hers or his?"

Mrs. Hosack bent forward and endeavored to lower her voice. She was a
kind-hearted woman who delighted to see every one happy and normal.
"I'm very worried about those two, my dear," she answered. "There are
all sorts of stories afloat,--one to the effect that Martin has gone
off with a chorus girl, another that Joan only married him to get away
from her grandparents and a third that they quarreled violently on the
way home from church and have not been on speaking terms since. I
daresay there are many others, but whatever did happen, and something
evidently did, Joan is happy enough, and every man in the house is
sentimental about her. Look out there, for instance."

Mrs. Jekyll followed her glance and saw a girl in bathing clothes
sitting on the beach under a red and blue striped umbrella encircled by
the outstretched forms of half a dozen men. Beyond, on the fringe of a
sea alive with bursting breakers, several girls were bathing alone.

"H'm," said Mrs. Jekyll. "I should think that the second story is the
true one. A tip-tilted nose, chestnut hair and brown eyes are better to
flirt with than marry. Well, I must run away if I'm to be back to
lunch. I wish I could stay, but Edmond and his artist may kill my new
butler unless I intervene. They are both hotly pro-Ally. By the way, I
hear that Alice Palgrave has gone to the Maine coast with her mother,
who is ill again; I wonder where Gilbert is going?"

"Well, I had a very charming letter from him two days ago, asking me if
he could come and stay with us. He loves this house and the beach, and
I always cheer him up, he said, and he is very lonely without Alice. Of
course I said yes, and he will be here this afternoon."

Whereupon, having landed her fish, Mrs. Jekyll rose to go. Gilbert
Palgrave and Joan Gray,--there was truth in that story, as she had
thought. She had heard of his having been seen everywhere with Joan
night after night, and her sister-in-law, who lived opposite to the
little house in East Sixty-seventh Street, had seen him leaving in the
early hours of the morning more than once. A lucky strike, indeed.
Intuition was a wonderful gift. She was highly pleased with herself.

"Good-by, my dear," she said. "I will drive over again one day this
week and see how you are all getting on in this beautiful corner of the
world. My love to Prim, please, and do remember me to the little siren."

And away she went, leaving Mrs. Hosack to wonder what was the meaning
of her rather curious smile. Only a hidebound prejudice on the part of
the Ministries of all the nations has precluded women from the
Diplomatic Service.



II


"Ah, here you are," said Hosack, scrambling a little stiffly out of a
hammock. "Well, have you had a good ride?"

Joan came up the steps with Harry Oldershaw, the nice boy. She was in
white linen riding kit, with breeches and brown top boots. A man's
straw hat sat squarely on her little head and there was a brown and
white spotted tie under her white silk collar. Color danced on her
cheeks, health sparkled in her eyes and there was a laugh of sheer high
spirits floating behind her like the blown petals of a daisy.

"Perfectly wonderful," she said. "I love the country about here, with
the little oaks and sturdy ferns. It's so springy. And aren't the
chestnut trees in the village a sight for the blind? I don't wonder you
built a house in Easthampton, Mr. Hosack. Are we too late for tea?"

Hosack ran his eyes over her and blinked a little as though he had
looked at the sun. "Too late by an hour," he said, with a sulky glance
at young Oldershaw. "I thought you were never coming back." His
resentment of middle age and jealousy of the towering youth of the
sun-tanned lad who had been Joan's companion were a little pitiful.

Harry caught his look and laughed with the sublime audacity of one who
believes that he ranks among the Immortals. To him forty-nine seemed to
be a colossal sum of years, almost beyond belief. It was pathetic of
this old fellow to imagine that he had any right to the company of a
girl so springlike as Joan. "If we hadn't worn the horses to a
frazzle," he said, "we shouldn't have been back till dark. Have a
drink, Joan?"

"Yes, water. Buckets of it. Hurry up, Harry."

The boy, triumphant at being in favor, swung away, and Joan flung her
crop on to a cane sofa. "Where's everybody?" she asked.

"What's it matter," said Hosack. "Sit here and talk to me for a change.
I've hardly had a word with you all day." He caught her hand and drew
her into the swinging hammock. "What a pretty thing you are," he added,
with a catch in his breath. "I know," said Joan. "Otherwise, probably,
I shouldn't be here, should I?" She forgot all about him, and an
irresistible desire to tease, at the sight of the sea which, a stone's
throw from the house, pounded on the yellow sweep of sand and swooped
up in large half circles of glistening water. "I've a jolly good mind
to have another dip before changing. What do you say?"

"No, don't," said Hosack, a martyr to the Forty-nine-feeling.
"Concentrate on me for ten minutes, if only because, damn it, I'm your
host."

Joan pushed his hand away. "I've given up concentrating," she said. "I
gave it a turn a little while ago, but it led nowhere, so why worry?
I'm on the good old Merry-go-round again, and if it doesn't whack up to
the limit of its speed I'll know the reason why. There's a dance at the
Club to-night, isn't there?"

"Yes, but we don't go."

She was incredulous. "Don't go,--to a dance? Why?"

"It's rather a mixed business," he said. "The hotel pours its crowd
out. It isn't amusing. We can dance here if you want to."

But her attention was caught by young Oldershaw who came out carrying a
glass and a jug of iced water. She sprang up and went to meet him, the
dance forgotten, Hosack forgotten. Her mood was that of a bird,
irresponsible, restless. "Good for you," she said, and drank like a
thirsty plant. "Nothing like water, is there?" She smiled up at him.

He was as pleased with himself as though he owned the reservoir. "Have
another?"

"I should think so." And she drank again, put the glass down on the
first place that came to hand, relieved him of the jug, put it next to
the glass, caught hold of his muscular arm, ran him down the steps, and
along the board path to the beach. "I'll race you to the sea," she
cried, and was off like a mountain goat. He was too young to let her
beat him and waited for her with the foam frothing round his ankles and
a broad grin on his attractive face.

He was about to cheek her when she held up a finger and with a little
exclamation of delight pointed to the sky behind the house. The sun was
setting among a mass of royal clouds. A golden wand had touched the
dunes and the tips of the scrub and all over the green of the golf
course, still dotted with scattered figures, waves of reflected lusters
played. To the left of the great red ball one clear star sparkled like
an eye. Just for a moment her lips trembled and her young breasts rose
and fell, and then she threw her head up and wheeled round and went off
at a run. Not for her to think back, or remember similar sights behind
the woods near Marty's place. Life was too short for pain. "Who Cares?"
was her motto once more, and this time joy-riding must live up to its
name.

Harry Oldershaw followed, much puzzled at Joan's many quick changes of
mood. Several times during their irresponsible chatter on the beach
between dips her laughter had fallen suddenly, like a dead bird, and
she had sat for several minutes as far away from himself and the other
men as though they were cut off by a thick wall. Yesterday, in the
evening after dinner, during which her high spirits had infected the
whole table, he had walked up and down the board path with her under
the vivid white light of a full moon, and she had whipped out one or
two such savage things about life that he had been startled. During
their ride that afternoon, too, her bubbling chatter of light stuff
about people and things had several times shifted into comments as to
the conventions that were so careless as to make him ask himself
whether they could really have come from lips so fresh and young. And
why had that queer look of almost childlike grief come into her eyes a
moment ago at the sight of ah everyday sunset? He was mightily
intrigued. She was a queer kid, he told himself, as changeable and
difficult to follow as some of the music by men with such weird names
as Rachmaninoff and Tschaikowsky that his sister was so precious fond
of playing. But she was unattached and frightfully pretty and always
ready for any fun that was going, and she liked him more than the
others, and he liked being liked, and although not hopelessly in love
was ready and willing and even anxious to be walked on if she would
acknowledge his existence in no other way. It was none of his business,
he told himself, to speculate as to what she was trying to hide away in
the back of her mind, from herself as well as from everybody else. This
was his last vacation as a Yale man, and he was all out to make the
most of it.

As soon as he was at her side she ran her hand through his arm and fell
into step. The shadow had passed, and her eyes were dancing again. "It
appears that the Hosacks turn up their exclusive noses at the club
dances," she said. "What are we going to do about it?"

"There's one to-night, isn't there? Do you want to go?"

"Of course I do. I haven't danced since away back before the great
wind. Let's sneak off after dinner for an hour without a word to a soul
and get our fill of it. There's to be a special Jazz band to-night, I
hear, and I simply can't keep away. Are you game, Harry?"

"All the way," said young Oldershaw, "and it will be the first time in
the history of the Hosacks that any members of their house parties have
put in an appearance at the club at night. No wonder Easthampton has
nicknamed the place St. James's Palace, eh?"

Joan shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, my dear boy," she said, "life's too
short for all that stuff, and there's no hobby so painful as cutting
off one's nose to spite one's face. And, after all, what's the matter
with Easthampton people? I'd go to a chauffeurs' ball if the band was
the right thing. Wouldn't you?"

"With you," said Harry. "Democracy forever!"

"Oh, I'm not worrying about democracy. I'm out for a good time under
any conditions. That's the only thing that matters. Now let's go back
and change. It's too late to bathe. I'll wear a new frock to-night,
made for fox-trotting, and if Mrs. Hosack wants to know where we've
been when we come back as innocent as spring lambs, leave it to me. Men
can't lie as well as women can."

"It won't be Mrs. Hosack who'll ask," said Harry. "Bridge will do its
best to rivet her ubiquitous mind. It's the old man who'll be peeved.
He's crazy about you, you know."

Joan laughed. "He's very nice and means awfully well and all that," she
said, "but of course he isn't to be taken seriously. No men of middle
age ought to be. They all say the same things with the same expressions
as though they got them from the same books, and their gambolling makes
their joints creak. It's all like playing with a fire of damp logs. I
like something that can blaze and scorch. The game counts then."

"Then you ought to like me," said Harry, doing his best to look the
very devil of a fellow. Even he had to join in Joan's huge burst of
merriment. He had humor as well as a sense of the ridiculous, and the
first made it possible for him to laugh at himself,--a rare and
disconcerting gift which would utterly prevent his ever entering the
Senate.

"You might grow a moustache and wax the tips, Harry," she said, when
she had recovered sufficiently well to be able to speak. "Curl your
hair with tongs and take dancing lessons from a tango lizard or go in
for a course of sotto voce sayings from a French portrait painter, but
you'd still remain the Nice Boy. That's why I like you. You're as
refreshing and innocuous as a lettuce salad, and you may glare as much
as you like. I hope you'll never be spoilt. Come on. We shall be late
for dinner." And she made him quicken his step through the dry sand.

Being very young he was not quite sure that he appreciated that type of
approval. He had liked to imagine that he was distinctly one of the
bold bad boys, a regular dog and all that. He had often talked that
sort of thing in the rooms of his best chums whose mantelpieces were
covered with the photographs of little ladies, and he hoarded in his
memory two episodes at least of jealous looks from engaged men. But,
after all, with Joan, who was married, although it was difficult to
believe it, it wouldn't be wise to exert the whole force of the danger
that was in him. He would let her down lightly, he told himself, and
grinned as he said it. She was right. He was only a nice boy, and that
was because he had had the inestimable luck to possess a mother who was
one in a million.

The rather pretentious but extremely civilized house that stood alone
in all its glory between the sea and the sixth hole was blazing with
lights as they returned to it. The color had gone out of the sky and
other twinkling eyes had appeared, and the breeze, now off the sea, had
a sting to it. Toad soloists were trying their voices for their evening
concert in near-by water and crickets were at work with all their
well-known enthusiasm. Bennett, with a sunburned nose, was tidying up
the veranda, and some one with a nice light touch was playing the
rhythmic jingles of Jerome Kern on the piano in the drawing-room.

Still with her hand on Harry Oldershaw's arm, Joan made her way across
the lofty hall, caught sight of Gilbert Palgrave coming eagerly to meet
her, and waved her hand.

"Oh, hello, Gilbert," she cried out. "Welcome to Easthampton," and ran
upstairs.

With a strange contraction of the heart, Palgrave watched her out of
sight. She was his dream come to life. All that he was and hoped to be
he had placed forever at her feet. Dignity, individualism, egoism,--all
had fallen before this young thing. She was water in the desert, the
north star to a man without a compass. He had seen her and come into
being.

Good God, it was wonderful and awful!

But who was that cursed boy?



III


Six weeks had dropped off the calendar since the night at Martin's
house.

Facing Grandmother Ludlow in the morning with her last handful of
courage Joan had told her that she had been called back to town. She
had left immediately after breakfast in spite of the protests and
entreaties of every one, including her grandfather, down whose wrinkled
cheeks the tears had fallen unashamed. With a high head and her best
wilful manner she had presented to them all in that old house the bluff
of easy-mindedness only to burst like a bubble as soon as the car had
turned the corner into the main road. She had gone to the little house
in New York, and with a numbed heart and a constant pain in her soul,
had packed some warm-weather clothes and, leaving her maid behind,
hidden herself away in the cottage, on the outskirts of Greenwich, of
an old woman who had been in the service of her school. As a
long-legged girl of twelve she had stayed there once with her mother
for several days before going home for the holidays. She felt like a
wounded animal, and her one desire was to drag herself into a quiet
place to die.

It seemed to her then, under the first stupendous shock of finding that
Marty was with that girl, that death was the next certain thing. Day
after day and night after night, cut to the quick, she waited for it to
lay its cold hand upon her and snuff her out like a tired candle, whose
little light was meaningless in a brutal world. Marty, even Marty, was
no longer a knight, and she had put him into broadcloth.

Not in the sun, but in the shadow of a chestnut all big with bloom, her
days had passed in lonely suffering. Death was in the village, that was
certain. She had seen a little procession winding along the road to the
cemetery the morning after her arrival. She was ready. Nothing mattered
now that Marty, even Marty, had done this thing while she had been
waiting for him to come and take her across the bridge, anxious to play
the game to the very full, eager to prove to him that she was no longer
the kid that he thought her who had coolly shown him her door. "I am
here, Death," she whispered, "and I want you. Come for me."

All her first feelings were that she ought to die, that she had failed
and that her disillusion as to Marty had been directly brought about by
herself. She saw it all honestly and made no attempt to hedge. By day,
she sat quietly, big-eyed, amazingly childlike, waiting for her
punishment, watched by the practical old woman, every moment of whose
time was filled, with growing uneasiness and amazement. By night she
lay awake as long as she could, listening for the soft footstep of the
one who would take her away. At meals, the old woman bullied for she
was of the school that hold firmly to the belief that unless the people
who partake of food do not do so to utter repletion a personal insult
is intended. At other times she went out into the orchard and sat with
Joan and, burning with a desire to cheer her up, gave her, in the
greatest detail, the story of all the deaths, diseases and quarrels
that had ever been known to the village. And every day the good sun
warmed and encouraged the earth, drew forth the timid heads of plants
and flowers, gave beauty even to the odd corners once more and did his
allotted task with a generosity difficult to praise too highly. And
Death paid visits here and there but passed the cottage by. At the
beginning of the second week, Nature, who has no patience with any
attempt to refute her laws, especially on the part of those who are
young and vigorous, took Joan in hand. "What is all this, my girl?" she
said, "sitting here with your hands in your lap while everybody and
everything is working and making and preparing. Stir yourself, bustle
up, get busy, there's lots to be done in the springtime if the autumn
is to bear fruit. You're sound and whole for all that you've been hurt.
If you were not, Death would be here without your calling him. Up you
get, now." And, with good-natured roughness, she laid her hand under
Joan's elbow, gave a hoist and put her on her feet.

Whereupon, in the natural order of things, Joan turned from self-blame
to find a victim who should be held responsible for the pain that she
had suffered, and found the girl with the red lips and the white face
and the hair that came out of a bottle. Ah, yes! It was she who had
caught Marty when he was hurt and disappointed. It was she who had
taken advantage of his loneliness and dragged him clown to her own
level, this girl whom she had called Fairy and who had had the
effrontery to go up to the place on the edge of the woods that was the
special property of Marty and herself. And for the rest of the week,
with the sap running eagerly in her veins once more, she moved
restlessly about the orchard and the garden, heaping coals of fire on
to the all too golden head of Tootles.

Then came the feeling of wounded pride, the last step towards
convalescence. Marty had chosen between herself and this girl. Without
giving her a real chance to put things right he had slipped away
silently and taken Tootles with him. Not she, but the girl with the red
lips and the pale face and the hair that came out of a bottle had
stripped Marty of his armor, and the truth of it was that Marty, yes,
even Marty, was not really a knight but a very ordinary man.

Out of the orchard and the garden she went, once she had arrived at
this stage, and tramped the countryside with her ears tuned to catch
the alluring strains of the mechanical music of the Round-about. She
had not only been making a fool of herself but had been made to look a
fool, she thought. Her pain and suffering and disillusion had been
wasted. All these dull and lonely days had been wasted and thrown away.
Death must have laughed to see her sitting in the shadow of the apple
trees waiting for a visit that was undeserved. Marty could live and
enjoy himself without her. That was evident. Very well, then, she could
live and enjoy herself without Marty. The earth was large enough for
them both, and if he could find love in the person of that small girl
she could surely find it in one or other of the men who had whispered
in her ear. Also there was Gilbert Palgrave, who had gone down upon his
knees.

And that was the end of her isolation, her voluntary retirement. Back
she went to the City of Dreadful Nonsense, bought clothes and shoes and
hats, found an invitation to join a house party at Southampton, made no
effort to see or hear from Marty, and sprang back into her seat in the
Merry-go-round. "Who Cares?" she cried again. "Nobody," she answered.
"What I do with my life matters to no one but myself. Set the pace, my
dear, laugh and flirt and play with fire and have a good time. A short
life and a merry one."

And then she joined the Hosacks, drank deep of the wine of adulation,
and when, at odd times, the sound of Marty's voice echoed in her
memory, she forced it out and laughed it away. "Who Cares?" was his
motto too,--red lips and white face and hair that came out of a bottle!

And now here was Gilbert Palgrave with the fire of love in his eyes.



IV


When Mrs. Hosack rose from the dinner table and sailed Olympically into
the drawing-room, surrounded by graceful light craft in the persons of
Primrose and her girl friends, the men, as usual, followed immediately.
The house was bridge mad, and the tables called every one except Joan,
the nice boy, and Gilbert Palgrave.

During the preliminaries of an evening which would inevitably run into
the small hours, Joan went over to the piano and, with what was a quite
unconscious touch of irony, played one of Heller's inimitable
"Sleepless Nights," with the soft pedal down. The large imposing room,
a chaotic mixture of French and Italian furniture with Flemish
tapestries and Persian rugs, which accurately typified the ubiquitous
mind of the hostess, was discreetly lighted. The numerous screened
windows were open and the soft warm air came in tinged with the salt of
the sea.

Palgrave, refusing to cut in, stood about like a disembodied spirit,
with his eyes on Joan, from whom, since his arrival, he had received
only a few fleeting glances. He watched the cursed boy, as he had
labelled him, slip over to her, lean across the piano and talk eagerly.
He went nearer and caught, "the car in half an hour," and "not a word
to a soul." After which, with jealousy gnawing at his vitals, he saw
Harry Oldershaw moon about for a few minutes and then make a fishlike
dart out of the room. He had been prepared to find Joan amorously
surrounded by the men of the party but not on terms of sentimental
intimacy with a smooth-faced lad. In town she had shown preference for
sophistication. He went across to the piano and waited impatiently for
Joan to finish the piece which somehow fitted into his mood. "Come
out," he said, then, "I want to speak to you."

But Joan let her fingers wander into a waltz and raised her eyebrows.
"Do I look so much like Alice that you can order me about?" she asked.

He turned on his heel with the look of a dog at which a stone had been
flung by a friend, and disappeared.

Two minutes later there was a light touch on his arm, and Joan stood at
his side on the veranda. "Well, Gilbert," she said, "it's good to see
you again."

"So good that I might be a man touting for an encyclopedia," he
answered angrily.

She sat upon the rough stone wall and crossed her little feet. Her new
frock was white and soft and very perfectly simple. It demanded the
young body of a nymph,--and was satisfied. The magic of the moon was on
her. She might have been Spring resting after a dancing day.

"If you were," she said, taking a delight in unspoiling this immaculate
man, "I'm afraid you'd never get an order from me. Of all things the
encyclopedia must be accompanied by a winning smile and irresistible
manners. I suppose you've done lots of amusing things since I saw you
last."

He went nearer so that her knees almost touched him. "No," he said.
"Only one, and that was far from amusing. It has marked me like a blow.
I've been waiting for you. Where have you been, and why haven't you
taken the trouble to write me a single letter?"

"I've been ill," she said. "Yes, I have. Quite ill. I deliberately set
out to hurt myself and succeeded. It was an experiment that I sha'n't
repeat. I don't regret it. It taught me something that I shall never
forget. Never too young to learn, eh? Isn't it lovely here? Just smell
the sea, and look at those lights bobbing up and down out there. I
never feel any interest in ships in the daytime, but at night, when
they lie at anchor, and I can see nothing but their lonely eyes, I
would give anything to be able to fly round them like a gull and peep
into their cabins. Do they affect you like that?"

Palgrave wasn't listening to her. It was enough to look at her and
refresh his memory. She had been more than ever in his blood all these
weeks. She was like water in a desert or sunlight to a man who comes up
from a mine. He had found her again and he thanked whatever god he
recognized for that, but he was forced to realize from her
imperturbable coolness and unaffected ease that she was farther away
from him than ever. To one of his temperament and schooling this was
hard to bear with any sort of self-control. The fact that he wanted her
of all the creatures on earth, that she, alone among women, had touched
the fuse of his desire, and that, knowing this, she could sit there a
few inches from his lips and put a hundred miles between them, maddened
him, from whom nothing hitherto had been impossible.

"Have I got to begin all over again?" he asked, with a sort of
petulance.

"Begin what, Gilbert?" There was great satisfaction in playing with one
who thought that he had only to touch a bell to bring the moon and the
sun and the stars to his bidding.

"Good God," he cried out. "You're like wet sand on which a man expects
to find yesterday's footmarks. Hasn't anything of me and the things
I've said to you remained in your memory?"

"Of course," she said. "I shall never forget the night you took me to
the Brevoort, for instance, and supplied the key to all the people with
unkempt hair and comic ties."

Some one on the beach below shot out a low whistle.

A little thrill ran through Joan. In ten minutes, perhaps less, she
would be dancing once more to the lunatic medley of a Jazz band,
dancing with a boy who gave her all that she needed of him and asked
absolutely nothing of her; dancing among people who were less than the
dust in the scheme of things, so far as she was concerned, except to
give movement and animation to the room and to be steered through. That
was the right attitude towards life and its millions, she told herself.
As salt was to an egg so was the element of false romance to this Golf
Club dance. In a minute she would get rid of Palgrave, yes, even the
fastidious Gilbert Palgrave, who had never been able quite to disguise
the fact that his love for her was something of a condescension; she
would fly in the face of the unwritten law of the pompous house on the
dunes and mingle with what Hosack had called the crowd from the hotel.
It was all laughable and petty, but it was what she wanted to do. It
was all in the spirit of "Who Cares?" that she had caught at again. Why
worry as to what Mrs. Hosack might say or Palgrave might feel? Wasn't
she as free as the air to follow her whims without a soul to make a
claim upon her or to hold out a hand to stop?

Through these racing thoughts she heard Palgrave talking and crickets
rasping and frogs croaking and a sudden burst of laughter and talk in
the drawing-room,--and the whistle come again.

"Yes," she said, because yes was as good as any other word. "Well,
Gilbert, dear, if you're not an early bird you will see me again
later,"--and jumped down from the wall.

"Where are you going?"

"Does that matter?"

"Yes, it does. I want you here. I've been waiting all these weeks."

She laughed. "It's a free country," she said, "and you have the right
to indulge in any hobby that amuses you. Au revoir, old thing." And she
spread out her arms like wings and flew to the steps and down to the
beach and away with some one who had sent out a signal.

"That boy," said Palgrave. "I'm to be turned down for a cursed boy! By
God, we'll know about that."

