Part 5 out of 6
strong-box,--such as that stubborn old octagon, the powder-magazine of
Revolutionary times, which is a chest holding proud memories of blood and
war. And then there are the three churches. Not strong-boxes, these, but
shrines, where burn the venerable lamps of faith. And of these three
houses of God, that one holds the most precious flame, the purest light,
which treasures the holy fire that came from France. The English
colonists, who sat in the other two congregations, came to Carolina's
soil to better their estate; but it was for liberty of soul, to lift
their ardent and exalted prayer to God as their own conscience bade them,
and not as any man dictated, that those French colonists sought the New
World. No Puritan splendor of independence and indomitable courage
outshines theirs. They preached a word as burning as any that Plymouth or
Salem ever heard. They were but a handful, yet so fecund was their
marvelous zeal that they became the spiritual leaven of their whole
community. They are less known than Plymouth and Salem, because men of
action, rather than men of letters, have sprung from the loins of the
South; but there they stand, a beautiful beacon, shining upon the coasts
of our early history. Into their church, then, into the shrine where
their small lamp still burns, their devout descendant, Mrs. Weguelin St.
Michael led our party, because in her eyes Kings Port could show nothing
more precious and significant. There had been nothing to warn her that
Bohm and Charley were Americans who neither knew nor loved their country,
but merely Americans who knew their country's wealth and loved to acquire
every penny of it that they could.
And so, following the steps of our delicate and courteous guide, we
entered into the dimness of the little building; and Mrs. Weguelin's
voice, lowered to suit the sanctity which the place had for her, began to
tell us very quietly and clearly the story of its early days.
I knew it, or something of it, from books; but from this little lady's
lips it took on a charm and graciousness which made it fresh to me. I
listened attentively, until I felt, without at first seeing the cause,
that dulling of enjoyment, that interference with the receptive
attention, which comes at times to one during the performance of music
when untimely people come in or go out. Next, I knew that our group of
listeners was less compact; and then, as we moved from the first point in
the church to a new one, I saw that Bohm and Charley were dropping
behind, and I lingered, with the intention of bringing them closer.
"But there was nothing in it," I heard Charley's slow monologue
continuing behind me to the silent Bohm. "We could have bought the
Parsons road at that time. 'Gentlemen,' I said to them, 'what is there
for us in tide-water at Kings Port? '"
It was not to be done, and I rejoined Mrs. Weguelin and those of the
party who were making some show of attention to her quiet little
histories and explanations; and Kitty's was the next voice which I heard
"Oh, you must never let it fall to pieces! It's the cunningest little
fossil I've seen in the South."
"So," said Charley behind me, "we let the other crowd buy their strategic
point; and I guess they know they got a gold brick."
I moved away from the financiers, I endeavored not to hear their words;
and in this much I was successful; but their inappropriate presence had
got, I suppose upon my nerves; at any rate, go where I would in the
little church, or attend as I might and did to what Mrs. Weguelin St.
Michael said about the tablets, and whatever traditions their
inscriptions suggested to her, that quiet, low, persistent banker's voice
of Charley's pervaded the building like a draft of cold air. Once,
indeed, he addressed Mrs. Weguelin a question. She was telling Beverly
(who followed her throughout, protectingly and charmingly, with his most
devoted attention and his best manner) the honorable deeds of certain
older generations of a family belonging to this congregation, some of
whose tombs outside had borne French inscriptions.
"My mother's family," said Mrs. Weguelin.
"And nowadays," inquired Beverly, "what do they find instead of military
"There are no more of us nowadays; they--they were killed in the war."
And immediately she smiled, and with her hand she made a light gesture,
as if to dismiss this subject from mutual embarrassment and pain.
"I might have known better," murmured the understanding Beverly.
But Charley now had his question. "How many, did you say?"
"How many?" Mrs. Weguelin did not quite understand him.
"Were killed?" explained Charley.
Again there was a little pause before Mrs. Weguelin answered, "My four
brothers met their deaths."
Charley was interested. "And what was the percentage of fatality in their
"Oh," said Mrs. Weguelin, "we did not think of it in that way." And she
"Charley," said Kitty, with some precipitancy, "do make Mr. Bohm look at
the church!" and she turned after Mrs. Weguelin. "It is such a gem!"
But I saw the little lady try to speak and fail, and then I noticed that
she was leaning against a window-sill.
Beverly Rodgers also noticed this, and he hastened to her.
"Thank you," she returned to his hasty question, "I am quite well. If you
are not tired of it, shall we go on?"
"It is such a gem!" repeated Kitty, throwing an angry glance at Charley
and Bohm. And so we went on.
Yes, Kitty did her best to cover it up; Kitty, as she would undoubtedly
have said herself, could see a few things. But nobody could cover it up,
though Beverly was now vigilant in his efforts to do so. Indeed,
Replacers cannot be covered up by human agency; they bulge, they loom,
they stare, they dominate the road of life, even as their automobiles
drive horses and pedestrians to the wall. Bohm, roused from his financial
torpor by Kitty's sharp command, did actually turn his eyes upon the
church, which he had now been inside for some twenty minutes without
noticing. Instinct and long training had given his eye, when it really
looked at anything, a particular glance--the glance of the Replacer--
which plainly calculated: "Can this be made worth money to me?" and which
died instantly to a glaze of indifference on seeing that no money could
be made. Bohm's eye, accordingly, waked and then glazed. Manners,
courtesy, he did not need, not yet; he had looked at them with his
Replacer glance, and, seeing no money in them, had gone on looking at
railroads, and mines, and mills,--and bare shoulders, and bottles. Should
manners and courtesy come, some day, to mean money to him, then he could
have them, in his fashion, so that his admirers and his apologists should
alike declare of him, "A rough diamond, but consider what he has made of
"After what, did you say?" This was the voice of Gazza, addressing Mrs.
