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Title: The Restless Sex
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 "The Restless Sex" ***

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[Illustration: She nodded listlessly, kneeling beside his chair. (Page
135)]



                                  *The
                             Restless Sex*


                        *By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS*



                               AUTHOR OF
          "Barbarians," "The Dark Star," "The Girl Philippa,"
                         "Who Goes There," Etc.



                           With Frontispiece
                            By W. D. STEVENS



                           A. L. BURT COMPANY
                          Publishers New York

          Published by arrangement with D. APPLETON & COMPANY



                          Copyright, 1918, by

                           ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
      Copyright, 1917, 1918, by The International Magazine Company



                Printed in the United States of America



                                   To
                             MILDRED SISSON



                           *THE RESTLESS SEX*



                               *PREFACE*


Created complete, equipped for sporadic multiplication and later for
auto-fertilization, the restless sex, intensely bored by the process of
procreation, presently invented an auxiliary and labeled him [male
symbol].

A fool proceeding, for the inherited mania for invention obsessed him
and he began to invent gods.  The only kind of gods that his imagination
could conceive were various varieties of supermen, stronger, more cruel,
craftier than he.  And with these he continued to derive satisfaction by
scaring himself.

But the restless sex remained restless; the invention of the sign of
Mars ([Mars symbol]), far from bringing content, merely increased the
capacity of the sex for fidgeting.  And its insatiate curiosity
concerning its own handiwork increased.

This handiwork, however, fulfilled rather casually the purpose of its
inventor, and devoted the most of its time to the invention of gods,
endowing the most powerful of them with all its own cowardice, vanity,
intolerance and ferocity.

"He made us," they explained with a modesty attributable only to
forgetfulness.

"Believe in him or he’ll damn you.  And if he doesn’t, we will!" they
shouted to one another.  And appointed representatives of various
denominations to deal exclusively in damnation.

Cede Deo!  And so, in conformity with the edict of this man-created
creator, about a decade before the Great Administration began, a little
girl was born.

She should not have been born, because she was not wanted, being merely
the by-product of an itinerant actor—Harry Quest, juveniles—stimulated
to casual procreation by idleness, whiskey, and phthisis.

The other partner in this shiftless affair was an uneducated and very
young girl named Conway, who tinted photographs for a Utica photographer
while daylight lasted, and doubled her small salary by doing fancy
skating at a local "Ice Palace" in the evenings. So it is very plain
that the by-product of this partnership hadn’t much chance in the world
which awaited her; for, being neither expected nor desired, and,
moreover, being already a prenatal heiress to obscure, unknown traits
scarcely as yet even developed in the pair responsible for her advent on
earth, what she might turn into must remain a problem to be solved by
time alone.

Harry Quest, the father of this unborn baby, was an actor.  Without
marked talent and totally without morals, but well educated and of
agreeable manners, he was a natural born swindler, not only of others
but of himself.  In other words, an optimist.

His father, the Reverend Anthony Quest, retired, was celebrated for his
wealth, his library, and his amazing and heartless parsimony.  And his
morals.  No wonder he had grimly kicked out his only son who had none.

The parents of the mother of this little child not yet born, lived in
Utica, over a stationery and toy shop which they kept.  Patrick Conway
was the man’s name.  He had a pension for being injured on the railway,
and sat in a peculiarly constructed wheeled chair, moving himself about
by pushing the rubber-tired wheels with both hands and steering with his
remaining foot.

He had married a woman rather older than himself, named Jessie Grismer,
a school teacher living in Herkimer.

To Utica drifted young Quest, equipped only with the remains of one
lung, and out of a job as usual.  At the local rink he picked up Laura
Conway, after a mindless flirtation, and ultimately went to board with
her family over the stationery shop.

So the affair in question was a case of propinquity as much as anything,
and was consummated with all the detached irresponsibility of two
sparrows.

However, Quest, willing now to be supported, married the girl without
protest.  She continued to tint photographs and skate as long as she was
able to be about; he loafed in front of theatres and hotels, with a
quarter in change in his pockets, but always came back to meals.  On
sunny afternoons, when he felt well, he strolled about the residence
section or reposed in his room waiting, probably, for Opportunity to
knock and enter.

But nothing came except the baby.

About that time, too, both lungs being in bad condition, young Quest
began those various and exhaustive experiments in narcotics, which
sooner or later interest such men.  And he finally discovered heroin.
Finding it an agreeable road to hell, the symptomatic characteristics of
an addict presently began to develop in him, and he induced his young
wife to share the pleasures of his pharmaceutical discovery.

They and their baby continued to encumber the apartment for a year or
two before the old people died—of weariness perhaps, perhaps of old
age—or grief—or some similar disease so fatal to the aged.

Anyway, they died, and there remained nothing in the estate not subject
to creditors.  And, as tinted photographs had gone out of fashion even
in Utica, and as the advent of moving pictures was beginning to kill
vaudeville everywhere except in New York, the ever-provincial, thither
the Quest family drifted.  And there, through the next few years, they
sifted downward through stratum after stratum of the metropolitan
purlieus, always toward some darker substratum—always a little lower.

The childishly attractive mother, in blue velvet and white cat’s fur,
still did fancy skating at rink and Hippodrome.  The father sometimes
sat dazed and coughing in the chilly waiting rooms of theatrical
agencies.  Fortified by drugs and by a shabby fur overcoat, he sometimes
managed to make the rounds in pleasant weather; and continued to die
rather slowly, considering his physical condition.

But his father, who had so long ago disowned him—the Reverend Anthony
Quest—being in perfect moral condition, caught a slight cold in his
large, warm library, and died of pneumonia in forty-eight hours—a
frightful example of earthly injustice, doubtless made all right in
Heaven.

Young Quest, forbidden the presence for years, came skulking around
after a while with a Jew lawyer, only to find that his one living
relative, a predatory aunt, had assimilated everything and was perfectly
qualified to keep it under the terms of his father’s will.

Her attorneys made short work of the shyster.  She herself, many times a
victim to her nephew’s deceit in former years, and once having stood
between him and prison concerning the matter of a signature for
thousands of dollars—the said signature not being hers but by her
recognised for the miserable young man’s sake—this formidable and
acidulous old lady wrote to her nephew in reply to a letter of his:


You always were a liar.  I do not believe you are married. I do not
believe you have a baby.  I send you—not a cheque, because you’d
probably raise it—but enough money to start you properly.

Keep away from me.  You are what you are partly through your father’s
failure to do his duty by you.  An optimist taken at birth and patiently
trained can be saved. Nobody saved you; you were merely punished.  And
you, naturally, became a swindler.

But I can’t help that now.  It’s too late.  I can only send you money.
And if it’s true you have a child, for God’s sake take her in time or
she’ll turn into what you are.

And _that_ is why I send you any money at all—on the remote chance that
you are not lying.  Keep away from me, Harry.

ROSALINDA QUEST.


So he did not trouble her, he knew her of old; and besides he was too
ill, too dazed with drugs to bother with such things.

He lost every penny of the money in Quint’s gambling house within a
month.


So the Quest family, father, mother and little daughter sifted through
the wide, coarse meshes of the very last social stratum that same
winter, and landed on the ultimate mundane dump heap.

Quest now lay all day across a broken iron bed, sometimes stupefied,
sometimes violent; his wife, dismissed from the Hippodrome for flagrant
cause, now picked up an intermittent living and other things in an
east-side rink.  The child still remained about, somewhere, anywhere—a
dirty, ragged, bruised, furtive little thing, long accustomed to
extremes of maudlin demonstration and drug-crazed cruelty, frightened
witness of dreadful altercations and of more dreadful reconciliations,
yet still more stunned than awakened, more undeveloped than precocious,
as though the steady accumulation of domestic horrors had checked mental
growth rather than sharpened her wits with cynicism and undesirable
knowledge.

Not yet had her environment distorted and tainted her speech, for her
father had been an educated man, and what was left of him still employed
grammatical English, often correcting the nasal, up-state vocabulary of
the mother—the beginning of many a terrible quarrel.

So the child skulked about, alternately ignored or whined over, cursed
or caressed, petted or beaten, sometimes into insensibility.

Otherwise she followed them about instinctively, like a crippled kitten.

Then there came one stifling night in that earthly hell called a New
York tenement, when little Stephanie Quest, tortured by prickly heat,
gasping for the relief which the western lightning promised, crept out
to the fire escape and lay there gasping like a minnow.

Fate, lurking in the reeking room behind her, where her drugged parents
lay in merciful stupor, unloosed a sudden breeze from the thunderous
west, which blew the door shut with a crash.  It did not awaken the man.
But, among other things, it did jar loose a worn-out gas jet....  That
was the verdict, anyway.

Pluris est oculatus testis unus quam auriti decem.

But, as always, the Most High remained silent, offering no testimony to
the contrary.

This episode in the career of Stephanie Quest happened in the days of
the Great Administration, an administration not great in the sense of
material national prosperity, great only in spirit and in things of the
mind and soul.

Even the carpenter, Albrecht Schmidt, across the hallway in the
tenement, rose to the level of some unexplored spiritual stratum, for he
had a wife and five children and only his wages, and he did not work
every week.

"Nein," he said, when approached for contributions toward the funeral,
"I haff no money for dead people. I don’t giff, I don’t lend.  Vat it
iss dot Shakespeare says?  Don’t neffer borrow und don’t neffer lend
noddings....  But I tell you what I do!  I take dot leedle child!"

The slim, emaciated child, frightened white, had flattened herself
against the dirty wall of the hallway to let the policemen and ambulance
surgeon pass.

The trampling, staring inmates of the tenement crowded the stairs, a
stench of cabbage and of gas possessed the place.

The carpenter’s wife, a string around her shapeless middle, and looking
as though she might add to her progeny at any minute, came to the door
of her two-room kennel.

"Poor little Stephanie," she said, "you come right in and make you’self
at home along of us!"

And, as the child did not stir, seemingly frozen there against the
stained and battered wall, the carpenter said:

"_Du_!  Stephanie!  Hey you, Steve!  Come home und get you some
breakfast right away quick!"

"Is that their kid?" inquired a policeman coming out of the place of
death and wiping the sweat from his face.

"Sure.  I take her in."

"Well, you’ll have to fix that matter later——"

"I fix it now.  I take dot little Steve for mine——"

The policeman yawned over the note book in which he was writing.

"It ain’t done that way, I’m tellin’ you!  Well, all _right_!  You can
keep her until the thing is fixed up——"  He went on writing.

The carpenter strode over to the child; his blond hair bristled, his
beard was fearsome and like an ogre’s. But his voice trembled with
Teuton sentiment.

"You got a new mamma, Steve!" he rumbled.  "Now, you run in und cry mit
her so much as you like."  He pulled the little girl gently toward his
rooms; the morbid crowd murmured on the stairs at the sight of the child
of suicides.

"Mamma, here iss our little Steve alretty!" growled Schmidt.  "Now, py
Gott!  I got to go to my job!  A hellofa business iss it!
Schade—immer—schade! Another mouth to feed, py Gott!"



                               *FOREWORD*


On the Christmas-tide train which carried homeward those Saint James
schoolboys who resided in or near New York, Cleland Junior sat
chattering with his comrades in a drawing-room car entirely devoted to
the Saint James boys, and resounding with the racket of their
interminable gossip and laughter.

The last number of their school paper had come out on the morning of
their departure for Christmas holidays at home; every boy had a copy and
was trying to read it aloud to his neighbour; shrieks of mirth
resounded, high, shrill arguments, hot disputes, shouts of approval or
of protest.

"Read this!  Say, did you get this!" cried a tall boy named Grismer.
"Jim Cleland wrote it!  What do you know about our own pet novelist——"

"_Shut_ up!" retorted Cleland Junior, blushing and abashed by accusation
of authorship.

"He wrote it all right!" repeated Grismer exultantly. "Oh, girls!  Just
listen to this mush about the birds and the bees and the bright blue
sky——"

"Jim, you’re all right!  That’s the stuff!" shouted another.  "The girl
in the story’s a peach, and the battle scene is great!"

"Say, Jim, where do you get your battle stuff?" inquired another lad
respectfully.

"Out of the papers, of course," replied Cleland Junior.  "All you have
to do is to read ’em, and you can think out the way it really looks."

The only master in the car, a young Harvard graduate, got up from his
revolving chair and came over to Cleland Junior.

The boy rose immediately, standing slender and handsome in the dark suit
of mourning which he still wore after two years.

"Sit down, Jim," said Grayson, the master, seating himself on the arm of
the boy’s chair.  And, as the boy diffidently resumed his seat: "Nice
little story of yours, this.  Just finished it.  Co you still think of
making writing your profession?"

"I’d like to, sir."

"Many are called, you know," remarked the master with a smile.

"I know, sir.  I shall have to take my chance."

Phil Grayson, baseball idol of the Saint James boys, and himself guilty
of several delicate verses in the Century and Scribner’s, sat on the
padded arm of the revolving chair and touched his slight moustache
thoughtfully.

"One’s profession, Jim, ought to be one’s ruling passion.  To choose a
profession, choose what you most care to do in your leisure moments.
That should be your business in life."

The boy said:

"I like about everything, Mr. Grayson, but I think I had rather write
than anything else."

John Belter, a rotund youth, listening and drawing caricatures on the
back of the school paper, suggested that perhaps Cleland Junior was
destined to write the Great American Novel.

Grayson said pleasantly:

"It was the great American ass who first made inquiries concerning the
Great American Novel."

"Oh, what a knock!" shouted Oswald Grismer, delighted.

But young Belter joined in the roars of laughter, undisturbed, saying
very coolly:

"Do you mean, sir, that the Great American Novel will never be written,
or that it has already been written several times, or that there isn’t
any such thing?"

"I mean all three, Jack," explained Grayson, smiling. "Let me see that
caricature you have been so busy over."

"It’s—it’s _you_, sir."

"What of it?" retorted the young master.  "Do you think I can’t laugh at
myself?"

He took the paper so reluctantly tendered:

"Jack, you _are_ a terror!  You young rascal, you’ve made me look like a
wax-faced clothing dummy!"

"Tribute to your faultless apparel, sir, and equally faultless
features——"

A shriek of laughter from the boys who had crowded around to see;
Grayson himself laughing unfeignedly and long; then the babel of eager,
boyish voices again, loud, emphatic, merciless in discussion of the
theme of the moment.

Into the swaying car and down the aisle came a negro in spotless white,
repeating invitingly:

"First call for luncheon, gentlemen!  Luncheon served in the dining car
forward!"

His agreeable voice was drowned in the cheering of three dozen famished
boys, stampeding.

Cleland Junior came last with the master.

"I hope you’ll have a happy holiday, Jim," said Grayson, with quiet
cordiality.

"I’m crazy to see father," said the boy.  "I’m sure I’ll have a good
time."

At the vestibule he stepped aside, but the master bade him precede him.

And as the fair, slender boy passed out into the forward car, the breeze
ruffling his blond hair, and his brown eyes still smiling with the
anticipation of home coming, he passed Fate, Chance, and Destiny,
whispering together in the corner of the platform.  But the boy could
not see them; could not know that they were discussing him.



                              *CHAPTER I*


An average New York house on a side street in winter is a dark affair;
daylight comes reluctantly and late into the city; the south side of a
street catches the first winter sun rays when there are any; the north
side remains shadowy and chilly.

Cleland Senior’s old-fashioned house stood on the north side of 80th
Street; and on the last morning of Cleland Junior’s Christmas vacation,
while the first bars of sunshine fell across the brown stone façades on
the opposite side of the street, the Clelands’ breakfast room still
remained dim, bathed in the silvery gray dusk of morning.

Father and son had finished breakfast, but Cleland Senior, whose other
names were John and William, had not yet lighted the cigar which he held
between thumb and forefinger and contemplated in portentous silence. Nor
had he opened the morning paper to read paragraphs of interest to
Cleland Junior, comment upon them, and encourage discussion, as was his
wont when his son happened to be home from school.

The house was one of those twenty-foot brown stone
houses—architecturally featureless—which was all there was to New York
architecture fifty years ago.

But John William Cleland’s dead wife had managed to make a gem of the
interior, and the breakfast room on the second floor front, once his
wife’s bedroom, was charming with its lovely early American furniture
and silver, and its mellow, old-time prints in colour.

Cleland Junior continued to look rather soberly at the familiar
pictures, now, as he sat in silence opposite his father, his heart of a
boy oppressed by the approaching parting.

"So you think you’ll make writing a profession, Jim?" repeated John
Cleland, not removing his eyes from the cigar he was turning over and
over.

"Yes, father."

"All right.  Then a general education is the thing, and Harvard the
place—unless you prefer another university."

"The fellows are going to Harvard—most of them," said the boy.

"A boy usually desires to go where his school friends go....  It’s all
right, Jim."

Cleland Junior’s fresh, smooth face of a school boy had been slowly
growing more and more solemn.  Sometimes he looked at the prints on the
wall; sometimes he glanced across the table at his father, who still sat
absently turning over and over the unlighted cigar between his fingers.
The approaching separation was weighing on them both.  That, and the
empty third chair by the bay window, inclined them to caution in speech,
lest memory strike them suddenly, deep and unawares, and their voices
betray their men’s hearts to each other—which is not an inclination
between men.

Cleland Senior glanced involuntarily from the empty chair to the table,
where, as always, a third place had been laid by Meachem, and, as
always, a fresh flower lay beside the service plate.

No matter what the occasion, under all circumstances and invariably
Meachem laid a fresh blossom of some sort beside the place which nobody
used.

Cleland Senior gazed at the frail cluster of frisia in silence.

Through the second floor hallway landing, in the library beyond, the boy
could see his suitcase, and, lying against it, his hockey stick.
Cleland Senior’s preoccupied glance also, at intervals, reverted to
these two significant objects.  Presently he got up and walked out into
the little library, followed in silence by Cleland Junior.

There was a very tall clock in that room, which had been made by one of
the Willards many years before the elder Cleland’s birth; but it ticked
now as aggressively and bumptiously as though it were brand new.

The father wandered about for a while, perhaps with the vague idea of
finding a match for his cigar; the son’s clear gaze followed his
father’s restless movements until the clock struck the half hour.

"Father?"

"Yes, dear—yes, old chap?"—with forced carelessness which deceived
neither.

"It’s half past nine."

"All right, Jim—any time you’re ready."

"I hate to go back and leave you all alone here!" broke out the boy
impulsively.

It was a moment of painful tension.

Cleland Senior did not reply; and the boy, conscious of the emotion
which his voice had betrayed, and suddenly shy about it, turned his head
and gazed out into the back yard.

Father and son still wore mourning; the black garments made the boy’s
hair and skin seem fairer than they really were—as fair as his dead
mother’s.

When Cleland Senior concluded that he was able to speak in a perfectly
casual and steady voice, he said:

"Have you had a pretty good holiday, Jim?"

"Fine, father!"

"That’s good.  That’s as it should be.  We’ve enjoyed a pretty good time
together, my son; haven’t we?"

"Great!  It was a dandy vacation!"

There came another silence.  On the boy’s face lingered a slight
retrospective smile, as he mentally reviewed the two weeks now ending
with the impending departure for school.  Certainly he had had a
splendid time.  His father had engineered all sorts of parties and
amusements for him—schoolboy gatherings at the Ice Rink; luncheons and
little dances in their own home, to which school comrades and children
of old friends were bidden; trips to the Bronx, to the Aquarium, to the
Natural History Museum; wonderful evenings at home together.

The boy had gone with his father to see the "Wizard of Oz," to see
Nazimova in "The Comet"—a doubtful experiment, but in line with theories
of Cleland Senior—to see "The Fall of Port Arthur" at the Hippodrome; to
hear Calvé at the Opera.

Together they had strolled on Fifth Avenue, viewed the progress of the
new marble tower then being built on Madison Square, had lunched
together at Delmonico’s, dined at Sherry’s, motored through all the
parks, visited Governor’s Island and the Navy Yard—the latter rendezvous
somewhat empty of interest since the great battle fleet had started on
its pacific voyage around the globe.

Always they had been together since the boy returned from Saint James
school for the Christmas holidays; and Cleland Senior had striven to
fill every waking hour of his son’s day with something pleasant to be
remembered.

Always at breakfast he had read aloud the items of interest—news
concerning President Roosevelt—the boy’s hero—and his administration;
Governor Hughes and _his_ administration; the cumberous coming of Mr.
Taft from distant climes; local squabbles concerning projected subways.
All that an intelligent and growing boy ought to know and begin to think
about, Cleland Senior read aloud at the breakfast table—for this reason,
and also to fill in every minute with pleasant interest lest the dear
grief, now two years old, and yet forever fresh, creep in between words
and threaten the silences between them with sudden tears.

But two years is a long, long time in the life of the young—in the life
of a fourteen-year-old boy; and yet, the delicate shadow of his mother
still often dimmed for him the sunny sparkle of the winter’s holiday.
It fell across his clear young eyes now, where he sat thinking, and made
them sombre and a deeper brown.

For he was going back to boarding school; and old memories were uneasily
astir again; and Cleland Senior saw the shadow on the boy’s face;
understood; but now chose to remain silent, not intervening.

So memory gently enveloped them both, leaving them very still together,
there in the library.

For the boy’s mother had been so intimately associated with preparations
for returning to school in those blessed days which already had begun to
seem distant and a little unreal to Cleland Junior—so tenderly and
vitally a part of them—that now, when the old pain, the loneliness, the
eternal desire for her was again possessing father and son in the
imminence of familiar departure, Cleland Senior let it come to the boy,
not caring to avert it.

Thinking of the same thing, both sat gazing into the back yard.  There
was a cat on the whitewashed fence. Lizzie, the laundress—probably the
last of the race of old-time family laundresses—stood bare-armed in the
cold, pinning damp clothing to the lines, her Irish mouth full of wooden
clothes-pins, her parboiled arms steaming.

At length Cleland Senior’s glance fell again upon the tall clock.  He
swallowed nothing, stared grimly at the painted dial where a ship
circumnavigated the sun, then squaring his big shoulders he rose with
decision.

The boy got up too.

In the front hall they assisted each other with overcoats; the little,
withered butler took the boy’s luggage down the brown-stone steps to the
car.  A moment later father and son were spinning along Fifth Avenue
toward Forty-second Street.

As usual, this ordeal of departure forced John Cleland to an unnatural,
off-hand gaiety at the crisis, as though the parting amounted to
nothing.

"Going to be a good kid in school, Jim?" he asked, casually humorous.

The boy nodded and smiled.

"That’s right.  And, Jim, stick to your Algebra, no matter how you hate
it.  I hated it too.... Going to get on your class hockey team?"

"I’ll do my best."

"Right.  Try for the ball team, too.  And, Jim?"

"Yes, father?"

"You’re all right so far.  You know what’s good and what’s bad."

"Yes, sir."

"No matter what happens, you can always come to me.  You thoroughly
understand that."

"Yes, father."

"You’ve never known what it is to be afraid of me, have you?"

The boy smiled broadly; said no.

"Never be afraid of me, Jim.  That’s one thing I couldn’t stand.  I’m
always here.  All I’m here on earth for is you!  Do you really
understand me?"

"Yes, father."

Red-capped porter, father and son halted near the crowded train gate
inside the vast railroad station.

Cleland Senior said briskly:

"Good-bye, old chap.  See you at Easter.  Good luck!  Send me anything
you write in the way of verses and stories."

Their clasped hands fell apart; the boy went through the gate, followed
by his porter and by numerous respectable and negligible travelling
citizens, male and female, bound for destinations doubtless interesting
to them.  To John Cleland they were merely mechanically moving
impedimenta which obscured the retreating figure of his only son and
irritated him to that extent. And when the schoolboy cap of that only
son disappeared, engulfed in the crowd, John Cleland went back to his
car, back to his empty, old-fashioned brownstone house, seated himself
in the library that his wife had made lovely, and picked up the _Times_,
which he had not read aloud at breakfast.

He had been sitting there more than an hour before he thought of reading
the paper so rigidly spread across his knees.  But he was not interested
in what he read.  The battle fleet, it seemed, was preparing to sail
from Port-of-Spain; Mr. Taft was preparing to launch his ponderous
candidacy at the fat head of the Republican party; a woman had been
murdered in the Newark marshes; the subway muddle threatened to become
more muddled; somebody desired to motor from New York to Paris;
President Roosevelt and Mr. Cortelyou had been in consultation about
something or other; German newspapers accused the United States of
wasting its natural resources; Scotti was singing _Scarpia_ in "Tosca";
a new music hall had been built in the Bronx——

Cleland Senior laid the paper aside, stared at the pale winter sunshine
on the back fence till things suddenly blurred, then he resumed his
paper, sharply, and gazed hard at the print until his dead wife’s
smiling eyes faded from the page.

But in the paper there seemed nothing to hold his attention.  He turned
to the editorials, then to the last page.  This, he noticed, was still
entirely devoted to the "Hundred Neediest Cases"—the yearly
Christmastide appeal in behalf of specific examples of extreme distress.
The United Charities Organization of the Metropolitan district always
made this appeal every year.

Now, Cleland Senior had already sent various sums to that particular
charity; and his eyes followed rather listlessly the paragraphs
describing certain cases which still were totally unrelieved or only
partially aided by charitable subscriptions.  He read on as a man reads
whose heart is still sore within him—not without a certain half
irritable sense of sympathy, perhaps, but with an interest still dulled
by the oppression which separation from his son always brought.

And still his preoccupied mind plodded on as he glanced over the several
paragraphs of appeal, and after a while he yawned, wondering listlessly
that such pitiable cases of need had not been relieved by somebody among
the five million who so easily could give the trifles desired.  For
example:


    "Case No. 47.  A young man, 25, hopelessly crippled and
    bedridden, could learn to do useful work, sufficient to support
    him, if $25 for equipment were sent to the United Charities
    office."


Contributors were asked to mention Case No. 47 when sending cheques for
relief.

He read on mechanically:


    "Case No. 108.  This case has been partly relieved through
    contributions, but thirty dollars are still required. Otherwise,
    these two aged and helpless gentlewomen must lose their humble
    little home and an institution will have to take care of them.
    Neither one has many more years to live.  A trifling aid, now,
    means that the few remaining days left to these old people will
    be tranquil days, free from the dread of separation and
    destitution."

    "Case 113.  The father, consumptive and unable to work; the
    mother still weak from childbirth; the only other wage-earner a
    daughter aged sixteen, under arrest; four little children
    dependent.  Seventy dollars will tide them over until the mother
    can recover and resume her wage-earning, which, with the
    daughter’s assistance, will be sufficient to keep the family
    together.  Three of the children are defectives; the oldest
    sister, a cash-girl, has been arrested and held as a witness for
    attending, at her mother’s request, a clinic conducted by people
    advocating birth-control; and the three dollars a week which she
    brought to the family has been stopped indefinitely."

    "Case 119.  For this case no money at all has been received so
    far.  It is the case of a little child, Stephanie Quest, left an
    orphan by the death or suicide of both drug-addicted parents,
    and taken into the family of a kindly German carpenter two years
    ago.  It is the first permanent shelter the child has ever
    known, the first kindness ever offered her, the first time she
    has ever had sufficient nourishment in all her eleven years of
    life.  Now she is in danger of losing the only home she has ever
    had.  Stephanie is a pretty, delicate, winsome and engaging
    little creature of eleven, whose only experience with life had
    been savage cruelty, gross neglect, filth and immemorial
    starvation until the carpenter took her into his own too
    numerous family, and his wife cared for her as though she were
    their own child.

    "But they have five children of their own, and the wife is soon
    to have another baby.  Low wages, irregular employment, the
    constantly increasing cost of living, now make it impossible for
    them to feed and clothe an extra child.

    "They are fond of the little girl; they are willing to keep and
    care for her if fifty dollars could be contributed toward her
    support.  But if this sum be not forthcoming, little Stephanie
    will have to go to an institution.

    "The child is now physically healthy. She is of a winning
    personality, but somewhat impulsive, unruly, and wilful at
    times; and it would be far better for her future welfare to
    continue to live with these sober, kindly, honest people who
    love her, than to be sent to an orphanage."

    "Case No. 123.  A very old man, desperately poor and ill and
    entirely——"


John Cleland dropped the paper suddenly across his knees.  A fierce
distaste for suffering, an abrupt disinclination for such details
checked further perusal.

"Damnation!" he muttered, fumbling for another cigar.

His charities already had been attended to for the year.  That portion
of his income devoted to such things was now entirely used up.  But he
remained uneasily aware that the portion reserved for further
acquisition of Americana—books, prints, pictures, early American silver,
porcelains, furniture, was still intact for the new year now beginning.

That was his only refuge from loneliness and the ever-living grief—the
plodding hunt for such things and the study connected with this pursuit.
Except for his son—his ruling passion—he had no other interest, now that
his wife was dead—nothing that particularly mattered to him in life
except this collecting of Americana.

And now his son had gone away again.  The day had to be filled—filled
rather quickly, too; for the parting still hurt cruelly, and with a dull
persistence that he had not yet shaken off.  He must busy himself with
something.  He’d go out again presently, and mouse about among musty
stacks of furniture "in the rough."  Then he’d prowl through auction
rooms and screw a jeweller’s glass into his right eye and pore over
mezzotints.

He allowed himself just so much to spend on Americana; just so much to
spend on his establishment, so much to invest, so much to give to
charity——

"Damnation!" he repeated aloud.

It was the last morning of the exhibition at the Christensen Galleries
of early American furniture. That afternoon the sale was to begin.  He
had not had time for preliminary investigation.  He realized the
importance of the collection; knew that his friends would be there in
force; and hated the thought of losing such a chance.

Turning the leaves or his newspaper for the advertisement, he found
himself again confronted by the columns containing the dreary "Hundred
Neediest Cases."  And against every inclination he re-read the details
of Case 119.

Odd, he thought to himself angrily, that there was nobody in the city to
contribute the few dollars necessary to this little girl.  The case in
question required only fifty dollars.  Fifty dollars meant a home,
possibly moral salvation, to this child with her winning disposition and
unruly ways.

He read the details again, more irritated than ever, yet grimly
interested to note that, as usual, it is the very poor with many burdens
who help the poor.  This carpenter, living probably in a tenement, with
a wife, an unborn baby, and a herd of squalling children to support, had
still found room for another little waif, whose drug-sodden parents had
been kind to her only by dying.

John Cleland turned the page, searched for the advertisement of the
Christensen Galleries, discovered it, read it carefully.  There were
some fine old prints advertised to be sold.  His hated rivals would be
there—beloved friends yet hated rivals in the endless battle for
bargains in antiquities.

When he got into his car a few minutes later, he told the chauffeur to
drive to Christensen’s and drive fast. Halfway there, he signalled and
spoke through the tube:

"Where is the United Charities Building?  _Where_? Well, drive there
first."

"Damn!" he muttered, readjusting himself in the corner under the lynx
robe.



                              *CHAPTER II*


"Would you care to go there and see the child for yourself, Mr. Cleland?
A few moments might give you a much clearer idea of her than all that I
have told you," suggested the capable young woman to whom he had been
turned over in that vast labyrinth of offices tenemented by the "United
Charities Organizations of Manhattan and the Four Boroughs, Inc."

John Cleland signed the cheque which he had filled in, laid it on the
desk, closed his cheque-book, and shook his head.

"I’m a busy man," he said briefly.

"Oh, I’m sorry!  I _wish_ you had time to see her for a moment.  You may
obtain permission through the Manhattan Charities Concern, a separate
organization, winch turns over certain cases to the excellent
child-placing agency connected with our corporation."

"Thank you; I haven’t time."

"Mr. Chiltern Grismer would be the best man to see—if you had time."

"Thank you."

There was a chilly silence; Cleland stood frowning at space, wrapped in
gloomy preoccupation.

"But," added the capable young woman, wistfully, "if you are so busy
that you have no time to bother with this case personally——"

"I _have_ time," snapped Cleland, turning red.  For the man was burdened
with the inconvenient honesty of his race—a sort of tactless
truthfulness which characterized all Clelands.  He said:

"When I informed you that I’m a busy man, I evidently but
unintentionally misled you.  I’m not in business. I _have_ time.  I
simply don’t wish to go into the slums to see somebody’s perfectly
strange offspring."

The amazed young woman listened, hesitated, then threw back her pretty
head and laughed:

"Mr. Cleland, your frankness is most refreshing! Certainly there is no
necessity for you to go if you don’t wish to.  The little girl will be
_most_ grateful to you for this generous cheque, and happy to be
relieved of the haunting terror that has made her almost ill at the
prospect of an orphanage.  The child will be beside herself with joy
when she gets word from us that she need not lose the only home and the
only friends she has ever known.  Thank you—for little Stephanie Quest."

"What did the _other_ people do to her?" inquired John Cleland,
buttoning his gloves and still scowling absently at nothing.

"What people?"

"The ones who—her parents, I mean.  What was it they did to her?"

"They were dreadfully inhuman——"

"_What_ did they do to the child?  Do you know?"

"Yes, I know, Mr. Cleland.  They beat her mercilessly when they happened
to be crazed by drugs; they neglected her when sober.  The little thing
was a mass of cuts and sores and bruises when we investigated her case;
two of her ribs had been broken, somehow or other, and were not yet
healed——"

"Oh, Lord!" he interrupted sharply.  "That’s enough of such devilish
detail!——  I beg your pardon, but such things—annoy me.  Also I’ve some
business that’s waiting—or pleasure, whichever you choose to call it——"
He glanced at his watch, thinking of the exhibition at Christensen’s,
and the several rival and hawk-like amateurs who certainly would be
prowling around there, deriding him for his absence and looking for
loot.

"Where does that child live?" he added carelessly, buttoning his
overcoat.

The capable young woman, who had been regarding him with suppressed
amusement, wrote out the address on a pad, tore off the leaf, and handed
it to him.

"—In case you ever become curious to see little Stephanie Quest, whom
you have aided so generously——" she explained.

Cleland, recollecting with increasing annoyance that he had three
hundred dollars less to waste on Christensen than he had that morning,
muttered the polite formality of leave-taking required of him, and bowed
himself out, carrying the slip of paper in his gloved fingers, extended
as though he were looking for a place to drop it.

Down in the street, where his car stood, the sidewalks were slowly
whitening under leisurely falling snowflakes.  The asphalt already was a
slippery mess.

"Where’s _that_!" he demanded peevishly, shoving the slip of paper at
his chauffeur.  "Do you know?"

"I can find it, sir."

"All right," snapped John Cleland.

He stepped into the little limousine and settled back with a grunt.
Then he hunched himself up in the corner and perked the fur robe over
his knees, muttering.  Thoughts of his wife, of his son, had been
heavily persistent that morning.  Never before had he felt actually
old—he was only fifty-odd.  Never before had he felt himself so alone,
so utterly solitary.  Never had he so needed the comradeship of his only
son.

He had relapsed into a sort of grim, unhappy lethargy, haunted by
memories of his son’s baby days, when the car stopped in the
tenement-lined street, swarming with push-carts and children.

The damp, rank stench of the unwashed smote him as he stepped out and
entered the dirty hallway, set with bells and letter boxes and littered
with débris and filthy melting snow.

The place was certainly vile enough.  A deformed woman with sore eyes
directed him to the floor where the Schmidt family lived.  On the
landing he stumbled over several infants who were playing affectionately
with a dead cat—probably the first substitute for a doll they had ever
possessed.  A fight in some room on the second floor arrested his
attention, and he halted, alert and undecided, when the dim hallway
resounded with screams of murder.

But a slatternly young woman who was passing explained very coolly that
it was only "thim Cassidys mixing it"; and she went her way down stairs
with her cracked pitcher, and he continued upward.

"Schmidt?  In there," replied a small boy to his inquiry; and resumed
his game of ball against the cracked plaster wall of the passage.

Answering his knock, a shapeless woman opened the door.

"Mrs. Schmidt?"

"Yes, sir,"—retying the string which alone kept up her skirt.

He explained briefly who he was, where he had been, what he had done
through the United Charities for the child, Stephanie.

"I’d like to take a look at her," he added, "if it’s perfectly
convenient."

Mrs. Schmidt began to cry:

"_Ex_-cuse me, sir; I’m so glad we can keep her. Albert has all he can
do for our own kids—but the poor little thing!—it seemed hard to send
her away to a Home——"  She gouged out the tears abruptly with the back
of a red, water-soaked hand.

"Steve!  Here’s a kind gentleman come to see you. Dry your hands,
dearie, and come and thank him."

A grey-eyed child appeared—one of those slender little shapes, graceful
in every unconscious movement of head and limbs.  She was drying her
thin red fingers on a bit of rag as she came forward, the steam of the
wash-boiler still rising from her bare arms.

A loud, continuous noise arose in the further room, as though it were
full of birds and animals fighting.

For a moment the tension of inquiry and embarrassment between the three
endured in silence; then an odd, hot flush seemed to envelop the heart
of Cleland Senior—and something tense within his brain loosened,
flooding his entire being with infinite relief.  The man had been
starving for a child; that was all.  He had suddenly found her.  But he
didn’t realize it even now.

There was a shaky chair in the exceedingly clean but wretchedly
furnished room.  Cleland Senior went over and seated himself gingerly.

"Well, Steve?" he said with a pleasant, humourous smile.  But his voice
was not quite steady.

"Thank the good, kind gentleman!" burst out Mrs. Schmidt, beginning to
sob again, and to swab the welling tears with the mottled backs of both
fists.  "You’re going to stay with us, dearie.  They ain’t no policeman
coming to take you to no institoot for orphan little girls!  The good,
kind gentleman has give the money for it.  Go down onto your knees and
thank him, Steve——!"

"Are you really going to _keep_ me?" faltered the child.  "Is it
_true_?"

"Yes, it’s true, dearie.  Don’t go a-kissing me!  Go and thank the good,
kind——"

"Let me talk to the child alone," interrupted Cleland drily.  "And shut
the door, please!"—glancing into the farther room where a clothes-boiler
steamed, onions were frying, five yelling children swarmed over every
inch of furniture, a baby made apocryphal remarks from a home-made
cradle, and a canary bird sang shrilly and incessantly.

Mrs. Schmidt retired, sobbing, extolling the goodness and kindness of
John Cleland, who endured it with patience until the closed door shut
out eulogies, yells, canary and onions.

Then he said:

"Steve, you need not thank me.  Just shake hands with me.  Will you?
I—I like children."

The little girl, whose head was still turned toward the closed door
behind which had disappeared the only woman who had ever been
consistently kind to her, now looked around at this large, strange man
in his fur-lined coat, who sat there smiling at her in such friendly
fashion.

And slowly, timidly, over the child’s face the faintest of smiles crept
in delicate response to his advances. Yet still in the wonderful grey
eyes there remained that heart-rending expression of fearful inquiry
which haunts the gaze of children who have been cruelly used.

"Is your name Stephanie?"

"Yes, sir."

"Stephanie Quest?"

"Yes, sir."

"What shall I call you?  Steve?"

"Yes, sir," winningly grave.

"All right, then.  Steve, will you shake hands?"

The child laid her thin, red, water-marred fingers in his gloved hand.
He retained them, and drew her nearer.

"You’ve had a rather tough deal, Steve, haven’t you?"

The child was silent, standing with head lowered, her bronzed brown hair
hanging and shadowing shoulders and face.

"Do you go to school, Steve?"

"Yes, sir."

"Not to-day?"

"No, sir.  It’s Saturday."

"Oh, yes.  I forgot.  What do you learn in school?"

"Things—writing—reading."

"Do you like school?"

"Yes, sir."

"What do you like best?"

"Dancing."

"Do they teach _that_?  What kind of dancing do you learn to do?"

"Fancy dancing—folk-dances.  And I like the little plays that teacher
gets up for us."

"Do you like any other of your studies?" he asked drily.

"Droring."

"Drawing?"

"Yes, sir," she replied, flushing painfully.

"Oh.  So they teach you to draw?  Who instructs you?"

"Miss Crowe.  She comes every week.  We copy picture cards and things."

"So you like to draw, Steve," nodded Cleland absently, thinking of his
only son, who liked to write, and who, God willing, would have every
chance to develop his bent in life.  Then, still thinking of his only
son, he looked up into the grey eyes of this little stranger.

As fate would have it, she smiled at him.  And, looking at her in
silence he felt the child-hunger gnawing in his heart—felt it, and for
the first time, vaguely surmised what it really was that had so long
ailed him.

But the idea, of course, seemed hopeless, impossible! It was not fair to
his only son.  Everything that he had was his son’s—everything he had to
give—care, sympathy, love, worldly possessions.  These belonged to his
son alone.

"Are you happy here with these kind people, Steve?" he asked hastily.

"Yes, sir."

But though his conscience should have instantly acquitted him, deep in
his lonely heart the child-hunger gnawed, unsatisfied.  If only there
had been other children of his own—younger ones to play with, to have
near him in his solitude, to cuddle, to caress, to fuss over as he and
his dead wife had fussed over their only baby!——

"Steve?"

"Sir?"

"You are sure you will be quite happy here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Would you——" A pause; and again he looked up into the child’s face, and
again she smiled.

"Steve, I never had a little girl.  It’s funny, isn’t it?"

"Yes, sir."

A silence.

"Would you like to—to go to a private school?"

The child did not understand.  So he told her about such schools and the
little girls who went to them. She seemed deeply interested; her grey
eyes were clear and seriously intelligent, and very, very intently fixed
on him in the effort to follow and understand what he was saying.

He told her about other children who lived amid happy surroundings; what
they did, how they were cared for, schooled, brought up; what was
expected of them by the world—what was required by the world from those
who had had advantages of a home, of training, of friends, and of an
education.  He was committing himself with every word, and refused to
believe it.

At times he paused to question her, and she always nodded seriously that
she understood.

"But this," he added smilingly, "you may not entirely comprehend, Steve;
that such children, brought up as I have explained to you, owe the human
race a debt which is never cancelled."  He was talking to himself now,
more than to her; voicing his thoughts; feeling his way toward the
expression of a philosophy which he had heretofore only vaguely
entertained.

"The hope of the world lies in such children, Steve," he said.  "The
world has a right to expect service from them.  You don’t understand, do
you?"

Her wonderfully clear eyes were almost beautiful with intelligence as
they looked straight into his. Perhaps the child understood more than
she herself realized, more than he believed she understood.

"Shall I come to see you again, Steve?"

"Yes, sir, please."

There was a pause.  Very gently the slight pressure of his arm, which
had crept around her, conveyed to her its wistful meaning; and when she
understood she leaned slowly toward him in winning response, and offered
her lips with a gravity that captivated him.

"Good-bye, Steve, dear," he said unsteadily.  "I’ll come to see you
again very soon.  I surely, surely will come back again to see you,
Steve."

Then he put on his hat and went out abruptly—not down town to
Christensen’s, but back to the United Charities, and, after an hour,
from there he went down town to his attorney’s, where he spent the
entire day under suppressed excitement.

For there were many steps to take and much detail to be attended to
before this new and momentous deal could be put through—a transaction
concerning a human soul and the measures to be taken to insure its
salvage.



                             *CHAPTER III*


During the next few weeks John William Cleland’s instinct fought a
continuous series of combats with his reason.

Instinct, with her powerful allies, loneliness and love, urged the
solitary man to rash experiment; reason ridiculed impulse and made it
very clear to Cleland that he was a fool.

But instinct had this advantage; she was always awake, whispering to his
mind and heart; and reason often fell asleep on guard over his brain.

But when awake, reason laughed at the conspirators, always in ambush to
slay him; and carried matters with a high hand, rebuking instinct and
frowning upon her allies.

And John Cleland hesitated.  He wrote to his only son every day.  He
strove to find occupation for every minute between the morning awakening
in his silent chamber and the melancholy lying down at night.

But always the battle between reason and instinct continued.

Reason had always appealed to Cleland Senior.  His parents and later his
wife and son had known the only sentimental phenomena which had ever
characterized him in his career.  Outside of these exceptions, reason
had always ruled him.  This is usually the case among those who inherit
money from forebears who, in turn, have been accustomed to inherit and
hand down a moderate but unimpaired fortune through sober generations.

Such people are born logical when not born fools. And now Cleland
Senior, mortified and irritated by the increasing longing which obsessed
him, asked himself frequently which of these he really was.

Every atom of logic in him counselled him to abstain from what every
instinct in him was desiring and demanding—a little child to fill the
loneliness of his heart and house—something to mitigate the absence of
his son, whose absences must, in the natural course of events, become
more frequent and of longer duration with the years of college imminent,
and the demands of new interests, new friends increasing year by year.

He told himself that to take another child into his home would be unfair
to Jim; to take her into his heart was disloyal; that the dear past
belonged to his wife alone, the present and the future to his only son.

And all the while the man was starving for what he wanted.

Well, the arrangements took some time to complete; but they were fairly
complete when finished.  She kept her own name; she was to have six
thousand dollars a year for life after she became twenty-one.  He
charged himself with her mental, moral, spiritual, physical, and general
education.

It came about in the following manner:

First of all, he went to see a gentleman whom he had known for many
years, but whose status with himself had always remained a trifle
indefinite in his mind—somewhere betwixt indifferent friendship and
informal acquaintanceship.

The gentleman’s name was Chiltern Grismer; his business, charity and
religion.  He did not dispense either of these, however; he made a
living for himself out of both.  Cleland had learned at the United
Charities that Grismer was an important personage in the _Manhattan
Charities Concern_, a separate sectarian affair with a big office
building, and a book bindery in Brooklyn for the immense tonnage of
sectarian books and pamphlets published and sold by the "Concern," as it
called itself.  The profits were said to be enormous.

Grismer, tall, bony, sandy and with a pair of unusually light yellowish
eyes behind eye-glasses, appeared the classical philanthropist of the
stage.  With his white, bushy side-whiskers, his frock coat, and his
little ready-made black bow-tie, slightly askew under a high choker, he
certainly dressed the part.  In fact, any dramatic producer would have
welcomed him in the rôle, for he had no "business" to learn; it was
perfectly natural for him to join his finger tips together while
conversing; and his voice and manner left nothing whatever to criticize.

"Ah!  My friend of many years!" he exclaimed as Cleland was ushered into
his office in the building of the Manhattan Charities Concern.  "And
how, I pray, can I be of service to my old friend, John Cleland?
M-m-m’yes—my friend of many years!"

Cleland told his story very simply, adding:

"I understand that your Concern is handling Case 119, Grismer—acting, I
believe, for a child-placing agency."

"_Which_ case?" demanded Grismer, almost sharply.

"Case 119.  The case of Stephanie Quest," repeated Cleland.

Grismer looked at him with odd intentness for a moment, then his eyes
shifted, as though something were disturbing his suave mental
tranquillity:

"M-m-m’yes.  Oh, yes.  I believe we have this case to handle among many
others.  M-m-m!  Quite so; quite so.  Case 119?  Quite so."

"May I have the child?" asked Cleland bluntly.

"Bless me!  Do you really wish to take such chances, Cleland?"

"Why not?  Others take them, don’t they?"

"M-m-m’yes.  Oh, yes.  Certainly.  But it is usually people of
the—ah—middle and lower classes who adopt children.  M-m-m’yes; the
middle and lower classes.  And, naturally, _they_ would not be very much
disappointed in a foundling or waif who failed to—ah—develop the finer,
subtler, more delicate Christian qualities that a gentleman in your
position might reasonably expect—m-m-m’yes!—might, as it were, demand in
an adopted child."

"I’ll take those chances in the case in question," said Cleland,
quietly.

"M-m-m’yes, the case in question.  Case 119.  Quite so....  I am
wondering——" he passed a large, dry hand over his chin and mouth,
reflectively, while his light-coloured eyes remained alertly on duty.
"I have been wondering whether you have looked about before deciding on
this particular child.  There are a great many other deserving cases,
m-m-m’yes—a great many deserving cases——"

"I want this particular child, Grismer."

"Quite so.  M-m-m’yes."  He looked up almost furtively.  "You—ah—have
some previous knowledge, perhaps, of this little girl’s antecedents?"

Mr. Grismer’s voice grew soft and persuasive; his finger tips were
gently joined.  Cleland, looking up at him, caught a glimmer resembling
suspicion in those curiously light-coloured eyes.

"Yes, I have learned certain things about her," he said shortly.  "I
know enough!  I want that child for mine and I’m going to have her."

"May I ask—ah—just what facts you have learned about this unfortunate
infant?"

Cleland, bored to the verge of irritation, told him what he had learned.

There was a silence during which Grismer came to the conclusion that he
had better tell Cleland another fact which necessary legal investigation
of the child’s antecedents might more bluntly reveal.  Yes, certainly
Grismer felt that he ought to place himself on record at once and
explain this embarrassing fact in his own way before others cruelly
misinterpreted it to Cleland. For John Cleland’s position in New York
among men of wealth, of affairs, of influence, and of culture made this
sudden and unfortunate whim of his for Stephanie Quest a matter of
awkward importance to Chiltern Grismer, who had not cared to figure in
the case at all.

Grismer’s large, dry hand continued to massage his jaw.  Now and then
the bony fingers wandered caressingly toward the white side-whiskers,
but always returned to screen the thin lips with a gentle, incessant
massage.

"Cleland," he began in a solemn voice, "have you ever heard that this
child is—ah—is a very distant connection of my family?—m-m-m’yes—my
immediate family. Have you ever heard any ill-natured gossip of this
nature?"

Cleland, too astonished to reply, merely gazed at him.  And Grismer
wrongly concluded that he had heard about it, somewhere or other.

"M-m-m’yes—a connection—very distant, of course. In the event that you
have heard of this unfortunate affair from sources perhaps unfriendly to
myself and family—m-m-m’yes, unfriendly—possibly it were judicious to
explain the matter to you—in justice to myself."

"I never heard of it," said Cleland, "—never dreamed of such a
connection."

But to Grismer all men were liars.

"Oh, I did not know.  I thought you might have heard malicious rumours.
But it is just as well that you should be correctly informed....  Do you
recollect ever reading anything concerning my—ah—late sister?"

"Do you mean something that happened many, many years ago?"

"That is what I refer to.  Did you read of it in the newspapers?"

"Yes," said Cleland.  "I read that she ran away with a married man."

"Doubtless," continued Grismer with a sigh, "you recollect the dreadful
disgrace she brought upon my family?  The cruel scandal exploited by a
pitiless and malicious press?"

Cleland said nothing.

"Let me tell you the actual facts," continued Grismer gently.  "The
unfortunate woman became infatuated with a common Pullman conductor—an
Irishman named Conway—a very ordinary man who already was married.

"His religion forbade divorce; my wretched sister ran away with him.  We
have always striven to bear the disgrace with resignation—m-m-m’yes,
with patience and resignation.  That is the story."

Cleland, visibly embarrassed, sat twisting the handle of his
walking-stick, looking persistently away from Grismer.  The latter
sighed heavily.

"And so," he murmured, "our door was forever closed to her and hers.
She became as one ignobly dead to us—as a soul damned for all eternity."

"Oh, come, Grismer——"

"Damned—hopelessly, and for all eternity," repeated Grismer with a
slight snap of his jaw; "—she and her children, and her children’s
children——"

"What!"

"—The sins of the parents that are borne through generations!"

"Nonsense!  That is Old Testament bosh——"

"Pardon!" said Grismer, with a pained forbearance. "It is the creed of
those who worship and believe the truth as taught in the church of which
I am a member."

"Oh, I beg your pardon."

"Granted," said Grismer sadly.

He sat caressing his jaw in silence for a while, then:

"Her name was Jessie Grismer.  She—ah—assumed the name of Conway....
God did not bless the unholy union.  There was a daughter, Laura.  A
certain Harry Quest, the profligate, wasted son of that good man, the
Reverend Anthony Quest, married this girl, Laura Conway....  God,
mindful of His wrath, still punished the seed of my sinful sister, even
until the second generation....  Stephanie Quest is their daughter."

"Good heavens, Grismer!  I can’t understand that you, knowing this, have
not done something——"

"Why?  Am I to presume to interfere with God’s purpose?  Am I to
question the righteousness of His wrath?"

"But—she is the little grandchild of your own sister!——"

"A sister utterly cut off from among us!  A sister dead to us—a soul
eternally lost and to be eternally forgotten."

"Is that your—_creed_—Grismer?"

"It is."

"Oh.  I thought that sort of—I mean, I thought such creeds were out of
date—old-fashioned——"

"God," said Chiltern Grismer patiently, "is old-fashioned, I
believe—m-m-m’yes—very old fashioned, Cleland. But His purposes are
terrible, and His wrath is a living thing to those who have the fear of
God within their hearts."

"Oh.  Well, I’m sorry, but I really can’t be afraid of God.  If I were,
I’d doubt Him, Grismer.... Come; may I have the little girl?"

"Do you desire her to abide under your roof after what you have
learned?"

"Why, Grismer, I’d travel all the way to hell to get her now, if any of
your creed had managed to send her there.  Come; I’ve seen the child.
It may be a risk, as you say.  In fact, it can’t help being a risk,
Grismer. But—I want her.  May I have her?"

"M-m-m——" he touched a bell and a clerk appeared. Then he turned to
Cleland.  "Would you be good enough to see our Mr. Bunce?  I thank you.
Good afternoon!  I am happy to have conversed again with my old friend,
John Cleland,—m-m-m’yes, my friend of many years."

An hour later John Cleland left "our" Mr. Bunce, armed with proper
authority to begin necessary legal proceedings.

Talking it over with Brinton, his attorney, that evening, he related the
amazing conversation between himself and Chiltern Grismer.

Brinton laughed:

"It isn’t religious bigotry; it’s just stinginess. Grismer is the
meanest man on Manhattan Island.  Didn’t you know it?"

"No.  I don’t know him well—though I’ve been acquainted with him for a
long while.  But I don’t see how he can be stingy."

"Why?"

"Well, he’s interested in charity——"

"He’s paid a thumping big salary!  He makes money out of charity.  Why
shouldn’t he be interested?"

"But he publishes religious books——"

"Of course.  They sell.  It’s a great graft, Cleland. Don’t publish
novels if you want to make money; print Bibles!"

"Is that a fact?"

"You bet!  There are more parasites in pulpit, publishing house and
charity concerns, who live exclusively by exploiting God, than there
were unpleasant afflictions upon the epidermis of our late friend, Job.
And Chiltern Grismer is one of them—the old skinflint!—hogging his only
sister’s share of the Grismer money and scared stiff for fear some
descendant might reopen the claim and fight the verdict which beggared
his own sister!"

"By Gad!" exclaimed Cleland, very red; "I’ve a mind to look into it and
start proceedings again if there is any ground——"

"You can’t."

"Why?"

"Not if you adopt this child."

"Not in her behalf?"

"Your motives would be uncharitably suspected, Cleland.  You can give
her enough.  Besides, you don’t want to stir up anything—rattle any
skeletons—for this little girl’s sake."

"No, of course not.  You’re quite right, Brinton. No money could
compensate her.  And, as you say, I am able to provide for her amply."

"Besides," said Brinton, "there’s the paternal aunt, Miss Rosalinda
Quest.  She’s as rich as mud.  It may be that she’ll do something for
the child."

"I don’t want her to," exclaimed Cleland angrily. "If she’ll make no
objection to my taking the girl, she can keep her money and leave it to
the niggers of Senegambia when she dies, for all I care!  Fix it for me,
Brinton."

"You’d better go down to Bayport and interview her yourself," said the
lawyer.  "And, by the way, I hear she’s a queer one—something of a bird,
in fact."

"Bird?"

"Well, a vixen.  They say so.  All the same, she’s doing a lot of real
good with her money."

"How do you mean?"

"She’s established a sort of home for the offspring of vicious and
degenerate parents.  It’s really quite a wonderful combination of clinic
and training school where suspected or plainly defective children are
brought to be taught and to remain under observation—really a finely
conceived charity, I understand.  Why not call on her?"

"Very well," said Cleland, reluctantly, not caring very much about
encountering "vixens" and "birds" of the female persuasion.

Except for this paternal aunt and the Grismers, there turned out to be
no living human being related to the child Stephanie.

Once assured of this, John Cleland undertook the journey to Bayport,
running down in his car one morning, and determined that a combination
of mild dignity and gallant urbanity should conquer any untoward
symptoms which this "bird" might develop.

When he arrived at the entrance to the place, a nurse on duty gave him
proper directions how to find Miss Quest, who was out about the grounds
somewhere.

He found her at last, in nurse’s garb, marching up and down the gravel
paths of the "Common Sense Home for Defectives," as the institution was
called.

She was pruning privet hedges.  She had a grim face, a belligerent eye,
and she stood clicking her pruning shears aggressively as he approached,
hat in hand.

"Miss Quest, I presume?" he inquired.

"I’m called Sister Rose," she answered shortly.

"By any other name——" began Cleland, gallantly, but checked himself,
silenced by the hostility in her snapping black eyes.

"What do you wish?" she demanded impatiently.

Cleland, very red, swallowed his irritation:

"I came here in regard to your niece——"

"Niece?  I haven’t any!"

"I beg your pardon; I mean your great-niece——"

"What do you mean?  I haven’t any that I know of."

"Her name is Stephanie Quest."

"Harry Quest’s child?  Has he really got a baby? I thought he was lying!
He’s such a liar—how was I to know that he has a baby?"

"You didn’t know it, then?"

"No.  He wrote about a child.  Of course, I supposed he was lying.  That
was before I went abroad."

"You’ve been abroad?"

"I have."

"Long?"

"Several years."

"How long since you’ve heard from Harry Quest?"

"Several years—a dozen, maybe.  I suppose he’s living on what I settled
on him.  If he needed money I’d hear from him soon enough."

"He doesn’t need money, now.  He doesn’t need anything more from
anybody.  But his little daughter does."

"Is Harry dead?" she asked sharply.

"Very."

"And—that hussy he married——"

"Equally defunct.  I believe it was suicide."

"How very nasty!"

"Or," continued Cleland, "it may have been suicide and murder."

"Nastier still!"  She turned sharply aside and stood clicking her shears
furiously.  After a silence: "I’ll take the baby," she said in an
altered voice.

"She’s eleven years old."

"I forgot.  I’ll take her anyway.  She’s probably a defective——"

"She is _not_!" retorted Cleland so sharply that Sister Rose turned on
him in astonishment.

"Madame," he said, "I want a little child to bring up.  I have chosen
this one.  I possess a comfortable fortune.  I offer to bring her up
with every advantage, educate her, consider her as my own child, and
settle upon her for life a sum adequate for her maintenance. I have the
leisure, the inclination, the means to do these things.  But you,
Madame, are too busy to give this child the intimate personal attention
that all children require——"

"How do you know I am?"

"Because your time is already dedicated, in a larger sense, to those
unhappy children who need you more than she does.

"Because your life is already consecrated to this noble charity of which
you are founder and director. A world of unfortunates is dependent on
you.  If, therefore, I offer to lighten your burden by relieving you of
one responsibility, you could not logically decline or disregard my
appeal to your reason——"  His voice altered and became lower: "And,
Madame, I already love the child, as though she were my own."

After a long silence Sister Rose said:

"It isn’t anything you’ve advanced that influences me.  It’s
my—failure—with Harry.  Do you think it hasn’t cut me to the—the soul?"
she demanded fiercely, flinging the handful of clipped twigs onto the
gravel.  "Do you think I am heartless because I said his end was a nasty
one!  It was!  Let God judge me. I did my best."

Cleland remained silent.

"As a matter of fact, I don’t care what you think," she added.  "What
concerns me is that, possibly—probably, this child would be better off
with you.... You’re _the_ John Cleland, I presume."

He seemed embarrassed.

"You collect prints and things?"

"Yes, Madame."

"Then you are _the_ John Cleland.  Why not say so?"

He bowed.

"Very well, then!  What you’ve said has in it a certain amount of common
sense.  I have, in a way, dedicated my life to all unfortunate children;
I might not be able to do justice to Harry’s child—give her the intimate
personal care necessary—without impairing this work which I have
undertaken, and to which I am devoting my fortune."

There was another silence, during which Sister Rose snapped her shears
viciously and incessantly.  Finally, she looked up at Cleland:

"Does the child care for you?"

"I—think so."

"Very well.  But I sha’n’t permit you to adopt her."

"Why not?"

"I may want her myself when I’m too old and worn out to work here.  I
wish her to keep her name."

"Madame——"

"I insist.  What did you say her name is?  Stephanie? Then her name is
to remain Stephanie Quest."

"If you insist——"

"I do!  And that’s flat!  And you need not settle an income on her——"

"I shall do so," he interrupted firmly.  "I have ample means to provide
for the future of anybody dependent on me, Madame."

"Do you presume to dictate to me what I shall do concerning my own
will?" she demanded; and her belligerent eyes fairly snapped at him.

"Do what you like, Madame, but it isn’t necessary to——"

"Don’t instruct _me_, Mr. Cleland!"

"Very well, Madame——"

"I shall do as I always have done, and that is exactly as I please," she
said, glancing at him.  "And if I choose to provide for the child in my
will, I shall do so without requesting your opinion.  Pray understand
me, Mr. Cleland.  If I let you have her it is only because I am
self-distrustful.  I failed with Harry Quest. I have not sufficient
confidence in myself to risk failure with his daughter.

"Let the matter stand this way until I can consult my attorney and
investigate the entire affair.  Take her into your home.  But remember
that she is to bear her own name; that the legal guardianship shall be
shared by you and me; that I am to see her when I choose, take her when
I choose....  Probably I shall not choose to do so.  All the same, I
retain my liberty of action."

Cleland said in a low voice:

"It would be—heartless—if——"

"I’m not heartless," she rejoined tartly.  "Therefore, you need not
worry, Mr. Cleland.  If you love her and she loves you—I tell you you
need not worry. All I desire is to retain my liberty of action.  And I
intend to do it.  And that settles it!"

Cleland Senior went home in his automobile.

In a few days the last legal objection was removed. There were no other
relatives, no further impediments; merely passionate tears from the
child at parting with Schmidt; copious, fat tears from the carpenter’s
wife; no emotion from the children; none from the canary bird.



                              *CHAPTER IV*


In February the child departed from the Schmidts’ in charge of an
elderly, indigent gentlewoman, recommended to Mr. Cleland at an
exorbitant salary. Mrs. Westlake was her name; she inhabited, with a
mild and useless husband, the ancient family mansion in Pelham.  And
here the preliminary grooming of Stephanie Quest began amid a riot of
plain living, lofty thinking, excision of double negatives acquired at
hazard, and a hospital régime of physical scrubbing.

During February and March the pitiless process continued, punctuated by
blessed daily visits from Cleland Senior, laden with offerings, edible
and otherwise. And before April, he had won the heart of Stephanie
Quest.

The first night that she slept under Cleland’s roof, he was so excited
that he sat up in the library all night, listening for fear she should
awake, become frightened, and cry out.

She slept perfectly.  Old Janet had volunteered as nurse and wardrobe
mistress, and a new parlour-maid took her place.  Janet, aged sixty, had
been his dead wife’s childhood nurse, his son’s nurse in babyhood: then
she had been permitted to do in the household whatever she chose; and
she chose to dust the drawing-room, potter about the house, and offer
herself tea between times.

Janet, entering the library at six in the morning, found Mr. Cleland
about ready to retire to bed after an all-night vigil.

"What do you think of what I’ve done—bringing this child here?" he
demanded bluntly, having lacked the courage to ask Janet’s opinion
before.

Janet could neither read nor write.  Her thoughts were slow in
crystallizing.  For a few moments master and ancient servant stood
confronted there in the dusk of early morning.

"Maybe it was God’s will, sor," she said at last, in her voice which age
had made a little rickety.

"You don’t approve?"

"Ah, then Mr. Cleland, sor, was there annything you was wishful for but
the dear Missis approved?"

That answer took him entirely by surprise.  He had never even thought of
looking at the matter from such an angle.

And after Janet went away into the dim depths of the house, he remained
standing there, pondering the old Irishwoman’s answer.

Suddenly his heart grew full and the tears were salt in his throat—hot
and wet in his closed eyes.

"Not that memory and love are lessened, dear," he explained with
tremulous, voiceless lips, "—but you have been away so long, and here on
earth time moves slowly without you—dearest—dearest——"

"Th’ divil’s in that young wan," panted Janet outside his chamber door.
"She won’t be dressed!  She’s turning summersalts on her bed, God help
her!"

"Did you bathe her?" demanded Cleland, hurriedly buttoning his collar
and taking one of the scarfs offered by old Meacham.

"I did, sor—and it was like scrubbing an eel.  Not that she was naughty,
sor—the darlint!—only playful-like and contrayry—all over th’ tub, under
wather and atop, and pretindin’ the soap and brush was fishes and she
another chasin’ them——"

"Janet!"

"Sorr?"

"Has she had her breakfast?"

"Two, sorr."

"What?"

"Cereal and cream, omelet and toast, three oranges and a pear, and a
pint of milk——"

"Good heavens!  Do you want to kill the child?"

"Arrah, sorr, she’ll never be kilt with feedin’!  It’s natural to the
young, sorr—and she leppin’ and skippin’ and turnin’ over and over like
a young kid!—and how I’m to dress her in her clothes God only knows——"

"Janet!  Stop your incessant chatter!  Go upstairs and tell Miss
Stephanie that I want her to dress immediately."

"I will, sorr."

Cleland looked at Meacham and the little faded old man looked back out
of wise, tragic eyes which had seen hell—would see it again more than
once before he finished with the world.

"What do you think of my little ward, Meacham?"

"It is better not to think, sir; it is better to just believe."

"What do you mean?"

"Just that, sir.  If we really think we can’t believe. It’s pleasanter
to hope.  The young lady is very pretty, sir."

Cleland Senior always wore a fresh white waistcoat, winter and summer,
and a white carnation in his button-hole.  He put on and buttoned the
one while Meacham adjusted the other.

They had been together many years, these two men.  Every two or three
months Meacham locked himself in his room and drank himself stupid.
Sometimes he remained invisible for a week, sometimes for two weeks.
Years ago Cleland had given up hope of helping him.  Once, assisted by
hirelings, he had taken Meacham by a combination of strategy and force
to a famous institute where the periodical dipsomaniac is cured if he
chooses to be.