And he followed, seeing red.

He saw them get into a low-lying two-seater built on racing lines,
heard a laugh flutter into the air, watched the tail light sweep round
the drive and become smaller and smaller along the road.

So that was it, was it? He had been relegated to the hangers-on,
reduced to the ranks, put into the position of any one of the number of
extraneous men who hung round this girl-child for a smile and a word!
That was the way he was to be treated, he, Gilbert Palgrave, the
connoisseur, the decorative and hitherto indifferent man who had
refused to be subjected to any form of discipline, who had never, until
Joan had come into his life, allowed any one to put him a single inch
out of his way, who had been triumphantly one-eyed and selfish,--that
was the way he was to be treated by the very girl who had fulfilled his
once wistful hope of making him stand, eager and startled and love-sick
among the chaos of individualism and indolence, who had shaken him into
the Great Emotion! Yes, by God, he'd know about that.

Bare-headed and surging with untranslatable anger he started walking.
He was in no mood to go into the drawing-room and cut into a game of
bridge and show his teeth and talk the pleasant inanities of polite
society. All the stucco of civilization fell about him in slabs as he
made his way with long strides out of the Hosacks' place, across the
sandy road and on to the springy turf of the golf links. It didn't
matter where he went so long as he got elbow room for his indignation,
breathing space for his rage and a wide loneliness for his blasphemy....

He had stood humble and patient before this virginal girl. He had
confessed himself to her with the tremendous honesty of a man made
simple by an overwhelming love. She was married. So was he. But what
did that matter to either of them whose only laws were self-made? The
man to whom she was not even tied meant as little to her as the girl he
had foolishly married meant or would ever mean to him. He had placed
himself at her beck and call. In order to give her amusement he had
taken her to places in which he wouldn't have been seen dead, had
danced his good hours of sleep away for the pleasure of seeing her
pleased, had revolutionized his methods with women and paid her tribute
by the most scrupulous behavior and, finally, instead of setting out to
turn her head with pearls and diamonds and carry her by storm while she
was under the hypnotic influence of priceless glittering things for
bodily adornment, which render so many women easy to take, he had
recognized her as intelligent and paid her the compliment of treating
her as such, had stated his case and waited for the time when the blaze
of love would set her alight and bring her to his arms.

There was something more than mere egotism in all this,--the natural
egotism of a man of great wealth and good looks, who had walked through
life on a metaphorical red carpet pelted with flowers by adoring women
to whom even virtue was well lost in return for his attention. Joan,
like the spirit of spring, had come upon Palgrave at that time of his
life when youth had left him and he had stood at the great crossroads,
one leading down through a morass of self-indulgence to a hideous
senility, the other leading up over the stones of sacrifice and service
to a dignified usefulness. Her fresh young beauty and enthusiasm, her
golden virginity and unself-consciousness, her unaffected joy in being
alive, her superb health and vitality had shattered his conceit and
self-obsession, broken down his aloofness and lack of scruple and
filled the empty frame that he had hung in his best thoughts with her
face and form.

There was something of the great lover about Palgrave in his new and
changed condition. He had laid everything unconditionally at the feet
of this young thing. He had shown a certain touch of bigness, of
nobility, he of all men, when, after his outburst in the little
drawing-room that night, he had stood back to wait until Joan had grown
up. He had waited for six weeks, going through tortures of
Joan-sickness that were agonizing. He had asked her to do what she
could for him in the way of a little kindness, but had not received one
single line. He was prepared to continue to wait because he knew his
love to be so great that it must eventually catch hold of her like the
licking flame of a prairie fire. It staggered him to arrive at the
Hosacks' place and find her fooling with a smooth-faced lad. It
outraged him to be left cold, as though he were a mere member of the
house party and watch her to whom he had thrown open his soul go
joy-riding with a cursed boy. It was, in a sort of way, heresy. It
proved an almost unbelievable inability to realize the great thing that
this was. Such love as his was not an everyday affair, to be treated
lightly and carelessly. It was, on the contrary, rare and wonderful and
as such to be, at any rate, respected. That's how it seemed to him, and
by God he would see about it.

He drew up short, at last, on his strange walk across the undulating
course. The light from the Country Club streamed across his feet, and
the jangle of the Jazz band broke into his thoughts. From where he
stood, surprised to find himself in civilization, he could see the
crowd of dancers through the open windows of what resembled a huge
bungalow, at one side of which a hundred motor cars were parked. He
went nearer, drawn forward against his will. He was in no mood to watch
a summer dance of the younger set. He made his way to the wide veranda
and stood behind the rocking chairs of parents and friends. But not for
more than fifty seconds. There was Joan, with her lovely laughing face
alight with the joy of movement, held in the arms of the cursed boy.
Between two chairs he went, into and across the room in which he was a
trespasser, tapped young Oldershaw sharply on the arm, cut into the
dance, and before the boy could recover from his surprise, was out of
reach with Joan against his heart.

"Oh, well done, Gilbert," said Joan, a little breathlessly. "When Marty
did that to you at the Crystal Room..."

She stopped, and a shadow fell on her face and a little tremble ran
across her lips.

Smoking a cigarette on the veranda young Oldershaw waited for the dance
to end. It was encored several times but being a sportsman and having
achieved a monopoly of Joan during all the previous dances, he let this
man enjoy his turn. He was a great friend of hers, she had said on the
way to the club, and was, without doubt, a very perfect person with his
wide-set eyes and well-groomed head, his smooth moustache and the cleft
on his chin. He didn't like him. He had decided that at a first glance.
He was too supercilious and self-assured and had a way of looking clean
through men's heads. He conveyed the impression of having bought the
earth,--and Joan. A pity he was too old for a year or two of Yale. That
would make him a bit more of a man.

When presently the Jazzers paused in order to recuperate,--every one of
them deserving first aid for the wounded,--and Joan came out for a
little air with Palgrave, Harry strolled up. This was his evening, and
in a perfectly nice way he conveyed that impression by his manner. He
was, moreover, quite determined to give nothing more away. He conveyed
that, also.

"Shall we sit on the other side?" he asked. "The breeze off the sea
keeps the mosquitoes away a bit."

Refusing to acknowledge his existence Palgrave guided Joan towards a
vacant chair. He went on with what he had been saying and swung the
chair round.

Joan was smiling again.

Oldershaw squared his jaw. "I advise against this side, Joan," he said.
"Let me take you round."

He earned a quick amused look and a half shrug of white shoulders from
Joan. Palgrave continued to talk in a low confidential voice. He
regarded Oldershaw's remarks as no more of an interruption than the
chorus of the frogs. Oldershaw's blood began to boil, and he had a
queer prickly sensation at the back of his neck. Whoo, but there'd have
to be a pretty good shine in a minute, he said to himself. This man
Palgrave must be taught.

He marched up to Joan and held out his arm. "We may as well get back,"
he said. "The band's going to begin again."

But Joan sat down, looking from one man to the other. All the woman in
her revelled in this rivalry,--all that made her long-dead sisters
crowd to the arenas, wave to armored knights in deadly combat, lean
forward in grand stands to watch the Titanic struggles of Army and
Navy, Yale and Harvard on the football field. Her eyes danced, her lips
were parted a little, her young bosom rose and fell.

"And so you see," said Palgrave, putting his hand on the back of her
chair, "I can stay as long as the Hosacks will have me, and one day
I'll drive you over to my bachelor cottage on the dune. It will
interest you."

"The only thing that has any interest at the moment is dancing," said
Oldershaw loudly. "By the way, you don't happen to be a member of the
club, do you, Mr. Palgrave?"

With consummate impudence Palgrave caught his eye and made a sort of
policeman gesture. "Run away, my lad," he said, "run away and amuse
yourself." He almost asked for death.

With a thick mutter that sounded like "My God," Oldershaw balanced
himself to hit, his face the color of a beet-root,--and instantly Joan
was on her feet between them with a hand on the boy's chest.

"No murder here," she said, "please!"

"Murder!" echoed Palgrave, scoffing.

"Yes, murder. Can't you see that this boy could take you and break you
like a dry twig? Let's go back, all three of us. We don't want to
become the center of a sight-seeing crowd." And she took an arm of each
shaking man and went across the drive to where the car was parked.

And so the danger moment was evaded,--young Oldershaw warm with pride,
Palgrave sullen and angry. They made a trio which had its prototypes
all the way back to the beginning of the world.

It did Palgrave no good to crouch ignominiously on the step of the car
which Oldershaw drove back hell for leather.

The bridge tables were still occupied. The white lane was still across
the sea. Frogs and crickets still continued their noisy rivalry, but it
was a different climate out there on the dunes from that of the village
with its cloying warmth.

Palgrave went into the house at once with a brief "Thank you." Joan
waited while Harry put the car into a garage. Bed made no appeal.
Bridge bored,--it required concentration. She would play the game of
sex with Gilbert if he were to be found. So the boy had to be disposed
of.

"Harry," she said, when he joined her, chuckling at having come top dog
out of the recent blaze, "you'd better go straight to bed now. We're
going to be up early in the morning, you know."

"Just what I was thinking," he answered. "By Jove, you've given me a
corking good evening. The best of my young life. You ... you certainly
are,--well, I don't know how to do you justice. I'd have to be a poet."
He fumbled for her hand and kissed it a little sheepishly.

They went in. "You're a nice boy, Harry," she said. There was something
in his charming simplicity and muscular strength that reminded her
of,--but she refused to let the name enter her mind.

"I could have broken that chap like a dry twig, too, easy. Who does he
think he is?" He would have pawned his life at that moment for the
taste of her lips.

She stood at the bottom of the stairs and held out her hand. "Good
night, old boy," she said.

And he took it and hurt it. "Good night, Joany," he answered.

That pet name hurt her more than his eager grasp. It was Marty's own
word--Marty, who--who--

She threw up her head and stamped her foot, and slammed the door of her
thoughts. "Who cares?" she said to herself, challenging life and fate.
"Come on. Make things move."

She saw Palgrave standing alone in the library looking at the sea. "You
might be Canute," she said lightly.

His face was curiously white. "I'm off in the morning," he said. "We
may as well say good-by now."

"Good-by, then," she answered.

"I can't stay in this cursed place and let you play the fool with me."

"Why should you?"

"There'll be Hosack and the others as well as your new pet."

"That's true."

He caught her suddenly by the arms. "Damn you," he said. "I wish to God
I'd never seen you."

She laughed. "Cave man stuff, eh?"

He let her go. She had the most perfect way of reducing him to ridicule.

"I love you," he said. "I love you. Aren't you going to try, even to
try, to love me back?"

"No."

"Not ever?"

"Never." She went up to him and stood straight and slim and bewitching,
eye to eye. "If you want me to love you, make me. Work for it, move
Heaven and earth. You can't leave it to me. I don't want to love you.
I'm perfectly happy as I am. If you want me, win me, carry me off my
feet and then you shall see what it is to be loved. It's entirely up to
you, understand that. I shall fight against it tooth and nail, but I
give you leave to do your best. Do you accept the challenge?"

"Yes," he said, and his face cleared, and his eyes blazed.



V


At the moment when the Nice Boy, as brown as the proverbial berry, was
playing a round of golf with Joan within sound of the sea, Howard
Oldershaw, his cousin, drove up to the little house in East Sixty-fifth
Street to see Martin.

He, too, had caught the sun, and his round fat face was rounder and
fatter than ever. He, too, had the epitome of health, good nature, and
misdirected energy. He performed a brief but very perfect double
shuffle on the top step while waiting for the door to open, and then
barged past the constitutionally unsurprised man servant, sang out a
loud woo-hoo and blew into the library like an equinoctial gale.

Pipe in mouth, and wearing a thin silk dressing gown, Martin was
standing under the portrait of his father. He slipped something quickly
into his pocket and turned about. It was a photograph of Joan.

"Well, you Jack-o'-Lantern," he said. "It's better late than never, I
suppose."

Howard sent his straw hat spinning across the room. It landed expertly
in a chair. "My dear chap, your note's been lying in my apartment for a
week, snowed under my bills. I drove back this morning, washed the
bricks out of my eyes and came right around. What are you grumbling
about?"

"I'm not grumbling. When you didn't show up in answer to my note I
telephoned, and they told me you were away. Where've you been?"

"Putting in a week at the Field Club at Greenwich," replied Howard,
filling a large cigarette case from the nearest box, as was his most
friendly habit. "Two sweaters, tennis morning, noon and night, no
sugar, no beer, no butter, no bread, gallons of hot water--and look at
me! Martin, it's a tragedy. If I go on like this, it's me for Barnum's
Circus as the world's prize pig. What's the trouble?"

There was not the usual number of laughter lines round Martin's eyes,
but one or two came back at the sight and sound of his exuberant
friend. "No trouble," he said, lying bravely. "I got here the day you
left and tried to find you. That's all. I wanted you to come down to
Shinnecock and play golf. Everybody else seems to be at Plattsburg, and
I was at a loose end."

"Golf's no good to me. It wouldn't reduce me any more than playing the
piano with somebody dying in the next room. Been here all the week?"

"Yes," said Martin.

"What? In this fug hole, with the sun shining? Out with it, Martin. Get
it off your chest, old son."

Just for an instant Martin was hugely tempted to make a clean breast of
everything to this good-hearted, tempestuous person, under whose tight
skin there was an uncommon amount of shrewdness. But it meant dragging
Joan into open discussion, and that was all against his creed. He had
inherited from his father and his father's father an absolute
incapability of saying anything to anybody about his wife. And so he
slammed the door of his soul and presented an enigmatical front.

"There's nothing on my chest," he said. "Business downtown has kept me
here,--legal stuff and that sort of thing. But I'm free now. Got any
suggestions?"

Howard accepted this. If a pal was determined not to confide and get
invaluable advice, what was the use of going for him with a can opener?
But one good look at the face whose every expression he knew so well
convinced him that something was very much the matter. "Why, good
Lord," he said to himself, "the old thing looks as if he'd been working
night and day for an examination and had been plucked. I wonder which
of the two girls is at the back of all this,--the wife or the other?"
Rumors had reached his way about both.

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

"I don't care," said Martin. "Any damn thing so long as it's something
with somebody. What's it matter?"

He didn't quite manage to hide the little quiver in his voice, and it
came to Howard Oldershaw for the first time how young they both were to
be floundering on the main road, himself with several entanglements and
money worries, his friend married and with another complication. They
were both making a pretty fine hash of things, it seemed, and just for
a moment, with something of boyishness that still remained behind his
sophistication, he wished that they were both back at Yale, unhampered
and unencumbered, their days filled with nothing but honest sport and
good lectures and the whole joy of life.

"It's like this with me, Martin," he said, with a rather rueful grin.
"I'm out of favor at home just now and broke to the wide. There are one
or two reasons why I should lie low for a while, too. How about going
out to your place in the country? I'll hit the wily ball with you and
exercise your horses, lead the simple life and, please God, lose some
flesh, and guarantee to keep you merry and bright in my well-known,
resilient way. What do you say, old son?"

Martin heartily appreciated Howard's sound method of swinging
everything round to himself and trying to make out that it was all on
his side to go out to the house in which Joan ought to be. He was not a
horseman or a golfer, and the simple life had few attractions for him.
Well, that was friendship.

"Thanks, old man," he said. "That's you to the life, but I vote we get
a change from golf and riding. Come down to Devon with me, and let's do
some sailing. You remember Gilmore? I had a letter from him this
morning, asking if I'd like to take his cottage and yawl. Does that
sound good?"

"Great," cried Howard. "Sailing--that's the game, and by gum,
swimming's the best of all ways of dropping adipose deposit. Wire
Gilmore and fix it. I'll drive you out to-morrow. By the way, I found a
letter from my cousin Harry among the others. He's in that part of the
world. He's frightfully gone on your wife, it appears."

Martin looked up quickly. "Where is she?" he asked.

"Why, they're both staying at the Hosacks' place at Easthampton. Didn't
you know that?" He was incredulous.

"No," said Martin.

Howard metaphorically clapped his hand over his mouth. Questions were
on the tip of his tongue. If Martin were not in the mood to take him
into his confidence, however, there must be a good reason for it,
but,--not to know where his wife was! What on earth was at the bottom
of all this? "All right," he said. "I've one or two things I must do,
and I'll be round in the morning, or is that too soon?"

"The sooner the better," said Martin. "I'll send the cook and Judson
down by the early train. They'll have things in shape by the time we
show up. I'm fed up with New York and can smell the water already. Will
you dine with me to-night and see a show?"

"I can't," said Howard, and laughed.

"I see. To-morrow, then."

"Right. Great work. So long, old son. Get busy and do what you have to
do to-day, then we can leave this frying pan to-morrow with nothing on
our minds."

"I haven't anything to do," said Martin.

Howard picked up his hat and caught it with his head in the manner of a
vaudeville artist. But he didn't go. He stood waiting, keyed to a great
sympathy. There was something in Martin's voice and at the back of his
eyes which made him see him plainly and suddenly as a man standing all
alone and wounded. But he waited in vain. There was a curious
silence,--a rather painful and embarrassing silence, during which these
two lads, who had been pretending to be men, dodged each other's eyes.

And then Howard, with an uncharacteristic awkwardness, and looking very
young, made a quick step forward, and with a sort of gentle roughness
grasped Martin by the arm. "But you've got something to say," he said.
"Good God, man, have we been pals for nothing? I hide nothing from you.
I can help."

But Martin shook his head. He tried to speak and failed. There was
something hard in his throat. But he put his hand very warmly on his
friend's shoulder for a moment and turned away abruptly. "Joan, Joan,"
he cried in his heart, "what are you doing, what are we both doing? Why
are we killing the days that can never come back?"

He heard Howard go out. He heard the front door close and the honk of
the horn. And for a long time he stood beneath the portrait of the man
who had gone so far away and who alone could have helped him.

The telephone bell rang.

Martin was spoken to by the girl that lived in the rabbit warren in
West Forty-sixth Street in the rooms below those of Tootles. "Can you
come round at once?" she asked. "It's about Tootles--urgent."

And Martin answered, "Yes, now, at once."

After all, then, there might be something to do.



VI


Master of all the sky, the sun fell warmly on the city, making
delicious shadows, gliding giant buildings, streaming across the park,
chasing the endless traffic along the Avenue, and catching at points of
color. It was one of those splendid mornings of full-blown Tune, when
even New York,--that paradox of cities,--had beauty. It was too early
in the year for the trees to have grown blowsy and the grass worn and
burnt. The humidity of midsummer was held back by the energy of a merry
breeze which teased the flags and sent them spinning against the
oriental blue of the spotless sky.

Martin walked to West Forty-sixth Street. There was an air of half-time
about the Avenue. The ever-increasingly pompous and elaborate shops,
whose window contents never seem to vary, wore a listless, uninterested
expression like that of a bookmaker during the luncheon hour at the
races. Their glittering smile, their enticement and solicitation, their
tempting eye-play were relaxed. The cocottes of Monte Carlo at the end
of the season could not have assumed a greater indifference. But there
were the same old diamonds and pearls, the same old canvases, the same
old photographs, the same old antiques, the same old frocks and shoes
and men's shirtings, the same old Persian rugs and Japanese ware, the
same cold, hard plates and china, the very same old hats and dinks and
dressing-gowns and cut flowers and clubs, and all the same doormen in
the uniforms that are a cross between those of admirals and generals,
the men whose only exercise during the whole of the year is obtained by
cutting ice and sweeping snow from just their particular patch of
pavement. In all the twists and changes, revolutions and cross
currents, upheavals and in-fallings that affect this world, there is
one great street which, except for a new building here and there,
resolutely maintains its persistent sameness. Its face is like that of
a large, heavily made-up and not unbeautiful woman, veil-less and with
some dignity but only two expressions, enticement and indifference. A
man may be lost at the North Pole, left to die on the west coast of
Africa, married in London, or forcibly detained in Siberia, but, let
him return to life and New York, and he will find that whatever
elsewhere Anno Domini may have defaced and civilization made different,
next to nothing has happened to Fifth Avenue.

Martin had told Howard of the way he had found Joan on the hill, how
she had climbed out of window that night and come to him to be rescued
and how he had brought her to town to find Alice Palgrave away and
married her. All that, but not one word of his having been shown the
door on the night of the wedding, of her preference for Palgrave, her
plunge into night life, or his own odd hut human adventure with Susie
Capper as a result of the accident. But for the fact that it wasn't his
way to speak about his wife whatever she did or left undone, Martin
would have been thankful to have made a clean breast of everything.
Confession is good for the soul, and Martin's young soul needed to be
relieved of many bewilderments and pains and questionings. He wished
that he could have continued the story to Howard of the kid's way Joan
had treated him,--a way which had left him stultified,--of how, touched
by the tragedy that had reduced the poor little waif of the chorus to
utter grief and despair, he had taken her out to the country to get
healing in God's roofless cathedral, and of how, treating her, because
of his love and admiration of Joan, with all the respect and tenderness
that he would have shown a sister, it had given him the keenest
pleasure and delight to help her back to optimism and sanity. He would
like to have told Howard all the simple and charming details of that
good week, giving him a sympathetic picture of the elfish Tootles
enjoying her brief holiday out in the open, and of her recovery under
the inspiration of trees and flowers and brotherliness, to all of which
she was so pathetically unaccustomed. He wouldn't have told of the many
efforts made by Tootles to pay him back in the only way that seemed to
her to be possible, even if he had known of them,--he had not been on
the lookout for anything of that sort. Nor would he, of course, have
gone into the fact that Tootles loved him quite as much as he loved
Joan,--he knew nothing of that. But he would have said much of the joy
that turned cold at the sight of Joan's face when she saw Tootles lying
on the sofa in his den, of her rush to get away, of the short, sharp
scene which followed her unexpected visit, and of his having driven
Tootles back to town the following morning at her urgent request,--a
curious, quiet Tootles with the marks of a sleepless night on her face.
Also he would have said something of his wild despair at having been
just ten minutes too late to find Joan at the house in East Sixty-fifth
Street, of his futile attempts to discover where she had gone, and of
the ghastly, mystifying days back in the country, waiting and wondering
and writing letters that he never posted,--utterly unaware of the
emotion which had prompted Joan to walk into his den that night, but
quite certain of the impression that she had taken away with her.

It was with a sense of extraordinary isolation that Martin walked down
Fifth Avenue. Two good things had, however, come out of his talk with
Howard Oldershaw. One was the certainty of this man's friendship. The
other the knowledge of the place at which Joan was staying. This last
fact made him all the more anxious to get down to the cottage. Devon
was only a short drive from Easthampton, and that meant the possibility
of seeing and speaking to Joan. Good God, if only she could understand
a little of what she meant to him, and how he craved and pined for her.

The dressmaker on the street floor of the rabbit warren had gone out of
business. Failed probably, poor thing. Tootles had once said that the
only people she ever saw in the shop were pressing creditors. A colored
woman of bulbous proportions and stertorous breathing was giving a
catlick to the dirty stairway. A smell of garlic and onions met Martin
on his way to the rooms of Tootles' friend, and on the first landing he
drew back to let two men pass down who looked like movie actors. They
wore violet ties and tight-fitting jackets with trench belts and short
trousers that should have been worn by their younger brothers. The
actor on the next floor, unshaven and obviously just out of bed, was
cooking breakfast in his cubby-hole. He wore the upper part of his
pajamas and a pair of incredibly dirty flannel trousers. The marks of
last night's grease paint were on his temples and eyebrows. He hummed a
little song to the accompaniment of sizzling bacon.

When Martin knocked on the door of the apartment of the girl to whom he
had never spoken except over the telephone and whose name he remembered
to be Irene Stanton, a high-pitched, nasal voice cried out.

"Come right in." He went right in and was charged at by a half-bred
Chow whose bark was like a gunman's laugh, and a tiny pink beast which
worked itself into a state of hysterical rage. But when a high-heeled
shoe was flung at them from the bedroom, followed by a volley of
fruit-carrier words of the latest brand, they retired, awed and
horror-stricken, to cover.

