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

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[Illustration: “She was standing beside the fire with Quarrier, one foot
on the fender.”]



The Fighting Chance

By Robert W. Chambers


Author of “Cardigan,” “The Maid at Arms,” “The Firing Line,” etc.



DEDICATED TO MY FATHER



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     I. Acquaintance
     II. Imprudence
     III. Shotover
     IV. The Season Opens
     V. A Winning Loser
     VI. Modus Vivendi
     VII. Persuasion
     VIII. Confidences
     IX. Confessions
     X. The Seamy Side
     XI. The Call of the Rain
     XII. The Asking Price
     XIII. The Selling Price
     XIV. The Bargain
     XV. The Enemy Listens



THE FIGHTING CHANCE



CHAPTER I. ACQUAINTANCE

The speed of the train slackened; a broad tidal river flashed into sight
below the trestle, spreading away on either hand through yellowing level
meadows. And now, above the roaring undertone of the cars, from far
ahead floated back the treble bell-notes of the locomotive; there came
a gritting vibration of brakes; slowly, more slowly the cars glided to
a creaking standstill beside a sun-scorched platform gay with the bright
flutter of sunshades and summer gowns.

“Shotover! Shotover!” rang the far cry along the cars; and an
absent-minded young man in the Pullman pocketed the uncut magazine he
had been dreaming over and, picking up gun case and valise, followed a
line of fellow-passengers to the open air, where one by one they were
engulfed and lost to view amid the gay confusion on the platform.

The absent-minded young man, however, did not seem to know exactly where
he was bound for. He stood hesitating, leisurely inspecting the flashing
ranks of vehicles--depot wagons, omnibusses, and motor cars already
eddying around a dusty gravel drive centred by the conventional railroad
flower bed and fountain.

Sunshine blazed on foliage plants arranged geometrically, on scarlet
stars composed of geraniums, on thickets of tall flame-tinted cannas.
And around this triumph of landscape gardening, phaeton, Tilbury,
Mercedes, and Toledo backed, circled, tooted; gaily gowned women, whips
aslant, horses dancing, greeted expected guests; laughing young men
climbed into dog-carts and took the reins from nimble grooms; young
girls, extravagantly veiled, made room in comfortable touring-cars for
feminine guests whose extravagant veils were yet to be unpacked; slim
young men in leather trappings, caps adorned with elaborate masks or
goggles, manipulated rakish steering-gears; preoccupied machinists were
fussing with valve and radiator or were cranking up; and, through the
jolly tumult, the melancholy bell of the locomotive sounded, and the
long train moved out through the September sunshine amid clouds of snowy
steam.

And all this time the young man, gun case in one hand, suit case in
the other, looked about him in his good-humoured, leisurely manner
for anybody or any vehicle which might be waiting for him. His amiable
inspection presently brought a bustling baggage-master within range of
vision; and he spoke to this official, mentioning his host’s name.

“Lookin’ for Mr. Ferrall?” repeated the baggage-master, spinning a trunk
dexterously into rank with its fellows. “Say, one of Mr. Ferrall’s
men was here just now--there he is, over there uncrating that there
bird-dog!”

The young man’s eyes followed the direction indicated by the grimy
thumb; a red-faced groom in familiar livery was kneeling beside a dog’s
travelling crate, attempting to unlock it, while behind the bars an
excited white setter whined and thrust forth first one silky paw then
the other.

The young man watched the scene for a moment, then:

“Are you one of Mr. Ferrall’s men?” he asked in his agreeable voice.

The groom looked up, then stood up:

“Yis, Sorr.”

“Take these; I’m Mr. Siward--for Shotover House. I dare say you have
room for me and the dog, too.”

The groom opened his mouth to speak, but Siward took the crate key from
his fingers, knelt, and tried the lock. It resisted. From the depths of
the crate a beseeching paw fell upon his cuff.

“Certainly, old fellow,” he said soothingly, “I know how you feel
about it; I know you’re in a hurry--and we’ll have you out in a
second--steady, boy!--something’s jammed, you see! Only one moment now!
There you are!”

The dog attempted to bolt as the crate door opened, but the young man
caught him by the leather collar and the groom snapped on a leash.

“Beg pardon, Sorr,” began the groom, carried almost off his feet by the
frantic circling of the dog--“beg pardon, Sorr, but I’ll be afther seem’
if anny of Mr. Ferrall’s men drove over for you--”

“Oh! Are you not one of Mr. Ferrall’s men?”

“Yis, Sorr, but I hadn’t anny orders to meet anny wan--”

“Haven’t you anything here to drive me in?”

“Yis, Sorr--I’ll look to see--”

The raw groom, much embarrassed, and keeping his feet with difficulty
against the plunging dog, turned toward the gravel drive where now
only a steam motor and a depot-wagon remained. As they looked the motor
steamed out, honking hoarsely; the depot-wagon followed, leaving the
circle at the end of the station empty of vehicles.

“Didn’t Mr. Ferrall expect me?” asked Siward.

“Aw, yis, Sorr; but the gintlemen for Shotover House does ginerally
allways coom by Black Fells, Sorr--”

“Oh, Lord!” said the young man, “I remember now. I should have gone on
to Black Fells Crossing; Mr. Ferrall wrote me!” Then, amused: “I suppose
you have only a baggage-wagon here?”

“No, Sorr--a phayton”--he hesitated.

“Well? Isn’t a phaeton all right?”

“Yis, Sorr--if th’ yoong lady says so--beg pardon, Sorr, Miss Landis is
driving.”

“Oh--h! I see. … Is Miss Landis a guest at Shotover House?”

“Yis, Sorr. An’ if ye would joost ask her--the phayton do be coming now,
Sorr!”

The phaeton was coming; the horse, a showy animal, executed side-steps;
blue ribbons fluttered from the glittering head-stall; a young girl in
white was driving.

Siward advanced to the platform’s edge as the phaeton drew up; the young
lady looked inquiringly at the groom, at the dog, and leisurely at him.

So he took off his hat, naming himself in that well-bred and agreeable
manner characteristic of men of his sort,--and even his smile appeared
to be part and parcel of a conventional ensemble so harmonious as to
remain inconspicuous.

“You should have gone on to Black Fells Crossing,” observed Miss Landis,
coolly controlling the nervous horse. “Didn’t you know it?”

He said he remembered now that such were the directions given him.

The girl glanced at him incuriously, and with more curiosity at the dog.
“Is that the Sagamore pup, Flynn?” she asked.

“It is, Miss.”

“Can’t you take him on the rumble with you?” And, to Siward: “There is
room for your gun and suit case.”

“And for me?” he asked, smiling.

“I think so. Be careful of that Sagamore pup, Flynn. Hold him between
your knees. Are you ready, Mr. Siward?”

So he climbed in; the groom hoisted the dog to the rumble and sprang up
behind; the horse danced and misbehaved, making a spectacle of himself
and an agreeable picture of his driver; then the pretty little phaeton
swung northward out of the gravel drive and went whirling along a road
all misty with puffs of yellow dust which the afternoon sun turned to
floating golden powder.

“Did you send my telegram, Flynn?” she asked without turning her head.

“I did, Miss.”

It being the most important telegram she had ever sent in all her life,
Miss Landis became preoccupied,--quite oblivious to extraneous details,
including Siward, until the horse began acting badly again. Her slightly
disdainful and perfect control of the reins interested the young man. He
might have said something civil and conventional about that, but did not
make the effort to invade a reserve which appeared to embarrass nobody.

A stacatto note from the dog, prolonged infinitely in hysterical
crescendo, demanded comment from somebody.

“What is the matter with him, Flynn?” she asked.

Siward said: “You should let him run, Miss Landis.”

She nodded, smiling, inattentive, absorbed in her own affairs, still
theorising concerning her telegram. She drove on for a while, and might
have forgotten the dog entirely had he not once more lifted his voice in
melancholy.

“You say he ought to run for a mile or two? Do you think he’ll bolt, Mr.
Siward?”

“Is he a new dog?”

“Yes, fresh from the kennels; supposed to be house-and wagon-broken,
steady to shot and wing--” She shrugged her pretty shoulders. “You see
how he’s acting already!”

“Do you mind if I try him?” suggested Siward.

“You mean that you are going to let him run?”

“I think so.”

“And if he bolts?”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Yes, but please consider my chances, Mr. Siward. The dog doesn’t belong
to me.”

“But he ought to run--”

“But suppose he runs away? He’s a horridly expensive creature--if you
care to take the risk.”

“I’ll take the risk,” said Siward, smiling as she drew rein. “Now Flynn,
give me the leash. Quiet! Quiet, puppy! Everything is coming your way;
that’s the beauty of patience; great thing, patience!” He took the
leader; the dog sprang from the rumble. “Now, my friend, look at me! No,
don’t twist and squirm and scramble; look me square in the eye; so! …
Now we know each ether and we respect each other--because you are going
to be a good puppy … and obey … Down charge!”

The dog, trembling with eager comprehension, dropped like a shot, muzzle
laid flat between his paws. Siward unleashed him, looked down at him for
a second, stooped and caressed the silky head, then with a laugh swung
himself into the phaeton beside the driver, who, pretty head turned, had
been looking on intently.

“Your dog is yard-broken,” he said. “Look at him.”

“I see. Do you think he will follow us?”

“I think so.”

The horse started, Miss Landis looking back over her shoulder at the dog
who lay motionless, crouched flat in the road.

Then Siward turned. “Come on, Sagamore!” he said gaily; and the dog
sprang forward, circled about the moving phaeton, splitting the air with
yelps of ecstasy, then tore ahead, mad with the delight of stretching
cramped muscles amid the long rank grass and shrubbery of the roadside.

The girl watched him doubtfully; when he disappeared far away up the
road she turned the blue inquiry of her eyes on Siward.

“He’ll be back,” said the young fellow, laughing; and presently the dog
reappeared on a tearing gallop, white flag tossing, glorious in his new
liberty, enchanted with the confidence this tall young man had reposed
in him--this adorable young man, this wonderful friend who had suddenly
appeared to release him from an undignified and abominable situation in
a crate.

“A good dog,” said Siward; and the girl looked around at him, partly
because his voice was pleasant, partly because a vague memory was
beginning to stir within her, coupling something unpleasant with the
name of Siward.

She had been conscious of it when he first named himself, but, absorbed
in the overwhelming importance of her telegram, had left the analysis of
the matter for the future.

She thought again of her telegram, theorised a little, came to no
conclusion except to let the matter rest for the present, and mentally
turned to the next and far less important problem--the question of this
rather attractive young man at her side, and why the name of Siward
should be linked in her mind with anything disagreeable.

Tentatively following the elusive mental dews that might awaken
something definite concerning her hazy impression of the man beside her,
she spoke pleasantly, conventionally, touching idly any topic that might
have a bearing; and, under a self-possession so detached as to give an
impression of indifference, eyes, ears, and intelligence admitted
that he was agreeable to look at, pleasant of voice, and difficult to
reconcile with anything unpleasant.

Which gradually aroused her interest--the incongruous usually
interesting girls of her age--for he had wit enough to amuse her,
sufficient inconsequence to please her, and something listless, at times
almost absent-minded, almost inattentive, that might have piqued her
had it not inoculated her, as it always does any woman, with the nascent
germ of curiosity. Besides, there was, in the hint of his momentary
preoccupation, a certain charm.

They discussed shooting and the opening of the season; dogs and the
training of dogs; and why some go gun-shy and why some ace blinkers.
From sport and its justification, they became inconsequential; and she
was beginning to enjoy the freshness of their chance acquaintance, his
nice attitude toward things, his irrelevancy, his gaiety.

Laughter thawed her; for notwithstanding the fearless confidence she had
been taught for men of her own kind, self-possession and reserve, if not
inherent, had also been drilled into her, and she required a great deal
in a man before she paid him the tribute of one of her pretty laughs.

Apparently they were advancing rather rapidly.

“Don’t you think we ought to call the dog in, Mr. Siward?”

“Yes; he’s had enough!”

She drew rein; he sprang out and whistled; and the Sagamore pup, dusty
and happy came romping back. Siward motioned him to the rumble, but the
dog leaped to the front.

“I don’t mind,” said the girl. “Let him sit here between us. And you
might occupy yourself by pulling some of those burrs from his ears--if
you will?”

“Of course I will. Look up here, puppy! No! Don’t try to lick my face,
for that is bad manners. Demonstrations are odious, as the poet says.”

“It’s always bad manners, isn’t it?” asked Miss Landis.

“What? Being affectionate?”

“Yes, and admitting it.”

“I believe it is. Do you hear that--Sagamore? But never mind; I’ll break
the rules some day when we’re alone.”

The dog laid one paw on Siward’s knee, looking him wistfully in the
eyes.

“More demonstrations,” observed the girl. “Mr. Siward! You are hugging
him! This amounts to a dual conspiracy in bad manners.”

“Awfully glad to admit you to the conspiracy,” he said. “There’s one
vacancy--if you are eligible.”

“I am; I was discovered recently kissing my saddle-mare.”

“That settles it! Sagamore, give the young lady the grip.”

Sylvia Landis glanced at the dog, then impulsively shifting the whip
to her left hand, held out the right. And very gravely the Sagamore pup
laid one paw in her dainty white gloved palm.

“You darling!” murmured the girl, resuming her whip.

“I notice,” observed Siward, “that you are perfectly qualified for
membership in our association for the promotion of bad manners. In fact
I should suggest you for the presidency--”

“I suppose you think all sorts of things because I gushed over that
dog.”

“Of course I do.”

“Well you need not,” she rejoined, delicate nose up-tilted. “I never
kissed a baby in all my life--and never mean to. Which is probably more
than you can say.”

“Yes, its more than I can say.

“That admission elects you president,” she concluded. But after
a moment’s silent driving she turned partly toward him with mock
seriousness: “Is it not horridly unnatural in me to feel that way about
babies? And about people, too; I simply cannot endure demonstrations.
As for dogs and horses--well, I’ve admitted how I behave; and, being so
shamelessly affectionate by disposition, why can’t I be nice to babies?
I’ve a hazy but dreadful notion that there’s something wrong about me,
Mr. Siward.”

He scrutinised the pretty features, anxiously; “I can’t see it,” he
said.

“But I mean it--almost seriously. I don’t want to be so aloof, but--I
don’t like to touch other people. It is rather horrid of me I suppose to
be like those silky, plumy, luxurious Angora cats who never are civil to
you and who always jump out of your arms at the first opportunity.”

He laughed--and there was malice in his eyes, but he did not know her
well enough to pursue the subject through so easy an opening.

It had occurred to her, too, that her simile might invite elaboration,
and she sensed the laugh in his silence, and liked him for remaining
silent where he might easily have been wittily otherwise.

This set her so much at ease, left her so confident, that they were on
terms of gayest understanding presently, she gossiping about the guests
at Shotover House, outlining the diversions planned for the two weeks
before them.

“But we shall see little of one another; you will be shooting most
of the time,” she said--with the very faintest hint of challenge--too
delicate, too impersonal to savour of coquetry. But the germ of it was
there.

“Do you shoot?”

“Yes; why?”

“I am reconciled to the shooting, then.”

“Oh, that is awfully civil of you. Sometimes I’d rather play Bridge.”

“So should I--sometimes.”

“I’ll remember that, Mr. Siward; and when all the men are waiting for
you to start out after grouse perhaps I may take that moment to whisper:
‘May I play?’”

He laughed.

“You mean that you really would stay and play double dummy when every
other living man will be off to the coverts? Double dummy--to improve my
game?”

“Certainly! I need improvement.”

“Then there is something wrong with you, too, Mr. Siward.”

She laughed and started to flick her whip, but at her first motion the
horse gave trouble.

“The bit doesn’t fit,” observed Siward.

“You are perfectly right,” she returned, surprised. “I ought to have
remembered; it is shameful to drive a horse improperly bitted.” And,
after a moment: “You are considerate toward animals; it is good in a
man.”

“Oh, it’s no merit. When animals are uncomfortable it worries me. It’s
one sort of selfishness, you see.”

“What nonsense,” she said; and her smile was very friendly. “Why doesn’t
a nice man ever admit he’s nice when told so?”

It seems they had advanced that far. For she was beginning to find this
young man not only safe but promising; she had met nobody recently half
as amusing, and the outlook at Shotover House had been unpromising
with only the overgrateful Page twins to practise on--the other men
collectively and individually boring her. And suddenly, welcome as
manna from the sky, behold this highly agreeable boy to play with--until
Quarrier arrived. Her telegram had been addressed to Mr. Quarrier.

“What was it you were saying about selfishness?” she asked. “Oh, I
remember. It was nonsense.”

“Certainly.”

She laughed, adding: “Selfishness is so simply defined you know.”

“Is it? How.”

“A refusal to renounce. That covers everything,” she concluded.

“Sometimes renunciation is weakness--isn’t it?” he suggested.

“In what case for example?”

“Well, suppose we take love.”

“Very well, you may take it if you like it.”

“Suppose you loved a man!” he insisted.

“Let him beware! What then?”

“--And, suppose it would distress your family if you married him?”

“I’d give him up.”

“If you loved him?”

“Love? That is the poorest excuse for selfishness, Mr. Siward.”

“So you would ruin your happiness and his--”

“A girl ought to find more happiness in renouncing a selfish love than
in love itself,” announced Miss Landis with that serious conviction
characteristic of her years.

“Of course,” assented Siward with a touch of malice, “if you really do
find more happiness in renouncing love than in love itself, it would be
foolish not to do it--”

“Mr. Siward! You are derisive. Besides, you are not acute. A woman is
always an opportunist. When the event takes place I shall know what to
do.”

“You mean when you want to marry the man you mustn’t?

“Exactly. I probably shall.”

“Marry him?

“Wish to!”

“I see. But you won’t, of course.”

She drew rein, bringing the horse to a walk at the foot of a long hill.

“We are going much too fast,” said Miss Landis, smiling.

“Driving too fast for--”

“No, not driving, going--you and I.”

“Oh, you mean--”

“Yes I do. We are on all sorts of terms, already.”

“In the country, you know, people--”

“Yes I know all about it, and what old and valued friends one makes at a
week’s end. But it has been a matter of half-hours with us, Mr. Siward.”

“Let us sit very still and think it over,” he suggested. And they both
laughed.

It was perhaps the reaction of her gaiety that recalled to her mind her
telegram. The telegram had been her promised answer after she had had
time to consider a suggestion made to her by a Mr. Howard Quarrier. The
last week at Shotover permitted reflection; and while her telegram was
no complete answer to the suggestion he had made, it contained material
of interest in the eight words: “I will consider your request when you
arrive.

“I wonder if you know Howard Quarrier?” she said.

After a second’s hesitation he replied: “Yes--a little. Everybody does.”

“You do know him?”

“Only at--the club.”

“Oh, the Lenox?”

“The Lenox--and the Patroons.”

Preoccupied, driving with careless, almost inattentive perfection, she
thought idly of her twenty-three years, wondering how life could have
passed so quickly leaving her already stranded on the shoals of an
engagement to marry Howard Quarrier. Then her thoughts, errant, wandered
half the world over before they returned to Siward; and when at length
they did, and meaning to be civil, she spoke again of his acquaintance
with Quarrier at the Patroons Club--the club itself being sufficient to
settle Siward’s status in every community.

“I’m trying to remember what it is I have heard about you,” she
continued amiably; “you are--”

An odd expression in his eyes arrested her--long enough to note their
colour and expression--and she continued, pleasantly; “--you are Stephen
Siward, are you not? You see I know your name perfectly well--” Her
straight brows contracted a trifle; she drove on, lips compressed,
following an elusive train of thought which vaguely, persistently,
coupled his name with something indefinitely unpleasant. And she could
not reconcile this with his appearance. However, the train of unlinked
ideas which she pursued began to form the semblance of a chain. Coupling
his name with Quarrier’s, and with a club, aroused memory; vague
uneasiness stirred her to a glimmering comprehension. Siward? Stephen
Siward? One of the New York Siwards then;--one of that race--

Suddenly the truth flashed upon her,--the crude truth lacking definite
detail, lacking circumstance and colour and atmosphere,--merely the raw
and ugly truth.

Had he looked at her--and he did, once--he could have seen only the
unruffled and very sweet profile of a young girl. Composure was one of
the masks she had learned to wear--when she chose.

And she was thinking very hard all the while; “So this is the man? I
might have known his name. Where were my five wits? Siward!--Stephen
Siward! … He is very young, too … much too young to be so horrid. …
Yet--it wasn’t so dreadful, after all; only the publicity! Dear me! I
knew we were going too fast.”

“Miss Landis,” he said.

“Mr. Siward?”--very gently. It was her way to be gentle when generous.

“I think,” he said, “that you are beginning to remember where you may
have heard my name.”

“Yes--a little--” She looked at him with the direct gaze of a child, but
the lovely eyes were troubled. His smile was not very genuine, but he
met her gaze steadily enough.

“It was rather nice of Mrs. Ferrall to ask me,” he said, “after the mess
I made of things last spring.”

“Grace Ferrall is a dear,” she replied.

After a moment he ventured: “I suppose you saw it in the papers.”

“I think so; I had completely forgotten it; your name seemed to--”

“I see.” Then, listlessly: “I couldn’t have ventured to remind you
that--that perhaps you might not care to be so amiable--”

“Mr. Siward,” she said impulsively, “you are nice to me! Why shouldn’t
I be amiable? It was--it was--I’ve forgotten just how dreadfully you did
behave--”

“Pretty badly.”

“Very?”

“They say so.”

“And what is your opinion Mr. Siward?”

“Oh, I ought to have known better.” Something about him reminded her of
a bad small boy; and suddenly in spite of her better sense, in spite
of her instinctive caution, she found herself on the very verge
of laughter. What was it in the man that disarmed and invited a
confidence--scarcely justified it appeared? What was it now that moved
her to overlook what few overlook--not the fault, but its publicity? Was
it his agreeable bearing, his pleasant badinage, his amiably listless
moments of preoccupation, his youth that appealed to her--aroused her
charity, her generosity, her curiosity?

And had other people continued to accept him, too? What would Quarrier
think of his presence at Shotover? She began to realise that she was
a little afraid of Quarrier’s opinions. And his opinions were always
judgments. However Grace Ferrall had thought it proper to ask him, and
that meant social absolution. As far as that went she also was perfectly
ready to absolve him if he needed it. But perhaps he didn’t care!--She
looked at him, furtively. He seemed to be tranquil enough in his
abstraction. Trouble appeared to slide very easily from his broad
young shoulders. Perhaps he was already taking much for granted in
her gentleness with him. And gradually speculation became interest and
interest a young girl’s innocent curiosity to learn something of a
man whose record it seemed almost impossible to reconcile with his
personality.

“I was wondering,” he said looking up to encounter her clear eyes,
“whose house that is over there?”

“Beverly Plank’s shooting-box; Black Fells,” she replied nodding toward
the vast pile of blackish rocks against the sky, upon which sprawled a
heavy stone house infested with chimneys.

“Plank? Oh yes.”

He smiled to remember the battering blows rained upon the ramparts of
society by the master of Black Fells.

But the smile faded; and, glancing at him, the girl was surprised to
see the subtle change in his face--the white worn look, then the old
listless apathy which, all at once to her, hinted of something graver
than preoccupation.

“Are we near the sea?” he asked.

“Very near. Only a moment to the top of this hill. … Now look!”

There lay the sea--the same grey-blue crawling void that had ever
fascinated and repelled him--always wrinkled, always in flat monotonous
motion, spreading away, away to the sad world’s ends.

“Full of menace--always,” he said, unconscious that he had spoken aloud.

“The sea!”

He spoke without turning: “The sea is a relentless thing for a man to
fight. … There are other tides more persistent than the sea, but like
it--like it in its menace.”

His face seemed thinner, older; she noticed his cheek bones for the
first time. Then, meeting her eyes, youth returned with a laugh and a
touch of colour; and, without understanding exactly how, she was aware,
presently, that they had insensibly slipped back to their light badinage
and gay inconsequences--back to a footing which, strangely, seemed to be
already an old footing, familiar, pleasant, and natural to return to.

“Is that Shotover House?” he asked as they came to the crest of the last
hillock between them and the sea.

“At last, Mr. Siward,” she said mockingly; “and now your troubles are
nearly ended.”

“And yours, Miss Landis?”

“I don’t know,” she murmured to herself, thinking of the telegram with
the faintest misgiving.

For she was very young, and she had not had half enough out of life as
yet; and besides, her theories and preconceived plans for the safe
and sound ordering of her life appeared to lack weight--nay, they were
dwindling already into insignificance.

Theory had almost decided her to answer Mr. Quarrier’s suggestion with a
‘Yes.’ However, he was coming from the Lakes in a day or two. She could
decide definitely when she had discussed the matter with him.

“I wish that I owned this dog,” observed Siward, as the phaeton entered
the macadamised drive.

“I wish so, too,” she said, “but he belongs to Mr. Quarrier.”



CHAPTER II IMPRUDENCE

A house of native stone built into and among weather-scarred rocks, one
massive wing butting seaward, others nosing north and south among cedars
and outcropping ledges--the whole silver-grey mass of masonry reddening
under a westering sun, every dormer, every leaded diamond pane aflame;
this was Shotover as Siward first beheld it.

Like the craggy vertebrae of a half-buried fossil splitting the sod, a
ragged line of rock rose as a barrier to inland winds; the foreland, set
here and there with tiny lawns and pockets of bright flowers, fell
away to the cliffs; and here, sheer wet black rocks fronted the eternal
battering of the Atlantic.

As the phaeton drew up under a pillared porte-cochere, one or two
servants appeared; a rather imposing specimen bowed them through the
doors into the hall where, in a wide chimney place, the embers of a
drift-wood fire glimmered like a heap of dusty jewels. Bars of sunlight
slanted on wall and rug, on stone floor and carved staircase, on the
bronze foliations of the railed gallery above, where, in the golden
gloom through a high window, sun-tipped tree tops against a sky of azure
stirred like burnished foliage in a tapestry.

“There is nobody here, of course,” observed Miss Landis to Siward as
they halted in front of the fire-place; “the season opens to-day in this
county, you see.” She shrugged her pretty shoulders: “And the women who
don’t shoot make the first field-luncheon a function.”

She turned, nodded her adieux, then, over her shoulder, casually: “If
you haven’t an appointment with the Sand-Man before dinner you may find
me in the gun-room.”

“I’ll be there in about three minutes,” he said; “and what about this
dog?”--looking down at the Sagamore pup who stood before him, wagging,
attentive, always the gentleman to the tips of his toes.

Miss Landis laughed. “Take him to your room if you like. Dogs have the
run of the house.”

So he followed a servant to the floor above where a smiling and very
ornamental maid preceded him through a corridor and into that heavy wing
of the house which fronted the sea.

“Tea is served in the gun-room, sir,” said the pretty maid, and
disappeared to give place to a melancholy and silent young man who
turned on the bath, laid out fresh raiment, and whispering, “Scotch or
Irish, sir?” presently effaced himself.

Before he quenched his own thirst Siward filled a bowl and set it on the
floor, and it seemed as though the dog would never finish gulping and
slobbering in the limpid icy water.

“It’s the salt air, my boy,” commented the young man, gravely refilling
his own glass as though accepting the excuse on his own account.

Then man and beast completed ablutions and grooming and filed out
through the wide corridor, around the gallery, and down the broad
stairway to the gun-room--an oaken vaulted place illuminated by the sun,
where mellow lights sparkled on glass-cased rows of fowling pieces and
rifles, on the polished antlers of shaggy moose heads.

Miss Landis sat curled up in a cushioned corner under the open casement
panes, offering herself a cup of tea. She looked up, nodding invitation;
he found a place beside her. A servant whispered, “Scotch or Irish,
sir,” then set the crystal paraphernalia at his elbow.

He said something about the salt air, casually; the girl gazed
meditatively at space.

The sound of wheels on the gravel outside aroused her from a silence
which had become a brown study; and, to Siward, presently, she said:
“Here endeth our first rendezvous.”

“Then let us arrange another immediately,” he said, stirring the ice in
his glass.

The girl considered him with speculative eyes: “I shouldn’t exactly know
what to do with you for the next hour if I didn’t abandon you.”

“Why bother to do anything with me? Why even give yourself the trouble
of deserting me? That solves the problem.”

“I really don’t mean that you are a problem to me, Mr. Siward,” she
said, amused; “I mean that I am going to drive again.”

“I see.”

“No you don’t see at all. There’s a telegram; I’m not driving for
pleasure--”

She had not meant that either, and it annoyed her that she had expressed
herself in such terms. As a matter of fact, at the telegraphed request
of Mr. Quarrier, she was going to Black Fells Crossing to meet his train
from the Lakes and drive him back to Shotover. The drive, therefore, was
of course a drive for pleasure.

“I see,” repeated Siward amiably.

“Perhaps you do,” she observed, rising to her graceful height. He was
on his feet at once, so carelessly, so good-humouredly acquiescent that
without any reason at all she hesitated.

“I had meant to show you about--the cliffs--the kennels and stables; I’m
sorry,” she concluded, lingering.

“I’m awfully sorry,” he rejoined without meaning anything in particular.
That was the trouble, whatever he said, apparently meant so much.

With the agreeable sensation of being regretted, she leisurely gloved
herself, then walked through the gun-room and hall, Siward strolling
beside her.

The dog followed them as they turned toward the door and passed out
across the terraced veranda to the driveway where a Tandem cart was
drawn up, faultlessly appointed. Quarrier’s mania was Tandem. She
thought it rather nice of her to remember this.

She inspected the ensemble without visible interest for a few moments;
the wind freshened from the sea, fluttering her veil, and she turned
toward the east to face it. In the golden splendour of declining day the
white sails of yachts crowded landward on the last leg before beating
westward into Blue Harbour; a small white cruiser, steaming south,
left a mile long stratum of rose-tinted smoke hanging parallel to the
horizon’s plane; the westering sun struck sparks from her bright-work.

The magic light on land and water seemed to fascinate the girl; she
had walked a little way toward the cliffs, Siward following silently,
offering no comment on the beauty of sky and cliff. As they halted once
more the enchantment seemed to spread; a delicate haze enveloped the
sea; hints of rose colour tinted the waves; over the uplands a pale
mauve bloom grew; the sunlight turned redder, slanting on the rocks,
and every kelp-covered reef became a spongy golden mound, sprayed with
liquid flame.

They had turned their backs to the Tandem; the grooms looked after them,
standing motionless at the horses’ heads.

“Mr. Siward, this is too fine to miss,” she said. “I will walk as far as
the headland with you. … Please smoke if you care to.”

He did care to; several matches were extinguished by the wind until she
spread her skids as a barrier; and kneeling in their shelter he got his
light.

“Tobacco smoke diluted with sea breeze is delicious,” she said, as
the wind whirled the aromatic smoke of his cigarette up into her face.
“Don’t move, Mr. Siward; I like it; there is to me always a faint odour
of sweet-brier in the mélange. Did you ever notice it?”

The breeze-blown conversation became fragmentary, veering as
capriciously as the purple wind-flaws that spread across the shoals. But
always to her question or comment she found in his response the charm of
freshness, of quick intelligence, or of a humourous and idle perversity
which stimulates without demanding.

Once, glancing back at the house where the T-cart and horses stood, she
said that she had better return; or perhaps she only thought she said
it, for he made no response that time. And a few moments later they
reached the headland, and the Atlantic lay below, flowing azure from
horizon to horizon--under a universe of depthless blue. And for a long
while neither spoke.

With her the spell endured until conscience began to stir. Then she
awoke, uneasy as always, under the shadow of restraint or pressure,
until her eyes fell on him and lingered.

A subtle change had come into his face; its leanness struck her for
the first time; that, and an utter detachment from his surroundings, a
sombre oblivion to everything--and to her.

How curiously had his face altered, how shadowy it had grown, effacing
the charm of youth, in it.

The slight amusement with which she had become conscious of her own
personal exclusion grew to an interest tinged with curiosity.

The interest continued, but when his silence became irksome to her
she said so very frankly. His absent eyes, still clouded, met hers,
unsmiling.

“I hate the sea,” he said.

“You--hate it!” she repeated, too incredulous to be disappointed.

“There’s no rest in it; it tires. A man who plays with it must be on
his guard every second. To spend a lifetime on it is ridiculous--a
whole life of intelligent effort, against perpetual, brutal, inanimate
resistance--one endless uninterrupted fight--a ceaseless human manoeuvre
against senseless menace; and then the counter attack of the lifeless
monster, the bellowing advance, the shock--and no battle won--nothing
final, nothing settled, no! only the same eternal nightmare of
surveillance, the same sleepless watch for stupid treachery.”

“But--you don’t have to fight it!” she said, astonished.

“No; but it is no secret--what it does to those who do. … Some escape;
but only by dying ashore before it gets them. That is the way some of us
reach Heaven; we die too quick for the Enemy to catch us.”

He was laughing when she said: “It is not a fight with the sea; it is
the battle of Life itself you mean.”

“Yes, in a way, the battle of Life.”

“Oh, you are morbid then. Is there anybody ever born who has not a fight
on his hands?”

“No; only I have known men tired out, unfairly, before life had declared
war on them.”

“Just what do you mean?”

“Oh, something about fair play--what our popular idol summarises as a
‘square deal’.” He laughed again, easily, his face clearing.

“Nobody worth a square deal ever laments because he hasn’t had it,” she
said.

“I dare say that’s true, too,” he admitted listlessly.

“Mr. Siward, exactly what did you mean?”

“I was thinking of men I knew; for example a man who through generations
has inherited every impulse and desire that he should not harbour--a man
with intellect enough to be aware of it, with decency enough to desire
decency. … What chance has he with the storms which have been brewing
for him even before he opened his eyes on earth? Is that a square deal?”

The troubled concentration of her face was reflected now in his own; the
wind came whipping and flicking at them from league-wide tossing wastes;
the steady thunder of the sea accented the silence.

She said: “I suppose everybody has infinite capacity for decency or
mischief. I know that I have. And I fancy that this capacity always
remains, no matter how moral one’s life may be. ‘Watch and pray’ was not
addressed to the guilty alone, Mr. Siward.”

“Oh, yes, of course. As for the balanced capacity for good and evil, how
about the inherited desire for the latter?”

“Who is free from that, too? Do you suppose anybody really desires to be
good?”

“You mean most people are so afraid not to be, that virtue becomes a
habit?”

“Perhaps. It’s a plain business proposition anyway. It pays.”

“Celestial insurance?” he asked, laughing.

“I don’t know, Mr. Siward; do you?”

But he, turning to the sea, had become engrossed in his own thoughts
again; and again she was first curious, then impatient at the ease with
which he excluded her. She remembered, too, that the cart was waiting;
that she had scarcely time now to make the train.

She stood irresolute, inert, disinclined to bestir herself. An
inborn aptitude for drifting, which threatened to become a talent
for indecision, had always alternated in her with sudden impulsive
conclusions; and when her pride was involved, in decisions which
sometimes scarcely withstood the analysis of reason.

Physically healthy, mentally unawakened, sentimentally incredulous,
totally ignorant of any master passion, and conventionally drilled, her
beauty and sweet temper had carried her easily on the frothy crest of
her first season, over the eligible and ineligible alike, leaving her at
Lenox, a rather tired and breathless girl, in love with pleasure and the
world which treated her so well.

The death of her mother abroad had made little impression upon her--her
uncle, Major Belwether, having cared for her since her father’s death
when she was ten years old. So, although the scandal of her mother’s
self-exile had been in a measure condoned by a tardy marriage to the man
for whom she had left everything, her daughter had grown up ignorant of
any particular feeling for a mother she could scarcely remember.

However, she wore black and went nowhere for the second winter, during
which time she learned a great deal concerning the unconventional
proclivities of the women of her race and family, enough to impress her
so seriously that on an exaggerated impulse she had come to one of her
characteristic decisions.

That decision was to break the unsavoury record at the first justifiable
opportunity. And the opportunity came in the shape of Quarrier. As
though wedlock were actually the sanctuary which an alarmed nation
pretends it to be!

Now, approaching the threshold of a third and last season, and having
put away her almost meaningless mourning, there had stolen into her
sense of security something irksome in the promise she had made to give
Quarrier a definite answer before winter.

Perhaps it had been the lack of interest in the people at Shotover,
perhaps a mental review of her ancestors’ capricious records--perhaps a
characteristic impulse that had directed a telegram to Quarrier after a
midnight confab with Grace Ferrall.

However it may have been, she had summoned him. And now he was on his
way to get his answer, the best whip, the most eagerly discussed, and
one of the wealthiest unmarried men in America.

Lingering irresolutely, considering with idle eyes the shadows
lengthening across the sun-shot moorland, the sound of Siward’s even
voice aroused her from a meditation bordering on lassitude.

She answered vaguely. He spoke again; all the agreeable, gentle,
humourous charm dominant once more--releasing her from the growing
tension of her own thoughts, absolving her from the duty of immediate
decision.

“I feel curiously lazy,” she said; “perhaps from our long drive.” She
seated herself on the turf. “Talk to me, Mr. Siward--in that lazy way of
yours.”

What he had to say proved inconsequent enough, an irrelevant suggestion
concerning the training of field-dogs for close covert work and the
reasons for not breaking such dogs on quail. Then the question of
cross-breeding came up, and he gave his opinion on the qualities of
“droppers.” To which she replied, sleepily; and the conversation veered
again toward the mystery of heredity, and the hopelessness of escape
from its laws as illustrated now by the Sagamore pup, galloping nose in
the wind, having scented afar the traces of the forbidden rabbit.

“His ancestors turned ‘round and ‘round to flatten the long reeds and
grasses in their lairs before lying down,” observed Siward. “He does it,
too, where there is nothing to flatten out. Did you ever notice how many
times a dog turns around before lying down? And there goes the carefully
schooled Sagamore, chasing rabbits! Why? Because his wild ancestors
chased rabbits. … Heredity? It’s a steady, unseen, pulling, dragging
force. Like lightning, too, it shatters, sometimes, where there is
resistance.”

“Do you mean, Mr. Siward, that heredity is an excuse for moral
weakness?”

“I don’t know. Those inheriting nothing of evil say it is no excuse.”

“It is no excuse.”

“You speak with authority,” he said.

“With more than you are aware of,” she murmured, not meaning to say it.

She stood up impulsively, her fresh face turned to the distant house,
her rounded young figure poised in relief against the sky.

“Inherited or not, idleness, procrastination, are my besetting sins.
Can’t you suggest the remedy, Mr. Siward?”

“But they are only the thieves of Time; and we kill the poor old
gentleman.”

“Leagued assassins,” she repeated pensively.

Her gown had caught on the cliff briers; he knelt to release it, she
looking down, noting an ugly tear in the fabric.

“Payment for my iniquities--the first instalment,” she said, still
looking down over his shoulder and watching his efforts to release her.
“Thank you, Mr. Siward. I think we ought to start, don’t you?”

He straightened up, smiling, awaiting her further pleasure. Her pleasure
being capricious, she seated herself again, saying: “What I meant to say
was this: evils that spring from heredity are no excuse for misconduct
in people of our sort. Environment, not heredity, counts. And it’s our
business, who have every chance in the world, to make good!”

He looked down, amused at the piquant incongruity of voice and
vernacular.

“What time is it?” she asked irrelevantly.

He glanced at his watch. She turned her eyes toward the level sun,
conscious, and a little conscience-stricken that it was too late for her
to drive to Black Fells Crossing--unless she started at once.

The sun hung low over the pines; all the scrubby foreland ran molten
gold in every tufted furrow; flock after flock of twittering little
birds whirled into the briers and out again, scattering inland into
undulating flight.

The zenith turned shell pink; through clotted shoals of clouds spread
spaces of palest green like calm lakes in the sky.

It grew stiller; the wind went down with the sun.

Doubtless he had forgotten to tell her the time; she had almost
forgotten that she had asked him. With the silence of sunset a languor,
the indolence of content, crept over her; she saw him close his watch
with the absent-minded air which she already associated with him, and
she let the question go from sheer disinclination for the effort of
repetition--let the projected drive go--acquiescent, content that
matters shape themselves without any interference from her. The sense of
ease, of physical well-being invaded her with an agreeable relaxation as
though tension somewhere had slackened.

They chatted on, casually, impersonally, in rather subdued tones. The
dog returned now and then to see that all was well. All was well enough,
it appeared, for she sat beside Siward, quite content, knees clasped in
her hands, exchanging impressions of life with a man who so far had
been sympathetically considerate in demanding from her no intellectual
effort.

The conversation drifted illogically; sometimes he stirred her to
amusement, even a hushed laughter; sometimes she smilingly agreed with
his views, sometimes she let them go, uncriticised; or, intent on her
own ideas, shook her small head in amused disapproval.

The stillness over all, the deepening mellow light, the blessed
indolence of the young world--and their few years in it--Youth! That was
perhaps the key to it all, after all.

“To-morrow,” she mused aloud, knees cradled in her clasped fingers,
“to-morrow they’ll shoot--with great circumstance and fuss--a few native
woodcock--there’s no flight yet from the north!--a few grouse, fewer
snipe, a stray duck or two. Others will drive motor cars over bad roads;
others will ride, sail, golf--anything to kill the eternal enemy.”

“And you?”

“Je n’en sais rien, monsieur.”

“Mais je voudrais savoir.”

“Pourquoi?”

“To lay a true course by the stars”; he looked at her blue eyes and she
laughed easily under the laughing flattery.

“You must seek another compass--to-morrow,” she said. Then it occurred
to her that nobody could guess her decision in regard to Quarrier; and
she partly raised her eyes, looking at him, indolent speculation under
the white lids.

She liked him already; in fact she had liked few men as well on such
brief acquaintance.

“You know the majority of the people here, or coming, don’t you?” she
inquired.

“Who are they?”

She began: “The Leroy Mortimers?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Lord Alderdene and Captain Voucher, and the Page twins and Marion?”

“Yes.”

“Rena Bonnesdel, the Tassel girl, Agatha Caithness, Mrs. Vendenning--all
sorts, all sets.” And, with an effort: “If I’m to drive, I should
like--to--to know what time it is?”

He informed her; and she, too indolent to pretend surprise, and finding
reproach easier, told him that he had no business to permit her to
forget.

His smiling serenity under the rebuke aroused in her a slight resentment
as though he had taken something for granted.

Besides, she had grown uneasy; she had wired Quarrier, saying she would
meet him and drive him over. He had replied at once, naming his train.
He was an exact man and expected method and precision in others. She
didn’t exactly know how it might affect him if his reasonable demand was
unsatisfied. She did not know him very well yet, only well enough to be
aware that he was a gentleman so precisely, so judiciously constructed,
that, contemplating his equitable perfections, her awe and admiration
grew as one on whom dawns the exquisite adjustments of an almost human
machine.

And, thinking of him now, she again made up her mind to give him the
answer which he now had every reason to expect from her. This decision
appeared to lubricate her conscience; it ran more smoothly now, emitting
fewer creaks.

“You say that you know Mr. Quarrier?” she began thoughtfully.

“Not well.”

“I--hope you will like him, Mr. Siward.”

“I do not think he likes me, Miss Landis. He has reasons not to.”

She looked up, suddenly remembering: “Oh--since that scrape? What
has Mr. Quarrier to do--” She did not finish the sentence. A troubled
silence followed; she was trying to remember the details--something she
had paid small attention to at the time--something so foreign to her,
so distant from her comprehension that it had not touched her closely
enough for her to remember exactly what this young man might have done
to forfeit the good-will of Howard Quarrier.

She looked at Siward; it was impossible that anything very bad could
come from such a man. And, pursuing her reasoning aloud: “It couldn’t
have been very awful,” she argued; “something foolish about an actress,
was it not? And that could not concern Mr. Quarrier.”

“I thought you did know; I thought you--remembered--while you were
driving me over from the station--that I was dropped from my club.”

She flushed up: “Oh!--but--what had Mr. Quarrier to do with that?”

“He is a governor of that club.”

“You mean that Mr. Quarrier had you--dropped?”

“What else could he do? A man who is idiot enough to risk making his
own club notorious, must take the consequences. And they say I took that
risk. Therefore Mr. Quarrier, Major Belwether--all the governors did
their duty. I--I naturally conclude that no governor of the Patroons
Club feels very kindly toward me.”

Miss Landis sat very still, her small head bent, a flush still
brightening her fair face.

She recalled a few of the details now--the scandal--something of the
story. Which particular actress it was she could not remember; but some
men who had dined too freely had made the wager, and this boy sitting
beside her had accepted it--and won it, by bringing into the sacred
precincts of the Patroons Club a foolish, shameless girl disguised in a
man’s evening dress.

That was bad enough; that somebody promptly discovered it was worse; but
worst of all was the publicity, the club’s name smirched, the young man
expelled from one of the two best clubs in the metropolis.

To read of such things in the columns of a daily paper had meant little
to her except to repell her; to hear it mentioned among people of her
own sort had left her incurious and indifferent. But now she saw it in
a new light, with the man who had figured in it seated beside her. Did
such men as he--such attractive, well-bred, amusing men as he--do that
sort of thing?

There he sat, hat off, the sun touching his short, thick hair which
waved a little at the temples--a boyish mould to head and shoulders, a
cleanly outlined check and chin, a thoroughbred ear set close--a good
face. What sort of a man, then, was a woman to feel at ease with? What
eye, what mouth, what manner, what bearing was a woman to trust?

“Is that the kind of man you are, Mr. Siward?” she said impulsively.

“It appears that I was; I don’t know what I am--or may be.”

“The pity of it!” she said, still swayed by impulse. “Why did you
do--didn’t you know--realize what you were doing--bringing discredit on
your own club?”

“I was in no condition to know, Miss Landis.”

The crude brutality of the expression might merely have hurt or
disgusted her had she been less intelligent. Nor, as it was, did she
fully understand why he chose to use it--unless that he meant it in
self-punishment.

“It’s rather shameful!” she said hotly.

“Yes,” he assented; “it’s a bad beginning.”

“A--beginning! Do you mean to go on?”

He did not reply; his head was partly turned from her. She sat silent
for a while. The dog had returned to lie at Siward’s feet, its brown
eyes tirelessly watching the man it had chosen for its friend; and
the man, without turning his eyes, dropped one hand on the dog’s head,
caressing the silky ears.

Some sentimentalist had once said that no man who cared for animals
could be wholly bad. Inexperience inclined her to believe it. Then too,
she had that inclination for overlooking offences committed against
precept, which appears to be one of those edifying human traits peculiar
to neither sex and common to both. Besides, her knowledge of such
matters was as vague as her mind was healthy and body wholesome. Men
who dined incautiously were not remarkable for their rarity; the actress
habit, being incomprehensible to her, meant nothing; and she said,
innocently: “What men like you can find attractive in a common woman I
do not understand; there are plenty of pretty women of your own sort.
The actress cult is beyond my comprehension; I only know it is generally
condoned. But it is not for such things that we drop men, Mr. Siward.
You know that, of course.”

“For what do you drop men?”

“For falsehood, deception, any dishonesty.”

“And you don’t drop a man when you read in the papers that one of the
two best clubs in town has expelled him?”

She gave him a troubled glance; and, naively: “But you are still a
member of the other, are you not?” Then hardening: “It was common!
common!--thoroughly disgraceful and incomprehensible!”--and with every
word uttered insensibly warming in her heart toward him whom she was
chastening; “it was not even bad--it was worse than being simply bad; it
was stupid!”

He nodded, one hand slowly caressing the dog’s head where it lay across
his knees.

She watched him a moment, hesitated, then smiling a little: “So now I
know the worst about you; do I not?” she concluded.

He did not answer; she waited, the smile still curving her red mouth.
Had she been too severe? She wondered. “You may help me to my feet,” she
said sweetly. She was very young.

He rose at once, holding out his hands to aid her in that pleasantly
impersonal manner so suited to him; and now they stood together in the
purple dusk of the uplands--two people young enough to take one another
seriously.

“Let me tell you something,” she said, facing him, white hands loosely
linked behind her. “I don’t exactly understand how it has happened, but
you know as well as I do that we have formed a--an acquaintance--the
sort that under normal conditions requires a long time and several
conventional and preliminary chapters. … I should like to know what you
think of our performance.”

“I think,” he said laughing, “that it is charming.”

“Oh, yes; men usually find the unconventional agreeable. What I want to
know is why I find it so, too?”

“Do you?” A dull colour stained his cheek-bones.

“Certainly I do. Is it because I’ve had a delightful chance to admonish
a sinner--and be--just a little sorry--that he had made such a silly
spectacle of himself?”

He laughed, wincing a trifle.

“Hence this agreeably righteous glow suffusing me,” she concluded. “So
now that I have answered my own question, I think that we had better go.
… Don’t you?”

They walked for a while, subdued, soberly picking their path through the
dusk. After a few moments she began to feel doubtful, a little uneasy,
partly from a reaction which was natural, partly because she was not
at all sure what either Quarrier or Major Belwether would think of the
terms she was already on with Siward. Suppose they objected? She had
never thwarted either of these gentlemen. Besides she already had a
temporary interest in Siward--the interest that women always cherish,
quite unconsciously, for the man whose shortcomings they have consented
to overlook.

As they crossed the headland, through the deepening dusk the acetylene
lamps on a cluster of motor cars spread a blinding light across the
scrub. The windows of Shotover House were brilliantly illuminated.

“Our shooting-party has returned,” she said.

They crossed the drive through the white glare of the motor lamps;
people were passing, grooms with dogs and guns and fluffy bunches of
game-birds, several women in motor costumes, veils afloat, a man or two
in shooting-tweeds or khaki.

As they entered the hall together, she turned to him, an indefinable
smile curving her lips; then, with a little nod, friendly and sweet, she
left him standing at the open door of the gun-room.



CHAPTER III SHOTOVER

The first person he encountered in the gun-room was Quarrier, who
favoured him with an expressionless stare, then with a bow, quite
perfunctory and non-committal. It was plain enough that he had not
expected to meet Siward at Shotover House.

Kemp Ferrall, a dark, stocky, active man of forty, was in the act of
draining a glass, when, though the bottom he caught sight of Siward.
He finished in a gulp, and advanced, one muscular hand outstretched:
“Hello, Stephen! Heard you’d arrived, tried the Scotch, and bolted with
Sylvia Landis! That’s all right, too, but you should have come for
the opening day. Lots of native woodcock--eh, Blinky?” turning to Lord
Alderdene; and again to Siward: “You know all these fellows--Mortimer
yonder--” There was the slightest ring in his voice; and Leroy Mortimer,
red-necked, bulky, and heavy eyed, emptied his glass and came over,
followed by Lord Alderdene blinking madly though his shooting-goggles
and showing all his teeth like a pointer with a “tic.” Captain Voucher,
a gentleman with the vivid colouring of a healthy groom on a cold day,
came up, followed by the Page boys, Willis and Gordon, who shook hands
shyly, enchanted to be on easy terms with the notorious Mr. Siward. And
last of all Tom O’Hara arrived, reeking of the saddle and clinking a
pair of trooper’s spurs over the floor--relics of his bloodless Porto
Rico campaign with Squadron A.

It was patent to every man present that the Kemp Ferralls had determined
to ignore Siward’s recent foolishness, which indicated that he might
reasonably expect the continued good-will of several sets, the orbits of
which intersected in the social system of his native city. Indeed, the
few qualified to snub him cared nothing about the matter, and it was not
likely that anybody else would take the initiative in being disagreeable
to a young man, the fortunes and misfortunes of whose race were part of
the history of Manhattan Island. Siwards, good or bad, were a matter of
course in New York.

So everybody in the gun-room was civil enough, and he chose Scotch
and found a seat beside Alderdene, who sat biting at a smoky pipe and
fingering a tumbler of smokier Scotch, blinking away like mad through
his shooting-goggles at everybody.

“These little brown snipe you call woodcock,” he began; “we bagged nine
brace, d’you see? But of all the damnable bogs and covers--”

“Rotten,” said Mortimer thickly; “Ferrall, you’re all calf and biceps,
and it’s well enough for you to go floundering into bogs--”

“Where do you expect to find native woodcock?” demanded Ferrall,
laughing.

“On the table hereafter,” growled Mortimer.

“Oh, go and pot Beverly Plank’s tame pheasants,” retorted Ferrall
amiably; “Captain Voucher had a blank day, but he isn’t kicking.”

“Not I,” said Voucher; “the sport is capital--if one can manage to hit
the beggars--”

“Oh, everybody misses in snap-shooting,” observed Ferrall; “that is,
everybody except Stephen Siward with his unholy left barrel. Crack!
and,” turning to Alderdene, “it’s like taking money from you,
Blinky--which reminds me that we’ve time for a little Preference before
dressing.”

His squinting lordship declined and took an easier position in his
chair, extending a pair of little bandy legs draped in baggy tweed
knickerbockers and heather-spats. Mortimer, industriously distending his
skin with whiskey, reached for the decanter. The aromatic perfume of
the spirits aroused Siward, and he instinctively nodded his desire to a
servant.

“This salt air keeps one thirsty,” he observed to Ferrall; then
something in his host’s expression arrested the glass at his lips. He
had already been using the decanter a good deal; except Mortimer, nobody
was doing that sort of thing as freely as he.

He set his glass on the table thoughtfully; a tinge of colour had crept
into his lean checks.

Ferrall, too, suddenly uncomfortable, stood up saying something about
dressing; several men arose a trifle stiffly, feeling in every joint the
result of the first day’s shooting after all those idle months. Mortimer
got up with an unfeigned groan; Siward followed, leaving his glass
untouched.

One or two other men came in from the billiard-room. All greeted Siward
amiably--all excepting one who may not have seen him--an elderly, pink,
soft gentleman with white downy chop-whiskers and the profile of a
benevolent buck rabbit.

“How do you do, Major Belwether?” said Siward in a low voice without
offering his hand.

Then Major Belwether saw him, bless you! yes indeed! And though Siward
continued not to offer his hand, Major Belwether meant to have it, bless
your heart! And he fussed and fussed and beamed cordiality until he
secured it in his plump white fingers and pressed it effusively.

There was something about his soft, warm hands which had always reminded
Siward of the temperature and texture of a newly hatched bird. It had
been some time since he had shaken hands with Major Belwether; it was
apparent that the bird had not aged any.

“And now for the shooting!” said the Major with an arch smile. “Now for
the stag at bay and the winding horn--

    ‘Where sleeps the moon On Mona’s rill--’

Eh, Siward?

    ‘And here’s to the hound With his nose upon the ground--’

Eh, my boy? That reminds me of a story--” He chuckled and chuckled,
his lambent eyes suffused with mirth; and slipping his arm through the
pivot-sleeve of Lord Alderdene’s shooting-jacket, hooking the other in
Siward’s reluctant elbow, and driving Mortimer ahead of him, he went
garrulously away up the stairs, his lordship’s bandy little legs
trotting beside him, the soaking gaiters and shoes slopping at every
step.

Mortimer, his mottled skin now sufficiently distended, greeted the story
with a yawn from ear to ear; his lordship, blinking madly, burst into
that remarkable laugh which seemed to reveal the absence of certain
vocal cords requisite to perfect harmony; and Siward smiled in his
listless, pleasant way, and turned off down his corridor, unaware
that the Sagamore pup was following close at his heels until he heard
Quarrier’s even, colourless voice: “Ferrall, would you be good enough to
send Sagamore to your kennels?”

“Oh--he’s your dog! I forgot,” said Siward turning around.

Quarrier looked at him, pausing a moment.

“Yes,” he said coldly, “he’s my dog.”

For a fraction of a second the two men’s eyes encountered; then Siward
glanced at the dog, and turned on his heel with the slightest shrug.
And that is all there was to the incident--an anxious, perplexed puppy
lugged off by a servant, turning, jerking, twisting, resisting, looking
piteously back as his unwilling feet slid over the polished floor.

So Siward walked on alone through the long eastern wing to his room
overlooking the sea. He sat down on the edge of his bed, glancing at
the clothing laid out for him. He felt tired and disinclined for the
exertion of undressing. The shades were up; night quicksilvered the
window-panes so that they were like a dark mirror reflecting his
face. He inspected his darkened features curiously; the blurred and
sombre-tinted visage returned the stare.

“Not a man at all--the shadow of a man,” he said aloud--“with no will,
no courage--always putting off the battle, always avoiding conclusions,
always skulking. What chance is there for a man like that?”

As one who raises a glass to drink wine and unexpectedly finds water,
he shrugged his shoulders disgustedly and got up. A bath followed; he
dressed leisurely, and was pacing the room, fussing with his collar,
when Ferrall knocked and entered, finding a seat on the bed.

“Stephen,” he said bluntly, “I haven’t seen you since that break of
yours at the club.”

“Rotten, wasn’t it?” commented Siward, tying his tie.

“Perfectly. Of course it doesn’t make any difference to Grace or to me,
but I fancy you’ve already heard from it.”

“Oh, yes. All I care about is how my mother took it.”

“Of course; she was cut up I suppose?”

“Yes, you know how she would look at a thing of that sort; not that any
of the nine and seventy jarring sets would care, but those few thousands
invading the edges, butting in--half or three-quarters inside--are the
people who can’t afford to overlook the victim of a fashionable club’s
displeasure--those, and a woman like my mother, and several other
decent-minded people who happen to count in town.”

Ferrall, his legs swinging busily, thought again; then: “Who was the
girl, Stephen?”

“I don’t think the papers mentioned her name,” said Siward gravely.

“Oh--I beg your pardon; I thought she was some notorious
actress--everybody said so. … Who were those callow fools who put you
up to it? … Never mind if you don’t care to tell. But it strikes me they
are candidates for club discipline as well as you. It was up to them to
face the governors I think--”

“No, I think not.”

Ferrall, legs swinging busily, considered him.

“Too bad,” he mused; “they need not have dropped you--”

“Oh, they had to. But as long as the Lenox takes no action I can live
that down.”

Ferrall nodded: “I came in to say something--a message from
Grace--confound it! what was it? Oh--could you--before dinner--now--just
sit down and with that infernal facility of yours make a sketch of a man
chasing a gun-shy dog?”

“Why yes--if Mrs. Ferrall wishes--”

He walked over to the desk in his shirt-sleeves, sat down, drew a blank
sheet of paper toward him, and, dipping his pen, drew carelessly a
gun-shy setter dog rushing frantically across the stubble, and after
him, bare-headed, gun in hand, the maddest of men.

“Put a Vandyke beard on him,” grinned Ferrall over his shoulder. “There!
O Lord! but you have hit it! Put a ticked saddle on the cur--there!”

“Who is this supposed to be?” began Siward, looking up. But “Wait!”
 chuckled his host, seizing the still wet sketch, and made for the door.

Siward strolled into the bath-room, washed a spot or two of ink from
his fingers, returned and buttoned his waistcoat, then, completing an
unhurried toilet, went out and down the stairway to the big living-room.
There were two or three people there--Mrs. Leroy Mortimer, very fetching
with her Japanese-like colouring, black hair and eyes that slanted just
enough; Rena Bonnesdel, smooth, violet-eyed, blonde, and rather stunning
in a peculiarly innocent way; Miss Caithness, very pale and slimly
attractive; and the Page boys, Willis and Gordon, delightfully shy and
interested, and having a splendid time with any woman who could afford
the intellectual leisure.

Siward spoke pleasantly to them all. Other people drifted down--Marion
Page who looked like a school-marm and rode like a demon; Eileen
Shannon, pink and white as a thorn blossom, with the deuce to pay
lurking in her grey eyes; Kathryn Tassel and Mrs. Vendenning whom he did
not know, and finally his hostess Grace Ferrall with her piquant,
almost boyish, freckled face and sweet frank eyes and the figure of an
adolescent.

She gave Siward one pretty sun-browned hand and laid the other above
his, holding it a moment in her light clasp.

“Stephen! Stephen!” she said under her breath, “it’s because I’ve a few
things to scold you about that I’ve asked you to Shotover.”

“I suppose I know,” he said.

“I should hope you do. I’ve a letter to-night from your mother.”

“From my mother?”

“I want you to go over it--with me--if we can find a minute after
dinner.” She released his hand, turning partly around: “Kemp, dinner’s
been announced, so cut that dog story in two! Will you give me your arm
Major Belwether? Howard!”--to her cousin, Mr. Quarrier, who turned from
Miss Landis to listen--“will you please try to recollect whom you are
to take in--and do it?” And, as she passed Siward, in a low voice,
mischievous and slangy: “Sylvia Landis for yours--as she says she didn’t
have enough of you on the cliffs.”

The others appeared to know how to pair according to some previous
notice. Siward turned to Sylvia Landis with the pleasure of his good
fortune so plainly visible in his face, that her own brightened in
response.

“You see,” she said gaily, “you cannot escape me. There is no use in
looking wildly at Agatha Caithness”--he wasn’t--“or pretending you’re
pleased,” slipping her rounded, bare arm through the arm he offered.
“You can’t guess what I’ve done to-night--nobody can guess except Grace
Ferrall and one other person. And if you try to look happy beside me,
I may tell you--somewhere between sherry and cognac--Oh, yes; I’ve done
two things: I have your dog for you!”

“Not Sagamore?” he said incredulously as he was seating her.

“Certainly Sagamore. I said to Mr. Quarrier, ‘I want Sagamore,’ and when
he tried to give him to me, I made him take my cheque. Now you may
draw another for me at your leisure, Mr. Siward. Tell me, are you
pleased?”--for she was looking for the troubled hesitation in his face
and she saw it dawning.

“Mr. Quarrier doesn’t like me, you know--”

“But I do,” she said coolly. “I told him how much pleasure it would give
me. That is sufficient--is it not?--for everybody concerned.”

“He knew that you meant to--”

“No, that concerns only you and me. Are you trying to spoil my pleasure
in what I have done?”

“I can’t take the dog, Miss Landis--”

“Oh,” she said, vexed; “I had no idea you were vindictive--”

There was a silence; he bent forward a trifle, gravely scrutinising a
“hand-painted” name card, though it might not have astonished him to
learn that somebody’s foot had held the brush. Somewhere in the vicinity
Grace Ferrall had discovered a woman who supported dozens of relatives
by painting that sort of thing for the summer residents at Vermillion
Point down the coast. So being charitable she left an order, and being
thrifty, insisted on using the cards, spite of her husband’s gibes.

People were now inspecting them with more or less curiosity; Siward
found his “hand-painting” so unattractive that he had just tipped it
over to avoid seeing it, when a burst of laughter from Lord Alderdene
made everybody turn. Mrs. Vendenning was laughing; so was Rena Bonnesdel
looking over Quarrier’s shoulder at a card he was holding--not one of
the “hand-decorated,” but a sheet of note-paper containing a drawing of
a man rushing after a gun-shy dog.

The extraordinary cackling laughter of his lordship obliterated other
sounds for a while; Rena Bonnesdel possessed herself of the drawing and
held it up amid a shout of laughter. And, to his excessive annoyance,
Siward saw that, unconsciously, he had caricatured Quarrier--Ferrall’s
malicious request for a Vandyke beard making the caricature dreadfully
apparent.

Quarrier had at first flushed up; then he forced a smile; but his
symmetrical features were never cordial when he smiled.

“Who on earth did that?” whispered Sylvia Landis apprehensively. “Mr.
Quarrier dislikes that sort of thing--but of course he’ll take it well.”

“Did he ever chase his own dog?” asked Siward, biting his lip.

“Yes--so Blinky says--in the Carolinas last season. It’s Blinky!--that’s
his notion of humour. Did you ever hear such a laugh? No wonder Mr.
Quarrier is annoyed.”

The gay uproar had partly subsided, renewed here and there as the sketch
was passed along, and finally, making the circle, returned like a bad
penny to Quarrier. He smiled again, symmetrically, as he received it,
nodding his compliments to Alderdene.

“Oh, no,” cackled his lordship; “I didn’t draw it, old chap!”

“Nor I! I only wish I could,” added Captain Voucher.

“Nor I--nor I--who did it?” ran the chorus along the table.

“I didn’t do it!” said Sylvia gravely, looking across at Quarrier. And
suddenly Quarrier’s large, handsome eyes met Siward’s for the briefest
fraction of a second, then were averted. But into his face there crept
an expressionless pallor that did not escape Siward--no, nor Sylvia
Landis.

Presently under cover of a rapid fire of chatter she said: “Did you draw
that?”

“Yes; I had no idea it was meant for him. You may imagine how likely I’d
be to take any liberty with a man who already dislikes me.”

“But it resembles him--in a very dreadful way.”

“I know it. You must take my word for what I have told you.”

She looked up at him: “I do.” Then: “It’s a pity; Mr. Quarrier does not
consider such things humourous. He--he is very sensitive. … Oh, I wish
that fool Englishman had been in Ballyhoo!”

“But he didn’t do it!”

“No, but he put you up to it--or Grace Ferrall did. I wish Grace would
let Mr. Quarrier alone; she has always been perfectly possessed to
plague him; she seems unable to take him seriously and he simply hates
it. I don’t think he’d tolerate her if she were not his cousin.

“I’m awfully sorry,” was all Siward said; and for a while he gloomily
busied himself with whatever was brought to him.

“Don’t look that way,” came a low voice beside him.

“Do I show everything as plainly as that?” he asked, curiously.

“I seem to read you--sometimes.”

“It’s very nice of you,” he said.

“Nice?”

“To look at me--now and then.”

“Oh,” she cried resentfully, “don’t be grateful.”

“I--really am not you know,” he said laughing.

“That,” she rejoined slowly, “is the truth. You say conventional things
in a manner--in an agreeably personal manner that interests women. But
you are not grateful to anybody for anything; you are indifferent, and
you can’t help being nice to people, so--some day--some girl will think
you are grateful, and will have a miserable time of it.”

“Miserable time?”

“Waiting for you to say what never will enter your head to say.”

“You mean I--I--”

“Flirt? No, I mean that you don’t flirt; that you are always dreamily
occupied with your own affairs, from which listlessly congenial
occupation, when drawn, you are so unexpectedly nice that a girl
immediately desires to see how nice you can be.”

“What a charming indictment you draw!” he said, amused.

“It’s a grave one I assure you. I’ve been talking about you to Grace
Ferrall; I asked to be placed beside you at dinner; I told her I hadn’t
had half enough of you on the cliff. Now what do you think of yourself
for being too nice to a susceptible girl? I think it’s immoral.”

They both were laughing now; several people glanced at them, smiling
in sympathy. Alderdene took that opportunity to revert to the sketch,
furnishing a specimen of his own inimitable laughter as a running
accompaniment to the story of Quarrier and his dog in North Carolina,
until he had everybody, as usual, laughing, not at the story but at him.
All of which demonstration was bitterly offensive to Quarrier. He turned
his eyes once on Miss Landis and on Siward, then dropped them.

The hostess arose; a rustle and flurry of silk and lace and the scraping
of chairs, a lingering word or laugh, and the colour vanished from the
room leaving a circle of men in black standing around the table.

Here and there a man, lighting a cigarette, bolted his coffee and cognac
and strolled out to the gun-room. Ferrall, gesticulating vigorously,
resumed his preprandial dog story to Captain Voucher; Belwether
buttonholed Alderdene and bored him with an interminably facetious
tale until that nobleman, threatened with maxillary dislocation, fairly
wrenched himself loose and came over to Siward, squinting furiously.

“Old ass!” he muttered; “his chop whiskers look like the chops of a
Southdown ram--and he’s got the wits of one. Look here, Stephen, I hear
you fell into no end of a scrape in town--”

“Tu quoque, Blinky? Oh, read the newspapers and let it go at that!”

“Just as you like old chap!” returned his lordship unabashed. “All I
meant was--anything Voucher and I can do--of course--”

“You’re very good. I’m not dead you know.”

“‘Not dead, you know’,” repeated Major Belwether coming up behind them
with his sprightly step; “that reminds me of a good one--” He sat down
and lighted a cigar, then, vainly attempting to control his countenance
as though roguishly anticipating the treat awaiting them, he began
another endless story.

Tradition had hallowed the popular notion that Major Belwether was a
wit. The sycophant of the outer world seldom even awaited his first word
before bursting into premature mirth. Besides he was very wealthy.

Siward watched him with mixed emotions; the lambent-eyed, sheepy
expression had given place to the buck rabbit; his smooth baby-pink skin
and downy white side whiskers quivered in premature sympathy with his
listener’s overwhelming hilarity.

The Page boys, very callow, very much delighted, and a little in awe of
such a celebrated personage, laughed heartily. And altogether there was
sufficient attention and sufficient laughter to make a very respectable
noise. This, being the major’s cue for an exit, he rose, one sleek hand
raised in sprightly protest as though to shield the invisible ladies, to
whose bournes he was bound, from an uproar too masculine and mighty for
the ears of such a sex.

“Ass!” muttered Alderdene, getting up and pattering about the room in
his big, shiny pumps. “Give me a peg--somebody!”

Mortimer swallowed his brandy, lingered, lifted the decanter,
mechanically considering its remaining contents and his own capacity;
then:

“Bridge, Captain?”

“Certainly,” said Captain Voucher briskly.

“I’ll go and shoo the major into the gun-room,” observed
Ferrall--“unless--” looking questioningly at Siward.

“I’ve a date with your wife,” observed that young man, strolling toward
the hall.

The Page boys, Rena Bonnesdel, and Eileen Shannon were seated at a card
table together, very much engaged with one another, the sealed pack
lying neglected on the green cloth, a vast pink box of bon-bons beside
it, not neglected.

O’Hara and Quarrier with Marion Page and Mrs. Mortimer were immersed in
the game, already stony faced and oblivious to outer sounds.

About the rooms were distributed girls en tête-à-tête, girls eating
bon-bons and watching the cards--among them Sylvia Landis, hands loosely
clasped behind her, standing at Quarrier’s elbow to observe and profit
by an expert performance.

As Siward strolled in she raised her dainty head for an instant, smiled
in silence, and resumed a study of her fiancé’s game.

A moment later, when Quarrier had emerged brilliantly from the mêlée,
she looked up again, triumphantly, supposing Siward was lingering
somewhere waiting to join her. And she was just a trifle surprised and
disappointed to find him nowhere in sight. She had wished him to observe
the brilliancy of Mr. Quarrier’s game.

But Siward, outside on the veranda, was saying at that moment to his
hostess: “I shall be very glad to read my mother’s letter at any time
you choose.”

“It must be later, Stephen. I’m to cut in when Kemp sends for me. He has
a lot of letters to attend to. … Tell me, what do you think of Sylvia
Landis?”

“I like her, of course,” he replied pleasantly.

Grace Ferrall stood thinking a moment: “That sketch you made proved a
great success, didn’t it?” And she laughed under her breath.

“Did it? I thought Mr. Quarrier seemed annoyed--”

“Really? What a muff that cousin of mine is. He’s such a muff, you know,
that the very sight of his pointed beard and pompadour hair and his
complacency sets me in fidgets to stir him up.”

“I don’t think you’d best use me for the stick next time,” said Siward.
“He’s not my cousin you know.”

Mrs. Ferrall shrugged her boyish shoulders: “By the way”--she said
curiously--“who was that girl?”

“What girl,” he asked coolly, looking at his hostess, now the very
incarnation of delicate mockery with her pretty laughing mouth, her
boyish sunburn and freckles.

“You won’t tell me I suppose?”

“I’m sorry--”

“Was she pretty, Stephen?”

“Yes,” he said sulkily; “I wish you wouldn’t--”

“Nonsense! Do you think I’m going to let you off without some sort of
confession? If I had time now--but I haven’t. Kemp has business letters:
he’ll be furious; so I’ve got to take his cards or we won’t have any
pennies to buy gasoline for our adored and shrieking Mercedes.”

She retreated backward with a gay nod of malice, turned to enter the
house, and met Sylvia Landis face to face in the hallway.

“You minx!” she whispered; “aren’t you ashamed?”

“Very much, dear. What for?” And catching sight of Siward outside in the
starlight, divined perhaps something of her hostess’ meaning, for she
laughed uneasily, like a child who winces under a stern eye.

“You don’t suppose for a moment,” she began, “that I have--”

“Yes I do. You always do.”

“Not with that sort of man,” she returned naïvely; “he won’t.”

Mrs. Ferrall regarded her suspiciously: “You always pick out exactly the
wrong man to play with--”

They had moved back side by side into the hall, the hostess’ arm linked
in the arm of the younger girl.

“The wrong man?” repeated Sylvia, instinctively freeing her arm, her
straight brows beginning to bend inward.

“I didn’t mean that--exactly. You know how much I care for his
mother--and for him.” The obstinate downward trend of the brows, the
narrowing blue gaze signalled mutiny to the woman who knew her so well.

“What is so wrong with Mr. Siward?” she asked.

“Nothing. There was an affair--”

“This spring in town. I know it. Is that all?”

“Yes--for the present,” replied Grace Ferrall uncomfortably; then: “For
goodness’ sake, Sylvia, don’t cross examine me that way! I care a great
deal for that boy--”

“So do I. I’ve made him take my dog.”

There was an abrupt pause, and presently Mrs. Ferrall began to laugh.

“I mean it--really,” said Sylvia quietly; “I like him immensely.”

“Dearest, you mean it generously--with your usual exaggeration. You have
heard that he has been foolish, and because he’s so young, so likable,
every instinct, every impulse in you is aroused to--to be nice to him--”

“And if that were--”

“There is no harm, dear--” Mrs. Ferrall hesitated, her grey eyes
softening to a graver revery. Then looking up: “It’s rather pathetic,”
 she said in a low voice. “Kemp thinks he’s foredoomed--like all the
Siwards. It’s an hereditary failing with him,--no, it’s hereditary
damnation. Siward after Siward, generation after generation you know--”
 She bit her lip, thinking a moment. “His grandfather was a friend of
my grand-parents, brilliant, handsome, generous, and--doomed! His own
father was found dying in a dreadful resort in London where he had
wandered when stupefied--a Siward! Think of it! So you see what that
outbreak of Stephen’s means to those whose families have been New
Yorkers since New York was. It is ominous, it is more than ominous--it
means that the master-vice has seized on one more Siward. But I shall
never, never admit it to his mother.”

The younger girl sat wide-eyed, silent; the elder’s gaze was upon her,
but her thoughts, remote, centred on the hapless mother of such a son.

“Such indulgence was once fashionable; moderation is the present
fashion. Perhaps he will fall into line,” said Mrs. Ferrall
thoughtfully. “The main thing is to keep him among people, not to
drop him. The gregarious may be shamed, but if anything, any incident,
happens to drive him outside by himself, if he should become solitary,
there’s not a chance in the world for him. … It’s a pity. I know he
meant to make himself the exception to the rule--and look! Already one
carouse of his has landed him in the daily papers!”

Sylvia flushed and looked up: “Grace, may I ask you a plain question?”

“Yes, child,” she answered absently.

“Has it occurred to you that what you have said about this boy touches
me very closely?”

Mrs. Ferrall’s wits returned nimbly from woolgathering, and she shot a
startled, inquiring glance at the girl beside her.

“You--you mean the matter of heredity, Sylvia?”

“Yes. I think my uncle Major Belwether chose you as his august
mouthpiece for that little sermon on the dangers of heredity--the danger
of being ignorant concerning what women of my race had done--before I
came into the world they found so amusing.”

“I told you several things,” returned Mrs. Ferrall composedly. “Your
uncle thought it best for you to know.”

“Yes. The marriage vows sat lightly upon some of my ancestors, I gather.
In fact,” she added coolly, “where the women of my race loved they
usually found the way--rather unconventionally. There was, if I
understood you, enough of divorce, of general indiscretion and
irregularity to seriously complicate any family tree and coat of arms I
might care to claim--”

“Sylvia!”

The girl lifted her pretty bare shoulders. “I’m sorry, but could I help
it? Very well; all I can do is to prove a decent exception. Very well;
I’m doing it, am I not?--practically scared into the first solidly
suitable marriage offered--seizing the unfortunate Howard with both
hands for fear he’d get away and leave me alone with only a queer
family record for company! Very well! Now then, I want to ask you why
everybody, in my case, didn’t go about with sanctimonious faces and
dolorous mien repeating: ‘Her grand-mother eloped! Her mother ran away.
Poor child, she’s doomed! doomed!’”

“Sylvia, I--”

“Yes--why didn’t they? That’s the way they talk about that boy out
there!” She swept a rounded arm toward the veranda.

“Yes, but he has already broken loose, while you--”

“So did I--nearly! Had it not been for you, you know well enough I might
have run away with that dreadful Englishman at Newport! For I adored
him--I did! I did! and you know it. And look at my endless escapes from
compromising myself! Can you count them?--all those indiscretions when
mere living seemed to intoxicate me that first winter--and only my uncle
and you to break me in!”

“In other words,” said Mrs. Ferrall slowly, “you don’t think Mr. Siward
is getting what is known as a square deal?”

“No, I don’t. Major Belwether has already hinted--no, not even that--but
has somehow managed to dampen my pleasure in Mr. Siward.”

Mrs. Ferrall considered the girl beside her--now very lovely and flushed
in her suppressed excitement.

“After all,” she said, “you are going to marry somebody else. So why
become quite so animated about a man you may never again see?”

“I shall see him if I desire to!”

“Oh!”

“I am not taking the black veil, am I?” asked the girl hotly.

“Only the wedding veil, dear. But after all your husband ought to have
something to suggest concerning a common visiting list--”

“He may suggest--certainly. In the meantime I shall be loyal to my own
friends--and afterward, too,” she murmured to herself, as her hostess
rose, calmly dropping care like a mantle from her shoulders.

“Go and be good to this poor young man then; I adore rows--and you’ll
have a few on your hands I’ll warrant. Let me remind you that your uncle
can make it unpleasant for you yet, and that your amiable fiancé has a
will of his own under his pompadour and silky beard.”

“What a pity to have it clash with mine,” said the girl serenely.

Mrs. Ferrall looked at her: “Mercy on us! Howard’s pompadour would stick
up straight with horror if he could hear you! Don’t be silly; don’t for
an impulse, for a caprice, break off anything desirable on account of
a man for whom you really care nothing--whose amiable exterior and
prospective misfortune merely enlist a very natural and generous
sympathy in you.”

“Do you suppose that I shall endure interference from anybody?--from my
uncle, from Howard?”

“Dear, you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Don’t be emotional;
don’t let loose impulses that you and I know about, knew about in our
school years, know all about now, and which you and I have decided must
be eliminated--”

“You mean subdued; they’ll always be there.”

“Very well; who cares, as long as you have them in leash?”

Looking at one another, the excited colour cooling in the younger girl’s
cheeks, they laughed, one with relief, the other a little ashamed.

“Kemp will be furious; I simply must cut in!” said Mrs. Ferrall, hastily
turning toward the gun-room. Miss Landis looked after her, subdued,
vaguely repentant, the consciousness dawning upon her that she had
probably made considerable conversation about nothing.

“It’s been so all day,” she thought impatiently; “I’ve exaggerated; I’ve
worked up a scene about a man whose habits are not the slightest concern
of mine. Besides that I’ve neglected Howard shamefully!” She was walking
slowly, her thoughts outstripping her errant feet, but it seemed that
neither her thoughts nor her steps were leading her toward the neglected
gentleman within; for presently she found herself at the breezy veranda
door, looking rather fixedly at the stars.

The stars, shining impartially upon the just and the unjust, illuminated
the person of Siward, who sat alone, rather limply, one knee crossed
above the other. He looked up by chance, and, seeing her star-gazing in
the doorway, straightened out and rose to his feet.

Aware of him apparently for the first time, she stepped across the
threshold meeting his advance half-way.

“Would you care to go down to the rocks?” he asked. “The surf is
terrific.”

“No--I don’t think I care--”

They stood listening a moment to the stupendous roar.

“A storm somewhere at sea,” he concluded.

“Is it very fine--the surf?”

“Very fine--and very relentless--” he laughed; “it is an unfriendly
creature, the sea, you know.”

She had begun to move toward the cliffs, he fell into step beside her;
they spoke little, a word now and then.

The perfume of the mounting sea saturated the night with wild fragrance;
dew lay heavy on the lawns; she lifted her skirts enough to clear the
grass, heedless that her silk-shod feet were now soaking. Then at the
cliffs’ edge, as she looked down into the white fury of the surf, the
stunning crash of the ocean saluted her.

For a long while they watched in silence; once she leaned a trifle
too far over the star-lit gulf and, recoiling, involuntarily steadied
herself on his arm.

“I suppose,” she said, “no swimmer could endure that battering.”

“Not long.”

“Would there be no chance?”

“Not one.”

She bent farther outward, fascinated, stirred, by the splendid frenzy of
the breakers.

“I--think--,” he began quietly; then a firm hand fell over her left
hand; and, half encircled by his arm she found herself drawn back.
Neither spoke; two things she was coolly aware of, that, urged, drawn by
something subtly irresistible she had leaned too far out from the cliff,
and would have leaned farther had he not taken matters into his own
keeping without apology. Another thing; the pressure of his hand over
hers remained a sensation still--a strong, steady, masterful imprint
lacking hesitation or vacillation. She was as conscious of it as though
her hand still tightened under his--and she was conscious, too, that
nothing of his touch had offended; that there had arisen in her no
tremor of instinctive recoil. For never before had she touched or
suffered a touch from a man, even a gloved greeting, that had not in
some measure subtly repelled her, nor, for that matter, a caress from a
woman without a reaction of faint discomfort.

“Was I in any actual danger?” she asked curiously.

“I think not. But it was too much responsibility for me.”

“I see. Any time I wish to break my neck I am to please do it alone in
future.”

“Exactly--if you don’t mind,” he said smiling.

They turned, shoulder to shoulder, walking back through the drenched
herbage.

“That,” she said impulsively, “is not what I said a few moments ago to a
woman.”

“What did you say a few moments ago to a woman?”

“I said, Mr. Siward, that I would not leave a--a certain man to go to
the devil alone!”

“Do you know any man who is going to the devil?”

“Do you?” she asked, letting herself go swinging out upon a tide of
intimacy she had never dreamed of risking--nor had she the slightest
idea whither the current would carry her.

They had stopped on the lawn, ankle deep in wet grass, the stars
overhead sparkling magnificently, and in their ears the outcrash of the
sea.

“You mean me,” he concluded.

“Do I?”

He looked up into the lovely face; her eyes were very sweet, very
clear--clear with excitement--but very friendly.

“Let us sit here on the steps a little while, will you?” she asked.

So he found a place beside her, one step lower, and she leaned forward,
elbows on knees, rounded white chin in her palms, the starlight giving
her bare arms and shoulders a marble lustre and tinting her eyes a
deeper amethyst.

And now, innocently untethered, mission and all, she laid her heart
quite bare--one chapter of it. And, like other women-errant who believe
in the influence of their sex individually and collectively, she began
wrong by telling him of her engagement--perhaps to emphasise her pure
disinterestedness in a crusade for principle only. Which naturally
dampened in him any nascent enthusiasm for being ministered to, and so
preoccupied him that he turned deaf ears to some very sweet platitudes
which might otherwise have impressed him as discoveries in philosophy.

Officially her creed was the fashionable one in town; privately she had
her own religion, lacking some details truly enough, but shaped upon
youthful notions of right and wrong. As she had not read very widely,
she supposed that she had discovered this religion for herself; she was
not aware that everybody else had passed that way--it being the first
immature moult in young people after rejecting dogma.

And the ripened fruit of all this philosophy she helpfully dispensed for
Siward’s benefit as bearing directly on his case.

Had he not been immersed in the unexpected proposition of her impending
matrimony, he might have been impressed, for the spell of her beauty
counted something, and besides, he had recently formulated for himself
a code of ethics, tinctured with Omar, and slightly resembling her own
discoveries in that dog-eared science.

So it was, when she was most eloquent, most earnestly inspired--nay in
the very middle of a plea for sweetness and light and simple living,
that his reasonings found voice in the material comment:

“I never imagined you were engaged!”

“Is that what you have been thinking about?” she asked, innocently
astonished.

“Yes. Why not? I never for one instant supposed--”

“But, Mr. Siward, why should you have concerned yourself with supposing
anything? Why indulge in any speculation of that sort about me?”

“I don’t know, but I didn’t,” he said.

“Of course you didn’t; you’d known me for about three hours--there on
the cliff--”

“But--Quarrier--!”

Over his youthful face a sullen shadow had fallen--flickering, not yet
settled. He would not for anything on earth have talked freely to the
woman destined to be Quarrier’s wife. He had talked too much anyway.
Something in her, something about her had loosened his tongue. He had
made a plain ass of himself--that was all,--a garrulous ass. And truly
it seemed that the girl beside him, even in the starlight, could follow
and divine what he had scarcely expressed to himself; or her instincts
had taken a shorter cut to forestall his own conclusion.

“Don’t think the things you are thinking!” she said in a fierce little
voice, leaning toward him.

“What do you mean?” he asked, taken aback.

