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Title: Japonette
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Japonette" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Illustration: "Watching the city lights ... waiting, listening—always
listening." Page 352]



                              *JAPONETTE*


                      _*By*_* ROBERT W. CHAMBERS*



                         WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
                          CHARLES DANA GIBSON



                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                     NEW YORK AND LONDON :: MCMXII



                          COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY
                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

        Copyright, 1911, 1912, by International Magazine Company
                  under the title "The Turning Point"


                        _Published March, 1912_


                Printed in the United States of America



                                   TO
                       ETHEL AND LUCILLE FOREMAN



                               *CONTENTS*

CHAPTER

I.—In Forma Pauperis
II.—Corpus Delicti
III.—Sub Judice
IV.—In Loco Parentis
V.—De Motu Proprio
VI.—Pacta Conventa
VII.—Flos Veneris
VIII.—Mille Modi Veneris
IX.—Non Sequitur
X.—Compos Mentis
XI.—Quod Erat Faciendum
XII.—Nunc Aut Nunquam
XIII.—Cui Malo
XIV.—Desunt Cætera



                        *LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS*


"Watching the city lights—watching, listening, always listening" . . .
Frontispiece

"A dainty, unreal shape, exquisite as a tinted phantom stealing through
a fairy tale of Old Japan"

"’We *had* to spend all our money on clothes’"

"’My uncle’s port and sherry,’ he said"

"’Is it because we are merely attractive that you mentioned the
relationship?’"

"’As far as I am concerned, the matter is settled’"

"’I wonder just how innocent we really are?’ she said"

"Mr. Rivett took in Diana, his son Silvette"

"’Wouldn’t it be odd if Jim married that girl?’"

"Presently she caught his eye and made him a pretty gesture"

"’Diana!’ she exclaimed softly"

"Glancing up, she beheld Jack Rivett"

"She looked around, pen poised"

"The colonel puffed his cigar in smiling silence"

"’I want to gossip with you,’ he said abruptly"

"’Oh, dear,’ she said, ’there’s somebody down there already’"

"Dineen slowly revolved his thumbs and squinted at a sunbeam"

"’Your loyalty to honor deceived a very gentle heart,’ he said"

"That night at dinner she was very gay—a charming, sparkling,
bewildering creature"

"’So *this* is your apartment?’ he said"

"’Health, happiness, prosperity to them’"



                              *JAPONETTE*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                          *IN FORMA PAUPERIS*


The failure of the old-time firm of Edgerton, Tennant & Co. was unusual
only because it was an honest one—the bewildered creditors receiving a
hundred cents on a dollar from property not legally involved.

Edgerton had been dead for several years; the failure of the firm
presently killed old Tennant, who was not only old in years, but also
old in fashion—so obsolete, in fact, were the fashions he clung to that
he had used his last cent in a matter which he regarded as involving his
personal honor.

The ethically laudable but materially ruinous integrity of old Henry
Tennant had made matters rather awkward for his orphaned nieces.
Similar traditions in the Edgerton family—of which there now remained
only a single representative, James Edgerton 3d—devastated that young
man’s inheritance so completely that he came back to the United States,
via Boston, on a cattle steamer and arrived in New York the following
day with two dollars in loose silver and a confused determination to see
the affair through without borrowing.

He walked from the station to the nearest of his clubs.  It was very
early, and the few club servants on duty gazed at him with friendly and
respectful sympathy.

In the visitors’ room he sat down, wrote out his resignation, drew up
similar valedictories to seven other expensive and fashionable clubs,
and then picked up his two suit cases again, declining with a smile the
offered assistance from Read, the doorman who had been in service there
as long as the club had existed.

"Mr. Edgerton," murmured the old man, "Mr. Inwood is in the Long Room,
sir."

Edgerton thought a moment, then walked to the doorway of the Long Room
and looked in.  At the same time Inwood glanced up from his newspaper.

"Hello!" he exclaimed; "is that you, Edgerton?"

"Who the devil do you think it is?" replied Edgerton amiably.

They shook hands.  Inwood said:

"What’s the trouble—a grouch, a hangover, or a lady?"

Edgerton laughed, placed his suit cases on the floor, and seated himself
in a corner of the club window for the first time in six months—and for
the last time in many, many months to come.

"It’s hot in town," he observed.  "How are you, Billy?"

"Blooming.  Accept from me a long, cold one with a permanent fizz to it.
Yes?  No? A Riding Club cocktail, then?  What?  Nix for the
rose-wreathed bowl?"

Edgerton shook his head.  "Nix for the bowl, thanks."

"Well, you won’t mind if I ring for first-aid materials, will you?"

The other politely waved his gloved hand.

A servant arrived and departed with the emergency order.  Inwood pushed
an unpleasant and polychromatic mess of Sunday newspapers aside and
reseated himself in the leather chair.

"I’m terribly sorry about what happened to you, Jim," he said.  "So is
everybody.  We all thought it was to be another gay year of that dear
Paris for you——"

"I thought so, too," nodded Edgerton; "but what a fellow thinks hasn’t
anything to do with anything.  I’ve found out that."

Inwood emptied his glass and gazed at the frost on it, sentimentally.

"The main thing," he said, "is for your friends to stand by you——"

"No; the main thing is for them to stand aside—kindly, Billy—while I
pass down and out for a while."

"My dear fellow——"

"While I pass _out_," repeated Edgerton. "I may return; but that will be
up to me—and not up to them."

"Well, what good is friendship?"

"Good to believe in—no good otherwise. Let it alone and it’s the finest
thing in the world; use it, and you will have to find another name for
it."

He smiled at Inwood.

"Friendship must remain always the happiest and most comforting of
all—theories," he said.  "Let it alone; it has a value inestimable in
its own place—no value otherwise."

Inwood began to laugh.

"Your notion concerning friends and friendship isn’t the popular one."

"But my friends will sleep the sounder for knowing what are my views
concerning friendship."

"That’s cynical and unfair," began the other, reddening.

"No, it’s honest; and you notice that even my honesty puts a certain
strain on our friendship," retorted Edgerton, still laughing.

"You’re only partly in earnest, aren’t you?"

"Oh, I’m never really in earnest about anything.  That’s why Fate
extended an unerring and iron hand, grasped me by the slack of my pants,
shook me until all my pockets turned inside out, and set me down hard on
the trolley tracks of Destiny.  Just now I’m crawling for the sidewalk
and the skirts of Chance."

He laughed again without the slightest bitterness, and looked out of the
window.

The view from the club window was soothing: Fifth Avenue lay silent and
deserted in the sunshine of an early summer morning.

Inwood said: "The papers—everybody—spoke most glowingly of the way your
firm settled with its creditors."

"Oh, hell!  Why should ordinary honesty make such a stir in New York?
Don’t let’s talk about it; I’m going home, anyway."

"Where?"

"To my place."

"It’s been locked up for over a year, hasn’t it?"

"Yes, but there’s a janitor——"

"Come down to Oyster Bay with me," urged Inwood; "come on, Jim, and
forget your troubles over Sunday."

"As for my troubles," returned the other, rising with a shrug and
pulling on his gloves, "I’ve had leisure on the ocean to classify and
pigeonhole the lot of them.  I know exactly what I’m going to do, and
I’m going home to begin it."

"Begin what?" inquired Inwood with a curiosity entirely friendly.

"I’m going to find out," said Edgerton, "whether any of what my friends
have called my ’talents’ are real enough to get me a job worth three
meals a day, or whether they’ll merely procure for me the hook."

"What are you thinking of trying?"

"I don’t know exactly.  I thought of turning some one of my parlor
tricks into a future profession—if people will let me."

"Writing stories?"

"Well, that, or painting, or illustrating—music, perhaps.  Perhaps I
could write a play, or act in some other fellow’s; or do some damn thing
or other—" he ended vaguely. And for the first time Inwood saw that his
friend’s eyes were weary, and that his face seemed unusually worn.  It
was plain enough that James Edgerton 3d had already journeyed many a
league with Black Care, and that he had not yet outridden that shadowy
horseman.

"Jim," said Inwood seriously, "why won’t you let me help you—"  But
Edgerton checked him in a perfectly friendly manner.

"You _are_ helping me," he said; "that’s why I’m going about my
business.  Success to yours, Billy.  Good-by!  I’ll be back"—glancing
around the familiar room—"sometime or other; back here and around town,
everywhere, as usual," he added confidently; and the haunted look faded.
He smiled and nodded with a slight gesture of adieu, picked up his suit
cases, and, with another friendly shake of his head for the offers of
servants’ assistance, walked out into the sunshine of Fifth Avenue, and
west toward his own abode in Fifty-sixth Street.

When he arrived there, he was hot and dusty, and he decided to let Kenna
carry up his luggage.  So he descended to the area.

Every time he pulled the basement bell he could hear it jingle inside
the house somewhere, but nobody responded, and after a while he
remounted the area steps to the street and glanced up at the brown-stone
façade.  Every window was shut, every curtain drawn.  That block on
Fifty-sixth Street on a Sunday morning in early summer is an unusually
silent and deserted region. Edgerton looked up and down the sunny
street. After Paris the city of his birth seemed very mean and treeless
and shabby in the merciless American sunshine.

Fumbling for his keys he wondered to what meaner and shabbier street he
might soon be destined, now that fortune had tripped him up; and how
soon he would begin to regret the luxury of this dusty block and the
comforts of the house which he was now about to enter.  And he fitted
his latch-key to the front door and let himself in.

It was a very clumsy and old-fashioned apartment house, stupidly built,
five stories high; there was only one apartment to a floor, and no
elevator.  The dark and stuffy austerity of this out-of-date building
depressed him anew as he entered.  Its tenants, of course, were away
from town for the summer—respectable, middle-aged people—stodgy,
wealthy, dull as the carved banisters that guarded the dark, gas-lit
well of the staircase. Each family owned its own apartment—had been
owners for years.  Edgerton inherited his floor from an uncle—widely
known among earlier generations as a courtly and delightful old
gentleman—an amateur of antiquities and the possessor of many very
extraordinary things, including his own private character and
disposition.

Carrying his suit cases, which were pasted all over with tricolored
labels, the young man climbed the first two flights of stairs, and then,
placing his luggage on the landing, halted to recover his breath and
spirits.

The outlook for his future loomed as dark as the stair well.  He sat
down on the top step, lighted a cigarette, and gazed up at the sham
stained glass in the skylight above.  And now for the first time he
began to realize something of the hideousness of his present position,
his helplessness, unfitted as he was to cope with financial adversity or
make an honest living at anything.

If people had only let him alone when he first emerged from college as
mentally naked as anything newly fledged, his more sensible instincts
probably would have led him to remain in the ancient firm of his
forefathers, Edgerton, Tennant & Co., dealers in iron.

But fate and his friends had done the business for him, finally
persuading him to go abroad.  He happened, unfortunately, to possess a
light, graceful, but not at all unusual, talent for several of the arts;
he could tinkle catchy improvisations on a piano, sketch in oil and
water colors, model in clay, and write the sort of amateur verse popular
in college periodicals.  Women often evinced an inclination to paw him
and tell him their troubles; fool friends spoke vaguely of genius and
"achieving something distinctly worth while"—which finally spoiled a
perfectly good business man, especially after a third-rate periodical
had printed one of his drawings, and a fourth-rate one had published a
short story by him; and the orchestra at the Colonnade had played one of
his waltzes, and Bernstein of the Frivolity Theater had offered to read
any libretto he might send.

So he had been ass enough to take a vacation and offer himself two
years’ study abroad; and he had been away almost a year when the firm
went to the wall, carrying with it everything he owned on earth except
this apartment and its entailed contents, which he could neither cast
into the melting pot for his creditors nor even sell for his own
benefit. However, the creditors were paid dollar for dollar, and those
finer and entirely obsolete points of the Edgerton honor remained silver
bright; and the last of the Edgertons was back once more in New York
with his apartment, his carvings, tapestries and pictures, which the
will forbade him to sell, and two dollars change in his pockets.


Presently he cast his cigarette from him, picked up his suit cases, and
started upward, jaw set.  It was a good thing for him that he had a jaw
like that.  It was his only asset now.  So far in life, however, he had
never used it.

Except the echo of his tread on the uncarpeted staircase, not another
sound stirred in the house.  Every landing was deserted, every apartment
appeared to be empty and locked up for the summer.  Dust lay gray on
banister and landing; the heated atmosphere reeked with the odor of moth
balls and tar paper seeping from locked doors.

On the top floor a gas jet flickered as usual in the corridor which led
to his apartment. By its uncertain flame he selected a key from the
bunch he carried, and let himself into his own rooms; and the instant he
set foot across the threshold he knew that something was wrong.

Whether it had been a slight sound which he fancied he heard in the
private passage-way, or whether he imagined some stealthy movement in
the golden dusk beyond, he could not determine; but a swift instinct
halted and challenged him, and left him listening.

As he stood there, checked, slowly the idea began to possess him that
there was somebody else in the apartment.  When the slight but sudden
chill had left him, and his hair no longer tingled on the verge of
rising, he moved forward a step, then again halted.  For a moment, still
grasping both suit cases, he stood as though at bay, listening, glancing
from alcove to corridor, from one dim spot of light to another where a
door ajar here and there revealed corners of empty rooms.

Whether or not there was at that moment another living being except
himself in the place he did not know, but he did know that otherwise
matters were not as he had left them a year ago in his apartment.

For one thing, here, under his feet, was spread his beautiful, antique
Daghestan runner, soft as deep velvet, which he had left carefully
rolled up, sewed securely in burlap, and stuffed full of camphor balls.
For another thing, his ear had caught a low, rhythmical sound from the
mantel in his bedroom. It was his frivolous Sèvres clock ticking as
indiscreetly as it had ever ticked in the boudoir of its gayly patched
and powdered mistress a hundred and fifty years ago—which was disturbing
to Edgerton, as he had been away for a year, and had left his apartment
locked up with orders to Kenna, the janitor, to keep out until otherwise
instructed by letter or cable.

Listening, eyes searching the dusk, he heard somewhere the rustle of a
curtain blowing at an open window; and, stepping softly to his
dining-room door, he turned the knob cautiously and peered in.

No window seemed to be open there; the place was dark, the furniture
still in its linen coverings.

As he moved silently to the butler’s pantry, where through loosely
closed blinds the sunshine glimmered, making an amber-tinted mystery of
the silence, it seemed for a moment to him as though he could still hear
somewhere the stir of the curtain; and he turned and retraced his steps
through the library.

In the twilight of the place, half revealed as he passed, he began now
to catch glimpses of a state of things that puzzled him.

Coming presently to his dressing room, he opened the door, and, sure
enough, there was a window open, and beside it a curtain fluttered
gayly.  But what completely monopolized his attention was a number of
fashionable trunks—wardrobe trunks, steamer trunks, hat trunks, shoe
trunks—some open, and the expensive-looking contents partly visible;
some closed and covered.  And on every piece of this undoubtedly
feminine luggage were the letters D.T. or S.T.

And on top of the largest trunk sat a live cat.



                              *CHAPTER II*

                            *CORPUS DELICTI*


The cat was pure white and plumy, and Persian.  Out of its wonderful
sky-blue eyes it looked serenely at Edgerton; and the young man gazed
back, astonished.  Then, suddenly, he caught a glimpse of the bedroom
beyond, and froze to a statue.

The object that appeared to petrify him lay flung across his bed—a
trailing garment of cobweb lace touched here and there with rose-tinted
ribbons.

For a moment he stared at it hypnotized; then his eyes shifted wildly to
his dresser, which seemed to be covered with somebody else’s toilet
silver and crystal, and—_what_ was that row of cunning little commercial
curls!—that chair heaped with fluffy stuffs, lacy, intimate things,
faintly fragrant!

[Illustration: "A dainty, unreal shape, exquisite as a tinted phantom
stealing through a fairy tale of Old Japan."]

With a violent shiver he turned his startled eyes toward the parted
tapestry gently stirring in the unfelt summer wind.

From where he stood he could see into the great studio beyond.  A small,
flowered silk slipper lay near the threshold, high of heel, impertinent,
fascinating; beyond, on the corner of a table stood a bowl full of
peonies, ivory, pink, and salmon-tinted; and their perfume filled the
place.

Somebody had rolled up the studio shades. Sunshine turned the great
square window to a sheet of dazzling glory, and against it, picked out
in delicate silhouette, a magic shadow was moving—a dainty, unreal
shape, exquisite as a tinted phantom stealing through a fairy tale of
Old Japan.

Suddenly the figure turned its head and saw him, and stood motionless
against the flare of light—a young girl, very slim in her shimmering
vestments of blossom-sprayed silk.

The next moment he walked straight into the studio.

Neither spoke.  She examined him out of wide and prettily shaped eyes;
he inspected her with amazed intentness.  Everything about her seemed so
unreal, so subtly fragrant—the pink peonies like fluffy powder-puffs
above each little close-set ear, the rose-tinted silhouette of her, the
flushed cheeks, soft bare arms, the silk-sheathed feet shod in tiny
straw sandals tied with vermilion cords.

"Who are you?" she asked; and her voice seemed to him as charmingly
unreal as the rest of the Japanese fairy tale that held him enthralled.

"Will you please go out again at once!" she said, and he woke up partly.

"This—this is perfectly incredible," he said slowly.

"It is, indeed," she said, placing a snowy finger upon an electric
button and retaining it there.

He regarded her without comprehension, muttering:

"I—I simply cannot realize it—that cat—those g-garments—you——"

"There is another thing you don’t realize," she said with heightened
color, "that I am steadily ringing the janitor’s bell—and the janitor is
large and violent and Irish, and he is probably halfway upstairs by this
time——"

"Do you take me for a malefactor?" he asked, astounded.

"I am not afraid of you in the least," she retorted, still keeping her
finger on the bell.

"Afraid of _me_?  Of course you are not."

"I am _not_!  Although your two suit cases are probably packed with the
silver from my dressing stand."

"What!"

"Then—then—what have you put into your suit cases?  _What_ are you doing
in this apartment?  And will you please leave your suit cases and escape
immediately?"

Her voice betrayed a little unsteadiness now, and Edgerton said:

"Please don’t be frightened if I seem to remain——"

"You _are_ remaining!"

"Of course, I am."  He forced an embarrassed smile.  "I’ve got to; I
haven’t any other place to go.  There are all kinds of complications
here, and I think you had better listen to me and stop ringing.  The
janitor is out anyway."

"He is _not_!" she retorted, now really frightened; "I can hear him
coming up the stairway—probably with a p-pistol——"

Edgerton turned red.  "When I next set eyes on that janitor," he said,
"I’ll probably knock his head off....  _Don’t_ be frightened! I only
meant it humorously.  Really, you must listen to me, because you and I
have some rather important matters to settle within the next few
minutes."

In his growing perplexity and earnestness he placed his suit cases on
the rug and advanced a step toward her, and she shrank away, her hands
flat against the wall behind her, the beautiful, frightened eyes fixed
on his—and he halted.

"I haven’t the slightest notion who you are," he said, bewildered; "but
I’m pretty sure that I’m James Edgerton, and that this is my apartment.
But how you happen to be inhabiting it I can’t guess, unless that
rascally janitor sublet it to you supposing that I’d be away for another
year and never know it."

"_You_!—James Edgerton!" she exclaimed.

"My steamer docked yesterday."

"_You_ are James Edgerton?—of Edgerton, Tennant & Co.?"

He began to laugh.

"I _was_ James Edgerton, of Edgerton, Tennant & Co.; I am now only a
silent partner in Fate, Destiny & Co....  If you don’t mind—if you
please—who are _you_?"

"Why, I’m Diana Tennant!"

"_Who?_"

"Diana Tennant!  Haven’t you ever heard of my sister and me?"

"You mean you’re those two San Francisco nieces?" he asked, astonished.

"I’m one of them.  Silvette is sitting on the roof."

"On—the _roof_!"

"Yes; we have a roof garden—some geraniums and things, and a hammock.
It’s just a makeshift until we secure employment.... Is it possible that
you are really James Edgerton?  And didn’t you know that we had rented
your apartment by the month?"

He passed an uncertain hand over his eyes.

"Will you let me sit down a moment and talk to you?" he said.

"Please—of course.  I _do_ beg your pardon, Mr. Edgerton....  You must
understand how startling it was to look up and see a man standing there
with two suit cases."

He began to laugh; and after a moment she ventured to smile in an
uncertain, bewildered way, and seated herself in a big velvet chair
against the light.

They sat looking at each other, lost in thought: he evidently absorbed
in the problem before him; she, unquiet, waiting, the reflex of unhappy
little perplexities setting her sensitive lips aquiver at moments.

"You did rent this apartment from the janitor?" he said at length.

"My sister and I—yes.  Didn’t he have your permission?"

"No....  But don’t worry....  I’ll fix it up somehow; we’ll arrange——"

"It is perfectly horrid!" she exclaimed. "What in the world can you
think of us? ... But we were quite innocent—it was merely chance.  Isn’t
it strange, Mr. Edgerton!—Silvette and I had walked and walked and
walked, looking for some furnished apartment within our means which we
might take by the month; and in Fifty-sixth Street we saw the sign,
’Apartment and Studio to let for the summer,’ and we inquired, and he
let us have it for almost nothing.... And we never even knew that it
belonged to _you_!"

"To whom did you draw your checks for the rent?"

"We were to pay the janitor."

"Have you done so?" he asked sharply.

"N-no.  We arranged—not to pay—until we could afford it——"

"I’m glad of that!  Don’t you pay that scoundrel one penny.  As for me,
of course I couldn’t think of accepting——"

"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" she said in pretty despair; "I’ve got to tell you
everything now! Several humiliating things—circumstances—very tragic,
Mr. Edgerton."

"No; you need not tell me a single thing that is likely to distress
you."

"But I’ve _got_ to!  You don’t understand. That wretched janitor has put
us in a position from which there is absolutely no escape. Because I—we
ought to go away instantly—b-but we—can’t!"

"Not at all, Miss Tennant.  I ought to leave you in possession, and
I—I’m trying to think out how to—to do it."

"How can we ask _you_ to do such a——"

"You don’t ask; I’ve got to find some means—ways—expedients——"

"But we _can’t_ turn you out of your own place!"

"No; but I’ve got to turn myself out.  If you’ll just let me think——"

"I will—oh, I will, Mr. Edgerton; but please, _please_ let me explain
the dreadful and humiliating conditions first, so that you won’t
consider me absolutely shameless."

"I don’t!"

"You will unless I tell you—unless I find courage to tell you how it is
with my sister and me."

"I’d like to know, but you must not feel obliged to tell me."

"I do feel obliged!  I _must_!  We’re poor. We’ve spent all our money,
and we _can’t_ go anywhere else very well!"

Edgerton glanced at the luxury in the next room, astonished; then his
gaze reverted to the silk-clad figure before him.

"You don’t understand, of course," she said, flushing.  "How could you
suppose us to be almost penniless living here in such a beautiful place
with all those new trunks and gowns and pretty things!  But _that_ is
exactly why we are doing it!"

She leaned forward in her chair, the tint of excitement in her cheeks.

"After the failure, Silvette and I hadn’t anything very much!—_you_ know
how everything of uncle’s went—"  She stopped abruptly.  "Why—why,
probably everything of yours went, too!  Did it?"

He laughed: "Pretty nearly everything."

"Oh! oh!" she cried; "what a perfectly atrocious complication!
Perhaps—perhaps you haven’t money enough to—to go somewhere else for a
while.  Have you?"

"Well, I’ll fix it somehow."

"Mr. Edgerton!" she said excitedly, "Silvette and I have _got_ to go!"

"No," he said laughing, "you’ve only got to go on with your story, Miss
Tennant.  I am a very interested and sympathetic listener."

"Yes," she said desperately, "I must go on with that, too.  Listen, Mr.
Edgerton; we thought a long while and discussed _everything_, and we
concluded to stake everything on an idea that came to Silvette.  So we
drew out all the money we had and we paid all our just debts, and we
parted with our chaperone—who was a perfect d-darling—I’ll tell you
about her sometime—and we took Argent, our cat, and came straight to New
York, and we hunted and hunted for an apartment until we found this!
And then—do you know what we did?" she demanded excitedly.

"I couldn’t guess!" said Edgerton, smiling.

"We bought clothes—beautiful clothes! And everything luxurious that we
didn’t have we bought—almost frightened to death while we were doing
it—and _then_ we advertised!"

[Illustration: "We _had_ to spend all our money on clothes."]

"Advertised!"

"From _here_!  Can you _ever_ forgive us?"

"Of course," he said, mystified; "but what did you advertise?"

"Ourselves!"

"_What!_"

"Certainly; and we’ve had replies, but we haven’t liked the people so
far.  Indeed, we advertised in the most respectable daily, weekly and
monthly papers—"  She sprang to her feet, trotted over to the sofa,
picked up an illustrated periodical devoted to country life, and
searching hastily through the advertising pages, found and read aloud to
him, still standing there, the following advertisement:

"_Two ladies of gentle birth and breeding, cultivated linguists,
musicians, thoroughly conversant with contemporary events, efficient at
auction bridge, competent to arrange dinners and superintend
decorations, desire employment in helping to entertain house parties,
week-ends, or unwelcome but financially important relatives and other
visitations, at country houses, camps, bungalows, or shooting boxes_.

"_For terms write to or call at Apartment Five——_"

She turned her flushed face toward him.

"_Your_ address in full follows," she said. "Can you ever bring yourself
to forgive us?"

His astonished gaze met hers.  "That doesn’t worry me," he said.

"It is generous and—splendid of you to say so," she faltered.  "You
understand now, don’t you?  We _had_ to spend all our money on clothes;
and we thought ourselves so fortunate in this beautiful apartment
because it was certain to impress people, and nobody could possibly
suspect us of poverty with that great picture by Goya over the mantel
and priceless tapestries and rugs and porcelains in every direction—and
our cat to make it look as though we really belonged here."  Her voice
trembled a moment on the verge of breaking and her eyes grew brilliant
as freshly washed stars, but she lifted her resolute little head and
caught the tremulous lower lip in her teeth.  Then, the crisis over, she
dropped the illustrated paper, came slowly back to her chair and sank
down, extending her arms along the velvet upholstery in silence.

Between them, on the floor, a sapphire rug stretched its ancient Persian
folds.  He looked at it gravely, thinking that its hue matched her eyes.
Then he considered more important matters, plunging blindly into
profound abstraction; and found nothing in the depths except that he had
no money to go anywhere, but that he must go nevertheless.

He looked up after a moment.

"Would you and your sister think it inhospitable of me if I ask when
you—I mean—if I——"

"I know what you mean, Mr. Edgerton. Silvette and I are going at once.

"You can’t.  Do you think I’d permit it? Please remember, too, that
you’ve advertised from here, and you’ve simply got to remain here.  All
I meant to ask was whether you think it might be for a week or two yet,
but, of course, you can’t tell—and forgive me for asking—but I was
merely trying to adjust several matters in my mind to conditions——"

"Mr. Edgerton, we cannot remain.  There is not in my mind the slightest
doubt concerning your financial condition.  If you _could_ let us stay
until we secured employment, I’d ask it of you—because you are James
Edgerton; but you can’t"—she rose with decision—"and I’m going up to the
roof to tell Silvette."

"If you stir I’ll take those suit cases and depart for good."

"You are very generous—the Edgertons always were, I have heard, but we
cannot accept——"

He interrupted, smiling: "I think the Tennants never needed instruction
concerning the finer points of obligation." ... He stood a moment
thoughtfully, turning over and over the two dollars in his pocket; then
with a laugh he walked across the studio and picked up his suit cases.

"Don’t do that!" she said in a grave voice.

"There is nothing else to do, Miss Tennant."

"There’s another bedroom."

They stood, not regarding one another, considering there in the
sunshine.

"Will you wait until I return?" she asked, looking up.  "I want to talk
to Silvette.... I’d like to have Silvette see you.  Will you wait?
Because I’ve come to one of my quick conclusions—I’m celebrated for
them, Mr. Edgerton.  Will you wait?"

"Yes," he said, smiling.

So she trotted away in her little straw sandals and flowery vestments
and butterfly sash; and he began to pace the studio, hands clasped
behind him, trying to think out matters and ways and means—trying to see
a way clear which offered an exit from this complication without forcing
him to do that one thing of which he had a steadfast horror—borrow money
from a friend.

Mingled, too, with his worried cogitations was the thought of Henry
Tennant’s nieces—these young California girls of whom he had vaguely
heard without any particular interest. New Yorkers are never interested
in relatives they never saw; seldom in any relatives at all. And, long
ago, there had been marriage between Tennant and Edgerton—in colonial
days, if he remembered correctly; and, to his own slight surprise, he
felt it now as an added obligation.  It was not enough that he efface
himself until they found employment; more than that was due them from an
Edgerton. And, as he had nothing to do it with, he wondered how he was
to do anything at all for these distant cousins.

Standing there in the sunshine he cast an ironical glance around him at
the Beauvais tapestries, the old masters, the carved furniture of
Charles II’s time, rugs dyed with the ancient splendor of the East, made
during the great epoch when carpets of Ispahan, Damascus—and those
matchless hues woven with gold and silver which are called
Polish—decorated the palaces of Emperor and Sultan.

Not one thing could he sell under the will of Peter Edgerton to save his
body from starvation or his soul from anything else; and he jingled the
two dollars in his pocket and thought of his talents, and wondered what
market there might be for any of them in a city where bricklayers were
paid higher wages than school teachers, and where the wealthy employed
others to furnish their new and gorgeous houses with everything from
pictures and books to the ancient plate from which they ate.

And, thinking of these things, his ears caught a slight rustle of silk;
and he lifted his head as Diana Tennant and her sister Silvette came
toward him through the farther room.



                             *CHAPTER III*

                              *SUB JUDICE*


"Isn’t this a mess!" said Silvette in a clear, unembarrassed voice,
giving him her hand.  "Imagine my excitement up on the roof, Mr.
Edgerton, when Diana appeared and told me what a perfectly delightful
man had come to evict us!"

"I didn’t say it that way," observed Diana, her ears as pink as the
powder-puff peonies above them.  "My sister," she explained, "is one of
those girls whose apparent frankness is usually nonsense.  I’m merely
warning you, Mr. Edgerton."

Silvette—a tall, free-limbed, healthy, and plumper edition of her
sister—laughed.  "In the first place," she said, "suppose we have
luncheon.  There is a fruit salad which I prepared after breakfast.  Our
maid is out, but we know how to do such things, having been made to when
schoolgirls."

"You’ll stay, won’t you?" asked Diana.

"Poor Mr. Edgerton—where else is he to go?" said Silvette calmly.
"Diana, if you’ll set places for three at that very beautiful and
expensive antique table, I’ll bring some agreeable things from the
refrigerator."

"Could I be of any use?" inquired Edgerton, smiling.

"Indeed, you can be.  Talk to Diana and explain to her how respectable
we are and you are, and how everything is certain to be properly
arranged to everybody’s satisfaction. Diana has a very wonderful idea,
and she’s come to one of her celebrated snap-shot conclusions—a
conclusion, Mr. Edgerton, most flattering to you.  Ask her."  And she
went away toward the kitchenette not at all embarrassed by her pretty
morning attire nor by the thick braid of golden hair which hung to her
girdle.

Diana cast a swift glance at Edgerton, and, seeing him smile, smiled,
too, and set about laying places for three with snowy linen, crystal,
silver, and the lovely old Spode porcelain which had not its match in
all the city.

"It’s like a play or a novel," she said; "the hazard of our coming here
the way we did, and of you coming back to America; but, of course, the
same cause operated in both cases, so perhaps it isn’t so remarkable
after all! And"—she repressed a laugh—"to think that I should mistake
you for a malefactor!  Did it seem to you that I behaved in a silly
manner?"

"On the contrary, you exhibited great dignity and courage and
self-restraint."

"Do you really mean it?  I was nearly scared blue, and I was perfectly
certain you’d stuffed your suit cases full of our toilet silver.
_Wasn’t_ it funny, Mr. Edgerton!  And _what_ did you think when you
looked into your studio and saw a woman?"

"I was—somewhat prepared."

"Of course—after a glimpse into our bedroom! But that must have
astonished you, didn’t it?"

"Slightly.  The first thing I saw was a white cat staring at me from the
top of a trunk."

She laughed, arranging the covers with deft touch.

"And what next did you see?"

"Garments," he explained briefly.

"Oh!  Yes, of course."

"Also a silk-flowered slipper with a very high heel on the threshold."

"Mine," she said.  "You see, in the days of our affluence, I used to
have a maid.  I forget, and throw things about sometimes."

"You’ve a maid now, haven’t you?"

"Oh, just a combination cook and waitress until we can find employment.
She’s horridly expensive, too, but it can’t be helped, because it would
create an unfavorable impression if Silvie or I answered the door bell."

"You’re quite right," he said; "people have a curious aversion to
employing those who really need it.  Prosperity never lacks employment.
It’s odd, isn’t it?"

"It’s rather cruel," she said under her breath.

Silvette came in bringing a chilled fruit salad, bread and butter, cold
chicken, and tea. "We’ll have to put it all on at once.  You don’t mind,
do you, Mr. Edgerton?"

He said smilingly but distinctly: "One’s own family can do no wrong.
That is my creed."

Diana looked up at him.

"I wondered whether you knew we were relations," she said, flushing
deliriously.

"You see," added Silvette, "it was not for us to remind you."

"Of our kinship?  Why not?"

"Because you might have considered it an added obligation toward us,"
said Diana, blushing.

"I do—a delightful one; and it is very gracious of you to acknowledge
it."

"But we don’t mean to presume on it," interrupted Silvette hastily.
"Some day we really do mean to regulate our financial obligations toward
you."

"There are no such obligations.  Please remember what roof covers you——"

"Mr. Edgerton!"

"And whose salt——"

"It’s our salt, anyway," said Diana; "I bought it myself!"

They seated themselves, laughing; then suddenly Edgerton remembered, and
he went away with a hasty excuse, only to return again with a brace of
decanters.

"My uncle’s port and sherry," he said.

[Illustration: "’My uncle’s port and sherry,’ he said."]

Silvette jumped up and found half-a-dozen old-time glasses; and the
luncheon continued.

"Isn’t it ridiculous!" observed the young fellow, glancing around the
studio; "here am I surrounded by a fortune in idiotic antiquities,
lunching from a table that the Metropolitan Museum inherits after my
death, sipping a sherry which came from the cellars of a British
monarch—with two dollars and several cents in my pockets, and not the
slightest idea where to get more.  _Isn’t_ it funny!"

Silvette forced a smile, then glanced significantly at her sister.
Diana said, gravely:

"We have several hundred dollars.  Would you be kind enough to let us
offer you what you require for immediate use until——"

"Why, you blessed child!" he said, laughing, "that isn’t what worries me
now!"

"Then—what is it?" inquired Silvette.

"You and your sister."

"What do you mean, Mr. Edgerton?"

"I mean that I’m worried over your prospects!"

"Why, they are perfectly bright!" exclaimed Diana; "In a few days
somebody will employ us to help entertain a number of stupid and wealthy
people.  We’ll make a great deal of money, I expect; don’t you, Silvie?"

"Certainly; but I’m wondering what Mr. Edgerton is going to do with two
dollars in his pocket and us in his apartment."

"So am I," said Diana.

"It’s perfectly charming of you to care."

"What an odd thing to say to us!  Is it not very natural to care?
Besides your being related, you have also been so considerate and so
nice to us that we’d care anyway, I think. Don’t you, Silvie?"

Silvette nodded her golden-crowned head.

"The thing to do for the present," she said, "is for you to take that
farther room.  It was Diane’s idea, and I entirely agree with her—after
seeing you."

"That was the sudden conclusion of which I spoke to you," explained
Diana.  "Such things come to me instinctively.  I thought to myself, ’If
he mentions the kinship between us, then we’ll ask him to remain.’  And
you did.  And we do ask you; don’t we, Silvie?"

"Certainly.  If two old maids wish to entertain their masculine cousin
for a week or two, whose affair is it?  Let Mrs. Grundy shriek; I don’t
care.  Do you, Diane?"

"No, I don’t.  Besides," she added naïvely, "she’s out of town."

They all laughed.  The germ of a delightful understanding was beginning
to take shape; it had already become nascent and was developing in every
frank smile, every candid glance, every unembarrassed question and
reply.

"We have no parents," said Diana gravely. "You have none, have you?"

"No," he said.

"Then it seems natural to me, our being here together; but"—and Diana
glanced sideways at him—"in the East, I believe, people consider
relationship of little or no importance."

He sipped his sherry, reflecting.

"As a rule," he said; "but"—and he laughed—"if any Easterner even
suspected he had two such California cousins, he’d start for the Pacific
coast without his breakfast!"

"Did you ever hear anything half as amiable?" asked Silvette, laughing.

"I never did," replied Diana; "especially as we’re probably his
twenty-second cousins."

"That distance may lend an enchantment to the obligations of kinship!"
he said gayly.

Diana looked up, grave as a youthful Japanese goddess.

"You don’t mean that, do you?"

"No, I don’t," he said, reddening.  "If I did, the janitor ought to
throw me out."

Silvette nodded seriously.

"We know you said it in joke; but the only straw to float Diane’s idea
is our kinship, Mr. Edgerton.  And we grasped at it—for your sake."

"Please cling to it for your own sakes," too, he said, also very serious
now; "it may become a plank to float us all....  I realize the point you
are straining out of kindness to me.  If I accept shelter here for a day
or two, I shall know very well what it costs you to offer it."

"It doesn’t cost us anything," interrupted Diana hastily.  "Silvette
meant only that you should understand why our consciences and common
sense sanction your remaining if we remain."

"_You_ must remain anyway!" he said.

"So must you, cousin," said Silvette, laughing.  "Anyway, you’ve
probably sent your trunks here—haven’t you?"

"By jinks!  I forgot that!" he exclaimed. "I believe that racket on the
stairs means that my trunks are arriving!"

It did mean exactly that.  And when Edgerton went out to the landing he
encountered two expressmen staggering under the luggage, and, behind
them, the terrified janitor who had returned, and who, on the advent of
the baggage, had hurried upstairs to summarily evict the illegal lodgers
before Edgerton’s arrival.

Now, at sight of Edgerton himself, the Irishman turned white with horror
and clung to the banisters for support; but Edgerton only said
pleasantly: "Hello, Mike!  I hope you’ve made my cousins comfortable.
I’ll be here for a day or two.  Bring up any mail there may be for me,
and see that the landing is properly dusted after this."

He came back to the studio intensely amused.

"I thought that guilty Irishman would faint on the stairs when he saw
me," he said. "I merely said that I hoped he’d looked out for my
cousins’ comfort....  You know," he added laughingly, "I’m anything
except angry at him."

Silvette rose from the table and strolled over toward him.