Martin found himself in a small, square living room with two windows
looking over the intimate backs of other similar houses. Under the best
of conditions it was not a room of very comfortable possibilities. In
the hands of its present occupant, it was, to Martin's eyes, the most
depressing and chaotic place he had ever seen. The cheap furniture and
the cheaper wall paper went well with a long-unwhite-washed ceiling and
smudged white paint. A line of empty beer bottles which stood on a
mantelpiece littered with unframed photographs and dog-eared Christmas
cards struck a note so blase that it might almost have been committed
for a reason. On the square mission table in the center there was a
lamp with a belaced pink shade at a cock-eyed angle which resembled the
bonnet of a streetwalker in the early hours of the morning. An electric
iron stood coldly beneath it with its wire attached to a fixture in the
wall. Various garments littered the chairs and sofa, and jagged pieces
of newspaper which had been worried by the dogs covered the floor.

But the young woman who shortly made her appearance was very different
from the room. Her frock was neat and clean, her face most carefully
made up, her shoes smart. She had a wide and winning grin, teeth that
should have advertised a toothpaste, and a pair of dimples which ought
to have been a valuable asset to any chorus. "Why, but you HAVE done a
hustle," she said. "I haven't even had time to tidy up a bit." She
cleared a chair and shook a finger at the dogs, who, sneaking out from
under the sofa, were eyeing her with apprehensive affection. The Chow's
mother had evidently lost her heart to a bulldog. "Excuse the look of
this back attic," she added. "I've got to move, and I'm in the middle
of packing."

"Of course," said Martin, eager to know why he had been sent for. "It's
about Tootles, you said."

"Very much so." She sat on the edge of the table, crossed her arms, and
deliberately looked Martin over with expert eyes. Knowing as much about
men as a mechanic of a main-road motor-repairing shop knows about
engines, her examination was acute and thorough.

Martin waited quietly, amused at her coolness, but impatient to come to
cues. She was a good sort, he knew. Tootles had told him so, and he was
certain that she had asked to see him out of friendship for the girl
upstairs.

Her first question was almost as disconcerting and abrupt as a Zeppelin
bomb. "What did you do to Tootles?"

Martin held her examining gaze. "Nothing, except give her a bit of a
holiday," he said.

"I saw you go off with her that morning." She smiled and her eyes
became a little more friendly. "She wrote me a letter from your place
and said she'd found out what song writers meant by the word heaven."

"Did she?" said Martin. "I'm glad."

It came to her in a flash that her little pal had fallen in love with
this boy and instantly she understood the mystery of Tootles' change of
method and point of view--her moping, her relaxed grip on life. She
meant almost nothing to the boy and knew it.

"But don't you think you might have been to see her since you brought
her back?" she asked.

"I've been very worried," said Martin simply.

"Is that so?" and then, after another pause, this girl said a second
astonishing thing. "I wish I didn't see in you a man who tells the
truth. I wish you were just one of the ordinary sort that comes our
way. I should know how to deal with you better."

"Tell me what you mean," said Martin.

"Shall I? All right, I will." She stood up with her hands on her hips.
"If you'd played the usual game with little Tootles and dropped her
cold, I wouldn't let you get out of this room without coming up to
scratch. I'd make you cough up a good-sized check. There's such a thing
as playing the game even by us strap-hangers, you know. As it is, I can
see that you were on the square, that you're a bit of a poet or
something and did Tootles a good turn for nothing, and honestly, I
don't know the next move. You don't owe her anything, you see."

"Is money the trouble?" asked Martin.

Irene Stanton shot out an odd, short laugh. "Let me tell you
something," she said. "You know what happened at the dress rehearsal of
'The Ukelele Girl'? Well, the word's gone around about her chucking the
show at the last minute, and it's thumbs down for Tootles. She hadn't a
nickel when she came back from your place, and since then she's pawned
herself right down to the bone to pay her rent and get a few eats. She
wouldn't take nothing from me because I'm out too, and this is a bad
time to get into anything new. Only two things can stop her from being
put out at the end of the week. One's going across the passage to the
drunken fellow that writes music, and the other's telling the tale to
you. She won't do either. I've never seen her the way she is now. She
sits around, staring at the wall, and when I try to put some of her
usual pep into her she won't listen. She's all changed since that taste
of the country, and I figure she won't get on her feet again without a
big yank up. She keeps on saying to herself, like a sort of song, 'Oh,
Gawd, for a sight of the trees,' and I've known girls end it quick when
they get that way."

Martin got up. "Where do you keep your pen and ink?" he asked. Poor old
Tootles. There certainly was something to do.

Irene bent forward eagerly. "Are you going to see her through this
snag?"

"Of course I am."

"Ah, that's the talk. But wait a second. We got to be tricky about
this." She was excited and tremendously in earnest. "If she gets to
know I've been holding out the hat to you, we're wasting time. Give me
the money, see? I'll make up a peach of a story about how it came to
me,--the will of a rich uncle in Wisconsin or something, you know,--and
ask her to come and help me blow it in somewhere on the coast, see? She
gave me three weeks' holiday once. It's my turn now, me being in
luck.... But perhaps you don't trust me?"

"You trust me," said Martin, and gave her one of his honest smiles.

He caught sight of a bottle of ink on the window sill. There was a pen
of sorts there also. He brought them to the table and made out a check
in the name of his fellow conspirator. He was just as anxious as she
was to put "a bit of pep" into the little waif who had sat beneath the
portrait of his father. There was no blotting paper, so he waved it in
the air before handing it over.

A rush of tears came to Irene's eyes when she saw what he had written.
She held out her hand, utterly giving up an attempt to find words.

"Thank you for calling up," said Martin, doing his best to be perfectly
natural and ordinary. "I wish you'd done so sooner. Poor old Tootles.
Write to the Devon Yacht Club, Long Island, and let me know how you get
on. We've all three been up against some rotten bad luck, haven't we?
Good-by, then. I'll go up to Tootles now."

"No, no," she said, "don't. That'd bring my old uncle to life right
away. She'd guess you was in on this, all right. Slip off and let me
have a chance with my movie stuff." With a mixture of emotion and
hilarity she suddenly waved the check above her head. "Can you imagine
the fit the receiving teller at my little old bank'll throw when I slip
this across as if it meant nothing to me?"

And then she caught up one of Martin's hands and did the most
disconcerting thing of all. She pressed it to her lips and kissed it.

Martin got as red as a beet. "Well, then, good-by," he said, making for
the door. "Good luck."

"Good-by and good luck to you. My word, but you've made optimism sprout
all over my garden, and I thought the very roots of it were dead."

For a few minutes after Martin was gone, she danced about her appalling
room, and laughed and cried and said the most extraordinary things to
her dogs. The little pink beast became hysterical again, and the Chow
leaped into a bundle of under-clothing and worried the life out of it.
Finally, having hidden the check in a safe place, the girl ran upstairs
to break the good news of her uncle's death to Tootles. Why, they could
do the thing like ladies, the pair of them. It was immense, marvellous,
almost beyond belief! That old man of Wisconsin deserved a place in
Heaven.... Heaven--Devon.

It was an inspiration. "Gee, but that's the idea!" she said to herself.
"Devon--and the sight of that boy. That'll put the pep back, unless I'm
the original nut. And if he doesn't care about her now, he may
presently. Others have."

And when she went in, there was Tootles staring at the wall, and
through it and away beyond at the place Martin had called the
Cathedral, and at Martin, with his face dead-white because Joan had
turned and gone.



VII


It was a different Tootles who, ten days later, sat on a bank of dry
ferns that overlooked a superb stretch of water and watched the sun go
down. The little half-plucked bird of the Forty-sixth Street garret
with the pale thin face and the large tired eyes had almost become the
fairy of Joan's hill once more, the sun-tanned little brother of Peter
Pan again. A whole week of the air of Devon and the smell of its pines,
of the good wholesome food provided by the family with whom she and
Irene were lodging, of long rambles through the woods, of bathing and
sleeping, and the joy of finding herself among trees had performed that
"yank" of which her fellow chorus lady had spoken.

Tootles was on her feet again. Her old zest to live had been given back
to her by the wonder and the beauty of sky and water and trees. A child
of nature, hitherto forced to struggle for her bread in cities, she was
revived and renewed and refreshed by the sweet breath and the warm
welcome of that simple corner of God's earth to which Irene had so
cunningly brought her. Her starved, city-ridden spirit had blossomed
and become healthy out there in the country like a root of Creeping
Jenny taken from a pot on the window-sill of a slum house and put back
into good brown earth.

The rough and ready family with whom they were lodging kept a duck
farm, and it was to this white army of restless, greedy things that
Tootles owed her first laugh. Tired and smut-bespattered after a
tedious railway journey she had eagerly and with childish joy gone at
once to see them fed, the old and knowing, the young and optimistic,
and all the yellow babies with uncertain feet and tiny noises. After
that, a setting sun which set fire to the sky and water and trees,
melting and mingling them together, and Tootles turned the corner. The
motherless waif slept that night on Nature's maternal breast and was
comforted.

The warm-hearted Irene was proud of herself. Devon--Heaven--it was
indeed an inspiration. The only fly in her amber came from the fact
that Martin was away. But when she discovered that he and his friend
had merely gone for a short trip on the yawl she waited with great
content for their return, setting the seeds in Tootles' mind, with
infinite diplomacy and feminine cunning, of a determination to use all
her wiles to win even a little bit of love from Martin as soon as she
saw him again.

Playing the part of one who had unexpectedly benefited from the will of
an almost-forgotten relative she never, of course, said a word of why
she had chosen Devon for this gorgeous holiday. Temporarily wealthy it
was not necessary to look cannily at every nickel. Before leaving New
York she had bought herself and Tootles some very necessary clothes and
saw to it that they lived on as much of the fat of the land as could be
obtained in the honest and humble house in which she had found a large
two-bedded room. Her cigarettes were Egyptian now and on the train she
had bought half a dozen new novels at which she looked with pride.
Hitherto she had been obliged to read only those much-handled
blase-looking books which went the round of the chorus. Conceive what
that meant! Also she had brought with her a bottle of the scent that
was only, so far as she knew, within reach of leading ladies. Like the
cigarettes and the books, this was really for Tootles to use, but she
borrowed a little from time to time.

As for Irene Stanton, then, she was having, and said so, the time of
her young life. She richly deserved it, and if her kindness and
thoughtfulness, patience and sympathy had not been entered in the big
volume of the Recording Angel that everlasting young woman must have
neglected her pleasant job for several weeks.

And, as for Tootles, it is true that her bobbed hair still owed its
golden brilliance to a bottle, but the white stuff on her face had been
replaced by sunburn, and her lips were red all by themselves.

She was watching the last of the great red globe when her friend joined
her. There had been a race of sloops that afternoon, and there was
unusual animation on the quay and at the little club house. A small
power boat, on which were the starter and judges and others, had just
put in with a good deal of splutter and fuss. On the stoop of the club
a small band was playing, and a bevy of young people were dancing.
Following in the wake of the last sloop a yawl with a dingey in tow was
coming towards the quay.

Seeing that Tootles was in one of her ecstatic moods and was deaf to
remarks, Irene saved her words to cool her porridge and watched the
incoming yawl. She did so at first without much interest. It was merely
a sailboat to her city eyes, and her good lines and good management
meant nothing. But as she came nearer something familiar in the cut of
the man at her helm caught her attention. Surely those broad shoulders
and that deep chest and small head could belong only to Martin Gray?
They did, they did. It was that boy at last, that boy about whom
Tootles had gone dippy, that boy whose generosity had made their
holiday possible, that boy the first sight of whom would put the last
touch to Tootles' recovery--that boy who, if her friend set her mind
and feminine charm to work, might, it seemed to the practical Irene,
make her future safe. Strap-hangers had very few such chances.

With a tremendous effort she sat wordless and waited, knowing that
Martin must come that way to his cottage. With all her sense of the
dramatic stirred she watched the business of coming to anchor with some
impatience and when finally the dingey was hauled in and the two men
got aboard, loosed off and rowed to shore, excitement sent the blood
tingling through her veins. She heard them laugh and look up towards
the club, now almost deserted; cars were being driven inland in quick
succession. She watched them, hatless and sun-tanned, come nearer and
nearer. She got up as if to go, hesitated, caught Martin's eye, gave an
exclamation of well-acted amazement and waved her hand. "Well," she
cried out, "for Heaven's sake! I never thought you meant this little
old Devon!"

Howard had long ago caught sight of the two girls and wondered if they
were pretty, hoping they would remain until he could decide the point
for himself. They were, both of them, and Martin knew them. Good
enough. He stood by while Martin greeted the one who spoke and then saw
the other wake suddenly at the sound of his friend's voice, stumble to
her feet and go forward with a little cry.

"Why, Tootles," said Martin warmly. "I never thought of seeing you
here. How well you look."

It was like dreaming true. Tootles could only smile and cling to his
hand.

"By Jove, the other girl," thought Howard, with what, after all, was
only an easy touch of intuition. The girl's face told her story. "What
will this mean?" Then there were introductions, questions and answers,
laughter, jokes, a quick exchange of glances between Martin and Irene,
in which he received and acknowledged her warning, and a little silence.

"Come up to the cottage and have dinner with us," said Martin, breaking
it rather nervously. "Can you?"

Tootles nodded. Devon--Heaven. How perfectly the words rhymed.

"You couldn't keep us away with a stick," said Irene. This was the way
things should go. Also, the jovial, fat person with the roving eyes
might brighten things considerably for her.

"Great work!" Said Howard.

And then, taking Tootle's arm and breaking into enthusiastic details of
the sailing trip, Martin led the way up to the cottage among the firs.
It was good to have been able to put little Tootles into spirits again.

Howard followed with Irene. "Gee whiz!" he said to himself, "some
dimples!"

A few miles away as the crow flies Gilbert Palgrave In his bedroom in
St. James's Palace cursed himself and life because Joan was still as
difficult to win as sunshine was to bottle.

And up in the sky that hung above them all the angels were lighting the
stars.



VIII


Martin was not given to suspicion. He accepted people at their face
value and believed in human nature. It never occurred to him, then,
that the apparently ingenuous and disarming Irene, with her straight
glance and wide smile, had brought Tootles to Devon except by accident
or for anything but health and peace. He was awfully glad to see them.
They added to the excellent effect upon his spirits which had been
worked by the constant companionship of the irrepressible Howard,
before whose habitual breeziness depression could stand little chance.

Also he had youth and health and plenty to do in gorgeous weather, and
so his case, which he had been examining rather morbidly, assumed a
less painful aspect. His love and need of Joan remained just as strong,
but the sense of martyrdom brought about by loneliness and
self-analysis left him. Once more he assured himself that Joan was a
kid and must have her head until she became a woman and faced facts.
Over and over again he repeated to himself the creed that she had flung
into the teeth of fate, and in this he found more excuse than she
deserved for the way in which she had used him to suit her purpose and
put him into the position of a big elder brother whose duty it was to
support her, in loco parentis, and not interfere with her pastimes.
However much she fooled and flirted, he had an unshakable faith in her
cleanness and sweetness, and if he continued to let her alone, to get
fed up with what she called the Merry-go-round, she would one day come
home and begin all over again. She was a kid, just a kid as she had
said, and why, after all, should she be bullied and bully-ragged before
she had had time to work it off? That's how he argued.

Meanwhile, he was, thankfully enough, no longer alone. Here were Howard
and the two girls and the yawl and the sun, and he would keep merry and
bright until Joan came back. He was too proud and sensitive to go to
Joan and have it all out with her and thus dispel what had developed
into a double misunderstanding, and too loyal to go to Joan's mother
and tell his story and beg for help. Like Joan and Howard, and who
knows how many other young things in the world, he was paying the
inevitable penalty for believing that he could face the problems of
life unassisted, unadvised and was making a dreadful hash of it in
consequence. He little knew that his kindness to Tootles had made Joan
believe that he had exchanged his armor for broadcloth and put her in a
"who cares?" mood far more dangerous than the one which had sent her
into the night life of New York, or that, owing to Tootles, she was, at
that very moment, for the fun of the thing, driving Gilbert Palgrave to
a state of anger and desperation which might lead to tragedy. Poor
young things, misguided and falsely proud and at a loose end! What a
waste of youth and spring which a few wise words of counsel would
retrieve and render blessed.

And as for Tootles, with her once white face and red lips and hair that
came out of a bottle, Martin was to her what Joan was to Palgrave and
for the same reason. Irene's hints and innuendos had taken root. Caring
nothing for the practical side of her friend's point of view,--the
assured future business,--all her energies were bent to attract Martin,
all that was feminine in her was making a huge effort to win, by hook
or crook, somehow soon, an answer, however temporary, to her love.
Never mind what happened after these summer weeks were over. What
matter if she went mad so that she had her day? She had never come
across any man like this young Martin, with his clean eyes and
sensitive soul and honest hands, his, to her, inconceivable capacity of
"being brother," his puzzling aloofness from the lure of sex. She
didn't understand what it meant to a boy of Martin's type to cherish
ideals and struggle to live up to a standard that had been set for him
by his father. In her daily fight for mere self-preservation, in which
joy came by accident, any such thing as principle seemed crazy. Her
street--Arab interpretation of the law of life was to snatch at
everything that she could reach because there was so much that was
beyond her grasp. Her love for Martin was the one passion of her sordid
little life, and she would be thankful and contented to carry memories
back to her garret which no future rough-and-tumble could ever take
away or blot out.

For several days after the first of many dinners with the boys, Tootles
played her cards with the utmost care. The foursome became inseparable,
bathing, sailing and motoring from morning to night. If there was any
truth in the power of propinquity, it must have been discovered then.
Howard attached himself to Irene whom he found something more than
merry and amusing,--a girl of indomitable courage and optimism, in
fact. He liked her immensely. And so Tootles paired off with Martin and
had innumerable opportunities of putting forward the challenge of sex.
She took them all, but with the most carefully considered subtlety. She
descended to nothing obvious, as was to be expected from one of her
type, which was not famous for such a thing as self-restraint. She paid
great attention to her appearance and kept a close watch on her tongue.
She played what she imagined was the part of a little lady, toned down
her usual exuberance, her too loud laugh and her characteristic habit
of giving quick and smart back answers. But in all her long talks with
Martin she hinted ever so lightly that she and he had not been thrown
together from opposite poles without a reason. She tried to touch his
mind with the thought that it was to become what she said it might the
night of the accident,--a romance, a perfectly private little affair of
their own, stolen from their particular routine, which could be ended
at a moment's notice. She tried to wrap the episode up in a page of
poetry which might have been torn from a little book by Francois Villon
and give it a wistfulness and charm that she thought would appeal to
him. But it was not until one more than usually exquisite night, when
the spirit of July lingered in the air and the warmth of the sun still
lay among the stars, that she made her first step towards her goal.
Howard and Irene had wandered down to the water, and she was left with
Martin sitting elfishly among the ferns on the bank below the cottage
and above the silver lapping water. Martin, very much alive to the
magic spell of the night, with the young sap stirring in his veins, lay
at her feet, and she put her hand caressingly on his head and began to
talk in a half whisper.

"Boy, oh, boy," she said, "what shall I do without you when this dream
comes to an end?"

"Dream again," said Martin.

"Down there in the city, so far away from trees?"

"Why not? We can take our dreams with us wherever we go. But it isn't
coming to an end yet."

"How long will it last?"

"Until the sun gets cold," said Martin, catching her mood, "and there's
a chill in the air."

She slipped down a little so that he should see the light in her eyes.
There was hardly an inch between their lips, and the only sound was the
beating of her heart. Youth and July and the scent of honeysuckle.

"I thought I was dead when you helped me out of that wreck," she went
on in a quivering voice, and her long-fingered hand on his face. "I
think I must be really dead to-night. Surely this is too sweet to be
life."

"Dear little Tootles," said Martin softly. She was so close that he
could feel the rise and fall of her breasts. "Don't let's talk of
death. We're too young."

The sap was stirring in his veins. She was like a fairy, this girl, who
ought never to have wandered into a city.

"Martin," she said, "when the sun gets cold and there's a chill in the
air will you ever come back to this hour in a dream?"

"Often, Tootles, my dear."

"And will you see the light in my eyes and feel my hands on your face
and my lips on your lips?"

She bent forward and put them there and drew back with a shaking sob
and scrambled up and fled.

She had seen the others coming, but that was not why she had torn
herself away. One flash of sex was enough that night. The next time he
must do the kissing.

Eve and July and the scent of honeysuckle!

 Breakfast was on the table. To Irene, who came down in her dressing
gown with her hair just bundled up and her face coated with powder,
eight o'clock was an unearthly hour at which to begin the day. In New
York she slept until eleven, read the paper until twelve, cooked and
disposed of a combined breakfast-lunch at one, and if it was a matinee
day, rushed round to the theater, and if it wasn't, killed time until
her work called her in the evening. A boob's life, as she called it,
was a trying business, but the tyranny of the bustling woman with whom
she lodged was such that if breakfast was not eaten at eight o'clock it
was not there to eat. Like an English undergraduate who scrambles out
of bed to attend Chapel simply to avoid a fine, this product of
Broadway theaterdom conformed to the rule of Mrs. Burrell's energetic
house because the good air of Devon gave her a voracious appetite.
Then, too, even if she missed breakfast, she had to pay for it, "so
there you are, old dear."

Tootles, up with the lark as usual, was down among the ducks, giving
Farmer Burrell a useful hand. She delighted in doing so. From a country
grandfather she had inherited a love of animals and of the early
freshness of the morning that found eager expression, now that she had
the chance of giving it full rein. Then, too, all that was maternal in
her nature warmed at the sight and sound of all those new, soft, yellow
things that waddled closely behind the wagging tails of their mothers,
and it gave her a sort of sweet comfort to go down on her knees and
hold one of these frightened babies against her cheek.

Crying out, "Oo-oo, Tootles," from halfway down the cinder path, Irene,
stimulated by the aroma of hot coffee and toast, and eggs and bacon,
returned to the living room and fell to humming, "You're here and I'm
here."

Tootles joined her immediately, a very different looking little person
from the tired-eyed, yawning girl of the city rabbit warren. Health was
in her eyes and a little smile at the corners of her mouth. Quick work
was made of the meal to the intermittent duck talk of Mrs. Burrell who
came in and out of the kitchen through a creaking door,--a normal,
noisy soul, to whom life was a succession of laborious days spent
between the cooking stove and the washtub with a regular Saturday
night, in her best clothes, at the motion-picture theater at Sag Harbor
to gape at the abnormality of Theda Bara and scream with uncontrolled
mirth at the ingenious antics of Charlie Chaplin. An ancient Ford made
possible this weekly dip into these intense excitements.

And then the two girls left the living room with its inevitable rocking
chairs and framed texts and old heating stove with a funnel through the
wall and went out into the sun.

"Well, dearie," said Irene, sitting on the edge of the stoop, within
sound of the squeaking of a many-armed clothes drier, teased by a nice
sailing wind. "Us for the yawl to-day."

"You for the yawl," said Tootles. "I'm staying here to help old man
Burrell. It's his busy day."

Irene looked up quickly. "What's the idea?"

"Just that,--and something else. I don't want to see Martin till this
evening. I moved things last night, and I want him to miss me a bit."

"Ah," said Irene. "I guessed it meant something when you made that
quick exit when we moved up. Have you got him, dearie?"

Tootles shot out a queer little sigh and nodded.

"That's fine. He's not like the others, is he? But you've played him
great. Oh, I've seen it all, never you fear. Subtle, old dear, very
subtle. Shouldn't have had the patience myself. Go in and win. He's
worth it." Tootles put her hands over her face and a great sob shook
her.

In an instant, Irene had her in her arms. "Dear old Tootles," she said,
"it means an awful lot to you, don't it? Don't give way, girlie. You've
done mighty well so far. Now follow it up, hot and fast. That boy's got
a big heart and he's generous and kind, and he won't forget. I brought
you here for this, such a chance as it was, and if I can see you
properly fixed up and happy, my old uncle's little bit of velvet will
have come in mighty useful, eh? Got a plan for to-night?"