And Meacham emerged, cured to that extent; and immediately proceeded to
lock himself in his room and lie there drunk for eighteen days.

Always when he emerged, ashy grey, blinking, neat, and his little,
burnt-out eyes tragic with the hell they had looked upon, John Cleland
spoke to him as though nothing had happened to interrupt the routine of
service.  The threads were picked up and knotted where they had been
broken; life continued in its accustomed order under the Cleland roof.
The master would not abandon the man; the man continued to fight a
losing fight until beaten, then locked himself away until the enemy gave
his broken body and broken mind a few weeks’ respite.  Otherwise, the
master’s faith and trust in this old-time servant was infinite.

"Meacham?"

"Sir."

"I think—Mrs. Cleland—would have approved. Janet thinks so."

"Yes, sir."

"You think so, too?"

"Certainly, sir.  Whatever you wished was madame’s wish also."

"Master James is so much away these days....  I suppose I am getting
old, and——"

He suffered Meacham to invest him with his coat, lifted the lapel and
sniffed at the blossom there, squared his broad shoulders, twisted his
white moustache.

There was no more attractive figure on Fifth Avenue than Cleland Senior
with the bright colour in his cheeks, his vigorous stride and his
attire, so suitable to his fresh skin, sturdy years and bearing.

Meacham’s eyes were lifted to his master, now.  They were of the same
age.

"Will you wear a black overcoat or a grey, sir?"

"I don’t care.  I’m going up to the nursery first. The nursery," he
repeated, with a secret thrill at the word, which made him tingle all
over in sheerest happiness.

"The car, sir?"

"First," said Cleland, "I must find out what Miss Stephanie wishes—or
rather, I must decide what I wish her to do.  Telephone the garage,
anyway."

There was a silence; Cleland had walked a step or two toward the door.
Now, he came back.

"Meacham, I hope I have done what was best.  On her father’s side there
was good blood; on her mother’s, physical health....  I know what the
risk is. But character is born in the cradle and lowered into the grave.
The world merely develops, modifies, or cripples it.  But it is the same
character....  I’ve taken the chance—the tremendous responsibility....
It isn’t a sudden fancy—an idle caprice;—it isn’t for the amusement of
making a fine lady out of a Cinderella. I want—a—baby, Meacham.  I’ve
been in love with an imaginary child for a long, long time.  Now, she’s
become real.  That’s all."

"I understand, sir."

"Yes, you do understand.  So I ask you to tell me; have I been fair to
Mr. James?"

"I think so, sir."

"Will _he_ think so?  I have not told him of this affair."

"Yes, sir.  He will think what madame would have thought of anything
that you do."  He added under his breath: "As we all think, sir."

There was a pause, broken abruptly by the sudden quavering appeal of
Janet at the door once more:

"Mr. Cleland!  Th’ young lady is all over the house, sor!  In her
pajaymis and naked feet, running wild-like and ondacent——"

Cleland stepped to the door:

"Where’s that child?"

"In the butler’s pantry, sor——"

"I’m up here!" came a clear voice from the landing above.  Cleland,
Janet and Meacham raised their heads.

The child, in her pyjamas, elbows on the landing rail, smiled down upon
them through her thick shock of burnished hair.  Her lips were applied
to an orifice in an orange; her slim fingers slowly squeezed the fruit;
her eyes were intently fixed on the three people below.

When Cleland arrived at the third floor landing, he found Stephanie
Quest in the nursery, cross-legged on her bed.  As he entered, she
wriggled off, and, in rose-leaf pyjamas and bare feet, dropped him the
curtsey which she had been taught by Mrs. Westlake.

But long since she had taken Cleland’s real measure; in her lovely grey
eyes a thousand tiny devils danced.  He held out his arms and she flung
herself into them.

When he seated himself in a big chintz arm-chair, she curled up on his
knees, one arm around his neck, the other still clutching her orange.

"Steve, isn’t it rather nice to wake up in bed in your own room under
your own roof?  Or, of course if you prefer Mrs. Westlake’s——"

"I don’t.  I don’t——"  She kissed him impulsively on his freshly-shaven
cheek, tightened her arm around his neck.

"You know I love you," she remarked, applying her lips to the orange and
squeezing it vigorously.

"I don’t believe you really care much about me, Steve."

Her grey eyes regarded him sideways while she sucked the orange;
contented laughter interrupted the process; then, suddenly both arms
were around his neck, and her bewitching eyes looked into his, deep,
very deeply.

"You know I love you, Dad."

"No, I don’t."

"Don’t you _really_ know it?"

"Do you, really, Steve?"

There was a passionate second of assurance, a slight sigh; the little
head warm on his shoulder, vague-eyed, serious, gazing out at the early
April sunshine.

"Tell me about your little boy, Dad," she murmured presently.

"You know he isn’t very little, Steve.  He’s fourteen, nearly fifteen."

"I forgot.  Goodness!" she said softly and respectfully.

"He seems little to me," continued Cleland, "but he wouldn’t like to be
thought so.  Little girls don’t mind being considered youthful, do
they?"

"Yes, they _do_!  You are teasing me, Dad."

"Am I to understand that I have a ready-made, grown-up family, and no
little child to comfort me?"

With a charming little sound in her throat like a young bird, she
snuggled closer, pressing her cheek against his.

"_Tell_ me," she murmured.

"About what, darling?"

"About your lit—about your boy."

She never tired hearing about this wonderful son, and Cleland never
tired of telling about Jim, so they were always in accord on that
subject.

Often Cleland tried to read in the gravely youthful eyes uplifted to his
the dreamy emotions which his narrative evoked—curiosity, awe, shy
delight, frank hunger for a playmate, doubt that this wonder-boy would
condescend to notice her, wistfulness, loneliness—the delicate tragedy
of solitary souls.

Always her gaze troubled him a little, because he had not yet told his
son of what he had done—had not written to him concerning the advent of
this little stranger.  He had thought that the best and easiest way was
to tell Jim when he met him at the railroad station, and, without giving
the boy time to think, brood perhaps, perhaps worry, let him see little
Stephanie face to face.

It seemed the best way to John Cleland.  But, at moments, lying alone,
sleepless in the night, he became horribly afraid.

It was about that time that he received a letter from Miss Rosalinda
Quest:


DEAR MR. CLELAND:

Will you bring the child out to Bayford, or shall I call to see her when
business takes me into town?

I want to see her, so take your choice.

Yours truly,
       ROSALINDA QUEST.


This brusque reminder that Stephanie was not entirely his upset Cleland.
But there was nothing to do about it except to write the lady a civil
invitation to call.

Which she did one morning a week later.  She wore battle-grey tweeds and
toque, and a Krupp steel equipment of reticule and umbrella; and she
looked the fighter from top to toe.

When Cleland came down to the drawing-room with Stephanie.  Miss Quest
greeted him with perfunctory civility and looked upon Stephanie with
unfeigned amazement.

"Is that my niece?" she demanded.  And Stephanie, who had been warned of
the lady and of the relationship, dropped her curtsey and offered her
slender hand with the shy but affable smile instinctive in all children.

But the grey, friendly eyes and the smile did instantly a business for
the child which she never could have foreseen; for Miss Quest lost her
colour and stood quite dumb and rigid, with the little girl’s hand
grasped tightly in her grey-gloved fingers.

Finally she found her voice—not the incisive, combative, precise voice
which Cleland knew—but a feminine and uncertain parody on it:

"Do you know who I am, Stephanie?"

"Yes, ma’am.  You are my Aunt Rosalinda."

Miss Quest took the seat which Cleland offered and sat down, drawing the
child to her knee.  She looked at her for a long while without speaking.

Later, when Stephanie had been given her congé, in view of lessons
awaiting her in the nursery, Miss Quest said to Cleland, as she was
going:

"I’m not blind.  I can see what you are doing for her—what you have
done.  The child adores you."

"I love her exactly as though she were my own," he said, flushing.

"That’s plain enough, too....  Well, I shall be just.  She is yours.  I
don’t suppose there ever will be a corner in her heart for me....  I
could love her, too, if I had the time."

"Is not what you renounce in her only another sacrifice to the noble
work in which you are engaged?"

"Rubbish!  I like my work.  But it does do a lot of good.  And it’s
quite true that I can not do it and give my life to Stephanie Quest.
And so——" she shrugged her trim shoulders—"I can scarcely expect the
child to care a straw for me, even if I come to see her now and then."

Cleland said nothing.  Miss Quest marched to the door, held open by
Meacham, turned to Cleland:

"Thank God you got her," she said.  "I failed with Harry; I don’t
deserve her and I dare not claim responsibility.  But I’ll see that she
inherits what I possess——"

"Madame!  I beg you will not occupy yourself with such matters.  I am
perfectly able to provide sufficiently——"

"Good Lord!  Are you trying to tell me again how to draw my will?" she
demanded.

"I am not.  I am simply requesting you not to encumber this child with
any unnecessary fortune.  There is no advantage to her in any unwieldy
inheritance; there is, on the contrary, a very real and alarming
disadvantage."

"I shall retain my liberty to think as I please, do as I please, and
differ from you as often as I please," she retorted hotly.

They glared upon each other for a moment; Meacham’s burnt-out gaze
travelled dumbly from one to the other.

Suddenly Miss Quest smiled and stretched out her hand to Cleland.

"Thank God," she said again, "that it is you who have the child.  Teach
her to think kindly of me, if you can.  I’ll come sometimes to see
her—and to disagree with you."

Cleland, bare-headed, took her out to her taxicab. She smiled at him
when it departed.



                              *CHAPTER V*


There came the time when Easter vacation was to be reckoned with.
Cleland wrote to Jim that he had a surprise for him and that, as usual,
he would be at the station to meet the school train.

During the intervening days, at moments fear became an anguish.  He
began to realize what might happen, what might threaten his hitherto
perfect understanding with his only son.

He need not have worried.

Driving uptown in the limousine beside his son, their hands still
tightly interlocked, he told him very quietly what he had done, and why.
The boy, astonished, listened in silence to the end.  Then all he said
was:

"For heaven’s sake, Father!"

There was not the faintest hint of resentment, no emotion at all except
a perfectly neutral amazement.

"How old is she?"

"Eleven, Jim."

"Oh.  A kid.  Does she cry much?"

"They don’t cry at eleven," explained his father, laughing in his
relief.  "You didn’t squall when you were eleven."

"No.  But this is a girl."

"Don’t worry, old chap."

"No.  Do you suppose I’ll like her?"

"Of course, I hope you will."

"Well, I probably sha’n’t notice her very much, being rather busy....
But it’s funny....  A kid in the house! ... I hope she won’t get fresh."

"Be nice to her, Jim."

"Sure....  It’s funny, though."

"It really isn’t very funny, Jim.  The little thing has been dreadfully
unhappy all her life until I—until we stepped in."

"_We?_"

"You and I, Jim.  It’s our job."

After a silence the boy said:

"What was the matter with her?"

"Starvation, cruelty."

The boy’s incredulous eyes were fastened on his father’s.

"Cold, hunger, loneliness, neglect.  And drunken parents who beat her so
mercilessly that once they broke two of her ribs....  Don’t talk about
it to her, Jim.  Let the child forget if she can."

"Yes, sir."

The boy’s eyes were still dilated with horror, but his features were set
and very still.

"We’ve got to look out for her, old chap."

"Yes," said the boy, flushing.

Cleland Senior, of course, expected to assist at the first interview,
but Stephanie was not to be found.

High and low Janet searched; John Cleland, troubled, began a tour of the
house, calling:

"Steve!  Where are you?"

Jim, in his room, unstrapping his suitcase, felt rather than heard
somebody behind him; and, looking up over his shoulder saw a girl.

She was a trifle pale; dropped him a curtsey:

"I’m Steve," she said breathlessly.

Boy and girl regarded each other in silence for a moment; then Jim
offered his hand:

"How do you do?" he said, calmly.

"I—I’m very well.  I hope you are, too."

Another pause, during a most intent mutual inspection.

"My tennis bat," explained Jim, with polite condescension, "needs to be
re-strung.  That’s why I brought it down from school....  Do you play
tennis?"

"No."

Cleland Senior, on the floor below, heard the young voices mingling
above him, listened, then quietly withdrew to the library to await
events.

Janet looked in later.

"Do they like each other?" he asked in a low, anxious voice.

"Mr. Cleland, sor, Miss Steve is on the floor listenin’ to that blessed
boy read thim pieces he has wrote in the school paper!  Like two lambs
they do be together, sor, and the fine little gentleman and little lady
they are, God be blessed this April day!"

After a while he went upstairs, cautiously, the soft carpet muffling his
tread.

Jim, seated on the side of his bed, was being worshipped, permitting it,
accepting it.  Stephanie, cross-legged on the floor, adored him with
awed, uplifted gaze, her clasped hands lying in her lap.

"To be a writer," Jim condescended to explain, "a man has got to work
like the dickens, study everything you ever heard of, go out and have
adventures, notice everything that people say and do, how they act and
walk and talk.  It’s a very interesting profession, Steve....  What are
_you_ going to be?"

"I don’t know," she whispered, "—nothing, I suppose."

"Don’t you want to be something?  Don’t you want to be celebrated?"

She thought, hesitatingly, that it would be pleasant to be celebrated.

"Then you’d better think up something to do to make the world notice
you."

"I shouldn’t know what to do."

"Father says that the thing you’d rather do to amuse yourself is the
proper profession to take up. What do you like to do?"

"Ought I to try to write, as you do?"

"You mustn’t ask me.  Just think what you’d rather do than anything
else."

The girl thought hard, her eyes fixed on him, her brows slightly knitted
with the effort at concentration.

"I—I’d honestly really rather just be with dad—and _you_——"

The boy laughed:

"I don’t mean that!"

"No, I know.  But I can’t think of anything.... Perhaps I could learn to
act in a play—or do beautiful dances, or draw pictures——?" her voice
continuing in the rising inflection of inquiry.

"Do you like to draw and dance and act in private theatricals?"

"Oh, I never acted in a play or danced folk-dances, except in school.
And I never had things of my own to make pictures with—except once I had
a piece of blue chalk and I made pictures on the wall in the hall."

"What hall?"

"It was a very dirty hall.  I was punished for making pictures on the
wall."

"Oh," said the boy, soberly.

After a moment the boy jumped up:

"I’m hungry.  I believe luncheon is nearly ready. Come on, Steve!"

The child could scarcely speak from pride and happiness when the boy
condescended to take her hand and lead her out of that enchanted place
into the magic deeps below.

At nine-thirty that evening Stephanie made the curtsey which had been
taught her, to Cleland Senior, and was about to repeat the process to
Cleland Junior, when the latter laughed and held out his hand.

"Good night, Steve," he said reassuringly.  "You’ve got to be a regular
girl with me."

She took his hand, held it, drew closer.  To his consternation, he
realized that she was expecting to kiss him, and he hastily wrung her
hand and sat down.

The child’s face flushed: she turned to Cleland Senior for the kiss to
which he had accustomed her.  Her lips were quivering, and the older man
understood.

"Good night, darling," he said, drawing her close into his arms, and
whispered in her ear gaily: "You’ve scared him, Steve.  He’s only a boy,
you know."

Her head, buried against his shoulder, concealed the starting tears.

"You’ve scared him," repeated Cleland Senior.  "All boys are shy about
girls."

Suddenly it struck her as funny; she smiled; the tears dried in her
eyes.  She twisted around, and, placing her lips against the elder man’s
ear, she whispered:

"I’m afraid of him, but I do like him!"

"He likes _you_, but he’s a little afraid of you yet."

That appealed to her once more as exquisitely funny. She giggled,
snuggled closer, observed by Jim with embarrassment and boredom.  But he
was too polite to betray it.

Stephanie, with one arm around Cleland’s neck, squeezed herself tightly
against him and recounted in a breathless whisper her impressions of his
only son:

"I do like him so much, Dad!  He talked to me upstairs about his school
and all the boys there.  He was very kind to me.  Do you think I’m too
little for him to like me?  I’m growing rather fast, you know.  I’d do
anything for him, anything.  I wish you’d tell him that. Will you?"

"Yes, I will, dear.  Now, run upstairs to Janet."

"Shall I say good night to Jim again?"

"If you like.  But don’t kiss him, or you’ll scare him."

They both had a confidential and silent fit of laughter over this; then
the child slid from his knees, dropped a hasty, confused curtsey in
Jim’s direction, turned and scampered upstairs.  And a gale of laughter
came floating out of the nursery, silenced as Janet shut the door.

The subdued glow of a lamp fell over father and son; undulating strata
of smoke drifted between them from the elder man’s cigar.

"Well, Jim?"

"Yes, Father."

"Do you like her?"

"She’s a—funny girl....  Yes, she’s a rather nice little kid."

"We’ll stand by her, won’t we, Jim?"

"Yes, sir."

"Make up to her the lost days—the cruellest injustice that can be
inflicted—the loss of a happy childhood."

"Yes, sir."

"All right, old chap.  Now, tell me all about yourself and what has
happened since you wrote."

"I had a fight."

"With whom, Jim?"

"With Oswald Grismer, of the first form."

"What did he do to you?" inquired his father.

"He said something—about a girl."

"What girl?"

"I don’t know her."

"Go on."

"Nothing....  Except I told him what I thought of him."

"For what?  For speaking disrespectfully about a girl you never met?"

"Yes, sir."

"Oh.  Go on."

"Nothing more, sir....  Except that we mixed it."

"I see.  Did you—hold your own?"

"They said—I think I did, sir."

"Grismer is—your age?  Younger?  Older?"

"Yes, sir, older."

"How do you and he weigh in?"

"He’s—I believe—somewhat heavier."

"First form boy.  Naturally.  Well, did you shake hands?"

"No, sir."

"That’s bad, Jim."

"I know it.  I—somehow—couldn’t."

"Do it next term.  No use to fight unless to settle things."

The boy remained silent, and his father did not press the matter.

"What shall we do to-morrow, Jim?" inquired Cleland Senior, after a long
pause.

"Do you mean just you and me, Father?"

"Oh, yes.  Steve will be busy with her lessons.  And, in the evening,
nine-thirty is her bedtime."

The boy said, with a sigh of unconscious relief:

"I need a lot of things.  We’ll go to the shops first. Then we’ll lunch
together, then we can take in a movie, then we’ll dine all by ourselves,
and then go to the theatre.  What do you say, Father?"

"Fine!" said his father, with the happy thrill which comes to fathers
whose growing sons still prefer their company to the company of anybody
else.



                              *CHAPTER VI*


To Cleland Senior it seemed as though Jim’s Easter vacation ended before
it had fairly begun; so swiftly sped the blessed days together.

Already the morning of his son’s departure for school had dawned, and he
realized it with the same mental sinking, the same secret dismay and
painful incredulity which he always experienced when the dreaded moment
for parting actually arrived.

As usual, he prepared to accompany his son to the railway station.  It
happened not to occur to him that Stephanie might desire to go.

At breakfast, his son sat opposite as usual, Stephanie on his right,
very quiet, and keeping her grey eyes on her plate so persistently that
the father finally noticed her subdued demeanour, and kept an eye on her
until in her momentarily lifted face he detected the sensitive, forced
smile of a child close to tears.

All the resolute composure she could summon did not conceal from him the
tragedy of a child who is about to lose its hero and who feels itself
left out—excluded, as it were, from the last sad rites.

He was touched, conscience stricken, and yet almost inclined to smile.
He said casually, as they rose from the table:

"Steve, dear, tell Janet to make you ready at once, if you are going to
see Jim off."

"Am—_I_—going!" faltered the child, flushing and tremulous with surprise
and happiness.

"Why, of course.  Run quickly to Janet, now."  And, to his son, when the
eager little flying feet had sped out of sight and hearing: "Steve felt
left out, Jim.  Do you understand, dear?"

"Y-yes, Father."

"Also, she is inclined to take your departure very seriously.  You do
understand, don’t you, my dear son?"

The boy said that he did, vaguely disappointed that he was not to have
the last moments alone with his father.

So they all went down town together in the car, and there were other
boys there with parents; and some recognitions among the other people;
desultory, perfunctory conversations, cohesion among the school boys
welcoming one another with ardour and strenuous cordiality after only
ten days’ separation.

Chiltern Grismer, father of Oswald, came over and spoke to Cleland
Senior:

"Our respective sons, it appears, so far forgot their Christian
principles as to indulge in a personal encounter in school," he said in
a pained voice.  "Hadn’t they better shake hands, Cleland?"

"Certainly," replied John Cleland.  "If a fight doesn’t clean off the
slate, there’s something very wrong somewhere ... Jim?"

Cleland Junior left the group of gossiping boys; young Grismer, also, at
his father’s summons, came sauntering nonchalantly over from another
group.

"Make it up with young Cleland!" said Chiltern Grismer, tersely.  "Mr.
Cleland and I are friends of many years.  Let there be no dissension
between our sons."

"Offer your hand, Jim," added Cleland Senior.  "A punch in the nose
settles a multitude of sins; doesn’t it, Grismer?"

The ceremony was effected reluctantly, and in anything but a cordial
manner.  Stephanie, looking on, perplexed, caught young Grismer’s
amber-coloured eyes fixed on her; saw the tall, sandy-haired boy turn to
look at her as he moved away to rejoin his particular group; saw the
colour rising in his mischievous face when she surprised him peeping at
her again over another boy’s shoulder.

Several times, before the train left, the little girl became conscious
that this overgrown, sandy-haired boy was watching her, sometimes with
frankly flattering admiration, sometimes furtively, as though in sly
curiosity.

"Who is that kid?" she distinctly heard him say to another boy.  She
calmly turned her back.

And was presently aware of the elder Grismer’s expressionless gaze
concentrated upon herself.

"Is this the little girl?" he said to Cleland Senior in his hard, dry
voice.

"That is my little daughter, Stephanie," replied Cleland coldly,
discouraging any possible advances on Grismer’s part.  For there would
never be any reason for bringing Stephanie in contact with the Grismers;
and there might be reasons for keeping her ignorant of their existence.
Which ought to be a simple matter, because he never saw Grismer, except
when he chanced to encounter him quite casually here and there in town.

"She’s older than I supposed," remarked Grismer, staring steadily at
her, where she stood beside Jim, shyly conversing with a group of his
particular cronies. Boy-like, they all were bragging noisily for her
exclusive benefit, talking school-talk, and swaggering and showing off
quite harmlessly as is the nature of the animal at that age.

"I don’t observe any family resemblance," mused Grismer, pursing his
slit-like lips.

"No?" inquired Cleland drily.

"No, none whatever.  Of course, the connection is remote—m-m-m’yes,
quite remote.  I trust," he added magnanimously, "that you will be able
to render her life comfortable and pleasant; and that the stipend you
purpose to bestow upon her may, if wisely administered, keep her from
want."

Cleland, who was getting madder every moment, turned very red now.

"I think," he said, managing to control his temper, "that it will
scarcely be a question of want with Stephanie Quest.  What troubles me a
little is that she’s more than likely to be an heiress."

"What!"

"It looks that way."

"Do you—do you mean, Cleland, that—that any legal steps to re-open——"

"Good Lord, no!" exclaimed Grismer, contemptuously. "She wouldn’t touch
a penny of Grismer money—not a penny!  I wouldn’t lift a finger to stir
up that mess again, even if it meant a million for her!"

Grismer breathed more easily, though Cleland’s frank and unconcealed
scorn left a slight red on his parchment-like skin.

"Our conception of moral and spiritual responsibility differs, I fear,"
he said, "—as widely as our creeds differ.  I regret that my friend of
many years should appear to be a trifle biassed—m-m-m’yes, a trifle
biassed in his opinion——"

"It’s none of my affair, Grismer.  We’re different, that’s all.  You
had, perhaps, a legal right to your unhappy sister’s share of the
Grismer inheritance.  You exercised it; I should not have done so.  It’s
a matter of conscience—to put it pleasantly."

"It is a matter of creed," said Grismer grimly.  "It was God’s will."

Cleland shrugged.

"Let it go at that.  Anyway, you needn’t worry over any possible action
that might be brought against you or your heirs.  There won’t be any.
What I meant was that the child’s aunt, Miss Rosalinda Quest, seems
determined to leave little Stephanie a great deal more money than is
good for anybody.  It isn’t necessary. I don’t believe in fortunes.  I’m
wary of them, afraid of them.  They change people—often change their
very natures.  I’ve seen it too many times—observed the undesirable
change in people who were quite all right before they came into
fortunes.  No; I am able to provide for her amply; I have done so.  That
ought to be enough."

Grismer’s dry, thin lips remained parted; he scarcely breathed; and his
remarkable eyes continued to bore into Cleland with an intensity almost
savage.

Finally he said, in a voice so dry that it seemed to crackle:

"This is—amazing.  I understood that the family had cast out and utterly
disowned the family of Harry Quest—m-m-m’yes, turned him out
completely—him and his.  So you will pardon my surprise, Cleland....
Is—ah—the Quest fortune—as it were—considerable?"

"Several millions, I believe," replied Cleland carelessly, moving away
to rejoin his son and Stephanie, where they stood amid the noisy,
laughing knot of school-boys.

Grismer looked after him, and his face, which had become drawn, grew
almost ghastly.  So this was it! Cleland had fooled him.  Cleland, with
previous knowledge of what this aunt was going to do for the child, had
cunningly selected her for adoption—doubtless designed her, ultimately,
for his son.  Cleland had known this; had kept the knowledge from him.
And that was the reason for all this philanthropy.  Presently he
summoned his son, Oswald, with a fierce gesture of his hooked
forefinger.

The boy detached himself leisurely from his group of school-fellows and
strolled up to his father.

"Don’t quarrel with young Cleland again.  Do you hear?" he said harshly.

"Well, I——"

"Do you _hear_?—you little fool!"

"Yes, sir, but——"

"Be silent and obey!  Do as I order you.  Seek his friendship.  And, if
opportunity offers, become friends with that little girl.  If you don’t
do as I say, I’ll cut your allowance.  Understand me, I want you to be
good friends with that little girl!"

Oswald cast a mischievous but receptive glance toward Stephanie.

"I’ll sure be friends with her, if I have a show," he said.  "She’s
easily the prettiest kid I ever saw.  But Jim doesn’t seem very anxious
to introduce me.  Maybe next term——"  He shrugged, but regarded
Stephanie with wistful golden eyes.

After the gates were opened, and when at last the school boys had
departed and the train was gone, Stephanie remained tragically
preoccupied with her personal loss in the departure of Cleland Junior.
For he was the first boy she had ever known; and she worshipped him with
all the long-pent ardour of a lonely heart.

Memory of the sandy youth with golden eyes continued in abeyance,
although he had impressed her.  It had, in fact, been a new experience
for her to be noticed by an older boy; and, although she considered
young Grismer homely and a trifle insolent, there remained in her
embryonic feminine consciousness the grateful aroma of incense swung
before her—incense not acceptable, but still unmistakably incense—the
subtle flattery of man.

As for young Grismer, reconciliation between him and Jim having been as
pleasantly effected as the forcible feeding of a jailed lady on a hunger
strike, he sauntered up to Cleland Junior in the car reserved for Saint
James School, and said amiably:

"Who was the little peach you kissed good-bye, Jim?"

The boy’s clear brown eyes narrowed just a trifle.

"She’s—my—sister," he drawled.  "What about it?"

"She’s so pretty—for a kid—that’s all."

Jim, eyeing him menacingly, replied in the horrid vernacular:

"That’s no sty on _your_ eye, is it?"

"F’r heaven’s sake!" protested Grismer.  "Are you still carrying that
old chip on your shoulder?  I thought it was all squared."

Jim considered him for a few moments.

"All right," he said; "it’s squared, Oswald.... Only, somehow I can’t
get over feeling that there are some more fights ahead of us....  Have a
caramel?"

Chiltern Grismer joined Cleland Senior on the way to the street, and
they strolled together toward the station entrance.  Stephanie walked in
silence beside Cleland, holding rather tightly to his arm, not even
noticing Grismer, and quite overwhelmed by her own bereavement.

Grismer murmured in his dry, guarded voice:

"She’s pretty enough and nicely enough behaved to be your own daughter."

Cleland nodded; a deeper flush of annoyance spread over his handsome,
sanguine face.  He resented it when people did not take Stephanie for
his own flesh and blood; and it even annoyed him that Grismer should
mention a matter upon which he had become oddly sensitive.

"I hope you won’t ever be sorry, Cleland," remarked the other in his
dry, metallic voice.  "Yes, indeed, I hope you won’t regret your
philanthropic venture."

"I am very happy in my little daughter," replied Cleland quietly.

"She’s turning out quite satisfactory?"

"Of course!" snapped the other.

"M-m-m!" mused Grismer between thin, dry lips. "It’s rather too early to
be sure, Cleland.  You never can tell what traits are going to reveal
themselves in the young.  There’s no knowing what may crop out in them.
No—no telling; no telling.  Of course, sometimes they turn out well.
M-m-m’yes, quite well. That’s our experience in the Charities
Association. But, more often, they—don’t!—to be perfectly frank with
you—they _don’t_ turn out very well."

Cleland’s features had grown alarmingly red.

"I’m not apprehensive," he managed to say.

"Oh, no, of course, it’s no use worrying.  Time will show.  M-m-m!  Yes.
It will all be made manifest in time.  M-m-m’yes!  Time’ll show,
Cleland—time’ll show.  But—I knew my sister," he added sadly, "and I am
afraid—very much afraid."

At the entrance for motors they parted.  Grismer got into a shabby
limousine driven by an unkempt chauffeur.

"Going my way, Cleland?"

"Thanks, I have my car."

"In that case," returned Grismer, "I shall take my leave of you.
Good-bye, and God be with you," he said piously.  "And good-bye to
_you_, my pretty little miss," he added graciously, distorting his
parchment features into something resembling a smile.  "Tell your papa
to bring you to see me sometime when my boy is home from school; and,"
he added rather vaguely, "we’ll have a nice time and play games.
_Good-bye_!"

"Who was that man, Daddy?" asked Stephanie, as their own smart little
car drew up.

"Oh, nobody—just a man with whom I have a—a sort of acquaintance,"
replied Cleland.

"Was that his boy who kept looking at me all the while in the station,
Daddy?"

"I didn’t notice.  Come, dear, jump in."

So he took Stephanie back to the house where instruction in the three
R’s awaited her, with various extras and embellishments suitable for the
education of the daughter of John William Cleland.

The child crept up close to him in the car, holding tightly to his arm
with both of hers.

"I’m lonely for Jim," she whispered.  "I——" but speech left her suddenly
in the lurch.

"You’re going to make me proud of you, darling; aren’t you?" he
murmured, looking down at her.

The child merely nodded.  Grief for the going of her first boy had now
left her utterly dumb.



                             *CHAPTER VII*


There is a serio-comic, yet charming, sort of tragedy—fortunately only
temporary—in the attachment of a little girl for an older boy.  It often
bores him so; and she is so daintily in earnest.

The one adores, tags after, and often annoys; the other, if chivalrous,
submits.

It began this way between Stephanie Quest and Jim Cleland.  It
continued.  She realized with awe the discrepancy in their ages; he was
amiable enough to pretend to waive the discrepancy.  And his
condescension almost killed her.

The poor child grew older as fast as she possibly could; resolute,
determined to overtake him somewhere, if that could be done.  For in
spite of arithmetic she seemed to know that it was possible.  Moreover,
it was wholly characteristic of her to attack with pathetic confidence
the impossible—to lead herself as a forlorn hope and with cheerful and
reckless resolution into the most hopeless impasse.

Cleland Senior began to notice this trait in her—began to wonder whether
it was an admirable trait or a light-headed one.

Once, an imbecile canary, purchased by him for her, and passionately
cherished, got out of its open cage, out of the open nursery window, and
perched on a cornice over one of the windows.  And out of the window
climbed Stephanie, never hesitating, disregarding consequences, clinging
like a desperate kitten to sill and blind, negotiating precarious ledges
with steady feet; and the flag-stones of the area four stories below
her, and spikes on the iron railing.

A neighbour opposite fainted; another shouted incoherently.  It became a
hair-raising situation; she could neither advance nor retreat.  The
desperate, Irish keening of Janet brought Meacham; Meacham, at the
telephone, notified the nearest police station, and a section of the
Fire Department.  The latter arrived with extension ladders.

It was only when pushed violently bed-ward, as punishment, that the
child realized there had been anything to be frightened about.  Then she
became scared; and was tearfully glad to see Cleland when he came in
that evening from a print-hunting expedition.

And once, promenading on Fifth Avenue with Janet, for the sake of her
health—such being the régime established—she separated two violently
fighting school-boys, slapped the large one, who had done the bullying,
soundly, cuffed another, who had been enjoying the unequal combat, fell
upon a fourth, and was finally hustled home with her expensive clothing
ruined.  But in her eyes and cheeks still lingered the brilliant fires
of battle, when Janet stripped her for a bath.

And once in the park she sprang like a young tigress upon a group of
ragamuffins who had found a wild black mallard duck, nesting in a
thicket near the lake, and who were stoning the frightened thing.

All Janet could see was a most dreadful melée agitating the bushes, from
which presently burst boy after boy, in an agony of flight, rushing
headlong and terror-stricken from that dreadful place where a wild-girl
raged, determined on their extermination.

Stephanie’s development was watched with tender, half-fearful curiosity
by Cleland.

As usual, two separate columns were necessary to record the varied
traits so far apparent in her.  These traits Cleland noted in the book
devoted to memoranda concerning the child, writing them as follows:


      Inclined to self−indulgence.       Easily moved to impulsive
      Consequently, a trifle           self−sacrifice.
    selfish at times.                    Ardent in her affections;
      Over−sensitive and likely        loyal to friendship; and
    to exaggerate.                     essentially truthful.
      Very great talent latent:          Indignation quickly excited
    possibly histrionic.               by any form of cruelty or
      Anger, when finally              treachery.  Action likely to
    aroused, likely to lead to         be immediate without regard
    extremes.                          for personal considerations.
      Generous with her possessions.


So far he could discover nothing vicious in her, no unworthy inherited
instincts beyond those common to young humans, instincts supposed to be
extirpated by education.

She was no greedier than any other healthy child, no more self-centred;
all her appetites were normal, all her inclinations natural.  She had a
good mind, but a very human one, fairly balanced but sensitive to
emotion, inclination, and impulse, and sometimes rather tardy in
readjusting itself when logic and reason were required to regain
equilibrium.

But the child was more easily swayed by gratitude than by any other of
the several human instincts known as virtues.

So she grew toward adolescence, closely watched by Cleland,
good-naturedly tolerated by Jim, worshipped by Janet, served by Meacham
with instinctive devotion—the only quality in him not burnt out in his
little journeys through hell.

There were others, too, in the world, who remembered the child.  There
was her aunt, who came once a month and brought always an expensive
present, over the suitability of which she and Cleland differed to the
verge of rudeness.  But they always parted on excellent terms. And there
was Chiltern Grismer, who sat sometimes for hours in his office,
thinking about the child and the fortune which threatened her.

Weeks, adhering to one another, became months; months totalled
years—several of them, recorded so suddenly that John Cleland could not
believe it.

He had arrived at that epoch in the life of man when the years stood
still with him: when he neither felt himself changing nor appeared to
grow older, though all around him he was constantly aware of others
aging. Yet, being always with Stephanie, he could not notice her rapid
development, as he noted the astonishing growth of his son when the boy
came home after brief absences at school.

Stephanie, still a child, was becoming something else very rapidly.  But
still she remained childlike enough to idolize Jim Cleland and to show
it, without reserve. And though he really found her excellent company,
amusing and diverting, her somewhat persistent and dog-like devotion
embarrassed and bored him sometimes. He was at that age.

Young Grismer, in Jim’s hearing, commenting upon a similar devotion
inflicted on himself by a girl, characterized her as "too damn
pleasant"—a brutal yet graphic summary.

And for a while the offensive phrase stuck in Jim’s memory, though
always chivalrously repudiated as applying to Stephanie.  Yet, the poor
girl certainly bored him at times, so blind her devotion, so pitiful her
desire to please, so eager her heart of a child for the comradeship
denied her in the dreadful years of solitude and fear.

For a year or two the affair lay that way between these two; the
school-boy’s interest in the little girl was the interest of polite
responsibility; consideration for misfortune, toleration for her sex,
with added allowance for her extreme youth.  This was the boy’s
attitude.

Had not boarding-school and college limited his sojourn at home, it is
possible that indifference might have germinated.

But he saw her so infrequently and for such short periods; and even
during the summer vacation, growing outside interests, increasing
complexity in social relations with fellow students—invitations to house
parties, motor trips, camping trips—so interrupted the placid continuity
of his vacation in their pleasant summer home in the northern
Berkshires, that he never quite realized that Stephanie Quest was really
anything more than a sort of permanent guest, billeted indefinitely
under his father’s roof.

When he was home in New York at Christmas and Easter, his gravely
detached attitude of amiable consideration never varied toward her.

The few weeks at a time that he spent at "Runner’s Rest," his father’s
quaint and ancient place on Cold River, permitted him no time to realize
the importance and permanency of the place she already occupied as an
integral part of the house of Cleland.

A thousand new interests, new thoughts, possessed the boy in the full
tide of adolescence.  All the world was beginning to unclose before him
like the brilliant, fragrant petals of a magic flower.  And in this
rainbow transformation of things terrestrial, a boy’s mind is always
unbalanced by the bewildering and charming confusion of it all—for it is
he who is changing, not the world; he is merely learning to see instead
of to look, to comprehend instead of to perceive, to realize instead of
to take for granted all the wonders and marvels and mysteries to which a
young man is heir.

It is drama, comedy, farce, tragedy, this inevitable awakening; it is
the alternate elucidation and deepening of mysteries; it is a day of
clear, keen reasoning succeeding a day of illogical caprice; an hour
aquiver with undreamed-of mental torture followed by an hour of
spiritual exaltation; it is the era of magnificent aspiration, of
inexplicable fear, of lofty abnegations, of fierce egotisms, of dreams
and of convictions, of faiths for which youth dies; and, alas, it is a
day of pitiless development which leaves the shadowy memory of faith
lingering in the brain, and, on the lips, a smile.

And, amid such emotions, such impulses, such desires, fears,
aspirations, hopes, regrets, the average boy puts on that Nessus coat
called manhood.  And he has, in his temporarily dislocated and
unadjusted brain, neither the time nor the patience, nor the interest,
nor the logic at his command necessary to see and understand what is
happening under his aspiring and heavenward-tilted nose.  Only the
clouds enrapture him; where every star beckons him he responds in a
passion of endeavour.

And so he begins the inevitable climb toward the moon—the path which
every man born upon the earth has trodden far or only a little way, but
the path all men at least have tried.

In his freshman year at Harvard, he got drunk.  The episode was quite
inadvertent on his part—one of those accidents incident to the vile,
claret-coloured "punches" offered by some young idiot in "honour" of his
own birthday.

The Cambridge police sheltered him over night; his fine was
over-subscribed; he explored the depths of hell in consequence of the
affair, endured the agony of shame, remorse, and self-loathing to the
physical and mental limit, and eventually recovered, regarding himself
as a reformed criminal with a shattered past.

However, the youthful gloom and melancholy dignity with which this
clothed him had a faint and not entirely unpleasant flavour—as one who
might say, "I have lived and learned.  There is the sad wisdom of
worldly things within me."  But he cut out alcohol. It being the fashion
at that time to shrug away an offered cup, he found little difficulty in
avoiding it.

In his Sophomore year, he met the inevitable young person.  And, after
all that had been told him, all that he had disdainfully pictured to
himself, did not recognize her when he met her.

It was one of those episodes which may end any way.  And it ended, of
course, in one way or another. But it did end.

Thus the limited world he moved in began to wear away the soft-rounded
contours of boyhood; he learned a little about men, nothing whatever
about women, but was inclined to consider that he understood them sadly
and perfectly.  He wrote several plays, novels and poems to amuse
himself; wrote articles for the college periodicals, when he was not too
busy training with the baseball squad or playing tennis, or lounging
through those golden and enchanted hours when the smoke of undergraduate
pipes spins a magic haze over life, enveloping books and comrades in
that exquisite and softly brilliant web which never tears, never fades
in memory while life endures.

He made many friends; he visited many homes; he failed sometimes, but
more often he made good in whatever he endeavoured.

His father came on to Cambridge several times—always when his son
requested it—and he knew the sympathy of his father in days of triumph,
and he understood his father’s unshaken belief in his only son when that
son, for the moment, faltered.

For he had confided in his father the episodes of the punch and the
young person.  Never had his father and he been closer together in mind
and spirit than after that confession.

In spite of several advances made by Chiltern Grismer, whose son,
Oswald, was also at Harvard and a popular man in his class, John Cleland
remained politely unreceptive; and there were no social amenities
exchanged.  Jim Cleland and Oswald Grismer did not visit each other,
although friendly enough at Cambridge.  Cleland Senior made no
particular effort to discourage any such friendly footing, and he was
not inclined to judge young Grismer by his father.  He merely remained
unresponsive.

In such cases, he who makes the advances interprets their non-success
according to his own nature.  And Grismer concluded that he had been a
victim of insidious guile and sharp practice, and that John Cleland had
taken Stephanie to his heart only after he had learned that, some day,
she would inherit the Quest fortune from her eccentric relative.

Chagrin and sullen irritation against Cleland had possessed him since he
first learned of this inheritance; and he nourished both until they grew
into a dull, watchful anger.  And he waited for something or other that
might in some way offer him a chance to repair the vital mistake he had
made in his attitude toward the child.

But Cleland gave him no opening whatever; Grismer’s social advances were
amiably ignored.  And it became plainer and plainer to Grismer, as he
interpreted the situation, that John Cleland was planning to unite,
through his son Jim, the comfortable Cleland income with the Quest
millions, and to elbow everybody else out of the way.

"The philanthropic hypocrite," mused Grismer, still smarting from a note
expressing civil regrets in reply to an invitation to Stephanie and Jim
to join them after church for a motor trip to Lakewood.

"Can’t they come?" inquired Oswald.

"Previous engagement," snapped Grismer, tearing up the note.  His wife,
an invalid, with stringy hair and spots on her face, remarked with
resignation that the Clelands were too stylish to care about plain,
Christian people.

"Stylish," repeated Grismer, "I’ve got ten dollars to Cleland’s one.  I
can put on style enough to swamp him if I’ve a mind to!—m-m-m’yes, if
I’ve a mind to."

"Why don’t you?" inquired Oswald, with a malicious side glance at his
father’s frock coat and ready-made cravat.  "Chuck the religious game
and wear spats and a topper!  It’s a better graft, governor."

Chiltern Grismer, only partly attentive to his son’s impudence, turned a
fierce, preoccupied glance upon him.  But his mind was still intrigued
with that word "stylish."  It began to enrage him.

He repeated it aloud once or twice, sneeringly:

"So you think we may not be sufficiently stylish to suit the Clelands—or
that brat they picked out of the sewer?  M-m-m’yes, out of an east-side
sewer!"

Oswald pricked up his intelligent and rather pointed ears.

"What brat?" he inquired.

Chiltern Grismer had never told his son the story of Stephanie Quest.
In the beginning, the boy had been too young, and there seemed to be no
particular reason for telling him.  Later, when Grismer suddenly
developed ambitions in behalf of his son for the Quest fortune, he did
not say anything about Stephanie’s origin, fearing that it might
prejudice his son.

Now, he suddenly concluded to tell him, not from spite entirely, nor to
satisfy his increasing resentment against Cleland; but because Oswald
would, some day, inherit the Grismer money.  And it might be just as
well to prime him now, in the event that any of the Clelands should ever
start to reopen the case which had deprived Jessie Grismer of her own
inheritance so many years ago.

The young fellow listened with languid astonishment as the links of the
story, very carefully and morally polished, were displayed by his father
for his instruction and edification.

"That is the sort of stylish people they are," concluded Grismer, making
an abrupt end.  "Let it be a warning to you to keep your eye on the
Clelands; for a man that calls himself a philanthropist, and is sharp
enough to pick out an heiress from the gutter, will bear
watching!—m-m-m’yes, indeed, he certainly will bear watching."

Mrs. Grismer, who was knitting with chilly fingers, sighed.

"You always said it was God’s judgment on Jessie and her descendants,
Chiltern.  But I kind of wish you’d been a little mite more forgiving."

"Who am I?" demanded Grismer, sullenly, "to thwart God’s wrath ...
m-m-m’yes, the anger of the Lord Almighty!  And I never thought of that
imbecile aunt....  It was divine will that punished my erring sister and
her children, and her children’s chil——"

"Rot!" remarked Oswald.  "Cleland caught you napping and put one over.
That’s all that worries you.  And now you are properly and piously
sore!"

"That is an impious and wickedly outrageous way to talk to your father!"
said Grismer, glaring at him. "You have come back from college lacking
reverence and respect for everything you have been taught to consider
sacred!—m-m-m’yes—everything!  You have returned to us utterly
demoralized, defiant, rebellious, changed!  Every worldly abomination
seems to attract you: you smoke openly in your mother’s presence; your
careless and loose conversation betrays your contempt for the simple,
homely, and frugal atmosphere in which you have been reared by Christian
parents.  Doubtless we are not sufficiently stylish for you any longer!"
he added sarcastically.

"I’m sorry I was disrespectful, governor——"

"_No_!  You are _not_ sorry!" retorted Grismer tartly. "You rejoice
secretly in your defiance of your parents! You have been demoralized by
the license permitted you by absence from home.  You live irresponsibly;
you fling away your money on theatres!  You yourself admit that you have
learned to dance.  Nothing that your pastor has taught you, nothing that
our church holds sacred seems capable of restraining you from
wickedness.  That is the truth, Oswald.  And your mother and I despair
of your future, here and——" he lifted his eyes solemnly—"above."

There was an awkward silence.  Finally Oswald said with sullen
frankness:

"You see I’m a man, now, and I’ve got to do my own thinking.  Things I
used to believe seem tommyrot to me now——"

"Oswald!" sighed his mother.

"I’m sorry to pain you, Mother, but they do!  And about everything you
object to I find agreeable.  I’m not very bad, Mother.  But this sort of
talk inclines me to raise the devil.  What’s the harm in going to a
show?  In dancing?  In smoking a cigar?  For heaven’s sake, let a fellow
alone.  The line of talk the governor hands me makes a cynic of a man
who’s got any brains."

There was another silence; then Oswald continued:

"And, while we are trying to be frank with each other this pleasant
Sunday morning, what about my career? Let’s settle it now!"

"I’m opposed to any such frivolous profession!" snapped Grismer angrily.
"That’s your answer.  And that settles it."

"You mean that you still oppose my studying sculpture?"

"Emphatically."

"Why?" demanded the youth, rather white, but smiling.

"Because it is no business career for a Christian!" retorted his father,
furious.  "It is a loose, irregular, eccentric profession, beset with
pitfalls and temptations. It leads to immorality and unbelief—m-m-m’yes,
to hell itself!  And that is why I oppose it!"

Oswald shrugged:

"I’m sorry you feel that way but I can’t help it, of course."

"Do you mean," inquired his mother, "that you intend to disregard our
solemn wishes?"

"I don’t know," said the young fellow, "I really don’t know, Mother.  I
can’t seem to breathe and expand at home.  You’ve never made things very
cheerful for me."

"Oswald!  You are utterly heartless!"

"I’ve been fed up on the governor’s kind of religion, on narrow views
and gloom; and that’s no good for a modern boy.  It’s a wonder I have
any heart at all, and sometimes I think it’s dried up——"

"That will do!" shouted Grismer, losing all self-control. "If your home,
your parents, and your Creator can not make a Christian of you, there is
nothing to hope from you! ... I’ll hear no more from you. Go and get
ready for church!"

"I sha’n’t go," said the young fellow calmly.

When he went back to Cambridge at the end of the week, it was with the
desire never to see his home again, and with a vague and burning
intention to get even, somehow, by breaking every law of the imbecile
religion on which he had been "fed up."



                             *CHAPTER VIII*


When Stephanie was fifteen years old, John Cleland took her to
Cambridge.

The girl had been attending a celebrated New York school during the last
two years.  She had developed the bearing and manners which
characterized the carefully trained products of that institution, but
the régime seemed to have subdued her, and made her retiring and
diffident.

She could have formed friendships there had she desired to do so; she
formed none; yet any girl there would have been happy and flattered to
call Stephanie Quest her friend.  But Stephanie cared little for those
confidential and intimate relations so popular among school girls of her
age.

She made no enemies, however.  An engaging reticence and reserve
characterized her—the shy and wistful charm of that indeterminate age
when a girl is midway in the delicate process of transformation.

If she cared nothing about girls, she lacked self-confidence with boys,
though vastly preferring their society; but she got little of it except
when Jim’s school friends came to the house during holidays.  Then she
had a heavenly time just watching and listening.

So when John Cleland took her to Cambridge, she had, in the vernacular
of the moment, a "wonderful" experience—everything during that period of
her career being "wonderful" or "topping."

Jim, as always, was "wonderful;" and the attitude of his friends
alternately delighted and awed her, so gaily devoted they instantly
became to Jim’s "little sister."

But what now secretly thrilled the girl was that Jim, for the first
time, seemed to be proud of her, not tolerating her as an immature
member of the family, but welcoming her as an equal, on an equal
footing.  And, with inexpressible delight, she remembered her
determination, long ago, to overtake him; and realized that she was
doing it very rapidly.

So she went to a football game at the stadium; she took tea in the
quarters of these god-like young men; she motored about Cambridge and
Boston; she saw all that a girl of fifteen ought to see, heard all that
she ought to hear, and went back to New York with John Cleland in the
seventh paradise of happiness fulfilled, madly enamoured of Jim and
every youthful superman he had introduced to her.

Every year while Jim was at college there was a repetition of this
programme, and she and John Cleland departed regularly for Cambridge
amid excitement indescribable.

And when, in due time, Jim prepared to emerge from that great
university, swaddled in sheepskin, and reeking with Cambridge culture,
Stephanie went again to Cambridge with her adopted father—a girl, then,
of seventeen, still growing, still in the wondering maze of her own
adolescence, exquisitely involved in its magic, conscious already of its
spell, of its witchcraft, which lore she was shyly venturing to
investigate.

She had a "wonderful" week in Cambridge—more and more excited by the
discovery that young men found her as agreeable as she found them, and
that they sought her now on perfectly even terms of years and
experience; regarded her as of them, not merely with them.  And this
enchanted her.

Two of her school friends, the Hildreth girls, were there with their
mother, and the latter very gladly extended her wing to cover Stephanie
for the dance, John Cleland not feeling very well and remaining in
Boston.

And it chanced that Stephanie met there Oswald Grismer; and knew him
instantly when he was presented to her.  Even after all those years, the
girl clearly recollected seeing him in the railroad station, and
remembered the odd emotions of curiosity and disapproval she experienced
when he stared at her so persistently—disapproval slightly mitigated by
consciousness of the boyish flattery his manner toward her implied.

He said, in his easy, half-mischievous way:

"You don’t remember me, of course, Miss Quest, but when you were a very
little girl I once saw you at the Grand Central Station in New York."

Stephanie, as yet too inexperienced a diplomat to forget such things,
replied frankly that she remembered him perfectly.  When it was too
late, she blushed at her admission.

"That’s unusually nice of you," he said.  "Maybe it was my bad manners
that impressed you, Miss Quest. I remember that I had never seen such a
pretty little girl in my life, and I’m very sure I stared at you, and
that you were properly annoyed."

He was laughing easily, as he spoke, and she laughed, too, still a
trifle confused.

"I did think you rather rude," she admitted.  "But what a long time ago
that was!  Isn’t it _strange_ that I should remember it?  I can even
recollect that you and my brother had had a fight in school and that dad
made you both shake hands there in the station, before you went aboard
the train....  Naturally, I didn’t feel kindly toward you," she added,
laughingly.

"Jim and I are now on most amiable terms," he assured her, "so please
feel kindly toward me now—kindly enough to give me one unimportant
dance.  Will you, Miss Quest?"

Later when he presented himself to claim the dance, her reception of him
was unmistakably friendly.

He had grown up into a spare, loosely coupled, yet rather graceful young
fellow, with hair and eyes that matched, both of a deep amber shade.

But there was in his bearing, in his carelessly attractive manner, in
his gaze, a lurking hint of irresponsibility, perhaps of mischief, which
did not, however, impress her disagreeably.

On the contrary, she felt oddly at ease with him, as though she had
known him for some time.

"Have you forgiven me for staring at you so many years ago?" he
inquired, smilingly.

She thought that she had.

But his next words startled her a little; he said, still smiling in his
careless and attractive way:

"I have a queer idea that we’re beginning in the middle of
everything—that we’ve already known each other long enough to waive
preliminaries and begin our acquaintance as old friends."

He was saying almost exactly what she had not put into words.  He was
still looking at her intently, curiously, with the same slightly
importunate, slightly deferential smile which she now vividly remembered
in the boy.

"Do you, by any chance, feel the same about our encounter?" he asked.

"What way?"

"That we seem to have known each other for a long time?"

Stephanie had not yet learned very much in the art of self-defense.  A
question to her still meant either a truthful answer or a silence.  She
remained silent.

"Do you, Miss Quest?" he persisted.

"Yes, I do."

"As though," he insisted, "you and I are beginning in the middle of the
book of friendship instead of bothering to cut the pages of the
preface?" he suggested gaily.

She laughed.

"You know," she warned him, "that I have not yet made up my mind about
you."

"Oh.  Concerning what are you in doubt?"

"Concerning exactly how I ought to consider you."

"As a friend, please."

"Perhaps.  Are we going to dance or talk?"

After they had been dancing for a few moments:

"So you are a crew man?"

"Who told you?"

"I’ve inquired about you," she admitted, glancing sideways at the tall,
spare, graceful young fellow with his almost golden colouring.  "I have
questioned various people.  They told me things."

"Did they give me a black eye?" he asked, laughingly.

"No.  But somebody gave you a pair of golden ones....  Like two
sun-spots on a brown brook. You’ve a golden look; do you know it?"

"Red-headed men turn that way when they’re in the sun and wind," he
explained, still laughing, yet plainly fascinated by the piquant, breezy
informality of this young girl.  "Tell me, do you still go to school,
Miss Quest?"

"How insulting! ... Yes!  But it was mean of you to ask."

"Good Lord!  You didn’t expect me to think you the mother of a family,
did you?"

That mollified her.

"Where do you go to school?" he continued.

"Miss Montfort’s.  I finish this week."

"And then?"

"To college, I’m afraid."

"Don’t you want to?"

"I’d rather go to a dramatic school."

"Is that your inclination, Miss Quest?"

"I’d adore it!  But dad doesn’t."

"Too bad."

"I don’t know.  I’m quite happy, anyway.  I’m having a wonderful time,
whatever I’m doing."

"Then it isn’t an imperious call from Heaven to leave all and elevate
the drama?" he asked, with a pretense of anxiety that made her laugh.

"You are disrespectful.  I’m sure I could elevate the drama if I had the
chance.  But I sha’n’t get it. However, next to the stage I adore to
paint," she explained. "There is a class.  I have attended it for two
years. I paint rather nicely."

"No wonder we feel so friendly," exclaimed Grismer.

"Why?  Do _you_ paint?"

"No, but I’m to be a sculptor."

"How _wonderful_!  I’m simply mad to do something, too!  Don’t you love
the atmosphere of Bohemia, Mr. Grismer?"

He said that he did with a mischievous smile straight into her grey
eyes.

"It is my dream," she went on, slightly confused, "to have a studio—not
a bit fixed up, you know, and not frilly—but with just one or two
wonderful old objects of art here and there and the rest a fascinating
confusion of artistic things."

"Great!" he assented.  "Please ask me to tea!"

"Wouldn’t it be _wonderful_?  And of course I’d work like fury until
five o’clock every day, and then just have tea ready for the brilliant
and interesting people who are likely to drop in to discuss the most
wonderful things!  Just think of it, Mr. Grismer!  Think what a heavenly
privilege it must be to live such a life, surrounded by inspiration
and—and atmosphere and—and such things—and listening to the conversation
of celebrated people telling each other all about art and how they
became famous!  What a lofty, exalted life!  What a magnificent
incentive to self-cultivation, attainment, and creative accomplishment!
And yet, how charmingly informal and free from artificiality!"

Grismer also had looked forward to a professional career in Bohemia,
with a lively appreciation of its agreeable informalities.  And the
irresponsibility and liberty—perhaps license—of such a life had appealed
to him only in a lesser degree than the desire to satisfy his artistic
proclivities with a block of marble or a fistful of clay.

"Yes," he repeated, "that is undoubtedly _the_ life, Miss Quest.  And it
certainly seems as though you and I were cut out for it."

Stephanie sighed, lost in iridescent dreams of higher things—vague
visions of spiritual and artistic levels from which, if attained, genius
might stoop to regenerate the world.

But Grismer’s amber eyes were brilliant with slumbering mischief.

"What do you think of Grismer, Steve?" inquired Jim Cleland, as they
drove back to Boston that night, where his father, at the hotel, awaited
them both.

"I really don’t exactly know, Jim.  Do you like him?"

"Sometimes.  He’s crew, Dicky, Hasty Pudding. He’s a curious chap.
You’ve got to hand him that, anyway."

"Cleverness?"

"Oh, more than that, I think.  He’s an artist through and through."

"Really!"

"Oh, yes.  He’s a bird on the box, too."

"_What!_"

"On the piano, Steve.  He’s the real thing.  He sings charmingly.  He
draws better than Harry Beltran. He’s done things in clay and wax—really
wonderful things.  You saw him in theatricals."

"Did I?  Which was he?"

"Why, the _Duke of Brooklyn_, of course.  He was practically the whole
show!"

"I didn’t know it," she murmured.  "I did not recognize him.  How clever
he really is!"

"You hadn’t met him then," remarked Jim.

"But I had seen him, once," she answered in a low, dreamy voice.

Jim Cleland glanced around at her.  Again it struck him that Stephanie
was growing up very rapidly into an amazingly ornamental girl—a sister
to be proud of.

"Did you have a good time, Steve?" he asked.

"Wonderful," she sighed; smiling back at him out of sleepy eyes.

The car sped on toward Boston.



                              *CHAPTER IX*


Stephanie Quest was introduced to society when she was eighteen, and was
not a success. She had every chance at her debut to prove popular, but
she remained passive, charmingly indifferent to social success, not
inclined to step upon the treadmill, unwilling to endure the exactions,
formalities, sacrifices, and stupid routine which alone make social
position possible.  There was too much chaff for the few grains of wheat
to interest her.

She wanted a career, and she wanted to waste no time about it, and she
was delightfully certain that the path to it lay through some dramatic
or art school to the stage or studio.

Jim laughed at her and teased her; but his father worried a great deal,
and when Stephanie realized that he was worrying she became reasonable
about the matter and said that the next best thing would be college.

"Dad," she said, "I adore dancing and gay dinner parties, but there is
nothing else to them but mere dancing and eating.  The trouble seems to
be with the people—nice people, of course—but——"

"Brainless," remarked Jim, looking over his evening paper.

"No; but they all think and do the same things. They all have the same
opinions, the same outlook. They all read the same books when they read
at all, go to see the same plays, visit the same people.  It’s jolly to
do it two or three times; but after a little while you realize that all
these people are restless and don’t know what to do with themselves; and
it makes me restless—not for that reason—but because I _do_ know what to
do with myself—only you, darling——" slipping one arm around John
Cleland’s neck, "—don’t approve."

"Yours is a restless sex, Steve," remarked Jim, still studying the
evening paper.  "You’ve all got the fidgets."

"A libel, my patronizing friend.  Or rather a tribute," she added gaily,
"because only a restless mind matures and accomplishes."

"Accomplishes what?  Suffrage?  Sex equality? You’ll all perish with
boredom when you get it, because there’ll be nothing more to fidget
about."

"He’s just a bumptious boy yet, isn’t he, Dad?"

Jim laughed and laid aside his paper:

"You’re a sweet, pretty girl, Steve——"

"I’ll slay you if you call me that!"

"Why not be what you look?  Why not have a good time with all your
might, marry when you wish, and become a perfectly——"

"Oh, Jim, you _are_ annoying!  Dad, is there anything more irritating
than a freshly hatched college graduate?  Or more maddeningly
complacent?  Look at your self-satisfied son!  There he sits, after
having spent the entire day in enjoyment of his profession, and argues
that I ought to be satisfied with an idle day in which I have
accomplished absolutely nothing!  I’m afraid your son is a pig."

Jim laughed lazily:

"The restless sex is setting the world by the ears," he said
tormentingly.  "All this femininist business, this intrusion into man’s
affairs, this fidgety dissatisfaction with a perfectly good
civilization, is spoiling you all."

"Is that the sort of thing you’re putting into your wonderful novel?"
she inquired.

"No, it’s too unimportant——"

"Dad!  Let’s ignore him!  Now, dear, if you feel as you do about a
career for me at present, I really think I had better go to college.  I
do love pleasure, but somehow the sort of pleasure I’m supposed to enjoy
doesn’t last; and it’s the people, I think, that tire one very quickly.
It _does_ make a difference in dancing, doesn’t it?—not to hear an idea
uttered during an entire evening—not to find anybody thinking for
themselves——"

"Oh, Steve!" laughed Jim, "you’re not expected to think at your age!
All that society expects of you is that you chatter incessantly during
dinner and the opera and do your thinking in a ballroom with your feet!"

She was laughing, but an unwonted colour brightened her cheeks as she
turned on him from the padded arm of John Cleland’s chair, where she had
been sitting:

"If I really thought you meant that, Jim, I’d spend the remainder of my
life in proving to you that I have a mind."

"Never mind him, Steve," said John Cleland.  "If you wish to go to
college, you shall."

"How about looking after us?" inquired Jim, alarmed.

"Dad, if my being here is going to make _you_ more comfortable," she
said, "I’ll remain.  Really, I am serious.  Don’t you want me to go?"

"Are you really so restless, Steve?"

"Mentally," she replied, with a defiant glance at Jim.

"This will be a gay place to live in if _you_ go off for four years!"
remarked that young man.

"You don’t mean that _you’d_ miss me!" she exclaimed mockingly.

"Of course I’d miss you."

"Miss the mental stimulus I give you?"—sweetly persuasive.

"Not at all.  I’d miss the mental relaxation you afford my tired
brain——"

"You beast!  Dad, I’m _going_!  And some day your son will find out that
it’s an _idle_ mind that makes a girl restless; not a restless mind that
makes her idle!"

"I was just teasing, Steve!"

"I know it."  She smiled at the young fellow, but her grey eyes were
brilliant.  Then she turned and nestled against John Cleland: "I have
made up my mind, darling, and I have decided to go to Vassar."

Home, to John Cleland and his son, had come to mean Stephanie as much as
everything else under the common roof-tree.

For the background of familiar things framed her so naturally and so
convincingly and seemed so obviously devised for her in this mellow old
household, where everything had its particular place in an orderly
ensemble, that when she actually departed for college, the routine
became dislocated, jarring everything above and below stairs, and
leaving two dismayed and extremely restless men.

"Steve’s going off like this has put the whole house on the blink,"
protested Jim, intensely surprised to discover the fact.

It nearly finished Janet, whose voice, long afflicted with the cracked
tremolo of age, now became almost incoherent at the very mention of
Stephanie’s name.

Old Lizzie, the laundress, deeply disapproving of Stephanie’s departure,
insisted on doing her linen and sheer fabrics, and sending a hamper once
a week to Poughkeepsie.  Every week, also, Amanda, the cook, dispatched
cardboard boxes Vassarward, containing condiments and culinary creations
which she stubbornly refused to allow Cleland Senior to censor.

"Ay t’ank a leetle yelly-cake and a leetle yar of yam it will not hurt
Miss Stephanie," she explained to Cleland.  And he said no more.

As for Meacham, he prowled noiselessly about his duties, little,
shrunken, round-shouldered, as though no dislocation in the family
circle had occurred; but every day since her departure, at Stephanie’s
place a fresh flower of some sort lay on the cloth to match the other
blossom opposite.

In the library together, after dinner, father and son discussed the void
which her absence had created.

"She’ll get enough of it and come back," suggested Jim, but without
conviction.  "It’s beastly not having her about."

"Perhaps you have a faint idea how it was for me when you were away,"
observed his father.

"I know.  I _had_ to go through, hadn’t I?"

"Of course....  But—with your mother gone—it was—lonely.  Do you
understand, now, why I took Steve when I had the chance?"

The young fellow nodded, looking at his father:

"Of course I understand.  But I don’t see why Steve had to go.  She has
everything here to amuse her—everything a girl could desire!  Why the
deuce should she get restless and go flying about after knowledge?"

"Possibly," said John Cleland, "the child has a mind."

"A feminine one.  Yes, of course.  I tell you, Father, it’s all part and
parcel of this world-wide restlessness which has set women fidgeting the
whole world over. What is it they want?—because they themselves can’t
tell you.  Do you know?"

"I think I do.  They desire to exercise the liberty of choice."

"They have it now, haven’t they?"

"Virtually.  They’re getting the rest.  If Steve goes through college
she will emerge to find all paths open to women.  It worries me a
little."

Jim shrugged:

"What is it she calls it—I mean her attitude about choosing a career?"

"She refers to it, I believe, as ’the necessity for self-expression.’"

"Fiddle!  The trouble with Steve is that she’s afflicted with extreme
youth."

"I don’t know, Jim.  She _has_ a mind."

"It’s a purely imitative one.  People she has read about draw, write,
compose music.  Steve is sensitive to impression, high strung, with a
very receptive mind; and the idea attracts her.  And what happens?  She
sees me, for example, scribbling away every day; she knows I’m writing a
novel; it makes an impression on her and she takes to scribbling, too.

"Oswald Grismer drops in and talks studio and atmosphere and Rodin and
Manship.  That stirs her up. What occurs within twenty-four hours?
Steve orders a box of colours and a modelling table; and she smears her
pretty boudoir furniture with oil paint and plasticine. And that’s all
it amounts to, Father, just the caprice of a very young girl who thinks
creative art a romantic cinch, and takes a shy at it."

