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Title: Slaves Of Freedom
Author: Dawson, Coningsby
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SLAVES OF FREEDOM

By Coningsby Dawson

New York: Henry Holt And Company

1916


[Illustration: 0003]


[Illustration: 0007]



A SLAVE OF FREEDOM


                   The Night slips his arm about the Moon

                   And walks till the skies grow gray;

                   But my Love, when I speak of love,

                   Has never a word to say.

                   I set my dreams at her feet as lamps

                   For which all my hope must pay;

                   But my Love, when I speak of love,

                   Has never a word to say.

                   I fill her hands with a gleaming soul

                   For her plaything night and day;

                   But she, when I speak to her of love,

                   Has never a word to say.

                   I give my life, which is hers to kill


                   And still, when I speak to her of love,

                   She’s never a word to say.

                   _The Night slips his arm about the Moon

                   And walks till the skies grow gray;

                   But my Love, when I speak of love,

                   Has never a word to say._



BOOK I--LIFE TILL TWENTY-ONE



CHAPTER I--MRS. SHEERUG’S GARDEN


Nother bucket o’ mortar, Mr. Ooze.”

The excessively thin man glanced up from the puddle of lime that he
was stirring and regarded the excessively fat man with a smile of meek
interrogation.

“‘Nother bucket o’ mortar, Willie Ooze, and don’t you put your ’ead on
one side at me like a bloomin’ cockatoo.”

Mr. William Hughes stuttered an apology. “I was thin-thinking.”

“Thin-thinking!” The fat man laughed good-naturedly. Turning his back
on his helper, he gave the brick which he had just laid an extra tap to
emphasize his incredulity. “’Tisn’t like you.”

The thin man’s feelings were wounded. To the little boy who looked on
this was evident from the way he swallowed. His Adam’s-apple took a
run up his throat and, at the last moment, thought better of it. “But I
_was_ thinking,” he persisted; “thinking that I’d learnt something from
stirring up this gray muck. If ever I was to kill somebody--you, for
instance, or that boy--I’d know better than to bury you in slaked lime.”

“Uml Urn!” The fat man gulped with surprise. He puckered his vast chin
against his collar so that his voice came deep and strangled. “It’s
scraps o’ knowledge like that as saves men from the gallers. If ’alf
the murderers that is ’anged ’ad come to me first, they wouldn’t be
’anging. But--but----” He seemed at last to realize the unkind
implication of Mr. Hughes’s naive confession. “But I’d make four o’ you,
Willyum! You couldn’t kill me, however you tried.”

In the face of contradiction Mr. Hughes forgot his nervousness. “I
could.” he pleaded earnestly. “I’ve often thought about it. I’d put off
till you was stooping, and then jump. What with you being so short of
breath and me being so long in the arms and legs, why-----------! I’ve
planned it out many times, you and me being such good friends and so
much alone together.”

The face of the fat man grew serious with disapproval. “You?
’ave, ’ave you! You’ve got as far as that! You’re a nice domestic
pet, I must say, to keep unchained to play with the children.” He
attempted to go on with his bricklaying, but the memory of Mr. Hughes’s
long arms and legs so immediately behind him was disturbing. He swung
round holding his trowel like a weapon. “Don’t like your way of talking;
don’t like it. O’ course you’ve ‘ad your troubles; for them I make
allowances. But I don’t like it, and I don’t mind telling you. Um! Um!”

The thin man was crestfallen; he had hoped to give pleasure. “But I
thought you liked murders.”

“Like ’em! I enjoy them--so I do.” The fat man spoke tartly. “But when
you make me the corpse of your conversations, you presoom, Mr. Ooze, and
I don’t mind telling you--you really do. Let that boy be the corpse next
time; leave me out of it---- ’Nother bucket o’ mortar.”

_That_ boy, who was sole witness to this quarrel, was very small--far
smaller than his age. In the big walled garden of Orchid Lodge he felt
smaller than usual. Everything was strange; even the whispered sigh of
dead leaves was different as they swam up and swirled in eddies. In his
own garden, only six walls distant, their sigh was gentle as Dearie’s
footstep--but something had happened to Dearie; Jimmie Boy had told
him so that morning. “Teddy, little man, it’s happened again”--the
information had left Teddy none the wiser. All he knew was that Jane had
told the milkman that something was expected, and that the milkman had
told the cook at Orchid Lodge. The result had been the intrusion at
breakfast of the remarkable Mrs. Sheerug.

For a long while Mrs. Sheerug had been a staple topic of conversation
between Dearie and Jimmie Boy. They had wondered who she was. They
had made up the most preposterous tales about her and had told them to
Teddy. They would watch for her to come out of her house six doors away,
so that as she passed their window in Eden Row Jimmie Boy might make
rapid sketches of her trotting balloon-like figure. He had used her more
than once already in books which he had been commissioned to illustrate.
She was the faery-godmother in his _Cinderella and Other Ancient Tales:
With!6 Plates in color by James Gurney_. She was Mother Santa Claus in
his _Christmas Up to Date_. They had rather wanted to get to know her,
this child-man and woman who seemed no older than their little son
and at times, even to their little son, not half as sensible. They had
wanted to get to know her because she was always smiling, and because
she was always upholstered in such hideously clashing colors, and
because she was always setting out burdened on errands from which she
returned empty-handed. The attraction of Mrs. Sheerug was heightened by
Jane’s, the maid-of-all-work’s, discoveries: Orchid Lodge was heavily
in debt to the local tradesmen and yet (it was Dearie who said “And yet.”
 with a sigh of envy), and yet its mistress was always smiling.

When Mrs. Sheerug had invaded Teddy’s father that morning, she had come
arrayed for conquest. She had worn a green plush mantle, a blue bonnet
and, waving defiance from the blue bonnet, a yellow feather.

“I’m a total stranger,” she had said. “Go on with your breakfast, Mr.
Gurney, I’ve had mine. I’ll watch you. Well, _I’ve heard_, and so I’ve
dropped in to see what I can do. You mustn’t mind me; trying to be a
mother to everyone’s my foible. Now, first of all, you can’t have that
boy in the house--boys are nice, but a nuisance. They’re noisy.”

“But Teddy, I mean Theo, isn’t.”

It was just like Jimmie Boy to call him Theo before a stranger and to
assume the rôle of a respected parent.

Mrs. Sheerug refused to be contradicted. She was cheerful, but emphatic.
“If he never made a noise before, he will now. As soon as I’ve made Theo
comfortable, I’ll come back to take care of you.”

Making Theo comfortable had consisted in leading him down the
old-fashioned, little-traveled street, on one side of which the river
ran, guarded by iron spikes like spears set up on end, and turning him
loose in the strange garden, where he had overheard a fat man accusing a
thin man of murderous intentions.

Teddy looked round. The walls were too high to climb. If he shouted
for help he might rouse the men’s enmity. Neither of them seemed to
be annoyed with him at present, for neither of them had spoken to him.
There was no alternative--he must stick it out. That’s what his father
told Dearie to do when pictures weren’t selling and bills were pressing.
Already he had picked up the philosophy that life outlasts every
difficulty--every difficulty except death.

Mr. Hughes, having supplied the bucket of mortar, was trying to make
himself useful in a new direction. The groan and coughing of a saw were
heard. The fat man dropped his trowel and turned. He watched Mr. Hughes
sorrowfully.

“Mr. Ooze, that’s no way to make a job o’ that” For the first time he
addressed the little boy: “He’s as busy as a one-armed paper-’anger
with the itch this s’morning. Bless my soul, if he isn’t sawing more
ground than wood.” Then to Mr. Hughes: “’Ere, give me that. Now watch
me; this is the way to do it.”

The fat man took the saw from the meek man’s unresisting hand. “You lay
it so,” he said. He laid the saw almost horizontal with the plank. The
thin man leant forward that he might profit by instruction, and nodded.

“And now,” said the fat man, “you get all your weight be’ind it and
drive forward.”

As he drove forward the blade slipped and jabbed Mr. Hughes’s leg. Mr.
Hughes sat down with a howl and drew up his trousers to inspect the
damage. When the fat man had examined the scratch and pronounced it not
serious, he proposed a rest and produced a pipe. “Nice smoke,” he said,
“is more comforting than any woman, only I wish I’d known it before I
married.” Then he became aware that he alone was smoking.

“What, lost yours, Mr. Ooze? Just what one might expect! You’re the most
unlucky chap I ever met, yes, and careless. You bring your troubles on
yourself, Willie Ooze. First you go and lose a wife that you never ought
to ’ave ’ad, and now you lose something still more valuable.”

“Ah, yes!” The thin man ceased from searching through his pockets and
heaved a sigh. “I lose everything. Suppose I’ll go on losing till the
grave shuts down on this body o’ me--and then I’ll lose that. My ’air
began to come out before I was twenty--tonics weren’t no good. Now I
always ’ave to wear a ’at--do it even in the ’ouse, unless I’m
reminded. And then, as you say, there was poor ’Enrietta. I’m always
wondering whether I really lost ’er, or whether----”

“Expect she gave you the slip on purpose,” said the fat man. “Best
forget it; consider ’er as so much spilt milk.”

“That’s just what I can’t do.” Mr. Hughes clasped his bony hands: “It
don’t seem respectful to what’s maybe dead.”

As far as Teddy could make out from their conversation, ’Enrietta had
once been Mrs. Hughes. On a trip to Southend she had insisted on taking
a swing in a highflyer. To her great annoyance her husband had been too
timid to accompany her, and she had had to take it by herself. The last
he had seen of her was a flushed face and flapping skirt swooping in
daring semi-circles between the heavens and the ground. When the swing
had stopped and he pressed through the crowd to claim her, she had
vanished.

Perhaps it was the blood on the thin man’s leg that prompted the fat
man’s observation. “It might ’ave been that.”

“What?”

The fat man drew his finger across his throat suggestively. “That.” He
repeated. “It might ’ave ’appened to your ’Enrietta.”

“Often thought it myself.” Mr. Hughes spoke slowly. “But--but d’you
think anybody would suspect that I----?”

“They might.” The fat man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It’s usually
chaps of your build that does it; as the lofty Mr. Shakespeare puts it,
’I ’ate those lean and ’ungry men.’”

“Very true! Very true! Lefroy was lean and ’ungry. I know, ’cause I
once rode with ’im in the same railway carriage.”

Teddy listened, fascinated and horror-stricken, to the fat and thin man
swapping anecdotes of murders past and present. For half an hour they
strove to outdo each other in ghastliness and minuteness of details.

When they had returned to their work and Mr. Hughes was at a safe
distance, the fat man spoke beneath his breath to the little boy: “He’s
no good at anything. I keep him with me ’cause we both makes a ’obby
of ’omicide--that’s the doctor’s word for the kind o’ illness we
was talking about. Also,” here his voice became as refined as Teddy’s
father’s, “he amuses me with his Cockney dialect He says he’s unlucky
because he was born in a hansom-cab. Whenever I speak to him I call him
Ooze and drop my aitches. It’s another of my hobbies--that and keeping
pigeons. Pretending to be vulgar relieves my feelings. When one’s
married and as stout as I am, if one doesn’t relieve one’s feelings one
bursts.”

For the same reason that one lavishes endearments on a dog of uncertain
temper, Teddy thought it wise to feign an interest in the fat man’s
hobbies. “It can’t be very nice for them,” he faltered.

“For ’oo?”

“The persons.”

“What persons?”

“The persons you do it to.”

“Do it to! Do it to! You’re making me lose my temper, which is bad for
me ’ealth; that’s what you’re doing. Now, then, do what? Don’t beat
about. Out with it.”

For answer the little boy drew a tremulous finger across his throat in
imitation of one of the fat man’s gestures.

The fat man started laughing--laughing uproariously. His body shook like
a jelly and fell into dimples. He tried to speak, but couldn’t. At last
he shouted: “Mr. Ooze, come ’ere. This little boy--”

Then he stopped laughing suddenly and dropped his rough way of talking.
The child’s face had gone desperately white. “Poor chap! Must have
frightened you! Here, steady.”

“Now you’ve done it,” said Mr. Hughes, coming up from behind. “And when
your wife knows, won’t you catch it!”



CHAPTER II--THE FAERY-GODMOTHER

There was nothing Mrs. Sheerug enjoyed better than an invalid. Illness
in a stranger’s house was her opportunity; in her own house it was her
glory. She loved to exaggerate the patient’s symptoms; the graver they
were, the more a recovery would redound to her credit. When she had
pushed her feet into old carpet-slippers, removed her bodice, put on her
plum-colored dressing-gown, and fastened her scant gray hair with one
pin into a tight little knob at the back of her head, she felt that she
had gone through a ritual which made her superior to all doctors. She
had remedies of her own invention which were calculated to grapple with
any crisis of ill-health. But she did not allow her ingenuity to be
fettered by past successes; each new case which fell into her hands
was a heaven-sent chance for experimenting. Whatever came into her head
first, went down her patient’s throat.

When she turned her house into a hospital this little gray
balloon-shaped woman, with her rosy cheeks, her faded eyes and her
constant touch of absurdity, managed to garb herself in a solemn
awfulness. When “Mother went ’vetting,’” as Hal expressed it, even
her children viewed her with, temporary respect. They weren’t quite sure
that there wasn’t something in her witchcraft. So nobody complained
if meals were delayed while she stood over the fire stirring, tasting,
smelling and decocting. Contrary to what was usual in that unruly house,
she had only to open the door of the sickroom and whisper, “Hush,” to
obtain instant quiet. At such times she seemed a ridiculous angel into
whose hands God had thrust the tragic scales of life and death.

If Teddy hadn’t fainted, he might have gone out of Orchid Lodge as
casually as he had entered--in which case his entire career would have
been different. By fainting he had put himself into the category of
the weak ones of the earth, and therefore was to be reckoned among Mrs.
Sheenes friends. A masterly stroke of luck! She at once decreed that he
must be put to bed. His pleadings that he was quite well didn’t cause
her to waver for a second. She knew boys. Boys didn’t faint when there
was nothing the matter with them. What he required, in her opinion, was
building up. A fire was lit in the spare-room. Hot-water bottles
were placed in the bed and Teddy beside them, arrayed in a kind of
christening-robe, the borrowed nightgown being much too long for him.

He hadn’t intended to be happy, but---- He raised his head stealthily
from the pillow, so that his eyes and nose came just above the sheet. He
had been given a hot drink with strict instructions to keep covered. No
one was there; he sat up. What a secret room! Exactly the kind in which
a faery-godmother might be expected to work her spells! Two steps led
down into it. Across the door, to keep the draughts out, was hung a
needlework tapestry, depicting Absalom’s misfortune. A young gentleman,
of exceedingly Jewish countenance, was caught in a tree by his mustard
colored hair; a horse, which looked strangely like a sheep, was shabbily
walking away from under him. It would have served excellently as a
barber’s coat-of-arms. All it lacked was a suitable legend, “_The Risks
of Not Getting Your Hair Cut_.”

Against an easel rested an uncompleted masterpiece in the same medium.
The right-hand half, which was done, revealed a negress heaving herself
out of a marble slab with her arms stretched longingly towards the half
which was only commenced. The subject was evidently that of Potiphar’s
wife and Joseph. Outlined on the canvas of the unfinished half was a
shrinking youth, bearing a faint resemblance to Mr. Hughes as he would
have dressed had he been born in a warmer climate.

Encircling the backs of chairs were skeins of wool of various colors;
the balls, which had been wound from them, had rolled across the floor
and come to rest in a tangle against the fender. In the window, lending
a touch of romance, stood a gilded harp, through whose strings shone
the cold pale light of the December afternoon. In the grate a scarlet
fire crackled; perched upon it, like a long-necked bird, was a kettle
with a prodigiously long spout. It sang cheerfully and blew out white
clouds of steam which filled the room with the pungent fragrance of
eucalyptus.

In days gone by, after listening to his father’s stories, he had often
climbed to the top of their house that he might spy into the garden of
Orchid Lodge. He had little thought in those days that he would ever
be Mrs. Sheerug’s prisoner. From the street a passer-by could learn
nothing. Orchid Lodge rose up flush with the pavement; the windows,
which looked out on Eden Row and the river, commenced on the second
story, so that the curiosity of the outside world was eternally
thwarted. He had fancied himself as ringing the bell and waiting just
long enough to glance in through the opening door before he took to his
heels and ran.

Footsteps in the passage! Absalom swayed among the branches, making a
futile effort to free himself. The door behind the tapestry was being
opened. Teddy sank his head deep into the pillows, hoping that his
disobedience to orders would pass unobserved.

She came down the steps on tiptoe. Her entire bearing was hushed and
concerned, as though the least noise or error on her part might produce
a catastrophe. She carried a brown stone coffee-pot in her hand and a
glass. From the coffee-pot came a disagreeable acrid odor, similar to
that of the home-made plasters which his mother applied to his face in
case of toothache.

Mrs. Sheerug went over to the fireplace. Before setting the jug in the
hearth to keep warm she poured out a quantity of muddy looking fluid.
Suspecting that she had no intention of drinking it herself, Teddy shut
his eyes and tried to breathe heavily, as though he slept. She came and
stood beside him; bent over him and listened.

“Little boy, you’re awake and pretending; what’s worse, you’ve been out
of bed.”

The injustice of the last accusation took him off his guard. “If you
please, I haven’t. I sat up like this because I wanted to look at that.”
 He pointed at the Jewish gentleman taking farewell of his horse.

“At that! What made you look at that?”

“I like it.”

To his surprise she kissed him. “That’s what comes of being the son of
an artist. There aren’t many people who like it; you’re very nearly the
first. I’m doing all the big scenes from the Bible in woolwork; one day
they’ll be as famous as the Bayeux tapestries. But what am I talking
about? Of course you’re too young to have heard of them. Come, drink
this up before it gets cold; it’ll make you well.”

“But I’m quite well, thank you.”

“Come now, little boys mustn’t tell stories. You know you’re not. Smell
it. Isn’t it nice?”

Teddy smelt it. It certainly was not nice. He shook his head.

“Ah,” she coaxed, “but it tastes ever so much better than it smells.
It’ll make you perspire.”

He did not doubt that it would make him perspire, but still he eyed it
with distrust. “What’s in it?” he questioned.

“Something I made especially for you; I’ve never given it to anybody
else.”

“But what’s in it?” he insisted with a touch of childish petulance at
her evasion.

She patted his hand. “Butter, and brown sugar, and vinegar, and bay
leaves. There! It’ll make you sweat, Teddy--make you feel ever so much
better.”

“But I’m quite----”

He got no further. As he opened his mouth to assert his perfect health,
the glass was pressed against his lips and tilted. He had to swallow or
be deluged.

“That’s a fine little fellow.” Mrs. Sheerug was generous in her hour of
conquest; she tried to give him credit for having taken it voluntarily.
“You feel better already, don’t you?”

“I don’t think,” he commenced; then he capitulated, for he saw her eye
working round in the direction of the jug. “I expect I shall presently.”

She tucked him up, leaving only his head, not even a bit of his neck,
showing. “If you don’t perspire soon, tell me,” she said, “and I’ll give
you some more.”

It was a very big bed and unusually high. At each corner was a post,
supporting the canopy. From where he lay he could watch Mrs. Sheerug.
Having disentangled several balls of wool and balanced on the point of
her nose a pair of silver spectacles, she had seated herself before
the easel and was stitching a yellow chemise on to the timid figure of
Joseph. The yellow chemise ended above Joseph’s knees; Teddy wondered
whether she would give him a pair of stockings.

“I’m getting wet.”

The good little hump of a woman turned. She gazed at him searchingly
above her spectacles. “Really?”

“Not quite really,” he owned; “but almost really. At least my toes are.”

“That’s the hot water bottles,” she said. “If you don’t perspire soon
you must have some more medicine.”

He did his best to perspire. He felt that she had left the choice
between perspiring and drinking more of the brown stuff in his hands.
Trying accomplished nothing, so he turned his thoughts to strategy.

“Will they really be famous?”

Again she twisted round, watching him curiously. “Why d’you ask?”

“Because----” He wondered whether he dared tell her.

Usually people laughed at him when he said it. “Because my father wants
his pictures to be famous and he’s afraid they never will be. And when
I’m a man, I want to be famous; and I’m sure I shall.”

In the piping eagerness of his confession he had thrown back the clothes
and was sitting up in bed. She didn’t notice it What she noticed was the
brave poise of the head, the spun gold crushed against the young white
forehead, and the blue eyes, untired with effort, which looked out with
challenge on a wonder-freighted world.

The fire crackled. The kettle hummed, “Pooh, famous! Be contented. Pooh,
famous! Be content.”

At last she spoke. “It’s difficult to be famous, Teddy. So many of
us have been trying--wasting our time when we might have been doing
kindness. What makes a little boy like you so certain----?”

“I just know,” he interrupted doggedly.

Then she realized that he was sitting up in bed and pounced on him. Some
more of the brown stuff was forced down his throat and the clothes were
once more gathered tightly round his neck.

His eyes were becoming heavy. He opened them with an effort By the easel
a shaded lamp had been kindled; the faery-godmother bent above her work.



CHAPTER III--VASHTI

It seemed the last notes of a dream. He had been awake for some
minutes, but had feared to stir lest the voice should stop. Slowly he
unclosed his eyes. The voice went on. He had never heard such music;
it was deep and sweet and luring. It was like the golden hair of the
Princess Lettice lowered from her casement to her lover. It was like the
silver feet of laughter twinkling up a beanstalk ladder to the stars.
It was like spread wings, swooping and drifting over a fairyland of
castellated tree-tops. Now it wandered up the passage and seemed to halt
behind the tapestry of Absalom. Now it grew infinitely distant until it
was all but lost.

He eased himself out of bed. Save for the pool of scarlet that weltered
across floor and ceiling from the hearth, the room was filled with
blackness.

“Who’s there?” he whispered.

No answer. He tiptoed up the steps and out into the passage. It was long
and gloomy; at the end of it a strip of light escaped from a door
which had been left ajar. It was from there that the voice was calling.
Steadying himself with his hand against the wall, he stole noiselessly
towards it Just as he reached the strip of light the singing abruptly
ended.

“No, Hal. You shouldn’t do that. You do it too often. Please not any
more.”

“Just once on your lips.”

“If it’s only once. You promise?”

“I promise.”

The door creaked. When he saw them, their bodies were still close
together, but as they turned to glance across their shoulders their
heads had drawn a little apart. Her hands, resting on the keyboard,
were held captive by the man’s. Candles, flickering behind their heads,
scorched a hole in the dusk to frame them.

The man’s face was boyish and clean-shaven, self-indulgent and almost
handsome. It was a pleasant face: the corners of the mouth turned up
with a hint of humor; the lips were full and kind; the eyes blue and
impatient His complexion was high and his hair flaxen; his bearing
sensitive and a little self-conscious. He was a man who could give
himself excessively to any one he loved and who consequently would be
always encountering new disappointments.

And the woman--she was like her voice: remote and passionate; haunting
and unsatisfying; an instrument of romance for the awakening of
idealized desires. She was fashioned no less for the attracting of love
than for its repulse. Her forehead was intensely white; her brows were
like the shadow of wings, hovering and poised; her eyes now vague as
a sea-cloud, now flashing like sudden gleams of blue-gray sunlight Her
hair was the color of ancient bronze--dark in the hollows and burnished
at the edges. Her throat was her glory--full and young, throbbing like a
bird’s and slender as the stalk of a flower. It was her mouth that gave
the key to her character. It could be any shape that an emotion made
it: petulant and unreasonable; kind and gracious and adoring. She was a
darkened house when she was unresponsive; there was no stir in her--she
seemed uninhabited. In the street below her windows some chance traveler
of thought or affection halted; instantly all her windows blazed and the
people of her soul gazed out.

The odd little figure, hesitating in the doorway, had worked this
miracle. Her eyes, which had been troubled when first they rested on
him, brightened. Her lips relaxed. Like a bubble rising from a still
depth, laughter rippled up her throat and broke across the scarlet
threshold of her mouth.

“Oh, Hal, what a darling! Where did you get him? And what a dear, funny
nightgown!”

She tore her hands free from the man’s. Running to the little boy, she
knelt beside him, bringing her face down to his level. As if to prevent
him from escaping, she looped her arms about his neck.

“You are dear and funny,” she said. “Where d’you come from?”

Teddy was abashed. He didn’t mind being called dear, but he strongly
objected to being called funny. He was terribly conscious of the pink
flannel garment which clothed him. It hung like a sack from his narrow
shoulders. If Mrs. Sheerug hadn’t safety-pinned a reef in at the neck,
there would have been danger of its slipping off him. He couldn’t see
his hands; they only reached to where his elbows ought to have been. He
couldn’t see his feet; a yard of pink stuff draped them. He had had
to kilt it to make his way along the passage. But the garment’s chief
offense, as he regarded it, was that it was a woman’s: a rather stout
middle-aged woman’s--the sort of woman who had given up trying to look
pretty and probably wore a nightcap. Teddy forgot that had he not been
press-ganged into sickness, the beautiful lady’s arms would not have
been about him. All he remembered was that he looked a caricature at a
moment when--he scarcely knew why--he wanted to appear most manly. Mrs.
Sheerug was responsible and he felt hotly resentful.

“Where did you come from?”

“Bed.”

“But isn’t it rather early to be in bed? Perhaps you’re not well.”

“I’m quite well.” He spoke stubbornly, looking aside and trying to keep
the tears back. “I’m quite well; it’s she who pretends I isn’t.”

“_She!_ Ah, I understand. Poor old boy, never mind.”

She drew him against her breast and kissed him. He thought she would
release him; but still she held him. He could feel the beating of her
heart and the slow movement of her breath. He didn’t want her to let him
go; but why did she still hold him? Shyly he raised his eyes.

“Won’t you smile?” she said. “I’d like to see what you look like. And
now tell me, what made you come here?”

“I heard you,” he whispered. “Please let me stay.”

She glanced back at the man; he sat where she had left him, by the
piano, watching. She rather liked to make him jealous. Turning to the
child, she lowered her voice, “You’ll catch cold if you don’t get back
to bed and I’ll be blamed for it. If I come with you, will that be as
good as if I let you stay?”

“Oh, better.”

“Then kiss me.”

As she rose from her knees she gathered him in her arms. The man
left his seat to follow. She paused in the doorway, gazing across her
shoulder. “No, Hal, it’s a time when you’re not wanted.”

“But Vashti----”

She laughed mischievously. “I said no. There’s some one else to-night
who wants me all to himself.”

When Teddy became a man and looked back on that night there were two
things that he remembered: the first was his pride and sense of triumph
at hearing himself preferred to Hal; the second was that love, as an
inspiring and torturing reality, entered into his experience for the
first time. As she carried him into the darkness of the passage which
had been full of fears without her, her act seemed symbolic. Gazing
back from her arms, he saw the man--saw the perplexed humiliation of
his expression, his aloneness and instinctively his tragedy, yet without
pity and rather with contentment In later years all that happened to him
seemed a refinement of spiritual revenge for his childish callousness.
The solitary image of the man in the dim-lit room, his empty hands and
following eyes took a place in the gallery of memory as a Velasquezesque
masterpiece--a composition in brown and white of the St. Sebastian of a
love self-pierced by the arrows of its own too great desire.



CHAPTER IV--THE ROUSING OF THE GIANT

She had picked up a quilt from the bed and wrapt it round him. Having
drawn a chair to the fire, she sat rocking with his head against her
shoulder. Since she had left the man, she had not spoken. Once the
tapestry, falling into place, rustled as though the door were being
opened. She turned gladly with a welcoming smile and remained staring
into the darkness long after the smile had vanished. A footstep came
along the passage. Again she turned, her lips parted in readiness to bid
him enter. The footstep slowed as it reached the bedroom, hesitated and
passed on.

She had ceased expecting; Teddy knew that by her “Don’t care” shrug of
annoyance. Though she held him closely, she seemed not to notice him.
With her head bent forward and her mouth a little trembling, she watched
the dancing of the flames. He stirred against her.

“Comfy?” she murmured.

“Very.”

She laughed softly. Her laughter had nothing to do with his answer; it
was the last retort in a bitter argument which had been waging in the
stillness of her mind. When she spoke it was as though she yawned,
rubbing unpleasant dreams from her eyes. “Well, little fellow, what are
you going to do with me?”

The implied accusation that he had carried her off thrilled him. It was
the way she said it--the coaxing music of her voice: it told him that
she was asking for his adoration. His arms reached up and went about her
neck; his lips stole up to hers. Made shy by what he had done, he hid
his face against her breast.

She rested her hand on his head, ruffling his hair and trying to
persuade him to look up.

“And I don’t even know your name! What do they call you? And do you kiss
all strange ladies like that?”

His throat was choking. He knew that the moment he heard his own voice
his eyes would brim over. But he was getting to an end of the list of
first things--getting to an age when it wasn’t manly to cry just because
the soul was stirred. So he bit his lip and kept silent.

“Ah, well,” she shook her head mournfully, “I can see what would happen.
If we married, you would make an obstinate husband. You don’t really
love me.”

Her despair sounded real. “Oh, it’s not that. It’s not that,” he cried,
dragging her face towards him with both hands.

She took his hands away and held them. “Then, what Is it?”

“You’re so beautiful. I can’t--can’t speak. I can’t tell you.”

She clasped him closer. “Oh, I’m sorry. It was only my fun. I didn’t
mean to make you cry. You’re the second person I’ve hurt to-night. But
you--you’re only a little boy, and such a dear little boy! We were going
to be such good friends. I must be bad-hearted to hurt everybody.”

“You’re not bad-hearted.” The fierceness with which he defended her made
her smile. “You’re not bad-hearted, and I do love you. And I want to
marry you only--only I’m so little, and you said it only in fun.”

She mothered him till he had grown quiet Then, with her lips against his
forehead, “Don’t be ashamed of crying; I like you for it. I’m so very
glad we met to-night I think--almost think--you were sent. I hadn’t been
kind, and I wasn’t feeling happy. But I’d like to do something good now;
I think I’d like to make you smile. How ought I to set about it?”

“Sing to me. Oh, please do.”

In the firelit room she sang to him in a half-voice, her long throat
stretched out and throbbing like a bird’s as she stooped above him. She
sang lullabies, making him feel very helpless; and then of lords and
cruel ladies and knights. Shadows, sprawling across walls and ceiling,
took fantastic shapes: horsemen galloping from castles; men waving
swords and grappling in fight A footstep in the passage! He felt her
arms tighten. “Close your eyes,” she sang, “close your eyes.”

She held up a hand as Mrs. Sheerug entered. “Shish!”

“Asleep?”

She nodded.

Mrs. Sheerug came over to the fire and gazed down. He could feel that
she was gazing and was afraid that she would detect that he was awake.
It was a relief when he heard her whisper: “It’s too bad of you, Vashti;
he’d just reached the turning-point. You’re as irresponsible as a child
when your moods take you.”

A second chair was drawn up. Vashti had made no reply. Mrs. Sheerug
commenced speaking again: “Hal----”

“Hal’s gone out. I suppose you’ve been----”

“Yes, quarreling. My fault, as usual.”

The older woman’s tones became earnest “My dear, you’re not good to my
boy. How much longer is it going to last? You’re not--not a safe woman
for a man like Hal. He needs some one more loving; you could never make
him a good wife. Your profession--I wish you’d give him up.” Then, after
a pause, “Won’t you?”

The little boy listened as eagerly as Hal’s mother for the reply. At
last it came, “I wish I could.”

He sat up. She saw the reproach in his eyes, but she gave no sign.
“Hulloa! Wakened? Time you were in bed, old fellow.”

He was conscious that she was using him as a barrier between herself
and further conversation. Rising, she carried him over to the high
four-poster bed. While she tucked him in, he could hear the clinking of
a glass, and knew that his tribulations had recommenced. Mrs. Sheerug
crossed from the fireplace: “Here’s another drink of the nice medicine.”

He buried his face in the pillow. He didn’t want to get better. He
wanted to die and to make people sorry.

“Teddy,” it was her voice, “Teddy, if you take it, I’ll sing to you. Do
it for my sake.”

She turned to Mrs. Sheerug. “He will if I sing to him. You accompany me.
He says it’s a promise.”

She stood beside the pillow holding his hand. Over by the window
the faery-godmother was taking her seat; stars peeped through the
harp-strings curiously. What happened next was like arms spread under
him, carrying him away and away. “Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently
for Him.” Her voice sprang up like a strong white bird; at every beat of
its wings the harp-strings hummed like the weak wings of smaller birds
following. “Oh, rest in the Lord”--the white bird rose higher with a
braver confidence and the little birds took courage, plunging deeper
into the grave and gentle stillness. “Oh, rest in the Lord”--it was like
a sigh of contentment traveling back from prepared places out of sight.
The room grew silent.

It was Vashti who had moved. She bent over him, “I’m going.” He
stretched out his arms, but they failed to reach her. At the door Mrs.
Sheerug stood and stayed her. Vashti halted, very proud and sweet.
“What is it? You said I wasn’t safe. You can tell Hal he’s free--I won’t
trouble him.”

Mrs. Sheerug caught her by the hands and tried to draw her to her. “I
was mistaken, Vashti; you’re good. You can always make me forgive you:
you could make any one love you when you’re singing.”

Vashti shook her head. “I’m not good. I’m wicked.” The older woman tried
to reach up to kiss her. Again Vashti shook her head, “Not to-night.”

The medicine had been taken. By the easel a shaded lamp had been
lighted--lighted for hours. It must be very late; the faery-godmother
still worked, sorting her wools and pushing her needle back and forth,
clothing Joseph in the presence of Potiphar’s wife. Every now and then
she sighed. Sometimes she turned and listened to catch the regular
breathing of the little boy whom she supposed to be sleeping. Presently
she rose and undressed. The lamp went out In the darkness Teddy could
hear her tossing; then she seemed to forget her troubles.

But he lay and remembered. Vashti had asked him to marry her. Perhaps
she had not meant it. How long would it take to become a man? Did little
boys ever marry grown ladies?



CHAPTER V--THE GHOST BIRD OF ROMANCE

When his father entered Teddy was eating his breakfast propped up in
bed, balancing a tray on his humped-up legs.

“Well, shrimp, you seem to have had a lucky tumble. Can’t say there
seems to be much the matter.”

A large bite of hot buttered toast threatened to impede conversation.
“It’s the brown stuff,” Teddy mumbled; “she wanted to see if it ’ud
make me wet.”

“Kind of vivisection, eh? And did it?”

“All over--like in a bath playing ship-wrecked sailors.” The excavation
of an egg absorbed the little boy’s attention. His father seated himself
on the edge of the bed. He was a large childish man, unconsciously
unconventional His brown velvet jacket smelt strongly of tobacco and
varnish. It was spotted with bright colors, especially on the left
sleeve between the wrist and elbow, where he had tested his paints
instead of on his palette. His trousers bagged at the knees from
neglect rather than from wear; their shabbiness was made up for by an
extravagant waistcoat, sprigged with lilac. Double-breasted and cut
low in a V shape, it exposed a soft silk shirt and a large red tie with
loosely flowing ends. His head was magnificent--the head of a rebel
enthusiast, too impatient to become a leader of men. It was broad in
the forehead and heavy with a mane of coal-black ringlets. His mouth
was handsome--a rare thing in a man. His nose was roughly molded,
Cromwellian, giving to his face a look of rude strength and purpose. A
tuft of hair immediately beneath his lower lip bore the same relation
to his mustache that a tail bears to a kite--it lent to his expression
balance. It was his eyes that astonished--they ought to have been
fiercely brown to be in keeping with the rest of his gypsy appearance;
instead they were a clear gray, as though with gazing into cloudy
distances, as are the eyes of men who live by seafaring.

He had made repeated efforts to curb his picturesqueness; he knew that
it didn’t pay in an age when the ideal for males is to be undecorative.
He knew that his appearance appealed as affectation and bred distrust in
the minds of the escutcheoned tradesmen who are England’s art patrons.
When they came to confer a favor, they liked to find a gentlemanly
shopkeeper--not a Phoenician pirate, with a voice like a gale. His
untamedness impressed them as immorality. He always felt that they left
him thoroughly convinced that he and Dearie were not married.

Whatever editors, art patrons and publishers might think about James
Gurney, Teddy followed in his mother’s footsteps: to him James Gurney
was Jimmie Boy, the biggest-hearted companion that a son ever had--a
father of whom to be inordinately proud. There was no one as great as
his father, no one as clever, no one as splendid to look at in the whole
wide world. When he walked down the street, holding his father’s hand,
he liked to fancy that people stared after him for his daring, just
as they would have stared had he walked with his hand in the mane of
a shaggy lion. It was wonderful to be friends with a father so fierce
looking. And then his father treated him as a brother artist and
borrowed notions from him--really did, without pretense; he’d seen the
notions carried out in illustrations. His father had come to borrow from
him now.

“Any ideas this morning, partner--any ideas that you don’t want
yourself?”

Teddy hitched himself upon the pillow, trying to look as grave and
important as if he wore spectacles. “Yes. A room like this, only lonely
with a fire burning and an old, old woman sitting over there.” He
pointed to the window and the gilded harp. “I’d let her be playing,
Daddy; and a big white bird, that you can see through, must be beating
its wings against the panes, trying and always trying to get out.”

“A ghost bird?” his father suggested.

“Don’t know--just a big white bird and a woman so old that she might be
dead.”

“What’s the meaning of the bird, old chap? Dreams, or hopes, or
memories--something like that?”

Teddy could find nothing more in the egg. “Don’t know; that’s the way I
saw it” He ceased to be elderly, took off his imaginary spectacles and
looked up like a dog who stands wagging his tail, waiting to be patted.
“Was that an idea, Daddy?”

His father nodded.

“A good idea?”

“Quite a good idea. But, oh, while I remember it, Mr. Sheerug wanted
to see you. You and he must have struck up a great friendship. The
faery-godmother won’t let him--says you’re not well. He seems quite
upset.”

Teddy was puzzled. “Mr. Sheerug!”

“Yes, a big fat man with whom you have a secret. He followed me up the
stairs and asked me to thank you for not telling.”

“Was that Mr. Sheerug?” Teddy’s eyes became large and round. “Why, he’s
the mur----I mean, the man who was in the garden.”

“That’s right He carried you in when you fainted. What made you faint,
Teddy?”

The little boy looked blank. If he were to tell, he would get the fat
man into trouble; an aggravated murderer, living only six doors removed,
would make an awkward neighbor. There was another reason why he looked
blank: were he to tell his father of Mr. Sheerug’s special hobby, he
would certainly be forbidden to enter Orchid Lodge, and then--why, then
he might never meet Vashti. He weighed his fear against his adoration,
and decided to keep silent.

His father had fallen into a brown study. He had forgotten his inquiry
as to the cause of Teddy’s fainting. “Theo.”

Something important was coming. To be called Theo was a warning.

“Theo, it hasn’t happened. When it’s so difficult to earn a living, I
don’t know whether we ought to be sorry or glad.”

“What hasn’t happened?”

“There’s still only you and me and, thank God, Dearie.”

“But--” the small brain was struggling to discover a meaning--“but could
there have been any one else?”

The large man took the little boy’s hand. “You don’t understand. Yes,
there could have been several other people; but not now.” Rising, he
walked over to the window and stood there, looking out. “Perhaps it’s
just as well, with a fellow like me for your father, who spends all his
time in chasing clouds and won’t--can’t get on in the world.”

Teddy couldn’t see his father’s face, but he thought he knew what was
the matter. If Dearie had been there, she would have slipped her arms
round the big man’s neck, calling him “Her Boy,” and would have
made everything happy in a second. In her absence Teddy borrowed her
comforting words--he had heard them so often. “Your work’s too good,” he
said emphatically. “Every great man has been neglected.”

The phrase, uttered parrot-wise by the lips of a child, stirred the man
to a grim humor. He saw himself as that white bird, battering itself
into exhaustion against invisible panes that shut it out from the
heavens. Every time it ceased to struggle the dream music recommenced,
maddening it into aspiration; the old woman, so old that she might be
dead, who fingered the strings of the harp was Fate.

He stared across the wintry gardens, blackened and impoverished
by frost; each one like a man’s life--curtailed, wall-surrounded,
monotonously similar, yet grandly roofed with eternity. Along the walls
cats crept like lean fears; trees, stripped of leaves, wove spiders’
webs with their branches. So his work was too good and every great man
had been neglected! His boy said it confidently now; as he grew older he
might say it with less and less sincerity.

He laughed quietly. “So you’ve picked up my polite excuse, Ted! Yes,
that’s what we all say of ourselves--we failures: ’My work’s too
good.’”

“But it needn’t be an excuse, Mr. Gurney. It may be the truth. I often
use the same consolation.”

Mrs. Sheerug stood, a burlesque figure of untidy optimism, smiling
severely in the doorway. She was clad in her muddled plum-colored
dressing-gown; her gray hair was disordered and sprayed about her neck;
her tired blue eyes, peering above the silver-rimmed spectacles, took in
the room with twinkling merriment. She came to the foot of the bed with
the ponderous dignity of a Cochin-China hen, important with feathers.

“Yes, my dear sir,” she said, “you may not know it, but I, too, consider
myself a genius. I believe all my family to be geniuses--that’s why I
never interfere with the liberty of my children. Even my husband, he’s
a genius in his fashion--a stifled fashion, I tell him; I let him go his
own way in case it may develop. Genius must not be thwarted--so we all
live our lives separately in this house and--and, as I dare say you
know, run into debt. There’s a kind of righteousness about that--running
into debt; the present won’t acknowledge our greatness, so we make
it pay for our future. But, my dear sir, I caught you indulging in
self-pity. It’s the worst of all crimes. You men are always getting
sorry for yourselves. Look at me--I’ve not succeeded. I ask you, do I
show it?”

“If to be always smiling---” Mr. Gurney broke off.

“This is really a remarkable meeting, Mrs. Sheerug--three geniuses in
one room! Oh, yes, if Teddy’s not told you yet, he will soon: he’s quite
certain that he’s going to be a very big man. Aren’t you, Teddy?”

The little boy wriggled his toes beneath the counterpane and watched
them working. “I have ideas,” he said seriously.

“What did I tell you?”

Mrs. Sheerug signified by the closing of her eyes that she considered
it injudicious to discuss little boys in their presence. When she opened
them again it was to discuss herself.

“As between artists, Mr. Gurney, I want your frank opinion. If you don’t
like my work, say so.”

“Your work!” He looked about. “Oh, this!” His eyes fell on the
unfinished woolwork picture on the easel. “It has--it has a kind
of power,” he said--“the power of amateurishness and oddity. You’re
familiar with the impelling crudity of Blake’s sketches? Well, it’s
something like that What I mean is this: your colors are all impossible,
your drawing’s all wrong and there’s no attempt at accuracy. And yet----
The result is something so different from ordinary conceptions that it’s
almost impressive.”

Mrs. Sheerug, not sure whether she was being praised or blamed, shook
her head with dignity. “You’re trying to let me down lightly, Mr.
Gurney.”

“No, I’m not and I’ll prove it Joseph is supposed to be in the process
of being tempted. Well, he isn’t tempted in your picture; he’s simply
scared. I don’t know whether you intended it or whether it’s the
unconscious way in which your mind works, but your prize-fighting
negress, in the rôle of Mrs. Potiphar threatening a Cockney consumptive
in an abbreviated nightgown, is a distinctly original interpretation
of the Bible story; it achieves the success that Hogarth aimed at--the
effect of the grotesque. It’s the same with your Absalom. You were so
prejudiced against him that you even extended your prejudice to his
horse. Every time you stuck your needle in the canvas you must have
murmured, ’Serve him jolly well right. So perish all sons who fight
against their fathers.’ So, instead of remembering that he was a prince
of Israel, you’ve made him an old-clothes blood from Whitechapel who’s
got into difficulties on a hired nag at Hampstead. I think I catch your
idea: you’re a Dickens writing novels in woolwork. You’re Pickwickizing
the Old Testament. In its way the idea’s immense.”

Mrs. Sheerug jerked her spectacles up the incline of her nose till they
covered her eyes. “If I have to leave you now, don’t think that I’m
offended.”

Mrs. Sheerug went out of the room like a cottage-loaf on legs. The door
closed behind her trotting, kindly figure.

Mr. Gurney turned helplessly to Teddy. “And I meant to flatter her. In
a worthless way they’re good. I was trying not to tell her the
worthless part of it. Believe I’ve hurt her feelings, and after all her
kindness---- I’m horribly sorry.”

“Father, when people marry, must they live together always?”

The irrelevancy of the question rather startled Mr. Gurney; Teddy’s
questions had a knack of being startling. “Eh! What’s that? Live
together always! Why, yes, it’s better. It’s usual.”

“But must they begin from the moment they marry?”

Mr. Gurney laughed. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t marry. It’s because
they think that they’ll go on wanting to be every minute of their lives
together that they do it.”

“Ah, yes.” Teddy sighed sentimentally. His sigh said plainly, “Whatever
else I don’t know, I know that.” He cushioned his face against the
pillow. “But what I meant,” he explained, “is supposing one hasn’t any
money, and one’s father can’t give one any, and one wants to be with
some one every minute, and--and very badly. Would they live together
then from the beginning?”

Mr. Gurney gave up thinking about Mrs. Sheerug; Teddy’s questions grew
interesting. “If any one hadn’t any money and the lady hadn’t any money,
I don’t believe they’d marry. But the lady might have money.”

Teddy gave himself away completely. “But to live on her money! Oh, I
don’t think I’d like that.”

His father seated himself on the bed, with one leg curled under him.
“Hulloa, what’s this? Been losing your heart to Mrs. Sheerug? She’s got
a husband. It won’t do, old man.”

“It isn’t Mrs. Sheerug. It’s just--just curiosity, I expect.”

No encouragement could lure him into a more explicit confession. All
that day, after his father had left, he lay there with his face against
the pillow, endeavoring to dis-cover a plan whereby a little boy
might procure the money to marry a beautiful lady, of whom he knew
comparatively nothing.



CHAPTER VI--A STRATEGY THAT FAILED

He had not seen her again. It was now four days since she had sung to
him. For her sake, in the hope of her returning, he had made himself
the accomplice of Mrs. Sheenes plans. By looking languid he invited the
terrors of her medicines. By restraining his appetite and allowing half
his meals to be carried away untasted, he gave to his supposed illness a
convincing appearance of reality. Even Mrs. Sheerug, whose knowledge
of boys was profound, was completely deceived by Teddy. It had never
occurred to her that there was a boy in the world who could resist good
food when he was hungry.

“Is your head aching? Where is it that you don’t feel better?”

“It’s just all over.”

More physic would follow. He swallowed it gladly--was willing to swallow
any quantities, if it were the purchase price of at length seeing Vashti.
Every day gained was a respite to his hope, during which he could listen
for her coming. Perhaps her footstep in the passage would first warn
him--or would it be her voice? He liked to think that any moment she
might enter on tiptoe and lean across his pillow before he was aware.
When in later years the deluge of love swept over him, destroying that
it might recreate his world, he was astonished to find how faithfully it
had been foreshadowed by this embryo passion of his childhood.

For three days Mrs. Sheerug had asked him where he ached most, and had
invariably received the same answer, “It’s just all over.” Her ingenuity
in prescribing had been sorely tested: she had never had such an
uncomplaining victim for her remedies. However unpleasantly she
experimented, she could always be sure of his murmured thanks.

Under his gentleness she began to allow her fondness to show itself.
She held old-fashioned notions about children, believing that they were
spoilt by too much affection. Her kind heart was continually at war with
her Puritan standards of sternness; the twinkle in her eyes was always
contradicting the harsh theories which her lips propounded. Sitting by
her easel in the quiet room, she would carry on gossiping monologues
addressed to Teddy. He gathered that in her opinion all men were born
worthless; husbands were saved from the lowest depths of inferiority by
the splendid women they married. All women were naturally splendid, and
all bachelors so selfish as to be beneath contempt. She gave Teddy to
understand that women were the only really adult people in the world;
they pretended that their men were grown up as a mother plays a
nursery game with children. She quoted instances to Teddy to prove
her theories--indiscreet instances from her own experiences and the
experiences of her friends.

“To hear me speak this way, you may wonder why I married, and why I
married Alonzo of all men. Even I wondered that on the day I said yes to
him, and I wondered it on the day I eloped with him, and I’ve not done
wondering yet Yes, little boy, you may look at me and wonder whether I’m
telling the truth, but my father was Lord Mayor of London and I could
once have married anybody. I was a very pretty girl--I didn’t know how
pretty then; and I had a host of suitors. I could have been a rich lady
to-day with a title--but I chose Alonzo.”

“Alonzo sounds a fine name,” said Teddy. “Did he ride on a horse and
carry a sword in the Lord Mayor’s Show?”

“Ride on a horse!” Mrs. Sheerug laughed gently; she was remembering.
“Ride on a horse! No, he didn’t, Teddy. You see, he was called Sheerug
as well as Alonzo. The Sheerug rather spoils the Alonzo, doesn’t it?”

A STRATEGY THAT FAILED

35

“Sheerug sounds kind and comfy,” murmured Teddy, trying to make the best
of a disappointment.

Mrs. Sheerug smiled at him gratefully. “Yes, and just a little careless.
I ran away with him because he was kind and comfy, and because he needed
taking care of more than any man I ever met. He’s cost me more mothering
than any child I ever----”

Teddy’s hands were tangled together; his words fell over one another
with excitement. “Oh, tell me about the running. Did they follow you?
And was it from the Lord Mayor’s house that you ran? And did they nearly
catch you?”

Glancing above her spectacles disapprovingly, Mrs. Sheerug was recalled
to the tender years of her audience. As though blaming the little boy
for having listened, she said severely: “A silly old woman like myself
says many things that you mustn’t remember, Teddy.”

On the morning of the fourth day she arrived at a new diagnosis of his
puzzling malady. He knew she had directly she entered: her gray hair was
combed back from her forehead and was quite orderly; she had abandoned
her plum-colored dressing-gown. She halted at the foot of the bed and
surveyed him.

“You rather like me?”

“Very much.”

“And you didn’t at first?”

He was too polite to acquiesce.

“And you don’t want to leave me?”

He looked confused. “Not unless you want---- Not until I’m well.”

A little gurgling laugh escaped her; it seemed to have been forced up
under high pressure.

“You’ve been playing the old soldier, young man. Took me in completely.
But I’m a woman, and I always, always find out.”

She shook her finger at him and stood staring across the high wall that
was the foot of the bed. As she stared she kept on nodding, like the
wife of a mandarin who had picked up the habit from her husband. Two
fingers, spread apart, were pressed against the corners of her mouth to
prevent it from widening to a smile.

“Humph!” she gave a jab to a hairpin which helped to fasten the knob
at the back of her head. “Humph! I’ve been nicely had.” Then to Teddy:
“We’ll get you well slowly. Now I’m going to fetch your clothes and
you’ve got to dress.”

Clad as far as his shirt and knickerbockers, with a counterpane rolled
about him, he was carried downstairs.

In the long dilapidated room that they entered the thin and the fat man
were playing cards. They were too absorbed to notice that any one had
entered.

“What d’you bet?” demanded the fat man.

“Ten thousand,” Mr. Hughes answered promptly.

“I’ll see you and raise you ten thousand. What’ve you got?”

Mr. Hughes threw down three aces; the fat man exposed a full house.
“You’re twenty thousand down, Mr. Ooze.”

“Twenty thousand what?” asked Mrs. Sheerug contemptuously.

“Pounds,” Mr. Hughes acknowledged sheepishly. “Twenty thousand pounds,
that’s wot I’ve lost--and it isn’t lunch time. ’urried into the
world--that’s wot I was--that’s ’ow my bad luck started. You couldn’t
h’expect nothing of a man ’oo was born in a ’ansom-cab.”

“You babies!” Mrs. Sheerug shifted her spectacles higher up her nose.
“You know you never pay. It doesn’t matter whether you play for millions
or farthings. Why don’t you work?”

When they had left, she made Teddy comfortable in a big armchair. Before
she went about her household duties, she bent down and whispered: “No
one shall ever know that you pretended. I’m--I’m even glad of it. Oh, we
women, how we like to be loved by you useless men!”



CHAPTER VII--“PASHUN” IN THE KITCHEN

In the conducting of a first love-affair one inevitably bungles. When
the young gentleman in love happens to be older than the lady, his lack
of finesse may be forgiven by her still greater inexperience. When the
young gentleman is considerably less than half his fiancée’s years and,
moreover, she is an expert in courtship by reason of many suitors, the
case calls for the utmost delicacy.

Teddy was keenly sensitive to the precariousness of his situation. He
was aware that, if he confessed himself, there wasn’t a living soul
would take him seriously. Even Dearie and Jimmie Boy, to whom he told
almost everything, would laugh at him. It made him feel very lonely; it
was bard to think that you had to be laughed at just because you were
young. Of course ordinary boys, who were going to be greengrocers or
policemen when they grew up, didn’t fall in love; but boys who already
felt the shadow of future greatness brooding over them might. In fact,
such boys were just the sort of boys to pine away and die if their love
went unrequited--the sort of fine-natured boys who, whether love came to
them at nine or twenty, could love only once.

Here he was secretly engaged to Vashti and threatened by many unknown
rivals. He didn’t know her surname and he didn’t know her address. He
had to find her; when he found her he wasn’t sure what he ought to
do with her. But find her he must. Four days had passed since she had
accepted his hand. If he were not to lose her, he must certainly get
into communication with her. How? To make the most discreet inquiries
of so magic a person as Mrs. Sheerug would be to tell her everything.
If she knew everything, she might not want him in her house, for she
believed that he had feigned illness solely out of fondness for herself.
The only other person to whom he could turn was Mr. Sheerug, with whom
already he shared one guilty secret; but from this house of lightning
arrivals and departures Mr. Sheerug had vanished--vanished as completely
as if he had mounted on a broomstick and been whisked off into thin air.
Teddy did not discover this till lunch.

Lunch was a typically Sheerugesque makeshift, consisting of boiled
Spanish onions, sardines and cream-puffs. It was served in a dark room,
like a Teniers’ interior, with plates lining the walls arranged on
shelves. There was a door at either end, one leading into the kitchen,
the other into the hall. When one of these doors banged, which it did
quite frequently, a plate fell down. Perhaps it was to economize on this
constant toll of breakages that Mrs. Sheerug used enamel-ware on her
table. The table had a frowsy appearance, as though the person who had
set the breakfast had forgotten to clear away the last night’s supper,
and the person who had set the lunch had been equally careless about the
breakfast. Mrs. Sheerug explained: “I always keep it set, my dear;
we’re so irregular and it saves worry when our friends drop in at odd
seasons.”

This room, as was the case with half the rooms in the house, had steps
leading down to it, the floor of the hall being on a higher level.
Whether it was that the house had muddled itself into odd angles and
useless passages under the influence of Mrs. Sheerug’s tenancy, or that
the mazelike originality of its architecture had effected the pattern
of her character, there could be no doubt that Orchid Lodge, with its
rambling spaciousness, awkward comfort, and dusty hospitality, was the
exact replica in bricks and mortar of its mistress’s personality.

“What’s the matter, Teddy? Don’t you like Spanish onions? You’ll have
to make yourself like them. They’re good for you. I’ve known them cure
consumption.”

“I haven’t got consumption.”

“But why don’t you eat them? You keep looking about you as if you’d lost
something.”

“I was wondering whether Mr. Sheerug was coming.”

She rested her fork on her plate, tapping with it and gazing at him.
“Well, I never! You’re a queer child for scattering your affections.
You’re the first little boy I ever knew to take a fancy to Alonzo. He’s
so silent and looks so gruff.”

Teddy laughed. “But he talks to me. When shall I see him again?”

“Upon my soul! What’s the man done to you? I don’t know, Teddy--I never
do know when I’m going to see him. He goes away to earn money--that’s
what men are made for--and he stays away sometimes for a week and
sometimes for months; it all depends on how long he takes to find it
There have been times,” she raised her voice with a note of pride, “when
my husband has come back a very rich man. Once, for almost a year, we
lived in West Kensington and kept our carriage. But there have been
times-----” She left the sentence unended and shook her head. “It’s ups
and downs, Teddy; and if we’re kind when we have money, the good Lord
provides for us when we haven’t. ’Tisn’t money, it’s the heart inside
us that makes us happy.”

Teddy wasn’t paying attention to the faery-godmother’s philosophy; he
was thinking of Alonzo Sheerug, who had gone away to earn money. He
pictured him as a fat explorer, panting off into a wilderness with a
pail. When the pail was filled, and not until it was filled, he
would return to his wife. That was what men were made for--to be
fetch-and-carry persons. Teddy was thinking that if he could reach Mr.
Sheerug, he would ask him to carry an extra bucket.

That an interval might elapse between his flow of questions, he finished
his Spanish onion. Then, “I’d like to write him a question if you’d send
it.”

“Oh, come!” She patted his hand. “There’s no question that you could ask
him that I couldn’t answer. He’s only a man.”

Teddy knew that he would have to ask her something; so he asked her _a_
question, but not _the_ question. “Who is Hal?”

“My son.”

“Does he like the lady who sang in the bedroom?”

“He----” She frowned. “You’re too curious, Teddy; you want to know too
much. See, here’s Harriet waiting to take the dishes and get on with her
work.”

Mrs. Sheerug rose and trundled up the steps. Since it was she who had
invited his curiosity, Teddy felt a little crestfallen at the injustice
of her rebuff. He was preparing to follow her, when he caught the
red-headed giantess from the kitchen winking at him as though she would
squeeze her eye out of its socket. In her frantic efforts to attract
his notice her entire face was convulsed. As the swish of Mrs. Sheerug’s
skirts grew faint across the hall, the girl tiptoed over to Teddy and
stood staring at him with her fists planted firmly on the table. Slowly
she bent down--so slowly that he wondered what was coming.

“Does ’e like ’er!” she whispered scornfully. “Why, ’e loves
’er, you little Gubbins. Wot on h’earth possessed yer ter go and
h’arsk ’is ’eart-sick ma a h’idiot quesching like that?”

To be twice blamed for a fault which had not been of his own choosing
was too much. There was anger as well as a hint of tears in his voice
when he answered, “My name isn’t Gubbins. And it wasn’t an idiot
question. She made me ask her something, so I asked her that.”

The girl wagged her head with an immense display of tragedy. His anger
seemed only to deepen her despondency. “H’it’s tumble,” she sighed,
“tumble, h’all this business abart love. ’Ere’s h’every one wantin’
some one ter love ’em, and some of ’em is lovin’ the wrong pusson,
and some of ’em is bein’ loved by three or four, and some-some of h’us
ain’t got no one. H’it don’t look as though we h’ever shall ’ave. If I
wuz Gawd----” She checked herself, awed by the Irreverence of her
supposition. “If I wuz Gawd,” she repeated, lowering her voice, “I’d
come right darn from ’eaven and sort awt the proper couples. H’I
wouldn’t loll around with them there h’angels till h’every gal ’ad got
‘er feller. Gawd ought ter ’ave been a woman, I tell yer strite. If
’E wuz, things wouldn’t be in this ’ere muddle. A she-Gawd wouldn’t
let h’us maike such fools of h’ourselves, if you’ll h’excuse me strong
lang-widge.”

Teddy stared at her. It wasn’t her “strong langwidge” that made him
stare; it was the confession that her words implied. “You’re--you’re in
love?”

She jerked up her head defiantly. “In love! Yus, I’m in love. And ’oo
isn’t?”

He watched her clearing the table; when that was done, he followed her
into the kitchen. The idea that she was suffering from his complaint
fascinated him. She of all persons should be able to tell him how to
proceed in the matter.

She paused in her washing of the dishes; across her shoulder she had
caught him looking at her. “You may well stare,” she said. “H’I’m a
cureehosity, I h’am. I wuz _left_.” She nodded impressively.

He didn’t understand, but he knew the information was supposed to be
staggering. “Left!”

“Yus. I wuz left--left h’at a work’ouse and brought h’up in a
h’orphanage. P’raps I never wuz born. P’raps I never ’ad no parents.
There’s no one can say. I wuz found on a doorstep, all finely dressed
and tied h’up in a fish-basket--just left. H’I’m different from h’other
gals, h’I am. My ma may ’ave been a queen--there’s never no tellin’.”

Harriet sank into a chair. Supporting her chin in her hand, she gazed
wistfully into the fire. “Wot is it that yer wants wiv me, Gubbins?”

“Is it very difficult to get married?” he faltered.

She nodded. “One ‘as ter ’ave money. If a man didn’t ’ave no money,
’is wife would ’ave ter go out charing. She wouldn’t like that.”

“What’s the least a man ought to have?”

She deliberated. “Depends on the lady. If it wuz me, I should want
five pounds. But look ’ere, wot maikes yer h’arsk so many queschings?
Surely a little chap like you ain’t in love?”

He flushed. “Five pounds! But wouldn’t three be enough if two people
were very, very much in love?”

“Five pounds, Gubbins.” She rose from her chair and went back to her
dishes. “Not a penny less. I knows wot I’m talkin’ abart My ma wuz a
queen, p’raps; ter h’offer a lady less would be a h’insult.”



CHAPTER VIII--THE EXPENSE OF LOVING

It happened in a comfortable room on the ground floor, looking out into
the garden. All afternoon he had been puzzling over what Harriet had
told him. Mrs. Sheerug sat by the fire knitting; he dared not question
her.

Muted by garden walls and distance, a muffin-man passed up and down the
streets, ringing his bell and crying to the night like a troubadour in
search of romance. He crouched against the window, watching the winter
dusk come drifting down. While watching, he fell asleep.

As though he had been coldly touched, he awoke startled, all his senses
on edge. On the other side of the glass, peering in, standing directly
over him, was a figure which he recognized as Harriet’s. At first he
thought that she was trying to attract his attention; then he saw that
she seemed unaware of him and that her attention was held by something
beyond. A voice broke the stillness. It must have been that same voice
that had roused him.

“My God, I’m wretched! For years it’s been always the same: the
restlessness when I’m with her; the heartache when I’m without her.
She won’t send me away and she won’t have me, and--and I haven’t the
strength to go away myself. No, it isn’t strength. It’s something that I
can’t tell even to you. Something that keeps me tortured and binds me to
her.”

Scarcely daring to stir, Teddy turned his eyes away from Harriet, and
stared into the darkness of the room. The air was tense with tragedy. In
the flickering half-circle of firelight a man was crouched against the
armchair--kneeling like a child with his head in the faery-godmother’s
lap. He was sobbing. Teddy had heard his mother cry; this was different.
There was shame in the man’s crying and the dry choking sound of a
horrible effort to regain self-mastery. The faery-godmother bent above
him. Teddy could see the glint of her spectacles. She was whispering
with her cheek against the flaxen head. The voice went on despairingly.

“Sometimes I wonder whether I do love her. Sometimes I feel hard and
cold, so that I wouldn’t care if it were all ended. Sometimes I almost
hate her. I want to start afresh--but I haven’t the courage. I know
myself. If I were certain that I’d lost her, I should begin to idealize
her as I did at first. God, if I could only forget!”

“My dear! My dear!” Mrs. Sheerug’s voice was broken. Her tired hands
wandered over him, patting and caressing. “My poor Hal! To think that
any woman should dare to use you so and that I can’t prevent it! Why,
Hal, if I could bear your burdens, and see you glad, and hear your
laughter in the house, I’d--I’d die for you, Hal, to have you young and
happy as you were. Doesn’t it mean anything to you that your mother can
love you like that?”

He raised his face and put his arms about her neck. “I haven’t been good
to you, mother. It’s like you to say that I have; but I haven’t. I’ve
ignored you and given the best of myself to some one for whom it has
no value. I’ve been sharp and irritable to you. You’ve wanted to ask
questions--you had a right to ask questions; I’ve kept you at arm’s
length. You’ve wanted to do what you’re doing now--to hold me close and
show me that you cared; and I’ve--I’ve felt like striking you. That’s
the way with a man when he’s pitied. You know I have.”

The gray head nodded. “But I’ve always understood, and--and you don’t
want to strike me any longer.”

“You’re dearer than any woman in the world.”

“Dearer, but not so much desired.” She drew back from him, holding his
face between her hands. “Hal, you’re my son, and you must listen to
me. Perhaps I’m only a prejudiced old woman, years behind the times and
jealous for my son’s happiness. Put it down to that, Hal; but let me
have my say out. When I was young, girls didn’t treat men as Vashti
treats you. If they loved a man, they married him. If they didn’t love
him, they told him. They didn’t play fast and loose with him, and take
presents from him, and keep him in suspense, and waste his power of
hoping. It’s the finest moment in a good girl’s life when a good man
puts his life in her hands. If a girl can’t appreciate that, there’s
something wrong with her--something so wrong that she can never make the
most persistent lover happy. Vashti’s beautiful on the outside and she’s
talented, but--but she’s not wholesome.”

There was a pause full of unspoken pleadings and threatenings. The man
jerked sharply away from his mother. Her hands slipped from his face to
his shoulders. They stayed there clinging to him. His attitude was alert
with offense.

“Shall I go on?” she asked tremulously.

His answer came grimly. “Go on.”

“It’s the truth I’m telling you, Hal--the truth, as any one can see it
except yourself. Beneath her charm she’s cold and selfish. Selfishness
is like frost; it kills everything. In time it would kill your passion.
She’s gracious till she gets a man in her power, then she’s capricious.
You haven’t told me what she’s done to you, my dear. I’m a woman; I can
guess--I can guess. She doesn’t love you. She loves to be loved;
she never thinks of loving in return. She’s kept you begging like a
dog--you, who are my son, of whom any girl might be proud. Perhaps
you think that, if she were your wife, it would make a difference. It
wouldn’t. You’d spend all your life sitting up like a dog, waiting for
her to find time to pet you. You’re my son--the best son a mother ever
had. It’s a woman’s business to worship her man, even though she blinds
herself to do it You shan’t be a vain woman’s plaything.”

She waited for him to say something. She would have preferred the most
brutal anger to this silence. It struck her down. He knelt before her
rigid, breathing heavily, his face hard and set.

She spoke again, slowly. “If ever Vashti were to accept you, it would be
the worst day’s work. The gods you worship are different. Hers are--hers
are worthless.”

He sprang to his feet, pushing aside his mother’s hand. His voice was
low and stabbing. “Worthless! I won’t hear you say that. You don’t
know--don’t understand. I ought to have gone on keeping this to
myself--ought not to have spoken to you. No, don’t touch me. She’s
good, I tell you. It’s my fault if I’m such a fool that I can’t make her
care.”

He spoke like a man in doubt, anxious to convince himself.

“It’s not your fault, Hal. The finest years of life! Could any man give
more? You’re belittling yourself that you may defend her. You’re
the little baby I carried in my bosom. I watched you grow up. I know
you--all your strength and weakness. You’re the kind of man for whom
love is as necessary as bread. Where there’s no kindness, you flicker
out You lose your confidence with her and her friends; their flippancy
stifles you. I don’t even doubt that you appear a fool. She’s a
beautiful, heartless vampire; if she married you, she’d absorb your
personality and leave you shrunken--a nonentity. She’s no standards,
no religion, no sense of fairness; she wants luxury and a career and
independence--and she wants you as well. Doesn’t want you as a comrade,
but as an _et cetera_. She’s willing to accept all love’s privileges,
none of its duties. She has plenty of self-pity, but no tenderness.
Oh, my poor, poor Hal, what is it that you love in her? Is it her
unresponsiveness?”

She seized both his hands, dragging herself up so that she leaned
against his breast. “Hal, I’m afraid for you.” She kissed his mouth.
“She’ll make you bad. She will. Oh, I know it. She’ll break your heart
and appear all the time to be good herself. Can’t you see what your life
would be with her?”

“I can see what it would be without her,” he said dully.

His mother’s voice fell flat “You can’t see that. God hides the future.
There are good girls in the world. Life for you with her would be
bitterness, while she went on smiling. She’s a woman who’ll always have
a man in love with her--always a different man. She’ll never mean any
harm, but every affection she breathes on will lose its freshness. She’s
given you your chance to free yourself.”

She tried to draw him down to her. “Take it,” she urged.

He stooped, smoothed back the gray hair and kissed her wrinkled
forehead.

“You’re going to?”

He loosed himself. “Mother, it’s shameful that we should speak so of a
girl.”

Crossing the room, he opened the door and halted on the point of
departure.

“Are you going to?”

“I can’t There are things I haven’t told you.”

As the door closed, she extended her arms to him, then buried her face
in her hands. When the sound of his footsteps had died out utterly, she
followed.

Teddy turned from gazing into the darkened room. The window was empty.
The other silent witness had departed.

As if coming to uphold him in his allegiance to romance, the Invincible
Armada of dreamers sailed out: cresting the sullen horizon of housetops,
the white moon swam into the heavens--the admiral ship of illusion, with
lesser moons of faint stars following. He remembered that through all
his years that white fleet of stars would be watching, riding steadily
at anchor. Nothing of bitterness could sink one ship of that celestial
armada. He clenched his hands. And nothing that he might hear of
bitterness should sink one hope of his great belief in the goodness and
kindness of the world.



CHAPTER IX--THE FOG

His exit from Orchid Lodge came hurriedly. Mrs. Sheerug had received a
letter telling her that her daughter, Madge, and her younger son, Ruddy,
were returning from the visit they had been paying. Consequently, one
foggy winter’s afternoon with a tip of four shillings from Hal and
of half-a-crown from Mrs. Sheerug--six shillings and sixpence in all
towards the necessary five pounds--he was wrapped up and conducted the
six doors lower down in the charge of Harriet.

It was as though a story-book had been snatched from his hands when he
was halfway through the adventure. There were so many things that he
wanted to know. It seemed to him that he had lost sight of Vashti for
ever.

Jane, his own servant, admitted them. She was greatly excited, but not
by his advent. Drawing Harriet into the hall, she at once began to make
her her confidante.

“It wasn’t as though they ’adn’t been ’appy,” Jane was saying.
“’Appy I They was that ’appy they got on my nerves. There was times
when it was fair sick’ning to listen to ’em. Give me the pip, that’s
wot it did. It was ’Dearie this’ and ’Jimmie Boy that,’ till it made
a unmarried girl that angry she wanted to knock their ‘eads. Silly, I
calls it, to be ’ave like that downstairs. Well, that’s ‘ow it was
till the missus takes ill, and wot we’d expected didn’t ‘appen. Master
Teddy goes ter stay with you; ‘is dear ma is safe in bed; and then _she_
comes, this woman as says she wants to ’ave ‘er portrait painted.
’Er portrait painted!”

Jane beat her hands and sniffed derisively. Catching Teddy’s eye, she
lowered her voice and bent nearer to Harriet “’Er portrait painted! It
was all me eye and Betty Martin. Direckly I saw ’er I knew that, and I
says to myself, ’Yer portrait painted! A fat lot you wants of that, my
fine lady.’ And so it’s turned out When I opened the door to ’er fust,
I nearly closed it in ’er face, she looked that daingerous. And
there’s the missus on ’er back upstairs as flat as a pancake. I can’t
tell ’er a thing of wot I suspeck.”

“Men’s all alike,” sighed Harriet, as though speaking out of a bitter
marriage experience. “H’it’s always the newest skirt that attracks.”

Jane looked up sharply. It seemed to her that Teddy had grown too
attentive. “‘Ere, Miss ’arriet, let’s go down to my kitching and talk
this over. More private,” she added significantly. Then to Teddy, who
was following, “No, you don’t, Master Theo. You stay ’ere till we
comes back.”

High up in the darkness a door opened. Footsteps. They were descending.
Huddling himself into an angle of the wall, he waited. A strange
woman in a blue starched dress was coming down. As she passed him, he
stretched out his hand, “If you please----”

She jumped away, startled and angry. “What a fright you did give me,
hiding and snatching at me like that.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry! But who are you?”

“I’m Teddy. Where’s--where’s mother?”

The woman’s voice became quiet and professional. “She’s sleeping. When
she wakes, I’ll send for you. She’s not been well. I must go now.”

He listened to her footsteps till they died out in the basement. He must
find his father. Cautiously he set to work, opening doors, peeping into
darkened rooms and whispering, “It’s only Teddy.”

Indoors he had searched everywhere; only one other place was left

The garden was a brooding sea of yellow mist, obscured and featureless.
Trees stood up vaguely stark, like cowled skeletons.

He groped his way down the path. Once he strayed on to the lawn and lost
himself; it was only by feeling the gravel beneath his tread that he
could be sure of his direction. A light loomed out of the darkness--the
faintest blur, far above his head. It strengthened as he drew nearer.
Stretching out his hands, he touched ivy. Following the wall, he came to
a door, and raised the latch.

Inside the stable he held his breath. Stacked against the stalls were
canvases: some of them blank; some of them the failures of finished
work; others big compositions which were set aside till the artist’s
enthusiasm should again be kindled. Leading out of the stable into the
converted loft was a rickety stairway and a trap-door. Teddy could not
see these things; through familiarity he was aware of their presence.

Voices! One low and grumbling, the other fluty and high up. Then a
snatch of laughter. Was there any truth in what Jane had said? The
trap-door was heavy. Placing his hands beneath it, he pushed and flung
it back. It fell with a clatter. He stood white and trembling, dazzled
by the glare, only his head showing.

“What on earth!”

Some one rose from a chair so hurriedly that it toppled over. Then the
same voice exclaimed in a glad tone, “Why, it’s the shrimp!”

His father’s arms were about him, lifting him up. Teddy buried his face
against the velvet jacket. Though he had been deaf and blind, he would
have recognized his father by the friendly smell of tobacco and varnish.
Because of that smell he felt that his father was unaltered.

“Turned you out, old chap, did they? I didn’t know you were coming.
Perhaps Jane told me. I’ve been having one of my inspirations,
Teddy--hard at it every moment while the light lasted. I’d be at it now,
if this infernal fog hadn’t stopped me.” He tried to raise the boy’s
face from his shoulder. “Want to see what I’ve been doing?”

Teddy felt himself a traitor. His father had had an inspiration--that
accounted for Jane’s suspicions and for anything awkward that had
occurred. It was always when his father’s soul groped nearest heaven
that his earthly manners were at their worst. Odd! Teddy couldn’t
understand it; a person like Jane, who wasn’t even related, could
understand it still less. But he had let himself sink to Jane’s level.
If he had wanted to confess, he couldn’t have told precisely what it was
that he had dreaded. So in reply to all coaxing he hid his face deeper
in the shoulder of the velvet jacket. Its smoky, varnishy, familiar
smell gave him comfort: it seemed to forgive him without words.

“Frightened?” his father questioned. “You were always too sensitive,
weren’t you? I oughtn’t to have forgotten you like that. But--I say,
Teddy, look up, old man. I really had something to make me forget.”

“I think he’ll look up for me.”

At sound of that voice, before the sentence was ended, he had looked up.

“There!”

Her laughter rang through the raftered room like the shivering of silver
bells.

Holding out his hands to her, Teddy struggled to free himself. When
force failed, he leaned his cheek against his father’s, “Jimmie Boy,
dear Jimmie Boy, let me down.”

“Hulloal What’s this?”

Combing his fingers through his curly black hair, his father looked on,
humorously perplexed by this frantic reunion of his son and the strange
lady. She bent tenderly, pressing his hands against her lips and holding
him to her breast.

“I never, never thought I’d find you,” he was explaining, “never in the
world. I searched everywhere. I was always hoping you’d come back. When
you didn’t, I tried to ask Harriet, and I nearly asked Mrs. Sheerug.”

“Ah, she wouldn’t tell you,” the lady said.

“I know all about marriage now,” he whispered.

“You do?”

He clapped his hands. “Harriet told me.”

His father interrupted. “How did you and Teddy come to meet, Miss
Jodrell?”

Vashti glanced up; her eyes slanted and flashed mischief. It was quite
true; any woman would have shared Jane’s opinion--Vashti’s look was
“daingerous” when it dwelt on a man. It lured, beckoned and caressed. It
hinted at unspoken tenderness. It seemed to say gladly, “At last we are
together. I understand you as no other woman can.” It was especially
dangerous now, when the bronze hair shone beneath the gray breast of a
bird, the red lips were parted in kindness, and the white throat, like
a swan floating proudly, swayed delicately above ermine furs. In the
studio with its hint of the exotic, its canvases where pale figures
raced through woodlands, its infinite yearning after beauty, its red
fire burning, swinging lamps and gaping chairs, and against the window
the muffled silence, Vashti looked like the materialization of a man’s
desire. One arm was flung about the boy, her face leant against his
shoulder, brooding out across the narrow distance at the man’s.

“How did we meet!” she echoed. “How does any one meet? In a fog, by
accident, after loneliness. Sometimes it’s for better; sometimes it’s
for worse. One never knows until the end.” She stood up and drew her
wraps about her, snuggling her chin against her furs. “I ought to be
going now; your wife must be needing you, Mr. Gurney---- Oh, well, if
you want to see me out.”

She dropped to her knees beside Teddy. “Good-by, little champion. Some
day you and I will go away together and you must tell me all that you
learnt from Harriet about--about our secret.”

When they had vanished through the hole in the floor, Teddy tiptoed over
to the trap-door and peered down. With a glance across his shoulder, his
father signaled to him not to follow. He ran to the window to get one
last glimpse of her, but the fog prevented; all he could see was
the moving of two disappearing shadows. He heard the sound of their
footsteps growing fainter, and less certain on the gravel.

Left to himself, he pulled from his knickerbockers’ pocket a knotted
handkerchief. Undoing it, he counted its contents: Hal’s four shillings
and Mrs. Sheerug’s half-a-crown. He smiled seriously. Sitting down on
the floor, he spread out the coins to make sure that he hadn’t lost any
of them. Six-and-sixpence! To grown people it might not seem wealth; to
him it was the beginning of five pounds.



CHAPTER X--THE WIFE OF A GENIUS


But, my old pirate, who is she?

The orderliness of the room had been carried to excess; it suggested the
austere orderliness of death. Life is untidy; it has no time for folded
hands. The room’s garnished aspect had the chill of unkind preparedness.

From the window a bar of sunlight streamed across a woman lying on a
white, unruffled bed. Its brilliance revealed the deep hollows of her
eyes; they were like violets springing up in wells of ivory. Her arms,
withdrawn from the sheets, stretched straightly by her side; the fingers
were bloodless, as if molded from wax. Her head, which was narrow and
shapely, lay cushioned on a mass of chestnut hair. She had the purged
voluptuousness of one of Rossetti’s women who had turned saint. Her
valiant mouth was smiling. Only her eyes and mouth, of all her body,
seemed alive. She had spoken with effort. It was as though the bar of
gold, which fell across her breast, was pinning her to the bed. Some
such thought must have occurred to the man who was standing astraddle
and bowed before the fire. He crossed the room and commenced to pull
down the blind.

“Don’t, please. There’s to be no lowering of blinds--not yet.”

He paused rigid, as though he had been stabbed; then went slowly back to
his old position before the fire.

“I didn’t mean to say it,” she whispered pleadingly. “I’m not going to
die, Jimmie Boy--not so long as you need me. If I were lying here dead
and you were to call, I--I should get up and come to you, Jimmie Boy.
’Dearie, I say unto thee arise’--that’s what you’d say, I expect, like
Christ to the daughter of Jairus--‘Dearie, I say unto thee arise.’”

A third person, who had been sitting on the counterpane, playing with
her hand, looked up. “And would you if I said it?”

“Perhaps, but I’m not going to give you the chance--not yet.”

“I’m glad,” sighed the little boy, “’cause, you know, I might forget
the words.”

The ghost of a laugh escaped the woman’s lips and quickly spent itself.
“Jimmie Boy’s glad too, only he’s such an old Awkward, he won’t tell. He
hates being laughed at, even by his wife.”

The man raised his shaggy head. His voice sounded gruff and furious. “If
you want to know, Jimmie Boy’s doing his best not to cry.”

His head jerked back upon his breast.

The woman lay still, gazing at him with adoring eyes. He cared--he
was trying not to cry. She never quite knew what went on inside his
head--never quite knew how to take him. When others would have said
most, he was most silent He was noisy as a child over the little things
of life. He did everything differently from other men. It was a proof of
his genius.

In the presence of her frailty he looked more robust, more of a
Phoenician pirate than ever. She gloried in his picturesque lawlessness,
in the unrestraint of his gestures, in his uncouth silences. What a
lover for a woman to have! As she lay there in her weakness she recalled
the passion of his arms about her: how he had often hurt her with his
kisses, and she had been glad. She wished that she might feel his arms
about her now.

“Who is she?” she asked again.

Her question went unanswered. She turned her head wearily to the little
boy. “Teddy, what’s my old pirate been doing? Who is she? You’ll tell.”

Before Teddy could answer, her husband laughed loudly. “If you’re
jealous, you’re not going to die.”

The riot of relief in his voice explained his undemonstrativeness. Tears
sprang into her eyes. How she had misjudged him! She rolled her head
luxuriously from side to side. “You funny boy--die! How could I, when
you’d be left?”

Running across the room, he sprawled himself out on the edge of the bed.
Forgetting she was fragile, he leant across her breast and kissed her
heavily on the mouth. She raised herself up to prolong the joy and fell
back exhausted. “Oh, that was good!” she murmured. “The dear velvet
jacket and the smoky smell--all that’s you! All that’s life! I’m not
jealous any longer; but who is she?”

He pulled the loose ends of his tie and shook his head. “Don’t know,
and that’s a fact. She just turned up and wanted to be painted. When
I’d smarted, I lost my head; couldn’t stop; got carried away. Don’t know
whether you’d like her, Dearie; she’s a wonderful person. Sings like a
bird--sets me thinking--inspires. Work! Why, I’ve not worked so steadily
since--I don’t know when. I was worried about you and glad to forget
Hard luck on you, Dearie; I’m a stupid fellow to show my sorrow by
stopping away. But as to who she is, seems to me that Teddy can tell you
best.”

She squeezed the little boy’s hand. “Who is she, Teddy?” Teddy looked
blank. “Don’t know--not exactly. She was in Mrs. Sheerug’s house with
Hal, and--and then she came and sang to me in bed.”

“She did that?” His mother smiled. “She must be a good woman to love
my little boy.” Then to her husband, after a moment’s reflection: “But
what’s the picture?”

His face lit up with enthusiasm. “It’s going to do the trick this time.
It’ll make us famous. We’ll move into a big house. You’ll have breakfast
in bed with a boudoir cap, and all your gowns’ll come from Paris.”

She stroked the sleeve of his jacket affectionately. “Yes, that’s sure
to happen. But what’s it all about?”

He commenced reciting, “‘She feedeth among the lilies. A garden enclosed
is my sister: a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Awake, O north wind,
and come thou south. Blow upon my garden that the spices thereof may
flow out.’ Catch the idea? It was mine; Teddy didn’t have a thing to do
with it See what I’m driving at?”

He sat back from her to take in the effect. She drew him near again. “It
sounds beautiful; but I don’t quite see all of it yet.”

He knotted his hands, trying to reduce his imagination to words. “It’s
the women who aren’t like you, Dearie--the women who love themselves.
They feed among lilies; the soul of love is in ’em, but they won’t let
it out They’re gardens enclosed, fountains sealed, springs shut up. Now
are you getting there? The symbolism of it caught me. There I have her,
just as she is in her bang-up modern dress, feeding among the lilies
of an Eastern garden. Everything’s heavy with fragrance, beautiful and
lonely; the hot sun’s shining and nothing stirs. The windows of the
harem are trellised and shut. From under clouds the north and south wind
are staring and puffing their cheeks as though they’d burst. Through a
locked gate in the garden you get a glimpse of an oriental street with
the dust scurrying; but in my sister’s garden the air hangs listless.
The fountain is dry; the well is boarded over. And here’s the last
touch: halting in the street, peering in through the bars of the gate
is the figure of Love. The woman doesn’t see him, though he’s whispering
and beckoning. Love’s got to be stark naked; that’s how he always comes.
Because he’s naked he looks the same in all ages. D’you get the contrast
between Love and the girl’s modern dress? There’s where I’ll need you,
Teddy.”

Teddy blushed. He spoke woefully. “But--but I’m not going to undress
before her.”

For answer his father laughed.

“But can’t I have any clothes at all--not even my shirt?”

“Not even your shirt. She won’t see you, old man; in the picture she’s
looking in the other direction. And as for the real live lady, we’ll
paint you when she’s not on hand.”

“It’s roo-ude,” Teddy stammered. “Besides, it’s silly. Nobody eats
lilies; they’re for Easter and funerals, and they’re too expensive.
And--and can’t I wear just my trousers?”

His father frowned in mock displeasure. “For a boy of ideas and the son
of an artist you’re surprisingly modest. Now if you were Jane I could
understand it. Love would always put on trousers when he went to visit
her. But you’re Dearie’s son. I’m disappointed in you, Teddy; you really
ought to know more about love.”

“But I do know about love.” Teddy screwed up his mouth. “I’ve learnt
from Harriet.”

“And who’s Harriet?”

“A kind of princess.”

“Pooh!” His father turned to Dearie. “What d’you think of ‘_A Garden
Enclosed Is My Sister’_?”

Dearie kissed his hand. “Splendid! But does the lady expect to be
painted like that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not
telling her.”

The violet eyes met his. “Dear old glorious Impractical. Perhaps she’s
like Jane and’ll want her love in trousers.” Jimmie wagged his head
from side to side in negation. “If I’m any judge of character, she isn’t
easily shocked.” He rose and stood staring out of the window. His shadow
blotted out the bar of sunlight and lay across her breast He turned.
“This light’s too good to lose. I must get back to my work.”

She clung to his lips. Until he had completely vanished her eyes
followed.

“Teddy, is she beautiful?” Her whisper came sharply. “The most
beautiful--after you, mother, she’s the most beautiful person in the
world.”

She closed her eyes and smiled. “After me! I’m glad you put me first.”
 She stretched out her hand and drew him to her. “Now I’m ill, he’s
lonely. He’s got no one to care for him. Don’t let him be by himself.”

“Not at all, Mummie?”

“Not for a moment. You’d better go to him now.”

He was on his way to the door when she beckoned him back. “What’s she
called, Teddy?”

“Vashti.”

“Vashti.” She repeated the word.

“Don’t let him be lonely, Teddy--not for a moment alone with her.
Good-by, darling. Go to him now.”



CHAPTER XI--THE LITTLE GOD LOVE

On the wall a clock was ticking; that and the rustling of the fire as
the coals sank lower were the only sounds. Like a white satin mantle
that had drifted from God’s shoulders, the snow lay across the world.
The sun flashed down; the studio was flooded with glory.

About the snow and how it came Jimmie Boy had been inventing stories.
It was the angels’ washing day up there and some of their wings had blown
off the clothes line. No, wa it wasn’t. This was how the snow really
happened. The impatient little children who were waiting to be born had
had a pillow-fight, and had burst their pillows.

But his father hadn’t spoken for a long time. The fire was going out.
Vashti might arrive at almost any moment And, alas, Teddy was naked.
He was posing for the figure of Love, peering in forlornly through the
fast-locked gate. He hadn’t wanted to do it; even now he was filled with
shame. But Jimmie Boy had offered him money--and he needed money; and
Dearie had begged him not to leave Jimmie Boy for a single second. When
he had crept up to her room to visit her, she had seized his hands and
whispered reproachfully, “Go back to him. Go back.” The best way to be
always with his father had been to pose for him.

And there was another reason: by making himself necessary to the picture
he had been able to see Vashti. Day after day he had sat in the studio,
mouse-quiet, watching her. At night he had made haste to go to sleep
that the next day might come more quickly. In the morning, when he had
wakened, his first thoughts had been of her; as he dressed, he had
told himself, “I shall see her in three hours.” Vashti hadn’t seen
her portrait yet; she had been promised that this time she should see
it--that this time it should be done. The promise had been made before,
but now it was to be kept. So to-day was the last day.

“Please, mayn’t I move?”

“Not yet That’s the sixth time you’ve asked me. I’d have finished if
you’d kept quiet.”