Tootles nodded again. "If I don't win to-night," she said, "it's all
over. I shall have to own that he cares for me less than the dust. I
shall have to throw up my hands and creep away and hide. Oh, my God, am
I such a rotten little freak as all that, Irene? Tell me, go on, tell
me."

"Freak? You! For Heaven's sake. Don't the two front rows give nobody
but you the supper signal whenever the chorus is on?"

"But they're not like Martin. He's,--well, I dunno just what he is. For
one thing there's that butterfly he's married to. He's never said as
much as half a word about her to me, but the look that came into his
eyes when he saw her the night I told you about,--I'd be run over by a
train for it any time. He's a man alright and wants love as bad as I
do. I know that, but sometimes, when I watch his face, when neither of
us is talking, there's a queer smile on it, like a man who's looking up
at somebody, and he sets his jaw and squares his shoulders just as if
he had heard a voice telling him to play straight. Many times I've seen
it, Irene, and after that I have to begin all over again. I respect him
for it, and it makes me love him more and more. I've never had the luck
to meet a man like him. The world would be a bit less rotten for the
likes of you and me if there were more of him about, I tell you. But it
hurts me like the devil because it makes me feel no better than a shoe
with the buttons off and the heel all worn down, and I ask myself
what's the blooming use. But last night I kissed him, and I saw his
eyes glint for the first time and to-night,--to-night, Irene, I'm going
to play my last card. Yes, that's what I'm going to do, play the last
card in the pack."

"How?" asked Irene eagerly, sympathy and curiosity bubbling to the top.

Tootles shook her head. "It isn't lucky to go talking about it." she
said, with a most wistful smile. "You'll know whether it's the heights
or the depths for me when you see me in the morning."

"In the morning? Shan't you be..."

"Don't ask. Just wish me luck and go and have a good day with the boys.
I shall be waiting for you at the cottage. And now I'm off down to the
ducks. Say I've got a headache and don't let 'em come round and try to
fetch me. So long, Irene; you've been some pal to me through this and I
shall never forget."

Whereupon Tootles went off to lend the unloquacious Burrell a helping
hand, and Irene ran up to the bedroom to dress.

From the pompous veranda of the Hosack place Gilbert Palgrave, sick
with jealousy, watched Joan swimming out to the barrels with that
cursed boy in tow. And he, too, had made up his mind to play his last
card that night.

Man and woman and love,--the old, inevitable story.



IX


The personnel of the Hosacks' house party had changed.

Mrs. Noel d'Oyly had led her little husband away to Newport to stay
with Mrs. Henry Vanderdyke, where were Beatrix and Pelham Franklin,
with a bouncing baby boy, the apple of Mr. Vanderdyke's eye. Enid
Ouchterlony had left for Gloucester, Massachusetts, where her aunt,
Mrs. Horace Pallant, entertained in an almost royal fashion and was
eager to set her match-making arts to work on behalf of her only
unmarried niece. Enid had gone to the very edge of well-bred lengths to
land Courtney Millet, but Scots ancestry and an incurable habit of
talking sensibly and rather well had handicapped her efforts. She had
confided to Primrose with a sudden burst of uncharacteristic incaution
that she seemed doomed to become an old man's darling. Her last words
to the sympathetic Primrose were, "Oh, Prim, Prim, pray that you may
never become intellectual. It will kill all your chances." Miss Hosack
was, however, perfectly safe.

Milwood, fired by a speech at the Harvard Club by Major General Leonard
Wood, had scratched all his pleasant engagements for the summer, and
was at Plattsburg learning for the first time, at the camp which will
some day occupy an inspiring chapter in the history of the United
States, the full meaning of the words "duty" and "discipline." Their
places had been taken by Major and Mrs. Barnet Thatcher and dog, Regina
Waterhouse and Vincent Barclay, a young English officer invalided out
of the Royal Flying Corps after bringing down eight German machines. A
cork leg provided him with constant amusement. He had a good deal of
property in Canada and was making his way to Toronto by easy stages. A
cheery fellow, cut off from all his cherished sports but free from even
the suggestion of grousing. Of his own individual stunts, as he called
them, he gave no details and made no mention of the fact that he
carried the D.S.O. and the Croix de Guerre in his bag. He had met the
Hosacks at the American Embassy in London in 1913. He was rather sweet
on Primrose.

The fact that Joan was still there was easily accounted for. She liked
the place, and her other invitations were not interesting. Hosack
didn't want her to go either, but of course that had nothing to do with
it, and so far as Mrs. Hosack was concerned, let the bedroom be
occupied by some one of her set and she was happy enough. Indeed, it
saved her the brain fag of inviting some one else, "always difficult
with so many large houses to fill and so few people to go round, my
dear."

Harry Oldershaw was such a nice boy that he did just as he liked. If it
suited him he could keep his room until the end of the season. The case
of Gilbert Palgrave was entirely different. A privileged, spoiled
person, who made no effort to be generally agreeable and play up, he
was rather by way of falling into the same somewhat difficult category
as a minor member of the British Royalty. His presence was an honor
although his absence would have been a relief. He chose to prolong his
visit indefinitely and there was an end of it.

Every day at Easthampton had, however, been a nightmare to Palgrave.
Refusing to take him seriously, Joan had played with him as a cat plays
with a mouse. Kind to him one minute she had snubbed him the next. The
very instant that he had congratulated himself on making headway his
hopes had been scattered to the four winds by some scathing remarks and
her disappearance for hours with Harry Oldershaw. She had taken a
mischievous delight in leading him on with winning smiles and charming
and appealing ways only to burst out laughing at his blazing
protestations of love and leave him inarticulate with anger and wounded
vanity. "If you want me to love you, make me," she had said. "I shall
fight against it tooth and nail, but I give you leave to do your best."
He had done his best. With a totally uncharacteristic humbleness,
forgetting the whole record of his former easy conquests, and with this
young slim thing so painfully in his blood that there were times when
he had the greatest difficulty to retain his self-control, he had
concentrated upon the challenge that she had flung at him and set
himself to teach her how to love with all the thirsty eagerness of a
man searching for water. People who had watched him in his too wealthy
adolescence and afterwards buying his way through life and achieving
triumphs on the strength of his, handsome face and unique position
would have stared in incredulous amazement at the sight of this
love-sick man in his intense pursuit of a girl who was able to twist
him around her little finger and make him follow her about as if he
were a green and callow youth. Palgrave, the lady-killer; Palgrave, the
egoist; Palgrave, the superlative person, who, with nonchalant
impertinence, had picked and chosen. Was it possible?

Everything is possible when a man is whirled off his feet by the Great
Emotion. History reeks with the stories of men whose natures were
changed, whose careers were blasted, whose honor and loyalty and common
sense were sacrificed, whose pride and sense of the fitness of things
were utterly and absolutely forgotten under the stress of the sex storm
that hits us all and renders us fools or heroes, breaking or making as
luck will have it and, in either case, bringing us to the common level
of primevality for the love of a woman. Nature, however refined and
cultivated the man, or rarified his atmosphere, sees to this. Herself
feminine, she has no consideration for persons. To her a man is merely
a man, a creature with the same heart and the same senses, working to
the same end from the same beginning. Let him struggle and cry
"Excelsior!" and fix his eyes upon the heights, let him devote himself
to prayer or go grimly on his way with averted eyes, let him become
cynic or misogynist, what's it matter? Sooner or later she lays hands
upon him and claims him as her child. Man, woman and love. It is the
oldest and the newest story in the world, and in spite of the sneers of
thin-blooded intellectuals who think that it is clever to speak of love
as the particular pastime of the Bolsheviki and the literary parasites
who regard themselves as critics and dismiss love as "mere sex stuff,"
it is the everlasting Story of Everyman.

Young and new and careless, obsessed only with the one idea of having a
good time,--never mind who paid for it,--Joan knew nothing of the
danger of trifling with the feelings of a high-strung man who had never
been denied, a man over-civilized to the point of moral decay. If she
had paused in her determined pursuit of amusement and distraction to
analyze her true state of mind she might have discovered an angry
desire to pay Fate out for the way in which he had made things go with
Martin by falling really and truly in love with Gilbert. As it was, she
recognized his attraction and in the few serious moments that forced
themselves upon her when she was alone she realized that he could give
her everything that would make life easy and pleasant. She liked his
calm sophistication, she was impressed, being young, by his utter
disregard of laws and conventions, and she was flattered at the
unmistakable proofs of his passionate devotion. But she would have been
surprised to find beneath her careless way of treating herself and
everybody round her an unsuspected root of loyalty towards Alice and
Martin that put up a hedge between herself and Gilbert. There was also
something in the fine basic qualities of her undeveloped character that
unconsciously made her resent this spoiled man's assumption of the fact
that, married or not, she must sooner or later fall in with his wishes.
She was in no mood for self-analysis, however, because that meant the
renewal of the pain and deep disappointment as to Martin which was her
one object to hide and to forget. So she kept Gilbert in tow, and
supplied her days with the excitement for which she craved by leading
him on and laughing him off. It is true that once or twice she had
caught in his eyes a look of madness that caused her immediately to
call the nice boy to her support and make a mental note of the fact
that it would be wise never to trust herself quite alone with him, but
with a shrug of the shoulders she continued alternately to tease and
charm, according to her mood.

She did both these things once again when she came up from the sea to
finish the remainder of the morning in the sun. Seeing Gilbert pacing
the veranda like a bear with a sore ear, she told Harry Oldershaw to
leave her to her sun bath and signalled to Gilbert to come down to the
edge of the beach. The others were still in the sea. He joined her with
a sort of reluctance, with a look of gall and ire in his eyes that was
becoming characteristic. There was all about him the air of a man who
had been sleeping badly. His face was white and drawn, and his fingers
were never still. He twisted a signet ring round and round at one
moment and worried at a button on his coat the next. His nerves seemed
to be outside his skin. He stood in front of Joan antagonistically and
ran his eyes over her slim young form in its wet bathing suit with
grudging admiration. He was too desperately in love to be able to apply
to himself any of the small sense of humor that was his in normal times
and hide his feelings behind it. He was very far from being the Gilbert
Palgrave of the early spring,--the cool, satirical, complete man of the
world.

"Well?" he asked.

Joan pretended to be surprised. "Well what, Gilbert dear? I wanted to
have a nice little talk before lunch, that's all, and so I ventured to
disturb you."

"Ventured to disturb me! You're brighter than usual this morning."

"Ah I? Is that possible? How sweet of you to say so. Do sit down and
look a little less like an avenging angel. The sand's quite warm and
dry."

He kicked a little shower of it into the air. "I don't want to sit
down," he said. "You bore me. I'm fed up with this place and sick to
tears of you."

"Sick to tears of me? Why, what in the world have I done?"

"Every conceivable and ingenious thing that I might have expected of
you. Loyalty was entirely left out of your character, it appears. Young
Oldershaw and the doddering Hosack measure up to your standard. I can't
compete."

Joan allowed almost a minute to go by in silence. She felt at the very
tip-top of health, having ridden for some hours and gone hot into the
sea. To be mischievous was natural enough. This man took himself so
seriously, too. She would have been made of different stuff or have
acquired a greater knowledge of Palgrave's curious temperament to have
been able to resist the temptation to tantalize.

"Aren't you, by any chance, a little on the rude side this morning,
Gilbert?"

"If you call the truth rude," he said, "yes."

"I do. Very. The rudest thing I know."

He looked down at her. She was leaning against the narrow wooden back
of a beach chair. Her hands were clasped round her white knees. She
wore little thin black shoes and no stockings. A tight rubber bathing
cap which came low down on her forehead gave her a most attractively
boyish look. She might have been a young French Pierrot in a picture by
Sem or Van Beers. He almost hated her at that moment, sitting there in
all the triumph of youth, untouched by his ardor, unaffected by his
passion.

"You needn't worry," he said. "You won't get any more of it from me. So
that you may continue to amuse yourself undisturbed I withdraw from the
baby hunt. I'm off this afternoon."

He had cried "Wolf!" so many times that Joan didn't believe him.

"I daresay a change of air will do you good," she said. "Where are you
going?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "What's it matter? Probably to that cottage
of mine to play hermit and scourge myself for having allowed you to
mortify me and hold me up to the ridicule of your fulsome court of
admirers."

"Yes, that cottage of yours. You've forgotten your promise to drive me
over to see it, haven't you?"

Palgrave wheeled round. This was too much of a good thing. "Be careful,
or my rudeness will become more truthful than even you will be able to
swallow. Twice last week you arranged for me to take you over and both
times you turned me down and went off with young Oldershaw."

"What IS happening to my memory?" asked Joan.

"It must be the sea air."

He turned on his heel and walked away.

In an instant she was up and after him, with her hand on his arm.

"I'm awfully sorry, Gilbert," she said. "Do forgive me."

"I'd forgive you if you were sorry, but you're not."

"Yes, I am."

He drew his arm away. "No. You're not really anything; in fact you're
not real. You're only a sort of mermaid, half fish, half girl. Nothing
comes of knowing you. It's a waste of time. You're not for men. You're
for lanky youths with whom you can talk nonsense, and laugh at silly
jokes. You belong to the type known in England as the flapper--that
weird, paradoxical thing with the appearance of flagrant innocence and
the mind of an errand boy. Your unholy form of enjoyment is to put men
into false positions and play baby when they lay hands on you. Your
hourly delight is to stir passion and then run into a nursery and slam
the door. You dangle your sex in the eyes of men and as soon as you've
got them crazy, claim chastity and make them ashamed. One of these days
you'll drive a man into the sort of mad passion that will make him give
you a sound thrashing or seduce you. I don't want to be that man.
Oldershaw is too young for you to hurt and Hosack too old, and
apparently Martin Gray has chucked you and found some human real
person. As for me, I've had enough. Good morning."

And once more, having delivered himself coldly and clearly of this
brutally frank indictment he went up the steps to the veranda and into
the house.

There was not even the tail of a smile on Joan's face as she watched
him go.

Lunch was not quite the usual pleasant, happy-go-lucky affair that day.
The gallant little Major, recently married to the fluffy-minded Mrs.
Edgar Lee Reeves and her peevish little dog, sat on the right of the
overwhelmingly complacent Cornucopia. With the hope of rendering
himself more youthful for this belated adventure with the babbling
widow he had been treated by a hair specialist. The result was, as
usual, farcically pathetic. His nice white hair which had given him a
charming benignity and cleanness had been turned into a dead and musty
black which made him look unearthly and unreal. His smart and carefully
cherished moustache which once had laid upon his upper lip like cotton
wool had been treated with the same ink-colored mixture. His clothes,
once so perfectly suitable, were now those built for a man of Harry
Oldershaw's youthful lines and gave him the appearance of one who had
forced himself into a suit made for his son. It was of a very blue
flannel with white lines,--always a trying combination. His tie and
socks were en suite and his gouty feet were martyrized to this scheme
of camouflage by being pressed into a pair of tight brown and white
shoes. Having been deprived of his swim for fear that his youthfulness
might come off in the water and with the rather cruel badinage of his
old friend Hosack still rankling in his soul, the poor little old
gentleman was not in the best of tempers. Also he had spent most of the
morning exercising Pinkie-Winkie while his wife had been writing
letters, and his nerves were distinctly jaded. The pampered animal
which had taken almost as solemn a part of his marriage vows as the
bride herself had insisted upon making a series of strategic attacks
against Mrs. Hosack's large, yellow-eyed, resentful Persian Tom, and
his endeavors to read the morning paper and rescue Pinkie from certain
wreckage had made life a bitter and a restless business. He was unable
to prevent himself from casting his mind back to those good bachelor
days of the previous summer when he had taken his swim with the young
people, enjoyed his sunbath at the feet of slim and beautiful girls,
and looked forward to a stiff cocktail in his bathhouse like a natural
and irresponsible old buck.

Gilbert Palgrave faced him, an almost silent man who, to Cornucopia's
great and continually voiced distress, allowed her handsomely paid
cook's efforts to go by contemptuously untouched. It rendered her own
enthusiastic appetite all the more conspicuous.

For two reasons Hosack was far from happy. One was because Mrs. Barnet
Thatcher was seated on his right pelting him with brightness and the
other because Joan, on his left, looked clean through his head whenever
he tried to engage her in sentimental sotto voce.

Gaiety was left to Prim and the wounded Englishman and to young
Oldershaw and the towering Regina who continually threw back her head
to emit howls of laughter at Barclay's drolleries while she displayed
the large red cavern of her mouth and all her wonderful teeth. After
every one of these exhausting paroxysms she said, with her
characteristic exuberance of sociability, "Isn't he the best thing?"

"Don't you think he's the most fascinating creature?" to any one whose
eye she caught,--a nice, big, beautiful, insincere girl who had been
taught at her fashionable school that in order to succeed in Society
and help things along she must rave about everything in extravagant
language and make as much noise as her lungs would permit.

Joan's unusual lack of spirits was noticed by every one and especially,
with grim satisfaction, by Gilbert Palgrave. With a return of optimism
he told himself that his rudeness expressed so pungently had had its
effect. He congratulated himself upon having, at last, been able to
show Joan the sort of foolish figure that she cut in his sight and even
went so far as to persuade himself that, after all, she must do
something more than like him to be so silent and depressed.

His deductions were, however, as hopelessly wrong as usual. His drastic
criticism had been like water on a duck's back. It inspired amusement
and nothing else. It was his remark that Martin Gray had chucked her
and found some human real person that had stuck, and this, with the
efficiency of a surgeon's knife, had cut her sham complacence and
opened up the old wound from which she had tried so hard to persuade
herself that she had recovered. Martin-Martin-what was he doing? Where
was he, and where was that girl with the white face and the red lips
and the hair that came out of a bottle?

The old overwhelming desire to see Martin again had been unconsciously
set blazing by this tactless and provoked man. It was so passionate and
irresistible that she could hardly remain at the table until the
replete Cornucopia rose, rattling with beads. And when, after what
seemed to be an interminable time, this happened and the party
adjourned to the shaded veranda to smoke and catch the faint breeze
from the sea, she instantly beckoned to Harry and made for the
drawing-room.

In this furniture be-clogged room all the windows were open, but the
blazing sun of the morning had left it hot and stuffy. A hideous
squatting Chinese goddess, whose tongue, by a mechanical appliance,
lolled from side to side, appeared to be panting for breath, and the
cut flowers in numerous pompous vases hung their limp heads. It was a
gorgeously hot day.

Young Oldershaw bounded in, the picture of unrealized health. His tan
was almost black, and his teeth and the whites of, his eyes positively
gleamed. He might have been a Cuban.

"Didn't I hear you tell Prim last night that you'd had a letter from
your cousin?"

"Old Howard? Yes." He was sorry that she had.

"Is Martin with him?" It was an inspiration, an uncanny piece of
feminine intuition.

Young Oldershaw was honest. "He's staying with Gray," he said
reluctantly.

"Where?"

"At Devon."

"Devon? Isn't that the place we drove to the other day--with a little
club and a sort of pier and sailboats gliding about?"

"Yes. They've got one."

Ah, that was why she had had a queer feeling of Martinism while she had
sat there having tea, watching the white sails against the sky. On one
of those boats bending gracefully to the wind Martin must have been.

"Where are they living?"

"In a cottage that belongs to a pal of Gray's, so far as I could
gather."

In a cottage, together! Then the girl whom she had called "Fairy,"--the
girl who was human and real, according to Gilbert, couldn't be, surely
couldn't be, with them.

"Will you drive me over?" she asked.

"When?"

"Now."

"Why, of course, Joan, if I--must," he said. It somehow seemed to him
to be wrong and incredible that she had a husband,--this girl, so free
and young and at the very beginning of things, like himself, and whom
he had grown into the habit of regarding as his special--hardly
property, but certainly companion and playmate.

"If you're not keen about it, Harry, I'll ask Mr. Hosack or a
chauffeur. Pray don't let me take you an inch out of your way."

In an instant he was off his stilts and on his marrow bones. "Please
don't look like that and say those things. You've only got to tell me
what you want and I'll get it. You know that."

"Thank you, Harry, the sooner the better, then," she said, with a smile
that lit up her face like a sunbeam. She must see Martin, she must, she
must! The old longing had come back. It was like a pain. And being with
Howard Oldershaw in that cottage he was alone, and being alone he had
got back into his armor. SHE had a clean slate.

"Hurry, hurry," she said.

And when Harry hurried, as he did then, though with a curious
misgiving, there were immediate results. Before Joan had chosen a hat,
and for once it was difficult to make a choice, she heard his whistle
and from the window of her bedroom saw him seated, hatless and sunburnt
to the roots of his fair hair, in his low-lying two-seater.

It was, at his pace, a short run eastward over sandy roads, lined with
stunted oaks and thick undergrowth of poison ivy, scrub and ferns;
characteristic Long Island country with here a group of small untidy
shacks and there a farm and outhouses with stone walls and scrap heaps,
clothes drying on a line, chickens on the ceaseless hunt and a line of
geese prowling aimlessly, easily set acackle,--a primitive
end-of-everywhere sort of country just there, with sometimes a mile of
half burned trees, whether done for a purpose or by accident it would
be difficult to say. At any rate, no one seemed to care. It all had the
look of No Man's Land,--unreclaimed and unreclaimable.

For a little while nothing was said. Out of a clear sky the sun beat
down upon the car and the brown sand of the narrow road. Many times the
boy shot sidelong glances at the silent girl beside him, burning to ask
questions about this husband who was never mentioned and who appeared
to him to be something of a myth and a mystery. He didn't love Joan,
because it had been mutually agreed that he shouldn't. But he held her
in the sort of devoted affection which, when it exists between a boy
and a girl, is very good and rare and even beautiful and puts them
close to the angels.

Presently, catching one of these deeply concerned glances, she put her
little shoulder against his shoulder in a sisterly way. "Go on, then,
Harry," she said. "Ask me about it. I know you want to know."

And he did. Somehow he felt that he ought to know, that he had the
right. After all he had stopped himself from loving her at her urgent
request, and their friendship was the best thing that he had ever
known. And he began with, "When did you do it?"

"Away back in history," she said, "or so it seems. It's really only a
few months."

"A few months! But you can hardly have been with him any time."

"I have never really been with him," she said. She wanted him to know
everything. Now that the wound was open again and Martin in possession
of her once more, she felt that she must talk about it all to some one,
and who could be better than Harry, who was so like a brother?

The boy couldn't believe that she meant what she implied but would have
bitten off his tongue rather than put a direct question. "Is he such a
rotter?" he asked instead.

"He's not a rotter. He's just Martin--generous, sensitive, dead
straight and as reliable as a liner. You and he were made in twin
molds."

He flushed with pleasure--but it was like meeting a new Joan, a
serious, laughterless Joan, with an odd little quiver in her voice and
tears behind her eyes. He felt a new sense of responsibility by being
confided in. Older, too. It was queer--this sudden switch from
thoughtless gaiety to something which was like illness in a house and
which made Joan almost unrecognizable.

He began again. "But then--" and stopped.

"I'm the rotter," she said. "It's because of me that he's in Devon and
I'm at Easthampton, that he's sailing with your cousin, and I'm playing
the fool with Gilbert. I was a kid, Harry, and thought I might go on
being a kid for a bit, and everything has gone wrong and all the blame
is mine."

"You're only a kid now," said Harry, trying to find excuses for her. He
resented her taking all the blame.

She shook her head. "No, I'm not. I'm only pretending to be. I came to
Easthampton to pretend to be. All the time you've known me I've been
pretending,--pretending to pretend. I ceased to be a kid before the
spring was over,--when I came face to face with something I had driven
Martin to do and it broke me. I've been bluffing since then,--bluffing
myself that I didn't care and that it wasn't my fault. I might have
kept it up a bit longer,--even to the end of the summer, but Gilbert
said something this morning that took the lynch pin out of the sham and
brought it all about my ears."

