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Title: The Business of Life
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William), 1865-1933
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Book Cover]



THE BUSINESS OF LIFE



Novels by Robert W. Chambers

  The Business of Life
  Blue-Bird Weather
  Japonette
  The Adventures of a Modest Man
  The Danger Mark
  Special Messenger
  The Firing Line
  The Younger Set
  The Fighting Chance
  Some Ladies in Haste
  The Tree of Heaven
  The Tracer of Lost Persons
  A Young Man in a Hurry
  Lorraine
  Maids of Paradise
  Ashes of Empire
  The Red Republic
  Outsiders
  The Gay Rebellion
  The Streets of Ascalon
  The Common Law
  Ailsa Paige
  The Green Mouse
  Iole
  The Reckoning
  The Maid-at-arms
  Cardigan
  The Haunts of Men
  The Mystery of Choice
  The Cambric Mask
  The Maker of Moons
  The King in Yellow
  In Search of the Unknown
  The Conspirators
  A King and a Few Dukes
  In the Quarter



[Illustration: "'I--yes. Yes--I'll be ready----'" [Page 317]]



_The_ BUSINESS OF LIFE


BY
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS


[Illustration]


WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
CHARLES DANA GIBSON


NEW YORK AND LONDON
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
1913



COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

Copyright, 1912, by the INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY



TO
ELSIE CHAMBERS


  "Il est des noeuds secrets, il est des sympathies
  Dont par le doux rapport les Ames assorties
  S'attachent l'une à l'autre et se laissent piquer
  Par ces je ne sais quoi qu'on ne peut expliquer."

  RODOGUNE.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                    PAGE
  "'I--yes. Yes--I'll be ready----'"                      _Frontispiece_
  "A lady to see you, sir'"                                            3
  "Now and then she ... halted on tip-toe to lift some slitted
      visor"                                                          51
  "She took it ... then read aloud the device in verse"               57
  "'Are business and friendship incompatible?'"                       71
  "'There are nice men, too'"                                         79
  "And he sat thinking of Jacqueline Nevers"                          93
  "She turned leisurely.... 'Did you say anything recently,
      Mr. Desboro?'"                                                 116
  "Desboro stood staring down at the magic picture. Mrs.
      Clydesdale, too, had risen"                                    151
  "'Which is the real pleasure?' she asked"                          159
  "'The thing to do,' he said ... 'is for us both to keep
      very busy'"                                                    161
  "'I--I beg your pardon,' said Jacqueline"                          181
  "There was, for a moment, an unconscious and unwonted grace
      in his manner"                                                 197
  "All the men there had yielded to the delicate attraction
      of her"                                                        205
  "In all the curious eyes turned toward her he saw admiration,
      willing or conceded"                                           209
  "She lost herself in a dreamy Bavarian folk-song"                  219
  "Cheer after cheer rang through the hallway"                       251
  "'Business is kinder to men than women sometimes believe'"         273
  "'Be careful,' he said ... 'People are watching us'"               277
  "Mr. Waudle gaped at her like a fat and expiring fish; the
      poet ... said not a word"                                      345
  "'My dear!' she exclaimed. 'What a perfectly charming office!'"    358
  "She turned ... looked back, hesitated"                            379
  "'_That's_ how hungry I am, Jim. I warned you'"                    385
  "'It was rather odd, wasn't it, Jim?'"                             395
  "'Why don't you ask your--wife?'"                                  411
  "'I do not believe you,' she said between her teeth"               419
  "What was she to do? She had gone half mad with fear"              427
  "'Jacqueline--my wife--is the result of a different training'"     441
  "In the rose dusk of the drawn curtains he stood beside it"        445
  "'Now,' she said, leaning forward ... 'what is the meaning
      of this?'"                                                     455
  "'You have no further interest in me, have you?'"                  479
  "'I--I have never thought mercilessly'"                            487
  "And, as she rose, he was still figuring"                          499



THE BUSINESS OF LIFE



CHAPTER I


[Illustration: "'A lady to see you, sir'"]

"A lady to see you, sir," said Farris.

Desboro, lying on the sofa, glanced up over his book.

"A _lady_?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, who is she, Farris?"

"She refused her name, Mr. James."

Desboro swung his legs to the carpet and sat up.

"What kind of lady is she?" he asked; "a perfect one, or the real
thing?"

"I don't know, sir. It's hard to tell these days; one dresses like
t'other."

Desboro laid aside his book and arose leisurely.

"Where is she?"

"In the reception room, sir."

"Did you ever before see her?"

"I don't know, Mr. James--what with her veil and furs----"

"How did she come?"

"In one of Ransom's hacks from the station. There's a trunk outside,
too."

"What the devil----"

"Yes, sir. That's what made me go to the door. Nobody rang. I heard the
stompin' and the noise; and I went out, and she just kind of walked in.
Yes, sir."

"Is the hack out there yet?"

"No, sir. Ransom's man he left the trunk and drove off. I heard her tell
him he could go."

Desboro remained silent for a few moments, looking hard at the
fireplace; then he tossed his cigarette onto the embers, dropped the
amber mouthpiece into the pocket of his dinner jacket, dismissed Farris
with a pleasant nod, and walked very slowly along the hall, as though in
no haste to meet his visitor before he could come to some conclusion
concerning her identity. For among all the women he had known,
intimately or otherwise, he could remember very few reckless enough, or
brainless enough, or sufficiently self-assured, to pay him an impromptu
visit in the country at such an hour of the night.

The reception room, with its early Victorian furniture, appeared to be
empty, at first glance; but the next instant he saw somebody in the
curtained embrasure of a window--a shadowy figure which did not seem
inclined to leave obscurity--the figure of a woman in veil and furs, her
face half hidden in her muff.

He hesitated a second, then walked toward her; and she lifted her head.

"Elena!" he said, astonished.

"Are you angry, Jim?"

"What are you doing here?"

"I didn't know what to do," said Mrs. Clydesdale, wearily, "and it came
over me all at once that I couldn't stand him any longer."

"What has he done?"

"Nothing. He's just the same--never quite sober--always following me
about, always under foot, always grinning--and buying sixteenth century
enamels--and--I can't stand it! I----" Her voice broke.

"Come into the library," he said curtly.

She found her handkerchief, held it tightly against her eyes, and
reached out toward him to be guided.

In the library fireplace a few embers were still alive. He laid a log
across the coals and used the bellows until the flames started. After
that he dusted his hands, lighted a cigarette, and stood for a moment
watching the mounting blaze.

She had cast aside her furs and was resting on one elbow, twisting her
handkerchief to rags between her gloved hands, and staring at the fire.
One or two tears gathered and fell.

"He'll divorce me now, won't he?" she asked unsteadily.

"Why?"

"Because nobody would believe the truth--after this."

She rested her pretty cheek against the cushion and gazed at the fire
with wide eyes still tearfully brilliant.

"You have me on your hands," she said. "What are you going to do with
me?"

"Send you home."

"You can't. I've disgraced myself. Won't you stand by me, Jim?"

"I can't stand by you if I let you stay here."

"Why not?"

"Because that would be destroying you."

"Are you going to send me away?"

"Certainly."

"Where are you going to send me?"

"Home."

"Home!" she repeated, beginning to cry again. "Why do you call his house
'home'? It's no more my home than he is my husband----"

"He _is_ your husband! What do you mean by talking this way?"

"He _isn't_ my husband. I told him I didn't care for him when he asked
me to marry him. He only grinned. It was a perfectly cold-blooded
bargain. I didn't sell him _everything_!"

"You married him."

"Partly."

"What!"

She flushed crimson.

"I sold him the right to call me his wife and to--to make me so if I
ever came to--care for him. That was the bargain--if you've got to know.
The clergy did their part----"

"Do you mean----"

"Yes!" she said, exasperated. "I mean that it is no marriage, in spite
of law and clergy. And it never will be, because I hate him!"

Desboro looked at her in utter contempt.

"Do you know," he said, "what a rotten thing you have done?"

"Rotten!"

"Do you think it admirable?"

"I didn't sell myself wholesale. It might have been worse."

"You are wrong. Nothing worse could have happened."

"Then I don't care what else happens to me," she said, drawing off her
gloves and unpinning her hat. "I shall not go back to him."

"You can't stay here."

"I will," she said excitedly. "I'm going to break with him--whether or
not I can count on your loyalty to me----" Her voice broke childishly,
and she bowed her head.

He caught his lip between his teeth for a moment. Then he said
savagely:

"You ought not to have come here. There isn't one single thing to excuse
it. Besides, you have just reminded me of my loyalty to you. Can't you
understand that that includes your husband? Also, it isn't in me to
forget that I once asked you to be my wife. Do you think I'd let you
stand for anything less after that? Do you think I'm going to blacken my
own face? I never asked any other woman to marry me, and this settles
it--I never will! You've finished yourself and your sex for me!"

She was crying now, her head in her hands, and the bronze-red hair
dishevelled, sagging between her long, white fingers.

He remained aloof, knowing her, and always afraid of her and of himself
together--a very deadly combination for mischief. And she remained bowed
in the attitude of despair, her lithe young body shaken.

His was naturally a lightly irresponsible disposition, and it came very
easily for him to console beauty in distress--or out of it, for that
matter. Why he was now so fastidious with his conscience in regard to
Mrs. Clydesdale he himself scarcely understood, except that he had once
asked her to marry him; and that he knew her husband. These two facts
seemed to keep him steady. Also, he rather liked her burly husband; and
he had almost recovered from the very real pangs which had pierced him
when she suddenly flung him over and married Clydesdale's millions.

One of the logs had burned out. He rose to replace it with another. When
he returned to the sofa, she looked up at him so pitifully that he bent
over and caressed her hair. And she put one arm around his neck, crying,
uncomforted.

"It won't do," he said; "it won't do. And you know it won't, don't you?
This whole business is dead wrong--dead rotten. But you mustn't cry, do
you hear? Don't be frightened. If there's trouble, I'll stand by you, of
course. Hush, dear, the house is full of servants. Loosen your arms,
Elena! It isn't a square deal to your husband--or to you, or even to me.
Unless people have an even chance with me--men or women--there's nothing
dangerous about me. I never dealt with any man whose eyes were not wide
open--nor with any woman, either. Cary's are shut; yours are blinded."

She sprang up and walked to the fire and stood there, her hands
nervously clenching and unclenching.

"When I tell you that my eyes _are_ wide open--that I don't care what I
do----"

"But your husband's eyes are not open!"

"They ought to be. I left a note saying where I was going--that rather
than be his wife I'd prefer to be your----"

"Stop! You don't know what you're talking about--you little idiot!" he
broke out, furious. "The very words you use don't mean anything to
you--except that you've read them in some fool's novel, or heard them on
a degenerate stage----"

"My words will mean something to _him_, if I can make them!" she
retorted hysterically, "--and if you really care for me----"

Through the throbbing silence Desboro seemed to see Clydesdale, bulky,
partly sober, with his eternal grin and permanently-flushed skin,
rambling about among his porcelains and enamels and jades and ivories,
like a drugged elephant in a bric-a-brac shop. And yet, there had
always been a certain kindly harmlessness and good nature about him that
had always appealed to men.

He said, incredulously: "Did you write to him what you have just said to
me?"

"Yes."

"You actually left such a note for him?"

"Yes, I did."

The silence lasted long enough for her to become uneasy. Again and again
she lifted her tear-swollen face to look at him, where he stood before
the fire, but he did not even glance at her; and at last she murmured
his name, and he turned.

"I guess you've done for us both," he said. "You're probably right;
nobody would believe the truth after this."

She began to cry again silently.

He said: "You never gave your husband a chance. He was in love with you
and you never gave him a chance. And you're giving yourself none, now.
And as for me"--he laughed unpleasantly--"well, I'll leave it to you,
Elena."

"I--I thought--if I burned my bridges and came to you----"

"What _did_ you think?"

"That you'd stand by me, Jim."

"Have I any other choice?" he asked, with a laugh. "We seem to be a
properly damned couple."

"Do--do you care for any other woman?"

"No."

"Then--then----"

"Oh, I am quite free to stand the consequences with you."

"Will you?"

"Can we escape them?"

"_You_ could."

"I'm not in the habit of leaving a sinking ship," he said curtly.

"Then--you will marry me--when----" She stopped short and turned very
white. After a moment the doorbell rang again.

Desboro glanced at the clock, then shrugged.

"Wh--who is it?" she faltered.

"It's probably somebody after you, Elena."

"It _can't_ be. He wouldn't come, would he?"

The bell sounded again.

"What are you going to do?" she breathed.

"Do? Let him in."

"Who do you think it is?"

"Your husband, of course."

"Then--why are you going to let him in?"

"To talk it over with him."

"But--but I don't know what he'll do. I don't know him, I tell you. What
do I know about him--except that he's big and red? How do I know what
might be hidden behind that fixed grin of his?"

"Well, we'll find out in a minute or two," said Desboro coolly.

"Jim! You _must_ stand by me now!"

"I've done it so far, haven't I? You needn't worry."

"You won't let him take me back! He can't, can he?"

"Not if you refuse to go. But you won't refuse--if he's man enough to
ask you to return."

"But--suppose he won't ask me to go back?"

"In that case I'll stand for what you've done. I'll marry you if he
means to disgrace you. Now let's see what he does mean."

She caught his sleeve as he passed her, then let it go. The steady
ringing of the bell was confusing and terrifying her, and she glanced
about her like a trapped creature, listening to the distant jingling of
chains and the click of bolts as Desboro undid the outer door.

Silence, then a far sound in the hall, footsteps coming nearer, nearer;
and she dropped stiffly on the sofa as Desboro entered, followed by Cary
Clydesdale in fur motor cap, coat and steaming goggles.

Desboro motioned her husband to a chair, but the man stood looking at
his wife through his goggles, with a silly, fixed grin stamped on his
features. Then he drew off the goggles and one fur gauntlet, fumbled in
his overcoat, produced the crumpled note which she had left for him,
laid it on the table between them, and sat down heavily, filling the
leather armchair with his bulk. His bare red hand steamed. After a
moment's silence, he pointed at the note.

"Well," she said, with an effort, "what of it! It's true--what this
letter says."

"It isn't true yet, is it?" asked Clydesdale simply.

"What do you mean?"

But Desboro understood him, and answered for her with a calm shake of
his head. Then the wife understood, too, and the deep colour dyed her
skin from throat to brow.

"Why do you come here--after reading that?" She pointed at the letter.
"Didn't you read it?"

Clydesdale passed his hand slowly over his perplexed eyes.

"I came to take you home. The car is here."

"Didn't you understand what I wrote? Isn't it plain enough?" she
demanded excitedly.

"No. You'd better get ready, Elena."

"Is that as much of a man as you are--when I tell you I'd rather be Mr.
Desboro's----"

Something behind the fixed grin on her husband's face made her hesitate
and falter. Then he swung heavily around and looked at Desboro.

"How much are you in this, anyway?" he asked, still grinning.

"Do you expect an answer?"

"I think I'll get one."

"I think you won't get one out of me."

"Oh. So you're at the bottom of it all, are you?"

"No doubt. A woman doesn't do such a thing unpersuaded. If you don't
know enough to look after your own wife, there are plenty of men who'll
apply for the job--as I did."

"You're a very rotten scoundrel, aren't you?" said Clydesdale, grinning.

"Oh, so-so."

Clydesdale sat very still, his grin unchanged, and Desboro looked him
over coolly.

"Now, what do you want to do? You and Mrs. Clydesdale can remain here
to-night if you wish. There are plenty of bedrooms----"

Clydesdale rose, bulking huge and menacing in his furs; but Desboro,
sitting on the edge of the table, continued to swing one foot gently,
smiling at danger.

And Clydesdale hesitated, then veered around toward his wife, with the
heavy movement of a perplexed and tortured bear.

"Get your furs on," he said, in a dull voice.

"Do you wish me to go home?"

"Get your furs on!"

"Do you wish me to go home, Cary?"

"Yes. Good God! What do you suppose I came here for?"

She walked over to Desboro and held out her hand:

"No wonder women like you. Good-bye--and if I come again--may I remain?"

"Don't come," he said, smiling, and holding her coat for her.

Clydesdale strode forward, took the fur garment from Desboro's hands,
and held it open. His wife looked up at him, shrugged her shoulders, and
suffered him to invest her with the coat.

After a moment Desboro said:

"Clydesdale, I am not your enemy. I wish you good luck."

"You go to hell," said Clydesdale thickly.

Mrs. Clydesdale moved toward the door, her husband on one side, Desboro
on the other, and so, along the hall in silence, and out to the porch,
where the glare of the acetylenes lighted up the frozen drive.

"It feels like rain," observed Desboro. "Not a very gay outlook for
Christmas. All the same, I wish you a happy one, Elena. And, really, I
believe you could have it if you cared to."

"Thank you, Jim. You have been mistakenly kind to me. I am afraid you
will have to be crueller some day. Good-bye--till then."

Clydesdale had descended to the drive and was conferring with the
chauffeur. Now he turned and looked up at his wife. She went down the
steps beside Desboro, and he nodded good-night. Clydesdale put her into
the limousine and then got in after her.

A few moments later the red tail-lamp of the motor disappeared among the
trees bordering the drive, and Desboro turned and walked back into the
house.

"That," he said aloud to himself, "settles the damned species for me!
Let the next one look out for herself!"

He sauntered back into the library. The letter that she had left for her
husband still lay on the table, apparently forgotten.

"A fine specimen of logic," he said. "She doesn't get on with him, so
she decides to use Jim to jimmy the lock of wedlock! A white man can
understand the Orientals better."

He glanced at the clock, and decided that there was no sense in going to
bed, so he composed himself on the haircloth sofa once more, lighted a
cigarette, and began to read, coolly using the note she had left, as a
bookmark.

It was dawn before he closed the book and went away to bathe and change
his attire.

While breakfasting he glanced out and saw that it had begun to rain. A
green Christmas for day after to-morrow! And, thinking of Christmas, he
thought of a girl he knew who usually wore blue, and what sort of a gift
he had better send her when he went to the city that morning.

But he didn't go. He called up a jeweler and gave directions what to
send and where to send it.

Then, listless, depressed, he idled about the great house, putting off
instinctively the paramount issue--the necessary investigation of his
finances. But he had evaded it too long to attempt it lightly now. It
was only a question of days before he'd have to take up in deadly
earnest the question of how to pay his debts. He knew it; and it made
him yawn with disgust.

After luncheon he wrote a letter to one Jean Louis Nevers, a New York
dealer in antiques, saying that he would drop in some day after
Christmas to consult Mr. Nevers on a matter of private business.

And that is as far as he got with his very vague plan for paying off an
accumulation of debts which, at last, were seriously annoying him.

The remainder of the day he spent tramping about the woods of
Westchester with a pack of nondescript dogs belonging to him. He liked
to walk in the rain; he liked his mongrels.

In the evening he resumed his attitude of unstudied elegance on the
sofa, also his book, using Mrs. Clydesdale's note again to mark his
place.

Mrs. Quant ventured to knock, bringing some "magic drops," which he
smilingly refused. Farris announced dinner, and he dined as usual,
surrounded by dogs and cats, all very cordial toward the master of
Silverwood, who was unvaryingly so just and so kind to them.

After dinner he lighted a pipe, thought idly of the girl in blue, hoped
she'd like his gift of aquamarines, and picked up his book again,
yawning.

He had had about enough of Silverwood, and he was realising it. He had
had more than enough of women, too.

The next day, riding one of his weedy hunters over Silverwood estate, he
encountered the daughter of a neighbor, an old playmate of his when
summer days were half a year long, and yesterdays immediately became
embedded in the middle of the middle ages.

She was riding a fretful, handsome Kentucky three-year-old, and sitting
nonchalantly to his exasperating and jiggling gait.

The girl was one Daisy Hammerton--the sort men call "square" and
"white," and a "good fellow"; but she was softly rounded and dark, and
very feminine.

She bade him good morning in a friendly voice; and her voice and manner
might well have been different, for Desboro had not behaved very civilly
toward her or toward her family, or to any of his Westchester neighbors
for that matter; and the rumours of his behaviour in New York were
anything but pleasant to a young girl's ears. So her cordiality was the
more to her credit.

He made rather shame-faced inquiries about her and her parents, but she
lightly put him at his ease, and they turned into the woods together on
the old and unembarrassed terms of comradeship.

"Captain Herrendene is back. Did you know it?" she asked.

"Nice old bird," commented Desboro. "I must look him up. Where did he
come from--Luzon?"

"Yes. He wrote us. Why don't you ask him up for the skating, Jim?"

"What skating?" said Desboro, with a laugh. "It will be a green
Christmas, Daisy--it's going to rain again. Besides," he added, "I
shan't be here much longer."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

He reddened. "You always were the sweetest thing in Westchester. Fancy
your being sorry that I'm going back to town when I've never once ridden
over to see you as long as I've been here!"

She laughed. "We've known each other too long to let such things make
any real difference. But you _have_ been a trifle negligent."

"Daisy, dear, I'm that way in everything. If anybody asked me to name
the one person I would not neglect, I'd name you. But you see what
happens--even to you! I don't know--I don't seem to have any character.
I don't know what's the matter with me----"

"I'm afraid that you have no beliefs, Jim."

"How can I have any when the world is so rotten after nineteen hundred
years of Christianity?"

"I have not found it rotten."

"No, because you live in a clean and wholesome circle."

"Why don't you, too? You can live where you please, can't you?"

He laughed and waved his hand toward the horizon.

"You know what the Desboros have always been. You needn't pretend you
don't. All Westchester has it in for us. But relief is in sight," he
added, with mock seriousness. "I'm the last of 'em, and your children,
Daisy, won't have to endure the morally painful necessity of tolerating
anybody of my name in the county."

She smiled: "Jim, you could be so nice if you only would."

"What! With no beliefs?"

"They're so easily acquired."

"Not in New York town, Daisy."

"Perhaps not among the people you affect. But such people really count
for so little--they are only a small but noisy section of a vast and
quiet and wholesome community. And the noise and cynicism are both based
on idleness, Jim. Nobody who is busy is destitute of beliefs. Nobody who
is responsible can avoid ideals."

"Quite right," he said. "I am idle and irresponsible. But, Daisy, it's
as much part of me as are my legs and arms, and head and body. I am not
stupid; I have plenty of mental resources; I am never bored; I enjoy my
drift through life in an empty tub as much as the man who pulls
furiously through it in a rowboat loaded with ambitions, ballasted with
brightly moral resolves, and buffeted by the cross seas of duty and
conscience. That's rather neat, isn't it?"

"You can't drift safely very long without ballast," said the girl,
smiling.

"Watch me."

She did not answer that she had been watching him for the last few
years, or tell him how it had hurt her to hear his name linked with the
gossip of fashionably vapid doings among idle and vapid people. For his
had been an inheritance of ability and culture, and the leisure to
develop both. Out of idleness and easy virtue had at last emerged three
generations of Desboros full of energy and almost ruthless ability--his
great-grandfather, grandfather and father--but he, the fourth
generation, was throwing back into the melting pot all that his father
and grandfathers had carried from it--even the material part of it. Land
and fortune, were beginning to disappear, together with the sturdy
mental and moral qualities of a race that had almost overcome its
vicious origin under the vicious Stuarts. Only the physical stamina as
yet seemed to remain intact; for Desboro was good to look upon.

"An odd thing happened the other night--or, rather, early in the
morning," she said. "We were awakened by a hammering at the door and a
horn blowing--and guess who it was?"

"Not Gabriel--though you look immortally angelic to-day----"

"Thank you, Jim. No; it was Cary and Elena Clydesdale, saying that their
car had broken down. What a ridiculous hour to be motoring! Elena was
half dead with the cold, too. It seems they'd been to a party somewhere
and were foolish enough to try to motor back to town. They stopped with
us and took the noon train to town. Elena told me to give you her love;
that's what reminded me."

"Give her mine when you see her," he said pleasantly.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he returned to his house he sat down with a notion of trying to
bring order out of the chaos into which his affairs had tumbled. But the
mere sight of his desk, choked with unanswered letters and unpaid bills,
sickened him, and he threw himself on the sofa and picked up his book,
determined to rid himself of Silverwood House and all its curious,
astonishing and costly contents.

"Tell Riley to be on hand Monday," he said to Mrs. Quant that evening.
"I want the cases in the wing rooms and the stuff in the armoury cleaned
up, because I expect a Mr. Nevers to come here and recatalogue the
entire collection next week."

"Will you be at home, Mr. James?" she asked anxiously.

"No. I'm going South, duck-shooting. See that Mr. Nevers is comfortable
if he chooses to remain here; for it will take him a week or two to do
his work in the armoury, I suppose. So you'll have to start both
furnaces to-morrow, and keep open fires going, or the man will freeze
solid. You understand, don't you?"

"Yes, sir. And if you are going away, Mr. James, I could pack a little
bottle of 'magic drops'----"

"By all means," he said, with good-humoured resignation.

He spent the evening fussing over his guns and ammunition, determined to
go to New York in the morning. But he didn't; indecision had become a
habit; he knew it, wondered a little at himself for his lack of
decision.

He was deadly weary of Silverwood, but too lazy to leave; and it made
him think of the laziest dog on record, who yelped all day because he
had sat down on a tack and was too lazy to get up.

So it was not until the middle of Christmas week that Desboro summoned
up sufficient energy to start for New York. And when at last he was on
the train, he made up his mind that he wouldn't return to Silverwood in
a hurry.

But that plan was one of the mice-like plans men make so confidently
under the eternal skies.



CHAPTER II


Desboro arrived in town on a late train. It was raining, so he drove to
his rooms, exchanged his overcoat for a raincoat, and went out into the
downpour again, undisturbed, disdaining an umbrella.

In a quarter of an hour's vigorous walking he came to the celebrated
antique shop of Louis Nevers, and entered, letting in a gust of wind and
rain at his heels.

Everywhere in the semi-gloom of the place objects loomed mysteriously,
their outlines lost in shadow except where, here and there, a gleam of
wintry daylight touched a jewel or fell across some gilded god,
lotus-throned, brooding alone.

When Desboro's eyes became accustomed to the obscurity, he saw that
there was armour there, complete suits, Spanish and Milanese, and an odd
Morion or two; and there were jewels in old-time settings, tapestries,
silver, ivories, Hispano-Moresque lustre, jades, crystals.

The subdued splendour of Chinese and Japanese armour, lacquered in
turquoise, and scarlet and gold, glimmered on lay figures masked by
grotesque helmets; an Ispahan rug, softly luminous, trailed across a
table beside him, and on it lay a dead Sultan's scimitar, curved like
the new moon, its slim blade inset with magic characters, the hilt
wrought as delicately as the folded frond of a fern, graceful,
exquisite, gem-incrusted.

There were a few people about the shop, customers and clerks, moving
shapes in the dull light. Presently a little old salesman wearing a
skull cap approached him.

"Rainy weather for Christmas week, sir. Can I be of service?"

"Thanks," said Desboro. "I came here by appointment on a matter of
private business."

"Certainly, sir. I think Miss Nevers is not engaged. Kindly give me your
card and I will find out."

"But I wish to see Mr. Nevers himself."

"Mr. Nevers is dead, sir."

"Oh! I didn't know----"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Nevers died two years ago." And, as Desboro remained
silent and thoughtful: "Perhaps you might wish to see Miss Nevers? She
has charge of everything now, including all our confidential affairs."

"No doubt," said Desboro pleasantly, "but this is an affair requiring
personal judgment and expert advice----"

"I understand, sir. The gentlemen who came to see Mr. Nevers about
matters requiring expert opinions now consult Miss Nevers personally."

"Who is _Miss_ Nevers?"

"His daughter, sir." He added, with quaint pride: "The great jewelers of
Fifth Avenue consult her; experts in our business often seek her advice.
The Museum authorities have been pleased to speak highly of her
monograph on Hurtado de Mendoza."

Desboro hesitated for a moment, then gave his card to the old salesman,
who trotted away with it down the unlighted vista of the shop.

The young man's pleasantly indifferent glance rested on one object after
another, not unintelligently, but without particular interest. Yet
there were some very wonderful and very rare and beautiful things to be
seen in the celebrated shop of the late Jean Louis Nevers.

So he stood, leaning on his walking stick, the upturned collar of his
raincoat framing a face which was too colourless and worn for a man of
his age; and presently the little old salesman came trotting back, the
tassel on his neat silk cap bobbing with every step.

"Miss Nevers will be very glad to see you in her private office. This
way, if you please, sir."

Desboro followed to the rear of the long, dusky shop, turned to the left
through two more rooms full of shadowy objects dimly discerned, then
traversed a tiled passage to where electric lights burned over a
doorway.

The old man opened the door; Desboro entered and found himself in a
square picture gallery, lighted from above, and hung all around with
dark velvet curtains to protect the pictures on sale. As he closed the
door behind him a woman at a distant desk turned her head, but remained
seated, pen poised, looking across the room at him as he advanced. Her
black gown blended so deceptively with the hangings that at first he
could distinguish only the white face and throat and hands against the
shadows behind her.

"Will you kindly announce me to Miss Nevers?" he said, looking around
for a chair.

"I am Miss Nevers."

She closed the ledger in which she had been writing, laid aside her pen
and rose. As she came forward he found himself looking at a tall girl,
slim to thinness, except for the rounded oval of her face under a loose
crown of yellow hair, from which a stray lock sagged untidily, curling
across her cheek.

He thought: "A blue-stocking prodigy of learning, with her hair in a
mess, and painted at that." But he said politely, yet with that hint of
idle amusement in his voice which often sounded through his speech with
women:

"Are you the Miss Nevers who has taken over this antique business, and
who writes monographs on Hurtado de Mendoza?"

"Yes."

"You appear to be very young to succeed such a distinguished authority
as your father, Miss Nevers."

His observation did not seem to disturb her, nor did the faintest hint
of mockery in his pleasant voice. She waited quietly for him to state
his business.

He said: "I came here to ask somebody's advice about engaging an expert
to appraise and catalogue my collection."

And even while he was speaking he was conscious that never before had he
seen such a white skin and such red lips--if they were natural. And he
began to think that they might be.

He said, noticing the bright lock astray on her cheek once more:

"I suppose that I may speak to you in confidence--just as I would have
spoken to your father."

She was still looking at him with the charm of youthful inquiry in her
eyes.

"Certainly," she said.

She glanced down at his card which still lay on her blotter, stood a
moment with her hand resting on the desk, then indicated a chair at her
elbow and seated herself.

He took the chair.

"I wrote you that I'd drop in sometime this week. The note was directed
to your father. I did not know he was not living."

"You are the Mr. Desboro who owns the collection of armour?" she asked.

"I am that James Philip Desboro who lives at Silverwood," he said.
"Evidently you have heard of the Desboro collection of arms and armour."

"Everybody has, I think."

He said, carelessly: "Museums, amateur collectors, and students know it,
and I suppose most dealers in antiques have heard of it."

"Yes, all of them, I believe."

"My house," he went on, "Silverwood, is in darkest Westchester, and my
recent grandfather, who made the collection, built a wing to contain it.
It's there as he left it. My father made no additions to it. Nor," he
added, "have I. Now I want to ask you whether a lot of those things have
not increased in value since my grandfather's day?"

"No doubt."

"And the collection is valuable?"

"I think it must be--very."

"And to determine its value I ought to have an expert go there and
catalogue it and appraise it?"

"Certainly."

"Who? That's what I've come here to find out."

"Perhaps you might wish us to do it."

"Is that still part of your business?"

"It is."

"Well," he said, after a moment's thought, "I am going to sell the
Desboro collection."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, under her breath; and looked up to find
him surprised and beginning to be amused again.

"Your attitude is not very professional--for a dealer in antiques," he
said quizzically.

"I am something else, too, Mr. Desboro." She had flushed a little, not
responding to his lighter tone.

"I am very sure you are," he said. "Those who really know about and care
for such collections must feel sorry to see them dispersed."

"I had hoped that the Museum might have the Desboro collection some
day," she said, in a low voice.

He said: "I am sorry it is not to be so," and had the grace to redden a
trifle.

She played with her pen, waiting for him to continue; and she was so
young, and fresh, and pretty that he was in no hurry to finish. Besides,
there was something about her face that had been interesting him--an
expression which made him think sometimes that she was smiling, or on
the verge of it. But the slightly upcurled corners of her mouth had been
fashioned so by her Maker, or perhaps had become so from some inborn
gaiety of heart, leaving a faint, sweet imprint on her lips.

To watch her was becoming a pleasure. He wondered what her smile might
be like--all the while pretending an absent-minded air which cloaked his
idle curiosity.

She waited, undisturbed, for him to come to some conclusion. And all the
while he was thinking that her lips were perhaps just a trifle too
full--that there was more of Aphrodite in her face than of any saint he
remembered; but her figure was thin enough for any saint. Perhaps a
course of banquets--perhaps a régime under a diet list warranted to
improve----

"Did you ever see the Desboro collection, Miss Nevers?" he asked
vaguely.

"No."

"What expert will you send to catalogue and appraise it?"

"_I_ could go."

"You!" he said, surprised and smiling.

"That is my profession."

"I knew, of course, that it was your father's. But I never supposed that
you----"

"Did you wish to have an appraisement made, Mr. Desboro?" she
interrupted dryly.

"Why, yes, I suppose so. Otherwise, I wouldn't know what to ask for
anything."

"Have you really decided to sell that superb collection?" she demanded.

"What else can I do?" he inquired gayly. "I suppose the Museum ought to
have it, but I can't afford to give it away or to keep it. In other
words--and brutal ones--I need money."

She said gravely: "I am sorry."

And he knew she didn't mean that she was sorry because he needed money,
but because the Museum was not to have the arms, armour, jades, and
ivories. Yet, somehow, her "I am sorry" sounded rather sweet to him.

For a while he sat silent, one knee crossed over the other, twisting the
silver crook of his stick. From moment to moment she raised her eyes
from the blotter to let them rest inquiringly on him, then went on
tracing arabesques over her blotter with an inkless pen. One slender
hand was bracketed on her hip, and he noticed the fingers, smooth and
rounded as a child's. Nor could he keep his eyes from her profile, with
its delicate, short nose, ever so slightly arched, and its lips, just a
trifle too sensuous--and that soft lock astray again against her cheek.
No, her hair was not dyed, either. And it was as though she divined his
thought, for she looked up suddenly from her blotter and he instantly
gazed elsewhere, feeling guilty and impertinent--sentiments not often
experienced by that young man.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Miss Nevers," he concluded, "I'll write you
a letter to my housekeeper, Mrs. Quant. Shall I? And you'll go up and
look over the collection and let me know what you think of it!"

"Do you not expect to be there?"

"Ought I to be?"

"I really can't answer you, but it seems to me rather important that the
owner of a collection should be present when the appraiser begins work."

"The fact is," he said, "I'm booked for a silly shooting trip. I'm
supposed to start to-morrow."

"Then perhaps you had better write the letter. My full name is
Jacqueline Nevers--if you require it. You may use my desk."

She rose; he thanked her, seated himself, and began a letter to Mrs.
Quant, charging her to admit, entertain, and otherwise particularly
cherish one Miss Jacqueline Nevers, and give her the keys to the
armoury.

While he was busy, Jacqueline Nevers paced the room backward and
forward, her pretty head thoughtfully bent, hands clasped behind her,
moving leisurely, absorbed in her cogitations.

Desboro ended his letter and sat for a moment watching her until,
happening to glance at him, she discovered his idleness.

"Have you finished?" she asked.

A trifle out of countenance he rose and explained that he had, and laid
the letter on her blotter. Realising that she was expecting him to take
his leave, he also realised that he didn't want to. And he began to spar
with Destiny for time.

"I suppose this matter will require several visits from you," he
inquired.

"Yes, several."

"It takes some time to catalogue and appraise such a collection, doesn't
it?"

"Yes."

She answered him very sweetly but impersonally, and there seemed to be
in her brief replies no encouragement for him to linger. So he started
to pick up his hat, thinking as fast as he could all the while; and his
facile wits saved him at the last moment.

"Well, upon my word!" he exclaimed. "Do you know that you and I have not
yet discussed terms?"

"We make our usual charges," she said.

"And what are those?"

She explained briefly.

"That is for cataloguing and appraising only?"

"Yes."

"And if you sell the collection?"

"We take our usual commission."

"And you think you _can_ sell it for me?"

"I'll have to--won't I?"

He laughed. "But _can_ you?"

"Yes."

As the curt affirmative fell from her lips, suddenly, under all her
delicate, youthful charm, Desboro divined the note of hidden strength,
the self-confidence of capability--oddly at variance with her allure of
lovely immaturity. Yet he might have surmised it, for though her figure
was that of a girl, her face, for all its soft, fresh beauty, was a
woman's, and already firmly moulded in noble lines which even the
scarlet fulness of the lips could not deny. For if she had the mouth of
Aphrodite, she had her brow, also.

He had not been able to make her smile, although the upcurled corners of
her mouth seemed always to promise something. He wondered what her
expression might be like when animated--even annoyed. And his idle
curiosity led him on to the edges of impertinence.

"May I say something that I have in mind and not offend you?" he asked.

"Yes--if you wish." She lifted her eyes.

"Do you think you are old enough and experienced enough to catalogue and
appraise such an important collection as this one? I thought perhaps you
might prefer not to take such a responsibility upon yourself, but would
rather choose to employ some veteran expert."

She was silent.

"Have I offended you?"

She walked slowly to the end of the room, turned, and, passing him a
third time, looked up at him and laughed--a most enchanting little
laugh--a revelation as delightful as it was unexpected.

"I believe you really _want_ to do it yourself!" he exclaimed.

"_Want_ to? I'm dying to! I don't think there is anything in the world I
had rather try!" she said, with a sudden flush and sparkle of
recklessness that transfigured her. "Do you suppose anybody in my
business would willingly miss the chance of personally handling such a
transaction? Of _course_ I want to. Not only because it would be a most
creditable transaction for this house--not only because it would be a
profitable business undertaking, but"--and the swift, engaging smile
parted her lips once more--"in a way I feel as though my own ability had
been questioned----"

"By me?" he protested. "Did I actually dare question your ability?"

"Something very like it. So, naturally, I would seize an opportunity to
vindicate myself--if you offer it----"

"I do offer it," he said.

"I accept."

There was a moment's indecisive silence. He picked up his hat and stick,
lingering still; then:

"Good-bye, Miss Nevers. When are you going up to Silverwood?"

"To-morrow, if it is quite convenient."

"Entirely. I may be there. Perhaps I can fix it--put off that shooting
party for a day or two."

"I hope so."

"I hope so, too."

He walked reluctantly toward the door, turned and came all the way back.

"Perhaps you had rather I remained away from Silverwood."

"Why?"

"But, of course," he said, "there is a nice old housekeeper there, and a
lot of servants----"

She laughed. "Thank you very much, Mr. Desboro. It is very nice of you,
but I had not considered that at all. Business women must disregard such
conventions, if they're to compete with men. I'd like you to be there,
because I may have questions to ask."

"Certainly--it's very good of you. I--I'll try to be there----"

"Because I might have some very important questions to ask you," she
repeated.

"Of course. I've got to be there. Haven't I?"

"It might be better for your interests."

"Then I'll be there. Well, good-bye, Miss Nevers."

"Good-bye, Mr. Desboro."

"And thank you for undertaking it," he said cordially.

"Thank _you_ for asking me."

"Oh, I'm--I'm really delighted. It's most kind of _you_. _Good_-bye,
Miss Nevers."

"_Good_-bye, Mr. Desboro."

He had to go that time; and he went still retaining a confused vision of
blue eyes and vivid lips, and of a single lock of hair astray once more
across a smooth, white cheek.

When he had gone, Jacqueline seated herself at her desk and picked up
her pen. She remained so for a while, then emerged abruptly from a fit
of abstraction and sorted some papers unnecessarily. When she had
arranged them to her fancy, she rearranged them. Then the little Louis
XVI desk interested her, and she examined the inset placques of flowered
Sèvres in detail, as though the little desk of tulip, satinwood and
walnut had not stood there since she was a child.

Later she noticed his card on her blotter; and, face framed in her
hands, she studied it so long that the card became a glimmering white
patch and vanished; and before her remote gaze his phantom grew out of
space, seated there in the empty chair beside her--the loosened collar
of his raincoat revealing to her the most attractive face of any man she
had ever looked upon in her twenty-two years of life.

Toward evening the electric lamps were lighted in the shop; rain fell
more heavily outside; few people entered. She was busy with ledgers and
files of old catalogues recording auction sales, the name of the
purchaser and the prices pencilled on the margins in her father's
curious handwriting. Also her card index aided her. Under the head of
"Desboro" she was able to note what objects of interest or of art her
father had bought for her recent visitor's grandfather, and the prices
paid--little, indeed, in those days, compared with what the same objects
would now bring. And, continuing her search, she finally came upon an
uncompleted catalogue of the Desboro collection. It was in
manuscript--her father's peculiar French chirography--neat and accurate
as far as it went.

Everything bearing upon the Desboro collection she bundled together and
strapped with rubber bands; then, one by one, the clerks and salesmen
came to report to her before closing up. She locked the safe, shut her
desk, and went out to the shop, where she remained until the shutters
were clamped and the last salesman had bade her a cheery good night.
Then, bolting the door and double-locking it, she went back along the
passage and up the stairs, where she had the two upper floors to
herself, and a cook and chambermaid to keep house for her.

In the gaslight of the upper apartment she seemed even more slender than
by daylight--her eyes bluer, her lips more scarlet. She glanced into the
mirror of her dresser as she passed, pausing to twist up the unruly lock
that had defied her since childhood.

Everywhere in the room Christmas was still in evidence--a tiny tree,
with frivolous, glittering things still twisted and suspended among the
branches, calendars, sachets, handkerchiefs still gaily tied in ribbons,
flowering shrubs swathed in tissue and bows of tulle--these from her
salesmen, and she had carefully but pleasantly maintained the line of
demarcation by presenting each with a gold piece.

But there were other gifts--gloves and stockings, and bon-bons, and
books, from the friends who were girls when she too was a child at
school; and a set of volumes from Cary Clydesdale whose collection of
jades she was cataloguing. The volumes were very beautiful and
expensive. The gift had surprised her.

Among her childhood friends was her social niche; the circumference of
their circle the limits of her social environment. They came to her and
she went to them; their pastimes and pleasures were hers; and if there
was not, perhaps, among them her intellectual equal, she had not yet
felt the need of such companionship, but had been satisfied to have them
hold her as a good companion who otherwise possessed much strange and
perhaps useless knowledge quite beyond their compass. And she was shyly
content with her intellectual isolation.

So, amid these people, she had found a place prepared for her when she
emerged from childhood. What lay outside of this circle she surmised
with the intermittent curiosity of ignorance, or of a bystander who
watches a pageant for a moment and hastens on, preoccupied with matters
more familiar.

All young girls think of pleasures; she had thought of them always when
the day's task was ended, and she had sought them with all the ardour of
youth, with a desire unwearied, and a thirst unquenched.

In her, mental and physical pleasure were wholesomely balanced; the keen
delight of intellectual experience, the happiness of research and
attainment, went hand in hand with a rather fastidious appetite for
having the best time that circumstances permitted.

She danced when she had a chance, went to theatres and restaurants with
her friends, bathed at Manhattan in summer, when gay parties were
organised, and did the thousand innocent things that thousands of young
business girls do whose lines are cast in the metropolis.

Since her father's death she had been intensely lonely; only a desperate
and steady application to business had pulled her through the first year
without a breakdown.

The second year she rejoined her friends and went about again with them.
Now, the third year since her father's death was already dawning; and
her last prayer as the old year died had been that the new one would
bring her friends and happiness.

Seated before the wood fire in her bedroom, leisurely undressing, she
thought of Desboro and the business that concerned him. He was so very
good looking--in the out-world manner--the manner of those who dwelt
outside her orbit.

She had not been very friendly with him at first. She had wanted to be;
instinct counselled reserve, and she had listened--until the very last.
He had a way of laughing at her in every word--in even an ordinary
business conversation. She had been conscious all the while of his
half-listless interest in her, of an idle curiosity, which, before it
had grown offensive, had become friendly and at times almost boyish in
its naïve self-disclosure. And it made her smile to remember how very
long it took him to take his leave.

But--a man of that kind--a man of the out-world--with the _something_ in
his face that betrays shadows which she had never seen cast--and never
would see--_he_ was no boy. For in his face was the faint imprint of
that pallid wisdom which warned. Women in his own world might ignore the
warning; perhaps it did not menace them. But instinct told her that it
might be different outside that world.

She nestled into her fire-warmed bath-robe and sat pensively fitting and
refitting her bare feet into her slippers.

Men were odd; alike and unalike. Since her father's death, she had had
to be careful. Wealthy gentlemen, old and young, amateurs of armour,
ivories, porcelains, jewels, all clients of her father, had sometimes
sent for her too many times on too many pretexts; and sometimes their
paternal manner toward her had made her uncomfortable. Desboro was of
that same caste. Perhaps he was not like them otherwise.

       *       *       *       *       *

When she had bathed and dressed, she dined alone, not having any
invitation for the evening. After dinner she talked on the telephone to
her little friend, Cynthia Lessler, whose late father's business had
been to set jewels and repair antique watches and clocks. Incidentally,
he drank and chased his daughter about with a hatchet until she fled for
good one evening, which afforded him an opportunity to drink himself
very comfortably to death in six months.

"Hello, Cynthia!" called Jacqueline, softly.

"Hello! Is it you, Jacqueline, dear?"

"Yes. Don't you want to come over and eat chocolates and gossip?"

"Can't do it. I'm just starting for the hall."

"I thought you'd finished rehearsing."

"I've got to be on hand all the same. How are you, sweetness, anyway?"

"Blooming, my dear. I'm crazy to tell you about my good luck. I have a
splendid commission with which to begin the new year."

"Good for you! What is it?"

"I can't tell you yet"--laughingly--"it's confidential business----"

"Oh, I know. Some old, fat man wants you to catalogue his collection."

"No! He isn't fat, either. You _are_ the limit, Cynthia!"

"All the same, look out for him," retorted Cynthia. "_I_ know man and
his kind. Office experience is a liberal education; the theatre a
post-graduate course. Are you coming to the dance to-morrow night?"

"Yes. I suppose the usual people will be there?"

"Some new ones. There's an awfully good-looking newspaper man from
Yonkers. He has a car in town, too."

Something--some new and unaccustomed impatience--she did not understand
exactly what--prompted Jacqueline to say scornfully:

"His name is Eddie, isn't it?"

"No. Why do you ask?"

A sudden vision of Desboro, laughing at her under every word of an
unsmiling and commonplace conversation, annoyed her.

"Oh, Cynthia, dear, every good-looking man we meet is usually named Ed
and comes from places like Yonkers."

Cynthia, slightly perplexed, said slangily that she didn't "get" her;
and Jacqueline admitted that she herself didn't know what she had meant.

They gossiped for a while, then Cynthia ended:

"I'll see you to-morrow night, won't I? And listen, you little white
mouse, I get what you mean by 'Eddie'."

"Do you?"

"Yes. Shall I see you at the dance?"

"Yes, and 'Eddie,' too. Good-bye."

Jacqueline laughed again, then shivered slightly and hung up the
receiver.

Back before her bedroom fire once more, Grenville's volume on ancient
armour across her knees, she turned the illuminated pages absently, and
gazed into the flames. What she saw among them apparently did not amuse
her, for after a while she frowned, shrugged her shoulders, and resumed
her reading.

But the XV century knights, in their gilded or silvered harness, had
Desboro's lithe figure, and the lifted vizors of their helmets always
disclosed his face. Shields emblazoned with quarterings, plumed armets,
the golden morions, banner, pennon, embroidered surtout, and the
brilliant trappings of battle horse and palfry, became only a confused
blur of colour under her eyes, framing a face that looked back at her
out of youthful eyes, marred by the shadow of a wisdom she knew
about--alas--but did not know.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man of whom she was thinking had walked back to the club through a
driving rain, still under the fascination of the interview, still
excited by its novelty and by her unusual beauty. He could not quite
account for his exhilaration either, because, in New York, beauty is
anything but unusual among the hundreds of thousands of young women who
work for a living--for that is one of the seven wonders of the city--and
it is the rule rather than the exception that, in this new race which is
evolving itself out of an unknown amalgam, there is scarcely a young
face in which some trace of it is not apparent at a glance.

Which is why, perhaps, he regarded his present exhilaration humorously,
or meant to; perhaps why he chose to think of her as "Stray Lock,"
instead of Miss Nevers, and why he repeated confidently to himself:
"She's thin as a Virgin by the 'Master of the Death of Mary'." And yet
that haunting expression of her face--the sweetness of the lips upcurled
at the corners--the surprising and lovely revelation of her
laughter--these impressions persisted as he swung on through the rain,
through the hurrying throngs just released from shops and great
department stores, and onward up the wet and glimmering avenue to his
destination, which was the Olympian Club.

In the cloak room there were men he knew, being divested of wet hats and
coats; in reading room, card room, lounge, billiard hall, squash court,
and gymnasium, men greeted him with that friendly punctiliousness which
indicates popularity; from the splashed edge of the great swimming pool
men hailed him; clerks and club servants saluted him smilingly as he
sauntered about through the place, still driven into motion by an
inexplicable and unaccustomed restlessness. Cairns discovered him coming
out of the billiard room:

"Have a snifter?" he suggested affably. "I'll find Ledyard and play you
'nigger' or 'rabbit' afterward, if you like."

Desboro laid a hand on his friend's shoulder:

"Jack, I've a business engagement at Silverwood to-morrow, and I believe
I'd better go home to-night."

"Heavens! You've just been there! And what about the shooting trip?"

"I can join you day after to-morrow."

"Oh, come, Jim, are you going to spoil our card quartette on the train?
Reggie Ledyard will kill you."

"He might, at that," said Desboro pleasantly. "But I've got to be at
Silverwood to-morrow. It's a matter of business, Jack."

"_You_ and business! Lord! The amazing alliance! What are you going to
do--sell a few superannuated Westchester hens at auction? By heck!
You're a fake farmer and a pitiable piker, that's what _you_ are. And
Stuyve Van Alstyne had a wire to-night that the ducks and geese are
coming in to the guns by millions----"

"Go ahead and shoot 'em, then! I'll probably be along in time to pick up
the game for you."

"You won't go with us?"

"Not to-morrow. A man can't neglect his own business _every_ day in the
year."

"Then you won't be in Baltimore for the Assembly, and you won't go to
Georgia, and you won't do a thing that you expected to. Oh, you're the
gay, quick-change artist! And don't tell me it's business, either," he
added suspiciously.

"I _do_ tell you exactly that."

"You mean to say that nothing except sheer, dry business keeps you
here?"

The colour slowly settled under Desboro's cheek bones:

"It's a matter with enough serious business in it to keep me busy
to-morrow----"

"Selecting pearls? In which show and which row does she cavort, dear
friend--speaking in an exquisitely colloquial metaphor!"

Desboro shrugged: "I'll play you a dozen games of rabbit before we dress
for dinner. Come on, you suspicious sport!"

"Which show?" repeated Cairns obstinately. He did not mean it literally,
footlight affairs being unfashionable. But Desboro's easy popularity
with women originated continual gossip, friendly and otherwise; and his
name was often connected harmlessly with that of some attractive woman
in his own class--like Mrs. Clydesdale, for instance--and sometimes with
some pretty unknown in some class not specified. But the surmise was
idle, and the gossip vague, and neither the one nor the other disturbed
Desboro, who continued to saunter through life keeping his personal
affairs pleasantly to himself.

He linked his arm in Cairns's and guided him toward the billiard room.
But there were no tables vacant for rabbit, which absurd game, being
hard on the cloth, was limited to two decrepit pool tables.

So Cairns again suggested his celebrated "snifter," and then the young
men separated, Desboro to go across the street to his elaborate rooms
and dress, already a little less interested in his business trip to
Silverwood, already regretting the gay party bound South for two weeks
of pleasure.

And when he had emerged from a cold shower which, with the exception of
sleep, is the wisest counsellor in the world, now that he stood in fresh
linen and evening dress on the threshold of another night, he began to
wonder at his late exhilaration.

To him the approach of every night was always fraught with mysterious
possibilities, and with a belief in Chance forever new. Adventure dawned
with the electric lights; opportunity awoke with the evening whistles
warning all labourers to rest. Opportunity for what? He did not know; he
had not even surmised; but perhaps it was that _something_, that subtle,
evanescent, volatile _something_ for which the world itself waits
instinctively, and has been waiting since the first day dawned. Maybe it
is happiness for which the world has waited with patient instinct
uneradicated; maybe it is death; and after all, the two may be
inseparable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Desboro, looking into the coals of a dying fire, heard the clock
striking the hour. The night was before him--those strange hours in
which anything could happen before another sun gilded the sky pinnacles
of the earth.

Another hour sounded and found him listless, absent-eyed, still gazing
into a dying fire.



CHAPTER III


At eleven o'clock the next morning Miss Nevers had not arrived at
Silverwood.

It was still raining hard, the brown Westchester fields, the leafless
trees, hedges, paths, roads, were soaked; pools stood in hollows with
the dead grass awash; ditches brimmed, river and brook ran amber riot,
and alder swamps widened into lakes.

The chances were now that she would not come at all. Desboro had met
both morning trains, but she was not visible, and all the passengers had
departed leaving him wandering alone along the dripping platform.

For a while he stood moodily on the village bridge beyond, listening to
the noisy racket of the swollen brook; and after a little it occurred to
him that there was laughter in the noises of the water, like the mirth
of the gods mocking him.

"Laugh on, high ones!" he said. "I begin to believe myself the ass that
I appear to you."

Presently he wandered back to the station platform, where he idled
about, playing with a stray and nondescript dog or two, and caressing
the station-master's cat; then, when he had about decided to get into
his car and go home, it suddenly occurred to him that he might telephone
to New York for information. And he did so, and learned that Miss Nevers
had departed that morning on business, for a destination unknown, and
would not return before evening.

Also, the station-master informed him that the morning express now
deposited passengers at Silverwood Station, on request--an innovation of
which he had not before heard; and this put him into excellent spirits.

"Aha!" he said to himself, considerably elated. "Perhaps I'm not such an
ass as I appear. Let the high gods laugh!"

So he lighted a cigarette, played with the wastrel dogs some more,
flattered the cat till she nearly rubbed her head off against his legs,
took a small and solemn child onto his knee and presented it with a
silver dollar, while its overburdened German mother publicly nourished
another.

"You are really a remarkable child," he gravely assured the infant on
his knee. "You possess a most extraordinary mind!"--the child not having
uttered a word or betrayed a vestige of human expression upon its
slightly soiled features.

Presently the near whistle of the Connecticut Express brought him to his
feet. He lifted the astonishingly gifted infant and walked out; and when
the express rolled past and stopped, he set it on the day-coach platform
beside its stolid parent, and waved to it an impressive adieu.

At the same moment, descending from the train, a tall young girl, in
waterproofs, witnessed the proceedings, recognised Desboro, and smiled
at the little ceremony taking place.

"Yours?" she inquired, as, hat off, hand extended, he came forward to
welcome her--and the next moment blushed at her impulsive informality.

"Oh, all kids seem to be mine, somehow or other," he said. "I'm awfully
glad you came. I was afraid you wouldn't."

"Why?"

"Because I didn't believe you really existed, for one thing. And then
the weather----"

"Do you suppose mere _weather_ could keep me from the Desboro
collection? You have much to learn about me."

"I'll begin lessons at once," he said gaily, "if you don't mind giving
them. Do you?"

She smiled non-committally, and looked around her at the departing
vehicles.

"We have a limousine waiting for us behind the station," he said. "It's
five muddy miles."

"I had been wondering all the way up in the train just how I was to get
to Silverwood----"

"You didn't suppose I'd leave you to find your way, did you?"

"Business people don't expect limousines," she said, with an
unmistakable accent that sounded priggish even to herself--so prim,
indeed, that he laughed outright; and she finally laughed, too.

"This is very jolly, isn't it?" he remarked, as they sped away through
the rain.

She conceded that it was.

"It's going to be a most delightful day," he predicted.

She thought it was likely to be a _busy_ day.

"And delightful, too," he insisted politely.

"Why particularly delightful, Mr. Desboro?"

"I thought you were looking forward with keen pleasure to your work in
the Desboro collection!"

She caught a latent glimmer of mischief in his eye, and remained silent,
not yet quite certain that she liked this constant running fire of words
that always seemed to conceal a hint of laughter at her expense.

Had they been longer acquainted, and on a different footing, she knew
that whatever he said would have provoked a response in kind from her.
But friendship is not usually born from a single business interview; nor
is it born perfect, like a fairy ring, over night. And it was only last
night, she made herself remember, that she first laid eyes on Desboro.
Yet it seemed curious that whatever he said seemed to awaken in her its
echo; and, though she knew it was an absurd idea, the idea persisted
that she already began to understand this young man better than she had
ever understood any other of his sex.

He was talking now at random, idly but agreeably, about nothing in
particular. She, muffled in the fur robe, looked out through the
limousine windows into the rain, and saw brown fields set with pools in
every furrow, and squares of winter wheat, intensely green.

And now the silver birch woods, which had given the house its name,
began to appear as outlying clumps across the hills; and in a few
moments the car swung into a gateway under groves of solemnly-dripping
Norway spruces, then up a wide avenue, lined with ranks of leafless,
hardwood trees and thickets of laurel and rhododendron, and finally
stopped before a house made of grayish-brown stone, in the rather
inoffensive architecture of early eighteen hundred.

Mrs. Quant, in best bib and tucker, received them in the hallway, having
been instructed by Desboro concerning her attitude toward the expected
guest. But when she became aware of the slender youth of the girl, she
forgot her sniffs and misgivings, and she waddled, and bobbed, and
curtsied, overflowing with a desire to fondle, and cherish, and
instruct, which only fear of Desboro choked off.

But as soon as Jacqueline had followed her to the room assigned, and had
been divested of wet outer-clothing, and served with hot tea, Mrs. Quant
became loquacious and confidential concerning her own personal ailments
and sorrows, and the history and misfortunes of the Desboro family.

Jacqueline wished to decline the cup of tea, but Mrs. Quant insisted;
and the girl yielded.

"Air you sure you feel well, Miss Nevers?" she asked anxiously.

"Why, of course."

"Don't be _too_ sure," said Mrs. Quant ominously. "Sometimes them that
feels bestest is sickest. I've seen a sight of sickness in my day,
dearie--typod, mostly. You ain't never had typod, now, hev you?"

"Typhoid?"

"Yes'm, typod!"

"No, I never did."

"Then you take an old woman's advice, Miss Nevers, and don't you go and
git it!"

Jacqueline promised gravely; but Mrs. Quant was now fairly launched on
her favourite topic.

"I've been forty-two years in this place--and Quant--my man--he was head
farmer here when he was took. Typod, it was, dearie--and you won't never
git it if you'll listen to me--and Quant, a man that never quarreled
with his vittles, but he was for going off without 'em that morning. Sez
he, 'Cassie, I don't feel good this mornin'!'--and a piece of pie and a
pork chop layin' there onto his plate. 'My vittles don't set right,' sez
he; 'I ain't a mite peckish.' Sez I, 'Quant, you lay right down, and
don't you stir a inch! You've gone and got a mild form of typod,' sez I,
knowing about sickness as I allus had a gift, my father bein' a natural
bone-setter. And those was my very words, dearie, 'a mild form of
typod.' And I was right and he was took. And when folks ain't well, it's
mostly that they've got a mild form of typod which some call
malairy----"

There was no stopping her; Jacqueline tasted her hot tea and listened
sympathetically to that woman of many sorrows. And, sipping her tea, she
was obliged to assist at the obsequies of Quant, the nativity of young
Desboro, the dissolution of his grandparents and parents, and many, many
minor details, such as the freezing of water-pipes in 1907, the menace
of the chestnut blight, mysterious maladies which had affected cattle
and chickens on the farm--every variety of death, destruction,
dissolution, and despondency that had been Mrs. Quant's portion to
witness.

And how she gloried in detailing her dismal career; and presently
pessimistic prophecies for the future became plainer as her undammed
eloquence flowed on:

"And Mr. James, _he_ ain't well, neither," she said in a hoarse whisper.
"He don't know it, and he won't listen to _me_, dearie, but I _know_
he's got a mild form of typod--he's that unwell the mornings when he's
been out late in the city. Say what you're a mind to, typod is typod!
And if you h'ain't got it you're likely to git it most any minute; but
he won't swaller the teas and broths and suffusions I bring him, and
he'll be took like everybody else one of these days, dearie--which he
wouldn't if he'd listen to me----"

"Mrs. Quant," came Desboro's voice from the landing.

"Y--yes, sir," stammered that guilty and agitated Cassandra.

Jacqueline set aside her teacup and came to the stairs; their glances
met in the suppressed amusement of mutual comprehension, and he
conducted her to the hallway below, where a big log fire was blazing.

"What was it--death, destruction, and general woe, as usual?" he asked.

"And typod," she whispered. "It appears that _you_ have it!"

"Poor old soul! She means all right; but imagine me here with her all
day, dodging infusions and broths and red flannel! Warm your hands at
the blaze, Miss Nevers, and I'll find the armoury keys. It will be a
little colder in there."

She spread her hands to the flames, conscious of his subtle change of
manner toward her, now that she was actually under his roof--and liked
him for it--not in the least surprised that she was comprehending still
another phase of this young man's most interesting personality.

For, without reasoning, her slight misgivings concerning him were
vanishing; instinct told her she might even permit herself a friendlier
manner, and she looked up smilingly when he came back swinging a bunch
of keys.

"These belong to the Quant," he explained, "--honest old soul! Every gem
and ivory and lump of jade in the collection is at her mercy, for here
are the keys to every case. Now, Miss Nevers, what do you require?
Pencil and pad?"

"I have my note-book, thanks--a new one in your honour."

He said he was flattered and led the way through a wide corridor to the
eastern wing; unlocked a pair of massive doors, and swung them wide.
And, beside him, she walked into the armoury of the famous Desboro
collection.

Straight ahead of her, paved with black marble, lay a lane through a
double rank of armed and mounted men in complete armour; and she could
scarcely suppress a little cry of surprise and admiration.

"This is magnificent!" she exclaimed; and he saw her cheeks brighten,
and her breath coming faster.

"It _is_ fine," he said soberly.

"It is, indeed, Mr. Desboro! That is a noble array of armour. I feel
like some legendary princess of long ago, passing her chivalry in review
as I move between these double ranks. What a _wonderful_ collection! All
Spanish and Milanese mail, isn't it? Your grandfather specialised?"

"I believe he did. I don't know very much about the collection,
technically."

"Don't you care for it?"

"Why, yes--more, perhaps, than I realised--now that you are actually
here to take it away."

"But I'm not going to put it into a magic pocket and flee to New York
with it!"

She spoke gaily, and his face, which had become a little grave, relaxed
into its habitual expression of careless good humour.

They had slowly traversed the long lane, and now, turning, came back
through groups of men-at-arms, pikemen, billmen, arquebussiers,
crossbowmen, archers, halbardiers, slingers--all the multitudinous arms
of a polyglot service, each apparently equipped with his proper weapon
and properly accoutred for trouble.

Once or twice she glanced at the trophies aloft on the walls, every
group bunched behind its shield and radiating from it under the drooping
remnants of banners emblazoned with arms, crests, insignia, devices, and
quarterings long since forgotten, except by such people as herself.

[Illustration: "Now and then she ... halted on tip-toe to lift some
slitted visor"]

She moved gracefully, leisurely, pausing now and then before some
panoplied manikin, Desboro sauntering beside her. Now and then she
stopped to inspect an ancient piece of ordnance, wonderfully wrought and
chased, now and then halted on tip-toe to lift some slitted visor and
peer into the dusky cavern of the helmet, where a painted face stared
back at her out of painted eyes.

"Who scours all this mail?" she asked.

"Our old armourer. My grandfather trained him. But he's very old and
rheumatic now, and I don't let him exert himself. I think he sleeps all
winter, like a woodchuck, and fishes all summer."

"You ought to have another armourer."

"I can't turn Michael out to starve, can I?"

She swung around swiftly: "I didn't mean _that_!" and saw he was
laughing at her.

"I know you didn't," he said. "But I can't afford two armourers. That's
the reason I'm disposing of these tin-clothed tenants of mine--to
economise and cut expenses."

She moved on, evidently desiring to obtain a general impression of
the task before her, now and then examining the glass-encased labels at
the feet of the figures, and occasionally shaking her head. Already the
errant lock curled across her cheek.

"What's the trouble?" he inquired. "Aren't these gentlemen correctly
ticketed?"

"Some are not. That suit of gilded mail is not Spanish; it's German. It
is not very difficult to make such a mistake sometimes."

Steam heat had been put in, but the vast hall was chilly except close to
the long ranks of oxidised pipes lining the walls. They stood a moment,
leaning against them and looking out across the place, all glittering
with the mail-clad figures.

"I've easily three weeks' work before me among these mounted figures
alone, to say nothing of the men on foot and the trophies and
artillery," she said. "Do you know it is going to be rather expensive
for you, Mr. Desboro?"

This did not appear to disturb him.

"Because," she went on, "a great many mistakes have been made in
labelling, and some mistakes in assembling the complete suits of mail
and in assigning weapons. For example, that mounted man in front of you
is wearing tilting armour and a helmet that doesn't belong to it. That's
a childish mistake."

"We'll put the proper lid on _him_," said Desboro. "Show it to me and
I'll put it all over him now."

"It's up there aloft with the trophies, I think--the fifth group."

"There's a ladder on wheels for a closer view of the weapons. Shall I
trundle it in?"

He went out into the hallway and presently came back pushing a clanking
extension ladder with a railed top to it. Then he affixed the crank and
began to grind until it rose to the desired height.

"All I ask of you is not to tumble off it," he said. "Do you promise?"

She promised with mock seriousness: "Because I need _all_ my brains, you
see."

"You've a lot of 'em, haven't you, Miss Nevers?"

"No, not many."

He shrugged: "I wonder, then, what a quantitative analysis of _mine_
might produce."

She said: "You are as clever as you take the trouble to be--" and
stopped herself short, unwilling to drift into personalities.

"It's the interest that is lacking in me," he said, "--or perhaps the
incentive."

She made no comment.

"Don't you think so?"

"I don't know."

"--And don't care," he added.

She flushed, half turned in protest, but remained silent.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I didn't mean to force your interest in
myself. Tell me, is there anything I can do for your comfort before I
go? And shall I go and leave you to abstruse and intellectual
meditation, or do I disturb you by tagging about at your heels?"

His easy, light tone relieved her. She looked around her at the armed
figures:

"You don't disturb me. I was trying to think where to begin. To-morrow
I'll bring up some reference books----"

"Perhaps you can find what you want in my grandfather's library. I'll
show you where it is when you are ready."

"I wonder if he has Grenville's monograph on Spanish and Milanese mail?"

"I'll see."

He went away and remained for ten minutes. She was minutely examining
the sword belonging to a rather battered suit of armour when he returned
with the book.

"You see," she said, "you _are_ useful. I did well to suggest that you
remain here. Now, look, Mr. Desboro. This is German armour, and here is
a Spanish sword of a different century along with it! That's all wrong,
you know. Antonius was the sword-maker; here is his name on the
hexagonal, gilded iron hilt--'_Antonius Me Fecit_'."

"You'll put that all right," he said confidently. "Won't you?"

"That's why you asked me here, isn't it?"

He may have been on the point of an indiscreet rejoinder, for he closed
his lips suddenly and began to examine another sword. It belonged to the
only female equestrian figure in the collection--a beautifully shaped
suit of woman's armour, astride a painted war-horse, the cuirass of
Milan plates.

"The Countess of Oroposa," he said. "It was her peculiar privilege,
after the Count's death, to ride in full armour and carry a naked sword
across her knees when the Spanish Court made a solemn entry into cities.
Which will be about all from me," he added with a laugh. "Are you ready
for luncheon?"

"Quite, thank you. But you _said_ that you didn't know much about this
collection. Let me see that sword, please."

[Illustration: "She took it ... then read aloud the device in verse"]

He drew it from its scabbard and presented the hilt. She took it,
studied it, then read aloud the device in verse:

"'Paz Comigo Nunca Veo Y Siempre Guera Dese.'" ("There is never peace
with me; my desire is always war!")

Her clear young voice repeating the old sword's motto seemed to ring a
little through the silence--as though it were the clean-cut voice of the
blade itself.

"What a fine motto," he said guilelessly. "And you interpret it as
though it were your own."

"I like the sound of it. There is no compromise in it."

"Why not assume it for your own? 'There is never peace with me; my
desire is always war!' Why not adopt it?"

"Do you mean that such a militant motto suits me?" she asked, amused,
and caught the half-laughing, half malicious glimmer in his eyes, and
knew in an instant he had divined her attitude toward himself, and
toward to her own self, too--war on them both, lest they succumb to the
friendship that threatened. Silent, preoccupied, she went back with him
through the armoury, through the hallway, into a rather commonplace
dining-room, where a table had already been laid for two.

Desboro jingled a small silver bell, and presently luncheon was
announced. She ate with the healthy appetite of the young, and he
pretended to. Several cats and dogs of unaristocratic degree came
purring and wagging about the table, and he indulged them with an
impartiality that interested her, playing no favourites, but
allotting to each its portion, and serenely chastising the greedy.

"What wonderful impartiality!" she ventured. "I couldn't do it; I'd be
sure to prefer one of them."

"Why entertain preference for anything or anybody?"

"That's nonsense."

"No; it's sense. Because, if anything happens to one, there are the
others to console you. It's pleasanter to like impartially."

She was occupied with her fruit cup; presently she glanced up at him:

"Is that your policy?"

"Isn't it a safe one?"

"Yes. Is it yours?"

"Wisdom suggests it to me--has always urged it. I'm not sure that it
always works. For example, I prefer champagne to milk, but I try not
to."

"You always contrive to twist sense into nonsense."

"You don't mind, do you?"

"No; but don't you ever take anything seriously?"

"Myself."

"I'm afraid you don't."

"Indeed, I do! See how my financial mishaps sent me flying to you for
help!"

She said: "You don't even take seriously what you call your financial
mishaps."

"But I take the remedy for them most reverently and most thankfully."

"The remedy?"

"You."

A slight colour stained her cheeks; for she did not see just how to
avoid the footing they had almost reached--the understanding which,
somehow, had been impending from the moment they met. Intuition had
warned her against it. And now here it was.

How could she have avoided it, when it was perfectly evident from the
first that he found her interesting--that his voice and intonation and
bearing were always subtly offering friendship, no matter what he said
to her, whether in jest or earnest, in light-hearted idleness or in all
the decorum of the perfunctory and commonplace.

To have made more out of it than was in it would have been no sillier
than to priggishly discountenance his harmless good humour. To be prim
would have been ridiculous. Besides, everything innocent in her found an
instinctive pleasure, even in her own misgivings concerning this man and
the unsettled problem of her personal relations with him--unsolved with
her, at least; but he appeared to have settled it for himself.

As they walked back to the armoury together, she was trying to think it
out; and she concluded that she might dare be toward him as
unconcernedly friendly as he would ever think of being toward her. And
it gave her a little thrill of pride to feel that she was equipped to
carry through her part in a light, gay, ephemeral friendship with one
belonging to a world about which she knew nothing at all.

That ought to be her attitude--friendly, spirited, pretending to a
_savoir faire_ only surmised by her own good taste--lest he find her
stupid and narrow, ignorant and dull. And it occurred to her very
forcibly that she would not like that.

So--let him admire her.

His motives, perhaps, were as innocent as hers. Let him say the
unexpected and disconcerting things it amused him to say. She knew well
enough how to parry them, once her mind was made up not to entirely
ignore them; and that would be much better. That, no doubt, was the
manner in which women of his own world met the easy badinage of men; and
she determined to let him discover that she was interesting if she chose
to be.

She had produced her note-book and pencil when they entered the armoury.
He carried Grenville's celebrated monograph, and she consulted it from
time to time, bending her dainty head beside his shoulder, and turning
the pages of the volume with a smooth and narrow hand that fascinated
him.