“But--but I’m all aches and shivers.”

“Nonsense! You can’t be cold with that great fire.” His father was too
absorbed; he hadn’t noticed that the fire had gone out “I know what’s
the matter with you, Teddy: you’re afraid she’ll be here before you’re
dressed. Pooh! What of it? Now stop just as you are for ten minutes, and
then----”

He left his sentence unended and fell to work again with concentrated
energy. His mind was aflame with the fury of his imagination. He was
far away from reality. It wasn’t Teddy he was painting; it was Love,
famished by indifference and tantalized by yearning--Love, bruising his
face against the bars which forever shut him out. This wasn’t a London
studio, ignobly contrived above a stable; it was a spice-fragrant garden
of the East, stared at by the ravishing eye of the sun, where a lady of
dreams stooped feeding among tall lilies.

“When am I to see it?” Teddy questioned.

“When she sees it.”

“Not till then?”

“Be still, and don’t ask so many questions.”

“I wanted to see it before her,” explained Teddy, “because I’m hoping I
don’t show too much.”

His father wiped a brush on the sleeve of his jacket and wriggled his
eyebrows. “Take my word for it, sonny, you look much better as you are
now. It’s a shame that we ever have to cover you up.” He laid aside his
palette. “There, that’s the last touch. It’s done. By Mohammed, it’s
splendid. Jump into your duds, you shrimp. I’m going to tell Dearie
before Miss Jodrell comes.”

The wild head vanished through the hole in the floor. Teddy heard his
father laughing as he passed through the stable. Creeping to the window,
he watched him cut across flower-beds towards the house, kicking up the
snow as he ran.

_It was done_. The great exhilaration was ended. Tomorrow, when he
awoke, it would be no good saying, “I shall see her again in three
hours.” At night he would gain nothing by going to sleep quickly; the
new day when it came would bring him nothing. The studio without
her would seem empty and dull. If only he had been fortified by the
possession of five pounds, he would have boldly reminded her of her
promise. Six-and-sixpence was the sum total of his wealth; it was hidden
away in an old cigar box which he had labeled MARRIAGE. If a husband
didn’t have at least five pounds, his wife would have to go out charing.
He couldn’t imagine Vashti doing that.

Shivering with cold, yet drenched in sunlight he stood hesitating by the
window. His body gleamed white and lithe; behind him, tall as manhood,
stretched his shadow. Clasping his hands in a silent argument he stepped
back and glanced towards the easel. Her face was there, hidden from him
behind the canvas. Only his father had seen it yet; but he, too, wanted
to see it--he had more right than any one in the world.

He tiptoed a few steps nearer, his bare feet making no sound; halted
doubtfully, then stole swiftly forward, lured on by irresistible desire.

He drew back amazed. What had his father done? It was intoxicating. The
breath of the lilies drifted out; he could feel their listlessness.
An atmosphere of satiety brooded over the garden--a sense of too much
sweetness, too much beauty, too much loneliness. The skies, for all
their blueness, sagged exhausted. The winds puffed their cheeks in vain,
hurrying strength from the north and south. They could not rouse the
garden from its contentment. It stifled.

Centermost a woman drooped above the lilies, an enchantress who was
herself enchanted. Dreamy with contemplation, she gazed out sideways at
the little boy. Her eyes slanted and beckoned, but they failed to read
his eyes. Her lips, aloof with indifference, were wistful and scarlet as
poppies.

The face was Vashti’s--a striking interpretation; but----

Some latent hint of expression had been over-emphasized. One searched
for the difference and found it in the smile that hovered indolently
about the edges of her mouth. It wounded and fascinated; it did not
satisfy. It seemed to say, “To you I will be everything; to me you shall
be nothing.”

Clenching his fists, Teddy stared at her. Tears sprang into his eyes. He
was little, but he loved her. She called to him; even while she called,
it was as though she shook her head in perpetual denial. Naked in the
street outside the garden he saw himself. He was whispering to her,
striving to awake her from the trance of the flowers. His face was
pressed between the bars and drawn with impatience.

Slowly he bent forward, tiptoeing up, his arms spread back and balanced
like wings. His lips touched hers. Hers moved under them. He dashed his
fingers across his mouth; they came away blood-colored. He trembled with
fear, knowing what he had done.

A rush of footsteps behind him. He was caught in her embrace. It was as
though she had leapt out from the picture. She was kneeling beside him,
her arms about him, kissing the warm ivory of his body. His sense of
shame was overpowered by his sense of wonder.

“The poor little god!” she whispered. “That woman won’t look at him. But
when you are Love, Teddy, I open the gate.”

Some one was in the stable; feet were ascending. Shame took the place of
wonder at being found naked in her presence.

“Quick. Run behind the curtain and dress,” she muttered.

From his place of hiding he heard his father enter.

“Hulloa! So you got here and saw it without me! Why, what’s this?” And
then, “Your lip’s bleeding, Miss Jodrell. Ah, I see now. Vanity! Been
kissing yourself; didn’t know the paint was wet. Jove, that’s odd!”
 He was bending to examine. “The blurring of the lips has altered the
expression. There’s something in the face that I never intended.”

“It makes me look kinder, don’t you think?”

James Gurney stood up; he was still intent upon his original conception.
“I’ll put that right with half-an-hour’s work.”

“You won’t; it’s my picture. It’s more like me, and I like it better.”
 She spoke with settled defiance; her voice altered to a tone of taunting
slyness. “You’re immensely clever, Mr. Gurney, but you don’t know
everything about women.”

She liked it better! Teddy couldn’t confess that his lips had carried
the redness from the picture to her mouth. There was a sense of gladness
in his guilt. Because of this he believed her irrevocably pledged to
him.



CHAPTER XII--DOUBTS

It was the early morning of the last day of the year. Staring out into
the street, Teddy flattened his nose against the window. He was doing
his best to make himself inconspicuous; neither Jane nor his father had
yet noticed that he was wearing his Eton suit on a week-day. That his
father hadn’t noticed was not surprising. For Jane’s blindness there was
a reason.

Jane’s method of clearing the table would have told him that last night
had been her night out. She would be like this all day. Dustpans would
fall on the landings. Brooms would slide bumpity-bump down the stairs.
The front-door bell would ring maddeningly, till an exasperated voice
called not too loudly, “Jane, Jane. Are you deaf? Aren’t you ever
going?” It was so that Vashti might not be kept waiting that Teddy was
pressing his nose against the window.

This was to be his great day, when matters were to be brought to a
crisis. In his secret heart he was wondering what marriage would be
like. He was convinced he would enjoy it. Who wouldn’t enjoy living
forever and forever alone with Vashti? Of course, at first he would miss
his mother and father--he would miss them dreadfully; but then he could
invite them to stay with him quite often. He was amused to remember that
he was the only person in the world who knew that this was to be his
wedding day. Even Vashti didn’t know it. He was saving the news to
surprise her.

At each new outburst of noise his thoughts kept turning back to
speculations as to what might have caused this terrific upsetting of
Jane. She herself would tell him presently; she always did, and he would
do his best to look politely sympathetic. Perhaps her middle-aged suitor
from the country had pounced on her while out walking with her new young
man. He might have struck him--might have killed him. Love brought her
nothing but tragedy. It seemed silly of her to continue her adventures
in loving.

Crash! He spun round. The tray had slipped from Jane’s hands. In a mood
of penitence she stood gaping at the wreckage. His father lowered his
paper and gazed at her with an air of complete self-mastery. He was
always angriest when he appeared most quiet “Go on,” he encouraged.
“Stamp on them. Don’t leave anything. You can do better than that.”

“If I don’t give satisfackshun----” Jane lifted her apron and dabbed at
her eyes. “If I don’t give satisfackshun-----”

Teddy heard his father strike a match and settle back into his chair. In
the quiet that followed, Teddy’s thoughts returned to the channels out
of which they had been diverted.

Funny! Love was the happiest thing in the world, and yet--yet it hadn’t
made the people whom he knew happy.

Harriet was in love; and Hal with Vashti; and Vashti----

He remembered another sequence of people who hadn’t been made happy by
love. Mrs. Sheerug hadn’t, even though she was the daughter of a Lord
Mayor of London and had run away with Alonzo to get him. Mr. Hughes
hadn’t, for his Henrietta had gone up in a swing-boat and had failed
to come down. Most distinctly Jane hadn’t. And his mother and his
father--concerning them his memories contradicted one another. Was
Dearie afraid of the ladies who came to have their portraits painted?
Why should she be, when Jimmie Boy was already her husband?

He shifted his nose to a new place on the window; the old place was
getting wet.

And then there was Mr. Yaffon. Mr. Yaffon lived next door and seemed to
sum up the entire problem in a nutshell.

His neighbors accounted for his oddities by saying that long ago he had
had an unfortunate heart affair.

He had a squeaky voice, was thin as a beanpole and very shabby. His legs
caved in at the knees and his shoulders looked crushed, as if a heavy
weight was perpetually pressing on his head. He didn’t go to business
or paint pictures like other people. In winter he locked himself in a
backroom and studied something called philosophy; the summers he spent
in his garden, planting things and then digging them up. He was rarely
seen in the street; when he did go out his chief object seemed to be to
avoid attracting attention. By instinct he chose the side which was in
shadow. Hugging the wall, he would creep along the pavement, wearily
searching for something. At an interval of a dozen paces a fox terrier
of immense age followed. Teddy had discovered the dog’s name by accident
He had stopped to stroke it, saying, “He’s nearly blind, poor old
fellow.” Mr. Yaffon had corrected him with squeaky severity: “Alice is
not a fellow; she’s a lady-dog.” That was the only conversation he and
Mr. Yaffon had ever held. Since then, without knowing why, he had taken
it for granted that the adored one of the unfortunate heart affair had
been named Alice. He accounted for their separation by supposing that
Mr. Yaffon’s voice had done it. The reason for this supposition was the
green parrot.

The green parrot was a reprobate-looking bird with broken tail-feathers
and white eyelids which, when closed, gave him a sanctimonious
expression. When open, they revealed Satanic black eyes which darted
evilly in every direction. During the winter he disappeared entirely;
but with the first day of spring he was brought out into the garden and
lived there for the best part of the summer. From the bedroom windows
Teddy could watch him rattling his chain and jigging up and down on
his perch. He would make noises like a cork coming out of a bottle and
follow them up with a fizzing sound; then he would lower his white lids
in a pious manner and say, deep down in his throat, “Let us pray.” He
seemed to be trying to create the impression that, whatever his master
was now, there had been a time when he had been something of a hypocrite
and a good deal of a devil.

But the parrot’s great moment came when his master pottered
inoffensively up the path towards him. The bird would wait until he got
opposite; then he would scream in a squeaky voice, an exact imitation of
Mr. Yaffon’s, “But I love you. I love you.” The old gentleman would grow
red and shuffle into the house, leaving the bird turning somersaults on
his perch and flapping his wings in paroxysms of laughter.

That was why, whatever calamity had occurred, Teddy supposed that Mr.
Yaffon’s voice had done it Try as he would, whichever way he turned, he
could find no proof that love made people happy. That didn’t persuade
him that love couldn’t. It only meant that grown people were stupid. In
his experience they often were.

The bell of the front door rang. It rang a second time.

“Who is it?” asked his father.

Teddy turned; his face was glowing with excitement. “It’s Vashti.”



CHAPTER XIII--SHUT OUT.


It’s to be our day, Teddy.”

The gate swung to behind them with a clang. He looked back and saw his
father, framed in the window; then the palings of the next-door garden
shut him out He was alone with her. It was as though with the clanging
of the gate he had said “good-by” to childish things forever.

The world shone forth to meet them, romantic with frost and lacquered
with ice. It was as though the sky had rained molten glass which,
spreading out across trees, houses and pavements, had covered them with
a skin of burning glory. Eden Row sparkled quaint and old-fashioned as
a Christmas card. The river, which followed its length, gleamed like a
bared saber. Windows, in the cliff-line of crooked houses, were jewels
which glittered smoothly in the sunlight In the park, beyond the river,
black boughs of trees were hieroglyphics carved on glaciers of
cloud. Chimneys were top-hatted sentinels, crouching above smoldering
camp-fires. Overhead the golden gong of the sun hung silent At any
moment it seemed that a cloud must strike it and the brittle boom of the
impact would mutter through the heavens. It was a world transformed--no
longer a prison swung out into the void in which men and women
struggled, and misunderstood, and loved and, in their loving, died.

Vashti felt for his hand. He wanted to take it and yet---- If he did,
people who didn’t understand would think him nothing but a little boy.
What he really wanted was to take her arm; he couldn’t reach up to that
“Don’t you want to hold it?”

He laughed shyly and slipped his fingers softly into hers.

As they passed Orchid Lodge, standing flush with the pavement, she
glanced up at the second story, where the line of windows commenced.

“The people who live there hate me. They’ll hate me more presently. I
can’t blame them.”

She hurried her steps. Drawing a breath of relief, she whispered, “Look
back and tell me whether anybody saw us.”

He looked back. Two figures were emerging from the doorway--one
excessively fat, the other so lean that he looked like a straight line.

“Only the murd---- I mean Mr. Sheerug and Mr. Hughes. I don’t think they
saw us.”

“That’s all right.”

She laughed merrily--not on one note as most people laugh, but all up
and down the scale. The sparkle of morning was in her voice. Like a
flash out of a happy dream she moved through the ice-cold world. People
turned to gaze after her. A policeman, stamping his feet on the look-out
for some attractive housemaid, touched his helmet She nodded.

“D’you know him?”

“Never clapped eyes on him in my life. A pretty woman belongs to the
whole world, Teddy.”

Butcher boys, hopping down from carts, stood thunderstruck. After she
had passed they whistled, giving vent to their approbation. Teddy had
the satisfaction of knowing that he was envied; he snuggled his hand
more closely into hers. Even Mr. Yaffon, the man who was as faded as a
memory, raised dim eyes and shrunk against the wall, stung into painful
life. His little dog waddled ahead, doing her best to coax him to come
on, trying to say, “None of that, Master. You’ve done it once; please
not a second time.”

Was it only Teddy’s fancy--the fancy of every lover since the world was
created--that everything, animate and inanimate, was jealous of him?
Streets seemed to blaze at her coming. Sparrows flew down and chirped
noisily in the gutters, as though they felt that where she was there
should be singing. Famished trees shivered and broke their silence,
mumbling hoarse apologies: “It isn’t our fault Winter’s given us colds
in the head. If we had our way, we’d be leafy for you.”

Years later Teddy looked back and questioned, was it love that the
little boy felt that winter’s morning? He had experienced what the grown
world calls real love by then, and yet he couldn’t see the difference,
except that real love is more afraid, thinks more of itself and is more
exacting. If love be a divine uplifting, a desirable madness, a mirage
of fine deception which exists only in the lover’s brain, then he
felt it that morning. And he felt it in all its goodness, without the
manifold doubts as to ulterior motives, without the unstable tenderness
which so swiftly changes to utterest cruelty, and without the need to
crush in order to make certain. In his love of Vashti he came nearer
to the white standards of chivalry than was ever again to be his lot In
later years he asked himself, was she really so incredibly beautiful?
Did her step have the lightness, her face the bewitching power, her
voice the gentleness he had imagined? By that time he had learnt the
cynical wisdom which wonders, “What is this hand that I hold so fast,
more than any other hand? What are these lips? Flesh---there are others
as warm and beautiful Is this meeting love or is it chance?”

He was far from that blighting caution yet Merely to be allowed to serve
her, if it could help her to be allowed to die for her, to be allowed
to give his all--he asked no more. He carried his all in an ill-wrapped
parcel beneath his arm. She observed it.

“Holloa! Brought your luggage?”

“Not my luggage.”

“Then what?”

He flushed. “Can’t tell you yet.”

“Oh, but tell me!”

“I--I couldn’t here--not where every one’s passing.”

“Something for me?” she guessed.

He nodded.

Higher up the street, outside a public house, a hansom cab was standing.

“I must know,” she laughed. “Can’t wait another second. We’ll be alone
in that.”

“Where to?” asked the cabby, peering through the trap.

“Anywhere. Piccadilly Circus.”

The doors closed as if folded by invisible hands. The window lowered.
They were in a little house which fled across main thoroughfares, up
side streets, round corners. He was more alone with her than ever. He
could feel the warmth of her furs. He could hear her draw her breath.

“Well?” she asked.

As he placed it in her lap the parcel jingled. “I saved it,” he
explained, “for us--for you and me, because of what somebody told me.”

She tore the paper off. In her hands was a wooden box with MARRIAGE
inked across it.

“Marriage!” She raised it to her ear and shook it “Money!”

Teddy gazed straight before him. The pounding of the horse’s hoofs
seemed no louder than the pounding of his heart. ’Harriet said
that five pounds were the least that a lady would expect. “And so--and
so---- There’s five pounds.”

He wasn’t looking at her. He didn’t dare to look at her. And so he
couldn’t be sure whether she had sighed or laughed. A horrible fear
struck him: she might be wondering how so young a person could come
honestly by so large a fortune. He spoke quickly. “It’s mine, all of it
I asked for money for Christmas. Jimmie Boy paid me for going into his
picture; and Hal and Mrs. Sheerug--they gave me----”

“And it’s for me?”

“Why, of course.”

“And it’s all you’ve got--everything you have in the world?” Her arm
slipped about him. “You’re the little god Love, Teddy; that’s what you
are.”

Traffic was growing thick about them. They came to a crossing where
a policeman held up his hand. Through the panes misted over by their
breath, they watched the crawling caravan of carts and buses. In the
sudden cessation from motion it seemed to Teddy that the eyes of the
world were gazing in on them. “A little boy and a grown lady!” they were
saying. “He wants to be her husband!” And then they laughed. Not till
they were traveling again did he pick up his courage.

“Can we--can we----”

“Can we what?”

“Be married to-day? You said ‘some day’ when you promised.”

For her it was a strange situation, as absurd as it was pathetic. For a
moment she tried not to take him seriously, then she glanced down at the
eager face, the Eton suit, the clasped hands. In his childish world
the make-believe was real. For him the faery tale, enacted for her own
diversion, had been a promise. She felt angry with herself--as angry as
a sportsman who, intending to miss, has brought down a songbird. Playing
at love was her recreation. She couldn’t help it--it was in her blood:
her approach to everything masculine was by way of fascination. She
felt herself a goddess; it was life to her to be worshiped. All men’s
friendships had to be love affairs or else they were insipid; on her
side she pledged herself to no more than friendship. Not to be adored
piqued her.

But to have flirted with a child! To have filled him with dreams and
to have broken down his shyness! As she sat there with his box, labeled
MARRIAGE, in her lap, she wondered what was best to be done. If she
told him it was a jest, she would rub the dust off the moth-wings of
his faith forever. There was only one thing: to continue the extravagant
pretense.

“It’s splendid of you, Teddy, to have saved so much.”

“Is it much? Really much?”

“Well, isn’t it?”

His high spirits came back. He laughed and leant his head against her
shoulder. “I don’t know. I’m not very old yet.”

“It’s because of that----” She knitted her brows, puzzling how she could
break the news to him most gently. In the back of her mind she smiled
to remember how much this consideration would have meant to some of her
lovers. “It’s because you’re not so very old yet, that I think we ought
to wait a year.”

“A year!” He sat up and stared. “But a year’s a whole twelve months!”

She patted his hand. “You wouldn’t like to have people laugh at me,
would you? A year would give you time to grow up. And besides, before I
marry, there are so many things to be done. I haven’t told you, but I’m
going to America almost directly--going to sing there. Five pounds is
a terrific lot of money in England, but in America it would soon get
spent. Even though you were my husband, you wouldn’t be able to come.
You’d have to stay here alone in our new house, and that wouldn’t be
very jolly.”

He saw his dream crumbling and tried to be a man; but his lip trembled.
“I don’t think---- Perhaps you never meant your promise.”

The trap-door in the roof opened. The hoarse voice of the cabby
intruded. “’Ere we are. Piccadilly Circus.”

Vashti felt for her purse in her muff. It wasn’t there. She thought for
a minute, then gave the man an address and told him to drive on.

“But I did mean my promise,” she assured Teddy. “Why, a year’s not long.
Cheer up. Think of all the fun we’ll have writing letters. Harriet can’t
have told you properly about marriage. One has to be very careful. One
has to get a house and buy things for it. There are heaps of things to
be bought when one gets married.”

“And wouldn’t five pounds be enough?”

She shook her head sorrowfully. “Not quite enough. But don’t let’s think
about it. This is our day, Teddy, and we’re going to be happy. Guess
where I’m taking you; it proves that I meant my promise.”

When he couldn’t guess, she bent over him and whispered. He clapped his
hands. “To see a house!”

“To see our house,” she corrected, smiling mysteriously. “I always knew
that some day I’d meet the little god Love; and so I got a house ready
for him. It’s a faery house, Teddy; only you and I can see it. If you
were ever to tell any one, especially Mrs. Sheerug, it would vanish.”

“I’ll never, never tell. I won’t even tell Dearie. And does nobody,
nobody but you and me, know about it?”

She hesitated; then, “Nobody,” she answered.

To have a secret with her which no one else shared, almost made up for
the disappointment of not being married. Holding her hand, he watched
eagerly the flying rows of houses, trying to guess which was the one.

“It’s in nearly the next street, Teddy.”

“This one?”

“Not this one. Ours has a little white gate and a garden; it’s ever so
much cosier.”

They had left the traffic where the snow was churned into mud. Once
more it was a world of spun glass, of whiteness and quiet, that they
traversed. To Teddy it seemed that the cab was magic; it knew its way
out of ugliness to the places where dreams grow up.

The cab halted; the window flew back and the doors opened of themselves.
They stepped out on to the pavement. The little white gate was there,
just as Vashti had said. A path led up, through snow as soft as
cotton-wool, to a red-brick nest of a house. A look of warmth lay behind
its windows. Plants, leaning forward to catch the light, pressed against
the panes. A canary fluttered in a gilded cage like a captured ray of
sun.

A maid in cap and apron answered the bell. She was not at all like Jane,
who never looked tidy till after lunch.

“Lost my purse, Pauline,” Vashti pouted. “I couldn’t pay my fare, so
had to drive home. The cabman’s waiting.” Pauline had been watching
the strange little boy with unfriendly eyes. “If you please, mam,
he’s here.” She sank her voice. Teddy caught the last words, “In the
drawing-room, playing with Miss Desire.”

Vashti frowned. She looked at Teddy as Pauline had done. He felt at once
that a mistake had been made, that there was something that he must
not see and that, because of the person in the drawing-room, he was not
wanted.

“What shall I do? Stupid of me!” Turning to the maid, Vashti spoke in
a lowered voice, “Go up to my room quietly and bring me down my money.
We’ll be sitting in the cab and you can bring it out---- No. That won’t
do. He might think that I hadn’t wanted to see him. There’d be a fuss.
What am I to do, Pauline? For heaven’s sake suggest something.”

“Couldn’t the little boy go and sit in the cab, while you----”

Vashti had her hand on the latch to let Teddy out when shrill laughter
rang through the house. A door in the hall burst open and a small girl
ran out, pursued by a man on his hands and knees. He had a rug flung
over his head and shoulders, and was roaring loudly like a lion. The
little girl was too excited to notice where she was going or who were
present.

She ran on, glancing backward, till she charged full tilt into Teddy.
“Save me,” she cried, clinging to him and trying to hide herself behind
him. He put his arms about her and faced the lion.

Balked of his prey, the lion halted. No one spoke. In the
unaccounted-for silence the lion lost his fierceness. Throwing back the
rug, he looked up. Teddy found himself gazing into a face he recognized.

“Of all the----”

Hal rose to his feet and dusted his knees. He glanced meaningly from
Teddy to Vashti. “Is this wise?”

“Shish!” Her lips did scarcely more than frame the warning. “Hal, I
never told you,” she said gayly, “Teddy’s in love with me and one day
we’re going to be married. That’s why I brought him to see the house.
He’s promised never to breathe a word of what he sees, because it’s a
faery house and, if he does, it’ll vanish.”

Hal tried to look very serious. “Oh, yes, most certainly it’s a faery
house. I’m only allowed here because I’m your champion.”

The boy’s quick instinct told him that an attempt was being made to
deceive him. He wondered why. Who was the little girl who had nestled
against him? Finding that he was a stranger she had become shy. He
looked at her. She was younger than himself. Long curls, the color of
Vashti’s, fell upon her tiny shoulders. She was exquisitely slight Her
frock was a pale blue to match her eyes, and very short above her knees.
She looked like a spring flower, made to nod and nod in the sunshine and
to last only for a little while. More spirit than body had gone to her
making; a puff of wind would send her dancing out of sight.

“Desire, come here, darling. Say thank you to the boy for saving you
from the lion.”

Kneeling, Vashti took the little girl’s reluctant hand and held it out
to Teddy. Desire snatched it away and began to cry. A knocking at the
door caused a diversion; it was the cabman demanding his fare and asking
how much longer they expected him to wait Hal paid; Teddy noticed that
Vashti let him pay as if it were his right.

He was mystified; the house and what happened in it were so different
from anything he had expected. Vashti had been so emphatic that no one
but herself and himself were to know about it, and here were Hal and
Pauline and the little girl who knew about it already. Hal’s expression,
when he had thrown the rug from his shoulders, had been that of a man
who was found out. But his eyes, when they had met Vashti’s, had
become daring with gladness. Teddy was aware that he had been brought
unintentionally to the edge of a big secret which he could not
understand.

The cabman had been gone for a long time. Teddy had been left to amuse
himself in the room where the canary hopped in its cage and the plants
leant forward to catch the sunlight. It was a long room, running from
the front of the house to the back and was divided by an archway. In
the back part a fire burned and a couch was drawn up before the fire.
He hadn’t the heart to go to it, but stood gazing out between the plants
into the street in the exact spot where Vashti had left him. Every
now and then the canary twittered, as if trying to draw him into
conversation; sometimes it dropped seeds on his head. He didn’t know
quite what it was he feared or why. On an easel in the archway he espied
_The Garden Enclosed_, which his father had painted. The little god was
still peering in through the gate. Teddy had hoped that by now he
might have entered the garden. Like the little god he waited, with ears
attentive to catch any sound in the quiet He seemed to have been waiting
for ages.

A door in the back half of the room opened. Hal and Vashti came in,
walking near together. Vashti looked round Hal’s shoulder and called to
Teddy, “Not much longer now. I’ll be with you in a moment.” Then they
both seemed to forget him.

Seated on the couch before the fire, their heads nearly touching, they
spoke earnestly. Perhaps they didn’t know how far their voices carried.
Perhaps they were too self-absorbed to notice. Perhaps they didn’t
care. Hal held her hand, opening and closing the fingers, and stooping
sometimes to kiss the tips of them.

“I’d come to the breaking point,” he whispered; “I either had to have
you altogether or to do without you. It was the shilly-shallying, the
neither one thing nor the other, that broke me down.” He laughed and
caught his breath. “I tried to do without you, Vashti; there were times
when I almost hated you. You seemed not to trouble that I was going out
of your life. But now---- Well, if you must keep your freedom, we’ll at
least have all the happiness we can. I’ll do what you like. I’m not
going to urge you any more, but I still hope for Desire’s sake that some
day we’ll----”

“Poor boy, you still want to own me. But tell me, was it hearing that I
was going to America that brought you back?”

“Brought me back!” He pressed her open palm against his mouth. “To you,
dearest, wherever you were, I should always be coming back. How could I
help it? Hulloa! That’s fine.” His eyes had caught the picture. “Where
did you----”

“All the while you were angry with me I was having it painted for you.
But I shan’t be giving it to you now.” She glanced sideways at him with
mocking tenderness. “You won’t need it. It was to be a farewell present
to some one who had changed his mind.”

He drew her face down. “My darling, my mind will never change.”

Suddenly she broke from his embrace and glanced back into the room,
raising her voice. “You know it’s Teddy that I’m going to marry, if ever
I do marry. Why, we almost thought we’d get married this morning.
Come here, my littlest lover. Don’t look so downhearted. Champions are
allowed to kiss their ladies’ hands. Didn’t Hal tell you? Well, they
are, and you may if you like.”

Teddy didn’t kiss her hand. He cuddled down on the hearthrug with
his head against her knees, feeling himself like Love in the picture,
forever shut out. The soul had vanished from his glorious day. He was
hoping that Hal would go; she didn’t seem to belong to him while
he stayed. Lunch went by, tea came, and still he stayed. A blind
forlornness filled his mind that he couldn’t be a man. In spite of her
caresses he felt in his heart that all her promises had been pretense.

Not until night had fallen and she got into the cab to take him home did
he have her to himself. The lamps stared out on the snow like two great
eyes. Once again it was a faery world of mysterious hints and shadows.

She drew him to her. She realized the dull hopelessness of the child and
wondered what would be his estimate of her, if he remembered, when he
became a man. Would he think that he had been tampered with and made the
plaything of a foolish woman’s idleness? She wanted to provide against
that. She wanted him always to think well of her. She felt almost humble
in the presence of his accusing silence. She had a strange longing to
apologize.

“It hasn’t--hasn’t been quite our day, Teddy--not quite the day we’d
planned. I’m dreadfully sorry; I wouldn’t have had it happen this way
for the world.”

He didn’t stir--didn’t say a word. She made her voice sound as if she
were crying; he wasn’t certain that she wasn’t crying.

“You’re not angry with me, are you? It’s so difficult being grown up.
Sooner or later every one gets angry, even Hal. But I thought that my
littlest lover would be different--that, though he didn’t understand,
he’d still like me and believe that I’d tried----”

His arms shot up and clasped her neck. In the flashlight of the passing
street lamps she saw his face, quivering and tear wet. She couldn’t
account for it, why she, a woman, should be so deeply moved. She had
conjured dreams of a man who would one day gaze into her eyes like that,
believing only the best that was in her and, because of that belief,
making the best permanent. She had experimented with the world and knew
that she would never meet the man; love lit passion in men’s eyes. But
for a moment she had found that faith in the face of a little child.
The fickleness and wildness died down in her blood; the moment held a
purifying silence. Taking his face between her hands, she kissed his
lips.

“I’m going away,” she whispered. “Whatever you hear, even when you’ve
become a man, believe always that I wanted to be good. Believe that,
whatever happens. Promise me, Teddy. It--it’ll help.”



CHAPTER XIV--BELIEVING HER GOOD

For a week he had no news of her. Then his father said to him
one morning, “Oh, by the way, _The Garden Enclosed_ is going to be
exhibited. I asked Miss Jodrell to lend it to me.”

“Will--will she bring it herself?” he asked, trying to disguise his
anxiety.

“Herself! No. She’s rather an important person. She’s gone to America.”

Then the news leaked out that Hal had gone too.

Some nights later he was driving back down Eden Row with his father.
They had been to the gallery where the picture was hanging. Without
warning the cab pulled up with a jerk; he found himself clinging to the
dashboard. His eyes were staring into the gas-lit gloom of Eden Row.

Almost touching the horse’s nose, two men, a fat and a lean one,
had darted out from the shadow of the pavement They were shouting at
something that sat balanced, humped like a sack, on the spiked palings
which divided the river from the road. They had all but reached it;
it screamed, shot erect, and jumped. There was a sullen splash, then
silence and the gurgling of the river as the ripples closed slowly over
it.

The silhouette of the fat man bent double; the silhouette of the lean
man, using it as a stepping stone, climbed the palings and dived into
the blackness. It would have been a dumb charade, if the fat man hadn’t
said, “Um! Um!” when he felt the lean man’s foot digging into his back.

Teddy was hauled out into the road by his father. Grampus puffings were
coming from the river, splashings and groanings. The cabman was standing
up in his seat, profanely expressing his emotions. A police-whistle
called near at hand. A hundred yards away another answered. Through the
emptiness of night the pounding of feet sounded.

In an instant, as though it had sprung out of the ground, a crowd had
gathered. People started to strike matches, which they held out through
the palings in a futile endeavor to see what was happening.

A policeman came up, elbowing and shoving. He caught the horse’s head
and whisked the cab round so that its lamps shone down on the river.
They revealed Mr. Hughes, his bowler hat smashed over his forehead,
swimming desperately with one hand and towing a bundle towards the bank.

Men swarmed over the palings and dragged him safe to land. Clearing his
throat, he commenced explaining to the policeman, “As I was walkin’ with
my friend, I sees ’er climbin’ over. I says to ’im, That’s queer.
That ain’t allowed.’ And at that moment----”

Teddy lost the rest. Letting go his father’s hand, he was wriggling his
way to the front through the legs of the crowd. He reached the palings
and peered through.

Stretched limply on the bank, her hair broken loose, the policeman’s
bull’s-eye glaring down on her, was Harriet.

Vashti’s name was never mentioned in connection with the attempted
suicide, but he quickly knew that in some mysterious way she was held
responsible. When he asked his mother, “Was it because Hal went to
America?” she answered him evasively, “Harriet’s a curious girl--not
quite normal. That may have had something to do with it.”

For many months, as far as Orchid Lodge was concerned, Vashti’s memory
was a hand clapped over the mouth of laughter. Harriet broke dishes now
only by accident and never in temper. She went about her work without
singing. Mrs. Sheerug put away her gay green mantle; after Hal left, she
dressed in black. She spoke less about men being shiftless creatures.
If she caught herself doing it from habit, she stopped sharply, fearing
lest she should be suspected of accusing some one man. Her great theme
nowadays was the blighting influence of selfishness. She was always on
the look-out for signs of selfishness in Teddy. Once, at parting with
him, she refrained from the usual gift of money, saying, “My dear,
beware of selfishness. I’m afraid you come here not because you love me,
but for what you can get” She spent much of her time in covering page
after page of foreign notepaper in the spare-room where the gilded harp
stood against the window. She did it in the spare-room because, if it so
happened that she wanted to cry, no one could see her there. Questioned
by careless persons about Hal, she would answer, “He’s gone to America.
He’s doing splendidly. He’ll be back some time. No, I can’t say when.”

Her other two children, Ruddy and Madge, didn’t interest her
particularly. Ruddy was redheaded and always pulling things to pieces
to see how they worked. Madge was twenty, a cross girl who loved animals
and pretended to hate men.

When at the end of two months the portrait came back from the gallery,
a dispute arose which brought home to Teddy the way in which Vashti was
regarded. She had written none of the promised letters, so Jimmie Boy
didn’t know her address. He might have asked Mrs. Sheerug, but the
matter was too delicate. He made up his mind to hang the picture in his
house and had set about doing so, when Dearie put her foot down.

“I won’t have it.”

“But it’s my best work. What’s got into your head, Dearie, to make you
so prudish? You might as well object to all Romney’s Lady Hamiltons
because she----”

“Lady Hamilton’s dead. Romney wasn’t my husband, and Nelson’s mother
wasn’t my friend.”

Dearie was obstinate and so, as though it were something shameful,
Vashti’s portrait was carried down to the stable. There, among the dust
and cobwebs, with its face to the wall like a naughty child, _The Garden
Enclosed_ was forbidden the sunlight. Only Teddy gave it a respite from
its penance when, having made certain that he was unobserved, he lifted
it out to gaze at it. But because she never wrote to him, he went to
gaze at it less and less. Little by little she became a beautiful and
doubtful memory. He learnt to smile at his wistful faery story, as only
a child can smile at his former childishness.

New interests sprang up to claim his attention; the chief of these was
a gift from Mr. Sheerug of a pair of pigeons. In giving them to him he
explained to Teddy, “My friend, Mr. Ooze--he’s a rum customer--drops
his aitches and was born in a hansom cab, but he knows more about pigeons
than any man in London. Trains mine for me--goes out into the country
and throws ’em up. That’s where he’s gone now. When he lost his
precious Henrietta he nearly went off his head. His hobby saved him. A
hobby’s a kind of life-preserver--it keeps you afloat when your ship’s
gone down.”

His pigeons, more than anything else, helped him to forget Vashti. His
soul went with them on their flights through wide clean spaces. The
sense gradually grew up within him that she had betrayed him; this was
partly due to the hostile way in which she was regarded by others. At
the time when she had tampered with his power of dreaming he had been
without consciousness of sex; but as sex began to stir, he felt a tardy
resentment. This was brought to a climax by Mr. Yaffon.

Looking from his bedroom window one morning across the neighbors’
walled-in strips of greenness, where crocuses bubbled and young leaves
shuddered, he noticed that in Mr. Yaffon’s garden the parrot had been
brought out. It was a sure sign that at last the spring had come. As he
watched, Mr. Yaffon pottered into the sunlight to make an inspection of
his bulbs. Several times he passed near the perch; each time the parrot
jigged up and down more violently, screaming, “But I love you. I love
you.”

As if unaware that he was being taunted, the old gentleman took no
notice. But the parrot had been accustomed to measure success by the
fear he inspired. When his master tried neither to appease nor escape
him he redoubled his efforts, making still more public his shameful
imitation of a falsetto voice declaring love.

Mr. Yaffon rose from examining a bed of tulips; blinking his dim eyes,
he stood listening, with his head against his shoulder. Deliberately,
without any show of anger, he sauntered up to the parrot, caught him by
the neck and wrung it. It was so coolly done that it seemed to have
been long premeditated. It looked like murder. The gurgling of that thin
voice, so like Mr. Yaffon’s, protesting as it sank into the silence,
“But I love you. I love you,” gave Teddy the shudders.

Mr. Yaffon got a spade, dug a hole, and buried the parrot. When he
had patted down the mold, he went into the house and returned in a few
minutes with a basketful of letters. With the same unhurried purpose,
he walked down the path towards his tool-shed, made a pile of dead
branches, and set a bonfire going. A breeze which was blowing in gusts
rescued one of the papers and led Mr. Yaffon a chase across lawns and
flower beds. Just as he was on the point of capturing it, the wind
lifted it spitefully over the wall into Mr. Gurney’s garden.

Teddy, who had watched these doings with all his curiosity aroused, lost
no time in hurrying down from the bedroom. In a lilac bush he found
the lost paper. It was a letter, yellowed by age, charred with fire and
written in a fine Italian hand--a woman’s. It read:

_My dear Penny-Whistles,

You don’t like me calling you Penny-Whistles, do you? You mustn’t be
angry with me for laughing at your voice: I can laugh and still like
you. But can I laugh and still marry you? That’s the question. I’m
afraid my sense of humor----_

Teddy stopped. He realized that he was spying. He knew at last what
Mr. Yaffon had been doing: burning up his dead regrets. The letter had
already slipped from his hand, when the ivy behind him commenced to
rustle. The top of a ladder appeared above the wall, followed by Mr.
Yaffon’s head. It sounded as though the parrot had come to life.

“Little boy,” he said, in his squeaky voice, “a very important letter
has---- Ah, there it is. To be sure! Right at your feet, boy. Make
yourself tall and I’ll lean down for it. There, we’ve managed it. Thank
you.”

When the head and the ladder had vanished, Teddy stood in the sunshine
pondering. The spring was stirring. Everything was beginning afresh.
Then he, too, lit a fire. When it was crackling merrily, he ran indoors
to a cupboard. Standing on a chair, he dragged from a corner a box
across whose lid was scrawled the one word MARRIAGE. Tucking it under
his jacket, he escaped into the garden and rammed the box well down into
the embers. As he watched it perish, he whispered to himself: “Silly
kid--that’s what I was.”

No doubt Mr. Yaffon was telling himself the same thing, only in
different language.

Then the child, on his side of the wall, strolled away to dream of
pigeons; and the older child, on the other side, stooped above his
flowers.



CHAPTER XV--THE FAERY TALE BEGINS AGAIN

The memories of a man are of the past. A child has no past; his
memories are of the imagined future. His soul, in its haste for new
experience, rushes on, outdistancing life.

After his false awakening by Vashti, the world which Teddy annexed for
himself was composed of sky and pigeons. Often as he watched his birds
rise into the air, he would make his mind the companion of their flight.
It seemed to him that his body was left behind and that the earth lay
far below him, an unfolding carpet of dwarfed trees and houses as small
as pebbles. By day his thoughts were of wings. By night, gazing from his
bedroom window when the coast-line of the clouds had grown blurred, he
would watch the Invincible Armada of the stars, plunging onward and ever
onward through the heavens. The little he had learnt of life had pained
him; so he took Mr. Sheerug’s advice and remade the world with a hobby.
When the stars winked, he believed they were telling him that they knew
that one day he would be great.

His pigeons and the wide clean thoughts they gave him, kept his mind
from morbid physical inquiries. The school he attended in Eden Row was
conducted by an old Quaker, a man whose gentle religion shamed the boys
of shameful conversations.

The inklings of life which he had gained through Vashti, made him re-act
against further knowledge. Love in her case had begun with beauty,
but it had ended with the wretched face of a woman and a policeman’s
bull’s-eye staring down on it. Perhaps love always ended that way,
causing pain to others and ugliness. He shrank from it. Like a tortoise
when its head has been touched, he withdrew into his shell and stayed
there. He was content to be young and to remain incurious as to the
meaning of his growing manhood. The days slipped by while he lived his
realities in books and pigeons, and in his father’s paintings. Not until
he was fifteen did he again awaken, when the door unexpectedly opened,
leading into a new experience.

It was an afternoon in July, the last day of the summer term. The school
had broken up. The playground was growing empty. With the last of the
boys he came out of the gate and stood saying “Good-by.” They had told
him where they were going--all their plans for the green and leafy
future. They were going to farmhouses in the country and to cottages by
the sea. Some of them were not returning to school; they were going to
the city to become men and to earn money. He watched them saunter
away down Eden Row, joking and aiming blows at one another with their
satchels.

From across the river, softened by distance, came laughter and the
pitter-pat of tennis. In the golden spaces between trees of the park,
girls advanced and retreated, volleying with their racquets. Their hair
rose and fell upon their shoulders as they twisted and darted. They were
as unintelligible to Teddy as if they had spoken a different language.

What was it that he wanted? It was something for which he never found
a name--something which continually eluded his grasp. He was haunted by
desire for an intenser beauty. All kinds of things, totally unrelated,
would stab him into yearning: sometimes a passage in a book; sometimes
the freedom of a bird in flight; and now the music of girlish laughter.
He was burdened with the sense that life would not wait for him--would
not last; that it was escaping like water through his fingers. He wanted
to live it fully. He wanted to be wise, and happy, and splendid. And yet
he was afraid--afraid of disillusion. He feared that if he saw anything
too closely, it would lose its fascination. Those girls, if he were to
be with them, he could not laugh as they laughed; he would have nothing
to say. And yet, he knew of boys----

Hitching the strap of his satchel higher, he smiled. These thoughts were
foolish; they had come to him because he had been saying good-by. They
always came when he felt the hand of Change upon his shoulder.

Before his home a cab was standing. On entering the hall he heard the
murmurous sound of voices. A door opened. His mother slipped out to him
with the air of mystery that betokened visitors.

“How late you are, darling! Run and get tidy. Some one’s been waiting
for you for hours.”

As he made a hasty schoolboy toilet he wondered who it could be. His
mother had seemed flustered and excited. No one ever came to see him; to
him nothing ever happened. Other boys went away for summer holidays;
he knew of one who had been to France. But to stir out of Eden Row was
expensive; all his journeys had to be of the imagination. When one had a
genius for a father, even though he was unacknowledged, one ought to
be proud of poverty. To be allowed to sacrifice for such a father was a
privilege. That was what Dearie was always telling him.

The room in which the visitor was waiting was at the back of the house.
It had folding windows, which were open, and steps leading down into
the garden. Evening fragrances drifted in from flowers. In the waning
sunlight the garden became twice peopled--by its old inhabitants and by
their shadows. On the lawn a sprinkler was revolving, throwing up a mist
which sank upon the turf with the rustle of falling rain.

A man rose from the couch as he entered--a fair, thin man with blue
impatient eyes and a worn, wistful expression. He looked as though he
had been always trying to clasp something and was going through life
with his arms forever empty. He placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders,
gazing at him intently.

“Taller, but not much older. In all the time I’ve been away you’ve
scarcely altered. Do you know me?”

“Why, of course. It’s Mr. Hal.”

“No, just Hal. You didn’t used to call me ‘Mister.’ You can’t guess
why I’ve come. I’ve told your mother, and she’s consented, if you are
willing. I want your help.” Teddy glanced at his mother. Her eyes were
shining; she had been almost crying. What could Hal have said to make
her unhappy? How could he, a boy, help a man? In the silence he heard
the sprinkler in the garden mimicking the sound of rain.

Hal’s voice grew low and embarrassed. “I want your help about a little
girl. She’s lonely. I call her little, but in many ways she’s older than
you are. She’s living in a house in the country, and she wants some one
to play with. I’ve been so long out of England that I’d forgotten how
tall you’d been getting. But, perhaps, you won’t mind, even though she’s
a girl. It’s a pretty place, this house in the country, with cows and
wild flowers and a river. You’d enjoy it, and--and you’d be helping me
and her.”

“Sounds jolly,” said Teddy; “I’d like to go most awfully, only--only
what makes you and mother so sad?”

Hal tried to appear more cheerful. “I’m not sad. I was worried. Thought
you wouldn’t come when you heard it was to play with a girl.”

“He’s not sad,” said Dearie; “it’s only that, if you go, we mustn’t tell
anybody--not even Mrs. Sheerug; at least, not yet.”

Teddy chuckled. At last something was going to happen. “That’ll be fun.
But how glad Mrs. Sheerug must be to have you back.”

Hal rose to his feet. “She isn’t That’s another of the things she
doesn’t know yet. I must be going. Your mother says she can have you
ready to-morrow, so I’ll call for you.”

Teddy noticed how he dashed across the pavement to his cab. He felt
certain that his reason was not lack of time, but fear lest he might be
observed. He questioned his mother. She screwed her lips together: “Dear
old boy, I’m not allowed to tell.”



CHAPTER XVI--A WONDERFUL WORLD

During the train journey Hal kept his face well hidden behind a
newspaper. It wasn’t that he was interested in its contents, for he had
turned only one page in half an hour. Teddy glanced at him occasionally.
Funny! Why was it? Grown people seemed to enjoy themselves by being sad.

The train halted in a quiet station. An old farmer with screwed-up,
merry eyes, white whiskers like a horse-collar about his neck, and
creaking leather gaiters, approached them.

“Mornin’, mister. I was on the lookout for ’ee. I’ve brought the
wagonette; it’s waitin’ outside. Jump in, while I get the luggage.” When
he came back carrying the bags, his eyes winked meaningly both together
at Teddy: “The little missie, she war that excited, I could scarce
persuade her from comin’.”

He lumbered to his seat and tugged at the reins. The horse whisked its
tail and set off at a jog-trot through the sleepy town. Houses grew
fewer; the country swam up, spreading out between trees like a green
swollen river.

As they passed by gates and over bridges, it was as though doors flew
open on stealthy stretches of distance where shadows crouched like
fantastic cattle.

Hal was speaking. He turned to him. “I was saying that we rather tricked
you, Vashti and I. What did you think of us? We often wondered.”

Teddy laughed. “I was little then. I was angry. You see, I believed
everything; and she said so positively that we were going to be married.
I must have been a queer kid to have believed a thing like that.”

The old horse jogged on, whisking his tail. The farmer sat hunched, with
the reins sagging. Hal felt for his case and drew out a cigarette. As
he stooped to light it, he asked casually, “Do you ever think about
her--ever wonder what’s become of her?”

The boy flushed. It was Vashti, always Vashti, when Hal spoke to him.

“I think of her only as a faery story. It’s silly of me. I don’t think
about her more often than I can help.”

“Than you can help!” Hal leant forward with a strained expression. “You
can’t help. You always remember. That’s the curse of it. The doors of
the past won’t keep shut; they slam and they slam. They wake you up in
the night; you can’t rest. You’re always creeping down the stairs and
finding yourself in the rooms of old memories. Would you know her again
if you saw her?”

Teddy looked up at the question. “I’d know her voice anywhere.” Then,
with an excitement which he could not fathom, “Am I going to----?”

Hal shook his head. “I asked you because, if you do see her, you must
send me word.”

They turned in at a gate off the highroad. It was scarcely more than
a field-track that they followed. Ahead a wood grew up, which they
entered. On the other side of it, remote from everything, lay a red
farmhouse. A big yard was in front of it, with stacks standing yellow in
the sun and horses wandering aimlessly about. Cocks were crowing and on
the thatch, like flakes of snow, white fan-tails fluttered. At the sound
of wheels, an old lady, in a large sunbonnet, came out and shaded her
eyes, peering through her spectacles.

“Hulloa, Sarie!” cried the farmer. “Where’s the missie? We’ve brought
’er a young man.”

Sarie folded her hands beneath her apron. “She’s in the garden, as she
always is, Joseph.”

Teddy entered the cool farmhouse, with its low rafters and spotlessness.
Everything was old-fashioned, even the vague perfume of roses which hung
about it.

Hal touched him on the arm. “Let’s go to her. She’ll be shy with you at
first Even though we called, she wouldn’t come.”

He led the way through a passage into a garden at the back. It lay
like a deep green well, wall-surrounded and content in the shade of
fruit-trees. The trees were so twisted that they had to be held up
like cripples on crutches. Paths, red-tiled and moss-grown, ran off in
various directions. The borders of box had grown so high that they gave
to the whole a mazelike aspect.

“She’s here somewhere,” Hal whispered, with suppressed excitement. “Step
gently and don’t pretend you’re looking.”

They sauntered to and fro, halting now and then to listen. They came to
a little brook that dived beneath the wall and ran through the garden
chattering. Hal was beginning to look worried. “I wish she wouldn’t be
like this. Perhaps she’s crept round us and got into the house without
our knowing.”

At that moment, quite near them, they heard a sound of laughter. It was
soft and elfin, and was followed by the clear voice of a child.

“You’re a darling. You’re more beautiful than any one in the world.”

A turn in the path brought them within sight of a ruined fountain. In
the center, on a pedestal, stood the statue of a boy, emptying an urn
from which nothing fell. In the gray stone basin that went about the
pedestal was a pool of water, lying glassy and untroubled. Through a
hole in the trees sunlight slanted. Kneeling beside the edge of the
basin was a little girl, stooping to kiss her own reflection.

“Desire.”

She started to her feet with the swiftness of a wild thing. She would
have escaped if Hal had not caught her. Across his shoulder she gazed
indignantly at Teddy.

“He saw me do that,” she said slowly.

Teddy gazed back at her and smiled. He wanted to laugh, but he was
stayed by her immense seriousness.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You’re not one bit,” she retorted.

She struggled down from Hal’s arms. “You may shake hands with me if you
like.”

Very formally he shook hands with the little girl.

In the old garden Hal lost his sadness. It was late in the afternoon,
when he was leaving, that she asked the question that brought it back,
“When is mother coming?”

“Presently. Presently,” he said quickly.

As he climbed into the wagonette, he signed to Teddy.

Bending down he whispered: “If you should see her----You know whom I
mean? I’ll be stopping at Orchid Lodge; you can reach me there.”



CHAPTER XVII--DESIRE

Next morning he was up so early that the farmhouse was still asleep
when he tiptoed down the creaking stairs. As he opened the door into the
orchard, a puppy squirmed from under the currant bushes and approached
him with timid tail-waggings. He had the easily damped enthusiasm
of most puppies; he was by no means certain that he might not be
in disgrace for something. Nature had originally intended him for a
bull-terrier; before finishing her work, she had changed her mind
and decided that he should be a greyhound. The result was an ungainly
object, white in color, too high on the legs, with red-rimmed eyes which
blinked continually. Teddy knelt down and cuddled him, after which they
were friends.

How still the world was! Now that no one was about, the garden seemed no
longer a dumb thing, but a moving fluttering personality. Dew sparkled
on the red-tiled paths. It glistened in spider-webs. It put tears into
the eyes of flowers. A slow wind, cool with the memory of night, rustled
the tree-tops; it sounded like an unseen woman turning languidly in bed.
Through leaves the sunlight filtered and fell in patches. A sense of
possession came upon the boy--it was all his, this early morning world.

The puppy kept lagging behind, collapsing on his awkward haunches, and
turning his head to gaze back at the house. Teddy became curious to see
what he wanted and let him choose the direction. Under a window in the
thatch to which the roses climbed, he laid himself down.

“So you’re thinking of her, too?” he whispered.

They watched together. The sun climbed higher. Inside the farmhouse
sounds began to stir.

When she appeared at breakfast, she chose to be haughty. After she
had stalked away with Fanner Joseph, Mrs. Sarie explained to Teddy his
breach of etiquette: he had failed to address her as “Princess.”

“She’s full o’ fancies,” said Mrs. Sarie, clearing away the dishes;
“full o’ fancies. I’ve ’ad ten children in my time, but not one of
’em like ’er. She won’t let none of us be what we are; she makes us
play every day that we’re something different. She’s a captive Princess
to-day, and Joseph’s a giant and I’m a giantess.”

Peering through the curtain which hung before the window, he saw Desire,
seated astride an ancient horse, which plodded round and round in the
farmyard drawing water from a well.

He smiled. He knew little about feminine perversity. Picking up a book,
he went into the orchard and threw himself down where the brook ran
singing to itself.

Footsteps! She came walking sedately, pretending that she did not know
that he was there. He buried his nose in his book. She went by, waited,
came back. He heard a swishing sound behind him and glanced across his
shoulder. She was standing with a twig in her hand, her face flushed
with anger, striking at some scarlet poppies. “Hulloa! What are you
doing?”

“They’re people who don’t love me. They’re beasts, and I’m cutting off
their heads.”

“I wouldn’t do that. They’re so pretty, and they don’t have long to
live, anyhow. Besides, you’re making the puppy frightened.”

The puppy was escaping, his tail quivering like an eel between his legs.
Directly her attention was called to his terror, she threw the stick
aside.

“Poor old Bones, she didn’t mean to frighten him. She wouldn’t do
anything to hurt him for the world.”

She gathered him into her arms, and sat herself down beside the brook
about a yard away from Teddy.

“Bones does love me; but some people don’t. We call him Bones ’cause
he’s got hardly any flesh.”

She glanced shyly at Teddy to see whether he was taking her remarks
impersonally or as addressed to himself.

He was smiling, so she edged a little nearer and smiled back.

“People aren’t kind to Bones,” she said; “they throw things at him. He’s
such a coward; people only respect dogs when they bite. You shouldn’t
be so nice; you really shouldn’t, Bones.” And then, significantly: “If
you’re too nice to strangers at first, you aren’t valued.”

Teddy laughed softly. “So that was why you bit me this morning,
Princess, after I’d got up so early and waited for you?”

She tossed her curls and lowered her eyes. “Did I bite? For the fun of
it, I’m always being cross like that. I’m even cross to my mother--my
beautiful mother. She’s the darlingest mother in the world.”

Teddy closed his book and leant out, bridging the distance. “Is she?
Where is she now?”

“I don’t know, only--only I know I want her. Don’t get afraid; I never
cry. P’raps she’s in America. He says that she’ll come to me here, but I
don’t believe him.” Suddenly with a gesture that was all tenderness, she
slipped out her hand. “I was so lonely till you came. Together we may
find her. I’m going to have a little girl myself one day, and I know I
should cry and cry if I lost her.”

“You’d have to get married first. When I was very little, I once----”

She interrupted. “Oh, no! Ladies don’t have to. When they want babies,
they speak to God about it. I know because---- Is your mother married?”

“Yes, my mother’s married. My father paints pictures.”

“Is it nice to have a father?”

“Very nice. Just as nice as to have a mother, only in another way.”

“Do--do all boys have fathers?”

“Why, yes. And all girls.”

“They don’t. I’ve asked my beautiful mother about it so often, because
I----”

She fell silent, gazing straight before her with the cloud of thought
in her eyes. Bones, sprawling across her lap, licked her hand to attract
her attention; she drew her hand away, but took no other notice. The
brook bubbled past her feet; its murmurous monologue emphasized her
silence. Through lichened trees the farmhouse glowed red. In and out the
shadows the sunshine danced like a gold-haired child.

“If fathers are really nice,” she sighed wistfully, “p’raps I ought to
have a father for my little girl. When we’re both growed up, I might ask
you. Would you be her father, per--perhaps?”

Stretched at her side, he glanced up to see the mischief creep about the
edges of her mouth. But her face was no longer elfin; it was earnest and
troubled with things beyond her knowledge. When she looked like that she
seemed older than twelve--almost the same age as himself; there were so
many things that he, too, could not understand. He reflected that they
both were very like Bones with their easily damped enthusiasm. A wave of
pity swept through him; she was so slight, so dainty, so unprotected.
He forgot his pigeons; he forgot everything that had happened before
meeting her. He felt that of all things in the world, were he given the
choice, he would ask that she might be his sister. Stooping his head, he
kissed the white petal of a hand where it lay unfolded in the grass.

She looked down at him quietly. “My darling mother would say, ’You
mustn’t let boys do that.’ But I expect she would let you do it. Do
you--do you think I’m an odd child? Every one says I am.”

He laughed with a thrill of excitement; she made him feel so much
younger than his yesterday self. “I couldn’t tell you, Princess. I’ve
never known any girls. But you’re beautiful, and you’re dear, and
you’re----”

“Let’s be tremenjous friends,” she whispered.

Through the long summer days that followed they lived in a world of
self-created magic--a world which, because they had made it, belonged
wholly to themselves. Its chief delight was that they alone could see
it. No one else knew that the brook was a girl and that the mountain-ash
that grew beside it was her lover. The boy turned back from his dreams
of manhood to meet the childhood of the little girl; it was one last
glorious flash of innocence before the curtain fell But in the presence
of Farmer Joseph and Sarie, and of Hal when he came to visit them, he
was shy of his friendship with Desire.

“You’re ashamed of me because I’m a girl and little,” she said. “But I
know more than you do about--oh, lots of things!”

She did. She knew that gentlemen when they were in love with ladies,
gave their ladies flowers. She knew much about lovers’ secret ways. When
asked how she knew, she shook her curls and looked exceedingly wise. She
could be impishly coquettish when she liked. There were times when she
refused to let Teddy touch her because she would become ordinary to him,
if it were always allowed. And there were times when she would creep
into his breast like a little tired bird, and let him tell her stories
by the hour. She tried to tantalize him into jealousy; Bones was usually
the rival for her affections. When she did that, she only amused him,
making him remember that he was older than herself. But when he made her
feel that he was older, she would stamp her feet with rage. “You’ll be
sorry when I wear long frocks,” she would threaten. “I shall pretend to
despise you. I shall walk past you with my head held high.”

When she showed him how she would do it, creating the picture by
puckering her nose and mincing her steps, she would only increase his
merriment Then suddenly her wounded vanity would break and she would fly
at him with all her puny strength. “You shan’t laugh at me. You shan’t I
can’t bear it Oh, please say you forgive me and like me.”

In the lumber-room, which was across the passage from where she slept,
they spent most of their rainy days. It was dirty and it was dusty,
but it had something which compensated for dust and dirt--a box full of
old-fashioned clothes and largely flowered muslins. Nothing pleased her
better than to dress herself up and perform, while he played audience.
She would go through passionate scenes, making up a tune and singing
words. At the end of them she would explain, “My mamma does that.”
 And then: “Oh, I wish she would come. When I ask him, he always says,
’Presently. Presently.’ Can’t you take me to her, Teddy?”

It was in the lumber-room that she confided to Teddy how she came to
leave America. “It was one day when mother was out. He came. He hadn’t
come for a long while before that. He was very fond of me and brought me
things; so I was very glad. We drove about all day and when it was
time for me to go home to bed, he took me to a big ship--oh, a most
’normous ship. Next day, when I woke up, it was all water everywhere
and he said I’d see my mamma when we got to land. But we got to land,
and I didn’t. And then he said I’d see her here; but I didn’t. And now
he says, ‘Presently. Presently.’ Oh, Teddy, you won’t leave me? I may
never see her again.” And then, after he had quieted her: “If we stay
here till we’re quite growed up, you’ll escape with me, won’t you, and
help me to find her?”

She invariably spoke of Hal as _he_; she never gave him a name. Teddy
felt that it would not be honorable to question her, but he kept his
eyes wide for any clew that would solve the mystery. In Hal’s absence
he would become bitter towards him, because he had dared to hurt Desire.
But when he came to the farm with his arms full of presents, so hungry
to win her love, he felt that somewhere there had been a big mistake and
that whoever had been cruel, Hal was not the person.

It was Hal who, having heard them speak of knights and sorcerers,
brought them _The Idylls of the King_. Many a golden day they spent
reading aloud, while the sunlight dripped from leaves overhead, dappling
the pages.

“I like Sir Launcelot best.”

-“But you mustn’t,” said Teddy; “King Arthur was the good one. If Sir
Launcelot hadn’t done wrong, everything would have been happy always.”

“Yes, but if everything had been happy always, there wouldn’t have
been any story,” she objected. She made bars of her fingers before her
mischievous eyes; it was a warning that she was going to be impish. “I
expect, when I grow up, I shall be like that story; very interesting and
very bad.”

Teddy’s shocked appearance surpassed her expectations. Gapping her
hands, she rose into a kneeling position and mocked him. “Teddy doesn’t
like that. He doesn’t like my loving Sir Launcelot best. And I know why.
It’s because he’s a King Arthur himself.”

All that day she irritated him by calling him King Arthur. They had
quarreled hopelessly by supper-time. She went to bed without saying
“Good-night,” and he wandered out into the dusky silence. He felt angry
with her. Why had he ever liked her? So girls could be spite-full The
worst of it was that it was true what she had said. He _was_ a proper
person. He would always be a proper person; and proper persons weren’t
exciting. He felt like doing something desperate just to prove that he
could be bad. Then his superiority in years came to his consolation.
Why should he worry himself about a little girl who was younger than
himself? When next Hal came to the farm, he would tell him that he was
leaving.

It was in his bedroom, where the moonlight fell softly, that memories of
her sweetness tiptoed back. He remembered the provocative tenderness of
her laughter, the velvet softness of her tiny hands, and the way she had
wreathed him with flowers, pretending that he was her knight. Life would
never be the same without her. Romance walked into his day only when she
had passed down the stairs. Not having had a sister, he supposed that
these were the emotions of all brothers. She had conquered him at last:
though he was in the right, he would ask her forgiveness to-morrow. She
had been trying to make him do that from the first morning when he had
failed to call her “Princess”--trying to make him bow to her prerogative
of forgiving for having done wrong herself. He fell asleep smiling, but
he was not happy.

He awoke with a start The house was still as death. The moon hung snared
in a tree; his window was in shadow. Between the long intervals of
silence he heard the sound of stifled sobbing.

“Who are you? What is it?” he whispered.

In the doorway he made out a blur of whiteness. Slipping from his bed,
he stole towards it. Stooping, he touched it.

“You!”

Her arms flew up and tugged at him passionately. Her tears were on his
cheeks. For the first time she kissed him.

“You’re cold, darling little girl.”

And then for the first time he kissed her mouth.

“Oh, I don’t want you to think that I’m bad. I’m not bad, Teddy. And I
like you to be King Arthur or Sir Launcelot, or--or anybody.”

He fetched his counterpane and wrapt it round her, coaxing, her just
inside the doorway so that they might not be heard. Together, crouched
against the wall, with their arms about each other’s necks, they huddled
in the darkness.

“I didn’t mind--not really.” Since she had kissed him, he was fully
persuaded of the untruth himself. “I shouldn’t really mind whatever you
called me. Little Desire, I thought you never cried. You do believe me,
don’t you?”

“Oh, I do want my mother so,” she whispered, drawing deep sobs between
her words. “If you was to help me to escape to your mother, I’m sure we
could find her. And then, you could come and stay with us, and I could
come and stay with you. And we should be always and always together.”

In defiance of Hal, he promised to help her at the first opportunity.
To-morrow? Perhaps. He saw her safely back to her room, kissing her in
the darkness on the threshold.

But to-morrow held its own surprise.



CHAPTER XVIII--ESCAPING

Farmer Joseph’s place was empty at breakfast next morning. It was
market-day, and he had made an early start for town. Teddy pressed
Desire’s foot beneath the table; when Mrs. Sarie wasn’t looking, he
nodded towards the window and his lips formed the word, “To-day.”

The opportunity had come sooner than he had expected. It was quite
necessary that, when he helped her to escape, Fanner Joseph’s back
should be turned. The old man with’ the merry screwed-up eyes and the
white horse-collar of whiskers round his neck, was always watching. He
seemed to know by instinct every time that they wandered out of sight
of the farmhouse. Sooner or later, as they sat in a field reading or
telling stories, his face would peer above the hedge.

In the passage he caught Desire’s hand. “Run upstairs. Get your hat and
jacket.--No, wait Mrs. Sarie might see them. Drop them out of the window
to me in the garden.” He felt immensely excited. If he could get her
to the station undetected, they would travel up to London. When it was
evening he would smuggle her past Orchid Lodge, and then---- He supposed
she would spend the night at his father’s, and all the other days and
nights till her mother was found. But why had Hal stolen her? “Here,
catch.”

The hat and jacket tumbled down. He caught a glimpse of the laughing
face in the thatch. It was going to be a tremendous lark--almost as good
as a King Arthur legend. The next moment she rejoined him.

“Sir Teddy, what are we going to do now?” She clung to his arm, jumping
with excitement.

“Hulloa!” he exclaimed, “the babies have come into your eyes.” He told
her that the babies came into her eyes when they became especially gray
and round.

They tiptoed out of the garden into the passage of the house. All the
downstair rooms were quiet; Mrs. Sarie’s footsteps overhead and the
smacks she gave the pillow were the only sounds. They crossed the
farmyard, walking unhurriedly as though nothing were the matter. From
the gateway they glanced back. The white fan-tails fluttered and cooed
on the thatch. The curtains blew in and out the open windows. Gaining
the path which led across the meadows, they ran--ran till they were
breathless.

Across the fields, with his nose to the ground, came another fugitive.
As he caught sight of them, he expressed his joy in a series of sharp
yaps.

“I say, this’ll never do. He’ll give us away before we know it Go back,
bad dog. Go back.”

Bones came a little nearer, crawling on his stomach, making abject
apologies, but positively refusing to go back.

They walked on together, the white cur following at their heels till
lapse of time should have made him certain that his permission to follow
was irrevocable.

They had been walking along the main-road, on the alert to scramble into
the hedge at the first sign of any one approaching. It was just such a
day as the one on which he had arrived, only dog-roses were fuller blown
and blackberries were growing ripe. The wheat was yellowing to a deeper
gold and the misty fragrance of meadow-sweet was in the air.

“Ha! Here’s one at last.”

It was a post with three fingers pointing.

“Yes, we’re all right. This one, sticking out the way we’re going,
says To Ware; but it says that it’s nine miles. D’you think, with those
little legs, you can manage it, Princess?”

She lowered her head, looking up through her lashes.

“They’re very strong little legs, and if you talk to me and talk to me,
so that I forget---- If I get very tired, I’ll let you carry me.”

They struck into fields again, clambering through hedges and over gates,
judging their direction by the road. Teddy was afraid to keep to the
road lest they should meet Farmer Joseph coming back from market, or
lest Mrs. Sarie, when she missed them, should send some one driving
after them to bring them back.

It was pleasant in the fields. Rambling along, they almost lost their
sense of danger and forgot they were escaping. Everything living seemed
so friendly. Crickets in the grass chirped cheerily. Birds jumped out
of their houses, leaving their doors wide open, Teddy said, to see
them pass. He invented stories about the things they saw to prevent the
little legs from thinking of their tiredness. Only the cows suspected
them of escaping; they whisked their tails and blinked their eyes
disapprovingly, like grandmothers who had had too many calves to be
deceived by a pair of children.

Lunch time came and they grew hungry, but to buy food at a farmhouse
was too risky.. They quenched their thirst at a stream and pictured to
themselves the enormous meal they would eat when they got to London.

“Tired?”

“No. I’m not tired.”

“Let’s pretend I’m your war-horse,” he suggested.

The finger went up to her mouth. “That’ll be just playing; it won’t be
the same as saying that I’m tired.”

He assured her that it wouldn’t; so she consented to straddle his neck,
clasping his forehead with her sticky little hands while he held her
legs to help her keep her balance.

Bones ran ahead with his ridiculous red tongue flapping, barking at
whatever interested him and paying no attention when he was told to
stop. Towards evening, as the sun’s rays were shortening and trees were
lengthening their shadows, he made the great discovery of his puppyhood.
It was in a field of long grass, the other side of a gate, well ahead
of the children. With quick excited yelps and pawings, springing back in
fear and jumping forward with clumsy boldness, he commenced to advertise
his adventure.

Desire, riding shoulder-high, could see further than Teddy. “Oh, hurry.
Be quick. He’s killing something. Let me down.”

When they had climbed the gate, they found themselves in a narrow
pasture, hedge-surrounded, at the far end of which the road ran. Bones
was rolling a cage over and over, in which a bird fluttered. It was a
decoy placed there by bird-catchers, for in a net near by wild birds
struggled. They dragged the puppy off and cuffed him. He slunk into
the background and squatted, blinking reproachfully with his red-rimmed
eyes. His noblest intentions perpetually ended in misunderstandings.

“Oh, the poor darlings! How cruel! Teddy, you do it; they peck my
fingers.”

Teddy looked across the field growing vague with shadows. No one was in
sight. Going down on his knees, with Desire bending eagerly across his
shoulder, he set to work to free the prisoners.

They were so engrossed that they did not notice a rough-looking man who
crept towards them. The first thing they knew was the howl of Bones as
he shot up, lifted by a heavy boot; the next, when Desire was grabbed
from behind and her mouth was silenced against a dirty coat.

Teddy sprang to his feet, clenching his fists. “You put her down.” His
voice was low and unsteady.

“And wot abart my burds?” retorted the man, in jeering anger. “Yer’ll
’ave ter pay me for every damned one of ’em before I lets ’er go.
I don’t know as I’ll let her go then--taken a kind o’ fancy to ’er, I
’ave. I’ll put ’er in a cage and keep ’er, that’s wot I’ll do. Now
then, all yer money. ’And over that watch. Fork h’out.”

“Put her down.”

He looked round wildly. Hal’s warnings of danger then, they hadn’t
been all inventions! Far off, at the end of the field, he-saw the real
culprit, Bones, slipping through the hedge into the road. Along the road
something was passing; he made out the top of a cart above the brambles.
He thought of shouting; if he did, the man might kill Desire. At that
moment she freed her mouth: “Teddy! Oh, Teddy!”

He threw himself upon the ruffian, kicking and punching. The man let her
go and turned upon the boy.

“Yer’ve brought this on yerself, my son, and now yer go in’ ter ’ave
it.”

He stepped up furiously, his hand stretched out to seize him by the
throat. The fingers were on the point of touching; there was a thud. The
thick arm hesitated and fell limply. On the man’s forehead a red wound
spread.

“My-Gawd!”

His body crumpled. It sank into the grass and lay without a motion. “Is
he dead?” Desire whispered.

“No fear. It ’ud take more than a stone to kill him. Come on, you
kids, let’s run for it.”

They turned. Standing behind them in the evening quiet was a Puck-like
figure. He was broad, and short, and grinning, and cocky. He wore a
midshipman’s suit with brass buttons, which looked dusty and spotty. He
had red hair, and was a miniature edition of Mrs. Sheerug.

“Why, Ruddy,” gasped Teddy, “where did you spring from?”

“Where didn’t I spring from? Ha! Get away from him and I’ll tell you.
He’s stirring.”

The bird-catcher was struggling into a sitting position. He glared
evilly at the children. “You just wait till I get yer,” he muttered.
“Skin yer, that’s wot I’ll do. Boil yer. Tear every----”

They didn’t wait to hear more of what he would do. Each taking a hand
of the little girl, they started to run--ran on and on across twilit
meadows, till the staggering figure of the man who followed and the
sound of his threats had utterly died out.



CHAPTER XIX--THE HIGH HORSE OF ROMANCE


You’re a kind of Bible boy, aren’t you?

They were resting on the edge of a wood, half hidden in bracken,
recovering their breath. Oak-trees, overhanging them, made an archway.
Behind, down green fern-carpeted aisles, mysterious paths led into the
unknown. In front a vague sea of meadows stretched, with wild flowers
for foam and wheat-fields for sands. In the misty distance the window of
a cottage caught the sunset and glowed like the red lamp of a ship which
rode at anchor.

“A Bible boy! Not if I know it.” Ruddy grinned, and frowned, and
scratched his leg. He was embarrassed in the presence of feminine
beauty. If anything but feminine beauty had called him “a Bible boy,” he
would certainly have punched its head. “Not if I know it,” he said.
“I’m no little Samuel-Here-Am-I, praying all over the shop in a white
night-shirt.”

Again he scratched his leg; he wished that feminine beauty didn’t make
him itch so.

The little girl rested her white petal of a hand on his grubby paw. “I
didn’t mean anything horrid, only--just that it was so like David and
Goliath, the way you made the stone sink into his forehead.”

“Yah!” He swelled with a sense of valor, now that his prowess was
acknowledged. “I did catch ’em a whopper, didn’t I? If I hadn’t, you
kids would be dead.”

Desire drew herself up with childish dignity. “It was nice of you, Boy;
Teddy and I both thank you. But--but you mustn’t call me ’kid.’ Teddy
always calls me ’Princess.’”

Ruddy’s good-humored, freckled face grew puzzled. “Princess? But, look
here, are you?”

Teddy was wondering whether he ought to confide in Ruddy, when Desire
took the matter out of his hands. “I expect I am. I’m a little girl who
was stolen from America. We were ’scaping when you found us.--What’s
in that box you’re carrying?”

Her eyes had been on it from the first. It was full of holes; inside
something live kept moving.

“Teddy knows. It’s one of Pa’s pigeons. Didn’t think I’d get home
to-night when I came to look for you, so I brought it to let ’em know
not to expect me.”

“When you came to look for us!” Teddy leant forward. “Did you come to
look for us? Who sent you?”

Ruddy winked knowingly. He was enjoying the mystery, and prolonged the
ecstasy of suspense. Pulling a packet of Wild Woodbines from his pocket,
he lit one and offered one to Teddy; but Teddy shook his head.

“Ma doesn’t know I do it,” he explained. “I chew parsley and peppermints
so she shan’t smell my breath. Bible kids don’t do that. I’m a real bad
boy--a detective.”

“But tell us--tell us. Did you know we were here? Did you come by
accident?”

Ruddy pushed his midshipman’s cap back from his forehead. “It wasn’t by
accident,” he said solemnly. “Since Hal’s come home, he’s been funny.
It’s been worryin’ Ma; I’ve heard her talk about it. He’s brought dolls
and silly things like that; and then he’s gone away with the dolls,
without saying where he was going, and come back without ’em. He’s
been acting kind o’ stealthy; we wouldn’t even have known they were
dolls except for Harriet She looked among his socks and found ’em.
I read ha’penny-bloods about detectives; one day I’m goin’ to be the
greatest detective in the world. So I said to myself, ’I’ll clear up
this mystingry and put Ma’s mind at rest’ I looked in Hal’s pockets and
found a letter from a Farmer Joseph, posted at Ware. There you are! All
the rest was easy.”

“But what were you doing on the road?”

Ruddy blew a cloud of smoke through his nose to let Desire see that he
could do it. “Pooh! It was Farmer Joseph’s cart that I was following
when the dog came running through the hedge.” He threw away his
cigarette. “Going to toss up the pigeon while there’s some light left.”

To Desire this was the crowning marvel--that a boy could tie a message
to a bird and tell it where to go. She watched Ruddy scrawl on the thin
slip of paper and tiptoed to see the slate-blue wings beat high and
higher towards the clouds. When it was no more than a speck, the
Pucklike figure started laughing.

“What’s the matter?” asked Teddy.

“I was picturing Ma’s face when Pa comes in and shows her.”

“What did you write?”

“That I wouldn’t be home and that I’d found Hal’s princess.”

“But you didn’t tell her where we are, or anything like that?”

“I gave her Farmer Joseph’s address; it was written on the cart.”

“You ass! Hal may catch us because of that.”

Ruddy looked crestfallen; then he brightened. “No fear. Ma won’t tell
Hal till she’s come to see for herself.”

Desire had sunk back upon the bed of bracken. “Oh, dear, I’m so hungry.
My shoes is full of stockings and I can’t go any further. Poor Teddy’s
tired, too; and I wouldn’t let a strange boy carry me. It wouldn’t be
modest.”

Her escort drew away to consult in whispers as to what was to be done
for her.

“Good egg!” Ruddy tossed his cap into the air. “I’ve got it. I’ve always
wanted to do it. It’s a warm night and it won’t hint her. Let’s camp
out. I’ll go and buy some grub--be back inside of an hour.”

Desire clapped her hands. “Just like knights and fair ladies in a
forest! Oh, Teddy, it’ll be grand!”

There was nothing else to do. Farmer Joseph would soon be out searching.
Ware seemed an interminable distance. The boys counted their money, and
the red-headed rescuer tramped off sturdily to purchase food. Long after
he had disappeared, they could hear his jaunty whistling.

“Teddy, let me cuddle closer. You weren’t jealous, were you?”

“Jealous!”

“Of the boy who threw the stone.”

“Of course I wasn’t.”

She laughed secretly, and pressed her face against his shoulder. “Oh,
you! You were, just the same as you were jealous of Bones.”

“Bones was a dog. How silly you are, Princess.”

“Not silly.” Her voice sounded far away and elfin. “You want me to like
only you. You wish he hadn’t come; now don’t you?”

It was Teddy’s turn to laugh. Was it true? He didn’t know. “It is nicer,
isn’t it, to be just by our two selves?”

“Heaps nicer,” she whispered. “But, oh, I am hungry. Let’s talk to make
me forget.”

“You talk,” he said. “Tell me about your mother. She must be very good
to have a little girl like you.”

“My beautiful mother!” She clasped her hands against her throat.

From across misty fields came a low whistle. A stumpy dwarf-like figure
crawled through the hedge and darted forward, crouching beneath
the twilight and glancing back for an enemy in the most approved
penny-dreadful manner. Rabbits, nibbling at the cool wet turf, sat up
and stared before they scattered, mistaking him at first for an enlarged
edition of themselves.

“My eye,” he panted, “but they’re looking for you.”

“Really or just pretence?” asked Teddy.

Ruddy scratched his red head. “More than pretence. I met Fanner Joseph
on the road, and he stopped his horse and questioned me. Come on. Catch
hold of some of the grub. Let’s be runaway slaves with bloodhounds after
us.”

They waded through bracken dew-wet, clinging and shoulder-high. Above
them trees grew gnarled and dense, shutting out the sky. At each step
the world grew more hushed and quiet. The sleepy calling of birds faded
on the night Dank fragrances of earth and moss and bark made the air
heavy. Little hands touched them; the hands of foxgloves and ferns and
trailing vines. They seemed to pat them more in welcome than affright.

In a narrow space where a tree had fallen, they lit a fire and nestled.
As the flames leapt up, they revealed the whole wood moving, tiptoeing
nearer, so that trees and foxgloves and ferns sprang back every time the
flames jumped higher.

A green moon-drenched, imaginative night! As they sat round the
sparkling embers and munched, they spoke in whispers. What were they
not? They were never themselves for one moment. They were sailors,
marooned on a. desert island. They were Robin Hoods. Ruddy’s fancies
proved too violent for Desire--they savored too much of blood; so at
last it was agreed that they should be knights from Camelot and that
Desire should be the great lady they had rescued.

“I’m so cosy,” she whispered. “So happy. You won’t let anything bad get
me, will you, Teddy?”

He put his arms about her. “Nothing.”

He thought she had drowsed off, when she drew his head down to her. “I
forgot. I haven’t said my prayers.”

The sleepier she grew, the more she seemed a dear little weary bird. Her
caprice went from her, her fine airs and her love of being admired. Even
when her eyes were fast locked and her breath was coming softly, her
fingers twitched and tightened about her boy-protector’s hand.



CHAPTER XX--THE POND IN THE WOODLAND


Some one was kicking his foot He awoke to find Ruddy, hands in pockets,
grinning down on him.

“Been op for hoars,” he whispered; “been exploring. Found a ripping pool
Want to swim in it?”

Teddy eased his arm from under the little girl and nodded. “Let’s light
a fire first. She’ll know then that we’re not far away, and won’t be
nervous.”

The blur of foliage quivered with mysteries of a myriad coinings and
goings. Everywhere unseen paths were being traveled to unseen houses.
Within sight, yet sounding distant, a woodpecker, like a postman going
his rounds, was tap-tap-tapping.

Ruddy knelt and struck a match; tongues of scarlet spurted. The
camp-fire became a beating heart in this citadel of gray-green
loneliness.

Desire lay curled among withered leaves, her face flushed with sleep,
her lips parted. At sound of the fire snapping and cracking, she stirred
and opened her eyes slowly.

“Oh, don’t leave me. Where are you going?”

“To have a swim,” they told her.

“But mayn’t I come? I promise to sit with my back turned. I promise not
to look, honestly.”

Behind a holly, within sight of the pond, they left her. “Oh, dear, I
wish I were a boy,” she pouted. “Boys have fathers and they can bathe
and--and they can do almost everything.”

While they undressed, she kept on talking.

“It’s the same as if you weren’t there, when I can’t see you. Splash
loud when you get into the water.”

As she heard them enter, “Splash louder,” she commanded. “Girls don’t
have to be truthful. If you don’t make a noise I’ll look round.”

“Pooh! Look round. Who cares!” cried Ruddy.

“No, don’t--not yet,” shouted Teddy.

Then the sound of their laughter came to her, of the long cool stretch
of arms plunging deep and panting growing always more distant.

She couldn’t resist. The babies came into her eyes and her finger went
up to her mouth. She turned and saw two sleek heads, bobbing and diving
among anchored lilies. Beneath the water’s surface, as though buried
beneath a sheet of glass, the ghost of the wood lay shrouded. Trees
crowded down to the mossy edge to gaze timidly at the wonder of their
own reflection. Across the pond flies zigzagged, leaving a narrow wake
behind them. A fish leapt joyously and curved in a streak of silver.
With his chin resting in the highest branches, the sun stared roundly
and smiled a challenge.

“I will be a boy,” she whispered rebelliously.

Her arms flew up and circled about her neck. Lest her daring should go
from her, she commenced unbuttoning in a tremendous hurry.

“Hi, Princess, what are you doing?”

She was busy drawing off her stockings.

“I say, but you can’t do that.”

“No, you can’t do that.”

The scandalized duet of protests continued. Her knight-errants watched
her aghast.

Sullen gray eyes glared defiance at them; yet they weren’t altogether
sullen, for a glint of mischief hid in their depths.

“I am doing it. You daren’t come out to stop me.”

“We’ll come out if you’ll promise to turn round. We’ll do anything,
Princess. You can have the pond all to yourself.”

“Don’t want the pond all to myself, stupids.”

She began to slip off her petticoat. Two shocked backs were turned on
her. As the boys retreated further into the lilies, their pleadings
reached her in spasms. Their agony at the thought of violated
conventions made her relentless.

She was tired of being a girl; tired of being without a father. “I’ll be
a boy,” she whispered, “and wear knickerbockers and have a father, like
Teddy.” She really thought that, in some occult way, her outrageous
conduct would accomplish that. It was all a matter of dress. She
chuckled at imagining her mother’s amazement. The still sheet of water
was a Pool of Siloam that would heal a little girl of her sex.

“When she’s once got in,” whispered Ruddy, “it won’t be so bad. We
can----”

Teddy grabbed his shoulder fiercely. “You shan’t see her. We’ll stay
just as far away as----”

A scream startled the air. They swung about. Knee-deep in the pool, at
bay and pale as a wood-nymph, was Desire.

“I won’t come out,” she was shouting, “and I’m not a naughty girl.”

Leaning out from the bank, trying to hook her with an umbrella, was a
balloon-shaped old lady.

Behind her, peering above the bushes, was the face of Farmer Joseph, his
merry eyes screwed up with amusement.

“But you’ll catch cold, darling,” Mrs. Sheerug coaxed. “Oh, dear, oh,
dear! What shall I do? Please do come out.”

“I shan’t catch cold either. And if I do come out you’ll only be cross
with me.”

“I won’t be cross with you, darling. I’m too glad to find you for that.”

“Did my beautiful mother send you?”

With what guile Mrs. Sheerug answered the boys could only guess by the
effect.

“Well, then,” came the piping little voice, “tell Farmer Joseph to stop
looking, and you stop poking at me. I don’t like your umbrella.”

They saw her wade out, drops of water falling from her elfin whiteness
like jewels; then saw her folded in the bat-like wings of the
faery-godmother’s ample mantle. The glade emptied. The wood grew silent
They dared to swim to land.

Ruddy was the first to say anything. “Ma--Ma’s a wonder. I oughtn’t to
have sent that pigeon till this s’moming.” Then, in a burst of penitence
for his zeal, “I’m afraid I’ve spoiled---- I say, I’m beastly sorry.”

He had spoiled everything; there was no denying it There would be no
more camp-fires, no more slaying of bird-catchers, no more pretending
you were a war-horse with a rescued Princess from Goblinland riding on
your back. Teddy was too unhappy to blame or forgive Ruddy. He pulled on
his shirt and indulged in reflections.

“Wonder how they found us?” muttered Ruddy. “Must have seen the smoke of
our fire. That wasn’t my fault anyhow; you did agree to lighting that.”

“Oh, be quiet,” growled Teddy. “What does anything matter? Who cares now
how they found out?”

Ruddy stole away to see what was happening, thinking that he might prove
more acceptable elsewhere.

Teddy stared at the pool. Birds flew across its quiet breast; fish
leaped; the sun smiled grandly. Everything was as it had been, yet he
was altered. They would take her away from him; of that he was certain.
Perhaps they would put her on another ship and send her traveling again
across the world. There would be other boys who had never had a sister.
He hated them. Because he was young, he would have to stay just where he
had been always--in Eden Row, where nothing ever happened. The tyranny
of it!

He was roused by hearing his name called softly. She was tiptoeing down
the glade, dragging Mrs. Sheerug by the hand. Mrs. Sheerug’s other hand
still clasped her umbrella.

As he turned, the child ran forward and flung her arms about his neck.
“Oh, Teddy, this person says perhaps she’ll help us to find her.” Then,
in a whisper, bringing her face so dose that the thistledown of her hair
brushed his forehead and his whole world sank into two gray eyes, “The
Princess wasn’t very nice this morning--not modest, so this person says.
But you don’t mind--say you don’t I did so want to be like you and to do
everything that boys do,” and then, long drawn out, when he thought her
apology was ended, “Teddy.”

Mrs. Sheerug trundled up, her hands folded beneath her mantle, and
looked down at them benevolently.

“Boys aren’t to be trusted; they shouldn’t be left alone with girls,
_shouldn’t_.” Having uttered the moral she felt necessary, she allowed
herself to smile through her shiny spectacles. “She’s fond of you,
Teddy--a dear little maid. Ah, well! We must be getting back with Farmer
Joseph to breakfast.”

In the wagonette, as they drove through the golden morning, few words
were said. Mrs. Sheerug sat with Desire cuddled to her, kissing her
again and again with a tender worship. Teddy-couldn’t divine why she
should do it, since she had never seen her until that morning. He
was conscious of a jealousy in Mrs. Sheerug’s attitude--a protective
jealousy which made her want to keep touching Desire, the way Hal did,
to realize her presence. It was as though they both shared his own dread
that at any moment they might lose her.

It was in the late afternoon when Mrs. Sheerug left. Before going
she led him aside. “I want to talk to you.” Her cheeks quivered with
earnestness. “You did very wrong, my dear, very wrong. Just how wrong
you didn’t know. Something terrible might have happened. That little
girl’s in great danger. You must keep her in the garden where no one can
see her. Promise me you will. I’d take her back to London to-night, only
Hal doesn’t know I’ve found out I want to give him the news gently.” She
broke off, wringing her hands and speaking to herself, “Why, oh why, was
he so foolish? Why did he keep it from me?” Then, recovering, “Either
Hal or I will come and fetch her to-morrow. Don’t look so down-hearted,
my dear. If the good Lord remembers us, everything may turn out well. If
it does, I’ll let you come and see her. Perhaps,” her dim eyes flickered
with excitement, “I shall be able to keep her always and make sure that
she grows into a good woman. Perhaps.”