And there was another short silence,--if it could be called silence
with the whirring of the engine and the boy driving with the throttle
out.

"You care for him, then?" he asked finally, looking at her.

She nodded and the tears came.

It was a great shock to him, somehow; he couldn't quite say why. This
girl had, as she had said, played the fool with Gilbert,--led the man
on and teased him into desperation. He loathed the supercilious fellow
and didn't give a hang how much he suffered. Anyway, he was married and
ought to have known better. But what hit was the fact that all the
while she had loved this Martin of hers,--she, by whom he dated things,
who had given him a new point of view about girls and who was his own
very best pal. That was not up to her form and somehow hurt.

And she saw that it did and was deeply sorry and ashamed. Was she to
have a bad effect on every man she met? "I won't make excuses, Harry,"
she said. "They're so hopeless. But I want you to know that I sprang
into marriage before I'd given a thought to what it all meant, and I
took it as a lark, a chapter in my adventure, something that I could
easily stop and look at after I'd seen and done everything and was a
little breathless. I thought that Martin had gone into it in the same
spirit and that for the joke of the thing we were just going to play at
keeping house, as we might have played at being Indians away in the
woods. It was the easiest way out of a hole I was in and made it
possible for me not to creep back to my grandmother and take a whipping
like a dog. Do you understand?"

The boy nodded. He had seen her do things and heard her say things on
the spur of the moment that were almost as unbelievable.

His sympathy and quick perception were like water to her. And it was
indescribably good to be believed without incredulous side-looks and
suspicions, half-smiles such as Hosack would have given,--and some of
the others who had lost their fineness in the world.

"And when Martin,--who was to me then just what you are, Harry
dear,--came up to my room in his own particular natural way, I thought
it was hard luck to be taken so literally and not be left alone to find
my wings for a little. I had just escaped from a long term of
subjection, and I wanted to have the joy of being free--quite
absolutely free. Still not thinking, I sent him away and like a brick
he went, and I didn't suppose it really mattered to him, any more than
it did to me, and honestly if it had mattered it wouldn't have made any
difference because I had promised myself to hit it up and work off the
marks of my shackles and I was full of the 'Who Cares?' feeling. And
then Gilbert Palgrave came along and helped to turn my head. Oh, what a
perfect little fool I was, what a precocious, shallow, selfish little
fool. And while I was having what I imagined was a good time and seeing
life, Martin was wandering about alone, suffering from two things that
aren't good for boys,--injustice and ingratitude. And then of course I
woke up and saw things straight and knew his value, and when I went to
get him and begin all over again he wasn't mine. I'd lost him."

The boy's eyebrows contracted sharply. "What a beastly shame," he said,
"I mean for both of you." He included Martin because he liked him now,
reading between the lines. He must be an awfully decent chap who had
had a pretty bad time.

"Yes," said Joan, "it is, for both of us." And she was grateful to him
for such complete understanding,--grateful for Martin, too. They might
have been brothers, these boys. "But for you, Easthampton would have
been impossible," she added. "I don't mean the house or the place or
the sea, which is glorious. I mean from what I have forced myself to
do. I came down labelled 'Who Cares?' caring all the time, and just to
share my hurt with some one I've made Gilbert care too. He's in an ugly
mood. I feel that he'll make me pay some day--in full. But I'm not
afraid to be alone now and drop my bluff because I believe Martin is
waiting for me and is back in armor again with your cousin. And I
believe the old look will come into his eyes when he sees me, and he'll
hear me ask him to forgive and we'll go back and play at keeping house
in earnest. Harry, I believe that. Little as I deserve it I'm going to
have another chance given to me,--every mile we go I feel that! After
all, I'm awfully young and I've kept my slate clean and I ought to be
given another chance, oughtn't I?"

Harry nodded and presently brought the car to a stop under the shadow
of the little clubhouse. Half a dozen other cars were parked there, and
a colored chauffeur was sitting on the steps of the back entrance, fast
asleep with his chin on his chest. The small but vigorous orchestra was
playing a fox-trot on the far veranda, and the sound of shuffling feet
resembled that of a man cleaning something with sandpaper. There was an
army of flies on the screen door of the kitchen and on several
galvanized iron bins stuffed with ginger-ale bottles and orange peel.

"We'll leave the car here," said Harry, "and go and have a look for the
cottage. It'll be easy to find. There aren't many of 'em, if I remember
right."

Joan took his arm. She had begun to tremble. "Let's go this way first,"
she said, going the right way by instinct.

"If they're in," said Harry, "and I should guess they are.--there's no
wind,--I'll draw old Howard off for an hour or so."

"Yes, please do, Harry."

And they went up the sandy incline, over the thick undergrowth, and the
sun blazed down on the shining water, and half a dozen canvas-covered
catboats near the little pier. Several people were sitting on it in
bathing clothes, and some one was teaching a little girl to swim. The
echo of her gurgling laughter and little cries came to them clearly.
The sound of music and shuffling feet grew fainter and fainter.
Gardiner's Island lay up against the horizon like a long inflated sand
bag. There were crickets everywhere. Three or four large butterflies
gamboled in the shimmering air.

Away out, heading homewards, Martin's yawl, with Irene lying full
stretch on the roof of the cabin, and Howard whistling for a wind,
crept through the water, inch by inch.

With the tiller under one arm and a pipe in his mouth, long empty, sat
Martin, thinking about Joan. Hearing voices, Tootles looked up from a
book that she was trying to read. She had been lying in the hammock on
the stoop of Martin's cottage for an hour, waiting for Martin. It had
taken her a long time to do her hair and immense pains to satisfy
herself that she looked nice,--for Martin. Her plan was cut and dried
in her mind, and she had been killing time with all the impatience and
throbbing of nerves of one who had brought herself up to a crisis which
meant either success and joy, or failure and a drab world. She couldn't
bear to go through another day without bringing about a decision. She
felt that she had to jog Fate's elbow, whatever was to be the insult.
She had discovered from a casual remark of Howard's that Martin, those
hot nights, had taken to sleeping on the boat. Her plan, deliberately
conceived as a follow-up to what had happened out under the stars the
night before, was to swim out to it and wait for him in the cabin. She
knew, no one so well, that it was in the nature of a forlorn hope, but
she was desperate. She loved him intransitively, to the utter
extinction of the little light of modesty which her hand-to-mouth
existence had left burning. She wanted love or death, and she was going
to put up this last fight for love with all the unscrupulousness of a
lovesick woman.

She saw two people coming towards the cottage, a tall, fair, sun-tanned
youth, hatless and frank-eyed like Martin, and--

She got up. A cold hand seemed suddenly to have been placed on her
heart. Joan,--it was Joan, the girl who, once before, at Martin's
house, had sent the earth spinning from under her feet and put Martin
suddenly behind barbed wire. What hideous trick was this of Fate's? Why
was this moment the one chosen for the appearance of this girl,--his
wife? This moment,--her moment?

Fight? With tooth and nail, with all the cunning and ingenuity of a
member of the female species to protect what she regarded as her own.
She and her plan against the world,--that was what it was. Thank God,
Martin was not in sight. She had a free hand.

She had not been seen. A thick honeysuckle growing up the pillar had
hidden her. She slipped into the house quickly, her heart beating in
her throat. "I'll try this," said Harry. "Wait here." He left Joan
within a few feet of the stoop, went up the two steps, and not finding
a bell, knocked on the screen door. In less than an instant he saw the
girl with bobbed hair come forward. "I'm sorry to trouble you," he
said, with a little bow, "I thought Mr. Gray might live here," and
turned to go. Obviously it was the wrong house.

Very clearly and distinctly Tootles spoke. "Mr. Gray does live here.
I'm Mrs. Gray. Will you leave a message?"

Harry wheeled round. He felt that the bullet which had gone through his
back had lodged in Joan's heart. He opened his mouth to speak but no
word came. And Tootles spoke again, even more clearly and distinctly.
She intended that her voice should travel.

"My husband won't be back for several days," she said, "but I shall be
very glad to tell him that you called if you will leave your name."

"It--it doesn't matter," said Harry, stammering. After an irresolute,
unhappy pause, he turned to go--

He went straight to Joan. She was standing with her eyes shut and both
hands on her heart, as white as a white rose. She looked like a young
slim tree that had been struck by lightning.

"Joan," he said, "Joan," and touched her arm. There was no answer.

"Joan," he said, "Joany."

And with a little sob she tottered forward.

He caught her, blazing with anger that she had been so hurt,
inarticulate with indignation and a huge sympathy, and with the one
strong desire to get her away from that place, picked her up in his
arms,--a dead delicious weight,--and carried her down the incline of
sand and undergrowth to his car, put her in ever so gently, got in
himself, backed the machine out, turned it and drove away.

And Tootles, breathing hard and shaking, stood on the edge of the
stoop, and with tears streaming down her face, watched the car become a
speck and disappear.



XI


The sun had gone down, and the last of its lingering glory had died
before the yawl managed to cajole her way back to her mooring.

Dinner was ready by the time the hungry threesome, laughing and
talking, arrived at the cottage. Howard, spoiling for a cocktail, made
for the small square dining-room, and Irene, waving her hand to
Tootles, cried out, "Cheero, dearie, you missed a speedy trip, I don't
think," and took her into the house to tidy up in the one bathroom.
Martin drew up short on the edge of the stoop, listened and looked
about, holding his breath. It was most odd, but--there was something in
the still air that had the sense of Joan in it.

After a moment, during which his very soul asked for a sight of her, he
stumped into the living room and rang the bell impatiently.

The imperturbable Judson appeared at once, his eyebrows slightly raised.

"Has any one been here while I've been away?" asked Martin.

"No, sir. No one except Miss Capper, who's been reading on the stoop."

"You're quite sure?"

"You never can be quite sure about anything in this life, sir, but I
saw no one."

"Oh," said Martin. "All right, then." But when he was alone, he stood
again, listening and looking. There was nothing of Joan in the room. A
mixture of honeysuckle and tobacco and the aroma of cooking that had
slipped through the swing door into the the kitchen. That was all. And
Martin sighed deeply and said to himself "Not yet. I must go on
waiting," and went upstairs to his bedroom. He could hear Irene's voice
above the rush of water in the bathroom and Howard's, outside, raised
in song. In the trees outside his window a bird was piping to its mate,
and in the damp places here and there the frogs had already begun to
try their voices for their community chorus. It was a peaceful earth,
thereabouts falsely peaceful. An acute ear could easily have detected
an angry roar of guns that came ever nearer and nearer, and caught the
whisper of a Voice calling and calling.

When Martin returned to the wood-lined sitting room with its large
brick chimney, its undergraduate chairs and plain oak furniture, its
round thick blue and white mats and disorderly bookcase, Tootles was
there, a Tootles with a high chin, a half defiant smile, and
honeysuckle at her belt.

"Tootles."

"Yes?"

"Have you been alone all the afternoon?"

"Yes." (Fight? Tooth and nail.) "Except for the flies.... Why, boy?"

"Oh, nothing. I thought--I mean, I wondered--but it doesn't matter. By
gum, you have made the room look smart, haven't you? Good old Tootles.
Even a man's room can be made to look like something when a girl takes
an interest in it."

If she had been a dog she would have wagged her tail and crinkled up
her nose and jumped up to put her nozzle against his hand. As it was
she flushed with pleasure and gave a little laugh. She was a
thousandfold repaid for all her pains. But, during the first half of a
meal made riotous by the invincible Howard and the animated Irene,
Tootles sat very quiet and thoughtful and even a little awed. How could
Martin have sensed the fact that she had been there?... Could
she,--could she possibly, even with the ever-ready help of
nature,--hope to win against such a handicap? She would see. She would
see. It was her last card. But during all the rest of the meal she saw
the picture of a muscular sun-tanned youth carrying that pretty
unconscious thing down the incline to a car, and, all against her will,
she was sorry. That girl, pampered as she was, outside the big ring of
hard daily effort and sordid struggle as she always had had the luck to
be, loved, too. Gee, it was a queer world.

The stoop called them when they left the boxlike dining room. It was
still hot and airless. But the mosquitoes were out with voracious
appetite and discretion held them to the living room.

Irene flung herself on the bumpy sofa with a cigarette between her lips
and a box near to her elbow. "This's the life," she said. "I shall
never be able to go back to lil' old Broadway and grease paint and a
dog kennel in Chorusland."

"Sufficient for the day," said Howard, loosening his belt. "If a
miracle man blew in here right now with a million dollars in each hand
and said: 'Howard Guthrie Oldershaw,'--he'd be sure to know about the
Guthrie,--'this is all yours if you'll come to the city,' I'd..."

Irene leaned forward with her mouth open and her round eyes as big as
headlights. "Well?"

"Take it and come right back."

"You disappoint me, Funny-face. Go to the piano and hit the notes.
That's all you're fit for."

It was a baby grand, much out of tune, but Howard, bulging over the
stool, made it sound like an orchestra,--a cabaret orchestra, and ran
from Grieg to Jerome Kern and back to Gounod, syncopating everything
with the gusto and the sense of time that is almost peculiar to a
colored professional. Then he suddenly burst into song and sang about a
baby in the soft round high baritone of all men who run to fat and with
the same quite charming sympathy. A useful, excellent fellow, amazingly
unself-conscious and gifted.

Martin was infinitely content to listen and lie back in a deep straw
chair with a pipe between his teeth, the memories of good evenings at
Yale curling up in his smoke. And Tootles, thinking and thinking, sat,
Puck-like, at his feet, with her warm shoulders against his knees. Not
in her memory could she delve for pleasant things, not yet. Eh, but
some day she might be among the lucky ones, if--if her plan went
through--

Howard lit another cigarette at the end of the song, but before he
could get his hands on the notes again Irene bounded to her feet and
went over to the piano. "Say, can you play 'Love's Epitome'?" she
pronounced it "Eppy-tomy."

"Can a duck swim?" asked Howard, resisting a temptation to emit a howl
of mirth. She was too good a sort to chaff about her frequent
maltreatment of the language.

"Go ahead, then, and I'll give you all a treat." He played the
sentimental prelude of this characteristic product of the vaudeville
stage, every note of which was plagiarized from a thousand plagiarisms
and which imagined that eternity rhymed with serenity and mother with
weather. With gestures that could belong to no other school than that
of the twice-dailies and the shrill nasal voice that inevitably goes
with them, Irene, with the utmost solemnity, went solidly through the
whole appalling thing, making the frequent yous "yee-ooo" in the true
"vawdville" manner.

To Tootles it was very moving, and she was proud of her friend. Martin
almost died of it, and Howard was weak from suppressed laughter. It was
the first time that Irene had shown the boys what she could do, and she
was delighted at their enthusiastic applause. She would have rendered
another of the same sort gladly enough,--she knew dozens of them, if
Tootles had not given her a quick look and risen to her feet.

"Us for the downey," she said, and put the palm of her hand on Martin's
lips. He kissed it.

"Not yet," said Howard. "It's early."

"Late enough for those who get up at dawn, old dear. Come on, Irene."

And Irene, remembering what her friend had said that morning, played
the game loyally, although most reluctant to leave that pleasant
atmosphere, and said "Good night." And she was in such good voice and
Howard played her accompaniment like a streak. Well, well.

Tootles took her hand away gently, gave Martin a little disturbing
smile, put her arm round the robust shoulders of her chum, opened the
screen door and was gone.

Howard immediately left the piano. He had only played to keep things
merry and bright. "Me for a drink," he said. "And I think I've earned
it."

Martin's teeth gleamed as he gave one of his silent laughs.

"How well you know me, old son," he said.

"Of course. But--why?"

"I like Tootles awfully. She's one in a million. But somehow it's--oh,
I dunno,--mighty difficult to talk to her."

"Poor little devil," said Howard involuntarily.

"But she's having a real good time--isn't she?"

"Is she?" He helped himself to a mild highball in reluctant deference
to his weight.

"I've never seen her look so well," said Martin.

Wondering whether to tell the truth about her state of mind, which his
quick sophisticated eyes had very quickly mastered, Howard drank, and
decided that he wouldn't. It would only make things uncomfortable for
Martin and be of no service to Tootles. If she loved him, poor little
soul, and he was not made of the stuff to take advantage of it, well,
there it was. He, himself, was different, but then he had no Joan as a
silent third. No, he would let things alone. Poor old Tootles.

"Great weather," he said, wrenching the conversation into a harmless
generality. "Are you sleeping on the yawl to-night?"

"Yes," replied Martin. "It's wonderful on the water. So still. I can
hear the stars whisper."

"Most of the stars I know get precious noisy at night," said Howard,
characteristically unable to let such a chance go by. Then he grew
suddenly grave and sat down. "Martin, I'm getting frightfully fed up
with messing about in town. I'm going to turn a mental and physical
somersault and get a bit of self-respect."

"Oh? How's that, old man."

"It's this damn war, I think. I've been reading a book in bed by a man
called Philip Gibbs. Martin, I'm going to Plattsburg this August to see
if they can make something of me."

Martin got up. "I'm with you," he said. "If ever we get into this
business I'm going to be among the first bunch to go. So we may as well
know something. Well, how about turning in now? There'll be a wind
to-morrow. Hear the trees?" He filled his pocket with cigarettes and
slung a white sweater over his shoulder.

"All right," said Howard. "I shall read down here a bit. I won't forget
to turn out and lock up." He had forgotten one night and Judson had
reported him.

"Good night, old son."

"Good night, old man."



XII


He was not given much to reading, but when Martin left the cottage and
stood out in the liquid silver of the moon under the vast dome which
dazzled with stars, and he caught the flash of fireflies among the
undergrowth that were like the lanterns of the fairies a line came into
his mind that he liked and repeated several times, rather whimsically
pleased with himself for having found it at exactly the right moment.
It was "the witching hour of night."

He remained on top of the incline for a little while, moved to that
spirit of the realization of God which touches the souls of sensitive
men when they are awed by the wonder and the beauty of the earth. He
stood quite still, disembodied for the moment, uplifted, stirred, with
all the scents and all the whisperings about him, humble, childlike,
able, in that brief flight of ecstasy, to understand the language of
another world.

And then the stillness was suddenly cut by a scream of vacuous
laughter, probably that of an exuberant Irish maid-servant, to whom
silences are made to break, carrying on, most likely, a rough
flirtation with a chauffeur.

It brought Martin back to earth like the stick of a rocket. But he
didn't go down immediately to the water. He sat there and nursed his
knees and began to think. Whether it was Howard's unexpected talk of
Plattsburg and of being made something of or not he didn't know. What
he did know was that he was suddenly filled with a sort of fright....
"Good God," he said to himself, "time's rushing away, and I'm nearly
twenty-six. I'm as old as some men who have done things and made things
and are planted on their feet. What have I done? What am I fit to do?
Nearly twenty-six and I'm still playing games like a schoolboy!...
What's my father saying? 'We count it death to falter not to die' ...
I've been faltering--and before I know anything about it I shall be
thirty--half-time.... This can't go on. This waiting for Joan is
faltering. If she's not coming to me I must go to her. If it's not
coming right it must end and I must get mended and begin again. I can't
stand in father's shoes with all he worked to make in my hands like
ripe plums. It isn't fair, or straight. I must push up a rung and carry
things on for him. Could I look him in the face having slacked? My God,
I wish I'd watched the time rush by! I'm nearly twenty-six ...
Joan--to-morrow. That's the thing to do." He got up and strode quickly
down to the water. "If she's going to be my wife, that's a good step
on. And she can help me like no one but my father. And then I'll make
something of myself. If not ... if not,--no faltering, Gray,--then I'll
do it alone for both their sakes."

He chucked his sweater into the dingey, shoved it off the beach and
sprang in and rowed strongly towards the yawl. Somehow he felt broader
of back and harder of muscle for this summing up of things, this audit
of his account. He was nearly twenty-six and nothing was done. That was
the report he had to make to his conscience, that was what he had to
say to the man who smiled down upon him from his place in the New York
house.... Good Lord, it was about time that he pulled himself together.

The yawl was lying alone, aloof from the other small craft anchored
near the pier. Her mast seemed taller and her lines more graceful
silhouetted against the sky, silvered by the moon. It was indeed the
witching hour of night.

He got aboard and tied up the dingey, cast a look round to see that
everything was shipshape, took in a deep breath and went into the
cabin. He was not tired and never felt less like sleep. His brain was
clear as though a fog had risen from it, and energy beat in him like a
running engine. He would light the lamp, get into his pajamas and think
about to-morrow and Joan. He was mighty glad to have come to a decision.

Stooping, he lit the lamp, turned and gave a gasp of surprise.

There, curled up like a water sprite on the unmade bunk lay Tootles in
bathing clothes, holding a rubber cap in her hand, her head, with its
golden bobbed hair, dented into a cushion.

For a moment she pretended to be asleep, but anxiety to see how Martin
was looking was too much for her. Also her clothes were wet and not
very comfortable. She opened her eyes and sat up.

"My dear Tootles!" said Martin, "what's the idea? You said you were
going home to bed." She would rather that he had been angry than
amused. "It was the night," she said, "and something in the air. I just
had to bathe and swam out here. I didn't think you'd be coming yet. I
suppose you think I'm bug-house."

"No, I don't. If I hadn't taken my bathing suit to the cottage to be
mended I'd have a dip myself. Cigarette?" He held one out.

But she shook her head. How frightfully natural and brotherly this boy
was, she thought. Was her last desperate card to be as useless as all
the rest of the pack? How could it be! They might as well be on a
desert island out there on the water and she the only woman on it.

"Feel a bit chilly? You'd better put on this sweater."

She took it from him but laid it aside. "No. The air's too warm," she
said. "Oh, ho, I'm so sleepy," and she stretched herself out again with
her hands under her head.

"I'm not," said Martin. "I'm tremendously awake. Let's talk if you're
not in a hurry to get back."

"I'm very happy here," she answered. "But must we have that lamp? It
glares and makes the cabin hot."

"The moon's better than all the lamps," said Martin, and put it out. He
sat on his bunk and the gleam of his cigarette came and went. It was
like a big firefly in the half dark cabin. "To-morrow," he said to
himself, with a tingle running through his blood, "to-morrow--and Joan."

Tootles waited for him to speak. She might as well have been miles away
for all that she affected him. He seemed to have forgotten that she was
alive.

He had. And there was a long silence.

"To-morrow,--and Joan. That's it. I'll go over to Easthampton and take
her away from that house and talk to her. This time I'll break
everything down and tell her what she means to me. I've never told her
that."

"He doesn't care," thought Tootles. "I'm no more than an old shoe to
him."

"If I'd told her it might have made a difference. Even if she had
laughed at me she would have had something to catch hold of if she
wanted it. By Jove, I wish I'd had the pluck to tell her."

"He even looks at me and doesn't see me," she went on thinking, her
hopes withering like cut flowers, her eagerness petering out and a
great humiliation creeping over her. "What's the matter with me? Some
people think I'm pretty. Irene does ... and last night, when I kissed
him there was an answer.... Has that girl come between us again?"

And so they went on, these two, divided by a thousand miles, each
absorbed in individual thought, and there was a long queer silence.

But she was there to fight, and having learned one side of men during
her sordid pilgrimage and having an ally in Nature, she got up and sat
down on the bunk at his side, snuggling close.

"You are cold, Tootles," he said, and put his arm round her.

And hope revived, like a dying fire licked by a sudden breeze, and she
put her bobbed head on his broad shoulder.

But he was away again, miles and miles away, thinking back, unfolding
all the moments of his first companionship with Joan and looking at
them wistfully to try and find some tenderness; thinking forward, with
the picture of Joan's face before him and wondering what would come
into her eyes when he laid his heart bare for her gaze.

Waiting and waiting, on the steady rise and fall of his chest,--poor
little starved Tootles, poor little devil,--tears began to gather,
tears as hot as blood, and at last they broke and burst in an awful
torrent, and she flung herself face down upon the other bunk, crying
incoherently to God to let her die.