His father, not smiling, said:

"Possibly.  But the mere fact that she _does_ take a shy at these
things—spends her leisure in trying to paint, model, and write, when
other girls of her age _don’t_, worries me a little.  I do not want her
to become interested in any profession of an irregular nature.  I want
Steve to keep away from the unconventional.  I’m afraid of it for her."

"Why?"

"Because all intelligence is restless—and Steve is very intelligent.
All creative minds desire to find some medium for self-expression.  And
I’m wondering whether Steve’s mind is creative or merely imitative;
whether she is actually but blindly searching for an outlet for
self-expression, or whether it’s merely the healthy mental energy of a
healthy body requiring its share of exercise, too."

Jim laughed:

"It’s in the air, Father, this mania for ’doing things.’ It’s the
ridiculous renaissance of the commonplace, long submerged.  Every
college youth, every school girl writes a novel; every janitor, every
office boy a scenario. The stage to-day teems with sales-ladies and
floor-walkers; the pants-presser and the manufacturer of ladies’ cloaks
direct the newest art of the moving pictures.  Printers’ devils and
ex-draymen fill the papers with their draughtsmanship; head-waiters
write the scores for musical productions.  Art is in the air.  So why
shouldn’t Steve believe herself capable of creating a few things?
She’ll get over it."

"I hope she will."

"She will.  Steve is a reasonable child."

"Steve is a sweet, intelligent and reasonable girl.... Very
impressionable....  And sensitive....  I hope," he added irrelevantly,
"that I shall live a few years more."

"You hadn’t contemplated anything to the contrary, had you?" inquired
Jim.

They both smiled.  Then Cleland Senior said in his pleasant, even way:

"One can never tell....  And in case you and Steve have to plod along
without me some day, before either of you are really wise enough to
dispense with my invaluable advice, try to understand her, Jim.  Try
always; try patiently....  Because I made myself responsible....  And,
for all her honesty and sweetness and her obedience, Jim, there
is—perhaps—restless blood in Steve....  There may even be the creative
instinct in her also....  She’s very young to develop it yet—to show
whether it really is there and amounts to anything....  I should like to
live long enough to see—to guide her for the next few years——"

"Of course you are going to live to see Steve’s kiddies!" cried the
young fellow in cordially scornful protest.  "You know perfectly well,
Father, that you don’t look your age!"

"Don’t I?" said Cleland Senior, with a faint smile.

"And you feel all right, don’t you, Father?" insisted the boy in that
rather loud, careless voice which often chokes tenderness between men.
For the memory that these two shared in common made them doubly
sensitive to the lightest hint that everything was not entirely right
with either.

"Do you feel perfectly well?" repeated the son, looking at his father
with smiling intentness.

"Perfectly," replied Cleland Senior, lying.

He had another chat with Dr. Wilmer the following afternoon.  It had
been an odd affair, and both physician and patient seemed to prefer to
speculate about it rather than to come to any conclusion.

It was this.  A week or two previous, lying awake in bed after retiring
for the night, Cleland seemed to lose consciousness for an
interval—probably a very brief interval; and revived, presently, to find
himself upright on the floor beside his bed, holding to one of the
carved posts, and unable to articulate.

He made no effort to arouse anybody; after a while—but how long he
seemed unable to remember clearly—he returned to bed and fell into a
heavy sleep.  And in the morning when he awoke, the power of speech had
returned to him.

But he felt irritable, depressed and tired.  That was his story.  And
the question he had asked Dr. Wilmer was a simple one.

But the physician either could not or would not be definite in his
answer.  His reply was in the nature of a grave surmise.  But the
treatment ordered struck Cleland as ominously significant.



                              *CHAPTER X*


To any young man his first flirtation with Literature is a heart-rending
affair, although the jade takes it lightly enough.

But that muse is a frivolous youngster and plagues her young lovers to
the verge of distraction.

And no matter how serious a new aspirant may be or how determined to
remain free from self-consciousness, refrain from traditional mental
attitudes and censor every impulse toward "fine writing," his frivolous
muse beguiles him and flatters him, and leads him on until he has
succumbed to every deadly scribbler’s sin in his riotous progress of a
literary rake.

The only hope for him is that his muse may some day take enough interest
in him to mangle his feelings and exterminate his adjectives.

Every morning Jim remained for hours hunched up at his table, fondling
his first-born novel.  The period of weaning was harrowing.  Joy,
confidence, pride, excitement, moments of mental intoxication, were
succeeded by every species of self-distrust, alarm, funk, slump, and
most horrid depression.

One day he felt himself to be easily master of the English language;
another day he feared that a public school examination would reveal him
as a hopeless illiterate.  Like all beginners, he had swallowed the
axiom that genius worked only when it had a few moments to spare from
other diversions; and he tried it out.  The proposition proved to be a
self-evident fake.

It was to his own credit that he finally discovered that inspiration
comes with preparedness; that the proper place for creative inspiration
was a seat at his desk with pencil and pad before him; that the pleasure
of self-expression must become a habit as well as a pleasure, and not an
occasional caprice to be casually gratified; and that technical
excellence is acquired at the daily work-bench alone, and not among the
talkers of talk.

So the boy began to form his habit of work; discovered that sooner or
later a receptive mind resulted; and, realizing that inspiration came
when preparations for its reception had been made, gradually got over
his earlier beliefs in the nonsense talked about genius and the
commercializing of the same.  And so he ceased getting out of bed to
record a precious thought, and refrained from sitting up until two in
the morning to scribble.  He plugged ahead as long as he could stand it;
and late in the afternoon he went out to hunt for relaxation, which,
except for the creative, is the only other known species of true
pleasure.

Except for their conveniences as to lavatories and bars, there are very
few clubs in New York worth belonging to; and only one to which it is an
honour to belong.

In this club Cleland Senior sat now, very often, instead of pursuing his
daily course among print-shops, auction rooms, and private collections
of those beautiful or rare or merely curious and interesting objects
which for many years it had been his pleasure to nose out and sometimes
acquire.

For now that his son was busy writing for the greater portion of the
day, and Stephanie had gone away to college, Cleland Senior gradually
became conscious of a subtle change which was beginning within himself—a
tendency to relax mentally and physically—a vague realization that his
work in life had been pretty nearly accomplished and that it was almost
time to rest.

With this conviction came a tendency to depression, inclination for
silence and retrospection, not entirely free from melancholy.  Not
unnoticed by his physician, either, who had arrived at his own
conclusions.  The medical treatment, however, continued on the same
lines sketched out by the first prescriptions, except that all narcotics
and stimulants were forbidden.

John Cleland now made it a custom to go every day to his club, read in
the great, hushed library, gossip with the older members, perhaps play a
game of chess with some friend of his early youth, lunch there with
ancient cronies, sometimes fall asleep in one of the great, deep chairs
in the lounging hall.  And, as he had always been constitutionally
moderate, the physician’s edict depriving him of his cigar and his
claret annoyed him scarcely at all.  Always he returned to the home on
80th Street, when his only son was likely to be free from work; and
together they dined at home, or more rarely at Delmonico’s; and
sometimes they went together to some theatre or concert.

For they were nearer to each other than they had ever been in their
lives during those quiet autumn and winter days together; and they
shared every thought—almost every thought—only Cleland had never spoken
to his son about the medicine he was taking regularly, nor of that odd
experience when he had found himself standing dazed and speechless by
his own bed in the silence and darkness of early morning.

Stephanie came back at Christmas—a lovely surprise—a supple, grey-eyed
young thing, grown an inch and a half taller, flower-fresh, instinct
with the intoxicating vigour and delight of mere living, and tremulous
with unuttered and very youthful ideas about everything on earth.

She kissed Cleland Senior, clung to him, caressed him.  But for the
first time her demonstration ended there; she offered her hand to Jim in
flushed and slightly confused silence.

"What’s the matter with you, Steve?" demanded the youth, half laughing,
half annoyed.  "You think you’re too big to kiss me?  By Jove, you shall
kiss me——!"

And he summarily saluted her.

She got away from him immediately with an odd little laugh, and held
tightly to Cleland Senior again.

"Dad darling, darling!" she murmured, "I’m glad I’m back.  Are _you_?
Do you really _want_ me?  And I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t
wish to have you arrange parties and dinners and dances and things for
me.  All I want is to be with you and go to the theatre every night——"

"Good Lord, Steve!  That’s no programme for a pretty little girl!"

"I’m _not_!  Don’t call me that!  I’ve got a mind! But I _have_ got such
lots to learn—so many, many things to learn!  And only one life to learn
them in——"

"Fiddle!" remarked Jim.

"It really isn’t fiddle, Jim!  I’m just crazy to learn things, and I’m
not one bit interested in frivolity and ordinary things and people——"

"You liked people once; you liked to dance——"

"When I was a child, yes," she retorted scornfully. "But I realize, now,
how short life is——"

"Fiddle," repeated Jim.  "That fool college is spoiling you for fair!"

"Dad!  He’s a brute!  You understand me, darling, don’t you?  Don’t let
him plague me."

His arm around her slender shoulder tightened; all three were laughing.

"You don’t _have_ to dance, Steve, if you don’t want to," he said.  "Do
you consider it frivolous to dine occasionally?  Meacham has just
announced the possibility of food."

She nestled close to him as they went out to dinner, all three very gay
and loquacious, and the two men keenly conscious of the girl’s rapid
development, of the serious change in her, the scarcely suppressed
exuberance, the sparkling and splendid bodily vitality.

As they entered the dining room:

"Oh, Meacham, I’m glad to see you," she cried impulsively, taking the
little withered man’s hands into both of hers.

There was no reply, only in the burnt-out eyes a sudden mist—the first
since his mistress had passed away.

"Dad, do you mind if I run down a moment to see Lizzie and Janet and
Amanda?  Dear, I’ll be right back——"  She was gone, light-footed, eager,
down the service stairs—a child again in the twinkling of an eye.  The
two men, vaguely smiling, remained standing.

When she returned, Meacham seated her.  She picked up the blossom beside
her plate, saw the other at the unoccupied place opposite, and her eyes
suddenly filled.

There was a moment’s silence, then she kissed the petals and placed the
flower in her hair.

"My idea," she began, cheerfully, "is to waste no time in life!  So I
think I’d like to go to the theatre all the time——"

The men’s laughter checked her and she joined in.

"You _do_ understand, both of you!" she insisted. "You’re tormenting me
and you know it!  _I_ don’t go to the theatre to amuse myself.  I go to
inform myself—to learn, study, improve myself in the art of
self-expression—Jim, you are a beast to grin at me!"

"Steve, for Heaven’s sake, be a human girl for a few moments and have a
good time!"

"_That’s_ my way of having a good time.  I wish to go to studios and see
painters and sculptors at work! I wish to go to plays and concerts——"

"How about seeing a real author at work, Steve?"

"You?" she divined with a dainty sniff.

"Certainly.  Come up any morning and watch genius work a lead-pencil.
That ought to educate you and leave an evening or two for dancing——"

"Jim, I positively do not care for parties.  I don’t even desire to
waste one minute of my life.  Ordinary people bore me, I tell you——"

"Do I?"

"Sometimes," she retorted, with delighted malice. And turning swiftly to
Cleland Senior: "As for you, darling, I could spend every minute of my
whole existence with you and not be bored for one second!"

The claret in John Cleland’s glass—claret forbidden under Dr. Wilmer’s
régime—glowed like a ruby.  But he could not permit Stephanie to return
without that old-fashioned formality.

So John Cleland rose, glass in hand, his hair and moustache very white
against the ruddy skin.

"Steve, dear, you and Jim have never brought me anything but
happiness—anything but honour to my name and to my roof.  We welcome you
home, dear, to your own place among your own people: Jim—we have the
honour—our little Stephanie!  Welcome home!"

The young fellow rose, smiling, and bowed gaily to Stephanie.

"Welcome home," he said, "dearest of sisters and most engaging insurgent
of your restless sex!"

That night Stephanie seemed possessed of a gay demon of demonstrative
mischief.  She conversed with Jim so seriously about his authorship that
at first he did not realize that he was an object of sarcastic and
delighted malice.  When he did comprehend that she was secretly laughing
at him, he turned so red with surprise and indignation that his father
and Stephanie gave way to helpless laughter.  Seated there on the sofa,
across the room, tense, smiling, triumphantly and delightfully
dangerous, she blew an airy kiss at Jim:

"_That_ will teach you to poke fun at me," she said. "You’re no longer
an object of fear and veneration just because you’re writing a book!"

The young fellow laughed.

"I _am_ easy," he admitted.  "All authors are without honour in their
own families.  But wouldn’t it surprise you, Steve, if the world took my
book respectfully?"

"Not at all.  That’s one of the reasons _I_ don’t.  The opinion of
ordinary people does not concern me," she said with gay impudence, "and
if your book is a best seller it ought to worry you, Jim."

"You don’t think," he demanded sadly, "that there’s anything in me?"

"Oh, Jim!"—swiftly remorseful—"I was joking, of course."  And, seeing by
his grin that he was, too, turned up her nose, regretting too late her
hasty and warm-hearted remorse.

"How _common_, this fishing for praise and sympathy!" she remarked
disdainfully.  "Dad, does he bother you to death trying to read his
immortal lines to you at inopportune moments?"

Cleland Senior, in his arm-chair, white-haired, deeply ruddy, had been
laughing during the bantering passage at arms between the two he loved
best on earth.

He seemed the ideal personification of hale and wholesome age, sound as
a bell, very handsome, save that the flush on his face seemed rather
heavier and deeper than the usual healthy colour.

"Dad," exclaimed the girl, impulsively, "you certainly are the
best-looking thing in all New York!  I don’t think I shall permit you to
go walking alone all by yourself any more.  Do you hear me?"

She sprang up lightly, went over and seated herself on the arm of his
chair, murmuring close to his face gay little jests, odd, quaint
endearments, all sorts of nonsense while she smoothed his hair to her
satisfaction, re-tied his evening tie, patted his lapels, and finally
kissed him lightly between his eyebrows, continuing her murmured
nonsense all the while:

"I won’t have other women looking sideways at you—the hussies!  I’m
jealous.  I shall hereafter walk out with you.  Do you hear what I
threaten?—you very flighty and deceitful man!  Steve is going to
chaperon you everywhere you go."

John Cleland’s smile altered subtly:

"Not _everywhere_, Steve."

"Indeed, I shall!  Every step you take."

"No, dear."

"Why not?"

"Because—there is one rather necessary trip I shall have to make—some
day——"

A moment’s silence; then her arms around his neck:

"Dad!" she whispered, in breathless remonstrance.

"Yes, dear?"

"Don’t you—_feel_ well?"

"Perfectly."

"Then," fiercely, "don’t dare hint such things!"

"About the—journey I spoke of?" he asked, smiling.

"Yes!  Don’t say such a thing!  You are not going!—until I go, too!"

"If I could postpone the trip on your account——"

"_Dad_!  Do you want to break my heart and kill me by such jokes?"

"There, Steve, I was merely teasing.  Men of my age have a poor way of
joking sometimes....  I mean to postpone that trip.  Indeed, I do,
Steve.  You’re a handful, and I’ve got to keep hold of you for a long
while yet."

Jim overheard that much:

"A handful?  Rubbish!" he remarked.  "Send her to bed at nine for the
next few years and be careful about her diet and censor her reading
matter.  That’s all Steve needs to become a real grown-up some day."

Stephanie had risen to face the shafts of good-natured sarcasm.

"Suppose," she said, "that I told you I had sent a poem to a certain
magazine and that it had been accepted?"

"I’d say very amiably that you are precocious," he replied tormentingly.

"Brute!  I _did_!  I sent it!"

"They accepted it?"

"I don’t know," she admitted, pink with annoyance; "but it won’t
surprise me very much if they accept it. Really, Jim, do you think
nobody else can write anything worth considering?  Do you really believe
that you embody all the talent in New York?  _Do_ you?"  And, to Cleland
Senior: "Oh, Dad, isn’t he the horrid personification of everything
irritatingly masculine? And I’ll bet his old novel is perfectly
commonplace.  I think I’ll go up to his room and take a critical glance
at it——"

"Hold on, Steve!" he exclaimed—for she was already going.  She glanced
over her shoulder with a defiant smile, and he sprang up to follow and
overtake her.

But Stephanie’s legs were long and her feet light and swift, and she was
upstairs and inside his room before he caught her, reaching for the
sacred manuscript.

"Oh, Jim," she coaxed, beguilingly, "do let me have one little peep at
it, there’s a dear fellow!  Just one little——"

"Not yet, Steve.  It isn’t in any shape.  Wait till it’s typed——"

"I don’t care.  I can read your writing easily——"

"It’s all scored and cross-written and messed up——"

"_Please_, Jim!  I’m simply half dead with curiosity," she admitted.
"Be an angel brother and let me sit here and hear you read the first
chapter—only one little chapter.  Won’t you?" she pleaded with melting
sweetness.

"I—I’d be—embarrassed——"

"What!  To have your own sister hear what you’ve written?"

There was a short silence.  The word "sister" was meant to be reassuring
to both.  To use it came instinctively to her as an inspiration, partly
because she had vaguely felt that some confirmation of such
matter-of-fact relationship would put them a little more perfectly at
their ease with each other.

For they had not been entirely at their ease.  Both were subtly aware of
that—she had first betrayed it by her offered hand instead of the
friendly and sisterly kiss which had been a matter of course until now.

"Come," she said, gaily, "be a good child and read the pretty story to
little sister."

She sat down on the edge of his bed; he, already seated at his desk,
frowned at the pile of manuscript before him.

"I’d rather talk," he said.

"About what?"

"Anything.  Honestly, Steve, I’ll let you see it when it’s typed.  But I
rather hate to show anything until it’s done—I don’t like to have people
see the raw edges and the machinery."

"I’m not ’people.’  How horrid.  Also, it makes a difference when a girl
is not only your sister but also somebody who intends to devote her life
to artistic self-expression.  You can read your story to that kind of
girl, I should hope!"

"Haven’t you given that up?"

"Given up what?"

"That mania for self-expression, as you call it."

"Of course not."

"What do you think you want to do?" he asked uneasily.

"Jim, you are entirely too patronizing.  I don’t ’think’ I want to do
anything: but I _know_ I desire to find some medium for self-expression
and embrace it as a profession."

That rather crushed him for a moment.  Then:

"There’ll be time enough to start that question when you graduate——"

"It is _not_ a question.  I intend to express myself some day.  And you
might as well reconcile yourself to that idea."

"Suppose you haven’t anything worth expressing?"

"Are you teasing?" She flushed slightly.

"Oh, yes, I suppose I am teasing you.  But, Steve, neither father nor I
want to see you enter any unconventional profession.  It’s no good for a
girl unless she is destined for it by a talent that amounts to genius.
If you have that, it ought to show by the time you graduate——"

"You make me simply furious, Jim," she retorted impatiently.  "These few
months at college have taught me _something_.  And, for one thing, I’ve
learned that a girl has exactly as much right as a man to live her own
life in her own way, unfettered by worn-out conventions and unhampered
by man’s critical opinions concerning her behaviour.

"The dickens," he remarked, and whistled softly.

"And, further," she continued warmly, "I am astonished that in this age,
when the entire world tacitly admits that woman is man’s absolute equal
in every respect, that you apparently still harbour old-fashioned,
worn-out and silly notions.  You are very far out of date, my charming
brother."

"What notions?" he demanded.

"Notions that a girl’s mission is to go to parties and dance when she
doesn’t desire to—that a girl had better conform to the uninteresting
and stilted laws of the recent past and live her life as an animated
clothes-rack, mind her deportment, and do what nice girls do, and marry
and become the mother of numerous offspring; which shall be taught to
follow in her footsteps and do the same thing all over again, generation
after generation—_ad nauseam_!——  Oh, Jim!  I’m not going to live out my
life that way and be looked after as carefully as a pedigreed
Pekinese——"

"For Heaven’s sake——"

"For Heaven’s sake—yes!—and in God’s name, Jim, it is time that a
woman’s mind was occupied by something beside the question of clothes
and husbands and children!"

The boy whistled softly, stared at her, and she looked at him
unflinchingly, with her pretty, breathless smile of defiance.

"I want to live my own life in my own way.  Can’t I?" she asked.

"Of course——"

"You say that.  But the instant I venture to express a desire for any
outlet—for any chance to be myself, express myself, seek the artistic
means for self-utterance, then you tell me I am unconventional!"

He was silent.

"Nobody hampers _you_!" she flashed out.  "You are free to choose your
profession."

"But why do _you_ want a profession, Steve?"

"Why?  Because I feel the need of it.  Because just ordinary society
does not interest me.  I prefer Bohemia."

He said:

"There’s a lot of stuff talked about studios and atmosphere and ’urge’
and general Bohemian irresponsibility—and a young girl is apt to get a
notion that she, also, experiences the ’cosmic urge’ and that
’self-expression’ is her middle name....  That’s all I mean, Steve. You
frequently have voiced your desire for a career among the fine arts.
Now and then you have condescended to sketch for me your idea of an
ideal environment, which appears to be a studio in studio disorder, art
produced in large chunks, and ’people worth while’ loudly attacking
pianos and five o’clock tea——"

"Jim!  You are not nice to me....  If I didn’t love you with all my
heart——"

"It’s because I’m fond of you, too," he explained. "I don’t want my
sister, all over clay or paint, sitting in a Greenwich village studio,
smoking cigarettes and frying sausages for lunch!  No!  Or I don’t want
her bullied by an ignorant stage director or leered at by an animal who
plays ’opposite,’ or insulted by a Semitic manager.  Is that very
astonishing?"

The girl rose, nervous, excited, but laughing:

"You dear old out-of-date thing!  We’ll continue this discussion another
time.  Dad’s been alone in the library altogether too long."  She
laughed again, a little hint of tenderness in her gaiety; and extended
her hand.  He took it.

"Without prejudice," she said.  "I adore you, Jim!"

"And with all my heart, Steve.  I just want you to do what will be best
for you, little sister."

"I know.  Thank you, Jim.  Now, we’ll go and find dad."

They found him.  He lay on the thick Oushak rug at the foot of the chair
in which he had been seated when they left him.

On his lips lingered a slight smile.

A physician lived across the street.  When he arrived his examination
was brief and perfunctory.  He merely said that the stroke had come like
a bolt of lightning, then turned his attention to Stephanie, who seemed
to be sorely in need of it.



                              *CHAPTER XI*


When such a thing happens to young people a certain mental numbness
follows the first shock, limiting the capacity for suffering, and
creating its own anodyne.

The mental processes resume their functions gradually, chary of arousing
sensation.

Grief produces a chemical reaction within the body, poisoning it.  But
within that daily visitor to the body, the soul, a profound spiritual
reaction occurs which either cripples it or ennobles it eternally.

Many people called and left cards, or sent cards and flowers.  Some
asked for Jim; among others, Chiltern Grismer.

"M-m-m’yes," he murmured, retaining the young man’s hand, "—my friend of
many years has left us;—m-m-m’yes, my friend of many years.  I am very
sorry to hear it; yes, very sorry."

Jim remained passive, incurious.  Grismer prowled about the darkened
room, alternately pursing up and sucking in his dry and slitted lips.
Finally he seated himself and gazed owlishly at the young man.

"And our little adopted sister?  How does this deplorable affliction
affect her?  May I hope to offer my condolences to her also?"

"My sister Stephanie is utterly crushed....  Thank you....  She is very
grateful to you."

"M-m-m’yes.  May I see her?"

"I am sorry.  She is scarcely able to see anybody at present.  Her aunt,
Miss Quest, is with her."

"M-m-m.  After all—but let it remain unsaid—m-m-m’yes, unsaid.  So her
aunt is with her?  M-m-m!"

Jim was silent.  Grismer sat immovable as a gargoyle, gazing at him out
of unwinking eyes.

"M-m-m’yes," he said.  "Grief was his due.  My friend of many years was
worthy of such filial demonstrations.  Quite so—even though there is, in
point of fact, no blood relationship between my friend of many years and
your adopted sister——"

"My sister could not feel her loss more keenly if she and I had been
born of the same mother," said the boy in a dull voice.

"Quite so.  M-m-m’yes.  Or the same father.  Quite so."

"I—I simply can’t talk about it yet," muttered the young fellow.  "If
you’ll excuse me——"

"_Quite_ so.  Far better to talk about other things just at present,
m’yes, far wiser.  M-m-m—and so the young lady’s aunt has arrived?  Very
suitable, ve-ry suitable and necessary.  And doubtless Miss Quest will
take up her permanent residence here, in view of the—ah—m-m-m-m’yes!—no
doubt of it; no doubt."

"We have not spoken of that."

A moment later Miss Quest entered the room.

"Stephanie is awake and is asking for you," she said.  As the young man
rose with a murmured excuse. Miss Quest turned and looked at Chiltern
Grismer.

"Madame," he began, rising to his gaunt height, "permit me—my name is
Grismer——"

"Oh," she interrupted drily, "I’ve talked you over with the late Mr.
Cleland."

"My friend of many years, Madame——"

"We didn’t discuss your friendship for each other, Mr. Grismer," she
snapped out.  "Our subject of conversation concerned money."

"Ma’am?"

"An inheritance, in fact, which, I believe, you allege that you
_legally_ converted to your own uses," she added, staring at him.

They sustained each other’s gaze in silence for a moment.

Then Grismer’s large, dry hand crept up over his lips and began a
rhythmical massage of the grim jaw.

"My friend of many years and I came to an understanding in regard to the
painful matter which you have mentioned," he said slowly.

"Yes?"

"Absolutely, Madame.  Out of his abundance, I was given to understand,
he had bountifully provided for your niece—m-m-m’yes, bounteously
provided.  Further, he gave me to understand that you, Madame, out of
the abundant wealth with which our Lord has blessed you, had indicated
your resolution to provide for the young lady."

There was an uncanny gleam in Miss Quest’s eyes. But she said nothing.
Grismer, watching her, softly joined the tips of his horny fingers.

"M-m’yes.  Quite so.  My friend of many years voluntarily assured me
that he did not contemplate reopening the unfortunate matter in
question—in point of fact, Madame, he gave me his solemn promise never
to initiate any such action in behalf of the young lady."

Miss Quest remained mute.

"And John Cleland was right, Madame," continued Grismer in a gentle,
persuasive voice, "because any such litigation must prove not only
costly but fruitless of result.  The unfortunate and undesirable
publicity of such a case, if brought to trial, could not vindicate my
own rectitude and the righteousness of my cause while gossip and scandal
cruelly destroyed the social position which the young lady at present
enjoys."

After another silence:

"Well?" inquired Miss Quest, "is there anything more that worries you,
Mr. Grismer?"

"Worries me, Madame?  I am not disturbed in the slightest degree."

"Oh, yes you are.  You are not disturbed over any possible scandal that
might affect my niece, but you are horribly afraid of any disgrace to
yourself.  And that is why you come into this house of death while your
’friend of many years’ is still lying in his coffin! That is why you
come prowling to find out whether I am as much a lady in my way as he
was a gentleman in his.  That’s all that disturbs you!"

"Madame——"

"Or, to put it plainer, you want to know whether you have to defend an
action, civil perhaps, possibly criminal, charging you with
mal-administration and illegal conversion of trust funds.  That’s all
that worries you, isn’t it?  Well—worry then!" she added venomously.

"Do I understand——"

"No, you _don’t_ understand, Mr. Grismer.  And that’s another thing for
you to worry over.  You don’t know what I’m going to do, or whether I am
going to do anything at all.  You may find out in a week—you may not
find out for years.  And it is going to worry you every minute of your
life."

She marched to the staircase hall:

"Meacham?"

"Ma’am?"

"Mr. Grismer’s hat!"

Jim, seated beside the bed where Stephanie lay in the darkened room, her
tear-marred face buried in her pillow, heard the front door close.  Then
silence reigned again in the twilight of the house of Cleland.

Miss Quest peeped into the room, then withdrew.  If the young fellow
heard her at all he made no movement, so still, so intent had he been
since his father’s death in striving to visualize the familiar face.
And found to his astonishment and grief that he could not mentally
summon his father’s image before his eyes—could not flog the shocked
brain to evoke the beloved features. The very effort was becoming an
agony to him.

It began to rain about four o’clock.  It rained hard all night long on
the resounding scuttle and roof overhead.  Toward dawn the rain ceased
and the dark world grew noisy.  There was a cat-fight on the back fence.
The car wheels on Madison Avenue seemed unusually dissonant.  Very far
away, foggy river whistles saluted the dawn of another day.

There were a great many people at the funeral.  God knows the dead are
indifferent to such _attroupements macabre_, but it seems to satisfy
some morbid requirement in the living—friends, a priest, and a passing
bell.

_Hoc erat in more majorum: hodie tibi; cras mihi_.

The family—Jim, Stephanie and Miss Quest—sat together, as is customary.
The church was bathed in tinted sunlight streaming through stained glass
and falling over casket and flowers in glowing hues.  The dyed splendour
painted pew and chancel and stained Stephanie’s black veil with crimson.
Behind them a discreet but interminable string of many people continued.

When the first creeping note of the organ, ominous and low, grew out of
the silence, young Cleland felt Stephanie sway a little and remain
resting against his shoulder.  After a moment he realized that the girl
had lost consciousness; and he quietly passed his arm around her,
holding her firmly until she revived and moved again.

As for himself, what was passing before him seemed like a shadow scene
enacted behind darkened glass. There was nothing real about it, nothing
that seemed to appertain in any way to this dead father who had been a
comrade and beloved friend.  He looked at the casket, at the massed
flowers, at the altar, the surplices.  All were foreign to the intensely
human father he had loved—nothing here seemed to be in harmony with
him—not the crawling vibration of the organ, not the resonant,
professional droning of the clergy; not these throngs of unseen people
behind his back,—not the black garments he wore; not this slender,
sombre, drooping thing of crape seated here close beside him, trembling
at intervals, with one black-gloved hand gripping his.

A sullen hatred for it all began to possess him.  All this was
interrupting him—actually making it harder than ever for him to
visualize his father—driving the beloved phantom out from its familiar
environment in his heart into unrecognizable surroundings full of
caskets, pallid, heavy-scented flowers, surpliced clergymen whose
cadenced phrases were accurately timed; whose every move and gesture
showed them to be quite perfect in the "business" of the act.

"Hell," he muttered under his breath; and became aware of Stephanie’s
white face and startled eyes.

"Nothing," he whispered; "only I can’t stand this mummery!  I want to
get back to the library where I can be with father....  He _isn’t_ in
that black and silver thing over there.  He isn’t in any orthodox
paradise.  He’s part of the sunlight out doors—and the spring air....
He’s an immortal part of everything beautiful that ever was.  When these
people conclude to let him alone, I’ll have a chance with him....  You
think I’m crazy, Steve?"

Her pale lips formed "No."

They remained silent after that until the end, their tense fingers
interlocked.  Miss Quest’s head remained bowed in the folds of her crape
veil.

The drive from the cemetery began through the level, rosy rays of a
declining sun, and ended in soft spring darkness full of the cheery
noises of populous streets.

Cleland had dreaded to enter the house as they drew near to it; its
prospective emptiness appalled him; but old Meacham had lighted every
light all over the house; and it seemed to help, somehow.

Miss Quest went with Stephanie to her room, leaving Jim in the library
alone.

Strange, irrelevant thoughts came to the boy’s mind to assail him,
torment him with their futility: he remembered several things which he
had forgotten to tell his father—matters of no consequence which now
suddenly assumed agonizing importance.

There in the solitude of the library, he remembered, among other things,
that his father would never read his novel, now.  Why had he waited,
wishing to have it entirely finished before his father should read this
first beloved product of his eager pen?

Stephanie found him striding about the library, lips distorted,
quivering with swelling grief.

"Oh, Steve," he said, seeing her in the doorway, "I am beginning to
realize that I can’t talk to him any more!  I can’t touch him—I can’t
talk—hear his voice—see——"

"Jim—_don’t_——"

"The whole world is no good to me now!" cried the boy, flinging up his
arms in helpless resentment toward whatever had done this thing to him.

Whatever had done it offered no excuse.



                             *CHAPTER XII.*


The reading of John Cleland’s will marked the beginning of the end of
the old régime for Stephanie Quest and for James Cleland.

Two short letters accompanied the legal document. All the papers were of
recent date.

The letter directed to Jim was almost blunt in its brevity:


MY DEAR SON:

I have had what I believe to have been two slight shocks of paralysis.
If I am right, and another shock proves fatal, I wish you, after my
death, to go abroad and travel and study for the next two years.  At the
end of that period you ought to know whether or not you really desire to
make literature your profession.  If you do, come back to your own
country and go to work.  Europe is a good school, but you should
practise your profession in your native land.

Keep straight, fit, and clean.  Keep your head in adversity and in
success.  Find out what business in life you are fitted for, equip
yourself for it, and then go into it with all your heart.

I’ve left you some money and a good name.  And my deep, abiding love.
My belief is that death is merely an intermission.  So your mother and I
will rejoin you when the next act begins.  Until then, old chap—good
luck!

FATHER.


To Stephanie he wrote:


STEVE, DEAR:

You have been wonderful!  I’m sorry I couldn’t stay to see you a little
further along the path of life.  I love you dearly.

Your aunt, Miss Quest, understands my wishes.  During the two years that
Jim is abroad, Miss Quest is to assume the necessary and natural
authority over you.  I have every confidence in her.  Besides, she is
legally qualified to act.

It is her desire and mine that you finish college.  But if you really
find yourself unhappy there after the term is finished, then it is Miss
Quest’s belief and mine also that you employ the period that otherwise
should have spent at Vassar, in acquiring some regular and legitimate
profession so that if ever the need comes you shall be able to take care
of yourself.

Miss Quest is inclined to think that a course in hospital training under
her direct supervision might prove acceptable to you.  This you could
have in the institution endowed by Miss Quest at Bayport.

Perhaps such a course may appeal to you more than a college education.
If so, I shall not be dissatisfied.

But after that if you still feel that your life’s work lies in the
direction of artistic self-expression, you will be old enough to follow
your own bent, and entitled to employ your opportunities toward that
end.

I have left you properly provided for: I leave you and Jim all the love
that is in my heart.

This is not the end, Steve, dear.  There is no end—just a little rest
between the acts for such old actors in life’s drama as your dad.
Later, you and Jim will join us behind the scenes—my wife and I—and we
shall see what we shall see!—my little girl!—my darling.

DAD.


The boy and the girl sat up late in the library that night discussing
the two letters which so profoundly concerned them.

Indeed, the old order of things was about to pass away before their
dismayed and saddened eyes—eyes not yet accustomed to the burning grief
which dimmed them—hearts not yet strengthened for the first heavy
responsibilities which they had ever borne.

"I can’t bear to leave you, Steve," said the boy, striving to steady his
voice.  "What are you going to do about college?"

"Well—I—I’ll go back to college and finish the term. Dad wanted it."

Neither dreamed of disobeying the desires expressed in the two letters.

"Will you finish college?" he asked.

"I don’t know.  I want to do what dad wished me to do....  I wonder what
a course in hospital training is like?"

"Down there at Bayport?"

"Yes....  After all, that is accomplishing something. And I like
children, Jim."

"They’re defective children down there."

"Poor little lambs!  I—I believe I could do some good—accomplish
something.  But do you know, Jim, it almost frightens me when I remember
that you will be away two years——"  She began to weep, lying there in
her big chair with her black-edged handkerchief pressed against her
face.

"I wish I could take you to Europe, Steve," he said huskily.

She dried her eyes leisurely.

"Couldn’t you?  No, you couldn’t, of course.  Dad would have said so if
it was what he wanted.  Well—then I’ll finish the term at Vassar.  You
won’t go before Easter?"

"No, I’ll be here, Steve.  We’ll see each other then, anyway....  Do you
think you’ll get along with your aunt?"

"I don’t know," said the girl.  "She means to be kind, I suppose.  But
dad spoiled me.  Oh, Jim! I’m—I’m too unhappy to c-care what becomes of
me now. I’ll finish the term and then I’ll go and learn how to nurse
sick little defective children while you’re away——" her voice broke
again.

"I wish you wouldn’t cry," said the boy;—"I’m—I can’t stand it——"

"Oh, forgive me!"  She sprang up and flung herself on the rug beside his
chair.

"I’m sorry!  I’m selfish.  I’ll do everything dad wished, cheerfully.
You’ll go abroad and educate yourself by travel, and I’ll learn a
profession.  And some day I’ll find out what I really am fitted to do,
and then I’ll go abroad and study, too."

"You’ll be twenty, then, Steve—just the age to know what you really want
to do."

She nodded, listlessly, kneeling there beside his chair, her cheek
resting on her clasped hands, her grey eyes fixed on the dying coals.

After a long silence she said:

"Jim, I really don’t know what I want to do in life.  I am not certain
that I want to do anything."

"What?  Not the stage?"

"No—I’m not honestly sure.  _Everything_ interests me.  I have a craving
to see everything and learn about everything in the world.  I want to
know all there is to know; I’m feverishly curious.  I want to see
everything, experience everything, attempt everything!  It’s silly—it’s
crazy, of course.  But there’s a restless desire for the knowledge of
experience in my heart that I can’t explain.  I love everything—not any
one particular thing above another—but everything.  To be great in any
one thing would not satisfy me—it’s a terrible thing to say, isn’t it,
Jim!—but if I were a great actress I should try to become a great
singer, too; and then a great painter and sculptor and architect——"

"For Heaven’s sake, Steve!"

"I tell you I want to know it all, be it all—see, do, live everything
that is to be seen, done, and lived in the world——!"

She lifted her head and straightened her shoulders, sweeping the tumbled
hair from her brow impatiently: and her brilliant grey eyes met his,
unsmiling.

"Of course," she said, "this is rot I’m talking.  But every hour of my
life I’m going to try to learn something new about the wonderful world I
live in—try something new and wonderful—live every minute to the
full—experience everything....  Do you think I’m a fool, Jim?"

He smiled:

"No, but you make me feel rather unambitious and commonplace, Steve.
After all, I merely wish to write a few good novels.  That would content
me."

"Oh, Jim," she said, "you’ll do it, and I’ll probably amount to nothing.
I’ll just be a crazy creature flying about and poking my nose into
everything, and stirring it up a little and then fluttering on to the
next thing. Like the Bandar-log—that’s what I am—just a monkey,
enchanted and excited by everything inside my cage and determined to
find out what is hidden under every straw."

"Yours is a good mind, Steve," he said, still smiling.

The girl looked up at him wistfully:

"Is it?  I wish I knew.  I’m going to try to find out.  Have I really a
good mind?  Or is it just a restless one?  Anyway, there’s no use my
trying to be an ordinary girl.  I’m either monkey or genius; and I am
convinced that the world was made for me to rummage in."

He laughed.

"Anyway," she said, "I’ve amused you and cheered you up.  Good night,
Jim dear."



                             *CHAPTER XIII*


Stephanie, looking very slim and young in her deep mourning, went back
to college unreconciled and in tears.  Jim drove her to the station.
They stood together in the Pullman vestibule for a few minutes before
the train departed, and she clung to him, both black-gloved hands
holding tightly to his shoulders.

"Everything familiar in life seems to be ending," she said tremulously.
"I’m not very old yet, and I didn’t really wish to begin living
seriously so soon—no matter what nonsense I talked about
self-expression.  All I want now is to get off this train and go back
home with you."

"Poor little Steve," he said under his breath.  "But it’s better for you
to return to college.  The house would be too sad for you.  Go back to
college and study hard and play basket ball and skate——"

"Oh, I will," she said desolately.  "I’ll see the wretched term through.
I was merely telling you what I’d rather do—go home and just live there
all alone with you."

"You’d become tired of it pretty soon, Steve.  Don’t you think so?"

They looked at each other intently for a moment, then an odd expression
came into the girl’s grey eyes:

"It’s you who would tire of it, Jim," she said.  "I’m not old enough to
amuse you yet.  I’m still only a child to you."

"What nonsense——!"

"No.  You’ve been wonderful to me.  But you are older.  I’ve bored you
sometimes."

He protested; but she shook her head.

"A girl knows," she said.  "And a man can’t make a comrade of a girl who
has no experiences to swap with him, no conclusions to draw, none of
life’s discoveries to compare with his....  Don’t look so guilty and
distressed; you have always been a perfect dear.  But, oh, if you knew
how hard I’ve tried to catch up with you!—how desperately I try to be
old enough for you——"

"Steve, you _are_ an ideal sister!  But you know how it is—when a man
has such a lot to think about——"

"I _do_ know!  And that is exactly what I also am determined to have—a
lot to think about!"  Her colour was high and her grey eyes brilliant.

"In two years you shall see.  I shall be an interesting woman to you
when you come back!  I vow and declare I shall be interesting enough to
be friends with you on equal terms!  Wait and see!"

"But, Steve," he protested, smiling, yet bewildered by the sudden fiery
animation of the girl, "I never supposed you felt that I
condescended—patronized——"

"How could you help it!—a little fool who doesn’t know anything!"  She
was laughing unnaturally, and her nervous fingers tightened and relaxed
on his shoulders. "But when you come back after two years’ travel, I
shall at least be able to take your temperature, and keep you
entertained if you’re ill——!  Oh, Jim, I don’t know what I’m saying!
I’m just heart-broken at going away from you.  You do care a lot for me,
don’t you?"

"Of course I do."

"And I promise to be a very interesting woman when you come back from
abroad....  Oh, dear, the train is moving.  Good-bye, Jim dear!"  She
flung her veil aside and put both slim arms around his neck in a passion
of adoration and farewell.

He dropped to the platform from the slowly moving train and walked back
toward the station.  And he was uneasily conscious, for the first time
in his life, of the innocent abandon of this young girl’s
embrace—embarrassed by the softness of her mouth—impatient of himself
for noticing it.

When he arrived at the house Miss Quest’s luggage had gone and that
capable and determined lady was ready to depart for Bayport in a large,
powerful automobile bearing her monogram, which stood in front of the
house.

"Mr. Cleland," she said, "before I go, I have several things to say to
you.  One is that I like you."

He reddened with surprise, but expressed his appreciation pleasantly and
without embarrassment.

"Yes," continued Miss Quest, reflectively, "you’re much like your
father.  He and I began our acquaintance by differing: we ended friends.
I hope his son and I may continue that friendship."

"I hope so," he said politely.

"Thank you.  But the keynote to friendship is frankness.  Shall I sound
it?"

"Certainly," he replied, smiling.

"Very well: my niece ought to have a woman companion when she returns
from college at Easter."

"Why?" he asked, astonished.

"Because she isn’t your sister, and she’s an attractive girl."

After a silence she went on:

"I know that you and Stephanie regard each other as brother and sister.
But you’re not.  And the world knows it.  It’s an absurd world, Mr.
Cleland."

"It’s rather a rotten world if Steve and I can’t live here alone
together without gossip," he said hotly.

"Let’s take it as we find it and be practical.  Shall I look up a
companion for Stephanie, or shall I return here at Easter?"

He pondered the suggestion, frowning.  Miss Quest said pleasantly:

"Please, I don’t mean to interfere.  You are of age, and over.  But the
world, if it cares to think, will remember that you and Stephanie are
not related.  In two years, when you return from Europe, Stephanie will
be twenty and you twenty-four.  And, laying aside the suggestion that an
older woman’s presence might be advantageous under the circumstances,
who is going to control Stephanie?"

"Control her?"

"Yes, control, guide, steady her through the most critical period of her
life?"

The young fellow, plainly unconvinced, looked at Miss Quest out of
troubled eyes.

"Come," she said briskly, "let’s have a heart-to-heart talk and find out
what’s ahead of us.  Let’s be business-like and candid.  Shall we?"

"By all means."

"Then we’ll begin at the very beginning:

"Stephanie is a dear.  But she’s very young.  And at twenty she will
still be very, very young.  What traits and talents she may have
inherited from a clever, unprincipled father—my own nephew, Mr.
Cleland—I don’t know.  God willing, there’s nothing of him in her—no
tendencies toward irregularities; no unmoral inclination to drift,
nothing spineless and irresponsible.

"As for Stephanie’s mother, I know little about her. I think she was
merely a healthy young animal without education, submitting to and
following instinctively the first man who attracted her.  Which happened
to be my unhappy nephew."

She shook her head and gazed musingly at the window where the sunshine
fell.

"There are the propositions; this is the problem, Mr. Cleland.  Now, let
us look at the conditions which bear directly on it.  Am I boring you?"

"No," he said.  "It’s very necessary to consider this matter.  I’m just
beginning to realize that I’m really not fitted to guide and control
Stephanie."

She laughed.

"What a confession!  But do you know that, all over the world, men are
beginning to come to similar conclusions?  Conditions absolutely without
precedent have arisen within a few brief years.  And Stephanie, just
emerging into womanhood, is about to face them.  The day of the woman
has dawned.

"Ours is a restless sex," continued Miss Quest grimly. "And this is the
age of our opportunity.  I don’t know just what it is that animates my
enfranchised sex, now that the world has suddenly flung open doors which
have confined us through immemorial ages—each woman to her own narrow
cell, privileged only to watch freedom through iron bars.

"But there runs a vast restlessness throughout the world; in every
woman’s heart the seeds of revolution, so long dormant, are germinating.
The time has come when she is to have her fling.  And she knows it!"

She shrugged her trim shoulders:

"It is the history of all enfranchisement that license and excess are
often misconstrued as freedom by liberated prisoners.  To find ourselves
free to follow the urge of aspiration may unbalance some of us.  Small
wonder, too."

She sprang to her feet and began to march up and down in front of the
fireplace, swinging her reticule trimmed with Krupp steel.  Cleland
rose, too.

"What was all wrong in our Victorian mothers’ days is all right now,"
she said, smilingly.  "We’re going to get the vote; that’s a detail
already discounted.  And we’ve already got about everything else except
the right to say how many children we shall bring into the world.  That
will surely come, too; that, and the single standard of morality for
both sexes.  Both are bound to come.  And then," she smiled again
brightly at Cleland, "I have an idea that we shall quiet down and
outgrow our restlessness.  But I don’t know."

"What you say is very interesting," murmured the young fellow.

"Yes, it’s interesting.  It is significant, too.  So is the problem of
making something out of defectives. After a while there won’t be any
defectives when we begin to breed children as carefully as we breed
cattle. Sex equality will hasten sensible discussion; discussion will
result in laws.  A, B and C may have babies; D, E and F may not.  And,
after a few generations, the entire feminine alphabet can have and may
have babies. And if, here and there, a baby is not wanted, there’ll be
no sniveling sectarian conference to threaten the wrath of Mumbo-Jumbo!"

Miss Quest halted in her hearth-rug promenade:

"The doom of hypocrisy, sham and intolerance is already in sight.  Hands
off and mind your business are written on the wall.  So I suppose
Stephanie will think we ought to keep our hands off her and mind our
business if she wishes to go on the stage or dawdle before an easel in a
Washington Mews studio some day."

Her logic made Cleland anxious again.

"The trouble lies in this intoxicating perfume we call liberty.  We
women sniff it afar, and it makes us restless and excitable.  It’s a
heady odour.  Only a level mind can enjoy it with discretion.
Otherwise, it incites to excess.  That’s all.  We’re simply not yet used
to liberty.  And _that_ is what concerns me about Stephanie—with her
youth, and her intelligence, her undoubted gifts and—her possible
inheritance from a fascinating rascal of a father.

"Well, that is the girl; there are the conditions; this is the
problem....  And now I must be going."

She held out her smartly gloved hand; retained his for a moment:

"You won’t sail before Stephanie’s Easter vacation?"

"No; I’ll probably sail about May first."

"In that case, I’ll come on from Bayport, and you won’t need to find a
companion for Stephanie.  After you sail, she’ll come to me, anyway."

"For hospital training," he nodded.

"For two years of it.  It’s her choice."

"Yes, I know.  She prefers it to college."

Miss Quest said very seriously:

"For a girl like Stephanie, it will be an excellent thing.  It will give
her a certain steadiness, a foundation in life, to have a profession on
which she may rely in case of adversity.  To care for and to be
responsible for others develops character.  She already seems
interested."

"She prefers it to graduating from Vassar."

Miss Quest nodded, then looking him directly in the eyes:

"I want to say one thing.  May I?"

"Certainly."

"Then, above all, be patient with Stephanie.  Will you?"

"Of course!" he replied, surprised.

"I am looking rather far into the future," continued Miss Quest.  "You
will change vastly in two years. She will, too.  Cherish the nice
friendship between you. A man’s besetting sin is impatience of women.
Try to avoid it.  Be patient, even when you differ with her. She’s going
to be a handful—I may as well be frank. I can see that—see it plainly.
She’s going to be a handful for me—and you must always try to keep her
affections.

"It’s the only way to influence any woman.  I know my sex.  You’re a
typical man, entirely dependent on logic and reason—or think you are.
All men think they are.  But logic and reason are of no use in dealing
with us unless you have our affections, too.  Good-bye.  I do like you.
I’ll come again at Easter."

Alone in the quiet house, with his memories for companions, the young
fellow tried to face the future;—tried to learn to endure the staggering
blow which his father’s death had dealt him,—strove resolutely to shake
off the stunned indifference, the apathy through which he seemed to see
the world as through a fog.

Gradually, as the black winter months passed, and as he took up his work
again and pegged away at it, the inevitable necessity for distraction
developed, until at last the deadly stillness of the house became
unendurable, driving him out once more into the world of living men.

So the winter days dragged, and the young fellow faced them alone in the
sad, familiar places where, but yesterday, he had moved and talked with
his only and best beloved.

Perhaps it was easier that way.  He had his memories to himself, sharing
none.  But he did not share his sorrow, either.  And that is a thing
that undermines.

At first he was afraid that it would be even harder for him when
Stephanie returned at Easter.  The girl arrived in her heavy mourning,
and he met her at the station, as his father used to meet him.

She lifted her rather pale face and passively received her kiss, but
held tightly to his arm as they turned away together through the
hurrying crowds of strangers.

Each one tried very hard to find something cheerful to talk about; but
little by little their narratives concerning the intervening days of
absence became spiritless and perfunctory.

The car swung into the familiar street and drew up before the house;
Stephanie laid one hand on Jim’s arm, stepped out to the sidewalk, and
ran up the steps, animated for a moment with the natural eagerness for
home.  But when old Meacham silently opened the door and her gaze met
his:

"Oh—Meacham," she faltered, and her grey eyes filled.

However, she felt her obligations toward Jim; and they both made the
effort, at dinner, and afterward in the library, fighting to keep up
appearances.

But silence, lurking near, crept in upon them, a living intruder whose
steady pressure gradually prevailed, leaving them pondering there under
the subdued lamplight, motionless in the depths of their respective
armchairs, until endurance seemed no longer possible—and speech no
longer a refuge from the ghosts of what-had-been. And the girl, in her
black gown, rose, came silently over to his chair, seated herself on the
arm, and laid her pale face against his.  He put one arm around her,
meaning to let her weep there; but withdrew it suddenly, and released
himself almost roughly with a confused sense of her delicate fragrance
clinging to him too closely.

The movement was nervous and involuntary; he shot a perplexed glance at
her, still uneasily conscious of the warmth and subtle sweetness which
had so suddenly made of this slender girl in black something unfamiliar
to his sight and touch.

"Let’s try to be cheerful," he muttered, scarcely understanding what he
said.

It was the first time he had ever repulsed her or failed to respond to
her in their mutual loneliness.  And why he did it he himself did not
understand.

He left the arm-chair and went and stood by the mantel, resting one
elbow on it and looking down into the coals; she slipped into the depths
of the chair and lay there looking at him.

For something in the manner of this man toward her had set her thinking;
and she lay there in silence, watching his averted face, deeply intent
on her own thoughts, coming to no conclusions.

Yet somehow the girl was aware that, in that brief moment of their grief
when she had sought comfort in his brotherly caress and he had offered
it, then suddenly repulsed her, a profound line of cleavage had opened
between him and her; and that the cleft could never be closed.

Neither seemed to be aware that anything had happened.  The girl
remained silent and thoughtful; and he became talkative after a while,
telling her of his plans for travel, and that he had arranged for
keeping open the house in case she and Miss Quest wished to spend any
time in town.

"I’ll write you from time to time and keep you informed of my
movements," he said.  "Two years pass quickly.  By the time I’m back
I’ll have a profession and so will you."

She nodded.

"Then," he went on, "I suppose Miss Quest had better come here and live
with us."

"I’m not coming back here."

"What?"

"I’m going about by myself—as you are going—to to observe and learn."

"You wish to be foot-free?"

"I do.  I shall be my own mistress."

"Of course," he said drily, "nobody can stop you."

"Why should anybody wish to?  I shall be twenty-one—nearly; I shall have
a profession if I choose to practise it; I shall have my income—and all
the world before me to investigate."

"And then what?"

"How do I know, Jim?  A girl ought to have her chance.  She ought to
have her fling, too, if she wants it—just as much as any man.  It’s the
only way she can learn anything.  And I’ve concluded," she added,
looking curiously at him, "that it’s the only way she can ever become
really interesting to a man."

"How?" he demanded.  "By having what you call her fling?"

"Yes.  Men aren’t much interested in girls who know nothing except what
men permit them to know.  A girl at college said that the one certain
source of interest to any man in any woman is his unsatisfied curiosity
concerning her.  Satisfy it, and he loses interest."

Cleland laughed:

"That’s college philosophy," he said.

Stephanie smiled:

"It is what a man doesn’t know about a woman that keeps his interest in
her stimulated.  It isn’t her mind which is merely stored with the
conventional—the conventional being determined and prescribed by men.
It isn’t even her character or her traits or her looks which can keep
his interest unflagging.  What deeply interests a man is an educated,
cultivated girl who has had as much experience as he has, and who is
likely to have further experience in the world without advice from him
or asking his permission.  No other woman can hold the interest of a man
for very long."

"That’s what you’ve learned at Vassar, is it?"

"It’s one of the things," said Stephanie, smiling faintly.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*


The boy—for as yet he was only a boy—sailed in May.  The girl—who was
swiftly stripping from her the last rainbow chiffons of girlhood—was at
the steamer to see him off—down from Poughkeepsie for that purpose.

And the instant she arrived he noticed what this last brief absence had
done for her; how subtly her maturing self-confidence had altered the
situation, placing her on a new footing with himself.

There was a little of the lean, long-legged, sweet-faced girl left: a
slender yet rounded symmetry had replaced obvious joints and bones.

"What is it—basket ball?" he inquired admiringly.

"You like my figure?" she inquired guilelessly.  "Oh, I’ve grown up
within a month.  It’s just what was coming to me."

"Nice line of slang they give you up there," he said, laughing.  "You’re
nearly as tall as I am, too.  I don’t know you, little sister."

"You never did, little brother.  You’ll be sorry some day that you
wasted all the school-girl adoration I lavished on you."

"Don’t you intend to lavish any more?" he inquired, laughing, yet very
keenly alert to her smiling assurance, which was at the same time
humourous, provocative and engaging.

"I don’t know.  I’m over my girlhood illusions.  Men are horrid pigs,
mostly.  It’s a very horrid thing you’re doing to me right now," she
said, "—going off to have a wonderful time by yourself for the next two
years and leaving me to work in a children’s hospital!  But I mean to
make you pay for it.  Wait and see."

"If you’ll come to Europe with me I’ll take you," he said.

"You wouldn’t.  You’d hate it.  You want to be free to prowl.  So do I,
and I mean to some day."

"Why not come now and prowl with me?  I’ll take care of you."

The girl looked at him with smiling intentness:

"If dad hadn’t expressed his wishes, and even if my aunt would let me
go, I wouldn’t—now."

"Why not?"

"Because I shall do no more tagging after you."

"What?"

"No.  And when you return I mean that you shall come and ask my
permission to prowl with me.... And if I find you interesting enough
I’ll let you. Otherwise, I shall prowl by myself or with some other
man."

He was laughing, and her face, also, wore a bright and slightly
malicious smile.

"You don’t believe that’s possible, do you, Jim?—a total reversal of our
rôles?  You think little sister will tag gratefully after you always,
don’t you?  Wouldn’t it astonish you if little sister grew up into a
desirable and ornamental woman of independent proclivities and tastes,
and with a mind and a will of her own?  And, to enjoy her company, you’d
have to seek her and prove yourself sufficiently interesting; and that
you would have to respect her freedom and individuality as you would any
man’s!"

"I think, little sister," he said, laughing, "that you’ve absorbed a
vast deal of modern nonsense at Vassar; that you’re as pretty as a
peach; and that you’ll not turn into a maid errant, but will become an
ornament to your sex and to society, and that you’ll marry in due time
and do yourself proud."

"In children, you mean?  Numerically?"

"Quantitatively and qualitatively.  Also, you’ll do yourself proud in
the matronly example you’ll set to all women of this great Republic."

"That’s what you think, is it?"

"I know it."

She smiled:

"Watch the women of my generation, Jim—when you can spare a few moments
of your valuable time from writing masterpieces of fiction."

"I certainly shall.  I’ll study ’em.  They’re material for me.  They
_are_ funny, you know."

"They are, indeed," she said, her grey eyes full of malice, "funnier
than you dream of!  You are going to see a generation that will endure
no man-devised restrictions, submit to no tyrannical trammels, endure no
masculine nonsense.  You’ll see this new species of woman coming faster
and faster, thicker and thicker, each one knowing her own mind or intent
on knowing it. You’ll see them animated by a thousand new interests,
pursuing a thousand new vocations, scornful of masculine criticism,
impervious to admonition, regardless of what men think and say and do
about it.

"That’s what you’ll see, Jim, a restless sex destroying their last
barriers; a world of women contemptuous of men’s opinions, convinced of
their own rights, going after whatever they want, and doing it in their
own way.

"If they wish to marry and bother with children they’ll pick out a
healthy man and do it; if not, they won’t.  Love plays a very, very
small part in a man’s life.  Love, sentiment, domesticity, and the
nursery were once supposed to make up a woman’s entire existence.  Now
the time is coming very swiftly when love will play no more of a rôle in
a woman’s life than it does in a man’s.  She’ll have her fling, first,
if she chooses, just as freely as he does.  And some day, if she finds
it worth the inconvenience, she’ll marry and take a year or two off and
raise a few babies.  Otherwise, decidedly not!"

"These are fine sentiments!" he exclaimed, laughing, yet not too
genuinely amused.  "I’m not sure that I’d better go and leave you here
with that exceedingly pretty little head of yours stuffed and seething
with this sort of propaganda!"

"You might as well.  The whole world is beginning to seethe with it.
After all, what does it mean except equality of the sexes?  Hands
off—that’s all it means."

"Are you a suffragette, Steve?" he inquired, smilingly.

"Oh, Jim, that’s old stuff!  Everybody is.  All that is merely a matter
of time, now.  What interests us is our realization of our own
individual independence. Why, I can’t tell you what a delightful
knowledge it is to understand that we can do jolly well what we please
and not care a snap of our fingers for masculine opinion!"

"That’s a fine creed," he remarked.  "What a charming bunch you must be
training with at Vassar!  I think I’ll get off this steamer and remain
here for a little scientific observation of your development and
conduct."

"No use," she said gaily.  "I’ve promised to learn to be a hospital
nurse.  After that, perhaps, if you return, you’ll find me really worth
observing."

"Is that a threat, Steve?" he asked, not too sincerely amused, yet still
taking her and her chatter with a lightness and amiable condescension
entirely masculine.

"A threat?"

"Yes.  Do you mean that when I return I shall find my little sister a
handful?"

"A handful?  For whose hand?  Jim, dear, you are old-fashioned.  Girls
aren’t on or in anybody’s hands any more after they’re of age.  Do you
think you’ll be responsible for me?  Dear child, we’ll be comrades or
nothing at all to each other.  You really must grow up, little brother,
before you come back, or I’m afraid—much as I love you—I might find you
just a little bit prosy——"

The call for all ashore silenced her.  She stood confronting Cleland
with high colour and pretty, excited grey eyes, for a moment more, then
the gay defiance faded in her face and her attitude grew less resolute.

"Oh, Jim!" she said under her breath, "—I adore you——"  And melted into
his embrace.

As he held her in his arms, for a moment the instinct to repel her and
disengage himself came over him swiftly.  A troubled idea that her lips
were very soft—that he scarcely knew this girl whose supple figure he
held embraced, left him mute, confused.

"Dear Jim," she whimpered, "I love you dearly.  I shall miss you
dreadfully.  I’ll always be your own little sister Steve, and you can
come back and bully me and I’ll tag after you and adore you.  Oh,
Jim—Jim—my own brother—my own—my _own_——!"

It was a bright, sunny, windy May day.  He could still distinguish her
in her black gown on the crowded pier which was all a-flutter with
brilliant gowns and white handkerchiefs.

After the distant pier had become only a square of colour like a
flower-bed, he still stood on the hurricane deck of the huge liner
looking back at where he had last seen her.  The fragrance of her still
clung to him—seemed to have been inhaled somehow and to have subtly
permeated him—something of the warm, fresh, pliant youth of
her—unspoiled, utterly unawakened to anything more delicate or complex
than the frank, vigorous passion of her affection.

Yet, as her breathless, tearful lips had clung to his, so the perfume of
the embrace clung to him still, leaving him perplexed, vaguely
disturbed, yet intensely conscious of new emotion, unfamiliar in his
experience with this girl who yesterday had been what she always had
been to him—a growing child to be affectionately looked after and
chivalrously cherished and endured.

"I couldn’t be in love with Steve," he said to himself incredulously.
The thought amazed and exasperated him.  "I’m a fine sort of man," he
thought bitterly, "if I can’t kiss Steve as innocently as she kisses me.
There’s something wrong with me.  I must be a sort of dog—or crazy——"

He went below.

Stephanie went back in the car, alone.  She staunched her tears with her
black-edged handkerchief until they ceased to fill the wonderful grey
eyes.

Later, detaching the limousine hand-mirror, she inspected her
countenance, patted her chestnut-tinted hair, smoothed out her mourning
veil, and then, in order, lay back in the corner of the car and gave
herself up to passionate memory of this boy whom she had adored from the
first moment she ever laid eyes on him.

Two years’ absence?  She tried to figure to herself what that meant, but
could not compass it.  It seemed like a century of penance to be
endured, to be lived through somehow.

She wanted him dreadfully already.  She had no pride left, no purpose,
no threats.  She just wanted to tag after him—knowing perfectly well
that there could be no real equality of comradeship where youth and
inexperience fettered her.  She didn’t care; she wanted him.

No deeper sentiment, nothing less healthy and frank than her youthful
adoration for him, disturbed her sorrow.  The consanguinity might have
been actual as far as her affections had ever been concerned with him.

That she had, at various intervals, made of him a romantic figure,
altered nothing.  Stainlessly her heart enshrined him; he was her ideal,
hers; her brother, her idol, her paladin—the incarnation of all that was
desirable and admirable in a boy, a youth, a young man. Never in all her
life had any youth interested her otherwise—save, perhaps, once—that
time she had met Oswald Grismer after many years, and had danced with
him—and was conscious of his admiration.  That was the only time in her
life when her attitude toward any man had been not quite clear—not
entirety definable. She wrote many pages to Cleland that night.  And
cried herself to sleep.

The next day her aunt came up from Bayport.  And, a week later, she went
away to Bayport with Miss Quest to begin what seemed to her an endless
penance of two years’ hospital training.

The uniform was pink with white cuffs, apron, and cap.  She never forgot
the first blood that soiled it—from a double mastoid operation on a
little waif of twelve who had never been able to count more than six.
She held sponges, horrified, crushing back the terror that widened her
grey eyes, steeling herself to look, summoning every atom of strength
and resolution and nerve to see her through.

They found her lying across the corridor in a dead faint.



                              *CHAPTER XV*


The usual happened to James Cleland; for the first two months in Paris
he was intensely lonely.  Life in an English-speaking pension near the
Place de l’Etoile turned out to be very drab and eventless after he
returned to his rooms, fatigued from sight-seeing and exploration.  The
vast silver-grey city seemed to him cold, monotonously impressive and
oppressive; he was not in sympathy with it, being totally unaccustomed
to the splendour of a municipal ensemble with all its beauty of
reticence and good taste. The vast vistas, the subdued loveliness of
detail, the stately tranquillity of this capital, he did not understand
after the sham, the ignorance, the noisy vulgarity of his native
municipality.

Here were new standards; the grey immensity of the splendid capital gave
him, at first, an impression of something flat and almost featureless
under the horizon-wide sweep of sky.  There were no sky-scrapers.  With
exquisite discretion, Notre Dame dominated the east, the silvery majesty
of the Pantheon the south; in the west the golden bubble of the
Invalides burned; the frail tracery of the Eiffel Tower soared from the
city’s centre.

And for the first two months he was an alien here, depressed, silenced,
not comprehending, oblivious of the subtle atmosphere of civil
friendliness possessing the throngs which flowed by him on either hand,
unaware that he stood upon the kindly hearthstone of the world itself,
where the hospitable warmth never grew colder, where the generous glow
was for all.

He went to lectures at the Sorbonne; he attended a class in philology in
the Rue des Ecoles; he studied in the quiet alcoves of the great Library
of Ste. Genevieve; he paced the sonorous marble pavements of the Louvre.
And the austere statues seemed to chill him to the soul.

All was alien to him, all foreign; the English-speaking landlady of his
pension, with her eternal cold in the head and her little shoulder
shawl; the dreary American families from the Middle West who gathered
thrice a day at the pension table; passing wayfarers he saw from the
windows; red-legged soldiers in badly fitting uniforms, priests in
shovel hats and black soutanes, policemen slouching by under cowled
cloaks, their bayonets dangling; hatless, chattering shop girls, and the
uninteresting types of civilian citizens; men in impossible hats and
oddly awful clothes; women who all looked smart from the rear and
dubious from the front.

He found an annoying monotony in the trees of the Bois, a tiresome
sameness in square and circle and park and boulevard.  He found the
language difficult to understand, more difficult to speak.  Food,
accommodations, the domestic régime, were not to his liking. French
economies bored him.