She caught the boy to her breast. She was trembling all over and on
the verge of tears. When she had climbed into the wagonette, with Ruddy
seated beside her, and had lumbered slowly out of the farmyard, she left
Teddy wondering: Why had she said “a good woman”? As though there was
any doubt that little Desire would grow up good!



CHAPTER XXI--VANISHED

HE had searched the farmhouse, calling her name softly. He had peered
into the lumber-room, where shadows were gathering. He had looked
everywhere indoors. Now he stepped into the orchard and called more
loudly, “Desire. Desire. Princess.”

Leaves shuddered. Across moss-grown paths slugs crawled. Everything
betokened rain; all live things were hurrying for shelter. Behind high
red walls, where peach-trees hung crucified, the end of day smoldered.
The west was a vivid saffron. To the southward black clouds wheeled
like vultures. The beauty of the garden shone intense. The greenness of
apple-trees had deepened. Nasturtiums blazed like fire in the borders of
box. The air was full of poignant fragrances: of lavender, of roses, and
of cool, dean earth.

To-morrow night all that he was at present feeling would have become a
memory. He called her name again and renewed his search. To-morrow
night would she, too, have become a memory? How loud the whisper of
his footsteps sounded I And if she had become a memory, would she
forget--would the future prove faithless to the past?

The garden would not remember. The brook would babble no less
contentedly because he was gone. All these flowers which shone so
bravely--within a week they, too, would have vanished. The birds in
the early morning would Scarcely notice his absence. In the autumn they
would fly away; in the spring, when they returned, they would think no
more of the boy who had parted the leaves so gently that a little girl
might peep into their nests. And would the little girl remember? Even
now, when he called, she did not answer.

In an angle of the garden, most remote from the farmhouse, he espied
her. Something in her attitude made him halt Her head was thrown back;
she was staring into a chestnut which tumbled its boughs across the
wall. Her lips were moving. She seemed to be, talking; nothing
reached him of what was said. At first he supposed she was acting a
conversation.

“Desire,” he shouted. “Princess.”

She glanced across her shoulder and distinctly gave a warning. The
chestnut quivered. He was certain some one was climbing down. She kissed
her hand. The bough was still trembling when he reached her.

“Who was it?”

She pressed a finger to her lips.

“Was it Ruddy? But it couldn’t have been Ruddy unless----”

Beyond the wall he heard the sound of footsteps. They were stealing away
through grass.

When he turned to her, she was smiling with mysterious tenderness.

“Who was it?”

She slipped her hand into his. “I _am_ fond of you, dear Teddy, but I
mustn’t, mustn’t tell.”

They walked in silence. Rain began to patter. They could hear it hiss as
it splashed against the sunset.

“Best be getting indoors,” he said.

In the lumber-room, where so many happy hours had been spent, they sat
with their faces pressed against the window.

“Do you want to play?”

He shook his head.

“You’re not sulky with me, Teddy, are you? It would be unkind if you
were. I’m so happy.” She flung her arms about his neck, coaxing him to
look at her. “What shall I do to make you glad? Shall I make the babies
come into my eyes?”

He brushed his face against her carls. “It isn’t that. It’s not that
I’m sulky.” Her hands fluttered to his lips that he might kiss them.
“It’s--it’s only that I want you, and I’m afraid I may lose you.”

She laughed softly. “But I wouldn’t lose you. I wouldn’t let anybody,
not even my beautiful mother, make me lose you. I would worry and worry
and worry, till she brought me back.” She lowered her face and looked
up at him slantingly. “I can make people do most anything when I worry
badly.”

He smiled at her exact self-knowledge. She knew that she was forgiven
and wriggled into his arms. “Why do you want me? I’m so little and not
nice always.”

“I don’t know why I want you, unless----”

“Unless?” she whispered.

“Unless it’s because I’ve been always lonely.”

She frowned, so he hastened to add, “But I know I do want you.”

“When I’m a big lady do you think you’ll still want me?”

“Ah!” He tried to imagine her as a big lady. “You’ll be proud then, I
expect. I once knew a big lady and she wasn’t--wasn’t very kind. I think
I like you little best.” Outside it was growing dark. The rain beat
against the window. The musty smell of old finery in boxes fitted with
the melancholy of the sound.

“I’m glad you like me little best, because,” she drew her fingers down
his cheek, “because, you see, I’m little now. But when I’m a big lady, I
shall want you to like me best as I am then.”

He laughed. “I wonder whether you will--whether you’ll care.”

“You say all the wrong things.” She struggled to free herself. “You’re
making me sad.”

“D’you know what you’ll be when you grow up?”

She ceased struggling; she was tremendously interested in herself.

“What?”

“A flirt.”

“What is a flirt?” she asked earnestly.

“A flirt’s a----” He puzzled to find words. “A flirt’s a very beautiful
woman who makes every one love her especially, and loves nobody in
particular herself.”

She clapped her hands. “Oh, I hope I shall.”

Outside her bedroom at parting she stopped laughing. “I _am_ fond of
you, dear Teddy.”

“Of course you are.”

She pouted. “Oh, no, not of course. I’m not fond of everybody.”

He had set too low a value on her graciousness. He had often done it
wilfully before for the fun of seeing her give herself airs. “I didn’t
mean ‘of course’ like that,” he apologized; “I meant I didn’t doubt it.”

“But--but,” she sighed, “you don’t say the right things, Teddy--no,
never. You don’t understand.”

What did she want him to say, this little girl who was alternately a
baby and a woman? When he had puzzled his brain and had failed to guess,
he stooped to kiss her good-night She turned her face away petulantly;
the next moment she had turned it back and was clinging to him
desperately. “I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to leave you.”

“You shan’t.” He had caught something of her passion. “Mrs. Sheerug
has promised. She lives quite near our house, and you’ll be my little
sister. You shall come and feed my pigeons, and see my father paint
pictures. My mother’s called Dearie--did I tell you that? Don’t be
frightened; I’ll lie awake all to-night in case you call.”

“No, sleep.” She drew her fingers down his face caressingly. “Sleep for
my sake, Teddy.”

He tried to keep awake, but his eyes grew heavy. Farmer Joseph and
Mrs. Sarie came creaking up the stairs. The house was left to shadows.
Several times he slipped from his bed and tiptoed to the door. More
than once he fancied he heard sounds. They always stopped the second he
stirred. The monotonous dripping of rain lulled him. It was like an
army of footsteps which advanced and halted, advanced and halted. Even
through his sleep they followed.

It seemed the last notes of a dream. He sat up and rubbed his eyes.
Where was he? In his thoughts he had gone back years. He ought to have
been in Mrs. Sheerug’s bedroom, with the harp standing thinly against
the panes and the kettle purring on the fire. He was confused at finding
that the room was different. While that voice sang on, he had no time for
puzzling.

It came from outside in the darkness, where trees knelt beneath the
sky like camels. Sometimes it seemed very far away, and sometimes just
beneath his window. It made him think of faeries dancing by moonlight
It was like the golden hair of the Princess Lettice lowered from her
casement to her lover. It was like the silver feet of laughter twinkling
up a Beanstalk ladder to the stars. It was like spread wings, swooping
and drifting over a faery-land of castellated tree-tops. It grew
infinitely distant. He strained his ears; it was almost lost It kept
calling and calling to his heart.

Something was moving. A shadow stole across his doorway. It was gone in
an instant--gone so quickly that, between sleeping and waking, it might
have been imagined. His heart was pounding.

In her room he saw the white blur of her bed. Timid lest he should
disturb her, he groped his hand across her pillow. It was still warm.

As he ran down the passage a cold draught met him. The door into the
farmyard was open. He hesitated on the threshold, straining his
eyes into the dusk of moonlight that leaked from under clouds. As he
listened, he heard Desire’s laugh, low and secret, and the whisper of
departing footsteps. Barefooted he followed. In the road, the horses’
beads turned towards the wood, a carriage was standing with its lamps
extinguished. The door opened; there was the sound of people entering;
then it slammed.

“Desire! Desire!”

The driver humped his shoulders, tugged at the reins, and lashed
furiously; the horses leapt forward and broke into a gallop. From
the window Vashti leant out. A child’s hand fluttered. He ran on
breathlessly.

Under the roof of the woods all was blackness. The sounds of travel grew
fainter. When he reached the meadows beyond, there was nothing but the
mist of moonlight on still shadows--he heard nothing but the sullen
weeping of rain-wet trees and grass. He threw himself down beside the
road, clenching his hands and sobbing.

Next day Hal arrived to fetch him back to London. The wagonette was
already standing at the door. He thought that he had said all his
farewells, fixed everything indelibly on his memory, when he remembered
the lumber-room. Without explanation, he dashed into the house and
climbed the stairs.

Pushing open the door, he entered gently. It was here, if anywhere,
that he might expect to find her--the last place in which they had
been together. Old’ finery, dragged from boxes by her hands, lay
strewn about. The very sunshine, groping across the floor, seemed to be
searching for her. He was going over to the place by the window where
they had sat, when he halted, bending forward. Scrawled dimly in the
dust upon the panes, in childish writing, were the words, “I love you.”
 And again, lower down, “I love you.”

His heart gave a bound. That was what she had been trying to make him
say last night, “I love you.” He hadn’t said it--hadn’t realized or
thought it possible that two children could love like that. He knew now
what she had meant, “You don’t say the right things, Teddy--no, never.
You don’t understand.” He knew now that from the first he had loved her;
his boyish fear of ridicule had forbidden him to own it. There on the
panes, like a message from the dead, soon to be overlaid with dust, was
her confession.

Voices called to him, bidding him hurry. Footsteps were ascending. Some
one was coming along the passage. The writing was sacred. It was meant
for his eyes alone. No one should see it but himself. He stooped his
lips to the pane. When Hal entered the writing had vanished.

“You--you played here,” he said. All day he had been white and silent
“I’m sorry, but we really must be going now, old chap.”

On the stairs, where it was dark, he laid an arm on the boy’s shoulder.

“You got to be very fond of her? We were both fond of her and--and we’ve
both lost her. I think I understand.”



CHAPTER XXII--THE FEAR OF KNOWLEDGE

The journey back to London was like the waking moments of a dream. He
gazed out of the carriage window. He couldn’t bear to look at Hal;
his eyes seemed dead, as though all the mind behind them was full of
darkened passages. It wasn’t easy to be brave just now, so he turned his
face away from him.

“Teddy.” There was no one in the carriage but themselves. “Did she ever
say anything about me?”

“She said that you were fond of her.”

“Ah, yes, but I don’t mean that. Did she ever say how she felt herself?”

“About you?”

“About me.”

There was hunger in Hal’s voice--hunger in the way he listened for the
answer.

“Not--not exactly. But she liked you immensely. She really did, Hal. She
looked forward most awfully to your coming.”

“Any child would have done that when a man brought her presents. Then
she didn’t say she loved me? No, she wouldn’t say that.”

Hal spoke bitterly. Teddy felt that Desire was being accused and sprang
to her defense. “I don’t see how you could expect her to love you after
what you had done.” The man looked up sharply. “After what I had done!
D’you mean kidnaping her, or something further back?”

“I mean taking her away from her mother.”

Hal laughed gloomily. “No, as you say, a person with no claims on her
couldn’t expect her to love him after that.”

Sinking his head forward, he relapsed into silence and sat staring at
the seat opposite. When the train was galloping through the outskirts of
London, he spoke again.

“I’ve dragged you into something that you don’t understand. Don’t try
to understand it; but there’s something I want to say to you. If ever
you’re tempted to do wrong, remember me. If ever you’re tempted to get
love the wrong way, be strong enough to do without it. It isn’t worth
having. You have to lie and cheat to get it at first, and you have to
lie and cheat to keep some of it when it’s ended.” He turned his face
away, speaking shamefully and hurriedly. “I sinned once, a long while
ago--I don’t know whether you’ve guessed. I’m still paying for it.
You’re paying for it. One day that little girl may have to pay the
biggest price of any of us. I was trying to save her from that.”

Through the window shabby rows of cabs showed up. A porter jumped on the
step, asking if there was any luggage. Hal waved him back. Turning to
Teddy, he said, “When you’ve sinned, you never know where the paying
ends. It touches a thousand lives with its selfishness. Remember me one
day, and be careful.”

Driving home in the hansom, he referred but once to the subject “I’ve
made you suffer. I don’t know how much--boys never tell. I owed you
something; that’s why I spoke to you just now.”

Teddy’s arrival home scattered the last mists of his dream-world. As the
cab drew up before the house, the door flew open and his father burst
out, bundling a mildly protesting old gentleman down the steps.

“No, I don’t paint little pigs,” he was shouting, “and I don’t paint
little girls sucking their thumbs and cooing, ‘I’m baby.’ You’ve come to
the wrong shop, old man; no offense. I’m an artist; the man you’re
looking for is a sign-painter. Good evening.”

The door banged in the old gentleman’s face. Jimmie Boy was so enjoying
his anger that he didn’t notice that in closing the door he was shutting
out his son.

When Teddy had been admitted by Jane, he heard his mother’s
voice dodging through his father’s laughter like a child through a
crowd.

“You needn’t have been so sharp with him, Jimmie. He only wanted to
buy the kind of pictures you don’t paint You can’t expect every one to
understand. Now he’ll go the rounds and talk about you, and you’ll have
another enemy. Why do you do it, my silly old pirate?”

The old pirate pretended to become suspicious that his wife was trying
to lower his standards--trying to persuade him to paint the rubbish that
would sell She protested her innocence. Long after Teddy had made
his presence known the argument continued, half in banter, half in
seriousness. Then it took the familiar turning which led to a discussion
of finance.

He stole away. The impatient world had swept him back into its maelstrom
of realities. It had taken away his breath and staggered his courage.
Hal’s harangue on the consequences of sin had made him see sin
everywhere. He saw his father as sinning when he indulged his genius by
pushing would-be purchasers down his steps. Hal was right--he and Dearie
would have to pay for that; all their lives they had been paying for his
father’s temperament. They had had to go short of everything because he
would insist on trying to exchange his dreams for money.

He wandered out into the garden where his pigeons were flying.
Instinctively his steps led him to the stable. From the stalls he
dragged out _The Garden Enclosed_, which was to have made his father
famous. He gazed at it; as he gazed, the world seemed better. The world
must be a happy place so long as there were women in it like that.
People said that his father hadn’t succeeded; but he had by being true
to what he knew to be best.

He climbed the ladder to the studio where, through long years of
discouragement, his father had refused to stoop below himself. Leaning
from the window, he gazed into the garden. The dusty smell of the ivy
came to him.

There in the darkness his mother found him. Coming in quietly, she
crouched beside him, taking his hands.

“Mother, you’re very beautiful.”

Her heart quickened. “Something’s happened. Once you wouldn’t have said
that.”

“I’ve been thinking about so many things,” he whispered, “about how it
must have helped a man to have had some one like you always to himself.”

“You were thinking,” she brushed his cheek with hers, “you were thinking
about yourself--about the long, long future.”

“Yes.” His voice scarcely reached her. “I was growing frightened because
of Hal. I was feeling kind of lonely. Then I thought of you and Jimmie
Boy. It would be fearful to grow up like Hal.”

“You won’t, Teddy.”

There was a long silence. They could hear each other’s thoughts ticking.
At last he whispered, “Desire said she never had a father.”

“Poor little girl! You must have guessed?”

“Hal?”

Choking back her tears, she nodded.

“Things like that----” He broke off, staring into the darkness. “Things
like that make a boy frightened, when first they’re told him.” She drew
his head down to her shoulder. He lay there without speaking, feeling
sheltered for the moment. All the threats of manhood, the fears that he
might fail, the terror lest he might miss the highest things like Hal,
drew away into the distance.

In the night, when he awoke and they returned, he drove them off with a
new purpose. The pity and white chivalry of his boyhood were aflame
with what he had learnt. Until he met her again, he would keep himself
spotless. She should be to him what the Holy Grail was to Sir Gala-had.
He would fight to be good and great not for his own sake--that would be
lonely; but that he might be strong, when he became a man, to pay the
price for Desire that Hal’s sin had imposed on her.



CHAPTER XXIII--TEDDY AND RUDDY


Fear is a form of loneliness; it was Ruddy who cured Teddy of that.

For years they had met in Orchid Lodge and up and down Eden Row, nodding
to each other with the contemptuous tolerance of boys whose parents are
friends. It was the shared memory of the adventure in the woodland that
brought them together.

Two days after his return from the farm he stole out into Eden Row as
night was falling. In the park, across the river, the bell for closing
time was ringing. On tennis courts, between slumbering chestnuts, men
in flannels were putting on their coats and gathering their shoes
and rackets, while slim wraiths of girls waited for them. They swept
together and drifted away through the daffodil-tinted dusk. Clear
laughter floated across the river and the whisper of reluctantly
departing footsteps. Park keepers, like angels in Eden, marched along
shadowy paths, herding the lovers and driving them before them, shouting
in melancholy tones, “All out. All out.” They seemed to be proclaiming
that nothing could last.

“Hulloa!”

Teddy turned to find the sturdy figure in the midshipman’s suit leaning
against the railings beside him.

“Must be rather jolly to be like that.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, don’t be a sausage.” Ruddy smiled imperturbably. “To be like
them--old enough to put your arm round a girl without making people
laugh.”

“Yes.”

Ruddy sank his voice. “Wonder where they all come from. Suppose they
look quite proper by daylight, as though they’d never speak to a chap.”

The crowd was pouring out from the gates and melting away by twos and
twos. Each couple seemed to walk in its own separate world, walled in by
memories of tender things done and said. As they passed beneath lamps,
the girls drew a little apart from their companions; but as they entered
long intervals of twilit gloom their propriety relaxed.

Turning away from the river, the boys followed the crowd at random. Once
Ruddy hurried forward to peer into a girl’s face as she passed beneath a
lamp. She had flaxen hair which broke in waves about her shoulders.

Teddy flushed. He had wanted to do it himself, but something had
restrained him. Secretly he admired Ruddy’s boldness. “Don’t do that,”
 he whispered.

“She looked pretty from the back,” Ruddy explained. “Wanted to see by
her face whether her boy had been kissing her. You are a funny chap.”

They got tired of wandering. On the edge of a low garden wall, with
their backs against the railing, they seated themselves. It was in a
road of small villas, dotted with golden windows and shadowy with the
foam of foliage.

Ruddy pulled out a cigarette. “I liked her most awfully. Us’ally I don’t
like girls.”

“Desire?” Teddy’s heart bounded at being able to speak her name so
frankly.

“Desire. Yes. I’ve got an idea that she’s a sort of relation. Ma won’t
tell a thing about her. I can’t ask Hal--he’s too cut up. When I speak
to Harriet, she says ‘Hush.’ There’s a mystingry.”

For a week Ruddy opened his heart wider and wider, till he had all
but confessed that he was in love with Desire. Then one day, with the
depressed air of a conspirator, he inveigled Teddy into the shrubbery of
Orchid Lodge.

“Want to ask you something. You think I’m in love with that kid, Desire,
don’t you? Well, I’m not.”

“I’m glad you’re not, because--you oughtn’t to be. Why you oughtn’t to
be, I can’t tell you.”

“But I never was.”

“Oh, weren’t you?” Teddy shrugged his shoulders.

Up went Ruddy’s fists. His face grew red and his eyes became
suspiciously wet. “You’re the only one who knows it. You’ve got to say I
wasn’t. If you don’t, I’ll fight you.”

“But you’ve just said that I’m the only one who knows it. You silly
chump, you’ve owned that you were in love.”

Ruddy stood hesitant; his fists fell “Don’t know what God’ll do to me.
I’ve been in love with my----” He gulped. “I’m her uncle.”

For a fortnight he posed as a figure of guilt and hinted darkly at
suicide. But the world at fifteen is too adventurous a place for even a
boy who has been in love with his niece to remain long tragic. It was
on this dark secret of his unclehood, that his momentous friendship with
Teddy was founded. Mrs. Sheerug approved of it; she did all that she
could to encourage it. She sent him to Mr. Quickly’s school in Eden Row
which Teddy attended. From that moment the boys’ great days began.

It was Ruddy who invented one of their most exciting games, _Enemies or
Friends_. This consisted in picking out some inoffensive boy from among
their school-fellows and overwhelming him with flatteries. He was made
the recipient of presents and invited to tea on half-holidays, till
his suspicions of evil intentions were quite laid to rest. Then one
afternoon, when school was over, he was lured into Orchid Lodge to look
at the pigeons. Once within the garden walls, Orchid Lodge became a
brigand’s castle, the boy a captive, and Ruddy and Teddy his captors.
The boy was locked up in the tool-shed for an hour and made to promise
by the most fearful threats not to divulge to his mother what had
delayed him. Intended victims of this game knew quite well what fate was
in store for them; a rumor of the brigands’ perfidy had leaked out. The
chief sport in its playing lay in the Machiavellian methods employed
to persuade the latest favorite that, whatever had happened to his
predecessors, he was the great exception, beloved only for himself.

Opportunity for revenge arrived when Teddy’s first attempt at authorship
was published. Mr. Quickly, the Quaker headmaster, brought out
a magazine each Christmas to which his students were invited to
contribute. Teddy’s contribution was entitled _The Angel’s Sin_. Perhaps
it was inspired by remorse for his misdoings. Dearie nearly cried her
eyes out when she read it, she was so impressed by its piety. But it
moved his school-fellows to ridicule--especially the much-wronged
boys who had spent an hour in the tool-shed. They recited it in chorus
between classes; they followed him home reciting it; they stood outside
the windows of his house and bawled it at him through the railings.
“Heaven was silent, for one had sinned. Before the throne of God a
prostrate figure lay. But the throne was wrapped in clouds. A voice rang
out,” etc.

“They have no souls,” his mother whispered comfortingly.

_The Angel’s Sin_ cost the brigands many bruises and their mothers much
repairing of torn clothing. Teddy’s mother declared that it was all
worth it--she had spent her life in paying the price for having genius
in her family; Mrs. Sheerug was doubtful Ruddy was loyal in his public
defense of Teddy, but secretly disapproving. “Stupid ass! Why did you
do it? Why didn’t you write about pirates? Might have known we’d get
ragged.”

Teddy shook his head. He was quite as much puzzled as Ruddy. “Don’t
know. It just came to me. I had to do it.”

The Christmas holidays brought a joyous week. Teddy had a cold and was
kept in bed. The light was too bad for painting, so his father came and
sat with him.

“You’re younger than you were, chappie--more like what I used to be at
your age. That young ruffian’s doing you good. What d’you play at?”

When penny dreadfuls were mentioned, Jimmie Boy closed one eye and
squinted at his son humorously. “That’s not much of a diet--not much in
keeping with _The Ange’s Sin_ and a boy who’s going to be a genius. Tell
you what I’ll do; let’s have Ruddy in and I’ll reform you.”

Then began a magic chain of nights and days. As soon as the
breakfast-tray had been carried down, Jimmie Boy would commence his
reading. It was _Margaret of Valois_ that he chose as being the nearest
thing in literature to a penny dreadful. Teddy, lying cosily between
sheets, would listen to the booming voice, which rumbled like a gale
about the pale walls of the bedroom. Seated in a great armchair, with
his pipe going like a furnace and his knees spread apart before the
fire, his rebel father acted out with his free hand all the glorious
love scenes and stabbings. Ruddy, stretched like a dog upon the floor,
his elbows digging into the carpet, gazed up at Jimmie Boy adoringly.
For a week they kept company with kings and queens, listening to the
clash of swords and witnessing the intrigue of stolen kisses. They
wandered down moonlit streets of Paris, were present at the massacre
of St. Batholomew’s Eve, and saw the Duchess of Guise, having rescued
Coconnas from the blades of the Huguenots, hide him, dripping with
blood, in her secret closet.

When _Margaret of Valois_ was ended, _Hereward the Wake_ followed, and
then _Rienzi_.

“And that’s literature,” Jimmie Boy told them. “How about your penny
dreadfuls now?”

In the afternoons Dearie would join them. “You three boys,” she called
them. She always made a pretense that she was intruding, till she had
been entreated in flowery romance language to enter. Then, sitting on
the bed like a tall white queen, her hand clasped in Teddy’s, she would
watch dreamily, with those violet eyes of hers, the shaggy head of
Jimmie Boy tossing in a melody of words.

It was this week, with its delving into ancient stories, that taught him
what his parents’ love really meant--it was a rampart thrown up by the
soul against calamity. They had been poor and harassed and disappointed.
There had been times when they had spoken crossly. But in their hearts
they still stood hand-in-hand, always guarding a royal place in which
they could be happy.

“I say,” whispered Ruddy, “your people--they’re toppers. Let’s go slow
on the penny dreadfuls.”



CHAPTER XXIV--DUKE NINEVEH ENTERS

As the years passed the two boys grew into explorers of the
undiscovered countries that lie behind the tail-treed reticence of
people’s minds. Their sole equipment for these gallant raids was a
daring sort of kindness.

Ruddy’s actions were inspired by good nature and high spirits; Teddy’s
by introspection and a determination to inquire. He was possessed by a
relentless curiosity to find out how things worked.

By a dramatic turn of luck their faculty for curious friendships flung
the whole Sheerug household, and Jimmie Boy with it, high up on the
strand of what Mrs. Sheerug would have termed “a secure nincome.”

At the time when this happened Teddy was already getting his hand in by
helping his father with the letter-press for his illustrated volumes.
Ruddy, much to Mrs. Sheerug’s disgust, had announced his intention of
“going on the sands,” by which he meant becoming a pierrot.

One sparkling morning in June they were setting out for Brighton. Ruddy
had heard of a troupe who were playing there and was anxious to add to
his store of pierrot-knowledge. At the last moment, as the train
was moving, a distinguished looking man who had been dawdling on the
platform seemed to make up his mind to travel by it Paying no heed to
the warning shouts of porters, as coolly as if he had been catching
a passing bus, he leapt on the step of the boys’ third-class smoker,
unlocked the door and entered.

“Handy things to keep about you,” he said, “keys to Tallway carriages.
Oh, a third! Thought it was a first. Too bad. Make the best of it.”

There was a cheerful insolence about the way in which he sniffed, “Oh, a
third!” addressing nobody in particular and thinking his thoughts aloud.
He had a fine, rolling baritone. His aristocratic, drawling way of
talking set up an immediate barrier between himself and the world--a
barrier which he evidently expected the world to recognize.

Ruddy raised a democratic foot and tapped him on the shin. “Your
ticket’s a third. It’s in your hand.”

The distinguished looking man leant down and flapped his trousers with
his glove where the democratic foot had touched it Then he fixed Ruddy
with a haughty stare. “Ah! So it is. Chap must have given it me in
error.”

He settled himself in a corner, paying the utmost attention to his
comfort, screwed a monocle in his eye and spread a copy of _The Pink
’Un_ before him.

The boys threw inquiring glances at each other. Why should this ducal
looking individual, with his complete self-assurance and patronizing
vastness, have worried himself to try to make them believe that he was
traveling third-class by accident? Was he an escaping criminal or a
lunatic? Had the porters who had shouted warnings at him been disguised
detectives? Was there any chance of his becoming violent when they
entered the Box Hill Tunnel?

They scrutinized him carefully. He was probably nearing forty; he wore
a straw hat, a black flannel suit with a thin white stripe running down
it, patent-leather shoes and canvas spats. Everything about him was of
expensive cut and bore the stamp of fashion. His face was wrinkled like
a bloodhound’s, his hair sleek and tawny, his complexion brick-red with
good living. His nose was slightly Roman, his eyes a sleepy gray;
his attitude towards the world one of fastidious boredom. He was a
large-framed man and would pass for handsome.

Ruddy was not easily awed. Reaching under the seat, he drew out one of
the boxes which Mr. Hughes had entrusted to him.

“What message shall we send? The usual?”

On a narrow strip of paper he wrote, “_We have just completed another
murder_.” As the train slowed down at Red Hill, he leant out of the
window and tossed the pigeon up.

“Never trouble trouble, till trouble troubles you.”

The distinguished looking person had laid aside his paper.

“Excuse me,” he said, and with that he drew off his patent-leather shoes
and rested his feet on the window ledge to air them.

“Tight?” suggested Teddy politely.

“Very,” said the distinguished looking person. “To tell the truth,
they’re not mine. I’m too kind-hearted.”

He picked up his paper and wriggled his toes in his silk socks. It
was difficult to trace the connection between wearing tight shoes and
kind-heartedness.

“A mystingry,” whispered Ruddy.

“Eh! What’s that?” The Roman nose appeared for an instant above _The
Pink ’Un_ and the lazy gray eyes twinkled. “I’m wearing ’em easy out
of affection for a dear friend. No splendor without pain. I take the
pain and leave him the splendor.”

Both boys nodded as though his explanation had made his conduct, which
had at first seemed unusual, entirely conventional. Teddy drew a pencil
from his pocket and commenced to make a surreptitious sketch. If the
imposing stranger were anything that he ought not to be, it might come
in useful.

“What are you doing?” The paper was tossed aside. “Humph! Colossal! If I
may, I’ll keep it I’m a black-and-white artist myself.” He narrowed his
eyes as if to hide their real expression. “You won’t know my name. I’m
what you might call a professional amateur. Could make a fortune at it,
but won’t be bothered with the vulgarity of selling.” And then, with an
airy wave of his hand, flicking the ash off his cigarette: “Of course I
don’t need to.”

“Of course not,” said Teddy, with winning frankness.

“Of course not,” echoed Ruddy, with a sly intonation, winking at the
patent-leather shoes.

The stranger, who had been using the seat as a couch, shifted his
position and glanced at Ruddy. “My dee-ar boy, I meant that. If you have
very affectionate friends and enough of them, you never need to earn
money. It was only when I was young--about as young as you are--that I
was fool enough to labor.” He pronounced it “laybore.”

“Well, I’ve not been fool enough to ’laybore’ yet,” said Ruddy,
with sham indignation, as though defending himself from a shameful
accusation.

“If you do what I do, there’ll be no necessity.” The stranger closed
his eyes. “If you cater to the world’s vanity you can live well and
do nothing. There’s nothing--absolute--” he yawned widely, “--lutely
nothing to prevent you.”

They waited for his eyes to open. If he wasn’t mad, he was the possessor
of a secret--a secret after which all the world was groping: nothing
more nor less than how to fare sumptuously and not to work. But his eyes
remained shut. Ruddy spoke. “I wish you’d tell us how.”

The stranger didn’t answer; he appeared to be sleeping--sleeping,
however, with considerate care not to crumple the beautiful flannel suit
The train raced on. A clear, sea-look was appearing above the Sussex
Downs, like the bright reflection of a mirror flashing. It was
exasperating. They would soon be at Brighton and this man would escape
them with his valuable knowledge.

On the second message they sent back to Mr. Hughes they wrote, “_A
mystingry_.” On the third, “_The mystingry deepens_.”

Brakes began to grind, slowing down the train as they neared their
destination. The man sat up. “Best be putting on my shoes.”

Ruddy seized his last opportunity. “Look here, it ’ud be awfully
decent of you if you’d tell us.”

“Tell you?”

“How to cater to people’s vanities. How to live without doing a stroke
of work. My father’s been trying for years--he’s a promoter. You might
tell us.”

“So your father’s a promoter!” The man was pulling on his spats. “Well,
I’ll give you a hint and let you reason the rest out There are more
women in the world than men, aren’t there? The women are always trying
to win the men’s affection. The way in which they think they can do it
is by being beautiful. There!”

“That’s a long stoop,” said Ruddy; “let me button them for you.”

By the time the spats were buttoned they had come to a halt in the
station.

The man stood up. “Here’s my card. We may meet again.”

He jumped out of the carriage, leaving Ruddy turning his card over. It
bore no address, only a name, _Duke Ninevah_.

“Not _the Duke of_,” whispered Teddy, peering over his shoulder, “so it
can’t be a title.”

“Here, come on,” said Ruddy. “Let’s follow him.”

Further down the platform they saw Duke Ninevah helping a lady from a
first-class carriage. She was slight and extremely stylish; even at that
distance they guessed she must be beautiful. They had begun to follow
when they remembered that they had left the empty pigeon boxes behind.
They dashed back to find them; when they again looked up and down the
platform, Duke Ninevah and his lady had vanished.

“Must be traceable,” said Ruddy. “Here, let’s leave these things at the
parcel-room and clear for action. Now then, let’s use our intellecks.
What does one come to the seaside for? To see the sea. We’ll find him
either in it or beside it Why does one bring a lady to Brighton? To make
love to her, and to make love one needs to be private. We’ve to find a
private place by the sea, and then he’s cornered.”

“And what about the pierrots?”

“Let ’em wait. Humph!”

As they came down on to the promenade the waves heliographed to them. A
warm south wind flapped against their faces. The air was full of voices,
rising and falling and blending: ice-cream men shouting their wares;
cabmen inviting hire; an evangelist, balancing on a chair and screaming
“Redemption! Redemption!”; a comedian, dressed like a sultan and
bawling breathlessly, “I’m the Emperor of Sahara, Tarara, Tarara”; the
under-current chatter of conversation, and the laughing screams of girls
as they stepped down from bathing huts and felt the first chill of the
bubbling surf. Wriggling out like sea-serpents, their tails tethered
to the land, were piers with swarms of insect-looking objects creeping
along their backs. Gayety everywhere, and somewhere the man who knew how
pleasure could be had without working! “By the sea with privacy,” Ruddy
kept murmuring; the more remote their chances grew of finding him,
the more certain they became that Duke Ninevah had a secret worth the
knowing.

They had searched everywhere. It was afternoon and soon they would have
to be returning. “Why not try the piers,” suggested Teddy; “if I wanted
to gaze at the sea and make love to anybody----”

“Good idea. So would I.”

They passed through the turnstile and recommenced their quest On
approaching a shelter, halfway down the pier, their attention was
arrested by a slight and lonely figure. She was crouched in a corner with
her head sunk forward.

“Hulloa! Left his girl. Let’s present his card and talk with her.”

But when they had walked round the glass shield of the shelter, they saw
that she was sleeping. She must be sleeping soundly, for the insistent
yapping of a Pomeranian did not seem to disturb her. Her hands lay
loosely folded in her lap; in one of them a crumpled hankerchief was
clutched. It was plain that she had been crying.

“She’s pretty!” They stole nearer. Then, “Jumping Jehosaphat!”

The tears had washed the color from her cheeks in places; they still
hung sparkling on her painted lashes. With the sagging of her head her
hat had slipped, and with it her wig, so that a scanty lock of white
hair escaped across her forehead. But none of these things had called
for the exclamation; they were apprehended at the same moment by
something far more startling.

The lady’s head had came forward with a jerk; her mouth opened; her
girlish beauty became convulsed, and then crumbled. As though a living
creature were forcing an exit, something white and gleaming shot from
her mouth. A complete set of excellent false teeth were only prevented
from falling into the sea by the excited Pomeranian, who pounced on them
and raced away, as though it were in expectation of precisely this event
that he had been waiting.

In a flash the boys gave chase, leaving the distressed, scarcely
awakened lady gazing after them and clasping imploring hands.

“Here’s a go!” panted Ruddy as they dodged through the crowd. “She’ll
lose ’em for a cert. Why, I could have been in love with her myself if
this hadn’t---- What a rumpage!”

They were nearing the turnstile. Above the turmoil of their pursuit they
heard the comedian on the sands still declaring, “I’m the Emperor of
Sahara, Tarara, Tarara.” Probably he was. In Brighton anything was
possible. To Teddy it seemed a mad romance, a wild topsy-turvy, a staged
burlesque in which Arthurian knights rescued ladies’ teeth instead
of their virtue. Of the two, in Brighton, false teeth were the more
precious.

The day was hot The Pomeranian was fat Perhaps in Pomerania false teeth
are more nutritious. He was beginning to have doubts as to their value,
for he had twice turned his head, wondering whether peace might be
patched up with honor. He was turning for a third time when he blundered
full tilt into a nursemaid’s skirts. He was so startled by the weight of
the child she dropped on him that he abandoned his loot and fled. Of
the two pursuers Teddy was the first to arrive. Snatching up the teeth,
before they could be trampled by the crowd which the child’s screams
were attracting, he wrapped them in his pocket-handkerchief, hiding them
from public view, and strolled back unconcernedly. But what to do next?
How to return them? How to put the lady to least shame?

“Well, they _are_ hers,” Ruddy argued. “She knows that we know she
wears ’em. They’re no good to us; and we shouldn’t have chased the
dog unless we’d thought that she’d like to have ’em. You’re too
delicate-minded.”

Seen from a distance as they approached her, she looked slight as a
schoolgirl. Is was impossible to believe that she was really an old
woman. She came hurrying towards them with one hand held out and
the other pressed against her mouth. Not a word was said as her lost
property was returned. The moment she had it, she walked to the side of
the pier and gazed seawards, while both boys turned their backs. She was
closing her vanity-case when she called to them.

They stared. The powder-puff and mirror had done their work. To the not
too observing eye she was a girl.

“I want to thank you.” She gave them each a small gloved hand. “I’d like
to send you a reward if you’ll give me your address. May I?”

They shook their heads. Ruddy acted spokesman. “No. But let us stay till
Mr. Nineveh comes back.”

“Duke! You know him?”

She had a charming, flute-like note in her voice when she asked a
question.

“We’ve been hunting him all day.”

“Why?”

“He said he knew how to get pleasure without,” Ruddy’s face puckered
with genial impertinence, “without ’laybore’.”

The lady laughed. “I think I could tell you how he does it. You’ll never
guess what the naughty man did to me. He brought me down here for one
dear little day to our two selves and then,” she raised her shoulders
ever so slightly, “he saw a pretty face and left me in the shelter to
wait for him. I’ve waited; I’ve not had any lunch.”

“Had no lunch!” Teddy spoke in the tones of one to whom a missed meal
spelled tragedy.

“You see, he carries my purse,” she explained.

The boys asked each other questions with their eyes, jingled the coins
in their pockets and nodded.

“If you wouldn’t mind coming with us----”

She looked at them, this young girl, who was old enough to be their
grandmother. “You’re very kind.” She smiled mysteriously. “Yes, I’ll let
you treat me.”

They took her to the confectioner’s in a side street where they had had
their midday meal. It was inexpensive. Seated at a marble-topped table,
while trippers came in and out for buns, she looked strangely and
exotically elegant.

She noticed that they weren’t eating. “Aren’t you having anything
yourselves?”

“Not hungry.”

She guessed their shortage of funds. “You’re kinder than I thought First
you prevent me from--well, from becoming seventy and then you take
care of me with the last of your money. I’ve known a good many boys and
men--they were all greedy, especially the men. But there’s something
still more wonderful--something you haven’t done. You didn’t laugh at
me when---- I’m always losing them one way or another. I’m in constant
dread that Duke’ll see me without them. I know you won’t tell.”

“Has your husband got your ticket?” asked Teddy. He was wondering how
they could get her to London.

She looked puzzled. “My husband?” She gave a comic little smile. “My
husband--oh, yes! We can meet him at the station. I know the train by
which he’ll travel.”

Then she commenced to coquette with them till they blushed. “I’m a silly
old woman trying to be young, but you like it all the same.”

They did, for when she bent towards them laughing, fluttering her gay
little hands, they forgot the strand of white hair and the way in which
they had seen her beauty crumble.

“Ah, but when I was a girl, really a girl, not a painted husk, how
you would have loved me! All the men loved me--so many that I can’t
remember. What a life I’ve had! And you--you have all your lives before
you.”

She made them feel that--this unaccountable old woman--made them throb
to the wonder of having all their lives before them. She told them
stories of herself to illustrate what that meant--_risqué_ stories which
failed of being utterly improper by ending abruptly. It was done with
the gravest innocence.

They wandered out on to the promenade. The sun was going down. The waves
were tipped with a flamingo redness. It was as though scarlet birds were
darting so swiftly that they could not see their bodies.

“Let me be old,” she whispered, “what I am, before I see him. It’s such
a rest.”

From frivolity she grew confessional. It seemed as though her false
youth fell away from her and only the tell-tale paint was left “If I’d
been wiser, I’d have had two boys like you for grandsons. But I’ve not
been wise, my dears. I’ve always wanted to be loved; I’ve broken hearts,
and now---- When a woman gets to my age, she’s left to do all the
loving. I’m condemned to be always, always young. I’d like best, if I
could choose, to be just a simple old woman. I’d like to wear a lace cap
and no, corsets, and to sit rocking by a window, watching for you boys
to come and tell me your hopes and troubles. You must have very dear
mothers. I wonder---- If I asked you to visit me--not the me I look now,
but the real me--would you come?”

At the station they were climbing into a third, when Duke Nineveh came
breezily up.

“Ha! How d’you manage that? Made friends with Madame Josephine, have
you?” Then to Madame Josephine, “I say, it’ll hurt business if you’re
seen traveling third. Appearances, appearances, my dear--they’ve got to
be kept up.”

“Oh, Duke, for once I’m not caring.”

She sat herself down between the two boys, like the little old lady she
was, holding a hand of each in her lap. Duke Nineveh waited till her
head was nodding, then drew off his shoes softly. “They’ve hurt most
confoundedly all day.” He turned to Ruddy. “So your father’s a promoter!
Is he any good at it?”

“Good at it! Phew! A regular steam-engine when he gets started.”

“Does he promote everything? I mean, he’s not too particular about what
he handles?”

The description Ruddy gave of his father’s capacities would have
compelled hair to grow on Mr. Ooze’s head, especially that it might
stand up.

“Humph!” Mr. Nineveh rubbed his chin. “Here’s my address. If he cares to
call on me, we might make each other’s fortunes.”

As the train was thundering between the walls of London, Madame
Josephine woke up. Drawing out her vanity-case, she renewed her
complexion. It was so elaborate an undertaking that it was scarcely
completed when they came to a halt in the station. “We’re going to meet
again,” she said.

As they watched her drive away in the brougham that was waiting for
her, accompanied by the man who never had to work, they could scarcely
believe that she was not what she looked at that distance--a girl of
little more than twenty.

“A fine old world!” Ruddy stuck his hands in his trousers pockets.
“One’s always walkin’ round the corner and findin’ something. It’s the
walkin’ round the corner that does it.”

“Seems so,” Teddy assented.

They climbed on a bus and drove back through the evening primroses of
street-lamps to Eden Row. After all, in spite of Mr. Yaffon, Mr. Ooze,
Hal, and all the other disappointed persons, it must be a fine old world
when it allowed boys to be so young.



CHAPTER XXV--LUCK

“Not a word to your mother,” Mr. Sheerug had warned Ruddy after his
first interview with Duke Nineveh. “She wouldn’t understand--not yet.
Um! Um!”

What he had meant was she would have understood too well. Ruddy
communicated this urgent need for secrecy to Teddy. “Can’t make it
out--what he’s up to.”

They watched carefully, feeling that whatever Mr. Sheerug was up to, it
was something in which they also were concerned.

The first thing they noticed was that a proud-boy look was creeping over
him--what Ruddy called an I-ate-the-canary look. For all his fatness he
began to bustle. He began to make fusses if the meals weren’t punctual,
to insist on his boots being properly blacked and to behave himself in
general as though he were head of his household. He spoke vaguely of
meetings in the city--meetings which it was vital that he should attend
“punkchully.”

“If I’m not punkchull,” he said, “everything may go up the spout.” He
didn’t explain what _everything_ was; he was inviting his wife to ask a
question.

She knew it--sensible woman. “Meetings in the city,” she thought to
herself; “meetings in the city, indeed. Pooh! Men are all babies. If he
thinks that he’s going to get me worked up----”

She had shared too many of his ups and downs to allow her excitement to
show itself. She denied to herself that she was excited. These little
flares of good fortune had deceived her faith too many times. So she
treated her Alonzo like a big spoilt child, humoring his whims and
feigning to be discreetly unobserving. She forbade the display
of curiosity on the part of any of her family. “If you go asking
questions,” she said, “you’ll drive him to it.”

She had seen him driven to it before--_it_ was the moment when the dam
of piled-up ambitions burst and they scrambled to save what they could
from the whirlpool of collapsed speculations. The end of _it_ had
usually been a hasty retreat to a less expensive house.

Every day brought some new improvement in his dress. Within a fortnight
he was looking exceedingly plump in a frock-coat and top-hat He hadn’t
been so gorgeous in a dozen years--not since he had kept a carriage in
Kensington. Each morning, shortly after nine, he left Orchid Lodge
and marched down Eden Row, swinging his cane with a Mammon-like air of
prosperity. When he came back in the evening, as frequently as not he
had a flower blazing in his button-hole.

There were times when he strove to revive husbandly gallantries--little
acts of forethought and gestures of tenderness. He had grown too fat
and had been too long out of practice to do it graciously, and Mrs.
Sheerug--she blinked at him with a happiness which tried in vain to
conceal itself. They were Rip Van Winkles waking up to an altered
world--a world in which a husband need no longer fear his wife, and in
which there were more important occupations than talking Cockney to Mr.
Ooze as an escape from dullness.

It took just three months for the suppressed expectations of Orchid
Lodge to reach their climax. It was reached when Alonzo, of his own
accord, without a helping hint or the least sign of necessity, offered
his wife money. It happened one September evening, in the room with the
French windows which opened into the garden. It was impossible for a
natively inquisitive woman to refuse this bait to her curiosity.

“A hund--a hundred pounds! Why, Alonzo!”

Teddy and Ruddy were seated on the steps. At the sound of her gasping
cry, they turned to gaze into the shabby comfort of the room. She stood
tiptoeing against him, clinging to his hand and scanning his face with
her faded eyes. Her gray hair straggled across her wrinkled forehead;
her lips trembled. Her weary, worn-out, kindly appearance made her
strangely pathetic in the presence of his plump self-assertiveness.

“Struck it,” he said gruffly, almost defiantly. “Going to do a splash.
All of us. Um! Um! Those boys helped.”

“Ah!” She shuddered. “Ah, my dear, my splashing days are ended. Even if
it’s true, I’m too old for that.”

“Too old!” For the first time that Ruddy could remember, his father took
the withered face between his hands. “Too old! Not a bit of it! Going to
make a splash, I tell you. Going to be Lord Mayor of London. Going to be
a duke, maybe an earl. Beauty forever. Appeals to women’s vanity. Going
up like a rocket till I bust. Only I shan’t bust Um! Um! Going up this
time never to come down.”

“Never to come down,” she whispered, “_never_.” The words seemed the
sweetest music. She laughed softly to make him think that she did not
take him seriously.

They strolled out into the evening redness and sat beside the boys on
the steps. Sparrows were rustling in the ivy. The drone of London, like
a mill-wheel turning, came to them across the walls. In the garden there
was a sense of rest Mr. Sheerug’s portly glory looked out of place and
disturbing in its old-fashioned quiet He must have felt that, for he
stood up and removed his frock-coat, loosened his waistcoat buttons,
and sat down in his shirt-sleeves. He looked less like Mr. Sheerug, the
conqueror, who had eaten the canary, and more like the pigeon-flying Mr.
Sheerug now.

With unwieldly awkwardness he put his arm about her shoulder and drew
her gray head nearer. “Don’t mind, do you?” His voice was husky. “Can’t
do it, somehow--never could unless I was making money. Oughtn’t to have
married you. Uml Um! Often thought it Dragged you down. Well----”

And then he told them. He began with Duke Nineveh. “He’s a chap who
introduces outsiders to something that he says is society. Tells ’em
where to buy their clothes and all that. Gets tipped for it. Calls
himself a black-and-white artist. Maybe he is--I don’t know: but he’s
a man of ideas. His great idea is Madame Josephine--she’s in love with
him.”

At mention of Madame Josephine Mrs. Sheerug fluttered. “But Alonzo, she
can’t be the same Madame Josephine----”

“The same,” he said.

“The woman who used to dance at----?”

He nodded. “A long time ago.”

“Who caused such a scandal with the Marquis of ----------?” She
whispered behind her hand. “And was the mistress of------------?” Again
she whispered.

“That’s who she is,” he acknowledged. “But don’t you see that all that
helps? It’s an advertisement. She’s the best preserved woman of seventy
in London.”

“She’s a notorious character,” Mrs. Sheerug said firmly. “Alonzo, you’ll
have nothing to do with her.”

His arm slipped from her shoulder. She stood up and reentered the
window. Before she vanished, she came back and patted him kindly. “You
won’t, Alonzo. You know you won’t.”

The mill-wheel of London droned on, turning and always turning. The
sparrows grew silent in the ivy; shadows stole out Soon a light sprang
up in the spare-room. They could hear the harp fingered gently; it
brought memories of the ghost-bird of romance, beating its wings against
the panes, struggling vainly to get out.

“Too righteous,” Mr. Sheerug muttered. “Not a business woman.” And then,
as though stoking up his courage, “Won’t I? I shall.”

He heaved him up from the steps and wandered off in the direction of the
shrubbery to find comfort with his pigeons.

It was Duke Nineveh, with his knowledge of human vanity, who won Mrs.
Sheerug. He spoke to her as an artist to an artist, and asked permission
to see her tapestries. He spent an entire afternoon, peering at them
through his monocle. Next day he returned.

“Colossal! A shame the world shouldn’t know about them! It’s genius--a
lost art recovered. Now, when we’ve built our Beauty Palace, if we could
give an exhibition----”

So Beauty Incorporated was launched without Mrs. Sheerug’s opposition.
Almost over night the slender white turrets of the Beauty Palace floated
up. Madame Josephine began to appear in the West End, looking no more
than twenty as seen through the traffic. She drove in a white coach,
drawn by white horses, with a powdered coachman and lackeys. The street
stopped to watch her. People went to St. James’s to catch a glimpse of
her as she flashed down The Mall. She became one of the sights of London
and was talked about.

Hints concerning her romantic career crept into the press. Old scandals
were remembered, always followed by accounts of her beauty discoveries.
Her discoveries, with her portrait for trade-mark, became a part of
the stock-in-trade of every chemist: Madame Josephine’s Hair Restorer;
Madame Josephine’s Face Cream; Madame Josephine’s Nail Polish. At
breakfast when you glanced through your paper, her face gazed out at
you, saying, “YOU Can Be Always Young.” It was on the hoardings, on
the buses, in your theatre program. It was as impossible to escape as
conscience. From morning till night it followed you, always saying,
“YOU Can Be Always Young.” The world became self-conscious. It took to
examining its complexion. It went to The Beauty Palace out of curiosity,
and stayed to spend money. Madame Josephine became the rage: a theme for
dinner conversations--a Personage.



CHAPTER XXVI--DREAMING OF LOVE

The immediate outcome of this was money--more money than Eden Row had
ever imagined. Mrs. Sheerug refused to leave Orchid Lodge.

“I’ll help you splash,” she told Alonzo, “but I won’t move out of Orchid
Lodge.”

As a compromise, Orchid Lodge was re-decorated in violent colors, and a
carriage and pair waited before it. Mrs. Sheerug used her carriage for
hunting up invalids that she might dose them with medicines of her own
invention. She inclined to the garish in her method of dress, wearing
yellow feathers and green plush, as in the old days when Jimmie Boy had
dashed to the window to make sketches of her for the faery-godmother.
And to him she was a faery-godmother, for she bought his pictures and
insisted on having an exhibition of them at The Beauty Palace.

“Ah, my dear,” she would say, crossing her hands, “God sends us poverty
that we may be kind when our money comes.”

Was she happy? Teddy wondered. Sometimes he fancied that she coveted
the days of careless uncertainty and happy-go-lucky comfort. One of her
chief hobbies had been taken from her: it was no longer possible to get
into debt And her gifts didn’t mean so much, now that her giving could
be endless. It would be absurd for the wife of the great Alonzo Sheerug
to produce black bottles from under her mantle and thrust them at people
with the information that the contents would “build you up.” She had
to send whole cases of wine now, and there wasn’t the same personal
pleasure.

She had saved the spare-room from the imagination of the decorators.
More than once Teddy caught her there, shuffling about in her woolen
slippers and plum-colored dressing-gown. She seemed more natural like
that It was so that he loved her best.

For him the success of Beauty Incorporated brought two results: an
income and a friend. Mr. Sheerug had rewarded his escapade at Brighton
by allotting him shares in the company. The boom increased their value
beyond all expectations; he found himself possessed of over three
hundred pounds per annum. But the more valuable result was the knowledge
of life which he gained from his friendship with Madame Josephine.

To the world in general she was a notorious woman who had sinned
splendidly and with discretion. She seemed to deny the advantages of
virtue. Was she not beautiful? Was she not young? Hadn’t she wealth?
Teddy had come to an age when youth tests the conventions; it was Madame
Josephine who answered his doubts on the subject.

The Madame Josephine he knew was a white-haired old lady who liked him
to treat her as a grandmother. She would talk to him by the hour about
books and dead people, and sometimes about love.

There was an adventure in going to see her, for she only dared to be old
in his presence--to the rest of the world it was her profession to be
young. As Duke Nineveh was always telling her, appearances had to be
kept up.

She had a secret room at the top of her house to which Teddy alone
was admitted. The servants were ignorant of what went on there. They
invented legends.

He had to speak his name distinctly; then a chair would be pushed back,
footsteps would sound, and the key would turn. The moment he was across
the threshold, the lock grated behind him. And there, after all these
mysteries, was an old lady, sweet-featured and wistful-looking--an old
lady who an hour before had been admired for her youth by the London
crowds.

Hanging from the ceiling was a cage with a canary. On the sill were
flower-boxes. From the window, across trees, one could catch a glimpse
of Kensington Gardens and the blown petals of children. It was an old
lady’s room, filled with memories. On the walls were faded photographs
with spidery signatures; on the table a work-basket; beside the table a
rocking chair.

“Here’s where my soul lives,” she said. “The other person, phew!” Her
hands opened expressively. “She’s the husk. Those who live to please,
must please to live, Teddy. It’s a terrible thing to have to go on
shamming when you’re seventy--shamming you’re gay, shamming you’re
flippant, shamming you’re wicked. So few things matter when you’re
seventy. Money doesn’t.”

She caught the question in his eyes. “Ah, my dear, but when all your
life has been lived for adoration, you miss it The poison’s in the
blood. At my age one has to pay a long price even for what looks like
love.”

That was the nearest she ever came to explaining her relations with
Duke Nineveh. She liked to forget him when Teddy was present. It was the
ideality of the boy that appealed to her. She wanted to give wisdom
to his sentiment, to forewarn his courage and to save him from
disappointment It was a strange task for a woman with her record--a
woman who had lived garishly, and was remembered for the careers she
had ruined. Little by little she drew from him the story of Vashti, and
later of Desire.

He looked up at her smiling, trying to treat his confession lightly.
“Curious how people come into your life and make your dreams for you.”

She bent over him, taking his hands gently. “Curious! Not curious.
People are the most real dreams we have.”

“Yes, but----” He hesitated. “Desire’s not as I remember her any longer.
She’s growing up. I wonder what she’s like. If I met her, I might not
recognize her. We might pass in the street, my dream and I. And yet----”

He lifted his face to hers. “You know I still think of her--of the
price. It’s idiotic, because,” his voice fell, “I know nothing about
girls.”

She drew him closer. “D’you know what women need most in this world?
Kindness. Good men, like you’ll be,” she seemed to remember, “they’re
harsh sometimes. They make women frightened. A good man’s always better
than the best woman--that’s a truth that few people own to themselves.
If you do find her or any one else, don’t judge--try to understand.” And
later, “Never try to be fair to a woman, Teddy; when a good man tries to
be fair, he’s unjust.”

From time to time, as they sat together in that locked room, she told
him of herself. She gave him glimpses of passion and the despair of its
ending. “It doesn’t pay. It doesn’t pay,” was the burden of what she
said. One night, it was four years since he had known her, they forgot
to turn on the light. Across the ceiling, like a phantom butterfly, the
flare from the street-lamps fluttered.

“None of those others that I have told you about were love,” she
whispered. “There was a good man in my life once. Whenever you see a
woman like me, you may be sure of that. It’s the good men who make us
women bad; they expect too much--build their dreams too high. There was
a man----” She fell silent “You’re like him. That’s why.”

When he was leaving, she put her arms about him. “When you find her,
don’t try to change her. Women long to be trusted. Be content to love.”

For the time being he tried to satisfy his heart-with work. His passion
to be famous connected itself with his passion to love. He had an
instinct that he must win fame first, and that all the rest would
follow.

Much of what Madame Josephine told him about women he applied to Vashti.
It made him look on all women with new eyes--the eyes of pity for their
frailty. And all these emotions he wove about the figure of Desire.

In the writing of his first book--the book which brought him immediate
success, _Life Till Twenty-one_--was un-cannily conscious of her
presence. He would find himself leaving off in a sentence to sketch her
face for one of those quaint little marginal drawings. It was as though
she had come into the room; by listening intently, he would be able
to hear her breathe. Working late at night, he would glance across
his shoulder, half expecting to find her. He told himself that she was
always standing behind him; why he never saw her was because she dodged
in front when he turned his head. It was the old game that she had
played in the farmhouse garden, when she had hidden in the bushes at the
sound of his coming. He explained these fancies by telling himself that
somewhere, out there in the world, she was remembering, and that her
thoughts, flying across the distance, had touched him.



BOOK II--THE BOOK OF REVELATION



CHAPTER I--THE ISLAND VALLEY

It was a golden summer’s evening. In his little temperamental car
he was chugging through the Quantock Hills. His car was temperamental
chiefly because he had picked it up as a bargain second hand. In his
wanderings of the last month he had established a friendship with it
which was almost human, as a man does with a piece of machinery when he
is lonely.

When the tour had first been planned it had included Ruddy; but at the
last moment Ruddy had joined a pierrot-troupe, leaving Teddy to set off
by himself. That vacant place at his side reproached him; a two-seater
is so obviously meant for two persons. He had told himself faery-tales
about how he might fill it. Sometimes he had invented a companion
for himself--a girl with gray eyes and bronze-black hair. She seemed
especially real to him when night had fallen and the timid shadows of
lovers pressed back into the hedges as his lamps discovered them on the
road ahead.

For the past month his mind had been ablaze with an uplifted sense of
beauty. He had come down from London by lazy stages, halting here a
day and there a day to sketch. Every mile of the way the air had been
summer-freighted; the freedom of it had got into his blood. Everywhere
that he had gone he had encountered new surprises--gray cathedral
cities, sleepy villages, the blue sea of Devon; places and things of
which he had only heard, and others which he hadn’t known existed.
Dreams were materializing and stepping out to meet him. Eden Row, with
its recluse atmosphere, was ceasing to be all his world. His emotions
gathered themselves up into an urgent longing--to be young, to live
intensely, to miss nothing.

To-day he had crossed Exmoor, black with peat and purple with heather,
and was proposing to spend the night at Nether Stowey. He had chosen
Nether Stowey because Coleridge had lived there. He had sent word to
his mother that it was one of the points to which letters could
be forwarded. When he had written his name in the hotel book, the
proprietress looked up. “Oh, so you’re the gentleman!”

“Why? Have you got such stacks of letters for me?”

“No. A telegram.”

He tore it open and read, “_However late, push on to-night to The
Pilgrims? Inn, Glastonbury_.” The signature was “Madame Josephine.”

He looked to see at what time it had been received. It had arrived at
three o’clock; so it had been waiting for him five hours.

“I’m sorry I shan’t need that room,” he said. “How far is it to
Glastonbury?”

“About twenty-three miles. I suppose you’ll stay to dinner, sir? It’s
being served.”

“I’m afraid not.”

Without loss of time, he cranked up his engine, jumped into his car and
started.

“_However late, push on to-night to Glastonbury_.” Why on earth? What
interest could Madame Josephine have in his going to Glastonbury, and
why to-night so especially? He had planned to go there to-morrow--to
make a dream-day of it, full of memories of King Arthur and
reconstructions of chivalrous history and legend. He had intended
reading _The Idyls of the King_ that evening to key himself up to the
proper pitch of enthusiasm. It seemed entirely too modern and not quite
decent, to go racing at the bidding of an unexplained telegram into “The
Island Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow.”

As he hummed along through the green-gold country he gave himself up to
the mood of enchantment. In the transforming light of the fading sunset
it seemed certain that a bend in the road would bring to view champions
of The Round Table riding together.

He smiled and shook his head at himself; he hadn’t grown much older
since those old days at Ware. It was this sight that he and Desire had
expected--the sight of knights in clanking armor and ladies with flowing
raiment, sauntering together in a magic world. It had seemed to them
that the enraptured land which their hearts-imagined, must lie just
a little further beyond the hills and hedges. To find it, it was only
necessary to go on and on.

He recalled how he had read to her those legends as they had lain side
by side, hidden in tall meadow-grasses from Fanner Joseph. He remembered
how they had quarreled when she had said, “I like Sir Launcelot best.”

“But you mustn’t. King Arthur was the good one. If Sir Launcelot hadn’t
done wrong, everything would have been happy always.”

“Yes, but if everything had been happy always, there wouldn’t have been
any story, Teddy. I know why you don’t like my loving Sir Launcelot:
it’s because you’re a King Arthur yourself.”

He laughed. How hurt he had felt at her accusation that he was a proper
person!

And there was another memory: how, after playing at knights and ladies,
she had tried to make him declare that she was beautiful. “Do you think
I’m beautiful, Teddy?” And he, intent on keeping her vanity hungry, “You
have beautiful hands.”

He had always promised himself that some day, if they ever met, one of
the first places they would visit should be Glastonbury. It would add a
last chapter to those chivalrous games which they had played together as
children.

Far away in the orchard valley lights were springing up. Out of the
misty distance came the lowing of cattle. Like a cowled monk, with
peaceful melancholy, the gloaming crept across the meadows.

As he approached the town, it came as something of a shock to notice
that its outskirts bore signs of newness. But as he drove into the
heart of it, medieval buildings loomed up: gray, night-shrouded towers;
stooping houses with leaded windows; the dusky fragrance of ivy, and
narrow lanes which turned off into the darkness abruptly. Somewhere
in the shadows was Chalice Hill, where the cup of the Last Supper lay
buried. Not far distant, within the Abbey walls, the coffin of King
Arthur was said to have been found. His imagination thrilled to the
antiquity of the legend.

With reluctance he swung his mind back to the present. Pulling up
outside The Pilgrims’ Inn, he left his car and entered.

“If you please, has any one been inquiring for me? My name’s Gurney.”

The landlady inspected him through the office-window. She was a
kind-faced, motherly woman; the result of her inspection pleased her.
She laid down her pen.

“Gurney! No. Not that I remember.”

“Puzzling!” He took her into his confidence, handing her the telegram.
“I received that at Nether Stowey. I was going to have stayed there, and
should have come on here to-morrow. But you see what it says, ’However
late, push on to-night to The Pilgrims’ Inn, Glastonbury.’ So--so I
pushed on.” He laughed.

“This Madame Josephine who signs it,” the landlady was turning the
telegram over, “d’you know her?”

“Oh, yes. I know her.”

“I asked because---- Well, ladies do play jokes cm gentlemen. And we’ve
a lot of actor-folk in Glastonbury at present--larky kind of people.
I don’t take much stock in them myself. Shouldn’t think you did by the
look of you.”

“I don’t.”

The landlady put her elbows on the desk and crouched her face in her
hands. “I didn’t think you would. These people, they’ve been here a week
for the Arthurian pageant Some of them stay with me; I’ve seen all I
want of ’em. Too free in their manners, that’s what I say. It don’t
seem right for girls and men to be so friendly. I wasn’t brought up that
way. It puts false notions into girls’ heads, that’s what I say. I
suppose you’ve dined already?”

“I haven’t. I hope it won’t put you to too much trouble.”

She led the way through the low-ceilinged hostel, explaining its history
as she went. How in the middle-ages it had been the guest-house of the
Abbey and the pilgrims had stayed there at the Abbot’s expense. How they
had two haunted rooms upstairs, in one of which Anne Boleyn had slept.
How the walls were tunneled with secret stairways which led down to
subterranean passages. When the meal had been spread she left him,
promising to let him know if there were any inquiries.

Odd! All through dinner he kept thinking about it. To have found out
where to reach him Madame Josephine must have inconvenienced herself.
Probably she’d had to send to Orchid Lodge, and Orchid Lodge had had to
send to his mother. She wouldn’t have done all that unless her reason
had been important.

He went down to the office. “Has any one called yet?”

“Not yet.”

He glanced at the clock; it was ten. Nobody would come now. He walked
out into the High Street to garage his car and to take a stroll before
turning in to bed.

The town lay silent. Here and there a faint light, drifting from a
street-lamp or from behind a curtained window, streaked the darkness. No
people were about. Stars, wheeling high above embattled house-tops, were
the only traffic.

“The Island Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any
snow.” The words sang themselves over as he wandered. What if the
telegram had been a bait to lure him back into the past? What if the
door of forgotten ages had opened to him and closed behind him, as in
William Morris’s romance of _The Hollow Land?_

He played with the fancy, embroidering its extravagance. To-morrow he
would awake in the ancient hostel to find that the landlady had changed
into a fat old abbot. Pilgrims would be passing to and fro below his
window; ladies on palfreys and palmers whose sandaled feet had brought
them home from the Holy Land. What if he should remain a captive to the
past and never find his way into the present?

He drew up sharply. Wailing music came to him, made by instruments that
he had never heard before. It rose into a clamor and sank away sobbing.
He tried to follow it, but it seemed to be everywhere and nowhere all in
the same moment It lost itself in the echoing of overhanging walls. At
last, turning down a passage, he traced it to a barnlike building. As he
got there the doors were flung wide and people came pouring out.

He was amused; he had almost been persuaded that he had stumbled on
the supernatural. Glancing in, he saw the orchestra gathering up their
old-fashioned horns and wind-instruments. The curtain bad been partly
raised; slipping from under it the performers, still in costume, were
climbing down and mingling with the thinning audience. For the moment
the audience seemed the unreal people and the performers the people of
his world.

He went out into the darkness and stood back a little from the passage
that he might retain the medieval illusion as they passed. He made
guesses at their characters. Here came Sir Galahad in silver armor,
joking with Merlin, who carried his beard across his arm to prevent it
from sweeping the ground. King Arthur, with his sword rattling between
his legs, was running to catch up with Sir Launcelot. The girls were
more difficult to identify; in their long robes, with their bare arms
and plaited hair, there was nothing to distinguish them. As he watched,
he saw one with a crown upon her head. The stones in it glinted as she
approached. Queen Guinevere, he thought.

She was supple and slight and tall. She walked unhurriedly, with an
air of pride, as though she had not yet shaken off her part. A man
accompanied her. He was speaking earnestly; she gazed straight before
her, taking little notice of what he said. Her hair was brushed back
from her forehead to reveal the curve of her ears and the gleam of her
shoulders. Her garment was of green and gold, caught in at the waist
with a golden girdle; on her feet were golden sandals, which twinkled.
The white intensity of her face and throat shone in the darkness. There
was an ardency about her that arrested attention.

“It can’t be helped,” she spoke shortly, “so there’s no use talking.
I’ve got to get there, whatever happens.”

Teddy followed her down the street. At the sound of her voice his heart
had quickened. He wished she would turn her head beneath a lamp that he
might see her clearly. Before The Pilgrims’ Inn there was a crowd; when
he came up to it she had vanished.

On entering, he found a scene which might have walked out of the brain
of Chaucer, so utterly were the costumes in keeping with the hostel. He
cast his eyes about, seeking for Queen Guinevere.

As he stood hesitating between pursuing his fancy further or going to
bed, the landlady came out from her office. Catching sight of him, she
elbowed her way towards him.

“News for me?” he asked.

“Not exactly.” She frowned slightly. “I thought you said you didn’t know
any of these actor-folk?”

“I don’t.”

“Well, there’s one of them in there,” pointing back into the office,
“who’s got a telegram. She says you’re the man she’s expecting, though
she wouldn’t know you from Adam. She says she’s sure you’re the man
because you’ve got a car.”

“I don’t think I am. But I’ll go and find out.”

The landlady smiled disapprovingly: “I begin to have my doubts about
you, sir.”

In the office the girl who had played the part of Guinevere was
standing. The moment he caught her eyes he was certain. Excitement ran
through him like a sword.

He felt himself trembling. He wanted to rush forward and claim her. He
wanted to go down on his knees to her. Most of all, he wanted to see her
recognize him. But she stood there smilingly distant and gracious.

“I’m so sorry to trouble you,” she said. “I’m afraid our introduction’s
a trifle unconventional, but I’m in rather a pickle. You see, I want to
go to London to-night. In fact, I must go to London, and there are no
trains till to-morrow. I have a friend who’s---- But there, read my
telegram. It’ll save explan---- to London to-night. In fact, I must go to
London, and there are no trains till to-morrow. I have a friend
who’s---- But there, read my telegram. It’ll save explanations.”

He took it from her hand and read:

“_Dear little D.--Got to sail New York to-morrow. Train leaves Euston
at twelve. Have booked your berth. Ask for a man at Pilgrims’ Inn with
telegram signed Madame Josephine. Madame Josephine says, if you ask him
nicely, he’ll bring you to London in his car. Tell him she suggested.
Awful sorry to rush you. Real reason Horace too pressing. My excuse
engagement with Freelevy. Love and kisses. Fluffy._”

As he reached the end, she came close and took it from him. He could
hear the circlet about her waist jingle; her breath touched him.

“Your hand’s trembling most awfully.” she laughed. “Is it too much of
a shock?” And then, before he could answer: “Madame Josephine keeps The
Beauty Palace. We go there to be glorified. You know Madame Josephine,
don’t you?”

“Yes.” His voice hardly came above a whisper.

“Then, you are the man?”

Was he the man? He wanted to tell her. He had planned this meeting so
often--staged it with such wealth of romance and tenderness. And this
was how it had happened!

“Then, you are the man?”

Perhaps his nod didn’t carry sufficient enthusiasm. She began to explain
and apologize. She made the babies come into her gray eyes, the way she
used to as a child when she wanted anything. “I know it’s a lot to ask
of a stranger, robbing him of his night’s rest and all. But you see I
can’t help it. My friend, Fluffy, is an actress and---- Well, you know
what actresses are--she’s very temperamental Of course that part about
Freelevy may be true. He’s the great American producer. She wouldn’t
tell a downright fib, I’m sure. But the part about Horace is truer; I
expect he’s wanting to marry her and--and the only way she can think
of escaping him and not hurting his feelings---- You understand what I
mean, don’t you? As for me, I have a beautiful mother in America who let
me come abroad with Fluffy; so of course I have to go back with her. You
see, I’m not an actress yet--I’m only an amateur.” She rounded her eyes
and made them very appealing. “If I don’t sail to-morrow, I’ll have to
go back unchaperoned, and that---- Well, it wouldn’t be quite proper for
a young girl. So you will take me to London to-night, won’t you?”

He burst out laughing. If this wasn’t Desire, it was some one
extraordinarily like her--some one who knew how to use the same dear
inconsequent coaxing arguments. Who but Desire would urge the propriety
of a night ride to London with an unknown man to save the impropriety of
an unchaperoned trip across the Atlantic?

She spread her fingers against the comers of her mouth to prevent her
lips from smiling. “Why do you laugh? I rather like you when you laugh.”

He wasn’t going to tell her--at least, not yet. “I thought I’d strike a
bargain with you. If you’ll promise not to change that dress, I’ll take
you.”

“But why this dress?”

He hunched his shoulders. “A whim, perhaps.”

“All right. I’ll go up and pack.”

She walked slowly out of the office, her brows drawn together with
thought. At the door she turned:

“You remind me of some one I once knew. I can’t remember who it was. He
used to screw up his shoulders just like that.”

Before he could make up his mind whether or not to assist her memory,
she was gone.



CHAPTER II--A SUMMER’S NIGHT

He had hurried so as not to keep her waiting. By the time he had
brought his car round to the hotel the clocks were striking eleven. He
throttled down his engine; it didn’t seem worth while shutting it off,
since she might appear at any moment. Its muffled throbbing in the
shadowy street seemed the panting of his heart How impatient he was to
see her! Running up the steps, he peered into the hall.

The landlady approached him with a severe expression. “She sent word
for me to tell you she’d be down directly. These--these are strange
goings-on. Dangerous vagaries, I call them. It’s none of my business--me
not being your mother nor related; but I do hope you know what you’re
doing, young gentleman.”

The young gentleman laughed. “We shan’t come to any harm,” he assured
her.

The company was breaking up. The vaulted hall and passages echoed with
laughter, the jingling of armor and snatches of songs. Knights and
ladies were bidding each other extravagant farewells, enacting the
gallantries which went with their parts. Men dropped to one knee and
pressed their lips to slender hands. Flower faces drooped above them
mockingly--and not so mockingly after all, perhaps; for when the Pied
Piper of Love makes his music, any heart that is hungry may follow.
Those of them who were stopping at the inn caught up their lighted
candles. By twos and threes, with backward glances, casting long shadows
on the wall, they drifted up the wide carved stairs. Others, who had
cheaper quarters, sauntered out into the summer stillness. The porter,
like a relentless guardian of morals, stood with his hand upon the door,
waiting sourly for the last of them to be gone.

Teddy followed them out. As the girls passed beneath the hotel windows,
they dragged on their escorts’ arms, raising their faces and calling
one final good-night to their friends who were getting into bed. Heads
popped out, and stared down between the stars and the pavement. All
kinds of heads. Heads with helmets on. Close-cropped ordinary heads.
Heads which floated in a mist of trailing locks. Some one struck up
a song; there, in the medieval moonlit street, these romance people
danced. Away through the shadows they danced, the booming accompaniment
of the men’s voices growing fainter, fainter, fainter, till at last even
the clear eagerness of the girls’ singing was lost.

When Teddy turned to reenter the inn, the porter had barred the door.
From the steep wall of windows which rose sheer to the stars all the
different kinds of heads had been withdrawn. The only sound was the
throb-throb-throbbing of the engine like the thump-thump-thumping of his
heart.

He sat down on the steps to wait for her. She was a terribly long while
in coming. It was nearly half-past eleven. Thirty minutes ago she had
sent him word that she would be down “directly.”

“Of course,” he told himself, “there’s no need for hurry. It’s about a
hundred and forty miles to London, and we’ve all the night before us.”

He was trying to decide to ring the bell, when the door opened noisily,
and the porter stumbled out, bringing her luggage. As he helped Teddy
strap it on the back of the car, he answered his questions gruffly:
“Doin’! I don’t know wot she’s doin’. Said she’d be down direckly, which
means whenever she chooses. The inkinsideration of these actresses beats
all. Hurry ’er! Me hurry ’er! No, mister, she’s not the hurryin’
sort; she hurries other folk instead. I don’t know wot the world’s
comin’ to, I’m sure. Thank you, sir.” He slipped the half-crown into his
pocket “She’s a ’andsome lady; I will say that for ’er.”

And then she appeared, standing framed in the doorway, with the weak
light from the hall throwing a golden mist about her. Over her head a
hood was drawn, shadowing her features. Her cloak was gathered round
her, so that beneath its folds she was recognizable only by her
slightness. He felt that, however she had disguised herself, there would
have been something in her presence that would have called to him.

“Have I kept you waiting long?” In the old days her apologies had always
taken the interrogative form; now, as then, she hurried on, not risking
an answer: “You see, I had to say ’good-by’ to everybody. It wouldn’t
have been kind to have slipped off and left them. I felt sure you’d
understand. And I did send down messages. You’re not cross?”

Cross! She spoke the word caressingly. Her voice sank into a trembling
laugh, as though she herself was aware of the absurdity of such a
question. Her explanation was totally inadequate, and yet how adorable
in its childlike eagerness to conciliate and to avoid unpleasantness!

“Cross! Why, of course not. I was only anxious--a tiny bit afraid that
you weren’t coming.”

He sounded so friendly that he convinced her. She sighed contentedly.
“Has it seemed _very_ long?”

He looked up from inspecting his lamps. She had come down the steps to
the pavement. The porter had entered the hotel; inside he was shooting
the last bolt into its socket.

He held his breath. In the moon-washed street after all these years he
was alone with her.

“Without you, waiting would always seem long.”

She started. Glanced back across her shoulder. The sounds on the other
side of the door had stopped. There was no retreat. Turning to him with
girlish dignity, she said: “It’s very kind of you to have offered to
help me, but---- I don’t want you to say things like that. We’ll enjoy
ourselves much better if we’re sensible.”

He felt a sudden shame, as though she had accused him of taking
advantage of her defenselessness. All the things he had been on the
point of telling her--he must postpone them. Presently she would
remember; her own heart would tell her.

“It was foolish of me,” he said humbly.

She laughed softly and shook back her head. Her hair lay upon her
shoulders like a schoolgirl’s. “There now, we understand each other.
Why do men always spoil things before they’re started by making stupid
love?”

“Do they?”

“Well, don’t they?” She smiled tolerantly. “Let’s be friends. If we’re
sensible, we can have such a jolly trip to London--such a lark. No more
sentimentals--promise---- Shake hands on it.”

As she held out both her hands, the cloak fell open, revealing her
pageant costume. She noticed that his eyes rested on it. “Yes, I kept my
bargain--even to the sandals.” The glimmer of her feet peeped out for a
second beneath the hem of her skirt. “Now, how about making a start?”

He helped her into the seat which, up to now, had reproached him with
its emptiness. He didn’t have to imagine any longer.

He climbed in beside her. “Are you warm?”

“Very comfy.”

“What time do you want to get there? I can get you there by seven or
eight, doing twenty an hour--that’s to say, if nothing goes wrong.”

“Do me splendidly. I ought to tell you while I remember: I think this is
awfully decent of you.”

“Not decent at all” He hesitated. “It’s not decent because--well,
because I always told myself that I’d do something like this some day.”

“Remember your promise.” She held up a warning finger.

“You didn’t let me finish. What I meant to say was that, ever since I
was a little kid, I’ve played at rescuing princesses.”

She looked up at him searchingly, then bit her lip to keep back her
thoughts. “What a queer game to play!” That was all.

Like a robber bee, seeking honey while the garden of the world slept,
the car sped humming through the silver town. Gray, shuttered houses
faded upon the darkness like a dream that was spent. They were in the
open country now, the white road before them, trees and hedges leaping
to attention like lazy sentinels as the lamps flared on them, and
throwing themselves down to rest again before the droning of the engine
was gone.

“‘The Island Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any
snow.’ Know that?”

She nodded. “It sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it? Like a cold hand laid on
an aching forehead. That’s the way those words have felt to me sometimes
in the glare and bustle of New York. They’ve come to me when I’ve been
walking up Fifth Avenue, and it’s been like a door opening into a green
still orchard, somewhere inside my head.”

“You’re sorry to leave it? Why should we leave it? Let’s turn back.”

He slowed down the car.

“Oh, you foolish! I’ve got to catch my boat to-morrow. And besides----”
 She paused and reflected. “Besides, I’m never so very sorry to leave
anything. I’m an odd girl” (The same old phrase, “D’you think I’m an odd
child, Teddy?”) “I’m never too sorry to say good-by. I want to push on
and on. I’m always looking ahead.”

“To what?”

“Things.” She glanced away into the vagueness of the ghostly meadows.
“The kind of things that people do look forward to.”

He wanted to get her to talk about herself--about her past. He could
make sure, then, and tell her--tell her everything without frightening
her. So he said: “I don’t mean people. I mean girls. What kind of things
do girls look forward to?”

Had she shared his hours of remembering? Had it really been her thoughts
that had touched him in that little room in Eden Row? He stooped his
head nearer to listen. It seemed to him that, above the throbbing of the
engine, he could hear the blood dripping in his heart.

She stared into his eyes with her old suspicion--the veiled stare, half
hostile, which a girl gives a man when she fears that he is going to
kiss her.

“Girls look forward to--what kind of things?” she echoed. “I can’t tell.
The same kind of things that men look forward to, I expect. The surprise
things, and--yes, the excitements, most of all.”

“Like our meeting--it was a surprise thing, wasn’t it?”

“I suppose so.” She slipped back her cloak from her white shoulders.
“Heaps of things are surprise things like that.”

It was as though she had said, “This meeting of ours--it’s of no
importance.” He loved her for the way she was treating him. He knew
now why she had dared to risk herself with a man who, so far as her
knowledge went, was a complete stranger.

They both fell silent. He felt that there was only one thing that he
could talk about, and he didn’t know when or where to start. He wanted
above all things to say nothing only to take her in his arms; to kiss
her lips, her hair, her hands and to kneel to the little sandaled feet
that peeped out from below her queenly robe. He hardly dared to look at
her lest, then and there, he should leave the wheel and do it. All that
his heart asked was to be allowed to touch and reverence her.

As he stared between the rushing eyes of the car, watching the road
ahead, his imagination painted pictures on the darkness. He saw her
lifting her arms about his neck. He saw her lying close against his
breast. He heard her whispering broken phrases--words which said so much
by leaving so much unsaid. But whenever he stole a glance at her, he saw
her gray eyes closed like a statue’s and her white hands folded.

He was wasting time--it would so soon be morning. She was going to
America. She must not go, and yet he was helping her. If he could only
find words to tell her. He had never thought it would be so difficult.
Ah, but then he had imagined a child-Desire, just grown a little taller.
But this Desire was different--so self-possessed and calm, with so many
new interests and unknown friends estranging her from the faery-Desire
of the farmhouse garden.

They passed through Wells, where the cathedral lay like a gigantic
coffin beneath the stars. Having panted up the steep ascent beyond the
town, they commenced the twenty-mile downhill run to Bath.

He heard a stirring beside him. Her eyes were open, quite near to his
and shining with friendliness.

“What’s the matter? We’ve both gone silent.”

“I thought you were tired, so I didn’t disturb you.”

“Tired! Perhaps I was. But I’m all right now. Isn’t it magic with all
the stars, and the mist and the being away from every one? Don’t you
want to smoke? Here, I’ll hold the wheel while you light a cigarette.
Yes, I know how.”

She leant across him to do it, her shoulder resting against his arm. The
wind of their going fluttered her hair against his cheek. For a moment
he was possessed with a mad longing to crush her to him.

“Haven’t you a match?”

She seemed utterly unconscious of her power to charm; yet instinctively
she used it.

“All right?” she asked. “I wonder whether you’d mind----” Her finger
went up to her mouth and her gray eyes coaxed him.

“I shouldn’t mind anything.”

She shook her head emphatically. “No. I won’t do it. People remember
first impressions. You’d think me fast.”

“I shouldn’t I couldn’t ever think that.”

“Are you sure? Well, may I----?” She made a gesture imitative of
withdrawing a cigarette from her lips. “I don’t smoke often--only when I
feel like it. And, oh, I do feel so happy to-night.”

She lit her cigarette from his, steadying herself with her hand on his
shoulder. Then she lay back, staring up at the fleecy sky where the moon
tipped clouds to a silver glory. She began to sing softly between her
puffs:

                   The night has a thousand eyes,

                   And the day but one;

                   Yet the light of a whole world dies

                   With the dying sun.”

She sang the same verse over three times, pausing between each singing
as if she were repeating a question.

“Don’t you know the second verse?” he asked unsteadily.

“Yes, I know it.”

“Won’t you sing it? The whole meaning of life and everything is in the
last two Unes.”

“D’you really want me to? I don’t care for it so much because it’s about
love. I don’t think love ever made anybody happy.”

For a moment he was tempted to argue this heresy. “But sing it,” he
urged.

In a soft sleepy voice she sang:

                   “The mind has a thousand eyes,

                   And the heart but one;

                   Yet the light of a whole world dies

                   When love is done.”

He waited for her to repeat it When she remained silent, he stopped the
car. She turned to him lazily: “Something gone wrong with the engine?”

He was certain she knew what had gone wrong, and was equally certain
that she was wilfully pretending to misunderstand him. Far below in the
valley, like a faeryring, the lights of Bath winked and twinkled. The
silence, after the sound of their going, breathed across the country
like a prolonged sighing. How should he tell her? How did men speak
to the women they loved? He turned aside from his purpose and
procrastinated. “Sing it again,” he pleaded, “the last verse. Now, that
everything’s quiet.”

“No.” She sat up determinedly. “It’s very beautiful; especially that
part about light dying when love is done. But it isn’t true. People
love heaps of times, and each new time they get more sensible. It’s like
climbing a ladder: you see more as you go higher. Besides, that last
verse makes me cry.”

“Love makes people happy.” His voice was low and trembling. “You
shouldn’t pretend to be a cynic. You’re too beautiful.”

“Oh, well, perhaps you are right, but----” She threw away her cigarette.
“Please be nice. You don’t know what things I’ve had done to me to make
me talk like that” She touched him on the arm ever so lightly: “When
we’re traveling, we talk so much better. Hadn’t we better be going?” And
then, when they were again humming down the long hill, with the white
lamps scything the shadows: “This really is fun. It’ll be something to
remember.”

“Something to talk about together,” he said.

She cuddled herself down into the seat. “Not much time for that with
me sailing for America. But you’ve not told me what you think of my
telegram. Wasn’t it a quaint, jumpy message? That’s just like Fluffy
to decide a problem in five minutes that other people would take five
months over. If she finds that anything’s worrying her, she moves away
from it This Horace, he’s Horace Overbridge, the playwright, and he’s
in love with her. Ever since we landed in April they’ve been going about
together, having motor-trips into the country and picnics on the river,
and--oh, so many good times. Of course I’ve been there, too, to take
care of her. But the trouble is he wants to marry her and, if he did,
he’d never let her do what she likes. He can’t understand that it
means just as much to her to be an actress as it does to him to be a
playwright Men aren’t very understanding. Of course, while they’re not
even engaged, he raves about her acting and helps her all he can. But
she knows perfectly well that all that would end with marriage. And then
she doesn’t love him. So you see----”

“But you said she’d let him take her about and give her good times.”

“Why, certainly. If a man chooses to do that it’s his own affair. And
then Fluffy’s very dear and beautiful, and she wouldn’t let many men be
in love with her. You did sound shocked when you said ‘But!’”

“I was thinking that she hadn’t played fair. She must have led him on.
You don’t think that’s fair, do you?”

“Fair!” She pursed her lips. “He enjoyed himself while it lasted, and
it’s his own fault if he’s spoilt it.” She threw back her head and
trilled gayly. “Oh, I can see her stamping her little foot and saying,
’No. No. No, Horace.’ And then, I expect, she jumped straight into
a cab and booked our berths on the very first ship that was sailing.
You--you don’t approve of her?”

“I don’t know her. It wasn’t very thoughtful of her to give you such
short notice.”

“But if I don’t mind--you see, it’s my business.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Then I have no right to mind. But I’m
wondering where you’d have been if I hadn’t turned up.”

“I! Oh, I’d have hired a car, I suppose, and Fluffy’d have had to pay
for it, or Horace, or somebody.--I wish I could remember who it was
shrugged his shoulders the way you do.”

“Perhaps it was----”

He glanced at her and broke off. This didn’t seem the propitious time
to assist her memory. She was frowning. He had displeased her. The
flippancy of Fluffy’s way of loving had cheapened all passion for the
moment.

They were coming into Bath, with its narrow streets and wide spaces, its
fluted columns and Georgian mansions.

“When we get into the country on the other side,” he thought, “I’ll tell
her.”

But on the other side he found that her eyes were shut She lay curled
up, with her child’s face turned towards him and her cheek pillowed
against her hand.

“Desire,” he whispered. “Desire.”

She sighed, but her eyes did not open.

“It’s Teddy. Don’t you remember?”

She did not stir.

Very tenderly, lest he should wake her, he tucked her cloak closer, and
buttoned it across her breast. By degrees he pulled the hood up over
her ears and forehead. He stooped to kiss her, but drew back at the last
moment To kiss her, sleeping, seemed too much like theft; “I love you,
dearest,” he whispered. “I love you.”