And once more the boy's spirit, wandering high in pure air, fell like
the stick of a rocket, and he sprang up and bent over the pitiful
little form,--not understanding because Joan held his heart and kept it
clean.

"Tootles," he cried out. "Dear old Tootles. What is it? What's
happened?"

But there was only brotherliness in his kind touch, only the same
solicitude that he had shown her all along. Nothing else. Not a thing.
And she knew it, at last, definitely. This boy was too different, too
much the other girl's--curse her for having all the luck.

For an instant, for one final desperate instant, she was urged to try
again, to fling aside control and restraint and with her trembling body
pressed close and her eager arms clasped about his neck, pour out her
love and make a passionate stammering plea for something,--just
something to put into her memory, her empty loveless memory,--but
suddenly, like the gleam of a lamp in a tunnel, her pride lit up, the
little streak of pride which had taken her unprofaned through all her
sordid life, and she sat up, choked back her sobs, and dried her face
with the skirt of her bathing dress.

"Don't mind me," she said. "It's the night or something. It got on my
nerves, I suppose, like--like the throb of an organ. I dunno. I'm all
right now, anyway." And she stood in front of him bravely, with her
chin up, but her heart breaking, and her attempt to make a laugh must
surely have been entered in the book of human courage.

But before Martin could say anything, she slipped into the cockpit,
balanced herself on the ledge of the cabin house, said "Good night, old
dear," and waved her hand, dived into the silver water and swam
strongly towards the beach.



XIII


It began to dawn upon Hosack that Joan had slipped away with Harry
Oldershaw from the fact that Palgrave first became restless and
irritable, then had a short sharp spat with Barclay about the length of
the line on the Western front that was held by the British and finally
got up and went into the house and almost immediately prowled out alone
for a sulky walk along the beach.

Chortling as he watched him, although annoyed that he, himself, was not
going to have an opportunity of saying soft things to Joan for some
hours, Hosack made himself comfortable, lit another cigar and pondered
sleepily about what he called "the infatuation of Gilbert the precious."

"I can sympathize with the feller's being gone on the girl," he said to
himself, undisturbed by Regina's frequent bursts of loud laughter at
young Barclay's quiet but persistent banter, "but dammit, why make a
conspicuous ass of himself? Why make the whole blessed house party,
including his hostess, pay for his being turned down in favor of young
Harry? Bad form, I call it. Any one would imagine that he was engaged
to be married to Joan and therefore had some right to a monopoly by the
way he goes on, snarling at everybody and showing the whites of his
eyes like a jealous collie. Everybody's talking, of course, and making
jokes about him, especially as it's perfectly obvious that the harder
he hunts her the more she dodges him.... Curious chap, Gilbert. He goes
through life like the ewe lamb of an over-indulgent mother and when he
takes a fancy to a thing he can't conceive why everybody doesn't rush
to give it him, whatever the cost or sacrifice.... If young Harry
hadn't been here to keep her amused and on the move I wonder if Joan
would have been a bit kinder to our friend G. P.? She's been in a weird
mood, as perverse as April. I don't mind her treating me as if I was a
doddering old gentleman so long as she keeps Gilbert off.... A
charming, pretty, heart-turning thing. I'd give something to know the
real reason why that husband of hers lets her run loose this way. And
where's her mother, and why don't those old people step in?--such a
child as she is. Well, it's a pretty striking commentary on the way our
young people are brought up, there's no doubt about it. If she was my
daughter, now--but I suppose she'd tell me to go and hang myself if I
tried to butt in. Divorce and a general mess-up-the usual end, I take
it."

He shook his head, and his ash dropped all over his clothes and he
began to nod. He would have given a great deal to put his feet on a
chair and a handkerchief over his face and sink into a blissful nap.
The young people had gone off somewhere, and there were only his wife,
the Major, and the bride on the veranda. And, after all, why shouldn't
he? Cornucopia could always be relied upon to play up--her
conversational well was inexhaustible, and as for Mrs.
Thatcher--nothing natural ever stopped the incessant wagging of her
tongue.

But it was not to be. He heard a new voice, the squeak of a cane chair
suddenly pushed back, looked up to see the Major in an attitude of
false delight and out came Mrs. Cooper Jekyll followed,--as he inwardly
exclaimed,--"by the gentle Alice Palgrave, by all that's complicating!
Well, I'm jiggered."

"Well," cried Cornucopia, extending her ample hand. "This IS a
surprise."

"Yes, I intended it to be," said Mrs. Jekyll, more than ever
Southampton in her plague veil and single eyeglass, "just to break the
aloofness of your beach life."

"And dear Alice, too,--neater than ever. How very nice to see you, my
dear, and how's your poor mother?"

Her little hand disappearing between Mrs. Hosack's two podgy members
like the contents of a club sandwich, Alice allowed herself to be
kissed on both cheeks, murmured an appropriate response, greeted the
Thatchers, waved to Hosack who came forward as quickly as he could with
pins and needles in one leg and threw a searching glance about for
Gilbert.

Every one caught it and gathered instinctively that Mrs. Jekyll had
been making mischief. She had certainly succeeded in her desire to
break the aloofness. The presence of Alice at that moment, with Gilbert
behaving like a madman, was calculated to set every imagination jumping.

"Um, this won't make G. P. any better tempered," thought Hosack, not
without a certain sense of glee.

Mrs. Jekyll disclosed her nose and mouth, which, it seemed, were both
there and in perfect condition. "I was in town yesterday interviewing
butlers,--that Swiss I told you about refused to be glared at by Edmond
and left us on the verge of a dinner party, summing us all up in a
burst of pure German,--and there was Alice having a lonely lunch at the
Ritz, just back from her mother's convalescent chair. I persuaded her
to come to me for a few days and what more natural than that she should
want to see what this wonderful air has done for Gilbert--who has
evidently become one of the permanent decorative objects of your
beautiful house."

"Cat," thought Mrs. Thatcher.

"And also for the pleasure of seeing so many old friends," said Alice.
"What a gorgeous stretch of sea!" She bent forward and whispered
congratulations to the Major's bride. Her quiet courage in the face of
what she knew perfectly well was a universal knowledge of the true
state of Gilbert's infatuation was good to watch. With his one brief
cold letter in her pocket and Mrs. Jekyll's innuendoes,--"all in the
friendliest spirit,"--raking her heart, her self-control deserved all
the admiration that it won from the members of the house party. To
think that Joan, her friend and schoolfellow in whose loyalty she had
had implicit faith should be the one to take Gilbert away from her.

With shrewd eyes, long accustomed to look below the surface of the thin
veneer of civilization that lay upon his not very numerous set, Hosack
observed and listened for the next half an hour, expecting at any
moment to see Joan burst upon the group or Gilbert make his appearance,
sour, immaculate and with raised eyebrows. He studied Mrs. Jekyll, with
her brilliantly made-up face, her apparent lack of guile, and her
ever-watchful eye. He paid tribute to his copious wife for her
determined babble of generalities, well-knowing that she was bursting
with suppressed excitement under the knowledge that Alice had come to
try and patch up a lost cause. He chuckled at the feline manners of the
little lady whom they had all known so long as Mrs. Edgar Lee Reeves,
her purring voice, her frequent over-emphasis of exuberant adjectives,
her accidental choice of the sort of verb that had the effect of
smashed crockery, her receptiveness to the underlying drama of the
situation and the cunning with which she managed to hide her anxiety to
be "on" in the scene which must inevitably come. He examined his old
friend, Thatcher, under whose perfect drawing-room manners, felicitous
quips and ready laughter there was an almost feminine curiosity as to
scandal and the inadvertent display of the family wash. And, having a
certain amount of humor, he even turned an introspective eye inwards
and owned up to more than a little excitement as to what was going to
happen when Gilbert realized that Mrs. Jekyll had brought his wife over
to rescue him. Conceive Gilbert being rescued! "All of us as near the
primeval as most of us are to lunacy," he told himself. "Education,
wealth, leisure and all the shibboleths of caste and culture,--how
easily they crack and gape before a touch of nature. Brooks Brothers
and Lucile do their derndest to disguise us, but we're still Adam and
Eve in a Turkish bath.... Somehow I feel,--I can't quite say why,--that
this comedy of youth in which the elements of tragedy have been dragged
in by Gilbert, is coming to a head, and unless things run off at a
sudden tangent I don't see how the curtain can fall on a happy ending
for Joan and the husband who never shows himself and the gentle Alice.
Spring has its storms and youth its penalties. I'm beginning to believe
that safety is only to be found in the dull harbor of middle-age, curse
it, and only then with a good stout anchor."

It was at the exact moment that Joan and Harry went together up the
incline towards Martin's cottage at Devon, eyed by Tootles through the
screen door, that Gilbert came back to the veranda and drew up short at
the sight of his wife.



XIV


It was when Gilbert, after a most affectionate greeting and ten minutes
of easy small talk, led her away from the disappointed group, that
Alice made her first mistake.

"You don't look at all well, Gilbert," she said anxiously.

The very fact that he knew himself to be not at all well made him hate
to be told so. An irritable line ran across his forehead. "Oh, yes, I'm
well," he said, "never better. Come along to the summer house and let's
put a dune between us and those vultures."

He led her down a flight of stone steps and over a stretch of
undulating dry sand to the place where Hosack invariably read the
morning paper and to which his servants led their village beaux when
the moon was up, there to give far too faithful imitations of the
hyena. And there he sat her down and stood in front of her,
enigmatically, wondering how much she knew. "If it comes to that," he
said, "you look far from well yourself, Alice."

And she turned her pretty, prim face up to him with a sudden trembling
of the lips. "What do you expect," she asked, quite simply, "when I've
only had one short letter from you all the time I've been away."

"I never write letters," he said. "You know that. How's your mother?"

"But I wrote every day, and if you read them you'd know."

He shifted one shoulder. These gentle creatures could be horribly
disconcerting and direct. As a matter of fact he had failed to open
more than two of the collection. They were too full of the vibration of
a love that had never stirred him. "Yes, I'm glad she's better. I'm
afraid you've been rather bored. Illness is always boring."

"I can only have one mother," said Alice.

Palgrave felt the need of a cigarette. Alice, admirable as she was, had
a fatal habit, he thought, of uttering bromides.

And she instantly regretted the remark. She knew that way of his of
snapping his cigarette case. Was that heavily be-flowered church a
dream and that great house in New York only part of a mirage? He seemed
to be the husband of some other girl, barely able to tolerate this
interruption. She had come determined to get the truth, however
terrible it might be. But it was very difficult, and he was obviously
not going to help her, and now that she saw him again, curiously worn
and nervous and petulant, she dreaded to ask for facts under which her
love was to be laid in waste.

"No wonder you like this place," she said, beating about the bush.

"I don't. I loathe it. The everlasting drumming of the sea puts me on
edge. It's as bad as living within sound of the elevated railway. And
at night the frogs on the land side of the house add to the racket and
make a row like a factory in full blast. I'd rather be condemned to a
hospital for incurables than live on a dune." He said all this with the
sort of hysteria that she had never noticed in him before. He was
indeed far from well. Hardly, in fact, recognizable. The suave,
imperturbable Gilbert, with the quiet air of patronage and the cool
irony of the polished man of the world,--what had become of him? Was it
possible that Joan had resisted him? She couldn't believe such a thing.

"Then why have you stayed so long?" she asked, with this new point of
view stirring hope.

"There was nowhere else to go to," he answered, refusing to meet her
eyes.

This was too absurd to let pass. "But nothing has happened to the house
at Newport, and the yacht's been lying in the East River since the
first of June and you said in your only letter that the two Japanese
servants have been at the cottage near Devon for weeks!"

"I'm sick of Newport with all its tuft-hunting women, and the yacht
doesn't call me. As for the cottage, I'm going there to-morrow,
possibly to-night."

Alice got up quickly and stood in front of him. There was a spot of
color on both her cheeks, and her hands were clasped together.
"Gilbert, let's both go there. Let's get away from all these people for
a time. I won't ask you any questions or try and pry into what's
happened to you. I'll be very quiet and help you to find yourself
again."

She had made another mistake. His sensitiveness gave him as many quills
as a porcupine. "Find myself," he said, quoting her unfortunate words
with sarcasm. "What on earth do you mean by that, my good child?"

She forced back her rising tears. Had she utterly lost her rights as a
wife? He was speaking to her in the tone that a man uses to an
interfering sister. "What's to become of me?" she asked.

"Newport, of course. Why not? Fill the house up. I give you a free
hand."

"And will you join me there, Gilbert?"

"No. I'm not in the mood."

He turned on his heel and went to the other side of the summer house,
and flicked his half-smoked cigarette into the scrub below. A frog took
a leap. When he spoke again it was with his back to her. "Don't you
think you'd better rejoin Mrs. Jekyll? She may be impatient to get off."

But Alice took her courage in both hands. If this was to be the end she
must know it. Uncertainty was not to be endured any longer. All her
sleepless nights and fluctuations of hope and despair had marked her,
perhaps for life. Hers was not the easily blown away infatuation of a
debutante, the mere summer love of a young girl. It was the steady and
devoted love of a wife, ready to make sacrifices, to forgive
inconstancies, to make allowances for temporary aberrations and, when
necessary, to nurse back to sanity, without one word or look of
reproach, the husband who had slipped into delinquency. Not only her
future and his were at stake, but there were the children for whom she
prayed. They must be considered.

And so, holding back her emotion, she followed him across the pompous
summer house in which, with a shudder, she recognized a horrible
resemblance to a mausoleum, and laid her little hand upon his arm.

"Gilbert," she said, "tell me the truth. Be frank with me. Let me help
you, dear."

Poor little wife. For the third time she had said the wrong thing.
"Help"--the word angered him. Did she imagine that he was a callow
youth crossed in love?

He drew his arm away sharply. There was something too domestic in all
this to be borne with patience. Humiliating, also, he had to confess.

"When did I ever give you the right to delve into my private affairs?"
he asked, with amazing cruelty. "We're married,--isn't that enough?
I've given you everything I have except my independence. You can't ask
for more than that,--from me."

He added "from me" because the expression of pain on her pretty face
made him out to be a brute, and he was not that. He tried to hedge by
the use of those two small words and put it to her, without
explanation, that he was different from most men,--more careless and
callous to the old-fashioned vows of marriage, if she liked, but
different. That might be due to character or upbringing or the times to
which he belonged. He wasn't going to argue about it. The fact
remained. "I'll take you back," he added.

But she blocked the way. "I only want your love," she said. "If you've
taken that away from me, nothing else counts."

He gave a sort of groan. Her persistence was appalling, her courage an
indescribable reproach. For a moment he remained silent, with a drawn
face and twitching fingers, strangely white and wasted, like a man who
had been through an illness,--a caricature of the once easy-going
Gilbert Palgrave, the captain of his fate and the master of his soul.

"All right then," he said, "if you must know, you shall, but do me the
credit to remember that I did my best to leave things vague and
blurred." He took her by the elbow and put her into a chair. With a
touch of his old thoughtfulness and rather studied politeness he chose
one that was untouched by the sun that came low over the dune. Then he
sat down and bent forward and looked her full in the eyes.

"This is going to hurt you," he said, "but you've asked for the truth,
and as everything seems to be coming to a head, you'd better have it,
naked and undisguised. In any case, you're one of the women who always
gets hurt and always thrives on it. You're too earnest and sincere to
be able to apply eye-wash to the damn thing we call life, aren't you?"

"Yes, Gilbert," she answered, with the look of one who had been placed
in front of a firing squad, without a bandage over her eyes.

There was a brief pause, filled by what he had called the everlasting
drumming of the sea.

"One night, in Paris, when I was towering on the false confidence of
twenty-one,"--curious how, even at that moment, he spoke with a certain
self-consciousness,--"I came out of the Moulin Rouge alone and walked
back to the Maurice. It was the first time I'd ever been on the other
side, and I was doing it all in the usual way of the precocious
undergraduate. But the 'gay Paree' stuff that was specially
manufactured to catch the superfluous francs of the pornographic
tourist and isn't really in the least French, bored me, almost at once.
And that night, going slowly to the hotel, sickened by painted women,
chypre and raw champagne I turned a mental somersault and built up a
picture of what I hoped I should find in life. It contained a woman, of
course--a girl, very young, the very spirit of spring, whose laugh
would turn my heart and who, like an elusive wood nymph, would lead me
panting and hungry through a maze of trees. I called it the Great
Emotion and from that night on I tried to find the original of that
boyish picture, looking everywhere with no success. At twenty-nine,
coming out of what seemed to be the glamor of the impossible, I married
you to oblige my mother,--you asked for this,--and imagined that I had
settled into a conventional rut. Do you want me to go on with it?"

"Please, Gilbert," said Alice.

He shrugged his shoulders as much as to say, "Well, if you enjoy the
Christian martyr business it's entirely your lookout."

But he dropped his characteristic habit of phrase making and became
more jerky and real. "I respected you, Alice," he went on. "I didn't
love you but I hoped I might, and I played the game. I liked to see you
in my house. You fitted in and made it more of a home than that barrack
had ever been. I began to collect prints and first editions, adjust
myself to respectability and even to look forward with pride to a young
Gilbert."

Alice gave a little cry and put her hand up to her breast. But he was
too much obsessed by his own pain to notice hers.

"And then,--it's always the way,--I saw the girl. Yes, by God, I saw
the girl, and the Great Emotion blew me out of domestic content and the
pleasant sense of responsibility and turned me into the panting hungry
youth that I had always wanted to be." He stopped and got up and walked
up and down that mausoleum, with his eyes burning and the color back in
his face.

"And the girl is Joan?" asked Alice in a voice that had an oddly sharp
note for once.

"Yes," he said. "Joan.... She's done it," he added, no longer choosing
his words. "She's got me. She's in my blood. I'm insane about her. I
follow her like a dog, leaping up at a kind word, slinking away with my
tail between my legs when she orders me to heel. My God, it's hell! I'm
as near madness as a poor devil of a dope fiend out of reach of his
joy. I wish I'd never seen her. She's made me loathe myself. She's put
me through every stage of humiliation. I'd rather be dead than endure
this craving that's worse than a disease. You were right when you said
that I'm ill. I am ill. I'm horribly ill. I'm ... I'm..."

He stammered and his voice broke, and he covered his face with his
hands.

And instantly, with the maternal spirit that goes with all true womanly
love ablaze in her heart, Alice went to him and put her arms about his
neck and drew his head down on her shoulder.

And he left it there, with tears.

A little later they sat down again side by side, holding hands.

As Hosack had told himself, and Gilbert had just said, things seemed to
be coming to a head. At that moment Tootles was strung up to play her
last card, Joan was being driven back by Harry from the cottage of
"Mrs. Gray" and Martin, becalmed on the water, with an empty pipe
between his teeth, was thinking about Joan.

Palgrave was comforted. The making of his confession was like having an
abscess lanced. In his weakness, in his complete abandonment of
affectation, he had never been so much of a man.

There was not to Alice, who had vision and sympathy, anything either
strange or perverse in the fact that Gilbert had told his story and was
not ashamed. Love had been and would remain the one big thing in her
own life, the only thing that mattered, and so she could understand,
even as she suffered, what this Great Emotion meant to Gilbert. She
adopted his words in thinking it all over. They appealed to her as
being exactly right.

She too was comforted, because she saw a chance that Gilbert, with the
aid of the utmost tact and the most tender affection, might be drawn
back to her and mended. She almost used Hosack's caustic expression
"rescued." The word came into her mind but was instantly discarded
because it was obvious that Joan, however impishly she had played with
Gilbert, was unaffected. Angry as it made her to know that any girl
could see in Gilbert merely a man with whom to fool she was supremely
thankful that the complication was not as tragic as it might have been.
So long as Joan held out, the ruin of her marriage was incomplete.
Hope, therefore, gleamed like a distant light. Gilbert had gone back to
youth. It seemed to her that she had better treat him as though he were
very young and hurt.

"Dearest," she said, "I'm going to take you away."

"Are you, Alice?"

"Yes. We will go on the yacht, and you shall read and sleep and get
your strength back."

He gave a queer laugh. "You talk like a mother," he said, with a catch
in his voice.

She went forward and kissed him passionately.

"I love you like a mother as well as a wife, my man," she whispered.
"Never forget that."

"You're,--you're a good woman, Alice; I'm not worthy of you, my dear."

It pained her exquisitely to see him so humble.... Wait until she met
Joan. She should be made to pay the price for this! "Who cares?" had
been her cry. How many others had she made to care?

"I'll go back to Mrs. Jekyll now," she went on, almost afraid that
things were running too well to be true, "and stay at Southampton
to-night. To-morrow I'll return to New York and have everything packed
and ready by the time you join me there. And I'll send a telegram to
Captain Stewart to expect us on Friday. Then we'll go to sea and be
alone and get refreshment from the wide spaces and the clean air."

"Just as you say," he said, patting her hand. He was terribly like a
boy who had slipped and fallen.

Then she got up, nearer to a breakdown than ever before. It was such a
queer reversal of their old positions. And in order that he shouldn't
rise she put her hands on his shoulders and stood close to him so that
his head was against her breast.

"God bless you, dearest boy," she said softly. "Trust in me. Give all
your troubles to me. I'm your wife, and I need them. They belong to me.
They're mine. I took them all over when you gave me my ring." She
lifted his face that was worn as from a consuming fire and kissed his
unresponsive lips. "Stay here," she added, "and I'll go back. To-morrow
then, in New York."

He echoed her. "To-morrow then, in New York," and held her hand against
his forehead.

Just once she looked back, saw him bent double and stopped. A prophetic
feeling that she was never to hear his voice again seized her in a cold
grip,--but she shook it off and put a smile on her face with which to
stand before the scandal-mongers.

And there stood Joan, looking as though she had seen a ghost.



XV


Alice marched up to her, blazing with anger and indignation. She was
not, at that moment, the gentle Alice, as everybody called her,
Alice-sit-by-the-fire, equable and pacific, believing the best of
people. She was the mother-woman eager to revenge the hurt that had
been done to one who had all her love.

"Ah," she said, "you're just in time for me to tell you what I think of
you."

"Whatever you may think of me," replied Joan, "is nothing to what I
think of myself."

But Alice was not to be diverted by that characteristic way of evading
hard words, as she thought it. She had seen Joan dodge the issues like
that before, many times, at school. They were still screened from the
veranda by a scrub-supported dune. She could let herself go.

"You're a thief," she blurted out, trembling and out of all control for
once. "Not a full-blown thief because you don't steal to keep. But a
kleptomaniac who can't resist laying hands on other women's men. You
ought not to be allowed about loose. You're a danger, a trap. You have
no respect for yourself and none for friendship. Loyalty? You don't
know the meaning of the word. You're not to be trusted out of sight. I
despise you and never want to see you again."

Could this be Alice,--this little fury, white and tense, with clenched
hands and glinting eyes, animal-like in her fierce protectiveness?

Joan looked at her in amazement. Hadn't she already been hit hard
enough? But before she could speak Alice was in breath again. "You
can't answer me back,--even you, clever as you are. You've nothing to
say. That night at my house, when we had it out before, you said that
you were not interested in Gilbert. If that wasn't a cold-blooded lie
what was it? Your interest has been so great that you've never let him
alone since. You may not have called him deliberately, but when he came
you flaunted your sex in his face and teased him just to see him
suffer. You were flattered, of course, and your vanity swelled to see
him dogging your heels. There's a pretty expressive word for you and
your type, and you know it as well as I do. Let me pass, please."

Joan moved off the narrow board-walk without a word.

And Alice passed, but piqued by this unexpected silence, turned and
went for her once most intimate friend again. If she was callous and
still in her "Who Cares?" mood words should be said that could never be
forgotten.

"I am Mrs. Gray. My husband won't be back for several days," These were
the only words that rang in Joan's ears now. Alice might as well have
been talking to a stone.

"Things are coming to a head," Alice went on, unconsciously using
Gilbert's expression and Hosack's.