“You know! Don’t! It is unfair--it is--is faithless--to me. I am your
friend; why not? Does it make any difference to you whom I marry? Cannot
two people remain in accord anyway? Their friendship concerns each other
and--nobody else!” She was letting herself go now; she was conscious of
it, conscious that impulse and emotion were the currents unloosed
and hurrying her onward. And with it all came exhilaration, a faint
intoxication, a delicate delight in daring to let go all and trust to
impulse and emotions.

“Why should you feel hurt because for a moment you let me see--gave me
a glimpse of yourself--of life’s battle as you foresee it? What if
there is always a reaction from all confidences exchanged? What if that
miserable French cynic did say that never was he more alone than after
confessing to a friend? He died crazy anyhow. Is not a rare moment of
confidence worth the reaction--the subsidence into the armored shell of
self? Tell me truly, Mr. Siward, isn’t it?”

Breathless, confused, exhilarated by her own rapid voice she bent her
face, brilliant with colour, and very sweet; and he looked up into it,
expectant, uncertain.

“If such a friendship as ours is to become worth anything to you--to me,
why should it trouble you that I know--and am thinking of things that
concern you? Is it because the confidence is one-sided? Is it because
you have given and I have listened and given nothing in return to
balance the account? I do give--interest, deep interest, sympathy if you
ask it; I give confidence in return--if you desire it!”

“What can a girl like you need of sympathy?” he said smiling.

“You don’t know! you don’t know! If heredity is a dark vista, and if
you must stare through it all your life, sword in hand, always on your
guard, do you think you are the only one?”

“Are you--one?” he said incredulously.

“Yes”--with an involuntary shudder--“not that way. It is easier for me;
I think it is--I know it is. But there are things to combat--impulses,
a recklessness, perhaps something almost ruthless. What else I do not
know, for I have never experienced violent emotions of any sort--never
even deep emotion.”

“You are in love!”

“Yes, thoroughly,” she added with conviction, “but not violently. I--”
 she hesitated, stopped short, leaning forward, peering at him through
the dusk; and: “Mr. Siward! are you laughing?” She rose and he stood up
instantly.

There was lightning in her darkening eyes now; in his something that
glimmered and danced. She watched it, fascinated, then of a sudden the
storm broke and they were both laughing convulsively, face to face there
under the stars.

“Mr. Siward,” she breathed, “I don’t know what I am laughing at; do you?
Is it at you? At myself? At my poor philosophy in shreds and tatters? Is
it some infernal mirth that you seem to be able to kindle in me--for I
never knew a man like you before?”

“You don’t know what you were laughing at?” he repeated. “It was
something about love--”

“No I don’t know why I laughed! I--I don’t wish to, Mr. Siward. I do
not desire to laugh at anything you have made me say--anything you may
infer--”

“I don’t infer--”

“You do! You made me say something--about my being ignorant of deep,
of violent emotion, when I had just informed you that I am thoroughly,
thoroughly in love--”

“Did I make you say all that, Miss Landis?”

“You did. Then you laughed and made me laugh too. Then you--”

“What did I do then?” he asked, far too humbly.

“You--you infer that I am either not in love or incapable of it, or too
ignorant of it to know what I’m talking about. That, Mr. Siward, is what
you have done to me to-night.”

“I--I’m sorry--”

“Are you?”

“I ought to be anyway,” he said.

It was unfortunate; an utterly inexcusable laughter seemed to bewitch
them, hovering always close to his lips and hers.

“How can you laugh!” she said. “How dare you! I don’t care for you
nearly as violently as I did, Mr. Siward. A friendship between us would
not be at all good for me. Things pass too swiftly--too intimately.
There is too much mockery in you--” She ceased suddenly, watching
the sombre alteration of his face; and, “Have I hurt you?” she asked
penitently.

“No.”

“Have I, Mr. Siward? I did not mean it.” The attitude, the words,
slackening to a trailing sweetness, and then the moment’s silence,
stirred him.

“I’m rather ignorant myself of violent emotion,” he said. “I suspect
normal people are. You know better than I do whether love is usually a
sedative.”

“Am I normal--after what I have confessed?” she asked. “Can’t love be
well-bred?”

“Perfectly I should say--only perhaps you are not an expert--”

“In what?”

“In self-analysis, for example.”

There was a vague meaning in the gaze they exchanged.

“As for our friendship, we’ll do the best we can for it, no matter what
occurs,” he added, thinking of Quarrier. And, thinking of him, glanced
up to see him within ear-shot and moving straight toward them from the
veranda above.

There was a short silence; a tentative civil word from Siward; then Miss
Landis took command of something that had a grotesque resemblance to a
situation. A few minutes later they returned slowly to the house, the
girl walking serenely between Siward and her preoccupied affianced.

“If your shoes are as wet as my skirts and slippers you had better
change, Mr. Siward,” she said, pausing at the foot of the staircase.

So he took his congé, leaving her standing there with Quarrier, and
mounted to his room.

In the corridor he passed Ferrall, who had finished his business
correspondence and was returning to the card-room.

“Here’s a letter that Grace wants you to see,” he said. “Read it before
you turn in, Stephen.”

“All right; but I’ll be down later,” replied Siward passing on, the
letter in his hand. Entering his room he kicked off his wet pumps and
found dry ones. Then moved about, whistling a gay air from some recent
vaudeville, busy with rough towels and silken foot-gear, until, reshod
and dry, he was ready to descend once more.

The encounter, the suddenly informal acquaintance with this young girl
had stirred him agreeably, leaving a slight exhilaration. Even her
engagement to Quarrier added a tinge of malice to his interest. Besides
he was young enough to feel the flattery of her concern for him--of
her rebuke, of her imprudence, her generous emotional and childish
philosophy.

Perhaps, as like recognises like, he recognised in her the instincts of
the born drifter, momentarily at anchor--the temporary inertia of the
opportunist, the latent capacity of an unformed character for all things
and anything. Add to these her few years, her beauty, and the
wholesome ignorance so confidently acknowledged, what man could remain
unconcerned, uninterested in the development of such possibilities? Not
Siward, amused by her sagacious and impulsive prudence, worldliness, and
innocence in accepting Quarrier; and touched by her profitless, frank,
and unworldly friendliness for himself.

Not that he objected to her marrying Quarrier; he rather admired her for
being able to do it, considering the general scramble for Quarrier. But
let that take care of itself; meanwhile, their sudden and capricious
intimacy had aroused him from the morbid reaction consequent upon the
cheap notoriety which he had brought upon himself. Let him sponge his
slate clean and begin again a better record, flattered by the solicitude
she had so prettily displayed.

Whistling under his breath the same gay, empty melody, he opened the top
drawer of his dresser, dropped in his mother’s letter, and locking the
drawer, pocketed the key. He would have time enough to read the letter
when he went to bed; he did not just now feel exactly like skimming
through the fond, foolish sermon which he knew had been preached at him
through his mother’s favourite missionary, Grace Ferrall. What was
the use of dragging in the sad old questions again--of repeating his
assurances of good behaviour, of reiterating his promises of moderation
and watchfulness, of explaining his own self-confidence? Better that the
letter await his bed time--his prayers would be the sincerer the fresher
the impression; for he was old-fashioned enough to say the prayers that
an immature philosophy proved superfluous. For, he thought, if prayer is
any use, it takes only a few minutes to be on the safe side.

So he went down-stairs leisurely, prepared to acquiesce in any
suggestion from anybody, but rather hoping to saunter across Sylvia
Landis’ path before being committed.

She was standing beside the fire with Quarrier, one foot on the fender,
apparently too preoccupied to notice him; so he strolled into the
gun-room, which was blue with tobacco smoke and aromatic with the
volatile odours from decanters.

There were a few women there, and the majority of the men. Lord
Alderdene, Major Belwether, and Mortimer were at a table by themselves;
stacks of ivory chips and five cards spread in the centre of the green
explained the nature of their game; and Mortimer, raising his heavy
inflamed eyes and seeing Siward unoccupied, said wheezily: “Cut out that
‘widow,’ and give Siward his stack! Anything above two pairs for a jack
triples the ante. Come on, Siward, there’s a decent chap!”

So he seated himself for a sacrifice to the blind goddess balanced upon
her winged wheel; and the cards ran high--so high that stacks dwindled
or toppled within the half-hour, and Mortimer grew redder and redder,
and Major Belwether blander and blander, and Alderdene’s face wore a
continual nervous snicker, showing every white hound’s tooth, and the
ice in the tall glasses clinked ceaselessly.

It was late when Quarrier “sat in,” with an expressionless
acknowledgment of Siward’s presence, and an emotionless raid upon
his neighbour’s resources with the first hand dealt, in which he
participated without drawing a card.

And always Siward, eyes on his cards, seemed to see Quarrier before him,
his overmanicured fingers caressing his silky beard, the symmetrical
pompadour dark and thick as the winter fur on a rat, tufting his smooth
blank forehead.

It was very late when Siward first began to be aware of his increasing
deafness, the difficulty, too, that he had in making people hear, the
annoying contempt in Quarrier’s woman-like eyes. He felt that he was
making a fool of himself, very noiselessly somehow--but with more racket
than he expected when he miscalculated the distance between his hand and
a decanter.

It was time for him to go--unless he chose to ask Quarrier for an
explanation of that sneer which he found distasteful. But there was too
much noise, too much laughter.

Besides he had a matter to attend to--the careful perusal of his
mother’s letter to Mrs. Ferrall.

Very white, he rose. After an indeterminate interval he found himself
entering his room.

The letter was in the dresser; several things seemed to fall and
break, but he got the letter, sank down on the bed’s edge and strove to
read,--set his teeth grimly, forcing his blurred eyes to a focus. But he
could make nothing of it--nor of his toilet either, nor of Ferrall, who
came in on his way to bed having noticed the electricity still in full
glare over the open transom, and who straightened out matters for the
stunned man lying face downward across the bed, his mother’s letter
crushed in his nerveless hand.



CHAPTER IV THE SEASON OPENS

Breakfast at Shotover, except for the luxurious sluggards to whom
trays were sent, was served in the English fashion--any other method or
compromise being impossible.

Ferrall, reasonable in most things, detested customs exotic, and usually
had an Englishman or two about the house to tell them so, being unable
to jeer in any language except his own. Which is partly why Alderdene
and Voucher were there. And this British sideboard breakfast was a
concession wrung from him through force of sheer necessity, although
the custom had already become practically universal in American country
houses where guests were entertained.

But at the British breakfast he drew the line. No army of servants,
always in evidence, would he tolerate, either; no highly ornamented
human bric-à-brac decorating halls and corners; no exotic pheasants
hustled into covert and out again; no fusillade at the wretched,
frightened, bewildered aliens dumped by the thousand into unfamiliar
cover and driven toward the guns by improvised beaters.

“We walk up our game or we follow a brace of good dogs in this white
man’s country,” he said with unnecessary emphasis whenever his bad taste
and his wife’s absence gave him an opportunity to express to the casual
foreigner his personal opinions on field sport. “You’ll load your own
guns and you’ll use your own legs if you shoot with me; and your dogs
will do their own retrieving, too. And if anybody desires a Yankee’s
opinion on shooting driven birds from rocking-chairs or potting tame
deer from grand-stands, they can have it right now!”

Usually nobody wanted his further opinion; and sometimes they got it
and sometimes not, if his wife was within earshot. Otherwise Ferrall
appeared to be a normal man, energetically devoted to his business, his
pleasures, his friends, and comfortably in love with his wife. And if
some considered his vigour in business to be lacking in mercy, that
vigour was always exercised within the law. He never transgressed the
rules of war, but his headlong energy sometimes landed him close to the
dead line. He had already breakfasted, when the earliest risers entered
the morning room to saunter about the sideboards and investigate the
simmering contents of silver-covered dishes on the warmers.

The fragrance of coffee was pleasantly perceptible; men in conventional
shooting attire roamed about the room, selected what they cared for, and
carried it to the table. Mrs. Mortimer was there consuming peaches that
matched her own complexion; Marion Page, always more congruous in field
costume and belted jacket than in anything else, and always, like her
own hunters, minutely groomed, was preparing a breakfast for her own
consumption with the leisurely precision characteristic of her whether
in the saddle, on the box, or grassing her brace of any covey that ever
flushed.

Captain Voucher and Lord Alderdene discussed prospects between bites,
attentive to the monosyllabic opinions of Miss Page. Her twin brothers,
Gordon and Willis, shyly consuming oatmeal, listened respectfully and
waited on their sister at the slightest lifting of her thinly arched
eyebrows.

Into this company sauntered Siward, apparently no worse for wear. For
as yet the Enemy had set upon him no proprietary insignia save a rather
becoming pallor and faint bluish shadows under the eyes. He strolled
about, exchanging amiable greetings, and presently selected a chilled
grape fruit as his breakfast. Opposite him Mortimer, breakfasting upon
his own dreadful bracer of an apple soaked in port, raised his heavy
inflamed eyes with a significant leer at the iced grape fruit. For he
was always ready to make room upon his own level for other men; but the
wordless grin and the bloodshot welcome were calmly ignored, for as yet
that freemasonry evoked no recognition from the pallid man opposite,
whose hands were steady as though that morning’s sun had wakened him
from pleasant dreams.

“The most difficult shot in the world,” Alderdene was explaining, “is an
incoming pheasant, sailing on a slant before a gale.”

“A woodcock in alders doing a jack-snipe twist is worse,” grunted
Mortimer, drenching another apple in port.

“Yes,” said Miss Page tersely.

“Or a depraved ruffed cock-grouse in the short pines; isn’t that the
limit?” asked Mortimer of Siward.

But Siward only shrugged his comment and glanced out through the leaded
casements into the brilliant September sunshine.

Outside he could see Major Belwether, pink skinned, snowy chop whiskers
brushed rabbit fashion, very voluble with Sylvia Landis, who listened
absently, head partly averted. Quarrier in tweeds and gaiters, his
morning cigar delicately balanced in his gloved fingers, strolled near
enough to be within ear-shot; and when Sylvia’s inattention to Major
Belwether’s observations became marked to the verge of rudeness, he came
forward and spoke. But whatever it was that he said appeared to change
her passive inattention to quiet displeasure, for, as Siward rose from
the table, he saw her turn on her heel and walk slowly toward a group of
dogs presided over by some kennel men and gamekeepers.

She was talking to the head gamekeeper when he emerged from the house,
but she saw him on the terrace and gave him a bright nod of greeting, so
close to an invitation that he descended the stone steps and crossed the
dew-wet lawn.

“I am asking Dawson to explain just exactly what a ‘Shotover Drive’
resembles,” she said, turning to include Siward in an animated
conference with the big, scraggy, head keeper. “You know, Mr. Siward,
that it is a custom peculiar to Shotover House to open the season with
what is called a Shotover Drive?”

“I heard Alderdene talking about it,” he said, smilingly inspecting the
girl’s attire of khaki with its buttoned pockets, gun pads, and Cossack
cartridge loops, and the tan knee-kilts hanging heavily pleated over
gaiters and little thick-soled shoes. He had never cared very much to
see women afield, for, in a rare case where there was no affectation,
there was something else inborn that he found unpleasant--something
lacking about a woman who could take life from frightened wild things,
something shocking that a woman could look, unmoved, upon a twitching,
blood-soiled heap of feathers at her feet.

Meanwhile Dawson, dog-whip at salute, stood knee deep among his restless
setters, explaining the ceremony with which Mr. Ferrall ushered in the
opening of each shooting season:

“It’s our own idee, Miss Landis,” he said proudly; “onc’t a season Mr.
Ferrall and his guests likes it for a mixed bag. ‘Tis a sort of picnic,
Miss; the guns is in pairs, sixty yards apart in line, an’ the rules
is, walk straight ahead, dogs to heel until first cover is reached; fire
straight or to quarter, never blankin’ nor wipin’ no eyes; and ground
game counts as feathers for the Shotover Cup.”

“Oh! It’s a skirmish line that walks straight ahead?” said Siward,
nodding.

“Straight ahead, Sir. No stoppin’, no turnin’ for hedges, fences, water
or rock. There is boats f’r deep water and fords marked and corduroy f’r
to pass the Seven Dreens. Luncheon at one, Miss--an hour’s rest--then
straight on over hill, valley, rock, and river to the rondyvoo atop
Osprey Ledge. You’ll see the poles and the big nests, Sir. It’s there
they score for the cup, and there when the bag is counted, the traps are
ready to carry you home again.” … And to Siward: “Will you draw for your
lady, Sir? It is the custom.”

“Are you my ‘lady’?” he asked, turning to Sylvia.

“Do you want me?”

In the smiling lustre of her eyes the tiniest spark flashed out at
him--a hint of defiance for somebody, perhaps for Major Belwether who
had taken considerable pains to enlighten her as to Siward’s condition
the night before; perhaps also for Quarrier, who had naturally expected
to act as her gun-bearer in emergencies. But the gaily veiled malice
of the one had annoyed her, and the cold assumption of the other had
irritated her, and she had, scarcely knowing why, turned her shoulder to
both of these gentlemen with an indefinite idea of escaping a pressure,
amounting almost to critical importunity.

“I’m probably a poor shot?” she said, looking smilingly, straight into
Siward’s eyes. “But if you’ll take me--”

“I will with pleasure,” he said; “Dawson, do we draw for position? Very
well then”; and he drew a slip of paper from the box offered by the head
keeper.

“Number seven!” said Sylvia, looking over his shoulder. “Come out to the
starting line, Mr. Siward. All the positions are marked with golf-discs.
What sort of ground have we ahead, Dawson?”

“Kind o’ stiff, Miss,” grinned the keeper. “Pity your gentleman ain’t
drawed the meadows an’ Sachem Hill line. Will you choose your dog, Sir?”

“You have your dog, you know,” observed Sylvia demurely. And Siward,
glancing among the impatient setters, saw one white, heavily feathered
dog, straining at his leash, and wagging frantically, brown eyes fixed
on him.

The next moment Sagamore was free, devouring his master with caresses,
the girl looking on in smiling silence; and presently, side by side, the
man, the girl, and the dog were strolling off to the starting line where
already people were gathering in groups, selecting dogs, fowling-pieces,
comparing numbers, and discussing the merits of their respective lines
of advance.

Ferrall, busily energetic, and in high spirits, greeted them gaily,
pointing out the red disc bearing their number, seven, where it stood
out distinctly above the distant scrub of the foreland.

“You two are certainly up against it!” he said, grinning. “There’s only
one rougher line, and you’re in for thorns and water and a scramble
across the back-bone of the divide!”

“Is it any good?” asked Siward.

“Good--if you’ve got the legs and Sylvia doesn’t play baby--”

“I?” she said indignantly. “Kemp, you annoy me. And I will bet you now,”
 she added, flushing, “that your old cup is ours.”

“Wait,” said Siward, laughing, “we may not shoot straight.”

“You will! Kemp, I’ll wager whatever you dare!”

“Gloves? Stockings?--against a cigarette case?” he suggested.

“Done,” she said disdainfully, moving forward along the skirmish line
with a nod and smile for the groups now disintegrating into couples, the
Page boys with Eileen Shannon and Rena Bonnesdel, Marion Page followed
by Alderdene, Mrs. Vendenning and Major Belwether and the Tassel girl
convoyed by Leroy Mortimer. Farther along the line, taking post, she
saw Quarrier and Miss Caithness, Captain Voucher with Mrs. Mortimer, and
others too distant to recognise, moving across country with glitter and
glint of sunlight on slanting gun barrels.

And now Ferrall was climbing into his saddle beside his pretty wife, who
sat her horse like a boy, the white flag lifted high in the sunshine,
watching the firing line until the last laggard was in position.

“All right, Grace!” said Ferrall briskly. Down went the white flag; the
far-ranged line started into motion straight across country, dogs at
heel.

From her saddle Mrs. Ferrall could see the advance, strung out far
afield from the dark spots moving along the Fells boundary, to the two
couples traversing the salt meadows to north. Crack! A distant report
came faintly over the uplands against the wind.

“Voucher,” observed Ferrall; “probably a snipe. Hark! he’s struck them
again, Grace.”

Mrs. Ferrall, watching curiously, saw Siward’s gun fly up as two big
dark spots floated up from the marsh and went swinging over his head.
Crack! Crack! Down sheered the black spots, tumbling earthward out of
the sky.

“Duck,” said Ferrall; “a double for Stephen. Lord Harry! how that man
can shoot! Isn’t it a pity that--”

He said no more; his pretty wife astride her thoroughbred sat silent,
grey eyes fixed on the distant figures of Sylvia Landis and Siward, now
shoulder deep in the reeds.

“Was it--very bad last night?” she asked in a low voice.

Ferrall shrugged. “He was not offensive; he walked steadily enough
up-stairs. When I went into his room he lay on the bed as if he’d been
struck by lightning. And yet--you see how he is this morning?”

“After a while,” his wife said, “it is going to alter him some
day--dreadfully--isn’t it, Kemp?”

“You mean--like Mortimer?”

“Yes--only Leroy was always a pig.”

As they turned their horses toward the high-road Mrs. Ferrall said: “Do
you know why Sylvia isn’t shooting with Howard?”

“No,” replied her husband indifferently; “do you?”

“No.” She looked out across the sunlit ocean, grave grey eyes
brightening with suppressed mischief. “But I half suspect.”

“What?”

“Oh, all sorts of things, Kemp.”

“What’s one of ‘em?” asked Ferrall, looking around at her; but his wife
only laughed.

“You don’t mean she’s throwing her flies at Siward--now that you’ve
hooked Quarrier for her! I thought she’d played him to the gaff--”

“Please don’t be coarse, Kemp,” said Mrs. Ferrall, sending her horse
forward. Her husband spurred to her side, and without turning her head
she continued: “Of course Sylvia won’t be foolish. If they were only
safely married; but Howard is such a pill--”

“What does Sylvia expect with Howard’s millions? A man?”

Grace Ferrall drew bridle. “The curious thing is, Kemp, that she liked
him.”

“Likes him?”

“No, liked him. I saw how it was; she took his silences for intellectual
meditation, his gallery, his library, his smatterings for expressions
of a cultivated personality. Then she remembered how close she came to
running off with that cashiered Englishman, and that scared her into
clutching the substantial in the shape of Howard. … Still, I wish I
hadn’t meddled.”

“Meddled how?”

“Oh, I told her to do it. We had talks until daylight. … She may marry
him--I don’t know--but if you think any live woman could be contented
with a muff like that!”

“That’s immoral.”

“Kemp, I’m not. She’d be mad not to marry him; but I don’t know what I’d
do to a man like that, if I were his wife. And you know what a terrific
capacity for mischief there is in Sylvia. Some day she’s going to love
somebody. And it isn’t likely to be Howard. And, oh, Kemp! I do grow
so tired of that sort of thing. Do you suppose anybody will ever make
decency a fashion?”

“You’re doing your best,” said Ferrall, laughing at his wife’s pretty,
boyish face turned back toward him over her shoulder; “you’re presenting
your cousin and his millions to a girl who can dress the part--”

“Don’t, Kemp! I don’t know why I meddled! … I wish I hadn’t--”

“I do. You can’t let Howard alone! You’re perfectly possessed to plague
him when he’s with you, and now you’ve arranged for another woman to
keep it up for the rest of his lifetime. What does Sylvia want with
a man who possesses the instincts and intellect of a coachman? She is
asked everywhere, she has her own money. Why not let her alone? Or is it
too late?”

“You mean let her make a fool of herself with Stephen Siward? That is
where she is drifting.”

“Do you think--”

“Yes, I do. She has a perfect genius for selecting the wrong man; and
she’s already sorry for this one. I’m sorry for Stephen, too; but it’s
safe for me to be.”

“She might make something of him.”

“You know perfectly well no woman ever did make anything of a doomed
man. He’d kill her--I mean it, Kemp! He would literally kill her with
grief. She isn’t like Leila Mortimer; she isn’t like most girls of her
sort. You men think her a rather stunning, highly tempered, unreasonable
young girl, with a reserve of sufficiently trained intelligence to marry
the best our market offers--and close her eyes;--a thoroughbred with the
caprices of one, but also with the grafted instinct for proper mating.”

“Well, that’s all right, isn’t it?” asked Ferrall. “That’s the way I
size her up. Isn’t it correct?”

“Yes, in a way. She has all the expensive training of the
thoroughbred--and all the ignorance, too. She is cold-blooded because
wholesome; a trifle sceptical because so absolutely unawakened. She
never experienced a deep emotion. Impulses have intoxicated her once or
twice--as when she asked my opinion about running off with Cavendish,
and that boy and girl escapade with Rivington; nothing at all except
high mettle, the innocent daring lurking in all thoroughbreds, and a
great deal of very red blood racing through that superb young body.
But,” Ferrall reined in to listen, “but if ever a man awakens her--I
don’t care who he is--you’ll see a girl you never knew, a brand-new
creature emerge with the last rags and laces of conventionality dropping
from her; a woman, Kemp, heiress to every generous impulse, every
emotion, every vice, every virtue of all that brilliant race of hers.”

“You seem to know,” he said, amused and curious.

“I know. Major Belwether told me that he had thought of Howard as
an anchor for her. It seemed a pity--Howard with all his cold, heavy
negative inertia. … I said I’d do it. I did. And now I don’t know; I
wish, almost wish I hadn’t.”

“What has changed your ideas?”

“I don’t know. Howard is safer than Stephen Siward, already in the first
clutches of his master-vice. Would you mate what she inherits from her
mother and her mother’s mother, with what is that poor boy’s heritage
from the Siwards?”

“After all,” observed Ferrall dryly, “we’re not in the angel-breeding
business.”

“We ought to be. Every decent person ought to be. If they were,
inherited vice would be as rare in this country as smallpox!”

“People don’t inherit smallpox, dear.”

“Never mind! You know what I mean. In our stock farms and kennels, we
weed out, destroy, exterminate hereditary weakness in everything. We
pay the greatest attention to the production of all offspring except our
own. Look at Stephen! How dared his parents bring him into the world?
Look at Sylvia! And now, suppose they marry!”

“Dearest,” said Ferrall, “my head is a whirl and my wits are spinning
like five toy tops. Your theories are all right; but unless you and I
are prepared to abandon several business enterprises and take to the
lecture platform, I’m afraid people are going to be wicked enough to
marry whom they like, and the human race will he run as usual with money
the favourite, and love a case of ‘also-ran.’ … By the way, how dared
you marry me, knowing the sort of demon I am?”

The gathering frown on Mrs. Ferrall’s brow faded; she raised her clear
grey eyes and met her husband’s gaze, gay, humourous, and with a hint of
tenderness--enough to bring the colour into her pretty face.

“You know I’m right, Kemp.”

“Always, dear. And now that we have the world off our hands for a few
minutes, suppose we gallop?”

But she held her horse to a walk, riding forward, grave, thoughtful,
preoccupied with a new problem, only part of which she had told her
husband.

For that night she had been awakened in her bed to find standing beside
her a white, wide-eyed figure, shivering, limbs a-chill beneath her
clinging lace. She had taken the pallid visitor to her arms and warmed
her and soothed her and whispered to her, murmuring the thousand little
words and sounds, the breathing magic mothers use with children.
And Sylvia lay there, chilled, nerveless, silent, ignorant why her
sleeplessness had turned to restlessness, to loneliness, to an awakening
perception of what she lacked and needed and began to desire. For that
sad void, peopled at intervals through her brief years with a vague
mother-phantom, had, in the new crisis of her career, become suddenly an
empty desolation, frightening her with her own utter isolation. Fill it
now she could not, now that she needed that ghost of child-comfort,
that shadowy refuge, that sweet shape she had fashioned out of dreams to
symbolise a mother she had never known.

Driven she knew not why, she had crept from her room in search of the
still, warm, fragrant nest and the whispered reassurance and the caress
she had never before endured. Yes, now she craved it, invited it,
longed for safe arms around her, the hovering hand on her hair. Was this
Sylvia?

And Grace Ferrall, clearing her sleepy eyes, amazed, incredulous of the
cold, child-like hands upon her shoulders, caught her in her arms with
a little laugh and sob and drew her to her breast, to soothe and caress
and reassure, to make up to her all she could of what is every child’s
just heritage.

And for a long while Sylvia, lying there, told her nothing--because
she did not know how--merely a word, a restless question half ashamed,
barely enough to shadow forth the something stirring her toward an
awakening in a new world, where with new eyes she might catch glimpses
of those dim and splendidly misty visions that float through sunlit
silences when a young girl dreams awake.

And at length, gravely, innocently, she spoke of her engagement, and the
worldly possibilities before her; of the man she was to marry, and her
new and unexpected sense of loneliness in his presence, now that she had
seen him again after months.

She spoke, presently, of Siward--a fugitive question or two, offered
indifferently at first, then with shy persistence and curiosity, knowing
nothing of the senseless form flung face downward across the sheets in
a room close by. And thereafter the murmured burden of the theme was
Siward, until one, heavy eyed, turned from the white dawn silvering the
windows, sighed, and fell asleep; and one lay silent, head half buried
in its tangled gold, wide awake, thinking vague thoughts that had no
ending, no beginning. And at last a rosy bar of light fell across the
wall, and the warm shadows faded from corner and curtain; and, turning
on the pillow, her face nestled in her hair, she fell asleep.


Nothing of this had Mrs. Ferrall told her husband.

For the first time in her life had Sylvia suffered the caresses most
women invite or naturally lavish; for the first time had she attempted
confidences, failing because she did not know how, but curiously
contented with the older woman’s arms around her.

There was a change in Sylvia, a great change stealing in upon her as she
lay there, breathing like a child, flushed lips scarcely parted. Through
the early slanting sunlight the elder woman, leaning on one arm, looked
down at her, grey eyes very grave and tender--wise, sweet eyes that
divined with their pure clairvoyance all that might happen or might fail
to come to pass in this great change stealing over Sylvia.


Nothing of this could her husband understand had she words to convey it.
There was nothing he need understand except that his wife, meaning well,
had meddled and regretted.

And now, turning in her saddle with a pretty gesture of her shoulders:

“I meddle no more! Those who need me may come to me. Now laugh at my
tardy wisdom, Kemp!”

“It’s no laughing matter,” he said, “if you’re going to stand back and
let this abandoned world spin itself madly to the bow-wows--”

“Don’t be horrid. I repent. The mischief take Howard Quarrier!”

“Amen! Come on, Grace.”

She gathered bridle. “Do you suppose Stephen Siward is going to make
trouble?”

“How can he unless she helps him? Nonsense! All’s well with Siward and
Sylvia. Shall we gallop?”


All was very well with Siward and Sylvia. They had passed the
rabbit-brier country scathless, with two black mallard, a jack-snipe,
and a rabbit to the credit of their score, and were now advancing
through that dimly lit enchanted land of tall grey alders where, in the
sudden twilight of the leaves, woodcock after woodcock fluttered upward
twittering, only to stop and drop, transformed at the vicious crack of
Siward’s gun to fluffy balls of feather whirling earthward from mid-air.

Sagamore came galloping back with a soft, unsoiled mass of chestnut and
brown feathers in his mouth. Siward took the dead cock, passed it back
to the keeper who followed them, patted the beautiful eager dog and
signalled him forward once more.

“You should have fired that time,” he said to Sylvia--“that is, if you
care to kill anything.”

“But I don’t seem to be able to,” she said. “It isn’t a bit
like shooting at clay targets. The twittering whirr takes me by
surprise--it’s all so charmingly sudden--and my heart seems to stop in
one beat, and I look and look and then--whisk! the woodcock is gone,
leaving me breathless--”

Her voice ceased; the white setter, cutting up his ground ahead, had
stopped, rigid, one leg raised, jaws quivering and locking alternately.

“Isn’t that a stunning picture!” said Siward in a low voice. “What a
beauty he is--like a statue in white and blue-veined marble. You may
talk, Miss Landis; woodcock don’t flush at the sound of the human voice
as grouse do.”

“See his brown eyes roll back at us! He wonders why we don’t do
something!” whispered the girl. “Look, Mr. Siward! Now his head is
moving--oh so gradually to the left!”

“The bird is moving on the ground,” nodded Siward; “now the bird has
stopped.”

“I do wish I could see a woodcock on the ground,” she breathed. “Do you
think we might by any chance?”

Siward noiselessly sank to his knees and crouched, keen eyes minutely
busy among the shadowy browns and greys of wet earth and withered leaf.
And after a while, cautiously, he signalled the girl to kneel beside
him, and stretched out one arm, forefinger extended.

“Sight straight along my arm,” he said, “as though it were a rifle
barrel.”

Her soft cheek rested against his shoulder; a stray strand of shining
hair brushing his face.

“Under that bunch of fern,” he whispered; “just the colour of the dead
leaves. Do you see? … Don’t you see that big woodcock squatted flat,
bill pointed straight out and resting on the leaves?”

After a long while she saw, suddenly, and an exquisite little shock
tightened her fingers on Siward’s extended arm.

“Oh, the feathered miracle!” she whispered; “the wonder of its
cleverness to hide like that! You look and look and stare, seeing it all
the while and not knowing that you see it. Then in a flash it is there,
motionless, a brown-shaped shadow among shadows. … The dear little
thing! … Mr. Siward, do you think--are you going to--”

“No, I won’t shoot it.”

“Thank you. … Might I sit here a moment to watch it?”

She seated herself soundlessly among the dead leaves; he sank into place
beside her, laying his gun aside.

“Rather rough on the dog,” he said with a grimace.

“I know. It is very good of you, Mr. Siward to do this for my pleasure.
Oh--h! Do you see! Oh, the little beauty!”

The woodcock had risen, plumage puffed out, strutting with wings bowed
and tail spread, facing the dog. The sudden pigmy defiance thrilled her.
“Brave! Brave!” she exclaimed, enraptured; but at the sound of her voice
the bird crouched like a flash, large dark liquid eyes shining, long
bill pointed straight toward them.

“He’ll fly the way his bill points,” said Siward. “Watch!”

He rose; she sprang lightly to her feet; there came a whirring flutter,
a twittering shower of sweet notes, soft wings beating almost in their
very faces, a distant shadow against the sky, and the woodcock was gone.

Quieting the astounded dog, gun cradled in the hollow of his left arm,
he turned to the girl beside him: “That sort of thing wins no cups,” he
said.

“It wins something else, Mr. Siward,--my very warm regard for you.”

“There is no choice between that and the Shotover Cup,” he admitted,
considering her.

“I--do you mean it?”

“Of course I do, vigorously!”

“Then you are much nicer than I thought you. … And after all, if the
price of a cup is the life of that brave little bird, I had rather shoot
clay pigeons. Now you will scorn me I suppose. Begin!”

“My ideal woman has never been a life-taker,” he said coolly. “Once,
when I was a boy, there was a girl--very lovely--my first sweetheart. I
saw her at the traps once, just after she had killed her seventh pigeon
straight, ‘pulling it down’ from overhead, you know--very clever--the
little thing was breathing on the grass, and it made sounds--” He
shrugged and walked on. “She killed her twenty-first bird straight; it
was a handsome cup, too.”

And after a silence, “So you didn’t love her any more, Mr.
Siward?”--mockingly sweet.

They laughed, and at the sound of laughter the tall-stemmed alders
echoed with the rushing roar of a cock-grouse thundering skyward. Crack!
Crack! Whirling over and over through a cloud of floating feathers, a
heavy weight struck the springy earth. There lay the big mottled bird,
splendid silky ruffs spread, dead eyes closing, a single tiny crimson
bead twinkling like a ruby on the gaping beak.

“Dead!” said Siward to the dog who had dropped to shot; “Fetch!” And,
signalling the boy behind, he relieved the dog of his burden and tossed
the dead weight of ruffled plumage toward him. Then he broke his gun,
and, as the empty shells flew rattling backward, slipped in fresh
cartridges, locked the barrels, and walked forward, the flush of
excitement still staining his sunburnt face.

“You deal death mercifully,” said the girl in a low voice. “I wonder
what your ci-devant sweetheart would think of you.”

“A bungler had better stick to the traps,” he assented, ignoring the
badinage.

“I am wondering,” she said thoughtfully, “what I think of men who kill.”

He turned sharply, hesitated, shrugged. “Wild things’ lives are brief at
best--fox or flying-tick, wet nests or mink, owl, hawk, weasel or
man. But the death man deals is the most merciful. Besides,” he added,
laughing, “ours is not a case of sweethearts.”

“My argument is purely in the abstract, Mr. Siward. I am asking you
whether the death men deal is more justifiable than a woman’s gift of
death?”

“Oh, well, life-taking, the giving of life--there can be only one answer
to the mystery; and I don’t know it,” he replied smiling.

“I do.”

“Tell me then,” he said, still amused.

They had passed swale after swale of silver birches waist deep in
perfumed fern and brake; the big timber lay before them. She moved
forward, light gun swung easily across her leather-padded shoulder; and
on the wood’s sunny edge she seated herself, straight young back against
a giant pine, gun balanced across her flattened knees.

“You are feeling the pace a little,” he said, coming up and standing in
front of her.

“The pace? No, Mr. Siward.”

“Are you a trifle--bored?” She considered him in silence, then leaned
back luxuriously, rounded arms raised, wrists crossed to pillow her
head.

“This is charmingly new to me,” she said simply.

“What? Not the open?”

“No; I have camped and done the usual roughing it with only three guides
apiece and the champagne inadequately chilled. I have endured that sort
of hardship several times, Mr. Siward. … What is that furry hunch up
there in that tall thin tree?”

“A raccoon,” he said presently. “Can you see the foxy head peeping so
slyly down at us? Look at Sagamore nosing the air in that droll blind
mole-like way. He knows there’s something furry up aloft somewhere; and
he knows it’s none of his business.”

They watched the motionless ball of fur in the crotch of a slim forest
elm. Presently it uncurled, cautiously; a fluffy ringed tail unfolded;
the rounded furry back humped up, and the animal, moving slowly into the
tangent foliage of an enormous oak, vanished amid bronzing leafy depths.

In the silence the birds began to reappear. A jay screamed somewhere
deep in the yellowing woods; black-capped chickadees dropped from twig
to twig, cheeping inquiringly.

She sat listening, bright head pillowed in her arms, idly attentive to
his low running comment on beast and bird and tree, on forest stillness
and forest sounds, on life and the wild laws of life and death governing
the great out-world ‘twixt sky and earth. Sunlight and shadows moving,
speech and silence, waxed and waned. A listless contentment lay warm
upon her, weighting the heavy white lids. The blue of her eyes was very
dark now--almost purple like the colour of the sea when the wind-flaws
turn the blue to violet.

“Did you ever hear of the ‘Lesser Children’?” she asked. “Listen then:

     “‘Multitudes, multitudes, under the moon they stirred!
     The weakerbrothers of our earthly breed;
     All came about my head and at my feet
     A thousand thousand sweet,
     With starry eyes not even raised to plead:
     Bewildered, driven, hiding, fluttering, mute!
     And I beheld and saw them one by one
     Pass, and become as nothing in the night.’

“Do you know what it means?

     “‘Winged mysteries of song that from the sky
     Once dashed long music down--’

“Do you understand?” she asked, smiling.

     “‘Who has not seen in the high gulf of light
     What, lower, was a bird!’”

She ceased, and, raising her eyes to his: “Do you know that plea for
mercy on the lesser children who die all day to-day because the season
opens for your pleasure, Mr. Siward?”

“Is it a woodland sermon?” he inquired, too politely.

“The poem? No; it is the case for the prosecution. The prisoner may
defend himself if he can.”

“The defence rests,” he said. “The prisoner moves that he be
discharged.”

“Motion denied,” she interrupted promptly.

Somewhere in the woodland world the crows were holding a noisy session,
and she told him that was the jury debating the degree of his guilt.

“Because you’re guilty of course,” she continued. “I wonder what your
sentence is to be?”

“I’ll leave it to you,” he suggested lazily.

“Suppose I sentenced you to slay no more?”

“Oh, I’d appeal--”

“No use; I am the tribunal of last resort.”

“Then I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.”

“You do well, Mr. Siward. This court is very merciful. … How much do you
care for bird murder? Very much? Is there anything you care for more?
Yes? And could this court grant it to you in compensation?”

He said, deliberately, roused by the level challenge of her gaze:
“The court is incompetent to compensate the prisoner or offer any
compromise.”

“Why, Mr. Siward?”

“Because the court herself is already compromised in her future
engagements.”

“But what has my--engagement to do with--”

“You offered compensation for depriving me of my shooting. There could
be only one adequate compensation.”

“And that?” she asked, coolly enough.

“Your continual companionship.”

“But you have it, Mr. Siward--”

“I have it for a day. The season lasts three months you know.”

“And you and I are to play a continuous vaudeville for three months? Is
that your offer?”

“Partly.”

“Then one day with me is not worth those many days of murder?” she asked
in pretended astonishment.

“Ask yourself why those many days would be doubly empty,” he said so
seriously that the pointless game began to confuse her.

“Then”--she turned lightly from uncertain ground--“then perhaps we had
better be about that matter of the cup you prize so highly. Are you
ready, Mr. Siward? There is much to be killed yet--including time, you
know.”

But the hinted sweetness of the challenge had aroused him, and he made
no motion to rise. Nor did she.

“I am not sure,” he reflected, “just exactly what I should ask of you if
you insist on taking away--” he turned and looked about him through the
burnt gold foliage, “--if you took away all this out of my life.”

“I shall not take it; because I have nothing in exchange to offer … you
say,” she answered imprudently.

“I did not say so,” he retorted.

“You did--reminding me that the court is already engaged for a
continuous performance.”

“Was it necessary to remind you?” he asked with deliberate malice.

She flushed up, vexed, silent, then looked directly at him with
beautiful hostile eyes. “What do you mean, Mr. Siward? Are you taking
our harmless, idle badinage as warrant for an intimacy unwarranted?”

“Have I offended?” he asked, so impassively that a flash of resentment
brought her to her feet, angry and self-possessed.

“How far have we to go?” she asked quietly.

He rose to his feet, turned, hailing the keeper, repeating the question.
And at the answer they both started forward, the dog ranging ahead
through a dense growth of beech and chestnut, over a high brown ridge,
then down, always down along a leafy ravine to the water’s edge--a
forest pond set in the gorgeous foliage of ripening maples.

“I don’t see,” said Sylvia impatiently, “how we are going to obey
instructions and go straight ahead. There must be a stupid boat
somewhere!”

But the game-laden keeper shook his head, pulled up his hip boots, and
pointed out a line of alder poles set in the water to mark a crossing.

“Am I expected to wade?” asked the girl anxiously.

“This here,” observed the keeper, “is one of the most sportin’ courses
on the estate. Last season I seen Miss Page go through it like a scared
deer--the young lady, sir, that took last season’s cup”--in explanation
to Siward, who stood doubtfully at the water’s edge, looking back at
Sylvia.

Raising her dismayed eyes she encountered his; there was a little laugh
between them. She stepped daintily across the stones to the water’s
edge, instinctively gathering her kilts in one hand.

“Miles and I could chair you over,” suggested Siward.

“Is that fair--under the rules?”

“Oh, yes, Miss; as long as you go straight,” said the keeper.

So they laid aside the guns and the guide’s game-sack, and formed a
chair with their hands, and, bearing the girl between them, they waded
out along the driven alder stakes, knee-deep in brown water.

Before them herons rose into heavy flapping flight, broad wings
glittering in the sun; a diver, distantly afloat among the lily pads,
settled under the water to his eyes as a submarine settles till the
conning-tower is awash.

Her arm, lightly resting around his neck, tightened a trifle as the
water rose to his thighs; then the faint pressure relaxed as they
thrashed shoreward through the shallows, ankle deep once more, and
landed among the dry reeds on the farther bank.

Miles, the keeper, went back for the guns. Siward stamped about in the
sun, shaking the drops from water-proof breeches and gaiters, only to be
half drenched again when Sagamore shook himself vigorously.

“I suppose,” said Sylvia, looking sideways at Siward, “your contempt for
my sporting accomplishments has not decreased. I’m sorry; I don’t like
to walk in wet shoes … even to gain your approval.”

And, as the keeper came splashing across the shallows: “Miles, you may
carry my gun. I shall not need it any longer--”

The upward roar of a bevey of grouse drowned her voice; poor Sagamore,
pointing madly in the blackberry thicket all unperceived, cast a
dismayed glance aloft where the sunlit air quivered under the winnowing
rush of heavy wings. Siward flung up his gun, heading a big quartering
bird; steadily the glittering barrels swept in the arc of fire,
hesitated, wavered; then the possibility passed; the young fellow
lowered the gun, slowly, gravely; stood a moment motionless with bent
head until the rising colour in his face had faded.

And that was all, for a while. The astonished and disgusted keeper
stared into the thicket; the dog lay quivering, impatient for signal.
Sylvia’s heart, which had seemed to stop with her voice, silenced in the
gusty thunder of heavy wings, began beating too fast. For the ringing
crack of a gun shot could have spoken no louder to her than the
glittering silence of the suspended barrels; nor any promise of his
voice sound as the startled stillness sounded now about her. For he had
made something a trifle more than mere amends for his rudeness. He was
overdoing everything--a little.

He stood on the thicket’s edge, absently unloading the weapon, scarcely
understanding what he had done and what he had not done.

A moment later a far hail sounded across the uplands, and against the
sky figures moved distantly.

“Alderdene and Marion Page,” said Siward. “I believe we lunch yonder, do
we not, Miles?”

They climbed the hill in silence, arriving after a few minutes to
find others already at luncheon--the Page boys, eager, enthusiastic,
recounting adventure by flood and field; Rena Bonnesdel tired and
frankly bored and decorated with more than her share of mud; Eileen
Shannon, very pretty, very effective, having done more execution with
her eyes than with the dainty fowling-piece beside her.

Marion Page nodded to Sylvia and Siward with a crisp, business-like
question or two, then went over to inspect their bag, nodding
approbation as Miles laid the game on the grass.

“Eight full brace,” she commented. “We have five, and an odd
cock-pheasant--from Black Fells, I suppose. The people to our left have
been blazing away like Coney Island, but Rena’s guide says the ferns are
full of rabbits that way, and Major Belwether can’t hit fur afoot. You,”
 she added frankly to Siward, “ought to take the cup. The birches ahead
of you are full of woodcock. If you don’t, Howard Quarrier will. He’s
into a flight of jack-snipe I hear.”

Siward’s eyes had suddenly narrowed; then he laughed, patting Sagamore’s
cheeks. “I don’t believe I shall shoot very steadily this afternoon,”
 he said, turning toward the group at luncheon under the trees. “I wish
Quarrier well--with the cup.”

“Nonsense,” said Marion Page curtly; “you are the cleanest shot I ever
knew.” And she raised her glass to him, frankly, and emptied it with the
precision characteristic of her: “Your cup! With all my heart!”

“I also drink to your success, Mr. Siward,” said Sylvia in a low voice,
lifting her champagne glass in the sunlight. “To the Shotover Cup--if
you wish it.” And as other glasses sparkled aloft amid a gay tumult of
voices wishing him success, Sylvia dropped her voice, attuning it to
his ear alone: “Success for the cup, if you wish it--or, whatever you
wish--success!” and she meant it very kindly.

His hand resting on his glass he sat, smiling silent acknowledgment to
the noisy generous toasts; he turned and looked at Sylvia when her low
voice caught his ear--looked at her very steadily, unsmiling.

Then to the others, brightening again, he said a word or two, wittily,
with a gay compliment well placed and a phrase to end it in good taste.
And, in the little gust of hand-clapping and laughter, he turned again
to Sylvia, smilingly, saying under his breath: “As though winning the
cup could compensate me now for losing it!”

She leaned involuntarily nearer: “You mean that you will not try for
it?”

“Yes.”

“That is not fair--to me!”

“Why not?”

“Because--because I do not ask it of you.”

“You need not, now that I know your wish.”

“Mr. Siward, I--my wish--”

But she had no chance to finish; already Rena Bonnesdel was looking
at them, and there was a hint of amused surprise in Eileen Shannon’s
mischievous eyes, averted instantly, with malicious ostentation.

Then Marion Page took possession of him so exclusively, so calmly, that
something in her cool certainty vaguely irritated Sylvia, who had never
liked her. Besides, the girl showed too plainly her indifference to
other people; which other people seldom find amusing.

“Stephen,” called out Alderdene, anxiously counting the web loops in
his khaki vest, “what do you call fair shooting at these damnable ruffed
grouse? You needn’t be civil about it, you know.”

“Five shells to a bird is good shooting,” answered Siward. “Don’t you
think so, Miss Page?”

“You have a better score, Mr. Siward,” said Marion Page with a hostile
glance at Alderdene, who had not made good.

“That was chance--and this year’s birds. I’ve taken ten shells to an old
drummer in hard wood or short pines.” He smiled to himself, adding:
“A drove of six in the open got off scot free a little while ago. Miss
Landis saw it.”

That he was inclined to turn it all to banter relieved her at once. “It
was pitiable,” she nodded gravely to Marion; “his nerve left him when
they made such a din in the briers.”

Miss Page glanced at her indifferently.

“What I need is practice like the chasseurs of Tarascon,” admitted
Siward.

“I willingly offer my hat, monsieur,” said Sylvia.

Marion Page, impatient to start, had turned her tailor-made back to the
company, and was instructing his crestfallen lordship very plainly:
“You fire too quickly, Blinky; two seconds is what you must count when a
grouse flushes. You must say ‘Mark! Right!’ or ‘Mark! Left! Bang!’”

“I might as well say ‘Bang!’ for all I’ve done to-day,” he muttered,
adjusting his shooting-goggles and snapping his eyes like fury. Then
exploding into raucous laughter he moved off southward with Marion Page,
who had exchanged a swift handshake with Siward; the twins followed,
convoying Eileen and Rena, neither maiden excitedly enthusiastic. And so
the luncheon party, lord and lady, twins and maidens, guides and dogs,
trailed away across the ridge, distant silhouettes presently against the
sky, then gone. And after a little while the far, dry, accentless report
of smokeless powder announced that the opening of the season had been
resumed and the Lesser Children were dying fast in the glory of a
perfect day.

“Are you ready, Mr. Siward?” She stood waiting for him at the edge of
the thicket; Miles resumed his game sack and her fowling-piece; the dog
came up, looking him anxiously in the eyes.

So he walked forward beside her into the dappled light of the thicket.

Within a few minutes the dog stood twice; and twice the whirring twitter
of woodcock startled her, echoed by the futile crack of his gun.

“Beg pardon, sir--”

“Yes, Miles,” with a glint of humour.

“Overshot, sir,--excusin’ the liberty, Mr. Siward. Both marked down
forty yard to the left if you wish to start ‘em again.”

“No,” he said indifferently, “I had my chance at them. They’re exempt.”

Then Sagamore, tail wildly whipping, came smack on the trail of an
old stager of a cock-grouse--on, on over rock, log, wet gully, and dry
ridge, twisting, doubling, circling, every wile, every trick employed
and met, until the dog crawling noiselessly forward, trembled and froze,
and Siward, far to left, wheeled at the muffled and almost noiseless
rise. For an instant the slanting barrels wavered, grew motionless;
but only a stray sunbeam glinting struck a flash of cold fire from
the muzzle, only the feathery whirring whisper broke the silence of
suspense. Then far away over sunny tree tops a big grouse sailed up,
rocketing into the sky on slanted wings, breasting the height of green;
dipped, glided downward with bowed wings stiffened, and was engulfed in
the misty barriers of purpling woods.

“Vale!” said Siward aloud, “I salute you!”

He came strolling back across the crisp leaves, the dappled sunshine
playing over his face like the flicker of a smile.

“Miles,” he said, “my nerve is gone. Such things happen. I’m all in.
Come over here, my friend, and look at the sun with me.”

The discomfited keeper obeyed.

“Where ought that refulgent luminary to scintilate when I face Osprey
Ledge?”

“Sir?”

“The sun. How do I hold it?”

“On the p’int of your right shoulder, sir.--You ain’t quittin’, Mr.
Siward, sir!” anxiously; “that Shotover Cup is easy yours, sir!”
 eagerly; “Wot’s a miss on a old drummer, Mr. Siward? Wot’s twice
over-shootin’ cock, sir, when a blind dropper can see you are the
cleanest, fastest, hard-shootin’ shot in the null county!”

But Siward shook his head with an absent glance at the dog, and motioned
the astonished keeper forward.

“Line the easiest trail for us,” he said; “I think we are already a
trifle tired. Twigs will do in short cover; use a hatchet in the big
timber. … And go slow till we join you.”

And when the unwilling and perplexed keeper had started, Siward,
unlocking his gun, drew out the smooth yellow cartridges and pocketed
them.

Sylvia looked up as the sharp metallic click of the locked breech rang
out in the silence.

“Why do you do this, Mr. Siward?”

“I don’t know; really I am honest; I don’t know.”

“It could not be because I--”

“No, of course not,” he said, too seriously to reassure her.

“Mr. Siward,” in quick displeasure.

“Yes?”

“What you do for your amusements cannot concern me.”

“Right as usual,” he said so gaily that a reluctant smile trembled on
her lips.

“Then why have you done this? It is unreasonable--if you don’t feel as I
do about killing things that are having a good time in the world.”

He stood silent, absently looking at the fowling-piece cradled in his
left arm. “Shall we sit here a moment and talk it over?” he suggested
listlessly.

Her blue gaze swept him; his vague smile was indifferently bland.

“If you are determined not to shoot, we might as well start for Osprey
Ledge,” she suggested; “otherwise, what reason is there for our being
here together, Mr. Siward?”

Awaiting his comment--perhaps expecting a counter-proposition--she
leaned against the tree beside which he stood. And after a while, as his
absent-minded preoccupation continued:

“Do you think the leaves are dry enough to sit on?”

He slipped off his shooting-coat and placed it at the base of the tree.
She waited for a second, uncertain how to meet an attitude which seemed
to take for granted matters which might, if discussed, give her at
least the privilege of yielding. However, to discuss a triviality meant
forcing emphasis where none was necessary. She seated herself; and, as
he continued to remain standing, she stripped off her shooting-gloves
and glanced up at him inquiringly: “Well, Mr. Siward, I am literally at
your feet.”

“Which redresses the balance a little,” he said, finding a place near
her.

“That is very nice of you. Can I always count on you for civil
platitudes when I stir you out of your day-dreams?”

“You can always count on stirring me without effort.”

“No, I can’t. Nobody can. You are never to be counted on; you are too
absent-minded. Like a veil you wrap yourself in a brown study, leaving
everybody outside to consider the pointed flattery of your withdrawal.
What happens to you when you are inside that magic veil? Do you change
into anything interesting?”

He sat there, chin propped on his linked fingers, elbows on knees; and,
though there was always the hint of a smile in his pleasant eyes, always
the indefinable charm of breeding in voice and attitude, something now
was lacking. And after a moment she concluded that it was his attention.
Certainly his wits were wool-gathering again; his eyes, edged with the
shadow of a smile, saw far beyond her, far beyond the sunlit shadows
where they sat.

In his preoccupation she had found him negatively attractive. She
glanced at him now from time to time, her eyes returning always to the
beauty of the subdued light where all about them silver-stemmed birches
clustered like slim shining pillars, crowned with their autumn canopy of
crumpled gold.

“Enchantment!” she said under her breath. “Surely an enchanted sleeper
lies here somewhere.”

“You,” he observed, “unawakened.”

“Asleep? I?” She looked around at him. “You are the dreamer here. Your
eyes are full of dreaming even now. What is your desire?”

He leaned on one arm, watching her; she had dropped her ungloved hand,
searching among the newly fallen gold of the birch leaves drifted into
heaps. On the third finger a jewel glittered; he saw it, conscious of
its meaning--but his eyes followed the hand idly heaping up autumn gold,
a white slim hand, smoothly fascinating. Then the little, restless hand
swept near to his, almost touching it; and then instinctively he took
it in his own, curiously, lifting it a little to consider its nearer
loveliness. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of it, perhaps it was
sheer amazement that left her hand lying idly relaxed like a white
petalled blossom in his. His bearing, too, was so blankly impersonal
that for a moment the whole thing appeared inconsequent. Then, as her
hand lay there, scarcely imprisoned, their eyes encountered,--and
hers, intensely blue now, considered him without emotion, studied him
impersonally without purpose, incuriously acquiescent, indifferently
expectant.

After a little while the consciousness of the contact disconcerted her;
she withdrew her fingers with an involuntary shiver.

“Is there no chance?” he asked.

Perplexed with her own emotion, the meaning of his low-voiced question
at first escaped her; then, like its own echo, came ringing back in her
ears, re-echoed again as he repeated it:

“Is there no chance for me, Miss Landis?”

The very revulsion of self-possession returning chilled her; then anger
came, quick and hot; then pride. She deliberated, choosing her words
coolly enough: “What chance do you mean, Mr. Siward?”

“A fighting chance. Can you give it to me?”

“A fighting chance? For what?”--very low, very dangerous.

“For you.”

Then, in spite of her, her senses became unsteady; a sudden ringing
confusion seemed to deafen her, through which his voice, as if very far
away, sounded again:

“Men who are worth a fighting chance ask for it sometimes--but take it
always. I take it.”

Her pallor faded under the flood of bright colour; the blue of her eyes
darkened ominously to velvet.

“Mr. Siward,” she said, very distinctly and slowly, “I am
not--even--sorry--for you.”

“Then my chance is desperate indeed,” he retorted coolly.

“Chance! Do you imagine--” Her anger choked her.

“Are you not a little hard?” he said, paling under his tan. “I supposed
women dismissed men more gently--even such a man as I am.”

For a full minute she strove to comprehend.

“Such a man as you!” she repeated vaguely; “you mean--” a crimson
wave dyed her skin to the temples and she leaned toward him in
horror-stricken contrition; “I didn’t mean that, Mr. Siward! I--I never
thought of that! It had no weight, it was not in my thoughts. I meant
only that you had assumed what is unwarranted--that you--your question
humiliated me, knowing that I am engaged--knowing me so little--so--”

“Yes, I knew everything. Ask yourself why I risk everything to say this
to you? There can be only one answer.”

Then after a long silence: “Have I ever--” she began tremblingly--“ever
by word or look--”

“No.”

“Have I even--”

“No. I’ve simply discovered how I feel. That’s what I was dreaming about
when you asked me. I was afraid I might do this too soon; but I meant to
do it anyway before it became too late.”

“It was too late from the very moment we met, Mr. Siward.” And, as he
reddened painfully again, she added quickly: “I mean that I had already
decided. Why will you take what I say so dreadfully different from the
way I intend it? Listen to me. I--I believe I am not very experienced
yet; I was a--astonished--quite stunned for a moment. Then it hurt
me--and I said that I was not sorry for you … I am sorry, now.”

And, as he said nothing: “You were a little rough, a little sudden with
me, Mr. Siward. Men have asked me that question--several times; but
never so soon, so unreasonably soon--never without some preliminary of
some sort, so that I could foresee, be more or less prepared. … But you
gave me no warning. I--if you had, I would have known how to be gentle.
I--I wish to be now. I like you--enough to say this to you, enough to
be seriously sorry; if I could bring myself to really believe
this--feeling--”

Still he said nothing; he sat there listlessly studying the sun spots
glowing, waxing, waning on the carpet of dead leaves at his feet.

“As for--what you have said,” she added, a little smile curving the
sensitive mouth, “it is impulsive, unconsidered, a trifle boyish, Mr.
Siward. I pay myself the compliment of your sincerity; it is rather nice
to be a girl who can awaken the romance in a man within a day or two’s
acquaintance. … And that is all it is--a romantic impulse with a pretty
girl. You see I am frank; I am really glad that you find me attractive.
Tell me so, if you wish. We shall not misunderstand each other again.
Shall we?”

He raised his head, considering her, forcing the smile to meet her own.

“We shall be better friends than ever,” she asserted confidently.

“Yes, better than ever.”

“Because what you have done means the nicest sort of friendship, you
see. You can’t escape its duties and responsibilities now, Mr. Siward.
I shall expect you to spend the greater part of your life in devotedly
doing things for me. Besides, I am now privileged to worry you with
advice. Oh, you have invested me with all sorts of powers now!”

He nodded.

She sprang to her feet, flushed, smiling, a trifle excited.

“Is it all over, and are we the very ideals of friends?” she asked.

“The very ideals.”

“You are nice!” she said impulsively, holding out both gloveless hands.
He held them, she looking at him very sweetly, very confidently.

“Allons! Without malice?” she asked.

“Without malice.”

“Without afterthoughts?”

“Without afterthoughts.”

“And--you are content?” persuasively.

“Of course not,” he said.

“Oh, but you must be.”

“I must be,” he repeated obediently.

“And you are! Say it!”

“But it does not make me unhappy not to be contented--”

“Say it, please; or--do you desire me to be unhappy?”

Her small, smooth hands lying between his, they stood confronting one
another in the golden light. She might easily have brought the matter
to an end; and why she did not, she knew no more than a kitten waking to
consciousness under its first caress.

“Say it,” she repeated, laughing uncertainly back into his smiling eyes
of a boy.

“Say what?”

“That you are contented.”

“I can’t.”

“Mr. Siward, it is unkind, it is shameless--”

“I know it; I am that sort.”

“Then I am sorry for you. Look at that!” turning her left hand in his so
that the jewel on the third finger caught the light.

“I see it.”

“And yet--”

“And yet.”

“That,” she observed with composure, “is sheer obstinacy. … Isn’t it?”

“It is what I said it was: a hopeful discontent.”

“How can it be?” impatiently now, for the long, unaccustomed contact was
unnerving her--yet she made no motion to withdraw her hands. “How can
you really care for me? Do you actually believe that--devotion--comes
like that?”

“Exactly like that.”

“So suddenly? It is impossible!” with a twist of her pretty shoulders.

“How did it come--to you?” he asked between his teeth.

Then her face grew scarlet and her eyes grew dark, and her hands
contracted in his--tightened, twisted fingers entangled, until, with
a little sob, she swayed toward him and he caught her. An instant, a
minute--more, perhaps, she did not know--she half lay in his arms, her
untaught lips cold against his. Lassitude, faint consciousness, then
tiny shock on shock came the burning revulsion; and her voice came back,
too, sounding strangely to her, a colourless, monotonous voice.

He had freed her; she remembered that somebody had asked him to--perhaps
herself. That was well; she needed to breathe, to summon strength and
common-sense, find out what had been done, what reasonless madness she
had committed in the half-light of the silver-stemmed trees clustering
in shameful witness on every hand.

Suddenly the hot humiliation of it overwhelmed her, and she covered
her face with her hands, standing, almost swaying, as wave on wave of
incredulous shame seemed to sweep her from knee to brow. That phase
passed after a while; out of it she emerged, flushed, outwardly
composed, into another phase, in full self-possession once more, able
to understand what had happened without the disproportion of emotional
exaggeration. After all, she had only been kissed. Besides she was a
novice, which probably accounted, in a measure, for the unreasonable
emotion coincident with a caress to which she was unaccustomed. Without
looking up at him she found herself saying coolly enough to surprise
herself: “I never supposed I was capable of that. It appears that I
am. I haven’t anything to say for myself … except that I feel fearfully
humiliated. … Don’t say anything now … I do not blame you, truly I do
not. It was contemptible of me--to do it--wearing this--” she stretched
out her slender left hand, not looking at him; “it was contemptible!” …
She slowly raised her eyes, summoning all her courage to face him.

But he only saw in the pink confusion of her lovely face the dawning
challenge of a coquette saluting her adversary in gay acknowledgment of
his fleeting moment of success. And as his face fell, then hardened
into brightness, instantly she divined how he rated her, and in a flash
realized her weapons and her security, and that the control of the
situation was hers, not in the control of this irresolute young man who
stood so silently considering her. Strange that she should be ashamed
of her own innocence, willing that he believe her accomplished in such
arts, enchanted that he no longer perhaps suspected genuine emotion in
the swift, confused sweetness of her first kiss. If only all that
were truly hidden from him, if he dare not in his heart convict her of
anything save perfection in a gay, imprudent rôle, what a weight lifted,
what relief, what hot self-contempt cooled! What vengeance, too, she
would take on him for the agony of her awakening--the dazed chagrin, the
dread of his wise, amused eyes--eyes that she feared had often looked
upon such scenes; eyes no doubt familiar with such unimportant details
as the shamed demeanour of a novice.

“Why do you take it so seriously?” she said, laughing and studying him,
certain now of herself in this new disguise.

“Do you take it lightly?” he asked, striving to smile.

“I? Ah, I must, you know. You don’t expect to marry me … do you, Mr.
Siward?”

“I--” He choked up at that, grimly for a while.

Walking slowly forward together she fell into step frankly beside him,
near him--too near. “Try to be sensible,” she was saying gaily; “I like
you so much--and it would be horrid to have you mope, you know. And
besides, even if I cared for you, there are reasons, you know--reasons
for any girl to marry the man I am going to marry. Does my cynicism
shock you? What am I to do?” with a shrug. “Such marriages are
reasonable, and far likelier to be agreeable than when fancy is the sole
motive--certainly far more agreeable than an ill-considered yielding to
abstract emotion with nothing concrete in view. … So, you see, I could
not marry you even if I--” her voice was inclined to tremble, but she
controlled it. Would she never learn her rôle? “even if I loved you--”

Then her tongue stumbled and was silent; and they walked on, side by
side, through the fading splendour of the year, exchanging no further
speech.

Toward sunset their guide hailed them, standing high among the rocks,
a silhouette against the sky. And beyond him they saw the poles crowned
with the huge nests of the fish-hawks, marking the last rendezvous at
Osprey Ledge.

She turned to him as they started up the last incline, thanking him in a
sweet, natural voice for his care of her--quite innocently--until in
the questioning, unconvinced gaze that met hers she found her own eyes
softening and growing dim; and she looked away suddenly, lest he read
her ere she had dared turn the first page in the book of self--ere
she had studied, pried, probed among the pages of a new chapter whose
familiar title, so long meaningless to her, had taken on a sudden
troubling significance. And for the first time in her life she glanced
uneasily at the new page in the book of self, numbered according to
her years with the figures 23, and headed with the unconvincing chapter
title, “Love.”



CHAPTER V A WINNING LOSER

The week passed swiftly, day after day echoing with the steady fusillade
from marsh to covert, from valley to ridge. Guns flashed at dawn and
dusk along the flat tidal reaches haunted of black mallard and teal; the
smokeless powder cracked through alder swamp and tangled windfall where
the brown grouse burst away into noisy blundering flight; where the
woodcock, wilder now, shrilled skyward like feathered rockets, and the
big northern hares, not yet flecked with snowy patches of fur, loped off
into swamps to the sad undoing of several of the younger setters.

There was a pheasant drive at Black Fells to which the Ferralls’
guests were bidden by Beverly Plank--a curious scene, where ladies and
gentlemen stood on a lawn, backed by an army of loaders and gun-bearers,
while another improvised army of beaters drove some thousands of
frightened, bewildered, homeless foreign pheasants at the guns. And
the miserable aliens that escaped the guns were left to perish in the
desolation of a coming winter which they were unfitted to withstand.

So the first week of the season sped gaily, ending on Saturday with a
heavy flight of northern woodcock and an uproarious fusillade among the
silver birches.

Once Ferrall loaded two motor cars with pioneers for a day beyond his
own boundaries; and one day was spent ingloriously with the beagles; but
otherwise the Shotover estate proved more than sufficient for good bags
or target practice, as the skill of the sportsmen developed.

Lord Alderdene, good enough on snipe and cock, was driven almost frantic
by the ruffed grouse; Voucher did better for a day or two, and then lost
the knack; Marion Page attended to business in her cool and thorough
style, and her average on the gun-room books was excellent, and was also
adorned with clever pen-and-ink sketches by Siward.

Leroy Mortimer had given up shooting and established himself as a
haunter of cushions in sunny corners. Tom O’Hara had gone back to Lenox;
Mrs. Vendenning to Hot Springs. Beverly Plank, master of Black Fells,
began to pervade the house after a tentative appearance; and he and
Major Belwether pottered about the coverts, usually after luncheon--the
latter doing little damage with his fowling-piece, and nobody knew
how much with his gossiping tongue. Quarrier appeared in the field
methodically, shot with judgment, taking no chances for a brilliant
performance which might endanger his respectable average. As for the
Page boys, they kept the river ducks stirring whenever Eileen Shannon
and Rena Bonnesdel could be persuaded to share the canoes with them.
Otherwise they haunted the vicinity of those bored maidens, suffering
snubs sorrowfully, but persistently faithful. They were a great nuisance
in the evening, especially as their sister did not permit them to lose
more than ten dollars a day at cards.

Cards--that is Bridge and Preference--ruled as usual; and the latter
game being faster suited Mortimer and Ferrall, but did not aid Siward
toward recouping his Bridge losses.

Noticing this, late in the week, Major Belwether kindly suggested
Klondyke for Siward’s benefit, which proved more quickly disastrous to
him than anything yet proposed; and he went back to Bridge, preferring
rather to “carry” Agatha Caithness at intervals than crumble into
bankruptcy under the sheer deadly hazard of Klondyke.

Two matters occupied him; since “cup day” he had never had another
opportunity to see Sylvia Landis alone; that was the first matter. He
had touched neither wine nor spirits nor malt since the night Ferrall
had found him prone, sprawling in a stupor on his disordered bed. That
was the second matter, and it occupied him, at times required all
his attention, particularly when the physical desire for it set in,
steadily, mercilessly, mounting inexorably like a tide. … But, like
the tide, it ebbed at last, particularly when a sleepless night had
exhausted him.

He had gone back to his shooting again after a cool review of the
ethics involved. It even amused him to think that the whimsical
sermon delivered him by a girl who had cleverness enough to marry
many millions, with Quarrier thrown in, could have so moved him to
sentimentality. He had ceded the big cup of antique silver to Quarrier,
too--a matter which troubled him little, however, as in the irritation
of the reaction he had been shooting with the brilliancy of a demon; and
the gun-room books were open to any doubting guests’ inspection.

Time, therefore, was never heavy on his hands, save when the tide
threatened--when at night he stirred and awoke, conscious of its
crawling advance, aware of its steady mounting menace. Moments at
table, when the aroma of wine made him catch his breath, moments in
the gun-room redolent of spicy spirits; a maddening volatile fragrance
clinging to the card-room, too! Yes, the long days were filled with such
moments for him.

But afield the desire faded; and even during the day, indoors, he
shrugged desire aside. It was night that he dreaded--the long hours,
lying there tense, stark-eyed, sickened with desire.

As for Sylvia, she and Grace Ferrall had taken to motoring, driving
away into the interior or taking long flights north and south along the
coast. Sometimes they took Quarrier, sometimes, when Mrs. Ferrall drove,
they took in ballast in the shape of a superfluous Page boy and a girl
for him. Once Grace Ferrall asked Siward to join them; but no definite
time being set, he was scarcely surprised to find them gone when he
returned from a morning on the snipe meadows. And Sylvia, leagues away
by that time, curled up in the tonneau beside Grace Ferrall, watched the
dark pines flying past, cheeks pink, eyes like stars, while the rushing
wind drove health into her and care out of her--cleansing, purifying,
overwhelming winds flowing through and through her, till her very soul
within her seemed shining through the beauty of her eyes. Besides, she
had just confessed.


“He kissed you!” repeated Grace Ferrall incredulously.

“Yes--a number of times. He was silly enough to do it, and I let him.”

“Did--did he say--”

“I don’t know what he said; I was all nerves--confused--scared--a
perfect stick in fact! … I don’t believe he’d care to try again.”

Then Mrs. Ferrall deliberately settled down in her furs to extract
from the girl beside her every essential detail; and the girl, frank at
first, grew shy and silent--reticent enough to worry her friend into a
silence which lasted a long while for a cheerful little matron of her
sort.

Presently they spoke of other matters--matters interesting to pretty
women with much to do in the coming winter between New York, Hot
Springs, and Florida; surmises as to dinners, dances, and the newcomers
in the younger sets, and the marriages to be arranged or disarranged,
and the scandals humanity is heir to, and the attitude of the bishop
toward divorce.

And the new pavillion to be built for Saint Berold’s Hospital, and the
various states of the various charities each was interested in, and the
chances of something new at the opera, and the impossibility of saving
Fifth Avenue from truck traffic, and the increasing importance of
Washington as a social centre, and the bad manners of a foreign
ambassador, and the better manners of another diplomat, and the lack of
discrimination betrayed by our ambassador to a certain great Power
in choosing people for presentation at court, and the latest unhappy
British-American marriage, and the hopelessness of the French as decent
husbands, and the recent accident to the Claymores’ big yacht, and the
tendency of well-born young men toward politics, and the anything but
distinguished person of Lord Alderdene, which was, however, vastly
superior to the demeanour and person of others of his rank recently
imported, and the beauty of Miss Caithness, and the chance that Captain
Voucher had if Leila Mortimer would let him alone, and the absurdity
of the Page twins, and the furtive coarseness of Leroy Mortimer and his
general badness, and the sadness of Leila Mortimer’s lot when she had
always been in love with other people,--and a little scandalous surmise
concerning Tom O’Hara, and the new house on Seventy-ninth Street
building for Mrs. Vendenning, and that charming widow’s success at last
year’s horse show--and whether the fashion of the function was reviving,
and whether Beverly Plank had completely broken into the social sets
he had besieged so long, or whether a few of the hunting and shooting
people merely permitted him to drive pheasants for them, and why
Katharyn Tassel made eyes at him, having sufficient money of her own to
die unwed, and--and--and then, at last, as the big motor car swung in a
circle at Wenniston Cross-Roads, and poked its brass and lacquer
muzzle toward Shotover, the talk swung back to Siward once more--having
travelled half the world over to find him.

“He is the sweetest fellow with his mother,” sighed Grace; “and that
counts heavily with me. But there’s trouble ahead for her--sorrow and
trouble enough for them both, if he is a true Siward.”

“Heredity again!” said Sylvia impatiently. “Isn’t he man enough to win
out? I’ll bet you he settles down, marries, and--”

“Marries? Not he! How many girls do you suppose have believed that--were
justified in believing he meant anything by his attractive manner and
nice ways of telling you how much he liked you? He had a desperate
affair with Mrs. Mortimer--innocent enough I fancy. He’s had a dozen
within three years; and in a week Rena Bonnesdel has come to making eyes
at him, and Eileen gives him no end of chances which he doesn’t see. As
for Marion Page, the girl had been on the edge of loving him for years!
You laugh? But you are wrong; she is in love with him now as much as she
ever can be with anybody.”

“You mean--”

“Yes I do. Hadn’t you suspected it?”

And as Sylvia had suspected it she remained silent.

“If any woman in this world could keep him to the mark, she could,”
 continued Mrs. Ferrall. “He’s a perfect fool not to see how she cares
for him.”

Sylvia said: “He is indeed.”

“It would be a sensible match, if she cared to risk it, and if he would
only ask her. But he won’t.”

“Perhaps,” ventured Sylvia, “she’ll ask him. She strikes me as that
sort. I do not mean it unkindly--only Marion is so tailor-made and
cigaretteful--”

Mrs. Ferrall looked up at her.

“Did he propose to you?”

“Yes--I think so.”

“Then it’s the first time for him. He finds women only too willing to
play with him as a rule, and he doesn’t have to be definite. I wonder
what he meant by being so definite with you?”

“I suppose he meant marriage,” said Sylvia serenely; yet there was the
slightest ring in her voice; and it amused Mrs. Ferrall to try her a
little further.

“Oh, you think he really intended to commit himself?”

“Why not?” retorted Sylvia, turning red. “Do you think he found me
over-willing, as you say he finds others?”

“You were probably a new sensation for him,” inferred Mrs. Ferrall
musingly. “You mustn’t take him seriously, child--a man with his
record. Besides, he has the same facility with a girl that he has with
everything else he tries; his pen--you know how infernally clever he is;
and he can make good verse, and write witty jingles, and he can carry
home with him any opera and play it decently, too, with the proper
harmonies. Anything he finds amusing he is clever with--dogs, horses,
pen, brush, music, women”--that was too malicious, for Sylvia had
flushed up painfully, and Grace Ferrall dropped her gloved hand on the
hand of the girl beside her: “Child, child,” she said, “he is not that
sort; no decent man ever is unless the girl is too.”

Sylvia, sitting up very straight in her furs, said: “He found me
anything but difficult--if that’s what you mean.”

“I don’t. Please don’t be vexed, dear. I plague everybody when I see an
opening. There’s really only one thing that worries me about it all.”

“What is that?” asked Sylvia without interest.

“It’s that you might be tempted to care a little for him, which, being
useless, might be unwise.”

“I am … tempted.”

“Not seriously!”

“I don’t know.” She turned in a sudden nervous impatience foreign to
her. “Howard Quarrier is too perfectly imperfect for me. I’m glad
I’ve said it. The things he knows about and doesn’t know have been a
revelation in this last week with him. There is too much surface, too
much exterior admirably fashioned. And inside is all clock-work. I’ve
said it; I’m glad I have. He seemed different at Newport; he seemed nice
at Lenox. The truth is, he’s a horrid disappointment--and I’m bored to
death at my brilliant prospects.”

The low whizzing hum of the motor filled a silence that produced
considerable effect upon Grace Ferrall. And, after mastering her wits,
she said in a subdued voice:

“Of course it’s my meddling.”

“Of course it isn’t. I asked your opinion, but I knew what I was
going to do. Only, I did think him personally possible--which made the
expediency, the mercenary view of it easier to contemplate.”

She was becoming as frankly brutal as she knew how to be, which made the
revolt the more ominous.

“You don’t think you could endure him for an hour or two a day, Sylvia?”

“It is not that,” said the girl almost sullenly.

“But--”

“I’m afraid of myself--call it inherited mischief if you like! If I let
a man do to me what Mr. Siward did when I was only engaged to Howard,
what might I do--”

“You are not that sort!” said Mrs. Ferrall bluntly. “Don’t be exotic,
Sylvia.”

“How do you know--if I don’t know? Most girls are kissed; I--well I
didn’t expect to be. But I was! I tell you, Grace, I don’t know what I
am or shall be. I’m unsafe; I know that much.”

“It’s moral and honest to realize it,” said Mrs. Ferrall suavely; “and
in doing so you insure your own safety. Sylvia dear, I wish I hadn’t
meddled; I’m meddling some more I suppose when I say to you, don’t give
Howard his congé for the present. It is a horridly common thing to dwell
upon, but Howard is too materially important to be cut adrift on the
impulse of the moment.”

“I know it.”

“You are too clever not to. Consider the matter wisely, dispassionately,
intelligently, dear; then if by April you simply can’t stand it--talk
the thing over with me again,” she ended rather vaguely and wistfully;
for it had been her heart’s desire to wed Sylvia’s beauty and Quarrier’s
fortune, and the suitability of the one for the other was apparent
enough to make even sterner moralists wobbly in their creed. Quarrier,
as a detail of modern human architecture, she supposed might fit in
somewhere, and took that for granted in laying the corner stone for her
fairy palace which Sylvia was to inhabit. And now!--oh, vexation!--the
neglected but essentially constructive detail of human architecture had
buckled, knocking the dream palace and its princess and its splendour
about her ears.

“Things never happen in real life,” she observed plaintively; “only
romances have plots where things work out. But we people in real life,
we just go on and on in a badly constructed, plotless sort of way with
no villains, no interesting situations, no climaxes, no ensemble. No, we
grow old and irritable and meaner and meaner; we lose our good looks and
digestions, and we die in hopeless discord with the unity required in a
dollar and a half novel by a master of modern fiction.”

“But some among us amass fortunes,” suggested Sylvia, laughing.

“But we don’t live happy ever after. Nobody ever had enough money in
real life.”

“Some fall in love,” observed Sylvia, musing.

“And they are not content, silly!”

“Why? Because nobody ever had enough love in real life,” mocked Sylvia.

“You have said it, child. That is the malady of the world, and nobody
knows it until some pretty ninny like you babbles the truth. And that is
why we care for those immortals in romance, those fortunate lovers who,
in fable, are given and give enough of love; those magic shapes in verse
and tale whose hearts are satisfied when the mad author of their being
inks his last period and goes to dinner.”

Sylvia laughed awhile, then, chin on wrist, sat musing there, muffled in
her furs.

“As for love, I think I should be moderate in the asking, in the giving.
A little--to flavour routine--would be sufficient for me I fancy.”

“You know so much about it,” observed Mrs. Ferrall ironically.

“I am permitted to speculate, am I not?”

“Certainly. Only speculate in sound investments, dear.”

“How can you make a sound investment in love? Isn’t it always sheerest
speculation?”

“Yes, that is why simple matrimony is usually a safer speculation than
love.”

“Yes, but--love isn’t matrimony.”

“Match that with its complementary platitude and you have the essence
of modern fiction,” observed Mrs. Ferrall. “Love is a subject talked
to death, which explains the present shortage in the market I suppose.
You’re not in love and you don’t miss it. Why cultivate an artificial
taste for it? If it ever comes naturally, you’ll be astonished at your
capacity for it, and the constant deterioration in quantity and quality
of the visible supply. Goodness! my epigrams make me yawn--or is it
age and the ill humour of the aged when the porridge spills over on the
family cat?”

“I am the cat, I suppose,” asked Sylvia, laughing.

“Yes you are--and you go tearing away, back up, fur on end, leaving me
by the fire with no porridge and only the aroma of the singeing fur to
comfort me. … Still there’s one thing to comfort me.”

“What?”

“Kitty-cats come back, dear.”

“Oh, I suppose so. … Do you believe I could induce him to wear his hair
any way except pompadour? … and, dear, his beard is so dreadfully silky.
Isn’t there anything he could take for it?”

“Only a razor I’m afraid. Those long, thick, soft, eyelashes of his are
ominous. Eyes of that sort ruin a man for my taste. He might just as
reasonably wear my hat.”

“But he can’t follow the fashions in eyes,” laughed Sylvia. “Oh, this is
atrocious of us--it is simply horrible to sit here and say such things.
I am cold-blooded enough as it is--material enough, mean, covetous,
contemptible--”

“Dear!” said Grace Ferrall mildly, “you are not choosing a husband; you
are choosing a career. To criticise his investments might be bad taste;
to be able to extract what amusement you can out of Howard is a direct
mercy from Heaven. Otherwise you’d go mad, you know.”

“Grace! Do you wish me to marry him?”

“What is the alternative, dear?”

“Why, nothing--self-respect, dowdiness, and peace.”

“Is that all?”

“All I can see.”

“Not Stephen Siward?”

“To marry? No. To enjoy, yes. … Grace, I have had such a good time with
him; you don’t know! He is such a boy--sometimes; and I--I believe that
I am rather good for him. … Not that I’d ever again let him do that
sort of thing. … Besides, his curiosity is quenched; I am the sort he
supposed. Now he’s found out he will be nice. … It’s been days since
I’ve had a talk with him. He tried to, but I wouldn’t. Besides, the
major has said nasty things about him when Howard was present; nothing
definite, only hints, smiling silences, innuendoes on the verge of
matters rather unfit; and I had nothing definite to refute. I could not
even appear to understand or notice--it was all done in such a horridly
vague way. But it only made me like him; and no doubt that actress he
took to the Patroons is better company than he finds in nine places out
of ten among his own sort.”

“Oh,” said Grace Ferrall slowly, “if that is the way you feel, I don’t
see why you shouldn’t play with Mr. Siward whenever you like.”

“Nor I. I’ve been a perfect fool not to. … Howard hates him.”

“How do you know?”

“What a question! A woman knows such things. Then, you remember that
caricature--so dreadfully like Howard? Howard has no sense of humour;
he detests such things. It was the most dreadful thing that Mr. Siward
could have done to him.”

“Meddled again!” groaned Grace. “Doesn’t Howard know that I did that?”

“Yes, but nothing I can say alters his conviction that the likeness was
intended. You know it was a likeness! And if Mr. Siward had not told
me that it was not intended, I should never have believed it to be an
accident.”

After a prolonged silence Sylvia said, overcarelessly: “I don’t quite
understand Howard. With me anger lasts but a moment, and then I’m open
to overtures for peace … I think Howard’s anger lasts.”

“It does,” said Grace. “He was a muff as a boy--a prig with a prig’s
memory under all his shallow, showy surface. I’m frank with you; I never
could take my cousin either respectfully or seriously, but I’ve known
him to take his own anger so seriously that years after he has visited
it upon those who had really wronged him. And he is equipped for
retaliation if he chooses. That fortune of his reaches far. … Not that
I think him capable of using such a power to satisfy a mere personal
dislike. Howard has principles, loads of them. But--the weapon is
there.”

“Is it true that Mr. Siward is interested in building electric roads?”
 asked Sylvia curiously.

“I don’t know, child. Why?”

“Nothing. I wondered.”

“Why?”

“Mr. Mortimer said so.”

“Then I suppose he is. I’ll ask Kemp if you like. Why? Isn’t it all
right to build them?”

“I suppose so. Howard is in it somehow. In fact Howard’s company is
behind Mr. Siward’s, I believe.”

Grace Ferrall turned and looked at the girl beside her, laughing
outright.