From time to time, too, she made entries in her note-book, such as:
"Armet, Spanish, late XV century. Tilting harness probably made by
Helmschmid; espaliers, manteau d'armes, coude, left cuisse and colleret
missing. War armour, Milanese, XIV century; probably made by the
Negrolis; rere-brace, gorget, rondel missing; sword made probably by
Martinez, Toledo. Armour made in Germany, middle of XVI century,
probably designed by Diego de Arroyo; cuisses laminated."

They stopped before a horseman, clad from head to spurs in superb mail.
On a ground of blackened steel the pieces were embossed with gold
grotesqueries; the cuirass was formed by overlapping horizontal plates,
the three upper ones composing a gorget of solid gold. Nymphs, satyrs,
gods, goddesses and cupids in exquisite design and composition framed
the "lorica"; cuisses and tassettes carried out the lorica pattern;
coudes, arm-guards, and genouillères were dolphin masks, gilded.

"Parade armour," she said under her breath, "not war armour, as it has
been labelled. It is armour de luxe, and probably royal, too. Do you see
the collar of the Golden Fleece on the gorget? And there hangs the
fleece itself, borne by two cupids as a canopy for Venus rising from the
sea. That is probably Sigman's XVI century work. Is it not royally
magnificent!"

"Lord! What a lot of lore you seem to have acquired!" he said.

"But I was trained to this profession by the ablest teacher in
America--" her voice fell charmingly, "--by my father. Do you wonder
that I know a little about it?"

They moved on in silence to where a man-at-arms stood leaning both
clasped hands over the gilded pommel of a sword.

She said quickly: "That sword belongs to parade armour! How stupid to
give it to this pikeman! Don't you see? The blade is diamond sectioned;
Horn of Solingen's mark is on the ricasse. And, oh, what a wonderful
hilt! It is a miracle!"

The hilt was really a miracle; carved in gold relief, Italian
renaissance style, the guard centre was decorated with black arabesques
on a gold ground; quillons curved down, ending in cupid's heads of
exquisite beauty.

The guard was engraved with a cartouche enclosing the Three Graces; and
from it sprang a beautiful counter-guard formed out of two lovely
Caryatids united. The grip was made of heliotrope amethyst inset with
gold; the pommel constructed by two volutes which encompassed a tiny
naked nymph with emeralds for her eyes.

"What a masterpiece!" she breathed. "It can be matched only in the Royal
Armoury of Madrid."

"Have you been abroad, Miss Nevers?"

"Yes, several times with my father. It was part of my education in
business."

He said: "Yours is a French name?"

"Father was French."

"He must have been a very cultivated man."

"Self-cultivated."

"Perhaps," he said, "there once was a _de_ written before 'Nevers.'"

She laughed: "No. Father's family were always bourgeois shopkeepers--as
I am."

He looked at the dainty girl beside him, with her features and slender
limbs and bearing of an aristocrat.

"Too bad," he said, pretending disillusion. "I expected you'd tell me
how your ancestors died on the scaffold, remarking in laudable chorus,
'_Vive le Roi!_'"

She laughed and sparkled deliciously: "Alas, no, monsieur. But, _ma
foi!_ Some among them may have worked the guillotine for Sanson or
drummed for Santerre.

"You seem to me to symbolise all the grace and charm that perished on
the Place de Grève."

She laughed: "Look again, and see if it is not their Nemesis I more
closely resemble."

And as she said it so gaily, an odd idea struck him that she _did_
embody something less obvious, something more vital, than the symbol of
an aristocratic régime perishing en masse against the blood-red sky of
Paris.

He did not know what it was about her that seemed to symbolise all that
is forever young and fresh and imperishable. Perhaps it was only the
evolution of the real world he saw in her opening into blossom and
disclosing such as she to justify the darkness and woe of the long
travail.

She had left him standing alone with Grenville's book open in his hands,
and was now examining a figure wearing a coat of fine steel mail, with a
black corselet protecting back and breast decorated with _horizontal_
bands.

"Do you notice the difference?" she asked. "In German armour the bands
are vertical. This is Milanese, and I think the Negrolis made it. See
how exquisitely the morion is decorated with these lions' heads in gold
for cheek pieces, and these bands of gold damascene over the
skull-piece, that meet to form Minerva's face above the brow! I'm sure
it's the Negrolis work. Wait! Ah, here is the inscription! 'P. Iacobi et
Fratr Negroli Faciebant MDXXXIX.' Bring me Grenville's book, please."

She took it, ran over the pages rapidly, found what she wanted, and then
stepped forward and laid her white hand on the shoulder of another grim,
mailed figure.

"This is foot-armour," she said, "and does not belong with that morion.
It's neither Milanese nor yet of Augsburg make; it's Italian, but who
made it I don't know. You see it's a superb combination of parade armour
and war mail, with all the gorgeous design of the former and the
smoothness and toughness of the latter. Really, Mr. Desboro, this
investigation is becoming exciting. I never before saw such a suit of
foot-armour."

"Perhaps it belonged to the catcher of some ancient baseball club," he
suggested.

She turned, laughing, but exasperated: "I'm not going to let you remain
near me," she said. "You annihilate every atom of romance; you are an
anachronism here, anyway."

"I know it; but you fit in delightfully with tournaments and pageants
and things----"

"Go up on that ladder and sit!" resolutely pointing.

He went. Perched aloft, he lighted a cigarette and surveyed the
prospect.

"Mark Twain killed all this sort of thing for me," he observed.

She said indignantly: "It's the only thing I never have forgiven him."

"He told the truth."

"I know it--I know it. But, oh, how could he write what he did about
King Arthur's Court! And what is the use of truth, anyway, unless it
leaves us ennobling illusions?"

Ennobling illusions! She did not know it; but except for them she never
would have existed, nor others like her that are yet to come in myriads.

Desboro waved his cigarette gracefully and declaimed:

  "The knights are dust,
  Their good swords bust;
  Their souls are up the spout we trust--"

"Mr. Desboro!"

"Mademoiselle?"

"That silly parody on a noble verse is not humorous."

"Truth seldom is. The men who wore those suits of mail were everything
that nobody now admires--brutal, selfish, ruthless----"

"Mr. Desboro!"

"Mademoiselle?"

"Are there not a number of such gentlemen still existing on earth?"

"New York's full of them," he admitted cheerfully, "but they conceal
what they really are on account of the police."

"Is that all that five hundred years has taught men--concealment?"

"Yes, and five thousand," he muttered; but said aloud: "It hasn't
anything to do with admiring the iron hats and clothes they wore. If
you'll let me come down I'll admire 'em----"

"No."

"I want to carry your book for you."

"No."

"--And listen to everything you say about the vertical stripes on their
Dutch trousers----"

"Very well," she consented, laughing; "you may descend and examine these
gold inlaid and checkered trousers. They were probably made for a
fashionable dandy by Alonso Garcia, five hundred years ago; and you will
observe that they are still beautifully creased."

So they passed on, side by side, while she sketched out her preliminary
work. And sometimes he was idly flippant and irresponsible, and
sometimes she thrilled unexpectedly at his quick, warm response to some
impulsive appeal that he share her admiration.

Under the careless surface, she divined a sort of perverse intelligence;
she was certain that what appealed to her he, also, understood when he
chose to; because he understood so much--much that she had not even
imagined--much of life, and of the world, and of the men and women in
it. But, having lived a life so full, so different from her own, perhaps
his interest was less easily aroused; perhaps it might be even a little
fatigued by the endless pageant moving with him amid scenes of
brightness and happiness which seemed to her as far away from herself
and as unreal as scenes in the painted arras hanging on the walls.

They had been speaking of operas in which armour, incorrectly designed
and worn, was tolerated by public ignorance; and, thinking of the
"horseshoe," where all that is wealthy, and intelligent, and wonderful,
and aristocratic in New York is supposed to congregate, she had mentally
placed him there among those elegant and distant young men who are to be
seen sauntering from one gilded box to another, or, gracefully posed,
decorating and further embellishing boxes already replete with jeweled
and feminine beauty; or in the curtained depths, mysterious silhouettes
motionless against the dull red glow.

And, if those gold-encrusted boxes had been celestial balconies, full of
blessed damosels leaning over heaven's edge, they would have seemed no
farther away, no more accessible to her, than they seemed from where she
sometimes sat or stood, all alone, to listen to Farrar and Caruso.

       *       *       *       *       *

The light in the armoury was growing a little dim. She bent more closely
over her note-book, the printed pages of Mr. Grenville, and the
shimmering, inlaid, and embossed armour.

"Shall we have tea?" he suggested.

"Tea? Oh, thank you, Mr. Desboro; but when the light fails, I'll have to
go."

It was failing fast. She used the delicate tips of her fingers more
often in examining engraved, inlaid, and embossed surfaces.

"I never had electricity put into the armoury," he said. "I'm sorry
now--for your sake."

"I'm sorry, too. I could have worked until six."

"There!" he said, laughing. "You have admitted it! What are you going to
do for nearly two hours if you don't take tea? Your train doesn't leave
until six. Did you propose to go to the station and sit there?"

Her confused laughter was very sweet, and she admitted that she had
nothing to do after the light failed except to fold her hands and wait
for the train.

"Then won't you have tea?"

"I'd--rather not!"

He said: "You could take it alone in your room if you liked--and rest a
little. Mrs. Quant will call you."

She looked up at him after a moment, and her cheeks were very pink and
her eyes brilliant.

"I'd rather take it with you, Mr. Desboro. Why shouldn't I say so?"

No words came to him, and not much breath, so totally unexpected was her
reply.

Still looking at him, the faint smile fading into seriousness, she
repeated:

"Why shouldn't I say so? Is there any reason? You know better than I
what a girl alone may do. And I really would like to have some tea--and
have it with you."

He didn't smile; he was too clever--perhaps too decent.

"It's quite all right," he said. "We'll have it served in the library
where there's a fine fire."

So they slowly crossed the armoury and traversed the hallway, where she
left him for a moment and ran up stairs to her room. When she rejoined
him in the library, he noticed that the insurgent lock of hair had been
deftly tucked in among its lustrous comrades; but the first shake of her
head dislodged it again, and there it was, threatening him, as usual,
from its soft, warm ambush against her cheek.

"Can't you do anything with it?" he asked, sympathetically, as she
seated herself and poured the tea.

"Do anything with what?"

"That lock of hair. It's loose again, and it will do murder some day."

She laughed with scarcely a trace of confusion, and handed him his cup.

"That's the first thing I noticed about you," he added.

"That lock of hair? I can't do anything with it. Isn't it horribly
messy?"

"It's dangerous."

"How absurd!"

"Are you ever known as 'Stray Lock' among your intimates?"

"I should think not," she said scornfully. "It sounds like a children's
picture-book story."

"But you look like one."

"Mr. Desboro!" she protested. "Haven't you any common sense?"

"You look," he said reflectively, "as though you came from the same
bookshelf as 'Gold Locks,' 'The Robber Kitten,' and 'A Princess Far
Away,' and all those immortal volumes of the 'days that are no more.'
Would you mind if I label you 'Stray Lock,' and put you on the shelf
among the other immortals?"

Her frank laughter rang out sweetly:

"I very _much_ object to being labeled and shelved--particularly
shelved."

"I'll promise to read you every day----"

"No, thank you!"

"I'll promise to take you everywhere with me----"

"In your pocket? No, thank you. I object to being either shelved or
pocketed--to be consulted at pleasure--or when you're bored."

They both had been laughing a good deal, and were slightly excited by
their game of harmless _double entendre_. But now, perhaps it was
becoming a trifle too obvious, and Jacqueline checked herself to glance
back mentally and see how far she had gone along the path of friendship.

She could not determine; for the path has many twists and turnings, and
she had sped forward lightly and swiftly, and was still conscious of the
exhilaration of the pace in his gay and irresponsible company.

Her smile changed and died out; she leaned back in her leather chair,
gazing absently at the fiery reflections crimsoning the andirons on the
hearth, and hearing afar, on some distant roof, the steady downpour of
the winter rain.

Subtly the quiet and warmth of the room invaded her with a sense of
content, not due, perhaps, to them alone. And dreamily conscious that
this might be so, she lifted her eyes and looked across the table at
him.

"I wonder," she said, "if this _is_ all right?"

"What?"

"Our--situation--here."

"Situations are what we make them."

"But," she asked candidly, "could you call this a business situation?"

He laughed unrestrainedly, and finally she ventured to smile, secretly
reassured.

[Illustration: "'Are business and friendship incompatible?'"]

"Are business and friendship incompatible?" he inquired.

"I don't know. Are they? I have to be careful in the shop, with younger
customers and clerks. To treat them with more than pleasant civility
would spoil them for business. My father taught me that. He served in
the French Army."

"Do you think," he said gravely, "that you are spoiling me for business
purposes?"

She smiled: "I was thinking--wondering whether you did not more
accurately represent the corps of officers and I the line. I am only a
temporary employee of yours, Mr. Desboro, and some day you may be angry
at what I do and you may say, 'Tonnerre de Dieu!' to me--which I
wouldn't like if we were friends, but which I'd otherwise endure."

"We're friends already; what are you going to do about it?"

She knew it was so now, for better or worse, and she looked at him
shyly, a little troubled by what the end of this day had brought her.

Silent, absent-eyed, she began to wonder what such men as he really
thought of a girl of her sort. It could happen that his attitude toward
her might become like that of the only men of his kind she had ever
encountered--wealthy clients of her father, young and old, and all of
them inclined to offer her attentions which instinct warned her to
ignore.

As for Desboro, even from the beginning she felt that his attitude
toward her depended upon herself; and, warranted or not, this sense of
security with him now, left her leisure to study him. And she concluded
that probably he was like the other men of his class whom she had
known--a receptive opportunist, inevitably her antagonist at heart, but
not to be feared except under deliberate provocation from her. And that
excuse he would never have.

Aware of his admiration almost from the very first, perplexed, curious,
uncertain, and disturbed by turns, she was finally convinced that the
matter lay entirely with her; that she might accept a little, venture a
little in safety; and, perfectly certain of herself, enjoy as much of
what his friendship offered as her own clear wits and common sense
permitted. For she had found, so far, no metal in any man unalloyed. Two
years' experience alone with men had educated her; and whatever the
alloy in Desboro might be that lowered his value, she thought it less
objectionable than the similar amalgam out of which were fashioned the
harmless youths in whose noisy company she danced, and dined, and
bathed, and witnessed Broadway "shows"; the Eddies and Joes of the
metropolis, replicas in mind and body of clothing advertisements in
street cars.

Her blue eyes, wandering from the ruddy andirons, were arrested by the
clock. What had happened? Was the clock still going? She listened, and
heard it ticking.

"Is _that_ the right time?" she demanded incredulously.

He said, so low she could scarcely hear him: "Yes, Stray Lock. Must I
close the story book and lay it away until another day?"

She rose, brushing the bright strand from her cheek; he stood up, pulled
the tassel of an old-time bell rope, and, when the butler came, ordered
the car.

She went away to her room, where Mrs. Quant swathed her in rain garments
and veils, and secretly pressed into her hand a bottle containing "a
suffusion" warranted to discourage any insidious advances of typod.

"A spoonful before meals, dearie," she whispered hoarsely; "and don't
tell Mr. James--he'd be that disgusted with me for doin' of a Christian
duty. I'll have some of my magic drops ready when you come to-morrow,
and you can just lock the door and set and rock and enj'y them onto a
lump of sugar."

A little dismayed, but contriving to look serious, Jacqueline thanked
her and fled. Desboro put her into the car and climbed in beside her.

"You needn't, you know," she protested. "There are no highwaymen, are
there?"

"None more to be dreaded than myself."

"Then why do you go to the station with me?"

He did not answer. She presently settled into her corner, and he wrapped
her in the fur robe. Neither spoke; the lamplight flashed ahead through
the falling rain; all else was darkness--the widest world of darkness,
it seemed to her fancy, that she ever looked out upon, for it seemed to
leave this man and herself alone in the centre of things.

Conscious of him beside her, she was curiously content not to look at
him or to disturb the silence encompassing them. The sense of speed, the
rush through obscurity, seemed part of it--part of a confused and
pleasurable irresponsibility.

Later, standing under the dripping eaves of the station platform with
him, watching the approaching headlight of the distant locomotive, she
said:

"You have made it a very delightful day for me. I wanted to thank you."

He was silent; the distant locomotive whistled, and the vista of wet
rails began to glisten red in the swift approach.

"I don't want you to go to town alone on that train," he said abruptly.

"What?" in utter surprise.

"Will you let me go with you, Miss Nevers?"

"Nonsense! I wander about everywhere alone. Please don't spoil it all.
Don't even go aboard to find a seat for me."

The long train thundered by, brakes gripping, slowed, stopped. She
sprang aboard, turned on the steps and offered her hand:

"Good-bye, Mr. Desboro."

"To-morrow?" he asked.

"Yes."

They exchanged no further words; she stood a moment on the platform, as
the cars glided slowly past him and on into the rainy night. All the way
to New York she remained motionless in the corner of the seat, her cheek
resting against her gloved palm, thinking of what had happened--closing
her blue eyes, sometimes, to bring it nearer and make more real a day of
life already ended.



CHAPTER IV


When the doorbell rang the maid of all work pushed the button and stood
waiting at the top of the stairs. There was a pause, a moment's
whispering, then light footsteps flying through the corridor, and:

"Where on earth have you been for a week?" asked Cynthia Lessler, coming
into Jacqueline's little parlour, where the latter sat knitting a white
wool skating jacket for herself.

Jacqueline laid aside the knitting and greeted her visitor with a warm,
quick embrace.

"Oh, I've been everywhere," she said. "Out in Westchester, mostly.
To-day being Sunday, I'm at home."

"What were you doing in the country, sweetness?"

"Business."

"What kind?"

"Oh, cataloguing a collection. Take the armchair and sit near the stove,
dear. And here are the chocolates. Put your feet on the fender as I do.
It was frightfully cold in Westchester yesterday--everything frozen
solid--and we--I skated all over the flooded fields and swamps. It was
simply glorious, Cynthia----"

"I thought you were out there on business," remarked Cynthia dryly.

"I was. I merely took an hour at noon for luncheon."

"Did you?"

"Certainly. Even a bricklayer has an hour at noon to himself."

"Whose collection are you cataloguing?"

"It belongs to a Mr. Desboro," said Jacqueline carelessly.

"Where is it?"

"In his house--a big, old house about five miles from the station----"

"How do you get there?"

"They send a car for me----"

"Who?"

"They--Mr. Desboro."

"They? Is he plural?"

"Don't be foolish," said Jacqueline. "It is his car and his collection,
and I'm having a perfectly good time with both."

"And with him, too? Yes?"

"If you knew him you wouldn't talk that way."

"I know who he is."

"Do you?" said Jacqueline calmly.

"Yes, I do. He's the 'Jim' Desboro whose name you see in the fashionable
columns. I know something about _that_ young man," she added
emphatically.

Jacqueline looked up at her with dawning displeasure. Cynthia,
undisturbed, bit into a chocolate and waved one pretty hand:

"Read the _Tattler_, as I do, and you'll see what sort of a man your
young man is."

"I don't care to read such a----"

"I do. It tells you funny things about society. Every week or two
there's something about him. You can't exactly understand it--they put
it in a funny way--but you can guess. Besides, he's always going around
town with Reggie Ledyard, and Stuyve Van Alstyne, and--Jack Cairns----"

"_Don't_ speak that way--as though you usually lunched with them. I hate
it."

"How do you know I don't lunch with some of them? Besides everybody
calls them Reggie, and Stuyve, and Jack----"

"Everybody except their mothers, probably. I don't want to hear about
them, anyway."

"Why not, darling?"

"Because you and I don't know them and never will----"

Cynthia said maliciously: "You may meet them through your friend, Jimmy
Desboro----"

"_That_ is the limit!" exclaimed Jacqueline, flushing; and her pretty
companion leaned back in her armchair and laughed until Jacqueline's
unwilling smile began to glimmer in her wrath-darkened eyes.

"Don't torment me, Cynthia," she said. "You know quite well that it's a
business matter with me entirely."

"Was it a business matter with that Dawley man? You had to get me to go
with you into that den of his whenever you went at all."

Jacqueline shrugged and resumed her knitting: "What a horrid thing he
was," she murmured.

Cynthia assented philosophically: "But most men bother a girl sooner or
later," she concluded. "You don't read about it in novels, but it's
true. Go down town and take dictation for a living. It's an education in
how to look out for yourself."

"It's a rotten state of things," said Jacqueline under her breath.

"Yes. It's funny, too. So many men _are_ that way. What do they care? Do
you suppose we'd be that way, too, if we were men?"

[Illustration: "'There are nice men, too'"]

"No. There are nice men, too."

"Yes--dead ones."

"Nonsense!"

"With very few exceptions, Jacqueline. There are horrid, _horrid_ ones,
and _nice_, horrid ones, and dead ones and _dead_ ones--but only a few
nice, _nice_ ones. I've known some. You think your Mr. Desboro is one,
don't you?"

"I haven't thought about him----"

"Honestly, Jacqueline?"

"I tell you I haven't! He's nice to _me_. That's all I know."

"Is he _too_ nice?"

"No. Besides, he's under his own roof. And it depends on a girl,
anyway."

"Not always. If we behave ourselves we're dead ones; if we don't we'd
better be. Isn't it a rotten deal, Jacqueline! Just one fresh man after
another dropped into the discards because he gets too gay. And being
employed by the kind who'd never marry us spoils us for the others.
_You_ could marry one of your clients, I suppose, but I never could in a
million years."

"You and I will never marry such men," said Jacqueline coolly. "Perhaps
we wouldn't if they asked us."

"_You_ might. You're educated and bright, and--you _look_ the part, with
all the things you know--and your trips to Europe--and the kind of
beauty yours is. Why not? If I were you," she added, "I'd kill a man who
thought me good enough to hold hands with, but not good enough to
marry."

"I don't hold hands," observed Jacqueline scornfully.

"I do. I've done it when it was all right; and I've done it when I had
no business to; and the chances are I'll do it again without getting
hurt. And then I'll finally marry the sort of man you call Ed," she
added disgustedly.

Jacqueline laughed, and looked intently at her: "You're _so_ pretty,
Cynthia--and so silly sometimes."

Cynthia stretched her young figure full length in the chair, yawning and
crooking both arms back under her curly brown head. Her eyes, too, were
brown, and had in them always a half-veiled languor that few men could
encounter undisturbed.

"A week ago," she said, "you told me over the telephone that you would
be at the dance. _I_ never laid eyes on you."

"I came home too tired. It was my first day at Silverwood. I overdid it,
I suppose."

"Silverwood?"

"Where I go to business in Westchester," she explained patiently.

"Oh, Mr. Desboro's place!" with laughing malice.

"Yes, Mr. Desboro's place."

The hint of latent impatience in Jacqueline's voice was not lost on
Cynthia; and she resumed her tormenting inquisition:

"How long is it going to take you to catalogue Mr. Desboro's
collection?"

"I have several weeks' work, I think--I don't know exactly."

"All winter, perhaps?"

"Possibly."

"Is _he_ always there, darling?"

Jacqueline was visibly annoyed: "He has happened to be, so far. I
believe he is going South very soon--if that interests you."

"'Phone me when he goes," retorted Cynthia, unbelievingly.

"What makes you say such things!" exclaimed Jacqueline. "I tell you he
isn't that kind of a man."

"Read the _Tattler_, dearest!"

"I won't."

"Don't you ever read it?"

"No. Why should I?"

"Curiosity."

"I haven't any."

Cynthia laughed incredulously:

"People who have no curiosity are either idiots or they have already
found out. Now, you are not an idiot."

Jacqueline smiled: "And I haven't found out, either."

"Then you're just as full of curiosity as the rest of us."

"Not of unworthy curiosity----"

"I never knew a good person who wasn't. I'm good, am I not, Jacqueline?"

"Of course."

"Well, then, I'm full of all kinds of curiosities--worthy and unworthy.
I want to know about everything!"

"Everything good."

"Good and bad. God lets both exist. I want to know about them."

"Why be curious about what is bad? It doesn't concern us."

"If you know what concerns you only, you'll never know anything. Now,
when I read a newspaper I read about fashionable weddings, millionaires,
shows, murders--I read everything--not because I'm going to be
fashionably married, or become a millionaire or a murderer, but because
all these things exist and happen, and I want to know all about them
because I'm not an idiot, and I haven't already found out. And so that's
why I buy the _Tattler_ whenever I have five cents to spend on it!"

"It's a pity you're not more curious about things worth while,"
commented Jacqueline serenely.

Cynthia reddened: "Dear, I haven't the education or brain to be
interested in the things that occupy you."

"I didn't mean that," protested Jacqueline, embarrassed. "I only----"

"I know, dear. You are too sweet to say it; but it's true. The bunch you
play with knows it. We all realise that you are way ahead of us--that
you're different----"

"Please don't say that--or think it."

"But it's true. You really belong with the others--" she made a gay
little gesture--"over there in the Fifth Avenue district, where art gets
gay with fashion; where lady highbrows wear tiaras; where the Jims and
Jacks and Reggies float about and hand each other new ones between
quarts; where you belong, darling--wherever you finally land!"

Jacqueline was laughing: "But I don't wish to land _there_! I never
wanted to."

"All girls do! We all dream about it!"

"Here is one girl who really doesn't. Of course, I'd like to have a few
friends of that kind. I'd rather like to visit houses where nobody has
to think of money, and where young people are jolly, and educated, and
dress well, and talk about interesting things----"

"Dear, we all would like it. That's what I'm saying. Only there's a
chance for you because you know something--but none for us. We
understand that perfectly well--and we dream on all the same. We'd miss
a lot if we didn't dream."

Jacqueline said mockingly: "I'll invite you to my Fifth Avenue
residence the minute I marry what you call a Reggie."

"I'll come if you'll stand for me. I'm not afraid of any Reggie in the
bench show!"

They laughed; Cynthia stretched out a lazy hand for another chocolate;
Jacqueline knitted, the smile still hovering on her scarlet lips.

Bending over her work, she said: "You won't misunderstand when I tell
you how much I enjoy being at Silverwood, and how nice Mr. Desboro has
been."

"_Has_ been."

"Is, and surely will continue to be," insisted Jacqueline tranquilly.
"Shall I tell you about Silverwood?"

Cynthia nodded.

"Well, then, Mr. Desboro has such a funny old housekeeper there, who
gives me 'magic drops' on lumps of sugar. The drops are aromatic and
harmless, so I take them to please her. And he has an old, old butler,
who is too feeble to be very useful; and an old, old armourer, who comes
once a week and potters about with a bit of chamois; and a parlour maid
who is sixty and wears glasses; and a laundress still older. And a whole
troop of dogs and cats come to luncheon with us. Sometimes the butler
goes to sleep in the pantry, and Mr. Desboro and I sit and talk. And if
he doesn't wake up, Mr. Desboro hunts about for somebody to wait on us.
Of course there are other servants there, and farmers and gardeners,
too. Mr. Desboro has a great deal of land. And so," she chattered on
quite happily and irrelevantly, "we go skating for half an hour after
lunch before I resume my cataloguing. He skates very well; we are
learning to waltz on skates----"

"Who does the teaching?"

"He does. I don't skate very well; and unless it were for him I'd have
_such_ tumbles! And once we went sleighing--that is, he drove me to the
station--in rather a roundabout way. And the country was _so_ beautiful!
And the stars--oh, millions and millions, Cynthia! It was as cold as the
North Pole, but I loved it--and I had on his other fur coat and gloves.
He is very nice to me. I wanted you to understand the sort of man he
is."

"Perhaps he is the original hundredth man," remarked Cynthia
skeptically.

"Most men are hundredth men when the nine and ninety girls behave
themselves. It's the hundredth girl who makes the nine and ninety men
horrid."

"That's what you believe, is it?"

"I do."

"Dream on, dear." She went to a glass, pinned her pretty hat, slipped
into the smart fur coat that Jacqueline held for her, and began to draw
on her gloves.

"Can't you stay to dinner," asked Jacqueline.

"Thank you, sweetness, but I'm dining at the Beaux Arts."

"With any people I know?"

"You don't know that particular 'people'," said Cynthia, smiling, "but
you know a friend of his."

"Who?"

"Mr. Desboro."

"Really!" she said, colouring.

Cynthia frowned at her: "Don't become sentimental over that young man!"

"No, of course not."

"Because I don't think he's very much good."

"He _is_--but I _won't_," explained Jacqueline laughing. "I know quite
well how to take care of myself."

"Do you?"

"Yes; don't you?"

"I--don't--know."

"Cynthia! Of course you know!"

"Do I? Well, perhaps I do. Perhaps all girls know how to take care of
themselves. But sometimes--especially when their home life is the
limit----" She hesitated, slowly twisting a hairpin through the
buttonhole of one glove. Then she buttoned it decisively. "When things
got so bad at home two years ago, and I went with that show--you didn't
see it--you were in mourning--but it ran on Broadway all winter. And I
met one or two Reggies at suppers, and another man--the same sort--only
his name happened to be Jack--and I want to tell you it was hard work
not to like him."

Jacqueline stood, slim and straight, and silent, listening unsmilingly.

Cynthia went on leisurely:

"He was a friend of Mr. Desboro--the same kind of man, I suppose.
_That's_ why I read the _Tattler_--to see what they say about him."

"Wh-what do they say?"

"Oh, things--funny sorts of things, about his being attentive to this
girl, and being seen frequently with that girl. I don't know what they
mean exactly--they always make it sound queer--as though all the men and
women in society are fast. And this man, too--perhaps he is."

"But what do you care, dear?"

"Nothing. It was hard work not to like him. You don't understand how it
was; you've always lived at home. But home was hell for me; and I was
getting fifteen per; and it grew horribly cold that winter. I had no
fire. Besides--it was so hard not to like him. I used to come to see
you. Do you remember how I used to come here and cry?"

"I--I thought it was because you had been so unhappy at home."

"Partly. The rest was--the other thing."

"You _did_ like him, then!"

"Not--too much."

"I understand that. But it's over now, isn't it?"

Cynthia stood idly turning her muff between her white-gloved hands.

"Oh, yes," she said, after a moment, "it's over. But I'm thinking how
nearly over it was with me, once or twice that winter. I thought I knew
how to take care of myself. But a girl never knows, Jacqueline. Cold,
hunger, debt, shabby clothes are bad enough; loneliness is worse. Yet,
these are not enough, by themselves. But if we like a man, with all that
to worry over--then it's pretty hard on us."

"How _could_ you care for a bad man?"

"Bad? Did I say he was? I meant he was like other men. A girl becomes
accustomed to men."

"And likes them, notwithstanding?"

"Some of them. It depends. If you like a man you seem to like him
anyhow. You may get angry, too, and still like him. There's so much of
the child in them. I've learned that. They're bad; but when you like one
of them, he seems to belong to you, somehow--badness and all. I must be
going, dear."

Still, neither moved; Cynthia idly twirled her muff; Jacqueline, her
slender hands clasped behind her, stood gazing silently at the floor.

Cynthia said: "That's the trouble with us all. I'm afraid you like this
man, Desboro. I tell you that he isn't much good; but if you already
like him, you'll go on liking him, no matter what I say or what he does.
For it's that way with us, Jacqueline. And where in the world would men
find a living soul to excuse them if it were not for us? That seems to
be about all we're for--to forgive men what they are--and what they do."

"_I_ don't forgive them," said Jacqueline fiercely; "--or women,
either."

"Oh, nobody forgives women! But you will find excuses for some man some
day--if you like him. I guess even the best of them require it. But the
general run of them have got to have excuses made for them, or no woman
would stand for her own honeymoon, and marriages would last about a
week. Good-bye, dear."

They kissed.

At the head of the stairs outside, Jacqueline kissed her again.

"How is the play going?" she inquired.

"Oh, it's going."

"Is there any chance for you to get a better part?"

"No chance I care to take. Max Schindler is like all the rest of them."

Jacqueline's features betrayed her wonder and disgust, but she said
nothing; and presently Cynthia turned and started down the stairs.

"Good-night, dear," she called back, with a gay little flourish of her
muff. "They're all alike--only we always forgive the one we care for!"



CHAPTER V


On Monday, Desboro waited all the morning for her, meeting every train.
At noon, she had not arrived. Finally, he called up her office and was
informed that Miss Nevers had been detained in town on business, and
that their Mr. Kirk had telephoned him that morning to that effect.

He asked to speak to Miss Nevers personally; she had gone out, it
appeared, and might not return until the middle of the afternoon.

So Desboro went home in his car and summoned Farris, the aged butler,
who was pottering about in the greenhouses, which he much preferred to
attending to his own business.

"Did anybody telephone this morning?" asked the master.

Farris had forgotten to mention it--was very sorry--and stood like an
aged hound, head partly lowered and averted, already blinking under the
awaited reprimand. But all Desboro said was:

"Don't do it again, Farris; there are some things I won't overlook."

He sat for a while in the library where a sheaf of her notes lay on the
table beside a pile of books--Grenville, Vanderdyne, Herrara's splendid
folios--just as she had left them on Saturday afternoon for the long,
happy sleigh-ride that ended just in time for him to swing her aboard
her train.

He had plenty to do beside sitting there with keen, gray eyes fixed on
the pile of manuscript she had left unfinished; he always had plenty to
do, and seldom did it.

His first impulse had been to go to town. Her absence was making the
place irksome. He went to the long windows and stood there, hands in his
pockets, smoking and looking out over the familiar landscape--a rolling
country, white with snow, naked branches glittering with ice under the
gilded blue of a cloudless sky, and to the north and west, low, wooded
mountains--really nothing more than hills, but impressively steep and
blue in the distance.

A woodpecker, one of the few feathered winter residents, flickered
through the trees, flashed past, and clung to an oak, sticking
motionless to the bark for a minute or two, bright eyes inspecting
Desboro, before beginning a rapid, jerky exploration for sustenance.

The master of Silverwood watched him, then, hands driven deeper into his
pockets, strolled away, glancing aimlessly at familiar objects--the
stiff and rather picturesque portraits of his grandparents in the dress
of 1820; the atrocious portraits of his parents in the awful costume of
1870; his own portrait, life size, mounted on a pony.

He stood looking at the funny little boy, with the half contemptuous,
half curious interest which a man in the pride of his strength and youth
sometimes feels for the absurdly clothed innocence of what he was. And,
as usual when noticing the picture, he made a slight, involuntary effort
to comprehend that he had been once like that; and could not.

At the end of the library, better portraits hung--his great-grandmother,
by Gilbert Stuart, still fresh-coloured and clear under the dim yellow
varnish which veiled but could not wither the delicate complexion and
ardent mouth, and the pink rosebud set where the folds of her white
kerchief crossed on her breast.

And there was her husband, too, by an unknown or forgotten painter--the
sturdy member of the Provincial Assembly, and major in Colonel Thomas's
Westchester Regiment--a fine old fellow in his queue-ribbon and powdered
hair standing in the conventional fortress port-hole, framed by it, and
looking straight out of the picture with eyes so much like Desboro's
that it amused people. His easy attitude, too, the idle grace of the
posture, irresistibly recalled Desboro, and at the moment more than
ever. But he had been a man of vigour and of wit and action; and he was
lying out there in the snow, under an old brown headstone embellished
with cherubim; and the last of his name lounged here, in sight, from the
windows, of the spot where the first house of Desboro in America had
stood, and had collapsed amid the flames started by Tarleton's
blood-maddened troopers.

To and fro sauntered Desboro, passing, unnoticed, old-time framed
engravings of the Desboros in Charles the Second's time, elegant, idle,
handsome men in periwigs and half-armour, and all looking out at the
world through port-holes with a hint of the race's bodily grace in their
half insolent attitudes.

But office and preferment, peace and war, intrigue and plot, vigour and
idleness, had narrowed down through the generations into a last
inheritance for this young man; and the very last of all the Desboros
now idled aimlessly among the phantoms of a race that perhaps had
better be extinguished.

He could not make up his mind to go to town or to remain in the vague
hope that she might come in the afternoon.

He had plenty to do--if he could make up his mind to begin--accounts to
go over, household expenses, farm expenses, stable reports, agents'
memoranda concerning tenants and leases, endless lists of necessary
repairs. And there was business concerning the estate neglected, taxes,
loans, improvements to attend to--the thousand and one details which
irritated him to consider; but which, although he maintained an agent in
town, must ultimately come to himself for the final verdict.

What he wanted was to be rid of it all--sell everything, pension his
father's servants, and be rid of the entire complex business which, he
pretended to himself, was slowly ruining him. But he knew in his heart
where the trouble lay, and that the carelessness, extravagance, the
disinclination for self-denial, the impatient and good-humoured aversion
to economy, the profound distaste for financial detail, were steadily
wrecking one of the best and one of the last of the old-time Westchester
estates.

In his heart he knew, too, that all he wanted was to concentrate
sufficient capital to give him the income he thought he needed.

No man ever had the income he thought he needed. And why Desboro
required it, he himself didn't know exactly; but he wanted sufficient to
keep him comfortable--enough so that he could feel he might do anything
he chose, when, how, and where he chose, without fear or care for the
future. And no man ever lived to enjoy such a state of mind, or to do
these things with impunity.

But Desboro's mind was bent on it; he seated himself at the library
table and began to figure it out. Land in Westchester brought high
prices--not exactly in that section, but near enough to make his acreage
valuable. Then, the house, stable, garage, greenhouses, the three farms,
barns, cattle houses, water supply, the timber, power sites, meadow,
pasture--all these ought to make a pretty figure. And he jotted it down
for the hundredth time in the last two years.

Then there was the Desboro collection. That ought to bring----

[Illustration: "And he sat thinking of Jacqueline Nevers"]

He hesitated, his pencil finally fell on the table, rolled to the edge
and dropped; and he sat thinking of Jacqueline Nevers, and of the week
that had ended as the lights of her train faded far away into the winter
night.

He sat so still and so long that old Farris came twice to announce
luncheon. After a silent meal in company with the dogs and cats of low
degree, he lighted a cigarette and went back into the library to resume
his meditations.

Whatever they were, they ceased abruptly whenever the distant telephone
rang, and he waited almost breathlessly for somebody to come and say
that he was wanted on the wire. But the messages must have been to the
cook or butler, from butcher, baker, and gentlemen of similar
professions, for nobody disturbed him, and he was left free to sink back
into the leather corner of the lounge and continue his meditations. Once
the furtive apparition of Mrs. Quant disturbed him, hovering ominously
at the library door, bearing tumbler and spoon.

"I won't take it," he said decisively.

There was a silence, then:

"Isn't the young lady coming, Mr. James?"

"I don't know. No, probably not to-day."

"Is--is the child sick?" she stammered.

"No, of course not. I expect she'll be here in the morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

She was not there in the morning. Mr. Mirk, the little old salesman in
the silk skull-cap, telephoned to Farris that Miss Nevers was again
detained in town on business at Mr. Clydesdale's, and that she might
employ a Mr. Sissly to continue her work at Silverwood, if Mr. Desboro
did not object. Mr. Desboro was to call her up at three o'clock if he
desired further information.

Desboro went into the library and sat down. For a while his idle
reflections, uncontrolled, wandered around the main issue, errant
satellites circling a central thought which was slowly emerging from
chaos and taking definite weight and shape. And the thought was of
Jacqueline Nevers.

Why was he waiting here until noon to talk to this girl? Why was he here
at all? Why had he not gone South with the others? A passing fancy might
be enough to arouse his curiosity; but why did not the fancy pass? What
did he want to say to her? What did he want of her? Why was he spending
time thinking about her--disarranging his routine and habits to be here
when she came? _What_ did he want of her? She was agreeable to talk to,
interesting to watch, pretty, attractive. Did he want her friendship?
To what end? He'd never see her anywhere unless he sought her out; he
would never meet her in any circle to which he had been accustomed,
respectable or otherwise. Besides, for conversation he preferred men to
women.

What did he want with her or her friendship--or her blue eyes and bright
hair--or the slim, girlish grace of her? What was there to do? How many
more weeks did he intend to idle about at her heels, follow her, look at
her, converse with her, make a habit of her until, now, he found that to
suddenly break the habit of only a week's indulgence was annoying him!

And suppose the habit were to grow. Into what would it grow? And how
unpleasant would it be to break when, in the natural course of events,
circumstances made the habit inconvenient?

And, always, the main, central thought was growing, persisting. _What_
did he want of her? He was not in love with her any more than he was
always lightly in love with feminine beauty. Besides, if he were, what
would it mean? Another affair, with all its initial charm and gaiety,
its moments of frivolity, its moments of seriousness, its sudden crisis,
its combats, perplexities, irresolution, the faint thrill of its deeper
significance startling both to clearer vision; and then the end,
whatever it might be, light or solemn, irresponsible or care-ridden, gay
or sombre, for one or the other.

What did he want? Did he wish to disturb her tranquility? Was he trying
to awaken her to some response? And what did he offer her to respond to?
The flattery of his meaningless attentions, or the honour of falling in
love with a Desboro, whose left hand only would be offered to support
both slim white hands of hers?

He ought to have gone South, and he knew it, now. Last week he had told
himself--and her occasionally--that he was going South in a week. And
here he was, his head on his hands and his elbows on the table, looking
vacantly at the pile of manuscript she had left there, and thinking of
the things that should not happen to them both.

And who the devil was this fellow Sissly? Why had she suddenly changed
her mind and suggested a creature named Sissly? Why didn't she finish
the cataloguing herself? She had been enthusiastic about it. Besides,
she had enjoyed the skating and sleighing, and the luncheons and teas,
and the cats and dogs--and even Mrs. Quant. She had said so, too. And
now she was too busy to come any more.

Had he done anything? Had he been remiss, or had he ventured too many
attentions? He couldn't recall having done anything except to show her
plainly enough that he enjoyed being with her. Nor had she concealed her
bright pleasure in his companionship. And they had become such good
comrades, understanding each other's moods so instinctively now--and
they had really found such unfeigned amusement in each other that it
seemed a pity--a pity----

"Damn it," he said, "if she cares no more about it than that, she can
send Sissly, and I'll go South!"

But the impatience of hurt vanity died away; the desire to see her grew;
the habit of a single week was already unpleasant to break. And it would
be unpleasant to try to forget her, even among his own friends, even in
the South, or in drawing-rooms, or at the opera, or at dances, or in
any of his haunts and in any sort of company.

He might forget her if he had only known her better, discovered more of
her real self, unveiled a little of her deeper nature. There was so much
unexplored--so much that interested him, mainly, perhaps, because he had
not discovered it. For theirs had been the lightest and gayest of
friendships, with nothing visible to threaten a deeper entente; merely,
on her part, a happy enjoyment and a laughing parrying in the eternal
combat that never entirely ends, even when it means nothing. And on his
side it had been the effortless attentions of a man aware of her young
and unspoiled charm--conscious of an unusual situation which always
fascinates all men.

He had had no intention, no idea, no policy except to drift as far as
the tides of destiny carried him in her company. The situation was
agreeable; if it became less so, he could take to the oars and row where
he liked.

But the tides had carried him to the edge of waters less clear; he was
vaguely aware of it now, aware, too, that troubled seas lay somewhere
behind the veil.

The library clock struck three times. He got up and went to the
telephone booth. Miss Nevers was there; would speak to him if he could
wait a moment. He waited. Finally, a far voice called, greeting him
pleasantly, and explaining that matters which antedated her business at
Silverwood had demanded her personal attention in town. To his request
for particulars, she said that she had work to do among the jades and
Chinese porcelains belonging to a Mr. Clydesdale.

"I know him," said Desboro curtly. "When do you finish?"

"I have finished for the present. Later there is further work to be done
at Mr. Clydesdale's. I had to make certain arrangements before I went to
you--being already under contract to Mr. Clydesdale, and at his service
when he wanted me."

There was a silence. Then he asked her when she was coming to
Silverwood.

"Did you not receive my message?" she asked.

"About--what's his name? Sissly? Yes, I did, but I don't want him. I
want you or nobody!"

"You are unreasonable, Mr. Desboro. Lionel Sissly is a very celebrated
connoisseur."

"Don't you want to come?"

"I have so many matters here----"

"Don't you _want_ to?" he persisted.

"Why, of course, I'd like to. It is most interesting work. But Mr.
Sissly----"

"Oh, hang Mr. Sissly! Do you suppose he interests me? You said that this
work might take you weeks. You said you loved it. You apparently
expected to be busy with it until it was finished. Now, you propose to
send a man called Sissly! Why?"

"Don't you know that I have other things----"

"What have I done, Miss Nevers?"

"I don't understand you."

"What have I done to drive you away?"

"How absurd! Nothing! And you've been so kind to me----"

"You've been kind to me. Why are you no longer?"

"I--it's a question--of business--matters which demand----"

"Will you come once more?"

No reply.

"Will you?" he repeated.

"Is there any reason----"

"Yes."

Another pause, then:

"Yes, I'll come--if there's a reason----"

"When?"

"To-morrow?"

"Do you promise?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll meet you as usual."

"Thank you."

He said: "How is your skating jacket coming along?"

"I have--stopped work on it."

"Why?"

"I do not expect to--have time--for skating."

"Didn't you ever expect to come up here again?" he asked with a slight
shiver.

"I thought that Mr. Sissly could do what was necessary."

"Didn't it occur to you that you were ending a friendship rather
abruptly?"

She was silent.

"Don't you think it was a trifle brusque, Miss Nevers?"

"Does the acquaintanceship of a week count so much with you, Mr.
Desboro?"

"You know it does."

"No. I did not know it. If I had supposed so, I would have written a
polite letter regretting that I could no longer personally attend to the
business in hand."

"Doesn't it count at all with you?" he asked.

"What?"

"Our friendship."

"Our acquaintanceship of a single week? Why, yes. I remember it with
pleasure--your kindness, and Mrs. Quant's----"

"How on earth can you talk to me that way?"

"I don't understand you."

"Then I'll say, bluntly, that it meant a lot to me, and that the place
is intolerable when you're not here. That is specific, isn't it?"

"Very. You mean that, being accustomed to having somebody to amuse you,
your own resources are insufficient."

"Are you serious?"

"Perfectly. That is why you are kind enough to miss my coming and
going--because I amuse you."

"Do you think that way about me?"

"I do when I think of you. You know sometimes I'm thinking of other
things, too, Mr. Desboro."

He bit his lip, waited for a moment, then:

"If you feel that way, you'll scarcely care to come up to-morrow.
Whatever arrangement you make about cataloguing the collection will be
all right. If I am not here, communications addressed to the Olympian
Club will be forwarded----"

"Mr. Desboro!"

"Yes?"

"Forgive me--won't you?"

There was a moment's interval, fraught heavily with the possibilities
of Chance, then the silent currents of Fate flowed on toward her
appointed destiny and his--whatever it was to be, wherever it lay,
behind the unstirring, inviolable veil.

"Have you forgiven me?"

"And you me?" he asked.

"I have nothing to forgive; truly, I haven't. Why did you think I had?
Because I have been talking flippantly? You have been so uniformly
considerate and kind to me--you _must_ know that it was nothing you said
or did that made me think--wonder--whether--perhaps----"

"What?" he insisted. But she declined further explanation in a voice so
different, so much gayer and happier than it had sounded before, that he
was content to let matters rest--perhaps dimly surmising something
approaching the truth.

She, too, noticed the difference in his voice as he said:

"Then may I have the car there as usual to-morrow morning?"

"Please."

He drew an unconscious sigh of relief. She said something more that he
could scarcely hear, so low and distant sounded her voice, and he asked
her to repeat it.

"I only said that I would be happy to go back," came the far voice.

Quick, unconsidered words trembled on his lips for utterance; perhaps
fear of undoing what had been done restrained him.

"Not as happy as I will be to see you," he said, with an effort.

"Thank you. Good-bye, Mr. Desboro."

"Good-bye."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sudden accession of high spirits filled him with delightful
impatience. He ranged the house restlessly, traversing the hallway and
silent rooms. A happy inclination for miscellaneous conversation
impelled him to long-deferred interviews with people on the place. He
talked business to Mrs. Quant, to Michael, the armourer; he put on
snow-shoes and went cross lots to talk to his deaf head-farmer, Vail.
Then he came back and set himself resolutely to his accounts; and after
dinner he wrote letters, a yellow pup dozing on his lap, a cat purring
on his desk, and occasionally patting with tentative paw the
letter-paper when it rustled.

A mania for cleaning up matters which had accumulated took possession of
him--and it all seemed to concern, in some occult fashion, the coming of
Jacqueline on the morrow--as though he wished to begin again with a
clean slate and a conscience undisturbed. But what he was to begin he
did not specify to himself.

Bills--heavy ones--he paid lightly, drawing check after check to cover
necessities or extravagances, going straight through the long list of
liabilities incurred from top to bottom.

Later, the total troubled him, and he made himself do a thing to which
he was averse--balance his check-book. The result dismayed him, and he
sat for a while eyeing the sheets of carelessly scratched figures, and
stroking the yellow pup on his knees.

"What do I want with all these clubs and things?" he said impatiently.
"I never use 'em."

On the spur of impulse, he began to write resignations, wholesale,
ridding himself of all kinds of incumbrances--shooting clubs in Virginia
and Georgia and North Carolina, to which he had paid dues and
assessments for years, and to which he had never been; fishing clubs in
Maine and Canada and Nova Scotia and California; New York clubs,
including the Cataract, the Old Fort, the Palisades, the Cap and Bells,
keeping only the three clubs to which men of his sort are supposed to
belong--the Patroons, the Olympian, and his college club. But everything
else went--yacht clubs, riding clubs, golf clubs, country clubs of every
sort--everything except his membership in those civic, educational,
artistic, and charitable associations to which such New York families as
his owed a moral and perpetual tribute.

It was nearly midnight when the last envelope was sealed and stamped,
and he leaned back with a long, deep breath of relief. To-morrow he
would apply the axe again and lop off such extravagances as
saddle-horses in town, and the two cars he kept there. They should go to
the auction rooms; he'd sell his Long Island bungalow, too, and the
schooner and the power boats, and his hunters down at Cedar Valley; and
with them would go groom and chauffeur, captain and mechanic, and the
thousand maddening expenses that were adding daily to a total debt that
had begun secretly to appal him.

In his desk he knew there was an accumulated mass of unpaid bills. He
remembered them now and decided he didn't want to think about them.
Besides, he'd clear them away pretty soon--settle accounts with tailor,
bootmaker, haberdasher--with furrier, modiste and jeweler--and a dull
red settled under his cheek bones as he remembered these latter bills,
which he would scarcely care to exhibit to the world at large.

"Ass that I've been," he muttered, absently stroking the yellow pup.
Which reflection started another train of thought, and he went to a
desk, unlocked it, pulled out the large drawer, and carried it with its
contents to the fireplace.

The ashes were still alive and the first packet of letters presently
caught fire. On them he laid a silken slipper of Mrs. Clydesdale's and
watched it shrivel and burn. Next, he tossed handfuls of unassorted
trifles, letters, fans, one or two other slippers, gloves of different
sizes, dried remnants of flowers, programmes scribbled over; and when
the rubbish burned hotly, he added photographs and more letters without
even glancing at them, except where, amid the flames, he caught a
momentary glimpse of some familiar signature, or saw some pretty,
laughing phantom of the past glow, whiten to ashes, and evaporate.

Fire is a great purifier; he felt as though the flames had washed his
hands. Much edified by the moral toilet, and not concerned that all such
ablutions are entirely superficial, he watched with satisfaction the
last bit of ribbon shrivel, the last envelope flash into flame. Then he
replaced the desk drawer, leaving the key in it--because there was now
no reason why all the world and its relatives should not rummage if they
liked.

He remembered some letters and photographs and odds and ends scattered
about his rooms in town, and made a mental note to clear them out of his
life, too.

Mentally detached, he stood aloof in spirit and viewed with interest the
spectacle of his own regeneration, and calmly admired it.

"I'll cut out all kinds of things," he said to himself. "A devout girl
in Lent will have nothing on me. Nix for the bowl! Nix for the fat pat
hand! Throw up the sponge! Drop the asbestos curtain!" He made pretence
to open an imaginary door: "Ladies, pass out quietly, please; the show
is over."

The cat woke up and regarded him gravely; he said to her:

"You don't even need a pocket-book, do you? And you are quite right;
having things is a nuisance. The less one owns the happier one is. Do
you think I'll have sense enough to remember this to-morrow, and not be
ass enough to acquire more--a responsibility, for example? Do you think
I can be trusted to mind my business when _she_ comes to-morrow? And not
say something that I'll be surely sorry for some day--or something
she'll be sorry for? Because she's so pretty, pussy--so disturbingly
pretty--and so sweet. And I ought to know by this time that intelligence
and beauty are a deadly combination I had better let alone until I find
them in the other sort of girl. That's the trouble, pussy." He lifted
the sleepy cat and held it at arm's length, where it dangled, purring
all the while. "That's the trouble, kitty. I haven't the slightest
intentions; and as for friends, men prefer men. And that's the truth,
between you and me. It's rather rotten, isn't it, pussy? But I'll be
careful, and if I see that she is capable of caring for me, I'll go
South before it hurts either of us. That will be the square thing to do,
I suppose--and neither of us the worse for another week together."

He placed the cat on the floor, where it marched to and fro with tail
erect, inviting further attentions. But Desboro walked about, turning
out the electric lights, and presently took himself off to bed, fixed in
a resolution that the coming week should be his last with this unusual
girl. For, after all, he concluded she had not moved his facile
imagination very much more than had other girls of various sorts, whose
souvenirs lay now in cinders on his hearth, and long since had turned to
ashes in his heart.

What was the use? Such affairs ended one way or another--but they always
ended. All he wanted to find out, all he was curious about, was whether
such an unusual girl could be moved to response--he merely wanted to
know, and then he would let her alone, and no harm done--nothing to
disturb the faint fragrance of a pretty souvenir that he and she might
carry for a while--a week or two--perhaps a month--before they both
forgot.

And, conscious of his good intentions, feeling tranquil, complacent, and
slightly noble, he composed himself to slumber, thinking how much
happier this world would be if men invariably behaved with the
self-control that occasionally characterised himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the city, Jacqueline lay awake on her pillow, unable to find a refuge
in sleep from the doubts, questions, misgivings assailing her.

Wearied, impatient, vexed, by turns, that her impulse and decision
should keep her sleepless--that the thought of going back to Silverwood
should so excite her, she turned restlessly in her bed, unwilling to
understand, humiliated in heart, ashamed, vaguely afraid.

Why should she have responded to an appeal from such a man as Desboro?
Her own calm judgment had been that they had seen enough of each
other--for the present, anyway. Because she knew, in her scared soul,
that she had not meant it to be final--that some obscure idea remained
of seeing him again, somewhere.

Yet, something in his voice over the wire--and something more disturbing
still when he spoke so coolly about going South--had swayed her in her
purpose to remain aloof for a while. But there was no reason, after all,
for her to take it so absurdly. She would go once more, and then permit
a long interval to elapse before she saw him again. If she actually had,
as she began to believe, an inclination for his society, she would show
herself that she could control that inclination perfectly.

Why should any man venture to summon her--for it was a virtual summons
over the wire--and there had been arrogance in it, too. His curt
acquiescence in her decision, and his own arbitrary decision to go South
had startled her out of her calmly prepared rôle of business woman. She
was trying to recall exactly what she had said to him afterward to make
his voice change once more, and her own respond so happily.

Why should seeing him be any unusual happiness to her--knowing who and
what he had been and was--a man of the out-world with which she had not
one thing in common--a man who could mean nothing to her--could not even
remain a friend because their two lives would never even run within
sight of each other.

She would never know anybody he knew. They would never meet anywhere
except at Silverwood. How could they, once the business between them was
transacted? She couldn't go to Silverwood except on business; he would
never think of coming here to see her. Could she ask him--venture,
perhaps, to invite him to dinner with some of her friends? Which
friends? Cynthia and--who else? The girls she knew would bore him; he'd
have only contempt for the men.

Then what did all this perplexity mean that was keeping her awake? And
why was she going back to Silverwood? Why! Why! Was it to see with her
own eyes the admiration for herself in his? She had seen it more than
once. Was it to learn more about this man and his liking for her--to
venture a guess, perhaps, as to how far that liking might carry him with
a little encouragement--which she would not offer, of course?

She began to wonder how much he really did like her--how greatly he
might care if she never were to see him again. Her mind answered her,
but her heart appealed wistfully from the clear decision.

Lying there, blue eyes open in the darkness, head cradled on her crossed
arms, she ventured to recall his features, summoning them shyly out of
space; and she smiled, feeling the tension subtly relaxing.

Then she drifted for a while, watching his expression, a little dreading
lest even his phantom laugh at her out of those eyes too wise.

Visions came to her awake to reassure her; he and she in a sleigh
together under the winter stars--he and she in the sunlight, their
skates flashing over the frozen meadows--he and she in the armoury,
heads together over some wonder of ancient craftsmanship--he and she at
luncheon--in the library--always he and she together in happy
companionship. Her eyelids fluttered and drooped; and sleep came, and
dreams--wonderful, exquisite, past belief--and still of him and of
herself together, always together in a magic world that could not be
except for such as they.



CHAPTER VI


When the sombre morning broke at last, Jacqueline awoke, sprang from her
bed, and fluttered away about her dressing as blithely as an April
linnet in a hurry.

She had just time to breakfast and catch her train, with the help of
heaven and a taxicab, and she managed to do it about the same moment
that Desboro, half a hundred miles away, glanced out of his
dressing-room window and saw the tall trees standing like spectres in
the winter fog, and the gravel on the drive shining wet and muddy
through melting snow. But he turned to the mirror again, whistling a gay
air, and twisted his necktie into a smarter knot. Then he went out to
the greenhouses and snipped off enough carnations to make a great sheaf
of clove-scented blossoms for Jacqueline's room; and after that he
proceeded through the other sections of the fragrant glass galleries,
cutting, right and left, whatever he considered beautiful enough to do
her fresh, young beauty honour.

At the station, he saw her standing on the platform of the drawing-room
car as the train thundered in, veil and raincoat blowing, just as he had
seen her there the first time she arrived at Silverwood station.

The car steps were sheathed in ice; she had already ventured down a
little way when he reached her and offered aid; and she permitted him to
swing her to the cinder-strewn ground.

"Are you really here!" he exclaimed, oblivious of interested glances
from trainmen and passengers.

They exchanged an impulsive hand-clasp. Both were unusually animated.

"Are you well?" she asked, as though she had been away for months.

"Yes. Are you? It's perfectly fine of you to come"--still retaining her
hand--"I wonder if you know how glad I am to see you! I wonder if you
really do!"

She started to say something, hesitated, blushed, then their hands
parted, and she answered lightly:

"What a very cordial welcome for a business girl on a horrid day! You
mustn't spoil me, Mr. Desboro."

"I was afraid you might not come," he said; and indiscreet impulse
prompted her to answer, as she had first answered him there on the
platform two weeks ago:

"Do you suppose that mere weather could have kept me away from the
famous Desboro collection?"

The charming malice in her voice, the delightful impertinence of her
reply, so obviously at variance with fact, enchanted him. She was
conscious of its effect on him, and, already slightly excited, ventured
to laugh at her own thrust as though challenging his self-conceit to
believe that she had even grazed herself with the two-edged weapon.

"Do I count for absolutely nothing?" he said.

"Do you flatter yourself that I returned to see _you_?"

"Let me believe it for just one second."

"I don't doubt that you will secretly and triumphantly believe it all
the time."

"If I dared----"

"Is that sort of courage lacking in you, Mr. Desboro? I have heard
otherwise. And how long are we going to remain here on this foggy
platform?"

Here was an entirely new footing; but in the delightful glow of youthful
indiscretion she still maintained her balance lightly, mockingly.

"Please tell me," she said, as they entered the car, and he drew the big
fur robe around her, "just how easily you believe in your own
overpowering attractions. Do women encourage you in such modest faith in
yourself? Or are you merely created that way?"

"The house has been a howling wilderness without you," he said. "I admit
_my_ loneliness, anyway."

"_I_ admit nothing. Besides, I wasn't."

"Is that true?"

She laughed tormentingly, eyes and cheeks brilliant, now undisguisedly
on guard--her first acknowledgment that in this man she condescended to
divine the hereditary adversary.

"I mean to punish," said her eyes.

"What an attack from a clear sky on a harmless young man," he said, at
last.

"No, an attack from the fog on an insufferable egoist--an ambush, Mr.
Desboro. And I thought a little sword-play might do your complacent wits
a service. Has it?"

"But you begin by a dozen thrusts, then beat down my guard, and cuff me
about with blade and pommel----"

"I had to. Now, does your vanity believe that my return to Silverwood
was influenced by your piteous appeal over the wire--and your bad
temper, too?"

"No," he said solemnly.

"Well, then! I came here partly to put my notes in better shape for Mr.
Sissly, partly to clear up odds and ends and leave him a clear field to
plow--in your persistent company," she added, with such engaging malice
that even the name of Sissly, which he hated, made him laugh.

"You won't do that," he said confidently.

"Do what, Mr. Desboro?"

"Turn me over to anything named Sissly."

"Indeed, I will--you and your celebrated collection! Of course you
_could_ go South, but, judging from your devotion to the study of
ancient armour----"

"You don't mean it, do you?"

"What? About your devotion?"

"No, about Sissly."

"Yes, I do. Listen to me, Mr. Desboro. I made up my mind that sleighing,
and skating, and luncheon and tea, and--_you_, are not good for a busy
girl's business career. I'm going to be very practical and very frank
with you. I don't belong here except on business, and you make it so
pleasant and unbusinesslike for me that my conscience protests. You see,
if the time I now take to lunch with you, tea with you, skate, sleigh,
talk, listen, in your very engaging company is properly employed, I can
attend to yards and yards of business in town. And I'm going to. I mean
it, please," as he began to smile.

His smile died out. He said, quietly:

"Doesn't our friendship count for anything?"

She looked at him; shrugged her shoulders:

"Oh, Mr. Desboro," she said pleasantly, "does it, _really_?"

The blue eyes were clear and beautiful, and a little grave; only the
upcurled corners of her mouth promised anything.

The car drew up at the house; she sprang out and ran upstairs to her
room. He heard her in animated confab with Mrs. Quant for a few minutes,
then she came down in her black business gown, with narrow edges of lawn
at collar and cuffs, and the bright lock already astray on her cheek. A
white carnation was tucked into her waist; the severe black of her
dress, as always, made her cheeks and lips and golden hair more
brilliant by contrast.

"Now," she said, "for my notes. And what are you going to do while I'm
busy?"

"Watch you, if I may. You've heard about the proverbial cat?"

"Care killed it, didn't it?"

"Yes; but it had a good look at the Queen first."

A smile touched her eyes and lips--a little wistfully.

"You know, Mr. Desboro, that I like to waste time with you. Flatter your
vanity with that confession. And even if things were--different--but
they couldn't ever be--and I must work very hard if I'm ever going to
have any leisure in my old age. But come to the library for this last
day, and smoke as usual. And you may talk to amuse me, if you wish.
Don't mind if I'm too busy to answer your folly in kind."

They went together to the library; she placed the mass of notes in front
of her and began to sort them--turned for a second and looked around at
him with adorable malice, then bent again to the task before her.

"Miss Nevers!"

"Yes?"

"You will come to Silverwood again, won't you?"

She wrote busily with a pencil.

"Won't you?"

She made some marginal notes and he looked at the charming profile in
troubled silence.

[Illustration: "She turned leisurely.... 'Did you say anything recently,
Mr. Desboro?'"]

About ten minutes later she turned leisurely, tucking up the errant
strand of hair with her pencil:

"Did you say anything recently, Mr. Desboro?"

"Out of the depths, yes. The voice in the wilderness as usual went
unheeded. I wished to explain to you how we might give up our skating
and sleighing and everything except the bare necessities--and you could
still come to Silverwood on business----"

"What are the 'bare necessities'?"

"Your being here is one----"

"Answer me seriously, please."

"Food, then. We must eat."

She conceded that much.

"We've got to motor to and from the station!"

She admitted that, too.

"Those," he pointed out, "are the bare necessities. We can give up
everything else."

She sat looking at him, playing absently with her pencil. After a while,
she turned to her desk again, and, bending over it, began to make
meaningless marks with her pencil on the yellow pad.

"What is the object," she said, "of trying to make me forget that I
wouldn't be here at all except on business?"

"Do you think of that every minute?"

"I--must."

"It isn't necessary."

"It is imperative, Mr. Desboro--and you know it."

She wrote steadily for a while, strapped a bundle of notes with an
elastic band, laid it aside, and turned around, resting her arm on the
back of the chair. Blue eyes level with his, she inspected him
curiously. And, if the tension of excitement still remained, all her
high spirits and the indiscreet impulses of a gay self-confidence had
vanished. But curiosity remained--the eternal, insatiable curiosity of
the young.

How much did this man really mean of what he said to her? What did his
liking for her signify other than the natural instinct of an idle young
man for any pretty girl? What was he going to do about it? For she
seemed to be conscious that, sooner or later, somewhere, sometime, he
would do something further about it.

Did he mean to make love to her sometime? Was he doing it now? It
resembled the preliminaries; she recognised them--had been aware of them
almost from the very first.

Men had made love to her before--men in her own world, men in his world.
She had learned something since her father died--not a great deal;
perhaps more from hearsay than from experience. But some unpleasant
knowledge had been acquired at first hand; two clients of her father's
had contributed, and a student, named Harroun, and an amateur of soft
paste statuettes, the Rev. Bertie Dawley.

Innocently and wholesomely equipped to encounter evil, cool and clear
eyed mistress of herself so far, she had felt, with happy contempt, that
her fate was her own to control, and had wondered what the word
"temptation" could mean to any woman.

What Cynthia had admitted made her a little wiser, but still
incredulous. Cold, hunger, debts, loneliness--these were not enough, as
Cynthia herself had said. Nor, after all, was Cynthia's liking for
Cairns. Which proved conclusively that woman is the arbiter of her own
destiny.

Desboro, one knee crossed over the other, sat looking into the fire,
which burned in the same fireplace where he had recently immolated the
frivolous souvenirs of the past.

Perhaps some gay ghost of that scented sacrifice took shape for a moment
in the curling smoke, for he suddenly frowned and passed his hand over
his eyes in boyish impatience.

Something--the turn of his head and shoulders--the shape of them--she
did not know what--seemed to set her heart beating loudly, ridiculously,
without any apparent reason on earth. Too much surprised to be
disturbed, she laid her slim hand on her breast, then against her
throat, till her pulses grew calmer.

Resting her chin on her arm, she gazed over her shoulder into the fire.
He had laid another log across the flames; she watched the bark catch
fire, dully conscious, now, that her ideas were becoming as
irresponsible and as reasonless as the sudden stirring of her heart had
been.

For she was thinking how odd it would be if, like Cynthia, she too, ever
came to care about a man of Desboro's sort. She'd see to it that she
didn't; that was all. There were other men. Better still, there were to
be no men; for her mind fastidiously refused to consider the only sort
with whom she felt secure--her intellectual inferiors whose moral
worthiness bored her to extinction.

Musing there, half turned on her chair, she saw Desboro rise, still
looking intently into the fire, and stand so, his well-made, graceful
figure, in silhouette, edged with the crimson glow.

"What do you see in it, Mr. Desboro?"

He turned instantly and came over to her:

"A bath of flames would be very popular," he said, "if burning didn't
hurt. I was just thinking about it--how to invent----"

She quoted: "'But I was thinking of a plan to dye one's whiskers
green.'"

He said: "I suppose you think me as futile as that old man 'a-settin' on
a gate.'"

"Your pursuits seem to be about as useful as his."

"Why should I pursue things? I don't want 'em."

"You are hopeless. There is pleasure even in pursuit of anything, no
matter whether you ever attain it or not. I will never attain wisdom,
but it's a pleasure to pursue it."

"It's a pleasure even to pursue pleasure--and it's the only pleasure in
pleasure," he said, so gravely that for a moment she thought with horror
that he was trying to be precious. Then the latent glimmer in his eyes
set them laughing, and she rose and went over to the sofa and curled up
in one corner, abandoning all pretense of industry.

"Once," she said, "I knew a poet who emitted such precious thoughts. He
was the funniest thing; he had the round, pale, ancient eyes of an
African parrot, a pasty countenance, and a derby hat resting on top of a
great bunch of colourless curly hair. And that's the way _he_ talked,
Mr. Desboro!"

He seated himself on the other arm of the sofa:

"Did you adore him?"

"At first. He was a celebrity. He did write some pretty things."

"What woke you up?"

She blushed.

"I thought so," observed Desboro.

"Thought what?"

"That he came out of his trance and made love to you."

"How did you know? Wasn't it dreadful! And he'd always told me that he
had never experienced an emotion except when adoring the moon. He was a
very dreadful young man--perfectly horrid in his ideas--and I sent him
about his business very quickly; and I remember being a little
frightened and watching him from the window as he walked off down the
street in his soiled drab overcoat and the derby hat on his frizzly
hair, and his trousers too high on his ankles----"

Desboro was so immensely amused at the picture she drew that her pretty
brows unbent and she smiled, too.

"What did he want of you?" he asked.

"I didn't fully understand at the time----" she hesitated, then, with an
angry blush: "He asked me to go to Italy with him. And he said he
couldn't marry me because he had already espoused the moon!"

Desboro's laughter rang through the old library; and Jacqueline was not
quite certain whether she liked the way he took the matter or not.

"I know him," said Desboro. "I've seen him about town kissing women's
hands, in company with a larger and fatter one. Isn't his name Munger?"

"Yes," she said.

"Certainly. And the fat one's name is Waudle. They were a hot team at
fashionable literary stunts--the Back Alley Club, you know."

"No, I don't know."

"Oh, it's just silly; a number of fashionable and wealthy young men and
women pin on aprons, now and then, and paint and model lumps of wet clay
in several severely bare studios over some unfragrant stables. They
proudly call it The Back Alley Club."

"Why do you sneer at it?"

"Because it isn't the real thing. It's a strutting ground for things
like Munger and Waudle, and all the rag-tag that is always sniffing and
snuffling at the back doors of the fine arts."

"At least," she said, "they sniff."

He said, good-humouredly: "Yes, and I don't even do that. Is that what
you mean?"

She considered him: "Haven't you any profession?"

"I'm a farmer."

"Why aren't you busy with it, then?"

"I have been, disastrously. There was a sickening deficit this autumn."

She said, with pretty scorn: "I'll wager I could make your farm pay."

He smiled lazily, and indulgently. After a moment he said:

"So the spouse of the moon wanted you to go to Italy with him?"

She nodded absently: "A girl meets queer men in the world."

"Did you ever meet any others?"

She looked up listlessly: "Yes, several."

"As funny as the poet?"

"If you call him funny."

"I wonder who they were," he mused.

"Did you ever hear of the Reverend Bertie Dawley?"

"No."

"He was one."

"_That_ kind?"

"Oh, yes. He collects soft paste figurines; he was a client of father's;
but I found very soon that I couldn't go near him. He has a wife and
children, too, and he keeps sending his wife to call on me. You know
he's a good-looking young man, too, and I liked him; but I never
dreamed----"

"Sure," he said, disgusted at his own sex--with the exception of
himself.

"That seems to be the way of it," she said thoughtfully. "You can't be
friends with men; they all annoy you sooner or later in one way or
another!"

"Annoy you? Do you mean make love to you?"

"Yes."

"_I_ don't; do I?"

She bent her head and sat playing with the petals of the white carnation
drooping on her breast.

"No," she said calmly. "You don't annoy me."

"Would it seriously annoy you if I did make love to you some day?" he
asked, lightly.

Instinct was whispering hurriedly to her: "Here it is at last. Do
something about it, and do it quick!" She waited until her heart beat
more regularly, then:

"You couldn't annoy--make love--to a girl you really don't care for.
That is very simple, isn't it?"

"Suppose I did care for you."

She looked up at him with troubled eyes, then lowered them to the
blossom from which her fingers were detaching petal after petal.

"If you did really care, you wouldn't tell me, Mr. Desboro."

"Why not?"