"And all the seeds that you've carelessly sown have grown into great
rank weeds. Ask Mrs. Jekyll what you've driven Martin into doing if
you're curious to know. She can tell you. Many people have seen. But if
you still don't care, don't trouble, because it's too late. Go a few
yards down there and look at that man bent double in the summer house.
If you do that and can still cry out 'Who Cares?' go on to the hour
when everything will combine to make you care. It can't be far away."

"I'm Mrs. Gray. My husband won't be back for several days." Like the
song of death the refrain of that line rose above the sound of the sea
and of Alice's voice. Joan could listen to nothing else.

And Alice caught the wounded look in the eyes of the girl in whom she
had once had faith and was recompensed. And having said all that she
had had in her mind and more than she had meant to say, she turned on
her heel, forced herself back into control and went smiling towards the
group on the veranda. And there Joan remained standing looking as
though she had seen a ghost,--the ghost of happiness.

"Mrs. Gray,--and her husband Martin.... But what have I got to say,--I,
who refused to be his wife? It only seemed half true when I found them
together before, although that was bad enough. But this time, now that
my love for Martin has broken through all those days of pretending to
pretend and that girl is openly in that cottage, nothing could be
truer. It isn't Martin who has taken off his armor. It's I who have cut
the straps and made it fall from his shoulders Oh, my God, if only I
hadn't wanted to finish being a kid."

She moved away, at last, from the place where Alice had left her and
without looking to the right or left walked slowly down to the edge of
the sea. Vaguely, as though it was something that had happened in a
former life, she remembered the angry but neat figure of Alice and a
few of the fierce words that had got through to her. "Rank weeds ...
driven Martin ... too late.... Who Cares?" Only these had stuck. But
why should Alice have said them? It was all unnecessary. She knew them.
She had said them all on the way back from Devon, all and many more,
seated beside that nice boy, Harry, in his car.... She had died a few
feet from the stoop of the cottage, in the scent of honeysuckle and
Come back to something that wasn't life to be tortured with regrets.
All the way back she had said things to herself that Alice, angry and
bitter as she had seemed to be, never could have invented. But they too
were unnecessary. Saying things now was of no more use than throwing
stones into the sea at any time. Rank weeds ... driven Martin ... too
late ... who cares--only who cares should have come first because
everything else was the result.

And for a little while, with the feeling that she was on an island,
deserted and forgotten, she stood on the edge of the sea, looking at a
horizon that was utterly blank. What was she to do? Where was she to
go? ... Not yet a woman, and all the future lay about her in chaos....
Once more she went back in spirit to that room of Martin's which had
been made the very sanctum of Romance by young blood and moonlight and
listened to the plans they had made together for the discovery of a
world out of which so many similar explorers had crept with wounds and
bitterness.

"I'm going to make my mark," she heard Martin cry. "I'm going to make
something that will last. My father's name was Martin Gray, and I'll
make it mean something out here for his sake."

"And I," she heard herself say, "will go joy-riding on that huge
Round-about. I've seen what it is to be old and useless, and so I shall
make the most of every day and hour while I'm young. I can live only
once, and I shall make life spin whichever way I want it to go. If I
can get anybody to pay my whack, good. If not, I'll pay it
myself,--whatever it costs. My motto's going to be a good time as long
as I can get it and who cares for the price!"

Young fool, you young fool!

The boy followed her to the window, and the moonlight fell upon them
both.

"Yes, you'll get a bill all right. How did you know that?"

And once more she heard her answer. "I haven't lived with all those old
people so long for nothing. But you won't catch me grumbling if I get
half as much as I'm going out for. Listen to my creed, Martin, and take
notes if you want to keep up with me.... I shall open the door of every
known Blue Room, hurrying out if there are ugly things inside. I shall
taste a little of every known bottle, feel everything there is to feel
except the thing that hurts, laugh with everybody whose laugh is
catching, do everything there is to do, go into every booth in the big
Bazaar, and when I'm tired and there's nothing left, slip out of the
endless procession with a thousand things stored in my memory. Isn't
that the way to live?"

"Young fool, you young fool," she cried, with the feeling of being
forgotten and deserted, with not one speck on the blank horizon.
"You've failed--failed in everything. You haven't even carried out your
program. Others have paid,--Martin and Gilbert and Alice, but the big
bill has come in to you ... Who cares? You do, you do, you young fool,
and you must creep out of the procession with only one thing stored in
your memory,--the loss of Martin, Martin."

It was a bad hour for this girl-child who had tried her wings too young.

And when Gilbert straightened up and gave thanks to God for the woman
who had never stirred him, but whose courage and tenderness had added
to his respect, he too turned towards the sea with its blank
horizon,--the sea upon which he was to be taken by his good wife for
rest and sleep, and there was Joan ... young, and slight and alluring,
with her back to him and her hands behind her back, and the mere sight
of her churned his blood again, and set his dull fire into flames. Once
more the old craving returned, the old madness revived, as it always
would when the sight and sound of her caught him, and all the common
sense and uncommon goodness of the little woman who had given him
comfort rose like smoke and was blown away.... To win this girl he
would sacrifice Alice and barter his soul. She was in his blood. She
was the living picture of his youthful vision. She only could satisfy
the Great Emotion.... There was the plan that he had forgotten,--the
lunatic plan from which, even in his most desperate moment, he had
drawn back, afraid,--to cajole her to the cottage away from which he
would send his servants; make, with doors and windows locked, one last
passionate appeal, and then, if mocked and held away, to take her with
him into death and hold her spirit in his arms.

To own himself beaten by this slip of a girl, to pack his traps and
leave her the field and sneak off like a beardless boy,--was that the
sort of way he did things who had had merely to raise his voice to hear
the approach of obsequious feet? ... Alice and the yacht and nothing
but sea to a blank horizon? He laughed to think of it. It was, in fact,
unthinkable.

He would put it to Joan in a different way this time. He would hide his
fire and be more like that cursed boy. That would be a new way. She
liked new things.

He left the summer house, only the roof of which was touched by the
last golden rays of the sun, and with curious cunning adopted a sort of
caricature of his old light manner. There was a queer jauntiness in his
walk as he made his way over the sand, carrying his hat, and a flippant
note in his voice when he arrived at her side.

"Waiting for your ship to come home?" he asked.

"It's come," she said.

"You have all the luck, don't you?"

She choked back a sob.

He saw the new look on her face. Something,--perhaps boredom,--perhaps
the constant companionship of that cursed boy,--had brought her down
from her high horse. This was his chance! ...

"You thought I had gone, I suppose?"

"Yes," she said.

"To-morrow suits me best. I'm off to-morrow,--I've not decided where. A
long journey, it may be. If you're fed up with these people what do you
say to my driving you somewhere for dinner? A last little dinner to
remind us of the spring in New York?"

"Would you like me to very much?"

He steadied his voice. "We might be amused, I think."

"That doesn't answer my question," she said.

"I'd love you to," he answered. "It would be fair, too. I've not seen
much of you here."

Yes, it would be fair. Let her try, even at that late stage of the
game, to make things a little even. This man had paid enough.

"Very well," she said. "Let's go." It would be good to get away from
prying eyes and the dull ache of pain for a few hours.

He could hardly believe his ears. Joan,--to give him something! It was
almost incredible.

She turned and led the way up. The sun had almost gone. "I'll get my
hat at once," she said, "I'll be ready in ten minutes."

His heart was thumping. "I'll telephone to a place I know, and be
waiting in the car."

"Let me go in alone," she said. "We don't want to be held up to explain
and argue. You're sure you want me to come?" She drew up and looked at
him.

He bowed to hide his face. "Of all things on earth," he said.

She ran on ahead, slipped into the house and up to her room.

Exultant and full of hope, Gilbert waited for a moment before following
her in. Going straight to the telephone room he shut the door, asked
for the number of his cottage and drummed the instrument with his
fingers.

At last!

"Is that you, Itrangi? ... Lay some sort of dinner for two,--cold
things with wine. It doesn't matter what, but at once. I shall be over
in about an hour. Then get out, with the cook. I want the place to
myself to-night. Put the door key on the earth at the left-hand corner
of the bottom step. Telephone for a car and go to the hotel at Sag
Harbor. Be back in the morning about nine. Do these things without
fail. I rely upon you."

He hardly waited for the sibilant assurance before putting back the
receiver. He went round to the garage himself. This was the first time
he had driven Joan in his car. It might be the last.

Harry was at the bottom of the stairs as Joan came down.

"You're not going out?" he asked. She was still in day clothes, wearing
a hat.

"Yes, I am, Harry."

"Where? Why?"

She laid her hand on his arm. "Don't grudge Gilbert one evening,--his
last. I've been perfectly rotten to him all along."

"Palgrave? Are you going out with Palgrave?"

"Yes, to dine somewhere. I want to, Harry, oh, for lots of reasons. You
know one. Don't stop me." Her voice broke a little.

"But not with Palgrave."

"Why?"

"I saw him dodge out of the telephone room a minute ago. He
looked--queer. Don't go, Joan."

"I must," she said and went to the door. He was after her and caught
hold of her arm.

"Joan, don't go. I don't want you to."

"I must," she said again. "Surely you can understand? I have to get
away from myself."

"But won't I do?"

"It's Gilbert's turn," she said. "Let go, Harry dear." It was good to
know that she hadn't hurt this boy.

"I don't like it. Please stay," but he let her go, and watched her down
the steps and into the car, with unaccountable misgiving. He had seen
Gilbert's face.

And he saw it again under the strong light of the entrance--triumphant.

For minutes after the car had gone, with a wave from Joan, he stood
still, with an icy hand on his heart.

"I don't like it," he repeated. "I wish to God I'd had the right to
stop her."

She thought that he didn't love her, and he had done his best to obey.
But he did love her, more than Martin, it seemed, more than Gilbert, he
thought, and by this time she was well on her way to--what?



PART FOUR


THE PAYMENT

I


It was one of those golden evenings that sometimes follows a hot clear
day--one of those rare evenings which linger in the memory when summer
has slipped away and which come back into the mind like a smile, an
endearment or a broad sweet melody, renewing optimism and replenishing
faith. The sun had gone, but its warm glow lingered in a sky that was
utterly unspotted. The quiet unruffled trees in all the rich green of
early maturity stood out against it almost as though they were painted
on canvas. The light was so true that distances were brought up to the
eye. Far-away sounds came closely to the ear. The murmur from the earth
gathered like that of a multitude of voices responding to prayers.

Palgrave drove slowly. The God-given peace and beauty that lay over
everything quieted the stress and storm of his mind. Somehow, too, with
Joan at his side on the road to the cottage in which he was to play out
the second or the last act of the drama of his Great Emotion, life and
death caught something of the truth and dignity of that memorable
evening--the sounds of life and the distance of death. If he was not to
live with Joan he would die with her. There was, to him, in the state
of mind into which this absorbing passion had worked him, no
alternative. Love, that he had made his lodestar in early youth and
sought in vain, had come at last. Marriage, convention, obligations,
responsibility, balance and even sanity mattered nothing. They were
swept like chaff before this sex-storm. Ten years of dreams were
epitomized in Joan. She was the ideal that he had placed on the secret
altar of his soul. She struck, all vibrant with youth, the one poetic
note that was hidden in his character behind vanity and sloth, cynicism
and the ingrained belief that whatever he desired he must have. And as
he drove away from Easthampton and the Hosack house he left behind him
Alice and all that she was and meant. She receded from his mind like
the white cliffs of a shore to which he never intended to return. He
was happier than he had ever been. In his curious exaltation, life,
with its tips and downs, its pettiness, its monotony, lay far below
him, as the moving panorama of land does to a flying man. His head was
clear, his plan definite. He felt years younger--almost boyish.
Laughter came easy--the sort of reasonless laughter that comes to tired
men as they start out on a holiday. He saw the strangeness of it all
with some wonder and much triumph. The Gilbert Palgrave who had been
molded by money and inertia and autocracy was discarded, and the man
with Joan at his side was the young Gilbert whom he had caught sight of
that night in Paris, when, on his way home under the stars, Joan, with
her brown hair and laughing eyes, tip-tilted nose and the spirit of
spring in her breath, had come out of his inner consciousness and
established herself like a shape in a dream.

His heart turned when he looked at Joan's face. Was its unusual gravity
due to the fact that she had come to the end of fooling--that she, too,
had sensed the finality or the beginning? He thought so. He believed
so. She looked younger than ever, but sweeter, less flippant, less
triumphantly irresponsible. She sat, like a child, with her hands in
her lap, her mouth soft, an odd wistfulness in her eyes with their long
curling lashes. A black straight-brimmed straw hat sat well down on her
small head and put a shadow on her face. The slim roundness of her arms
showed through the white silk shirt, and her low collar proved all the
beauty of her throat and neck. She looked more than ever unplucked,
untouched, like a rosebud.

On the tip of his tongue there were words of adoration, not fastidious
and carefully chosen, but simple, elemental words such as a farmhand
might blunder out in the deep shadow of a lane, after dark. But he held
them back. He would wait until after they had dined together and all
round them there were silence and solitude. He drove still more slowly
in order to give the two Japanese servants time to carry out his
instructions and remove themselves. That cottage, which he had bought
on the spur of the moment, fitted out with elaborate care and used only
twice, for two weeks since, was to justify itself, after all. Who
knows? He might have bought it two years before under an inspiration.
Even then, months and months before he met Joan or knew of her
existence, this very evening might have been mapped out He was a
fatalist, and it fell into his creed to think so.

He didn't wonder why Joan was silent or ask himself jealously of what
she was thinking. He chose to believe that she had arrived at the end
of impishness, had grown weary of Harry Oldershaw and his cubbish ways
and had turned to himself naturally and with relief, choosing her
moment with the uncanny intuition that is the gift of women. She was
only just in time. To-morrow would have found him following the
faithful Alice on her forlorn hope--the incurable man.

It was only when they turned into the narrow sandy road that was within
a quarter of a mile of the club at Devon that Joan came out of the
numbness that had settled upon her and recognized things that were
stamped with the marks of an afternoon that was never to be forgotten.
Martin--Martin--and it was all her fault.

"But why are you coming this way?" she asked, drawing back into her
seat.

"Because my cottage is just here," said Gilbert.

"At Devon?"

"Yes. Why not? I had a fancy for playing hermit from time to time. I
saw the sun set behind the water,--a Byron sunset,--and in the hope of
seeing just such another I bought this shack. I did those things once
for want of something better. Look at it," he said, and turned the car
through a rustic gate, alive with honeysuckle.

It was a bungalow, put up on a space cleared among a wood of young
trees that was carpeted with ferns. It might have been built for a poet
or a novelist or just an ordinary muscular man who loved the water and
the silences and the sense of being on the edge of the world. It was a
bungalow of logs, roughly constructed and saved from utter banality by
being almost completely clothed in wisteria. It was admirably suited to
two men who found amusement in being primitive or to a romantic
honeymoon couple who wanted to fancy themselves on a desert island.
Better still, it might have been built for just that night, for
Palgrave and the girl who had taken shape in his one good dream.

Joan got out of the opulent car and watched Gilbert run it round to the
side of the house. There was no garage and not even a shed to give it
cover. Gilbert left it in the open, where it remained sulky and
supercilious, like a grand piano in an empty kitchen.

Joan had noticed this place twice that day--on the way out to find
Martin, and again on the way back from having heard the voice of the
girl with the white face and the red lips and the hair that came out of
a bottle. Martin--Martin--and it was all her fault.

She wondered for a moment why no one came to open the door. Some one
was there because smoke was coming out of a chimney. But she refused to
be impatient. She had decided to give Gilbert one evening--to be nice
to him for one evening. He was terribly humble. Fate had dealt her a
smashing blow on the heart, and she had returned to consciousness
wistfully eager to make up at least to this man as well as she could
for the pain that she had caused. There was only this one evening in
which to do so because to-morrow she was going back to the old house,
the old people, the old servants and the old days, a failure, having
fallen off the Round-about, of which she had spoken so much. She was
going back a sort of cripple to the place from which she had escaped to
put the key into life; once more to read to her grandfather, to obey
the orders of her grandmother, to sleep in the warm kind arms of her
old bedroom, to go among the flowers and trees among which she had
grown up, herself old and tired and ashamed and broken-hearted, with
her gold ring burning into her finger and the constant vision of
Martin's shining armor lying bent and rusty before her eyes. What an
end to her great adventure!

Gilbert came up. He walked without his usual affectation of never
permitting anything to hurry him. All about him there was still a sort
of exaltation. His eyes were amazingly bright. His face had lost its
cynicism. Ten years seemed to have fallen from his shoulders like a
pack. He was a youth again, like Martin and Harry and Howard. Joan
noticed all this and was vaguely surprised--and glad, because obviously
she was giving him pleasure. He deserved it after her impish treatment
of him. What a fool she had been.

He said, bending down, "We keep the key here," and picked it up,
unlocked the door and stood back for her to pass.

"Oh, isn't this nice!" said Joan.

"Do you like it? It amused me to make it comfortable."

"Comfortable! But it's like a picture."

Gilbert laughed boyishly. Her enthusiasm delighted him. To make the
long low living room with its big brick chimney and open fireplace
absolutely right had dispelled his boredom--little as he had intended
to use it. The whole thing was carried out on the lines of the main
room in an English shooting box. The walls were matchboarded and
stained an oak color, and the floor was polished and covered with
skins. Old pewter plates and mugs, and queer ugly delightful bits of
pottery were everywhere--on shelves, on the wide mantelpiece, and
hanging from the beams. Colored sporting prints covered the walls,
among stuffed fish and heads of deer with royal antlers and beady eyes
with a fixed stare. The furniture was Jacobean--the chairs with ladder
backs and cane seats; a wide dresser, lined with colored plates; a long
narrow table with rails and bulging legs. Two old oak church pews were
set on each side of the fireplace filled with cushions covered with a
merry chintz. There were flowers everywhere in big bowls--red rambler
roses, primula, sweet williams, Shasta daisies, and scarlet poppies.
All the windows were open, and there was nothing damp or musty in the
smell of the room. On the contrary, the companionable aroma of tobacco
smoke hung in the air mixed with the sweet faint scent of flowers. The
place seemed "lived-in"--as well it might. The two Japs had played
gentlemen there for some weeks. The table was laid for two, and
appetizing dishes of cold food, salad and fruit were spread out on the
dresser and sideboard, with iced champagne and claret cup.

"The outside of the cottage didn't suggest all this comfort," said Joan.

"Comfort's the easiest thing in the world when you can pay for it.
There's one bedroom half the size of this and two small ones. A
bathroom and kitchen beyond. There's water, of course, and electric
light, and there's a telephone. I loathe the telephone, the destroyer
of aloofness, the missionary that breaks into privacy." He switched on
the lights in several old lanterns as he spoke. The day had almost
disappeared.

He went over to her and stood smiling.

"Well, isn't this better than a road-house reeking of food and flies
and made hideous by a Jazz band?"

"Much better," she said.

The delightful silence was broken by the crickets.

"Martin--Martin," she thought, "and it was all my fault."

A sort of tremble ran over Gilbert as he looked at her. Agony and joy
clashed in his heart. He had suffered, gone sleepless, worn himself out
by hard, grim exercise in order, who knew how many times, to master his
almost unendurable passion. He had killed long nights, the very thought
of which made him shudder, by reading books of which he never took in a
word. He had stood up in the dark, unmanned, and cursed himself and her
and life. He had denounced her to himself and once to her as a flapper,
a fool-girl, an empty-minded frivolous thing encased in a body as
beautiful as spring. He had thrown himself on his knees and wept like a
young boy who had been hurt to the very quick by a great injustice. He
had faced himself up, and with the sort of fear that comes to men in
moments of physical danger, recognized madness in his eyes. But not
until that instant, as she stood before him unguarded in his lonely
cottage, so slight and sweet and unexpectedly gentle, her eyes as
limpid as the water of a brook, her lips soft and kind and unkissed,
her whole young body radiating virginity, did he really know how
amazingly and frighteningly he loved her. But once again he held back a
rush of adoring words and a desire to touch and hold and claim. The
time had not come yet. Let her warm to him. Let him live down the
ugliness of the mood that she had recently put him into, do away with
the impression he must have given her of jealousy and petulance and
scorn. Let her get used to him as a man who had it in him to be as
natural and impersonal, and even as cubbish, as some of the boys she
knew. Later, when night had laid its magic on the earth, he would make
his last bid for her kisses--or take her with him across the horizon.

"How do you like that?" he asked, and pointed to a charmingly grotesque
piece of old Staffordshire pottery which made St. George a stunted
churchwarden with the legs of a child, his horse the kind of animal
that would be used in a green grocer's cart and the dragon a cross
between a leopard and a half-bred bulldog.

"Very amusing," she said, going over to it.

And the instant her back was turned, he opened a drawer in a sideboard
and satisfied himself that the thing which might have to put them into
Eternity together lay there, loaded.



II


"And now," he said gayly, "let's dine and, if you don't mind, I will
buttle. I hate servants in a place like this." He went to the head of
the table and drew back a chair.

Joan sat down, thanking him with a smile. It was hard to believe that,
with the words of that girl still ringing in her ears and the debris of
her hopes lying in a heap about her feet, she was going through the
process of being nice to this man who had his claims. It was unreal,
fantastic. It wasn't really happening. She must be lying face down on
some quiet corner of Mother Earth and watering its bosom with tears of
blood. Martin--Martin! It was all her fault.

Tomorrow she would be back again in the old house, with the old people
and the old dogs and the old trees and follow her old routine--old,
old. That was the price she must pay for being a kid when she should
have been a woman.

Palgrave stood at the sideboard and carved a cold chicken decorated
with slips of parsley. "Have you ever gone into a room in which you've
never been before and recognized everything in it or done some thing
for the first time that you suddenly realize isn't new to you?"

"Yes, often," replied Joan. "Why?"

"You've never sat in that chair until this minute and this chicken was
probably killed this morning. But I've seen you sitting in just that
attitude at that table and cut the wing of this very bird and watched
that identical smile round your lips when I put the plate in front of
you." He put it in front of her and the scent of her hair made him
catch his breath. "Oh, my God!" he said to himself. "This girl--this
beautiful, cool, bewitching thing--the dew of youth upon her, as chaste
as unsunned snow--Oh, my God...."

But Joan had caught the scent of honeysuckle, and back into her brain
came that cottage splashed with sun, the lithe figure of Harry
Oldershaw with his face tanned the color of mahogany and the clear
voice of "Mrs. Gray."

Gilbert filled her glass with champagne cup, carved for himself and sat
at the foot of the table. "The man from whom I bought this place," he
said, saying anything to make conversation and keep himself rig idly
light and, as he hoped, like Oldershaw, "owns a huge ready-made clothes
store on Broadway--appalling things with comic belts and weird pockets."

"Oh!" said Joan. Always, for ever, the scent of honeysuckle would bring
that picture back. Martin--Martin.

"He makes any amount of money by dressing that portion of young America
which sells motors and vacuum cleaners and gramaphone records and hangs
about stage doors smoking cheap cigarettes."

"Yes?" Joan listened but heard nothing except that high clear voice
coming through the screen door.

"He built this cottage as an antidote and spent his week-ends here
entirely alone with the trees and crickets, trying to write poetry. He
was very pleased with it and believed that this atmosphere was going to
make him immortal."

"I see,"--but all she saw was a porch covered with honeysuckle, a
hammock with an open book face downwards in it and the long shadow of
Harry Oldershaw flung across the white steps.

Gilbert went on--pathetically unable to catch the unaffected young
stuff of the nice boy and his kind. He had never been young.

"He had had no time during his hard struggle to read the masters, and
when, without malice, I quoted a chunk of Grey's 'Elegy' to him, the
poor devil's jaw fell, he withdrew his blank refusal to sell the place
to me, pocketed my cheque, packed his grip, and slouched off then and
there, looking as if a charge of dynamite had blown his chest away. His
garments, I notice, are as comic as ever, and I suppose he is now
living in a turretted house with stucco walls and stone lions at New
Rochelle, wedded to Commerce and a buxom girl who talks too much and
rag-times through her days."