Weguelin St. Michael. It must be said of Gazza that he, too, made a
certain presence of interest in the traditions of Kings Port.
"After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes," replied Mrs. Weguelin.
"Built it in Savannah," Charley was saying to Bohm, "or Norfolk. This is
a good place to bury people in, but not money. Now the phosphate
Again I dragged my attention by force away from that quiet, relentless
monologue, and listened as well as I could to Mrs. Weguelin. There had
come to be among us all, I think--Beverly, Kitty, Gazza, and myself--a
joint impulse to shield her, to cluster about her, to follow her steps
from each little lecture that she finished to the new point where the
next lecture began; and we did it, performed our pilgrimage to the end;
but there was less and less nature in our performance. I knew (and it was
like a dream which I could not stop) that we pressed a little too close,
that our questions were a little too eager, that we overprinted our faces
with attention; knowing this did not help, nothing helped, and we went on
to the end, seeing ourselves doing it; and it must have been that Mrs.
Weguelin saw us likewise. But she was truly admirable in giving no sign,
she came out well ahead; the lectures were not hurried, one had no sense
of points being skipped to accommodate our unworthiness, it required a
previous familiarity with the church to know (as I did) that there was,
indeed, more and more skipping; yet the little lady played her part so
evenly and with never a falter of voice nor a change in the gentle
courtesy of her manner, that I do not think--save for that moment at the
window-sill--I could have been sure what she thought, or how much she
noticed. Her face was always so pale, it may well have been all
imagination with me that she seemed, when we emerged at last into the
light of the street, paler than usual; but I am almost certain that her
hand was trembling as she stood receiving the thanks of the party. These
thanks were cut a little short by the arrival of one of the automobiles,
and, at the same time, the appearance of Hortense strolling toward us
with John Mayrant.
Charley had resumed to Bohm, "A tax of twenty-five cents on the ton is
nothing with deposits of this richness," when his voice ceased; and
looking at him to see the cause, I perceived that his eye was on John,
and that his polished finger-nail was running meditatively along his thin
Hortense took the matter--whatever the matter was--in hand.
"You haven't much time," she said to Charles, who consulted his watch.
"Who's coming to see me off?" he inquired.
"Where's he going?" I asked Beverly.
"She's sending him North," Beverly answered, and then he spoke with his
very best simple manner to Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael. "May I not walk
home with you after all your kindness?"
She was going to say no, for she had had enough of this party; but she
looked at Beverly, and his face and his true solicitude won her; she
said, "Thank you, if you will." And the two departed together down the
shabby street, the little veiled lady in black, and Beverly with his
excellent London clothes and his still more excellent look of respectful,
And now Bohm pronounced the only utterance that I heard fall from his
lips during his stay in Kings Port. He looked at the church he had come
from, he looked at the neighboring larger church whose columns stood out
at the angle of the street; he looked at the graveyard opposite that,
then at the stale, dusty shop of old furniture, and then up the shabby
street, where no life or movement was to be seen, except the distant
forms of Beverly and Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael. Then from a gold
cigar-case, curved to fit his breast pocket, he took a cigar and lighted
it from a gold match-box. Offering none of us a cigar, he placed the case
again in his pocket; and holding his lighted cigar a moment with two
fingers in his strong glove, he spoke:--
"This town's worse than Sunday."
Then he got into the automobile. They all followed to see Charley off,
and he addressed me.
"I shall be glad," he said, "if you will make one of a little party on
the yacht next Sunday, when I come back. And you also," he added to John.
Both John and I expressed our acceptance in suitable forms, and the
automobile took its way to the train.
"Your Kings Port streets," I said, as we walked back toward Mrs.
Trevise's, "are not very favorable for automobiles."
"No," he returned briefly. I don't remember that either of us found more
to say until we had reached my front door, when he asked, "Will the day
after to-morrow suit you for Udolpho?"
"Whenever you say," I told him.
"Weather permitting, of course. But I hope that it will; for after that I
suppose my time will not be quite so free."
After we had parted it struck me that this was the first reference to his
approaching marriage that John had ever made in my hearing since that day
long ago (it seemed long ago, at least) when he had come to the Exchange
to order the wedding-cake, and Eliza La Heu had fallen in love with him
at sight. That, in my opinion, looking back now with eyes at any rate
partially opened, was what Eliza had done. Had John returned the
compliment then, or since?
It was to me continuously a matter of satisfaction and of interest to see
Hortense disturbed--whether for causes real or imaginary--about the
security of her title to her lover John, nor can I say that my
misinterpreted bunch of roses diminished this satisfaction. I should have
been glad to know if the accomplished young woman had further probed that
question and discovered the truth, but it seemed scarce likely that she
could do this without the help of one of three persons, Eliza and myself
who knew all, or John who knew nothing; for the up-country bride, and
whatever other people in Kings Port there were to whom the bride might
gayly recite the tale of my roses, were none of them likely to encounter
Miss Rieppe; their paths and hers would not meet until they met in church
at the wedding of Hortense and John. No, she could not have found out the
truth; for never in the world would she, at this eleventh hour, risk a
conversation with John upon a subject so full of well-packed explosives;
and so she must be simply keeping on both him and Eliza an eye as
watchful as lay in her power. As for Charley, what bait, what persuasion,
what duress she had been able to find that took him at an hour so
critical from her side to New York, I could not in the least conjecture.