“Oh, Howard doesn’t do mysterious financial things to nice young men
because they draw impudent pictures of him running after his dog--or
for any other reason. That, dear, is one of those skilfully developed
portions of an artistic plot; and plots exist only in romance. So do
villains; and besides, my cousin isn’t one. Besides that, if Howard is
in that thing, no doubt Kemp and I are too. So your nice young man is in
very safe company.”

“You draw such silly inferences,” said Sylvia coolly; but there was a
good deal of colour in her cheeks; and she knew it and pulled her big
motor veil across her face, fastening it under her chin. All of which
amused Grace Ferrall infinitely until the subtler significance of the
girl’s mental processes struck her, sobering her own thoughts. Sylvia,
too, had grown serious in her preoccupation; and the partie-à-deux
terminated a few minutes later in a duet of silence over the tea-cups in
the gun-room.

The weather had turned warm and misty; one of those sudden sea-coast
changes had greyed the blue in the sky, spreading a fine haze over land
and water, effacing the crisp sparkle of the sea, dulling the westering
sun.

A few moments later Sylvia, glancing over her shoulder, noticed that a
fine misty drizzle had clouded the casements. That meant that her usual
evening stroll on the cliffs with Quarrier, before dressing for dinner,
was off. And she drew a little breath of unconscious relief as Marion
Page walked in, her light woollen shooting-jacket, her hat, shoes, and
the barrels of the fowling-piece tucked under her left arm-pit, all
glimmering frostily with powdered rain drops.

She said something to Grace Ferrall about the mist promising good
point-shooting in the morning, took the order book from a servant,
jotted down her request to be called an hour before sunrise, filled in
the gun-room records with her score--the species and number bagged, and
the number of shells used--and accepting the tea offered, drew out a
tiny cigarette-case of sweet-bay wood heavily crusted with rose-gold.

“With whom were you shooting?” asked Grace, as Marion dropped one
well-shaped leg over the other and wreathed her delicately tanned
features in smoke.

“Stephen Siward and Blinky. They’re at it yet, but I had some letters
to write.” She glanced leisurely at Sylvia and touched the ash-tray with
the whitening end of her cigarette. “That dog you let Mr. Siward have is
a good one. I’m taking him to Jersey next week for the cock-shooting.”

Sylvia returned her calm gaze blankly.

An unreasonable and disagreeable shock had passed through her.

“My North Carolina pointers are useless for close work,” observed Marion
indifferently; and she leaned back, watching the blue smoke curling
upward from her cigarette.

Sylvia, distrait, but with downcast eyes on fire under the fringed
lids, was thinking of the cheque Siward had given her for Sagamore. The
transaction, for her, had been a business one on the surface only. She
had never meant to use the cheque. She had laid it away among a few
letters, relics, pleasant souvenirs of the summer. To her the affair
had been softened by a delicate hint of intimacy,--the delight he was to
take in something that had once been hers had given her a faint taste
of the pleasure of according pleasure to a man. And this is what he had
done!

The drizzle had turned to fog, through which rain was now pelting the
cliffs; people were returning from the open; a motor-car came whizzing
into the drive, and out of it tumbled Rena and Eileen and the faithful
Pages, the girls irritable and ready for tea, and the boys like a
pair of eager, wagging, setter puppies, pleased with everything and
everybody, utterly oblivious to the sombre repose brooding above the
tea-table.

Their sister calmly refused them the use of her cigarettes. Eileen
presented her pretty shoulder, Rena nearly yawned at them, but,
nothing dampened, they recounted a number of incidents with reciprocal
enthusiasm to Sylvia, who was too inattentive to smile, and to Grace
Ferrall, who smiled the more sweetly through sheer inattention.

Then Alderdene came in, blinking a greeting through his foggy goggles,
sloppy, baggy, heavy shoes wheezing, lingered in the vicinity long
enough to swallow his “peg” and acquire a disdainful opinion of his
shooting from Marion, and then took himself off, leaving the room noisy
with his laugh, which resembled the rattle of a startled kingfisher.

In ones and twos the guests reported as the dusk-curtained fog closed in
on Shotover. Quarrier came, dry as a chip under his rain-coat, but his
silky beard was wet with rain, and moisture powdered his long, soft
eyelashes and white skin; and his flexible, pointed fingers, as he
drew off his gloves, seemed startling in their whiteness through the
gathering gloom.

“I suppose our evening walk is out of the question,” he said, standing
by Sylvia, who had nodded a greeting and then turned her head rather
hastily to see who had entered the room. It was Siward, only a vague
shape in the gloom, but perfectly recognisable to her. At the same
moment Marion Page rose leisurely and strolled toward the billiard-room.

“Our walk?” repeated Sylvia absently--“it’s raining, you know.” Yet only
a day or two ago she had walked to church with Siward through the rain,
the irritated Major feeling obliged to go with them. Her eyes followed
Siward’s figure, suddenly dark against the door of the lighted
billiard-room, then brilliantly illuminated, as he entered, nodded
acceptance to Mortimer’s invitation, and picked up the cue just laid
aside by Agatha Caithness, who had turned to speak to Marion. Then
Mortimer’s bulk loomed nearer; voices became gay and animated in the
billiard-room. Siward’s handsome face was bent toward Agatha Caithness
in gay challenge; Mortimer’s heavy laugh broke out; there came the
rattle of pool-balls, and the dull sound of cue-butts striking the
floor; then, crack! and the game began, with Marion Page and Siward
fighting Mortimer and Miss Caithness for something or other.

Quarrier had been speaking for some time before Sylvia became aware
of it--something about a brisk walk in the morning somewhere; and she
nodded impatiently, watching Marion’s supple waist-line as she bent far
over the illuminated table for a complicated shot at the enemy.

His fiancée’s inattention was not agreeable to Quarrier. A dozen things
had happened since his arrival which had not been agreeable to him:
her failure to meet him at the Fells Crossing, and the reason for her
failure; and her informal acquaintance with Siward, whose presence at
Shotover he had not looked for, and her sudden intimacy with the man he
had never particularly liked, and whom within six months he had come to
detest and to avoid.

These things--the outrageous liberty Siward had permitted himself in
caricaturing him, the mortifying caprice of Sylvia for Siward on the day
of the Shotover cup-drive--had left indelible impressions in a cold and
rather heavy mind, slow to waste effort in the indulgence of any vital
emotion.

In a few years indifference to Siward had changed to passive
disapproval; that, again, to an emotionless dislike; and when the
scandal at the Patroons Club occurred, for the first time in his life
he understood what it was to fear the man he disliked. For if Siward
had committed the insane imprudence which had cost him his title to
membership, he had also done something, knowingly or otherwise, which
awoke in Quarrier a cold, slow fear; and that fear was dormant, but
present, now, and it, for the time being, dictated his attitude and
bearing toward the man who might or might not be capable of using
viciously a knowledge which Quarrier believed that he must possess.

For that reason, when it was not possible to avoid Siward, his bearing
toward him was carefully civil; for that reason he dampened Major
Belwether’s eagerness to tell everybody all he knew about the
shamelessly imprudent girl who had figured with Siward in the scandal,
but whose identity the press had not discovered.

Silence was always desirable to Quarrier; silence concerning all matters
was a trait inborn and congenially cultivated to a habit by him in every
affair of life--in business, in leisure, in the methodical pursuits of
such pleasures as a limited intellect permitted him, in personal and
family matters, in public questions and financial problems.

He listened always, but never invited confidences; he had no opinion to
express when invited. And he became very, very rich.

And over it all spread a thin membrane of vanity, nervous, not
intellectual, sensitiveness; for all sense of humour was absent in this
man, whose smile, when not a physical effort, was automatically and
methodically responsive to certain fixed cues. He smiled when he said
“Good morning,” when declining or accepting invitations, when taking
his leave, when meeting anybody of any financial importance, and
when everybody except himself had begun to laugh in a theatre or a
drawing-room. This limit to any personal manifestation he considered a
generous one. And perhaps it was.


A sudden rain-squall, noisy against the casements, had darkened the
room; then the electric lights broke out with a mild candle-like lustre,
and Quarrier, standing beside Sylvia’s chair, discovered it to be empty.

It was not until he had dressed for dinner that he saw her again, seated
on the stairs with Marion Page--a new appearance of intimacy for both
women, who heretofore had found nothing except a passing civility in
common.

Marion was discussing dog-breeding with that cool, crude, direct
insouciance so unpleasant to some men. Sylvia was attentive, curious,
and instinctively shrinking by turns, secretly dismayed at the
overplainness of terms employed in kennel lore by the girl at her side.

The conversation veered toward the Sagamore pup. Marion explained that
Siward was too busy to do any Southern shooting, which was why he was
glad to have her polish Sagamore on Jersey woodcock.

“I thought it was not good for a dog to be used by anybody except his
master,” said Sylvia carelessly.

“Only second-raters suffer. Besides, I have shot enough, now, with Mr.
Siward to use his dog as he does.”

“He is an agreeable shooting companion, smiled Sylvia.

“He is perfect,” answered Marion coolly. “The only test for a
thoroughbred is the field. He rings true.”

They exchanged carefully impersonal views on Siward’s good qualities
for a moment or two; then Marion said bluntly: “Do you know anything in
particular about that Patroons Club affair?”

“No,” said Sylvia, “nothing in particular.”

“Neither do I; and I don’t care to; I mean, that I don’t care what he
did; and I wish that gossiping old Major would stop trying to hint it to
me.”

“My uncle!”

“Oh! I forgot. Beg your pardon, you know, but--”

“I’m not offended,” observed Sylvia, with a shrug of her pretty, bare
shoulders.

Marion laughed. “Such a gadabout! Besides, I’m no prude, but he and
Leroy Mortimer have no business to talk to unmarried women the way they
do. No matter how worldly wise we are, men have no right to suppose we
are.”

“Pooh!” shrugged Sylvia. “I have no patience to study out
double-entendre, so it never shocks me. Besides--”

She was going to add that she was not at all versed in doubtful worldly
wisdom, but decided not to, as it might seem to imply disapproval of
Marion’s learning. So she went on: “Besides, what have innuendoes to do
with Mr. Siward?”

“I don’t know whether I care to understand them. The Major hinted
that the woman--the one who figured in it--is--rather exclusively Mr.
Siward’s ‘property.’”

“Exclusively?” repeated Sylvia curiously. “She’s a public actress, isn’t
she?”

“If you call the manoeuvres of a newly fledged chorus girl acting, yes,
she is. But I don’t believe Mr. Siward figures in that unfashionable
rôle. Why, there are too many women of his own sort ready for mischief.”
 Marion turned to Sylvia, her eyes hard with a cynicism quite lost on the
other. “That sort of thing might suit Leroy Mortimer, but it doesn’t fit
Mr. Siward,” she concluded, rising as their hostess appeared from above
and the butler from below.

And all through dinner an indefinitely unpleasant remembrance of the
conversation lingered with Sylvia, and she sat silent for minutes at a
time, returning to actualities with a long, curious side-glance across
at Siward, and an uncomprehending smile of assent for whatever Quarrier
or Major Belwether had been saying to her.

Cards she managed to avoid after dinner, and stood by Quarrier’s chair
for half an hour, absently watching the relentless method and steady
adherence to rule which characterised his Bridge-playing, the eager,
unslaked brutality of Mortimer, the set, selfish face of his pretty
wife, the chilled intensity of Miss Caithness.

And Grace Ferrall’s phrase recurred to her, “Nobody ever has enough
money!”--not even these people, whose only worry was to find investment
for the surplus they were unable to spend. Something of the meanness
of it all penetrated her. Were these the real visages of these people,
whose faces otherwise seemed so smooth and human? Was Leila Mortimer
aware of the shrillness of her voice? Did Agatha Caithness realise how
pinched her mouth and nose had grown? Did even Leroy Mortimer dream how
swollen the pouches under his eyes were; how red and puffy his hands,
shuffling a new pack; how pendulous and dreadful his red under-lip when
absorbedly making up his cards?

Instinctively she moved a step forward for a glimpse of Quarrier’s face.
The face appeared to be a study in blankness. His natural visage was
emotionless and inexpressive enough, but this face, from which every
vestige of colour had fled, fascinated her with its dead whiteness; and
the hair brushed high, the long, black lashes, the silky beard, struck
her as absolutely ghastly, as though they had been glued to a face of
wax.

She turned on her heel, restless, depressed, inclined for companionship.
The Page boys had tempted Rena and Eileen to the billiard-room; Voucher,
Alderdene, and Major Belwether were huddled over a table, immersed in
Preference; Katharyn Tassel and Grace Ferrall sat together looking over
the announcements of Sylvia’s engagement in a batch of New York papers
just arrived; Ferrall was writing at a desk, and Siward and Marion were
occupied in the former’s sketch for an ideal shooting vehicle, to be
built on the buckboard principle, with a clever arrangement for dogs,
guns, ammunition, and provisions. Siward’s profile, as it bent in
the lamplight over the paper, was very engaging. The boyish note
predominated as he talked while he drew, his eyes now smiling, now
seriously intent on the sketch which was developing so swiftly under his
facile pencil.

Marion’s clean-cut blond head was close to his, her supple body twisted
in her seat, one bare arm hanging over the back of the chair. Something
in her attitude seemed to exclude intrusion; her voice, too, was hushed
in comment, though his was pitched in his naturally agreeable key.

Sylvia had taken a hesitating step toward them, but halted,
turning irresolutely; and suddenly over her crept a sensation of
isolation--something of that feeling which had roused her at midnight
from her bed and driven her to Grace Ferrall for a refuge from she knew
not what.

The rustle of her silken dinner gown was scarcely perceptible as she
turned. Siward, moving his head slightly, glanced up, then brought his
sketch to a brilliant finish.

“Don’t you think something of this sort is practicable?” he asked
pleasantly, including Mrs. Ferrall and Katharyn Tassel in a general
appeal which brought them into the circle of two. Grace Ferrall leaned
forward, looking over Marion’s shoulder, and Siward rose and stepped
back, with a quick glance into the hall--in time to catch a glimmer of
pale blue and lace on the stairs.

“I suppose my cigarettes are in my room as usual,” he said aloud to
himself, wheeling so that he could not have time to see Marion’s offer
of her little gold-encrusted case, or notice her quickly raised eyes,
bright with suspicion and vexation. For she, too, had observed Sylvia’s
distant entrance, had been perfectly aware of Siward’s cognizance
of Sylvia’s retreat; and when Siward went on sketching she had been
content. Now she could not tell whether he had deliberately and
skillfully taken his congé to follow Sylvia, or whether, in his quest
for his cigarettes, chance might meddle, as usual. Even if he returned,
she could not know with certainty how much of a part hazard had played
on the landing above, where she already heard the distant sounds of
Sylvia’s voice mingling with Siward’s, then a light footfall or two, and
silence.


He had greeted her in his usual careless, happy fashion, just as she
had reached her chamber door; and she turned at the sound of his voice,
confused, unsmiling, a little pale.

“Is it headache, or are you too in quest of cigarettes?” he asked, as he
stopped in passing her where she stood, one slender hand on the knob of
her door.

“I don’t smoke, you know,” she said, looking up at him with a cool
little laugh. “It isn’t headache either. I was--boring myself, Mr.
Siward.”

“Is there any virtue in me as a remedy?”

“Oh, I have no doubt you have lots of virtues. … Perhaps you might do
as a temporary remedy--first aid to the injured.” She laughed again,
uncertainly. “But you are on a quest for cigarettes.”

“And you?”

“A rendezvous--with the Sand-Man. … Good night.”

“Good night … if you must say it.”

“It’s polite to say something … isn’t it?”

“It would be polite to say, ‘With pleasure, Mr. Siward!’”

“But you haven’t invited me to do anything--not even to accept a
cigarette. Besides, you didn’t expect to meet me up here?”

The trailing accent made it near enough a question for him to say, “Yes,
I did.”

“How could you?”

“I saw you leave the room.”

“You were sketching for Marion Page. Do you wish me to believe that you
noticed me--”

“--And followed you? Yes, I did follow you.” She looked at him, then
past him toward a corner of the wide hall where a maid in cap and apron
sat pretending to be sewing. “Careful!” she motioned with smiling lips,
“servants gossip. … Good night, again.”

“Won’t you--”

“Oh, dear! you mustn’t speak so loud,” she motioned, with her fresh,
sweet lips curving on the edge of that adorable smile once more.

“Couldn’t we have a moment--”

“No--”

“One minute--”

“Hush! I must open my door”--lingering. “I might come out again, if you
have anything particularly important to communicate to me.”

“I have. There’s a big bay-window at the end of the other corridor. Will
you come?”

But she opened her door, with a light laugh, saying “good night” again,
and closed it noiselessly behind her.

He walked on, turning into his corridor, but kept straight ahead,
passing his own door, on to the window at the end of the hall,
then north along a wide passageway which terminated in a bay-window
overlooking the roof of the indoor swimming tank.

Rain rattled heavily, against the panes and on the lighted roof of
opalescent glass below, through which he could make out the shadowy
fronds of palms.

It appeared that he had cigarettes enough, for he lighted one presently,
and, leaving his chair, curled up in the cushioned and pillowed
window-seat, gathering his knees together under his arm.

The cigarette he had lighted went out. He had bitten into it and twisted
it so roughly that it presently crumbled; and he threw the rags of it
into a metal bowl, locking his jaws in silence. For the night threatened
to be a bad one for him. A heavy fragrance from his neighbour’s
wine-glass at dinner had stirred up what had for a time lain dormant;
and, by accident, something--some sweetmeat he had tasted--was saturated
in brandy.

Now, his restlessness at the prospect of a blank night had quickened to
uneasiness, with a hint of fever tinting his skin, but, as yet, the dull
ache in his body was scarcely more than a premonition.

He had his own devices for tiding him over such periods--reading,
tobacco, and the long, blind, dogged tramps he took in town. But here,
to-night, in the rain, one stood every chance of walking off the cliffs;
and he was sick of reading himself sightless over the sort of books sent
wholesale to Shotover; and he was already too ill at ease, physically,
to make smoking endurable.

Were it not for a half-defiant, half-sullen dread of the coming night,
he might have put it from his mind in spite of the slowly increasing
nervous tension and the steady dull consciousness of desire. He drew
another Sirdar from his case and sat staring at the rain-smeared night,
twisting the frail fragrant cigarette to bits between his fingers.

After a while he began to walk monotonously to and fro the length of the
corridor, like a man timing his steps to the heavy ache of body or
mind. Once he went as far as his own door, entered, and stepping to the
wash-basin, let the icy water run over hands and wrists. This sometimes
helped to stimulate and soothe him; it did now, for a while--long enough
to change the current of his thoughts to the girl he had hoped might
have the imprudence to return for a tryst, innocent enough in itself,
yet unconventional and unreasonable enough to prove attractive to them
both.

Probably she wouldn’t come; she had kept her fluffy skirts clear of him
since Cup Day--which simply corroborated his vague estimate of her.
Had she done the contrary, his estimate would have been the same; for,
unconsciously but naturally, he had prejudged her. A girl who could
capture Quarrier at full noontide, and in the face of all Manhattan,
was a girl equipped for anything she dared--though she was probably too
clever to dare too much; a girl to be interested in, to amuse and be
amused by; a girl to be reckoned with. His restlessness and his fever
subdued by the icy water, he stood drying his hands, thinking, coolly,
how close he had come to being seriously in love with this young girl,
whose attitude was always a curious temptation, whose smile was a
charming provocation, whose youth and beauty were to him a perpetual
challenge. He admitted to himself, calmly, that he had never seen a
woman he cared as much for; that for the brief moment of his declaration
he had known an utterly new emotion, which inevitably must have become
the love he had so quietly declared it to be. He had never before felt
as he felt then, cared as he cared then. Anything had been possible
for him at that time--any degree of love, any devotion, any generous
renunciation. Clear-sighted, master of himself, he saw love before him,
and knew it when he saw it; recognised it, was ready for it, offered it,
emboldened by her soft hands so eloquent in his.

And in his arms he held it for an instant, he thought, spite of the
sudden inertia, spite of the according of cold lips and hands still
colder, relaxed, inert; held it until he doubted. That was all; he had
been wise to doubt such sudden miracles as that. She, consummate and
charming, had soon set him right. And, after all, she liked him; and
she had been sure enough of herself to permit the impulse of a moment
to carry her with him--a little way, a very little way--merely to the
formal symbol of a passion the germ of which she recognised in him.

Then she had become intelligent again, with a little laughter, a little
malice, a becoming tint of hesitation and confusion; all the sense, all
the arts, all the friendly sweetness of a woman thorough in training,
schooled in self-possession, clear enough to be audacious and perverse
without danger to herself, to the man, or to the main chance.

Standing there alone in his lighted room, he wondered whether, had her
trained and inbred policy been less precise, less worldly, she might
have responded to such a man as he. Perfectly conscious that he had been
capable of loving her; aware, too, that his experience had left him on
that borderland only through his cool refusal to cross it and face a
hopeless battle already lost, he leisurely and mentally took the measure
of his own state of mind, and found all well, all intact; found himself
still master of his affections, and probably clear-minded enough to
remain so under the circumstances.

To such a man as he, impulse to love, capacity to love, did not mean
instant capsizing with a flop into sentimental tempests, where swamped,
ardent and callow youth raises a hysterically selfish clamour for
reciprocity or death. His nature partly, partly his character, accounted
for this balance; and, in part, a rather wide experience with women of
various degrees counted more.

So, by instinct and experience, normally temperate, only what
was abnormal and inherited might work a mischief in this man. His
listlessness, his easy acquiescence, were but consequent upon the
self-knowledge of self-control. But mastery of the master-vice required
something different; he was sick of a sickness; and because, in this
sickness, will, mind, and body are tainted too, reason and logic lack
clarity; and, to the signals of danger his reply had always been either
overconfident or weak--and it had been always the same reply: “Not yet.
There is time.” And now, this last week, it had come upon him that
the time was now; the skirmish was already on; and it had alarmed him
suddenly to find that the skirmish was already a battle, and a rough
one.


As he stood there he heard voices on the stairs. People had already
begun to retire, because late cards and point-shooting at dawn do
not agree. And a point-shooting picnic in snugly elaborate blinds was
popular with women--or was supposed to be.

He could distinguish by their voices, by their laughter and step,
the people who were mounting the stairway and lingering for gossip or
passing through the various corridors to court the sleep denied him;
he heard Mortimer’s heavy tread and the soft shuffling step of Major
Belwether as they left the elevator; and the patter of his hostess’s
satin slippers, and her gay “good night” on the stairs.

Little by little the tumult died away. Quarrier’s measured step came,
passed; Marion Page’s cool, crisp voice and walk, and the giggle and
amble of the twins, and Rena and Eileen,--the last laggards, with
Ferrall’s brisk, decisive tones and stride to close the procession.

He turned and looked grimly at his bed, then, shutting off the lights,
he opened his door and went out into the deserted corridor, where the
elevator shaft was dark and only the dim night-lights burned at angles
in the passageways.

He had his rain-coat and cap with him, not being certain of what
he might be driven to; but for the present he found the bay-window
overlooking the swimming tank sufficient to begin the vigil.

Secure from intrusion, as there were no bedrooms on that corridor, he
tossed coat and cap into the window-seat, walked to and fro for a while
listening to the rain, then sat down, his well-shaped head between his
hands. And in silence he faced the Enemy.

How long he had sat there he did not know. When he raised his face,
all gray and drawn with the tension of conflict, his eyes were not very
clear, nor did the figure standing there in the dim light from the hall
mean anything for a moment.

“Mr. Siward?” in an uncertain voice, almost a whisper.

He stood up mechanically, and she saw his face.

“Are you ill? What is it?”

“Ill? No.” He passed his hand over his eyes. “I fancy I was close to the
edge of sleep.” Some colour came back into his face; he stood smiling
now, the significance of her presence dawning on him.

“Did you really come?” he asked. “This isn’t a very lovely but
impalpable astral vision, is it?”

“It’s horridly imprudent, isn’t it?” she murmured, still considering the
rather drawn and pallid face of the man before her. “I came out of pure
curiosity, Mr. Siward.”

She glanced about her. He moved a big bunch of hothouse roses so she
could pass, and she settled down lightly on the edge of the window-seat.
When he had piled some big downy cushions behind her back, she made a
quick gesture of invitation.

“I have only a moment,” she said, as he seated himself beside her. “Part
of my curiosity is satisfied in finding you here; I didn’t suppose you
so faithful.”

“I can be fairly faithful. What else are you curious about?”

“You said you had something important--”

“--To tell you? So I did. That was bribery, perjury, false pretences,
robbery under arms, anything you will! I only wanted you to come.”

“That is a shameful confession!” she said; but her smile was gay enough,
and she noiselessly shook out her fluffy skirts and settled herself a
trifle more deeply among the pillows.

“Of course,” she observed absently, “you are dreadfully mortified at
yourself.”

“Naturally,” he admitted.

The patter of the rain attracted her attention; she peered out through
the blurred casements into the blackness. Then, picking up his cap and
indicating his raincoat, “Why?” she asked.

“Oh--in case you hadn’t come--”

“A walk? By yourself? A night like this on the cliffs! You are not
perfectly mad, are you?”

“Not perfectly.”

Her face grew serious and beautiful.

“What is the matter, Mr. Siward?”

“Things.”

“Do you care to be more explicit?”

“Well,” he said, with a humourous glance at her, “I haven’t seen you for
ages. That’s not wholesome for me, you know.”

“But you see me now; and it does not seem to benefit you.”

“I feel much better,” he insisted, laughing; and her blue eyes grew very
lovely as the smile broke from them in uncertain response.

“So you had nothing really important to tell me, Mr. Siward?”

“Only that I wanted you.”

“Oh! … I said important.”

But he did not argue the question; and she leaned forward, broke a rose
from its stem, then sank back a little way among the cushions, looking
at him, idly inhaling the hothouse perfume.

“Why have you so ostentatiously avoided me, Mr. Siward?” she asked
languidly.

“Well, upon my word!” he said, with a touch of irritation.

“Oh, you are so dreadfully literal!” she shrugged, brushing her
straight, sensitive nose with the pink blossom; “I only said it to give
you a chance. … If you are going to be stupid, good night!” But she
made no movement to go. … “Yes, then; I have avoided you. And it doesn’t
become you to ask why.”

“Because I kissed you?”

“You hint at the true reason so chivalrously, so delicately,” she said,
“that I scarcely recognise it.” The cool mockery of her voice and the
warm, quick colour tinting neck and face were incongruous. He thought
with slow surprise that she was not yet letter-perfect in her rôle of
the material triumphant over the spiritual. A trifle ashamed, too, he
sat silent, watching the silken petals fall one by one as she slowly
detached them with delicate, restless lips.

“I am sorry I came,” she said reflectively. “You don’t know why I came,
do you? Sheer loneliness, Mr. Siward; there is something of the child in
me still, you see. I am not yet sufficiently resourceful to take it out
in a quietly tearful obligato; I never learned how to produce tears. …
So I came to you.” She had stripped the petals from the rose, and now,
tossing the crushed branch from her, she leaned forward and broke from
its stem a heavy, perfumed bud, half unfolded.

“It seems my fate to pass my life in bidding you good night,” she said,
straightening up and turning to him with the careless laughter touching
mouth and eyes again. Then, resting her weight on one hand, her smooth,
white shoulder rounded beside her cheek, she looked at him out of
humourous eyes:

“What is it that women find so attractive in you? The man’s experienced
insouciance? The boy’s unconscious cynicism? The mystery of your
self-sufficiency? The faulty humanity in you? The youth in you already
showing traces of wear that hint of future scars? What will you be at
thirty-five? At forty? … Ah,” she added softly, “what are you now? For
I don’t know, and you cannot tell me if you would. … Out of these little
windows called eyes we look at one another, and study surfaces, and
try to peep into neighbours’ windows. But all is dark behind the
windows--always dark, in there where they tell us souls hide.”

She laid the shell-pink bud against her cheek that matched it, smiling
with wise sweetness to herself.

“What counts with you?” he asked after a moment.

“Counts? How?”

“In your affections. What prepossesses you?”

She laughed audaciously: “Your traits--some of them--all of them
that you reveal. You must be aware of that much already, considering
everything--”

“Then, what is it I lack? Where do I fail?”

“But you don’t lack--you don’t fail! I ask nothing more of you, Mr.
Siward.”

“A man from whom a woman desires nothing is already convicted of
insufficiency. … You would recognise this very quickly if I made love to
you.”

“Is that the only way I am to discover your insufficiency, Mr. Siward?”

“Or my sufficiency. … Have you enough curiosity to try?”

“Oh! I thought you were to try.” Then, quickly: “But I think you have
already experimented; and I did not notice your shortcomings. So there
is no use in pursuing that line of investigation any farther--is there?”

And always with her the mischief lay in the trailing upward inflection;
in the confused sweetness of her eyes, and their lovely uncertainty.

One slim white hand held the rose against her cheek; the other lay idly
on her knee, fresh and delicate as a fallen petal; and he laid both
hands over it and lifted it between them.

“Mr. Siward, I am afraid this is becoming a habit with you.” The gay
mockery was not quite genuine; the curve of lips too sensitive for a
voice so lightly cynical.

He smiled, bending there, considering her hand between his; and after a
moment her muscles relaxed, and bare round arm and hand lay abandoned to
him.

“Quite flawless--perfect,” he said aloud to himself.

“Do you--read hands?”

“Vaguely.” He touched the smooth palm: “Long life, clear mind, and”--he
laughed--“heart supreme over reason! There is written a white lie--but a
pretty one.”

“It is no lie.”

He laughed again, unconvinced.

“It is the truth,” she said, seriously insisting and bending sideways
above her own hand where it lay in his. “It is a miserable confession to
admit it, but I’m afraid intelligence would fight a losing battle with
heart if the conflict ever came. You see, I know, having nobody to study
except myself all these years. … There is the proof of it--that selfish,
smooth contour, where there should be generosity. Then, look at the
tendency of imagination toward mischief!” She laid her right forefinger
on the palm of the left hand which he held, and traced the developments
arising in the Mount of Hermes. “Is it not a horrid hand, Mr. Siward? I
don’t know how much you know about palms, but--” She suddenly flushed,
and attempted to close her hand, doubling the thumb over. There was
a little half-hearted struggle, freeing one of his arms, which fell,
settling about her slender waist; a silence, a breathless moment, and he
had kissed her. Her lips were warm, this time.

She recovered herself, avoiding his eyes, and moved backward, shielding
her face with pretty upflung elbows out-turned. “I told you it was
becoming a habit with you!” The loud beating of her pulses marred her
voice. “Must I establish a dead-line every time I commit the folly of
being alone with you?”

“I’ll draw that line,” he said, taking her in his arms.

“I--I beg you will draw it quickly, Mr. Siward.”

“I do; it passes through your heart and mine!”

“Is--do you mean a declaration--again? You are compromising yourself,
you know. I warn you that you are committing yourself.”

“So are you. Look at me!”

In his arms, her own arms pressed against his breast, resisting, she
raised her splendid youthful eyes; and through and through her shot
pulse on pulse, until every nerve seemed aquiver.

“While I’m still sane,” he said with a dry catch in his throat, “before
I tell you that I love you, look at me.”

“I will, if you wish,” she said with a trembling smile, “but it is
useless--”

“That is what I shall find out in time. … You must meet my eyes. That is
well; that is frank and sweet--”

“And useless--truly it is. … Please don’t tell me--anything.”

“You will not listen?”

“There is no chance for you--if you mean love. I--I tell you in time,
you see. … I am utterly frivolous--quite selfish and mercenary.”

“I take my chance!”

“No, I give you none! Why do you interfere! A--a girl’s policy costs her
something if it be worth anything; whatever it costs it is worth it to
me. … And I do not love you. In so short a time how could I?”

Then in his arms she fell a-trembling. Something blinded her eyes, and
she turned her head sharply, only to encounter his lips on hers in a
deep, clinging embrace that left her dazed, still resisting with the
fragments of breath and voice.

“Not again--I beg--you. Let me go now. It is not best. Oh! truly, truly
it is all wrong with us now.” She bent her head, blinded with tears,
swaying, stunned; then, with a breathless sound, turned in his arms
to meet his lips, her hands contracting in his; and, confronting, they
paused, suspending the crisis, young faces close, and hearts afire.

“Sylvia, I love you.”

For an instant their lips clung; she had rendered him his kiss. Then,
tremblingly, “It is useless … even though I loved you.”

“Say it!”

“I do.”

“Say it!”

“I--I cannot! … And it is no use--no use! I do not know myself--this
way. My eyes--are wet. It is not like me; there is nothing of me in this
girl you hold so closely, so confidently. … I do care for you--how can I
help it? How could any woman help it? Is not that enough?”

“Until you are a bride, yes.”

“A bride? Stephen!--I cannot--”

“You cannot help it, Sylvia.”

“I must! I have my way to go.”

“My way lies that way.”

“No! no! I cannot do it; it is not best for me--not best for you. … I
do care for you; you have taught me how to say it. But--you know what
I have done--and mean to do, and must carry through. Then, how can you
love a girl like that?”

“Dear, I know the woman I love.”

“Silly, she is what her life has made her--material, passionately
selfish, unable to renounce the root of all evil. … Even if this--this
happiness were ours always--I mean, if this madness could last our
wedded life--I am not good enough, not noble enough, to forget what I
might have had, and put away. … Is it not dreadful to admit it? Do you
not know that self-contempt is part of the price? … I have no money. I
know what you have. … I asked. And it is enough for a man who remains
unmarried. … For I cannot ‘make things do’; I cannot ‘contrive’; I will
not cling to the fringe of things, or play that heartbreaking rôle of
the shabby expatriated on the Continent. … No person in this world ever
had enough. I tell you I could find use for every flake of metal ever
mined! … You see you do not know me. From my pretty face and figure you
misjudge me. I am intelligent--not intellectual, though I might have
been, might even be yet. I am cultivated, not learned; though I care for
learning--or might, if I had time. … My rôle in life is to mount to a
security too high for any question as to my dominance. … Can you take me
there?”

“There are other heights, Sylvia.”

“Higher?”

“Yes, dear.”

“The spiritual; I know. I could not breathe there, if I cared to climb.
… And I have told you what I am--all silk and lace and smooth-skinned
selfishness.” She looked at him wistfully. “If you can change me, take
me.” And she rose, facing him.

“I do not give you up,” he said, with a savage note hardening his voice;
and it thrilled her to hear it, and every drop of blood in her body
leaped as she yielded to his arms again, heavy-lidded, trembling,
confused, under the piercing sweetness of contact.

The perfume of her mouth, her hair, the consenting fingers locked in
his, palm against palm, the lips, acquiescent, then afire at last,
responsive to his own; and her eyes opening from the dream under the
white lids--these were what he had of her till every vein in him pulsed
flame. Then her voice, broken, breathless:

“Good night. Love me while you can--and forgive me! … Good night. …
Where are we? All--all this must have stunned me, blinded me. … Is this
my door, or yours? Hush! I am half dead with fear--to be here under the
light again. … If you take me again, my knees will give way. … And I
must find my door. Oh, the ghastly imprudence of it! … Good night … good
night. I--I love you!”



CHAPTER VI MODUS VIVENDI

After the first few days of his arrival at Shotover time had threatened
to hang heavily on Mortimer’s mottled hands. After the second day afield
he recognised that his shooting career was practically over; he had
become too bulky during the last year to endure the physical exertion;
his habits, too, had at length made traitors of his eyes; a half hour’s
snipe-shooting in the sun, and the veins in his neck swelled ominously.
Panting, eyes inflamed, fat arms wobbly, he had scored miss after miss,
and laboured onward, sullenly persistent to the end. But it was the
end. That cup day finished him; he recognised that he was done for. And,
following the Law of Pleasure, which finishes us before we are finished
with it, he did not experience any particular sense of deprivation in
the prospect. Only the wholesome dread caging. But Mortimer, not yet
done with self-indulgence in more convenient forms, cast about him
within his new limits for occupation between those hours consecrated to
the rites of the table and the card-room.

He drove four, but found that it numbed his arms, and that the sea air
made him sleepy. Motor-cars agreed with him only when driving with a
pretty woman. Forced through ennui to fish off the rocks, he soon tired
of the sea-perch and rock-cod and the malodours of periwinkle and clam.

Then he frankly took to Major Belwether’s sunny side of the gun-room,
with illustrated papers and apples and decanter. But Major Belwether,
always as careful of his digestion as of his financial secrets, blandly
dodged the pressing invitations to rum and confidence, until Mortimer
sulkily took up his headquarters in the reading-room, on the chance
of his wife’s moving elsewhere. Which she did, unobtrusively carrying
Captain Voucher with her in a sudden zeal for billiard practice on rainy
mornings now too frequent along the coast.

Mortimer possessed that mysterious talent, so common among the
financially insolvent, for living lavishly on an invisible income. But,
plan as he would, he had never been able to increase that income
through confidential gossip with men like Quarrier or Belwether, or even
Ferrall. What information his pretty wife might have extracted he did
not know; her income had never visibly increased above the vanishing
point, although, like himself, she denied herself nothing. One short,
lively interview with her had been enough to drive all partnership ideas
out of his head. If he wanted to learn anything financially advantageous
to himself he must do it without her aid; and as he was perpetually in
hopes of the friendly hint that never came, he still moused about when
opportunity offered; and this also helped to kill time.

Besides, he was always studying women. Years before, Grace Ferrall had
snapped her slim fingers in his face; and here, at Shotover, the field
was limited. Mrs. Vendenning had left; Agatha Caithness was still a pale
and reticent puzzle; Rena, Katharyn, and Eileen tormented him; Marion
Page, coolly au fait, yawned in his face. There remained Sylvia, who,
knowing nothing about his species, met him half-way with the sweet and
sensitive deference due a somewhat battered and infirm gentleman
of forty-eight--until a sleek aside from Major Belwether spoiled
everything, as usual, for her, leaving her painfully conscious and
perplexed between doubt and disgust.

Meanwhile, the wealthy master of Black Fells, Beverly Plank, had found
encouragement enough at Shotover to venture on tentative informality.
There was no doubt that ultimately he must be counted on in New York;
but nobody except him was impatiently cordial for the event; and so, at
the little house party, he slipped and slid from every attempt at
closer quarters, until, rolling smoothly enough, he landed without much
discomfort somewhere between Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Mortimer. And it was not
a question as to “which would be good to him,” observed Major Belwether,
with his misleading and benevolent mirth; “it was, which would be
goodest quickest!”

And Mrs. Mortimer, abandoning Captain Voucher by the same token,
displayed certain warning notices perfectly comprehensive to her
husband. And at first he was inclined to recognise defeat.

But the general insuccess which had so faithfully attended him recently
had aroused the long-dormant desire for a general review of the
situation with his wife--perhaps even the furtive hope of some conjugal
arrangement tending toward an exchange of views concerning possible
alliance.

The evening previous, to his intense disgust, host, hostess, and guests
had retired early, in view of the point-shooting at dawn. For not only
was there to be no point-shooting for him, but he had risen from the
card-table heavily hit; and besides, for the first time his apples and
port had disagreed with him.

As he had not risen until mid-day he was not sleepy. Books were an
aversion equalled only by distaste for his own company. Irritated,
bored, he had perforce sulkily entered the elevator and passed to his
room, where there was nothing on earth for him to do except to thumb
over last week’s sporting periodicals and smoke himself stupid.

But it required more than that to ensnare the goddess of slumber.
He walked about the room, haunted of slow thoughts; he stood at
the rain-smeared pane, fat fingers resting on the glass. The richly
flavoured cigar grew distasteful; and if he could not smoke, what, in
pity’s name, was he to do?

Involuntarily his distended eyes wandered to his wife’s locked and
bolted door; then he thought of Beverly Plank, and his own failure to
fasten himself upon that anxiously over-cordial individual with his
houses and his villas and his yachts and his investments!

He stepped to the switch and extinguished the lights in his room. Under
the door, along the sill, a glimmer came from his wife’s bed-chamber.
He listened; the maid was still there; so he sat down in the darkness
to wait; and by-and-by he heard the outer bedroom door close, and the
subdued rustle of the departing maid.

Then, turning on his lights, he moved ponderously and jauntily to his
wife’s door and knocked discreetly.

Leila Mortimer came to the door and opened it; her hair was coiled for
the night, her pretty figure outlined under a cascade of clinging lace.

“What is the matter?” she asked quietly.

“Are you point-shooting to-morrow?”

“I wanted to chat with you.”

“I’m sorry. I’m driving to Wenniston, after breakfast, with Beverly
Plank, and I need sleep.”

“I want to talk to you,” he repeated doggedly.

She regarded him for a moment in silence, then, with an assenting
gesture, turned away into her room; and he followed, heavily
apprehensive but resolved.

She had seated herself among a pile of cushions, one knee crossed over
the other, her slim white foot half concealed by the silken toe of her
slipper. And as he pulled a chair forward for himself, her pretty black
eyes, which slanted a little, took his measure and divined trouble.

“Leila,” he said, “why can’t we have--”

“A cigarette?” she interrupted, indicating her dainty case on the table.

He took one, savagely aware of defiance somewhere. She lighted her
own from a candle and settled back, studying the sequence of blue
smoke-rings jetting upward to the ceiling.

“About this man Plank,” he began, louder than he had intended through
sheer self-mistrust; and his wife made a quick, disdainful sign of
caution, which subdued his voice instantly. “Why can’t we take him
up--together, Leila?” he ended lamely, furious at his own uneasiness in
a matter which might concern him vitally.

“I see no necessity of your taking him up,” observed his wife serenely.
“I can do what may be useful to him in town.”

“So can I. There are clubs where he ought to be seen--”

“I can manage such matters much better.”

“You can’t manage everything,” he insisted sullenly. “There are chances
of various sorts--”

“Investments?” asked Mrs. Mortimer, with bright malice.

“See here, Leila, you have your own way too much. I say little; I make
damned few observations; but I could, if I cared to. … It becomes you
to be civil at least. I want to talk over this Plank matter with you; I
want you to listen, too.”

A shade of faint disgust passed over her face. “I am listening,” she
said.

“Well, then, I can see several ways in which the man can be of use to
me. … I discovered him before you did, anyway. And what I want to do is
to have a frank, honourable--”

“A--what?”

“--An honourable understanding with you, I said,” he repeated,
reddening.

“Oh!” She snapped her cigarette into the grate. “Oh! I see. And what
then?”

“What then?”

“Yes; what then?”

“Why, you and I can arrange to stand behind him this winter in town,
can’t we?”

“And then?”

“Then--damn it!--the beggar can show his gratitude, can’t he?”

“How?” she asked listlessly.

“By making good. How else?” he retorted savagely. “He can’t welch
because there’s little to climb for beyond us; and even if he climbs, he
can’t ignore us. I can do as many things for him in my way as you can
in yours. What is the use of being a pig, Leila? Anything he does for me
isn’t going to cancel his obligations to you.”

“I know him better than you do,” she observed, bending her head and
pleating the lace on her knee. “There is Dutch blood in him.”

“Not good Hollander, but common Dutch,” sneered Mortimer. “And you mean
he’ll squeeze a dollar till the eagle screams-don’t you?”

She sat silent, pleating her lace with steady fingers.

“Well, that’s all right, too,” laughed Mortimer easily; “let the
Audubon Society worry over the eagle. It’s a perfectly plain business
proposition; we can do for him in a couple of winters what he can’t do
for himself in ten. Figure it out for yourself, Leila,” he said, waving
a mottled fat hand at her.

“I--have,” she said under her breath.

“Then, is it settled?

“Settled--how?”

“That we form ourselves into a benevolent society of two in behalf of
Plank?”

“I--I don’t want to, Roy,” she said slowly.

“Why not?”

She did not say why not, seated there nervously pleating the fragile
stuff clinging to her knee.

“Why not?” he repeated menacingly. Her unexpectedly quiescent attitude
had emboldened him to a bullying tone--something he had not lately
ventured on.

She raised her eyes to his: “I--rather like him,” she said quietly.

“Then, by God! he’ll pay for that!” he burst out, mask off, every
inflamed feature shockingly congested.

“Roy! You dare not--”

“I tell you I--”

“You dare not!”

The palpitating silence lengthened; slowly the blood left the swollen
veins. Heavy pendulous lip hanging, he stared at her from distended
eyes, realising that he had forgotten himself. She was right. He dared
not. And she held the whip-hand as usual.

For every suspicion he could entertain, she had evidence of a certainty
to match it; for every chance that he might have to prove anything, she
had twenty proven facts. And he knew it. Why they had, during all these
years, made any outward pretence of conjugal unity they alone knew. The
modus vivendi suited them better than divorce: that was apparent, or had
been until recently. Recently Leila Mortimer had changed--become subdued
and softened to a degree that had perplexed her husband. Her attitude
toward him lacked a little of the bitterness and contempt she usually
reserved for him in private; she had become more prudent, almost
cautious at times.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said with a sudden snarl: “You’d better be
careful there is no gossip about you and Plank.”

She reddened under the insult.

“Now we’ll see,” he continued venomously, “how far you can go alone.”

“Do you suppose,” she asked calmly, “that I am afraid of a divorce
court?”

The question so frankly astonished him that he sat agape, unable to
reply. For years he had very naturally supposed her to be afraid of
it--afraid of not being qualified to obtain it. Indeed, he had taken
that for granted as the very corner-stone of their mutual toleration.
Had he been an ass to do so? A vague alarm took possession of him;
for, with that understanding, he had not been at all careful of his own
behaviour, neither had he been at any particular pains to conceal his
doings from her. His alarm increased. What had he against her, after
all, except ancient suspicions, now so confused and indefinite that
memory itself outlawed the case, if it ever really existed. What had she
against him? Facts--unless she was more stupid than any of her sex he
had ever encountered. And now, this defiance, this increasing prudence,
this subtle change in her, began to make him anxious for the permanency
of the small income she had allowed him during all these years--doled
out to him, as he believed, though her dormant fear of him.

“What are you talking about?” he said harshly.

“I believe I mentioned divorce.”

“Well, cut it out! D’ye see? Cut it, I say. You’d stand as much chance
before a referee as a snowball in hell.”

“There’s no telling,” she said coolly, “until one tries.”

He glared at her, then burst into a laugh. “Rot!” he said thickly. “Talk
sense, Leila! And keep this hard-headed Dutchman for yourself, if you
feel that way about it. I don’t want to butt in. I only thought--for old
times’ sake--perhaps you’d--”

“Good night,” she managed to say, her disgust almost strangling her.

And he went, furtively, heavy-footed, perplexed, inwardly cursing his
blunder in stirring up a sleeping lioness whom he had so long mistaken
for a dozing cat.

For hours he sat in his room, or paced the four walls, doubtful,
chagrined, furious by turns. Once he drew out a memorandum-book and
stood under a lighted sconce, studying the figures. His losses at
Shotover staggered him, but he had looked to his wife heretofore in such
emergencies.

Certainly the time had come for him to do something. But what?--if his
wife was going to strike such attitudes in the very face of decency?
Certainly a husband in these days was without honour in his own
household.

His uneasiness had produced a raging thirst. He punched an electric
button with his fleshy thumb, and prowled around, waiting. Nobody came;
he punched again, and looked at his watch. It astonished him to find
the hour was three o’clock in the morning. That discovery, however, only
appeared to increase his thirst. He opened the hall door, prepared to
descend into the depths of the house and raid a sideboard; and as he
thrust his heavy head out into the lighted corridor his eyes fell upon
two figures standing at the open door of a bedroom. One was Siward; that
was plain. Who was the girl he had kissed? One of the maids? Somebody’s
wife? Who?

Every dull pulse began to hammer in Mortimer’s head. In his excitement
he stepped half-way into the corridor, then skipped nimbly back, closing
his door without a sound.

“Sylvia Landis, by all that’s holy!” he breathed to himself, and sat
down rather suddenly on the edge of the bed.

After a while he rose and crept to the door, opened it, glued his eyes
to the crack, in time to catch a glimpse of Siward entering his own
corridor alone.

And that night, Mortimer, lying awake in bed, busy with schemes, became
conscious of a definite idea. It took shape and matured so suddenly that
it actually shocked his moral sense. Then it scared him.

“But--but that is blackmail!” he whispered aloud. “A man can’t do that
sort of thing. What the devil ever put it into my head? … And there
are men I know--women, too--scoundrelly blackguards, who’d use that
information somehow; and make it pay, too. The scoundrels!”

He squirmed down among the bedclothes with a sudden shiver; but the
night had turned warm.

“Scoundrels!” he said, with milder emphasis. “Blackmailers! Contemptible
pups!”

He fell asleep an hour later, muttering something incoherent about
scoundrels and blackmail.

And meanwhile, in the darkened house, from all round came the noise
of knocking on doors, sounds of people stirring--a low voice here and
there, lights breaking out from transoms, the thud of rubber-shod heels,
the rattle of cartridges from the echoing gun-room. For the guests at
Shotover were awaking, lest the wet sky, whitening behind the east,
ring with the whimpering wedges of wild-fowl rushing seaward over empty
blinds.


The unusual stillness of the house in the late morning sunshine was
pleasant to Miss Landis. She had risen very late, unconscious of the
stir and movement before dawn; and it was only when a maid told her,
as she came from her bath, that she remembered the projected
point-shooting, and concluded, with an odd, happy sense of relief, that
she was almost alone in the house.

A little later, glancing from her bedroom window for a fulfilment of the
promise of the sun which a glimpse of blue sky heralded, she saw Leila
Mortimer settling herself in the forward seat of a Mercedes, and Beverly
Plank climbing in beside her; and she watched Plank steer the big
machine across the wet lawn, while the machinist swung himself into
the tonneau; and away they rolled, faster, faster, rushing out into the
misty hinterland, where the long streak of distant forest already began
to brighten, edged with the first rays of watery sunshine.

So she had the big house to herself--every bit of it and with it freedom
from obligation, from comment, from demand or exaction; freedom from
restraint; liberty to roam about, to read, to dream, to idle, to
remember! Ah, that was what she needed--a quiet interval in this
hurrying youth of hers to catch her breath once more, and stand still,
and look back a day or two and remember.

So, to breakfast all alone was delicious; to stroll, unhurried, to the
sideboard and leisurely choose among the fresh cool fruits; to loiter
over cream-jug and cereal; to saunter out into the freshness of the
world and breathe it, and feel the sun warming cheek and throat, and
the little breezes from a sunlit sea stirring the bright strands of her
hair.

In the increasing brilliancy of the sunshine she stretched out her
hands, warming them daintily as she might twist them before the fire on
the hearth. And here, at the fragrant hearth of the world, she stood,
sweet and fresh as the morning itself, untroubled gaze intensely blue
with the tint of the purple sea, sensitive lips scarcely parting in the
dreaming smile that made her eyes more wonderful.

As the warmth grew on land and water, penetrating her body, a faintly
delicious glow responded in her heart,--nothing at first wistful in the
serene sense of well-being, stretching her rounded arms skyward in
the unaccustomed luxury of a liberty which had become the naively
unconscious licence of a child. The poise of sheer health stretched her
to tiptoe; then the graceful tension relaxed, and her smooth fingers
uncurled, tightened, and fell limp as her arms fell and her superb young
figure straightened, confronting the sea.

Out over the rain-wet, odorous grass she picked her way, skirts swung
high above the delicate contour of ankle and limb, following a little
descending path she knew full of rocky angles, swept by pendant sprays
of blackberry, and then down under the jutting rock, south through
thickets of wild cherry along the crags, until, before her the way
opened downward again where a tiny crescent beach glimmered white hot in
the sun.

From his bedroom window Mortimer peeped forth, following her progress
with a leer.

As she descended, noticing the rifts of bronzing seaweed piled along
the tide mark, her foot dislodged a tiny triangle of rock, which rolled
clattering and ringing below; and as she sprang lightly to the sand,
a man, lying full length and motionless as the heaped seaweed, raised
himself on one arm, turning his sun-dazzled eyes on her.

The dull shock of surprise halted her as Siward rose to his feet, still
dazed, the sand running from his brown shooting-clothes over his tightly
strapped puttees.

“Have you the faintest idea that I supposed you were here?” she asked
briefly. Then, frank in her disappointment, she looked up at the cliffs
overhead, where her line of retreat lay.

“Why did you not go with the others?” she added, unsmiling.

“I--don’t know. I will, if you wish.” He had coloured slowly, the frank
disappointment in her face penetrating his surprise; and now he turned
around, instinctively, also looking for the path of retreat.

“Wait,” she said, aware of her own crude attitude and confused by it;
“wait a moment, Mr. Siward. I don’t mean to drive you away.”

“It’s self-exile,” he said quietly; “quite voluntary, I assure you.”

“Mr. Siward!”

And, as he looked up coolly, “Have you nothing more friendly to say to
me? Is your friendship for me so limited that my first caprice oversteps
the bounds? Must I always be in dread of wounding you when I give you
the privilege of knowing me better than anybody ever knew me--of seeing
me as I am, with all my faults, my failings, my impulses, my real self?
… I don’t know why the pleasure of being alone to-day should have meant
exclusion for you, too. It was the unwelcome shock of seeing anybody--a
selfish enjoyment of myself--that surprised me into rudeness. That is
all. … Can you not understand?”

“I think so. I meant no criticism--”

“Wait, Mr. Siward!” as he moved slowly toward the path. “You force me
to say other things, which you have no right to hear. … After last
night”--the vivid tint grew in her face--“after such a night, is it
not--natural--for a girl to creep off somewhere by herself and try to
think a little?”

He had turned full on her; the answering colour crept to his forehead.

“Is that why?” he asked slowly.

“Is it not a reason?”

“It was my reason--for being here.”

She bit her bright lip. This trend to the conversation was ominous, and
she had meant to do her drifting alone in still sun-dreams, fearing
no witness, no testimony, no judgment save her own self in court with
herself.

“I--I suppose you cannot go--now,” she reflected innocently.

“Indeed I can, and must.”

“And leave me here to dig in the sand with my heels? Merci!”

“Do you mean--”

“I certainly do, Mr. Siward. I don’t want to dream, now; I don’t care to
reflect. I did, but here you come blundering into my private world and
upset my calculations and change my intentions! It’s a shame, especially
as you’ve been lying here doing what I wished to do for goodness knows
how long!”

“I’m going,” he said, looking at her curiously.

“Then you are very selfish, Mr. Siward.”

“We will call it that,” he said with an odd laugh.

“Very well.” She seated herself on the sand and calmly shook out her
skirts.

“About what time would you like to be called?” he asked smilingly.

“Thank you, I shall do no sun-dreaming.”

“Please. It is good for you.”

“No, it isn’t good at all. And I am grateful to you for waking me,” she
retorted with a sudden gay malice that subdued him. And she, delicate
nose in the air, laughingly watching him, went on with her punishment:
“You see what you’ve done, don’t you?--saved me from an entire morning
wasted in sentimental reverie over what might have been. Now you can
appreciate it, can’t you?--your wisdom in appearing in the flesh to save
a silly girl the effort of evoking you in the spirit! Ah, Mr. Siward, I
am vastly obliged to you! Pray sit here beside me in the flesh, for fear
that in your absence I might commit the folly that tempted me here.”

His low running laughter accompanying her voice had stimulated her to a
gay audacity, which for the instant extinguished in her the little fear
of him she had been barely conscious of.

“Do you know,” he said, “that you also aroused me from my sun-dreams?”

“Did I? And can’t you resume them?”

“You save me the necessity.”

“Oh, that is a second-hand compliment,” she said disdainfully--“a weak
plagiarism on what I conveyed very wittily. You were probably really
asleep, and dreaming of bird-murder.”

He waited for her to finish, then, amused eyes searching, he roamed
about until high on a little drifted sand dune he found a place for
himself; and while she watched him indignantly, he curled up in the
sunshine, and, dropping his head on the hot sand, calmly closed his
eyes.

“Upon--my word!” she breathed aloud.

He unclosed his eyes. “Now you may dream; you can’t avoid it,” he
observed lazily, and closed his eyes; and neither taunts nor jeers nor
questions, nor fragments of shells flung with intent to hit, stirred him
from his immobility.

She tired of the attempt presently, and sat silent, elbows on her
thighs, hands propping her chin. Thoughts, vague as the fitful breeze,
arose, lingered, and, like the breeze, faded, dissolved into calm,
through which, cadenced by the far beat of the ebb tide, her heart
echoed, beating the steady intervals of time.

She had not meant to dream, but as she sat there, the fine-spun golden
threads flying from the whirling loom of dreams floated about her,
settling over her, entangling her in unseen meshes, so that she stirred,
groping amid the netted brightness, drawn onward along dim paths and
through corridors of thought where, always beyond, vague splendours
seemed to beckon.

Now lost, now restless, conscious of the perils of the shining path she
followed, the rhythm of an ocean soothing her to false security, she
dreamed on awake, unconscious of the tinted sea and sky which stained
her eyes to hues ineffable. A long while afterward a small cloud floated
across the sun; and, in the sudden shadow on the world, doubt sounded
its tiny voice, and her ears listened, and the enchantment faded and
died away.

Turning, she looked across the sand at the man lying there; her eyes
considered him--how long she did not know, she did not heed--until,
stirring, he looked up; and she paled a trifle and closed her eyes,
stunned by the sudden clamour of pulse and heart.

When he rose and walked over, she looked up gravely, pouring the last
handful of white sand through her stretched fingers.

“Did you dream?” he asked lightly.

“Yes.”

“Did you dream true?”

“Nothing of my dream can happen,” she said. “You know that, … don’t
you?”

“I know that we love … and that we dare not ignore it.”

She suffered his arm about her, his eyes looking deeply into hers--a
close, sweet caress, a union of lips, and her dimmed eyes’ response.

“Stephen,” she faltered, “how can you make it so hard for me? How can
you force me to this shame!”

“Shame?” he repeated vaguely.

“Yes--this treachery to myself--when I cannot hope to be more to
you--when I dare not love you too much!”

“You must dare, Sylvia!”

“No, no, no! I know myself, I tell you. I cannot give up what is
offered--for you!--dearly, dearly as I do love you!” She turned and
caught his hands in hers, flushed, trembling, unstrung. “I cannot--I
simply cannot! How can you love me and listen to such wickedness?
How can you still care for such a girl as I am--worse than mercenary,
because I have a heart--or had, until you took it! Keep it; it is the
only part of me not all ignoble.”

“I will keep it--in trust,” he said, “until you give yourself with it.”

But she only shook her head wearily, withdrawing her hands from his, and
for a time they sat silent, eyes apart.

Then--“There is another reason,” she said wistfully.

He looked up at her, hesitated, and--“My habits?” he asked simply.

“Yes.”

“I have them in check.”

“Are you--certain?”

“I think I may be--now.”

“Yet,” she said timidly, “you lost one fight--since you knew me.”

The dull red mantling his face wrung her heart. She turned impulsively
and laid both hands on his shoulders. “That chance I would take, with
all its uncertainty, all the dread inheritance you have come into. I
love you enough for that; and if it turned out that--that you could not
stem the tide, even with me to face it with you; and if the pity of it,
the grief of it, killed me, I would take that chance--if you loved me
through it all. … But there is something else. Hush; let me have my say
while I find the words--something else you do not understand. … Turn
your face a little; please don’t look at me. This is what you do not
know--that, in three generations, every woman of my race has--gone
wrong. … Every one! and I am beginning--with such a marriage! …
deliberately, selfishly, shamelessly, perfectly conscious of the
frivolous, erratic blood in me, aware of the race record behind me.

“Once, when I knew nothing--before I--I met you--I believed such a
marriage would not only permit me mental tranquillity, but safely anchor
me in the harbour of convention, leaving me free to become what I am
fashioned to become--autocrat and arbiter in my own world. And now!
and now! I don’t know--truly I don’t know what I may become. Your
love forces my hand. I am displaying all the shallowness, falseness,
pettiness, all the mean, and cruel and callous character which must be
truly my real self. … Only I shall not marry you! You are not to run
the risk of what I might prove to be when I remember in bitterness all
I have renounced. If I married you I should remember, unreconciled, what
you cost me. Better for you and for me that I marry him, and let him
bear with me when I remember that he cost me you!”

She bent over, almost double, closing her eyes with small clenched
hands; and he saw the ring shimmering in the sunshine, and her hair,
heavily, densely gold, and the white nape of her neck, and the tiny
close-set ears, and the curved softness of cheek and chin; every smooth,
childlike contour and mould--rounded arms, slim, flowing lines of body
and limb--all valued at many millions by her as her own appraiser.

Suddenly, deep within him, something seemed to fail, die out--perhaps a
tiny newly lighted flame of unaccustomed purity, the dawning flicker of
aspiration to better things. Whatever it was, material, spiritual, was
gone now, and where it had glimmered for a night, the old accustomed
twilit doubt crept in--the same dull acquiescence--the same uncertainty
of self, the familiar lack of will, of incentive, the congenial tendency
to drift; and with it came weariness--perhaps reaction from the recent
skirmishes with that master-vice.

“I suppose,” he said in a dull voice, “you are right.”

“No, I am wrong--wrong!” she said, lifting her lovely face and heavy
eyes. “But I have chosen my path. … And you will forget.”

“I hope so,” he said simply.

“If you hope so, you will.”

He nodded, unconvinced, watching a flock of sand-pipers whirling into
the cove like a gray snow-squall and fearlessly settling on the beach.

After a while, with a long breath: “Then it is settled,” she concluded.

If she expected corroboration from him she received none; and perhaps
she was not awaiting it. She sat very still, her eyes lost in thought.

And Mortimer, peeping down at them over the thicket above, yawned
impatiently and glanced about him for the most convenient avenue of
self-effacement when the time arrived.



CHAPTER VII PERSUASION

The days of the house-party at Shotover were numbered. A fresh relay of
guests was to replace them on Monday, and so they were making the most
of the waning week on lawn and marsh, in covert and blind, or motoring
madly over the State, or riding in parties to Vermillion Light. Tennis
and lawn bowls came into fashion; even water polo and squash alternated
on days too raw for more rugged sport.

And during all these days Beverly Plank appeared with unflagging
persistence and assiduity, until his familiar, big, round head and
patient, delft-blue, Dutch eyes became a matter of course at Shotover,
indoors and out.

It was not that he was either accepted, tolerated, or endured; he was
simply there, and nobody took the trouble to question his all-pervading
presence until everybody had become too much habituated to him to think
about it at all.

The accomplished establishment of Beverly Plank was probably due as much
to his own obstinate and good-tempered persistence as to Mrs. Mortimer.
He was a Harvard graduate--there are all kinds of them--enormously
wealthy, and though he had no particular personal tastes to gratify, he
was willing and able to gratify the tastes of others. He did whatever
anybody else did, and did it well enough to be amusing; and as lack of
intellectual development never barred anybody from any section of the
fashionable world, it seemed fair to infer that he would land where he
wanted to, sooner or later.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mortimer led him about with the confidence that was
her perquisite; and the chances were that in due time he would have
house-parties of his own at Black Fells--not the kind he had wisely
denied himself the pleasure of giving, with such neighbours as the
Ferralls to observe, but the sort he desired. However, there were many
things to be accomplished for him and by him before he could expect to
use his great yacht and his estates and his shooting boxes and the vast
granite mansion recently completed and facing Central Park just north
of the new palaces built on the edges of the outer desert where Fifth
Avenue fringes the hundreds.

Meanwhile, he had become in a measure domesticated at Shotover, and
Shotover people gradually came to ride, drive, and motor over the
Fells, which was a good beginning, though not necessarily a promise for
anything definite in the future.

Mortimer, riding a huge chestnut--he could still wedge himself into
a saddle--had now made it a regular practice to affect the jocular
early-bird squire, and drag Plank out of bed. And Plank, in no position
to be anything but flattered by such sans gêne, laboriously and
gratefully splashed through his bath, wallowed amid the breakfast
plates, and mounted a hunter for long and apparently aimless gallops
with Mortimer.

His acquaintance among people who knew Mortimer being limited, he had
no means of determining the latter’s social value except through hearsay
and a toadying newspaper or two. Therefore he was not yet aware of
Mortimer’s perennial need of money; and when Mortimer laughingly alluded
to his poverty, Plank accepted the proposition in a purely comparative
sense, and laughed, too, his thrifty Dutch soul untroubled by
misgivings.

Meanwhile, Mortimer had come, among other things, on information; how
much, and precisely of what nature, he was almost too much ashamed to
admit definitely, even to himself. Still, the idea that had led him into
this sudden intimacy with Plank, vague or not, persisted; and he was
always hovering on the edge of hinting at something which might elicit a
responsive hint from the flattered master of Black Fells.

There was much about Plank that was unaffected, genuine, even simple,
in one sense; he cared for people for their own sakes; and only stubborn
adherence to a dogged ambition had enabled him to dispense with the
society of many people he might easily have cultivated and liked--people
nearer his own sort; and that, perhaps, was the reason he so readily
liked Mortimer, whose coarse fibre soon wore through the polish when
rubbed against by a closer, finer fibre. And Plank liked him aside
from gratitude; and they got on famously on the basis of such mutual
recognition. Then, one day, very suddenly, Mortimer stumbled on
something valuable--a thread, a mere clew, so astonishing that for
an instant it absolutely upset all his unadmitted theories and
calculations.

It was nothing--a vague word or two--a forced laugh--and the scared
silence of this man Plank, who had blundered on the verge of a
confidence to a man he liked.

A moment of amazement, of half-incredulous suspicion, of certainty; and
Mortimer pounced playfully upon him like a tiger--a big, fat, friendly,
jocose tiger:

“Plank, is that what you’re up to!”

“Up to! Why, I never thought of such a--”

“Haw! haw!” roared Mortimer. “If you could only see your face!”

And Beverly Plank, red as a beet, comfortably suffused with reassurance
under the reaction from his scare, attempted to refute the other’s
conclusions: “It doesn’t mean anything, Mortimer. She’s just the
handsomest girl I ever saw. I know she’s engaged. I only admired her a
lot.”

“You’re not the only man,” said Mortimer blandly, still striving to
reconcile his preconceived theories with the awkward half-confession of
this great, red-fisted, hulking horseman riding at his stirrup.

“I wouldn’t have her dream,” stammered Plank, “that I had ever thought
of such a--”

“Why not? It would only flatter her.”

“Flatter a woman who is engaged to marry another man!” gasped Plank.

“Certainly. Do you think any woman ever had enough admiration in this
world?” asked Mortimer coolly. “And as for Sylvia Landis, she’d be
tickled to death if anybody hinted that you had ever admired her.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Plank, alarmed; “You wouldn’t make a joke of it!
you wouldn’t be careless about such a thing! And there’s Quarrier! I’m
not on joking terms with him; I’m on most formal terms.”

“Quarrier!” sneered the other, flicking at his stirrup with his crop.
“He’s on formal terms with everybody, including himself. He never
laughed on purpose in his life; once a month only, to keep his mouth
in; that’s his limit. Do you suppose any woman would stand for him if a
better man looked sideways at her?” And, reversing his riding crop, he
deliberately poked Mr. Plank in the ribs.

“A--a better man!” muttered Plank, scarce crediting his ears.

“Certainly. A man who can make good, is good; but a man who can make
better is it with the ladies--God bless ‘em!” he added, displaying a
heavy set of teeth.

Beverly Plank knew perfectly well that, in the comparison so delicately
suggested by Mortimer, his material equipment could be scarcely compared
to the immense fortune controlled by Howard Quarrier; and as he thought
it, his reflections were put into words by Mortimer, airily enough:

“Nobody stands a chance in a show-down with Quarrier. But--”

Plank gaped until the tension became unbearable.

“But--what?” he blurted out.

“Plank,” said Mortimer solemnly, and his voice vibrated with feeling,
“Let me do a little thinking before I ask you a--a vital question.”

But Plank had become agitated again, and he said something so bluntly
that Mortimer wheeled on him, glowering:

“Look here, Plank: you don’t suppose I’m capable of repeating a
confidence, do you?--if you choose to make me understand it’s a
confidence.”

“It isn’t a confidence; it isn’t anything; I mean it is confidential, of
course. All there’s in it is what I said--or rather what you took me up
on so fast,” ended Plank, abashed.

“About your being in love with Syl--”

“Confound it!” roared Plank, crimson to his hair; and he set his heavy
spurs to his mount and plunged forward in a storm of dust. Mortimer
followed, silent, profoundly immersed in his own thoughts and
deductions; and as he pounded along, turning over in his mind all the
varied information he had so unexpectedly obtained in these last few
days, a dull excitement stirred him, and he urged his huge horse forward
in a thrill of rising exhilaration such as seizes on men who hunt, no
matter what they hunt--the savage, swimming sense of intoxication which
marks the man who chases the quarry not for its own value, but because
it is his nature to chase and ride down and enjoy spoils.

And all that afternoon, having taken to his room on pretence of
neuralgia, he lay sprawled on his bed, thinking, thinking. Not that
he meant harm to anybody, he told himself very frequently. He had,
of course, information which certain degraded men might use in a
contemptible way, but he, Mortimer, did not resemble such men in any
particular. All he desired was to do Plank a good turn. There was
nothing disreputable in doing a wealthy man a favour. … And God knew
a wealthy man’s gratitude was necessary to him at that very
moment--gratitude substantially acknowledged. … He liked Plank--wished
him well; that was all right, too; but a man is an ass who doesn’t wish
himself well also. … Two birds with one stone. … Three! for he hated
Quarrier. Four! … for he had no love for his wife. … Besides, it would
teach Leila a wholesome lesson--teach her that he still counted; serve
her right for her disgusting selfishness about Plank.

No, there was to be nothing disreputable in his proceedings; that he
would be very careful about. … Probably Major Belwether might express
his gratitude substantially if he, Mortimer, went to him frankly and
volunteered not to mention to Quarrier the scene he had witnessed
between Sylvia Landis and Stephen Siward at three o’clock in the morning
in the corridor; and if, in playful corroboration, he displayed the cap
and rain-coat and the big fan, all crushed, which objects of interest he
had discovered later in the bay-window. … Yes, probably Major Belwether
would be very grateful, because he wanted Quarrier in the family; he
needed Quarrier in his business. … But, faugh! that was close enough
to blackmail to rub off! … No! … No! He wouldn’t go to Belwether and
promise any such thing! … On the contrary, he felt it his duty to
inform Quarrier! Quarrier had a right to know what sort of a girl he
was threatened with for life! … A man ought not to let another man go
blindly into such a marriage. … Men owed each other something, even
if they were not particularly close friends. … And he had always had
a respect for Quarrier, even a sort of liking for him--yes, a distinct
liking! … And, anyhow, women were devils! and it behooved men to get
together and stand for one another!

Quarrier would give her her walking papers damned quick! … And, in her
humiliation, is there anybody mad enough to fancy that she wouldn’t snap
up Plank in such a fix? … And make it look like a jilt for Quarrier? …
But Plank must do his part on the minute; Plank must step up in the very
nick of time; Plank, with his millions and his ambitions, was bound to
be a winner anyway, and Sylvia might as well be his pilot and use his
money. … And Plank would be very, very grateful--very useful, a very
good friend to have. … And Leila would learn at last that he, Mortimer,
had cut his wisdom teeth, by God!

As for Siward, he amounted to nothing; probably was one of that
contemptible sort of men who butted in and kissed a pretty girl when he
had the chance. He, Mortimer, had only disgust for such amateurs of
the social by-ways; for he himself kept to the highways, like any
self-respecting professional, even when a tour of the highways sometimes
carried him below stairs. There was no romantic shilly-shallying
fol-de-rol about him. Women learned what to expect from him in short
order. En garde, Madame!--ou Mademoiselle--tant pis!

He laughed to himself and rolled over, digging his head into the pillows
and stretching his fat hands to ease their congestion. And most of
all he amused himself with figuring out the exact degree of his wife’s
astonishment and chagrin when, without consulting her, he achieved the
triumph of Quarrier’s elimination and the theatrical entry of Beverly
Plank upon the stage. He laughed when he thought of Major Belwether,
too, confounded under the loss of such a nephew-in-law, humiliated,
crushed, all his misleading jocularity, all his sleek pink-and-white
suavity, all his humbugging bonhomie knocked out of him, leaving only
a rumpled, startled old gentleman, who bore an amusing resemblance to a
very much mussed-up buck-rabbit.

“Haw! haw!” roared Mortimer, rolling about in his bed and kicking the
slippers from his fat feet. Then, remembering that he was supposed to be
suffering silently in his room, he hunched up to a sitting posture and
regarded his environment with a subdued grin.

Everything seems easy when it seems funny. After all, the matter was
simple--absurdly simple. A word to Quarrier, and crack! the match was
off! Girl mad as a hornet, but staggered, has no explanation to offer;
man frozen stiff with rage, mute as an iceberg. Then, zip! Enter Beverly
Plank--the girl’s rescuer at a pinch--her preserver, the saviour of her
“face,” the big, highly coloured, leaden-eyed deus ex machina. Would she
take fifty cents on the dollar? Would she? to buy herself a new “face”?
And put it all over Quarrier? And live happy ever after? Would she? Oh,
not at all!

And Mortimer rolled over in another paroxysm; which wasn’t good for
him, and frightened him enough to lie still awhile and think how best he
might cut down on his wine and spirits.

The main thing, after all, was to promise Plank his opportunity, but not
tell him how he was to obtain it; for Mortimer had an uneasy idea that
there was something of the Puritan deep planted under the stolid young
man’s hide, and that he might make some absurd and irrelevant objection
to the perfectly proper methods employed by his newly self-constituted
guide and mentor. No; that was no concern of Plank’s. All he had to do
was to be ready. As for Quarrier, anybody could forecast his action when
once convinced of Sylvia’s behaviour.

He lay there pondering several methods of imparting the sad but
necessary information to Quarrier. One thing was certain: there was not
now time enough before the house-party dissolved to mould Plank into
acquiescent obedience. That must be finished in town--unless Plank
invited him to stay at the Fells after his time was up at Shotover. By
Heaven! That was the idea! And there’d be a chance for him at cards! …
Only, of course, Plank would ask Leila too. … But what did he care! He
was no longer afraid of her; he’d soon be independent of her and her
pittance. Let her go to the courts for her divorce! Let her--

He sat up rather suddenly, perplexed with a new idea which, curiously
enough, had not appealed to him before. The astonishing hint so coolly
dropped by his wife concerning her fearlessness of divorce proceedings
had only awakened him to the consciousness of his own vulnerability and
carelessness of conduct.

Now it occurred to him, for the first time, that if it were not a mere
bluff on Leila’s part, this sudden coquetting with the question of
divorce might indicate an ulterior object. Was Leila considering his
elimination in view of this ulterior object? Was there an ulterior
gentleman somewhere prepared to replace him? If so, where? And who?

His wife’s possible indiscretions had never interested him; he simply
didn’t care--had no curiosity, as long as appearances were maintained.
And she had preserved appearances with a skill which required all the
indifferent and easy charity of their set to pretend completely deceived
everybody. Yes, he gave her credit for that; she had been clever. Nobody
outside of the social register knew the true state of affairs in the
house of Leroy Mortimer--which, after all, was all anybody cared about.

And so, immersed in the details of his dirty little drama, he pondered
over the possibility of an ulterior gentleman as he moved heavily to and
fro, dressing himself--his neuralgia being much better--and presently
descended the stairs to find everybody absent, engaged, as a servant
explained, in a game of water basket-ball in the swimming pool. So he
strolled off toward the north wing of the house, which had been built
for the squash-courts and swimming pool.

There was a good deal of an uproar in the big gymnasium as Mortimer
walked in, threading his way through the palms and orange-trees; much
splashing in the pool, cries and stifled laughter, and the quick rattle
of applause from the gallery of the squash-courts.

The Page boys and Rena and Eileen on one side were playing the last
match game against Sylvia, Marion Page, Siward, and Ferrall on the
other; the big, slippery, glistening ball was flying about through
storms of spray. Marion caught it, but her brother Gordon got it
away; then Ferrall secured it and dived toward the red goal; but Rena
Bonnesdel caught him under water; the ball bobbed up, and Sylvia flung
both arms around it with a little warning shout and hurled it back at
Siward, who shot forward like an arrow, his opponents gathering about
him in full cry, amid laughter and excited applause from the gallery,
where Grace Ferrall and Captain Voucher were wildly offering odds on the
blue, and Alderdene and Major Belwether were thriftily booking them.

Mortimer climbed the slippery, marble stairway as fast as his lack of
breath permitted, anxious for his share of the harvest if the odds were
right. He ignored his wife’s smilingly ironical offer, seeing no sense
in bothering about money already inside the family; but he managed to
make several apparently desirable wagers with Katharyn Tassel and one
with Beverly Plank, who was also obstinately backing the blues, the
losing side. Sylvia played forward for the blues.

Agatha Caithness, sleeves rolled up, tall and slim and strangely pale
in her white flannels, came from the squash-court with Quarrier to watch
the finish; and Mortimer observed her sidewise, blinking, irresolute,
for he had never understood her and was always a trifle afraid of her.
A pair of icicles, she and Quarrier, with whom he had never been
on betting terms; so he made no suggestions in that direction, and
presently became absorbed in the splashing battle below. Indeed, such a
dashing of foam and showering of spray was taking place that the fronds
of the big palms hung dripping amid drenched blossoms overweighted and
prone on the wet marble edges of the pool.

Suddenly, through the confused blur of foam and spray, the big,
glistening ball shot aloft and remained.

“Blue! Blue!” exclaimed Grace Ferrall, clapping her hands; and a little
whirlwind of cries and hand clapping echoed from the gallery as the
breathless swimmers came climbing out of the pool, with scarcely wind
enough left for a word or strength for a gesture toward the laughing
crowd above.

Mortimer, disgusted, turned away, already casting about him for somebody
to play cards with--it being his temperament and his temper to throw
good money after bad. But Quarrier and Miss Caithness had already
returned to the squash-courts, the majority of the swimmers to their
several dressing-rooms, and Grace Ferrall’s party, equipped for
motoring, to the lawn, where they lost little time in disappearing
into the golden haze which a sudden shift of wind had spun out of the
cloudless afternoon’s sunshine.

However, he got Marion, and also, as usual, the two men who had made a
practice of taking away his money--Major Belwether and Lord Alderdene.
He hadn’t particularly wanted them; he wanted somebody he could play
with, like Siward, for example, or even the two ten-dollar Pages; not
that their combined twenty would do him much good, but it would at least
permit him the pleasures of the card-table without personal loss.

But the Pages had retired to dress, and Voucher was for motoring, and he
had no use for his wife, and he was afraid of Plank’s game, and Siward,
seated on the edge of the pool and sharing a pint of ginger-ale with
Sylvia Landis, shook his head at the suggestion and resumed his division
of the ginger-ale.

Plank and Leila Mortimer came down to congratulate them. Sylvia, always
instinctively and particularly nice to people of Plank’s sort whom she
occasionally encountered, was so faultlessly amiable, that Plank, who
had never before permitted himself the privilege of monopolising
her, found himself doing it so easily that it kept him in a state of
persistent mental intoxication.

That slow, sweet, upward training inflection to a statement which
instantly became a confided question was an unconscious trick which
had been responsible, in Sylvia’s brief life, for more mistakes than
anything else. Like others before him, Beverly Plank made the
mistake that the sweetness of voice and the friendliness of eyes were
particularly personal to him, in tribute to qualities he had foolishly
enough hitherto not suspected in himself. Now he suspected them,
and whatever of real qualities desirable had been latent in him also
appeared at once, confirming his modest suspicions. Certainly he was
a wit! Was not this perfectly charming girl’s responsive and delicious
laughter proof enough? Certainly he was epigrammatic! Certainly he could
be easy, polished, amusing, sympathetic, and vastly interesting all the
while. Could he not divine it in her undivided attention, the quick,
amused flicker of recognition animating her beautiful face when he had
turned a particularly successful phrase or taken a verbal hurdle without
a cropper? And above all, her kindness to him impressed him; her natural
and friendly pleasure in being agreeable. Here he was already on an
informal footing with one of the persons of whom he had been most shy
and uncertain. If people were going to be as considerate of him as she
had proved, why--why--

His dull, Dutch-blue eyes returned to her, fascinated. The conquest of
what he desired and meant to have became merged in a vague plan which
included such a marriage as he had dreamed of.

Somebody had once told him that a man who could afford to dress for
dinner could go anywhere; meaning that, being a man, nature had fitted
his feet with the paraphernalia for climbing as high as he cared to
climb.

There was just enough truth in the statement to determine him to use his
climbing irons; and he had done so, carrying his fortune with him,
which had proved neither an impediment nor an aid so far. But now he had
concluded that neither his god-sent climbing irons, his amiability, his
obstinacy, his mild, tireless persistency, nor his money counted. It had
come to a crisis where personal worth and sterling character must carry
him through sheer merit to the inner temple--that inner temple of raw
gold whose altars are served by a sexless skeleton in cap and bells!


Siward, inclined to be amused by the duration of the trance into
which Plank had fallen, watched the progress of that bulky young man’s
infatuation as he sat there on the pool’s marble edge, exchanging
trivial views on trivial subjects with Mrs. Leroy Mortimer.

But her conversation, even when inconsequential, was never wearisome
except when she made it so for her husband’s benefit. Features, person,
personality, and temperament were warmly exotic; her dark eyes with
their slight Japanese slant, the clear olive skin with its rose bloom,
the temptation of mouth and slender neck, were always provocative of the
audacity in men which she could so well meet with amusement or surprise,
or at times with a fascinating audacity of her own wholly charming
because of its setting.

Once, in their history, during her early married life, Siward had been
very sentimental about her; but neither he nor she had approached the
danger line closer than to make daring eyes at one another across the
frontiers of good taste. And their youthful enchantment had faded so
naturally, so pleasantly, that always there had remained to them both
an agreeable after-taste--a sort of gay understanding which almost
invariably led to mutual banter when they encountered. But now something
appeared to be lacking in their rather listless badinage--something of
the usual flavour which once had salted even a laughing silence with
significance. Siward, too, had ceased to be amused at the spectacle
of Plank’s calf-like infatuation; and Leila Mortimer’s bored smile had
lasted so long that her olive-pink cheeks were stiff, and she relaxed
her fixed features with a little shrug that was also something of a
shiver. Then, looking prudently around, she encountered Siward’s eyes;
and during a moment’s hesitation they considered one another with an
increasing curiosity that slowly became tentative intelligence. And her
eyes said very plainly and wickedly to Siward’s: “Oho, my friend! So it
bores you to see Mr. Plank monopolising an engaged girl who belongs to
Howard Quarrier!”

And his eyes, wincing, denying, pretending ignorance too late, suddenly
narrowed in vexed retaliation: “Speak for yourself, my lady! You’re no
more pleased than I am!”

The next moment they both regretted the pale flash of telepathy. There
had been something wounded in his eyes; and she had not meant that.
No; a new charity for the hapless had softened her wonderfully within a
fortnight’s time, and a self-pity, not entirely ignoble, had subdued the
brilliancy of her dark eyes, and made her tongue more gentle in dealing
with all failings. Besides, she was not yet perfectly certain what ailed
her, never having really cared for any one man before. No, she was not
at all certain. … But in the meanwhile she was very sorry for herself,
and for all those who drained the bitter cup that might yet pass from
her shrinking lips. Who knows! “Stephen,” she said under her breath, “I
didn’t mean to hurt you. … Don’t scowl. Listen. I have already entirely
forgotten the nature of my offense. Pax, if you please.”

He refused to understand; and she understood that, too; and she gazed
critically upon Sylvia Landis as a very young mother might inspect a
rival infant with whom her matchless offspring was coquetting.

Then, without appearing to, she took Plank away from temptation; so
skilfully that nobody except Siward understood that the young man had
been incontinently removed. He, Plank, never doubting that he was a
perfectly free agent, decided that the time had arrived for triumphant
retirement. It had; but Leila Mortimer, not he, had rendered the
decision, and so cleverly that it appeared even to Plank himself that he
had dragged her off with him rather masterfully. Clearly he was becoming
a devil of a fellow!

Sylvia turned to Siward, glanced up at him, hesitated, and began to
laugh consciously:

“What do you think of my latest sentimental acquisition?”

“He’d be an ornament to a stock farm,” replied Siward, out of humour.

“How brutal you can be!” she mused, smiling.

“Nonsense! He’s a plain bounder, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know. … Is he? He struck me a trifle appealingly--even
pathetically; they usually do, that sort. … As though the trouble they
took could ever be worth the time they lose! … There are dozens of men
I know who are far less presentable than this highly coloured and robust
young human being; and yet they are part of the accomplished scheme of
things--like degenerate horses, you know--always pathetic to me; but
they’re still horses, for all that. Quid rides? Species of the same
genus can cross, of course, but I had rather be a donkey than a mule.
… And if I were a donkey I’d sing and cavort with my own kind, and
let horses flourish their own heels inside the accomplished scheme
of things. … Now I have been brutal. But--I’m easily coloured by my
environment.”

She sat, smiling maliciously down at the water, smoothing out the soaked
skirt of her swimming suit, and swinging her legs reflectively.

“Are you reconciled?” she asked presently.

“To what?”