At lectures his comrades seemed merely superficially polite and not very
desirable as acquaintances.  He felt himself out of place, astray from
familiar things, out of touch with this civilization, out of sympathy
with place and people.  He was intensely lonely.

In the beginning he wrote to Stephanie every other day.  That burst of
activity lasted about two months.

Also, in his rather dingy and cheerless suite of rooms, he began a
tragedy in five acts and a pessimistic novel called "Out of the Depths."
Also, he was guilty of a book of poems called "Day Dreams."

He missed his father terribly; he missed his home; he missed the noisy,
grotesque, half-civilized and monstrous city of his nativity.  And he
missed Stephanie violently.

He told her so in every letter.  The more letters he wrote the warmer
grew this abrupt affection for her. And, his being a creative talent,
with all its temperamental impulses, exaggerations and drawbacks, he
began to evolve, unconsciously, out of Stephanie Quest a girl based on
the real girl he knew, only transcendentally endowed with every
desirable and ornamental quality abstractly favoured by himself.

He began to create an ideal Stephanie to comfort him in his loneliness;
he created, too, a mutual situation and a sentimental atmosphere for
them both, neither of which had existed when he left America.

But now, in his letters, more and more this romantic and airy fabric
took shape.  Being young, and for the first time in his life thrown upon
his own resources—and, moreover, feeling for the first time the
pleasures of wielding an eloquent, delicate and capricious pen to voice
indefinable aspirations, he began to lose himself in romantic
subtleties, evoking drama out of nothing, developing it by implication
and constructing it with pensive and capricious humour hinting of dreamy
melancholy.

Until the Stephanie Quest of his imagination had become to him the fair,
and exquisitely indifferent little renaissance figure of his fancy; and
he, somehow or other, her victim.  And the more exquisite and
indifferent he created her, the more she fascinated him, until he
completely hypnotized himself with his own cleverly finished product.

A letter from her woke him up more or less, jolting him in his trance so
that the jingle and dissonance of the real world filled, for a moment,
his enchanted ears.


DEAR JIM:

Your letters perplex me more and more, and I don’t know at all how to
take them.  Do you mean you are in love with me?  I can’t believe it.  I
read and re-read your last three letters—such dear, odd, whimsical
letters!—so wonderfully written, so full of beauty and of poetry.

They do almost sound like love-letters—or at least as I imagine
love-letters are written.  But they can’t be!  _How_ can they be?

And first of all, even if you meant them that way, I don’t know what to
think.  I’ve never been in love.  I know how I feel about you—have
always felt.  You know, too.

But you never gave me any reason to think—and I never dreamed of
thinking anything like _that_ when you were here. It never occurred to
me.  It would not occur to me now except for your very beautiful
letters—so unlike you—so strangely sad, so whimsical, so skillful in
wonderful phrases that they’re like those vague prose poems you sent me,
which hint enough to awaken your imagination and set you aflame with
curiosity.

But you _can’t_ mean that you’re in love with me.  I should be too
astonished.  Besides, I shouldn’t know what to do about it.  It wouldn’t
seem real.  I never have thought of you in such a way.

What makes a girl fall in love?  Do you know?  Could she fall in love
with a man through his letters because they are so beautiful and sad and
elusive, so full of charm and mystery?  I’m in love with _them_.  But,
Jim, I don’t know what to think about you.  I’d have to see you again,
first, anyway.  You are such a dear boy!  I can’t seem to think of you
that way.  You know it’s a different kind of love, ours. All I can think
about it is the tremendous surprise—if it’s true.

But I don’t believe it is.  You are lonely; you miss dad—miss me,
perhaps.  I think you do miss me, for the first time in your life.  You
see, I have rather a clear mind and memory, and I can’t help remembering
that when you were here you certainly could not have felt that way
toward me; so how can you now?  I did bore you sometimes.

Anyway, I adore you with all my heart, as you know. My affection hasn’t
changed one bit since I was a tiny girl and came into your room that day
and saw you down on the floor unpacking your suit-case.  I adored you
instantly.  I have not changed.  Girls don’t change.


Another letter from her some months later:


You’re such a funny boy—just a boy, still, while in these six months
I’ve overtaken and passed you in years.  You won’t believe it, but I
have.  Maturity has overtaken me. I am really a real woman.

Why are your letters vaguely reproachful?  Have I done anything?  Were
you annoyed when I asked you whether you meant me to take them as love
letters?  You didn’t write for a month after that.  Did I scare you?
You _are_ funny!

I do really think you _are_ in love—not with me, Jim—not with any other
particular girl—but just in love with love. Writers and artists and
poets are inclined to that sort of thing, I fancy.

That’s what worries me about myself; I am not inclined that way; I don’t
seem to be artistic enough in temperament to pay any attention to
sentiment of that sort.  I don’t desire it; I don’t miss it; it simply
is not an item in the list of things that interest me.  But of all
things in the world, I do adore friendship.

I had an afternoon off from the hospital the other day—I’m still a
probationer in a pink and white uniform, you know—and I went up to town
and flew about the shops and lunched with a college friend, Helen Davis,
at the Ritz and had a wonderful time.

And who do you suppose I ran into?  Oswald Grismer! Jim, he certainly is
the best-looking fellow—such red-gold hair,—such fascinating golden eyes
and colouring.

We chatted most amiably and he took us to tea, and then—I suppose it
wasn’t conventional—but we went to his studio with him, Helen Davis and
I.

He _is_ the cleverest man!  He has done a delightful fountain and
several portrait busts, and a beautiful tomb for the Lidsey family, and
his studies in wax and clay are wonderful!

He really seems very nice.  And the life he leads is heavenly!  Such a
wonderful way to live—just a bed-room and the studio.

He’s going to give a little tea for me next time I have an afternoon
off, and I’m to meet a lot of delightful, unconventional people
there—painters, writers, actors—people who have _done_ things!—I’m sure
it will be wonderful.

I have bought five pounds of plasticine and I’m going to model in it in
my room every time I have a few moments to myself.  But oh, it does
smell abominably, and it ruins your finger nails.


After that, Oswald Grismer’s name recurred frequently in her letters.
Cleland recognized also the names of several old schoolmates of his as
figuring at various unconventional ceremonies in Grismer’s studio—Harry
Belter, now a caricaturist on the New York _Morning Star_; Badger Spink,
drawing for the illustrated papers; Clarence Verne, who painted pretty
girls for the covers of popular magazines, and his one-time master, Phil
Grayson, writer for the better-class periodicals.


It’s delightful, she wrote; we sometimes have music—often celebrated
people from the Metropolitan Opera drop in and you meet everybody of
consequence you ever heard of outside the Social Register—people famous
in their professions—and it is exciting and inspiring and fills me with
enthusiasm and desire to amount to something.

Of course there are _all_ kinds, Jim; but I’m old enough and experienced
enough to know how to take care of myself. Intellectuals are, of course,
broad, liberal and impatient of petty conventions: they live for their
professions, regardless of orthodox opinion, oblivious of narrow-minded
Philistines.

The main idea is to be tolerant.  That is the greatest thing in the
world, tolerance.  I may not care to smoke cigarettes myself or drink
cocktails and highballs, but if another girl does it it’s none of my
business.  That is the foundation of the unconventional and intellectual
world—freedom and tolerance of other people’s opinions and behaviour.
_That_ is democracy!

As for the futurists and symbolists of various schools, I am not narrow
enough, I hope, to ridicule them or deny them the right to
self-expression, but I am not in sympathy with them.  However, it is
most interesting to listen to their views.

Well, these delightful treats are rare events in my horridly busy life.
I’m in the infirmary and the hospital almost all the time; I’m always on
duty or studying or attending lectures and clinics.  I don’t faint any
more.  And the poor little sufferers fill my heart with sympathy.  I do
love children—even defective ones.  It makes me furious that there
should be any.  We must regulate this some day. And regulate birth
control, too.

It is interesting; I am rather glad that I shall have had this
experience.  As a graduate nurse, some day, I shall add immensely to my
own self-respect and self-confidence.  But I should never pursue the
profession further; never study medicine; never desire to become a
professional physician. The minute I graduate I shall rent a studio and
start in to find out what most properly shall be my vehicle for
self-expression.

I forgot to tell you that Oswald Grismer’s father and mother are dead
within a week of each other.  Pneumonia! Poor boy, he is stunned.  He
wrote me.  He won’t give any every second to creative work without a
thought of financial gain.

Harry Belter is such a funny, fat man.  He asks after you every time I
meet him.  I sent you some of his cartoons in the _Star_.  Badger Spink
is an odd sort of man with his big, boyish figure and his mass of
pompadour hair and his inextinguishable energy and amazing talent.  He
draws, draws, draws all the time; you see his pictures in every
periodical; yet he seems to have time for all sorts of gaiety, private
theatricals, dances, entertainments.  He belongs to tie Players, the Ten
Cent Club, the Dutch Treat, Illustrators, Lotus, Coffee House, Two by
Four—and about a hundred others—and I think he’s president of most of
them.  He _always_ sends his regards to you and requests to know whether
you’re not yet fed up with Latin Quarter stuff—whatever that means!

And Clarence Verne always mentions you.  Such a curious man with a face
like Pharaoh, and Egyptian hands, too, deeply cut in between thumb and
forefinger like the hands of people sculptured in bas reliefs on
Egyptian tombs.

But such lovely girls he paints!—so exquisite!  He is a very odd
man—with a fixed gaze, and speaks as though he were a trifle deaf—or
drugged, or something....

You haven’t said much about yourself, Jim, in your last letters; and
also your letters arrive at longer and longer intervals.

Somehow, I think that you are becoming reconciled to Paris.  I don’t
believe you feel very lonely any longer.  But _what_ do you do to amuse
yourself after your hours of work are ended?  And who are your new
friends over there?  For, of course, you must have made new friends—I
don’t mean the students whose names you have occasionally mentioned.
Haven’t you met any nice girls?


He did not mention having met any girls, nice or otherwise, when he
wrote again.  He did say that he was enjoying his work and that he had
begun to feel a certain affection for Paris—particularly after he had
been away travelling in Germany, Spain and Italy. Really, he admitted,
it was like coming home.  The usual was still happening to James
Cleland.

He had an apartment, now, overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens.  He had
friends to dinner sometimes. There was always plenty to do.  Life had
become very inspiring.  The French theatres were a liberal education;
French literature a miracle of artistic clarity and a model for all
young aspirants.  In fact, the spring source of all art was France, and
Paris the ornamental fountain jet from which flashed the ever-living
waters that all may quaff.

Very pretty.  He did not add that some of the waters were bottled and
kept in pails of chopped ice. He wrote many gracefully composed
pages—when he wrote at all—concerning the misty beauty of the French
landscape and the effect of the rising sun of Notre Dame.  He had seen
it rise several times.

But, on the whole, he behaved discreetly and with much circumspection;
and within his youthful heart lay that deathless magic of the creative
mind which transmutes leaden reality into golden romance—which is blind
to the sordid and which transforms it into the picturesque.

A saucy smile from a pretty girl on an April day germinated into a
graceful string of verses by night; a chance encounter by the Seine, a
laugh, a gay adieu—and a delicate short story was born, perhaps to be
laboured over and groomed and swaddled and nourished into life—or to be
abandoned, perhaps, in the back yard of literary débris.

Life ran evenly and pleasantly for Cleland in those deathless
days—light, happy, irresponsible days when idleness becomes saturated
with future energy unawares; when the seeds of inspiration fall thicker
and thicker and take root; when the liberality, the vastness, and the
inspiration of the world begin to dawn upon a youthful intellect, not
oppressively, but with a wide and reassuring kindliness.

There was a young girl—very pretty, whose loneliness made her not too
conventional.  After several encounters on the stairs, she smiled in
response; and they crossed the Luxembourg Gardens together, strolling in
the chestnut shade and exchanging views of life.

The affair continued—charming and quite harmless—a touch of tragedy and
tears one evening—and the boy deeply touched and temporarily in love—in
love with love, temporarily embodied in this blue-eyed, white-skinned,
slender girl who had wandered with him close to the dead line and was
inclined to cross it—with him.

He had a delightfully wretched hour of renunciation—and was rewarded
with much future material, though he didn’t know it at the time.

There were tears—several.  It is not certain that she spiritually
appreciated the situation.  That sort of gratitude seldom is genuine in
the feminine heart.

But such things are very real to the creative mind, and Cleland was far
too unhappy to sleep—deeply wallowing in martyrdom.  Fate laughed and
pinned this little episode on the clothes-line to dry out with the
others—quite a little line-full, now, all fluttering gaily there and
drying in the sun.  And after a proper interval Cleland wont about the
business of washing out a few more samples of experience in the life and
manners and customs of his time, later to be added to the clothes-line
wash.

He had to prod himself to write to Stephanie.  He was finding it a
little difficult to discover very much to say to her.  In youth two
people grow apart during absence much faster than they grow together
when in each other’s company.

It was so with Cleland and Stephanie—less so with her.

Not seeing her for nearly two years left him with the unconscious
impression that she had not altered during that period—that she was
still the same young girl he had left, no more mature, no more
experienced, little wiser.

Her letters were interesting but he had lost touch, in a measure, with
interests and people at home.  He had adapted himself to the new angle
of vision, to the new aspect of life, to new ideals, new aspirations.
He was at the source of inspiration, drinking frequently at times,
always unconsciously absorbing.

At the end of the two years he had no desire to return to New York.

A series of voluminous letters passed between him and Stephanie and
between him and Miss Quest.

He had plenty of excuses for remaining another year; his education was
not completed; he needed a certain atmosphere and a certain environment
which could be enjoyed only in Europe.

Of course, if he were needed in New York, etc., etc. No, he wasn’t
needed.  Matters could be attended to.  The house in 80th Street ought
to be closed as it was a useless expense to keep the servants there.

Poor old Meacham had died; Janet, too, was dead; Lizzie had gone back to
Ireland.  The house in town should, therefore, be closed and wired; and
the house in the country, "Runner’s Rest," should remain closed and in
charge of the farmer who had always looked out for it.

This could be attended to; no need of his coming back.

So he wrote his directions to Stephanie and settled down again with a
sigh of relief to the golden days which promised.

His work, now deeply coloured by Gallic influence and environment, had
developed to that stage of embryonic promise marred by mannerisms and
affectations. His style, temporarily spoiled by a sort of
Franco-American jargon, became involved in the swamps of psychological
subtleties, emerging jerkily at times, or relapsing into Debussy-like
redundancy.

Nobody wanted his short stories, his poems, his impressions.  Publishers
in London and in America returned "Day Dreams" and "Out of the Depths"
with polite regrets.  He sounded every depth of despondency and
self-distrust; he soared on wings of hope again, striving to keep his
gaze on the blinding source of light, only to become confused and
dazzled in the upper oceans and waver and flutter and come tumbling
down, frantically beating the too rarified atmosphere with unaccustomed
wings.

Nobody could tell him.  He had to find out the way. He had within him
what was worth saying; had not yet learned how to say it.  The massed
testimony of the masters lay heavily undigested within him; he was too
richly fed, stuffed; the intricacies and complexities of technique
worried and disheartened him; he felt too keenly, too deeply to keep a
clear mind and a cool one.

Every sense he possessed was necessary to him in his creative work;
emotion, intense personal sympathy with his characters, his theme,
clogged, checked and halted inspiration, smothering simplicity and
clarity. This was a phase.  He had the usual experience.  He struggled
through it and onward.

Stephanie wrote that she had graduated, but that as her aunt was ill she
would remain for the present at the hospital.

He felt that he ought to go back.  And did not.  He was in a dreadfully
involved dilemma with his new novel, "Renunciation"—all about a
woman—one of the sort he never had met—and no wonder he was in a mess!
Besides that, and in spite of the gaily coloured line of rags fluttering
on the clothes-line of experience, he knew very little about women.  One
day, when he came to realize that he knew nothing at all about them, he
might begin to write about them, convincingly and acceptably.  But he
was not yet as far along as that in his education.

He had a desperate affair with an engaging woman of the real world—a
countess.  She took excellent care of herself, had a delightful time
with Cleland, and, in gratitude, opened his eyes to the literary morass
in which he had been wading.

Clear-minded, witty, charming, very lovely to look upon, she read and
criticised what he wrote, discussed, consulted, advised, and, with
exquisite tact, divining the boy’s real talent, led him deftly to solid
land again. And left him there, enchanted, miserable, inspired,
heart-broken, with a laughing admonition to be faithful to her memory
while she enjoyed her husband’s new post at the Embassy in Sofia.

He wrote, after her departure, a poem simple enough for a child to
understand.  And tucked it away with a ribbon and a dried flower in his
portfolio.  It was the first good thing he had ever written.  But he
remained unconscious of the fact for a long time.

Besides, other matters were bothering him, in particular a letter from
Miss Quest:


I am not well.  I shall not be better.  Still, there is no particular
hurry about your returning.

Stephanie remains with me very loyally.  She has graduated; she is
equipped with a profession.  She has turned into a very lovely woman to
look upon.

But that sex restlessness which now overwhelmingly obsesses the world,
possesses her.  Freedom from all restraint, liberty to work out and
accomplish her own destiny, contempt of convention, utter disregard of
established formality, and hostility to custom, enroll her among the
vast army of revolutionists now demanding a revision of all laws and
customs made by one sex alone to govern the conduct of both.

You and I once conversed on this subject, if you remember. I told you
what I feared.  And it has happened: Stephanie has developed along
radical lines.  With everything revolutionary in the world-wide feminist
movement she is in sympathy.  Standards that have been standards are no
longer so to her.  To the world’s conservatism she is fiercely and
youthfully hostile; equality, tolerance, liberty are the only
guide-posts she pretends to recognize.

I shall not live to see the outcome of this world-wide propaganda and
revolt.  I don’t want to.  But, in my opinion, it takes a strong
character, already accustomed to liberty, to keep its balance in this
dazzling flood let in by opening prison doors....

I have left Stephanie what property I have outside of that invested and
endowed to maintain my Home for Defective Children.  Securities have
shrunk; it is not much.  It may add four thousand dollars to her present
income.

Mr. Cleland, you and Stephanie have gradually and very naturally grown
apart since your absence.  I don’t know what you have developed into.
But you were a nice boy.

Stephanie is a beautiful, willful, intelligent, and I fear slightly
erratic woman, alive with physical and mental vigour, restless and
sensitive under pressure of control, yet to be controlled through her
affections first, and only afterward through her reason.

These are unconventional times; a new freedom is dawning, and to me the
dawn seems threatening.  I am too old, too near my end not to feel that
the old régime, with all its drawbacks, was safer for women, productive
of better results, less hazardous, less threatening.

But I don’t know: I am old-fashioned except in theory. I have professed
the creed of the new feminism; I have in my time—and very
properly—denounced the tyranny and selfishness and injustice of man-made
laws which fetter and cripple my sex.

But—at heart—and with not very many days left to me—at heart I am
returning rather wearily along the way I came toward what, now to me,
seems safer.  It may be only the notions of an old woman, very tired,
very sad, conscious of failure, and ready to rest and leave the
responsibility where it originated and where it belongs.  I don’t know.
But I wish Stephanie were not alone in the world.


Miss Quest died before the letter reached him. Stephanie’s next letter
informed him of all the details. She continued:


No use your coming back until you are quite ready, Jim. There’s nothing
for you to do.

I’ve taken a studio and apartment with Helen Davis, the animal sculptor.
I don’t yet know just what I shall do.  I’m likely to try several things
before I know what I ought to stick to.

Don’t feel any absurd sense of responsibility for me.  That would be too
silly.  Feel free to remain abroad as long as it suits you.  I also feel
absolutely free to go and come as I please.  That’s the best basis for
our friendship, Jim, and, in fact, the necessary and vital basis.  My
affection is unaltered, but, somehow, it has been such a long time that
you seem almost unreal to me.

He did not sail at once.  After all, in the face of such an unmistakable
declaration of independence, it did not seem worth while for him to
arouse himself from the golden lethargy of enchantment and break the
spell of Europe which held him content, amid the mellow ripeness of her
capitals and the tinted splendour of her traditions.

He wrote frequently for a few months.  Then his letters lagged.

Once his pretty Countess had warned him that, for an American, Europe
was merely the school-room but his own country was the proper and only
place for creative labour.

He remembered this at intervals, a little uneasy, a trifle
conscious-stricken because he shrank from making an end to
preparation—because he still loitered, disinclined to break the golden
web and return to the clear, shadowless skies and the pitiless sun of
the real world where he belonged, and where alone, he knew, was the
workshop for which he had been so leisurely preparing.

Then the shock came—the bolt out of the blue.

The cablegram said:


I married Oswald Grismer this morning.

STEPHANIE.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*


He sailed in April.  When he sailed, he knew he would not come back for
many years, if ever. His business here was done, the dream of Europe
ended.  The cycle of Cathay awaited him in all its acrid crudity.

Yes, the golden web was rent, torn across, destroyed. The shock to his
American mind left nothing of the lotus eater in him.  He was returning
where he belonged.

Married!  Steve married!  To Oswald Grismer, who, save as a schoolboy
and later in college, was a doubtful and unknown quantity to him.

He had never known Grismer well.  Since their schoolboy differences,
they had been good enough friends when thrown together, which had been
infrequently.  He had no particular liking for Grismer, no dislike.
Grismer had been a clever, adroit, amusing man in college, generally
popular, yet with no intimacies, no close friends.

As for Steve, he never dreamed that Stephanie would do such a thing.  It
was so damnably silly, so utterly unthinkable a thing to do.

And in his angry perplexity and growing resentment, Cleland’s conscience
hurt as steadily as a toothache. He ought to have been home long ago.
He should have gone back at the end of his two years.  His father had
trusted him to look out for Steve, and, in spite of her rather bumptious
letters proclaiming her independence, he should have gone back and kept
an eye on her, whether or not she liked it.

In his astonishment and unhappiness, he did not know what to write her
when the cablegram came hurtling into his calm and delightfully ordered
life and blew up the whole fabric.

Sometimes, to himself, he called her a "little fool"; sometimes "poor
little Steve."  But always he unfeignedly cursed Grismer and bitterly
blamed himself.

The affair made him sick at heart and miserable, and ruined any pleasure
remaining in his life and work.

He did not cable her; he wrote many letters and tore all of them to
bits.  It was beyond him to accept the _fait accompli_, beyond him to
write even politely, let alone with any pretense of cordiality.

His resentment grew steadily, increased by self-reproach.  What kind of
man had Oswald Grismer grown into?  What kind of insolence was this—his
marrying Steve——

"Damn his yellow soul, I’ll wring his neck!" muttered Cleland, pacing
the deck of the Cunarder in the chilly April sunshine.

But the immense astonishment of it still possessed him.  He couldn’t
imagine Steve married.  _Why_ had she married?  What earthly reason was
there?  It was incredible, absurd.

Still in his mind lingered the image of the girl Stephanie whom he
remembered as he last had seen her.

Once or twice, too, thinking of that time, and conjuring up all he could
picture of her, he remembered the delicate ardour of her parting
embrace, the fragrant warmth of her mouth, and her arms around his neck.

It angered him oddly to remember it—to think of her as the wife of
Oswald Grismer.  The idea seemed unendurable; it threw him into a rage
against this man who had so suddenly taken Stephanie Quest out of his
life.

"Damn him!  Damn him!" he muttered, staring out over the wind-whipped
sea.  "I’d like to twist his neck! There’s something queer about this.
I’ll take her away from him if I can.  I’ll do everything I can to take
her away from him.  I want her back.  I’ll get her back if it’s
possible.  How can she care for Grismer?"

He had nobody, now, to return to; no home, for the house was closed; no
welcome to expect.

He had not written her that he was coming; he had no desire to see her
at the steamer with Grismer.  With a youthful heart full of indefinable
bitterness and self-contempt that his own indifference and selfishness
had brought Steve and himself to such a pass, he paced the decks day
after day, making no acquaintances, keeping to himself.

And one night the great light on Montauk Point stared at him across
leagues of unseen water.  He was in touch again with his own half of the
earth, nearing the edges of the great, raw, sprawling Continent where no
delicate haze of tradition softened sordid facts; where there reigned no
calm and ordered philosophy of life; where everything was in extremes;
where everything was etched sharply against aggressive backgrounds;
where there were no misty middle distances, no tranquil spaces; only the
roaring silences of deserts to mitigate the yelling dissonance of life.

He saw the sun on the gilded tips of snowy towers piled up like Alpine
cliffs; the vast webs of bridges stretching athwart a leaden flood;
forests of masts and huge painted funnels; acres of piers and docks;
myriads of craft crossing and recrossing the silvery flood flowing
between great cities.

On the red castle to the southwest a flag flew, sun-dyed, vivid, lovely
as a flower.

His eyes filled; he choked.

"Thank God," he thought, "I’m where I belong at last!"

And so Cleland came home.



                             *CHAPTER XVII*


It was late afternoon before Cleland got his luggage unpacked and
himself settled in the Hotel Rochambeau, where he had been driven from
the steamer and had taken rooms.

The French cuisine, the French proprietor and personnel, the French café
in front, all helped to make his home-coming a little less lonely and
strange.  Sunlight fell on the quaint yellow brick façade and
old-fashioned wrought iron railings, and made his musty rooms and
tarnished furniture and hangings almost cheerful.

He had not telephoned to Stephanie.  He had nothing to say to her over
the wire.  From the moment he crossed the gang-plank the growing
resentment had turned to a curious, impotent sort of anger which excited
him and stifled any other emotion.

She had not known that he was coming back.  He had made no response to
her cablegram.  She could not dream that he had landed; that he was
within a stone’s throw of her lodgings.

The whole thing, too, seemed unreal to him—to find himself here in New
York again amid its clamour, its dinginess, its sham architecture and
crass ugliness!—back again in New York—and everything in his life so
utterly changed!—no home—the 80th Street house still closed and wired
and the old servants gone or dead; and the city empty of interest and
lonely as a wilderness to him since his father’s death—and now Steve
gone! nothing, now, to hold him here—for the ties of friends and clubs
had loosened during his years abroad, and his mind and spirit had become
formed in other moulds.

Yet here he knew he must do his work if ever he was to do any.  Here was
the place for the native-born—here his workshop where he must use and
fashion all that he had witnessed and learned of life during the golden
hours through which he sauntered under the lovely skies of an older
civilization.

Here was the place and now was the time for self-expression, for
creative work, for the artistic interpretation of the life and manners
of his own people.

If he was to do anything, be anybody, attain distinction, count among
writers of his era, he knew that his effort lay here—here where he was
born and lived his youth to manhood—here where the tension of feverish
living never relaxed, where a young, high-mettled, high-strung nation
was clamouring and fretting and quarrelling and forging ahead, now
floundering aside after some will-o’-the-wisp, now scaling stupendous
moral heights, noisy, half-educated, half-civilized, suspicious,
flippant, bragging, sentimental, yet iron-hearted, generous and brave.

Here, on the nation’s eastern edge, where the shattering dissonance of
the iron city never ceased by day; where its vast, metallic vibration
left the night eternally unquiet and the very sky quivering with the
blows of sound under the stars’ incessant sparkle—here, after all, was
where he belonged.  Here he must have his say. Here lay his destiny.
And, for the sake of all this which was his, and for no other reason,
was attainment and distinction worth his effort.

All this good and evil, all this abominable turmoil and futile discord,
all this relentless, untiring struggle deep in the dusty, twilight
cañons and steel towers with their thin skins of stone—all the passions
of these people, and their motives and their headlong strivings and
their creeds and sentiments, false or true or misguided—these things
were his to interpret, to understand, to employ.

For these people, and for their cities, for their ambitions, desires,
aspirations—for the vast nation of which they formed their local
fragment—only a native-born could be their interpreter, their eulogist,
their defender, their apologist, and their prophet.  And for their
credit alone was there any reason for his life’s endeavour.

No cultured, suave product of generations of Europe’s cultivation could
handle these people and these themes convincingly and with the subtle
comprehension of authority.  Rod and laurel, scalpel and palm should be
touched only by the hand of the native-born.

His pretty Countess had said to him once:

"Only what you have seen, what you have lived and seen others live; only
what you detect from the clear-minded, cool, emotionless analysis of
your own people, is worth the telling.  Only this carries conviction.
And, when told with all the cunning simplicity and skill of an artist,
it carries with it that authority which leaves an impression indelible!
Go back to your own people—if you really have anything to write worth
reading."

Thinking of these things, he locked his door on rooms now more or less
in order, and went out into the street.

It was too warm for an overcoat.  A primrose sunset light filled the
street; the almost forgotten specific odour of New York invaded his
memory again—an odour entirely different from that of any other city.
For every city in the world has its own odour—not always a perfume.

Now, again, his heart was beating hard and fast at thought of seeing
Stephanie, and the same indefinable anger possessed him—not directed
entirely against anyone, but inclusive of himself, and her, and Grismer,
and his own helplessness and isolation.

The street she lived in was quiet.  There seemed to be a number of
studios along the block.  In a few minutes he saw the number he was
looking for.

Four brick dwelling houses had been made over into one with studios on
every floor—a rather pretty Colonial effect with green shutters, white
doorway, and iron fence painted white.

In the quaint vestibule with its classic fanlight and delicate
side-lights, he found her name on a letter box and pushed the electric
button.  The street door swung open noiselessly.

On the ground floor, facing him on the right, he saw a door on which was
a copper plate bearing the names, "Miss Davis; Miss Quest."  The door
opened as he touched the knocker; a young girl in stained sculptor’s
smock stood there regarding him inquiringly, a cigarette between her
pretty, clay-stained fingers.

"Miss——" he checked himself, reddening—"Mrs. Grismer, I mean?" he asked.

The girl laughed.  She was brown-eyed, pink-cheeked, compactly and
beautifully moulded, and her poise and movement betrayed the elasticity
of superb health.

"She’s out just now.  Will you come in and wait?"

He went in, aware of clay studies on revolving stands, academic studies
in unframed canvases, charcoal drawings from the nude, thumb-tacked to
the wall—the usual mess of dusty draperies, decrepit and nondescript
furniture, soiled rugs and cherished objects of art.  A cloying smell of
plasticine pervaded the place.  A large yellow cat, dozing on a sofa,
opened one golden eye a little way, then closed it indifferently.

The girl who had admitted him indicated a chair and stepped before a
revolving table on which was the roughly-modelled sketch of a horse and
rider.

She picked up a lump of waxy material, and, kneading it in one hand,
glanced absently at the sketch, then looked over her shoulder at Cleland
with a friendly, enquiring air:

"Miss Quest went out to see about her costume.  I suppose she’ll be back
shortly."

"What costume?" he asked.

"Oh, didn’t you know?  It’s for the Caricaturists’ Ball in aid of the
Artists’ Fund.  It’s the Ball of the Gods—the great event of the season
and the last. Evidently you don’t live in New York."

"I haven’t, recently."

"I see.  Will you have a cigarette?"  She pointed at a box on a tea
tray; he thanked her and lighted one. As he continued to remain
standing, she asked him again to be seated, and he complied.

She continued to pinch off little lumps of waxy, pliable composition and
stick them on the horse.  Still fussing with the sketch, he saw a smile
curve her cheek in profile; and presently she said without turning:

"Why did you speak of Stephanie Quest as Mrs. Grismer?  _We_ don’t, you
know."

"Why not?  Isn’t she?"

The girl looked at him over her shoulder; she was startlingly pretty,
fresh and smooth-skinned as a child.

"Who _are_ you?" she asked, with that same little hint of friendly
curiosity in her brown eyes;—"I’m Helen Davis, Stephanie’s chum.  You
seem to know a good deal about her."

"I’m James Cleland," he said quietly, "—her brother."

At that the girl’s brown eyes flew wide open:

"Good Heavens!" she said; "did Steve expect you? She never said a word
to me!  I thought you were a fixture in Europe!"

He sat biting the end of his cigarette, not looking at her:

"She didn’t expect me," he said, flinging the half-burned cigarette into
the silver slop-dish of the tea service. "I didn’t notify her that I was
coming."

Helen Davis dropped one elbow on the modelling table, rested her rounded
chin in her palm, and bent her eyes on Cleland.  Smoke from the
cigarette between her fingers mounted in a straight, thin band to the
ceiling.

"So you are Steve’s Jim," she mused aloud.  "I recognize you now, from
your photographs, only you’re older and thinner—and you wear a
moustache....  You’ve been away a long while, haven’t you?"

"Too long," he said, casting a sombre look at her.

"Oh, do you feel that way?  How odd it will seem to you to see Steve
again.  She’s such a darling!  Quite wonderful, Mr. Cleland.  The
artists’ colony in New York raves over her."

"Does it?" he said drily.

"Everybody does.  She’s so amusing, so clever, so full of talent and
animation—like a beautiful and mischievous thoroughbred on tip-toes with
vitality and the sheer joy of living.  She never is in low spirits or
depressed.  That’s what fascinates everybody—her gaiety and energy and
high spirits.  I knew her in college and she wasn’t quite that way then.
Perhaps because she hated college.  But she could be a perfect little
devil if she wanted to.  She can be that still."

Cleland nodded almost absently; his preoccupied gaze travelled over the
disordered studio and concentrated scowlingly on the yellow cat.  He
kept twisting the head of his walking stick between his hands and
staring at the animal in silence while Helen Davis watched him.
Presently, and without any excuse, she walked slowly away and vanished
into some inner room.  When she returned, she had discarded her working
smock, and her smooth hands were slightly rosy from a recent toilet.

"I’m going to give you some tea," she said, striking a match and
lighting the lamp under the kettle at his elbow.

"Thanks, no," he said with an effort.

"Yes, you shall have some," she insisted, smiling in her gay little
friendly way.  "Come, Mr. Cleland, you are man of the world enough to
waive formality.  I’m going to sit here and make tea and talk to you.
Look at me!  Wouldn’t you like to be friends with me? Most men would."

He looked up, and his slightly drawn features relaxed.

"Yes," he said with a smile, "of course I would."

"That’s very human of you," she laughed.  "Shall we talk about Steve?
What _did_ you think of that cablegram?  Did you ever hear of such a
crazy thing?"

He flushed with anger but said nothing.  The girl looked at him intently
over the steaming kettle, then went on measuring out tea.

"Shall I tell you about it, or would you rather that Steve told you?"
she asked carelessly, busy with her preparations.

"She is actually married to—Grismer—then?"

"Well—I suppose so.  You know him, of course."

"Yes."

"He _is_ fascinating—in that unusual way of his—poor fellow.  Women like
him better than men do.  One meets him everywhere in artistic circles;
but do you know, Mr. Cleland, I’ve always seemed to be conscious of a
curious sort of latent hostility to Oswald Grismer, even among people he
frequents—among men, particularly. However, he has no intimates."

"If they are actually married," he said with an effort, "why does
Stephanie live here with you?"

"Oh, that was the ridiculous understanding.  I myself don’t know why she
married him.  The whole affair was a crazy, feather-brained
performance——"  She poured his tea and offered him a sugar biscuit,
which he declined.

"You see," she continued, curling up into the depths of her rickety
velvet arm-chair and taking her cup and a heap of sugar biscuits into
her lap, "Oswald Grismer has been Steve’s shadow—at her heels always—and
I know well enough that Stephanie was not insensible to the curious
fascination of the man.  You know how devotion impresses a girl—and he
_is_ clever and good looking.

"And that was all very well, and I don’t think it would have amounted to
anything serious as long as Oswald was the amusing, good-looking, lazy
and rich amateur of sculpture, with plenty of leisure to saunter through
life and be charmingly attentive, and play with his profession when the
whim suited him."

She sipped her tea and looked at Cleland meditatively.

"Did you know he’d lost all his money?"

"No," said Cleland.

"Oh, yes.  He lost it a year ago.  He has scarcely anything, I believe.
He had a beautiful studio and apartment, wonderful treasures of antique
furniture; he had about everything a rich young man fancies.  It all
went."

"What was the matter?"

"Nobody knows.  He took a horrid little stable studio in Bleecker
Street, and he lives there.  And _that’s_ why Steve did that crazy,
impulsive thing, I suppose."

"You mean she was sorry for him?"

"I _think_ it must have been that—and the general fascination he had for
her—and his persistency and devotion.  Really, I don’t know, myself, how
she came to do it.  She did it on one of her ill-considered, generous,
headlong impulses.  Ask her.  All she ever told me was that she had
married Oswald and didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but had
decided to keep her own name for the present and continue to live with
me."

"Do they see each other—much?" he asked.

"Oh, they encounter each other here and there as usual.  He drops in
here every day."

"Does she go—there?"

"I don’t know," said the girl gravely.

He had set aside his tea, untasted.  She, still curled up in her
arm-chair, ate and drank with a delightfully healthy appetite.

"Would you prefer a highball?" she enquired.  "I could fix you one."

"No, thank you."  He rose and began to walk nervously about the studio.

Her perplexed, brown eyes followed him.  It was clear that she could not
make him out.

Natural chagrin at a clandestine marriage might account for his manner.
Probably it was that, because Stephanie could not have meant anything
more personal and serious to him, or he could not have remained away so
long.

He stopped abruptly in his aimless promenade and turned to Helen:

"Am I in the way?" he asked.

"My dear Mr. Cleland," she said, "we are a perfectly informal community.
If you were in the way I’d say so.  Also, I have a bed-room where I can
retire when Steve comes in.  Or you and she can go into her room to talk
things over."  She lighted another cigarette, rose, strolled over to the
wax horse, with a friendly smile at him.

"I was just making a sketch," she said.  "I’ve a jolly commission—two
bronze horses for the Hispano-Moresque Museum.  The Cid is on one,
Saladin on the other.  I was just fussing with an idea when you rang."

He came and stood beside her, looking at the sketch.

"I’ve a fine, glass-roofed courtyard in the rear of the studio for my
animal models—horses and dogs and any beast I require," she explained.
"This sort of thing comes first, of course.  I think I’ll get Oswald to
pose for the Cid."

She stood contemplating her sketch, the cigarette balanced between her
fingers; then, of a sudden, she turned swiftly around to confront him.

"Mr. Cleland, it _is_ a dreadful and foolish and irrational thing that
Steve has done, and I know you are justly angry.  But—she is a darling
in spite of being a feather-head sometimes.  You _will_ forgive her,
won’t you?"

"Of course.  After all, it is her business."

Helen sighed:

"You _are_ angry.  But please don’t lose interest in her.  She’s so
loyal to you.  She adores you, Mr. Cleland——"

A key rattled in the lock; the door swung open; into the dusky studio
stepped a slender figure, charmingly buoyant and graceful in the fading
light.

"Helen, they’re to send our costumes in an hour. They are the most
fascinating things——"

Stephanie’s voice ceased abruptly.  There was a silence.

"Who is—_that_?" she asked unsteadily.

Helen turned and went quietly away toward her bed-room.  Stephanie stood
as though frozen, then reached forward and pressed the electric button
with a gloved finger that trembled.

"Jim!" she whispered.

She stole forward, nearer, close to him, still incredulous, her grey
eyes wide with excitement; then, with a little sobbing cry she threw
both arms around his neck.

She had laughed and cried there in his arms; her lovely head and
disordered hair witnessed the passionate ardour of her welcome to this
man who now sat beside her in her bed-room, her hands clasped in his,
and all her young soul’s adoration in her splendid eyes.

"Oh," she whispered again and again, "—Oh, to have you back, Jim.  That
is too heavenly to believe. You dear, dear boy—so good looking—and a
little older and graver——"  She nestled close to him, laying her cheek
against his.

She murmured:

"It seems too delicious to endure.  You do love me, don’t you, Jim?  We
haven’t anybody else in the world except each other, you know.  Isn’t it
good—good to have each other again!  It’s been like a dream, your
absence.  You gradually became unreal—a dear, beloved memory.  Somehow,
I didn’t think you’d ever come back.  Are you happy to be with me?"

"Happier than you know, Steve——"  His voice trembled oddly and he drew
her into his arms: "Good God," he said under his breath, "—I must have
been mad to leave you to your own devices so long!  I ought to be shot!"

"What do you mean, Jim?"

"You know.  Oh, Steve, Steve, I can’t understand—I simply can not
understand."

After a silence she lifted her head and rested her lips softly against
his cheek.

"Do you mean—my marrying Oswald?" she asked.

"Yes.  Why did you do such a thing?"

She bent her head, considering the question for a while in silence.
Then she said calmly:

"There’s one reason why I did it that I can’t tell you.  I promised him
not to.  Another reason was that he was very much in love with me.  I
don’t know exactly what it is that I feel for him—but he does fascinate
me.  He always did, somehow.  Even as a boy——"

"You didn’t know him as a boy!"

"No.  But I saw him once.  And I realize now that I was even then
vaguely conscious of an odd interest in him.  And that time at
Cambridge, too.  He had that same, indefinable attraction for me——"

"You _are_ in love with him then!"

"I don’t know.  Jim, I don’t think it is love.  I don’t think I know
what love really is.  So, knowing this, but being grateful to him, and
deeply sorry——"

"Why?"

"I can’t tell you why.  Perhaps I’ll tell you sometime.  But I was very
grateful and sorry and—and more or less moved—fascinated.  It’s funny;
there are things I don’t like about Oswald, and still I can’t keep away
from him....  Well, so everything seemed to combine to make me try it——"

"Try what?"

"Marrying him."

"What do you mean by ’trying it?’"

"Why, it’s a trial marriage——"

"Good God!" he said.  "What do you mean?"

"I mean it’s a trial marriage," she repeated coolly.

"You mean there was no—no ceremony?" he stammered.

"There wasn’t any ceremony.  We don’t believe in it.  We just said to
each other that we’d marry——"

"You mean you’ve—you’ve _lived_ with that man on such terms of
understanding?" he demanded, white with rage.

"I don’t live with him.  I live here with Helen," she said, perplexed.
"All I would consent to was a trial marriage to see how it went for a
year or two——"

"Do you mean that what you’ve done is legal?"

"Oh, yes, it’s legal," she said seriously.  "I’ve found that out."

"And—you know wh-what I mean," he said, stammering in his anger; "Was
that sufficient for you?  Do you want me to speak plainer, Steve?  I
mean, have you—lived with him?"

She understood and dropped her reddening cheek on his shoulder.

"_Have_ you?" he repeated harshly.

"No....  I thought you understood.  It is only a trial marriage; I’ve
tried to explain that—make it clear——"

"What loose-minded, unconventional Bohemians call a ’trial marriage,’"
he said, with brutal directness, "is an agreement between a pair of
fools to live as man and wife for a while with an understanding that a
formal ceremony shall ultimately confirm the irregularity if they find
themselves suited to each other.  Is that what you’ve done?"

"No."

He drew a deep, trembling breath of relief, took her in his arms and
held her close.

"My little Steve," he whispered, "—my own little Steve!  What sort of
trap is this he’s led you into?"

"No trap.  I _wanted_ to try it."

"You _wished_ it?"

"I was quite willing to try.  After a year or two, I’ll know whether I
shall ever care to live with him."

"After a year or two!"

"Yes.  That was the understanding.  And then, if I didn’t wish to live
with him, we can be very quietly divorced.  It _was_ a crazy thing to
do.  But there wasn’t any real risk.  Besides——" She hesitated.

"Go on," he said.

"No, I can’t.  If I don’t fall in love with him, I certainly shall never
live with him.  So," she added calmly, "there’ll be no children to
complicate the parting.  You see I had some sense, Jim."

She lifted her head from his shoulder and smiled at him:

"It was just an escapade of sorts," she explained, more cheerfully.  "It
really doesn’t mean anything yet, and I fly around and have a wonderful
time, and maybe I’ll take up sculpture with Helen, and maybe I’ll try
the stage.  Anyway——" she pressed closer to him with a happy sigh, "I’ve
got _you_ back, haven’t I?  So what do we care whether I’m his wife or
not?"

He said, holding her closely embraced:

"Suppose some other man should fall in love with you, Steve?"

"Oh!" she laughed.  "Plenty do.  Or say they do. I’m nice to them, and
they get along very well.... Your moustache is becoming to you, Jim."
She touched it curiously, with one tentative finger.

"But suppose _you_ should return another man’s love some day?"

"I haven’t ever!" she said, laughing back into his eyes.

"No, but suppose you did?  And found yourself tied legally by a fool
agreement to Oswald Grismer?"

"Oh.  I never considered that."

"Consider it, now!"

"It isn’t likely to happen——"

"Consider it, all the same."

"Well—but I’ve never been in love.  But if it happened—well—that _would_
be a jolly mess, wouldn’t it?"

"I should think so!  What would you do about it?"

"There wouldn’t be anything to do except to wait until my two years of
trial marriage was up," she said thoughtfully.

"You could divorce him before that."

"Oh, no.  I promised to give him two years."

"To sit saddled with this ridiculous burden for two years?"

"Yes, I promised."

"Oh, Steve!  Steve!  What a muddle you have made of things!  What good
does it do you or him to have this chain between you?  You’ve lost your
liberty. You’re a legal wife without being one.  You’ve put shackles on
yourself for God knows what whim or caprice."

"But, Jim," she said, bewildered, "I _expect_ to be his wife,
ultimately."

"What?"

"Of course.  I wasn’t absolutely sure that I could fall in love with
him, that was all.  I have very little doubt that I shall.  I like to be
with him: I am never bored when he is with me; our tastes are similar;
our beliefs are unconventional.  We suit each other admirably.  It
wasn’t such a rash thing to do.  You see, it is perfectly safe every
way."

For a long while he sat beside her in silence.  She had slipped out of
his arms and now sat with one hand lying across his, watching the
enigmatic expressions which flitted over his rather sombre and flushed
features.

Finally he looked up:

"Steve?"

"Yes?"

"Suppose _I_ fell in love with—you?"

"Oh, Jim!"  She began to laugh, then the mirth faded in her grey eyes,
and her lips grew quiet and rather grave.

"_You?_" she said, half to herself.

"Do you remember some letters I once wrote you?"

"Yes."

"You wrote asking if I meant them to be love letters."

"Yes.  You answered very vaguely.  I think I frightened you," she said,
laughing.

"They _were_ love letters," he said.  "I didn’t happen to know it; that
is all.  I _was_ in love with you then. I didn’t realize it; you did not
believe it.  But now I know it was so."

"How _could_ you have been in love with me?" she inquired, astonished.

"You asked me that in your letters.  I thought it over and I didn’t see
how I could be, either.  I wasn’t much more than a boy.  Boys drift with
the prevailing tide.  The tide set away from home and from you.... Yet,
I was in love with you once, Steve."

She bent her head and looked down gravely at her slender hand, which lay
across his.

"That was very dear of you," she murmured.

After a silence:

"And—you?" he asked.

"Do you mean, was I ever in love with you?"

"Yes."

"I—don’t—know.  I loved your letters.  There didn’t seem to be any room
in my heart for more affection than it held for you.  I adored you.  I
do now. Perhaps, if you had come back——"

"I wish I had!"

"Do you?"  She lifted her eyes to him curiously. "You know, Jim, I must
be honest with you.  I never did love anybody....  But, if you had come
home—and if you had told me that you cared for me—that way——"

"Yes."

"Well, I was just a girl.  You had my affections.  I could have been
taught very easily, I think—to care—differently——"

"And—now?"

"What?"

"Is it too late to teach you, Steve?"

"Why, yes.  Isn’t it?"

"Why?"

"I’m married."

"It’s a flimsy, miserable business!" he began angrily, but she flushed
and checked him with a hand against his lips.

"Besides—I do care for Oswald—very deeply," she said.  "Don’t say
painful things to me....  Don’t be sulky, Jim, dear.  This is
disconcerting me dreadfully.  We mustn’t make anything tragic out of
it—anything unhappy.  I’m so contented to have you back that I can’t
think of anything else....  Don’t let’s bother about love or anything
else!  What you and I feel for each other is more wonderful than love.
Isn’t it?  Oh, Jim, I _do_ adore you.  We’ll be with each other now a
lot, won’t we?  You’ll take a studio in this district, and I’ll fly in
at all hours to see you, and you’ll come in to see me and we’ll do
things together—everything—theatres, dances, pictures, everything!  And
you will like Oswald, won’t you?  He’s really so nice, poor boy!"

"All right," he muttered.

They rose; he took both her hands into his and looked intently into her
grey eyes:

"I won’t spoil life for you," he said.  "I’ll be near you, now.  The old
intimacy must be strengthened. I’ve failed wretchedly in my
responsibilities; I’ll try to make up for my selfishness——"

"Oh, Jim!  I don’t think that way——"

"You are too generous.  You are too loyal.  You are quite the most
charming woman I ever knew, Steve—the sweetest, the most adorable.  I’ve
been a fool—blind and stupid."

"You mustn’t say such ridiculous things!  But it is dear of you to find
me attractive!  It really thrills me, Jim.  I’m about the happiest girl
in New York, I think!  Tell me, do you like Helen?"

"Yes, she’s nice.  Where are you dining, Steve? Could you——"

"Oh, dear!  Helen and I are dining out!  It’s a party.  We all go to the
ball.  But, Jim—do get a costume of some sort and come to the
Caricaturists’ Ball! Will you?  Helen and I are going.  It’s the Ball of
the Gods—the last costume ball of the season, and it is sure to be
amusing.  Will you come?"

He didn’t seem to think he could, but she insisted so eagerly and
promised to have an invitation at his hotel for him by nine o’clock,
that he laughed and said he’d go.

"Everybody artistic will be there," she explained, delighted.  "You’ll
meet a lot of men you know.  And the pageant will be wonderful.  I shall
be in it.  So will Helen.  Then, after the pageant, we’ll find each
other—you and I!——"  She sighed: "I am too happy, Jim. I don’t want to
arouse the anger of the gods."

She linked her arm in his and entered the studio.

"Helen!" she called.  "Jim is coming to the dance! Isn’t it delightful?"

"It is, indeed," said Helen, opening her door a little and looking
through the crack.  "You’d better tell him what you’re wearing, because
he will never know you."

"Oh, yes, indeed!  Helen and I are going as a pair of Burmese idols—just
gold all over—you know——?"

She took the stiff attitude of the wonderful Burmese idol, and threw
back her slender hands—"This sort of thing, Jim?  Tiny gold bells on our
ankles and that wonderful golden filigree head dress."

She was in wonderful spirits; she caught his arm and hand and persuaded
him into a two-step, humming the air.  "You dance nicely, Jim.  You can
have me whenever you like——"

Helen called through the door:

"You’re quite mad, Steve!  You’ve scarcely time to dress."

"Oh, I must run!" she cried, turned to Cleland, audaciously, offered her
lips, almost defiantly.

"We’re quite safe, Jim, if we can do _this_ so innocently."  She
laughed.  "You adorable boy!  Oh, Jim, you’re mine now, and I’ll never
let you go away again!"

As he went out, he met Grismer, face to face.  The blood leaped hotly in
his cheeks; Grismer’s golden eyes opened in astonishment:

"Cleland!  By all the gods!" he said, offering his hand.

Cleland took it, looked into Grismer’s handsome face:

"How are you, Grismer?" he said pleasantly.  And passed on out of the
front door.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*


Cleland dined by himself in the lively, crowded café of the Hotel
Rochambeau—a sombre, taciturn young man, still upset by his encounter
with Grismer, still brooding impotent resentment against what Stephanie
had done.  Yet, in spite of this the thrill of seeing her again
persisted, filling him with subdued excitement.

He realized that the pretty, engaging college girl he had left three
years ago had developed into an amazingly lovely being with a delicately
vigorous and decisive beauty of her own, quite unexpected by him. But
there was absolutely no shyness, no awkwardness, no self-consciousness
in her undisguised affection for him; the years had neither altered nor
subdued her innocent acceptance of their relationship, nor made her less
frank, less confident, or less certain of it and of the happy security
it meant for both.

In spite of her twenty-one years, her education, her hospital
experience, Stephanie, in this regard, was a little girl still.  For her
the glamour of the school-boy had never departed from Cleland with the
advent of his manhood.  He was still, to her, the wonderful and
desirable playmate, the miraculous new brother, the exalted youth of her
girlhood; the beloved and ideal of their long separation—all she had on
earth that represented a substitute for kin and family ties and home.
That her loyal heart was still the tender, impulsive, youthful heart of
a girl was plain enough to him.  The frankness of her ardour, her
instant happy surrender, her clinging to him in a passion of gratitude
and delight, all told him her story.  But it made what she had done with
Grismer the more maddening and inexplicable; and at every thought of it
a gust of jealousy swept him.

He ate his dinner scarcely conscious of the jolly tumult around him, and
presently went upstairs to his rooms to rummage in one of his trunks for
a costume;—souvenir of some ancient Latin Quarter revelry—Closerie des
Lilas or Quat’z Arts, perhaps.

Under his door had been thrust an envelope containing a card bearing his
invitation, and Stephanie had written on it: "It will all be spoiled if
you are not there. Don’t forget that you’ll have to dress as a god of
sorts. All other costumes are barred."

What he had would do excellently.  His costume of a blessed companion of
Mahomet in white, green and silver, with its jeweled scimitar, its
close-fitted body dress, gorget, and light silver head-piece,
represented acceptably the ideal garb of the Lion of God militant.

Toward eleven o’clock, regarding himself rather gloomily in the mirror,
the reflected image of an exceedingly good-looking Fourth Caliph, with
the faint line of a mustache darkening his short upper lip and the green
gems of a true believer glittering on casque and girdle and hilt,
cheered the young man considerably.

"If I’m not a god," he thought, "I’m henchman to one."  And he twisted
the pale green turban around his helmet and sent for a taxicab.

The streets around the Garden were jammed. Mounted and foot-police
laboured to keep back the curious crowds and to direct the crush of
arriving vehicles laden with fantastic figures in silks and jewels.
Arcades, portico, and the broad lobby leading to the amphitheatre were
thronged with animated merrymakers in brilliant costumes; and Cleland
received his cab-call number from the uniformed starter and joined the
glittering stream which carried him resistlessly with it through the
gates and presently landed him somewhere in a seat, set amid a solidly
packed tier of gaily-costumed people.

An immense sound of chatter and laughter filled the vast place, scarcely
subdued by the magic of a huge massed orchestra.

The Garden had been set to represent Mount Olympus; white pigeons were
flying everywhere amid flowers and foliage; the backdrop was painted
like a blue horizon full of rosy clouds, and the two entrances were
divided by a marble-edged pool in which white swans sailed unconcerned
and big scarlet gold-fish swam in the limpid water among floating
blossoms.

But he had little time to gaze about through the lilac-haze of tobacco
smoke hanging like an Ægean mist across the dancing floor, for already
boy trumpeters, in white tunics and crowned with roses, were sounding
the flourish and were dragging back the iris-hued hangings at either
entrance.

The opening pageant had begun.

From the right entrance came the Greek gods and heroes—Zeus aloft in a
chariot, shaking his brazen thunder bolts; Athene in helmet and tunic,
clutching a stuffed owl; Astarte very obvious, long-legged and pretty;
Mars with drawn sword and fiery copper armour; Hermes wearing wings on
temples and ankles and skilfully juggling the caduceus, Aphrodite most
casually garbed in gauze, perfectly fashioned by her Maker and rather
too visible in lovely detail.

Eros, very feminine too, lacked sartorial protection except for a pair
of wings and a merciful sash from which hung quiver and bow.  In fact,
it was becoming startlingly apparent that the artists responsible for
the Ball of All the Gods scorned to conceal or mitigate the classical
and accepted legends concerning them and their costumes—or lack of
costumes.

Fauns, dryads, nymphs, satyrs, naiads, bacchantes poured out from the
right entrance, eddying in snowy whirlpools around the chariots of the
Grecian gods; and the influence of the Russian ballet was visible in
every lithely leaping figure.

Contemporaneously, from the left entrance, emerged the old Norse gods:
Odin, shaggy and fully armed; Loki, all a-glitter with dancing flames;
Baldin the Beautiful, smirking; Fenris the Wolf; Frija, blond and
fiercely beautiful—the entire Norse galaxy surrounded by skin-clad
warriors and their blond, half-naked mates.

The two processions, moving in parallel lines along the north and south
tiers of boxes, were overlapping and passing each other now, led in a
winding march by trumpeters; and all the while, from either entrance new
bevies of gods and immortals were emerging—the deities of Ancient Egypt
moving stiffly in their splendid panoply; the gods of the ancient
Western World led by the Holder of Heaven and Hiawatha, and followed by
the Eight Thunders plumed in white escorting the Lake Serpent—a young
girl, lithe and sinuous as a snake and glittering from head to foot,
with the serpent spot on her forehead.

Ancient China, in bewildering silks, entered like a moving garden of
flowers; then India came in gemmed magnificence led by the divine son of
Suddhodana.

He bore the bow of black steel with gold tendrils—the Bow of Sinhahânu.
He was dressed as the Prince Siddhartha, in the garb of a warrior of
Oudh.  Bow and sabre betrayed the period—the epoch of his trial against
all comers to win the Sâkya girl Yasôdhara.

As he passed, Cleland, leaning forward, scanned the splendid and
militant figure intently; and recognized Oswald Grismer under the
glimmering dress of the young Buddha militant.

To left and right of the youthful god advanced two girls, all in
relieved stiff gold from the soles of their up-turned sandals to the
fantastic pagoda peak of their head-dresses.

They wore golden Burmese masks; their bodies to the girdles were covered
with open-work golden filigree; from the fantastic pagoda-like
shoulder-pieces gold gauze swept away like the folded golden wings of
dragon-flies; golden bangles and bells tinkled on wrist and ankle.

With slim hands uplifted like the gilded idols they represented, the
open eye painted in the middle of each palm became visible.  Around them
swirled a dazzling throng of Nautch girls.

Suddenly they flung up their arms: the stiff gold masks and
body-encasements cracked like gilded mummy cases and fell down clashing
around their naked feet, and from the cold, glittering chrysalids
stepped out two warm, living, enchantingly youthful figures, lithe and
supple, saluting the Prince Siddhartha with bare arms crossed above
their breasts.

To one, representing his mother, Maya, he turned, laying the emblems of
temporal power at her feet.  And, in her, Cleland recognized Helen
Davis.

But his eyes were for the other—the Sâkya girl Yasôdhara in gold sari
and chuddah, her body clasped with a belt of emeralds and a girdle of
the same gems tied below her breasts.

The young Lord Buddha laid the living Rose of the World in her hands.
She bent her head and drew it through her breast-girdle.  Then,
silk-soft, exquisite, the Sâkya maid lifted her satin-lidded eyes,
sweeping the massed audience above as though seeking some one. And
Cleland saw that her eyes were lilac-grey; and that the girl was
Stephanie.

Suddenly the massed orchestras burst into an anachronistic two-step.
The illusion was shattered; the ball was on!  Assistants ran up and
gathered together the glittering débris and pushed chariot, papier maché
elephant and camel and palanquin through the two entrances; god seized
goddess, heroes nabbed nymphs; all Olympus and the outlying suburban
heavens began to foot it madly to the magic summons of George Cohan.

Under the blaze of lights the throng on the dancing floor swirled into
glittering whirlpools and ripples, brilliant as sunset on a restless
sea.  The gaily costumed audience, too, was rising everywhere and
leaving seats and stalls and boxes to join the dancing multitudes below.

Before he descended, Cleland saw Grismer and Stephanie dancing together,
the girl looking up over her shoulder as though still searching the
tiers of seats above for somebody expected.

Before he reached the floor he began to meet old friends and
acquaintances, more or less recognizable under strange head-dresses and
in stranger raiment.

He ran into Badger Spink, as a fawn in the spotted skin of a pard, his
thick hair on end and two little horns projecting.

"Hello," he said briefly; "you back?  Glad to see you—excuse me, but I’m
chasing a little devil of a dryad——"

He caught sight of her as he spoke; the girl shrieked and fled and after
her galloped the fawn, intent on capture.

Clarence Verne, colourless of skin in his sombrely magnificent Egyptian
dress, extended an Egyptian hand to him—the hand he remembered so well,
with its deep, pictographic cleft between forefinger and thumb.

"When did _you_ come back, Cleland?" he inquired in that listless,
drugged voice of his.  "To-day?  Hope we’ll see something of you now....
Do you know that Nautch girl—the one in orange and silver?  She’s
Claudia Gwynn, the actress.  She hasn’t got much on, has she?  Can the
Ball des Quat’z beat this for an unconcerned revelation of form divine?"

"I don’t think it can," said Cleland, looking at a bacchante whose
raiment seemed to be voluminous enough.  The only trouble was that it
was also transparent.

"Nobody cares any more," remarked Verne in his drowsy voice.  "The
restless sex has had its way.  It always has been mad to shed its
clothes in public. First it danced barefooted, then it capered
barelegged. Loie, Isadora and Ruth St. Denis between ’em started the
fashion; Bakst went ’em one better; then society tore off its
shoulder-straps and shortened its petticoats; and the Australian
swimming Venus stripped for the screen.  It’s all right; I don’t care.
Only it’s a bore to have one’s imagination become atrophied from
disuse....  If I can find a girl thoroughly covered I’d be interested."

He sauntered away to search, and Cleland edged around the shore of the
dancing floor, where the flotsam from the glittering maelstrom in the
centre had been cast up.

Threading his way amid god and goddess, nymph and hero, he met and
recognized Philip Grayson, one of his youthful masters at school—a tall,
handsome figure in Greek armour.

"This is nice, Cleland," he said cordially.  "Didn’t know you were back.
Quite a number of your old school fellows here!"

"Who?"

"Oswald Grismer——"

"I saw him."

"Did you run across Harry Belter?"

"No," exclaimed Cleland, "is he here?"

"Very much so.  Harry is always in the thick of things artistic.  How
goes literature with you?"

"I came back to start things," said Cleland.  "How does it pan out with
you?"

"Well," said Grayson, "I write things that are taken by what people call
the ’better class’ magazines.  It doesn’t seem to advance me much."

"Cheer up.  Try a human magazine and become a best seller," said
Cleland, laughing.

And he continued his search for Stephanie.

There was a crush on the floor—too many dancing in the beginning—and all
he could do was to prowl along the side lines.  In a lower-tier box he
noticed a fat youth, easily recognizable as Bacchus.  His wreath of wax
grapes he wore rakishly over one eye; he sat at a table with several
thirsty dryads and bestowed impartial caresses and champagne.
Occasionally he burst into throaty song in praise of the grape.

"Harry Belter!" cried Cleland.

"Hey!  Who?" demanded Bacchus, leaning over the edge of the box, his
glass suspended.  "No!  It isn’t Jim Cleland!  I won’t believe it!  It’s
only a yearned-for vision come to plague and torment me in my old
age——!"  He got up, leaned over and seized Cleland by his silken
sabre-belt:

"Jim!  It _is_ you!  To my arms, old scout——!" embracing him
vociferously.  "Welcome, dear argonaut! Ladies!  Prepare to blush and
tremble with pleasurable emotion!" he cried, turning to his attendant
dryads.  "This is my alter ego, James Cleland—my beloved comrade in
villainy—my incomparable breaker of feminine hearts!  You all shall
adore him. You shall dote upon him.  Ready!  Attention!  Dote!"

"I’m doting like mad," said a bright-eyed dryad, looking down invitingly
at the handsome young fellow. "Only if he’s a Turk I simply won’t stand
for a harem!"

"In the Prophet’s Paradise," said Cleland, laughing, "there’s no
marriage or giving in marriage.  Will you take a chance, pretty dryad?
All the girls are on an equal footing in the Paradise of Mahomet, and we
Caliphs just saunter from houri to houri and tell each that she’s the
only one!"

"Saunter this way, please," cried another youthful dryad, adjusting the
wreath of water-lilies so that she could more effectively use her big
dark eyes on him.

Belter whispered:

"They’re from the new show—’Can You Beat It!’—just opened to record
business.  Better pick one while the picking’s good.  Come on up!"

But Cleland merely lingered to pay his compliments a few moments longer,
then, declining to enter the box and join Belter in vocal praise of the
grape, and eluding that gentleman’s fond clutch, he dodged and slipped
away to continue his quest of the silken, slender Sâkya girl somewhere
engulfed amid all this glitter, surging, beating noisily around him.

Frequently, as he made his devious way forward, men and women of the
more fashionable and philistine world recognized and greeted him; he was
constantly stopping to speak to acquaintances of what used to be the
saner sets, renew half-forgotten friendships, exchange lively
compliments and gay civilities.

But he failed to detect any vast and radical difference between the
world and the three-quarter world.  The area in square inches of bare
skin displayed by a young matron of his own sort matched the satin
nakedness of some animated ornament from the Follies.

As he stood surveying the gorgeous throng he seemed to be subtlely aware
of a tension, an occult strain keying to the breaking point each eager,
laughing woman he looked at.  The scented atmosphere was heavy with it;
the rushing outpour of the violins was charged with it; it was something
more than temporary excitement, more than the reckless gaiety of the
moment; it was something that had become part of these women—a vast,
deep-bitten restlessness possessing them soul and body.

The aspiring quest for the hitherto unattainable, the headlong hunt for
happiness, these were human and definite and to be comprehended: but
this immense, aimless, objectless restlessness, mental or spiritual,
whichever it might be, seemed totally different.

It was like a blind, crab-like, purposeless, sidling migration in mass
of the prehistoric female race—before it had created the male for its
convenience—wandering out into and over-running the primeval wastes of
the world, swarming, crawling at random—not conscious of what it
desired, not knowing what it might be seeking, aware only of the
imperative urge within it which set it in universal motion.  Only to
weary, after a few million years of subdivision and self-fertilization,
and casually extemporize the sterner sex.  And settle again into
primeval lethargy and the somnolent inertia of automatic reproduction.

Watching the golden human butterflies whirling around him swept into
eddies by thunderous gusts of music, he thought, involuntarily of those
filmy winged creatures that dance madly in millions and millions over
northern rivers and are swept in sparkling clouds amid the rainbow spray
of cataracts out into the evening splendour of annihilation.