"Are you really glad to know us?" she asked curiously.  "We’ve heard
that New Yorkers are not celebrated for their enthusiasm over poor
relatives from the outer darkness."

"New Yorkers," he said, "are not different from any other creatures
segregated in a self-imposed and comfortable captivity.  People who have
too much of anything are spoiled to that extent—ignorant to that
degree—selfish and prejudiced according to the term of their
imprisonment.  All over the world it is the same; the placidity of
self-approval and self-absorption is the result of local isolation.
We’re not stupid; we merely have so much to look at that we don’t care
what may take place outside our front gate.  But if anybody opens our
gate and comes in, he’ll have no trouble, because he’ll be as much of a
New Yorker as anybody really is."

Silvette laid her head on one side and, drawing the heavy burnished
braid of hair over her left shoulder, rebraided the end absently.

"Is it," she inquired, "because we are merely attractive that you
mentioned the relationship?"

[Illustration: "’Is it because we are merely attractive that you
mentioned the relationship?’"]

"I’m afraid it’s—partly that," he admitted, reddening and glancing
askance at Diana.

"Stop tormenting him!" said Diana.  "He’s candid, anyhow.  It’s very
fortunate all around, anyway," she added naïvely; though exactly why she
considered it fortunate to meet a man with two dollars in his pocket and
the legal right to evict her, she did not explain to herself.

Silvette, caressing her braid with deft fingers, mused aloud: "It’s very
noble of him to claim relationship with two poverty-stricken old maids
from the Pacific coast.  Don’t you think so, Diane?"  And she glanced up
with a bewitching smile that had in it a glint of malice.

"_Stop_ tormenting him!" repeated Diana. "We’re pretty and young, and he
knows it and we know it.  What’s the use in speculating about what he
might have done if we were not attractive?  He’s perfectly satisfied
with his western cousins—aren’t you?" glancing up.

"Perfectly," he said.

Diana nodded emphatically.

"Do you hear, Silvie?  He says he is perfectly satisfied with us, and he
is a typical New Yorker.  Therefore, we need not be at all disturbed
about our capacity for entertaining anybody, if somebody will only offer
us employment."

Silvette looked around at him.  "I’d like to have you see us in our
afternoon gowns; I believe you’d really be rather proud of the
relationship."

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, half laughing, half annoyed; "I’m proud of it
anyway. What on earth do you think a New Yorker is?"

"We’ve seen _some_," said Diana meaningly. "Several came here in answer
to our advertisement.  But we knew, of course, that your type existed,
too."

"Have you been—annoyed?"

Silvette laughed.  "One man, of very red complexion, inquired if Diana
would act as his housekeeper.  He had several country places, he said."

"There was a woman came; we didn’t care for her," added Diana
thoughtfully.  Then, lifting her head, she looked at Edgerton with a
gaze so pure and sweet, so exquisitely candid, that he felt his heart
stop for a moment. Then the blood mounted to his face—to the roots of
his hair.

"Take me into your partnership," he said impulsively; "will you?"

"What!"

"Can you?  Is it all right?"

"I don’t know what you mean!" said Diana.

"Why couldn’t I help entertain week-ends with you?"

The proposition seemed to astound them all, even the young fellow who
had made it.

For a moment they all stood silent; then, pursuing his own impulsive
idea toward a plausible conclusion, he said: "Why not, after all?  It
would make a better combination than two young girls alone.  I’ve
clothes—two trunks in there, two more at the customs—London made and
duty paid! Why not?  It’s a good combination.  The more I think of it
the better I like it!"

He began to pace to and fro nervously.

"I know a lot of people—the right kind. I’m not ashamed to ask them to
employ me. There is no reason why a Tennant or an Edgerton should not be
in their houses——"

"But," said Silvette quietly, "the _right_ sort of people, as you call
them, have no need of asking anybody to aid them in entertaining. It is
very generous of you, Mr. Edgerton, but don’t you see that services of
our kind will be accepted only by—by newcomers, newly wealthy
people—those whose circle is small and not very select."

"Yes, that is so," he said so forlornly that Diana watched him
curiously, and a delicate color came into her cheeks as he looked up
again, eager, radiant.

"That’s true," he repeated; "but if I can’t do anything in that way for
us among the right sort, at least the other kind will have a man to
reckon with"—he glanced at Diana grimly now—"when they inquire about
housekeepers, and when women whom you do not care for reply to your
advertisements."

"That is rather a nice thing to say," observed Silvette, looking at him
out of her dark eyes.  "But we know—a number of things.  We are not a
bit afraid, and—you would not care to—endure the kind of people likely
to employ us."

"I can endure what you can.  I’d like to do it....  Would you rather not
have me?"

"Why, I—it would be delightful—charming—but we had not even dreamed of
such a thing."

He turned to Diana.  "Will _you_ let me try?"

She said, confused: "I hadn’t thought of such a thing....  Could it be
done?"

"Why not?" asked Silvette, immensely interested.  "When people come, we
can say, ’We and our cousin, Mr. Edgerton, are associated as social
entertainers.’"

"Oh, if you put it that way they’ll think he does Punch and Judy and we
dance queer dances!" exclaimed Diana in consternation.

Edgerton threw back his head and laughed, utterly unable to control his
merriment, and Silvette caught the infection, and her clear, delicious
laughter filled the sunny studio.  She showed her white teeth when she
laughed.

"Oh, it is perfectly horrid of me to think of such a thing, but I can’t
help thinking of three trained acrobats," said Silvette, breathless.
"_Does_ it seem funny for three of us to be associated in entertaining
guests?  _Does_ it, Mr. Edgerton?  Or am I only frivolous?"

After their laughter had ceased, and their breath had returned, he said:
"Wherever we go—whoever employs us—the other guests will suppose us to
be guests, too.  Only the guilty millionaire from outer darkness with a
new house on Fifth Avenue and a newer one in the country will know."

Silvette said: "Do you realize that it is perfectly dear of you to
propose such a thing?"

Diana said nothing.

Silvette went on: "I know perfectly well and you know, too—that your
name would be worth almost anything to the wealthy snob who employs us."

Diana said nothing.

"To have an Edgerton as a guest would elevate our prospective employer
to the seventh heaven of snobbery," said Silvette.  "Diane and I would
shine serenely in the reflected relationship——"

"Don’t make fun of me," he said.

"Why, I’m not.  I really mean it.  My instincts have been so warped and
materialized and commercialized that here I am seriously proposing to
make family capital out of the name of one branch of the family.  I
really do mean it, Mr. Edgerton."

"No," said Diana quietly.

He turned toward her.

"Do you vote against me?"

"Yes."

"Don’t, please," he said, looking at her.

She met his eye calmly for a moment, then looked at her sister.

"Do you think it a decent thing to do?" she asked; "our making plans to
live on Mr. Edgerton?"

"Good heavens!" he said impatiently, "my being part of a family
combination isn’t going to alter your success in any way."

"Your name makes it sure."

"Your youth and beauty and good breeding make it sure.  My name has
nothing to do with it."

"Then why do you propose it?"

He laughed.  "Because I’ve got to make a living, too."

"There are less humiliating ways of making a living—for you," said Diana
steadily.

He looked first at Silvette, then at her, deliberately, and his face
altered.

"I want to look out for you," he said, "and that’s the plain truth."

"That," observed Silvette, "is the nicest thing he’s said yet, Diane."
She walked up to him and stood serenely inspecting him.

"_I_ vote for you.  Diane, let’s admit him. We’re a poverty-stricken
family, and we ought to combine.  Besides, I like him to feel the way he
does about us—not that it’s necessary, of course—but it’s—pleasant."

"I haven’t any cash," said Edgerton, "but I’ve this apartment, which
nobody can take away even if I starve; and I’ve some very fine
clothes....  Won’t you vote for me, Diana?" he added so naturally that
neither seemed to notice his use of her first name.

Silvette waited a moment, watching her sister; then she said briskly:
"Let’s dress.  We’ll inspect your beautiful British clothing, cousin,
and you shall see our prettiest afternoon gowns.  Then we can tell
better how such a combination would look.  Shall we?"

Edgerton said to Diana: "Don’t you _want_ me?"

She replied slowly: "I—don’t—know," looked up at him, straight at him,
thoughtfully.

"People may come at any time after two o’clock," said Silvette.  "If
they find you in flowered silk and a butterfly sash and me in a pigtail,
they will certainly expect dances from us and probably Punch and Judy
from our cousin."

She laughed, and extended her hand to Edgerton.

"I like you, cousin; Diane does, too.  When you’re dressed in your best,
come back to the studio and we’ll arrive at some kind of a conclusion."

Diana nodded to him as she passed with her sister.  The questioning
gravity of her expression reminded him of a child who has not yet made
up its mind to like you.  She wore the bluest eyes he had ever seen, and
the most enchanting mouth—the unspoiled mouth of childhood.

When they entered their room he went out by the hallway to his.

Standing there, fumbling with tie and collar, his absent gaze followed
the checkered sun spots moving on the wall as the curtain moved; and,
gradually, there in the half light, the blue eyes seemed to take winsome
shape and hue, and he said aloud to himself:

"Anyway, somebody ought to look after her....  She can’t go roaming
about like this."



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                           *IN LOCO PARENTIS*


Shaved, bathed, and his person adorned with his most fashionable
lounging suit for a summer afternoon, Edgerton sauntered out of his room
and met the maid in the hallway.  She had returned in time to answer the
door; evidently also she had already been enlightened as to his
identity, so he passed her with a nod and a smile, and entered the
studio just as the door bell rang.

Neither Silvette nor Diana had yet appeared, nor had he been instructed
what to say to those who might call in answer to the advertisement.  He
looked up doubtfully as the maid announced a Mr. Rivett and a Colonel
Curmew, and he stepped forward as these two gentlemen were ushered in.

"How d’you do?" he said pleasantly. "My cousins will be in directly.  I
am James Edgerton 3d."

Colonel Curmew, a jaunty gentleman of less than middle height and age,
looked at him out of a pair of eyes slightly inclined to pop.  He
appeared to be rather a good-looking man at first glance, with a
perceptible military cut which, however, seemed to threaten something
akin to a strut.  He didn’t exactly strut when he stepped, but he held
himself very erect—the more so perhaps because he seemed to lack
something else—perhaps height.

He knew Edgerton perfectly well by sight and reputation; and when he sat
down he was still looking at him out of his full, pale eyes.

Mr. Rivett also seated himself—a little man with a walrus mustache who
somehow looked as though, under his loosely cut clothes, his slight
physique was steel framed.

He put on his glasses and looked at Edgerton out of two little unwinking
eyes which reminded the young fellow of holes burned in a blanket.

"I came," he said cautiously, "in answer to a somewhat unusual
advertisement."

"Yes," said Edgerton pleasantly, "we advertised."

"If I recollect," continued Mr. Rivett, "you did not figure in the
advertisement."

"No," replied Edgerton, smiling; "my cousins possess the family talents;
I’m supernumerary—merely thrown in.  My services are not worth very
much; I ride and shoot, of course, and all that, but I don’t talk very
well and my dancing is the limit."

"I see."

Edgerton nodded serenely.

Colonel Curmew passed a carefully gloved hand over his trimly curled
military mustache. Edgerton glanced at him and wondered just what was
the matter with his face, which ought to have been good-looking.
Perhaps the short, closely cropped side whiskers extending to the lobes
of the ears slightly cheapened the mustache, and vulgarized the man a
little.

Colonel Curmew said:

"I have never had the honor of knowing you, Mr. Edgerton, but your name
and face are very familiar to me on Fifth Avenue."

"My people have lived on Fifth Avenue for—some time," replied the young
fellow, smiling; and caught Mr. Rivett’s burnt-brown gaze fixed steadily
upon him.

"Everybody," said Colonel Curmew, sitting very erect, but not exactly
swaggering, "everybody in town regretted to hear of your family’s
financial misfortune, Mr. Edgerton."

"It’s very good of them to regret it.  Naturally, also, that unexpected
catastrophe explains my cousins’ desire for employment as well as my
own."

"I see," said Mr. Rivett, never taking his eyes off Edgerton.

There was a pause; Colonel Curmew stroked his mustache and stared around
at the tapestries and pictures.  He evidently realized what they might
bring at auction.

"You are a lover of the antique, sir," he observed.

"Oh, I don’t exactly love it.  These things belonged to my uncle.  The
museum gets them ultimately."

"Ah! a case of the dead hand?"

"Mort main," nodded the young man indifferently.

"I see," said Mr. Rivett; and suddenly it occurred to Edgerton that this
explanation was, perhaps, one of the unuttered questions with which Mr.
Rivett’s bony countenance seemed crowded.  But the little man had not
yet asked a single one; and it may have been in response to the steady,
silent interrogation of those gimlet eyes that Edgerton was moved to
further explanation.

"My cousins are Californians; I am a New Yorker, as you know.  We have
combined forces from economical and family motives. It is necessary that
we find employment, so—" and he smiled at Mr. Rivett—"we have asked for
it."

Mr. Rivett sat impassive behind his big, round spectacles.  His walrus
mustache prevented anybody from seeing his mouth; his eyes now resembled
two little charred holes. It was utterly impossible to divine what he
might be thinking about, or even whether he was doing anything at all
except waiting. Somehow, it occurred to Edgerton that Mr. Rivett had
done a great deal of waiting in his career.

Colonel Curmew had now risen, and was strolling about examining the
antiquities when the folding doors slid back and Silvette and Diana came
into the studio.

[Illustration: "’As far as I am concerned, the matter is settled.’"]

Edgerton rose and presented Mr. Rivett and the colonel; the young girls
spoke to them with quiet self-possession, and presently everybody was
again seated.  Except for the colonel, the attitude of everybody
suggested a business gathering of people pleasantly receptive to any
business proposition, but that jaunty warrior’s pale eyes popped and his
smile was of the sort termed "killing"; and he curled his mustache
continually with caressing fingers, and presently shot his cuffs.

Mr. Rivett broke the silence somewhat abruptly:

"As far as I am concerned, the matter is settled."

There was another silence; then Silvette ventured: "I beg your pardon.
I don’t think we understood."

"I say, as far as _I_ am concerned, the matter is settled," repeated Mr.
Rivett.  "I ask no further information regarding these young ladies
"—turning slightly toward Edgerton—"nor about you, sir.  I am satisfied,
and Mrs. Rivett will be."

Diana and Silvette seemed surprised; Edgerton wore a preoccupied
expression, his eyes narrowing on the big eyeglasses of Mr. Rivett which
reflected the studio window on their convex surface.

"About myself," continued Mr. Rivett with more abruptness, "I have a
house in New York, which is closed, and one or two others; one in
particular where my family is living—my wife, son, and daughter.  It’s
called Adriutha Lodge; I don’t know why—my wife named it.  It’s
comfortable and big enough to entertain in."

He looked at Silvette without a particle of expression in his face.

"I would like you—both of you young ladies—and your cousin, Mr.
Edgerton, to help us entertain.  If we knew how to entertain
successfully we wouldn’t ask anybody to show us how.  It is better to be
plain about it.  We are plain folk from a small town in the West. We
know very few people; we mean to know more.  I’ve come to this city to
remain; I want to make as few mistakes as possible socially.  What I
wish you to do is to help me out.  Will you?"

After a moment Diana asked: "Where is Adriutha Lodge?"

"In the Berkshires.  Will you come?"

She glanced at the colonel, but he was staring so fixedly at her that
she looked away.

"We might consider it," said Silvette, turning toward Edgerton.

"Couldn’t you consider it at once?" asked Mr. Rivett.  Evidently this
little man with his glasses and his protuberant mustache had his own
methods of accelerating business.

"You have mentioned no terms," said Edgerton.

"Oh!  Am I to mention them?  I expected you had your own ideas on that
subject.  Very well, then."  And the offer he made left them silent and
a little shy.  It seemed too much.

Edgerton said laughingly to Diana:

"Suppose we consult in your room—if Mr. Rivett doesn’t mind our
withdrawing for a moment."

"Go ahead," nodded Rivett energetically; "that’s exactly what I
want—quick action.  I like quick results."

So Silvette and Diana and Edgerton rose and entered the room in single
file, closing behind them the folding doors.

"Well!" breathed Diana, sitting down on the edge of the bed, "did you
ever before see a man of that kind?"

Silvette turned to Edgerton.  "What do you think of him, cousin?"

"Why, I rather like that dried-up little chip," he said.  "He’s about
the grade of citizen we expected."

"_We?_" repeated Diana meaningly; "do you expect to go with us?"

"Are you going to force me out of this perfectly good combination,
Diana?"

The girl sat silent on the bed’s edge regarding him, but not answering.

"There’s one thing which ought to be settled now," observed Silvette;
"if our cousin, Mr. Edgerton, is to remain in this firm, we’ve got to
call him Jim, if only for appearance’ sake.  Otherwise people would
chatter."

"Jim?" repeated Diana; "very well, it doesn’t embarrass me to call him
Jim—or Tom or Bill, for that matter," she added indifferently.

"It doesn’t worry me, either," said Edgerton; "call me anything but
early."

"Such a poor joke!" said Silvette; "if we ever call you, cousin, it will
be a very late affair—and with nothing under a full house."

"Poker!—and _you_!  What an incredible combination!" he said.

Diana interrupted coolly: "If you please, Mr. Edgerton, what is your
valuable and masculine opinion concerning this munificent offer for the
summer?"  And she let her glance rest slowly and sideways on her sister.

"Take it," he said; "it’s a good offer."

"Is that your vote?" inquired Silvette.

"Have I a vote?" he asked of Diana; but she merely said: "I say we try
the Rivetts of Adriutha.  That is _my_ vote."

"Then—so do I say so," nodded Silvette. "Is it settled?"

Diana looked up at Edgerton.

"Are you really expecting to come with us?"

"If you will let me."

She remained a moment in thought, then sprang lightly to her feet.

"Who is going to be our spokesman?" she asked; "you, sister?"

"Jim," said Silvette, tranquilly leading the way.  "It looks better, I
think."

So Edgerton politely informed Mr. Rivett of their unanimous decision,
and that little man got briskly to his feet.

"I’m satisfied," he said.  "Come to Adriutha as soon as you are ready.
Bring all the luggage you want to bring; there’s plenty of room.
_Don’t_ bring any servants; there are more than enough there now.  My
wife and I receive you as guests; my son and daughter are about your
ages; nobody can prophesy what you’ll think of them or they of you....
Colonel—if you are ready....  Good-by, ma’am," to Silvette, offering a
dry little hand; and he took his leave of Diana and of Edgerton, and
pulled the colonel unceremoniously out of a most elegant attitude,
ruining a jaunty bow which he had not intended to finish so abruptly.

"Well," exclaimed Silvette with a sigh and a laugh as the door closed,
"it’s settled!  Let’s forget it....  What do you think of our gowns,
cousin James?"

"Corking," he replied; "but my cousin Diana was very fetching in her
Japanese dress this morning."

"That’s like a man!" observed Diana.  "I was a mess, Silvie—with two
ragged peonies over my ears and those old straw sandals of yours——"

"You were a vision of Japanese fairyland," he insisted.  "I may be
weak-minded, but I simply cannot get that vision of you out of my head."

"Try some tea," as the maid brought it; "weak tea and feeble intellects
agree."

"Oh, I’ll try tea or anything else, but if you think I’m likely to
forget the first moment I ever saw you—a slender, Japanese shadow shape
against the sun!—ethereal, vaguely tinted, exquisite——"

"You _are_ a poet, Jim," said Silvette admiringly.  "I read one of your
rhymes in _Life_ once, and didn’t think so."

"Diana made me a poet.  If you’d seen her as she came stealing across
the window, which was all glittering like a Japanese sunburst, you’d
have become a poet, too!"  He began to laugh.  "I even created a name
for you, Diana; it came to me—was already on my lips——"

"What name?" she asked, looking composedly at him.

"Japonette! ... _I_ never before heard such a name.  I don’t believe
there ever was such a name before it suddenly twitched at my lips for
utterance!  Japonette!"

"Why didn’t you utter it if you were so enchanted with your discovery?"

"Because you seemed to be sufficiently scared as it was."

She shrugged, and handed him his tea. "Japonette," she repeated
reflectively; "I don’t know whether or not I care for it.  It sounds
frivolous."

"Which you are not!"

She lifted her blue eyes to his.

"_You_ think I am," she said.

"No, I don’t."

"You _know_ I am," she said, and presented herself with a small tea
cake.  Into it she bit once; then raised her eyes, watching her sister
manipulating the alcohol lamp.

"Do you suppose," she said, "that we’ll ever have the slightest personal
interest in these Rivett people?"

"Probably not," said her sister.  "What of it?  I wonder whether that
colonel is likely to figure as a guest."

Diana shrugged again.  "Figure!  He seems to be all figure.  I thought
him rather odious."

"Did you?  He seemed anxious to be agreeable. Who is he, cousin Jim?"

"I don’t know....  Perhaps I may have heard of him—a militia colonel of
some kind, I don’t remember.  He’s probably a decent sort; I rather like
him."

"I wonder," said Diana reflectively, "whether you are anything of a
snob?"

Edgerton reddened, then sat still looking at her.

"I was going to resent that," he said after a moment, "but I can’t;
because what you just said set me thinking."

"Are you unaccustomed to thinking?" she asked too innocently; and he
reddened again.

"Stop tormenting him," said Silvette, pouring herself more tea.  "You’re
a tease, Diane."

"You both seem a little in that way," he suggested; "you jeer at me and
then look pained, and tell each other to stop."

"We’re too intelligent," said Silvette calmly; "that’s the trouble with
us; and when, by degrees, we add a little more experience to our
intelligence we’ll be either exceedingly unpopular or—successfully
married."

"Why those terrible alternatives?" he asked, laughing.

"Because the man who is able to endure us will probably be worth the
bother of marrying—when we’ve finished dissecting him. We don’t know
just how to dissect men yet, but we’re rapidly learning.  It’s only a
matter of practice and experience."

He laughed again, and so did Silvette, but Diana scarcely smiled, lying
back in her velvet armchair and watching Edgerton and her sister
alternately with grave, incurious eyes.

"How old are you, anyway?" he said, looking straight at her.

"Twenty-seven," she answered calmly. "Don’t jump, please."

"What!" he exclaimed incredulously.

"I look about nineteen, don’t I?"

"Certainly you do—about eighteen!"

"Well, I am twenty-seven; Silvette is twenty-five.  Don’t bother with
compliments."

"Good Lord!  Are _you_ the elder?"

"Tread lightly there," cautioned Silvette, amused, "or you’ll presently
involve yourself with two indignant spinsters.  You’ve behaved very
cleverly.  Let well enough alone."

"If you hadn’t told me," he began, astonished, "I’d have taken Silvette
for nineteen and you for eighteen.  I—well, I simply can’t realize it."

"How old may _you_ be, cousin?" inquired Silvette with a malicious
sweetness impossible to describe.

"I’m thirty-two," he said.

"We thought you less," remarked Diana; then she ventured to glance at
him, and the enchanting smile broke suddenly from her lips and eyes.

"Don’t you know we _do_ like you, cousin James, or we wouldn’t torment
you?" said Silvette, laughing.

"A woman at twenty-seven is centuries older than a man at thirty," added
Diana, "except, of course, in some things.  Theoretically, Silvie and I
are highly instructed; practically, the man of thirty is more
specifically intelligent, which is no compliment to the man of thirty."

Edgerton, still astonished, sat back in his chair, considering.

"Do you know," he said, "I never suspected I had two such relatives in
the world, who wear the appearance of débutantes with an assurance that
convinces until their wit and wisdom convict them.  Where were you
educated, anyway?"

"In a southern boarding school and in a western university.  After that,
Silvette studied law and was admitted to the bar.  I am entitled to
practice medicine," she added demurely.  "Does _that_ scare you?"

"Do you think it has spoiled us?" asked Silvette so naïvely that he made
no attempt to control his laughter.

"Why on earth don’t you do those two things?" he managed to ask at last.
"If you’re entitled to exercise professions, why don’t you?"

"We only studied out of curiosity," explained Diana.  "We never intended
to follow it up.  Of course, we expected to remain always in pleasant
financial circumstances."

"Anyway," added Silvette, "it’s too late now to sit in an office and
wait for clients and patients.  Besides, it’s a stuffy life.  We dance
better, and we decorate a drawing-room to more advantage than an office
building."

"You _have_ thoroughly scared me," he said, looking at them admiringly.

Diana glanced up, then flushed.

"I was afraid for a moment that you meant it," she said.

"I do.  What was it you asked me a few moments ago—whether or not I was
something of a snob?  And I was about to resent it—politely, of
course—when it occurred to me that there was, after all, no more
finished snob than the man who is so convinced of his own position that
he can afford to like everybody; and I told you I liked that militia
gentleman. I really didn’t; I thought him the limit....  Diana, you seem
to be a sort of truth compeller."

"I’m a liar, occasionally—to speak with accuracy instead of elegance,"
said Diana frankly.  "I’ve managed to convey to you an idea that I am
indifferent to your joining the firm of Tennant and Tennant.  As a
matter of fact, I’m flattered and happy.  It’s my conscience that
protests."

"Your—what?"

"Conscience.  Never mind—you won’t understand, and I won’t tell you....
After all, you are thirty-two, even if you happen to be an Edgerton."

"Are you jeering at me?"

"No, I am not.  I’m flattered because you wear a distinguished name; I’m
happy because I’m entirely inclined to like you.  In fact, I’m a kind of
a happy, little snob myself.  There! we’re all tarred with the same
snobbish brush, cousin.  Shall we take off our masks for a while and
cool our faces?"

She rose with a gay little laugh and a bewitching gesture as though
sweeping from her face an invisible vizard.

"Behold me as I am, cousin!  Just what you have already divined me, with
your eyes too humorous and too wise for a man of thirty—frivolous,
feminine, not insensible to flattery, wise only in theory, a novice in
practice——"

She hesitated, looking at him, the bright color in her cheeks.

"What silenced and incensed me was that you divined it.  I would have
liked to have played a part with you vis-à-vis——"

"You’re playing it now," observed Silvette. "Jim doesn’t know what you
are now; even I have doubts."

Diana laughed deliciously.

"_Do_ I puzzle you, cousin?"

"Are you trying to?"

"Of course."

"Well, you’ve succeeded.  You’re perfectly right, Silvette; I don’t know
anything about her now.  Are there any more roles you can assume,
Japonette?"

"Many, monsieur.  One of them _is_ Japonette, if I choose."

"Play it," he said, "if you ever want to tie me to your Obi."

"You behave," observed Silvette tranquilly, "like two rather ordinary
young persons flirting."

"We are," nodded Diana, "but it won’t last, Silvie.  It’s only my kimono
and his thirty-odd years and the unconventionality that attracts him."
She strolled about airily waving her fan.  "Not that I mind being picked
up——"

"Di!  You’ll give him a perfectly horrid impression of yourself!"

"Why, he knows I didn’t mind it.  It’s past helping now."

"_How_ can a man ’pick up,’ as you so disgustingly put it, his own
cousin?"

"That _was_ a triumph, wasn’t it, Jim?" she asked innocently.  "It
remained for an Edgerton to accomplish the weird and impossible; but an
Edgerton can do anything in New York—n’est ce pas?  Bien, sure!  Sure,
Mike!"

"Diana!"

"Dearest, I _feel_ slangy; and cousin James is so thoroughly a man of
the world that he doesn’t care.  He wouldn’t care what I did. I could
perform a pas seul or a flip-flap or a cart wheel, and _he_ wouldn’t
care.  It’s done in the best circles here, isn’t it, cousin?"

"Frequently," he said gravely, "varied occasionally by voloplaning down
the banisters."

She looked about her wistfully.

"There are no banisters here.  Perhaps there are at the Rivetts’.  Do
you think it would entertain his guests?  You know we are employed for
that purpose."

"You and I ought to practice some acrobatic turns," he suggested.  "Do
you think you could learn to throw a double somersault standing on my
shoulders?"

"I can try——"

"Di! what on earth are you talking about!" said Silvette, turning from
the piano to encounter their unrestrained laughter.

"Oh, dear," said Diana, "I didn’t know I could ever be silly again.  I
thought that losing all our money a year ago had frightened it out of
me; but it’s there, cousin Jim—the same frivolity which _you_ instantly
discovered in me, and which the Rivetts will probably and properly
quench....  Silvie, this studio floor is delightfully waxed....  Cousin,
do you dance?"

"Rottenly."

"Never mind....  Silvie, dear—one little waltz, please?  _Please_?
Thank you.  Pull away that rug, cousin.  Are you ready?"

She laid her arm on his, her hand in his; Silvette, playing, turned her
head to watch them.

"He _is_ a rotten dancer," she said critically.

"I can’t help that," said Diana; "it was the time and the hour.  I
needed it! ... Jim, don’t step on my toe, please, and don’t _think_ of
stopping.  You do well enough, really, you do....  No man who counts
dances like a Turveydrop....  We use dancing men for dancing purposes
only....  Of course you are flattered; I meant to flatter you, so you
wouldn’t be horrid enough to stop.... Please finish glaring at me; you
are really giving me a great deal of pleasure."

"I begin to wonder whether I was not created for that, Japonette."

"To amuse me?  Unintentionally? perhaps."

"So that you notice me at all, it doesn’t matter," he said under his
breath.

"Goodness! what meekness!  Only that you’re a typical man and don’t mean
it, I’d hate you for it....  A meek man—from him, good Lord, deliver us!
... No, cousin, there is that in your eye which—and in your general
make-up——"

"What?"

"Oh, I don’t know—thirty-odd masculine years—_very_ masculine!—or I’d
not be dancing with you, or I’d not be in this house at this moment; or,
rather, _you_ wouldn’t.  Stop mincing along in a horrid sort of
self-satisfied prance! ... And don’t hop, either!  Are you tiring?"

"No," he said bravely.

"I’ll let you go in a moment, before you swoon and I have to drag you to
a chair.... You dance well enough.  I like it, really ... and—thank you
very much indeed!"

They parted, breathless.  She stood a moment waving her fan against her
bright cheeks and touching her hair with cleft fingers.  He extracted a
handkerchief from his sleeve and used it frankly.

"It’s hot in here," he said; "show me your roof garden."

"Silvette," she called over her shoulder, "will you come up to the
roof?"

Silvette nodded and continued playing an air from "Armide"; and they
waited for her a moment, then went out into the hallway and up to the
roof.

"The garden of a thousand delights!" she said with a sweep of her hand
and a curtsey. "The Japanese fairy, Japonette, welcomes the true prophet
of her frivolity."

He looked around at the flowers in pots—geraniums, verbenas, fuchsias,
heliotrope—homely, old-fashioned blossoms.

"I bought them from a peddler; I stopped his wagon in the street and
made him carry them up here.  They only cost two dollars; and I was
economical at the market," she explained.

He glanced up at the awning gay with yellow and white stripes.

"Macy’s," she admitted guiltily; "I’ll starve you at dinner to-night to
pay for it."

He looked at her rather queerly, she thought.

"There are things I’d starve for—and people."

"And awnings, cousin?"

"Yours."

"That’s very nice and gallant and obvious," she said in such a
tormenting tone that he broke out almost impatiently:

"Japonette, can’t you ever take me seriously?"

"I hope not, cousin."

For an instant the smile remained stamped on their lips; then the slight
strain became perceptible, a moment only, for she turned lightly away
and seated herself on the edge of a big hanging seat.

"More Macy," she nodded ruefully.  "We’ll all have to fast to-morrow....
You may sit here, too, if you wish.’"

A family of starlings were nesting in the cornices of the roof across
the way, and the two young people watched the old birds for a while
flying to the park and returning with food for their invisible young.

"Horrid, isn’t it?" observed Diana.  "But that’s the way of things.  No
sooner are you married and happy than—zip! the scene changes, and you
turn into a wretched purveyor of nourishment for the next generation.
Carpe diem!"

"Cede Deo!  It’s probably good fun," commented Edgerton.

"What?  Slaving for others just when you are all ready for real
happiness?"

"_That’s_ happiness, or nobody would do it—not even those birds."

"It’s instinct!"

"Maybe with birds.  Instincts are all right for birds, but we humans are
usually arrested when we follow our instincts."

She laughed.  "That _is_ true; it’s neither instinct nor happiness that
makes us slaves to babies:—it’s duty."

"If that were all it is," he said, "the state would be nourishing the
majority of infants. No; it’s probably fun, Diana.  That’s the only
possible explanation."

She shrugged her dainty shoulders and looked at the westering sun above
Staten Island; and in the gesture she seemed, in pantomime, to discard
all feminine duties, cares, and responsibilities forever.  Then as she
rested there, cheek on hand, her blue eyes grew vaguer.

"I am glad you came into our lives," she said; "I mean it this time."

"I am glad, too," he said seriously.

"You are now; I can see that....  How soon will you be sorry?"

"Why?"

She turned toward him.

"How soon will the novelty tire you?"

"I have not considered you as a novelty."

"But I am; I’m a mechanical toy.  My paint soon comes off, cousin."

"You’re my own kin.  There’s no novelty, as you call it, in kinship,
nothing evanescent."

She said: "Do you really and deliberately desire to stand by that
extremely tenuous and attenuated tie?  An attitude of that sort entails
duties.  You may have much to overlook in us—even much to forgive.  Are
you aware of your responsibilities?"

"I assumed them when I asked to be admitted to your partnership."

"Why _did_ you ask to join?"

"The real reason?"

She hesitated, looking at him.

"Yes, the real one."

"You."

"What exactly do you mean by that answer?"

"I don’t know, myself, Japonette," he said laughingly; "I’ve tried to
analyze it, too.  The instinct of relationship may have counted."

"I hope it did," said she.

"I hope so.  God knows, and men are selfish.... And _that_ counted,
too."

"What?"

"Selfishness."

"I don’t believe there is very much in you."

"That is where your heart is still a child’s heart, Japonette."

"Oh, I’m no altruist, but there’s selfishness _and_ selfishness....
What were we talking about?  Oh! why you desired to join——"

"No, we got past that."

"Oh, yes; well, then, you say it was because of me.  Why?"

"I told you I didn’t know exactly why; but the root of it all was
you....  And when you told me about some people who had come here—that
fellow who spoke about a housekeeper——"

"Jim Edgerton!"

"What!"

"I believe—but you _can’t_ be as nice as that! You simply can’t!"

"Oh, I’m not nice," he protested, reddening; but she interrupted:

"You _are_!  I certainly believe you thought that Silvie and I required
somebody masculine in our vicinity—to throw the housekeeping man
downstairs, for example.  Did you?"

"No.  I only——"

"_Did_ you?"

"Of course not."

"Do you know," she said seriously, "you’re a perfect dear in one way,
and I don’t know what you are in others.  _Now_ be flattered, for _that_
makes you interesting.  And you know it’s all up with a woman who finds
a man interesting."

She was laughing at him now, and he scarcely knew how to take what she
said except to take it with a grin.

"You’re a terrible torment, Diana," he said. "My value in my own
estimation, since I’ve known you, has fluctuated between a dollar and a
half and thirty cents."

"You _said_ you had two dollars!  I believe you’re one of these wealthy
men who are always singing poor!"

"How many other kinds of things do you think I am?" he asked resignedly.

"I don’t know.  I think I’ll amuse myself by finding out."

"Meanwhile," he said, smiling, "remember I am always what I was when I
first set eyes on you—no!—the next second _after_ I had seen you."

"A lightning change, cousin?"

"Like lightning, Diana."

"The lightning of the gods?"

"Diana’s own shaft....  ’The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the
moon by night,’ but I stand betwixt the rising sun of Japan and—you,
Diana.  _Somebody’s_ shot me, that’s all."

"You are perfectly delightful, but do you realize that I’m dissecting
you all the while?"

"You once said——"

"Never mind that," she interrupted hastily; and blushed until it
infuriated her to calmness.  And to heal the sting with the cause of it
she said:

"You’re perfectly right, cousin; any man who can endure our scalpel will
be worth seizing and dragging to the parson.  But—you are perfectly safe
for a while.  It takes a lifetime to properly dissect a man of your
sort.  I’ll be eighty before I make up my mind about you."

"Eighty years is not beyond the statute of limitations."

"You’d marry me at eighty!  Do you know you’re beginning to trouble me?
I told you I was thoroughly feminine, and susceptible to flattery.  I
am; it’s too bad I’m so intelligent that I’ve really got to satisfy that
intelligence by spending years and years in dissecting you. Otherwise,
I’d run away with you now."

"In your Japanese silks and little straw sandals?"

"Oh, yes, if you were sentimental enough to insist."

"I would."

She shrugged.  "I knew you were a dreamer—captivated by a vision.
Suppose you had to see me pinning on store curls?"

"I’d help pin ’em."

"Well, there are plenty of other things to disillusion you.  I adore
onions."

"So do I," he said.

They laughed together.

She was near enough for him to be aware of the faint scent of her
breath, or it may have been a fragrance from her gown which stirred
slightly in the evening breeze, or the delicate fresh perfume of her
hair and skin—something indefinable, some exquisite emanation of youth
which had stolen subtly into his senses—something of her, and as
distinctly and inviolably hers as the occult atmosphere of a virgin
planet.

"Cousin," she said, "I thought we were to remove our masks in the family
circle.  They seem to be on as closely as ever."

He looked at her a moment.

"We never will remove them," he said.

"Never?"

"Never, Japonette."

"Why not?"

"Because, for example, in my case I want you to believe me everything
I’d like to be. I know what I am.  All people know what they are....
Does anybody ever really unmask? ... Could they if they wished to? There
would be only another mask beneath.... We can’t ever get rid of
masks....  I don’t care how hard we try, how honestly we try, how
intimate two people become, how deeply they may love—there’s always a
mask, and it grows there; and our own eyes are the slits. Even a mother
with her first born in her arms looks down into its eyes in vain—those
blue and transparent veils of a secret soul which sits behind them,
impenetrable, inviolable."

After a silence she said:

"Silvette was right; you are a poet, Jim.... How dusky it is growing
over the river. Silvette is probably superintending dinner preparations.
Shall we go down?"



                              *CHAPTER V*

                           *DE MOTU PROPRIO*


They arrived at Adriutha two days later in a roaring downpour of June
rain.  A maid conducted Silvette and Diana to their rooms, a valet
piloted Edgerton to another wing of the house devoted to bachelors’
quarters over the vast billiard room.

At the eastern end of the house Silvette stood beside the window while
the maid assigned to them undressed her.  Diana, already in her pajamas
and sandals, lay flat on the bed, one knee crossed over, swinging her
slim, bare foot and looking out at the rain.