Had she said to the little banker, Go, because I must think it over
alone? It did not seem strong enough. Or had she said, Go, and on your
return you shall have my answer? Not adequate either, I thought. Or had
it been, If you don't go, it shall be "no," to-day and forever? This last
was better; but there was no telling, nor did Beverly Rodgers, to whom I
propounded all my theories, have any notion of what was between Hortense
and Charley. He only knew that Charley was quite aware of the existence
of John, but had always been merely amused at the notion of him.
"So have you been merely amused," I reminded him.
"Not since that look I saw her give him, old chap. I know she wants him,
only not why she wants him. And Charley, you know--well, of course, poor
Charley's a banker, just a banker and no more; and a banker is merely the
ace in the same pack where the drummer is the two-spot. Our American
civilization should be called Drummer's Delight--and there's nothing in
your fire-eater to delight a drummer: he's a gentleman, he'll be only
so-so rich, and he's away back out of the lime-light, while poor old
Charley's a bounder, and worth forty millions anyhow, and right in the
centre of the glare. How should he see any danger in John?"
"I wonder if he hasn't begun to?"
"Well, perhaps. He and Hortense have been 'talking business'; I know
that. Oh--and why do you think she said he must go to New York? To make a
better deal for the fire-eater's phosphates than his fuddling old trustee
here was going to close with. Charley said that could be arranged by
telegram. But she made him go himself! She's extraordinary. He'll arrive
in town to-morrow, he'll leave next day, he'll reach here by the Southern
on Saturday night in time for our Sunday yacht picnic, and then something
has got to happen, I should think."
Here was another key, unlocking a further piece of knowledge for me. I
had not been able to guess why Hortense should be keeping Charley "on";
but how natural was this policy, when understood clearly! She still
needed Charley's influence in the world of affairs. Charley's final
service was to be the increasing of his successful rival's fortune. I
wondered what Charley would do, when the full extent of his usefulness
dawned upon him; and with wonder renewed I thought of General Rieppe, and
this daughter he had managed to beget. Surely the mother of Hortense,
whoever she may have been, must have been a very richly endowed
"Something has most certainly got to happen and soon," I said to Beverly
Rodgers. "Especially if my busy boarding-house bodies are right in saying
that the invitations for the wedding are to be out on Monday."
Well, I had Friday, I had Udolpho; and there, while on that excursion,
when I should be alone with John Mayrant during many hours, and
especially the hours of deep, confidential night, I swore to myself on oath
I would say to the boy the last word, up to the verge of offense, that my
wits could devise. Apart from a certain dramatic excitement as of
battle--battle between Hortense and me--I truly wished to help him out of
the miserable mistake his wrong standard, his chivalry gone perverted,
was spurring him on to make; and I had a comic image of myself, summoning
Miss Josephine, summoning Miss Eliza, summoning Mrs. Gregory and Mrs.
Weguelin, and the whole company of aunts and cousins, and handing to them
the rescued John with the single but sufficient syllable: "There!"
He was in apparent spirits, was John, at that hour of our departure for
Udolpho; he pretended so well that I was for a while altogether deceived.
He had wished to call for me with the conveyance in which he should drive
us out into the lonely country through the sunny afternoon; but instead,
I chose to walk round to where he lived, and where I found him stuffing
beneath the seats of the vehicle the baskets and the parcels which
contained the provisions for our ample supper.
"I have never seen you drink hearty yet, and now I purpose to," said
As the packing was finishing Miss Josephine St. Michael came by; and the
sight of the erect old lady reminded me that of all Kings Port figures
known to me and seen in the garden paying their visit of ceremony to
Hortense, she alone--she and Eliza La Heu--had been absent. Eliza's
declining to share in that was well-nigh inevitable, but Miss Josephine
was another matter. Perhaps she had considered her sister's going there
to be enough; at any rate, she had not been party to the surrender, and
this gave me whimsical satisfaction. Moreover, it had evidently
occasioned no ruffle in the affectionate relations between herself and
"John," said she, "as you drive by, do get me a plumber."
"Much better get a burglar, Aunt Josephine. Cheaper in the end, and
It was thus, at the outset, that I came to believe John's spirits were
high; and this illusion he successfully kept up until after we had left
the plumber and Kings Port several sordid miles behind us; the approach
to Kings Port this way lies through dirtiest Africa. John was loquacious;
John discoursed upon the Replacers; Mrs. Weguelin St. Michael had quite
evidently expressed to her own circle what she thought of them; and the
town in consequence, although it did not see them or their automobiles,
because it appeared they were gone some twenty miles inland upon an
excursion to a resort where was a large hotel, and a little variety in
the way of some tourists of the Replacer stripe,--the town kept them well
in its mind's eye. The automobiles would have sufficed to bring them into
disrepute, but Kings Port had a better reason in their conduct in the
church; and John found many things to say to me, as we drove along, about
Bohm and Charley and Kitty. Gazza he forgot, although, as shall appear in
its place, Gazza was likely to live a long while in his memory. Beverly
Rodgers he, of course, recognized as being a gentleman--it was clear that
Beverly met with Kings Port's approval--and, from his Newport
experiences, John was able to make out quite as well as if he had heard
Beverly explain it himself the whole wise philosophic system of joining
with the Replacers in order that you be not replaced yourself.