He met a pretty woman he knew—had thought that he had known once—and
reddened slightly at the audacity of her Grecian raiment.  Her husband—a
Harvard man he had known—was with her, in eye-glasses and a Grecian
helmet—Ajax the Greater, he explained.

They lingered to exchange a word; she beat time to the music with
sandalled foot, a feverish brilliancy in eyes and cheeks.

"The whole world," said Cleland, "seems strung too tightly.  I noticed
it abroad, too.  There’s a tension that’s bound to break; the skies of
the whole earth are full of lightning.  Something is going to blow up."

"Hope it won’t be the stock market," said the man. "I don’t get you,
Cleland—you always were literary."

"He means war," said his wife, restlessly fanning her flushed cheeks.
"Or suffrage.  Which _do_ you mean, Mr. Cleland?"

"You’ve got all you want—practically—haven’t you?" he asked.

"Practically.  It’s a matter of a year or so—the vote."

"What will you do next?" he inquired, smiling.

"Heaven knows, but we’ve simply got to keep doing something," she said.
"What a ghastly bore to attain everything!  If you men really love us,
for goodness’ sake keep on tyrannizing over us and giving us something
to fight for!"

She laughed and blew him a kiss as her husband encircled her Grecian
waist and steered her out into the fox-trotting throng, her flimsy
draperies fluttering like the wind-blown tunic of a Tanagra dancing
figure.

The stamp and jingling din of Nautch girls rang in his ears as he turned
away and looked out over the shifting crowd.

Everywhere he recognized people he had met or heard about, men eminent
or notorious in their vocations, actors, painters, writers, architects,
musicians—men of science, lawyers, promoters, officers of industry
commissioned and non-commissioned, the gayer element of the stage were
radiantly in evidence, usually in the dancing embrace of Broad and Wall
Streets; artistic masculine worth and youth pranced proudly with
femininity of social attainment; the beautiful unplaced were there in
daring deshabille, captivating solid domestic character which had come
there wifeless and receptive.

Suddenly he saw Stephanie.  She was leaning back against the side of the
arena, besieged by a ring of men.  Gales of laughter swept her brilliant
entourage of gods and demons, fauns and heroes, all crowding about to
pay their eager court.  And Stephanie, laughing back at them from the
centre of the three-fold circle, her arms crossed behind her, stood
leaning against the side of the amphitheatre under a steady rain of rose
petals dropped on her by some young fellows in the box above her.

Through this rosy rain, through the three-fold ring of glittering gods,
she caught sight of Cleland—met his gaze with a soft, quick cry of
delight.

Out through the circle of chagrined Olympians she sprang on sandalled
feet, not noticing these protesting suitors; and with both lovely,
rounded arms outstretched, her jewelled hands fell into Cleland’s,
clasping them tightly in an ecstacy of possession.

"I couldn’t find you," she explained breathlessly.  "I was so dreadfully
afraid you hadn’t come!  Isn’t it all magnificent!  Isn’t it wonderful!
Did you see the pageant?  Did you ever see anything as splendid? Slip
your arm around me; we can walk better together in this crush——" passing
her own bare arm confidently over his shoulder and falling into step
with him.

"I saw you in the pageant," he said, encircling with his arm the silken
body-vestment of her slender waist.

"Did you?  Did you see Helen and me come out of our golden chrysalids?
Was it pretty?"

"Charming and unexpected.  You are quite the most beautiful thing on the
floor to-night."

"Really, Jim, do you think so?  You darling boy, to say it!  I’m having
a wonderful time.  How handsome you are in your dress of a young
oriental warrior!"

"I’m the fourth Caliph, Ali," he explained.  "I had this costume made in
Paris."

"It’s bewitching, Jim.  You _are_ good looking!—you adorable brother of
mine.  Do you like my paste emeralds?  You don’t think I’m too scantily
clad, do you?"

"That seems to be the general fashion——"

"Oh, Jim!  There are lots of others _much_ more undressed.  Besides, one
simply has to be historical and accurate or one is taken for an
ignoramus.  If I’m to to impersonate the Sâkya girl, Yassôdhara, before
she became Lord Buddha’s wife, I must wear what she probably wore.
Don’t you see?"

"Perfectly," he said, laughing.  "But you of the artistic and
unconventional guilds ought to leave the audacious costumes to your
models.  But, of course, that’s too much to ask of you."

"Indeed it is!" she said gaily.  "If some of us think we’re rather
nicely made why shouldn’t we dare a little artistically—in the name of
beauty and of art? ... Oh, Jim!—it’s the tango they’re beginning. _Will_
you!—with _me_?"

They danced the exquisitely graceful measure together, her little
golden-sandalled feet flashing noiselessly through the intricate steps,
lingering, swaying, gliding faultlessly in unison with his as though
part of his own body.

The fascinating rhythm of the Argentine music throbbed through the
perfumed air; a bright, whispering wilderness of silk and jewels swayed
rustling all around them; bare arms and shoulders, brilliant lips and
eyes floated through their line of dreary vision; figures like phantoms
passed in an endless rosy chain through the lustrous haze of motion.

They danced together whatever came; Stephanie, like a child fearful of
being abandoned, kept one slim jewelled hand fast hold of his sleeve or
girdle when they were not dancing.  To one and all who came to argue or
present fancied prior claims she turned a deaf ear and laughing lips,
listening to no pleading, no claims.

She threatened Harry Belter with the flat of her palm, warning him
indignantly when he attempted a two-step, by violence; she closed her
ears to Badger Spink, who danced with rage in his goat-skins; she waved
away Verne in all his Egyptian splendour; she let her grey eyes rest in
an insolent stare at two of Belter’s dryads who encircled Cleland’s
waist with avowed intent to make him their prisoner and dedicate him to
vocal praise of the vine.

Then there was a faint clash and flash of iridescence, and the Prince
Siddhartha confronted her, golden-eyed, golden-skinned, golden-haired,
magnificent in his golden vestments.

"Oswald!" she cried.  "Oh, I am glad.  Jim!  You and Oswald will be
friends, won’t you?  You’re such dears—you simply must like each other!"

They shook hands, looking with curious intentness at each other.

"I’ve always liked you, Cleland," said Grismer gracefully. "I don’t
think you ever cared for me very much, but I wish you might."

"I have found you—agreeable, Grismer.  We were friendly at school and
college together——"

"I hope our friendliness may continue."

"I—hope so."

Grismer smiled:

"Drop in whenever you care to, Cleland, and talk things over.  We’ve a
lot to say to each other, I think."

"Thanks." ... He looked hard at Grismer.  "All right; I’ll do it."

Grismer nodded:

"I’ve a kennel of sorts in Bleecker Street.  But you might be interested
in one or two things I’m working on.  You see," he added with careless
good humour, "I’m obliged to work, now."

Cleland said in a low voice:

"I’m sorry things went wrong with you."

"Oh, they didn’t.  It was quite all right, Cleland. I really don’t mind.
Will you really drop in some day soon?"

"Yes."

Dancing began again.  Grismer stepped back with the easy, graceful
courtesy that became him, conceding Stephanie to Cleland as a matter of
course; and the latter, who had been ready to claim her, found himself
disarmed in advance.

"Is it Grismer’s dance, Steve?" he asked.

"I promised him.  But, Jim, I’m afraid to let you go——"

They all laughed, and she added:

"When a girl gets a man back after three long years, is it astonishing
that she keeps tight hold of him?"

"You’d better dance with her, Cleland," said Grismer, smiling.

But Cleland could not accept a gift from this man, and he surrendered
her with sufficient grace.

"Jim!" she said frankly.  "You’re not going after that dryad, are you?
She’s exceedingly common and quite shamelessly under-dressed.  Shall I
introduce you to a nice girl—or do you know a sufficient number?"

"You know," he said, laughing, "that I ought to play my part of Fourth
Caliph and go and capture a pretty widow——"

"What!"

"Certainly," he said tranquilly; "didn’t Ali take prisoner Ayesha, the
youthful widow of Mohammed? I’ll look about while you’re dancing——"

"I don’t wish you to!" she exclaimed, half vexed, half laughing.
"Oswald, does he mean it?"

"He looks as though he does," replied Grismer, amused.  "There’s a
Goddess of Night over there, Cleland—very pretty and very unconcealed
under a cloud of spangled stars——"

"Oswald!  I don’t wish him to!  Jim!  Listen to me, please——!" for he
had already started toward the little brunette Goddess of Night.  "We
have box seven! Please remember.  I shall wait for you!"

"Right!" he nodded, now intently bent on displeasing her; a little
excited, too, by her solicitude, yet sullenly understanding that it
sprang from no deeper emotion than her youthful heart had yet betrayed
for him.  No woman ever let a man go willingly, whether kin or
lover—whether she had use for him or not.

Stephanie, managing to keep him in view among the dancers, saw the
little Goddess of Night, with her impudent up-tilted nose, floating amid
her scandalously diaphanous draperies in his arms through a dreamy
tango, farther and farther away from her.

Things went wrong with her, too; she dropped her emerald girdle and
several of the paste stones rolled away; the silk of her body-vest
ripped, revealing the snowy skin, and she had to knot her gold sari
higher. Then the jewelled thong of her left sandal snapped and she lost
it for a moment.

"The devil!" she said, slipping her bare foot into it and half skating
toward the nearest lower-tier box.

"There he is over there," remarked Grismer, indicating a regulation
Mephistopheles, wearing a blood-red jerkin laced with a wealth of
superfluous points. "Wait; I’ll borrow a lace of him."

The devil was polite and had no objection to being despoiled; and
Grismer came back with a chamois thong and mended her sandal for her
while she sat in their box and watched the tumult surging below.

He chatted gaily with her for a while, leaning there on the box’s edge
beside her, but Stephanie had become smilingly inattentive and
preoccupied, and he watched her in silence, now, curiously, a little
perplexed by her preoccupation.  For it was most unusual for her to
betray inattention when with him.  It was not like her. He could not
remember her ever being visibly uninterested in him—ever displaying
preoccupation or indifference when in his company.

However, the excitement of seeing her brother again so unexpectedly
accounted for it no doubt.

The excitement and pleasure of seeing her—_brother_! ... A slight
consciousness of the fact that there was no actual kinship between this
girl and Cleland passed through his mind without disturbing his
tranquillity.  He merely happened to think of it.... He happened to
recollect it; that was all.

"Stephanie?"

"Yes."

"Shall we sit out this dance?  Your sandal string will hold."

"I don’t know," she said.  "Who is that dancing with Helen?  Over there
to the left——"

"I see her.  I don’t know—oh, yes—it’s Phil Grayson."

"Is it?  I wonder where Jim went with that woman! ... I’m horribly
thirsty, Oswald."

"Shall we have some supper?"

"Where is it?  Oh, down there!  What a stuffy place!  It’s too awful.
Couldn’t you get something here?"

He managed to bribe one perspiring and distracted waiter, and after a
long while he brought a tray towering with salads, ices and bottles.

Helen and Philip Grayson came back and the former immediately revealed a
healthy appetite.

"Don’t you want anything to eat, Steve?" she inquired.  "This shrimp
salad isn’t bad."

"I’m not hungry."

"You seem to be thirsty," remarked Helen, looking at the girl’s flushed
face and her half-filled wine glass. "Where is Jim?"

"Dancing."

"With whom?"

"Some girl of sorts whom he picked up," said Stephanie; and the pink
flush in her face deepened angrily.

"Was she worth it?" inquired Helen, frankly amused.

Stephanie’s cheeks cooled; she replied carelessly:

"She had button eyes and a snub nose and her attire was transparent—if
that interests you."  She rested her elbow on the edge of the box,
supporting her chin on her cupped palm.

They were dancing again.  Grayson came and took out Helen; a number of
men arrived clamouring for Stephanie.  She finally went out with Verne,
but not liking the way he held her left him planted and returned to the
box where a number of hilarious young men had gathered.

Harry Belter said:

"What’s the trouble, Steve?  I never saw you glum before in all my
life!"

"I’m not glum," she said with a forced little laugh, "I’m thirsty,
Senior Bacchus!  Isn’t that enough to sadden any girl?"

Later Helen, returning from the floor, paused beside Stephanie to bend
over her and whisper:

"Harry Belter is behaving like a fool.  Don’t take anything more,
Steve."

The girl lifted her flushed face and laughed:

"I feel like flinging discretion into the ’fire of spring,’" she said.
"That’s where most of these people’s clothing has disappeared, I fancy."
Excitement burned in her pink cheeks and wide grey eyes, and she stood
up in the box looking about her, poised lightly as some slim winged
thine on the verge of taking flight.

Grismer rose too and whispered to her, but she made a slight, impatient
movement with her shoulders.

"Won’t you dance this with me?" he repeated, touching her arm.

"No," she said under her breath.  "You annoy me, Oswald."

"What!"

"Please don’t be quite so devoted....  I’m restless."

She turned and started to leave the box.  The others were leaving too,
for dancing had begun again.  But at the steps she parted with the jolly
little company, they descending to the floor, she turning to mount the
steps alone.

"Where on earth are you going, Steve?" called back Helen, halting on the
steps below.

"I want to see the floor from the top gallery!" replied Stephanie,
without turning her head; and she ran lightly upward, her bells and
bangles jingling.

Half way up she turned her head.  She had not been followed, but she saw
Grismer below looking up, watching her flight.  And she made no sign of
recognition, no gay gesture of amity and adieu; she turned her back and
sped upward through the clamour and hazy brilliancy, turned into the
first corridor, and vanished like a firefly in a misty thicket.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*


At three in the morning the Ball of the Gods was in full and terrific
blast and still gathering momentum.  A vast musical uproar filled the
Garden; the myriad lights glittered like jewels through a fog; the
dancing floor was a bewildering, turbulent whirlpool of colour.

Few if any of the dancers had reached the point of satiation; a number,
however, had attained the state of saturation.

As far as Cleland could see the only difference between this and a more
miscellaneous assemblage seemed to be that the majority of people here
knew how to ignore unpleasant lapses in others and how to efface
themselves if surprised into accidental indiscretion.

With Lady Button-eyes on his arm he had threaded his way into the
supper-room, where the gods, demi-gods and heroes were banqueting most
riotously.

It was becoming very rapidly a dubiously mixed affair; Bacchus, with his
noisy crew, invaded the supper-room and pronounced Cleland’s snub-nosed,
button-eyed goddess "tray chick," and there arose immediately a terrific
tumult around her—gods and satyrs doing battle for her; but she
persisted in her capricious fancy for Cleland.  He, however, remained in
two minds; one was to abandon Button-eyes, retire and find Stephanie
again, in spite of the ever-smoldering resentment he felt for Grismer;
the other was to teach himself without loss of time to keep away from
her; school himself to do without her; preoccupy himself casually and
recklessly with anything that might aid in obliterating his desire for
her companionship—with this snub-nosed one, for example.

The desire to see Stephanie remained, nevertheless, sometimes fiercely
importunate, sometimes sullenly persistent—seemingly out of all
proportion to any sentiment he had ever admittedly entertained for
her—out of proportion, also, to his sulky resentment at the folly she
had committed with Oswald Grismer.

For, after all, if she ultimately married Grismer in the orthodox way
her eccentric pre-nuptial behaviour was nothing more serious than
eccentric.  And if she didn’t, then it meant annulment or divorce; and
he realised that nobody outside of the provinces paid any attention to
such episodes nowadays.  And nobody cared what clod-hoppers thought
about anything.

His button-eyed goddess had a pretty good soprano voice and she was
using it now, persuaded into a duet by Belter.  Cleland looked at her
sideways without enthusiasm, undecided, irritated and gloomy.  She was
Broadway vulgarity personified.

Badger Spink dropped onto a chair on the other side of him:

"Who’s your transparent lady friend?" he inquired lazily.  "She looks
like a gutter-angel.  Who is the depraved little beast?"

"I don’t know—some actress, I believe—Sonia something-or-other.  Do you
want her?"

"Thanks.  What does she represent?  A Kewpie behind a pane of glass?"

"She’s a goddess of sorts, I believe.  This is getting rather raw, isn’t
it, Spink?"

Spink yawned and gazed leisurely about him, the satyr’s horn emerging
from his thick, wavy pompadour hair, accentuating his clever, saturnine
features.  His expression was slightly Satanic always.

"Yes," he said, "it’s turning out rather rough. What do you think of
this sort of thing in New York, Cleland?  We’re drifting toward Babylon.
That’s the trend since the dance craze swept this moral nation off its
moral feet into a million tango joints."

"There’s something the matter with us, that’s sure," said Cleland.
"This sort of thing doesn’t belong in the new world."

"It’s up to our over-rated American women," sneered Spink.  "Only a few
years ago we were slobbering over them, worshipping them, painting
pictures of ’em—pictures influenced by the French naturalistic school—a
lot of cow-faced American females suckling their young.  Everybody was
yelling for the simple life, summoning the nation back to nature,
demanding that babies be produced in every family by the dozen,
extolling procreation and lauding the American woman. That’s the sort of
female we celebrated and pretended to want.  Now, look what we’ve got!—a
nation of dancing dolls!  A herd of restless, brainless, aggressive,
impudent women proclaiming defiance and snapping their fingers at us!

"I tell you there burns here in the Garden to-night something more than
the irresponsible gaiety of a lot of artists and Philistine
pleasure-seekers.  The world is on the verge of something terrifying;
the restlessness of a universal fever is in its veins.  Our entire human
social structure is throbbing with it; every symptom is ominous of
social collapse and a complete disintegration of the old order of
civilization!"

"What’s your other name, Spink?—Jeremiah?" asked Cleland, laughing.

"No.  I’m merely on my favourite topic.  Listen to me, my young friend;
all England faces strikes and political anarchy in Ireland and India;
the restless sex is demanding its rights in London and menacing the
Empire.  France, betrayed by one of the restless ones, strangling in the
clutch of scandal, is standing bewildered by the roar of the
proletariat; Russia seethes internally, watching the restless Empress
and her accursed priest out of millions of snaky, Asiatic eyes; Portugal
has just fallen crashing into fragments around a terrified Queen; China
splits open from end to end and vomits forth its dynasty on the tomb of
the dead Dowager; Austria watches for the death of an old, old
widower—an Imperial mummy long since dead in mind and spirit.  Germany,
who uses the lesser sex for breeding only, stares stolidly out of
pig-like eyes at the Imperial litter of degenerates and defectives
dropped with stolid regularity to keep the sty-supply of Hohenzollerns
unimpaired.  Only radicals like myself feel the cataclysmic waves deep
under the earth, symptomatic, ominous of profound and vital
readjustments already under way.

"And here in our once great Republic of the West, the fever of universal
unrest is becoming apparent in this nation-wide movement for suffrage.
State after state becomes a battle-ground and surrenders; accepted
standards are shattered, the old social order and balance between the
sexes—all the established formalism and belief of a man-constructed
status—totters as door and gate and avenue and byway are insanely flung
open to the mindless invasion of the restless sex! Don’t stop me,
Cleland; I am magnificent to-night. Listen!  I tell you that political
equality, equal opportunity, absolute personal liberty are practically
in sight for women!  What more is left?  Conscious of the itching urge
of its constitutional inclination to fuss and fidget, the restless sex,
fundamentally gallinaceous, continues to wander on into bournes beyond
its ken, hen-like, errant, pensively picking at the transcendentally
unattainable, but always in motion—motion as mechanical and meaningless
as the negative essence of cosmic inertia! ... Now, I’m through with
you, Cleland.  Thanks for listening.  I don’t think I want your goddess,
after all.  She looks too much like a tip-up snipe!"

And he took himself off, yawning.


The rushing din of the orchestra far below came up softened to
Stephanie’s ears, where she stood at the rail of the topmost gallery and
looked down into the glimmering depths of the Ball of all the Gods.

Her jewelled fingers rested on the rail, her slender body pressed
against it; she stood with bent head, gazing down into the vortex,
pensive, sombrely preoccupied with an indefinable anger that possessed
her.

The corridor behind her was full of shadowy figures scurrying to
hazardous rendezvous.  She was vaguely aware of encounters and pursuits;
stifled laughter, sudden gusts of whispering, hurried adieux, hasty
footfalls and the ghostly rustle of silks in flight.

She turned restlessly and went up into the corridor. A dryad was
performing flip-flaps there and a gale of laughter and applause arose
from her comrades watching her in a semi-circle.

The Olympians, too, all seemed to have gathered there for a frolic—Zeus,
Hermes, the long-legged Astarte, the amazingly realistic Aphrodite, and
Eros, more realistic still—all clasping hands and dancing a
ring-around-a-rosy while Bacchus and Ariadne in the centre performed a
breakdown which drew frantic shouts of approval from the whirling ring.

Then, in this hilarious circle, Stephanie caught sight of the snub-nose
and transparent raiment of the button-eyed Goddess of Night, and next
her, hand clasping hand, she recognized Cleland as another link in the
rapidly rotating ring.

Aphrodite and Eros, hand locked in hand, were singing the song they had
made so popular in "The Prince of Argolis" early in the winter:

    "Mrs. Aphrodite
    Gave her pretty sonny
    Lots of golden curls
    But little golden money,
    Dressed him in a nightie!—
    (Listen to me, girls!)
    Love of golden curls
    Leads the world astray!
    (Listen to me, honey!)
    Love of golden money
    Acts the selfsame way!"


Breathless with laughter the Grecian gods galloped round and round in a
dizzy circle, flushed faces flashed past Stephanie, flying draperies and
loosened hair fluttered and streamed and glimmered in confused sequence
before her angry eyes.

Suddenly the mad dance broke up and flew into fragments, scattering its
reeling, panting devotees into prancing couples in every direction.

And straight into this wild confusion stepped Stephanie, her pretty eyes
brilliant with wrath, her face a trifle pale.

"Jim!"

He let go of Lady Button-eyes in astonishment and turned around.

Stephanie said very coolly:

"If you’re going to raise the devil, raise him with me, please!"

Lady Button-eyes was not pleased and she showed it by stamping, which
alone had sufficiently fixed her level if she had not also placed both
hands on her hips and laughed scornfully when Cleland took leave of her
and walked over to Stephanie.

"Where are the others?" he inquired, rather red at being discovered with
such a crew.  "You’re not alone, are you, Steve?"

"Not now," she said sweetly; and passed her left arm through his and
clasped her right hand over it. "Now," she said with an excited little
laugh, "I am ready to raise the devil with you.  Take me wherever you
like, Jim."

The insulted gods gazed upon her with astonishment as she lifted her
small head and sent an indifferent glance like an arrow at random among
them.  Then, not further noticing them, and absolutely indifferent to
the button-eyed one, she strolled leisurely out of Olympus with her
slightly disconcerted captive and disappeared from their view along the
southern corridor. But once out of their range of vision her hot wrath
returned.

"It was abominable," she said in a low, tense voice, "—your going off
that way, when I told you the whole evening would be spoiled for me
without you!  I am hurt and angry, Jim."

But his smouldering wrath also flickered into flame now.

"You had Grismer, didn’t you!" he said.  "What do you care whether I am
with you or not?"

"What do you mean?  Yes, of course I had him. What has that to do with
_you_?"

He replied with light insolence:

"Nothing.  I’m not your husband."

His words fell like a blow: she caught her breath with the hurt of them;
then:

"Is that why you have avoided me?" she demanded in a tone of such
concentrated passion that the unexpected flare-up startled him.  It
surprised her, too: for, all at once, in her heart something contracted
agonizingly, and a surge of furious resentment flooded her, almost
strangling speech.

"Why are you indifferent?  Why are—are you unkind?" she stammered.
"I’ve just found you again after all these years, haven’t I?  What do
other people matter to us?  Why should Oswald interfere between you and
me?  You and I haven’t had each other for years!  I—I can’t stand it—to
have you unkind—indifferent—to have you leave me this way when I want
you—so desperately——"

"I didn’t leave you," he retorted sullenly.  "You went away with—the man
you married——"

"Don’t speak of him that way!" she interrupted hotly.  "Nobody speaks of
that affair at all!"

"Why not?  You _did_ marry him, didn’t you?"

"What of it!" she flamed back.  "What has that to do with you and me!
_Why_ do you refer to it?  It’s my personal affair, anyway!"

He turned toward her, exasperated:

"If you think," he said, "that your behaviour with Grismer means nothing
to me, you’d better undeceive yourself! ... Or I’ll do it for you in a
way you can’t mistake!"

"Undeceive me?" she repeated uneasily.  "How do you mean?"

"By making a fight for you myself," he said, "by doing my best to get
you back!"

"I don’t know what you mean, Jim," she repeated, her grey eyes intent on
his flushed face....  "Do you believe you have been insulted by what I
did?  Is that what you mean?"

He did not answer.  They walked on, slowly pacing the deserted corridor.
Her head was lowered now; her lips a trifle tremulous.

"I—didn’t suppose you’d take—what I did—_that_ way," she said
unsteadily.  "I—respect and love you.... I supposed I was at liberty—to
dispose of—myself. I didn’t imagine you cared—very much——"

Suddenly he freed his arm from her clasped fingers and passed it around
her waist; and she caught her breath and placed her hand tightly over
his to hold it there.

"You adorable boy," she whispered, "am I forgiven? And you _do_ care for
me, don’t you, Jim?"

"Care for you!" he repeated in a low, menacing voice.  "I care for
nobody else in the world, Steve!"

She laughed happily, yielding confidently to his embrace, responding
swiftly and adorably and with a frank unreserve that told a more
innocent story than his close caress and boyish heart on fire confirmed.

And, for the moment, she let him have his way, gaily enduring and
humorously content with a reconciliation somewhat exaggerated and
over-demonstrative on his part.

But presently his lips on her flushed face, on her hair, on her throat,
disconcerted her, and her own lips parted in dismayed and laughing
protest at an ardour entirely new to her.

He merely kissed her fragrant mouth into silence, looking steadily into
her grey eyes now widening with perplexed and troubled inquiry.

"I love you," he said.  "I want you back.  Now, do you understand,
Steve?  I love you!  I love you!"

Confused, crushed hotly in his embrace, she stared blankly at him for
one dizzy instant; then, in silence, she twisted her supple body
backward and aside, and with both nervous hands broke loose the circle
of his arms.

They were both rather white now; her breath came and went irregularly,
checked in her throat with a little sob at intervals.  She leaned back
against the wall, one jewelled hand against her breast, looking aside
and away from where he stood.

"I _told_ you," he said, unsteadily.

She remained silent, keeping her gaze resolutely averted.

"You understand now, don’t you?" he asked.

She nodded.

Then he caught her in his arms again, and she threw back her lovely
head, looking at him with frightened eyes, defending her lips with a
bare, jewelled arm across them.

He laughed breathlessly and kissed the partly clenched fingers.

"Don’t," she whispered, her grey eyes brilliant with fear.

"Do you understand that I am in love with you, Steve?"

"Let me go, Jim——"

"_Do_ you?"

"_Don’t_ kiss me—that way——"

"Do you believe me?"

"I don’t want to!——"  Suddenly she turned terribly white in his arms,
swayed a moment against him. He released her, steadied her; she passed
one arm through his, leaning heavily on him.

"Are you faint, Steve?" he whispered.

"A—little.  It’s nothing.  The air here is stifling.... I’m tired." ...
She dropped her head against his shoulder.  Her lids were half closed as
they descended the steps, he guiding her.

It seemed to her an interminable descent.  She felt as though she were
falling through space into a glittering, roaring abyss.  In their box
sat Helen and Grayson, gossiping gaily together and waiting for another
dance to begin.  Cleland warned Stephanie in a whisper, and she lifted
her head and straightened up with an effort.

She said mechanically:

"I’m going home; I’m very tired."

Helen and Grayson rose and the former came toward her inquiringly.

Stephanie smiled:

"Jim will take me back," she said.  "Don’t let me disturb your pleasure.
And tell Oswald I was very sleepy....  And not to come to the studio for
a day or two.  Good night, dear."

She made a humorously tired little gesture of farewell to Grayson also,
and, taking Cleland’s arm again, sauntered with him toward the lobby.

"Get your overcoat and my wraps," she said in a colourless, even voice.
"I have a car outside.  Here’s the call-check.  I’ll wait over there for
you."


Her car, a toy limousine, was ultimately found. Cleland redeemed his
overcoat and her wrap.  When he came back for her she smiled at him,
suffered him to swathe her in the white silk cloak, and, laying her
dainty hand lightly on his sleeve, went out with him into the lamp-lit
grey of dawn.

"You are feeling better," he said as they seated themselves in the
limousine and the little car rolled away southward.

"Yes.  It was the stifling atmosphere there, I suppose."

"It was horribly close," he assented.

They remained silent for a while.  Then, abruptly:

"Have I made you angry, Steve?" he asked.

She looked up and laughed:

"You adorable boy," she said.

"You don’t mind if I’m in love with you?" he asked.

"I haven’t any mind.  I can’t seem to think....  But I don’t think you’d
better kiss me until I collect my senses again....  Please don’t, Jim."

They became silent again until the car drew up before her door.  She had
two keys in her cloak pocket; she paused to give the chauffeur an order,
turning to ask Cleland whether he didn’t want the car to take him to the
Hotel Rochambeau.

"Thanks; it’s only a step.  I had rather walk."

So the car drove away; Cleland opened the front door for her, then her
own studio door.  She felt around the corner in the darkness and
switched on the electric bulb in a standing lamp.

"Good night, Steve," he said, taking her hand in both of his.

"Good night....  Unless you care to talk to me for a little while."

"It’s four o’clock in the morning."

"I can’t sleep—I know that."

He said in a low voice:

"Besides, I am very much in love with you.  I think I had better go
back."

"Oh....  Do you think so?"

"Don’t you?"

"I told you that I haven’t recovered enough sense to think."

She crossed the threshold and walked into the studio, dropping her cloak
across a chair; and presently halted before the empty fireplace, gazing
into its smoke-blackened depths.

For a few moments she stood there in a brown study—a glittering,
exquisite figure in the subdued light which fell in tiny points of fire
on gem and ring, bracelet and girdle, and tipped the gilded sandals on
her little naked feet with sparks of living flame.

Then she turned her charming young head and looked across at him where
he stood on the threshold.

"What do you think?" she said.  "Ought you to go?"

"I ought to.  But I don’t think I shall."

"No, don’t go," she said with a little laugh.  "After all, if we’re not
to remain brother and sister any longer, there’s a most fascinating
novelty in your being here."

He came in and closed the door.  She made room for him on the sofa and
he flung his coat across her cloak and seated himself.

"Now," she said, dropping one silken knee over the other and clasping
her hands around it, "how much can we care for each other without being
silly?  You know I have a dreadful intuition that I’d better not kiss
you any more.  Not that I don’t adore you as much as I always did——"

She turned squarely around and looked at him out of her lovely eyes:

"You took me by surprise.  I didn’t understand. Then, suddenly I lost my
senses and became panicky. I was scared stiff, Jim—you kissed me so many
times——"

He reddened and looked down.  Under his eyes her bare foot hung in its
golden sandal—an exquisite, snowy little foot, quite perfectly fashioned
to match her hands’ soft symmetry.

"If you loved me," he said, "you would not care how many times I kissed
you."

"But you kept on—and you kissed my eyes and throat——"

"You wouldn’t care what I did if you loved me."

"But they were unusual places to be kissed.  I was scared.  Did you
think me ridiculous?  It was rather startling, you know.  It was such a
complete novelty."

She admitted it so naïvely that he laughed in spite of his chagrin.

"Steve," he said, "I don’t know what to do about it.  I’m falling more
deeply in love with you every moment; and you are merely kind and sweet
and friendly about it——"

"I’m _intensely_ interested!" she said.

"Interested," he repeated; "yes, that describes it."

"A girl couldn’t help being interested when a man she had always adored
as a brother suddenly takes her into his arms and kisses her in unusual
places," she said, "—and does it a great number of times——"

"Probably you kept count," he said with boyish sarcasm.

She laughed outright:

"I wish I had.  It was a perfectly shameless performance.  If you ever
do it again I shall keep count—out loud!"

"Is that all you’ll do?"

"What else is there to do?" she inquired, smiling a trifle uneasily.

"You might find it in your heart to respond."

"How can my heart hold any more of you than it does and always has?" she
asked with pretty impatience.

"_Can’t_ you love me?"

"I don’t know how to any more than I do."

"But you did not find it agreeable when I kissed you."

"I—don’t know what I felt....  We always kissed."  She began to laugh.
"I enjoyed _that_; but I don’t think you did, always.  You sometimes
looked rather bored, Jim."

"I’m getting well paid back," he said.

This seemed to afford her infinite delight; there was malice in her grey
eyes now, and a hint of pretty mockery in her laughter.

"To think," she said, "that James Cleland should ever become sentimental
with poor little Stephanie Quest!  What an unbending!  What
condescension! What a come-down!  Oh, Jim, if I’ve really got you at
last I’m going to raise the very devil with you!"

"You’re doing it."

"Am I?  I hope I am!  I mean to torment you! Why, when I think of the
long, long years of childish adoration and awe—of the days when I tagged
after you, grateful to be noticed, thankful when you found time for
me——"  She clapped her hands together delightedly, enchanted with his
glum and reddening face. For what she said was the truth; he knew it,
though she did not realize how true it had been—and meant merely to
exaggerate.

"Also," she said, "you leave me quite alone for three whole years when
you could have come back at the end of two!"

His face darkened and he bit his lip.

"You’re quite right," he said in a quiet voice.  "A girl couldn’t very
well fall in love with that sort of man."

There was a silence.  She had been enjoying her revenge, but she had not
expected him to take it so seriously.

He sat there with lowered head, considering, gnawing at his under-lip in
silence.  She had not intended to hurt him.  She was inexperienced
enough with him to be worried.  His features seemed older, leaner, full
of unfamiliar shadows—disturbingly aloof and stern.

She hesitated—the swift, confused memory of an hour before checking her
for an instant, then she leaned toward him, quite certain of what would
happen—silent and curious as he drew her into his arms.

She was very silent, too, listening to his impetuous, broken
avowal—suffering his close embrace, his lips on her eyes and mouth and
throat once more.  The enormous novelty of it preoccupied her; the
intense interest in his state of mind.  Her curiosity held her
spellbound, too, and unresponsive but fascinated.

She lay very quietly in his arms, her lovely head resting on his
shoulder, sometimes with eyes closed, sometimes watching him, meeting
his eyes with a faint smile.

Contact with him no longer frightened her.  Her mind was clear, busy
with this enormous novelty, searching for the reason of it, striving to
understand his passion which she shyly recognized with an odd feeling of
pride and tenderness, but to which there was nothing in her that
responded—nothing more than tender loyalty and the old love she had
always given him.

The grey tranquillity of her eyes, virginal and clear—the pulseless
quiet of the girl chilled him.

"You don’t love me, Steve, do you?"

"Not—as you—wish me to."

"Can’t you?"

"I don’t know."

"Is there any chance?"

She looked out across the studio, considering, and her grey eyes grew
vague and remote.

"I don’t know, Jim....  I think that something has been left out of
me....  Whatever it is.  I don’t know how to love—fall in love—as you
wish me to.  I don’t know how to go about it.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve
never thought about it.  It’s never occupied my mind."

"Then," he burst out, "how in God’s name did you ever come to marry!"

She looked up at him gravely:

"That is very different," she said.

"Then you _are_ in love with him!"

"I told you that he fascinates me."

"Is it _love_?" he asked violently.

"I don’t know."

"You _must_ know!  You’ve got a mind!"

"It doesn’t explain what I feel for him.  I can’t put it into words."

He drew her roughly to him, bent over her, looked into her eyes, and
kissed her lips again and again.

"Can’t you love me, Steve?  _Can’t_ you?" he stammered.

"I—want to.  I wish I did—the way you want me to."

"Will you try?"

"I don’t know how to try."

"Do your lips on mine mean nothing to you?"

"Yes....  You are so dear....  I am wonderfully contented—and not
afraid."

After a moment she released herself, laughed, and sat up, adjusting her
hair with one hand and resting against his shoulder.

"A fine scandal if Helen should come in," she remarked.  "It’s odd to
think of myself as married.  And that’s another thing, Jim.  It never
occurred to me until now, but I’ve no business to give myself up to you
as I have to-night."  She leaned forward on one elbow, musing for a
while, then, lifting her head with a troubled smile: "But what is a girl
to do when her brother suddenly turns into her lover?  Must she forbid
him to kiss her?  And refrain from kissing him?——"  She flung one arm
around his neck impulsively.  "I _won’t_ forbid you!  I would have to if
I were in love with you in the same way.  But I’m not and I don’t care
what you do.  And whatever you do, I adore anyway."

A key rattled in the lock; she sprang to her feet and went toward the
door.  Helen came in, and she saw Grayson and Grismer standing in the
hallway.

"Come in everybody!" she cried.  "Shall we all have breakfast before we
part?  Don’t you think it would be delightful, Phil?  Don’t you, Oswald?
And you know we could take up the rugs and dance while the coffee is
boiling.  Wait!  I’ll turn on the music-box!——"

Helen and Grayson deliberately began a tango; Grismer came over to where
Cleland was standing:

"They’re still dancing in the Garden," he said pleasantly.  "Did you and
Stephanie get enough of it?"



                              *CHAPTER XX*


Cleland, being young, required sleep, and it was not until noon that he
awoke.

Cool-headed retrospection during tubbing and dressing increased his
astonishment at the manner in which he had spent his first day in New
York after the years of absence.  For into that one day had been crowded
a whole gamut of experience and of sensations that seemed incredible
when he thought them over.

Every emotion that a young man could experience seemed to have been
called into play during that bewildering day and night—curiosity,
resentment, apprehension, anger, jealousy, love, passion.  And their
swift and unexpected sequence had confused him, wrought him up to a
pitch of excitement which set every nerve on edge.

He could not comprehend what had happened, what he had experienced and
said and done as he stood at his window looking out into the sunshine of
the quiet street; and yet, just around the corner the girl who was the
cause and reason of it all lay still asleep, in all probability.

Breakfast was served in his room and he ate it with a perfectly healthy
appetite.  Then he lighted a cigarette and walked to the window again to
stare silently put across the sunny street and marshall his thoughts
into some semblance of order.

The aromatic smoke from his cigarette curled against the window pane and
he gazed absently through it at the vague phantom of a girl’s face which
memory evoked unbidden.

What had happened?  Was it really love?  Was it anger, wounded
amour-propre, jealousy?  Was it resentment and disgust at the silly,
meaningless thing that one whom he had considered as his own kinswoman
had done in his absence?  Was it a determination to tear her loose that
had started the thing—an unreasoning, impulsive attempt at vengeance,
born of hurt pride that incited him to get her back?  For the bond
between her and Grismer seemed to him intolerable, hateful—a thing he
would not endure if he could shatter it.

Why?  Was it because he himself had fallen in love with a girl whom,
heretofore, he had regarded with the tranquil, tolerant affection of a
brother?  Was it love?  Was there any other name for the impulse which
had suddenly overmastered him when he caught this girl in his arms,
confused, frightened, stunned her with hot, incoherent declarations?
Had he even really meant what he had said—not in the swift hurricane of
passion which had enveloped him like a flame when he held her waist
enlaced and the sweetness of her face and throat and hair blinded him to
everything else—but in the cold after-light of retrospection did he now
mean what he had said last night?

Or had it all been due to the place and the hour—the relaxing of
convention in the shattering din of music and laughter—the whirlwind of
gaiety and excitement—the girl’s beauty—the sudden thrill of his contact
with her?  Was that what had accounted for what he had done and
said?—brute impulse loosed by passion born out of nothing more noble
than the moment’s mental intoxication—nothing more real than ephemeral
emotion, excitement, sheer physical sensation?

It was not like him.  He realized that.  Hitherto his brain had been in
control of his emotions.  His was a clear mind, normally.  Impulse
seldom tripped him.

He had never been in love—never even tried to persuade himself that he
had been, even when he had, in his boyish loneliness in Paris, built for
himself a bewitching ideal out of a very familiar Stephanie and had
addressed to this ideal several reams of romantic nonsense.  That had
been merely the safety valve working in the very full and lonely heart
of a boy.

Even in the gay, ephemeral, irresponsible affairs that occurred from
time to time during his career abroad—even when in the full tide of
romantic adoration for his mundane Countess, and fairly wallowing in
flattered gratitude for her daintily amused condescension, did he ever
deceive himself into believing he was in love.

And now, in the lurid light of the exaggerated, bewildering, disquieting
events of the preceding day and night, he was trying to think clearly
and honestly—trying to reconcile his deeds and words with what he had
known of himself—trying to find out what really was the matter with him.

He did not know.  He knew that Stephanie had exasperated him—exasperated
him to reckless passion—exasperated him even more by not responding to
that passion.  He had declared his love for her; he had attempted to
drive the declaration into her comprehension by the very violence of
reiteration.  The tranquil, happy loyalty, which always had been his,
was all he evoked in her for all the impulsive vows he made, for all his
reckless emotion loosened with the touch of her lips—so hotly ungoverned
when her grey eyes looked into his, honestly perplexed, sweetly
searching to comprehend the source of these fierce flames which merely
warmed her with their breath.

"It’s a curious thing," he thought, "that a man, part of whose
profession is to write about love and analyze it, doesn’t know whether
he’s in love or not."

It was quite true.  He didn’t know.  Accepted symptoms were lacking.  He
had not awakened thrilled with happiness at the memory of the night
before.  He awoke dazed and doubtful that all these things had happened,
worried, searching in his mind for some reason for his behaviour.

And, except that a man had taken her out of his keeping, and that
resentment and jealousy had incited him to recover her, and, further, in
the excitement of the attempt, that he had suddenly found himself
involved in deeper, fiercer emotions than he had bargained for, he could
come to no conclusion concerning his actual feeling for Stephanie.


He spent the day hunting for a studio-apartment.

About five o’clock he called her on the telephone; and heard her voice
presently:

"Have you quite recovered, Jim?  I feel splendid!"

"Recovered?  I was all right this morning when I woke up."

"I mean your senses?"

"Oh.  Did you think I lost them last night, Steve?"

"Didn’t you?"

Her voice was very sweet but there was in it a hint of hidden laughter.

"No," he said shortly.

"Oh.  Then you really were in your right senses last night?" she
inquired.

"Certainly.  Were you?"

"Well, for a little while I seemed to have lost the power of thinking.
But after that I was intensely, consciously, deeply interested and
profoundly curious."  He could hear her laughing.

"Curious about what?" he demanded.

"About your state of mind, Jim.  The situation was such a novelty, too.
I was trying to comprehend it—trying to consider what a girl should do
in such a curious emergency."

"Emergency?" he repeated.

"Certainly.  Do you fancy I’m accustomed to such novelties as you
introduced me to last night?"

"What do you think about them now?"

"I’m slightly ashamed of us both.  We _were_ rather silly, you know——"

"_You_ were not," he interrupted drily.

"Is that a tribute or a reproach?" came her gay voice over the wire.  "I
don’t quite know how to take it!"

"Reassure yourself, Steve.  You were most circumspect and emotionless——"

"Jim!  That is brutal and untrue!  I was not circumspect!"

"You were the other, then."

"What a perfectly cruel and outrageous slander! You’ve made me unhappy,
now.  And all day I’ve been so absolutely happy in thinking of what
happened."

"Is that true?" he asked in an altered voice.

"Of course it’s true!"

"You just said you were ashamed——"

"I was, very, very slightly; but I’ve been too happy to be very much
ashamed!"

"You darling!——"

"Oh!  The gentleman bestows praise!  Such a kind gentleman to perceive
merit and confer his distinguished approval.  Any girl ought to
endeavour to earn further marks of consideration and applause from so
gracious a gentleman——"

"Steve, you tormenting little wretch, can’t you be serious with me?"

"I am," she said, laughing.  "Tell me what you’ve been doing to-day?"

"Hunting for lodgings.  What have you been doing?"

"Watching Helen make a study of a horse out in the covered court.  Then
we had tea.  Then Oswald dropped in and played the piano divinely, as he
always does.  Then Helen and I started to dress for dinner. Then you
called.  Where did you look for lodgings?"

"Oh, I went to about all the studio buildings——"

"Aren’t you going to open the house?"

"No.  It’s too lonely."

"Yes," she said, "it would be too lonely.  You and I couldn’t very well
live there together unless we had an older woman."

"No."

"So it’s better not to open it until"—she laughed gaily—"you marry some
nice girl.  Then it will be safe enough for me to call on the Cleland
family, I fancy.  Won’t it, Jim?"

"Quite," he replied drily.  "But when I marry that nice girl, you won’t
have far to go when you call on the Cleland family."

"Oh, how kind!  You mean to board me, Jim?"

"You know what I _do_ mean," he said.

"I wonder!  Is it really a declaration of serious and respectable
intentions?  But you’re quite safe.  And I’m afraid you know it.  Tell
me, did you find an apartment to suit you?"

"No."

"Why not come here?  There’s a studio and apartment which will be free
May first.  Oh, Jim, please take it!  If you say so I’ll telephone the
agent _now_! Shall I?  It would be too heavenly if we were under the
same roof again!"

"Do you _want_ me, Steve?  After—and in spite of everything?"

"_Want_ you?"  He heard her happy, scornful laughter.  Then: "We’re
dining out, Jim; but come to-morrow.  I’ll telephone now that you’ll
take the studio.  May I, Jim dear?"

"Yes," he said.  "And I’ll come to you to-morrow."

"You angel boy!  I _wish_ I weren’t going out to-night. Thank you, Jim,
dear, for making me happy again."

"_Are_ you?"

"Indescribably.  I don’t think you know what your kindness to me means.
It makes a different person of me.  It fills and thrills and inspires
me.  Why, Jim, it actually is health and life to me.  And when you are
unkind—it seems to paralyze me—check something in my mind.  I can’t
explain——"

"Steve!"

"Yes?"

"Could I come in for a moment now?"

"I’m dressing.  Oh, Jim, I’m sorry, but I’m late as it is.  You know I
want you, don’t you?"

"All right; to-morrow, then," he said in happy voice.

He had been sitting in his room for an hour, thinking—letting his mind
wander unchecked.

If he were not really in love with Stephanie, how could a mere
conversation over the wire with her give him such pleasure?

The day, drawing to its close without his seeing her, had seemed
colourless and commonplace; but the sound of her gay voice over the wire
had changed that—had made the day complete.

"I believe I _am_ in love," he said aloud.  He rose and paced the room
in the dusk, questioning, considering his own uncertainty.

For the "novelty"—as Stephanie called it—of last night’s fever had not
been a novelty to her alone. Never before had he been so deeply moved,
so swept off his feet, so regardless of a self-control habitual to him.

Perhaps anger and jealousy had started it.  But these ignoble emotions
could not seem to account for the happiness that hearing her voice had
just given him.

Even the voice of a beloved sister doesn’t stir a young man to such
earnest and profound reflection as that in which he was now immersed,
indifferent even to the dinner hour, which had long been over.

"I believe," he said aloud to himself, "that I’m falling very seriously
in love with Steve....  And if I am, it’s a rather desperate outlook....
She _seems_ to be in love with Grismer—damn him! ... I don’t know how to
face such a thing....  She’s married him and she doesn’t live with
him....  She admits frankly that he fascinates her....  There _are_
women who never love....  I seem to want her, anyway....  I _think_ I
do....  It’s a mess! ... Why in God’s name did she do such a thing if
she wasn’t in love with him—or if she didn’t expect to be?  Is she in
love with him?  She isn’t with _me_....  I’m certainly drifting into
love with Steve....  Can I stop myself? ... I ought to be able to....
Hadn’t I better?"

He stood still, thinking, the street lamps’ rays outside illuminating
his room with a dull radiance.

Presently he switched on the light, seated himself at the desk, and
wrote:


STEVE, DEAR:

I am falling in love with you very seriously and very deeply.  I don’t
know what to do about it.

JIM.


He was about to undress and retire late that night when a letter was
slipped under his door:


You sentimental and adorable boy!  What is there to do? The happiest
girl in New York, very sleepy and quite ready for bed, bids you good
night, enchanted by your note.

STEVIE.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*


To have returned after three years abroad and to have slipped back into
the conventional life of the circles to which he had been accustomed in
the city of his birth might not have been very easy for Cleland.  To
readjust himself among what was unfamiliar proved easier, perhaps.  For
his family circle existed no longer; the old servants were gone; the
house had been closed for a long time now.

At his college club unfamiliar faces were already in the majority, men
of his own time having moved on to the University, Union, Racquet and
Knickerbocker, leaving the usual residue of undesirables and a fresh
influx from his college.  And he was too young in letters to be
identified yet with any club which meant anything except the
conveniences of a hotel.

Among friend and acquaintances of his age there had been many changes,
too; much shifting and readjustment of groups and circles incident to
marriages and deaths and the scattering migration ever in progress from
New York.

It was an effort for him to pick up the threads again; and he did not
make the effort.  It was much simpler to settle down here in these
quiet, old-time streets within stone’s throw of the artists’ quarter of
the city where Stephanie lived—where a few boyhood friends of artistic
proclivities had taken up quarters, where acquaintances were easily
made, easily avoided; and where the informalities of existence made life
more easy, more direct, and, alas, much more irresponsible. Chelsea,
with a conscious effort and a lurking smirk, mirrored the Latin Quarter
to the best of its ability.

It did pretty well.  There were more exaggerations, more eccentricities,
less spontaneity and less work in Chelsea than in the Latin Quarter.
Too many of its nomadic denizens were playing a self-conscious part; too
few of them possessed the intelligence and training necessary for
self-expression in any creative profession. Otherwise, they were as
emotional, as casual, as unkempt, as vain, and as improvident as any
rapin of the original Latin Quarter.

Cleland met many of the elect even before he had settled down in his new
studio-apartment on the top floor of the same building where Stephanie
and Helen lived.

The quarter was peppered with tea-rooms and cafés and restaurants
sufficiently cheap to attract artistic youth.  Also, there reigned in
that section of the city a general and resolute determination to be
bohemian; a number of damsels errant and transplanted, shock-headed
youths cooked in their own quarters, strolled about the streets in
bed-room slippers, or visited one another bare-headed and adorned with
paint-smeared smocks.

And there was, of course, much deviltry with cigarettes and cheap claret
in restaurant and café—frequent outbursts of horse-play and song,
especially if Philistine visitors were detected in the vicinity.  And
New York French was frequently though briefly employed as the limited
medium for exchanging views on matters important only to the inmates of
Chelsea and its purlieus.

"But Washington Square bohemians are a harmless, friendly people,"
remarked Helen to Cleland one morning late in May, when he stopped on
his way out to breakfast to watch her modelling a horse in clay.
"They’re like actor-folk; they live in a world entirely self-created
which marvels at and admires and watches them; they pose for its
benefit, playing as faithfully as they know how their chosen
rôles—painter, writer, critic, sculptor, composer.  Nobody in the
outside real and busy world notices them; but they think they’re under
incessant and envious observation and they strut happily through the
little painted comedy of life, living an unreal existence, dying
undeceived.  The real tragedy of it all they mercifully never
suspect—the utter lack of interest in them taken by real people."

She went on modelling, apparently amused by her own analysis.

"Where is Stephanie?" he inquired, after a slight pause.

"Out somewhere with Oswald, I believe."

"It’s rather early."

"They sometimes get up early and breakfast together at Claremont,"
remarked Helen, working serenely away.  The freckled livery-stable lad
who held the horse for her and occasionally backed him into the pose
again continued to chew gum and watch the pretty sculptor with absorbed
interest.

"I’ve got such an interesting commission," she said, wetting down her
clay with a huge and dripping sponge. "It’s for the new Academy of Arts
and Letters to be built uptown, and my equestrian figure is to be cast
in silver bronze for the great marble court."

"What is the subject?" he asked, preoccupied by what she had told him
about Stephanie, yet watching this busy and efficient young girl who,
with the sleeves of her blue blouse rolled up, displaying her superb
young arms, stood vigorously kneading a double handful of clay and
studying the restless horse with clear and very beautiful brown eyes.

"The subject?  ’Aspiration.’  I made some sketches—a winged horse taking
flight upward.  A nude female figure, breathless, with dishevelled hair,
has just flung itself upon the rearing, wide-winged Pegasus and is
sticking there like a cat to the back fence—hanging on tooth and nail
with one leg just over and the other close against the beast’s ribs, and
her desperate fingers in the horse’s mane....  I don’t know.  It sounds
interesting but it may be too violent.  But I’ve had that idea—hope,
aspiration, fear and determination clinging to a furious winged animal
that is just starting upward like a roaring sky-rocket——"

She turned her head, laughing:

"Is it a rotten idea?"

"I don’t know," he said absently.  "It’s worth trying out, anyway."

She nodded; and he went on about the business of breakfast.  But had now
no appetite.

There was one thing, Cleland soon found out, against which he was
helpless.  Stephanie frequented Grismer at any hour of the day and
evening that her fancy prompted.

This perplexed him and made him sullen; but when he incautiously started
to remonstrate with her one evening her surprise and anger flashed like
a clear little flame, and she explained very clearly what was the
essence of personal liberty, and that the one thing she would not
tolerate from him or anybody else was any invasion of her freedom of
thought and action.

Silenced, enraged, and humiliated at the rebuke he had retired to his
studio to sulk like Achilles—a sullen mourner at the bier of love.  For
he fully and firmly determined to eradicate this girl from his life and
devote it to scourging the exasperating sex of which she was a beautiful
but baffling member.

The trouble with Stephanie, however, was that she could not seem to see
the tragedy in his life or understand that a young man desired to suffer
nobly and haughtily and at his own leisure and convenience.

For there came a knock at his door after his second day of absenting
himself, and when he incautiously opened it, she marched in and took him
gaily into her unembarrassed arms and bestowed upon his astonished
countenance a hearty, wholesome and vigorous smack. Moreover, she
laughed and jeered and tormented and poked merciless fun at him until
she had badgered and worried and hectored and beaten the sulkiness out
of him.  Then she admonished him:

"Don’t ever do it again!" she said.  "We are free, you and I.  What we
are to each other alone concerns us, not what we may choose to do or be
to others."

"You don’t care what I do, Steve," he said.

"I care what you do to me!"

"How I behave otherwise doesn’t concern you?"

"No.  It would be an impertinence for me to meddle. For," she added in
smiling paraphrase:

    "If you are not nice to me
    What care I how nice you be—

to other girls?"

"Do you really mean that it wouldn’t make any difference to you what I
do?  Suppose I take you at your word and become enamoured of some girl
and devote myself to her?"

"You mean a nice girl, don’t you?" she inquired.

"Any old kind."

She considered the matter, surprised.

"I couldn’t interfere with your personal liberty," she concluded,
"—whatever you choose to do."

"How would you feel about my frequenting some pretty studio model, for
example?"

"I haven’t the least idea."

"It wouldn’t affect you one way or the other, then?"

"It ought not to—provided you are always nice to me."

"That," he exclaimed, "is a cold-blooded, fishy creed!"

"That’s the creed of tolerance, Jim."

"All right.  Live up to it, then.  And I’ll try to, too," he added
drily.  "Because, sometimes when you’re off, God knows where, with
Grismer, I feel lonely enough to drift with the first attractive girl I
come across."

"Why don’t you?" she asked, flushing slightly.

"The reason I haven’t," he said, "is because I’m in love with you."

She was standing with head bent, but now she looked up quickly.

"You adorable infant," she laughed.  "What a child you really are, after
all!  Come," she added mischievously, "let’s kiss like good children and
let the gods occupy themselves with our future.  It’s their business,
not ours.  I’m glad you think you’re in love with me. But, Jim, I’m in
love with life.  And you’re such an important part of life that,
naturally, I include you!"

She bent forward and touched his lips with hers, daintily, deftly
avoiding his arms, her eyes gay with malice.

"No," she laughed, "not that, if you please, dear friend!  It rumples
and raises the deuce with my hair and gown.  But we _are_ friends again,
aren’t we, Jim?"

"Yes," he said in a low voice, "—if you can give me no more than
friendship."

"It’s the most wonderful thing in the world!" she insisted.

"You’ve read that somewhere."

"You annoy me, Jim!  It is my own conclusion. There’s nothing finer for
anybody—unless they want children.  And I don’t."

Neither did he.  No young man does.  But what she said struck him as
unpleasantly modern.


He met Grismer here and there in the artistic channels of the city;
often in Stephanie’s studio, frequently in other studios, and
occasionally amid gatherings at restaurants, theatres, art galleries.

At first he had been civil but cool, avoiding any tête-à-tête with his
old school-fellow.  But, little by little, he became aware of several
things which slightly influenced his attitude toward Grismer.

One thing became plain; the man had no intimates. There was not a man
Cleland met who seemed to care very much for Grismer; he seemed to have
no frank and cordial friendships among men, no pals.  Yet, he was
considered clever and amusing where people gathered; he interested men
without evoking their personal sympathy; he interested women intensely
with his unusual good looks and the light, elusive quality of his
intelligence.

Always amiably suave, graceful of movement, alert and considerate of
feminine fancies, moods and caprices, he was welcomed everywhere by them
in the circles which he sauntered into.  But he was merely accepted by
men.

So, in spite of his resentment at what Grismer had done, Cleland felt
slightly sorry for this friendless man. For Grismer’s was a solitary
soul, and Cleland, who had suffered from loneliness enough to understand
it, gradually became conscious of the intense loneliness of this man,
even amid his popularity with women and their sympathetic and
sentimental curiosity concerning him.

But no man seemed to care for closer intimacy with Grismer than a
friendly acquaintanceship offered. There was something about him that
did not seem to attract or invite men’s careless comradeship or
confidence.

"It’s those floating golden specks in his eyes," said Belter, discussing
him one day with Cleland.  "He’s altogether too auriferous and graceful
to be entirely genuine, Cleland—too easy and too damned bland. Poor
beggar; have you noticed how shabby and shiny he’s getting?  I guess
he’s down and out for fair financially."

Cleland had noticed it.  The man’s linen was visibly frayed.  His
clothes, too, betrayed his meagre circumstances, yet he wore them so
well, and there was such a courtly indifference in the man, that the
shabby effect seemed due to a sort of noble carelessness.

Cleland had never called on Grismer.  He had no inclination to do so, no
particular reason except that Grismer had invited him several times.
Yet, an uneasy curiosity lurked within him concerning Grismer’s abode
and whether Stephanie, always serenely unconventional, ever went there.

He didn’t care to think she did, yet, after all, the girl was this man’s
legal wife, and there was no moral law to prevent her going there and
taking up her abode if she were so inclined.

Cleland never asked her if she went there, perhaps dreading her reply.

As far as that was concerned, he could not find any of his friends or
acquaintances who had ever been in Grismer’s lodgings.  Nobody even
seemed to know exactly where they were, except that Grismer lived
somewhere in Bleecker Street and never entertained.

At times, when Stephanie was not to be found, and his unhappy inference
placed her in Grismer’s company, he felt an unworthy inclination to call
on Grismer and find out whether the girl was there.  But the impulse was
a low one, and made him ashamed, and his envy and jealousy disgusted him
with himself.

Besides, his state of mind was painfully confused and uncertain in
regard to Stephanie.  He was in love with her, evidently.  But the utter
lack of sentimental response on her part afforded his love for her no
nourishment.

He traversed the entire scale of emotions.  When he was not with her he
often came to the exasperated conclusion that he could learn to forget
her; when he was with her the idea seemed rather hopeless.

The unfortunate part of it seemed to be that, like his father’s, his was
a single-track heart.  He’d never been in love, unless this was love.
Anyway, Stephanie occupied the single track, and there seemed to be no
switches, no sidings, nothing to clear that track.

He was exceedingly miserable at times.

However, his mind was equipped with a whole terminal full of tracks and
every one was busy in the service of his profession.

For a month, now, he had been installed in his studio-apartment on the
top floor.  He picked up on Fourth and on Madison Avenues enough
preciously rickety furniture to make him comfortable and drive friends
to distraction when they ventured to trust themselves to chair or sofa.

But his writing table and corner-chair were solid and modern, and he had
half a dozen things under construction—a novel, some short stories, some
poems which he modestly mentioned as verses.

Except for the unexplored mazes in which first love had involved him he
was happy—exceedingly happy. But, to a creative mind, happiness born of
self-expression is a weird, uncanny, composite emotion, made up of
ecstatic hope and dolorous despair and well peppered with dread and
confidence, cowardice and courage, rage and tranquillity; and further
seasoned with every devilish doubt and celestial satisfaction that the
heart of a writer is heir to.

In the morning he was certain of himself.  He was the captain of his
destiny; he was the dictator of his inspiration, equipped with the
technical mastery that his obedient thoughts dare not disobey.

By afternoon the demon Doubt had shaken his self-confidence, and Fear
peered at him between every line of his manuscript, and it was a case of
Childe Roland from that time on until the pencil fell from his unnerved
fingers and he rose from his work satiated, half-stunned, not knowing
whether he had done well or meanly.  Vaguely he realized at such moments
that, for such as he, a just appraisal of his own work would never be
possible for him—that he himself would never know; and that what men
said of it—if, indeed, they ever said anything about his work—would
never wholly convince him, never entirely enlighten him as to its value
or its worthlessness.

That is one of the penalties imposed upon the creative mind.  It goes on
producing because it must. Praise stimulates it, blame depresses; but it
never knows the truth.


Toward the end of May, one afternoon, Stephanie came into his studio,
seated herself calmly in his chair, and picked up his manuscript.

"It’s no good," he said, throwing himself on an antique sofa which just
endured the strain and no more.

She read for an hour, her grey eyes never leaving the written pages, her
pretty brows bent inward with the strain of concentration.

He watched her, chin on hand, lying there on the sofa.

But the air was mild and languorous with the promise of the coming
summer; sunshine fell across the wall; the boy dozed, presently, and
after a while lay fast asleep.

She had been gone for some time when he awoke. As he sat up, blinking
through the late afternoon sunshine, a pencilled sheet of yellow
manuscript paper fluttered from his breast to the floor.


Jim, it is fine!  I mean it!  It is a splendid, virile, honest piece of
work.  And it is intensely interesting.  I’m quite mad about it—quite
thrilled that you can do such things.  It’s so masterly, so mature—and I
don’t know where you got your knowledge of that woman, because she is
perfectly feminine and women think and do such things, and her motives
are the motives that animate that sort of woman.

As you lie there asleep you look about eighteen—not much older than when
I used to see you when you came home from school and lay on your sofa
and read Kipling aloud to me. _Then_ I was awed; you were a grown man to
me.  _Now_ you are just a boy again, and I love you dearly, and I’m
going to kiss your hair, very cautiously, before I go downstairs.

I’ve done it.  I’m going now.

STEVE.



                             *CHAPTER XXII*


It happened one day late in May that Cleland, desiring local accuracy of
detail in a chapter of his brand new novel, put on his hat and walked to
Washington Square and across it, south, into the slums.

New leaves graced the trees in the park; spring flowers bloomed around
the fountain, and the grass was rankly fragrant where it had just been
mowed.

But he left the spring freshness behind him when he entered that sad,
dingy, swarming region to the south, where the only clean creature
seemed to be the occasional policeman in his new summer tunic,
sauntering aloof amid the noise and wretchedness and the foul odours
made fouler by the sunshine.

Cleland presently found the squalid street which he wished to describe
in convincing detail, and stood there on the corner in the shelter of a
tobacconist’s awning making preliminary mental notes.  Then, as he
fished out note-book and pencil, intent on professional memoranda, he
saw Grismer.

The man wore shabbier clothes than Cleland had ever before seen him
wear; he was crossing the filthy street at his usual graceful and
leisurely saunter, and he did not see Cleland under the awning.

There was a chop-suey restaurant opposite, a shabby, disreputable,
odoriferous place, doubly repulsive in the pitiless sunshine.  And into
this sauntered Grismer and disappeared.

The slight shock of the episode remained to bother Cleland all the
morning.  He kept thinking of it while trying to work; he could not seem
to put it from his mind and finally threw aside his manuscript, took his
hat and stick, and went out with the intention of lunching.

It was nearly lunch time, but he did not walk toward the cream-coloured
Hotel Rochambeau, with its green awnings and its French flag flying.  He
took the other way, scarcely realizing what he meant to do until he
turned the corner into Bleecker Street.

He found the basement he was in search of presently; two steps down, an
area gate and bell encrusted with rust, and a diseased and homeless cat
dozing there in patient misery.

"You poor devil," he said, offering a cautious caress; but the gaunt
creature struck at him and fled.

He rang.  Jangling echoes resounded from within. Two negro wenches and a
Chinaman surveyed him from adjoining houses.  He could smell a sour
stench from the beer saloon opposite, where a fat German beast was
washing down the sidewalk with a mop.

"Hello, Cleland.  This is very nice of you.  Come in!" said a pleasant
voice behind him, and, as he turned, Grismer, in shabby slippers and
faded dressing-gown, opened the iron wicket.

"I hadn’t called," said Cleland a little stiffly, "—so I thought I’d
drop in for a moment and take you out somewhere to lunch."

Grismer smiled his curious, non-committal smile and ushered him into a
big, whitewashed basement, with a screen barring the further end and
quite bare except for a few bits of furniture, some plaster casts, and
half a dozen revolving tables on which stood unfinished studies in clay
and wax.

Cleland involuntarily glanced about him, then went over and politely
examined the studies in clay.

"I’ve a back yard, too," said Grismer, "where I work in good weather.
The light in here isn’t particularly good."

For the wretchedness of his quarters he made no further apology; he
spoke in his easy, amiable way and entirely without embarrassment,
standing beside Cleland and moving with him from one study to another.

"They’re just as clever as they can be," said Cleland, "—infernally
clever, Grismer.  Are they commissions?"

"I’m sorry to say they are not," replied Grismer with a smile.

"But a man who can do this work ought never to want for commissions,"
insisted Cleland.

"I’m exceedingly glad you like my work," returned Grismer pleasantly,
"but as for orders——" he shrugged—"when I didn’t need them they came to
me.  But, Cleland, when the world learns that a man needs anything it
suddenly discovers that it doesn’t need him! Isn’t it funny," he added
good-humouredly, "that prosperous talent is always in demand, always
turning down work which it has no time to do; but the same talent on its
uppers is universally under deep suspicion?"