"Because it would not be fair to me." A flush of anger--or she thought
it was, brightened her cheeks. "This is nonsense," she said abruptly.
"And I'll tell you another thing; I can't come here again. You know I
can't. We talk foolishness--don't you know it? And there's another
reason, anyway."

"What reason?"

"The _real_ reason," she said, clenching both hands. "You know what it
is and so do I--and--and I'm tired of pretending that the truth isn't
true."

"What is the truth?"

She had turned her back on him and was staring out of the windows into
the mist.

"The truth is," she answered deliberately, "that you and I can not be
friends."

"Why?"

"Because we can't be! Because--men are always men. There isn't any way
for men and women to be friends. Forgive me for saying it. But it is
quite true. A business woman in your employment--can't forget that a
real friendship with you is impossible. That is why, from the very
beginning, I wanted it to be purely a matter of business between us. I
didn't really wish to skate with you, or do anything of that kind with
you. I'd rather not lunch with you; I--I had rather you drew the
line--and let me draw it clearly, cleanly, and without mistake--as I
draw it between myself and my employees. If you wish, I can continue to
come here on that basis until my work is finished. Otherwise, I shall
not come again."

Her back was still toward him.

"Very well," he said, bluntly.

She heard him rise and walk toward the door; sat listening without
turning her head, already regretting what she had said. And now she
became conscious that her honesty with herself and with him had been a
mistake, entailing humiliation for her--the humiliation of letting him
understand that she couldn't afford to care for him, and that she did
already. She had thought of him first, and of herself last--had conceded
a hopeless situation in order that her decision might not hurt his
vanity.

It had been a bad mistake. And now he might be thinking that she had
tried to force him into an attitude toward herself which she could not
expect, or--God knew what he might be thinking.

Dismayed and uncertain, she stood up nervously as he reëntered the room
and came toward her, holding out his hand.

"I'm going to town," he said pleasantly. "I won't bother you any more.
Remain; come and go as you like without further fear of my annoying you.
The servants are properly instructed. They will be at your orders. I'm
sorry--I meant to be more agreeable. Good-bye, Miss Nevers."

She laid her hand in his, lifelessly, then withdrew it. Dumb, dreadfully
confused, she looked up at him; then, as he turned coolly away, an
inarticulate sound of protest escaped her lips. He halted and turned
around.

"It isn't fair--what you are doing--Mr. Desboro."

"What else is there to do?"

"Why do you ask me? Why must the burden of decision always rest with
me?"

"But my decision is that I had better go. I can't remain here
without--annoying you."

"Why can't you remain here as my employer? Why can't we enjoy
matter-of-fact business relations? I ask no more than that--I want no
more. I am afraid you think I do expect more--that I expect friendship.
It is impossible, unsuitable--and I don't even wish for it----"

"I do," he said.

"How can we be friends, from a social standpoint? There is nothing to
build on, no foundation--nothing for friendship to subsist on----"

"Could you and I meet anywhere in the world and become _less_ than
friends?" he asked. "Tell me honestly. It is impossible, and you and I
both know it."

And, as she made no reply: "Friends--more than friends, possibly; never
less. And you know it, and so do I," he said under his breath.

She turned sharply toward the window and looked out across the foggy
hills.

"If that is what you believe, Mr. Desboro, perhaps you had better go."

"Do you send me?"

"Always the decision seems to lie with me. Why do you not decide for
yourself?"

"I will; and for you, too, if you will let me relieve you of the
burden."

"I can carry my own burdens."

Her back was still toward him. After a moment she rested her head
against the curtained embrasure, as though tired.

He hesitated; there were good impulses in him, but he went over to her,
and scarcely meaning to, put one arm lightly around her waist.

She laid her hands over her face, standing so, golden head lowered and
her heart so violent that she could scarcely breathe.

"Jacqueline."

A scarcely perceptible movement of her head, in sign that she listened.

"Are we going to let anything frighten us?" He had not meant to say
that, either. He was adrift, knew it, and meant to drop anchor in a
moment. "Tell me honestly," he added, "don't you want us to be friends?"

She said, her hands still over her face:

"I didn't know how much I wanted it. I don't see, even now, how it can
be. Your own friends are different. But I'll try--if you wish it."

"I do wish it. Why do you think my friends are so different from you?
Because some happen to be fashionable and wealthy and idle? Besides, a
man has many different kinds of friends----"

She thought to herself: "But he never forgets to distinguish between
them. And here it is at last--almost. And I--I do care for him! And here
I am--like Cynthia--asking myself to pardon him."

She looked up at him out of her hands, a little pale, then down at his
arm, resting loosely around her waist.

"Don't hold me so, please," she said, in a low voice.

"Of course not." But instead he merely took her slender hands between
his own, which were not very steady, and looked her straight in the
eyes. Such men can do it, somehow. Besides, he really meant to control
himself and cast anchor in a moment or two.

"Will you trust me with your friendship?" he said.

"I--seem to be doing it. I don't exactly understand what I am doing.
Would you answer me one question?"

"If I can, Jacqueline."

"Then, friendship _is_ possible between a man and a woman, isn't it?"
she insisted wistfully.

"I don't know."

"What! Why don't you know? It's merely a matter of mutual interest and
respect, isn't it?"

"I've heard so."

"Then isn't a friendship between us possible without anything
threatening to spoil it? Isn't it to be just a matter of enjoying
together what interests each? Isn't it? Because I don't mind waiving
social conditions that can't be helped, and conventions that we simply
can't observe."

"Yes, you wonderful girl," he said under his breath, meaning to anchor
at once. But he drifted on.

"You know," she said, forcing a little laugh, "I _am_ rather wonderful,
to be so honest with a man like you. There's so much about you that I
don't care for."

He laughed, enchanted, still retaining her hands between his own, the
palms joined together, flat.

"You're so wonderful," he said, "that you make the most wonderful
masterpiece in the Desboro collection look like a forgery."

She strove to speak lightly again: "Even the gilding on my hair is real.
You didn't think so once, did you?"

"You're all real. You are the most real thing I've ever seen in the
world!"

She tried to laugh: "You mustn't believe that I've never before been
real when I've been with you. And I may not be real again, for a long
time. Make the most of this moment of expansive honesty, Mr. Desboro.
I'll remember presently that you are an hereditary enemy."

"Have I ever acted that part?"

"Not toward me."

He reddened: "Toward whom?"

"Oh," she said, with sudden impatience, "do you suppose I have any
illusions concerning the sort of man you are? But what do I care, as
long as you are nice to me?" she laughed, more confidently. "Men!" she
repeated. "I know something about them! And, knowing them, also, I
nevertheless mean to make a friend of one of them. Do you think I'll
succeed?"

He smiled, then bent lightly and kissed her joined hands.

"Luncheon is served," came the emotionless voice of Farris from the
doorway. Their hands fell apart; Jacqueline blushed to her hair and gave
Desboro a lovely, abashed look.

She need not have been disturbed. Farris had seen such things before.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening, Desboro went back to New York with her and took her to her
own door in a taxicab.

"Are you quite sure you can't dine with me?" he asked again, as they
lingered on her doorstep.

"I could--but----"

"But you won't!"

One of her hands lay lightly on the knob of the partly open door, and
she stood so, resting and looking down the dark street toward the
distant glare of electricity where Broadway crossed at right angles.

"We have been together all day, Mr. Desboro. I'd rather not dine with
you--yet."

"Are you going to dine all alone up there?" glancing aloft at the
lighted windows above the dusky old shop.

"Yes. Besides, you and I have wasted so much time to-day that I shall go
down stairs to the office and do a little work after dinner. You see a
girl always has to pay for her transgressions."

"I'm terribly sorry," he said contritely. "Don't work to-night!"

"Don't be sorry. I've really enjoyed to-day's laziness. Only it mustn't
be like this to-morrow. And anyway, I knew I'd have to make it up
to-night."

"I'm terribly sorry," he said again, almost tenderly.

"But you mustn't be, Mr. Desboro. It was worth it----"

He looked up, surprised, flushing with emotion; and the quick colour in
her cheeks responded. They remained very still, and confused, and
silent, as fire answered fire; suddenly aware how fast they had been
drifting.

She turned, nervously, pushed open the door, and entered the vestibule;
he held the door ajar for her while she fitted her key with unsteady
fingers.

"So--thank you," she said, half turning around, "but I won't dine with
you--to-night."

"Then, perhaps, to-morrow----"

"Don't come into town with me to-morrow, Mr. Desboro."

"I'm coming in anyway."

"Why?"

"There's an affair--a kind of a dance. There are always plenty of things
to take me into town in the evenings."

"Is that why you came in to-night?" She knew she should not have said
it.

He hesitated, then, with a laugh: "I came in to town because it gave me
an hour longer with you. Are you going to send me away now?" And her
folly was answered in kind.

She said, confused and trying to smile: "You say things that you don't
mean. Evening, for us, must always mean 'good-night.'"

"Why, Jacqueline?"

"Because. Also, it is my hour of freedom. You wouldn't take that away
from me, would you?"

"What do you do in the evenings?"

"Sew, read, study, attend to the thousand wretched little details which
concern my small household. And, sometimes, when I have wasted the day,
I make it up at night. Because, whether I have enjoyed it or not, this
day _has_ been wasted."

"But sometimes you dine out and go to the theatre and to dances and
things?"

"Yes," she said gravely. "But you know there is no meeting ground there
for us, don't you?"

"Couldn't you ask me to something?"

"Yes--I could. But you wouldn't care for the people. You know it. They
are not like the people to whom you are accustomed. They would only bore
you."

"So do many people I know."

"Not in the same way. Why do you ask me? You know it is better not." She
added smilingly: "There is neither wealth nor fashion nor intellectual
nor social distinction to be expected among my friends----"

She hesitated, and added quietly: "You understand that I am not
criticising them. I am merely explaining them to you. Otherwise, I'd ask
you to dinner with a few people--I can only have four at a time, my
dining room is so small----"

"Ask me, Jacqueline!" he insisted.

She shook her head; but he continued to coax and argue until she had
half promised. And now she stood, facing him irresolutely, conscious of
the steady drift that was forcing her into uncharted channels with this
persuasive pilot who seemed to know no more of what lay ahead of them
than did she.

But there was to be no common destination; she understood that. Sooner
or later she must turn back toward the harbour they had left so
irresponsibly together, her brief voyage over, her last adventure with
this man ended for all time.

And now, as the burden of decision still seemed to rest upon her, she
offered him her hand, saying good-night; and he took it once more and
held it between both of his. Instantly the impending constraint closed
in upon them; his face became grave, hers serious, almost apprehensive.

"You have--have made me very happy," he said. "Do you know it,
Jacqueline?"

"Yes."

A curious lassitude was invading her; she leaned sideways against the
door frame, as though tired, and stood so, one hand abandoned to him,
gazing into the lamp-lit street.

"Good-night, dear," he whispered.

"Good-night."

She still gazed into the lamp-lit darkness beyond him, her hand limp in
his; and he saw her blue eyes, heavy lidded and dreamy, and the strand
of hair curling gold against her cheek.

When he kissed her, she dropped her head, covering her face with her
forearm, not otherwise stirring--as though the magic pageant of her fate
which had been gathering for two weeks had begun to move at last,
passing vision-like through her mind with a muffled uproar--sweeping on,
on, brilliant, disarrayed, timed by the deafening beating of her heart.

Dully she realised that it was here at last--all that she had
dreaded--if dread be partly made of hope!

"Are you crying?" he said, unsteadily.

She lifted her face from her arm, like a dazed child awaking.

"You darling," he whispered.

Eyes remote, she stood watching unseen things in the darkness beyond
him.

"Must I go, Jacqueline?"

"Yes."

"You are very tired, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"You won't sit up and work, will you?"

"No."

"Will you go straight to bed?"

She nodded slowly, yielding to him as he drew her into his arms.

"To-morrow, then?" he asked under his breath.

"Yes."

"And the next day, and the next, and next, and--always, Jacqueline?" he
demanded, almost fiercely.

After a moment she slowly turned her head and looked at him. There was
no answer, and no question in her gaze, only the still, expressionless
clairvoyance of a soul that sees but does not heed.

There was no misunderstanding in her eyes, nothing wistful, nothing
afraid or hurt--nothing of doubt. What had happened to others in the
world was happening now to her. She understood it; that was all--as
though the millions of her sisters who had passed that way had left to
her the dread legacy of familiarity with the smooth, wide path they had
trodden since time began on earth. And here it was, at last! Her own
calmness surprised her.

He detained her for another moment in a swift embrace; inert,
unresponsive, she stood looking down at the crushed gardenia in his
buttonhole, dully conscious of being bruised. Then he let her go; her
hand fell from his arm; she turned and faced the familiar stairs and
mounted them.

Dinner waited for her; whether she ate or not, she could not afterward
remember. About eleven o'clock, she rose wearily from the bed where she
had been lying, and began to undress.

       *       *       *       *       *

As for Desboro, he had gone straight to his rooms very much excited and
unbalanced by the emotions of the moment.

He was a man not easily moved to genuine expression. Having acquired
certain sorts of worldly wisdom in a career more or less erratic,
experience had left him unconvinced and even cynical--or he thought it
had.

But now, for the moment, all that lay latent in him of that impetuous
and heedless vigour which may become strength, if properly directed, was
awakening. Every recurring memory of her had already begun to tamper
with his self-control; for the emotions of the moments just ended had
been confusingly real; and, whatever they were arousing in him, now
clamoured for some sort of expression.

The very thought of her, now, began to act on him like some freshening
perfume alternately stimulating and enervating. He made the effort again
and again, and could not put her from his mind, could not forget the
lowered head and the slender, yielding grace of her, and her fragrance,
and her silence.

Dressing in his rooms, growing more restless every moment, he began to
walk the floor like some tormented thing that seeks alleviation in
purposeless activity.

He said, half aloud, to himself:

"I can't go on this way. This is damn foolish! I've got to find out
where it's landing me. It will land her, too--somewhere. I'd better keep
away from her, go off somewhere, get out, stop seeing her, stop
remembering her!--if she's what I think she is."

Scowling, he went to the window and jerked aside the curtain. Across the
street, the Olympian Club sparkled with electricity.

"Good Lord!" he muttered. "What a tempest in a teapot! What the devil's
the matter with me? Can't I kiss a girl now and then and keep my
senses?"

It seemed that he couldn't, in the present instance, for after he had
bitten the amber stem of his pipe clean through, he threw the bowl into
the fireplace. It had taken him two years to colour it.

"Idiot!" he said aloud. "What are you sorry about? You know damn well
there are only two kinds of women, and it's up to them what sort they
are--not up to any man who ever lived! What are you sorry for? For her?"

He stared across the street at the Olympian Club. He was expected there.

"If she only wasn't so--so expressionless and--silent about it. It's
like killing something that lets you do it. That's a crazy thing to
think of!"

Suddenly he found he had a fight on his hands. He had never had one like
it; didn't know exactly what to do, except to repeat over and over:

"It isn't square--it isn't square. She knows it, too. She's frightened.
She knows it isn't square. There's nothing ahead but hell to pay! She
knows it. And she doesn't defend herself. There _are_ only two kinds of
women. It _is_ up to them, too. But it's like killing something that
lets you kill it. Good God! What a damn fool I am!"

Later he repeated it. Later still he found himself leaning over his
desk, groping blindly about for a pen, and cursing breathlessly as
though he had not a moment to lose.

He wrote:

     "DEAR LITTLE JACQUELINE: I'm not going to see you again. Where the
     fool courage to write this comes from I don't know. But you will
     now learn that there is nothing to me after all--not even enough of
     positive and negative to make me worth forgiveness. And so I let it
     go at that. Good-bye.

  "DESBORO."

In the same half blind, half dazed way, cursing something all the while,
he managed to seal, stamp, and direct the letter, and get himself out of
the house with it.

A club servant at the Olympian mailed it; he continued on his way to the
dining room, and stumbled into a chair between Cairns and Reggie
Ledyard, who were feasting noisily and unwisely with Stuyvesant Van
Alstyne; and the racket and confusion seemed to help him. He was
conscious of laughing and talking and drinking a great deal--conscious,
too, of the annoyance of other men at other tables. Finally, one of the
governors came over and very pleasantly told him to shut up or go
elsewhere.

They all went, with cheerfulness unimpaired by gubernatorial
admonition. There was a large dinner dance for debutantes at the
Barkley's. This function they deigned to decorate with their presence
for a while, Cairns and Van Alstyne behaving well enough, considering
the manners of the times; Desboro, a dull fire smouldering in his veins,
wandered about, haunted by a ghost whose soft breath touched his cheek.

His manners were good when he chose; they were always faultless when he
was drunk. Perfectly steady on his legs, very pale, and a trifle over
polite, the drunker he was the more courtly he invariably became,
measuredly graceful, in speech reticent. Only his pallor and the lines
about his mouth betrayed the tension.

Later, one or two men familiar with the house strolled into the distant
billiard room and discovered him standing there looking blankly into
space.

Ledyard, bad tempered when he had dined too well, announced that he had
had enough of that debutante party:

"Look at 'em," he said to Desboro. "Horrible little fluffs just out of
the incubator--with their silly brains and rotten manners, and their
'Bunny Hugs' and 'Turkey Trots' and 'Dying Chickens,' and the champagne
flaming in their baby cheeks! Why, their mothers are letting 'em dance
like _filles de Brasserie_! Men used to know where to go for that sort
of thing----"

Cairns, balancing gravely on heels and toes, waved one hand
comprehensively.

"Problem was," he said, "how to keep the young at home. Bunny Hug solves
it. See? All the comforts of the Tenderloin at home. Tha's
'splaination."

"Come on to supper," said Ledyard. "Your Blue Girl will be there, Jim."

"By all means," said Desboro courteously. "My car is entirely at your
disposal." But he made no movement.

"Come to supper," insisted Ledyard.

"Commer supper," echoed Cairns gravely. "Whazzer mazzer? Commer supper!"

"Nothing," said Desboro, "could give me greater pleasure." He rose,
bowed courteously to Ledyard, included Cairns in a graceful salute, and
reseated himself.

Ledyard lost his temper and began to shout at him.

"I beg your pardon for my inexcusable absent-mindedness," said Desboro,
getting slowly onto his feet once more. With graceful precision, he made
his way to his hostess and took faultless leave of her, Cairns and
Ledyard attempting vainly to imitate his poise, urbanity and
self-possession.

The icy air of the street did Cairns good and aided Ledyard. So they got
themselves out across the sidewalk and ultimately into Desboro's town
car, which was waiting, as usual.

"Little bunny-hugging, bread-and-butter beasts," muttered Ledyard to
himself. "Lord! Don't they want us to draw the line between them and the
sort we're to meet at supper?"

"They're jus' fools," said Cairns. "No harm in 'em! And I'm not going to
supper. I'll take you there an' go'me!"

"What's the matter with _you_?" demanded Ledyard.

"No--I'm through, that's all. You 'sult nice li'l debutantes. Rotten bad
taste. Nice li'l debbys."

"Come on, you jinx!"

"That girl in blue. Will she be there--the one who does the lute solo in
'The Maid of Shiraz'?"

"Yes, but she's crazy about Desboro."

"I waive all pretension to the charming condescension of that very
lovely young lady, and cheerfully concede your claims," said Desboro,
raising his hat and wrecking it against the roof of the automobile.

"As you wish, dear friend. But why so suddenly the solitary recluse?"

"A personal reason, I assure you."

"I see," remarked Ledyard. "And what may be the name and quality of this
personal reason? And is she a blonde?"

Desboro shrugged his polite impatience. But when the others got out at
the Santa Regina he followed. Cairns was inclined to shed a few tears
over Ledyard's insults to the "debbys."

"Sure," said the latter, soothingly. "The brimming beaker for you, dear
friend, and it will pass away. Hark! I hear the fairy feetsteps of a
houri!" as they landed from the elevator and encountered a group of
laughing, bright-eyed young girls in the hallway, seeking the private
supper room.

One of them was certainly the girl in blue. The others appeared to
Desboro as merely numerous and, later, exceedingly noisy. But noise and
movement seemed to make endurable the dull pain thudding ceaselessly in
his heart. Music and roses, flushed faces, the ringing harmony of
crystal and silver, and the gaiety _à diable_ of the girl beside him
would ease it--_must_ ease it, somehow. For it had to be first eased,
then killed. There was no sense, no reason, no excuse for going on this
way--enduring such a hurt. And just at present the remedy seemed to lie
in a gay uproar and many brilliant lights, and in the tinted lips of the
girl beside him, babbling nonsense while her dark eyes laughed,
promising all they laughed at--if he cared to ask an answer to the
riddle.

But he never asked it.

Later somebody offered a toast to Desboro, but when they looked around
for him in the uproar, glasses aloft, he had disappeared.



CHAPTER VII


There was no acknowledgment of his note to Jacqueline the day following;
none the next day, or the next. It was only when telephoning to
Silverwood he learned by chance from Mrs. Quant that Jacqueline had been
at the house every day as usual, busy in the armoury with the work that
took her there.

He had fully expected that she would send a substitute; had assumed that
she would not wish to return and take the chance of his being there.

What she had thought of his note to her, what she might be thinking of
him, had made him so miserable that even the unwisdom of excess could
not dull the pain of it or subdue the restless passion ever menacing him
with a shameful repudiation of the words he had written her. He had
fought one weakness with another, and there was no strength in him now.
He knew it, but stood on guard.

For he knew, too, in his heart that he had nothing to offer her except a
sentiment which, in the history of man, has never been anything except
temporary. With it, of course, and part of it, was a gentler
inclination--love, probably, of one sort or another--with it went also
genuine admiration and intellectual interest, and sympathy, and
tenderness of some unanalysed kind.

But he knew that he had no intention of marrying anybody--never, at
least, of marrying out of his own social environment. That he
understood fully; had wit and honesty enough to admit to himself. And so
there was no way--nothing, now, anyway. He had settled that
definitely--settled it for her and for himself, unrequested; settled, in
fact, everything except how to escape the aftermath of restless pain for
which there seemed to be no remedy so far--not even the professional
services of old Doctor Time. However, it had been only three days--three
sedative pills from the old gentleman's inexhaustible supply. It is the
regularity of taking it, more than the medicine itself which cures.

On the fourth day, he emerged from the unhappy seclusion of his rooms
and ventured into the Olympian Club, where he deliberately attempted to
anæsthetise his badly battered senses. But he couldn't. Cairns found him
there, sitting alone in the library--it was not an intellectual
club--and saw what Desboro had been doing to himself by the white
tensity of his features.

"Look here," he said. "If there's really anything the matter with you,
why don't you go into business and forget it? You can't fool real
trouble with what you buy in bottles!"

"What business shall I go into?" asked Desboro, unoffended.

"Stocks or literature. All the ginks who can't do anything else go into
stocks or literature."

Desboro waved away the alternatives with amiable urbanity.

"Then run for your farms and grow things for market. You could do that,
couldn't you? Even a Dutchess County millionaire can run a milk-route."

"I don't desire to grow milk," explained Desboro pleasantly.

Cairns regarded him with a grin of anxiety.

"You're jingled," he concluded. "That is, you are as jingled as _you_
ever get. Why?"

"No reason, thanks."

"It isn't some girl, is it? _You_ never take them seriously. All the
same, _is_ it?"

Desboro smiled: "Do you think it's likely, dear friend?"

"No, I don't. But whatever you're worrying about isn't improving your
personal beauty. Since you hit this hamlet you've been on one continuous
tootlebat. Why don't you go back to Westchester and hoe potatoes?"

"One doesn't hoe them in January, you know," said Desboro, always
deprecatingly polite. "Please cease to trouble yourself about me. I'm
quite all right, thanks."

"You've resigned from a lot of clubs and things, I hear."

"Admirably reported, dear friend, and perfectly true."

"Why?"

"Motives of economy; nothing more serious, John."

"You're not in any financial trouble, are you?"

"I--ah--possibly have been a trifle indiscreet in my expenditures--a
little unfortunate in my investments, perhaps. You are very kind to ask
me. It may afford you some gratification to learn that eventually I
anticipate an agreeable return to affluence."

Cairns laughed: "You _are_ jingled all right," he said. "I recognise
the urbane symptoms of your Desboro ancestors."

"You flatter them and me," said Desboro, bowing. "They were the limit,
and I'm nearing it."

"Pardon! You have arrived, sir," said Cairns, returning the salute with
exaggerated gravity.

They parted with pomp and circumstance, Desboro to saunter back to his
rooms and lie limply in his arm chair beside an empty fireplace until
sleep overcame him where he sat. And he looked very young, and white,
and somewhat battered as he lay there in the fading winter daylight.

The ringing racket of his telephone bell aroused him in total darkness.
Still confused by sleep, he groped for the electric light switch, could
not find it; but presently his unsteady hand encountered the telephone,
and he unhooked the receiver and set it to his ear.

At first his imagination lied to him, and he thought it was Jacqueline's
distant voice, though he knew in his heart it could not be.

"Jim," repeated the voice, "what are you doing this evening?"

"Nothing. I was asleep. It's you, Elena, isn't it?"

"Of course. To whom are you in the habit of talking every evening at
seven by special request?"

"I didn't know it was seven."

"That's flattering to me. Listen, Jim, I'm coming to see you."

"I've told you a thousand times it can't be done----"

"Do you mean that no woman has ever been in your apartments?"

"You can't come," he repeated obstinately. "If you do, it ends my
interest in your various sorrows. I mean it, Elena."

She laughed: "I only wanted to be sure that you are still afraid of
caring too much for me. Somebody told me a very horrid thing about you.
It was probably a lie--as long as you are still afraid of me."

He closed his eyes patiently and leaned his elbow on the desk, waiting
for her to go on or to ring off.

"Was it a lie, Jim?"

"Was what a lie?"

"That you are entertaining a very pretty girl at Silverwood
House--unchaperoned?"

"Do you think it likely?"

"Why not? They say you've done it before."

"Nobody has been there except on business. And, after all, you know, it
doesn't----"

"Yes, it does concern me! Oh, Jim, _are_ you being horrid--when I'm so
unhappy and helpless----"

"Be careful what you say over the wire!"

"I don't care who hears me. If you mean anybody in your apartment house,
they know my voice already. I want to see you, Jim----"

"No!"

"You said you'd be friendly to me!"

"I am--by keeping away from you."

"Do you mean that I am never to see you at all?"

"You know well enough that it isn't best, under the circumstances."

"You could come here if you only would. He is not in town to-night----"

"Confound it, do you think I'm that sort?"

"I think you are very absurd and not very consistent, considering the
things that they say you are not too fastidious to do----"

"Will you please be a little more reticent over the telephone!"

"Then take me out to dinner somewhere, where we _can_ talk!"

"I'm sorry, but it won't do."

"I thought you'd say that. Very well, then, listen: they are singing
_Ariane_ to-night; it's an 8:15 curtain. I'll be in the Barkley's box
very early; nobody else will arrive before nine. Will you come to me at
eight?"

"Yes, I'll do that for a moment."

"Thank you, dear. I just want to be happy for a few minutes. You don't
mind, do you?"

"It will be very jolly," he said vaguely.

       *       *       *       *       *

The galleries were already filling, but there were very few people in
the orchestra and nobody at all to be seen in the boxes when Desboro
paused before a door marked with the Barkleys' name. After a second's
hesitation, he turned the knob, stepped in, and found Mrs. Clydesdale
already seated in the tiny foyer, under the hanging shadow of her ermine
coat--a charming and youthful figure, eyes and cheeks bright with
trepidation and excitement.

"What the dickens do you suppose prompted Mrs. Hammerton to arrive at
such an hour?" she said, extending her hand to Desboro. "That very
wicked old cat got out of somebody's car just as I did, and I could feel
her beady eyes boring into my back all the way up the staircase."

"Do you mean Aunt Hannah?"

"Yes, I do! What does she mean by coming here at such an unearthly
hour? Don't go out into the box, Jim. She can see you from the
orchestra. I'll wager that her opera glasses have been sweeping the
house every second since she saw me!"

"If she sees me she won't talk," he said, coolly. "I'm one of her
exempts----"

"Wait, Jim! What are you going to do?"

"Let her see us both. I tell you she never talks about me, or anybody
with whom I happen to be. It's the best way to avoid gossip, Elena----"

"I don't want to risk it, Jim! Please don't! I'm in abject terror of
that woman----"

But Desboro had already stepped out to the box, and his keen, amused
eyes very soon discovered the levelled glasses of Mrs. Hammerton.

"Come here, Elena!"

"Had I better?"

"Certainly. I want her to see you. That's it! That's enough. She won't
say a word about you now."

Mrs. Clydesdale shrank back into the dim, rosy half-light of the box;
Desboro looked down at Mrs. Hammerton and smiled; then rejoined his
flushed companion.

"Don't worry; Aunt Hannah's fangs are extracted for this evening. Elena,
you are looking pretty enough to endanger the record of an aged saint!
There goes that meaningless overture! What is it you have to say to me?"

"Why are you so brusque with me, Jim?"

"I'm not. But I don't want the Barkleys and their guests to find us here
together."

"Betty knows I care for you----"

"Oh, Lord!" he said impatiently. "You always did care for anything that
is just out of reach when you stand on tip-toe. You always were that
way, Elena. When we were free to see each other you would have none of
me."

She was looking down while he spoke, smoothing one silken knee with her
white-gloved hand. After a moment, she lifted her head. To his surprise,
her eyes were brilliant with unshed tears.

"You don't love me any more, do you, Jim?"

"I--I have--it is about as it always will be with me. Circumstances have
altered things."

"_Is_ that all?"

He thought for a moment, and his eyes grew sombre.

"Jim! Are you going to marry somebody?" she said suddenly.

He looked up with a startled laugh, not entirely agreeable.

"Marry? No."

"Is there any girl you want to marry?"

"No. God forbid!"

"Why do you say that? Is it because of what you know about
marriages--like mine?"

"Probably. And then some."

"There are happy ones."

"Yes, I've read about them."

"But there really are, Jim."

"Mention one."

She mentioned several among people both knew. He smiled. Then she said,
wearily:

"There are plenty of decent people and decent marriages in the world.
The people we play with are no good. It's only restlessness, idleness,
and discontent that kills everything among people of our sort. I know
I'm that way, too. But I don't believe I would be if I had married you."

"You are mistaken."

"Why? Don't you believe any marriage can be happy?"

"Elena, have you ever heard of a honeymoon that lasts? Do you know how
long any two people can endure each other without merciful assistance
from a third? Don't you know that, sooner or later, any two people ever
born are certain to talk each other out--pump each other dry--love each
other to satiation--and ultimately recoil, each into the mysterious
seclusion of its own individuality, from whence it emerged temporarily
in order that the human race might not perish from the earth!"

"What miserable lesson have you learned to teach you such a creed?" she
asked. "I tell you the world is full of happy marriages--full of
honoured husbands and beloved wives, and children worshipped and
adored----"

"Children, yes, they come the nearest to making the conventional
contract endurable. I wish to God you had some!"

"Jim!"

He said, almost savagely: "If you _can_, and _don't_, you'll make a hell
for yourself with any man, sooner or later--mark my words! And it isn't
worth while to enact the hypocrisy of marriage with nothing more than
legal license in view! Why bother with priest or clergyman? That
contract won't last. And it's less trouble not to make one at all than
to go West and break one."

"Do you know you are talking very horridly to me?" she said.

"Yes--I suppose I am. I've got to be going now, anyway----"

As he spoke, the glittering house became dark; the curtain opened upon a
dim scene of shadowy splendour, into which, exquisite and bewitchingly
immortal as any goddess in the heavenly galaxy, glided Farrar, in the
shimmering panoply of _Ariane_.

[Illustration: "Desboro stood staring down at the magic picture. Mrs.
Clydesdale, too, had risen"]

Desboro stood staring down at the magic picture. Mrs. Clydesdale, too,
had risen. Below them the beauty of Farrar's matchless voice possessed
the vast obscurity, searching the darkness like a ray of crystal light.
One by one the stone crypts opened, disclosing their tinted waterfalls
of jewels.

"I've got to go," he whispered. "Your people will be arriving."

They moved silently to the door.

"Jim?"

"Yes."

"There _is_ no other woman; is there?"

"Not now."

"Oh! _Was_ there?"

"There might have been."

"You mean--to--to marry?"

"No."

"Then--I suppose I can't help _that_ sort. Men are--that way. Was it
that girl at Silverwood?"

"No," he said, lying.

"Oh! Who was that girl at Silverwood?"

"A business acquaintance."

"I hear she is unusually pretty."

"Yes, very."

"You found it necessary to be at Silverwood when she was there?"

"Once or twice."

"It is no longer necessary?"

"No longer necessary."

"So you won't see her again?"

"No."

"I'm glad. It hurt, Jim. Some people I know at Willow Lake saw her. They
said she was unusually beautiful."

"Elena," he said, "will you kindly come to your senses? I'm not going to
marry anybody; but that doesn't concern you. I advise you to attend to
your own life's business--which is to have children and bring them up
more decently than the present generation are being brought up in this
fool of a town! If nothing else will make your husband endurable,
children will come nearest to it----"

"Jim--please----"

"For heaven's sake, don't cry!" he whispered.

"I--won't. Dear, don't you realise that you are all I have in the
world----"

"We haven't got each other, I tell you, and we're not going to have each
other----"

"Yes--but don't take anybody else--marry anyone----"

"I won't. Control yourself!"

"Promise me!"

"Yes, I do. Go forward into the box; those people will be arriving----"

"Do you promise?"

"Yes, if you want me to. Go forward; nobody can see you in the dark.
Good-bye----"

"Good-bye, dear. And thank you----"

He coolly ignored the upturned face; she caught his hand in a flash of
impatient passion, then, with a whispered word, turned and went forward,
mistress of herself again, to sit there for an hour or two and witness a
mystery that has haunted the human heart for aeons, unexpressed.

On the fifth day, Desboro remained indoors and wrote business letters
until late in the afternoon.

Toward evening he telephoned to Mrs. Quant to find out whether
everything was being done to render Miss Nevers's daily sojourn at
Silverwood House agreeable.

He learned that everything was being done, that the young lady in
question had just departed for New York, and, furthermore, that she had
inquired of Mrs. Quant whether Mr. Desboro was not coming soon to
Silverwood, desiring to be informed because she had one or two business
matters on which to consult him.

"Hold the wire," he said, and left it for a few moments' swift pacing to
and fro. Then he came again to the telephone.

"Ask Miss Nevers to be kind enough to write me about the matters she has
in mind, because I can not leave town at present."

"Yes, Mr. James. Are you well, sir?"

"Perfectly."

"Thank you, sir. If you feel chilly like at night----"

"But I don't. Good-night!"

He dressed, dined at the club, and remained there reading the papers
until he had enough of their complacent ignorance. Then he went home,
still doggedly refusing to attempt to analyse the indirect message from
Jacqueline.

If it had any significance other than its apparent purport, he grimly
refused to consider even such a possibility. And, deadly weary at last,
he fell asleep and slept until late in the morning.

It was snowing hard when he awoke. His ablutions ended, he rang for
breakfast. On his tray was a note from the girl in blue; he read it and
dropped it into his pocket, remembering the fireplace sacrifice of a few
days ago at Silverwood, and realising that such frivolous souvenirs were
beginning to accumulate again.

He breakfasted without interest, unfolded the morning paper, glanced
over the headlines, and saw that there was a little more murder,
divorce, and boot-licking than he cared for, laid it aside, and lighted
a cigarette. As he dropped the burnt match on the tray, he noticed under
it another letter which he had overlooked among the bills and
advertisements composing the bulk of the morning mail.

For a little while he held the envelope in his hand, not looking at it;
then, with careless deliberation, he cut it open, using a paper knife,
and drew out the letter. As he slowly opened it his hands shook in spite
of him.

     "MY DEAR MR. DESBORO: I telephoned Mrs. Quant last night and
     learned that she had given you my message over the wire only a few
     minutes before; and that you had sent word you could not come to
     Silverwood, but that I might communicate with you by letter.

      "This is what I had to say to you: There is a suit of armour here
      which is in a very bad condition. It will be expensive to have it
      repaired by a good armourer. Did you wish to include it in the
      sale as it is, or have it repaired? It is No. 41 in the old list;
      No. 69 in my catalogue, now almost completed and ready for the
      printer. It is that rather unusual suit of black plate-mail,
      called 'Brigandine Armour,' a XV century suit from Aragon; and the
      quilted under-jacket has been ruined by moths and has gone
      completely to pieces. It is a very valuable suit.

      "Would you tell me what to do?

  "Very sincerely yours,
  "JACQUELINE NEVERS."

An hour later he still sat there with the letter in his hand, gazing at
nothing. And until the telephone beside him rang twice he had not
stirred.

"Who is it?" he asked finally.

At the reply his face altered subtly, and he bowed his head to listen.

The distant voice spoke again, and:

"Silverwood?" he asked.

"Yes, here's your party."

An interval filled with a vague whirring, then:

"Mr. Desboro?"

"Yes. Good-morning, Miss Nevers."

"Good-morning. Have you a note from me?"

"Yes, thank you. It came this morning. I was just reading it--again."

"I thought I ought to consult you in such a matter."

"Certainly."

"Then--what are your wishes?"

"My wishes are yours."

"I cannot decide such a matter. It will be very expensive----"

"If it is worth the cost to you, it is worth it to me."

"I don't know what you mean. The burden of decision lies with you this
time, doesn't it?"

"With us both. Unless you wish me to assume it."

"But it _is_ yours to assume!"

"If you wish, then. But I may ask your opinion, may I not?"

There was a silence, then:

"Whatever you do I approve. I have no--opinion."

"You do not approve _all_ I do."

The rejoinder came faintly: "How do you know?"

"I--wrote to you. Do you approve my writing to you?"

"Yes. If _you_ do."

"And do you approve of what I wrote?"

"Not of _all_ that you wrote."

"I wrote that I would not see you again."

"Yes."

"Do you think that is best?"

"I--do not think about it."

He said: "That, also, is best. Don't think of it at all. And about the
armour, do exactly what you would do if you were in my place. Good-bye."

"Mr. Desboro----"

"Yes."

"Could you wait a moment? I am trying to think----"

"Don't try, Jacqueline!"

"Please wait--for me!"

There was a silence; a tiny spot of blood reddened his bitten lip before
she spoke again; then:

"I wished to tell you something. I knew why you wrote. Is it right for
me to tell you that I understood you? I wanted to write and say so,
and--say something else--about how I felt--but it seems I can't.
Only--we could be friends more easily now--if you wish."

"You have not understood!" he said.

"Yes, I have, Mr. Desboro. But we _can_ be friends?"

"Could you be _mine_, after what I have written?"

"I thought I couldn't, at first. But that day was a--long one. And when
a girl is much alone she becomes very honest with herself. And it all
was entirely new to me. I didn't know what I ought to have done about
it--only what I wished to do."

"And--what is that, Jacqueline?"

"Make things as they were--before----"

"Before I wrote?"

"Yes."

"All up to that time you wish might be again as it was? _All?_"

No answer.

"All?" he repeated.

"Don't ask me. I don't know--I don't know what I think any more."

"How deeply do you suppose I feel about it?"

"I did not know you felt anything very deeply."

There was a long pause, then her voice again:

"You know--you need not be afraid. I did not know enough to be until you
wrote. But I understand, now."

He said: "It will be all right, then. It will be quite all right,
Jacqueline. I'll come up on the noon train."

       *       *       *       *       *

His car met him at the station. The snow had melted and the wet macadam
road glittered under a declining winter sun, as the car rolled smoothly
away through the still valleys of Westchester.

Mrs. Quant, in best bib and tucker and lilac ribbons, welcomed him, and
almost wept at his pallor; but he shrugged impatiently and sprang up
the low steps. Here the necessity for self-control stopped him short on
his way to the armoury. He turned to Mrs. Quant with an effort:

"Is everything all right?"

"No, Mr. James. Phibby broke a cup and saucer Saturday, and there is new
kittens in the laundry--which makes nine cats----"

"Oh, all right! Miss Nevers is here?"

"Yes, sir--in the liberry--which ain't been dusted right by that Phibby
minx----"

"Tell Phoebe to dust it!" he said sternly. "Do you suppose Miss Nevers
cares to handle dirty books!" His restless glance fell on the clock:
"Tell Farris I'm here and that Miss Nevers and I will lunch as soon as
it's served. And say to Miss Nevers that I'll be down in a few minutes."
He turned and mounted the stairs to his room, and found it full of
white, clove-scented carnations.

Mrs. Quant came panting after him:

"Miss Nevers, she cut them in the greenhouse, and told me to put 'em in
your room, sayin' as how clove pinks is sanitary. Would you--would you
try a few m-m-magic drops, Mr. James, sir? Miss Nevers takes 'em
regular."

"Oh, Lord!" he exclaimed, laughing in sheer exuberance of spirits. "I'll
swallow anything you like, only hurry!"

She dosed him with great content, he, both hands in soap-suds, turning
his head to receive the potion. And at last, ablutions finished, he ran
down the stairs, checked himself, and managed to stroll leisurely
through the hall and into the library.

She was writing; looked up, suddenly pale under her golden crown of
hair; and the red lips quivered, but her eyes were steady.

She bent her head again, both hands abandoned to him, sitting in silence
while his lips rested against her fingers.

"Is all well with you, Jacqueline?"

"Yes. And with you?"

"All is well with me. I missed you--if you know what that really means."

"Did you?"

"Yes. Won't you even look at me?"

"In a moment. Do you see all these piles of manuscript? All that is your
new catalogue--and mine," she added, with a faint smile; but her head
remained averted.

"You wonderful girl!" he said softly. "You wonderful girl!"

"Thank you. It was a labor of--pleasure." Colour stole to the tips of
her ears. "I have worked--worked--every minute since----"

"Yes."

"Really, I have--every minute. But somehow, it didn't seem to tire me.
To-day--now--I begin to feel a little tired." She rested her cheek on
one hand, still looking away from him.

"I took a peep into the porcelain and jade rooms," she said, "just a
glance over what lies before me. Mrs. Quant very kindly gave me the
keys. Did you mind?"

"Do I mind anything that it pleases you to do? What did you find in the
jade room?"

She smiled: "Jadeite, of course; and lapis and crystals--the usual."

"Any good ones?"

"Some are miracles. I don't really know, yet; I gave just one swift
glance and fled--because you see I haven't finished in the armoury, and
I ought not to permit myself the pleasures of curiosity."

"The pleasures of curiosity and of anticipation are the only real ones.
Sages have said it."

She shook her head.

"Isn't it true?" he insisted.

She looked up at him at last, frank-eyed but flushed:

[Illustration: "'Which is the real pleasure?' she asked"]

"Which is the real pleasure," she asked, "seeing each other, or
anticipating the--the resumption of the entente cordial?"

"You've smashed the sages and their philosophy," he nodded, studying the
exquisite, upturned features unsmilingly. "To be with you is the
greater--content. It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

She nodded thoughtfully: "Five days and a half."

"You--counted them, too?"

"Yes."

This wouldn't do. He rose and walked over to the fire, which needed a
log or two; she turned and looked after him with little expression in
her face except that the blue of her eyes had deepened to a lilac tint,
and the flush on her cheeks still remained.

"You know," she said, "I didn't mean to take you from any business in
New York--or pleasures----"

He shuddered slightly.

"Did I?" she asked.

"No."

"I only wished you to come--when you had time----"

"I know, Jacqueline. Don't show me your soul in every word you utter."

"What?"

He turned on his heel and came back to her, and she shrank a little, not
knowing why; but he came no nearer than her desk.

[Illustration: "'The thing to do,' he said ... 'is for us both to keep
very busy'"]

"The thing to do," he said, speaking with forced animation and at
random, "is for us both to keep very busy. I think I'll go into
farming--raise some dinky thing or other--that's what I'll do. I'll go
in for the country squire business--that's what I'll do. And I'll have
my neighbours in. I'm never here long enough to ask 'em. They're a funny
lot; they're all right, though--deadly respectable. I'll give a few
parties--ask some people from town, too. Betty Barkley could run the
conventional end of it. And you'd come floating in with other unattached
girls----"

"You want _me_!"

He said, astonished: "Well, why on earth do you suppose I'm taking the
trouble to ask the others?"

"You want _me_--to come--where your friends----"

"Don't you care to?"

"I--don't know." The surprise of it still widened her eyes and parted
her lips a little. She looked up at him, perplexed, encountered
something in his eyes which made her cheeks redden again.

"What would they think?" she asked.

"Is there anything to think?"

"N-no. But they don't know who I am. And I have nobody to vouch for me."

"You ought to have a companion."

"I don't want any----"

"Of course; but you ought to have one. Can you afford one?"

"I don't know. I don't know what they--they cost----"

"Let me fix that up," he said, with animation. "Let me think it out. I
know a lot of people--I know some indigent and respectable old terrors
who ought to fill the bill and hold their tongues as long as their
salary is paid----"

"Oh, please don't, Mr. Desboro!"

He seated himself on the arm of her chair:

"Jacqueline, dear, it's only for your sake----"

"But I _did_ understand your letter!"

"I know--I know. I just want to see you with other people. I just want
to have them see you----"

"But I don't need a chaperon. Business women are understood, aren't
they? Even women whom you know go in for house decoration, and cigarette
manufacturing, and tea rooms, and hats and gowns."

"But they were socially known before they went in for these things. It's
the way of the world, Jacqueline--nothing but suspicion when
intelligence and beauty step forward from the ranks. And what do you
suppose would happen if a man of my sort attempts to vouch for any
woman?"

"Then don't--please don't try! I don't care for it--truly I don't. It
was nice of you to wish it, Mr. Desboro, but--I'd rather be just what I
am and--your friend."

"It can't be," he said, under his breath. But she heard him, looked up
dismayed, and remained mute, crimsoning to the temples.

"This oughtn't to go on," he said, doggedly.

She said: "You have not understood me. I am different from you. You are
not to blame for thinking that we are alike at heart; but, nevertheless,
it is a mistake. I can be what I will--not what I once seemed to be--for
a moment--with you--" Her head sank lower and remained bowed; and he saw
her slender hands tightening on the arm of the chair.

"I--I've got to be honest," she said under her breath. "I've got to
be--in every way. I know it perfectly well, Mr. Desboro. Men seem to be
different--I don't know why. But they seem to be, usually. And all I
want is to remain friends with you--and to remember that we are friends
when I am at work somewhere. I just want to be what I am, a business
woman with sufficient character and intelligence to be your friend
quietly--not even for one evening in competition with women belonging to
a different life--women with wit and beauty and charm and savoir
faire----"

"Jacqueline!" he broke out impulsively. "I want you to be my guest
here. Won't you let me arrange with some old gorgon to chaperon you? I
can do it! And with the gorgon's head on your moral shield you can
silence anybody!"

He began to laugh; she sat twisting her fingers on her lap and looking
up at him in a lovely, distressed sort of way, so adorably perplexed and
yet so pliable, so soft and so apprehensive, that his laughter died on
his lips, and he sat looking down at her in silence.

After a while he spoke again, almost mechanically:

"I'm trying to think how we can best be on equal terms, Jacqueline. That
is all. After your work is done here, I want to see you here and
elsewhere--I want you to come back at intervals, as my guest. Other
people will ask you. Other people must be here, too, when you are. I
know some who will accept you on your merits--if you are properly
chaperoned. That is all I am thinking about. It's fairer to you."

But even to himself his motive was not clear--only the rather confused
idea persisted that women in his own world knew how to take care of
themselves, whatever they chose to do about it--that Jacqueline would
stand a fairer chance with herself, and with him, whatever his
intentions might really be. It would be a squarer deal, that was all.

She sat thinking, one slim forefinger crook'd under her chin; and he saw
her blue eyes deep in thought, and the errant lock curling against her
cheek. Then she raised her head and looked at him:

"Do you think it best?"

"Yes--you adorable little thing!"

She managed to sustain his gaze:

"Could you find a lady gorgon?"

"I'm sure I can. Shall I?"

"Yes."

A moment later Farris announced luncheon. A swarm of cats greeted them
at the door, purring and waiving multi-coloured tails, and escorted them
to the table, from whence they knew came the delectable things
calculated to satisfy the inner cat.



CHAPTER VIII


The countryside adjacent to Silverwood was eminently and
self-consciously respectable. The fat, substantial estates still
belonged to families whose forefathers had first taken title to them.
There were, of course, a number of "colonial" houses, also a "colonial"
inn, The Desboro Arms, built to look as genuine as possible, although
only two years old, steam heated, and electric lighted.

But things "colonial" were the traditional capital of Silverwood, and
its thrifty and respectable inhabitants meant to maintain the
"atmosphere." To that end they had solemnly subscribed a very small sum
for an inn sign to swing in front of The Desboro Arms; the wheelwright
painted it; somebody fired a shotgunful of antiquity into it, and
American weather was rapidly doing the rest, with a gratifying result
which no degenerate European weather could have accomplished in half a
century of rain and sunshine.

The majority of the mansions in Silverwood township were as
inoffensively commonplace as the Desboro house. Few pre-Revolutionary
structures survived; the British had burned the countryside from Major
Lockwood's mansion at Pound Ridge all the way to Bedford Village and
across to the Connecticut line. With few exceptions, Silverwood houses
had shared the common fate when Tarleton and DeLancy galloped amuck
among the Westchester hills; but here and there some sad old mansion
still remained and was reverently cherished, as was also the graveyard,
straggling up the hill, set with odd old headstones, upon which most
remarkable cherubim smirked under a gladly permitted accumulation of
lichen.

Age, thrift, substance, respectability--these were the ideals of
Silverwood; and Desboro and his doings would never have been tolerated
there had it not been that a forbear of his, a certain dissolute
half-pay captain, had founded the community in 1680. This sacred
colonial fact had been Desboro's social salvation, for which, however,
he did not seem to care very much. Good women continued to be acidly
civil to him on this account, and also because Silverwood House and its
estates could no more be dropped from the revered galaxy of the county
than could a star be cast out of their country's flag for frivolous
behavior.

So worthy men endured him, and irreproachable women grieved for him,
although it was rumoured that he gave parties now and then which real
actresses had actually attended. Also, though he always maintained the
Desboro pew in church, he never decorated it with his person. Nor could
the countryside count on him socially, except at eccentric intervals
when his careless, graceful presence made the Westchester gaiety seem
rather stiff and pallid, and gave the thin, sour claret an unwonted
edge. And another and radical incompatibility; the Desboros were the
only family of Cavalier descent in the township. And deep in the hearts
of Silverwood folk the Desboros had ever seemed a godless race.

Now, there had been already some gossip among the Westchester hills
concerning recent doings at Silverwood House. Even when it became known
that the pretty girl who sped to and fro in Desboro's limousine,
between house and station, was a celebrated art expert, and was engaged
in cataloguing the famous Desboro collection, God-fearing people asked
each other why Desboro should find it necessary to meet her at the
station in the morning, and escort her back in the evening; and whether
it were actually obligatory for him to be present while the cataloguing
was in progress.

Westchester womanhood was beginning to look wan and worried; substantial
gentlemen gazed inquiringly at each other over the evening chess-board;
several flippant young men almost winked at each other. But these latter
had been accustomed to New York, and were always under suspicion in
their own families.

Therefore, it was with relief and surprise that Silverwood began to
observe Desboro in furs, driving a rakish runabout, and careering about
Westchester with Vail, his head farmer, seated beside him, evidently
intent on committing future agriculture--palpably planning for two
grass-blades where only one, or a mullein, had hitherto flourished
within the memory of living man.

Fertiliser in large loads was driven into the fallow fields of the
Desboros; brush and hedges and fences were being put in order. People
beheld these radical preliminaries during afternoon drives in their
automobiles; local tradesmen reported purchases of chemicals for soil
enriching, and the sale of all sorts of farm utensils to Desboro's
agent.

At the Country Club all this was gravely discussed; patriarchs mentioned
it over their checkers; maidens at bowls or squash or billiards listened
to the exciting tale, wide-eyed; hockey, ski, or skating parties
gossiped recklessly about it. The conclusion was that Desboro had
already sowed his wilder oats; and the worthy community stood watching
for the prodigal's return, intending to meet him while yet he was far
off.

He dropped in at the Country Club one day, causing a little less flutter
than a hawk in a hen-yard. Within a week he had drifted casually into
the drawing-rooms of almost all his father's old friends for a cup of
tea or an informal chat--or for nothing in particular except to saunter
into his proper place among them with all of the Desboro grace and
amiable insouciance which they had learned to tolerate but never
entirely to approve or understand.

It was not quite so casually that he stopped at the Hammerton's. And he
was given tea and buns by Mrs. Hammerton, perfectly unsuspicious of his
motives. Her husband came rambling in from the hothouses, presently,
where he spent most of his serious life in pinching back roses and
chrysanthemums; and he extended to Desboro a large, flat and placid
hand.

"Aunt Hannah and Daisy are out--somewhere--" he explained vaguely. "You
must have passed them on the way."

"Yes, I saw Daisy in the distance, exercising an old lady," said Desboro
carelessly. He did not add that the sight of Aunt Hannah marching across
the Westchester horizon had inspired him with an idea.

From her lair in town, she had come hither, for no love of her nephew
and his family, nor yet for Westchester, but solely for economy's bitter
sake. She made such pilgrimages at intervals every year, upsetting the
Hammerton household with her sarcasms, her harsh, high-keyed laughter,
her hardened ways of defining the word "spade"--for Aunt Hannah was a
terror that Westchester dreaded but never dreamed of ignoring, she being
a wayward daughter of the sacred soil, strangely and weirdly warped from
long transplanting among the gay and godless of Gotham town. And though
her means, after her husband's scared soul had taken flight, were
painfully attenuated, the high priests and captains among the gay and
godless feared her, and she bullied them; and she and they continued to
foregather from sheer tradition, but with mutual and sincere dislike.
For Aunt Hannah's name would always figure among the names of certain
metropolitan dowagers, dragons, gorgons, and holy harridans; always be
connected with certain traditional social events as long as the old lady
lived. And she meant to survive indefinitely, if she had anything to say
about it.

She came in presently with Daisy Hammerton. The latter gave her hand
frankly to her childhood's comrade; the former said:

"Hah! James Desboro!" very disagreeably, and started to nourish herself
at once with tea and muffins.

"James Desboro," she repeated scornfully, darting a wicked glance at him
where he stood smiling at her, "James Desboro, turning plow-boy in
Westchester! What's the real motive? That's what interests me. I'm a bad
old woman--I know it! All over paint and powder, and with too small a
foot and too trim a figger to be anything except wicked. Lindley knows
it; it makes his fingers tremble when he pinches crysanthemums; Susan
knows it; so does Daisy. And I admit it. And that's why I'm suspicious
of you, James; I'm so wicked myself. Come, now; why play the honest
yokel? Eh? You good-looking good-for-nothing!"

"My motive," he said amiably, "is to make a living and learn what it
feels like."

"Been stock-gambling again?"

"Yes, dear lady."

"Lose much?" she sniffed.

"Not a very great deal."

"Hah! And now you've got to raise the wind, somehow?"

He repeated, good-humouredly: "I want to make a living."

The trim little old lady darted another glance at him.

"Ha--ha!" she laughed, without giving any reason for the disagreeable
burst of mirth; and started in on another muffin.

"I think," said Mr. Hammerton, vaguely, "that James will make an
excellent agriculturist----"

"Excellent fiddlesticks!" observed Aunt Hannah. "He'd make a good
three-card man."

Daisy Hammerton said aside to Desboro:

"Isn't she a terror!"

"Oh, she likes me!" he said, amused.

"I know she does, immensely. She makes me take her for an hour's walk
every day--and I'm so tired of exercising her and listening to
her--unconventional stories--about you."

"She's a bad old thing," said Desboro affectionately, and, in his
natural voice: "Aren't you, Aunt Hannah? But there isn't a smarter foot,
or a prettier hand, or a trimmer waist in all Gotham, is there?"

"Philanderer!" she retorted, in a high-pitched voice. "What about that
Van Alstyne supper at the Santa Regina?"

"Which one?" he asked coolly. "Stuyve is always giving 'em."

"Read the _Tattler_!" said the old lady, seizing more muffins.

Mrs. Hammerton closed her tight lips and glanced uneasily at her
daughter. Daisy sipped her tea demurely. She had read all about it, and
burned the paper in her bedroom grate.

Desboro gracefully ignored the subject; the old lady laughed shrilly
once or twice, and the conversation drifted toward the more decorous
themes of pinching back roses and mixing plant-food, and preparing
nourishment for various precocious horticultural prodigies now
developing in Lindley Hammerton's hothouses.

Daisy Hammerton, a dark young girl, with superb eyes and figure, chatted
unconcernedly with Desboro, making a charming winter picture in her
scarlet felt hat and jacket, from which the black furs had fallen back.
She went in for things violent and vigorous, and no nonsense; rode as
hard as she could in such a country, played every game that demanded
quick eye and flexible muscle--and, in secret, alas, wrote verses and
short stories unanimously rejected by even the stodgier periodicals. But
nobody suspected her of such weakness--not even her own mother.

Desboro swallowed his tea and took leave of his rose-pinching host and
hostess, and their sole and lovely progeny, also, perhaps, the result of
scientific concentration. Aunt Hannah retained his hand:

"Where are you going now, James?"

"Nowhere--home," he said, pretending embarrassment, which was enough to
interest Aunt Hannah in the trap.

"Oh! Nowhere--home!" she mimicked him. "Where is 'nowhere home'?
Somewhere out? I've a mind to go with you. What do you say to that,
young man?"

"Come along," he said, a shade too promptly; and the little, bright,
mink-like eyes sparkled with malice. The trap was sprung, and Aunt
Hannah was in it. But she didn't yet suspect it.

"Slip on my fur coat for me," she said. "I'll take a spin with you in
your runabout."

"You overwhelm me," he protested, holding up the fur coat.

"I may do that yet, my clever friend! Come on! No shilly-shallying!
Susan! Tell your maid to lay out that Paquin gown which broke my
financial backbone last month! I'll bring James back to dinner--or know
the reason why!"

"I'll tell you why not, now," said Desboro. "I'm going to town early
this evening."

"Home, nowhere, and then to town," commented Aunt Hannah loudly. "A
multi-nefarious destination. James, if you run into the _Ewigkeit_ by
way of a wire fence or a tree, I'll come every night and haunt you! But
don't poke along as Lindley pokes, or I'll take the wheel myself."

The deaf head-farmer, Vail, who had kept the engine going for fear of
freezing, left the wheel and crawled resignedly into the tonneau.

Aunt Hannah and Desboro stowed themselves aboard; the swift car went off
like a firecracker, then sped away into the darkness at such a pace
that presently Aunt Hannah put her marmot-like face close to Desboro's
ear and swore at him.

"Didn't you want speed?" he asked, slowing down.

"Where are you going, James--home, or nowhere?"

"Nowhere."

"Well, we arrived there long ago. Now, go home--_your_ home."

"Sure, but I've got to catch that train----"

"Oh, you'll catch it--or something else. James?"

"Madame?"

"Some day I want to take a look at that young woman who is cataloguing
your collection."

"That's just what I want you to do now," he said cheerfully. "I'm taking
her to New York this evening."

Aunt Hannah, astonished and out of countenance, remained mute, her sharp
nose buried in her furs. She had been trapped, and she knew it. Then her
eyes glittered:

"You're being talked about," she said with satisfaction. "So is she!
Ha!"

"Much?" he asked coolly.

"No. The good folk are only asking each other why you meet her at the
station with your car. They think she carries antique gems in her
satchel. Later they'll suspect who the real jewel is. Ha!"

"I like her; that's why I meet her," he said coolly.

"You _like_ her?"

"I sure do. She is some girl, dear lady."

"Do you think your pretense of guileless candour is disarming me, young
man?"

"I haven't the slightest hope of disarming you or of concealing anything
from you."

"Follows," she rejoined ironically, "that there's nothing to conceal.
Bah!"

"Quite right; there is nothing to conceal."

"What do you want with her, then?"

"Initially, I want her to catalogue my collection; subsequently, I wish
to remain friends with her. The latter wish is becoming a problem. I've
an idea that you might solve it."

"_Friends_ with her," repeated Aunt Hannah. "Oh, my!

  "'And angels whisper
  Lo! the pretty pair!'

"I suppose! Is that the hymn-tune, James?"

"Precisely."

"What does she resemble--Venus, or Rosa Bonheur?"

"Look at her and make up your mind."

"Is she _very_ pretty?"

"_I_ think so. She's thin."

"Then what do you see unusual about her?"

"Everything, I think."

"Everything--he thinks! Oh, my sense of humour!"

"That," said Desboro, "is partly what I count on."

"Have you any remote and asinine notions of educating her and marrying
her, and foisting her on your friends? There are a few fools still alive
on earth, you know."

"So I've heard. I haven't the remotest idea of marrying her; she is
better fitted to educate me than I am her. Not guilty on these two
counts. But I had thought of foisting some of my friends on her. You,
for example."

Aunt Hannah glared at him--that is, her tiny eyes became almost
luminous, like the eyes of small animals at night, surprised by a sudden
light.

"I know what you're meditating!" she snapped.

"I suppose you do, by this time."

"You're very impudent. Do you know it?"

"Lord, Aunt Hannah, so are you!" he drawled. "But it takes genius to get
away with it."

The old lady was highly delighted, but she concealed it and began such a
rapid-fire tirade against him that he was almost afraid it might
bewilder him enough to affect his steering.

"Talk to _me_ of disinterested friendship between you and a girl of that
sort!" she ended. "Not that I'd care, if I found material in her to
amuse me, and a monthly insult drawn to my order against a solvent bank
balance! What is she, James; a pretty blue-stocking whom nobody
'understands' except you?"

"Make up your own mind," he repeated, as he brought around the car and
stopped before his own doorstep. "I'm not trying to tell _you_ anything.
She is here. Look at her. If you like her, be her friend--and mine."

Jacqueline had waited tea for him; the table was in the library, kettle
simmering over the silver lamp; and the girl was standing before the
fire, one foot on the fender, her hands loosely linked behind her back.

She glanced up with unfeigned pleasure as his step sounded outside along
the stone hallway; and the smile still remained, curving her lips, but
died out in her eyes, as Mrs. Hammerton marched in, halted, and stared
at her unwinkingly.

Desboro presented them; Jacqueline came forward, offering a shy hand to
Aunt Hannah, and, bending her superb young head, looked down into the
beady eyes which were now fairly electric with intelligence.

Desboro began, easily:

"I asked Mrs. Hammerton to have tea with----"

"I asked myself," remarked Aunt Hannah, laying her other hand over
Jacqueline's--she did not know just why--perhaps because she was vain of
her hands, as well as of her feet and "figger."

She seated herself on the sofa and drew Jacqueline down beside her.

"This young man tells me that you are cataloguing his grandfather's
accumulation of ancient tin-ware."

"Yes," said Jacqueline, already afraid of her. And the old lady divined
it, too, with not quite as much pleasure as it usually gave her to
inspire trepidation in others.

Her shrill voice was a little modified when she said:

"Where did you learn to do such things? It's not usual, you know."

"You have heard of Jean Louis Nevers," suggested Desboro.

"Yes--" Mrs. Hammerton turned and looked at the girl again. "Oh!" she
said. "I've heard Cary Clydesdale speak of you, haven't I?"

Jacqueline made a slight, very slight, but instinctive movement away
from the old lady, on whom nothing that happened was lost.

"Mr. Clydesdale," said Mrs. Hammerton, "told several people where I was
present that you knew more about antiquities in art than anybody else
in New York since your father died. That's what he said about you."

Jacqueline said: "Mr. Clydesdale has been very kind to me."

"Kindness to people is also a Clydesdale tradition--isn't it, James?"
said the old lady. "How kind Elena has always been to you!"

The covert impudence of Aunt Hannah, and her innocent countenance, had
no significance for Jacqueline--would have had no meaning at all except
for the dark flush of anger that mounted so suddenly to Desboro's
forehead.

He said steadily: "The Clydesdales are very old friends, and are
naturally kind. Why you don't like them I never understood."

"Perhaps you can understand why one of them doesn't like me, James."

"Oh! I can understand why many people are not crazy about you, Aunt
Hannah," he said, composedly.

"Which is going some," said the old lady, with a brisk and unabashed
employment of the vernacular. Then, turning to Jacqueline: "Are you
going to give this young man some tea, my child? He requires a tonic."

Jacqueline rose and seated herself at the table, thankful to escape. Tea
was soon ready; Aunt Hannah, whose capacity for browsing was infinite,
began on jam and biscuits without apology. And Jacqueline and Desboro
exchanged their first furtive glances--dismayed and questioning on the
girl's part, smilingly reassuring on Desboro's. Aunt Hannah, looking
intently into her teacup, missed nothing.

"Come to see me!" she said so abruptly that even Desboro started.

[Illustration: "'I--I beg your pardon,' said Jacqueline"]

"I--I beg your pardon," said Jacqueline, not understanding.

"Come to see me in town. I've a rotten little place in a fashionable
apartment house--one of the Park Avenue kind, which they number instead
of calling it the 'Buena Vista' or the 'Hiawatha.' Will you come?"

"Thank you."

The old lady looked at her grimly:

"What does 'thank you' mean? Yes or no? Because I really want you. Don't
you wish to come?"

"I would be very glad to come--only, you know, I am in business--and go
out very little----"

"Except on business," added Desboro, looking Aunt Hannah unblushingly in
the eye until she wanted to pinch him. Instead, she seized another
biscuit, which Farris presented on a tray, smoking hot, and applied jam
to it vigorously. After she had consumed it, she rose and marched around
the room, passing the portraits and book shelves in review. Half turning
toward Jacqueline:

"I haven't been in the musty old mansion for years; that young man never
asks me. But I used to know the house. It was this sort of house that
drove me out of Westchester, and I vowed I'd marry a New York man or
nobody. Do you know, child, that there is a sort of simpering smugness
about a house like this that makes me inclined to kick dents in the
furniture?"

Jacqueline ventured to smile; Desboro's smile responded in sympathy.

"I'm going home," announced Aunt Hannah. "Good-bye, Miss Nevers. I don't
want you to drive me, James; I'd rather have your man take me back.
Besides, you've a train to catch, I understand----" She turned and
looked at Jacqueline, who had risen, and they stood silently inspecting
each other. Then, with a grim nod, as though partly of comprehension,
partly in adieu, Aunt Hannah sailed out. Desboro tucked her in beside
Vail. The latter being quite deaf, they talked freely under his very
nose.

"James!"

"Yes, dear lady."

"You gave _yourself_ away about Elena Clydesdale. Haven't you any
control over your countenance?"

"Sometimes. But don't do that again before _her_! The story is a lie,
anyway."

"So I've heard--from you. Tell me, James, do you think this little
Nevers girl dislikes me?"

"Do you want her to?"

"No. You're a very clever young one, aren't you? Really quite an expert!
Do you know, I don't think that girl would care for what I might have to
offer her. There's more to her than to most people."

"How do you know? She scarcely spoke a word."

The old lady laughed scornfully:

"I know people by what they _don't_ say. That's why I know you so much
better than you think I do--you and Elena Clydesdale. And _I_ don't
think you're much good, James--or some of your married friends, either."

She settled down among the robes, with a bright, impertinent glance at
him. He shrugged, standing bareheaded by the mud-guard, a lithe,
handsome young fellow. "--A Desboro all over," she thought, with a
mental sniff of admiration.

"Are you going to speak to Miss Nevers?" she asked, abruptly.

"About what!"

"About employing me, you idiot!"

"Yes, if you like. If she comes up here as my guest, she'll need a
gorgon."

"I'll gorgon you," she retorted, wrathfully.

"Thanks. So you'll accept the--er--job?"

"Of course, if she wishes. I need the money. It's purely mercenary on my
part."

"That's understood."

"Are you going to tell her I'm mercenary?"

"Naturally."

"Well, then--_don't_--if you don't mind. Do you think I want _every_
living creature to detest me?"

"_I_ don't detest you. And you have an unterrified tabby-cat at home,
haven't you?"

She could have boxed his ears as he leaned over and deliberately kissed
her cheek.

"I love you because you're so bad," he whispered; and, stepping lightly
aside, nodded to Vail to go ahead.

The limousine, acetylenes shining, rolled up as the other car departed.
He went back to the library and found Jacqueline pinning on her hat.

"Well?" he inquired gaily.

"Why did you bring her, Mr. Desboro?"

"Didn't you like her?"

"Who is she?"

"A Mrs. Hannah Hammerton. She knows everybody. Most people are afraid of
her. She's poor as a guinea-pig."

"She was beautifully gowned."

"She always is. Poor Aunt Hannah!"

"Is she your aunt?"

"No, she's Lindley Hammerton's aunt--a neighbour of mine. I call her
that; it made her very mad in the beginning, but she rather likes it
now. You'll go to call on her, won't you?"

Jacqueline turned to him, drawing on her gloves:

"Mr. Desboro, I don't wish to be rude; and, anyway, she will forget that
she asked me in another half-hour. Why should I go to see her?"

"Because she's one species of gorgon. Now, do you understand?"

"What!"

"Of course. It isn't a case of pin-money with her; it's a case of
clothing, rent, and nourishment. A microscopic income, supplemented by
gifts, commissions, and odd social jobs, keeps her going. What you and I
want of her is for her to be seen at various times with you. She'll do
the rest in talking about you--'my unusually talented young friend, Miss
Nevers,' and that sort of thing. It will deceive nobody; but you'll
eventually meet some people--she knows all kinds. The main point is that
when I ask you here she'll bring you. People will understand that you
are another of her social enterprises, for which she's paid. But it
won't count against you. It will depend on yourself entirely how you are
received. And not a soul will be able to say a word--" he laughed,
"--except that I am very devoted to the beautiful Miss Nevers--as
everybody else will be."

Jacqueline remained motionless for a few moments, an incomprehensible
expression on her face; then she went over to him and took one of his
hands in her gloved ones, and stood looking down at it in silence.

"Well," he asked, smiling.

She said, still looking down at his hand lying between her own:

"You have behaved in the sweetest way to me--" Her voice grew unsteady,
and she turned her head sharply away.

"Jacqueline!" he exclaimed under his breath. "It's a broken reed you're
trusting. Don't, dear. I'm like all the others."

She shook her head slightly, still looking away from him. After a short
silence, her voice returned to her control again.

"You are very kind to me, Mr. Desboro. When a man sees that a girl likes
him--and is kind to her--it is wonderful to her."

He tried to take a lighter tone.

"It's the case of the beast born in captivity, Jacqueline. I'm only
going through the tricks convention has taught me. But every instinct
remains unaltered."

"That _is_ civilisation, isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know what it is--you wonderful little thing!"

He caught her hand, then encircled her waist, drawing her close. After a
moment, she dropped her big, fluffy muff on his shoulder and hid her
flushed face in the fur.

"Don't trust me, will you?" he said, bluntly.

"No."

"Because I--I'm an unaccountable beast."

"We--both have to account--sometime--to somebody. Don't we?" she said in
a muffled voice.

"That would never check me."

"It would--me."

"Spiritual responsibility?"

"Yes."

"Is that _all_?"

"What else is there to remember--when a girl--cares for a man."

"Do you really care very much?"

Perhaps she considered the question superfluous, for she remained silent
until his nerveless arm released her. Then she lifted her face from the
muff. It was pale but smiling when he met her eyes.

"I'll go to see Mrs. Hammerton, some day," she said, "because it would
hurt too much not to be able to come here when you ask me--and other
people--like the--the Clydesdales. You _were_ thinking of me when you
thought of this, weren't you?"

"In a way. A girl has got to reckon with what people say."

She nodded, pale and expressionless, slowly brushing up the violets
fastened to her muff.

Farris appeared, announced the time, and held Desboro's coat. They had
just margin enough to make their train.



CHAPTER IX


The following morning, Aunt Hannah returned to her tiny apartment on
Park Avenue, financially benefitted by her Westchester sojourn, having
extracted a bolt of Chinese loot-silk for a gown from her nephew's
dismayed wife, and the usual check from her nephew.

Lindley, a slow, pallid, and thrifty soul, had always viewed Aunt
Hannah's event with unfeigned alarm, because, somehow or other, at the
close of every visit he found himself presenting her with a check. And
it almost killed him.