"In his shoes mightn't I do the same?" he surmised. "I fear I'm not as
Spartan as my aunts--only pray don't mention it to them!"
And then, because I had been answering him with single syllables, or with
nods, or not at all, he taxed me with my taciturnity; he even went so far
as to ask me what thoughts kept me so silent--which I did not tell him.
"I am wondering," I told him instead, "how much they steal every week."
"Yes. Bohm is president of an insurance company, and Charley's a
director, and reorganizes railroads."
"Well, if other people share your pleasant opinion of them, how do they
"Other people share their pleasant spoils--senators, vestrymen--you can't
be sure who you're sitting next to at dinner any more. Come live North.
You'll find the only safe way is never to know anybody worth more than
five millions--if you wish to keep the criminal classes off your visiting
This made him merry. "Put 'em in jail, then!"
"Ah, the jail!" I returned. "It's the great American joke. It reverses
the rule of our smart society. Only those who have no incomes are
"But what do you have laws and lawyers for?"
"To keep the rich out of jail. It's called 'professional etiquette.'"
"Your picture flatters!"
"You flatter me; it's only a photograph. Come North and see."
"One might think, from your account, the American had rather be bad than
"O dear, no! The American had much rather be good than bad!"
"Your admission amazes me!"
"But also the American had rather be rich than good. And he is having his
wish. And money's golden hand is tightening on the throat of liberty
while the labor union stabs liberty in the back--for trusts and unions
are both trying to kill liberty. And the soul of Uncle Sam has turned
into a dollar-inside his great, big, strong, triumphant flesh; so that
even his new religion, his own special invention, his last offering to
the creeds of the world, his gatherer of converted hordes, his Christian
Science, is based upon physical benefit."
John touched the horses. "You're particularly cheerful to-day!"
"No. I merely summarize what I'm seeing."
"Well, a moral awakening will come," he declared.
"Inevitably. To-morrow, perhaps. The flesh has had a good, long,
prosperous day, and the hour of the spirit must be near striking. And the
moral awakening will be followed by a moral slumber, since, in the
uncomprehended scheme of things, slumber seems necessary; and you needn't
pull so long a face, Mr. Mayrant, because the slumber will be followed by
another moral awakening. The alcoholic society girl you don't like will
very probably give birth to a water-drinking daughter--who in her turn
may produce a bibulous progeny: how often must I tell you that nothing is
John Mayrant gave the horses a somewhat vicious lash after these last
words of mine; and, as he made no retort to them, we journeyed some
little distance in silence through the mild, enchanting light of the sun.
My deliberate allusion to alcoholic girls had made plain what I had begun
to suspect. I could now discern that his cloak of gayety had fallen from
him, leaving bare the same harassed spirit, the same restless mood, which
had been his upon the last occasion when we had talked at length together
upon some of the present social and political phases of our republic--
that day of the New Bridge and the advent of Hortense. Only, upon that
day, he had by his manner in some subtle fashion conveyed to me a greater
security in my discretion than I felt him now to entertain. His many
observations about the Replacers, with always the significant and
conspicuous omission of Hortense, proved more and more, as I thought it
over, that his state was unsteady. Even now, he did not long endure
silence between us; yet the eagerness which he threw into our discussions
did not, it seemed to me, so much proceed from present interest in their
subjects (though interest there was at times) as from anxiety lest one
particular subject, ever present with him, should creep in unawares. So
much I, at any rate, concluded, and bided my time for the creeping in
unawares, content meanwhile to parry some of the reproaches which he now
and again cast at me with an earnestness real or feigned.
We had made now considerable progress, and were come to a space of sand
and cabins and intersecting railroad tracks, where freight cars and
locomotives stood, and negroes of all shapes, but of one lowering and
ragged appearance, lounged and stared.
"There used to be a murder here about once a day," said John, "before the
dispensary system. Now, it is about once a week."
"That law is of benefit, then?" I inquired.
"To those who drink the whiskey, possibly; certainly to those who sell
it!" And he condensed for me the long story of the state dispensary,
which in brief appeared to be that South Carolina had gone into the
liquor business. The profits were to pay for compulsory education; the
liquor was to be pure; society and sobriety were to be advanced: such had
been the threefold promise, of which the threefold fulfillment was--
defeat of the compulsory education bill, a political monopoly enriching
favored distillers, "and lately," said John, "a thoroughly democratic
whiskey for the plain people. Pay ten cents for a bottle of X, if you're
curious. It may not poison you--but the murders are coming up again."
"What a delightful example of government ownership!" I exclaimed.
But John in Kings Port was not in the way of hearing that cure-all policy
discussed, and I therefore explained it to him. He did not seem to grasp
"I don't see how it would change anything," he remarked, "beyond
switching the stealing from one set of hands to another."
I put on a face of concern. "What? You don't believe in our patent
"Certainly. Short-cuts to universal happiness, universal honesty,
universal everything. For instance: Don't make a boy study four years for
a college degree; just cut the time in half, and you've got a short-cut
to education. Write it down that man is equal. That settles it. You'll
notice how equal he is at once. Write it down that the negro shall vote.