He spoke lightly, impersonally, and without the slightest trace of
bitterness.  "Sit down and light one of your own cigarettes," he said.
"I’ve only pipe-tobacco, and you probably wouldn’t care for it."

Cleland seated himself in the depths of a big, threadbare arm-chair.

Grismer said with a smile:

"No use informing you that I’m obliged to live economically.  Models are
expensive; so is material. Therefore, I live where I can afford both,
and a roof to cover them....  And do you know, Cleland, that after all
it doesn’t matter much where one sleeps——" he made a slight gesture
toward the screen at the end of the room.  "I used to think it did until
I had to give up a place of my own full of expensive and beautiful
things.

"But it really doesn’t matter.  The main idea is to be free—free of
debt, free of expensive impedimenta which cause one anxiety, free from
the importunities and restrictions of one’s friends."  He laughed and
dropped one long leg over the other.

"I’ve niggers and Chinamen for neighbours.  They cause me no
inconvenience.  It’s rather agreeable than otherwise to sit here and
work, or lounge about and smoke, wondering whether a commission is
already on its way or whether it has not yet even taken shape in the
brain of some person unknown who is destined by fate some day to
exchange his money for my bronze or marble....  It’s an amusing game,
Cleland, isn’t it?—the whole affair of living, I mean....  Not too
unpleasant, not too agreeable....  But if one’s heart-action were not
involuntary and automatic, do you know, if it lay with me I’d not bother
to keep my heart ticking—I’d be too lazy to wind it up."

He stretched himself out in his chair gracefully, good-humoured,
serenely amused at his own ideas.

"Did you have a good time abroad?" he inquired.

"Yes....  When you get on your feet you ought to go to Paris, Grismer."

"Yes, I know."  He looked humorously at his well-shaped feet stretched
out before him in shabby slippers. "Yes; it’s up to my feet, Cleland.
But they’re a wandering, indifferent couple, inclined to indolence, I
fear....  Is your work getting on?"

"I’m busy....  Yes, I think it’s taking shape."

He looked up at Grismer hesitatingly, frankly troubled. "Grismer, we
were school-mates....  I wouldn’t wish you to think me impertinent——"

"Go ahead, Cleland."

"Are you quite sure?"

"I’m sure of _you_," returned Grismer, with a singular smile.  "I know
you pretty well, Cleland.  I knew you in school, in college....  We
fought in school.  You were civil to me at Harvard."  He laughed.  "I’ve
always liked you, Cleland—which is more than you can say about me."

Cleland reddened, and Grismer laughed again, lightly and without effort:

"It’s that way sometimes.  I think that you are about the only man I
have ever really liked.  You didn’t know that, did you?"

"No."

"Well, don’t let it worry you," added Grismer, smiling.  "Go on and say
what you were about to say."

"It was—I was merely wondering—whether you’d take it all right if——"  He
began again from another angle: "I’ve a country place—up in the
Berkshires—my father’s old place.  And I thought that a fountain—if
you’d care to design one——"

Grismer had been watching him with that indefinable smile in his golden
eyes, which perplexed men and interested women, but now he rose suddenly
and walked to the barred windows and stood there with his back turned,
gazing out into the area.  After an interval he pivoted on his heels,
sauntered back and seated himself, relighting his pipe.

"All right," he said very quietly.  "I’ll do your fountain."

Cleland drew a breath of relief.  "If you like," he said, "come up with
me to Runner’s Rest in June and look over the garden.  There ought to be
a pool there; there are plenty of springs on the mountain to feed a
fountain by gravity.  I think it would be fine to have a pool and a
fountain in the old garden.  Is it understood that you’ll do it for me?"

"Yes....  I don’t wish to be paid."

"Good Lord!  You and I are professionals, Grismer, not beastly amateurs.
Do you think I’d write for anybody unless I’m paid for it?"

Grismer’s eyes held a curious expression as they rested on him.  Then
his features changed and he smiled and nodded carelessly:

"I’ll do your fountain on your own terms.  Tell me when you are ready."

Cleland rose:

"Won’t you change your mind and lunch with me somewhere?"

"Thanks, no."  Grismer also had risen, and the two men confronted each
other for a moment in silence.

Then Grismer said:

"Cleland, I think you’re the only man in the world for whom I have any
real consideration.  I haven’t much use for men—no delusions.  But it
always has been different about you—even when we fought in school—even
when I used to sneer at you sometimes.... And I want, somehow, to make
you understand that I wish you well; that if it lay with me you should
attain _whatever_ you wish in life; that if attainment depended upon my
stepping aside I’d do it....  That’s all I can say.  Think it over and
try to understand."

Cleland, astonished, looked at him with unconcealed embarrassment.

"You’re very kind," he said, "to feel so generously interested in my
success.  I wish you success, too."

Grismer smiled:

"You _don’t_ understand me after all," he said pleasantly.  "I was
afraid you wouldn’t."

"You are offering me your friendship, as I take it," said Cleland
awkwardly.  "Isn’t that what you meant?"

"Yes.  And other things...."

He laughed with a slight touch of malice in his mirth:

"There’s such a lot yet left unsaid between you and me, which you and I
must say to each other some day. But there’s plenty of time, Cleland....
And I shall be very glad to design and execute a fountain for your
garden."

He offered his hand; Cleland took it, the embarrassed flush still
staining his face.

"Yes," he said, "there is a matter that I wish to talk over with you
some day, Grismer."

"I know....  But I think we had better wait a while....  Because I wish
to answer everything you ask; and for the present I had rather not."

They walked slowly to the area gate and Grismer unlocked it.

"I’m glad you came," he said.  "It’s a bit lonely sometimes....  I have
no friends."

"When you feel that way," said Cleland, "drop in on me."

"Thanks."

And that was all.  Cleland went away through the ill-smelling streets,
crossed the sunny square, and walked thoughtfully back to his own
studio.

"He’s a strange man," he mused, "—he was a strange boy, and he’s grown
into a curious sort of man.... Poor devil....  It’s as though something
inside him is lacking—or has been killed....  But why in God’s name did
Steve marry him unless she was in love with him? ... It must be....  And
his pride won’t let him take her until he can stand on his own feet....
When I dig that pool I’ll dig a pit for my feet.... A grave for a
fool...."

He unlocked his studio and went in.

"I’m done with love," he said aloud to himself.

The jingle of the telephone bell echoed his words and he walked slowly
over to the table and detached the receiver.

"Jim?"

"Is it you, Steve?"

"Yes.  Would you like some tea about five?"

"All right.  I’ve had no lunch and I’ll be hungry."

"You know, Jim, I’m not going to provide a banquet for you.  Why don’t
you go out and take lunch?"

"I forgot it.  I don’t feel like work.  Shall I come down and talk to
you now?"

"I’m going out to take a dancing lesson in a few moments.  I’ll talk to
you while I’m putting on my hat."

He said "All right," took his hat and stick and went downstairs again.

She opened the door for him, offering him her cool, slim hand, then she
opened a hat-box and lifted from it a hat.

"I believe I’ll join the Russian ballet," she said.  "I do dance very
nicely.  You should hear what the ballet master says.  And Miss Duncan
and Miss St. Denis watched me yesterday, and they were very
complimentary and polite."

"Nonsense.  It’s good exercise, but it would be a dog’s life for you to
lead, Steve.  Where is Helen?"

"Out hunting a model for her Pegasus.  She asked me to pose for the
mounted figure, but I haven’t time. I can fancy myself, in a complete
state of nature, scrambling onto some rickety old livery hack——"  She
threw back her head and laughed, then inspected her new hat, and, facing
the studio mirror, pinned it to her chestnut hair.

"Do you like it, Jim?"

"Fine.  You make all hats look well."

"Such a nice, polite boy!  So well brought up!  But unfortunately I
heard you say the same thing to Helen....  Where have you been, Jim?  I
called you up an hour ago."

"I went to see Grismer," he said, coolly ignoring her perverse and
tormenting humour.

"You did?  Bless your dear, generous heart!" cried the girl.  "Do you
know that if it were in me to be sentimental over you, what you did
would start me? Continue to behave like a real man, dear friend, and
I’ll be head over heels in love before I know it!"

"Why?" he asked, conscious again of her gaily derisive mood and not
caring for it.

"Because," she said, "you have acted like a man in calling on Oswald,
and not like a spoiled boy.  You resented Oswald’s marrying me.  You
have been sullen and suspicious and aloof with him since you came back.
I know Oswald better than you do.  I know that he has felt your attitude
keenly, though he never admitted it even to me.

"He is a man of few friends, admired but not well liked; he is
wretchedly poor, fiercely proud, sensitive——"

"What!"

"Did you think he wasn’t?" she asked.  "He is painfully sensitive;
pitiably so.  I think women divine it, and it attracts them."

"He hasn’t the reputation of being very thin-skinned," remarked Cleland
drily.

"The average man who is sensitive would die to conceal it.  You ought to
know that, Jim; it’s your business to dissect people, isn’t it?"

She thrust a second pin through the crown of her hat and adjusted it
deftly.

"Anyway," she said, "you are a nice, polite boy to go to see him, and
you have made me very happy. Good-bye!  I must run——"

"Have you lunched?"

"No, but I’m going to."

"With whom?" he asked incautiously.

"A man."

"You’re usually just going out to lunch or dine with some man," he said
sullenly.

"I like men," she said, smiling at him.

"What you probably mean is that you like admiration."

"I do.  It’s agreeable; it’s sanitary; it’s soothing. It invigorates
one’s self-confidence and self-respect. And it doesn’t disarrange one’s
hair and rumple one’s gown.  Therefore, I prefer the undemonstrative
admiration of a man to the indiscreet demonstrations of a boy."

"Do you mean me?" he asked, furious.

But she ignored the question:

"Boys _are_ funny," she said, swinging her velvet reticule in circles.
"Any girl can upset their equilibrium. All a girl has to do is to look
at a boy sideways—the way Lady Button-eyes looked at you yesterday
afternoon——"

"What!"

"At the Rochambeau.  And you got up and went over and renewed your
friendship with her.  Helen and I saw you."

"I was merely civil," he said.

"So was she.  She fished out a card and wrote on it.  _I_ don’t know
what she wrote."

"She wrote her telephone call.  There isn’t the slightest chance of my
using it."

Stephanie laughed:

"He certainly is the nicest, politest boy in all Manhattan, and sister
is very, very proud of him. _Good_-bye, James——"

She offered her lips to him audaciously, bending forward on tip-toe,
both hands clasped behind her.  But her grey eyes were bright with
malice.

"Nice, polite boy," she repeated.  "Kiss little sister."

"No," he said gloomily, "I’m fed up on sisterly kisses——"

"You insulting wretch!  Do you mean you _won’t_? Then you _shall_——!"

She started toward him, wrath in her eyes, but he caught her wrists and
held her.

"You’re altogether too well satisfied with yourself," he said.  "You’ve
no emotions inside your very lovely person except discreet ones.
Otherwise, you’ve got the devil inside you and it’s getting on my
nerves."

"Jim!  You beast!"

"Yes, I am.  What of it?  Beasts have emotions. Yours have either been
cultivated out of you or you were born without any.  I’m glad I am part
beast.  I’m glad you know it.  The rest of me is human; and the
combination isn’t a very serious menace to civilization. But the sort of
expurgated girl you are is!"

"Don’t you think I’m capable of any deep emotions?" she asked.  The
smile had died on her lips.

"Maybe.  I don’t know."

"Who should, if you don’t?"

He shrugged:

"Your husband, perhaps."

"Jim!  I told you not to call him that!"

"Well, a spade is a spade——"

"Do you mean to be offensive?"

"How can that offend you?"

She released her wrists and shot a curious, inexplicable look at him.

"I don’t understand you," she said.  "You can be so generous and
high-minded and you can be so unkind and insolent to me."

"Insolent?"

"Yes.  You meant it insolently when you spoke of Oswald as my husband.
You’ve done it before, too. Why do you?  Do you really want to hurt me?
Because you know he isn’t my husband except by title. He may never be."

"All right," he said.  "I’m sorry I was offensive. I’m just tired of
this mystery, I suppose.  It’s a hopeless sort of affair for me.  I
can’t make you love me; you’re married, besides.  It’s too much for me—I
can’t cope with it, Steve....  So I won’t ever bother you again with
importunities.  I’ll go my own way."

"Very well," she said in an even voice.

She nodded to him and went out, saying as she passed:

"There’ll be tea at five, if you care for any."  And left him planted.

Which presently enraged him, and he began to pace the studio, pondering
on the cruelty, insensibility and injustice of that devilish sex which
had created man as a convenience.

"The thing to do," he said savagely to himself, "is to exterminate the
last trace of love for her, tear it out, uproot it, trample on it
without remorse——"

The studio bell rang.  He walked to the door and opened it.  A
bewilderingly pretty girl stood there.

"Miss Davis?" she inquired sweetly.  "I have an appointment."

"Come in," said Cleland, the flush of wrath still on his countenance.

The girl entered; he offered her a chair.

"Miss Davis happens to be out at the moment," he said, "but I don’t
believe she’ll be very long."

"Do you mind my waiting?" asked the pretty girl.

"No, I don’t," he said, welcoming diversion.  "Do you mind my being
here?  Or are you going to put me out?"

She looked surprised, then she laughed very delightfully:

"Of course not.  Miss Davis and I have known each other for a long
while, and I owe her a great deal and I am devoted to her.  Do you think
I’d be likely to banish a friend of hers?  Besides, I’m only one of her
models."

"A model?" he repeated.  "How delightful!  I also am a model—of good
behaviour."

They both laughed.

"Does it pay?" she inquired mischievously.

"No, it doesn’t.  I wish I had another job."

"Why not take the one I’ve just left?"

"What was it?"

"I was dancing at the Follies."

"All right.  Will you try me out?"

"With pleasure."

"I’ll turn on that music-box."

The girl laughed her enchanting little laugh, appraised him at a glance,
then turned her pretty head and critically surveyed the studio.

"I believe," she said, "I’m to pose for Miss Davis seated on a winged
horse.  Isn’t that exciting?"

"You’d be delightful on a winged horse," he said.

"Do you think so?"

"I suspect it.  What did you do in the Follies?"

"Nothing very interesting.  Have you seen the Follies?"

"You ought to know I haven’t," he said reproachfully. "Do you suppose I
could have forgotten you?"

She rose and dropped him a Florodora curtsey. They were getting on very
well.  She glanced demurely at the music box.  He jumped up and turned
it on. The battered disc croaked out a tango.

"Shall I take up those rugs?" he inquired.

"What on earth would Miss Davis say if she found us dancing?"

"She isn’t here to say anything.  _Shall_ I?"

"Very well....  I’ll help you."

They dragged the rugs aside.

The studio was all golden with the sun, now, and the brilliant rays
bathed them as she laid her gloved hand in his and his arm encircled her
waist.

She was a wonderful dancer; her supple grace and professional perfection
enchanted him.

From time to time he left her to crank up the music-box; neither of them
tired.  Occasionally she glanced at her jewelled wrist-watch and
ventured to voice her doubts as to the propriety of continuing in the
imminence of Miss Davis’s return.

"Then let’s come up to my studio," he said.  "I’ve a music-phone of
sorts.  We can dance there until you’re tired, and then you can come
down and see Miss Davis."

She demurred: the music-box ran down with a squawk.

"Shall we take one more chance here?" he asked.

"No, it’s too risky....  Shall I run up to your place for just one
little dance?"

"Come on!" he said, taking her hand.

They went out and he closed the door.  Then, hand-in-hand, laughing like
a pair of children, they sped up the stairs and arrived breathless
before his door, which he unlocked.  And in another minute they were
dancing again while a scratched record croaked out a fox-trot.

"I _must_ go," she said, resting one gloved hand on his arm.  "I’d love
to stay but I mustn’t."

"First," he said, "we’ll have tea."

"No!"

But presently they were seated on his desk, a plate of sweet biscuits
between them, their glasses of sherry touching.

"Unknown but fascinating girl," he said gaily, "I drink to your health
and fortune.  Never shall I forget our dance together; never shall I
forget the charming stranger who took tea with me!"

"Nor shall I forget you!—you very nice boy," she said, looking at him
with smiling intentness.

"Would it spoil if we saw each other again?"

"You know that such delightful encounters never bear repetition," she
answered.  "Now I’m going. Farewell!"

She laughed at him, touched her glass with her lips, set it aside, and
slipped to the floor.

"Good-bye!" she said.  He caught her at the door, and she turned and
looked up gravely.

"Don’t spoil it," she whispered, disengaging herself.

So he released her, and she stretched out her hand, smiled at him, and
stepped out.  The music-phone continued to play gaily.

A girl who was coming upstairs saw her as she left Cleland’s studio;
and, as the pretty visitor sped lightly past her, the girl who was
mounting turned and watched her.  Then she resumed her ascent, came
slowly to Cleland’s open door, stood there resting a moment as though
out of breath.

Cleland, replacing the rugs, glanced up and caught sight of Stephanie;
and the quick blood burnt his face.

She came in as though still a trifle weary from the ascent.  Neither
spoke.  She glanced down at the two empty wine glasses on his desk, saw
the decanter, the biscuits and cigarettes.  The music-phone was expiring
raucously.

"Who is that girl?" she asked in an even, colourless voice.

"A girl I met."

"Do you mind telling me her name?"

"I—don’t know it," he said, getting redder.

"Oh.  Shall I enlighten you?"

"Thank you."

"She’s Mary Cliff, of the Follies.  I’ve seen her dance."

"Really," he said carelessly.

Stephanie leaned against the desk, resting one hand on it.  An odd sense
of mental fatigue possessed her; things were not clear in her mind; she
was not very sure of what she was saying:

"I came up to say—that I’m sorry we quarrelled.... I’m sorry now that I
came.  I’m going in a moment....  You’ve already had tea, I see.  So you
won’t care for any more."

After a flushed silence, he said:

"Did you have a successful lesson, Steve?"

"I’ve had two—lessons.  Yes, they were quite—successful."

"You seem tired."

"No."  She turned and walked to the door.  He opened it for her in
silence.

"Good night," she said.

"Good night."



                            *CHAPTER XXIII*


Cleland’s unhappy interpretation of the episode was masculine and
therefore erroneous—the interpretation of a very young man whose
reverence for the restless sex might require revision some day or other
unless he died exceedingly young. For he concluded, now, that he had
thoroughly disgusted Stephanie Quest; first by his vulgar flirtation
with Lady Button-eyes, then by losing his temper and admitting to her
his own odious materialism; and, furthermore and flagrantly, by his
hideous behaviour with a pretty girl whose name even he had not known
when he entertained her at his impromptu thé-dansant.

He saw himself quite ruined in the unemotional grey eyes of a girl who,
herself, was so coldly aloof from the ignoble emotions lurking ever and
furtively in the masculine animal.

He had had little enough chance with Stephanie, even when his conduct
had been exemplary.  Now he was dreadfully certain that his chances were
less than none at all; that he had done himself in.  What had he to hope
of her now?

To this unconventional yet proud, pure-hearted girl had been offered the
very horrid spectacle of his own bad temper and reprehensible behaviour.
And, although there had been no actual harm in it, _she_ could never,
never understand or forgive it.  Never!

Her virginal ears had been insulted by the cynical avowal of his own
masculine materialism.  Of the earth, earthy, he had vaunted himself in
his momentary exasperation—"of humanity, a shamelessly human example."

With her own incredulous, uncontaminated eyes she had seen him pocket
Lady Button-eye’s telephone number.  Her shrinking ears had heard the
mutilated record in his music-phone dying out in a tipsy two-step; her
outraged gaze had beheld a perfectly strange young girl’s gaily informal
exit from his own bachelor apartment, where sherry still stood in both
glasses and the rugs lay scattered in disorder against the wall.
Elimination was naturally the portion he had to expect. And he gloomily
schooled himself to endure annihilation.

According to his philosophy there was nothing else on earth to do about
it.  Doubtless she’d ultimately forgive him, but her respect he couldn’t
hope for at present; and as for any deeper sentiment, if ever there had
been any hope in his heart that he might one day awaken it, now he knew
it was wriggling in its death-throes, making him, by turns, either
frightfully unhappy or resentfully reckless.

The hopeless part of it was that, unlike weaker men, he had no desire to
drown sorrow in any irregular and unworthy fashion.

Many men of many minds turn to many things seeking the anodyne in one
form or another—the nepenthe of forgetfulness, rarer than the
philosopher’s stone.

Neither wine nor the dreary quest for heart-ease among frailer
companions ever appeals to any but weak minds.  And the boy, not knowing
what to do, turned to his work with a renewed energy resembling
desperation.

It is the only hope for ultimate anesthesia.

Also, he took to prowling by night, being too unhappy to remain in his
studio so near to Stephanie.

He prowled about Broadway and Long Acre with Badger Spink, whose
restless cleverness and self-absorption ended by wearying him; he
prowled with Clarence Verne one night, encountering that strange sphinx
by accident, and strolling with him at hazard through the purlieus of
Chelsea.  Both men seemed deeply preoccupied with problems of their own,
and though they knew each other only slightly they maintained the
reticence of intimacy—an odd assumption, as Cleland thought afterward.
Yet, one of them was very sick for love, and the other very sick of it;
and, besides, there roved with them a third and unseen companion,
through the crooked, lamp-lit streets, whose shrouded arm was linked in
Verne’s.  And perhaps that accounted for the sombre silence which
brooded between these men in trouble.

Verne said at parting—and gazing absently at nothing while he spoke:

"The tragedy of civilization—of what the world calls civilization!—that
is the most terrible of all, Cleland. That is the real and only hell.
Not the ruthless eruptions of barbarism; not the momentary resurgence of
atavistic violence—of red-blooded rapine and lust—but the ordered,
lawful, stealthy, subtle horrors of civilization: they slay men’s
souls."

"I don’t get you, Verne."

"No, Cleland.  But somebody else will—somebody else will get me—very
soon, now....  Good-bye."

A few days later Cleland prowled with Harry Belter, intent upon supper
somewhere in the outer marches of the town.

For an episode had occurred that shook them both with the most sobering
and distressing jar that youth experiences in fullest mental and
physical vigour.

"I _don’t_ see how a man can kill himself," said Cleland. "I don’t see
why he can’t go somewhere else and cure himself of his unhappiness.
Travel, change, new faces——"

"Perhaps he wants to be rid of faces," muttered Belter.

"There are wonderful wildernesses."

"Perhaps he’s too tired to admire ’em.  Perhaps he’s half dead for
sleep."

"You talk as though you sympathized and understood, Harry."

"I do."

"_You_!  The indefatigable optimist!  You, the ever-welcome, the gay
consoler, the irrepressible spirit among us!"

"If I didn’t play that rôle I’d do what Clarence Verne did!"

"_What!_"

"Long ago," added Belter.

"For God’s sake, why?  I never dreamed——"

"You were away, three years, having a good time abroad, weren’t you?
How should you know what happened to others?"

"Did something happen to you, Harry?"

"It did.  If you wish to know exactly what, I’ll tell you what happened
to me was a woman.  Now you know something that nobody else knows—except
that demon and myself."

"But such things——"

"No.  Such things destroy, ultimately.  I’ll die of her, one day."

"Nonsense!"

But Belter, the jester, laughed a terrifying laugh and sauntered into
the open door of the restaurant which they had walked a mile or two to
find.

"It’s a low pub," he remarked, "and suitable to my mind."  They seated
themselves at a cherry table. One or two newspaper men nodded to Belter.
A confidence man, whispering to a painted mulatto girl, turned to
scrutinize him; a ruffianly bar-keeper saluted him cordially.

There was a grill glowing beyond the bar.  A waiter, chewing a
tooth-pick, came up and stood leaning on their table with both hairy
hands spread flat on the polished top.

"Well, gents, what is it?" he asked hoarsely.

They gave their order.  Then Belter, leaning forward and planting both
elbows on the table, said in a low voice:

"They call me a caricaturist, but, by God, Cleland, I’m a realist!  I’ve
learned more about women by caricaturing them than I ever read in their
smooth countenances.  They _are_ caricatures, in their secret
souls—every one of them; and when I exaggerate a weak point and ignore
everything but the essential character lines and contours, by jingo,
Cleland, I’ve discovered ’em—exposed ’em as they really are!—distorted
caricatures of human beings."

Cleland disagreed with him, gloomily, amazed at his bitterness.

"No," said Belter, "if you tell the mere truth about them they’re a
nuisance!  We don’t understand ’em. Why?  There’s very little to
understand and that’s all on the surface as plain as the nose on your
face!—too plain for us to notice.  And you writers explore and dissect
’em, seeking deeps where there are shallows, mysteries where there are
facts, subtleties where everything is obvious.  They haven’t much mind,
they have few traits because they have precious little character. They
are not like humans; they resemble Fabre’s insects—strange,
incomprehensible Martians, doing things not from intelligence, not from
reason, impulse, desire, but merely from an inherited instinct that apes
intelligence, that parodies passion."

"What _have_ they done to you, Harry?"

"Nothing, in years....  Because I won’t let ’em. But the spectacle of
the world suddenly crawling with women, all swarming restlessly over the
face of the globe, not knowing why or whither—it appalls me, Jim. And we
men continue flinging at them everything we can think of to stop them,
quiet them, and keep them still—personal liberty, franchise, political
opportunity, professional and industrial chances—and still they twist
and wriggle and squirm and swarm over everything restlessly, slowly
becoming denatured, unsexed, more sterile, more selfish, insolent,
intolerable every day.  They are the universal nuisance of the age; they
are slowly smothering us as shifting dunes threaten the fertile plain——"

"For heaven’s sake——"

"There’s the unvarnished truth about woman," insisted Belter.  "She’s
got the provocative câlinerie of a cat; the casual insouciance of a
sparrow; the nesting and hatching instinct of the hen; the mindless
jealousy of a Pekingese.

"The creative mind that marries one of ’em is doomed either to sterility
or to anguish.  Their jealousy and malice stultify and slay the male
brain; there is no arguing with them because they have no real mind to
appeal to, no logic, no reason.  Like the horrible praying Mantis they
suffer the embrace of the male and immediately begin to eat him,
commencing with the head——"

Cleland began to laugh.  His mirth, unrestrained, did not disturb
Belter, who continued to eat his club sandwich and wash it down with
huge draughts of Pilsner.

"Do you think I’d marry one of ’em?" he demanded scornfully.  "Do you
know what really happened to Clarence Verne?"

"No."

"Well, he married a dainty little thing and expected to continue earning
two thousand dollars for every magazine cover he designed.  And do you
know what happened?"

"No, I don’t."

"I’ll tell you.  The dainty little thing turned jealous, hired a shyster
who hired detectives to follow Verne about and report to her what he did
inside and outside his studio.  She doped his food when she thought he
had a rendezvous; she had his letters stolen. In his own world, any
woman he found agreeable was cut out by his wife; if, in the jolly and
unconventional fellowship of Bohemia, he ever stopped on the street to
chat with a pretty girl or took one, harmlessly, to lunch or supper, or
offered any of ’em tea in his studio, her detectives reported it to her
and she raised hell.

"It killed spontaneity, any gaiety of heart, any incentive in Verne.  It
embittered him, aged him, strangled him.  Look at his work to-day!
Nothing remains except the mechanical technique.  Look at the man.  Dead
in his bathroom.  Don’t talk to me about women."

"Why didn’t he divorce her if he knew of all this she was doing?"

"He had a little girl to think of.  After all, Verne had lived his life.
Better snuff it out that way and leave the child in decent ignorance of
family dissension....  And that was the matter with Clarence Verne,
Cleland.  And I tell you that into the heart of every man who has been
fool enough to marry, some canker is eating its way.  There is not one
woman in a million with mind enough and humanity enough to keep her
husband’s love—not one who knows enough to

    ’Let him alone
    And he’ll come home—’

Not one with the brains, mental resource, wisdom, to mate without
becoming a parasite.  And still, all over the world the asses are
solemnly asking each other, ’Is marriage a failure?’  Bah!  The world
makes me very sick!"

They went to Verne’s funeral a few days later.  The widow was very
pretty in her deep mourning.  Her little girl was with her.

But the affair was not even a nine-days’ gossip in the artists’ world.
Verne had stalked wistfully among them for a few years, but had never
been of them since his marriage: he had lived at home in one of the
fashionable quarters, although his studio—and his heart—were in Chelsea.

So his well-known magazine covers were missed more than he was, and
people soon ceased discussing him and his fate; and in a month nobody
remembered whether it had been done with a razor or a revolver.  And
very few cared.

As for Cleland, he had never known Verne well, and the damnation of his
taking off affected him only superficially.  Besides, busy men have
little time to bother about death; and Cleland was now extremely busy
with his novel, which began to take definite shape and proportion under
unremitting labour.

He now saw Stephanie much as usual; and the girl did not seem seriously
changed toward him in behaviour.  Her spirits appeared to be high
always; she seemed to be always doing something interesting and
delightful, dining out, going to theatres—though the choice was now
limited, as many were already closed for the summer—motoring out to the
country, taking her dancing and dramatic lessons, entertaining in the
studio.

It is true that he seldom or never saw Stephanie alone now, but that
seemed accidental, because he really had been absorbed in his work and
she was usually out somewhere or other during the day.  But she appeared
to be cordial to him—just as full of gay malice and light banter as
ever—full of undisguised interest in the progress of his work and
delighted with his promise to let her read the manuscript when it was
typed and before he submitted it to any publisher.

So all seemed to go serenely between them; he resolutely told himself
that he had given her up; she did not appear to be aware of anything
altered or subdued in his cordiality toward her—apparently missed
nothing in his attitude that might once have been to her significant of
any deeper feeling.

Yet, once or twice, when a gay company filled her studio, amid the
chatter and music and movement of dancers, he became aware of her level,
grey eyes gravely intent on him—but always the gravity he surprised in
them turned to a quick, frank smile when his gaze encountered hers, and
she always made him some pretty signal of recognition across the
animated scene.

As for Helen, he always got on delightfully with that charming and
capable girl.  There was something very engaging about her, she was so
wholesome, so energetic, so busy, so agreeable to look at.

He had acquired a habit of dropping in on his way out to lunch to watch
her working on the sketches and studies for "Aspiration;" but one day
she forgot to warn him and he blundered into the courtyard where, on a
white circus-horse, a lovely, slender, but rather startling figure hid
its face in its hands and desperately attempted to make a garment of its
loosened hair, while an elderly female holding the horse’s head cried
"Shoo!" and Helen hustled him out, a little perturbed and intensely
amused.

"I ought to have told you," she said.  "I wouldn’t mind, but even
professional models object to anybody except, occasionally, another
artist."

"I’m sorry," he said.  "Please tell little Miss Eve that I didn’t mean
to scare her."

They chatted for a few minutes, then Helen smilingly excused herself and
went back to her work, and Cleland continued on his way to lunch,
chagrined at his stupidity.

"I wonder," he thought, "if that was my little unknown dancing partner?
Now, she will think I’ve ’spoiled it all.’"

He was in masculine error again.  Disconcerted beauty has the
consolation that it is beautiful. Otherwise, it remains merely outraged
modesty; and bitterness abides in its soul.

Helen, laughingly mentioning the affair to Stephanie, still immensely
amused at Cleland’s distress and apologetic blushes, added that the
model, Marie Cliff, had been sensible enough to appreciate the humour of
it, too.

"You mean," said Stephanie, coldly, "that she didn’t care."  And, not
smiling, went on with her sewing.

"She’s rather a refined type," said Helen, looking curiously at the girl
who, bent over her mending, was plying her needle furiously.

Stephanie shrugged.

"Don’t you think so, Steve?"

"No.  I think her typically common."

"How odd!  She’s quite young, and she’s really very nice and modest—not
the type of person you seem to imagine——"

"I don’t _like_ her," interrupted Stephanie calmly. But her slender
fingers were flying, and she had set her teeth in her under lip, which
had trembled a little.

Helen, chancing to mention Cleland that night as they were preparing for
bed, was astonished at Stephanie’s impatient comment:

"Oh, Jim’s quite spoiled.  I’m rapidly losing interest in that young
man."

"Why?" asked Helen, surprised.

"Because he runs about with queer people.  No man can do that and not
show it in his own manner."

"What people, Steve?"

"Well, with Lady Button-eyes for one.  With your modest and bashful
little model, for another."

"Does he?"  Then she began to laugh.  "I’m glad he displays good taste,
anyway!  The little Cliff girl is charming."

"Isn’t that rather a horrid and cynical thing to say?" demanded
Stephanie, flushing brightly.

"Why?  I think she’s quite all right.  Let them play together if they
like.  It’s none of my business.  Are you, the high-priestess of
tolerance, becoming intolerant?" she added laughingly.

"No.  I don’t care what he does.  But I should think he’d prefer to
frivol with one of his own class."

"It’s a matter of chance," remarked Helen, brushing out her curly brown
hair.  "The beggar-maid or Vere-de-Vere—it’s all the same to a man if
the girl is sufficiently attractive and amusing."

"Amusing?" repeated Stephanie.  "That is a humiliating rôle—to amuse a
man."

"If a girl doesn’t, men soon neglect her.  Men go where they are amused.
Everybody does.  You do.  I do.  Why not?"

Stephanie, still hotly flushed, shook out her beautiful chestnut hair
and began to comb it viciously.

"I don’t see how a common person can amuse a well-born man," she said.

"It’s a reflection on us if we give them the opportunity," retorted
Helen, laughing.  "But if we’re not clever enough to hold the men of our
own caste, then they’ll certainly go elsewhere for their amusement."

"And good riddance!"

"But who’s to replace them?"

"I can get along perfectly without men."

"Steve, you’re talking like a child!  What happens to be the matter with
you?  Has anything gone wrong?"

"Absolutely nothing——"  She turned sharply; her comb caught in her hair
and she jerked it free. Perhaps that accounted for the sudden glint of
tears in her grey eyes.

Helen slipped her arm around her, but the girl’s rigid body did not
yield and she kept her head obstinately averted.

"Are you getting tired of your idiotic bargain with Oswald?" asked
Helen, gently.

"No, I am not!  _He_ never bothers me—never gets on my nerves—never is
unjust—unkind——"

"Who is?"

"I don’t know....  Men in general—annoy me—men in—general."

"None in particular?"

"No....  It isn’t very agreeable to know that one’s brother goes about
with a shameless dancer from the Follies."

"Are you sure he does?"

"Perfectly.  He gives her a party in his studio, too, sometimes."

"But there’s no harm in——"

"A party for _two_!  They drink—together."

"Oh."

"They drink and dance and eat, all by themselves! They take up the rugs
and turn on the music and—and I don’t know what they do!—I—d-don’t
know—I don’t—I don’t——!"

Her head fell into her hands; she stood rigid, her body shaken by
emotions too unhappy, too new, too vague for her youthful analysis.

"I—I can’t bear to think of him that way——" she stammered, "—he was so
straight and clean—so clean——"

"Some men drift a little—sometimes——"

"They say so....  I don’t know.  I am too miserable about him—too
unhappy——"

She choked back a sob, and the slender hands that covered her eyes
slowly clenched.

Helen looked at her in consternation.  Girls don’t usually betray so
much emotion over some casual irregularity of a brother.

Stephanie pressed her clenched hands mutely against her lids for a
while, then, her lips still quivering, she reached for her brush and
began to groom her splendid hair again.

And Helen, watching her without a word, thought to self:

"She behaves as though she were falling in love with him....  She’d
certainly better be careful.  The boy is already in love with her, no
matter how he acts.... If she isn’t very, very careful she’ll get into
trouble with him."

Aloud she said cheerfully:

"Steve, dear, I really think I’m clever enough to have taken the measure
of your very delightful brother.  And I honestly don’t believe it is in
him to play fast and loose with any woman ever born."

"He _is_ doing it!"

"With whom?"

"That—Dancing girl——"

"Nonsense!  If it’s an ephemeral romance, which I don’t believe, it’s a
gay and harmless one.  Don’t worry your pretty head about it, Steve."

After Stephanie was in bed she kissed her lightly, smiled reassuringly,
switched off the light and went to her own room, slowly.

Very gravely she braided her hair before the mirror, looking at her
pale, reflected face.

Yet, though pale, it was still a fresh, wholesome, beautiful face.  But
the brown eyes stared sadly at their twin brown images, and the girl
shook her head.

For the nearest that Helen Davis had ever come to falling in love was
when Cleland first walked into her studio.  She could have fallen in
love with him then—within the minute—out of a clear sky.  She realized
it after he had gone—not too deeply astonished—she, who had never before
been in love, recognized its possibility all in a moment.

But she had learned to hold herself in check since that first, abrupt
and clear-minded recognition of such a possibility.

Never by a word or glance had she ever betrayed herself; yet his very
nearness to her, at times, set her heart beating, set a faint thrill
stealing through her. Yet her eyes always met his pleasantly, frankly,
steadily; her hand lay calm and cool in his when she welcomed him or
bade him good-bye.  Always she schooled herself to withstand what
threatened her, gave it no food for reflection, no sustenance, no
status, no consideration.

Love came as no friend to her.  She soon realized that.  And she quietly
faced him and bade him keep his distance.

She looked at herself again in the glass.  Her brown eyes were very,
very serious.  Then the smile glimmered.

"Quand même," she murmured gaily, and switched off the light.



                             *CHAPTER XXIV*


It was a warm day in early June and Cleland, working in trousers and
undershirt, and driven by thirst to his tin ice-box, discovered it to be
empty.

"Confound it," he muttered, and rang up Stephanie’s studio.  A maid
answered, saying that Miss Quest had gone motoring and Miss Davis had
not yet returned from shopping.

"I want to borrow a lump of ice," explained Cleland. "I’ll come down for
it."

So he concealed his lack of apparel under a gay silk dressing gown,
picked up a pan, and went down, not expecting to encounter anybody.

In the kitchenette, in the rear, the obliging maid gave him a lump of
ice.  Carrying it in one hand, aloft, as an expert waiter carries a
towering tray of dishes, and whistling a gay air with great content—for
his work upstairs had gone very well that morning—he sauntered out of
the culinary regions, along the alley-like passageway, into the studio.

And as he started for the door which he had left ajar, a figure opened
it from without and entered hurriedly—a scared, breathless little
figure, bare-footed, swathed in a kimono and a shock of hair.

They stared at each other, astonished.  Both blushed furiously.

"I simply can’t help it," said the girl.  "I was sitting on that horse
waiting for Miss Davis, when a bee or a horsefly or something stung him
and he began to rear and kick all around the court, and I slid off him
and ran."

They both laughed.  Cleland, clutching his pan of ice, said:

"I seem doomed to run into you when I shouldn’t. I’m terribly sorry."

She blushed again and carefully swathed her waist in the obi.

"You didn’t mean to," she said.  "It was rather startling, though."

"It was, indeed.  And now we’re having another unconventional party.
Shall I leave this ice here and go out and quiet the nag?"

"He’ll surely kick you."

"I’ll take a chance——"  He set the pan of ice on a table, girded up his
dressing-gown, and went out into the court.  The horse stood quietly
enough now.  But Cleland soon discovered a green-eyed horsefly squatting
on the wall and rubbing its forelegs together in devilish exultation.

"I’ll fix you," he muttered, picking up a lump of wet clay and
approaching with infinite caution.  He was a good shot; he buried the
bloodthirsty little demon under a spatter of clay.  Then he went back
for his ice.

"The deed is done," he said cheerily.  "It was a horsefly, as you
said....  Good-bye....  When are we going to have another dance?"

"We’d better not," she said smilingly.  She had seated herself on the
sofa and had drawn her pretty, bare feet up under her kimono.

"You won’t let me give another party for you?" he inquired.

"I ought not to."

"But _will_ you?"

"I don’t know.  This kimono party we’re having now seems sufficient for
the present; and I think you’d better go."

"Anyway," he said, "when a desire for innocent revelling seizes you, you
know where to go."

"Yes, thank you."

They laughed at each other.

"Good-bye, pretty stranger," he said.

"Good-bye, you nice boy!"

So he went away upstairs with his ice, and she stole out presently and
ventured into the courtyard where the placid white horse stood as calmly
as a cow.

And Stephanie, lying on her bed in her own room, twisted her body in
anguish and, hands clenched, buried her face in her arms.

Helen, returning an hour later, and glancing into Stephanie’s bed-room
as she passed, saw the girl lying there.

"I thought you were motoring!" she exclaimed.

"The car is laid up," said Stephanie, in a muffled voice.

"Oh.  Don’t you feel well, Steve?"

"N-not very."

"Can I do anything?  Wait a moment——"  She continued on to her bed-room,
unpinned her hat, drew on her working smock, and came slowly back,
buttoning it.

"What’s wrong, Steve?" she inquired.

"Nothing," said the girl, drearily.  "I’m just—tired."

"Why—you’ve been crying!" murmured Helen, bending over her.  "What is
making you so unhappy, Steve?  Don’t you wish to tell me?"

"N-no."

"Shall I sit here by you, dear?  I can work this afternoon——"

"No....  It’s nothing at all—truly it isn’t."

"Had you rather be alone?"

"Yes."

Helen went slowly away toward the court where her nag and its rider were
ready for her.  Stephanie lay motionless, dumb, wretched, her bosom
throbbing with emotions too powerful for her—yet too vague, too blind,
to enlighten her.

Unawakened to passion, ignorant of it, regardless and disdainful of what
she had never coped with, the mental and spiritual suffering was,
perhaps, the keener.

Humiliation and grief that she was no longer first and alone in
Cleland’s heart and mind had grown into a sorrow deeper than she knew,
deeper than she admitted to herself.  All the childish and pettier
emotions attended it, mocking her with her own frailty—ignoble jealousy,
hard resentment, the primitive sarcasm born of envy—the white flash of
hatred for those to whom this man turned for amusement—this man whom she
had adored from boyhood.

Why had he cast her out of the first place in his heart and mind?  He
had even told her that he was in love with her.  Why had he turned to
this shameless dancer?

And to what others did he also turn to find amusement when she did not
know where he was?

Had it been her fault?  No.  From the very first night that he had come
back to her—in the very face of her happiness to have him again—he had
shown her what kind of man he was—there at the Ball of All the Gods—with
that dreadful Goddess of Night.

She turned feverishly, tortured by her thoughts, but neither they nor
the hot pillow gave her any rest. They stung her like scorpions, setting
every nerve on edge with something—anger, perhaps—something unendurable
there in the silence of her room.

And at last she got up to make an end of it, once and for all.  But the
preparations took her some time—some cold water, brush and comb, and a
chamois rag.

Cleland, now dressed for luncheon, humming a comic song under his breath
and contentedly numbering his latest pencilled pages, heard the tap at
his open door, and looked up cheerfully, hoping for Marie Cliff, a
pre-prandial dance, and a pretty companion at luncheon. Tragedy entered,
wearing the mask of Stephanie Quest.

"Hello!" he cried gaily, jumping up and coming toward her.  "This is too
delightful.  Are you coming out to lunch with me, Steve?"

"Sit down a moment," she said.  But he continued to stand; and she came
over and stood beside his desk, resting one hand on it.

And, after a moment, lifting her grey eyes to his:

"I have borne a great deal from you.  But there is an insult which you
have offered me to-day that I shall not endure in silence."

"What insult?" he demanded, turning red.

"Making my studio a rendezvous for you and your—mistress!"

He knew what she meant instantly, and his wrath blazed:

"It was an accident.  I don’t know how you heard of it, but it was pure
accident.  Also, that is a rotten thing to say——"

"Is it!  You once told me that you prefer to call a spade a spade!  Oh,
Jim!—you were _clean_ once.  What have you done!"

"But it’s a lie—and an absurd one!"

"Do you think that of me, too—that I tell lies?"

"No.  But you evidently believe one."

"It is too obvious to doubt——"  Her throat was dry with the fierceness
of her emotions and she choked a moment.

"Who told you?"

"I was there."

"Where?"

"In my bed-room.  I had not gone out.  I heard the maid tell you I was
out motoring.  I meant to speak to you—but you have been so—so
unfriendly lately.... And then that woman came in!" ... Her grey eyes
fairly blazed.

"Why do you do this to me?" she cried, clenching both hands.  "It is
wicked!—unthinkable!  Why do you hold me in such contempt?"

Her fierce anger silenced him, and his silence lashed her until she lost
her head.

"Do you think you can offer me such an affront in my own studio because
I am really not your sister?—because your name is Cleland and mine is
not?—because I was only the wretched, starved, maltreated child of
drunken parents when your father picked me out of the gutter!  Is that
why you feel at liberty to affront me under my own roof—show your
contempt for me? _Is_ it?"

"Steve, you are mad!" he said.  He had turned very white.

"No," she said, "but I’m at the limit of endurance. I can’t stand it any
longer.  I shall go to-night to the man I married and live with him and
find a shelter there—find protection and—f-forgetfulness——"  Her voice
broke but her eyes were the more brilliant and dangerous for the
flashing tears:

"I know what you and my aunt talked over between you," she said.  "You
discussed the chances of my developing erratic, unscrupulous, morbid,
immoral traits! You were anxious for fear I had inherited them. Probably
now you think I have.  Think as you please——!" she flashed out through
her tears; "you have killed every bit of happiness in me.  Remember it
some day!"

She turned to go, and he sprang forward to detain her, but she twisted
herself out of his arms and reeled back against the desk.

Then he had her in his arms again, and she stared at his white, tense
face, all distorted by her blinding tears:

"I love you, Steve!  That’s all the answer I give you.  That’s my reply
to your folly.  I never loved anybody else; I never shall; I never can.
I am clean. I don’t know how it happens, but I _am_!  They lie who tell
you anything else.  I’m like my father; I care for only one woman.  I’m
incapable of caring for any other.

"I don’t know what I’ve done to you to make you say such things and
think them.  I consider you as my own kin; I respect and love you like a
kinsman. But—God help me—I’ve gone further; I love you as a lover.  I
can’t tear you out of my heart; I’ve tried because I saw no hope that
you ever could fall in love with me—but I couldn’t do it—I couldn’t.

"If you go to the man you married I shall never love any other woman.
That is the truth, and I know it, now!"

Her body was still rigid in his arms; her tense hands lay flat on his
breast as though to repulse him.

But there was no strength in them and they had begun to tremble under
the hard beating of his heart.

Her mouth, too, was quivering; her tear-wet eyes looked mutely into his;
suddenly her body relaxed, yielded; and at his fierce embrace her hot
mouth melted against his.

"Steve," he stammered—"Steve—can you care for me—in my way——?"

Under the deep-fringed lids her grey eyes looked at him vaguely; her
lips were burning.

"Steve——" he whispered.

Her slowly lifted eyes alone responded.

"Can you love me?"

Her eyes closed again.  And after a long while her lips responded
delicately to his.

"Is it love, Steve?" he asked, trembling.

"I don’t know....  I’m so tired—confused——"

Her arms fell from his neck to his shoulders and she opened her eyes,
listlessly.

"I think it—must be," she said....  "I’m quite sure it is!"

"Love?"

"Yes."



                             *CHAPTER XXV*


Cleland, tremendously thrilled and excited by the first but faint
response to his ardour which he had ever obtained of Stephanie, but
uncertain, too, and almost incredulous as to its significance and
duration, retained sufficient common sense and self-control to restrain
him from pressing matters further. For Stephanie seemed so listless, so
confused, so apparently unable to comprehend herself and these new and
deep emotions which threatened her, that he forebore to seize what
seemed to be an undue advantage.

They parted very quietly at her studio door; she naïvely admitting
physical fatigue, headache, and a natural desire to be down in her
darkened room; he to return to his studio, too much upset to work or to
eat, later, when the dinner hour drew near.

However, he took his hat and stick and went down stairs.  When he rang
at her studio, Helen admitted him, saying that Stephanie was asleep in
her room and had not desired any dinner.  So they chatted for a while,
and then Cleland took his departure and walked slowly up the street
toward the Rochambeau.  And the first person he met on University Place
was Marie Cliff.

Perhaps it was the instinct to make amends to her for the unjust
inferences drawn to her discredit a few hours before—perhaps it was the
sheer excitement and suddenly renewed hope of Stephanie that incited
him. Anyway, his gay greeting and unfeigned cordiality stirred the
lonely girl to response, and when they had walked as far as the Beaux
Arts, they were quite in the mood to dine together.

She was grateful to be with an agreeable man whom she liked and whom she
could trust; his buoyant spirits and happy excitement were grateful for
somebody on whom they could be vented.

In that perfumed tumult of music, wine, and dancing they seated
themselves, greeted cordially by Louis, the courtly and incomparable;
and they dined together luxuriously, sometimes rising to dance between
courses, sometimes joining laughingly in a gay chorus sustained by the
orchestra, sometimes, with elbows on the cloth and heads together,
chattering happily of nothing in particular.

Men here and there bowed to her and to him; some women recognized and
greeted them; but they were having much too good and too irresponsible a
time together to join others or to invite approaches.

It was all quite harmless—a few moments’ pleasure without other
significance than that the episode had been born of a young man’s high
spirits and a young girl’s natural relief when her solitude was made gay
for her without reproach.

It was about eleven o’clock; Marie, wishing to be fresh for her posing
in the morning, reminded him with frank regret that she ought to go.

"I wouldn’t care," she said, "except that since I’ve left the Follies I
have to depend on what I earn at Miss Davis’s studio.  So you don’t
mind, do you, Mr. Cleland?"

"No, of course not.  It’s been fine, hasn’t it?"

"Yes.  I’ve had such a good time!—and you are the nicest of men——"

Her voice halted; Cleland, watching her with smiling eyes, saw a sudden
alteration of her pretty features. Then he turned to follow her fixed
gaze.

"Hello," he said, "there’s Harry Belter.  Are you looking at _him_?"

Her face had grown very sober; she withdrew her gaze with a little shrug
of indifference, now.

"Yes, I was looking at him," she said quietly.

"I didn’t know you knew him."

"Didn’t you? ... Yes, I used to know him."

He laughed:

"The recollection doesn’t appear to be very pleasant."

"No."

"Too bad.  I like Belter.  He and I were at school together.  He’s
enormously clever."

She remained silent.

"He really is.  And he is an awfully good fellow at heart—a little
pronounced, a trifle tumultuous sometimes, but——"

She said, evenly:

"I know him better than you do, Mr. Cleland."

"Really!"

"Yes....  I married him."

Cleland was thunderstruck.

"I was only seventeen," she said calmly.  "I was on the stage at the
time."

"Good Lord!" he murmured, astounded.

"He never spoke of it to you?"

"Never!  I never dreamed——"

"_I_ did.  I dreamed."  She shrugged her shoulders again, lightly.
"But—I awoke very soon.  My dream had ended."

"What on earth was the matter?"

"I am afraid you had better ask him," she replied gravely.

"I beg your pardon; I shouldn’t have asked that question at all!"

"I didn’t mind....  It is my tragedy—still.  But let a man interpret it
to men.  A woman would not be understood."

"Are you—divorced?"

"No."

Cleland, still deeply astonished, looked across the room at Belter.
That young man, very red, sat listening to Badger Spink’s interminable
chatter—pretending to listen; but his disturbed gaze was turned from
time to time on Marie Cliff; and became hideously stony when it shifted
to Cleland at moments without a sign of recognition.

"Shall we go?" asked the girl in a low voice.

They rose.  A similar impulse seemed to seize Belter, and he got up
almost blindly and strode across the floor.

Cleland, suddenly confronted at the door of the cloak-room, from which
Marie was just emerging, said:

"Hello, Harry," in a rather embarrassed manner.

"Go to hell," replied the latter in a low voice of concentrated fury,
and turned on his wife.

"Marie," he said unsteadily, "may I speak to you?"

"Certainly, but not now," replied the girl, who had turned white as a
sheet.

Cleland touched the man’s arm which was trembling:

"Better not interfere," he said pleasantly.  "The disgrace of a row will
be yours, not your wife’s."

"What are _you_ doing with my wife!" whispered Belter, his voice shaking
with rage.

"I’ll tell you, Harry.  I’m showing her all the respect and friendship
and sympathy that there is in me to to show to a charming, sincere young
girl.... You know the sort of man I am.  You ought to know your wife but
evidently you don’t.  Therefore, your question is superfluous."

Belter drew him abruptly back to the foot of the stairs:

"If you’re lying I’ll kill you," he said.  "Do you understand?"

"Yes.  And if you make any yellow scene here, Harry, after I’ve taken
your wife home, I’ll come back and settle you.  Do _you_ understand? ...
For God’s sake," he added coldly, "if you’ve got any breeding, show it
now!"

The tense silence between them lasted a full minute. Then, very slowly,
Belter turned toward the cloak-room where, just within the door, his
wife stood looking at him.

His sanguine features had lost all their colour in the greyish pallour
that suddenly aged him.  He went toward her; she made the slightest
movement of recoil, but faced him calmly.

"I’m sorry," he said in a voice like a whisper.  "I am—the fool that
you—think me....  I’ll—take myself off."

He bowed to her pleasantly, turned and passed Cleland with his hat still
in his hand:

"I’m sorry, Jim; I know you’re all right; and I’m—all wrong ... all
wrong——"

"Come to the studio to-morrow.  Will you, Harry?" whispered Cleland.

But Belter shook his head, continuing on his way to the street.

"I’ll expect you," added Cleland.  "Come about noon!"

The other made no sign that he had heard.



                             *CHAPTER XXVI*


Stephanie was awake with the sparrows the next morning, and her face
betrayed not a trace of the pallour and fatigue which had made Helen a
little anxious when she came into the studio after her interview with
Cleland.

"I never had such a sleep in my life!" she announced, sauntering into
Helen’s room, already bathed and dressed, when at last she heard the
latter’s bath running.  "I feel about sixteen, Helen."

"You look it, dear.  What was the matter with you last night?  Jim came
about nine."

"Did he?" said the girl, turning to conceal a smile. "What did you do to
entertain him."

"Talked about you," said Helen, watching her where she stood at the
sunny window, absently pleating the sash curtains between idle fingers.

"Was he edified?"

"He seemed to be.  When I changed the subject he went away."

Stephanie, at the window, suddenly laughed outright, but her back
remained turned.

"Men are funny," she said.

"Women are funnier, Steve."

"What!  Are _you_ a traitor to your sex?"

"Sometimes," said Helen, absently.  "I feel that my sex betrays me—and a
few others of my own mind."

Stephanie turned and looked at her, still laughing:

"Like the Kiltie," she said, "you complain that the rest of the regiment
is marching out of step with you."

"There’s only a corporal’s guard of us in step to the music," smiled
Helen....  "You’re looking radiant, Steve!  I’ve never seen you as
enchanting."

"I feel like enchanting the world—like a sorceress all ready for
business....  This is a wonderful day, Helen."

"What are your engagements?"

"Two lessons this morning....  I don’t know whether I’ll go.  Luncheon
with Oswald at Tinto’s. But it’s so stuffy there in June, and the summer
garden is so grubby."

"You’re not going, then?"

"I don’t know.  I don’t want to hurt his feelings," said the girl,
reluctantly.

Helen sat up, flung off the bed clothes, and swung her superb young body
out of bed.

"My bath’s running over.  Sit there and talk, Steve——"

But Stephanie turned to the window, her lips still edged with the same
indefinable smile, and gazed at space through the netted squares of
sunshine.

Breakfast was served in the studio presently.  Helen joined her in
bathrobe and slippers, knotting the belt around her waist.

"I’m wonderfully hungry," exclaimed Stephanie.

"It’s more than you’ve been for several weeks, Steve."

Again the girl laughed, not meeting Helen’s glance.

"What do you think of marriage?" she inquired presently.  "I hope you
haven’t the very horrid ideas of Harry Belter."

"What are Harry’s ideas?"

"He says it’s the curse of civilization," said Stephanie, "and the
invention of meddlesome and superstitious imbeciles.  He says that the
impulse toward procreation is mechanical and involuntary, and ought to
be considered so without further personal responsibility; and that the
State should nourish and educate whatever children were worth saving to
replenish the waste, and put the others out of the way."

"Harry," remarked Helen, "talks for talking’s sake very often."

"He’s quite serious.  His ideas are revolting.  Never have I known a man
who is so savagely an iconoclast as Harry Belter."

Helen smiled.

"Harry is a talker, dear.  He doesn’t believe a word of it.  Harry
Belter is, by nature, a fat, happy, witty, clever and very sentimental
young man who also is so overwhelmingly selfish that anything which
happens to annoy him he considers a cataclysmic catastrophe involving
the entire civilized world in ruin!"

"What!"

"Do you wish to know what really is the matter with Harry Belter?  Shall
I tell you what actually has inspired this noisy iconoclast and moral
anarchist with the urge for talking?"

"I’d like to know."

"I’ll tell you.  Three years ago he married a child of seventeen and
started to mould her to suit himself. The only trouble was that she had
a mind.  She knew what she wanted to do and to be.  She could not
understand why this was incompatible with being his wife, especially as
he had won her by his loudly reiterated advocation of personal liberty
and the fundamental necessity for the development of individualism."

"How do you know this?"

"She told me."

"When?"

"Three years ago."

"Who is she, Helen?"

Helen answered pleasantly, looking into the curious grey eyes:

"Her name, on the stage, is Marie Cliff.  I have known her a long while
and I am very fond of her."

Stephanie, scarlet, winced under her faintly humourous smile.

"They are divorced, then," she managed to say.

"No."

"Why not?"

"She has never given him any cause," said Helen, slowly.  "No woman, of
her own knowledge, can truly say one word against her character; nor can
any man. She merely revolted at the tyranny he attempted, in the guise
of affection, of course.  She refused to be deprived of the liberty to
think and act as she chose. She rejected the worn-out conventions with
which he attempted to chain her—this apostle of personal freedom.  She
cared for her profession—he married her when she was on the stage—and
she resolutely insisted on her liberty to continue it.

"The result was a family smash—her return to the stage.  And since then
she has refused to accept a penny from him and has supported herself by
her profession, and, sometimes, by posing for artists.

"And that is the real story of Harry Belter and Marie Cliff.  So you can
believe as much as you choose of his views on matrimony."

After a flushed and painful silence, Stephanie said:

"Do you believe this to be true?"

"If one woman can judge and understand another, what I have told you is
true, Steve.  Long ago I won the child’s confidence.  She told me this
quite frankly, and in a manner which makes the truth of it
unmistakable....  We have become great friends, this little dancer and
I.  I don’t think I ever knew a simpler nature or a more transparently
honest one....  And that is why I was not worried at any little
ephemeral romance that might amuse the child with Jim Cleland.... I was
too certain of them—_both_," she added, looking calmly into the grey
eyes that winced again and fell under her serene gaze.

"I’m a rotten little beast," said Stephanie.

"You’re very feminine."

"Oh, Helen, I’m not.  I’m a rotter.  I didn’t know it was in me.  I
thought I was above such things——"

"Nobody is, Steve, until they make the effort.  High thinking requires
more than a natural generosity and sympathy—more than innate sentiment.
It is an attainment; and there is none without effort.  And effort
sometimes hurts."

"I want to speak to that girl when she comes in," said Stephanie.  "I
never have; I’ve never noticed her at all.  I shall ask her to tea."

Helen laughed:

"She’ll be here pretty soon.  Of course you’re not supposed to know
about Harry."

"Of course not.  But I’ll make amends for my incivility.  I _was_ a
beast!  But—it’s confusing—and hard for a girl to understand when a girl
like that is so unconventional with one’s—one’s——"

"Brother?" suggested Helen drily.

"Yes....  I’m terribly ashamed....  Does Jim know?"

"About Harry Belter?  No.  I don’t think anybody does."

"What a sham that man is!" exclaimed Stephanie hotly.

"No.  He’s a typical man, dear.  Some women yield, some resist; that’s
all.  And the man never has the slightest idea that he is tyrannizing.
If you tell him that he’ll be amazed and furious.  He’ll point out to
you all the love and affection and solicitude and money he’s lavished on
the object of his adoration; he’ll portray for you her obstinacy, her
coldness, her shocking ingratitude for benefits received.  He really
believes himself a martyr.

"Steve, man’s idea is still that to the victor belong the spoils.  We
are the spoils of the chase, dear.  His conventions were made to contain
us in a sort of game-preserve before capture; cage us after we are made
prisoner.  His laws fetter us; a misstep ruins us; irregularities never
impair him.  That is the ancient view; that, still, is the secret view
of man; that is his inborn conviction regarding us and himself....  And,
very slowly, we are beginning his education."

"I didn’t know you felt that way," said Stephanie.

"I do....  But if I were in love"—she laughed gaily—"I’d be inclined to
take my chances with this monster I have painted for you."

"You _do_ believe in marriage?"

"What else is there, dear?  Harry’s piffle means nothing except that a
plucky girl has begun his education, and it hurts.  I don’t know what
else there is to take the place of marriage.  It’s the parties to the
contract who don’t understand its essence."

"What would you suggest?" inquired Stephanie curiously.

"Education.  A girl should be brought up to master some trade or
profession.  She should support herself by it.  She should never go to
her husband empty-handed and unable to support herself.

"If, then, under the mutual marriage contract, her earning capacity be
necessarily checked by child-birth, and by the later and natural demands
of progeny, these alone should temporarily but only in part interrupt
her in the exercise of her trade or profession. And he should pay for
them.

"But she should have a life work to do; and so should he, no matter how
ample their means.  Domestic drudgery must be done by others hired for
the purpose, or else by themselves, sharing alike.  In no other way that
I see can marriage remain endurable."

After a silence Stephanie said naïvely:

"I haven’t any trade or profession."

"You are a graduate nurse."

"Oh.  I forgot.  That _is_ comforting!"

"Also you are already married."

The girl looked up in a startled way, as though hearing this information
for the first time.  Helen gazed gravely into the troubled grey eyes:

"Do you regret it, Steve?"

"I don’t know.  I haven’t had time to think about it."

"It’s high time, isn’t it?"

"Y-yes....  I’ve got to do a—a lot of thinking some day, I suppose."
She gazed absently into space for a few moments; then again the faintest
of smiles curved her lips and she bent her head and remained very still,
deep in reflection.

... "Did you wish to speak to Marie Cliff?" asked Helen, breaking the
prolonged silence.

The girl looked up, dim-eyed, confused:

"Yes."

"I think she just went into the court-yard."

Stephanie’s wool-gathering wits returned; she sprang up and walked
swiftly out to the court, where the white horse was just being led in
and the pretty dancer stood unpinning her hat.

She turned when Stephanie entered, and the girl went up to her,
smilingly, and offered her hand.

"Miss Davis will be here in a few moments," she said.  "I thought I’d
come and tell you."

"Thank you," said Marie Cliff, curiously.

"Also," said Stephanie, "I wanted to tell you how very lovely you are on
that horse.  I had a glimpse of you last week, and you were too
enchanting!  No wonder Helen’s study is so exquisite."

The little dancer flushed brightly.  Her gloved hand still lay
lifelessly in Stephanie’s, who had retained it; her childish eyes asked
for the reason of this kindness from a girl who had never noticed her.

Then, reading the unuttered question, Stephanie blushed too:

"I’m not much older than you are," she said, "and I’m not nearly as
sensible.  I’ve been rude enough to ignore you.  Could you forgive me
and be friends?"

"Yes," said Marie Cliff.

That was all the explanation offered or asked.

"Will you come to tea at five?"

"I should like to."

"I’d love to have you.  And if it doesn’t bore you, would you tell me
something about your very beautiful profession?  You see, stage dancing
fascinates me, and I’m taking lessons and I’ve an inclination to become
a professional."

"I’d love to talk about it with you!" said Marie Cliff impulsively.
"I’ll tell you everything I know about it.... And I do know a little,
because I have been on the stage since I was a child."

"You’re one now," said Stephanie, laughing, "—an adorable one!"  And she
bent and kissed the little dancer on the lips.

"I’m glad we’re friends," she said.  "Don’t forget five o’clock."

"N-no," said Marie Cliff unsteadily.



                            *CHAPTER XXVII*


At five o’clock that afternoon Cleland, working fiercely on his
manuscript toward a climax he had not planned for but which, suddenly
but logically developing, threatened with disaster his leading lady and
the young gentleman playing opposite, heard a step on the threshold of
his open door.

"Hello, Harry!" he said with a friendly but vague wave of his pencil—for
he had not stepped quite clear of the story in which he had been living
among people never born—"I’d rather given you up.  Come in and close the
door."

"I couldn’t keep away," said Belter hoarsely. He came in and closed the
door.  He looked even more grey and haggard than he had the night
before.

"I expected you this morning," said Cleland, stepping clear of his story
now, and looking very soberly at his old school-friend.

"I didn’t intend to come at all."  He seated himself in the chair
indicated.  "But I couldn’t keep away."

"You look about all in."

"I didn’t sleep."

Cleland got up, walked to the ice-box, knocked off a bit of ice with a
tack-hammer, and leisurely constructed a highball.

"Here you are, Harry.  I can’t; I’m working. There are cigars by your
elbow, cigarettes, too."

Belter looked vacantly at the iced bracer, then he dropped both elbows
on the edge of the desk and took, his drawn face between his hands.

Cleland began to pace the studio.  Presently he halted by Belter’s
chair.

"Hell," he said pleasantly, "cut out the tragedy! It’s good enough for
my novel, where the poor devils I write about have to do what I make
’em.  But you and I are free to do what we choose."

"Yes....  And I’ve done it....  I’ve done what I chose.  Where has it
landed me, Cleland?"

He looked at the frosty glass, pushed it away from him:

"That was a sorry spectacle I made of myself last night.  Can you beat
that for degradation—a man who has made a damnable failure of marriage,
skulking at his wife’s heels to snap and snarl at any decent man who is
civil to her?"

"Don’t talk so bitterly——"

"I’m indulging in a luxury, Cleland—the luxury of truth, of honesty, of
straight thinking....  I’ve been bragging about it, celebrating it,
extolling it for years. But I never did any until last night."