Years ago he had done it for the first time. He had never intended to;
certainly never meant to continue. Every time she appeared he vowed to
himself that he wouldn't. But before her visit ended, the pressure of
custom became too much for him; a deadly sense of obligation toward this
dreadful woman--of personal responsibility for her indigence--possessed
him, became gradually an obsession, until he exorcised it by the present
of a check.

She never spoke of it--never seemed to hint at it--always seemed
surprised and doubtful of accepting; but some devilish spell certainly
permeated the atmosphere in her immediate vicinity, drawing perfectly
good money out of his innermost and tightly buttoned breast-pockets and
leaving it certified and carelessly crumpled in her velvet reticule.

It happened with a sickening regularity which now he had come to view
with the modified internal fury of resignation. It had simply become a
terrible custom, and, with all his respectable inertia and thrifty
caution, adherence to custom ruled Lindley Hammerton. For years he had
pinched roses; for years he had drawn checks for Aunt Hannah. Nothing
but corporeal dissolution could terminate these customs.

As for Aunt Hannah, she banked her check and had her bolt of silk made
into a gown, and trotted briskly about her business with perennial
self-confidence in her own ability to get on.

Once or twice during the following fortnight she remembered Jacqueline,
and mentally tabulated her case as a possible source of future income;
but social duties were many and acridly agreeable, and pecuniary
pickings plenty. Up to her small, thin ears in intrigue, harmless and
not quite so harmless, she made hay busily while the social sun shone;
and it was near the end of February before a stagnation in pleasure and
business brought Jacqueline's existence into her mind again.

She called up Silverwood, and eventually got Desboro on the wire.

"Do you know," she said, "that your golden-headed and rather attenuated
inamorata has never had the civility to call on me!"

"She has been too busy."

"Too busy gadding about Silverwood with you!"

"She hasn't been here since you saw her."

"What!"

"It's quite true. An important collection is to be sold under the hammer
on the premises; she had the contract to engineer that matter before she
undertook to catalogue my stuff."

"Oh! Haven't you seen her since?"

"Yes."

"_Not_ at Silverwood?"

"No, only at her office."

He could hear her sniff and mutter something, then:

"I thought you were going to give some parties at Silverwood, and ask me
to bring your pretty friend," she said.

"I am. She has the jades and crystals to catalogue. What I want, as soon
as she gets rid of Clydesdale, is for her to resume work here--come up
and remain as my guest until the cataloguing is finished. So you see
I'll have to have you, too."

"That's a cordial and disinterested invitation, James!"

"Will you come? I'll ask half a dozen people. You can kill a few at
cards, too."

"When?"

"The first Thursday in March. It's a business proposition, but it's
between you and me, and she is not to suspect it."

"Very well," said Aunt Hannah cheerfully. "I'll arrange my engagements
accordingly. And do try to have a gay party, James; and don't ask the
Clydesdales. You know how Westchester gets on my nerves. And I always
hated her."

"You are very unjust to her and to him----"

"You can't tell me anything about Cary Clydesdale, or about his wife,
either," she interrupted tartly, and rang off in a temper. And Desboro
went back to his interrupted business with Vail.

Since Jacqueline had been compelled to suspend temporarily her inventory
at Silverwood in favor of prior engagements, Desboro had been to the
city only twice, and both times to see her.

He had seen her in her office, remained on both occasions for an hour
only, and had then taken the evening train back to Silverwood. But every
evening he had written her of the day just ended--told her about the
plans for farming, now maturing, of the quiet life at Silverwood, how
gradually he was reëstablishing neighbourly relations with the
countryside, how much of a country squire he was becoming.

"--And the whole thing with malice aforethought," he wrote. "--Every
blessed move only a strategy in order that, to do you honour, I may
stand soberly and well before the community when you are among my
guests.

"In tow of Aunt Hannah; engaged for part of the day in your business
among the jades, crystals, and porcelains of a celebrated collection;
one of a house party; and the guest of a young man who has returned very
seriously to till the soil of his forefathers; all that anybody can
possibly think of it will be that your host is quite as captivated by
your grace, wisdom, and beauty as everybody else will be.

"And what do you think of that, Jacqueline?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I think," she wrote, "that no other man has ever been as nice to me. I
do not really care about the other people, but I quite understand that
you and I could not see each other as freely as we have been doing,
without detriment to me. I like you--superfluous admission! And I should
miss seeing you--humble confession! And so I suppose it is best that
everybody should know who and what I am--a business woman well-bred
enough to sit at table with your friends, with sufficient
self-confidence to enter and leave a room properly, to maintain my grasp
on the conversational ball, and to toss it lightly to my vis-à-vis when
the time comes.

"All this is worth doing and enduring for the sake of being your guest.
Without conscientious scruples, apprehensions, perplexities, and fears I
could never again come to Silverwood and be there alone with you as I
have been. Always I have been secretly unhappy and afraid after a day
with you at Silverwood. Sooner or later it would have had to end. It can
not go on--as it has been going. I know it. The plea of business is soon
worn threadbare if carelessly used.

"And so--caring for your friendship as I do--and it having become such a
factor in my life--I find it easy to do what you ask me; and I have
arranged to go with Mrs. Hammerton to Silverwood on the first Thursday
in March, to practice my profession, enjoy the guests at your house
party, and cultivate our friendship with a clear conscience and a
tranquil and happy mind.

"It was just that little element of protection I needed to make me more
happy than I have ever been. Somehow, I _couldn't_ care for you as
frankly and freely as I wanted to. And some things have happened--you
know what I mean. I didn't reproach you, or pretend surprise or anger. I
felt neither--only a confused sense of unhappiness. But--I cared for you
enough to submit.

"Now I go to you with a sense of security that is delightful. You don't
understand how a girl situated as I am feels when she knows that she is
in a position where any woman has the right to regard her with
suspicion. Skating, motoring, with you, I could not bear to pass people
you knew and to whom you bowed--women--even farmers' wives.

"But now it will be different; I feel so warmly confident at heart, so
secure, that I shall perhaps dare to say and do and be much that you
never suspected was in me. The warm sun of approval makes a very
different person of me. A girl, who, in her heart, does not approve of
what she is doing, and who is always expecting to encounter other women
who would not approve, is never at her best--isn't even herself--and
isn't really happy, even with a man she likes exceedingly. You will, I
think, see a somewhat different girl on Thursday."

       *       *       *       *       *

"If your words are sometimes a little misty," he wrote, "your soul
shines through everything you say, with a directness entirely heavenly.
Life, for us, begins on Thursday, under cover no longer, but in the
open. And the field will be as fair for you as for me. That is as it
should be; that is as far as I care to look. But somehow, after all is
done and said that ever will be said and done between you and me, I am
conscious that when we two emerge from the dream called 'living,' you
will lead and direct us both--even if you never do so here on earth.

"I am not given to this sort of stuff.

"Jacqueline, dear, I'd like to amuse my guests with something unusual.
Could you help me out?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She answered: "I'll do anything in the world I can to make your house
party pleasant for you and your guests. So I've asked Mr. Sissly to give
a recital. It is quite the oddest thing; you don't _listen_ to a
symphony which he plays on the organ; you _see_ it. He will send the
organ, electrical attachments, lights, portable stage and screen, to
Silverwood; and his men will install everything in the armoury.

"Then, if it would amuse your guests, I could tell them a little about
your jades and crystals, and do it in a rather unusual way. I think
you'd rather like it. Shall I?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He wrote some days later: "What a darling you are! Anything you do will
be charming. Sissly's men have arrived and are raising a racket in the
armoury with hammer and saw.

"The stage will look quite wonderful between the wide double rank of
equestrian figures in armour.

"Aunt Hannah writes that you called on her and that you and she are
coming up on the train together, which is delightfully sensible, and
exactly as it should be. Heaven alone knows how long you are going to be
able to endure her. It's rather odd, you know, but I like her and always
have, though she's made things disagreeable for me more than once in my
life.

"Your room is ready; Aunt Hannah's adjoins. Quarters for other guests
are ready also. Have you any idea how I look forward to your coming?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later his guests arrived on the first three morning trains--a
jolly crowd of young people--nineteen of them--who filled his
automobiles and horse-drawn vehicles. Their luggage followed in vans,
from which protruded skis and hockey sticks. There being no porter, the
butler of Silverwood House received them in front of the lodge at the
outer gates, offering the "guest cup," a Desboro custom of many
generations, originating in England, although the lodge had stood empty
and the gates open since his grandfather's time.

[Illustration: "There was, for a moment, an unconscious and unwonted
grace in his manner"]

Desboro welcomed them on his own doorstep; and there was, for a moment,
an unconscious and unwonted grace in his manner and bearing--an
undefined echo in his voice of other and more courtly times, as he gave
his arm to Aunt Hannah and led her inside the hall.

There it exhaled and vanished as Mrs. Quant and the maids smilingly
conducted the guests to their various quarters--vanished with the
smiling formality of his greeting to Jacqueline.

The men returned first, clad in their knickerbockers and skating
jackets. Cocktails awaited them in the billiard-room, and they gathered
there in noisy curiosity over this celebrated house not often opened to
anybody except its owner.

"Who is the dream, Jim?" demanded Reginald Ledyard. "I mean the wonder
with the gold hair, that Mrs. Hammerton has in tow?"

"A friend of Aunt Hannah's--an expert in antique art--and as clever and
charming as she is pretty," said Desboro pleasantly.

"High-brow! Oh, help!" muttered Ledyard. "Where's your library? I want
to read up."

"She can talk like other people," remarked Van Alstyne. "I got next on
the train--old lady Hammerton stood for me. She can flirt some, I'll
tell you those."

Bertie Barkley extracted the olive from a Bronx and considered it
seriously.

"The old lady is on a salary, of course. Nobody ever heard of anybody
named Nevers," he remarked.

"They'll hear of somebody named Nevers now," observed Captain Herrendene
with emphasis, "or," he added in modest self-depreciation, "I am all
kinds of a liar."

"Where did you know her, Jim?" inquired Ledyard curiously.

"Oh, Miss Nevers's firm has charge of cataloguing my armour and jades.
They're at it still. That's how I first met her--in a business way. And
when I found her to be a friend of Aunt Hannah's, I asked them both up
here as my guests."

"You always had an eye for beauty," said Cairns. "What do you suppose
Mrs. Hammerton's game is?"

"Why, to make Miss Nevers known where she really ought to belong,"
replied Desboro frankly.

"How high does she plan to climb?" asked Barkley. "Above the vegetating
line?"

"Probably not as far as the line of perpetual stupidity," said Desboro.
"Miss Nevers appears to be a very busy, and very intelligent, and
self-sufficient young lady, and I imagine she would have neither time
nor inclination to decorate any of the restless, gilt-encrusted sets."

Van Alstyne said: "She's got the goods to deliver almost anywhere Mrs.
Hammerton chooses--F. O. B. what?"

"She's some dream," admitted Ledyard as they all moved toward the
library.

There were a lot of gay young girls there in skating costumes; Ledyard's
sister Marie, with her large figure and pretty but slightly stupid face;
Helsa Steyr, blonde, athletic, and red-haired; Athalie Vannis, with her
handsome, dark face, so often shadowed by discontent; Barkley's animated
little wife, Elizabeth, grey-eyed and freckled and brimming with
mischief of the schoolboy quality; the stately Katharine Frere; Aunt
Hannah; and Jacqueline.

All except the latter two had been doing something to cocktails of
various species; Jacqueline took nothing; Aunt Hannah, Scotch whiskey
with relish.

"It's about the last of the skating," said Desboro, "so we'd better take
what we can get as soon as luncheon is over. Pick your partners and
don't squabble. Me for Mrs. Hammerton!" and he led her out.

At table he noticed that Captain Herrendene had secured Jacqueline, and
that Reggie Ledyard, on the other side, was already neglecting his own
partner in his eager, good-looking and slightly loutish fashion of
paying court to the newest and prettiest girl.

Aunt Hannah's glance continually flickered sideways at Desboro, but when
she discovered that he was aware of her covert scrutiny, she said under
her breath:

"I've been shopping with her; the little thing didn't know how to clothe
herself luxuriously in the more intimate details. I'd like to see
anybody's maid patronise her now! Yours don't know enough--but she'll go
where there are those who do know, sooner or later. What do you think of
her?"

"What I always think," he said coolly. "She is the most interesting girl
I ever met."

"She's too clever to care very much for what I can offer her," said Mrs.
Hammerton drily. "Glitter and tinsel would never dazzle her, James;
pretense, complacency, bluff, bragg, she'd devilish soon see through it
all with those clear, intelligent eyes--see at the bottom what lies
squirming there--anxiety, self-distrust, eternal dread, undying envy,
the secret insecurity of those who imitate the real--which does not
exist in America--and who know in their hopeless hearts that they are
only shams, like that two-year-old antique tavern yonder, made quaint to
order."

He said smilingly: "She'll soon have enough of your particular
familiars. But, little by little, she'll find herself in accord with
people who seek her as frankly as she seeks them. Natural selection, you
know. Your only usefulness is to give her the opportunity, and you've
begun to do it, bless your heart."

She flashed a malicious glance at him; under cover of the gay hubbub she
said:

"I may do more than that, James."

"Really."

"Yes; I may open her eyes to men of your sort."

"Her eyes are open already, I suppose."

"Not very wide. For example--you'd never marry her. Would you?"

"Don't talk that way," he said coldly.

"No, I don't have to talk at all. I _know_. If you ever marry, I know
what deadly species of female it will be. You're probably right; you're
that kind, too--no real substance to you, James. And so I think I'll
have to look after my intellectual protégée, and be very sure that her
pretty eyes are wide open."

He turned toward her; their glances met level and hard:

"Let matters alone," he said. "I have myself in hand."

"You have in hand a horse with a runaway record, James."

Cairns, on her left, spoke to her; she turned and answered, then
presented her well-shaped back to that young gentleman and again crossed
glances with Desboro, who was waiting, cool as steel.

"Come, James," she said in a low voice, "what do you mean to do? A man
always means something or nothing; and the latter is the more
dangerous."

As that was exactly what Desboro told himself he had always meant, he
winced and remained silent.

"Oh, you--the lot of you!" she said with smiling contempt. "I'll equip
that girl to take care of herself before I'm through with her. Watch
me."

"It is part of your business. Equip her to take care of herself as
thoroughly as anybody you know. Then it will be up to her--as it is up
to all women, after all--and to all men."

"Oh, is it? You've all the irresponsibility and moral rottenness of your
Cavalier ancestors in you; do you know it, James? The Puritan, at least,
never doubted that he was his brother's keeper."

Desboro said doggedly: "With the individual alone rests what that
individual will be."

"Is that your mature belief?" she asked ironically.

"It is, dear lady."

"Lord! To think of a world full of loosened creatures like you! A
civilised society swarming with callow and irresponsible opportunists,
amateur Jesuits, idle intelligences reinfected with the toxins of their
own philosophy! But," she shrugged, "I am indicting man himself--nations
and nations of him. Besides, we women have always known this. And
hybrids are hybrids. If there's any claret in the house, tell Farris to
fetch some. Don't be angry, James. Man and woman once were different
species, and the world has teemed with their hybrids since the first
mating."

Mrs. Barkley leaned across the table toward him:

"What's the matter, James? You look dangerous."

His face cleared and he smiled:

"Nobody is really dangerous except to themselves, Betty."

She quoted saucily: "Il n'y a personne qui ne soit dangereux pour
quelqu'un!"

Mrs. Hammerton added: "Il faut tout attendre et tout craindre du temps
et des hommes."

Reggie Ledyard, much flattered, admitted the wholesale indictment
against his sex:

"How can we help it? Man, possessing always dual personality, is
naturally inclined toward a double life."

"Man's chief study has been man for so long," observed Mrs. Hammerton,
"that the world has passed by, leaving him behind, still engrossed in
counting his thumbs. Name your French philosopher who can beat that
reflection," she added to Desboro, who smiled absently.

[Illustration: "All the men there had yielded to the delicate attraction
of her"]

From moment to moment he had been watching Jacqueline and the men always
leaning toward her--Reggie Ledyard persistently bringing to bear on her
the full splendour of his straw-blond and slightly coarse beauty;
Cairns, receptive and débonnaire as usual; Herrendene, with his keen
smile and sallow visage lined with the memory of things that had left
their marks--all the men there had yielded to the delicate attraction of
her.

Desboro said to Mrs. Hammerton: "Now you realise where she really
belongs."

"Better than you do," she retorted drily.

After luncheon there were vehicles to convey them to the pond, a small
sheet of water down in the Desboro woods. And while a declining sun
glittered through the trees, the wooded shores echoed with the clatter
and scrape of skates and the rattle of hockey-sticks crossed in lively
combat.

But inshore the ice had rotted; the end of such sport was already in
sight. Along the gravelly inlet, where water rippled, a dozen fingerling
trout lay half hidden among the pebbles; over a bank of soft, sun-warmed
snow, gnats danced in the sunset light; a few tree-buds had turned
sticky.

Later, Vail came and built a bonfire; Farris arrived with tea baskets
full of old-fashioned things, such as turnovers and flip in stone jugs
of a century ago.

Except for a word or two at intervals, Desboro had found no chance to
talk to Jacqueline. Now and then their glances encountered, lingered,
shifted, with scarcely a ghost of a smile in forced response to
importunities. So he had played an impartial game of hockey, skated with
any girl who seemed to be receptive, cut intricate figures with Mrs.
Hammerton in a cove covered with velvet-smooth black ice, superintended
the bonfire construction, directed Farris with the tea.

Now, absently executing a "grape-vine," he was gliding along the outer
ranks of his guests with the mechanical patrolling instinct of a collie,
when Jacqueline detached herself from a fire-lit group and made him a
gay little sign to halt.

Picking her way through the soft snow on the points of her skates,
she took to the ice and joined him. They linked hands and swung out into
the starlight.

"Are you enjoying it?" he asked.

"That's why I signalled you. I never have had such a good time. I wanted
you to know it."

"You like my friends?"

She looked up: "They are all so charming to me! I didn't expect people
to be cordial."

"You need expect nothing else wherever you go and whomever you
meet--barring the inevitable which no attractive girl can avoid
arousing. Do you get on with Aunt Hannah?"

She laughed: "Isn't it odd? _I_ call her that, too. She asked me to. And
do you know, she has been a perfect dear about everything. We shopped
together; I never had quite ventured to buy certain fascinating things
to wear. And we had such a good time lunching at the Ritz, where I had
never dared go. Such beautiful women! Such gowns! Such jewels!"

They halted and looked back across the ice at the distant fire and the
dark forms moving about it.

"You've bowled over every man here, as a matter of course," he said
lightly. "If you'll tell me how you like the women I'll know whether
they like you."

"Oh, I like them; they are as nice to me as they are to each other!" she
exclaimed, "--except, perhaps, one or two----"

"Marie Ledyard is hopelessly spoiled; Athalie Vannis is usually
discontented," he said philosophically. "Don't expect either of them to
give three cheers for another girl's popularity."

They crossed hands and swept toward the centre of the pond on the "outer
edge." Jacqueline's skating skirt was short enough for her to manage a
"Dutch roll," steadied and guided by Desboro; then they exchanged it for
other figures, not intricate.

"Your friend, Mr. Sissly, is dining with us," he observed.

"He's really very nice," she said. "Just a little too--artistic--for
you, perhaps, and for the men here--except Captain Herrendene----"

"Herrendene is a fine fellow," he said.

"I like him so much," she admitted.

He was silent for a moment, turned toward her as though to speak, but
evidently reconsidered the impulse.

"He is not very young, is he?" she asked.

"Herrendene? No."

"I thought not. Sometimes in repose his face seems sad. But what kind
eyes he has!"

"He's a fine fellow," said Desboro without emphasis.

Before they came within the firelight, he asked her whether she had
really decided to give them a little lecture on jades and crystals; and
she said that she had.

"It won't be too technical or too dry, I hope," she added laughingly. "I
told Captain Herrendene what I was going to say and do, and he liked the
idea."

"Won't you tell me, too, Jacqueline?"

"No, I want _you_ to be surprised. Besides, I haven't time; we've been
together too long already. Doesn't one's host have to be impartially
attentive? And I think that pretty little Miss Steyr is signalling you."

Herrendene came out on the ice toward them:

"The cars are here," he said, "and Mrs. Hammerton is cold."

Dinner was an uproariously lively function, served amid a perfect
eruption of bewildering gowns and jewels and flowers. Desboro had never
before seen Jacqueline in a dinner gown, or even attempted to visualise
her beauty amid such surroundings in contrast with other women.

She fitted exquisitely into the charming mosaic; from crown to toe she
was part of it, an essential factor that, once realised, became
indispensable to the harmony.

Perhaps, he told himself, she did not really dominate with the fresh
delicacy of her beauty; perhaps it was only what he saw in her and what
he knew of her that made the others shadowy and commonplace to him.

[Illustration: "In all the curious eyes turned toward her, he saw
admiration, willing or conceded."]

Yet, in all the curious eyes repeatedly turned toward her, he saw
admiration, willing or conceded, recognised every unspoken tribute of
her own sex as well as the less reserved surrender of his; saw her
suddenly developed into a blossom of unabashed and youthful loveliness
under what she had once called "the warm sun of approval"; and sat in
vague and uneasy wonder, witnessing the transfiguration.

Sissly was there, allotted to Katharine Frere; and that stately girl,
usually credited among her friends with artistic aspirations, apparently
found him interesting.

So all went well enough, whether gaily or seriously, even with Aunt
Hannah, who had discovered under Desboro's smiling composure all kinds
of food for reflection and malicious diversion.

For such a small party it was certainly a gay one--at least people were
beginning to think so half way through dinner--which merely meant that
everybody was being properly appreciated by everybody's neighbours, and
that made everybody feel unusually witty, and irrepressible, and a
little inclined to be silly toward the end.

But then the after-dinner guests began to arrive--calm, perfectly poised
and substantial Westchester propositions who had been bidden to assist
at an unusual programme, and to dance afterward.

The stodgy old house rang with chatter and laughter; hall, stairs,
library, and billiard-room resounded delightfully; you could scare up a
pretty girl from almost any cover--if you were gunning for that variety
of girl.

Reggie Ledyard had managed to corner Jacqueline on the stairs, but
couldn't monopolise her nor protect himself against the shameless
intrusion of Cairns, who spoiled the game until Herrendene raided the
trio and carried her off to the billiard-room on a most flimsy pretext.

Here, very properly, a Westchester youth of sterling worth got her away
and was making toward the library with her when Desboro unhooked a
hunting horn from the wall and filled the house with deafening blasts as
signal that the show was about to begin in the armoury.

The armoury had been strung with incandescent lights, which played over
the huge mounted figures in mail, and glanced in a million reflections
from the weapons on the wall. A curtained and raised stage faced seats
for a hundred people, which filled the long, wide aisle between the
equestrian shapes; and into these the audience was pouring, excited and
mystified by the odd-looking and elaborate electrical attachments
flanking the stage in front of the curtained dressing-rooms.

Jacqueline, passing Desboro, whispered:

"I'm so thrilled and excited. I know people will find Mr. Sissly's
lecture interesting, but do you think they'll like mine?"

"How do I know, you little villain? You've told Herrendene what you are
going to do, but you haven't given me even a hint!"

"I know it; I wanted to--to please you--" Her light hand fell for a
moment on his sleeve, and he saw the blue eyes a little wistful.

"You darling," he whispered.

"Thank you. It isn't the proper thing to say to me--but I've quite
recovered my courage."

"Have you quite recovered all the scattered fragments of your heart? I
am afraid some of these men may carry portions of it away with them."

"I don't think so, monsieur. Really, I must hurry and dress----"

"Dress?"

"Certainly; also make up!"

"But I thought you were to give us a little talk on Chinese jades."

"But I must do it in my own way, Mr. Des----"

"Wait!" They were in the rear of the dressing-room and he took her hand.

"I call you Jacqueline, unreproved. Is my name more difficult for you?"

"Do you wish me to? In cold blood?"

"Not in cold blood."

He took her into his arms; she bent her head gravely, but he felt her
restless fingers worrying his sleeve.

"Jacqueline?"

"Yes--Jim."

The swift fire in his face answered the flush in hers; he drew her
nearer, but she averted her dainty head in silence and stood so, her
hand always restless on his arm.

"You haven't changed toward me in these few weeks, have you,
Jacqueline?"

"Do you think I have?"

He was silent. After a moment she glanced up at him with adorable
shyness. He kissed her, but her lips were cold and unresponsive, and she
bent her head, still picking nervously at the cloth of his sleeve.

"I _must_ go," she said.

"I know it." He released her waist.

She drew a quick, short breath and looked up smiling; then sighed again,
and once more her blue eyes became aloof and thoughtful.

He stood leaning against the side of the dressing-room, watching her.

Finally she said with composure: "I _must_ go. Please like what I shall
do. It will be done to please you--Jim."

He opened the dressing-room door for her; she entered, turned to look
back at him for an instant, then closed the door.

He went back to his place among the audience.

A moment later a temple gong struck three times; the green curtains
parted, revealing a white screen, and Mr. Lionel Sissly advancing with a
skip to the footlights. The audience looked again at its programme cards
and again read:

"No. 1: A Soundless Symphony ... Lionel Sissly."

"Colour," lisped Mr. Sissly, "is not only precious for its own sake,
but also because it is the blessed transmogrification of sound. And
sound is sacred because all vibrations, audible or inaudible, are in
miraculous harmony with that holiest of all phenomena, silence!"

"Help!" whispered Ledyard to Cairns, with resignation.

"Any audible rate of regular air vibrations is a musical note,"
continued Mr. Sissly. "If you double that vibratory speed, you have the
first note of the octave above it. Now, the spectrum band is the colour
counterpart of the musical octave; the ether vibrates with double the
speed at the _violet_ end of the spectrum band that it does at the
opposite extremity, or _red_ end. Let me show you the chromatic scales
in colour and music--the latter the equivalent of the former, revealing
how the intervals correspond when C represents red." And he flashed upon
the screen a series of brilliant colours.

"Remember," he said, "that it is with colour as it is with sound--there
is a long range of vibrations below and above the first and last visible
colour and the first and last audible note--a long, long range beyond
compass of the human eye and ear. Probably the music of the spheres is
composed of such harmonies," he simpered.

"Modern occidental music is evolved in conformity with an arbitrary
scale," he resumed earnestly. "An octave consists of seven whole tones
and five half-tones. Combinations and sequences of notes or tints affect
us emotionally--pleasurably when harmonious, painfully when discordant.
But," and his voice shook with soulful emotion, "the holiest and the
most precious alliance ever dreamed of beyond the Gates of Heaven lies
in the sacred intermingling of harmonious colour and harmonious
silence. Let me play for you, upon my colour organ, my soundless
symphony which I call 'Weather.' Always in the world there will be
weather. We have it constantly; there is so much of it that nobody knows
how much there is; and I do not see very clearly how there ever could be
any less than there is. Weather, then, being the only earthly condition
which is eternal, becomes precious beyond human comprehension; and I
have tried to interpret it as a symphony of silence and of colour
divinely intermingled."

Ledyard whispered to Betty Barkley: "I'll go mad and bite if he says
another word!"

She cautioned him with a light touch of her gloved hand, and strove very
hard to remain serious as Mr. Sissly minced over to his "organ," seated
himself, and gazed upward.

All at once every light in the house went out.

For a while the great screen remained invisible, then a faint sheen
possessed its surface, blotted out at eccentric intervals by a deep and
thunderous tint which finally absorbed it and slowly became a coldly
profound and depthless blue.

The blue was not permanent; almost imperceptible pulsations were
stirring and modifying it toward a warmer and less decisive hue, and
through it throbbed and ebbed elusive sensations of palest turquoise,
primrose and shell-pink. This waned and deepened into a yellow which
threatened to become orange.

Suddenly all was washed out in unaccented grey; the grey gradually
became instinct with rose and gold; the gold was split by a violet
streak; then virile scarlet tumbled through crashing scales of green,
amethyst, crimson, into a chaos of chromatic dissonance, and vanished
engulfed in shimmering darkness.

The lights flashed up, disclosing Mr. Sissly, very pale and damp of
features, facing the footlights again.

"That," he faltered, amid a stillness so profound that it seemed to fill
the ear like a hollow roar,--"that is weather. If you approve it, the
most precious expression of your sympathy will be absolute silence."

Fortunately, not even Reggie Ledyard dropped.

Mr. Sissly passed a lank and lily hand across his large pale eyes.

"Like the Japanese," he lisped, "I bring to you my most precious
thought-treasures one at a time--and never more than two between the
rising of the orb of day and the veiling of it at eventide. I offer you,
on the altar of my colour organ, a transposition of Von Schwiggle's
symphony in A minor; and I can only say that it is replete with a
meaning so exquisitely precious that no human intelligence has yet
penetrated it."

Out went the lights. Presently the screen became visible. Upon it there
seemed to be no colour, no hint of any tint, no quality, no value. It
was merely visible, and remained so for three mortal minutes. Then the
lights broke out, revealing Mr. Sissly half fainting at his organ, and
two young women in Greek robes waving bunches of violets at him. And the
curtain fell.

"There only remains," whispered Ledyard, "the funny-house for me."

"If you make me laugh I'll never forgive you," Mrs. Barkley warned him
under her breath. "But--oh, do look at Mrs. Hammerton!"

Aunt Hannah's visage resembled that of a cornered and enraged mink
surrounded by enemies.

"If that man comes near me," she said to Desboro, "I shall destroy him
with hatpins. You'd better keep him away. I'm morally and nervously
disorganised."

Sissly had come off the stage and now stood in the wide aisle,
surrounded by the earnest and intellectual womanhood of Westchester,
eagerly seeking more light.

But there was little in Mr. Sissly's large and washed-out eyes; even
less, perhaps, than illuminated his intellect. He gazed wanly upon
adoration, edging his way toward Miss Frere, who, at dinner, had rashly
admitted that she understood him.

"Was it satisfying?" he lisped, when he had attained to her vicinity.

"It was most--remarkable," she said, bewildered. "So absolutely new to
me that I can find nothing as yet to say to you, except thank you."

"Why say it? Why not merely look it? Your silence would be very, very
precious to me," he said in a low voice. And the stately Miss Frere
blushed.

The audience, under the stimulus of the lights, recovered very quickly
from its semi-stupor, and everybody was now discussing with animation
the unique experience of the past half-hour. New York chattered;
Westchester discussed; that was the difference. Both had expected a new
kind of cabaret show; neither had found the weird performance
disappointing. Flippant and unintellectual young men felt safe in the
certainty that neither their pretty partners nor the more serious
representatives of the substantial county knew one whit more about
soundless symphonies than did they.

[Illustration: "She lost herself in a dreamy Bavarian folk-song"]

So laughter and noise filled the armoury with a gaily subdued uproar,
silenced only when Katharine Frere's harp was brought in, and the tall,
handsome girl, without any preliminaries, went forward and seated
herself, drew the gilded instrument back against her right shoulder, set
her feet to the pedals, her fingers to the strings, and wandered
capriciously from _Le Donne Curiose_ and the far, brief echoes of its
barcarolle, into _Koenigskinder_, and on through _Versiegelt_, till she
lost herself in a dreamy Bavarian folk-song which died out as sunset
dies on the far alms of the Red Valepp.

Great applause; no cabaret yet. The audience looked at the programme and
read:

"A Thousand Years B.C. ... Miss Nevers."

And Reggie Ledyard was becoming restless, thinking perhaps that a little
ragtime of the spheres might melt the rapidly forming intellectual ice,
and was saying so to anybody who'd listen, when ding-dong-dang!
ding-dong! echoed the oriental gong. Out went the lights, the curtain
split open and was gathered at the wings; a shimmering radiance grew
upon the stage disclosing a huge gold and green dragon of porcelain on
its faïence pedestal. And there, high cradled between the forepaws of
the ancient Mongolian monster, sat a slim figure in silken robes of
turquoise, rose, and scarlet, a Chinese lute across her knees, slim feet
pendant below the rainbow skirt.

Her head-dress was wrought fantastically of open-work gold, inlaid with
a thousand tiny metallic blue feathers, accented by fiery gems; across
the silky folds of her slitted tunic were embroidered in iris tints the
single-winged birds whirling around each other between floating clouds;
little clog-like shoes of silk and gold, embroidered with moss-green
arabesques inset with orange and scarlet, shod the feet.

Ancient Cathay, exquisitely, immortally young, sat in jewelled silks and
flowers under the huge and snarling dragon. And presently, string by
string, her idle lute awoke, picked with the plectrum, note after note
in strange and unfamiliar intervals; and, looking straight in front of
her, she sang at random, to "the sorrows of her lute," verses from "The
Maker of Moons," sung by Chinese lovers a thousand years ago:

        "Like to a Dragon in the Sky
  The fierce Sun flames from East to West;
  The flower of Love within my breast
  Blooms only when the Moon is high
  And Thou art nigh."

The dropping notes of her lute answered her, rippled on, and were lost
like a little rill trickling into darkness.

  "The Day burns like a Dragon's flight
  Until Thou comest in the night
  With thy cool Moon of gold--
  Then I unfold."

A faint stirring of the strings, silence; then she struck with her
plectrum the weird opening chord of that sixth century song called "The
Night Revel"; and sang to the end the ancient verses set to modern music
by an unknown composer:

  "Along the River scarlet Lanterns glimmer,
  Where gilded Boats and darkling Waters shimmer;
      Laughter with Singing blends;
      But Love begins and ends
      Forever with a sigh--
      A whispered sigh.

  "In fire-lit pools the crimson Carp are swirling;
  The painted peacocks shining plumes are furling;
      Now in the torch-light by the Gate
      A thousand Lutes begin the Fête
      With one triumphant Cry!
      Why should Love sigh?"

The curtain slowly closed on the echoes of her lute; there came an
interval of absolute silence, then an uproar of cries and of people
getting to their feet, calling out: "Go on! Go on! Don't stop!" No
applause except this excited clamour for more, and the racket of moving
chairs.

"Good Lord!" muttered Captain Herrendene. "Did you ever see anything as
beautiful as that girl?"

And: "Where did she learn such things?" demanded people excitedly of one
another. "It must be the real business! How does she know?"

The noise became louder and more emphatic; calls for her reappearance
redoubled and persisted until the gong again sounded, the lights went
out, and the curtains twitched once more and parted.

She slid down from her cradled perch between the forelegs of the shadowy
dragon and came to the edge of the footlights.

"I was going to show you one or two jades from the Desboro collection,
and tell you a little about them," she began, "but my lute and I will
say for you another song of ancient China, if you like. It was made by
Kao-Shih about seven hundred years after the birth of Christ. He was one
of the T'ang poets--and not a very cheerful one. This is his song."

And she recited for them: "There was a king of Liang."

After that she stepped back; but they would not have it, to the point of
enthusiastic rudeness.

She recited for them Mêng Hao-Jan's "A Friend Expected," from "The Maker
of Moons," and the quatrains of the lovely, naïve little "Spring Dream,"
written by Ts'en-Ts'an in the eighth century.

But they demanded still more. She laid aside her lute and intoned for
them the noble lines of China's most famous writer:

  "Thou that hast seen six kingdoms pass away----"

Then, warming to her audience, and herself thrilled with the spirit of
the ancient splendour, she moved forward in her whispering silks, and,
slightly bending, her finger lifted like one who hushes children with a
magic tale, she spoke to them of Fei-yen, mistress of the Emperor; and
told them how T'ai-Chên became an empress; sang for them the song of Yu
Lao, the "Song of the Moon Moth":

  "The great Night Moth that bears her name
        Is winged in green,
  Pale as the June moon's silver flame
        Her silken sheen:
  No other flame they know, these twain
        Where dark dews rain--
  This great Night Moth that bears her name
        And my sweet Queen;
  So let me light my Lantern flame
        And breathe Her name."

She held her audience in the palm of her smooth little hand; she knew
it, and tasted power. She told them of the Blue Mongol's song,
reciting:

  "From the Gray Plains I ride,
    Where the gray hawks wheel,
  In armour of lacquered hide,
    Sabre and shield of steel;
  The lance in my stirrup rattles,
    And the quiver and bow at my back
  Clatter! I sing of Battles,
    Of Cities put to the sack!
  Where is the Lord of the West,
    The Golden Emperor's son?
  I swung my Mongol sabre;--
    He and the Dead are one.
  For the tawny Lion of the Iort
    And the Sun of the World are One!"

Then she told them the old Chinese tale called "The Never-Ending
Wrong"--the immortal tragedy of that immortal maid, "a reed in motion
and a rose in flame," from where she alights "in the white hibiscus
bower" to where "death is drumming at the door" and "ten thousand
battle-chariots on the wing" come clashing to a halt; and the trapped
King, her lover, sends her forth

        "Lily pale,
  Between tall avenues of spears, to die."

And so, amid "the sullen soldiery," white as a flower, and all alone in
soul, she "shines through tall avenues of spears, to die."

"The King has sought the darkness of his hands," standing in stricken
grief, then turns and gazes at what lies there at his feet amid its
scattered


                        "--_Ornaments of gold,_
    _One with the dust; and none to gather them;--_
    _Hair-pins of jade and many a costly gem,_
  _Kingfishers' wings and golden beads scarce cold._"

Lingering a moment in the faint reflection of the low-turned footlights,
she stood looking out over the silent audience; and perhaps her eyes
found what they had been seeking, for she smiled and stepped back as the
curtain closed. And no uproar of applause could lure her forth again
until the lights had been long blazing and the dancers were whirling
over the armoury floor, and she had washed the paint from lid and lip
and cheek, and put off her rustling antique silken splendour to bewitch
another century scarce begun.

Desboro, waiting at her dressing-room door for her, led her forth.

"You have done so much for me," he whispered. "Is there anything in all
the world I can do for you, Jacqueline?"

She was laughing, flushed by the flattery and compliments from every
side, but she heard him; and after a moment her face altered subtly. But
she answered lightly:

"Can I ask for more than a dance or two with you? Is not that honour
enough?" Her voice was gay and mocking, but the smile had faded from eye
and lip; only the curved sweetness of the mouth remained.

They caught the music's beat and swung away together among the other
dancers, he piloting her with great adroitness between the avenues of
armoured figures.

When he had the opportunity, he said: "What may I send you that you
would care for?"

"Send me?" She laughed lightly again. "Let me see! Well, then, perhaps
you may one day send me--send me forth 'between tall avenues of spears,
to die.'"

"What!" he said sharply.

"The song is still ringing in my head--that's all. Send me any
inexpensive thing you wish--a white carnation--I don't really care--"
she looked away from him--"as long as it comes from you."



CHAPTER X


Desboro's guests were determined to turn the house out of the windows;
its stodgy respectability incited them; every smug, smooth portrait
goaded them to unusual effort, and they racked their brains to invent
novelties.

On one day they opened all the windows in the disused west wing, flooded
the ground floor, hung the great stone room with paper lanterns, and
held an ice carnival. As masks and costumes had been made entirely out
of paper, there were several startling effects and abrupt retirements to
repair damages; but the dancing on skates in the lantern light was very
pretty, and even the youth and pride of Westchester found the pace not
unsuitably rapid.

On another day, Desboro's feminine guests sent to town for enough green
flannel to construct caricatures of hunting coats for everybody.

The remains of a stagnant pack of harriers vegetated on a neighbouring
estate; Desboro managed to mount his guests on his own live-stock,
including mules, farm horses, polo ponies, and a yoke of oxen; and the
county saw a hunting that they were not likely to forget.

Reggie Ledyard was magnificent astride an ox, with a paper megaphone for
a hunting horn, rubber boots, and his hastily basted coat split from
skirt to collar. The harriers ran wherever they pleased, and the
astonished farm mules wouldn't run at all. There was hysterical
excitement when one cotton-tail rabbit was started behind a barn and
instantly lost under it.

The hunt dinner was a weird and deafening affair, and the Weber-Field
ball costumes unbelievable.

Owing to reaction and exhaustion, repentant girls came to Jacqueline
requesting an interim of intellectual recuperation; so she obligingly
announced a lecture in the jade room, and talked to them very prettily
about jades and porcelains, suiting her words to their intellectual
capacity, which could grasp Kang-he porcelains and Celedon and
Sang-de-boeuf, but balked at the "three religions," and found _blanc
de Chine_ uninspiring. So she told them about the _famille vert_ and the
_famille rose_; about the K'ang Hsi period, which they liked, and how
the imperial kilns at Kiangsi developed the wonderful _clair de lune_
"turquoise blue" and "peach bloom," for which some of their friends or
relatives had paid through their various and assorted noses.

All of this her audience found interesting because they recognised in
the exquisite examples from Desboro's collection, with which Jacqueline
illustrated her impromptu lecture, objects both fashionable and
expensive; and what is both fashionable and expensive appeals very
forcibly to mediocrity.

"I saw a jar like that one at the Clydesdales'," said Reggie Ledyard, a
trifle excited at his own unexpected intelligence. "How much is it
worth, Miss Nevers?"

She laughed and looked at the vase between her slender fingers.

"Really," she said, "it isn't worth very much. But wealthy people have
established fictitious values for many rather crude and commonplace
things. If people had the courage to buy only what appealed to them
personally, there would be a mighty crash in tumbling values."

"We'd all wake up and find ourselves stuck," remarked Van Alstyne, who
possessed some pictures which he had come to loathe, but for which he
had paid terrific prices. "Jim, do you want to buy any primitives,
guaranteed genuine?"

"There's the thrifty Dutch trader for you," said Reggie. "I'm loaded
with rickety old furniture, too. They got me to furnish my place with
antiques! But you don't see me trying to sell 'em to my host at a house
party!"

"Stop your disputing," said Desboro pleasantly, "and ask Miss Nevers for
her professional opinion later. The chances are that you both have been
properly stuck, and I never had any sympathy for wealthy ignorance,
anyway."

But Ledyard and Van Alstyne, being very wealthy, became frightfully
depressed over the unfeeling jibes of Desboro; and Jacqueline seemed to
be by way of acquiring a pair of new clients.

In fact, both young men at various moments approached her on the
subject, but Desboro informed them that they might with equal propriety
ask a physician to prescribe for them at a dance, and that Miss Nevers'
office was open from nine until five.

"Gad," remarked Ledyard to Van Alstyne, with increasing respect, "she is
some girl, believe _me_, Stuyve. Only if she ever married up with a man
of our kind--good-night! She'd quit him in a week."

Van Alstyne touched his forehead significantly.

"Sure," he said. "Nothing doing _inside_ our conks. But why the Lord
made her such a peach outside as well as inside is driving me to
Jersey! Most of 'em are so awful to look at, don't y'know. Come on,
anyway. _I_ can't keep away from her."

"She's somewhere with the others playing baseball golf," said Reggie,
gloomily, following his friend. "Isn't it terrible to see a girl in the
world like that--apparently created to make some good gink happy--and
suddenly find out that she has even more brains than beauty! My God,
Stuyve, it's hard on a man like me."

"Are you really hard hit?"

"_Am_ I? And how about you?"

"It's the real thing here," admitted Van Alstyne. "But what's the use?"

They agreed that there was no use; but during the dance that evening
both young men managed to make their intentions clear to Jacqueline.

Reggie Ledyard had persuaded her to a few minutes' promenade in the
greenhouse; and there, standing amid thickets of spicy carnations, the
girl listened to her first proposal from a man of that outer world about
which, until a few days ago, she had known nothing.

The boy was not eloquent; he made a clumsy attempt to kiss her and was
defeated. He seemed to her very big, and blond, and handsome as he stood
there; and she felt a little pity for him, too, partly because his ideas
were so few and his vocabulary so limited.

Perplexed, silent, sorry for him, yet still conscious of a little thrill
of wonder and content that a man of the outer world had found her
eligible, she debated within herself how best to spare him. And, as
usual, the truth presented itself to her as the only explanation.

"You see," she said, lifting her troubled eyes, "I am in love with some
one else."

"Good God!" he muttered. After a silence he said humbly: "Would it be
unpardonable if I--_would_ you tell me whether you are engaged?"

She blushed with surprise at the idea.

"Oh, no," she said, startled. "I--don't expect to be."

"What?" he exclaimed incredulously. "Is there a man on earth ass enough
not to fall in love with you if you ever condescended to smile at him
twice?"

But the ideas which he was evoking seemed to distress her, and she
averted her face and stood twisting a long-stemmed carnation with
nervous fingers.

Not even to herself, either before or since Desboro's letter which had
revealed him so unmistakably, had the girl ventured in her inmost
thoughts to think the things which this big, blond, loutish boy had
babbled.

What Desboro was, she understood. She had had the choice of dismissing
him from her mind, with scorn and outraged pride as aids to help the
sacrifice, or of accepting him as he was--as she knew him to be--for the
sake of something about him as yet inexplicable even to herself.

And she had chosen.

But now a man of Desboro's world had asked her to be his wife. More than
that; he had assumed that she was fitted to be the wife of anybody.

       *       *       *       *       *

They walked back together. She was adorable with him, kind, timidly
sympathetic and smilingly silent by turns, venturing even to rally him a
little, console him a little, moved by an impulse toward friendship
wholly unfeigned.

"All I have to say is," he muttered, "that you're a peach and a corker;
and I'm going to invent some way of marrying you, even if it lands me in
an East Side night-school."

Even he joined in her gay laughter; and presently Van Alstyne, who had
been glowering at them, managed to get her away. But she would have
nothing further to do with greenhouses, or dark landings, or libraries;
so he asked her bluntly while they were dancing; and she shook her head,
and very soon dropped his arm.

There was a bay-window near them; she made a slight gesture of
irritation; and there, in the partly curtained seclusion, he learned
that she was grateful and happy that he liked her so much; that she
liked him very much, but that she loved somebody else.

He took it rather badly at first; she began to understand that few girls
would have lightly declined a Van Alstyne; and he was inclined to be
patronising, sulky and dignified--an impossible combination--for it
ditched him finally, and left him kissing her hands and declaring
constancy eternal.

That night, at parting, Desboro retained her offered hand a trifle
longer than convention required, and looked at her more curiously than
usual.

"Are you enjoying the party, Jacqueline?"

"Every minute of it. I have never been as happy."

"I suppose you realise that everybody is quite mad about you."

"Everybody is nice to me! People are so much kinder than I imagined."

"Are they? How do you get on with the gorgon?"

"Mrs. Hammerton? Do you know she is perfectly sweet? I never dreamed she
could be so gentle and thoughtful and considerate. Why--and it seems
almost ridiculous to say it--she seems to have the ideas of a mother
about whatever concerns me. She actually fusses over me
sometimes--and--it is--agreeable."

An inexplicable shyness suddenly overcame her, and she said good-night
hastily, and mounted the stairs to her room.

Later, when she was prepared for bed, Mrs. Hammerton knocked and came
in.

"Jacqueline," she said bluntly, "what was Reggie Ledyard saying to you
this evening? I'll box his ears if he proposed to you. Did he?"

"I--I am afraid he did."

"You didn't take him?"

"No."

"I should think not! I'd as soon expect you to marry a stable groom. He
has all the beauty and healthy colour of one. Also the distinguished
mental capacity. You don't want that kind."

"I don't want any kind."

"I'm glad of it. Did any other fool hint anything more of that sort?"

"Mr. Van Alstyne."

"Oho! Stuyvesant, too? Well, what did you say to _him_?" asked the old
lady, with animation.

"I said no."

"What?"

"Of course, I said no. I am not in love with Mr. Van Alstyne."

"Child! Do you realise that you had the opportunity of your life!"

Jacqueline's smile was confused and deprecating.

"But when a girl doesn't care for a man----"

"Do you mean to marry for _love_?"

The girl sat silent a moment, then shook her head.

"I shall not marry," she said.

"Nonsense! And if you feel that way, what am I good for? What earthly
use am I to you? Will you kindly inform me?"

She had seated herself on the bed's edge, leaning over the girl where
she lay on her pillows.

"Answer me," she insisted. "Of what use am I to you?"

For a full minute the girl lay there looking up at her without stirring.
Then a smile glimmered in her eyes; she lifted both arms and laid them
on the older woman's shoulders.

"You are useful--this way," she said; and kissed her lightly on the
forehead.

The effect on Aunt Hannah was abrupt; she caught the girl to her breast
and held her there fiercely and in silence for a moment; then, releasing
her, tucked her in with mute violence, turned off the light and marched
out without a word.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day after day Desboro's guests continued to turn the house inside out,
ransacking it from garret to cellar.

"We don't intend to do anything in this house that anybody has ever done
here, or at any house party," explained Reggie Ledyard to Jacqueline.
"So if any lady cares to walk down stairs on her head the incident will
be quite in order."

"Can she slide down the banisters instead?" asked Helsa Steyr.

"Oh, you'll have to slide up to be original," said Betty Barkley.

"How can anybody slide _up_ the banisters?" demanded Reggie hotly.

"You've the intellect of a terrapin," said Betty scornfully. "It's
because nobody has ever done it that it ought to be done here."

Desboro, seated on the pool table, told her she could do whatever she
desired, including arson, as long as she didn't disturb the Aqueduct
Police.

Katharine Frere said to Jacqueline: "Everything you do is so original.
Can't you invent something new for us to do?"

"She might suggest that you all try to think," said Mrs. Hammerton
tartly. "That would be novelty enough."

Cairns seized the megaphone and shouted: "Help! Help! Aunt Hannah is
after us!"

Captain Herrendene, seated beside Desboro with a half smile on his face,
glanced across at Jacqueline who stood in the embrasure of a window, a
billiard cue resting across her shoulders.

"Please invent something for us, Miss Nevers," he said.

"Why don't you play hide and seek?" sneered Mrs. Hammerton, busily
knitting a tie. "It's suited to your intellects."

"Let Miss Nevers suggest a new way of playing the oldest game ever
invented," added Betty Barkley. "There is no possibility of inventing
anything new; everything was first done in the year one. Even
protoplasmic cells played hide-and-seek together."

"What rot!" said Reggie. "You can't play that in a new way."

"You could play it in a sporting way," said Cairns.

"How's that, old top?"

"Well, for example, you conceal yourself, and whatever girl finds you
has got to marry you. How's that for a reckless suggestion?"

But it had given Reggie something resembling an idea.

"Let us be hot sports," he said, with animation; "draw lots to see which
girl will hide somewhere in the house; make a time-limit of one hour;
and if any man finds her she'll marry him. There isn't a girl here," he
added, jeeringly, "who has the sporting nerve to try it!"

A chorus of protests greeted the challenge. Athalie Vannis declared that
she was crazy to marry somebody; but she insisted that the men would
only pretend to search, and were really too cowardly to hunt in earnest.
Cairns retorted that the girl in concealment would never permit a real
live man to miss her hiding place while she possessed lungs to reveal
it.

"There isn't," repeated Reggie, "a girl who has the nerve! Not one!" He
inspected them scornfully through the wrong end of the megaphone. "Phony
sports," he added. "No nerves and all fidgets. Look at me; _I_ don't
want to get married; but I'm game for an hour. There isn't a girl here
to call my bluff!" And he ventured to glance at Jacqueline.

"They've had a chance to look at you by daylight, Reggie, and that is
fatal," said Cairns. "Now, if they were only sure that I'd discover
'em, or the god-like captain yonder, or the beautiful Mr. Desboro----"

"I've half a mind to do it," said Helsa Steyr. "Marie, will you draw
lots to see who hides?"

"Why doesn't a man hide?" drawled Miss Ledyard. "I'm very sure I could
drag him to the altar in ten minutes."

Cairns had found a sheet of paper, torn it into slips, and written down
every woman's name, including Aunt Hannah's.

"She's retired to her room in disgust," said Jacqueline, laughing.

"Is _she_ included?" faltered Reggie.

"You've brought it on yourself," said Cairns. "Are you going to renig
just because Aunt Hannah is a possible prize? Are you really a tin
sport?"

"No, by heck! Come on, Katharine!" to Miss Frere. "But Betty Barkley
can't figure in this, or there may be bigamy done."

"That makes it a better sporting proposition," said Betty coolly. "I
insist on figuring; Bertie can take his chances."

"Then I'm jingled if I don't play, too," said Barkley. "And I'm not sure
I'll hunt very hard if it's Betty who hides."

The pretty little woman turned up her nose at her husband and sent a
dazzling smile at Desboro.

"I'll whistle three times, like the daughter in the poem," she said.
"Please beat my husband to it."

Cairns waved the pool basket aloft: "Come ladies!" he cried. "Somebody
reach up and draw; and may heaven smile upon your wedding day!"

Betty Barkley, standing on tip-toe, reached up, stirred the folded
ballots with tentative fingers, grasped one, drew it forth, and
flourished it.

"Goodness! How my heart really beats!" she said. "I don't know whether I
want to open it or not. I hadn't contemplated bigamy."

"If it's my name, I'm done for," said Katharine Frere calmly. "I'm
nearly six feet, and I can't conceal them all."

"Open it," said Athalie Vannis, with a shiver. "After all there's the
divorce court!" And she looked defiantly at Cairns.

Betty turned over the ballot between forefinger and thumb and regarded
it with dainty aversion.

"Well," she said, "if I'm in for a scandal, I might as well know it.
Will you be kind to me, Jim, and not flirt with my maid?"

She opened the ballot, examined the name written there, turned and
passed it to Jacqueline, who flushed brightly as a delighted shout
greeted her.

"The question is," said Reggie Ledyard excitedly, "are you a sport, Miss
Nevers, or are you not? Kindly answer with appropriate gestures."

The girl stood with her golden head drooping, staring at the bit of
paper in her hand; then, as Desboro watched her, she glanced up with
that sudden, reckless smile which he had seen once before--the first day
he met her--and made a gay little gesture of acceptance.

"You're not really going to do it, are you?" said Betty, incredulously.
"You don't have to; they're every one of them short sports themselves!"

"_I_ am not," said Jacqueline, smiling.

"But," argued Katharine Frere, "suppose Reggie should find you. You'd
never marry _him_, would you?"

"Great Heavens!" shouted Ledyard. "She might have a worse fate. There's
Desboro!"

"You don't really mean it, do you, Miss Nevers?" asked Captain
Herrendene.

"Yes, I do," said Jacqueline. "I always was a gambler by nature."

The tint of excitement was bright on her cheeks; she shot a daring
glance at Ledyard, looked at Van Alstyne and laughed, but her back
remained turned toward Desboro.

He said: "If the papers ever get wind of this they'll print it as a
serious item."

"I _am_ perfectly serious," she said, looking coolly at him over her
shoulder. "If there is a man here clever enough to find me, I'll marry
him in a minute. But"--and she laughed in Desboro's face--"there isn't.
So nobody need really lose one moment in anxiety. And if a girl finds me
it's all off, of course. May I have twenty minutes? And will you time
me, Mr. Ledyard? And will you all remain in this room with the door
closed?"

"If nobody finds you," cried Cairns, as she crossed the threshold, "we
each forfeit whatever you ask of us?"

She paused at the door, looking back: "Is that understood?"

Everybody cried: "Yes! Certainly!"

She nodded and disappeared.

For twenty minutes they waited; then, as Reggie closed his watch, a
general stampede ensued. Amazed servants shrank aside as Cairns, blowing
fearful blasts on the megaphone, cheered on the excited human pack;
everywhere Desboro's cats and dogs fled before the invasion; room after
room was ransacked, maids routed, butler and valet defied. Even Aunt
Hannah's sanctuary was menaced until that lady sat up on her bed and
swore steadily at Ledyard, who had scaled the transom.

Desboro, hunting by himself, entered the armoury, looked suspiciously at
the armoured figures, shook a few, opened the vizors of others, and
peered at the painted faces inside the helmets.

Others joined him, prying curiously, gathering in groups amid the
motionless army of mailed men. Then, as more than half of the allotted
hour had already expired, Ledyard suggested an attic party, where trunks
full of early XIXth century clothing might be rifled with pleasing
results.

"We may find her up there in a chest, like the celebrated bride,"
remarked Aunt Hannah, who had reappeared from her retreat. "It's the
lesser of several tragedies that might happen," she added insolently, to
Desboro.

"To the attic!" thundered Cairns through his megaphone; and they
started.

But Desboro still lingered at the armoury door, looking back. The noise
of the chase died away in the interior of the main house; the armoury
became very still under the flood of pale winter sunshine.

He glanced along the steel ranks of men-at-arms; he looked up at the
stately mounted figures; dazzling sunlight glittered over helmet and
cuirass and across the armoured flanks of horses.

Could it be possible that she was seated up there, hidden inside some
suit of blazing mail, astride a battle-horse?

Cautiously he came back, skirting the magnificent and motionless ranks,
hesitated and halted.

Of course the whole thing had been proposed and accepted in jest; he
told himself that. And yet--if some other man did discover her--the
foundation of the jest might serve for a more permanent understanding.
He didn't want her to have any intimate understanding with anybody until
he and she understood each other, and he understood himself.

He didn't want another man to find and claim the forfeit, even in jest,
because he didn't know what might happen. No man was ever qualified to
foretell what another man might do; and men already were behaving toward
her with a persistency and seriousness unmistakable--men like
Herrendene, who meant what he looked and said; and young Hammerton,
Daisy's brother, eager, inexperienced and susceptible; and Bertie
Barkley, a little, hard-faced snob, with an unerring instinct for
anybody who promised to be popular among desirable people, was beginning
to test her metal with the acid of his experience.

Desboro stood quite still, looking almost warily about him and thinking
faster and faster, trying to recollect who it was who had dragged in the
silly subject of marriage. That blond and hulking ass Ledyard, wasn't
it?

He began to walk, slowly passing the horsemen in review.

Suppose a blond animal like Reggie Ledyard offered himself in earnest.
Was she the kind of girl who would nail the worldly opportunity? And
Herrendene--that quiet, self-contained, keen-eyed man of forty-five. You
could never tell what Herrendene was thinking about anything, or what he
was capable of doing. And his admiration for Jacqueline was
undisguised, and his attentions frankly persistent. Last night, too,
when they were coasting under the new moon, there was half an hour's
disappearance for which neither Herrendene nor Jacqueline had even
pretended to account, though bantered and challenged--to Desboro's vague
discomfort. And the incident had left Desboro a trifle cool toward her
that morning; and she had pretended not to be aware of the slight
constraint between them, which made him sulky.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had reached the end of the double lane of horsemen. Now he pivoted
and retraced his steps, hands clasped behind his back, absently scanning
the men-at-arms, preoccupied with his own reflections.

How seriously had she taken the rôle she was playing somewhere at that
moment? Only fools accepted actual hazards when dared. He himself was
apt to be that kind of a fool. Was _she_? Would she really have abided
by the terms if discovered by Herrendene, for example, or Dicky
Hammerton--if they were mad enough to take it seriously?

He thought of that sudden and delicious flash of recklessness in her
eyes. He had seen it twice now.

"By God!" he thought. "I believe she would! She is the sort that sees a
thing through to the bitter end."

He glanced up, startled, as though something, somewhere in the vast,
silent place, had moved. But he heard nothing, and there was no movement
anywhere among the armoured effigies.

Suppose she were here hidden somewhere within a hollow suit of steel.
She must be! Else why was he lingering? Why was he not hunting her with
the pack? And still, if she actually were here, why was he not
searching for her under every suit of sunlit mail? Could it be because
he did not really _want_ to find her--with this silly jest of marriage
dragged in--a thing not to be mentioned between her and him even in
jest?

Was it that he had become convinced in his heart that she must be here,
and was he merely standing guard like a jealous, sullen dog, watching
lest some other fool come blundering back from a false trail to discover
the right one--and perhaps her?

Suddenly, without reason, he became certain that she and he were there
in the armoury alone together. He knew it somehow, felt it, divined it
in every quickening pulse beat.

He heard the preliminary click of the armoury clock, indicating five
minutes' grace before the hour struck. He looked up at the old dial,
where it was set against the wall--an ancient piece in azure and gold
under a foliated crest borne by some long dead dignitary.

Four more minutes now. And suppose she should stir in her place, setting
her harness clashing? Had the thought of marrying him ever entered her
head? Was it in such a girl to challenge the possibility, make it as
near a serious question as it ever could be? It had never existed for
them, even as a question. It was not a dead issue, because it had never
lived. If she made one movement now, if she so much as lifted her
finger, this occult thing would be alive. He knew it--knew that it lay
with her; and stood silent, unstirring, listening for the slightest
sound. There was no sound.

It lacked now only a minute to the hour. He looked at the face of the
lofty clock; and, looking, all in a moment it flashed upon him where she
was concealed.

Wheeling in his tracks, on the impulse of the moment he walked straight
back to the great painted wooden charger, sheathed in steel and cloth of
gold, bearing on high a slender, mounted figure in full armour--the
dainty Milanese mail Of the Countess of Oroposa.

The superb young figure sat its saddle, hollow backed, graceful, both
delicate gauntlets resting easily over the war-bridle on the gem-set
pommel. Sunbeams turned the long spurs to two golden flames, and
splintered into fire across the helmet's splendid crest. He could not
pierce the dusk behind the closed vizor; but in every heart-beat, every
nerve, he felt her living presence within that hollow shell of inlaid
steel and gold.

For a moment he stood staring up at her, then glanced mechanically
toward the high clock. Thirty seconds! Time to speak if he would; time
for her to move, if in her heart there ever had been the thought which
he had never uttered, never meant to voice. Twenty seconds! Through that
slitted vizor, also, the clock was in full view. She could read the
flight of time as well as he. Now she must move--if ever she meant to
challenge in him that to which he never would respond.

He waited now, looking at the clock, now at the still figure above him.
Ten seconds! Five!

"Jacqueline!" he cried impulsively.

There was no movement, no answer from the slitted helmet.

"Jacqueline! Are you there?"

No sound.

Then the lofty gold and azure clock struck. And when the last of the
twelve resounding strokes rang echoing through the sunlit armoury, the
mailed figure stirred in its saddle, stretched both stirrups, raised its
arms and flexed them.

"You nearly caught me," she said calmly. "I was afraid you'd see my eyes
through the helmet slits. Was it your lack of enterprise that saved
me--or your prudence?"

"I spoke to you before the hour was up. It seems to me that I _have_
won."

"Not at all. You might just as well have stood in the cellar and howled
my name. That isn't discovering me, you know."

"I felt in my heart that you were there," he said, in a low voice.

She laughed. "What a man feels in his heart doesn't count. Do you
realise that I'm nearly dead sitting for an hour here? This helmet is
abominably hot! How in the world could that poor countess have stood
it?"

"Shall I climb up beside you and unlace your helmet?" he asked.

"No, thank you. Mrs. Quant will get me out of it." She rose in the
stirrups, swung one steel-shod leg over, and leaped to the floor beside
him, clashing from crest to spur.

"What a silly game it was, anyway!" she commented, lifting her vizor and
lowering the beaver. Her face was deliciously flushed, and the gold hair
straggled across her cheeks.

"It's quite wonderful how the armour of the countess fits me," she said.
"I wonder what she looked like. I'll wager, anyway, that she never
played as risky a game in her armour as I have played this morning."

"You didn't really mean to abide by the decision, did you?" he asked.

"Do you think I did?"

"No, of course not."

She smiled. "Perhaps you are correct. But I've always been afraid I'd do
something radical and irrevocable, and live out life in misery to pay
for it. Probably I wouldn't. I _must_ take off these gauntlets, anyway.
Thank you"--as he relieved her of them and tossed them under the feet of
the wooden horse.

"Last Thursday," he said, "you fascinated everybody with your lute and
your Chinese robes. Heaven help the men when they see you in armour!
I'll perform my act of fealty now." And he lifted her hands and kissed
them lightly where the gauntlets had left pink imprints on the smooth
white skin.

As always when he touched her, she became silent; and, as always, he
seemed to divine the instant change in her to unresponsiveness under
physical contact. It was not resistance, it was a sort of inertia--an
endurance which seemed to stir in him a subtle brutality, awaking depths
which must not be troubled--unless he meant to cut his cables once for
all and drift headlong toward the rocks of chance.

"You and Herrendene behaved shockingly last night," he said lightly.
"Where on earth did you go?"

"Is it to you that I must whisper 'je m'accuse'?" she asked smilingly.

"To whom if not to me, Jacqueline?"

"Please--and what exactly then may be your status? Don't answer," she
added, flushing scarlet. "I didn't mean to say that. Because I know what
is your status with me."

"How do you know?"

"You once made it clear to me, and I decided that your friendship was
worth everything to me--whatever you yourself might be."

"Whatever _I_ might be?" he repeated, reddening.

"Yes. You are what you are--what you wrote me you were. I understood
you. But--do you notice that it has made any difference in my
friendship? Because it has not."

The dull colour deepened over his face. They were standing near the
closed door now; she laid one hand on the knob, then ventured to raise
her eyes.

"It has made no difference," she repeated. "Please don't think it has."

His arms had imprisoned her waist; she dropped her head and her hand
slipped from the knob of the great oak door as he drew her toward him.

"In armour!" she protested, trying to speak lightly, but avoiding his
eyes.

"Is that anything new?" he said. "You are always instantly in armour
when my lightest touch falls on you. Why?"

He lifted her drooping head until it rested against his arm.

"Isn't it anything at all to you when I kiss you?" he asked unsteadily.

She did not answer.

"Isn't it, Jacqueline?"

But she only closed her eyes, and her lips remained coldly unresponsive
to his.

After a moment he said: "Can't you care for me at all--in this way?
Answer me!"

"I--care for you."

"_This_ way?"

Over her closed lids a tremor passed, scarcely perceptible.

"Don't you know how--how deeply I--care for you?" he managed to say,
feeling prudence and discretion violently tugging at their cables.
"Don't you _know_ it, Jacqueline?"

"Yes. I know you--care for me."

"Good God!" he said, trying to choke back the very words he uttered.
"Can't you respond--when you know I find you so adorable! When--when you
must know that I love you! Isn't there anything in you to respond?"

"I--care for you. If I did not, could I endure--what you do?"

A sort of blind passion seized and possessed him; he kissed again and
again the fragrant, unresponsive lips. Presently she lifted her head,
loosened his clasp at her waist, stepped clear of the circle of his
arms.

"You see," she managed to say calmly, "that I do care for you. So--may I
go now?"

He opened the door for her and they moved slowly out into the hall.

"You do not show that you care very much, Jacqueline."

"How can a girl show it more honestly? Could you tell me?"

"I have never stirred you to any tenderness--never!"

She moved beside him with head lowered, hands resting on her plated
hips, the bright hair in disorder across her cheeks. Presently she said
in a low voice:

"I wish you could see into my heart."

"I wish I could! And I wish you could see into mine. That would settle
it one way or another!"

"No," she said, "because I _can_ see into your heart. And it settles
nothing for me--except that I would like to--remain."

"Remain? Where?"

"There--in your heart."

He strove to speak coolly: "Then you _can_ see into it?"

"Yes."

"And you know that you are there alone?"

"Yes--I think so."

"And now that you have looked into it and know what is there, do you
care to remain in the heart of--of such a man as I am?"

"Yes. What you are I--forgive."

An outburst of merriment came from the library, and several figures clad
in the finery of the early nineteenth century came bustling out into the
hall.

[Illustration: "Cheer after cheer rang through the hallway"]

Evidently his guests had rifled the chests and trunks in the attic and
had attired themselves to their heart's content. At sight of Desboro
approaching accompanied by a slim figure in complete armour, they set up
a shout of apprehension and then cheer after cheer rang through the
hallway.

"Do you know," cried Betty Barkley, "you are the most darling thing in
armour that ever happened! I want to get into some steel trousers like
yours immediately! Are there any in the armoury that will fit me, Jim?"

"Did _you_ discover her?" demanded Reggie Ledyard, aghast.

"Not within the time limit, old chap," said Desboro, pretending deep
chagrin.

"Then you don't have to marry him, do you, Miss Nevers?" exclaimed
Cairns, gleefully.

"I don't have to marry anybody, Mr. Cairns. And _isn't_ it humiliating?"
she returned, laughingly, edging her way toward the stairs amid the
noisy and admiring group surrounding her.

"No! No!" cried Katharine Frere. "You can't escape! You are too lovely
that way, and you certainly must come to lunch in your armour!"

"I'd perish!" protested Jacqueline. "No Christian martyr was ever more
absolutely cooked than am I in this suit of mail."

Helsa Steyr started for her, but Jacqueline sprang to the stairs and ran
up, pursued by Helsa and Betty.

"_Isn't_ she the cunningest, sweetest thing!" sighed Athalie Vannis,
looking after her. "I'm simply and sentimentally mad over her. Why
_didn't_ you have brains enough to discover her, Jim, and make her marry
you?"

"I'd have knocked 'em out if he had had enough brains for that,"
muttered Ledyard. "But the horrible thing is that I haven't any brains,
either, and Miss Nevers has nothing but!"

"A girl like that marries diplomats and dukes, and discoverers and
artists and things," commented Betty. "You're just a good-looking simp,
Reggie. So is Jim."

Ledyard retorted wrathfully; Desboro, who had been summoned to the
telephone, glanced at Aunt Hannah as he walked away, and was rather
disturbed at the malice in the old lady's menacing smile.

But what Daisy Hammerton said to him over the telephone disturbed him
still more.

"Jim! Elena and Cary Clydesdale are stopping with us. May I bring them
to dinner this evening?"

For a moment he was at a loss, then he said, with forced cordiality:

"Why, of course, Daisy. But have you spoken to them about it? I've an
idea that they might find my party a bore."

"Oh, no! Elena wished me to ask you to invite them. And Cary was
listening."

"Did _he_ care to come?"

"I suppose so."

"What did he say?"

"He grinned. He always does what Elena asks him to do."

"Oh! Then bring them by all means."

"Thank you, Jim."

And that was all; and Desboro, astonished and troubled for a few
moments, began to see in the incident not only the dawn of an
understanding between Clydesdale and his wife, but something resembling
a vindication for himself in this offer to renew a friendship so
abruptly terminated. More than that, he saw in it a return of Elena to
her senses, and it pleased him so much that when he passed Aunt Hannah
in the hall he was almost smiling.

"What pleases you so thoroughly, James--yourself?" she asked grimly.

But he only smiled at her and sauntered on, exchanging friendly
body-blows with Reggie Ledyard as he passed.

"Reggie," said Mrs. Hammerton, with misleading mildness, "come and
exercise me for a few moments--there's a dear." And she linked arms with
him and began to march up and down the hall vigorously.

"She's very charming, isn't she?" observed Aunt Hannah blandly.

"Who?"

"Miss Nevers."

"She's a dream," said Reggie, with emphasis.

"Such a thoroughbred air," commented the old lady.

"Rather!"

"And yet--she's only a shop-keeper."

"Eh?"

"Didn't you know that Miss Nevers keeps an antique shop?"

"What of it?" he said, turning red. "I peddle stocks. My grandfather
made snuff. What do I care what Miss Nevers does?"

"Of course. Only--would _you_ marry her?"

"Huh! Like a shot! But I see her letting me! Once I was even ass enough
to think I could kiss her, but it seems she won't even stand for that!
And Herrendene makes me sick--the old owl--sneaking off with her
whenever he can get the chance! They all make me sick!" he added,
lighting a cigarette. "I wish to goodness I had a teaspoonful of
intellect, and I'd give 'em a run for her. Because I have the looks, if
I do say it," he added, modestly.

"Looks never counted seriously with a woman yet," said Mrs. Hammerton
maliciously. "Also, I've seen better looking coachmen than you."

"Thanks. What are you going to do with her anyway?"

"I don't have to do anything. She'll do whatever is necessary."

"That's right, too. Lord, but she'll cut a swathe! Even that dissipated
creature Cairns sits up and takes notice. I should think Desboro would,
too--more than he does."

"I understand there's a girl in blue, somewhere," observed Mrs.
Hammerton.

"That's a different kind of girl," said the young man, with contempt,
and quite oblivious to his own naïve self-revelation. Mrs. Hammerton
shrugged her trim shoulders.

"Also," he said, "there is Elena Clydesdale--speaking of scandal and
James Desboro in the same breath."

"Do you believe that story?"

"Yes. But that sort of affair never counts seriously with a man who
wants to marry."

"Really? How charming! But perhaps it might count against him with the
girl he wants to marry. Young girls are sometimes fastidious, you know."

"They never hear about such things until somebody tells 'em, after
they're married. Then it's rather too late to throw any pre-nuptial
fits," he added, with a grin.