You'll observe how instantly he is fit for the suffrage. Now they want it
written down that government shall take all the wicked corporations,
because then corruption will disappear from the face of the earth. You'll
find the farmers presently having it written down that all hens must
hatch their eggs in a week, and next, a league of earnest women will
advocate a Constitutional amendment that men only shall bring forth
children. Oh, we Americans are very thorough!" And I laughed.
But John's face was not gay. "Well," he mused, "South Carolina took a
short-cut to pure liquor and sober citizens--and reached instead a new
den of thieves. Is the whole country sick?"
"Sick to the marrow, my friend; but young and vigorous still. A nation in
its long life has many illnesses before the one it dies of. But we shall
need some strong medicine if we do not get well soon."
"Ah, that's beyond any one! And we have several things the matter with
us--as bad a case, for example, of complacency as I've met in history.
Complacency's a very dangerous disease, seldom got rid of without the
purge of a great calamity. And worse, where does our dishonesty begin,
and where end? The boy goes to college, and there in football it awaits
him; he graduates, and in the down-town office it smirks at him; he rises
into the confidence of his superiors, the town's chief citizens, and
finds their gray hairs crowned with it,--the very men he has looked up
to, believed in, his ideals, his examples, the merchant prince, the
railroad magnate, the president of insurance companies--all dirty
rascals! Presently he faces worldly success or failure, and then, in the
new ocean of mind that has swallowed morals up, he sinks with his
isolated honesty, like a fool, or swims to respectability with his
brother knaves. And into this mess the immigrant sewage of Europe is
steadily pouring. Such is our continent to-day, with all its fair winds
and tides and fields favorable to us, and only our shallow, complacent,
dishonest selves against us! But don't let these considerations make you
gloomy; for (I must say it again) nothing is final; and even if we rot
before we ripen--which would be a wholly novel phenomenon--we shall have
made our contribution to mankind in demonstrating by our collapse that
the sow's ear belongs with the rest of the animal, and not in the voting
booth or the legislature, and that the doctrine of universal suffrage
should have waited until men were born honest and equal. That in itself
would be a memorable service to have rendered."
We had come into the divine, sad stillness of the woods, where the warm
sunlight shone through the gray moss, lighting the curtained solitudes
away and away into the depths of the golden afternoon; and somewhere amid
the miles of sleeping wilderness sounded the hoarse honk of the
automobile. The Replacers were abroad, enjoying what they could in this
country where they did not belong, and which did not as yet belong to
them. Once again we heard their honk off to our left, from a farther
distance, and I am glad to say that we did not see them at all.
"If," said John Mayrant, "what you have said is true, the nation had
better get on its knees and pray God to give it grace."
I looked at the boy and saw that his countenance had grown very fine.
"The act," I said, "would bring grace, wherever it comes from."
"Yes," he assented. "If in the stars and awfulness of space there's
nothing, that does not trouble me; for my greater self is inside me,
safe. And our country has a greater self somewhere. Think!"
"I do not have to think," I replied, "when I know the nobleness we have
risen to at times."
"And I," he pursued, "happen to believe it is not all only stars and
space; and that God, as much as any ship-builder, rejoices to watch every
tiniest boat meet and brave the storm."
Out of his troubles he had brought such mood, sweetness instead of
bitterness; he was saying as plainly as if his actual words said it,
"Misfortune has come to me, and I am going to make the best of it." His
nobleness, his moral elegance, compelled him to this, and I envied him,
not sure if I myself, thus placed, would acquit myself so well. And there
was in his sweetness a contagion that strangely reconciled me to the
troubled aspects of our national hour. I thought, "Invisible among our
eighty millions there is a quiet legion living untainted in the depths,
while the yellow rich, the prismatic scum and bubbles, boil on the
surface." Yes, he had accidentally helped me, and I wished doubly that I
might help him. It was well enough he should feel he must not shirk his
duty, but how much better if he could be led to see that marrying where
he did not love was no duty of his.
I knew what I had to say to him, but lacked the beginning of it; and of
this beginning I was in search as we drove up among the live-oaks of
Udolpho to the little club-house, or hunting lodge, where a negro and his
wife received us, and took the baskets and set about preparing supper. My
beginning sat so heavily upon my attention that I took scant notice of
Udolpho as we walked about its adjacent grounds in the twilight before
supper, and John Mayrant pointed out to me its fine old trees, its placid
stream, and bade me admire the snug character of the hunting lodge,
buried away for bachelors' delights deep in the heart of the pleasant
forest. I heard him indulging in memories and anecdotes of date sittings
after long hunts; but I was myself always on a hunt for my beginning, and
none of his words clearly reached my intelligence until I was aware of
his reciting an excellently pertinent couplet:--
"If you would hold your father's land,
You must wash your throat before your hand--"
and found myself standing by the lodge table, upon which he had set two
glasses, containing, I soon ascertained, gin, vermouth, orange bitters,
and a cherry at the bottom--all which he had very skillfully mingled
himself in the happiest proportions.