"You’re rubbing it in pretty hard, Harry.  A man is bound to make
mistakes——"

"_I’m_ the mistake!  I realize it, now—as Verne realized it.  That’s why
he did what he did.  You don’t, if you _are_ right....  I never supposed
I could behave as rottenly as I did last night.  But it’s been a long
strain....  You heard that rotten outbreak of mine concerning women—the
night we heard what Verne had done?  Well, the strain was showing....
It broke me last night...."

He lifted his head and looked intently at Cleland:

"It was the shock of seeing her in a public place with another man.  I
had never seen her with any other man.  It’s nearly three years, now,
since I made a damned ass of myself, and she very quietly went her way
leaving me to go mine....  And in all that time, Cleland, there has not
been a breath of suspicion against her.  She has been in the lighter and
more frivolous shows almost continuously; but she has lived as straight
a life as any woman ever lived....  And I know it....  And I knew it—cur
that I was—when I spoke to her as I did, and turned on you like a
rotter——"

He extended his hand and took hold of the iced glass, but let it rest
there.

"I’ve lied and lied and lied," he said, "to myself about myself; to
others about my estimate of women.... I’m just a four-flusher, Cleland.
The best of ’em are better than our stars.  The remainder average as
well as we do....  Verne got what was coming to him.... And so have I,
Cleland—so have I——"

"Wait a moment——"

"Wait?"  Belter laughed mirthlessly.  "All right. I know how to wait.
Waiting is the best thing I do. I’ve waited for nearly three years
before I’ve told myself the truth.  I’ve told it now, to myself, and to
you....  But it’s too late to tell it to her."

"Do you think it is?"

Belter looked up in pallid surprise:

"Of course."

"I wonder," mused Cleland.

Belter’s sunken gaze had become remote and fixed again.  He said, half
to himself:

"I couldn’t let her alone.  I couldn’t learn to mind my own business.
I’d been bawling aloud my theories for years, Cleland, but I couldn’t
apply them to her or to myself.  I bragged about my mania for personal
liberty, for tolerance; I lauded the maxim of ’hands off.’  But I
couldn’t keep my meddling hands off her; I couldn’t understand that she
had the right to personal liberty—freedom in the pursuit of happiness.
No; I tried to head her off, check her, stampede her into the common
corral whither all men’s wives are supposed to be driven—tried to rope
her and throw her and blindfold, hobble and break her to suit myself....
And, Cleland, do you know what happened?  I found I had come upon a
character, a mind, a personality which would not endure the tyranny we
men call domestic affection....  That’s what I discovered.... And I did
not do the breaking.  No; she has accomplished that.  And—here I am, to
admit it to you.... And I think I’ll go, now——"

Cleland walked slowly to the door with him, one arm resting on his
shoulder:

"I wish you’d tell her what you’ve told me, Harry."

"It’s too late.  She wouldn’t care, now."

"Are you very sure?"

"Do you think a man can use a woman the way I have used her, and make
her care a straw about what I say to her now?"

Cleland said in a low voice:

"I can’t answer you.  I don’t understand women; I write about them....
I have troubles of my own, too.  So I can’t advise you, Harry....  Are
you still in love with her?"

He said in a dead voice:

"I’ve always been.  It’s done things to me.  I’ll die of it, one day.
But that’s no argument."

"I don’t know.  Tell her."

"It’s no argument," repeated Belter.  "It’s purely selfish.  That’s what
I am—purely selfish.  I’m thinking of myself.  I’m in love with her....
And she’s better off without me."

"All the same, I think I’d take a chance.  I think I’d tell her.  After
all, you owe her that much—whatever she may choose to do about it."

"She doesn’t care, now."

"Still, you owe it to her.  You’re not a welcher, you know."

They had reached the foot of the stairs.  Helen, coming out of the
enclosed court, met them face to face; and they exchanged amiabilities
there outside her studio door.

"Come in and have some tea," she said.  "Harry, you look ill.  Are you?
Anyway, a cup of tea won’t slay you in your tracks——" fitting her key to
the door all the while she was talking—"so come in like two polite young
men——"

The door swung open; they entered.

"Oho!" exclaimed Helen; "Steve must be here because the kettle-lamp is
lighted.  We’ll have something to nibble presently, I expect.  Find a
chair, Harry, and watch that kettle.  Jim, show him the cigarettes. I’m
going to take off this blouse and I’ll be back with Steve in a moment——"

She stopped short: Stephanie and Marie Cliff, coming from the
kitchenette, appeared at the further end of the studio, the former
bearing a big bowl of strawberries, the latter a tray of little cakes.

Stephanie greeted the newcomers with an airy wave of her hand; Marie
Cliff promptly lost her colour; but there was nothing to do except to
advance, which she continued doing, moving very close to Stephanie’s
elbow.

The situation was going to be as awkward as the people involved made it:
Cleland, secretly aghast, came forward to relieve Stephanie and Marie of
their burdens:

"If there isn’t enough food for a party, I’ll take Harry and go," he
said gaily.  "It isn’t done—this grasshopper-like invasion of your
natural resources."

"Piffle," said Helen, "there’s plenty."

Harry Belter, who had been standing in the middle of the floor as though
petrified, wrenched himself out of his trance and put his legs in
motion.  His face was very red: he greeted Stephanie elaborately but
mutely; he bowed mutely to his wife.

She had managed to recover her self-control: a deep flush invaded her
pallour.  Then, under the eyes of them all, very quietly she did a thing
which confirmed the admiration and respect of everybody there: she
extended her child-like hand to her husband, saying:

"It is nice to see you again, and I’m very sure that there is enough tea
for everybody."

Her hand lay in her husband’s for an appreciable moment; then he bent
over it, lower, to conceal the nervous working of his features—and
touched it with trembling lips—something he had never before done in all
his life—and passing, by the same token, out of the free and arid desert
of his folly, he rested, _sub jugum_, beside the still waters of eternal
truth.

Helen went on toward her room to shed her clay-stained smock; Stephanie
investigated the kettle which was approaching the boiling point, and
Cleland deposited the provender on a neighbouring table.

"Keep away from them," whispered Stephanie, close beside him—so close
that the fragrance of her hair and breath caressed his cheek.

"You darling," he motioned with his lips.

"Oh, dear!  Are we on _such_ a footing!" she asked, with a little
quick-drawn breath of smiling dismay.

"Why not?" he said under his breath.  "You’re awake, now."

"Am I?"

"Are you not, dearest?"

"I—had a wonderful sleep last night," she said perversely.  "I don’t
know whether I’m awake or not."

"Oh, Steve!——"

"I don’t, I tell you!——" keeping her gaze smilingly averted and very
busy with kettle and tea-caddy.... "Where have you been all day?"

"I came down, but you had fled to your lesson.  Then I had a date with
H. Belter, but he didn’t appear until nearly five.  It was a strenuous
interview."

She lifted her eyes to his, full of interested inquiry.

"Yes," he nodded; "he’s found out he’s an ass, and he’s in love with his
wife.  If she can stand for him now, after these three years, I think
he’ll make a better husband than the average."

"She’s a dear," murmured Stephanie.  "What a painful situation!—but
wasn’t she dignified and sweet? Oh, I do hope she cares enough for Harry
to give him another chance....  Are they amiable together over there?  I
don’t want to turn around."

He cautiously surveyed the scene out of a corner of his eye:

"She’s seated beside the piano.  It’s evident she hasn’t asked him to be
seated.  They are horribly serious.  He looks ten years older."

"We must let them alone.  Tea is ready, but I sha’n’t say so until they
move....  What was it you asked me, Jim?—whether I am awake? ... Do you
know that I believe I’m stirring in my slumbers because—because, now and
then—just for an instant—a stab of contrition goes through and through
me.  Do you know why?  I have a glimmering of guilty misgiving
concerning this painful throb of conscience——"

She looked about her, searching among the paraphernalia of the tea tray.
"Oh, the deuce!  I remember, now, that we’re out of lemons!  You have
some, haven’t you?"

"Yes, I’ll run up and——"

"I know where they are in your ice box.  I’ll find them——"

"What nonsense!  Wait!——"

She had started already; but swiftly as her light feet sped he overtook
her on the stairs; gathered her into his arms, all pink and breathing
rapidly:

"Steve—my darling!——"

"I thought you might do this....  I wanted to see——"

"What?"

"Whether it could happen to me again—what I experienced with you——"

There was a silence: her young lips melted against his; lingered; her
arms tightened around his neck.  And the next instant she had freed
herself, hot-cheeked, disconcerted.

"Oh, it, was—quite true——" she stammered, resting against the banisters
with one hand pressed tightly over her heart.  "My curiosity is
satisfied.... _Please!_—Jim, dear—we ought to behave rationally—oughtn’t
we?"

But she did not resist when he framed her face between his hands; and
she suffered his lips again, and again her slight response and the grey
eyes vaguely regarding him shook his self-control.

"Will you try to love me, Steve?"

"I seem to be doing it."

"Is it really love, Steve?  Do you truly care for me?"

"Oh, dear, yes!" she said, with a quick-drawn breath which ended in a
quiet sigh, scarcely audible.  Then a faintly humorous smile dawned in
her eyes: "You’re changing, Jim.  You always were very wonderful to me,
but you also _were_ mortal.  Now, you’re changing; you are putting on a
glorious, iridescent immortality before my eyes.  I’m quite
bewildered—quite dazzled—and my mind isn’t very clear—especially when
you kiss me——"

"Are you making fun of me?"

"No, I’m not.  That’s the way with the gods when they start a love
affair with a mortal girl.  Sometimes she runs, but they always catch
her or turn her into a tree or a waterfall or something they can acquire
and fence in, and visit like a plot in a cemetery.  And if she doesn’t
run away, then she just falls into a silly trance with her Olympian
lover, and somebody comes along and raises the dickens with them
both....  And now I’d like to know what’s going to happen to me?"

"You’re going to try to fall in love with me first."

"Oh.  And then?"

"Marry me."

"Oh.  And what will old lady Civilization say?  I told you somebody
would raise the dickens!"

"Who cares?"

"I suppose I wouldn’t care if I loved you enough."

"Will you try?"

"Oh, dear." ... She freed herself gracefully, stepped back a stair
lower, and leaned on the rail, considering.

"Oh, dear," she repeated under her breath.  "What a tangle! ... I don’t
know why I’ve let myself—care for you—in your way.  I ought to stop it.
Could you stand it?" she added naïvely.  And the reply in his eyes
scared her.

"Oh, this is serious!" she murmured.  "We’ve gotten on much further than
I realized....  I remember, when you began to make love to me, I thought
it very sweet and boyish of you—to fall in love with your own sister.
But I’ve begun to make love to you, now.... And I ought not to."

"Because you are married?" he asked under his breath.

"Oh, yes.  It won’t do for me to make advances to you."

"When have you made any advances?"

"I came out here.  I wanted you to—kiss me.  Oh, this isn’t going to do
at all.  I can see that, now!——"  She framed her face in her hands and
shook her head. "Jim—dearest, dearest of men—it won’t do.  I didn’t
realize that I was caring for you in this way.  Why," she added, her
grey eyes widening, "it is almost dangerous!"

"The thing to do," he said, reddening, "is to tell Oswald."

"I can’t tell him!"

"You’ve got to, if you fall in love with me."

"Oh, Jim, it would be too heartless!  You don’t know——"

"No, I don’t!" he exclaimed impatiently, "and I think it’s time I did!
You can’t be in love with two men at the same time."

She blushed furiously:

"I—he never even touched my fingers with his lips! And you—you take me
into your arms with no more hesitation than if I were a child....  I
believe I’ve behaved like one with you.  I’m old enough to be ashamed,
and I’m beginning to be."

"Is it because you’re married?"

"Yes, it is!  I can’t let myself go.  I can’t let myself care for—for
what you do—to me.  I came out here to give you the chance—ready to
learn something—desiring to.  I mustn’t take any more lessons—from you."

He said:

"I am going to tell Oswald that I care for you, Steve."

To his astonishment, tears flashed in the grey eyes:

"If you do," she said, "it will be like killing something that makes no
resistance.  It—it’s too cruel—like murder.  I—I couldn’t bring
myself——"

"Why?  Did you marry him out of pity?"

She bit her lip and stood staring into vacancy, one hand tightening on
the stair-rail, the other worrying her lips.

"I tell you," she said slowly, her gaze still remote, "the only thing to
do is to do nothing....  Because I’m afraid....  I couldn’t bear it.
I’d have to think of it all my life and I—I simply couldn’t endure
it.... You mustn’t ask me any more."

"Very well," he said coldly.  "And I think we’d better go back to the
studio——"

As he passed her he paused, waiting for her to precede him.  She turned;
her hand fell from the banisters and hung beside her; but the slender
fingers groped for his, slipped among them, tightened, drawing him
partly toward her; and her left foot moved forward a trifle, blocking
his way and bringing them closely confronted.

"I—love you," she faltered.  "And I don’t know what to do about it."

Crushed into his embrace she did not seem to know any the more what she
was going to do about it.  Her flushed cheek lay hot against his; her
hands moved restlessly on his shoulders; she tried to think—strove to
consider, to see what it was that lay before her—what she had to do
about this matter of falling in love. But her fast beating heart told
her nothing; a listless happiness invaded her; mind and body yielded to
the lethargy; thought was an effort, and the burden lay with this
wonderful being who held her in his arms—who, once mortal—had assumed
the magic of immortality—this youthful god who was once a man—her lover.

"It’s got to come right somehow, my darling," he whispered.

"Yes—somehow."

"You’ll explain it some day—so that I shall understand how to make it
come right."

She did not answer, but her cheek pressed closer against his.


When they entered the studio Helen, seated by the tea table, rose with a
gesture of warning:

"That child is in my room and Harry is with her. They were standing
together over there by the piano when I came out of my room.  I saw at
once that she was on the verge of something—she tried to look at
me—tried to speak; and Harry didn’t even make the effort.  So I said,
quite casually, ’It _is_ frightfully close in the studio, Marie.  But
you’ll find it cool in my room.  Better lie down in there for a moment.’
... They’re in there.  I don’t know what I hope, exactly. She is such a
dear....  Where on earth have you two been?"

"On the stairs," said Stephanie.  "We started to get something—what was
it, Jim?  Oh, yes; there’s no lemon here——"

"Did you get any?"

"No; we just conversed."  She picked up a cake, nibbled it, selected a
strawberry and nibbled that, too.

The tea wasn’t fresh, but she sipped it, sitting there very silent and
preoccupied with now and then a slow side-glance at her lover, who was
attempting to make the conversation general.

Helen responded lightly, gaily, maintaining her part in a new and
ominous situation which had now become perfectly recognizable to her.

For these two people on either side of her had perfectly betrayed
themselves—this silent, flushed girl, still deep under the spell of the
master magic of the world—this too talkative, too plausible, too
absent-minded young man who ate whatever was handed to him, evidently
unaware that he was eating anything, and whose eyes continually reverted
to the girl.

The smile on Helen’s lips was a little fixed, perhaps, but it was
generous and sweet and untroubled.  A man sat at her elbow whom she
could care for, if she let herself go.  A girl sat on the other side who
was another man’s wife, and who was already in love with this man.  But
the deep anxiety in Helen’s heart was not visible in her smile.

"What about that very tragic pair in my room?" she asked at last.
"Shall we clear out and give them the whole place to settle it in?  It’s
getting worse than a problem play——"

She looked up; Oswald Grismer stood on the threshold of the open door.

"Come in!" she said gaily.  "I’ll give you tea in a few minutes."

Grismer came forward, saluted her with easy grace, greeted Stephanie
with that amiable ceremony which discloses closer intimacy, turned to
Cleland with that wistful cordiality which never seemed entirely
confident.

"Oswald," said Helen, "there’s a problem play being staged in my
bed-room."

"Marie Cliff and Harry Belter," explained Stephanie in a low voice.

Grismer was visibly astonished.

"That’s amusing," he said pleasantly.

"Isn’t it?" said Helen.  "I don’t know whether I’m pleased.  She’s such
a little brick!  And Harry has lived as he pleased....  Oh, Lord!  Men
_are_ queer. People sneer at a problem play, but everybody ever born is
cast for some typical problem-play part.  And sooner or later, well or
badly, they play it."

"Critics talk rot; why expect more of the public?" inquired Grismer.
"And isn’t it funny what a row they make about sex?  After all, that’s
what the world is composed of, two sexes, with a landscape or marine
background.  What else is there to write about, Cleland?"

The latter laughed:

"It merely remains a matter of good taste.  You sculptors have more
latitude than painters; painters more than we writers.  Pathology should
be used sparingly in fiction—all sciences, in fact.  Like a clove of
garlic applied to a salad bowl, a touch of science is sufficient to
flavour art; more than that makes it reek. Better cut out the art
altogether if the science fascinates you, and be the author of ’works’
instead of mere books."

Stephanie, watching Cleland while he was speaking, nodded:

"Yes," she said, "one could write fiction about a hospital nurse, but
not about nursing.  It wouldn’t have any value."

Grismer said:

"We’re really very limited in the world.  We have land and water, sun
and moon and stars, two sexes, love and hate to deal with.  Everything
else is merely a modification of these elemental fixtures....  It
becomes tiresome, sometimes."

"Oswald!  Don’t talk like a silly pessimist," said Stephanie sharply.

He laughed in his easy, attractive way and sat gently swinging one long
leg, which was crossed over the other.

He said:

"There is in every living and articulated thing a nerve which, if
destroyed, destroys for its possessor a certain area of interest in
life.  People become pessimists to that extent.

"But, where all the nerves converge to form the vital ganglion, a stroke
there means extermination."

"Apropos of what is this dissertation wished upon us?" asked Stephanie
with an uneasy smile.

"Did you ever see a paralyzed spider, Stephanie?—alive, breathing,
destined to live for weeks, perhaps, and anyway until the wasp’s egg
under it hatches and becomes a larva to devour it?

"Well, the old wasp required fresh meat for its young, so, with her
sting, she annihilated the nerve controlling motion, laid her egg,
certain that her progeny would find perfectly fresh food when born.  But
if she had thrust that sting of hers a little higher—at the juncture of
skull and thorax—death would have taken that spider like a stroke of
lightning."

He laughed:

"So I say it’s better to get the stroke of Fate in the neck than to get
it in any particular area and live for a while a paralyzed victim for
some creature ultimately to eat alive."

There was a silence.  Helen broke it with pleasant decision:

"This is _not_ an appetizing conversation.  If anybody wishes any the
tea is ready."

There was enough daylight left in the studio so the lamps remained
unlighted.

"Do you suppose we ought to go out somewhere?" asked Stephanie, "and
leave the place to those two poor things in there?  You know they may be
too unhappy or too embarrassed to come out and run the gauntlet."

But Stephanie was wrong; for, as she ended, Belter appeared at the end
of the studio in the fading light.  His young wife came slowly forward
beside him.  The strain, the tension, the effort, all were visible, but
the girl held herself erect and the man fairly so.

There was tea for them—no easier way to mitigate their ordeal.
Conversation became carelessly general; strawberries and little cakes
were tasted; a cigarette or two lighted.

Then, after a while there chanced to fall a silence; and the young wife
knew that the moment belonged to her.

"I think," she said in a distinct but still little voice, "that we ought
to go home.  If you are ready, Harry——"



                            *CHAPTER XXVIII*


By the end of the first week in June Cleland was in a highly excited
state of mind in regard to his infant novel, in which all the principals
were now on the edge of catastrophe.

"I don’t know how they got there," he said nervously to Badger Spink,
who had dropped in to suggest himself as illustrator in case any
magazine took the story for serial publication.

Spink’s clever, saturnine features remained noncommittal.  If Cleland
turned out to be a coming man, he wished to participate and benefit; if
he proved a failure he desired to remain pleasantly aloof.

For the only thing in the world that interested Badger Spink was his own
success in life; and he had a horror of contaminating it by any
professional association with mediocrity or failure.

"What’s your story about?" he inquired with that bluntness that usually
passed for the disinterested frankness of good comradeship.

"Oh, it’s about a writer of stories," said Cleland, vaguely.

"He’s the hero?"

"If you’d call him that.  What is a hero, Spink? I never saw one in real
life."

Spink squinted.  It was his way of grinning.

"Well, a literary hero," he said, "is one who puts it over big on his
first novel.  The country goes crazy about his book, the girls go crazy
over _him_, publishers go panting after him waving wads; editors flag
him with fluttering cheques.  That’s one sort of hero, Cleland.  But
he’s a myth.  The real thing is a Charlie Chaplin.  All the same, you’d
better let your hero make a hit with his novel.  If you don’t, good
night!"

Cleland’s features became troubled:

"I suppose _his_ book ought to make a hit to make _my_ book popular," he
said.  "But as a matter of fact it doesn’t.  I’m afraid the character
I’ve drawn is no hero.  He’s like us all, Spink; he writes a book;
friends flatter; critics slam; the public buys a number of copies, and
it’s all over in a few weeks.  A punk hero—what?"

"Very.  He won’t get over with the young person," said Spink.  "In these
days of the movie and the tango nobody becomes very much excited over
novels anyway; and if you don’t startle the country with your hero’s
first novel—make it the sort that publishers advertise as ’compelling’
and ’a new force in literature’—well, you’ll get the hook, I’m afraid.
Listen to me: work in the ’urge’; make it plain that there’s not a trace
of ’sex’ in your hero’s book or in yours—or any ’problem’ either.
Cheeriness does it!  That intellectual eunuch, the ’Plain Peepul,’ is
squatting astride of the winged broncho.  His range reaches from the
Western plains to the New England kitchen.  The odours of the hired man
and of domestic dishwater are his favourite perfume; his heroines smirk
when Fate jumps upon them with hobnailed boots; his heroes are shaven as
blue as any metropolitan waiter and they all are bursting out of their
blue flannel shirts with muscular development and abdominal prosperity.
That’s the sort, Cleland, if you want to make money!"  He shrugged his
shoulders.  "But of course if you don’t, well, then, go on and transmute
leaden truth with your imagination into the truer metal wrought by art.
If there’s a story in it, people will excuse the technical excellence;
if there isn’t, they won’t read it.  And there you are."

They remained silent for a while, and Spink regarded him shrewdly from
moment to moment out of his bright, bold eyes.  And he came pretty close
to the conclusion that he was wasting time.

"Did you ever make any success with your stuff!" he inquired abruptly.

Cleland shook his head.

"Never heard anything from anything you’ve done?"

"Once," said Cleland, "a woman wrote me from a hospital that she had
read a novel I published in England, when I was living in France....
She said it had made her forget pain....  It’s pleasant to get a letter
like that."

"Very," said Spink drily, "unless she meant your book was an anodyne."
He laughed his abrupt, harsh laugh and took himself off.

Belter, who haunted the studio now toward noon, so that he could take
his wife to luncheon, roared with laughter when Cleland mentioned
Spink’s visit.

"When there’s any rumour of a new man and a new book, Spink’s always
certain to appear out of a cloudless sky, like a buzzard investigating
smoke for possible pickings.  If you make good, he’ll stick to you like
a burdock burr.  If you don’t, he’s too busy to bother you.  So he’s
been around, has he?"

"Yes."

"Watch him, Cleland.  Spink is the harbinger of prosperity.  He
associates himself only with the famous and successful.  He is clever,
immensely industrious, many sided, diversely talented.  He can write,
rehearse and stage a play for the Ten Cent Club; he can draw acceptably
in any medium; he can write sparkling stuff; his executive ability is
enormous, his energy indefatigable.  But—that’s the man, Cleland. You’ll
have him at your elbow if you become famous; you’ll see only the back of
his bushy head if you fail."

Cleland smiled as he ran over the pile of pencilled pages on the desk
before him, pausing here and there to cross out, interline, punctuate.

"When Oswald Grismer was rich and promised so well as a sculptor," said
Belter, "Spink appeared as usual out of a clear sky, alighted, folded
his wings, and hopped gravely beside Grismer until the poor devil came
his cropper.

"Now, he’s always going somewhere in a hurry when he encounters Grismer,
but his ’How are you!  Glad to see you!’ en passant, is even more
cordially effusive than before.  For Badger Spink never wittingly makes
an enemy, either."

"Poor Spink.  He misses a lot," commented Cleland, renumbering some
loose pages.  "Tell me, Harry, how are things going with you?"

Belter said, naïvely:

"When a man’s quite crazy about his wife, everything else goes well."

Cleland laughed:

"That sounds convincing.  What a little brick she is!  I suppose you’re
lunching with her."

"Rather!"  He looked at his watch.  "God knows," he added, "I don’t want
to bore her, but it would take a machine gun to drive me away....  I
tell you, Cleland, three years of what I went through leave scars that
never entirely heal....  I don’t yet quite see how she could forgive
me."

"Has she?"

"I’m trying to understand that she has.  I _know_ she has, because she
says so.  But it’s hard to comprehend.... She’s a very, very wonderful
woman, Cleland."

"I can see that."

"And whatever she wishes, _I_ wish.  Whatever she desires to do is
absolutely all right because she desires it.  But, do you know, Cleland,
she’s sweet enough to ask my opinion?  Think of it!—think of her asking
my opinion!—willing to consider my wishes after what I’ve done to her!
I tell you no man can study faithfully enough, minutely enough, the
character of the girl he loves.  I’ve had my lesson—a terrible one.  I
told you once that it was killing me—would end me some day.  It would
have if she had not held out her hand to me....  It was the finest,
noblest thing any woman has ever done."

All fat men are prone to nervous emotion; Belter got up briskly, but his
features were working, and he merely waved his hand in adieu and
galloped off down stairs to be in time to join his wife when she emerged
from her seance with the white circus horse in Helen’s outer workshop.

Cleland, still lingering with fluttering solicitude over his manuscript,
heard a step on the stair and Stephanie’s fresh young voice in gay
derision:

"You’re like a fussy old hen, Jim!  Let that chick alone and take me
somewhere to lunch!  I’ve had a strenuous lesson and I’m starved——"

She dodged his demonstration, eluding him with swift grace, and put the
desk between them.

"No!  _No_!  I chanced, just now, to witness the meeting of the Belters,
and that glimpse of conjugal respectability has stiffened my moral
backbone.... Besides, I’m deeply worried about you, Jim."

"About me?"

"Certainly.  It fills me with anxiety that you should so far degrade
yourself as to attempt to kiss a respectable married woman——"

She dodged again, just in time, but he vaulted over the desk and she
found herself imprisoned in his arms.

"I’ll submit if you don’t rumple me," she said.  "I’ve such a darling
gown on—be very circumspect, Jim——"

She lifted her face and met his lips, retained them with a little sigh,
placing her gloved hands behind his head.  They became very still, very
serious; her grey eyes grew vague under his deep gaze which caressed
them; her arms drew his head closer to her face.  Then, very slowly,
their lips parted, and she laid her hand on his shoulder and drew his
arm around her waist.

In silence they paced the studio for a while, slowly, and in leisurely
step with each other deeply preoccupied.

"Steve," he said, "it’s the first week in June.  The city will be
intolerable in a fortnight.  Don’t you think that we ought to open
Runner’s Rest?"

"You are going up there with Oswald, aren’t you?" she asked, raising her
eyes.

"Yes, in a day or two.  Don’t you think we’d better try to get some
servants and open the house for the summer?"

She considered the matter:

"You know I’ve never been there since you went abroad, Jim.  I believe
we would find it delightful. Don’t you?"

"I do, indeed."

"But—is it going to be all right—just you and I alone there? ... You
know even when we considered each other as brother and sister there was
a serious question about our living together unless an older woman were
installed"—she laughed—"to keep us in order.  It was silly, then, but—I
don’t know whether it’s superfluous now."

"Would Helen come?"

"Like a shot!  Of _course_ that’s the solution.  We can have parties,
too....  I wonder what is going to happen to us."

"What!"

"To you and me, Jim....  It’s becoming such a custom—your arm around me
this way; and that secret and deliciously uneasy thrill I feel when I
come to you alone—and all my increasing load of guilt——"

"There’s only one end to it, Steve."

"Jim, I _can’t_ tell him.  I’m _afraid_! ... Something happened once....
I was scarcely eighteen——"  She suddenly clung to him, pressing her face
convulsively against his shoulder.  He could feel the shiver passing
over her.

"Tell me," he said.

"Not now....  There doesn’t seem to be any way of letting you
understand....  I was not yet eighteen. I never dreamed of—of
love—between you and me.... And Oswald fascinated me.  He does now.  He
always will.  There is something about him that draws me, influences me,
stirs me deeply—deeply——"

She turned, looked at him, flung one arm around his neck:

"Will you let me tell you this and still understand? It’s a—a different
kind of affection....  But it’s deep, powerful—there are bonds that hold
me—that I can’t break—dare not....  Always he was attractive to me—a
strange, sensitive, unhappy boy....  And then—something happened."

"Will you tell me what?"

"Oh, Jim, it involves a question of honour....  I can’t betray
confidence....  Let me tell you something. Did you know that Oswald,
ever since you and he were boys together, cared more for your good
opinion than for anything else in the world?"

"That’s strange."

"_He_ is strange.  He has told me that, as a boy, one of the things that
most deeply hurt him was that he was never invited to your house.  And I
can see that the fact that dad never took any notice of his father
mortified him bitterly."

"What has this to do with you and me, Steve?"

"A great deal, unhappily.  The seeds of tragedy lay in the boy’s soul of
Oswald Grismer—a tender sensitiveness almost girlish, which he concealed
by assertiveness and an apparent callous disregard of opinion; a pride
so deep that in the shock of injury it became morbid....  But, Jim, deep
in that unhappy boy’s soul lay also nobler qualities—blind loyalty, the
generosity that costs something—the tenderness that renounces....  Oh, I
know—I know.  I was only a girl and I didn’t understand.  I was
fascinated by the golden, graceful youth of him—thrilled by the deeper
glimpse of that mystery which attracts all women—the veiled unhappiness
of a man’s secret soul....  That drew me; the man, revealed, held me....
I have told you that I never dreamed there was any question about you.
I was obsessed, wrapped up in this man so admired, so talented, so
utterly misunderstood by all the world excepting me.  It almost
intoxicated me to know that I alone knew him—that I alone was qualified
to understand, sympathize, advise, encourage, rebuke this strange,
inexplicable golden figure about whom and whose rising talent the world
of art was gossiping and guessing all around me."

After a long silence he said:

"Is that all you have to tell me?"

"Nearly all....  His father died....  My aunt died.  These facts seem
unrelated.  But they were not....  And then—then—Oswald lost his
money.... Everything....  And I—married him....  There was more than I
have told you....  I think I may tell this—I had better tell you,
perhaps....  Did you ever know that my aunt employed lawyers to
investigate the matter concerning the money belonging to Chiltern
Grismer’s sister, who was my mother’s mother?"

"No."

"She did.  I have seen Mr. Grismer at the hospital once or twice.  He
came to see my aunt in regard to the investigation....  The last time he
came, my aunt was ill, threatened with pneumonia.  I saw him passing
through the grounds.  He looked frightfully haggard and ill.  He came
out of the infirmary where my aunt was, in about an hour, and walked
slowly down the gravel path as though he were in a daze....  He died
shortly afterward....  And then my aunt died.... And Oswald lost his
money....  And I—married him."

"Is that all you can tell me?"

After a silence she looked up, her lip quivering:

"All except this."  And she put her arms around his neck and dropped her
head on his breast.



                             *CHAPTER XXIX*


In reply to a letter of hers, Cleland wrote to Stephanie the middle of
June from Runner’s Rest in the Berkshires:


STEVE, DEAR:

The place is charming and everything is ready for you and Helen whenever
you care to come.  I had the caretaker’s wife and daughters here for
several days’ scrubbing and cleaning woodwork, windows and floors.
They’ve put a vacuum cleaner on everything else and the house shines!

As for the new servants, they seem the usual sort, unappreciative, sure
to quarrel among themselves, fairly efficient, incapable of gratitude,
and likely to leave you in the lurch if the whim seizes them.  They’ve
all come to me with complaints of various sorts.  The average servant
detests clean, fresh quarters in the country and bitterly misses the
smelly and oily animation of the metropolitan slums.

But this unpretentious old place is very beautiful, Steve. You haven’t
been here since you were a girl, and it will be a surprise to you to
find how really lovely are this plain old house and simple grounds.

Oswald has made several sketches of the grounds, and is making others
for the pool and fountain.  He is anything but melancholy; he strolls
about quite happily with the eternal cigarette in his mouth and an
enormous rose-scented white peony in his button-hole; and in the evening
he and I light a fire in the library—for the evenings are a trifle
chilly still—and we read or chat or discuss men and affairs most
companionably.  The occult charm in this man, of which you are so
conscious, I myself can perceive.  There seems to be, deep within him,
an inexplicable quality which appeals—something latent,
indefinable—something that you suspect to be wistful, yet which is too
sensitive, too self-distrustful to respond to the very sympathy it seems
to draw.

Steve, I have asked him to spend July with us.  He seemed quite
surprised and a little disconcerted by the invitation—just as he seemed
to be when I asked him to do the pool and fountain.

He said he would like to come if he could arrange it—whatever that may
mean.  So it was left that way.

Do you approve?

It will be wonderful to see you here, moving in the garden, standing out
yonder on the lawn!—Steve, herself, in her own actual and matchless
person!—Steve in the flesh, here under the green old trees of Runner’s
Rest.... Sometimes when I am thinking of you—and I think of practically
nothing else!—I seem to see you as you were when last here—a girl in
ribbons and white, dancing over the lawn with her chestnut hair flying;
or down by the river at the foot of the lawn, wading bare-legged,
fussing and poking about among the stones; or lying full-length on the
grass under the trees, reading "Quentin Durward"—do you remember?  And I
used to take you trout-fishing to that mysterious Dunbar Brook up in the
forest, where the rush of ice-cold waters and the spray clouding the
huge round bowlders always awed you and made you the slightest bit
uneasy.

And do you remember the brown pools behind those bowlders, where you
cautiously dropped your line; and the sudden scurry of a black shadow in
the pool—the swift tug, the jerk and spatter as you flung a speckled
trout skyward in mingled joy and consternation?

Runner’s Rest has not changed.  House and barns need paint; the garden
requires your soft white hands to caress it into charming discipline;
the house needs you; the lawns are empty without you; the noise of the
river rippling on the shoals sounds lonely.  The whole place needs you,
Steve, to make it logical.  And so do I.  Because all this has no
meaning unless the soul of it shows through.

When I am perplexed, restless, impatient, unhappy, I try to remember
that you have given me a bit of your heart; that you realize you have
mine entire—every atom of my love, my devotion....  There must be some
way for us.... I don’t know what way, because you have thought it
necessary to leave me blind.  But I shall never give you up—unless you
find that you care more for another man.

And now to answer what you have said concerning you and me.  I suppose I
ought to touch what is, theoretically, another man’s.  Yet, you do not
belong to him.  And you have begun to fall a little in love with me,
haven’t you?  And in this incomprehensible pact it was agreed that you
retain your liberty until you came to final decision within two years.

I don’t understand it; I can’t feel that, under the strange
circumstances, I am unfair to you or to this strange and unexplained
enigma named Oswald Grismer.

As for my attitude toward him, I hope I am free of the lesser jealousy
and resentments.  I will not allow myself to brood or cherish unworthy
malice.  I am trying to accept him, with all his evident and unusual
qualities, as a man I’ve got to fight and a man I can’t help liking when
I let myself judge him honestly.

As for the flimsy, eccentric, meaningless, yet legal tie which links you
to him, I care nothing about it.  It’s got to be broken ultimately—if
one can break a shadow without substance.

How to do it without your aid, without knowledge of the facts, without
causing you distress for some reason not explained, I don’t know.  But
sooner or later I shall have to know.  Because all this, if I brood on
it, seems a nightmare—an unreal dream where I struggle, fettered,
blindfolded, against the unseen and unknown, striving to win my way
through to you.

That is about all I have to say, Steve.


Oswald has just come in with his drawings, to find me writing to you.
He seems very cheerful.  His design is delightful and quite in keeping
with the simplicity of the place—just a big, circular pool made out of
native stone, and in the centre a jet around which three stone trout are
intertwined under a tumbling spray.

It is charming and will not clash at all with the long, low house with
its shutters and dormers and loop-holes, and the little stone forts
flanking it.

Telegraph me what day and what train.  And tell Helen you and she may
bring your maid-of-all-work.

JAMES CLELAND, in love with you.


There was no need of a fire in the library that evening at Runner’s
Rest.  The night was mild; a mist bordered the rushing river and stars
glimmered high above it.

Every great tree loomed huge and dark and still, the foliage piled up
fantastically against the sky-line. There was an odour of iris in the
night; and silence, save for the dull stamping of horses in the stable.

Cleland, deep in an arm-chair on the porch, became aware of Grismer’s
tall shape materializing from the fog about him.

"It’s a wonderful place, Cleland," he said with a graceful, inclusive
gesture.  "All this sweet, vague mystery—this delicate grey dark appeals
to me—satisfies, rests me....  As though this were the abode of the
Blessed Shades, and I were of them....  And the rest were ended."

He seated himself near the other and gazed toward the mist out of which
the river’s muffled roar came to them in ceaseless, ghostly melody.

"Charon waits at every river, they say," he remarked, lighting a
cigarette.  "I fancy he must employ a canoe down there."

"The Iroquois once did.  The war trail crossed there. When they burned
Old Deerfield they came this way."

"The name of your quaint and squatty old house is unusual," said
Grismer.

"Runner’s Rest?  Yes, in the Indian wars before the Revolution, the
Forest Runners could find food and shelter here.  The stone forts
defended it and it was never burned."

"You inherited it?"

"Yes.  It belonged to a Captain Cleland in those remote days."

There was a long silence.  The delicately fresh odour of grey iris
became more apparent—a perfume that, somehow, Cleland associated with
Stephanie.

Grismer said in a pleasant, listless voice:

"You are a happy man, Cleland."

"Y-yes."

"Here, under the foliage of your forefathers," mused Grismer aloud, "you
should rest contented that the honour of an honourable line lies secure
in your keeping."

Cleland laughed:

"I don’t know how honourable they were, but I’ve never heard of any
actual criminals among them."

"That’s a great deal."  He dropped one lean, well-shaped hand on the arm
of his chair.  The cigarette burned between his pendant fingers, spicing
the air with its aromatic scent.

"It’s a great deal to have a clean family record," he said again.  "It
is the greatest thing in the world—the most desirable....  The other
makes existence superfluous."

"You mean dishonour?"

"Yes.  The stain spreads.  You can’t stop it.  It taints the generations
that follow.  They can’t escape."

"That’s nonsense," said Cleland.  "Because a man had a crook for a
forebear he isn’t a crook himself."

"No.  But the stain is in his heart and brain."

"That’s morbid!"

"Maybe....  But, Cleland, there are people whose most intense desire is
to be respectable.  It is a ruling passion, inherent, unreasoning, vital
to their happiness and peace of mind.  Did you know that?"

"I suppose I can imagine such a person."

"Yes.  I suppose such a person is not normal.  In them, hurt pride is
more serious than a wound of the flesh.  And pride, mortally wounded,
means to them mental and finally physical death."

"Such a person is abnormal and predestined to unhappiness," said Cleland
impatiently.

"Predestined," repeated Grismer in his pleasant, even voice.  "Yes,
there’s something wrong with them. But they are born so.  Nobody knows
what a mental hell they endure.  Things that others would scarcely
notice they shrink from.  Their souls are raw, quivering things within
them that agonize over a careless slight, that wither under disapproval,
that become paralyzed under an affront.

"Their fiercest, deepest, most vital desire is to be welcomed, approved,
respected.  Without kindness they become deformed; and crippled pride
does strange, perverse things to their brain and tongue.

"There are such people, Cleland....  Predestined ... to suffering and to
annihilation.... Weaklings ... all heart and unprotected nerves ...
passing their brief lives in desperate and grotesque attempts to conceal
what they are....  Superfluous people, undesirable ... foredoomed."

He dropped his cigarette upon the drenched grass, whore it glimmered an
instant and went out.

"Cleland," he said in a singularly gentle voice, "I once told you that I
wished you well.  You did not understand.  Let me put it a little
plainer....  Is there anything I can do for you?  Is there anything I
can refrain from doing which might add to your contentment?"

"That’s an odd thing to ask," returned the other.

"No.  It is merely friendship speaking—a very deep friendship, if you
can understand it."

"You’re very kind, Grismer....  I don’t know quite how to take it—or how
to answer.  There is nothing that you can do for me—nothing one man
could ask of another——"

"Ask it, all the same."

"I can’t."

"Then I’ll offer it....  I give up—Stephanie—to you."

The silence lasted a long time.  Neither man stirred. Finally Cleland
said in an altered voice:

"I can’t ask it—unless she does, too.  I don’t know what to say to you,
Grismer, except that no man ever spoke more nobly——"

"_That_ is enough.  If you really think it, that means everything,
Cleland....  And this is my chance to tell you that when I—married her—I
never dreamed that it could ever be a question of you....  I don’t
believe she did, either....  But it has become so. That _is_ the
question, now....  And so I—step out."

"I—I tell you I can’t accept—that way—unless she asks it, too,"
stammered Cleland....  "After all, it’s got to be on a basis of her
happiness....  I am not _sure_ that her happiness lies in my keeping.  I
do not know how much she cares for you—how deeply you are engaged in her
heart....  I can’t find out....  I’m like a blind man involved in a
maze!"

"She cares for me," said Grismer in his low, pleasant voice.  "We have
been intimate in mind—close and responsive, intellectually....
Sentimentally, too. On her part a passionless loyalty to whatever in me
she believed appealed to her intelligence and imagination; an emotional
solicitude for what she discovered in me that aroused her sympathy——"

He turned and looked at Cleland in the darkness:

"Hers is a tender heart, Cleland.  Impulse carries it to extremes.
Injustice to another provokes quick action from her; and nothing so
sways her as her intense sense of gratitude, unless it be her fear of
wounding others.

"I shall have to tell you more, some day.  If I do, it will be more than
I would do for anybody else alive—the ultimate sacrifice of pride."

He rose and stood gazing out across the mist at a far star above it,
glimmering with dimmed brilliancy all alone.

"It couldn’t have been," he said, half to himself.  "I always knew it.
Not that the thought of you ever crossed my mind.  I knew it would come
somehow.  It simply couldn’t be."

He turned to Cleland with a sudden laugh that sounded light and natural:

"This is to be no tragedy.  It will disentangle itself easily and
simply.  I am very sure that she is in love with you.  Tell her what I
have said to you.... And—good night, old chap."



                             *CHAPTER XXX*


Stephanie and Helen arrived, bringing a mountain of baggage and the
studio cat—an animal evidently unacquainted with the larger freedom of
outdoors, and having no cosmic urge, for when deposited upon the lawn it
fled distracted, and remained all day upon a heap of coal in the cellar,
glaring immovably upon blandishment.

"Oh!" cried Stephanie, standing on the lawn and quite enchanted by the
old place.  "It is simply too lovely!  It’s like a charming doll’s
house—it’s so much smaller than I remember it!  Helen, did you ever see
such trees!  And isn’t the garden a dear!  Listen to the noise of the
river!  Did you ever hear anything as refreshing as that endless
rippling?  Where is Oswald, Jim?"

"He went back to town this morning."

"How mean of him!"

"I tried to keep him," said Cleland, "but he insisted that it was really
a matter of business.  And, of course, I had nothing more to say."

"Did he have a good time here?" asked Stephanie in a guileless voice.
But she looked sideways at him.

"I think so, Steve.  He seemed carefree and vastly contented to rove
over the place.  I planned to go with him after trout, but he preferred
to prowl about the lawn or smoke on the porch....  I am glad he came. I
have learned to like him very much."

"You’re a dear!" she murmured under her breath, her grey eyes fixed on
him and full of a gay tenderness tinged with humour.  "You always do the
right thing, Jim; you _are_ right, that’s the reason.  Do you wonder
that I’m quite mad about you?—I, who am all wrong."

"Who says you are all wrong?" he demanded, starting toward her.  But she
deftly avoided him, putting the sun dial between them.  And, leaning on
it with both elbows, her face framed in her hands, she let her eyes look
gay defiance into his.

"I’m all wrong," she said.  "You don’t know it, but I am."

"Do you want to be punished?"

She laughed tormentingly, feeling delightfully secure from his
demonstrations there on the sunny lawn, with Helen wandering about
inspecting the flowers in the garden, and the hired man unloading the
luggage at the side-door.

"Come on, Helen!" she called gaily.  "We can have a bath; there’s
plumbing in the house, you know. Where do you suppose that poor cat is
hidden?"

Helen came from the garden with a blue pansy between her lips, which she
presently drew through Cleland’s lapel.

"A bribe, dear friend.  I wish to go fishing," she said. "Stephanie has
been telling me about her girlhood days here with you, and how you took
her on several sacred occasions to a mysterious, dashing stream full of
huge bowlders—somewhere deep in the primeval woods——"

"The Dunbar brook, Jim," smiled Stephanie. "Shall we go fishing in the
morning?  I’m not going to spend all my time fussing with domestic
problems."

"The cares of housekeeping sit lightly on her," remarked Helen, as they
all strolled toward the porch. "What if the new servants are slack and
wasteful? Being a man you wouldn’t know; being Steve, she doesn’t worry.
I see that it’s going to devolve on me. Is it possible to run two baths
in this house at the same time?"

"Is it?" inquired Stephanie of Cleland.  "I forget."

"Yes," he replied, "if you don’t draw too much hot water."

"Take yours first, Helen," she said.  "I’ll sit in this cool library and
gossip with Jim for a while."

She unpinned her hat and flung it on a sofa, untied a large box of
bonbons, and careless of her charmingly disordered hair, vaulted to a
seat on the massive centre table—a favourite perch of hers when a young
girl.

Helen lingered to raid the bonbons; Cleland immediately began his pet
theme:

"Why do Americans eat candy?  Because the nation doesn’t know how to
cook!  The French don’t stuff themselves with candy.  There isn’t, in
Paris, a candy-shop to the linear mile!  That’s because French stomachs,
being properly fed with properly and deliciously cooked food, don’t
crave candy.  But in a country noted for its wretched and detestable
bread——"

"Oh, you always say that," remarked Stephanie. "Some day I’ll go over
and find out how much truth there is in your tirades.  Meanwhile, I
shall consume candy."

"When you go over," he said, "you’ll go with me."  His voice was low.
Helen had strolled into the "best room" and was standing there with a
bitter chocolate between her fingers, contemplating the old-time
furniture.

"When I go over to Paris," said Stephanie airily, "I shall invite whom I
choose."

"Who will it be?"

"Oh, some agreeable young man who isn’t too bossy," she returned airily.
"Somebody who doesn’t try to place me in a day nursery while he goes
about and has his fling.  But, of course, that doesn’t mean you. You’ve
had your fling, haven’t you?"

"Not too violently," he said.

"That is your story.  But I think I’ll investigate it when I go over,
and tell you what I’ve found out when I return."

Helen finished her chocolate and came back. "Where the dickens is that
unhappy cat, do you suppose?" she inquired.

"Oh, she’ll turn up at dinner-time," Cleland reassured her.  "Do you
know where your room is, Helen?"

"How should I?" returned that young lady, "—never having been in the
house before——"

"Dear, forgive me!" cried Stephanie, jumping from her perch and passing
one arm around Helen’s shoulders.

They went away together, the former waving a saucy adieu to Cleland
behind her back, without turning.  She did not return.

So he concluded to get himself into fresh flannels, the late afternoon
having grown very warm and promising a close and humid evening.

But when he descended again from his room, he found nobody except the
cat, who, sadly disfigured by coal-dust, advanced toward him with
amiable intention.

"Very fine, old girl," he said, "but you need a bath, too."  So he rang
and sent for some butter, dabbed a little on the cat’s nose; and in ten
seconds she had begun a thorough and minute toilet, greatly to Cleland’s
edification.

"Keep it up," he said, much interested, watching the pink tongue
travelling over the fur, and the velvet paw scrubbing away
industriously.  "Good old cat! Go to it!  Take the whole course—massage,
shampoo, manicure, whiskers ironed!  By Jove, you’re coming out brand
new!"

The cat paused to blink at him, sniff for a moment some faint perfume of
distant cooking, unnoticed by his less delicate nostrils, then she
settled down to the business in hand.  And when a cat does that she
feels that she is entirely at home.

Not until a maid announced dinner did the two girls appear, both arrayed
in that filmy and dainty flyaway apparel suitable only to youth and
freshness.

"We had naps," remarked Stephanie shamelessly, and with a slightly
malicious humour in her smile, for she knew that Cleland had expected
her to return for the ten-minutes’ gossip she had suggested.

He shrugged:

"You should see your cat!  She’s polished within an inch of her life——"

A loud mew by his chair announced the regenerated animal’s advent.

Stephanie fed it with odd morsels from time to time, and cautioned the
waitress to prepare a banquet for it after dinner.

It was still daylight when they strolled out into the garden.  The
tree-clad eastern ridge was all ruddy in the rays of a declining sun;
the river dull silver save in pools where pearl and pink tints tinged
the stiller water.  Birds were very noisy, robins gallantly attacking a
gay carol which they always found impossible to vary or bring to any
convincing musical conclusion; song sparrows sweetly monotonous; an
exquisite burst of melody from a rose-grosbeak high on a balsam-tip
above the stream; the rushing twitter of chimney swifts sweeping by,
mounting, fluttering, sheering through the sunset sky.

Helen, pausing by the sun-dial, read aloud what was chiselled there,
black with encrusted lichens.

"Who wrote this?" she asked curiously.

"Some bandit of the back-woods, some wilderness fur trader or ruthless
forest runner—with murder on his soul, perhaps.  I don’t remember now.
But my father made a note of the story."

She read the straggling lines again, slowly:

      "But for ye Sunne no one would heed Me—
    A senseless Stone;
      But for ye Sunne no one could rede Me
    Save God alone.
      I and my comrade Sunne, together,
    Print here ye hours
      In praise of Love and pleasant weather
    And Youth and flowers."


"How odd and quaint," she mused, "—and what straggling, primitive,
illiterate letters these are, chiselled here in this black basalt.
Fancy that gaunt, grim, buck-skinned runner emerging from the wilderness
into this solitary settlement, finding shelter and refreshment; and, in
his brief hour of rest and idleness, labouring to leave his record on
this old stone!"

"His was a poet’s soul," said Cleland, "—but he probably took an
Iroquois scalp when unobserved, and skinned living and dead impartially
in his fur transactions."

"Some degenerate son of honest English stock, I suppose," nodded Helen.
"Yet, he had the simplicity of the Cavalier verse-makers in his gracious
heart.... Well, for his sake——"

She laid a June rose on the weather-ravaged dial. "God rest him,
anyway!" she added lightly.  "There’s a devil in every one of us."

"Not in you, darling," cooed Stephanie, enlacing her waist.  "If there
ever was, he’s dead."

"I wonder." ... She glanced deliberately at Cleland, then smiled:

"There was a bully romance I read in extreme youth, in which an old
swashbuckler was always exclaiming: ’Courage!  The devil is dead!’  And
since I have realized that I, also, harboured a devil, the memory of
that cheery war-cry always puts me on my mettle to slay him....  It’s a
good fight, Jim," she added, serenely.  "But a really good fight is
never finished, you know.  And it’s better to end the story with, ’so
they lived to fight happily ever after,’ than to announce that the
problem is solved, the romance ended for eternity."

In the pink dusk she picked her way over the dewy grass toward the
porch, saying carelessly that her ancient bones resented dampness.

Stephanie, resting against the sun-dial, inhaled the sweetness of the
iris and spoke of it.

"The flowers are lilac-grey, like your eyes," he said. "The scent
expresses you to me—faintly sweet—a young, fresh, delicate
odour—_you_—in terms of perfume."

"_Such_ a poet! ... But you know one never should touch the petals of an
iris....  The indiscreet imprint remains."

"Have I left any imprint?"

"I should say you had!  Do you suppose my mind isn’t busy most of the
time remembering your—imprints?"

"Is it?"

"Does it comfort you to know it?  Nobody else ever pawed me."

"A nice way to put it!" he remarked.

She shrugged:

"I don’t know how it was I first permitted it—came to endure it——"  She
lifted her grey eyes deliberately, "—invited it ... because I came to
expect it—wish for it——"  She bit her lip and made a quick gesture with
clenched hand.  "Oh, Jim, I’m no good! Here I am married, and as
nonchalantly unfaithful to my vows as you care to make me——"

She turned abruptly and walked across the lawn toward the willows that
fringed the stream, moving leisurely, pensively, her hands linked behind
her back. He rejoined her at the willows and they slowly entered the
misty belt of trees together.

"If you knew," she said, "what a futile, irresolute, irresponsible
creature I am, you wouldn’t waste real love on me.  There’s nothing to
me except feminine restlessness, mental and physical, and it urges,
urges, urges me to wander frivolously in pursuit of God knows what—_I_
don’t!  But always my mind is a traveller impatient to go a-gypsying,
and my feet beat the devil’s tattoo——"

She sprang from the pebbles to a flat river stone projecting from the
shore and stood poised, looking out across the rushing water at the mist
curling there along the crests of little hurrying waves.  A firefly
drifted through it; above, unseen, night-hawks called persistently.  She
turned her head toward him expectantly.

There was room enough on the rock and he stepped to her side.

"I’m like that water," she said, "making a futile noise in the world,
dashing and rippling along without any plan of my own, any destination.
When I’m honest with myself, I know that it isn’t the intellectual
desire for self-expression that keeps me restless; it’s merely and
solely the instinct to ripple and bubble and dance and flow out under
the stars and sunsets and dawns—and go sparkling and swirling and
glimmering purposelessly away out into the world at random....  And
_that’s_ all there is to Stephanie Quest!—if you really desire to
know—you very romantic and foolish boy, who think yourself in love with
her!"

She looked up and laughed at his sober face.

"Dear novelist," she said, "it’s common realism, not romantic fiction,
that has _us_ in its clutches.  We’re caught by the commonplace.  If
life were only like one of your novels, with some definite beginning, an
artistic plot full of action running toward a properly planned
climax!—but it isn’t!  It begins in the middle and ends nowhere.  And
here’s another trouble with real life; there aren’t any villains.  And
that’s fatal to me as your heroine, Jim, for I can’t be one unless I’m
furnished with a foil."

"Steve," he said, "if you are not everything that my mind and heart
believe you to be, the time is past when it makes any difference to me
what you are."

She laughed:

"Oh, Jim, is it really as serious as that?  Can you stand for a
mindless, purposeless girl of unmoral and nomadic proclivities who
really hasn’t a single gift—no self to express, no creative or
interpretive talent—with nothing but an inordinate, unquiet curiosity to
find out everything there is to find out—a mental gypsy, lazy,
self-indulgent, pleasure-loving, irresponsible——"

He began to laugh:

"All that is covered by one word—’intelligent,’" he said.  "You’re just
human, with a healthy intellect and normal inclinations."

"Oh, dear, you’re so dreadfully wrong.  I’m a fraud—nice to look at and
to stroll with——"

She turned and stepped across to the pebbled shore. He followed.  She
bent her head and, not looking at him, drew his arm around her waist and
held it there with one hand across his.

"I’m desperately in love," she said, "but I’m a sham—agreeable to
caress, pliant, an apt pupil—pretty material for a sweetheart, Jim—but
for nothing more important." ... They walked slowly along the shore path
down stream under the silver willows, his arm enlacing her supple
figure, her slow, deliberate steps in rhythm with his.

After a while he said in a low voice:

"Dear, you and I have already come a long way on the blossoming path
together.  I believe it is written that we travel it together to the
end.  Don’t you want me _always_, Steve?"

"Yes," she sighed, pressing her hand over his at her waist.  "I do want
you, always....  But, Jim—I’m not what you think me.  I ran rather wild
while you were away.  Liberty went to my empty head.  I didn’t seem to
care what I did.  The very devils seemed to be in my heels and they
carried me everywhere at random——"

"Nonsense!"

"Oh, they did!  They landed me in a dreadful pickle. You know they did.
And now here I am, married, and falling more desperately in love every
minute with the other man.  _You_ can’t really love such a fool of a
girl!"

"It makes no difference," he said, "I can’t go on alone, now."

She pressed her cheek against his shoulder:

"You need not.  You can always have me when you wish."

"You mean—just this way?"

"Yes....  How else——"  She looked up at him; he suddenly stopped in the
path, her next step brought her around facing him, where she halted,
encircled by his arm.  After a moment’s silence, she rested her clasped
hands on his shoulder, looking very seriously into his eyes.

"How else?" she repeated in a half-whisper.

"Divorce."

"No, dear."

"Either that or—we can go away somewhere—together——"

The dryness of his throat checked him, and her clear eyes looked him
through and through.

"Either you or I," he said, "have got to tell Oswald how matters——"

"We can’t, Jim."

"Tell him," he continued, "that we are in love with each other and need
to marry——"

"Oh, Jim—my dear—dearest, I can’t do that!"

"It’s true, isn’t it?" he demanded.

She did not answer for a while.  Then she unclasped his hands, which had
been resting on his shoulder, and slipped one arm around his neck:

"Yes, it is true; I want to marry you.  But I can’t....  So—so won’t
this way do?" she said. "You can always have me this way."

He kissed her lifted lips.

"No, it won’t do, Steve.  I want all that you are, all that you have to
give the man you love and marry, all that the future holds of beauty and
of mystery for us both....  I want a home with you, Steve; I want every
minute of life with you, waking and sleeping.... I love you, Steve....
And because I do love you I dare tell you that I am falling in love with
our future, too—in love with the very thought of—your children,
Steve....  Dear, I think that I am like my father. I love only once.
And once in love, there is nothing else for me; no other woman, no
recompense if you fail me, no cure for me."

They both were deadly serious now; his face was quiet but set in firm
and sober lines; she had lost much of her colour, so that the grey eyes
with their dark lashes seemed unusually large.

"I _can’t_ marry you," she said, drawing his head nearer.  "Do you think
for one moment that I would deny you anything you asked of me if it were
in my power to give?"

"Will you not tell me why?"

"I’m not free to tell you....  Oh, Jim!  I adore you—I do love you so—so
deeply.  I’m married.  I’m sorry I’m married.  But I can’t help it—I
can’t get out of it—it scares me even to think of trying——"

"What hold has that man——"

"No hold.  There’s something else—something sad, terrible——"

"I’ll take you, anyway," he said in a low, tense voice. "He will have
his remedy."

"How, Jim?  Do you mean that you wish me to defy opinion with you?  You
wouldn’t let me do that, would you, dear?  I’d do it if you asked, but
you wouldn’t let me, would you?"

"No."  He had lost his head for a moment; that was all; and the ugly
threat had been wrenched out of him in the confusion of a tortured mind
struggling against it knew not what.

"Jim," she asked under her breath, "would you really _let_ me?"

"No," he said savagely.

"I knew you wouldn’t."

Her arm slipped from his neck and again she clasped both slender hands,
rested them on his shoulder, and laid her cheek against them.

"It wouldn’t help me out of this pickle if we misbehaved," she said
thoughtfully.  "It wouldn’t solve the problem....  I suppose you’ve
taken me seriously as an apostle of that new liberty which ignores
irregularities—doesn’t admit them to be irregular.  That’s why you said
what you did say, I fancy.  I’ve talked enough modern foolishness to
have you think me quite emancipated—quite indifferent to the old social
order, the old code of morals, the old dogmas, the ancient and orthodox
laws of community and individual conduct.... Haven’t you supposed me
quite capable of sauntering away unconventionally with the man I love,
after the ironical and casual spectacle of marriage which I have
afforded you?"

"I don’t know," he said bitterly.  "I don’t know what I have thought....
There will never be anybody except you.  If I lose you I lose the world.
But between you and me there is a deeper tie than anything less than
marriage could sanction.  We couldn’t ever do that, Steve—let the world
go hang while we gave it an extra kick for each other’s sakes."

"Because," she whispered, "dad’s roof was ours.  For his honour, if not
for our own, we could not affront the world, dear....  Not that I don’t
love you enough!" she added almost fiercely.  "I do love you enough!  I
don’t care whether you know it.  Nothing would matter—if there were no
other way—and if I were free to take the only way that offered.  Do you
suppose I’d hesitate if it lay between taking that way and losing you?"

She turned and began to pace the path excitedly, cheeks flushed and
hands clenching and unclenching.

"What do I care about myself!" she said.  She snapped her fingers: "I
don’t care _that_, Jim, when your happiness is at stake!  I’d go to you,
go with you, love you, face the world undaunted.  I care nothing about
myself.  I know myself!  What am I?  _You_ know!"

She came up close to him, her face afire, her grey eyes brilliant.

"You know what I am," she repeated.  "You and dad did everything to make
me like yourselves.  You took me out of the gutter——"

"Steve!"

"You took me out of the gutter!" she repeated excitedly. "You cleaned
the filth from me, gave me shelter, love;—you educated me, made me
possible, strove to eradicate the unworthy instincts and inclinations
which I might have inherited.  My aunt told me.  I know what dad did for
me!  Why shouldn’t I adore the memory of your father?  Why shouldn’t I
love his son? I do.  I always have.  I didn’t dream that you ever could
offer me a greater love.  But when I understood that it was true—when I
realized that it was really love, then I stepped into your arms because
you held them out to me—because you were your father’s son whom I had
loved passionately all my life in one way, and was willing to learn to
love in any way you asked of me—Jim!—my brother—my lover——"

She flung herself into his arms, choking, clinging to him, struggling to
control her voice:

"I am nothing—I am nothing," she sobbed passionately. "Why should not
all my gratitude and loyalty be for your father’s son?  What is so
terrible to me is that I can’t give myself!  That I can’t throw myself
at your feet for life.  To marry you would be too heavenly wonderful!
Or, to snap my fingers in the world’s face for your sake—dearest—that
would be so little to do for you—so easy.

"But I can’t.  Your father—dad—would know it. And then the world would
blame him for ever harbouring a gutter-waif——"

"Steve, dearest——"

"Oh, Jim," she stammered, "I haven’t even told you how those inherited
traits have raised the deuce with me.  I’ve got in me all the low
instincts, all the indolence, the selfish laziness, the haphazard,
irresponsible, devil-may-care traits of the man who was my own father!"

"Steve——!"

"Let me tell you!  I’ve got to tell you.  I can’t keep it any longer.
It was something in Oswald that appealed to that gypsy side of me—awoke
it, I think. The first time I ever saw him, as a boy, and under
disagreeable circumstances, I felt an odd inclination for him.  He was
_like_ me, and I sensed it!  I told you that once.  It’s true.
Something in him appealed to the vagabond recklessness and
irresponsibility latent in me—the tendency to wander, the indolent
desire to drift and explore pleasant places....  After you went abroad I
met him.  I wrote you about it.  I liked him.  He fascinated me.  There
was something in common—something common in common between us.... I went
to his studio, at first with Helen, and also when others were there.
Then I went alone.  I didn’t care, knowing there was really no harm in
going, and also being at the age when defiance of convention is more or
less attractive to every girl.

"He was fascinating.  He was plainly in love with me.  But that means
nothing to a girl except the subtle excitement and flattery of the fact.
But he was what I wanted—a fellow vagabond!

"Every time I came into town I went to his studio. My aunt had no idea
what I was up to.  And we did have such good times, Jim!—you see he was
successful then, and he had a wonderful studio—and a car—and we ran out
into the country and then returned to take tea in his studio....  And,
Jim, it was all right—but it was not good for me."

She clasped his arm with both of hers and rested her head on his
shoulder; and went on talking in a steadier and more subdued voice:

"I didn’t write you about it; I was very sure you wouldn’t approve.  And
my head was stuffed full of modernism and liberty and urge and the
necessity for self-expression.  I felt that I had a perfect right to
enjoy myself....  And then came trouble.  It always does....  Oswald’s
father, Chiltern Grismer, came to the hospital one day, terribly wrought
up and looking ghastly.

"My aunt had gone to New York to consult a specialist, but he asked for
me, and I came down to the private reception room.  I was a graduate
nurse then. Oh, Jim!—it was quite dreadful.  He seemed to be scared
until he saw that I was.  Then he was fearfully harsh with me.  He told
me that my aunt was about to begin suit against him to recover some
money—a great deal of money—which my aunt pretended I should have
inherited from my grandmother, Mr. Grismer’s sister.

"He said we were two adventuresses and that he would expose me and my
unhappy origin—all that horror of my childhood——"

A sob checked her; she rested in his arms, breathing fast and
irregularly; then, recovering self-control:

"I was bewildered.  I told him I didn’t want his money.  But there was
in his eyes a terror which I could see there even when he was upbraiding
and threatening me most violently.  I didn’t know what to do; I wanted
to go back to my ward, but he followed me and held the door closed, and
I had to listen to the terrible, shameful things he said about my
mother’s mother and my own mother and myself....  Well—just as he was
about to leave, my aunt entered....  I was in tears, and Mr. Grismer’s
face was all twisted and contorted with rage, as I thought; but it
remained so, white and distorted, as though something had broken and he
couldn’t recover the mobility of his features.  I heard what my aunt
said to him—I didn’t want to hear it.  I cried out, protesting that I
didn’t wish any of his money....  He went away with his face all
twisted...."

"What did your aunt say to him?"

"I can’t tell you, dear.  I am not at liberty to tell you....  And after
all, it doesn’t matter....  He died—suddenly—a week later....  My aunt
was ill at the time and I was with her....  A letter was handed to her
by an orderly.  It was from Mr. Grismer....  From a dead man!  What she
read in it seemed to be a terrific shock to her.  She was sick and weak,
but she got out of bed and telephoned to her attorneys in New York....
I was frightened.... It was a most dreadful night for us both.... And
... and my aunt died of it, I think—the shock and her illness
combined....  She died a week later....  I took our studio with
Helen....  I saw Oswald every day.  He had inherited a great deal of
money.  We went about....  And, Jim, the very devil was in me to roam
everywhere with him and see things and explore the part of the world we
could cover in his touring car.  All the gypsy instinct born in me, all
the tendency to irresponsible wandering and idle pleasure suddenly
seemed to develop and demand satisfaction....  Oswald was a dear.  He
was in love with me; I knew it.  He didn’t want to go on those escapades
with me; but I bullied him into it....  And it got to a point beyond all
bounds; the more recklessly we went about the keener my delight in
risking everything for the sake of unconventional amusement. Twice we
were caught out so far from New York that he had to drive all night to
get into town.  And then, what was to be expected happened: our car
broke down when it meant a night away from the studio with Oswald.  And
the very deuce was to pay, too, for in the Ten Eyck Hotel at Albany we
ran into friends—girls I knew in school and their parents—friends of
dad’s!