It was a wet outlook across the meadows, over a low range of rocky and
wooded hills, behind which the invisible sun had already set.  In the
drenched foreground, beyond the meadow’s matted edge, the Deerfield
River tossed and foamed, swollen a deeper amber by the rain—a wide,
swift stream set with spray-dashed bowlders, and bordered alternately by
ledges dripping with verdure and sandy stretches full of low rain-beaten
willows.  The world, through its limpid veil of rain, looked like a
silvery aquarelle framed by a window.

Tea was presently served.  Silvette in her silk lounging suit came over
and seated herself on the edge of the bed; the maid finished drawing the
bath, and retired until again summoned.

"Well," sighed Silvette, pouring the tea, "here we are, Di.  How do you
feel about it now?"

"Depressed," said Diana briefly.

"So do I, somehow....  I wish we were back in New York, with just enough
to live on."

Diana swung her foot gently, but made no reply.

Presently she kicked off her sandal, lay thinking a moment, and then sat
up and accepted the cup of tea offered by her sister. They sipped their
tea in silence for a while, nibbled toast and cakes until sufficiently
refreshed.

"After all," observed Silvette, "what we are doing for a living is
purely a matter of personal taste.  It ought not to depress us."

"We should have told him!  That is the only thing that worries me,"
remarked Diana. "Still, it is really none of his business what we do for
a living."

"After all," repeated Silvette, "what is there to tell him?  Keno,
Nevada, has nothing to learn from New York in frivolity, I fancy. There
are several pretty women in every set who’d starve if they didn’t play
cards better than their neighbors."

"I rather wish we’d told him about our year there; yet, what is there to
tell?  Probably it resembled plenty of years with which he is perfectly
familiar."

"Do we have to account to Jim Edgerton anyway?" asked Silvette
impatiently.

"He wanted to come with us," mused Diana.  "When he wants to go, he’ll
go fast enough, I fancy.  It isn’t what he might think, or his possible
disapproval, that worries me; it’s that he ought to have been told more
about us in the beginning....  But how were we to tell him?"

"He didn’t ask, did he?"

"No; but, somehow or other, we ought to have put him au courant, and
then he could have had his choice about recognizing the relationship or
ignoring it.  That’s what bothers me a little."

"How could we possibly have told him all about ourselves the first
afternoon we ever set eyes on him?"

"There were two other afternoons; one is just ending....  I don’t know;
I might easily have created a situation in which it would have seemed
natural enough to mention our programme to him."

"Why didn’t you, Di?"

"Cowardice," said the girl frankly; and she stretched herself out flat
on the bed again.

"Do you think as much of Jim Edgerton’s opinion as that?"

"I seem to....  I didn’t want to take the risk of his disapproval.  I’m
beginning to realize that we’ve been dishonest with him."

"That is an ugly word, little sister."

"I don’t know any way to soften it.  A girl is either honest or the
contrary.  I was not honest with Jim Edgerton."

"He might not disapprove, after all.  He is no provincial."

"Yes—and he might disapprove.  Men of his kind who stand for almost
anything in outsiders are finicky about their own relatives. They really
don’t care what imprudence other people commit; they may even admire
it—even do it themselves—but there’s a difference as soon as it involves
one of the family.  I’ve an idea he is like that."

"Isn’t it stretching a thin tie of kinship too far to speak of Jim
Edgerton and ourselves in a family sense?  Are you and I not rather
inclined to abuse that word cousin, Diana?"

"He first used it to us," she said warmly; "it is his choice.  He’s a
very impulsive and generous boy; do you know it?"

"Yes, I do....  Isn’t it a thousand pities?"

"What about?"

"His losing everything—being so wretchedly poor....  And our being poor,
too."

"Yes," said Diana simply.

"And he’ll never, never recoup.  He is full of talent, and nothing else.
What a pity!  He isn’t the successful sort.  It’s a pity, isn’t it, Di?"

"Yes."

"Because he is already quite mad about you, Di—he’s a perfect boy about
you... How can men of his age retain their niceness and charm and
freshness, after what they usually pass through.  With all his
undesirable wisdom and his masculine worldly experiences, he’s
practically as innocent as we are."

Diana suddenly sat up cross-legged on the bed and gathered her ankles in
her hands.

[Illustration: "’I wonder just how innocent we really are,’ she said."]

"I wonder just how innocent we really are," she said, "with all those
things which we have been obliged to know about in our higher education?
And—speaking of education—there was our last year in Keno.  That year
did some curious things to us.  Do you realize our development, our
worldly evolution since the beginning of last year—how familiar we
became with that doubtful worldly wisdom which is supposed to be part of
the make-up of a woman of the world? ... Do you realize that it was a
year of laissez faire, of revelation, of laxity and acquiescence in
relaxation, a year of paradox, of ceremony sans façon, of schooling
oneself to overlook and accept, of an education in morals and their
immoral variations?  How aloof have we kept ourselves from what we have
learned to tolerate?—and how much was due to fastidiousness, how much to
expediency, how much to common sense, and how much to spiritual
conviction?"

"Does your conscience really trouble you?" asked Silvette anxiously.

"No; only in regard to Jim Edgerton.  I’d rather he knew how we regard
life before he reclaims relationship in public; that’s all."

Silvette said: "We are merely wiser; merely less provincial and more
honest and tolerant of a world that isn’t any too goody-goody.  We’ve
learned to distinguish between mock modesty, false shame, hypocrisy, and
honest conviction. Take Keno, for instance; before we lived there we
were inclined to look askance on what the world accepts with
indifference and perfect good nature.  I mean, on the rather lurid
gayeties of a little world where attractive divorcées make up the bulk
of society—where the eternal cry in the ballroom is ’Change partners!
Ladies change!’—and where nobody plays cards except for stakes.  After
all, Keno is merely a section of New York temporarily transplanted.
He’d probably feel at home there."

Diana turned, deliberately rolled across the bed, landing lightly on her
feet.

"All right," she said; "only, some day somebody will tell Jim Edgerton
that those two cousins of his are outpacing propriety. We’re just a dash
too pretty, Silvie, and we’ve simply got to be careful.  There’s one
enemy you and I will always have to reckon with—our own sex."

She walked to the window, looked out, and stood watching the rain, her
childish mouth troubled.  And, presently, speaking again without turning
around:

"Our programme, as we have arranged it, was to be a general one—to win
out, go in for everything, play the game as hard as it can be played,
meet the gayer world face to face squarely, and take from it honestly
all it has to offer."

"Except love."

"Except—that."

"Love, per se, we can’t afford," said Silvette gayly; "however, it may
even be included.  Who knows?  Material masculine eligibility need not
necessarily exclude that agreeable passion, need it?  Many a worthy
heart beats beneath the waistcoat of the plutocrat."

"The chances are against any deal in hearts, as far as we are
concerned."

"You’re not thinking of Jim Edgerton, are you, Di?"

Diana stood, hands clasped behind her back, staring at the rain.
Suddenly she pivoted on her sandals.

"Yes, I am thinking of him.  I’m thinking of him all the time."

"That is very unwise," said Silvette gently.

"I am thinking of him, but it’s only thinking....  I like him.  I never
liked any man better, or as well, perhaps....  And I’ve known him three
days.  Give me a day or two grace, and I’ll stop thinking about him."

"You were quite mad over young Inwood in Keno," mused Silvette.

"Yes....  I realize that I like men.  I enjoy them; if I had my way, I’d
carry on like the deuce with every man who took my fancy, before I come
to the final decision and spoil life for myself."

"You carry on like the deuce _now_, sister," said Silvette, laughing.

"I don’t do it enough," retorted Diana fiercely; "what have I got to
look forward to, after all?—a homeless life of social employment, an old
age of gossip and cards!—or, if I win out, a loveless middle age wearing
some wealthy man’s name and pearls, and all the rest dashed out—the
brightness, the youth of things, the hope of things, children——"

"_You_ don’t want children!" exclaimed Silvette, horrified; "grubby
little things!  I thought you hated them!"

"Grubby little things," repeated the girl slowly; "so I do, in theory."

"You don’t know anything about them practically."

"Except at the Maternity Hospital.... Oh, Silvie, it _is_ ghastly....
It’s horrid! horrid!—it’s devilishly unfair! ... Young girls in the
springtide of youth crept in and out of that dreadful place like the
white ghosts of murdered souls!  If maternity didn’t slay them, it
killed the better part of them.  Then the world ended for them—youth,
hope, freedom ended with the first thin cry of the tyrant that dooms all
women....  Yes, I—hate children!"  She stood a moment, slim hands on her
hips, head lowered with the brown locks clustering against her cheeks;
then, looking up:

"But I mean to have one of my own sometime. Life to the full, dregs and
all, before I die.  That is my programme."

Silvette laughed.  "This is a new and recent development, isn’t it?"

"I’m developing like lightning."

"Lightning develops quickly, but it doesn’t last, dear."

Diana, lost in retrospection again, smiled vaguely.  Then, lifting her
pretty eyes:

"Did you ever see starlings feeding their young?  A pair nested opposite
the studio.  I found their evolutions rather interesting."

"No doubt," said her sister.  "Is that what has aroused the maternal
instinct? Come, who is to bathe first.  Pull down the shade and turn on
the electricity, and ring for the maid, dear.  She ought to lay out our
gowns at once."

Diana did as she was bidden; then, on impulse, sat down at the little
fly-away desk and scribbled a note:

"Take it to Mr. Edgerton," she said to the maid.


Edgerton, dressing leisurely, read the note where he stood under the
electric cluster:


"DEAR JIM: The rain, the world, and things oppress me.  So do you
sometimes.... There’s a long future ahead of me.  I dread it—who was
eager for the plunge a few days since.  I seem to be standing on the
threshold of things in general, waiting for my cue to enter, but with
little heart for the stage now. Alas, I am already tired before the
overture has ended.

"If we dance to-night, ask me.  Probably I’m the only girl in the house
who could stand a dance with you—and I’m not so certain about myself....
But if we play Bridge, continue not to sit at our table.  I ask it of
you for reasons which are none of your business.  Indulge my whim,
please.

"JAPONETTE."


He finished dressing, then scribbled a note to her, and sent it by the
valet:


"Japonette, dear, I’m as rotten at cards as I am dancing.  I won’t
permit indiscreet infatuation to interfere with your Bridge.... And, by
the way, in this sort of a house the chances are they’ll play for
stakes—probably high stakes.  My limit is a cent a point—or was in days
of affluence—but our host will scarcely expect us to risk our salaries,
I fancy. So even if you have no objection to playing for stakes—which
probably, however, you have—you need not feel obliged to.  Our duties
here do not include losing money to Mr. Rivett’s assorted guests, you
know.  Feel perfectly at liberty to let the table carry you and
Silvette.

"Shall I wait and go down with you both?

"J.E."


She read the note; then handed it silently to Silvette, who read it also
in silence.

"You see," said Diana, "it’s exactly what I told you.  He doesn’t wish
us to play for stakes."

"He says nothing here about his wishes.... Besides, it would be an
impertinence for him to make any such suggestion to either you or me."

"His attitude is plain enough—if you think it impertinent."

"I don’t think it is.  He indicates that he supposes we do not play for
stakes, and adds that, anyway, we need not if we don’t wish to.  That is
all the note expresses.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter, does it?"

Diana shook her disheveled head, seated herself and wrote a hasty
answer, sending it away by the valet, who was waiting outside the door.

"Don’t wait for us; we’re not hooked up yet.  We’re quite accustomed to
play for stakes, you funny boy, so that need cause you no uneasiness....
And please don’t forget to ask me, if they dance."


Edgerton stood thinking for a moment before his fireplace after reading
the missive; then struck a match and lit the two notes, holding them
together until almost consumed, and lingered still to watch the edge of
yellow flame on the hearth licking up the remaining margins of the
paper.

Then he went downstairs and into a green and gold drawing-room, where
his hostess received him shyly, almost timidly—a small gray-haired woman
all over jewels whose thin little hand trembled slightly in his.

It was a frail hand, fragile of bone, yet never the hand of generations
of leisure, for the joints were hard and accented, and the fingers
rather worn than thin—as though once not unaccustomed to household
labor; and, without knowing just why, he retained the diamond-laden hand
in his firm, warm clasp for a moment as though to reassure her.

"It is nice of you to ask us," he said gently. "You have made everything
very easy and comfortable for us.  My cousins will be down in a few
moments; they asked me to come first."

The little gray woman looked up into his pleasant, well-cut face as
though confused; he smiled down at her, still retaining her hand.

"My husband has told me who you are," she said.  "I didn’t expect you to
be just like this....  You and your cousins are our very welcome and
honored guests....  Our _guests_," she repeated almost tremulously, "and
none more welcome under our roof."

"It is gracious and kind of you to say so," he said, touched by the
simplicity and the mild, faded face upturned.

Then Mr. Rivett came forward, cautiously treading the velvet, his two
burned-brown eyes fixed behind the big concave eyeglasses.

"It’s wet weather," he said, shaking hands. "I hope your quarters are
comfortable."

"Most luxurious, thank you—with a beautiful outlook."

Mrs. Rivett’s gentle voice sounded at his elbow presenting him to her
daughter and son, and after that to several others who, for the moment,
he made no effort to distinguish one from another except that he
recognized Colonel Curmew in superb form and obtrusive pearl studs
decorating a fluted shirt front.

A moment later Silvette and Diana entered, slender and youthful, with
all the softly flushed charm of eighteen and the winning composure of a
wider experience than eighteen years can ever lend.

Colonel Curmew presently outflanked Silvette, forcing her skillfully
into a momentary retreat toward the recess of a window, where he
blockaded her and curled his mustache with satisfaction and shot his
cuffs, and prepared to drive in her outer pickets.

Diana remained in quiet conversation with Mrs. Rivett, the latter shy,
wistful, and ill at ease by turns; the former sweet and deferential, yet
all the while composedly taking the measure of the others in the room,
and of the room itself, vaguely aware in her apparently smiling
preoccupation that she was winning a perplexed and timid heart.

Cocktails were served—unusual ones that had a scent like the original
Ricky, that is, the aromatic odor of wild blossoms.

The little gray woman barely tasted hers, with that same inborn
instinct, perhaps, that impelled those old-time hostesses in the days
when viands and wines sometimes proved fatal.

Then Edgerton relieved her of her scarcely touched glass; took Diana’s,
too, which was still half full.  Mrs. Rivett rose and gave him her arm,
to his surprise; Mr. Rivett took in Diana, his son Silvette.  The name
of Edgerton had counted heavily.

[Illustration: "Mr. Rivett took in Diana, his son Silvette."]

In the dining room everything was grossly overdone except the
cookery—the sort of thing most calculated to annoy and bore the very man
most accustomed to it in town; profusion akin to the plethora which
offends; effort impossible to disguise which stirs even in the most
good-natured and generous an unwilling contempt.

Edgerton let his eyes rest for a moment, outside the silver and
crystal-set circle of light, on gold, heavy carving, gilded tapestry and
picture, and withdrew his gaze gravely. Men servants swarmed, bothering
him; the scent of greenhouse blossoms, forced before their time; the
heavy magnificence out of place—all slightly disgusted him, though much
of it was about what he had expected of such people.

Little Miss Rivett, on his left, dissected her terrapin with the healthy
attention of youth and hunger; and presently he turned to look at her
with amused but wholly amiable curiosity.

He saw a small, plump, dainty maid, with exceedingly clear and bright
brown eyes, and a softly brilliant complexion, looking back at him with
unconcealed interest.

There was a moment’s silence, then they both smiled.

"Do you think you’ll like us?" she asked saucily; "or do you hate us
already?"

"Not the slightest doubt of my liking you, Miss Rivett; but how about
your liking us?"

"Your cousins are most bewitching and bewildering....  You seem to be
nice—are you?"

"Very," he said, laughing.  "I’m glad you gave me an opportunity of
saying so, because otherwise it might not have been perfectly clear to
you."

"I _am_ rather fastidious," she said.  "How well do you dance?"

"My grace in that praiseworthy pastime is ursine."

"Really?"

"Unbearably."

"You are very British, aren’t you?"

"Do you refer to my little play upon words?"

"No, generally; that was merely a touch of local color.  Naturally,
also, you fishshootridetohoundsandplaypolo; do you?"

"Also gawf, dear lady."

"Perfectly symmetrical and indistinguishable from others of your kind.
I thought so. Crocky, too?"

"Certainly, crocky," he admitted; "also no bank account.  You may call
me m’lud with impunity."

"Perhaps you’re not entirely qualified. How do you stand on the heiress
question, Mr. Edgerton?"

"I can’t qualify there."

"Then you’re a sham.  Besides, you’re neither clever nor gallant.  _I_
am an heiress."

"Then I qualify at once as a fortune hunter," he said, laughing, "and
I’ll cable for my solicitors."

"What _are_ you saying?" asked Mrs. Rivett in her gentle, uncertain
voice.

"Mother, Mr. Edgerton and I are going to be friends.  Perhaps he isn’t
sure of it, but I am.  Tell him what happens when I am sure of
anything."

"Dear, perhaps Mr. Edgerton doesn’t quite understand your manner of
saying things."

"That’s just it; he _does_ understand!  He is going to turn out
exceedingly nice, mother; watch him!"

"Christine!  Please be a little less personal and abrupt."

They turned, smiling, toward the other end of the table where much
laughter sounded. Evidently Diana and Silvette were becoming very
popular, and, somehow, it occurred to Edgerton that perhaps this great
room had not often resounded with mirth.

But the chatter and laughter were incessant now; so were the servants’
ministrations, and Edgerton was glad enough to give his arm to the faded
little woman beside him and take her to her great, gilded chair in the
drawing-room, and follow the men to another room, where blue smoke from
cigars presently floated to the ceiling.

Jack Rivett, rather too plump and smooth, moved into a chair beside
Edgerton; and the latter, who had prejudged him from his appearance, was
slightly surprised to find the youth widely read, widely traveled, with
a mind and even a wit entirely his own, and an original but sometimes
callow comment for any subject brought up.

In a desultory conversation it presently transpired that young Rivett
was a candidate for the Patroon’s Club.

"You’re a member, I believe; are you not?" he asked Edgerton.

"I have resigned."

"Oh!  I thought that was the one club from which nobody ever resigned.
I beg your pardon, Edgerton!" he added, turning red; "don’t think me a
cad."

"No offense," smiled Edgerton; "I resigned because I couldn’t afford it.
It’s a good club; hope you make it soon."

"I hope I do....  But we’re rather recent additions—if we _are_
additions—to New York. You never can tell what New Yorkers will do to
people like us," he added laughingly.

"New York is practically composed of recent residents," said Edgerton,
smiling.

"They’re the most pitiless to newcomers. I wouldn’t be very much afraid
if we had only your sort to encounter.  If you old residents like a man,
he gets his hat check ultimately, and passes in; but it lies with the
sidewalk speculators now.  The seats of the mighty are in their hands."

Edgerton was much amused.

"Not entirely," he said; "even we older residents are asked about now
and then."

"Into which of the three circles—Smart, Knickerbocker, or Old
Testament?"

Edgerton was laughing so frankly that Rivett senior turned his convex
glasses on him; and, deciding that the laughter was genuine and not
included in services, went on with his business conversation with a Mr.
Snaith—a large, soft-skinned gentleman deeply immersed in oil and
cotton.

Colonel Curmew came over briskly, expelling smoke.

"What are you youngsters playing this evening?  Auction or Chinese
Kahn?"

"However, they choose to make up the tables," said Jack Rivett lazily.
Then, as though on an after thought: "I doubt whether Mr. Edgerton
bothers with cards; do you?"

"I don’t mind, except that I’ve cut out playing for stakes," replied
Edgerton, perfectly aware of Jack Rivett’s kindly consideration in
giving him a chance to escape gracefully, and a trifle amused, too, that
the young man should suppose he cared what anybody in the place might
think of him.

Servants were now arranging the old-fashioned colonial card tables in
the noticeably old-fashioned colonial card room.  A young girl or two
appeared at the arched doorway, lingering on the threshold as several of
the men came out to gossip.

Then the hostess appeared with the others; groups formed, shifted, and
gradually subsided into seats; seals of fresh packs were broken, scores
penciled, the first hands dealt at auction.

Diana, Colonel Curmew, a very pretty Mrs. Wemyss, and Mr. Rivett sat
together; at another table Silvette, Mr. Snaith, Christine Rivett, and a
Mr. Dineen—a gentleman weighing some two hundred pounds and wearing an
attractive snub nose and a pair of merry gray-blue eyes.

And the awful hush of auction descended without a sound.

Edgerton and his hostess and a Judge Wicklow and a Mrs. Lorrimore—a
fair, fat, blue-eyed thing with a cupid-bow mouth as sweet as the smile
that abode there—settled themselves to Chinese Kahn, a game spelled in
various ways and played in several more.

"Stakes?" inquired Mrs. Lorrimore with businesslike directness.

"Your pleasure," replied Judge Wicklow in the deep, thick voice
celebrated and feared where judicial procedures are thickest and most
unimportant.

"Neither Mr. Edgerton nor I care to gamble—I think," said Mrs. Rivett
timidly.

The judge turned his bovine countenance on Edgerton.  The only anomaly
in it seemed to be his eyebrows.  Cows have no eyebrows.

"I’m sorry," said Edgerton.

The judge seemed sorry, too, but he shuffled the two packs in his
enormous and hairy hands, dealt, and deposited the surplus in a pile
with a single card separate and face upward—the ace of hearts.

Mrs. Lorrimore promptly picked it up, laid down three aces, four fours,
a small sequence interiorly made possible by a joker, and sat back
triumphantly with her depleted suit in her gemmed fingers, which were
pressed comfortably to an ample bosom.

"Discard," rumbled the judge.

"Oh, I _beg_ pardon!"  She laughed, and laid down a nine.

Nobody ever wants a nine, somehow.  The judge snorted, helped himself,
discarded, and turned his heavy countenance on his hostess.

"Dear me," she said in her humble little voice, "I—I’m afraid—_afraid_
I’m going out!"

"What!" thundered his honor.  "Nobody ever goes out first hand, madam!"

But she timidly did that very thing to the suppressed fury of his honor,
who had cherished a long sequence, according to rule, and was further
nursing the other joker and three kings.

"It’s too bad," she ventured, looking around at Edgerton, whose entire
hand was being minutely counted by Mrs. Lorrimore.

"_I_ don’t mind!" said the young fellow, laughing; and he leaned a
trifle nearer and added under his breath: "But suppose I _had_ played
for stakes!"

Into her timid and faded eyes came the ghost of a glimmer—the momentary
sparkle of fun, and went out very quickly.

But it had been there for a second; and thereafter Edgerton found a
curious pleasure in making it come back at intervals.  She even
laughed—even ventured to provoke his laughter—rather scared at trying
until his quick mirth set her at momentary ease again.

Luck bedeviled his honor; the fair Mrs. Lorrimore won steadily without
the least respect for the law and no consideration at all for the
sanctity of the bench; and the judge became peevish.  He was a very rich
man.

Presently he had enough of it—letters to write for the morning mail—and
got himself out and upstairs with the dignity of a fly-pestered ox.

"Horrid old screw," observed Mrs. Lorrimore in Edgerton’s ear, and
laughed her peculiarly sweet and captivating laugh as a servant returned
with his honor’s check in an angrily scrawled envelope.

Mrs. Rivett had passed into a farther room, where the high gilded pipes
of an organ glimmered in the subdued light.  Edgerton saw her seated
there—a thin, bejeweled little figure beneath the tall gothic majesty of
the pipes.

After a while the low harmony of an old-time hymn stole into the card
room.

Those at the bridge tables remained silent and absorbed, except Mr.
Rivett, who cautiously turned his sphinxlike countenance toward the
farther dusk where his wife was seated.

Edgerton stood behind Diana’s chair, watching.  Presently he went over
to Silvette, lingered for a while, then came back to Diana again.

An hour later Mr. Rivett said abruptly: "Does anybody care to dance?"

The effect was like a pistol shot on lotus eaters.  Slowly the players
came out of their absorption; color returned faintly to white, tense
faces.

"I suppose I may ask it?" added Mr. Rivett dryly.  "I’m a heavy loser."

"Sure thing, dad," said Jack with a laugh. "I’m about even, and I
venture to ask it, too. _Does_ anybody here want to dance?  You surely
won’t object," he added mischievously to Silvette.

"I have no right to say anything at all," she laughed.

"Every right—the right of the conqueror! Accept my bow and spear—and
speak! ... How is it with your sister?"

"I’m afraid I haven’t any voice in the matter, either," said Diana
serenely.  "It is for the losers to decide."

They decided to dance.  Mrs. Rivett came from the dim music room and
stood watching them with her little worn hands folded, while servants
lighted and cleared the larger drawing-room, designed for a ballroom,
with its little gilded balcony aloft and the great concert grand in its
carved and gilded foliations sprawling like a bedizened elephant in the
corner.

A servant was sent for "mademoiselle"—evidently somebody who lived
somewhere in the house whose duties included dance music. Meanwhile
Edgerton sat down at the piano, and began a fascinating Spanish waltz.

"Traitor," whispered a fresh, young voice at his elbow, and he looked up
into the winning eyes of Diana.

"Hello," he said; "how went the battle?"

"The cards?"

"Yes."

"As usual, thank you."

"Oh!  And how do they usually go with you, fair cousin?"

"Well enough," she said briefly.

She stood leaning on the piano.

"You play cleverly," she observed.

"Oh, yes—cleverly.  There’s nothing else to anything I do."

"Isn’t that enough?"

"_Is_ it, Diana?"

"Enough as far as music is concerned," she said impatiently.  "Did you
ever see a musical virtuoso whom a real man didn’t want to kick?  And as
for you," she added, "you are a traitor.  You said you would ask me to
dance.  Now, if you ask me, I _won’t_!"

Still playing, he continued to look up at her smilingly.

"What do you really care about me anyway?" he said.  "I wish you’d tell
me, Diana."

"Honestly, or flippantly?"

"Honestly."

"Masks off, you mean?"

"Yes—as far off as they’ll come."

"I care a lot about you."

"You say it too frankly," he laughed.

"What I say, I say....  Did you find Christine Rivett agreeable at
dinner?"

"She’s interesting."

"Is _that_ all!" evidently disappointed.

"Well, she’s very fetching."

"That is far more serious."

"Indeed, it is.  I’ve qualified as an aspirant for her hand and fortune
already."

"I don’t doubt it," she returned calmly. "That’s one reason her father
decided to employ us."

She said it unsmiling, and after he had looked up at her once or twice
he said: "Of course you are joking."

"Ob, yes; it’s one kind of a jest.  Meanwhile here comes a young person
in black—doubtless mademoiselle....  I’m not going to dance with you;
don’t compose your features in that smug fashion.  You’re a traitor, and
I won’t."

She turned on her heel and advanced leisurely toward Colonel Curmew, who
immediately began to twirl his mustache and shoot his cuffs, when,
without warning, she sheered off into the receptive arms of Jack Rivett,
and was presently drifting across the room in a Viennese waltz.

Others were dancing now; Edgerton went over and asked his hostess—an old
New York custom now obsolete—who colored and smiled at him, explaining
that she had renounced that art with the advent of rheumatism.  So,
after a while, he took out her daughter Christine—also an obsolete
custom—who soon, however, had enough of him as a dancer, and took him
into the conservatory.

The others danced until supper time; midnight found them separating on
the stairs. Edgerton and Christine Rivett had rather a prolonged
leave-taking, then shook hands cordially in plain view of everybody.

Diana, passing with Silvette, said a careless good night to him.
Silvette, retaining her sister’s arm, detained him for a moment in
conversation; then they went away together, Diana dismissing him with an
inattentive nod.

But, as he was prepared for his pillow, a servant brought an envelope to
his door and tucked it under the sill.

Inside was a single line:

"Good night, Jim."

The handwriting was now familiar to him.



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                            *PACTA CONVENTA*


Guests arrived and guests departed from Adriutha, but the original
gathering remained.

The people who came and went were about the kind that Edgerton had
expected to encounter—people identified with nothing in particular
except money, and not always with that.

For, into the social mess at Adriutha an author or two was occasionally
stirred as seasoning; sometimes an artist became temporarily
englutenized over a week-end, emerging on Monday well fed and satiated
with hope of material results from cohabitation with wealth—which never
materialized.

Edgerton was inclined to take them all as cheerfully as he found them—at
their face value; and they were not always pretty.

Loyalty to obligation was inherent in his race, perhaps the strongest
trait in him; and all his inclinations toward what was easiest, his
content with the superficial, his tendency to drift, had not yet
radically altered this trait, nor perhaps other qualities latent under
the froth.

For a few days in the beginning, humorous curiosity, the novelty of his
anomalous position, the very rawness of the experience, amused him; but
the veneer of everything soon wore thin, revealing the duller surface
underneath.  Then came uneasiness and impatience; but loyalty to his
bargain and to his kindred were matters of course, and he determined to
find in these people something to interest him and render his sojourn
among them at least endurable.

After that first stormy night in June, the splendor of a limpid,
rain-washed morning had revealed to him the gross outward impossibility
of this place of millions—the vast, new "villa," red-tiled and
yellow-walled, hideous in its multiplicity of roofs, angles, terraces
and bays, with outlying works of rubble, concrete, and railroad-station
floral embellishment.

Scarring the green crypt of nature, staining the glass of the stream
with painted reflections of its architectural deformities, Adriutha
Lodge sprawled monsterlike and naked in the summer sunshine.

Garage, hothouses, stables, barns, a farm, a model dairy, like grewsome
spawn of a common architectural dam, affronted the woods and meadows of
this little valley set among the remote Berkshires.

There was no reticence left in that desecrated valley all vibrant with
the scream of discordant color, texture, and design.  Motor cars, too,
were noisy along the road; all day the silver-mounted trappings of
horses flashed in the sun.  Staccato echoes from power boats on the
artificial lake offended.  The House of Rivett challenged the Eternal
patience with a hundred lightning rods.

Edgerton, walking his horse beside Diana’s, suddenly drew bridle with an
uncontrollable gesture of disgust.

"Listen to me," he said; "where man’s despoiling labor pollutes nature,
sadness and resignation make heavy the hearts of her true lovers, but
where man’s abominable ignorance desecrates, reigns a more shocking
desolation which no modest heart ever forgives!"

Diana, surprised by the sudden and unexpected outburst, drew bridle
beside his standing horse.

A moment previous they had been amiably exchanging idle gossip from
their saddles, gradually falling back behind the others—Silvette,
Christine, Jack, and Colonel Curmew—who had cantered on forward; and
now, suddenly out of a clear sky, not apropos of anything, Edgerton had
flashed out the bolt of his contempt for the House of Rivett—for his ox,
his ass, his servants, and all that was Rivett’s.

"Jim," she remarked, "isn’t it rather bad taste of you to say that?"

"Why?  I am paid for being here."  But he realized that she was right,
and it made him sullen.

"His roof shelters you none the less," she said quietly.

"Yours is rather a fine-drawn sense of hospitality, it seems to me," he
retorted.

"I can’t snap at the hand that feeds me."

"Good Lord!  May a man not have his own ideas?"

"Under lock and key, yes."

"All right," he said, reddening; "only I supposed I could be frank with
you."

"Are we actually on any such footing?" she asked quietly.

"I thought so—even a footing on which I permit myself to accept such a
rebuke from you."

She turned in her saddle.

"Permit yourself?" she repeated.  "Do you mean _condescend_?"

"I mean what I say," he retorted sulkily, still smarting under her
rebuke.

Her cheeks were bright with anger, her lips compressed as though silence
had become an effort.  Presently, however, she looked across at him with
perfect sweetness and composure.

"No, you don’t mean what you say, Jim. If you did, you would be at a
disadvantage with me, and you don’t want to be that; nor do I wish to
be, ever."

He said obstinately: "I’m getting sick of this Adriutha business."

"I predicted you would."

"Well, I am....  It isn’t false pride; I don’t care what they think
about me.  If I chose to be a waiter in a Broadway café, their opinion
wouldn’t concern me....  I’m simply weary of the place, the majority of
the people—what they think and do, their private life, their mere coming
in and going out.... It isn’t the pitiable absurdity of their offensive
environment alone, the horror of the architecture, the gilded entrails
of their abode—it’s the whole bally combination! ... I’m sick—sick! And
that’s the truth, Diana."

"I think," she said, smiling, "that you are also a little bit bored with
us."

He looked up at her, perplexed, already beginning to be very much
ashamed of his outburst, already conscious of a painful reaction from
his unrestraint.

"Diana," he said impulsively, "I’m just a plain brute, and rather a
vulgar one; but, do you know, there isn’t anybody else in the world I’d
have permitted to hear that outburst—whether you take it as a compliment
or not."

"You mean you don’t care what I think of you?"

He thought for a moment.  "I can’t mean that, of course."

"You might, very easily."

"I couldn’t; I do care what you think of me.  Probably what I meant was
that I—dare say things to you; that I’ve a sort of instinct that I can
come to you in an emergency——"

"In other words, that I’ll stand anything from you?" she said, smiling.
"I don’t know about that, my friend."

He looked at her curiously.  "I believe you’ll stand a good deal from
me—and still like me.  I, somehow, count on it."

She met his gaze directly, unsmiling now.

"A hair divides my sentiments concerning you," she said.  "Extremes lie
on either side."

"Extremes?"

"I think so.  It would take very little to fix definitely my opinion of
you."

Sobered, but still curious, he sat his saddle more firmly while the
horses paced forward, shoulder against shoulder, along the forest road.

"I didn’t suppose you had any very violent opinions concerning me one
way or another," he said lightly.

"I haven’t—yet."

"Or would ever develop them, either," he added, laughing.

"I probably never shall."

He said, after another silence: "What was it about a hair dividing your
sentiments, and that extremes lay on either side?"

"I said that, Jim."

"Extremes of what?"

"Dislike—friendship—I suppose....  I’m a person addicted to extremes."

"Hatred is one extreme.  Did you mean that, Japonette?"

"It is conceivable, fair sir."

"And—the other extreme?"

"Which?"

"The opposite extreme to hate....  Is that conceivable, too?"

"Do you mean love?" she asked coolly.

"Yes, love, for example."

"Well, for example, ask yourself how likely I am to entertain that
sentimental extreme in your regard."

"Oh," he said; "then all you threaten me with is hatred!"

"Absolutely all, cousin James."

"Hobson’s choice for mine.  No matter how agreeable I may be, placid
friendship is my only reward; and if I’m not agreeable, hatred.  Is that
it?"

"Are you not satisfied?" she asked, lifting her prettily shaped eyes.

He made no reply.

Yet, he had been satisfied, except at intervals during the first flush
of their unconventional friendship, when she was still a fascinating
novelty to him, when the charming memory of the surprise was still
vivid.

But since then, recently in fact, other matters, somehow, had
intervened—the dawning distaste for his own position, the apparent
absence of any future prospect, the gradual conviction that he had no
real capacity for decently earning a living, no ability—perhaps no
character.


His silence seemed to be her answer now; she spurred forward, accepting
it.  He put his horse to a canter, to a gallop, and they raced away
through the woods until they came in sight of the others.  Colonel
Curmew joined her; Edgerton rode forward with Christine Rivett.


That afternoon there was some tennis played; a number of commonplace and
very rich people departed, leaving as residue the original house party
which Edgerton and his cousins had found there on their arrival, and who
now knew one another well enough to separate into sympathetic groups.

Thus, Judge Wicklow, Mrs. Rivett, and Mrs. Lorrimore played Chinese Kahn
under the terrace awning; Colonel Follis Curmew, who had been rash
enough to discard his coat and reveal an unlooked-for excess of abdomen,
played tennis with Silvette against Jack Rivett and Mrs. Wemyss; Mr.
Rivett and Mr. Snaith indulged in laborious clock golf and talked of
oil; and Christine and Edgerton, down by the river’s edge, continued a
conversation begun the evening previous, and which was near enough to
meaning something to stimulate their attention.

From his clock golf on the lawn above, Mr. Rivett turned his convex
glasses on them occasionally; from one card table on the terrace, her
mother, drawing the white wool shawl closer around her slight shoulders,
watched her daughter from moment to moment.

Later, the game ended, Mrs. Lorrimore victorious, and his honor
unusually peevish. Mrs. Rivett rose and, advancing to the terrace edge,
gazed down at the river bank, where her daughter and Edgerton still sat
in the floating canoe, holding it inshore by grasping willow branches
overhead.

For a few moments the little old lady watched them, one hand gathering
the fleece shawl over the magnificent sapphire at her breast; then she
turned quietly away into the house, wandering through it from one
gorgeous room to another, until at last she came to the high organ.

Here her husband found her in the semi-dusk, sitting motionless and
silent under the tall pipes, hands folded in her lap.

"Well, mother?" he said in a voice which nobody else ever had the
privilege of listening to.

She lifted her head, smiled, and laid one hand over his as he seated
himself beside her in the demi-twilight.

"Are you happy?" he asked, patting the worn fingers.

"Yes, Jacob—when you and the children are."

"Does that damn Sims bother you?"

No, the housekeeper did not bother her; neither did Noonan, general
superintendent.

"Are you sure you are feeling perfectly well?"

"Yes, dear."

"And you are enjoying the people?"

"Yes....  The Tennant girls are so kind to me."

"Why the devil shouldn’t they be?" he said harshly.  "They never met a
better woman!"

"Jacob, dear, don’t speak that way."

"Well, then—don’t be so eternally surprised if people are nice to you,
mother. They’d better be!"

She smiled.  "I am a rather plain and unattractive old woman to young
people—to most people.  I have little to say, but Diana Tennant and her
sister are very sweet to me. Poor, motherless girls!  I wonder—it
troubles me—sometimes—a great deal——"

"What?" he asked grimly.

"Their being so entirely alone, and so unusually attractive....  And
they’re _good_ girls, Jacob."

"I assume that they are," he said dryly.

"They _are_; a woman knows at once.... They’ve made everybody—all our
guests—enjoy their visits so much.  Don’t you think so?"

"They’ve earned their salaries....  People seem to like ’em....  I’m
wondering how much Jack likes the younger one—Silvette."

"Have _you_ thought so, too?"

"I’m asking you, Sarah."

There was a silence; then she said timidly:

"Do you know anything more about them?"

"They’re rather learned," he said grimly. "One, I understand, is
entitled to practice medicine—the other law....  They scarcely look it."

"Those babies!"

"Certainly.  Snaith was at Keno on business last winter; he heard of ’em
there.  Also—I’ve inquired."

"You have learned nothing to their discredit, I am sure," she said
confidently.

"No; as the fast world wags, they’re respectable enough——"

"Fast!  Jacob!"

"Oh, Sarah, I didn’t mean it in any sinister sense....  They’re merely
rather gay—into everything everywhere—dancing all night, riding,
motoring all over the shop.... They’re pretty girls, and good ones, too,
I guess....  But the world has gone by us, mother.  It’s developed
speed.  That’s what I mean by fast."