"The poetry," he remarked, "is hereditary in my family;" and setting down
the empty glasses we also washed our hands. A moon half-grown looked in
at the window from the filmy darkness, and John, catching sight of it,
paused with the wet soap in his hand and stared out at the dimly visible
trees. "Oh, the times, the times!" he murmured to himself, gazing long;
and then with a sort of start he returned to the present moment, and
rinsed and dried his hands. Presently we were sitting at the table,
pledging each other in well-cooled champagne; and it was not long after
this that not only the negro who waited on us was plainly reveling in
John's remarks, but also the cook, with her bandannaed ebony head poked
round the corner of the kitchen door, was doing her utmost to lose no
word of this entertainment. For John, taking up the young and the old,
the quick and the dead, of masculine Kings Port, proceeded to narrate
their private exploits, until by coffee-time he had unrolled for me the
richest tapestry of gayeties that I remember, and I sat without breath,
tearful and aching, while the two negroes had retired far into the
kitchen to muffle their emotions.
"Tom, oh Tom! you Tom!" called John Mayrant; and after the man had come
from the kitchen: "You may put the punch-bowl and things on the table,
and clear away and go to bed. My Great-uncle Marston Chartain," he
continued to me, "was of eccentric taste, and for the last twenty years
of his life never had anybody to dinner but the undertaker." He paused at
this point to mix the punch, and then resumed: "But for all that, he
appears to have been a lively old gentleman to the end, and left us his
version of a saying which is considered by some people an improvement on
the original, 'Cherchez la femme.' Uncle Marston had it, 'Hunt the other
woman.' Don't go too fast with that punch; it isn't as gentle as it
But John and his Uncle Marston had between them given me my beginning,
and, as I sat sipping my punch, I ceased to hear the anecdotes which
followed. I sat sipping and smoking, and was presently aware of the
deepening silence of the night, and of John no longer at the table, but
by the window, looking out into the forest, and muttering once more, "Oh,
the times, the times!"
"It's always a triangle," I began.
He turned round from his window. "Triangle?" He looked at my glass of
punch, and then at me. "Go easy with the Bombo," he repeated.
"Bombo?" I echoed. "You call this Bombo? You don't know how remarkable
that is, but that's because you don't know Aunt Carola, who is very
remarkable, too. Well, never mind her now. Point is, it's always a
"I haven't a doubt of it," he replied.
"There you're right. And so was your uncle. He knew. Triangle." Here I
found myself nodding portentously at John, and beating the table with my
finger very solemnly.
He stood by his window seeming to wait for me. And now everything in the
universe grew perfectly clear to me; I rose on mastering tides of
thought, and all problems lay disposed of at my feet, while delicious
strength and calm floated in my brain and being. Nothing was difficult
for me. But I was getting away from the triangle, and there was John
waiting at the window, and I mustn't say too much, mustn't say too much.
My will reached out and caught the triangle and brought it close, and I
saw it all perfectly clear again.
"What are they all," I said, "the old romances? You take Paris and Helen
and Menelaus. What's that? You take Launcelot and Arthur and Guinevere.
You take Paola and Francesca and her husband, what's-his-name, or
Tristram and Iseult and Mark. Two men, one woman. Triangle and trouble.
Other way around you get Tannhauser and Venus and Elizabeth; two women,
one man; more triangle and more trouble. Yes." And I nodded at him again.
The tide of my thought was pulling me hard away from this to other
important world-problems, but my will held, struggling, and I kept to it.
"You wait," I told him. "I know what I mean. Trouble is, so hard to
advise him right."
"Advise who right?" inquired John Mayrant.
It helped me wonderfully. My will gripped my floating thoughts and held
them to it. "Friend of mine in trouble; though why he asks me when I'm
not married--I'd be married now, you know, but afraid of only one wife.
Man doesn't love twice; loves thrice, four, six, lots of times; but they
say only one wife. Ought to be two, anyhow. Much easier for man to marry
"Wouldn't it be rather immoral?" John asked.
"Morality is queer thing. Like kaleidoscope. New patterns all the time.
Abraham and wives--perfectly respectable. You take Pharaohs--or kings of
that sort--married own sisters. All right then. Perfectly horrible now,
of course. But you ask men about two wives. They'd say something to be
said for that idea. Only there are the women, you know. They'd never. But
I'm going to tell my friend he's doing wrong. Going to write him
to-night. Where's ink?"
"It won't go to-night," said John. "What are you going to tell him?"
"Going to tell him, since only one wife, wicked not to break his
John looked at me very hard, as he stood by the window, leaning on the
sill. But my will was getting all the while a stronger hold, and my
thoughts were less and less inclined to stray to other world-problems;
moreover, below the confusion that still a little reigned in them was the
primal cunning of the old Adam, the native man, quite untroubled and
alert--it saw John's look at me and it prompted my course.
"Yes," I said. "He wants the truth from me. Where's his letter? No harm
reading you without names." And I fumbled in my pocket.
"Letter gone. Never mind. Facts are: friend's asked girl. Girl's said
yes. Now he thinks he's bound by that."
"He thinks right," said John.
"Not a bit of it. You take Tannhauser. Engagement to Venus all a mistake.
Perfectly proper to break it. Much more than proper. Only honorable thing
he could do. I'm going to write it to him. Where's ink?" And I got up.
John came from his window and sat down at the table. His glass was empty,
his cigar gone out, and he looked at me. But I looked round the room for
the ink, noting in my search the big fireplace, simple, wooden,
unornamented, but generous, and the plain plaster walls of the lodge,
whereon hung two or three old prints of gamebirds; and all the while I
saw John out of the corner of my eye, looking at me.