“To leaving Shotover. To-day is our last day, you know. To-morrow we all
go; and next day these familiar walls will ring with other voices, my
poor friend:

“‘Yon rising moon that looks for us again--How oft hereafter will she
wax and wane; How oft hereafter, rising, look for us Through this same
mansion--and for one in vain!’”

“That is I--the one, you know. You may be here again; but I--I shall not
be I if I ever come to Shotover again.”

Her stockinged heels beat the devil’s tattoo against the marble sides of
the pool. She reached up above her head, drawing down a flowering
branch of Japanese orange, and caressed her delicate nose with the white
blossoms, dreamily, then, mischievously: “I’m accustoming myself to this
most significant perfume,” she said, looking at him askance. And she
deliberately hummed the wedding march, watching the colour rise in his
sullen face.

“If you had the courage of a sparrow you’d make life worth something for
us both,” he said.

“I know it; I haven’t; but I seem to possess the remainder of his
lordship’s traits--inconsequence, self-centred selfishness, the instinct
for Fifth Avenue nest-building--all the feathered vices, all the
unlovely personality and futility and uselessness of my prototype. …
Only, as you observe, I lack the quality of courage.”

“I don’t know how much courage it requires to do what you’re going to
do,” he said sulkily.

“Don’t you? Sometimes, when you wear a scowl like that, I think that
it may require no more courage than I am capable of. … And sometimes--I
don’t know.”

She crossed her knees, one slender ankle imprisoned in her hand, leaning
forward thoughtfully above the water.

“Our last day,” she mused; “for we shall never be just you and I
again--never again, my friend, after we leave this rocky coast of Eden.
… I shall have hints of you in the sea-wind and the sound of the sea; in
the perfume of autumn woods, in the whisper of stirring leaves when the
white birches put on their gold crowns next year.” She smiled, turning
to him, a little gravely: “When the Lesser Children return with April,
I shall not forget you, Mr. Siward, nor forget your mercy of a day on
them; nor your comradeship, nor your sweetness to me. … Nor your charity
for me, nor all that you overlook so far in me,--under the glamour of
a spell that seems to hold you still, and that still holds me. … I can
answer for my constancy so far, until one more spring and summer have
come and gone--until one more autumn comes, and while it lasts--as long
as any semblance of the setting remains which had once framed you; I can
answer for my constancy as long as that. … Afterwards, the snow!--symbol
of our separation. I am to be married a year from November first.”

He looked up at her in dark surprise, for he had heard that their
wedding date had been set for the coming winter.

“A year’s engagement?” he repeated, unconvinced.

“It was my wish. I think that is sufficient for everybody concerned.”
 Then, averting her face, which had suddenly lost a little of its colour:
“A year is little enough,” she said impatiently. “I--what has happened
to us requires an interval--a decent interval for its burial. … Death
is respectable in any form. What dies between you and me can have no
resurrection under the snow. … So I bring to the burial my tribute--a
year of life, a year of constancy, my friend; symbol of an eternity I
could have given you had I been worth it.” She looked up, flushed, the
forced smile stamped on lips still trembling. “Sentiment in such a woman
as I! ‘A spectacle for Gods and men,’ you are saying--are you not?
And perhaps sentiment with me is only an ancient instinct, a latent
ancestral quality for which I, ages later, have no use.” She was
laughing easily. “No use for sentiment, as our bodies have no use for
that fashionable little cul-de-sac, you know, though wise men say it
once served its purpose, too. … Stephen Siward, what do you think of me
now?”

“I am learning,” he replied simply.

“What, if you please?”

“Learning a little about what I am losing.”

“You mean--me?”

“Yes.”

She bent forward impulsively, balancing her body on the pool’s rim with
both arms, dropping her knee until her ankles swung interlocked above
the water. “Listen,” she said in a low, distinct voice: “What you lose
is no other man’s gain! If I warm and expand in your presence--if I
say clever things sometimes--if I am intelligent, sympathetic, and
amusing--it is because of you. You inspire it in me. Normally I am the
sort of girl you first met at the station. I tell you that I don’t know
myself now--that I have not known myself since I knew you. Qualities
of understanding, ability to appreciate, to express myself without
employing the commonplaces, subtleties of intercourse--all, maybe, were
latent in me, but sterile, until you came into my life. … And when
you go, then, lacking impulse and incentive, the new facility, the new
sensitive alertness, the unconscious self-confidence, all will smoulder
and die out in me. … I know it; I realise that it was due to you--part
of me that I should never have known, of which I should have remained
totally ignorant, had it not blossomed suddenly, stimulated by you
alone.”

Slowly the clouded seriousness of her blue eyes cleared, and the smile
began to glimmer again. “That is your revenge; you recommit me to my
commonplace self; you restore me to my tinsel career, practically a
dolt. Shame on you, Stephen Siward, to treat a poor girl so! … But it’s
just as well. Blunted perceptions, according to our needs, you know; and
so life is tempered for us all, else we might not endure it long. … A
pleasantly morbid suggestion for a day like this, is it not? … Shall we
take a farewell plunge, and dress? You know we say good-bye to-morrow.”

“Where do you go from here?”

“To Lenox; the Claymores have asked us for a week; after that, Hot
Springs for another two weeks or so; after that, to Oyster Bay. … Mr.
Quarrier opens his house on Sedge Point,” she added demurely, “but I
don’t think he expects to invite you to ‘The Sedges.’”

“How long do you stay there?” asked Siward irritably.

“Until we go to town in December.”

“What will you find to do all that time in Oyster Bay?” he asked more
irritably.

“What a premature question! The yacht is there. Besides, there’s the
usual neighbourhood hunting, with the usual packs and inevitable set;
the usual steeple-chasing; the usual exchange of social amenities; the
usual driving and riding; the usual, my poor friend, the usual, in all
its uncompromising certainty. … And what are you to do?”

“When?”

“After you leave here?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know where you are going?”

“I’m going to town.”

“And then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, but haven’t you been asked somewhere? You have, of course.”

“Yes, and I have declined.”

“Matters of business,” she inferred. “Too bad!”

“Oh, no.”

“Then,” she concluded, laughing, “you don’t care to tell me where you
are going.”

“No,” he said thoughtfully, “I don’t care to tell you.”

She laughed again carelessly, and, placing one hand on the tiled
pavement, sprang lightly to her feet.

“A last plunge?” she asked, as he rose at her side.

“Yes, one last plunge together. Deep! Are you ready?”

She raised her white arms above her head, finger-tips joined, poised
an instant on the brink, swaying forward; then, at his brief word, they
flashed downward together, cutting the crystalline sea-water, shooting
like great fish over the glass-tiled bed, shoulder to shoulder under
the water; and opening their eyes, they turned toward one another with
a swift outstretch of hands, an uncontrollable touch of lips, the very
shadow of contact; then cleaving upward, rising to the surface to lie
breathlessly floating, arms extended, and the sun filtering down through
the ground-glass roof above.

“We are perfectly crazy,” she breathed. “I’m quite mad; I see that. On
land it’s bad enough for us to misbehave; but submarine sentiment! We’ll
be growing scales and tails presently. … Did you ever hear of a Southern
bird--a sort of hawk, I think--that almost never alights; that lives and
eats and sleeps its whole life away on the wing? and even its courtship,
and its honeymoon? Grace Ferrall pointed one out to me last winter, near
Palm Beach--a slender bird, part black, part snowy white, with long,
pointed, delicate wings like an enormous swallow; and all day, all
night, it floats and soars and drifts in the upper air, never resting,
never alighting except during its brief nesting season. … Think of the
exquisite bliss of drifting one’s life through in mid-air--to sleep,
balanced on light wings, upborne by invisible currents flowing under the
stars--to sail dreamily through the long sunshine, to float under the
moon! … And at last, I suppose, when its time has come, down it whirls
out of the sky, stone dead! … There is something thrilling in such
a death--something magnificent. … And in the exquisitely spiritual
honeymoon, vague as the shadow of a rainbow, is the very essence and
aroma of that impalpable Paradise we women prophesy in dreams! … More
sentiment! Heigho! My brother is the weeping crocodile, and the five
winds are my wits. … Shall we dress? Even with a maid and the electric
air-blast it will take time to dry my hair and dress it.”


When he came out of his dressing-room she was apparently still in the
hands of the maid. So he sauntered through the house as far as the
library, and drawing a cheque-book from one pocket, fished out a
memorandum-book from another, and began to cast up totals with a view to
learning something about the various debts contracted at Shotover.

He seemed to owe everybody. Fortune had smitten him hip and thigh; and,
a trifle concerned, he began covering a pad with figures until he knew
where he stood. Then he drew a considerable cheque to Major Belwether’s
order, another to Alderdene. Others followed to other people for various
amounts; and he was very busily at work when, aware of another presence
near, he turned around in his chair. Sylvia Landis was writing at a desk
in the corner, and she looked up, nodding the little greeting that she
always reserved for him even after five minutes’ separation.

“I’m writing cheques,” she said. “I suppose you’re writing to your
mother.”

“Why do you think so?” he asked curiously.

“You write to her every day, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, “but how do you know?”

She looked at him with unblushing deliberation. “You wrote every day. …
If it was to a woman, I wanted to know. … And I told Grace Ferrall that
it worried me. And then Grace told me. Is there any other confession of
my own pettiness that I can make to you.”

“Did you really care to whom I was writing?” he asked slowly.

“Care? I--it worried me. Was it not a pitifully common impulse? ‘Sisters
under our skin,’ you know--I and the maid who dresses me. She would have
snooped; I didn’t; that’s the only generic difference. I wanted to know
just the same. … But--that was before--”

“Before what?”

“Before I--please don’t ask me to say it. … I did, once, when you asked
me.”

“Before you cared for me. Is that what you mean?”

“Yes. You are so cruelly literal when you wish to punish me. … You are
interrupting me, too. I owe that wretched Kemp Ferrall a lot of money,
and I’m trying to find out how much seven and nine are, to close
accounts with Marion Page.”

Siward turned and continued his writing. And when the little sheaf of
cheques was ready he counted them, laid them aside, and, drawing a flat
packet of fresh bank-notes from his portfolio, counted out the tips
expected of him below stairs. These arranged for, he straightened up and
glanced over his shoulder at Sylvia, but she was apparently absorbed in
counting something on the ends of her fingers, so he turned smilingly
to his desk and wrote a long letter to his mother--the same tender,
affectionately boyish letter he had always written her, full of
confidences, full of humour, gaily anticipating his own return to her on
the heels of the letter.

In his first letter to her from Shotover he had spoken casually of a
Miss Landis. It seemed the name was familiar enough to his mother, who
asked about her; and he had replied in another letter or two, a trifle
emphatic in his praise of her, because from his mother’s letters it
was quite evident that she knew a good deal concerning the very
unconventional affairs of Sylvia’s family.

Of his swift and somewhat equivocal courtship he had had nothing to say
in his letters; in fact recently he had nothing to say about Sylvia
at all, reserving that vital confidence for the clear sympathy and
understanding which he looked forward to when he should see her, and
which, through dark days and bitter aftermaths, through struggle and
defeat by his master-vice, had never failed him yet, never faltered for
an instant.

So he brought his letter to a close with a tender and uneasy inquiry
concerning her health, which, she had intimated, was not exactly
satisfactory, and for that reason she had opened the house in town in
order to be near Dr. Grisby, their family doctor.

Sealing and directing the letter, he looked up to see Sylvia standing at
his elbow. She dropped a light hand on his shoulder for a second, barely
touching him--a fugitive caress, delicate as the smile hovering on her
lips, as the shy tenderness in her eyes.

“More letters to your sweetheart?” she asked, abandoning her hand to
him.

“One more--the last before I see her. … I wish you could see her,
Sylvia.”

“I wish so, too,” she answered simply, seating herself on the arm of his
chair as though it were a side-saddle.

They sat there very silent for a few moments, curiously oblivious to the
chance curiosity of any one who might enter or pass.

“Would she--care for me--do you think?” asked the girl in a low voice.

“I think so,--for your real self.”

“I know. She could only feel contempt for me--as I am.”

“She is old-fashioned,” he said reverently.

“That means all that is best in a woman. … The old fashion of truth
and faith; the old fashion of honour, and faith in honour; the old, old
fashion of--love. … All that is best, Stephen; all that is worth the
love of a man. … Some day somebody will revive those fashions.”

“Will you?”

“Dear, they would not become me,” she said, the tenderness in her
eyes deepening a little; and she touched his head lightly in humourous
caress.

“What shall we do with the waning daylight?” she asked. “It is my last
day with you. I told Howard it was my last day with you, and I did not
care to be disturbed.”

“You probably didn’t say it that way,” he commented, amused.

“I did.”

“How much of that sort of thing is he prepared to stand?” asked Siward
curiously.

“How much? I don’t know. I don’t believe he cares. It is my uncle, Major
Belwether, who is making things unpleasant for me. I had to tell Howard,
you know.”

“What!” exclaimed Siward incredulously.

“Certainly. Do you think my conduct has passed without protest?”

“You told Quarrier!” he repeated.

“Did you imagine I could do otherwise?” she asked coolly. “I have that
much decency left. Certainly I told him. Do you suppose that, after what
we did--what I admitted to you--that I could meet him as usual? Do you
think I am afraid of him?”

“I thought you were afraid of losing him,” muttered Siward.

“I was, dreadfully. And the morning after you and I had been imprudent
enough to sit up until nearly daylight--and do what we did--I made him
take a long walk with me, and I told him plainly that I cared for
you, that I was too selfish and cowardly to marry you, and that if he
couldn’t endure the news he was at liberty to terminate the engagement
without notice.”

“What did he say?” stammered Siward.

“A number of practical things.”

“You mean to say he stands it!”

“It appears so. What else is there for him to do, unless he breaks the
engagement?”

“And he--hasn’t?”

“No. I was informed that he held me strictly and precisely to my
promise; that he would never release me voluntarily, though I was, of
course, at liberty to do what I chose. … My poor friend, he cares no
more for love than do I. I happen to be the one woman in New York whom
he considers absolutely suitable for him; by race, by breeding, by
virtue of appearance and presence, eminently fitted to complete the
material portion of his fortune and estate.”

Her voice had hardened as she spoke; now it rang a little at the end,
and she laughed unpleasantly.

“It appears that I was a little truer to myself than you gave me credit
for--a little truer to you--a little less treacherous, less shameless,
than you must have thought me. But I have gone to my limit of decency;
… and, were I ten times more in love with you than I am, I could not put
away the position and power offered me. But I will not lie for it, nor
betray for it. … Do you remember, once you asked me for what reasons I
dropped men from my list? And I told you, because of any falsehood or
treachery, any betrayal of trust--and for no other reason. You remember?
And did you suppose that elemental standard of decency did not include
women--even such a woman as I?”

She dropped one arm on the back of his chair and rested her chin on it,
staring at space across his shoulders.

“That’s how it had to be, you see, when I found that I cared for you.
There was nothing to do but to tell him. I was quite certain that it
was all off; but I found that I didn’t know the man. I knew he was
sensitive, but I didn’t know he was sensitive to personal ridicule only,
and to nothing else in all the world that I can discover. I--I suppose,
from my frankness to him, he has concluded that no ridicule could ever
touch him through me. I mean, he trusts me enough to marry me. … He will
be safe enough, as far as my personal conduct is concerned,” she added
naively. “It seems that I am capable of love; but I am incapable of its
degradation.”

Siward, leaning heavily forward over his desk, rested his head in both
hands; and she stooped from her perch on the arm of the chair, pressing
her hot cheeks against his hands--a moment only; then slipping to her
feet, she curled up in a great arm-chair by the fire, head tipped back,
blue gaze concentrated on him.

“The thing for you to do,” she said, “is to ambush me some night, and
throw me into a hansom, and drive us both to the parson’s. I’d hate you
for it as much as I’d love you, but I’d make you an interesting wife.”

“I may do that yet,” he said, lifting his head from his hands.

“You’ve a year to do it in,” she observed. … “By the way, you’re to take
me in to dinner, as you did the first night. Do you remember? I asked
Grace Ferrall then. I asked her again to-day. Heigho! It was years ago,
wasn’t it, that I drove up to the station and saw a very attractive and
perplexed young man looking anxiously about for somebody to take him to
Shotover. Ahem! the notorious Mr. Siward! Dear, … I didn’t mean to
hurt you! You know it, silly! Mayn’t I have my little joke about your
badness--your redoubtable badness of reputation? There! You had just
better smile. … How dare you frighten me by making me think I had hurt
you! … Besides, you are probably unrepentant.”

She watched him closely for a moment or two, then, “Are you
unrepentant?”

“About what?”

“About your general wickedness? About--” she hesitated--“about that
girl, for example.”

“What girl?” he asked coldly.

“That reminds me that you have told me absolutely nothing about her.”

“There is nothing to tell,” he said, in a tone so utterly new to her in
its finality that she sat up as though listening to an unknown voice.

Tone and words so completely excluded her from the new intimacy into
which she had imperceptibly drifted that both suddenly developed a
significance from sheer contrast. Who was this girl, then, of whom he
had absolutely nothing to say? What was she to him? What could she be to
him--an actress, a woman of common antecedents?

She had sometimes idly speculated in an indefinitely innocent way as to
just what a well-born man could find to interest him in such women; what
he could have to talk about to persons of that sort, where community of
tastes and traditions must be so absolutely lacking.

Gossip, scandal of that nature, hints, silences, innuendoes, the wise
shrugs of young girls oversophisticated, the cool, hard smiles of
matrons, all had left her indifferent or bored, partly from distaste,
partly from sheer incredulity; a refusal to understand, an innate
delicacy that not only refrains from comprehension, but also denies
itself even the curiosity to inquire or the temptation of vaguest
surmise on a subject that could not exist for her.

But now, something of the uncomfortable uneasiness had come over her
which she had been conscious of when made aware of Marion Page’s worldly
wisdom, and which had imperceptibly chilled her when Grace Ferrall spoke
of Siward’s escapade, coupling this woman and him in the same scandal.

She took it for granted that there must be, for men, an attraction
toward women who figured publicly behind the foot-lights, though
it appeared very silly to her. In fact it all was silly and
undignified--part and parcel, no doubt, of that undergraduate
foolishness which seemed to cling to some men who had otherwise attained
discretion.

But it appeared to her that Siward had taken the matter with a
seriousness entirely out of proportion in his curt closure of the
subject, and she felt a little irritated, a little humiliated, a little
hurt, and took refuge in a silence that he did not offer to break.

Early twilight had fallen in the room; the firelight grew redder.

“Sylvia,” he said abruptly, reverting to the old, light tone hinting of
the laughter in his eyes which she could no longer see, “Suppose, as you
suggested, I did ambush you--say after the opera--seize you under the
very nose of your escort and make madly for a hansom?”

“I know of no other way,” she said demurely.

“Would you resist, physically?”

“I would, if nobody were looking.”

“Desperately?

“How do I know? Besides, it couldn’t last long,” she said, thinking of
his slimly powerful build as she had noticed it in his swimming costume.
Smiling, amused, she wondered how long she could resist him with her own
wholesome supple activity strengthened to the perfection of health in
saddle and afoot.

“I should advise you to chloroform me,” she said defiantly. “You don’t
realise my accomplishments with the punching-bag.”

“So you mean to resist?”

“Yes, I do. If I were going to surrender at once, I might as well go off
to church with you now.”

“Wenniston church!” he said promptly. “I’ll order the Mercedes.”

She laughed, lazily settling herself more snugly by the fire. “Suppose
it were our fire?” she smiled. “There would be a dog lying across that
rug, and a comfortable Angora tabby dozing by the fender, and--you,
cross-legged, at my feet, with that fascinating head of yours tipped
back against my knees.”

The laughter in her voice died out, and he had risen, saying unsteadily:
“Don’t! I--I can’t stand that sort of thing, you know.”

She had made a mistake, too; she also had suddenly become aware of her
own limits in the same direction.

“Forgive me, dear! I meant no mockery.”

“I know. … After a while a man finds laughter difficult.”

“I was not laughing at--anything. I was only pretending to be happy.”

“Your happiness is before you,” he said sullenly.

“My future, you mean. You know I am exchanging one for the other. … And
some day you will awake to the infamy of it; you will comprehend the
depravity of the monstrous trade I made. … And then--and then--”

She passed one slim hand over her face--“then you will shake yourself
free from this dream of me; then, awake, my punishment at your hands
will begin. … Dear, no man in his right senses can continue to love a
girl such as I am. All that is true and ardent and generous in you has
invested my physical attractiveness and my small intellect with a
magic that cannot last, because it is magic; and you are the magician,
enmeshed for the moment in the mists of your own enchantment. When this
fades, when you unclose your eyes in clear daylight, dear, I dread to
think what I shall appear to you--what a dreadful, shrunken, bloodless
shell, hung with lace and scented, silken cerements--a jewelled
mummy-case--a thing that never was! … Do you understand my punishment a
little, now?”

“If it were true,” he said in a dull voice, “you will have forgotten,
too.”

“I pray I may,” she said under her breath.

And, after a long silence: “Do you think, before the year is out, that
you might be granted enough courage?” he asked.

“No. I shall not even pray for it. I want what is offered me! I desire
it so blindly that already it has become part of me. I tell you the
poison is in every vein; there is nothing else but poison in me. I am
what I tell you, to the core. It is past my own strength of will to stop
me, now. If I am stopped, another must do it. My weakness for you,
being a treachery if not confessed, I was obliged to confess, horribly
frightened as I was. He might have stopped me; he did not. … And now,
what is there on earth to halt me? Love cannot. Common decency and
courage cannot. Fear of your unhappiness and mine cannot. No, even the
certitude of your contempt, some day, is powerless to halt me now. I
could not love; I am utterly incapable of loving you enough to balance
the sacrifice. And that is final.”


Grace Ferrall came into the room and found a duel of silence in progress
under the dull fire-glow tinting the ceiling.

“Another quarrel,” she commented, turning on the current of the
drop-light above the desk from which Siward had risen at her entrance.
“You quarrel enough to marry. Why don’t you?”

“I wish we could,” said Sylvia simply.

Grace laughed. “What a little fool you are!” she said tenderly, seating
herself in Siward’s chair and dropping one hand over his where it rested
on the arm. “Stephen, can’t you make her--a big, strong fellow like you?
Oh, well; on your heads be it! My conscience is now clear for the first
time, and I’ll never meddle again.” She gave Siward’s hand a perfunctory
pat and released him with a discreetly stifled yawn. “I’m disgracefully
sleepy; the wind blew like fury along the coast. Sylvia, have you had a
good time at Shotover--the time of your life?”

Sylvia raised her eyes and encountered Siward’s.

“I certainly have,” she said faintly.

“C’est bien, chérie. Can you be as civil, Stephen--conscientiously? Oh,
that is very nice of you! But there’s one thing: why on earth didn’t you
make eyes at Marion? Life might be one long, blissful carnival of horse
and dog for you both. Oh, dear! there, I’m meddling again! Pinch me,
Sylvia, if I ever begin to meddle again! How did you come out at Bridge,
Stephen? What--bad as that? Gracious! this is disgraceful--this gambling
the way people do! I’m shocked and I’m going up to dress. Are you
coming, Sylvia?”


The dinner was very gay. The ceremony of christening the Shotover Cup,
which Quarrier had won, proceeded with presentation speech and a speech
of acceptance faultlessly commonplace, during which Quarrier wore his
smile--which was the only humorous thing he contributed.

The cup was full. Siward eyed it, perplexed, deadly afraid, yet seeing
no avenue of escape from what must appear a public exhibition of
contempt for Quarrier if he refused to taste its contents. That meant a
bad night for him; yet he shrank more from the certain misinterpretation
of a refusal to drink from the huge loving-cup with its heavy wreath of
scented orchids, now already on its way toward him, than he feared the
waking struggle so sure to follow.

Marion received the cup, lifted it in both hands, and said distinctly,
“Good Hunting!” as she drank to Quarrier. Her brother Gordon took it,
and drank entirely too much. Then Sylvia lifted it, her white hands half
buried among the orchids: “To you!” she murmured for Siward’s ear alone;
then drank gaily, mischievously, “To the best shot at Shotover!” And
Siward took the cup: “I salute victory,” he said, smiling, “always, and
everywhere! To him who takes the fighting chance and wins out! To the
best man! Health!” And he drank as a gentleman drinks, with a gay bow to
Quarrier, and with death in his heart.

Later, the irony of it struck him so grimly that he laughed; and Sylvia,
beside him, looked up, dismayed to see the gray change in his face.

“What is it?” she faltered, catching his eye; “why do you--why are you
so white?”

But he only smiled, as though he had misunderstood, saying:

“The survival of the fittest; that is the only test, after all. The man
who makes good doesn’t whine for justice. There’s enough of it in the
world to go round, and he who misses it gets all that’s due him just the
same.”

Later, at cards, the aromatic odour from Alderdene’s decanter roused him
to fierce desire, but he fought it down until only the deadened,
tearing ache remained to shake and loosen every nerve. And when Ferrall,
finishing his usual batch of business letters, arrived to cut in if
needed, Siward dropped his cards with a shudder, and rose so utterly
unnerved that Captain Voucher, noticing his drawn face, asked him if he
were not ill.

He was leaving on an earlier train than the others, having decided to
pass through Boston and Deptford, at which latter place he meant to
leave Sagamore for the winter in care of the manager of his mother’s
farm. So he took a quiet leave of those to whom the civility might not
prove an interruption--a word to Alderdene and Voucher as he passed
out, a quick clasp for Ferrall and for Grace, a carefully and cordially
formal parting from the Page boys, which pleased them ineffably.

Eileen and Rena, who had never had half a chance at him, took it now,
delighted to discipline their faithful Pages; and he submitted in his
own engagingly agreeable way, and so skilfully that both Eileen and Rena
felt sorry that they had not earlier understood how civilly anxious he
had been to devote himself to them alone. And they looked at the Pages,
exasperated.

In the big hall he passed Marion, and stopped to take his leave.

No, he would do no hunting this season either at Carysford or with the
two trial packs at Eastwood. Possibly at Warrenton later, but probably
not; business threatened to detain him in town more or less. … Of course
he’d come to see her when she returned to town. … And it had been a
jolly party, and it was a shame to sound “lights out” so soon! Good-bye.
… Good night. And that was all.

And that was all, unless he disturbed Sylvia, seated at cards with
Quarrier and Major Belwether and Leila Mortimer--and very intent on the
dummy, very still, and a trifle pallid with the pallor of concentration.

So--that was all, then.

Ascending the stairs, a servant handed him a letter bearing the crest of
the Lenox Club. He pocketed it unopened and continued his way.

In the darkness of his own room he sat down, the devil’s own clutch on
his shrinking nerves, a deathly desire tearing at his very vitals, and
every vein a tiny trail of fire run riot. He had been too long without
it, too long to endure the craving aroused by that gay draught from
Quarrier’s loving-cup.

The awakened fury of his desire appalled him, and for a while that
occupied him, enabling him to endure. But fear and dismay soon passed
in the purely physical distress; he walked the floor, haggard, the sweat
starting on his face; he lay with clenched hands, stiffened out across
the bed, deafened by the riotous clamour of his pulses, conscious that
he was holding out, unconscious how long he could hold out.

Crisis after crisis swept him; sometimes he found his feet and moved
blindly about the room.

Strange periods of calm intervened; sensation seemed deadened; and he
stood as a man who listens, scarcely daring to breathe lest the enemy
awake and seize him.

He turned on the light, later, to look for his pipe, and he caught a
glimpse of himself in the mirror. It was a sick man who stared back
at him out of hollow eyes, and the physical revulsion shocked him into
something resembling self-command.

“Damn you!” he said fiercely, setting his teeth and staring back at his
reflected face, “I’ll kill you yet before I’ve finished with you!”

Then he filled his pipe, and opening his bedroom window, sat down,
resting his arm on the sill. A splendid moon silvered the sea; through
the intense stillness he heard the surf, magnificently dissonant among
the reefs, and he listened, fascinated, loathing the tides as he feared
and loathed the inexorable tides that surged and ebbed with his accursed
desire.

Once he said to himself, weakly--for he was deadly tired--“What am I
making the fight for, anyway?” And “Who are you making the fight for?”
 echoed his heavy pulses.

He had asked that question and received that answer before. After all,
it had been for his mother’s sake alone. And now--and now?--his heart
beat out another answer; and before his eyes two other eyes seemed to
open, fearlessly, sweetly, divinely tender. But they were no longer his
mother’s grave, gray eyes.

After the second pipe he remembered his letter. It gave him something to
do, so he opened it and tried to read it, but for a long while, in his
confused physical and mental condition, he could make no sense of it.

Little by little he began to comprehend its purport that his resignation
was regretfully requested by the governors of the Lenox Club for reasons
unassigned.

The shock of the thing came to him after a while, like a distant, dull
report long after the flash of the explosion. Well, the affair, bad
enough at first, was turning worse, that was all. How much of that sort
of discredit could a man stand and keep his balance? … And what would
his mother say?

Confused from his own physical suffering, the blow had fallen with
a deadened force on nerves already numbed; but his half-stupefied
acquiescence had suddenly become a painful recoil when he remembered
where the brunt of the disgrace would fall--where the centre of
suffering must always be, and the keenest grief concentrated. Roused,
appalled, almost totally unnerved, he stood staring at the letter,
beginning to realise what it would mean to his mother. A passion of
remorse and resentment swept him. She must be spared that! There must
be some way--some punishment for his offence that could not strike her
through him! It was wicked, it was contemptible, insane, to strike
her! What were the governors of the Lenox about--a lot of snivelling
hypocrites, pandering to the horrified snobbery at the Patroons! Who
were they, anyway, to discipline him! Scarce one in fifty among the
members of the two clubs was qualified to sit in judgment on a Siward!

But that tempest of passion and mortification passed, too, leaving him
standing there, dumb, desperate, staring at the letter crushed in his
shaking hand.

He must see somebody, some member of the Lenox, and do
something--something! Ferrall! Was that Ferrall’s step on the landing?

He sprang to the door and opened it. Quarrier, passing the corridor,
turned an expressionless visage toward him, and passed on with a nod
almost imperceptible.

“Quarrier!” he called, swept by a sudden impulse.

Quarrier halted and turned.

“Could you give me a moment--here in my room? I won’t detain you.”

The faint trace of surprise faded from Quarrier’s face; he quietly
retraced his steps, and, entering Siward’s room, stood silently
confronting its pallid tenant.

“Will you sit down a moment?”

Quarrier seated himself in the arm-chair by the window, and Siward found
a chair opposite.

“Quarrier,” said the younger man, turning a tensely miserable face on
his visitor, “I want to ask you something. I’ll not mince matters. You
know that the Patroons have dropped me, and you know what for.”

“Yes, I know.”

“When I was called before the Board of Governors to explain the matter,
if I could, you were sitting on that Board.”

“Yes.”

“I denied the charge, but refused to explain. … You remember?”

Quarrier nodded coldly.

“And I was dropped by the club!”

A slight inclination of Quarrier’s symmetrical head corroborated him.

“Now,” said Siward, slowly and very distinctly, “I shall tell you
unofficially what I refused to tell the other governors officially.”
 And, as he began speaking, Quarrier’s face flushed, then the features
became immobile, set, and inert, and his eyes grew duller and duller, as
though, under a smooth surface the soul inside of him was shrinking
back into some dark corner, silent, watchful, suspicious, and perhaps
defiant.

“Mr. Quarrier,” said Siward quietly, “I did not take that girl to the
Patroons Club--and you know it.”

Quarrier was all surface now; he had drawn away internally so far that
even his eyes seemed to recede until they scarcely glimmered through the
slits in his colourless mask. And Siward went on:

“I knew perfectly well what sort of women I was to meet at that fool
supper Billy Fleetwood gave; and you must have, too, for the girl you
took in was no stranger to you. … Her name is Lydia Vyse, I believe.”

The slightest possible glimmer in the elder man’s eyes was all the
answer he granted.

“What happened,” said Siward calmly, “was this: She bet me she could so
disguise herself that I could safely take her into any club in New York.
I bet her she couldn’t. I never dreamed of trying. Besides, she was
your--dinner partner,” he added with a shrug.

His concentrated gaze seemed at length to pierce the expressionless
surface of the other man, who moved slightly in his chair and moistened
his thin lips under the glossy beard.

“Quarrier,” said Siward earnestly, “What happened in the club lobby I
don’t exactly know, because I was not in a condition to know. I admit
it; that was the trouble with me. When I left Fleetwood’s rooms I left
with a half dozen men. I remember crossing Fifth Avenue with them; and
the next thing I remember distinctly was loud talking in the club lobby,
and a number of men there, and a slim young fellow in Inverness and
top hat in the centre of a crowd, whose face was the face of that girl,
Lydia Vyse. And that is absolutely all. But I couldn’t do more than deny
that I took her there unless I told what I knew; and of course that was
not possible, even in self-defence. But it was for you to admit that I
was right. And you did not. You dared not! You let another man blunder
into your private affairs and fall a victim to circumstantial evidence
which you could have refuted; and it was up to you to say something!
And you did not! … And now--what are you going to do? The Lenox Club has
taken this thing up. A man can’t stand too much of that sort of thing.
What am I to do? I can’t defend myself by betraying my accidental
knowledge of your petty, private affairs. So I leave it to you. I ask
you what are you going to do?”

“Do you mean”--Quarrier’s voice was not his own, and he brought it
harshly under command--“do you mean that you think it necessary for me
to say I knew her? What object would be attained by that? I did not take
her to the Patroons’.”

“Nor did I. Ask her how she got there. Learn the truth from her, man!”

“What proof is there that I ever met her before I took her into supper
at Fleetwood’s?”

“Proof! Are you mad? All I ask of you is to say to the governors what I
cannot say without using your name.”

“You wish me,” asked Quarrier icily, “to deny that you made that wager?
I can do that.”

“You can’t do it! I did make that bet.”

“Oh! Then, what is it you wish me to say?”

“Tell them the truth. Tell them you know I did not take her to the club.
You need not tell them why you know it. You need not tell them how much
you know about her, whose brougham she drove home in. I can’t defend
myself at your expense--intrench myself behind your dirty little
romance. What could I say? I denied taking her to the club. Then Major
Belwether confronted me with my wager. Then I shut up. And so did you,
Quarrier--so did you, seated there among the governors, between Leroy
Mortimer and Belwether. It was up to you, and you did not stir!”

“Stir!” echoed the other man, exasperated. “Of course I did not stir.
What did I know about it? Do you think I care to give a man like
Mortimer a hold on me by admitting I knew anything?--or Belwether--do
you think I care to have that man know anything about my private and
personal business? Did you expect me to say that I was in a position
to prove anything one way or another? And,” he added with increasing
harshness, “how do you know what I might or might not prove? If she went
to the Patroons Club, I did not go with her; I did not see her; I don’t
know whether or not you took her.”

“I have already told you that I did not take her,” said Siward, turning
whiter.

“You told that to the governors, too. Tell them again, if you like. I
decline to discuss this matter with you. I decline to countenance your
unwarranted intrusion into what you pretend to believe are my private
affairs. I decline to confer with Belwether or Mortimer. It’s enough
that you are inclined to meddle--” His cold anger was stirring. He rose
to his full, muscular height, slow, menacing, his long, pale fingers
twisting his silky beard. “It’s enough that you meddle!” he repeated.
“As for the matter in question, a dozen men, including myself, heard you
make a wager; and later I myself was a witness that the terms of that
wager had been carried out to the letter. I know absolutely nothing
except that, Mr. Siward; nor, it appears, do you, for you were drunk at
the time, and you have admitted it to me.”

“I have asked you,” said Siward, rising, and very grave, “I have asked
you to do the right thing. Are you going to do it?”

“Is that a threat?” inquired Quarrier, showing the edges of his
well-kept teeth. “Is this intimidation, Mr. Siward? Do I understand
that you are proposing to bespatter others with scandal unless I am
frightened into going to the governors with the flimsy excuse you
attempt to offer me? In other words, Mr. Siward, are you bent on making
me pay for what you believe you know of my private life? Is it really
intimidation?”

And still Siward stared into his half-veiled, sneering eyes, speechless.

“There is only one name used for this kind of thing,” added Quarrier,
taking a quick involuntary step backward to the door as the blaze of
fury broke out in Siward’s eyes.

“Good God! Quarrier,” whispered Siward with dry lips, “what a cur you
are! What a cur!”

And long after Quarrier had passed the door and disappeared in the
corridor, Siward stood there, frozen motionless under the icy waves of
rage that swept him.

He had never before had an enemy worth the name; he knew he had one now.
He had never before hated; he now understood something of that, too.
The purely physical craving to take this man and crush him into eternal
quiescence had given place to a more terrible mental desire to punish.
His brain surged and surged under the first flood of a mortal hatred.
That the hatred was sterile made it the more intense, and, blinded
by it, he stood there or paced the room minute after minute, hearing
nothing but the wild clamour in his brain, seeing nothing but the
smooth, expressionless face of the man whom he could not reach.

Toward midnight, seated in his chair by the window, a deathly lassitude
weighing his heart, he heard the steps of people on the stairway, the
click of the ascending elevator, gay voices calling good night, a ripple
of laughter, the silken swish of skirts in the corridor, doors opening
and closing; then silence creeping throughout the house on the receding
heels of departure--a stillness that settled like a mist through
hall and corridor, accented for a few moments by distant sounds, then
absolute, echoless silence. And for a long while he sat there listening.

The cool wind from the ocean blew his curtains far into the room, where
they bellied out, fluttering, floating, subsiding, only to rise again
in the freshening breeze. He sat watching their silken convolutions,
stupidly, for a while, then rose and closed his window, and raised the
window on the south for purposes of air.

As he turned to adjust his transom, something white thrust under the
door caught his eye, and he walked over and drew it across the sill.
It was a sealed note. He opened it, reading it as he walked back to the
drop-light burning beside his bed:

“Did you not mean to say good-bye? Because it is to be good-bye for a
long, long time--for all our lives--as long as we live--as long as the
world lasts, and longer. … Good-bye--unless you care to say it to me.”

He stood studying the note for a while; presently, lighting a match,
he set fire to it and carried it blazing to the grate and flung it in,
watching the blackened ashes curl up, glow, whiten, and fall in flakes
to the hearth. Then he went out into the corridor, and traversed the
hall to the passage which led to the bay-window. There was nobody there.
The stars looked in on him, twinkling with a frosty light; beneath, the
shadowy fronds of palms traced a pale pattern on the glass roof of the
swimming pool. He waited a moment, turned, retraced his steps to his own
door and stood listening. Then, moving swiftly, he walked the length of
the corridor, and, halting at her door, knocked once.

After a moment the door swung open. He stepped forward into the room,
closing the door behind him, and confronted the tall girl standing there
silhouetted against the lamp behind her.

“You are insane to do this!” she whispered. “I let you in for fear you’d
knock again!”

“I went to the bay-window,” he said.

“You went too late. I was there an hour ago. I waited. Do you know what
time it is?”

“Come to the bay-window,” he said, “if you fear me here.”

“Do you know it is nearly three o’clock?” she repeated. “And you leave
at six.

“Shall we say good-bye here?” he asked coolly.

“Certainly. I dare not go out. And you--do you know the chances we are
running? You must be perfectly mad to come to my room. Do you think
anybody could have seen--heard you--”

“No. Good night.” He offered his hand; she laid both of hers in it. He
could scarcely distinguish her features where she stood dark against the
brilliant light behind her.

“Good-bye,” he whispered, kissing her hands where they lay in his.

“Good-bye.” Her fingers closed convulsively, retaining his hands. “I
hope--I think that--you--” Her head was drooping; she could not control
her voice.

“Good-bye, Sylvia,” he said again.

It was quite useless, she could not speak; and when he took her in his
arms she clung to him, quivering; and he kissed the wet lashes, and the
hot, trembling lips, and the smooth little hands crushed to his breast.

“We have a year yet,” she gasped. “Dear, take me by force before it
ends. I--I simply cannot endure this. I told you to take me--to tear
me from myself. Will you do it? I will love you--truly, truly! Oh, my
darling, my darling! Don’t--don’t give me up! Can’t you do something for
us? Can’t you--”

“Will you come with me now?”

“How can--”

“Will you?”

A sudden sound broke out in the night--the distant pealing of the
lodge-gate bell. Startled, she shrank back; somebody in the adjoining
room had sprung to the floor and was opening the window.

“What is it?” she motioned with whitening lips. “Quick! oh, quick,
before you are seen! Grace may come! I--I beg of you to go!”

As he stepped into the corridor he heard, below, a sound at the great
door, and the stirring of the night watchman on post. At his own door
he turned, listening to the movement and whispering. Ferrall, in
dressing-gown and slippers, stepped into the corridor; below, the chains
were rattling as the wicket swung open. There was a brief parley at
the door, sounds of retreating steps on the gravel outside, sounds of
approaching steps on the stairway.

“What’s that? A telegram?” said Ferrall sharply. “Here, give it to me. …
Wait! It isn’t for me. It’s for Mr Siward!”

Siward, standing at his open door, swayed slightly. A thrill of pure
fear struck him through and through. He laid one hand on the door to
steady himself, and stepped forward as Ferrall came up.

“Oh! You’re awake, Stephen. Here’s a telegram.” He extended his hand.
Siward took the yellow envelope, fumbled it, tore it open.

“Good God!” whispered Ferrall; “is it bad?”

And Siward’s glazed eyes stared and stared at the scrawled and inky
message:

“YOUR MOTHER IS VERY ILL. COME AT ONCE.”

The signature was the name of their family physician, Grisby.



CHAPTER VIII CONFIDENCES

By January the complex social mechanism of the metropolis was whirling
smoothly again; the last ultra-fashionable December lingerer had
returned from the country; those of the same caste outward bound for
a Southern or exotic winter had departed; and the glittering machine,
every part assembled, refurbished, repolished, and connected, having
been given preliminary speed-tests at the horse show, and a tuning up at
the opera, was now running under full velocity; and its steady,
subdued whir quickened the clattering pulse of the city, keying it to a
sublimely syncopated ragtime.

The commercial reaction from the chaos of the holidays had become a
carnival of recovery; shop windows grew brighter and gayer than ever,
bursting into gaudy winter florescence; the main arteries of the town
roared prosperity; cross streets were packed; Fifth Avenue, almost
impassible in the morning, choked up after three o’clock; and all
the afternoon through, and late into the night, mounted police of the
traffic squad, adrift in the tide of carriages, stemmed the flashing
currents pouring north and south from the white marble arch to the
gilded bronze battle-horse and its rider on guard at the portals of the
richest quarter of the wealthiest city in the world.

So far, that winter, snow had fallen only twice, lasting but a day
or two each time; street and avenue remained bone dry where the
white-uniformed cleaning squads worked amid clouds of dust; and all day
long the flinty asphalt echoed the rattling slap of horses’ feet; all
day long the big, shining motor-cars sped up town and down town,
droning their distant warnings. It was an open winter in New York, and,
financially, a prosperous one; and that meant a brilliant social season.
Like a set piece of fireworks, with its interdependent parts taking fire
in turn, function after function, spectacle after spectacle, glittered,
fizzed, and was extinguished, only to give place to newer and more
splendid spectacles; separate circles, sets, and groups belonging to the
social solar system whizzed, revolved, rotated, with edifying effects
on everybody concerned, unconcerned, and not at all concerned; and at
intervals, when for a moment or two something hung fire, the twinkle of
similar spectacles sputtering away in distant cities beyond the
horizon was faintly reflected in the social sky above the incandescent
metropolis. For the whole nation was footing it, heel and toe, to the
echoes of strains borne on the winds from the social capital of the
republic; and the social arbiter at Bird Centre was more of a facsimile
of his New York confrère than that confrère could ever dream of even in
the most realistic of nightmares.

Three phenomena particularly characterised that metropolitan winter:
the reckless rage for private gambling through the mediums of bridge
and roulette; the incorporation of a company known as The Inter-County
Electric Company, capitalised at a figure calculated to disturb nobody,
and, so far, without any avowed specific policy other than that which
served to decorate a portion of its charter which otherwise might have
remained ornately and comparatively blank; the third phenomenon was the
retirement from active affairs of Stanley S. Quarrier, the father of
Howard Quarrier, and the election of the son to the presidency of the
great Algonquin Loan and Trust Company, with its network system of
dependent, subsidiary, and allied corporations.

The day that the newspapers gave this interesting information to the
Western world, Leroy Mortimer, on being bluntly notified that he
had overdrawn his account with the Algonquin Loan and Trust, began
telephoning in every direction until he located Beverly Plank at the
Saddle Club--an organisation of wealthy men, and sufficiently exclusive
not to compromise Plank’s possible chances for something better; in
fact, the Saddle Club, into which Leroy Mortimer had already managed to
pilot him, was one riser and tread upward on the stair he was climbing,
though it was more of a lobby for other clubs than a club in itself. To
be seen there was, perhaps, rather to a man’s advantage, if he did not
loaf there in the evenings or use it too frequently. As Plank carefully
avoided doing either, Mortimer was fortunate in finding him there; and
he crawled out of his hansom, saying that the desk clerk would pay, and
entered the reading-room, where Plank sat writing a letter.

Beverly Plank had grown stouter since he had returned to town from Black
Fells; but the increase of weight was evenly distributed over his
six feet odd, which made him only a trifle more ponderous and not
abdominally fat. But Mortimer had become enormous; rolls of flesh
crowded his mottled ear-lobes outward and bulged above his collar;
cushions of it padded the backs of his hands and fingers; shaving left
his heavy, distended face congested and unpleasantly shiny. But he was
as minutely groomed as ever, and he wore that satiated air of prosperity
which had always been one of his most important assets.

The social campaign inaugurated by Leila Mortimer in behalf of Beverly
Plank had, so far, received no serious reverses. His box at the horse
show, of course, produced merely negative results; his box at the opera
might mean something some day. His name was up at the Lenox and the
Patroons; he had endowed a ward in the new pavilion of St. Berold’s
Hospital; he had presented a fine Gainsborough--The Countess of
Wythe--to the Metropolitan Museum; and it was rumoured that he had
consulted several bishops concerning a new chapel for that huge bastion
of the citadel of Faith looming above the metropolitan wilderness in the
north.

So far, so good. If, as yet, he had not been permitted to go where he
wanted to go, he at least had been instructed where not to go and what
not to do; and he was as docile as he was dogged, understanding how much
longer it takes to shuffle in by way of the mews and the back door than
to sit on the front steps and wait politely for somebody to unchain the
front door.

Meanwhile he was doggedly docile; his huge house, facing the wintry park
midway between the squat palaces of the wealthy pioneers and the outer
hundreds, remained magnificently empty save for certain afternoon
conferences of very solemn men, fellow directors and associates in
business and financial matters--save for the periodical presence of the
Mortimers: a mansion immense and shadowy, haunted by relays of yawning,
livened servants, half stupefied under the vast silence of the twilit
splendour. He was patient, not only because he was told to be, but also
because he had nothing better to do. Society stared at him as blankly
as the Mountain confronted Mahomet. But the stubborn patience of the man
was itself a strain on the Mountain; he was aware of that, and he waited
for it to come to him. As yet, however, he could detect no symptoms of
mobility in the Mountain.

“Things are moving all the same,” said Mortimer, as he entered the
reading room of the Saddle Club. “Quarrier and Belwether have listened
a damned sight more respectfully to me since they read that column about
you and the bishops and that chapel business.”

Plank turned his heavy head with a disturbed glance around the room; for
he always dreaded Mortimer’s indiscretions of speech--was afraid of his
cynical frankness in the presence of others; even shrank from the brutal
bonhomie of the man when alone with him.

“Can’t you be careful?” he said; “there was a man here a moment ago.”
 He picked up his unfinished letter, folded and pocketed it, touched an
electric bell, and when a servant came, “Take Mr. Mortimer’s order,”
 he said, supporting his massive head on his huge hands and resting his
elbow on the writing-desk.

“I’ve got to cut out this morning bracer,” said Mortimer, eyeing the
servant with indecision; but he gave his order nevertheless, and later
accepted a cigar; and when the servant had returned and again retired,
he half emptied his tall glass, refilled it with mineral water, and,
settling back in the padded arm-chair, said: “If I manage this thing as
it ought to be managed, you’ll go through by April. What do you think of
that?”

Plank’s phlegmatic features flushed. “I’m more obliged to you than I
can say,” he began, but Mortimer silenced him with a gesture: “Don’t
interrupt. I’m going to put you through The Patroons Club by April.
That’s thirty yards through the centre; d’ye see, you dunderheaded
Dutchman? It’s solid gain, and it’s our ball. The Lenox will take
longer; they’re a ‘holier-than-thou’ bunch of nincompoops, and it always
horrifies them to have any man elected, no matter who he is. They’d
rather die of dry rot than elect anybody; it shocks them to think that
any man could have the presumption to be presented. They require
the spectacle of fasting and prayer--a view of a candidate seated in
sackcloth and ashes in outer darkness. You’ve got to wait for the Lenox,
Plank.”

“I am waiting,” said Plank, squaring his massive jaws.

“You’ve got to,” growled Mortimer, emptying his glass aggressively.

Plank looked out of the window, his shrewd blue eyes closing in
retrospection.

“Another thing,” continued Mortimer thickly; “the Kemp Ferralls
are disposed to be decent. I don’t mean in asking you to meet some
intellectual second-raters, but in doing it handsomely. I don’t know
whether it’s time yet,” he added, with a sidelong glance at Plank’s
stolid face; “I don’t want to push the mourners too hard … Well, I’ll
see about it … And if it’s the thing to do, and the time to do it”--he
turned on Plank with his boisterous and misleading laugh and clapped
him on the shoulder--“it will be done, as sure as snobs are snobs; and
that’s the surest thing you ever bet on. Here’s to them!” and he emptied
his glass and fell back into his chair, wheezing and sucking at his
unlighted cigar.

“I want to say,” began Plank, speaking the more slowly because he was
deeply in earnest, “that all this you are doing for me is very handsome
of you, Mortimer. I’d like to say--to convey to you something of how I
feel about the way you and Mrs. Mortimer--”

“Oh, Leila has done it all.”

“Mrs. Mortimer is very kind, and you have been so, too. I--I wish there
was something--some way to--to--”

“To what?” asked Mortimer so bluntly that Plank flushed up and
stammered:

“To be--to do a--to show my gratitude.”

“How? You’re scarcely in a position to do anything for us,” said
Mortimer, brutally staring him out of countenance.

“I know it,” said Plank, the painful flush deepening.

Mortimer, fussing and growling over his cigar, was nevertheless
stealthily intent on the game which had so long absorbed him. His
wits, clogged, dulled by excesses, were now aroused to a sort of gross
activity through the menace of necessity. At last Plank had given him an
opening. He recognised his chance.

“There’s one thing,” he said deliberately, “that I won’t stand for, and
that’s any vulgar misconception on your part of my friendship for you.
Do you follow me?”

“I don’t misunderstand it,” protested Plank, angry and astonished; “I
don’t--”

“--As though,” continued Mortimer menacingly, “I were one of those needy
social tipsters, one of those shabby, pandering touts who--”

“For Heaven’s sake, Mortimer, don’t talk like that! I had no
intention--”

“--One of those contemptible, parasitic leeches,” persisted Mortimer,
getting redder and hoarser, “who live on men like you. Confound you,
Plank, what the devil do you mean by it?”

“Mortimer, are you crazy, to talk to me like that?”

“No, I’m not, but you must be! I’ve a mind to drop the whole cursed
business! I’ve every inclination to drop it! If you haven’t horse-sense
enough--if you haven’t innate delicacy sufficient to keep you from
making such a break--”

“I didn’t! It wasn’t a break, Mortimer. I wouldn’t have hurt you--”

“You did hurt me! How can I feel the same again? I never imagined you
thought I was that sort of a social mercenary. Why, so little did I
dream that you looked on our friendship in that light that I was--on my
word of honour!--I was just now on the point of asking you for three
or four thousand, to carry me to the month’s end and square my bridge
balance.”

“Mortimer, you must take it! You are a fool to think I meant anything by
saying I wanted to show my gratitude. Look here; be decent and fair with
me. I wouldn’t offer you an affront--would I?--even if I were a cad. I
wouldn’t do it now, just when you’re getting things into shape for me.
I’m not a fool, anyway. This is in deadly earnest, I tell you, Mortimer,
and I’m getting angry about it. You’ve got to show your confidence in
me; you’ve got to take what you want from me, as you would from any
friend. I resent your failure to do it now, as though you drew a line
between me and your intimates. If you’re really my friend, show it!”

There was a pause. A curious and unaccustomed sensation had silenced
Mortimer, something almost akin to shame. It astonished him a little.
He did not quite understand why, in the very moment of success over this
stolid, shrewd young man and his thrifty Dutch instincts, he should feel
uncomfortable. Were not his services worth something? Had he not earned
at least the right to borrow from this rich man who could afford to pay
for what was done for him? Why should he feel ashamed? He had not been
treacherous; he really liked the fellow. Why shouldn’t he take his
money?

“See here, old man,” said Plank, extending a huge highly coloured hand,
“is all square between us now?”

“I think so,” muttered Mortimer.

But Plank would not relinquish his hand.

“Then tell me how to draw that cheque! Great Heaven, Mortimer, what
is friendship, anyhow, if it doesn’t include little matters like
this--little misunderstandings like this? I’m the man to be sensitive,
not you. You have been very good to me, Mortimer. I could almost wish
you in a position where the only thing I possess might square something
of my debt to you.”

A few minutes later, while he was filling in the cheque, a dusty youth
in riding clothes and spurs came in and found a seat by one of the
windows, into which he dropped, and then looked about him for a servant.

“Hello, Fleetwood!” said Mortimer, glancing over his shoulder to see
whose spurs were ringing on the polished floor.

Fleetwood saluted amiably with his riding-crop; including Plank, whom he
did not know, in a more formal salute.

“Will you join us?” asked Mortimer, taking the cheque which Plank
offered and carelessly pocketing it without even a nod of thanks. “You
know Beverly Plank, of course? What! I thought everybody knew Beverly
Plank.”

Mr. Fleetwood and Mr. Plank shook hands and resumed their seats.

“Ripping weather!” observed Fleetwood, replacing his hat and rebuttoning
the glove which he had removed to shake hands with Plank. “Lot of jolly
people out this morning. I say, Mortimer, do you want that roan hunter
of mine you looked over? I mean King Dermid, because Marion Page wants
him, if you don’t. She was out this morning, and she spoke of it again.”

Mortimer, lifting a replenished glass, shook his head, and drank
thirstily in silence.

“Saw you at Westbury, I think,” said Fleetwood politely to Plank, as the
two lifted their glasses to one another.

“I hunted there for a day or two,” replied Plank, modestly. “If it’s
that big Irish thoroughbred you were riding that you want to sell I’d
like a look in, if Miss Page doesn’t fancy him.”

Fleetwood laughed, and glanced amusedly at Plank over his glass. “It
isn’t that horse, Mr. Plank. That’s Drumceit, Stephen Siward’s famous
horse.” He interrupted himself to exchange greetings with several men
who came into the room rather noisily, their spurs resounding across the
oaken floor. One of them, Tom O’Hara, joined them, slamming his crop on
the desk beside Plank and spreading himself over an arm-chair, from the
seat of which he forcibly removed Mortimer’s feet without excuse.

“Drink? Of course I want a drink!” he replied irritably to
Fleetwood--“one, three, ten, several! Billy, whose weasel-bellied pinto
was that you were kicking your heels into in the park? Some of the
squadron men asked me--the major. Oh, beg pardon! Didn’t know you were
trying to stick Mortimer with him. He might do for the troop ambulance,
inside! … What? Oh, yes; met Mr. Blank--I mean Mr. Plank--at Shotover,
I think. How d’ye do? Had the pleasure of potting your tame pheasants.
Rotten sport, you know. What do you do it for, Mr. Blank?”

“What did you come for, if it’s rotten sport?” asked Plank so simply
that it took O’Hara a moment to realise he had been snubbed.

“I didn’t mean to be offensive,” he drawled.

“I suppose you can’t help it,” said Plank very gently; “some people
can’t, you know.” And there was another silence, broken by Mortimer,
whose entire hulk was tingling with a mixture of surprise and amusement
over his protégé’s developing ability to take care of himself. “Did you
say that Stephen Siward is in Westbury, Billy?”

“No; he’s in town,” replied Fleetwood. “I took his horses up to hunt
with. He isn’t hunting, you know.”

“I didn’t know. Nobody ever sees him anywhere,” said Mortimer. “I guess
his mother’s death cut him up.”

Fleetwood lifted his empty glass and gently shook the ice in it. “That,
and--the other business--is enough to cut any man up, isn’t it?”

“You mean the action of the Lenox Club?” asked Plank seriously.

“Yes. He’s resigned from this club, too, I hear. Somebody told me that
he has made a clean sweep of all his clubs. That’s foolish. A man may be
an ass to join too many clubs but he’s always a fool to resign from any
of ‘em. You ask the weatherwise what resigning from a club forecasts.
It’s the first ominous sign in a young man’s career.”

“What’s the second sign?” asked O’Hara, with a yawn.

“Squadron talk; and you’re full of it,” retorted Fleetwood--“‘I said to
the major,’ and ‘The captain told the chief trumpeter’--all that sort
of thing--and those Porto Rico spurs of yours, and the ewe-necked
glyptosaurus you block the bridle-path with every morning. You’re an
awful nuisance, Tom, if anybody should ask me.”

Under cover of a rapid-fire exchange of pleasantries between Fleetwood
and O’Hara, Plank turned to Mortimer, hesitating:

“I rather liked Siward when I met him at Shotover,” he ventured. “I’m
very sorry he’s down and out.”

“He drinks,” shrugged Mortimer, diluting his mineral water with Irish
whisky. “He can’t let it alone; he’s like all the Siwards. I could have
told you that the first time I ever saw him. We all told him to cut it
out, because he was sure to do some damfool thing if he didn’t. He’s
done it, and his clubs have cut him out. It’s his own funeral. … Well,
here’s to you!”

“Cut who out?” asked Fleetwood, ignoring O’Hara’s parting shot
concerning the decadence of the Fleetwood stables and their owner.

“Stephen Siward. I always said that he was sure, sooner or later, to
land in the family ditch. He has a right to, of course; the gutter is
public property.”

“It’s a damned sad thing,” said Fleetwood slowly.

After a pause Plank said: “I think so, too. … I don’t know him very
well.”

“You may know him better now,” said O’Hara insolently.

Plank reddened, and, after a moment: “I should be glad to, if he cares
to know me.”

“Mortimer doesn’t care for him, but he’s an awfully good fellow, all
the same,” said Fleetwood, turning to Plank; “he’s been an ass, but who
hasn’t? I like him tremendously, and I feel very bad over the mess he
made of it after that crazy dinner I gave in my rooms. What? You hadn’t
heard of it? Why man, it’s the talk of the clubs.”

“I suppose that is why I haven’t heard,” said Plank simply; “my
club-life is still in the future.”

“Oh!” said Fleetwood with an involuntary stare, surprised, a trifle
uncomfortable, yet somehow liking Plank, and not understanding why.

“I’m not in anything, you see; I’m only up for the Patroons and the
Lenox,” added Plank gravely.

“I see. Certainly. Er--hope you’ll make ‘em; hope to see you there soon.
Er--I see by the papers you’ve been jollying the clergy, Mr. Plank.
Awfully handsome of you, all that chapel business. I say: I’ve a
cousin--er--young architect; Beaux Arts, and all that--just over. I’d
awfully like to have him given a chance at that competition; invited to
try, you see. I don’t suppose it could be managed, now--”

“Would you like to have me ask the bishops?” inquired Plank, naively
shrewd. And the conversation became very cordial between the two, which
Mortimer observed, keeping one ironical eye on Plank, while he continued
a desultory discussion with O’Hara concerning a very private dinner
which somebody told somebody that somebody had given to Quarrier and the
Inter-County Electric people; which, if true, plainly indicated who was
financing the Inter-County scheme, and why Amalgamated stock had tumbled
again yesterday, and what might be looked for from the Algonquin Trust
Company’s president.

“Amalgamated Electric doesn’t seem to like it a little bit,” said
O’Hara. “Ferrall, Belwether, and Siward are in it up to their necks; and
if Quarrier is really the god in the machine, and if he really is doing
stunts with Amalgamated Electric, and is also mixing feet with the
Inter-County crowd, why, he is virtually paralleling his own road;
and why, in the name of common sense, is he doing that? He’ll kill it;
that’s what he’ll do.”

“He can afford to kill it,” observed Mortimer, punching the electric
button and making a significant gesture toward his empty glass as the
servant entered; “a man like Quarrier can afford to kill anything.”

“Yes; but why kill Amalgamated Electric? Why not merge? Why, it’s a
crazy thing to do, it’s a devil of a thing to do, to parallel your own
line!” insisted O’Hara. “That is dirty work. People don’t do such things
these days. Nobody tears up dollar bills for the pleasure of tearing.”

“Nobody knows what Quarrier will do,” muttered Mortimer, who had tried
hard enough to find out when the first ominous rumours arose concerning
Amalgamated, and the first fractional declines left the street
speechless and stupefied.

O’Hara sat frowning, and fingering his glass. “As a matter of fact,” he
said, “a little cold logic shows us that Quarrier isn’t in it at all.
No sane man would ruin his own enterprise, when there is no need to.
His people are openly supporting Amalgamated and hammering Inter-County;
and, besides, there’s Ferrall in it, and Mrs. Ferrall is Quarrier’s
cousin; and there’s Belwether in it, and Quarrier is engaged to marry
Sylvia Landis, who is Belwether’s niece. It’s a scrap with Harrington’s
crowd, and the wheels inside of wheels are like Chinese boxes. Who knows
what it means? Only it’s plain that Amalgamated is safe, if Quarrier
wants it to be. And unless he does he’s crazy.”

Mortimer puffed stolidly at his cigar until the smoke got into his eyes
and inflamed them. He sat for a while, wiping his puffy eyelids with his
handkerchief; then, squinting sideways at Plank, and seeing him still
occupied with Fleetwood, turned bluntly on O’Hara:

“See here: what do you mean by being nasty to Plank?” he growled. “I’m
backing him. Do you understand?”

“It is curious,” mused O’Hara coolly, “how much of a cad a fairly decent
man can be when he’s out of temper!”

“You mean Plank, or me?” demanded Mortimer, darkening angrily.

“No; I mean myself. I’m not that way usually. I took him for a bounder,
and he’s caught me with the goods on. I’ve been thinking that the men
who bother with such questions are usually open to suspicion themselves.
Watch me do the civil, now. I’m ashamed of myself.”

“Wait a moment. Will you be civil enough to do something for him at the
Patroons? That will mean something.”

“Is he up? Yes, I will;” and, turning in his chair, he said to Plank:
“Awfully sorry I acted like a bounder just now, after having accepted
your hospitality at the Fells. I did mean to be offensive, and I’m sorry
for that, too. Hope you’ll overlook it, and be friendly.”

Plank’s face took on the dark-red hue of embarrassment; he looked
questioningly at Mortimer, whose visage remained non-committal, then
directly at O’Hara.

“I should be very glad to be friends with you,” he said with an
ingenuous dignity that surprised Mortimer. It was only the native
simplicity of the man, veneered and polished by constant contact
with Mrs. Mortimer, and now showing to advantage in the grain. And
it gratified Mortimer, because he saw that it was going to make many
matters much easier for himself and his protégé.

The tall glasses were filled and drained again before they departed to
the cold plunge and dressing-rooms above, whence presently they emerged
in street garb to drive down town and lunch together at the Lenox Club,
Plank as Fleetwood’s guest.

Mortimer, very heavy and inert after luncheon, wedged himself into a
great stuffed arm-chair by the window, where he alternately nodded over
his coffee and wheezed in his breathing, and leered out at Fifth Avenue
from half-closed, puffy eyes. And there he was due to sit, sodden and
replete, until the fashionable equipages began to flash past. He’d
probably see his wife driving with Mrs. Ferrall or with Miss Caithness,
or perhaps with some doddering caryatid of the social structure; and
he’d sit there, leering with gummy eyes out of the club windows, while
servants in silent processional replenished his glass from time to time,
until in the early night the trim little shopgirls flocked out into
the highways in gossiping, fluttering coveys, trotting away across
the illuminated asphalt, north and south to their thousand dingy
destinations. And after they had gone he would probably arouse himself
to read the evening paper, or perhaps gossip with Major Belwether and
other white-haired familiars, or perhaps doze until it was time to
summon a cab and go home to dress.

That afternoon, however, having O’Hara and Fleetwood to give him
countenance, he managed to arouse himself long enough to make Plank
known personally to several of the governors of the club and to a dozen
members, then left him to his fate. Whence, presently, Fleetwood
and O’Hara extracted him--fate at that moment being personified by a
garrulous old gentleman, one Peter Caithness, who divided with Major
Belwether the distinction of being the club bore--and together they
piloted him to the billiard room, where he beat them handily for a
dollar a point at everything they suggested.

“You play almost as pretty a game as Stephen Siward used to play,” said
O’Hara cordially. “You’ve something of his cue movement--something of
his infernal facility and touch. Hasn’t he, Fleetwood?”

“I wish Siward were back here,” said Fleetwood thoughtfully, returning
his cue to his own rack. “I wonder what he does with himself--where he
keeps himself all the while? What the devil is there for a man to do, if
he doesn’t do anything? He’s not going out anywhere since his mother’s
death; he has no clubs to go to, I understand. What does he do--go to
his office and come back, and sit in that shabby old brick house all day
and blink at the bum portraits of his bum and distinguished ancestors?
Do you know what he does with himself?” to O’Hara.

“I don’t even know where he lives,” observed O’Hara, resuming his coat.
“He’s given up his rooms, I understand.”

“What? Don’t know the old Siward house?”

“Oh! does he live there now? Of course; I forgot about his mother. He
had apartments last year, you remember. He gave dinners--corkers they
were. I went to one--like that last one you gave.”

“I wish I’d never given it,” said Fleetwood gloomily. “If I hadn’t, he’d
be a member here still. … What do you suppose induced him to take that
little gin-drinking cat to the Patroons? Why, man, it wasn’t even an
undergraduate’s trick! it was the act of a lunatic.”

For a while they talked of Siward, and of his unfortunate story and the
pity of it; and when the two men ceased,

“Do you know,” said Plank mildly, “I don’t believe he ever did it.”

O’Hara looked up surprised, then shrugged. “Unfortunately he doesn’t
deny it, you see.”

“I heard,” said Fleetwood, lighting a cigarette, “that he did deny it;
that he said, no matter what his condition was, he couldn’t have done
it. If he had been sober, the governors would have been bound to take
his word of honour. But he couldn’t give that, you see. And after they
pointed out to him that he had been in no condition to know exactly what
he did do, he shut up. … And they dropped him; and he’s falling yet.”

“I don’t believe that sort of a man ever would do that sort of thing,”
 repeated Plank obstinately, his Delft-blue eyes partly closing, so that
all the Dutch shrewdness and stubbornness in his face disturbed its
highly coloured placidity. And he walked away toward the wash-room to
cleanse his ponderous pink hands of chalk-dust.

“That’s what’s the matter with Plank,” observed O’Hara to Fleetwood as
Plank disappeared. “It isn’t that he’s a bounder; but he doesn’t know
things; he doesn’t know enough, for instance, to wait until he’s a
member of a club before he criticises the judgment of its governors. Yet
you can’t help tolerating the fellow. I think I’ll write a letter for
him, or put down my name. What do you think?”

“It would be all right,” said Fleetwood. “He’ll need all the support he
can get, with Leroy Mortimer as his sponsor. … Wasn’t Mortimer rather
nasty about Siward though, in his rôle of the alcoholic prophet? Whew!”

“Siward never had any use for Mortimer,” observed O’Hara.

“I’ll bet you never heard him say so,” returned Fleetwood. “You know
Stephen Siward’s way; he never said anything unpleasant about any man.
I wish I didn’t either, but I do. So do you. So do most men. … Lord!
I wish Siward were back here. He was a good deal of a man, after all,
Tom.”

They were unconsciously using the past tense in discussing Siward, as
though he were dead, either physically or socially.

“In one way he was always a singularly decent man,” mused O’Hara,
walking toward the great marble vestibule and buttoning his overcoat.

“How exactly do you mean?”

“Oh, about women.”

“I believe it, too. If he did take that Vyse girl into the Patroons, it
was his limit with her--and, I believe his limit with any woman. He was
absurdly decent that way; he was indeed. And now look at the reputation
he has! Isn’t it funny? isn’t it, now?”

“What sort of an effect do you suppose all this business is going to
have on Siward?”

“It’s had one effect already,” replied Fleetwood, as Plank came up,
ready for the street. “Ferrall says he looks sick, and Belwether says
he’s going to the devil; but that’s the sort of thing the major is
likely to say. By the way, wasn’t there something between that pretty
Landis girl and Siward? Somebody--some damned gossiping somebody--talked
about it somewhere, recently.”

“I don’t believe that, either,” said Plank, in his heavy, measured,
passionless voice, as they descended the steps of the white portico and
looked around for a cab.

“As for me, I’ve got to hustle,” observed O’Hara, glancing at his watch.
“I’m due to shine at a function about five. Are you coming up-town
either of you fellows? I’ll give you a lift as far as Seventy-second
Street, Plank.”

“Tell you what we’ll do,” said Fleetwood, impulsively, turning to Plank:
“We’ll drive down town, you and I, and we’ll look up poor old Siward!
Shall we? He’s probably all alone in that God-forsaken red brick family
tomb! Shall we? How about it, Plank?”

O’Hara turned impatiently on his heel with a gesture of adieu, climbed
into his electric hansom, and went buzzing away up the avenue.

“I’d like to, but I don’t think I know Mr. Siward well enough to do
that,” said Plank diffidently. He hesitated, colouring up. “He might
misunderstand my going with you--as a liberty--which perhaps I might not
have ventured on had he been less--less unfortunate.”

Again Fleetwood warmed toward the ruddy, ponderous young man beside him.
“See here,” he said, “you are going as a friend of mine--if you care to
look at it that way.”

“Thank you,” said Plank; “I should be very glad to go in that way.”

The Siward house was old only in the comparative Manhattan meaning of
the word; for in New York nothing is really very old, except the faces
of the young men.

Decades ago it had been considered a big house, and it was still so
spoken of--a solid, dingy, red brick structure, cubical in proportions,
surmounted by heavy chimneys, the depth of its sunken windows hinting
of the thickness of wall and foundation. Window-curtains of obsolete
pattern, all alike, and all drawn, masked the blank panes. Three massive
wistaria-vines, the gnarled stems as thick as tree-trunks, crawled
upward to the roof, dividing the façade equally, and furnishing some
relief to its flatness, otherwise unbroken except by the deep reveals
of window and door. Two huge and unsymmetrical catalpa trees stood
sentinels before it, dividing curb from asphalt; and from the centres of
the shrivelled, brown grass-plots flanking the stoop under the basement
windows two aged Rose-of-Sharon trees bristled naked to the height of
the white marble capitals of the flaking pillars supporting the stained
portico.

An old New York house, in the New York sense. Old in another sense,
too, where in a rapid land Time outstrips itself, painting, with the
antiquity of centuries, the stone and mortar which were new scarce ten
years since.

“Nice old family mausoleum,” commented Fleetwood, descending from the
hansom, followed by Plank. The latter instinctively mounted the stoop on
tiptoe, treading gingerly as one who ventures into precincts unknown but
long respected; and as Fleetwood pulled the old-fashioned bell, Plank
stole a glance over the façade, where wisps of straw trailed from
sparrows’ nests, undisturbed, wedged between plinth and pillar; where,
behind the lace pane-screens, shadowy edges of heavy curtains framed
the obscurity; where the paint had blistered and peeled from the iron
railings, and the marble pillars of the portico glimmered, scarred by
frosts of winters long forgotten.

“Cheerful monument,” repeated Fleetwood with a sarcastic nod. Then
the door was opened by a very old man wearing the black “swallow-tail”
 clothes and choker of an old-time butler, spotless, quite immaculate,
but cut after a fashion no young man remembers.

“Good evening,” said Fleetwood, entering, followed on tiptoe by Plank.

“Good evening, sir.” … A pause; and in the unsteady voice of age: “Mr.
Fleetwood, sir. … Mr.--.” A bow, and the dim eyes peering up at Plank,
who stood fumbling for his card-case.

Fleetwood dropped both cards on the salver unsteadily extended. The
butler ushered them into a dim room on the right.

“How is Mr. Siward?” asked Fleetwood, pausing on the threshold and
dropping his voice.

The old man hesitated, looking down, then still looking away from
Fleetwood: “Bravely, sir, bravely, Mr. Fleetwood.”

“The Siwards were always that,” said the young man gently.

“Yes, sir. … Thank you. Mr. Stephen--Mr. Siward,” he corrected,
quaintly, “is indisposed, sir. It was a--a great shock to us all, sir!”
 He bowed and turned away, holding his salver stiffly; and they heard him
muttering under his breath, “Bravely, sir, bravely. A--a great shock,
sir! … Thank you.”

Fleetwood turned to Plank, who stood silent, staring through the fading
light at the faded household gods of the house of Siward. The dim light
touched the prisms of a crystal chandelier dulled by age, and edged the
carved foliations of the marble mantel, above which loomed a tarnished
mirror reflecting darkness. Fleetwood rose, drew a window-shade higher,
and nodded toward several pictures; and Plank moved slowly from one to
another, peering up at the dead Siwards in their crackled varnish.

“This is the real thing,” observed Fleetwood cynically, “all this Fourth
Avenue antique business; dingy, cumbersome, depressing. Good God! I see
myself standing it. … Look at that old grinny-bags in a pig-tail over
there! To the cellar for his, if this were my house. … We’ve got some,
too, in several rooms, and I never go into ‘em. They’re like a scene
in a bum play, or like one of those Washington Square rat-holes, where
artists eat Welsh-rabbits with dirty fingers. Ugh!”

“I like it,” said Plank, under his breath.

Fleetwood stared, then shrugged, and returned to the window to watch a
brand-new French motor-car drawn up before a modern mansion across the
avenue.

The butler returned presently, saying that Mr. Siward was at home and
would receive them in the library above, as he was not yet able to pass
up and down stairs.

“I didn’t know he was as ill as that,” muttered Fleetwood, as he and
Plank followed the old man up the creaking stairway. But Gumble, the
butler, said nothing in reply.

Siward was sitting in an arm-chair by the window, one leg extended, his
left foot, stiffly cased in bandages, resting on a footstool.

“Why, Stephen!” exclaimed Fleetwood, hastening forward, “I didn’t know
you were laid up like this!”

Siward offered his hand inquiringly; then his eyes turned toward Plank,
who stood behind Fleetwood; and, slowly disengaging his hand from
Fleetwood’s sympathetic grip, he offered it to Plank.

“It is very kind of you,” he said. “Gumble, Mr. Fleetwood prefers rye,
for some inscrutable reason. Mr. Plank?” His smile was a question.

“If you don’t mind,” said Plank, “I should like to have some tea--that
is, if--”

“Tea, Gumble, for two. We’ll tipple in company, Mr. Plank,” he added.
“And the cigars are at your elbow, Billy,” with another smile at
Fleetwood.

“Now,” said the latter, after he had lighted his cigar, “what is the
matter, Stephen?”

Siward glanced at his stiffly extended foot. “Nothing much.” He reddened
faintly, “I slipped. It’s only a twisted ankle.”

For a moment or two the answer satisfied Fleetwood, then a sudden,
curious flash of suspicion came into his eyes; he glanced sharply at
Siward, who lowered his eyes, while the red tint in his hollow cheeks
deepened.

Neither spoke for a while. Plank sipped the tea which Wands, the second
man, brought. Siward brooded over his cup, head bent. Fleetwood made
more noise than necessary with his ice.

“I miss you like hell!” said Fleetwood musingly, measuring out the
old rye from the quaint decanter. “Why did you drop the Saddle Club,
Stephen?”

“I’m not riding; I have no use for it,” replied Siward.

“You’ve cut out the Proscenium Club, too, and the Owl’s Head, and the
Trophy. It’s a shame, Stephen.”

“I’m tired of clubs.”

“Don’t talk that way.”

“Very well, I won’t,” said Siward, smiling. “Tell me what is
happening--out there,” he made a gesture toward the window; “all the
gossip the newspapers miss. I’ve talked Dr. Grisby to death; I’ve talked
Gumble to death; I’ve read myself stupid. What’s going on, Billy?”

So Fleetwood sketched for him a gay cartoon of events, caricaturing
various episodes in the social kaleidoscope which might interest him.
He gossiped cynically, but without malice, about people they both knew,
about engagements, marriages, and divorces, plans and ambitions; about
those absent from the metropolis and the newcomers to be welcomed.
He commented briefly on the opera, reviewed the newer plays at the
theatres, touched on the now dormant gaiety which had made the season at
nearby country clubs conspicuous; then drifted into the hunting field,
gossiping pleasantly in the vernacular about horses and packs and
drag-hunts and stables, and what people thought of the new English
hounds of the trial pack, and how the new M. F. H., Maitland Gray, had
managed to break so many bones at Southbury.

Politics were touched upon, and they spoke of the possibility of
Ferrall going to the Assembly, the sport of boss-baiting having become
fashionable among amateurs, and providing a new amusement for the idle
rich.

So city, State, and national issues were run through lightly, business
conditions noticed, the stock market speculated upon; and presently
conversation died out, with a yawn from Fleetwood as he looked into his
empty glass at the last bit of ice.

“Don’t do that, Billy,” smiled Siward. “You haven’t discoursed upon art,
literature, and science yet, and you can’t go until you’ve adjusted the
affairs of the nation for the next twenty-four hours.”

“Art?” yawned Fleetwood. “Oh, pictures? Don’t like ‘em. Nobody ever
looks at ‘em except débutantes, who do it out of deviltry, to floor a
man at a dinner or a dance.”

“How about literature?” inquired Siward gravely. “Anything doing?”

“Nothing in it,” replied Fleetwood more gravely still. “It’s another
feminine bluff--like all that music talk they hand you after the opera.”

“I see. And science?”

“Spider Flynn is matched to meet Kid Holloway; is that what you mean,
Stephen? Somebody tumbled out of an air-ship the other day; is that what
you mean? And they’re selling scientific jewelry on Broadway at a dollar
a quart; is that what you want to know?”

Siward rested his head on his hand with a smile. “Yes, that’s about
what I wanted to know, Billy--all about the arts and sciences. … Much
obliged. You needn’t stay any longer, if you don’t want to.”

“How soon will you be out?” inquired Fleetwood.

“Out? I don’t know. I shall try to drive to the office to-morrow.”

“Why the devil did you resign from all your clubs? How can I see you
if I don’t come here?” began Fleetwood impatiently. “I know, of course,
that you’re not going anywhere, but a man always goes to his club. You
don’t look well, Stephen. You are too much alone.”

Siward did not answer. His face and body had certainly grown thinner
since Fleetwood had last seen him. Plank, too, had been shocked at the
change in him--the dark, hard lines under the eyes; the pallor, the
curious immobility of the man, save for his fingers, which were always
restless, now moving in search of some small object to worry and turn
over and over, now nervously settling into a grasp on the arm of his
chair.

“How is Amalgamated Electric?” asked Fleetwood, abruptly.

“I think it’s all right. Want to buy some?” replied Siward, smiling.

Plank stirred in his chair ponderously. “Somebody is kicking it to
pieces,” he said.

“Somebody is trying to,” smiled Siward.

“Harrington,” nodded Fleetwood. Siward nodded back. Plank was silent.

“Of course,” continued Fleetwood, tentatively, “you people need not
worry, with Howard Quarrier back of you.”

Nobody said anything for a while. Presently Siward’s restless hands,
moving in search of something, encountered a pencil lying on the table
beside him, and he picked it up and began drawing initials and scrolls
on the margin of a newspaper; and all the scrolls framed initials,
and all the initials were the same, twining and twisting into endless
variations of the letters S. L.

“Yes, I must go to the office to-morrow,” he repeated absently. “I am
better--in fact I am quite well, except for this sprain.” He looked down
at his bandaged foot, then his pencil moved listlessly again, continuing
the endless variations on the two letters. It was plain that he was
tired.

Fleetwood rose and made his adieux almost affectionately. Plank moved
forward on tiptoe, bulky and noiseless; and Siward held out his hand,
saying something amiably formal.

“Would you like to have me come again?” asked Plank, red with
embarrassment, yet so naively that at first Siward found no words to
answer him; then--

“Would you care to come, Mr. Plank?”

“Yes.”

Siward looked at him curiously, almost cautiously. His first impressions
of the man had been summed up in one contemptuous word. Besides, barring
that, what was there in common between himself and such a type as Plank?
He had not even troubled himself to avoid him at Shotover; he had merely
been aware of him when Plank spoke to him; never otherwise, except that
afternoon beside the swimming pool, when he had made one of his rare
criticisms on Plank.

Perhaps Plank had changed, perhaps Siward had; for he found nothing
offensive in the bulky young man now--nothing particularly attractive,
either, except for a certain simplicity, a certain direct candour in the
heavy blue eyes which met his squarely.

“Come in for a cigar when you have a few moments idle,” said Siward
slowly.

“It will give me great pleasure,” said Plank, bowing.

And that was all. He followed Fleetwood down the stairs; Wands held
their coats, and bowed them out into the falling shadows of the winter
twilight.

Siward, sitting beside his window, watched them enter their hansom and
drive away up the avenue. A dull flush had settled over his cheeks; the
aroma of spirits hung in the air, and he looked across the room at the
decanter. Presently he drank some of his tea, but it was lukewarm, and
he pushed the cup from him.

The clatter of the cup brought the old butler, who toddled hither
and thither, removing trays, pulling chairs into place, fussing and
pattering about, until a maid came in noiselessly, bearing a lamp. She
pulled down the shades, drew the sad-coloured curtains, went to the
mantelpiece and peered at the clock, then brought a wineglass and a
spoon to Siward, and measured the dose in silence. He swallowed
it, shrugged, permitted her to change the position of his chair and
footstool, and nodded thanks and dismissal.

“Gumble, are you there?” he asked carelessly.

The butler entered from the hallway. “Yes, sir.”

“You may leave that decanter.”

But the old servant may have misunderstood, for he only bowed and
ambled off downstairs with the decanter, either heedless or deaf to his
master’s sharp order to return.

For a while Siward sat there, eyes fixed, scowling into vacancy; then
the old, listless, careworn expression returned; he rested one elbow
on the window-sill, his worn cheek on his hand, and with the other hand
fell to weaving initials with his pencil on the margin of the newspaper
lying on the table beside him.

Lamplight brought out sharply the physical change in him--the angular
shadows flat under the cheek-bones, the hard, slightly swollen flesh
in the bluish shadows around the eyes. The mark of the master-vice was
there; its stamp in the swollen, worn-out hollows; its imprint in the
fine lines at the corners of his mouth; its sign manual in the faintest
relaxation of the under lip, which had not yet become a looseness.

For the last of the Siwards had at last stepped into the highway which
his doomed forebears had travelled before him.

“Gumble!” he called irritably.

A quavering voice, an unsteady step, and the old man entered again. “Mr.
Stephen, sir?”

“Bring that decanter back. Didn’t you hear me tell you just now?”

“Sir?”

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“Yes, Mr. Stephen, sir.”

There was a silence.

“Gumble!”

“Sir?”

“Are you going to bring that decanter?”

The old butler bowed, and ambled from the room, and for a long while
Siward sat sullenly listening and scoring the edges of the paper with
his trembling pencil. Then the lead broke short, and he flung it from
him and pulled the bell. Wands came this time, a lank, sandy, silent
man, grown gray as a rat in the service of the Siwards. He received his
master’s orders, and withdrew; and again Siward waited, biting his under
lip and tearing bits from the edges of the newspaper with fingers never
still; but nobody came with the decanter, and after a while his tense
muscles relaxed; something in his very soul seemed to snap, and he sank
back in his chair, the hot tears blinding him.

He had got as far as that; moments of self-pity were becoming almost as
frequent as scorching intervals of self-contempt.

So they all knew what was the matter with him--they all knew--the
doctor, the servants, his friends. Had he not surprised the quick
suspicion in Fleetwood’s glance, when he told him he had slipped, and
sprained his ankle? What if he had been drunk when he fell--fell on his
own doorsteps, carried into the old Siward house by old Siward servants,
drunk as his forefathers? It was none of Fleetwood’s business. It was
none of the servants’ business. It was nobody’s business except his own.
Who the devil were all these people, to pry into his affairs and doctor
him and dose him and form secret leagues to disobey him, and hide
decanters from him? Why should anybody have the impertinence to meddle
with him? Of what concern to them were his vices or his virtues?

The tears dried in his hot eyes; he jerked the old-fashioned bell
savagely; and after a long while he heard servants whispering together
in the passageway outside his door.