"If it were not for the children’s sake, I would be glad to be left
behind," she said, smiling.

"So would I.  Damn this gim-crack fol-de-rol!"

"Jacob!"

"Excuse me....  We’ll do what we ought to; the children want New York,
and I’m going to give it to them if I can....  So I guess you’d better
caution Jack about that girl."

"About Miss Tennant?"

"Silvette; yes.  Tell him to keep away."

"But she is Mr. Edgerton’s cousin."

"It’s too far off to count; besides, it’s not a good enough gamble.  As
far as that goes, I’m not satisfied that Jim Edgerton is good enough."

"Oh, Jacob!  You _said_——"

"If I’d stuck to all I’ve said, you’d still be doing the family cooking,
dear.  Jim Edgerton does, or did, go everywhere in New York....  I
wonder how far he could take our daughter with him? ... Wait, Sarah—I’m
not reflecting on Christine; I’m only speculating.  How do I know about
the customs and habits of the New York fauna?  I want to go slow.  I
don’t care how little money he has, or even how much he might have had;
_I’ll_ do that part.  But, first, I want to know exactly where he can
take Christine. The knot hole may be too big for her."

"They sent you a report from New York, dear.  You have a full list of
all his relatives."

"I know—I know.  If he had none, I wouldn’t be afraid.  It’s a man’s
relatives who act nasty, not his friends....  Does Christine seem to
like him?"

"The child is frankly devoted to him.... I don’t know if it means
anything more than friendship.  Christine is a strange girl.  There was
young Inwood——"

"Everybody’s beau!  Glad she shipped him.... But to return to
Jack—what’s your opinion?"

"I don’t know.  He is with Silvette so much; he is such a dear boy——"

"Tell him plainly we don’t want her. I like her myself, but there’s
better material.... Other things aside, I don’t want my boy to marry a
girl who plays cards the way she does."

"Jacob!  You don’t mean——"

"No, no!  She’s as square as a die; but she wins too much, stakes too
much—smokes too much, drinks too many cocktails—she and her sister, too.
Why, they’ve won steadily at cards from the beginning.  They’ve a genius
for it.  _I_ never saw such playing.  Poor cards don’t worry them; and
they never take the shadow of advantage, never whine, never ask
questions; there’s never an impatient word, a look of protest—and the
judge and the colonel are beasts to play with!—and if there ever seems
to be the slightest doubt or indication of a dispute over any point,
those girls instantly concede it—cheerfully, too!  They’re clean-cut
sports—thoroughbred....  But, by God!  I don’t want Jack to marry a
gambler!"

He stood up, his glasses glistening, his little burned eyes fixed on
space.

"No," he said; "I’ve done all the gambling that will be done in this
family.  I’ll do a little more—enough to put the bits on one or two men
in New York whose wives could make it easy for my children, if they
cared to. Then I’m done, mother."

She bent her head, and her lips moved.

"What?" he said, hand to his ear.

"I was only thinking, Jacob, that I would be happy when you have
finished with—business."

"Don’t worry, dear."  He put one arm around her—a thin arm in its loose
coat sleeve, thin as a tempered steel rod.  She laid her faded face
against it, comforted by its inflexibility.

"Some day," she said, "when the children are happy—with their
families——"

"Yes, yes," he nodded; "a smaller house for you and me—just a little
one."  He smiled; few people ever had seen him smile.  "Just a little
house for two little old people," he said; "only one horse to take us
about, one servant to feed us—eh, Sarah?"

She looked around her, smiling vaguely at the magnificence.

"I like to dust," she said, coloring up prettily, "and to make jelly....
I’ve wanted to a long while."

"You shall do it; I swear you shall.  By God!  I’ll be glad when that
chef is fired!"

"You know, Jacob," she said timidly, "with knitting and dusting and—and
a little kitchen work—and you—the day passes very nicely."

"Some day you’ll make some more of those crullers!" he predicted; "mark
my words!"

"And the cinnamon shells," she added, slightly excited.

"Oh, Lord!  Why can’t that fool of a chef make ’em!" he burst out.
"Well, I’ll wait.... It gives us something more to wait for, doesn’t
it?"

He laughed.  Only his wife had ever heard the dry cackle which was his
manifestation of mirth.

Contented, she lifted her face, and he kissed her.

He went to New York that evening to remain over Wednesday as usual.


In the small company remaining at Adriutha a certain intimacy had
developed, enough to make any effort at entertainment superfluous.
There was now a decided inclination to laziness in the evening, and a
preference for the billiard room and its easy informality.

It was a big room with open fires and the inevitable trophies of
somebody else’s chase—the heads of big game mounted, staring at nothing
out of their glass eyes; weapons of a vanished age on the oaken
wainscoting, modern guns in racks as well as cues, and leather lounges
and seats and wide-armed chairs everywhere.

Hither Mrs. Rivett now brought her embroidery or knitting; and around
her, within a radius more or less distant, the others gathered or
circled in temporary orbits, and games were played and music made and
youth flirted and age gossiped much as they did when she was a young
girl in Mills Corners, and her husband taught in the red schoolhouse
next door.

Sometimes Diana came and sat beside her and knitted a tie destined, she
admitted, for nobody in particular; sometimes Edgerton drew his chair
beside hers and told her of student life in Paris—watching always for
her delightfully timid smile, the shy laugh that she sometimes ventured,
the curiously pretty flush that came at times into her cheeks, making
them and the faded eyes almost beautiful.

Once or twice it happened that Christine settled herself on a footstool
on the other side of her mother to listen, too; and the little old lady
experienced a furtive content with the situation as Edgerton and her
daughter exchanged pleasantries and volleys of gay badinage across her
knitting.

But listen as demurely as she might, feign inattention and
unconsciousness as she might, she could detect in neither her daughter
nor in Edgerton any hint of a subtler understanding, any omen of
anything for the future beyond a frank camaraderie and the undisguised
pleasure in it.

And she sighed sometimes—not understanding, not venturing even to admit
to herself the desire that was beginning to establish itself in her
gentle breast.

As for Edgerton and Christine, they were now on terms of intimacy almost
careless. With Diana he was different.

The day of his bitter outbreak when riding with Diana, Edgerton,
terribly ashamed of himself, had gone once more to her and admitted that
her rebuke was a just one; that he was an ungrateful dog, disloyal to
the hand that fed him, and not worthy of Diana’s regard.

And the girl had forgiven him very sweetly, not with much enthusiasm,
for his rapidly advancing intimacy with Christine had begun to perplex
her, nor could she exactly understand his apparently happy acquiescence
in conditions lately so irritating.

Not that he neglected her; in his amiable way he was charming to her and
to Silvette; was often with them; drove, rode, walked with them; and
often, when the opportunity happened, met them in family conclave to
discuss future prospects for business.

But his intimacy with Christine advanced very swiftly; so rapidly that
Diana became fully aware of it only when it was already in complete
flower....  And she wondered a little—and, looking at the girl, wondered
less. Also, knowing Edgerton less than she supposed she did, the wonder
as to his motive began to trouble her.

Whatever Diana really thought of Edgerton, she did not think him
unusually strong in character; was not absolutely convinced of his
sincerity—was not any too sure of his motives. Yet, to doubt him always
hurt her, and to question his sincerity now made her ashamed of herself.
But Christine Rivett was very, very rich, and the only thing she did not
have was a name like Edgerton’s to insure her future for all time.
Thinking of this, the girl was ashamed to think it, and put it
resolutely from her mind; but it returned at intervals, even when he was
most charming to her sister and herself.

Meanwhile a silent but decisive little duel had been fought in her
vicinity, and Jack Rivett definitely replaced Colonel Follis Curmew at
Silvette’s side; and that warrior, being unfamiliar with the fortunes of
war, first sulked, then began to appear frequently in Diana’s
vicinity—sending out, as it were, pickets of observation and foraging
parties, and finally appearing in superb force with warlike intentions
not to be misunderstood, although Diana contrived entirely to
misunderstand them.

"Do you know," she said to Silvette one night as they were preparing for
bed, "I believe that he is actually falling in love with me."

He was; but, nevertheless, Diana entirely misunderstood him.


And so the early summer days passed at Adriutha, and Edgerton, always
prone to accommodate himself to circumstances, found it easier and
easier to keep his pact with Mr. Rivett.

Perhaps he was too easily colored by his surroundings; for this place
and these people—toward whom, under other circumstances, his instinct
would have been antagonistic—were becoming very agreeable to him, and he
had handy no standards of comparison from his own world—merely memories,
which are always inadequate.

He never became entirely reconciled to the architecture of Adriutha, but
the interior magnificence disturbed him less and less; besides, he had
very little real love for decoration, and knew little about its
harmonies.  All the art that was in him consisted in a cleverness and
facility for expressing what was actually of slight importance.

So he became amiably reconciled to his surroundings, to his own
position.  Probably the lack of responsibility and the pleasant idleness
had much to do with it.

Still, he really liked Jack Rivett and Christine.  In prosperous days
the chances would have been against his ever giving himself the
opportunity of liking them.  But chance had taken charge of his career
for the moment; he had met them, and liked them—was inclined to like
Rivett senior, too, and began to experience a certain tenderness toward
his frail little hostess—something he had never noticed in himself since
his mother’s death many years ago.

For the others he had no particular feelings. He knew, without troubling
himself to think about it, that Colonel Curmew was what his own friends
would call a bounder; and the remaining guests were of no greater
importance to him than strangers inclined to be civil.

As for Silvette and Diana, they were not only kindred, and so to be
automatically cherished, but they also were very charming and delightful
young girls; and Diana aroused his curiosity.

During the first days of their acquaintance, the circumstances of his
encounter with Diana had inclined him to sentiment.  Now that had been
merged into a nice friendship—a friendship so frank and pleasant that,
in his idea, it permitted privileges of an intimacy which at first
perplexed and disturbed Diana, and which, presently, she began to
silently resent without exactly knowing why.

What her ideas concerning Edgerton really were, she herself had not
entirely decided. She had been as vividly conscious of the charm of
their first encounter as had he; being a woman, she still remembered it
vividly, whereas, with him, it had dissolved into the mistiest of
dream-tinted memories—charming, but vague.

Too, she remembered his attitude toward her in those first three days in
the studio—the golden magic of them, the little roof garden, the
starlings, the sunset beyond the river. Under such circumstances, the
things men say and look, men usually forget; but women remember longer.

Then she remembered, too, the first days of their arrival at
Adriutha....  There was nothing in particular to recall—a note or two
from her to him, from him to her.... Perhaps a something in his voice
and eyes which, somehow, had died out since....  Yet, _had_ it been
anything in particular?  And, granting that it had, what had she done to
encourage it?

She had fallen into the habit of thinking about these things in her
bedroom while preparing for the night.  She often thought, too, about
this new friendship of his for Christine Rivett.  It perplexed her,
saddened, irritated her by turns, and it distressed her to even question
his motives.

But Silvette said one evening, after they had undressed and the maid had
left:

"Wouldn’t it be odd if Jim married that girl?"

[Illustration: "’Wouldn’t it be odd if Jim married that girl?’"]

"Married—_her_?" repeated Diana, startled out of a reverie not entirely
happy.

"He’s becoming very attentive to her.  She is pretty, of course,"
Silvette smiled.

"Why shouldn’t he marry her if he finds that he cares for her?" asked
Diana with some heat.

"I was merely surprised that he should care for her in that way.  She is
not his sort."

"Sort! sort!  What does that matter!" said Diana hotly.  "It never
stopped a thoroughbred from mating.  He can afford to love where he
chooses, I fancy."

"Or marry what he chooses, anyway."

"Silvie!  Do you imagine he’d do a thing like that—not loving her!"

"I don’t know," said Silvette coolly; "he’s a dear boy, and nice to us,
but I don’t credit him with superhuman qualities....  And _she_ inherits
millions."

"It isn’t in him to do it....  And there are plenty of his own sort who
would be glad enough——"

"Why do you become so animated, Di? Have you noticed any particular
strength of character in Jim Edgerton?"

"Yes....  He is as true as steel, underneath the amiable exterior of a
drifter and dilettante....  He has ideals....  I am not one of them—I
know that."

"Do you care particularly?"

"No....  I don’t know whether I do or not....  I never seem to know what
to say to him these days.  We talk together like two men.  I’d like to
know what he thinks about me—the kind of woman I am, compared to others
in his own set....  I’d like to know what he thinks about my gambling
and cocktails and cigarettes, which you and I have got to stop!  What he
_really_ thinks of our position in this house—in the world!  I don’t
believe he thinks much of it."

"Does his position differ from ours?" asked Silvette gently; "why are
you so excited, little sister?"

"I’m not excited....  Things—various matters have occurred to
me—recently; and I’ve made up my mind that I don’t like to see him here.
This is no place for him, no position.  He is capable of doing better
things, more important things, nobler things.  He slips into a life like
this too easily; he is too easily reconciled, too quickly content."

Silvette seated herself on a rocking chair and, leaning back, sat
rocking and inspecting her sister, who stood by the bed, her brown locks
clustering against her cheeks.

"There _is_ something to Jim," she insisted. "He _can_ do
things—respectable, dignified things—and make his living.  It humiliates
me to see him here in such a capacity——"

"As ours?" added Silvette, smiling.

"Yes, as ours.  He is a man, and it does not become him."

"We are respectively physician and lawyer, but our talents and fortunes
lie in this profession."

Diana flushed.  "If we were anything except the frivolous, ease-loving,
and pleasure-craving little beasts that we are, we wouldn’t be here."

"No; we’d starve, respectably, in our several offices.  Do you want Jim
to starve?"

"I don’t know," said Diana, almost fiercely; "I’d rather see him in
want, I think, than doing this kind of thing."

"I don’t believe he will do it very long—on a salary," laughed Silvette.
"Christine evidently adores him."

Diana was silent; her sister laughed, and rose, putting one arm around
her.

"Don’t be sentimental over Jim Edgerton," she said; "he is a
lightweight, Di."

"You are wrong; and I am not sentimental."

"Well, I believe you did get over it; but you’re a loyal and generous
little thing, Di, and you’re worrying over a man who is entirely capable
of looking out for himself."

"That’s what I want him to do."

"He’s doing it, very gracefully.  Later, with equal and fetching grace
he’ll let some wealthy girl do it for him."

"That would be contemptible; he isn’t."

"Now, does the world so consider an advantageous marriage, little
sister?  Besides, that is exactly what we have planned for ourselves,
isn’t it?"

"We?  What are we, anyway, compared to a man who can count in the
world!" flashed out Diana, surprised at her own vehemence, aware that
her sister was even more astonished and chagrined.

"What on earth are you saying?" she exclaimed.  "Are you in love with
that man?"

"No."

"One might infer as much."

"You may infer it if you choose."

"Di!"

"What?"

"Why do you speak to me that way?"

"Because—I don’t—know."

She turned and moved toward the bed, encountered the soft, open arms of
her sister. They closed around her; she laid her head on Silvette’s
shoulder.

"Darling!  Little Di!" whispered Silvette in sorrowful consternation.
"Has this really happened to you?"

"I don’t know—I don’t know....  I am not happy; I don’t understand....
At moments I cannot believe it....  He is not my ideal of a man; I am
stronger in many ways—I am wiser than he.  He is only a boy,
Silvie—careless, ease loving, with nothing but smatterings—nothing but
the social experience of a man of his class behind him.  Nothing real
has ever happened to him in life.... And, somehow, I know—I _know_ that
if it only did, he would become a man—a real man.  I _know_ it; I can’t
bear to see him waste his life—fall into easy ways of thinking—make no
effort....  I want him to strive; I want him to fight life....  He ought
to.  The making of him is in a battle with circumstances.  This life is
ruin to him—this house, these people, any people who will employ him in
such a capacity!"

She caught her breath, almost in a sob.

"I _have_ cared for him—a little—from the very first....  I am
not—fitted for him—in many ways."

"Di!"

"I am _not_!  I care for him unselfishly.  I don’t know why I should,
but I do; and he ought not to marry me even if he—ever—wished to."

"You are talking wildly, darling!  _You_—not good enough for _him_!
What a silly——"

"Not good enough, I tell you!" repeated the girl fiercely.  "I care too
much for what he finds agreeable—all this ease and relaxation.... I wish
I were different.  I wish I could arouse him; I’d do it.  I’d do it
somehow—I’d do it now if I could——"

She caught her breath, stood perfectly motionless a moment, then
Silvette felt her tremble slightly.

After a while she lifted her head from her sister’s shoulder.

"I _am_ going to do what I can for him," she said excitedly.  "I am
going to see what can be done to arouse the man in him.  All he needs is
the initial shock—a—a stinging one."

"What do you mean?  If there was anything in him, the shock of the
firm’s failure would have brought it out."

"It was not enough.  It was only the loss of money!  There are worse
things——"

"Di!  What are you going to do?"

Suddenly the girl’s face grew radiant.

"I know now," she said breathlessly.

"What?"

But Diana only kissed her sister, laughing, flushed, excited, and,
extending her arm, turned off the light, plunging the room and her
brilliant cheeks in darkness.



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                             *FLOS VENERIS*


Edgerton and Christine, ensconced in the corners of a window seat, and
partly visible through the leaded panes, were too deeply absorbed in
each other to be aware of the curious glances shot toward them from the
tennis court outside, where Silvette, Colonel Curmew, Mrs. Lorrimore,
and Jack Rivett were playing, while Diana, perched aloft with her
knitting in the umpire’s seat, resolutely ignored the spectacle in the
window, which was plainer to her than to anybody else.

Perfectly oblivious to any extraneous interest they aroused, sitting
almost nose to nose and knee to knee in the deep recess, Christine and
Edgerton remained in close consultation, preoccupied, possibly
indifferent, to view or comment.  Christine bent forward, and drew a
carnation through his buttonhole, saying:

"Anyway, you are a perfect dear, Jim Edgerton.  Somehow or other, I
haven’t any blushes for what I’ve taken so many weeks to tell you.  I
never thought I could know anybody well enough to say such a thing to,
but you _are_ different; there’s nobody like you, Jim.  Do you wonder I
adore you?"

"You sweet little thing, I’ve a mind to kiss you for that!"

"I may let you at the psychological moment.  _Do_ you think me
absolutely shameless?—but I’ve asked you that before about a dozen
times....  You _don’t_ think so, do you?"

"If other women displayed the common honesty and common sense that you
display, there’d be a good deal less unhappiness in the world."

"But how _can_ other women, when there is only one Jim Edgerton!  Oh, I
liked you so much—as soon as I saw you; and before I had known you a
week, I was ready to tell you anything—and now I’ve done it!"

"It took several weeks before you came to the point," he said, laughing.

"I know, but, oh! it was such a terrible thing to do!—I don’t even now
understand how I ever came to tell you."

"You didn’t; I extracted it, seeing that you were in pain."

She blushed.

"Yes, it was pain....  Not one of my own family suspected it.  Father
doesn’t dream of such a thing; Jack doesn’t, of course.  As for dear
little mother, you know what she thinks about you and me."

Edgerton smiled almost tenderly.

"She is very nice to me," he said.  "I almost wish I could verify her
charming theory."

"Concerning _us_?"

"Certainly....  As it is, I believe I’m more than half in love with you,
anyway, Christine."

She blushed again, looking at him with her pretty, frank, brown eyes;
and they both laughed happily.

"It’s the first time in all my life that I’ve been of any use in the
world," he said.

"You _did_ ask father?" she inquired, still charmingly flushed; "didn’t
you?"

"I certainly did.  He said: ’Is young Inwood such a particular friend of
yours?’  I said: ’He is!’  He said: ’All right; ask my wife.’  So I
asked your mother, and she said: ’Oh, please, Mr. Edgerton, invite
anybody you wish to.’  So I wrote Billy Inwood, and your bully little
mother inclosed my letter in the sweetest note of her own; and now he
has telegraphed——"

"Telegraphed?"

"I’ve just received the message."

He fished it out of his coat pocket, and handed it to her, and she read:


"On my way!

"BILL."


"Is _that_ all?" she asked, half laughing, half excited.

"He telegraphed your mother the substance of a moderate-sized letter.
She’s probably in her room now, reading it.  She showed it to me in
amazement, but I didn’t have time to follow all his polite and grateful
meanderings."

"I wish to see it!" said the girl excitedly.

"Go ahead; your mother has it.  I was anxious to let you know how
matters had turned out, first."

"You’re a dear!" she repeated, and her voice was not any too steady.  "I
am happy; I am happier than I’ve been for—"  She checked herself, and
bent her head for a moment; he pretended to reread the telegram.

"It will be all right now," he observed.

"I wish I knew," she said under her breath.

"Don’t you?"

She lifted her honest eyes to his. "How can I know, Jim?  I don’t know
how men are.  It all happened over a year ago.... I was no wiser than a
schoolgirl.  What experience had I—with such episodes—such conditions—or
with anything?"

"You did act like a schoolgirl—to send him about his business," said
Edgerton with a shrug.

"I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t—hadn’t——"

"Cared for him?"

"Loved him," she said steadily.

"You’re a corker, Christine!" he said in genuine admiration.

"Am I?  Thank you, Jim."

"Yes, you are; and so is Billy Inwood—the real Billy.  Young men like to
chase about with married women.  They love to delude themselves into the
pleasing belief that they are sad dogs——"

"There was more to it than that," said the girl; "he went to Keno to see
her.  That is what confounded me."

"While she was getting her divorce?"

"Yes."

"Then you can bet that there was nothing in it, you little goose....
Who was she, anyway?"

"A Mrs. Atherstane.  Do you know her?"

"No," said Edgerton; "and you certainly did act like a schoolgirl."

"I know I did, and I was twenty....  I asked him to come, to Hot
Springs; she requested him to go to Keno.  He took his choice; he had a
perfect right to....  And then I wrote him that letter, dismissing him."

"Ought never to have done it, sweetness," said Edgerton gravely.  "There
are no fetters to hold a man like absolute freedom.  He was probably
bound to her in various ways, innocently enough, of course; but she was
probably lonely and in trouble—and—noblesse oblige.  I tell you a young
man has to pay for sympathizing with an unhappily married woman! And she
usually sees that he does."

Christine sat back, nursing her knees, eyes downcast.

"He was right," she said.  "She was his friend."

"Perhaps he was more right than you realize, Christine.  When a man’s
man friend is battered and used up, the man still clings to him—anyway,
until he borrows money; but when his woman friend becomes slightly the
worse for wear, he is inclined to discard her as naïvely as he would a
worn-out coat.  That is the rule—romance to the contrary.... Inwood
proved the exception, that’s all."

"Yes," said the girl in a low voice.

"He proved the exception to me, too," said Edgerton, smiling.

"To you, Jim?"

"Certainly; wanted to lend me money when I arrived in town on my
uppers."

The girl smiled.

"Oh, he’s all right," said Edgerton; "I’ve known him since he was six
and I twelve."

"He—is—all—right," repeated Christine slowly; "but—am I, Jim?"

"You know you are—kleine Fischerin!"

"But I wrote him that wretched letter.  If it hurt him as it hurt me—"
She ceased abruptly, and turned her face toward the window.

"You were years younger, then."

"One year," tremulously.

"_Years_, sweetness....  Do you think your father will ever stand for
him?"

"He scarcely knows him.  He did not understand why Mr. Inwood never came
to Hot Springs, or why I never again saw him. Probably he supposes I
lost interest."

"So your father believes that you are all over that affair, doesn’t he?"

"Yes; but he probably remembers that Mr. Inwood was to have come to Hot
Springs, and didn’t.  Fathers usually remember such things, and
sometimes ask why."

"Well, Christine," he said, smiling, "you’ll have to fix it with your
father; and I think you can."

"Why do you think so?"

"Because there is much of your father in you—steel under the velvet skin
of that pretty figure, or I miss my guess."

The girl said thoughtfully: "I am, perhaps, more like father than Jack
is....  That is not really what concerns me....  Has Mr. Inwood
changed—in appearance?"

"Within a year?  No!  Nor otherwise, I’ll wager."

"Do you—think——"

"I don’t know; I don’t know, little girl. Men are protean creatures; God
knows what incarnation they’ll assume next! ... But if a woman really
cares for a man, and if he isn’t in love with anybody else, it _ought_
to be a cinch—even if he had as many incarnations as Albert Chevallier!"

"Jim!"

"Well, I know my sex," he said; "the cleverest of them are boobs in the
hands of yours——"

"Jim!  You are becoming horrid!"

"That means I’m becoming truthful.  Hooray! I see Bill’s happy finish."
He picked up her soft little hand and kissed it.  "Velvet and steel," he
said—"the hand that rocks the world!  Yes?  No?  Good-by, you little
wretch!  I’m going canoeing with my cousin Diana."

"Did you say that mother has that telegram?" she asked naïvely, sliding
from the window-sill to the floor.

"Yes; and it’s a mile long—a bally serial, Christine—to be continued
this evening, I expect."

They clasped hands at the threshold; then she ran upstairs, and he
sauntered out to the tennis court, where Diana still sat on her high
perch knitting the silken tie, although below her the game had ended and
the players had gone to the terrace for iced tea.

"Well, of all pretty monuments!" he exclaimed.  "You have the other one
on the Madison Square tower beaten to a froth!"

"Beware of my arrows," she said, smiling, as the wind blew her scarf
into a silvery arc from her shoulders.

"Arrows?  No, I’m wrong; you look like the Angel of the Central Park
Fountain."

"I feel like the dickens," she said, folding her knitting and descending
the steps.

"Headache?"

"No; I merely sat up too late, and I’m sleepy.  It’s perfectly horrid
that you can’t stop when you’re winning....  What did you wish me to do,
Jim—canoe with you?"

"I thought you wanted to."

"Is _that_ why you asked me?"

"I wanted to, also.  Why do you always put me in wrong, Diana?"

"Jim, _do_ I put you in wrong, as you call it?"

"Sometimes."

"Well, it’s horrid of me.  Forgive me.  I do try to be such good friends
with you, and somehow I don’t succeed."

"You—we _are_ good friends," he said; "you know perfectly well how I
feel about you."

They had walked as far as the river’s edge, where several green-hulled
canvas canoes lay on the grass.

"Suppose we walk," she said; "shall we? I’m too lazy to paddle.  I’m
sleepy, Jim.  A walk ought to wake me up."

"I know a ledge where you can take a cat nap," he said.  "Accept forty
winks from me, and we’ll paddle afterwards."

So they strolled along the river path, fragrant with mint and vine and
blossom; and presently the cool green of the woods enveloped them, and
their feet pressed the moist, springy leaves of a forest path that led
over little brooks and up a slope of young growth, all checkered with
sun spots, to a vast overhanging ledge of rocks.

"Just look at that moss!" exclaimed Diana. "I believe I’ll sit down on
it this minute.  Jim, do sit down.  It’s like velvet, and there’s miles
of it; and here is the most enchanting silver birch tree for my back to
rest on, and some wood lilies to look at....  Isn’t this heavenly!"

"Out of sight," he said lazily, stretching himself at her feet and
glancing up at her. "Go ahead with your cat nap.  I’ll time you half an
hour."

After a moment he laughed, and her eyebrows went up in a silent
question.

He said: "I never noticed it before.  It’s odd."

"Noticed what?"

"How funny they are in outline—your eyes, I mean."

"Thank you, Jim."

"Oh, they’re most engaging eyes, Diana."

"More thanks, thank you!"

"I mean that they tip up a trifle—just a trifle, Japonette."

"They don’t!"

"They do.  Like a pretty Japanese girl’s. Only yours are blue....
They’re very blue—unusually—like the sky—that sort of blue."

"Young man," she said with mock seriousness, "don’t you know what comes
of speculating in ladies’ eyes?"

"Bankruptcy of the heart," he nodded.

"Then choose some safer and preferred stock, please."

He lay smiling up at her, watching the shades of expression varying in
her youthful face—watching the delicate shape of her mouth, which had
always fascinated him with its unspoiled purity.

"Do you know," he said, partly to himself, "that when I first set eyes
on you, Japonette, I knew I had never seen anything half as beautiful."

"You didn’t think so long," she returned, laughing.  "Christine is
goddess of beauty just now."

"I have always thought so," he repeated.

"Then—why don’t you ever say it to me?"

His smile changed a little.

"What would be the use of my telling you that you are beautiful?"

"Use?"

"What good would it do for me to become sentimental over your beauty?"

"Lots of good—to me, Jim.  You can’t tell a girl too often that she is
pretty—when you really think so....  And I almost believe you do think
so."  She glanced at him sideways, laughed a little, then her blue eyes
wandered and she leaned back, pensive, twisting a green oak leaf between
idle fingers.

"Do you know," he said after a moment, "that, just now, you are like
Japonette again. I haven’t seen you so like the real Japonette for a
long while."

"How _can_ I be Japonette again?  I lack the sandals and butterfly sash
and the peonies over my ears, Jim.  And—that was about all you saw in
Japonette, wasn’t it?"

"Almost all.  Her face was only a shadowy flower against the sunshine,
and its enchantment turned the world to fairyland."

"Alas! the spell was temporary.  The victim of my spells fled to the
roof, and told me stories about starlings and—and children.... But,
somehow, I let him get away from me, and I don’t know how to find him
again."

Edgerton watched her.  She had plaited a sash out of green oak leaves
and fitted it around her slender waist; and now, absently, she was
placing in her hair, above each little close-set ear, a scarlet wood
lily.

Presently she caught his eye, and made him a pretty gesture.

[Illustration: "Presently she caught his eye, and made him a pretty
gesture."]

"You see I am trying my best to return with you to yesterday....  It is
a long path—back over the hours and minutes to yesterday, back to a land
of dreamy suns and forgotten skies, and unremembered thoughts.... Shall
I try to guide you?"

"Yes," he said, not smiling.

"We may lose our way among the phantoms," she warned him gayly; then
became preternaturally solemn, resting her chin in one hand.

Her seriousness enchanted him—her youthful grace as she bent slightly
above him, one warning finger uplifted as when a nurse speaks of
mysteries to a child in the quiet of twilight.

"Join hands with me in spirit, and I’ll try to lead you," she said....
"Now, follow me, while we make our way through the throng of strange
faces, treading a path silently, discreetly, avoiding this pretty girl
with her bright brown eyes."

"Christine," he thought, and started to speak.

"Hush!" she cautioned him; "for we mustn’t speak yet—not until we’re in
the land of yesterday....  And we are passing over the minutes and hours
and days and weeks—and it’s like treading on formless mist; so hold
tightly to my hand, and follow me—through a golden ballroom, around a
great gilded piano, then out into the June rain, Jim.... Have you let go
my hand?"

"No."

"Then we are very near the land of yesterday....  I thought I heard a
starling whistle.  Surely! and there is the sunset over the river—and
now we are in the house, Jim. And it is not sunset, after all; it is
sunrise—the sunburst of Japan!  And there, against it——"

"You!" he said in a voice not very firm.

"Hush!  Those two figures we see are only phantoms.  Let us stand here
by the door and listen to what they might have said."

"They _did_ say things!"

"Ah! but it is to what they might have said that we must try to listen.
Be very silent, now.  Look at that girl in her silk and sandals and the
flowers in her hair! Look at that young fellow, rooted to the floor,
amazed at the apparition!  Can you hear what he _might_ have said to her
in his astonishment?"

"He might have said: ’Your loveliness confounds me.  You are the most
beautiful vision I have ever dreamed.’ ... What does _she_ say,
Japonette?"

"She says: ’For a moment I was afraid you’d filled your suit cases with
our silver; but you are so obviously nice that I am not alarmed any
more.  I’m merely ashamed to be caught here in this theatrical dress.’
What might he have said to that, Jim?"

"He might have said: ’Is it a heavenly possibility that you are real,
and not a vision? Allah is merciful to the believer in dreams. Your name
is Youth and Beauty; I will call you Japonette, but the high white gods
have named you Diana.’ ... And what does _she_ say, Japonette?"

"She _might_ have answered: ’O youth with the engaging smile, out of my
breast you have charmed the winged heart, and it is fluttering there
above you, restless, uncertain—just beyond your reach.’ ... And what
does—_might_ he have answered, Jim?"

"He might have said: ’I love you, but my outward self does not know it
yet—will not know it, even on the roof garden—even when the sun hangs
low and the starlings pipe, and all the west is a glory of gold and
rose; and I shall never know it until you lead me back from to-morrow,
through the magic path of days and hours, to the true world of
yesterday.’ ... What answer does she make Diana?"

His voice had grown very unsteady; he lay there looking at her, the
smile stamped on his lips.  And her faint smile had become fixed, too.

"She made no answer," said Diana.

"She might have....  Remember, all this is what they _might_ have said."

"And did not....  I don’t know what she might have said." ... Suddenly
she flung the green sash of leaves from her body, tore the scarlet wood
lilies from her hair, and flung them away with a gay, little laugh.

"What an idle, silly pair we are," she said. "I’ve had my nap.  I’m
awake, now."

"Was all that a dream?"

"You know it was....  It began with a fable—which sent me off to sleep."

"It ended in truth—and an awakening—for one of us."

"Jim, you’re not pretending to be serious, are you?  Goodness!" she
added impatiently; "can’t I pretend with you, and not be misunderstood?"

He sat up, sprang to his feet, and began to pace the moss.

She, resting against the silver birch, watched him, already a little
frightened, her heart beginning to beat high and fast.

Suddenly he came back and, resting on one knee, bent over beside her.

"Did you mean nothing of that?  _Nothing?_"

"Nothing; why should you be silly enough to suppose——"

"I did suppose for a moment."

"Jim, you are not pretending to court me, are you?"

"Not pretending....  No, I’m not doing it....  How can a beggar think of
such a thing as courtship?"

"Beggars court most ardently—sometimes," she said, laughing tremulously.
"But it’s not hearts they usually court."

He knelt there, thinking a moment, head bent.  Then he looked up at her.

"I have no reason to believe that you care for me," he said—"more than
for any other man, I mean."

"You have no reason to believe so," she repeated, now thoroughly alarmed
at what she’d done; and yet it was what she had deliberately set out to
do.  Her breath came unevenly.  She strove to retain her composure, to
recover the ground he seemed to have gained.

"Jim," she said, "you are too easily affected by your surroundings.  A
few trees, a summer sky, and a girl are destruction to you."

"You don’t think that," he said quietly.

"I do, indeed.  Witness my fate, and the plight of Christine."

He said, watching her: "Do you suppose that there is any sentimentality
between Christine Rivett and me?"

"Oh, Jim! don’t shuffle——"

"She is in love with another man," he said.

"Nonsense!"  But a strange thrill shot through and through her, and,
confused, she bent forward, looking him straight in the face.

"Diana!  Diana!" he said under his breath, "did you care?"

"I?" she said, reddening.  "Jim, I am not a baby....  I thought—as
everybody thought—but it was of no consequence—except that she is a
sweet girl, and you are my friend."

She recovered herself with a little laugh—or would have, had his hand
not closed on hers.  She gave it a friendly and vigorous pressure, and
attempted to drop it; but he placed the other hand over it, inclosing
her slender fingers, which frightened her into pretense of
unconsciousness.

Now she stood on the threshold.  Now she was on the eve of that daybreak
from which she had prayed that the shadows might flee away; and she
shrank from the coming light, afraid, while dawn threatened her with
what, as yet, she had left undone.  And even through the confused sense
of expectancy and consternation ran a fierce flame of happiness.

Then, unable to endure it longer, she flung the mask from her, facing
the tempest she had sown.

"Let me go, Jim," she said in a colorless voice.

But he held her hand closely imprisoned, and the next moment her body.
The rapid racket of her heart seemed to stifle her; she tried to
speak—lay inert, crushed against his shoulder, dumb, scarlet, under his
kiss.

"I love you," he said; "I’ve always loved you....  I’m a blackguard to
say it—penniless nobody that I am—without much chance to be anything
else, apparently.  But I say it for better or worse....  I love you.
You like me, but you think lightly of me.... With sufficient reason, God
knows....  And I have no right to touch you—no right in decency or law,
Diana."

She forced herself away from him, but, somehow, held his hands clasped
convulsively in hers.

"You—shouldn’t have kissed me," she managed to say.  "You mustn’t do it
again—ever."

He laid his face against their clasped hands; her own tightened.

"Nevertheless," he said, "I love you."

"You mustn’t speak that way—"  She dropped her flushed face; he lifted
it, and kissed her again.

When he released her, she leaned back against the silver birch, head
lowered, silent and did not move her hands from the moss as he bent and
kissed them, too.

When at last she found her voice, she spoke so low that he bent his head
closer to listen.

"That is the one imprudence I have never before committed—contact with
any man. You must not do it to me again....  I don’t know how to take
it.  I _can’t_ love you.  You know that."  She looked up at him.  "Don’t
you know it?"

"Yes," he said stubbornly.

"You _do_ know that I can’t; don’t you? And that you cannot really love
me?"

"I suppose it ought to be that way; but it isn’t."

And now the moment had come to make her desire a certainty—and finish
what she had set herself to do—for this man’s sake.  She said:

"You _can’t_ care for me, Jim!  What am I anyway?  A shallow,
pleasure-loving nobody, who sells her frivolous social gifts because it
is pleasanter and easier to make a living that way than to exercise a
decent profession.  How can such a man as you really fall in love with
such a woman?"

She rose to her feet and stood leaning against the tree; and he rose,
too, releasing her fingers.

She touched her hair, passed her hands slowly over her eyes, let them
fall idly by her side; then, after a moment, looked up at him, faintly
smiling.

"Melodrama is no use, is it?" she said. "You are not impressed by it; I
can’t act it. Life is less serious than the stage.  Shall we come back
together along the road to yesterday, and find our old, safe footing?
... And—shall I forgive you what you’ve done this summer day?"

"I want you to marry me," he said between compressed lips.  "I’ll make
good, yet."

"What!" she exclaimed in apparent amazement.  "_You!_"

"Will you marry me?"

How she forced the light laughter she never understood; and she saw her
gayety bring the blood to his face like a whip lash.

"Marry!  No, I won’t marry you," she laughed.  "Mercy on the man!  Does
he suppose I wish to marry a professional entertainer?—a generally
useful gentleman—a big, strong, healthy, well-built, intelligent fellow,
too indolent to rouse himself and make a respectable living?—too
self-indulgent to start in a manly career and fight the world—take it by
the throat and shake a decent living out of its sinful old pockets?"

A deeper flush of astonishment and mortification swept his face,
settling to the roots of his hair.

She did not seem to notice it or his silence.

"Nonsense," she laughed; "a girl, with any humor, simply _couldn’t_ love
such a man, even if she wanted to, Jim.  Because, how can she respect
him? ... You’re a dear, generous fellow—nice to everybody, perfectly
sweet to Silvette and to me, and I _do_ like you—even _love_ you, in a
certain sense—and I didn’t really mind being kissed any more than as
though Silvette had done it.  But I’m simply not fashioned to lose my
head over a man who is hired by the month to be socially pleasant."  She
laughed again, and laid her hand carelessly on his arm; and under her
touch she felt it was rigid and hard as iron.