He spoke first. "Your friend has given his word to a lady; he must stand
by it like a gentleman.
"Lot of difference," I returned, still looking round the room, "between
spirit and letter. If his heart has broken the word, his lips can't make
him a gentleman."
John brought his fist down on the table. "He had no business to get
engaged to her! He must take the consequences."
That blow of the fist on the table brought my thoughts wholly clear and
fixed on the one subject; my will had no longer to struggle with them,
they worked of themselves in just the way that I wanted them to do.
"If he's a gentleman, he must stand to his word," John repeated, "unless
she releases him."
I fumbled again for my letter. "That's just about what he says himself,"
I rejoined, sitting down. "He thinks he ought to take the consequences."
"Of course!" John Mayrant's face was very stern as he sat in judgment on
"But why should she take the consequences?" I asked.
"Being married to a man who doesn't want her, all her life, until
death them do part. How's that? Having the daily humiliation of his
indifference, and the world's knowledge of his indifference. How's that?
Perhaps having the further humiliation of knowing that his heart belongs
to another woman. How's that? That's not what a girl bargains for. His
standing to his word is not an act of honor, but a deception. And in
talking about 'taking the consequences,' he's patting his personal
sacrifice on the back and forgetting all about her and the sacrifice
he's putting her to. What's the brief suffering of a broken engagement
to that? No: the true consequences that a man should shoulder for making
such a mistake is the poor opinion that society holds of him for placing
a woman in such a position; and to free her is the most honorable thing
he can do. Her dignity suffers less so than if she were a wife chained
down to perpetual disregard."
John, after a silence, said: "That is a very curious view."
"That is the view I shall give my friend," I answered. "I shall tell him
that in keeping on he is not at bottom honestly thinking of the girl and
her welfare, but of himself and the public opinion he's afraid of, if he
breaks his engagement. And I shall tell him that if I'm in church and
they come to the place where they ask if any man knows just cause or
impediment, I shall probably call out, 'He does! His heart's not in it.
This is not marriage that he's committing. You're pronouncing your
blessing upon a fraud.'"
John sat now a long time silent, holding his extinct cigar. The lamp was
almost burned dry; we had blown out the expiring candles some while
since. "That is a very curious view," he repeated. "I should like to hear
what your friend says in answer."
This finished our late sitting. We opened the door and went out for a
brief space into the night to get its pure breath into our lungs, and
look to the distant place where the moon had sailed. Then we went to bed,
or rather, I did; for the last thing that I remembered was John, standing
by the window of our bedroom still dressed, looking out into the forest.
XX: What She Wanted Him For
He was neither at the window, nor in his bed, nor anywhere else to be
seen, when I opened my eyes upon the world next morning; nor did any
answer come when I called his name. I raised myself and saw outside the
great branches of the wood, bathed from top to trunk in a sunshine that
was no early morning's light; and upon this, the silence of the house
spoke plainly to me not of man still sleeping, but of man long risen and
gone about his business. I stepped barefoot across the wooden floor to
where lay my watch, but it marked an unearthly hour, for I had neglected
to wind it at the end of our long and convivial evening--of which my head
was now giving me some news. And then I saw a note addressed to me from
"You are a good sleeper," it began, "but my conscience is clear as to the
Bombo, called by some Kill-devil, about which I hope you will remember
that I warned you."
He hoped I should remember! Of course I remembered everything; why did he
say that? An apology for his leaving me followed; he had been obliged to
take the early train because of the Custom House, where he was serving
his final days; they would give me breakfast when ever I should be ready
for it, and I was to make free of the place; I had better visit the old
church (they had orders about the keys) and drive myself into Kings Port
after lunch; the horses would know the way, if I did not. It was the
boy's closing sentence which fixed my attention wholly, took it away from
Kill-devil Bombo and my Aunt Carola's commission, for the execution of
which I now held the clue, and sent me puzzling for the right
interpretation of his words:--
"I believe that you will help your friend by that advice which startled
me last night, but which I now begin to see more in than I did. Only
between alternate injuries, he may find it harder to choose which is the
least he can inflict, than you, who look on, find it. For in following
your argument, he benefits himself so plainly that the benefit to the
other person is very likely obscured to him. But, if you wish to, tell
him a Southern gentleman would feel he ought to be shot either way.
That's the honorable price for changing your mind in such a case."
No interpretation of this came to me. I planned and carried out my day
according to his suggestion; a slow dressing with much cold water, a slow
breakfast with much good hot coffee, a slow wandering beneath the dreamy
branches of Udolpho,--this course cleared my head of the Bombo, and
brought back to me our whole evening, and every word I had said to John,
except that I had lost the solution which, last night, the triangle had
held for me. At that moment, the triangle, and my whole dealing with the
subject of monogamy, had seemed to contain the simplicity of genius; but
it had all gone now, and I couldn't get it back; only, what I had
contrived to say to John about his own predicament had been certainly
well said; I would say that over again to-day. It was the boy and the
meaning of his words which escaped me still, baffled me, and formed the
whole subject of my attention, even when I was inside the Tern Creek
church; so that I retain nothing of that, save a general quaintness, a
general loneliness, a little deserted, forgotten token of human doings
long since done, standing on its little acre of wilderness amid that
solitude which suggests the departed presence of man, and which is so
much more potent in the flavor of its desolation than the virgin
wilderness whose solitude is still waiting for man to come.