He lay very still in his chair; his hearing had become abnormally
acute, but he could not make out what they were saying; and as the dull,
intestinal aching grew sharper, parching, searing every strained muscle
in throat and chest, he struck the table beside him, and clenched his
teeth in the fierce rush of agony that swept him from head to foot,
crying out an inarticulate menace on his household. And Dr. Grisby came
into the room from the outer shadows of the hall.

He was very small, very meagre, very bald, and clean-shaven, with a face
like a nut-cracker; and the brown wig he wore was atrocious, and curled
forward over his colourless ears. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles,
each glass divided into two lenses; and he stood on tiptoe to look out
through the upper lenses on the world, and always bent almost double to
use the lower or reading lenses.

Besides that, he affected frilled shirts, and string ties, which nobody
had ever seen snugly tied. His loose string tie was the first thing
Siward could remember about the doctor; and that the doctor had
permitted him to pull it when he had the measles, at the age of six.

“What’s all this racket?” said the little old doctor harshly. “Got
colic? Got the toothache? I’m ashamed of you, Stephen, cutting capers
and pounding the furniture! Look up! Look at me! Out with your tongue!
Well, now, what the devil’s the trouble?”

“You--know,” muttered Siward, abandoning his wrist to the little man,
who seated himself beside him. Dr. Grisby scarcely noted the pulse; the
delicate pressure had become a strong caress.

“Know what?” he grunted. “How do I know what’s the matter with you? Hey?
Now, now, don’t try to explain, Steve; don’t fly off the handle! All
right; grant that I do know what’s bothering you; I want to see that
ankle first. Here, somebody! Light that gas. Why the mischief don’t
you have the house wired for electricity, Stephen? It’s wholesome.
Gas isn’t. Lamps are worse, sir. Do as I tell you!” And he went on
loquaciously, grumbling and muttering, and never ceasing his talk, while
Siward, wincing as the dressing was removed, lay back and closed his
eyes.

Half an hour later Gumble appeared, to announce dinner.

“I don’t want any,” said Siward.

“Eat!” said Dr. Grisby harshly.

“I--don’t care to.”

“Eat, I tell you! Do you think I don’t mean what I say?”

So he ate his broth and toast, the doctor curtly declining to join him.
He ate hurriedly, closing his eyes in aversion. Even the iced tea was
flat and distasteful to him.

And at last he lay back, white and unstrung, the momentarily deadened
desperation glimmering under his half-closed eyes. And for a long while
Dr. Grisby sat, doubled almost in two, cuddling his bony little knees
and studying the patterns in the faded carpet.

“I guess you’d better go, Stephen,” he said at length.

“Up the river--to Mulqueen’s?”

“Yes. Let’s try it, Steve. You’ll be on your feet in two weeks. Then
you’d better go--up the river--to Mulqueen’s.”

“I--I’ll go, if you say so. But I can’t go now.”

“I didn’t say go now. I said in two weeks.”

“Perhaps.”

“Will you give me your word?” demanded the doctor sharply.

“No, doctor.”

“Why not?”

“Because I may have to be here on business. There seems to be some sort
of crisis coming which I don’t understand.”

“There’s a crisis right here, Steve, which I understand!” snapped Dr.
Grisby. “Face it like a man! Face it like a man! You’re sick--to your
bones, boy--sick! sick! Fight the fight, Steve! Fight a good fight.
There’s a fighting chance; on my soul of honour, there is, Steve, a
fighting chance for you! Now! now, boy! Buckle up tight! Tuck up your
sword-sleeve! At ‘em, Steve! Give ‘em hell! Oh, my boy, my boy, I know;
I know!” The little man’s voice broke, but he steadied it instantly with
a snap of his nut-cracker jaws, and scowled on his patient and shook his
little withered fist at him.

His patient lay very still in the shadow.

“I want you to go,” said the doctor harshly, “before your self-control
goes. Do you understand? I want you to go before your decision is
undermined; before you begin to do devious things, sly things, cheating
things, slinking things--anything and everything to get at the thing
you crave. I’ve given you something to fight with, and you won’t take it
faithfully. I’ve given you free rein in tobacco and tea and coffee. I’ve
helped you as much as I dare to weather the nights. Now, you help me--do
you hear?”

“Yes … I will.”

“You say so; now do it. Do something for yourself. Do anything! If
you’re sick of reading--and I don’t blame you, considering the stuff
you read--get people down here to see you; get lots of people. Telephone
‘em; you’ve a telephone there, haven’t you? There it is, by your elbow.
Use it! Call up people. Talk all the time.”

“Yes, I will.”

“Good! Now, Steve, we know what’s the matter, physically, don’t we? Of
course we do! Now, then, what’s the matter mentally?”

“Mentally?” repeated Siward under his breath.

“Yes, mentally. What’s the trouble? Stocks? Bonds? Lawsuits? Love?” the
slightest pause, and a narrowing of the gimlet eyes behind the lenses.
“Love?” he repeated harshly. “Which is it, boy? They’re all good to let
alone.”

“Business,” said Siward. But, being a Siward, he was obliged to add
“partly.”

“Business--partly,” repeated the doctor. “What’s the matter with
business--partly?”

“I don’t know. There are rumours. Hetherington is pounding
us--apparently. That Inter-County crowd is acting ominously, too.
There’s something underhand, somewhere.” He bent his head and fell to
plucking at the faded brocade on the arm of his chair, muttering to
himself, “somewhere, somehow, something underhand. I don’t know what; I
really don’t.”

“All right--all right,” said the doctor testily; “let it go at that!
There’s treachery, eh? You suspect it? You’re sure of it--as reasonably
sure as a gentleman can be of something he is not fashioned to
understand? That’s it, is it? All right, sir--all right! Very
well--ver-y well. Now, sir, look at me! Business symptoms admitted, what
about the ‘partly,’ Stephen?--what about it, eh? What about it?”

But Siward fell silent again.

“Eh? Did you say something? No? Oh, very well, ver-y well, sir. …
Perfectly correct, Stephen. You have not earned the right to admit
further symptoms. No, sir, you have not earned the right to admit them
to anybody, not even to yourself. Nor to--her!”

“Doctor!”

“Sir?”

“I have--admitted them.”

“To yourself, Steve? I’m sorry. You have no right to--yet. I’m sorry--”

“I have admitted them--admitted them--to her.”

“That settles it,” said the doctor grimly, “that clinches it! That locks
you to the wheel! That pledges you. The squabble is on, now. It’s your
honour that’s engaged now, not your nerves, not your intestines. It’s
a good fight--a very good fight, with no chance of losing anything but
life. You go up the river to Mulqueen’s. That’s the strategy in this
campaign; that’s excellent manoeuvring; that’s good generalship! Eh?
Mask your purpose, Steve; make a feint of camping out here under my
guns; then suddenly fling your entire force up the Hudson and fortify
yourself at Mulqueen’s! Ho, that’ll fix ‘em! That’s going to astonish
the enemy!”

His harsh, dry, crackling laughter broke out like the distant rattle of
musketry.

The ghost of a smile glimmered in Siward’s haunted eyes, then faded as
he leaned forward.

“She has refused me,” he said simply.

The little doctor, after an incredulous stare, began chattering
with wrath. “Refused you! Pah! Pooh! That’s nothing! That signifies
absolutely nothing! It’s meaningless! It’s a detail. You get well--do
you hear? You go and get well; then try it again! Then you’ll see! And
if she is an idiot--in the event of her irrational persistence in an
incredible and utterly indefensible attitude”--he choked up, then fairly
barked at Siward--“take her anyway, sir! Run off with her! Dominate
circumstances, sir! take charge of events! … But you can’t do it till
you’ve clapped yourself into prison for life. … And God help you if you
let yourself escape!”

And after a long while Siward said: “If I should ever marry--and--and--”

“Had children, eh? Is that it? Oh, it is, eh? Well, I say, marry! I say,
have children! If you’re a man, you’ll breed men. The chances are they
may not inherit what you have. It skips some generations--some, now and
then. But if they do, good God! I say it’s better to be born and have
a chance to fight than never to come into the arena at all! By winning
out, the world learns; by failure, the world is no less wise. The
important thing is birth. The main point is to breed--to produce--to
reproduce! but not until you stand, sword in hand, and your armed heel
on the breast of your prostrate and subconscious self!”

He jumped up and began running about the room with short little bantam
steps, talking all the while.

“People say, ‘Shall criminals be allowed to mate and produce young?
Shall malefactors be allowed to beget? No!’ And I say no, too. Never so
long as they remain criminals and malefactors; so long as the evil in
them is in the ascendant. Never, until they are cured. That’s what I
say; that’s what I maintain. Crime is a disease; criminals are sick
people. No marriage for them until they’re cured; no children for them
until they’re well. If they cure themselves, let ‘em marry; let ‘em
breed; for then, if their children inherit the inclination, they also
inherit the grit to cauterise the malady.”

He produced a huge handkerchief from the tails of his coat, and wiped
his damp features and polished his forehead so violently that his wig
took a new and jaunty angle.

“I’m talking too much,” he said fretfully; “I’m talking a great
deal--all the time--continually. I’ve other patients--several--plenty!
Do you think you’re the only man I know who’s trying to disfigure his
liver and make spots come out all over inside him? Do you?”

Siward smiled again, a worn, pallid smile.

“I can stand it while you are here, doctor, but when I’m alone
it’s--hard. One of those crises is close now. I’ve a bad night ahead--a
bad outlook. Couldn’t you--”

“No!”

“Just enough--”

“No, Stephen.”

“--Enough to dull it--just a little? I don’t ask for enough to make
me sleep--not even to make me doze. You have your needle; haven’t you,
doctor?”

“Yes.”

“Then, just this once--for the last time.”

“No.”

“Why? Are you afraid? You needn’t be, doctor. I don’t care for it except
to give me a little respite, a little rest on a night like this. I’m so
tired of this ache. If I could only have some sleep, and wake up in good
shape, I’d stand a better chance of fighting. … Wait, doctor! Just one
moment. I don’t mean to be a coward, but I’ve had a hard fight, and--I’m
tired. … If you could see your way to helping me--”

“I dare not help you any more that way.”

“Not this once?”

“Not this once.”

There was a dead silence, broken at last by the doctor with a violent
gesture toward the telephone. “Talk to the girl! Why don’t you talk to
the girl! If she’s worth a hill o’ beans she’ll help you to hang on.
What’s she for, if she isn’t for such moments? Tell her you need her
voice; tell her you need her faith in you. Damn central! Talk out in
church! Don’t make a goddess of a woman. The men who want to marry her,
and can’t, will do that! The nincompoop can always be counted on to
deify the commonplace. And she is commonplace. If she isn’t, she’s no
good! Commend me to sanity and the commonplace. I take off my hat to it!
I honour it. God bless it! Good-night!”

Siward lay still for a long while after the doctor had gone. More than
an hour had passed before he slowly sat up and groped for the telephone
book, opened it, and searched in a blind, hesitating way until he found
the number he was looking for.

He had never telephoned to her; he had never written her except once,
in reply to her letter in regard to his mother’s death--that strange,
timid, formal letter, in which, grief-stunned as he was, he saw only
the formality, and had answered it more formally still. And that was all
that had come of the days and nights by that northern sea--a letter and
its answer, and silence.

And, thinking of these things, he shut the book wearily, and lay back in
the shadow of the faded curtain, closing his sunken eyes.



CHAPTER IX CONFESSIONS

In a city in transition, where yesterday is as dead as a dead century,
where those who prepare the old year for burial are already taking the
ante-mortem statement of the new, the future fulfils the functions
of the present. Time itself is considered merely as a by-product of
horse-power, discounted with flippancy as the unavoidable friction
clogging the fly-wheel of progress.

Memory, once a fine art, is becoming a lost art in Manhattan.

His world and his city had almost ceased to think of Siward.

For a few weeks men spoke of him in the several clubs of which he had
lately been a member--spoke of him always in the past tense; and after a
little while spoke of him no more.

In that section of the social system which he had inhabited, his absence
on account of his mother’s death being taken for granted, people laid
him away in their minds almost as ceremoniously as they had laid away
the memory of his mother. Nothing halted because he was not present;
nothing was delayed, rearranged, or abandoned because his familiar
presence chanced to be missing. There remained only one more place to
fill at a cotillion, dinner, or bridge party; only another man for opera
box or week’s end; one man the more to be counted on, one more man to
be counted out--transferred to the credit of profit and loss, and the
ledger closed for the season.

They who remembered him, among those who had not yet lost that
old-fashioned art, were very few--a young girl here and there, over
whom he had been absent-mindedly sentimental; a débutante or two who had
adored him from a distance as a friend of elder sister or brother; here
and there an old, old lady to whom he had been considerate, and who
perhaps remembered something of the winning charm of the Siwards when
the town was young--his father, perhaps, perhaps his grandfather--these
thought of him at intervals; the remainder had no leisure to remember
even if they had not forgotten how to do it. Several cabmen missed him
for a while; now and then a privileged café waiter inquired about him
from gay, noisy parties entering some old haunt of his. Mr. Desmond, of
art gallery and roulette notoriety, whose business is not to forget, was
politely regretful at his absence from certain occult ceremonies which
he had at irregular intervals graced with votive offerings. And the list
ended there--almost, not quite; for there were two people who had not
forgotten Siward: Howard Quarrier and Beverly Plank; and one other, a
third, who could not yet forget him if she would--but, as yet, she had
not tried very desperately.

The day that Siward left New York to visit everybody’s friend, Mr.
Mulqueen, in the country, Plank called on him for the second time in his
life, and was presently received in the south drawing-room, the library
being limited to an informality and intimacy not for Mr. Plank.

Siward, still lame, and using unskilfully two shiny new crutches, came
down the stairs and stumped into the drawing-room, which, in spite of
the sombre, clustering curtains, was brightly illuminated by the winter
sunshine reflected from the snow in the street. Plank was shocked at the
change in him--at the ghost of a voice, listlessly formal; at the thin,
nerveless hand offered; startled, so that he forgot his shyness, and
retained the bony hand tightly in his, and instinctively laid his other
great cushion-like paw over it, holding it imprisoned, unable to speak,
unconscious, in the impulse of the moment, of the liberty he permitted
himself, and which he had never dreamed of taking with such a man as
Siward.

The effect on Siward was composite; his tired voice ceased; surprise,
inability to understand tinged with instinctive displeasure, were
succeeded by humourous curiosity; and, very slowly it became plain to
him that this beefy young man liked him, was naively concerned about
him, felt friendly toward him, and was showing it as spontaneously as a
child. Because he now understood something of how it is with a man who
is in the process of being forgotten, his perceptions were perhaps the
finer in these days, and the direct unconsciousness of Plank touched him
more heavily than the pair of heavy hands enclosing his.

“I thought I’d come,” began Plank, growing redder and redder as he began
to realise the enormity of familiarity committed only on the warrant of
impulse. “You don’t look well.”

“It was good of you to think of me,” said Siward. “Come up to the
library, if you’ve a few minutes to spare an invalid. Please go first;
I’m a trifle lame yet.”

“I--I am sorry,” muttered Plank, “very, very sorry.”

At first, in the library, Plank was awkward and silent, finding nothing
to say, and nowhere to dispose of his hands, until Siward gave him
a cigar to occupy his fingers. Even then he continued to sit
uncomfortably, his bulk balanced on a rickety, spindle-legged chair,
which he stubbornly refused to exchange for another, at Siward’s
suggestion, out of sheer embarrassment, and with a confused idea that
his refusal would somehow ultimately put him at his ease with his
surroundings.

Siward, secretly amused, rang for tea, although the hour was early.
After a little while, either the toast or the tea appeared to act on
Plank as a lingual laxative, for he began suddenly to talk, which is
characteristic of bashful men; and Siward gravely helped him on when he
floundered and turned shy. After a little, matters went very well with
them, and Plank, much more at ease than he had ever dared to hope he
could be with Siward, talked and talked; and Siward, his crutches
across his knees, lay back in his arm-chair, chatting with that winning
informality so becoming to men who are unconscious of their charm.

Watching Plank, it occurred to him gradually that this great, cumbersome
creature was not a shrewd, thrifty, self-made and self-finished adult at
all; only a big, wistful, lonely boy, without comrades and with nowhere
to play. On Plank’s round face there remained no trace of shrewdness, of
stubbornness, nothing even of the heavy, saturnine placidity of a dogged
man who waits his turn.

Plank spoke of himself after a while, sounding the personal note with
tentative timidity. Siward gravely encouraged him, and in a little
while the outlines of his crude autobiography appeared, embodying his
eventless boyhood in a Pennsylvania town; his career at the high school;
the dawning desire for college equipment, satisfied by his father, who
owned shares in the promising Deepvale Steel Plank Company; the unhappy
years at Harvard--hard years, for he learned with difficulty; solitary
years, for he was not sought by those whom he desired to know. Then he
ventured to speak of his father’s growing interest in steel; the merging
and absorbing of independent plants; his own entry upon the scene on
the death of his father; and--the rest--material fortune and prosperity,
which, perhaps, might stand substitute as a social sponsor for him;
stand, perhaps, for something of what he lacked in himself, which only
long residence amid the best, long-formed habits for the best, or a long
inheritance of the best could give. Did Siward think so? Was the best
beyond his reach? Was it hopeless for such a man as he to try? And why?

The innocent snobbery, the abashed but absolute simplicity of this
ponderous pilgrim from the smelting pits clambering upward through the
high school of the smoky town, groping laboriously through the chilly
halls of Harvard toward the outer breastworks of Manhattan, interested
Siward; and he said so in his pleasant way, without offence, and with a
smiling question at the end.

“Worth while?” repeated Plank, flushing heavily, “it is worth while to
me. I have always desired to be a part of the best that there is in my
own country; and the best is here, isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily,” said Siward, still smiling. “The noisiest is here,
and some of the best.”

“Which is the best?” inquired Plank naively.

“Why, all plain people, whose education, breeding, and fortune permit
them the luxury of thinking, and whose tastes, intelligence, and sanity
enable them to express their thoughts. There are such people here, and
some of them form a portion of the gaudier and noisier galaxy we call
society.”

“That is what I wish to be part of,” said Plank. “Could you tell me what
are the requirements?”

“I don’t believe I could, exactly,” said Siward, amused. “With us, the
social system, as an established and finished system, has too recently
been evolved from outer chaos to be characteristic of anything except
the crudity and energy of the chaos from which it emerged. The
balance between wealth, intelligence, and breeding has not yet been
established--not from lack of wealth or intelligence. The formula has
not been announced, that is all.”

“What is the formula?” insisted Plank.

“The formula is the receipt for a real society,” replied Siward,
laughing. “At present we have its uncombined ingredients in the
raw--noisy wealth and flippant fashion, arrogant intelligence and
dowdy breeding--all excellent materials, when filtered and fused in the
retort; and many of our test tubes have already precipitated pure metal
besides, and our national laboratory is turning out fine alloys. Some
day we’ll understand the formula, and we’ll weld the entire mass; and
that will be society, Mr. Plank.”

“In the meanwhile,” repeated Plank, unsmiling, “I want to be part of
the best we have. I want to be part of the brightness of things. I mean,
that I cannot be contented with an imitation.”

“An imitation?”

“Of the best--of what you say is not yet society. I ask no more than
your footing among the people of this city. I wish to be able to go
where such men as you go; be permitted, asked, desired to be part of
what you always have been part of. Is it a great deal I ask? Tell me,
Mr. Siward--for I don’t know--is it too much to expect?”

“I don’t think it is a very high ambition,” said Siward, smiling. “What
you ask is not very much to ask of life, Mr. Plank.”

“But is there any reason why I may not hope to go where I wish to go?”

“I think it depends upon yourself,” said Siward, “upon your capacity for
being, or for making people believe you to be exactly what they require.
You ask me whether you may be able to go where you desire; and I answer
you that there is no limit to any journey except the sprinting ability
of the pilgrim.”

Plank laughed a little, and his squared jaws relaxed; then, after a few
moments’ thought:

“It is curious that what you cast away from you so easily, I am waiting
for with all the patience I have in me. And yet it is always yours to
pick up again whenever you wish; and I may never live to possess it.”

He was so perfectly right that Siward said nothing; in fact, he could
have no particular interest or sympathy for a man’s quest of what
he himself did not understand the lack of. Those born without a tag
unmistakably ticketing them and their positions in the world were
perforce ticketed. Siward took it for granted that a man belonged where
he was to be met; and all he cared about was to find him civil, whether
he happened to be a policeman or a master of fox-hounds.

He was, now that he knew Plank, contented to accept him anywhere he met
him; but Plank’s upward evolutions upon the social ladder were of no
interest to him, and his naïve snobbery was becoming something of a
bore.

So Siward directed the conversation into other channels, and Plank,
accepting another cup of tea, became very communicative about his
stables and his dogs, and the preservation of game; and after a while,
looking up confidently at Siward, he said:

“Do you think it beastly to drive pheasants the way I did at Black
Fells? I have heard that you were disgusted.”

“It isn’t my idea of a square deal,” said Siward frankly.

“That settles it, then.”

“But you should not let me interfere with--”

“I’ll take your opinion, and thank you for it. It didn’t seem to me to
be the thing; only it’s done over here, you know. The De Coursay’s and
the--”

“Yes, I know. … Glad you feel that way about it, Plank. It’s pretty
rotten sportsmanship. Don’t you think so?”

“I do. I--would you--I should like to ask you to try some square
shooting at the Fells,” stammered Plank, “next season, if you would care
to.”

“You’re very good. I should like to, if I were going to shoot at all;
but I fancy my shooting days are over, for a while.”

“Over!”

“Business,” nodded Siward, absently grave again. “I see no prospect of
my idling for the next year or two.”

“You are in--in Amalgamated Electric, I think,” ventured Plank.

“Very much in,” replied the other frankly. “You’ve read the papers and
heard rumours, I suppose?”

“Some. I don’t suppose anybody quite understands the attacks on
Amalgamated.”

“I don’t--not yet. Do you?”

Plank sat silent, then his shrewd under lip began to protrude.

“I’m wondering,” he began cautiously, “how much the Algonquin crowd
understands about the matter?”

Siward’s troubled eyes were on him as he spoke, watching closely,
narrowly.

“I’ve heard that rumour before,” he said.

“So have I,” said Plank, “and it seems incredible.” He looked warily
at Siward. “Suppose it is true that the Algonquin Trust Company is
godfather to Inter-County. That doesn’t explain why a man should kick
his own door down when there’s a bell to ring and servants to let him
in--and out again, too.”

“I have wondered,” said Siward, “whether the door he might be inclined
to kick down is really his own door any longer.”

“I, too,” said Plank simply. “It may belong to a personal enemy--if he
has any. He could afford to have an enemy, I suppose.”

Siward nodded.

“Then, hadn’t you better--I beg your pardon! You have not asked me to
advise you.”

“No. I may ask your advice some day. Will you give it when I do?”

“With pleasure,” said Plank, so warmly disinterested, so plainly proud
and eager to do a service that Siward, surprised and touched, found no
word to utter.

Plank rose. Siward attempted to stand up, but had trouble with his
crutches.

“Please don’t try,” said Plank, coming over and offering his hand. “May
I stop in again soon? Oh, you are off to the country for a month or two?
I see. … You don’t look very well. I hope it will benefit you. Awfully
glad to have seen you. I--I hope you won’t forget me--entirely.”

“I am the man people are forgetting,” returned Siward, “not you. It was
very nice of you to come. You are one of very few who remember me at
all.”

“I have very few people to remember,” said Plank; “and if I had as many
as I could desire I should remember you first.”

Here he became very much embarrassed. Siward offered his hand again.
Plank shook it awkwardly, and went away on tiptoe down the stairs which
creaked decorously under his weight.

And that ended the first interview between Plank and Siward in the first
days of the latter’s decline.

The months that passed during Siward’s absence from the city began to
prove rather eventful for Plank. He was finally elected a member of the
Patroons Club, without serious opposition; he had dined twice with
the Kemp Ferralls; he and Major Belwether were seen together at
the Caithness dance, and in the Caithness box at the opera. Once a
respectable newspaper reported him at Tuxedo for the week’s end; his
name, linked with the clergy, frequently occupied such space under the
column headed “Ecclesiastical News” as was devoted to the progress of
the new chapel, and many old ladies began to become familiar with his
name.

At the right moment the Mortimers featured him between two fashionable
bishops at a dinner. Mrs. Vendenning, who adored bishops, immediately
remembered him among those asked to her famous annual bal poudré; a
celebrated yacht club admitted him to membership; a whole shoal of
excellent minor clubs which really needed new members followed suit, and
even the rock-ribbed Lenox, wearied of its own time-honoured immobility,
displayed the preliminary fidgets which boded well for the stolid
candidate. The Mountain was preparing to take the first stiff step
toward Mohammed. It was the prophet’s cue to sit tight and yawn
occasionally.

Meanwhile he didn’t want to; he was becoming anxious to do things for
himself, which Leila Mortimer, of course, would not permit. It was
difficult for him to understand that any effort of his own would
probably be disastrous; that progress could come only through his
own receptive passivity; that nothing was demanded, nothing required,
nothing permitted from him as yet, save a capacity for assimilating such
opportunities as sections of the social system condescended to offer.

For instance, he wanted to open his art gallery to the public; he said
it was good strategy; and Mrs. Mortimer sat upon the suggestion with
a shrug of her pretty shoulders. Well, then, couldn’t he possibly do
something with his great, gilded ball-room? No, he couldn’t; and the
less in evidence his galleries and his ball-rooms were at present the
better his chances with people who, perfectly aware that he possessed
them, were very slowly learning to overlook the insolence of the
accident that permitted him to possess what they had never known the
want of. First of all people must tire of repeating to each other that
he was nobody, and that would happen when they wearied of explaining to
one another why he was ever asked anywhere. There was time enough for
him to offer amusement to people after they had ceased to find amusement
in snubbing him; plenty of time in the future for them to lash him to
a gallop for their pleasure. In the meanwhile he was doing very well,
because he began to appear regularly in the Caithness-Bonnesdel box, and
old Peter Caithness was already boring him at the Patroons; which meant
that the thrifty old gentleman considered Plank’s millions as a possible
underpinning for the sagging house of Caithness, of which his pallid
daughter Agatha was the sole sustaining caryatid in perspective.

Yes, he was doing well; for that despotic beauty, Sylvia Landis, whose
capricious perversity had recently astonished those who remembered her
in her first season as a sweet, reasonable, and unspoiled girl, was
always friendly with him. That must be looked upon as important,
considering Sylvia’s unassailable position, and her kinship to the
autocratic old lady whose kindly ukase had for generations remained the
undisputed law in the social system of Manhattan.

“There is another matter,” said Leila Mortimer innocently, as Plank,
lingering after a disastrous rubber of bridge with her, her husband, and
Agatha Caithness, had followed her into her own apartments to write his
cheque for what he owed. “You’ve driven with me so much and you come
here so often and we are seen together so frequently that the clans are
sharpening up their dirks for us. And that helps some.”

“What!” exclaimed Plank, reddening, and twisting around in his chair.

“Certainly. You didn’t suppose I could escape, did you?”

“Escape! What?” demanded Plank, getting redder.

“Escape being talked about, savagely, mercilessly. Can’t you see how it
helps? Oh dear, are you stupid, Beverly?

“I don’t know,” replied Plank, staring, “just how stupid I am. If you
mean that I’m compromising you--”

“Oh, please! Why do you use back-stairs words? Nobody talks about
compromising now; all that went out with New Year’s calls and
brown-stone stoops.”

“What do they call it, then?” asked Plank seriously.

“Call what? you great boy!”

“What you say I’m doing?”

“I don’t say it.”

“Who does?”

Leila laughed, leaned back in her big, padded chair, dropping one knee
over the other. Her dark eyes with the Japanese slant to them rested
mockingly on Plank, who had now turned completely around in his chair,
leaving his half-written cheque on her escritoire behind him.

“You’re simply credited with an affair with a pretty woman,” she said,
watching the dull colour mounting to his temples, “and that is certain
to be useful to you, and it doesn’t affect me. What on earth are you
blushing about?” And as he said nothing, she added, with a daring little
laugh: “You are credited with being very agreeable, you see.”

“If--if that’s the way you take it--” he began.

“Of course! What do you expect me to do--call for help before I’m hurt?”

“You mean that this talk--gossip--doesn’t hurt?”

“How silly!” She looked at him, smiling. “You know how likely I am to
require protection from your importunities.” She dropped her pretty
head, and began plaiting with her fingers the silken gown over her knee.
“Or how likely I would be to shriek for it even if”--she looked up with
childlike directness--“even if I needed it.”

“Of course you can take care of yourself,” said Plank, wincing.

“I could, if I wanted to.”

“Everybody knows that. I know it, Leroy knows it; only I don’t care to
figure as that kind of man.”

Already he had lost sight of her position in the matter; and she drew a
long, quiet breath, almost like a sigh.

“Time enough after you marry,” she said deliberately, and lighted a
cigarette from a candle, recreating her knees the other way.

He considered her, started to speak, checked himself, and swung around
to the desk again. His pen hovered over the space to be filled in. He
tried to recollect the amount, hesitated, dated the cheque and affixed
his signature, still trying to remember; then he looked at her over his
shoulder.

“I forget the exact amount.”

She surveyed him through the haze of her cigarette, but made no answer.

“I forget the amount,” he repeated.

“So do I,” she nodded indolently.

“But I--”

“Let it go. Besides, I shall not accept it.”

He flushed up, astonished. “You can’t refuse to take a gambling debt.”

“I do,” she retorted coolly. “I’m tired of taking your money.”

“But you won it.”

“I’m tired of winning it. It is all I ever do win … from you.”

Her pretty head was wreathed in smoke. She tipped the ashes from the
cigarette’s end, watching them fall to powder on the rug.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he persisted doggedly.

“Don’t you? I don’t believe I do, either. There are intervals in my
career which might prove eloquent if I opened my lips. But I don’t,
except to make floating rings and cabalistic signs out of cigarette
smoke. Can you read their meaning? Look! There goes one, and there’s
another, and another--all twisting and uncurling into hieroglyphics.
They are very significant; they might tell you a lot of things, if you
would only translate them. But you haven’t the key--have you?”

There was a heavy, jarring step in the main living-room, and Mortimer’s
bulk darkened the doorway.

“Entrez, mon ami,” nodded Leila, glancing up. “Where is Agatha?”

“I’m going to Desmond’s,” he grunted, ignoring his wife’s question; “do
you want to try it again, Beverly?”

“I can’t make Leila take her own winnings,” said Plank, holding out the
signed but unfilled cheque to Mortimer, who took it and scrutinised it
for a moment, rubbing his heavy, inflamed eyes; then, gesticulating, the
cheque fluttering in his puffy fingers:

“Come on,” he insisted. “I’ve a notion that I can give Desmond a whirl
that he won’t forget in a hurry. Agatha’s asleep; she’s going to that
ball--where is it?” he demanded, turning on his wife. “Yes, yes; the
Page blow-out. You’re going, I suppose?”

Leila nodded, and lighted another cigarette.

“All right,” continued Mortimer impatiently; “you and Agatha won’t start
before one. And if you think Plank had better go, why, we’ll be back
here in time.”

“That means you won’t be back at all,” observed his wife coolly; “and
it’s good policy for Beverly to go where he’s asked. Can’t you turn in
and sleep, now, and amuse your friend Desmond to-morrow night?”

“No, I can’t. What a fool I’d be to let a chance slip when I feel like a
winner!”

“You never feel otherwise when you gamble,” said Leila.

“Yes, I do,” he retorted peevishly. “I can tell almost every time what
the cards are going to do to me. Leila, go to sleep. We’ll be back here
for you by one, or half past.”

“Look here, Leroy,” began Plank, “there’s one thing I can’t stand for,
and that’s this continual loss of sleep. If I go with you I’ll not be
fit to go to the Pages.”

“What a farmer you are!” sneered Mortimer. “I believe you roost on the
foot-board of your bed, like a confounded turkey. Come on! You’d better
begin training, you know. People in this town are not going to stand for
the merry ploughboy game, you see!”

But Plank was shrewdly covering his principal reason for declining;
he had too often “temporarily” assisted Mortimer at Desmond’s and
Burbank’s, when Mortimer, cleaned out and unable to draw against a
balance non-existent, had plucked him by the sleeve from the faro table
with the breathless request for a loan.

“I tell you I can wring Desmond dry to-night,” repeated Mortimer
sullenly. “It isn’t a case of ‘want to,’ either; it’s a case of ‘got
to.’ That old pink-and-white rabbit, Belwether, got me into a game this
afternoon, and between him and Voucher and Alderdine I’m stripped clean
as a kennel bone.”

But Plank shook his head, pretending to yawn; and Mortimer, glowering
and lingering, presently went off, his swollen hands thrust into his
trousers’ pockets, his gross features dark with disgust; and presently
they heard the front door slam, and a rattling tattoo of horses’ feet
on the asphalt; and Leila sprang up impatiently, and, passing Plank,
traversed the passage to the windows of the front room.

“He’s taken the horses--the beast!” she said calmly, as Plank joined
her at the great windows and looked out into the night, where the round,
drooping, flower-like globes of the electric lamps spread a lake of
silver before the house.

It was rather rough on Leila. The Mortimers maintained one pair of
horses only; and the use given them at all hours resulted in endless
scenes, and an utter impossibility for Leila to retain the same coachman
and footman for more than a few weeks at a time.

“He won’t come back; he’ll keep Martin and the horses standing in front
of Delmonico’s all night. You’d better call up the stables, Beverly.”

So Plank called up a livery and arranged for transportation at one;
and Leila seated herself at a card-table and began to deal herself cold
decks, thoughtfully.

“That bit in ‘Carmen,’” she said, “it always brings the shudder; it
never palls on me, never grows stale.” She whipped the ominous spade
from the pack and held it out. “La Mort!” she exclaimed in mock tragedy,
yet there was another undertone ringing through it, sounding, too, in
her following laugh. “Draw!” she commanded, holding out the pack; and
Plank drew a diamond.

“Naturally,” she nodded, shuffling the pack with her smooth, savant
fingers and laying them out as she repeated the formula: “Qui frappe?
Qui entre? Qui prend chaise? Qui parle? Oh, the deuce! it’s always the
same! Tiens! je m’ennui!” There was a flash of her bare arm, a flutter,
and the cards fell in a shower over them both.

Plank flipped a card from his knee, laughing uncertainly, aware of
symptoms in his pretty vis-à-vis which always made him uncomfortable.
For months, now, at certain intervals, these recurrent symptoms had made
him wary; but what they might portend he did not know, only that, alone
with her, moments occurred when he was heavily aware of a tension
which, after a while, affected even his few thick nerves. One of those
intervals was threatening now: her flushed cheeks, her feverish activity
with her hands, the unconscious reflex movement of her silken knees
and restless slippers, all foreboded it. Next would come the nervous
laughter, the swift epigram which bored and puzzled him, the veiled
badinage he was unequal to; and then the hint of weariness, the curious
pathos of long silences, the burnt-out beauty of her eyes from which the
fire had gone as though quenched by invisible tears within.

He ascribed it--desired to ascribe it--to her relations with her
husband. He had naturally learned and divined how matters stood with
them; he had learned considerable in the last month or two--something
of Mortimer’s record as a burly brother to the rich; something of his
position among those who made no question of his presence anywhere.
Something of Leila, too, he had heard, or rather deduced from hinted
word or shrug or smiling silence, not meant for him, but indifferent to
what he might hear and what he might think of what he heard.

He did listen; he did patiently add two and two in the long solitudes of
his Louis XV chamber; and if the results were not always four, at least
they came within a fraction of the proper answer. And this did not alter
his policy or weaken his faith in his mentors; nor did it impair his
real gratitude to them, and his real and simple friendship for them
both. He was faithful in friendship once formed, obstinately so, for
better or for worse; but he was shrewd enough to ignore opportunities
for friendships which he foresaw could do him no good on his plodding
pilgrimage toward the temple of his inexorable desire.

Lifting, now, his Delft-coloured eyes furtively, he studied the
silk-and-lace swathed figure of the young matron opposite, flung back
into the depths of her great chair, profile turned from him, her chin
imprisoned in her ringed fingers. The brooding abandon of the attitude
contrasted sharply with the grooming of the woman, making both the more
effective.

“Turn in, if you want to,” she said, her voice indistinct, smothered by
her pink palm. “You’re to dress in Leroy’s quarters.”

“I don’t want to turn in just yet.”

“You said you needed sleep.”

“I do. But it’s not eleven yet.”

She slipped into another posture, reaching for a cigarette, and, setting
it afire from the match he offered, exhaled a cloud of smoke and looked
dreamily through it at him.

“Who is she?” she asked in a colourless voice. “Tell me, for I don’t
know. Agatha? Marion Page? Mrs. Vendenning? or the Tassel girl?”

“Nobody--yet,” he admitted cheerfully.

“Nobody--yet,” she repeated, musing over her cigarette. “That’s good
politics, if it’s true.”

“Am I untruthful?” he asked simply.

“I don’t know. Are you? You’re a man.”

“Don’t talk that way, Leila.”

“No, I won’t. What is it that you and Sylvia Landis have to talk about
so continuously every time you meet?”

“She’s merely civil to me,” he explained.

“That’s more than she is to a lot of people. What do you talk about?”

“I don’t know--nothing in particular; mostly about Shotover, and the
people there last summer.”

“Doesn’t she ever mention Stephen Siward?”

“Usually. She knows I like him.”

“She likes him, too,” said Leila, looking at him steadily.

“I know it. Everybody likes him--or did. I do, yet.”

“I do, too,” observed Mrs. Mortimer coolly. “I was in love with him. He
was only a boy then.”

Plank nodded in silence.

“Where is he now--do, you know?” she asked. “Everybody says he’s gone to
the devil.”

“He’s in the country somewhere,” replied Plank cautiously. “I stopped
in to see him the other day, but nobody seemed to know when he would
return.”

Mrs. Mortimer tossed her cigarette onto the hearth. For a long interval
of silence she lay there in her chair, changing her position restlessly
from moment to moment; and at length she lay quite still, so long that
Plank began to think she had fallen asleep in her chair.

He rose. She did not stir, and, passing her, he instinctively glanced
down. Her cheeks, half buried against the back of the chair, were
overflushed; under the closed lids the lashes glistened wet in the
lamplight.

Surprised, embarrassed, he halted, as though afraid to move; and she sat
up with a nervous shake of her shoulders.

“What a life!” she said, under her breath; “what a life for a woman to
lead!”

“Wh-whose?” he blurted out.

“Mine!”

He stared at her uneasily, finding nothing to say. He had never before
heard anything like this from her.

“Can’t anybody help me out of it?” she said quietly.

“Who? How? … Do you mean--”

“Yes, I mean it! I mean it! I--”

And suddenly she broke down, in a strange, stammering, tearless
way, opening the dry flood-gates over which rattled an avalanche of
words--bitter, breathless phrases rushing brokenly from lips that shrank
as they formed them.

Plank sat inert, the corroding echo of the words clattering in his ears.
And after a while he heard his own altered voice sounding persistently
in repetition:


“Don’t say those things, Leila; don’t tell me such things.”

“Why? Don’t you care?”

“Yes, yes, I care; but I can’t do anything! I have no business to
hear--to see you this way.”

“To whom can I speak, then, if I can not speak to you? To whom can I
turn? Where am I to turn, in all the world?”

“I don’t know,” he said fearfully; “the only way is to go on.”

“What else have I done? What else am I doing?” she cried. “Go on? Am I
not trudging on and on through life, dragging the horror of it behind
me through the mud, except when the horror drags me? To whom am I to
turn--to other beasts like him?--sitting patiently around, grinning and
slavering, awaiting their turn when the horror of it crushes me to the
mud?”

She stretched out a rounded, quivering arm, and laid the small fingers
of the left hand on its flawless contour. “Look!” she said, exasperated,
“I am young yet; the horror has not yet corrupted the youth in me. I am
fashioned for some reason, am I not?--for some purpose, some happiness.
I am not bad; I am human. What poison has soaked into me can be
eliminated. I tell you, no woman is capable of being so thoroughly
poisoned that the antidote proves useless.

“But I tell you men, also, that unless she find that antidote she will
surely reinfect herself. A man can not do what that man has done to me
and expect me to recover unaided. People talk of me, and I have given
them subjects enough! But--look at me! Straight between the eyes! Every
law have I broken except that! Do you understand? That one, which you
men consider yourselves exempt from, I have not broken--yet! Shall I
speak plainer? It is the fashion to be crude. But--I can’t be; I am
unfashionable, you see.”

She laughed, her haunted eyes fixed on his.

“Is there no chance for me? Because I drag his bedraggled name about
with me is there no decent chance, no decent hope? Is there only
indecency in prospect, if a man comes to care for a married woman? Can’t
a decent man love her at all? I--I think--”

Her hands, outstretched, trembled, then flew to her face; and she stood
there swaying, until Plank perforce stepped to her side and steadied her
against him.

So they remained for a while, until she looked up dazed, weary,
ashamed, expecting nothing of him; and when it came, leaving her still
incredulous, his arms around her, his tense, flushed face recoiling from
their first kiss, she did not seem to comprehend.

“I can’t turn on him,” he stammered, “I--we are friends, you see. How
can I love you, if that is so?”

“Could you love me?” she asked calmly.

“I--I don’t know. I did love--I do care for--another woman. I can’t
marry her, though I am given to understand there is a chance. Perhaps
it is partly ambition,” he said honestly, “for I am quite sure she has
never cared for me, never thought of me in that way. I think a man can’t
stand that long.”

“No; only women can. Who is she?”

“You won’t ask me, will you?”

“No. Are you sorry that I am in love with you?”

His arms unclasped her body, and he stepped back, facing her.

“Are you?” she asked violently.

“No.”

“You speak like a man,” she said tremulously. “Am I to be permitted to
adore you in peace, then--decently, and in peace?”

“Don’t speak that way, Leila. I--there is no woman, no friend, I care
for as much as I do you. It is easy, I think, for a woman, like you, to
make a man care for her. You will not do it, will you?”

“I will,” she said softly.

“It’s no use; I can’t turn on him. I can’t! He is my friend, you see.”

“Let him remain so. I shall do what I can. Let him remain a monument
to his fellow-beasts. What do I care? Do you think I desire to turn you
into his image? Do you think I hope for your degradation and mine? Are
you afraid I should not recognise love unaccompanied by the attendant
beast? I--I don’t know; you had better teach me, if I prove blind. If
you can love me, do so in charity before I go blind forever.”

She laid one hand on his arm, looked at him, then turned and passed
slowly through the doorway.

“If you are going to sleep before we start you had better be about it!”
 she said, looking back at him from the stairs.

But he had no further need of sleep; and for a long while he stood at
the windows watching the lamps of cabs and carriages sparkling through
the leafless thickets of the park like winter fire-flies.

At one o’clock, hearing Agatha Caithness speak to Leila’s maid, he left
the window, and sitting down at the desk, telephoned to Desmond’s; and
he was informed that Mortimer, hard hit, had signified his intention of
recouping at Burbank’s. Then he managed to get Burbank’s on the wire,
and finally Mortimer himself, but was only cursed for his pains and cut
off in the middle of his pleading.

So he wandered up-stairs into Mortimer’s apartments, where he tubbed and
dressed, and finally descended, to find Agatha Caithness alone in
the library, spinning a roulette wheel and whistling an air from “La
Bacchante.”

“That’s pretty,” he said; “sing it.”

“No; it’s better off without the words; and so are you,” added Agatha
candidly, relinquishing the wheel and strolling with languid grace about
the room, hands on her hips, timing her vagrant steps to the indolent,
wicked air. And,

“‘Je rougirais de men ivresse Si tu conservais ta raison!’”

she hummed deliberately, pivoting on her heels and advancing again
toward Plank, her pretty, pale face delicate as an enamelled cameo under
the flood of light from the crystal chandeliers.

“I understand that Mr. Mortimer is not coming with us,” she said
carelessly. “Are you going to dance with me, if I find nobody better?”

He expressed himself flattered, cautiously. He was one of many who never
understood this tall, white, low-voiced girl, with eyes too pale for
beauty, yet strangely alluring, too. Few men denied the indefinable
enchantment of her; few men could meet her deep-lidded, transparent
gaze unmoved. In the sensitive curve of her mouth there was a kind of
sensuousness; in her low voice, in her pallor, in the slim grace of her
a vague provocation that made men restless and women silently curious
for something more definite on which to base their curiosity.

She was wearing, over the smooth, dead-white skin of her neck, a collar
of superb diamonds and aquamarines--almost an effrontery, as the latter
were even darker than her eyes; yet the strange and effective harmony
was evident, and Plank spoke of the splendour of the gems.

She nodded indifferently, saying they were new, and that she had picked
them up at Tiffany’s; and he mentally sketched out the value of the
diamonds, a trifle surprised, because Leila Mortimer had carefully
informed him about the condition of the Caithness exchequer.

That youthful matron herself appeared in a few moments, very lustrous,
very lovely in her fragrant, exotic brightness, and Plank for the first
time thought that she was handsome--the vigorous, youthful incarnation
of Life itself, in contrast to Agatha’s almost deathly beauty. She
greeted him not only without a trace of embarrassment, but with such a
friendly, fresh, gay confidence that he scarcely recognised in her the
dry-eyed, feverish woman of an hour ago, whose very lips shrank back,
scorched by the torrent of her own invective.

And so they drove the three short blocks to the Page’s in their hired
livery; the street was inadequate for the crush of vehicles; and the
glittering pressure within the house was outrageous; all of which
confused Plank, who became easily confused by such things.

How they got in--how they managed to present themselves--who took Leila
and Agatha from him--where they went--where he himself might be--he
did not understand very clearly. The house was large, strange, full
of strangers. He attempted to obtain his bearings by wandering about
looking for a small rococo reception-room where he remembered he had
once talked kennel talk with Marion Page, and had on another occasion
perspired freely under the arrogant and strabismic glare of her mother.
That good lady had really rather liked him; he never suspected it.

But he couldn’t find the rococo room--or perhaps he didn’t recognise it.
So many people--so many, many people whom he did not know, whom he had
never before laid eyes on--high-bred faces hard as diamonds; young, gay,
laughing faces; brilliant eyes encountering his without a softening
of recognition; clean-cut, attractive men in swarms, all animated, all
amused, all at home among themselves and among the silken visions of
loveliness passing and repassing, with here an extended gloved arm and
the cordial greeting of camaraderie, there a quick smile, a swift turn
in passing, a capricious bending forward for a whisper, a compliment,
a jest--all this swept by him, around him, enveloping him with its
brightness, its gaiety, its fragrance, and left him more absolutely
alone than he had ever been in all his life.

He tried to find Leila, and gave it up. He saw Quarrier talking to
Agatha, but the former saluted him so coldly that he turned away.

After a while he found Marion, but she hadn’t a dance left for him;
neither had Rena Bonnesdel, whom he encountered while she was adroitly
avoiding one of the ever-faithful twins. The twin caught up with her in
consequence, and she snubbed Plank for his share in the disaster, which
depressed him, and he started for the smoking-room, wherever that haven
might be found. He got into the ball-room, however, by mistake,
and adorned the wall, during the cotillon, as closely as his girth
permitted, until an old lady sent for him; and he went and talked about
bishops for nearly an hour to her, until his condition bordered on
frenzy, the old lady being deaf and peevish.

Later, Alderdene used him to get rid of an angular, old harridan who
seemed to be one solid diamond-mine, and who drove him into a corner
and talked indelicacies until Plank’s broad face flamed like the setting
sun. Then Captain Voucher unloaded a frightened débutante on him who
tried to talk about horses and couldn’t; and they hated each other for
a while, until, looking around her in desperation, she found he had
vanished--which was quick work for a man of his size.

Kathryn Tassel employed him for supper, and kept him busy while she
herself was immersed in a dawning affair with Fleetwood. She did
everything to him except to tip him; and her insolence was the last
straw.

Then, unexpectedly in the throng, two wonderful sea-blue eyes
encountered his, deepening to violet with pleasure, and the trailing
sweetness of a voice he knew was repeating his name, and a slim,
white-gloved hand lay in his own.

Her escort, Ferrall, nodded to him pleasantly. She leaned forward from
Ferrall’s arm, saying, under her breath, “I have saved a dance for you.
Please ask me at once. Quick! do you want me?”

“I--I do,” stammered Plank.

Ferrall, suspicious, stepped forward to exchange civilities, then
turning to the girl beside him: “See here, Sylvia, you’ve dragged me all
over this house on one pretext or another. Do you want any supper, or
don’t you? If you don’t, it’s our dance.”

“No, I don’t. No, it isn’t. Kemp, you annoy me!”

“That’s a nice thing to say! Is it your delicately inimitable way of
giving me my congé?”

“Yes, thank you,” nodded Miss Landis coolly; “you may go now.”

“You’re spoiled, that’s what’s the matter,” retorted Ferrall wrathfully.
“I thought I was to have this dance. You said--”

“I said ‘perhaps,’ because I didn’t see Mr. Plank coming to claim it.
Thank you, Kemp, for finding him.”

Her nod and smile took the edge from her malice. Ferrall, who really
adored dancing, glared about for anybody, and presently cornered the
frightened and neglected debutante who had hated Plank.

Sylvia, standing beside Plank, looked up at him with her confident and
friendly smile.

“You don’t care to dance, do you? Would you mind if we sat out this
dance?”

“If you’d rather,” he said, so wistfully that she hesitated; then with
a little shrug laid one hand on his arm, and they swung out across the
floor together, into the scented whirl.

Plank, like many heavy men, danced beautifully; and Sylvia, who still
loved dancing with all the ardour of a schoolgirl, permitted a moment
or two of keen delight to sweep her dreamily from her purpose. But that
purpose must have been a strong one, for she returned to it in a few
minutes, and, looking up at Plank, said very gently that she cared to
dance no more.

Her hand resting lightly on his arm, it did not seem possible that any
pressure of hers was directing them to the conservatory; yet he did not
know where he was going, and she was familiar with the house, and they
soon entered the conservatory, where, in the shadow of various palms
various youths looked up impatiently as they passed, and various maidens
sat up very straight in their chairs.

Threading their dim way into the farther recesses they found seats among
thickets of forced lilacs over-hung by early wistaria. A spring-like
odour hung in the air; somewhere a tiny fountain grew musical in the
semi-darkness.

“Marion told me you had been asked,” she said. “We have been so
friendly; you’ve always asked me to dance whenever we have met; so I
thought I’d save you one. Are you flattered, Mr. Plank?”

He said he was, very pleasantly, perfectly undeceived, and convinced of
her purpose--a purpose never even tacitly admitted between them; and the
old loneliness came over him again--not resentment, for he was willing
that she should use him. Why not? Others used him; everybody used
him; and if they found no use for him they let him alone. Mortimer,
Fleetwood, Belwether--all, all had something to exact from him. It was
for that he was tolerated--he knew it; he had slowly and unwillingly
learned it. His intrusion among these people, of whom he was not one,
would be endured only while he might be turned to some account. The
hospital used him, the clergy found plenty for him to do for them, the
museum had room for other pictures of his. Who among them all had ever
sought him without a motive? Who among them all had ever found unselfish
pleasure in him? Not one.

Something in the dull sadness of his face, as he sat there, checked
the first elaborately careless question her lips were already framing.
Leaning a little nearer in the dim light she looked at him inquiringly
and he returned her gaze in silence.

“What is it, Mr. Plank,” she said; “is anything wrong?”

He knew that she did not mean to ask if anything was amiss with him. She
did not care. Nobody cared. So, recognising his cue, he answered: “No,
nothing is wrong that I have heard of.”

“You wear a very solemn countenance.”

“Gaiety affects me solemnly, sometimes. It is a reaction from frivolity.
I suppose that I am over-enjoying life; that is all.”

She laughed, using her fan, although the place was cool enough and they
had not danced long. To and fro flitted the silken vanes of her fan, now
closing impatiently, now opening again like the wings of a nervous moth
in the moonlight.

He wished she would come to her point, but he dared not lead her to it
too brusquely, because her purpose and her point were supposed to be
absolutely hidden from his thick and credulous understanding. It
had taken him some time to make this clear to himself; passing from
suspicion, through chagrin and overwounded feeling, to dull certainty
that she, too, was using him, harmlessly enough from her standpoint, but
how bitterly from his, he alone could know.

The quickened flutter of her fan meant impatience to learn from him what
she had come to him to learn, and then, satisfied, to leave him alone
again amid the peopled solitude of clustered lights.

He wished she would speak; he was tired of the sadness of it all.
Whenever in his isolation, in his utter destitution of friendship, he
turned guilelessly to meet a new advance, always, sooner or later, the
friendly mask was lifted enough for him to divine the cool, fixed gaze
of self-interest inspecting him through the damask slits.

Sylvia was speaking now, and the plumy fan was under savant control,
waving graceful accompaniment to her soft voice, punctuating her
sentences at times, at times making an emphasis or outlining a gesture.

It was the familiar sequence; topics that led to themes which adroitly
skirted the salient point; returned capriciously, just avoiding it--a
subtly charming pattern of words which required so little in reply
that his smile and nod were almost enough to keep her aria and his
accompaniment afloat.

It began to fascinate him to watch the delicacy of her strategy, the
coquetting with her purpose; her naive advance to the very edges of
it, the airy retreat, the innocent detour, the elaborate and circuitous
return. And at last she drifted into it so naturally that it seemed
impossible that fatuous man could have the most primitive suspicion of
her premeditation.

And Plank, now recognising his cue, answered her: “No, I have not heard
that he is in town. I stopped to see him the other day, but nobody there
knew how soon he intended to return from the country.”

“I didn’t know he had gone to the country,” she said without apparent
interest.

And Plank was either too kind to terminate the subject, or too anxious
to serve his turn and release her; for he went on: “I thought I told you
at Mrs. Ferrall’s that Mr. Siward had gone to the country.”

“Perhaps you did. No doubt I’ve forgotten.”

“I’m quite sure I did, because I remember saying that he looked very
ill, and you said, rather sharply, that he had no business to be ill. Do
you remember?”

“Yes,” she said slowly. “Is he better?”

“I hope so.”

“You hope so?”--with the controlled emphasis of impatience.

“Yes. Don’t you, Miss Landis? When I saw him at his home, he was
lame--on crutches--and he looked rather ghastly; and all he said was
that he expected to leave for the country. I asked him to shoot next
year at Black Fells, and he seemed bothered about business, and said it
might keep him from taking any vacation.”

“He spoke about his business?”

“Yes, he--”

“What is the trouble with his business? Is it anything about Amalgamated
and Inter-County?”

“I think so.”

“Is he worried?”

Plank said deliberately: “I should be, if my interests were locked up in
Amalgamated Electric.”

“Could you tell me why that would worry you?” she asked, smiling
persuasively across at him.

“No,” he said, “I can’t tell you.”

“Because I wouldn’t understand?”

“Because I myself don’t understand.”

She thought awhile, brushing the rose velvet of her mouth with the fan’s
edge, then, looking up confidently:

“Mr. Siward is such a boy. I’m so glad he has you to advise him in such
matters.”

“What matters?” asked Plank bluntly.

“Why, in--in financial matters.”

“But I don’t advise him.”

“Why not?”

“Because he hasn’t asked me to, Miss Landis.”

“He ought to ask you. … He must ask you. … Don’t wait for him, Mr.
Plank. He is only a boy in such things.”

And, as Plank was silent:

“You will, won’t you?”

“Do what--make his business my business, without an invitation?” asked
Plank, so quietly that she flushed with annoyance.

“If you pretend to be his friend is it not your duty to advise him?” she
asked impatiently.

“No; that is for his business associates to do. Friendship comes to
grief when it crosses the frontiers of business.”

“That is a narrow view to take, Mr. Plank.”

“Yes, straight and narrow. The boundaries of friendship are straight and
narrow. It is best to keep to the trodden path; best not to walk on the
grass or trample the flowers.”

“I think you are sacrificing friendship for an epigram,” she said,
careless of the undertone of contempt in her voice.

“I have never sacrificed friendship.” He turned, and looked at her
pleasantly. “I never made an epigram consciously, and I have never
required of a friend more than I had to offer in return. Have you?”

The flush of hot displeasure stained her cheeks.

“Are you really questioning me, Mr. Plank?”

“Yes. You have been questioning me rather seriously--have you not?”

“I did not comprehend your definition of friendship. I did not agree
with it. I questioned it, not you! That is all.”

Plank rested his head on one big hand and stared at the clusters of
dim blossoms behind her; and after a while he said, as though thinking
aloud:

“Many have taken my friendship for granted, and have never offered their
own in return. I do not know about Mr. Siward. There is nothing I can do
for him, nothing he can do for me. If there is to be friendship between
us it will be disinterested; and I would rather have that than anything
in the world, I think.”

There was a pause; but when Sylvia would have broken it his gesture
committed her to silence with the dignity one might use in checking a
persistent child.

“You question my definition of friendship, Miss Landis. I should have
let your question pass, however keenly it touched me, had it not also
touched him. Now I am going to say some things which lie within the
straight and narrow bounds I spoke of. I never knew a man I cared for as
much as I care for Mr. Siward. I know why, too. He is disinterested. I
do not believe he wastes very many thoughts on me. Perhaps he will. I
want him to like me, if it’s possible. But one thing you and I may be
sure of: if he does not care to return the friendship I offer him he
will never accept anything else from me, though he might give at my
request; and that is the sort of a man he is; and that is why he is
every inch a man; and so I like him, Miss Landis. Do you wonder?”

She did not reply.

“Do you wonder?” he repeated sharply.

“No,” she said.

“Then--” He straightened up, and the silent significance of his waiting
attitude was plain enough to her.

But she shook her head impatiently, saying: “I don’t know whose dance
it is, and I don’t care. Please go on. It is--is pleasant. I like Mr.
Siward; I like to hear men speak of him as you do. I like you for doing
it. If you should ever come to care for my friendship that is the best
passport to it--your loyalty to Mr. Siward.”

“No man can truthfully speak otherwise than I have spoken,” he said
gravely.

“No, not of these things. But--you know w-what is--is usually said when
his name comes up among men.”

“Do you mean about his habits?” he asked simply.

“Yes. Is it not an outrage to drag in that sort of thing? It angers me
intensely, Mr. Plank. Why do they do it? Is there a single one among
them qualified to criticise Mr. Siward? And besides, it is not true any
more! … is it?--what was once said of him with--with some truth? Is it?”

The dull red blood mantled Plank’s heavy visage. The silence grew
grim as he did his slow, laborious thinking, the while his eyes,
expressionless and almost opaque in the dim light, never left her’s,
until, under the unchanging, merciless inspection, the mask dropped for
an instant from her anxious face, and he saw what he saw.

He was no fool. What he had come to believe she at last had only
confirmed; and now the question became simple: was she worth
enlightening? And by what title did she demand his confidence?

“You ask me if it is true any more. You mean about his habits. If I
answer you it is because I cannot be indifferent to what concerns him.
But before I answer I ask you this: Would your interest in his fortunes
matter to him?”

She waited, head bent; then:

“I don’t know, Mr. Plank,” very low.

“Did your interest in his fortunes ever concern him?”

“Yes, once.”

He looked at her sternly, his jaw squaring until his heavy under lip
projected. “Within my definition of friendship, is he your friend?”

“You mean he--”

“No, I mean you! I can answer for him. How is it with you? Do you return
what he gives--if there is really friendship between you? Or do you take
what he offers, offering nothing in return?”

She had turned rather white under the direct impact of the questions.
The jarring repetition of his voice itself was like the dull echo
of distant blows. Yet it never occurred to her to resent it, nor his
attitude, nor his self-assumed privilege. She did not care; she no
longer cared what he said to her or thought about her; nor did she care
that her mask had fallen at last. It was not what he was saying, but
what her own heart repeated so heavily that drove the colour from her
face. Not he, but she herself had become the pitiless attorney for the
prosecution; not his voice, but the clamouring conscience within her
demanded by what right she used the name of friendship to characterise
the late relations between her and the man to whom she had denied
herself.

Then a bitter impatience swept her, and a dawning fear, too; for she had
set her foot on the fallen mask, and the impulse rendered her reckless.

“Why don’t you speak?” she said. “Yes, I have a right to know. I care
for him as much as you do. Why don’t you answer me? I tell you I care
for him!”

“Do you?” he said in a dull voice. “Then help me out, if you can, for
I don’t know what to do; and if I did, I haven’t the authority of
friendship as my warrant. He is in New York. He did go to the country;
and, at his home, the servants suppose he is still away. But he isn’t;
he is here, alone, and sick--sick of his old sickness. I saw him,
and”--Plank rested his head on his hand, dropping his eyes--“and he
didn’t know me. I--I do not think he will remember that he met me, or
that I spoke. And--I could do nothing, absolutely nothing. And I don’t
know where he is. He will go home after a while. I call--every day--to
see--see what can be done. But if he were there I would not know what to
do. When he does go home I won’t know what to say--what to try to do. …
And that is an answer to your question, Miss Landis. I give it, because
you say you care for him as I do. Will you advise me what to do?--you,
who are more entitled than I am to know the truth, because he has given
you the friendship which he has as yet not accorded to me.”

But Sylvia, dry-eyed, dry-lipped, could find no voice to answer; and
after a little while they rose and moved through the fragrant gloom
toward the sparkling lights beyond.

Her voice came back as they entered the brilliant rooms: “I should
like to find Grace Ferrall,” she said very distinctly. “Please keep the
others off, Mr. Plank.”

Her small hand on his arm lay with a weight out of all proportion to its
size. Fair head averted, she no longer guided him with that impalpable
control; it was he who had become the pilot now, and he steered his own
way through the billowy ocean of silk and lace, master of the course he
had set, heavily bland to the interrupter and the importunate from whom
she turned a deaf ear and dumb lips, and lowered eyes that saw nothing.

Fleetwood had missed his dance with her, but she scarcely heard his
eager complaints. Quarrier, coldly inquiring, confronted them; was
passed almost without recognition, and left behind, motionless, looking
after them out of his narrowing, black-fringed eyes of a woman.

Then Ferrall came, and hearing his voice, she raised her colourless
face.

“Will you take me home with you, Kemp, when you take Grace?” she asked.

“Of course. I don’t know where Grace is. Are you in a hurry to go? It’s
only four o’clock.”

They were at the entrance to the supper-room. Plank drew up a chair
for her, and she sank down, dropping her elbows on the small table, and
resting her face between her fingers.

“Pegged out, Sylvia?” exclaimed Ferrall incredulously. “You? What’s the
younger set coming to?” and he motioned a servant to fill her glass. But
she pushed it aside with a shiver, and gave Plank a strange look which
he scarcely understood at the moment.

“More caprices; all sorts of ‘em on the programme,” muttered Ferrall,
looking down at her from where he stood beside Plank. “O tempora! O
Sylvia! … Plank, would you mind hunting up my wife? I’ll stay and see
that this infant doesn’t fall asleep.”

But Sylvia shook her head, saying: “Please go, Kemp. I’m a little
tired, that’s all. When Grace is ready, I’ll leave with her.” And at
her gesture Plank seated himself, while Ferrall, shrugging his square
shoulders, sauntered off in quest of his wife, stopping a moment at
a neighbouring table to speak to Agatha Caithness, who sat there with
Captain Voucher, the gemmed collar on her slender throat a pale blaze of
splendour.

Plank was hungry, and he said so in his direct fashion. Sylvia nodded,
and exchanged a smile with Agatha, who turned at the sound of Plank’s
voice. For a while, as he ate and drank largely, she made the effort to
keep up a desultory conversation, particularly when anybody to whom she
owed an explanation hove darkly in sight on the horizon. But Plank’s
appetite was in proportion to the generous lines on which nature had
fashioned him, and she paid less and less attention to convention and a
trifle more to the beauty of Agatha’s jewels, until the silence at the
small table in the corner remained unbroken except by the faint tinkle
of silver and crystal and the bubbling hiss of a glass refilled.

Major Belwether, his white, fluffy, chop-whiskers brushed rabbit
fashion, peeped in at the door, started to tiptoe out again, caught
sight of them, and came trotting back, beaming rosy effusion. He leaned
roguishly over the table, his moist eyes a-twinkle with suppressed
mirth; then, bestowing a sprightly glance on Plank, which said very
plainly, “I’m up to one of my irrepressible jokes again!” he held up a
smooth, white, and over-manicured forefinger:

“I was in Tiffany’s yesterday,” he said, “and I saw a young man in there
who didn’t see me, and I peeped over his shoulder, and what do you think
he was doing?”

She lifted her eyes a little wearily:

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I do,” he chuckled. “He was choosing a collar of blue diamonds and aqua
marines!--Te-he!--probably to wear himself!--Te-he! Or perhaps he
was going to be married!--He-he-he!--next winter--ahem!--next
November--Ha-ha! I don’t know, I’m sure, what he meant to do with that
collar. I only--”

Something in Sylvia’s eyes stopped him, and, following their direction,
he turned around to find Quarrier standing at his elbow, icy and
expressionless.

“Oh,” said the aged jester, a little disconcerted, “I’m caught talking
out in church, I see! It was only a harmless little fun, Howard.”

“Do you mean you saw me?” asked Quarrier, pale as a sheet. “You are in
error. I have not been in Tiffany’s in months.”

Belwether, crestfallen under the white menace of Quarrier’s face,
nodded, and essayed a chuckle without success.

Sylvia, at first listless and uninterested, looked inquiringly from the
major to Quarrier, surprised at the suppressed feeling exhibited over so
trivial a gaucherie. If Quarrier had chosen a collar like Agatha’s for
her, what of it? But as he had not, on his own statement, what did
it matter? Why should he look that way at the foolish major, to whose
garrulous gossip he was accustomed, and whose inability to refrain from
prying was notorious enough.

Turning disdainfully, she caught a glimpse of Plank’s shocked and
altered face. It relapsed instantly into the usual inert expression; and
a queer, uncomfortable perplexity began to invade her. What had happened
to stir up these three men? Of what importance was an indiscretion of an
old gentleman whose fatuous vanity and consequent blunders everybody
was familiar with? And, after all, Howard had not bought anything at
Tiffany’s; he said so himself. … But it was evident that Agatha had
chanced on the collar that Belwether thought he saw somebody else
examining.

She turned, and looked at the dead-white neck of the girl. The collar
was wonderful--a miracle of pale fire. And Sylvia, musing, let her
thoughts run on, dreamy eyes brooding. She was glad that Agatha’s means
permitted her now to have such things. It had been understood, for some
years, that the Caithness fortune was in rather an alarming condition.
Howard had been able recently to do a favour or two for old Peter
Caithness. She had heard the major bragging about it. Evidently Mr.
Caithness must have improved the chance, if he was able to present such
gems to his daughter. And now somebody would marry her; perhaps Captain
Voucher; perhaps even Alderdene; perhaps, as rumour had it now and then,
Plank might venture into the arena. … Poor Plank! More of a man than
people understood. She understood. She--

And her thoughts swung back like the returning tide to Siward, and her
heart began heavily again, and the slightly faint sensation returned.
She passed her ungloved, unsteady fingers across her eyelids and
forehead, looking up and around. The major and Howard had disappeared;
Plank, beside her, sat staring stupidly into his empty wine-glass.

“Isn’t Mrs. Ferrall coming?” she said wearily.

Plank gathered his cumbersome bulk and stood up, trying to see through
the entrance into the ball-room. After a moment he said: “They’re in
there, talking to Marion. It’s a good chance to make our adieux.”

As they passed out of the supper-room Sylvia paused behind Agatha’s
chair and bent over her. “The collar is beautiful,” she said, “and so
are you, Agatha”; and with a little impulsive caress for the jewels she
passed on, unconscious of the delicate flush that spread from Agatha’s
shoulders to her hair. And Agatha, turning, encountered only the stupid
gaze of Plank, moving ponderously past on Sylvia’s heels.

“If you’ll find Leila, I’m ready at any time,” she said carelessly, and
resumed her tête-à-tête with Voucher, who had plainly been annoyed at
the interruption.

Plank went on, a new trouble dawning on his thickening mental horizon.
He had completely forgotten Leila. Even with all the demands made upon
him; even with all the time he had given to those whose use of him
he understood, how could he have forgotten Leila and the recent scene
between them, and the new attitude and new relations with her that he
must so carefully consider and ponder over before he presented himself
at the house of Mortimer again!

Ferrall and his wife and Sylvia were making their adieux to Marion and
her mother when he came up; and he, too, took that opportunity.

Later, on his quest for Leila, Sylvia, passing through the great hall,
shrouded in silk and ermine, turned to offer him her hand, saying in a
low voice: “I am at home to you; do you understand? Always,” she added
nervously.

He looked after her with an unconscious sigh, unaware that anything
in himself had claimed her respect. And after a moment he swung on his
broad heels to continue his search for Mrs. Mortimer.



CHAPTER X THE SEAMY SIDE

About four o’clock on the following afternoon Mrs. Mortimer’s maid, who
had almost finished drying and dressing her mistress’ hair, was called
to the door by a persistent knocking, which at first she had been bidden
to disregard.

It was Mortimer’s man, desiring to know whether Mrs. Mortimer could
receive Mr. Mortimer at once on matters of importance.

“No,” said Leila petulantly. “Tell Mullins to say that I can not see
anybody,” and catching a glimpse of the shadowy Mullins dodging about
the dusky corridor: “What is the matter? Is Mr. Mortimer ill?”

But Mullins could not say what the matter might be, and he went away,
only to return in a few moments bearing a scratchy note from his master,
badly blotted and still wet; and Leila, with a shrug of resignation,
took the blotched scrawl daintily between thumb and forefinger and
unfolded it. Behind her, the maid, twisting up the masses of dark,
fragrant hair, read the note very easily over her mistress’ shoulder. It
ran, without preliminaries:

“I’m going to talk to you, whether you like it or not. Do you understand
that? If you want to know what’s the matter with me you’ll find out fast
enough. Fire that French girl out before I arrive.”

She closed the note thoughtfully, folding and double-folding it into
a thick wad. The ink had come off, discolouring her finger-tips; she
dropped the soiled paper on the floor, and held out her hands, plump
fingers spread. And when the maid had finished removing the stains
and had repolished the pretty hands, her mistress sipped her chocolate
thoughtfully, nibbled a bit of dry toast, then motioned the maid to take
the tray and her departure, leaving her the cup.

A few minutes later Mortimer came in, stood a moment blinking around
the room, then dropped into a seat, sullen, inert, the folds of his chin
crowded out on his collar, his heavy abdomen cradled on his short, thick
legs. He had been freshly shaved; linen and clothing were spotless, yet
the man looked unclean.

Save for the network of purple veins in his face, there was no colour
there, none in his lips; even his flabby hands were the hue of clay.

“Are you ill?” asked his wife coolly.

“No, not very. I’ve got the jumps. What’s that? Tea? Ugh! it’s
chocolate. Push it out of sight, will you? I can smell it.”

Leila set the delicate cup on a table behind her.

“What time did you return this morning?” she asked, stifling a yawn.

“I don’t know; about five or six. How the devil should I know what time
I came in?”

Sitting there before the mirror of her dresser she stole a second glance
at his marred features in the glass. The loose mouth, the smeared eyes,
the palsy-like tremors that twitched the hands where they tightened on
the arms of his chair, became repulsive to the verge of fascination. She
tried to look away, but could not.

“You had better see Dr. Grisby,” she managed to say.

“I’d better see you; that’s what I’d better do,” he retorted thickly.
“You’ll do all the doctoring I want. And I want it, all right.”

“Very well. What is it?”

He passed his swollen hand across his forehead.

“What is it?” he repeated. “It’s the limit, this time, if you want to
know. I’m all in.”

“Roulette?” raising her eyebrows without interest

“Yes, roulette, too. Everything! They got me upstairs at Burbank’s.
The game’s crooked! Every box, every case, every wheel, every pack is
crooked! crooked! crooked, by God!” he burst out in a fever, struggling
to sit upright, his hands always tightening on the arms of the chair.
“It’s nothing but a creeping joint, run by a bunch of hand-shakers!
I--I’ll--”

Stuttering, choking, stammering imprecations, his hoarse clamour
died away after a while. She sat there, head bent, silent, impassive,
acquiescent under the physical and mental strain to which she had never
become thoroughly hardened. How many such scenes had she witnessed! She
could not count them. They differed very little in detail, and not at
all in their ultimate object, which was to get what money she had. This
was his method of reimbursing himself for his losses.

He made an end to his outburst after a while. Only his dreadful fat
breathing now filled the silence; and supposing he had finished, she
found her voice with an effort:

“I am sorry. It comes at a bad time, as you know--”

“A bad time!” he broke out violently. “How can it come at any other sort
of time? With us, all times are bad. If this is worse than the average
it can’t be helped. We are in it for keeps this time!”

“We?”

“Yes, we!” he repeated; but his face had grown ghastly, and his
uncertain eyes were fastened on her’s in the mirror.

“What do you mean--exactly?” she asked, turning from the dresser to
confront him.

He made no effort to answer; an expression of dull fright was growing
on his visage, as though for the first time he had begun to realise what
had happened.

She saw it, and her heart quickened, but she spoke disdainfully: “Well,
I am ready to listen--as usual. How much do you want?”

He made no sign; his lower lip hung loose; his eyes blinked at her.

“What is it?” she repeated. “What have you been doing? How much have you
lost? You can’t have lost very much; we hadn’t much to lose. If you have
given your note to any of those gamblers, it is a shame--a shame! Leroy,
look at me! You promised me, on your honour, never to do that again.
Have you lied, after all the times I have helped you out, stripped
myself, denied myself, put off tradesmen, faced down creditors? After
all I have done, do you dare come here and ask for more--ask for what
I have not got--with not one bill settled, not one servant paid since
December--”

“Leila, I--I’ve got--to tell you--”

“What?” she demanded, appalled by the change in his face. If he was
overdoing it, he was overdoing it realistically enough.

“I--I’ve used Plank’s cheque!” he mumbled, and moistened his lips with
his tongue.

She stared back at him, striving to comprehend. “Plank’s!” she repeated
slowly, “Plank’s cheque? What cheque? What do you mean?”

“The one he gave you last night. I’ve used that. Now you know!”

“The one he--But you couldn’t! How could you? It was not filled in.”

“I filled it.”

Her dawning horror was reacting on him, as it always did, like a fierce
tonic; and his own courage came back in a sort of sullen desperation.

“You … You are trying to frighten me, Leroy,” she stammered. “You are
trying to make me do something--give you what you want--force me to give
you what you want! You can’t frighten me. The cheque was made out to
me--to my order. How could you have used it, if I had not indorsed it?”

“I indorsed it. Do you understand that!” he said savagely.

“No, I don’t; because, if you did, it’s forgery.”

“I don’t give a damn what you think it is!” he broke in fiercely. “All
I’m worried over is what Plank will think. I didn’t mean to do it; I
didn’t dream of doing it; but when Burbank cleaned me up I fished about,
and that cursed cheque came tumbling out!”

In the rising excitement of self-defence the colour was coming back into
his battered face; he sat up straighter in his chair, and, grasping
the upholstered arms, leaned forward, speaking more distinctly and with
increasing vigour and anger:

“When I saw that cheque in my hands I thought I’d use it
temporarily--merely as moral collateral to flash at Burbank--something
to back my I. O. U.’s. So I filled it in.”

“For how much?” she asked, not daring to believe him; but he ignored the
question and went on: “I filled it and indorsed it, and--”

“How could you indorse it?” she interrupted coolly, now unconvinced
again and suspicious.

“I’ll tell you if you’ll stop that fool tongue a moment. The cheque was
made to ‘L. Mortimer,’ wasn’t it? So I wrote ‘L. Mortimer’ on the back.
Now do you know? If you are L. Mortimer, so am I. Leila begins with L;
so does Leroy, doesn’t it? I didn’t imitate your two-words-to-a-page
autograph. I put my own fist to a cheque made out to one L. Mortimer;
and I don’t care what you think about it as long as Plank can stand it.
Now put up your nose and howl, if you like.”

But under her sudden pallor he was taking fright again, and he began to
bolster up his courage with bluster and noise, as usual:

“Howl all you like!” he jeered. “It won’t alter matters or square
accounts with Plank. What are you staring at? Do you suppose I’m not
sorry? Do you fancy I don’t know what a fool I’ve been? What are you
turning white for? What in hell--”

“How much have you--” She choked, then, resolutely: “How much have
you--taken?”

“Taken!” he broke out, with an oath. “What do you mean? I’ve borrowed
about twenty thousand dollars. Now yelp! Eh? What?--no yelps? Probably
some weeps, then. Turn ‘em on and run dry; I’ll wait.” And he managed to
cross one bulky leg over the other and lean back, affecting resignation,
while Leila, bolt upright in her low chair, every curved outline rigid
under the flowing, silken wrap, stared at him as though stunned.

“Well, we’re good for it, aren’t we?” he said threateningly. “If he’s
going to turn ugly about it, here’s the house.”

“My--house?”

“Yes, your house! I suppose you’d rather raise something on the house
than have the thing come out in the papers.”

“Do you think so?” she asked, staring into his bloodshot eyes.

“Yes, I do. I’m damn sure of it!”

“You are wrong.”

“You mean that you are not inclined to stand by me?” he demanded.

“Yes, I mean that.”

“You don’t intend to help me out?”

“I do not intend to--not this time.”

He began to show his big teeth, and that nervous snickering “tick”
 twitched his upper lip.

“How about the courts?” he sneered. “Do you want to figure in them with
Plank?”

“I don’t want to,” she said steadily, “but you can not frighten me any
more by that threat.”

“Oh! Can’t frighten you! Perhaps you think you’ll marry Plank when I get
a decree? Do you? Well, you won’t for several reasons; first, because
I’ll name other corespondents and that will make Plank sick; second,
because Plank wants to marry somebody else and I’m able to assist him.
So where do you come out in the shuffle?”

“I don’t know,” she said, under her breath, and rested her head against
the back of the chair, as though suddenly tired.

“Well, I know. You’ll come out smirched, and you know it,” said
Mortimer, gazing intently at her. “Look here, Leila: I didn’t come here
to threaten you. I’m no black-mailer; I’m no criminal. I’m simply a
decent sort of a man, who is pretty badly scared over what he’s done in
a moment of temptation. You know I had no thought of anything except to
borrow enough on my I. O. U.’s to make a killing at Burbank’s. I had to
show them something big, so I filled in that cheque, not meaning to use
it; and before I knew it I’d indorsed it, and was plunging against it.
Then they stacked everything on me--by God, they did! and if I had not
been in the condition I was in I’d have stopped payment. But it was too
late when I realised what I was against. Leila, you know I’m not a bad
man at heart. Can’t you help a fellow?”

His manner, completely changed, had become the resentful and fretful
appeal of the victim of plot and circumstance. All the savage brutality
had been eliminated; the sneer, the truculent attempts to browbeat, the
pitiful swagger, the cynical justification, all were gone. It was really
the man himself now, normally scared and repentant; the frightened,
overfed pensioner on his wife’s bounty; not the human beast maddened by
fear and dissipation, half stunned, half panic-stricken, driven by sheer
terror into a rôle which even he shrank from--had shrunk from all these
years. For, leech and parasite that he was, Mortimer, however much
the dirty acquisition of money might tempt him in theory, had not yet
brought himself to the point of attempting the practice, even when in
sorest straits and bitterest need. He didn’t want to do it; he wished to
get along without it, partly because of native inertia and an aversion
to the mental nimbleness that he would be required to show as a
law-breaker, partly because the word “black-mail” stood for what he did
not dare suggest that he had come to, even to himself. His distaste was
genuine; there were certain things which he didn’t want to commit, and
extortion was one of them. He could, at a pinch, lie to his wife, or try
to scare her into giving him money; he could, when necessary, “borrow”
 from such men as Plank; but he had never cheated at cards, and he had
never attempted to black-mail anybody except his wife--which, of course,
was purely a family matter, and concerned nobody else.

Now he was attempting it again, with more sincerity, energy, and
determination than he ever before had been forced to display. Even in
his most profane violence the rage and panic were only partly real. He
was, it is true, genuinely scared, and horribly shaken physically, but
he had counted on violence, and he stimulated his own emotions and made
them serve him, knowing all the while that in the reaction his ends
would be accomplished, as usual. This policy of alternately frightening,
dragooning, and supplicating Leila had carried him so far; and though
it was true that this was a more serious situation than he had ever yet
faced, he was convinced that his wife would pull him out somehow; and
how that was to be accomplished he did not very much care, as long as he
was pulled out safely.

“What this household requires,” he said, “is economy.” He spread his
legs, denting the Aubusson carpet with his boot-heels, and glanced
askance at his wife. “Economy,” he repeated, furtively wetting his lips
with a heavily coated tongue; “that’s the true solution; economical
administration in domestic matters. Retrenchment, Leila! retrenchment!
Fewer folderols. I’ve a notion to give up that farm, and stop trying to
breed those damfool sheep. They cost a thousand apiece, and do you know
what I got for those six I sent to Westbury? Just twelve hundred dollars
from Fleetwood--the bargaining shopkeeper! Twelve hundred! Think of
that! And along comes Granby and sells a single ram for six thousand
plunks!”

Leila’s head was lowered. He could not see her expression, but he had
always been confident of his ability to talk himself out of trouble,
so he rambled on in pretence of camaraderie, currying favour, as he
believed, ingratiating himself with the coarse bluntness that served him
among some men, even among some women.

“We’ll fix it somehow,” he said reassuringly; “don’t you worry, Leila.
I’ve confidence in you, little girl! You’ve got me out of sticky messes
before, eh? Well, we’ve weathered a few, haven’t we?”

Even the horrible parody on wedded loyalty left her silent, unmoved,
dark eyes brooding; and he began to grow a little restless and anxious
as his jocularity increased without a movement in either response or
aversion from his wife.

“You needn’t be scared, if I’m not,” he said reproachfully. “The house
is worth two hundred and fifty thousand, and there’s only fifty on it
now. If that fat, Dutch skinflint, Plank, shows his tusks, we can clap
on another fifty.” And as she made no sound or movement in reply: “As
far as Plank goes, haven’t I done enough for him to square it? What have
we ever got out of him, except a thousand or two now and then when the
cards went against me? If I took it, it was practically what he owes
me. And if he thinks it’s too much--look here, Leila! I’ve a trick up my
sleeve. I can make good any time I wish to. I’m in a position to marry
that man to the girl he’s mad about--stark, raving mad.”

Mrs. Mortimer slowly raised her head and looked at her husband.

“Leroy, are you mad?”

“I! Not much!” he exclaimed gleefully. “I can make him the husband of
the most-run-after girl in New York--if I want to. And at the same
time I can puncture the most arrogant, the most cold-blooded, selfish,
purse-proud, inflated nincompoop that ever sat at the head of a
director’s table. O-ho! Now you’re staring, Leila. I can do it; I can
make good. What are you worrying about? Why, I’ve got a hundred ways to
square that cheque, and each separate way is a winner.”

He rose, shook out the creases in his trousers, and adjusted the squat,
gold fob which ornamented his protruding waistcoat.

“So you’ll fix it, won’t you, Leila?” he said, apparently oblivious that
he had expressed himself as able to adjust the matter in one hundred
equally edifying and satisfactory manners.

She did not answer. He lingered a moment at the door, looking back with
an ingratiating leer; but she paid him no attention, and he took
himself off, confident that her sulkiness could not result in anything
unpleasant to anybody except herself.

Nor did it, as far as he could see. The days brought no noticeable
change in his wife’s demeanour toward him. Plank, when he met him, was
civil enough, though it did occur to Mortimer that he saw very little of
Plank in these days.

“Ungrateful beggar!” he thought bitterly; “he’s toadying to Belwether
now. I can’t do anything more for him, so I don’t interest him.”

And for a while he wore either a truculent, aggrieved air in
Plank’s presence, or the meeker demeanour of a martyr, sentimentally
misunderstood, but patient under the affliction.

Then there came a time when he needed money. During the few days he
spent circling tentatively and apprehensively around his wife he learned
enough to know that there was nothing to be had from her at present. No
doubt the money she raised to placate Plank--if she had placated him in
that fashion--was a strain on her resources, whatever those resources
were.

One thing was certain: Plank had not remained very long in ignorance of
the cheque drawn against his balance, if indeed, as Mortimer feared, the
bank itself had not communicated with Plank as soon as the cheque was
presented for payment. Therefore Plank must have been placated by Leila;
how, Mortimer was satisfied not to know.

“Some of these days,” he said to himself, “I’ll catch her tripping,
and then there’ll be a decent division of property, or--there’ll be a
divorce.” But, as usual, Mortimer found such practices more attractive
in theory than in execution, and he was really quite contented to go
on as things were going, if somebody would see that he had some money
occasionally.

One of these occasions when he needed it was approaching. He had made
a “killing” at Desmond’s, and had used the money to stop up the
more threatening gaps in the tottering financial fabric known as his
“personal accounts.” The fabric would hold for a while, but meantime
he needed money to go on with. And Leila evidently had none. He tried
everybody except Plank. He had scarcely the impudence to go to Plank
just yet; but when, completing the vicious circle, he found his
borrowing capacity exhausted, and himself once more face to face with
the only hope, Plank, he sat down to consider seriously the possibility
of the matter.