"You see, don’t you?" she said sweetly. "You’re not grown up yet, Jim.
It takes more than you yet are to satisfy me."

He managed to force his voice out of his quivering throat.

"You’re right," he said.  "I didn’t know what I was talking about.  You
are worth trying for."

They turned away together; she slipped one hand confidently through his
arm, leaning on him lightly as they walked.

"You’re not hopelessly offended, are you, Jim?"

"No—good God, no."

"I’d love you if I could," she said soothingly, "but the instincts of
mating with anything resembling servitude are wanting in me. Besides,
two slaves are enough for one family—Silvette and I....  You are not
hurt or angry at my very horrid frankness?"

"No....  What you said is all right."  He lifted his eyes and looked his
punishment squarely in the face; and her heart failed her, so that she
turned her head swiftly, the tears stinging her throat.

They walked soberly on through the meadow up to the house.  She gave him
her hand at parting; then went leisurely to her room to dress for
dinner.

And Silvette found her there alone on her knees beside the window,
partly undressed, her head buried in her arms, the brown locks
clustering against her pale and tear-stained face.

"Diana!" she exclaimed softly.  "What is the matter, child?"

[Illustration: "’Diana!’ she exclaimed softly."]

The girl got up wearily, keeping her face out of the flood of light from
the electric brackets.

"Nothing much," she said; "I’ve only been very horrid to Jim."

"I thought you were going to be kinder," said Silvette, astonished.

"I have been; but he doesn’t know it."

Her sister stood silent, looking at her with sorrowful eyes.

"Don’t sympathize with me; I—I can’t bear it, Silvie."

"No—if you don’t wish it, dear....  Shall I fix your bath? ... And—_who_
do you suppose is downstairs?"

Diana looked up inquiringly.

"The man you flirted with so outrageously at Keno!"

"Which?" asked Diana naïvely.

"Billy Inwood!"

Diana brightened a little.

"At least," she said with sad satisfaction, "I can occupy my mind with
him for a while. He got away before he was thoroughly disciplined.  _I_
believe there was another girl somewhere....  I think I’ll obliterate
her—unless I approve of her.  There’s the making of a man in that boy,
Silvette."

But she decided otherwise a few moments before dinner was announced,
when Inwood made his appearance in the drawing-room and greeted his
hostess.  Then, catching sight of her, he came hastily toward her with
both hands outstretched.

"Diana!" he exclaimed; "_isn’t_ this jolly! I’m terribly glad to see you
again...  And Silvette!  Oh, this is simply too delightful! I——"

Speech stopped, perhaps froze on his lips; then he turned fiery red as
he stepped forward to greet Mrs. Wemyss.  A year ago she had been a
comparatively slim and pretty divorcée; to-day even the embarrassing
opulence and prodigality of her charms had not altered the doll-like
perfection of her features. He knew her instantly, and, in his brain,
chaos menaced him.

"How do you do," he said; "this is most delightful and surprising.
Lilly——"

"Charming," murmured Mrs. Wemyss; and, under her smile, she lowered her
voice: "I’m Lilly Wemyss; I’ve taken my maiden name.  Don’t forget, and
call me Mrs. Atherstane."

He nodded, the fixed smile imprinted on his features; and it remained
there as they stood in conversation until dinner was announced.

He took in Christine.  The girl’s arm rested lightly as a feather on his
sleeve.  During dinner she talked to him pleasantly, but without
animation; and, somehow, all seemed to go wrong with him, for he found
scarcely anything to say to Christine—anything that was not trite and
banal.  And his haunted eyes reverted again and again to Mrs. Wemyss.

"Oh, Lord!" he thought, "what a horrible mess; and is Lilly going to
expect me to—to——"

But his scared wits could speculate no farther, and he sat beside
Christine, worried, unhappy, penitent, too miserable to enjoy the moment
to which he had looked forward so impetuously all day long—a moment
which, two days ago, he dared not believe would ever again come into his
life.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                          *MILLE MODI VENERIS*


A number of matters had been slightly disturbing Colonel Curmew’s
intellect and digestion.  One thing, he had lost money at cards—a thing
he hated as heartily as Judge Wicklow hated it.  Another matter—Jack
Rivett had fairly driven him out of Silvette’s vicinity.  True, an
easily transferred devotion to her sister already consoled him; the one
was as ornamental as the other, but he liked young Rivett no better.

He desired to ingratiate himself with Jack because the boy had never
liked him, and he neither understood why nor became reconciled to it;
and he was always making advances and assuming, under the jocular
familiarity of an older man, that there existed between himself and Jack
a delightful and cordial understanding, which Jack coolly ignored; and
the colonel disliked him the more.

Then, there was another matter which occupied him—had occupied him, now,
for several years.  He meant to marry Christine Rivett some day.  For
the present he was satisfied to treat her with the same jovial
familiarity with which he treated her brother; and now it seemed to him
that Christine, whom he feared might become too much interested in
Edgerton, was veering toward this young Inwood fellow who had just
arrived.

Colonel Curmew was not actually alarmed; he was merely bored, and now
and then a trifle uneasy, because he had to take this and other matters
into his calculations in being attentive to Diana Tennant.

No, he was not worried.  He Lad become cheerfully convinced that both
these matters could be properly attended to.  Let Christine have her
fling and grow up.  Her fortune kept pace with her, anyway.

But about Diana Tennant he had not yet entirely made up his mind—and yet
he had made it up, too, after a fashion.

There were, including Diana’s youth and beauty, several things about her
which were likely to attract the attention of such a man as Follis
Curmew.  First of all, she was poor. Also, she was self-supporting and
alone in the world except for a similarly situated sister who didn’t
count, and a very distant relative who didn’t really count, either.

She was beautiful and clever; men appreciate such women.  Such women, he
also believed, deeply appreciated the kind of things they could not
afford....  And, furthermore, he did not hesitate to believe that such
women were perfectly capable of appreciating middle-aged military
gentlemen of discretion, fortune, and liberality in reason.

So he contrived to get as close to Diana as he could on all occasions;
and very often, to her surprise, she found him at her heels or seated
unnaturally near her, pale eyes slightly protruding, his curling
mustache and little side whiskers faintly redolent of brilliantine.

Amused, and not yet uneasy, she mentioned his assiduity to her sister,
and thought nothing further of it; nor did Silvette, preoccupied with an
episode of her own which threatened to become something approaching a
problem.

Instinct told her that Jack Rivett preferred her to anybody at Adriutha;
and she liked him well enough to find his attention agreeable. But
little by little it became more marked—to her, if not to others—and she
experienced a slight uneasiness concerning this very rich and idle only
son, the ambition of whose father had now become plain to her.

So Silvette at first very pleasantly discouraged him, and kept out of
tête-à-têtes as much as possible, in which maneuvers she was not very
successful.  For the girl found in this lazy, witty, good-humored,
self-indulgent young fellow a cool and confident adversary—resistless
because of his charming manner toward her and his unvarying cheerfulness
under rebuffs which were becoming more frequent and more severe—and,
alas, more useless.

About a week after Inwood’s arrival, while writing a letter in the
rose-garden pavilion, a shadow checkered the lattice work and fell
across her note paper; and, glancing up, she beheld Jack Rivett, hands
in his coat pockets, the breeze ruffling his blond hair.

[Illustration: "Glancing up, she beheld Jack Rivett."]

"I’m writing," she said, annoyed.

"I’ll sit down on the sundial," he rejoined with a bow and a smile as
though accepting a delightful invitation.

"But I’ll be writing about two hours," she observed coldly.

"Writing about two hours?" he repeated. "But why write about hours at
all, dear lady. An hour is an arbitrary division of time, interesting
only to the unhappy."

"Very witty," she said.  "Go and scratch it on the sundial."

And she resumed her letter, trying not to be aware of the blond young
man seated just outside the summer house, where the sun gilded his hair
and the wind mussed it into a most becoming mop.

Several times she bit the pearl tip of her penholder, frowning; but he
always seemed to catch her eye at such moments, and her deepening frown
only produced on his face an expression which was so very humble that it
became almost mischievous.

"Jack!"

He hurriedly rose, and looked all around him among the roses as though
eagerly searching for the person who had called him.

"_Jack!_" she repeated emphatically.

He pretended to discover her for the first time, and hurried joyously to
the lattice door.

"Jack—you perfect idiot!  I want to write, and I simply can’t, with you
sitting around in that martyred manner."

"How far away shall I retire?" he inquired, so sad and crestfallen, that
between amusement and annoyance she did not reply, but merely sat
tapping with her pen and inspecting her letter.

As she did not speak again, very cautiously—and holding up one hand as
an unwelcome dog holds up one beseeching paw to ward off calamity—he
ventured to seat himself on a bench outside the summer house.

She was perfectly aware of the inimitable pantomime, and a violent
desire to laugh seized her, but she only bit her lip and resolutely
dipped her pen into the ink once more.

She wrote obstinately, knowing all the while that she’d have to rewrite
it.  His excessive stillness began to get on her nerves; and, after a
quarter of an hour’s preternatural silence, she could endure it no
longer.

"Jack!"

"Dear lady?" he replied patiently.

"Why don’t you say something?"

"I was forbidden the exquisite consolation of noise."

"It’s horribly hot and still out here.  Why don’t the birds sing?"

"They’re moulting, dear lady.  All their little pin feathers have become
unfastened, and their bills are probably full of pins while they make
themselves tidy again."

"So that is why they don’t sing in July?" she said.

"That is why," he explained seriously.

"Well, then, why don’t _you_ sing?  _You_ are not untidy."

"Nothing could suit my pensive and melancholy mood better," he said
sadly.

A moment later, sitting outside her door, he began with deep emotion to
sing one of Kirk’s melting melodies:

    "_With head bowed low a dentist stood_
      _Before his office chair;_
    _A handsome lady customer_
      _Into his eyes did stare._
    _He tried to fake a careless smile_
      _And hide his drooping jaw,_
    _But all in vain because his guilt_
      _Was plainly to be saw._
    _His voice was choked with shame and fear,_
      _He said, ’Forgive me, miss!’_
    _But when he begged her pardon there_
      _The lady then did hiss:_

    _Chorus._

    "’_Take back them teeth you made me!  I_
      _Won’t wear them in my face!_
    _Go hang them in your parlor as_
      _A badge of your disgrace._
    _You swore them crowns was solid gold!_
      _You’re false—like teeth and men!_
    _Take back them teeth, you lobster!_
      _Never speak to me again!_
    _Take back—take ba-ack—take ba-a-a——_’"


"Jack!" she exclaimed, "that is the most—most degraded thing I ever
heard you utter!"

"I’m accustoming you, by degrees, to my repertoire.  With infinite
precautions you will, in time, be able to endure much worse than this,"
he explained kindly.  "Now, what shall we try next, dear lady?  I have a
little song called: ’Only a pint of shoe strings!’"

"Don’t you dare attempt it! ... Jack, _please_ go away.  Won’t you, when
I ask it?"

"She mutters the unthinkable," he said, shaking his head.  "My music has
unseated her reason.  By and by she will begin to moan and revive."

"It’s perfectly outrageous," she said, tearing up what she had written,
and moving aside a little so that sufficient space remained for—her
sister, perhaps.  So he entered the summer house and waited for an
invitation, bland, cheerful, irresistible.

"I had no idea I was so pitiably weak-minded," she said.

He accepted the avowal as his invitation, and seated himself.

"Silvette," he said genially, "what are we going to do to-day?"

"Who?"

"Why, you and I.  Who cares what the others do in this mad world, dear
lady?"

"I don’t know about the world," she said, "but there’s one girl in it
who is mad; and she’s going to her room to write letters."

"When?"

"Now!"

"Don’t."

"Indeed, I shall!"

"Shall, or will?" he inquired, guilelessly, "People mix up those two
auxiliaries so persistently that there’s no telling what anybody really
means in these days."

She considered a moment, then turned and looked at him.

"Jack," she said sweetly, "don’t follow me about?"

"I?  Follow _you_!  That’s more madness, dear lady.  Who on earth ever
whispered to you that I could ever do such a——"

"Won’t you be serious, please?"

Her pretty, dark eyes were serious enough, even appealing.  He became
solemn at once.

"You have forced me to say this," she ventured.  "I didn’t wish to; I
thought you’d understand, but you don’t seem to.  So I am compelled to
say to you that—it is—better taste for you to—not to——"

She hesitated, glanced up at him, colored brightly.

"You know perfectly well what I mean! And there you sit, letting me try
to tell you as nicely as I can——"

"About what, dear lady?"

"About you and me!" she said, incensed. "You know perfectly well that
I’ve been obliged to avoid being alone with you."

"Why?"

"Because," she said, intensely annoyed, "I am employed by your parents,
and you are an only son of Mr. Jacob Rivett....  Is that unmistakable?"

He said nothing.

She went on: "You know I like you, Jack. You seem to like me.  If you
do, you’ll understand that this—this continually seeking me out,
separating me from the others, isn’t fair to me....  I’m trying not to
talk nonsense about it.  I know you mean nothing but kindness; but it
isn’t wise, and it is not agreeable, either.  So let us enjoy our very
delightful friendship as freely among others as we do when alone
together—"  She stopped abruptly, blushed to her hair, furious at
herself, astonished that her tongue could have blundered so.  The next
instant she understood that he was too decent to notice her blunder.
Indeed, to look at him, she almost persuaded herself that he had not
even heard her speak, so coolly remote were his eyes, so preoccupied his
air as he sat facing the far hills, blue in the July haze.

Presently he looked up at her.

"What was it you were lecturing me about?" he asked cheerfully.

"About our twosing, Jack."

"Did you say you _did_ prefer it, or otherwise?"

"Otherwise—you monkey!" she said, laughing, free of the restraint and of
the bright color that had made even her neck hot.

"Very well," he said briskly; "keep your distance!  Don’t start running
after me the moment I come in sight across the landscape. Will you
promise?"

"I promise," she said solemnly.

"Thank you.  I shall have a little leisure now.  I’ll have so much I
won’t know what to do with it.  Can you advise me?"

"I cannot."

"Then I’ll have to think for myself.... I’ll have to do something, of
course.... Suppose you and I take a canoe——"

"Canoes hold only two, Jack."

"By Jove!  What am I thinking of!  Thank you for saving me from
incredible suffering.... So suppose we don’t take a canoe, you and I,
but we take the red runabout?"

"Jack!"

"What?"

"The red runabout holds two, only."

"I must be demented!" he said with a shudder....  "Silvette, I’ll tell
you what we’ll do—we’ll take a walk, you and I.  There’s room all around
us for millions of other people.  They can come if they like; if they
don’t, why, it’s up to them!"

"No, Jack."

"Won’t it do?"

"No.  Why won’t you be a little bit serious about a matter that, after
all, concerns me very nearly."

"I _am_ serious," he said.  "It concerns me, too."

"No, it doesn’t."

"Indeed, it does.  Two people are not to go twosing any more; _I’m_ one
of those people. Therefore, it concerns me, doesn’t it?"

She looked at him, confused, half smiling, half reluctant.

"Don’t you know," she said, "that your attention to me is worrying your
father and mother?"

He thought a moment, then slowly turned toward her a sober and youthful
face, from which all humor had departed; and she looked back at him out
of grave young eyes that met his very sweetly, but inexorably.

"Do you mean it, Silvette?"

"About your parents?"

"Yes."

"Yes, I do, Jack."

He said, partly to himself: "I had not noticed it."

"I have.  It’s a woman’s business to notice such things.  Otherwise,
she’ll find herself in trouble....  Inclination is a silly guide, Jack."

"For me?"

"For—us both....  I will be frank with you all the way through.  I do
like you.  I enjoy our tête-à-têtes.  They are perfectly honest and
harmless, and without significance—the significance, alas, that others
will surely attach to them....  It isn’t that there’s anything wrong
with you and me, Jack....  It’s the World that is wrong....  But—it’s
the World; and you and I must conform to its prejudices as long as we
inhabit it—at least _I_ must."

"I suppose you must," he said.  Then, leaning a little nearer, he took
her hand, held it lightly across his palm, looked at it a moment, then
at her.

"Will you let me tell father and mother that I am in love with you, and
wish to marry you?" he said.

"Jack!" she exclaimed in consternation.

"Will you let me?"

"No, I won’t! ... Jack!  Don’t be foolish. I had no idea you had arrived
as far as that.  I had no reason to think so—to suppose for one
moment—because it has always been the jolliest and most
unsentimental—and—you never even touched me before."

Her color brightened, and her breath came irregularly.  She tried to
laugh, and failed.

"You know perfectly well that they have other ambitions for you."

"I know....  How is it with you, Silvette?"

"With me?  What do you mean?"

"Could you care for me?"

"I—I haven’t even thought about such a—I haven’t really, Jack.  You know
that, don’t you?  You must try to look back on our very brief
friendship—try to recollect how brief it has been—try to
remember—remember how happy and amusing and confident that friendship
has been—with no suspicion of sentiment to embarrass or vex——"

"I know....  Isn’t there any hope for me?"

"Hope?  No....  Don’t put it that way, Jack....  I _don’t_ love you....
I oughtn’t to, and, thank Heaven, I don’t.  And you don’t really love
me—you dear, sweet fellow!  It’s just part of your niceness—your
generous attitude toward a girl——"

"I’m in love with you....  But that mustn’t worry you.  It had to be.
You need feel no self-reproach.  You didn’t do anything—you were just
yourself—and I"—he laughed a little—"started in to love you as soon as I
saw you....  I’m glad you know it, anyway.  We won’t say anything more
about it——"

"Jack, we _will_!  Do you understand that you have distressed me
dreadfully?  Do you realize what a girl’s responsibilities are when a
nice man loves her?  Do you think she can merely shrug her shoulders and
go about her daily frivolities without another thought?"

She rose to her feet, looking at him earnestly.

"Oh, Jack!  Jack!" she said, nervously clasping and unclasping her
hands; "why did you do this?  Why _did_ you?"

He forced a laugh.  "I won’t do it again—ever," he said.  "Promise you
never to fall-in-love-again-hope-I-may-die’n-cross m’heart."

But there were no smiles left in her now.

"If you don’t behave," he threatened, "I’ll lock us both inside and sing
songs to you!" ... But the smile died out on his face.  "I was a gink to
tell you.  Don’t feel unhappy about it," again the engaging humor
glimmered in his eyes.  "Cheer up, Silvette; you may fall in love with
me yet!"

She looked up, the smile dawning, distressed, yet sweet.

"Don’t let me, Jack....  Because I’m all right, so far....  And you know
what your father wishes for you.  I want to deal honorably by him."

"All right," he said quietly.

They walked slowly back to the house together, and the girl went
directly to her room, where she found her sister mending stockings.



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                             *NON SEQUITUR*


Silvette dropped into an armchair, crossed her knees, and sat swinging
her foot and gazing through the open window in silence until Diana’s
head, lifted from time to time in smiling interrogation, could be no
longer ignored.

"Jack Rivett has asked me to marry him," she said in an expressionless
voice.

Diana laughed in frank surprise:

"That infant!"

"Yes."

"What an absurdity!"

Her sister said nothing.

"How did it come—out of a clear sky?"

"Yes....  I knew he liked me.  I had no idea he wanted to marry me."

"You’re not going to, are you?"

"No."

"I should think not.  It would be sheer cradle snatching."

"He’s a year older than I am."

"In years, yes; but, intellectually, he ought to be playing marbles.
Moreover, that sort of a boy _never_ grows up."

"I don’t think he will....  God bestows that gift sometimes."

"What gift?"

"The gift of eternal youth....  I haven’t it....  But I believe it can
be shared."  She gazed thoughtfully at the distant hills. "Years and
years slip from me when that boy and I talk nonsense together."

"Better talk sense with him, and wake up, sweetness, or you’ll relapse
into your second childhood."

"I have just been talking sense to him.... I’m awake," she said
dreamily.

"Do you mean to admit that the interview has seriously affected you?"

"Oh, I don’t know yet."

"Better investigate," said Diana.  "You know what his parents expect of
their children. And if we are to remain here, I think, dear, that you
had better see a little less of Jack Rivett than you have been seeing.
Don’t you?"

"I am sure of it."

"Otherwise," continued Diana calmly, "it would be playing the game
fairer for you and me to seek another business engagement. These people
have been very honorable toward us.  We can scarcely permit them to
outdo us."

Silvette looked up calmly, her cheek resting on her hand.

"How dishonorable would it be?" she asked.

"What?"

"To—let him fall in love with me?"

"Ask yourself.  You know their social ambitions."

"I know; but, after all, you and I started out to make of life a
successful business proposition.  I thought a desirable marriage was to
be part of the programme."

"Do you consider Jack Rivett desirable? He could take you nowhere.  With
all his wealth, where could you take him?  And anyway, it’s not playing
the game, Silvie.  It’s kidnaping."  She laughed.  "Take a man of your
size—and of the world, little sister; and if he isn’t of the world, and
is poor, defy him to take _you_!—give him battle—put up a good fight
with foot, horse, and artillery.  The best one of you will always win,
and the other get what’s coming."

Silvette went to the desk, supplied herself with pen and paper, and
prepared to resume her interrupted correspondence.  Presently she looked
around, pen poised.

[Illustration: "Presently she looked around, pen poised."]

"Did the best man win between you and Jim Edgerton?" she asked.

Diana bent lower over her sewing.

"I’m afraid so, Silvie."

"Then _you_ won."

"I think so....  I have fought it over every day since—alone."

"You poor little thing," said Silvette softly.

Diana looked up with a slight smile.  "Perhaps you misunderstood me,
dear.  I told you I was winning....  Which means, I think, that Jim
Edgerton isn’t going to remain very long at Adriutha."

"Where is he going?"

"I don’t know that he is going at all; he doesn’t know it, either....
But, somehow, I dare believe that he _is_ going."

"Where?"

"Into a man’s world to engage in a man’s business."

"It isn’t in him, Diana....  You are taking a great responsibility on
your shoulders. Do you realize that you are?"

"Yes."

"And that a man with no more force of character and real ability than he
has may starve?  That the world will probably break his heart, anyway."

"Let it, then....  Only a real man’s heart breaks.  I’ll know he’s one
if it does; and so will he.  And that’s worth all the rest."

"That’s a stern creed, little sister, considering the pleasure-loving
lips that utter it."

"Out of the mouth of fools, wisdom.  It doesn’t matter what I am.  The
thing that is important is what he shall become."

"If he become what you desire, he may have little further interest in
you."

"He will have none, if he becomes what he could become," said the girl
steadily.  "Did you suppose my—ambition for him was selfish?"

"Little breaker of images, are you going to shatter your own under his
very eyes?"

"He will be the iconoclast some day.... Probably I’ll be married before
that—as soon, anyway, as it’s best for him....  I’ve plenty of time."
... She smiled without a trace of mirth in her eyes.  "Mr. Snaith has
already indicated his noiseless entry into the lists.  He and Colonel
Curmew are at lance points. Materially speaking, a girl ought to
consider both of them."

"But, child, we have many another business engagement before us yet, I
trust.... You wouldn’t think of taking the first—the first——"

"Million offered?" asked Diana, laughing. "No, of course not, silly.
I’m merely observing the manners and customs of the creature man."

Silvette laughed, too.  "How are you getting on with Billy Inwood?" she
asked demurely—"speaking of more agreeable matters."

"Perfectly; after the initial shock at encountering me here, he behaved
most reasonably.  _I_ have an idea that he came here on Christine’s
account, and he seemed to be rather nervous as to his obligations to me,
but I set that right at the first opportunity. I said: ’Billy, if I
don’t tell you, somebody else will, that Silvette and I are here
practicing our profession, which is—to be amiable to the guests and help
entertain them.  So I’m going to be just as amiable to you as I know
how, but it need not frighten you because I have no designs on you.’"

They both laughed.  Diana, mending her stocking, continued:

"I think he was very much relieved, though he pretended not to be.  I
wonder if he _did_ come here to see Christine?  The girl is cool enough
with him, and he is inclined to follow her about in an aimless sort of
way, as though he had something on his mind."

"He seems to be equally attentive to Christine and Mrs. Wemyss,"
observed Silvette. "It appears that he and that ample beauty are old
friends."

"Who is Mrs. Wemyss, anyway?"

Silvette smiled.  "I asked Mrs. Rivett, saying that there was something
familiar about Mrs. Wemyss, and that I had an idea I had seen her
somewhere; but Mrs. Rivett didn’t know who she was.  She had met her
last winter at the Plaza, which is the kind of thing one might have
expected—even of Mrs. Rivett, who is as dear a little woman as ever wore
sapphires at breakfast....  What a horrid, cynical thing I’m turning
into! ... And now I’m going to turn into an imitation of a young girl
dressing for luncheon. Heigho!  I wish other people were what they ought
to be and I were what I’d like to be. The world would wag very well,
then."


Luncheon was the usual animated, gossipy, and amusing function that
Silvette and Diana and Jack Rivett always made it, and at which Colonel
Curmew assiduously assisted according to his notions of jollity.

Edgerton for the last week or so had remained rather silent among the
others, amiable and nice always and perfectly receptive when spoken to,
but not volunteering very much, and not, according to Colonel Curmew’s
idea, earning his salary.  However, as the colonel didn’t like him, that
fact may have colored his judgment when he spoke to Mr. Rivett about it
after luncheon in the privacy of that silent man’s study.

"He’s turned into what I knew he was—a damned snob!" said the colonel,
sitting with widened legs, a rich cigar tucked in under his military
mustache, and furtively loosening the rear buckle of his white
waistcoat.

"He doesn’t pay for his keep," he went on. "What use to you is a man who
sits around looking unapproachable?"

"I have no difficulty in approaching him," observed Mr. Rivett.

"You pay him.  To look at him, one would think he paid you."

"He pays me his services."

"Ah, but he doesn’t!  He’s off with that little Diana girl half the
time."

"That’s their affair."

"By gad!  Is it?  They’re both here on a salary if it comes to that,
Jake....  Say, did it ever strike you as funny—this cousin business he
puts up?"

Mr. Rivett’s burned-brown eyes fixed themselves on the jaunty colonel.

"How?"

"Oh, nothing....  They’re rather distant relatives, that’s all....  Not
but what she seems to be straight—as far as I know."

"What does anybody else know about her?"

"Oh, nothing—nothing," said the colonel, waving his cigar and heavy seal
ring.  "But it’s curious....  You can’t really say a word against an
Edgerton, rich or poor; but, as far as I can see the girl is only a
little adventuress looking for trouble....  She’ll probably get it some
day," he added with a tenor laugh peculiarly ungrateful to the auditory
mechanism of Mr. Rivett.

The colonel puffed his cigar in smiling silence for a while; then,
expelling another laugh and a large volume of blue smoke, slapped his
knee, straightened his tie and waistcoat and shot his cuffs.

[Illustration: "The colonel puffed his cigar in smiling silence."]

"She’ll be all right to take about town, eh, Jake?" he said.

Mr. Rivett said nothing.

"Now, there’s old Parke Ellingford," continued the colonel; "he’s never
had as good looking a girl, and, b’gad!  I’ve seen ’em all—known most of
’em," he added with a leer. "And take any of the men you and I
know—Wallowby, Dankland, and that hatchet-faced Van Wyne!  They’ve never
had any better-looking girl than that little Diana."

Mr. Rivett said nothing.

"B’gad!" said the colonel, with a laugh that approached the falsetto,
"if she doesn’t cut a dash in town’ this winter, I miss my guess."

"Oh—are you to be in town?" inquired Mr. Rivett.

"I?  No; Palm Beach," said the colonel hastily, watching the other out
of his pale and protruding eyes.  "And then—_I_ don’t go in for such
capers," he explained with a pained expression.  "What a man jokes
about, he never bothers with."

"_I’ve_ joked many a man out of half a million," observed Rivett grimly.

"That’s different....  I’m a settled citizen."  He looked cautiously at
Rivett, hesitated, then said carelessly: "I mean to marry, some day."

"Do you?"

"I do, certainly....  And I flatter myself that the woman I marry will
receive her equivalent, sir."

"Her moral equivalent?"

"Certainly.  Perhaps not her—ah—financial equivalent."  He looked up at
Rivett to see how he took it.  Rivett neither took it nor rejected it,
apparently, and the colonel probed further.

"I expect to wait a year or two——"

"Aren’t you getting on, Follis?"

"No, sir, I am _not_ getting on!" said the colonel shortly.  "I am
forty-five.  No man is fit to marry before he’s forty-seven, in my
opinion.  At that age he’s able to treat his wife intelligently.
Intelligence is what a young girl most deeply appreciates in a man."

"A—_young_ girl?"

"I prefer a youthful wife.  Youth is susceptible of being moulded.  I
propose to make a perfect specimen of womanhood out of whatever charming
and adolescent material fortune bestows upon me."  The colonel slightly
lifted his eyes until they protruded toward the ceiling.  "I shall
consider my wife as a sacred trust, a soul for which I am responsible."

"Very good idea," said Rivett without the slightest trace of expression
on his face. "Why not marry the little Diana—and mould her into the
ideal?"

"_Marry_ her!" blurted out Curmew. "What!  Marry a hired—a
paid—employee!"

His countenance became crimson and congested, and his eyes popped and
popped.

Rivett rose.  "My wife worked in her uncle’s kitchen when I married
her," he said indifferently, and walked out.

On the stairway he joined Diana, also descending.

"Well," he said, looking at her through his round glasses, "you _look_
happy enough."

"I am, thank you," said the girl, smiling.

"Don’t thank me for it," he said dryly.

"You’re to be thanked, too," she laughed—"or ought to be.  But you don’t
like it, I know, so I tell your wife how very pleasant you are making
Adriutha for my sister and myself."

"Do you find it pleasant?"

"Yes, I do."

"Like the people?"

They had halted on the stairs.

She looked up at him.

"Some of them I like," she said frankly.

"Which?"

"That is bad manners! ... But I like you and your wife and Christine and
Jack."

"All of us?"

"Unreservedly—except in your case."

"What’s the matter with me?" he asked grimly.

"Why, I don’t know you very well," she said, "so how can——"

"Come and talk it over," he said.

They resumed the descent of the stairway together, and, side by side,
walked out to a seat on the terrace overlooking the river.

"Sit down, ma’am," he said, dusting the marble bench with his
drab-colored soft hat. She seated herself with decorum, inwardly amused.
He dusted a place for himself, and sat down beside her.

"Now," he said, "what’s the matter with me, Miss Tennant?"

She laughed deliciously.  "Nothing that I have ever discovered."

"You’re not much of an explorer, are you?"

"A rather good one, Mr. Rivett.  But—you know there are still certain
peaks in the world that defy approach," she added audaciously.

"I’m a peak, am I?"

He came so near to smiling that the girl watched him with increasing
interest.

"You know," she said, "that you _are_ not exactly talkative, Mr. Rivett.
How is a girl to form any definite idea of a—a—sphinx?"

"That’s two names you’ve called me already"—he looked at his watch—"in
the last four minutes—a peak and a sphinx."

She was laughing so unrestrainedly now that the corners of his eyes
began to wrinkle a trifle.

He said: "What do you think of a self-made man who was once
schoolmaster, day laborer, donkey-engine tender, foreman—all kinds of
things, and whose wife was washing out a wood shed when he first met
her?"

"Is that you?"

"It is.  What do you think of such a man’s chances in New York?"

"Financial?"

"Social."

"I don’t know New York."

"You’re highly connected there?"

"It is a very distant connection.... Mr. Edgerton chooses to acknowledge
it."

"He’s a snob, isn’t he?"

"Not in the slightest," she said pleasantly; but the blood mounted to
her cheeks and betrayed her.

"You like him?"

"Naturally."

"Unnaturally, too?"

"Kinship has little to do with my liking him."

"He’s rather easy-going, isn’t he?"

She flushed up again, and turned her clear eyes on his little brown
ones.

"Don’t you like him?" she asked.

"Isn’t he easy-going?"

"He has not yet found himself.  He is an intelligent, warm-hearted,
high-minded man, capable of taking an honorable position in the
world....  And I do not doubt that he will one day take and keep it."

"He was in iron, was he not—Edgerton, Tennant & Co.?"

"Yes."

Mr. Rivett thought for a while.  "By the way," he said, "I neglected to
answer your question.  I’ll answer it now.  I like Mr. Edgerton."

"Thank you," said Diana, not perfectly aware of what she said.

Mr. Rivett sat buried in meditation for fully five minutes; at the end
of that period he turned his glasses on her.

"I want to gossip with you," he said abruptly.

[Illustration: "’I want to gossip with you,’ he said abruptly."]

She began to laugh again.

"How did you discover that I am such a dreadful gossip?  Begin at once,
please.  I adore picking to pieces my absent acquaintances."

"Yes—tearing ’em to tatters, the way you demolished Mr. Edgerton just
now," he said grimly.  "Well, I’ll begin the scandal bee. Where did you
know Mr. Inwood?"

"In Keno, Nevada," she said coolly, wondering what was impending.

"Know him long?"

"One winter."

"In Keno?"

"In Keno."

"Like him?"

"Immensely."

"Oh!  So you’re going to tear him to tatters, too?"

"Just as I demolished Mr. Edgerton. They’re the two nicest men I ever
knew.  It’s odd, isn’t it, that I didn’t know they were such intimate
friends before Mr. Inwood came here?"

"Are they?"

"I understand so."

"And you didn’t know it?"

"How should I?  I never saw Mr. Inwood except that winter in Keno; and I
don’t know my cousin intimately."

"How well _do_ you know your cousin?"

The girl sat thinking for a moment, then looked up frankly.

"Perhaps you can judge," she said, and told him the history of her
friendship with Edgerton from their meeting in his studio to their
arrival at Adriutha.  And Mr. Rivett listened without a shade of
expression on his face, but his little dark eyes seemed to bore her
through and through.

"That," she said, "is the situation."  She hesitated, then meeting his
gaze candidly, but with a slight increase of color in her cheeks:

"I told you this because I wanted to be fair to Mr. Edgerton—in case—in
the event of you—your family—people here not considering us of much
importance.  Mr. Edgerton is not responsible for us....  I think he came
from some boyish impulse—some chivalrous notion that my sister and I,
being alone, might receive perhaps more consideration if a man of our
family accompanied us."

"I see."

"I wanted you to see.  I’m glad I’ve had an opportunity to make the
matter plain that Mr. Edgerton is in no way responsible for any
shortcomings on our part."

"Nobody complains of you."

"Oh, no; everybody is nice to us.  But—we—do things—which—women of his
family—perhaps would not do."

"Smoke?"

"Yes.  Cocktails, too.  Also we gamble, dreadfully."

"Wouldn’t his people?"

"I don’t know," said the girl.  "I don’t know New York.  One reads about
these rather harmless vices being universal there. But Silvette and I
are really provincial. Provincials usually go too far in either
direction.  It was only that I did not wish people to judge Mr. Edgerton
from us."

Mr. Rivett scraped the gravel with his cane for a moment, then:

"So you like Inwood?"

"Very much."

"Wasn’t he mixed up in some mess or other?"

"I never heard so," she said, surprised.

"Oh!  What was he doing in Keno?"

She laughed.  "Visiting, as we were, I suppose.  You know we weren’t
being divorced."

"Glad to hear it."

"You didn’t _think_ so!" she exclaimed.

His eyes twinkled.

"No," he said, "I didn’t.  But you can’t throw a stone into a crowd and
give odds on its not hitting a divorced person."

"Does divorce shock you?"

"Not in the least; I’m past shocks, young lady.  Who is Mrs. Wemyss?"

"Your own guest?"

He winced.  "I’m asking you.  We made her acquaintance at the Plaza last
winter.... It seems that she and young Inwood knew each other in Keno."

"_That_ is where I’ve seen her!" said Diana with innocent conviction.
"I knew I’d seen her somewhere....  But she was very much slighter—oh,
very much—and extremely pretty."

"Divorcée?"

"Isn’t she a widow?"

"I guess so....  No matter." ... He stood up briskly; she rose, too,
understanding that the interview was ended—feeling slightly
uncomfortable because she had permitted herself to be so thoroughly
pumped.  Yet there seemed to be nothing significant in the operation or
results.

"I’m going for a ride with my wife"—he meant drive—"just a buggy and an
old plug. She and I enjoy it, Miss Tennant."

To her surprise he took her hand between his own dry little palms and
pressed it.

"You’re a good girl," he said; "you and your sister—and Edgerton—he’s
all right—you’re good children—and all off the same tree, little
lady—all off the same old block in the beginning—that’s plain as
preaching.... Do you really like my Christine?"

"Yes, I do."

"And Jack?"

"Exceedingly."

"That’s right; they like you, too.  They ought to.  They’re good
children, and so are you.  Good-by."



                              *CHAPTER X*

                            *COMPOS MENTIS*


As Diana put her pony to a full gallop and rode him off, Edgerton’s
mount fell, and the young fellow lay sprawling on the sod.

He was on his feet immediately; so was his polo pony.  When Diana pulled
up, whirled her mount and came scurrying back, Edgerton had picked up
his mallet and stood resting against his saddle.

"All right, Jim?" she asked briefly.

"All right, thanks."

The color had left his face under the tan, and his expression was queer.

"You look rather white," she insisted. "Did Parsnip kick you?"

"It’s nothing," he said, smiling.  "Put Jack in; I’ve got some business
to talk over with Mr. Rivett."

"You’re _sure_ you’re all right?"

"What a fuss you are!" he said, leading Parsnip across the field toward
a groom.

The girl looked after him, saw the groom slip a white wool polo coat
over the young man’s shoulders and take the pony, saw Edgerton drop his
hands into the pockets and stroll across the field toward the terrace;
then, lifting her mallet, she hailed Jack Rivett in a clear, ringing
call, and cantered away up field.

As Mr. Rivett senior stood waiting for his wife at the foot of the
terrace steps, wrapped in his old-fashioned linen duster and pulling on
a pair of worn driving gloves, Edgerton, in white from head to foot,
came across the lawn, the youthful antithesis of the older man—tall,
powerfully built, his smooth skin and short, thick hair burned by the
summer sun—a graceful, leisurely figure agreeable to see on anybody’s
lawn.

"Good morning!" he said pleasantly, stopping on the gravel drive.

"Good morning, Mr. Edgerton.  Are the young people amusing themselves?"

"I think so—thoroughly."

"You came a cropper?"

"I sometimes do."

"You are amusing yourself?"

"I always do."

"So do I," nodded Rivett, buttoning his gloves.  "Never was bored in my
life—poor compliment to oneself, Mr. Edgerton, to find life a bore."