"Reginald," said Mrs. Hammerton, "day by day I am humbly learning how to
appreciate the innate delicacy, chivalry, and honourable sentiments of
your sex. You yourself are a wonderful example. For instance, when
rumour couples Elena Clydesdale's name with James Desboro's, does it
occur to you to question the scandal? No; you take it for granted, and
very kindly explain to me how easily Mrs. Clydesdale can be thrown over
if her alleged lover decides he'd like to marry somebody."

"That's what's done," he said sulkily. "When a man----"

"You don't have to tell _me_!" she fairly hissed, turning on him so
suddenly that he almost fell backward. "Don't you think I know what is
the code among your sort--among the species of men you find sympathetic?
You and Jack Cairns and James Desboro--and Cary Clydesdale, too? Let him
reproach himself if his wife misbehaves! And I don't blame her if she
does, and I don't believe she does! Do you hear me, you yellow-haired,
blue-eyed little beast?"

Ledyard stood open-mouthed, red to the roots of his blond hair, and the
tiny, baleful black eyes of Mrs. Hammerton seemed to hypnotise him.

"You're all alike," she said with withering contempt. "Real men are out
in the world, doing things, not crawling around over the carpet under
foot, or sitting in clubs, or dancing with a pack of women, or idling
from polo field to tennis court, from stable to steam-yacht. You've no
real blood in you; it's only Scotch and soda gone flat. You've the
passions of overfed lap dogs with atrophied appetites. There's not a
real man here--except Captain Herrendene--and he's going back to his
post in a week. You others have no posts. And do you think that men of
your sort are fitted to talk about marrying such a girl as Miss Nevers?
Let me catch one of you trying it! She's in my charge. But that doesn't
count. She'll recognise a real man when she sees one, and glittering
counterfeits won't attract her."

"Great heavens!" faltered Reggie. "What a horrible lambasting! I--I've
heard you could do it; but this is going some--really, you know, it's
going some! And I'm not all those things that you say, either!" he
added, in naïve resentment. "I may be no good, but I'm not as rotten as
all that."

He stood with lips pursed up into a half-angry, half-injured pout, like
a big, blond, blue-eyed yokel facing school-room punishment.

Mrs. Hammerton's harsh face relaxed; and finally a smile wrinkled her
eyes.

"I suppose men can't help being what they are--a mixture of precocious
child and trained beast. The best of 'em have both of these in 'em. And
you are far from the best. Reggie, come here to me!"

He came, after a moment's hesitation, doubtfully.

"Lord!" she said. "How we cherish the worst of you! I sometimes think we
don't know enough to appreciate the best. Otherwise, perhaps they'd give
us more of their society. But, generally, all we draw is your sort; and
we cast our nets in vain into the real world--where Captain Herrendene
is going on Monday. Reggie, dear?"

"What?" he said suspiciously.

"Was I severe with you and your friends?"

"Great heavens! There isn't another woman I'd take such a drubbing
from!"

"But you _do_ take it," she said, with one of her rare and generous
smiles which few people ever saw, and of which few could believe her
facially capable.

And she slipped her arm through his and led him slowly toward the
library where already Farris was announcing luncheon.

"By heck!" he repeated later, in the billiard room, to a group of
interested listeners. "Aunt Hannah is all that they say she is. She
suddenly let out into me, and I give y'm'word she had me over the ropes
in one punch--tellin' me what beasts men are--and how we're not fit to
associate with nice girls--no b'jinks--nor fit to marry 'em, either."

Cairns laughed unfeelingly.

"Oh, you can laugh!" muttered Ledyard. "But to be lit into that way
hurts a man's self-respect. You'd better be careful or you'll be in for
a dose of Aunt Hannah, too. She evidently has no use for any of
us--barrin' the Captain, perhaps."

That gentleman smiled and picked up his hockey stick.

"There's enough ice left--if you don't mind a wetting," he said. "Shall
we start?"

Desboro rose, saying carelessly: "The Hammertons and Clydesdales are
coming over. I'll have to wait for them."

Bertie Barkley turned his hard little smooth-shaven face toward him.

"Where are the Clydesdales?"

"I believe they're stopping with the Hammertons for a week or two--I
really don't know. You can ask them, as they'll be here to dinner."

Cairns laid aside a cue with which he had been punching pool-balls; Van
Alstyne unhooked his skate-bag, and the others followed his example in
silence. Nobody said anything further about the Clydesdales to Desboro.

Out in the hall a gay group of young girls in their skating skirts were
gathering, among them Jacqueline, now under the spell of happiness in
their companionship.

Truly, even in these few days, the "warm sunlight of approval" had done
wonders for her. She had blossomed out deliriously and exquisitely in
her half-shy friendships with these young girls, responding diffidently
at first to their overtures, then frankly and with a charming
self-possession based on the confidence that she was really quite all
right if everybody only thought so.

Everybody seemed to think so; Athalie Vannis's friendship for her verged
on the sentimental, for the young girl was enraptured at the idea that
Jacqueline actually earned her own living. Marie Ledyard lazily admired
and envied her slight but exceedingly fashionable figure; Helsa Steyr
passionately adored her; Katharine Frere was profoundly impressed by her
intellectual attainments; Betty Barkley saw in her a social success,
with Aunt Hannah to pilot her--that is, every opportunity for wealth or
position, or even both, through the marriage to which, Betty cheerfully
conceded, her beauty entitled her.

So everybody of her own sex was exceedingly nice to her; and the men
already were only too anxious to be. And what more could a young girl
want?

As the jolly party started out across the snow, in random and chattering
groups made up by hazard, Jacqueline turned from Captain Herrendene,
with whom she found herself walking, and looked back at Desboro, who had
remained standing bareheaded on the steps.

"Aren't you coming?" she called out to him, in her clear young voice.

He shook his head, smiling.

"Please excuse me a moment," she murmured to Herrendene, and ran back
along the middle drive. Desboro started forward to meet her at the same
moment, and they met under the dripping spruces.

"Why aren't you coming with us?" she asked.

"I can't very well. I have to wait here for some people who might arrive
early."

"You are going to remain here all alone?"

"Yes, until they come. You see they are dining here, and I can't let
them arrive and find the house empty."

"Do you want me to stay with you? Mrs. Hammerton is in her room, and it
would be perfectly proper."

He said, reddening with surprise and pleasure: "It's very sweet of you.
I--had no idea you'd offer to do such a thing----"

"Why shouldn't I? Besides, I'd rather be where you are than anywhere
else."

"With _me_, Jacqueline?"

"Are you really surprised to hear me admit it?"

"A little."

"Why, if you please?"

"Because you never before have been demonstrative, even in speech."

She blushed: "Not as demonstrative as you are. But you know that I might
learn to be."

He looked at her curiously, but with more or less self-control.

"Do you really care for me that way, Jacqueline?"

"I know of no way in which I don't care for you," she said quickly.

"Does your caring for me amount to--love?" he asked deliberately.

"I--think so--yes."

The emotion in his face was now palely reflected in hers; their voices
were no longer quite steady under the sudden strain of self-repression.

"Say it, Jacqueline, if it is true," he whispered. His face was tense
and white, but not as pale as hers. "Say it!" he whispered again.

"I can't--in words. But it is true--what you asked me."

"That you love me?"

"Yes. I thought you knew it long ago."

They stood very still, facing each other, breathing more rapidly. Her
fate was upon her, and she knew it.

Captain Herrendene, who had waited, watched them for a moment more,
then, lighting a cigarette, sauntered on carelessly, swinging his
hockey-stick in circles.

Desboro said in a low, distinct voice, and without a tremor: "I am more
in love with you than ever, Jacqueline. But that is as much as I shall
ever say to you--nothing more than that."

"I know it."

"Yes, I know you do. Shall I leave you in peace? It can still be done.
Or--shall I tell you again that I love you?"

"Yes--if you wish, tell me--that."

"Is love _enough_ for you, Jacqueline?"

"Ask yourself, Jim. With what you give I must be content--or starve."

"Do you realise--what it means for us?" He could scarcely speak now.

"Yes--I know." She turned and looked back. Herrendene was now a long way
off, walking slowly and alone. Then she turned once more to Desboro,
absently, as though absorbed in her own reflections. Herrendene had
asked her to marry him that morning. She was thinking of it now.

Then, in her remote gaze the brief dream faded, her eyes cleared, and
she looked up at the silent man beside her.

"Shall I remain here with you?" she asked.

He made an effort to speak, but his voice was no longer under command.
She waited, watching him; then they both turned and slowly entered the
house together. Her hand had fallen into his, and when they reached the
library he lifted it to his lips and noticed that her fingers were
trembling. He laid his other hand over them, as though to quiet the
tremor; and looked into her face and saw how colourless it had become.

"My darling!" But the time had not yet come when he could tolerate his
own words; contempt for them choked him for a moment, and he only took
her into his arms in silence.

She strove to think, to speak, to master her emotion; but for a moment
his mounting passion subdued her and she remained silent, quivering in
his embrace.

Then, with an effort, she found her voice and loosened his arms.

"Listen," she whispered. "You must listen. I know what you are--how you
love me. But you are wrong! If I could only make you see it! If you
would not think me selfish, self-seeking--believe unworthy motives of
me----"

"What do you mean?" he asked, suddenly chilled.

"I mean that I am worth more to you than--than to be--what you wish me
to be to you. You won't misunderstand, will you? I am not bargaining,
not begging, not trading. I love you! I couldn't bargain; I could only
take your terms--or leave them. And I have not decided. But--may I say
something--for your sake more than for my own?"

"Yes," he said, coolly.

"Then--for your sake--far more than for mine--if you do really love
me--make more of me than you have thought of doing! I know I shall be
worth it to you. Could you consider it?"

After a terrible silence, he said: "I can--get out of your life--dog
that I am! I can leave you in peace. And that is all."

"If that is all you can do--don't leave me--in peace. I--I will take the
chances of remaining--honest----"

The hint of fear in her eyes and in her voice startled him.

"There is a martyrdom," she said, "which I might not be able to endure
forever. I don't know. I shall never love another man. And all my life I
have wanted love. It is here; and I may not be brave enough to deny it
and live my life out in ignorance of it. But, Jim, if you only could
understand--if you only knew what I can be to you--to the world for your
sake--what I can become merely because I love you--what I am capable of
for the sake of your pride in--in me--and----" She turned very white.
"Because it is better for your sake, Jim. I am not thinking of myself,
and how wonderful it would be for me--truly I am not. Don't you believe
me? Only--there is so much to me--I am really so much of a woman--that
it would begin to trouble you if ever I became anything--anything less
than your--wife. And you would feel sorry for me--and I couldn't
truthfully console you because all the while I'd know in my heart what
you had thrown away that might have belonged to us both."

"Your life?" he said, with dry lips.

"Oh, Jim! I mean more than your life and mine! For our lives--yours and
mine--would not be all you would throw away and deny. Before we die we
would want children. Ought I not to say it?" She turned away, blind with
tears, and dropped onto the sofa. "I'm wondering if I'm in my right
mind," she sobbed, "for yesterday I did not even dare think of these
things I am saying to you now! But--somehow--even while Captain
Herrendene was speaking--it all flashed into my mind. I don't know how I
knew it, but I suddenly understood that you belonged to me--just as you
are, Jim--all the good, all the evil in you--everything--even your
intentions toward me--how you may deal with me--all, all belonged to me!
And so I went back to you, to help you. And now I have said this
thing--for your sake alone, not for my own--only so that in years to
come you may not have me on your conscience. For if you do not marry
me--and I let myself really love you--you will wish that the beginning
was to be begun again, and that we had loved each other--otherwise."

He came over and stood looking down at her for a moment. His lips were
twitching.

"Would you marry me now," he managed to say, "_now_, after you know what
a contemptible cad I am?"

"You are only a man. I love you, Jim. I will marry you--if you'll let
me----"

Suddenly she covered her eyes with her hands. He seated himself beside
her, sick with self-contempt, dumb, not daring to touch her where she
crouched, trembling in every limb.

For a long while they remained so, in utter silence; then the doorbell
startled them. Jacqueline fled to her room; Desboro composed himself
with a desperate effort and went out into the hall.

He welcomed his guests on the steps when Farris opened the door,
outwardly master of himself once more.

"We came over early, Jim," explained Daisy, "because Uncle John is
giving a dinner and father and mother need the car. Do you mind?"

He laughed and shook hands with her and Elena, who looked intently and
unsmilingly into his face, and then let her expressionless glance linger
for a moment on her husband, who was holding out a huge hand to Desboro.

"I'm glad to see you, Clydesdale," said Desboro pleasantly, and took
that bulky gentleman's outstretched hand, who mumbled something
incoherent; but the fixed grin remained. And that was the
discomforting--yes, the dismaying--characteristic of the man--his grin
never seemed to be affected by his emotions.

Mrs. Quant bobbed away upstairs, piloting Daisy and Elena. Clydesdale
followed Desboro to the library--the same room where he had discovered
his wife that evening, and had learned in what esteem she held the law
that bound her to him. Both men thought of it now--could not avoid
remembering it. Also, by accident, they were seated very nearly as they
had been seated that night, Clydesdale filling the armchair with his
massive figure, Desboro sitting on the edge of the table, one foot
resting on the floor.

Farris brought whiskey; both men shook their heads.

"Will you have a cigar, Clydesdale?" asked the younger man.

"Thanks."

They smoked in silence for a few moments, then:

"I'm glad you came," said Desboro simply.

"Yes. Men don't usually raise that sort of hell with each other unless a
woman starts it."

"Don't talk that way about your wife," said Desboro sharply.

"See here, young man, I have no illusions concerning my wife. What
happened here was her doing, not yours. I knew it at the time--if I
didn't admit it. You behaved well--and you've behaved well ever
since--only it hurt me too much to tell you so before to-day."

"That's all right, Clydesdale----"

"Yes, it is going to be all right now, I guess." A curious expression
flitted across his red features, softening the grin for a moment. "I
always liked you, Desboro; and Elena and I were staying with the
Hammertons, so she told that Daisy girl to ask you to invite us. That's
all there is to it."

"Good business!" said Desboro, smiling. "I'm glad it's all clear between
us."

"Yes, it's clear sailing now, I guess." Again the curiously softening
expression made his heavy red features almost attractive, and he
remained silent for a while, occupied with thoughts that seemed to be
pleasant ones.

Then, abruptly emerging from his revery, he grinned at Desboro:

"So Mrs. Hammerton has our pretty friend Miss Nevers in tow," he said.
"Fine girl, Desboro. She's been at my collection, you know, fixing it up
for the hammer."

"So you are really going to sell?" inquired Desboro.

"I don't know. I _was_ going to. But I'm taking a new interest in my
hobby since----" he reddened, then added very simply, "since Elena and I
have been getting on better together."

"Sure," nodded Desboro, gravely understanding him.

"Yes--it's about like that, Desboro. Things were rotten bad up to that
night. And afterward, too, for a while. They're clearing up a little
better, I think. We're going to get on together, I believe. I don't know
much about women; never liked 'em much--except Elena. It's funny about
Miss Nevers, isn't it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Mrs. Hammerton's being so crazy about her. She's a good girl, and a
pretty one. Elena is wild to meet her."

"Didn't your wife ever meet her at your house?" asked Desboro dryly.

"When she was there appraising my jim-cracks? No. Elena has no use for
my gallery or anybody who goes into it. Besides, until this morning she
didn't even know that Miss Nevers was the same expert you employed. Now
she wants to meet her."

Desboro slowly raised his eyes and looked at Clydesdale. The unvaried
grin baffled him, and presently he glanced elsewhere.

Clydesdale, smoking, slowly crossed one ponderous leg over the other.
Desboro continued to gaze out of the window. Neither spoke again until
Daisy Hammerton came in with Elena. If the young wife remembered the
somewhat lurid circumstances of her last appearance in that room, her
animated and smiling face betrayed no indication of embarrassment.

"When is that gay company of yours going to return, Jim?" she demanded.
"I am devoured by curiosity to meet this beautiful Miss Nevers. Fancy
her coming to my house half a dozen times this winter and I never
suspecting that my husband's porcelain gallery concealed such a
combination of genius and beauty! I could have bitten somebody's head
off in vexation," she rattled on, "when I found out who she was. So I
made Daisy ask you to invite us to meet her. _Is_ she so unusually
wonderful, Jim?"

"I believe so," he said drily.

"They say every man who meets her falls in love with her
immediately--and that most of the women do, too," appealing to Daisy,
who nodded smiling corroboration.

"She is very lovely and very clever, Elena. I think I never saw anything
more charming than that rainbow dance she did for us last night in
Chinese costume," turning to Desboro, "'The Rainbow Skirt,' I think it
is called?"

"A dance some centuries old," said Desboro, and let his careless glance
rest on Elena for a moment.

"She looked," said Daisy, "like some exquisite Chinese figure made of
rose-quartz, crystal and green jade."

"Jade?" said Clydesdale, immediately interested. "That girl knows jades,
I can tell you. By gad! The first thing she did when she walked into my
gallery was to saw into a few glass ones with a file; and good-night to
about a thousand dollars in Japanese phony!"

"That was pleasant," said Desboro, laughing.

"Wasn't it! And my rose-quartz Fêng-huang! The Chia-Ching period of the
Ming dynasty! Do you get me, Desboro? It was Jap!"

"Really?"

Clydesdale brought down his huge fist with a thump on the table:

"I wouldn't believe it! I told Miss Nevers she didn't know her business!
I asked her to consider the fact that the crystallisation was
rhombohedral, the prisms six-sided, hardness 7, specific gravity 2.6, no
trace of cleavage, immune to the three acids or the blow-pipe alone, and
reacted with soda in the flame. I thought I knew it all, you see. First
she called my attention to the colour. 'Sure,' I said, 'it's a little
faded; but rose-quartz fades when exposed to light!' 'Yes,' said she,
'but moisture restores it.' So we tried it. Nix doing! Only a faint
rusty stain becoming visible and infecting that delicious rose colour.
'Help!' said I. 'What the devil is it?' 'Jap funny business,' said she.
'Your rose-quartz phoenix of the Ming dynasty is common yellow crystal
carved in Japan and dyed that beautiful rose tint with something, the
composition of which my chemist is investigating!' Wasn't it horrible,
Desboro?"

Daisy's brown eyes were very wide open, and she exclaimed softly:

"What a beautiful knowledge she has of a beautiful profession!" And to
Desboro: "Can you imagine anything in the world more fascinating than to
use such knowledge? And how in the world did she acquire it? She is so
very young to know so much!"

"Her father began her training as a child," said Desboro. There was a
slight burning sensation in his face, and a hotter pride within him.
After a second or two he felt Elena's gaze; but did not choose to
encounter it at the moment, and was turning to speak to Daisy Hammerton
when Jacqueline entered the library.

Clydesdale lumbered to his feet and tramped over to shake hands with
her; Daisy greeted her cordially; she and Elena were presented, and
stood smiling at each other for a second's silence. Then Mrs. Clydesdale
moved a single step forward, and Jacqueline crossed to her and offered
her hand, looking straight into her eyes so frankly and intently that
Elena's colour rose and for once in her life her tongue remained silent.

"Your husband and I are already business acquaintances," said
Jacqueline. "I know your very beautiful gallery, too, and have had the
privilege of identifying and classifying many of the jades and
porcelains."

Elena's eyes were level and cool as she said: "If I had known who you
were I would have received you myself. You must not think me rude. Mr.
Desboro's unnecessary reticence concerning you is to blame; not I."

Jacqueline's smile became mechanical: "Mr. Desboro's reticence
concerning a business acquaintance was very natural. A busy woman
neither expects nor even thinks about social amenities under business
circumstances."

[Illustration: "'Business is kinder to men than women sometimes
believe'"]

Elena's flush deepened: "Business is kinder to men than women sometimes
believe--if it permits acquaintance with such delightful people as
yourself."

Jacqueline said calmly: "All business has its compensations,"--she
smiled and made a friendly little salute with her head to Clydesdale and
Desboro,--"as you will witness for me. And I am employed by other
clients who also are considerate and kind. So you see the woman who
works has scarcely any time to suffer from social isolation."

Daisy said lightly: "Nobody who is happily employed worries over social
matters. Intelligence and sweet temper bring more friends than a busy
girl knows what to do with. Isn't that so, Miss Nevers?"

Jacqueline turned to Elena with a little laugh: "It's an axiom that
nobody can have too many friends. I want all I can have, Mrs.
Clydesdale, and am most grateful when people like me."

"And when they don't," asked Elena, smiling, "what do you do then, Miss
Nevers?"

"What is there to do, Mrs. Clydesdale?" she said gaily. "What would you
do about it?"

But Elena seemed not to have heard her, for she was already turning to
Desboro, flushed, almost feverish in her animation:

"So many things have happened since I saw you, Jim----" she hesitated,
then added daringly, "at the opera. Do you remember _Ariane_?"

"I think you were in the Barkley's box," he said coolly.

"Your memory is marvellous! In point of fact, I was there. And since
then so many, many things have happened that I'd like to compare notes
with you--sometime."

"I'm quite ready now," he said.

"Do you think your daily record fit for public scrutiny, Jim?" she
laughed.

"I don't mind sharing it with anybody here," he retorted gaily, "if you
have no objection."

His voice and hers, and their laughter seemed so perfectly frank that
thrust and parry passed as without significance. She and Desboro were
still lightly rallying each other; Clydesdale was explaining to Daisy
that lapis lazuli was the sapphire of the ancients, while Jacqueline was
showing her a bit under a magnifying glass, when the noise of sleighs
and motors outside signalled the return of the skating party.

As Desboro passed her, Elena said under her breath: "I want a moment
alone with you this evening."

"It's impossible," he motioned with his lips; and passed on with a smile
of welcome for his returning guests.

Later, in the billiard room, where they all had gathered before the
impromptu dance which usually terminated the evening, Elena found
another chance for a word aside: "Jim, I must speak to you alone,
please."

"It can't be done. You see that for yourself, don't you?"

"It can be done. Go to your room and I'll come----"

"Are you mad?"

"Almost. I tell you you'd better find some way----"

"What has happened?"

"I mean to have _you_ tell _me_, Jim."

A dull flush came into his face: "Oh! Well, I'll tell you now, if you
like."

Her heart seemed to stop for a second, then almost suffocated her, and
she instinctively put her hand to her throat.

He was leaning over the pool table, idly spinning the ivory balls; she,
seated on the edge, one pretty, bare arm propping her body, appeared to
be watching him as idly. All around them rang the laughter and animated
chatter of his guests, sipping their after-dinner coffee and cordial
around the huge fireplace.

"Don't say--that you are going to--Jim----" she breathed. "It isn't
true--it mustn't be----"

He interrupted deliberately: "What are you trying to do to me? Make a
servant out of me? Chain me up while you pass your life deciding at
leisure whether to live with your husband or involve yourself and me in
scandal?"

"Are you in love with that girl--after what you have promised me?"

"Are you sane or crazy?"

"You once told me you would never marry. I have rested secure in the
knowledge that when the inevitable crash came you would be free to stand
by me!"

"You have a perfectly good husband. You and he are on better terms--you
are getting on all right together. Do you expect to keep me tied to the
table-leg in case of eventualities?" he said, in a savage whisper. "How
many men do you wish to control?"

"One! I thought a Desboro never lied."

"Have I lied to you?"

"If you marry Miss Nevers you will have lied to me, Jim."

"Very well. Then you'll release me from that fool of a promise. I
remember I did say that I would never marry. I've changed my mind,
that's all. I've changed otherwise, too--please God! The cad you knew as
James Desboro is not exactly what you're looking at now. It's in me to
be something remotely resembling a man. I learned how to try from her,
if you want to know. What I was can't be helped. What I'm to make of
the débris of what I am concerns myself. If you ever had a shred of real
liking for me you'll show it now."

"Jim! Is this how you betray me--after persuading me to continue a
shameful and ghastly farce with Cary Clydesdale! You _have_ betrayed
me--for your own ends! You have made my life a living lie again--so that
you could evade responsibility----"

"Was I ever responsible for you?"

"You asked me to marry you----"

"Before you married Cary. Good God! Does that entail hard labour for
life?"

"You promised not to marry----"

"What is it to you what I do--if you treat your husband decently?"

"I have tried----" She crimsoned. "I--I endured degradation to which I
will never again submit--whatever the law may be--whatever marriage is
supposed to include! Do you think you can force me to--to that--for your
own selfish ends--with your silly and unsolicited advice on domesticity
and--and children--when my heart is elsewhere--when you have it, and you
know you possess it--and all that I am--every bit of me. Jim! Don't be
cruel to me who have been trying to live as you wished, merely to
satisfy a moral notion of your own! Don't betray me now--at such a
time--when it's a matter of days, hours, before I tell Cary that the
farce is ended. Are you going to leave me to face things alone? You
can't! I won't let you! I am----"

[Illustration: "'Be careful,' he said.... 'People are watching us'"]

"Be careful," he said, spinning the 13 ball into a pocket. "People are
watching us. Toss that cue-ball back to me, please. Laugh a little when
you do it."

For a second she balanced the white ivory ball in a hand which matched
it; then the mad impulse to dash it into his smiling face passed with a
shudder, and she laughed and sent it caroming swiftly from cushion to
cushion, until it darted into his hand.

"Jim," she said, "you are not really serious. I know it, too; and
because I do know it, I have been able to endure the things you have
done--your idle fancies for a pretty face and figure--your
indiscretions, ephemeral courtships, passing inclinations. But this is
different----"

"Yes, it is different," he said. "And so am I, Elena. Let us be about
the honest business of life, in God's name, and clear our hearts and
souls of the morbid and unwholesome mess that lately entangled us."

"Is _that_ how you speak of what we have been to each other?" she asked,
very pale.

He was silent.

"Jim, dear," she said timidly, "won't you give me ten minutes alone with
you?"

He scarcely heard her. He spun the last parti-coloured ball into a
corner pocket, straightened his shoulders, and looked at Jacqueline
where she sat in the corner of the fireplace. Herrendene, cross-legged
on the rug at her feet, was doing Malay card tricks to amuse her; but
from moment to moment her blue eyes stole across the room toward Desboro
and Mrs. Clydesdale where they leaned together over the distant pool
table. Suddenly she caught his eye and smiled a pale response to the
message in his gaze.

After a moment he said quietly to Elena: "I am deeply and reverently in
love--for the first and only time in my life. It is proper that you
should know it. And now you do know it. There is absolutely nothing
further to be said between us."

"There is--more than you think," she whispered, white to the lips.



CHAPTER XI


Nobody, apparently, was yet astir; not a breakfast tray had yet tinkled
along the dusky corridors when Desboro, descending the stairs in the dim
morning light, encountered Jacqueline coming from the general direction
of the east wing, her arms loaded with freshly cut white carnations.

"Good morning," he whispered, in smiling surprise, taking her and her
carnations into his arms very reverently, almost timidly.

She endured the contact shyly and seriously, as usual, bending her head
aside to avoid his lips.

"Do you suppose," he said laughingly, "that you could ever bring
yourself to kiss me, Jacqueline?"

She did not answer, and presently he released her, saying: "You never
have yet; and now that we're engaged----"

"Engaged!"

"You _know_ we are!"

"Is that what you think, Jim?"

"Certainly! I asked you to marry me----"

"No, dear, _I_ asked _you_. But I wasn't certain you had quite accepted
me----"

"Are you laughing at me?"

"I don't know--I don't know what I am doing any more; laughter and tears
seem so close to each other--sometimes--and I can never be certain which
it is going to be any more."

Her eyes remained grave, but her lips were sweet and humourous as she
stood there on the stairs, her chin resting on the sheaf of carnations
clasped to her breast.

"What is troubling you, Jacqueline?" he asked, after a moment's silence.

"Nothing. If you will hold these flowers a moment I'll decorate you."

He took the fragrant sheaf from her; she selected a magnificent white
blossom, drew the stem through the lapel of his coat, patted the flower
into a position which suited her, regarded the effect critically, then
glanced up out of her winning blue eyes and found him watching her
dreamily.

"I try to realise it, and I can't," he said vaguely. "Can you, dear?"

"Realise what?" she asked, in a low voice.

"That we are engaged."

"Are you so sure of me, Jim?"

"Do you suppose I could live life through without you _now_?"

"I don't know. Try it for two minutes anyway; these flowers must stand
in water. Will you wait here for me?"

He stepped forward to aid her, but she passed him lightly, avoiding his
touch, and sped across the corridor. In a few minutes she returned and
they descended the stairs together, and entered the empty library. She
leaned back against the table, both slender hands resting on the edge
behind her, and gazed out at the sparrows in the snow. And she did not
even appear to notice his arm, which ventured around her waist, or his
lips resting against the lock of bright hair curling on her cheek, so
absorbed she seemed to be in her silent reflections.

After a few moments she said, still looking out of the window: "I must
tell you something now."

"Are you going to tell me that you love me?"

"Yes--perhaps I had better begin that way."

"Then begin, dearest."

"I--I love you."

His arm tightened around her, but she gently released herself.

"There is a--a little more to say, Jim. I love you enough to give you
back your promise."

"My promise!"

"To marry me," she said steadily. "I scarcely knew what I was saying
yesterday--I was so excited, so much in love with you--so fearful that
you might sometime be unhappy if things continued with us as they
threatened to continue. I'm afraid I overvalued myself--made you suspect
that I am more than I really am--or can ever be. Besides, I frightened
you--and myself--unnecessarily. I never could be in any danger of--of
loving you--unwisely. It was not perfectly fair to you to hint such a
thing--because, after all, there is a third choice for you. A worthy
one. For you _could_ let me go my way out of your life, which is already
so full, and which would fill again very easily, even if my absence left
a little void for a while. And if it was any kind of pity you felt for
me--for what I said to you--that stirred you to--ask of me what I begged
you to ask--then I give you back your promise. I have not slept for
thinking over it. I must give it back."

He remained silent for a while, then his arms slipped down around her
body and he dropped on one knee beside her and laid his face close
against her. She had to bend over to hear what he was saying, he spoke
so low and with such difficulty.

"How can you care for me?" he said. "How _can_ you? Don't you understand
what a beast I was--what lesser impulse possessed me----"

"Hush, Jim! Am I different?"

"Good God! Yes!"

"No, dear."

"You don't know what you're saying!"

"_You_ don't know. Do you suppose I am immune to--to the--lesser
love--at moments----"

He lifted his head and looked up at her, dismayed.

"You!"

"I. How else could I understand _you_?"

"Because you are so far above everything unworthy."

"No, dear. If I were, you would only have angered and frightened me--not
made me sorry for us both. Because women and men are something alike at
moments; only, somehow, women seem to realise that--somehow--they are
guardians of--of something--of civilisation, perhaps. And it is their
instinct to curb and silence and ignore whatever unworthy threatens it
or them. It is that way with us, Jim."

She looked out of the window at the sky and the trees, and stood
thinking for a while. Then: "Did you suppose it is always easy for a
girl in love--whose instinct is to love--and to give? Especially such a
girl as I am, especially when she is so dreadfully afraid that her lover
may think her cold-blooded--self-seeking--perhaps a--a schemer----"

She covered her face with her hand--the quick, adorable gesture he knew
so well.

"I--_did_ ask you to marry me," she said, in a stifled voice, "but I am
not a schemer; my motive was not self-interest. It was for you I asked
it, Jim, far more than for myself--or I never could have found the
courage--perhaps not even the wish. Because, somehow, I am too proud to
wish for anything that is not offered."

As he said nothing, she broke out suddenly with a little sob of protest
in her voice: "I am _not_ a self-seeking, calculating woman! I am not
naturally cold and unresponsive! I am--inclined to be--otherwise. And
you had better know it. But you won't believe it, I am afraid, because
I--I have never responded to--to you."

Tears fell between her fingers over the flushed cheeks. She spoke with
increasing effort: "You don't understand; and I can't explain--except to
say that to be demonstrative seemed unworthy in me."

He put his arms around her shoulders very gently; she rested her
forehead against his shoulder.

"Don't think me calculating and cold-blooded--or a fool," she whispered.
"Probably everybody kisses or is kissed. I know it as well as you do.
But I haven't the--effrontery--to permit myself--such emotions. I
couldn't, Jim. I'd hate myself. And I thought of that, too, when I asked
you to marry me. Because if you had refused--and--matters had gone
on--you would have been sorry for me sooner or later--or perhaps hated
me. Because I would have been--been too much ashamed of myself to
have--loved you--unwisely."

He stood with head bent, listening; and, as he listened, the comparison
between this young girl and himself forced itself into his unwilling
mind--how that all she believed and desired ennobled her, and how what
had always governed him had made of him nothing more admirable than what
he was born, a human animal. For what he began as he still was--only
cleverer.

What else was he--except a trained animal, sufficiently educated to keep
out of jail? What had he done with his inheritance? His body was sane
and healthy; he had been at pains to cultivate that. How was it with his
mind? How was it with his spiritual beliefs? Had he cultivated and added
to either? He had been endowed with a brain. Had he made of it anything
except an instrument for idle caprice and indolent passions to play
upon?

"Do you understand me now?" she whispered, touching wet lashes with her
handkerchief.

He replied impetuously, hotly; her hands dropped from her face and she
looked up at him with sweet, confused eyes, blushing vividly under his
praise of her.

He spoke of himself, too, with all the quick, impassioned impulse of
youthful emotion, not sparing himself, promising better things, vowing
them before the shrine of her innocence. Yet, a stronger character might
have registered such vows in silence. And his fervour and incoherence
left her mute; and after he had ceased to protest too much she stood
quiet for a while, striving to search herself so that nothing unworthy
should remain--so that heart and soul should be clean under the magic
veil of happiness descending before her enraptured eyes.

Gently his arms encircled her; her clasped hands rested on his shoulder,
and she gazed out at the blue sky and sun-warmed snow as at a corner of
paradise revealed.

Later, when the household was astir, she went out with him into the
greenhouse, where the enchanted stillness of growing things thrilled
her, and the fragrance and sunlight made the mystery of love and its
miracle even more exquisitely unreal to her.

At first they did not speak; her hand lay loosely in his, her blue eyes
remained remote; and together they slowly paced the long, glass-sheeted
galleries between misty, scented mounds of bloom, to and fro, under the
flood of pallid winter sunshine, pale as the yellow jasmine flowers
overhead.

After a while a fat gardener came into one of the further wings.
Presently the sound of shovelled coal from the furnace-pit aroused them
from their dream; and they looked at each other gravely.

After a moment, he said: "Does it make a difference to you, Jacqueline,
what I was before I knew you?"

"No."

"I was only wondering what you really think of me."

"You know already, Jim."

He shook his head slowly.

"Jim! Of course you know!" she insisted hotly. "What you may have been
before I knew you I refuse to consider. Anyway, it was _you_--part of
you--and belongs to me now! Because I choose to make it mine--all that
you were and are--good and evil! For I won't give up one atom of
you--even to the devil himself!"

He tried to laugh: "What a fierce little partisan you are," he said.

"Very--where it concerns you," she said, unsmiling.

"Dear--I had better tell you now; you may hear things about me----"

"I won't listen to them!"

"No; but one sometimes hears without listening. People may say things.
They _will_ say things. I wish I could spare you. If I had known--if I
had only known--that you were in the world----"

"Don't, Jim! It--it isn't best for me to hear. It doesn't concern me,"
she insisted excitedly. "And if anybody dares say one word to me----"

"Wait, dear. All I want to be sure of is that you _do_ love me enough
to--to go on loving me. I want to be certain, and I want you to be
certain before you are a bride----"

She was growing very much excited, and suddenly near to tears, for the
one thing that endangered her self-control seemed to be his doubt of
her.

"There is nothing that I haven't forgiven you," she said. "Nothing!
There is nothing I won't forgive--except--one thing----"

"What?"

"I can't say it. I can't even think it. All I know is that _now_ I
couldn't forgive it." Suddenly she became perfectly quiet.

"I know what you mean," he said.

"Yes. It is what no wife can forgive." She looked at him, clear eyed,
intelligent, calm; for the moment without any illusion; and he seemed to
feel that, in the light of what she knew of him, she was coolly weighing
the danger of the experiment. Never had he seen so cold and lustrous a
brow, such limpid clarity of eye, searching, fearless, direct. Then, in
an instant, it all seemed to melt into flushed and winsome loveliness;
and she was murmuring that she loved him, and asking pardon for even one
second's hesitation.

"It never could be; it is unthinkable," she whispered. "And it is too
late anyway for me--I would love you now, whatever you killed in me.
Because I must go on loving you, Jim; for that is the way it is with me,
and I know it now. As long as there is life in me I'll strive for you in
my own fashion--even against yourself--to keep you for mine, to please
you, to be to you and to the world what you wish me to be--for your
honour and your happiness--which also must be my own--the only
happiness, now, that I can ever understand."

He held her in his arms, smoothing the bright hair, touching the white
brow with his lips at moments, happy because he was so deeply in love,
fearful because of it--and, deep in his soul, miserable, afraid lest
aught out of his past life return again to mock her--lest some echo of
folly offend her ears--some shadow fall--some phantom of dead days rise
from their future hearth to stand between them.

It is that way with a man who has lived idly and irresponsibly, and who
has gone lightly about the pleasure of life and not its business. For
sometimes there arrives an hour of unbidden clairvoyance--not
necessarily a spiritual awakening--but a moment of balanced intelligence
and sanity and clear vision. And when it arrives, the road to yesterday
suddenly becomes visible for its entire length; and when a man looks
back he sees it stretching away behind him, peopled with every shape
that has ever traversed it, and every spectre that ever has haunted it.

Sorrow for what need not have been, regret and shame for what had
been--and the bitterness of the folly--the knowledge, too late, of what
he could have been to the girl he held now in his arms--how he could
have met her on more equal terms had he saved his youth and strength and
innocence and pride for her alone--how he could have given it unsullied
into her keeping. All this Desboro was beginning to realise now. And
many men have realised it when the tardy understanding came too late.
For what has been is still and will be always; and shall appear here or
hereafter, or after that--somewhere, sometime, inevitably, inexorably.
There is no such thing as expunging what has been, or of erasing what is
to be. All records stand; hope lies only in lengthening the endless
chapters--chapters which will not be finished when the sun dies, and the
moon fails, and the stars go out forever.

       *       *       *       *       *

Walking slowly back together, they passed Herrendene in the wing hall,
and his fine and somewhat melancholy face lighted up at the encounter.

"I'm _so_ sorry you are going to-day," said Jacqueline, with all her
impulsive and sweet sincerity. "Everybody will miss you and wish you
here again."

"To be regretted is one of the few real pleasures in life," he said,
smiling. His quick eye had rested on Desboro and then reverted to her,
and his intuition was warning him with all the brutality and finality of
reason that his last hope of her must end.

Desboro said: "I hate to have you go, Herrendene, but I suppose you
must."

"Must you?" echoed Jacqueline, wistful for the moment. But the
irresistible radiance of happiness had subtly transfigured her, and
Herrendene looked into her eyes and saw the new-born beauty in them,
shyly apparent.

"Yes," he said, "I must be about the business of life--the business of
life, Miss Nevers. Everybody is engaged in it; it has many names, but
it's all the same business. You, for example, pass judgment on beautiful
things; Desboro, here, is a farmer, and I play soldier with sword and
drum. But it's all the same business--the business of life; and one can
work at it or idle through it, but never escape it, because, at the
last, every soul in the world must die in harness. And the idlest are
the heaviest laden." He laughed. "That's quite a sermon, isn't it, Miss
Nevers? And shall I make my adieux now? Were you going anywhere? You see
I am leaving Silverwood directly after breakfast----"

"As though Mr. Desboro and I would go off anywhere and not say good-bye
to _you_!" she exclaimed indignantly, quite unconscious of being too
obvious.

So they all three returned to the breakfast room together, where
Clydesdale, who had come over from the Hammertons' for breakfast, was
already tramping hungrily around the covered dishes on the sideboard,
hot plate in hand, evidently meditating a wholesale assault. He grinned
affably as Jacqueline and Desboro came in, and they all helped
themselves from the warmers, returning laden to the table with whatever
suited their fancy. Other guests, to whom no trays had been sent,
arrived one after another to prowl around the browse and join in the
conversation if they chose, or sulk, as is the fashion with some
perfectly worthy souls at breakfast-tide.

"This thaw settles the skating for good and all," remarked Reggie
Ledyard. "Will you go fishing with me, Miss Nevers? It's our last day,
you know."

Cairns growled over his grape-fruit: "You can't make dates with Miss
Nevers at the breakfast table. It isn't done. I was going to ask her to
do something with me, anyway."

"I hate breakfast," said Van Alstyne. "When I see it I always wish I
were dead or that everybody else was. Zooks! This cocktail helps some!
Try one, Miss Nevers."

"There's reason in your grouch," remarked Bertie Barkley, with his
hard-eyed smile, "considering what Aunt Hannah and I did to you and
Helsa at auction last night."

"Aunt Hannah will live in luxury for a year on it," added Cairns
maliciously. "Doesn't it make you happy, Stuyve?"

"Oh--blub!" muttered Van Alstyne, hating everybody and himself--and most
of all hating to think of his losses and of the lady who caused them.
Only the really rich know how card losses rankle.

Cairns glanced banteringly across at Jacqueline. It was his form of wit
to quiz her because she neither indulged in cocktails nor cigarettes,
nor played cards for stakes. He lifted his eyebrows and tapped the
frosted shaker beside him significantly.

"I've a new kind of mountain dew, warranted to wake the dead, Miss
Nevers. I call it the 'Aunt Hannah,' in her honour--honour to whom
honour is dew," he added impudently. "Won't you let me make you a
cocktail?"

"Wait until Aunt Hannah hears how you have honoured her and tempted me,"
laughed Jacqueline.

  "I never tempted maid or wife
  Or suffragette in all my life----"

sang Ledyard, beating time on Van Alstyne, who silently scowled his
displeasure.

Presently Ledyard selected a grape-fruit, with a sour smile at one of
Desboro's cats which had confidently leaped into his lap.

"Is this a zoo den in the Bronx, or a breakfast room, Desboro? I only
ask because I'm all over cats."

Bertie Barkley snapped his napkin at an intrusive yellow pup who was
sniffing and wagging at his elbow.

Jacqueline comforted the retreating animal, bending over and crooning in
his floppy ear:

"They gotta stop kickin' my dawg aroun'."

"What do _you_ care what they do to Jim's live stock, Miss Nevers?"
demanded Ledyard suspiciously.

She laughed, but to her annoyance a warmer colour brightened her cheeks.

"Heaven help us!" exclaimed Reggie. "Miss Nevers is blushing at the
breakfast table. Gentlemen, _are_ we done for without even suspecting
it? And by that--that"--pointing a furious finger at Desboro--"_that_!"

"Certainly," said Desboro, smiling. "Did you imagine I'd ever let Miss
Nevers escape from Silverwood?"

Ledyard heaved a sigh of relief: "Gad," he muttered, "I suspected you
both for a moment. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Every man here would have
murdered you in turn. Come on, Miss Nevers; you've made a big splash
with me, and I'll play you a game of rabbit--or anything on earth, if
you'll let me run along beside you."

"No, I'm driving with Captain Herrendene to the station," she said; and
that melancholy soldier looked up in grateful surprise.

And she did go with him; and everybody came out on the front steps to
wish him _bon voyage_.

"Are you coming back, Miss Nevers?" asked Ledyard, in pretended alarm.

"I don't know. Is Manila worth seeing, Captain Herrendene?" she asked,
laughingly.

"If you sail for Manila with that tin soldier I'll go after you in a
hydroplane!" called Reggie after them, as the car rolled away. He added
frankly, for everybody's benefit: "I hate any man who even looks at her,
and I don't care who knows it. But what's the use? Going to night-school
might help me, but I doubt it. No; she's for a better line of goods than
the samples at Silverwood. She shines too far above us. Mark that, James
Desboro! And take what comfort you can in your reflected glory. For had
she not been the spotlight, you'd look exactly like the rest of us. And
that isn't flattering anybody, I'm thinking."

It was to be the last day of the party. Everybody was leaving directly
after luncheon, and now everybody seemed inclined to do nothing in
particular. Mrs. Clydesdale came over from the Hammerton's. The air was
soft and springlike; the snow in the fields was melting and full of
golden pools. People seemed to be inclined to stroll about outdoors
without their hats; a lively snowball battle began between Cary
Clydesdale on one side and Cairns and Reggie Ledyard on the other--and
gradually was participated in by everybody except Aunt Hannah, who
grimly watched it from the library window. But her weather eye never
left Mrs. Clydesdale.

She was still standing at the window when somebody entered the library
behind her, and somebody else followed. She knew who they were; the
curtains screened her. For one second the temptation to listen beset
her, but she put it away with a sniff, and had already turned to
disclose herself when she heard Mrs. Clydesdale say something that
stiffened her into a rigid silence.

What followed stiffened her still more--and there were only a few words,
too--only:

"For God's sake, what are you thinking of?" from Desboro; and from Elena
Clydesdale:

"This has got to end--I can't stand it, Jim----"

"Stand what?"

"Him! And what you are doing!"

"Be careful! Do you want people to overhear us?" he said, in a low voice
of concentrated anger.

"Then where----"

"I don't know. Wait until these people leave----"

"To-night?"

"How can we see each other to-night!"

"Cary is going to New York----"

Voices approaching through the hall warned him:

"All right, to-night," he said, desperately. "Go out into the hall."

"To-night, Jim?"

"Yes."

She turned and walked out into the hall. He heard her voice calmly
joining in the chatter now approaching, and, without any reason, he
walked to the window. And found Mrs. Hammerton there.

Astonishment and anger left him dumb and scarlet to the roots of his
hair.

"It isn't my fault," she hissed. "You and that other fool had already
committed yourselves before I could stir to warn you. What do I care for
your vile little intrigues, anyway! I don't have to listen behind
curtains to learn what anybody could have seen at the Metropolitan
Opera----"

"You are absolutely mistaken----"

"No doubt, James. But whether I am or not makes absolutely no difference
to me--or to Jacqueline Nevers----"

"What do you mean by that?"

"What I say, exactly. It will make no difference to Jacqueline, because
you are going to keep your distance."

"Do you think so?"

"If you don't keep away from her I'll tell her a few things. Listen to
me very carefully, James. You think I'm fond of you, don't you? Well, I
am. But I've taken a fancy to Jacqueline Nevers that--well, if I were
not childless I might feel it less deeply. I've put my arms around her
once and for all. Now do you understand?"

"I tell you," he said steadily, "you are mistaken in believing----"

"Very well. Granted. What of it? One dirty little intrigue more or less
doesn't alter what you are and have been. The plain point of the matter
is this, James: you are not fit to aspire seriously to Jacqueline
Nevers. Are you? I ask you, now, honestly; are you?"

"Does that concern you?"

She fairly snapped her teeth and her eyes sparkled:

"Yes; it concerns me! Keep away! I warn you--you and the rest of the
Jacks and Reggies and similar assorted pups. Your hunting ground is
elsewhere."

A sort of cold fury possessed him: "You had better not say anything to
Miss Nevers about what you overheard in this room," he said in a
colourless voice.

"I'll use my own judgment," she retorted tartly.

"Use mine. It is perhaps better. Don't interfere."

"Don't be a fool, James."

"Will you listen to me----"

"About Elena Clydesdale?" she asked maliciously.

"There is nothing to tell about her."

"Naturally. I never heard the Desboros were blackguards--only a trifle
airy, James--a trifle gallant! Dear child, don't anger me. You know it
wouldn't be well for you."

"I ask you merely to mind your business."

"That I shall do. My life's business is Jacqueline. You yourself made
her so----" Malice indescribable snapped in her tiny black eyes, and she
laughed harshly. "You made that motherless girl my business. Ask
yourself if you've ever, inadvertently, done as decent a thing?"

"Do you understand that I wish to marry her?" he asked, white with
passion.

"_You!_ What do I care what your patronising intentions may be? And,
James, if you drive me to it----" she fairly glared at him, "--I'll
destroy even your acquaintanceship with her. And I possess the means to
do it!"

"Try it!" he motioned with dry lips.

A moment later the animated chatter of young people filled the room, and
among them sounded Jacqueline's voice.

"Oh!" she said, laughing, when she saw Mrs. Hammerton and Desboro coming
from the embrasure of the window. "Have you been flirting again, Aunt
Hannah!"

"Yes," said the old lady grimly, "and I think I've taken him into camp."

"Then it's my turn," said Jacqueline. "Come on, Mr. Desboro, you can't
escape me. I'm going to beat you a game of rabbit!"

Everybody drifted into the billiard-room at their heels, and found them
already at their stations on either side of the pool table, each one
covering the side pocket with left hand spread wide. Jacqueline had the
cue-ball; it lay on the cloth in front of her, and her slim right hand
covered it.

"Ready?" she asked of Desboro.

"Ready," he said, watching her.

She made a feint; he sprang to the left; she shot the ball toward the
right corner pocket, missed, carromed, and tried to recover it; but
Desboro's arm shot out across the cloth and he seized it and shot it at
her left corner pocket. It went in with a plunk!

"One for Jim!" said Reggie gravely, and, picking up a cue, scored with a
button overhead.

"Plunk!" went the ball again into the same pocket; and Jacqueline gave a
little cry of dismay as Desboro leaned far over the table, threatening,
feinting, moving the ball so fast she could scarcely follow his hand.
Then she thought she saw the crisis coming, sprang toward the left
corner pocket, gave a cry of terror, and plunk! went the ball into her
side pocket.

Flushed, golden hair in pretty disorder, she sprang back on guard again,
and the onlookers watched the movement of her hands, fascinated by their
grace and beauty as she defended her side of the table and, finally,
snatched the ball from the very jaws of the right corner.

It was a breathless, exciting game, even for rabbit, and was fought to a
furious finish; but she went down to defeat, and Desboro came around the
table to condole with her, and together they stepped aside to leave the
arena free for Katharine Frere and Reggie.

"I'm so sorry, dear," he said under his breath.

"It's what I want, Jim. Never let me take the lead again--in anything."

His laugh was not genuine. He glanced across the room and saw Aunt
Hannah pretending not to watch him. Near her stood Elena Clydesdale
beside her husband, making no such pretence.

He said in a low voice: "Jacqueline, would you marry me as soon as I can
get a license--if I asked you to do it?"

She blushed furiously; then walked over to the window and gazed out,
dismayed and astounded. He followed.

"Will you, dear? I have the very best of reasons for asking you."

"Could you tell me the reasons, Jim?" she asked, still dazed.

"I had rather not--if you don't mind. Will you trust me when I say it is
better for us to marry quietly and at once?"

She looked up at him dumbly, the scarlet slowly fading from brow and
cheek.

"Do you trust me?" he repeated.

"Yes--I trust you."

"Will you marry me, then, as soon as I can arrange for it?"

She was silent.

"Will you?" he urged.

"Jim--darling--I wanted to be equipped--I wanted to have some pretty
things, in order to--to be at my very best--for you. A girl is a bride
only once in her life; a man remembers her as she came to him first."

"Dearest, as I saw you first, so I will always think of you."

"Oh, Jim! In that black gown and cuffs and collar!"

"You don't understand men, dear. No coronation robe ever could compete
with that dress in my affections. You always are perfect; I never saw
you when you weren't bewitching----"

"But, dear, there are other things----"

"We'll buy them together!"

"Jim, _must_ we do it this way? I don't mean that I wished for any
ostentation----"

"I did! I would have wished for a ceremony suited to your beauty
and----"

"No, no! I didn't expect----"

"But I did--damn it!" he said between his teeth. "I wished it; I
expected it. Don't you think I know what a girl ought to have? Indeed I
do, Jacqueline. And in New York town another century will never see a
bride to compare with you! But, my darling, I cannot risk it!"

"Risk it?"

"Don't ask me any more."

"No."

"And--will you do it--for my sake?"

"Yes."

There was a silence between them; he lighted a cigarette, turned coolly
around, and glanced across the room. Elena instantly averted her gaze.
Mrs. Hammerton sustained his pleasant inspection with an unchanging
stare almost insolent.

After a moment he smiled at her. It was a mistake to do it.

       *       *       *       *       *

After luncheon, Elena Clydesdale found an opportunity for a word with
him.

"Will you remember that you have an engagement to-night?" she said in a
guarded voice.

"I shall break it," he replied.

"What!"

"This is going to end here and now! Your business is with your husband.
He's a decent fellow; he's devoted to you. I won't even discuss it with
you. Break with him if you want to, but don't count on me!"

"I can't break with him unless I can count on you. Are you going to lie
to me, Jim?"

"You can call it what you like. But if you break with him it will end
our friendship."

"I tell you I've _got_ to break with him. I've got to do it now--at
once!"

"Why?"

"Because--because I've got to. I can't go on fencing with him."

"Oh!"

She crimsoned and set her little white teeth.

"I've got to leave him or be what--I won't be!"

"Then break with him," he said contemptuously, "and give a decent man
another chance in life!"

"I can't--unless you----"

"Good God! I'd sooner cut my throat. My sympathy is for your husband.
You're convicting yourself, I tell you! I've always had a dim idea that
he was all right. Now I know it--and my obligations to you are ended."

"Then--you leave me--to him? Answer me, Jim. You refuse to stand between
me and my--my degradation? Is that what you mean to do? Knowing I have
no other means of escaping it except through you--except by defying the
world with you!"

She broke off with a sob.

"Elena," he said, "your one salvation in this world is to have children!
It will mean happiness and honour for you both--mutual respect, and, if
not romantic love, at least a cordial understanding and mutual
toleration. If you have such a chance, don't throw it away. Your husband
is a slow, intelligent, kind, and patient man, who has borne much from
you because he is honestly in love with you. Don't mistake his
consideration for weakness, his patience for acquiescence. What kindness
you have pretended to show him recently has given him courage. He is
trying to make good because he believes that he can win you. This is
clear reason; it is logic, Elena."

She turned on him in a flash of tears and exasperation.

"Logic! Do you think a woman wants that?" she stammered. "Do you think a
woman arrives at any conclusion through the kind of reasoning that
satisfies men? What difference does what you say make to me, when I hate
_him_ and I love _you_? How does your logic help me to escape what
is--is abhorrent to me! Do you suppose your reasoning makes it more
endurable? Oh, Jim! For heaven's sake don't leave me to that--that man!
Let me come here this evening after he has gone, and try to explain to
you how I----"

"No."

"You won't!"

"No. I am going to town with Mrs. Hammerton and Miss Nevers on the
evening train. And some day I am going to marry Miss Nevers."



CHAPTER XII


During her week's absence from town Jacqueline's mail had accumulated; a
number of business matters had come into the office, the disposal of
which now awaited her decision--requests from wealthy connoisseurs for
expert opinion, offers to dispose of collections entire or in part,
invitations to dealers' secret conferences, urgent demands for
appraisers, questions concerning origin or authenticity, commissions to
buy, sell, advertise, or send searchers throughout the markets at home
or abroad for anything from a tiny shrine of Limoges enamel to a
complete suit of equestrian armour to fill a gap in a series belonging
to some rich man's museum.

On the evening of her arrival at the office, she was beset by her clerks
and salesmen, bringing to her hundreds of petty routine details
requiring her personal examination. Also, it appeared that one of her
clients had been outrageously swindled by a precious pair of
fly-by-nights; and the matter required immediate investigation. So she
was obliged to telephone to Mrs. Hammerton that she could not dine with
her at the Ritz, and to Desboro that she could not see him for a day or
two. In Desboro's case, a postscript added: "Except for a minute,
dearest, whenever you come."

She did not even take the time to dine that evening, but settled down at
her office desk as soon as the retail shop below was closed; and, with
the tea urn and a rack of toast at her elbow, plunged straight into the
delightfully interesting chaos confronting her.

As far as the shop was concerned, the New Year, as usual, had brought to
that part of the business a lull in activity. It always happened so
after New Years; and the stagnation steadily increased as spring
approached, until by summer time the retail business was practically
dead.

But a quiet market did not mean that there was nothing for her to do.
Warehouse sales must be watched, auctions, public and private, in town
and country, must be attended by one or more of her representatives;
private clients inclined to sell always required tactful handling and
careful consideration; her confidential agents must always be alert.

Also, always her people were continually searching for various objects
ardently desired by all species of acquisitive clients; she must keep in
constant touch with everything that was happening in her business
abroad; she must keep abreast of her times at home, which required much
cleverness, intuition, and current reading, and much study in the Museum
and among private collections to which she had access. She was a very,
very busy girl, almost too busy at moments to remember that she had
fallen in love.

That night she worked alone in her office until long after midnight; and
all the next day until noon she was busy listening to or instructing
salesmen, clerks, dealers, experts, auctioneers, and clients. Also, the
swindle and the swindlers were worrying her extremely.

Luncheon had been served on a tray beside her desk, and she was still
absent-mindedly going over the carbon files of business letters, which
she had dictated and dispatched that morning, when Desboro's card was
brought to her. She sent word that she would receive him.

"Will you lunch with me, Jim?" she asked demurely, when he had appeared
and shaken hands vigorously. "I've a fruit salad and some perfectly
delicious sherbet! Please sit on the desk top and help me consume the
banquet."

"Do you call that a banquet, darling?" he demanded. "Come out to the
Ritz with me this instant----"

"Dearest! I can't! Oh, you don't know what an exciting and interesting
mess my business affairs are in! A girl always has to pay for her
pleasure. But in this case it's a pleasure to pay. Bring up that chair
and share my luncheon like a good fellow, so we can chat together for a
few minutes. It's all the time I can give you to-day, dearest."

He pulled up a chair and seated himself, experiencing somewhat mixed
emotions in the presence of such bewildering business capability.

"You make me feel embarrassed and ashamed," he said. "Rotten loafer that
I am! And you so energetic and industrious--you darling thing!"

"But, dear, your farmer can't plow frozen ground, you know; all your men
can do just now is to mend fences and dump fertiliser and lime and
gypsum over everything. And I believe they were doing that when I left."

"If," he said, "I were a real instead of a phony farmer, I'd read
catalogues about wire fences; I'd find plenty to do if I were not a
wretched sham. It's only, I hope, because you're in town that I can't
drive myself back where I belong. I ought to be sitting in a wood-shed,
in overalls, whittling sticks and yelling bucolic wisdom at Ezra
Vail---- Oh, you needn't laugh, darling, but that's where I ought to be,
and what I ought to be doing if I'm ever going to support a wife!"

"Jim! You're _not_ going to support a wife! You absurd boy!"

"What!" he demanded, losing countenance.

"Did you think you were obliged to support me? How ridiculous! I'd be
perfectly miserable----"

"Jacqueline! What on earth do you mean? We are going to live on my
income."

"Indeed we are not! What use would I be to you if I brought you nothing
except an idle, useless, lazy girl to support! It's unthinkable!"

"Do you expect to _remain_ in business?" he asked, incredulously.

"Certainly I expect it!"

"But--darling----"

"Jim! I _love_ my business. It was father's business; it represents my
childhood, my girlhood, my maturity. Every detail of it is inextricably
linked with memories of him--the dearest memories, the tenderest
associations of my life! Do you wish me to give them up?"

"How can you be my wife, Jacqueline, and still remain a business woman?"

"Dear, I am certainly going to marry you. Permit me to arrange the rest.
It will not interfere with my being your devoted and happy wife. It
wouldn't ever interfere with--with my being a--a perfectly good
mother--if that's what you fear. If it did, do you suppose I'd hesitate
to choose?"

"No," he said, adoring her.

"Indeed, I wouldn't! But remaining in business will give me what every
girl should have as a right--an object in life apart from her love for
her husband--and children--apart from her proper domestic duties. It is
her right to engage in the business of life; it makes the contract
between you and me fairer. I love you more than anything in the world,
but I simply couldn't keep my self-respect and depend on you for
everything I have."

"But, my darling, everything I have is already yours."

"Yes, I know. We can pretend it is. I know I _could_ have it--just as
you could have this rather complicated business of mine--if you want
it."

"Oh, Lord!" he exclaimed. "Imagine the fury of a connoisseur who engaged
me to identify his priceless penates!"

He was laughing, too, now. They had finished their fruit salad and
sherbet; she lighted a cigarette for him, taking a dainty puff and
handing it to him with an adorable shudder.

"I _don't_ like it! I don't like any vices! How women can enjoy what men
enjoy is a mystery to me. Smoke slowly, darling, because when that
cigarette is finished you must make a very graceful bow and say good-bye
to me until to-morrow."

"This is simply devilish, Jacqueline! I never see you any more."

"Nonsense! You have plenty to do to amuse you--haven't you, dear?"

But the things that once occupied his leisure so casually and so
agreeably no longer attracted him.

"I don't want to read seed catalogues," he protested. "Couldn't I be of
use to you, Jacqueline? I'll do anything you say--take off my coat and
sweep out your office, or go behind the counter in the shop and sell
gilded gods----"

"Imagine the elegant Mr. Desboro selling antiquities to the dangerous
monomaniacs who haunt such shops as mine! Dear, they'd either drive you
crazy or have you arrested for fraud inside of ten minutes. No; you will
make a perfectly good husband, Jim, but you were never created to
decorate an antique shop."

He tried to smile, but only flushed rather painfully. A sudden and
wholly inexplicable sense of inferiority possessed him.

"You know," he said, "I'm not going to stand around idle while you run a
prosperous business concern. And anyway, I can't see it, Jacqueline. You
and I are going to have a lot of social obligations to----"

"We are likely to have all kinds of obligations," she interrupted
serenely, "and our lives are certain to be very full, and you and I are
going to be equal to every opportunity, every demand, every
responsibility--and still have leisure to love each other, and to be to
each other everything that either could desire."

"After all," he said, serious and unconvinced, "there are only
twenty-four hours in a day for us to be together."

"Yes, darling, but there will be no wasted time in those twenty-four
hours. That is where we save a sufficient number of minutes to attend to
the business of life."

"Do you mean that you intend to come into this office every day?"

"For a while, yes. Less frequently when I have trained my people a
little longer. What do you suppose my father was doing all his life?
What do you suppose I have been doing these last three years? Why, Jim,
except that hitherto I have loved to fuss over details, this office and
this business could almost run itself for six months at a time. Some
day, except for special clients here and there, Lionel Sissly will do
what expert work I now am doing; and this desk will be his; and his
present position will be filled by Mr. Mirk. That is how it is planned.
And if you had given me two or three months, I might have been able to
go on a bridal trip with you!"

"We _are_ going, aren't we?" he asked, appalled.

"If I've got to marry you offhand," she said seriously, "our wedding
trip will have to wait. Don't you know, dear, that it always costs
heavily to do anything in a hurry? At this time of year, and under the
present conditions of business, and considering my contracts and
obligations, it would be utterly impossible for me to go away again
until summer."

He sprang up irritated, yet feeling utterly helpless under her friendly
but level gaze. Already he began to realise the true significance of her
position and his own in the world; how utterly at a moral disadvantage
he stood before this young girl--moral, intellectual, spiritual--he was
beginning to comprehend it all now.

A dull flush of anger made his face hot and altered his expression
to sullenness. Where was all this leading them, anyway--this reversal
of rôles, this self-dependent attitude of hers--this calm
self-reliance--this freedom of decision?

Once he had supposed there was something in her to protect, to guide,
advise, make allowance for--perhaps to persuade, possibly, even, to
instruct. Such has been the immemorial attitude of man; it had been
instinctively, and more or less unconsciously, his.

And now, in spite of her youth, her soft pliability, her almost childish
grace and beauty, he was experiencing a half-dazed sensation as though,
in full and confident career, he had come, slap! into collision with an
occult barrier. And the impact was confusing him and even beginning to
hurt him.

He looked around him uneasily. Everything in the office, somehow, seemed
to be in subtle league with her to irritate him--her desk, her loaded
letter-files, her stacks of ledgers--all these accused and offended him.
But most of all his own helpless inferiority made him angry and
ashamed--the inferiority of idleness confronted by industry; of
aimlessness face to face with purpose; of irresolution and degeneracy
scrutinised by fearlessness, confidence, and happy and innocent
aspiration. And the combination silenced him.

And every mute second that he stood there, he felt as though something
imperceptible, intangible, was slipping away from him--perhaps his man's
immemorial right to lead, to decide, to direct the common destiny of
this slim, sweet-lipped young girl and himself.

For it was she who was serenely deciding--who had already laid out the
business of life for herself without hesitation, without resort to him,
to his man's wisdom, experience, prejudices, wishes, desires. Moreover,
she was leaving him absolutely free to decide his own business in life
for himself; and that made her position unassailable. For if she had
presumed to advise him, to suggest, even hint at anything interfering
with his own personal liberty to decide for himself, he might have found
some foothold, some niche, something to sustain him, to justify him, in
assuming man's immemorial right to leadership.

"Dear," she said wistfully, "you look at me with such very troubled
eyes. Is there anything I have said that you disapprove?"

"I had not expected you to remain in business," was all he found to say.

"If my remaining in business ever interferes with your happiness or with
my duty to you, I will give it up. You know that, don't you?"

He reddened again.

"It looks queer," he muttered, "--your being in business and I--playing
farmer--like one of those loafing husbands of celebrated actresses."

"Jim!" she exclaimed, scarlet to the ears. "What a horrid simile!"

"It's myself I'm cursing out," he said, almost angrily. "I can't cut
such a figure. Don't you understand, Jacqueline? I haven't anything to
occupy me! Do you expect me to hang around somewhere while you work? I
tell you, I've got to find something to do as soon as we're married--or
I couldn't look you in the face."

"That is for you to decide. Isn't it?" she asked sweetly.

"Yes, but on what am I to decide?"

"Whatever you decide, don't do it in a hurry, dear," she said, smiling.

The sullen sense of resentment returned, reddening his face again:

"I wouldn't have to hurry if you'd give up this business and live on
our income and be free to travel and knock about with me----"

"Can't you understand that I _will_ be free to be with you--free in
mind, in conscience, in body, to travel with you, be with you, be to you
whatever you desire--but only if I keep my self-respect! And I can't
keep that if I neglect the business of life, which, in my case, lies
partly here in this office."

She rose and laid one slim, pretty hand on his shoulder. She rarely
permitted herself to touch him voluntarily.

"Don't you wish me to be happy?" she asked gently.

"It's all I wish in the world, Jacqueline."

"But I couldn't be happy and remain idle; remain dependent on you for
anything--except love. Life to the full--every moment filled--that is
what living means to me. And only one single thing never can fill one's
life--not intellectual research alone; not spiritual remoteness; nor yet
the pursuit of pleasure; nor the swift and endless hunt for happiness;
nor even love, dearest among men! Only the business of life can quite
fill life to the brimming for me; and that business is made up of
everything worthy--of the pleasures of effort, duty, aspiration, and
noble repose, but never of the pleasures of idleness. Jim, have I bored
you with a sermon? Forgive me; I am preaching only to instruct myself."

He took her hand from his shoulder and stood holding it and looking at
her with a strange expression. So dazed, yet so terribly intent he
seemed at moments that she laid her other hand over his, pressing it in
smiling anxiety.

"What is it, dearest?" she murmured. "Don't you approve of me as much
as you thought you did? Am I disappointing you already?"

"Good God!" he muttered to himself. "If there is a heaven, and your sort
inhabit it, hell was reformed long ago."

"What are you muttering all to yourself, Jim?" she insisted. "What
troubles you?"

"I'll tell you. You've picked the wrong man. I'm absolutely unfit for
you. I know about all those decent things you believe in--all the things
you _are_! But I don't know about them from personal experience; I never
did anything decent because it was my duty to do it--except by accident.
I never took a spiritual interest in anything or anybody, including
myself! I never made a worthy effort; I never earned one second's worth
of noble repose. And now--if there's anything in me to begin on--it's
probably my duty to release you until I have made something of myself,
before I come whining around asking you to marry a man not fit to
marry----"

"My darling!" she protested, half laughing, half in tears, and closing
his angry lips with both her hands. "I want _you_, not a saint or a holy
man, or an archangel fresh from paradise! I want you as you _are_--as
you have been--as you are going to be dear! Did any girl who ever lived
find pleasure in perfection? Even in art it is undesirable. That's the
beauty of aspiration; the pleasures of effort never pall. I don't know
whether I'm laughing or crying, Jim! You look so solemn and miserable,
and--and funny! But if you try to look dignified now, I'll certainly
laugh! You dear, blessed, overgrown boy--just as bad as you possibly can
be! Just as funny and unreasonable and perverse as are all boys! But
Jacqueline loves you dearly--oh, dearly--and she trusts you with her
heart and her happiness and with every beauty yet undreamed and
unrevealed that a girl could learn to desire on earth! Are you
contented? Oh, Jim! Jim! If you knew how I adore you! You must go, dear.
It will mean a long night's work for me if you don't. But it's so hard
to let you go--when I--love you so! When I love you so! Good-bye. Yes,
to-morrow. Don't call at noon; Mrs. Hammerton is coming for a
five-minute chat. And I do want you to myself for the few moments we may
have together. Come about five and we can have tea here beside my desk."

       *       *       *       *       *

He came next day at five. The day after that he arrived at the same
hour, bringing with him her ring; and, as he slipped it over her finger,
for the first time her self-control slipped, too, and she bent swiftly
and kissed the jewel that he was holding.

Then, flushed and abashed, she shrank away, an exquisite picture of
confusion, and stood turning and turning the ring around, her head
obstinately lowered, absolutely unresponsive again to his arm around her
and his cheek resting close against hers.

"What a beauty of a ring, Jim!" she managed to say at last. "No other
engagement ring ever existed half as lovely and splendid as my betrothal
ring. I am sorry for all the empresses and queens and princesses who can
never hope to possess a ring to equal the ring of Jacqueline Nevers,
dealer in antiquities."

"Nor can they hope to possess such a hand to adorn it," he said, "--the
most beautiful, the purest, whitest, softest, most innocent hand in the
world! The magic hand of Jacqueline!"

"Do you like it?" she asked, shyly conscious of its beauty.

"It is matchless, darling. Let empresses shriek with envy."

"I'm listening very intently, but I don't hear them. Jim. Also, I've
seen a shop-girl with far lovelier hands. But please go on thinking so
and hearing crowned heads shriek. I rather like your imagination."

He laughed from sheer happiness:

"I've got something to whisper to you. Shall I?"

"What?"

"Shall I whisper it?"

She inclined her small head daintily, then:

"Oh!" she exclaimed, startled and blushing to the tips of her ears.

"Will you be ready?"

"I--yes. Yes--I'll be ready----"

"Does it make you happy?"

"I can't realise--I didn't know it was to be so soon--so immediate----"

"We'll go to Silverwood. We can catch the evening express----"

"Dearest!"

"You can go away with me for _one_ week, can't you?"

"I can't go now!" she faltered.

"For how long can you go, Jacqueline?"

"I--I've got to be back on Tuesday morning."

"Tuesday!"

"Isn't it dreadful, Jim. But I can't avoid it if we are to be married on
Monday next. I must deal honourably by my clients who trust me. I
warned you that our wedding trip would have to be postponed if you
married me this way--didn't I, dear?"

"Yes."

She stood looking at him timidly, almost fearfully, as he took two or
three quick, nervous steps across the floor, turned and came back to
her.

"All right," he said. "Our wedding trip will have to wait, then; but our
wedding won't. We'll be married Monday, go to Silverwood, and come back
Tuesday--if it's a matter of honour. I never again mean to interfere
with your life's business, Jacqueline. You know what is best; you are
free and entitled to the right of decision."

"Yes. But because I _must_ decide about things that concern myself
alone, you don't think I adore you any the less, do you, Jim?"

"Nor do I love you the less, Jacqueline, because I can decide nothing
for you, do nothing for you."

"Jim! You _can_ decide everything for me--do everything! And you _have_
done everything for me--by giving me my freedom to decide for myself!"

"_I_ gave it to you, Jacqueline?"

"Did you think I would have taken it if you had refused it?"

"But you said your happiness depended on it."

"Which is why you gave it to me, isn't it?" she asked seriously.

He laughed. "You wonderful girl, to make me believe that any generosity
of mine is responsible for your freedom!"

"But it is! Otherwise, I would have obeyed you and been disgraced in my
own estimation."

"Do you mean that mine is to be the final decision always?"