Of course Plank owed him more than he could ever pay--the ungrateful
parvenu!--but what Plank had thought of that cheque transaction he had
never been able to discover.

Somehow or other he must put Plank under fresh obligations; and that
might have been possible had not Leila invaded the ground, leaving
nothing, now that Plank was secure in club life.

Of course the first thing that presented itself to Mortimer’s
consideration was the engineering of Plank’s matrimonial ambitions.
Clearly the man had not changed. He was always at Sylvia’s heels; he was
seen with her in public; he went to the Belwether house a great deal. No
possible doubt but that he was as infatuated as ever. And Quarrier was
going to marry her next November--that is, if he, Mortimer, chose to
keep silent about a certain midnight episode at Shotover.

It was his inclination, except in theory, to keep silent, partly because
of his native inertia and unwillingness to go to the physical and
intellectual exertion of being a rascal, partly because he didn’t really
want to be a rascal of that sort.

Like a man with premonitions of toothache, who walks down to the
dentist’s just to see what the number of the house looks like, and then
walks around the block to think it over, so Mortimer, suffering from
lack of money, walked round and round the central idea, unable to bring
himself to the point.

Several times he called up Quarrier on the ‘phone and made appointments
to lunch with him; but these meetings never resulted in anything except
luncheons which Mortimer paid for, and matters were becoming desperate.

So one day, after having lunched too freely, he sat down and wrote Plank
the following note:

My Dear Beverly: You will remember that I once promised you my aid in
securing what, to you, is the dearest object of your existence. I have
thought, I have pondered, I have given the matter deep and, I may add
without irreverence, prayerful consideration, knowing that the life’s
happiness of my closest friend depended on my judgment and wisdom and
intelligence to secure for him the opportunity to crown his life’s
work by the acquisition of the brightest jewel in the diadem of old
Manhattan.

“By George! that’s wickedly good, though!” chuckled Mortimer, refreshing
himself with his old stand-by, an apple, quartered, and soaked in very
old port. So he sopped his apple and swallowed it, and picked up his pen
again, chary of overdoing it.

All I say to you is, be ready! The time is close at hand when you
may boldly make your avowal. But be ready! All depends upon the
psychological moment. An instant too soon, an instant too late, and you
are lost. And she is lost forever. Remember! Be faithful; trust in me,
and wait. And the instant I say, “Speak!” pour out your soul, my dear
friend, and be certain you are not pouring it out in vain. L. M.

Writing about “pouring out” made him thirsty, so he fortified himself
several times, and then, sealing the letter, went out to a letter-box
and stood looking at it.

“If I mail it I’m in for it,” he muttered. After a while he put the
letter in his pocket and walked on.

“It really doesn’t commit me to anything,” he reflected at last, halting
before another letter-box. And as he stood there, hesitating, he glanced
up and saw Quarrier entering the Lenox Club. The next moment he flung up
the metal box lid, dropped in his letter, and followed Quarrier into the
club.

Then events tumbled forward almost without a push from him. Quarrier was
alone in a window corner, drinking vichy and milk and glancing over
the afternoon papers. He saw Mortimer, and invited him to join him; and
Mortimer, being thirsty, took champagne.

“I’ve been trying a new coach,” said Quarrier, in his colourless and
rather agreeable voice; and he went on leisurely explaining the points
of the new mail-coach which had been built in Paris after plans of his
own, while Mortimer gulped glass after glass of chilled wine, which
seemed only to make him thirstier. Meantime he listened, really
interested, except that his fleshy head was too full of alcohol and
his own project to contain additional statistics concerning coaching.
Besides, Quarrier, who had never been over-cordial to him, was more so
now--enough for Mortimer to venture on a few tentative suggestions of a
financial nature; and though, as usual, Quarrier was not responsive, he
did not, as usual, get up and go away.

A vague hope stirred Mortimer that it might not be beyond his persuasive
tongue to make this chilly, reticent young man into a friend some day--a
helpful friend. For Mortimer all his life had trusted to his tongue; and
though poorly enough repaid, the few lingual victories remained in his
memory, along with an inexhaustible vanity and hope; while his countless
defeats and the many occasions on which his tongue had played him false
were all forgotten. Besides, he had been drinking more heavily all day
than was his custom.

So Quarrier talked, sparingly, about his new coach, about Billy
Fleetwood’s renowned string of hunters, about Ashley Spencer’s new
stable and his chances at Saratoga with Roy-a-neh, for which he had paid
a fabulous sum--the sum and the story probably equally fabulous.

Mortimer’s head was swimming with ideas; he was also talking a great
deal, much more than he had intended; he was saying things he had not
exactly intended to say, either, in just that way. He realised it,
but he went on, unable to stop his own tongue, the noise of which
intoxicated him.

Once or twice he thought Quarrier looked at him rather strangely; but he
would show Quarrier that he was nobody’s fool; he’d show Quarrier that
he was a friend, a good, staunch friend; and that Quarrier had long,
long undervalued him. Waves of sentiment spread through and through him;
his affection for Quarrier dampened his eyes; and still he blabbed on
and on, gazing with brimming eyes upon Quarrier, who sat back silent
and attentive as Mortimer circled and blundered nearer and nearer to the
crucial point of his destination.

Midway in one of his linguistic ellipses Quarrier leaned forward and
caught his arm in a grip of steel. Another man had entered the room.
Mortimer, made partly conscious by the pain of Quarrier’s vise-like
grip, was sober enough to recognise the impropriety of his continuing
aloud the veiled story he had been constructing with what he supposed to
be a cunning as matchless as it was impenetrable.

Later he found himself upstairs in a private card-room, facing Quarrier
across a table, and still talking and quenching his increasing thirst.
He knew now what he was telling Quarrier; he was unveiling the parable;
he was stripping metaphor from a carefully precise story. He used
Siward’s name presently; presently he used Sylvia’s name. A moment
later--or was it an hour?--Quarrier stopped him, coldly, without a
trace of passion, demanding corroborative detail. And Mortimer gave it,
wagging his head and one fat forefinger as emphasis.

“You saw that?” repeated Quarrier, deadly white of a sudden.

“Yes; an’ I--”

“At three in the morning?”

“Yes; an’ I want--”

“You saw him enter her room?”

“Yes; an’ I wan’ tersay thish to you, because I’m your fr’en’. Don’ wan’
anny fr’en’s mine get fooled on women! See? Thash how I feel. I respec’
the sect! See! Women, lovely women! See? Respec’ sect! Gimme y’han’,
buzzer--er--brother Quar’er! Your m’ fr’en’; I’m your fr’en’. I know
how it is. Gotter wife m’own. Rotten one. Stingy! Takes money outter m’
pockets. Dam ‘stravagant. Ruin me! … Say, old boy, what about dividend
due ‘morrow on Orange County Eclectic--mean Erlextic--no!--mean ‘Letric!
Damn!--Wasser masser tongue?”

Opening his fond and foggy eyes, and finding himself alone in the
card-room, he began to cry; and a little later, attempting to push the
electric button, he fell over a lounge and lay there, his shirt-front
soiled with wine, one fat leg trailing to the floor; not the ideal
position for slumber, perhaps, but what difference do attitudes and
postures and poses make when a gentleman, in the sacred seclusion of
his own club, is wooing the drowsy goddess with blasts of votive music
through his empurpled nose?

In the meantime, however, he was due to dine at the Belwether house; and
when eight o’clock approached, and he had not returned to dress, Leila
called up Sylvia Landis on the telephone:

“My dear, Leroy hasn’t returned, and I suppose he’s forgotten about the
Bridge. I can bring Mr. Plank, if you like.”

“Very well,” said Sylvia, adding, “if Mr. Plank is there, may I speak to
him a moment?”

So Leila rose, setting the receiver on the desk, and Plank came in from
the library and settled himself heavily in the chair:

“Did you wish to speak to me, Miss Landis?”

“Is that you, Mr. Plank? Yes; will you dine with us at eight? Bridge
afterward, if you don’t mind.”

“Thank you.”

“And, Mr. Plank, you had a note from me this morning?”

“Yes.”

“Please disregard it.”

“If you wish.”

“I do. It is not worth while.” And as Plank made no comment, “I have no
further interest in the matter. Do you understand?”

“No,” said Plank doggedly.

“I have nothing more to say. I am sorry. We dine at eight,” concluded
Sylvia hurriedly.

Plank hung up the receiver and sat eyeing it for a while in silence.
Then his jaw began to harden and his under lip protruded, and he folded
his great hands, resting them in front of him on the edge of the desk,
brooding there, with eyes narrowing like a sleepy giant at prayer.

When Leila entered, in her evening wraps, she found him there, so
immersed in reverie that he failed to hear her; and she stood a moment
at the doorway, smiling to herself, thinking how pleasant it was to come
down ready for the evening and find him there, as though he belonged
where he sat, and was part of the familiar environment.

Recently she had grown younger in a smooth-skinned, full-lipped way--so
much younger that it was spoken of. Something girlish in figure, in
spontaneity, in the hesitation of her smile, in the lack of that hard,
brilliant confidence which once characterised her, had developed; as
though she were beginning her début again, reverting to a softness
and charm prematurely checked. Truly, her youth’s discoloured blossom,
forced by the pale phantom of false spring, was refolding to a bud once
more; and the harsher tints of the inclement years were fading.

“Beverly,” she said, “I am ready.”

Plank stood up, dazed from his reverie, and walked toward her. His
white tie had become disarranged; she raised her hands, halting him, and
pulled it into shape for him, consciously innocent of the intimacy.

“Thank you,” he said. “Do you know how pretty you are this evening?”

“Yes; I was very happy at my mirror. Do you know, the withered years
seem to be dropping from me like leaves from an autumn sapling. And I
feel young enough to say so poetically. … Did Sylvia try to flirt with
you over the wire?”

“Yes, as usual,” he said drily, descending the stairs beside her.

“And really you don’t love her any more?” she queried.

“Scarcely.” His voice was low and rather disagreeable, and she looked
up.

“I wish I knew what you and Sylvia find to talk about so frequently, if
you’re not in love.”

But he made no answer; and they drove away to the Belwether house, a
rather wide, old-style mansion of brown stone, with a stoop dividing
its ugly façade, and a series of unnecessary glass doors blockading the
vestibule.

A drawing-room and a reception-room flanked the marble-tiled hall;
behind these the dining-room ran the width of the rear. It was a typical
gentlefolk’s house of the worst period of Manhattan, and Major Belwether
belonged in it as fittingly as a melodeon belongs in a west-side flat.
The hall-way was made for such a man as he to patter through; the
velvet-covered stairs were as peculiarly fitted for him as a runway is
for a rabbit; the suave pink-and-white drawing-room, the discreet, gray
reception-room, the soft, fat rugs, the intricacies of banisters and
alcoves and curtained cubby-holes--all reflected his personality, all
corroborated the ensemble. It was his habitat, his distinctly, from the
pronounced but meaningless intricacy of the architecture to the studied
but unconvincing tints, like a man who suddenly starts to speak, but
checks himself, realising he has nothing in particular to say.

There were half a dozen people there lounging informally between the
living-room on the second floor and Sylvia’s apartments in the rear--the
residue from a luncheon and Bridge party given that afternoon by Sylvia
to a score or so of card-mad women. A few of these she had asked to
remain for an informal dinner, and a desperate game later--the sort
of people she knew well enough to lose to heavily or win from without
remorse--Grace Ferrall, Marion Page, Agatha Caithness. Trusting to the
telephone that morning, she had secured the Mortimers and Quarrier,
failing three men; and now the party, with Plank as Mortimer’s
substitute, was complete, all thorough gamesters--sex mattering nothing
in the preparation for such a séance.

In Sylvia’s boudoir Grace Ferrall and Agatha Caithness sat before the
fire; Sylvia, at the mirror of her dresser, was correcting the pallor
incident to the unbroken dissipation of a brilliant season; Marion, with
her inevitable cigarette, wandered between Sylvia’s quarters and the
library, where Quarrier and Major Belwether were sitting in low-voiced
confab.

Leila, greeted gaily from the boudoir, went in. Plank entered the
library, was mauled effusively by the major, returned Quarrier’s firm
hand shake, and sat down with an inquiring smile.

“Oh, yes, we’re out for blood to-night,” tittered Major Belwether,
grasping Quarrier’s arm humourously and shaking it to emphasise his
words--a habit that Quarrier thoroughly disliked. “Sylvia had a lot of
women here playing for the season score, so I suggested she keep the
pick of them for dinner, and call in a few choice ones to make a night
of it.”

“It’s agreeable to me,” said Plank, still looking at Quarrier with
the same inquiring expression, which that gentleman presently chose to
understand.

“I haven’t had a chance to look into that matter,” he said carelessly.
“Some day, when you have time to go over it--”

“I have time now,” said Plank; “there’s nothing to go over; there’s no
reason for any secrecy. All I wrote you was that I proposed to control
the stock of Amalgamated Electric and that I wished your advice in the
matter.”

“I could not give you any advice off-hand on such an extraordinary
suggestion,” returned Quarrier coldly. “If you know where the stock is,
you’ll understand.”

“Do you mean what it is quoted at, or who owns it?” interrupted Plank.

“Who owns it. Everybody knows where it has dropped to, I suppose. Most
people know, too, where it is held.”

“Yes; I do.”

“And who is manipulating it,” added Quarrier indifferently.

“Do you mean Harrington’s people?”

“I don’t mean anybody in particular, Mr. Plank.”

“Oh!” said Plank, staring, “I was sure you couldn’t have meant
Harrington; because,” he went on deliberately, “there are other theories
floating about that mysterious pool, one of which I’ve proved.”

Quarrier looked at him out of his velvety-lidded eyes:

“What have you proved?”

“I’ll tell you, if you’ll appoint an interview.”

“I’ll come too,” began Belwether, who had been listening, loose-mouthed
and intent; “we’re all in it--Howard, Kemp Ferrall, and I--”

“And Stephen Siward,” observed Plank, so quietly that Quarrier never
even raised his eyes to read the stolid face opposite.

Presently he said: “Do you know anybody who can deliver you any
considerable block of Amalgamated Electric at the market figures?”

“I could deliver you several blocks, if you care to bid,” said Plank
bluntly.

Belwether grew red, then pale. Quarrier stiffened in his chair, but his
eyes were only sceptical. Plank’s under lip had begun to protrude again;
he swung his massive head, looking from Belwether back to Quarrier:

“Pool or no pool,” he continued, “you Amalgamated people will want to
see the stock climb back into the branches from which somebody shook it
out; and I propose to put it there. That is all I had meant to say to
you, Mr. Quarrier. I’m not averse to saying it here to you, and I do.
There’s no secrecy about it. Figure out for yourself how much stock I
control, and who let it go. Settle your family questions and put your
house in order; then invite me to call, and I’ll do it. And I have an
idea that we are going to stand on our own legs again, and recover our
self-respect and our fighting capacity; and I rather think we’ll stop
this hold-up business, and that our Inter-County friend will let go the
sand-bag and pocket the jimmy, and talk business across the line-fence.”

Quarrier’s characteristic pallor was no index to his feelings, nor was
his icy reticence. All hell might be boiling below.

When anybody gave Quarrier a letter to read he took a long time reading
it; but if he was slow he was also minute; he went over every word
again and again, studying, absorbing each letter, each period, the
conformation of every word. And when he ended he had in his brain a
photograph of the letter which he would never forget.

And now, slowly, minutely, methodically, he was going over and over
Plank’s words, and his manner of saying them, and their surface import,
and the hidden one, if any.

If Plank had spoken the truth--and there was no reason to doubt
it--Plank had quietly acquired a controlling interest in Amalgamated
Electric. That meant treachery in somebody. Who? Probably Siward,
perhaps Belwether. He would not look at the latter just yet; not for
a minute or two. There was time enough to see through that withered,
pink-and-white old fraud. But why had Plank done this? And why did Plank
suspect him of any desire to wreck his own property? He did suspect him,
that was certain.

After a silence, he spoke quietly and without emotion:

“Everybody concerned will be glad to see Amalgamated Electric declaring
dividends. This is a shock to us,” he glanced impassively at the
shrunken major, “but a pleasant shock. I think it well to arrange a
meeting as soon as possible.”

“To-morrow,” said Plank, with a manner of closing discussion. And in his
brusque ending of the matter Quarrier detected the ringing undertone of
an authority he never had and never would endure; and though his pale,
composed features betrayed not the subtlest shade of emotion, he was
aware that a new element had come into his life--a new force was growing
out of nothing to confront him, an unfamiliar shape loomed vaguely
ahead, throwing its huge distorted shadow across his path. He sensed it
with the instinct of kind for kind, not because Plank’s millions meant
anything to him as a force; not because this lumbering, red-faced
meddler had blundered into a family affair where confidence consisted in
joining hands lest a pocket be inadvertently picked; not because Plank
had knocked at the door, expecting treachery to open, and had found it,
but because of the awful simplicity of the man and his methods.

If Plank suspected him, he must also suspect him of complicity in the
Inter-County grab; he must suspect him of the ruthless crushing
power that corrupts or annihilates opposition, making a mockery
of legislation, a jest of the courts, and an epigram of a people’s
indignation.

And yet, in the face of all this, careless, fearless, frank to the
outer verge of stupidity--which sometimes means the inability to be
afraid--this man Plank was casually telling him things which men regard
as secrets and as weapons of defence--was actually averting him of his
peril, and telling him almost contemptuously to pull up the drawbridge
and prepare for siege, instead of rushing the castle and giving it to
the sack.

As Quarrier sat there meditating, his long, white fingers caressing his
soft, pointed beard, Sylvia came in, greeting the men collectively with
a nod, and offering her hand to Plank.

“Dinner is announced,” she said; “please go in farm fashion. Wait!” as
Plank, following the major and Quarrier, stood aside for her to pass.
“No, you go ahead, Howard; and you,” to the major.

Left for a moment in the room with Plank, she stood listening to the
others descending the stairs; then:

“Have you seen Mr. Siward?”

“Yes,” said Plank.

“Oh! Is he well?”

“Not very.”

“Is he well enough to read a letter, and to answer one?”

“Oh, yes; he’s well enough in that way.”

“I supposed so. That is why I said to you, over the wire, not to trouble
him with my request.”

“You mean that I am not to say anything about your offer to buy the
hunter?”

“No. If I make up my mind that I want the horse I’ll write
him--perhaps.”

Lingering still, she let one hand fall on the banisters, turning back
toward Plank, who was following:

“I understood you to mean that--that Mr. Siward’s financial affairs
were anything but satisfactory?”--the sweet, trailing, upward inflection
making it a question.

“When did I say that?” demanded Plank.

“Once--a month ago.”

“I didn’t,” said Plank bluntly.

“Oh, I had inferred it, then, from something you said, or something you
were silent about. Is that it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Am I quite wrong, then?” she asked, looking him in the eyes.

And Plank, who never lied, found no answer. Considering him for a moment
in silence, she turned again and descended the stairs.

The dinner was one of those thoroughly well-chosen dinners of few
courses and faultless service suitable for card-players, who neither
care to stuff themselves as a preliminary to a battle royal, nor to
dawdle through courses, eliminating for themselves what is not good for
them. The men drank a light, sound, aromatic Irish of the major’s; the
women--except Marion, who took what the men took--used claret sparingly.
Coffee was served where they sat; the men smoking, Agatha and Marion
producing their own cigarettes.

“Don’t you smoke any more?” asked Grace Ferrall of Leila Mortimer, and
at the smiling negative, “Oh, that perhaps explains it. You’re growing
positively radiant, you know. You’ll he wearing a braid and a tuck in
your skirt if you go on getting younger.”

Leila laughed, colouring up as Plank turned in his chair to look at her
closer.

“No, it won’t rub off, Mr. Plank,” said Marion coolly, “but mine will.
This,” touching a faint spot of colour under her eyes, “is art.”

“Pooh! I’m all art!” said Grace. “Observe, Mr. Plank, that under this
becoming flush are the same old freckles you saw at Shotover.” And she
laughed that sweet, careless laugh of an adolescent and straightened
her boyish figure, pretty head held high, adding: “Kemp won’t let me
‘improve’ myself, or I’d do it.”

“You are perfect,” said Sylvia, rising from the table, her own
lovely, rounded, youthful figure condoning the exaggeration; “you’re
sufficiently sweet as you are. Good people, if you are ready, we will
go through the ceremony of cutting for partners--unless otherwise you
decide. How say you?”

“I don’t care to enter the scramble for a man,” cried Grace. “If it’s to
choose, I’d as soon choose Marion.”

Plank looked at Leila, who laughed.

“All right; choose, then!” said Sylvia. “Howard, you’re dying, of
course, to play with me, but you’re looking very guiltily at Agatha.”

The major asked Leila at once; so Plank fell to Sylvia, pitted against
Marion and Grace Ferrall.

A few moments later the quiet of the library was broken by the butler
entering with decanters and ice, and glasses that tinkled frostily.

Play began at table Number One on a passed make of no trumps by Sylvia,
and at the other table on a doubled and redoubled heart make, which
sent a delicate flush into Agatha’s face, and drove the last vestige of
lingering thoughtfulness from Quarrier’s, leaving it a tense, pallid,
and expressionless mask, out of which looked the velvet-fringed eyes of
a woman.

Of all the faces there at the two tables, Sylvia’s alone had not
changed, neither assuming the gambler’s mask nor the infatuated glare
of the amateur. She was thoughtful, excited, delighted, or dismayed by
turns, but always wholesomely so; the game for its own sake, and not the
stakes, absorbing her, partly because she had never permitted herself to
weigh money and pleasure in the same balance, but kept a mental pair of
scales for each.

As usual, the fever of gain was fiercest in those who could afford to
lose most. Quarrier, playing to rule with merciless precision, coldly
exacted every penalty that a lapse in his opponents permitted. Agatha,
her teeth set in her nether lip, her eyes like living jewels, answered
Quarrier’s every signal, interpreted every sign, her play fitting in
exactly with his, as though she were his subconscious self balancing the
perfectly adjusted mechanism of his body and mind.

Now and then lifting her eyes, she sent a long, limpid glance at
Quarrier like a pale shaft of light; and under his heavy-fringed lashes,
at moments, his level gaze encountered her’s with a slow narrowing of
lids--as though there was more than one game in progress, more than one
stake being played for under the dull rose glow of the clustered lights.

Sylvia, sitting dummy at the other tables mechanically alert to Plank’s
cards dropping in rapid sequence as he played alternately from his
own hand and the dummy, permitted her thoughtful eyes to wander toward
Agatha from moment to moment. How alluring her subtle beauty, in its own
strange way! How perfect her accord with her partner! How faultless
her intelligence, divining the very source of every hidden motive
controlling him, forestalling his intent--acquiescent, delicate,
marvellous intelligence--the esoteric complement of two parts of a
single mind.

The collar of diamonds and aqua marines shimmered like the reflection of
shadowy lightning across her throat; a single splendid jewel glowed on
her left hand as her fingers flashed among the cards for the make-up.

“A hundred aces,” broke in Plank’s heavy voice as he played the last
trick and picked up the scoring card and pencil.

Sylvia’s blue eyes were laughing as Plank cut the new pack. Marion Page
coolly laid aside her cigarette, dealt, and made it “without” in the
original.

“May I play?” asked Sylvia sweetly.

“Please,” growled Plank.

So Sylvia serenely played from the “top of nothing,” and Grace Ferrall
whisked a wonderful dummy across the green; and Plank’s thick under lip
began to protrude, and he lowered his heavy head like a bull at bay.

Once Marion, over-intent, touched a card in the dummy when she should
have played from her own hand; and Sylvia would have let it pass, had
not Plank calmly noted the penalty.

“Oh, dear! It’s too much like business,” sighed Sylvia. “Can’t we play
for the sake of the sport? I don’t think it good sportsmanship to profit
by a blunder.”

“Rule,” observed Marion laconically. “‘Ware barbed wire, if you want the
brush.”

“I myself never was crazy for the brush,” murmured Sylvia.

Grace whispered maliciously: “But you’ve got it, with the mask and
pads,” and her mischievous head barely tipped backward in the direction
of Quarrier.

“Especially the mask,” returned Sylvia, under her breath, and laid on
the table the last card of a Yarborough.

Plank scored without comment. Marion cut, and resumed her cigarette.
Sylvia dealt with that witchery of rounded wrists and slim fingers
fascinating to men and women alike. Then, cards en règle, passed the
make. Plank, cautiously consulting the score, made it spades, which
being doubled, Grace led a “singleton” ace, and Plank slapped down a
strong dummy and folded his great arms.

Toward midnight, Sylvia, absorbed in her dummy, fancied she heard the
electric bell ringing at the front door. Later, having barely made the
odd, she was turning to look at the major, when, beyond him, she saw
Leroy Mortimer enter the room, sullen, pasty-skinned, but perfectly
sober and well groomed.

“You are a trifle late,” observed Sylvia carelessly. Grace Ferrall and
Marion ignored him. Plank bade him good evening in a low voice.

The people at the other table, having completed their rubber, looked
around at Mortimer in disagreeable surprise.

“I’ll cut in, if you want me. If you don’t, say so,” observed Mortimer.

It was plain that they did not; so he settled himself in an arm-chair,
with an ugly glance at his wife and an insolent one at Quarrier; and the
game went on in silence; Leila and the major still losing heavily under
the sneering gaze of Mortimer.

At last, “Who’s carrying you?” he broke out, exasperated; and in the
shocked silence Leila, very white, made a movement to rise, but Quarrier
laid his long fingers across her arm, pressing her backward.

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” he remarked, looking coldly at
Mortimer.

Plank laid down his cards, rose, and walked over to Mortimer:

“May I have a word with you?” he asked bluntly.

“You may. And I’ll help myself to a word or two with you,” retorted
Mortimer, following Plank out of the room, down the stairs to the
lighted reception-room, where they wheeled, confronting one another.

“What is the matter?” demanded Plank. “At the club they told me you were
asleep in the card-room. I didn’t tell Leila. What is wrong?”

“I’m--I’m dead broke,” said Mortimer harshly. “Billy Fleetwood took my
paper. Can you help me out? It’s due to-morrow.”

Plank looked at him gravely, but made no answer.

“Can you?” repeated Mortimer violently. “Haven’t I done enough for you?
Haven’t I done enough for everybody? Is anybody going to show me any
consideration? Look at Quarrier’s manner to me just now! And this very
day I did him a service that all his millions can’t repay. And there
you stand, too, staring at me as though I were some damned importuning
shabby-genteel, hinting around for an opening to touch you. Yes, you
do! And this very day I have done for you the--the most vital thing--the
most sacred favour one man can do for another--”

He halted, stammered something incoherent, his battered eyes wet with
tears. The man was a wreck--nerves, stamina, mind on the very verge of
collapse.

“I’ll help you, of course,” said Plank, eyeing him. “Go home, now, and
sleep. I tell you I’ll help you in the morning. … Don’t give way! Have
you no grit? Pull up sharp, I tell you!”

But Mortimer had fallen into a chair, his ravaged face cradled in his
hands. “I’ve got all that’s c-coming to me,” he said hoarsely; “I’m all
in--all in! God! but I’ve got the jumps this trip. … You’ll stand for
this, won’t you, Plank? I was batty, but I woke up in time to grasp the
live wire Billy Fleetwood held--three shocks in succession--and his were
queens full to my jacks--aces to kings twice!--Alderdene and Voucher
sitting in until they’d started me off hiking hellward!”

He began to ramble, and even to laugh weakly, passing his puffy, shaking
hands across his eyes.

“It’s good of you, Beverly; I appreciate it. But I’ve been good to you.
You’re all to the good, my boy! Understand? All to the good. I fixed it;
I did it for you. You can have your innings now. You can have her when
you want her, I tell you.”

“What do you mean?” said Plank menacingly.

“Mean! I mean what I told you that day at Black Fells, when we were
riding. I told you you had a chance to win out. Now the chance has
come--same’s I told you. Start in, and by the time you’re ready to say
‘When?’ she’ll be there with the bottle!”

“I don’t think you are perfectly sane yet,” said Plank slowly.

“Let it go at that, then,” sniggered Mortimer, struggling to his feet.
“Bring Leila back; I’m all in; I’m going home. You’ll be around in the
morning, won’t you?”

“Yes,” said Plank. “Have you got a cab?”

Mortimer had one. The glass and iron doors clanged behind him, and
Plank, waiting a moment, sighed, raised his head, and, encountering the
curious gaze of a servant, trudged off up-stairs again.

The game had ended at both tables. Quarrier and Agatha stood by the
window together, conversing in low voices. Belwether, at a desk, sat
muttering and fussing with a cheque-book. The others were in Sylvia’s
apartments.

A few moments later Kemp Ferrall arrived, in the best of spirits, very
much inclined to consider the night as still young; but his enthusiasm
met with no response, and presently he departed with his wife and Marion
in their big Mercedes, wheeling into the avenue at a reckless pace, and
streaming away through the night like a meteor run mad.

Leila, in her wraps, emerged in a few moments, looking at Plank out of
serious eyes; and they made their brief adieux and went away in Plank’s
brougham.

When Agatha’s maid arrived, Quarrier also started to take his leave; but
Sylvia, seated at a card-table, idly arranging the cards in geometrical
designs and fanciful arabesques, looked up at him, saying:

“I wanted to say something to you, Howard.”

Agatha passed them, going into Sylvia’s room for her wraps; and Quarrier
turned to Sylvia:

“Well?” he said, with the slightest hint of impatience.

“Can’t you stay a minute?” asked Sylvia, surprised.

“Agatha is going in the motor with me. Is it anything important?”

She considered him without replying. She had never before detected that
manner, that hardness in a voice always so even in quality.

“What is it?” he repeated.

She thought a moment, putting aside for the time his manner, which she
could not comprehend; then:

“I wanted to ask you a question--a rather ignorant one, perhaps. It’s
about your Amalgamated Electric Company. May I ask it, Howard?”

After a second’s stare, “Certainly,” he said.

“It’s only this: If the other people--the Inter-County, I mean--are
slowly ruining Amalgamated, why don’t you stop it?”

Quarrier’s eyes narrowed. “Oh! And who have you been discussing the
matter with?”

“Mr. Plank,” she said simply. “I asked him. He shook his head, and said
I’d better ask you. And I do ask you.”

For a moment he stood mute; then his lips began to shrink back over his
beautiful teeth in one of his rare laughs.

“I’ll be very glad to explain it some day,” he said; but there was
no mirth in his voice or eyes, only the snickering lip wrinkling the
pallor.

“Will you not answer now?” she asked.

“No, not now. But I desire you to understand it some day--some day
before November. And one or two other matters that it is necessary for
you to understand. I want to explain them, Sylvia, in such a manner that
you will never be likely to forget them. And I mean to; for they are
never out of my mind, and I wish them to be as ineffaceably impressed on
yours. … Good night.”

He took her limp hand almost briskly, released it, and stepped down the
stairs as Agatha entered, cloaked, to say good night.

They kissed at parting--“life embracing death”--as Mortimer had sneered
on a similar occasion; then Sylvia, alone, stood in her bedroom, hands
linked behind her, her lovely head bent, groping with the very ghosts of
thought which eluded her, fleeing, vanishing, reappearing, to peep out
at her only to fade into nothing ere she could follow where they flitted
through the dark labyrinths of memory.

The major, craning his neck in the bay-window, saw Agatha and Quarrier
enter the big, yellow motor, and disappear behind the limousine. And it
worried him horribly, because he knew perfectly well that Quarrier had
lied to him about a jewelled collar precisely like the collar worn
by Agatha Caithness; and what to do or what to say to anybody on
the subject was, for the first time in his life, utterly beyond his
garrulous ability. So, for the first time also in his chattering
career, he held his tongue, reassured at moments, at other moments
panic-stricken lest this marriage he had engineered should go amiss, and
his ambitions be nipped at the very instant of triumphant maturity.

“This sort of thing--in your own caste--among your own kind,” his
panicky thoughts ran on, “is b-bad form--rotten bad taste on both sides.
If they were married--one of them, anyway! But this isn’t right; no, by
gad! it’s bad taste, and no gentleman could countenance it!”

It was plain that he could, however, his only fear being that somebody
might whisper something to turn Sylvia’s innocence into a terrible
wisdom which would ruin everything, and knock the underpinning from the
new tower which his inflated fancy beheld slowly growing heavenward,
surmounting the house of Belwether.

Another matter: he had violated his word, and had been caught at it by
his prospective nephew-in-law--broken his pledged word not to sell his
Amalgamated Electric holdings, and had done it. Yet, how could Plank
dominate, unless another also had done what he had done? And it made
him a little more comfortable to know he was sharing the fault with
somebody--probably with Siward, whom he now had the luxury of despising
for the very thing he himself had done.

“Drunkard!” he muttered to himself; “he’s in the gutter at last!”

And he repeated it unctuously, almost reconciled to his own shortcoming,
because it was the first time, as far as he knew, that a Belwether might
legitimately enjoy the pleasures of holding the word of a Siward in
contempt.

Sylvia had dismissed her maid, the old feeling of distaste for the touch
of another had returned since the last mad, crushed embrace in Siward’s
arms had become a memory. More and more she was returning to old
instincts, old habits of thought, reverting to type once more, virgin of
lip and thought and desire, save when the old memory stopped her heart
suddenly, then sent it racing, touching her face with quick, crimson
imprint.

Now, blue eyes dreaming under the bright masses of her loosened hair,
she sat watching the last glimmer amid the ashes whitening on the
hearth, thinking of Siward and of what had been between them, and of
what could never be--never, never be.

One red spark among the ashes--her ambition, deathless amid the ashes of
life! When that, too, went out, life must be extinct.

What he had roused in her had died when he went away. It could never
awake again, unless he returned to awaken it. And he never would; he
would never come again.

One brief interlude of love, of passion, in her life could neither tint
nor taint the cool, normal sequence of her days. All that life held for
a woman of her caste--all save that--was hers when she stretched out her
hand for it--hers by right of succession, of descent; hers by warrant
unquestioned, by the unuttered text of the ukase to be launched, if
necessary, by that very, very old lady, drowsing, enthroned, as the
endless pageant wound like a jewelled river at her feet.

So Siward could never come again, sauntering toward her through the
sunlight, smiling his absent smile. She caught her breath painfully,
straightening up; a single ash fell in the fire; the last spark went
out.



CHAPTER XI THE CALL OF THE RAIN

The park was very misty and damp and still that morning.

There was a scent of sap and new buds in the February haze, a glimmer
of green on southern slopes, a distant bird note, tentative, then
confident, rippling from the gray tangle of naked thickets. Here and
there in hollows the tips of amber-tinted shoots pricked the soil’s dark
surface; here and there in the sparse woodlands a withered leaf still
clinging to oak or beech was forced to let go by the swelling bud at its
base and fell rustling stiffly in the silence.

Far away on the wooded bridle-path the dulled double gallop of horses
sounded, now muffled in a hollow, now louder, jarring the rising ground,
nearer, heavier, then suddenly checked to a trample, as Sylvia drew
bridle by the reservoir, and, straightening in her saddle, raised her
flushed face to the sky.

“Rain?” she asked, as Quarrier, controlling his beautiful, restive
horse, ranged up beside her.

“Probably,” he said, scarcely glancing at the sky, where, above the
great rectangular lagoons, hundreds of sea-gulls, high in the air, hung
flapping, stemming some rushing upper gale unfelt below.

She walked her mount, head lifted, watching the gulls; he followed,
uninterested, imperturbable in his finished horsemanship. With horses he
always appeared to advantage, whether on the box of break or coach, or
silently controlling a spike or tandem, or sitting his saddle in his
long-limbed, faultless fashion, maintaining without effort the very
essence of form. Here he was at his best, perfectly informal, informally
perfect.

They had ridden every day since the weather permitted--even before it
permitted--thrashing and slashing through the rotting ice and snow,
galloping over the frozen, gravelly loam, amid leafless trees and a
winter-smitten perspective--drearier for the distant, eastern glimpse of
the avenue’s marble and limestone façades and the vast cliffs of masonry
and brick looming above the west and south.

On these daily rides together it was her custom to discuss practical
matters concerning their future; and it was his custom to listen until
pressed for a suggestion, an assent, or a reply.

Sparing words--cautious, chary of self-commitment, and seldom offering
to assume the initiative--this was the surface character which she had
come to recognise and acquiesce in; this was Quarrier as he had been
developed from her hazy, preconceived ideas of the man before she had
finally accepted him at Shotover the autumn before. She also knew him
as a methodical man, exacting from others the orderly precision which
characterised his own dealings; a man of education and little learning,
of attainments and little cultivation, conversant with usages, formal,
intensely sensitive to ridicule, incapable of humour.

This was Quarrier as she knew him or had known him. Recently she had,
little by little, become aware of an indefinable change in the man. For
one thing, he had grown more reticent. At times, too, his reserve seemed
to have something almost surly about it; under his cold composure a hint
of something concealed, watchful, and very quiet.

Confidences she had never looked for in him nor desired. It appalled her
at moments to realise how little they had in common, and that only
on the surface--a communion of superficial interest incident to the
fulfilment of social duties and the pursuit of pleasure. Beyond that she
knew nothing of him, required nothing of him. What was there to know?
what to require?

Now that the main line of her route through life had been surveyed and
carefully laid out, what was there more for her in life than to set
out upon her progress? It was her own road. Presumptive leader already,
logical leader from the day she married--leader, in fact, when the
ukase, her future legacy, so decreed; it was a royal road laid out for
her through the gardens and pleasant places; a road for her alone, and
over it she had chosen to pass. What more was there to desire?

From the going of Siward, all that he had aroused in her of love, of
intelligence, of wholesome desire and sane curiosity--the intellectual
restlessness, the capacity for passion, the renaissance of the simpler
innocence--had subsided into the laissez faire of dull quiescence. If
in her he had sown, imprudently, subtle, impulsive, unworldly
ideas, flowering into sudden brilliancy in the quick magic of his
companionship, now those flowers were dead under the inexorable winter
of her ambition, where all such things lay; her lonely childhood, with
its dimmed visions of mother-love ineffable; the strange splendour of
the dreams haunting her adolescence--pageants of bravery and the
glitter of the cross, altars of self-denial and pure intent, service
and sacrifice and the scorn of wrong; and sometimes, seen dimly with
enraptured eyes through dissolving mists--the man! glimmering for an
instant, then fading, resolved into the starry void which fashioned him.


Riding there, head bent, her pulses timing the slow pacing of her
horse, she presently became aware, without looking up, that Quarrier was
watching her. Dreams vanished. A perfectly unreasonable sense of being
spied upon, of something stealthy about it all, flashed to her mind and
was gone, leaving her grave and perplexed. What a strange suspicion!
What an infernal inference! What grotesque train of thought could have
culminated in such a sinister idea!

She moved slightly in her saddle to look at him, and for an instant
fancied that there was something furtive in his eyes; only for an
instant, for he quietly picked up the thread of conversation where
she had dropped it, saying that it had been raining for the last ten
minutes, and that they might as well turn their horses toward shelter.

“I don’t mind the rain,” she said; “there is a spring-like odour in it.
Don’t you notice it?”

“Not particularly,” he replied.

“I was miles away a moment ago,” she said; “years away, I mean--a little
girl again, with two stiff yellow braids, trying to pretend that a big
arm-chair was my mother’s lap and that I could hear her whispering to
me. And there I sat, on a day like this, listening, pretending, cuddled
up tight, and looking out at the first rain of the year falling in the
backyard. There was an odour like this about it all. Memory, they say,
is largely a matter of nose!” She laughed, fearing that he might have
thought her sentimental, already regretting the familiarity of thrusting
such trivial and personal incidents upon his notice. He was probably too
indifferent to comment on it, merely nodding as she ended.

Then, without reason, through and through her shot a shiver of
loneliness--utter loneliness and isolation. Without reason, because from
him she expected nothing, required nothing, except what he offered--the
emotionless reticence of indifference, the composure of perfect
formality. What did she want, then--companions? She had them. Friends?
She could scarcely escape from them. Intimates? She had only to choose
one or a hundred attuned responsive to her every mood, every caprice.
Lonely? With the men of New York crowding, shouldering, crushing their
way to her feet? Lonely? With the women of New York struggling already
for precedence in her favour?--omen significant of the days to come, of
those future years diamond-linked in one unbroken, triumphant glitter.

Lonely!

The rain was falling out of the hanging mist, something more than a
drizzle now. Quarrier spoke of it again, but she shook her head, walking
her horse slowly onward. The train of thought she followed was slower
still, winding on and on, leading her into half light and shadow, and in
and out through hidden trails she should have known by this time--always
on, skirting the objective, circling it through sudden turns. And now
she was becoming conscious of the familiar way; now she recognised the
quiet, still by-ways of the maze she seemed doomed to wander in forever.
But, for that matter, all paths of thought were alike to her, for,
sooner or later, all ultimately led to him; and this she was already
aware of as a disturbing phenomenon to consider and account for and to
provide against--when she had leisure.

“About that Amalgamated Electric Company,” she began without prelude;
“would you mind answering a question or two, Howard?”

“You could not understand it,” he said, unpleasantly disturbed by her
abruptness.

“As you please. It is quite true I can make nothing of what the
newspapers are saying about it, except that Mr. Plank seems to be doing
a number of things.”

“Injunctions, and other matters,” observed Quarrier.

“Is anybody going to lose any money in it?”

“Who, for example?”

“Why--you, for example,” she said, laughing.

“I don’t expect to.”

“Then it is going to turn out all right? And Mr. Plank and Kemp Ferrall
and the major and--the other people interested, are not going to be
almost ruined by the Inter-County people?”

“Do you think a man like Plank is likely to be ruined, as you say, by
Amalgamated Electric?”

“No. But Kemp and the major--”

“I think the major is out of danger,” replied Quarrier, looking at her
with the new, sullen narrowing of his eyes.

“I am glad of that. Is Kemp--and the others?”

“Ferrall could stand it if matters go wrong. What others?”

“Why--the other owners and stockholders--”

“What others? Who do you mean?”

“Mr. Siward, for example,” she said in an even voice, leaning over to
pat her horse’s neck with her gloved hand.

“Mr. Siward must take the chances we all take,” observed Quarrier.

“But, Howard, it would really mean ruin for him if matters went badly.
Wouldn’t it?”

“I am not familiar with the details of Mr. Siward’s investments.”

“Nor am I,” she said slowly.

He made no reply.

Lack of emotion in the man beside her she always expected, and therefore
this new, sullen note in his voice perplexed her. Too, at times, in
his increasing reticence there seemed to be almost a hint of cold
effrontery. She felt it now--an indefinite suggestion of displeasure and
the power to retaliate; something evasive, watchful, patiently hostile;
and, try as she might, she could not rid herself of the discomfort of
it, and the perplexity.

She spoke about other things; he responded in his impassive manner.
Presently she turned her horse and Quarrier wheeled his, facing a warm,
fine rain, slanting thickly from the south.

His silky, Vandyke beard was all wet with the moisture. She noticed it,
and unbidden arose the vision of the gun-room at Shotover: Quarrier’s
soft beard wet with rain; the phantoms of people passing and repassing;
Siward’s straight figure swinging past, silhouetted against the glare of
light from the billiard-room. And here she made an effort to efface the
vision, shutting her eyes as she rode there in the rain. But clearly
against the closed lids she saw the phantoms passing--spectres of dead
hours, the wraith of an old happiness masked with youth and wearing
Siward’s features!

She must stop it! What was all this crowding in upon her as she rode
forward through the driving rain--all this resurgence of ghosts long
laid, long exorcised? Had the odour of the rain stolen her senses,
awakening memory of childish solitude? Was it that which was drugging
her with remembrance of Siward and the rattle of rain in the bay-window
above the glass-roofed swimming-pool?

She opened her eyes wide, staring straight ahead into the thickening
rain; but her thoughts were loosened now, tuned to the increasing rhythm
of her heart: and she saw him seated there, his head buried in his hands
as she stole through the dim corridors to her first tryst; saw him
look up; saw herself beside him among the cushions; tasted again the
rose-petals that her lips had stripped from the blossoms; saw once more
the dawn of something in his steady eyes; felt his arm about her, his
breath--

Her horse, suddenly spurred, bounded forward through the rain, and she
rode breathless, with lips half parted, as if afraid, turning her head
to look behind--as though she could outride the phantom clinging to her
stirrup, masked like youth, wearing the shadowy eyes of Love!


In her drenched habit, standing before her dressing-room fire, she
heard her maid soliciting entrance, and paid no heed, the door being
locked--as though a spectre could be bolted out of rooms and houses!
Pacing the floor, restless, annoyed, and dismayed by turns, she flung
her wet skirt and coat from her, piece by piece, and stood for awhile,
like some slender youth in riding breeches and shirt, facing the fire,
her fingers resting on her hips.

In the dull light of a rainy noon-day the fire reddened the ceiling,
throwing her giant shadow across the wall, where it towered, swaying,
like a ghost above her. She caught sight of it over her shoulder, and
watched it absently; then gazed into the coals again, her chin dropping
on her bared chest.

At her maid’s repeated knocking she turned, her boots and the single
spur sparkling in the firelight, and opened the door.

An hour later, fresh from her bath, luxurious in loose and filmy lace,
her small, white feet shod with silk, she lunched alone, cradled among
the cushions of her couch.

Twice she strolled through the rooms leisurely, summoned by her maid
to the telephone; the first time to chat with Grace Ferrall, who, it
appeared, was a victim of dissipation, being still abed, and out of
humour with the rainy world; the second time to answer in the negative
Marion’s suggestion that she motor to Lakewood with her for the week’s
end before they closed their house.

Sauntering back again, she sipped her milk and vichy, tasted the
strawberries, tasted a big black grape, discarded both, and lay back
among the cushions, her naked arms clasped behind her head, and dropping
one knee over the other, stared at the ceiling.

Restlessness and caprice ruled her. She seldom smoked, but seeing on the
table a stray cigarette of the sort she kept for any intimates who might
desire them, she stretched out her arm, scratched a match, and lighted
it with a dainty grimace.

Lying there, she tried to make rings; but the smoke only got into her
delicate uptilted nose and stung her tongue, and she very soon had
enough of her cigarette.

Watching the slow fire consume it between her fingers she lay supine,
following the spirals of smoke with inattentive eyes. By-and-by the
lengthening ash fell, powdering her, and she threw the cigarette into
the grate, flicked the ashes from her bare, round arm, and, clasping her
hands under her neck, turned over and closed her eyes.

Sleep?--with every pulse awake and throbbing, every heart-beat sending
the young blood rushing out through a body the incarnation of youth
and life itself! There was a faint flush in the hollow of each upturned
palm, where the fingers like relaxed petals curled inward; a deepening
tint in the parted lips; and under the lids, through the dusk of the
lashes, a glimmer of blue.

Lying there, veiled gaze conscious of the rose-light which glowed and
waned on the ceiling, she awaited the flowing tide on which so often
she had embarked and drifted out into that golden gloom serene, where,
spirit becalmed, Time and Grief faded, and Desire died out upon the
unshadowed sea of dreams.

It is long waiting for the tide when the wakeful heart beats loudly,
when the pulses quicken at a memory, and the thousand idle little
cellules of the brain, long sealed, long unused, and consigned to the
archives of What Is Ended, open one by one, releasing each its own
forgotten ghost.

And how can the heart rest, the pulse sleep, startled to a flutter, as
one by one the tiny cells unclose unbidden, and the dead remembrance,
from its cerements freed, brightens to life?

Words he had used, the idle lifting of his head, the forgotten
inflection of his voice, the sunlight on his hair and the sea-wind
stirring it; his figure as it turned to move away, the half-caught echo
of his laugh, faint, faint!--so that her own ears, throbbing, strained
to listen; the countless unimportant moments she had thought unmarked,
yet carefully stored up, without her knowledge, in the magic cellules
of her brain--all, all were coming back to life, more and more distinct,
startlingly clear.

And she lay like one afraid to move, lest her stirring waken a vague
something that still slept, something she dared not arouse, dared not
meet face to face, even in dreams. An interval--perhaps an hour, perhaps
a second--passed, leaving her stranded so close to the shoals of slumber
that sleep passed only near enough to awaken her.

The room was very still and dim, but the clamour in her brain unnerved
her, and she sat up among the cushions, looking vacantly about her with
the blue, confused eyes, the direct, unseeing gaze of a child roused by
a half-heard call.

The call--low, imperative, sustained--continued softly persistent
against her windows--the summons of the young year’s rain.

She went to the window and stood among the filmy curtains, looking out
into the mist; a springlike aroma penetrated the room. She opened the
window a little way, and the sweet, virile odour enveloped her.

A thousand longings rose within her; unnumbered wistful questions
stirred her, sighing, unanswered.

Aware that her lips were moving unconsciously, she listened to the words
forming automatic repetitions of phrases long forgotten:

“And those that look out of the windows be darkened, And the door shall
be shut in the streets.”

What was it she was repeating?

“Also they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fear shall be in
the way.”

What echo of the past was this?

“And desire shall fail: because--”

Intent, absorbed in retracing the forgotten sequence to its source, she
stood, breathing the thickening incense of the rain; and every breath
was drawing her backward, nearer, nearer to the source of memory. Ah,
the cliff chapel in the rain!--the words of a text mumbled deafly--the
yearly service for those who died at sea! And she, seated there in the
chapel dusk thinking of him who sat beside her, and how he feared a
heavier, stealthier, more secret tide crawling, purring about his feet!

Enfin! Always, always at the end of everything, He! Always, reckoning
step by step, backward through time, He! the source, the inception, the
meaning of all!

Unmoored at last, her spirit swaying, enveloped in memories of him, she
gave herself to the flood--overwhelmed, as tide on tide rose, rushing
over her--body, mind, and soul.

She closed her eyes, leaning there heavily amid the cloudy curtains; she
moved back into the room and stood staring at space through wet lashes.
The hard, dry pulse in her throat hurt her till her under lip, freed
from the tyranny of her small teeth, slipped free, quivering rebellion.

She had been walking her room to and fro, to and fro, for a long time
before she realised that she had moved at all.

And now, impulse held the helm; a blind, unreasoning desire for relief
hurried into action on the wings of impulse.

There was a telephone at her elbow. No need to hunt through lists to
find a number she had known so long by heart--the three figures which
had reiterated themselves so often, monotonously insistent, slyly
persuasive; repeating themselves even in her dreams, so that she
awoke at times shivering with the vision in which she had listened to
temptation, and had called to him across the wilderness of streets and
men.


“Is he at home?”

“--!”

“Would you ask him to come to the telephone?”

“--!”

“Please say to him that it is a--a friend. … Thank you.”

In the throbbing quiet of her room she heard the fingers of the prying
rain busy at her windows; the ticking of the small French clock, very
dull, very far away--or was it her heart? And, faintly ringing in the
receiver pressed against her ear, millions of tiny stirrings, sounds
like instruments of an elfin orchestra tuning, echoes as of steps
passing through the halls of fairy-land, a faint confusion of human-like
tones; then:

“Who is it?”

Her voice left her for an instant; her dry lips made no answer.

“Who is it?” he repeated in his steady, pleasant voice.

“It is I.”

There was absolute silence--so long that it frightened her. But before
she could speak again his voice was sounding in her ears, patient,
unconvinced:

“I don’t recognise your voice. Who am I speaking to?”

“Sylvia.”

There was no response, and she spoke again:

“I only wanted to say good morning. It is afternoon now; is it too late
to say good morning?”

“No. I’m badly rattled. Is it you, Sylvia?”

“Indeed it is. I am in my own room. I--I thought--”

“Yes, I am listening.”

“I don’t know what I did think. Is it necessary for me to telephone you
a minute account of the mental processes which ended by my calling you
up--out of the vasty deep?”

The old ring in her voice hinting of the laughing undertone, the same
trailing sweetness of inflection--could he doubt his senses any longer?

“I know you, now,” he said.

“I should think you might. I should very much like to know how you
are--if you don’t mind saying?”

“Thank you. I seem to be all right. Are you all right, Sylvia?”

“Shamefully and outrageously well. What a season, too! Everybody else is
in rags--make-up rags! Isn’t that a disagreeable remark? But I’ll come
to the paint-brush too, of course. … We all do. Doesn’t anybody ever see
you any more?”

She heard him laugh to himself unpleasantly; then: “Does anybody want
to?”

“Everybody, of course! You know it. You always were spoiled to death.”

“Yes--to death.”

“Stephen!”

“Yes?”

“Are you becoming cynical?”

“I? Why should I?”

“You are! Stop it! Mercy on us! If that is what is going on in a certain
house on lower Fifth Avenue, facing the corner of certain streets, it’s
time somebody dropped in to--”

“To--what?”

“To the rescue! I’ve a mind to do it myself. They say you are not well,
either.”

“Who says that?”

“Oh, the usual little ornithological cockatrice--or, rather, cantatrice.
Don’t ask me, because I won’t tell you. I always tell you too much,
anyway. Don’t I?”

“Do you?”

“Of course I do. Everybody spoils you and so do I.”

“Yes--I am rather in that way, I suppose.”

“What way?”

“Oh--spoiled.”

“Stephen!”

“Yes?”

And in a lower voice: “Please don’t say such things--will you?”

“No.”

“Especially to me.”

“Especially to you. No, I won’t, Sylvia.”

And, after a hesitation, she continued sweetly:

“I wonder what you were doing, all alone in that old house of yours,
when I called you up?”

“I? Let me see. Oh, I was superintending some packing.”

“Are you going off somewhere?”

“I think so.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know, Sylvia.”

“Stephen, how absurd! You must know where you are going! If you mean
that you don’t care to tell me--”

“I mean--that.”

“I decline to be snubbed. I’m shameless, and I wish to be informed.
Please tell me.”

“I’d rather not tell you.”

“Very well. … Good-bye. … But don’t ring off just yet, Stephen. … Do you
think that, sometime, you would care to see--any people--I mean when you
begin to go out again?”

“Who, for example?”

“Why, anybody?”

“No; I don’t think I should care to.”

“I wish you would care to. It is not well to let go every tie, drop
everybody so completely. No man can do that to advantage. It would be so
much better for you to go about a bit--see and be seen, you know; just
to meet a few people informally; go to see some pretty girl you know
well enough to--to--”

“To what? Make love to?”

“That would he very good for you,” she said.

“But not for the pretty girl. Besides, I’m rather too busy to go about,
even if I were inclined to.”

“Are you really busy, Stephen?”

“Yes--waiting. That is the very hardest sort of occupation. And I’m
obliged to be on hand every minute.”

“But you said that you were going out of town.”

“Did I? Well, I did not say it, exactly, but I am going to leave town.”

“For very long?” she asked.

“Perhaps. I can’t tell yet.”

“Stephen, before you go--if you are going for a very, very long
while--perhaps you will--you might care to say good-bye?”

“Do you think it best?”

“No,” she said innocently; “but if you care--”

“Do you care to have me?”

“Yes, I do.”

There was a silence; and when his voice sounded again it had altered:

“I do not think you would care to see me, Sylvia. I--they say I am--I
have--changed--since my--since a slight illness. I am not over it yet,
not cured--not very well yet; and a little tired, you see--a little
shaken. I am leaving New York to--to try once more to be cured. I expect
to be well--one way or another--”

“Stephen, where are you going? Answer me!”

“I can’t answer you.”

“Is your illness serious?”

“A--it is--it requires some--some care.”

Her fingers tightening around the receiver whitened to the delicate
nails under the pressure. Mute, struggling with the mounting impulse,
voice and lip unsteady, she still spoke with restraint:

“You say you require care? And what care have you? Who is there with
you? Answer me!”

“Why--everybody; the servants. I have care enough.”

“Oh, the servants! Have you a physician to advise you?”

“Certainly--the best in the world. Sylvia, dea--, Sylvia, I didn’t mean
to give you an impression--”

“Stephen, I will have you truthful with me! I know perfectly well you
are ill. I--if I could only--if there was something, some way--Listen: I
am--I am going to do something about it, and I don’t care very much what
I do!”

“What sweet nonsense!” he laughed, but his voice was no steadier than
hers.

“Will you drive with me?” she asked impulsively, “some afternoon--”

“Sylvia, dear, you don’t really want me to do it. Wait, listen: I--I’ve
got to tell you that--that I’m not fit for it. I’ve got to be honest
with you; I am not fit, not in physical condition to go out just yet.
I’ve really been ill--for weeks. Plank has been very nice to me. I
want to get well; I mean to try very hard. But the man you
knew--is--changed.”

“Changed?”

“Not in that way!” he said in a slow voice.

“H-how, then?” she stammered, all a-thrill.

“Nerve gone--almost. Going to get it back again, of course. Feel a
million times better already for talking with you.”

“Do--does it really help?”

“It’s the only panacea for me,” he said too quickly to consider his
words.

“The only one?” she faltered. “Do you mean to say that your
trouble--illness--has anything to do with--”

“No, no! I only--”

“Has it, Stephen?”

“No!”

“Because, if I thought--”

“Sylvia, I’m not that sort! You mustn’t talk to me that way. There’s
nothing to be sorry for about me. Any man may lose his nerve, and, if
he is a man, go after it and get it back again. Every man has a fighting
chance. You said it yourself once--that a man mustn’t ask for a fighting
chance; he must take it. And I’m going to take it and win out one way or
another.”

“What do you mean by ‘another,’ Stephen?”

“I--Nothing. It’s a phrase.”

“What do you mean? Answer me!”

“It’s a phrase,” he said again; “no meaning, you know.”

“Stephen, Mr. Plank says that you are lame.”

“What did he say that for?” demanded Siward wrathfully.

“I asked him. Kemp saw you on crutches at your window. So I asked Mr.
Plank, and he said you had discarded your crutches too soon and had
fallen and lamed yourself again. Are you able to walk yet?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Outdoors?”

“A--no, not just yet.”

“In other words, you are practically bedridden.”

“No, no! I can get about the room very well.”

“You couldn’t go down-stairs--for an hour’s drive, could you?”

“Can’t manage that for awhile,” he said hastily.

“Oh, the vanity of you, Stephen Siward! the vanity! Ashamed to let me
see you when you are not your complete and magnificently attractive
self! Silly, I shall see you! I shall drive down on the first sunny
morning and sit outside in my victoria until you can’t stand the
temptation another instant. I’m going to do it. You cannot stop me;
nobody can stop me. I desire to do it, and that is sufficient, I think,
for everybody concerned. If the sun is out to-morrow, I shall be out
too! … I am so tired of not seeing you! Let central listen! I don’t
care. I don’t care what I am saying. I’ve endured it so long--I--There’s
no use! I am too tired of it, and I want to see you. … Can’t we see each
other without--without--thinking about things that are settled once and
for all?”

“I can’t,” he said.

“Then you’d better learn to! Because, if you think I’m going through
life without seeing you frequently you are simple! I’ve stood it too
long at a time. I won’t go through this sort of thing again! You’d
better be amiable; you’d better be civil to me, or--or--nobody on earth
can tell what will happen! The idea of you telling me you had lost your
nerve! You’ve got to get it back--and help me find mine! Yes, it’s gone,
gone, gone! I lost it in the rain, somewhere, to-day. … Does the scent
of the rain come in at your window? … Do you remember--There! I can’t
say it. … Good-bye. Good-bye. You must get well and I must, too.
Good-bye.”


The fruit of her imprudence was happiness--an excited happiness, which
lasted for a day. The rain lasted, too, for another day, then turned to
snow, choking the city with such a fall as had not been seen since the
great blizzard--blocking avenues, barricading cross-streets, burying
squares and circles and parks, and still falling, drifting, whirling
like wind-whipped smoke from cornice and roof-top. The electric cars
halted; even the great snow-ploughs roared impotent amid the snowy
wastes; waggons floundered into cross-streets and stuck until dug out;
and everywhere, in the thickening obscurity, battalions of emergency
men with pick and shovel struggled with the drifts in Fifth Avenue and
Broadway. Then the storm ended at daybreak.

All day long squadrons of white gulls wheeled and sailed in the sky
above the snowy expanse of park where the great, rectangular sheets of
water glimmered black in their white setting. As she sat at her desk she
could see them drifting into and out of the gray squares of sky framed
by her window-panes. Two days ago she had seen them stemming the sky
blasts, heralding the coming of unfelt tempests, flapping steadily
through the fragrant rain. Now, the false phantom which had mimicked
spring turned on the world the glassy glare of winter, stupefying hope,
stunning desire, clogging the life essence in all young, living things.
The first vague summons, the restlessness of awakening aspiration, the
first delicate, indrawn breath, were stilled to deathly immobility.

Sylvia, at her escritoire, chin cradled in her hollowed hand,
sat listlessly inspecting her mail--the usual pile of bills and
advertisements, social demands and interested appeals, with here and
there a frivolous note from some intimate to punctuate the endless
importunities.

Her housekeeper had come and gone; the Belwether establishment could jog
through another day. Various specialists, who cared for the health and
beauty of her body, had entered and made their unctuous exits. The major
had gone to Tuxedo for the week’s end; her maid had bronchitis; two
horses required the veterinary, and the kitchen range a new water-back.

Cards had come for the Caithness function; cards for young Austin
Wadsworth’s wedding to a Charleston girl of rumoured beauty; Caragnini
was to sing for Mrs. Vendenning; a live llama, two-legged, had consented
to undermine Christianity for Mrs. Pyne-Johnson and her guests.

“Would Sylvia be ready for the inspection of imported head-gears to
harmonise with the gowns being built by Constantine?

“When--

“Would she receive the courteous agent of ‘The Reigning Beauties of
Manhattan,’ to arrange for her portrait and biographical sketch?

“When--

“Would she realise that Jefferson B. Doty could turn earth into heaven
for any young chatelaine by affixing to the laundry his anti-microbe
drying machine emitting sixty sterilised hot-air blasts in thirty
seconds, at a cost of one-tenth of one mill per blast?

“And when--”

But she turned her head, looking wearily across the room at the brightly
burning fire beside which Mrs. Ferrall sat, nibbling mint-paste, very
serious over one of those books that “everybody was reading.”

“How far have you read?” inquired Sylvia without interest, turning over
a new letter to cut with her paper-knife.

Grace ruffled the uncut pages of her book without looking up, then
yawned shamelessly: “She’s decided to try living with him for awhile,
and if they find life agreeable she’ll marry him. … Pleasant situation,
isn’t it? Nice book, very; and they say that somebody is making a play
of it. I”--She yawned again, showing her small, brilliant teeth--“I
wonder what sort of people write these immoral romances!”

“Probably immoral people,” said Sylvia indifferently. “Drop it on the
coals, Grace.”

But Mrs. Ferrall reopened the book where she had laid her finger to mark
the place. “Do you think so?” she asked.

“Think what?”

“That rotten books and plays come from morally rotten people?”

“I don’t think about it at all,” observed Sylvia, opening another letter
impatiently.

“You’re probably not very literary,” said Grace mischievously.

“Not in that way, I suppose.”

Mrs. Ferrall took another bonbon: “Did you see ‘Mrs. Lane’s
Experiment’?”

“I did,” said Sylvia, looking up, the pink creeping into her cheeks.

“You thought it very strong, I suppose?” asked Grace innocently.

“I thought it incredible.”

“But, dear, it was sheer realism! Why blink at truth? And when an author
has the courage to tell facts why not have the courage to applaud?”

“If that is truth, it doesn’t concern me,” said Sylvia. “Grace, why will
you pose, even if you are married? for you have a clean mind, and you
know it!”

“I know it,” sighed Mrs. Ferrall, closing her book again, but keeping
the place with her finger; “and that’s why I’m so curious about all
these depraved people. I can’t understand why writers have not found out
that we women are instinctively innocent, even after we are obliged to
make our morality a profession and our innocence an art. They all hang
their romances to motives that no woman recognises as feminine; they
ascribe to us instincts which we do not possess, passions of which we
are ignorant--a ridiculous moral turpitude in the overmastering presence
of love. Pooh! If they only knew what a small part love plays with us,
after all!”

Sylvia said slowly: “It sometimes plays a small part, after all.”

“Always,” insisted Grace with emphasis. “No carefully watched girl knows
what it is, whatever her suspicions may be. When she marries, if
she doesn’t marry from family pressure or from her own motives of
common-sense ambition, she marries because she likes the man, not
because she loves him.”

Sylvia was silent.

“Because, even if she wanted to love him,” continued Grace, “she would
not know how. It’s the ingrained innocence which men encounter that
they don’t allow for or understand in us. Even after we are married, and
whether or not we learn to love our husbands, it remains part of us
as an educated instinct; and it takes all the scientific, selfish
ruthlessness of a man to break it down. That’s why I say so few among
us ever comprehend the motives attributed to us in romance or in that
parody of it called realism. Love is rarer with us than men could ever
believe--and I’m glad of it,” she said maliciously, with a final snap of
her pretty teeth.

“It was on that theory you advised me, I think,” said Sylvia, looking
into the fire.

“Advised you, child?”

“Yes--about accepting Howard.”

“Certainly. Is it not a sound theory? Doesn’t it stand inspection?
Doesn’t it wear?”

“It--wears,” said Sylvia indifferently. Grace looked up from her open
book. “Is anything amiss?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you know, child. What is wrong? Has Howard made himself
insufferable? He’s a master at it. Has he?”

“No; I don’t remember that he has. … I’m tired, physically. I’m tired of
the winter.”

“Go to Florida for Lent.”

“Horror! It’s as stupid as a hothouse. It isn’t that, either,
dear--only, when it was raining so deliciously the other day I was silly
enough to think I scented the spring in the park. I was glad of a change
you know--any excuse to stop this eternal carnival I live in.”

“What is the matter?” demanded Mrs. Ferrall, withdrawing her finger from
the pages and plumping the closed book down on her knee. “You’d better
tell me, Sylvia; you might just as well tell me now as later when my
persistence has vexed us both. Now, what has happened?”

“I have been--imprudent,” said Sylvia, in a low voice.

“You mean,”--Mrs. Ferrall looked at her keenly--“that he has been here?”

“No. I telephoned him; and I asked him to drive with me.”

“Oh, Sylvia, what nonsense! Why on earth do you stir yourself up by that
sort of silliness at this late date? What use is it? Can’t you let him
alone?”

“I--No, I can’t, it seems. Grace, I was--I felt so--so strangely about
it all.”

“About what, little idiot?”

“About leaving him--alone.”

“Are you Stephen Siward’s keeper?” demanded Mrs. Ferrall, exasperated.

“I felt as though I were, for awhile. He is ill.”

“With an illness that, thank God, you are not going to nurse through
life. Don’t look at me that way, dear. I’m obliged to speak harshly;
I’m obliged to harden my heart to such a monstrous idea. You know I love
you; you know I care deeply for that poor boy--but do you think I could
be loyal to either of you and not say what I do say? He is doomed, as
sure as you sit there! He has fallen, and no one can help him. Link
after link he has broken with his own world; his master-vice holds him
faster, closer, more absolutely, than hell ever held a lost soul!”

“Grace, I cannot endure--”

“You must! Are you trying to drug your silly self with romance so you
won’t recognise truth when you see it? Are you drifting back into old
impulses, unreasoning whims of caprice? Have you forgotten what I know
of you, and what you know of yourself? Is the taint of your transmitted
inheritance beginning to show in you--the one woman of your race who is
fashioned to withstand it and stamp it out?”

“I am mistress of my emotions,” said Sylvia, flushing.

“Then suppress them,” retorted Grace Ferrall hotly, “before they begin
to bully you. There was no earthly reason for you to talk to Stephen.
No disinterested impulse moved you. It was a sheer perverse, sentimental
restlessness--the delicate, meddlesome deviltry of your race. And if
that poison is in you, it’s well for you to know it.”

“It is in me,” said Sylvia, staring at the fire.

“Then you know what to do for it.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, I do,” said Grace decisively; “and the sooner you marry Howard
and intrench yourself behind your pride, the better off you’ll be.
That’s where, fortunately enough, you differ from your ancestors; you
are unable to understand marital treachery. Otherwise you’d make it
lively for us all.”

“It is true,” said Sylvia deliberately, “that I could not be treacherous
to anybody. But I am wondering; I am asking myself just what constitutes
treachery to myself.”

“Sentimentalising over Stephen might fill the bill,” observed Grace
tartly.

“But it doesn’t seem to,” mused Sylvia, her blue gaze on the coals.
“That is what I do not understand. I have no conscience concerning what
I feel for him.”

“What do you feel?”

“I was in love with him. You knew it.”

“You liked him,” insisted Grace patiently.

“No--loved him. I know. Dear, your theories are sound in a general way,
but what is a girl going to do about it when she loves a man? You say
a young girl can’t love--doesn’t know how. But I do love, though it
is true that I don’t know how to love very wisely. What is the use in
denying it? This winter has been a deafening, stupefying fever to me.
The sheer noise of it stunned me until I forgot how I did feel about
anything. Then--I don’t know--somehow, in the rain out there, I began
to wake … Dear, the old instincts, the old desires, the old truths, came
back out of chaos; that full feeling here”--she laid her fingers on
her throat--“the sense of expectancy, the restless hope growing out
of torpid acquiescence--all returned; and, dearest, with them all came
memories of him. What am I to do? Could you tell me?”

For a long while Mrs. Ferrall sat in troubled silence, her hand shading
her eyes. Sylvia, leaning over her desk, idling with pen and pencil,
looked around from time to time, as though awaiting the opinion of
some specialist who, in full possession of the facts, now had become
responsible for the patient.

“If you marry him,” said Mrs. Ferrall quietly, “your life will become a
hell.”

“Yes. But would it make life any easier for him?” asked Sylvia.

“How--to know that you had been dragged down?”

“No. I mean could I do anything for him?”

“No woman ever did. That is a sentimental falsehood of the emotional.
No woman ever did help a man in that way. Sylvia, if love were the only
question, and if you do truly love him, I--well, I suppose I’d be fool
enough to advise you to be a fool. Even then you’d be sorry. You know
what your future may be; you know what you are fitted for. What can
you do without Howard? In this town your rôle would be a very minor one
without Howard’s money, and you know it.”

“Yes, I know it.”

“And your sacrifice could not help that doomed boy.”

Sylvia nodded assent.

“Then, is there any choice? Is there any question of what to do?”

Sylvia looked out into the winter sky, through the tops of snowy trees;
everywhere the stark, deathly rigidity of winter. Under it, frozen, lay
the rain that had scented the air. Under her ambition lay the ghosts of
yesterday.

“No,” she said, “there is no question of choice. I know what must be.”

Grace, seated in the firelight, looked up as Sylvia rose from her desk
and came across the room; and when she sank down on the rug at her feet,
resting her cheek against the elder woman’s knees, nothing was said
for a long time--a time of length sufficient to commit a memory to its
grave, lay it away decently and in quiet befitting.

Sore doubt assailed Grace Ferrall, guiltily aware that once again
she had meddled; and in the calm tenor of her own placid, marital
satisfaction, looking backward along the pleasant path she had trodden
with its little monuments to love at decent intervals amid the agreeable
monotony of content, her heart and conscience misgave her lest she
had counselled this young girl wrongly, committing her to the arid
lovelessness which she herself had never known.

Leaning there, her fingers lingering in light caress on Sylvia’s bright
hair, for every doubt she brought up argument, to every sentimental
wavering within her heart she opposed the chilling reason of common
sense. Destruction to happiness lay in Sylvia’s yielding to her
caprice for Siward. There was other happiness in the world besides the
non-essential one of love. That must be Sylvia’s portion. And after
all--and after all, love was a matter of degree; and it was well for
Sylvia that she had the malady so lightly--well for her that it had
advanced so little, lest she suspect what its crowning miracles might be
and fall sick of a passion for what she had forever lost.


For a week or more the snow continued; colder, gloomier weather set in,
and the impending menace of Ash Wednesday redoubled the social pace,
culminating in the Westervelt ball on the eve of the forty days.
And Sylvia had not yet seen Siward or spoken to him again across the
wilderness of streets and men.

In the first relaxation of Lent she had instinctively welcomed an
opportunity for spiritual consolation and a chance to take her spiritual
bearings; not because of bodily fatigue--for in the splendour of her
youthful vigour she did not know what that meant.

Saint Berold was a pretty good saint, and his church was patronised by
Major Belwether’s household. The major liked two things high: his game
and his church. Sylvia cared for neither, but had become habituated to
both the odours of sanctity and of pheasants; so to Saint Berold’s she
went in cure of her soul. Besides, she was fond of Father Curtis, who,
if he were every inch a priest, was also every foot of his six feet a
man--simple, good, and brave.

However, she found little opportunity, save at her brief confession, for
a word with Father Curtis. His days were full days to the overbrimming,
and a fashionable pack was ever at his heels, fawning and shoving and
importuning. It was fashionable to adore Father Curtis, and for that
reason she shrank from venturing any demand upon his time, and nobody
else at Saint Berold’s appealed to her. Besides, the music was hard,
commonplace, even blatant at times, and, having a delicate ear, she
shrank from this also. It is probable then that what comfort she found
under Saint Berold’s big, brand-new Episcopal cross she extracted from
observing the rites, usages, and laws of a creed that had been accepted
for her by that Christian gentleman, Major Belwether. Also, she may have
found some solace from the still intervals devoted to an inventory of
her sins and the wistful searching of a heart too young for sadness. If
she did it was her own affair, not Grace Ferrall’s, who went with her
to Saint Berold’s determined always to confess to too much gambling, but
letting it go from day to day so that the penance could not interfere
with the next séance.

Agatha Caithness was there a great deal, looking like a saint in her
subdued plumage; and very devout, dodging nothing--neither confession
nor Quarrier’s occasionally lifted eyes, though their gaze, meeting,
seemed lost in dreamy devotion or drowned in the contemplation of the
spiritual and remote.

Plank came docilely from his Dutch Reformed church to sit beside
Leila. As for Mortimer, once a vestryman, he never came at all--made no
pretence or profession of what he elegantly expressed as “caring a damn”
 for anything “in the church line,” though, he added, there were “some
good lookers to be found in a few synagogues.” His misconception of the
attractions of the church amused the new set of men among whom he had
recently drifted, to the unfeigned disgust of gentlemen like Major
Belwether; “club” men, in the commoner and more sinister interpretation
of the word; unfit men, who had managed to slip into good clubs;
men, once fit, who had deteriorated to the verge of ostracism; heavy,
over-fed, idle, insolent men in questionable financial situation, hard
card players, hard drinkers, hard riders, negative in their virtues,
merciless in their vices, and whose cynical misconduct formed the
sources of the stock of stories told where such men foregather.

Mortimer had already furnished his world with sufficient material for
jests of that flavour; now they were telling a new one: how, as Leila
was standing before Tiffany’s looking for her carriage, a masher
accosted her, and, at her haughty stare, said sneeringly: “Oh, you can’t
play that game on me; I’ve seen you with Leroy Mortimer!”

The story was repeated frequently enough. Leila heard it with a shrug;
but such things mattered to her now, and she cried over it at night,
burning that Plank should hear her name used jestingly to emphasise the
depth of her husband’s degradation.

Mortimer stayed out at night very frequently now. Also, he appeared
to make his money go farther, or was luckier at his “card killings,”
 because he seldom attempted to bully Leila, being apparently content
with his allowance.

Once or twice Plank saw him with an unusually attractive girl belonging
to a world very far removed from Leila’s. Somebody said she was
an actress when she did anything at all--one Lydia Vyse, somewhat
celebrated for an audacity not too delicate. But Plank was no more
interested than any man who can’t afford to endanger his prospects by a
closer acquaintance with that sort of pretty woman.

Meanwhile Mortimer kept away from home, wife, and church, and Plank
frequented them, so the two men did not meet very often; and the less
they met the less they found to say to one another.

Now that the forty days had really begun, Major Belwether became
restless for the flesh-pots of the south, although Lenten duties sat
lightly enough upon the house of Belwether. These decent observances
were limited to a lax acknowledgment of fast days, church in moderation,
and active participation in the succession of informal affairs
calculated to sustain life in those intellectually atrophied and wealthy
people entirely dependent upon others for their amusements.

To these people no fear of punishment hereafter can equal the terror
of being left to their own devices; and so, though the opera was over,
theatres unfashionable, formal functions suspended and dances ended, the
pace still continued at a discreet and decorous trot; and those who had
not fled to California or Palm Beach, remained to pray and play Bridge
with an unction most edifying.

And all this while Sylvia had not seen Siward.

Sylvia was changing. The characteristic amiability, the sensitive
reserve, the sweet composure which the world had always counted on in
her, had become exceptions and no longer the rules which governed the
caprice and impulse always latent. An indifference so pointed as to
verge on insolence amazed her intimates at times; a sudden, flushed
impatience startled the habitués of her shrine. There was a new,
unseeing hardness in her eyes; in her attitude the faintest hint
of cynicism. She acquired a habit of doing selfish things coldly,
indifferent to the canons of the art; and true selfishness, the most
delicate of all the arts, requires an expert.

That which had most charmed--her unfeigned pleasure in pleasure, her
unfailing consideration for all, her gentleness with ignorance, her
generous unconsciousness of self--all these still remained, it is true,
though no longer characteristic, no longer to be counted on.

For the first time a slight sense of fear tinctured the general
admiration.

In public her indifference and growing impatience with Quarrier had not
reached the verge of bad taste, but in private she was scarcely at pains
to conceal her weariness and inattention, showing him less and less
of the formal consideration which had been their only medium of
coexistence. That he noticed it was evident even to her who carelessly
ignored the consequences of her own attitude.

Once, speaking of the alterations in progress at The Sedges, his place
near Oyster Bay, he casually asked her opinion, and she as casually
observed that if he had an opinion about anything he wouldn’t know what
to do with it.

Once, too, she had remarked in Quarrier’s hearing to Ferrall, who was
complaining about the loss of his hair, that a hairless head was a
visitation from Heaven, but a beard was a man’s own fault.

Once they came very close to a definite rupture, close enough to scare
her after all the heat had gone out of her and the matter was ended.
Quarrier had lingered late after cards, and something was said about the
impending kennel show and about Marion Page judging the English setters.

“Agatha tells me that you are going with Marion,” continued Quarrier.
“As long as Marion has chosen to make herself conspicuous there is
nothing to be said. But do you think it very good taste for you to
figure publicly on the sawdust with an eccentric girl like Marion?”

“I see nothing conspicuous about a girl’s judging a few dogs,” said
Sylvia, merely from an irritable desire to contradict.

“It’s bad taste and bad form,” remarked Quarrier coldly; “and Agatha
thought it a mistake for you to go there with her.”

“Agatha’s opinions do not concern me.”

“Perhaps mine may have some weight.”

“Not the slightest.”

He said patiently: “This is a public show; do you understand? Not one of
those private bench exhibitions.”

“I understand. Really, Howard, you are insufferable at times.”

“Do you feel that way?”

“Yes, I do. I am sorry to be rude, but I do feel that way!” Flushed,
impatient, she looked him squarely between his narrowing, woman’s eyes:
“I do not care for you very much, Howard, and you know it. I am marrying
you with a perfectly sordid motive, and you know that, too. Therefore
it is more decent--if there is any decency left in either of us--to
interfere with one another as little as possible, unless you desire a
definite rupture. Do you?”

“I? A--a rupture?”

“Yes,” she said hotly; “do you?”

“Do you, Sylvia?”

“No; I’m too cowardly, too selfish, too treacherous to myself. No, I
don’t.”

“Nor do I,” he said, lifting his furtive eyes.

“Very well. You are more contemptible than I am, that is all.”

Her voice had grown unsteady; an unreasoning rush of anger had set her
whole body a-thrill, and the white heat of it was driving her to provoke
him, as though that might cleanse her of the ignominy of the bargain--as
though a bargain did not require two of the same mind to make it.

“What do you want of me?” she said, still stinging under the angry waves
of self-contempt. “What are you marrying me for? Because, divided,
we are likely to cut small figures in our tin-trumpet world? Because,
united, we can dominate the brainless? Is there any other reason?”

Showing his teeth in that twitching snicker that contracted the muscles
of his upper lip: “Children!” he said, looking at her.

She turned scarlet to her hair; the deliberate grossness stunned her.
Confused, she stood confronting him, dumb under a retort the coarseness
of which she had never dreamed him capable.

“I mean what I say,” he repeated calmly. “A man cares for two things:
his fortune, and the heirs to it. If you didn’t know that you have
learned it now. You hurt me deliberately. I told you a plain truth very
bluntly. It is for you to consider the situation.”

But she could not speak; anger, humiliation, shame, held her
tongue-tied. The instinctive revolt at the vague horror--the monstrous,
meaningless threat--nothing could force words from her to repudiate, to
deny what he had dared to utter.

Except as the effrontery of brutality, except as a formless menace born
of his anger, the reason he flung at her for his marrying her conveyed
nothing to her in its grotesque impossibility. Only the intentional
coarseness of it was to be endured--if she chose to endure it; for the
rest was empty of concrete meaning to her.


Lent was half over before she saw him again. Neither he nor she had
taken any steps to complete the rupture; and at the Mi-carême dance,
given by the Siowa Hunt, Quarrier, who was M. F. H., took up the thread
of their suspended intercourse as methodically and calmly as though
it had never quivered to the breaking point. He led the cotillon with
agreeable precision and impersonal accuracy, favouring her at intervals;
and though she wasted no favours on him, she endured his, which was
sufficient evidence that matters were still in statu quo.

She returned to town next morning with Grace Ferrall, irritable, sulky,
furious with herself at the cowardly relief she felt. For, spite of her
burning anger against Quarrier, the suspense at times had been wearing;
and she would not make the first move--had not decided even to accept
his move if it came--at least, had not admitted to herself that she
would accept it. It had come and the tension was over, and now, entering
Mrs. Ferrall’s brougham which met them at Thirty-fourth Street Ferry,
she was furious with herself for her unfeigned feeling of relief.

All hot with self-contempt she lay back in the comfortably upholstered
corner of the brougham, staring straight before her, sullen red mouth
unresponsive to the occasional inconsequent questions of Grace Ferrall.

“After awhile,” observed Grace, “people will begin to talk about the
discontented beauty of your face.”

Sylvia’s eyebrows bent still farther inward.

“A fretful face, but rather pretty,” commented Grace maliciously.
“It won’t do, dear. Your rôle is dignified comedy. O dear! O my!” She
stifled a yawn behind her faultlessly gloved hand. “I’m feeling these
late hours in my aged bones. It wasn’t much of a dance, was it? Or am
I disillusioned? Certainly that Edgeworth boy fell in love with me--the
depraved creature--trying his primitive wiles there in the conservatory!
Little beast! There are no nice boys any more; they’re all too young or
too sophisticated. … Howard does lead well, I admit that. … You’re on
the box seat together again I see. Pooh! I wasn’t a bit alarmed.”

“I was,” said Sylvia, curling her lip in biting self-contempt.

“Well, that’s a wholesome confession, anyway. O dear, how I do yawn! and
Lent only half over. … Sylvia, what are you staring at? Oh, I--see.”

They had driven south to Washington Square, where Mrs. Ferrall had
desired to leave a note, and were now returning. Sylvia had leaned
forward to look up at Siward’s house, but with Mrs. Ferrall’s first word
she sank back, curiously expressionless and white; for she had seen a
woman entering the front door and had recognised her as Marion Page.

“Well, of all indiscretions!” breathed Grace, looking helplessly at
Sylvia. “Oh, no, that sort of thing is sheer effrontery, you know! It’s
rotten bad taste; it’s no worse, of course--but it’s bad taste. I don’t
care what privileges we concede to Marion, we’re not going to concede
this--unless she puts on trousers for good. It’s all very well for her
to talk her plain kennel talk, and call spades by their technical
names, and smoke all over people’s houses, and walk all over people’s
prejudices; but there’s no sense in her hunting for trouble; and she’ll
get it, sure as scandal is scandal!”

And still Sylvia remained pale and silent, eyes downcast, shrinking
close into her upholstered corner, as though some reflex instinct of
self-concealment was still automatically dominating her.

“She ought to be spanked!” said Grace viciously. “If she were my
daughter I’d do it, too!”

Sylvia did not stir.

“Little idiot! Going into a man’s house in the face of all Fifth Avenue
and the teeth of decency!”

“She has courage,” said Sylvia, still very white.

“Courage! Do you mean fool-hardiness?”

“No, courage--the courage I lacked. I knew he was too ill to leave his
room and I lacked the courage to go and see him.”

“You mean, alone?”

“Certainly, alone.”

“You dare tell me you ever contemplated--”

“Oh, yes. I think I should have done it yet, but--but Marion--”

Suddenly she bent forward, resting her face in her hands; and between
the fingers a bright drop ran, glimmered, and fell.

“O Lord!” breathed Mrs. Ferrall, and sank back, nerveless, into her own
corner of the rocking brougham.