Edgerton smiled and stood with his left hand in his coat pocket, looking
out at the flat field beyond, where half a dozen young people on lively
ponies swung their mallets and cantered leisurely about in pretense of
practice.

Presently Diana, Christine, and Inwood swung their ponies, and came
driving pell-mell down the field after the ball.

"Your cousins seem to be up to anything," commented Rivett.

"They were bred to everything worth while."

"Oh!  Is polo worth while, as you call it?"

"Do you wish to start such a complex discussion?" asked Edgerton,
laughing.

"No; my wife will be here in a moment.... You’re looking very pale,
young man," he added abruptly.  "Did that pony hurt you?"

"A little....  Mr. Rivett, do you need my services any longer?"

"I don’t _need_ anybody’s services," said the little man dryly.  "I
never _needed_ anybody in all my life—except my wife.  There’s no such
thing as a necessary man.  No man ever lived who couldn’t be
replaced....  What’s the matter?"

Edgerton said slowly: "I thought I’d go back to town and hunt up a job."

"Why?"

"Because there’s no reason for my being here.  There never was any
reason.  You knew it when I asked you to take me, but I didn’t—because I
didn’t know you and your family."

"That’s a compliment, isn’t it?"

"It’s just the truth.  I’m glad my cousins are with you....  I’d like to
go back now."

"Tired of us?"

"You don’t have to ask that."

"More compliments," said Rivett.  "What is wrong, then?"

"I am."

"Hadn’t noticed it."

Edgerton smiled faintly.  "More compliments? ... Mr. Rivett, I want to
go to town and hunt up a job, and get in the game.  That’s all."

"Can’t you wait a month and see us through the October shooting?"

Edgerton stepped nearer.

"I would, merely because you ask me, but I can’t.  I just want to get
away quietly, and not bother anybody....  I’ve broken my arm."

Mr. Rivett swung sharply and his eye-glasses glittered.

"Which?" he demanded.

"The left....  I’ll just run down to town and have it fixed up.  Don’t
say anything about it until I’ve left."

"Won’t you stay here and let us look after you?"

"I knew you’d say that.  You’ve been very nice to me.  Ask me again as a
guest.  I’ll be glad to come as a friend if you care for me that way."

Mr. Rivett’s unchanging eyes watched him.

"We’ll ask you.  My wife likes you.  So do I....  I don’t want to
interfere with a man who knows his own mind....  But do you think you
can stand the journey?"

Edgerton’s white lips were compressed.

"Yes," he said.

"Very well; we’ll stop at Fern Center. Billings can reduce the
fracture."

"Are you going with me?"

"I certainly am," said the elder man.

With a valet’s aid he got into his clothes. His swollen wrist lay in a
sling.

"I won’t bother the others now," he said to Mrs. Rivett who was on the
edge of tears because he would not remain and let her take care of him.
"Please say good-by for me when they come in, and say that I’m all right
and hope to see them all again.... Good-by! ... It’s been a real
happiness to know you—and yours.  Will you let me continue the
friendship?"

"Please do," she said tremulously.  "Jacob, you will tell Holmes to
drive carefully, won’t you?"

"Yes, mother.  Billings is going to put him in good shape."

So they drove away in a big red touring car, Edgerton sick with pain,
but perfectly cheerful; Rivett taciturn, twirling his gloved thumbs,
seeming to muse gloomily in his walrus mustache.

Dr. Billings reduced the fracture—a simple one—Edgerton refusing
anæsthetics.  He fainted during the short operation, and came to with
his head on Rivett’s shoulder.

Half an hour later he was on his way to New York, lying back in a chair
in the drawing-room car, feverish lids closed.  Rivett sat in the chair
opposite.

"I was going, anyway," he said briefly in reply to the young fellow’s
protest.

And together they made the journey, not only to the city, but to
Edgerton’s apartment, where Rivett quietly turned himself into a valet,
helped the young man to bed, called up his physician, Dr.  Ellis,
lingered to learn what condition the patient was in, and silently
vanished.  And for two or three days Edgerton forgot about him, for
Ellis kept him pretty quiet, and the nurse who had been summoned knew
her business.

He managed, however, to write his bread-and-jam letter to Mrs. Rivett,
and another to Diana:


"MY DEAR COUSIN:

"They’ve probably told you that I’ve been ass enough to snap a bone in
my left arm. It’s nothing, as you hunting people understand.  I was a
bit stupid with it, so I ran down to town to have it fixed up—and,
incidentally, hunt up a job; and I wasn’t up to explaining and saying
by-by to everybody, so I just slunk off—ill mannered pup that I am; but
people are indulgent to dogs.

"This is just a line to take leave of you and Silvette, and to ask you
to remember that, in any and all interims, this apartment is a family
joint, so don’t go elsewhere and pay perfectly good rent.  Your room and
Silvette’s is always ready for you—useless unless you use it.

"When I nail a job, I’ll report to the family. If you make new plans,
may I hear from you?

"Wishing you both a jolly and successful autumn,

"Your cousin,
       "JAMES EDGERTON 3d."


Her reply came by return mail:


"Jim, dear, I feel very badly about your injury.  It was my fault; I
cannoned into you. You behaved as only a man of your sort always does.
I won’t say any more about it.

"By this time I hope you are freer from pain.  The first two days are
the limit; I know from experience and two mended ribs.  But—I hate to
think of you in bed this glorious autumn day—and the little fool who
sent you there idling in the sunshine of these lovely hills.

"Jim, dear, it is generous and entirely like you to ask us to make your
place our headquarters between engagements.

"If we do it, it will be only because we all would be happier en
famille.  Even we, hardened materialists that we are, could not bring
ourselves to use you.  You know that, don’t you?  So I have assumed that
your offer is not only a kindness, but a genuine expression of regard
for us; and we return to the full whatever you feel for us.

"Jim, there are many things that I am denying myself to say to you; and
I find self-denial hard.  It’s a worthy and laudable virtue which
Silvette and I are trying to acquire in our old age, and it isn’t easy.

"There’s no news.  Mrs. Wemyss seems to have fascinated your friend, Mr.
Inwood. He’s a curious sort of man—rather melancholy of temperament, I
fancy.

"We play a languid sort of polo now and then, dawdle in canoes, and sit
up too late at cards.

"A lot of men are coming for the shooting. Mr. Rivett’s manager turned
out several thousand pheasants and Hungarian partridges, it seems.  The
latter, they say, have vanished; the former seem disposed to wander into
the front yard.

"Mrs. Lorrimore has departed with much of Judge Wicklow’s salary.  Her
stouter and prettier friend, Mrs. Wemyss, despoiled almost everybody
except Silvette and me.  This letter is degenerating into gossip.  It
had to, or I might have been even more indiscreet.

"Jim, you are a good type of citizen when you’re at your best.  Let me
lecture you, won’t you?  Anyway, you’re helpless and in bed and miles
away, and you can’t prevent me.

"So—be yourself.  Go into a man’s business. Disregard your
accomplishments, your cleverness at paraphrasing art.  It doesn’t count
in real life, all this facility with paint and pen and paper—your gay
imitation of painter, writer, composer.  They’re little gifts, Jim—meant
for an hour of light leisure among the leisured—pleasant, but
unimportant accomplishments.  When you court some nice girl, some day,
you’ll understand their full value—which is to amuse her, and later, I
prophesy, the jolly little family of a home-returning business man.

"The years are before you still, Jim.  Open the battle when you’re well
enough.  You will win out, for you are really not the man I have known.
I wish I might have been a woman to bring out what you really are. Some
woman will.  Meanwhile give a friendly hand and a generous lift to a
fellow who deserves your respect and consideration—your other self.

"Good-by and good luck.

"Your cousin,
       "DIANA TENNANT."


In a few days Edgerton began to experience the intolerable sensations of
a bone which is mending itself.

He had become very restless and impatient; and, finally, the doctor let
him wear his arm in a sling and go out to hunt for a job.

He had no trouble in securing one—a small clerkship with Close & Co.,
ornamental iron work.  He might have done even better.  All iron men
knew who James Edgerton 3d must be.  Many friends of the old firm of
Edgerton, Tennant & Co. might have offered him easier work and higher
salary, but he not only went to none of them—he even avoided them.  He
had decided to discover what he really was worth.

It rather surprised him to find out that the big, blue-eyed, snub-nosed
Irishman, Mr. Dineen, whom he had met at Adriutha, was a director in
Close & Co.  Later, he discovered that Mr. Dineen was also interested in
his own old firm, Edgerton, Tennant & Co., now reconstructed, but still
bearing the ancient name. And after a while he learned that Mr. Dineen
seemed to be interested in almost every house in New York that dealt in
structural or ornamental iron.

Edgerton’s duties began with ledger work. And the evening that he drew
his first pay, he wrote Diana:


"DEAR Di:

"I’m getting fifteen dollars a week with Close & Co., ornamental iron.
I have my first week’s wages in my pocket.  As I pay no rent, I can live
on it.

"It’s not uninteresting work.  Somebody said something about my going
into the designing department as a draughtsman.  That’s pretty quick
advancement—if it comes.  I’ll let you know if it does.

"My arm is about well.  It’s still mummified, of course, but that
maddening sensation is gone.  Town isn’t so bad.  Of course, it’s rather
hot and dusty, and, as usual, it looks dingy and mean in its
characteristic October shabbiness—meaner for the glorious blue overhead
and the pitiless sun exposing its few withered trees and its many
architectural shams in the remorseless light of high heaven.

"But I am peculiarly happy.  I have no servant; I dine at a French
restaurant for seventy-five cents, and I prepare my own breakfast in the
studio.  Crackers and milk compose my luncheon at the price of ten
pennies. And I never felt better.  All this in case you are interested
in such details.

"To answer your letter—I did not intend to write until I had nailed down
a job and received my first pay envelope.  Now I feel that I may.

"First, regarding your comments upon my artistic ability, you are
perfectly right.  I ought to have known it; I did know it, deep inside
of me.  I’m not the stuff that artists are made of.  Eviter les
contrefaçons!  I was an imitation.  I was not even a good amateur; I’m
not even equipped to really appreciate the best work in others.  All I
had was a monkey-like cleverness and the blank facility of a receptive
parrot; and I was idiot enough to contemplate an idle life of dabbling
and fiddling with professions that better men dignify.

"I tell you, Di, I bid fair to turn into one of those horrors—a
cultivated talker!—the lowest type of incompetent.  Drawing-rooms,
studios, cafés are full of them, all telling one another what is what
and how to do it.  I was heading straight that way.  My peers and
companions would have been smatterers, instructors in arts which the
instructors couldn’t master—or they wouldn’t have become
instructors!—men of one picture, or none at all; of one book, one story,
or of none at all, or of dozens, all still in their minds, or in
unpublished manuscripts; men of one waltz, or several grand operas—I
mean ideas for grand operas—all failures, all men who had mistaken their
professions, self-deceived men, incompetent, hopeless, pitiable.

"You said in your letter that one day I might meet a woman who could
appreciate, at their real value, my very slim talents.  Haven’t I met
her, Di?  Those clear eyes of yours pierced the flimsy fabric long
since; the trenchant sweetness of your tongue cut more than one knot for
me.

"If you demur, my answer is that I am here.  Who sent me?  A flanneled
satrap, already insidiously beguiled by idleness, already reconciled to
the status quo—how long before, and by what process of evolution, would
my real self have awakened?  Or would the degeneracy have ended only
with life?

"I don’t know; all I know is that you sent me about my business in the
world.  I walked to it in my sleep; awake, I follow it.  Thus far, so
far, Diana of the far white gods!

"Yours is the stronger character, so far. Let us await events.  It may
be, as you say, that the years will twist my path toward the possible
woman you predict for me.  I dined with Dr.  Ellis last evening.  His
daughter will certainly grow up to be such a woman as you and I delight
in.  I told her that I hoped my path would twist toward her.  She said
she hoped so, too, very shyly.  She is only fifteen—alas!

"In the meanwhile my path runs straight to Close & Co., and I shall
continue to travel it every day with my shovel and dinner pail—thanks to
you, my loyal little cousin, who were plucky enough and merciful enough
to tell me the merciless truth.

"Give my love to Silvette.  My remembrances to all.  Accept for yourself
my friendship. Do you remember those photographs I made of you as
Japonette the day after we first met?  I’ve developed them.  Here is
one.

"Yours sincerely,
       "JAMES EDGERTON 3d."


Which letter resulted in an immediate interchange of notes:


"DEAR JIM:

"Fifteen and eighteen are not far apart.  A man can help Chance to twist
his path through life.  The resulting route is called the Path of
Destiny.  I think you have already started to travel it.  I hope you are
better.

"DIANA."


He replied:


"DEAR DI:

"You meant that path which leads to Close & Co., didn’t you?

"J. E. 3d."


She answered:


"DEAR JIM:

"No, I meant the other path you mentioned. Follow it for the next three
years. Mr. Inwood says that little Miss Ellis is the most beautiful and
winsome and intelligent and cultivated child he ever knew.  Life is all
before you, Jim.

"DIANA."


He wrote:


"I’m in the designing department as draughtsman!  Mr. Rivett’s friend,
Mr. Dineen, dropped in to have a chat with me. He’s a very decent
fellow....  You don’t think that Mr. Rivett has inspired him to show me
any unmerited favors, do you?  It would make havoc of my present
complacency.  Try to find out.

"JIM."


She answered:


"Mr. Rivett isn’t to be pumped.  I tried it. I’ll never try it again.
Anyway, Jim, no favor can inject brains into a man; it can only
stimulate what intellect he has.  Don’t worry about favors.  Neither Mr.
Rivett nor Mr. Dineen are the men to injure their own affairs by the
incompetent service of others.  You can be perfectly certain that you
are worth what is offered you if they have anything to do with it.

"Why don’t you fall in love with Christine? She’s one of the sweetest
girls I ever knew.  I supposed she and you were on delightful terms
once.  Also, once, I thought she was inclined toward Mr. Inwood.  But he
seems to be monopolized by Mrs. Wemyss; and the poor child comes into my
room in a forlorn sort of way—so white and limp these days that I’m
wondering what this change in her means. _Does_ it mean your absence?
You’d tell me, wouldn’t you?  But I know you’re not the sort of man to
win a young girl’s heart, and then coolly walk out of her life.  It
looks to me as though she had something on her mind.  Dr. Billings has
been here several times, and her mother is worried sick.

"That’s all the gossip, except that the shooting is in full blast here.
A number of men came up for it—the usual sort of men who shoot, except
one.  He’s a Mr. Wallace, and very nice and a poor shot.  He and I go
out together sometimes, and he is forever making fun of himself and his
perfectly rotten marksmanship, and he and I don’t care two raps whether
we get anything or not.

"Mr. Inwood is the saddest young man I ever had the pleasure (?) of
trying to animate.  Are all your friends as melancholy and
temperamental?  He haunts the terrace like a lost soul until Mrs. Wemyss
annexes him. Christine does not seem to care for him; she doesn’t seem
to care for anybody these days.

"Colonel Curmew is a funny man.  He has, apparently, devoted himself to
me, and I have the greatest difficulty in getting away from him long
enough to take a stroll with Mr. Wallace. Such a funny, strutty,
sentimentally elaborate little man!—with a rather horrid habit of
staring.  But he’s a crack shot, and popular here with the men.

"Good night,
       "DIANA."


She wrote next day, also:


"Jim!  My little Christine is in love—that’s what’s the matter!  I
_know_ it; I’m absolutely sure of it.  And with—oh, ye humorous gods and
dryads!—with your melancholy friend, Mr. Inwood.

"And I want to tell you, Jim, that I don’t _like_ Mrs. Wemyss.  She’s
fat and selfish and—why does she drag that boy about with her all the
time?  I don’t believe he likes it.  I don’t believe he’s so enamored of
her.  Maybe his low spirits come from too much of that fair and ample
lady.  I’m going to find out.  I won’t have my little Christine ignored
by any melancholy idiot who ever lived.

"Write me what you know about Mr. Inwood.

"How is Chance, and the twisted path, and little Miss Ellis?

"Scott Wallace and I managed to shoot a grouse.  We both fired, and
neither of us were inclined to claim the poor, dead, little thing.  A
keeper put it in his pocket. Mr. Wallace and I are going to take up
target shooting hereafter.

"DIANA."


He wrote: "Inwood is all right.  Who _is_ Mrs. Wemyss?

"JIM."


A week later he heard from her: "I’ve found out from people in Keno.
She was a Mrs. Atherstane—divorced hubby, and resumed her maiden name of
Wemyss with the prefix Mrs.  Did you ever hear of her?  Scott Wallace
and I detest her.

"DIANA."


He did not reply, partly because the constant recurrence of Wallace’s
name in her letters had begun to annoy him—partly because what he had to
say must be said to Inwood; and at that miserable young man he launched
the following:


"DEAR BILLY:

"You’re a fine specimen.  What are you, anyway—a lap dog or a Chow pup?
Get rid of that woman!  I don’t care whether or not you made an ass of
yourself over her by sympathizing with her.  Old Atherstane had no more
mistresses than the majority of church pillars and public benefactors in
town; and, anyway, it was not up to you to dry her weeps.

"Don’t make any mistake—the ci-devant Mrs. Atherstane can look out for
herself. She needs no consideration from you; she doesn’t deserve any,
either.  What kind of a woman is she, anyhow—taking advantage of a
chivalrous and conscientious boy who never did more than hold her hand
and pat it, at most, when she told him she was lonely and unhappy, and
needed a good man’s moral support?

"Rot!  You’re not responsible for her. You’re not in honor bound to sit
around and await her pleasure, now that she’s free to marry.  She
wouldn’t have you, anyway.

"You probably made an ass of yourself—probably talked too much.  You’re
not in honor bound, I tell you.  And don’t make any mistake—she’s not
going to marry.  She’s having too good a time.  I know that kind of
woman, Billy.  They never put their heads into the noose a second time;
but they harpoon all the men they can, and they trail around with a lot
of silly ginks like you.

"If you don’t believe me, I’ll tell you how to put yourself out of your
misery.  Ask her to marry you; ask her flatly.  You’ll wake up, then.  I
know what I’m saying.  You do what I tell you, and then get back to
first principles, and clear up all this nightmare between a sweet and
plucky little girl and your own dam-fool self.  Clear it up, I tell you.
I know you, Billy.  You have nothing to confess in regard to Mrs.
Wemyss.  Of course, you wouldn’t confess, anyway; but, thank God!
there’s nothing to say except that you were a silly ass, and have
learned better.

"Now, I’ve told you how to get clear of this petty and miserable affair.
If you don’t do it, for Christine’s sake as well as for your own, you’re
no man.

"JIM EDGERTON."



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                         *QUOD ERAT FACIENDUM*


With the daily advent of men arriving for the flight-shooting, now
imminent, Lillian Wemyss seemed to grow prettier and slimmer every day
until the perfectly visible metamorphosis had produced radiant and
brand-new creature.

For the men who were now accumulating in billiard room and card room,
who haunted stable and garage and kennel, were the sort of men who
inspired the very breath of life in a woman of her sort—big, handsome,
ruddy-faced, thick-necked men with large, indiscriminating tastes and an
eternal readiness for anything from a half-broken horse to an unbroken
woman, but heartily preferring them both bridlewise and registered.

They tramped all over the place, on the terrace, over the lawn, in to
dinner; and the house echoed with large bantering voices, loud unfeigned
laughter—and they rode hard and drank hard and played for heavy stakes,
and were up and tramping all over the place by sunrise, sniffing for the
frost which would bring the first night flight of woodcock from the
north into the far-famed coverts of the Adriutha hills.

And the best-looking, most humorous, and most reckless among them was
Scott Wallace, a young giant of infinite jest, who began by pleasing
himself with Diana and, out of the sheer perversity of humorous animal
spirits, pretended to her that he scarcely knew one end of a shotgun
from the other, which gave him a pretext for dawdling over the country
with her, and making love to her until such time as the flight might
send him seriously afield.

So, as he cared nothing for the scattered pheasants and wilder and
scarcer grouse, he amused himself and Diana by playing Winkle, now and
then consoling himself with a difficult shot, which satisfied him and
left the girl none the wiser.

But on Wallace Mrs. Wemyss had her blue eyes fixed with all the veiled
alertness and objectless intensity of the sort of woman she was—a woman
who would never be dunce enough to marry again.

In the meanwhile, already exceedingly popular with the shooting
fraternity, she kept a mechanical hold on Inwood for no more reason than
the matter-of-fact impulse which had prompted her to snap a leash on his
collar the moment she set eyes on him after many months’ separation.

To take him away from Christine had not been her object; she had no idea
that he was interested in anybody except herself.  She was perfectly
confident that, given half a chance, men preferred her to any other
woman; and there was really no particular malice in her desire to give
Scott Wallace an opportunity to follow at her heels instead of Diana’s.

For Mrs. Wemyss really needed nothing of men except admiration and
uninterrupted attention.  No deeper passion had ever moved her.  She was
ignorant of love, although apparently fashioned for it; immune to its
lawlessness, although lid and ear and lip seemed to chorus the contrary.
In the slightly veiled eyes there was really no promise, no significance
in the full, sweet mouth—nothing to her except the superficial
provocation which all men mistook, and the laughing and ready friendship
offered so prettily that no man ever refused.

Inwood, searching the house and terrace over for Christine, discovering
her at last in the moonlit rose garden, and, not daring to join her
after all, so faint hearted he had become, walked moodily into the
billiard room where a noisy lot of people were enjoying themselves.

Wallace, standing between Diana and Lillian Wemyss, his broad back
against a billiard table, was evidently having a splendid time; and
Inwood halted, irresolute, one hand in his pocket crushing Edgerton’s
letter into a wad.

Lillian Wemyss caught sight of him, smiled instinctively, but her blue
eyes reverted to Wallace.  There was something in her attitude, as she
stood in the full splendor of her somewhat ample beauty, that subtly
repelled Inwood; and he swung on his heel, somber young head bent,
moving toward the door by which he had entered.

"Mr. Inwood!" called Diana across the hubbub, "will you play bottle pool
with us?"

He turned, smiling to her.

"Thanks, I’m not up to it," and resumed his way out.

"Billy!" said Mrs. Wemyss, "I wish you to play!"

"No, thanks," he returned coolly, and continued toward the door.

It was his first exhibition of insubordination, and Lillian Wemyss,
surprised, did not propose to stand it, particularly in the presence of
these two people.  Scott Wallace seemed to be almost ready for his
leash; it was a bad example for him, this insubordination of young
Inwood.

She looked anxiously at Diana.

"I’m afraid Billy Inwood is not well," she said.  "I’ve thought so for
several days. Those swamps where you men shoot must be full of malaria."

"Not a bit," said Wallace, laughing.

"How do you know?" asked Diana.  "You never go into them, you lazy
thing!"

Mrs. Wemyss hesitated, listening to the banter that passed between Diana
and Scott Wallace, which slightly excluded her for the moment.

Then she made up her mind that her authority over Inwood must be
asserted at once, and that she had time enough to eliminate Diana later.

She turned and saw Inwood passing the windows outside on the terrace.
The next moment she was on the terrace, too, and he turned slowly to
confront her.

"Billy," she said gently, "are you feeling perfectly well?"

"Perfectly, thanks."

"Then why didn’t you remain at my request?"

"I didn’t care to."

"But _I_ asked you," she said, surprised.

"Yes, I know you did."

"Well?" she asked, astonished.

He had been looking away from her out over the misty moonlit river.  Now
he turned.

"Lillian," he said, "do you honestly care for me?"

"Billy, what a question!"

"Yes, it’s one kind of question....  _Do_ you?"

"You know I do.  How can you ask such a——"

"Do you _love_ me?

"What!"

"_Do_ you?"

"Billy, what on earth is——"

"Wait, please.  Let me ask you again, Lillian.  Are you honestly in love
with me?"

"I don’t know what you mean by suddenly and abruptly
questioning—demanding——"

"Please answer."

"You have no right to doubt it.  You know perfectly well what we have
been to each other—even before——"

"What _have_ we been?"

"I supposed we had been in love," she said with sad dignity.  "I wrote
you while I was abroad, and—I don’t write many letters."

"Then you _are_ in love with me....  We are in love.  Is that true as
you understand it?"

"You silly boy—of course!"

He stood stock still for a moment, tasting all the misery he had stored
up for himself. Finally, he found his voice.

"If that is so," he said, "we ought to be engaged."

"Oh, Billy!  Are you jealous?"

She laughed, radiant, delighted to feel the leash tighten in her soft
little hand once more.

"No," he said, "I am not jealous; but, if we are to marry, it is time
people understood it."

"Do you mean these people?"

"I mean everybody."

"You don’t mean to announce our engagement this winter?" she asked
uneasily.

"I mean to announce it now."

"Here!"

"Here—to-night."

"I—I don’t wish to," she faltered.  "You are unreasonable."

"Is there any reason why people shouldn’t know it?"

"My dear boy, one doesn’t announce such important matters on the impulse
of the moment."

"If I’m going to marry you, I want people to know it now!" he said.

"I’ve explained that I did not wish it."

"Why?"

"Why?  There are a million perfectly good reasons."

"Give me one, Lillian."

She stood considering, her crook’d finger under her chin, blue eyes
taking his measure from time to time.  Evidently happiness too long
deferred had made him unmanageable. She never thought of doubting her
power.  Probably he needed discipline.  It was most annoying to be
annoyed at such a time, with all these men here, and Scott Wallace
already left too long alone with Diana at the billiard table.
Discipline was certainly what Inwood needed.

"Billy," she said, "come in and play bottle pool."

"Am I to tell them that we are to be married?"

"No," she said petulantly.

"When may I tell them?"

"Not at all.  Do you think a year of liberty is sufficient for a woman
who has suffered what I have?  I don’t wish to marry you or anybody—yet.
I haven’t made up my mind to do it at all," she added with a tiny flash
of rare anger, for her not very sensitive nerves were beginning to feel
the pressure.

"Lillian, I want to know now.  It is only square to me to——"

"Billy, if you continue to insist, you will end by seriously offending
me.  You have annoyed me enough already."

"By asking you to set a definite date for our impending marriage?"

"It is _not_ impending!" she retorted, exasperated, as Diana and Wallace
came out together and walked toward the farther end of the terrace.

"Do you refuse to marry me?"

"Yes, I do; I am sorry.  I really cannot help how you feel about it.
This year of liberty has been a year of happiness.  I don’t wish to
marry.  I don’t know when I may wish to.  I am perfectly contented; and
that’s the truth, Billy."

"So—you refuse me?"

"For the present—yes."

"No; you must answer me for all time, to-night."

She nodded.  "Very well, then; I refuse definitely—and for all time....
And, Billy Inwood, you have brought this calamity upon yourself."

But Lillian’s anger was always short-lived; she was already sorry for
him.  Besides, she was convinced that he would continue to dangle.  It
had been her experience with men that they were never reconciled to the
unobtainable.

So with one of her swift, smiling changes of feeling she held out her
hand to Inwood. He took it.

"Are you very angry?" she asked.

"No."

"Do we part—friends?"

"We do, indeed," he said so sincerely that the smile faded on her face,
and into her limited mind flickered a momentary doubt.  But, no, it was
not possible; for Lillian had never really been able to doubt herself.
Certain, once more, that this young man would appear at heel when
whistled for, she returned his friendly pressure with an encouraging
one, laughed, and turned lightly toward the house. He accompanied her to
the door and bowed her in.

Then the strength seemed to ooze out of his back and legs; he dropped on
to a marble bench, and sat there in the moonlight, his face buried in
his hands.

How long he had been there he did not know, when a light touch and a
soft voice close to his ear aroused him, and, looking up, he saw Diana
inspecting him.

"As dejected as all that, Mr. Inwood?" she asked, as he rose to his
feet.

"Not dejected, Miss Tennant."

"Why, then, these attitude?  Wherefore those woe, young sir?"

"I don’t know," he said listlessly.

But she did—or thought she did; so she took his arm in friendly fashion
and strolled about with him in the moonlight until she pretended that
the beauty of the night tempted her toward the garden.

He was alarmed for an instant, and hung back, scanning the rose garden
with anxious eyes; but he could see nothing of Christine, and presently
succumbed to Diana’s whim.

To and fro among the late roses they paced, the girl light-heartedly
rallying him on his soberness and lack of animation, until he laughed a
little and squared his shoulders, and drew in a full deep breath of the
soft air.

"I thought every man flirted if offered an opportunity," said Diana,
"but I’ve flung myself at your head in vain, young man. Evidently
there’s some caterpillar at work on that damask cheek, or I’d be more
generously appreciated."

He laughed again, and tried to tell her how deeply he was appreciating
her, but she shook her head and finally dropped his arm.

"I’m going to the house," she said. "There’s an arbor across the garden.
If you’ll wait for me there, perhaps I’ll return. Will you?"

"Certainly," he said.

So she turned and sped away among the roses, and he stood and watched
her until she crossed the terrace and vanished into the house.

For a few minutes he remained where he was standing; then, with a sigh,
he swung on his heel and started toward the arbor, fumbling for his
cigarette case as he walked.

At the entrance he paused to strike a light—and remained motionless
until the match burned close to his fingers.  Then it fell on the
gravel; he dropped the cigarette beside it.

As he entered the arbor, a white figure, lying full length on a swinging
seat, lifted its head from its arms, then sat up hastily.

"Is that you, Miss Rivett?"

"Yes." ... She rose to her feet, holding to one of the swinging chains.
Moonlight fell across her white, confused face.

"May I remain?" he asked unsteadily. "Would you rather have me go?"

"No....  I am going....  My gown is damp....  I will go immediately."

"Were you asleep?"

She hesitated; but there was in her only honesty.

"No," she said.

"Then you must have heard my step on the gravel?"

She shook her head.

"Then what were you doing out here all alone with your head buried in
your arms?"

"Thinking," she said....  "Would you care to walk to the house with me,
Mr. Inwood?"

"Would you mind remaining here a little while?"

"My gown is damp with dew."

"Then perhaps we had better go?"

"I think so."

Neither stirred.

"It is so warm and beautiful to-night," he said, "that I can’t imagine
anybody taking cold out here."

"It is a bad outlook for the flight shooters."

"Yes, indeed.  There is no frost in this wind."

"It may shift overnight," she said.  "If to-morrow is a magnificent and
cloudless day, with just a hint of silver in the horizon blue, then it
means a frost and a flight to-morrow night."

"And that," he said, "would mean an end to—the roses."

"Yes."

"An end to anybody sitting out here again this year."

"Probably."

"So it seems a pity," he went on, "not to enjoy it while we may, Miss
Rivett."

"I have enjoyed it—for an hour."

"You are not very generous."

"Why?  You may remain another hour if you wish?" she said, smiling.

"Alone?"

"I was alone during my hour."

"I have been alone for an entire year," he said under his breath.

"What?"

She had heard him, but her abrupt question seemed to have been beaten
out sharply from her startled heart.

He made no reply; she stood, one hand clasping the chain, not looking at
him, conscious of the clamor of her heart.

"Miss Rivett," he said, "am I too much of a fool—too hopeless a thing
for you to listen to?"

"What do you mean?" she said faintly.

"I mean that—this night, now, for the first time since I knew you—I can
use, decently, honorably, whatever liberty of speech you permit me."

Presently her white hand relaxed, the chain slipped through her fingers;
she sank down on the swinging seat.

After a moment he stepped toward her.  She raised her head in the
moonlight, and he saw the tears in her eyes.

"Christine," he said under his breath.

"Are we free to speak to each other?" she faltered.

"Thank God, yes!"

"Thank God," she whispered.

But for a long, long while they did not use the inestimable privilege of
free, articulate speech.  There seemed to be no need of it further than
apparently irrelevant fragments such as, "My darling!" and, "Oh, Billy,
if you only knew!"

Far away beyond them Diana came out on the terrace with young Wallace,
and gazed very earnestly down at the rose garden.

"Shall we walk there?" he said persuasively.

[Illustration: "’Oh, dear,’ she said, ’there’s somebody down there
already.’"]

Suddenly Diana’s face sparkled.  "Oh, dear," she said, "there’s somebody
down there already—two of them!  And—and it looks to me as though they
were spooning.  What a world this is, Mr. Wallace!  I think I’d better
go in and play bottle pool."

That night she wrote to Edgerton:


"DEAR JIM:

"You have not answered my letter—but men were made to pardon.

"Somehow—and I don’t quite know how—that wretched and melancholy Inwood
man, fortified by a gentle push from me, contrived to get up sufficient
momentum to carry my little Christine by assault.  The darling has just
been in here to whisper her happiness to me.  We wept together, which is
our feminine fashion of uttering three cheers.

"There is, of course, papa to inform.  I don’t envy Christine.  Papa has
a will of his own, but so has his infant daughter.

"Even yet I can’t understand why this Inwood boy has lost all this time
dingling and dangling around Mrs. Wemyss.  Evidently he wasn’t doing it
because he was having a good time.  I was inclined to suppose him either
blighted or a mooner.

"But you should see the change in your intimate friend _now_!  Why, Jim,
he fairly pranced up to me as I was saying good night, and he wrung my
hand and said, ’Thanks, awf’lly, Miss Tennant!’  And all I had done was
to give him a rendezvous with me in an arbor, and then go off to walk
with Scott Wallace.

"Scott’s a nice boy.  You’d like him; he’s a terrible tease.  It seems
that he’s really a dead wing shot, and has just been jollying me all
this time.  I really enjoy him, which is more than I can say for the
remainder of the sporting fraternity now investing this place. They’re a
hard young lot, without, perhaps, being really very hard; but they are a
loud, careless, irresponsible bunch of wealthy young men who, as far as
I can learn, spend their entire time in shooting at something or other,
including clay birds.

"They seem to be Wall Street men when occupied at all, and all betray a
very healthy respect for Mr. Rivett.  People say he is a factor to be
reckoned with in New York; but I don’t care.  He’s nice to me, and his
wife is adorable.  As for Christine, I dearly love her, Jim.  No girl is
more fitted for happiness, and I’m glad she’s got her Inwood boy at
last.

"And now, Jim, dear, there are two matters which very sorely perplex me;
and, somehow, I turn to you to help me solve them....  No, only one of
them, because I shall not bother about the other matter yet.

"But about the matter which is really nearer my heart, Jim—we must leave
this place; and the reason is this: Jack Rivett is making himself
miserable over Silvette.

"Silvette doesn’t love him; at least, I don’t think she does.  She
couldn’t do it honorably, anyway.  She told me so, and I quite see it,
because she and I are employed here under the Rivetts’ roof, practically
in a position of trust, and dedicated to their service.

"It is not a loyal thing to permit the son of the house to lose his
head, and Silvette tries so hard not to let him.  But he’s doing it, and
she can’t keep him from being nice to her; and she and I know perfectly
well what his father’s plans for him are, and that they include a
fashionable marriage.

"Of course, that argues well for Christine. The Inwoods are fashionable
people, are they not?  But poor Silvie!  Alas! her connection with your
race isn’t near enough to impress Jack’s father; besides, Silvette
doesn’t love him, and the boy is in a bad way all around.

"Now, what ought we to do?  If we offer to sever social and business
relations with Mr. Rivett, he will ask why we do it.

"Shall we tell him?  Is that square to poor Jack?  Or shall we lie?  Or
shall we simply remain and let Jack suffer and make Silvie miserable?

"Oh, wise young sir, inform a suppliant at your knee!

"There is nothing more to tell you about, except that your progress
makes me very happy.  You are doing only what you would ultimately have
done without any impudent advice from me.  You have found yourself, Jim;
you are climbing the rungs very quickly.

"Jim, I am not yet very old—but I might easily be younger....  I was
thinking the other day—and to-night—that sometime I shall be too old and
unattractive to practice this not very dignified profession; and I’m
disinclined to do anything more strenuous.  I don’t want to struggle and
grub and starve along respectably as a feminine physician.  It’s too
late for that, anyway.

"So I don’t know what to do, ultimately, unless I accomplish what I
started out to do—marry a wealthy man.  I mean the first agreeable one I
encounter.

"Well, I won’t bother with that problem to-night; my head aches a
little.

"Good night, Jim.

"JAPONETTE."


Diana finished her letter, sealed and stamped it, and kissed the
superscription.  She always did when she wrote his name.

Then she laid her aching temples on her arms and, leaning limply on the
desk, thought about him.

Hers was a strange, sweet pride in him—a fierce jealousy lest he should
not take the place in the world to which he was entitled, and prove
himself every inch a man.

Nor did she pretend to hide from herself what his return among his own
friends must ultimately mean.  If the love he had offered her had not
been totally extinguished by her light mockery and smiling insolence,
then this return to his own set would do it ultimately. The standards
that measured women there would be fatal to her; nor could he choose but
apply them, sooner or later.

She knew this when she sent him back among his own sort.  She realized
perfectly that if any love for her survived her irony and flippancy—her
airy but trenchant scorn—it could not survive very long when he came to
his cool-headed and reasoning self, and looked around him at the women,
and at the families and relatives of the women among whom he had always
lived.

Already he had spoken of little Aliss Ellis—a mere child, of
course—yet—yet it was a straw prophesying a change in the wind to her.

She knew; she had accomplished what she had desired.  She had done this
thing to herself, to her whole life, for his sake.  What more could she
wish for?

Sick at heart, she lifted her throbbing head and kissed his name once
more where she had written it on the envelope.  Then she placed it on
the desk, and lay down on the bed to wait for Silvette before ringing
for the maid who attended them; and after a little while she fell
asleep.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                           *NUNC AUT NUNQUAM*


Warm weather continued; no flight occurred.  The men thrashed about with
the dogs after grouse and a few native woodcock bred in the willows
along the river, or rode, motored, and played cards.  One or two had to
give up, and return to the city.

Colonel Curmew was at his best on these gay occasions—gallant, jocose,
busy, everybody’s friend, including Jack Rivett’s, who quietly began to
hate him.

In the midst of the general tension and expectancy concerning the
long-awaited flight, Christine one morning entered her father’s study
and found the author of her being conferring with Mr. Dineen.

"This won’t do, Christine," he said.  "I’m busy."

"No, it won’t do," she admitted, looking so significantly at Mr. Dineen
that the jolly, big Irishman laughed.

"_You_ want _me_ to go out!" he said, shaking an enormous forefinger at
her.

"Please—for a few minutes."

"Sure," said Mr. Dineen with an amused glance at Rivett, who sat
inspecting his offspring with a face entirely devoid of expression.

When the big Mr. Dineen had closed the door behind him, Christine, a
trifle pale, walked resolutely to her father and laid her hand on his
shoulder.

"Dad?"

"What?"

"I’ve practically asked Billy Inwood to marry me."

Her father’s eyes bored through and through her.

"Who did the asking, Chrissy?"

"Both of us."

"What?" he barked.