She made no answer.

He drove on, dreaming, through the summer night.



CHAPTER III--A SUMMER’S MORNING

Stars were weakening in their shining. He wished she would wake up. It
was still night, but almost imperceptibly a paleness was spreading. The
sky looked mottled. As he passed through an anonymous, shrouded village
a clock was striking. One, two, three! If he kept up this pace, they
would be in London, at the latest, by seven.

He began to calculate his respite. The boat-train left Euston at noon;
if she allowed him to stay with her to the very last moment, he had--how
much? About nine hours more of her company.

But probably she wouldn’t let him stay with her. She’d have packing
to do. This Fluffy person would want to carry her off and gossip about
Horace--what he had said to her and what she had said to him, and how
thoroughly justified she was in her treatment of him. And so--he
widened his mouth bitterly--and so she would blow out of his life like
thistledown. This splendid meeting, which had been the dream of
his boyhood, would be wasted--cold-shouldered into oblivion by.
trivialities.

In his desperation he invented a dozen mad schemes for detaining her. It
was on the cards that his car might break down. Unfortunately it showed
every healthy sign of living beyond its reputation. Well, if it didn’t
do it voluntarily, he might help it--might lose a spark-plug or loosen
something. _He might_, but it wasn’t in him to do it. The moment he met
her truthful gray eyes he’d be sure to shrive his conscience--then she’d
detest him. No, if he was going to be a young Lochinvar, he had far
better play the game boldly--swing off into side-roads and, when she
wakened, explain to her laughingly: “You won’t catch your boat now,
little Desire. I’ve made you lose it on purpose because--because I love
you.”

Humph! And she’d be amiable, wouldn’t she? Some men might be able to
carry that off. He couldn’t. He’d feel a cur; he’d look it. So he drove
on through the darkness, cursing at every new mile-stone because it
brought him nearer to the hour of parting.

He wished to heaven she would wake up. While he fumed and fretted, he
built topply air-castles. Couldn’t he marry her--propose clean off the
bat and get it over? Such things had happened. The idea allured him. He
began to reckon his finances to see whether he could afford it. He had
saved seven hundred pounds from his Beauty Incorporated dividends; every
year there would be three hundred more. Then he had his future. His
work was in demand. Several commissions had been offered him.
No fiction-writer since Du Maurier, so the critics told him, had
illustrated his own stories quite so happily. His next book was going
to make him famous--he was sure of it. Oh, yes, so far as money went, he
was eligible.

From somewhere at the back of his mind a wise voice kept warning: “You
have to live all your life with a woman; marrying’s the least part of
marriage. Go slowly. How d’you know that she isn’t another Fluffy?”

It was just as though Mrs. Sheerug were talking. He argued angrily
against her disillusions. “But she’s not selfish like Vashti; and,
anyway, you weren’t fair to Vashti. You wouldn’t believe that she was
good--you wouldn’t even let Hal believe it. That was why he lost her.”

Then Madame Josephine took a hand: “When you find her, don’t try to
change her. Women long to be trusted. Be content to love.”

He gasped. What a lot Madame Josephine knew about men and women. He was
doing what all men did--and he had promised himself so faithfully to be
the exception. Already he was wanting to change Desire: wanting to make
her give up such friends as Fluffy; wishing she didn’t smoke cigarettes,
though so long as she wasn’t married to him he found it rather
fascinating; feeling shocked that she had trusted a strange man
so carelessly, though, when he happened to be her chance-selected
companion, he had been glad to profit by her carelessness.

And then--he didn’t like to own it--he felt piqued by her lack of
curiosity. She had taken him so quietly for granted. She hadn’t asked
who he was, or why he, of all men, had been sent to her rescue. Any man
would have done, provided he had had a car. It was A Man with A Car
that she had wanted. When the emergency was ended and he had served his
purpose, she would dismiss him with a polite “Thank you,” and put him
out of her memory. Thistledown--that was what she was.

He bent over her. Still sleeping! Her red lips were parted, the glint
of her white teeth showing. One hand was beneath her cheek, the other
against her breast like a crumpled petal. Below her eyes the long lashes
made shadows. How sweet she was, how fragile, how trusting--how like
the child-Desire who had snuggled into his arms in the woodland! With a
sudden revulsion he despised his fault-finding. Chivalry and tenderness
leapt up. He must make it a law with himself to believe the highest of
her, whatever happened or had happened.

He longed to waken her. He imagined how her eyes would tremble on him if
she awoke to find him bent above her hands. But would they? Because he
wasn’t sure, he cursed his inherited reticence.

Out of the east, driving his misty sheep before him, the shepherd of the
dawn came walking. Like a mischievous dog, with his red tongue lolling,
the sun sprang up and scattered the flock through many pastures.

Still she slept.

Outside Reading the engine went wrong. For a moment he hoped---- But,
no, it was nothing serious. In making adjustments he made much more
noise than was necessary. She did not rouse.

Nearly five o’clock! Other people would claim her in two hours. For
the next forty minutes that thought, that other people would claim her,
provided him with exquisite torture. Some of those other people would be
men--how could any man be near her without loving her?

He reached Maidenhead and came to the bridge--came to the river winding
like a silver pathway between nose-gays of gayly painted houseboats.

“Ho-ho!”

Jamming on the brakes in the middle of the bridge, he brought the car
to a halt. Her hand fluttered up to her mouth in a pretty pretense at
checking the yawn. She rubbed her eyes. “Morning! Didn’t I choose a good
place to wake up? Where are we?” She sat upright. “My, but I am cramped.
And, oh, look at my dress! It’ll embarrass you most horribly when we get
to London. The police’ll think you’re eloping with a faery.”

He crouched above the wheel, clutching it tightly, fearing what he might
do with his hands. Her casual cheerfulness stifled his words. It was
like a blow across his lips. What he had intended to say was so serious.
His eyes felt hot. He had a vision of himself as a wild unkempt
being, almost primeval, who struggled and panted. He was filled with
a sickening sense of self-despising and dreaded lest at any moment he
might hear her laughing.

“What a shame!” She stroked his sleeve gently. Her voice was concerned.
“I am a little beast. You’ve been at it all night while I’ve been----”
 She rippled into laughter. “Do tell me whether I snored. Why don’t you
say something? You’ll get me frightened; you look most awfully strange
and funny.” And then, softly: “Poor you! You’re very tired.”

He was like a man turned to stone. She listened for any sound of
footsteps; she might need help. Except for the sunshine, the lapping of
the river and the careless singing of birds, the whole world was empty.

She swept the hair back from her forehead and gazed away from him. She
mustn’t let him know that he’d upset her.

“The river! Isn’t it splendid? And all the little curly mists. Why, this
must be Maidenhead. Yes, there’s the place where we hired the boat when
I came here with Horace and Fluffy. I hate to leave it, but---- We’d
better be getting on to London, hadn’t we?”

He didn’t answer. Slowly she turned and regarded him. Was he sulky, or
ill, or----?

“I’m doing my best to be pleasant.” There was a hint of tears in the
way she said it. “You won’t let me help you--won’t tell me what’s the
matter. I suppose that’s because I look untidy and ugly.”

“Princess!”

Tremblingly he seized her hands. She drew back from him: “Oh, please!
You’re hurting.”

His eyes had touched hers for a second, penetrating their cloudiness. He
let her slip from his grasp. “I’m sorry. I thought--I thought you were
some one else.”

He was on the point of starting when she rose and jumped out

“I’m stiff. Let’s say ’Good-by’ to the dear old Thames. It won’t take
a minute.” And then, over her shoulder, as she leant across the parapet:
“You thought I was some one else. Who knows? Perhaps I am.”

All that he could see of her was her slight figure and the back of her
pretty head. He went and stood near her, within arm-stretch.

Without looking at him she asked a question. “Why do you beat about the
bush? Last night you had something on your mind that you wouldn’t tell.
This morning it’s worse. What makes you so timid? I’m only a girl.”

“Because----”

“Go on.”

“Because it’s something that would offend you if you weren’t----”

She shook her head. “I’m never offended. I’m too understanding.
Perhaps---- Were you fond of this some one?”

“Fond, I?” The river grew blurred “It was years ago. I was a boy and she
was only a little girl. It’s like a story--like some one I read about,
and then went out to try and discover.”

A market-cart rumbled across the bridge, mountain-high with vegetables.
When the sound of its going had died out, she moved closer.

“I knew a boy once who called me ’Princess.’ He used to tell me--it
was a queer, dear thing to tell me--he used to tell me that the babies
came into my eyes when I was happy. But that was only when I’d been
awfully nice to him.” When he stared at her, she nodded. “Really. He
did. I’m not joking.”

How long had she recognized him? Had she been cruel on purpose? Had she
kept him on tenter-hooks for her own diversion? He laughed softly. It
wasn’t quite the rushing together of two souls that imagination had
painted. And yet, there were compensations: the sleeping houses with
their blinds discreetly lowered; the sparkling river; the spray of
plunging clouds; on the bridge, suspended between sky and river,
this pale queenly sprite of a girl. The golden girdle about her waist
jingled. He took no notice the first time and the second; but the third
it seemed a challenge. He reached out his arm.

Tossing back her hair, she slipped from him. “Not allowed. You go too
fast; you were too slow at first. Why on earth didn’t you tell me last
night, instead of---- Think what a splendid time we might have had. And
now we’ve only a few hours.”

He seized her hands and held them, palm to palm. This time she made no
complaint that he hurt. “You’re not going.” He was breathing quickly.
“You’re never going unless----”

Her half-closed eyes mocked him with their old impishness. “But you
mustn’t hold me like that. It isn’t done in the best families--not in
public, anyway--even by the oldest friends.”

She broke from him and stepped into the car. “Let’s be nice to each
other. We haven’t been very nice yet.”

Very nice! He’d sat up all night and tossed his holiday plans to the
winds for her. He grinned to himself as he cranked the engine. This was
the same Desire with a vengeance--the old Desire who had tried to make
people ask pardon when she was the offender.

They were traveling again. His hands were occupied; he could make love
to her with nothing more alarming than words. She felt safe to lower her
defenses.

“You were just a little judging last night.”

“Was I?”

“Just a little. About Fluffy. You don’t even know her We were stupid to
quarrel.”

“It wasn’t as bad as that.”

“It was. You were, oh, so extremely righteous. But I’d have been just
as angry in your defense, or any one else’s whom I liked. I make a loyal
little friend.”

“Would you truly quarrel in my defense?”

She patted his hand where it rested on the wheel “Of course I would. But
last night you hurt me so much that---- I wonder if I dare tell you. You
see, it hurt all the more because we’d only just met. I pretended----”

He finished her sentence: “To be asleep.”

She bit her lip. “Yes.”

“Then you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“What I said when I buttoned your cloak about you?” She made her eyes
innocently wide. “Did you do that? That was kind.”

She was dodging him. He knew it; yet he wondered. Had she heard him
whisper that he loved her? If she had---- He glanced sideways; all he
saw was the gleam of her throat through her blowy hair.

His mind went back across the years. How much he had lost of her--a
child then, a woman now! If they were to bridge the gulf, it would be
wiser to start with memories.

“I found what you’d written on the window--found it next morning, after
you’d left.”

“Did I write anything? It’s so long ago. How wonderful that you should
have remembered!”

“Not wonderful at all. If you’d meant it, you’d remember.”

She had gone too far with her evasions. Snuggling closer, their
shoulders touching, she bent across him till their eyes met.

“I did mean it then. But you shouldn’t expect a girl to own it. I can
prove to you that I meant it. I wrote, ’I love you,’ and then, lower
down, ’I love you.’ I’ve--I’ve often thought about you, and about----
What times we had! D’you remember the bird-catcher and Bones? Poor
Bones! How jealous you were of him, and I expect he’s dead.” She
laughed: “So you needn’t be jealous any longer. And d’you remember how
I would bathe? Shocking, wasn’t it? I thought it would change me from
a girl to a boy. And how I called you King Arthur once, and made you
angry? I think---- No, you won’t like me to say that.”

He urged her.

“I think you’re still a King Arthur or else--you wouldn’t have objected
to Fluffy, and you wouldn’t have made such a mess about recognizing me.”

Stung by the old taunt he grew reckless. “I did tell you. You heard what
I said, but you tricked me by pretending you were sleeping.”

“A Sir Launcelot wouldn’t have, been put off by pretense. He’d have
shaken me by the shoulders. Oh, don’t look hurt. Let’s talk of something
else. What d’you suppose I’ve been doing with myself?”

As they drove through the morning country, between hedges cool with dew
and fragrant with opening flowers, she told him.

“After my father had kidnaped me” (so she knew that Hal was her father!)
“my beautiful mother took me to America. Sometimes we traveled in
Europe, but she was afraid to bring me to England so long as I was
little. This summer’s the first time I’ve been back. She let me come
with Fluffy. I’m going to be an actress--going to start next fall in New
York, I expect, if my mother allows me. Fluffy’s promised to help. She’s
a star. Janice Audrey’s her real name. You must have heard of her. No!
Oh, well, she’s quite famous, even if you haven’t. So you see why it’s
so important for me to sail with her.”

“You’re not going to sail with her.”

“I am.” She caught her breath and gazed at him wonderingly. “How
foolish of you! That’s why we’ve driven all night, and----”

“You’re not going to now.”

She threw herself back in the seat a little contemptuously. “It’s
nonsense to discuss it. I’d like to know what makes you say it.”

“Because----- It’s difficult to tell you. Because I couldn’t bear to
lose you the moment we’ve met. I don’t think--well, of course, you can’t
understand what you’ve been in my life. Don’t laugh, Desire; I’m not
flirting--not exaggerating. I’ve always believed that I’d find you. I’ve
lived for that. I’ve worked, and tried to be famous and worthy so
that--so that you’d like me. I had an idea that somewhere, far out in
the world, you were thinking of me and waiting for me.” He glanced at
her shyly. “Were you?”

She was sitting motionless, staring ahead.

“Were you?”

Tears came into her eyes. “It’s very beautiful--what you’ve told me. It
makes me feel---- Oh, I don’t know--that I wish I were better. You see,
you’ve thought of me as a dream-person, as some one very wonderful. I’m
only a reality--an ordinary girl with a little cleverness, who wants to
be an actress. Yes, I’ve thought about you sometimes. Mother and I have
often talked about you--but not in the way you mean, I expect.”

He thrilled. She had thought about him. She owned it “You couldn’t be
better than you are,” he whispered.

She shook her head. “You haven’t known me long enough. I’m
disappointing.”

He smiled incredulously.

“But I am,” she pouted, with a touch of petulance. “Then I’ll have
to know you long enough. You’ll have to give me the chance to be
disillusioned; that’s only fair. All the while you were sleeping I was
planning a way to keep you from going. At first I hoped the car would
break down. When it didn’t, I was tempted to loosen something so that
we’d get stuck on the road. Not at all a King Arthur trick, that! But
I couldn’t bring myself to do it after you’d trusted me. Then I thought
I’d run off with you--let you wake up in Devon, miles from any railway,
with no time to get back. Somehow, from what I remembered of you,
I didn’t think that that would make you pleasant. Then I had a mad
notion.”

“What was it?”

“You won’t laugh at me?”

“Honest Injun. I promise.”

“I thought I’d propose to you the moment you woke and we’d get married.”

“You thought of that all by your little self!” Her voice rose in a
clear carol of music. “You quaint, funny person.” Catching her humor,
he joined in her laughing. “It seemed tremendously possible while you
slept. I even reckoned up my bank-account. But I’ve a real scheme now.
When we ran away from Fanner Joseph, I was going to take you to my
mother. D’you remember?”

“Well?”

“Let’s pick up our adventure where we dropped it. I’ll take you to her.”

“Dreamer! What about my sailing, and my mother waiting for me, and
Fluffy?”

“Oh, hang Fluffy! She’s always intruding.”

“That’s not kind. Besides, I don’t want Fluffy hanged. If she were, she
couldn’t help me to be an actress.”

“But you’re not going to be an actress. I’d hate to think of you being
stared at by any one who could pay the money. An actress marries the
public, but you---- Look here, I’m serious.”

“You think you are. I never met any one like you. You weave magic cloaks
in your imagination and try to make live people wear them. If the magic
cloaks don’t fit, you’ll be angry. So don’t weave one for me; I warn
you. What’s the time? Then in less than seven hours I sail for America.”

He felt like a kite, straining toward the clouds, which the hand of a
child was dragging down to earth. Her voice uttered prose, but her eyes
smiled poetry. She seemed to be repeating disenchanted phrases which
she had borrowed without comprehending. Every time he looked at her she
inspired him to flights; but she refused to follow him herself. Because
of that he fell silent.

Streets commenced. The smoke of freshly kindled fires boiled and bubbled
against the sky. Frowsy maids knelt whitening doorsteps, as though
saying their prayers. Blinds shot up at second-story windows. The world
was getting dressed. It was the hour when dreams ended.

Desire drew her cloak closer, hiding the green and gold of her romance
attire.

“I didn’t mean to be horrid. Don’t think that I don’t appreciate----”

Whatever it was she said was lost in the clatter of a passing tram.

“You weren’t horrid.” He spoke quietly. “Even if you had been, I
deserved it. I’ve been,” he hesitated and shrugged his shoulders
expressively, “just a little mad. What’s the address? Where am I to
drive you?”

They had entered Regent’s Park. For a moment the spell of the country
returned. In fields, beyond the canal, sheep were grazing.

“Can’t we go more slowly?” She touched his arm gently.

“We can. But, if we do, I’ll have more time to make a fool of myself,
and I’ve done that pretty thoroughly.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But I have and I owe you an apology. You see, all my life you’ve been
an inspiration. I’ve imagined you so intensely that I couldn’t treat you
politely as a stranger--as what you call a ’real’ person.”

Her face trembled. All the mischief had gone out of it. Her hands moved
distressfully as though they wanted to caress him, but didn’t dare. She
crouched her chin against her shoulder and gazed away through the sun
and shadows of the park.

“I don’t want you to be polite to me,” she faltered. “I don’t think you
understand how difficult it is to be a girl. We neither of us know quite
what we want.” She looked at him wistfully. “Disappointed in me already!
Didn’t I warn you? And yet, if you’d take the trouble to know me, you’d
find that I’m not--not so bad and heartless.”

“Little Desire, I never thought you were bad and heartless--never for
one moment.”

The babies came into her eyes and her finger went childishly to her
mouth. “No, you wouldn’t have the right to; but I’m ever so much nicer
than you suspect.”

He slowed down the engine. His face had gone white beneath its tan. They
were both stirred; they seemed to listen to the beating of each other’s
heart “Give me another chance,” he urged unsteadily.

“But how? I must sail.” She gazed at him forlornly. “Here we are. You
were going past it.”

They drew up before a tall, buff-colored house, standing in a terrace.
As though glad to escape from their emotional suspense, she jumped out
the moment they had stopped, ran up the steps and rang the bell. While
she waited for her ring to be answered, she kept her back towards him.
The door was opened by a maid in a white cap and apron.

“Hulloa, Ethel! So you see I’ve got back. How’s Miss Janice? Busy
packing?”

“Still in bed, Miss Desire. I was just going up to help her dress.”

“Out last night with Mr. Horace?”

“Yes. He’s to be here to breakfast He’s going to the station to see you
off.”

“All right. I’ll be in in a moment You needn’t stop.”

She came tripping down the steps to Teddy. He had got out of the car
and had been standing watching her. He had feared that she would glance
across her shoulder and dismiss him with a nod.

She rested her hand upon his arm and looked up at him timidly with an
expression that was more than pity. The leaves of the park fluttered and
the flakes of sunlight fell.

“If I wasn’t going----” The rumble of London shook the heavy summer
stillness, hinting at adventures awaiting their exploring. “If only I
wasn’t going---- I’m beginning to like you most awfully, the way I did
once when---- But I must go. I can’t help it You’ll stay to breakfast,
won’t you? Then we can drive to the station together.”

“I’d like to. But would they like it?”

“Who? Fluffy and Horace? I don’t suppose so.”

“Then breakfast with me somewhere else?”

She played with the temptation, raising his expectations. Then, “No.
I’ve too much to do--packing and all sorts of things. Perhaps you’re
right We’d be awkward with each other before them. We’d better say
’Good-by’ now.”

But she didn’t say it. Her hand still rested on his arm and the
gold-green leaves of the park fluttered.

“I can’t let you go like this,” he whispered hoarsely.

“No. I know it. But what can we do? Poor you! I’m so sorry.”

Her mood changed swiftly. “Oh, how stupid we are! Give me a pencil and
some paper. Now put your foot on the step of the car and make a table
for me.”

As she stooped to his knee to write, her hair fell back, exposing the
whiteness of her neck. The familiarity with which she was filling these
last moments sent all his dreams soaring. The daintiness, the slimness,
the elfin beauty of her quickened his longing. His instinct told him
that she was hoping that he would kiss her; but he guessed that, if he
did, she would repulse him. “You go too fast for me,” she had said.
Once again his imagination wove a magic garment and flung it about her
shoulders. There was no one like her. She was called Desire because she
was desired. If love could compel love, she should come into his life.
He vowed to himself that he would win her.

“There.”

As he took the paper from her, their fingers touched and clung together.
“What’s this? Your New York address? You mean that we can write to each
other?”

Her eyes mocked his trouble with tenderness. “That wasn’t what I meant.”

“Then what?”

“That you’ll know where to find me when you come to America.”

“But I can’t I----”

She broke from him and ran up the steps. As she crossed the threshold
she let her cloak slip from her. He saw again for one fleeting moment
her sandaled feet and her pageant costume.

The door was closing. Before it shut she kissed the tips of her fingers
to him.

“You can if you really care.”



CHAPTER IV--HAUNTED

He eyed the windows furtively, hoping to catch her peering out. He
commenced to tinker with his engine to give himself an excuse for
delaying. Why hadn’t he accepted her breakfast invitation? Without her
he felt utterly desolate.

Perhaps, if he stayed there long enough, she would come to him. The
door would open and he would hear her saying shyly, “Ha! So it did break
down!” Of course the sensible thing to do would be to walk boldly up the
steps and ask for her. But love prefers strategy.

A man came strolling along the terrace. He was in gray flannels, wore a
straw hat and was swinging a cane jauntily. He had a distinct waist-line
and humorous blue eyes. He was the kind of man who keeps a valet.

“Hulloa! Something wrong?”

Teddy unstooped his shoulders. “Nothing much. Nothing that I can’t put
right.”

“Well, I’m going in here.” The man glanced across his shoulder at the
house. “If it’s water you want or anything like that, or if you’d care
to use the phone----”

Teddy flushed scarlet beneath his tan. So this cheerful looking person
was Horace who, cooperating with Fluffy, had set an example that had
cheapened all love’s values?

“I won’t trouble you. Thanks all the same.”

Had he dared, he would have accepted the proffered assistance. But
Desire would guess; they all would guess that he had acted a lie to
gain an entrance. Contempt for the foolishness of his situation made him
hurry. The car made a miraculous recovery--so miraculous that the blue
eyes twinkled with dawning knowledge.

“Come a long way to judge from the dust! From Glastonbury, perhaps?”

Teddy jumped to the seat and seized the wheel. “Yes, from Glastonbury,”
 he said hastily.

As he drove away he muttered, “Played me like a trout! He’s no cause to
laugh when he’s been refused himself.”

From the end of the terrace, he glanced back. The man, with leisurely
self-possession, was entering the house. He felt for him the impotent
envy that Dives in torment felt, when he saw Lazarus lying on Abraham’s
bosom. He tried to jeer himself out of his melancholy. “I’m very young,”
 he kept saying. But when he imagined the party of three at breakfast, he
could have wept.

Now that she had vanished, he remembered only her allurement. Her faults
became attractions: her coldness was modesty; her defense of Fluffy,
loyalty; her unreasonable request that he should come to America, love.
What girl would expect a man to do that unless she loved him?

The reality of his predicament began to grow upon him. This wasn’t a
romance or a dream he had invented; it had happened.

In a shadowed spot, overlooking the canal, he halted the car. He must
think matters out--must get a grip on himself before he went further.
Water-carts were going up and down. Well-groomed men were walking
briskly through the park on their way to business. Boys and girls on
bicycles passed him, going out by way of Hampstead for a day in the
country. The absolute normality of life, its level orderliness, thrust
itself upon him. He looked at the sedate rows of houses, showing up
substantially behind sun-drenched branches. He saw their window-boxes,
their whitened doorsteps, their general appearance of permanency. The
men who lived in those houses wouldn’t say to a girl, “I love you,” in
the first half-dozen hours of acquaintance. But neither would the girls
say to a seven-hour-old lover, “Come to America”; they wouldn’t even
say, “Run down to Southend,” for fear of being thought forward.

How distorted the views seemed to him now that he had held on the
journey up from Glastonbury! They were the result of moonlight and of
the pageant emotions stirred by a medieval world. How preposterously he
had acted!

He tried to put himself in Desire’s place that he might judge her
fairly. Irresponsible friends send her a telegram, saying that a man
is coming to fetch her. Of course she believes that the man is to be
trusted; but the first thing he does is to make love. In spite of that,
she has to go with him; he is her one chance of getting to London. He
at once commences to take advantage of her; she gets frightened and
pretends to go to sleep in order to escape him. In the morning she
discovers that he’s an old friend, but there’s too little time to
replace the bad impression. At the last moment she feels sorry for
him--begins to feel that she really does care for him; so she says the
only thing possible under the circumstances, “Come to America.”

Obviously she wasn’t going to give herself away all at once. In that
she had been wise, for, though he had wanted her to, he knew that if she
had, she would have lowered her value.

But he wished she had shown more curiosity. She’d talked all about
herself and hadn’t asked him a single question. She hadn’t even called
him by his name--not once.

Then the cloud of his depression lifted. The truth came home to him in
a flash: all these complaints and this unhappiness were proofs positive
that at last he was in love. The splendor of the thought thrilled
him--in love. The curtain had gone up. His long period of lonely waiting
was ended. For him the greatest drama that two souls can stage had
begun. Whither it would lead he could not guess. Everything was a blank
except the present, and that was filled with an aching happiness. She
was going from him. Already she was out of sight and sound; in a few
hours he would be cut off from all communication with her. Yet he was
happy in the knowledge that, however uncertain he might be of her, he
belonged to her irrevocably. He longed to give himself to her service in
complete self-surrender. His work, his ambitions, everything he was or
could be, must be a gift for her. But how to make her understand this,
while there was yet time?

He drove out of the park, passing by her house. Of her there was no
sign. He wondered what they were doing in there. Was the man with the
blue eyes taking his place and helping to strap her trunks? Or was
he making love to Fluffy, while Desire looked on wistfully and
wished--wished what he himself was wishing?

“You were a little judging?”

Yes, he had been judging. It had all taken place so differently from
anything that he had conjectured. She herself was so different from the
Desire he had imagined. All these years he had been preparing for her
coming, but to her his coming had been an accident. That had hurt--hurt
his pride, to have to acknowledge that she had almost forgotten the old
kindnesses. And then she had tantalized him---had taken a pleasure in
treating him lightly. Perhaps all girls did that; it might be their way
of defending themselves. Probably she hadn’t meant one half of what she
had said, and had been trying to shock him. He couldn’t bear that she
should think him narrow or censorious. The more he condemned himself,
the more he longed to convince her of his breadth and generosity.

He found a florist’s and ordered a quantity of flowers.

“Shall I enclose your card, sir?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

He was afraid that, if she knew for certain they were from him, she
might not accept them.

“The lady’s leaving Euston on the boat-train for Liverpool, so you must
get them to her at once.”

“You shall see the boy start, sir. Going on a liner, is the lady, sir?”

“Yes, to America.”

“Then, may I make a suggestion?” Desire would have said that the florist
was very understanding; he rubbed his hands and looked out of the window
to avoid any needless causing of embarrassment. “If I might make a
suggestion, sir, I would say it would be very nice to send the lady
seven bouquets--one for every day of the voyage.”

“But can it be done? I mean, will the flowers keep fresh?”

“Oh, yes, sir. It’s quite the regular thing. We pack them in seven boxes
and we mark each box for the day on which it’s to be opened. We send
instructions with them for the lady to give to the purser, to keep
them on ice. Usually we slip five shillings into the envelope with the
instructions. Then the lady finds her bouquet waiting for her on her
plate each morning with her breakfast. The idea is that she’ll think
of the gentleman who sent them.” This florist understood too much. He
treated love as a thing that happened every day, which, of course, it
didn’t. Teddy assumed an off-hand manner. “If it won’t take too long to
make up the bouquets, I’ll have them as well.”

“As well as the cut flowers?”

“Yes.”

He helped to select the rosebuds, orchids and violets that were to lie
against her breast It gave him a comforting sense of nearness to her.
When the man’s back was turned he stooped to catch their fragrance and
brushed his lips against their petals. Perhaps she might do the same,
and her lips would touch the flowers where his had touched. By subtler
words than language they would explain to her his love. When she landed
in that far-away New York, he would be with her, for the flowers would
have kept his memory fresh.

“Certain you won’t send your card, sir? It’s quite etiquette, I assure
you.”

He shook his head irritably. The man took the hint and became absorbed
in his own affairs. The boxes were tied up, the bill settled. Teddy
watched the boy bicycle away on his errand and envied him the privilege
of ringing her door-bell.

Breakfast! He hadn’t had any. He was too excited to feel hungry. He
didn’t want to go home yet; he’d have to explain the abrupt ending of
his holiday. He was trying to make up his mind to go to the station
to see her off. As he drove about, killing time, he came to Trafalgar
Square. That made him think of Cockspur Street and the shipping offices.
He pulled up at Ocean House to find out what boats were sailing on that
day. There were three of them, any one of which might be hers. A mad
whim took him. Of course it was out of the question that he should go to
America. How could he explain such a voyage to his parents? He couldn’t
say, “I met Desire for a handful of hours and I’m in love.” Besides, he
would never let any one suspect that he was in love. He wouldn’t even be
able to mention his night ride from Glastonbury. It would sound improper
to people who weren’t romance-people. He could see the pained look
that would steal into his mother’s eyes if he told her. Nevertheless,
although it was quite impossible, he asked for a list of sailings and
made inquiries as to fares.

Then he drove to Gatti’s for breakfast and a general tidy-up. Something
was the matter with the mirrors this morning. He saw himself with humble
displeasure. Until he had met Desire, he had felt perfectly contented
with his appearance; he had found nothing in it at which to take
offense. But now he began to have a growing sense of injury against the
Almighty. As he sat in the mirrored room, waiting for his meal to be
served, his reflections watched him from half-a-dozen angles. They
seemed to be saying to him, “Poor chap! May as well face up to the fact.
This is how you look; and you expect her to love you.”

He compared himself with her. He thought of her eyes, her lips, her
hair, the grace of her figure, the wonderful smallness of her hands. Her
voice came back to him--the sultry, emotional, coaxing way she had of
using it The arch self-composure of her manner came back--the glances
half-mocking, half-tender which she knew how to dart from under her long
lashes. She was more elf than woman.

All her actions and speech were unconsciously calculated to win
affection. Her beauty was without blemish; the memory of her filled him
with self-ridicule. He regarded himself in the mirrors with sorrowful
despising. His face was too long, his eyes too hollow, his mouth too
sensitive--nothing was right. How could she ever bring herself to love
him? How monstrous it seemed to him now that he should have dared to
criticize her! There was only one way to win her approbation--to make
her admire his talent A thought struck him. Leaving his meal untasted,
he ran out in search of a bookshop.

“A copy of _Life Till Twenty-One_. Yes, by Theodore Gurney. Can you
deliver it?... No, that’s too late. It’s got to be there by eleven. If
you can send a boy now, I’ll give him half-a-crown for his trouble. I’ll
drive him in my car to within a hundred yards of the house. It’s most
important. The people who want it are sailing for America.”

As the shopman wrapped it up, he remarked, “You were in luck to get a
copy. There’s been a run on it. The publishers are out of stock. This is
our last one.”

Once again he came within sight of her house. At a discreet distance he
set his messenger down and saw the book delivered. His heart fluttered
as the door opened; she might--it was just possible--she might come out.
But no, all he had was a fleeting glimpse of the maid in the white cap
and apron.

The moment the deed was done, he was assailed by trepidations. It might
seem egotistical to her, bad taste, vaunting. He could almost hear her
laughing. Oh, well, if she troubled to read it--and surely she would do
that out of curiosity--she would learn exactly how much she had meant
to him. She would see her own face looking out from the pen-and-ink
drawings that dodged up and down the margins.

Within the next hour he sent her three telegrams. The first simply gave
his address in Eden Row. The second said, “Please write to me.” The
third was a bold optimism, “Perhaps coming.” After that he had to stop,
for the time was approaching when she would be leaving for the station.
The signing of the telegrams gave him much difficulty. The first bore
his signature in full, “Theodore Gurney”; the next was less formal,
“Theodore”; the last touched the chord of memory, “Teddy.” His
difficulty had arisen because he couldn’t remember that she had called
him anything.

She lived in his thoughts as a phantom--too little as a creature of
flesh and blood. Within the brief space that had elapsed since he had
touched her, she had become again a faery’s child. The sound of her
laughter was in his ears. He imagined how her finger had gone up to her
mouth and the babies had come into her eyes, each time the bell had rung
and something fresh had been handed in to her. “Very queer and dear of
him,” she had said--something like that.

It was nearly twelve. He was torn between his anxiety to see her and his
shyness at intruding. If he had had only her to face, he would have gone
to Euston; but she’d be surrounded by friends. When it was too late, he
cursed his lack of enterprise.

Perhaps she had sent him an answer to his telegrams. He hurried back
to Eden Row. As he came in sight of the tree-shadowed street, with the
river gleaming along its length and the staid, sleepy houses lining its
pavement, the calm normality of an orderly world again accused him. To
have suggested to Eden Row a trip to America merely to see a girl would
have sounded like an affront to its sanity. As he passed by Orchid
Lodge, the carriage-and-pair was waiting for Mrs. Sheerug to come out.
For fifteen years she had been going through the same curriculum of
self-imposed duties--playing her harp, working at her tapestries,
scattering her philanthropies. How could he say to her, “I’m going to
America,” without stating an adequate reason?

His mother met him in the hall. “Why, Teddy, back! What’s the matter?
You didn’t send us warning.”

“I got tired of roving,” he said. “Has anything come?”

“Come! No. I forwarded your last letters to Glastonbury. I thought you
were to be there this morning.”

“So I was to have been, but--I changed my mind suddenly.”

“You look awfully tired.”

“I am.” He forced a laugh. “I haven’t slept. I drove all night for
the fun of it. I think I’ll go and lie down.” In the room where he had
passed his boyhood dreaming of her, he sat down to wait for her message.
He looked out of the window. How unaltered everything was, and yet how
different! The pigeons fluttered. In the studio at the bottom of the
garden he could make out the figure of his father, standing before his
easel. Across the wall, Mr. Yaffon carried cans of water back and forth
among his flowers. He remembered the great dread he had had that nothing
would ever happen. And now it had happened--money, reputation, and at
last Desire. He ought to be feeling immensely glad; he was in love--the
make-believe passions of childhood on which he had fed his imagination
were ended. The real thing had come. If he could only have one sign from
her that she cared----

He listened. Every time he heard the bell ring he went out on to the
landing and called, “Anything for me? What is it?”

Afternoon lengthened out. He manufactured reasons for her silence. She
had probably intended to telegraph him from Euston, but had been rushed
at the last minute. She would do it from Liverpool before she sailed.
That would mean that he would hear from her by seven. Anyway she had his
flowers and she had his book--so many things to remind her of him. He
pictured her curled up in a corner of the railway-carriage, blind to the
flying country, deaf to what was going on about her, smiling over the
pages of _Life Till Twenty-One_, and recognizing what poetry he had
brought to his loving of her. She wouldn’t be hard on him any longer for
his behavior on the ride from Glastonbury. She would understand why he
hadn’t liked her to speak of love as though it were flirtation. Perhaps
already she was feeling a little proud of him--nearly as proud as he
felt of her.

Seven struck on the clock downstairs. Eight, nine, ten! No message would
come till morning now; but he would not let himself believe that she had
not sent one. Probably she had given it to Horace, and he had slipped
it into his pocket and forgotten. Something like that! Or else, being a
girl and afraid to appear forward, she would write a letter on the ship
and send it ashore by the pilot. A letter would seem to her so much less
important than a telegram.

His mother looked in on her way to bed. “Still up? You’ve been hiding
all evening. What have you been doing? Working?”

She slipped her arm about his neck and laid her face against his cheek.
She was trying to sympathize--trying to draw him out. What did she
suspect? Instinctively he barricaded his privacy. He felt a cruel
shame that his secret should be guessed. Why he should feel ashamed of
love--of love which was so beautiful--he could not tell. “What have you
been doing, Teddy?”

He smiled cheerfully. “Doing! I’ve had an idea. A good one. I’ve been
thinking it out.”

“For your next book?”

“Perhaps.”

When she was gone, he turned out his light. He knew she would be
watching for its glow against the trees. If she did not see it, she
would believe him sleeping and her mind would be at rest. Then he seated
himself by the open window in the darkness.

He thought of Vashti, who had not married Hal. Did Desire know that her
mother had not married? He remembered the horror he had felt when he had
learnt that fact--the chivalrous pity for Desire it had aroused. It
was then that he had planned, when he became a man, to help her in the
paying of the price. And now----

He smiled frowningly. She didn’t seem to need his help. She was the
happiest, most radiant person he had ever met. She had found the
intenser world, for which he had always been searching--the world which
is forever somewhere else. His world--his poor little world, which he
had tried to make so fine that he might offer it to her--his world
seemed dull in comparison.

“Come to America,” she had said, as though the people she knew were
those lucky persons who are at all times free to travel, and never need
to trouble about expense. It hadn’t seemed to enter her head that he
might have obligations or a living to earn. She hadn’t even inquired;
she had just said, “Come to America,” as another might say, “If you care
to call, you’ll find me at home on Fridays.”

He adored her the more, as is the way with lovers, for the magnificent
inconsequence of her request. It was the standard she set for his need
of her--the proof she required. The more he thought, the more certain he
was of that.

Next morning brought neither telegram nor letter. All day he stayed
at home, fearing that, if he went out, something might arrive in his
absence. Her silence drove him to distraction. Could it be that she was
offended? Was she annoyed because he had put her into a book? Had she
expected him to turn up at Euston for a final farewell? He must get some
word to her. There were three ships, any one of which might be carrying
her. He went out that evening and addressed a wireless message to her on
each of them: “Thinking of you. Longing to hear from you. Love.” He felt
very discomforted when the clerk, before accepting them, insisted on
reading them over aloud. Again he hoped vainly that she might guess his
suspense--perhaps gauge his by her own--and return a wireless. Nothing.

The next three weeks were the longest in his memory. He became an expert
on transatlantic sailings. Every day he covered several pages to her.
He filled them with sketches; he put into them all the emotion and
cleverness of which he was capable. He said all the tender and witty
things he had intended to say to her when they met.

He burlesqued his own shyness. He recalled happenings of the old
farmhouse days which even he had all but forgotten. As an artist he knew
that he was outdoing himself. His letters were masterpieces. He laughed
and cried over some of the passages in the same breath. They couldn’t
fail to move her. When three weeks had elapsed he began to look for an
answer. None came. It was as though she mocked him, saying: “Come to
America if you really care.”

He grew hurt. For a month he tried the effect of not writing. Then he
tried to forget her, and did his best to become absorbed in his work.
But the old habits of industry had lost their attraction; every day was
a gray emptiness. His quietness seemed irrecoverable. She haunted him.
Sometimes the wind was in her hair and her face was turned from him.
Sometimes her gray eyes watched him cloudily, and her warm red lips
pouted with tender melancholy. He saw her advancing through the starlit
streets of Glastonbury, walking proudly in her queen’s attire. He
saw her in a thousand ways; every one was sweet, and every one was
torturing.

“This is love,” he told himself; “love which all the inspired people of
the world have painted and described and sung.”

The odd thing was that, much as it made him suffer, he would not have
been without it.

His mother noticed his restlessness and would have coaxed hi$ secret
from him, but his lips were obstinately sealed. He could not bring
himself to confess. He resorted to evasions which he felt to be
unworthy.

Gradually the determination grew up in him to go to America. He sought
for an excuse that would disguise his real purpose. It came to him in a
letter from a New York editor, offering prices, which sounded fabulous
by English standards, for a series of illustrated reminiscences of
childhood similar to those contained in _Life Till Twenty-one_.

He read the letter aloud at the breakfast table. “I’m going,” he said,
“to talk it over.”

“Going where?” his father questioned.

“To America.”

“Oh, nonsense!”

He let the subject drop for the time being; but a few days later he
walked out of Ocean House and whistled his way down Cockspur Street
to Trafalgar Square. He halted in the drowsy August sun and pulled
the ticket from his pocket to examine it. He could scarcely credit the
reckless length to which his infatuation had carried him.

He seemed to see her again, standing on the threshold in her
green-and-gold pageant costume, whispering tauntingly, “Come to America
if you really care.”

She would have to acknowledge now how much she meant to him. He couldn’t
wait to tell her. Crossing the street to Charing Cross Telegraph Office,
he cabled her the date of his arrival, the ship on which he was sailing
and the one word, “Coming.” Then he turned thoughtfully homeward, to
break the news to Eden Row.

Her masterly faculty for silence had conquered.



CHAPTER V--SUSPENSE

Not until the shores of England had faded behind him did he realize
the decisiveness of the step he had taken. Divorced from his familiar
surroundings, in the No-Man’s-Land of shipboard, he had an opportunity
of taking an outsider’s view of his actions. Now that there was no going
back, a fatalistic calm settled down on him. During the past weeks he
had lived in a tempest of speculations, of wild hopes and unreasonable
doubts. He had had to hide his emotions, and yet had dreaded lest they
were suspected. The fear of ridicule had been heavy upon him. He had
walked on tiptoe, always listening for a voice which never answered. Now
at last he regained self-possession.

Lying lazily in his steamer-chair, with the sun-dazzled vacancy of ocean
before him, the bigness of life came acutely home to him. Looking back
over his few years, he saw that the supreme need for great living is
charity--to be content to love, as Madame Josephine would put it. He saw
something else: that life has amazing recuperative powers and that no
single defeat is overwhelming. Disappointment only becomes overwhelming
when it is used for bitterness, as it was used by Hal.

“Life’s an eternal picking one’s self up and going forward,” he told
himself.

And so, if the unthinkable were to befall him, and he were to fail to
make Desire love him---- He couldn’t believe that love could ever fail
to awaken love--not the kind of love he had for her; but, lest that
disaster should happen and that he might prevent it from crushing
him, he tried not to take the purpose of his voyage too seriously. He
pretended to regard it cavalierly as an adventure. He schooled himself
in the knowledge that he might not be wanted. Except for her having
said, “Come to America if you really care,” he had no grounds for
supposing that she would want him. Why should he be anything to her? She
was only something to him because, by reason of her parentage, she
had appealed powerfully to his imagination at the chivalrous period of
adolescence. He had woven his dreams about her memory, clothed it with
affection and brought it with him up to manhood; then, by pure accident,
he had met her. She herself had warned him that he did not love the
actual Desire, but the magic cloak in which he had enfolded her.
Perhaps most men did that--worshiped a fantastic ideal, till they became
sufficiently humble to set out in search of reality.

It didn’t follow that, because the child-Desire had cared for him, the
Desire of twenty was still fond of him. It was that supposition that had
made him so precipitate in his own actions, and so unreasonable in his
expectations of hers. She had cared for him so little that she had been
in England since April and hadn’t troubled to discover him. Well, if he
found that she didn’t care for him now, he would make his business the
excuse for his voyage and return directly it was ended. He wasn’t going
to repeat Hal’s humiliating performance and give himself hopelessly. He
couldn’t, if he would. He knew that ultimately, if a woman didn’t choose
to make herself important, his work would take him from her. That, at
least, was his compensation for being an artist and over-sensitive:
when reality had made him suffer, his dreams would again claim him. So,
having assured himself many times that he was calm, he came to believe
that he was fortified against disillusion and would remain unshaken by
it.

He was living up to her test by coming to America--proving to her beyond
a doubt that he really did care. A few days would be sufficient to let
him know precisely how much that meant to her. At worst, he would have
enriched himself by an experience. And at best--at best, he would have
gained the thing which in all the world was most precious to him.

Thus armed with the cardboard weapons of a sham cynicism, he allowed
himself to wander, like a knight-errant, still deeper into the haunted
forest of his imagination. And there, as is the way with knight-errants,
he grew impatient with his caution. Why should he strive so desperately
to rein in his passion with doubts--this strange and wonderful passion
that was so new to him? Of course she had wanted him. At this very
moment she was thinking of him--ticking off the hours till they should
be together. If she hadn’t written, hadn’t cabled, had ignored him
entirely, it was because---- Perhaps because in the early stages women
show their love by hiding it, just as men show theirs by displaying it
A man’s excitement is to win; a woman’s to be won. Perhaps! He smiled
humorously; he had invented so many motives for her silence. The obvious
motive he had overlooked--that it was her silence that was compelling
him to her.

Probably his ardor had frightened her. Their introduction had been so
unusual that it afforded no basis for correspondence, though he had shut
his eyes to that. If Desire were here, and he were to ask her why she
hadn’t written, she would probably crouch her chin against her shoulder
and tell him, “It isn’t done in the best families.”

It wasn’t. But in New York conditions would be different. Vashti would
be there. Vashti for whom he had saved his marriage-box. Vashti who
could make Mrs. Sheerug believe that she was good only when she sang.
Vashti whose voice was like a beanstalk ladder by which lovers might
escape to the stars. Did she remember _The Garden Enclosed_, and how his
boyish kiss had changed her painted lips from an expression of brooding
to one of kindness? Odd to think of her as Desire’s mother! “My
beautiful mother!” Vashti would be generous; already he was counting on
her alliance. When Desire had her mother’s consent, she would no longer
want to conceal her affection.

His optimism caught fire. It was a wonderful world to which he was
sailing--a world of enchantment.- She might be on the dock to meet him.
Would she look very altered with her hair done like a woman’s? How would
a modern dress suit her? What fun it would be to go wandering through a
strange city at her side!

His thoughts ran madly ahead. Marriage!’ Where would they live? Would
Vashti want them to stay in America? Anyway, they’d go back to Eden Row
for their honeymoon. Hal would be happy at last In time he might meet
Vashti. They might learn to love each other afresh, and then----

He drew up sharply, assuring himself gravely that all these peeps into
the future were highly problematic. The chances were that in two weeks’
time he’d be sailing on the return-journey, doing his best to forget
that he had ever believed himself in love.

The blue trackless days passed quickly, while his mood alternated
between precautionary coldness and passionate anticipation. His thoughts
spread their wings, beating up into the unknown in broad flights of
fancy.

The last morning. He had scarcely slept. The throb of the engines
was slower. Overhead he could hear the creaking of pulleys, and the
commotion of trunks being raised from the hold and piled upon the deck.
He rose with the first flush of dawn to see the wraith of land stealing
nearer. He had the feeling that, in so doing, he was proving his
loyalty. Somewhere, over there to the westward, her eyes were closed and
she was dreaming of him. It was his old idea that their thoughts could
reach out and touch.

His heart was in his throat. He paced up and down in a vain endeavor to
keep it quiet. Gulls, skimming the foam with shrill cries, seemed
her messengers. Through the pearl-colored haze white shipping passed
noiselessly. The sun streamed a welcome.

As they crept up the harbor, he could no longer disguise his excitement.
It nearly choked him. He seemed disembodied; he was a pair of eyes. His
soul ran out before him. He felt sure she would be waiting for him.
He saw nothing of the panting little tugs, which pulled and shoved the
liner to her moorings. He hardly noticed the man-made precipices of New
York, rising like altar-steps to a shrine of turquoise. He was straining
his eyes toward the gaps in the dock-shed, white with clustered
indistinguishable faces. One of them must be hers. It seemed wrong that,
even at this distance, he should not be able to pick her out As they
moved slowly alongside, he kept persuading himself that he had found her
and waved furiously--only to realize that he had been mistaken.

He passed down the gang-plank with eager eyes, asking himself: “How
shall I greet her? What will she expect me to say to her?” On every
side, friends were darting forward, shaking hands, clasping each other
and not caring who witnessed their emotional gladness. At any minute he
might see her pressing through the crowd.

He had been searching for her for half-an-hour. “If your friends have
come to meet you,” an official told him, “they’ll look for you where
your baggage is examined. What’s your name? Gurney. Well, they’ll be
waiting for you under the letter G., if they’re waiting anywhere.”

His luggage had been passed by the inspector. The crowd was thinning.
The only people left were a few flustered passengers who were
having trouble with the customs. His hope was ebbing; after his high
anticipations he was suffering from reaction. Loitering disconsolately
by his trunks, he clutched obstinately at the skirts of his vanishing
optimism. His brain was fertile in producing excuses for why she had not
met him. The news that the ship had docked might not have reached her,
or it might have reached her too late. Perhaps at this very moment she
was hurrying to him, sharing his suspense.

He wouldn’t leave yet. It would seem as though he blamed her, didn’t
trust her, if she should arrive to find him gone.

Two hours had elapsed since he had landed. It wasn’t likely that she
would come now. As he drove to the Brevoort, he tried to explain the
situation to himself so that it might appear in its bravest aspect. She
must know that he had landed to-day; if his cable, telling her of his
coming, had failed to be delivered, he would have been notified. And if,
when she had received it, she hadn’t wanted him, she would have replied.
Therefore, she both wanted him and knew that he had landed. He came to
the conclusion that he had hoped for too much in expecting her to meet
him. Until he had got excited, he hadn’t really expected that. It was
only at the last minute that he had persuaded himself she would be
there. To have had to welcome him in public, knowing the purpose of his
voyage and knowing so little about him, would have been embarrassing.
She was waiting for him to go to her home where their meeting would be
private.

At the Brevoort, the telephone-clerk found the phone-number of her
address. He was trembling as he slipped into the booth. He was going
to hear her voice. What would she say to him--to his daring at having
accepted her challenge; and what would he say to her? He took up the
receiver.

“I’ve come, Desire. Who’s this? Can’t you guess? It’s the person you
used to call Teddy.”

He listened. There was a pause. “Hulloa! Are you there?”

Muffled and metallic the answer came back: “Yes.--But Miss Desire’s not
at home. This is Madame Jodrell’s maid speaking.--No. Madame Jodrell’s
gone out. She won’t be home to lunch. She didn’t say when I was to
expect her.--Has she gone to the dock to meet some one? No. I’m sure she
hasn’t. Will you leave a message?”

He repeated his name and gave her his address.

“I’ll tell whichever of them gets home first,” the distant voice assured
him; then he heard the click of the receiver hung up.

He was bewildered. Things grew more and more discouraging. Desire must
have mistaken the day of his arrival. If not, however pressing her
engagement, she would have left him some word of welcome.

He had a lonely lunch at a table looking out on Fifth Avenue. From
where he sat he caught a glimpse of Washington Square--a glimpse which
suggested both Paris and London. He was inclined to feel angry; the next
moment he was amused at his petulance. A lover was always in haste. He
wouldn’t let himself feel angry. It would be time enough for that if he
found that she’d led him on a wild-goose chase. Then anger would help
him to forget. In the meanwhile he must take Madame Josephine’s advice
and be content to love. “Women long to be trusted.” Perhaps all this
apparent indifference was a part of Desire’s test; she was trying to
discover how far he would trust her. When he thought of her cloudy gray
eyes, he felt certain that any seeming unkindness wasn’t intended. “I’m
far nicer than you suspect,” she had told him.

Then, from anger he became all tenderness. What did a little
postponement matter? It would make their meeting all the finer. He
wouldn’t ask her a single accusing question..That was the kind of
thing Hal would have done, spoiling available happiness by a remembered
grievance. Love, if it was worth anything, was a rivalry between two
people to be generous. The man had to set the example; the girl didn’t
dare.

As he passed out of the hotel, his eye caught a florist’s tucked away
behind the doorway. He ordered some lilies of the valley to be sent to
her. This time he inclosed his card. He smiled. If he took to sending
her presents at the rate he had in London, she’d have no excuse for not
knowing that he had landed.

“She feedeth among the lilies.” Where had he heard that? As he sauntered
up Fifth Avenue in the ripe September sunlight, the scene drew from
out the shadows of his memory: a little boy standing naked in a
stable-studio, while a piratical-looking wild-haired father worked upon
a canvas and chanted, “‘She feedeth among the lilies. She looketh forth
in the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as
an army with banners. If a man give all his substance for love he
cannot...’” He remembered how his father had wagged his head at him:
“No, he cannot, Teddy. Yet many waters cannot quench love.”

“She feedeth among the lilies!” He wished he had sent her a different
kind of flower.

The magic of the streets took his interest--the elation of being in a
new country. He was conscious of a height, a daring, a vigor which were
novel in his experience. Mountains of concrete and steel met his gaze.
What kind of a people was this who raised soaring palaces, bigger than
cathedrals, and used them as offices? To get to the top must be a day’s
journey. The people who inhabited the highest stories must live among
the clouds and come down for week-ends. He watched the eagerness of
the keen alert faces which hurried past him on the pavements--the quick
tripping step of the girls, and the thin racing look of everybody. The
types of the faces were cosmopolitan, but their expression was one: they
all had the high-wrought look of athletes who were rushing to a future
which would not wait for them. He felt himself caught up, daunted, stung
into vitality, and whirled forward by a wave of monstrous endeavor.

That afternoon he visited the editor who was the excuse for his journey.
All the while, as he sat talking to him, he kept thinking: “The flowers
will have arrived by now. She’ll know that I have come.”

He talked prices which should have astounded him; but the only thought
he had was how much this influx of money and reputation would enable him
to do for her. When he had arranged the nature of his contributions, he
was on edge for his interview to end. The moment it was over, he dashed
to the elevator, found the nearest telephone and rang up his hotel.

“This is Mr. Gurney. Has a message been left for me?”

“None.”

Strange. There must be some reason. She would tell him when they met.
Should he call her up? Or go to her house and camp till she came back?
He shook his head. His pride warned him that that wouldn’t be policy.
The next sign must come from her. And then he wondered, was it right
to have either pride or policy when you were in love? It was pride and
policy that had made him waste his chances on that night drive from
Glastonbury.

He went to see his publisher, who was astonished by his youth and
had had no idea that he was in America. He found himself treated as a
personality--a man to be reckoned with. It was exhilarating, flattering;
but all that it meant to him was something to tell Desire to make her
glad. That was all that any success meant now.

It was five o’clock when he returned to his hotel. He went to the desk.

“Any message?”

The clerk glanced down the row of pigeon-holes and drew out a slip of
paper.

“A lady called you up.”

With nervous fingers he took it from him and read:

“Come to dinner seven forty-five. Vashti Jodrell.”

From Desire nothing!



CHAPTER VI--DESIRE’S MOTHER

The address which Desire had given him was on Riverside Drive. Shortly
after seven he left the Brevoort and climbed to the roof of a passing
bus. The polished asphalt of Fifth Avenue gleamed like a waterway. Round
and unwinking, like tethered moons, arc-lights shone in endless
lines. As he passed through Madison Square, he had a glimpse of
carnival--trolleys streaming like comets, and Broadway seething in a
blaze of light. Then, as though velvet curtains had fallen, again the
quiet.

With the secret magic and passivity of night, the city had undergone
a change. It had lost its haste. It went on tiptoe now. Tall buildings
stood silent as tombs, quarried from the granite of the dusk. Streets
had become orientalized. A spirit of poetry was abroad. Over the turrets
of this Babylon of a day the wings of Time brooded, shadowing its modern
glare with the pomp of a sombre and mysterious austerity. It had become
a metropolis of dreamers, as fitting a stage as Florence for any tale
that love might choose to tell.

Vashti! It was a far cry from this September night to the spare-bedroom
at Orchid Lodge, with the red winking eye of the winter’s fire, the
tapestry of Absalom swinging by his hair and the little boy sitting up
in bed, spellbound by the enchantment of a woman’s voice. A far cry to
the marriage-box, to the wistful consultations with Harriet and to that
same ecstasy of love, unfulfillable then, that he was dreaming now!
He wondered how much of his passion for Desire was the outcome of that
ghostly passion for her mother. It was like a faery-story which, with
pauses and diversions, had been telling itself throughout his life.
Vashti had been the enchantress who, by lifting her voice, had created
his hopes and his despairs. Her voice had lured Desire from him in the
darkened silence of the farmhouse. And now, with starry eyes, he was
going to her that she might give him back Desire.

The coolness and rustling of trees! To his left a river black and silent
To his right a rampart of houses, honey-combed with fire. Flitting on
speedy errands, cars darted through the shadows with staring eyes. He
caught glimpses of women, and of men who sat beside them. Men and women
always and everywhere together! Where were they going? What did they
talk about? With them lovers’ ways were an old story, but with him----

The conductor called from the top of the steps and pointed to an
apartment-house. While his name was being telephoned up, he took in his
surroundings. All this was familiar to her. He compared it with Eden
Row, and was filled with hesitations. Everywhere his eye detected
luxury. She might be wealthy. He had never thought of that; he had only
thought of what he could give her. Their ways of life must be utterly
divergent. What had he to offer? And he had come to America to marry
her!

He was told he was expected. The elevator shot up and halted; the boy
directed him to a door in the passage. As he stood waiting, he heard the
sound of a piano played softly. The moment he was admitted, the playing
stopped.

In a luxurious room illumined by a solitary shaded lamp, a woman was
seated with her hands upon the keyboard. The window was open and a
breeze rustled the curtains. Distant across the river in the abyss of
night lights twinkled like stars in an inverted firmament. The air was
filled with a summer fragrance: it drifted from a bowl of lilies of the
valley which had been placed on the piano beneath the lamp.

The woman turned her head slightly; he could just begin to see her
profile. Her voice reached him softly:

“Don’t speak. I was remembering. It pains, and yet it’s good to
remember--sometimes, Teddy.”

Her hands commenced to wander, picking out chords, starting little airs,
leaving them abruptly and starting them afresh.

“I wonder what you look like, and I’m afraid to find out. I’ve always
thought of you as still a little chap, and I don’t want to undeceive
myself. You used to be the faery-tale I told my little girl. ’Tell me
more about Teddy,’ she used to say. And then I’d invent such wonderful
stories. You were our dream-person.--She wouldn’t let you know that for
worlds; you mustn’t let her guess that you know. She’s like that--an odd
girl: she feels far more than she’ll ever express--goes out of her
way to make people misunderstand, to make them think she’s cold and
careless. It’s because---- Can you guess? It’s because she’s afraid
to love too much. Her mother let love have power over her and--she got
hurt. Oh, well!” She shrugged her white shoulders. “No use regretting.
Ah, this brings memories!”

In a half-voice, like a lark beating up into the clouds, she commenced
to hum to the accompaniment; then took up the words. In the dim-lit
room, with the blackness of night peering in at the window and the
lilies breathing out their exotic fragrance, all the wistful past came
trooping back. He forgot New York, forgot his anxiety and loneliness.
Pictures formed and melted under the spell of her singing. He remembered
his childish elation, when she had carried him back to the tapestried
bedroom, making him believe that she preferred him to Hal. He saw again
the tenderness in her face as she had bent over him by the firelight,
listening expectantly for Hal’s footstep in the passage. He felt again
the despair of his first disillusion, when the great day had been spoilt
and she had driven home with him through the lamp-smirched London night,
begging him to believe that she was good--that she was good whatever
happened. After all these years the memory of that childish tragedy
burnt again intensely.

Had love hurt her? A strange complaint to hear from Vashti! Hadn’t she
rather hurt herself? Her fatal sweetness must have proved cruel to many
men.

His mother, Mrs. Sheerug, every one had doubted her. Even Hal doubted
her now--Hal who had promised to follow her through the dark wood that
few women had dared to tread. What had happened to her in the dark wood?
Teddy could only guess; but because she was Desire’s mother, and still
more at this moment because she was singing, he could not help but think
that she was good. At last, after all these years of following, he had
come up with her. Did she need his help? Was she trying to tell him?

She swung round with a rippling laugh which had tears in it. “Have you
forgiven me, Teddy? A sentimental question! Of all the big sins I’ve
done, that’s the one that I’ve most regretted.--Ah, you’ll not say that
you havel Boys don’t forget things like that.”

He was filled with an immense compassion for her. Beneath her forced
gayety he suspected heart-hunger. She looked a proud woman, with just
that touch of distinction and mystery that makes for lurement. Her smile
was a mask, rather than a means of self-expression. She would impress a
stranger as being courteously on the defensive, yet anxiously ready for
the excitement of attack. “A woman of experience!” one would say. “A
proficient man-tamer! She fears nothing.”

Her face was made up; her lips too scarlet. Teddy could see that even in
the half-light. Her figure was finer than in the old days--more rounded
and gracious, but still sinuous in its lines. She possessed to an even
greater extent her dangerous power to fascinate. By a trick of kindness,
which might mean nothing, by a hint of restrained tenderness, she could
quicken the blood and set a man dreaming of goddesses in a riot of
blue seas, and the throb of Pan’s pipes heard distantly in sun-smitten
woodlands. Her eyes spoke of other things to Teddy. They had lost their
old contentment. He recognized in them the questing melancholy that he
had seen in Hal’s.

She was beautiful--in some ways more beautiful: haunting and
unsatisfying: an instrument for romance; a shuttered house from behind
whose windows there was a continual sense of watching.

Her forehead was intensely cold and white, contradicting the eagerness
of the rest of her expression. Her brows were like spread wings,
hovering and poised; her eyes vague as sea-clouds till they smiled,
when they flashed with gleams of blue-gray sunlight. Again he wondered
whether his love for Desire was an outcome of this earlier ghostly
passion. They were more than ordinarily alike, even to their gestures.
The hair of both was the color of ancient bronze, dark in the hollows
and burnished at the edges. The mouth of each gave the key to her
character, becoming any shape that an emotion made it: petulant and
unreasonable; kind and gracious and adoring. But there was this great
difference: Desire’s beauty had youth’s conscious certainty of conquest;
in Vashti’s there was the pathetic appeal to be allowed to conquer. Her
throat was still her glory, throbbing like a bird’s and slender as a
flower. Rising from her low-cut gown, it showed in its full perfection.

She clapped her hands, as Desire would have done, and laughed softly at
the impression she had created. “Nearly old enough to be your mother;
but still vain and pleased because you like me. I dressed especially for
you, my littlest lover. And now--now that I’ve seen you, I’m not sorry
that you’ve grown up.” She stretched out both her hands and drew him
to her. “You’re nice. You’re even nicer. So tall! So brave-looking! And
you’re still a dreamer, Teddy--a little god Love, peering in through the
gate.”

Suddenly she reached up her arms. “There! Why, you’re blushing, you dear
boy. We’re going to be great friends, you and I and Desire.”

He wanted to ask about Desire, but he couldn’t bring himself to frame
the question. He listened intently to catch the rustle of her approach.
He expected every minute to see her through the darkness, across the
threshold. Why didn’t Vashti tell him? Was her kindness a subtle way
of apologizing foe Desire’s absence? He had found hidden meanings in
everything that had been said: “She feels far more than she’ll ever
express--goes out of her way to make people misunderstand.” And then:
“We’re going to be great friends, you and I and Desire.”

Vashti touched his hand gently. “You’ve something on your mind.”

Would she never be frank with him?

“On my mind! No, really. It’s only seeing you and finding myself a man.
Last time,” he laughed into her eyes, “it was you that I thought I was
going to marry.”

“And wouldn’t you now? No, you wouldn’t. I can see that.”

A gong tinkled faintly. She slipped an arm through his. On the
right-hand side of the passage doors led off. He watched for one of them
to open. When they reached the small paneled dining-room at the far end,
his heart sank: only two places had been set.

“Let’s make it our day--the day that I promised you. Now tell me
everything. What brought you over?”

He glanced sharply across the table. Was she poking sly fun at him?
“Brought me over?”

“Yes. That’s not such an unreasonable question. You can’t persuade me
that you came just to see me, Teddy.”

“And yet,” he said, “it was partly that.”

“And the rest?”

“Work. I’m a writer. I’ve had a little success. Don’t you remember how
I always said I was going to be famous? But aren’t you playing with me?
D’you really mean that you didn’t expect me?”

Vashti met his eyes quietly. “My baby-girl told me something. But how
did you discover our address?”

While he answered, he watched her narrowly to catch the flicker of any
tell-tale expression. “When she was in London this summer, she visited
Madame Josephine’s Beauty Parlors. Madame Josephine’s my friend. I’ve
told her a good many things about myself; amongst others---- You spoke
about dream-persons. I’ve had my dream-person for years--ever since I
was at the farmhouse. So there----! She spotted Desire directly.”

Vashti raised her glass: “To our dream-persons; and may they not
disappoint us when they become realities.” There was a pause. He
trembled on the brink of a confession. The maid entered to change the
dishes. When she had gone, he leant towards Vashti. His voice was husky.
“When shall I see her?”

Vashti closed her eyes and caught her breath in a quick laugh. “That
depends--depends on how late you stay. Desire’s out at Long Island,
taking part in some amateur theatricals. She may ’phone me up
presently to say she’s stopping the night If she comes back, she’ll have
to get some man to drive her, She won’t arrive till after twelve.”

He had a curious feeling of impropriety in discussing Desire with her
mother. It was a stupid feeling to have just because, long ago, he had
given Vashti his boyish affection. Yet instinctively he felt that he
might rouse her jealousy if he laid too much stress on his change of
homage. Was that why she was evading him? How much did she know of what
had happened? He began to skirmish for information.

Speaking carelessly, he said, “So she’s not gone on the stage yet?”

Vashti betrayed surprise. “She wants to--but, how did you know?” Then,
finding her own explanation: “Madame Josephine again, I suppose. Desire
talks about her ambitions to every one.”

“You don’t want her to be an actress?”

“She’ll do what she likes. I shan’t thwart her. I’d much rather---- It’s
funny that I should tell you, Teddy. I’d much rather that she should
marry some nice boy, and have heaps of children. I’d like her to have
all the wholesome things that her mother hasn’t had--the really good
things--not the shams. It’s lonely to be forty and to have no one to
protect you. Unfortunately we don’t find that out till we’re forty, and
we can’t hand on our experience. She’s very young.--Tell me about
yourself. How’s that big father with the bushy head?”

While they talked of the past a closer sense of comradeship grew up
between them. He told her about Madame Josephine and Duke Nineveh, and
how the wonderful change in their fortunes had occurred.

“And Mrs. Sheerug,” she asked, “does she still wear green plush and
yellow feathers?”

“She still wears green plush and yellow feathers. But she does a bit of
splashing now--drives about in a carriage-and-pair. I don’t think she
likes it; she wants to please her Alonzo.--It is good to be able to
speak of Eden Row. Why, I don’t feel a bit homesick now.”

“Homesick!” She pushed back her chair and rose languidly. Her hand went
slowly to her heart. “My home’s hidden here; it’s an imagined place,
Teddy. I’ve lived always swinging on a perch. How I envy your being able
to feel homesick!--It’s seeing you that’s done it. I want to be young,
young, young again to-night.”

With the reflected light from the table drifting up across her breast
and her eyes brooding on him through the shadows, she looked both
gorgeous and tragic. He couldn’t think of anything to say; he had
always pictured her as wandering from happiness to happiness. While he
struggled with his silence, a sob escaped her; she hurried from him.

He followed her into the other room, where the shaded lamp shone softly
on the lilies. Ever since he had entered the apartment, he had had the
sense of a thinness of atmosphere, a temporary quality, a consciousness
of something lacking. He knew what it was that he had missed now; these
rooms were tenanted only by women.

She was beside the window, with one knee upon the couch, staring out to
where night yawned above the river and lights twinkled, like stars in an
inverted firmament.

“_Come_.” She slipped her arm about his shoulder. “Wouldn’t you have
loved me once for doing that? Am I terribly older--not quite what you
expected? No, don’t tell me. Don’t lie to me. Life! It goes from us.
When a woman’s lived merely to be beautiful, she’s reached the fag-end
at forty. Seeing you so brave and tall, has brought that home to me.
I’ll have to live whatever life I have left, through the beauty of
Desire now. A little hard for a selfish woman! I trusted to my beauty to
do everything. And I _was_ beautiful when first you knew me.”

“And you’re still beautiful.”

“Dear of you to say so! Still beautiful! In a way, yes. But,” she
laughed scornfully, “with an effort--with such an effort. How I’d
love to see myself the way I was when your father painted me. A garden
enclosed, he called me, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. You see, I
remember. It was my remoteness that attracted then. All the men were at
my feet, even your father. Oh, yes, he was; your mother knew it.
Common men in the street, and little boys like you, and--and poor old
Hal--they’d do anything for me if I raised an eyelash.”

The maid brought in coffee.

“Let’s sit down. No, not so far away--quite near to me, for old times’
sake, my littlest lover. D’you mind if I smoke a cigarette? Mrs.
Sheerug, dear old Mrs. Sheerug, she wouldn’t approve of it. I always
loved her and wanted her to think well of me. She’d never believe that.
You’re a bit shocked yourself. I don’t often do it before my baby-girl.
But tell me,” she sank her voice, “what about Hal?”

He tried to think of things to tell her. What was there to tell? Good
fortune had worked no change in Hal. Money hadn’t made him happier. He
was a man thrust forward by the years, but always with his face turned
back.

“Ah,” she whispered, “I know. Don’t go any further. He would be like
that. He lives remembering.” Her grip on Teddy’s hands tightened. “Learn
a lesson. Don’t be kind to women, Teddy. You’ll get no thanks. A woman’s
mean-hearted. If a man’s too good to her, she doesn’t try to be nobly
good in return; she takes advantage. She plays pranks with him--wants to
see how much he’ll forgive her; if he’s still magnanimous, she despises
him. It takes a good woman to appreciate a good man; few women are both
good and beautiful. It wasn’t till Mary Magdalene had lost her looks
that she broke the alabaster box of ointment. What I mean is that
beautiful women are cruel; God gives them too much power. Oh, yes, it’s
true. Desire’s like that--sweetly ungrateful. I can see myself in her. A
man’ll have to be a brute to make her love him.--Ah, you almost hate me!
I wish she could make you hate her so that you’d go home to Eden Row,
and--oh, do big work and marry another Dearie. I’m fond of you, Teddy.”
 She let go his hands. “When we’re forty, we beautiful women learn to be
gentle, and--and you thank us, don’t you?”

She got up and buried her face in the lilies. “Sent them to her, eh?
Hoped you’d find her wearing them.”

She seated herself at the piano, looking back across her shoulder
and playing while she spoke, as though her hands were a separate
personality.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. There was a garden enclosed--the gates all
locked, and Love gazed in at it! But there came a time when Love grew
tired. While he had waited, the garden had taken no notice. But when he
had gone, all the lilies, and sunflowers, and roses rushed to the gates
and clamored to follow him. But the locks had grown rusty. The garden
which had enclosed itself against Love, found itself shut out from Love.
Tra-la-la! Yea, verily.”

Her hands lay idle in her lap for a moment. “You mustn’t mind me. It’s
a luxury to indulge in self-pity. I shall be so gay to-morrow you
won’t know me. But just at present I’m wishing,” she mocked her own
melancholy, slanting her eyes at him, “rather wishing I were Mrs. Hal
Sheerug--wishing I were any good domestic woman instead of Vashti, the
singer. And if I were Mrs. Hal, I’d be as much of a curiosity as Eden
Row set down on Broadway.”

Again she took up her playing. “And yet--and yet life would be tedious
without love. We’re so afraid that love will never come to us, aren’t
we, Teddy? Afraid that our latest chance will be our last. You see, I’m
like that, too; I know all about it. You’re asleep. Perhaps we’re both
asleep--both dreaming of something more splendid than reality. Don’t
let’s wake up--we’ll be unhappy. Let’s go on dreaming together.”

She ceased speaking, but her hands wandered from melody to melody. She
played very softly. From far below in the darkness the hum of speeding
cars was like the drowsy trumpeting of gnats in an English garden.
Through half-closed eyes he watched her, trying to make himself believe
she was Desire.

Why had she so deliberately filled his mind with doubts? And Desire--why
had she gone away without mentioning him on the very day that he had
landed? Was it carelessness, or a young girl’s way of impressing him
with her value? “She feels far more than she’ll ever express.” It might
be that--a paradoxical way of showing affection.

Vashti gazed towards him and nodded, as much as to say, “I know what
thoughts are passing.” She struck three chords.

What happened next was like arms spread under him, carrying him away and
away from every trouble. “Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him.”
 Her voice sprang up like a strong white bird; at every beat of its
wings the accompaniment fluttered like the weak wings of small birds
following. “Oh; rest in the Lord”--the white bird rose higher with a
braver confidence and the little birds took courage, plunging deeper
into the grave and gentle stillness. “Oh, rest in the Lord”--it was like
a sigh of contentment traveling back from prepared places. The room grew
silent.

She was kneeling beside him--kneeling the way his mother would have
knelt, with her arms about him and her face almost touching.

“I’m really religious, Teddy. Won’t you trust me? Don’t you think that
there must be some good in me when I can sing like that?” It was like a
little child pleading with him. “I’ve tried to turn you back. Desire’s
too young and I don’t think---- But you won’t be turned back; so let me
help you. I don’t know much of what’s happened between you, but----”

In the hall a key grated. The sound of the door opening. A gust of
laughter--a man’s and a girl’s.

“Shish! It’s tee-rrifically late.--My goodness, Tom, but you were
reckless! I thought every moment we’d upset.”

“Some driving, wasn’t it? You oughtn’t to complain. You liked it.”

“Liked it! I should say so. But Twinkles didn’t like it Poor Twinkles
was mos’ awf’lly scared. Wasn’t ’oo, Twinkles?--Wonder if mother’s in
bed.”

“Coming. I have a visitor.”

After Vashti had left him, their voices sank to a whisper.

So she’d been out with another man! While he had been waiting, almost
counting the seconds, she’d been out with another man! They’d been
driving through the darkness together. Perhaps they’d been making love.
No wonder she hadn’t answered his letters or cables. “Come to America
if you really care.” She had said it lightly and forgotten. It had meant
nothing to her. And here he’d been finding delicate excuses to explain
what was no more than indifference.

A Pekinese lap-dog waddled in; catching sight of him, it sniffed
contemptuously. It was followed by a boy who had the perky air of
an impudent fox-terrier. He stared at Teddy with an amused gleam of
challenge.

“Here, all this evening! Oh, what a shame and me out!” It was Desire’s
piping voice. “Get out of the way, Tom, you’re blocking up everything.”

He saw her--her piquant face alight with welcome. She tripped across the
room, extending both her hands. Her eyes begged him to keep their secret
“It is good of you to visit us so promptly,” she said. “Fancy your
remembering! I didn’t think we’d see you till to-morrow at earliest.”

She waited for him to help her. Then: “Mother says you’re over on
business. Are you going to be here long?” His sense of injury died down.
He saw only the small penitent face, with its gray eyes and quivering
childish mouth.

“That depends.”

“Well, we’ll see heaps of you, won’t we?”

He couldn’t endure this pretending. He pushed aside her question. “What
are you doing to-morrow?” he asked abruptly.

“To-morrow! To-morrow!”

She gazed vaguely round. Her mother came to her rescue. “My baby-girl
never knows what she’s doing tomorrow. She never plans ahead. Better
call her up, Teddy.”

“Not too early,” Desire smiled poutingly. “I’m awfully tired. And
Twinkles is tired. Isn’t ’oo, Twinkles darling?” She stooped down and
touched the dog’s nose with the tip of her finger. “We shan’t get up
till----”

“Call up at eleven,” said Vashti. “Before you go, I may as well
introduce you two men. If I don’t, you’ll glower at each other all the
way down in the elevator.”

He was passing out; Desire touched him on the arm possessingly.
“I couldn’t help it,” she whispered. “We’ll have all to-morrow to
ourselves. You’re not angry?” Angry! As though he’d come all the way to
America to be angry.

“Couldn’t ever be angry with you,” he whispered back.



CHAPTER VII--LOVING DESIRE

During the past two hours since he had breakfasted, he had watched the
telephone as though it were a live thing--as though it were her lips
which might speak to him at any moment He felt that she was there in the
room with him, obstinately keeping silent.

She had told him not to disturb her till eleven, but he had persuaded
himself that he would hear from her long before that--at nine, perhaps;
at ten, at latest. She had tried to appear offhand in arranging the
appointment because another man had been present He pretended to think
it rather decent of her to have let the chap down so lightly.

During every minute of the last two hours, he had been expecting to hear
the shrill tinkle of her summons. As he bent above his writing his heart
was in his throat He kept glancing up, telling himself that his sixth
sense had warned him that her voice was already asking its way across
the wires. Though previous premonitions had proved unwarranted, he was
confident that his latest was truly psychic.

Surely a girl who knew that she was loved wouldn’t sleep away the
freshness of a blue September morning! Curiosity, if nothing better,
would rouse her. It didn’t often happen that a man came three thousand
miles to do his courting. She’d kept him waiting so long. If she felt
one-tenth part of his impatience----

He finished his letter to his mother. It was all about his voyage and
the interviews of yesterday. He ought to tell her more--but how, without
telling her too much?

He scrawled a postscript, “By the way, yesterday I met Vashti”; then
sealed the envelope. By the time an inquiry could be returned, he would
know everything. He would know for certain whether Desire loved him. He
pulled out his watch. A few minutes past ten! To keep his nerves quiet
he made a pretense at working. He would outline the first of his series
of articles.

But his thoughts wandered. There was no room in his mind for anything
save her. She possessed him. The birdlike inflexions of her voice piped
in his memory; he could hear her laughter, the murmur of her footsteps,
the rustle of her dress. The subtle fragrance of her presence was all
about him. In the silence of his brain she pleaded with him, taunted
him, explained her omissions of consideration. “You don’t know what
things have done to me--don’t know what things have done to me.”

It was useless; he gave up his attempt. All he had accomplished was to
fill a page with sketches of her face. Here she was as he had seen her
last night, fashionably attired, with her hair like a crown of bronze
upon her forehead. And here as the Guinevere of that bewildering drive,
mystic as the dawn in a web of shadows. And here as the coaxing, elusive
sprite, who had scribbled her heart upon the dusty panes of childhood.

Would he ever be able to work again, ever be able to pursue any ambition
or any dream in which she did not share?

He rose restlessly and fumbled for his watch. A minute to eleven! He
stepped across to the telephone. While the boy at the switchboard was
getting his number, he tapped with his foot, consumed with impatience.

“Madame Jodrell’s apartment?--I want to speak to Miss Desire.--Oh, no,
I’m sure she’s not sleeping. You’re mistaken.” He laughed nervously.
“This is Mr. Gurney. She asked me to ring her up at eleven.”

Silence. A long wait. “She’ll speak to you, sir.” The clicking of a
new connection. He heard the receiver taken down at the other end and a
curious sound which, after puzzling over, he decided must be the running
of bathwater.

“Are you there?”

He listened.

“Is that you, Desire?”

No answer.

Then she gave herself away. Across the wire came to him a stifled yawn,
followed by a bubbling little laugh.

“Yes, it’s Desire. What a lot of time you’re wasting. A whole
minute! Time enough to decide the destiny of nations. And weren’t you
punctual!--Can you come at once! Certainly not. Can’t you guess where I
am? I shan’t be ready till twelve.--Oh, well, if you don’t mind waiting,
I’ll expect you.”

He had intended to say more, but she rang off.

Streets were gilded with sunlight The sky was a smooth shell-like blue,
without a cloud. It seemed much more distant than any sky he had seen in
London. Over London the sky broods companionably; from London streets,
even at their merriest the hint of melancholy is never absent But here,
in New York, he was conscious of an invigorating reckless valor, a
magnificent and lonely daring. It was every man for himself. There was
no friendship between the city and the heavens; as ladders of stone were
set up higher against the blue, the heavens receded in challenge.

There was a tang of autumn in the air. Leaves on trees began to have
a brittle look. Everything shone: trolley-lines, windows, the slender
height of sky-scrapers. It was a wide day--just the day for adventures.

As he passed further uptown, he noticed that people walked more
leisurely; men’s faces grew rarer. He had a glimpse of the Park, a
green valley of coolness between the quarried, sun-dazzled crags of
the metropolis. Presently he turned off to the left, down one of
those tunnels hewn between apartment-houses and sacred to the morning
promenades of yapping dogs--proud little useless dogs like Twinkles,
led on leashes by lately-risen mistresses. Then, in a flash, he saw the
Hudson, going from one great quietness to another, sweeping down to the
ocean full-bosomed and maternal from its sanctuary in the hills.

The elevator-boy seemed to have been warned of his coming; when he gave
his name, he was taken up without suspicious preliminaries.

“Miss Desire hasn’t finished dressing yet,” the maid told, him. “If
you’ll wait in here, she’ll be with you presently.”

He was shown into the room in which Vashti had played to him. He hadn’t
taken much notice of it on his previous visit Now, as he tiptoed about
he saw that it was expressive of its occupants’ personalities. It had
a gay, delicate, insubstantial air. It didn’t look lived in. Everything
could be packed up within an hour. It wasn’t a home; it was what Vashti
had called a “perch.”

The furniture was slight and dainty, as though there for appearance
rather than for use. The sofa by the window seemed the only piece meant
to be sat on. On the table a dwarf Japanese garden was growing. Beside
it lay a copy of _Wisdom and Destiny_, opened and turned face down.
The books within sight were few, for the most part plays and the latest
fiction. They were strewn about with a calculated carelessness. On the
walls was a water-color of the Grand Canal and another of the Bay of
Naples. The rest of the pictures were elaborate photos of actresses,
with spidery signatures scrawled across them. One face predominated:
the face of a beautiful woman, with a vague smile upon her childish,
self-indulgent mouth and a soft mass of hair swathed about her head. She
was taken in a variety of poses, but always with the same vague
smile and always with her face stooping, as though she were trying to
hypnotize the onlooker. One might have supposed that this was the den
of a man who was in love with her. Scratched hurriedly in the corner of
each of her portraits, prefaced by some extravagant sentiment, was the
name “Fluffy.”

On the piano stood the photo of the only man in the collection, signed
“To my dearest Girl.”

Teddy paused before it. He recognized the man who had brought Desire
home last night--the man who had kept her from him. “To my
dearest Girl.” He read and re-read it. Was that the secret of her
indifference--that she was in love already? But wouldn’t Vashti have
warned him? He stared his defiance. The more inaccessible she became to
him, the more he felt the need of her. Something of the valor and bright
hardness of the day had entered into his soul. He was like those tall
buildings, climbing more recklessly into the blue every time the sky
receded from them. He didn’t care who claimed her. He was glad that he
would have to fight. She was his by the divine right of the dreamer,
and had been his for years. At whatever sacrifice he would win her.
Inconsistently, the more difficult she became to him, the more certain
he grew of success.

“Hulloa, King Arthur! Getting impatient? I’ll soon be> with you.”

He stepped to the door and looked out into the passage. “Impatient! Of
course I’m impatient. Where are you?”

Her laugh floated back. “Where you’re not allowed to come. You can’t
complain; I told you I wouldn’t be dressed till twelve.”

“It’s nearer one by now.”

“Is it? But you’ve nothing to do. If you hunt about, you’ll find some
cigarettes. Make yourself happy.”

He had hoped she would continue the conversation; but her voice grew
secret as she whispered to her maid. He heard cupboards and drawers
being opened and shut, a snatch of song, and, every now and then, the
infectious gayety of her laughter.

He came back into the room and smiled at the photo on the piano. “She
mayn’t be in love with me yet, but she’s certainly not in love with
you,” he thought. Then he stood gazing at his unresponsive rival,
wondering how much he could tell.

He was still intent upon the portrait when she danced across the
threshold, swinging her gloves.

“Taking a look at Tom? Be careful; you’ll make him jealous.” She slipped
her small hand into his. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.”

“D’you mean that--that you’re really glad?”

Her eyes sparkled with mischief, but she said demurely: “Why shouldn’t
I mean it? I’m always glad to see my friends.--And now, don’t you think
you’ve held my hand long enough? See how lonely it looks, just as if it
were asking me to put on its glove.”

She tripped over to the window and gazed out. “Isn’t it glorious?--And I
feel so happy--so full of life, so young.” Her back was towards him; she
felt him drawing nearer. “I ought to tell you about my hands before
we know each other better. They have names. The right one is Miss
Self-Reliance, and the left Miss Independence. They’re both of them very
ambitious and--” she swung round, lowering her eyes--“and they don’t
like being held.” He glanced at the photo on the piano. “Did no one ever
hold them?”

“Hardly any one, truth and honest” She finished the last button and
winked at him solemnly. “Here have I been ready since eleven, sending
you cables and whole gardens of flowers.” She burst out laughing: “I’m
glad you don’t drizzle. Come on, I’m hungry for the sun.”

As they shot down in the elevator he asked her: “Drizzle! That’s a new
word. What do you mean by it?”

“You’ll know soon enough.” She nodded. “Sooner or later all men do it.
Tom drizzles most awfully. He drizzled last night, when I didn’t want
him to come up because I thought you’d be in the apartment.”

“Then you did think that? You hadn’t forgotten that it was the day I
landed?”

“Forgotten after you’d cabled me! You must think me callous.”

She gave her shoulders a haughty shrug and ran down the steps into the
sunlight. He followed, inwardly laughing. Already she had taught him one
way of stealing a march on the rest of her suitors. All the other men
grew gloomy--“drizzled,” as she called it--when they fancied that she
had hurt their feelings. He decided, then and there, that under no
provocation whatsoever would he drizzle. She might do what she liked to
him, he would always meet her smiling. _Amor Omnia Vincit_ should be the
legend written on his banner.

“What shall we do?” She clasped her hands against her throat in a
gesture of ecstasy.

“Anything you like.”

“Anything! Really anything? Even something quite expensive?”

“Hang the expense.”

“Then come on.”

He had no idea where she was taking him, and he didn’t care. All places
were alike, so long as he was alone with her. They walked shoulder to
shoulder, their arms just touching. Sometimes in crossing a road they
drew apart and then, as if to apologize for their brief aloofness,
came together with a little bump on the farther pavement. They were
embarrassed, and glad to be embarrassed. When their silences had lasted
too long, they stole furtive glances at each other; when their eyes met,
they smiled archly.

They had passed through the tunnels where the dogs take their morning
walks, and had come out on to Broadway. Suddenly she stopped and
regarded him with an expression of unutterable calamity.

“I’ve got to go back.”

“No, don’t--please.”

“I must.”

He scented tragedy--a previous engagement, perhaps. “But why--why, when
we’ve only just met?”

“I’ve forgotten your lilies. I was going to wear them as--as an
apology.”

He laughed his relief. “Pooh! There are heaps more.”

“But it isn’t that. I wouldn’t accept any more. It’s the dear old ones
that I want--the ones you sent me almost the minute you landed.”

He glanced round sharply; a few doors off he saw a florist’s. “Don’t
go back,” he pleaded. And then, with a frankness which he feared might
offend her: “If you did go back, we might meet other people. I want you
all to myself to-day; I can’t spare a second of you to other persons.
Promise to stop here for me.”

“But I--perhaps I don’t want to lose a second of you to other persons.”
 She rested her hand on his arm lightly. “Where are you going?”

“Be back before you can say Jack Robinson.”

He darted off. As he entered the shop, he caught her slow smile of
intelligence forbidding him.

While the flowers were being arranged, he kept his eyes turned to where
she hovered on the pavement; the anxiety that she might escape him was
not quite gone. He saw her hail a taxi. For a moment he thought---- But,
no, she was having an earnest conversation.

“It’s all arranged, brother. We’re going to drive down

“Don’t tell me.” He banged the door and settled himself beside her.
“Life’s much more surprising when you don’t know where you’re going.” He
laid the flowers in her lap. “For you. You won’t refuse them?”