CHAPTER XII THE ASKING PRICE

Siward, at his desk, over which the May sunshine streamed, his crutches
laid against his chair, sat poring over the piles of papers left there
by Beverly Plank some days before with a curt recommendation that he
master their contents.

Some of the papers were typewritten, some appeared to be engraved
certificates of stock, a few were in Plank’s heavy, squat handwriting.
There were several packages tied in pink tape, evidently legal papers of
some sort; and also a pile of scrap-books containing newspaper clippings
to which Siward referred occasionally, or read them at length, resting
his thin, fatigued face between two bony hands.

The curious persistence of youth in his features seemed unaccountable in
view of the heavy marks imprinted there; but they were marks, not
lines; bluish hollows under eyes still young, marred contours of the
cheek-bone; a hardness about the hollow temples above which his short,
bright hair clustered with all its soft, youthful allure undimmed; and
in every movement, every turn of his head, there still remained much
of that indefinable attractiveness which had always characterised his
race--much of the unconscious charm usually known as breeding.

In men of Mortimer’s fibre, dissipation produced coarser
symptoms--distended veins, and sagging flesh--where in Siward it seemed
to bruise and harden, driving the colour of blood out of him and leaving
the pallor of marble, and the bluish shadows of it staining the hollows.
Only the eyes had begun to change radically; something in them had been
quenched.

That he could never hope to become immune he had learned at last when
he had returned, physically wholesome, from his long course of training
under the famous Irish specialist on the Hudson. He had expected to be
immune, spite of the blunt and forcible language of Mulqueen when he
turned him out into the world again:

“Ye’ll be afther notin’,” said Mr. Mulqueen, “that a poonch in the
plexis putts a man out; but it don’t kill him. That’s you! Whin a man
mixes it up wid the booze, l’ave him come here an’ I’ll tache him a
thrick. But it’s not murther I tache; it’s the hook on the jaw that
shtops, an’ the poonch in the plexis that putts the booze-divil on the
bum! L’ave him take the count; he’ll niver rise to the chune o’ the bell
av ye l’ave him lie. But he ain’t dead, Misther Sayward; mark that, me
son! An’ don’t ye be afther sayin’, ‘Th’ inimy is down an’ out fur good!
Pore lad! Sure, I’ll shake hands over a dhrink wid him, for he can do me
no hurrt anny more!’ No, sorr! L’ave him lie, an’ l’ave the years av ver
life count him out; fur the day you die, he dies, an’ not wan shake o’
the mixer sooner! G’wan, now, fur the rub-down. Ye’ve faught yer lasht
round, if ye ain’t a fool!”

He had been a fool. He had imagined that he could control himself, and
practise the moderation that other men practised when they chose. The
puerile restraint annoyed him; his implied inability to master himself
humiliated him, the more so because, secretly, he was horribly afraid in
the remote depths of his heart.

Exactly how it happened he did not remember, except that he had gone
down town on business and had lunched with several men. There was
claret. Later he remembered another café, farther up town, and another,
more brilliantly lighted. After that there were vague hours--the fierce
fever of debauch wrapping night and day in flame through which he moved,
unseeing, unheeding, deafened, drenched soul and body in the living
fire; or dreaming, feeling the subsiding fury of desire pulse and ebb
and flow, rocking him to unconsciousness.

His father’s old servants had found him again, this time in the area;
and this time the same ankle, not yet strong, had been broken.

Through the waning winter days, as he lay brooding in bitterness,
realising that it was all to do over again, Plank’s shy visits became
gradually part of the routine. But it was many days before Siward
perceived in the big, lumbering, pink-fisted man anything to attract
him beyond the faintly amused curiosity of one man for another who is in
process of establishing himself as the first of a race.

As for reciprocation in other forms except the most superficial, or of
permitting a personal note to sound ever so discreetly, Siward
tolerated no such idea. Even the tentative advances of Plank hinting
on willingness, and perhaps ability, to help Siward in the Amalgamated
tangle were pleasantly ignored. Unpaid services rendered by men like
Plank were impossible; any obligation to Plank was utterly out of the
question. Meanwhile they began to like one another--at least Siward
often found himself looking forward with pleasure to a visit from
Plank. There had never been any question of the latter’s attitude toward
Siward.

Plank began to frequent the house, but never informally. It is doubtful
whether he could have practised informality in that house even at
Siward’s invitation. Something of the attitude of a college lower
classman for a man in a class above seemed to typify their relations;
and that feeling is never entirely eradicated between men, no matter how
close their relationship in after-life.

One very bad night Plank came to the house and was admitted by
Gumble. Wands, the second man, stood behind the aged butler; both were
apparently frightened.

That something was amiss appeared plainly enough; and Plank,
instinctively producing a card, dropped it on a table and turned to go.
It may have been that the old butler recognised the innate delicacy
of the motive, or it may have been a sudden confidence born of the
necessities of the case, for he asked Plank to see his young master.

And Plank, looking him in the eyes, considered, until his courage began
to fail. Then he went up-stairs.

It was a bad night outside, and it was a bad night for Siward. The
master-vice had him by the throat. He sat there, clutching the arms of
his chair, his broken leg, in its plaster casing, extended in front of
him; and when he saw Plank enter he glared at him.

Hour after hour the two men sat there, the one white with rage, but
helpless; the other, stolid, inert, deaf to demands for intercession
with the arch-vice, dumb under pleadings for a compromise. He refused to
interfere with the butler, and Siward insulted him. He refused to go and
find the decanters himself, and Siward deliberately cursed him.

Outside the storm raged all night. Inside that house Plank faced a more
awful tempest. There was a sedative on the mantel and he offered it to
Siward, who struck it from his hand.

Once, toward morning, Siward feigned sleep, and Plank, heavy head on his
breast, feigned it, too. Then Siward bent over stealthily and opened a
drawer in his desk; and Plank was on his feet like a flash, jerking the
morphine from Siward’s fingers.

The doctor arrived at daylight, responding to Plank’s summons by
telephone, and Plank went away with the morphine and Siward’s revolver
bulging in the side-pockets of his dinner coat.

He did not come again for a week. A short note from Siward started him
toward lower Fifth Avenue.

There was little said when he came into the room:

“Hello, Plank! Glad to see you.”

“Hello! Are you all right?”

“All right. … Much obliged for pulling me through. Wish you’d pull me
through this Amalgamated Electric knot-hole, too--some day!”

“Do--do you mean it?” ventured Plank, turning red with delight.

“Mean it? Indeed I do--if you do. Sit here; ring for whatever you
want--or perhaps you’d better go down to the sideboard. I’m not to be
trusted with the odour in the room just yet.”

“I don’t care for anything,” said Plank.

“Whenever you please, then. You know the house, and you don’t mind my
being unceremonious, do you?”

“No,” said Plank.

“Good!” rejoined Siward, laughing. “I expect the same friendly lack of
ceremony from you.”

But that, for Plank, was impossible. All he could do was to care the
more for Siward without crossing the border line so suddenly made free;
all he could do was to sit there rolling and unrolling his gloves into
wads with his clumsy, highly coloured hands, and gaze consciously at
everything in the room except Siward.

On that day, at Plank’s shy suggestion, they talked over Siward’s
business affairs for the first time. After that day, and for many days,
the subject became the key-note to their intercourse; and Siward at
last understood that this man desired to do him a service absolutely and
purely from a disinterested liking for him, and as an expression of that
liking. Also he was unexpectedly made aware of Plank’s serenely unerring
business sagacity.

That surface cynicism which all must learn, sooner or later, or remain
the victims of naive credulity, was, in Siward, nothing but an outer
skin, as it is in all who acquire wisdom with their cynicism. It was not
long proof against Plank’s simple attitude and undisguised pleasure in
doing something for a man he liked. Under that simplicity no motive, no
self-interest could skulk; and Siward knew it.

As for the quid pro quo, Siward had insisted from the first on a
business arrangement. The treachery of Major Belwether through sheer
fright had knocked the key-stone from the syndicate, and the dam which
made the golden pool possible collapsed, showering Plank’s brokers who
worked patiently with buckets and mops.

The double treachery of Quarrier was now perfectly apparent to Plank.
Siward, true to his word, held his stock in the face of ruin. Kemp
Ferrall, furious with the major, and beginning to suspect Quarrier, came
to Plank for consultation.

Then the defence formed under Plank. Legal machinery was set in motion,
meeting followed meeting, until Harrington cynically showed his hand and
Quarrier smiled his rare smile; and the fight against Inter-County
was on in the open, preceded by a furious clamour of charge and
counter-charge in the columns of the daily press.

That Quarrier had been guilty of something or other was the vague
impression of that great news-reading public which, stunned by the
reiteration of figures in the millions, turns to the simpler pleasures
of a murder trial. Besides, whatever Quarrier had done was no doubt done
within the chalk-marked courts of the game, though probably his shoes
may have become a little dusty.

But who could hope to bring players like Quarrier before the ordinary
umpire, or to investigate his methods with the everyday investigations
reserved for everyday folk, whose road through business life lay always
between State’s prison and the penitentiary and whose guide-posts were
policemen?

Let the great syndicates join in battle; they could only slay each
other. Let the millions bury their millions; the public, though poorer,
could never be the wiser.


Siward, at his desk, the May sunshine pouring over him, sat conning the
heaps of typewritten sheets, striving to see between the lines some
sign of fortune for his investments, some promise of release from the
increasing financial stringency, some chance of justice being done on
those high priests who had been performing marvellous tricks upon their
altar so that by miracle, mine and thine spelled “ours,” and all the
tablets of the law were lettered upside down and hind-side before, like
the Black Mass.

Gumble knocked presently. Siward raised his perplexed eyes.

“Miss Page, sir.”

“Oh,” said Siward doubtfully; then, “Ask Miss Page to come up.”

Marion strolled in a moment later, exchanged a vigorous hand shake with
Siward, pulled up a chair and dropped into it. She was in riding-habit
and boots, faultlessly groomed as usual, her smooth, pale hair sleek in
its thick knot, collar and tie immaculate as her gloves.

“Well,” she said, “any news of your ankle, Stephen?”

“I inquired about my ankle,” said Siward, amused, “and they tell me it
is better, thank you.”

“Sit a horse pretty soon?” she asked, dropping one leg over the other
and balancing the riding-crop across her knee.

“Not for awhile. You have a fine day for a gallop, Marion,” looking
askance at the sunshine filtering through the first green leaves of the
tree outside his window.

“It’s all right--the day. I’m trying Tom O’Hara’s new mare. They say
she’s a little devil. I never saw a devil of a horse--did you? There may
be some out West.”

“Don’t break that pretty neck of yours, Marion,” he said.

She lifted her eyes; then, briefly, “No fear.”

“Yes, there is,” he said. “There’s no use looking for trouble in a
horse. Women who hunt as you hunt take all that’s legitimately coming to
them. Why doesn’t Tom ride his own mare?”

“She rolled on him,” said Marion simply.

“Oh. Is he hurt?”

“Ribs.”

“Well, he’s lucky.”

“Isn’t he! He’ll miss a few drills with his precious squadron, that’s
all.”

She was looking about her, preoccupied. “Where are your cigarettes,
Stephen? Oh, I see. Don’t try to move--don’t be silly.”

She leaned over the desk, her fresh young face close to his, and reached
for the cigarettes. The clean-cut head, the sweetness of her youth and
femininity, boyish in its allure, were very attractive to him--more so,
perhaps, because of his isolation from the atmosphere of women.

“It’s all very well, Marion, your coming here--and it’s very sweet of
you, and I enjoy it immensely,” he said: “but it’s a deuced imprudent
thing for you to do, and I feel bound to say so for your sake every time
you come.”

She leaned back in her chair and coolly blew a wreath of smoke at him.

“All right,” he said, unconvinced.

“Certainly it’s all right. I’ve done what suited me all my life. This
suits me.”

“It suits me, too,” he said, “only I wish you’d tell your mother before
somebody around this neighbourhood informs her first.”

“Let ‘em. You’ll be out by that time. Do you think I’m going to tell my
mother now and have her stop it?”

“Oh, Marion, you know perfectly well that it won’t do for a girl to
ignore first principles. I’m horribly afraid somebody will talk about
you.”

“What would you do, then?”

“I?” he asked, disturbed. “What could I do?”

“Why, I suppose,” she said slowly, “you’d have to marry me.”

“Then,” he rejoined with a laugh, “I should think you’d be scared into
prudence by the prospect.”

“I am not easily--scared,” she said, looking down.

“Not at that prospect?” he said jestingly.

She looked up at him; and he remembered afterward the poise of her small
head, and the slow, clear colour mounting; remembered that it conveyed
to him, somehow, a hint of courage and sincerity.

“I am not frightened,” she said gravely.

Gravity fell upon him, too. In this young girl’s eyes there was no
evasion. For a long while he had felt vaguely that matters were not
perfectly balanced between them. At moments, even, he had felt an
indefinable uneasiness in her presence. The situation troubled him, too;
and though he had known her from childhood and had long ago learned
to discount her vagaries of informality, her manners sans façon, her
careless ignoring of convention, and the unembarrassed terms of her
speech, his common-sense could not countenance this defiance of social
usage, sure to involve even such a privileged girl as she in some
unpleasantness.

This troubled him; and now, partly sceptical, yet partly conscious,
too, of her very frank liking for himself, he looked at her, perplexed,
apprehensive, unwilling to credit her with any deeper meaning than her
words expressed.

She had grown pink and restless under his gaze, using her cigarette
frequently, and continually flicking the ashes to the floor, until the
little finger of her glove was blackened.

But courage characterised her race. It had required more than he knew
for her to come into his house; and now that she was there loyalty to
her professed principles--that a man and a woman were by right endowed
with equal privileges--forced her to face the consequences of her theory
in the practise.

She had, with calm face and quivering heart, given him an opening. That
was a concession to her essential womanhood and a cowardice on her part;
and, lest she turn utterly traitor to herself, she faced him again,
cool, quiet, and terror in her heart:

“I’d be very glad to marry you--if you c-cared to,” she said.

“Marion!”

“Yes?”

“Oh--I--it is--of course it’s a joke.”

“No; I’m serious.”

“Serious! Nonsense!”

“Please don’t say that.”

He looked at her, appalled.

“But I--but you don’t love--can’t be in love with me!” he stammered.

“I am.”

Gloved hands tightening on either end of her riding-crop, she bent her
knee against it, balancing there, looking straight at him.

“I meant to tell you so,” she said, “if you didn’t tell me first. So--I
was rather--tired waiting. So I’ve told you.”

“It is only a fancy,” he said, scarcely knowing what he was saying.

“I don’t think so, Stephen.”

But he could not meet her candour, and he sat, silent, miserable,
staring at the papers on his desk.

After a while she drew a deep, even breath, and rose to her feet.

“I’m sorry,” she said simply.

“Marion--I never dreamed that--”

“You should dream truer,” she said. There was a suspicion of mist in her
clear eyes; she turned abruptly to the window and stood there for a few
moments, looking down at her brougham waiting in front of the house. “It
can’t be helped, can it!” she said, turning suddenly.

He found no answer to her question.

“Good-bye,” she said, walking to him with outstretched hand; “it’s all
in a lifetime, Steve, and that’s too short for a good, clean friendship
like ours to die in. I don’t think I’d better come again. Look me up for
a gallop when you’re fit. And you might drop me a line to say how you’re
getting on. Is it all right, Stephen?”

“All right,” he said hoarsely.

Their hands tightened in a crushing clasp; then she swung on her spurred
heel and walked out, leaving him haggard, motionless. He heard the front
door close, and he swayed forward, dropping his face in his hands, arms
half buried among the papers on his desk.

Plank found him there, an hour later, fumbling among the papers, and
at first feared that he read in Siward’s drawn and sullen face a
premonition of the ever-dreaded symptoms.

“Quarrier has telephoned asking for a conference at last,” he said
abruptly, sitting down beside Siward.

“Well,” inquired Siward, “how do you interpret that--favourably?”

“I am inclined to think he is a bit uneasy,” said Plank cautiously.
“Harrington made a secret trip to Albany last week. You didn’t know
that.”

“No.”

“Well, he did. It looks to me as though there were going to be a ghost
of a chance for an investigation. That is how I am inclined to consider
Harrington’s trip and Quarrier’s flag of truce. But--I don’t know.
There’s nothing definite, of course. You are as conversant with the
situation as I am.”

“No, I am not. That is like you, Plank, to ascribe to me the same
business sense that you possess, but I haven’t got it. It’s very nice
and considerate of you, but I haven’t it, and you know it.”

“I think you have.”

“You think so because you think generously. That doesn’t alter the
facts. Now tell me what you have concluded that we ought to do and I’ll
say ‘Amen,’ as usual.”

Plank laughed, and looked over several sheets of the typewritten matter
on the desk beside him.

“Suppose I meet Quarrier?” he said.

“All right. Did he suggest a date?”

“At four, this afternoon.”

“Do you think you had better go?”

“I think it might do no harm,” said Plank.

“Amen!” observed Siward, laughing, and touched the electric button for
the early tea, which Plank adored at any hour.

For a while they dropped business and discussed their tea, chatting very
comfortably together. Long ago Siward had found out something of the
mental breadth of the man beside him, and that he was worth listening to
as well as talking to. For Plank had formed opinions upon a great many
subjects; and whatever culture he possessed was from sheer desire for
self-cultivation.

“You know, Siward,” he was accustomed to say with a smile, “you inherit
what I am qualifying myself to transmit.”

“It will be all one in a thousand years,” was Siward’s usual rejoinder.

“That is not going to prevent my efforts to become a good ancestor to
my descendants,” Plank would say laughingly. “They shall have a chance,
every one of them. And it will be up to them if they don’t make good.”

Sipping their tea in the pleasant, sunny room, they discussed matters
of common interest--Plank’s recent fishing trip on Long Island and the
degeneracy of liver-fed trout; the North Side Club’s Experiments with
European partridges; Billy Fleetwood’s new stables; forestry, and the
chance of national legislation concerning it--a subject of which Plank
was very fond, and on which he had exceedingly sound ideas.

Drifting from one topic to another through the haze of their cigars,
silent when it pleased them to be so, there could be no doubt of their
liking for each other upon a basis at least superficially informal; and
if Plank’s manner retained at times a shade of quaint reserve, Siward’s
was perhaps the more frankly direct for that reason.

“I think,” observed Plank, laying his half-consumed cigar on the silver
tray, “that I’d better go down town and see what our pre-glacial friend
Quarrier wants. I may be able to furnish him with a new sensation.”

“I wonder if Quarrier ever experienced a genuine sensation,” mused
Siward, arranging the papers before him into divisional piles.

“Plenty,” said Plank drily.

“I don’t think so.”

“Plenty,” repeated Plank. “It’s your thin-lipped, thin-nosed,
pasty-pale, symmetrical brother who is closer to the animal under his
mask than any of us imagine. I--” He hesitated. “Do you want to know
my opinion of Quarrier? I’ve never told you. I don’t usually talk about
my--dislikes. Do you want to know?”

“Certainly,” said Siward curiously.

“Then, first of all, he is a sentimentalist.”

“Oh! oh!” jeered Siward.

“A sentimentalist of the weakest type,” continued Plank obstinately;
“because he sentimentalises over himself. Siward, look out for the man
with elaborate whiskers! Look out for a pallid man with eccentric hair
and a silky beard! He’s a sentimentalist of the sort I told you, and is
usually utterly remorseless in his dealings with women. I suppose you
think me a fool.”

“I think Quarrier is indifferent concerning women,” said Siward.

“You are wrong. He is a sensualist,” insisted Plank.

“Oh, no, Plank--not that!”

“A sensualist. His sentimental vanity he lavishes upon himself--the
animal in him on women. His caution, born of self-consideration, is the
caution of a beast. Such men as he believe they live in the focus of a
million eyes. Part of his vanity is to deceive those eyes and be what he
is under the mask he wears; and to do that one must be the very master
of caution. That is Quarrier’s vanity. To conceal, is his monomania.”

“I cannot see how you draw that conclusion.”

“Siward, he is a bad man, and crafty--every inch of him.”

“Oh, come, now! Only characters in fiction have no saving qualities. You
never heard of anybody in real life being entirely bad.”

“No, I didn’t; and Quarrier isn’t. For example, he is kind to valuable
animals--I mean, his own.”

“Good to animals! The bad man’s invariable characteristic!” laughed
Siward. “I’m kind to ‘em, too. What else is he good to?”

“Everybody knows that he hasn’t a poor relation left; not one. He is
loyal to them in a rare way; he filled one subsidiary company full of
them. It is known down town as the ‘Home for Destitute Nephews.’”

“Seriously, Plank, the man must have something good in him.”

“Because of your theory?”

“Yes. I believe that nobody is entirely bad. So do the great masters of
fiction.”

Plank said gravely: “He is a good son to his father. That is perfectly
true--kind, considerate, dutiful, loyal. The financial world is
perfectly aware that Stanley Quarrier is to-day the most unscrupulous
old scoundrel who ever crushed a refinery or debauched a railroad! and
his son no more believes it than he credits the scandalous history of
the Red Woman of Wall Street. Why, when I was making arrangements
for that chapel Quarrier came to me, very much perturbed, because he
understood that all the memorial chapels for the cathedral had been
arranged for, and he had desired to build one to the memory of his
father! His father! Isn’t it awful to think of!--a chapel to the memory
of the briber of judges and of legislatures, the cynical defier of
law!--this hoary old thief, who beggared the widow and stripped the
orphan, and whose only match, as a great unpunished criminal, was that
sinister little predecessor of his, who dreamed even of debauching the
executive of these United States!”

Siward had never before seen Plank aroused, and he said so, smiling.

“That is true,” said Plank earnestly; “I waste little temper over my
likes and dislikes. But what I know, and what I legitimately infer
concerning the younger Quarrier is enough to rouse any man’s anger.
I won’t tell you what I know. I can’t. It has nothing to do with his
financial methods, nothing to do with this business; but it is bad--bad
all through! The blow his father struck at the integrity of the bench
the son strikes at the very key-stone of all social safeguard. It isn’t
my business; I cannot interfere; but Siward, I’m a damned restless
witness, and the old, primitive longing comes back on me to strike--to
take a stick and use it to splinters on that man whom I am going down
town to politely confer with! … And I must go now. Good-bye. … Take
care of that ankle. Any books I can send you--anything you want? No? All
right. And don’t worry over Amalgamated Electric, for I really believe
we are beginning to frighten them badly.”

“Good-bye,” said Siward. “Don’t forget that I’m always at home.”

“You must get out,” muttered Plank; “you must get well, and get out into
the sunshine.” And he went ponderously down-stairs to the square hall,
where Gumble held his hat and gloves ready for him.

He had come in a big yellow and black touring-car; and now, with a brief
word to his mechanic, he climbed into the tonneau, and away they sped
down town--a glitter of bull’s-eye, brass, and varnish, with the mellow,
horn notes floating far in their wake.

It was exactly four o’clock when he was ushered into Quarrier’s private
suite in the great marble Algonquin Loan and Trust Building, the upper
stories of which were all golden in the sun against a sky of sapphire.

Quarrier was alone, gloved and hatted, as though on the point of
leaving. He showed a slight surprise at seeing Plank, as if he had
not been expecting him; and the manner of offering his hand subtly
emphasised it as he came forward with a trace of inquiry in his
greeting.

“You said four o’clock, I believe,” observed Plank bluntly.

“Ah, yes. It was about that--ah--matter--ah--I beg your pardon; can you
recollect?”

“I don’t know what it is you want. You requested this meeting,” said
Plank, yawning.

“Certainly. I recollect it perfectly now. Will you sit here, Mr.
Plank--for a moment--”

“If it concerns Inter-County, it will take longer than a moment--unless
you cannot spare the time now,” said Plank. “Shall we call it off?”

“As a matter of fact I am rather short of time just now.”

“Then let us postpone it. I shall probably be at my office if you are
anxious to see me.”

Quarrier looked at him, then laid aside his hat and sat down. There was
little to be done in diplomacy with an oaf like that.

“Mr. Plank,” he said, without any emphasis at all, “there should be some
way for us to come together. Have you considered it?”

“No, I haven’t,” replied Plank.

“I mean, for you and me to try to understand each other.”

“For us?” asked Plank, raising his blond eyebrows. “Do you mean
Amalgamated Electric and Inter-County, impersonally?”

“I mean for us, personally.”

“There is no way,” said Plank, with conviction.

“I think there is.”

“You are wasting time thinking it, Mr. Quarrier.”

Quarrier’s velvet-fringed eyes began to narrow, but his calm voice
remained unchanged: “We are merely wasting energy in this duel,” he
said.

“Oh, no; I don’t feel wasted.”

“We are also wasting opportunities,” continued Quarrier slowly. “This
whole matter is involving us in a tangle of litigation requiring our
constant effort, constant attention.”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Quarrier, but you take it too seriously. I
have found, in this affair, nothing except a rather agreeable mental
exhilaration.”

“Mr. Plank, if you are not inclined to be serious--”

“I am,” said Plank so savagely that Quarrier, startled, could not doubt
him. “I like this sort of thing, Mr. Quarrier. Anything that is hard
to overcome, I like to overcome. The pleasure in life, to me, is to
win out. I am fighting you with the greatest possible satisfaction to
myself.”

“Perhaps you see victory ahead,” said Quarrier calmly.

“I do, Mr. Quarrier, I do. But not in the manner you fear I may hope for
it.”

“Do you mind saying in what manner you are already discounting your
victory, Mr Plank?”

“No, I don’t mind telling you. I have no batteries to mask. I don’t care
how much you know about my resources; so I’ll tell you what I see, Mr.
Quarrier. I see a parody of the popular battle between razor-back and
rattler. The rattler only strives to strike and kill, not to swallow.
Mr. Quarrier, that old razor-back isn’t going home hungry; but--he’s
going home.”

“I’m afraid I am not familiar enough with the natural history you quote
to follow you,” said Quarrier with a sneer, his long fingers busy with
the silky point of his beard.

“No, you won’t follow me home; you’ll come with me, when it’s all over.
Now is it very plain to you, Mr. Quarrier?”

Quarrier said, without emotion: “I repeat that it would be easy for you
and me to merge our differences on a basis absolutely satisfactory to
you and to me--and to Harrington.”

“You are mistaken,” said Plank, rising. “Good afternoon.”

Quarrier rose, too. “You decline to discuss the matter?” he asked.

“It has been discussed sufficiently.”

“Then why did you come here?”

“To see for myself how afraid of me you really are,” said Plank. “Now I
know, and so do you.”

“You desire to make it a personal matter?” inquired Quarrier, in a low
voice, his face dead white in the late sunlight which illuminated the
room.

“Personal? No--impersonal; because there could be absolutely nothing
personal between us, Mr. Quarrier; and the only thing in the world that
there ought to be between us are a few stout, steel bars. Beg pardon
for talking shop. I’m a shopkeeper, and I’m in the steel business, and I
lack opportunities for cultivation. Good day.”

“Mr. Plank--”

“Mr. Quarrier, I want to tell you something. Never before, in business
differences, has private indignation against any individual interfered
or modified my course of action. It does now; but it does not dictate
my policy toward you; it merely, as I say, modifies it. I am perfectly
aware of what I am doing; what social disaster I am inviting by this
attitude toward you personally; what financial destruction I am courting
in arousing the wrath of the Algonquin Trust Company and of the powerful
interests intrenched behind Inter-County Electric. I know what the
lobby is; I know what judge cannot be counted on; I know my peril and my
chances, every one; and I take them--every one. For it is a good fight,
Mr. Quarrier; it will be talked of for years to come, wonderingly; not
because of your effrontery, not because of my obstinacy, but because
such monstrous immorality could ever have existed in this land of ours.
Your name, Harrington’s, mine, will have become utterly forgotten long,
long before the horror of these present conditions shall cease to be
remembered.”

He stretched out one ponderous arm, pointing full between Quarrier’s
unwinking eyes.

“Take your fighting chance--it is the cleanest thing you ever touched;
and use it cleanly, or there’ll be no mercy shown you when your time
comes. Let the courts alone--do you hear me? Let the legislature alone.
Keep your manicured hands off the ermine. And tell Harrington to shove
his own cold, splay fingers into his own pockets for a change. They’ll
be warmer than his feet by this time next year.”

For a moment he towered there, powerful, bulky, menacing; then his arm
dropped heavily--the old stolid expression came back into his face,
leaving it calm, bovine, almost stupid again. And he turned, moving
slowly toward the door, holding his hat carefully in his gloved hand.

Stepping out of the elevator on the ground floor he encountered
Mortimer, and halted instinctively. He had not seen Mortimer for weeks;
neither had Leila; and now he looked at him inquiringly, disturbed at
his battered and bloodshot appearance.

“Oh,” said Mortimer, “you down here?”

“Have you been out of town?” asked Plank cautiously.

Mortimer nodded, and started to pass on toward the bronze cage of the
elevator, but something seemed to occur to him suddenly; he checked his
pace, turned, and waddled after Plank, rejoining him on the marble steps
of the rotunda.

“See here,” he panted, holding Plank by the elbow and breathing heavily
even after the short chase across the lobby, “I meant to tell you
something. Come over here and sit down a moment.”

Still grasping Plank’s elbow in his puffy fingers, he directed him
toward a velvet seat in a corner of the lobby; and here they sat down,
while Mortimer mopped his fat neck with his handkerchief, swearing at
the heat under his breath.

“Look here,” he said; “I promised you something once, didn’t I?”

“Did you?” said Plank, with his bland, expressionless stare of an
overgrown baby.

“Oh, cut that out! You know damn well I did; and when I say a thing I
make good. D’ye see?”

“I don’t see,” said Plank, “what you are talking about.”

“I’m talking about what I said I’d do for you. Haven’t I made good?
Haven’t I put you into everything I said I would? Don’t you go
everywhere? Don’t people ask you everywhere?”

“Yes--in a way,” said Plank wearily. “I am very grateful; I always will
be. … Can I do anything for you, Leroy?”

Mortimer became indignant at the implied distrust of the purity of his
motives; and Plank, failing to stem the maudlin tirade, relapsed into
patient silence, speculating within himself as to what it could be that
Mortimer wanted.

It came out presently. Mortimer had attended a “killing” at Desmond’s,
and, as usual, had provided the pièce de résistance for his soft-voiced
host. All he wanted was a temporary deposit to tide over matters. He had
never approached Plank in vain, and he did not do so now, for Plank had
a pocket cheque-book and a stylograph.

“It’s damn little to ask, isn’t it?” he muttered resentfully. “That will
only square matters with Desmond; it doesn’t leave me anything to go on
with,” and he pocketed his cheque with a scowl.

Plank was discreetly silent.

“And that is not what I chased you for, either,” continued Mortimer. “I
didn’t intend to say anything about Desmond; I was going to fix it
in another way!” He cast an involuntary and sinister glance at the
elevators gliding ceaselessly up and down at the end of the vast marble
rotunda; then his protruding eyes sought Plank’s again:

“Beverly, old boy, I’ve got a certain mealy-faced hypocrite where any
decent man would like to have him--by the scruff of his neck. He’s fit
only to kick; and I’m going to kick him good and plenty; and in the
process he’s going to let go of several things.” Mortimer leered,
pleased with his own similes, then added rather hastily: “I mean, he’s
going to drop several things that don’t belong to him. Leave it to me to
shake him down; he’ll drop them all right. … One of ‘em’s yours.”

Plank looked at him.

“I told you once that I’d let you know when to step up and say ‘Good
evening’ didn’t I?”

Plank continued to stare.

“Didn’t I?” repeated Mortimer peevishly, beginning to lose countenance.

“I don’t understand you,” said Plank, “and I don’t think I want to
understand you.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Mortimer thickly; “don’t you want to marry
that girl!” but he shrank dismayed under the slow blaze that lighted
Plank’s blue eyes.

“All right,” he stammered, struggling to his fat legs and instinctively
backing away; “I thought you meant business. I--what the devil do I care
who you marry! It’s the last time I try to do anything for you, or for
anybody else! Mark that, my friend. I’ve plenty to worry over; I’ve
a lot to keep me busy without lying awake to figure out how to do
kindnesses to old friends. Damn this ingratitude, anyway!”

Plank gazed at him for a moment; the anger in his face had died out.

“I am not ungrateful,” he said. “You may say almost anything except
that, Leroy. I am not disloyal, no matter what else I may be. But you
have made a bad mistake. You made it that day at Black Fells when you
offered to interfere. I supposed you understood then that I could never
tolerate from anybody anything of such a nature. It appears that you
didn’t. However, you understand it now. So let us forget the matter.”

But Mortimer, keenly appreciative of the pleasures of being
misunderstood, squeezed some moisture out of his distended eyes, and sat
down, a martyr to his emotions. “To think,” he gulped, “that you, of all
men, should turn on me like this!”

“I didn’t mean to. Can’t you understand, Leroy, that you hurt me?”

“Hurt hell!” retorted Mortimer vindictively. “You’ve had sensation
battered out of you by this time. I guess society has landed you a few
while I was boosting you over the outworks. Don’t play that old con game
on me! You tried to get her and you couldn’t. Now I come along and
offer to put you next and you yell about your hurt feelings! Oh, splash!
There’s another lady, that’s all.”

“Let it go at that, then,” said Plank, reddening.

“But I tell you--”

“Drop it!” snapped Plank.

“Oh, very well! if you’re going to take it that way again--”

“I am. Cut it! And now let me ask you a question: Where were you going
when I met you?”

“What do you want to know for?” asked Mortimer sullenly.

“Why, I’ll tell you, Leroy. If you have any idea of identifying yourself
with Quarrier’s people, of seeking him at this juncture with the
expectation of investing any money in his schemes, you had better not do
so.”

“Investing!” sneered Mortimer. “Well, no, not exactly, having nothing
to invest, thanks to my being swindled into joining his Amalgamated
Electric gang. Don’t worry. If there’s any shaking down to be done, I’ll
do it, my friend,” and he rose, and started toward the elevators.

“Wait,” said Plank. “Why, man, you can’t frighten Quarrier! What did you
sell your holdings for? Why didn’t you come to us--to me? What’s the
use of going to Quarrier now, and scolding? You can’t scare a man like
that.”

Mortimer fairly grinned in his face.

“Your big mistake,” he sneered, “is in undervaluing others. You don’t
think I amount to very much, do you, Beverly? But I’m going to try to
take care of myself all the same.” He laughed, showing his big teeth,
and the vanity in him began to drug him. “No, you think I don’t know
much. But men like you and Quarrier will damn soon find out! I want you
to understand,” he went on excitedly, forgetting the instinctive caution
which in saner moments he was only too certain that his present business
required--“I want you to understand a few things, my friend, and one of
them is that I’m not afraid of Quarrier, and another is, I’m not afraid
of you!”

“Leroy--”

“No, not afraid of you, either!” repeated Mortimer with an ugly stare.
“Don’t try any of your smug, aint-it-a-shame-he-drinks ways on me,
Beverly! I’m getting tired of it; I’m tired of it now, by God! You keep
a civil tongue in your head after this--do you understand?--and we’ll
get on all right. If you don’t, I’ve the means to make you!”

“Are you crazy?”

“Not a bit of it! Too damn sane for you and Leila to hoodwink!”

“You are crazy!” repeated Plank, aghast.

“Am I? You and Leila can take the matter into court, if you want
to--unless I do. And”--here he leaned forward, showing his teeth
again--“the next time you kiss her, close the door!”

Then he went away up the marble steps and entered an elevator; and
Plank, grave and pale, went out into the street and entered his big
touring-car. But the drive up town and through the sunlit park gave him
no pleasure, and he entered his great house with a heavy, lifeless step,
head bent, as though counting every crevice in the stones under his
lagging feet. For the first time in all his life he was afraid of a man.


The man he was afraid of had gone directly to Quarrier’s office, missing
the gentleman he was seeking by such a small fraction of a minute
that he realised they must have passed each other in the elevators, he
ascending while Quarrier was descending.

Mortimer turned and hurried to the elevator, hoping to come up with
Quarrier in the rotunda, or possibly in the street outside; but he was
too late, and, furious to think of the time he had wasted with Plank, he
crawled into a hansom and bade the driver take him to a number he gave,
designating one of the new limestone basement houses on the upper west
side.

All the way up town, as he jolted about in his seat, he angrily
regretted the meeting with Plank, even in spite of the cheque. What
demon had possessed him to boast--to display his hand when there
had been no necessity? Plank was still ready to give him aid at a
crisis--had always been ready. Time enough when Plank turned stingy to
use persuasion; time enough when Plank attempted to dodge him to employ
a club. And now, for no earthly reason, intoxicated with his own vanity,
catering to his own long-smouldering resentment, he had used his club on
a willing horse--deliberately threatened a man whose gratitude had been
good for many a cheque yet.

“Ass that I am!” fumed Mortimer; “now when I’m stuck I’ll have to go at
him with the club, if I want any money out of him. Confound him,
he’s putting me in a false position! He’s trying to make it look like
extortion! I won’t do it! I’m no blackmailer! I’ll starve, before I go
to him again! No blundering, clumsy Dutchman can make a blackmailer out
of me by holding hands with that scoundrelly wife of mine! That’s the
reason he did it, too! Between them they are trying to make my loans
from Plank look like blackmail! It would serve them right if I took them
up--if I called their bluff, and stuck Plank up in earnest! But I won’t,
to please them! I won’t do any dirty thing like that, to humour them!
Not much!”

He lay back, rolling about in the jouncing cab, scowling at space.

“Not much!” he repeated. “I’ll shake down Quarrier, though! I’ll make
him pay for his treachery--scaring me out of Amalgamated! That will be
restitution, not extortion!”

He was the angrier because he had been for days screwing up his courage
to the point of seeking Quarrier face to face. He had not wished to do
it; the scene, and his own attitude in it, could only be repugnant
to him, although he continually explained to himself that it was
restitution, not extortion.

But whatever it was, he didn’t like to figure in it, and he had hung
back as long as circumstances permitted. But his new lodgings and his
new friends were expensive; and Plank, he supposed, was off somewhere
fishing; so he hung on as long as it was possible; then, exasperated
by necessity, started for Quarrier’s office, only to miss him by a
few seconds because he was fool enough to waste his temper and his
opportunity in making an enemy out of a friend!

“Oh,” he groaned, “what an ass I am!” And he got out of his cab in front
of a very new limestone basement house with red geraniums blooming on
the window-sills, and let himself in with a latch-key.

The interior of the house was attractive in a rather bright, new, clean
fashion. There seemed to be a great deal of white wood-work about, a
wilderness of slender white spindles supporting the dark, rich mahogany
handrail of the stairway; elaborate white grilles between snowy,
Corinthian pillars separating the hall from the drawing-room, where
a pale gilt mirror over a white, colonial mantel reflected a glass
chandelier and panelled walls hung with pale blue silk.

All was new, very clean, very quiet; the maid, too, who appeared at
the sound of the closing door and took his hat and gloves was as
newly groomed as the floors and wood-work, and so noiseless as to be
conspicuous in her swift, silent movements.

Yet there was something about it all--about the bluish silvery
half-light, the spotless floors and walls, the abnormally noiseless maid
in her flamboyant cap and apron--that arrested attention and fixed it.
The soundless brightness of the house was as conspicuous as the contrast
between the maid’s black gown and her snow-white cuffs. There was
nothing subdued about anything, although the long, silvery blue curtains
were drawn over the lace window hangings; no shadows anywhere, no
half-lights. The very stillness was gay with suspense, like a pretty
woman’s suppressed laughter glimmering in her eyes.

And into this tinted light, framed in palest blue and white, waddled
Mortimer, appropriate as a June-bug scrambling in a Sèvres teacup.

“Anybody here?” he growled, leering into the drawing-room at a tiny
grand piano cased in unvarnished Circassian walnut.

“There is nobody at home, sir,” said the maid.

“Music lesson over?”

“Yes, sir, at three.”

He began to ascend the stairway, breathing heavily, thud, thud over the
deep velvet strip, his fat hand grasping the banister rail.

Somewhere on the second floor a small dog barked, and Mortimer traversed
the ball and opened the door into a room hung with gold Spanish leather
and pale green curtains.

“Hello, Tinto!” he said affably as a tiny Japanese spaniel hurled
herself at him, barking furiously, then began writhing and weaving
herself about him, gurgling recognition and welcome.

He sat down heavily in a padded easy-chair. The spaniel sprang into his
lap, wheezing, sniffling, goggling its protruding eyes. Mortimer liked
the dog, but he didn’t like what the owner of the dog said about the
resemblance between his own and Tinto’s eyes.

“Get down!” he said; “you’re shedding black and white hairs all over
me.” But the dog didn’t want to get down, and Mortimer’s good nature
permitted her to curl up on his fat knees and sleep that nervous,
twitching sleep peculiar to overpampered toy canines.

The southern sun was warm in the room; the windows open, but not a
silken hanging stirred.

Presently another maid entered, with an apple cut into thin wafers and a
decanter of port; and Mortimer lay back in his chair, sopping his apple
in the thick, crimson wine, and feeding morsels of the combination to
himself and to Tinto at intervals until the apple was all gone and the
decanter three-fourths empty.

It was very still in the room--so still, that Mortimer, opening his eyes
at longer and longer intervals to peer at the door, finally opened them
no more.

The droning gurgle that he made kept Tinto awake. When his lower jaw
sagged, and he began to really show what snoring could be, Tinto, very
nervous, got up and hopped down.


It was still daylight when Mortimer awoke, conscious of people about
him. As he opened his eyes, a man laughed; several people seated by
the windows joined in. Then, straightening up with an effort, something
tumbled from his head to the floor and he started to rise.

“Oh, look out, Leroy! Don’t step on my hat!” cried a girl’s voice; and
he sank back in his chair, gazing stupidly around.

“Hello! you people!” he said, amused; “I guess I’ve been asleep. Oh, is
that you Millbank? Whose hat was that--yours, Lydia?”

He yawned, laughed, turning his heavy eyes from one to another,
recognising a couple of young girls at the window. He didn’t want to
get up; but there is, in the society he now adorned, a stringency of
etiquette known as “re-finement,” and which, to ignore, is to become
unpopular.

So he got onto his massive legs and went over to shake hands with a
gravity becoming the ceremony.

“How d’ye do, Miss Hutchinson? Thought you were at Asbury Park. How de
do, Miss Del Garcia. Have you been out in Millbank’s motor yet?”

“We broke down at McGowan’s Pass,” said Miss Del Garcia, laughing the
laugh that had made her so attractive in “A Word to the Wise.”

“Muddy gasoline,” nodded Millbank tersely--an iron-jawed, over-groomed
man of forty, with a florid face shaved blue.

“We passed Mr. Plank’s big touring-car,” observed Lydia Vyse, shifting
Tinto to the couch and brushing the black and white hairs from her
automobile coat. “How much does a car like that cost, Leroy?”

“About twenty-five thousand,” he said gloomily. Then, looking up, “Hold
on, Millbank, don’t be going! Why can’t you all dine with us? Never
mind your car; ours is all right, and we’ll run out into the country for
dinner. How about it, Miss Del Garcia?”

But both Miss Del Garcia and Miss Hutchinson had accepted another
invitation, in which Millbank was also included.

They stood about, veils floating, leather decorated coats thrown back,
lingering for awhile to talk the garage talk which fascinates people of
their type; then Millbank looked at the clock, made his adieux to Lydia,
nodded significantly to Mortimer, and followed the others down-stairs.

There was something amiss with his motor, for it made a startling racket
in the street, finally plunging forward with a kick.

Lydia laughed as the two young girls in the tonneau turned to nod to her
in mock despair; then she came running back up-stairs, holding her skirt
free from her hurrying little feet.

“Well?” she inquired, as Mortimer turned back from the window to
confront her.

“Nothing doing, little girl,” he said with a sombre smile.

She looked at him, slowly divesting herself of her light leather-trimmed
coat.

“I missed him,” said Mortimer.

She flung the coat over a chair, stood a moment, her fingers busy with
her hair-pegs, then sat down on the couch, taking Tinto into her lap.
She was very pretty, dark, slim, marvellously graceful in her every
movement.

“I missed him,” repeated Mortimer.

“Can’t you see him to-morrow?” she asked.

“I suppose so,” said Mortimer slowly. “Oh, Lord! how I hate this
business!”

“Hasn’t he misused your confidence? Hasn’t he taken your money?” she
asked. “It may be unpleasant for you to make him unbelt, but you’re a
coward if you don’t!”

“Easy! easy, now!” muttered Mortimer; “I’m going to shake it out of him.
I said I would, and I will.”

“I should hope so; it’s yours.”

“Certainly it’s mine. I wish I’d held fast now. I never supposed Plank
would take hold. It was that drivelling old Belwether who scared me
stiff! The minute I saw him scurrying to cover like a singed cat I was
fool enough to climb the first tree. I’ve had my lesson, little girl.”

“I hope you’ll give Howard his. Somebody ought to,” she said quietly.

Then gathering up her hat and coat she went into her own apartments.
Mortimer picked up a cheap magazine, looked over the portraits of
the actresses, then, hunching up into a comfortable position, settled
himself to read the theatrical comment.

Later, Lydia not appearing, and his own valet arriving to turn on
the electricity, bring him his White Rock and Irish and the Evening
Telegraph, he hoisted his legs into another chair and sprawled there
luxuriously over his paper until it was time to dress.

About half past eight they dined in a white and pink dining-room
furnished in dull gray walnut, and served by a stealthy, white-haired,
pink-skinned butler, chiefly remarkable because it seemed utterly
impossible to get a glimpse of his eyes. Nobody could tell whether there
was anything the matter with them or not--and whether they were only
very deep set or were weak, like an albino’s, or were slightly crossed,
the guests of the house never knew. Lydia herself didn’t know, and had
given up trying to find out.

They had planned to go for a spin in Mortimer’s motor after dinner, but
in view of the Quarrier fiasco neither was in the mood for anything.

Mortimer, as usual, ate and drank heavily. He was a carnivorous man, and
liked plenty of thick, fat, underdone meat. As for Lydia, her appetite
was as erratic as her own impulses. Her table, always wastefully
elaborate, no doubt furnished subsistence for all the relatives of her
household below stairs, and left sufficient for any ambitious butler to
make a decent profit on.

“Do you know, Leroy,” she observed, as they left the table and sauntered
back into the pale blue drawing-room, “do you know that the servants
haven’t been paid for three months?”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” he expostulated, “don’t begin that sort of
thing! I get enough of that at home; I get it every time I show my
nose!”

“I only mentioned it,” she said carelessly.

“I heard you all right. It isn’t any pleasanter for me than for you. In
fact, I’m sick of it; I’m dead tired of being up against it every day
of my life. When a man has anything somebody gets it before he can
sidestep. When a man’s dead broke there’s nobody in sight to touch.”

“You had an opportunity to make Howard pay you back.”

“Didn’t I tell you I missed him?”

“Yes. What are you going to do?”

“Do?”

“Of course. You are going to do something, I suppose.”

They had reached the gold and green room above. Lydia began pacing the
length of a beautiful Kermanshah rug--a pale, delicate marvel of rose
and green on a ground of ivory--lovely, but doomed to fade sooner than
the pretty woman who trod it with restless, silk-shod feet.

Mortimer had not responded to her last question. She said presently:
“You have never told me how you intend to make him pay you back.”

“What?” inquired Mortimer, turning very red.

“I said that you haven’t yet told me how you intend to make Howard
return the money you lost through his juggling with your stock.”

“I don’t exactly know myself,” admitted Mortimer, still overflushed.
“I mean to put it to him squarely, as a debt of honour that he owes. I
asked him whether to invest. Damn him! he never warned me not to. He is
morally responsible. Any man who would sit there and nod monotonously
like a mandarin, knowing all the while what he was doing to wreck the
company, and let a friend put into a rotten concern all the cash he
could scrape together, is a swindler!”

“I think so too,” she said, studying the rose arabesques in the rug.

There was a little click of her teeth when she ended her inspection and
looked across at Mortimer. Something in her expressionless gaze seemed
to reassure him, and give him a confidence he may have lacked.

“I want him to understand that I won’t swallow that sort of contemptible
treatment,” asserted Mortimer, lighting a thick, dark cigar.

“I hope you’ll make him understand,” she said, seating herself and
resting her clasped, brilliantly ringed hands in her lap.

“Oh, I will--never fear! He has abused my confidence abominably; he has
practically swindled me, Lydia. Don’t you think so?”

She nodded.

“I’ll tell him so, too,” blustered Mortimer, shaking himself into an
upright posture, and laying a pudgy, clinched fist on the table. “I’m
not afraid of him! He’ll find that out, too. I know enough to stagger
him. Not that I mean to use it. I’m not going to have him think that my
demands on him for my own property resemble extortion.”

“Extortion?” she repeated.

“Yes. I don’t want him to think I’m trying to intimidate him. I won’t
have him think I’m a grafter; but I’ve half a mind to shake that money
out of him, in one way or another.”

He struck the table and looked at her for further sign of approval.

“I’m not afraid of him,” he repeated. “I wish to God he were here, and
I’d tell him so!”

She said coolly: “I was wishing that too.”

For a while they sat silent, preoccupied, avoiding each other’s direct
gaze. When she rose he started, watching her in a dazed way as she
walked to the telephone.

“Shall I?” she asked quietly, turning to him, her hand on the receiver.

“Wait. W-what are you going to do?” he stammered.

“Call him up. Shall I?”

A dull throb of fright pulsed through him.

“You say you are not afraid of him, Leroy.”

“No!” he said with an oath, “I am not. Go ahead!”

She unhooked the receiver. After a second or two her low, even voice
sounded. There came a pause. She rested one elbow on the walnut shelf,
the receiver tight to her ear. Then:

“Mr. Quarrier, please. … Yes, Mr. Howard Quarrier. … No, no name. Say it
is on business of immediate importance. … Very well, then; you may say
that Miss Vyse insists on speaking to him. … Yes, I’ll hold the wire.”

She turned, the receiver at her ear, and looked narrowly at Mortimer.

“Won’t he speak to you?” he demanded.

“I’m going to find out. Hush a moment!” and in the same calm, almost
childish voice: “Oh, Howard, is that you? Yes, I know I promised not to
do this, but that was before things happened! … Well, what am I to do
when it is necessary to talk to you? … Yes, it is necessary! … I tell
you it is necessary! … I am sorry it is not convenient for you to talk
to me, but I really must ask you to listen! … No, I shall not write. I
want to talk to you to-night--now! Yes, you may come here, if you care
to! … I think you had better come, Howard. … Because I am liable to
continue ringing your telephone until you are willing to listen. … No,
there is nobody here. I am alone. What time? … Very well; I shall expect
you. Good-bye.”

She hung up the receiver and turned to Mortimer:

“He’s coming up at once. Did I say anything to scare him particularly?”

“One thing’s sure as preaching,” said Mortimer; “he’s a coward, and I’m
dammed glad of it,” he added naively, relighting his cigar, which had
gone out.

“If he comes up in his motor he’ll be here in a few minutes,” she said.
“Suppose you take your hat and go out. I don’t want him to think what
he will think if he walks into the room and finds you waiting. You have
your key, Leroy. Walk down the block; and when you see him come in, give
him five minutes.”

Her voice had become a little breathless, and her colour was high.
Mortimer, too, seemed apprehensive. Things had suddenly begun to work
themselves out too swiftly.

“Do you think that’s best?” he faltered, looking about for his hat.
“Tell Merkle that nobody has been here, if Quarrier should ask him. Do
you think we’re doing it in the best way, Lydia? By God, it smells of a
put-up job to me! But I guess it’s all right. It’s better for me to just
happen in, isn’t it? Don’t forget to put Merkle wise.”

He descended the stairs hastily. Merkle, of the invisible eyes, held his
hat and gloves and opened the door for him.

Once on the dark street, his impulse was to flee--get out, get away from
the whole business. A sullen shame was pumping the hot blood up into his
neck and cheeks. He strove to find an inoffensive name for what he was
proposing to do, but ugly terms, synonym after synonym, crowded in to
characterise the impending procedure, and he walked on angrily, half
frightened, looking back from moment to moment at the house he had just
left.

On the corner he halted, breathing spasmodically, for he had struck a
smarter pace than he had been aware of.

Few people passed him. Once he caught a glimmer of a policeman’s buttons
along the park wall, and an unpleasant shiver passed over him. At the
same moment an electric hansom flew noiselessly past him. He shrank
back into the shadow of a porte-cochere. The hansom halted before the
limestone basement house. A tall figure left it, stood a moment in
the middle of the sidewalk, then walked quickly to the front door. It
opened, and the man vanished.

The hansom still waited at the door. Mortimer, his hands shaking, looked
at his watch by the light of the electric bulbs flanking the gateway
under which he stood.

There was not much time in which to make up his mind, yet his fright
was increasing to a pitch which began to enrage him with that coward’s
courage which it is impossible to reckon with.

He had missed Quarrier once to-day when he had been keyed to the
encounter. Was he going to miss him again through sheer terror? Besides,
was not Quarrier a coward? Besides, was it not his own money? Had he not
been vilely swindled by a pretended friend? Urging, lashing himself into
a heavy, shuffling motion, he emerged from the porte-cochere and lurched
off down the street. No time to think now, no time for second thought,
for hesitation, for weakness. He had waited too long already. He had
waited ten minutes, instead of five. Was Quarrier going to escape again?
Was he going to get out of the house before--

Fumbling with his latch-key, but with sense enough left to make no
noise, he let himself in, passed silently through the reception-hall
and up to the drawing-room floor, where for a second he stood listening.
Then something of the perverted sportsman sent the blood quivering into
his veins. He had him! He had run him down! The game was at bay.

An inrush of exhilaration steadied him. He laid his hand on the banister
and mounted, gloves and hat-brim crushed in the other hand. When he
entered the room he pretended to see only Lydia.

“Hello, little girl!” he said, laughing, “are you surprised to--”

At that moment he caught sight of Quarrier, and the start he gave
was genuine enough. Never had he seen in a man’s visage such white
concentration of anger.

“Quarrier!” he stammered, for his acting was becoming real enough to
supplant art.

Quarrier had risen; his narrowing eyes moved from Mortimer to Lydia,
then reverted to the man in the combination.

“Rather unexpected, isn’t it?” said Mortimer, staring at Quarrier.

“Is it?” returned Quarrier in a low voice.

“I suppose so,” sneered Mortimer. “Did you expect to find me here?”

“No. Did you expect to find me?” asked the other, with emphasis
unmistakable.

“What do you mean?” demanded Mortimer hoarsely. “What the devil do you
mean by asking me if I expected to find you here? If I had, I’d not have
travelled down to your office to-day to see you; I’d have come here for
you. Naturally people suppose that an engaged man is likely to give up
this sort of thing.”

Quarrier, motionless, white to the lips, turned his eyes from one to the
other.

“It doesn’t look very well, does it?” asked Mortimer; and he stood
there, smiling, danger written all over him. “It’s beginning rather
early,” he continued, with a sneer. “Most engaged men with a conscience
wait until they’re married before they return to the gay and frivolous.
But here you are, it seems, handsome, jolly, and irresistible as ever!”

Quarrier looked at Lydia, and his lips moved: “You asked me to come,” he
said.

“No; you offered to. I wished to talk to you over the wire, but “--her
lip curled, and she shrugged her shoulders--“you seemed to be afraid of
something or other.”

“I couldn’t talk to you in my own house, with guests in the room.”

“Why not? Did I say anything your fashionable guests might take
exception to? Am I likely to do anything of that kind?--you coward!”

Quarrier stood very still, then noiselessly turned and made one step
toward the door.

“One moment,” interposed Mortimer blandly. “As long as I travelled down
town to see you, and find you here so unexpectedly, I may as well take
advantage of this opportunity to regulate a little matter. You don’t
mind our talking shop for a moment, Lydia? Thank you. It’s just a little
business matter between Mr. Quarrier and myself--a matter concerning a
few shares of stock which I once held in one of his companies, bought at
par, and tumbled to ten and--What is the fraction, Quarrier? I forget.”

Quarrier thought deeply for a moment; then he raised his head, looking
full at Mortimer, and under his silky beard an edge of teeth glimmered.
“Did you wish me to take back those shares at par?” he asked.

“Exactly! I knew you would! I knew you’d see it in that way!” cried
Mortimer heartily. “Confound it all, Quarrier, I’ve always said you were
that sort of man--that you’d never let a friend in on the top floor, and
kick him clear to the cellar! As a matter of fact, I sold out at ten and
three-eighths. Wait! Here’s a pencil. Lydia, give me that pad on your
desk. Here you are, Quarrier. It’s easy enough to figure out how much
you owe me.”

And as Quarrier slowly began tracing figures on the pad, Mortimer
rambled on, growing more demonstrative and boisterous every moment.
“It’s white of you, Quarrier--I’ll say that! Legally, of course, you
could laugh at me; but I’ve always said your business conscience would
never let you stand for this sort of thing. ‘You can talk and talk,’
I’ve told people, many a time, ‘but you’ll never convince me that Howard
Quarrier hasn’t a heart.’ No, by jinks! they couldn’t make me believe
it. And here’s my proof--here’s my vindication! Lydia, would you mind
hunting up that cheque-book I left here before dinn--”

He had made a mistake. The girl flushed. He choked up, and cast a
startled glance at Quarrier. But Quarrier, if he heard, made no motion
of understanding. Perhaps it had not been necessary to convince him of
the conspiracy.

When he had finished his figures he reviewed them, tracing each total
with his pencil’s point; then quietly handed the pad to Mortimer who
went over it, and nodded that it was correct.

Lydia rose. Quarrier said, without looking at her: “I have a blank
cheque with me. May I use one of these pens?”

So he had brought a cheque! Had he supposed that a cheque might be
necessary when Lydia called him up? Was he prepared to meet any demand
of hers, too, even before Mortimer appeared on the scene?

“As long as you have a cheque with you, Howard,” said Lydia quietly,
“suppose you simply add to Mr. Mortimer’s amount what you had intended
to offer me?”

He stared at her without answering.

“That little remembrance for old time’s sake. Don’t you recollect?”

“No,” said Quarrier.

“Why, Howard! Didn’t you promise me all sorts of things when I wanted
to go to your friend Mr. Siward, and explain that it was not his fault I
got into the Patroons Club? Don’t you remember I felt dreadfully that he
was expelled--that I was simply wild to write to the governors and tell
them how I took Merkle’s clothes and drove to the club and waited until
I saw a lot of men go in, and then crowded in with the push?”

Mortimer was staring at Quarrier out of his protruding eyes. The girl
leaned forward, deliberate, self-possessed, the red lips edged with
growing scorn.

“That was a dirty trick!” said Mortimer heavily. He took the pad, added
a figure, passed it to Lydia, and she coolly wrote a total, underscoring
it heavily.

“That is the amount,” she said.

Quarrier looked at the pad which she had tossed upon the desk. Then he
slowly wetted his pen with ink, and, laying the loose cheque flat, began
to fill it in. Afterward he dried it, and, reading it carefully, pushed
it aside and rose.

“It wouldn’t be advisable for you to stop payment, you know,” observed
Mortimer insolently, lying back in his chair and stretching his legs.

“I know,” said Quarrier, pausing to turn on them a deathly stare. Then
he went away. After awhile they heard the door close. But there was
no sound from the electric hansom, and Mortimer rose and walked to the
window.

“He’s gone,” he said.

Lydia stood at the desk, examining the cheque.

“We ought to afford a decent touring-car now,” she suggested--“like that
yellow and black Serin-Chanteur car of Mr. Plank’s.”



CHAPTER XIII THE SELLING PRICE

The heat, which had been severe in June, driving the last fashionable
loiterer into the country, continued fiercely throughout July. August
was stifling; the chestnut leaves in the parks curled up and grew
brittle; the elms were blotched; brown stretches scarred the lawns; the
blazing colour of the geranium beds seemed to intensify the heat, like a
bed of living coals.

Nobody who was anybody remained in town--except some wealthy business
men and their million odd employés; but the million, being nobodies,
didn’t count.

Nobody came into town; that is to say that a million odd strangers came
as usual, swelling the sweltering, resident population sufficiently to
animate the main commercial thoroughfares morning and evening, but they
didn’t count; the money they spent was, however, very carefully counted.

The fashionable columns of the newspapers informed the fashionable
ex-urbanated that the city was empty--though the East Side reeked like
a cattle-pen, and another million or two gasped on the hot, tin roofs
under the stars, or buried their dirty faces in the parched park grass.

What the press meant to say was that the wealthy section of the city
within the shadow of St. Patrick’s twin white spires and north of
Fifty-ninth Street was as empty and silent as an abandoned gold-mine.
Which was true. Miles of elaborate, untenanted dwellings glimmered blank
under the moon and stood tomb-like in barren magnificence against the
blazing blue of noon. Miles of plate-glass windows, boarded, or bearing
between lowered shade and dusty pane the significant parti-coloured
placard warning the honest thief, stared out at the heated park or, in
the cross streets, confronted each other with inert hauteur, awaiting
the pleasure of their absent owners.

The humidity increased; the horses’ heads hung heavily under their
ridiculously pitiful straw bonnets. When the sun was vertical nobody
stirred; when the bluish shadows began to creep out over baked
sidewalks, broadening to a strip of superheated shade, a few stirred
abroad in the deserted streets; here a policeman, thin blue summer tunic
open, helmet in hand, swabbing the sweat from forehead and neck; there
a white uniformed street sweeper dragging his rubber-edged mop or a
section of wet hose; perhaps a haggard peddler of lemonade making for
the Park wall around the Metropolitan Museum where, a little later, the
East Side would venture out to sit on the benches, or the great electric
tourists’ busses would halt to dump out a living cargo--perhaps only
the bent figure of a woman, very shabby, very old, dragging her ancient
bones along the silent splendour of Fifth Avenue, and peering about the
gutters for something she never finds--always peering, always mumbling
the endless, wordless, soundless miserere of the poor.

Quarrier’s huge limestone mansion, looming golden in the sun, was
tenantless; its owner, closing even The Sedges, his Long Island house,
and driven northward for a breath of air, was expected at Shotover.

The house of Mrs. Mortimer was closed and boarded up; the Caithness
mansion was closed; the Ferralls’, the Bonnesdels’, the Pages’,
the Shannons’, Mrs. Vendenning’s, all were sealed up like vaults. A
caretaker apparently guarded Major Belwether’s house, peeping out at
intervals from behind the basement windows. As for Plank’s great pile of
masonry, edging the outer Hundreds in the north, several lighted windows
were to be seen in it at night, and a big yellow and black touring-car
whizzed down town from its bronze gateway every morning with perfect
regularity.

For there was a fight on that had steadily grown hotter with the
weather, and Plank had little time to concern himself with the
temperature or to mop his red features over the weather bureau report.
Harrington and Quarrier were after him, horse, foot, and dragoons;
Harrington had even taken a house at Seabright in order to be near in
person; and Quarrier’s move from Long Island to Shotover House was not
as flippant as it might appear, for he had his private car there and a
locomotive at Black Fells Crossing station, and he was within striking
distance of Rochester, Utica, Syracuse, and Albany. Which was what
Harrington thought necessary.

The vast unseen machinery set in motion by Harrington and Quarrier had
begun to grind in May; and, at the first audible rumble, the aspect
of things financial in the country changed. A few industrials began to
rocket, nobody knew why; but the market’s first tremor left it baggy and
spineless, and the reaction, already overdue, became a sodden and soggy
slump. Nobody knew why.

The noise of the fray in the papers, which had first excited then
stunned the outside public, continued in a delirium of rumour, report,
forecast, and summing up at the week’s end.

Scare heads, involving everybody and everything, from the
District-Attorney to Plank’s office boy, succeeded one another. Plank’s
name headed column after column. Already becoming familiar in the
society and financial sections, it began to appear in neighbouring
paragraphs. Who was Plank? And the papers told people with more or less
inaccuracy, humour, or sarcasm. What was he trying to do? The papers
tried to tell that, too, making a pretty close guess, with comments
good-natured or ill-natured according to circumstances over which
somebody ought to have some control. What was Harrington trying to do to
Plank--if he was trying to do anything? They told that pretty clearly.
What was Quarrier going to do to Plank? That, also, they explained in
lively detail. A few clergymen who stuck to their churches began
to volunteer pulpit opinions concerning the ethics of the battle. A
minister who was generally supposed to make an unmitigated nuisance of
himself in politics dealt Plank an unexpected blow by saying that he was
a “hero.” Some papers called him “Hero” Plank for awhile, but soon tired
of it or forgot it under the stress of the increasing heat.

Besides Plank scarcely noticed what the press said of him. He was
too busy; his days were full days, brimming over deep into the night.
Brokers, lawyers, sycophants, tipsters, treacherous ex-employés of
Quarrier, detectives, up-State petty officials, lobbyists from Albany,
newspaper men, men from Wall Street, Broad Street, Mulberry
Street, Forty-second Street--all these he saw in units, relays,
regiments--either at his offices or after dinner--and sometimes after
midnight in his own house. And these were only a few, picked from the
interested or disinterested thousands who besieged him with advice,
importunity, threats, and attempted blackmail. And he handled them all
in turn, stolidly but with decision. His obstinate under lip protruded
further and further with rare recessions; his heavy head was like the
lowered head of a bull. Undaunted, inexorable, slow to the verge of
stupidity at times, at times swift as a startled tiger, this new,
amazing personality steadily developing, looming higher, heavier,
athwart the financial horizon--in stature holding his own among giants,
then growing, gradually, inch by inch, dominated his surrounding level
sky line.

The youth in him was the tragedy to the old; the sudden silence of the
man the danger to the secretive. Harrington was already an old man;
Quarrier’s own weapon had always been secrecy; but the silence of Plank
confused him, for he had never learned to parry well another’s use of
his own weapon. The left-handed swordsman dreads to cross with a man
who fights with the left hand. And Harrington, hoary, seamed, scarred,
maimed in onslaughts of long forgotten battles, looked long and hard
upon this weird of his own dead youth which now rose towering to
confront him, menacing him with the armed point of the same shield
behind which he himself had so long found shelter--the Law!

The closing of the courts enforced armed truces along certain lines of
Plank’s battle front; the adjournment of the legislature emptied Albany.
Once it was rumoured that Plank had passed an entire morning with the
Governor of the greatest State in the Union and that the conference was
to be repeated. A swarm of newspaper men settled about the Governor’s
summer cottage at Saratoga, but they learned nothing, nor could they
find a trace of Plank’s tracks in the trodden trails of the great Spa.

Besides, the racing had begun; Desmond, Burbank, Sneed, and others of
the gilded guild had opened new club-houses; the wretched, half-starved
natives in the surrounding hills were violating the game-laws to distend
the paunches of the overfed with five-inch troutlings and grouse and
woodcock slaughtered out of season; so there was plenty of copy for
newspaper men without the daily speculative paragraph devoted to the
doings of Beverly Plank. Some scandal, too--but newspapers never touch
that; and after all it was nobody’s affair that Leroy Mortimer drove a
large yellow and black Serin-Chanteur touring-car, new model, all over
Saratoga county. Perhaps the similarity of machines gave rise to the
rumour of Plank’s presence; perhaps not, because the car was often
driven by a tall, slender girl with dark eyes and hair; and nobody ever
saw that sort of pretty woman in Plank’s Serin, or saw Leroy Mortimer
for many days without a companion of that species.

Mortimer’s health was excellent. The races had not proved remunerative
however, and his new motor-car was horribly expensive. So was Lydia. And
he began to be seriously afraid that by the end of August he would be
obliged to apply to Quarrier once more for some slight temporary token
of that gentleman’s goodwill. He told Lydia this, and she seemed to
agree with him. This pleased him. She had not pleased him very much
recently. For one thing she was becoming too friendly with some of his
friends--Desmond in particular.

Plank, it was known, had opened his great house at Black Fells. His
servants, gamekeepers, were there; his stables, kennels, greenhouses,
model stock-farm--all had been put in immaculate condition pending the
advent of the master. But Plank had not appeared; his new sea-going
steam yacht still lay in the East River, and, at rare intervals, a
significant glimmer of bunting disclosed the owner’s presence aboard
for an hour or two. That was all, however; and the cliff-watchers at
Shotover House and the Fells looked seaward in vain for the big Siwanoa,
as yacht after yacht, heralded by the smudge on the horizon, turned from
a gray speck to a white one, and crept in from the sea to anchor.

The Ferralls were at Shotover with their first instalment of guests.
Sylvia was there, Quarrier expected--because Kemp Ferrall’s break with
him was not a social one, and Grace’s real affection for Sylvia blinded
neither her nor her husband to the material and social importance of the
intimacy. Siward was not invited; neither had an invitation to him been
even discussed in view of what Grace was aware of, and what everybody
knew concerning the implacable relations existing between him,
personally, and Howard Quarrier.

Bridge, yachting, and motoring were the August sports; the shooting set
had not yet arrived, of course; in fact there was still another relay
expected before the season opened and brought the shooting coterie for
the first two weeks. But Sylvia was expected to last through and hold
over with a brief interlude for a week’s end at Lenox. So was Quarrier;
and Grace, always animated by a lively but harmless malice, hoped to
Heaven that Plank might arrive before Quarrier left, because she adored
the tension of situations and was delightedly persuaded that Plank was
more than able to hold his own with her irritating cousin.

“Oh, to see them together in a small room,” she sighed ecstatically in
Sylvia’s ear; “I’d certainly poke them up if they only turned around
sulkily in the corners of the cage and evinced a desire to lie down.”

“What a mischief-maker you are,” said Sylvia listlessly; and though
Grace became very vivacious in describing her plans to extract amusement
out of Plank’s hoped-for presence Sylvia remained uninterested.

There seemed, in fact, little to interest her that summer at Shotover
House; and, though she never refused any plans made for her, and her
attitude was one of quiet acquiescence always--she never expressed a
preference for anything, a desire to do anything; and, if let alone, was
prone to pace the cliffs or stretch her slim, rounded body on the sand
of some little, sheltered, crescent beach, apparently content with the
thunderous calm of sea and sky.

Her interest, too, in people had seemingly been extinguished. Once or
twice she did inquire as to Marion’s whereabouts, and learned that Miss
Page was fishing in Minnesota somewhere but would return to Shotover
when the shooting opened. Somebody, Captain Voucher, perhaps, mentioned
to somebody in her hearing that Siward was still in New York. If she
heard she made no sign, no inquiry. The next morning she remained abed
with a headache, and Grace motored to Wendover without her; but Sylvia
spent the balance of the day on the cliffs, and played Bridge with
the devil’s own luck till dawn, piling up a score that staggered Mr.
Fleetwood, who had been instructing her in adversary play a day or two
before.

The hot month dragged on; Quarrier came; Agatha Caithness arrived a few
days later--scheme of the Ferralls involving Alderdene!--but the Siwanoa
did not come, and Plank remained invisible. Leila Mortimer arrived from
Swan’s Harbour toward the middle of the month, offering no information
as to the whereabouts of what Major Belwether delicately designated as
her “legitimate.” But everybody knew he was at last to be crossed
off and struck clean out, and the ugly history of the winter, now so
impudently corroborated at Saratoga, gave many a hostess the opportunity
long desired. Mortimer, as far as his own particular circle was
concerned, was down and out; Leila, accepted as a matter of course
without him, remained quietly uncommunicative. If the outward physical
change in her was due to her marital rupture people thought it was well
that it had come in time, for she bloomed like a lovely exotic; and her
silences and enthusiasms, and the fragrant freshness of her developing
attitude toward the world first disconcerted, then amused, then touched
those who had supposed themselves to be so long a buckler for her
foibles and a shield for her caprice.

“Gad,” said Alderdene, “she’s well rid of him if he’s been choking her
this long--the rank, rotten weed that he is, sapping the life from her
so when she hung over toward another fellow’s bush we thought she
was frail in the stem--God bless us all for a simpering lot of
blatherskites!”

And if, in the corner of the gun-room, there was a man among them who
had ever ventured to hold Leila’s smooth little hand, unrebuked, in days
gone by, none the less he knew that Alderdene spoke truth; and none the
less he knew that what witness he might be called to bear at the end of
the end of all must only incriminate himself and not that young matron
who now, before their very eyes, was budding again, reverting to the
esoteric charm of youth reincarnated.

“A suit before a referee would settle him,” mused Voucher; “he hasn’t a
leg to stand on. Lord! The same cat that tripped up Stephen Siward!”

Fleetwood’s quick eyes glimmered for an instant in Quarrier’s direction.
Quarrier was in the billiard-room, out of earshot, practising balk-line
problems with Major Belwether; and Fleetwood said: “The same cat that
tripped up Stephen Siward. Yes. But who let her loose?”

“It was your dinner; you ought to know,” said Voucher bluntly.

“I do know. He brought her”--nodding toward the billiard-room.

“Belwether?”

“No,” yawned Fleetwood.

Somebody said presently: “Isn’t he one of the Governors? Oh, I say, that
was rather rough on Siward though.”

“Yes, rough. The law of trespass ought to have operated; a man’s liable
for the damage done by his own live-stock.”

“That’s a brutal way of talking,” said somebody. And the subject was
closed with the entrance of Agatha in white flannels on her way to the
squash court where she had an appointment with Quarrier.

“A strange girl,” said somebody after she had disappeared with Quarrier.

“That pallor is stunning,” said a big, ruddy youth, with sunburn on his
neck and forehead.

“It isn’t healthy,” said Fleetwood.

“It attracts me,” persisted the ruddy young man, voicing naively that
curious truth concerning the attraction that disease so often exerts on
health--the strange curiosity the normal has for the sub-normal--that
fascination of the wholesome for the unhealthy. It is, perhaps, more
curiosity than anything, unless, deep hidden under the normal, there lie
one single, perverted nerve.

Sylvia, passing the hall, glanced in through the gun-room door with an
absentminded smile at the men and their laughing greeting, as they rose
with uplifted glasses to salute her.

“The sweetest of all,” observed a man, disconsolately emptying his
glass. “Oh irony! What a marriage!”

“Do you know any girl who would not change places with her?” asked
another.

Every man there insisted that he knew one girl at least who would not
exchange Sylvia’s future for her own. That was very nice of them; it is
to be hoped they believed it. Some of them did--for the moment, anyhow.
Then Alderdene, blinking furiously, emitted one of his ear-racking
laughs; and everybody, as usual, laughed too.

“You damned cynic,” observed Voucher affectionately.

“Somebody,” said Fleetwood, “insists that she doubled up poor Siward.”

“She never met Siward until she was engaged to Howard,” remarked
Voucher.

“Well?”

“Oh, don’t you consider that enough to squelch the story?”

“Engaged girls,” mused Alderdene, “never double up except at Bridge.”

“Everybody has been or is in love with Sylvia Landis,” said Voucher,
“and it’s a man’s own fault if he’s hit. Once she did it, innocently
enough, and enjoyed it, never realising that it hurt a man to be doubled
up.”

Fleetwood yawned again and said: “She can have me to-morrow. But she
won’t. She’s tired of the sport. Any girl would get enough with the
pack at her heels day in and day out. Besides she’s done for--unless she
looses Quarrier and starts on a duke-hunt over in Blinky’s country! …
Is anybody on for a sail? Is anybody on for anything? No? Oh, very well.
Shove that decanter north by west, Billy.”

This was characteristic of the dog-days at Shotover. The dog-days in
town were very different; the city threw open the parks to the poor at
night; horses fell dead in the streets; pallid urchins, stripped naked,
splashed and rolled and screeched in the basin of the City Hall fountain
under the indifferent eyes of the police.

As for Plank he was too busy to know what the thermometer was about; he
had no time for anything outside of his own particular business except
to go every day to the big, darkened house in lower Fifth Avenue where
the days had been hard on Siward and the nights harder.

Siward, however, could walk now, using his crutches still, but often
stopping to gently test his left foot and see how much weight he was
able to bear on it--even taking a tentative step or two without crutch
support. He drove when he thought it prudent to use the horses in the
heat, usually very early in the morning, though sometimes at night with
Plank when the latter had time to run his touring-car through the park
and out into the Bronx or Westchester for a breath of air.

But Plank wanted him to go away, get out of the city for his
convalescence, and Siward flatly declined, demanding that Plank permit
him to do his share in the fight against the Inter-County people.

And Plank, utterly unable to persuade him, and the more hampered because
of his anxiety about Siward--though that young man did not know it--wore
himself out providing Siward with such employment in the matter as would
lightly occupy him without doing any good to the enemy.

So Siward, stripped to his pajamas, pored over reams of typewritten
matter and took his brief walking exercise in the comparative cool of
the evening and drove when he dared use his horses; or, sitting beside
Plank, whizzed northward through the starry darkness of the suburbs.

When it was that he first began to like Plank very much he could not
exactly remember. He was not, perhaps, aware of how much he liked him.
Plank’s unexpected fits of shyness, of formality, often and often amused
him. But there was a subtler feeling under the unexpressed amusement,
and, beneath all, a constantly increasing sub-stratum of respect. Too,
he found himself curiously at ease with Plank, as with one born to his
own caste. And this feeling, unconscious, but more and more apparent,
meant more to Plank than anything that had ever happened to him. It
was a tonic in hours of doubt, a pleasure in his brief leisure, a pride
never to be hinted at, never to be guessed, never to be dreamed of by
any living soul save Plank alone.

Then, one sultry day toward the last week in August, a certain judge of
a certain court, known among some as “Harrington’s judge,” sent
secretly for Plank. And Plank knew that the crisis was over. But neither
Harrington nor Quarrier dreamed of such a thing.

Fear sat heavy on that judge’s soul--the godless, selfish fear that
sends the first coward slinking from the councils of conspiracy to seek
immunity from those slowly grinding millstones that grind exceeding
fine.

Quarrier at Shotover, with his private car and his locomotive within an
hour’s drive, strolled with Sylvia on the eve of her departure for Lenox
with Leila Mortimer; then, when their conference was ended, he returned
to Agatha, calmly unconscious of impending events.

Harrington, at Seabright, paced his veranda, awaiting this same judge,
annoyed as two boats came in without the expected guest. And never for
one instant did he dream that his creature sat closeted with Plank,
tremulous, sallow, nearing the edge of cringing avowal--only held back
from utter collapse by the agonising necessity of completing a bargain
that might save himself from the degradation of the punishment that had
seemed inevitable. All day long he sat with Plank. Nobody except those
two knew he was there. And after a very long time Plank consented that
nobody else except Siward and Harrington and Quarrier should ever know.
So he called up Harrington on the telephone, saying that there was, in
the office, somebody who desired to speak to him. And when Harrington
caught the judge’s first faint, stammered word he reeled where he stood,
ashen, unbelieving, speechless. The shaking but remorseless voice went
on, dinning horribly in his ear, then ceased, and Plank’s heavy voice
sounded the curt coup de grâce.

Harrington was an old man, a very old man, mortally hurt; but he
steadied himself along the wall of his study to the desk and sank into
the chair.

There he sat, feeling the scars of old wounds throbbing, feeling his age
and the tragedy of it, and the new sensation of fear--fear of the wraith
of his own youth, wearing the mask of Plank, and menacing him with the
menace he had used on others so long ago--so very long ago.

After a little while he passed a thin hand over his eyes, over his gray
head, over the mouth that all men watched with fear, over the shaven
jaw now grimly set, but trembling. His hand, too, shook with palsy as
he wrote, painfully picking out the words and figures of the cipher from
his code-book; but he closed his thin lips and squared his unsteady jaw
and wrote his message to Quarrier:

“It is all up. Plank will take over Inter-County. Come at once.”

And that was all there was to be done until he could come into Plank’s
camp with arms and banners, a conquered man, cynical of the mercy he
dared not expect and which, in all his life, he had never, never shown
to man, to woman, or to child.

Plank slept the sleep of utter exhaustion that night; the morning found
him haggard but strong, cool in his triumph, serious, stern faced,
almost sad that his work was done, the battle won.

From his own house he telegraphed a curt summons to Harrington and to
Quarrier for a conference in his own office; then, finishing whatever
business his morning mail required, put on his hat and went to see the
one man in the world he was most glad for.

He found him at breakfast, sipping coffee and wrinkling his brows over
the eternal typewritten pages. And Plank’s face cleared at the sight and
he sat down, laughing aloud.

“It’s all over, Siward,” he said. “Harrington knows it; Quarrier knows
it by this time. Their judge crawled in yesterday and threw himself
on our mercy; and the men whose whip he obeyed will be on their way to
surrender by this time. … Well! Haven’t you a word?”

“Many,” said Siward slowly; “too many to utter, but not enough to
express what I feel. If you will take two on account, here they are in
one phrase: thank you.”

“Debt’s cancelled,” said Plank, laughing. “Do you want to hear the
details?”

They talked for an hour, and, in the telling, even Plank’s stolidity
gave way sufficient to make his heavy voice ring at moments, and the
glimmer of excitement edge his eyes. Yet, in the telling, he scarcely
mentioned himself, never hinted of the personal part--the inspiration
which was his alone; the brunt of the battle which centred in him; the
tireless vigilance; the loneliness of the nights when he lay awake,
perplexed with doubt and nobody to counsel him--because men who wage
such wars are lonely men and must work out their own salvation. No,
nobody but his peers could advise him; and he had thought that his enemy
was his peer, until that enemy surrendered.

The narrative exchanged by Plank in return for Siward’s intensely
interested questions was a simple, limpid review of a short but terrific
campaign that only yesterday had threatened to rage through court
after court, year after year. In the sudden shock of the cessation from
battle, Plank himself was a little dazed. Yet he himself had expected
the treason that ended all; he himself had foreseen it. He had counted
on it as a good general counts on such things, confidently, but with
a dozen plans as substitutes in case that plan failed--each plan as
elaborately worked out to the last detail as though it alone existed as
the only hope of victory. But if Siward suspected something of this it
was not from Plank that he learned it.

“Plank,” he said at last, “there is nothing in the world that men admire
more than a man. It is a good deal of a privilege for me to tell you
so.”

Plank turned red with surprise and embarrassment, stammering out
something incoherent.

That was all that was said about the victory. Siward, unusually gay for
awhile, presently turned sombre; and it was Plank’s turn to lift him out
of it by careless remarks about his rapid convalescence, and the chance
for vacation he so much needed.

Once Siward looked up vacantly: “Where am I to go?” he asked. “I’d as
soon stay here.”

“But I’m going,” insisted Plank. “The Fells is all ready for us.”

“The Fells! I can’t go there!”

“W-what?” faltered Plank, looking at Siward with hurt eyes.

“Can’t you--don’t you understand?” said Siward in a low voice.

“No. You once promised--”

“Plank, I’ll go anywhere except there with you. I’d rather be with you
than with anybody. Can I say more than that?”

“I think you ought to, Siward. A--a fellow feels the refusal of his
offered roof-tree.”

“Man! man! it isn’t your roof I am refusing. I want to go; I’d give
anything to go. If it were anywhere except where it is, I’d go fast
enough. Now do you understand? If--if Shotover House and Shotover people
were not next door to the Fells, I’d go. Now do you understand?”

Plank said: “I don’t know whether I understand. If you mean Quarrier,
he’s on his way here, and he’ll have business to keep him here for the
next few months, I assure you. But”--he looked very gravely across at
Siward--“if you don’t mean Quarrier--” He hesitated, ill at ease under
the expressionless scrutiny of the other.

“Do you know what’s the matter with me, Plank?” he asked at length.

“I think so.”

“I have wondered. I wonder now how much you know.”

“Very little, Siward.”

“How much?”

Plank looked up, hesitated, and shook his head: “One infers from what
one hears.”

“Infers what?”

“The truth, I suppose,” replied Plank simply.

“And what,” insisted Siward, “have you inferred that you believe to
be the truth? Don’t parry, Plank; it isn’t easy for me, and I--I never
before spoke this way to any man. … It is likely I should have spoken
to my mother about it. … I had expected to. It may be weakness--I don’t
know; but I’d like to talk a little about it to somebody. And there’s
nobody fit to listen, except you.”

“If you feel that way,” said Plank slowly, “I will be very glad to
listen.”

“I feel that way. I’ve been through--some things; I’ve been pretty sick,
Plank. It tires a man out; a man’s head and shoulders get tired. Oh, I
don’t mean the usual reaction from self-contempt, disgust--the dreadful,
aching sadness of it all which lasts even while desire, stunned for the
moment, wakens into craving. I don’t mean that. It is something else--a
deathly, mental solitude that terrifies. I tell you, no man except a man
smitten by my malady knows what solitude can be! … There! I didn’t mean
to be theatrical; I had no intention of--”

“Go on,” cut in Plank heavily.

“Go on! … Yes, I want to. You know what a pillow is to a tired man’s
shoulders. I want to use your sane intelligence to rest on a moment.
It’s my brain that’s tired, Plank.”

Although everybody had cynically used Plank, nobody had ever before
found him a necessity.

“Go on,” he said unsteadily. “If I can be of use to you, Siward, in
God’s name let me be, for I have never been necessary to anybody in all
my life.”

Siward rested his head on one clinched hand: “How much chance do you
think I have?” he asked wearily.