"Why, of course, Jim."

He laughed again. "Empty authority, dear--a shadowy symbol of
traditional but obsolete prerogative."

"You are wrong. Your decision is final. But--as I know it will always be
for my happiness, I can always appeal from your prejudice to your
intelligence," she added naïvely. And for a moment was surprised at his
unrestrained laughter.

"What does it matter?" she admitted, laughing, too. "Between you and me
the right thing always will be done sooner or later."

His laughter died out; he said soberly: "Always, God willing. It may be
a little hard for me to learn--as it's hard, now, for example, to say
good-bye."

"Jim!"

"You know I must, darling."

"But I don't mind sitting up a few minutes later to-night----"

"I know you don't. But here's where I exercise my harmlessly arbitrary
authority for your happiness and for the sake of your good digestion."

"What a brute you are!"

"I know it. Back to your desk, darling! And go to bed early."

"I wanted you to stay----"

"Ha! So you begin to feel the tyranny of man! I'm going! I've got a job,
too, if you want to know."

"What!"

"Certainly! How long did you suppose I could stand it to see you at
that desk and then go and sit in a silly club?"

"What do you mean, darling?" she asked, radiant.

"I mean that Jack Cairns, who is a broker, has offered me a job at a
small but perfectly proper salary, with the usual commission on all
business I bring in to the office. And I've taken it!"

"But, dear----"

"Oh, Vail can run my farm without any advice from me. I'm going to give
him more authority and hold him responsible. If the place can pay for
itself and let us keep the armour and jades, that's all I ask of it. But
I am asking more of myself--since I have begun to really know you. And
I'm going to work for our bread and butter, and earn enough to support
us both and lay something aside. You know we've got to think of that,
because----" He looked very serious, hesitated, bent and whispered
something that sent the bright colour flying in her cheeks; then he
caught her hand and kissed the ring-finger.

"Good-bye," she murmured, clinging for an instant to his hand.

The next moment he was gone; and she stood alone for a while by her
desk, his ring resting against her lips, her eyes closed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sunday she spent with him. They went together to St. John's Cathedral in
the morning--the first time he had been inside a church in years. And he
was in considerable awe of the place and of her until they finally
emerged into the sunshine of Morningside Park.

Under a magnificent and cloudless sky, they walked together, silent or
loquacious by turns, bold and shy, confident and timid. And she was a
little surprised to find that, in the imminence of marriage, her
trepidation was composure itself compared to the anxiety which seemed to
assail him. All he had thought of was the license and the clergyman; and
they had attended to those matters together. But she had wished him to
have Jack Cairns present, and had told him that she desired to ask some
friend of her girlhood to be her bridesmaid.

"Have you done so?" he inquired, as they descended the heights of
Morningside, the beautiful weather tempting them to a long homeward
stroll through Central Park.

"Yes, Jim, I must tell you about her. She, like myself, is not a girl
that men of your sort might expect to meet----"

"The loss is ours, Jacqueline."

"That is very sweet of you. Only I had better tell you about Cynthia
Lessler----"

"Who?" he asked, astonished.

"Cynthia Lessler, my girlhood friend."

"She is an actress, isn't she?"

"Yes. Her home life was very unhappy. But I think she has much talent,
too."

"She has."

"I am glad you think so. Anyway, she is my oldest friend, and I have
asked her to be my bridesmaid to-morrow."

He continued silent beside her so long that she said timidly:

"Do you mind, Jim?"

"I was only thinking--how it might look in the papers--and there are
other girls you already know whose names would mean a lot----"

"Yes, I know. But I don't want to pretend to be what I am not, even in
the papers. I suppose I do need all the social corroboration I can have.
I know what you mean, dear. But there were reasons. I thought it all
over. Cynthia is an old friend, not very happy, not the fortunate and
blessed girl that your love is making of me. But she is good and sweet
and loyal to me, and I can't abandon old friends, especially one who is
not very fortunate--and I--I thought perhaps it might help her a
little--in various ways--to be my bridesmaid."

"That is like you," he said, reddening. "You never say or do anything
but there lies in it some primary lesson in decency to me."

"You goose! Isn't it natural for a girl to wish for her oldest friend at
such a time? That's really all there is to the matter. And I do hope you
will like Cynthia."

He nodded, preoccupied. After a few moments he said:

"Did you know that Jack Cairns had met her?"

"Yes."

"Oh!" His troubled eyes sought hers, then shifted.

"That was another reason I wish to ask her," she said in a low voice.

"What reason?"

"Because Mr. Cairns knew her only as a very young, very lonely, very
unhappy girl, inexperienced, friendless, poor, almost shelterless; and
engaged in a profession upon which it is almost traditional for men to
prey. And I wish him to know her again as a girl who is slowly
advancing in an honest profession--as a modest, sweet, self-respecting
woman--and as my friend."

"And mine," he said.

"You--darling!" she whispered.



CHAPTER XIII


They were married in the morning at St. George's in Stuyvesant Square.

Gay little flurries of snow, like wind-blown petals from an apple bough,
were turning golden in the warm outbreak of brilliant sunshine; and
there was blue sky overhead and shining wet pavements under foot as
Jacqueline and Desboro came out of the shadows of the old-time church
into the fresh splendour of the early morning.

The solemn beauty of the service still possessed and enthralled them.
Except for a low word or two, they were inclined to silence.

But the mating sparrows were not; everywhere the little things, brown
wings a-quiver, chattered and chirped in the throes of courtship; now
and then, from some high façade rang out the clear, sweet whistle of a
starling; and along the warm, wet streets ragged children were selling
violets and narcissus, and yellow tulips tinted as delicately as the
pale spring sunshine.

A ragged little girl came to stare at Jacqueline, the last unsold bunch
of wilted violets lying on her tray; and Jacqueline laid the cluster
over the prayer-book which she was carrying, while Desboro slipped a
golden coin into the child's soiled hand.

Down the street his chauffeur was cranking the car; and while they
waited for it to draw up along the curb, Jacqueline separated a few
violets from the faintly fragrant cluster and placed them between the
leaves of her prayer-book.

After a few moments he said, under his breath:

"Do you realise that we are married, Jacqueline?"

"No. Do you?"

"I'm trying to comprehend it, but I can't seem to. How soft the breeze
blows! It is already spring in Stuyvesant Square."

"The Square is lovely! They will be setting out hyacinths soon, I
think." She shivered. "It's strange," she said, "but I feel rather cold.
Am I horridly pale, Jim?"

"You are a trifle colourless--but even prettier than I ever saw you," he
whispered, turning up the collar of her fur coat around her throat. "You
haven't taken cold, have you?"

"No; it is--natural--I suppose. Miracles frighten one at first."

Their eyes met; she tried to smile. After a moment he said nervously:

"I sent out the announcements. The evening papers will have them."

"I want to see them, Jim."

"You shall. I have ordered all this evening's and to-morrow morning's
papers. They will be sent to Silverwood."

The car rolled up along the curb and stopped.

"Can't I take you to your office?" he whispered.

"No, dear."

She laid one slim hand on his arm and stood for a moment looking at him.

"How pale you are!" he said again, under his breath.

"Brides are apt to be. It's only a swift and confused dream to me
yet--all that has happened to us to-day; and even this sunshine seems
unreal--like the first day of spring in paradise!"

She bent her proud little head and stood in silence as though unseen
hands still hovered above her, and unseen lips were still pronouncing
her his wife. Then, lifting her eyes, winningly and divinely beautiful,
she looked again on this man whom the world was to call her husband.

"Will you be ready at five?" he whispered.

"Yes."

They lingered a moment longer; he said:

"I don't know how I am going to endure life without you until five
o'clock."

She said seriously: "I can't bear to leave you, Jim. But you know you
have almost as many things to do as I have."

"As though a man could attend to _things_ on his wedding day!"

"This girl _has_ to. I don't know how I am ever going to go through the
last odds and ends of business--but it's got to be managed somehow. Do
you really think we had better go up to Silverwood in the car? Won't
this snow make the roads bad? It may not have melted in the country."

"Oh, it's all right! And I'll have you to myself in the car----"

"Suppose we are ditched?" She shivered again, then forced a little
laugh. "Do you know, it doesn't seem possible to me that I am going to
be your wife to-morrow, too, and the next day, and the next, and always,
year after year. Somehow, it seems as though our dream were already
ending--that I shall not see you at five o'clock--that it is all
unreal----"

The smile faded, and into her blue eyes came something resembling
fear--gone instantly--but the hint of it had been there, whatever it
was; and the ghost of it still lingered in her white, flower-like face.

She whispered, forcing the smile again: "Happiness sometimes frightens;
and it is making me a little afraid, I think. Come for me at five, Jim,
and try to make me comprehend that nothing in the world can ever harm
us. Tell your man where to take me--but only to the corner of my street,
please."

He opened the limousine door; she stepped in, and he wrapped the robe
around her. A cloud over the sun had turned the world grey for a moment.
Again she seemed to feel the sudden chill in the air, and tried to shake
it off.

"Look at Mr. Cairns and Cynthia," she whispered, leaning forward from
her seat and looking toward the church.

He turned. Cairns and Miss Lessler had emerged from the portico and were
lingering there in earnest consultation, quite oblivious of them.

"Do you like her, Jim?" she asked.

He smiled.

"I didn't notice her very much--or Jack either. A man isn't likely to
notice anybody at such a time--except the girl he is marrying----"

"Look at her now. Don't you think her expression is very sweet?"

"It's all right. Dear, do you suppose I can fix my attention on----"

"You absurd boy! Are you really as much in love with me as that? Please
be nice to her. Would you mind going back and speaking to her when I
drive away?"

"All right," he said.

Their glances lingered for a moment more; then he drew a quick, sharp
breath, closed the limousine door, and spoke briefly to the chauffeur.

As long as the car remained in sight across the square, he watched it;
then, when it had disappeared, he turned toward the church. But Cairns
and Cynthia were already far down the street, walking side by side, very
leisurely, apparently absorbed in conversation. They must have seen him.
Perhaps they had something more interesting to say to each other than to
him.

He followed them irresolutely for a few steps, then, as the idea
persisted that they might not desire his company, he turned and started
west across the sunny, wet pavement.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was quite true that Cairns and Cynthia had seen him; also it was a
fact that neither had particularly wanted him to join them at that exact
moment.

Meeting at St. George's for the first time in two years, and although
prepared for the encounter, these two, who had once known each other so
well, experienced a slight shock when they met. The momentary contact of
her outstretched hand and his hand left them both very silent; even the
formal commonplaces had failed them after the first swift, curious
glance had been exchanged.

Cairns noticed that she had grown taller and slenderer. And though there
seemed to be no more of maturity to her than to the young girl he had
once known, her poise and self-control were now in marked contrast to
the impulsive and slightly nervous Cynthia he had found so amusing in
callower days.

Once or twice during the ceremony he had ventured to glance sideways at
her. In the golden half-light of the altar there seemed to be an
unfamiliar dignity and sweetness about the girl that became her. And in
the delicate oval of her face he thought he discerned those finer,
nobler contours made by endurance, by self-denial, and by sorrow.

Later, when he saw her kiss Jacqueline, something in the sweet sincerity
of the salute suddenly set a hidden chord vibrating within him; and, to
his surprise, he found speech difficult for a moment, checked by
emotions for which there seemed no reason.

And at last Jacqueline and Desboro went away, and Cynthia slowly turned
to him, offering her hand in adieu.

"Mr. Cairns," she said quietly, "this is the last place on earth that
you and I ever thought to meet. Perhaps it is to be our last meeting
place. So--I will say good-bye----"

"May I not walk home with you? Or, if you prefer to drive, my car is
here----" he began.

"Thank you; it's only to the theatre--if you care to walk with me----"

"Are you rehearsing?"

"There is a rehearsal called for eleven."

"Shall we drive or walk, Cynthia?"

"I prefer to walk. Please don't feel that you ought to go back with me."

He said, reddening: "I do not remember that my sense of duty toward you
has ever been persistent enough to embarrass either of us."

"Of course not. Why should you ever have felt that you owed any duty to
me?"

"I did not say that I ever felt it."

"Of course not. You owed me none."

"That is a different matter. Obligations once sat very lightly on my
shoulders."

"You owe me none," she repeated smilingly, as they emerged from the
church into the warm March sunshine.

He was saying: "But isn't friendship an obligation, Cynthia?"

She laughed: "Friendship is merely an imaginary creation, and exists
only until the imagination wearies. That is not original," she added.
"It is in the new Barrie comedy we are rehearsing."

She turned her pretty head and glanced down the street where Jacqueline
and Desboro still stood beside the car. Cairn's car was also waiting,
and its owner made a signal to the chauffeur that he did not need him.

Looking at Jacqueline, Cynthia said:

"Long ago I knew that she was fitted for a marriage such as this--or a
better one," she added in a lower voice.

"A better one?" he repeated, surprised.

"Yes," she nodded calmly. "Can you not imagine a more desirable marriage
for a girl?"

"Don't you _like_ Desboro?" he demanded.

"I like him--considering the fact that I scarcely know him. He has very
handsome and very reckless eyes, but a good mouth. To look at him for
the first time a woman would be inclined to like him--but he might
hesitate to trust him. I had hoped Jacqueline might marry a professional
man--considerably older than Mr. Desboro. That is all I meant."

He said, looking at her smilingly but curiously: "Have you any idea,
Cynthia, how entirely you have changed in two years?"

She shook her head: "I haven't changed."

"Indeed you have----"

"Only superficially. What I was born I shall always be. Years teach
endurance and self-control--if they teach anything. All one can learn is
how to control and direct what one already is."

"The years have taught you a lot," he murmured, astonished.

"I have been to school to many masters, Mr. Cairns; I have studied under
Sorrow; graduated under Poverty and Loneliness; and I am now taking a
finishing course with Experience. Truly enough, I should have learned
_something_, as you say, by this time. Besides, _you_, also, once were
kind enough to be interested in my education. Why should I not have
learned something?"

He winced and bit his lip, watching Desboro and Jacqueline below. And,
after a moment:

"Shall we walk?" she suggested, smilingly.

He fell into step beside her. Half way down the block she glanced back.
Desboro was already crossing the square; the limousine had disappeared.

"I wonder sometimes," she remarked, "what has become of all those
amusing people we once knew so well--Marianne Valdez, Jessie Dain,
Reggie Ledyard, Van Alstyne. Do you ever see them any more?"

"Yes."

"And are they quite as gay and crazy as ever?"

"They're a bit wild--sometimes."

"Do they ever speak of me? I--wonder," she mused, aloud.

"Yes. They know, of course, what a clever girl you have turned into. It
isn't usual, you know, to graduate from a girlie show into the legit.
And I was talking to Schindler the other evening; and he had to admit
that he had seen nothing extraordinary in you when you were with his
noisy shows. It's funny, isn't it?"

"Slightly."

"Besides, you were such a wild little thing--don't you remember what
crazy things we used to do, you and I----"

"Did I? Yes, I remember. In those days a good dinner acted on me like
champagne. You see I was very often hungry, and when I wasn't starved it
went to my head."

"You need not have wanted for anything!" he said sharply.

"Oh, no! But I preferred the pangs of hunger to the pangs of
conscience," she retorted gaily.

"I didn't mean that. There was no string to what I offered you, and you
know it! And you know it now!"

"Certainly I do," she said calmly. "You mean to be very kind, Jack."

"Then why the devil didn't----"

"Why didn't I accept food and warmth and raiment and lodging from a
generous and harebrained young man? I'll tell you now, if you wish. It
was because my conscience forbade me to accept all and offer nothing in
return."

"Nonsense! I didn't ask----"

"I know you didn't. But I couldn't give, so I wouldn't take. Besides, we
were together too much. I knew it. I think even you began to realise it,
too. The situation was impossible. So I went on the road."

"You never answered any of those letters of mine."

"Mentally I answered every one."

"A lot of good that did me!"

"It did us both a lot of good. I meant to write to you some day--when my
life had become busy enough to make it difficult for me to find time to
write."

He looked up at her sharply, and she laughed and swung her muff.

"I suppose," he said, "now that the town talks about you a little, you
will have no time to waste on mere Johnnies."

"Well, I don't know. When a mere Johnnie is also a Jack, it makes a
difference--doesn't it? Do you think that you would care to see me
again?"

"Of course I do."

"The tickets," she said demurely, "are three dollars--two weeks in
advance----"

"I know that by experience."

"Oh! Then you _have_ seen 'The Better Way'?"

"Certainly."

"Do you like--the show?"

"You are the best of it. Yes, I like it."

"It's my first chance. Did you know that? If poor little Graham hadn't
been so ill, I'd never have had a look in. They wouldn't give me
anything--except in a way I couldn't accept it. I tell you, Jack, I was
desperate. There seemed to be absolutely no chance unless I--paid."

"Why didn't you write me and let me----"

"You know why."

"It would have been reward enough to see you make good--and put it all
over that bald-headed, dog-faced----"

"My employer, please remember," she said, pretending to reprove him.
"And, Jack, he's amusingly decent to me now. Men are really beginning to
be kind. Walbaum's people have written to me, and O'Rourke sent for me,
and I'm just beginning to make professional enemies, too, which is the
surest sign that I'm almost out of the ranks. If I could only study! Now
is the time! I know it; I feel it keenly--I realise how much I lack in
education! You see I only went to high-school. It's a mercy that my
English isn't hopeless----"

"It's good! It's better than I ever supposed it would be----"

"I know. I used to be careless. But what can you expect? After I left
home you know the sort of girls I was thrown among. Fortunately, father
was educated--if he was nothing else. My degeneracy wasn't permanent.
Also, I had been thrown with Jacqueline, and with you----"

"Fine educational model I am!"

"And," she continued, not heeding him, "when I met you, and men like
you, I was determined that whatever else happened to me my English
should not degenerate. Jacqueline helped me so much. I tried to study,
too, when I was not on the road with the show. But if only I could
study now--study seriously for a year or two!"

"What do you wish to study, Cynthia?" he asked carelessly.

"English! Also French and German and Italian. I would like to study what
girls in college study. Then I'd like to learn stage dancing thoroughly.
And, of course, I'm simply crazy to take a course in dramatic art----"

"But you already know a lot! Every paper spoke well of you----"

"Oh, Jack! Does that mean anything--when I know that I don't know
anything!"

"Rot! Can you beat professional experience as an educator?"

"I'm not quite ready for it----"

"Very well. If you feel that way, will you be a good sort, Cynthia, and
let me----"

"No!"

"I ask you merely to let me take a flyer!"

"No, Jack."

"Why can't I take a flyer? Why can't I have the pleasure of speculating
on a perfectly sure thing? It's a million to nothing that you'll make
good. For the love of Mike, Cynthia, borrow the needful and----"

"From _you_?"

"Naturally."

"No, Jack!"

"Why not? Why cut off your nose to spite your face? What difference does
it make where you get it as long as it's a decent deal? You can't afford
to take two or three years off to complete your education----"

"Begin it, you mean."

"I mean finish it! You can't afford to; but if you'll borrow the money
you'll make good in exactly one-tenth of the time you'd otherwise take
to arrive----"

"Jack, I won't discuss it with you. I know you are generous and
kind----"

"I'm _not_! I'm anything _but_! For heaven's sake let a man indulge his
vanity, Cynthia. Imagine my pride when you are famous! Picture my
bursting vanity as I sit in front and tell everybody near me that the
credit is all mine; that if it were not for me you would be nowhere!"

"It's so like you," she said sweetly. "You always were an inordinate
boaster, so I am not going to encourage you."

"Can't you let me make you a business loan at exorbitant interest
without expiring of mortification?"

They had reached the theatre; a few loafers sunning themselves by the
stage entrance leered at them.

"Hush, Jack! I can't discuss it with you. But you know how grateful I
am, don't you?"

"No, I don't----" he said sulkily.

"You are cross now, but you'll see it as I do half an hour hence."

"No, I won't!" he insisted.

She laughed: "_You_ haven't changed, at all events, have you? It takes
me back years to see that rather becoming scowl gather over the bridge
of your ornamental nose. But it is very nice to know that you haven't
entirely forgotten me; that we are still friends."

"Where are you living, Cynthia?"

She told him, adding: "Do you really mean to come?"

"Watch me!" he said, almost savagely, took off his hat, shook her hand
until her fingers ached, and marched off still scowling.

The stage loafers shifted quids and looked after him with sneers.

"Trun out!" observed one.

"All off!" nodded another.

The third merely spat and slowly closed his disillusioned and
leisure-weary eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cairns' energetic pace soon brought him to the Olympian Club, where he
was accustomed to lunch, it being convenient to his office, which was on
Forty-sixth Street.

Desboro, who, at Jacqueline's request, had gone back to business,
appeared presently and joined Cairns at a small table.

"Anything doing at the office?" inquired the latter. "I suppose you were
too nervous and upset to notice the market though."

"Well, ask yourself how much _you'd_ feel like business after marrying
the most glorious and wonderful----"

"Ring off! I concede everything. It is going to make some splash in the
papers. Yes? Lord! I wish you could have had a ripping big wedding
though! Wouldn't she have looked the part? Oh, no!"

"It couldn't be helped," said Desboro in a low, chagrined voice. "I'd
have given the head off my shoulders to have had the sort of a wedding
to which she was entitled. But--I couldn't."

Cairns nodded, not, however, understanding; and as Desboro offered no
explanation, he remained unenlightened.

"Rather odd," he remarked, "that she didn't wish to have Aunt Hannah
with her at the fatal moment. They're such desperate chums these days."

"She did want her. I wouldn't have her."

"Is that so?"

"It is. I'll tell you why some day. In fact, I don't mind telling you
now. Aunt Hannah has it in for me. She's a devil sometimes. You know it
and I do. She has it in for me just now. She's wrong; she's made a
mistake; but I couldn't tell her anything. You can't tell that sort of a
woman anything, once she's made up her mind. And the fact is, Jack,
she's already made up her mind that I was not to marry Jacqueline. And I
was afraid of her. And _that's_ why I married Jacqueline this way."

Cairns stared.

"So now," added Desboro, "you know how it happened."

"Quite so. Rotten of her, wasn't it?"

"She didn't mean it that way. She got a fool idea into her head, that's
all. Only I was afraid she'd tell it to Jacqueline."

"I see."

"That's what scared me. I didn't know what she might tell Jacqueline.
She threatened to tell her--things. And it would have involved a
perfectly innocent woman and myself--put me in a corner where I couldn't
decently explain the real facts to Jacqueline. Now, thank God, it's too
late for Aunt Hannah to make mischief."

Cairns nodded, thinking of Mrs. Clydesdale. And whatever he personally
was inclined to believe, he knew that gossip was not dealing very
leniently with that young wife and the man who sat on the other side of
the table, nervously pulling to pieces his unlighted cigarette.

       *       *       *       *       *

But it needed no rumour, no hearsay evidence, no lifted eyebrows, no
shrugs, no dubious smiles, no half-hearted defence of Elena Clydesdale,
to thoroughly convince Mrs. Hammerton of Desboro's utter unfitness as a
husband for the motherless girl she had begun to love with a devotion so
fierce that at present it could brook no rival at all of either sex.

For Mrs. Hammerton had never before loved. She had once supposed that
she loved her late husband, but soon came to regard him as a poor sort
of thing. She had been extremely fond of Desboro, too, in her own way,
but in the vivid fire of this new devotion to Jacqueline, any tenderness
she ever might have cherished for that young man was already consumed
and sacrificed to a cinder in the fiercer flame.

Into her loneliness, into her childless solitude, into the hardness,
cynicism, and barren emptiness of her latter years, a young girl had
stepped from nowhere, and she had suddenly filled her whole life with
the swift enchantment of love.

A word or two, a smile, the magic of two arms upon her bony shoulders,
the shy touch of youthful lips--these were the very simple ingredients
which apparently had transmuted the brass and tinsel and moral squalor
of Aunt Hannah's life into charming reality.

From sudden tenderness to grim love, to jealous, watchful, passionate
adoration--these were the steps Mrs. Hammerton had taken in the brief
interval of time that had elapsed since she had first seen Jacqueline.

Into the clear, truthful eyes she had looked, and had seen within only
an honest mind and a clean young soul. Wisdom, too, only lacking in
experience, she divined there; and less of wisdom than of intelligence;
and less of that than of courage. And it all was so clear, so perfectly
apparent to the cold and experienced scrutiny of the woman of the world,
that, for a while, she could not entirely believe what she understood at
the first glance.

When she _was_ convinced, she surrendered. And never before in all her
unbelieving, ironical, and material career had she experienced such a
thrill of overwhelming delight as when, that evening at Silverwood,
Jacqueline had drawn her head down and had touched her dry forehead with
warm, young lips.

Everything about the girl fascinated her--her independence and courage;
her adorable bashfulness in matters where experience had made others
callous--in such little things, for example, as the response to an
invitation, the meeting with fashionable strangers--but it was only the
nice, friendly, and thoroughbred shyness of inexperience, not the
awkwardness of under-breeding or of that meaner vanity called
self-consciousness.

Poor herself, predatory, clever, hard as nails, her beady eyes ever
alert for the main chance, she felt for the first time in her life the
real bitterness of comparative poverty--which is the inability to give
where one loves.

She had no illusions; she knew that what she had to offer the girl would
soon pall; that Jacqueline would choose her own friends among the sane
and simple and sincere, irrespective of social and worldly
considerations; that no glitter, no sham, no tinsel could permanently
hold her attention; no lesser ambition seduce her; no folly ever awake
her laughter more than once. What the girl saw she would understand;
and, in future, she would choose for herself what she cared to see and
know of a new world now gradually opening before her.

But in the meantime Jacqueline must see before she could learn, and
before she could make up her mind what to discard and what to retain.

So Mrs. Hammerton had planned that Jacqueline should be very busy during
March and April; and her patience was sorely tried when she found that,
for a week or two, the girl could give her only a very few minutes every
other day.

At first it was a grim consolation to her that Jacqueline still remained
too busy to see anybody, because that meant that Desboro, too, would be
obliged to keep his distance.

For at first Mrs. Hammerton did not believe that the girl could be
seriously interested in Desboro; in fact, she had an idea that, so far,
all the sentiment was on Desboro's side. And both Jacqueline's reticence
and her calm cordiality in speaking of Desboro were at first mistaken by
Aunt Hannah for the symptoms of a friendship not sentimentally
significant.

But the old lady's doubts soon became aroused; she began to watch
Jacqueline askance--began to test her, using all her sly cleverness and
skill. Slowly her uncertainty, uneasiness, and suspicion changed to
anger and alarm.

If she had been more than angry and suspicious--if she had been
positive, she would not have hesitated an instant. For on one matter she
was coldly determined; the girl should not marry Desboro, or any such
man as Desboro. It made no difference to her whether Desboro might be
really in love with her. He was not fit for her; he was a man of weak
character, idle, useless, without purpose or ability, who would never
amount to anything or be anything except what he already was--an
agreeable, graceful, amusing, acceptable item in the sort of society
which he decorated.

She knew and despised that breed of youth; New York was full of them,
and they were even less endurable to her than the similar species extant
in England and on the Continent; for the New York sort were destitute of
the traditions which had created the real kind--and there was no excuse
for them, not even the sanction of custom. They were merely imitation of
a more genuine degeneracy. And she held them in contempt.

She told Jacqueline this, as she was saying good-night on Saturday, and
was alarmed and silenced by the girl's deep flush of colour; and she
went home in her scrubby brougham, scared and furious by turns, and
determined to settle Desboro's business for him without further
hesitation.

Sunday Jacqueline could not see her; and the suspicion that the girl
might be with Desboro almost drove the old lady crazy. Monday, too,
Jacqueline told her over the telephone would be a very busy day; and
Aunt Hannah acquiesced grimly, determined to waste no further time at
the telephone and take no more chances, but go straight to Jacqueline
and take her into her arms and tell her what a mother would tell her
about Desboro, and how, at that very hour perhaps, he was with Mrs.
Clydesdale; and what the world suspected, and what she herself knew of
an intrigue that had been shamelessly carried into the very house which
had sheltered Jacqueline within a day or two.

So on Monday morning Mrs. Hammerton went to see Jacqueline; and,
learning that the girl had gone out early, marched home again, sat down
at her desk, and wrote her a letter.

When she had finished she honestly believed that she had also finished
Desboro; and, grimly persuaded that she had done a mother's duty by the
motherless, she summoned a messenger and sent off the letter to a girl,
who, at that very moment, had returned to her desk, a wife.

The rapid reaction from the thrilling experience of the morning had made
Jacqueline nervous and unfit for business, even before she arrived at
her office. But she entered the office resolutely and seated herself at
her desk, summoning all her reserve of self-control to aid her in
concentrating her mind on the business in hand.

First she read her morning's mail and dictated her answers to a
red-headed stenographer. Next she received Lionel Sissly, disposed of
his ladylike business with her; sent for Mr. Mirk, went over with him
his report of the shop sales, revised and approved the list of prices to
be ticketed on new acquisitions, re-read the sheaf of dictated letters
laid before her by the red-headed stenographer, signed them, and sent
down for the first client on the appointment-list.

The first on the list was a Mr. Hyman Dobky; and his three months' note
had gone to protest, and Mr. Dobky wept.

She was not very severe with him, because he was a Lexington Avenue
dealer just beginning in a small way, and she believed him to be honest
at heart. He retired comforted, swabbing his eyes with his cuff.

Then came a furtive pair, Orrin Munger, the "Cubist" poet, and his
loud-voiced, swaggering confrère, Adalbert Waudle, author of "Black
Roses" and other phenomena which, some people whispered, resembled
blackmail.

It had been with greatest reluctance, and only because it was a matter
concerning a client, that she had consented to receive the dubious pair.
She had not forgotten her experience with the "Cubist," and his
suggestion for an informal Italian trip, and had never again desired or
expected to see him.

He now offered her an abnormally flat and damp hand; and hers went
behind her back and remained there clasped together, as she stood
inspecting Mr. Munger with level eyes that harboured lightning.

She said quietly: "My client, Mr. Clydesdale, recently requested my
opinion concerning certain jades, crystals and Chinese porcelains
purchased by him from you and from Mr. Waudle. I have, so far, examined
some twenty specimens. Every specimen examined by me is a forgery."

[Illustration: "Mr. Waudle gaped at her like a fat and expiring fish;
the poet ... said not a word"]

Mr. Waudle, taken completely by surprise, gaped at her like a fat and
expiring fish; the poet turned a dull and muddy red, and said not a
word.

"So," added Jacqueline coldly, "at Mr. Clydesdale's request I have asked
you to come here and explain the situation to me."

Waudle, writer of "Pithy Points" for the infamous _Tattler_, recovered
his wits first.

"Miss Nevers," he said menacingly, "do you mean to insinuate that I am a
swindler?"

"_Are_ you, Mr. Waudle?"

"That's actionable. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly. Please explain the forgeries."

The poet, who had sunk down upon a chair, now arose and began to make
elaborate gestures preliminary to a fluency of speech which had never
yet deserted him in any crisis where a lady was involved.

"My dear child----" he began.

"_What!_" cut in Jacqueline crisply.

"My--my dear and--and honored, but very youthful and inexperienced young
lady," he stammered, a trifle out of countenance under the fierce
glimmer in her eyes, "do you, for one moment, suppose that such a writer
as Mr. Waudle would imperil his social and literary reputation for the
sake of a few wretched dollars!"

"Fifteen thousand," commented Jacqueline quietly.

"Exactly. Fifteen thousand contemptible dollars--inartistically
designed," he added, betraying a tendency to wander from the main point;
and was generously proceeding to instruct her in the art of coin design
when she brought him back to the point with a shock.

"_You_, also, are involved in this questionable transaction," she said
coldly. "Can you explain these forgeries?"

"F-forgeries!" he repeated, forcibly injecting indignation into the
exclamation; but his eyes grew very round, as though frightened, and a
spinal limpness appeared which threatened the stability of his knees.

But the poet's fluency had not yet deserted him; he opened both arms in
a gesture suggesting absolute confidence in a suspicious and inartistic
world.

"I am quite guiltless of deception," he said, using a slight tremolo.
"Permit me to protest against your inexperienced judgment in the matter
of these ancient and precious specimens of Chinese art; I protest!" he
exclaimed earnestly. "I protest in the name of that symbol of mystery
and beauty--that occult lunar _something_, my dear young lady, which we
both worship, and which the world calls the moon----"

"I beg your pardon----" she interrupted; but the poet was launched and
she could not check him.

"I protest," he continued shrilly, "in the name of Art! In the name of
all that is worth while, all that matters, all that counts, all that is
meaningful, sacred, precious beyond price----"

"Mr. Munger!"

"I protest in the name of----"

"_Mr. Munger!_"

"Eh!" he said, coming to and rolling his round, washed-out eyes toward
her.

"Be kind enough to listen," she said curtly. "I am compelled to
interrupt you because to-day I am a very busy person. So I am going to
be as brief with you as possible. This, then, is the situation as I
understand it. A month or so ago you and your friend, Mr. Waudle,
notified Mr. Clydesdale that you had just returned from Pekin with a
very unusual collection of ancient Chinese art, purchased by you, as you
stated, from a certain Chinese prince."

The faint note of scorn in her voice did not escape the poet, who turned
redder and muddier and made a picturesque gesture of world-wide appeal;
but no words came from either manufacturer of literary phrases; Waudle
only closed his cod-like mouth, and the eyes set in his fat face became
small and cunning like something in the farthest corner of a trap.

Jacqueline continued gravely: "At your solicitation, I understand, and
depending upon your representations, my client, Mr. Clydesdale,
purchased from you this collection----"

"We offered no guarantees with it," interrupted Waudle thickly.
"Besides, his wife advised him to buy the collection. I am an old and
valued friend of Mrs. Clydesdale. She would never dream of demanding a
guarantee from _me_! Ask her if----"

"What _is_ a guarantee?" inquired Jacqueline. "I'm quite certain that
you don't know, Mr. Waudle. And did you and Mr. Munger regard your
statement concerning the Chinese prince as poetic license? Or as
diverting fiction? Or what? You were not writing romance, you know. You
were engaged in business. So I must ask you again who is this prince?"

"There was a prince," retorted Waudle sullenly. "Can you prove there
wasn't?"

"There are several princes in China. And now I am obliged to ask you to
state distinctly exactly how many of these porcelains, jades and
crystals which you sold to Mr. Clydesdale were actually purchased by you
from this particular Chinese prince?"

"Most of them," said Waudle, defiantly. "Prove the contrary if you can!"

"Not _all_ of them, then--as you assured Mr. Clydesdale?"

"I didn't say all."

"I am afraid you did, Mr. Waudle. I am afraid you even _wrote_ it--over
your own signature."

"Very well," said Waudle, with a large and careless sweep of his hand,
"if any doubt remains in Mr. Clydesdale's mind, I am fully prepared to
take back whatever specimens may not actually have come from the
prince----"

"There were _some_, then, which did not?"

"One or two, I believe."

"And who is this Chinese prince, Mr. Waudle?" she repeated, not smiling.
"What is his name?"

Munger answered; he knew exactly what answer to make, and how to deliver
it with flowing gestures. He had practised it long enough:

"When I was travelling with His Excellency T'ang-K'ai-Sun by rail from
Szechuan to Pekin to visit Prince----"

"The railroad is not built," interrupted the girl drily. "You could not
have travelled that way."

Both men regarded her as though paralysed by her effrontery.

"Continue, please," she nodded.

The poet swallowed nothing very fast and hard, and waved his damp hand
at her:

"Tuan-Fang, Viceroy of Wuchang----"

"He happens to be Viceroy of Nanking," observed the girl.

Waudle, frightened, lost his temper and turned on her, exasperated:

"Be careful! Your insinuations involve our honour and are actionable! Do
you realise what you are saying?"

"Perfectly."

"I fear not. Do you imagine you are competent to speak with authority
about China and its people and its complex and mysterious art when you
have never been in the country?"

"I have seen a little of China, Mr. Waudle. But I do not pretend to
speak with undue authority about it."

"You say you've been in China?" His tone of disbelief was loud and
bullying.

"I was in China with my father when I was a girl of sixteen."

"Oh! Perhaps you speak Chinese!" he sneered.

She looked at him gravely, not answering.

He laughed: "Now, Miss Nevers, you have intimated that we are liars and
swindlers. Let's see how much you know for an expert! You pretend to be
an authority on things Chinese. You will then understand me when I say:
'Jen chih ch'u, Hsing pen shan----'"

"I do understand you, Mr. Waudle," she cut in contemptuously. "You are
repeating the 'three-word-classic,' which every school-child in China
knows, and it merely means 'Men when born are naturally good.' I think I
may qualify in Chinese as far as San Tzu Ching and his nursery rhymes.
And I think we have had enough of this dodging----"

The author flushed hotly.

"Do you speak Wenli?" he demanded, completely flustered.

"Do _you_?" she retorted impatiently.

"I do," he asserted boldly.

"Indeed!"

"I may even say that I speak very fluently the--the literary language
of China--or Wenli, as it is commonly called."

"That is odd," she said, "because the literary language of China,
commonly called Wenli, is not and never has been spoken. It is only a
written language, Mr. Waudle."

The Cubist had now gone quite to pieces. From his colourless mop of
bushy hair to the fringe on his ankle-high trousers, he presented a
study in deep dejection. Only his round, pale, parrot-like eyes remained
on duty, staring unwinkingly at her.

"Were _you_ ever actually in China?" she asked, looking around at him.

The terrified poet feebly pointed to the author of "Black Roses."

"Oh!" she said. "Were _you_ in China, Mr. Waudle, or only in Japan?"

But Mr. Waudle found nothing further to say.

"Because," she said, "in Japan sometimes one is deceived into buying
alleged Chinese jades and crystals and porcelains. I am afraid that you
were deceived. I hope you were honestly deceived. What you have sold to
Mr. Clydesdale as jade is not jade. And the porcelains are not what you
represented them to be."

"That's where _you_ make a mistake!" shouted Waudle loudly. "I've had
the inscription on every vase translated, and I can prove it! How much
of an expert are you? Hey?"

"If _you_ were an expert," she explained wearily, "you would understand
that inscriptions on Chinese porcelains are not trustworthy. Even
hundreds of years ago forgeries were perpetrated by the Chinese who
desired to have their works of art mistaken for still more ancient
masterpieces; and so the ancient and modern makers of porcelains
inscribed them accordingly. Only when an antique porcelain itself
conforms to the inscription it bears do we venture to accept that
inscription. Never otherwise."

Waudle, hypnotised, stood blinking at her, bereft of speech, almost of
reason.

The poet piped feebly: "It was not our fault! We were brutally deceived
in Japan. And, oh! The bitter deception to me! The cruelty of the
awakening!" He got up out of his chair; words and gestures were once
again at his command; tears streaked his pasty cheeks.

"Miss Nevers! My dear and honoured young lady! You know--_you_ among all
women must realise how precious to me is the moon! Sacred, worshipped,
adored--desired far more than the desire for gold--yea, than much fine
gold! Sweeter, also, than honey in the honeycomb!" he sobbed. "And it
was a pair of moon vases, black as midnight, pearl-orbed, lacquered,
mystic, wonderful, that lured me----"

"A damned Japanese in Tokio worked them off on us!" broke out the author
of "Black Roses," hoarsely. "That was the beginning. What are you going
to do about it? You've got us all right, Miss Nevers. The Jap did us. We
did the next man. If you want to send us up, I suppose you can! I don't
care. I can't keep soul and body together by selling what I write. I
tell you I've starved half my life--and when I hear about the stuff that
sells--all these damned best sellers--all this cheap fiction that people
buy--while they neglect me--it breaks my heart----"

He turned sharply and passed his hand over his face. It was not an
attitude; for a fraction of a second it was the real thing. Yet, even
while the astonished poet was peeping sideways at his guilty companion,
a verse suggested itself to him; and, quite unconsciously, he began to
fumble in his pockets for a pencil, while the tears still glistened on
his cheeks.

"Mr. Waudle," said Jacqueline, "I am really sorry for you. Because this
is a very serious affair."

There was a silence; then she reseated herself at her desk.

"My client, Mr. Clydesdale, is not vindictive. He has no desire to
humiliate you publicly. But he is justly indignant. And I know he will
insist that you return to him what money he paid you for your
collection."

Waudle started dramatically, forgetting his genuine emotion of the
moment before.

"Does this rich man mean to ruin me!" he demanded, making his resonant
voice tremble.

"On the contrary," she explained gently, "all he wants is the money he
paid you."

As that was the only sort of ruin which Mr. Waudle had been fearing, he
pressed his clenched fists into his eyes. He had never before possessed
so much money. The mere idea of relinquishing it infuriated him; and he
turned savagely on Jacqueline, hesitated, saw it was useless. For there
remained nothing further to say to such a she-devil of an expert. He had
always detested women anyway; whenever he had any money they had gotten
it in one way or another. The seven thousand, his share, would have gone
the same way. Now it was going back into a fat, rich man's capacious
pockets--unless Mrs. Clydesdale might be persuaded to intervene. She
could say that _she_ wanted the collection. Why not? She had aided him
before in emergencies--unwillingly, it is true--but what of that? No
doubt she'd do it again--if he scared her sufficiently.

Jacqueline waited a moment longer; then rose from her desk in signal
that the interview was at an end.

Waudle slouched out first, his oblong, evil head hanging in a
picturesque attitude of noble sorrow. The Cubist shambled after him,
wrapped in abstraction, his round, pale, bird-like eyes partly sheathed
under bluish eyelids that seemed ancient and wrinkled.

He was already quite oblivious to his own moral degradation; his mind
was completely obsessed by the dramatic spectacle which the despair of
his friend had afforded him, and by the idea for a poem with which the
episode had inspired him.

He was still absently fishing for a pencil and bit of paper when his
companion jogged his elbow:

"If we fight this business, and if that damn girl sets Clydesdale after
us, we'll have to get out. But I don't think it will come to that."

"Can you stop her, Adalbert--and retain the money?"

"By God! I'm beginning to think I can. I believe I'll drop in to see
Mrs. Clydesdale about it now. She is a very faithful friend of mine," he
added gently. "And sometimes a woman will rush in to help a fellow where
angels fear to tread."

The poet looked at him, then looked away, frightened.

"Be careful," he said, nervously.

"Don't worry. I know women. And I have an idea."

The poet of the Cubists shrugged; then, with a vague gesture:

"My mistress, the moon," he said, dreamily, "is more to me than any idea
on earth or in Heaven."

"Very fine," sneered Waudle, "but why don't you make her keep you in pin
money?"

"Adalbert," retorted the poet, "if you wish to prostitute your art, do
so. Anybody can make a mistress of his art and then live off her. But
the inviolable moon----"

"Oh, hell!" snapped the author of "Black Roses."

And they wandered on into the busy avenue, side by side, Waudle savagely
biting his heavy under-lip, both fists rammed deep into his overcoat
pockets; the Cubist wandering along beside him, a little derby hat
crowning the bunch of frizzled hair on his head, his soiled drab
trousers, ankle high, flapping in the wind.

Jacqueline glanced at them as they passed the window at the end of the
corridor, and turned hastily away, remembering the old, unhappy days
after her father's death, and how once from a window she had seen the
poet as she saw him now, frizzled, soiled, drab, disappearing into murky
perspective.

She turned wearily to her desk again. A sense of depression had been
impending--but she knew it was only the reaction from excitement and
fought it nervously.

They brought luncheon to her desk, but she sent away the tray untouched.
People came by appointment and departed, only to give place to others,
all equally persistent and wholly absorbed in their own affairs; and she
listened patiently, forcing her tired mind to sympathise and
comprehend. And, in time, everybody went away satisfied or otherwise,
but in no doubt concerning the answer she had given, favourable or
unfavourable to their desires. For that was her way in the business of
life.

At last, once more looking over her appointment list, she found that
only Clydesdale remained; and almost at the same moment, and greatly to
her surprise, Mrs. Clydesdale was announced.

"Is Mr. Clydesdale with her?" she asked the clerk, who had also handed
her a letter with the visiting card of Mrs. Clydesdale.

"The lady is alone," he said.

Jacqueline glanced at the card again. Then, thoughtfully:

"Please say to Mrs. Clydesdale that I will receive her," she said; laid
the card on the desk and picked up the letter.

It was a very thick letter and had arrived by messenger.

The address on the envelope was in Mrs. Hammerton's familiar and
vigorous back-stroke writing, and she had marked it "_Private! Personal!
Important!_" As almost every letter from her to Jacqueline bore similar
emphatic warnings, the girl smiled to herself and leisurely split the
envelope with a paper knife.

She was still intent on the letter, and was still seated at her desk
when Mrs. Clydesdale entered. And Jacqueline slowly looked up, dazed and
deathly white, as the woman about whom she had at that moment been
reading came forward to greet her. Then, with a supreme effort, she rose
from her chair, managing to find the ghost of a voice to welcome Elena,
who seemed unusually vivacious, and voluble to the verge of excitement.

[Illustration: "'My dear!' she exclaimed. 'What a perfectly charming
office!'"]

"My dear!" she exclaimed. "What a perfectly charming office! It's really
too sweet for words, Miss Nevers! It's enough to drive us all into
trade! Are you very much surprised to see me here?"

"A--little."

"It's odd--the coincidence that brought me," said Elena gaily, "--and
just a trifle embarrassing to me. And as it is rather a confidential
matter----" She drew her chair closer to the desk. "_May_ I speak to you
in fullest candour and--and implicit confidence, Miss Nevers?"

"Yes."

"Then--there is a friend of mine in very serious trouble--a man I knew
slightly before I was married. Since then I--have come to know
him--better. And I am here now to ask you to help him."

"Yes."

"Shall I tell you his name at once?"

"If you wish."

"Then--his name is Adalbert Waudle."

Jacqueline looked up at her in weary surprise.

Elena laughed feverishly: "Adalbert is only a boy--a bad one, perhaps,
but--you know that genius is queer--always unbalanced. He came to see me
at noon to-day. It's a horrid mess, isn't it--what he did to my husband?
I know all about it; and I know that Cary is wild, and that it was an
outrageous thing for Adalbert to do. But----"

Her voice trembled a little and she forced a laugh to conceal it:
"Adalbert is an old friend, Miss Nevers. I knew him as a boy. But even
so, Cary couldn't understand if I pleaded for him. My husband means to
send him to jail if he does not return the money. And--and I am sorry
for Mrs. Waudle. Besides, I like the porcelains. And I want you to
persuade Cary to keep them."

Through the whirling chaos of her thoughts, Jacqueline still strove to
understand what this excited woman was saying; made a desperate effort
to fix her attention on the words and not on the flushed and restless
young wife who was uttering them.

"Will you persuade Cary to keep the collection, Miss Nevers?"

"That is for you to do, Mrs. Clydesdale."

"I tried. I called him up at his office and asked him to keep the jades
and porcelains because I liked them. But he was very obstinate. What you
have told him about--about being swindled has made him furious. That is
why I came here. Something must be done."

"I don't think I understand you."

"There is nothing to understand. I want to keep the collection. I ask
you to convince my husband----"

"How?"

"I d--don't know," stammered Elena, crimson again. "You ought to know
how to--to do it."

"If Mr. Waudle returns your husband's money, no further action will be
taken."

"He can not," said Elena, in a low voice.

"Why?"

"He has spent it."

"Did he tell you that?"

"Yes."

"Then I am afraid that Mr. Clydesdale will have him arrested."

There was an ominous silence. Jacqueline forced her eyes away from the
terrible fascination of Elena's ghastly face, and said:

"I am sorry. But I can do nothing for you, Mrs. Clydesdale. The decision
rests with your husband."

"You _must_ help me!"

"I cannot."

"You _must_!" repeated Elena.

"How?"

"I--I don't care how you do it! But you must prevent my husband from
prosecuting Mr. Waudle! It--it has got to be done--somehow."

"What do you mean?"

Elena's face was burning and her lips quivered:

"It has got to be done! I can't tell you why."

"Can you not tell your husband?"

"No."

Jacqueline was quivering, too, clinging desperately to her self-control
under the menace of an impending horror which had already partly stunned
her.

"Are you--_afraid_ of this man?" she asked, with stiffening lips.

Elena bowed her head in desperation.

"What is it? Blackmail?"

"Yes. He once learned something. I have paid him--not to--to write it
for the--the _Tattler_. And to-day he came to me straight from your
office and made me understand that I would have to stop my husband
from--taking any action--even to recover the money----"

Jacqueline sat nervously clenching and unclenching her hands over the
letter which lay under them on the blotter.

"What scandal is it you fear, Mrs. Clydesdale?" she asked, in an icy
voice.

Elena coloured furiously: "Is it necessary for me to incriminate myself
before you help me? I thought you more generous!"

"I can not help you. There is no way to do so."

"Yes, there is!"

"How?"

"By--by telling my husband that the--the jades are _not_ forgeries!"

Jacqueline's ashy cheeks blazed into colour.

"Mrs. Clydesdale," she said, "I would not do it to save myself--not even
to save the dearest friend I have! And do you think I will lie to spare
_you_?"

In the excitement and terror of what now was instantly impending, the
girl had risen, clutching Mrs. Hammerton's letter in her hand.

"You need not tell me why you--you are afraid," she stammered, her
lovely lips already distorted with fear and horror, "because I--I
_know_! Do you understand? I know what you are--what you have done--what
you are doing!"

She fumbled in the pages of Mrs. Hammerton's letter, found an enclosure,
and held it out to Elena with shaking fingers.

It was Elena's note to her husband, written on the night she left him,
brought by her husband to Silverwood, left on the library table, used as
a bookmark by Desboro, discovered and kept by its finder, Mrs.
Hammerton, for future emergencies.

Elena re-read it now with sickened senses, and knew that in the eyes of
this young girl she was utterly and irretrievably damned.

"Did you write that?" whispered Jacqueline, with lips scarcely under
control.

"I--you do not understand----"

"Did you know that when I was a guest under Mr. Desboro's roof
everything that he and you said in the library was overheard? Do you
know that you have been watched--not by me--but even long before I knew
you--watched even at the opera----"

Elena drew a quick, terrified breath; then the surging shame mantled her
from brow to throat.

"That was Mrs. Hammerton!" she murmured. "I warned Jim--but he trusted
her."

Jacqueline turned cold all over.

"He is your--lover," she said mechanically.

Elena looked at her, hesitated, came a step nearer, still staring. Her
visage and her bearing altered subtly. For a moment they gazed at each
other. Then Elena said, in a soft, but deadly, voice:

"Suppose he is my lover! Does that concern _you_?" And, as the girl made
no stir or sound: "However, if you think it does, you will scarcely care
to know either of us any longer. I am quite satisfied. Do what you
please about the man who has blackmailed me. I don't care now. I was
frightened for a moment--but I don't care any longer. Because the end of
all this nightmare is in sight; and I think Mr. Desboro and I are
beginning to awake at last."

       *       *       *       *       *

Until a few minutes before five Jacqueline remained seated at her desk,
motionless, her head buried in her arms. Then she got to her feet
somehow, and to her room, where, scarcely conscious of what she was
doing, she bathed her face and arranged her hair, and strove to pinch
and rub a little colour into her ghastly cheeks.



CHAPTER XIV


Desboro came for her in his car at five and found her standing alone in
her office, dressed in a blue travelling dress, hatted and closely
veiled. He partly lifted the veil, kissed the cold, unresponsive lips,
the pallid cheek, the white-gloved fingers.

"Is Her Royal Shyness ready?" he whispered.

"Yes, Jim."

"All her affairs of state accomplished?" he asked laughingly.

"Yes--the day's work is done."

"Was it a hard day for you, sweetheart?"

"Yes--hard."

"I am so sorry," he murmured.

She rearranged her veil in silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Again, as the big car rolled away northward, and they were alone once
more in the comfortable limousine, he took possession of her unresisting
hand, whispering:

"I am so sorry you have had a hard day, dear. You really look very pale
and tired."

"It was a--tiresome day."

He lifted her hand to his lips: "Do you love me, Jacqueline?"

"Yes."

"Above everything?"

"Yes."

"And you know that I love you above everything in the world?"

She was silent.

"Jacqueline!" he urged. "Don't you _know_ it?"

"I--think you--care for me."

He laughed: "Will Your Royal Shyness never unbend! Is _that_ all the
credit you give me for my worship and adoration?"

She said, after a silence: "If it lies with me, you really will love me
some day."

"Dearest!" he protested, laughing but perplexed. "Don't you know that I
love you _now_--that I am absolutely mad about you?"

She did not answer, and he waited, striving to see her expression
through the veil. But when he offered to lift it, she gently avoided
him.

"Did you go to business?" she asked quietly.

"I? Oh, yes, I went back to the office. But Lord! Jacqueline, I couldn't
keep my attention on the tape or on the silly orders people fired at me
over the wire. So I left young Seely in charge and went to lunch with
Jack Cairns; and then he and I returned to the office, where I've been
fidgeting about ever since. I think it's been the longest day I ever
lived."

"It has been a long day," she assented gravely. "Did Mr. Cairns speak to
you of Cynthia?"

"He mentioned her, I believe."

"Do you remember what he said about her?"

"Well, yes. I think he spoke about her very nicely--about her being
interesting and ambitious and talented--something of that sort--but how
could I keep my mind on what he was saying about another girl?"

Jacqueline looked out of the window across a waste of swamp and trestle
and squalid buildings toward University Heights. She said presently,
without turning:

"Some day, may I ask Cynthia to visit me?"

"Dearest girl! Of course! Isn't it your house----"

"Silverwood?"

"Certainly----"

"No, Jim."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"What I say. Silverwood is not yet even partly mine. It must remain
entirely yours--until I know you--better."

"Why on earth do you say such silly----"

"What is yours must remain yours," she repeated, in a low voice, "just
as my shop, and office, and my apartment must remain mine--for a time."

"For how long?"

"I can not tell."

"Do you mean for always?"

"I don't know."

"And I don't understand you, dear," he said impatiently.

"You will, Jim."

He smiled uneasily: "For how long must we twain, who are now one,
maintain solitary sovereignty over our separate domains?"

"Until I know you better."

"And how long is that going to take?" he asked, smilingly apprehensive
and deeply perplexed by her quiet and serious attitude toward him.

"I don't know how long, I wish I did."

"Jacqueline, dear, has anything unpleasant happened to disturb you since
I last saw you?"

She made no reply.

"Won't you tell me, dear," he insisted uneasily.

"I will tell you this, Jim. Whatever may have occurred to disturb me is
already a matter of the past. Life and its business lie before us; that
is all I know. This is our beginning, Jim; and happiness depends on what
we make of our lives from now on--from now on."

The stray lock of golden hair had fallen across her cheek, accenting the
skin's pallor through the veil. She rested her elbow on the window
ledge, her tired head on her hand, and gazed at the sunset behind the
Palisades. Far below, over the grey and wrinkled river, smoke from a
steamboat drifted, a streak of bronze and purple, in the sunset light.

"_What_ has happened?" he muttered under his breath. And, turning toward
her: "You must tell me, Jacqueline. It is now my right to know."

"Don't ask me."

His face hardened; for a moment the lean muscles of the jaw worked
visibly.

"Has anybody said anything about me to you?"

No reply.

"Has--has Mrs. Hammerton been to see you?"

"No."

He was silent for a moment, then:

"I'll tell you now, Jacqueline; she did not wish me to marry you. Did
you know it?"

"I know it."

"I believe," he said, "that she has been capable of warning you against
me. Did she?"

No reply.

"And yet you married me?" he said, after a silence.

She said nothing.

"So you could not have believed her, whatever she may have said," he
concluded calmly.

"Jim?"

"Yes, dear."

"I married you because I loved you. I love you still. Remember it when
you are impatient with me--when you are hurt--perhaps angry----"

"Angry with _you_, my darling!"

"You are going to be--very often--I am afraid."

"Angry?"

"I--don't know. I don't know how it will be with us. If only you will
remember that I love you--no matter how I seem----"

"Dear, if you tell me that you do love me, I will know that it must be
so!"

"I tell you that I do. I could never love anybody else. You are all that
I have in the world; all I care for. You are absolutely everything to
me. I loved you and married you; I took you for mine just as you were
and are. And if I didn't quite understand all that--that you are--I took
you, nevertheless--for better or for worse--and I mean to hold you. And
I know now that, knowing more about you, I would do the same thing if it
were to be done again. I would marry you to-morrow--knowing what I
know."

"What more do you know about me than you did this morning, Jacqueline?"
he asked, terribly troubled.

But she refused to answer.

He said, reddening: "If you have heard any gossip concerning Mrs.
Clydesdale, it is false. Was _that_ what you heard? Because it is an
absolute lie."

But she had learned from Mrs. Clydesdale's reckless lips the contrary,
and she rested her aching head on her hand and stared out at the endless
lines of houses along Broadway, as the car swung into Yonkers, veered to
the west past the ancient manor house, then rolled northward again
toward Hastings.

"Don't you believe me?" he asked at length. "That gossip is a lie--if
that is what you heard."

She thought: "This is how gentlemen are supposed to behave under such
circumstances." And she shivered.

"Are you cold?" he asked, with an effort.

"A little."

He drew the fur robe closer around her, and leaned back in his corner,
deeply worried, impatient, but helpless in the face of her evident
weariness and reticence, which he could not seem to penetrate or
comprehend. Only that something ominous had happened--that something was
dreadfully wrong--he now thoroughly understood.

In the purposeless career of a man of his sort, there is much that it is
well to forget. And in Desboro's brief career there were many things
that he would not care to have such a girl as Jacqueline hear about--so
much, alas! of folly and stupidity, so much of idleness, so much
unworthy, that now in his increasing chagrin and mortification, in the
painful reaction from happy pride to alarm and self-contempt, he could
not even guess what had occurred, or for which particular folly he was
beginning to pay.

Long since, both in his rooms in town, and at Silverwood, he had
destroyed the silly souvenirs of idleness and folly. He thought now of
the burning sacrifice he had so carelessly made that day in the
library--and how the flames had shrivelled up letter and fan,
photograph and slipper. And he could not remember that he had left a
rag of lace or a perfumed envelope unburned.

Had the ghosts of their owners risen to confront him on his own
hearthstone, standing already between him and this young girl he had
married?

What whisper had reached her guiltless ears? What rumour, what breath of
innuendo? Must a man still be harassed who has done with folly for all
time--who aspires to better things--who strives to change his whole mode
of life merely for the sake of the woman he loves--merely to be more
worthy of her?

As he sat there so silently in the car beside her, his dark thoughts
travelled back again along the weary, endless road to yesterday. Since
he had known and loved her, his thoughts had often and unwillingly
sought that shadowy road where the only company were ghosts--phantoms of
dead years that sometimes smiled, sometimes reproached, sometimes
menaced him with suddenly remembered eyes and voiceless but familiar
words forever printed on his memory.

Out of that grey vista, out of that immaterial waste where only
impalpable shapes peopled the void, vanished, grew out of nothing only
to reappear, _something_ had come to trouble the peace of mind of the
woman he loved--some spectre of folly had arisen and had whispered in
her ear, so that, at the mockery, the light had died out in her fearless
eyes and her pure mind was clouded and her tender heart was weighted
with this thing--whatever it might be--this echo of folly which had
returned to mock them both.

"Dearest," he said, drawing her to him so that her cold cheek rested
against his, "whatever I was, I am no longer. You said you could
forgive."

"I do--forgive."

"Can you not forget, too?"

"I will try--with your help."

"How can I help you? Tell me."

"By letting me love you--as wisely as I can--in my own fashion. By
letting me learn more of you--more about men. I don't understand men. I
thought I did--but I don't. By letting me find out what is the wisest
and the best and the most unselfish way to love you. For I don't know
yet. I don't know. All I know is that I am married to the man I
loved--the man I still love. But how I am going to love him I--I don't
yet know."

He was silent; the hot flush on his face did not seem to warm her cheek
where it rested so coldly against his.

"I want to hold you because it is best for us both," she said, as though
speaking to herself.

"But--you need make no effort to hold me, Jacqueline!" e protested,
amazed.

"I want to hold you, Jim," she repeated. "You are my husband. I--I must
hold you. And I don't know how I am to do it. I don't know how."

"My darling! Who has been talking to you? What have they said?"

"It has _got_ to be done, somehow," she interrupted, wearily. "I must
learn how to hold you; and you must give me time, Jim----"

"Give you time!" he repeated, exasperated.

"Yes--to learn how to love you best--so I can serve you best. That is
why I married you--not selfishly, Jim--and I thought I knew--I thought I
knew----"

Her cheek slipped from his and rested on his shoulder. He put his arm
around her and she covered her face with her gloved hands.

"I love you dearly, dearly," he whispered brokenly. "If the whisper of
any past stupidity of mine has hurt you, God knows best what punishment
He visits on me at this moment! If there were any torture I could endure
to spare you, Jacqueline, I would beg for it--welcome it! It is a bitter
and a hopeless and a ridiculous thing to say; but if I had only known
there was such a woman as you in the world I would have understood
better how to live. I suppose many a man understands it when it is too
late. I realise now, for the first time, how changeless, how irrevocably
fixed, are the truths youth learns to smile at--the immutable laws youth
scoffs at----"

He choked, controlled his voice, and went on:

"If youth could only understand it, the truths of childhood are the only
truths. The first laws we learn are the eternal ones. And their only
meaning is self-discipline. But youth is restive and mistakes curiosity
for intelligence, insubordination for the courage of independence. The
stupidity of orthodoxy incites revolt. To disregard becomes less
difficult; to forget becomes a habit. To think for one's self seems
admirable; but when youth attempts that, it thinks only what it pleases
or does not think at all. I am not trying to find excuses or to evade my
responsibility, dear. I had every chance, no excuse for what I
have--sometimes--been. And now--on this day--this most blessed and most
solemn day of my life--I can only say to you I am sorry, and that I mean
so to live--always--that no man or woman can reproach me."

She lay very silent against his shoulder. Blindly striving to understand
him, and men--blindly searching for some clue to the path of duty--the
path she must find somehow and follow for his sake--through the
obscurity and mental confusion she seemed to hear at moments Elena
Clydesdale's shameless and merciless words, and the deadly repetition
seemed to stun her.

Vainly she strove against the recurring horror; once or twice,
unconsciously, her hands crept upward and closed her ears, as though she
could shut out what was dinning in her brain.

With every reserve atom of mental strength and self-control she battled
against this thing which was stupefying her, fought it off, held it,
drove it back--not very far, but far enough to give her breathing room.
But no sooner did she attempt to fix her mind on the man beside her, and
begin once more to grope for the clue to duty--how most unselfishly she
might serve him for his salvation and her own--than the horror she had
driven back stirred stealthily and crawled nearer. And the battle was on
once more.

Twilight had fallen over the Westchester hills; a familiar country lay
along the road they travelled. In the early darkness, glancing from the
windows he divined unseen landmarks, counted the miles unconsciously as
the car sped across invisible bridges that clattered or resounded under
the heavy wheels.

The stars came out; against them woodlands and hills took shadowy shape,
marking for him remembered haunts. And at last, far across the hills the
lighted windows of Silverwood glimmered all a-row; the wet gravel
crunched under the slowing wheels, tall Norway spruces towered
phantomlike on every side; the car stopped.

"Home," he whispered to her; and she rested her arm on his shoulder and
drew herself erect.

Every servant and employee on the Desboro estate was there to receive
them; she offered her slim hand and spoke to every one. Then, on her
husband's arm, and her proud little head held high, she entered the
House of Desboro for the first time bearing the family name--entered
smiling, with death in her heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last the dinner was at an end. Farris served the coffee and set the
silver lamp and cigarettes on the library table, and retired.

Luminous red shadows from the fireplace played over wall and
ceiling--the same fireplace where Desboro had made his offering--as
though flame could purify and ashes end the things that men have done!

In her frail dinner gown of lace, she lay in a great chair before the
blaze, gazing at nothing. He, seated on the rug beside her chair, held
her limp hand and rested his face against it, staring at the ashes on
the hearth.

And this was marriage! Thus he was beginning his wedded life--here in
the house of his fathers, here at the same hearthstone where the dead
brides of dead forebears had sat as his bride was sitting now.

But had any bride ever before faced that hearth so silent, so
motionless, so pale as was this young girl whose fingers rested so
limply in his and whose cold palm grew no warmer against his cheek?

What had he done to her? What had he done to himself--that the joy of
things had died out in her eyes--that speech had died on her lips--that
nothing in her seemed alive, nothing responded, nothing stirred.

Now, all the bitterness that life and its unwisdom had stored up for him
through the swift and reckless years, he tasted. For that cup may not
pass. Somewhere, sooner or later, the same lips that have so lightly
emptied sweeter draughts must drain this one. None may refuse it, none
wave it away until the cup be empty.

"Jacqueline?"

She moved slightly in her chair.

"Tell me," he said, "what is it that can make amends?"

"They--are made."

"But the hurt is still there. What can heal it, dear?"

"I--don't know."

"Time?"

"Perhaps."

"Love?"

"Yes--in time."

"How long?"

"I do not know, Jim."

"Then--what is there for me to do?"

She was silent.

"Could you tell me, Jacqueline?"

"Yes. Have patience--with me."

"With _you_?"

"It will be necessary."

"How do you mean, dear?"

"I mean you must have patience with me--in many ways. And still be in
love with me. And still be loyal to me--and--faithful. I don't know
whether a man can do these things. I don't know men. But I know
myself--and what I require of men--and of you."

"What you require of me I can be if you love me."

"Then never doubt it. And when I know that you have become what I
require you to be, you could not doubt my loving you even if you wished
to. _Then_ you will know; _until_ then--you must _believe_."

He sat thinking before the hearth, the slow flush rising to his temples
and remaining.

"What is it you mean to do, Jacqueline?" he asked, in a low voice.

"Nothing, except what I have always done. The business of life remains
unchanged; it is always there to be done."

"I mean--are you going to--change--toward me?"

"I have not changed."

"Your confidence in me has gone."

"I have recovered it."

"You believe in me still?"

"Oh, yes--yes!" Her little hand inside his clenched convulsively and her
voice broke.

Kneeling beside her, he drew her into his arms and felt her breath
suddenly hot and feverish against his shoulder. But if there had been
tears in her eyes they dried unshed, for he saw no traces of them when
he kissed her.

"In God's name," he whispered, "let the past bury its accursed dead and
give me a chance. I love you, worship you, adore you. Give me my chance
in life again, Jacqueline!"

"I--I give it to you--as far as in me lies. But it rests with you, Jim,
what you will be."

His own philosophy returned to mock him out of the stainless mouth of
this young girl! But he said passionately:

"How can I be arbiter of my own fate unless I have all you can give me
of love and faith and unswerving loyalty?"

"I give you these."

"Then--as a sign--return the kiss I give you--now."

There was no response.

"Can you not, Jacqueline?"

"Not--yet."

"You--you can not respond!"

"Not--that way--yet."

"Is--have I--has what you know of me killed all feeling, all tenderness
in you?"

"No."

"Then--why can you not respond----"

"I can not, Jim--I can not."

He flushed hotly: "Do you--do I inspire you with--do I repel
you--physically?"

She caught his hand, cheeks afire, dismayed, striving to check him:

"Please--don't say such--it is--not--true----"

"It seems to be----"

"No! I--I ask you--not to say it--think it----"

"How can I help thinking it--thinking that you only care for me--that
the only attraction on your part is--is intellectual----"

She disengaged her hand from his and shrank away into the velvet depths
of her chair.

"I can't help it," he said. "I've got to say what I think. Never since I
have told you I loved you have you ever hinted at any response, even to
the lightest caress. We are married. Whatever--however foolish I may
have been--God knows you have made me pay for it this day. How long am I
to continue paying? I tell you a man can't remain repentant too long
under the stern and chilling eyes of retribution. If you are going to
treat me as though I were physically unfit to touch, I can make no
further protest. But, Jacqueline, no man was ever aided by a punishment
that wounds his self-respect."

"I must consider mine, too," she said, in a ghost of a voice.

"Very well," he said, "if you think you must maintain it at the expense
of mine----"

"Jim!"

The low cry left her lips trembling.

"What?" he said, angrily.

"Have--have you already forgotten what I said?"

"What did you say?"

"I asked--I asked you to be patient with me--because--I love you----"

But the words halted; she bowed her head in her hands, quivering,
scarcely conscious that he was on his knees again at her feet, scarcely
hearing his broken words of repentance and shame for the sorry and
contemptible rôle he had been playing.

No tears came to help her even then, only a dry, still agony possessed
her. But the crisis passed and wore away; sight and hearing and the
sense of touch returned to her. She saw his head bowed in contrition on
her knees, heard his voice, bitter in self-accusation, felt his hands
crisping over hers, crushing them till her new rings cut her.

For a while she looked down at him as though dazed; then the real pain
from her wedding ring aroused her and she gently withdrew that hand
and rested it on his thick, short, curly hair.

For a long while they remained so. He had ceased to speak; her brooding
gaze rested on him, unchanged save for the subtle tenderness of the
lips, which still quivered at moments.

Clocks somewhere in the house were striking midnight. A little later a
log fell from the dying fire, breaking in ashes.

He felt her stir, change her position slightly; and he lifted his head.
After a moment she laid her hand on his arm, and he aided her to rise.

As they moved slowly, side by side, through the house, they saw that it
was filled with flowers everywhere, twisted ropes of them on the
banisters, too, where they ascended.

Her own maid, who had arrived by train, rose from a seat in the upper
corridor to meet her. The two rooms, which were connected by a sitting
room, disclosed themselves, almost smothered in flowers.

Jacqueline stood in the sitting room for a moment, gazing vaguely around
her at the flowers and steadying herself by one hand on the
centre-table, which a great bowlful of white carnations almost covered.

Then, as her maid reappeared at the door of her room, she turned and
looked at Desboro.

There was a silence; his face was very white, hers was deathly.

He said: "Shall we say good-night?"

"It is--for you--to say."

"Then--good-night, Jacqueline."

"Good-night."

[Illustration: "She turned ... looked back, hesitated"]

She turned, took a step or two--looked back, hesitated, then slowly
retraced her steps to where he was standing by the flower-covered table.

From the mass of blossoms she drew a white carnation, touched it to her
lips, and, eyes still lowered, offered it to him. In her palm, beside
it, lay a key. But he took only the blossom, touching it to his lips as
she had done.

She looked at the key, lying in her trembling hand, then lifted her
confused eyes to his once more, whispering:

"Good-night--and thank you."

"Good-night," he said, "until to-morrow."

And they went their separate ways.



CHAPTER XV


Une nuit blanche--and the young seem less able to withstand its
corroding alchemy than the old. It had left its terrible and pallid mark
on Desboro; and on Jacqueline it had set its phantom sign. That
youthfully flushed and bright-eyed loveliness which always characterised
the girl had whitened to ashes over night.

And now, as she entered the sunny breakfast room in her delicate Chinese
morning robes, the change in her was startlingly apparent; for the
dead-gold lustre of her hair accented the pallor of a new and strange
and transparent beauty; the eyes, tinted by the deeper shadows under
them, looked larger and more violet; and she seemed smaller and more
slender; and there was a snowy quality to the skin that made the vivid
lips appear painted.

Desboro came forward from the recess of the window; and whether in his
haggard and altered features she read of his long night's vigil, or
whether in his eyes she learned again how she herself had changed, was
not plain to either of them; but her eyes suddenly filled and she turned
sharply and stood with the back of one slender hand across her eyes.

Neither had spoken; neither spoke for a full minute. Then she walked to
the window and looked out. The mating sparrows were very noisy.

Not a tear fell; she touched her eyes with a bit of lace, drew a long,
deep, steady breath and turned toward him.

"It is all over--forgive me, Jim. I did not mean to greet you this way.
I won't do it again----"

She offered her hand with a faint smile, and he lifted it and touched it
to his lips.

"It's all over, all ended," she repeated. "Such a curious phenomenon
happened to me at sunrise this morning."

"What?"

"I was born," she said, laughing. "Isn't it odd to be born at my age? So
as soon as I realised what had happened, I went and looked out of the
window; and there was the world, Jim--a big, round, wonderful planet,
all over hills and trees and valleys and brooks! I don't know how I
recognised it, having just been born into it, but somehow I did. And I
knew the sun, too, the minute I saw it shining on my window and felt it
on my face and throat. Isn't that a wonderful way to begin life?"