She bent over them curiously, as though she hadn’t the least idea what
he had been purchasing. As she stripped the paper from them and the
white cup of the blossoms began to appear, she frowned severely.

“Lilies of the valley! You’re too good. You spoil me. And now you’ll
think that I was asking for them. No. I won’t wear them.”

Having registered her protest, she at once rewarded him with her
fluttering delight as she turned back her coatee and tried several
effects before finally deciding where to fasten them.

While he had walked at her side, he had been too embarrassed to take
much notice of how she was dressed.

Now that her attention was occupied, he grew bold to examine her toilet.

Her beauty was a subtle, intoxicating perfume, like incense suggesting
the spirit of worship. She was different from his mother--different even
from Vashti, and from any woman that he had known. Her difference might
not be the result of virtues--might even be due to omitted qualities.
He did not stop to analyze; to him the very newness of her type was a
fascination.

Nothing that she wore was useful. It was perishable as a spring garden.
A shower of rain, and it would be eternally ruined. None of it could be
employed as second-best when its first freshness was gone. It couldn’t
even be given to the poor: her attire was too modish--it bespoke luxury
and marked the wearer’s class in society. Her clothes were the whim of
the moment--utterly uneconomic. If Mrs. Sheerug had had to pass judgment
on them, she would have said that they weren’t sensible.

In the exact sense they weren’t even clothing; they were adornments,
planned with a view to exposing quite as much as to concealing the
person. To enhance the effect of beauty was their sole purpose.

The skirt was a creamy shade of muslin, with small green and blue
flowers dotted over it. It was thin and blowy, and so modeled as to
pronounce rather than to hide the lines of the figure. A pair of pretty
feet peeped from under; the kind of feet that demand a carriage and are
not meant for walking. They were clad in gossamer silk-stockings; the
shoes seemed to have been designed for dancing and were absurdly high
in the heel. Both shoes and stockings exactly matched the creamy tint of
the muslin. Teddy thought with joy that any one who wore them would be
in constant need of a man’s protection. There would be many puddles in
life over which, with such shoes, she would require to be carried.

The coatee was of apple-green satin, turned back from the neck and
belted in at the waist, revealing a gauzy blouse cut into a low V-shape,
so as to display the gentle breathing of the throat and breast.

His eyes stole up to her face. It was shadowed by a broad hat of limp
straw, trimmed with dog-roses and trailing cherry-colored ribbon. On
her fresh young cheeks was the faintest dust of powder, giving to them
a false bloom and smoothness. He wondered why she did that, when her
unaided complexion would have been so much more attractive. Below her
left eye was a beauty-patch. Behind her left ear hung a tremulous curl,
which added a touch of demure quaintness. In appearance she was like
to one of Lely’s portraits of the beauties of the Cavalier period--to a
Nell Gwynn, whose very aspect of innocence made her latent naughtiness
the more provocative.

Though he was exceptionally ignorant of the feminine arts and familiar
only with domestic types of women, Teddy thought that he now understood
why she had taken two hours to dress. For his sake she had made herself
a work of art. It was as though she had told him, “I want you to like
me better than any girl in the world, Teddy”--only, for some unexplained
reason, she had avoided calling him Teddy as yet.

He sat watching her as she pinned the lilies against her breast How
pretty her hair was, with its reddish tinge like specks of gold shining
through its blackness! And her ears--they were like pale petals enmeshed
within her tresses.

He couldn’t blame her if other men had loved her first; but he wished
they hadn’t. The knowledge had come as a shock.

“Been inspecting me for quite some time! Do I meet with monsieur’s
approval?” She leant her head at a perky angle and glanced up at him.

“Approval! My mind was made up before I started. I didn’t come to
America to----”

“No, I know.” She cut him short. “Mother told me: you’re a gree-at
success. You came on business.--Please don’t interrupt; I’ve something
most important to tell you. I do want you to approve of me to-day--
to-day most especially. That’s why I didn’t get up till eleven.” She saw
the smile creeping round the edges of his mouth. “I didn’t mean that the
way you thought. You’re looking sarcastic and--and I hate sarcastic
persons. I stayed in bed to get rested that I might look my prettiest,
because----- Presently I’ll tell you. I’ve done something terrible; No,
I won’t tell you now--later. But promise you’ll forgive me.”

“Forgive you!” His voice trembled. Had he dared, he would have slipped
his arm about her; but she had huddled herself closer into her corner.
“I’ll forgive you anything, if you’ll do one thing to please me.”

He waited for her to ask him what it was; but her strategic faculty for
silence again asserted itself. She sat, not looking at him, with her
eyes shaded.

It was a childish longing that prompted him to make his request. “I want
to see your hands,” he whispered. “They’re so beautiful. It’s a shame
to keep them covered. On my word of honor,” he sank his voice, “I
won’t--won’t take advantage.”

She considered poutingly whether she would grant the favor.

“The first I’ve ever asked,” he urged.

The smile came like sunshine flashing through cloud. “That kind is
rarely the last.”

She pulled off the glove from her right-hand, Miss Self-Reliance,
because it was furthest from him.

“When I was very little,” she said, “I used to ask you whether I was
pretty. You used to drizzle in those days; all you’d tell me was, ’You
have beautiful hands.’ Then Bones and I would steal away and cry in the
currant-bushes. D’you remember?”

“I must have been a grudging little beast.”

“No, you were a nice boy when you weren’t quite horrid. But if I were to
ask you now, ’Do you think I’m pretty?’ Please don’t answer. I’m not
asking. But because of all that--the times we used to have--let’s be
good playfellows while it lasts. We won’t say silly things or do silly
things. Let’s be tremendously sensible. There! That’s a bargain.”

It wasn’t. If being in love wasn’t sensible, the last thing he wanted
was to be sensible. He hadn’t come to America to be sensible in her
meaning of the word. But the swiftness with which she took his consent
for granted left no room for argument. She might mistake his arguing
for drizzling--the fault which she held the most in contempt. So he kept
both his tongue and his hands quiet, doing his best to forget all the
ardent scenes which his imagination had conjured.

The lonely distance in the taxi between his corner and hers seemed to
have widened. They passed over a long cat’s-cradle of girders, spanning
the East River. She didn’t speak. She sat with her ungloved hand before
her eyes and her face averted. Any stranger who had glanced in on them
at that moment would have said they had quarreled. It felt very much
like it to Teddy.



CHAPTER VIII--FAITH RENEWS ITSELF

They had traveled for fully twenty minutes in silence; to Teddy it
had seemed as many hours. The patches of waste-land with hoardings,
advertising chewing-gums and New York plays, were growing less frequent.
A sea-look was softening the blueness of the sky. The greenness by the
roadside remained unmarred for longer and longer stretches. They skirted
a little bay, where power-boats lay tethered to buoys and a white-winged
yacht was spreading sail. They panted through a town of scattered wooden
houses, cool with lawns and shadowy with trees. Then they came to a
sandy turf-land, across which a horseman distantly galloped, leaping
ditches and hurdles.

He paid scant attention to his changing surroundings. He kept gazing at
the girl at his side. He feared to raise his eyes from her for a second,
lest she should drift away like thistledown.

Was she asleep or pretending? Why should she be asleep, when they had
so much to say and she had been up for barely three hours? Her ungloved
hand screened her eyes. He suspected that she was spying on him through
her fingers. Did it amuse her to torment him with silence? She had done
that with variations from the moment of their meeting at Glastonbury.
He couldn’t understand her motive in trying to make him wretched. His
impulse, if he liked people, was to make them glad. He became ingenious
in unearthing reasons for her conduct. Perhaps she was getting ready to
confess the thing for which she had to ask his forgiveness. Perhaps she
was offended by his request that she should remove her glove. But she
hadn’t seemed offended at the time of asking. And, if she were, how
trivial! She need only have refused him. She’d given him far graver
causes for offense.

He had reached this point in his despair, when suddenly she uncovered
her face and sat up vivaciously.

“Smell the sea! Cheer up. We’re nearly there.”

Darting out her hand, she patted his knee, laughing gayly at her
familiarity.

“You are restful You don’t expect me to chatter all the time. People
need to be very good friends to be able to sit silent. I know men who’d
be quite snappy if I---- But you’re different.”

She spoke caressingly, giving him credit for a delicacy which he did not
merit. He felt cheap in the accepting of it He wasn’t at all convinced
of her sincerity. He had the uncomfortable sense that she was aware that
he wasn’t convinced of it.

“Poor you! You do look squashed. One would think you weren’t enjoying
yourself. Was it really only business that brought you to America?”

He smiled crookedly, making a lame effort to clamber back to her level
of high spirits. “Didn’t you arrange that we were going only to be
sensible?”

She clasped her hands and gazed at him wistfully. “But we needn’t be
sensible quite always; it wouldn’t be fun. Besides, if it was just
business that brought you over, I ought to know, because----”

“Because,” he laughed, “if it was just business, then it wasn’t you that
brought me. And, if it wasn’t you, I’ll be going back directly. If it
was just business, the only way you could make me stop longer would be
by being more lavish with your sweetness. You’ve not changed. Desire;
you’re still the dear, imperious Princess, always kindest at the moment
of parting.’’

“Now you’re drizzling.”

“I’m not. But you push me over precipices for the sheer joy of making me
thank you when you pull me back to safety. I’m most happy to thank you,
little Desire; but I’d be ever so much obliged if you wouldn’t try such
risky experiments. You see, you know you’re going to rescue me, but I’m
never certain.”

She drooped towards him fluttering with merriment “Oh, youl What a lot
you know!”

With a quick transition of mood, she sat erect and became severely
solemn. “I shan’t be nice all day unless you tell me. But if you do tell
me----” The blank was wisely left for his imagination to fill in with
eloquent promises. Then, putting all her charm into the question, “Why
did you come?”

He looked away, ashamed that she should see his unshared emotion. “You
know already.”

“But I’d rather hear it from your lips. It isn’t half as exciting to
have to take things for granted.”

“If you must have it, I came because of you.”

“And not one scrap because of business?”

“Not one scrap because of business. Business was my excuse to my people.
I had to tell them something.”

He was staring at her now. His soul stood beckoning in the windows of
his eyes, watching for an answering signal.

It was her turn to glance away. She had wakened something which both
thrilled and frightened her. She took refuge in disappointment.

“Then you didn’t mention me to them. My father doesn’t know. I wonder
why you didn’t mention me. Was it because they--all those old-fashioned
people--wouldn’t think me good enough?--No. No. Don’t touch me.
Perhaps, after all, it’s better to be sensible. Let’s talk of something
else.”

“We’ve got to finish this now that you’ve started it.” His face was
stern and he spoke determinedly. “I’d have passed over everything,
for your sake, Princess-gone on pretending to take things for granted.
But-d’you think you’re fair to me? You said, ‘Come to America if you
really care.’ I thought that meant that you’d begun to care.-I hope it
does.”

She crossed her feet and resigned herself to the danger she had courted.
“You’re spoiling a most glorious day; but I suppose it’s best to get
things off one’s chest.” Then, in a composed, cool little voice, “Well?”

He surprised himself by a touch of anger. It came and was gone like a
flicker of lightning.

“I’ve obeyed you,” he said slowly; “I’ve come. I’ve done everything
decent that I could think of to keep you reminded of me. Since we said
’Good-by,’ I’ve known nothing but purgatory. Even happy things haven’t
been happy, because you weren’t there to share. That’s the way I feel
about you, Desire: whatever I am or can be must be for you. But you----
From the moment you sailed out of Liverpool, you dropped me. You didn’t
answer my letters. You went out of New York the day I landed, leaving no
message. When we met last night for five minutes, you were with another
man. This morning for about half-an-hour you did seem glad, but since
then----”

He bit his lips and watched her. Outwardly she seemed utterly unmoved.
“Shall I go on?”

“Just as you like.”

His words came with a rush. “This means too much to me; it’s all or
nothing. If it means nothing to you, say so. I’m not playing. I can
go away now--there’s time; soon you’ll have become too much a part of
me.--When you’ve forced me up to the point of being frank, you say,
’Let’s talk of something else.’ Can’t you understand that you’re
becoming my religion--that I do everything thinking, ’This’ll make her
happy,’ and dream about you day and night?”

She sat beside him motionless. He had expected her either to surrender
or to show resentment. She made no attempt to alter her position; their
shoulders were still touching.

At last, when he had come to the breaking-point, she lifted her grave
gray eyes. “You’re foolish,” she said quietly. “Of course I’m glad of
you. But you’ll spoil everything by being in such a hurry. You don’t
know what kind of a girl I am. We’ve not been together twenty-four hours
all told, and yet that’s been long enough to teach me that we’re totally
unlike. I’m temperamental---one of those girls who alter with the
fashions. You’re one of the people who never change. You’re the same
nice boy I used to play with, and fancy that--oh, that on some far-off
day I might marry. You’re nearly famous, so mother says. I want to be
famous, too; but I’m younger than you--I’ve not had time. But I know
much more about the world. Don’t be hurt when I say it: your ideas
about love and your generosity, and everything you do, make me feel that
you’re such a child. I like you for it,” she added quickly.

Then, speaking in a puzzled way: “You make things difficult. I shouldn’t
be doing right by encouraging you, and----” She faltered over her words.
The innocent kindness shone in her eyes. “And I can’t bear to send you
away. I don’t know what to do. I’d have encouraged you if I’d written to
thank you for those flowers, shouldn’t I? But they made me just as happy
as---- I was a regular baby over them. Every morning they lay there on
my plate and I wore them the whole day. Fluffy used to chaff me. You
don’t like Fluffy.” She winked at him provokingly. “Oh, no, you don’t!
You think actresses improper persons. You needn’t deny it.--And I do so
want to be an actress, so as to prove to my father and Mrs. Sheerug, and
all the lot of them, that I’m worth knowing. Can’t you understand? After
I’m great, I might be content to chuck the stage and become only a
simple good little wife.”

“Wouldn’t it be as fine,” he whispered, “to share some one else’s
success?”

She gazed at him wisely. “Philanthropic egotist! You know it wouldn’t.
Own up--don’t you know it wouldn’t?”

“For a man it wouldn’t,” he conceded ruefully.

She smiled vaguely. “Then why for a woman? Only love could make it
different. You believe in love at first sight. I don’t At least, I’m not
sure about it.”

“But you can’t call ours love at first sight.”

“Ours!” She raised her brows. “Yours was. You had your magic cloak ready
to pop over me the moment you thought you’d found me. I’m only a lay
figure.”

“You’re not,” he protested hotly. “If you’d read my book, you’d know
that. Your face is on every page.”

“A lay figure,” she repeated imperturbably.

She did not gratify his curiosity as to whether she had read _Life Till
Twenty-one._ He waited. At last, driven to desperation, he asked, “What
am I to do?”

“Do?”

“Yes. I’ve nothing to keep me in America; I had nothing to bring me
over except you. If I stay here and don’t give my people an explanation,
they’ll begin to wonder. It won’t be playing the game. So if you don’t
care----”

She laughed so gayly that she made all his mountain difficulties seem
molehills. “What an old serious! You can’t set times and seasons for
love. Sooner or later, if you keep on jogging, everything turns out all
right. You’ve got to believe that. _It does_.”

Since she was his prophetess, he let her optimism go undisputed. He
almost shared it. But it didn’t provide him with a certain foundation
for his future.

“If you’ll stop drizzling,” she said, “I’ll set Miss Independence free
for a run. There!” She pulled the glove off her left hand and made it
scamper in the blue and green meadow of her gown. Then, of a sudden, the
temptress fingers shot out and caressed him for the merest second.

“Life’s so much more surprising when you don’t know where you’re
going. That’s what you said, King Arthur. We don’t know where we’re
going--we’re both too young. It’s silly to pretend we do. Let’s agree to
be immensely kind to each other. Don’t let’s try to be anything closer
as yet. If we do--” She wriggled her shoulders; the little curl trembled
violently. “I do hate quarreling.--Hulloa! There’s the sea. We’ll be
there in a second.”

The taxi had halted in a line of automobiles. They were on a bare,
sun-baked road. On every side salt-marshes stretched away, criss-crossed
with ditches which drained into a muddy canal The canal crossed the
road; the bridge was up to allow a fishing-boat passage. Over to the
left a board-walk ran; behind it the sea flashed like a mirror. Straight
ahead, in a straggling line of diminishing importance, hotels rose up.
A little over to the right an encampment of match-box summer-cottages
sweltered in the glare. Hoardings met the eyes wherever they turned,
announcing the choicest places to lunch, to garage or to put up for the
night in Long Beach. At no great distance a wooden cow, of more than
lifelike proportions, gave a burlesque imitation of the rural, stooping
its head as if to graze while its back advertised a brand of malted
milk.

The landscape would have been dreary enough without the people and the
sun. But the people lent the touch of vivacity. The bright colors of
women’s dresses stood out boldly in the strong, fluttering air. When
seen distantly clumped together, they looked like a stage-garden, a-blow
with artificial flowers. The men and women were for the most part in
pairs and young--only the older people were in parties. Teddy had the
sense that he had joined a carnival of irresponsible lovers. Probably
all those men had their problems. And the girls--they, too, didn’t know
where they were going. No one was indulging in the careful cowardice
which takes thought for the morrow. They were leaving all future evil
to take care of itself. They were finding to-day sufficient in its
goodness; and of its goodness they intended to miss nothing.

When he turned to Desire, he found her studying her face in a
pocket-mirror and dabbing a film of powder on her impertinent little
nose. He glanced away, thinking his watching would embarrass her.

She spoke with a bewitching self-composure, still scrutinizing her
reflection: “I could hear your brain ticking. I was right, wasn’t I?
It’s best at first not to be too much to each other?”

Her naive frankness in not attempting to hide her vanity, sent a wave of
affection tingling through him. It was as though by one foolish act
she had entrusted him with the key to her character--her unabashed
truthfulness.

He leant forward, brushing her shoulder intimately, and peered into the
mirror from which her eyes watched him.

“I’ve been an old serious,” he whispered tenderly. “But now I’ll be
anything you choose. Let’s be just as kind as we know how.”

“Let’s,” she nodded, “you convenient person.” The curl against her neck
shook roguishly.

They pulled up in the courtyard of a hotel. By its architecture it might
have been in Spain. Great palms in tubs cast heavy shadows. Somewhere
nearby, but out of sight, an orchestra twanged a ragtime tune. He held
her hand for one breathless moment as she alighted.

“What next? Are you hungry?”

She closed her eyes with feigned contempt: “Hungry! Glutton.”

Away she fled, light as pollen, dancing in her steps in unconscious
rhythm with the unseen orchestra. He caught her up where the flash of
waves, rising and falling, burst upon them in tumultuous glory. She was
leaning back, clutching at the brim of her hat, while the eager wind
dragged at her skirt like a child entreating her to join in its frolic.
She laid her hand on his arm.

“This is life. Doesn’t it wake you up--make you wonder why you ever had
the drizzles? We’re not the same persons. I’m not. Cling on to me. I’ll
blow away. You’ll have to chase me as you would your hat.”

They stepped down on to the sands and strolled along by the water’s
edge, watching the bathers bobbing and splashing. When they had
reached the point where the crowd grew less dense, they climbed to the
board-walk for the return journey. They had made a discovery which their
action confessed: aloneness brought silence; they spoke more freely when
strangers swarmed about them.

Teddy became aware that, wherever they passed, Desire roused comment.
Men, who were themselves accompanied, turned to gaze after him
enviously. He compared her with the other women; she was in a separate
class--there wasn’t one who could match her. She had a grace, a
distinction, a subtlety--an indescribable and exquisite atmosphere of
freshness, which lifted her beyond the range of competition. She was
like a tropic bird which had flown into a gathering of house-sparrows.
Moreover, she had a knack, highly flattering to his masculine vanity,
of appearing to have appropriated him, of appearing to be making him her
sole interest. The pride of possession shot through him that he, of all
living men, should be allowed to walk by her side as if she belonged to
him.

“You’re creating quite a sensation,” he told her.

She affected an improvised boredom. “Oh, yes. I always do.” Then, with a
flash of girlishness: “Look here, you’re mine to-day absolutely, aren’t
you?”

“To-day and always.”

“We’ll leave out the always. But to-day you’ll do whatever I tell you.”

“Anything at all.”

“Then go and bathe.”

He grimaced his astonishment at the smallness of the request What was
she after?

“I’ll bathe,” he consented, “if you’ll come with me. But aren’t you
hungry?”

“Not a bit I breakfasted late.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, if you’ll wash first, I’ll let you feed after.”

“I--” he hesitated, “I don’t want to leave you.”

“But I’m keen to see you bathe,” she insisted childishly. Then,
employing her most winning manner, “I’ll sit here on the beach and watch
you.”

He made a last effort to tempt her. “D’you remember the pool in the
woodland--the place where we camped? You thought it would make you a
boy. Perhaps, if you tried now----”

“Nonsense.” She shook her head determinedly and sat down.

The situation was too absurd to argue over. Before he left, he gave
his watch and money into her keeping. He derived a queer sensation
from seeing her pop them into her vanity-case. That was just the
matter-of-fact way in which she’d do it if they were married.

As he undressed in the concrete bathing-house, he puzzled to discover
what caprice had prompted her order. Had she done it to prove that she
had power over him? Or had she wanted to get rid of him? Had he bored
her? He reviewed their conversation. All small talk! Not very inspiring!
His brain had been weaving a lover’s phrases, which she wouldn’t permit
him to utter. The result was that the potentially eloquent lover, when
stifled, had been neither brilliant nor entertaining--in fact, a dull
fellow.

A horrid little suspicion sprang up. He tried to stamp it out, but it
ran from him like flame through withered grass. Had she wanted to be
alone to enjoy the admiration she inspired? By Eden Row standards they
had no right to be out unchaperoned. It was still less respectable for
her to be alone in that fast crowd.

He hurried into his bathing-costume and stepped into the sunshine.
She wasn’t where he had left her. She was nowhere in sight He was
half-minded to go back and dress, but was deterred by her imagined
laughter. He ran down to the sea and swam about. Every time he rose on
the crest of a wave he watched for her. When he passed the spot again
she was still absent.

Making haste over his dressing, he came out. She wasn’t there. Panic
began to seize him--all kinds of feverish alarms. He was setting out to
search, when he saw her coming sauntering along the beach.

“Hulloa!” she called breezily. “You haven’t been long. Did you only
paddle or did you duck your head as well?”

“Where’d you get to?” he asked pantingly. “I’ve been awfully nervous.”

She cocked her head on one side like a knowing little bird.

“Nervous! I’ve lived years and years without you to take care of me, and
haven’t come to much harm.--You silly old thing, I was getting
something for you.” She opened her vanity-case and pulled out a tin-type
photograph. “There!”

Then she noticed that his hand trembled. “Why--why, you _are_ upset I
thought you were only cross. I’m awfully sorry.”

She melted and gazed at him penitently. In the next breath she was
chaffing. “If you go on this way, I shan’t bring you out for holidays.
You might die in my arms. Nice thing, that! It’d ruin my reputation.”

He was regarding the cheap little picture. It was of her, with the wind
breaking against her dress and the sea backing her. It was scarcely dry
yet. “For me?”

“Of course. And, before I lose them, here’s your watch and money.”

“And--and that’s why you insisted on my bathing: to get rid of me for a
little while so that----”

She cut him short. “Feeding-time. You ask too many questions.”

As they walked to the hotel, she chattered at length of her adventure.
“The man who took it, he thought I was an actress. Wanted to know in
what show I was playing.--You don’t consider that a compliment?”

“Not much.”

He was only half listening. He was remembering his unworthy suspicion,
that she had stolen a respite to court admiration. Perhaps all his
suspicions had been equally ill-founded. Perhaps behind each of her
inconsideratenesses lay a concealed kindness--a tender forethought. If
it had been so in one case, why not in all?

“Sweetly ungrateful,” Vashti had called her; “she feels far more than
she’ll ever express--goes out of her way to make people misunderstand
her.” And she’d added: “It’s because---- Can’t you guess? She’s afraid
to love too much. Her mother got hurt.”

He felt humiliated--unworthy to walk beside her. No wonder she’d smiled
at his ideas of love! He’d make it his life’s work, if need be, to teach
her what love really meant. He vowed to himself that whatever she did,
no matter how compromising the circumstances, for the future he would
give her the benefit of the doubt He would never again distrust her. He
would keep that pathetically cheap little photograph and gaze at it as a
poignant warning.



CHAPTER IX--SHE ELUDES HIM

They were crossing the hotel foyer, when something caught her
attention. Without explanation, she darted from his side. Thinking she
had seen a friend, he did not follow at first. She made straight for the
news-stand; picking up a magazine, she commenced skimming its pages. He
strolled over and peered across her shoulder.

“_The Theatre!_ Something in it that you want? Shall I buy it for you?”

She did not seem to hear him. He touched her hand, repeating his
question. For answer she turned back to the cover-design. “Isn’t she
wonderful?”

He recognized the stooping face and the vague hypnotic smile that he had
seen in the many photographs that decorated the walls of the apartment.

“Don’t know about wonderful,” he said carelessly; “she’s all right.”

“All right!” Desire frowned her restrained annoyance. “No one who knows
anything about Fluffy would call her ‘all right.’ She’s wonderful. I
adore her.”

He chuckled. He hadn’t wakened to the enormity of his offense. “You’re a
curious girl Surely you, of all persons, don’t want me to adore her?”

Her frown did not lighten.

“Shall I buy it for you, Princess? You can glance through it while we’re
waiting for our meal to be served.”

She ignored his offer and drew out her purse. As they turned away she
said, “If you’d liked her, I’d have allowed you to pay for it.”

“But why should I like her? I’ve never met her. You talk as though I
detested her.”

“You do. And I know why. You’re jealous.”

Again her daring truthfulness took away his breath. She had discovered
something so latent in his mind that he hadn’t owned it to himself. He
_was_ jealous of Fluffy--just as jealous as if she had been a man. He
resented her power to whisk Desire from his side. He dreaded lest she
had occupied so much of the girl’s capacity for loving that nothing
worth having was left He suspected that the use of powder, the trivial
views of marriage, the passion to go upon the stage were all results of
her influence. It wasn’t natural that a girl of twenty should focus all
her dreams on an older woman. She should be picturing the arrival of
Prince Charming, of a home and the graciousness of little children.

Desire lifted to him a face grown magically free from cloud. “That
wasn’t at all nice of me--not one bit ladylike. After all, I am your
guest.”

Did she say it out of sweet revenge? It was as though she had told him,
“I keep my friendships in separate watertight compartments. To-day it’s
your turn to be taken but. To-morrow I shall lock you away and remember
some one else.” It hurt, this polite intimation of his standing. He
wanted to be everything to her--to feel all that she felt, to know
her as his very self. To him she was his entire life. And she--she was
satisfied to term herself his guest.

She led the way as they entered the grill-room. Heads were turned and
glances exchanged, in the usual tribute to her beauty. The orchestra
was still madly twanging. Between tables in the centre, a space had
been cleared that two paid artistes might give exhibitions of the latest
dance-steps. When they rested, the diners took their places and did
their best to copy their example. Doors and windows were open. In lulls,
while the musicians mopped their foreheads, the better music drifted in
of waves breaking and the long sigh of receding surge. They took their
seats in a sunlit corner, a little retired, to which they were piloted
by a discreet and perspiring waiter. As Desire examined the mena he
inquired, “What will madam have?” To every order that she gave he
murmured, “Yes, madam. Certainly, madam.”

When he had left, she glanced mischievously across at Teddy. “Why did he
call me that?” She knew the answer, but it amused her to embarrass him.

“Because--obviously, he thought we were married.”

“Married!” She was pulling off her gloves. “I shan’t be married for
ages--perhaps never. I expect he thought we were married because we
looked so separate--so uninterested.”

She didn’t speak again till she had satisfied herself, by means of the
pocket-mirror, that no irreparable ruin had befallen her pretty face
since the last inspection. Her action seemed prompted by childish
curiosity rather than by vanity. It was as though when she saw her own
beauty, she saw it with amazement as belonging to another person.
It made him think of the first sight he had had of her: a small girl
kneeling beside the edge of a fountain and stooping to kiss her own
reflection. He remembered her clasped hands and dismay when her lips had
disturbed the water’s surface, and her image had vanished.

The examination ended, she gazed at him thoughtfully. “I’ve still to
tell you about that--the thing for which I’ve to ask your forgiveness.
Shall I tell you now?--No. It’s about Fluffy, and----” Her finger went
up to her mouth.

“We don’t agree on Fluffy. And we’ve neither of us recovered from our
last---- Was it a quarrel?” She coaxed him with her smile, as though he
were insisting that it was. “Not quite a quarrel. Not as bad as that I
expect you and I’ll always have to be forgiving. I have a feeling--But
you’ll always forgive me, won’t you?” Before he could answer, she leant
companionably across the table, “Do you believe in romance? I don’t.”

His sense of humor was touched. One minute she rapped him over the
knuckles as though he were a tiny, misbehaving boy, the next it was she
who was young and he who was elderly.

“You’re irresistible.”

“Ah!” She gave a pleased little sigh. “When I choose to be
fascinating--yes. D’you think the waiter would call me madam, if he
could see me now? But tell me, do you believe in romance?”

“Believe in romance!” He felt her slippered foot touching his beneath
the table. “I couldn’t look at you and not believe in it. Everything
that’s ever happened to you and me is romance: the way Hal and Farmer
Joseph brought me to you; the way we met in the dead of night at
Glastonbury; and now---- I’ve come like a troubadour as far as Columbus,
just to be near you. Isn’t that romance? Romance is like happiness; it’s
in the heart It doesn’t shine into you; it shines out Even those people
over there, hopping about to rag-time, they don’t seem vulgar; they
become romance when you and I watch them.”

“But they’re not vulgar.” She spoke on the defensive. “If you could
turkey-trot, I’d be one of them. Oh, dear, what an awful lot of things
you disapprove of. I’ll have to make a list of them. There! You see----”
 She spread out her appealing hands. “I’m being horrid again. I can’t
help it.” The babies crept into her eyes. “I’m not the girl you think
me. I’m really not.”

The slippered foot beneath the table had withdrawn itself.

“You’re better,” he whispered. “You’re unexpected. None of my magic
cloaks fit you. You’re surprising. A man likes to be surprised.”

She refused to look at him. With her chin tucked in the palm of her
hand, she gazed listlessly to where the dancers whirled and glided. When
she spoke, her voice sounded tired, as if with long contending.

“Why won’t you be disillusioned? Every time I show you a fault, you turn
it into a virtue. From the moment we met, I’ve acted as selfishly as I
knew how; and yet you still follow, follow, follow. Don’t you ever lose
your temper? You can’t really like me.”

To her bewilderment a great wave of gladness swept into his eyes. At
last he had stumbled on the hidden forethought that lurked behind all
her omissions of kindness. She had been trying to save him from herself.
In the light of this new interpretation, every grievance that he had
harbored became an infidelity. He stretched out his hand, as though
unconsciously, till the tips of his fingers were just touching hers.

“I shall always follow, and follow, and follow. I shall know now that,
even when you’re trying to be cross, it only means that you’re----”

What it would only mean he didn’t tell her; at that moment the waiter
returned.

When the covers had been removed from the dishes and they had something
to distract them from their own intensity, the gayety of the rag-time
caught them.

She flashed a friendly glance at him. “We’re always getting back to that
old subject, like sitting hens to a nest.”

“We hadn’t got there quite.”

She pursed her lips judiciously. “Perhaps not quite. Wouldn’t it be
safer to talk of something else?”

“About what? I can’t think of anything but you, Princess.”

She clapped her hands. “Splendid. Let’s talk about me. You start.”

He bent forward, smiling into her eyes, grateful for the chance.
“There’s so much to tell. All day I’ve been making discoveries. I’ve
found out that you’re half-a-dozen persons--not just the one person whom
I thought you, Desire. Sometimes you’re Joan of Arc, with dreams in your
eyes and your hands lying idly in your lap. Sometimes you’re Nell Gwynn,
utterly unshockable and up to any naughtiness. That’s the way you are
now--the way I like you best. And sometimes you’re a faery’s child, a
Belle Dame Sans Merci, a beautiful witch-girl, who won’t come into my
life and won’t let me forge.”

She became extraordinarily interested. At last he had absorbed her
attention. “That Belle Dam whatever you call her, she sounds rather
lurid. Tell me about her.”

All through the meal, to the alternate thunder of the sea and the
jiggling accompaniment of rag-time, he told her. How La Belle Dame Sans
Merci lay in wait in woodlands to tempt knights aside from their
quests and, when she had made them love her, left them spell-bound and
unsatisfied. They forgot time and place as they talked. The old trustful
intimacy held them hanging on each other’s words. They were children
again in the meadows at Ware, hiding from Farmer Joseph; only now Farmer
Joseph was their fear of their own shyness.

“I did something last summer,” he said; “it was just before I met you.
Perhaps it’ll make you smile. I’d just come to success, and I wanted
to tell you; but I hadn’t an idea where to find you in the whole wide
world. I tried to pretend that you were still in the woodland beside the
pond. I went there and stayed all day, willing that you should come. You
couldn’t have been so far away; you may have been in London. Well, I had
that poem with me, and---- You know the way one gets into moods? It
seemed to me that you weren’t a truly person and never had been--that
you were just a faery’s child, a ghost in my mind.”

                        ‘I set her on my prancing steed,

                        And nothing else saw all day long;

                        For sidelong would she bend, and sing

                        A faery’s song.’

“That sort of thing. Perhaps you were thinking of me at the very time.”

“Perhaps,” she nodded. “Coming back to England after all those years did
make me think of you. But how does the whole poem go? Can’t you repeat
it?”

He had come to, “And there I shut her wild, wild eyes with kisses four,”
 when she stopped him.

“I should never let you do that If I did----” She bent towards him
flippantly, lowering her voice. “If I did, d’you know what I’d do
next? I should marry you.” The curl against her neck shook in emphatic
affirmative. “I’m not going to be La Belle Dame whatever you call her
any more. I’m going to try to be Nell Gwynn always. You must tell me
next time I’m that La Belle person, and I’ll stop it.”

“Ah, but I can’t--that’s a part of the spell When you look that way I
can’t speak to you. I’m dazed. It’s as though you’d buried me beneath
a mountain of ice. I can only see you and feel unhappy. I can’t even
stir.”

He fell to gazing at her. His silence lasted so long that she grew
restless. “Say it,” she urged.

“I was thinking that, in spite of all these people and the orchestra
and the dancing, we’re by ourselves--not afraid of each other the way we
were.”

“Oh!” She twisted her shoulders. “And now I’ll tell you why: it’s
because there’s a table between us and, however much you wanted, you
couldn’t do anything silly. So, you see, I’m safe, and can afford to be
gracious.”

He knew at once that it was the truth that she had stated. How few girls
would have said it! They had finished their coffee. She had been very
pressing that he should smoke a cigar. He had just lighted one, and was
comfortably wondering what they should do next; a drive in the country
perhaps, and then back to the tall city lying spectral in moonlight.
She consulted her wrist-watch and pushed back her chair. “How about the
taxi?”

He at once began to seek the connection between his smoking and the
taxi. Behind all her actions lay a motive, which she disguised with an
appearance of irresponsibility. Being in her company was like studying
the moves in a game of chess. Had she persuaded him to smoke in
self-protection, so that he might be occupied when they were alone
together?

“The taxi! It’s early. We don’t need to go yet. Or d’you mean that you
want to take a longer drive?”

“I’ve----” She winked at him. “This isn’t the great big confession----
I’ve to get back for the theatre. Don’t look crestfallen; you’re
coming--just the two of us. If we don’t start now, I shan’t have time to
dress.”

As he followed her out into the courtyard, he made a mental note: her
insistance that he should smoke had been a precautionary measure for a
home-defense. Already her manner towards him was growing circumspect.
When she had given the driver instructions, she took her seat remotely
in the corner. There was one last flicker of her Nell Gwynn mood when
she leant out to gaze at the sea lying red behind the gray salt-marshes.

“Good-by, dear little day; you’ve been a sort of honeymoon.” She spied
out of the comers of her eyes at Teddy with an impish raising of her
brows. It was as though she were asking him whether the day need end.

“Why go back? Why ever go back? Why not get married?” The hand which he
tried to seize happened to be Miss Independence. It gave him a friendly
pat in rebuke as it escaped him.

“We’re getting stupid again.” Closing her eyes, she curled herself up
against the cushions. Her voice was small and tired.

In an instant he was miles away from her, buried beneath his mountain
of ice. She was La Belle Dame Sans Merd, chilling his affection with
silence. He was amused. He was beginning to understand her tactics. She
was easy of approach, but difficult of capture. He looked back; from
a child she had been like that. But he wished that she wouldn’t show
distrust of him whenever they were alone. It made love seem less
gallant, almost ugly--a thing to be dreaded. Was it what had happened to
her mother that made her----? “She’s afraid to love too much. Her mother
got hurt.” Was this the price of which Hal had spoken? Was his share of
the paying to have his ideal lowered by the girl by whom it had been
inspired?

He sat in his corner, smoking and scrupulously preserving the gap that
lay between them. He was doing his best to show her by his actions that
her defensive measures were unnecessary. One hand shaded her eyes, the
other lay half open in her lap. Her head drooped forward slightly and
her knees were crossed. Her attitude was one of prayer.

“Please go on talking,” she murmured. “Don’t mind if I’m a little quiet.”

He tried to talk. His monologue grew halting. He asked a question; she
returned no answer. He ceased speaking to see if that would pique her
and rouse response. She seemed to have divined his intention; he felt
that, if he peeped behind her hand, he would find her laughing.

Easy of approach, but difficult of capture! If he didn’t take care, she
might keep him dawdling and spellbound forever. Ah, but when she began
to learn what love really was, not Fluffy’s kind of tepid flirtation,
but the kind of love that thinks no sacrifice too costly---- How long
would it take him to fire her with earnestness?

Traffic was thickening. Automobiles, snorting and tooting their horns,
came racing up behind and passed. The road ahead was a cloud of dust,
which the sunset tinted to a crimson glory. The laughter of women’s
voices was in the air. He had glimpses of their faces peering merrily
into men’s. In a flash they were gone; but his imagination followed,
listening to the happy tendernesses that were said. How closely these
other lovers sat! Sometimes beneath the dust-cloth that lay across their
knees, he suspected that hands were being clasped. At others he
didn’t need to suspect; it was done proudly and bravely. There were
disadvantages in being in love with a young lady who gave remarkable
names to her hands.

He smiled grimly at the respectable distance that separated him from his
praying girl. It so honestly published to the world: “The two people in
this taxi are wasting an opportunity--they are not in love.” The waiter,
had he had to address her now, would certainly have called her madam.

Teddy tried to see the humor of his situation. He wondered whether she
was really as indifferent as she pretended--whether she might not be
glad if he were to slip his arm about her? But he refrained from
making the experiment; he feared lest she should interpret his action
flippantly or resent it. When he pictured the kind of happiness they
were losing, he felt a little sick at heart.

They had come to the great cat’s-cradle of girders that spans the East
River.

“That’s better. I’m rested. You are good.”

She spoke gratefully and sat up. From his corner, making no attempt to
narrow the distance, he watched her quietly. “D’you always do that?”

“What?”

“Pretend to go to sleep when you’re unchaperoned? You don’t need to do
it with me. It’s the third time you’ve done it.”

She laughed tolerantly. “Oh, you! What old-fashioned notions! I never am
chaperoned.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to say that in her case it wasn’t
necessary. Instead he asked: “Do you do that with Tom? Does he
appreciate it?”

She threw up her hands in an abandonment to merriment “Tom! He hates it
Poor Tom! Haven’t I told you he drizzles?”

When no answer was returned, she began to sing provocatively:

                        “If no one ever marries me,

                        And I don’t see why he should.

                        For Nurse says I am not pretty

                        And I’m very seldom good,

                        I’ll----”

She broke off and glanced over at him, making her mouth sad. “You do sit
far away.” When he made no motion to accept her invitation, she smiled
the unreserved smile of friendship. “Look here, if I come half way over,
will you?”

She made the journey and waited for him to follow her example. He came
reluctantly, but not all the way; there was still a gap between them.

“Well, if you won’t, I’ll have to be forward.” She closed up the
distance. “There! Isn’t that happier?”

“Yes. But what’s the good? We’re in the middle of streets and nearly
there now.”

“I was tired,” she said appealingly. “I thought you’d understand.”

It was impossible to resist her. Perhaps she had been tired. Perhaps she
had done with him what she would have dared to do with no other man; and
what he had mistaken for indifference and distrust had been a reliance
on his chivalry.

“I do understand.”

“I wonder.”

Ahead, across the misty greenness of the Park, the troglodyte dwellings
of the West Side barricaded the horizon. In some of the windows lights
were springing up. It was as though lonely people flashed unnoticed
signals to the cold hearts beating in the heavens.

“Desire, why do we try to hurt each other?”

“Do we? I wasn’t trying. I was thinking of something that Fluffy told
Horace. She said that men never married the women who said ‘Yes.’ It’s
the women who say ‘No’ sweetly that men marry.”

“So you were saying ‘No’ sweetly by keeping quiet.”

“I was looking back to find out if it was true.”

“And is it?”

She gazed down demurely at her folded hands. “I once knew a girl; she
didn’t care a straw for her man. He waited for her for five years
always hoping, and she made all kinds of cruel jokes about him. Then one
night--she didn’t know how it happened--all the ice broke and she felt
that she wanted him most awfully. They were alone. Suddenly, without
warning and without being asked, she kissed him and put her arms about
his neck---- Can you guess what he did? You’re a man. You ought to
know.”

“He kissed her back again, I suppose, and after that they were married.”

“Wrong. He picked up his hat and walked out of the house. He’d made her
want him ten times worse than he’d ever wanted her. He never went back.”

“But why? I don’t understand.”

They were on Riverside Drive. The taxi was halting. She leant forward
and opened the door. “He’d won, don’t you see? Because she’d given in he
despised her. It was the holding off that made her value.”

“A parable?”

As she jumped out, she glanced roguishly across her shoulder. “No. A
fact.”

To save time, since they both had to dress, they arranged to meet at the
theatre. The curtain had gone down on the first act when they entered.

It was a first-night performance; the place was packed. Desire at once
became interested in the audience, spying round with her glasses and
picking out the critics, the actors and actresses who were present She
gave him concise accounts of their careers, surprising him with her
knowledge. She was intensely alive; it was difficult to recognize in her
the bored praying girl who had traveled with him from Long Beach on that
late September afternoon. In her low-cut evening-dress, with her white
arms and dazzling shoulders, he found her twice as alluring. But he
wished she would show more interest in him and a little less in the
audience. Every time he thought he had secured her attention, she would
discover a new face on which to focus her glasses.

The curtain had risen only a few minutes, when he realized why she had
brought him. From the wings Tom entered; from that moment she became
spellbound. Teddy tried to reason away his jealousy--his feeling that he
had been trapped into coming. It was quite natural that she should
have wanted to see her friend--there was nothing so disastrous in that.
But---- And he couldn’t get over that _but_. It would have been fair to
have warned him.

In the second interval he found that he was expected to eulogize his
rival’s acting. This time, cautioned by the error he had made over
Fluffy’s portrait, he was more careful in expressing his opinion. She
quickly detected the effort in his enthusiasm. “I didn’t like to tell
you,” she whispered apologetically; “but I had to come. Ever so long
ago, before I knew you’d be here, I promised him.”

“So that’s the confession that’s been worrying you?”

“One of them.” She touched his hand.

It wasn’t until midnight, when they had had supper and were flying
uptown, that she told him.

“We’ve had a good first day, Meester Deek, in spite--in spite of
everything.”

Mister Dick had been the name of the hero in the play; Meester Deek
had been the caressing way in which the Italian woman who loved him had
pronounced it. That Desire should call him Meester Deek seemed an omen.

He turned to her gladly. She was in her Nell Gwynn mood and at her
tenderest. Through the darkness he could see the convulsive little curl.
The beauty-patch seemed a sign put there to mark the acceptable place to
kiss her.

“So I’m Meester Deek! You won’t call me Teddy. I knew you’d have to find
a name for me.”

“D’you like my name for you, Meester Deek?”

She sat bending forward, her face illumined by the racing street-lights
and her body in darkness. He was tempted to trespass--tempted to reach
out for her hand and, if she allowed that, to take her in his arms. She
looked very sweet and unresisting, with her cloak falling back from
her white shoulders and her head drooping. But instinct warned him: she
beckoned attack only to repell it. He remembered what she had told him
about the women who said “No,” the women who eked out their affection.

“D’you like my name for you, Meester Deek?” There was all the passion of
the south in the way she asked it.

“I like it. But why don’t you call me by my own name? You speak of
Horace and Tom.”

“Ah, that’s different.”

“How?”

She shrugged her shoulders and threw back her cloak. The fragrance of
her stole out towards him.

“They’ll be always just Horace and Tom to me, while you--perhaps. I
can’t explain, Meester Deek, if you don’t understand.”

In her own peculiar way, half shy, half bold, she had told him that,
just as he held her separate from all women, so she held him separate.

“I’d rather have you call me Meester Deek than--than anything in the
whole world, now that I know.”

“And will you forgive me the big confession?”

He laughed emotionally. “Anything.”

She shrank back into the shadow so that her face was hidden. “I’m just
as sorry as I can be. But I can’t break my word. Perhaps you’ll be so
hurt that you’ll sail back to England, and won’t wait for me.”

His heart sank. For a moment he had felt so sure of her. Again she was
planning to elude him.

“You don’t say anything, Meester Deek. I’m afraid you’re angry. It’s
only for two weeks. I start to-morrow.” Two weeks without her! It spelt
tragedy. He had a desperate inspiration, “Can’t I come with you?”

“Poor you! No.” She shook her head slowly. “I wish you could. You see,
I’ve got to do without you, too. But you don’t like her--I mean Fluffy.
She’s on the road in a try-out before she opens in New York.--Only two
weeks, Meester Deek! Look on the bright side of things. You can get
through all your work while I’m gone and then, when I come back, we can
play together.--If you stay,” she added softly.

Two weeks! It seemed a very short time to make a fuss over.

But in two weeks he had hoped to go so far with her. He had hoped to be
able to win a promise from her, so that he could send good news to Eden
Row. And now, at the end of two weeks, he would be just where he had
started.

“I’ll write to you, oh, such long letters.” And then, like a little
child on the verge of crying: “You said you’d forgive me. You’re not
keeping your promise.”

At the moment of parting, as she was stepping into the elevator, he drew
her back. “When d’you start? Mayn’t I come and fetch you, and see you
off?”

“It’ll be so early. Won’t that be a lot of trouble for a very little
pleasure?”

“But if I think the trouble’s worth it?”

“Then I’d love to have you.”

She held out her hand and let it linger in his clasp. Other revellers,
returning from theatres and dinners, passed them. For the first time
that day she didn’t seem to care who guessed that he loved her.

“It’s too late to ask you up,” she whispered regretfully. “It’s been a
nice day in spite of--of everything, Meester Deek. Thank you.”

She withdrew her hand and darted from him, as if fearing that, if she
stayed, she might commit herself irrevocably. He saw her gray eyes
smiling pityingly down on him as the iron cage shot up.



CHAPTER X--AND NOTHING ELSE SAW ALL DAY LONG

He had lost count of days in the swiftness of happenings. As he drove
uptown to fetch her, he wondered why the streets were so quiet. He
pulled out his watch; it was past eight. Not so extraordinarily early!
His watch might be wrong. His eye caught a clock; it wasn’t Then the
knowledge dawned on him that the emptiness of the streets and his sense
of earliness were due to the leisure which betokens Sunday morning.

New York had a look of the rural. Now that few people were about, trees
claimed more attention and spread abroad their branches. Grass-plots in
squares showed conspicuously. It almost seemed that on these islands
of greenness, lapped by sun-scorched pavement, one ought to see rabbits
hopping.

When he reached the apartment, she wasn’t ready. From somewhere down the
passage she called to him: “Good-morning, Meester Deek. You’re early.”
 Then he heard her tripping footsteps crossing and recrossing a room, and
the busy rustling of packing.

He leant out of the window, drinking in the sunny stillness. A breeze
ruffled the Hudson. The Palisades shone fortress-like. Far below, dwarfed
by distance beneath trees of the Drive, horsemen moved sluggishly like
wound-up toys. A steamer, heavily loaded with holidaymakers, churned
its way up-river; he caught the faint cheerfulness of brazen music. The
tension of endeavor was relaxed; a spirit of peace and gayety was in the
air. His thoughts went back to Eden Row, lying blinking and quaint in
the Sabbath calm. In this city of giant energies he smiled a little
wistfully at the remembrance.

He listened. The sounds of packing hadn’t stopped. Time grew short; it
wasn’t for him to hurry her. Secretly he hoped she would lose her train;
they might steal an extra day together.

She entered radiant and laughing. “You’ll think I always keep you
waiting. Come on. We’ve got to rush for it.”

“But let me have a look at you.”

“Time for that on the way to the station.”

When he had seen the luggage put on, he jumped in beside her--really
beside her, for she sat well out of the corner.

“Almost like a honeymoon,” he laughed, “with all the bags.”

“A spoilt honeymoon.” As they made a sharp turn into Broadway she was
thrown against him. “Poor old you, not to be coming!”

“Hulloa!” He looked at her intently.

“A discovery?”

“The beauty-patch has wandered. It’s at the corner of your mouth
to-day.”

“Observing person! There’s a reason.” She leant nearer to whisper. “It’s
a sleep-walker.”

In the midst of her high spirits she became serious. “It’s mean of me to
leave you. If I’d known that it was only to see me that you’d sailed----
I couldn’t believe it--not even when you’d cabled. I ought to feel
flattered. I shouldn’t think--shouldn’t think it’s often happened that a
man came so far on ’spec.’”

“Perhaps never,” he said. “There was never a Desire----”

Then they felt that they had gone far enough with words, and sat
catching each other’s smile in silence.

“You don’t want to go?” he asked.

“I oughtn’t to say that.” She frowned thoughtfully. “It would be
ungracious to Fluffy. But I don’t want to go much.” Then, letting her
hand rest on his for a second: “It’ll make our good times that are
coming all the better.”

All the way to the station, like shy children, without owning to it,
they were doing their best to comfort each other.

“I’m glad I had that photograph taken.”

“Was that why? Because----”

“Meester Deek, I didn’t know you so well then. It didn’t seem so
terrible to leave you. But--it was partly.”

The tiffs and aloofness of yesterday seemed as distant as a life-time.

“We were stupid to quarrel.” His tone invited her indorsement.

“We’ll do it again,” she laughed.

They swung into the Grand Central. She let him look to her luggage as
though it were his right. It was nearly as good as being married to her.

“Shall I take your ticket?”

“Let’s get it together.”

When they came to the window, she opened her bag and handed him the
money.

“Where to?” he asked. Then he remembered: “Why, you haven’t given me
your address.”

“To Springfield. Here, I’ll scribble out the address while you get the
change. You’d better write your first letter to the theatre in care of
Fluffy. I’ll send you the names of the other towns later.”

At the barrier they met with an unexpected setback; the gateman refused
to let him see her off. “Not allowed. You ought to have a pass.”

It seemed hopeless. The man looked too righteous for bribery and too
inhuman for argument. Desire leant forward: “Oh, please, won’t you let
my brother----?”

Slowly and knowingly the man smiled. He glanced from the anxious little
face, doing its best to appear tearful, to the no less anxious face of
Teddy. He scented romance and signed to them to go forward. So Teddy
had proof that others could become weak when she employed her powers of
fascination.

He followed her into the train and sat down at her side.

“I wish I were coming.”

She gazed out of the window. He bent across to see her face.

“Why, Desire, you’re----”

“I’m silly,” she said quickly. “Parting with anybody makes me cry. Oh,
dear, I wish I wasn’t going.”

“Then don’t.”

He covered her hand in his excitement. There was no time to lose. The
conductor was calling for the last time; passengers were scurrying to
get aboard.

She considered the worth of his suggestion. “I must There’s Fluffy. But
why don’t you come? You can get back to-night.”

He wavered. She was always at her sweetest when saying good-by; if he
went with her, she might get “tired” and become the praying girl again.
He had almost made up his mind to accompany her when the train gave a
preliminary jerk, as though the engine were testing its strength.

“Oh, well, you know best.” Her expression was annoyed and her tone
disappointed. “Only two weeks, after all.”

“But two weeks without you.” He had not quite given up the idea of
accompanying her.

“Hurry up,” she said, “or you won’t get off.”

It was no good going with her now. From the platform he watched her.
As the train began to move, he ran beside her window. At the point of
vanishing she smiled forgiveness and kissed the finger-tips of Miss
Self-Reliance.

In passing out of the station it occurred to him to inquire how long it
took to get to Springfield. He wanted to follow her in imagination and
to picture her at the exact hour of arrival. He was surprised to find
that it was such a short journey and that she might have gone by a later
train. If she’d been so sorry, she needn’t have left him in such a
hurry. When he came to reason things out, he saw that she could have
gone just as well on Monday, since Fluffy’s company was evidently
playing in Springfield another night. Perhaps she had a good reason for
going. It was some comfort to remember that at the last train. If she’d
been so sorry, she needn’t have left him in such a hurry. When he came
to reason things out, he saw that she could have gone just as well on
Monday, since Fluffy’s company was evidently playing in Springfield
another night. Perhaps she had a good reason for going. It was some
comfort to remember that at the last moment she had wanted to stay.

Then began the long days of waiting, from which all purpose in living
seemed to have been banished. Ambitions, which had goaded him forward,
were at a halt. Everything unconnected with her took on an air of
unreality. His personality became distasteful to him because it seemed
not to have attracted her sufficiently.

Things that once would have brought him happiness failed to stir him.
A boom was being worked for him. He was on the crest of a wave.
Interviewers were continually calling to get personal stories.
Articles appeared in which he confided to the public: “How I Became
Famous at Twenty-three,” “Why I Came to America,” “What I Think of New
York,” “Why I Distrust Co-education.” There seemed to be no subject,
however trivial, upon which his views were not of value to the hundred
million inhabitants of America. He was continually finding his face
in the papers. He sprang into an unexpected demand both as writer and
artist.

The fun he derived from this fluster was in imagining the added worth
it would give him in her eyes. He liked to think of her as dashing up to
news-stands and showering on him the enthusiasm he had seen her shower
on Fluffy. Success left him the more humble in proportion as it failed
to rouse her comment. If success couldn’t make her proud of him, there
must be some weakness in his character. He searched her letters for any
hint that would betray her knowledge of what was happening. Perhaps
her very omissions were a sign that she was feeling more than she
expressed. At last he wrote and told her. She replied inadequately,
“How very nice for you!” His hope had been that she would have included
herself as a sharer in his good fortune.

Though he sat for long hours at a stretch, he accomplished laborious
results. His attention refused to concentrate. He was always thinking
of her: the men who might be with her in his absence; the things she had
said and done; the things he had said to her, and which might have been
said better; her tricks of gesture and shades of intonation. Her very
faults endeared themselves in retrospect He coveted the least happy of
the hours he had spent in her company.

For the first day he was consoled by the sight of her tin-type
photograph on the desk before him. He glanced at it between sentences
and felt that she was near him. But soon he made a sad discovery: it
was fast fading. As the days went by he exposed it to the light more
and more grudgingly. He had the superstitious fear that, if it was quite
dark before she returned, his hope of winning her would be ended.

He lived for the arrival of her letters. His anxiety was a repetition
of what he had suffered after her departure from London. He left orders
with the hotel-clerk to have them sent up to his room at once. Every
time a knock sounded on his door he became breathless.

They came thick and fast, funny little letters dashed off at top-speed
in a round girlish handwriting and made to look longer than they were
by being sprawled out over many pages. They were full of broken phrases
like her speech, with dashes and dots for which he might substitute
whatever tenderness his necessity demanded. Usually they began “_Dear
Miester Deek_” and ended “_Yours sincerely, Desire_.” Once, in a
glorious burst of expansiveness, she signed herself “_Affectionately,
Desire,_” and scratched it out. He watched for the error to occur again;
it was never repeated. They were the kind of letters that it was
perfectly safe to leave lying about; his replies emphatically were not.
He marveled at her unvarying discretion.

She had a knack of reproducing the atmosphere of her environment. It was
a gay, pulsating world in which she lived. Like Flora, flowers and the
singing of birds sprang up where she passed. He contrasted with hers
the world he had to offer; it seemed a dull place. She had the keys to
Arcady. How false had been his chivalrous dream that a fate hung over
her from which she must be rescued!

His lover’s eye detected a wealth of cleverness in her correspondence.
He sincerely believed that she was more gifted as a writer than himself.
Her letters were full of descriptions of Fluffy in her part, thumb-nail
sketches of the other members of the cast and accounts of the
momentously personal adventures of a theatrical company on tour. She had
a trick of humor that made her intimate in an adjective, and made him
laugh. She also had a trick of allotting to him prejudices. “You’d call
our leading man a very bad character, but I like him: I think one needs
to have faults to be truly charitable. I’d ask you to join us, but----
You wouldn’t get on with theatrical people; you rather--I know, so you
needn’t deny it--you rather despise them. I think they’re the jolliest
crowd. We dance every night when the show is ended and have late
suppers, and--you can guess.”

It was after receiving this that he made up his mind, in preparation for
her return, to learn the latest dances. He wondered where she could have
gathered the impression that he was puritanical.

But there were other letters in which she joined his future with hers.
“Perhaps you’ll write a great play one day, and allow me to be your
leading lady.”

He paused to let the picture form before he went further. It would
be rather fun. He saw himself holding hands with her and bowing to
applauding audiences. As husband and wife they’d travel the world
together, emancipated beings who never gave a thought to money, each
contributing to the other’s triumph. Fun! Yes. But unsettling. The life
that he had always planned was a kind of glorified Eden Row existence
without the worries. He thought of Jimmie Boy and Dearie, and all the
quiet bonds of dependence they had built up by living always in one
place together.

His eyes went back to her letter. “You’ll come and see me, won’t you,
Meester Deek, if ever I become a great actress? And I shall.--Oh, did
I tell you? Horace is on his way over. I wonder what he and Fluffy will
do? Perhaps quarrel. Perhaps just dawdle.”

He was tempted to go to her; but she hadn’t really invited him. He felt
that she wouldn’t be his in her nomad setting. He couldn’t bear to have
to share her with these butterfly people who viewed love as a diversion,
and marriage as a catastrophe.

Sometimes he doubted whether he was as unhappy as he fancied. He
searched through books to prove to himself that his case was by no means
solitary--that it was the common lot of lovers. He became an admirer of
the happy ending in novels. He sought for fiction-characters upon whose
handling of similar situations he could pattern his conduct One writer
informed him that the secret of success in love was to keep a woman
guessing; another, that with blonde women a heated courting brought the
best results, while with women of a darker complexion a little coldness
paid excellently. All this was too calculating--too like diplomacy.
He fell back on the advice of Madame Josephine: “Don’t judge--try
to understand. When a good man tries to be fair, he’s unjust.” As
an atonement for the disloyalty of his research, he sent Desire a
needlessly large box of flowers.

“It’s only two weeks, after all,” she had said. But the two weeks had
come and gone. All his plans were dependent on hers, and she seemed to
be without any. Already he was receiving inquiries from Eden Row as to
when he could be expected back. He could give no more definite answer
than when he had left; he procrastinated by enclosing press-cuttings and
talking vaguely about taking advantage of his American opportunities.
His position was delicate. He didn’t dare to use the argument with
Desire that she was his sole reason for remaining in New York; it would
have seemed like blackmailing her into returning. Meanwhile, since her
letters arrived regularly, he attributed her continued absence not to
lack of fondness, but to fear of facing up to a decision. He must do
nothing to increase her timidity.

On several occasions he visited Vashti. Each time other people were
present. He noticed that her eyes followed him with a curious expression
of amusement and compassion. At last one afternoon he found her alone.

She was curled up on the couch by the window, wearing a pale-blue
peignoir and a boudoir cap embroidered with tiny artificial roses. A
novel lay face downwards on the floor beside her, and she was playing
with the silky ears of Twinkles, who snuggled in her lap. As he entered,
she reached out her hand without rising and made a sign for him to sit
beside her.

“Twinkles is lonely, too. Aren’t you, Twinkles? We’re all waiting for
our little mistress.”

She went on smiling and playing with the dog’s ears. Slowly she raised
her eyes.

“I can guess what you’re wishing. You’re wishing that I wore a little
curl against my neck and had a beauty-patch.”

“A beauty-patch that’s a sleep-walker,” he added.

She laughed softly. “And did she tell you that? I’ve been thinking about
you--expecting to hear any day that you were sailing to England.”

He shook his head. “I’m like Twinkles. I’m waiting.”

Vashti lifted herself from the cushions and gazed at him intently. “How
long are you prepared to wait?”

“D’you mean how long till she comes back?”

“No. For her. She’s young, Teddy, and she asks so much--so many things
that life’ll never give her. She’s got to learn. She may keep you
waiting a long, long while yet.”

“I’ll wait.” He smiled confidently.

She leant forward and kissed him. “I’m glad. If you win, she’ll be worth
it.”

She went back to playing with Twinkles; he watched her in silence.

With her face averted she said: “At first you thought you had only to
love and she’d love you in return--wasn’t that it? With you to love her
has been a mission; that’s where you’re different from other men. Other
men start by flirting--they intend the run-away right up to the last
minute; then they find themselves caught But you---- It takes an older
woman than Desire to understand. You’re so impetuously in earnest, you
almost frighten her. You’re such a dreamer--the way you were about the
marriage-box. You always take a woman at her word; and a woman, when
she’s loved, means most by the things she leaves unsaid. What happened
to the marriage-box after you found me out?”

He blushed at the confession. “I burnt it.”

“Ah! Burnt me in effigy. That’s what Hal’s done, I expect. That’s where
men make mistakes; they’re so impatient. Often a woman’s love begins at
the point where a man’s ends. I wonder, one day will you get tired and
do something like that to her?”

He wanted to ask her whether her love had begun for Hal at the point
where his had ended; but he said, “I was a little boy, then.”

She took his hands and made him meet her eyes. “Little boys and men are
alike. Don’t wait at all, Teddy, unless you know you’re strong enough to
wait till she’s ready.”

“I am.”

“Easily said. A man once told me that. There came a time when I wanted
him badly; I turned round to give him all that he had asked; he was
gone.”

She sank her voice. “Can you go on bearing disappointment without
showing anger? Can you go on being generous when she hides her kindness?
You may have to see her wasting her affection on all kinds of persons
who don’t know its value. She may stop away from you to punish
herself--she won’t tell you that; and perhaps all the time she’ll be
longing to be with you. That’s the kind of girl Desire is, Teddy; she
leaves you to guess all that’s best Can you stand that?”

280

He nodded. He couldn’t trust his voice to answer.

“Then, here’s a word of advice. Don’t let her see that you’re too much
in earnest.” She laughed, relieving the suspense. “Almost like the
wedding-service, wasn’t it?”

As he left, the last sight he had of her she was still sitting curled
up on the couch, in her pale-blue peignoir, with the sky behind her,
playing with the silky ears of Twinkles snuggled asleep in her lap. She,
too, was waiting. For whom? For what?

That night he wrote a letter to Hal; tore it up and rewrote it. Even
then he hesitated. At last he decided to sleep over the wisdom of
sending it.



CHAPTER XI--THE KEYS TO ARCADY

Of a sudden life became glorious--more glorious than he had ever
believed possible. It commenced on the morning after he had written his
letter to Hal.

He was seated in the white mirrored room of the Brevoort which looks
out on Fifth Avenue. From the kitchen came the mutter of bass voices,
passing orders along in French, and the cheerful smell of roasting
coffee. Scattered between tables, meditative waiters were dreaming that
they were artists’ models, each with a graceful hand resting on the back
of a chair in readiness to flick it out invitingly at the first sight
of an uncaptured guest. From the left arm of each dangled a napkin,
betraying that he had served his appenticeship in boulevard cafés of
Paris.

Outside, at irregular intervals, green buses raced smoothly with a
_whirr-whirr_, which effaced during the moment of their passage the
clippity-clap of horses. Past the window, from thinning trees, leaves
drifted. When they had reached the pavement, the breeze stirred them
and they struggled weakly to rise like crippled moths. There was an
invigorating chill in the October air as though the sunshine had been
placed on ice. Pedestrians moved briskly with their shoulders flung
back. They seemed to be smiling over the great discovery that life was
worth living, after all.

A boy halted under the archway and threw about him a searching glance.
Catching sight of Teddy, he hurried over and whispered. Teddy rose.
In the hall the telephone-clerk was watching. “Booth number three, Mr.
Gurney.”

As he lifted the receiver he was still discussing with himself whether
or no he should send Hal that letter.

“Yes. It’s Mr. Gurney.”

A faint and unfamiliar voice answered--a woman’s voice, exceedingly
pleasant, with a soft slurring accent. It was a voice that, whatever it
said, seemed to be saying, “I do want you to like me.”

“I didn’t quite catch. Would you mind speaking a little louder?” he
asked.

There was a laughing dispute at the other end; then the voice which he
had heard at first spoke again:

“This is Janice Audrey, Desire’s friend--Fluffy. Desire’s too shy to
phone herself, so I---- She’s here at my elbow. She says that she’s not
shy any longer and she’ll speak with you herself.”

It was as though he could feel her gray eyes watching.

A pause. Then, without preliminaries: “You can’t guess where I am. For
all you know, I might be dead and this might be my ghost.--No. Let me do
the talking. It’s long distance from Boston and expensive; I don’t know
how many cents per second. If you were here, I’d let you do the paying;
but since you’re not---- Here’s what I called up to tell you: we’re
coming in on the Bay State Limited at three o’clock.--I thought you’d be
interested. Ta-ta.”

He commenced a hurried question; she had rung off.

Adorably casual! Adorably because she contradicted herself. By calling
him up all the way from Boston she had said, “See how much I care.” By
not allowing him to speak, she had tried to say, “I don’t care at all.”
 It amused him; the odd thing was that he loved her the more for her
languid struggles to escape him. He agreed with her entirely that the
woman who said “No” bewitchingly increased her value. As he finished
his breakfast he reflected: she was dearer to him now than a week ago,
and much dearer than on the drive from Glastonbury. Instead of blaming
her for making herself elusive, he ought to thank her. He’d been too
headlong at the start. He fell to making plans to take Vashti’s advice:
he wouldn’t speak to her of love any more--he’d try to hide from her how
much he was in earnest.

In his eagerness not to disappoint her, he had reached the Grand Central
a quarter of an hour too early. He was standing before the board on
which the arriving trains are chalked up, when from behind some one
touched him.

“Seen you before. How are you? I expect we’re here on the same errand.”

He found himself gazing into the humorous blue eyes which had discovered
him playing tricks with his engine before the house in Regent’s Park.

“You’re Mr. Horace Overbridge, I think.”

“Yes. I’m here to see _October_ put on; that’s my new play in which Miss
Audrey is acting. What are you doing?” Then, because Teddy hesitated,
“Perhaps I oughtn’t to ask.”

At that moment the arrival-platform of the Bay State Limited was
announced; they drifted away at the tail of the crowd towards the
barrier. Teddy wanted to hurry; his companion saw it. “Heaps of time,”
 he laughed. “If I know anything about them, they’ll be out last.”

His prophecy proved correct. The excited welcomes were over; the stream
of travelers had thinned down to a narrow trickle of the feeble or
heavily laden, when Desire, walking arm-in-arm with a woman much more
beautiful than her portraits, drew into sight behind the gates. After
hats had been raised and they knew that they had been recognized, they
did not quicken their pace. They approached still leisurely and talking,
as much as to say: “Let’s make the most of our opportunity before we
sink to the level of these male-creatures.”

Horace Overbridge, leaning on his cane, watched them with tolerant
amusement. “Take their time, don’t they?” he remarked. “One wouldn’t
think we’d both come three thousand miles to meet them. What fools men
are!”

“Hulloa,” said Desire, holding out her hand gladly, “it’s good to see
you. So you two men have introduced yourselves! Fluffy, this is Mr.
Gurney.”

It was arranged that the maid should be seen into a taxi to take care of
the luggage. When she had been disposed of, they crossed the street for
tea at the Belmont. Fluffy and Desire still walked arm-in-arm as though
it was they who had been so long separated. At the table Teddy found
himself left to talk to Fluffy; Desire and the man with the amused blue
eyes were engaged in bantering reminiscences of the summer. The game
seemed to be to pretend that you were not in love; or, if you were, that
it was with some one for whom actually you didn’t care a rap.

“Did it go well?” asked Teddy.

“Wonderfully.”

“I wish you’d tell me. Of course Desire wrote me; but I don’t know
much.”

While she told him, he kept stealing glances at the others. He wondered
at what they were laughing; then he came to the conclusion that it
wasn’t at what was being said, but at the knowledge each had of the
game that was in the playing. He began to take notice of Fluffy. She had
pale-gold hair--quantities of it--a drooping mouth and eyes of a child’s
clearness. She had a way of employing her eyes as magnets. She would fix
them on the person to whom she talked so that presently what she said
counted for nothing; questions would begin to rise in the mind as to
whether she was lonely, why she should be lonely and how her loneliness
might be dispelled. Then her glance would fall away and she would seem
to say: “I shall have to bear my burden; you won’t help me.” After that
all the impulse of the onlooker was to carry her over rough places in
his arms. Her voice sounded as though all her life she had been petted;
her face made you feel that, however good people had been, she deserved
far more. Why had Desire been so positive that he wouldn’t like her? He
did; or rather he would, if she would let him. But he had the feeling
that, while she was kind, she was distrustful and had fenced herself off
so that he could not get near her. He had an idea that he had met her
before; he recognized that grave assured air of being worthy to be loved
without the obligation of taking notice of the loving. Then he spotted
the resemblance, and had difficulty to refrain from laughing. In her
quiet sense of beautiful importance she was like Twinkles.

“It’s wonderful,” she was saying; “I never had such a part. ‘Little
girl,’ Simon Freelevy said when he saw me, ‘little girl, you’ll take
New York by storm.’ And I shall.” She nodded seriously. “Simon Freelevy
ought to know; he’s the cleverest producer in America; I believe he was
so pleased with himself that he’d have kissed me if I hadn’t had my
make-up on. And then, you see, it’s called _October_, and we open in
October. The idea’s subtle; it may catch on.”

She spoke as though the play was a negligible quantity and any success
it might have would be due to her acting. Teddy caught the amused eyes
of the playwright opposite. He turned back to Janice Audrey. “What’s the
plot?” he asked.

“The plot! I’m the plot. You may smile, but I am.--I am the plot of
_October_--isn’t that so, Horace?”

“Oh, yes, Miss Audrey is the plot,” the playwright said gravely. “I have
nothing to do with it, except to draw my royalties.” He picked up the
thread of his conversation with Desire.

A puzzled look crept into Fluffy’s clear child’s eyes--a wounding
suspicion that she was being mocked. She put it from her as incredible.

“When I say I’m the plot, I mean I gave him the story. I told it to him
in a punt at Pangbourne this summer. It’s about a woman called October,
who’s come to the October of her beauty, but has spring hidden in
her heart. She’d loved a man excessively once, when she was young and
generous; and he hadn’t valued her love. After that she determined to
wear armor, to keep her dreams locked away in her heart and to leave
it to the men to do the loving. She becomes an actress, like me. Almost
autobiography! At last, when she realizes that her popularity depends
on her beauty and she hears the feet of the younger generation climbing
after her--at last he comes, the one wearing a smoke-blue corded velvet,
trimmed with gray-squirrel fur at the sleeves and collar. Her hat was
the gray breast of a bird and sat at a slant across her forehead. There
was a flush of color in her cheeks. Again the beauty-patch had wandered;
it was on the left of her chin now. As he watched, he felt the lack of
something; then he knew what it was.

“Why, what’s happened to your curl?”

She put her hand up to her neck and opened her eyes widely. “H’I sye,
old sort, yer don’t mean ter tell me as I’ve lost it?”

While he was laughing at this sudden change of personality, she
commenced searching her vanity-case with sham feverishness; to his
amazement she drew out the missing decoration.

“Oh, ’ere it is. You’re learnin’ h’all me secrets, dearie. It ain’t
wise. But, Lawd, ‘cause yer likes it and ter show yer ‘ow glad I am ter
be wiv yer----”

She deliberately pinned it into place behind her ear; it hung there
trembling, looking entirely natural.

Dropping her Cockney characterization, she bowed to him with bewitching
archness: “Do I look like Nell Gywnn now? I expect, if she were here
for an inquisitive person like you to ask, she’d tell you that hers were
false.”

He loved her for her honesty; if any one had told him a month ago that
so slight and foolish an action could have made him love her better, he
would have laughed them to scorn.

It was intoxicating--transforming. It was as though these stone-palaces
of Fifth Avenue fell back, disclosing magic woodlands--woodlands such as
his father painted through whose shadows pale figures glided. People
on the pavement were lovers, going to meetings which memory would make
sacred. Like Arcady springing out to meet him, the Park swam into sight,
tree-tufted, lagooned, embowered, canopied with the peacock-blue and
saffron of the sunset.

“It’s a pity,” Desire murmured, as though continuing a conversation,
“that they couldn’t have remained happy.”

“Who?”

“Those two. They were such good companions, till he began to speak of
love. I was with them all summer, wherever they went We used to talk
philosophy, and life, and--oh, everything. Then one day I wasn’t with
them; after that our happiness stopped.”

“But she must have known that he loved her before he told her.”

“Of course. That was what made us all so glad, because there was
something left unsaid--something secret and throbbing. It was all gone
when once it had been uttered.”

“It oughtn’t to have gone. It ought to have become bigger and better.”
 He spoke urgently, hoping to hear her agree, “Yes. It ought.”

They were fencing with their problem, discussing it in parables of other
people’s lives.

“Why doesn’t she marry him?” he asked. “I expect I’ve been brought up to
a different set of standards, so I’m not criticizing; I’m trying to see
things from her angle. I’ve been brought up to believe that marriage is
what we were all made for; that it’s something gloriously natural and to
be hoped for; that to grow old unmarried is to be maimed, especially if
you’re a woman. All poetry and religion springs from motherhood; it’s
the inspiration of all the biggest painters. I never dreamed that there
were people who wilfully kept themselves from loving. I don’t know quite
how to express myself. But to see yourself growing up in little children
has always seemed to me to be a kind of immortality. There was a thing
my mother once said: that marriage is the rampart which the soul flings
up to guard itself against calamity. Don’t you think that’s true?”

“You put it beautifully. That’s the man’s view of it.” She smiled
broodingly; the plodding of the horse’s steps filled the pause. “When
a man asks a woman to marry him, he asks her to give up her freedom.
Before she’s married, she has the power; but afterwards---- When a man
tells her that he loves her, he really means that he wants to be her
master.”

“Not her master.” He had forgotten now that it was Fluffy they were
supposed to be discussing; he spoke desperately and his voice trembled.
“Women aren’t strong like men. They can’t stand alone and, unless
they’re loved, they lose half their world when their beauty’s gone. You
say a woman gives up her freedom, but so does a man. They both lose
one kind of freedom to get another. What he wants is to be allowed to
protect her, to----”

“And what Fluffy wants is the right to fulfill herself,” she
interrupted, bringing the argument back to the point from which it
started. “My beautiful mother----” There she stopped. Their glances met
and dropped. He hadn’t thought of her mother. Everything that he had
been saying had been an accusation. “My beautiful mother----” She had
said it without anger, as though gently reminding him of the reason for
her defense. He felt ashamed; in uttering things that were sacred he had
been guilty of brutality. Would the shadow of Vashti always lie between
them when he spoke to her of love?

She came to the rescue. “You’ll think I haven’t any ideals; but I have.”
 She laughed softly. “You men are like boys who make cages. Some one’s
told you that if you can put salt on a bird’s tail, you can catch it.
Away you go with your cages and the first bird you see, you start saying
pretty things to it and trying to creep nearer. It hops away and
away through the bushes and you follow, still calling it nice names.
Presently it spreads its wings and then, because you can’t reach it, you
throw stones at it That’s what Horace is doing to poor little Fluffy.
He never ought to have made his cage; if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have got
angry.--But we’ve not struck a happy subject, Meester Deek. Tell me, did
you miss me much?”

It took one and a half times round the Park to tell her. That she cared
to listen was a proof to him that she wasn’t quite as interested in
preserving her freedom as she pretended. As he described his anxiety in
waiting for her letters, she made her eyes wide and sympathetic. Once or
twice she let her hands flutter out to touch him. He didn’t touch hers;
it was so important to hide from her how much he was in earnest. He
mustn’t do a thing that would startle her.

As darkness fell and her face grew indistinct, he found that he had less
difficulty in talking. Horsemen had disappeared. The procession of
cars and carriages was gone. They jingled through a No-Man’s-Land
of whispering leaves and shadows; lamps buoyed their passage like
low-hanging stars.

Behind trees on a knoll, lights flashed. She pushed up the trap and
spoke to the driver: “Well stop here for dinner.” She turned to Teddy:
“Shall we? It’s McGown’s.”

He helped her out As they passed up the steps to the bungalow, he took
her arm and felt its shy answering pressure. In the hall she drew away
from him.

“Where are you going? Don’t go.”

“Only for a minute. Please, Meester Deek, I want to make myself
beautiful for you.”

“But I can’t spare a minute of you. I’ve lost you for so long.”

“Only one little minute,” she pleaded, “but if you don’t want me to be
beautiful----”

While she was gone he played tricks to make the time pass quickly. He
would see her returning by the time he had counted fifty; no, sixty; no,
a hundred. If he walked to the door and looked out into the Park, by the
time he turned round she would be waiting for him. At last she came--ten
minutes had elapsed; her eyes were shining. He guessed that she
had purposely delayed in order to spur her need of him. They seated
themselves by a window through which they could watch the goblin-eyes of
automobiles darting through the blackness, and the white moon climbing
slowly above tattered tree-tops.

She sat with her hand against her throat, gazing at him smilingly.

“What are you thinking, Princess?”

“Thoughts.”

“Won’t you tell me?”

“I was thinking that I say some very foolish things. I pretend to know
so much about life, and I don’t know anything. I borrow other people’s
disappointments--Fluffy’s, for instance. And then I talk to poor you,
as though you had disappointed me. I wish I were a little girl again,
asking you what it was like to have a father. D’you remember?--I always
wanted to have a father. Tell me about my father, please, won’t you?”

His eyes had grown blurred. The witch-girl was gone. They had traveled
mysteriously back across the years to the old untested faiths and
loyalties. She had become his child-companion of the lumber-room days.
On her submissive lips, like parted petals, hovered the unspoken words:
“I love you. I love you.”

“I didn’t mean to make you sad,” she said gently, “so, if it’ll make you
sad to tell me----” Two fingers were spread against the comers of her
mouth to prevent it from widening into smiling.

“That’s what Mrs. Sheerug does when she doesn’t want to smile.”

When she asked him “What?” he showed her.

“Funny! The only time I saw her was when she fished me out of the pond
with her umbrella. She seemed a strict old lady. And there was a boy
named Ruddy; he was my cousin, wasn’t he? It’s a kind of romance to have
a father whom you don’t know. I sometimes think I’m to be envied. D’you
think I am, Meester Deek?--Ahl you don’t Never mind; tell me about him.”

Then they fell to talking of Eden Row. He had to describe Orchid Lodge
to her and how he had first met her mother there, and had thought that
she had really meant to marry him. They got quite excited in building up
their reminiscences.

“Yes, and you came to our house when my father, whom I didn’t know was
my father, was playing lions with me. And I ran to you for protection.
When Pauline took me away, I fought to get back to you and got slapped
for it You didn’t know that? Didn’t you hear me crying? Go on with what
you were saying. It’s fine to be able to remember. Don’t let’s stop.”

They were picking up the threads of each other’s lives and winding them
together. She told him about herself--how for long stretches, while her
mother had been on tour singing, she had been left in the care of maids,
and her favorite game had been to play that she was a great actress.
“And you’ll never guess why it was my favorite. I used to pretend that
my father was in the audience and came afterwards to tell me he was
proud of me. That’s why------ Do you think he would be proud of me?”

“He’d be proud of you without that, wild bird.”

“Why do you call me wild bird, Meester Deek? But I know: because I’m
always struggling and flying beyond my strength. You think that, if
I became an actress, I wouldn’t succeed. You don’t believe in me very
much. I’ll have to show you--have to show you all. Everybody discourages
me.”

His heart was beating furiously. Where was the good of hiding things?
She knew he was in earnest “My dear,” he said, and a kind disapproval
came into her eyes, “I believe in you so much--more than in any woman.
It isn’t that; but I’m afraid that you’ll lose so many things that
you’ll some day want.”

“You mean that an actress oughtn’t to marry? That’s what Fluffy
says--she must be like a man and live for her art. If you married, you’d
still go on sketching and writing; but men expect their wives to drop
everything. It’s selfish of them and hard.”

“But it’s always been like that and you’re not an actress yet, and--and,
if you were, it would be terrible to think of you going through
love-scenes every night with some one else.”

She laughed into his eyes; he almost believed that her talk had been an
ambush to lead him on. “You could be very jealous.”

She rose from the table. When they were settled in the hansom, she
whispered: “Let me be little again, Meester Deek. Tell me abouts knights
and faeries, the way you did when you were only Teddy.”

“There was once a knight,” he began, “who dreamt always of a princess
whom he would marry. At last he found her, and she pretended that she
didn’t want him.”

“And did she?”

“She did at last The title of the story is _The Princess Who Didn’t Know
Her Heart_.”

“Go on.”

“That’s all.”

“It’s very short.--That’s Miss Self-Reliance you’re holding, Meester
Deek. I don’t know whether she likes it.” And again she said in a drowsy
whisper, “I don’t know whether she likes it.”

They both fell silent, staring straight before them into the darkness.

“You don’t mind if I close my eyes, Meester Deek? I’m really tired.”

He answered her with a pressure of the hand. She drooped nearer. “You
are good to me.”

In a husky contented little voice, she began to sing to herself. It
was a darkie song about a pickaninny who had discovered that she was
different from the rest of the world because the white children refused
to play with her. To Teddy it seemed Desire’s pathetic way of explaining
to him the loneliness of her childhood. At the end of each verse the
colored mammy crooned comfortingly:

                   “So, honey, jest play in your own backyard,

                   Don’t mind what dem white chiles say.”

He stooped lower over her closed eyes and murmuring lips. She seemed
aware of him; she turned her face aside. He brushed her cool cheek and
thrilled to the touch of it.

He waited. She still sang softly with her eyes fast shut, as though
advising him:

                   “So, honey, jest play in your own backyard.”

Over and over she hummed the line. He crept back into his place in the
darkness.

When they had drawn up before the apartment and he had jumped to the
pavement to help her out, she whispered reproachfully, “Meester Deek,
you did get out quickly.” Then, as they said good-by, “It’s been the
nicest time we’ve ever had.”

It was only after she had vanished that he asked himself what she had
meant, “You did get out quickly.” At the last moment was she going to
have kissed him, or to have given him her lips to kiss? And, “The nicest
time we’ve ever had”--did she know that he had been trembling to ask her
to marry him?

When he got back to the Brevoort he destroyed the letter he had written
to Hal. His optimism was aflame; soon he would have something better to
write him. He fell asleep that night with the coolness of her cheek upon
his lips.



CHAPTER XII--ARCADY

His first sensation on awaking next morning was of that stolen kiss.
All night he had been dreaming of it. All night he had been conscious of
the porcelain smoothness of her hand held closely in his own. He closed
his eyes against the amber shaft of sunlight which streamed from the
window across the counterpane. He strove to recall those dreams; but
the harder he strove the dimmer grew the lamps in the haunted chamber
of remembrance. He saw vague shapes, which receded from him and melted.
Since dreams failed him, he flung wide the windows of imagination.

He saw himself walking with his arm about her, between pollarded trees
along a silver road. She clung against his breast like a blown spray
of lilac. Now he was stretched at her feet in the greenest of green
meadows, while above the curve of her knees her brooding smile watched
him. He pictured her, always in new landscapes of more than earthly
beauty, enacting a hundred scenes of uninterrupted tenderness.

The burden of his longing made him weary. Until he had kissed her, he
had had no real understanding of what love meant; she had been to him
an idea--an enchanting, disembodied spirit. Now she was white and warm,
exquisitely clothed with glowing flesh. It was not the magic cloak any
longer, but Desire herself, sweetly perverse and wilfully cold, that he
worshiped.

How old he had become since last night, and yet how young! In kissing
her he had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge; from now on his thirst would
grow unquenchably till he knew her as himself. All that that knowledge
might mean passed before his mind in slow procession. Ominous as the
rustle of God’s feet in Eden, he could hear her humming her plaintive
warning:

                   “So, honey, jest play in your own backyard.”

He threw back the clothes and jumped out. Such imaginings were not
allowed. But they returned. Like a snow-capped mountain in the dawning,
his manhood caught the rose-red glow of passion and trembled, a tower of
flame and ivory, above the imperiled valleys of experience.

As he dressed he molded the future to any shape he chose, rolled it into
a ball and molded it afresh. Now that he had kissed her, all things
were possible. His interest in all the world was quickened. His work
and success again became important. He thought of her thin little
high-heeled shoes, her dancing decorative way of walking, the costly
frailty of her dress. He would need money--heaps of it--to marry her.

It was half-an-hour later, while he sat at breakfast, that a small cloud
loomed on his horizon. It grew out of the sobering effect which comes
of being among everyday people. A doubt arose in his mind as to the
propriety of his last night’s actions. He’d whisked her away from the
station without letting her see her mother, and had brought her home
late after driving for hours through the darkness. Would Vashti consider
him a safe person after such behavior? He knew that Eden Row wouldn’t.
But in Desire’s company he lost sight of conventions in the absolute
rightness of their being together. Besides, as he knew to his cost,
she was well able to take care of herself. Strangers might think----
It didn’t matter what they thought. Nevertheless, it was with some
trepidation that he approached the telephone and heard Vashti answer;
“You brought my baby-girl home rather late. I hope you had a good
time.--Oh, no, I didn’t mind; but I should have if it had been any one
but Teddy.”

He wondered whether Desire had told her mother that he had kissed her.
Did girls tell their mothers things like that?

“May I speak with Desire?”

“She’s not here. Fluffy called with Mr. Overbridge just after you’d
brought her back. They took her out to supper. Desire slept with her
last night. I don’t know what plans she’s made for to-day.--Yes, I’ll
ask her to call you up.”

Fluffy again! He frowned. Overbridge hadn’t wanted her--that was
Fluffy’s doing; she had taken her for protection. He didn’t like to
think of Desire’s being put to such uses. He didn’t like to think of her
being made a foil to another woman’s ill-conducted love-affair. There
was a lack of system about not knowing where you were going to sleep up
to within five minutes of getting into bed. He felt chagrined that
his imagination had been wasted in picturing her thinking of him. He
criticized Vashti for the leniency of her attitude; it was proper, if
bonds of affection were worth anything, for a mother and daughter to
be together after a three weeks’ separation. For his own lack of
consideration in keeping Desire from her mother, there was some excuse;
but for Fluffy’s---- The thing that hurt most was that Desire should
have been willing to telescope the most exalted moment of his life into
the next trivial happening, allowing herself no time for reflection.

All that day he waited with trembling suspense to hear from her; it was
not until the following morning that she called him and arranged to
go to lunch. Almost her first words on meeting were, “I’ve thought it
over.”

“Over! Was there anything?”

“Thieves must be punished. You mustn’t do it again.” Then, with a quick
uplifting of her eyes--so quick that the gray seas seemed to splash
over: “Come, Meester Deek, let’s forget and be happy.”