"Oh, Jim, I was panic-stricken.  We _had_ to stay there, too.  I—there
was nothing to do but present Oswald as my husband....  That was a
terrible night. We had two rooms and a connecting parlour.  We talked it
over; I cried most of the time.  Then I wrote out that cablegram to
you....  Oh, Jim, he is a dear. You don’t know him as I do.  He knew I
didn’t love him and he was in love with me....  Well, we had to do
something.

"He went out to the Fort Orange Club and got a man he knew.  Then, with
this man as witness, we told each other that we’d marry each other....
Then Oswald went away with his friend and I didn’t see him again until
next day, when he called for me with the car....  And that is all there
was of my marriage.... And now," she sobbed, "I’m in love with you and
I—I——"  She broke down hopelessly.  He drew her close to him, holding
her tightly.

"There is m-more," she faltered, "but I c-can’t tell it. It’s
c-confidential—a matter of honour.  I want to be what dad and you expect
of me.  I do want to be honourable.  That is why I can’t tell you
another person’s secret....  It would be dishonourable.  And even if I
told you, I’d be afraid to ask him for my freedom——"

"You mean he would not let you divorce him?"

"Oh, no, I _don’t_ mean that!  That is the terrible part of it!  He
would give me my freedom.  But I don’t want it—that way—not on the—not
on such terms——"

They walked slowly toward the house together, she leaning on him as
though very tired.  Ahead of them a few fireflies sparkled.  The rushing
roar of the river was in their ears all the way to the house.

Helen had retired, leaving a note for them on the library table:


Forgive me, but I’ve yawned my head off—not because you two lunatics are
out star-gazing, but because I’m in my right mind and healthily
fatigued.  Put the cat out before you lock up!

H.


Stephanie laughed, and they hunted up the cat, discovered her asleep in
the best room, and bore her out to the veranda.  Then Cleland locked up
while Stephanie waited for him.  Her tears had dried.  She was a trifle
pale and languid in her movements, but so lovely that Cleland, already
hopelessly in love with her, fell deeper as he looked at her in this
pale and unfamiliar phase.

Her grey eyes returned his adoration sweetly, pensively humourous:

"I’m in rags, emotionally," she said.  "This loving a young man is a
disturbing business to a girl who’s just learned how....  Are you coming
upstairs?"

"I suppose so."

"You’ll sleep, of course?"

"Probably not a wink, Steve."

"I wonder if I shall."

They ascended the old staircase together in silence. At her door she
held out her hand; he kissed it, released the fingers, but they closed
around his and she drew him to her.

"What _shall_ I do?" she said.  "Tell me?"

"I don’t know, dearest.  There seems to be nothing you can do for us."

She bent her head thoughtfully.

"Anything that dishonours me would dishonour you and dad, wouldn’t it,
Jim?"

"Yes."

She nodded.

"You understand, don’t you?  I count myself as nothing.  Only you count,
Jim.  But I can’t marry you.  And I can’t go to you otherwise without
betraying both dad and you.  It isn’t a question of my being married and
of loving you enough to disregard it.  I do.  But you and dad require
more than that of the girl you made one of your own race.  I am loyal to
what you both expect of me....  Good night, dear....  There doesn’t seem
to be any way I can make you happy.  The only way I can show my love and
gratitude to dad and you is to retain your respect ... by being
unkind—Jim—my dearest—dearest——"

She closed her eyes and gave him her lips, slipped swiftly out of his
arms and into her room.

"Oh, I’m desperately in love," she said, shaking her head at him as she
slowly closed the door.  "I’m going to get very, very little sleep, I
fear....  Jim?"

"Yes."

"You know," she said, "Helen is a charming, clever, talented, beautiful
girl.  If you are afraid my behaviour is going to make you unhappy——"

"Steve, are you crazy?"

"Couldn’t you fall in love with her?"

"Do you want me to try?"

There was a silence, then Stephanie shook her head and gently closed her
door.



                             *CHAPTER XXXI*


In July Stephanie asked Harry Belter and his wife to spend a week at
Runner’s Rest.  They arrived, the husband a vastly modified edition of
his former boisterous, careless, assertive self—a subdued young man now,
who haunted his wife with edifying assiduity, moving when she moved,
sitting when she sat, tagging faithfully at her dainty heels as though a
common mind originated their every inclination.

Philip Grayson, who had been asked with them, told Helen that the
Belters had bored him horribly on the journey up.

"You know," he said, "Harry Belter used to be at least amusing, and
Marie Cliff was certainly a sparkling companion.  But they seem to have
no conversation except for each other, no interests outside of each
other, and if a fellow ventures to make a remark they either don’t
listen or they politely make an effort to notice him."

"You can’t blame them," smiled Helen, "after three years of
estrangement, and in love with each other all the while."

She was seated under a tree on the edge of the woods, half way up the
western slope behind Runner’s Rest. Grayson lay among the ferns at her
feet.  The day had turned hot, but up there in the transparent green
shadows of the woods a slight breeze was stirring.

"Estranged all that time, and yet in love," repeated Helen,
sentimentally, spreading out a fern frond on her knees and smoothing it.
"Do you wonder that they lose no time together?"

Grayson, sprawling on his stomach, his handsome face framed in both
hands, emitted a scornful laugh.

"You’re very tender-hearted, theoretically," he said.

The girl looked up, smiled:

"Theoretically?" she inquired.  "What do you mean, Phil?"

"What I say.  Theoretically you are tender-hearted, sympathetic,
susceptible.  But practically——"  His short laugh was ironical.

"Practically—what?" demanded the girl, flushing.

"Practically, you’re just practical, Helen.  You’re nice to everybody,
impartially; you go about your sculpture with the cheerful certainty of
genius; nothing ever disconcerts you; you are always the cool, freshly
gowned, charmingly poised embodiment of everything lovely and
desirable—wonderful to look at, engaging and winsome to talk to—and—and
all marble inside!"

"Phil!  You unpleasant wretch!"

"Therefore," he said deliberately, "when you sentimentalize over the
Belters and how they loved each other madly for several years after
having bounced each other, your enthusiasm leaves me incredulous."

"The trouble with every man is this," she said; "any girl who doesn’t
fall in love with him is heartless—all marble inside—merely because she
doesn’t flop when he expects it.  He gives that girl no credit for warm
humanity unless she lavishes it on him.  If she doesn’t, she’s an
iceberg and he sticks that label on her for life."

Grayson sat up among the ferns and gathered his legs under him:

"It isn’t because you don’t care for me," he said, "but I tell you,
Helen, you’re too complete in yourself to fall in love."

"Self-satisfied?  Thanks!"  But she still did not believe he meant it.

"You are conscious of your self-sufficiency," he said coolly.  "You are
beautiful to look at, but your mind controls your heart; you do with
your heart what you choose to do."  He added, half to himself: "It would
be wonderful if you ever let it go.  But you’re far too practical and
complacent to do that."

"Let what go?"

"Your heart.  You really have one, you know."

The pink tint of rising indignation still lingered on her cheeks; she
looked at this presumptuous young man with speculative brown eyes,
realizing that for the first time in his three years’ sweet-tempered
courtship he had said something unpleasantly blunt and virile to
her—unacceptable because of the raw truth in it.

This was not like Phil Grayson—this sweet-tempered, gentle, good-looking
writer of a literature which might be included under the term of belles
lettres—this ornamental young fellow whose agreeable devotion she had
come to take for granted—whose rare poems pleased her critical taste and
flattered it when she saw them printed in the most exclusive of
periodicals and hailed effusively by the subtlest of critics.

"Phil," she said, her brown eyes resting on him with a curiosity not
free from irritation, "is this really what you think I am—after all
these years of friendship?"

"It really is, Helen."

Into her hurt face came the pink tint of wrath again; but she sat quite
still, her head lowered, pulling fronds from the fern on her lap.

"I’m sorry if you’re offended," he said cheerfully, and lighted a
cigarette.

Helen’s troubled face cooled; she tore tiny shreds of living green from
the fern; her remote eyes rested on him, on the blue hills across the
valley, on the river below them, sparkling under the July sun.

Down there, Marie Belter, with her red parasol, was sauntering across
the pasture, and Harry paddled faithfully beside her, fanning his
features with his straw hat.

"There goes Marie and Fido," said Grayson, laughing. "Good Lord!  After
all, it’s a dog’s life at any angle you care to view it."

"_What_ is a dog’s life?" inquired Helen crisply.

"Marriage, dear child."

"OK.  Do you view it that way?"

"I do....  But we dogs were invented for it.  After all, I suppose we
prefer to live our dogs’ lives to any other—we human Fidos——"

"Phil!  You never before gave me any reason to believe you a cynical
materialist.  And you have been very unjust and disagreeable to me.  Do
you know it?"

"I’m tired of running at your heels, I suppose.... A dog knows when he’s
welcome....  After a while the lack of mutual sympathy gets on his
nerves, and he strays by the roadside....  And sometimes, if lonely, the
owner of another pair of heels will look behind her and find him
paddling along....  That’s the life of the dog, Helen—with exceptions
like that cur of Bill Sykes.  But the great majority of pups won’t stay
where they’re lonely for such love as they offer.  For your dog must
have love....  The love of the human god he worships.  Or of some other
god."

He laughed lightly:

"And I, who worship a goddess for her divine genius and her loveliness—I
have trotted at her heels a long, long time, Helen, and I’m just
beginning to understand, in my dog’s heart, that my divinity does not
want me."

"I—I _do_ want you!"

"No, you don’t.  You haven’t enough emotion in you to want anybody.
You’re too complete, too self-satisfied, too intellectual, too clever to
understand a heart’s desire—the swift, unselfish, unfeigned,
uncalculated passion that makes us human.  There’s nothing to you but
intellect and beauty.  And I’m fed up!"

The girl rose, flushed and disconcerted by his brutality. Grayson got
up, bland, imperturbable, accepting her departure pleasantly.

She meant to go back all alone down the hillside; that was evident in
her manner, in her furious calmness, in her ignoring the tiny
handkerchief which he recovered from the moss and presented.

She was far too angry to speak.  He stood under the trees and watched
her as she descended the hillside toward the house, just visible below.

Down she went through the heated wild grass and ferns, stepping daintily
over gulleys, avoiding jutting rocks, down, ever down hill, receding
farther and farther from his view until, a long way below him, he saw
her halt, a tiny, distant figure shining white and motionless in the
sun.

He waited for her to move on again out of sight. She did not.

After a long while he saw her lift one arm and beckon him.

"Am I a Fido?" he asked himself.  "Damn it, I believe I am."  And he
started leisurely down hill.

When he joined her where she stood waiting, her brown eyes avoided his
glance and the colour in her cheeks grew brighter.

"If you believe," she said, "that my mind controls my heart, why don’t
you make it an intellectual argument with me?  Why not appeal to my
reason?  Because I—I am intelligent enough to be open to conviction—if
your logic proves sounder than—mine."

"I can’t make love to you logically.  Love doesn’t admit of it."

"Love _is_ logical—or it’s piffle!"

"I don’t know how to make intellectual love."

"You’d better learn."

"Could you give me a tip?" he asked timidly.

Then Helen threw back her pretty head and began to laugh with that
irresponsible, unfeigned, full-throated and human laughter that
characterized the primitive girl when her naïve sense of humour was
stirred to response by her lover of the cave.

For Helen had caught a glimpse of this modern young caveman’s
intellectual brutality and bad temper for the first time in her life,
and it was a vital revelation to the girl.

He had whacked her, verbally, violently, until, in her infuriated
astonishment, it was made plain to her that there was much more to him
than she had ever reckoned with.  He had hurt her pride, dreadfully, he
had banged her character about without mercy—handled her with a
disdainful vigour and virility that opened her complacent brown eyes to
a new vision and a new interpretation of man.

"Phil," she murmured, "do you realize that you were positively common in
what you said to me up on that hill?"

"I know I was."

"You told me——" a slight shudder passed over her and he felt it in the
shoulder that touched his—"you told me that you—you were ’fed up!’"

"I _was_!"

"And you, a poet—a man with an almost divine facility of language——"

"Sure," he said, grinning; "I’m artist enough to know the value of
vulgarity.  It gives a wonderful punch, Helen—once in a lifetime."

"Oh, Phil!  You horrify me.  I didn’t understand that you are just a
plain, every-day, bad-tempered, brutal, selfish and violent man——"

"Dearest, I am!  And thank God you are woman enough to stand for it....
Are you?"

They had reached the house and were standing on the porch now, her hands
restlessly twisting in his sun-browned grasp, her pretty head averted,
refusing to meet his eyes.

"Are you?" he repeated sternly.

"Am I, what?  Oh, Phil, you hurt me—my rings hurt——"

"Then don’t twist your fingers.  And answer me; are you woman enough to
stand for the sort of everyday human man that you say I am?  _Are_ you?"

She said something under her breath.

"Did you say yes?" he demanded.

She nodded, not looking at him.

Before he could kiss her she slid out of his grasp with a low
exclamation of warning, and, looking around, he beheld the Belters,
arm-in-arm, approaching across the lawn.

"Fido!" he muttered, "damn!"  And he followed his divinity into the
house.



                            *CHAPTER XXXII*


Helen kept her own council as long as the Belters remained at Runner’s
Rest, but as soon as they had departed she went to Stephanie’s room and
made a clean breast of it.

"What on earth do you suppose has happened to me, Steve?" she demanded,
standing by the day-bed on which Stephanie was stretched out reading a
novel and absorbing chocolates.

"What?" asked Stephanie, lifting her grey eyes.

"Well, there’s the very deuce to pay with Phil Grayson. He isn’t a bit
nice to me.  He isn’t like himself. He bullies me."

"Why do you let him?"

"I—don’t know.  I resent it.  He’s entirely too bossy. He’s taken
possession of me and he behaves abominably."

"Sentimentally?"

"Yes."

"But you don’t have to endure it!" exclaimed Stephanie, astonished.

"If I don’t submit," said Helen, "I shall lose him. He’ll go away.  He
says he will."

"Well, do you care what Phil Grayson does?" demanded Stephanie, amazed.

Then that intellectual, capable, intelligent and superbly healthy girl
flopped down on her knees by Stephanie’s day-bed and, laying her lovely
head on the pillow, began to whimper.

"I—I don’t know what’s the matter with me," she stammered, "but my mind
is full of that wretched man every minute of the day and half of the
night.  He is absolutely shameless; he makes love to me t-tyranically.
It’s impossible for a girl to keep her reserve—her d-dignity with a
m-man who takes her into his arms and k-kisses her whenever he
chooses——"

"What!" cried Stephanie, sitting bolt upright and staring at her friend.
"Do you mean to tell me that Phil is _that_ sort of man?"

"I didn’t think so, either," explained Helen.  "I’ve known him for ages.
He’s been so considerate and attentive and sweet to me—so gentle and
self-effacing. I thought I could c-count on him.  But a girl can’t tell
anything about a man—even when he’s been an old and trusted friend of
years."

"What are you going to do about it?" asked Stephanie, blankly.

"Do?  I suppose I’ll go on doing what he wishes.  I suppose I’ll marry
him.  It looks that way.  I don’t seem to have any will power....  It’s
such an odd sensation to be bullied."

"Are you in love with him?"

"I don’t know.  I suppose I am.  It makes me simply furious....  But I
guess I am, Steve....  If he’d behaved as agreeably and pleasantly as he
always had behaved I should never have cared for him except in a
friendly way.  He always has paid his courtship to me in the nicest
way....  It was quite ideal, not disturbing, and we exchanged
intellectual views quite happily and contentedly....  And then, suddenly
he—he flew into a most frightful temper and he told me that he was ’_fed
up_!’  My dear, can you imagine my rage and amazement? ... And then he
told me what he thought of me—oh, Steve!—the most horrid things ever
said about a girl he said to me!  I was breathless! I felt as though he
had beaten me and dragged me about by my hair....  And then—I don’t know
how it happened—but I w-waited for him, and we walked home together, and
I understood him to say that I’d got to love him if I were a human
girl....  And I am....  So—it’s that way now with us....  And when I
think about it I am still bewildered and furious with him....  But I
don’t dare let him go.... There _are_ other girls, you know."

Stephanie lay very still.  Helen rose presently, turned and walked
slowly to the door.  There she paused for a moment, then turned.  And
Stephanie saw in her brown eyes an expression entirely new to her.

"Helen!  You _are_ in love with him!" she said.

"I’m afraid I am....  Anyway, I shall not let him go until I am quite
certain....  It’s abominable that he should have made of me a thing with
which I never have had any patience—a girl whose heart has run away with
her senses.  And _that’s_ what he has done to me, I’m afraid."

Stephanie suddenly flushed:

"If he has," she said, "you ought to be glad!  You are free to marry him
if you love him, and you ought to thank God for the privilege."

"Yes.  But what is marriage going to do to my work?  I never meant to
marry.  I’ve been afraid to. What happens to a girl’s creative work if
her heart is full of something else—full of her lover—her
husband—children, perhaps—new duties, new cares! ... I didn’t _want_ to
love this man.  I loved my work.  It took all of me.  It’s the very
devil to have a thing like this happen.  It scares me.  I can’t think of
my work now.  It bores me to recollect it.  My mind and heart are full
of this man!—there’s no room in it for anything else....  What is this
going to do to my career? That’s what frightens me to think about....
And I can’t give up sculpture, and I _won’t_ give up Phil!  Oh, Steve,
it’s the very deuce of a mess—it really is.  And you lie there eating
chocolates and reading piffle, and you calmly tell me to thank God that
I am free to marry!"

Stephanie’s clear grey eyes regarded her:

"If you’re any good," she said, "your career will begin from the moment
you fell in love.  Love clears the mind wonderfully.  You learn a lot
about yourself when you fall in love....  I learned that I had no
talent, nothing to express.  That’s what love has done for me.  But you
will learn what genius really means."

Helen came slowly back to where the girl was lying.

"You _are_ in love, then," she said gently.  "I was afraid."

"I am afraid, too."

They looked at each other in silence.

"Do you ever mean to live with Oswald?" asked Helen.

"Not if I can avoid it."

"Can you not?"

"Yes, I can avoid it—unless the price of immunity is too heavy."

"I don’t understand."

"I know you don’t.  Neither does Jim.  It’s a rather ghastly situation."

"You are not at liberty to explain it, are you?"

"No."

Helen bent and laid her hand on Stephanie’s hair:

"I’m sorry.  I knew you were falling in love.  There seemed to be no
help for either of you."

"No, no help.  One can’t help one’s heart’s inclinations. The only thing
we can control is our behaviour."

"Steve, are you unhappy?"

"I’m beginning to be....  I didn’t think I would be—it’s so
wonderful....  But the seriousness of love reveals itself sooner or
later....  A girl begins to understand....  All we want is to give, if
we’re in love....  It’s tragic when we can’t."  She turned her face
abruptly and laid one arm across her eyes.

Helen sank to her knees again and laid her cool face against Stephanie’s
flushed cheek.

"Darling," she said, "there must be some way for you."

"No honourable way."

"But that marriage is a farce."

"Yes.  I made it so....  But Oswald cares for me."

"Still?"

"Yes....  He is a very wonderful, generous, unhappy man; proud, deeply
sensitive, tender-hearted, and loyal.  I can not sacrifice him.  He has
done too much for my sake....  And I promised——"

"What?"

"I promised him to give myself as long a time as he wished to learn
whether I could ever come to love him."

"Does he know you are in love?"

"No."

"What would he do if he knew?"

Stephanie began to tremble:

"I—don’t know," she stammered, "—he must never think that I am in love
with Jim.....  It would be—dreadful—terrible——"

She sat up, covering her face with both hands:

"Don’t ask me!  Don’t talk about it!  There are things I can’t tell
you—things I can’t do, no matter what happens to me—no matter whether I
am unhappy—whether Jim is——"

"Don’t cry, darling.  I didn’t mean to hurt you——"

"Oh, Helen!  Helen!  There’s something that happened which I can’t ever
forget.  It terrifies me. There’s no way out of this marriage for
me—there’s no way!  No way!" she repeated desolately....  "And I’m so
deeply in love—so deeply—deeply——"

She flung herself on her face and buried her head in her arms.

"Just let me alone," she sobbed.  "I can’t talk about it.  I—I’m glad
you’re happy, dear.  But please go out, now!"

Helen rose and stood for a moment looking down at the slender figure in
its jewelled kimono and its tumbled splendour of chestnut hair.  Then
she went out very quietly.

On the porch her audacious young man and Cleland were smoking and
consulting time-tables, and she gave the former a swift glance which
questioned his intentions.  He seemed to comprehend, for he said:

"It’s Jim.  He’s been talking to Oswald on the long distance wire, and
he’s going down to town to see the model that Oswald has made."

"Are _you_ going, too?" she asked.

"Not until you do," he said boldly.

Helen blushed furiously and glanced at Cleland, but he had not paid them
any attention, apparently, for he rose with an absent air and went into
the house.

"Steve!" he called from the foot of the stairs.  "I’m going to town
to-night, if you don’t mind."

There was no answer.  He ran lightly up the stairs and glanced through
her door, which was partly open. Then he went in.

She did not hear him, nor was she aware of his presence until she felt
his questioning hand on her tumbled hair.  Then she turned over, looked
up into his anxious face, stretched out her arms to him in a sudden
passion of loneliness and longing, and drew him convulsively to her
breast with a little sob of surrender.  And the next instant she had
slipped through his arms to the floor, sprung to her feet, and now stood
breathing fast and unevenly as he rose, half dazed, to confront her.

"Jim," she said unsteadily, "I had better go back. I’m losing my head
here with you—here under dad’s roof.  Do you hear what I say?  I can’t
trust myself. I can’t remain here and tear dad’s honour to shreds just
because I’ve gone mad about you....  I’m going back."

"Where?"

"To Oswald."

"What!"

"It’s the only safety for us.  There’s no use.  No hope, either.  And
it’s too dangerous—with no outlook, no possible chance that waiting may
help us.  There’s not a ghost of a chance that we ever can marry.  That
is the real peril for us....  So—I’ll play the game....  I’ll go to him
now—before it’s too late,—before you and I have made each other wretched
for life—and before I have something still worse on my conscience!"

"What?"

"My husband’s death!  He’ll kill himself if I let you take me away
somewhere."

After a silence he said in a low voice:

"Is _that_ what you have been afraid of?"

"Yes."

"You believe he will kill himself if you divorce him?"

"I—I am certain of it."

"Why are you certain?"

"I can’t tell you why."

He said coolly:

"Men don’t do that sort of thing as a rule.  Weak intellects seek that
refuge from trouble; but his is not a weak character."

"I won’t talk about it," she said.  "I’ve told you more than I ever
meant to.  Now you know where I stand, what I fear—his death!—if I
dishonour dad’s memory and go away with you.  And if I ask divorce, he
will give it to me—and then kill himself.  Do you think I could accept
even you on such terms as these?"

"No," he said.

He looked at her intently.  She stood there very white, now, her grey
eyes and the masses of chestnut hair accentuating her pallour.

"All right," he said, "I’ll take you to town."

"You need not."

"Won’t you let me?"

"Yes, if you wish....  When you go downstairs, tell them to send up my
trunks.  Tell one of the maids to come."

"You can’t go off this way, to-night.  You’ve two guests here," he said
in a dull voice.

"You will be here."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Oswald called me on the long distance wire an hour ago.  He has asked
me to go to town and look at the sketch he has made for the fountain.  I
said I’d go."

She dropped to the couch and sat there with grey eyes remote, her
shoulders, in their jewelled kimono, huddled under her heavy mass of
hair.

"Stay here for a while, anyway," he said.  "There’s no use taking such
action until you have thought it over.  And such action is not
necessary, Steve."

"It is."

"No.  There is a much simpler solution for us both. I shall go abroad."

"What!" she exclaimed sharply, lifting her head.

"Of course.  Why should you be driven into the arms of a husband you do
not love just because you are afraid of what you and I might do?  That
would be a senseless proceeding, Steve.  The thing to do is to rid
yourself of me and live your life as you choose."

She laid her head on her hands, pressing her forehead against her
clenched fingers.

"That’s the only thing to do, I guess," he said in his curiously
colourless voice.  "I came too late.  I’m paying for it.  I’ll go back
to Paris and stay for a while. Time does things to people."

She nodded her bowed head.

"Time," he said, "forges an armour on us all.... I’ll wait until mine is
well riveted before I return. You’re quite right, Steve....  You and I
can’t go on this way.  There would come a time when the intense strain
would break us both—break down our resolution and our sense of
honour—and we’d go away together—or make each other wretched here....
Because there’s no real happiness for you and me without honour, Steve.
Some people can do without it.  We can’t.

"We might come to think we could.  We might take the chance.  We might
repeat the stale old phrase and try to ’count the world well lost.’  But
there would be no happiness for you and me, Steve.  For, to people of
our race, happiness is composite.  Honesty is part of it; loyalty to
ideals is another; the world’s respect, the approval of our own hearts,
the recognition of our responsibility to the civilization that depends
on such as we—all these are part of the only kind of happiness that you
and I can understand and experience....  So we must give it up....  And
the best way is the way I offer....  Let me go out of your life for a
while....  Live your own life as you care to live it....  Time must do
whatever else is to be done."

The girl lifted her dishevelled head and looked at him.

"Are you going to-night?"

"Yes."

"You are not coming back?"

"No, dear."

She dropped her head again.

There was a train at four that afternoon.  He took a gay and casual
leave of Helen and Grayson, where he found them reading together in the
library.

"Will you be back to-morrow?" inquired the latter.

"I’m not sure.  I may be detained for some time," said Cleland
carelessly.  And went upstairs.

Stephanie, frightfully pale, came to her door.  Her hair was dressed and
she was gowned for the afternoon. She tried to speak but no sound came
from her colourless lips; and she laid her hands on his shoulders in
silence.  Their lips scarcely touched before they parted; but their eyes
clung desperately.

"Good-bye, dear."

"Good-bye," she whispered.

"You know I love you.  You know I shall never love another woman?"

"Try to—forget me, Jim."

"I can’t."

"I can’t forget you, either....  I’m sorry, dear. I wish you had me....
I’d give you anything, Jim—anything.  Don’t you know it?"

"Yes."

She laid her head on his breast, rested a moment, then lifted it, not
looking at him, and turned slowly back into her room.

It was dark when he arrived in New York.  The flaring streets of the
city seemed horrible to him.



                            *CHAPTER XXXIII*


Washington Square seemed to him a little cooler than the streets to the
northward; the white arch, the trees, the splash of water made a
difference.  But beyond, southward, narrow streets and lanes were heavy
with the close, hot odours of the slums—a sickening smell of over-ripe
fruit piled on push-carts, the reek of raw fish, of sour malt from
saloons—a subtler taint of opium from blind alleys where Chinese signs
hung from rusting iron balconies.

Through cracks between drawn curtains behind the window of Grismer’s
basement studio, light glimmered; and when Cleland pulled the bell-wire
in the area he could hear the crazy, cracked bell jangling inside.

Grismer came.

For a second he hesitated behind the iron area gate, then recognizing
her visitor opened for him.

They shook hands with a pleasant, commonplace word or two of civility,
and walked together through the dark, hot passageway into the lighted
basement.

"It’s devilish hot," said Grismer.  "There’s probably a storm brewing
over Staten Island."

He looked colourless and worn.  There was a dew of perspiration on his
forehead, which dampened the thick amber-gold hair.  He wore only a
gauze undershirt, trousers and slippers, under which his supple,
graceful figure was apparent.

"Grismer," said Cleland uneasily, "this cellar is hell in July.  Why
won’t you come up to Runner’s Rest for the hot period?  You can’t do
anything here.  You can’t stand it."

Grismer fished a siphon out of his ice-box and looked around with a
questioning smile.  "I’ve some orange juice.  Would you like some?"

Cleland nodded and walked over to a revolving table on which the wax
model of his fountain stood.  Grismer presently came up beside him with
both glasses, and he took his with an absent nod, but continued to
examine the model in silence.

"Probably you don’t care for it," suggested Grismer.

Cleland said slowly:

"You gave me a different idea.  I didn’t know you were going to do
anything like this."

"I’m afraid you are disappointed."

"No....  It’s beautiful, Grismer.  I hadn’t thought that a figure would
be possible, considering the character of the place and the very simple
and primitive surroundings.  But this is in perfect taste and amazingly
in accord with everything."

He looked at the slim, naked, sinuous figure—an Indian girl of fifteen
drinking out of cupped hands.  Wild strawberry vines in full fruit bound
her hair, which fell in two clubbed braids to her shoulders.  A narrow
breadth of faun-skin fell from a wampum girdle to her knees.  And, from
the thin metal forehead-fillet, the head of a snake reared, displaying
every fang.

"It’s the Lake-Serpent, isn’t it?—the young Oneida girl of the Iroquois
legend?" inquired Cleland.

Grismer nodded.

"That’s your country," he said.  "The Iroquois war-trail passed through
your valley and down the river to Charlemont and Old Deerfield.  I read
up on it. The story of the Lake-Serpent and the Eight Thunders
fascinated me.  I thought the thing might be done."

"You’ve done it.  It’s stunning."

"The water," explained Grismer, "flows out of her hollowed hands, out of
the serpent’s throat and down each braid of hair, dripping on her
shoulders.  Her entire body will appear to be all glimmering with a thin
skin of running water.  I shall use the ’serpent spot’ on her forehead
like a caste-mark, I think.  And what I want to get is an effect from a
fine cloud of spray which will steam up from the basin at her feet like
the ’cloud on the water’ which the legend speaks of.  I can get it by an
arrangement of very minute orifices through which spray will rush and
hang over the water in a sort of rainbow mist.  Do you think that would
be all right?"

"Of course.  It’s a masterpiece, Grismer," said the other quietly.

Into Grismer’s pale face a slow colour came and spread.

"That’s worth living for," he said.

"What?"

"I said that I’m glad I have lived to hear you speak that way of
anything I have done," said Grismer with a smile.

"I don’t understand why you should care about my opinion," returned
Cleland, turning an amused and questioning gaze on the sculptor.  "I’m
no critic, you know."

"I know," nodded Grismer, with his odd smile.  "But your approval means
more than any critic has to offer me....  There’s an arm-chair over
there, if you care to be seated."

Cleland took his glass of iced orange juice with him. Grismer set his on
the floor and dropped onto the ragged couch.

"Anybody can point it up now," he said.  "It ought to be cast in
silver-grey bronze, not burnished—a trifle over life-size."

"You must have worked like the devil to have finished this in such a
brief period."

"Oh, I work that way—when I do work....  I’ve been anxious—worried over
what you might think.... I’m satisfied now."

He filled and lighted his pipe, leaned back clasping his well-made arms
behind his head.

"Cleland," he said, "it’s a strange sensation to feel power within one’s
self—be conscious of it, certain of it, and deliberately choose not to
use it....  And the very liberty of choice is an added power."

Cleland looked up, perplexed.  Grismer smiled, and his smile seemed
singularly care-free and tranquil:

"Just think," he said, "what the gods _could_ have done if they had
taken the trouble to bestir themselves! What they did do makes volumes
of mythology: what they refrained from doing would continue in the
telling through all eternity.  What they did betrayed their power," he
added, with a whimsical gesture toward his fountain; "but what they
refrained from doing interests me, Cleland—fascinates me, arouses my
curiosity, my respect, my awe, and my gratitude that they were godlike
enough to disdain display—that they were decent enough to leave to the
world material to feed its imagination."

Cleland smiled sombrely at Grismer’s whimsical humour, but his features
settled again into grave, care-worn lines, and his absent gaze rested on
nothing.  And Grismer’s golden eyes studied him.

"It must be pleasant out there in the country," he said casually.

"It’s cool.  You must go there, Grismer.  This place is unendurable.  Do
go up while Phil Grayson is there."

"Is there anybody else?"

"Helen—and Stephanie," he said, using her name with an effort.  "The
Belters were there for a week. No doubt Stephanie will ask other people
during the summer."

"When do you go back?" asked Grismer quietly.

There was a short silence, then Cleland said in a voice of forced
frankness:

"I was about to tell you that I’m going over to Paris for a while.  You
know how it is—a man grows restless—wants to run over and take a look at
the place just to satisfy himself that it’s still there."  His strained
smile remained stamped on his face after his gaze shifted from Grismer’s
penetrating eyes—unsmiling, golden-deep eyes that seemed to have
perceived a rent in him, and were looking through the aperture into the
secret places of his mind.

"When are you going, Cleland?"

"Oh, I don’t know.  Some time this week, if I can get accommodations."

"You go alone?"

"Why—of course!"

"I thought perhaps you might feel that Stephanie ought to see Europe."

"I hadn’t—considered——"

He reddened, took a swallow of his orange juice, and, holding the glass,
turned his eyes on the wax model.

"How long will you be away?" asked Grismer in his still and singularly
agreeable voice.

There was another silence.  Then Cleland made a painful effort at
careless frankness once more:

"That reminds me, Grismer," he exclaimed.  "I can’t ever repay you for
that fountain, but I can do my damndest with a cheque-book and a
fountain pen.  I should feel most uncomfortable if I went away leaving
that obligation unsettled."

He drew out his cheque-book and fountain pen and smiled resolutely at
Grismer, whose dark golden eyes rested on him with an intentness that he
could scarcely endure.

"Would you let me give it to you, Cleland?"

"I can’t, Grismer....  It’s splendid of you."

"I shall not need the money," said Grismer, almost absently, and for an
instant his gaze grew vague and remote.  Then he turned his head again,
where it lay cradled on his clasped hands behind his neck: "You won’t
let me give it to you, I know.  And there’s no use telling you that I
shall not need the money.  You won’t believe me....  You won’t
understand how absolutely meaningless is money to me—just now.  Well,
then—write in what you care to offer."

"I can’t do that, Grismer."

The other smiled and, still smiling, named a figure. And Cleland wrote
it out, detached the cheque, started to rise, but Grismer told him to
lay it on the table beside his glass of orange juice.

"It’s a thing no man can pay for," said Cleland, looking at the model.

Grismer said quietly:

"The heart alone can pay for anything....  A gift without it is a cheque
unsigned....  Cleland, I’ve spoken to you twice since you have returned
from abroad—but you have not understood.  And there is much unsaid
between us.  It must be said some day....  There are questions you ought
to ask me. I’d see any other man in hell before I’d answer.  But I’ll
answer _you_!"

Cleland turned his eyes, heavy with care, on this man who was speaking.

Grismer said:

"There are three things in the world which I have desired—to stand
honourably and well in the eyes of such people as your father and you;
to win your personal regard and respect; to win the love of Stephanie
Quest."

In the tense silence he struck a match and relighted his pipe.  It went
out again and grew cold while he was speaking:

"I lost the consideration of such people as you and your father; in
fact, I never gained it at all....  And it was like a little death to
something inside me.... And as for Stephanie——"  He shook his head.
"No," he said, "there was no love in her to give me.  There is none now.
There never will be."

He laid aside his pipe, clasped his hands behind his head once more and
dropped one long leg over the other.

"You won’t question me.  I suppose it’s the pride in you, Cleland.  But
my pride is dead; I cut its throat....  So I’ll tell you what you ought
to know.

"I always was in love with her, even as a boy—after that single glimpse
of her there in the railroad station. It’s odd how such things really
happen.  Your people had no social interest in mine.  I shall use a more
sinister term: your father held my father in contempt....  So there was
no chance for me to know you and Stephanie except as I was thrown with
you in school."

He smiled:

"You can never know what a boy suffers who is fiercely proud, who is
ready to devote himself soul and body to another boy, and who knows that
he is considered inferior....  It drives him to strange perverseness, to
illogical excesses—to anything which may conceal the hurt—the raw,
quivering heart of a boy....  So we fought with fists.  You remember.
You remember, too, probably, many things I said and did to intensify
your hostility and contempt—like a hurt thing biting at its own
wounds——!"

He shrugged:

"Well, you went away.  Has Stephanie told you how she and I met?"

"Yes."

"I thought she would tell you," he said tranquilly. "And has she told
you about our unwise behaviour—our informal comradeship—reckless
escapades?"

"Yes."

Grismer raised his head and looked at him intently.

"And has she related the circumstances of our marriage?" he asked.

"Partly."

Grismer nodded.

"I mean in part.  There were many things she refused to speak of, were
there not?"

"Yes."

He slowly unclasped his linked fingers and leaned forward on the couch,
groping for his pipe.  When he found it he slowly knocked the cinders
from the bowl, then laid it aside once more.

"Cleland, I’ll have to tell where I stood the day that my father—killed
himself."

"_What!_"

"Stephanie knew it.  There had been a suit pending, threatening him....
For years the fear of such a thing had preyed on his mind....  I never
dreamed there was any reason for him to be afraid....  But there was."

He dropped his head and sat for a few moments thinking and playing with
his empty pipe.  Then:

"Stephanie’s aunt was the Nemesis.  She became obsessed with the belief
that her nephew and later, Stephanie, had suffered wickedly through my
father’s—conversion of trust funds."  He swallowed hard and passed one
hand over his eyes: "My father was a defaulter....  That woman’s
patience was infernal. She never ceased her investigations.  She was
implacable.  And she—got him.

"She was dying when the case was ready.  Nobody knew she was mortally
ill....  I suppose my father saw disgrace staring him in the face....
He made a last effort to see her.  He did see her.  Stephanie was
there....  Then he went away....  He had not been well.  It was an
overdose of morphine."

Grismer leaned forward, clasping his hands on his knees and fixing his
eyes on space.

"The money that I inherited was considerable," he said in his soft,
agreeable voice.  "But after I had begun to amuse myself with it, the
papers in the suit were sent to me by that dead woman’s attorneys.  So,"
he said pleasantly, "I learned for the first time that the money
belonged to Stephanie’s estate.  And, of course, I transferred it to her
attorneys at once.... She never told you anything of this?"

"No."

"No," said Grismer thoughtfully, "she couldn’t have told you without
laying bare my father’s disgrace.  But that is how I suddenly found
myself on my uppers," he continued lightly.  "Stephanie came to me in an
agony of protest.  She is a splendid girl, Cleland.  She rather
violently refused to touch a penny of the money. You should have heard
what she said to her aunt’s attorneys—who now represented her.  Really,
Cleland, there was the devil to pay....  But that was easy. I paid him.
Naturally, I couldn’t retain a penny.... So it lies there yet,
accumulating interest, payable at any time to Stephanie’s order....  But
she’ll never use it....  Nor shall I, Cleland....  God knows who’ll get
it—some charity, I hope....  After I step out, I think Stephanie will
give it to some charity for the use of little children who have missed
their childhood—children like herself, Cleland."

After a silence he idly struck a match, watched it burn out, dropped the
cinder to the floor:

"There was no question of _you_ at that time," said Grismer, lifting his
eyes to Cleland’s drawn face.  "And I was very desperately in love....
There seemed to be hope that Stephanie might care for me.... Then came
that reckless escapade at Albany, where she was recognized by some old
friends of your father and by schoolmates of her own....

"Cleland, I would gladly have shot myself then, had that been any
solution.  But there seemed to be only the one solution....  She has
told you, I believe?"

"Yes."

"Well, that was what was done....  I think she cried all the way back.
The Albany Post Road seemed like a road through hell to me.  I knew then
that Stephanie cared nothing for me in that way; that my place in her
life served other purposes.

"I don’t know what she thought I expected of her—what duty she believed
she owed me.  I know now that the very thought of wifehood was abhorrent
to her.... But she was game, Cleland! ... What line of reasoning she
followed I don’t know.  Whether my love for her touched her, or some
generous impulse of renunciation—some childish idea of bringing to me
again the inheritance which I had forced on her, I don’t know.

"But she was game.  She came here that night with her suitcase.  She was
as white as death, could scarcely speak....  I never even touched her
hand, Cleland.... She slept there—behind that curtain on the iron bed.
I sat here all night long.

"In the morning we talked it over.  And with every generous plucky word
she uttered I realized that it was hopeless.  And do you know—God knows
how—but somehow I kept thinking of you, Cleland.  And it was like
clairvoyance, almost, for I could not drive away the idea that she cared
for you, unknowingly, and that when you came back some day she’d find it
out."

He rose from the couch and began to pace the studio slowly, his hands in
his pockets.

"Cleland," he said, "she meant to play the game. The bed she had made
for herself she was ready to lie on....  But I looked into those grey
eyes of hers and I knew that it was pity that moved her, square dealing
that nerved her, and that already she was suffering agonies to know what
you would think of what she had done—done with a man you never liked—the
son of a man whom your father held in contempt because—because he
considered him—dishonest!"

He halted a pace from where Cleland was sitting:

"I told her to go back to her studio and think it over.  She went
out....  I did not think of her coming back here....  I was standing in
front of that cracked mirror over there....  To get a sure line on my
temple....  That’s what shattered the glass—when she struck my arm
up....

"Well, a man goes to pieces sometimes....  She made me promise to wait
two years—said she would try to care for me enough in that time to live
with me.... The child was frightened sick.  The terror of my ever doing
such a—a fool thing remains latent in her brain. I know it.  I know it’s
there.  I know, Cleland, that she is in love with you.  And that she
dare not ask me for her freedom for fear that I shall do some such silly
thing."

He began to laugh, quite naturally, without any bitterness at all:

"I tried to make you understand.  I told you that I would do anything
for you.  But you didn’t comprehend.... Yet, I meant it.  I mean it now.
She belongs to you, Cleland.  I want you to take her.  I wish her to
understand that I give her the freedom she’s entitled to.  That she need
not be afraid to take it—need not fear that I might make an ass of
myself."

He laughed again, quite gaily:

"No, indeed, I mean to live.  I tell you, Cleland, there is no
excitement on earth like beating Fate at her own game.  There’s only one
thing——"

After a pause, Cleland looked up into the man’s wistful, golden eyes.

"What is it, Grismer?"

"If I could win—your friendship——"

"Good God!" whispered Cleland, rising and offering a hand that shook,
"—Do you think I’m worth it, Oswald?"

Their hands met, clasped; a strange light flashed in Grismer’s golden
eyes.

"Do you mean it, Cleland?"

"With all my heart, old chap....  I don’t know what to say to you—except
that you’re white all through—straighter than I am, Grismer—clean to the
soul of you!"

Grismer drew a long, deep breath.

"Thanks," he said.  "That’s about all I want of life....  Tell Stephanie
what you said to me—if you don’t mind....  I don’t care what others
think ... if you and she think me straight."

"Oswald, I tell you you’re straighter than I am—stronger.  Your thoughts
never wavered; you stood steady to punishment, not whimpering.  I’ve had
a curb-bit on myself, and I don’t know now how long it might have taken
me to get it between my teeth and smash things."

Grismer smiled:

"It would have taken two to smash the Cleland traditions.  It couldn’t
have been done—between you and Stephanie....  Are you going back to
Runner’s Rest to-night?"

"Yes—if you say so," he replied in a low voice.

"I do say so.  Call her on the telephone as soon as you leave here.
Then take the first train."

"And you?  Will you come?"

"Not to-night."

"Will you let us know when you can come, Oswald?"

Grismer picked up a shabby dressing gown from the back of a decrepit
chair, and put it on over his undershirt and trousers.

"Sure," he said pleasantly.  "I’ve one or two matters to keep me here.
I’ll fix them up to-night.... And please make it very plain to Stephanie
that I’m taking this affair beautifully and that the last thing I’d do
would be to indulge in any foolishness to shock her....  I’m really most
interested in living.  Tell her so.  She will believe it.  For I have
never lied to her, Cleland."

They walked together to the area gate.

"Stephanie should see her attorneys," said Grismer. "The easiest way, I
think, would be for her to leave the state and for me to go abroad.  Her
attorneys will advise her.  But," he added carelessly, "there’s time to
talk over that with her.  The main thing is to know that she will be
free.  And she will be....  Good night, Cleland!" ... He laughed
boyishly.  "I’ve never been as happy in my whole life!"



                            *CHAPTER XXXIV*


With the clang of the closing gate, Grismer’s handsome face altered
terribly, and he turned deathly white for a moment.  Two policemen
lounged by in the glare of the arc-light; one of them glanced down into
the areaway and saw a pallid face behind the iron bars—turned sharply to
look again.

"Gee," he said to his mate, "d’yeh get that guy’s map?"

"Coke," said the other carelessly.  "Looks like a feller I seen in Sing
Sing waitin’ for the priest—what’s his name, now——"  The voices receded.
But Grismer had heard.

Perhaps his brain registered the scene sketched by the policeman—a
bloodless face behind the death-cell grating—the distant steps of the
procession already sounding in the corridor.

He opened the gate and went out to the sidewalk where a young girl,
unskillfully painted, stood looking about her preliminary to opening the
night’s campaign.

"Hello," she said tentatively.

"Ah," he said pleasantly, "a goddess of the stars!"

"Got anything on?" she asked, approaching with her mirthless smile.

"Yes, a few casual garments."

She looked him over with the uncanny wisdom of her caste, and, young as
she was, she divined in this man only the opportunity to waste her time.

"What’s the matter?" she asked, glancing at his shabby dressing gown.
"Up against it?"

"What I’m up against," he said, absently, "will look good to you, too,
some day."

"What’s that?"

"Death, my dear."

"Quit kiddin’!" she retorted, with an uneasy laugh. "You got your looks
yet."  She stepped nearer, looking at him curiously.  "Nothing like
that," she said. "You’re a looker.  Buck up, old scout!"

She was leaning against the railing where he stood resting his back.
Presently he turned, leisurely, and surveyed her.

"You _are_ young," he said.  "You’ll be a tired girl before you’re up
against what I am."

"What have you done?" she enquired curiously.

"Nothing."

"Sure.  That’s why we all go up the river."

"I’m going across the river," he remarked, smiling.

"Which?"

"The Styx.  You never heard of it, I suppose."

"One of them dirty rivers in Jersey?"

He nodded gravely.

"What’s out there?" she enquired.

"I don’t know, my dear."

"Then what’s the idea?"

She waited for an answer, but his golden eyes were dreamily remote.

The girl lingered.  Once or twice professional sense suggested
departure, but when her tired eyes of a child rested on him something
held her inert.

When she again interrupted his revery he looked around at her as though
he had never before seen her, and she repeated what she had said.

"What?" he asked sharply.

"I got a fiver that ain’t workin’," she said again. "You can use it in
your business if it’s any good."

"My dear child," he said pleasantly, "you’re very kind, but that’s not
what the matter is."  He turned, dropped his arm on the railing, facing
her: "What’s your name?"

"Gloria Cameron."

"Come on," he said, good-humouredly, "what’s your other name?"

"Anne."

"Anne, what?"

"O’Hara."

"Will you wait a minute?"

She nodded uncertainly.

He went back through the area, entered his studio and dressed in his
shabby street clothes.

The cheque was still lying on a small table where Cleland had placed it
at his request.  And now he picked it up, dipped a rusty pen into an
ink-bottle, and indorsed the cheque, making it payable to Anne O’Hara.
Then he took his straw hat and went out.

The girl was waiting.

"Anne," he said, "I want you to read what’s written on this pretty
perforated piece of paper."  He held it so that the electric light fell
on it.

"Is it good?" she asked in an awed voice.

"Perfectly."  He turned the cheque over and showed her the indorsement.

She found her voice presently:

"What are you putting over on me?"

He said:

"I’d give this cheque to you now, but it wouldn’t be any good when the
banks open to-morrow."

She stared her question, and he laughed:

"It’s a law concerning cheques.  Never mind.  But there’s a way to beat
it.  I had a lot of money once. They’ll take my paper at Square Jack
Hennesey’s. Shall we stroll up that way?"

She did not understand.  It was quite evident that she had no faith in
the scrap of paper either.  But it was still more evident that she was
willing to remain with him, even at the loss of professional
opportunities—even though she was facing the obloquy of being "kidded."

"Come into my studio first," he said.

She went without protest.  In the brightly lighted basement he turned
and scrutinized her coolly from head to foot.

"How old?" he asked bluntly.

"Seventeen."

"How long are you on the job?"

"Two years."

"Whose are you?"

"I’m for myself——"

"Come on!  Don’t lie!"

She straightened her thin finger in defiance:

"What are you?  A bull?"

"You know I’m not.  Who are you working for? Wait!  Never mind!  You’re
working for somebody, aren’t you?"

"Y-yes."

"Do your folks know it?"

"No."

"What was it—cloaks, feathers, department store?"

She nodded.

"You _can_ go back?"

She remained silent, and he repeated the question. Then the girl turned
white under her paint.

"Damn you!" she said, "what are you trying to do to me?"

"Send you home, Anne, with a couple of thousand real money.  Will you
go?"

"Show it to me!" she said, but her voice had become childish and
tremulous and her painted mouth was quivering.

"I’m going to show it to you," he said pleasantly. "I’ll get it at
Square Jack’s for you.  If I do will you fly the coop?  I mean now,
to-night!  Will you?"

"W-with you?"

"Dear child, I’ve got to cross that dirty Jersey river.  I told you.
You live up state, don’t you?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Hudson."

"All right.  Will you go now, just as you are? You’d stand a fat chance
if you went back and tried to pack up.  That thing would batter you to a
pulp, wouldn’t he?"

She nodded.

"All right," he said.  "Take off your hat and wash your face, Anne.
They’d be on to you at home.  I’ve got to pack a few things for my
journey and write a couple of letters.  Get all the paint off while I’m
busy. There’s soap, towels, and a basin behind that screen."

She came slowly to him and stood looking at him out of her disenchanted
young eyes.

"Is this on the square?" she asked.

"Won’t you take a chance that it is?" he asked, taking her slim hands
and looking her in the eyes.

"Yes....  I’ll take a chance with you—if you ask me to."

"I do."  He patted her hands and smiled, then released them.  "Hustle!"
he said.  "I’ll be ready very soon."

He wrote first to Cleland:


DEAR CLELAND:

I think I’ll go up tonight, stay at Pittsfield, and either drive across
the mountain in the morning of take an early train through the tunnel
for North Adams.  Either way ought to land me at Runner’s Rest station
about eight in the morning.

I can’t tell you what your kindness has done for me.  I think it was
about all I really wanted in the world—your friendship.  It seems to
clean off my slate, square me with life.

I shall start in a few minutes.  Until we meet, then, your friend,
OSWALD GRISMER.


He directed the envelope to Cleland’s studio in town.

The other letter he directed to Stephanie at Runner’s Rest and stamped
it.

He wrote to her:


I’m happier than I have been in years because I can do this thing for
you.

And now I’m going to admit something which will ease your mind
immensely: the situation was so impossible that I also began to weary of
it a little.  You are entitled to the truth.

And now life looks very inviting to me.  Liberty is the most wonderful
thing in the world.  And I am restless for it, restless to begin again.

So if I come to you as a comrade, don’t think for a moment that any
sympathy is due me.  Alas, man belongs to a restless sex, Stephanie, and
the four winds are less irresponsible and inconstant!

As a comrade, I should delight in you.  You are a very wonderful
girl—but you belong to Cleland and not to me. Don’t worry.  I’m
absolutely satisfied.  Until we meet, then,

Your grateful friend,
       OSWALD.


"I’ll get a special for this letter on our way uptown," he said, voicing
his thoughts aloud to the girl who was scrubbing her painted lips and
cheeks behind the screen.

When she emerged, pinning on her hat, he had packed a suitcase and was
ready.

They found a taxi in Washington Square.

On the way uptown he mailed his letter to Stephanie; sent a district
messenger with his letter to Cleland’s studio; sent a night letter to
Runner’s Rest saying that he would take accommodations on a train which
would be due at Runner’s Rest station at eight next morning; stopped at
the darkened and barred house of Square Jack Hennesey, and was admitted
after being scrutinized through a sliding grill.

When he came out half an hour later he told the driver to go to the
Grand Central Station, and got into the cab...

"Anne," he said gaily, "here’s the two thousand. Count it."

The sheafs of new bills pinned to their paper bands lay in her lap for a
long time before she touched them. Even then she merely lifted one
packet and let it drop without even looking at it.  So Grismer folded
the bills and put them into her reticule.  Then he took her slim left
hand in both of his and held it while they rode on in silence through
the electric glare of the metropolis.

At the station he dismissed the taxicab, bought a ticket and
sleeping-car accommodations to Hudson—managed to get a state-room for
her all to herself.

"You won’t sleep much," he remarked, smiling, "so we’ll have to provide
you with amusement, Anne."

Carrying his suitcase, the girl walking beside him, he walked across the
great rotunda to the newsstand. There, and at the confectionery counter
opposite, he purchased food for mind and body—light food suitable for a
young and badly bruised mind, and for a soul in embryo, still in the
making.

Then he went over to another window and bought a ticket for himself to
Pittsfield, and sleeping accommodations.

"We travel by different lines, Anne," he said, opening his portfolio and
placing his own tickets in it, where several letters lay addressed to
him at his basement studio.  Then he replaced the portfolio in his
breast pocket.

"I’ll go with you to your train," he said, declining with a shake of his
head the offices of a red-capped porter.  "Your train leaves at 12.10
and we have only a few minutes."

They walked together through the gates, the officials permitting him to
accompany her.

The train stood on the right—a very long train, and they had a long
distance to walk along the concrete platform before they found her car.

A porter showed them to her stateroom.  Grismer tipped him generously:

"Be very attentive to this young lady," he said, "and see that she has
every service required, and that she is notified in plenty of time to
get off at Hudson.  Now you may leave us until we ring."

He turned from the corridor and entered the stateroom, closing the door
behind him.  The girl sat on the sofa, very pale, with a dazed
expression in her eyes.

He seated himself beside her and drew her hands into his own.

"Let me tell you something," he said cheerfully. "Everybody makes
mistakes.  You’ve made some; so have I; so has everybody I ever heard
of.

"Everybody gets in wrong at one time or another. The idea is to get out
again and make a fresh start....  Will you try?"

She nodded, so close to tears that she could not speak.

"Promise me you’ll make a hard fight to travel straight?"

"Y-yes."

"It won’t be easy.  But try to win out, Anne.  Back there—in those
streets and alleys—there’s nothing to hope for except death.  You’ll
find it if you ever go back—in some hospital, in some saloon-brawl, in
some rooming-house—it will surely, surely find you by bullet, by knife,
by disease—sooner or later it will find you unless you start to search
for it yourself."

He patted her hand, patted her pale cheek:

"It’s a losing game, Anne.  There’s nothing in it. I guess you know that
already.  So go back to your people and tell them the last lies you ever
tell.  And stick.  Stay put, little girl.  You really _are_ all right,
you know, but you got in wrong.  Now, you’re out!"

He laughed and stood up.  She lifted her head.  All her colour had fled.

"Don’t forget me," she whispered.

"Not as long as I live, Anne."

"May I—I write to you?"

He thought a minute, then with a smile:

"Why not?"  He found a card and pencil, wrote his name and address, and
laid it on the sofa.  "If it would do any good to think of me when
you’re likely to get in wrong," he said, "then try to remember that I
was square with you.  And be so to me.  Will you?"

"I—will."

That was all.  She was crying and her eyes were too blind with tears to
see the expression of his face as he kissed her.

He went away lightly, swinging his suitcase, and stood on the very end
of the cement platform looking out across a wilderness of tracks
branching out into darkness, set with red, green, and blue lamps.

He waited, lighting a cigarette.  On his left a heavy electric engine
rolled into the station, drawing a Western express train.  The lighted
windows of the cars threw a running yellow illumination over his
motionless figure for a few moments, then the train passed into the
depths of the station.

And now her train began to move very slowly out through the wilderness
of yard tracks.  Car after car passed him, gaining momentum all the
while.

When the last car sped by and the tail-lights dwindled into perspective,
Grismer had finished his cigarette.

Behind him lay the dusky, lamp-lit tunnel of the station.  Before him,
through ruddy darkness, countless jewelled lamps twinkled, countless
receding rails glimmered, leading away into the night.

It was in him to travel that way—the way of the glimmering, jewelled
lamps, the road of the shining rails.

But first he shoved his suitcase, with his foot, over the platform’s
edge, as though it had fallen there by accident....  And, as though he
had followed to recover it, he climbed down among the tracks.

There was a third rail running parallel to the twin rails.  It was
roofed with wood.  Lying flat, there in the shimmering dusk, he could
look up under the wooden guard rail and see it.

Then, resting both legs across the steel car-tracks, he reached out and
took the guarded third rail in both hands.



                             *CHAPTER XXXV*


The train that Cleland took, after calling Runner’s Rest on the
telephone, landed him at the home station at an impossible hour.  Stars
filled the heavens with a magnificent lustre; the July darkness was
superb and still untouched by the coming dawn.

As he stepped from the car the tumbling roar of the river filled his
ears—that and the high pines’ sighing under the stars, and the
sweet-scented night wind in his face greeted and met him as he set foot
on the platform at Runner’s Rest station and looked around for the
conveyance that he had asked Stephanie to send.

There was nobody in sight except the baggage agent. He walked toward the
rear of the station, turned the corner, and saw Stephanie standing there
bareheaded in the starlight, wrapped in a red cloak, her hair in two
heavy braids.

"Steve!" he exclaimed.  "Why on earth did you come—you darling!"

"Did you imagine I wouldn’t?" she asked unsteadily.

"I told you over the wire to send Williams with a buckboard."

"Everybody was in bed when the telephone rang.  So I concluded to sit up
for you, and when the time came I went out to the stable, harnessed up,
and drove over here."

Her hand was trembling in his while she spoke, but her voice was under
control.

They turned together and went over to the buckboard. She stepped in; he
strapped his suitcase on behind, then followed her and took the reins
from her gloved hands.

They were very quiet, but he could feel her tremble a little at times,
when their shoulders were in contact. The tension betrayed itself in his
voice at moments, too.

"I have a night letter from Oswald," she said.  "They telephoned it up
from the station.  He is coming to-morrow morning."

"That’s fine.  He’s a splendid fellow, Steve."

"I have always known it."

"I know you have.  I’m terribly sorry that I did not know him better."

The buckboard turned from the station road into a fragrant wood-road.
In the scented dusk little night-moths with glistening wings drifted
through the rays of the wagon-lamp like snowflakes.  A bird, aroused
from slumber in the thicket, sang a few sweet, sleepy notes.

"Tell me," said Stephanie, in a low, tremulous voice.

He understood:

"It was entirely Oswald’s doing.  I never dreamed of mentioning it to
him.  I was absolutely square to him and to you, Steve.  I went there
with no idea that he knew I was in love with you—or that you cared for
me....  He met me with simple cordiality.  We looked at his beautiful
model for the fountain.  I don’t think I betrayed in voice or look or
manner that anything was wrong with me....  Then, with a very winning
simplicity, he spoke of you, of himself.... There seemed to be nothing
for me to say; he knew that I was in love with you, and that you had
come to care for me....  And I heard a man speak to another man as only
a gentleman could speak—a real man, rare and thoroughbred....  It cost
him something to say to me what he said.  His nerve was heart-breaking
to me when he found the courage to tell me what his father had done.

"He told me with a smile that his pride was dead—that he had cut its
throat.  But it was still alive, Steve—a living, quivering thing.  And I
saw him slay it before my eyes—kill it there between his, with his
steady, pleasant smile....  Well, he meant me to understand him and what
he had done....  And I understand....  And I understand your loyalty,
now.  And the dreadful fear which kept you silent....  But there is no
need to be afraid any more."

"Did he say so?"

"Yes.  He told me to tell you.  He said you’d believe him because he had
never lied to you."

"I do believe him," she said.  "I have never known him to lie to
anybody."

The light over the porch at Runner’s Rest glimmered through the trees.
In a few moments they were at the door.

"I’ll stable the horse," he said briefly.

She was in the library when he returned from the barn.

"The dawn is just breaking," she said.  "It is wonderful out of doors.
Do you hear the birds?"

"Do you want to go to bed, Steve?"

"No.  Do you?"

"Wait for me, then."

She waited while he went to his room.  The windows were open and the
fresh, clean air of dawn carried the perfume of wet roses into the
house.

The wooded eastern hills were very dark against the dawn; silvery mist
marked the river’s rushing course; thickets rang with bird songs.

She walked to the porch.  Under its silver-sheeted dew the lawn looked
like a lake.

Very far away across the valley a train was rushing northward.  She
could hear the faint vibration, the distant whistle.  Then, from close
by, the clear, sweet call of a meadow-lark mocked the unseen
locomotive’s warning in exquisite parody.

Cleland came down presently, freshened, dressed in flannels.

"Steve," he said, "you’ve only a nightgown on under that cloak!"

"It’s all right.  I’m going to get soaked anyway, if we walk on the
lawn."

She laughed, drew off her slippers, flung them into the room behind her,
then, with her lovely little naked feet she stepped ankle deep into the
drenched grass, turned, tossed one corner of her red cloak over her
shoulder, and looked back at him.

Over the soaking lawn they wandered, his arm encircling her slender
body, her hand covering his, holding it closer at her waist.

The sky over the eastern hills was tinted with palest saffron now; birds
sang everywhere.  Down by the river cat-birds alternately mewed like
sick kittens or warbled like thrushes; rose grosbeaks filled the dawn
with heavenly arias, golden orioles fluted from every elm, song-sparrows
twittered and piped their cheery amateur efforts, and there came the
creak and chirr of purple grackles from the balsams and an incessant,
never-ending rush of jolly melody from the robins.

Over the tumbling river, through the hanging curtains of mist, a great
blue heron, looming enormously in the vague light, flapped by in stately
flight and alighted upon a bar of golden sand.

More swiftly now came the transfiguration of the world, shell-pink and
gold stained the sky; then a blaze of dazzling light cut the wooded
crests opposite as the thin knife-rim of the sun glittered above the
trees.

All the world rang out with song now; the river mists lifted and curled
and floated upward in silvery shreds disclosing golden shoals and
pebbled rapids all criss-crossed with the rosy lattice of the sun.

The girl at his side leaned her cheek against his shoulder.

"What would all this have meant without you?" she sighed.  "The world
turned very dark for me yesterday. And it was the blackest night I ever
knew."

"And for me," he said; "—I had no further interest in living."

"Nor I....  I wanted to die last night....  I prayed I might....  I
nearly did die—with happiness—when I heard your voice over the wire.
That was all that mattered in the world—your voice calling me—out of the
depths—dearest—dearest——"

With her waist closely enlaced, he turned and looked deep into her grey
eyes—clear, sweet eyes tinged with the lilac-grey of iris bloom.

"The world is just beginning for us," he said.  "This is the dawn of our
first morning on earth."

The slender girl in his arms lifted her face toward his.  Both her hands
crept up around his neck.  The air around them rang with the storm of
bird music bursting from every thicket, confusing, almost stunning their
ears with its heavenly tumult.

But within the house there was another clamour which they did not
hear—the reiterated ringing of the telephone.  They did not hear it,
standing there in the golden glory of the sunrise, with the young world
awaking all around them and the birds’ ecstacy overwhelming every sound
save the reckless laughter of the river.

But, in the dim house, Helen awoke in her bed, listening.  And after she
had listened a while she sprang up, slipped out into the dark hall, and
unhooked the receiver from the hinge.

And after she had heard what the distant voice had to say she wrote it
down on the pad of paper hanging by the receiver—wrote it, shivering
there in the darkened hall:


Oswald Grismer, on his way last night to visit you at Runner’s Rest, was
killed by the third rail in the Grand Central Station.  He was
identified by letters.  Harry Belter was notified, and has taken charge
of the body.  There is no doubt that it was entirely accidental.  Mr.
Grismer’s suit-case evidently fell to the track, and, attempting to
recover it, he came into contact with the charged rail and was killed
instantly.

MARIE CLIFF BELTER.


When she had written it down, she went to Stephanie’s room and found it
empty.

But through the open window sunshine streamed, and presently she saw the
red-cloaked figure down by the river’s edge; heard the girl’s sweet
laughter float out among the willows—enchanting, gay, care-free
laughter, where she had waded out into the shallow rapids and now stood
knee-deep, challenging her lover to follow her if he dared.

Then Helen saw his white-flannelled figure wading boldly out through the
water in pursuit; saw the slim, red-cloaked girl turn to flee; went
closer to the window and stood with the written message in her hand,
watching the distant scene through eyes dimmed with those illogical
tears which women shed when there is nothing else in the world to do.

It was plain that they thought themselves all alone in the world, with
the sunrise and the blue mountains as an agreeable setting, created as a
background for them alone.

Twice the girl narrowly escaped capture; above the rush of the river
their gales of laughter came back on the summer wind.  Suddenly she
slipped, fell with a cry into a deeper pool, and was caught up by him
and carried shoreward, with her white arms around his neck and her lips
resting on his.

And as the tall young lover, dripping from head to foot, came striding
across the lawn with all he loved on earth laughing up at him in his
arms, the girl at the window turned away and went into her own room with
the written message in her hand.

And there, seated on the edge of her bed, she read it over and over,
crying, uncertain, wondering whether she might not withhold it for a few
hours more.

Because life is very wonderful, and youth more wonderful still.  And
there is always time to talk of life and death when daylight dies and
the last laugh is spent—when shadows fall, and blossoms close, and birds
grow silent among the branches.

She did not know why she was crying.  She had not cared for the dead
man.

She looked out through drawn blinds at the sunshine, not knowing why she
wept, not knowing what to do.

Then, from the hall came Stephanie’s ecstatic voice:

"Helen!  Wake up, darling, and come down!  Because Jim and I have the
most wonderful thing in the world to tell you!"

But on the paper in her lap was written something more wonderful still.
For there is nothing more wonderful than that beginning of everything
which is called the end.





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