Joan joined in his laugh. She was there to make up for her unkindness.
She would do her best under the circumstances. She hoped he would tell
lots of long stories to cover her wordlessness.

Gilbert emptied his glass and filled it again. He was half conscious of
dramatizing the episode as it unrolled itself and thrilled to think
that this might be the last time that he would eat and drink in the
only life that he knew. Death, upon which he had looked hitherto with
horror, didn't scare him if he went into it hand in hand with Joan.
With Alice trying, in her persistently gentle way, to cure him, life
was unthinkable. Life with Joan--there was that to achieve. Let the law
unravel the knots while he and she wandered in France and Italy, she
triumphantly young, and he a youth again, his dream come true.... Would
she have come with him to-night if she hadn't grown weary of playing
flapper? She knew what she meant to him. He had told her often enough.
Too often, perhaps. He had taken the surprise of it away, discounted
the romance..

He got up and gave her some salad and stood by her for a moment. He was
like a moth hovering about a lamp.

She smiled up at him again--homesick for the old bedroom and the old
trees, eager to sit in her grand father's room and read the paper to
him. He was old and out of life and so was she. Oh, Martin, Martin. Why
couldn't he have waited a little while longer?

The shock of touching her fingers as she took the salad plate sent the
blood to Gilbert's brain. But he reined himself in. He was afraid to
come to the point yet. Life was too good like this. The abyss yawned at
their feet. He would turn his back to it and see only the outstretched
landscape of hope.

They ate very little, and Joan ignored her glass. Gilbert frequently
filled his own, but he might just as well have been drinking water. He
was already drunk with love.

Finally, after a long silence, Joan pushed her chair back and got up.

Instantly he was in front of her, with his back to the door. "Joan," he
said, and held out his hands in supplication.

"Don't you think we ought to drive home now?" she asked.

"Home?"

"Yes. It must be getting late."

"Not yet," he said, steadying his voice. "Time is ours. Don't hurry."

He went down suddenly on to his knees and kissed her feet.

At any other time, in any other mood, the action would have stirred her
sense of the ridiculous. She would have laughed and whipped him with
sarcasm. He had done exuberant things before and left her unmoved
except to mirth. But this time she raised him up without a word, and he
answered her touch with curious unresistance, like a man hypnotized and
stood speechless, but with eyes that were filled with eloquence.

"Be good to-night, Gilbert," she said. "I've ... I've been awfully hurt
to-day and I feel tired and worn--not up to fencing with you."

The word "fencing" didn't strike home at first, nor did he gather at
once from her simple appeal that she had not come in the mood that he
had persuaded himself was hers.

"This is the first time that you've given me even an hour since you
drew me to the Hosacks," he said. "Be generous. Don't do things by
halves."

She could say nothing to that. She was there only because of a desire
to make up ever so little for having teased him. He had been
consistently generous to her. She had hoped, from his manner, that he
was simply going to be nice and kind and not indulge in romantics. She
was wrong, evidently. It was no new thing, though. She was well
accustomed to his being dramatic and almost foreign. He had said many
amazing things but always remained the civilized man, and never
attempted to make a scene. She liked him for that, and she had tried
him pretty high, she knew. She did wish that he would be good that
night, but there was nothing to say in reply to his appeal. And so she
went over to one of the pews and sat down among the cushions.

"I'll give you another hour, then," she said.

But the word had begun to rankle. "Fencing!--Fencing! ..."

He repeated it several times.

She watched him wander oddly about the room, thinking aloud rather than
speaking to her. How different he had become. For the first time it
dawned upon her that the whole look of the man had undergone a change.
He held himself with less affectation. His petulance had gone. He was
like a Gilbert Palgrave who had been ill and had come out of it with
none of his old arrogance.

He took up a cigarette and began wandering again, muttering her
unfortunate word. She was sorry to have hurt his feelings. It was the
very last thing that she had wanted to do. "Aren't there any matches?"
she asked. "Ring for some."

She was impatient of indecision.

He drew up and looked at her. "Ring? Why? No one will come."

"Are we the only people in the house, then?"

"Yes," he said. "That's part of my plan."

"Plan?" She was on her feet. "What do you mean? Have you thought all
this out and made a scheme of it?"

"Yes; all out," he said. "The moment has come, Joan."

No longer did the scent of honeysuckle take Joan back to the sun-bathed
cottage and the voice behind the door. No longer did she feel that all
this wasn't really happening, that it was fantastic. Stark reality
forced itself upon her and brought her into the present as though some
one had turned up all the lights in a dark room. She was alone with the
man whom she had driven to the limit of his patience. No one knew that
she was there. It was a trick into which she had fallen out of a new
wish to be kind. A sense of self-preservation scattered the dire
effects of everything that had happened during the afternoon. She must
get out, quickly. She made for the door.

But Gilbert was there first. He locked it, drew out the key, put it in
his pocket and before she could turn towards the door leading to the
other rooms, he was there. He repeated the process with peculiar
deftness and when he saw her dart a look at the windows, he shook his
head.

"You can't jump through those screens," he said.

"It isn't fair," she cried.

"Have you been fair?"

"I shall shout for help."

"The nearest cottage is too far away for any one to hear you."

"What are you going to do?"

He went back to her. He was far too quiet and dignified and unlike
himself. She could have managed the old vain Gilbert. A scoffing laugh,
and he would have withered. But this new Gilbert, who looked at her
with such a curious, exalted expression--what was she to do with him?

"Joan," he said, "listen. This is the end or the beginning. I haven't
locked the doors and sent the servants away to get you into a vulgar
trap. I might have done it a few weeks ago, but not as I am now. This
is my night, my beautiful Joan. You have given it to me. After all this
fencing, as you call it, you are here with me alone, as far away from
the old foolishness as if you were out at sea. What I have to say is so
much a private thing, and what I may have to do so much a matter to be
treated with the profoundest solemnity that we must run no risk of
disturbance. Do you begin to understand, little Joan?"

"No," she said.

"I will explain it to you, then. You are very young and have been very
thoughtless. You haven't stopped to think that you have been playing
with a soul as well as a heart. I have brought you here to-night to
face things up simply and quietly and finally, and leave it to you to
make a choice."

"A choice?"

"Yes, between life with me or death in my arms."



III


All that was healthy and normal in Joan broke into revolt. There was
something erotic, uncanny about all this. Life or death? What was he
talking about? Her pride, too, which had never been put to such a test,
was up in arms against the unfairness and cunning of the way in which
she had been taken advantage of. She had meant to be kind and pay
something of her debt to this man, and it was a vulgar trap, whatever
he said in excuse. Let him dare to touch her. Let him dare. She would
show him how strong she was and put up such a fight as would amaze him.
Just now she had placed herself among those old people and old trees,
because she had suffered. But she was young, tingling with youth, and
her slate was clean, notwithstanding the fool game that she had played,
and she would keep it clean, if she had to fight her way out.

She took up her stand behind the table, alert and watchful.

"I don't get you when you go in for melodrama," she said. "I much
prefer your usual way of talking. Translate for me." She spoke
scornfully because hitherto she had been able to turn him off by scorn.

But it didn't work this time. It was not anger that came into his eyes,
only an unexpected and disconcerting reproach. He made no attempt to go
near her. He looked extraordinarily patient and gentle. She had never
seen him like this before. "Don't stand there," he said. "Come and sit
down and let's go into this sensibly, like people who have emerged from
stupidity. In any case you are not going back to Easthampton to-night."

She began to be frightened. "Not going back to Easthampton?"

"No, my dear."

She left her place behind the table and went up to him. Had all the
world gone wrong? Had her foolishness been so colossal that she was to
be broken twice on the same day? "Gilbert," she said. "What is it? What
do you mean? Why do you say these odd things in this queer way?
You're--you're frightening me, Gilbert."

Young? She was a child as she stood there with her lovely face
upturned. It was torture to keep his hands off her and not take her
lips. But he did nothing. He stood steady and waited for his brain to
clear. "Odd things in a queer way? Is that how I strike you?"

"Yes. I've never seen you in this mood before. If you've brought me
here to make me say I'm sorry, I will, because I am sorry. I'd do
anything to have all these days over again--every one since I climbed
out of my old bedroom window. If you said hard things to me all night I
should deserve them all and I'll pay you what I can of my debt, but
don't ask me to pay too much. I trusted you by coming here alone. Don't
go back on me, Gilbert."

He touched her cheek and drew his hand away.

"But I haven't brought you here to make you humble yourself," he said.
"There's nothing small in this. What you've done to me has left its
marks, of course, deep marks. I don't think you ever really understood
the sort of love mine is. But the hour has gone by for apologies and
arguments and regrets. I'm standing on the very edge of things. I'm
just keeping my balance on the lip of eternity. It's for you to draw me
back or go tumbling over with me. That's why you're here. I told you
that. Are you really so young that you don't understand?"

"I'm a kid, I'm a kid," she cried out, going back to her old excuse.
"That's the trouble."

"Then I'll put it into plain words," he said, with the same appalling
composure. "I've had these things in my mind to say to you for hours. I
can repeat them like a parrot. If the sort of unimaginative people who
measure everybody by themselves were to hear what I'm going to say, I
suppose they would think I'm insane. But you won't. You have
imagination. You've seen me in every stage of what I call the Great
Emotion. But you've not treated me well, Joan, or taken me seriously,
and this is the one serious thing of my life."

He was still under control, although his voice had begun to shake and
his hands to tremble. She could do nothing but wait for him to go on.
The crickets and the frogs filled in the short silence.

"And now it's come to this. I can be played with no longer. I can't
wait for you any more. Either you love me, or you don't. If you do, you
must be as serious as I am, tear up your roots such as they are and
come away with me. Your husband, who counts for as little as my wife,
will set the law in action. So will Alice. We will wander among any
places that take your fancy until we can be married and then if you
want to come back, we will. But if you don't and won't love me, I can't
live and see you love any other man. I look upon you as mine. I created
you for myself ten years ago. Not being able to live without you, I am
not made of the stuff to leave you behind me. I shall take you and if
there's another life on the other side, live it with you. If not, then
we'll snuff out together. Like all great lovers, I'm selfish, you see.
That's what I meant when I talked just now about choice."

He moved away, quietly, and piled several cushions into a corner of one
of the pews. The look of exaltation was on his face again.

"Sit here, my dream girl," he added, with the most wonderful
tenderness, "and think it over. Don't hurry. The night belongs to us."
He found a match and lit a cigarette and stood at one of the windows
looking out at the stars.

But Joan was unable to move. Her blood was as cold as ice. As though a
searchlight had suddenly been thrown on to Gilbert, she saw him as he
was. "Unimaginative people will think I'm insane." ... SHE didn't think
he was insane, imaginative as he said she was. She KNEW it. If she had
been able to think of one thing but Martin and that girl and her own
chaos, she must have guessed it at Easthampton from the look in his
eyes when he helped her into his car.... He had lost his balance, gone
over the dividing hue between soundness and unsoundness. And it was her
fault for having fooled with his feelings. Everything was her fault,
everything. And now she stood on what Gilbert had called the lip of
Eternity. "Who Cares?" had come back at her like a boomerang. And as to
a choice between giving herself to Gilbert or to death, what was the
good of thinking that over? She didn't love this man and never could.
She loved Martin, Martin. She had always loved Martin from the moment
that she had turned and found him on the hill. She had lost him, that
was true, He had been unable to wait. He had gone to the girl with the
white face and the red lips and the hair that came out of a bottle. She
had sent him to her, fool that she had been. Already she had decided to
creep back to the old prison house and thus to leave life. Without
Martin nothing mattered. Why put up a fight for something that didn't
count? Why continue mechanically to live when living meant waiting for
death? Why not grasp this opportunity of leaving it actually, at once,
and urge Gilbert on to stop the beating of her wounded and contrite
heart? ... Death, the great consoler. Sleep, endless sleep and peace.

But as she stood there, tempted, with the weight of Martin's discarded
armor on her shoulders and the sense of failure hanging like a
millstone round her neck, she saw the creeper bursting into buds on the
wall beneath the window of her old room, caught the merry glint of
young green on the trees below her hill, heard the piping of birds to
their nesting mates, the eager breeze singing among the waving grasses
and the low sweet crooning of baby voices--felt a tiny greedy hand upon
her breast, was bewildered with a sudden overwhelming rush of
mother-longing ... young, young? Oh, God, she was young, and in the
springtime with its stirring sap, its call to life and action, its urge
to create, to build, its ringing cry to be up and doing, serving,
sowing, tending--the pains of winter forgotten, hope in the warming sun.

She must live. Even without Martin she must live. She was too young for
death and sleep and peace. Life called and claimed and demanded. It had
need of the young for a good spring, a ripe summer, a golden autumn.
She must live and work and justify.

But how?

There was Gilbert watching the stars with a smile, calmly and quietly
and horribly waiting for her to make a choice, having slipped over on
the other side of the dividing line. A scream of fear and terror rose
to her throat. This quiet, exalted man, so gentle and determined, with
the look in his eyes of one who intended to own one way or the
other--Live? How was she to live? He had given her a choice between
something that was impossible and something that all Nature held her
back from. She was locked into a lonely house as far away from help as
though they were out at sea.

"We hold it death to falter not to die." The words seemed suddenly to
stand out in blazing letters over the mantelpiece, as they did in
Martin's room--Martin, Martin.... With a mighty effort she wound the
reins round her hands and pulled herself up. In this erotic and
terrible position she must not falter or show fear or exaggerate this
man's sudden derangement by cries or struggles. He must be humored,
kept gentle and quiet, and she must pray for help. God loved young
things, and if she had forgotten Him until the very moment of great
danger, He might forgive. She must, with courage and practicality, gain
time so that some one might be sent. The servants might return. Harry
Oldershaw might have followed them. He hadn't liked the look of
Gilbert. He had said so. But if that was too good, there was Martin,
Martin...

She saw herself sitting in a dressing gown on the arm of a chair in
Martin's room in the little New York house. She heard Martin come along
the passage with his characteristic light tread and saw him draw up
short. He looked anxious. "You wanted me?" she heard him say.

"I did and do, Marty. But how did you guess?"

"I didn't guess. I knew."

"Isn't that wonderful? Do you suppose I shall always be able to get you
when I want you very much?"

"Yes, always."

"Why?"

"I dunno. It's like that. It's something that can't be explained...."

Gilbert turned and smiled at her. She smiled back. Martin was not far
away, Martin. "How quiet the night is," she said, and went over to a
window. Hope gleamed like a star. And then, with all her strength and
urgency she gave a silent cry. "Martin, Martin. I want you, so much,
oh, so much. Come to me, quickly, quickly. Martin, Martin."



IV


The crickets and the frogs vied with each other to fill the silence
with sound. The moon was up and had laid a silver carpet under the
trees. Fireflies flashed their little lights among the undergrowth like
fairies signalling.

Joan had sent her S. O. S. into the air and with supreme confidence
that it would reach Martin wherever he might be, left the window, went
to the pew in which Gilbert had arranged the cushions and sat down...
Martin had grown tired of waiting for her. She had lost him. But twice
before he had answered her call, and he would come. She knew it. Martin
was like that. He was reliable. And even if he held her in contempt
now, he had loved her once. Oh, what it must have cost him to leave her
room that night--it seemed so long ago--she had clung to being a kid
and had conceived it to be her right to stay on the girlhood side of
the bridge. To be able to live those days over again--how different she
would be.

Without permitting Gilbert to guess what she was doing, she must humor
him and gain time. She gave thanks to God that he was in this gentle,
exalted mood, and was treating her with a sort of reverence. Behind the
danger and the terror of it all she recognized the wonder of his love.

"Gilbert," she said softly.

"Well, my little spring girl?"

"Come and sit here, where I can see you."

"You have only to tell me what I'm to do," he said and obeyed at once.

How different from the old affected Gilbert--this quiet man with the
burning eyes who sat with his elbows on his knees and his back bent
towards her and the light of one of the lanterns on his handsome face.
She had played with a soul as well as with a heart, and also, it
appeared, with a brain. How fatal had been her effect upon men--Martin
out of armor and Gilbert on the wrong side of the thin dividing line.
Men's love--it was too big and good a thing to have played with, if she
had only stopped to think, or some one had been wise and kind enough to
tell her. Who cares? These two men cared and so did she, bitterly,
terribly, everlastingly.

Would Martin hear--oh, would he hear? Martin, Martin!

There was a long, strange silence.

"Well, my little Joan?"

"Well, Gilbert?"

He picked up her hand and put his lips to it. "Still thinking?" he
asked, with a curious catch in his voice.

"Yes, Gilbert, give me time."

He gave back her hand. "The night is ours," he said, but there was pain
in his eyes.

And there they sat, these two, within an arm's reach, on the edge of
the abyss. And for a little while there was silence--broken only by the
crickets and the frogs and the turning of many leaves by the puffs of a
sudden breeze.

Was she never going to hear the breaking of twigs and the light tread
outside the window? Martin, Martin.

And then Gilbert began to speak. "I can see a long way to-night, Joan,"
he said, in a low voice. "I can see all the way back to the days when I
was a small boy--years away. It's a long stretch."

"Yes, Gilbert," said Joan. (Martin, Martin, did you hear?)

"It's not good for a boy to have no father, my sweet. No discipline, no
strong hand, no man to imitate, no inspiration, no one to try and keep
step with. I see that now. I suffered from all that."

"Did you, Gilbert?" Oh, when would the twigs break and the light step
come? Martin, Martin.

"A spoilt boy, a mother's darling, unthrashed, unled. What a cub at
school with too much money! What a conceited ass at college, buying
deference and friends. I see myself with amazement taking to life with
an air of having done it all, phrase-making and paying deference to
nothing but my excellent profile. God, to have those years over again!
We'd both do things differently given another chance, eh, Joan?"

"Yes, Gilbert." He wasn't coming. He wasn't coming. Martin, Martin.

She strained her ears to catch the sound of breaking twigs. The
crickets and the frogs had the silence to themselves. She got up and
went to the window, with Gilbert at her elbow. She felt that he was
instantly on his feet. Martin's face was not pressed against the
screen. He had heard. She knew that he had heard, because she was
always able to make him hear. But he didn't care. When he had come
before it was for nothing. She had lost him. She was un-Martined. She
was utterly without help. She must give up. What was the good of making
a fight for it now that Martin cared so little as to turn a deaf ear to
her call? He had even forgotten that he had loved her once. Death was
welcome then. Yes, welcome. But there was one way to make some sort of
retribution--just one. She would remain true to Martin.

Gilbert touched her on the arm. "Come, Joan," he said. "The night's
running away. Is it so hard to decide?"

But against her will Nature, to whom life is so precious, put words
into her mouth. "I want you to try and understand something more about
me," she said eagerly.

"The time has gone for arguing," he replied, stiffening a little.

"I'm not going to argue," she went on quickly, surprised at herself,
deserted as she was. "I only want you to think a little more deeply
about all this."

He drew his hand across his forehead. "Think? I've thought until my
brain's hot, like an overheated engine."

She leaned forward. Spring was fighting her battle. "I'm not worth a
love like yours," she said. "I'm too young, too unserious. I'm not half
the woman that Alice is."

"You came to me in spirit that night in Paris. I placed yuu in my
heart. I've waited all these years."

"Yes, but there's Alice--no, don't turn away. Let me say what's in my
mind. This is a matter of life or death, you said."

He nodded. "Yes, life or death, together."

"Alice doesn't disappoint," she went on, the words put upon her lips.
"I may, I shall. I already have, remember. This is your night, Gilbert,
not mine, and whichever step we decide to take matters more to you than
to me. Let it be the right one. Let it be the best for you."

But he made a wild sweeping gesture. His patience was running out.
"Nothing is best for me if you're not in it. I tell you you've got me,
whatever you are. You have your choice. Make it, make it. The night
won't last for ever."

Once more she listened for the breaking twig and the light step. There
was nothing but the sound of the crickets and the frogs. Martin had
forgotten. He had heard, she was sure of that, but he didn't care.
Nature had its hand upon her arm, but she pushed it away. Her choice
was easy, because she wouldn't forget. She would be true to Martin.

"I've made my choice," she said.

"Joan, Joan--what is it?"

"I don't love you."

He went up to her, with his old note of supplication. "But I can teach
you, Joan, I can teach you, my dear."

"No. Never. I love Martin. I always have and always shall."

"Oh, my God," he said.

"That's the truth.... Please be quick. I'm very tired!" She drew
herself up like a young lily.

For a moment he stood irresolute, swaying. Everything seemed to be
running past him. He was spinning like a top. He had hoped against
hope, during her silence and her argument. But now to be told not only
that she would never love him but that she loved another man....

He staggered across the room to the sideboard, opened the drawer, and
the thing glistened in his hand.

Joan was as cold as ice. "I will be true," she whispered to herself. "I
will be true. Martin, oh, Martin."

With a superhuman effort Gilbert caught hold of himself. The cold thing
in his hand helped him to this. His mouth became firm again and his
face gentle and tender. And he stood up with renewed dignity and the
old strange look of exaltation. "I claim you then," he said. "I claim
you, Joan. Here, on this earth, we have both made mistakes. I with
Alice. You with Martin Gray. In the next life, whatever it may be, we
will begin again together. I will teach you from the beginning. Death
and the Great Emotion. It will be very beautiful. Shut your eyes, my
sweet, and we will take the little step together." The thing glistened
in his grasp.

And Joan shut her eyes with her hands to her breast. "I love you,
Martin," she whispered. "I love you. I will wait until you come."

And Gilbert cried out, in a loud ringing voice, "Eternity, oh, God!"
and raised his hand.

There was a crash, a ripping of window screen. Coatless, hatless, his
shirt gaping at the neck, his deep chest heaving, Martin swept into the
room like a storm, flung himself in front of Joan, staggered as the
bullet hit him, cried out her name, crumpled into a heap at her feet.

And an instant later lay beneath the sweet burden of the girl whose
call he had answered once again and to whom life broke like a glass
ball at the sight of him and let her through into space.



V


"You may go in," said the doctor.

And Joan, whiter than a lily, rose from the corner in which she had
been crouching through all the hours of the night and went to the
doorway of the room to which Martin had been carried by the Nice Boy
and Gilbert, the man who had been shocked back to sanity.

On a narrow bed, near a window through which a flood of sunlight
poured, lay Martin from whom Death had turned away,--honest, normal,
muscular, reliable Martin, the bullet no longer in his shoulder. His
eyes, eager and wistful, lit up as he saw her standing there and the
brown hand that was outside the covers opened with a sort of quiver.

With a rush Joan went forward, slipped down on her knees at the side of
the bed, broke into a passion of weeping and pressed her lips to that
outstretched hand.

Making no bones about it, being very young and very badly hurt, Martin
cried too, and their tears washed the bridge away and the barriers and
misunderstandings and criss-crosses that had sprung up between them
during all those adolescent months.

"Martin, Martin, it was all my fault."

"No, it wasn't, Joany. It was mine. I wasn't merely your pal, ever. I
loved and adored you from the very second that I found you out on the
hill. You thought it was a game, but it wasn't. It was the real thing,
and I was afraid to say so."

She crept a little nearer and put her head on his chest. "I was all
wrong, Marty, from the start. I was a fool and a cheat, and you and
Gilbert and Alice have paid my bill. I've sent Gilbert back to Alice,
and they'll forget, but it will take me all my life to earn my way back
to you." She flung her arm across his body, and her tears fell on his
face.

"Oh, God," he cried out, "don't you understand that I love you, Joany?
Send all your bills to me. They're mine, because I'm yours, my baby,
just all yours. You were so young and you had to work it off. I knew
all that and waited. Didn't you know me well enough to be dead sure
that I would wait?"

The burden on her shoulders fell with a crash, and with a great cry of
pent-up gratitude and joy her lips went down to his lips.

But the doctor was not so old that he had forgotten love and youth, and
he left those two young clinging things alone again and went back into
the sun.





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