So he learnt that it was he who had done wrong--he who had to be
forgiven. Her forgiveness was offered so generously that it would have
been churlish to dispute its necessity. Besides, argument wasted time
and might lead to fretfulness.

In the weeks that followed a dangerous comradeship sprang up between
them; dangerous because of its quiet confidence, which seemed to deny
the existence of passion. Her total ignoring of the fact of sex made
any reference to it seem vulgar; yet everything that she did, from
the itinerant beauty-patch to the graceful frailty of her dress, was a
silent and provocative acknowledgment that sex was omnipresent.

“I wouldn’t dare to trust myself so much with any other man,” she told
him.

It was what Vashti had said: “Oh, no, I didn’t mind; but I should have
if it had been any one but Teddy.”

So he found himself isolated on a peak of chivalry, from which the old
sweet ways of love looked satyrish. Other men would have tried to hold
her hands. Given his opportunities, other men would have crushed their
lips against her sweet red mouth. Because she had proclaimed him nobler
than other men he refrained from any of these brutalities--and all the
while his mind was on fire with the vision of them. Instead, he put the
poetry of his passion into the parables of love that he told her. They
were like children in a forest, hiding from each other, yet continually
calling and making known their whereabouts out of fear of the forest’s
solitariness.

They showed their need of each other in a thousand ways which were more
eloquent than words. Every morning at ten promptly--ten being her hour
for rising--he phoned her. Sometimes he found her at Vashti’s apartment,
sometimes at Fluffy’s; at Fluffy’s there were frequently sleepy sounds
which told him that she was answering him from bed. This morning
conversation grew to be a habit on which they both depended.

It was a rare day when they did not lunch together. She would meet him
in the foyer of one of the fashionable hotels. They had special nooks
where they found each other--nooks known only to themselves. In the
Waldorf it was against a pillar at the end of Peacock Alley, opposite to
the Thirty-fourth Street entrance which is nearest to Fifth Avenue.
In the Vanderbilt it was a deep armchair, two windows uptown from the
marble stairs. In the same way they had their special tables; they got
to know the waiters, and often to please her he would order the table
to be reserved. He learnt that lavish tips and the appearance of wealth
were the Open Sesame to pleasures of which the frugality of Eden Row had
never dreamt.

She was invariably late to their appointments--or almost invariably; if
he counted on her lateness and arrived late himself, it would so happen
that she had got there early. Her instinct seemed to keep her informed,
even when he was out of her sight, as to what he was thinking and doing,
so that she was able to forestall him, thwart him, surprise him. He felt
that this was as it should be if she were in love. The contradiction was
that, though he loved her, his sixth sense never served him. When he
had calculated that this would be her early day and had arrived with ten
minutes in hand, he would watch for an hour the surf of faces washed
in through the revolving doors. As time passed, he would begin
to conjecture all kinds of dismal happenings; underlying all his
conjectures was the suspicion of unexpected death. Then, like a
comforting strain of music, she would emerge from the discord of the
crowd and take his hand. In the joy that she was still alive, he would
hardly listen to her breathless apologies.

In all his dealings with her there was this constant harassment of
uncertainty. She would never make an arrangement for a day ahead; he
must call her up in the morning--she wasn’t sure of her plans. He
knew what this meant: she wasn’t sure whether Fluffy would command her
attentions. Fluffy came first. He determined at all costs to supplant
Fluffy’s premiership in her affections. He had to prove to her, not by
talking, but by accumulated acts, how much his love for her meant. So he
never complained of her irresponsibility. She could be as capricious as
she chose; it never roused his temper. His reward was to have her pat
his hand and murmur softly, “Meester Deek, you are good to me.”

Through the blue-gold blur of autumn afternoons they would drift off
to a matinée or he would accompany her shopping. There was a peculiar
intimacy attaching to being made the witness of her girlish purchases.
She would take him into a millinery shop and try on a dozen hats,
referring always to his judgment. The assistant would delight him by
mistaking him for her husband. Desire would correct the wrong impression
promptly by saying: “I don’t know which one I’ll choose; I guess I’ll
have to bring my mother.” In the street she would confess to him that
she’d done it for a lark and hadn’t intended to buy anything.

“But why do they all--waiters and everybody--think that we’re married?”

“Perhaps because we were made for each other, and look it.”

She would twist her shoulders with a pretense of annoyance; her gray
eyes would become cloudy as opals. “That’s stupid. I’m so young--only
twenty.”

On one of these excursions she filled him with joy by accepting from him
a dozen pairs of silk-stockings. He was perpetually begging her to let
him spend his money on her and she was perpetually refusing.

“You tempt me, Meester Deek. What would people think?”

“I don’t know and don’t care. People be hanged. There aren’t any
people--only you and I alone in the world. How’d you like a new set of
furs?”

“Now, do be good,” she would beg of him, eyeing the furs enviously.

“I don’t know,” he told her, “whether you really mean no or yes.”

“And perhaps I don’t know myself,” she mocked him.

Later, when wild-flowers of the streets flamed in the hedges of the
dusk, they would again postpone their parting. Some new palace would
magically spring up to lure them. Then they would dine to music and she
would insist on acting the hostess and serving him; sometimes by seeming
inadvertence their hands would touch. They would dawdle over their
coffee; like a mother humoring a child full of fancies, at his repeated
request she would sweeten his cup with the lips that were forbidden him.
They might sit on all evening; they might stroll languorously off
to find a new stimulus to illusion in a theatre. Their evenings were
intolerably fugitive. Before midnight they would ride uptown through
the carnival of Broadway, where light foamed on walls of blackness like
champagne poured across ebony.

At first he was inclined to be dissatisfied that he gained so little
ground: when he advanced, she retreated; when he retreated, she
advanced. If, to woo him back to a proper demonstrativeness, she had
to display some new familiarity, she was careful not to let it become a
habit.

“The more stand-offish I am with you,” he said, “the more sweet you are
to me. Directly I start to fall in love with you again----”

“Again?” she questioned, with a raising of her brows.

“Again,” he repeated stubbornly. “Directly I do that, you grow cold.
The thing works automatically like a pair of scales--only we hardly ever
balance. When you’re up, I’m down. When I’m up, you’re down.”

“What charming metaphors you use,” she exclaimed petulantly; and then,
with swift tormenting compassion, “Poor Meester Deek.”

But his protestations worked no difference. One night, in crossing Times
Square, she said, “You may take my arm if you choose.” When an hour
later he tried to do it, she drew away from him, with, “I cross heaps
of streets without that.” Sometimes, driving home, she would unglove a
temptress hand and let it rest invitingly in her lap. At the first sign
that he was going to take it, it would pop like a rabbit into the warren
of her muff.

At the moment of parting she became most fascinating; then, for an
instant, poignancy would touch her, making her humble. The dread
foreknowledge would creep into her eyes that even such loyalty as his
could be exhausted; the imminent fear would clutch her that one evening
there would be a final parting and the hope of a new dawn would bring no
hope of his returning. She would coax him to come up to the apartment;
if he consented, she would divert him by chattering to the astonished
elevator-boy in what she conceived to be French. She would slip her key
into the latch, calling softly: “Mother! Mother!” Sometimes Vashti
would come out from the front-room where she had been sitting in the
half-light with a man--usually a Mr. Kingston Dak. As often as not she
would be in bed. Like conspirators they would tiptoe across the passage.
By the piano, with her back towards him, she would seat herself and play
softly with one hand, “In the Gloaming, oh My Darling,” one of the few
tunes which she could strum without error. He would stand with his face
hanging over her shoulder, and they would both wonder silently whether
he was going to crush her to him. Just as he had made up his mind, she
would swing round with eyes mysterious as moonstones: “Meester Deek,
let’s take Twinkles out.”

So, leaving the apartment with its heavy atmosphere of sleepers, they
would seize for themselves this last respite.

Loitering along pale streets with the immensity of night brooding over
them, the world became wholly theirs and she again the haunting dream
of his boyhood. There was only the blind white eye of the moon to watch
them. Reluctantly they would come back to the illumined cave which was
fated to engulf her.

Their hands would come together and linger. Their lips would stumble
over words and grow dumb.

“And to-morrow?” he would falter.

“To-morrow!--Phone me.--It’s one of the nicest days we’ve ever had.”

In a flash she would stoop to Twinkles, tuck the bundle of wriggling fur
beneath her arm, wave her hand and run lightly up the steps.

If he stayed, he would see her turn before entering the elevator, wave
her hand again and throw a last smile to him--a smile which seemed to
reproach him, to plead with him and to extend a promise.



CHAPTER XIII--DRIFTING

Through the red flame-days of October she danced before him, a
tantalizing heart of thistledown. If she settled, it was always well
ahead. When he came up with her and stooped, thinking her capture
certain, some new breeze of caprice or reticence would sweep her beyond
the reach of his grasp.

They discussed love in generalizations--in terms of life, literature and
the latest play. They discussed very little else.

“When I’m married-------” he would say.

“Well?” she would encourage him, snuggling her face against her
white-fox furs.

“When I am married, every day’ll be a new romance. I can live anywhere
I like--that’s the beauty of being an artist. I think I shall live in
Italy first, somewhere on the Bay of Naples. I and my wife” (how her
eyes would twinkle when he said that!), “I and my wife will dress up
every evening. We’ll have a different set of costumes for every night in
the week, and we’ll dine out in an arbor in our little garden. Sometimes
she’ll be a Dresden Shepherdess, and sometimes a Queen Guinevere, and
sometimes-----”

“And won’t she ever be herself?”

“She’ll always be that, with a beauty-patch just about where you wear
yours and a little curl bobbing against her neck.”

“But what’s the idea of so many costumes?”

“We shall never get used to each other; we shall always seem to be
loving for the first time--beginning all afresh.--Doesn’t it attract
you, Princess?”

“Me? I don’t see what I’ve got to do with it. Here’s the kind of woman
you’ll marry: a nice little thing without any ambitions, who’ll think
you’re a genius. You’ll live in one house forever and ever, and have
a large family and go to church every Sunday. And you’ll have a dead
secret that you’ll never be able to tell her, about a famous actress
whom you once romped with in New York before she was famous.”

She had a thousand ways of turning him aside from confession.

“Men are rotters--all men except you, Meester Deek. Poor little Fluffy!
Horace isn’t at all nice to her.”

It transpired on inquiry that Horace wasn’t at all nice to Fluffy
because she was dividing her leisure between himself and Simon Freelevy.

“You see, she must,” Desire explained. “It’s business. _October_ isn’t
the success they expected--it’s too English in its atmosphere. If
Freelevy likes her, he can put her into his biggest productions. Horace
won’t understand that it’s business. He sulks and makes rows. That’s
why I go about with her so much--her little chaperone, she calls me.
Men have to be polite and can’t take advantage when a young girl is
present.”

“But what does she give them in return?” Teddy asked.

Desire became cold. “Any man should feel proud to be seen in her
company.”

Her way of saying it made him feel that all women were queens and all
men their servitors. His idea that love-affairs ended in marriage seemed
rustic and adolescent. To be seen in the company of a pretty face was
all the reward a man ought to expect for limousines, late suppers,
tantalized hopes and the patient devotion of an honorable passion.
He couldn’t bear that Desire should class herself with the nuns of
pleasure, who dole out their lure as payment, and have blocks of ice
where less virtuous women have hearts. In her scornful defense of
Fluffy, she seemed to be building up a case for herself.

In the last extremity, when a proposal of marriage threatened, she
employed a still more effective weapon.

“Look here, Meester Deek, I like you most awfully and we’ve had some
splendid times, but why are you stopping in America?”

He would gaze into her eyes dumbly, thinking, “Now’s my chance.”

His hesitancy would infect her with boldness. “If it’s for my sake,
I’m not worth the trouble. I think you’d better go back to England. The
_Lusitania’s_ sailing tomorrow.”

Piqued by her assumed indifference, he would pretend to take her at her
word: “Perhaps I had better. Would you come to see me off?”

“Maybe.”

“And kiss me good-by?”

“If I felt like it.”

“Then it’s almost worth going.”

“Why don’t you?”

Once he gave her a fright They were passing The International Sleeping
Car Company on Fifth Avenue. “I think I will,” he said lightly.

Entering, he made a reservation and paid the deposit money. During the
next hour she was so sweet to him, so sad, that they raced back through
the thickening night, arriving just as the last clerk was leaving, and
canceled the booking.

“Did you mean it?” she whispered.

“Well, didn’t I?”

“But do tell me,” she pleaded. “If you don’t, I shall never be at rest.”

He slipped his arm into hers without rebuff. “Odd little, dear little
Princess, was it likely?”

After that, when in this mood of self-effacement, she would insist
without fear of being taken seriously that he should sail.

“If you don’t, I’ll refuse to see you ever again. But,” she would add,
“that’s only if you really are stopping here on my account.”

To relieve her conscience of responsibility he would lie like a
corsair, bolstering up the fiction that business was his sole reason for
remaining.

“Then, it’s your funeral, isn’t it?”

“My funeral,” he echoed solemnly.

The Indian summer sank into a heap of ashes from which all heat was
spent. November looked in with its thin-lipped mornings and its sudden
pantherlike dusks. Still they wandered, separate and yet together, from
the refuge of one day to the next, establishing shrines of habit which
made them less and less dispensable to each other’s happiness. She was
always darting ahead into the uncertain shadows, hiding, and springing
out that she might test his gladness in having refound her.

Each new day was an exquisite wax-statue which by night had melted to
formlessness in his hands. He made repeated resolutions to organize
his energies. He lived im-paradised in a lethargy of fond emotions.
His career was at a halt; his opportunities were slipping from him. To
encourage his industry he drew up a chart of the hours in the current
month that he would work. He pinned it to the wall above his desk that
it might reproach him if he fell below his average. The average was
never reached. The chart was tom up. His most stalwart plans were driven
as mist before the breath of her lightest fancy. Not that she encroached
on him by deed or word; but her memory was a delirium which kept him
always craving for her presence.

“If you were to drop me to-morrow,” she told him, “you’d never hear from
me. I’m like that. I shouldn’t run after you.”

She left him to place his own construction on the statement--to discover
its origin in nobility or carelessness. Whichever it was, it made him
the needle while she remained the magnet. When he wasn’t with her, he
was waiting for her; so the hours after midnight, when he had seen her
home, were the only ones free from feverishness. His work suffered;
he stole from the hours when he ought to have been in bed. He began to
suspect that he was losing his confidence of touch. The suspicion was
sharply confirmed when one of his commissioned articles came back
with the cryptic intimation that it wasn’t exactly what the editor had
expected. That meant the loss of five hundred dollars; what was worse,
it filled him with artistic panic.

In the old days--the days of _Life Till Twenty-one_--fame had been the
goal of his ambitions. He had set before his eyes, as though it were
a crucifix, the austere aloofness of his father’s pure motives. He
couldn’t afford to do that any longer. He was spending lavishly; the
example of the extravagance of Fluffy’s lovers spurred his expenditures.
He didn’t care how he won Desire’s admiration; win it he must.
Unconsciously he was trying to win it with a display of generosity.
Dimly he foresaw that he was doing her an injustice; he would have to
cut down and recuperate the moment they were married. In preparation he
painted to her the joys of simplicity and of life in the country. Her
curl became agitated with merriment.

“That isn’t the way I’ve been brought up. Cottages don’t have bathrooms,
and the country’s muddy except in summer. It wouldn’t suit me. And I do
like to wear silk.” Then, with a shudder: “Poverty’s so ugly. There’s
only one thing worse, and that’s growing old. Please, Meester Deek,
let’s talk of something else.”

She was like a child, stopping her ears with her fingers and pleading,
“Please don’t tell me any more ghost-stories.” He felt sorry for her;
at such times she seemed so inexperienced and young. By her
misplaced valuations, she was giving life such power to hurt her. Her
sophistication seemed more apparent than real--a disguise for her lack
of knowledge. He wanted to comfort her against old age. If one were
loved, neither poverty nor growing old mattered. He thought of Dearie
and the way she had married his father, with their joint affection and
her high belief in him for their sole assets.

There were times when Desire seemed to guess his problem.

“I wish you’d do more work. Why don’t you leave me alone to-morrow? And
you oughtn’t to keep on spending and spending. I’d be just as happy if
you spent less.”

The joy of her thoughtfulness gave him hope and made him the more
reckless. Besides, it wasn’t possible to economize in her company. Her
fear of the subway and her abhorrence of crowded surface-cars made taxis
a continual necessity. Her shoes were so thin that a mile of walking
tired her; her clothes were so stylish that she would have looked
conspicuous in any but a fashionable setting. Her method of dress, in
which he delighted, limited them both to costly environments. He had
named her rightly years ago in calling her “Princess.”

Vashti puzzled him. She seemed to avoid him. When he visited the
apartment she was out, just going out or expected back shortly. He had
fugitive glimpses of her hurrying off to concert engagements, or going
on some pleasure jaunt with the unexplained Mr. Dak, similar to those
which he and Desire enjoyed together.

Mr. Kingston Dak was a little grasshopper of a man. He had lemon-colored
hair, white teeth, extremely well-kept hands and was nearly forty. His
littleness was evidently a sore point with him, for the heels of his
shoes were built up like a woman’s. He held himself erectly and when
others were seated he usually remained standing. He seemed to be always
in search of something to lean against which would enable him to
tiptoe unobtrusively and to add another inch to his stature. He was
clean-shaven, and in appearance shy and boyish; he would have looked
excellently well in clerical attire. By hobby he was an occultist;
by profession a stockbroker. His chief topic of conversation was the
superiority of Mohammedanism to Christianity.

Desire called him “King” familiarly; Vashti referred to him as “My
little broker.” Although in his early twenties he had been divorced and
tattered by the thorns of a disastrous passion, neither of them
seemed to regard him as dangerously masculine. They treated him as a
maiden-aunt--as a pale person receiving affection in lieu of wages,
expected to safeguard their comfort and to slip into a cupboard when he
wasn’t wanted.

“King’s quite nice,” Desire told Teddy; “he was most awfully fond of
her. His troubles have made him so understanding.”

Teddy wondered what had happened to the world that all its women had
become Vestal Virgins and all its men unassailable St. Anthonies. He
watched Mr. Dak for any sign that he remembered the days of his flesh.
The little man was as perfunctory over his duties as a well-trained
lackey.

Vashti’s bearing towards himself during their brief meetings was
affectionately sentimental. There was a hint of the proprietary in the
way she touched him, as though she regarded him already as her son. Her
eyes would rest on him with veiled inquiry; she never put her question
into words. She was giving him his chance, and he felt infinitely
grateful to her--so grateful that he was blind to the unexplained
situations which surrounded her. That she should allow his unchaperoned
relations with Desire endowed her with broadmindedness. “Unto the pure
all things are pure,” seemed the maxim on which she acted. In accepting
that ruling for his own conduct, he had to extend the same leniency to
Mr. Dak’s.

Desire stretched it a point further and made it apply to herself. He
found that frequently after he had said “Good-by” to her at close on
midnight, Fluffy would call with a car and carry her off to make a
party of three at supper, or sometimes to join a larger party--mostly of
men--in her apartment. He remonstrated with her: “It’s all very well for
an actress; but I hate to think of you mixing with all kinds of people
whose standards are just anyhow, and playing ’gooseberry’ for two
people older than yourself.”

“I don’t see that you can complain,” she laughed. “If my standards
weren’t theatrical and if I were the kind of girl who sees evil in
everything, you wouldn’t be allowed to go about with me so much.”

There was his dilemma in a nut-shell. In joining the ranks of the
superiorly pure, he was pledged to see purity everywhere. Divorces were
pure. Nobody was to blame for anything. People ought to be sympathized
with, not punished, when they got into trouble. He seemed to have made
lax conventions his own by taking advantage of them for facilitating
his courtship. It would look like hypocrisy to disapprove of them after
marriage. It was very jolly, for instance, to hear her whisper in
the jingling secrecy of a hansom, “Meester Deek, please light me a
cigarette.” Very jolly to convey it from his lips to hers, and to
watch the red glow of each puff make a cameo of her face against the
blackness. But---- And that _but_ was perpetually walking round new
corners to confront him--if she were his wife, would the sight of her
smoking afford him such abiding happiness? She had taunted him with
being a King Arthur. In the presence of her emotional tolerance,
which found excuses for everything and ostracized nobody, his sense of
propriety seemed a lack of social charity. He guessed the reason for
her continual plea that people should be forgiving--her mother. The
knowledge silenced his criticisms and roused his compassion.

Two moods possessed him alternately: in the one he despised himself as
an austere person, in whom an undue restraint of upbringing had
dammed the stream of youth, so that it lay alone and unruffled as a
mountain-tarn; in the other he saw himself as a man with a chivalrous
duty.

Little by little he came to see that her faery lightheartedness, her
faculty for taking no thought for the morrow, made her an easy prey for
the morrow. Her ease in acquiring new friendships made friendship of
small value.

Her butterfly Sittings from pleasure to pleasure left her without
garnerings. She lived, he calculated, at the rate of at least five
thousand dollars per annum. But different people paid for it; she
contributed as her share her gay well-dressed schoolgirl self. The
chances were that she rarely had a five-dollar bill in her purse, and
yet she was accustoming herself to extravagance.

He began to watch her friends. When he ran over the list of them, he
found that they were all temporary, held by the flimsiest bonds
of common knowledge. They had been met at hotels, in pensions, on
transatlantic voyages. A good many of them were divorced or unattached
persons. They were all on the wing; none of them seemed to comply with
any settled code of morals. The more he saw of her, the more aghast he
became at the precariousness of her prosperity. Some day these friends,
who could dispense with her for months together, would happen all to
dispense with her at the same moment Then the telephone, which was her
wizard summons to dinners, balls, and motor-parties, would suddenly grow
silent. She would wait and listen; and listen and wait; her round of
gayeties would be ended. Perhaps this thirst for the insubstantial
things of life was a part of the price which Hal had mentioned. Did she
know it? Winged creature as she was, she must covet the security of
a nest sometimes, though, while she was without it, she affected to
despise it as dullness.

When he married her---- He became lost in thought

If they went on living as they were living now, his career would be torn
to shreds by her unsatisfied energy. They would have to settle down. In
putting up with any irritations that might result, he’d be helping her
to pay the penalty--the penalty which Vashti had imposed on so many
lives--on her own most of all--by her early selfishness. Towering above
his passion and mingling with it oddly, was the great determination
to save her from the ruinous lightness to which her mother’s undefined
social position had committed her.

She was fully aware of the unspoken strictures which lent melancholy to
his ardor.

“You think I’m a silly little moth. I know you do. I’m pyschic. You
think I’m fluttering about a candle and that my wings’ll get scorched.
Just you wait. I’ll have to show you.”

Or she would say, leaning out towards him, “I wonder what it is that you
like about me, Meester Deek. There are so many things you don’t like,
though you never tell me. You don’t like my powdering, or my smoking
cigarettes, or--oh, such lots of things. But where’s the harm? And
there’s another thing you won’t like--I’m going to dye my hair to
auburn.”

This threat, that she would dye her hair, led to endless conversations.
It made him bold to tell her how pretty she was, which was exactly what
she wanted.

Sometimes she was sweetly grown up, preparing him for disillusionment;
but it was when she was little that he loved her best Then she would
give him the most artless confidences; telling him about her religion,
how she prayed for him night and morning, and of her longings to know
her father. She would plead with him to tell her about Orchid Lodge and
Mrs. Sheerug, and Ruddy, and Harriet She came to picture the old house
as if she had lived there, and yet she was never tired of hearing the
old details afresh. Orchid Lodge became a secret between them--one of
their many secrets, like the name she had given him. And still they
drifted undecided.

Then the series of events happened which forced their love to its first
anchorage.



CHAPTER XIV--THE TRIFLERS GROW EARNEST

Night was tremulous with the beat of wings. The first snow of the
season was falling, giving to familiar streets a theatric look of
enchanted strangeness. Large flakes sailed confidently as descending
doves; little ones came in flurries like a storm of petals. Perhaps
boy-angels in heavenly orchards were shaking the blossoms with their
romping. Teddy glanced at the girl beside him; it seemed that an
all-wise providence had sent the snow especially as a background for
her.

They were returning from the final performance of _October_. They had
been behind the scenes with Fluffy, where friends had been drugging her
melancholy with the assurance that, whatever might be said of the play,
her acting had scored a triumph.

The illusion of the footlights followed them. Streets were a new
stage-setting in which they had become the dominant personalities. The
shrieking of motor-horns above the din of traffic seemed the agonized
cry of defeated lovers, divided in a chaos of misunderstandings.

As they drove up Broadway Desire crouched with her cheek against the
pane. She was trying to make out the hoardings on which the name of
Janice Audrey was featured in large letters. While she performed her
ritual at each vanishing shrine, Teddy sat unheeded.

Her saint-like hands were clasped against her breast. Her face hung
palely meditative, a shadow cast upon the dusk. She filled the night
with fragrance. The falling flakes outside seemed to kiss her hair in
passing.

He could only imagine the old-rose shade of the velvet opera-cloak
that hid her from him. Her white-fox furs lay across her shoulders like
drifted snow. He ached intolerably to take her in his arms.

Her eyes were turned away. He could only see the faint outline of her
cheek and the slender curve of her girlish neck. She threw out remarks
as they traveled--remarks which called for no answer and expected none.

“Horace’ll have to own now that she was wise in cultivating other
friendships. Poor old Horace!--And all those bills will be covered
up to-morrow with some new great success. Such is fame!--Fluffy’s so
discouraged.”

“Do you think that was true?”

“What?” Her question was asked lazily, more out of politeness than
curiosity.

“That _October_ was her autobiography?”

“Partly. Artistic people like to think themselves tragic. You do. I’ve
noticed.”

“I think it was.” He refused to be diverted. “I think it was real
tragedy. She’s given up so much for fame; it’s brought her nothing.”

Desire laughed quietly. “The old subject. I knew where you were going
the minute you started. It’s like a hat that you want to get rid of; you
hang it on every peg you come to. No, I’m not meaning to be unkind; but
you do amuse me, Meester Deek.--Fluffy’s very much to be envied.”

“Why?”

“She’s beautiful.”

“So are you. But being beautiful isn’t everything. Being loved is the
thing that satisfies.”

“Does it? And loving too, I expect. But you see I don’t know: I’ve never
loved.”

“You won’t let yourself love.” He spoke the words almost inaudibly.

They both fell silent. She still bent forward, her head and shoulders
silhouetted against the pane. Her lack of response made his passion seem
foolishness.

During the weeks of enforced friendship the physical bond between them
had been growing more compelling.

It was only in crowded places that her actions acknowledged it; when
they were by themselves her reticence announced plainly, “Trespassers
will be prosecuted.” Then she became forbidding; but her sudden gusts
of coldness, her very inaccessibility, only added the more to her
attraction. He told himself that women who left men nothing to conquer
were not valued. He found himself filled with overpowering longings to
defy her attempts to thwart him. His mind seethed with pictures of what
might happen. He saw himself pressing those hands against his lips,
kissing her eyes or her slender neck, where the false curl danced and
beckoned. Would this pain of expectancy never end? Did she also suffer
beneath her pale aloofness?

With the high-strung sensitiveness of the lover, he began to suspect
that his procrastination piqued her. Sometimes he fancied that even
Vashti criticized his delay in announcing his intentions. He dreaded
lest Desire should think that he was flirting. But why didn’t she help
him? Did girls ever help their lovers? She increased his difficulties at
every opportunity. Shyness, perhaps! Time and again when he had nerved
himself to the point of proposing, she had struck him dumb with a
languid triviality or flippancy of gesture.

But to-night it would be different The enchantment of the snow tingled
in his blood. The warning of the woman who had procrastinated so long
that she had lost her sincerity, spurred him to confession. Surely
to-night, if ever----

His hand set out on a voyage of discovery. It slipped into her muff and
found her fingers.

She shuddered. It was as though a chill had struck her. “What are you
doing? You’re queer to-night. Funny.”

He had no words in which to tell her. He was terribly in earnest.
Hammers were pounding in his temples. His face was twitching. The
darkness choked him.

He drooped closer. His lips brushed her furs. She sat breathless. His
lips crept higher and touched her hair.

“No, please.” Her voice was shaky and childish. “Not now. I--I don’t
feel like it.”

He drew back. Though she had denied him, their hands clung together.
Hers lay motionless, like the beating heart of a spent bird that has
lost the strength to save itself. The power that he knew he had over her
at that moment made him feel like a ruffian who had lain in ambush and
taken her unaware.

“Shall I let it go?” he whispered.

For answer the slim fingers nestled closer.

“Meester Deek, you were never in love before, were you?”

“Never.”

“Very wonderful. I thought not. You don’t act like it.”

“And you, Princess?”

“Ah!” She smiled mysteriously. “There was a boy who asked permission to
marry me once. It was just after I’d put up my hair. I was only fifteen,
but I looked just as old as I do now. He told mother that he’d saved
fifty dollars, and that he wanted to start early so as to raise a large
family. Very sweet and domestic of him, wasn’t it?”

“But that wasn’t serious.”

“No, not serious, you poor Meester Deek; but it makes you jealous.--And
there were others.”

“How many?”

“Oh, dozens. I’ve always had some one in love with me, ever since I can
remember. That’s why I gave names to my hands.”

“Then no one ever held them before?”

“I shouldn’t say that. But almost no one. I used to let Tom hold them
when he wouldn’t stop drizzling. Tom was different; he was a kind of
brother.”

“And what am I?”

“I’ve often wondered.” Her brows drew together. “You’re a kind of
friend, and yet you’re not.”

“More than a friend?”

They were halting. She freed her hand and stroked his face daringly.
“You’re Meester Deck. Isn’t that enough? Some one whom I love and
trust.”

She threw the door open. On the point of jumping out, she hesitated.
“The pavement’s so slushy. Whatever shall I do with my thin shoes and
all?”

“Let me carry you.”

As his arms enfolded her, she stiffened. For a moment there was a
rebellious struggle. Then her arm went about his neck and her face sank
against his shoulder.

How light she was! How little! How unchanged from the child-Desire of
the woodland!

“D’you remember the last time?” he whispered. “It’s years since I’ve
done it.”

“Not your fault,” she laughed. “You’d have done it often and often, if
I’d allowed you. I guess you wish it was always snowing.”

The distance was all too short. He would have carried her across the
lighted foyer, into the elevator, up to the apartment. He didn’t mind
who stared at him. He would have gone on holding her thus forever. As
they reached the steps she slipped from his arms.

“Oh, you big, strong man!” Her gray eyes were dancing; a faint flush
spread across her forehead. “I do hope nobody saw us.” He was stealing
his arm into hers. She turned him back. “Forgetful! You haven’t paid the
taxi.”

After he had paid, he searched round for her. She had gone. It was the
first time she had done it; she always waited for him. So she knew what
was coming! By her flight she was lengthening by a few more minutes
their long uncertainty. In the quiet of the dim-lit room, with the snow
gliding past the window, each separate flake tiptoeing like a faery, he
would tell her. But would he need to tell her? She would be waiting for
him, her face drooping against her shoulder, looking sweet and weary.
She would be like a tired child, its mischief forgotten, ready to
stretch out its arms and snuggle in his breast. All that need be said
would come in broken phrases--phrases which no one but themselves could
understand. And then, after that---- She might cry a little. When they
were married, perhaps Hal----

He waited till the elevator had descended before he tapped. Probably she
was listening for him, fearing and yet hoping for the pressure of his
arms and all the newness that they would begin together. He would read
in her eyes the writing of surrender--the same writing that he had read
on the dusty panes of childhood, “I love you. I love you.”

He tapped; he tapped more loudly. The door was opened ty Mr. Dak.
“Hulloa! Come in.”

“Where’s Desire?”

“In her room getting ready.”

“Ready? For what?”

They entered the dim-lit room where the most splendid moment of life
should have been happening.

“Didn’t you know?” Mr. Dak appeared not to notice his emotion.
“Everybody else knew. There’s a supper-party to Miss Audrey. Just the
six of us.”

They fell to making conversation. Mr. Dak did most of the talking. Teddy
found himself agreeing to the statement that Christianity was a colossal
blunder, and that Mohammedanism was the only religion worth the having.
He would have agreed to anything. As he listened for Desire’s footstep,
he nodded his head, saying, “Yes. Of course. Obviously.” All the while
he was aware of the embarrassed kindness that looked out from the eyes
of the little man. Somewhere, in the silence of his brain, a voice kept
questioning, “Mr. Dak, are you in love with Vashti? Does she laugh at
you when you try to tell her? Do you wish the world was pagan because
then you’d be her lord and master?”

“In the Mohammedan faith,” Mr. Dak was saying, “a woman’s hope of
immortality lies in merging her life with a man’s.”

Then he set himself to criticize pedantically the breakdown of the
Christian ideal of marriage.

The door-bell rang. Fluffy and Horace entered. The sparkle of laughter
was in their eyes. They brought with them an atmosphere of love-making.
As Horace helped her out of her sables, his hands loitered on her
shoulders caressingly.

She turned to the others with the sad little smile of one who summons
all the world to her protection. She looked extremely beautiful and
lavish, with her daffodil-colored hair floating like a cloud above her
blue, hypnotic eyes. “I’m so depressed. I do hope you’ll cheer me. Fancy
having to learn a new part and to worry with rehearsals, and then to go
on the road again.” She sat down on the couch, her hands tucked beneath
her, her arms making handles for the vase of her body. “I wish I wasn’t
an actress. I wish I were just a wife in a dear little house--a sort of
nest--with a kind man to take care of me. Only----” She glanced at
Horace. “Only I never met the always kind man.”

“Women never know their own minds,” said Horace. “A law ought to be
passed to compel every woman who’s loved to marry.”

At supper Desire’s place was empty. Teddy turned to Vashti and
whispered, “Where is she? Isn’t she coming?”

Vashti looked at him with her slow, comprehending smile. “She’s coming.
But she’s thinking. I wonder what about.”

At that moment Desire entered and slipped into the vacant chair beside
him. All through the meal as the atmosphere brightened, she sat silent.
She seemed to be doing her best not to notice that he was there.

The talk turned on women and what men thought of them.

“Men may think what they like, but they never know us,”. Fluffy said.
“Love’s a game of guess-work and deception. Half the time when a man’s
blaming a woman for not having married him, he ought to be down on his
knees thanking her for having spared him. She knows what she is, and
she knows what he is. He doesn’t. Men invariably confuse friendship with
matrimony. They can’t understand how women can enjoy their company and
yet couldn’t fancy them as husbands.”

Desire woke up. “And the worst of it is that sometimes we women can’t
understand ourselves.”

“Some men can.” Vashti glanced at Mr. Dak, whom she had so often praised
for his understanding. Mr. Dak returned her gaze as non-committingly
as a Buddhish idol. Horace leant forward across the table. The gleam of
tolerant amusement was never absent from his eyes.

“You ladies are all talking nonsense, and you know it. Even little
Desire over there knows it. Directly you begin to like a man you begin
to think of marriage--only some of you begin to think of running away
from it ‘Between men and women there is no friendship possible.
Passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship’--you remember Lord
Darlington’s lines. When love is trifled with, it sours into hatred.
Every man who loves a woman has his moments when he hates her
intensely.”

“Did you ever hate me?” Fluffy covered his hand to insure the answer she
required.

“Yes. And you’ve hated me. Desire could tell just how much if she dared.
You women all discuss your love-affairs. You’re fondest of a man when
he’s absent. When he’s present, you never confess.”

Teddy sat quietly listening. He thought how silly these people were to
talk so much and to love so little. Life was going by them; none of them
had begun to live yet They were like timid bathers at the seaside, who
splashed and paddled, but never really got wet. They wouldn’t learn
to swim for fear of getting drowned. He wished he could take them to
a house in Eden Row, where a man and woman were living bravely and
accepting hard knocks as things to be expected. While he listened, he
watched Desire, wondering what ghostly thoughts were wandering behind
her wistful eyes.

Chairs were pushed back. They were leaving the room. Fluffy turned to
meet him in the doorway. Her arm was about Desire. She hung her head,
glancing searchingly from one to the other.

“We’re a pack of fools,” she whispered intensely. “Don’t you listen to
us.” She took Teddy’s hand and hesitated at a loss for words. With a
sudden gust of emotion she kissed him. “Little Desire, why don’t you
marry him? He looks at you so lovingly and sadly.”

“Marry him!” Desire faltered. “I don’t know. But we’re very fond of each
other, aren’t we, Teddy?”

It was the first time she had called him that. The babies came into
her eyes; she broke from Fluffy and ran down the passage. From a safe
distance she called laughingly, “I won’t have you hanging about with my
beau. You’ll be kissing him again; and I won’t have you kissing him when
I’m not present.”

In the room which overlooked the Hudson, Vashti was playing. For a
minute Teddy had a vision of how he had first seen her with Hal; only
times had changed. The man who bent across her shoulder now was Mr. Dak.
It was a child’s song that she was singing, about a lady who was devoted
to a poodle-dog which died, and how she fretted and fretted. The last
verse leapt out of melancholy into merriment,

                        “But e’er three months had past

                   She had bought another poodle-dog.

                   Exactly like the last”

To Teddy the words were a philosophy of fickleness; that was precisely
what she had done on losing Hal. A worrying fear came upon him as he
glanced from mother to daughter: in outward appearance they were so much
alike. If he were to leave Desire, would she, too, replace him?

The thought was in the air. Mr. Dak, leaning against the piano to make
himself an inch taller, began to descant on the transience of affection.
He had arrived at his favorite topic and was saying, “Now, among the
Mohammedans----” when Horace interrupted.

“It depends on what you mean by transience. One’s got to go on living,
so one goes on loving. But if you mean that one forgets--why, it’s not
true.”

               Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine

               There fell thy shadow, Cynara! Thy breath was shed

               Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;

               And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,

               Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:

               I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion.’

“One never forgets. There’s always a Cynara. One may love twenty times,
but betwixt your lips and the lips of the latest woman there’s always
the memory of the first ghostly rapture. You seek Cynara to the end of
life; but if you met her again, you would not find her.”

Across the window the snow drifted white as the loosened hair of Time.
In the room there was no stir. Unseen people entered. Vashti shaded
her face with her hand; it was easy to guess of whom she was thinking.
Fluffy gazed into space, a child who finds itself alone and is
frightened. Mr. Dak was inscrutable. Horace lay back, staring at the
ceiling, watching the ascending smoke of his cigarette. To Teddy the
room was like an empty house in which innumerable clocks ticked loudly.

He met Desire’s eyes. “We are young. We are young,” they said. “Why
won’t they leave us to ourselves?”

“My God, I wish I were little. I wish I were no older than Desire. I
wish I could get away from all this rottenness and wake up to-morrow
in the country. Think what it’ll look like, all white and sparkling and
shiny! Where’s the good of your telling me you love me, Horace, if you
can’t make me good and little--if you can’t put back the hands of Time?”

Fluffy jumped up, half laughing, half crying, and threw wide the window.
She leant out, so that the snow fell glistening in the gold of her hair.

“Not a sound. Listen!”

Horace rose and stood beside her. “Would you like to wake up in the
country? I’ll manage it. I’d manage anything for you, little girl.”

Mr. Dak broke his silence. “I know a farm. It’s up the Hudson--seventy
miles at least from here. The people are my friends.”

In a babel of excited voices it was planned. Of a sudden the triflers
had become lovers confessed. They seemed to think that by the childish
trick of escaping, their youth could be recaptured. While the women
ran off to change and wrap up, the men completed arrangements for the
journey.

When the limousine arrived it had seats for only five; cushions were
strewn on the floor for Desire and Teddy. She kept far away from him
till the light went out. Again it was like standing in an empty house;
people’s brains were clocks which ticked solemnly, “And I was desolate
and sick of an old passion.”

They two alone had nothing to remember--all the rapture of life lay
ahead. In the darkness he felt her hand groping. One by one he coaxed
apart the reluctant fingers and pressed the little palm against his
mouth. She allowed herself to be drawn closer; he could feel the wild
bird of her heart beating its wings against the walls of the flesh.

“Dearest.”

“Hush! Dear is enough,” she whispered.

Long after she was asleep he sat staring into the blackness.
To-morrow--all the long to-morrows would be theirs.



CHAPTER XV--SLAVES OF FREEDOM

It was as though he were in a nest; the windows were padded with the
feathers of snow that had frozen to them overnight. He felt cramped.
Then he found that his arm was about a girl and that her head was
against his shoulder. She roused and gazed at him drowsily. She sat up,
rubbing her fists into her eyes. They stared at each other in amused
surprise.

“Well, I never!” she whispered. “Wot liberties ter taik wiv a lady!”

She drew away from him in pretended haughtiness, tilting her chin into
the air.

Some one yawned. “Good Lord! We must have been mad.”

Disenchantment spoke in the complaining voice. They turned. The rest of
the party were awake, looking bored and fretful.

“I’m aching for some sleep,” Fluffy sighed; “I know I’m going to quarrel
with some one. It was you and your wretched Cynaras did this for us,
Horace. If I’m not in bed in half-an-hour, I’ll never speak to you
again.”

“Why mother, where’s King?” Desire noticed the absence of Mr. Dak.

“If he’s wise, he’s walking back to New York,” Vashti said; “but I think
he’s outside, directing the driver.--We certainly were mad. I am tired.”

A discontented silence settled down. Teddy wished that they all would
close their eyes and leave him alone with Desire. She was like a wild
thing when others were watching; beneath her stillness he could detect
her agitation lest he should betray to others that he loved her.

“You’re not cross, too--are you?” he whispered. “Are you, Princess?”

She shook her head. “You made a splendid pillow.”

She gave him no encouragement, so he sank into himself. He tried to
recapture his sensations of the night In his dreams he must have
been conscious of her; they must have gone together on all manner of
adventures. He blamed himself for having slept; if he had kept his
vigil, what memories he would have had.

The car halted. The door was opened by Mr. Dak. White and soft as a
swan’s breast, gleaming in the early morning sunlight, lay a rolling
expanse of unruffled country. Distant against the glassy sky mountains
shone imperturbably, like the humped knees of Rip Van Winkles taking
their eternal rest.

Mr. Dak beamed with pride. He seemed to be claiming all the credit for
the stillness and whiteness, and most especially for the low-roofed
farmhouse, with its elms and barns, and its plume of blue smoke curling
up hospitably into the frosted silence. He was pathetically eager to be
thanked. He looked more like a maiden-aunt than ever.

As the company tumbled out, their self-ridicule was heightened by the
patent unsuitability of their attire. The men in their silk-hats and
evening-dress, the women in their high-heeled shoes and dainty gowns
looked dishonest and shallow apart from their environment.

“Damn!” said Fluffy, giving way to temperament “I want to hide.”

Horace attempted comfort. “You’ll feel better when you’ve had
breakfast.”

“I shan’t. I shan’t ever feel better. You oughtn’t to have brought me.
You know I’m not responsible after midnight.”

“But you were so keen on waking in the country.”

She swept by him indignantly up the uncleared path, kilting her skirt.
“Could I wake when I haven’t slept?”

In the door a young man was standing--a very stolid and sensible young
man. He wore oiled boots and corduroy breeches; he was coatless; his
sleeves were rolled up and, despite the cold, his shirt was unbuttoned
at the neck. In an anxious manner Mr. Dak was explaining to him the
situation. As the others came up he was introduced as Sam; he at once
began to speak of breakfast.

“I don’t want any breakfast,” Fluffy pouted ungraciously; “all I want is
a place to lie down.”

Sam eyed her rather contemptuously--the way a mastiff might have looked
at Twinkles.

“The wife’s bathing the babies; but I daresay it can be managed.” He
stepped back into the hall and shouted, “Mrs. Sam! Mrs. Sam!”

Mrs. Sam appeared with a child in her arms, which she had hastily
wrapped in a towel. She was a wholesome, smiling, deep-breasted young
woman, with a face as placid as a Madonna’s. Three beds were promised
and the ladies immediately retired.

“Cross, aren’t they?” said Sam, before the last skirt had rustled
petulantly up the stairs.

“Rather,” Horace assented.

“It’s to be expected,” said Mr. Dak.

“Expected! Is it?” Sam scratched his head. “Well, all I can say is if a
woman doesn’t choose to be agreeable, she can go somewhere else, as far
as I’m concerned.”

It was a rambling old house, paneled, many-windowed, and full of quaint
furniture. The room in which breakfast was set was a converted kitchen,
with shiny oak-chairs and a wide open-fireplace in which great logs
blazed and crackled. It was cheerful with the strong reflected light
thrown in by the newly laundered landscape. From the next room came the
rumble of farm-hands talking; as the door opened for the maid to bring
in dishes, the smell of baking bread and coffee entered. When the guests
had seated themselves, their host became busy about serving.

“I used to be a bit wild myself,” he said. “I knew Broadway as well as
any man. But it made me tired--there’s nothing in it. If you want to be
really happy, take my advice: settle down and have babies.”

Mrs. Sam returned. Having dressed the fair-haired mite she was carrying,
she gave it into her husband’s care. He took it on his knee and
commenced spooning food into its mouth. Drawing nearer to the fire, she
set about bathing her youngest. Teddy watched her as she stooped to kiss
the kicking limbs, laughing and keeping up a flow of secret chatter.
Neither she nor her husband apologized for this intimate display of
domesticity. Sometimes he caught her quiet eyes. They made him think
of his mother’s. Try as he would, he could not prevent himself from
comparing her with the women upstairs. Old standards, odd glimpses of
his own childhood flitted across his memory. “These people are married,”
 he told himself. How foolish the cynicisms of last night sounded now!

“So I ran away from towns and the women they breed; I became a farmer
and married her,” Sam was saying. “I don’t reckon I did so badly.”

When the meal was ended, Mr. and Mrs. Sam excused themselves and went
about their work. Mr. Dak lit a cigar; before the first ash had fallen,
he was nodding.

Horace and Teddy drew up to the logs, toasting themselves and sitting
near together. There was a distinct atmosphere of disappointment. They
glanced at each other occasionally, saying nothing. It was an odd thing,
Teddy reflected--the men whom he met at Vashti’s apartment rarely had
anything to say to each other. They met distrustfully as the women’s
friends. They never talked of their interests or displayed any
curiosity; yet most of them were distinguished in their own line and
would have been knowable, if met under other circumstances.

Horace glanced up and spoke abruptly in a lowered voice. “When I was
at Baveno one summer, I ran across an old man. He had a cottage in a
vineyard half a mile up the hill, overlooking Maggiore. He came every
year all the way from Madrid to photograph the view from his terrace. He
thought it the most beautiful view in the world, and was as jealous of
letting any one else share it as if it had been a woman. He had taken
thousands of pictures of it, all similar and yet all different He
was always hoping to get two that were alike; but the light on
snow-mountains is fickle. I suppose he was a little cracked. He had
fooled away his career, and was old and hadn’t married. When he went
back to Madrid, it was only to earn money so as to be able to return and
to take still more photographs next year.--Can you guess why I’ve told
you?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Because we’re like that--you and I. We let a woman who’s as
unpossessable as a landscape, become a destructive habit with us. You’re
not very old yet, but you’ll find out that there are women in the world
who can never be possessed. There’s only one thing to do when you meet
one--run away before she becomes a habit.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit cowardly?” Teddy objected.

“In her heart every woman wants to marry and be like---- Well, like Mrs.
Sam was with those kiddies.”

“Go on believing. It’s good that you should believe it. But don’t put
your belief to the test.” Horace leant forward and tapped him on the
knee. “Go back to England while you can.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I think you do. Fluffy isn’t discreet over other people’s affairs.
You’ve fallen in love with a dream, my boy--with an exquisite,
unrealizable romance. Keep your dreams for your work; don’t try to find
’em in life--they aren’t there. Look what’s happened this morning
through following a dream into the daylight. Here we sit, a pair of
foolish tragedies in evening-dress, while our ideals are sleeping off
their tempers upstairs.”

When Teddy frowned and didn’t answer, Horace smiled. “I know how it is.
I’ve been through it. You oughtn’t to get angry; anything that I’m
saying applies twice as forcibly to myself. Look here, Gurney, your
affection for Desire is made up of memories of how you’ve loved her.
She’s given you nothing. That isn’t right. Neither she, nor her mother,
nor Fluffy know how to----”

“Desire----”

“No. Hear me out There are women who never take a holiday from
themselves. They’re too timid--too selfish. They’re afraid of marrying;
they distrust men. They’re afraid of having children; they worship their
own bodies. They loath the disfigurement of child-bearing. All
their standards are awry. They regard the sacredness of birth as
defilement--think it drags them down to the level of the animals. They
make love seem ugly. They’ve got a morbid streak that makes them fear
everything that’s blustering and genuine. Their fear lest they should
lose their liberty keeps them captives. They’re _slaves of freedom_,
starving their souls and living for externals. Because they’re women,
their nature cries out for men; but the moment they’ve dragged the soul
out of a man their weak passion is satisfied. They have the morals of
nuns and the lure of courtesans. They’re suffocating and unhealthy as
tropic flowers.--I’ve been at it too long, but I want you to get out
while you can.”

All this was spoken in the whisper of a conspirator lest Mr. Dak should
be aroused. It was as though Horace had raised a mask, revealing behind
his bored good-humor a face emaciated with longings. Teddy wanted to be
angry--felt he ought to be angry; but he couldn’t. “I’d rather we didn’t
discuss Desire,” he said coldly. “You see, my case is different from
yours. I intend to marry her.”

“My dear boy, it’s not different; I was no more a trifler than you
are--I intended to marry Fluffy. I gave up a good woman--a good woman
who’s waiting for me now. But I’m like that old man at Baveno; the
unpossessable haunts me. I’ve been infatuated so long that I can’t break
myself of the habit. But you haven’t. You’re young, with a life before
you. For God’s sake go back to the simple good people--the people you
understand. Your mother wasn’t a Desire, I’ll warrant; if she had been,
you wouldn’t be her son. A man commits a crime against his children when
he willfully stoops below his mother to the girl he worships. Desire’ll
never belong to you, even though you marry her. She’s not of your flesh.
Her pretty, baby hands’ll tear the wings off your idealism. She won’t
even know she’s doing it. You’ve made your soul the purchase-price of
love, while she--she commits sacrilege against love every hour.” He
gripped him by the arm. “Cut loose from her while there’s time. She
doesn’t know what you’re offering.”

“Shish!” Mr. Dak was sitting up, a finger pressed against his mouth.

Some one stirred behind them. In the middle of the room Desire was
standing. Her hands were clasped against her breast as though she held a
bird. Through the windows the purity of the snow-covered country formed
a dazzling background for her head and shoulders. The gold in the bronze
of her hair glistened. She might have been posing for a realist painting
of the immaculate conception. There was a misty, pained looked in the
grayness of her eyes--an eloquence of yearning.

“Teddy.”

That was all. It was the second time. It meant more than if she had held
out her arms to him. Her clear, lazy voice, speaking his name, seemed
to mark the end of evasion. He went to her without a word. There was the
heat of tears behind his eyes and a swollen feeling in his heart. The
passion she had roused in him at other times sank into gentleness.

The things that Horace had been saying were true--he knew it; but if his
love could reach her imagination, they would prove them false together.
What was the good of love if it couldn’t do that? Probably Hal had
thought to do the same for Vashti, and Horace for Fluffy--all the men
who had loved in vain had promised themselves to do just that; but they
hadn’t loved with sufficient obstinacy--with sufficient courage.

He helped her into her wraps. They passed out into the gold and silver
landscape. It was like entering into a new faith--like leaving deceit
behind. Merriness was in the air. Birds fluttered out of hedges, making
the snow glitter in their exit. From farms out of sight, roosters blew
shrill challenges, like trumpeters riding through a Christmas faeryland.
Humping their knees against the horizon, mountains lay hushed in their
eternal rest.

There was scarcely a sound save the crunch of their footsteps. At a
turn, where the lane descended and the house was lost to sight, she drew
closer. “You may take my arm if you like.”

He thrilled to the warmth of it. His fingers closed upon the slimness of
her wrist. Their bodies came together, separated and came together with
the unevenness of the treading.

She laughed softly. “It’s like a legend. It’s ever so much better than
our other good times.”

“I’m glad you think that.” He pressed against her. “We’ve always talked
across hotel-tables and in theatres; we’ve always been going somewhere
or doing something up till now. We’ve never met only to be together. It
was a little vulgar, wasn’t it, buying all our pleasures with money?”

“A little, and stupid when we had ourselves.”

They spoke in whispers; there was no one to hear what they said.

“Horace was persuading you to go away?”

“Yes.”

“Because of me? He was right. Are you going?”

“Never.”

“You ought to go. I’m--I’m glad you’re not going.”

On they went, heedless of direction. At times their lips grew silent,
but their hearts twittered like birds. They did not look at each other.
Strange that they should be so shy after so much boldness! When one saw
some new beauty to be admired, a hugging of the arm would tell it.

They came to a wood--an enchanted place of maple and silver birch. The
squirrel’s granary was full; there was no sound of life. It was a sylvan
Pompeii frozen in its activities by the avalanche from the clouds. Trees
stood stiffly, like arrested dancers, sheathed in their scabbards of
burnished ice. Boughs hung heavy with snow blossoms. Scrub-oak and
berries of winter-green wrought mosaics of red and brown on the silver
flooring. Over all was the coffined stillness of death. Here and there
a solitary leaf shone more scarlet, like the resurrection hope of a
lamp kept burning in the hollow of a shrine. It was a forsaken temple
of broken arches. Summer acolytes, with their flower-faces, no longer
fidgeted on the altar-steps. The choir of birds had fled. The sun
remained as priest and sole worshiper. Night and morning he raised the
host to the wintry tinkling of crystal bells. Down a far vista, as they
plunged deeper, their attention was held by a steady brightness--a pond
which glowed like a stained-glass window. By its withered sedges they
sat down.

“It’s like---”

“Yes, isn’t it?”

“I was a little girl then. Meester Deek, was I a dear little girl?”

“The dearest in the world. Not half so dear as you are now.”

“Ah, you would say that; you’re always kind. If--if you only knew, I was
much dearer then.”

He was holding her hand. Slowly he unbuttoned her glove. She watched him
idly. He drew it off and raised the slender fingers to his lips.

“You always told me I had beautiful hands.”

He kissed the fingers separately and then the palm, which was delicate
as a rose-leaf.

“And don’t miss the little mole on the back; mother used to say that it
told her when I had been bad.”

So he kissed the little mole on the back as well. Curious that he should
take so little, when his heart cried out for so much! His head was
swimming. He felt nothing, saw nothing but her presence.

“I wouldn’t have let you do that once,” she whispered.

In the long silence that followed, the snow-laden trees shivered,
muttering their suspense. Each time he tried to meet her eyes, she
looked away as though his glance scorched her.

“My dear! My dearest!”

She did not answer.

“I love you. I’ve always loved you. I can’t live without you. You’re
more to me than anything in the world.”

“Don’t say that” Her voice trembled. “It’s terrible to love people so
much; you give them such power to hurt you. I might die, or I might love
some one else, or----”

“But you don’t--you wouldn’t.”

His arm stole about her neck. Like a child fondling a child, he tried to
coax her face towards him. He yearned, as if his soul depended on it,
to rest his lips on hers. She smiled, closing her eyes in denial. As he
leant out, she turned her face swiftly aside. He kissed her where the
little false curl quivered.

“Oh, Meester Deek, why must you kiss me? Where’s the good of it? Can’t
we be just friends?”

“All my life I’ve loved you,” he pleaded hoarsely. “Doesn’t it mean
anything to you? Care for me a little--only a little, Desire. Say you
do, and I’ll be content.”

“I’m not good,” she whispered humbly. “You don’t know anything about me;
and yet you’ve seen what I am. My friends are all so gay; I like them
to be gay. And I want to be an actress; and I live for clothes and
vanities. You’d soon get sick of me if we married.--Dear Meester Deek,
please let’s be as we were. I’ve tried to spare you because I don’t love
you so as to marry you. I couldn’t give up my way of living even for
you. I never could love you as you deserve.”

“But you do love me,” he urged. “Look at the way we’ve gone about
together. I’ve never tired you, have I? If I had, you wouldn’t have
wanted to see me so much. You must love me, Desire.” Then, in a voice
which was scarcely above a breath, “I would ask so little if you married
me.”

“You dear fellow!”

She laid her cool cheek against his, trying to give comfort for what she
had done. Their bodies grew hushed, listen-ing for each other. The wood,
with its snow-paved aisles and arcades of twisted turnings, became a white
cathedral in, which their hearts beat as one and worshiped.

“You do love me, Princess.”

“I’m cold,” she whispered mournfully. “I’m trying to feel what I ought
to be feeling, but I can’t. I’m disappointed. God left something out
when He made me. If only you weren’t so fine, but---- My dear, you’re
better than any man I ever met. I couldn’t be good the way you are, and
I’m ashamed to be worse. Sometimes I’m almost bitter against you for
your goodness. My beautiful mother.--I’m all she has. And there’s your
family. I haven’t any. I’ve missed so much. Surely you under-stand?”

“Darling, I want to make it all up to you. I want to give you
everything.”

“And I--I can give you nothing.” She closed her eyes tiredly. “I’m so
young--so young. I don’t think I want to be married. So much may happen.
If we married, everything would be ended; there’d be nothing to dream
about. We’d know everything.” Her face moved against his caressingly.
“But it is so sweet to be loved.”

He laughed softly. “You will marry me, Princess. You will. One day
you’ll want to know everything. I’ll wait till you’re ready.”

She let him draw her to him. Her eyelids drooped. She lay in his arms
pulseless. The silkiness of her hair trembled against his forehead.

“Give me your lips.” His voice was thirsty.

She did not stir.

“Just this once.”

She rested her hands on his shoulders. The moist sweet mouth shuddered
as he pressed it. He clung to it; an eternity was in the moment. He was
drinking her soul from the chalice of her body. Gently she pushed him
from her. It was over--this ecstasy to which all his life had been a
preface.

She crumpled forward, her knees drawn up, burying her face in her hands.

He was dizzy. The world swung under him.

“I’m not crying,” she panted brokenly. “I’m not glad, and I’m not sorry.
No one ever kissed me like that.--Oh, please don’t touch me. I ought to
send you away forever.”

He knelt beside her, conscience-stricken. It was as if he had done her
a great wrong. Passion was tossed aside by compassion. As he knelt, he
kissed timidly the quivering hands which hid her eyes from him.

“Forgive me, my darling. You couldn’t send me away. I shall never leave
you.”

“Poor you! There’s nothing to forgive.” It was a little child talking.
Making bars of her fingers, she peered out at him. “If I let you
stay, will you promise not to blame me--never to think I’ve led you on
when--when I don’t marry you?”

“I won’t blame you,” his voice was strained and husky, “but I’ll wait
for you forever.”

“Will you? All men say that.” She shook her head wisely. “I wonder?”

She tidied her hair. It gave him a thrilling sense of possession to
be allowed to watch her. When he had helped her to rise, he stooped to
brush the snow from her. Suddenly he fell to his knees in a wild abandon
of longing, and reverently kissed the hem of her gown.

“Meester Deek, don’t. To see you do that--it hurts.”

They walked through the wood in silence, retracing their old footsteps.
At the point where it was lost to sight, they gazed back, hand-in-hand,
to the sacred spot where all had happened. The snow would melt; they
might come in search of the place one day--they might not find it.
Would they come alone or together? Their hands gripped more closely; the
present at least was theirs.

The storm of emotion which had rocked them, had left them exhausted.
They had said so much without words; the eloquence of language seemed
inadequate. Each thought as it rose to their lips seemed too trifling
for utterance.

As they turned from the wood into the road, she began to whistle softly.
He listened. Memory set the tune to words:

                   “So, honey, jest play in your own backyard,

                   Don’t mind what dem white chiles say.”

“I can’t bear it.”

She glanced at him sidelong. “Now, old dear, h’if I wants ter whistle,
why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s as though you were telling me, I don’t want you.’ You sang it in
the Park that night.”

“But she doesn’t want him, perhaps. There! But she does a little. Does
that make him feel better? Come, let’s be sensible. You don’t recommend
love by getting tragic. Take my arm and stop tickling my hand. I’m going
to ask you a question.--Hasn’t there ever been another girl?”

“Never, upon my----”

“You needn’t be so fierce in denying. I didn’t ask you whether you’d
killed anybody.”

“I believe you almost wish there had been another girl” She shrugged
her shoulders. “My darling mother was before me--you forgot that. But I
don’t mind her.”

“I think,” he said, smiling at the mysticism of the fancy, “I think I
must have been loving you even then. Yes, I’m sure it was the _you_ in
her, before ever I knew you, that I was loving.”

She glanced at him tauntingly. “I’m afraid I’ve not been so economic;
you’ll hate me because I haven’t. Shall I tell you about all my lovers?”

“I won’t listen.”

But she insisted. Whether it was truth or invention that she told him,
he could not guess. All he knew was that, having lowered her barriers,
she was carefully replacing them for her defense. Her way of doing
it was to make him suspect that he was only an incident in a long
procession; that all this poetry of passion, which for him had the dew
on it, had been experienced by her already; that she had often watched
men travel through weeks and months from trembling into boldness;
that Love to her was the clown in Life’s circus and that she was proof
against the greed of his mock humility.

“For God’s sake, stop!”

“Why?” Her tone was innocent of offense.

“If it’s all true, this isn’t the time to confess it.”

“Confess it! D’you think I’m ashamed, then?” She withdrew her arm.
“Thank you, I can walk quite nicely by myself.”

He tried to detain her. She shook him off and ran ahead. As he followed,
his eyes implored her. She did not turn. Between the white cage of
hedges she whistled her warning,

               “So, honey, jest play in your own backyard.”

He wondered how any one so beautiful could be so cruel. She seemed to
regard herself as a shrine at which it was ordained that men should
worship, while her right was to view them with neither heat nor
coldness. “Slaves of freedom”--Horace’s words came back.

He caught up with her. “Why did you tell me? I didn’t mean to speak
crossly.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I didn’t, really. I’m sorry. But why did you tell me?”

“Because I wanted to be honest: to let you know the kind of girl I am.
And because,” her eyes flooded, “because you’re the first man who ever
kissed me like that and--and I didn’t want to let you know it--and I
wish I hadn’t let you kiss me now.”

She didn’t give him her lips this time. With her face averted, she lay
trembling in his arms without a struggle. While his lips wandered from
her hair to her cheeks, to her throat, she seemed unconscious of what he
was doing. “I do like being kissed by you,” she murmured.

“You’re so fragrant, so soft, so sweet, so like a lily,” he whispered.

Her finger went up to her mouth. “Am I fragrant? That isn’t me. That’s
just soap.”

She sprang from his embrace laughing; he joined her in sheer gladness
that their quarrel was ended.

As they came into sight of the farmhouse she insisted that he should
behave himself.

“But you’re walking further away from me,” he objected, “than you would
from a stranger you’d only just met. No wonder Horace thinks you don’t
care for me.”

“Well, and who said I did?” She slanted her eyes.

“Oh, well---- But before other people, I wish you wouldn’t ignore me so
obviously. It makes me humiliated.”. “That’s good for you.”

Mr. Sam was splitting logs by the wood-pile. He laid down his ax and
came towards them.

“You’ve missed it,” he chuckled. “We’ve had a fine old row. They’ve
queer notions of enjoying themselves, your city folks.--Has anything
happened! I guess it has. When Golden-Hair got through with her snooze,
she came down and started things going. She wanted to know whose fault
it was that she had a head-ache, and whose fault it was she’d come here,
and a whole lot besides. Her beau told her straight that he’d had enough
of it, and got the car out. Mr. Dak seemed frightened that it would
be his turn next; he said he was going too. So they all piled in,
quarreling like mad, a regular happy little party. Daresay they’re still
at it.”

“But what about us?” Desire looked blank. “How do we get back?”

“No need to, unless you’re in a hurry. There’s plenty of room; we’ll
be glad to have you. But if you must go, there’s a station ten miles
distant; I can get the sleigh out.”

Teddy tried to persuade her to stay a day longer. The country was
changing her. Who knew what a few more walks in the silver wood might
accomplish? New York meant Fluffy, life jigged to rag-time, and the
feverish quest for unsatisfying pleasures.

She laid her head on her shoulder and winked, like a knowing little
bird. She understood perfectly what the country was doing for her.

“In these clothes,” she asked, “and borrow the hired man’s tooth-brush?
And leave my dear mother alone, and Fluffy to cry her poor little eyes
out? And run the risk of what people would think when we both came
creeping back? I guess I’d have to marry you then, Meester Deek. No,
thanks.”

So at four o’clock, as the dusk was drawing a helmet of steel over
the vagueness of the country, the sleigh was brought round. There were
farewells and promises to come again; the twinkling of lanterns; the
jingling of harness; the babies to be kissed; the quiet eyes of the
mother who had found happiness; the atmosphere of sentiment which kindly
people create for half-way lovers; then the last good-by, the steady
trot of the horses, and the tinkling magic of sleigh-bells. Romance!

“You like babies, Meester Deek? If ever I were married, I’d like to have
a baby-girl first. They’re so cuddly and dear to dress.”

He tucked the robe round her warmly and held it against her chin to keep
the cold out. His free hand was clasped in hers. Then he let go her hand
and slipped his arm about her, and found her hand waiting for him on the
other side.

“Better and better,” she murmured contentedly, “and it isn’t the day
we’d planned. I feel so safe with you, Meester Deek--far safer than I
ought to if I loved you. You won’t say I led you on, will you? You won’t
ever?”

“Never,” he promised.

“That’s what the sleigh-bells seem to say. ‘Never! Never! Never!’ as
though they were telling us that this is the end.”

“To me they don’t say that.” His lips were against her cheek. “To me
they say, ‘Forever. Forever. Forever.’”

The moon, gazing down on them, recognized him and smiled. The stars
clapped their hands. Even the mountains, which had slept all day,
uncrouched their knees and sat up in bed to look at them. Farmhouse
windows, across the drifted whiteness, blinked wisely, speaking of home
and children, and an end of journeys. Sometimes she drowsed with the
swaying motion. Sometimes when he thought her drowsing, her eyes were
wide.

“What are you thinking, dearest?”

“Isn’t dear enough?”

“Not now.”

“It ought to be---- What was I thinking? I was wondering: could a girl
make a man whom she liked very much believe that she loved him? Would he
find her out?”

“He’d find her out But liking’s almost loving sometimes.”

“I haven’t kissed you yet. I’ve only let you kiss me. Have you noticed?”

“Yes.”

“When I kiss you, Meester Deek, without your asking, you’ll know then.”

“Kiss me now.”

She shook her head. “It would be a lie.”

Once she said, “Shall we be horrid to each other one day like Horace and
Fluffy?” And, when he drew her closer for answer, “I wonder why I let
you do it. It’s so hard not to let you; you kiss so gently--I guess
every girl loves to be loved.”

When they came to the station he had to wake her. In the train she
slept. He scarcely removed his eyes from her. Behind the window he was
aware of the shadowy breadth of river, the steep mountains, and the
winking, swiftly vanishing lights of towns. It was a return from
faery-land, with all the pain of returning. He wasn’t sure of her yet,
and he had used all his arguments. Was it always like that? Did girls
always say “No” at first? He feared lest in the flare and rush of the
city he might lose her. He dreaded the casualness of their telephone
engagements--the way she fitted him into the gaps between her pleasures.
He wanted to be first in her life--more than that: to be dearer to her
than her body, than her soul itself. The permission which she gave him
to love her, without hope of reciprocity, was torturing. He would not
own it to himself, but at the back of his mind he knew that it was not
fair.

Once more they were fleeing up Fifth Avenue; night was polluted by the
glare of lamps.

“It isn’t the same,” she whispered. “It’s somehow different.”

“We’ve seen something better and got our perspective.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she laughed. “New York has its uses.”

She sat up as they swung into Columbus Circle, and seemed to forget
him. She was watching the hoardings for the announcements of _October_,
seeing whether Janice Audrey’s name had been blotted out.

Already she was slipping from him. The silver wood--had it ever existed?
If it had, had they ever walked there? It seemed a dream created by his
ardent fancy, too kind and generous for reality.

He leant towards her; she drew away from him. “No more pilfering.”

“Our good times are always coming to an end,” he said sadly.

She smiled at his tone of melancholy. “And beginning; don’t forget that
But I do wish it were last night.”

“You do! Then, you do wish it could last forever? Dear little D., if you
chose, you could make it last.”

“Not forever. If anything lasted forever it would make me
tired.--Hulloa, here we are.”

He helped her to alight The pavement had been swept; there was no excuse
for carrying her.

“I live here,” she reminded him as he tried to touch her hand; “so let’s
behave ourselves.”

She was settling back into the old rut of reticence, thinking again more
of appearances than affection; even employing her old phrases to defend
herself.

They stepped from the elevator and she slipped her key into the latch.
He was trying to think of one final argument by which he might persuade
her.

As the door pushed open, they halted; there was a sense of evil in the
air. Desire clutched his arm for protection. They listened: panting; a
chair falling; silence. Then the panting recommenced.

“Mother!”

The struggle stopped.

Teddy rushed across the hall to the front-room. He tried to keep Desire
back. Vashti was stretched upon the couch, white as death, breathing
hard, and exhausted. Her hair had broken loose and lay spread like
a shawl across her breast. Mr. Dak was standing over her, his hands
clenched. His collar was crumpled and had burst at the stud. His tie was
drawn tight, as though it had been used to strangle him.

Desire threw herself down beside her mother, kissing her wildly and
smoothing back her hair. “Oh, what is it? What is it, dearest? Tell me.”

She leant her face against her mother’s to catch the words. Springing to
her feet, she glared at Mr. Dak.

“You low beast.” Her white virago fist shot up and struck him on the
mouth. “You little swine. Get out.”

In the hall, as Teddy was seeing him off the premises, Mr. Dak commenced
a mumbling defense. “What did she suppose I thought she meant? I wanted
to marry her, but she wouldn’t. If she didn’t mean anything, what right
had she to let me spend my money trotting her round?” From the
dim-lit room came the terrible sound of sobbing. Desire met him on the
threshold. “She’s only frightened. She wants you to help her to bed.”

Outside the bedroom door Vashti took his face between her hands.
“Thank God, there are good men in the world.” He waited for Desire. All
tenderness had become a trap. She nodded to him sullenly, “Good-night.”
 Then, flam-ing up, “Fluffy’s right. All men are beasts, I expect.”

The bedroom door shut. He switched off the lights and let himself out.



CHAPTER XVI--THE GHOST OF HAPPINESS

To a man who has never been in love the humble passion of his heart is
to be allowed to love. He conjures visions of the woman who will call
out his affection; he is always looking for her, seeing a face which
seems the companion of his dreams, following, turning back disappointed
and setting out afresh. When he does find her, his first feeling is
one of overwhelming gratitude. His one idea is to give unstintingly,
expecting nothing. He robes himself in a white unselfishness.

But the moment he has been allowed to love his attitude changes. He
still wants to love, but he craves equally to be loved. He is no longer
content to worship solitarily; he becomes sensitive to be worshiped in
return. He is anxious to compete with the woman’s generosity. If she
receives and does not give, he grows infidel like a devotee whose
prayers God has not answered.

The right to clasp her without repulse, which the silver wood had
granted him, had brought him to this second stage in his journey--the
urgent longing to be loved. Then, like a coarse cynicism, discovering in
all love’s loyalties an unsuspected foulness, had come the scene which
he had witnessed in her presence. It had struck the barbaric note,
stripping of conventional pretenses the motives which underlie all
passion. It had revealed to him the direction of impulses which he
himself possessed. Mr. Dak was no worse than any other man, if only the
other man were tantalized sufficiently. Vashti had starved him too much
and relied too much on his awe of her. She was a lion-tamer who had
grown reckless through immunity; the beast had taken her unaware.
Probably Mr. Dak was as surprised as herself.

Teddy understood now what Horace had meant by calling her “a slave of
freedom.” All this gayety which he had envied, which had made him wish
that he was more of a Sir Launcelot and less of a King Arthur--it was
nothing but the excitement of skating over the treacherous thin ice of
sex.

Mr. Dak was no worse than he might be if circumstances pushed him far
enough. Desire had told him as much: “All men are beasts, I expect.”

He felt hot with shame. He sympathized with her virginal anger. He, too,
felt besmirched. But her words rankled; they had destroyed their common
faith in each other. Never again would he be able to approach her with
his old simplicity. Never again would he hear her whisper, “I feel so
safe with you, Meester Deek.” How could she feel safe with him? All
men were beasts. She classed him with the lowest Any moment he might be
swept out of caution into touching and caressing her. They would both
remember the ugliness they had witnessed; she would flinch from him, and
view him with suspicion. He would suspect himself. His very gentleness
would seem to follow her panther-footed.

He returned to the Brevoort, but not to sleep. As he tossed restlessly
in the darkness, he could hear her words of dismissal. She spoke them
sorrowfully with disillusion; she spoke them mockingly; she spoke them
angrily, clenching her white virago fists. It was she who ought to have
said, “Thank God, there are good men.” Her mother had said that She had
said, “All men are beasts, I expect” In the saying of it, she had seemed
to attribute to his courting the disarming smugness of a Mr. Dak. The
silver wood with its magnanimity counted for nothing. Whatever ideals he
had built up for her were shattered by this haphazard brutality.

He shifted his head on the pillow. How did she look when she was tender
and little? His last memory of her had blotted out all that. Rising
wearily, he switched on the light and commenced a search for
the tin-type photograph. At last he found it. Her features were
undiscernible--faded into blackness.

Sleep refused to come to him. He dressed and sat himself by the window.
How quiet it was! Night obliterates geography. The yards at the back of
the hotel were merged into a garden--a garden like the one in Eden Row.
He had only to half close his eyes to image it.

Eden Row set him remembering. The disgust with life that he was now
feeling, had only one parallel in his experience--that, too, was
concerned with her: the shock which her father’s confession had caused
him on the train-journey back from Ware. “If you’re ever tempted to do
wrong, remember me. If you’re ever tempted to get love the wrong way, be
strong enough to do without it” And then, “I sinned once--a long while
ago. I’m still paying for it You’re paying for it One day Desire may
have to pay the biggest price of any of us.”

She was paying for it now when she could see no difference between his
love and Mr. Dak’s--between honor and mere passion. “All men are beasts,
I expect.” That was the conclusion at which she had arrived. She was
incapable of high beliefs at twenty!

He recalled what the knowledge of Hal’s sin had done for him. Perhaps it
had done the same for her. It had made him see sin everywhere; marriage
itself had seemed impurity--all things had been polluted until into
the dusk of the studio his mother had entered. He could hear himself
whispering, “Things like that make a boy frightened, mother, when--when
they’re first told to him.” It was after that that he had determined to
make Desire in his life what the Holy Grail had been in Sir Galahad’s.

Would the consequences of this wrong, more than twenty years old, never
end? Ever since he had begun to think, it had striven to uproot his
idealism. Yet once, in the little moment of selfishness, it must have
been ecstatic.

He had been thinking only of himself. In a great wave of compassion his
thoughts swept back to her. She had had to live in the knowledge of this
sin always. For her there had been no escape from it--no people like his
mother and father to set her other standards of truer living. What was
his penalty as compared with hers? What was the worth of his chivalry if
it broke before the first shock of her injustice? He saw her again as
a little girl, inquiring what it was like to have a father. There must
have been a day in her waking womanhood when the knowledge that all
children are not fatherless had dawned on her. Perhaps it had been
explained to her coarsely by a servant or by the cruel ostracism of
school-children. He could imagine the shame and tears that had followed,
and then the hardening.

If she would only allow herself to understand what it was that he was
offering! He longed to take her in his arms--not the way he had; but as
he would cuddle a sick child against his breast to give it comfort. His
compassion for her was almost womanly; it was something that he dared
not tell her. Compassion from him was the emotion which she would most
resent.

It was her pride that made her so poignantly tragic--her pose of being
an enviable person. There was no getting behind it except by a brutal
statement of facts. The scene which they had surprised in the apartment
had staged those facts with ugly vividness. Despite the gayety with
which she drugged herself, she must know that her mother’s position made
her fair game for the world’s Mr. Daks. Her way of speaking of her as
“my beautiful mother” was an acknowledgment, and sounded like a defense.

Her fear of losing her maiden liberty, her dread of the natural
responsibilities of marriage, her eagerness to believe the worst of men,
her light friendships, her vague, continually postponed ambitions--they
were all part of the price she was paying. Her glory in her questionable
enfranchisement was the worst part of her penalty; it made what was sad
seem romantic, and kept her blind to the better things in the world. She
did not want to be rescued from the dangers of her position. She ignored
any sacrifice that he might be making and spoke only of the curtailments
that love would bring to her. In putting forward her unattempted career
as an obstacle, she did not recognize that his accomplished career was
in jeopardy while she dallied.

Increasingly since he had landed in New York, his financial outlook had
worried him. At the time of sailing he had had seven hundred pounds in
the bank; then there were the three hundred pounds per annum from his
Beauty Incorporated shares. This, in addition to what he could earn, had
looked like affluence by Eden Row standards. But in the last few months
he had been spending recklessly. The frenzy which held him prevented
work. Commissions from magazines were still uncompleted. His American
and English publishers were urging him to let them have a second
manuscript. He assured them they should have it, but the manuscript was
scarcely commenced. The dread weighed upon him like a nightmare that he
had lost his creative faculty. His intellect was paralyzed; he had only
one object in living--to win her.

And when he had won her, at the rate at which he was now going, marriage
might be impossible. Already he had drawn on his English savings. After
accustoming her to a false scale of expenditure, he could scarcely urge
retrenchment It would seem to prove all her assertions of the dullness
which overtakes a woman when she has placed herself absolutely in
a man’s power. At this stage there was no chance of curtailing his
generosity. So long as they were both in New York the endless round of
theatres, taxis and restaurants must continue. He could not confess to
her how it was draining his resources. It would seem like accusing her
of avarice and himself of poverty. Poverty and the loss of beauty were
the two calamities which filled her heart with the wildest panic.

Like a thunderstorm that had spent itself, the clamor of argument died
down. It left him with a lucid quietness. Again she lay hushed in
his embrace; her lips shuddered beneath his pressure. That moment of
dearness, more than any ceremony of God or man, had bound him to her.
It had made him sure of subtle shades of fineness in her character which
she refused to reveal to him yet His love should outlast her wilfulness.
He would wait for years, but he would win her. The day would come when
she would awake to her need of him. Meanwhile he would make himself a
habit--what the landscape was to the old man at Baveno--adding link
upon link to her chain of memories, so that in every day when she looked
back, there would be some kindness to remind her of him.

A thought occurred. He would put his chances to the test. He fetched a
pack of cards from his trunk and drew up to the desk. Having shuffled
them, he spread them out face-downwards. If he picked a heart, he would
many her within the year. When he found with a thrill of dismay that
it was a spade, he changed his bargain and agreed to give himself three
chances. The next two were hearts. That encouraged him. He played on for
hours in the silent room--played feverishly, as though his soul depended
on it He craved for certainty. When luck ran against him, he made his
test more lenient till the odds were in his favor. Whatever the cards
said, he refused to take no for an answer. Morning found him with the
lights still burning, his shoulders crouched forward, his head pillowed
on his arms.

All that day he waited to hear from her. He could not bring himself
to telephone her. After what had happened, delicacy kept him from
intruding. In the afternoon he sent her flowers to provide her with
an excuse for calling him up. She let the excuse pass unnoticed. Her
_strategic_ faculty for silence was again asserting itself. He lived
over all the events of the previous day, marking them in sequence hour
by hour, finding them doubly sweet in remembrance. The longest day of
his life had ended by the time he crept to bed.

Next morning he searched his mail for a letter from her. There was
nothing. He was sitting in his room trying to work--it was about
lunch-time--when the telephone tinkled.

“Hulloa,” a voice said which he did not recognize, “are you Mr. Gurney,
the great author?--Well, something terrible’s happened; you’ve not
spoken to your girl for more than twenty-four hours. It’s killing her.”
 A laugh followed and the voice changed to one he knew. “Don’t you think
I’m very gracious, after all your punishment?--Where am I?--No, try
another guess. You’re not very psychic or you’d know. I’m within--let
me count--forty seconds of you. I’m here, in a booth of the Brevoort,
downstairs.--Eh! What’s that?--Will I stop to lunch with you? Why, of
course. That’s what I’ve come for.”

It was extraordinary how his world brightened. The ache had gone out of
it Finances, work, nothing mattered. The future withdrew its threat “I’m
wearing my Nell Gwynn face,” she laughed as he took her hands. Then they
stood together silent, careless of strangers passing, smiling into each
other’s eyes.

“You silly Meester Deek,” she whispered, “why did you keep away if you
wanted me so badly?”

“Because----” and there he ended. He couldn’t speak to her of the
ugliness they had seen together; she looked so girlish and innocent and
fresh. It was hateful that they should share such a memory.

“I’m not proud when I’ve done wrong,” she said. Her eyes winked and
twinkled beneath their lashes. “And it’s rather fun to have to ask
forgiveness when you know you’ve been forgiven beforehand.”

He led her into the white room with its many mirrors. Quickly
forestalling the waiter, he helped her off with her furs and jacket. She
glanced up at him as he did it. “Rather mean of you to do the poor man
out of that It’s about the nearest a waiter ever comes to romance.”

When he had taken his seat opposite to her, she questioned him, “Why did
you act so queerly?”

“Queerly!”

“You know. After the night before last?”

He wished she would let him forget it “I thought you might not want me.”

“Want you!” She reached across the table and touched his hand. “You
do think unkind thoughts. If I did say something cruel, it wasn’t
meant--not in my heart I’m afraid you think I’m fickle.”

He delayed her hand as she was withdrawing it “If I did, I shouldn’t
love you the way I do, Princess.”

A waiter intruded to take their order. It seemed to Teddy that ever
since Long Beach, waiters had been clearing away his tenderest passages
as though it were as much a part of their duties as to change the
courses.

When they were left alone, she brought matters to a head. “I suppose you
got that strange notion because--because of what I said. Poor King! He
did make me angry, and yesterday he came to us so penitent and sorry.
We had to forgive him.--You’re looking as though you thought we oughtn’t
But it doesn’t do to be harsh. We all slip up sooner or later, and the
day’s always coming when we’ll have to ask forgiveness ourselves.”

He stared at her in undisguised amazement Was this merely carelessness
or a charity so divine that it knew no bounds?

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking,” she continued; “you’re thinking we’re
lax. That’s what people thought about Jesus when he talked to the woman
of Samaria. Mr. Dak’s quite a good little man, if he did make a mistake.
He’s always been understanding until this happened.”

She described as a mistake something that had appealed to him as
tragedy. Had her innocence prevented her from guessing the truth?
Perhaps it was he who was distorting facts.

“You seem to be accusing me of self-righteousness when you speak of
other people being understanding. I’m not self-righteous--really I’m
not, Desire--I do wish you’d believe that. Can’t you see why I’m not so
lenient as some of your friends? It’s because I’m so anxious to protect
you. If people are too lenient, it’s usually because they don’t want to
be criticized themselves. But when a man’s in love with a girl, he
doesn’t like to see her doing things that he might encourage her to do
if he didn’t respect her and if they were only out for a good time
together.”

She had frowned while he was speaking. When he ended, she lifted her
gray eyes. “I do understand. I think I understand much more than you’ve
said. But please don’t judge me--that’s what I’m afraid of. I know I’m
all wrong--wrong and stupid in so many directions.--I’ve only found
out how wrong,” her voice dropped, “since I’ve known you.” He felt like
weeping. He had judged her; in spite of his resolutions to let his love
be blind, he had been judging her. Every time he had judged her, her
intuition had warned her. And there she sat abasing herself that she
might treat him with kindness.

He became passionate in her defense. “You’re not wrong. I wouldn’t have
anything, not a single thing in your life altered--nothing, Desire,
from--from the very first. You’re the dearest, sweetest----”

She pressed a finger to her lips and pointed to the mirror. He caught
sight of his strained expression, and remembered they were in public.

While he recovered himself, she did the talking. “I’m not the dearest,
sweetest anything; you don’t see straight. Some day you’ll put on your
spectacles. You’ll see too much that’s bad then. That’s what Horace has
done.--He sailed for England this morning.”

“What’s that? D’you mean he’s broken with----”

She nodded. “Too bad, isn’t it? She didn’t much want him to come to
America, but she’s fearfully cut up now he’s left She was counting
on having such good times with him at Christmas. He didn’t explain
anything; he just went. And----” She made a pyramid of her hands over
which she watched him. “D’you know, she owns up now that some day she
might have married him.”

“But she never told him?”

Desire looked away. “A girl never tells a man that till the last moment.
He got huffy because she was cross with him for taking her to the
country. He didn’t know that when a woman dares to be angry with a man,
it’s quite often a sign that she’s in love with him.”

“Is it?” He asked the question eagerly. Desire had been cross; this
might be the key to her conduct.

She caught his meaning and smiled mysteriously. “Yes--quite often.”
 Then, speaking slowly, “I guess most misunderstandings happen between
men and women because they’re not honest with each other.”

The tension broke. “Fancy calling you a man and me a woman,” she
laughed. She bent forward across the table. “We both ought to be
spanked--you most especially.”

“Why me especially?”

“A little boy like you coming to a little girl like me and pretending
to speak seriously of marriage.--But let’s be honest with each other
always. Do you promise?”

“I promise.”

“Then, I’ll tell you something. I think it’s splendid of you to go on
loving me when you know that I’m not loving you in return.”

“And I think it’s splendid of you to let me go on loving.”

“But do I?” She eyed him mockingly. Then, with one of those sudden
changes to wistfulness, “What Horace has done has made me frightened.
I’m afraid--and I’m only telling you because we’ve promised to be
honest--I’m so afraid that you’ll leave me, and that then I may begin
to care. But you’d never be unkind like that, would you?” His hand
stole out and met hers in denial. They kept on assuring each other that,
whatever had befallen other people’s happiness, theirs was unassailable.

They had dawdled through lunch. When at last they rose the room was
nearly empty.

“What next?”

She clapped her hands. “I know. Make this day different from all the
others. Let’s pretend.”

“Pretend what?”

“You’ll see.”

On the Avenue they hailed a hansom and drove the long length of New
York, through the Park to the Eighties on the West Side. Then she told
him: they were to examine apartments, pretending they wanted to rent
one. Wherever they saw a sign up they stopped the cabby and went in to
make inquiries. Sometimes she talked Cockney. Sometimes she was a little
French girl, who had to have everything that the janitor said translated
to her by Teddy. She only once broke down--when the janitor, as ill-luck
would have it, was a Frenchman; then they beat an ignominious retreat,
laughing and covered with confusion.

It was a very jolly game to play with a girl you loved--this pretending
that you were seeking a nest. It was all the jollier because she would
not own that that was the underlying excitement of their pretense. As
they passed from room to room, and when no one was looking, he would
slip his arm about her and kiss her unwilling cheek. “Wait till we’re in
the hansom,” she would whisper. “Oh, Meester Deek, you do embarrass me.”

Try as he would, he could not disguise the fact that he was in love
with her. A light shone in his eyes. This seemed no game, but a natural
preliminary to something that must happen. She was indignant when the
custodians of the apartments took it for granted that they were an
engaged couple. She ungloved her hand that they might see for themselves
that the ring was lacking. “It’s for my mother,” she explained. “Yes, I
like the apartment; but I can’t decide till my mother has seen it” She
referred to Teddy pointedly as “My friend.” The janitors looked
knowing. They smiled sentimentally and put her conduct down to extreme
bashfulness.

That afternoon was a sample of many that followed. In ingenious and
unacknowledged ways they were continually playing this game that they
were married. Frequently it commenced with his presumption that she
shared his purse, and that it was his right to give her presents. If a
dress in a window caught her fancy, he would say, “How’d you like me to
buy you that?”

“But you can’t. It isn’t done in the best families.”

“But I could if I were your husband.”

“If! Ah, yes!”