“Chance to get well?”

“Yes.”

Plank considered for a moment, then: “You are not trying, Siward.”

“I have been trying since--since March.”

“Since March?”

“Yes.”

Plank looked at him curiously: “What happened in March?”

“Had I better tell you?”

“You know better than I.”

Siward, cheek crushed against his fist, his elbow on the desk, gazed at
him steadily:

“In March,” he said, “Miss Landis spoke to me. I’ve made a better fight
since.”

Plank’s serious face darkened. “Is she the only anchor you have?”

“Plank, I am not even sure of her. I have made a better fight since
then; that is all I dare say. I know what men think about a man like
me; I knew they demand character, pride, self-denial. But, Plank, I am
driving faster and faster toward the breakers, and these anchors are
dragging. For it is not, in my case, the physical failure to obey the
will; it is the will itself that has been attacked from the first.
That is the horror of it. And what is there behind the will-power to
strengthen it? Only the source of will-power--the mind. It is the mind
that cannot help me. What am I to do?”

“There is a spiritual strength,” said Plank timidly.

“I have never dreamed of denying it,” said Siward. “I have tried to find
it through the accepted sources--accepted by me, too. God has not helped
me in the conventional way or through traditional methods; but that has
not inclined me to doubt Him as the tribunal of last resort,” he added
hastily. “I don’t for a moment waver in faith because I am ignorant
of the proper manner to approach Him. The Arbiter of all knows that I
desire to be decent. He must be aware, too, that all anchors save one
have failed to hold me.”

“You mean--Miss Landis?”

“Yes. It may be weakness; it may be to my shame that the cables of pride
and self-respect, even the spiritual respect for the Highest, cannot
hold me when this one anchor holds. All I know is that it holds--so far.
It held me at Shotover; it holds me again, now. And the rocks were close
abeam, Plank--very close--when she spoke to me over the wires, through
the rain, that dark day in March.”

He moistened his lips feverishly.

“She said that I might see her. I have waited a long time. I have taken
my fighting chance again and I’ve won out, so far.”

He looked up at Plank, curiously embarrassed:

“Your body is normal; your intelligence wholesome, balanced, sane; and I
want to ask you if you think that perhaps, without understanding how,
I have found in her, or through her, in some way, the spiritual source
that I think might help me to help myself?”

And, as Plank made no reply:

“Or am I talking sentimental cant? Don’t answer, if you think that.
I can’t trust my own mind any more, anyway; and,” with an ugly laugh,
“I’ll know it all some day--the sooner the better!”

“Don’t say that!” growled Plank. “You were sane a moment ago.”

Siward looked up sharply, but the other silenced him with a gesture.

“Wait! You asked me a perfectly sane question--so wholesome, so normal,
that I’m trying to frame an answer worthy of it! I intimated that after
the physical, the mental, the ethical phenomena, there remained always
the spiritual instinct. Like a wireless current, if a man can establish
communication it is well for him, whatever the method. You assented, I
think.”

“Yes.”

“And you ask me if I believe it possible that she can be the medium?”

“Yes.”

Plank said deliberately: “Yes, I do think so.”

The silence was again broken by Plank: “Siward, you have asked me what
I think. Now you must listen to the end. If you believed that through
her--her love, marrying her--you stood the best chance in the world to
win out, it would be cowardly to ask her to take the risk. As much as I
care for you I had rather see you lose the fight than accept such a risk
from her. Now you know what I think--but you don’t know all. Siward, I
say to you that if you are man enough to take her, take her! And I say
that of the two risks she is running to-day, the chance she might take
with you is infinitely the lesser risk. For with you, if you continue
slowly losing your fight, the mental suffering only will be hers. But
if she closes this bargain with Quarrier, selling to him her body, the
light will go out of her soul for ever.”

He leaned heavily toward Siward, stretching out his powerful arm:

“You marry her; and keep open your spiritual communication through her,
if that is the way it has been established, and hang on to your God that
way until your body is dead! I tell you, Siward, to marry her. I don’t
care how you do it; I don’t care how you get her. Take her! Yours, of
the two, is the stronger character, or she would not be where she is.
Does she want what you cannot give her? Cure that desire--it is more
contemptible than the craving that shatters you! I say, let the one-eyed
lead the blind. Miracles are worked out by mathematics--if you have
faith enough.”

He rose, striding the length of the room once or twice, turned, holding
out his broad hand:

“Good-bye,” he said. “Harrington is about due at my office; Quarrier
will probably turn up to-night. I am not vindictive; I shall be just
with them--as just as I know how, which is to be as merciful as I dare
be. Good-bye, Siward. I--I believe you and she are going to get well.”

When he had gone, Siward lay back in his chair, very still, eyes closed.
A faint colour had mounted to his face and remained there.

It was late in the afternoon when he went down-stairs, using his
crutches lightly. Gumble handed him a straw hat and opened the door, and
Siward cautiously descended the stoop, stood for a few moments on the
sidewalk, looking up at the blue sky, then wheeled and slowly made his
way toward Washington Square. The avenue was deserted; his own
house appeared to be the only remaining house still open in all that
old-fashioned but respectable quarter.

He swung leisurely southward, a slim, well-built young fellow, strangely
out of place on crutches. The poor always looked at him; beggars never
importuned him, yet found him agreeable to watch. Children, who seldom
look up into the air far enough to notice grown people, always became
conscious of him when he passed; often smiled, sometimes spoke. As for
stray curs and tramp cats, they were for ever making advances. As
long as he could remember, there was scarcely a week in town but some
homeless dog attached himself to Siward’s heels, sometimes trotting
several blocks, sometimes following him home--where the outcast was
always cared for, washed, fed, and ultimately shipped out to the farm,
where scores of these “fresh-air” dogs resided on his bounty and rolled
in luxury on his lawns.

Cats, too, were prone to notice him, rising as he passed to hoist an
interrogative tail and make tentative observations.

In Washington Square, these, and the ragged children, knew him best of
all. The children came from Minetta Lane and the purlieus south and
west of it; the cats from the Mews, which Siward always thought most
appropriate.

And now, as he passed the marble arch and entered the square, glancing
behind him he saw the inevitable cat trotting, and, at his left, a
very dirty little girl pretending to trundle a hoop, but plainly enough
keeping sociable pace with him.

“Hello!” said Siward. The cat stopped; the child tossed her clustering
curls, gave him a rapid but fearless sidelong glance, laughed, and ran
on in the wake of her hoop. When she caught it she sat down on a bench
opposite the fountain and looked around at Siward.

“It’s pretty warm, isn’t it?” said Siward, coming up and seating himself
on the same bench.

“Are you lame?” asked the child.

“Oh, a little.”

“Is your leg broken?”

“Oh, no, not now.”

“Is that your cat?”

Siward looked around; the cat was seated on the bench beside him. But he
was accustomed to that sort of thing, and he caressed the creature with
his gloved hand.

“Are you rich?” asked the child, shaking her blond curls from her eyes
and staring up solemnly at him.

“Not very,” he answered, smiling. “Why do you ask?”

“You look rich, somehow,” said the child shyly.

“What! With these old and very faded clothes?”

She shook her head, swinging her plump legs: “You look it, somehow. It
isn’t the clothes that matter.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Siward, laughing “I’m rich enough to buy
all the hokey-pokey you can eat!” and he glanced meaningly at the pedlar
of that staple who had taken station between a vender of peaches and a
Greek flower-seller.

The child looked, too, but made no comment.

“How about it?” asked Siward.

“I’d rather have something to remember you by,” said the girl
innocently.

“What?” he said, perplexed.

“A rose. They are five cents, and hokey-pokey costs that much--I mean,
for as much as you can eat.”

“Do you really want a rose?” he said amused.

But the child fell shy, and he beckoned the Greek and selected a dozen
big, perfumed jacks.

Then, as the child sat silent, her ragged arms piled with roses, he
asked her jestingly what else she desired.

“Nothing. I like to look at you,” she answered simply.

“And I like to look at you. Will you tell me your name?”

“Molly.”

But that is all the information he could extract. Presently she said she
was going, hesitated, looked a very earnest good-bye, and darted away
across the park, her hoop over one arm, the crimson roses bobbing above
her shoulders. Something in her flight attracted the errant cat, for
she, too, jumped down and bounded after the little flying feet, but,
catlike, halted half-way to scratch, and then forgetting what she was
about, wandered off toward the Mews again, whence she had been lured by
instinctive fascination.

Siward, intensely amused, sat there in the late sunlight which streamed
through the park, casting long shadows from the elms and sycamores. It
was that time of the day, just before sunset, when the old square looked
to him as he remembered it as a child. Even the marble arch, pink in
the evening sun, did not disturb the harmony of his memories. He saw his
father once more, walking home from down town, tall, slim, laughingly
stopping to watch him as he played there with the other children--the
nurses, seated in a row, crocheting under the sycamores; he saw the
old-fashioned carriage pass, Mockett on the box, Wands beside him,
and his pretty mother leaning forward to wave her hand to him as
the long-tailed, long-maned horses wheeled into Fifth Avenue. Little
unimportant scenes, trivial episodes, grew in the spectral garden of
memory: the first time he ever saw Marion Page, when, aged five, she was
attempting to get into the fountain, pursued by a shrieking nurse; and a
certain flight across the grass he had indulged in with Leila Mortimer,
then Leila Egerton, aged six, in hot pursuit, because she found that it
bored him horribly to be kissed, and she was bound to do it. He had a
fight once, over by that gnarled, old, silver poplar-tree, with Kemp
Ferrall--he could not remember what about, only that they ended by
unanimously assaulting their nurses and were dragged howling homeward.

He turned, looking across to where the gray towers of the University
once stood. There had been an old stone church there, too; and, south
of that, old, old houses with hip-roofs and dormers where now the high
white cliffs of modern architecture rose, riddled with tiny windows,
every vane glittering in the sun. South, the old houses still remained,
now degraded to sordid uses. North, the square, red-brick mansions,
with their white pillars and steps, still faced the sunset--the last
practically unbroken rank of the old régime, the last of the old guard,
standing fast and still confronting, still resisting the Inevitable
looming in limestone and granite, story piled on story, aloft in the
kindling, southern sky.

A cab, driven smartly, passed through the park, the horses’ feet
slapping the asphalt till the echoes rattled back from the marble arch.
He followed it idly with his eyes up Fifth Avenue; saw it suddenly halt
in the middle of the street; saw a woman spring out, stand for a moment
talking to her companion, then turn and look toward the square.

She stood so long, and she was so far away, that he presently grew
tired of watching her. A dozen ragged urchins were prowling around the
fountain, casting sidelong glances at a distant policeman. But it was
not hot enough that evening to permit the children to splash in the
water, and the policeman drove them off.

“Poor little devils!” said Siward to himself; and he rose, adjusted his
crutches, and started through the park with a vague idea of seeing what
could be done.

As he limped onward, the sun level in his eyes, he heard somebody speak
behind him, but did not catch the words or apply the hail to himself.
Then, “Mr. Siward!” came the low, breathless voice at his elbow.

His heart stopped as he did. The sun had dazzled his eyes, and when he
turned on his crutches he could not see clearly for a second. That
past, he looked at Sylvia, looked at her outstretched hand, took it
mechanically, still staring at her with only a dazed unbelief in his
eyes.

“I am in town for a day,” she said. “Leila Mortimer and I were driving
up town from the bank when we saw you; and the next thing that happened
was me, on Fifth Avenue, running after you--no, the next thing was my
flying leap from the hansom, and my standing there looking down the
street and across the square where you sat. Then Leila told me I was
probably crazy, and I immediately confirmed her diagnosis by running
after you!”

She stood laughing, flushed, sunburned, and breathless, her left hand
still in his, her right hand laid over it.

“Oh,” she said, with a sudden change to anxiety, “does it tire you to
stand?”

“No. I was going to saunter along.”

“May I saunter with you for a moment? I mean--I only mean, I am glad to
see you.”

“Do you think I am going to let you go now?” he asked, astonished.

She looked at him, then her eyes evaded his: “Let us walk a little,” she
said, withdrawing her hand, “if you think you are strong enough.”

“Strong! Look, Sylvia!” and he stood unsupported by his crutches, then
walked a little way, slowly, but quite firmly. “I am rather a coward
about my foot, that is all. I shall not lug these things about after
to-day.”

“Did the doctor say you might?”

“Yes, after to-day. I could walk home now without them. I could do a
good many things I couldn’t do a few minutes ago. Isn’t that curious?”

“Very,” she said, avoiding his eyes.

He laughed. She dared not look at him. The excitement and impetus of
sheer impulse had carried her this far; now all the sadness of it was
clutching hard at her throat and for awhile she could not speak--walking
there in her dainty, summer gown beside him, the very incarnation of
youth and health, with the sea-tan on wrist and throat, and he, white,
hollow-eyed, crippled, limping, at her elbow!

Yet at that very moment his whole frame seemed to glow and his heart
clamour with the courage in it, for he was thinking of Plank’s words
and he knew Plank had spoken the truth. She could not give herself to
Quarrier, if he stood firm. His was the stronger will after all; his was
the right to interfere, to stop her, to check her, to take her, draw her
back--as he had once drawn her from the fascination of destruction when
she had swayed out too far over the cliffs at Shotover.

“Do you remember that?” he asked, and spoke of the incident.

“Yes, I remember,” she replied, smiling.

“Doctors say” he continued, “that there is a weak streak in people who
are affected by great heights, or who find a dizzy fascination drawing
them toward the brink of precipices.”

“Do you mean me?” she asked, amused.

But he continued serenely: “You have seen those pigeons called ‘tumbler
pigeons’ suddenly turn a cart-wheel in mid-air? Scientists say it’s not
for pleasure they do it; it’s because they get dizzy. In other words,
they are not perfectly normal.”

She said, laughing: “Well, you never saw me turn a cart-wheel!”

“Only a moral one,” he replied airily.

“Stephen, what on earth do you mean? You’re not going to be
disagreeable, are you?”

“I am going to be so agreeable,” he said, laughing, “that you will find
it very difficult to tear yourself away.”

“I have no doubt of it, but I must, and very soon.”

“I’m not going to let you.”

“It can’t be helped,” she said, looking up at him. “I came in with
Leila. We’re asked to Lenox for the week’s end. We go to Stockbridge on
the early train to-morrow morning.

“I don’t care,” he said doggedly; “I’m not going to let you go yet.”

“If I took to my heels here in the park would you chase me, Stephen?”
 she asked with mock anxiety.

“Yes; and if I couldn’t run fast enough I’d call that policeman. Now do
you begin to understand?”

“Oh, I’ve always understood that you were spoiled. I’m partly guilty of
the spoiling process, too. Listen: I’ll walk with you a little way”--she
looked at him--“a little way,” she continued gently; “then I must go.
There is only a caretaker in our house and Leila will be furious if I
leave her all alone. Besides, we’re going to dine there and it won’t be
very gay if I don’t give a few orders first.”

“But you brought your maid?”

“Naturally.”

“Then telephone her that you and Leila are dining out.”

“Where, silly? Do you want us to dine somewhere with you?”

“Want you! You’ve got to!”

“Stephen, it isn’t best.”

“It is best.”

She turned to him impulsively: “Oh, I do want to so much! Do you think
I might? It is perfectly delicious to see you again. I--you have no
idea--”

“Yes, I have,” he said sternly.

They turned, walking past the fountain toward Fifth Avenue again.
Furtively she glanced at his hands with the city pallor on them as they
grasped the cross-bars of the crutches, then looked up at his worn face.
He was much thinner, but now in the softly fading light the shadows
under the eyes and cheek-bones seemed less sharp, his face fuller and
more boyish; the contour of head and shoulders, the short, crisp hair
were as she remembered--and the old charm held her, the old fascination
grew, tightening her throat, stealing through every vein, stirring her
pulses, awakening imperceptibly once more the best in her. The twilight
of a thousand years seemed to slip from the world as she looked out at
it through eyes opening from a long, long sleep; the marble arch burned
rosy in the evening glow; a fairy haze hung over the enchanted avenue,
stretching away, away into the blue magic of the city of dreams.

“There is no use,” she said under her breath; “I can’t go back to Leila.
Stephen, the dreadful part of it is that I--I wish she were in Jericho!
I wish the whole world were in Ballyhoo, and you and I alone once more!”

Under their gay laughter quivered the undertone of excitement. Sylvia
said:

“I’d like to talk to you all alone. It won’t do, of course; but I may
say what I’d like--mayn’t I? What time is it? If I’m dining with you
we’ve got to have Leila for convention’s sake, if not from motives of
sheer decency, which you and I seem to lack, Stephen.”

“We lack decency,” said Siward, “and we’re proud of it. As for Leila, I
am going to arrange for her very simply but very beautifully. Plank will
take care of her. Sylvia! There’s not a soul in town and we can be as
imprudent as we please.”

“No, we can’t. Agatha’s at the Santa Regina. She came down with us.”

“But we are not going to dine at the Santa Regina. We’re going
where Agatha wouldn’t intrude her colourless nose--to a thoroughly
unfashionable and selectly common resort overlooking the classic Harlem;
and we’re going to whiz thither in Plank’s car, and remain thither until
you yawn for mercy, whence we will return thence--”

“Stephen, you silly! I’m perfectly mad to go with you!”

“You’ll be madder when you get there, if the table has not improved.”

“Table! As though tables mattered on a night like this!” Then with
sudden self-reproach and quick solicitude: “Am I making you walk too
far? Wouldn’t you like to go in now?”

“No, I’m not tired; I’m millions of years younger, and I’m as strong
as the nine gods of your friend Porsena. Besides, haven’t I waited for
this?” and under his breath, fiercely, “Haven’t I waited!” he repeated,
turning on her.

“Do--do you mean that as a reproach?” she asked, lowering her eyes.

“No. I knew you would not come on ‘the first sunny day.’”

“Why did you think I would not come? Did you know me for the coward I
am?”

“I did not think you would come,” he repeated, halting to rest on his
crutches. He stood, balanced, staring dreamily into the dim perspective;
and again her fascinated eyes ventured to rest on the worn, white face,
listless, sombre in its fixedness.

The tears were very near her eyes; the spasm in her throat checked
speech. At length she stammered: “I did not come b-because I simply
couldn’t stand it!”

His face cleared as he turned quietly: “Child, you must not confuse
matters. You must not think of being sorry for me. The old order is
passing--ticking away on every clock in the world. All that inverted
order of things is being reversed. You don’t know what I mean, do you?
Ah, well; you will know when I grow into something of what you think you
remember in me, and when I grow out of what I really was.”

“Truly I don’t understand, Stephen. But then--I am out of training since
you went--went out of things. Have I changed? Do I seem more dull? I--it
has not been very gay with me. I don’t see--looking back across all the
noise, all the chaos of the winter--I do not see how I stood it alone.”

“Alone?”

“N-not seeing you--sometimes.”

He looked at her with smiling, sceptical eyes. “Didn’t you enjoy the
winter?”

“Do you enjoy being drugged with champagne?”

His face altered so quickly that, confused, she only stared at him, the
fixed smile stamped on her lips; then, overwhelmed in the revelation:

“Stephen, surely, surely you know what I meant! I did not mean that!
Dear, do you dream for one moment that--that I could--”

“No. You have not hurt me. Besides, I know what you mean.”

After a moment he swung forward on his crutches, biting his lip, the
frown gathering between his temples.

They were passing the big, old-fashioned hotel with its white façade and
green blinds, a lingering landmark of the older city.

“We’ll telephone here,” he said.

Side by side they went up the great, broad stoop and entered the lobby.

“If you’ll speak to Leila, I’ll get Plank on the wire. Say that we’ll
stop for you at seven.”

She gave her number; then, at the nod of the operator, entered a small
booth. Siward was given another booth in a few moments.

Plank answered from his office; his voice sounded grave and tired but it
quickened, tinged with surprise, when Siward made known his plan for the
evening.

“Is Mrs. Mortimer in town?” he demanded. “I had a wire from her that she
expected to be here and I hoped to see her at the station to-morrow on
her way to Lenox.”

“She’s stopping with Miss Landis. Can’t you manage to come?” asked
Siward anxiously.

“I don’t know. Do you wish it particularly? I have just seen Quarrier
and Harrington. I can’t quite understand Quarrier’s attitude. There’s
a certain hint of defiance about it. Harrington is all caved in. He is
ready to thank us for any mercies. But Quarrier--there’s something I
don’t fancy, don’t exactly understand about his attitude. He’s like a
dangerous man whom you’ve searched for concealed weapons, and who knows
you’ve overlooked the knife up his sleeve. That’s why I’ve expected
to spend a quiet evening, studying up the matter and examining every
loophole.”

“You’ve got to dine somewhere,” said Siward. “If you could fix it to
dine with us--But I won’t urge you.”

“All right. I don’t know why I shouldn’t. I don’t know why I feel this
way about things. I--I rather felt--you’ll laugh, Siward!--that somehow
I’d better not go out of my own house to-night; that I was safer, better
off in my own house, studying this Quarrier matter out. I’m tired, I
suppose; and this man Quarrier has come close to worrying me. But it’s
all right, of course, if you wish it. You know I haven’t any nerves.”

“If you are tired--” began Siward.

“No, no, I’m not. I’ll go. Will you say that we’ll stop for them at
seven? Really, it’s all right, Siward.”

“I don’t want to urge you,” repeated Siward.

“You’re not. I’ll go. But--wait one moment tell me, did Quarrier know
that Mrs. Mortimer was to stop with Miss Landis?”

“Wait a moment. Hold the wire.”

He opened the door of the booth and saw Sylvia waiting for him, seated
by the operator’s desk. She rose at once when she saw he wished to speak
with her.

“Tell me something,” he said in a low voice; “did Mr. Quarrier know that
Leila was to stay overnight with you?”

“Yes,” she answered quietly, surprised. “Why?”

Siward nodded vaguely, closed the door again, and said to Plank:

“Yes, Quarrier knows it. Do you think he’ll be there to-night? I don’t
suppose Miss Landis and Mrs. Mortimer know he is in town.”

Plank’s troubled voice came back over the wire: “I don’t know. I don’t
know what to think. I suppose I’m a little, just a trifle, overworked.
Somebody once said that I had one nerve in me somewhere, and Quarrier’s
probably found it; that’s all.”

“If you think it better not to come--”

“I’ll come. I’ll stop for you in the motor. Don’t worry, old fellow!
And--take your fighting chance! Good-bye!”

Siward, absorbed in his own thoughts, rose and walked slowly out of the
booth, utterly unconscious that he had left his crutches leaning upright
in the corner. It was only the surprise dawning into tremulous delight
on Sylvia’s face that at last arrested him.

“See what you have done!” he said, laughing through his own surprise.
“I’ve a mind to leave them there now, and trust to your new cure.”

But she was instantly concerned and anxious, and entering the booth
brought out the crutches and forced him to take them.

“No risks now!” she said decisively. “We have too much at stake this
evening. Leila is coming. Isn’t it perfectly delightful?”

“Perfectly,” he said, his eyes full of the old laughing confidence
again; “and the most delightful part of it all is that you don’t know
how delightful it is going to be.”

“Don’t I? Very well. Only I inform you that I mean to be perfectly
happy! And that means that I’m going to do as I please! And that
means--oh, it may mean anything! What are you laughing at, Stephen? I
know I’m excited. I don’t care! What girl wouldn’t be? And I don’t know
what’s ahead of me at all; and I don’t want to know--I don’t care!”

Her reckless, little laugh rang sweetly in the old-fashioned, deserted
hall; her lovely, daring eyes met his undaunted.

“You won’t make love to me, will you, Stephen?”

“Will you promise me the same?”

“I don’t know, silly! How do I know what I might say to you, you big,
blundering boy, who can’t take care of himself? I don’t know at all; I
won’t promise. I’m likely to do anything to-night--even before Leila
and Mr. Plank--when you are with me. Shame on you for the shameless
girl you’ve educated!” Her voice fell, tremulously, and for an instant
standing there she remembered her education and his part in it.

The slow colour in his face reflected the pink confusion in hers.

“O tongue! tongue!” she stammered, “I can’t hold you in! I can’t curb
you, and I can’t make you say what you ought to be saying to that boy.
There’s trouble coming for somebody; there’s trouble here already! Call
me a cab, Stephen, or I’ll be dragging you into that big, old-fashioned
parlour and planting you on a chair and placing myself opposite, to
moon over you until somebody puts us out! There! Now will you call me a
hansom? … And I will be all ready at seven. … And don’t dare to keep me
waiting one second! … Come before seven. You don’t want to frighten
me, do you? Very well then, at a quarter to seven--so I shall not be
frightened. And, Stephen, Stephen, we’re doing exactly what we ought
not to do. You know it, don’t you? So do I. Nothing can stop us, can it?
Good-bye!”


CHAPTER XIV THE BARGAIN

If a man’s grief does not awaken his dignity, then he has none. In that
event, grief is not even respectable. And so it was with Leroy Mortimer
when Lydia at last turned on him. If you caress an Angora too long and
too persistently it runs away. And before it goes it scratches.

Under all the physical degeneration of mind and flesh there had still
remained in Mortimer the capacity for animal affection; and that does
not mean sensuality alone, but generosity and a sort of routine devotion
as characteristic components of a character which had now disintegrated
into the simplest and most primitive elements.

Lydia Vyse left Saratoga when the financial stringency began to make it
unpleasant for her to remain. She told Mortimer without the slightest
compunction that she was going.

He did not believe her and he gave her the new car--the big
yellow-and-black Serin-Chanteur. She sold it the same day to a
bookmaker--an old friend of hers; withdrew several jewels from
limbo--gems which Mortimer had given her--and gathered together
everything for which, if he turned ugly, she might not be criminally
liable.

She had never liked him--she had long disliked him. Such women have an
instinct for their own kind, and no matter how low in the scale a man
of the other kind sinks he can never entirely supply the type of running
mate that such women require, understand, and usually conceive a passion
for.

Not liking him she had no hesitation in the matter; disliking him,
whatever unpleasant had occurred during their companionship remained as
an irritant to poison memory. She resented a thousand little incidents
that he scarcely knew had ever existed, but which she treasured without
wasting emotion until the sum total and the time coincided to retaliate.
Not that she would have cared to harm him seriously; she was willing
enough to disoblige him, however--decorate him, before she left him,
with one extra scratch for the sake of auld lang syne. So she wrote a
note to the governors of the Patroons Club, saying that both Quarrier
and Mortimer were aware that the guilt of her escapade could not be
attached to Siward; that she knew nothing of Siward, had accepted his
wager without meaning to attempt to win it, had never again seen him,
and had, on the impulse of the moment, made her entry in the wake of
several men. She added that when Quarrier, as governor, had concurred
in Siward’s expulsion he knew perfectly well that Siward was not guilty,
because she herself had so informed Quarrier. Since then she had also
told Mortimer, but he had taken no steps to do justice to Siward,
although he, Mortimer, was still a governor of the Patroons Club.

This being about all she could think of to make mischief for two men
whose recent companionship had nourished and irritated her, she shipped
her trunks by express, packed her jewel-case and valise, and met Desmond
at the station.

Desmond had business in Europe; Lydia had as much business there
as anywhere; and, although she had been faithless to Mortimer for a
comparatively short time, within that time Desmond already had sworn at
her and struck her. So she was quite ready to follow Desmond anywhere
in this world or the next. And that, too, had not made her the more
considerate toward Mortimer.

When the latter returned from the races to find her gone the last
riddled props to what passed for his manhood gave way and the rotten
fabric came crashing into the mud.

He had loved her as far as he had been capable of imitating that passion
on the transposed plane to which he had fallen; he was stupefied at
first, then grew violent with the furniture, then hysterically profane,
then pitiable in the abandoned degradation of his grief. And, suspecting
Desmond, he started to find him. They put him out of Desmond’s
club-house when he became noisy; they refused him admittance to several
similar resorts where his noise threatened to continue; his landlord
lost no time in interviewing him upon the subject of damage to furniture
from kicks and to the walls and carpets from the contents of smashed
bottles.

Creditors with sharp noses scented the whirlwind afar off and hemmed him
in with unsettled accounts, mostly hers. Somebody placed a lien on his
horses; a deputy sheriff began to follow him about; all credit ceased
as by magic, and men crossed the street to avoid meeting with an old
companion in direst need.

Still, alternately stupefied by his own grief and maddened into the
necessity for action, he packed a suitcase, crawled out of the rear
door, toiled across country and found a farmer to drive him twenty miles
over a sandy road to a local railroad crossing, where he managed to
board a train for Albany.

At Albany, as he stood panting and sweating on the long, concrete
platform which paralleled track No. 1, he saw a private car, switched
from a Boston and Albany train, shunted to the rear of the Merchants’
Express.

The private car was lettered in gold on the central panel, “Algonquin.”
 He boarded the Pullman coupled to it forward, pushed through the
vestibule, shoved aside the Japanese steward and darky cook, forcing his
way straight into the private car. Quarrier, reading a magazine,
looked up at him in astonishment. For a full moment neither spoke.
Then Mortimer dropped his suit-case, sat down in an armchair opposite
Quarrier, and leisurely mopped his reeking face and neck.

“Scotch and lithia!” he said hoarsely; the Japanese steward looked at
Quarrier; then, at that gentleman’s almost imperceptible nod, went away
to execute the commission.

He executed a great many similar commissions during the trip to New
York. When they arrived there at five o’clock, Quarrier offered Mortimer
his hand, and held the trembling, puffy fingers as he leaned closer,
saying with cold precision and emotionless emphasis something that
appeared to require the full concentration of Mortimer’s half-drugged
faculties.

And when at length Mortimer drove away in a hansom, Quarrier’s Japanese
steward went with him--perhaps to carry his suit case--a courtesy that
did credit to Quarrier’s innate thoughtfulness and consideration
for others. He was very considerate; he even called Agatha up on the
telephone and talked with her for ten minutes. Then he telephoned to
Plank’s office, learned that Harrington was already there, telephoned
the garage for a Mercedes which he always kept ready in town, and
presently went bowling away to a conference on which the last few hours
had put an entirely new aspect.

It had taken Plank only a few minutes to perceive that something had
occurred to change a point of view which he had believed it impossible
for Quarrier to change. Something had gone wrong in his own careful
calculations; some cog had slipped, some rivet given way, some bed-plate
cracked. And Harrington evidently had not been aware of it; but Quarrier
knew it. There was something wrong.

It was too late now to go tinkering in the dark for trouble. Plank
understood that. Coolly, as though utterly unaware that the machinery
might not stand the strain, he started it full speed. And when he
stopped it at last Harrington’s grist had been ground to atoms, and
Quarrier had looked on without comment. There seemed to be little more
for them to do except to pay the miller.

“To-morrow,” said Quarrier, rising to go. It was on the edge of Plank’s
lips to say, “to-day!”--but he was silent, knowing that Harrington would
speak for him. And the old man did, without words, turning his iron
visage on Quarrier with the silent dignity of despair. But Quarrier
coldly demanded a day before they reckoned with Plank. And Plank,
profoundly disturbed, shrugged his massive shoulders in contemptuous
assent.

So Quarrier and Harrington went away--the younger partner taking leave
of the older with a sneer for an outworn prop which no man could ever
again have use for. Old and beaten--that was all Harrington now stood
for in Quarrier’s eyes. Never a thought of the past undaunted courage,
never a memory of the old victories which had made the Quarrier fortune
possible--only contempt for age, a sneer for the mind and body that
had failed at last. The old robber was done for, his armour rotten, his
buckler broken, his sword blade rusted to the core. The least of his
victims might now finish him with a club where he swayed in his loosened
saddle, or leave him to that horseman on the pale horse watching him
yonder on the horizon.

For now, whether Harrington lived or died, he must be counted as nothing
in this new struggle darkly outlining its initial strategy in Quarrier’s
brain. What was coming was coming between himself and Plank alone; and
whatever the result--whether an armed truce leaving affairs indefinitely
in statu quo, or the other alternative, an alliance with Plank, leaving
Harrington like a king in his mail, propped upon his throne, dead eyes
doubly darkened under the closed helmet--the result must be attained
swiftly, with secrecy, and with the aid of no man. For he did not count
Mortimer a man.

So Quarrier’s thin lips twitched and the glimmer of teeth showed
under the silky beard as he listened without comment to the old
man’s hesitating words--a tremulous suggestion for a conference that
evening--and he said again, “to-morrow,” and left him there alone,
groping with uncertain hands toward the door of the hired coupé which
had brought him to the place of his earthly downfall; the place where
he had met his own weird face to face--the wraith that bore the mask of
Plank.

Quarrier, brooding sullenly in his Mercedes, was already far up town on
his way to Major Belwether’s house.

At the door, Sylvia’s maid received him smilingly, saying that her
mistress was not at home but that Mrs. Mortimer was--which saved
Quarrier the necessity of asking for the private conference with Leila
which was exactly what he had come for. But her first unguarded words on
receiving him as he rose at her entrance into the darkened drawing-room
changed that plan, too--changed it all so utterly, and so much for
the better, that he almost smiled to think of the crudity of human
combinations and inventions as compared to the masterly machinations of
Fate. No need for him to complicate matters when here were pawns enough
to play the game for him. No need for him to do anything except give
them their initial velocity and let them tumble into one another and
totter or fall. Leila said, laughingly: “Oh, you are too late, Howard.
We are dining with Mr. Plank at Riverside Inn. What in the world are you
doing in town so suddenly?”

“A business telegram. I might have come down with you and Sylvia if I
had known. … Is Plank dining with you alone?”

“I haven’t seen him,” smiled Leila evasively. “He will tell us his plans
of course when he comes.”

“Oh,” said Quarrier, dropping his eyes and glancing furtively toward the
curtained windows through which he could see the street and his Mercedes
waiting at the curb. At the same instant a hansom drove up; Sylvia
sprang out, ran lightly up the low steps, and the silent, shrouded house
rang with the clamour of the bell.

Leila looked curiously at Quarrier, who sat motionless, head partly
averted, as though listening to something heard by him alone. He
believed perhaps that he was listening to the voice of Fate again, and
it may have been so, for already, for the third time, all his plans were
changing to suit this new ally of his--this miraculous Fate which was
shaping matters for him as he waited. Sylvia had started up-stairs like
a fragrant whirlwind, but her flying feet halted at Leila’s constrained
voice from the drawing-room, and she spun around and came into the
darkened room like an April breeze.

“Leila! They’ll be here at a quarter to seven--”

Her breath seemed to leave her body as a shadowy figure rose in the
uncertain light and confronted her.

“You!”

He said: “Didn’t you recognise the Mercedes outside?”

She had not even seen it, so excited, so deeply engaged had she been
with the riotous tumult of her own thoughts. And still her hurt,
unbelieving gaze widened to dismay as she stood there halted on
the threshold; and still his eyes, narrowing, held her under their
expressionless inspection.

“When did you come? Why?” she asked in an altered voice.

“I came on business. Naturally, being here, I came to see you. I
understand you are dining out?”

“Yes, we are dining out.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t wire you because we might have dined together. I saw
Plank this afternoon. He did not say you were to dine with him. Shall I
see you later in the evening, Sylvia?”

“I--it will be too late--”

“Oh! To-morrow then. What train do you take?”

Sylvia did not answer; he picked up his hat, repeating the question
carelessly, and still she made no reply.

“Shall I see you to-morrow?” he asked, swinging on her rather suddenly.

“I think--not. I--there will be no time--”

He bowed quietly to Leila, offering his hand. “Who did you say was to
dine with you--besides Plank?”

Leila stood silent, then, withdrawing her fingers, walked to the window.

Quarrier, his hat in his gloved hands, looked from one to the other, his
inquiring eyes returning and focused on Sylvia.

“Who are you dining with?” he asked with authority.

“Mr. Plank and Mr. Siward.”

“Mr. Siward!” he repeated in surprised displeasure, as though he had not
already divined it.

“Yes. A man I like.”

“A man I dislike,” he rejoined with the slightest emphasis.

“I am sorry,” she said simply.

“So am I, Sylvia. And I am going to ask you to make him an excuse. Any
excuse will do.”

“Excuse? What do you mean, Howard?”

“I mean that I do not care to have you seen with Mr. Siward. Have I ever
demanded very much of you, Sylvia? Very well; I demand this of you now.”

And still she stood there, her eyes wide, her colour gone, repeating:
“Excuse? What excuse? What do you mean by ‘excuse,’ Howard?”

“I have told you. You know my wishes. If he has a telephone you can
communicate with him--”

“And say that I--that you forbid me--”

“If you choose. Yes; say that I object to him. Is there anything
extraordinary in a man objecting to his future wife dining in the
country at a common inn with a notorious outcast from every decent club
and circle in New York?”

“What!” she whispered, white as death. “What did you say?”

“Shall I repeat what everybody except you seems to be aware of? Do you
care to have me explain to you exactly why decent people have ostracised
this man with whom you are proposing to figure in a public resort?”

He turned to Leila, who stood at the window, her back turned toward
them: “Mrs. Mortimer, when Mr. Plank arrives, you will be kind enough to
explain why Sylvia is unable to accompany you.”

If Leila heard she neither turned nor made sign of comprehension.

“We will dine at the Santa Regina,” he said to Sylvia. “Agatha is there
and I’ll find somebody at the club to--”

“Why bother to find anybody?” said Leila, wheeling on him, exasperated.
“Why not dine there with Agatha alone? It will not be the first time I
fancy!”

“What do you mean?” he said fiercely, under his breath. The colour had
left his face, too, and in his eyes Leila saw for the first time an
expression that she had never before surprised in any eyes except her
husband’s. It was the expression of fright; she recognised it. But
Sylvia stared, unenlightened, at an altered visage she scarcely knew for
Quarrier’s.

“What do I mean?” repeated Leila; “I mean what I say; and if you don’t
understand it you can find the key to it, I fancy. Nor shall I answer to
you for my guests. I invite whom I choose. Mr. Siward is one, Mr. Plank
is another. Sylvia, if you care to come I shall be delighted.”

“I do care to come,” said Sylvia. Her heart was beating violently, her
eyes were on Quarrier.

“If you go,” said Quarrier, showing the glimmering edge of teeth under
his beard, “you will answer to me for it.”

“I will answer you now, Howard; I am going with Mrs. Mortimer. What have
you to say?”

“I’ll say it to-morrow,” he replied, contemplating her in a dull,
impassive manner as though absorbed in other things.

“Say what there is to be said now!” she insisted, the hot colour
staining her cheeks again. “Do you desire me to free you? Is that all? I
will if you wish.”

“No. And I shall not free you, Sylvia. This--all this can be adjusted in
time.”

“As you please,” she said slowly.

“In time,” he repeated, his passionless voice now under perfect control.
He turned and looked at Leila; all the wickedness of his anger was
concentrated in his gaze. Then he took his leave of them as formally, as
precisely as though he had forgotten the whole scene; and a minute later
the big Mercedes ran out into a half-circle, backed, wheeled, and rolled
away through the thickening dusk, the glare of the acetylenes sweeping
the deserted street.

Into the twilight sped Quarrier, head bent, but his soft, dark-lashed
eyes of a woman fixed steadily ahead. Every energy, every thought was
now bent to this newest phase of the same question which he and Fate
were finding simpler to solve every minute. Of all the luxuries he
permitted himself openly or furtively, one--the rarest of them all--his
self-denial had practically eliminated from the list: the luxury
of punishing where no end was served save that of mere personal
satisfaction. The temptation of this luxury now presented itself;
and the means of gratification were so simple, so secret, so easy to
command, that the temptation became almost a duty.

Siward he had not turned out of his way to injure; Siward had been in
the way, that was all, and his ruin was to have been merely an agreeable
coincidence with the purposed ruin of Amalgamated Electric before
Inter-County absorbed the fragments. But here was a new phase; Mrs.
Mortimer, whom he had expected to use, and if necessary sacrifice, had
suddenly turned vicious. And he now hated her as coldly as he hated
Major Belwether for betraying suspicions of a similar nature. As for
Plank, fear and hatred of him was becoming hatred and contempt. He
had the means of checking Plank if Mortimer did not drop dead before
midnight. There remained Sylvia, whom he had selected as the fittest
object attainable to transmit his name. Long ago, whatever of liking,
of affection, of passion he had ever entertained for her had quieted to
indifference and the unemotional contemplation of a future methodically
arranged for. Now of a sudden, this young girl he had bought--he knowing
what she sold and what he was paying for--had become exposed to the
infection of a suspicion concerning himself and another woman; a woman
unmarried, and of his own caste, and numbered among her own friends.

And he knew enough of Sylvia to know that if anybody could once arouse
her suspicion nothing on earth could induce her to look into his face
again. Suppose Leila should do so this evening?

Certainly Quarrier had several matters to ponder over and provide for;
and first and foremost of all to provide for his own security and the
vital necessity of preserving his name and his character untainted. In
this he had to deal with that miserable judge who had betrayed him; with
Mortimer, who had once black-mailed him and who now was temporarily in
his service; with Mrs. Mortimer, who--God knew how, when, or where--had
become suspicious of Agatha and himself; with Major Belwether, who had
deserted him before he could sacrifice the major, and whom he now
hated and feared for having stumbled over suspicions similar to Mrs.
Mortimer’s. He had to deal with Sylvia herself, and with Siward--reckon
with Siward’s knowledge of matters which it were best that Sylvia should
not know.

But first of all, and most important of all, he had to deal with Beverly
Plank. And he was going to do it in a manner that Plank could not have
foreseen; he was going to stop Plank where he stood, and to do this he
was deliberately using his knowledge of the man and paying Plank the
compliment of counting on his sense of honour to defeat him.

For he had suddenly found the opportunity to defend himself; he had
discovered the joint in Plank’s old-fashioned armour--the armour of the
old paladins--who placed a woman’s honour before all else in the world.
Now, through his creature, Mortimer, he could menace Plank with a threat
to involve him and Leila in a vile publicity; now he was in a position
to demand a hearing and a compromise through his new ambassador,
Mortimer, knowing that he could at last halt Plank by threatening Leila
with this shameful danger. Plank must sign the truce or face with Leila
an action for damages and divorce.

First of all he went to the Lenox Club and dressed. Then he dined
sparingly and alone. The Mercedes was waiting when he came out ready
to run down to the great Hotel Corona, whither the Japanese steward had
conducted Mortimer. Mortimer had dined heavily, but his disorganised
physical condition was such that it had scarcely affected him at all.

Again Quarrier went over patiently and carefully the very simple part he
had reserved for Mortimer that evening, explaining exactly what to say
to Leila and what to say to Plank in case of insolent interruption. Then
he told Mortimer to be ready at nine o’clock, turned on his heel with
a curt word to the Japanese, descended to the street, entered his
motor-car again, and sped away to the Hotel Santa Regina.

Miss Caithness was at home, came the message in exchange for his cards
for Agatha and Mrs. Vendenning. He entered the gilded elevator, stepped
out on the sixth floor into a tiny, rococo, public reception-room.
Nobody was there besides himself; Agatha’s maid came presently, and
he turned and followed her into the large and very handsome parlour
belonging to the suite which Agatha was occupying with Mrs. Vendenning
for the few days that they were to stop in town.

“Hello,” she said serenely, sauntering in, her long, pale hands
bracketed on her narrow hips, her lips disclosing her teeth in a smile
so like that nervous muscular recession which passed for a smile on
Quarrier’s visage that for one moment he recognised it and thought she
was mocking him. But she strolled up to him, meeting his eye calmly, and
lifted her slim neck, lips passive under his impetuous kiss.

“Is Mrs. Vendenning out?” he asked, laying his hands on the bare
shoulders of the tall, pallid girl--tall as he, and as pallid.

“No, Mrs. Ven. is in, Howard.”

“Now? You mean she is coming in to interrupt--”

“Oh no; she isn’t fond of you, Howard.”

“You said--” he began almost angrily, but she laid her fingers across
his lips.

“I said a very foolish thing, Howard. I said that I’d manage to dispense
with Mrs. Ven. this evening.”

“You mean that you couldn’t manage it?”

“Not at all; I could easily have managed it. But--I didn’t care to.”

She looked at him calmly at close range as he held her embraced, lifted
her arms and, with slender, white fingers patted her hair into place
where his arm around her head had disarranged it, watching him all the
while out of her pale, haunted eyes.

“You promised me,” he said, “that you--”

“Oh Howard! Do men still believe in promises?”

Quarrier’s face had colour enough now; his voice, too, had lost its
passionless, monotonous precision. Whatever was in the man of emotion
was astir; his impatient voice, his lack of poise, the almost human lack
of caution in his speech betrayed him in a new and interesting light.

“Look here, Agatha, how long is this going to last? Are you trying to
make a fool of me? What is the matter? Is there anything wrong?”

“Wrong? Oh dear no! How could there be anything wrong between you and
me--”

“Agatha, what is the matter! Look here; let’s settle this thing now and
settle it one way or the other! I won’t stand it; I--I can’t!”

“Very well,” she said, releasing herself from his tightening arms and
stepping back with another glance at the mirror and another light touch
of her finger-tips on her burnished hair. “Very well,” she repeated,
gazing again into the mirror; “what am I to understand, Howard?”

“You know what to understand,” he said in a low voice; “you know what we
both understood when--when--”

“When what?”

“When I--when you--”

“Oh what, Howard?” she prompted indolently; and he answered in brutal
exasperation, and for the first time so plainly that a hint of rose
tinted her strange, pale beauty and between her lips the breath came
less regularly as she stood there looking at the dull, silvery rug under
her feet.

“Did you ever misunderstand me?” he demanded hotly. “Did I give you any
chance to? Were you ignorant of what that meant,” with a gesture toward
the splendid crescent of flashing gems, scintillating where the low,
lace bodice met the silky lustre of her skin. “Did you misinterpret the
collar? Or the sudden change of fortune in your own family’s concerns?
Answer me, Agatha, once for all. But you need not answer after all: I
know you have never misunderstood me!”

“I misunderstood nothing,” she said; “you are quite right.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“Do?” she asked in slow surprise. “What am I to do, Howard?”

“You have said that you loved me.”

“I said the truth, I think.”

“Then--”

“Well?”

“How long are you going to keep me at arm’s length?” he asked violently.

“That lies with you,” she said, smiling. She looked at him for a moment,
then, resting her hands on her hips, she began to pace the floor, to and
fro, to and fro, and at every turn she raised her head to look at him.
All the strange grace of her became insolent provocation--her pale eyes,
clear, limpid, harbouring no delusions, haunted with the mockery of
wisdom, challenged and checked him. “Howard,” she said, “why should I be
the fool you want me to be because I love you? Why should I be even if
I wished to be? You desire an understanding? Voilà! You have it. I love
you; I never misunderstood you from the first; I could not afford to.
You know what I am; you know what you arouse in me?”

Slim, pale, depraved in all but body she stood, eyeing him a moment, the
very incarnation of vicious perversity.

“You know what you arouse in me,” she repeated. “But don’t count on it!”

“You have encouraged--permitted me to count--” His anger choked him--or
was it the haunting wisdom of her eyes that committed him to silence.

“I don’t know,” she said, musingly, “what it is in you that I am so mad
about--whether it is your brutality, or the utter corruption of you that
holds me, or your wicked eyes of a woman, or the fascination of the mask
you turn on the world, and the secret visage, naked in its vice, that
you reserve for me. But I love you--in my own fashion. Count on that,
Howard; for that is all you can surely count on. And now, at last, you
know.”

As he stood there, it came to him slowly that, deep within him he had
always known this; that he had never really counted on anything else
though he had throttled his doubts by covering her throat with diamonds.
Her strangeness, her pallor, her acquiescence, the delicate hint of
depravity in her, the subtle response to all that was worst in him
had attracted him, only to learn, little by little, that the taint of
corruption was only a taint infecting others, not her; that the promise
of evil was only a promise; that he had to deal with a young body but
an old intelligence, and a mind so old that at moments her faded gaze
almost appalled him with its indolent clairvoyance.

Long since he knew, too, that in all the world he could never again
find such a mate for him. This had, unadmitted even to himself, always
remained a hidden secret within this secret man--an unacknowledged,
undrawn-on reserve in case of the failure which he, even in sanguine
moods, knew in his inmost corrupted soul that his quest was doomed to.

And now he had no more need of secrets from himself; now, turning his
gaze inward, he looked upon all with which he had chosen to deceive
himself. And there was nothing left for self-deception.

“If I marry you!” he said calmly “at least I know what I am getting.”

“I will marry you, Howard. I’ve got to marry somebody pretty soon. You
or Captain Voucher.”

For an instant a vicious light flashed in his narrowing eyes. She saw it
and shook her head with weary cynicism:

“No, not that. It could not attract me even with you. It is really
vulgar--that arrangement. Noblesse oblige, mon ami. There is a depravity
in marrying you that makes all lesser vices stale as virtues.”

He said nothing; she looked at him, lazily amused; then, inattentive,
turned and paced the floor again.

“Shall I see you to-morrow?” he demanded.

“If you wish. Captain Voucher came down on the same train with me. I’ll
set him adrift if you like.”

“Is he preparing for a declaration?” sneered Quarrier.

“I think so,” she said simply.

“Well if he comes to-night after I’m gone, you wait a final word from
me. Do you understand?” he repeated with repressed violence.

“No, Howard. Are you going to propose to me to-morrow?”

“You’ll know to-morrow,” he retorted angrily. “I tell you to wait. I’ve
a right to that much consideration anyway.”

“Very well, Howard,” she said, recognising in him the cowardice which
she had always suspected to be there.

She bade him good night; he touched her hand but made no offer to kiss
her. She laughed a little to herself, watching him striding toward the
elevator, then, closing the door, she stood still in the centre of
the room, staring at her own reflection, full length, in the gilded
pier-glass, her lips edged with a sneer so like Quarrier’s that, the
next moment she laughed aloud, imitating Quarrier’s rare laugh from
sheer perversity.

“I think,” she said to her reflected figure in the glass, “I think that
you are either mentally ill or inherently a kind of devil. And I don’t
much care which.”

And she turned leisurely, her slim hands balanced lightly on her narrow
hips, and strolled into the second dressing-room, where Mrs. Vendenning
sat sullenly indulging in that particular species of solitaire known as
“The Idiot’s Delight.”

“Well?” inquired Mrs. Vendenning, looking up at the tall, pale girl she
was chaperoning so carefully during their sojourn in town.

“Oh, you know the rhyme to that,” yawned Agatha; “let’s ring up
somebody. I’m bored stiff.”

“What did Howard Quarrier want?”

“He knows, I think, but he hasn’t yet informed me.”

“I’ll tell you one thing, Agatha,” said Mrs. Vendenning, gathering
up the packs for a new shuffle: “Grace Ferrall doesn’t fancy Howard’s
attention to you and she’s beginning to say so. When you go back to
Shotover you’d better let him alone.”

“I’m not going back to Shotover,” said Agatha.

“What?”

“No; I don’t think so. However, I’ll let you know to-morrow. It all
depends--but I don’t expect to.” She turned as her maid tapped on
the door. “Oh, Captain Voucher. Are you at home to him?” flipping the
pasteboard onto the table among the scattered cards.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Vendenning aggressively, “unless you expect him to flop
down on his knees to-night. Do you?”

“I don’t--to-night. Perhaps to-morrow. I don’t know; I can’t tell yet.”
 And to her maid she nodded that they were at home to Captain Voucher.

Quarrier had met him, too, just as he was leaving the hotel lobby. They
exchanged the careful salutations of men who had no use for one another.
On the Englishman’s clean-cut face a deeper hue settled as he passed; on
Quarrier’s, not a trace of emotion; but when he entered his motor he
sat bolt upright, stiff-backed and stiff-necked, his long gray-gloved
fingers moving restlessly over his pointed heard.


The night was magnificent; myriads of summer stars spangled the heavens.
Even in the reeking city itself a slight freshness grew in the air,
although there was no wind to stir the parched leaves of the park trees,
among which fire-flies floated--their intermittent phosphorescence
breaking out with a silvery, star-like brilliancy.

Plank, driving his big motor northward through the night, Leila Mortimer
beside him, twice mistook the low glimmer of a fire-fly for the distant
lamp of a motor, which amused Leila, and her clear, young laughter
floated back to the ears of Sylvia and Siward, curled up in their
corners of the huge tonneau. But they were too profoundly occupied with
each other to heed the sudden care-free laughter of the young matron,
though in these days her laughter was infrequent enough to set the more
merciless tongues wagging when it did sound.

Plank had never seen fit to speak to her of her husband’s scarcely
veiled menace that day he had encountered him in the rotunda of the
Algonquin Trust Company. His first thought was to do so--to talk it over
with her, consider the threat and the possibility of its seriousness,
and then come to some logical and definite decision as to what their
future relations should be. Again and again he had been on the point
of doing this when alone with Leila--uncomfortable, even apprehensive,
because of their frank intimacy; but he had never had the opportunity
to do so without deliberately dragging in the subject by the ears in all
its ugliness and implied reproach for her imprudence, and seeing that
dreadful, vacant change in Leila’s face, which the mere mention of her
husband’s name was sure to bring, turn into horror unspeakable.

A man not prone to fear his fellows, he now feared Mortimer, but that
fear struck him only through Leila--or had so reached him until the
days of his closing struggle with Quarrier. Whether the long strain had
unnerved him, whether minutely providing against every possible danger
he had been over-scrupulous, over-anxious, morbidly exact--or whether a
foresight almost abnormal had evoked a sinister possibility--he did not
know; but that threat of Mortimer’s to involve Plank with Leila in one
common ruin, that boast that he was able to do so could not be ignored
as a possible weapon if Quarrier should by any chance learn of it.

In all his life he had taken Leila into his arms but once; had kissed
her but once--but that once had been enough to arm Mortimer with
danger from head to foot. Some prying servant had either listened or
seen--perhaps a glimmer of a mirror had betrayed them. At all events,
whoever had seen or heard had informed Mortimer, and now the man was
equipped; the one and only man in all the world who could with truth
accuse Plank; the only man of whom he stood in honest fear.

And it was characteristic of Plank that never for one moment had it
occurred to him that the sheer fault of it all lay with Leila; that it
was her imprudence alone that now threatened herself and the man she
loved--that threatened his very success in life as long as Mortimer
should live.

All this, Plank, in his thorough, painstaking review of the subject, had
taken into account; and he could not see how it could possibly bear upon
the matters now finally to be adjusted between Quarrier and himself,
because Quarrier was in New York and Mortimer in Saratoga, and unless
the latter had already sold his information the former could not strike
at him through knowledge of it.

And yet a curious reluctancy, a hesitation inexplicable--unless overwork
explained it--had come over him when Siward had proposed their dining
together on the very eve of his completed victory over Quarrier.

It seemed absurd, and Plank was too stolid to entertain superstitions,
but he could not, even with Leila laughing there beside him, shake off
the dull instinct that all was not well--that Quarrier’s attitude was
still the attitude of a dangerous man; that he, Plank, should have
had this evening in his room alone to study out the matters he had so
patiently plodded through in the long hours while Siward slept.

Yet not for one instant did he dream of shifting the responsibility--if
responsibility entailed blame--on Siward, who, against Plank’s judgment
and desire, had on the very eve of consummation drawn him away from that
sleepless vigilance which must for ever be the price of a business man’s
safety.

Leila, gay and excited as a schoolgirl, chattered on ceaselessly to
Plank; all the silence, all the secrecy of the arid years turning to
laughter on her red lips, pouring out, in broken phrases of delight,
words strung together for the sheer pleasure of speech and the happiness
of her lot to be with him unrestrained.

He remembered once listening to the song of a wild bird on the edge of a
clearing at night, and how, standing entranced, the low, distant jar
of thunder sounded at moments, scarcely audible--like his heart now, at
intervals, dully persistent amid the gaiety of her voice.

“And would you believe it, Beverly,” she said, “I formed the habit
at Shotover of walking across the boundary and strolling into your
greenhouses and deliberately helping myself. And every time I did it I
was certain one of your men would march me out!”

He laughed, but did not tell her that his men had reported the first
episode and that he had instructed them that Mrs. Mortimer and her
friends were to do exactly as they pleased at the Fells. However she
knew it, because a garrulous gardener, proud of his service with Plank,
had informed her.

“Beverly,” she said, “you are a dear. If people only knew what I know!”

He began to turn red; she could see it even in the flickering, lamp-shot
darkness. And she teased him for a while, very gently, even tenderly;
and their voices grew lower in a half-serious badinage that ended with a
quiet, indrawn breath, a sigh, and silence.

And now the river swept into view, a darkly luminous sheet set with
reflected stars. Mirrored lights gleamed in it; sudden bright, yellow
flashes zigzagged into its sombre depths; the foliage edged it with
a deeper gloom over which, on the heights, twinkled the multicoloured
lights of Riverside Inn.

Up the broad, gentle grade they sped, curving in and out among the
clumps of trees and shrubbery, then on a level, sweeping in a great
circle up to the steps of the inn.

Now all about them from the brilliantly lighted verandas the gay tumult
broke out like an uproarious welcome after the swift silence of their
journey; the stir of jolly people keen for pleasure; the clatter of
crockery; the coming and going of waiters, of guests, of hansoms,
coupés, victorias, and scores of motor-cars wheeling and turning through
the blinding glare of their own headlights.

Somewhere a gipsy orchestra, full of fitful crescendoes and throbbing
suspensions of caprice, furnished resonant accompaniment to the joyous
clamour; the scent of fountain spray and flowers was in the air.

“I didn’t know you had telephoned for a table,” said Siward, as a
head-waiter came up smiling and bowing to Plank. “I confess, in the new
excitement of things, I clean forgot it! What a man you are to think of
other people!”

Plank reddened again, muttering something evasive, and went forward with
Leila.

Sylvia, moving leisurely beside Siward who was walking slowly but
confidently without crutches, whispered to him: “I never really liked
Mr. Plank before I understood his attitude toward you.”

“He is a man, every inch,” said Siward simply.

“I think that generally includes what men of your sort demand, doesn’t
it?” she asked.

“Men of my sort sometimes demand in others what they themselves are
lacking in,” said Siward, laughing. “Sylvia, look at this jolly crowd!
Look at all those tables! It seems an age since I have done anything
of this sort. I feel like a boy of eighteen--the same funny, quickening
fascination in me toward everything gay and bright and alive!” He
looked around at her, laughingly. “As for you,” he said, “you look about
sixteen. You certainly are the most beautiful thing this beautiful world
ever saw!”

“Schoolboy courtship!” she mocked him, lingering as he made his slow way
through the crowded place. The tint of excitement was in her eyes and
cheeks; the echo of it in her low, happy voice. “Where on earth is Mr.
Plank? Oh, I see them! They have a table by the balcony rail, in the
corner; and it seems to be rather secluded, Stephen, so I shall, of
course, expect you to say nothing further about beauty of any species.
… Are you a trifle tired? No? … Well, you need not be indignant. I
don’t care whether you tumble. Indeed, I don’t believe there is really
anything the matter with you--you are walking with the same old careless
saunter. Mr. Plank,” as they arrived and seated themselves, “Mr.
Siward has just admitted that he uses crutches only because they are
ornamental. Leila, isn’t this air delicious? All sorts of people, too,
aren’t there, Mr. Plank? Such curious-looking women, some of them--quite
pretty, too, in a certain way. Are you hungry, St--Mr. Siward?”

“Are you, St--Mr. Siward?” mimicked Leila promptly.

“I am,” said Siward, laughing at Sylvia’s significant colour and noting
Plank’s direct gaze as the waiter filled Leila’s slender-stemmed glass.
And “nothing but Apollinaris,” he said coolly, as the waiter approached
him; but though his voice was easy enough, a dull patch of colour came
out under the cheek-bones.

“That is all I care for, either,” said Sylvia with elaborate
carelessness.

Plank and Leila immediately began to make conversation. Siward, his eyes
bent on the glass of mineral water at his elbow, looked up in silence at
Sylvia questioningly.

There was something in her face he did not quite comprehend. She made
as though to speak, looked at him, hesitated, her lovely face eloquent
under the impulse. Then, leaning toward him, she said:

“‘And thy ways shall be my ways.’”

“Sylvia, you must not deny yourself, just because I--”

“Let me. It is the happiest thing I have ever done for myself.”

“But I don’t wish it.”

“Ah, but I do,” she said, the low excited laughter scarcely fluttering
her lips. “Listen: I never before, in all my life, gave up anything for
your sake, only this one little pitiful thing.”

“I won’t let you!” he breathed; “it is nonsense to--”

“You must let me! Am I to be on friendly terms with--with your mortal
enemy?” She was still smiling, but now her sensitive mouth quivered
suddenly.

He sat silent, considering her, his restless fingers playing with his
glass in which the harmless bubbles were breaking.

“I drink to your health, Stephen,” she said under her breath. “I drink
to your happiness, too; and--and to your fortune, and to all that
you desire from fortune.” And she raised her glass in the star-light,
looking over it into his eyes.

“All I desire from fortune?” he repeated significantly.

“All--almost all--”

“No, all,” he demanded.

But she only raised the glass to her lips, still looking at him as she
drank.

They became unreasonably gay almost immediately, though the beverage
scarcely accounted for the delicate intoxication that seemed to creep
into their veins. Yet it was sufficient for Siward to say an amusing
thing wittily, for Sylvia to return his lead with all the delightful,
unconscious brilliancy that he seemed to inspire in her--as though
awaking into real life once more. All that had slumbered in her through
the winter and spring, and the long, arid summer now crumbling to the
edge of autumn, broke out into a delicate riot of exquisite florescence;
the very sounds of her voice, every intonation, every accent, every
pause, were charming surprises; her laughter was a miracle, her beauty a
revelation.

Leila, aware of it, exchanged glance after glance with Plank. Siward,
alternately the leader in it all, then the enchanted listener,
bewitched, enthralled, felt care slipping from his shoulders like a
mantle, and sadness exhaling from a heart that was beating strongly,
steadily, fearlessly--as a heart should beat in the breast of him who
has taken at last his fighting chance. He took it now, under her eyes,
for honour, for manhood, and for the ideal which had made manhood no
longer an empty term muttered in desperation by a sick body, and a mind
too sick to control it.

Yes, at last the lifelong battle was on. He knew it. He knew, too,
whatever his fate with her or without her, he must always go on with the
battle for the safe-guarding of that manhood the consciousness of which
she had aroused.

All he knew was that, through the medium of his love for her, whatever
in him of the spiritual remained, or had been generated, was now awake,
alive, strong, vital, indestructible--an impalpable current flowing from
a sane intelligence, through medium of her, back to the eternal truth,
returning always, always, to the deathless source from whence it came.

Lingering over the fruit, the champagne breaking in the glasses standing
on the table between them, rim to rim, Leila and Plank had fallen into a
low, desultory, yet guarded exchange of words and silences.

Sylvia sprang up and pushed her chair into the farther corner against
the balcony rail, where no light fell except the radiance of the stars.
Here Siward joined her, dragging his chair around so that it faced her
as she leaned back, tilted against a shadowy column.

“Is this Bohemianism, Stephen? If it is, I rather like it. Don’t
you? You are going to smoke now, aren’t you? Ah, that is delightful!”
 daintily sniffing the aroma from his cigarette. “It always reminds me
of you--there on the cliffs, that first day. Do you remember?--the smoke
from your cigarette whirling up in my face? … You say you remember.
… Oh, of course there’s nothing else to say when a girl asks you … is
there? Oh, I won’t argue with you, if you insist that you do remember.
You will not be like any other man if you do, that’s all. … The little
things that women remember! … And believe that men remember! It is
pitiful in a way. There! I am not going to spill over, and I don’t care
a copper penny whether you really do remember or not! … Yes, I do care!
… Oh, all women care. It is their first disappointment to learn how
much a man can forget and still remember to care for them--a little! …
Stephen, I said a little; and that is all that you are permitted to care
for me; isn’t it? … Please, don’t. You are deliberately beginning to say
things! … Stephen, you silly! you are making love to me!”

In the darkness his hand encountered hers on the wooden rail, and the
tremor of the contact silenced her. She freed one finger, then let it
rest with its slender fellow-prisoners. There was no use in trying to
speak just then--utterly useless her voice in the soft, rounded throat
imprisoned by the swelling pulses that tightened and hammered and
tightened.

Years seemed to fall away from her, slipping back, back into girlhood,
into childhood, drawing not her alone on the gliding tide, but carrying
him with her. An exquisite languor held her. Through it vague hints of
those splendid visions of her lonely childhood rose, shaping themselves
in the starry darkness--the old mystery of dreams, the old, innocent
desires, the old simplicity of clairvoyance wherein right was right and
wrong, wrong--in all the conventional significance of right and wrong,
in all the old-fashioned, undisturbed faith of childhood.

Drifting deliciously, her eyes sometimes meeting his, sometimes lost in
the magic of her reverie, she lay there in her chair, her unresisting
fingers locked in his.

Odd little thoughts came hovering into her reverie--thoughts that seemed
distantly familiar, the direct, unconscious impulses of a child. To feel
was once more the only motive for expression; to think fearlessly was
once more inherent; to desire was to demand--unlock her lips, naively,
and ask for what she wished.

Under the spell, she turned her blue gaze on him, and her lips parted
without a tremor:

“What do you offer for what you ask? And do you still ask it? Is it me
you are asking me for? Because you love me? And what do you give--love?”

“Weigh it with the--other,” he said.

“I have--often--every moment since I have known you. And what a winter!”
 Her voice was almost inaudible. “What a winter--without you!”

“That hell is ended for me, too. Sylvia, I know what I ask. And I ask. I
know what I offer. Will you take it?”

“Yes,” she said.

He rose, blindly. She stood up, pale, wide-eyed, confronting him,
stammering out the bargain:

“I take all--all! every virtue, every vice of you. I give all--all! all
I have been, all I am, all I shall be! Is that enough? Oh, if there were
only more to give! Stephen, if there were only more!”

Her hands had fallen into his, and they looked each other in the eyes.

Suddenly, through the hush of the enchanted moment, a sullen sound
broke--the sound of a voice they knew, threateningly raised, louder and
louder, growling, profanely menacing.

Aghast, they turned in the darkness, peering toward the lighted space
beyond. Leroy Mortimer, his face shockingly congested, stood unsteadily
balancing there, confronting his wife, who sat staring at him in horror.
At the same instant Plank rose and laid a hand on Mortimer’s shoulder,
but Mortimer shook him off with a warning oath.

“You and I will settle with each other to-morrow!” he said thickly,
pointing a puffy finger at Plank. “You’ll find me at the Algonquin
Trust. Do you hear? That’s where you’ll settle this matter--in the
president’s office!” He stood swaying and leering at Plank, repeating
loudly: “In Quarrier’s office! Understand? That’s where you’ll settle
up! See?”

Leila, white face quivering, shrank as though he had struck her, and he
turned on her again, grinning: “As for you, you come home! And that’ll
be about all for yours.”

“Are you insane, to make a scene like this?” whispered Plank.

But Mortimer swung on him insultingly: “That’s about all from you, too!”
 he said. “Leila, are you coming?”

He stepped heavily toward her; but Plank’s sudden crushing grip was on
his fat arm above the elbow, and he emitted a roar of surprise and pain.

“Don’t touch him! Don’t, in Heaven’s name!” stammered Leila, as Plank,
releasing him, stepped back beside her chair. “Can’t you see that I must
go with him! I--I must go.” She cast one terrified glance around her,
where scores of strange faces met hers; and at every table people were
standing up to see better.

Plank, who had dropped Mortimer’s arm as the latter emitted his bellow
of amazement, stepped toward him again, dropping his voice as he spoke:

“You go! Do you hear?” he said quietly. “I’ll do what you ask me,
to-morrow! I will do what you ask, if you’ll go now!”

“You come--do you hear!” snarled Mortimer, turning on his wife, who had
already risen. “If you don’t I’ll make a row here that you’ll never hear
the end of as long as you live! And there’ll be nothing to talk over in
Quarrier’s office, if I do.”

Leila looked at Plank, rose, and moved swiftly toward the veranda steps,
her head resolutely lowered, the burning shame flaming in her face.
Mortimer cast one triumphant glance at Plank, then waddled unsteadily
after his wife.

“Hold on,” he growled; “I’ve a Mercedes here! I’ll drive you back--wait!
Here it is! Here we are!” And to Quarrier’s machinist he said: “You get
into the tonneau. I want to show Mrs. Mortimer what night-driving is. Do
you hear? I tell you I’m going to drive this machine and show you how!”

Leila scarcely heard him. She obeyed the impulse of his hand on her arm,
and mounted to the seat, staring straight ahead of her with dazed and
straining eyes that saw nothing.

Then Mortimer clambered to his seat, and, without an instant’s warning,
opened up and seized the wheel.

Unprepared, the machinist attempted to swing aboard, missed his footing
in the uncertain light, and fell sprawling on the gravel. Plank saw him
from the veranda and instantly vaulted the rail to the lawn below.

“You damn fool!” yelled Mortimer, looking around, “what in hell do you
think you’ll do?” And he clapped on full speed as Plank made a leap for
the car and missed.

Mortimer laughed, and turned his head to look back, and the next instant
something seemed to wrench the steering-wheel from its roots. There was
a blinding glare of light, a scream, and the great machine bounded
into the air full length, turned completely over, and lay across a
flower-bed, partly on one side.

Something was afire, too. Men were rushing from the verandas, women
screamed, and stood up wringing their hands; a mounted policeman came
galloping through the darkness; people shouted: “Throw sand on it! Get
shovels, for God’s sake! Lift that tonneau! There’s a woman under it.”

But they were mistaken, for Leila lay at the foot of the slope, one
little bloody hand clutching the dead grass; and Plank knelt beside her,
giving his orders quietly to those who came running down the hill
from the roadway above, which was now fiercely illuminated by burning
gasoline. At last they got sand enough to quench the fire and men
sufficient to lift the weight from the dead man’s neck, and drag what
was left of him onto the grass.

“Don’t look,” whispered Siward, drawing Sylvia back.

He and she both had put their shoulders to the tonneau along with the
others; and now they stood there together in the shifting lantern-light,
sickened, shivering under the summer stars, staring at the gathering
crowd around that shapeless lump on the grass.

Plank passed them, walking beside an improvised stretcher, calm, almost
smiling, as Sylvia sprang forward with a little sob of inquiry.

“There’s the doctor, over there; that man is a doctor; he knows,”
 repeated Plank with studied deliberation, looking down at Leila’s
deathly face. “He says it’s all right; he says he’ll get a candle, and
that he can tell by the flame’s effect on the pupils of the eyes what
exactly is the matter. No,” to Siward beside him, pressing forward
through the crowd which eddied from the dead man to the stretcher; “no,
there is not a bone broken. She is stunned, that’s all; she fell in the
shrubbery. We’ll have an ambulance here pretty quick. Stephen,” using
his first name unconsciously, “won’t you look out for Sylvia? I’m going
back on the ambulance. If you’ll find somebody to drive my machine,
I wish you would take Sylvia back. No, I don’t want you to drive,
Stephen--if you don’t mind. Get that machinist, please. I’m rattled, and
I don’t want you to drive.”

Leila lay on the stretcher, her bloodless face upturned to the stars.
Beyond, under a blanket, something else lay very still on the lawn.

Plank beckoned a policeman, and whispered to him.

Then, far away in the darkness, a distant clamour grew on the night air,
nearer, nearer.

Plank, standing beside the stretcher, raised his head, listening to the
ambulance arriving at full speed.



CHAPTER XV THE ENEMY LISTENS

In September, her marriage to Siward excitingly imminent, Sylvia
had been seized with a passion for wholesale renunciation and rigid
self-chastisement. All that had been so materially desirable to her in
life, all that she had heretofore worshipped, in and belonging to her
own world, she now denied. Down went the miniature golden calf from the
altar in her private shrine, its tiny crashing fall making considerable
racket throughout her world, and the planets and satellites adjacent to
that section of the social system which she had long been expected to
dominate.

The spectacle of their youthful ruler-elect in sackcloth as the future
bride of a business man had more than disconcerted them. The amazing
announcement of Quarrier’s engagement to Agatha Caithness stupefied the
elect, rendering in one harrowing instant null and void the thousand
petty plans and plots, intrigues and schemes, upon which future social
constructions on the social structure had been based.

The grief and amazement of Major Belwether, already distracted by his
non-participation, through his own fault, in Plank’s consolidation
of Amalgamated with Inter-County, was pitiable to the verge of the
unpleasant. Like panic-stricken rabbits, his thoughts ran in circles,
and he skipped in their wake, scurrying from Quarrier to Harrington,
from Harrington to Plank, from Plank to Siward, in distracted hope of
recovering his equilibrium and squatting safely somewhere in somebody’s
luxuriantly perpetual cabbage-patch. He even squeezed under the fence
and hopped humbly about old Peter Caithness, who suddenly assumed
monumental proportions among those who had so long tolerated him.

But Quarrier coldly drove him away and the increasing crowds besieging
poor, bewildered old Peter Caithness trod upon the major, and there
was nothing for him to do but to scuttle back to his own brush-heap and
huddle there, squeaking pitifully.

As for Grace Ferrall, she lost no time in tears, but took Agatha
publicly to her bosom, turned furiously on Quarrier in private, and for
the first time in her life permitted herself the luxury of telling him
exactly what she thought of him.

“You had your chance,” she said; “but you are all surface! There’s
nothing to you but soft beard and manicuring, and the reticence of
stupidity! The one girl for you--and you couldn’t hold on to her!
The one chance of your life--and it’s escaped you, leaving a tuft of
pompadour hair and a pair of woman’s eyes protruding from the golden
dust-heap your father buried you in. Now you’d better sit there and let
it cover your mouth, and try to breathe through your nose. Agatha is
looking for a new sensation; she’s tried everything, now she’s going to
try you, that’s all. She will be an invaluable leader, Howard, and we
shall not yawn, I assure you. But, oh! the chance you’ve lost, for lack
of a drop of red blood, and a barber to give you the beard of a man!”

Which merely deepened the fear and hatred which Quarrier had entertained
for his pretty cousin from the depths of his silk-wadded cradle. As for
Kemp Ferrall, now third vice-president of Inter-County, he only laughed
with the tolerance of a man in safety; and, looking at Quarrier through
the pickets of the financial fence, not only forgot how close his escape
had been, but, being a busy and progressive young man, began to consider
how he might ultimately extract a little profit from the expensive
tenant of the enclosure.

Grace made the journey to town to express herself freely for Sylvia’s
benefit; but when she saw Sylvia, the girl’s radiant beauty checked her,
and all she could say was: “My dear! my dear, I knew you would do it!
I knew you would fling him on his head. It’s in your blood, you little
jade! you little jilt! you mix of a baggage! I knew you’d behave like
all the women of your race!”

Sylvia held Mrs. Ferrall’s pretty face impressed between both her hands,
and looking her mischievously in the eyes, she whispered:

“‘Comme vous, maman, faut-il faire?--Eh! mes petits-enfants, pourquoi,
Quand j’ai fait comme ma grand’ mère, Ne feriez-vous pas comme moi?’”

“O Lord!” said Mrs. Ferrall, “I’ll never meddle again--and the entire
world may marry and take the consequences!” Then she drove to the Santa
Regina, where Marion was to join her in her return to Shotover; and she
was already trying to make up her disturbed mind as to which might prove
the more suitable for Marion--Captain Voucher, gloomily recovering from
his defeat by Quarrier, or Billy Fleetwood, who didn’t want to marry
anybody.

In the meanwhile, Siward’s new duties as second vice-president of
Inter-County had given him scant leisure for open-air convalescence.
He was busy with Plank; he was also busy with the private investigation
stirred up at the Patroons’ Club and the Lenox, and which was slowly but
inevitably resulting in clearing him, so that his restoration to good
standing and full membership remained now only a matter of formal
procedure.

So Siward was becoming a very busy man among men; and Plank, still
carrying on his broad shoulders burdens unbearable by any man save such
a man as he, shook his heavy head, and ordered Siward into the open. And
Siward, who had learned to obey, obeyed.

But September had nearly ended, when Leila, in Plank’s private car,
attended by Siward and Sylvia and two trained nurses, arrived at the
Fells. The nurses--Plank’s idea--were a surprise to Leila; and the day
after her arrival at the Fells she dismissed them, got out of bed,
and dressed and came downstairs all alone, on a pair of sound though
faltering legs.

Sylvia and Siward were in the music-room, very busily figuring out
the probable cost of a house in that section of the city east of Park
Avenue, where the newly married imprudent are forming colonies--a just
punishment for those reckless brides who marry for love, and are
obliged to drive over two car-tracks to reach their wealthy friends and
relatives of the Golden Zone.

And Leila, in her pretty invalid’s gown of lace, stood silently at the
music-room door, watching them. Her thick, dark hair was braided, and
looped up under a black bow behind; and she looked like a curious and
impertinent schoolgirl peeping at them there through the crack of the
door, bending forward, her joined hands flattened between her knees.

“Oh,” she said at length, in a frankly disappointed voice, “is that all
you do when your chaperone is abed?”

“Angel!” cried Sylvia, springing up, “how in the world did you ever
manage to come downstairs?”

“On the usual number of feet. If you think it’s very gay up there--”
 She laid her hands in Sylvia’s, and looked at Siward with all the
old mockery in her eyes--eyes which slanted a little at the corners,
Japanese-wise: “Stephen, you are growing positively plump. You’d better
not do that until Sylvia marries you. Look at him, dear! He’s getting
all smooth in the cheeks, like a horrid undergraduate boy!”

She released one hand and greeted Siward. “Thank you,” she said
serenely, replying to his inquiry, “I am perfectly well. You pay me
no compliment when you ask me, after you have seen me.” And to Sylvia,
looking at her white flannels: “What have you been playing? What do you
find to do with yourself, Sylvia, with that plump sun-burned boy at your
heels all day long? Are there no men about?”

“One’s coming to-day,” said Sylvia, laughing; and slipping her arm
around Leila’s waist, she strolled with her out through the tall glass
doors to the terrace, with a backward glance of airy dismissal for
Siward.

Plank had wired from New York, the night before, that he was coming; in
another hour he would be there. Leila knew it perfectly well, and she
looked into the wickedly expressive young face of the girl beside her,
eyes soft but unsmiling.

“Child, child,” she murmured, “you do not know how much of a man a man
can be!”

“Yes, I do!” said Sylvia hotly.

Leila smiled. “Hush, you little silly! I’ve talked Stephen and praised
Stephen to you for days and days, and the moment I dare mention another
man you fly at me, hair on end!”

“Oh, Leila, I know it! I’m perfectly mad about him, that’s all. But
don’t you think he is looking like himself again? And, Leila, isn’t he
strangely attractive?--I don’t mean just because I happen to be in love
with him, but give me a perfectly cold and unbiassed opinion, dear,
because there is simply no use in a girl’s blinding herself to facts,
or in ignoring certain fixed laws of symmetry, which it is perfectly
obvious that Mr. Siward fulfils in those well-known and established
proportions which--”

“Sylvia!”

“What?” she asked, startled.

“Nothing. Only for two solid weeks--”

“Of course, if you are not interested--”

“But I am, child--I am! desperately interested! He is handsome! I knew
him before you did, and I thought so then!”

“Did you?” said Sylvia, troubled.

“Yes, I did. When I wore short skirts I kissed him, too!”

“Did you? W--what did he wear?”

“Knickerbockers, silly! You don’t think he was still in the cradle, do
you? I’m not as aged as that!”

“I missed a great deal in my childhood,” said Sylvia naïvely.

“By not knowing Stephen? Pooh! He used to pinch me, and then we’d put
out our tongues in mutual derision. Once--”

“Stop!” said Sylvia faintly. “And anyhow, you probably taught him. …
Look at him as he saunters across the lawn, Leila--look at him!”

“Well? I see him.”

“Isn’t he almost an ideal?”

“He is. He certainly is, dear.”

“Do you think he walks as though he were perfectly well?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Leila thoughtfully. “Sometimes people whose
walk is a gracefully languid saunter develop adipose tissue after
forty.”

“Nonsense! Really, Leila, do you think he walks like a perfectly well
man?”

“He may be coming down with whooping-cough--”

Sylvia rose indignantly, but Leila pulled her back to the sun-warmed
marble bench:

“A girl in love loses her sense of humour temporarily. Sit down, you
little vixen!”

“Leila, you laugh at everything when I don’t feel like it.”

“I’m not in love, and that’s why.”

“You are in love!”

Leila looked at her, then under her breath: “In love, am I--with the
whole young world ringing with the laughter I had forgotten the very
sound of? Do you call that love?--with the sea and sky laughing back at
me, and the wind in my ears fairly tremulous with laughter? Do you, who
look out upon the pretty world so seriously through those sea-blue eyes
of yours, think that I can be in love?”

“Oh, Leila, a girl’s happiness is serious enough, isn’t it? Dear, it
frightens me! I was so close to losing it--once.”

“I lost mine,” said Leila, closing her eyes for a moment. “I shall not
sigh if I find it again.”

They sat there in the sun, Leila’s hand lying idly in Sylvia’s, the soft
sea-wind stirring their hair, and in their ears the thunderous undertone
of the mounting sea.

“Look at Stephen!” murmured Sylvia, her enraptured eyes following him
as he strolled hatless and coatless along the cliff’s edge, the sun
glimmering on his short hair, a tall, slim, well-coupled, strongly knit
shape against the sky and sea.

But Leila’s quick ear had caught a significant sound from the gravel
drive behind her, and she stood up, a delicious colour tinting her face.

“Are you going in?” asked Sylvia. Then she, too, heard the subdued
whirring of a motor from the front of the house, and she looked at Leila
as she turned and recrossed the terrace, walking slowly but erect, her
pretty head held high.

Then Sylvia faced the sea again and presently descended the terrace,
crossing the long lawn toward the headland, where Siward stood looking
out across the water.

Leila, from the music-room, watched her; then she heard Plank’s voice,
and his step on the stair, and she called out to him gaily:

“I am downstairs, thank you. How dared you send me those foolish
nurses!”

She was laughing when he came into the room, standing there erect, head
high, a brilliant colour in her cheeks; and she offered him both hands
which he took between his own, holding them strongly, and looking into
her face with steady, questioning eyes.

“Well?” she said, still smiling, but her scarlet under-lip trembled a
little; then: “Yes, you may say what you wish--what I--I wish you to
say. … There can be no harm in talking about it. But--will you be very
gentle with me? Don’t m-make me cry; I h-have--I am t-trying to remember
how it feels to laugh once more.”


Sylvia, lying in the hot sand on the tiny crescent beach under the
cliffs, listened gravely to Siward’s figures, as, note-book in hand,
he went over the real-estate problem, commenting thoughtfully as he
discussed the houses offered.

“Twenty by a hundred and two; good rear, north side of the street--next
door to the Tommy Barclays, you know, Sylvia; only they’re asking
forty-two-five.”

“That is an outrage!” said Sylvia seriously; “besides, I remember there
was a wretched cellar, and only a butler’s pantry extension. I’d
much rather have that little house in Sixty-fourth Street, where the
Fetherbraynes live--next house on the west, you know. Then we can pull
it down and build--when we want to.”

“We won’t be able to afford to build for a while, you know,” said Siward
doubtfully.

“What do we care, dear? We’ll have millions of things to do, anyway, and
what is the use of building?”

“As many things to do as that?” he said, looking over his note-book with
a smile.

“More! Are we not just beginning to live, and open our eyes, silly?
Listen: Books, books, books, from top to bottom of the house, that is
what I want first of all--except my piano.”

“Do let us have a little plumbing, dear,” he said so seriously that for
a fraction of a second she was on the verge of taking him seriously.

“Why extravagant plumbing when books furnish sufficient circulation for
the flow of soul, dear?” she retorted gravely.

“Nobody we know will ever come to see us, if they think we read books,”
 said Siward.

“Isn’t it delightful!” sighed Sylvia. “We’re going to become frumps!
I mustn’t forget the blue stockings for my trousseau, and you mustn’t
forget the California claret for the cellar, dear. We will need it when
we read Henry James to each other.”

Siward, resting his weight on one hand, laughed, and looked out at the
surf drenching the reefs with silver.

“To think,” he said, “that I could ever have been enough afraid of the
sea to hate it! After all, at low tide the reef is always there in the
same place and none the worse for the drenching. All that surf only
shows how strong a rock can be.”

He smiled, and turned to look at Sylvia; and she lay there, silent, blue
eyes looking back into his. Suddenly they glimmered with tears, and she
stretched out both arms, drawing his head down to hers convulsively, her
quivering mouth crushed against his lips. Then she rose to her knees, to
her feet, dazed, brushing the tears from her eyes.

“To think--to think,” she stammered, “that I might have let you face the
world alone! Dearest, dearest, we must fight a good fight. The sea is
always there--always, always there!”

He looked straight into her eyes, fearlessly, tenderly, and she looked
back with the divine, untroubled gaze of a child, laying her slender,
sun-tanned hands in his.

And, deep in his body, as he stood there, he heard the low challenge of
his soul on guard; and he knew that the Enemy listened.

THE END





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