There was not a tremor in her voice, nothing tremulous in the sweet
humour of the lips; and, to his surprise, in her eyes little demons of
gaiety seemed to be dancing all at once till they sparkled almost
mockingly.

"Dear," he said, under his breath, "I wondered whether you would ever
speak to me again."

"_Speak_ to you! You silly boy, I expect to do little else for the rest
of my life! I intend to converse and argue and importune and insist and
nag and nag. Oh, Jim! _Please_ ring for breakfast. I had no luncheon
yesterday and less dinner."

A slight colour glowed under the white skin of her cheeks as Farris
entered with the fruit; she lifted a translucent cluster of grapes from
the dish, snipped it in half with the silver scissors, glanced at her
husband and laughed.

[Illustration: "'_That's_ how hungry I am, Jim. I warned you'"]

"_That's_ how hungry I am, Jim. I warned you. Of what are you
thinking--with that slight and rather fascinating smile crinkling your
eyes?"

She bit into grape after grape, watching him across the table.

"Share with me whatever amuses you, please!" she insisted. "Never with
my consent shall you ever again laugh alone."

"You haven't seen last evening's and this morning's papers," he said,
amused.

"Have they arrived? Oh, Jim! I wish to see them, please!"

He went into his room and brought out a sheaf of clippings.

"Isn't this all of the papers that you cared to see, Jacqueline?"

"Of course! What _do_ they say about us? Are they brief or redundant,
laconic or diffuse? And are they nice to us?"

She was already immersed in a quarter column account of "A Romantic
Wedding" at "old St. George's"; and she read with dilated eyes all about
the "wealthy, fashionable, and well-known clubman," which she understood
must mean her youthful husband, and all about Silverwood and the
celebrated collections, and about his lineage and his social activities.
And by and by she read about herself, and her charm and beauty and
personal accomplishments, and was amazed to learn that she, too, was not
only wealthy and fashionable, but that she was a descendant of an
ancient and noble family in France, entirely extinguished by the
guillotine during the Revolution, except for her immediate progenitors.

Clipping after clipping she read to the end; then the simple notices
under "Weddings." Then she looked at Desboro.

"I--I didn't realise what a very grand young man I had married," she
said, with a shy smile. "But I am very willing to admit it. Why do they
say such foolish and untrue things about _me_?"

"They meant to honour you by lying about you when the truth about you is
far more noble and more wonderful," he said.

"Do you think so?"

"Do you doubt it?"

She remained silent, turning over the clippings in her hand; then,
glancing up, found him smiling again.

"Please share with me--because I know your thoughts are pleasant."

"It was seeing you in these pretty Chinese robes," he smiled, "which
made me think of that evening in the armoury."

"Oh--when I sat under the dragon, with my lute, and said for your guests
some legends of old Cathay?"

"Yes. Seeing you here--in your Chinese robes--made me think of their
astonishment when you first dawned on their mental and social horizon.
They are worthy people," he added, with a shrug.

"They are as God made them," she said, demurely.

"Only they have always forgotten, as I have, that God merely begins
us--and we are expected to do the rest. For, once made, He merely winds
us up, sets our hearts ticking, and places us on top of the world. Where
we walk to, and how, is our own funeral henceforward. Is that your idea
of divine responsibility?"

"I think He continues to protect us after we start to toddle; and after
that, too, if we ask Him," she answered, in a low voice.

"Do you believe in prayer, dear?"

"Yes--in unselfish prayer. Not in the acquisitive variety. Such
petitions seem ignoble to me."

"I understand."

She said, gravely: "To pray--not for one's self--except that one cause
no sorrow--that seems to me a logical petition. But I don't know. And
after all, what one does, not what one talks about, counts."

She was occupied with her grapes, glancing up at him from moment to
moment with sweet, sincere eyes, sometimes curious, sometimes shy, but
always intent on this tall, boyish young fellow who, she vainly tried to
realise, belonged to her.

In his morning jacket, somehow, he had become entirely another person;
his thick, closely brushed hair, the occult air of freshness from
ablutions that left a faint fragrance about him, accented their new
intimacy, the strangeness of which threatened at moments to silence her.
Nor could she realise that she belonged there at all--there, in her
frail morning draperies, at breakfast with him in a house which belonged
to him.

Yet, one thing she was becoming vaguely aware of; this tall, young
fellow, in his man's intimate attire, was quietly and unvaryingly
considerate of her; had entirely changed from the man she seemed to have
known; had suddenly changed yesterday at midnight. And now she was aware
that he still remained what he had been when he took the white blossom
from her hand the night before, and left in her trembling palm,
untouched, the symbol of authority which now was his forever.

Even in the fatigue of body and the deadlier mental weariness--in the
confused chaos of her very soul, that moment was clearly imprinted on
her mind--must remain forever recorded while life lasted.

She divided another grape; there were no seeds; the skin melted in her
mouth.

"Men," she said absently, "_are_ good." When he laughed, she came to
herself and looked at him with shy, humourous eyes. "They _are_ good,
Jim. Even the Chinese knew it thousands of years ago. Have you never
heard me recite the three-word-classic of San Tzu Ching? Then listen,
white man!

  "Jen chih ch'u
  Hsing pen shan
  Hsing hsiang chin
  Hsi hsiang yuan
  Kou pu chiao
  Hsing nai ch'ien
  Chiao chih tao
  Kuei i chuan----"

She sat swaying slightly to the rhythm, like a smiling child who recites
a rhyme of the nursery, accenting the termination of every line by
softly striking her palms together; and the silken Chinese sleeves
slipped back, revealing her white arms to the shoulder.

Softly she smote her smooth little palms together, gracefully she
swayed; her silks rustled like the sound of slender reeds in a summer
wind, and her cadenced voice was softer. Never had he seen her so
exquisite.

She stopped capriciously.

"All that is Chinese to me," he said. "You make me feel solitary and
ignorant."

And she laughed and tossed the lustrous hair from her cheeks.

"This is all it means, dear:

  "Men at their birth
  Are naturally good.
  Their natures are much the same;
  Their habits become widely different.
  If they are not taught,
  Their natures will deteriorate.
  The right way in teaching
  Is to attach the utmost importance to thoroughness----

"And so forth, and so forth," she ended gaily.

"Where on earth did you learn Chinese?" he remonstrated. "You know
enough without that to scare me to death! Slowly but surely you are
overwhelming me, Jacqueline, and some day I shall leave the house, dig a
woodchuck hole out on the hill, and crawl into it permanently."

"Then I'll have to crawl in, too, won't I? But, alas, Jim! The
three-word-classic is my limit. When father took me to Shanghai, I
learned it--three hundred and fifty-six lines of it! But it's all the
Chinese I know--except a stray phrase or two. Cheer up, dear; we won't
have to look for our shadows on that hill."

Breakfast was soon accomplished; she looked shyly across at him; he
nodded, and they rose.

"The question is," she said, "when am I going to find time to read the
remainder of the morning paper, and keep myself properly informed from
day to day, if you make breakfast so agreeable for me?"

"Have I done that?"

"You know you have," she said lightly. "Suppose you read the paper aloud
to me, while I stroll about for the sake of my figure."

They laughed; he picked up the paper and began to read the headlines,
and she walked about the room, her hands bracketed on her hips,
listening sometimes, sometimes absorbed in her own reflections, now and
then glancing out of the window or pausing to rearrange a bowl of
flowers.

Little by little, however, her leisurely progress from one point of
interest to another became more haphazard, and she moved restlessly,
with a tendency to drift in his direction.

Perhaps she realised that, for she halted suddenly.

"Jim, I have enough of politics, thank you. And it's almost time to put
on more conventional apparel, isn't it? I have a long and hard day
before me at the office."

"As hard as yesterday?" he asked, unthinkingly; then reddened.

She had moved to the window as she spoke; but he had seen the quick,
unconscious gesture of pain as her hand flew to her breast; and her
smiling courage when she turned toward him did not deceive him.

"That _was_ a hard day, Jim. But I think the worst is over. And you may
read your paper if you wish until I am ready. You have only to put on
your business coat, haven't you?"

So he tried to fix his mind on the paper, and, failing, laid it aside
and went to his room to make ready.

When he was prepared, he returned to their sitting room. She was not
there, and the door of her bedroom was open and the window-curtains
fluttering.

So he descended to the library, where he found her playing with his
assortment of animals, a cat tucked under either arm and a yellow pup on
her knees.

"They all came to say good-morning," she explained, "and how could I
think of my clothing? Would you ask Farris to fetch a whisk-broom?"

Desboro rang: "A whisk-broom for--for Mrs. Desboro," he said.

_Mrs. Desboro!_

She had looked up startled; it was the first time she had heard it from
his lips, and even the reiteration of her maid had not accustomed her to
hear herself so named.

Both had blushed before Farris, both had thrilled as the words had
fallen from Desboro's unaccustomed lips; but both attempted to appear
perfectly tranquil and undisturbed by what had shocked them as no bomb
explosion possibly could. And the old man came back with the
whisk-broom, and Desboro dusted the cat fur and puppy hairs from
Jacqueline's brand-new gown.

They were going to town by train, not having time to spare.

"It will be full of commuters," he said, teasingly. "You don't know what
a godsend a bride is to commuters. I pity _you_."

"I shall point my nose particularly high, monsieur. Do you suppose I'll
know anybody aboard?"

"What if you don't! They'll know who _you_ are! And they'll all read
their papers and stare at you from time to time, comparing you with what
the papers say about you----"

"Jim! Stop tormenting me. Do I look sallow and horrid? I believe I'll
run up to my room and do a little friction on my cheeks----"

"With nail polish?"

"How do _you_ know? Please, Jim, it isn't nice to know so much about the
makeshifts indulged in by my sex."

She stood pinching her cheeks and the tiny lobes of her close-set ears,
regarding him with beautiful but hostile eyes.

"You know too much, young man. You don't wish to make me afraid of you,
do you? Anyway, you are no expert! Once you thought my hair was painted,
and my lips, too. If I'd known what you were thinking I'd have made
short work of you that rainy afternoon----"

"You _did_."

She laughed: "You _can_ say nice things, too. Did you really begin
to--to care for me that actual afternoon?"

"That actual afternoon."

"A--about what time--if you happen to remember," she asked carelessly.

"About the same second that I first set eyes on you."

"Oh, Jim, you _couldn't_!"

"Couldn't what?"

"Care for me the actual second you first set eyes on me. Could you?"

"I _did_."

"Was it _that_ very second?"

"Absolutely."

"You didn't show it."

"Well, you know I couldn't very well kneel down and make you a
declaration before I knew your name, could I, dear?"

"You did it altogether too soon as it was. Jim, what _did_ you think of
me?"

"You ought to know by this time."

"I don't. I suppose you took one look at me and decided that I was all
ready to fall into your arms. Didn't you?"

"You haven't done it yet," he said lightly.

There was a pause; the colour came into her face, and his own reddened.
But she pretended to be pleasantly unconscious of the significance, and
only interested in reminiscence.

"Do you know what I thought of you, Jim, when you first came in?"

"Not much, I fancy," he conceded.

"Will it spoil you if I tell you?"

"Have you spoiled me very much, Jacqueline?"

"Of course I have," she said hastily. "Listen, and I'll tell you what I
thought of you when you first came in. I looked up, and of course I knew
at a glance that you were nice; and I was very much impressed----"

"The deuce you were!" he laughed, unbelievingly.

"I was!"

"You didn't show it."

"Only an idiot of a girl would. But I was--very--greatly--impressed,"
she continued, with a delightfully pompous emphasis on every word,
"very--greatly--impressed by the tall and fashionable and elegant and
agreeably symmetrical Mr. Desboro, owner of the celebrated collection of
arms and armour----"

"I knew it!"

"Knew what?"

"You never even took the trouble to look at me until you found out that
the armour belonged to me----"

"That is what _ought_ to have been true. But it wasn't."

"Did you actually----"

"Yes, I did. Not the very second I laid eyes on you----" she added,
blushing slightly, "but--when you went away--and afterward--that evening
when I was trying to read Grenville on Armour."

"You thought of me, Jacqueline?"

[Illustration: "'It was rather odd, wasn't it, Jim?'"]

"Yes--and tried not to. But it was no use; I seemed to see you laughing
at me under every helmet in Grenville's plates. It was rather odd,
wasn't it, Jim? And to think--to think that now----"

Her smile grew vaguer; she dropped her head thoughtfully and rested one
hand on the library table, where once her catalogue notes had been piled
up--where once Elena's letter to her husband had fallen from
Clydesdale's heavy hand.

Then, gradually into her remote gaze came something else, something
Desboro had learned to dread; and she raised her head abruptly and gazed
straight at him with steady, questioning eyes in which there was a hint
of trouble of some kind--perhaps unbelief.

"I suppose you are going to your office," she said.

"After I have taken you to yours, dear."

"You will be at leisure before I am, won't you?"

"Unless you knock off work at four o'clock. Can you?"

"I can not. What will you do until five, Jim?"

"There will be nothing for me to do except wait for you."

"Where will you wait?"

He shrugged: "At the club, I suppose."

The car rolled up past the library windows.

"I suppose," she said carelessly, "that it would be too stupid for you
to wait _chez moi_."

"In your office? No, indeed----"

"I meant in my apartment. You could smoke and read--but perhaps you
wouldn't care to."

They went out into the hall, where her maid held her ulster for her and
Farris put Desboro into his coat.

Then they entered the car which swung around the oval and glided away
toward Silverwood station.

"To tell you the truth, dear," he said, "it _would_ be rather slow for
me to sit in an empty room until you were ready to join me."

"Of course. You'd find it more amusing at your club."

"I'd rather be with you at your office."

"Thank you. But some of my clients stipulate that no third person shall
be present when their business is discussed."

"All right," he said, shortly.

The faint warmth of their morning's _rapprochement_ seemed somehow to
have turned colder, now that they were about to separate for the day.
Both felt it; neither understood it. But the constraint which perhaps
they thought too indefinite to analyse persisted. She did not fully
understand it, except that, in the aftermath of the storm which had nigh
devastated her young heart, her physical nearness to him seemed to help
the tiny seed of faith which she had replanted in agony and tears the
night before.

To see him, hear his voice, somehow aided her; and the charm of his
personality for a while had reawakened and encouraged in her the courage
to love him. The winning smile in his eyes had, for the time, laid the
phantoms of doubt; memory had become less sensitive; the demon of
distrust which she had fought off so gallantly lay somewhere inert and
almost forgotten in the dim chamber of her mind.

But not dead--no; for somewhere in obscurity she had been conscious for
an instant that her enemy was stirring.

Must this always be so? Was faith in this man really dead? Was it only
the image of faith which her loyalty and courage had set up once more
for an altar amid the ruins of her young heart?

And always, always, even when she seemed unaware, even when she had
unconsciously deceived herself, her consciousness of the _other woman_
remained alive, like a spark, whitened at moments by its own ashes, yet
burning terribly when touched.

Slowly she began to understand that her supposed new belief in this man
would endure only while he was within her sight; that the morning's
warmth had slowly chilled as the hour of their separation approached;
that her mind was becoming troubled and confused, and her heart
uncertain and apprehensive.

And as she thought of the future--years and years of it--there seemed no
rest for her, only endless effort and strife, only the external exercise
of mental and spiritual courage to fight back the creeping shadow which
must always threaten her--the shadow that Doubt casts, and which men
call Fear.

"Shall we go to town in the car?" he said, looking at his watch. "We
have time; the train won't be in for twenty minutes."

"If you like."

He picked up the speaking tube and gave his orders, then lay back again
to watch the familiar landscape with worried eyes that saw other things
than hills and trees and wintry fields and the meaningless abodes of
men.

So this was what Fate had done to him--_this_! And every unconsidered
act of his had been slyly, blandly, maliciously leading him into this
valley of humiliation.

He had sometimes thought of marrying, never very definitely, except
that, if love were to be the motive, he would have ample time, after
that happened, to reform before his wedding day. Also, he had expected
to remain in a laudable and permanent state of regeneration, marital
treachery not happening to suit his fastidious taste.

That was what he had intended in the improbable event of marriage. And
now, suddenly, from a clear sky, the bolt had found him; love,
courtship, marriage, had followed with a rapidity he could scarcely
realise; and had left him stranded on the shores of yesterday,
discredited, distrusted, deeply, wretchedly in love; not only unable to
meet on equal terms the young girl who had become his wife, but the
involuntary executioner of her tender faith in him!

To this condition the laws of compensation consigned him. The man-made
laws which made his complaisance possible could not help him now; the
unwritten social law which acknowledges a double standard of purity for
man and woman he must invoke in vain. Before the tribunal of her clear,
sweet eyes, and before the chastity of her heart and mind, the ignoble
beliefs, the lying precedents, the false standards must fall.

There had been no shelter there for him, and he had known it. Reticence,
repentance, humble vows for the future--these had been left to him, he
supposed.

But the long, dim road to yesterday was thronged with ghosts, and his
destiny came swiftly upon him. Tortured, humiliated, helpless, he saw
the lash that cut him fall also upon her.

Sooner or later, all that is secret of good or of evil shall be made
manifest, here or elsewhere; and the suffering may not be abated. And he
began to understand that reticence can not forever hide what has been;
that no silence can screen it; no secrecy conceal it; that reaction
invariably succeeds action; and not a finger is ever lifted that the
universe does not experience the effect.

How he or fate might have spared her, he did not know. What she had
learned about him he could not surmise. As far as Elena was concerned,
he had been no worse than a fastidious fool dangling about a weaker and
less fastidious one. If gossip of that nature had brought this grief
upon her, it was damnable.

All he could do was to deny it. He _had_ denied it. But denial, alas,
was limited to that particular episode. He could not make it more
sweeping; he _was not on equal ground with her_; he was at a
disadvantage. Only spiritual equality dare face its peer, fearless,
serene, and of its secrets unafraid.

Yet--she had surmised what he had been; she had known. And, insensibly,
he began to feel a vague resentment toward her, almost a bitterness.
Because she had accepted him without any illusion concerning him. That
had been understood between them. She knew he loved her; she loved him.
Already better things had been in sight for him, loftier aspirations,
the stirring of ambition. And suddenly, almost at the altar itself, this
thing had happened--whatever it was! And all her confidence in him, all
her acquiescence in what had been, all her brave words and promises--all
except the mere naked love in her breast had crashed earthward under its
occult impact, leaving their altar on their wedding night shattered,
fireless, and desolate.

He set his teeth and the muscles in his cheeks hardened.

"By God!" he thought. "I'll find out what this thing is, and who has
done it. She knew what I was. There is a limit to humiliation. Either
she shall again accept me and believe in me, or--or----"

But there seemed to present itself no alternative which he could
tolerate; and the thread of thought snapped short.

They were entering the city limits now, and he began to realise that
neither had spoken for nearly an hour.

He ventured to glance sideways at her. The exquisitely sad profile
against the window thrilled him painfully, almost to the verge of anger.
Unwedded, she had been nearer to him. Even in his arms, shy and utterly
unresponsive, she had been closer, a more vital thing, than ever she had
been since the law had made her his wife.

For a moment the brutality in him stirred, and he felt the heat of blood
in his face, and his heart grew restless and beat faster. All that is
latent in man of impatience with pain, of intolerance, of passion, of
violence, throbbed in every vein.

Then she turned and looked at him. And it was ended as suddenly as it
began. Only his sense of helplessness and his resentment
remained--resentment against fate, against the unknown people who had
done this thing to him and to her; against himself and his folly; even
subtly, yet illogically, against her.

"I was thinking," she said, "that we might at least lunch together--if
you would care to."

"Would _you_?" he asked coldly.

"If you would."

His lip began to tremble and he caught it between his teeth; then his
anger flared, and before he meant to he had said:

"A jolly luncheon it would be, wouldn't it?"

"What?"

"I said it would be a jolly affair--considering the situation."

"What is the situation, Jim?" she asked, very pale.

"Oh, what I've made of it, I suppose--a failure!"

"I--I thought we were trying to remake it into a success."

"Can we?"

"We must, Jim."

"How?"

She was silent.

"I'll tell you how we can _not_ make a success out of it," he said
hotly, "and that's by doing what we have been doing."

"We have--have had scarcely time yet to do anything very much."

"We've done enough to widen the breach between us--however we've managed
to accomplish it. That's all I know, Jacqueline."

"I thought the breach was closing."

"I thought so, too, this morning."

"Wounds can not heal over night," she said, in a low voice.

"Wounds can not heal at all if continually irritated."

"I know it. Give me a little time, Jim. It is all so new to me, and
there is no precedent to follow--and I haven't very much wisdom. I am
only trying to find myself so I shall know how best to serve you----"

"I don't want to be served, Jacqueline! I want you to love me----"

"I do."

"You do in a hurt, reproachful, frightened, don't-touch-me sort of
way----"

"Jim!"

"I'm sorry; I don't know what I'm saying. There isn't anything for me to
say, I suppose. But I don't seem to have the spirit of endurance in
me--humble submission isn't my line; delay makes me impatient. I want
things to be settled, no matter what the cost. When I repent, I repent
like the devil--just as hard and as fast as I can. Then it's over and
done with. But nobody else seems to notice my regeneration."

For a moment her face was a study in mixed emotions, then a troubled
smile curved her lips, but her eyes were unconvinced.

"You are only a boy, aren't you?" she said gently. "I know it, somehow,
but there is still a little awe of you left in me, and I can't quite
understand. Won't you be patient with me, Jim?"

He bent over and caught her hand.

"Only love me, Jacqueline----"

"Oh, I do! I do! And I don't know what to do about it! All my thoughts
are concentrated on it, how best to make it strong, enduring, noble! How
best to shelter it, bind up its wounds, guard it, defend it. I--I know
in my heart that I've got to defend it----"

"What do you mean, my darling?"

"I don't know--I don't know, Jim. Only--if I knew--if I could always
know----"

She turned her head swiftly and stared out of the window. On the glass,
vaguely, Elena's shadowy features seemed to smile at her.

Was _that_ what tortured her? Was that what she wished to know when she
and this man separated for the day--_where the woman was_? Had her
confidence in him been so utterly, so shamefully destroyed that it had
lowered her to an ignoble level--hurled down her dignity and
self-respect to grovel amid unworthy and contemptible emotions? Was it
the vulgar vice of jealousy that was beginning to fasten itself upon
her?

Sickened, she closed her eyes a moment; but on the lids was still
imprinted the face of the woman; and her words began to ring in her
brain. And thought began to gallop again, uncurbed, frantic, stampeding.
How could he have done it? How could he have carried on this terrible
affair after he had met her, after he had known her, loved her, won her?
How could he have received that woman as a guest under the same roof
that sheltered her? How could he have made a secret rendezvous with the
woman scarcely an hour after he had asked her to marry him?

Even if anybody had come to her and told her of these things she could
have found it in her heart to find excuses, to forgive him; she could
have believed that he had received Elena and arranged a secret meeting
with her merely to tell her that their intrigue was at an end.

She could have accustomed herself to endure the knowledge of this
concrete instance. And, whatever else he might have done in the past she
could endure; because, to her, it was something too abstract, too vague
and foreign to her to seem real.

But the attitude and words of Elena Clydesdale--the unmistakable
impression she coolly conveyed that this thing was not yet ended, had
poisoned the very spring of her faith in him. And the welling waters
were still as bitter as death to her.

What did faith matter to her in the world if she could not trust this
man? Of what use was it other than to believe in him? And now she could
not. She had tried, and she could not. Only when he was near her--only
when she might see him, hear him, could she ever again feel sure of him.
And now they were to separate for the day. And--where was he going? And
where was the other woman?

And her heart almost stopped in her breast as she thought of the days
and days and years and years to come in which she must continue to ask
herself these questions.

Yet, in the same quick, agonised breath, she knew she was going to fight
for him--do battle in behalf of that broken and fireless altar where
love lay wounded.

There were many ways of doing battle, but only one right way. And she
had thought of many--confused, frightened, unknowing, praying for
unselfishness and for light to guide her.

But there were so many ways; and the easiest had been to forgive him,
surrender utterly, cling to him, love him with every tenderness and
grace and accomplishment and art and instinct that was hers--with all of
her ardent youth, all of her dawning emotion, all of her undeveloped
passion.

That had been the easier way in the crisis which stunned and terrified
her--to seek shelter, not give it; to surrender, not to withhold.

But whether through wisdom or instinct, she seemed to see farther than
the moment--to divine, somehow, that his salvation and hers lay not only
in forgiveness and love, but in her power to give or withhold; her
freedom to exact what justly was her due; in the preservation of her
individuality with all its prerogative, its liberty of choice, its
self-respect unshaken, its authority unweakened and undiminished.

To yield when he was not qualified to receive such supreme surrender
boded ill for her, and ultimately for him; for it made of her merely an
instrument.

Somehow she seemed to know that sometime, for her, would come a moment
of final victory; and in that moment only her utter surrender could make
the victory eternal and complete.

And until that moment came she would not surrender prematurely. She had
a fight on her hands; she knew it; she must do her best, though her own
heart were a sword that pierced her with every throb. For his sake she
would deny; for his sake remain aloof from the lesser love, inviolate,
powerful, mistress of herself and of her destiny.

And yet--she _was_ his wife. And, after all was said and done, she
understood that no dual sovereignty ever is possible; that one or the
other must have the final decision; and that if, when it came to that,
his ultimate authority failed him, then their spiritual union was a
failure, though the material one might endure for a while.

And so, believing this, honest with herself and with him, she had
offered him her fealty--a white blossom and her key lying beside it in
the palm of her hand--in acknowledgment that the supreme decision lay
with him.

He had not failed her; the final authority still lay with him. Only that
knowledge had sustained her during the long night.

The car stopped at her establishment; she came out of her painful
abstraction with a slight start, flushed, and looked at him.

"Will you lunch with me, Jim?"

"I think I'll lunch at the club," he said, coolly.

"Very well. Will you bring the car around at five?"

"The car will be here for you."

"And--you?" She tried to smile.

"Probably."

"Oh! If you have any engagements----"

"I might make one between now and five," he said carelessly. "If I do,
I'll come up on the train."

She had not been prepared for this attitude. But there was nothing to
say. He got out and aided her to descend, and took her to the door. His
manners were always faultless.

"I hope you will come for me," she said, almost timidly.

"I hope so," he said.

And that was all; she offered her hand; he took it, smiled, and replaced
his hat after the shop door closed behind her.

Then he went back to the car.

"Drive me to Mrs. Hammerton's," he said curtly; got in, and slammed the
door.



CHAPTER XVI


A surprised and very doubtful maid admitted him to Mrs. Hammerton's tiny
reception room and took his card; and he fidgeted there impatiently
until the maid returned to conduct him.

Mrs. Hammerton sat at coffee in the combination breakfast and dining
room of her pretty little apartment. He had never seen her wear glasses,
but a pair, presumably hers, was lying across the morning paper on the
edge of the table.

Windows behind her threw her face into shadow against the sunlight, and
he could not clearly distinguish her features. A canary sang
persistently in the sunshine; a friendly cat yawned on the window sill.

"Have some coffee, James?" she asked, without greeting him.

"Thanks, I've breakfasted."

"Very well. There's a chair." She motioned dismissal to the maid. "And
close the door!" she added curtly.

The maid vanished, closing the door. Aunt Hannah poured more coffee for
herself; now she began to browse on toast and bacon.

"Have you seen the papers?" he asked bluntly.

Her eyes snapped fire: "That was a brave thing _you_ did! I never knew
any of the Desboros were cowards."

He looked at her in angry astonishment.

"Well, what do _you_ call it if it isn't cowardice--to slink off and
marry a defenseless girl like that!"

"Did you expect me to give you a chance to destroy me and poison
Jacqueline's mind? If I _had_ been guilty of the thing with which you
charge me, what I have done _would_ have been cowardly. Otherwise, it is
justified."

"You have been guilty of enough without that particular thing to rule
you out."

"If," he said, controlling his anger, "you really were appointed God's
deputy on earth, you'd have to rule out the majority of men who attempt
to marry."

"I'd do it, too," she remarked.

"Fortunately," he went on, "your authority for meddling is only self
delegated. You once threatened me. You gave me warning like a fair
adversary. But even rattlesnakes do that!"

He could see her features more plainly now, having become accustomed to
the light; and her scornful expression and the brilliant danger in her
beady eyes did not escape him. She darted at a bit of toast and
swallowed it.

"So," he ended calmly, "I merely accepted the warning and acted
accordingly--if you call that cowardly."

"I see. You were much too clever for me. In other words, you forestalled
me, didn't you?"

"Ask yourself, Aunt Hannah."

"No, I ask you. You _did_ forestall me, didn't you, Jim?"

"I think it amounts to that."

"Oh! Then why are you here at this hour of the morning, after your
wedding night?"

There was a silence. Presently she put on her glasses and glanced at
the paper. When he had his temper and his voice under absolute control
again, he said very quietly:

"Somebody is trying to make my wife unhappy. May I ask if it is you?"

"Certainly you may ask, James. Ask as many times as you like." She
continued to scan the paper.

"I do ask," he insisted.

[Illustration: "'Why don't you ask your--wife?'"]

She laid aside the paper and took off her glasses:

"Very well; failing to obtain the desired information from me, why don't
you ask your--wife?"

"I have asked her," he said, in a low voice.

"Oh, I see! Jacqueline also refuses the desired information. So you come
to inquire of me. Is that it?"

"Yes, that is it."

"You go behind your wife's back----"

"Don't talk that way, please."

"Indeed! Now, listen very attentively, James, because that is exactly
the way I am going to talk to you. And I'll begin by telling you plainly
just what you have done. _You_--and you know what _you_ are--have
married clandestinely a young, innocent, inexperienced girl. You, who
are not fit to decide the fate of a new-born yellow pup, have assumed
the irrevocable responsibility of this girl's future--arranged it
yourself in the teeth of the eternal fitness and decency of things!
_You_, James Desboro, a good-for-nothing idler, irresponsible
spendthrift, half bankrupt, without ambition, without a profession,
without distinction except that you have good looks and misleading
manners and a line of ancestors which would make an Englishman laugh.

"When you did this thing you knew you were not fit to tie her shoes.
You knew, too, that those who really love her and who might have
shielded her except for this--this treachery, had warned you to keep
your distance. You knew more than that; you knew that our little
Jacqueline had all her life before her; that for the first time in her
brief career the world was opening its arms to her; that she was certain
to be popular, sure to be welcomed, respected, liked, loved. You knew
that now she was going to have her chance; that men of distinction, of
attainment, of lofty ideals and irreproachable private lives--men well
to do materially, too--men of wealth, ambitious men, forceful men who
count, certainly would seek her, surround her, prefer her, give her what
she had a right to have--the society of her intellectual peers--the
exercise of a free, untrammeled judgment, and, ultimately, the
opportunity to select from among real men the man most worthy of such a
woman as she is."

Mrs. Hammerton laid one shapely hand on the table, fingers clenched,
and, half rising, fairly glared at Desboro.

"You have cheated her out of what was her due! You have stolen her
future! You have robbed her of a happy and worthy career to link her
life with your career--_your_ career--or whatever you call the futile
parody on life which men of your sort enact, disgracing God that He knew
no more than to create you! And my righteous anger against you is not
wholly personal--not because you have swindled me alone--taken from me
the only person I have really ever cared for--killed her confidence in
me, her tenderness--but because you have cheated _her_, and the world,
too! For she is a rare woman--a rare, sweet woman, James. And _that_ is
what you have done to the civilisation that has tolerated you!"

He had risen, astounded; but as her denunciation of him became fiercer,
and the concentrated fury in her eyes more deadly, a slightly dazed
feeling began to dull his own rage, and he found himself listening as
though a mere spectator at the terrible arraignment of another man.

He remained standing. But she had finished; and she was shaking a little
when she resumed her chair; and still he stood there, pallid, staring at
space. For several minutes neither of them stirred. Finally she said, in
a harsh but modified voice:

"I will tell you this much. Since I have known that she is married I
have not interfered. On the contrary, I have written her offering her my
love, my sympathy, and my devotion as long as I live. But it is a
terrible and wicked thing that you have done. And I can see little
chance for her, little hope, and less of happiness--when she fully
realises what she has done, and what you have done to her--when she
really understands how low she has stooped and to what level she has
descended to find the man she has married."

He merely gazed at her without expression. She shook her head.

"Hers will become a solitary life, intellectually and spiritually. There
is nothing in you to mate with it. Only materially are you of the
slightest use--and I think I am not mistaken when I say your usefulness
even there is pitiably limited, and that what you have to offer her will
not particularly attract her. For she is a rare woman, James--a species
of being absolutely different from you. And it had been well for you,
also, if you had been wise enough to let her alone. High altitudes
don't agree with you; and not even the merry company on Mount
Olympus--let alone the graver gathering higher up--are suitable for such
as you and your mundane kind."

He nodded, scarcely conscious of his mechanical acquiescence in what she
said. Hat and stick in hand, he moved slowly toward the door. She,
watching his departure, said in a lower voice:

"You and I are of the same species. I am no better than you, James.
But--she is different. And you and I are capable of recognising that
there _is_ a difference. It seems odd, almost ridiculous to find out at
this late date that it is not an alliance with fashion, wealth, family,
social connections, that can do honour to Jacqueline Nevers, bourgeoise
daughter of a French shop-keeper; it is Jacqueline who honours the caste
to which, alas, she has not risen, but into which she has descended. God
knows how far such a sour and soggy loaf can be leavened by such as
she--or what she can do for you! Perhaps----"

She checked herself and shook her head. He walked back to her, made his
adieux mechanically, then went out slowly, like a man in a trance.

Down in the sunny street the car was waiting; he entered and sat there,
giving no orders, until the chauffeur, leaning wide from his seat and
still holding open the door, ventured to remind him.

"Oh, yes! Then--you may drive me to Mrs. Clydesdale's."

       *       *       *       *       *

But the woman whose big and handsome house was now his destination, had
forbidden her servants to disturb her that morning; so when Desboro
presented himself, only his card was received at the door.

Elena, in the drawing-room, hearing the bell, had sprung to her feet and
stepped into the upper hall to listen.

She heard Desboro's voice and shivered, heard her butler say that she
was not at home, heard the bronze doors clash behind him.

Then, with death in her heart, she went back noiselessly into the
drawing-room where Mr. Waudle, who was squatting on a delicate French
chair, retaining his seat, coolly awaited a resumption of the
interrupted conference. As a matter of fact, he resumed it himself
before she was seated on the sofa at his elbow.

"As I was telling you," he continued, "I've got to make a living. Why
shouldn't you help me? We were friends once. You found me amusing enough
in the old days----"

"Until you became impudent!"

"Who provoked me? Women need never fear familiarity unless they
encourage it!"

"It was absolutely innocent on my part----"

"Oh, hell!" he said, disgustedly. "It's always the man's fault! When you
pull a cat's tail and the animal scratches, it's the cat's fault. All
right, then; granted! But the fact remains that if you hadn't looked
sideways at me it never would have entered my head to make any advances
to you." Which was a lie. All men made advances to Elena.

"Leave it so," she said, with the angry flush deepening in her cheeks.

"Sure, I'll leave it; but I'm not going to leave _you_. Not yet, Elena.
You owe me something for what you've done to me."

"Oh! Is _that_ the excuse?" she nodded scornfully; but her heart was
palpitating with fear, and her lips had become dry again.

He surveyed her insolently under his heavy eyelids.

"Come," he said, "what are you going to do about it? You are the
fortunate one; you have everything--I nothing. And, plainly, I'm sick of
it. What are you going to do?"

"Suppose," she said, steadily, "that I tell my husband what you are
doing? Had you considered _that_ possibility?"

"Tell him if you like."

She shrugged.

"What you are doing is blackmail, isn't it?" she asked disdainfully.

"Call it what you please," he said. "Suit yourself, Elena. But there is
a bunch of manuscript in the _Tattler's_ office which goes into print
the moment you play any of your catty games on me. Understand?"

She said, very pale: "Will you not tell me--give me some hint about what
you have written?"

He laughed: "Better question your own memory, little lady. Maybe it
isn't about you and Desboro at all; maybe it's something else."

"There was nothing else."

"There was--_me_!"

"You?"

"Sure," he said cheerfully. "What happened in Philadelphia, if put
skillfully before any jury, would finish _you_."

"_Nothing_ happened! And you know it!" she exclaimed, revolted.

"But juries--and the public--don't know. All they can do is to hear the
story and then make up their minds. If you choose to let them hear
_your_ story----"

"There was nothing! I did nothing! _Nothing_----" she faltered.

"But God knows the facts look ugly," he retorted, with smirking
composure. "You're a clever girl; ask yourself what you'd think if the
facts about you and young Desboro--you and me--were skillfully brought
out?"

She sat dumb, frightened, twisting her fingers; then, in the sudden
anger born of torture:

"If I am disgraced, what will happen to _you_!" she flashed out--and
knew in the same breath that the woman invariably perishes where the man
usually survives; and sat silent and pallid again, her wide eyes
restlessly roaming about her as though seeking refuge.

"Also," he said, "if you sue the _Tattler_ for slander, there's Munger,
you know. He saw us in Philadelphia that night----"

"What!"

"Certainly. And if a jury learned that you and I were in the same----"

"I did not dream you were to be in the same hotel--in those rooms--you
miserable----"

"Easy, little lady! Easy, now! Never mind what you did or didn't dream.
You're up against reality, now. So never mind about me at all. Let that
Philadelphia business go; it isn't essential. I've enough to work on
without _that_!"

[Illustration: "'I do not believe you,' she said between her teeth"]

"I do not believe you," she said, between her teeth.

"Oh! Are you really going to defy me?"

"Perhaps."

"I see," he said, thoughtfully, rising and looking instinctively around.
He had the quick, alert side-glance which often characterises lesser
adepts in his profession.

Then, half way to the door, he turned on her again:

"Look here, Elena, I'm tired of this! You fix it so that your husband
keeps those porcelains, or I'll go down town now and turn in that
manuscript! Come on! Which is it?"

"Go, if you like!"

There ensued a breathless silence; his fat hand was on the door, pushing
it already, when a stifled exclamation from her halted him. After a
moment he turned warily.

"I'm desperate," he said. "Pay, or I show you up. Which is it to be?"

"I--how do I know? What proof have I that you can damage me----"

He came all the way back, moistening his thick lips, for he had played
his last card at the door; and, for a second, he supposed that he was
beaten.

"Now, see here," he said, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to
smash anybody, let alone a woman. But, by God! I'll do it if you don't
come across. So make up your mind, Elena."

She strove to sustain his gaze and he leered at her. Finally he sat down
beside her:

"I said I wouldn't give you any proofs. But I guess I will. I'll prove
to you that I've got you good and plenty, little lady. Will that satisfy
you?"

"Prove it!" she strove to say; but her lips scarcely obeyed her.

"All right. Do you remember one evening, just before Christmas, when you
and your husband had been on the outs?"

She bit her lip in silence.

"_Do_ you?" he insisted.

"Perhaps."

"All right, so far," he sneered. "Did he perhaps tell you that he had an
appointment at the Kiln Club with a man who was interested in porcelains
and jades?"

"No."

"Well, he did. He had an appointment for that night. I was the man."

She understood nothing.

"So," he said, "I waited three hours at the Kiln Club and your husband
didn't show up. Then I telephoned his house. You and he were probably
having your family row just then, for the maid said he was there, but
was too busy to come to the telephone. So I said that I'd come up to the
house in half an hour."

Still she did not comprehend.

"Wait a bit, little lady," he continued, with sly enjoyment of his own
literary methods. "The climax comes where it belongs, not where you
expect it. So now we'll read you a chapter in which a bitter wind blows
heavily, and a solitary taxicab might have been seen outward bound
across the wintry wastes of Gotham Town. Get me?"

She merely looked at him.

"In that low, black, rakish taxi," he went on, "sat an enterprising man
bent upon selling to your husband the very porcelains which he
subsequently bought. In other words, _I_ sat in that taxi. _I_ stopped
in front of this house; _I_ saw _you_ leave the house and go scurrying
away like a scared rabbit. And then I went up the steps, rang, was
admitted, told to wait in the library. I waited."

"Where?" The word burst from her involuntarily.

"In the library," he repeated. "It's a nice, cosy, comfortable place,
isn't it? Fine fat sofas, soft cushions, fire in the grate--oh, a very
comfortable place, indeed! I thought so, anyway, while I was waiting for
your husband to come down stairs."

"It appeared that he had finally received my telephone
message--presumably after you and he had finished your row--and had left
word that I was to be admitted. That's why they let me in. So I waited
very, v--ery comfortably in the library; and somebody had thoughtfully
set out cigars, and whisky, and lemon, and sugar, _and_ a jug of hot
water. It _was_ a cold night, if you remember."

He paused long enough to leer at her.

"Odd," he remarked, "how pleasantly things happen sometimes. And, as I
sat there in that big leather chair--you must know which one I mean,
Elena--it is the fattest and most comforting--I smoked my cigar and
sipped my hot grog, and gazed innocently around. And _what_ do you
suppose my innocent eyes encountered--just like that?"

"W--what?" she breathed.

"Why, a letter!" he said, jovially slapping his fat thigh, "a real
letter lying right in the middle of the table--badly sealed, Elena--very
carelessly sealed--just the gummed point of the envelope clinging to the
body of it. Now, wasn't that a peculiar thing for an enterprising young
man to discover, I ask you?"

He leered and leered into her white face; then, satisfied, he went on:

"The writing was _yours_, dearie. I recognised it. It was addressed to
your own husband, who lived under the same roof. _And_ I had seen you
creep out, close the front door softly, and scurry away into the night."
He made a wide gesture with his fat hands.

"Naturally," he said, "I thought I ought to summon a servant to call
your husband, so I could tell him what I had seen you do. But--there was
a quicker way to learn what your departure meant--whether you were at
that moment making for the river or for Maxim's--anyway, I knew there
was no time to be lost. So----"

She shrank away and half rose, strangling a cry of protest.

"Sure I did!" he said coolly. "I read your note very carefully, then
licked the envelope and resealed it, and put it into my pocket. After
all, Mr. Desboro is a man. It was none of my business to interfere. So I
let him have what was coming to him--and you, too." He shrugged and
waved his hand. "Your husband came down later; we talked jades and
porcelains and prices until I nearly yawned my head off. And when it was
time to go, I slipped the letter back on the table. After all, you and
Desboro had had your fling; why shouldn't hubby have an inning?"

He lay back in his chair and laughed at the cowering woman, who had
dropped her arms on the back of her chair and buried her face in them.
Something about the situation struck him as being very funny. He
regarded her for a few moments, then rose and walked to the door. There
he turned.

"Fix it for me! Understand?" he said sharply; and went out.

As the bronze doors closed behind Mr. Waudle, Elena started and lifted
her frightened face from her arms. For a second or two she sat there,
listening, then rose and walked swiftly and noiselessly to the bay
window. Mr. Waudle was waddling down the street. Across the way, keeping
a parallel course, walked the Cubist poet, his ankle-high trousers
flapping. They did not even glance at each other until they reached the
corner of Madison Avenue. Here they both boarded the same car going
south. Mr. Waudle was laughing.

She came back into the drawing-room and stood, clasped hands twisting in
sheer agony.

To whom could she turn now? What was there to do? Since January she had
given this man so much money that almost nothing remained of her
allowance.

How could she go to her husband again? Never had she betrayed the
slightest sympathy for him or any interest in his hobby until his anger
was awakened by the swindle of which he had been a victim.

Then, for the first time, under the menacing pressure from Waudle, she
had attempted finesse--manoeuvred as skillfully as possible in the
short space of time allotted her, cleverly betrayed an awakening
interest in her husband's collection, pretended to a sudden caprice for
the forgeries recently acquired, and carried off very well her
astonishment when informed that the jades and porcelains were swindling
imitations made in Japan.

It had been useless for her to declare that, whatever they were, she
liked them. Her husband would have none of them in spite of his evident
delight in her sudden interest. He promised to undertake her
schooling in the proper appreciation of all things Chinese--promised to
be her devoted mentor and companion in the eternal hunt for specimens.
Which was scarcely what she wanted.

But he flatly refused to encourage her in her admiration for these
forgeries or to tolerate such junk under his roof.

[Illustration: "What was she to do? She had gone half mad with fear"]

What was she to do? She had gone, half mad with fear, to throw herself
upon the sympathy and mercy of Jacqueline Nevers. Terrified, tortured,
desperate, she had even thought to bribe the girl to pronounce the
forgeries genuine. Then, suddenly, at the mere mention of Desboro, she
had gone all to pieces. And when it became clear to her that there was
already an understanding between this girl and the man she had counted
on as her last resort, fear and anger completed her demoralisation.

She remembered the terrible scene now, remembered what she had said--her
shameless attitude--the shameful lie which her words and her attitude
had forced Jacqueline to understand.

Why she had acted such a monstrous falsehood she scarcely knew; whether
it had been done to cut the suspected bond between Desboro and
Jacqueline before it grew too strong to sever--whether it had been sheer
hysteria under the new shock--whether it was reckless despair that had
hardened her to a point where she meant to take the final plunge and
trust to Desboro's chivalry, she did not know then; she did not know
now.

But the avalanche she had loosened that night in December, when she
wrote her note and went to Silverwood, was still thundering along behind
her, gathering new force every day, until the menacing roar of it never
ceased in her ears.

And now it had swept her last possible resource away--Desboro. All her
humiliation, all her shame, the lie she had acted, had not availed. This
girl had married him after all. Like a lightning stroke the news of
their wedding had fallen on her. And on the very heels of it slunk the
blackmailer with his terrifying bag of secrets.

Where was she to go? To her husband? It was useless. To Desboro? It was
too late. Even now, perhaps, he was listening scornfully to his young
wife's account of that last interview. She could see the contempt in his
face--contempt for her--for the woman who had lied to avow her own
dishonour.

Why had he come to see her then? To threaten her? To warn her? To spurn
her? Yet, that was not like Desboro. Why had he come? What she had said
and intimated to Jacqueline was done _after_ the girl was a wife. Could
it be possible that Jacqueline was visiting her anger on Desboro, having
learned too late that which would have prevented her from marrying him
at all?

Elena crept to the sofa and sank down in a heap, cowering there in one
corner, striving to think.

What would come of it? Would this proud and chaste young girl, accepting
the acted lie as truth, resent it? By leaving Desboro? By beginning a
suit for divorce--and naming----

Elena cringed, stifling a cry of terror. What had she done? Every force
she had evoked was concentrating into one black cloud over her head,
threatening her utter destruction. Everything she had done since that
December night was helping the forces gathering to annihilate her. Even
Desboro, once a refuge, was now part of this tempest about to be
unloosened.

Truly she had sowed the wind, and the work of her small white hands was
already established upon her.

Never in her life had she really ever cared for any man. Her caprice for
Desboro, founded on the lesser motives, had been the nearest approach.

It had cost her all her self-control, all her courage, to play the
diplomat with her husband for the sake of obtaining his consent to keep
the forged porcelains. And after all it had been in vain.

In spite of her white misery and wretchedness, now, as she sat there in
the drawing-room alone, her cheeks crimsoned hotly at the memory of her
arts and wiles and calineries; of her new shyness with the man she had
never before spared; of her clever attitude toward him, the apparent
dawn of tenderness, the faint provocation in her lifted eyes--God! It
should have been her profession, for she had taken to it like a woman of
the streets--had submitted like one, earning her pay. And, like many,
had been cheated in the end.

She rose unsteadily, cooling her cheeks in her hands and gazing vacantly
in front of her.

She had not been well for a few days; had meant to see her physician.
But in the rush of events enveloping her there had been no moment to
think of mere bodily ills.

Now, dizzy, trembling, and faintly nauseated, she stood supporting her
weight on a gilded chair, closing her eyes for a moment to let the
swimming wretchedness pass.

It passed after a while, leaving her so utterly miserable that she
leaned over and rang for a maid.

"Order the car--the Sphex limousine," she said. "And bring me my hat and
furs."

"Yes, madame."

"And--my jewel box. Here is the key----" detaching a tiny gold one from
its chain in her bosom. "And if Mr. Clydesdale comes in, say to him that
I have gone to the doctor's."

"Yes, madame."

"And--I shall take some jewels to--the safe deposit--one or two pieces
which I don't wear."

The maid was silent.

"Do you understand about the--jewels?"

"Yes, madame."

She went away. Presently she returned with Elena's hat and furs and
jewel box. The private garage adjoined the house; the car rolled out
before she was ready.

On the way down town she was afraid she would faint--almost wished she
would. The chauffeur's instructions landed her at a jeweler's where she
was not known.

A few moments later, in a private office, a grey old gentleman very
gently refused to consider the purchase of any jewelry from her unless
he knew her name, residence, and other essentials which she flatly
declined to give.

So a polite clerk put her into her car and she directed the chauffeur to
Dr. Allen's office, because she felt really too ill for the moment to
continue her search. Later she would manage to find somebody who would
buy sufficient of her jewelry to give her--and Mr. Waudle--the seven
thousand dollars necessary to avoid exposure.

Dr. Allen was in--just returned. Only one patient was ahead of her.
Presently she was summoned, rose with an effort, and went in.

The physician was a very old man; and after he had questioned her for a
few moments he smiled. And at the same instant she began to understand;
got to her feet blindly, stood swaying for a moment, then dropped as he
caught her.

Neither the physician nor the trained nurse who came in at his summons
seemed to be very greatly worried. As they eased the young wife and
quietly set about reviving her, they chatted carelessly. Later Elena
opened her eyes. Later still the nurse went home with her in her
limousine.



CHAPTER XVII


About midday Clydesdale, who had returned to his house from a morning
visit to his attorney in Liberty Street, was summoned to the telephone.

"Is that you, Desboro?" he asked.

"Yes. I stopped this morning to speak to your wife a moment, but very
naturally she was not at home to me at such an hour in the morning. I
have just called her on the telephone, but her maid says she has gone
out."

"Yes. She is not very well. I understand she has gone to see Dr. Allen.
But she ought to be back pretty soon. Won't you come up to the house,
Desboro?"

There was a short pause, then Desboro's voice again, in reply:

"I believe I will come up, Clydesdale. And I think I'll talk to you
instead of to your wife."

"Just as it suits you. Very glad to see you anyway. I'll be in the rear
extension fussing about among the porcelains."

"I'll be with you in ten minutes."

       *       *       *       *       *

In less time than that Desboro arrived, and was piloted through the
house and into the gallery by an active maid. At the end of one of the
aisles lined by glass cases, the huge bulk of Cary Clydesdale loomed,
his red face creased with his eternal grin.

"Hello, Desboro!" he called. "Come this way. I've one or two things here
which will match any of yours at Silverwood, I think."

And, as Desboro approached, Clydesdale strode forward, offering him an
enormous hand.

"Glad to see you," he grinned. "Congratulations on your marriage! Fine
girl, that! I don't know any to match her." He waved a comprehensive
arm. "All this stuff is her arrangement. Gad! But I had it rottenly
displayed. And the collection was full of fakes, too. But she came
floating in here one morning, and what she did to my junk-heap was a
plenty, believe _me_!" And the huge fellow grinned and grinned until
Desboro's sombre face altered and became less rigid.

A maid appeared with a table and a frosted cocktail shaker.

"You'll stop and lunch with us," said Clydesdale, filling two glasses.
"Elena won't be very long. Don't know just what ails her, but she's
nervous and run down. I guess it's the spring that's coming. Well,
here's to all bad men; they need the boost and we don't. Prosit!"

He emptied his glass, set it aside, and from the open case beside him
extracted an exquisite jar of the Kang-He, _famille noire_, done in five
colours during the best period of the work.

"God knows I'm not proud," he said, "but can you beat it, Desboro?"

Desboro took the beautiful jar, and, carefully guarding the cover,
turned it slowly. Birds, roses, pear blossoms, lilies, exquisite in
composition and colour, passed under his troubled eyes. He caressed the
paste mechanically.

"It is very fine," he said.

"Have you anything to beat it?"

"I don't think so."

"How are yours marked?" inquired the big man, taking the jar into his
own enormous paws as lovingly as a Kadiak bear embraces her progeny.
"This magnificent damn thing is a forgery. Look! Here's the mark of the
Emperor Ching-hwa! Isn't that the limit? And the forgery is every bit as
fine as the originals made before 1660--only it happened to be the
fashion in China in 1660 to collect Ching-hwa jars, so the maker of this
piece deliberately forged an earlier date. Can you beat it?"

Desboro smiled as though he were listening; and Clydesdale gingerly
replaced the jar and as carefully produced another.

"Ming!" he said. "Seventeenth century Manchu Tartar. I've some earlier
Ming ranging between 1400 A.D. and 1600; but it can't touch this,
Desboro. In fact, I think the eighteenth century Ming is even finer;
and, as far as that goes, there is magnificent work being done
now--although the occidental markets seldom see it. But--Ming for mine,
every time! How do _you_ feel about it, old top?"

Desboro looked at the vase. The soft beauty of the blue underglaze, the
silvery thickets of magnolia bloom amid which a magnificent,
pheasant-hued phoenix stepped daintily, meant at the moment absolutely
nothing to him.

Nor did the _poudre-bleu_ jar, triumphantly exhibited by the infatuated
owner--a splendid specimen painted on the overglaze. And the weeds and
shells and fiery golden fishes swimming had been dimmed a little by
rubbing, so that the dusky aquatic depths loomed more convincingly.

"Clydesdale," said Desboro in a low voice, "I want to say one or two
things to you. Another time it would give me pleasure to go over these
porcelains with you. Do you mind my interrupting you?"

The big man grinned.

"Shoot," he said, replacing the "powder-blue" and carefully closing and
locking the case. Then, dropping the keys into his pocket, he came over
to where Desboro was seated beside the flimsy folding card-table, shook
the cocktail shaker, offered to fill Desboro's glass, and at a gesture
of refusal refilled his own.

"This won't do a thing to my appetite," he remarked genially. "Go ahead,
Desboro." And he settled himself to listen, with occasional furtive,
sidelong glances at his beloved porcelains.

Desboro said: "Clydesdale, you and I have known each other for a number
of years. We haven't seen much of each other, except at the club, or
meeting casually here and there. It merely happened so; if accident had
thrown us together, the chances are that we would have liked each
other--perhaps sought each other's company now and then--as much as men
do in this haphazard town, anyway. Don't you think so?"

Clydesdale nodded.

"But we have been on perfectly friendly terms, always--with one
exception," said Desboro.

"Yes--with one exception. But that is all over now----"

"I am afraid it isn't."

Clydesdale's grin remained unaltered when he said: "Well, what the
hell----" and stopped abruptly.

"It's about that one exception of which I wish to speak," continued
Desboro, after a moment's thought. "I don't want to say very much--just
one or two things which I hope you already know and believe. And all I
have to say is this, Clydesdale; whatever I may have been--whatever I
may be now, that sort of treachery is not in me. I make no merit of
it--it may be mere fastidiousness on my part which would prevent me from
meditating treachery toward an acquaintance or a friend."

Clydesdale scrutinised him in silence.

"Never, since Elena was your wife, have I thought of her except as your
wife."

Clydesdale only grinned.

"I want to be as clear as I can on this subject," continued the other,
"because--and I must say it to you--there have been rumours
concerning--me."

"And concerning _her_," said Clydesdale simply. "Don't blink matters,
Desboro."

"No, I won't. The rumours have included her, of course. But what those
rumours hint, Clydesdale, is an absolute lie. I blame myself in a
measure; I should not have come here so often--should not have continued
to see Elena so informally. I _was_ in love with her once; I did ask her
to marry me. She took you. Try to believe me, Clydesdale, when I tell
you that though for me there did still linger about her that
inexplicable charm which attracted me, which makes your wife so
attractive to everybody, never for a moment did it occur to me not to
acquiesce in the finality of her choice. Never did I meditate any wrong
toward you or toward her. I _did_ dangle. That was where I blame
myself. Because where a better man might have done it uncriticised, I
was, it seems, open to suspicion."

"You're no worse than the next," said Clydesdale in a deep growl.
"Hell's bells! I don't blame _you_! And there would have been nothing to
it anyway if Elena had not lost her head that night and bolted. I was
rough with you all right; but you behaved handsomely; and I knew where
the trouble was. Because, Desboro, my wife dislikes me."

"I thought----"

"No! Let's have the truth, damn it! _That's_ the truth! My wife dislikes
me. It may be that she is crazy about you; I don't know. But I am
inclined to think--after these months of hell, Desboro--that she really
is not crazy about you, or about any man; that it is only her dislike of
me that possesses her to--to deal with me as she has done."

He was still grinning, but his heavy lower lip twitched, and suddenly
the horror of it broke on Desboro--that this great, gross, red-faced
creature was suffering in every atom of his unwieldy bulk; that the
fixed grin was covering anguish; that the man's heart was breaking
there, now, where he sat, the _rictus mortis_ stamped on his quivering
face.

"Clydesdale," he said, unsteadily, "I came here meaning to say only what
I have said--that you never had anything to doubt in me--but that
rumours still coupled my name with Elena's. That was all I meant to say.
But I'll say more. I'm sorry that things are not going well with you and
Elena. I would do anything in the world that lay within my power to help
make yours a happy marriage. But--marriages all seem to go wrong. For
years--witnessing what I have--what everybody among our sort of people
cannot choose but witness--I made up my mind that marriage was no good."

He passed his hand slowly over his eyes; waited a moment, then:

"But I was wrong. That's what the matter is--that is how the matter lies
between the sort of people we are and marriage. It is _we_ who are
wrong; there's nothing wrong about marriage, absolutely nothing. Only
many of us are not fit for it. And some of us take it as a preventive,
as a moral medicine--as though anybody could endure an eternal dosing!
And some of us seek it as a refuge--a refuge from every ill, every
discomfort, every annoyance and apprehension that assails the human
race--as though the institution of marriage were a vast and fortified
storehouse in which everything we have ever lacked and desired were
lying about loose for us to pick up and pocket."

He bent forward across the table and began to play absently with his
empty glass.

"Marriage is all right," he said. "But only those fit to enter possess
the keys to the magic institution. And they find there what they
expected. The rest of us jimmy our way in, and find ourselves in an
empty mansion, Clydesdale."

For a long while they sat there in silence; Desboro fiddling with his
empty glass, the other, motionless, his ponderous hands clasped on his
knees. At length, Desboro spoke again: "I do not know how it is with
you, but I am not escaping anything that I have ever done."

"I'm getting mine," said Clydesdale heavily.

After a few moments, what Desboro had said filtered into his brain; and
he turned and looked at the younger man.

"Have these rumours----" he began. And Desboro nodded:

"These rumours--or others. _These_ happen not to have been true."

"That's tough on _her_," said Clydesdale gravely.

"That's where it is toughest on us. I think we could stand anything
except that _they_ should suffer through us. And the horrible part of it
is that we never meant to--never dreamed that we should ever be held
responsible for the days we lived so lightly--gay, careless,
irresponsible days--God! Is there any punishment to compare with it,
Clydesdale?"

"None."

Desboro rose and stood with his hand across his forehead, as though it
ached.

[Illustration: "'Jacqueline--my wife--is the result of a different
training'"]

"You and Elena and I are products of the same kind of civilisation.
Jacqueline--my wife--is the result of a different training in a very
different civilisation."

"And the rottenness of ours is making her ill."

Desboro nodded. After a moment he stirred restlessly.

"Well," he said, "I must go to the office. I haven't been there yet."

Clydesdale got onto his feet.

"Won't you stay?"

"No."

"As you wish. And--I'm sorry, Desboro. However, you have a better chance
than I--to make good. My wife--dislikes me."

He went as far as the door with his guest, and when Desboro had departed
he wandered aimlessly back into the house and ultimately found himself
among his porcelains once more--his only refuge from a grief and care
that never ceased, never even for a moment eased those massive shoulders
of their dreadful weight.

From where he stood, he heard the doorbell sounding distantly. Doubtless
his wife had returned. Doubtless, too, as long as there was no guest,
Elena would prefer to lunch alone in her own quarters, unless she had an
engagement to lunch at the Ritz or elsewhere.

He had no illusion that she desired to see him, or that she cared
whether or not he inquired what her physician had said; but he closed
and locked his glass cases once more and walked heavily into the main
body of the house and descended to the door.

To the man on duty there he said: "Did Mrs. Clydesdale come in?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you."

He hesitated, turned irresolutely, and remounted the stairs. To a maid
passing he said:

"Is Mrs. Clydesdale lunching at home?"

"Yes, sir. Mrs. Clydesdale is not well, sir."

"Has she gone to her room?"

"Yes, sir."

"Please go to her and say that I am sorry and--and inquire if there is
anything I can do."

The maid departed and the master of the house wandered into the
music-room--perhaps because Elena's tall, gilded harp was there--the
only thing in the place that ever reminded him of her, or held for him
anything of her personality.

[Illustration: "In the rose dusk of the drawn curtains, he stood beside
it"]

Now, in the rose dusk of the drawn curtains, he stood beside it, not
touching it--never dreaming of touching it without permission, any more
than he would have touched his wife.

Somebody knocked; he turned, and the maid came forward.

"Mrs. Clydesdale desires to see you, sir."

He stared for a second, then his heart beat heavily with alarm.

"Where is Mrs. Clydesdale?"

"In her bedroom, sir."

"Unwell?"

"Yes, sir."

"In _bed_?"

"I think so, sir. Mrs. Clydesdale's maid spoke to me."

"Very well. Thank you."

He went out and mounted the stairs, striding up silently to the hall
above, where his wife's maid quietly opened the door for him, then went
away to her own little chintz-lined den.

Elena was lying on her bed in a frilly, lacy, clinging thing of rose
tint. The silk curtains had been drawn, but squares of sunlight
quartered them, turning the dusk of the pretty room to a golden gloom.

She opened her eyes and looked up at him as he advanced.

"I'm terribly sorry," he said; and his heavy voice shook in spite of
him.

She motioned toward the only armchair--an ivory-covered affair, the cane
bottom covered by a rose cushion.

"Bring it here--nearer," she said.

He did so, and seated himself beside the bed cautiously.

She lay silent after that; once or twice she pressed the palms of both
hands over her eyes as though they pained her, but when he ventured to
inquire, she shook her head. It was only when he spoke of calling up Dr.
Allen again that she detained him in his chair with a gesture:

"Wait! I've got to tell you something! I don't know what you will
do about it. You've had trouble enough--with me. But this
is--is--unspeakable----"

"What on earth is the matter? Aren't you ill?" he began.

"Yes; that, too. But--there is something else. I thought it had made me
ill--but----" She began to shiver, and he laid his hand on hers and
found it burning.

"I tell you Allen ought to come at once----" he began again.

"No, no, no! You don't know what you're talking about. I--I'm
frightened--that's what is the matter! That's one of the things that's
the matter. Wait a moment. I'll tell you. I'll _have_ to tell you, now.
I suppose you'll--divorce me."

There was a silence; then:

"Go on," he said, in his heavy, hopeless voice.

She moistened her lips with her tongue:

"It's--my fault. I--I did not care for you--that is how it--began. No;
it began before that--before I knew you. And there were two men. You
remember them. They were the rage with our sort--like other fads, for a
while--such as marmosets, and--things. One of these things was the poet,
Orrin Munger. He called himself a Cubist--whatever that may be. The
other was the writer, Adalbert Waudle."

Clydesdale's grin was terrible.

"No," she said wearily, "I was only a more venturesome fool than other
women who petted them--nothing worse. They went about kissing women's
hands and reading verses to them. Some women let them have the run of
their boudoirs--like any poodle. Then there came that literary and
semi-bohemian bal-masque in Philadelphia. It was the day before the
Assembly. I was going on for that, but mother wouldn't let me go on away
earlier for the bal-masque. So--I went."

"What?"

"I lied. I pretended to be stopping with the Hammertons in Westchester.
And I bribed my maid to lie, too. But I went."

"Alone?"

"No. Waudle went with me."

"Good God, Elena!"

"I know. I was simply insane. I went with him to that ball and
left before the unmasking. Nobody knew me. So I went to the
Bellevue-Stratford for the night. I--I never dreamed that _he_ would go
there, too."

"Did he?"

"Yes. He had the rooms adjoining. I only knew it when--when I awoke in
the dark and heard him tapping on the door and calling in that thick,
soft voice----" She shuddered and clenched her hands, closing her
feverish eyes for a moment.

Her husband stared at her, motionless in his chair.

She unclosed her eyes wearily: "That was all--except--the other one--the
little one with the frizzy hair--Munger. He saw me there. He knew that
Waudle had the adjoining rooms. So then, very early, I came back to New
York, badly scared, and met my maid at the station and pretended to
mother that I had just arrived from Westchester. And that night I went
back to the Assembly. But--ever since that night I--I have been--paying
money to Adalbert Waudle. Not much before I married you, because I had
very little to pay. But all my allowance has gone that way--and
now--now he wants more. And I haven't it. And I'm sick----"

The terrible expression on her husband's face frightened her, and, for a
moment, she faltered. But there was more to tell, and she must tell it
though his unchained wrath destroy her.

"You'll have to wait until I finish," she muttered. "There's more--and
worse. Because he came here the night I--went to Silverwood. He saw me
leave the house; he unsealed and read the note I left on the library
table for you. He knows what I said--about Jim Desboro. He knows I went
to him. And he is trying to make me pay him--to keep it out of the--the
_Tattler_."

Clydesdale's congested face was awful; she looked into it, thought that
she read her doom. But the courage of despair forced her on.

"There is worse--far worse," she said with dry lips. "I had no money to
give; he wished to keep the seven thousand which was his share of what
you paid for the forged porcelains. He came to me and made me understand
that if you insisted on his returning that money he would write me up
for the _Tattler_ and disgrace me so that you would divorce me. I--I
must be honest with you at such a time as this, Cary. I wouldn't have
cared if--if Jim Desboro would have married me afterward. But he had
ceased to care for me. He--was in love with--Miss Nevers; or she was
with him. And I disliked her. But--I was low enough to go to her in my
dire extremity and--and ask her to pronounce those forged porcelains
genuine--so that you would keep them. And I did it--meaning to bribe
her."

Clydesdale's expression was frightful.

"Yes--I did this thing. And worse. I--I wish you'd kill me after I tell
you! I--something she said--in the midst of my anguish and
terror--something about Jim Desboro, I think--I am not sure--seemed to
drive me insane. And she was married to him all the while, and I didn't
know it. And--to drive her away from him, I--I made her understand
that--that I was--his--mistress----"

"Good God!"

"Wait--for God's sake, wait! I don't care what you do to me afterward.
Only--only tell that woman I wasn't--tell her I never was. Promise me
that, whatever you are going to do to me--promise me you'll tell her
that I never was any man's mistress! Because--because--I am--ill. And
they say--Dr. Allen says I--I am going to--to have a baby."

The man reared upright and stood swaying there, ashy faced, his visage
distorted. Suddenly the features were flooded with rushing crimson; he
dropped on his knees and caught her in his arms with a groan; and she
shut her eyes, thinking the world was ending.

After a long while she opened them, still half stunned with terror; saw
his quivering lips resting on her tightly locked hands; stared for a
while, striving to comprehend his wet face and his caress.

And, after a while, timidly, uncertainly, wondering, she ventured to
withdraw one hand, still watching him with fascinated eyes.

She had always feared him physically--feared his bulk, and his massive
strength, and his grin. Otherwise, she had held him in intellectual
contempt.

Very cautiously, very gently, she withdrew her hand, watching him all
the while. He had not annihilated her. What did he mean to do with this
woman who had hated him and who now was about to disgrace him? What did
he mean to do? What was he doing now--with his lips quivering against
her other hand, all wet with his tears?

"Cary?" she said.

He lifted a passion-marred visage; and there seemed for a moment
something noble in the high poise of his ugly head. And, without knowing
what she was doing, or why, she slowly lifted her free hand and let it
rest lightly on his massive shoulder. And, as she looked into his eyes,
a strange expression began to dawn in her own--and it became stranger
and stranger--something he had never before seen there--something so
bewildering, so wonderful, that his heart seemed to cease.

Suddenly her eyes filled and her face flushed from throat to hair and
the next instant she swayed forward, was caught, and crushed to his
breast.

"Oh!" she wept ceaselessly. "Oh, oh, Cary! I didn't know--I didn't know.
I--I want to be a--a good mother. I'll try to be better; I'll try to be
better. You are so good--you are so good to me--so kind--so kind--to
protect me--after what I've done--after what I've done!"



CHAPTER XVIII


Desboro passed a miserable afternoon at the office. If there had been
any business to take his mind off himself it might have been easier for
him; but for a long time now there had been nothing stirring in Wall
Street; the public kept away; business was dead.

After hours he went to the club, feeling physically wretched. Man after
man came up and congratulated him on his marriage--some whom he knew
scarcely more intimately than to bow to, spoke to him. He was a very
great favourite.

In the beginning, it was merely a stimulant that he thought he needed;
later he declined no suggestion, and even made a few, with an eye on the
clock. For at five he was to meet Jacqueline.

Toward five his demeanour had altered to that gravely urbane and too
courteous manner indicative of excess; and his flushed face had become
white and tense.

Cairns found him in the card room at six, saw at a glance how matters
stood with him, and drew him into a corner of the window with scant
ceremony.

"What's the matter with you?" he said sharply. "You told me that you
were to meet your wife at five!"

Desboro's manner became impressively courteous.

"Inadvertently," he said, "I have somehow or other mislaid the clock.
Once it stood somewhere in this vicinity, but----"

"Damn it! There it is! Look at it!"

Desboro looked gravely in the direction where Cairns was pointing.

"That undoubtedly _is_ a clock," he said. "But now a far more serious
problem confronts us, John. Having located a clock with a certain amount
of accuracy, what is the next step to take in finding out the exact
time?"

"Don't you know how to tell the time?" demanded Cairns, furious.

"Pardon. I know how to _tell_ it, provided I once know what it is----"

"Are you drunk?"

"I have never," said Desboro, courteously, "experienced intoxication. At
present I am perfectly cognisant of contemporary events now passing in
my immediate vicinity----"

"Where were you to meet your wife?"

"At the depository of her multitudinous and intricate affairs of
business--in other words, at her office, dear friend."

"You can't go to her this way."

"It were unwise, perhaps," said Desboro, pleasantly.

Cairns gripped his arm: "You go to the baths; do you hear? Tell Louis to
massage the edge off you. I'm going to speak to your wife."

So Desboro sauntered off toward the elevator and Cairns called up
Jacqueline's office.

It appeared that Jacqueline had left. Should they switch him on to her
private apartments above?

In a moment his call was answered.

"Is this Mrs. Desboro?" he asked. And at the same instant recognised
Cynthia Lessler's voice.

She returned his greeting briefly.

"Jacqueline thought that perhaps she had misunderstood Mr. Desboro, so
she has gone to the station. Did he go there?"

"N--no. He had an appointment and----"

"Where?"

"At the club--the Olympian Club----"

"Is he there?"

"Yes----"

"Then tell him to go at once to the station, or he will miss his wife
and the 6:15 train, too!"

"I--he--Jim isn't feeling very well----"

"Is he _ill_!"

"N--no. Oh, no! He's merely tired--over-worked----"

"What!"

"Oh, he's just taking a cold plunge and a rub-down----"

"Mr. Cairns!"

"Yes."

"Take a taxi and come here before Jacqueline returns."

"Did you wish----"

"Yes. How soon can you get here?"

"Five minutes."

"I'll wait."

"A rotten piece of business," muttered Cairns, taking hat and stick from
the cloak room.

The starter had a taxi ready. Except for the usual block on Fifth
Avenue, they would have made it in four minutes. It took them ten.

Cynthia met him on the landing and silently ushered him into
Jacqueline's pretty little parlour. She still wore her hat and coat; a
fur boa lay on a sofa.

[Illustration: "'Now,' she said, leaning forward ... 'what is the
meaning of this?'"]

"Now," she said, leaning forward in her chair as soon as he was seated,
"what is the meaning of this?"

"Of what?" he asked, pretending mild surprise.