Then, for the fun of it, she would enter and try on the dress. Once he
surprised her. She had fitted on a green tweed suit-far more girlish
than anything that she usually wore-and the shop-woman was appealing to
him for his approval. When Desire wasn’t looking, he nodded and paid for
it in cash.

“Very pretty,” Desire said, not knowing it had been purchased, “but a
little too expensive. Thank you for your trouble.”

At dinner, long after the store had closed, he told her.

“But I can’t accept things from you like that. It’s very sweet of
you, but the suit’ll go back to-morrow. Even if I were willing, mother
wouldn’t allow it.”

But Vashti only smiled. She was giving him his chance. It pleased her to
regard them as children.

“Of course it isn’t the thing to do, but if it gives Teddy pleasure----”

So when the suit came home it was not returned. When she met him in the
day time she invariably wore it He knew that her motive was to make him
happy. The little tweed suit gave him an absurd sense of warmth about
the heart whenever he thought of it. It was another bond between them.

“I wonder whether my fattier was at all like you--whether he was always
buying things for my beautiful mother. It is strange to have a father
and to know so little of him. You’re the only person, Meester Deek, I
ever talk to about him. That’s a compliment. D’you think----” she
hesitated, “don’t you think some day you and I might bring them
together?”

It became one of the secret dreams they shared. He told her about the
letter he had written to Hal and never sent.

“Don’t you ever mention me to your father and mother?”

It was an awkward question.

“You don’t Why not?”

He wasn’t sure why he didn’t He hadn’t dared to admit to himself why he
didn’t. His world was out of focus. He supposed that every man’s world
grew out of focus when he fell in love. But the supposition wasn’t quite
satisfying; his conscience often gave him trouble.

“But why not?” she persisted. “Are you ashamed of me?”

“Ashamed of you!” he laughed desperately. “What is there to tell? If we
were engaged------- But so long as we’re not, they wouldn’t understand.
I’m waiting till I can tell them that.”

“I wish they knew,” she pouted. “I wish it wasn’t my fault that you were
stopping in America. I wish so many things. I wouldn’t do a thing to
prevent you if you wanted to sail to-morrow. You won’t ever blame me,
will you?”

It always came back to that, her fear that he might accuse her of having
led him on.

One day he made a discovery. He had gone to the apartment to call for
her earlier than he was expected. She was out Lying on the table under
some needle-work was a book which he recognized. He picked it up; it was
the copy of Life Till Twenty-One which he had bought for her after the
ride from Glastonbury, the receipt of which she had never acknowledged.
He had invented all manner of reasons for her silence: that she was
annoyed with him for having written about her; that she didn’t take him
seriously as an artist. On opening it he found that not only had it been
read, but carefully annotated throughout. The passages which referred
most explicitly to herself were underscored. Against his more visionary
flights she had set query marks. They winked at him humorously up and
down the margins. They were like her voice, counseling with laughing
petulance, “Now, do be sensible.”

She came in with her arms full of parcels. He held the book up
triumphantly. “I’m awfully-proud. You are a queer kiddy. Why didn’t you
tell me? I thought you didn’t care.”

Her parcels scattered. She grabbed the book from him. “That’s cheating.”
 She flushed scarlet. “Of course I care. What girl wouldn’t? But if I feel
a thing deeply I don’t gush. I’m like that.”

“But you talk about Fluffy’s work; you’re always diving through crowds
to see if her picture isn’t on news-stands. You tell me what your
friend, Tom, is doing and--and heaps of people.”

“They’re different.”

“How?”

“If you don’t know, I can’t tel! you.”

“But I’m so proud of you, Princess. I do wish that sometimes,” he tried
to take her hand--she fortressed herself behind a chair, “that sometimes
you’d show that you were a little proud of me.”

“Oh, you!” She bit her finger the way she did when she suspected that he
was going to try to kiss her mouth. Her eyes danced and mocked him above
her hand. “Fancy poor little you wanting some one to be proud of you.
Meester Deek, that does sound soft.”

“Does it?” His voice trembled. “I don’t mind how foolish I am before
you. But I do wish sometimes that you’d treat me as though I wasn’t
different. You’ve only called me twice by my name. You won’t dance
with me, though I learnt especially for you. You won’t do all kinds of
ordinary things that you’re willing to do with people who don’t count.”

All the while that he had been speaking she had smiled at him, her
finger still childishly in her mouth. When he had ended, she came from
behind her chair and threw herself on the couch. “I have piped unto you
and ye have not danced. Is that it, Meester Deek? So now you’re weeping
to see if I won’t mourn. I’m afraid I’m not the mourning sort; life’s
too happy.--But I’m not nice to you. Come and sit down. I’m afraid I’m
least gracious to the people I like best. Ask mother; she’ll tell you.”

Just as he was about to accept her invitation, Twinkles entered, her
tail erect, and hopping on the couch, planted herself between them. She
had the prim air of a dog who is the custodian of her mistress’s morals.

Desire began to toy with the silky ears. “My little chaperone knows
what’s best for me, I guess.--Meester Deek doesn’t love ’oo, Twinkles.
He thinks ’oo’s a very interfering little doggie.”

He did. Despite his best efforts Twinkles growled at him and refused to
be friends. She was continually making his emotion ridiculous. She timed
her absurdly sedate entrances for the moments when the cloud of his
pent-up feelings was about to burst.

“_Love’s Labor Lost_ or _Divided by a Dog._” Desire glanced, through her
lashes laughingly. “You could write a play on it Twinkles and I could
take the leading parts without rehearsing.”

After his discovery that she had read his book he began to try to
interest her in his work--his contemplated work which was scarcely
commenced while she kept him waiting. She seemed pleased when he placed
his manuscripts in her lap. She loved to play the part of his severest
critic, sweeping tempestuously aside all ideas that she pronounced
unworthy of him.

The only side of his career in which she failed to show interest was the
financial. The mere mention of money made her shrivel up. He had hoped
that if he could persuade her to talk about it, he might be able to
confess his straitened circumstances. He guessed the reason for her
delicacy and respected it: concern on her part over his bank-account
might make her look grasping. After each vain attempt to broach the
subject, he would dodge back to cover as if he hadn’t meant it, and
would commence to tell her hurriedly of his dreams of fame. While he did
it, a comic little smile would keep tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“I don’t think you’re wasting time with me,” she said.

“I know I’m not.”

“But I meant something different. I meant that you’re learning about
life; I’m making awfully good copy for you. One day, when I’m a famous
actress and you’re married to some nice little woman who’s jealous of
me, you’ll write a book--a most heart-rending book--that’ll make her
still more jealous. It’ll be a kind of sequel to _Life Till Twenty-one_,
I guess. All experience, however much it costs, is valuable.--You’re
laughing at me. But isn’t it?”

“You wise little person.”

“Just common-sense--and not so terribly little, either,” she corrected.

Many of these conversations took place towards midnight, after he had
seen her home from dinners or theatres. Usually they were carried on in
whispers so as not to waken Vashti, who left her bedroom door ajar when
she knew that Desire was to be late in returning. As a rule, Desire was
in evening-dress; he was sensitively conscious of her mist of hair, and
of the long sweet slope of her white arms and shoulders. After taking
Twinkles for a final outing, he always accompanied her up to the
apartment Once she had had to press him to do so; now she often
pretended that she had expected him to say good-night in the public
foyer.

Saying good-night was a lengthy process, packed with the day’s omitted
tendernesses and made poignant by a touch of dread. After he had risen
reluctantly from the couch, they would linger in the hall, lasting out
the seconds. There were few words uttered. When a man has said, “I love
you,” many times, there is no room for further eloquence. She would
stand with her back against the wall, eyeing him luringly and a little
compassionately. Presently her hand would creep up to the latch and
he would seize the opportunity to slip his arm about her. Wouldn’t she
appoint a place of meeting for to-morrow? She would shake her head and
whisper evasively, “Phone me in the morning.”

Gazing at each other in quivering excitement, they would droop nearer
together. She knew that soon he would draw her to his breast. At the
first movement on his part she would turn the latch and her free hand
would fly up to shield her mouth. He would attempt to coax it away with
kisses.

“I’ve only kissed your lips once. And you’ve never kissed me yet. Won’t
you kiss me, Desire?”

The tenacious little hand would remain obdurate. “Meester Deek, you
mustn’t. The door’s open. If anybody saw us----”

If he tried to pull it away, she would call softly so that nobody could
hear her, “Help, Meester Deek is kissing me.” If he went on trying, she
would gradually call louder.

By degrees she would get him to the elevator; but unless she rang the
bell, he preferred to descend by the stairs for the joy of seeing her
leaning over the rail and raining down kisses to him. The further he
descended the more willing she seemed to be accessible. If he turned
to go back to her, her face would vanish and he would hear her door
shutting.

These farewells embodied for him the ghostly acme of romance. They were
the balcony scene from _Romeo and Juliet_ enacted on the stairway of
a New York apartment-house. From such frail materials till the new day
brought promise, he constructed the palace of his hopes and ecstasies.
It was the ghost of happiness that he had found; happiness itself
escaped him. He longed for her to love him.



CHAPTER XVII--THE TEST

Was she incapable of passion--she who could rouse it to the
danger-mark in others? He suspected that he was too gentle with her; but
forcefulness brought memories of Mr. Dak. Though she made herself the
dearest of companions, he knew that her feeling was no more than intense
liking. He had failed to stir her.

Sometimes he thought that out of cowardice she was wilfully preventing
herself from loving; sometimes that she was diverting the main stream
of her affection in a wrong direction. She could still court separation
from him without regret Fluffy had only to raise her finger and all
his plans were scattered. Fluffy raised her finger very often now that
Horace had left.

He despised himself for feeling jealous of a woman; but he was jealous.
Fluffy knew that she was his rival. When they were all three together,
she would amuse herself with half-sincere attempts to help him in his
battle: “He looks at you so nicely. Why don’t you marry him?” But she
robbed him remorselessly of Desire whenever it pleased her fancy. “Oh,
these men!” she would sigh, shrugging her pretty shoulders. “Don’t you
know, little Desire, that it does them good to keep them guessing?”

While the days slipped by unnumbered, he tried to persuade himself that
Desire’s difficulty of winning made her the more worthy of his worship.
He often thought of his father’s picture, buried beneath dusty canvasses
in the stable at Eden Row. It was like that. He had stumbled into a
Garden Enclosed, basking in lethargy, where Love peered in through
the locked gate, and all things waited and slumbered. Then came the
awakening, shattering in its earnestness.

It was three days before Christmas. The weather had turned to a
sparkling coldness. Tall buildings looked like Niagaras of stone, poured
from the glistening blueness of the heavens. In Madison Square and
Columbus Circle Christmas trees had been set up. New York had a festive
atmosphere--almost an atmosphere of childhood. Schools had broken up;
streets were animated with laughing faces. Mistletoe and holly were in
evidence. At frequent corners a Santa Claus was standing, white-bearded
and red-coated, clattering his bell. Broadway and Fifth Avenue were
thronged with matinée-girls and their escorts. They sprang up like
flowers, tripping along gayly, snuggling their cheeks against their
furs. Stores were Aladdin’s Caves, where money could make dreams come
true. The spendthrift good-nature of the crowds was infectious.

All afternoon he had been shopping with her. “Our first Christmas
together,” he kept saying. He invented plan after plan for making the
season memorable. “When we’re old married people,” he told her, “we’ll
look back. It’ll be something to talk about.”

“Only you mustn’t talk about it before your wife,” she warned him slyly.

“Why not?”

“She won’t like it, naturally. A Joan likes to think she was her Darby’s
first and only.”

He drew her arm closer into his, and peeped beneath the brim of her hat,
“Well, and wasn’t she?”

“Old stupid.”

Over his cheerfulness, though he tried to dispel it, hung a mist of
melancholy. He was reminded of all the Christmases which his father and
mother had helped to make glad. If this was the first he had spent with
Desire, it was the first he had been absent from them. They would be
lonely. His gain in happiness was in proportion to their loss. He felt
guilty; it came home to him at every turn that his treatment of them had
not been handsome.

Suddenly she bubbled into laughter. “You do look tragic Cheer up.”
 Perching her chin on her clasped hands, she leant towards him, “What’s
the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“But there is. Is it anything that I’ve said or done? I’m quite willing
to apologize. Tell me.” Her voice sank from high spirits till it nearly
trembled into tears. “You promised always to be honest” Her hand stole
out and caressed his fingers. “Our first Christmas together! Mee-ster
Deek, you’re not going to make it sad after--after all our good times
together?”

“I’m not making it sad.” He spoke harshly. His tone startled her.
She stared at him, puzzled. For the first time he had failed to be
long-suffering.

“Perhaps we’d better be going.”

Assuming an air of dignity, she slipped into her jacket and commenced to
gather up her furs. Usually they enacted a comedy in which he hurried to
her assistance and she made haste to forestall him. Instead, he beckoned
for the bill.

“Perhaps we had,” he said shortly.

When the waiter had gone for the change, he began to relent. Fumbling in
his breast-pocket, he pulled out the case and placed it on the table.

“I got this for you, not because it cost money, but because I thought
you’d like it.”

She did not touch it. “Three days till Christmas. It isn’t time for
presents yet.”

“Will you promise to accept it?”

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s a little brooch or somethings isn’t it? Let’s
wait till Christmas Eve, anyway--till the day after to-morrow.”

“I want you to see it now.”

The waiter came back with the change. He picked it up without counting
it, keeping his eyes on hers. She was fingering the case with increasing
curiosity.

“But why now?”

“Because-----” He couldn’t explain to her.

Her face cleared and broke into graciousness. “You are funny. Well, if
it means so much to you----” She examined the case first. “Tiffany’s! So
that’s what you were doing when you left me--busting yourself? Shall I
take just one peek at it?--Give me a smile then to show that we’re still
friends---- All right--to please you.”

He twisted on his chair and gazed into the room. The moment while he
waited was an agony. He was a prisoner waiting for the jury to give its
verdict. All his future hung upon her words.

She gasped. “What a darling! Diamonds! Are they diamonds? They must be
since they’re Tiffany’s. But it must have cost---”

He swung round. Her glance fell. “I can’t take it.”

“You can. You’re going to. Here, let’s try it on--There!”

She fidgeted it round, watching the stones sparkle. She seemed
fascinated, and wavered. Then she gathered her will-power: “No, Meester
Deek. What kind of a girl d’you think I am?”

She tried to remove it; he stayed her. They sat in silence. It was very
much as though they had quarreled--the queerest way to give and receive
a present.

He picked up the empty case and slipped it in his pocket “I’ll carry it
for you. What’ll we do next? A theatre?”

She glanced down at her green tweed suit. “Not dressy enough. Besides,”
 she consulted the watch on her wrist, “it’s nine.--Oh, I know; let’s
visit Fluffy. We’ll catch her between the acts.”

Fluffy was leading lady in _Who Killed Cock Robin?_ which was playing to
crowded houses at The Belshazzar.

At the corner of Forty-second Street and Times Square he held her elbow
gingerly to guide her through the traffic; on the further pavement he
released it They walked separately. Then something happened which marked
an epoch in their relations. Shyly she took his arm; previously it was
he who had taken hers. She hugged it to her so that their shoulders came
together. “Can’t you guess why I wanted to see Fluffy? I’m dying to show
it to her.” Then, in a shamefaced little whisper: “Don’t think I’m
ungrateful, Meester Deek. I never could say thanks. People--people who
really like me understand.”

They came to The Belshazzar with its blazing sign, branding Janice
Audrey on the night in fiery letters. There was something rather
magnificent about marching in at the stage-entrance unchallenged. As
they turned into the narrow passage which ran up beside the theatre,
passers-by would halt to watch them, thinking they had discovered a
resemblance in their faces to persons well known in stage-land. Even
Teddy felt the thrill of it, though he was loth to own it, for these
peeps behind the scenes cost him dearly; they invariably rekindled
Desire’s ambitions to be an actress. She would talk of nothing else till
midnight. The chances were that the rest of his evening would be spoilt;
that was what usually happened if he allowed himself to be coaxed into
the lady-peacock’s dressing-room. If the lady herself was before the
footlights, he would have to hear Desire talking theatrical shop with
her dresser. If she was present, he would have to sit ignored, listening
to her accepting the grossest flatteries, till he seemed to himself to
have become conspicuous by not joining in the chorus of adoration. In
the seductive insincerity of that little nest, with its striped yellow
wall-paper, its dressing-table littered with grease-paints, its frothy
display of strewn attire, its perfumed atmosphere and its professional
acceptance of the feminine form as a fact, he had spent many an
unamiable hour.

As they passed the door-keeper, Desire smiled proudly. “We’re visiting
Miss Audrey.” The man peered above his paper, recognized her and nodded.
She glanced up at Teddy merrily, “Just as if we were members of the
company.”

Breaking from him, she ran ahead up the stairs: “You wait here. I’ll let
you know if it’s all right.”

In his mind’s eye he followed her. He imagined her flitting along the
passage from which the dressing-rooms led off, on whose doors were
pinned the names of their temporary occupants. He imagined the faded
photographs of forgotten stars, gazing mournfully down on her youth from
the walls. At the far end she would pause and tap, listening like an
alert little bird for the answer. Then the door would open, and she
would vanish. She was showing Fluffy her watch-bracelet now; they were
vying with each other in their excited exclamations. He could picture it
all.

It seemed to him that she had kept him waiting a long while--a longer
time than usual. It might be only his impatience; time always hung heavy
without her. Men passed--men who belonged to the management. They
looked worried and evidently resented his presence. He returned their
resentment, feeling that they were mistaking him for a stage Johnny.

At last he determined to wait no longer. As he climbed the stairs, he
heard the muttering of voices and some one sobbing. All the doors of the
dressing-rooms were open. The passage was crowded. The entire cast was
there in their stage attire. Managers of various sorts were pushing
their way back and forth. A newspaper man was being hustled out.
Something might have happened to Desire. The disturbance was in Fluffy’s
dressing-room. He elbowed his way to the front and peered breathlessly
across the threshold.

Stretched on a couch was a slim boyish figure, in the costume of a
Tyrolese huntsman. Her face was buried in her hands, her feet twitched
one against the other and her shoulders shook with an agony of crying.
The cap which she had been wearing had been tom off and hurled into a
far corner. Her hair fell in a shining tide and gleamed in a golden pool
upon the carpet. By the side of the couch her dresser stood, wringing
her hands and imploring: “Now, Miss Audrey, this’ll never do. They’ve
sent for Mr. Freelevy. You must pull yourself together. The curtain’s
waiting to go up. It’ll be your call in a second.”

“Oh, go away--go away, all of you,” Fluffy wept “I don’t care what
happens now. Nothing matters.”

Desire was kneeling beside her with her arms about her. She was crying
too, dipping her lips into the golden hair. “Don’t, darling. You’re
breaking my heart. Tell me. It may help.”

Simon Freelevy shouldered his way into the room. He was a stout, short
man with a bald, shiny head. His hurry had made him perspire; he was
breathing heavily.

“What’s all this?” he asked angrily. “Tantrums or what?”

Fluffy sat up. She looked pitiful as a frightened child. The penciling
beneath her blue eyes made them larger than ever. She fisted her hands
against her mouth to silence her sobs.

The dresser answered. “A cable was waiting for her. She read it after
the first act It took her by surprise, sir. It was to tell her that Mr.
Overbridge had married.”

“Sensible fellow.” Simon Freelevy took one look at Fluffy. In the
quiet that had attended his entrance the roar of the impatient theatre,
clamoring for the curtain to rise, could be heard. “She can’t go on,”
 he said brusquely. “She’s no more good to-night. Where’s her
understudy?--Oh, youl Good girl--you got ready. Get back into the wings
all of you.”

He drove them out like a flock of sheep, slamming the door
contemptuously behind him.

Desire turned to Teddy. “Fetch a taxi. I can’t leave her to-night We’ll
take her home to my apartment.”

As they drove through Columbus Circle the Christmas tree was illuminated
at the entrance to the Park. The happiness which it betokened provoked
another shower of tears from Fluffy. “It was cruel of him,” she wept,
“cruel of him. I always, always intended---- You know I did, little
Desire.”

She was like a hurt child; there was no consoling her. Her only relief
seemed to be derived from repeating her wrongs monotonously. She kept
appealing to Desire to confirm her assertions of the injustice that had
been done her. Desire gathered her into her arms and drew her head to
her shoulder. “Don’t cry, darling. He wasn’t worthy of you. There are
thousands more men in the world.”

As soon as they had reached the apartment Fluffy said: “Let me go
to bed. I want to cry my heart out.” In the hall as she bade Teddy
good-night, she gazed forlornly from him to Desire: “You two, you’re
very happy. You don’t know how happy. No one ever does until--until It
ends.”

He watched them down the passage. He supposed he ought to go now.
Instead, he went into the front-room and seated himself. He couldn’t
tear himself away. He was hungry for Desire. He hadn’t known that she
could be so tender. He yearned for some great calamity to befall him,
that he might see her kneeling at his side and might feel her arms about
him.

Finality was in the air. Horace’s example had startled him into facing
up to facts; perhaps it had done the same for her. He felt that this was
the psychologic crisis to which all his courtship had been leading. She
cared for him, or she wouldn’t have accepted his present. Knowing her as
he did, the very ungraciousness of her acceptance was a proof to him of
how much she cared. And now this new happening I It had darted swiftly
across their insecurity as the shadow of nemesis approaching. To-night
her lips must give him his answer. She had said: “When I kiss you,
Meester Deek, without your asking, you’ll know then.” They could drag
on no longer. It wasn’t honorable to her, to himself, to his parents--it
wasn’t fair to any of them. Like a stave of music her words sang in his
memory, “And we’re about the right height, aren’t we?”

Twinkles wandered in; seeing that he was alone and that her services
were not required, she wandered out. He got up restlessly. To kill time,
he examined the little piles of books and set them in order. He picked
up a boudoir-cap that she was making, pressing it to his lips because
her hands had touched it. He smiled fondly; even in her usefulness she
was decorative. She made boudoir-caps when buttons needed sewing on her
gloves.

Whatever he did, the eyes of Tom watched him from the photograph on the
piano. He had been hoping for months that she would remove it The eyes
watched him in malicious silence. She had told him that Tom was a sort
of brother. He had never disputed it, but he knew that no man could play
the brother for long with such a girl. He wondered if Tom had found her
lips more accessible, and whether she had ever kissed him in return.

It was getting late. Not quite the evening he had expected! Very few of
his evenings were.

At a sound he turned. She was standing in the doorway, a wrapper
clutched about her, her hair hanging long as at Glastonbury, her bare
feet peeping out from bedroom slippers. She looked half-child, half-elf.

“Oh, it’s you. I thought you’d gone--been gone for hours.”

“Gone! How could I go? We didn’t say good-night.” He lowered his voice,
copying her whisper. Everything seemed to listen in the quietness,
especially Tom’s photograph.

He approached her. If she would be only a tenth as tender to him as she
had been to Fluffy! He was quivering like a leaf. The mystic wind that
blew through him was so gentle that it could only be seen, not heard.
It seemed to fill the room with flutterings. She shook her head, tossing
her hair clear of her shoulders. He halted. Then he seized her hands.
They struggled to free themselves.

“You’re eating my heart out, Desire. I’m good for nothing. You must say
yes. If you don’t love me, you at least like me. You like me immensely,
don’t you? The other will come later.” His voice trembled with the
need of her; it was more like crying. He tried to draw her to him; she
clutched her wrap more tightly, and dodged across the threshold.

Something in him broke. “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

She closed her eyes in dreamy denial. “Never?”

“How can I tell?”

“Then let me kiss you. You’ve let me do it so often. You’ll at least do
that And--and it’s so nearly Christmas.”

“You’ve kissed me so many, many times. I don’t know why I allow it.” Her
voice sounded infinitely weary.

He let go her hand. His face became ashen. “This can’t go on forever.”

“Shish! You’ll wake Fluffy.” She pressed her finger to her lip. “I know.
It can’t go on forever. Don’t let’s talk about it.”

He turned slowly, and picked up his coat and hat. “You and I can talk of
that or nothing.”

As he approached the hall, she slipped after him into the passage. With
his hand on the latch he looked back, “Then you won’t let me kiss you?”

Her expression quickened into a bewitching smile. “You silly Meester
Deek!” She glanced down at her gauzy attire. “How can I? You wouldn’t
have seen me this way if it hadn’t been for an accident. Besides,”
 with a drooping of her head, “I’m so fagged; I don’t feel like kissing
to-night.”

“If you loved me,” he said vehemently, “you’d let me kiss you, anyhow.
You wouldn’t mind. You’d be glad. Why, you and I, the way we’ve been
together, we’re as good as married.”

“Not as bad as that,” she murmured drowsily.

He opened the door. At the last moment she ran forward, holding out
her hand. “You’re angry. Poor Meester Deek! You’re splendid when you’re
angry. Cheer up. There are all the to-morrows.”

He could have taken her in his arms then. He would have taken her
cruelly, crushing her to him. He feared himself. He feared the quiet. He
feared her, lest directly he relented, she would repulse him. She lifted
her hand part way to his mouth. He arrested it; it was her lips for
which he was hungry--to feel them shuddering again beneath his pressure
before love died. He hurried from her.

At last he had stirred her. He had wounded her pride. Tears gushed to
her eyes, deepening their grayness. She stood gazing after him, dumbly
reproachful.

As he entered the Brevoort the clerk handed him a letter. He glanced at
the writing; it was from his mother. He waited till he was in his room
before he tore the envelope.

“_Aren’t you ever coming home!” [he read], “It makes us feel so old,
living without you. What is it that’s keeping you? Until now I’ve not
liked to suggest it. But isn’t it a girl? It can’t be the right one,
Teddy, or you wouldn’t hide the news from your mother. When it’s the
right one a boy comes running to tell her; he knows it’ll make her glad.
But you must know it wouldn’t make me glad--so come back to where we’re
so proud of you. If you cable that you’re coming, we’ll postpone our
Christmas so that you can share it.”_

And then, in a paragraph:

“_I’ve bad news to tell you. The Sheerugs have lost all their money.
Madame Josephine died suddenly; Duke Nineveh has stolen everything
and decamped with a chorus-girl. Beauty Incorporated is exposed
and exploded. The papers say it was a swindle. This’ll affect you
financially, poor old chap_.”



CHAPTER XVIII--THE PRINCESS WHO DID NOT KNOW HER HEART

He sat with his mother’s letter in his hand--the same kind of letter
that years ago Mrs. Sheerug must have penned to Hal. If Hal had
preserved them, there must be stacks of them stowed away in the garrets
at Orchid Lodge. How selfish lovers were in the price they made others
pay! What dearly purchased happiness!

And he was becoming like Hal. He resented the comparison; but he was.
Fame and opportunity were knocking at his door. Instead of opening to
them, he sat weakly waiting for a girl who didn’t seem to care. One day
fame and opportunity would go away; when they were gone, he would
have lost his only chance of making the girl respond. If he became
great--really great--she might appreciate him.

For the first time in his dealings with Desire strategy suggested
itself. Not until Fluffy had lost Horace had she discovered that she had
a heart. If he were to leave Desire---- Fear gripped him lest, while he
was gone, some one else might claim her. The loneliness of what he would
have to face appalled him. It was a loneliness which she would share at
least in part; the habits formed from having been loved, even though she
had not loved in return, might lead her into another man’s arms.

And yet, strategy or no strategy, he would have to leave New York; he
couldn’t keep up the pace. The three hundred pounds per annum which had
come to him from Beauty Incorporated hadn’t been much; but, while it
lasted, it had seemed certain. It had been something to fall back on.
It had stood between him and poverty. His nerve was shaken. What if his
vein of fancy should run dry?

His habits of industry were already lost. He would have to go into
retreat to re-find them--go somewhere where people believed in him; then
he might retrieve his confidence. The yearning to be mothered, which the
strongest men feel at times, swept over him like a tide. He wanted
to hear himself called Teddy, as though his name was not absurd or
disgraceful--a name to be avoided with a nickname.

If he appealed to Desire one last time, would she understand--would she
be kind to him as she had been to Fluffy? He wondered--and he doubted.
If he told her of the loss of the three hundred pounds his trouble would
sound paltry. It might sound to her as though he were asking her to
restore to him the watch-bracelet. It was in her company that he had
spent so riotously; she might think that he was accusing her of having
been mercenary. She had never been that; she had given him far more in
happiness than the means of happiness had cost But he couldn’t
conceive of being in her company and refraining from extravagance. Her
personality made recklessness contagious; it acted like strong wine,
diminishing both the future and the past, till the present became of
total importance.

There was a phrase in his mother’s letter which brought an unreasonable
warmth to his heart: “Come back to where we feel so proud of you.” It
was a long while since any one had felt proud of him. But how had she
guessed that? He had poured out his admiration. He had been so selfless
in his adoration that he had sometimes fancied that he had been despised
for it. He had almost come to believe that there was an unpleasantness
in his appearance or a taint in his character which the love-blind eyes
of Eden Row had failed to discover. Desire seemed most conscious of it
when he stood in the light. It was only in the dusk of cabs and taxis
that she almost forgot it. Sometimes she seemed morbidly aware of this
defect; then she would say in a weary little voice, “I don’t feel like
kissing to-night.”

Humiliation was enervating his talent. He was losing faith in his own
worth--the faith so necessary to an artist. Desire said that it was
“soft” of him to want her to be proud of him. Perhaps it was. But if she
ought not to be proud of him, who ought?

He would have been content with much less than her pride--if only, when
others were present, she had not ignored him. Her friends unconsciously
imitated her example. They passed him over and chattered about trifles.
Their conversations were a shallow exchange of words in which, when
every nerve in his body was emotionalized, it was impossible for him to
take part. He showed continually at a disadvantage. They none of them
had the curiosity to inquire why he was there or who he was. He felt
that behind his back they must smile at Desire’s treatment of him.

It would be good to get back to people who frankly reciprocated his
pride--to artist father with his lofty ideals, who went marching through
life with all his bands playing, never halting for spurious success to
overtake him. It would be good to get back, and yet----

She had worked herself into his blood. She was a disease for which she
herself was the only cure. Without the hope of seeing her his future
would lose its sight. Up till now the short nightly partings had been
agonies, which called for many kisses to dull their pain. When absent
from her, he had made haste to sleep, that oblivion might bridge the
gulf of separation. To have to face interminable days which would bring
no promise of her girlish presence, seemed worse than death. If he
returned to England, what certainty would he have that they would ever
meet again?

He stung himself into shame by remembering what weakness had done for
Hal. Hal would form a link between them, when every other means of
communication had failed.

The wildness of his panic abated. He urged himself to be strong. If he
went on as he was going now, he would bankrupt his life. To-morrow he
would plead with her.

If she still procrastinated, then the only way to draw her nearer would
be to go from her. The horror of parting confronted him again. He closed
his eyes to shut it out. He would decide nothing to-night.

Next morning he phoned her at the usual time. She was still sleeping; he
left a request that she should call him. He waited till twelve. At last
he grew impatient and phoned her again. He was told that she had gone
out with Fluffy, leaving word that he would hear from her later. By
three o’clock he had not heard. All day he had been kept at high tension
on the listen. The cavalierness of her conduct roused his indignation.
Her punishment was out of all proportion to his offense, especially
after the way in which she had received the watch-bracelet A month
ago he would have hurried out to send her a peace-offering of flowers.
To-day he hurried out on a different errand.

Jumping on a bus, he rode up Fifth Avenue and alighted at The
International Sleeping Car Company. Entering swiftly, for fear his
resolution should forsake him, he booked a berth on the _Mauretania_,
sailing on Christmas Eve, the next night. He hesitated as to whether
he should send his mother a cable; he determined to postpone that final
step. He had booked and canceled a berth before. He tried to believe
that he was no more serious now than on that occasion. He was only
proving to himself and to her his supreme earnestness. ‘If she gave him
any encouragement, even though she didn’t definitely promise to marry
him, he would postpone his sailing.

He wandered out into the streets. Floating like gold and silver tulips
on the dusk, lights had sprung up. Crowds surged by merrily; all their
talk was of Christmas. The look of Christmas was in their faces. Girls
hung on the arms of men. Everywhere he saw lovers: they swayed along
the pavement as though they were one; they snuggled in hansoms, sitting
close together; they fled by in taxis, wraithlike in the darkness,
fleeting as the emotion they expressed. He knew all their secrets, all
their thoughts: how men’s hands groped into muffs to squeeze slender
fingers; how the fingers lay quiet, pretending they were numb; how
speech became incoherent, and faces drooped together. He listened to the
lisp of footsteps--all going somewhere to sorrow or happiness. How many
lovers would meet in New York to-night! He felt stunned. His heart ached
intolerably.

In sheer aimlessness he strolled into the Waldorf and hovered by the
pillar from which he had so often watched to see her come. To see her
approaching now he would give a year of his life. She would be wearing
her white-fox furs and the little tweed suit he had given her. The fur
rubbed off on his sleeves; it told many tales.

His resolution was weakening every minute; soon it would be impossible
to leave her--even to pretend he had thought of leaving her.

He must keep his mind occupied; must go to some place which held no
associations. Sauntering along Thirty-fourth Street, he passed by the
Beauty Parlor where she went, as she said, “to be glorified.” He passed
the shop to which he had gone with her to buy the earliest of his more
personal gifts, the dozen silk stockings. Foolish recollections, full of
poignancy! He crossed Broadway beneath the crashing Elevated. Gimbel’s
at least would leave him unreminded; she despised any store which was
not on Fifth Avenue. He had drifted through several departments, when
he was startled by a voice. He turned as though he had been struck. A
salesman, demonstrating a gramophone, had chosen the record of _Absent_
for the purpose. He stood tensely, listening to the tenor wail that came
from the impersonal instrument:

                   “Thinking I see you--thinking I see you smile.”

It was the last straw. His pride was broken. What did it matter whether
she cared? The terrible reality was his need of her. He made a dash for
the nearest pay-station and rang her up.

A man answered. He wasn’t Mr. Dak. “Who? Mr. Gurney? Hold the line. I’ll
call her.---- Little D., here’s your latest. Hurry!”

He heard Desire’s tripping footsteps in the passage and her reproving
whisper to her companion, “You had no right to do that.” Then her clear
voice, thrilling him even at that distance: “Hulloa, Bright Eyes! I’ve
just this minute got home. Did you get my wire?--You didn’t! But you
must have. I sent it after you left last night.--Humph! That’s what
comes of staying at these cheap hotels. You’d better ask the clerk at
the desk.--Oh, you’re not at the Brevoort. At Gimbel’s! What are you
doing there? Buying me another watch-bracelet? Never mind, tell
me presently.--No, I’m not going to tell you what was in the
telegram.--What’s that?”

He had asked who was with her.

“Naturally I can’t answer,” she said; “not now--later. You understand
why.--Of course you can come. Hurry! I’m dying to see you. By-by.”

He had been conscious, while she was speaking, that her conversation was
framed quite as much for the other man’s mystification as for his own.
There had been a tantalizing remoteness in her tones. But what man had
the privilege to call her “Little D.”? He remembered now that, when he
had done it, an annoyed look of remembrance had crept into her eyes.

Life had become worth living again. The madness was on him to spend, to
be gay, to atone. On his way uptown he went into Maillard’s to buy her
a box of her favorite caramels. He stopped at Thorley’s and purchased
a corsage of orchids. He was allowing her to twist him round her little
finger. He confessed it. But what did anything matter? He was going to
her. Life had become radiantly happy. He no longer had to eye passing
lovers with envy. He was of their company and glorified.

When he had pressed the button of the apartment, he was kept
waiting--kept waiting so long that he rang twice. On the other side
Twinkles was barking furiously; then he heard the soft swish of
approaching garments. The door opened. Through the crack he could just
make out her face.

“Don’t come in till I hide,” she warned him in a whisper. “Every
one’s out, except me and Twinkles. I’m halfway through dressing.” She
retreated, leaving the door ajar. When she had fled across the hall into
the passage, she called to him, “You may enter.”

He closed the door and listened in the discreet silence. She was in her
bedroom. She had made a great secret of her little nest. She had told
him about the pictures on the walls, the Japanese garden in the window,
and the queer things she saw from the window when she spied across the
air-shaft on her neighbors. She had a child’s genius for disguising the
commonplace with glamour. Of this the name she had given him, which was
known to no one but her and himself, was an example. She made every hour
that he had not shared with her bristle with mysteries by sly allusions
to what had happened in it Her bedroom was a forbidden spot; she deigned
to describe it to him and left his imagination to do the rest. In
his lover’s craving to picture her in all her environments--to be in
ignorance of nothing that concerned her--he had often begged her to let
him peep across the threshold. She had invariably denied him, putting on
her most shocked expression.

He walked into the front-room; it was littered with presents, received
and to be given, and their torn wrappings.

She heard him. “You mustn’t go in there,” she called.

“Then where am I to go?”

“Bother. I don’t know. You can stand in the passage and talk to me if
you like.”

For a quarter of an hour he leant against the wall, facing her closed
door. While they exchanged remarks he judged her progress by sounds.
Sometimes she informed him as to their meaning. “It’s my powder-box that
I’m opening now.--What you heard then was the stopper of my Mary Garden
bottle.--Shan’t be long. Why don’t you smoke?”

He didn’t want to smoke, but when she asked him a second time, her
question had become an imperative.

Her voice reached him muffled; by the rustling she must be slipping on
her skirt. “I’m keeping you an awfully long while, Meester Deek; you’re
very patient.” There was a lengthy pause. Then: “Of course it isn’t done
in the best families, but we’re different and, anyhow, nobody’ll know.
I’ve drawn down the shades.--If you promise to be good, you can come
inside.”

She was seated at her dressing-table before the mirror, adjusting her
broad-brimmed velvet hat.

“Hulloa!” She did not turn, but let her reflection do the welcoming. “I
haven’t allowed many gentlemen to come in here.” She seemed to be saying
it lest he should think himself too highly flattered.

He bent across her shoulder, asking permission by his silence.

“You may take a nice Christmas kiss, if that’s what you’re after. Just
one.”

He brushed her cool cheek, the unresponsive cheek of an obedient child.
Her arms curved up to her head like the fine handles of a fragile vase.
She proceeded quietly with the pinning of her hat. His arms went about
her passionately. His action was unplanned. He was on his knees beside
her, clutching her to him and kissing the hands which strove to push him
from her. When his lips sought hers, she turned her face aside so that
he could only reach the merest corner of her mouth. So she lay for
some seconds, her face averted, till her motionlessness had quelled his
emotion.

She laughed, freeing herself from his embrace. “Oh, Meester Deek,” she
whispered softly, “and when I wasn’t wearing any corsets! Now let me go
on with the pinning of my hat.”

He filled in the awkward silence by placing the corsage of orchids
in her lap. Before she thanked him, she tried them at various angles
against her breast, studying their effect in the mirror. Then she
whispered reproachfully:

“Aren’t you extravagant? Money does burn holes in your pocket. You ought
to give it to some one to take care of for you.”

There was no free chair. The room was strewn with odds and ends of
clothing as though a cyclone had blown through it He seated himself on
the edge of the white bed and glanced about him. On the dressing-table
in a silver frame was a photograph of Tom. On the wall, in a line above
the bed, were four more of him. Vaguely he began to guess why she had
made such a secret of her bedroom, and why she had let him see it at
this stage in his courtship. Jealousy smoldered like a sullen spark; it
sprang into a flame which tortured and consumed him.

What right had this man to watch her? Why should she wish to have him
watch?

He threw contempt on his jealousy. It made him feel brutal. But it had
burnt long enough to harden his resolve.

She rose and picked up her jacket. “D’you want to help me?”

He took it from her without alacrity. As he guided her arms into the
sleeves, she murmured: “Why were you so naughty last night, Meester
Deek? You almost made me cross, I was so upset and tired. You weren’t
kind.” Then, with a flickering uplifting of her lashes, “But I’m not
tired any longer.”

She waited expectant. Nothing happened. She picked up a hand-mirror,
surveying the back of her neck and giving her rebellious little curl a
final pat, as though bidding it be careful of its manners. In laying it
down she contrived to hold the glass so as to get a glimpse of his face
across her shoulder. Her expression stiffened. As if he were not there,
she swept over to the door, switched off the light and left him to
follow.

He found her in the front-room. She had unwrapped a pot of azaleas and
was clearing a space to set it on the table.

“Tom brought me this,” she explained in a preoccupied tone. “He was
waiting for me when I got back. It was Tom who answered the phone when
you called me. Kind of him to remember me, wasn’t it?”

“Very kind.”

“You don’t need to agree if you don’t really think so.” She spoke
petulantly, with her back toward him. “Even a plant means a lot to some
people. Tom’s only an actor. He’s not a rich author to whom money means
nothing.”

“And I’m not.”

“Well, you act like it.”

She had found that the bottom of the pot was wet and walked out of the
room to fetch a plate before setting it on the table. While she was
gone, he groped after the deep-down cause of her annoyance.

“Did you really send me a telegram?” he asked the moment she reentered.

“You’ve never caught me fibbing yet. I’ve been careful. Why d’you doubt
it?”

“I thought you might have said it--well, just for something to say.
Perhaps because you were embarrassed, or to make Tom jealous.”

“Embarrassed! Why embarrassed? Tom’s an old friend. I must say you have
a high opinion of me. It strikes me Mrs. Theodore Gurney’s going to have
a rough time.”

There was a dead silence. She pivoted slowly and captured both his
hands. Dragging him to the couch, she made him sit beside her. In
the sudden transition of her moods, her face had become as young and
mischievous with smiles as before it had been elderly and cross.

“Well, Meester Deek, haven’t you anything to say? Don’t you like me
better now?” She dived to within an inch of his face as though she were
about to kiss him, and there stopped short, laughing into his eyes. When
he made no response, she became tensely grave. “I can be a little cat
sometimes, and yet you want to live with me all your life. I should
think you’d get sick of me. I’m very honest to let you see what I
really am.” She said this with a wise shake of her head and an air of
self-congratulation. “But you’re a beast, too, when you’re offended.”
 She stooped and kissed his hand. “The first time I’ve ever done that,”
 she murmured, “to you or any man. Haven’t we gone far enough with our
quarreling?”

“I think we have.”

“But you’ve not forgiven me?--Well, I’ll tell you, and then you’ll ask
my pardon.” She moved away from him to the other end of the couch. “I’ve
really been very sweet to you all the time and you haven’t known it.
Last night we were both stupid; I was upset. I don’t know which of us
was the worst. But after you’d gone I was sorry, and I dressed, and I
went out all alone at midnight to send you a telegram so you’d know that
I was sorry directly you woke in the morning. It wasn’t my fault that
you didn’t get it. And then about to-day--you’re angry because I didn’t
call you up. It was because I was looking after your Christmas present.
And when you came here all glum and sulky I let you see my bedroom. And
now I’ve kissed your hand. Isn’t that enough?”

She was turning all the tables on him. “Let’s be friends,” he said.
When he slipped his arm about her, she flinched. “Mind my flowers. Don’t
crush them. You must first say that you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry. Terribly sorry.”

“All right, then. But you did hurt me last night when--when you went
away like that.”

“But you often let me go away like that.”

She held up a finger. “You’re starting again.”

She rose and walked over to a pile of parcels which were lying on the
piano. As he watched her, the thought of Tom came back. She hadn’t
explained those photographs; his pride wouldn’t permit him to ask her.

“You’re not very curious, Meester Deek. Why d’you think I kept you
waiting in the passage and wouldn’t let you come in here? I was afraid
you might see something. I’ll let you see it now.”

She was leaning against the piano. He went and stood beside her. She
moved nearer so that her hair swept his cheek like a caress. “Do you
like it?” She placed a miniature of herself done on ivory in his hand.
“Better than the poor little tin-type portrait that faded!”

“For me?” he asked incredulously.

“Who else? No, listen before you thank me. I thought they’d never get it
done. They’ve been weeks over it. All day I’ve been hurrying them. Now,
won’t you own that you have been misunderstanding?”

“I’ve been an unjust idiot.”

“Not so bad as that. And I’m not so bad, either, if you only knew----
Now I’ll put on your bracelet Did you notice that I wasn’t wearing it?”

“Why weren’t you?”

The babies came into her eyes. “You’ve had a narrow escape. If you
hadn’t been nice, I was going to have given it back to you. Let’s fetch
it. You can fasten it on for me.”

From the steps of the apartment-house they hailed a hansom, and drove
through the winking night to the Claremont. “‘So, honey, jest play
in your own backyard,” she sang. When she found that she couldn’t
intimidate him, she started on another fragment, filling in the gaps
with humming when she forgot the words:

                   “Oh, you beautiful girl,

                   What a beautiful girl you are!

                   You’ve made my dreams come true to me----”

“Sounds as though I were praising myself, doesn’t it? Don’t come so
near, Meester Deek; every time you hug me you carry away so much of my
little white foxes. ‘Beware of the foxes, the little foxes that spoil
the something or other.’ Didn’t some one once say that? I wish you’d
beware; soon there won’t be any fur left.”

While she went to the lady’s room to see whether her appearance had
suffered under his kisses, he engaged a table in a corner, overlooking
the Hudson.

Towards the end of the meal, when she was finishing an ice and he was
lighting a cigar, a silence fell between them. She sat back with her
eyes partly closed and her body relaxed. Up to that moment she had been
daringly vivacious. He had learnt to fear her high spirits and fits
of niceness. They came in gusts; they always had to be paid for with
periods of languor.

“What are you thinking?” he asked. “Something sad, I’ll warrant.”

“Fluffy.” She glanced across at him, appealing for his patience.

“How is she?” He tried to humor her with a display of interest

“She’s broken up. She’s been speaking to Simon Freelevy. She absolutely
refuses to go on playing in New York; it’s too full of memories. So it’s
all arranged; she’s going to California in the New Year with a
road-company.”

He understood her depression now. If Fluffy was leaving New York, this
was his chance. Somehow or other he must manage to hang on. He was glad
he had not sent that cable to his mother.

“That’s hard lines on you.” He sank his voice sympathetically. “You’ll
miss her awfully.”

Desire woke up and became busy with what remained of her ice. “I shan’t.
She wants me to go with her. It’ll do me good.” Then coaxingly, as
though she were asking his permission, “I’ve never been to California.”

The heat drained from him. He paused, giving himself time to grow
steady. If he counted for so little, she shouldn’t guess his bitter
disappointment. “But will you leave your mother? I should think she’ll
be frightfully lonely.”

“My beautiful mother’s so unselfish.”

“But----”

“Well?”

They gazed at each other. He wondered whether she was only playing with
him--whether she had only said it that he might amuse her with a storm
of protests.

“You were going to ask about yourself?” she suggested. “I’ve thought
all that out. You and mother can come and join us somewhere. There’s
splendid riding out West. I’ve always wanted to ride. It would be fine
to go flying along together if--if you were there.”

He didn’t understand this girl, who could give him ivory miniatures
one minute and propose to go away for months the next--who, while she
refused to become anything to him, undertook to arrange his life.

He laughed tolerantly. “I’m afraid that can’t be. I shouldn’t accomplish
much by tagging after a road-company all across a continent. You don’t
seem to realize that I have a living to earn.”

“That was a nasty laugh,” she pouted; “I didn’t like it one little bit.”

She played with his fingers idly, lifting them up and letting them fall,
like soldiers marking time. “You manicure them now. You’ve learnt
something by coming to America---- Your living!” She smiled. “It seems
to come easily enough. I hear you talk about it, but I never see you
working.”

Here was the opening for which he had been waiting. “You’re right. I’ve
hardly done a stroke since I landed. Winning you has taken all my time.”

“Has it?” She glanced round the room dreamily, making confidences
impossible by her lack of enthusiasm.

He got up. “Shall we go back to the apartment? We can talk better
there.”

She lounged to her feet. “If you’ll promise not to worry me. I’ve gone
through too much to-day already.”

He knew the meaning of her fatigue; once more she was barricading
herself. He was doubly sure of it when he saw her open her vanity-case
and produce a veil. A veil was a means of protection which, above all
others, he detested. “Don’t put that thing on.”

“I must. It’ll keep the wind off. I don’t like getting chapped.”

On the drive back she sat rigid with her hand before her eyes, as though
she slept. It seemed to him that he had not advanced a pace since the
ride to Long Beach; the only difference was that his arm encircled her.
She paid so little heed to it that he withdrew it. She gave no sign that
she noticed its withdrawal. It was only when they were halting that she
came to herself with a drowsy yawn. Leaning against his shoulder for
a second, she peered up at him with mock regret: “And to think that my
head might have been resting there all the time!”

It was plain that she didn’t want him to come up. In the foyer she held
out her hand. When he did not take it, she lowered her eyes: “I’m sorry.
I thought you were going.”

After the elevator had left them, she stood outside the door and
carefully removed her veil. It was a frank invitation to him to kiss her
and say good-by. He did neither. She drew the palms of her hands across
her eyes. “I ought to go to bed.--You are a sticker. Well, if you won’t
go, just for a little while.”

She produced the key from her vanity-case. He took it from her and
slipped it into the latch. Only Twinkles was at home. For Twinkles she
mustered the energy for a display of fun-making. Romping with the dog
revived her.

“Take the nice gentleman in there,” she said, “while mistress makes
herself beautiful. Mistress can’t allow the same gentleman, however
pleasant, to come into her bedroom twice.”

He didn’t feel flippant. He was quivering with earnestness. While he
waited among the litter of presents and paper he tried to master his
emotion. He knew that if he once got to touching and kissing her,
he would go out of the door with matters as undecided as when he had
entered.

She drifted into the room rubbing her hands. “Been putting scent on
them,” she explained, holding out to him her smooth little palms. “Don’t
they smell nice?”

He didn’t kiss them. He didn’t dare. She gave him a puzzled look of
inquiry; then showed him her back and became absorbed in gathering up
the scattered papers. When several minutes of silence had elapsed, she
turned.

“I’m not going to quarrel with you, if that’s what you want You’d have
been wise to have said good-night to me downstairs. If you’ve really got
something on your mind, for Heaven’s sake get it off.”

“It’s difficult and you don’t help me.”

She tossed her head impatiently. “You make me tired. It isn’t a girl’s
place to help.”

Seating herself on the floor, with her legs curled about her and her
ankles peeping out from under her skirt, she began to wrap up presents.
“Please be nice,” she implored him in a little voice, “because I really
do like you. Sit down here beside me and put your finger on the knots,
so that I can tie them.”

He sat down opposite to her. That wasn’t quite what she had intended.
She made a mischievous face at him.

“It isn’t a question of being nice,” he said quietly; “it’s a question
of being honest. I’ve booked my berth on the _Mauretania_ for to-morrow
night.”

She gave a scarcely perceptible start. When she spoke, it was without
raising her eyes. “You did that once before. You can’t play the same
trick twice.”

“It isn’t a trick this time.”

She eyed him cloudily, still persuaded that it was. “Are you saying that
because of what I told you about going to California? I thought you were
too big and splendid to return tit for tat.”

“It isn’t tit for tat I booked this afternoon, before I knew about
California.”

She gave her shoulders a shrug of annoyance. “Well, you know your
business best.”

“I don’t; that’s why I’m telling you. I’m not being unkind. My business
may be yours.”

At last she took him seriously. “I don’t see how it can be; you’d better
explain. But first tell me: are you trying to imitate Horace? Because if
you are, it won’t work.”

“I’m not.”

“Then light me a cigarette and let’s be sensible.”

Seated on the floor in the dim-lit room, with the Christmas presents
strewn around, he told her. The first part was the old story of how he
had dreamt about her from a child.

“You know that’s true, Princess?”

“And I’ve dreamt about you,” she nodded. “You were my faery-story.”

“Then why----”

“You tell me first.”

So he told her: told her how she had pained him in England by her
silence; told her what her words “Come to America” had implied;
described to her the expectations with which he had set sail; the
disappointment when on landing he had found that she was absent; and
then the growing heartache that had come to him while she trifled with
him. He spared her nothing. “And you act as if my loving bored you,” he
said; “and yet, if I take you at your word, you’re petulant May I speak
about money now? I know how you hate me to talk of it---- And you won’t
misunderstand?”

She gave her silent consent.

“I can’t afford to live in New York any longer. Last night there was a
letter waiting for me. It told me that my only certain source of income
was lost. It told me a whole lot besides; they’re lonely and promise to
postpone Christmas if I’ll cable them that I’m coming.”

“Have you cabled?”

He shook his head.

“You must. Your poor little mother,” she murmured.

“You’d love my mother,” he said eagerly, “and my father, too. The moment
he clapped eyes on you he’d want to paint you.”

“Would he? And after I’d taken you from him?” She screwed up her mouth
in denial and crushed out the stub of her cigarette against her heel.
It seemed the symbol of things ended. “You were telling me about the
letter. What else?”

“That’s all. But you see, I’ve got nothing now except what I earn. And
when my mind’s distracted---- It’s---- You don’t mind my saying it, do
you? It’s waiting for you that’s done it. My power seems gone. If only
I were sure of you and that you’d be to me always as you are now, I’d be
strong to do anything.”

She had been fidgeting with her bracelet. When he had ended, she
commenced to slip it off. “And it was the day that you lost everything
that you were most generous. And I didn’t thank you properly, like the
little pig I am. Teddy, please don’t be offended, but I’d so much rather
you----”

He pressed his lips against the slim wrist that she held out. “Please
don’t. It would hurt me most awfully.”

“And it makes me feel guilty to keep it,” she pouted.

They sat holding hands, gazing at each other. In the silence, without
the fever of caresses, he had come nearer to her than at any previous
moment. They were two children who had experimented with things they did
not understand, and were a little frightened at what had happened and a
little glad.

“You called me Teddy just now,” he whispered. “It’s the third time.”

She smiled at him with a flicker of her old wickedness. “I didn’t intend
to. It slipped out because--because I was so unhappy.”

“But you needn’t be unhappy. Neither of us need be unhappy. Everything’s
in our own hands. I’d work for you, Desire. I’d become famous for you.
We’d live life splendidly. The way we’ve been living is stupid and
wasteful; it doesn’t lead anywhere. If you’d marry me and come back with
me----”

“To-morrow?” she questioned. “Meester Deek, you didn’t go and book two
berths? You weren’t as foolish as that?”

He sought her lips. She turned her face ever so slightly, as though
apologizing for a necessary unkindness! His look of disappointment
brought tears to her eyes. She stroked his cheek gently in atonement.

“You weren’t as foolish as that?”

He hung his head. “No, I wasn’t: I wish I had been, and I would be if
you----”

She stared beyond him, watching pictures form and dissolve before her
inward eyes.

“We could sail to-morrow,” he urged her; “or wait till after Christmas.
I’d wait for you for years if you’d only say that some day---- Can’t we
at least be engaged?”

“Don’t wait,” she whispered.

“But I shall wait always--always. I shall never love any one but you.”

“They all say that.”

A key grated in the latch. She didn’t snatch away her hand the way she
would have done formerly. She sat motionless, courting discovery.
They heard Vashti’s voice, bidding some man good-night. The door shut.
Glancing in on them in passing, she pretended to be unaware of what was
happening. “I’m going straight to bed. You don’t mind if I don’t stay to
talk with you? I’m tired.”

The quiet settled down. Desire crept closer. They had been sitting
facing. “I guess you’re badly hurt. You thought that all girls wanted
to get married, and to have little babies and a kind man to take care of
them.” When he tried to answer her, she placed her hand upon his mouth.
He held it there with his own, as though it had been a flower.

“I’m glad we got mad,” she whispered; “it’s made us real. It’s nice to
be real sometimes. But I don’t know what to say to you--what to do to
you. I haven’t played fair. At first I thought you were like all the
rest. I know I’m responsible.”

She snuggled up to him like a weary child. “I’m at the
cross-roads.--Don’t kiss me--you put me out when you do that. Just put
your arms about me so that I feel safe. I--I want to tell you.”

“Then tell me, Princess.”

“I’m two persons. There’s the me that I am now, and the other me that’s
horrid.”

“I love them both.”

“You don’t. The me that’s horrid is a spiteful little cat, and I may
become the horrid me at any moment Meester Dèek, you’d have to marry
us both. I’m not a restful person at the best. I can never say the kind
things that I feel. Most of the time I ought to be whipped and shaken. I
suppose if I fell really in love it might be different.”

“Then fall really in love.”

She seemed to ponder his advice. “My love’s such a feeble little
trickle. Yours is so deep and wide; mine would be lost in it And yet I
do like you. I speak to you the way I speak to no other man. I could go
on speaking to you forever. If I’d seen as much of any other man, he’d
have bored me long ago.”

“And isn’t that just saying that you do love me?”

“Perhaps.” Her head stirred against his shoulder. Then: “No. That’s only
saying that you’ve not found fault with me and that you’ve let me be
selfish. You need some one who’ll be to you what your mother has been
to your father. I’ll hate her when you find her; but, oh, Meester Deek,
there are heaps of better girls in the world. I can’t cook, can’t sew,
can’t even be agreeable very often. I want to live, and make mistakes,
and then experiment afresh.--Perhaps I don’t know what I want. I feel
more than friendship for you, but much less than love, because if it
were love, it would stop at nothing. Oh, I know, though you don’t think
it. Perhaps one day, when I’m older and wiser, I’ll look back and regret
to-night. But I’m not going to let you spoil your life.”

“You’d make it.”

“Spoil it.”

She released herself from him. He helped her to rise.

“I’ve at least been an education for your soul. Do say it. I haven’t
done you nothing but harm, have I?”

His emotion choked him.

She came and leant her forehead against his shoulder. “Do say it. Have
I?”

“You darling kiddy, you’ve been the best thing that ever happened to
me.”

“I have my own little religion,” she whispered. “I shall say a prayer
for you to-night.”

“Will you pray that one day you may be my wife?”

She was silent. They moved together as in a trance towards the door. He
was remembering what she had said it would mean if she kissed him
without his asking. He was hoping. She accompanied him to the head of
the stairs. Suddenly his will-power gave way. “I’m not going. You don’t
think I’m going after to-night? You’ve shown me so much that---- Desire,
I can’t live without you.”

She took his face between her hands. “You must go. If you don’t, it’ll
be all the same. You’ve told me things, too. I’m hindering your work.
After what you’ve told me, I would refuse to see you if you stayed.
Perhaps it’s only for a little while. I may marry you some day. Who
knows? And I wouldn’t want your mother to hate me.”

They clung together in silence.

“We’ll write often?”

“Yes, often.”

“And to-morrow?”

“Phone me in the morning.”

He thought she had repeated the phrase from habit. “My last day,” he
pleaded.

“Phone me in the morning,” she reiterated.

He had said good-by; she was waving to him across the rail. He was
nearly out of sight. He turned and came bounding back.

“What is it? I can’t keep brave if you make me go through it twice.”

He caught her to him. “Give me your lips,” he panted.

She averted her face.

His arms fell from her. “I thought not,” he whispered brokenly.

He had begun to descend. At the last moment she stooped. Her lips
fluttered against his own; they neither kissed nor returned his
pressure. She fled from him trembling across the threshold. The door
shut with a bang. He waited to see her come stealing out. He was left
alone with her memory.

On returning to the Brevoort he inquired for her telegram. At first
he was told that none had arrived. He insisted. After a search it was
discovered tucked away in the wrong pigeon-hole. Paying no heed to the
clerk’s apologies, he slit the envelope and read:

                        “Forgive me. I’m sorry. Desire”

If only he had received it earlier! If only it had been brought to his
bedside in the morning, what a difference it would have made! She would
never have known that he had thought of going. She would have heard
nothing about her hindering his work. She would have been ignorant of
his money embarrassments. He couldn’t unsay anything now. It was as
though a force, stronger than himself, had conspired to drive him to
this crisis. He saw her in his mind’s eye, slipping out at midnight to
send him that message. His tenderness magnified her kindness and clothed
her with pathos. The unkindness of the thoughts he had had of her that
day rose up like conscience to reproach him. From the first he had
misjudged her. He had always misjudged her. He forgot all her omissions,
remembering only her periods of graciousness.

He didn’t send the cable to his mother. He went upstairs and commenced
packing. It was only a precaution, he told himself; he wasn’t really
going. To-morrow they would cease to be serious and would laugh about
to-night.

When to-morrow came, he phoned her. Vashti answered. “She didn’t sleep
here, Teddy. She left half-an-hour after you left; she made me promise
not to tell you where she was going.--She was crying. She said she was
sure you hated her or that you would hate her one day.--What’s that?
No. I think you’re doing right I should advise you to sail. It’ll do her
good to miss you.--Yes, if she comes in, I’ll tell her.”

When he had seen his boxes put on the express-wagon, it began to dawn
on him that he was doing things for the last time. He still told himself
that he wasn’t going. He still procrastinated over sending the cable.
Yet he proceeded mechanically with preparations for departure. He saw
his publisher. He interviewed magazine-editors. He promised to execute
work in the near future. He lunched at the Astor by himself, at a table
across which he had often faced her. The waiter showed concern at seeing
him alone and made discreet inquiries after “Madame.” Wherever he turned
he saw girls with young men. The orchestra played rag-time tunes that
they had hummed together. Every sight and sound was a reminder. The
gayety burlesqued his unhappiness.

After lunch he had an inspiration: of course she was at Fluffy’s. He
felt certain that he had only to talk with her to put matters right.

Fluffy was out. It was her maid’s voice that answered; she professed to
know nothing of the movements of Miss Jodrell.

Night gathered--the night before Christmas with its intangible
atmosphere of legendary excitements. All the world over stockings were
being hung at the ends of beds and children were listening for Santa
Claus’s reindeers. Cafés and restaurants were thronged with men and
women in evening-dress. Taxis purred up before flashing doorways and
girls stepped out daintily. Orchestras were crashing out syncopated
music. In cleared spaces, between tables, dancers glided. If he hadn’t
been so wise, he might have been one of them.

Slowly, like pirouetting faeries, snowflakes drifted gleaming down the
dusk. It was the first snow since that memorable flight to the country.

The pain of his loneliness was more than he could bear. There was no use
in telephoning. Perhaps she had been at home all the time and had given
orders that people should say she was out. Quite likely! But why? Why
should she avoid him? She seemed to have been so near to loving him last
night. What had she meant by telling her mother that he hated her or
would hate her one day? He had said and done nothing that would hint
at that The idea that he should ever hate her was absurd. Perhaps the
“horrid me” had got the upper-hand--that would account for it.

Eight o’clock! Four more hours! At midnight the ship sailed.

He hurried to the apartment in Riverside Drive. The elevator-boys told
him that the ladies were out. He refused to believe them and insisted
on being taken up. He knocked at the door and pressed the button. Dead
silence. Even Twinkles didn’t answer.

He was seized with panic. They might have gone to the Brevoort,
expecting to say good-by to him there. He rushed back.. No one had
inquired for him. The laughter of merry-makers in the white-mirrored
dining-room was a mockery. He hid himself in his room upstairs--his room
which would be a stranger’s to-morrow.

Nine! Ten! He sat with his head between his hands. He kept counting from
one to a hundred, encouraging himself that the telephone would tinkle
before he had completed the century. It did once--a wrong number. He
attempted to get on to both the apartment and Fluffy’s a score of times.
“They’re out--out--out.” The answer came back with maddening regularity.
The telephone operators recognized his anxious voice; they cut him
off, as though he were a troublesome child, before he had completed his
question.

He grew ashamed. At last he grew angry. It wasn’t decent of Desire. He
had given her no excuse for the way she was acting.

He pulled out his watch. Nearly eleven! Slipping into his coat and
picking up his bag, he glanced round the room for the last time.
What interminable hours he had wasted there--waiting for her, finding
explanations for her, cutting cards to discover by necromancy whether
she would marry him! With a sigh that was almost of relief, he opened
the door and switched off the light.

While his bill was being receipted at the desk, he wrote out a cable to
his mother:

                   “_Sailing Christmas Eve. ’Mauretania_”

It would reach them as they were sitting down to breakfast to-morrow--a
kind of Christmas present.

At last he had made the step final. He wondered how far he had
paralleled Hal. The comparison should end at this point; he had better
things to do than to mope away his life.

On arriving at the dock he inquired for letters. He was informed that he
would find them on board at the Purser’s office. A long queue of people
was drawn up. He took his place impatiently at the end. He told himself
that this episode was ended; that from first to last his share had been
undignified. Doubtless he would marry her some day; but until she was
ready, he would not think about her. He thought of nothing else. Each
time the line moved up his heart gave a thump. There might be one from
her. He became sure there was one from her. A man named Godfrey, two
places ahead, was being served. As the G’s were sorted, he watched
sharply; he made certain he had seen a letter in her hand.

At last it was his turn.

“You have a letter for me. Theodore Gurney.”

A minute’s silence.

“Nothing, sir.”

“But are you sure? I thought I saw one.”

“I’ll look again if you like.--Nothing.”

He staggered as he walked away. His face was set and white. An old lady
touched him gently. “Is the news so bad?”

He shook off her kindness and laughed throatily. “News I No, it’s
nothing.”

He felt ill and unmanned. Tears tingled behind his eyes. He refused to
shed them. They seemed to scald his brain. He didn’t care whether he
lived or died. He’d given so much; he’d planned such kindness; he’d
dreamed with such persistent courage. The thanks he had received was
“Nothing.”

He found his way out on deck and leant across the rail. A gang-plank had
been lowered to his right. Passengers came swarming up it, laughing with
their friends--diners from Broadway who were speeding the parting guest.
Some of them seemed to be dancing; the rhythm of the rag-time was
in their steps. For the most part they were in evening-dress. The
opera-cloaks and wraps of women flew back, exposing their throats and
breasts. He twisted his mouth into a bitter smile. They employed their
breasts for ornament, not for motherhood. They were all alike.

He had lost count of time while standing there. His eyes brooded
sullenly through the drifting snow on the sullen water and the broken
lights. Shouted warnings that the ship was about to sail were growing
rare. The tardiest of the visitors were being hurried down the
gang-plank. Sailors stood ready to cast away and put up the rail.

There was a commotion. Hazily he became aware of it A girl had
become hysterical. She seemed alone; which was odd, for she was in
evening-dress. She was explaining, almost crying, and wringing her
hands. She was doing her best to force her way on deck; a steward and a
man in uniform were turning her back.

Suddenly he realized. He was fighting towards her through the crowd. He
had his hand on the steward’s shoulder. “Damn you. Don’t touch her.”

The ship’s eyes were on them. His arms went about her.

“I couldn’t stop away,” she whispered. “I had to come at the last
moment. I was almost too late. I’ve been a little beast all day. I want
to hear you say you forgive me, Teddy.”

He was thinking quickly.

“You’ve come by yourself?”

“I slipped away from a party. Nobody knows.”

“You can’t go back alone. I’ll come with you. I’m not sailing.”

She laughed breathlessly. “But your luggage!”

“Hang my luggage.”

She took his face between her hands as though no one was watching.
“Meester Deek, I shouldn’t have come if I’d thought it would make you a
coward.”

“A coward, but------”

She rested her cheek against his face. “Your mother’s expecting you.
And--and we’ll meet so very soon.”

“Give me something,” he implored her; “something for remembrance.”

She looked down at herself. What could she give him? “Your little curl.”

“But it’s false.”

“But it’s dear,” he murmured.

An officer touched him. He glanced across his shoulder and nodded. This,
then, was the end.

He drew her closer. “I can’t tell you. I never have told you. In all
these months I’ve told you nothing.--I love you. I love you.--Your lips
just once, Princess.”

Her obedient mouth lay against his own. Her lips were motionless. She
slipped from him.

Waving and waving, he watched her from the deck. Now he lost her; again
he saw her where raised screens in the sheds made golden port-holes.
She raced along the dock, as with bands playing the Christmas ship stole
out. Now that it was too late, she hoarded every moment. Beneath a lamp,
leaning out through the drift of snowflakes, she fluttered a scarf that
she had torn from her throat It was the last glimpse he had of her. A
Goddess of Liberty she seemed to him; a slave of freedom, Horace would
have said.



CHAPTER XIX--AN OLD PASSION

He was like a man from the tropics suddenly transplanted to an Arctic
climate. He was chilled to the soul; the coldness brought him misery,
but no reaction. His vigor had been undermined by the uncertainties and
ardors which he had endured. Building a fire out of his memories, he
shivered and crouched before it.

Hour by hour in the silence of his brain he relived the old pulsating
languors. He had no courage to look ahead to any brightness in the
future. The taste of the present was as ashes in his mouth. He felt old,
disillusioned, exhausted. The grayness of the plunging wintry sea was
the reflection of his soul’s gray loneliness.

He had spent so long in listening and waiting that listening and waiting
had become a habit. He would hear the telephone tinkle soon. His heart
would fly up like a bird into his throat. Her voice would steal to him
across the distance: “Meester Deek, hulloa! What are we going to do this
morning?” He often heard it in imagination. He could not bear to believe
that at last his leisure was his own--that suspense was at once and
forever ended.

Among the passengers he was a romantic figure. Stories went the rounds
about him. It was said that the girl who had delayed the sailing was an
actress--no, an heiress--no, one of the most beautiful of the season’s
débutantes. Men’s eyes followed him with envy. Women tried to coax
him into a confession--especially the old lady who had met him coming
white-faced from the Purser’s office. He was regarded as a triumphant
lover; he alone knew that he was an impostor.

His grip on reality had loosened. There were times when he believed
she had never existed. He was a child who had slept in a ring of the
faeries. He had seen the little people steal out from brakes and hedges.
All night In their spider-web and glow-worm raiment they had danced
about him, caressing him with their velvet arms. The dawn had come; he
sat up rubbing his eyes, to find himself forsaken. He would wake up in
Eden Row presently to discover that all his ecstasies had been imagined.

The little false curl was a proof to the contrary. He carried it near
his heart. It was the Nell Gwynn part of her--a piece of concrete
personality. It still seemed to mock his seriousness.

He had left so many things unsaid; in all those months he had told her
nothing. He argued his way over the old ground, blaming himself and
making excuses for her. If only he had acted thus and so, then she would
have responded accordingly. He was almost persuaded that he had been
unkind to her. And there was so much--so much more than he had imagined,
from which he ought to save her. If she played with other men as she had
played with him, she would be in constant danger. She seemed to regard
men as puppies who could be sent to heel by a frown. Mr. Dak had taught
her nothing. She skirted the edge of precipices when strong winds were
blowing. She would do it once too often; the day was always coming. It
might come to-morrow.

He missed her horribly--all her tricks of affection and petulance. He
had so much to remember: her casual way of singing in the midst of his
talking; the way she covered her mouth with her hand, laughing over it,
that she might provoke him into coaxing apart her fingers that he might
reach her lips through them; the waving down the stairs at the hour of
parting--every memory flared into importance now that she had vanished.
Most of all, he missed the name she had called him. Meester Deek I What
a fool he had been to be so impatient because she would not employ the
name by which any one could call him!

No, he hadn’t realized her value. Their separation was his doing. He
might have been with her now, if only----

And back there at the end of the lengthening wake, did Broadway still
flash and glitter, a Vanity Fair over which sky-signs wove ghostly and
monstrous sorceries?

At night he paced the deck, staring into the unrelieved blackness. With
whom was she now? Was she thinking of him? Was she thinking of him with
kindness, or had the “horrid me” again taken possession? Perhaps she was
with Fluffy. “Oh, these men!” Fluffy would say contemptuously. She
was with some one--he knew that; it was impossible to think of her as
sitting alone. She wouldn’t allow herself to be sad; she was somewhere
where there was feverish gayety, lights and the seduction of music. But
with whom?

He saw again her little white bedroom which had been such a secret. On
the dressing-table, where it could watch her night and morning at her
mirror, was the silver-framed photograph. (She had never asked him for
his portrait) In a line on the wall, looking down on her as she lay
curled up in bed, were four more photographs. His jealousy became
maddening. His old suspicions crept back to haunt him. Who was this Tom?
What claims had he on her? Was Tom her permanent lover, and he the
man with whom she had trifled for relaxation--was that it? Even in the
moment of parting, after she had shown herself capable of abandon, her
lips had been motionless beneath his passion. To her he had offered
himself soul and body; at intervals she had been sorry for him.

His one consolation was in writing to her--that made her seem nearer.
He poured out his heart hour after hour, in unconsidered, fiery phrases.
The journal which he kept for her on the voyage was less a journal of
contemporary doings than of rememberings. It was a history of all their
intercourse, stretching back from the scarf fluttered on the dock to the
far-off, cloistral days of childhood. He believed that in the writing of
it he became telepathic; messages seemed to reach him from her. He
heard her speaking so distinctly that at times he would drop his pen and
glance across his shoulder: “Meester Deek! Meester Deek!” He noted down
the hours when the phenomenon occurred, begging her to tell him whether
at these hours she had been thinking of him. Like a refrain, to which
the music was forever returning, “I shall wait for you always--always,”
 he wrote.

“And we’ll meet so very soon,” she had said at parting. What had she
meant? He had had no time to ask her. Had she meant that she would
follow him--that she had at last reached the point at which she could
not do without him? That she wasn’t going to California? That her
foolish and excessive friendship for Fluffy had ceased to be of supreme
importance? “And we shall meet so soon.” He built his hopes on that
promise.

In the moments just before sleeping he was almost physically conscious
of her. When lights along passageways of the ship had been lowered and
feet no longer clattered on the decks, when only the thud of the engines
sounded, the swish of waters and the sigh of sleepers, then he believed
she approached him. He prayed Matthew Arnold’s prayer, and it seemed to
him that it was answered:

                   “Come to me in my dreams and then

                   By day I shall be well again!

                   For then the night will more than pay

                   The hopeless longing of the day.”

They say love is blind; it would be truer to say love is lenient. He had
intervals of calmness when he appreciated to the full the wisdom of
what he was doing. He recognized her faults; he recognized them with
tenderness as the imperfections which sprang from her environment. If
he could take her out of her hot-house, her limp attitudes towards life
would straighten and her sanity would grow fresh. The trouble was
that she preferred her hothouse and the orchid-people by whom she was
surrounded; she had never known the blowy gardens of the world, which
lie honest beneath the rain and stars. She pitied them for their
blustering robustness. She pitied him for the distinctions he made
between right and wrong. They impressed her as barbarous. Once, when
she had told him that she was cold by temperament, he had answered, “You
save yourself for the great occasions.” He was surer of that than
ever; he was only afraid that the great occasion might not prove to be
himself. There lay the hazard of his experiment in leaving her.

He dared not count on her final act of remorse. She was theatrical by
temperament. To arrive at the last moment when a ship was sailing
had afforded her a fine stage-setting. Her conduct might have meant
everything; it might have meant no more than a girl’s display of
emotionalism.

He began to understand her. It was like her to become desperate to
inveigle him back just when he had resigned himself to forget her. In
the past he had grown afraid to set store by her graciousness or to plan
any kindness for her. To allow her to feel her power over him seemed to
blunt her interest. It was always after he had shown her coldness
that she had shown him most affection. Directly he submitted to her
fascination, she affected to become indifferent. It was a trick that
could be played too often. If this see-saw game was too long continued,
one of them would out-weary the other’s patience. If only he had been
sure that she was missing him, his mind would have been comparatively at
rest.

He disembarked at Fishguard an hour after midnight The December air
was raw and damp. His first action on landing was to dispatch his
journal-letter to her. As he drowsed in the cold, ill-lighted carriage
it was of her that he thought Now that the voyage was ended, the ocean
that lay between them seemed impassable as the gulf that is fixed
between hell and heaven. She had seen the steamer--she had been a topic
of conversation on board; but everything that he saw now, and would see
from now on, was unfamiliar to her.

The entrance into London did nothing to cheer him. He had flying
glimpses of stagnant gardens, windows like empty sockets plugged with
fog, forlorn streets like gutters down which the scavenger dawn wandered
between flapping lamps. London looked mean; even in its emptiness, it
looked overcrowded. He missed the boastful tallness of New York. Before
the train had halted his nostrils were full of the stale stench of
cab-ranks and the sulphurous pollutions of engines. Milk-cans made a
cemetery of the station; porters looked melancholy as mourners. His
gorge rose against the folly of his return.

He had stepped out and was giving instructions about his luggage, when
he heard his name called tremblingly. As he turned, he was swept into
a whirlwind of embraces. His father stood by, preserving his dignity,
giving all the world to understand that a father can disguise his
emotions under all circumstances.

“But how did you get here?” Teddy asked. “It’s so shockingly early.”

“Been here most of the night,” his mother told him, between tears and
laughter. “You didn’t think we were going to let you arrive unmet?
And we didn’t keep Christmas. When we got your cable, we put all our
presents away and waited for you.”

How was it that he had so far forgotten what their love had meant? He
compared this arrival with his unwelcomed arrival in New York. A flush
of warmth spread from his heart They had stayed awake all night on the
wintry station that he might not be disappointed.

On the drive back in the cab, all through breakfast and as they sat
before the fire through the lazy morning, they gossiped of the things
of secondary importance--his work, the Sheerugs, his impressions of
America. Of the girl in America they did not talk. His mother’s eyes
asked questions, which his eyes avoided. His father, man-like, showed no
curiosity. He sat comfortably puffing away at his pipe, feeling in his
velvet-coat for matches, and combing his fingers through his shaggy
hair, just as if he had no suspicions that anything divisive had
happened. It was only when an inquisitive silence had fallen that he
showed his sympathy, chasing up a new topic to divert their interest.
Desire was not mentioned that day, nor the next; even when her letters
began to arrive, Teddy’s reticence was respected. For that he was
infinitely thankful. The ordeal of explaining and accepting pity would
have been more than he could have borne. Pity for himself would have
meant condemnation of her conduct. In the raw state of his heart,
neither would have been welcome.

During the afternoon of the first day of his home-coming he visited
Orchid Lodge. He was drawn there by the spectres of Desire’s past.
Harriet admitted him. What a transformation! All the irksome glory was
gone. Carriages no longer waited against the pavement. It was no longer
necessary to strive to appear as if you really had “a nincome.”

Tiptoeing across the hall, he peeped into the parlor with its long
French-windows. It was seated on the steps outside in the garden that he
had listened to Alonzo convincing Mrs. Sheerug of his new-found wealth.
It was a different Alonzo that he saw now--an Alonzo who carried him
back to his childhood. Facing Mr. Ooze across the table, he was dealing
out a pack of cards. He was in his shirtsleeves; Mr. Ooze wore a bowler
hat at a perilous angle on the back of his bald head. Both were too
intent on the game to notice that the door had opened.

“What d’you bet?” Mr. Sheerug was asking.

“Ten thousand,” Mr. Ooze answered.

“I’ll see you and raise you ten thousand. What’ve you got?”

Teddy closed the door gently and stole away. Was he really grown up? Had
time actually moved forward? The thin and the fat man sat there, as in
the days when he had supposed they were murderers, still winning and
losing fabulous fortunes in the unconquered land of their imaginations.

Upstairs, in the spare-room, he found Mrs. Sheerug. With a bag of
vivid-colored wools beside her, she was busy on a new tapestry. She rose
like a little old hen from its nest at the sound of his entrance. Her
arms flew up to greet him.

“You’ve come back.”

“I’ve come back.”

That was all. Whatever she had guessed, she asked no questions. Had they
all agreed to a kindly conspiracy of silence?

As he sat at her feet, watching her work, she told him philosophically
of the loss of their money. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
I wouldn’t be so terribly sorry if it hadn’t given Alonzo sciatica of
the back.”

“Do you get sciatica in the back?” he asked.

She peered at him over her spectacles. “Most people don’t, but that’s
where he’s got it. He never does any work.--Oh, dear, if he’d only take
my lemon cure! I’m sure he’d be better. I don’t think he wants to be
better. He can sit about the house all day while he’s got it. Poor man,
it doesn’t hurt him very badly.”

It soon became evident to Teddy that she wasn’t so cut up as might have
been expected now that her wealth was gone. Straitened means gave her
permission to muddle. “Those coachmen and men-servants,” she told him,
“they worried me, my dear. Their morals were very lax.”

When he tried to find out what had really occurred to cause the collapse
of her affluence, she shook her head. “Shady tricks, my dear--very
shady. Unkind things were said.”

More than that he could not learn; she did not wish to pursue the
subject further.

Little by little the old routine came back, and with it his ancient
dread that nothing would ever happen. Every morning, the moment
breakfast was ended, he climbed the many stairs to his room to work.
From his window he could see his father in the studio, and the pigeons
springing up like dreams from the garden and growing small above the
battlements of house-tops. If he watched long enough, he might see Mr.
Yaflfon come out on his steps, like an old tortoise that had wakened too
early, thrusting its bewildered head out of its shell.

He wanted to work; he wanted to do something splendid. He longed more
than he had ever longed before to make himself famous--famous that she
might share his glory. At first his thoughts were slow in coming. Day
and night, between himself and his imaginings she intruded, passing
and re-passing. He saw her in all her attitudes and moods, wistful,
friendly, and brooding. He could not escape her. Even his father and
mother filled him with envy when he watched them; he and Desire should
have been as they were, if things had turned out happily. Hal rose up as
a warning of the man he might become.

Since he could think of nothing else, he determined to make her his
story. Gradually his purpose cleared and concentrated; his book should
be a statement of what she meant to him--an idealized commentary from
his point of view on what had happened. He would call it _The Book of
Revelation_. It should be a sequel to _Life Till Twenty-One._ His first
book had been the account of love’s dreaming; this should be his record
of its realization. After the idea had fastened on him, he rarely
stirred out He wrote enfevered. If his lips had failed to tell her,
she should at last know what she meant to him. As he wrote, he lost all
consciousness of the public; his book was addressed to her.

Although he seemed to have lost her, he was perpetually recovering her.
He re-found her in other men’s writings, in Keats’s love-letters to
Fanny Brawne and particularly In _Maud_.

                        “O that ’twere possible

                        After long grief and pain

                        To find the arms of my true love

                        Round me once again.”

He had never felt her arms about him, but such lines seemed the haunting
echo of his own yearning. They gave tongue to the emotions which the
dull ache of his heart had made voiceless.

He recovered her in the dusty portrait of Vashti, which had lain in
disgrace in the stable for so many years. Vashti’s youthful figure,
listening in the Garden Enclosed, was very like Desire’s; the lips,
which his boyish kiss had blurred, prophesied kindness. He brought it
out from its place of hiding and hung it on the wall above his desk.

He recovered her most poignantly in small ways: in the stubs of
theatre-tickets for performances they had attended. When unpacking one
of his trunks, he found some white hairs clinging to the sleeve of one
of his coats. They set him dreaming of the pale, reluctant hands that
had snuggled in the warmth of the white-fox muff.

But he recovered her most effectually a week after his home-coming, when
her letters began to arrive. Not that they were satisfactory letters;
if they had been, they would not have been like her. Her sins as a
correspondent were the same as her sins of conduct: they consisted of
things omitted. Where she might have said something comforting, she
filled up the sentence with dots and dashes. He begged her to confess
that she was missing him. She escaped him. She let all his questions go
unanswered. There was a come-and-find-me laughter in her way of writing.
She would tell him just enough to make him anxious--no more. She had
been to this play; she had danced at that supper; last Sunday she had
automobiled with a jolly party out into the country. Of whom the jolly
party had consisted she left him in ignorance.

Strange letters these to receive in the old-fashioned quiet of Eden Row,
where days passed orderly and marshaled by duties! They came fluttering
to him beneath the gray London skies, like tropic birds which had lost
their direction. He would sit picturing her in an Eden Row setting,
telling himself stories of the wild combinations of circumstances that
might bring her tripping to him!

He was homesick for the faeries. He felt dull in remembering her
intenser modes of living--modes of living which in his heart he
distrusted. They could not last. There lay his hope. When they failed,
she might turn to him for security. He excused her carelessness. Why,
because he was sad, should she not be glad-hearted? For such leniency he
received an occasional reward, as when she wrote him, “I do wish I could
hear your nice English voice. I met a lady the other day who asked me,
‘Is there any chance of your marrying Theodore Gurney? If you don’t,
you’re foolish.’ You’d have loved her.” And then, in a mischievous
postscript, “I forgot to tell you, she said you had beautiful eyes.”

Tantalizing as an echo of laughter from behind a barrier of hills!

In her first letters she coquetted with various forms of address:
_Meester Deek; Dear Meester Deek; My Dear_. This last seemed to please
her as a perch midway between the chilliness of friendship and too much
fervor. She settled down to it. Her endings were equally experimental:
_Your Friend Desire; Your Little Friend; Yours of the White Foxes; Yours
affectionately, the Princess_. Usually her signature was preceded
by some such sentiment as, “You know you always have my many
thoughts”--which might mean anything. She never committed herself.

His chief anxiety was to discover what she had meant by her promise that
they would meet very shortly. She refused to tell him. Worse still, as
time went on, he suspected that she was missing him less and less.
While to him no happiness was complete without her, she seemed to be
embarrassed by no such curtailment. Her good times were coming thick and
fast; her infatuation for Fluffy seemed to have strengthened. At last
word reached him in February that they were off to California; she was
too full of anticipation to express regret for the extra three thousand
miles that would part them. On the day before she started, he cabled
the florist at the Brevoort to send her flowers. In return he received
a line of genuine sentiment. “Meester Deek, you are thoughtful! I nearly
cried when I got them. You’ll never know what they meant. New York
hasn’t been New York without you. It was almost as though you yourself
had brought them. I wanted to run out and stop you, waving and waving to
you down the stairs.”

That was the climax. From that point on her correspondence grew jerky,
dealing more and more with trivial externals and less and less with the
poignant things of the past. In proportion as she withdrew from him,
he tried to call her back with his sincerity. When he complained of her
indifference, she told him mockingly, “I’m keeping all your letters.
They’ll give you away entirely when I bring my suit for breach of
promise.”

He could detect Fluffy’s influence, “Oh, these men!” He waited longer
and longer to hear from her. Sometimes three weeks elapsed. Then from
Santa Barbara she wrote, “I’m having such a gay time. Don’t you envy me?
I’m riding horseback and some one is teaching me to drive a car.”

He knew what that meant. How could she travel so far and freely without
attracting love? A man had appeared on the horizon.

For a day he was half-minded to go to her. It was no longer a question,
of whether she wanted him, but of whether he could live without her. He
answered in a fit of jealousy and self-scorn, “I wish I had your faculty
for happiness. I hope your good times are lasting.” And then the fatal
phrase, “I’m afraid you’re one of those lucky persons who feel nothing
very deeply.”

It was his first written criticism of her. She kept him waiting six
weeks for a reply; when it came it was cabled. He broke the seal
tremblingly, not daring to conjecture what he might expect. Her message
was contained in one line, “I hate you to be flippant” After keeping
him waiting so long, she had been in a great hurry to send him those
six words. After that dead silence. It dawned on him that everything was
ended.

He had completed his book. It was in the printer’s hands and he knew
that once more success had come to him. Money was in sight; nothing
kept her from him except her own wayward heart of thistledown. He still
believed the best of her. With the courage of despair he told himself
that, sooner or later, he was bound to marry her. Perhaps she was
keeping away from him out of a sense of justice, because she could not
yet care for him sufficiently. When his book had found her, she would
relent Glancing through his paper one June morning, his eye was arrested
by the head-lines of a motor-accident. It had happened to a party
of newly-landed Americans, two women and three men, on the road from
Liverpool to London. He caught sight of the name of Janice Audrey, and
then---- Dashing out into Eden Row, he ran to Orchid Lodge. Hal was
setting out for business, when he intercepted him. Thrusting the paper
into his hand, he pointed.



CHAPTER XX--SHE PROPOSES

He had not been allowed to see her. She had been at Orchid Lodge for
three days. No one was aware of his special reason for wanting to see
her. Not even to his mother had he let fall a hint that Desire was the
girl for whose sake he had stayed in America. His thoughtfulness
in making inquiries and in sending flowers was attributed to his
remembrance of their childhood’s friendship.

“Her bedroom’s a bower already,” Hal told him; “you really mustn’t send
her any more just yet.”