"It wasn’t asking, exactly.  I have loved him for a year, and he has
loved me.  There has been a misunderstanding."

"About what?"

His daughter’s eyes never flinched.

"About a point of honor, father," she said quietly.

He grunted.

She went on, still resting her hand on his shoulder.

"We were very unhappy; but the point of honor involved straightened
itself out.... I happened to be in the rose arbor that evening.  He came
in by accident....  After we had talked a little, he told me that he was
free to speak if I would listen to him....  Then, somehow, we merely
looked at each other, and—and presently—presently we kissed each
other....  I don’t remember much else ... except that I said I would
marry him—before he asked me——"

"Did you also set the date?" inquired her father sarcastically.

"No....  Mother and I are considering.... Are you happy over it, dad?"

"Not violently."

"Why?"

"I don’t know anything about him," he snapped.

"Yes, you know that I’m in love with him."

"Certainly; of course.  Very worthy young man, no doubt."

"Also," continued his daughter calmly, "you know that Jim Edgerton is
his closest friend."

"That," said Rivett, "counts some."

"And mother likes him," concluded the girl.

Her father sat staring at her in silence. Suddenly she put her arms
around his neck, and the little man hid his spectacles on her breast for
a second.

"Thank you, dad, darling," she whispered.

"Chrissy—Chrissy—so soon!  I wanted you awhile yet." ... He jerked his
head free, produced a handkerchief, and began busily to polish his
eyeglasses.

"All right," he said brusquely, "I’ll talk it over with your mother....
She knows.... She knows more than I do.  They wouldn’t believe that in
Wall Street, but it’s true."

"Dad?"

"Yes, child."

"Couldn’t we live with you and mother?"

"Sure.  D’you think I’d let any young jackanapes take you entirely away?
You tell him I’ll scalp him if he talks that kind of thing to you." ...
He laughed harshly.  "But I’m a fool, Chrissy; you and I are talking
foolish.... You won’t come back to stay.  You won’t want to."

"I will!"

"No, dear; you don’t know yet....  Your mother and I made our own home.
It was a rough one, Chrissy, but it was ours.  You’ll do the same
ultimately.  It’s part of the game....  Tell your young man to come
here."

The girl slipped away; in a few moments Inwood knocked and entered.  Mr.
Rivett gave him a level and murderous look.

"How about that complication you got yourself into?" he asked harshly.

Inwood turned scarlet.

"I’m out of it."

"With honor?"

"Honorably."

"What was it?"

"You don’t mean to ask me that?"

"Yes, I do! ... But I didn’t expect an answer....  Can you support my
little girl decently?"

"Decently."

"Not in the style to which I have accustomed her?"

"No, sir."

"All right," he snapped.

After a silence the young fellow said:

"Do you disapprove of me?"

"How the devil can I?  I don’t know you. If you make my little girl a
good husband, I’ll love you like a son; if you don’t, I’ll—kill you. You
_look_ all right; but there’s no use talking.... You show me what stuff
you’re made of, and I’ll do my part."

"All right," said Inwood, smiling.

Something in his smile interested Rivett.

"Was your mother a Lawrence?" he demanded suddenly.

"She was born Elizabeth Lawrence."

"Betty Lawrence," he repeated, staring at the younger man.

"Did you know her?" asked Inwood.

"I taught her in school....  Betty Lawrence....  Only two people ever
smiled like that—you and your mother....  You have good blood in you,
Inwood....  I know your father—in Wall Street.  We are on good terms....
Don’t ever be a fool again, will you?"

"No, sir."

They shook hands seriously.  As Inwood left, Dineen came in.

Rivett looked at Dineen without speaking for a full minute, then he said
slowly:

"My daughter is going to be married."

"God bless my soul!" ejaculated the big Irishman—"not _that_ child!"

"Yes; I guess she means business, John."

"When?—in the name of the saints!"

"When she’s ready, I presume....  She’s a good girl....  They’re good
children. They’ve stayed as long as they could.  Their time is nearly
up....  But the smallest hut is a big barn when the children have taken
wing.... I wish I could have seen more of my father and mother....  But
I had to go out into a lean world and hunt a living."

"The best of us have passed that way," observed Dineen; and, after a
moment: "Who’s the lucky divil, Jacob?"

"Young Inwood."

"Stuart Inwood’s boy?"

"That’s the one."

Dineen lit a cigar and, drawing it into vaporous action, ruminated with
enormous thumbs joined.

"It’s good stock," he said, finally; "none better betwixt the Bowling
Green and Patroon Van Courtlandt’s old shebang.  There’s money, too; and
an opera box and a bit of a shack at Newport.  What kind of a lad is
it?"

"He can look me in the face," said Rivett. "Otherwise he looks like
everybody else of his sort, and probably resembles them, too. Ah!"—he
broke out angrily—"these sleek-headed, tailor-made, smooth-faced young
pups from New York, with their pleasant manners when they want anything,
and their ways and means and by-ways and ten-cent brains—God! Dineen, do
they really ever turn into men?  Answer me that!  You’ve lived long
enough to see a new-born snob grow to be thirty.  Do they ever turn into
anything except the harmless fools they’re born?"

Dineen slowly revolved his thumbs and squinted at a sunbeam, while the
smoke from the cigar in his cheek rose to the ceiling in a straight,
thin column.

[Illustration: "Dineen slowly revolved his thumbs and squinted at a
sunbeam."]

"Some of them become men," he said deliberately.  "The most o’ them is
born spots and rots; or, if they’re not, college addles ’em. But, God be
praised! if it wasn’t for them the good people of Reno, Palm Beach, and
Paris, France, would starve entirely.... Jacob, they say there’s a use
even for the San José scale; and cursing would become a lost art barring
the mosquito."

"What do you know about young Inwood?" asked Rivett.

"Nothing; he’s a broker."

"Then we’ve nothing to learn, I guess," said Rivett dryly, "unless he
gets into the papers.... Well, my wife likes him....  She’s always
right, John.  I’ll go and talk to her presently....  What were you
saying about young Edgerton before my daughter came?"

"I said that he’s the same as all the Edgertons. By jimmy!  I started
him on ink wells to see would he stand for it, and he was there every
morning at seven; and he cleaned those ink wells and desks till nobody
knew them—with his busted arm and all.  Then I set him at the ledgers,
and I let him stew for a week. A week was enough to see a good man
wasting his fist and eyes at fifteen per.

"’G’wan into the designing room,’ I said to him, using Doolan as meejum
for my remarks; and I let him stew there with his compass and his
tracing paper, doping out the work of worse than he.

"Then I gave Williamson the kitty-wink. ’Give us a pair of gates for a
gentleman’s estate,’ said Williamson, very damn polite, knowing who was
backin’ the lad for a place.... They’re using the sketch now."

"I told you so," said Rivett calmly.

"Ah, go on!  I told you so!  Let it go at that, Jacob.  So I talked to
Everly, and Everly sent him into the laboratory.  When he isn’t there
he’s nosing around the shops, or asking questions of Cost and McCorkle
over in Jersey, or he’s investigating the Holmes Construction plant."

"He’s got his eye on the game."

"Sure; it’s in him.  There’s iron in every Edgerton.  They’re all full
of ore.  He’s taken longer to open his eyes than the usual litter,
that’s all....  Got playing the art game, you say—like a kitten with a
paper ball.... There’s art in him, too, I guess.  Those gates were all
right....  But—you mean to give him his chance?"

Rivett nodded.  "I am Edgerton, Tennant & Co.  I’d like to have Edgerton
go back there some day....  They were square people.... I might have
used them a little easier.... My wife likes Edgerton....  She wishes
it."

"She wants him to have his chance," mused Dineen.

"What she wants, _I_ want," said Rivett.... "And I might have been
easier on Edgerton, Tennant & Co....  I would have been—if we hadn’t
needed the plant."

Dineen nodded gravely.

"Sure!  A poor corporal of industry like you, Jake, needs what he can
pick up out o’ the ash can."

For a full minute neither spoke.  A slight flush faded from Rivett’s
cheek bones.

"You damned Irishman," he said, wincing, "when are you going back?"

"To-night, I think....  There’s an ash can I haven’t raked over—the
Carrol-Baker Company."

"You’d better fix that," said Rivett dryly; "there may be a lump of slag
or two we can use for filling in ballast."

Dineen winked, rose, deposited the ashes from his cigar on the window
ledge, and sauntered forth—to meet Jack walking swiftly and firmly
toward his father’s study.

"Hello, young man!" exclaimed Dineen, "is the house afire, or has the
brown jug below run dry?"

"No fear," said the young man, smiling, but continuing on his way.
Dineen looked after him with shrewd, blue eyes.

"I’m a monkey," he said to himself, "if that young man isn’t on some
such errand as took his sister to the same place an hour ago. If he is,
God help him! for Jacob’s still sore all over with the news from the
front stoop."

Jack knocked, and his father, who had settled himself for five minutes’
hard thinking, rapped out: "Who’s there?"

"It’s Jack.  May I come in?"

"Come on," said his father grimly, "I am—" but catching sight of his
son’s face he stopped short.

"Father?"

"What?" snapped Rivett senior, instinctively squaring his shoulders.

"May I talk to you as two men ought to talk together, or must I assume
the attitude of a child to its father?"

"Talk as you feel.  I had a notion that you were still my son—maybe I’m
mistaken.  In that case you may try to bully me if you care to.  Go on."

"I didn’t mean that, dad."

"I know you didn’t; but you’ve come in here with your mind already made
up that I won’t do what you want me to do.  That’s no good, Jack.  Go
into everything cocksure that you’ll win out.  It’s the only way you
stand any chance at all.  Proceed."

The boy sat down and gazed absently out of the window; after a few
moments he turned his head and looked at his father.

"Dad," he said, "I’m in love."

Rivett senior regarded him in angry amazement, for a second only; then
the grim mask of a face resumed its weasel-eyed and expressionless
immobility.

"Babies have to go through teething, too," he observed.

Jack said pleasantly: "Wouldn’t you rather I came to you and told you
about it?"

"Yes; a boy is all right who tells his parents.  Who is the girl?"

"Silvette."

An unaccustomed color dyed Mr. Rivett’s pallid temples.

"Oh!  Have you informed her?"

"Yes."

Rivett’s teeth met under the walrus mustache, parted, met, and ground
together; but his son saw only the jaw muscles move slightly in the lean
face.

"Silvette is a—an interesting young girl," said Rivett with an effort;
"but she is one of my employees, and not the sort of woman I wish my son
to marry."

"So she says," observed Jack quietly.

"_Who_ says _what_?"

"Silvette said exactly what you have just said—that she is your
employee, and her sense of honor will not permit her to listen to me."

"Oh! ... She said that, did she? ... Oh! ... Did she tell you to tell me
her answer?"

"No; she told me that if I uttered one word on the subject to you, she
would leave your service in twenty-four hours."

His father’s eyes fairly bored into him like augers.

"And yet you’ve done it?"

"I’ve taken the chance—yes."

"Why?"

"Because I love her."

"You’ll have that kind of pip several times before you pick the right
one, Jack."

"No; I’m like you."

"What’s that?"

"I say that I am like you, dad....  I don’t believe there was ever
anybody but mother. Was there?"

"How about that little Beaumont girl you met at Hot Springs?" asked his
father.

"I taught her to shoot a pistol.  I liked her, but that was all.
Silvette is different."

Somehow, the memory of a girl he had once taught came into Mr. Rivett’s
mind—Betty Lawrence—who smiled as nobody else ever had smiled except her
own son—years afterwards—years and years afterwards.

He raised his sunken head and looked hard at his son.

"I don’t want you to marry her, Jack," he said.

"Why?"

"I had other plans for you.  There are girls in New York who——"

"There are girls everywhere, but only one Silvette Tennant; and I am
like you, father."

"You don’t show it now," retorted Rivett sharply.  "Do you think I’d
spoil my chances—no, my certainty in New York, as you are trying to do?"

"You only got as far as Mills Corners, dad; and you had not even seen
New York."

"I don’t want you to marry her," repeated his father doggedly.

"Why?—once more."

"Because—I don’t know anything about her.  She gambles, too!"

"Would you care whether the girl you meant to pick out for me plays
cards for stakes?"

"I certainly—"  He stopped abruptly, then: "She smokes and drinks like a
man!"

"Get some woman to ask you to dine with her at the Convent Club some
evening," said Jack, smiling.

"Who is Silvette Tennant, anyway?" demanded his father.

"You ought to know something about the Tennants, dad.  You reorganized
their firm."

"I never heard of her or her sister before I hired them," said his
father, reddening.

"Dad, be square with me.  Do you like her?"

"What?"

"Do you like Silvette?"

"I like her sister."

"And Silvette?"

"Yes, damn it, I do!"

Jack laughed.

"So do I," he said; "but she has refused me."

"She knew enough to do it; she is a girl of sense.  Certainly, I like
her.  She knows well enough that she has no right to encourage you."

"She knows something else, too."

"What’s that?"

"She knows that she doesn’t care for me anyway," said the boy with a
quiet simplicity that, somehow, left a confused and restless resentment
in Mr. Rivett’s breast.

"Doesn’t care for you?" repeated his father slowly.  "She’d care for you
fast enough if she dared."

"Dared!" Jack laughed.  "If she had cared for me, she’d have told me—and
sent me about my business all the same; don’t worry about that.  But she
doesn’t care about me....  I think, sweet and generous as she is, she
does not consider our family as particularly desirable for an alliance."

"What!  My employee!"

"Why, dad, our employing her puts us at her mercy.  Didn’t you realize
that?"

The elder man sat silent, glaring at his son through his great convex
spectacles.

"So _that_ is why this girl wouldn’t listen to you?" he said.

"Her reason was that she, being in your employment, occupied a position
of trust, and that it would be dishonest in her to take advantage of it
by encouraging your only son."

"Did she say that?"

"Almost word for word."

"When?"

"Long ago."

"Oh!  So this has been going on a long while?"

"I’ve bothered her a long while; I’ve contrived to make her miserable.
She does her best to keep away from me.  I don’t know what to do," said
the boy miserably.

"Well, you’ve done it now, anyway; you’ve come to me, and told me
against her orders. Now, she’ll go—if I tell her."

"I shall tell her; I couldn’t do this without being honest enough to
tell her that I’ve done it."

"But—you say she’ll go away."

"She certainly will, unless you ask her to remain."

"I?"

"Yes; you, dad."

"Do you think I’m going to deliberately bite my own head off?"

Jack smiled forlornly.  "If you don’t ask her to stay, you’ll be biting
my head off; but I won’t need a head if she goes, so bite away, dad, if
you’re going to."

Rivett stared at him in stony silence.

"Do you know what your sister has done?"

"Yes; Inwood is a corker.  I’m terribly glad."

"Oh, _are_ you!"

"Aren’t you?"

"Confound it! how do I know whether I’m glad or not to see the house
emptying itself of all your mother and I care for—"  He stopped with a
dry catch in his throat, then resumed more cautiously:

"I thought Chrissy’s tale of woe was sufficient for one morning, but
here you come galloping in with one that beats hers to a batter! How do
you suppose I like it?  I expected to have my children with me for a
while.... Yesterday you were in the cradle....  To-day you’re up and off
and out into the world with a girl I never saw before last June! Jack!
Jack! what the devil’s the matter with everything!"

"Isn’t everything about as it was when you were my age, father?"

"No, it isn’t.  If anybody had predicted these times, he’d have been
locked up for a lunatic!  What with luxury, and fashions, and folderol,
and high finance, and cards, and cocktails, and cigarettes——"

"I don’t mean the details, dad; but isn’t it all about the same—the
birth, growth, courtship, parting?  Isn’t it?"

The older man was silent.

Jack rose and stood by the window watching the big clouds drifting
across the sky.

"Jack," said his father, "why did you come here to tell me this?"

"Mother said I had better."

"Your _mother_!" he exclaimed, horrified.

"Yes; I told her first, of course—even before I spoke to Silvette."

"She never said—one—word to me," murmured Rivett vacantly.

"She promised not to before I would tell her."

"Do you mean to say that your mother _approves_?"

"She said she would if you did....  And all I ask of you is to invite
Silvette to overlook what I’ve said and done, and request her to
remain."

"If she doesn’t care for you," said Mr. Rivett, "what do you want her to
remain for?"

Jack’s eye met his father’s.

"So that I can have a chance to win her," he said doggedly, "with my
parents’ full approval."

Rivett rose, furious.

"You stay here until I’ve talked to your mother!" he barked, and went
out slamming the door.

Jack sat down prepared to wait, but it was not five minutes before his
father came in.

"I’ve seen your mother.  Clear out of here! That young lady of yours is
coming."

"Here?"

"Yes, here.  If you don’t go out, I’ll drop you out of the window—old as
I am."

"Dad!  You’re a brick!"

"Well, you’ll get that brick in the neck if you don’t hustle!"

Jack laughed and held out his hand; his father took it, tried to
speak—only succeeded in swearing.  The boy went out.  When the girl
entered, Mr. Rivett was standing by the window, wiping his glasses for
the second time that morning.

He turned, nodded, placed a chair for Silvette, but remained standing.

"I don’t suppose you’ve any notion why I’ve asked you to come in here.
Have you?"

"Not the slightest," she said, smiling.

"I suppose you think it’s on business?"

"Naturally."

"Why naturally."

"Because," said Silvette, laughing, "our relations are on a business
basis."

"Do you consider them entirely so?"

"I—am obliged to, am I not?"

"Don’t you like us?" he asked bluntly.

"What an odd question!  Of course, I do. I’m in love with your wife."

"_Not_ with me?"

She laughed gayly.  "You’ve evidently discovered that Diana and I like
you immensely."

"Do you?  Really?"

"Of course; you’ve been very charming to us.  As for Christine, we care
a great deal for her—very sincerely and deeply, Mr. Rivett."

"What about Jack?" asked Mr. Rivett casually.

A slight tinge of color rose and spread in the girl’s pretty cheeks.

"Everybody likes Jack," she said briefly.

"Do _you_?"

"Certainly."

"That’s what I wanted to find out.  That’s why I asked you to come
here."

The girl looked at him, startled, incredulous of her own hearing.

"I don’t understand," she said.

"Then I’ll be plainer.  Jack has told me that he wishes to marry you."

The crimson stained her from throat to temple, but she rose with perfect
self-possession.

"I think," she said quietly, "that this severs our business relations."

"Not unless you wish it."

"I do wish it."

"Why?"

"Because I warned Jack that one word of this matter to you would mean my
leaving Adriutha."

"Why?"

"Because I am employed here by you, and Jack is your son," she said
coldly.

"Do you mean to leave us?"

"I must."

"You need not."

"You are very kind, but my service is of no further value."

"I ask you to remain," he said slowly. "You have already rendered me
service I could never pay for.  I ask you to remain with us—as our
guest, if you must; as Jack’s betrothed, if you will."

She flushed again, brightly, astonished.

"But—but I don’t—I am not in love—with Jack!" she stammered.  "He knows
it.  I have told him so....  I like him immensely.... he is a dear
boy—generous, clever, charming, considerate....  I never liked any man
better....  But I _don’t_ love him, Mr. Rivett."

"That’s up to him, isn’t it?" asked Rivett dryly.  "I can’t make you
love my boy; neither can his mother.  Mothers can do most things.
Probably Jack is young enough to think she can make you love him; but I
can’t help that, Miss Tennant.  All I can do is to ask you to remain....
And to say—that if you ever come to care for Jack, my only boy, his
mother will welcome you as our daughter—and so will I."

Then Silvette did a curious thing.  She sat down at Mr. Rivett’s desk
and bent her head over the blotter, and sat so, with her small
handkerchief against her eyes.

There was not a sound from her nor from Mr. Rivett.

For a long while she sat there, finally burying her face in her
handkerchief and both hands.

Mr. Rivett bent over her presently.

"Silvette?"

She merely nodded in sign that she had heard him.

He said quietly: "You _are_ in love with Jack."

She sat motionless.

"Your loyalty to honor deceived a very gentle heart," he said; "you
loved him all the time."

[Illustration: "’Your loyalty to honor deceived a very gentle heart,’ he
said."]

She made no sign, no movement.

"We could ask no better woman for our daughter," he said.  "I was very
blind.  Jack knew, but his mother knew best of all.  My wife is very
wise, Silvette—far wiser than I.... And I have—I am in debt—to the name
you bear.  I thought by giving you my boy I was canceling it....  You
put me under obligations I am unable to meet—unless you can accept
my—affection—as collateral.  Can you, child?"

Her hand moved slightly—moved farther across the polished surface of the
desk.  His hand fell over it.

"Thank you," he said.

They remained silent for a few moments; then he gently relinquished her
hand and went out, leaving the door just ajar.

When Silvette lifted her head from the desk, she knew that Jack had
entered.

Tall and quiet, he stood looking at her; tall and pale, she rose, looked
at him steadily, came toward him as he moved toward her, and laid both
hands fearlessly in his.

"I didn’t know," she said.  "I wouldn’t let myself even think of you....
Do you want me, Jack?"

Then down he went on one knee, and kissed hers, and her hands, and her
gown; and, confused, she drew away, then waited as he rose waited,
looking at him as his arm encircled her.

Very gravely they exchanged their first kiss.

That seemed to break the divine spell, for they found their tongues very
quickly now, and, sitting perched on his father’s desk, side by side,
feet hanging, and hand in hand, they succumbed to the rapture of
garrulity, asking Love’s same old questions with all the ardor of
neophytes, and answering as Love has answered for many a century, and
will answer for many more—tritely, passionately, and with that incurable
redundance of which lovers alone are masters.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                               *CUI MALO*


For the present, it was decided between Mr. Rivett and his wife that the
engagements of both their children should be kept secret.

Except those immediately concerned, only the parents, Diana, and Mr.
Dineen knew; and Edgerton, as the nearest male relative of Silvette, was
to be informed.

It had been left to Diana to inform him. Silvette wrote a hasty and
cordial note for her sister to inclose; then Diana took her writing
materials up to the mossy ledge in the woods from where Edgerton and she
had once taken the Path to Yesterday on that sun-drenched morning so
long—so long ago.

She had never been there since.  Once, strolling with Scott Wallace, he
had espied the ledge, climbed thither, and called to her to join him in
a new-found wonderland.

But it was not new-found to her, and the wonder of it had departed; and
she continued on along the river bank below, heedless of his enthusiasm
and persuasion.

Now something drew her there.  What the sentiment was she did not
analyze.  Perhaps it was because the girl knew no spot as intimate, no
fitter place in which to write him of her sister’s happiness.

The place had changed with the season; yellowing leaves clothed the
trees; the beds of moss had turned to vast reaches of golden velvet;
naked branches crossed and recrossed above in delicate network against
the sky.

Here was the silver birch against which she had leaned when his arms
were round her and her lips touched his; there he had lain at her feet,
stretched across that bed of gilded moss—only a boy then, smiling, idle,
unawakened.

She seated herself exactly as she had sat that day, and looked at the
empty place where once, so long ago, life had begun and ended for
her—the place of self-sacrifice, the altar where her heart had died to
appease the Fates and mollify the mischief of the far white gods.

Among the yellow leaves a blue jay screamed through the stillness; and
presently she saw him for a moment, a flash of azure and silver,
high-winging from his invaded sanctuary.

Behind him he left a silence, deeper for the constant whisper of falling
leaves, stranger for the far sighing of the unseen stream below.

She bent over and searched for the imprint of her fingers in the moss
where he had kissed them unrebuked.  Many a sun and moon and rain had
smoothed out that delicate sign manual long since.  Only upon her heart
the imprint of his lips remained.

Then—for the path was easy to her; alas! too easy—she sent her spirit
back along the Road to Yesterday; and soon she heard the starlings
piping and saw the sky all rose and gold above the river; and she saw
him, and heard his voice, talking of starlings and of children.

If a single bright tear fell, the moss buried it; and when at last she
could see her letter paper through glimmering lashes, she inked her pen
and set her small, sun-tanned hand resolutely to the task before her:

"Jim, dear, Silvette is going to marry Jack Rivett.  She is supremely
happy.  I inclose her note to you.

"Only the families concerned know about it yet.  It is to be announced
in December. The date of the wedding has not yet been fixed.

"I write you this pleasant news because you are our nearest relative.

"In my last letter I told you that Silvette did not love him.  I was
wrong; she did love him all the while, but she was too decent to know
it.  So how on earth was I to suspect it? I didn’t, and she didn’t, and
if it hadn’t been for Jack kicking over the traces and cantering away
out of bounds, there probably would have been a tragedy in the family;
for Silvette and I had your kind and sensible letter, saying that the
only honorable thing to do was to take the first opportunity to withdraw
from Adriutha, and we had decided you were right.

"But man proposes, Jim, and the far gods laugh at him—not unkindly,
sometimes.  My little sister is radiantly happy.  Jack is a dear; so is
his sister and parents.

"It amuses me to realize that I have come to be a purveyor of marital
news to you. First, it was Christine and Mr. Inwood; now it’s Silvette
and Jack.  The nearest I can come to rounding out the classical triad of
the blessed is to inform you, monsieur, that the symptoms of Colonel
Curmew are becoming acute.  He tried to take my hand in the billiard
room—_not_ my bridge hand, either.

"He retains my hand too long when he helps me into a canoe.  The other
day I was horribly tempted to tip him into the river; he said such silly
things and popped his eyes and went into rhapsodies over my ankles—which
was slightly infringing les convenances, wasn’t it?

"But he’s merely a foolish, pompous, well-meaning man, slightly silly
about all women, but with a very kind heart, I fancy.  He is always
doing things for me, always strutting around me and shooting his cuffs
and curling his mustaches.  Half the time I don’t understand his
talk—his jokes and apparently witty innuendoes, which perhaps are very
funny, for he laughs at them himself, and I have to smile and pretend I
am not stupid.

"No flight has occurred, although there was a white frost Saturday
night.

"The shooting brotherhood are anxious and gloomy.  Some even declare
that a flight did occur Saturday night; that the birds remained with us
over Sunday, when nobody could shoot, and left Sunday night, which was
bitter cold and froze water in the garden.

"I don’t know about such things—and don’t care very much.  It seems to
me that these big, red-faced men make a ridiculous to-do about the
migrations of a few small birds.

"Scott Wallace is the laziest man—which reminds me in time, Jim, to
speak about your apparent attitude toward Scott.  I merely wrote you
that you would like him if you knew him.

"To my surprise, you wrote that you, personally, had no use for the kind
of man I described.

"Was that a snub for me or for Scott? I’m sorry I spoke of him.  To me
he is a nice, wholesome, amusing fellow, so friendly to everybody that,
somehow, your letter—what you said in it about a man you never met—hurt
me.  You _would_ like him if you knew him.  So, with this feminine
prerogative, I close my lips about Scott Wallace for the present and the
future.

"I am glad your arm is practically well; but what makes me entirely
contented is what you say of your constant and bewildering promotions.
Best of all is what I read between the lines—that you really love the
business—the business of generations of Edgertons; and you, the last of
them—but not the last, God willing!—are plunging into the game up to
your neck, interested, optimistic, enthusiastic, fitting yourself for
that dignified place which is yours, Jim, by every right.

"Now that it’s over, and the mist blown clear of your path forever, I
want to confess to you how dreadfully I felt to see you here in such a
capacity.  More than that, your light talk about the arts, your light
and graceful accomplishments in them, your tendency to drift back toward
a career for which you are no more fitted than I—all these things
troubled me deeply, so that, sometimes, I even dreamed of them, and
finally came to regard your facility with actual fear, so jealous was I
for your real career, so anxious was I that you should become your real
self.

"I suppose you will scarcely believe it, Jim, when I tell you that this
feeling began from the very moment when you offered to go with Silvette
and me to Adriutha.  Somehow, blindly, I understood even then that it
was not the thing for you to do; and, remember, I knew you scarcely at
all.

"Yet my instinct resented your going, and if I did not actually protest,
perhaps you may recollect that my attitude was not cordial; that you had
to ask me many times for my vote; that, after all, I never cast it, but
simply refrained from voting at all.

"I suppose this was cowardly in me; yet, Jim, what else could I have
done?  I scarcely knew you; I dared not appear ungrateful after your
kindness to Silvette and to me.

"Forgive this self-defense.  I merely wanted you to know; I only wish
you to understand that, at heart anyway, I have been, from the
beginning, loyal to the best interests of a friend and a kinsman who was
most kind to two girls alone in the world."


"This is a still, golden, autumn world—autumn no longer, alas! for we
are already well along in November.  But autumn lingers in this land of
hills and waters, and the frost was not severe enough to blacken the
late roses.  If the weather is unseasonable, it is also charming, and I
love it.  Russet and gold always did fascinate me—like the hangings and
tapestries in your studio, with the dusty sunlight falling over all.

"Eh bien, monsieur, I must conclude my monologue.  You are a brave man
if you have read as far as the name you gave me once—centuries ago.

"JAPONETTE."


She closed and sealed her letter, wrote his name on the envelope, rested
awhile, blue eyes seeing nothing; then, touching the envelope with her
lips, she laid it between the leaves of her portfolio.

Since that day in this very place, Edgerton had spoken no more of love
to her.  She knew that he never would again, that what had begun here on
the Path to Yesterday had ended where the path ended.  Never again would
he retrace those steps with her; never again travel them alone.  For it
was a lost road to him, a blind trail already overgrown with briars.
The days made it fainter, the months were hiding it, the years would
obliterate it for him.  But for her, alas—she had many a pilgrimage yet
to make along that briar-grown path; and many a scar, yet unmade, must
heal before that path closed before her pilgrim feet, and shut out
forever from her eyes the hidden shrine it led to, where the sky was
rosy above the river and the starlings called through the golden light
of Paradise.

And now, as she stood up, the subtle scent of autumn hung heavy in the
air—a faint odor of ripening, hinting of decay and death. Summer had
gone indeed—on earth and in her heart.

Never again would life be the same to her after this day, in this place,
alone with memory; never again would she be the same.  How old her heart
had become—how old—how old! O amari dies!  O flebiles noctes!


She rode that afternoon with Colonel Curmew, accepting him instead of
another because she thought his chatter might leave her freer to follow
her own thoughts.

But after a while it seemed to her as though she could no longer endure
them, and that the colonel’s inanities were preferable.

They were riding down a mountain road, the horses picking a cautious way
among the scattered stones.

He was paying court to her, as usual, and she had been riding on,
smiling absently, preoccupied with her own thoughts and mentally
oblivious to him, when there came a clatter of stones from behind, and
Scott Wallace galloped recklessly up at the risk of his horse’s neck as
well as his own.

"Halloo!" he said cheerfully; "hope I’m not smashing a twosome,
colonel."

The colonel glanced sourly at him.  Diana laughed with pleasure: "Not at
all, Scott! Colonel Curmew and I are old acquaintances, and the
resources of sentiment were long ago exhausted between us.  Where are
you going?"

"Nowhere; I just felt like a gallop.  All the chaps are kickin’ over the
flight, which either isn’t goin’ to materialize or passed over Sunday
and made boobs of the bunch of us. Where are _you_ goin’?"

"Nowhere in particular; come with us.  My nerves needed soothing, so I
took the colonel along."

"As a tonic or quieter?" asked Wallace so seriously that Diana threw
back her pretty head and the woodlands were melodious.

The colonel laughed loudly, too, and began to hate young Wallace with a
hatred that passes all understanding.

Wallace turned to her.  "What’s wrong with _your_ nerves?  I supposed
you hadn’t any."

"I didn’t know it either, Scott.  Probably I’ve played with cards and
cigarettes too hard. For all the sunshine, to-day has been a gray one
for me....  Shall we gallop?"

She launched her horse into a trot, a canter, then into a dead run.
Behind her tore the two men through the afternoon sunlight, on, on,
until their winded mounts topped the homeward crest of the hill and they
looked down on the meadows of Adriutha.

They wended their way down the mountain in silence—Diana, grave and
apparently tired; Wallace smiling slightly, and glancing at her from
moment to moment; Colonel Curmew pop-eyed, expressionless, curling his
mustache with gloved fingers.

He was furious with Diana, with Wallace, with himself.  Yet even he
could not see how he might have resented the young man’s intrusion
otherwise than by the lack of cordiality which he had certainly
manifested.  Besides Diana had invited him to remain with them.  Of what
low tricks women are capable! Because she knew well enough that he had
desired and sought a tête-à-tête.

Curling his mustache tighter, he rode on, a good figure in the saddle
always—ruminating, considering, angry because of the interruption.

For Colonel Follis Curmew had for days, now, been carefully preparing
the way for something he meant to say to Diana.  He was a cautious man
with women; he reconnoitered by degrees, inch by inch, carefully
watching effect.  Hint, innuendo, double meanings, sly feelers, veiled
intent, was the strategy he usually employed at first, skirmishing as
close to the dead line as he dared; furtive, alert, ready always for a
brilliant and resistless climax at the psychological moment.

A few minutes ago he had believed that the psychological moment was
approaching.  He had said one or two things so cleverly that not the
least resentment had altered her smile; but how was he to know that, if
she had heard him at all, she had not in the least understood him?  It
takes more than one to play a game of that kind.  The trouble was that
her smiling inattention had deceived him—had always deceived him.  He
was entirely persuaded that she had drifted into the game long ago.

Surely, surely the psychological moment had been close at hand when that
big fool of a boy had come clattering downhill and smashed their
approaching understanding into smithereens for the moment.  The colonel
silently damned him as he rode.  It took time and patience to gather up
and piece together the fragments and smithereens; it took skill and
watchfulness to choose another such propitious day and hour—to select
the scenery and the moment for what he meant to say to this young girl.

As he dismounted her at the foot of the terrace he pressed her arm
significantly, and said under his breath:

"Can we get away for a moment together this evening?"

Wallace was close by, and the colonel spoke so low and pinched so
discreetly that she neither understood nor noticed his amenities, so she
merely nodded smilingly, thanked him for his escort, and ran up the
steps beside Wallace.

"I’ll be in the billiard room later, if that interests you," she called
back over her shoulder to Wallace as she ascended the stairs.

"It certainly does!" he replied promptly, and went away to change.

Diana continued on to her own room, disturbing Jack and Silvette on the
stairs, and gaily jeering at them as she banged the door. A curious
reaction had set in from the sadness of the morning—a feverish desire to
escape from herself, from the misery that lay always heavy in her
breast, the relentless hours that weighted her heart so that its dull
beating had become a burden.

The bath refreshed her; so did the tea.  She put on her little Japanese
gown and her straw sandals, and curled up by the window, sipping her tea
and watching the declining sun.

Dusk came swiftly, and with it Silvette who bent over and kissed her,
and tasted the tea, and wandered about the rooms gossiping, too full of
the joy of living to endure silence in herself or in anybody else.

Pangs of swift remorse and self-reproach stabbed her at intervals when
she thought of her own happiness and remembered Diana’s late unhappy
affair.

How far Diana had cured herself, she did not know, but she knew that her
sister was still more or less unhappy about Edgerton.

"Did you send him my note?" she inquired.

"Yes: I wrote him, and inclosed it."

"He’s a dear boy....  How well he must be doing!  He ought to go down on
his knees and thank you every day of his life for what he is turning out
to be."

"He would have turned out all right anyway, sooner or later."

"Well, he’s a horrid pig if he isn’t grateful to you....  I don’t
suppose he has the slightest idea what his regeneration cost you."

"Don’t talk that way, Silvie."

"What way?  I’m merely saying——"

"Don’t say it, dear....  If it cost me anything, he is never going to
know it."

Silvette looked at her wistfully.  "If I could only see you as happy as
I am, Di.... Sometimes I can scarcely bear to be as happy as I am, and
remember that you are not sharing it."

"True," said Diana, smiling; "Jack can’t marry us both, so we can’t
share your happiness, dear."

Silvette came and sat on the arm of the chair, drawing one arm about
Diana’s neck.

"Do you still care for him very much?" she asked sorrowfully.

"Very much."

"Do you think it will last?"

"Yes."

"What are you going to do?"

"Nothing."

"Isn’t there something to do?"

"Nothing."

"Perhaps, all this time he really cares for you."

"There is not the slightest possibility.  I had my chance; he cared for
me—at that moment—when he told me so....  Those men out there"—she made
a vague gesture toward the unseen hills—"are no more deadly cool when
they shoot than was I when I deliberately killed in him whatever love he
may have had for me....  I slew it, I tell you.  There is no
resurrection for dead things."

Silvette sighed heavily, and laid her smooth cheek against her sister’s
hair.

"Still," she murmured half to herself, "there are miracles."

"There _were_."

"There may be others yet."

"No; I wounded his pride."

"You aroused it."

"By wounding it, and at the expense of what fell dead beside it.  Love
died that day, little sister, and for that death there is no
reincarnation."

Again the feverish desire for escape came over her, seeming to burn
through every vein, and she sprang to her feet and rang for the maid.

"I’m likely to do almost anything to-night," she said.  "Shall I make it
a double event when you’re ready?"

"A double—what?"

"Double event—double wedding?  I can easily do so.  Is it a good way to
drown your griefs, Silvie?  Because the prospect of being alone after
you and Jack marry actually terrifies me."

"You little goose, you’ll live with us!"

"I see myself doing it!—the superfluous spinster to be reckoned with,
counted in at dinners, mollified by kindness, secretly feared for her
acidulated tongue, to be employed later in either bribing or
disciplining the children."

"Di!"

"What?"

"If—in the—the——"

"Course of human events——"

"Jack and I have children," continued Silvette, flushing, "we’ll also
have nurses to look out for the grubby little things."

"Grubby!  You don’t know what you’re saying.  You’ll be the most
adoring—and adorable mother——"

"Well, please don’t talk about it....  I don’t care for children now....
I don’t know how I’ll feel later."

Diana stood in the middle of the room—the smile fading from her face,
her small hands clenching.

"I’ve learned to like children," she said. "I’ve learned to love them,
somehow—even babies....  I want one of my own," she added fiercely.  "I
wish for one very much; and if I can’t have one—and it’s impossible, of
course—I—I’ll marry some man and have one!"

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Silvette, horrified, "what are you talking
about?  I’ll let you have one of mine!"

"I don’t want yours!  How do you know you’ll have any?  How do you know
you’ll have more than one?"

Her eyebrows were bent inward, her lips compressed; she turned her head
and stared out at the stars—from where, they say, all babies come, and
where they all return at last.

"You know," she said calmly, "that I wouldn’t really do such a
thing—even to have what I care for so much....  And yet—if a woman is
tired, hopeless, alone, isn’t marrying some man a help to her?  Can’t
she stand the passing years better?  Doesn’t it give her some respite
from the eternal pain—here"—she laid a slim hand on her breast—"doesn’t
it give her something to live for, especially if children should come?
I don’t know, Silvie; I ask you because I’m tired and confused with the
pain of it."