"Of Mr. Desboro's behaviour! He was married yesterday to the dearest,
sweetest, loveliest girl in the world. To-day, I stop at her office to
see her--and I find that she is unhappy. She couldn't hide it from _me_!
I _love_ her! And all her smiles and forced gaiety and clever
maneuvering were terrible to me--heart-breaking. She is dreadfully
unhappy. Why?"

"I didn't know it," said Cairns honestly.

"Is that true?"

"Absolutely."

"Very well. But you know why he didn't meet Jacqueline at five, don't
you?"

He looked at her miserably: "Yes, I know. I wouldn't let him."

"Is he intoxicated?"

"No. He has had more than he should have."

"What a cur!" she said between her teeth.

Cairns bit his lip and nervously twirled his walking stick.

"See here, Cynthia, Jim isn't a cur, you know."

"What do _you_ call a man who has done what he's done?"

"I--I tell you it has me guessing. Because it isn't like Jim Desboro.
He's never that way--not once in years. Only when he's up against it
does he ever do that. And he's perfectly mad about his wife. Don't make
any mistake there; he's dead in love with her--crazy about her. But--he
came into the office about one to-day, looking like the deuce--so
changed, so white, so 'all in,' that I thought he had the grippe or
something."

Cynthia said: "They've had a quarrel. Oh, what is it--what could it be,
Jack? You know it will break her heart. It's breaking mine now. I can't
bear it--I simply can't----"

"Haven't the least idea what's wrong," said Cairns, leaning forward,
elbows on his knees, and beating the hearth with his walking stick.

"Can't Mr. Desboro come here pretty soon?"

"Oh, yes, I think so. I'll go back and look him over----"

Cynthia's eyes suddenly glistened with tears, and she bowed her head.

"My dear child," expostulated Cairns, "it's nothing to weep over. It's
a--one of those things likely to happen to any man----"

"But I can't bear to have it happen to Jacqueline's husband. Oh, I wish
she had never seen him, never heard of him! He is a thousand, thousand
miles beneath her. He isn't worth----"

"For heaven's sake, Cynthia, don't think that!"

"_Think_ it! I _know_ it! Of what value is that sort of man compared to
a girl like Jacqueline! Of what use is that sort of man anyway! I know
them," she said bitterly, "I've had my lesson in that school. One and
all, young and old, rich or poor--_comparatively_ poor--they are the
same. The same ideas haunt their idle and selfish minds, the same
motives move them, the same impulses rule them, and they reason with
their emotions, not with their brains. Arrogant, insolent,
condescending, self-centred, self-indulgent, and utterly predatory! That
is the type! And they _belong_ where people prey upon one another, not
among the clean and sweet and innocent. They belong where there is no
question of marriage or of home or of duty; they belong where lights are
many and brilliant, where there is money, and plenty of it! Where there
is noise, and too much of it! That is where that sort of man belongs.
And nobody knows it as well as such a girl as I! Nobody, _nobody_!" Her
lip quivered and she choked back the tears.

"And--and now--such a man has taken my little friend--my little
girl--Jacqueline----"

"Do you think he's as rotten as what you say?"

"Yes. _Yes!_"

"Then--what must you think of me?"

She glanced up, blotting her wet lashes with her handkerchief.

"What do you mean, Jack?"

"I suppose I'm included among the sort of men you have been so
graphically describing?"

She did not answer.

"Am I not included?"

She shook her head slightly.

"Why not? If your description fits Jim Desboro and Reggie Ledyard, and
that set, it must naturally fit me, also."

But she shook her head almost imperceptibly.

"Why do you exclude me, Cynthia?"

But she had nothing to say about him. Long ago--long, long since, she
had made excuses for all that he should have been and was not. It was
not a matter for discussion; she and her heart had settled it between
them without calling in Logic as umpire, and without recourse to Reason
for an opinion.

"The worst of it is," he said, rising and picking up his hat, "some of
your general description does fit me."

"I--did not mean it that way----"

"But it does fit, Cynthia; doesn't it?"

"No."

"What!" incredulously.

She said in a low voice: "You were very kind to me, Jack; and--not like
other men. Do you think I can ever forget that?"

He forced a laugh: "Great actresses are expected to forget things.
Besides, there isn't anything to remember--except that--we were
friends."

"_Real_ friends. I know it now. Because the world is full of the other
kind. But a _real_ friend does not--destroy. Good-bye."

"Shall I see you again?" he asked, troubled.

"If you wish. I gave you my address yesterday."

"Will you really be at home to me, Cynthia?"

"Try," she said, unsmiling.

She went to the landing with him.

"Will you see that Mr. Desboro comes here as soon as he is--fit?"

"Yes."

"Very well. I'll tell Jacqueline he was not feeling well and fell asleep
at the club. It's one of those lies that may be forgiven--" she shrugged
"--but anyway I'll risk it."

So he went away, and she watched his departure, standing by the old-time
stair-well until she heard the lower door clang. Then, grieved and
angry, she seated herself and nervously awaited Jacqueline's
reappearance.

The girl returned ten minutes later, pale and plainly worried, but
carrying it off lightly enough.

"Cynthia!" she exclaimed, smilingly. "_Where_ do you suppose that
husband of mine can be! He isn't at the station. I boarded the train,
but he was not on it! Isn't it odd? I--I don't suppose anything could
have happened to him--any accident--because the motor drivers are so
reckless----"

"You darling thing!" laughed Cynthia. "Your young man is perfectly
safe----"

"Oh, of course I--I believe so----"

"He _is_! He's at his club."

"What!"

"It's perfectly simple," said Cynthia coolly, "he went there from his
office, feeling a bit under the weather----"

"Is he _ill_?"

"No, no! He was merely tired, I believe. And he stretched out and fell
asleep and failed to wake up. That's all."

Jacqueline looked at her in relieved astonishment for a moment.

"Did he telephone?"

"Yes--or rather, Mr. Cairns did----"

"Mr. Cairns! Why did Mr. Cairns telephone? Why didn't my husband
telephone? Cynthia--look at me!"

Cynthia met her eye undaunted.

"Why," repeated Jacqueline, "didn't my husband telephone to me? Is he
too ill? Is _that_ it? Are you concealing it? _Are_ you, Cynthia?"

Cynthia smiled: "He's a casual young man, darling. I believe he's taking
a cold plunge or something. He'll probably be here in a few minutes. So
I'll say good-night." She picked up her fur neckpiece, glanced at the
mirror, fluffed a curl or two, and turned to Jacqueline. "Don't spoil
him, ducky," she whispered, putting her hands on the young wife's
shoulders and looking her deep in the eyes.

Jacqueline flushed painfully.

"How do you mean, Cynthia?"

The latter said: "There are a million ways of spoiling a man beside
giving up to him."

"I don't give up to him," said Jacqueline in a colourless voice.

Cynthia looked at her gravely:

"It's hard to know what to do, dear. When a girl gives up to a man she
spoils him sometimes; when she doesn't she sometimes spoils him. It's
hard to know what to do--very hard."

Jacqueline's gaze grew troubled and remote.

"How to love a man wisely--that's a very hard thing for a girl to
learn," murmured Cynthia. "But--the main thing--the important thing, is
to love him, I think. And I suppose we have to take our chances of
spoiling him."

"The main thing," said Jacqueline slowly, "is that he should know you
_do_ love him; isn't it?"

"Yes. But the problem is, how best to show it. And that requires wisdom,
dear. And where is a girl to acquire that kind of wisdom? What
experience has she? What does she know? Ah, we _don't_ know. There lies
the trouble. By instinct, disposition, natural reticence, and training,
we are disposed to offer too little, perhaps; But often, in fear that
our reticence may not be understood, we offer too much."

"I--am afraid of that."

"Of offering too much?"

"Yes."

They stood, thoughtful a moment, not looking at each other.

Cynthia said in a low voice: "Be careful of him, ducky. His is not the
stronger character. Perhaps he needs more than you give."

"What!"

"I--I think that perhaps he is not the kind of man to be spoiled by
giving. And--it is possible to starve some men by the well-meant
kindness of reserve."

"All women--modest women--are reserved."

"Is a mother's reserve praiseworthy when her child comes to her for
intimate companionship--for tenderness perhaps--and puts its little arms
around her neck?"

Jacqueline stared, then blushed furiously.

"Why do you suppose that I am likely to be lacking in sympathy,
Cynthia?"

"You are not. I know you too well, ducky. But you might easily be
exquisitely undemonstrative."

"All women--are--undemonstrative."

"Not always."

"An honest, chaste----"

"No."

Jacqueline, deeply flushed, began in a low voice:

"To discourage the lesser emotions----"

"No! To separate them, class them as lesser, makes them so. They are
merely atoms in the molecule--a tiny fragment of perfection. To be too
conscious of them makes them too important; to accept them with the
rest as part of the ensemble is the only way."

"Cynthia!"

"Yes, dear."

"Who has been educating you to talk this way?"

"Necessity. There is no real room for ignorance in my profession. So I
don't go to parties any more; I try to educate myself. There are
cultivated people in the company. They have been very kind to me. And my
carelessness in English--my lack of polish--these were not inherited. My
father was an educated man, if he was nothing else. You know that. Your
father knew it. All I needed was to be awakened. And I am awake."

She looked honestly into the honest eyes that met hers, and shook her
head.

"No self-deception can aid us to lie down to pleasant dreams,
Jacqueline. And the most terrible of all deceptions is
self-righteousness. Let me know myself, and I can help myself. And I
know now how it would be with me if the happiness of marriage ever came
to me. I would give--give everything good in me, everything
needed--strip myself of my best! Because, dear, we always have more to
give than they; and they need it all--all we can give them--every one."

After a silence they kissed each other; and, when Cynthia had departed,
Jacqueline closed the door and returned to her chair. Seated there in
deep and unhappy thought, while the slow minutes passed without him,
little by little her uneasiness returned.

Eight o'clock rang from her little mantel clock. She started up and went
to the window. The street lamps were shining over pavements and
sidewalks deserted. Very far in the west she could catch the low roar
of Broadway, endless, accentless, monotonous, interrupted only by the
whiz of motors on Fifth Avenue. Now and then a wayfarer passed through
the silent street below; rarely a taxicab; but neither wayfarer nor
vehicle stopped at her door.

She did not realise how long she had been standing there, when from
behind the mantel clock startled her again, ringing out nine. She came
back into the centre of the room, and, hands clasped, stared at the
dial.

She had not eaten since morning; there had been no opportunity in the
press of accumulated business. She felt a trifle faint, mostly from a
vague anxiety. She did not wish to call up the club; instinct forbade
it; but at a quarter to ten she went to the telephone, and learned that
Desboro had gone out between eight and nine. Then she asked for Cairns,
and found that he also had gone away.

Sick at heart she hung up the receiver, turned aimlessly into the room
again, and stood there, staring at the clock.

What had happened to her husband? What did it mean? Had she anything to
do with his strange conduct? In her deep trouble and perplexity--still
bewildered by the terrible hurt she had received--had her aloofness, her
sadness, impossible to disguise, wounded him so deeply that he had
already turned away from her?

She had meant only kindness to him--was seeking only her own
convalescence, desperately determined to love and to hold this man.
Hadn't he understood it? Could he not give her time to recover? How
could he expect more of her--a bride, confronted in the very first
hours of her wedded life by her husband's self-avowed mistress!

She stood, hesitating, clenching and unclenching her white and slender
hands, striving to think, succeeding only in enduring, until endurance
itself was rapidly becoming impossible.

Why was he hurting her so? Why? _Why?_ Yet, never once was her anger
aroused against this man. Somehow, he was not responsible. He was a man
as God made him--one in the endless universe of men--the _only_ one in
that limitless host existing for her. He was hers--the best of him and
the worst. And the worst was to be forgiven and protected, and the best
was to thank God for.

She knew fear--the anxious solicitude that mothers know, awaiting the
return of an errant child. She knew pain--the hurt dismay of a soul,
deep wounded by its fellow, feeling a fresher and newer wound with every
dragging second.

Her servant came, asking in an awed whisper whether her mistress would
not eat something.

Jacqueline's proud little head went up.

"Mr. Desboro has been detained unexpectedly. I will ring for you when he
comes."

But at midnight she rang, saying that she required nothing further, and
that the maid could retire after unhooking her gown.

Now, in her loosened chamber-robe, she sat before the dresser combing
out the thick, lustrous hair clustering in masses of gold around her
white face and shoulders.

She scarcely knew what she was about--knew not at all what she was
going to do with the rest of the night.

Her hair done, she lay back limply in her chintz armchair, haunted eyes
fixed on the clock; and, after staring became unendurable, she picked up
a book and opened it mechanically. It was Grenville, on Spanish Armour.
Suddenly she remembered sitting here before with this same volume on her
knees, the rain beating against the windows, a bright fire in the
grate--and Fate at her elbow, bending in the firelight beside her as one
by one she turned the illuminated pages, only to encounter under every
jeweled helmet Desboro's smiling eyes. And, as her fingers crisped on
the pages at the memory, it seemed to her at one moment that it had all
taken place many, many years ago; and, in the next moment, that it had
happened only yesterday.

How young she had been then--never having known sorrow except when her
father died. And that sorrow was different; there was nothing in it
hopeless or terrifying, believing, as she believed, in the soul's
survival; nothing to pain, wound, menace her, or to awake in depths
unsounded a hell of dreadful apprehension.

How young she had been when last she sat here with this well-worn volume
on her knees!

Nothing of love had she ever known, only the affection of a child for
her father. But--now she knew. The torture of every throbbing minute was
enlightening her.

Her hands, tightly clasped together, rested on the pages of the open
book; and she was staring at nothing when, without warning, the doorbell
rang.

She rose straight up and pressed her left hand to her side, pale lips
parted, listening; then she sprang to the door, opened it, pulled the
handle controlling the wire which lifted the street-door latch. Far
below in the darkness she heard the click, click, click of the latch,
the opening and closing of the door, steps across the hall on the
stairs, mounting nearer and nearer. And when she knew that it was he she
left the door open and returned to her armchair and lay back almost
stifled by the beating of her heart. But when the shaft of light across
the corridor fell on him and he stood on her threshold, her heart almost
stopped beating. His face was drawn and pinched and colourless; his eyes
were strange, his very presence seemed curiously unfamiliar--more so
still when he forced a smile and bent over her, lifting her limp fingers
to his lips.

"What has been the matter, Jim?" she tried to say, but her voice almost
broke.

He closed the door and stood looking around him for a moment. Then, with
a glance at her, and with just that shade of deference toward her which
he never lost, he seated himself.

"The matter is," he said quietly, "that I drank to excess at the club
and was not fit to keep my appointment with you."

"What!" she said faintly.

"That was it, Jacqueline. Cairns did his best for us both. But--I knew
it would be for the last time; I knew you would never again have to
endure such things from me."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I have said, Jacqueline. You won't have it to endure again.
But I had to have time to recover my senses and think it out. That is
why I didn't come before. So I let Cairns believe I was coming here."

"Where did you go?"

"To my rooms. I had to face it; I had to think it all over before I came
here. I would have telephoned you, but you could not have understood.
What time is it?"

"Two o'clock."

"I'm sorry. I won't keep you long----"

"What do you mean? Where are you going?"

"To my rooms, I suppose. I merely came here to tell you what is the only
thing for us to do. You know it already. I have just realised it."

"I don't understand what----"

"Oh, yes, you do, Jacqueline. You now have no illusions left concerning
me. Nor have I any left concerning what I am and what I have done.
Curious," he added very quietly, "that people had to tell me what I am
and what I have done to you before I could understand it."

"What have you--done--to me?"

"Married you. And within that very hour, almost, brought sorrow and
shame on you. Oh, the magic mirror has been held up to me to-day,
Jacqueline; and in it everything I have done to you since the moment I
first saw you has been reflected there in its real colours.

"I stepped across the straight, clean pathway of your life, telling
myself the lie that I had no intentions of any sort concerning you. And,
as time passed, however indefinite my motives, they became at least
vaguely sinister. You were aware of this; I pretended not to be. And at
last you--you saved me the infamy of self-revelation by speaking as you
did. You engaged yourself to marry me. And I let you. And, not daring to
let you stand the test which an announcement of our engagement would
surely mean, and fearing to lose you, dreading to see you turn against
me, I was cowardly enough to marry you as I did, and trust that love and
devotion would hold you."

He leaned forward in his chair and shook his head.

"No use," he said quietly. "Love and devotion never become a coward.
Both mean nothing unless based on honesty. And I was dishonest with you.
I should have told you I was afraid that what might be said to you about
me would alter you toward me. I should have told you that I dared not
stand the test. But all I said to you was that it was better for us to
marry as we did. And you trusted me."

Her pale, fascinated face never moved, nor did her eyes leave his for a
second. He sustained her gaze gravely, and with a drawn composure that
seemed akin to dignity.

"I came here to tell you this," he said, "to admit that I cheated you,
cheated the world out of you, robbed you of your independence under
false pretenses, married you as I did because I was afraid I'd lose you
otherwise. My justification was that I loved you--as though that could
excuse anything. Only could I be excused for marrying you if our
engagement had been openly announced and you had found it in you to
withstand and forgive whatever ill you heard of me. But I did not give
you that chance. I married you. And within that very hour you learned
something--whatever it was--that changed you utterly toward me, and is
threatening to ruin your happiness--to annihilate within you the very
joy of living."

He shook his head again, slowly.

"That won't do, Jacqueline. Happiness is as much your right as is life
itself. The world has a right to you, too; because you have lived nobly,
and your work has been for the betterment of things. Whoever knows you
honours you and loves you. It is such a woman as you who is of
importance in the world. Men and women are better for you. You are
needed. While I----"

He made a quick gesture; his lip trembled, but he smiled.

"So," he said, "I have thought it all out--there alone in my rooms
to-night. There will be no more trouble, no anxiety for you. I'll step
out of your life very quietly, Jacqueline, without any stir or fuss or
any inconvenience to you, more than waiting for my continued absence to
become flagrant and permanent enough to satisfy the legal requirements.
And in a little while you will have your liberty again; the liberty and,
very soon, the tranquillity of mind and the happiness out of which I
have managed to swindle you."

She had been seated motionless, leaning forward in her chair to listen.
After a few moments of silence which followed, the constraint of her
attitude suddenly weakened her, and she slowly sank back into the depths
of her big chair.

"And that," she said aloud to herself, "is what he has come here to tell
me."

"Yes, Jacqueline."

She turned her head toward him, her cheek resting flat against the
upholstered chintz back.

"One thing you have not told me, Jim."

"What is that?" he asked in a strained voice.

"How I am to live without you."

There was a silence. When his self-control seemed assured once more, he
said:

"Do you mean that the damage I have done is irreparable?"

"What you have done cannot be undone. You have made me--love you." Her
lip trembled in a pitiful attempt to smile. "Are you, after all, about
to send me forth 'between tall avenues of spears, to die?'"

"Do you still think you care for such a man as I am?" he said hoarsely.

She nodded:

"And if you leave me it will be the same, Jim. Wherever you are--living
alone or married to another woman--or whether you are living at all, or
dead, it will always be the same with me. Love is love. Nothing you say
now can alter it. Words--yours or the words of others--merely wound
_me_, and do not cripple my love for you. Nor can deeds do so. I know
that, now. They can slay only me, not my love, Jim--for I think, with
me, it is really and truly immortal."

His head dropped between his hands. She saw his body trembling at
moments. After a little while she rose, and, stepping to his side, bent
over him, letting her hand rest lightly on his hair.

"All I ask of you is to be patient," she whispered. "And you don't
understand--you don't seem to understand me, dear. I am learning very
fast--much faster and more thoroughly than I believed possible. Cynthia
was here this evening. She helped me so much. She taught me a great
deal--a very great deal. And your goodness--your unselfishness in coming
to me this way--with your boyish amends, your unconsidered and impulsive
offers of restitution--restitution of single blessedness----" She
smiled; and, deep within her breast, a faint thrill stirred her like a
far premonition.

Timidly, scarcely daring, she ventured by degrees to encircle his head
with her arm, letting her cool fingers rest over the tense, and feverish
hands that covered his face.

"What a boy is this grown man!" she whispered. "What a foolish,
emotional, impulsive boy! And such an unhappy one; and _such_ a tired
one!"

And, once more hesitating, and with infinite precaution, lest he become
suddenly too conscious of this new and shy demonstration, she ventured
to seat herself on the arm of his chair and bend closer to him.

"You must go back to your rooms, dear," she murmured. "It is morning,
and we both are in need of sleep, I think. So you must say good-night to
me and go back to--to pleasant dreams. And to-morrow we will go to
Silverwood for over Sunday. Two whole days together, dear----"

Her soft cheek rested against his; her voice died out. Slowly, guided by
the most delicate pressure, his head moved toward her shoulder,
resisted, fell forward on her breast. For one instant's ecstasy she drew
his face against her, tightly, almost fearfully, then sprang to her
feet, breathless, blushing from throat to brow, and stepped back.

He was on his feet, too, flushed, dazed, moving toward her.

She stretched out both hands swiftly.

"Good-night, dearest--dearest of men. You have made me happy again. You
are making me happier every moment. Only--be patient with me. And it
will all come true--what we have dreamed."

Her fragrant hands were crushed against his lips, and her heart was
beating faster and faster, and she was saying she scarcely knew what.

"All will be well with us. _I_ no longer doubt it. _You_ must not. I--I
_am_ the girl you desire. I will be, always--always. Only be gentle and
patient with me--only that--only that."

"How can I take you this way--and keep you--after what I have done?" he
stammered. "How can I let your generosity and mercy rob you of what is
your due----"

"Love is my due, I think. But only you can give it. And if you withhold
it, Jim, I am robbed indeed."

"Your pity--your sweetness----"

"My pity is for myself if you prove unkind."

"I? Unkind! Good God----"

"Oh! He _is_ good, Jim! And He will be. Never doubt it again. And lie
down to pleasant dreams. Will you come for me to-morrow at five?"

"Yes."

"And never again distrust yourself or me?"

He drew a deep, unsteady breath.

"Good-night," she whispered.



CHAPTER XIX


Jacqueline had been half an hour late at her office and the routine
business was not yet quite finished when Captain Herrendene was
announced at the telephone.

"I thought you had sailed!" she exclaimed in surprise, as he greeted her
over the wire.

He laughed: "I'm ordered to Governor's Island. Jolly, isn't it?"

"Fine!" she said cordially. "We shall see you sometimes, I suppose."

"I'm asked to the Lindley Hammertons for the week-end. Are you to be at
Silverwood by any happy chance?"

"Indeed we are. We are going up to-night."

"Good business!" he said. "And--may I wish you happiness, Mrs. Desboro?
Your husband is a perfectly bully fellow--lots of quality in that young
man--loads of reserve and driving force! Tell him I congratulate him
with all my heart. You know what I think of _you_!"

"It's very sweet of you to speak this way about us," she said. "You may
surmise what I think of my husband. So thank you for wishing us
happiness. And you will come over with Daisy, won't you? We are going to
be at home until Monday."

"Indeed I _will_ come!" he said heartily.

She hung up the receiver, smiling but a trifle flushed; and in her blue
eyes there lingered something resembling tenderness as she turned once
more to the pile of typewritten letters awaiting her signature. She had
cared a great deal for this man's devotion; and since she had refused
him she cared for his friendship even more than before. And, being
feminine, capable, and very tender-hearted, she already was experiencing
the characteristic and ominous solicitude of her sex for the future
consolation and ultimate happiness of this young and unmarried man.
Might it not be accomplished through Daisy Hammerton? What could be more
suitable, more perfect?

Her sensitive lips were edged with a faint smile as she signed her name
to the first business letter. It began to look dark for Captain
Herrendene. No doubt, somewhere aloft, the cherubim were already
giggling. When a nice girl refuses a man, his business with her has only
just begun.

She continued to sign her letters, the ominous smile always hovering on
her upcurled lips. And, pursuing that train of thought, she came,
unwittingly, upon another, so impossible, yet so delightful and exciting
that every feminine fibre in her responded to the invitation to meddle.
She could scarcely wait to begin, so possessed was she by the alluringly
hopeless proposition evolved from her inner consciousness; and, as soon
as the last letter had been signed, and her stenographer had taken away
the correspondence, she flew to the telephone and called up Cynthia
Lessler.

"Is it you, dear?" she asked excitedly; and Cynthia, at the other end of
the wire, caught the happy ring in her voice, for she answered:

"You sound very gay this morning. _Are_ you, dear?"

"Yes, darling. Tell me, what are you doing over Sunday?"

Cynthia hesitated, then she answered calmly:

"Mr. Cairns is coming in the morning to take me to the Metropolitan
Museum."

"What a funny idea!"

"Why is it funny? He suggested that we go and look at the Chinese
porcelains so that we could listen more intelligently to you."

"As though I were accustomed to lecture my friends! How absurd, Cynthia.
You can't go. I want you at Silverwood."

"Thank you, dear, but I've promised him----"

"Then come up on the noon train!"

"In the afternoon," explained Cynthia, still more calmly, "Mr. Cairns
and I are to read together a new play which has not yet been put in
rehearsal."

"But, darling! I do want you for Sunday! Why can't you come up for this
week-end, and postpone the Museum meanderings? Please ask him to let you
off."

There was a pause, then Cynthia said in a still, small voice:

"Mr. Cairns is here. You may ask him."

Cairns came to the telephone and said that he would consult the wishes
and the convenience of Miss Lessler.

There ensued another pause, ostensibly for consultation, during which
Jacqueline experienced a wicked and almost overwhelming desire to laugh.

Presently Cynthia called her:

"_We_ think," she said with pretty emphasis, "that it would be very
jolly to visit you. We can go to the museum any other Sunday, Mr. Cairns
says."

But the spirit of mischief still possessed Jacqueline, and she refused
to respond to the hint.

"So you are coming?" she exclaimed with enthusiasm.

"If you want _us_, darling."

"That's delightful! You know Jim and I haven't had a chance yet to
entertain our bridesmaid. We want her to be our very first guest. Thank
you so much, darling, for coming. And please say to Mr. Cairns that it
is perfectly dear of him to let you off----"

"But _he_ is coming, too, isn't he?" exclaimed Cynthia anxiously. "You
are asking us both, aren't you. _What_ are you laughing at, you little
wretch!"

But Jacqueline's laughter died out and she said hastily:

"Bring him with you, dear," and turned to confront Mrs. Hammerton, who
arrived by appointment and exactly on the minute.

The clerk who, under orders, had brought the old lady directly to the
office, retired, closing the door behind him. Jacqueline hung up the
telephone receiver, rose from her chair and gazed silently at the woman
whose letter to her had first shattered her dream of happiness. Then,
with a little gesture:

"Won't you please be seated?" she said quietly.

Aunt Hannah's face was grim as she sat down on the chair indicated.

[Illustration: "'You have no further interest in me, have you?'"]

"You have no further interest in me, have you?" she demanded.

Jacqueline did not answer.

"I ought to have come here before," said Aunt Hannah. "I ought to have
come here immediately and explained to you that when I wrote that letter
I hadn't the vaguest notion that you were already married. Do you think
I'd have been such a fool if I'd known it, Jacqueline?"

Jacqueline lifted her troubled eyes: "I do not think you should have
interfered at all."

"Good heavens! I know that! I knew it when I did it. It's the one
hopelessly idiotic act of my life. Never, _never_ was anything gained or
anything altered by interfering where real love is. I knew it, child.
It's an axiom--a perfectly self-evident proposition--an absolutely
hopeless effort. But I chanced it. Your mother, if she were alive, would
have chanced it. Don't blame me too much; be a little sorry for me.
Because I loved you when I did it. And many, many of the most terrible
mistakes in life are made because of love, Jacqueline. The mistakes of
hate are fewer."

Aunt Hannah's folded hands tightened on the gun-metal reticule across
her knees.

"It's too late to say I'm sorry," she said. "Besides, I'd do it again."

"What!"

"Yes, I would. So would your mother. I _am_ sorry; but I _would_ do it
again! I love you enough to do it again--and--and suffer what I _am_
suffering in consequence."

Jacqueline looked at her in angry bewilderment, and the spark in the
little black eyes died out.

"Child," she said wearily, "we childless women who love are capable of
the same self-sacrifice that mothers understand. I wrote you to save
you, practically certain that I was giving you up by doing it--and that
with every word of warning I was signing my own death warrant in your
affections. But I _couldn't_ sit still and let you go to the altar
unwarned. Had I cared less for you, yes! I could have let you take your
chances undisturbed by me. But--you took them anyway--took them before
my warning could do anything except anger you. Otherwise, it would have
hurt and angered you, too. I have no illusions; what I said would have
availed nothing. Only--it was my duty to say it. I never was crazy about
doing my duty. But I did it this time."

She found a fresh handkerchief in her reticule and rolled it nervously
into a wad.

"So--that is all, Jacqueline. I've made a bad mess of it. I've made a
far worse one than I supposed possible. You are unhappy. James is
perfectly wretched. The boy came to me furious, bewildered, almost
exasperated, to find out what had been said about him and who had said
it. And--and I told him what I thought of him. I _did_! And when he had
gone, I--cried myself sick--_sick_, I tell you.

"And that's why I'm here. It has given me courage to come here. I know I
am discredited; that what I say will be condemned in advance; that you
are too hurt, too hostile to me to be influenced. But--I must say my say
before I go out of your life--and his--forever. And what I came to say
to you is this. Forgive that boy! Pardon absolutely everything he has
done; eliminate it; annihilate the memory of it if you can! Memory _can_
be stunned, if not destroyed. I know; I've had to do it often. So I say
to you, begin again with him. Give that boy his chance to grow up to
your stature. In all the world I believe you are the only woman who can
ennoble him and make of him something fine--if not your peer, at least
its masculine equivalent. I do not mean to be bitter. But I cannot help
my opinion of things masculine. Forgive him, Jacqueline. Many men are
better than he; many, many are worse. But the best among them are not so
very much better than your boy Jim. Forgive him and help him to grow up.
And--that is all--I think----"

She rose and turned sharply away. Jacqueline rose and crossed the room
to open the door for her. They met there. Aunt Hannah's ugly little face
remained averted while she waited for the open door to free her.

"Mr. Desboro and I are going to be happy," said Jacqueline in a strained
voice.

"It lies with you," snapped Aunt Hannah.

"Yes--a great deal seems to lie with me. The burden of decision seems to
lie with me very often. Somehow I can't escape it. And I am not wise,
not experienced enough----"

"You are _good_. That's wisdom enough for decision."

"But--do you know--I am _not_ very good."

"Why not?"

"Because I understand much that is evil. How can real innocence be so
unworthily wise?"

"Innocence isn't goodness by a long shot!" said Aunt Hannah bluntly.
"The good _know_--and refrain."

There was a silence; the elder woman in her black gown stood waiting,
her head still obstinately averted. Suddenly she felt the girl's soft
arms around her neck, quivered, caught her in a fierce embrace.

"I--I want you to care for Jim," faltered the girl. "I want you to know
what he really is--the dearest and most generous of men. I want you to
discover the real nobility in him. He _is_ only a boy, as yet, Aunt
Hannah. And he--he must not be--cruelly--punished."

When Aunt Hannah had marched out, still inclined to dab at her eyes, but
deeply and thankfully happy, Jacqueline called up her husband at his
office.

"Jim, dear," she said, "I have had a visit from Aunt Hannah. And she's
terribly unhappy because she thinks you and I are; so I told her that we
are not unhappy, and I scolded her for saying those outrageous things to
you. And she took it so meekly, and--and she does really care for
us--and--and I've made up with her. Was it disloyal to you to forgive
her?"

"No," he said quietly. "What she said to me was the truth."

"I don't know what she said to you, dear. She didn't tell me. But I
gathered from her that it was something intensely disagreeable. So don't
ever tell me--because I might begin to dislike her again. And--it wasn't
true, anyway. She knows that now. So--we will be friendly to her, won't
we?"

"Of course. She adores you anyway----"

"If she doesn't adore you, too, I won't care for her!" said the girl
hotly.

He laughed; she could hear him distinctly; and she realised with a
little thrill that it was the same engaging laugh which she had first
associated with the delightful, graceful, charming young fellow who was
now her husband.

"What are you doing, Jim?" she asked, smiling in sympathy.

"There's absolutely nothing doing in the office, dear."

"Then--could you come over here?"

"Oh, Jacqueline! Do _you_ tempt me?"

"No," she said hastily. "I suppose you ought to be there in the office,
whether there's anything to do or not. Listen, Jim. I've invited Cynthia
and Jack Cairns for the week-end. Was it all right?"

"Of course."

"You don't really mind, do you?"

"Not a bit, dear."

"We can be by ourselves if we wish. They're going to read a play
together," she explained naïvely, "and they won't bother us----"

She checked herself, blushing furiously. He, at his end of the wire,
could scarcely speak for the quick tumult of his heart, but he managed
to say calmly enough:

"We've got the entire estate to roam over if they bore us."

"Will you take me for a walk on Sunday?"

"Yes, if you would care to go."

"Haven't I invited you to take me?"

"Have you really, Jacqueline?"

"Yes. Good-bye. I will be waiting for you at five."

She returned to her desk, the flush slowly cooling in her cheeks; and
she was just resuming her seat when a clerk brought Clydesdale's card.

"I could see Mr. Clydesdale now," she said, glancing over the
appointment list on her desk. Her smile had died out with the colour in
her cheeks, and her beautiful eyes grew serious and stern. For the name
that this man bore was associated in her mind with terrible and
unspeakable things. Never again could she hear that name with
equanimity; never recall it unmoved. Yet, now, she made an effort to put
from her all that menaced her composure at the mere mention of that
name--strove to think only of the client and kindly amateur who had
treated her always with unvarying courtesy and consideration.

He came in grinning, as usual, and she took his extended and
highly-coloured paw, smiling her greeting.

"Is it a little social visit, Mr. Clydesdale, or have you discovered
some miracle of ancient Cathay which you covet?"

"It's--my wife."

Her smile fled and her features altered to an expressionless and
colourless mask. For a second there was a gleam of fear in her eyes,
then they grew cold and clear and blue as arctic ice.

He remained standing, the grin stamped on his sanguine features.
Presently he said, heavily:

"I have come to you to make what reparation I can--in my wife's name--in
her behalf. Our deep humiliation, deeper contrition, are the only
reparation we can offer you. It is hard for me to speak. My wife is at
home, ill. And she can not rest until she has told you, through me,
that--that what she said to you the last time she saw you--here, in this
office--was an untruth."

Jacqueline, dazed, merely stared at him. He bent his head and seemed to
be searching in his mind for words. He found them after a while.

"Yes," he said in a low voice, "what my wife said, and what she
permitted you to infer--concerning herself and--Mr. Desboro--was utterly
untrue. God alone knows why she said it. But she did. I could plead
extenuation for her--if your patience permits. She is naturally very
nervous; she _did_ care a great deal for Mr. Desboro; she did, at that
time, really dislike me," he added with a quiet dignity which made every
word he uttered ring out clear as a shot. And Jacqueline seemed to feel
their impact on her very heart.

He said: "There are other circumstances--painful ones. She had been for
months--even years--in fear of blackmail--terrorised by it until she
became morbid. I did not know this. I was not aware that an indiscreet
but wholly innocent escapade of her youth had furnished this blackmailer
with a weapon. I understand now, why, caring as she did for Mr. Desboro,
and excited, harassed, terrified, exasperated, she was willing to make
an end of it with him rather than face possible disgrace with me for
whom she did not care. It is no excuse. She offers none. I offer none
for her. Nothing--no mental, no physical state could excuse what she has
done. Only--I wish--and she wishes you to know that she has been guilty
of permitting you to believe a monstrous untruth which would have
consigned her to infamy had it been true, and absolutely damned the man
you have married."

She strove to comprehend this thing that he was saying--tried to realise
that he was absolutely clearing her husband of the terrible and nameless
shadow which, she knew now, never could have entirely fled away, except
for the mercy of God and the words of humiliation now sounding in her
ears.

She stared at him. And the terrible thing was that he was grinning
still--grinning through all the agony of his shame and dreadful
abasement. And she longed to turn away--to shut out his face from her
sight. But dared not.

"That is all," he said heavily. "Perhaps there is a little more to
say--but it will leave you indifferent, very naturally. Yet, may I say
that this--this heart-breaking crisis in her life, and--in
mine--has--brought us together? And--a little more. My wife is to become
a mother. Which is why I venture to hope that you will be merciful to us
both in your thoughts. I do not ask for your pardon, which you could
never give----"

"Mr. Clydesdale!" She had risen, trembling, both little hands flat on
the desk top to steady her, and was looking straight at him.

[Illustration: "'I--I have never thought mercilessly'"]

"I--my thoughts----" she stammered "are not cruel. Say so to your wife.
I--I have never thought mercilessly. Every instinct within me is
otherwise. And I know what suffering is. And I do not wish it for
anybody. Say so to your wife, and that I wish her--happiness--with her
baby."

She was trembling so that he could scarcely control between his two huge
fists the little hand that he saluted in wordless gratitude and grief.

Then, without looking at her again, or speaking, he went his way. And
she dropped back into her chair, the tears of sheer happiness and
excitement flowing unchecked.

But she was permitted no time to collect her thoughts, no solitude for
happy tears, and, at the clerk's sharp knocking, she dried her eyes
hastily and bade him enter.

The card he laid on her desk seemed to amaze her.

"_That_ man!" she said slowly. "Is he _here_, Mr. Mirk?"

"Yes, madam. He asks for one minute only, saying that it is a matter of
most desperate importance to you----"

"To _me_?"

"Yes, madam."

Again she looked at Mr. Waudle's card.

"Bring him," she said crisply. And the blue lightning flashed in her
eyes.

When Mr. Waudle came in and the clerk had gone and closed the door,
Jacqueline said quietly:

"I'll give you one minute, Mr. Waudle. Proceed."

"I think," he said, looking at her out of his inflamed eyes, "that
you'll feel inclined to give me more than that when you understand what
I've got in this packet." And he drew from his overcoat pocket a roll of
galley proofs.

"What is it?" she asked, looking calmly into his dangerous red eyes.

"It's a story, set up and in type--as you see. And it's about your
husband and Mrs. Clydesdale--if you want to know."

A shaft of fear struck straight through her. Then, in an instant the
blanched cheeks flushed and the blue eyes cleared and sparkled.

"What is it you wish?" she asked in a curiously still voice.

"I'll tell you; don't worry. I want you to stop this man Clydesdale, and
stop him short. I don't care how you do it; _do_ it, that's all. He's
bought and paid for certain goods delivered to him by me. Now he's
squealing. He wants his money back. And--if he gets it back this story
goes in. Want me to read it to you?"

"No. What is it you wish me to do--deceive Mr. Clydesdale? Make him
believe that the remainder of the jades and rose-quartz carvings are
genuine?"

"It looks good to me," said Mr. Waudle more cheerfully. "It sounds all
right. You threw us down; it's up to you to pick us up."

"I see," she said pleasantly. "And unless I do you are intending to
publish that--story?"

"Sure as hell!" he nodded.

She remained silent and thoughtful so long that he began to hitch about
in his chair and cast furtive, sidelong glances at her and at the
curtained walls around the room. Suddenly his face grew ghastly.

"Look here!" he whispered hoarsely. "Is this a plant?"

"What?"

"Is there anybody else in this room?" He lurched to his feet and waddled
hastily around the four walls, flinging aside the green velvet curtains.
Only the concealed pictures were revealed; and he went back to his
chair, removing the cold sweat from his forehead and face with his
sleeve.

"By God!" he said. "For a moment I thought you had done me good and
plenty. But it wouldn't have helped _you_! They've got this story in the
office, and the minute I'm pinched, in it goes! Understand?"

"No," she said serenely, "but it doesn't really matter. You may go now,
Mr. Waudle."

"Hey?"

"Must I ring for a clerk to put you out?"

"Oh! So that's the game, is it? Well, I tell you that you can't bluff
me, little lady! Let's settle it now."

"No," she said. "I must have time to consider."

"How long?"

"An hour or two."

"You'll make up your mind in two hours?"

"Yes."

"All right," he said, almost jovially. "That suits me. Call me up on the
'phone and tell me what you decide. My number is on my card."

She looked at the card. It bore his telephone number and his house
address.

He seemed inclined to linger, evidently with the idea of tightening his
grip on her by either persuasion or bullying, as her attitude might
warrant. But she touched the bell and Mr. Mirk appeared; and the author
of "Black Roses" took himself off perforce, with many a knowing leer,
both threatening and blandishing.

As soon as he had gone, she called up her husband. Very quietly, but
guardedly, she conversed with him for a few moments.

When she hung up the receiver she was laughing. But it was otherwise
with Desboro.

"Cairns," he said, turning from the telephone to his associate, "there's
a silly fellow bothering my wife. If you don't mind my leaving the
office for a few minutes I'll step around and speak to him." His usually
agreeable features had grown colourless and ugly, but his voice sounded
casual enough.

"What are you going to do, Jim? Murder?"

Desboro laughed.

"I'll be gone only a few minutes," he said.

"It _could_ be done in a few minutes," mused Cairns. "Do you want me to
go with you?"

"No, thanks." He picked up his hat, nodded curtly, and went out.

Mr. Waudle and Mr. Munger maintained a "den," literary and otherwise, in
one of the new studio buildings just east of Lexington Avenue. This was
the address Mr. Waudle had left for Jacqueline; to this destination
Desboro now addressed himself. Thither an itinerant taxicab bore him on
shaky springs. He paid the predatory chauffeur, turned to enter the
building, and met Clydesdale face to face, entering the same doorway.

"Hello!" said the latter with a cheerful grin. "Where are you bound?"

"Oh, there's a man hereabouts with whom I have a few moments' business."

"Same here," observed Clydesdale.

They entered the building together, and both walked straight through to
the elevator.

"Mr. Waudle," said Clydesdale briefly to the youth in charge. "You need
not announce me."

Desboro looked at him curiously, and caught Clydesdale's eyes furtively
measuring him.

"Odd," he said pleasantly, "but my business is with the same man."

"I was wondering."

They exchanged perfectly inexpressive glances.

"Couldn't your business wait?" inquired Desboro politely.

"Sorry, Desboro, but I was a little ahead of you in the entry, I think."

The car stopped.

"Studio twenty," said the boy; slammed the gates, and shot down into
dimly lighted depths again, leaving the two men together.

"I am wondering," mused Clydesdale gently, "whether by any chance your
business with this--ah--Mr. Waudle resembles my business with him."

They looked at each other.

Desboro nodded: "Very probably," he said in a low voice.

"Oh! Then perhaps you might care to be present at the business meeting,"
said Clydesdale, "as a spectator, merely, of course."

"Thanks, awfully. But might I not persuade _you_ to remain as a
spectator----"

"Very good of you, Desboro, but I need the--ah--exercise. Really, I've
gone quite stale this winter. Don't even keep up my squash."

"Mistake," said Desboro gravely. "'Fraid you'll overdo it, old chap."

"Oh, I'll have a shy at it," said Clydesdale cheerfully. "Very glad to
have you score, if you like."

"If you insist," replied the younger man courteously.

There was a bell outside Studio No. 20. Desboro punched it with the
ferrule of his walking stick; and when the door opened, somewhat
cautiously, Clydesdale inserted his huge foot between the door and the
sill.

There was a brief and frantic scuffle; then the poet fled, his bunch of
frizzled hair on end, and the two men entered the apartment.

To the left a big studio loomed, set with artistic furniture and
bric-a-brac and Mr. Waudle--the latter in motion. In fact, he was at
that moment in the process of rushing at Mr. Clydesdale, and under full
head-way.

Whenever Mr. Waudle finally obtained sufficient momentum to rush, he
appeared to be a rather serious proposition; for he was as tall as
Clydesdale and very much fatter, and his initial velocity, combined with
his impact force per square inch might have rivalled the dynamic
problems of the proving ground.

Clydesdale took one step forward to welcome him, and Waudle went down,
like thunder.

Then he got up, went down immediately; got up, went down, stayed down
for an appreciable moment; arose, smote the air, was smitten with a
smack so terrific that the poet, who was running round and round the
four walls, squeaked in sympathy.

Waudle sat up on the floor, his features now an unrecognisable mess. He
was crying.

"I say, Desboro, catch that poet for me--there's a good chap," said
Clydesdale, breathing rather hard.

The Cubist, who had been running round and round like a frantic rabbit,
screamed and ran the faster.

"Oh, just shy some bric-a-brac at him and come home," said Desboro in
disgust.

But Clydesdale caught him, seated himself, jerked the devotee of the
moon across his ponderous knees, and, grinning, hoisted on high the
heavy hand of justice. And the post-impressionistic literature of the
future shrieked.

"Very precious, isn't it?" panted Clydesdale. "You dirty little mop of
hair, I think I'll spank _you_ into the future. Want a try at this
moon-pup, Desboro? No? Quite right; you don't need the exercise. Whew!"
And he rolled the writhing poet off his knees and onto the floor, sat up
breathing hard and grinning around him.

"Now for the club and a cold plunge--eh, Desboro? I tell you it puts
life into a man, doesn't it? Perhaps, while I'm about it, I might as
well beat up the other one a little more----"

"My God!" blubbered Waudle.

"Oh, very well--if you feel that way about it," grinned Clydesdale. "But
you understand that you won't have any sensation to feel with at all if
you ever again even think of the name of Mrs. Clydesdale."

He got up, still panting jovially, pleased as a great Dane puppy who has
shaken an old shoe to fragments.

At the door he paused and glanced back.

"Take it from me," he said genially, "if we ever come back, we'll kill."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the street once more, they lingered on the sidewalk for a moment or
two before separating. Clydesdale drew off his split and ruined gloves,
rolled them together and tossed them into the passing handcart of a
street sweeper.

"Unpleasant job," he commented.

"I don't think you'll have it to do over again," smiled Desboro.

"No, I think not. And thank you for yielding so gracefully to me. It was
my job. But you didn't miss anything; it was like hitting a feather bed.
No sport in it--but had to be done. Well, glad to have seen you again,
Desboro."

They exchanged grips; both flushed a trifle, hesitated, nodded
pleasantly to each other, and separated.

At the office Cairns inspected him curiously as he entered, but, as
Desboro said nothing, he asked no questions. A client or two sauntered
in and out. At one o'clock they lunched together.

"I understand you're coming up for the week-end," said Desboro.

"Your wife was good enough to ask me."

"Glad you're coming. Old Herrendene has been ordered to Governor's
Island. He expects to stop with the Lindley Hammertons over Sunday."

"That Daisy girl's a corker," remarked Cairns, "--only I've always been
rather afraid of her."

"She's a fine girl."

"Rather in Herrendene's class--lots of character," nodded Cairns
thoughtfully. "Having none myself, she always had me backed up against
the rail."

After a silence, Desboro said: "That was a ghastly break of mine last
night."

"Rotten," said Cairns bluntly.

The painful colour rose to Desboro's temples.

"It will be the last, Jack. I lived a thousand years last night."

"I lived a few hundred myself," said Cairns reproachfully. "And _what_ a
thoroughbred your wife is!"

Desboro nodded and drew a deep, unsteady breath.

"Well," he said, after a few moments, "it is a terrible thing for a man
to learn what he really is. But if he doesn't learn it he's lost."

Cairns assented with a jerk of his head.

"But who's to hold up the mirror to a man?" he asked. "When his father
and mother shove it under his nose he won't look; when clergy or laymen
offer him a looking-glass he shuts his eyes and tries to kick them.
That's the modern youngster--the product of this modern town with its
modern modes of thought."

"The old order of things was the best," said Desboro. "Has anybody given
us anything better than what they reasoned us into discarding--the old
gentleness of manners, the quaint, stiff formalisms now out of date, the
shyness and reticence of former days, the serenity, the faith which is
now unfashionable, the old-time reverence?"

"I don't know," said Cairns, "what we've gained in the discard. I look
now at the cards they offer us to take up, and there is nothing on them.
And the game has forced us to throw away what we had." He caressed his
chin thoughtfully. "The only way to do is to return to first principles,
cut a fresh pack, never mind new rules and innovations, but play the
game according to the decalogue. And nobody can call you down." He
reddened, and added honestly: "That's not entirely my own, Jim. There
are some similar lines in a new play which Miss Lessler and I were
reading this morning."

"Reading? Where?"

"Oh, we walked through the Park together rather early--took it easy, you
know. She read aloud as we walked."

"She is coming for the week-end," said Desboro.

"I believe so."

Desboro, lighting a cigarette, permitted his very expressionless glance
to rest on his friend for the briefest fraction of a second.

"The papers," he said, "speak of her work with respect."

"Miss Lessler," said Cairns, "is a most unusual girl."

Neither men referred to the early days of their acquaintance with
Cynthia Lessler. As though by tacit agreement those days seemed to have
been entirely forgotten.

"A rarely intelligent and lovely comedienne," mused Cairns, poking the
cigar ashes on the tray and finally laying aside his cigar. "Well, Jim,
I suppose the office yawns for us. But it won't have anything on my yawn
when I get there!"

They went back across Fifth Avenue in the brilliant afternoon sunshine,
to dawdle about the office and fuss away the afternoon in pretense that
the awakening of the Street from its long lethargy was imminent.

At half past three Cairns took himself off, leaving Desboro studying the
sunshine on the ceiling. At five the latter awoke from his day dream,
stood up, shook himself, drew a deep breath, and straightened his
shoulders. Before him, now delicately blurred and charmingly indistinct,
still floated the vision of his day-dream; and, with a slight effort, he
could still visualise, as he moved out into the city and through its
noise and glitter, south, into that quieter street where his day-dream's
vision lived and moved and had her earthly being.

Mr. Mirk came smiling and bowing from the dim interior. There was no
particular reason for the demonstration, but Desboro shook his hand
cordially.

"Mrs. Desboro is in her office," said Mr. Mirk. "You know the way,
sir--if you please----"

He knew the way. It was not likely that he would ever forget the path
that he had followed that winter day.

At his knock she opened the door herself.

"I don't know how I knew it was your knock," she said, giving ground as
he entered. There was an expression in his face that made her own
brighten, as though perhaps she had not been entirely certain in what
humour he might arrive.

"The car will be here in a few minutes," he said. "That's a tremendously
pretty hat of yours."

"Do you like it? I saw it the other day. And somehow I felt extravagant
this afternoon and telephoned for it. Do you really like it, Jim?"

"It's a beauty."

"I'm so glad--so relieved. Sometimes I catch you looking at me, Jim, and
I wonder how critical you really are. I _want_ you to like what I wear.
You'll always tell me when you don't, won't you?"

"No fear of my not agreeing with your taste," he said cheerfully. "By
the way--and apropos of nothing--Waudle won't bother you any more."

"Oh!"

"I believe Clydesdale interviewed him--and the other one--the poet." He
laughed. "Afterward there was not enough remaining for me to interview."

Jacqueline's serious eyes, intensely blue, were lifted to his.

"We won't speak of them again, ever," she said in a low voice.

"Right, as always," he rejoined gaily.

She still stood looking at him out of grave and beautiful eyes, which
seemed strangely shy and tender to him. Then, slowly shaking her head
she said, half to herself:

"I have much to answer for--more than you must ever know. But I shall
answer for it; never fear."

"What are you murmuring there all by yourself, Jacqueline?" he said
smilingly; and ventured to take her gloved hand into his. She, too,
smiled, faintly, and stood silent, pretty head bent, absorbed in her own
thoughts.

A moment later a clerk tapped and announced their car. She looked up at
her husband, and the confused colour in her face responded to the quick
pressure of his hands.

"Are you quite ready to go?" he asked.

"Yes--ready always--to go where--you lead."

Her flushed face reflected the emotion in his as they went out together
into the last rays of the setting sun.

"Have we time to motor to Silverwood?" she asked.

"Would you care to?"

"I'd love to."

So he spoke to the chauffeur and entered the car after her.

It was a strange journey for them both, with the memory of their last
journey together still so fresh, so pitilessly clear, in their minds. In
this car, over this road, beside this man, she had travelled with a
breaking heart and a mind haunted by horror unspeakable.

To him the memory of that journey was no less terrible. They spoke to
each other tranquilly but seriously, and in voices unconsciously
lowered. And there were many lapses into stillness--many long intervals
of silence. But during the longest of these, when the Westchester hills
loomed duskily ahead, she slipped her hand into his and left it there
until the lights of Silverwood glimmered low on the hill and the gate
lanterns flashed in their eyes as the car swung into the fir-bordered
drive and rolled up to the house.

"Home," she said, partly to herself; and he turned toward her in quick
gratitude.

Once more the threatened emotion confused her, but she evaded it,
forcing a gaiety not in accord with her mood, as he aided her to
descend.

"Certainly it's my home, monsieur, as well as yours," she repeated, "and
you'll feel the steel under the velvet hand of femininity as soon as I
assume the reins of government. For example, you can _not_ entertain
your cats and dogs in the red drawing-room any more. Now do you feel the
steel?"

They went to their sitting-room laughing.

About midnight she rose from the sofa. They had been discussing plans
for the future, repairs, alterations, improvements for Silverwood
House--and how to do many, many wonderful things at vast expense; and
how to practice rigid economy and do nothing at all.

[Illustration: "And, as she rose, he was still figuring"]

It had been agreed that he was to give up his rooms in town and use hers
whenever they remained in New York over night. And, as she rose, he was
still figuring out, with pencil and pad, how much they would save by
this arrangement. Now he looked up, saw her standing, and rose too.

She looked at him with sweet, sleepy, humourous eyes.

"Isn't it disgraceful and absurd?" she said. "But if I don't have my
sleep I simply become stupid and dreary and useless beyond words."

"Why did you let me keep you up?" he said gently.

"Because I wanted to stay up with you," she said. She had moved to the
centre table where the white carnations, as usual, filled the bowl. Her
slender hand touched them caressingly, lingered, and presently detached
a blossom.

She lifted it dreamily, inhaling the fragrance and looking over its
scented chalice at him.

"Good-night, Jim," she said.

"Good-night, dearest." He came over to her, hesitated, reddening; then
bent and kissed her hand and the white flower it held.

At her own door she lingered, turning to look after him as he crossed
his threshold; then slowly entered her room, her lips resting on the
blossom which he had kissed.



CHAPTER XX


On Saturday afternoon Cynthia arrived at Silverwood House, with Cairns
in tow; and they were welcomed under the trees by their host and
hostess. Which was all very delightful until Cynthia and Jacqueline
paired off with each other and disappeared, calmly abandoning Cairns and
Desboro to their own devices, leaving them to gaze at each other in the
library with bored and increasing indifference.

"You know, Jim," explained the former, in unfeigned disgust, "I have
quite enough of you every day, and I haven't come sixty miles to see
more of you."

"I sympathise with your sentiments," said Desboro, laughing, "but Miss
Lessler has never before seen the place, and, of course, Jacqueline is
dying to show it to her. And, Jack--did you _ever_ see two more engaging
young girls than the two who have just deserted us? Really, partiality
aside, does any house in town contain two more dignified, intelligent,
charming----"

"No, it doesn't!" said Cairns bluntly. "Nor any two women more upright
and chaste. It's a fine text, isn't it, though?" he added morosely.

"How do you mean?"

"That their goodness is due to their characters, not to environment or
to any material advantages. Has it ever occurred to you how doubly
disgraceful it is for people, with every chance in the world, not to
make good?"

"Yes."

"It has to me frequently of late. And I wonder what I'd have turned
into, given Cynthia's worldly chances." He shook his head, muttering to
himself: "It's fine, _fine_--to be what she is after what she has had to
stack up against!"

Desboro winced. Presently he said in a low voice:

"The worst she had to encounter were men of our sort. That's a truth we
can't blink. It wasn't loneliness or poverty or hunger that were
dangerous; it was men."

"Don't," said Cairns, rising impatiently and striding about the room. "I
know all about _that_. But it's over, God be praised. And I'm seeing
things differently now--very, very differently. You are, too, I take it.
So, for the love of Mike, let's be pleasant about it. I hate gloom.
Can't a fellow regenerate himself and remain cheerful?"

Desboro laughed uncertainly, listening to the gay voices on the stairs,
where Jacqueline and Cynthia were garrulously exploring the house
together.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Darling, it's too lovely!" exclaimed Cynthia, every few minutes, while
Jacqueline was conducting her from one room to another, upstairs, down
again, through the hall and corridor, accompanied by an adoring
multitude of low-born dogs and nondescript cats, all running beside her
with tails stuck upright.

And so, very happily together, they visited the kitchen, laundry,
storeroom, drying room, engine room, cellars; made the fragrant tour of
the greenhouses and a less fragrant visit to the garage; inspected the
water supply; gingerly traversed the gravel paths of the kitchen
garden, peeped into tool houses, carpenters' quarters; gravely surveyed
compost heaps, manure pits, and cold frames.

Jacqueline pointed out the distant farm, with its barns, stables, dairy,
and chicken runs, from the lantern of the windmill, whither they had
climbed; and Cynthia looked out over the rolling country to the blue
hills edging the Hudson, and down into gray woodlands where patches of
fire signalled the swelling maple buds; and edging willows were palely
green. Over brown earth and new grass robins were running; and bluebirds
fluttered from tree to fencepost.

Cynthia's arm stole around Jacqueline's waist.

"I am so glad for you--so glad, so proud," she whispered. "Do you
remember, once, long ago, I prophesied this for you? That you would one
day take your proper place in the world?"

"Do you know," mused Jacqueline, "I don't really believe that the
_place_ matters so much--as long as one is all right. That sounds
horribly priggish--but isn't it so, Cynthia?"

"Few ever attain that self-sufficient philosophy," said Cynthia,
laughing. "You can spoil a gem by cheap setting."

"But it remains a gem. Oh, Cynthia! _Am_ I such a prig as I sound?"

They were both laughing so gaily that the flock of pigeons on the roof
were startled into flight and swung around them in whimpering circles.

As they started to descend the steep stairs, Jacqueline said casually:

"Do you continue to find Mr. Cairns as agreeable and interesting as
ever?"

"Oh, yes," nodded the girl carelessly.

"Jim likes him immensely."

"He is a very pleasant companion," said Cynthia.

When they were strolling toward the house, she added:

"He thinks you are very wonderful, Jacqueline. But then everybody does."

The girl blushed: "The only thing wonderful about me is my happiness,"
she said.

Cynthia looked up into her eyes.

"_Are_ you?"

"Happy? Of course."

"Is that quite true, dear?"

"Yes," said Jacqueline under her breath.

"And--there is no flaw?"

"None--now."

Cynthia impulsively caught up one of her hands and kissed it.

In the library they found beside their deserted swains two visitors,
Daisy Hammerton and Captain Herrendene.

"Fine treatment!" protested Cairns, looking at Cynthia, as Jacqueline
came forward with charming friendliness and greeted her guests and made
Cynthia known to them. "Fine treatment!" he repeated scornfully,
"--leaving Jim and me to yawn at each other until Daisy and the Captain
yonder----"

"Jack," interrupted his pretty hostess, "if you push that button
somebody will bring tea."

"Twice means that Scotch is to be included," remarked Desboro. "You
didn't know that, did you, dear?"

"The only thing I know about your house, monsieur, is that your cats
and dogs must _not_ pervade the red drawing-room," she said laughing.
"_Look_ at Captain Herrendene's beautiful cutaway coat! It's all covered
with fur and puppy hair! And now _he_ can't go into the drawing-room,
either!"

Cairns looked ruefully at a black and white cat which had jumped onto
his knees and was purring herself to sleep there.

"If enough of 'em climb on me I'll have a motor coat for next winter,"
he said with resignation.

Tea was served; the chatter and laughter became general. Daisy
Hammerton, always enamoured of literature, and secretly addicted to its
creation, spoke of Orrin Munger's new volume which Herrendene had been
reading to her that morning under the trees.

"Such a queer book," she said, turning to Jacqueline, "--and I'm not yet
quite certain whether it's silly or profound. Captain Herrendene makes
fun of it--but it seems as though there _must_ be _some_ meaning in it."

"There isn't," said Herrendene. "It consists of a wad of verse, blank,
inverted, and symbolic. Carbolic is what it requires."

"Isn't that the moon-youth who writes over the heads of the public and
far ahead of 'em into the next century?" inquired Cairns.

"When an author," said Herrendene, "thinks he is writing ahead of his
readers, the chances are that he hasn't yet caught up with them."

The only flaw in Daisy Hammerton's good sense was a mistaken respect for
printed pages. She said, reverently:

"When a poet like Orrin Munger refers to himself as a Cubist and a
Futurist, it _must_ have some occult significance. Besides, he went
about a good deal last winter, and I met him."

"What did you think of him?" asked Desboro drily.

"I scarcely knew. He _is_ odd. He kissed everybody's hand and spoke with
such obscurity about his work--referred to it in such veiled terms that,
somehow, it all seemed a wonderful mystery to me."

Desboro smiled: "The man who is preëminent in his profession," he said
quietly, "never makes a mystery of it. He may be too tired to talk about
it, too saturated with it, after the day's work, to discuss it; but
never fool enough to pretend that there is anything occult in it or in
the success he has made of it. Only incompetency is self-conscious and
secretive; only the ass strikes attitudes."

Jacqueline looked at him with pride unutterable. She thought as he did.

He smiled at her, encouraged, and went on:

"The complacent tickler of phrases, the pseudo-intellectual scrambler
after subtleties that do not exist, the smirking creators of the
tortuous, the writhing explorers of the obvious, who pretend to find
depths where there are shallows, the unusual where only the commonplace
and wholesome exist--these will always parody real effort, and ape real
talent in all creative professions, and do more damage than mere
ignorance or even mere viciousness could ever accomplish. And, to my
mind, that is all there is and all there ever will be to men like
Munger."

Daisy laughed and looked at Herrendene.

"Then I've wasted your morning!" she said, pretending contrition.

He looked her straight in the eye.

"I hadn't thought of it that way," he said pleasantly.

Cairns, tired of feigning an interest in matters literary, tinkled the
ice in his glass and looked appealingly at Cynthia. And his eyes said
very plainly: "Shall we go for a walk?"

But she only smiled, affecting not to understand; and the discussion of
things literary continued.

It was very pleasant there in the house; late sunshine slanted across
the hall; a springlike breeze fluttered the curtains, and the evening
song of the robins had begun, ringing cheerily among the Norway spruces
and over the fresh green lawns.

"It's a shame to sit indoors on a day like this," said Desboro lazily.

Everybody agreed, but nobody stirred, except Cairns, who fidgeted and
looked at Cynthia.

Perhaps that maiden's heart softened, for she rose presently, and
drifted off into the music room. Cairns followed. The others listened to
her piano playing, conversing, too, at intervals, until Daisy gave the
signal to go, and Herrendene rose.

So the adieux were said, and a wood ramble for the morrow suggested.
Then Daisy and her Captain went away across the fields on foot, and
Cynthia returned to the piano, Cairns following at heel, as usual.

Jacqueline and Desboro, lingering by the open door, saw the distant
hills turn to purest cobalt, and the girdling woodlands clothe
themselves in purple haze. Dusk came stealing across the meadows, and
her frail ghosts floated already over the alder-hidden brook. A near
robin sang loudly. A star came out between naked branches and looked at
them.

"How still the world has grown," breathed Jacqueline. "Except for its
silence, night with all its beauties would be unendurable."

"I believe we both need quiet," he said.

"Yes, quiet--and each other."

Her voice had fallen so exquisitely low that he bent his head to catch
her words. But when he understood what she had said, he turned and
looked at her; and, still gazing on the coming night, she leaned a
little nearer to him, resting her cheek lightly against his shoulder.

"That is what we need," she whispered, "--silence, and each other. Don't
you think so, Jim?"

"I need _you_--your love and faith and--forgiveness," he said huskily.

"You have them all. Now give me yours, Jim."

"I give you all--except forgiveness. I have nothing to forgive."

"You dear boy--you don't know--you will never know how much you have to
forgive me. But if I told you, I know you'd do it. So--let it
rest--forgotten forever. How fragrant the night is growing! And I can
hear the brook at intervals when the wind changes--very far away--very
far--as far as fairyland--as far as the abode of the Maker of Moons."

"Who was he, dear?"

"Yu Lao. It's Chinese--and remote--lost in mystery eternal--where the
white soul of her abides who went forth 'between tall avenues of spears,
to die.' And that is where all things go at last, Jim--even the world
and the moon and stars--all things--even love--returning to the source
of all."

His arm had fallen around her waist. Presently, in the dusk, he felt
her cool, fresh hand seeking for his, drawing his arm imperceptibly
closer.

In the unlighted music room Cynthia's piano was silent.

Presently Jacqueline's cheek touched his, rested against it.

"I never knew I could feel so safe," she murmured. "I
am--absolutely--contented."

"Do you love me?"

"Yes."

"You have no fear of me now?"

"No. But don't kiss me--yet," she whispered, tightening his arm around
her.

He laughed softly: "Your Royal Shyness is so wonderful--so wonderful--so
worshipful and adorable! When may I kiss you?"

"When--we are alone."

"Will you respond--when we are alone?"

But she only pressed her flushed cheek against his shoulder, clinging
there in silence, eyes closed.

A few seconds later they started guiltily apart, as Cairns came striding
excitedly out of the darkness:

"I'm going to get married! I'm going to get married!" he repeated
breathlessly. "I've asked her, but she is crying! Isn't it wonderful!
Isn't it wonderful! Isn't it won----"

"_You!_" exclaimed Jacqueline, "and Cynthia! The _darling_!"

"I _said_ she was one! I called her that, too!" said Cairns, excitedly.
"And she began to cry. So I came out here--and I _think_ she's going to
accept me in a minute or two! Isn't it wonderful! Isn't it won----"

"You lunatic!" cried Desboro, seizing and shaking him, "--you
incoherent idiot! If that girl is in there crying all alone, _what_ are
you doing out here?"

"I don't know," said Cairns vacantly. "I don't know what I'm doing. All
this is too wonderful for me. I thought she knew me too well to care for
me. But she only began to cry. And I am going----"

He bolted back into the dark music room. Desboro and Jacqueline gazed at
each other.

"That man is mad!" snapped her husband. "But--I believe she means to
take him. Don't you?"

"Why--I suppose so," she managed to answer, stifling a violent
inclination to laugh.

They listened shamelessly. They stood there for a long while, listening.
And at last two shadowy figures appeared coming toward them very slowly.
One walked quietly into Jacqueline's arms; the other attempted it with
Desboro, and was repulsed.

"You're not French, you know," said the master of the house, shaking
hands with him viciously. "Never did I see such a blooming idiot as you
can be--but if Cynthia can stand you, I'll have to try."

Jacqueline whispered: "Cynthia and I want to be alone for a little
while. Take him away, Jim."

So Desboro lugged off the happy but demoralised suitor and planted him
in a library chair vigorously.

"Now," he said, "how about it? Has she accepted you?"

"She hasn't said a word yet. I've done nothing but talk and she's done
nothing but listen. It knocked me galley west, too. But it happened
before I realised it. She was playing on the piano, and suddenly I knew
that I wanted to marry her. And I said 'You darling!' And she grew white
and began to cry."

"Did you ask her to marry you?"

"About a thousand times."

"Didn't she say anything?"

"Not a word."

"That's odd," said Desboro, troubled.

A few minutes later the clock struck.

"Come on, anyway," he said, "we've scarcely time to dress."

In his room later, tying his tie, Cairns' uncertainty clouded his own
happiness a little; and when he emerged to wait in the sitting-room for
Jacqueline, he was still worrying over it.

When Jacqueline opened her door and saw his perplexed and anxious face,
she came forward in her pretty dinner gown, startled, wondering.

"What is it, Jim?" she asked, her heart, still sensitive from the old,
healed wounds, sinking again in spite of her.

"I'm worried about that girl----"

"_What_ girl!"

"Cynthia----"

"Oh! _That!_ Jim, you frightened me!" She laid one hand on her heart for
a moment, breathed deeply her relief, then looked at him and laughed.

"Silly! Of course she loves him."

"Jack says that she didn't utter a word----"

"She uttered several to me. Rather foolish ones, Jim--about her life's
business--the stage--and love. As though love and the business of life
were incompatible! Anyway, she'd choose him."

"Is she going to accept him?"

"Of course she is. I--I don't mean it in criticism--and I love
Cynthia--but I think she is a trifle temperamental--as well as being
the dearest, sweetest girl in the world----"

She took his arm with a pretty confidence of ownership that secretly
thrilled him, and they went down stairs together, she talking all the
while.

"Didn't I tell you?" she whispered, as they caught a glimpse of the
library in passing, where Cairns stood holding Cynthia's hands between
his own and kissing them. "Wait, Jim, darling! You mustn't interrupt
them----"

"I'm going to!" he said, exasperated. "I want to know what they're going
to do----"

"Jim!"

"Oh, all right, dear. Only they gave me a good scare when I wanted to be
alone with you."

She pressed his arm slightly:

"You haven't noticed my gown."

"It's a dream!" He kissed her shoulder lace, and she flushed and caught
his arm, then laughed, disconcerted by her own shyness.

Farris presented himself with a tray of cocktails.

"Jack! Come on!" called Desboro; and, as that gentleman sauntered into
view with Cynthia on his arm, something in the girl's delicious and
abashed beauty convinced her host. He stretched out his hand; she took
it, looking at him out of confused but sincere eyes.

"Is it all right to wish you happiness, Cynthia?"

"It is quite all right--thank you."

"And to drink this H. P. W. to your health and happiness?"

"That," she said laughingly, "is far more serious. But--you may do so,
please."

The ceremony ended, Desboro said to Jacqueline, deprecatingly:

"This promises to be a jolly, but a rather noisy, dinner. Do you mind?"

And it was both--an exceedingly jolly and unusually noisy dinner for
four. Jacqueline and Cynthia both consented to taste the champagne in
honour of this occasion only; then set aside their glasses, inflexible
in their prejudice. Which boded well for everybody concerned, especially
to two young men to whom any countenance of that sort might ultimately
have proved no kindness.

And Jacqueline was as wise as she was beautiful; and Cynthia's intuition
matched her youthful loveliness, making logic superfluous.

Feeling desperately frivolous after coffee, they lugged out an old-time
card table and played an old-time game of cards--piquet--gambling so
recklessly that Desboro lost several cents to Cairns before the evening
was over, and Jacqueline felt that she had been dreadfully and rather
delightfully imprudent.

Then midnight sounded from the distant stable clock, and every timepiece
in the house echoed the far Westminster chimes.

Good-nights were said; Jacqueline went away with Cynthia to the latter's
room; Desboro accompanied Cairns, and endured the latter's rhapsodies as
long as he could, ultimately escaping.

In their sitting-room Jacqueline was standing beside the bowl of white
carnations, looking down at them. When he entered she did not raise her
head until he took her into his arms. Then she looked up into his eyes
and lifted her face. And for the first time her warm lips responded to
his kiss.

She trembled a little as he held her, and laid her cheek against his
breast, both hands resting on his shoulders. After a while he was aware
that her heart was beating as though she were frightened.

"Dearest," he whispered.

There was no answer.

"Dearest?"

He could feel her trembling.

After a long while he said, very gently: "Come back and say good-night
to me when you are ready, dear." And quietly released her.

And she went away slowly to her room, not looking at him. And did not
return.

So at one o'clock he turned off the lights and went into his own room.
It was bright with moonlight. On his dresser lay a white carnation and a
key. But he did not see them.

Far away in the woods he heard the stream rushing, bank full, through
the darkness, and he listened as he moved about in the moonlight.
Tranquil, he looked out at the night for a moment, then quietly composed
himself to slumber, not doubting, serene, happy, convinced that her love
was his.

For a long while he thought of her; and, thinking, dreamed of her at
last--so vividly that into his vision stole the perfume of her hair and
the faint fresh scent of her hands, as when he had kissed the slender
fingers. And the warmth of her, too, seemed real, and the sweetness of
her breath.

His eyes unclosed. She lay there, in her frail Chinese robe, curled up
beside him in the moonlight, her splendid hair framing a face as pale
as the flower that had fallen from her half-closed hand. And at first he
thought she was asleep.

Then, in the moonlight, her eyes opened divinely, met his, lingered
unafraid, and were slowly veiled again. Neither stirred until, at last,
her arms stole up around his neck and her lips whispered his name as
though it were a holy name, loved, honoured, and adored.

THE END





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