“Does she ask about me?” He awaited the answer breathlessly.

“Sometimes. I was telling her only this morning how you’d spent the
autumn in New York.”

“Did she say anything?”

“She was interested.”

He could imagine the mischief that had crept into her gray eyes as she
had listened to whatever Hal had told her. Why didn’t she send for him?

As far as he could learn, she wasn’t hurt--only shaken. He suspected
that Mrs. Sheerug was making her an excuse for a bout of nursing. The
house went on tiptoe. The door of the spare-room opened and closed
softly.

He had to see her. It was on the golden evening of the fourth day that
he waylaid Hal on the stairs. “Would you please give her this note? I’ll
wait. There’ll be an answer. I’m sure of it.”

Hal eyed him curiously. Up till now he had been too excited to notice
emotion in any one else. For the first time he seemed to become aware of
the eagerness with which Teddy mentioned her. He took the note without a
word.

For several minutes Teddy waited. They seemed more like hours. From
the Park across the river came the _ping_ of tennis and the laughter
of girls. A door opened. Mrs. Sheerug’s trotting footsteps were
approaching. As she came in sight, she lowered her head and blinked at
him above the rims of her spectacles.

“My grand-daughter says she wants to thank you for the flowers. She
insists on thanking you herself. I don’t know whether it’s right. She’s
in---- She’s an invalid, you know.”

Leaving her to decide this point of etiquette, he hurried along the
passage and tapped. He heard her voice and thrilled to the sound. “Now
don’t any of you disturb us till I call for you.--Promise?”

As Hal slipped out, he left the door open and nodded. “She’ll see you.”

Pushing aside the tapestry curtain of Absalom, he entered. A breeze
was ruffling the curtains. Against the wall outside ivy whispered. The
evening glow, pouring across tree-tops, gilded the faded gold of the
harp and filled the room with an amber vagueness.

She was sitting up in bed, propped on pillows, with a blue shawl wrapped
about her shoulders. She looked such a tiny Desire--such a girl. Her
bronze-black hair was braided in a plait and fell in a long coil across
the bedclothes. Their eyes met. He halted.

Slowly her face broke into a smile. “I wonder which of us has been the
worse.”

He knelt at her side, pressing her hand.

“Which is it, Meester Deek? D’you remember their names? It’s Miss
Independence. I wouldn’t kiss it if I were you; it’s an unkind, a
scratchy little hand.”

He raised his eyes. “Are you very much hurt?”

She gazed down at him mockingly. “By the accident or by your letter?--By
the accident, no. By your letter, yes. I do feel things deeply--I was
feeling them more than ordinarily deeply just then. I didn’t like you
when you wrote that.”

“But I wrote you so often. I told you how sorry I was. You never
answered.”

She crouched her chin against her shoulder. “Shall I tell you the
absolute truth? It’s silly of me to give away my secrets; a girl ought
always to be a mystery.” Her finger went up to her mouth and her eyes
twinkled. “It was because I knew that I was coming to England. I wanted
to see how patient you---- You understand?”

He jumped to his feet. “Then you hadn’t chucked me? All the time you
were intending to come to me?”

She winked at him. “Perhaps, and perhaps not. It would have depended on
my temper and how full I was with other engagements.--No, you’re not to
kiss me when I’m in bed; it isn’t done in the best families.”

He drew back from her, laughing. “How good it is to be mocked! And how
d’you like your family?” He seated himself on the edge of the bed.

“Not there,” she reproved him; “that isn’t done either. Bring a chair.”

When he had obeyed, she lay back with her face towards him and let him
take her hand.

“Meester Deek, it’s very sweet to have a father.”

When he nodded, she shook her head. “You needn’t look so wise. You don’t
know anything about it; you’ve had a father always. But to find a father
when you’re grown up--that’s what’s so sweet and wonderful.” She fell
silent. Then she said, “It’s like having a lover you don’t need to be
afraid of. We know nothing unhappy about each other; he’s never had to
whip me or be cross with me, the way he would have done if I’d always
been his little girl.--You do look funny, Meester Deek; I believe you’re
envying me and--and almost crying.”

“It was in this room,” he said, “that I first met your mother. I heard
her singing when I was lying in this very bed. She looked like you,
Princess; and in fun she asked me to marry her.”

Desire laughed softly. “I haven’t--not even in fun.” Then quickly, to
prevent what he was on the point of saying, “I would have liked to have
known you, Meester Deek, when you were quite, quite little. You’d never
guess what I and my father talk about.”

He had to try. At each fresh suggestion she shook her head.

“About my beautiful mother. Isn’t it wonderful of him to have remembered
and remembered? I believe if I wanted, I could help them to marry.
Only,” she looked away from him, “that would spoil the romance.”

“It wouldn’t spoil it Why do you always speak as if----”

She pursed her lips. “It would. Marriage may be very nice, but it
doesn’t do to let people know you too well. And then, there’s another
reason: Mrs. Sheerug’s a dear, but she doesn’t like my mother.”

“Doesn’t she?” He did his best to make his voice express surprise.

“You know she doesn’t. And she has her doubts about me, too. I can tell
that by the way she says, ’My dear, you laugh like your mother,’ as if
to laugh like my mother was a crime. She thinks it’s wrong to be gay. I
think in her heart she hates my mother.”

Suddenly she sat up. “All from you, and I haven’t thanked you yet!”

He looked round the room; the amber had faded to the silver of twilight.
In vases and bowls the flowers he had sent her glimmered like memories
and threw out fragrance.

Her fingers nestled closer in his hand. “I’m not good at thanking,
but---- Ever since I met you, all along the way there’s been nothing but
kindness. What have I given you in return?--Don’t tell me, because it
won’t be true.--You can kiss my cheek just once, Meester Deek, if you do
it quietly.”

She bent towards him. In that room, where so many things had happened,
with the perfumed English dusk steal ing in at the window, she seemed to
have become for the first time a part of his real world.

“Shall we tell them, Princess?”

“Tell them?”

“About New York?”

She laid her finger on his lips. “No. It’s the same with me now as it
was with you in New York. You never mentioned me in your letters to your
mother. Besides, don’t you think it’ll be more exciting if only you and
I know it?” Her voice sank. “I’m changed somehow. Perhaps it’s having a
father. I want to be good and little. And--and he wouldn’t be proud of
me if he knew----”

The door opened. Desire withdrew her hand swiftly. Mrs. Sheerug entered.

“Why, it’s nearly dark!” She struck a match and lit the gas. “I waited
for you to call me, and since you didn’t----”

Teddy rose. “I’ve stayed rather long.”

He shook Desire’s hand conventionally. At the door, as he lifted the
tapestry to pass out, he glanced back. Mrs. Sheerug was closing the
window. Desire kissed the tips of her fingers to him.

It seemed that at last all his dreams were coming true. During the
week that followed he spent many hours in the spare-room. She was soon
convalescent. Her trunks had been sent from Fluffy’s house and all her
pretty, decorative clothes unpacked. Mrs. Sheerug thought them vain and
actressy, but the spell of Desire was over her.

“She thinks I’ll come to a bad end,” Desire said. “Perhaps I shall.”

Usually he found her sitting by the window in a filmy peignoir and
boudoir-cap. Very often her father was beside her. Hal’s relations with
her were peculiarly tender. He was more like a lover than a father.
He had changed entirely; there was a brightness in his eyes and an
alertness in his step. He seemed to be re-finding her mother in her and
to be re-capturing his own lost youth.

Teddy rarely heard any of their conversations. When he appeared, they
grew silent. Even if Desire had not told him, he would have guessed
that it was of Vashti they had been talking. Presently Hal would make an
excuse to leave them. When the door had shut, Desire would slip her hand
into his. Demonstrations of affection rarely went beyond that now.
The place where they met and the continual possibility of interruption
restrained them. There was another reason as far as Teddy was concerned:
he realized that in New York he had cheapened his affection by forcing
it on her. She told him as much.

“You thought that I was holding back; I wasn’t then, and I’m not now.
Only--I hardly know how to put it--the first time you do things they
thrill me; after that---- The second kiss is never as good as the first.
Every time we repeat something it becomes less important. So you see, if
we married, when we could do things always--I think that’s why I never
kissed you. I wasn’t holding off; I was saving the best.”

A new frankness sprang up between them. They discussed their problem
with a comic air of aloofness. Now that he gave her no opportunities to
repulse him, her fits of coldness became more rare. Sometimes she would
invite the old intimacies. “Meester Deek, I’m not sure that it’s so much
fun being only friends.”

He was amused by her naïveté. “Perhaps it isn’t But don’t let’s spoil
things by talking about it. Let’s be sensible.” In these days it was he
who said, “Let’s be sensible.” She pouted when he said it, and accused
him of strategy. “Be sweet to me, like you were.”

He steeled himself against her coquetry. Until she could tell him that
his love was returned, he must not let her feel her power. “When you can
do that,” he told her, “we’ll cease to be only friends.”

“And yet I do wish you’d pilfer sometimes.” She clasped her hands
against her throat. “I want you, and I don’t want you. I don’t want any.
one to have you; but if I had you always to myself, I shouldn’t know
what to do with you. You’d be awful strict, I expect” She sighed and
sank back in her chair. “It’s such a large order--marriage. I’m so
young. A girl mortgages her whole future.”

She always approached these discussions from the angle of doubt. “When
it was too late, you might see a girl you liked better.”

He assured her of the impossibility. She shook her head wisely. “It has
happened.”

He read in her distrust the influence of the people among whom her
girlhood had been spent, the Vashtis, Fluffys, and Mr. Daks--the slaves
of freedom who, having disdained the best in life, used pleasure as a
narcotic. He knew that it was not his inconstancy that she dreaded, but
the chance that after marriage she herself might be fascinated by some
man. The knowledge made him cautious. Nothing that he could say would
carry any weight; he would be a defendant witnessing in his own defense.
That she was willing to open her mind to him kept him hopeful. It was a
step forward.

He brought his mother to see her. When she had gone Desire said, “I
know now what you meant when you wanted me to be proud of you. I’d give
anything to feel that I was really needed by a man I loved.” And then,
“Meester Deek, you never talk to me about your work. Won’t you let me
see what you’ve been doing?”

He brought to her the book he had written for her that it might tell her
the things which his lips had left unsaid. After she had commenced it,
she refused to see him until she had reached the end.

She heard his footsteps in the passage; her eyes were watching before he
entered. Her lips moved, but she thought better of it. He drew a chair
to her side. “Well?”

She gazed out of the window. “It’s all about us.” Then, with a laughing
glance at him, “I don’t know whatever you’d do, if you didn’t have me to
write about.”

“I wrote it for you,” he whispered, “so that you might understand.”

She frowned. “And I was in California, having such good times.”

He waited.

“It’s very beautiful.” After an interval she repeated her words, “It’s
very beautiful.” Without looking at him, she took his hand. “But it
isn’t me. It’s the magic cloak--the girl you’d like me to become. I
never shall be like that. If that’s what you think I am, you’ll be
disappointed.” She turned to him appealingly. “Meester Deek, you make me
frightened. You expect so much; you’re willing to give so much yourself.
But I’m cold. I couldn’t return a grand passion. Wouldn’t you be content
with less? Couldn’t we be happy if----”

He wanted to lie to her.

“You couldn’t,” she said.

He met her honest eyes. “No, I couldn’t. If--if you feel no passion
after all these months, you’d feel less when we were married.”

She nodded sadly. “Yes, it would be the way it was in New York: I’d
always be only just allowing you--neither of us could bear that.--So, if
I were to tell you that I admired you--admired you more than any man I
ever met--and that I was willing to marry you, you wouldn’t?”

“It wouldn’t be fair--wouldn’t be fair to you, Princess.” His voice
trembled. “One day you yourself will want more than that.”

She no longer bargained for terms or set up her stage ambitions as a
barrier. His restraint proved to her that she was approaching the crisis
at which she must either accept or lose him. It was to postpone this
crisis that she took advantage of Mrs. Sheerug’s anxiety to prolong her
convalescence.

Towards the end of the second week of her visit Teddy got his car out.
One day they ran down to Ware, hoping to find the farm. It was as though
the country that they had known had vanished with their childhood.

Now that she began to get about, the glaring contrast between her
standards and those of Eden Row became more apparent. Her clothes, the
things she talked about, even her dancing way of walking pronounced her
different. She began to get restless under the censures which she read
in Mrs. Sheerug’s eyes.

“And what wouldn’t she say,” she asked Teddy, “if she knew that I’d
smoked a cigarette? I do so want to use a little powder--and I daren’t.”

One afternoon when he called, he found the house in commotion. She was
packing. Fluffy had been to see her; after she had gone the pent-up
storm of criticisms had burst Something had been said about Vashti--what
it was he couldn’t learn. He insisted on seeing her. She came down with
her face tear-stained and flushed. They walked out into the garden in
silence. Where the shrubbery hid them from the house--the shrubbery in
which he had first met Alonzo and Mr. Ooze--they sat down.

“Going?”

“Yes.”

“But do you think you ought to?”

“I’m not thinking. I’m angry. Mrs. Sheerug’s a dear; I know that as well
as you. But she wants to reform me. She makes me wild when she says,
‘You have your mother’s laugh,’ as though being like my mother damned
me. And she said something horrid about Fluffy and about the way I’ve
been brought up.”

“Are you going to Fluffy’s now?”

She shook her head. “Fluffy’s leaving for the continent.”

“Then where?”

Suddenly she laughed. “With you, if you like.”

He stared at her incredulously. “With me?”

“Yes.”

He seized her hands, “You mean that you’ll----”

All the hunger to touch and hold her which he had staved off, urged him
to passion. She turned her lips aside. He drew her to him, kissing her
eyes and hair. He was full of sympathy for the fierceness in her heart;
it was right that she should be angry in her mother’s defense.

“You queer Meester Deek, not marry you--I didn’t say that.” She tried to
free herself, but he clasped her to him. “You must let me go or I won’t
tell you.”

They sat closely, with locked hands.

“I’ve been thinking very carefully what to do. I’m not sure of myself.
We need to be more certain of each other.”

“But how? How can we be more certain now you’re going?”

She smiled at his despair. “The honeymoon ought to come first,” she
said. “Every marriage ought to be preceded by a honeymoon.” She spoke
slowly. “A--a quite proper affair; it would be almost the same as being
married. It’s only by being alone that two people have a chance to
find each other out If we could do that without quarreling or getting
tired---- What do you say? If you don’t say yes, you may never get
another chance.”

When she saw him hesitating, she added, “You’re thinking of me. No one
need know. We could meet in Paris.”

His last chance! Dared he trust himself?

“What day shall I meet you?” he questioned.



CHAPTER XXI--THE EXPERIMENTAL HONEYMOON

He caught the boat-train from Charing Cross. It was a sparkling morning
in the last week of June, the season of hay-making and roses. He had
received his instructions in a brief note. It bore no address; the
postmark showed that it had been dispatched from Rouen. When the train
was in motion he studied it afresh; he could have repeated it line for
line from memory:

_My dear,

Come Saturday. I’ll meet you in Paris at the Gare du Nord 445. Bring
only hand-baggage--evening dress not necessary.

Here are my terms. No kissing, no love-making, nothing like that till
I give permission. We’re just two friends who have met by accident and
have made up our minds to travel together. Don’t join me, if you can’t
live up to the contract.

Many thoughts,

Yours affectionately,

The Princess._

He had stared at the letter so long that they were panting through the
hop-fields of Kent by the time he put it back in his pocket. A breeze
silvered the backs of leaves, making them tremulous. The spires of
Canterbury floated up.

He knew the way she traveled, with mountainous trunks and more gowns
than she could wear. Why had she been so explicit that he should bring
only hand-baggage? Was it because their time together was to be short,
or because she knew that at the last minute she might turn coward? She
had left herself another loop-hole: she had sent him no address. Even if
she were there to meet him, he might miss her on the crowded platform.
And if he did---- His fears lest he might miss her battled with his
scruples.

Dover and the flash of the sea! Scruples dwindled in importance; the
goal of his anticipations grew nearer.

On the boat there was a bridal couple. He watched them, trying to
discover with how much discretion honeymoon people were supposed to act.

On French soil the gayety of his adventure caught him. One day they
would repeat it; she would travel with him openly from London, and it
wouldn’t be an experiment From Calais he would have liked to send a
telegram--but to where? She was still elusive. The train was delayed in
starting. He fumed and fretted; if it arrived late he might lose her.
For the last hour, as he was nearing Paris, he sat with his watch in his
hand.

Before they were at a standstill, he had leapt to the platform, glancing
this way and that. He had begun to despair, when a slight figure in a
muslin dress emerged from the crowd. He stared hard at the simplicity of
her appearance, trying to fathom its meaning.

Disguising her emotion with mockery, she caught him by both hands. “What
luck! I’ve been so lonely. Fancy meeting you here!” She laughed at him
slyly through her lashes. She looked at his suit-case. “That all? Good.
I wondered if you’d take me at my word.”

She moved round to the side on which he carried it, so that they had
to walk a little apart In the courtyard, from among the gesticulating
_cochers_, he selected a _fiacre_. As he helped her in he asked, “Where
are we staying?”

“In the Rue St. Honoré at _The Oxford and Cambridge_; close by there are
heaps of other hotels. You can easily find a good one.”

Again she surprised him; a fashionable hotel in the Place Vendôme was
what he had expected.

They jingled off down sunlit boulevards. On tree-shadowed pavements
tables were arranged in rows before cafés. Great buses lumbered by,
drawn by stallions. Every sight and sound was noticeable and exciting.
It was a world at whose meaning they could only guess; between it and
themselves rose the barrier of language. Already the foreignness of
their surroundings was forcing them together. They both felt it--felt
it gladly; yet they sat restrained and awkward. None of their former
unconventions gave them the least clews as to how they should act.

She turned inquisitive eyes on him. “Quite overcome, aren’t you? You
didn’t expect to find such a modest little girl.--Tell me, Meester Deek,
do you like the way I’m dressed?”

“Better than ever. But why----”

She clapped her hands. “For you. I’ll tell you later.”

She looked away as if she feared she had encouraged him too much. Again
the silence settled down.

He watched her: the slope of her throat, the wistful drooping of her
face, the folded patience of her hands.

“When does a honeymoon like ours commence?” he whispered.

She shrugged her shoulders and became interested in the traffic.

“Well, then if you won’t tell me that, answer me this question. How long
does it last?”

She pursed her mouth and began to do a sum on her fingers. When she had
counted up to ten, she peeped at him from under her broad-brimmed hat.
“Until it ends.” Then, patting his hand quickly, “But it’s only just
started. Don’t let’s think about the end---- Here, this hotel will do.
Dig the _cocher_ in the back. I’ll sit in the _fiacre_ till you return;
then there’ll be no explanations.”

He took the first _room_ that was offered him, and regained his place
beside her. All the time he had been gone, he had been haunted by the
dread that she might drive off without him.

“What next?”

She smiled. “The old New York question. Anywhere---- I don’t care.” She
slipped her arm into his and then withdrew it. “It is fun to be alone
with you.”

He told the man to drive them through the Tuileries and over the river
to the Luxembourg Gardens.

He touched her. She frowned. “Not here. It’s too full of Americans. We
might be recognized.” Huddling herself into her corner, she tried to
look as if he were not there.

As they came out on the quays, the river blazed golden, shining flash
upon flash beneath its intercepting bridges. The sun was setting,
gilding domes and spires. The sky was plumed and saffron with the smoke
of clouds. Bareheaded work-girls were boarding trams; mischievous-eyed
artisans in blue blouses jostled them. Eyes flung back glances. Chatter
and a sense of release were in the air. The heart of Paris began to
expand with the ecstasy of youth and passion. Her hand slipped from her
lap and rested on the cushion. His covered it; by unspoken consent they
closed up the space between them.

“Are you giving me permission?”

“Not exactly. Can you guess why I planned this? I--I wanted to be fair.”

“The strangest reason!” He laughed softly.

“But I did.” She spoke with pouting emphasis. “I’ve given you an awful
lot of worry.”

“Don’t know about that. If you have, it’s been worth it.”

“Has it?” She shook her head doubtfully. “It might have been worth it,
if----” A slow smile crept about her mouth. “Whatever happens, you’ll
have had your honeymoon. People say it’s the best part of marriage.”

He didn’t know what she meant by a honeymoon. It wasn’t much like a
honeymoon at present--it wasn’t so very different from the ride to Long
Beach. He dared not question. Without warning, in the quick shifting of
her moods, she might send him packing back to London.

They were crossing the Pont Neuf; her attention was held by a line of
barges. When they had reached the farther bank, he reminded her, “You
were going to tell me----”

He glanced at her dress. “Was it really for me that you did it?”

She nodded. “For you. I’m so artificial; I’m not ashamed of it. But
until I saw you in Eden Row, I didn’t realize how different I am. In New
York--well, I was in the majority. It was you who felt strange there.
But in Eden Row I saw my father. He’s like you and--and it came over me
that perhaps I’m not as nice as I fancy--not as much to be envied. There
may even be something in what Mrs. Sheerug says.”

“But you are nice.” His voice was hot in her defense. “I can’t make out
why you’re always running yourself down.”

She thought for a moment, brushing him with her shoulder. “Because I can
stand it, and to hear you defend me, perhaps.--But it _was_ for you that
I bought this dress, Mees-ter Deek. I tried to think how you’d like me
to look if--if we were always going to be together. And so I’ve given up
my beauty-patch. And I won’t smoke a single cigarette unless you ask
me. I’m going to live in your kind of a world and,” she bit her lip,
inviting his pity, “and I’m going to travel without trunks, and I’ll try
not to be an expense. I think I’m splendid.”

They drew up at the Luxembourg Gardens and dismissed the _fiacre._

A band was playing. The splash of fountains and fluttering of pigeons
mingled with the music. Seen from a distance, the statues of dryads
and athletes seemed to stoop from their pedestals and to move with
the promenading crowd. They watched the eager types by which they
were surrounded: artists’ models, work-girls, cocottes; tired-eyed,
long-haired, Daudetesque young men; Zouaves, chasseurs, Svengalis--they
were people of a fiction world. Some walked in pairs--others solitary.
Here two lovers embraced unabashed. There they met for the first time,
and made the moment an eternity. Romance, the brevity of life, the
warning against foolish caution were in the air. For all these people
there was only one quest.

They had been walking separately, divided by _shyness_. In passing,
a grisette swept against him, and glanced into his eyes in friendly
fashion.

“Here, I won’t have that.” Desire spoke with a hint of jealousy. She
drew nearer so that their shoulders were touching. “Nobody’ll know us.
Don’t let’s be misers. I’ll take your arm,” she whispered.

“The second time you’ve done it.”

“When was the first?”

“That night at the Knickerbocker after we’d quarreled and I’d given you
the bracelet.”

She smiled in amused contentment “How you do keep count!”

The band had ceased playing; only the music of the fountains was
heard. Shadows beneath trees deepened. Constellations of street-lamps
lengthened. Twilight came tiptoeing softly, like a young-faced woman
with silver hair.

She hung upon his arm more heavily. “Oh, it’s good to be alone with
you! You don’t mind if I don’t talk? One can talk with anybody.” And, a
little later, “Meester Deek, I feel so safe alone with you.”

When they were back in thoroughfares, “Where shall we dine?” he asked
her.

“In your world,” she said. “No, don’t let’s drive. This isn’t New York.
We’d miss all the adventure. I’d rather walk now.”

After wandering the Boule Michel, losing their way half-a-dozen times
and making inquiries in their guide-book French, they found the Café
d’Harcourt. Its walls were decorated with student-drawings by artists
long since famous. At a table in the open they seated themselves.
Romance was all about them. It danced in the eyes of men and girls.
Through the orange-tinted dusk it lisped along the pavement It winked at
them through the blinds of pyramided houses.

She bent towards him. “You’ve become _very_ respectful--not at all
the Meester Deek that you were--more like a little boy on his best
behavior.”

He rested his chin in his hand. “Naturally.”

“Why?”

“Your contract. I’m here on approval.”

“Let’s forget it,” she said. “I’m learning. I’ve learnt so much about
life since we met.”

Through the meal she amused him by speaking in broken English and
misunderstanding whatever he said. When it was ended he offered her a
cigarette. “No. You’re only trying to be polite, and tempting me.”

They drove across the river and up the Champs-Elysées to a theatre where
they had seen Polaire announced. The performance had hardly commenced,
when she tugged at his arm. “Meester Deek, it’s summer outside. We’ve
spent so much time in seeing things and people. I want to talk.” From
under the shadow of trees he hailed a _fiacre_. “Where?”

“Anywhere.” When he had taken his place at her side, “You may put your
arm about me,” she murmured drowsily.

They lay back gazing up at the star-strewn sky. Their rubber-tires on
the asphalt made hardly any sound. They seemed disembodied, drifting
through a pageant of dreams. The summer air blew softly on their faces;
sometimes it bore with it the breath of flowers. The night world of
Paris went flashing by, swift in its pursuit of pleasure. They scarcely
noticed it; it was something unreal that they had left.

“What’s going on in your mind?”

She didn’t stir. She hung listless in his embrace. “I was thinking of
growing old--growing old with nobody to care.--You care now; I know that
But if I let you go, in five years’ time you’d----” He felt the shrug
she gave her shoulders. “Mother’s the only friend I have. You might be
the second if---- But mothers are more patient; they’re always waiting
for you when you come back.”

“And I shall be always waiting. Haven’t I always told you that?”

“You’ve told me.” Then, in an altered tone, “Did you ever think you knew
what happened in California?”

“I guessed.”

She freed herself and sat erect. “There was a man.” She waited, and
when he remained silent, “You’d taught me to like to be loved. I didn’t
notice it while you were with me, but I missed it terribly after you’d
left. I used to cry. And then, out there--after he’d kissed me, I lay
awake all night and shivered. I wanted to wash away the touch of his
mouth. It was my fault; I’d given him chances and tried to fascinate
him. I’d been so stingy with you--that made it worse; and he was a man
for whom I didn’t care. I felt I couldn’t write. And it was when I was
feeling’ so unhappy that your letter arrived.--Can’t you understand how
a girl may like to flirt and yet not be bad?--I’m not saying that I love
you, Meester Deek--perhaps I haven’t got it in me to love; only--only
that of all men in the world, I like to be loved by you the best.”

He drew her closer to his side. “You dear kiddy.”

“You forgive me?”

It was late when they parted at the door of her hotel.

“I’ll try to be up early,” she promised. “We might even breakfast
together. It’s the only meal we haven’t shared.”

He turned back to the streets. Passing shrouded churches, he came to
the fire-crowned hill of Montmartre. He wandered on, not greatly caring
where he went. From one of the bridges, when the vagueness of dawn was
in the sky, he found himself gazing down at the black despair of the
silent-flowing river. Wherever he had been, love that could be purchased
had smiled into his eyes. The old fear took possession of him: he
was different from other men. Why couldn’t he rouse her? Was it his
fault--or because there was nothing to arouse?

She wore a troubled look when he met her next morning.

“Shall we breakfast here or at my hotel?”

“At yours,” she said sharply.

When she spoke like that she created the effect of being more distant
than an utter stranger. It wasn’t until some minutes later, when they
were seated at table, that he addressed her.

“There’s something that I want to say; I may as well say it now. When a
man’s in love with a girl and she doesn’t care for him particularly, she
has him at an ungenerous disadvantage: she can make a fool of him any
minute she chooses. I don’t think it’s quite sporting of her to do it.”

Her graciousness came back. “But I do care for you particularly. Poor
you! Did I speak crossly? Here’s why: we’ve got to leave Paris. There’s
a man at my hotel who knows me. I wouldn’t have him see us together for
the world.”

“So that was all? I was afraid I’d done something to offend.”

She made eyes at him above her cup of coffee. “You’re all right,
Meester Deek. You don’t need to get nervous.--But where’ll we go for our
honeymoon?”

“I’m waiting for it to commence.” He smiled ruefully. “You’re just the
same as you always were.”

“But where’ll we go?” she repeated. “We’ve got all the world to choose
from.”

He told the waiter to bring a Cook’s Time Table. Turning to the index,
he began to read out the names alphabetically. “Aden?”

“Too hot,” she said.

“Algiers?”

“Same reason, and fleas as well.”

“Athens?”

“Too informing, and we don’t want any scandals--I’d be sure to meet a
boy who shone my shoes in New York.--Here, give me the old book.--What
about Avignon? We can start this evening and get there to-morrow.”

Through the gayety of the sabbath morning they made their way to Cook’s.
While purchasing their tickets they almost came to words. He insisted
that she would need a berth for the journey; she insisted that she
wouldn’t.

“But you’re not used to sitting up all night. You’ll be good for nothing
next morning. Do be reasonable.”

“I’m not used to a good many of the things we’re doing. I’m trying to
save you expense. And I don’t think it’s at all nice of you to lose your
temper.”

“I didn’t,” he protested.

“A matter of opinion,” she said.

When he had bought a guide-book on Provence, they walked out into the
sunlight in silence. They reached the Pont de la Concorde; neither of
them had uttered a word. With a gap of about a foot between them, they
leant against the parapet, watching steamers puff in to the landing to
take aboard the holiday crowd. She kept her face turned away from him,
with her chin held at a haughty angle. In an attempt to pave the way to
conversation, he commenced to read about Avignon in his guide-book.

Suddenly she snatched it from him and tossed it into the river. He
watched it fall; then stared at her quietly. Like a naughty child,
appalled by her own impishness, she returned his stare.

“Two francs fifty banged for nothing!” She closed up the distance
between them, snuggling against him like a puppy asking his forgiveness.

“Meester Deek, you can be provoking. I got up this morning intending to
be so fascinating. Everything goes wrong.--And as for that berth,” she
made her voice small and repentant, “I was only trying to be sweet to
you.”

“I, too, was trying to be decent.” He covered her hand. “How is it? I
counted so much on this--this experiment, or whatever you call it. We’re
not getting on very well.”

“We’re not.” She lifted her face sadly. In an instant the cloud
vanished. The gray seas in her eyes splashed over with merriment. “It’ll
be all right when we get out of Paris. You see if it isn’t! Quite soon
now my niceness will commence.”

“Then let’s get out now.”

They ran down to the landing and caught a steamer setting out for
Sèvres. From Sèvres they took a tram to Versailles. It was late in the
afternoon when they got back to Paris with scarcely sufficient time to
dine and pack.

All day he had been wondering whether, in her opinion, her niceness had
commenced. They had enjoyed themselves. She had taken his arm. She
had treated him as though she claimed him. But they had broken no new
ground. He felt increasingly that the old familiarities had lost
their meaning while the new familiarities were withheld. She was still
passionless. She allowed and she incited, but she never responded. When
they had arrived at the farthest point that they had reached in their
New York experience, she either halted or turned back. She played at a
thing which to him was as earnest as life and death. He had once found a
dedication which read about as follows: “To the woman with the dead soul
and the beautiful white body.” There were times when the words seemed to
have been written for her.

At the station he searched in vain for an empty carriage. At last he had
to enter one which was already occupied. Their companion was a French
naval officer, who had a slight acquaintance with English, of which he
was exceedingly proud. He informed them that he was going to Marseilles
to join his ship; since Marseilles was several hours beyond Avignon, all
hope that they would have any privacy was at an end. They had been in
crowds and public places ever since they had met; now this stranger
insisted on joining in their conversation. He addressed himself almost
exclusively to Desire; under the flattering battery of his attentions
she grew animated. Finding himself excluded, Teddy looked out of the
window at the pollarded trees and flying country. He felt like the dull
and superseded husband of a Guy de Maupassant story.

Night fell. When it was time to hood the lamp, the stranger still kept
them separate by his gallantry in inviting her to change comers with
him, that she might steady herself while she slept by slipping her arms
through the loops which he had hung from the baggage-rack.

In the darkness Teddy drowsed occasionally; but he never entirely lost
consciousness. With tantalization his love grew furious. It was tinged
with hatred now. He glanced across at the quiet girl with the shadows
lying deep beneath her lashes. Her eyes were always shuttered; every
time he hoped that he might surprise her watching him. The only person
he surprised was the naval officer who feigned sleep the moment he knew
he was observed. Did she really feel far more than she expressed? She
gave him few proofs of it.

She had removed her hat for comfort. Once a fire-fly blew in at the
window and settled in her hair. It wandered across her face, lighting up
her brows, her lips--each memorized perfection. She raised her hand and
brushed it aside. It flew back into the night, leaving behind it a trail
of phosphorescence. His need of her was growing cruel.

He gave up his attempt at sleeping. Going out into the corridor, he
opened a window and smoked a cigarette. Dawn was breaking. As the light
flared and spread, he found that they were traveling a mountainous
country. White towns, more Italian than French, gleamed on the crests of
sun-baked hills. Roads were white. Rivers looked white. The sky was blue
as a sapphire, and smooth as a silken curtain. The fragrance of roses
hung in the air. Above the roar of the engine he could hear the cicalas
chirping.

At six-thirty, as the train panted into Avignon, she awoke. “Hulloa! Are
we there?”

She was so excited that in stepping from the carriage she would have
left her hat behind if the naval officer hadn’t reminded her.

They drove through the town to the tinkling of water flowing down the
gutters. The streets were narrow, with grated medieval houses rising
gray and fortress-like on either side. Great two-wheeled wagons were
coming in from the country; their drivers ran beside them, cracking
their whips and uttering hoarse cries. All the way she chattered,
catching at his lapels and sleeves to attract his attention. She
was full of high spirits as a child. She kept repeating scraps of
information which she had gathered from the naval officer. “He was quite
a gentleman,” she said. And then, when she received no answer, “Didn’t
you think that he was very kind?”

In the centre of the town they alighted in a wide square, the Place de
la Republique, tree-shadowed, sun-swept, surrounded by public buildings
and crooked houses. Carrying their bags, they sat themselves down at a
table beneath an awning, and ordered rolls and chocolate.

Frowning over them, a little to their left, was a huge precipice of
architecture, rising tower upon tower, embattled against the burning
sky. Desire began to retail to him the information she had picked up
in the train: how it was the palace of the popes, built by them in the
fourteenth century while they were in exile. The source of her knowledge
made it distasteful to him. He had difficulty in concealing his
irritation. He felt as if he had sand at the back of his eyes. His
gaze wandered from her to the women going back and forth through the
sunlight, balancing loads on their heads and fetching long loaves of
bread from the bakers. Hauntingly at intervals he heard a flute-like
music; it was a tune commencing, which at the end of five notes fell
silent. A wild-looking herdsman entered the square, followed by twelve
black goats. He stood Pan-like and played; advanced a few steps; raised
his pipe to his lips and played again. A woman approached him; he called
to one of the goats, and squatting on his heels, drew the milk into the
woman’s bowl. Through a tunnel leading out of the square, he vanished.
Like faery music, his five notes grew fainter, to the accompaniment of
sabots clapping across the pavement.

All the while that Desire had been talking, handing on what the stranger
had told her about Avignon, he had watched the soul of Avignon wander
by, dreamy-eyed and sculptured by the sunlight.

She fell silent. Pushing back her chair, she frowned at him. “I’m doing
my best.--I don’t understand you. You’re chilly this morning.”

“Am I?”

“Where’s the good of saying ‘Am I?’ You know you are. What’s the matter?
Jealous?”

“Jealous! Hardly.” He stifled a yawn. “I scarcely got a wink of sleep
last night. I was keeping an eye on your friend. He was watching you all
the time.”

“Then you were jealous.” She leant forward and spoke slowly. “You were
rude; you acted like a spoilt child. Why on earth did you go off and
glue your nose against the window? You left me to do all the talking.”

Suddenly his anger flamed; he knew that his face had gone set and white.
“You didn’t need to talk to him. When are you going to stop playing fast
and loose with me? I’ll tell you what it is, Desire: you haven’t any
passion.”

He was sorry the moment he had said it. A spark of his resentment caught
fire in her eyes. He watched it flicker out. She smiled wearily, “So you
think I haven’t any passion!--Oh, well, we’re going to have fine times,
now that you’ve begun to criticize.--I’m sleepy. I think I’ll go to
bed.”

She rose and strolled away. Leaving his own suit-case at the cafe, he
picked up hers and followed. They found a quaint hotel with a courtyard
full of blossoming rhododendrons. Running round it, outside the
second-story, was a balcony on to which the bedrooms opened. While he
was arranging terms in the office, she went to inspect the room that
was offered. In a few minutes she sent for her suitcase. He waited
half-an-hour; she did not rejoin him.

At the far end of the square he had noticed an old-fashioned hostel.
He claimed his baggage at the café, and took a room at the wine-tavern.
Having bought a sketching-book, pencils and water-colors, he found the
bridge which spans the Rhone between Avignon and Villeneuve. All morning
he amused himself making drawings. About every half-hour a ramshackle
bus passed him, going and returning. It was no more than boards spread
across wheels, with an orange-colored canopy stretched over it. It was
drawn by two lean horses, harnessed in with ropes and driven by a girl.
He didn’t notice her much at first; the blue river, the white banks,
the blue sky, the jagged, vineyard covered hills, and the darting of
swallows claimed his attention. It was the bus that he noticed; it
creaked and groaned as though it would fall to pieces. Then he saw the
girl; she was young and bronzed and laughing. He traced a resemblance
in her to Desire--to Desire when she was lenient and happy. She was
bare-armed, bare-headed, full-breasted; her hair was black as ebony. She
was always singing. About the fifth time in passing him, she smiled. He
began to tell himself stories; in Desire’s absence, he watched for her
as Desire’s proxy.

At mid-day he went to find Desire; he was told that she was still
sleeping. He had _déjeuner_ by himself at the café in the square from
which the bus started. When the meal was ended, as he finished his
carafe of wine, he made sketches of the girl. When he presented her with
one of them, she accepted it from him shyly. His Anglicized French was
scarcely intelligible; but after that when she passed him, she smiled
more openly.

During the afternoon he called three times at the hotel. Each time he
received the same reply, that Mademoiselle was sleeping.

The sky was like an open furnace. Streets were empty. While sketching he
had noticed a bathing-house, tethered against the bank below the bridge.
He went there to get cool He tried the diving-boards; none of them were
high enough. Presently he climbed on to the scorching roof and went off
from there. People crossing the bridge stopped to watch him. Once as he
was preparing to take the plunge, he saw the orange streak of the old
bus creeping across the blue between the girders. He waited till it was
just above him. It pulled up. The girl leant out and waved. After that,
when he saw the orange streak approaching he waited until it had stopped
above him.

The quiet of evening was falling when he again went in search of Desire.
This time he was told she had gone out. He left word that he was going
to the old Papal Garden, on the rock above the palace, to watch the
sunset.

As he climbed the hundred steps of the Escalier de Sainte Anne, which
wind round the face of the precipice, the romance of the view that
opened out before him took away his breath. He felt injured and angry
that she was not there to share it. He went over the details of the
first day in Paris. It had been a fiasco; this day had been worse.

If ever he were to marry her---- For the first time he realized that
winning her was not everything.

Near the top of the ascent, where a gateway spanned the path, he halted.
A fig-tree leant across the wall, heavy with fruit that was green and
purple. Behind him from a rock a spring rushed and gurgled. He stooped
across the parapet, gazing down into the town. It wasn’t aloof like New
York, nor sullen like London. It was a woman lifting her arms behind her
head and laughing lazily through eyes half-shut.

Against the sweep of encircling distance, mountains lay blue and
smoking. A faint pinkness spread across the country like a blush. White
walls and hillsides were tinted to salmon-color. The sunset drained
the red from the tiles of house-tops. Plane-trees, peeping above gray
masonry, looked clear and deep as wells. The Rhone wound about the city
walls like a gold and silver spell.

Now that coolness had come, shutters began to open. The murmur of
innumerable sounds floated up. A breeze whispered through the valley
like the voice of yearning. It seemed that behind those windows girls
were preparing to meet their lovers. And the other women, the women who
were too old or too cold to love! He thought of them.

Suddenly his eyes were covered from behind by two hands. He struggled to
remove them; then he felt that they were slender and young.

“Who are you?”

Silence.

He repeated his question in French.

The hands slipped from his eyes to his shoulders. “Well, you’re a
nice one! Who should it be? It’s the last time I allow you to play by
yourself.”

He swung round and caught her fiercely, shaking her as he pressed her to
him.

“Don’t, Meester Deek. You hurt.”

His lips were within an inch of hers; he didn’t try to kiss her. “You
leave me alone all day,” he panted; “and then you make a joke of it.”

She drew her fingers down his face. “I was very tired, and--and we
weren’t good-tempered. I’ve been lonely, too.” She laid her cheek
against his mouth. “Come, kiss me, Meester Deek. You look as though you
weren’t ever going to.--I’m glad, so glad that----”

“That what?”

She held her hand against her mouth and laughed into his eyes. “That you
haven’t enjoyed yourself without me.”

They climbed to the top of the rock. In the sun-baked warmness of the
garden _cicalas_ were still singing. In the town lights were springing
up. The after-glow lingered on the mountains. Beneath trees the evening
lay silver as moonlight. From a fountain in the middle of a pool rose
the statue of Venus aux Hirondelles.

His arm was still about her. Every few paces he stopped to kiss her.
She patted his face and drew it close to hers. “You’re foolish,” she
whispered. “You spoil me. You’re always nicest when I’ve been my worst.”

Then she commenced to ask him questions. “Do you really think that I’ve
not got any passion?--If I’d been scarred in that motor-car accident,
would you still love me?--Mrs. Theodore Gurney! It does sound funny. I
wonder if I’ll ever be called that.”

It was during the descent to the town that she made him say that he was
glad she had quarreled with him.

“Well, I do make it up to you afterwards, don’t I? If we hadn’t
quarreled, you wouldn’t be doing what you are now. No, you wouldn’t I
shouldn’t allow it. And please don’t try to kiss me just here; it’s so
joggly. Last time you caught the brim of my hat.”

They had dinner in the courtyard of her hotel, in the sweet, earthy dusk
of the rhododendrons. It was like a stage-setting: the canopy of the
sky with the stars sailing over them; the golden panes of windows; the
shadows of people passing and re-passing; the murmur of voices;
the breathless whisper of far-off footsteps. At another table a
black-bearded Frenchman sat and watched them.

“I wish he wouldn’t look at us,” Desire said. “I wonder why he does.”

They took a final walk before going to bed. In the courtyard where the
bushes grew densest, they parted. When he kissed her, she drooped her
face against his shoulder. “Give me your lips.”

She shook her head.

A tone of impatience crept into his voice. “Why not? You’ve done it
before. Why not now?”

He tried to turn her lips towards him; she took away his hand.

“I don’t know. I’m odd. I don’t feel like it.”

He let her go. Again the flame of anger swept through him. “Will you
ever feel like it?”

“How can I tell--now?”

“You’ve never once kissed me. Any other girl----”

“I’m not any other girl.” And then, “We’re alone. I’ve got to be wise for
both of us.”

She ran from him. In the doorway of the hotel she turned and kissed the
tips of her fingers.

He seated himself at a table, watching for the light to spring up in
her window. It was just possible that she might relent and come back,
or that she might lean over the balcony and wave to him While he waited,
the bearded Frenchman slipped out from the shadow. He approached and
raised his hat formally.

“Monsieur, I understand that you are not stopping at this hotel.”

“No, but I have a friend----”

“Mademoiselle, who has just gone from you?’

“Yes.”

“Then let me tell you, Monsieur, that there is a place near here that
will cure you of the illness from which you suffer.” The man took a card
from his pocket and commenced to scribble on it.

“But I’m not suffering from any----”

“Ah, then, it will cure mademoiselle.”

The man laid his card on the table, and again raised his hat

By the time Teddy had recovered from his surprise, the stranger had
vanished. He hurried into the street and gazed up and down. When he
returned to the courtyard. Desire’s window was in darkness. Picking up
the card, he struck a match and read the words, “_Les Baux_.” What was
Les Baux? Where was it? He fell asleep thinking of the miracle that had
been promised; when he awoke next morning he was still thinking of it.
As he dressed he heard the five faint notes of the goatman. Life had
become fantastic. Perhaps----

He set about making inquiries. It was a ruined city in the hills he
discovered. Oh, yes, there had been several books written about it and
innumerable poems. It had been a nest of human eagles once--the home of
troubadours. It was the place where the Queens of Beauty and the Courts
of Love had started. It was said that if a lover could persuade a
reluctant girl to go there with him, she would prove no longer reluctant
It was only a superstition; of course Monsieur understood that
Monsieur hurried to purchase a guide-book to Les Baux. While he waited
among the rhododendrons for Desire, he read it Then he looked up
time-tables and found that the pleasantest way to go was from Arles, and
that from there one had to drive a half day’s journey.

Desire surprised him at his investigations. She was all in white, with a
pink sash about her waist, her dress turned bade deeply at the neck for
coolness and her arms bare to die elbow. She looked extremely young and
pretty.

“’Ulloa, old dear!” she cried, bursting into Cockney. She peered over
his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Looking up routes.”

“Routes!” She raised her brows.

“Yes. To Les Baux.”

“You’re not going to get me out of here, old dear. Don’t you think it
We’ve not seen Avignon yet.”

“But Les Baux----”

Quoting from the guide-book, he commenced to explain to her its
excellences and beauties. She smiled, obstinately repeating, “We’ve not
seen Avignon yet.”

It was after they had breakfasted, when they were crossing the square,
that the bus-girl nodded to him.

“Who’s she?”

“A girl. Don’t you think she’s like you?”

Desire tossed her head haughtily, but slipped her arm into his to show
that she owned him. “Like me, indeed! You’re flattering!”

Presently she asked, “What did you do all yesterday, while I was
horrid?”

“Sat on the bridge and sketched.”

“Sketched! I never saw you sketch. If you’ll buy me a parasol to match
my sash, I’ll sit beside you to-day and watch you.”

On the bridge he set to work upon a water-color of the Rhone as it
flowed past Villeneuve. She was going over his drawings. Suddenly she
stopped. She had come across three of the same person. Just then the
orange-bus lumbered by; again the girl laughed at him.

“Look here, Meester Deek, you’ve got to tell me everything that you did
when I wasn’t with you.”

He was too absorbed in his work to notice what had provoked her
curiosity. When he came to the account of his bathing, she interrupted
him. “I want to see you bathe.”

“All right, presently.”

“No. Now.”

He rather liked her childish way of ordering him. He spoke lazily. “I
don’t mind, if you’ll take care of---- I say, this is like Long Beach,
isn’t it? You made me bathe there. But promise you won’t slip off while
I’m gone.”

“Honest Injun, I promise.”

He had climbed to the roof of the bathing-house and was straightening
himself for the plunge, when he heard the creaking of the bus
approaching. He looked up. The bus-girl had alighted and was leaning
down from the bridge, waving to him. Before diving, he waved back. When
he had climbed to the roof again, he searched round for Desire. She was
nowhere to be found.

He dressed quickly. At the hotel he was informed that she was packing.
He called up to her window from the courtyard. She came out on to the
balcony.

“They tell me you’re packing. What----”

“Going to Les Baux,” she said, “or any other old place. I won’t stay
another hour in Avignon.”

“But this morning at breakfast----”

“I know.” She frowned. As she reentered her window, she glanced back
across her shoulder. “I didn’t know as much about Avignon then.”

Arles was little more than an hour’s journey. It was noon when they left
Avignon. He had been fortunate in getting an empty compartment Without
any coaxing, she came and sat herself beside him. When the train had
started, she took off her hat and leant her head against his shoulder.

“Did you do that on purpose to make me mad?”

“Do what on purpose?”

She played with his hand. “You know, Meester Deck. Don’t pretend. You
did it first with the grisette in the Luxembourg, and now here with
that horrid bus-girl. If you do it a third time, you’ll have me making a
little fool of myself.”

He burst out laughing. She was jealous; she cared for him. He had
infected her with his own uncertainty.

“A nasty, masterful laugh,” she pouted.

He at once became repentant. “I only noticed her when I was lonely,” he
excused himself; “I thought she was like you.”

Desire screwed up her mouth thoughtfully. “Then I’ll have to keep you
from being lonely.”

She tilted up her face. He pressed her lips gently at first; then
fiercely. They did not stir. “That’s enough.” She strained back from
him. “Be careful Remember what you told me--that I haven’t any passion.”

“You have.”

“But you said I hadn’t.”

Her strength went from her and he drew her to him. “The fourth time,” he
whispered.

“When were the others?”

“That day up the Hudson when I asked you to marry me.”

“And the next?”

“At the apartment, when we said good-by across the stairs.”

“How long ago it all sounds! And the third?”

“On Christmas Eve. Princess, I’m going to kiss your lips whenever I like
now.”

She slanted her eyes at him. “Are you? See if you can.”

Her cheeks were flushed. Slipping her finger into her mouth, she
pretended to thwart him. She lay in his arms, happy and unresisting--a
little amused.

“When are you going to kiss me back?”

She laughed into his eyes like a witch woman. “Ah, when? You’re
greedy--never contented. I’ve given you so much.”

“I shall never be contented till----”

She flattened her palm against his lips to silence him.

“Didn’t I tell you that my niceness would commence quite suddenly? I can
be nicer than this.” She nodded. “I can. And I can be a little pig
again presently--especially if we meet another naval officer. I’m always
liable to--”

“Not if you’re in love with any one,” he pleaded.

She sighed. “I’m afraid I am, Meester--Meester Teddy.” She barricaded
her lips with her hand. “No more. Do be good. I’ve got to be wise for
both of us. I suppose you think I was jealous? I wasn’t.”

As the train drew near Arles, she made him release her. His heart was
beating fast. Producing a pocket-mirror, she inspected herself. For the
moment she seemed entirely forgetful of him. Then, “Tell me about this
old Les Baux place,” she commanded.

The engine halted. He helped her out. “It’s a surprise. You’ll see for
yourself.”

On making inquiries, they found that the drive was so long that they
would have to start at once to arrive by evening. To save time, they
took their lunch with them--grapes, wine and cakes. When the town was
left behind, they commenced to picnic in the carriage. They had only
one bottle, from which they had to drink in turns. She played a game of
feeding him, slipping grapes into his mouth. They had to keep a sharp
eye on the _cocher_, who was very particular that they should miss none
of the landmarks. When he turned to attract their attention, pointing
with his whip, they straightened their faces and became very proper.
After he had twice caught them, Desire said, “He’ll think we’re married
now, so we may as well deceive him.”

Teddy was allowed to place an arm about her, while she held the parasol
over them.

“If we were really married, d’you think you’d let me smoke a cigarette?”

He lit one and, having drawn a few puffs, edged it between her lips.

“You are good to me,” she murmured; “you save me so much trouble.”

The fierce sun of Provence blazed down on them. A haze hung over the
country, making everything tremble. Cicalas chirped more drowsily. The
white straight road looked molten. Plane-trees, stretching on in an
endless line, seemed to crouch beneath their shadows. The air was full
of the fragrance of wild lavender. Farmhouses which they passed were
silent and shuttered. No life moved between the osier partitions of
their gardens. Even birds were in hiding. Only lizards were awake and
darted like a flash across rocks which would have scorched the hand.
Beneath a wild fig-tree a mule-driver slumbered, his face buried in his
arms and his bare feet thrust outward. It was a land enchanted.

Desire grew silent. Her head drooped nearer to his shoulder. Beads of
moisture began to glisten on her throat and forehead. Once or twice she
opened her eyes, smiling dreamily up at him; then her breath came softly
and she slept.

At Saint Rémy they stopped to water the horse. The first coolness of
evening was spreading. As the breeze fluttered down the hills, trees
shuddered, like people rising from their beds. Shutters were being
pushed back from windows. Faces peered out Loiterers gazed curiously at
the carriage, with the unconscious girl drooping like a flower in the
arms of the gravely defiant young man. Saint Rémy had been left behind;
the ascent into the mountains had commenced before she wakened.

She rubbed her eyes and sat up. “What! Still holding me? I do think
you’re the most patient man---- Do you still love me, Meester Deek?”

He stooped to kiss her yawning mouth. “More every hour. But why?”

“Because if a man can still love a woman after seeing her asleep----
When I’m asleep, I don’t look my prettiest.”

The scenery was becoming momentarily more wild. The horse was laboring
in its steps. On either side white bowlders hung as if about to tumble.
The narrow road wound up through the loneliness in sweeping curves.
Hawks were dipping against the sky. Not a tree was in sight--only wild
lavender and straggling furze.

She clutched his arm. “It’s frightening.”

“Let’s walk ahead and not think about it,” he suggested. “We’ll talk and
forget.”

But the scenery proved silencing.

“Do say something,” she whispered. “Can’t we quarrel? We’ll talk if
we’re angry.”

He thought. “What kind of a beast was that man in California?”

“He wasn’t a beast. He was quite nice. You came near seeing him.”

“I did! When?”

“He was the man who was stopping in Paris at my hotel.--There, now
you’re really angry! That’s the worst of telling anything. A woman
should keep all her faults to herself.”

“And he saw us?”

She stared at him, surprised at his intuition. “How long have you known
that?”

They were entering a tunnel hewn between rocks; they rose up scarred and
forbidding, nearly meeting overhead.

She shuddered. “I wish we hadn’t come. It’s----”

Suddenly, like a guilty conscience left behind, the tunnel opened on to
a platform. Far below lay a valley, trumpet-shaped and widening as it
faded into the distance. It was snow-white with lime-stone, and flecked
here and there with blood-red earth. The sides of the hills were
monstrous cemeteries, honeycombed with troglodyte dwellings. In the
plain, like naked dancing girls with flying hair, olive-trees fluttered.
Rocks, strewn through the greenness, seemed hides stretched out to
dry. Men, white as lepers, were crawling to and fro in the lime-stone
quarries. Straight ahead, cleaving the valley with its shadow, rose a
sheer column--a tower of Babel, splintered by the sunset. As they gazed
across the gulf to its summit, they made out roofs and ivy-spattered
ramparts. It looked deserted. Then across the distance from the ethereal
height the chiming of bells sounded.

He drew her to him. It was as though with one last question, he was
putting all their doubts behind. “Was it true about that man?”

“Quite true. Fluffy gave him my address. Let’s forget him now, and--and
everything.”

As he stooped above her, she whispered, “Meester Deek, our quarrels have
brought us nearer.”

They heard the rattle of the carriage in the tunnel. Joining hands,
they set out down the steep decline. In the valley they found themselves
among laurel-roses, pink with bloom and heavy with fragrance. Then they
commenced the climb to Les Baux, through cypresses standing stiffly as
sentinels. Beady-eyed, half-naked children watched them and hid behind
rocks when they beckoned.

Beneath a battered gateway they entered the ancient home of the Courts
of Love. Near the gateway, built flush with the precipice, stood a
little house which announced that it was the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne.
An old gentleman with eyes like live coals and long white hair, stepped
out to greet them. He informed them that he was the folk-lore poet of
Les Baux and its inn-keeper. They engaged rooms; while doing so they
noticed that many of the walls were covered with frescoes.

“Ah, yes,” said the poet inn-keeper, “an English artist did them in
payment for his board when he had spent all his money. He came here
like you, you understand; intending to stay for one night; but he stayed
forever. It has happened before in Les Baux, this becoming enchanted.
He was a very famous artist, but he works in the vineyards now and has
married one of our Saracen girls.”

Then he explained that Les Baux was like a pool front which the tides of
Time had receded. Its inhabitants were descendants of Roman legionaries
and of the Saracens who had conquered it later. That was why there were
no blue eyes in Les Baux, though it stood so near to heaven.

They wandered out into the charmed silence. There was no wheel-traffic.
The toy streets could be spanned by the arms outstretched. There were no
shops--only deserted palaces, with defaced escutcheons and wall-flowers
nestling in their crannies. Only women and children were in sight;
they looked like camp-followers of a lost army. Old imperial splendors
moldered in this sepulchre of the clouds, as out of mind as the Queens
of Beauty asleep in their leaden coffins.

They came to the part that was Roman. _Cicalas_ and darting swallows
were its sole tenants. From the huge structure of the crag houses had
been carved and hollowed. The pavement was still grooved by the wheels
of chariots.

In Paris it had been the foreignness of their surroundings that had
forced them together; now it was the antiquity--the brooding sense of
the eventlessness of life and the eternal tedium of expectant death.

“A doll’s house of the gods,” he said.

“No, a faery land waiting for its princess to waken.”

He folded her hands together and held them against his breast. “She will
never waken till her lips have kissed a man.”

She peered up at him shyly. Her face quivered. She had a hunted
indecision in her eyes. The clamor, as of feet pounding through her
body, communicated itself through her hands. She tore them from him.
“Don’t touch me.” She ran from him wildly, and did not stop till streets
where people lived commenced.

When he had come up with her, she tried to cover her confusion with
laughter. “You remember what he said about becoming enchanted? It nearly
happened to us.”

“And why not?”

“Because----” She shrugged her shoulders.

In their absence a table had been spread on the terrace and a lamp
placed on it as a beacon. By reaching out from where they sat, they
could gaze sheer down through the twilight. Night, like a blue vapor,
was steaming up from the valley. In the shadows behind, they were
vaguely aware that the town had assembled to watch them. Bare feet
pattered. A girl laughed. Now and then a mandolin tinkled, and a
love-song of Provence drifted up like a perfume flung into the poignant
dusk. At intervals the sentinel in the church-tower gave warning how
time was forever passing.

“You were afraid of me; that was why you ran.”

She lowered her eyes. “I was more afraid of myself.--Meester Deek,
you’ve never tried to understand what sort of a girl I am. Everything
that I’ve seen of life, right from the very start, has taught me to be a
coward--to believe that the world is bad. Don’t you see how I’d drag you
down? It’s because of that---- When I feel anything big and terrible I
run from it. It--it seems safer.”

“But you can’t run away forever.” He leant across the table and took her
hand. “One day you’ll want those big and terrible things and--and a man
to protect you. They won’t come to you then, perhaps.”

She lifted her face and gazed at him. “You mean you wouldn’t wait
always? Of course you wouldn’t. You don’t know it, but if I were to go
away to-morrow, your waiting would end.”

“It wouldn’t.”

“It would. A girl’s instinct tells her. And I ought to go.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I’m not the wife for you. I’ve given you far more misery than
happiness.”

He laughed quietly. “Little sweetheart, if you were to go, I should
follow you and follow you.”

She shook her head. “Not far.--Meester Deek, some day you may learn to
hate me, so I want to tell you: until I met you, I believed the worst
of every man. I was a little stream in a wilderness; I wanted so to find
the sea, and it seemed that I never should. But now----”

His clasp on her hand tightened. “But now?”

She looked at him sadly. “I should spoil your whole life. Would you
spoil your whole life for the kind of girl I am?”

“Gladly.”

She smiled wistfully. “I wonder how many women have been loved like
that.”

They rose. “Shall we go in?”

“Not yet,” he pleaded.

“It would be better.”

As they were crossing the terrace, the _cocher_ approached them. He
wanted to know at what hour they proposed to leave next morning. He was
anxious to start early, before the heat of the day had commenced.

“I don’t think we’re leaving.” Teddy glanced at Desire. Then, with a
rush of decision: “We’re planning to stay a day or two longer. It’ll be
all the same to you; I’ll pay for the return journey.”

Saying that he would be gone before they were out of bed, the man bade
them farewell.

When they had entered the darkness of the narrow streets, he put his
arm about her. She came to him reluctantly; then surrendered and leant
against him heavily. They sauntered silently as in a dream. All the
steps which had led up to this moment passed before him: her evasions
and retractions. She was no longer a slave of freedom. For the first
time he felt certain of her; with the certainty came an overwhelming
sense of gratitude and tranquillity. He feared lest by word or action he
should disturb it, and it should go from him.

They passed by the old palaces perfumed with wallflowers; in a window an
occasional light winked at them. They reached the Roman part of the town
and hurried their steps. By contrast it seemed evil and ghost-haunted;
through the caves that had been houses, bats flew in and out A soft wind
met them. They felt the turf beneath their tread and stepped out on to
the ruined battlements. Wild thyme mingled with the smell of lavender.
The memory of forsaken gardens and forgotten ecstasies was in the air.
Three towers, Roman, Saracen and French, pointed mutilated fingers at
eternity. They halted, drinking in the silence, and lifted their eyes to
the stars wheeling overhead. Far away, through mists across the plain,
Marseilles struck sparks on the horizon and the moon rose red.

She turned in his embrace. “I’m not half as sweet as you would make me
out, I’m not. Oh, won’t you believe me?”

His tranquillity gave way; he caught her to him, raining kisses on her
throat, her eyes, her mouth.

“You’re crushing me!” Her breath came stifled and sobbing.

Tenderness stamped out his passion. As his grip relaxed, she slipped
from him. She was running; he followed. On the edge of the precipice,
the red moon swinging behind her like a lantern, she halted. Her hands
were held ready to thrust him back.

“It would be better for you that I should throw myself down
than--than----”

He seized her angrily and drew her roughly to him. “You little fool,” he
panted.

With a sudden abandon she urged herself against him. As he bent over
her, her arms reached up and her lips fell warm against his mouth.

“I do love you. I _do_. I _do_,” she whispered. “Take care of me. Be
good to me. I daren’t trust myself.”

The hotel was asleep when they got back. They fumbled their way up
the crooked stairs. Outside her room, as in the darkness they clung
together, she took his face between her hands. “And you said I hadn’t
any passion!--You’re good, Meester Deck. God bless you.”

Her door closed. He waited. He heard the lock turn.

“When I kiss you without your asking me, you’ll know then,” she had
said. His heart sang. All night, in his dreaming and waking, he was
making plans.

When he came down next morning, he found the table spread on the
terrace. He walked over to it, intending while he waited for her, to sit
down and smoke a cigarette. One place had been already used. He hadn’t
known that another guest had been staying at the hotel. Calling the
inn-keeper, he asked him to have the place reset.

“But for whom?”

“For Mademoiselle.”

“Mademoiselle! But Mademoiselle----” The man looked blank. “But
Mademoiselle, a six hours she left this morning with the carriage.”



CHAPTER XXII--SHE RECALLS HIM

Now that she had gone from him, he realized how mistaken he had been
in his chivalry. From the first, instead of begging, he ought to have
commanded. She was a girl with whom it paid to be rough. It was only
on the precipice, when he had seized her savagely, that her passion had
responded. In the light of what had happened, her last words seemed a
taunt--an echo of her childish despising of King Arthurs: “And you said
I hadn’t any passion I--You’re good, Meester Deek.” Had he been less
honorable in her hour of weakness, he would still have had her.

“That ends it!” he told himself. Nevertheless he set out hot-footed for
Arles. There he hunted up the _cocher_ who had driven them to Les Baux,
and learnt that she had taken train for Paris. In Paris he inquired at
_The Oxford and Cambridge._ He searched the registers of a dozen hotels.
Tramping the boulevards of the city of lovers, he revisited all the
places where they had been together; he hoped that a whim of sentiment
might lead her on the same errand.

A new thought struck him: she had written to Eden Row and his mother
didn’t know his address. All the time that he had been wasting in this
intolerable aloneness her explanation had been waiting for him. He
returned posthaste, only to be met with her unconquerable silence. He
hurried to Orchid Lodge; her father might know her whereabouts. There
he was told that Hal had sailed for New York--with what motive he could
guess. This lent the final derisive touch to his tragedy.

It was the end of July, nearly a year to the day since he had made his
great discovery at Glastonbury. He had spent a month of torture. Since
the key had turned in her lock at the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne, he had
had no sign of her. He came down to breakfast one sunshiny morning;
lying beside his plate was a letter in her hand. He slipped it into
his pocket with feigned carelessness, till he should be alone; then he
opened it and read:

Dearest Teddy:

I need you.

_Savoy Hotel,

The Strand.

Come at once.

Your foolish Desire._

She needed him! It was the first time she had owned as much. From her
that admission in three words was more eloquent than many pages. Had her
slavery to freedom become irksome? Had it got her into trouble?

He reached the Savoy within the hour. As he passed his card across the
desk he was a-tremble. It was a relief when the clerk gave him no bad
news but, having phoned up, turned and said, “The lady will see you in
her room, sir.”

The passage outside her door was piled with trunks; painted on them,
like an advertisement, in conspicuous white letters, was Janice Audrey.
He tapped. As he waited he heard laughter. In his high-wrought state of
nerves the sound was an offense.

The handle turned. “Hulloa, Teddy! I’ve heard about you. I’m going to
leave you two scatter-brains to yourselves.”

Fluffy was in her street-attire--young, eager and caparisoned for
conquest. She seemed entirely unrelated to the shuddering Diana in the
Tyrolese huntsman’s costume, whom he had last seen breaking her heart in
the dressing-room of _The Belshazzar_. He stepped aside to let her pass;
then he entered.

He found himself in a large sunlit room in a riot of disorder--whether
with packing or unpacking it was difficult to tell. Evidently some
one had gone through a storm of shopping. Frocks were strewn in every
direction; opera-cloaks and evening-gowns lay on the floor, on the bed,
on the backs of chairs. Hats were half out of milliners’ boxes. Shoes
and slippers lay jumbled in a pile in a suit-case. It was fitting that
he and Desire should meet again in a hired privacy, like transients.

She stood against a wide window, looking down on the Embankment She
was wearing a soft green peignoir trimmed with daisies. It was almost
transparent, so that in the strong sunlight her slight figure showed
through it It was low-cut and clinging--a match in color to the
Guinevere costume which she had been wearing when he had discovered her
at Glastonbury. Had she intended that it should waken memories? As he
watched he was certain that that had been her intention, for she was
adorned with another reminder: a false curl had usurped the place of the
old one she had given him. It danced against her neck, quivering with
excitement, and seemed to beckon.

Her back was towards him. She must have heard Fluffy speaking to him.
She must know that he was on the threshold. He closed the door quietly
and halted.

“Meester Deek, are you glad to see me?” She spoke without turning. \

Her question went unanswered. In the silence it seemed to repeat
itself maddeningly. She drummed with her fingers on the pane, as though
insisting that until he had answered he should not see her face.

At last her patience gave out She glanced across her shoulder. Something
in his expression warned her. Running to him, she caught his hands and
pressed against him, laughing into his eyes. She waited submissively
for his arms to enfold her. When he remained unmoved, she whispered
luringly, “I’m as amiable as I ever shall be.”

“Are you?”

She pouted. “Once if I’d told you that----

“Are you!”

“Is that all after a whole month?”

“A whole month!” His face seemed set in a mask. “To me it has seemed a
century.”

For the first time she dimly realized what he had suffered. She drew her
fingers across his cheek. Her hands ran over him like white mice. The
weariness in his way of talking frightened her. “I’m--I’m sorry that I’m
not always nice. It wasn’t quite nice of me to leave you, was it?”

His lips grew crooked at her understatement “From my point of view it
wasn’t.”

She thought for a moment; she was determined not to acknowledge that he
was altered. Slipping her arm into his comfortably, she led him across
the room. “Let’s sit down. I’ve so much to tell you.”

He helped her to push a couch to the window that they might shut out the
sight of the room’s disorder. When she had seated herself in a corner,
she patted the place beside her. He sat himself at the other end and
gazed out at the gray-gold stretch of river, where steamers churned back
and forth between Greenwich and Westminster.

“Fluffy’s going to America; we ran over from Paris to get some clothes.
It’s all rubbish to get one’s clothes in Paris; London’s just as good
and not one-half as expensive. She has to return to Paris in a day or
two to see a play. Simon Freelevy thinks it will suit her. After that
she sails from Cherbourg.--Meester Deek, are you interested in Fluffy’s
doings?”

“I was looking at the river. I scarcely heard what you were saying.”

“Well, then, perhaps this will interest you. She says that, if I like,
she’ll see that I get a place in her company at _The Belshassar_.--Still
admiring the view?--I wish you’d answer me sometimes, Teddy.”

“So you’re going to become another Fluffy?”

Her tone sank to a honeyed sweetness. “You’re most awfully far away. If
you don’t come nearer, we might just as well----”

“As I came along the passage,” he said, “I heard you laughing. I haven’t
done much laughing lately.”

A frown crept into her eyes. “That was because I was going to see you.”

He wished he could believe her.

In a desperate effort to win him to pleasantness, she closed up the
space that separated them. His coldness piqued her. Through her filmy
garment her body touched him; it was burning. “And I--I haven’t done
much laughing lately, either; but one can’t be always tragic.” Her voice
was tremulous and sultry. She brushed against him and peered into his
face reproachfully. “You aren’t very sympathetic.”

“Not very.”

She tried the effect of irritation. “I wish you wouldn’t keep on
catching at what I say.” Then, with a return to her sweetness: “Do be
kind, Meester Deck. You don’t know how badly I need you.”

Something deep and emotional stirred within him. Perhaps it was
memory--perhaps habit All his life he had been waiting for just
that--for her to need him; it had begun years ago when Hal had told him
of the price that she would have to pay. Perhaps it was love struggling
in the prison that her indifference had created for it It might be
merely the sex response to her closeness.

“I came because you wrote that you needed me. But your laughing and the
way you met me----”

“I was nervous and--and you don’t know why.”

He shook his head. “After all that’s happened, after all the loneliness
and all the silence---- My dear, I don’t know what’s the matter with me;
I think you’ve killed something. I’m not trying to be unkind.”

She crouched her face in her hands. At last she became earnest “And just
when I need you!”

“Tell me,” he urged gravely; “I’ll do anything.”

“You promise--really anything?”

“Anything.”

She smiled mysteriously, making bars of her fingers before her eyes. She
knew that, however he might deny it, he was again surrendering to her
power. “Even if I were to ask you to marry me?”

“Anything,” he repeated, without fervor.

“Then I’ll ask a little thing first.” She hesitated. “It would help if
you put your arm about me.”

He carried out her request perfunctorily.

“Ask me questions,” she whispered; “it will be easier to begin like
that.”

“Where did you go when you left me?”

“To Paris.”

“I know. I followed you.”

She started. “But you didn’t see me?”

He kept her in suspense, while he groped after the reason for her
excitement. “No. I didn’t see you. Whom were you with?”

“Fluffy.”

“Any one else?”

“Yes.” She caught at his hands, as though already he had made a sign to
leave her. “I didn’t know he was to be there.”

“Ah!” He knew whom she meant: the man with whom she had flirted in
California and whom a strange chance had led to her hotel in Paris. He
would have withdrawn his arm if she had not held it.

“But none of this explains your leaving me and then not writing.”

A hardness had crept into his tones. His jealousy had sprung into a
flame. He remembered those photographs of Tom in her bedroom. There had
always been other men at the back of her life. How did he know whom she
met or what she did, when he was away from her?

“Meester Deek,” she clutched at him, “don’t You--you frighten me. I’ve
done nothing wrong. I haven’t I’ve spent every moment with Fluffy.”

“That didn’t keep you from writing.”

“No.” She laid her face against his pleadingly. “That didn’t prevent It
was---- Oh, Meester Deek, won’t you understand--you’ve always been so
unjudging? At Les Baux that night you wakened something--something that
I’d never felt. I didn’t dare to trust myself. It wasn’t you that I
distrusted. I wanted to go somewhere alone--somewhere where I could
think and come to myself. If I’d written to you, or received letters
from you----”

“Desire, let’s speak the truth. We promised always to be honest You say
you went with Fluffy to be alone; you know you didn’t. Fluffy’s never
alone--she’s a queen bee with the drones always buzzing round her. You
went away to get rid of me, and for the fun of seeing whether you could
recall me.”

“Not that. Truly not that” She paused and drew a long breath, like a
diver getting ready for a deep plunge. “It was because I was afraid
that, if I stopped longer, we might have to marry. A girl may be
cold--she mayn’t even love a man, but if she trifles too long with
his affections, she herself sometimes catches fire. That was how my
mother--with my father.”

“Then why did you send for me?” His tone was stern and puzzled.

For a time she was silent. It seemed to him that she was searching for a
plausible motive. Then, “I think because I wanted to see a good man.”

He tried to smile cynically. She had fooled him too many times for him
to allow himself to be caught so easily as that. The scales had fallen
from his eyes. She had always made whatever uprightness he possessed a
reproach to him.

“You don’t believe me?” She scanned his face wistfully. “You never did
understand me or--or any girls.”

The new argument which her accusation suggested was tempting; no man,
however inexperienced, likes to be told that he is ignorant of women.
That he refused to allow himself to be diverted was proof to her of her
loss of power.

“I believe you in a sense,” he said. “I don’t doubt that at this moment
you imagine that you want to see a good man--not that I’m especially
good; I’m just decent and ordinary. But you’re not really interested in
good men; you don’t find them exciting. Long ago, as children, you told
me that. Don’t you remember--I like Sir Launcelot best?”

She twisted her hands. Her face had gone white. When she spoke her voice
was earnest and tired. “You force me to tell you.--I did want to see a
good man--a good man who loved me. You’ll never guess why. It was to get
back my self-respect That man--that man whom I led on in California, he
saw us together in Paris. He misunderstood. He thought vile things.
After I’d left you and joined Fluffy, I met him again and he asked me to
be---- I can’t say it; but when a man like that misunderstands things
about a girl----” Self-scorn consumed her. “It wasn’t only because he’d
seen us together--it wasn’t only that.” Her voice sank to a bitter
whisper. “I’m the daughter of a woman who was never married--he found
that out; so he asked me to become his----”

“My God! Don’t say it.”

He tried to draw her to him. Tears blinded his eyes. She scoffed
at herself rebelliously. “It’s true. I deserved it That’s the way I
act--like a man’s mistress. I don’t act like other girls. That’s why
you never mentioned me in your letters from New York to your mother. You
made excuses for me in your own mind, and you tried not to be ashamed of
me and, because you were chivalrous, you were sorry for me. I hated you
for being sorry. But men, like that man in Paris--all they see in me is
an opportunity----”

“The swine!” He clenched his hands and sat staring at the carpet.

“No.” She shook her head sadly. “I’m fair game. I see it all now. I used
to think I was only modern, and used to laugh at you for being
old-fashioned. You were always trying to tell me. I’m taking back
everything unkind that I ever did or said. D’you hear me, Teddy? It’s
the way I’ve been brought up. I’m what Horace calls ‘a Slave of
freedom.’ I fascinate and I don’t play fair. I’m rotten and I’m
virtuous. I accept and accept with my greedy little hands. I lead men
on to expect, and I give nothing.”

She waited for him to say something--something healing and
generous--perhaps that he would marry her. He was filled with pity and
with doubt--and with another emotion. What she had told him had roused
his passion. In memory he could feel the warmth of her body. Why had
she dressed like this to meet him? Why did she touch him so frequently?
Passion wasn’t love; it would burn itself out He knew that, if he
stayed, he would shatter the idol she had created of him. He would
become like that man whom he had been despising.

His silence disappointed her. She ceased from caressing him. She had
come to an end of all her arts and blandishments. In trying to be
sincere, she had made her very sincerity sound like coquetry. She
realized that this man, who had been absolutely hers at a time when she
had not valued him, had grown reserved and cautious at this crisis when
she needed him more than anything in the world. A desperate longing came
into her eyes. Struggling with her pride, in one last effort to win
him back, she stretched out her arms timidly, resting her hands on his
shoulders with a tugging pressure. “I guess,” her voice came brokenly,
“I guess you’re the only living man who would ever have dreamt of
marrying me.”

Jumping up, he seized his hat

“You’re going?”

He faced her furiously. It seemed to him that he was gazing into a
furnace. “If I stay, you’ll have me kissing you.”

She scarcely knew whether she loved or hated him, yet she held out her
arms to him languorously. For a moment he hesitated. Then he hurried
past her. As his hand was on the door, he heard a thud. She had fallen
to her knees beside the couch in the sunlight Her face was buried in her
hands.

Slowly he came back. Stooping over her, he brushed his lips against her
hair.

She lifted her sad eyes. “I tried to be fair to you; I warned you. You
should have stuck to your dream of me. You were never in love with the
reality.”

“I was.” He denied her vehemently.

She smiled wearily. “The past tense! Will you ever be kind to me again,
I wonder? I--I never had a father, Teddy.”

The old excuse--the truest of all her excuses! It struck the chord of
memory. He picked her up gently, holding her so closely that he could
feel the shuddering of her breath.

“In spite of everything,” she whispered, “would you still marry me?”

He faltered. “Yes, I’d still marry you. But, Desire, we’ve forgotten:
you haven’t told me truly why you sent for me.”

She slipped from his arms and put the couch between them. “I sent for
you to tell you that--that I’m that, though I’ve tried, I can’t live
without you.”

He leant out to touch her. She avoided him. “First tell me that you love
me.”

“I do.”

Her gray eyes brimmed over. “You don’t. You’re lying. I’ve never lied to
you--with all my faults I’ve never done that.”

His arms fell to his side. When confronted by her truth his passion went
from him. “But I shall. I shall love you, Desire. It’ll all come back.”

She shook her head. “It might never. And without it---- You told me that
I’d killed something. I believe I have.”

“If you would only let me kiss you,” he pleaded.

She darted across the room and flinging wide the door, waited for him
in the passage.

She took his hands in hers. They gazed at each other inarticulately.

“I can’t tell you--can’t tell you,” he panted. “All the time I may be
loving you.”

“And just when I needed you, Meester Deek,” she whispered, “just when I
want to be good so badly!”

She broke from him. Again, as at Les Baux, he heard the key in her lock
turning.

No sooner was he without her than the change commenced. During his
month of intolerable waiting, when he had thought that he had lost her
forever, he had tried to heal the affront to his pride with a dozen
hostile arguments. He had persuaded himself that the break with her was
for the best. He had told himself that carelessness towards men was
in her blood--a taint of sexlessness inherited from her mother. He had
assured himself repeatedly that he could live without her. He had
fixed in his mind as a goal to be envied his old pursuits, with their
unfevered touch of bachelor austerity. This had been his mood till he
had received her message: “I need you. Come at once.”

Having seen her, his yearning had returned like a lean wolf the more
famished by reason of its respite. Was it love? If he lied to her, she
would detect him. Until he could convince her that he loved her, he was
exiled by her honesty. He knew now that throughout the weeks of waiting
his suffering had been dulled by its own intensity. His false self-poise
had been a symptom of the malady.

All day he tramped the streets of London in the scorching heat of
midsummer. He went up the Strand and back by the Embankment, round and
round, taking no time for food or rest. He felt throughout his body a
continual vibration, an eager trembling. He dared not go far from her.

In spirit she was never absent She rose up crouching her chin against
her shoulder and barricading her lips with her hand. He relived their
many partings--the ecstasies, kisses, wavings down the stairs--those
prolonged poignant moments when her tenderness had atoned for hours of
coldness. She had become a habit with him--a part of him. His physical
self cried out for her. It was knit with hers.

A year almost to the day since she had said so lightly, “Come to
America”! And now she was so near, and he could not go to her.

Evening. He sat wearily on the Embankment, gazing up at the back of her
hotel, trying to guess which window was hers. In the coolness of
the golden twilight he had arrived at the first stage in his exact
self-knowledge: that waiting for her had become his mission--without her
his future would be purposeless. If he made her his wife, he might live
to regret it Her faults went too deep for even love to cure. Any emotion
of shame which she had owned to was only for the moment. Whether he lost
her or won her, he was bound to suffer. Marriage with her might spell
intellectual ruin; but to shirk the risk because of that would be to
shatter his idealism forever. To save her from herself and to shelter
her in so far as she would allow, had become his religion and the
inspiration of his work. And wasn’t that the highest sort of love?

He determined to set himself a test He walked to Charing Cross Station,
entered a telephone-booth and called up the Savoy.

“Miss Jodrell, please. No, I don’t know the number of the room.”

The trepidation with which he waited brought all his New York memories
back.

Her voice. “Hulloa! Yes. This is Miss Jodrell.”

He was at a loss for words. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her across
the wire. While he hesitated, he heard her receiver hung up.

He was certain of himself now. He was shaking like a leaf. If her voice
could thrill and unnerve him when her body was absent, this must be more
than passion.

He sat down till he had grown quiet, then jumping into a taxi he told
the man to drive quickly. He could have walked the distance in little
over five minutes; but after so much delay, every second saved was an
atonement. As he whirled out of the Strand into the courtyard of the
Savoy, Big Ben was booming for nine.

For the second time that day he passed his card across the desk. “I want
Miss Jodrell.”

The clerk handed him back his card. “She’s left.”

“But she can’t have. I’ve had her on the phone within half an hour.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I wonder she didn’t tell you. You must have spokes
with her the last minute before she left. She caught the nine o’clock
boat-train from Charing Cross to Dover.”

He went faint and reached out to steady himself. “From Charing Cross!
Why, I’ve just come from there. We must have passed. We----”

The man saw that something serious was the matter. He dropped his
perfunctory manner. “She’s sure to have left an address for the
forwarding of her letters. I’ll look it up if you’ll wait a moment.”
 He returned. “Her letters were to be addressed _Poste Restante_ to the
General Post-office, Paris. I don’t know whether that will help you.”

Before leaving the hotel he sat down and wrote her. Then he went out and
sent her a telegram:

_“Yours exclusively. Telegraph your address. Will come at once and fetch
you.”_

He hurried home to Eden Row and packed his bag. He was up early next
morning, waiting for her reply. In the evening he sent her a more urgent
telegram and another letter. No answer. He thought that she must have
received his messages, for he had marked his letters to be returned
within a day if not called for. He cursed himself for his ill-timed
coldness.



CHAPTER XXIII--HIS WAITING ENDS

A week of silence, and then---- It was eight in the evening. He was
at the top of the house in his bedroom-study--the room in which he had
woven so many gold optimisms. Down the blue oblong of sky, framed by his
window, the red billiard-ball of the sun rolled smoothly, bound for the
pocket of night.

A sharp rat-a-tat. Its meaning was unmistakable. He went leaping down
the stairs, three at a time. He reached the hall just as Jane was
appearing from the basement Forestalling her at the front-door, he
grabbed the pinkish-brown envelope from the telegraph-boy. Ripping it
open, he read:

_“Sorry delay. Been Lucerne. Just returned Paris. Received all yours.
Meet me to-morrow Cherbourg on board ‘Wilhelm der Grosse.’ Please start
immediately.”_

She had forgotten to put her address. He pulled out his watch. Five
minutes past eight! He had no time to consult railway-guides--no time
even to pack. All he knew was that the boat-train left Charing-Cross
for Dover in less than an hour; he could just catch it Returning to his
bedroom, he gathered together what cash he could find In three minutes
he was in the hall again.

“Tell mother when she comes back that I’m off to Paris. Tell her I’ll
write.”

Jane gaped at him. As he hurried down the steps, she began to ask
questions. He shook his head, “No time.”

Throwing dignity to the winds, he set off at a run. As he passed Orchid
Lodge, Mr. Sheerug was coming out. He cannoned into him and left him
gasping. At the top of Eden Row he saw a taxi and hailed it. He knew now
that he was safe to catch his train.

On the drive to the station he unfolded her telegram and re-read it
Irresponsible as ever, yet lovable! What risks she took! He might have
been out; as it was he could barely make the connections that would
get him to Cherbourg in time. No address to which he could reply! He
couldn’t let her know that he was coming. Doubtless she took that for
granted. No information concerning her plans! She had always told him
that wise women kept men guessing. No hint as to why she had sent
for him! Twenty-four hours of conjecturing would keep him humble and
increase his ardor. Then the motive of all this vagueness dawned on
him. She was putting him to the test If he came in spite of the
irresponsibility of her message, it would be proof to her that he loved
her. If ever a girl needed a man’s love, Desire was that girl.

During the tedious night journey fears began to arise. Why was she going
to Cherbourg? He read her words again, “Meet me to-morrow Cherbourg on
board _Wilhelm der Grosse_” What would she be doing on board an Atlantic
liner if she wasn’t sailing? She shouldn’t sail if he could prevent her.
If she reached New York, she would go on the stage and commit herself
irrevocably to Fluffyism.

He steamed into the Gare du Nord at a quarter to seven and learnt, on
making inquiries, that the trains for Cherbourg left from the St Lazare.
He jumped into an autotaxi--no leisurely _fiacre_ this time--and raced
through the gleaming early morning. He found at the St Lazare that the
first express that he could catch, departed in three-quarters of an
hour. There was another which left later, but it ran to meet the steamer
and was reserved exclusively for transatlantic voyagers. The second
train would be the one by which she would travel. He debated whether he
should try to intercept her on the platform. Too risky.

He might miss her. He preferred to take the chance which she herself
had chosen. There would be less than an hour between his arrival in
Cherbourg and the time when the steamship sailed.

Having snatched some breakfast, he found a florist’s and purchased an
extravagant sheaf of roses.

As soon as Paris was left behind, he was consumed with impotent
impatience. It seemed to him that the engine pulled up at every poky
little town in Normandy. He got it on his mind that every railroad
official was conspiring to make him late. He had one moment of exquisite
torture. They had been at a standstill in a station for an interminable
time. He got out and, in his scarcely intelligible French, asked the
meaning of the delay. The man whom he had questioned pointed; at that
moment the non-stop boat-express from Paris overtook them and thundered
by. At it passed, he glanced anxiously at the carriage-windows, hoping
against hope that he might catch sight of her.

The last exasperation came when they broke down at Rayeux and wasted
nearly an hour. He arrived at his destination at the exact moment at
which the _Wilhelm der Grosse_ was scheduled to sail.

Picking up the flowers he had purchased for her, he dashed out of the
station and shouldered his way to where some _fiacres_ were standing.
Thrusting a twenty-franc note into the nearest cocker’s hand, he
startled the man into energy.

What a drive! Of the streets through which they galloped he saw nothing.
He was only conscious of people escaping to the pavement and of threats
shouted through the sunshine.

When they arrived at the quay, the horse was in a lather. Far off, at
the mouth of the harbor in a blue-gold haze, the liner lay black, her
smoke-stacks smudging the sky. Snuggled against her were the two tugs
which had taken out the passengers. An official-looking person in a
peaked cap was standing near to where they had halted.

Did he understand English? Certainly. To the question that followed he
answered imperturbably: “Too late, monsieur. It is impossible.”

He gazed round wildly. He must get to her. He must at least let Desire
know that he had made the journey.

Above the wall of the quay a head in a yachting-cap appeared. He ran
towards it. Stone steps led down to the water’s edge. Against the lowest
step a power-boat lay rocking gently with the engine still running.
No time to ask permission or to make explanations! He sprang down the
steps, flung his roses into the boat, turned on the power and was away.

Shouting behind him grew fainter. Now he heard only the panting of the
engine and the swirl of waves. The liner stood up taller. He steered
for it straight as an arrow. If he could only get there! The tugs were
casting loose. Now they were returning. He wasn’t a quarter of a mile
away. He cleared the harbor. The steamer was swinging her nose round.
He could see her screws churning. His only chance of stopping her was to
cut across her bows.

From crowded decks faces were staring down. Some were laughing; some
were pale at his foolhardiness. An officer with a thick German accent
was cursing him. He could only hear the accent; he couldn’t make out
what the man was saying. What did he care? He had forced them to wait
for him. From all that blur of faces he was trying to pick out one face.

Making a megaphone of his hands, he shouted. His words were lost in the
pounding of the engines and the lapping of the waves. Then he saw a face
which he recognized--Fluffy’s. She was saying something to the officer;
she was explaining the situation. Leaning across the rail, laughing, she
shook her head. The news of the reason for his extraordinary behavior
was passing from mouth to mouth along the decks. The laugh was taken up.
The whole ship seemed to hold its sides and jeer at him.

The liner gathered way. The last thing he saw distinctly was Fluffy,
still laughing and shaking her golden head. She was keeping Desire from
him; he knew that she had lied.

The boat rose and fell in the churned-up wake. Like a man whose soul has
suddenly died, he sat very silent.

Slowly he came to himself. Evening was falling. He felt old. It was all
true, then--the lesson that her mother had taught him in his childhood!
There were women in the world whom love could not conquer.

He flung the roses he had bought for her into the sea. Turning the head
of the boat, he reentered the harbor.

FINIS





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