"My darling!"

She dropped her head on Silvette’s shoulder for a moment; then, as the
maid knocked, lifted it calmly and bade her come in.


That night at dinner she was very gay—a charming, sparkling, bewildering
creature. Through and through Colonel Curmew shot intermittent pangs of
jealousy and doubt, mercifully assuaged by hope; through and through
Scott Wallace her blue eyes seemed to penetrate, exposing to her
laughing gaze his youthful and very susceptible heart.

[Illustration: "That night at dinner she was very gay—a charming,
sparkling, bewildering creature."]

"Certainly I’m bowled over," he admitted cheerfully to himself.  "She is
the cunnin’est thing that ever missed a pheasant; but she’s found me,
all right, with both barrels, and the sky’s full of feathers, and I’m on
the sod, kickin’."

Me managed to tell her so that evening, in language sportsmanlike and
picturesque, before they cut for partners at auction.  She was standing
on the stairs, two steps up; he below her, with his handsome face
lifted.

"All you’ve got to do is to send your dogs forward, and retrieve me,
Diana.  I’m grassed in the open in plain sight."

"Suppose I _should_ take you up, Scott?"

"Is it a go?"

She smiled down at him.

"Take care, young man.  I’m approaching spinsterhood at a terrifying
speed.  How do you know that I may not clutch wildly at you?"

"For Heaven’s sake, clutch!" he urged her.

"How?  Shall I roll up my eyes and whisper, ’Oh, Scott!’—or shall I take
a flying leap at you from here, and rope you before you can get away?
Instruct me, please, because I really don’t know as much about such
customs as perhaps you think I do."

"Take the flyer, Diana; I’ll catch you.  Are you ready?  Come on; be a
sport!"

"I can’t be a sport, Scott.  I try; I make a brave effort to be
cigaretteful and naughty, but—I’m ashamed to say it isn’t in me.  Now
you’ll run, I suppose."

"After you—yes....  Diana, I do love you.  I haven’t said it right,
that’s all.  Will you marry me and make somethin’ out of me besides a
loafin’ lout in puttees?"

"Oh, Scott, you’re so beautiful in puttees! I wouldn’t make anything
else out of you if I could; you must be perfectly gorgeous in pink."

"Come down to the next hunt ball and see. They’re a fine bunch at
Meadowbrook.  You’ll like ’em; maybe you’ll learn to like me."

"I do now, you scatter-brain!  I adore you, Scott; but, you know, love
is a different game."

"That’ll come all right," he protested. "When you’re the missus, and you
see me come a cropper over five bars, you’ll suddenly wake up to find
you love hubby.  And I won’t be hurt, but you’ll think I am, and you’ll
pull up and scramble down and look me over, and cover my pale and
beautiful face with kisses and—I’ll play foxy and let you," he ended
with pleased satisfaction.

The smile on her face had suddenly become fixed: for what he was saying
had conjured up a vision of the polo field, and a young fellow in white
picking himself up from the trampled sod.

Wallace, looking around to see that the hall was empty, sprang up the
two steps and took her hand in his.

"Diana, I do love you dearly," he said. "Will you take me on for a trial
gallop?"

"Do you mean an engagement?" she said, looking him over.

"Yes, I do; will you?"

"What kind of an engagement?"

"The regular—with a sparkler on the side. Will you, Di?"

"No, you very slangy young man, I won’t."

"Well, then—then—what kind of an engagement do you suggest?" he asked
cheerfully. "Just the circingle and halter kind?"

"What kind is that, Scott?"

"Oh, an understanding that you’re not bitted and bridled yet."

"You mean that the engagement lasts during my pleasure?"

"Yes, that’s it."

"And ends in marriage—or a very, very kind note?" she asked, laughing.

"Sure thing!  Am I on?"

She considered him, smilingly.

"If you like," she said.

"Oh, I _do_ like!  It’s awf’lly good of you, Diana....  Would you be
gracious enough to wear a sparkler?"

"Not yet, Scott."

"Oh, that’s all right—whenever you say."  He looked up at her, blushing.
"Do you mind if I kiss you?"

She looked at him for a second, then impulsively bent forward and kissed
him squarely.

"You nice boy," she said gently; "you nice, nice boy.  I wish the world
were fuller of your sort....  I don’t love you, Scott.... I don’t
suppose I shall....  But if you knew what I feel for you, I believe you
wouldn’t exchange it for any love I could ever give you.... Shall we go
into the billiard room?  I’m playing at Colonel Curmew’s table, and he’s
probably perfectly furious at being kept waiting."

She gave his hand a friendly pressure as he released it, laughed,
blushed, and turned away toward the billiard room, where the clamor was
already audible.

They parted at the door, where she met her sister in conversation with
Mr. Rivett.

"Diana," she said, "Mr. Rivett and I are going to town on the early
train.  You know he goes every week, and I’ve simply got to do some
shopping.  Will you come with us?"

Diana’s heart gave a bound.  To her, New York had become merely the
abiding place of Edgerton, and every mention of it started her pulses.

"Oh, do come, Di," urged her sister.  "If you’ll come, we’ll have Jim to
dinner at the Plaza.  All the theaters are open, too, and we can have a
jolly time."

"How on earth is Jack going to bear it?" asked Diana, laughing.

"Bear it?  Did you suppose Jack wasn’t coming?" asked Silvette so
naïvely that the corners of Mr. Rivett’s eyes cracked into wrinkles.

"All right, I’ll come," said Diana, with never a thought for Scott
Wallace; but, thinking of Edgerton, she had meant to go from the first.

As Silvette, on her future father-in-law’s arm, walked on toward the
drawing-room, Colonel Curmew appeared from the billiard room.

"Oh," said Diana, "I am so sorry to have kept you waiting.  I was
talking to my sister about going to town to-morrow."

"I want to see you before you go," said Curmew in a low voice.  "It
can’t be done now—they’re waiting for us, and Mrs. Wemyss is developing
a temper.  When can I see you?"

"Why, I don’t know," she said, smiling. "What have you to say to me that
cannot be said now?"

The colonel’s eyes popped, and he leered at her, not doubting her
coquetry.

"On the terrace after cards," he said, curling his mustache.  "Is that
understood?"

"Indeed, it is not, Colonel Curmew!" she said, amused.  "I shall retire
early, because I have an early train to catch."

The colonel’s face darkened.  There were limits to coquetry.

"When did you decide to go?"

"A few minutes ago."

"You knew I had something to say to you?"

"I knew nothing of the sort.  And what has it to do with my going to
town, anyway?"

The colonel had only a few moments to decide.

"How long will you be in town?"

"I don’t know."

"Where will you be?"

He wearied her, and to be rid of him she thoughtlessly gave him the
address at the Plaza.

"I’ll be in town for a day or two," he said, leering at her once more.

If she heard, she paid no heed, for she was already entering the
billiard room with a gay gesture and a smile for Wallace, who waved his
hand in reply, and looked volumes at her across the hubbub.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                            *DESUNT CÆTERA*


Silvette and Diana, in one of Mr. Rivett’s town limousines, had shopped
to their hearts’ satisfaction, inspected fashions for the coming winter
in hats and furs and gowns and various intimate affairs of flimsier
fabric, had whirled away down town to lunch with Mr. Rivett and Mr.
Dineen at the Iron and Steel Club, then whirled up town again to resume
the delicious exploration of those glittering Fifth Avenue shops which
line that thoroughfare from Madison Square to the gilded battle horse
and its rider in two almost unbroken ranks.

In that magic land, where trousseaux are assembled and garnered by
pretty brides to be, Silvette lingered, fascinated; but her rapid,
intelligent survey was only preliminary as yet. She and Diana were
merely en vidette; official inspection and an advance in force would
follow later.

But, oh, the jewels and the furs and the lovely laces and the heavenly
hats!

Every shop was now in full swing toward the culminating, scintillating
transformation of Christmas; the avenue was crowded with flashing
automobiles and carriages, the florists’ windows were beautiful, the
sidewalks crowded.

Men sold violets everywhere at street corners or offered enormous,
orange-tinted chrysanthemums nodding on long stems; giant policemen on
foot kept busy ward at every crossing; superb mounted police calmly
stemmed the twin torrents and, with lifted hand, quieted the maelstrom.
Far to the south, in snowy magnificence against the sky, the huge marble
tower brooded under its golden lantern above the city’s roar; northward
the naked trees of the park turned ruddy and golden in the eye of the
level sun.

And all of it the two young girls beheld, and part of it they
were—sometimes afoot in the throng, sometimes in their limousine,
looking out with enchanted eyes upon all this magic—magic only, alas! to
the unspoiled eyes of youth.

From time to time Silvette had stopped at any convenient place to
telephone Edgerton, calling him up at his various points of possible
contact.  She had telegraphed him the morning that they left Adriutha,
which was the day before, but, as time passed, it became evident that he
had not yet received the telegram.

Some days ago he had gone to Pittsburg at Mr. Dineen’s suggestion.  On
his way back he was to stop at Philadelphia and Jersey City.

Rivett said at luncheon that he’d probably return to his rooms before
dining, and find their telegram in time to join them at the Plaza for
dinner.

But he didn’t come, nor did any word arrive from him; and Silvette and
Jack went off to the New Theater to see "The Thunderbolt" matchlessly
staged and acted in a matchless theater; and Rivett offered to take
Diana anywhere.

But the girl was sick at heart under her smiling, feverish gayety, and
the brilliant darkness of the streets seemed to mock her as she looked
out into them.

Also, there was a chance that Edgerton might arrive late and telephone
to somebody—perhaps even to her.

It was merely a chance, but her chances were few these days, and she
durst not pass one by, no matter how unlikely it looked.

So she thanked Mr. Rivett, and preferred her room in the pretty suite to
which he had invited Silvette and herself; and there she sat in her
silken dinner gown, sunk into the velvety depths of a chair, watching
the city lights from the window, waiting, listening—always listening
with a hope that died and lived with her unquiet breathing; fading,
flowering, waxing, waning, dead and alive between two heartbeats—the
hope forever new—the only living thing which cannot die while the sad
world endures.

Below her, far below, the lights of motors ran swiftly like passing
meteors; the lights of carriages and hansoms streamed to and fro,
yellower and slower; the lighted windows of street cars glided across
her line of vision in endless, level repetition.

To the west the gemmed façade of the New Theater sparkled above the
trees; northward the lighted streets spread away like linked jewels
under the winter stars.

Into the high silence where she lay and looked out into the night, only
a faint rumor of the city mounted from below; a tongue of flame rustled
on the hearth; the clock ticked.

Suddenly, silence was shattered in her ears; she sprang to her feet, one
hand against her heart, her stunned senses deafened by the clamor of the
telephone.

The next instant she was at the receiver—the receiver pressed
convulsively to her ear.

"Yes," she said faintly.

*      *      *      *      *      *

"Yes; this is Miss Tennant."

*      *      *      *      *      *

"Yes—Diana Tennant.  Who is it?"

*      *      *      *      *      *

"Yes; I will hold the wire."

She rested against the shelf, relaxing from the tension; then, rigid,
electrified:

"Yes!  Is that you, Jim?"

"Of course!" he replied.  "Are you at the Plaza?"

"Yes—all alone.  Oh, Jim!  I am so glad to hear your voice!"

"It’s bully of you to say it.  I’m delighted to hear yours.  I have just
come in and found Silvette’s telegram on my desk.  Shall I come around?"

"_Will_ you?"

She could hear him laughing, then:

"Watch me," he said, "if the dust doesn’t obscure the spectacle, I’ll be
with you in five minutes.  Is that right, Diana?"

"It is perfectly right."

As though dazed she hung up the receiver in its nickel wishbone, and
began walking aimlessly up and down the room trying to collect her wits
and calm her senses.  Outwardly composed, inwardly facing chaos, she
threw open the window and turned her face to the coolness of the winter
stars.

Then behind her the telephone sounded again.  It was only the
announcement of his arrival, and she closed the door of her room and
went into the pretty parlor, where a maid was already turning on the
electric lights.

His ring sounded; the maid admitted him to the outer hall, took his hat
and coat, and ushered him in.  Diana rose to receive him with smiling
composure as the maid retired to the bedroom.

"This is very prompt of you, Jim—-and promptness is the most subtle of
flatteries.... How thin and white you look! ... Are you perfectly well?"

"Perfectly.  I need not ask that question of you, Rose of the
Berkshires!"

"Do I really look well?"

"Flawless and dewy fresh—a trifle slim, perhaps.  Don’t they keep you in
pheasants?"

"They do, kind sir.  It’s fashion, not slenderness, you behold.  Never
mind how it’s accomplished.  But, Jim, you don’t look well. Are they
working you to death?"

"Not so you’d notice my decease," he said laughingly.  "I’m in the game,
up to the neck, and swimming strongly.  It’s a fine game, Diana.  No
doubt generations of Edgertons on high look down on me and sing in
unison the Anvil Chorus.  It’s a great game—this iron one.  The iron is
in me; I’m lanced through and through—it’s flowing in my blood; it’s in
my bones.  Iron! iron!  There is nothing to compare with it in all the
world, Diana."

"Let me see your arm, Jim."

"Shall I take off my coat and——"

"No; I’ll just feel it—very gently."

"It’s mended.  Squeeze all you please."

"Was it here?"

"Higher."

"Here?"

"Lower."

"_Here?_"

"Higher."

"Jim, I believe you’re just letting me fondle your old arm and waste
oceans of sympathy on it!"

They laughed; he showed her where the fracture had occurred.  She,
gravely curious, explored his sleeve with timid fingers.

"Doesn’t hurt at all, Jim?"

"Damp weather," he said briefly.  "How long do you remain in town,
Diana?"

"Only over to-morrow."

"Good Lord!  Is that all?"

"We’ve been here two days."

"And I was in Pittsburg, dammit!"

"You certainly were, my friend; but, could I help that?  I did my best.
We wired you, and we have telephoned you steadily every minute since
we’ve been here....  Jim, do you know, in the excitement we’ve quite
forgotten to sit down."

They laughed again; he placed a chair for her, but she chose the lounge,
and made a place for him beside her.  Within the half hour a physical
transformation had changed her to a flushed and radiant young girl, shy
and audacious by turns, brilliant of eye and lip, and charmingly alert
to his every word and smile.  From her shoulders the robe of care seemed
to have fallen, shriveling, as it fell, in the soft fire of her youth
and spring-tide, leaving visible only her fresh, unstained, and winsome
beauty.

She told him all that had occurred at Adriutha—all except what had
happened between herself and young Wallace; and for the time she really
forgot that such a man existed.

Then she asked eager questions; and he laid open the first pages of his
new life before her proud, happy, sympathetic eyes, tracing it paragraph
by paragraph for her since he had entered into man’s estate, and had put
away childish things.

The clock ticked; the tongue of flame flickered low among its ashes.
They talked on, heeding nothing except each other.

"I thought you and Silvette were to use the apartment when you come to
town.  Your room is ready; but here you are in white marble and palatial
grandeur overlooking the park.  Explain those phenomena, pretty maid!"

"We’re guests of Mr. Rivett, Jim.  Otherwise, no palatial grandeur for
us.  We _wanted_ to go to the studio apartment; I was perfectly crazy to
go.  But we saw it would hurt Mr. Rivett’s feelings, and that he had set
his kind old heart on entertaining us....  Oh, Jim, I don’t want to seem
ungrateful, but if older people only knew that the less they entertain
the young, the better they are beloved!"

"That’s a rather sad truth, but it’s the truth," he said.  "Rivett
handed me one black eye, too, bless his heart.  I had so counted on your
being in the apartment....  Well, you’ll come sometime—"  He hesitated,
looked at her, troubled.

"When is Silvette to be married?"

"They think in the spring; they haven’t settled it yet."

"Then you and she will be in the apartment this winter?"

"If you want us," she said almost shyly.

"_Want_ you!  It will be paradise!  I’ll make my salary go as far as it
will."

"Indeed, you _won’t_!  Silvette and I chip in pro rata, or we refuse
your marble halls!"

"I’m afraid I’ll have to agree, Japonette. My poverty, not my will,
consents!"

After a moment she said: "It is a long while since you have called me
that."

"What?"

"Japonette.  I like it.  There’s a sort of an irresponsible frou-frou to
the name which suits me.  That’s all I am, Jim," she added with a
laugh—"just a swish of scented skirts."

He glanced up at her, half smiling.

"I know what you are," he said.

"Do you?  _I_ don’t.  Reveal me to myself, O Cagliostro!"

"Not now."

"Why?"

"Not now," he repeated.

"When?" she insisted.

"Some particularly sunny day in June, perhaps."

"June!  Listen to this man!  The very nearest June is seven months off!"

"And I don’t believe it will be next June, either," he said with a grin.

"Jim!"

"Yes?"

"You’re a plain masculine brute!  You say you know what I am.  If you
do, tell me _now_! I maintain that I’m only a silken rustle and a hint
of scent.  Am I a louder episode than that, Jim?"

"The vault of heaven rings with you!" he assured her, laughing.

"Harmoniously?"

"Entrancingly."

"Well, that’s better," she nodded dubiously. "Evidently I’m not the kind
of a noise that gets arrested.  Jim, when the others come in, shall we
have supper?"

"Tons of it, dear lady.  They’ll have to push me out of this hotel
before I consent to go."

"Do you mean it?"

"Militantly—truculently!"

"_Are_ you glad to see me?"

He glanced at her with an odd expression, then turned aside to set his
cigarette afire.

"Yes, I’m glad," he said.

She took one of his cigarettes, lighted it, savored it daintily, then
leaned back watching mm.  Their eyes encountered, and they smiled.

"Where are the others, Diana?"

"Jack and Silvette are at the New Theater. Mr. Rivett and Mr. Dineen are
sitting somewhere, cheek by jowl, looking wealthy."

"How does one look wealthy?"

"_You_ always do, Jim."

"Thank fortune for that.  It ought to land me somewhere on the
grandstand."

"Haven’t you noticed," she said, "that some people always _look_
wealthy?  I don’t know exactly what it is about them; it has nothing to
do with breeding, or clothes, or careful grooming."

"Neither has wealth," he smiled.

"That’s trite; you’re becoming too prosperous to remain clever.  But,
oh, Jim! _isn’t_ it fine!" she exclaimed impulsively.

"What is fine?"

"Why, your success, of course!  Your splendid interest in the
business—your fitting yourself for a position of honor among your peers!
It is fine! fine!  And it is the happiest thing that has ever happened
in my life!"

He looked at her.

"You dear girl," he said quietly.

"I?  It was none of my doing.  You’re mistaken if you think so.  Once
you said something of that sort in a letter to me; but it isn’t true,
Jim.  You have found yourself; the credit is yours alone."

"I give credit to the far white gods.... In that Olympian Pantheon one
is known as Diana."

"She of the Ephesians—yes.  She was great, wasn’t she?  Did you ever
hear of the fly who said, ’I lie on my back in space, balancing the
world on my six legs’?  The fly was quite right; there’s no top or
bottom point to this sphere—or to your logic, Jim."

He smiled quietly.

"Did _you_ ever hear of that Chinese goddess of the lotus, Kwan-Yin,
who, from her blossom throne in the Happy Isles, rescues lost souls?"

"With how many incarnations are you going to endow me, Jim?"

"Do you think I am endowing you with anything you do not already
possess?"

"What do I possess?" she laughed; "blue eyes and a fair skin and a heart
as mercenary as a Persian pussy’s.  Warmed in the sunshine of life, I
radiate purrs; but I’m a slit-eyed opportunist in storm and stress."

After a moment he said:

"What are your plans when Silvette marries?"

"I suppose I’ll marry somebody," she said, thinking of Wallace for the
first time.  "Old age alone doesn’t attract me; in fact, I’ve been
hedging already," she added.

"Hedging?"

"Practically; I’ve told a man I’d marry him if it suited me to do so
some day; but, meanwhile, he must consider himself padlocked. Isn’t that
a nice, thrifty, feminine contract?"

"Are you serious?"

"Entirely."

"Who is he?"

She glanced at him uncertainly.

"I think you’ve heard me speak of him, Jim."

"Wallace?"

"That is the youth."

"Are you in love with him?"

"Oh, more than that, Jim.  I _like_ him."

"Enough to marry him?"

"Not at present....  But you never can tell.  I await the event.  I
haven’t anything else to do."

He nodded, smiling.

"I rather imagined him to be the sort of man you’d come to care for....
I’ve heard one or two men speak of him recently."

"You mean that you made inquiries?"

A tint of red touched the city pallor of his skin.

"Yes, I took that, liberty."

"It was a friendly one.  The reports were excellent, of course."

"Excellent.  He must be a good deal of a man."

Her eyes were fixed on him, expressionless, considering.  The slightest
smile edged her lips.

"He is young—and nice....  I don’t know how much of a man he may
become....  I know nothing about him, and haven’t studied him very
minutely yet."

"You will—before you marry him."

"I may not....  A girl often misuses a microscope.  I think I have,
frequently.  Do you remember King Gama’s song?—

    "’_And interested motives_
    _I’m delighted to detect!_’


"No, Jim; my snooping days are about over.  Dissection wearies; the
clinic is a bore. I’m beginning to be content with the surface of
things; I’m tending toward impressionism and the elimination of
detail—toward the blessed serenity of stupidity.  There is rest, there."

"Rest," he repeated, smiling.  "Of what are you already tired?"

"I am tired of intelligence.  It’s too exacting. It forms a liaison with
conscience, and affronts inclination.  I’m tired of rule and precept
with which an occult and inborn tyranny shackles me.  I’m tired of more
than that—but isn’t that sufficient to fatigue a girl?"

"Heavy chains," he said, looking at the figures on the carpet, tracing
them with an incurious eye.

"So I think I’ll file away a few links."

"You can’t."

He rose, walked to the window, drew the curtain, and looked out at the
November stars. Limpid, inexorable, the countless eyes of the night met
his.  Whatever message they held for him he seemed to understand it,
for, presently he came quietly back to her.

"Yes," he said, "it’s a good game, after all.  The main thing is to get
into it and stay there—_in medeas res_—squarely."  He looked up,
smiling.  "Your superb interference put me there.  Why do you deny it?"

"Does it please you that I should not deny it?"

"Yes, Diana."

"Then I affirm and deny nothing—which makes me sufficient of a nonentity
to suit you, I hope."

"I am suited."

A moment later the bell rang, and Silvette and Jack, followed by Mr.
Rivett, came laughing through the hall and into the little parlor.

"Jim!  At last!" cried Silvette, giving him both hands.

"How are you, cousin!  How are you, Mr. Rivett! Hello, Jack!" he said as
they surrounded him with lively greetings.

"How goes it?" inquired Mr. Rivett dryly.

"First rate."

"Did you see McMillan in Pittsburgh?"

"By jove, I did!  He was tremendously interesting—and exceedingly
cordial to me."

Mr. Rivett nodded.  He might have said that he kept McMillan in his vest
pocket, but he only stared at Edgerton through his big, round glasses.

They all had supper together, later; Jack and Silvette bubbled
enthusiasm over the play and the splendid cast; Dineen came in and
talked business to Rivett in casual undertones; Diana and Edgerton were
quieter, even inclined to silence.

Meanwhile Jack was consulting Silvette about theater plans for the
following evening, and Edgerton said that he would return from business
in time to join them.

"You’ll be in Jersey, won’t you?" asked Rivett.

"Yes."

"Well, try to get back in time to dress and join us at dinner."

"I don’t believe I can do that."

Rivett looked at him.  "Try," he said briefly.

But Edgerton said aside to Diana:

"I can’t get back to the studio before eight.... By the way, you have a
key, you know, if you wish to go there at any time."

"Thank you, Jim.  I may look in to-morrow sometime.  I want to see—"
She flushed, and hesitated; then calmly: "We left two trunks there, you
know."

He nodded.  "Go and rummage.  The janitor has orders.  He has taken
splendid care of that big white cat of yours.  You’ll find everything in
order, and quite comfortable."

So he made his adieux and went his way; and Mr. Dineen followed, and
Jack and his father retired to their suite, and Silvette and Diana went
to theirs.

"Little sister," whispered Silvette, leaning over Diana’s pillow, where
she lay, eyes closed; "are you any happier than you were this morning?"

"Yes."

"Very much?"

"Very much."

And that was all.  Silvette looked down at the white face and closed
eyes, sighed, and extinguished the night light.

The eyes of happiness close only in sleep, or in the arms of the best
beloved.


Silvette’s excited heart began to sing with the first ray of the morning
sun.  Also she arose, dressed, and breakfasted with her equally reckless
affianced, which showed that theirs was a hopeless case, and a recent
one.

Dineen came and took Rivett away.  Diana tasted a grape fruit in bed,
and lay thinking until noon brought luncheon and her maid pro tem.

Jack and Silvette, unable to persuade her, drifted off somewhere into
the sparkling confusion of the metropolis, promising to return and take
her for a drive through the Park.

About five o’clock she summoned her maid.

"Please say that I have gone to the studio apartment to get some things
from my trunks," she said; and wrote out the address in case either Mr.
Rivett or Mr. Dineen wished to communicate with her.

Then, in furs, walking skirt and veil, and her tired little heart
already outstripping her feet, she went out into the sunset world upon
the pilgrimage so long desired, so long and wistfully deferred.

Her pulse beat fast as she entered _his_ street. The sight of the house
filled her with sudden trepidation, but she knew that he was not there.
She had nearly three hours alone before her, unless the others,
returning to find her note, might telephone and interrupt her.

Her key turned smoothly in the lock; she crossed the threshold, holding
her breath.

A dull, mellow light filled the studio.  In the stillness a faint
fragrance of tobacco hung in the air.  Step by step she advanced,
looking at each familiar object as she came to it and passed it—pausing
to lay a gloved hand on the sofa where, ages ago, two very young people
sat, touching with lingering fingers the empty silver bowl which once,
on a summer day, had been almost hidden under a fragrant load of
peonies.

Something behind her—and it was not a sound—made her turn.  The white
cat sat looking at her with no recognition in its solemn eyes; and when
she moved forward, hand outstretched in wistful appeal, it calmly
retreated into the demi light of the bedroom beyond.

The well of desolation was filling fast now; she sank into a wide chair
by the tea table and, lifting her veil, touched her eyes with her
handkerchief.  Then, disciplined, controlled, she lay back looking into
the bedroom where she and her sister had slept and awakened through
those three magic days which even Fate allowed before foreclosing on her
destiny forever.

Pink bars of sunlight slanted on the wall, warming the painted armor of
a forgotten dead man—forgotten no more than some among the living.  A
great lady, painted in her jewels, seemed to flush and smile as a rosy
bar crept across her cheek.  Doubtless she, too, had loved before she
died.

The girl extended her arm listlessly along the upholstered arm of her
chair, and looked at her white-gloved hand.

In the hollow of that hand she had once held Love, and had smilingly
released it.  Out of that little palm Love had flown far beyond her ken;
and there was no returning for that winged thing.

Then, very quietly, she bowed her head, eyes sheltered by her hand, and
remained so, motionless, for a long while.

The outer bell had sounded twice before she realized that it was the
bell of the apartment.  Dazed, she rose, stood a moment collecting
herself, then walked to the door and opened it.

Colonel Curmew stepped jauntily in.

So astonished was she that she scarcely understood what he was about
before they both were on the studio threshold—she instinctively
retreating, he advancing, wreathed in a smile so remarkable that it
fascinated her.

"What an odd thing of you to do," she said, still confused by the
suddenness of his invasion, groping instinctively for the reason.

"You left word at the Plaza; _I_ understood," he said, his eyes fairly
popping at her, then palely roving around the place.

[Illustration: "’So _this_ is your apartment?’ he said."]

"So _this_ is your apartment?" he said. "What a discreet and charming
little nest!"

"I think you don’t understand," she said; "this is Mr. Edgerton’s
apartment."

He looked at her oddly, then burst into laughter.

"You clever girl!" he chuckled.

"What!" she said, bewildered.

But he only smirked at her.

"Look here, little girl," he said, "suppose you begin to make your eyes
behave, and come down to actualities.  You know what I want; _I_ know
what you want.  We’ve been wasting time all summer.  I’m no fool;
neither are you, as you show by selecting this nice, little nook for a
good, sensible talk."

She only stared at him, thinking he had gone mad, and he laughed and
twirled his mustache.

"Nix for the baby stare," he said reprovingly. "I tell you I know what a
girl like you wants—privacy, discretion, _and_ the usual ... And I’ve
got it, little girl—wads of it!"

The grotesqueness of the dream seemed to make her stupid; she tried to
find some sense and reason in what this man was saying to her, strove to
comprehend him, his visit, his words.

"Are you asking me to—marry you," she said, confused.

"_Marry_ you!" he repeated, his expressive features suddenly blank, then
jocular again.

"Then—what——"

And, suddenly staring into the sinister smirk, she comprehended, and
turned ashy white.

Even he could not mistake the genuineness of that white horror.

"You—you d-don’t understand," he stammered, his effrontery shaken....
"I—perhaps I didn’t understand you, either....  But I thought—I
supposed——"

His top hat fell clattering on the floor; he stooped and picked it up,
lifting a redder and more impudent countenance to confront her.

"After all," he said with a sneer, "I had a right to think you knew what
you were about—a girl, alone, who lives on her wits."

He hesitated, malignant now, writhing internally under her pallid
contempt.

"By God!" he said, "you’re nothing better than any other hired woman!  I
helped hire you myself."  And added, between his teeth: "You little
clawing cat!  I know damned well you’re an adventuress, but your game is
beyond me——"

He swung insolently on his heel, and found himself looking straight into
the eyes of Jacob Rivett.

"Go out!" said Mr. Rivett in a low voice.

The colonel stared at him, confounded.

"Go out!" repeated Rivett softly.

The colonel, flushed and utterly discountenanced, started toward the
door.  Mr. Rivett followed him out into the hall, closing the door
behind him.

Diana stood stock still, as though turned to stone.  There had been a
crash outside; then, in rather rapid but irregular succession, a series
of thuds.  It was Colonel Curmew’s impact with wall and floor; Mr.
Dineen had been patiently knocking him down until that battered and
half-senseless warrior took the count.  Then one careful and heavy kick
sent him down the first of the flights of stairs, and a moment later
Diana heard the door bell.

She opened; Mr. Rivett walked in slowly, as though abstracted; Mr.
Dineen came behind, straightening his scarf-pin.

"You left the door ajar, so we walked in," observed Rivett, ignoring his
previous entrance.  He strolled about, glancing up at the pictures and
tapestries.  Then his manner changed.

"Well, my dear," he said briskly, "Mr. Dineen and I stopped at the
hotel, and your maid told us you had come here to get things out of your
trunks.  So, if you’ve finished rummaging, the car is below, and Jack
and Silvette are waiting tea for us at the St. Regis."

"Thank you," she said in a low voice.

"Had you rather not come?"

"I had rather not—if you don’t mind."

He walked over to her, took both her hands, and looked into her eyes.

"I am at your service, my dear," he said.

"I know it....  My heart will always be in yours."

His face grew grimmer.

"I guess we understand each other, child.... Next to my own—Silvette—and
you.... Shall the car wait for you?"

"I will walk back."

"Dinner at seven," he said, releasing her hands.

She nodded, forcing a smile.

"At seven," she repeated, offering her hand to Mr. Dineen, who squeezed
it shamelessly while unfeigned admiration transfigured his broad face.

So they left her there in the studio, standing in the dusk, head held
high, and in her eyes that dauntless courage that remains though lips
quiver and the hot tears sting the straining throat.

Cautiously, lest self-control slip the leash, she reseated herself and
lay back in the chair, closing her eyes.  Whatever battle raged within
her was fought out there in darkness and in silence.  She lay
motionless, never stirring save for the slow clenching and relaxing of
her fingers; and at last even that ceased.

Then the steel nerves and iron will that had mastered the storm and
soothed it, turned traitor, tricking her, furtively relaxing in the wake
of exhaustion.

In the dark the white cat stole in, hesitated, looked at her; then,
satisfied, stretched out on a Persian rug in front of her.

Long ago all sound had ceased in her ears; her heart beat quietly, her
breath came and went as evenly and softly as the respiration of a
sleeping child.

Through the tall windows the starlight touched her; at her feet the
white cat dozed, dreaming of nothing.

Confused, the brilliancy of electric light in her eyes, Diana found
herself sitting bolt upright, clutching the arms of her chair, and
staring at a dark figure which leaned over her—a man, laughing, still
amazed, still a little incredulous.

"Jim!" she faltered.

"Certainly.  What do you mean by going to sleep in my favorite chair?"

"Oh, dear!  Oh, Jim!" she wailed, dropping back helplessly into the
depths of the chair, "I must be perfectly crazy to do such a thing!
What time is it?  I came in here to—to get something"—she pressed her
hands to her temples—"to find—to look—  Oh, I don’t know what I’m
talking about!"

Her hands dropped; she gazed hopelessly up at him.

"Did you _ever_ hear of such a perfect fool?" she said.  "What time _is_
it?—if you think I can bear the information."

"It’s only eight."

"Eight!  Jim, dear, _will_ you go to that telephone and inform Mr.
Rivett that I have not been run over, murdered, or arrested?"

He went over and telephoned, adding: "Don’t wait for either of us.
Leave the tickets on Diana’s dresser.  We’ll be along pretty soon."

"What did you mean, Jim?" she asked, struggling with her veil.

"It’s so late," he said, "that you’d better wait for me to get into my
jeans, and then I’ll take you over and you can get into yours, and then
we’ll dine together, and go in for the last act if we have time."

"I’ve spoiled your evening," she said.

"Do you think so?"

"Oh, I know it.  _Did_ Mr. Rivett think me an utter lunatic?"

"He didn’t say so over the wire."

"What _did_ he say, Jim?"

"Nothing that meant anything."

"_Tell_ me!"

"All he said was for me to take care of you. You perceive the irony,
don’t you?"

"Irony?" she repeated, looking at him.

"Why?  Aren’t you capable of doing it?"

"Do you need anybody to look after you?" he asked, smiling.

Slowly she lifted her eyes to his; his smile died out.  Never had he
looked into such a desolate face.

"What is it?" he said, astonished; "what on earth is the matter, Diana?
Has anything happened?"

"Nothing—unusual—I suppose."

"You are not ill, are you?"

The tears were slowly blinding her, and she turned her head, standing
so, fighting for self-mastery.

"Diana——"

She motioned him to silence.  He stood it as long as he could, then
stepped over beside her and touched her arm.

"Tell me, dear?" he said under his breath.

She strove to speak—could not, yet; motioned him aside, but he would
have none of such commands.

"You took my troubles on your slender shoulders," he said; "may I not
help you to carry one or two of yours?" ... And, as she made no answer:
"Dear, if you have not loved me, you have done for me, perhaps, even
more than love might have done."

She had dried her eyes; now she turned to him quietly.

"It was love....  But don’t mistake it, Jim....  It was a love that
asked for nothing that it had not—desired nothing that you had not
already given....  I thought it best to tell you—because—it is a world
of men; and women—sometimes—are held—lightly in it——"

Her lip quivered, but she, somehow, managed to meet his eyes and smile.

"All that happened long ago, Jim."

"Did love—die?"

"Yours," she said, smiling.  "I slew it very neatly for you."

"I mean yours, Diana?"

"Mine?  Why, I gave you something better than that," she began gaily.
Then her face altered; she fell silent, watching him—at first
incredulous, then a little dazed.

"Didn’t you know that I loved you?" he said.

"You mean—last summer....  Yes."

"_Now_!  Didn’t you _know_ it?"

"I—no."

Far in the chaos of her brain she heard his words echoing, reëchoing in
confused reiteration.

He was saying, slowly: "There has never been a moment since that day
that my life has not been yours—that you have not possessed my heart, my
mind, filled them, owned them, overwhelmingly inspired me with love and
adoration for you alone.  What I am, and will be, I am, and shall be by
grace of you.

"But gratitude is not the love of man for woman; it is not even part of
it; it is a separate passion—a shrine by itself.  I worship you there in
my own fashion.

"But you, Diana—Japonette—"  He flung one arm around her body.  She
placed a firm hand on his wrist as though to break the clasp, looked at
him, and began to tremble.

"Can you love me, Japonette?"

"_Can_ you?"

"Yes."

Her hand tightened over his wrist as he drew her close, crushing her to
him.  She looked up blindly into his eyes as he kissed her; then her
lids unclosed and her silent lips moved, forming his name.


They neither dressed for the theater nor went to it.  They dined
together at an outrageous hour in an unfashionable haunt of his.

Silvette, Jack, Mr. Rivett, and Mr. Dineen found them at supper in the
little parlor when they arrived from the play.

"Di!" cried Silvette, "what on earth has possessed you and Jim?"

Her voice failed her at sight of her sister’s face.

"_That!_" she exclaimed; "has _that_ happened? Darling!  My little Di—my
little, little girl!" she murmured, dropping on her knees beside her.

Mr. Dineen looked foolishly at Mr. Rivett.

"Say it later, John," whispered Mr. Rivett dryly.  "We’ll go downstairs
for a while."

"You won’t!" said Diana, turning laughingly on them.  "You will wish us
happiness, and drink to it, too."  She rose, flushed and radiant.
Silvette sprang to her feet and kissed her; Jack seized her with
determination, and made no ceremony about it.

Then Diana walked straight up to Mr. Rivett, and held out both hands;
and the little man kissed her grimly.

Mr. Dineen’s blue eye sparkled; she looked at the big, jolly Irishman,
audaciously delighted.

"What man has done, man may do," she said.

"Faith, I’ll see if a woman can do it, too!" he said, saluting her with
all the reckless grace of his race.

Then Edgerton’s hand was shaken and his shoulder patted, and Jack
summoned legions of waiters from the regions below.

Rivett’s burned-brown eyes bored through and through Edgerton as he took
his hand.

"I thought you’d do it," he said.

"Did you?  I wasn’t very hopeful myself," said the young fellow,
laughing.

"_I_ was....  They’re good children—good children—like my own....  If
you will excuse me, I will go and telegraph my wife.... It will be a
happiness to her—a great happiness."

Jack thrust a glass into his hand.  "What’s this?" demanded his father.

"We are to drink health to them, dad."

Mr. Rivett inspected his glass, hesitated, while all waited; then,
lifting it:

[Illustration: "’Health, happiness, prosperity to them.’"]

"They’re good children," he said.  "Health, happiness, prosperity to
them—and—to the house of Edgerton, Tennant and Company! ... Break your
glasses!"


                                THE END



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



*Works of Robert W. Chambers*


Japonette
The Common Law
The Adventures of a Modest Man
Ailsa Paige
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 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


*For Children*

Garden-Land
Mountain-Land
Forest-Land
Orchard-Land
River-Land
Outdoor-Land
Hide and Seek in Forest-Land





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