It made no matter whether John had believed in the friend to whom I
intended writing advice, or had seen through and accepted in good part my
manoeuvre; he had considered my words, that was the point; and he had not
slept in his bed, but on it, if sleep had come to him at all; this I
found out while dressing. Several times I read his note over. "Between
alternate injuries he may find it harder to choose." This was not an
answer to me, but an explanation of his own perplexity. At times it
sounded almost like an appeal, as if he were saying, "Do not blame me for
not being convinced;" and if it was such appeal, why, then, taken with
his resolve to do right at any cost, and his night of inward contention,
it was poignant. "I believe that you will help your friend." Those words
sounded better. But--"tell him a Southern gentleman ought to be shot
either way." What was the meaning of this? A chill import rose from it
into my thoughts, but that I dismissed. To die on account of Hortense!
Such a thing was not to be conceived. And yet, given a high-strung
nature, not only trapped by its own standards, but also wrought upon
during many days by increasing exasperation and unhappiness while
helpless in the trap, and with no other outlook but the trap: the chill
import returned to me more than once, and was reasoned away, as, with no
attention to my surroundings, I took a pair of oars, and got into a boat
belonging to the lodge, and rowed myself slowly among the sluggish
windings of Tern Creek.
Whence come those thoughts that we ourselves feel shame at? It shamed me
now, as I pulled my boat along, that I should have thoughts of John which
needed banishing. What tale would this be to remember of a boy's life,
that he gave it to buy freedom from a pledge which need never have been
binding? What pearl was this to cast before the sophisticated Hortense?
Such act would be robbed of its sadness by its absurdity. Yet, surely,
the bitterest tragedies are those of which the central anguish is lost
amid the dust of surrounding paltriness. If such a thing should happen
here, no one but myself would have seen the lonely figure of John
Mayrant, standing by the window and looking out into the dark quiet of
the wood; his name would be passed down for a little while as the name of
a fool, and then he would be forgotten. "I believe that you will help
your friend." Yes; he had certainly written that, and it now came to me
that I might have said to him one thing more: Had he given Hortense the
chance to know what his feelings to her had become? But he would merely
have answered that here it was the duty of a gentleman to lie. Or, had he
possibly, at Newport, ever become her lover too much for any escaping
now? Had his dead passion once put his honor in a pawn which only
marriage could redeem? This might fit all that had come, so far; and
still, with such a two as they, I should forever hold the boy the woman's
victim. But this did not fit what came after. Perhaps it was the late
sitting of the night before, and the hushed and strange solitude of my
surroundings now, that had laid my mind open to all these thoughts which
my reason, in dealing with, answered continually, one by one, yet which
returned, requiring to be answered again; for there are times when our
uncomfortable eyes see through the appearances we have arranged for daily
life, into the actualities which lie forever behind them.
Going about thus in my boat, I rowed sleepiness into myself, and pushed
into a nook where shade from some thick growth hid the boat and me from
the sun; and there, almost enmeshed in the deep lattice of green, I
placed my coat beneath my head, and prone in the boat's bottom I drifted
into slumber. Once or twice my oblivion was pierced by the roaming honk
of the automobile; but with no more than the half-melted consciousness
that the Replacers were somewhere in the wood, oblivion closed over me
again; and when it altogether left me, it was because of voices near me
on the water, or on the bank. Their calls and laughter pushed themselves
into my drowsiness, and soon after I grew aware that the Replacers were
come here to see what was to be seen at Udolpho--the club, the old
church, a country place with a fine avenue--and that it was the church
they now couldn't get into, because my visit had disturbed the usual
whereabouts of the key, of which Gazza was now going in search. I could
have told him where to find it, but it pleased me not to disturb myself
for this, as I listened to him assuring Kitty that it was probably in the
cabin beyond the bridge, but not to be alarmed if he did not immediately
return with it. Kitty, not without audible mirth, assured him that they
should not be alarmed at all, to which the voice of Hortense
supplemented, "Not at all." They were evidently in a boat, which Hortense
herself was rowing, and which she seemed to bring to the bank, where I
gathered that Kitty got out and sat while Hortense remained in the boat.
There was the little talk and movement which goes with borrowing of a
cigarette, a little exclamation about not falling out, accompanied by the
rattle of a displaced oar, and then stillness, and the smell of tobacco
Presently Kitty spoke. "Charley will be back to-night."
To this I heard no reply.
"What did his telegram say?" Kitty inquired, after another silence.
"It's all right." This was Hortense. Her slow, rich murmur was as
deliberate as always.
"Mr. Bohm knew it would be," said Kitty. "He said it wouldn't take five
minutes' talk from Charley to get a contract worth double what they were
going to accept."
After this, nothing came to me for several minutes, save the odor of the
Of course there was now but one proper course for me, namely, to utter a
discreet cough, and thus warn them that some one was within earshot. But
I didn't! I couldn't! Strength failed, curiosity won, my baser nature
triumphed here, and I deliberately remained lying quiet and hidden. It
was the act of no gentleman, you will say. Well, it was; and I must
simply confess to it, hoping that I am not the only gentleman in the
world who has, on occasion, fallen beneath himself.
"Hortense Rieppe," began Kitty, "what do you intend to say to my brother
after what he has done about those phosphates?"
"He is always so kind," murmured Hortense.
"Well, you know what it means."
"If you persist in this folly, you'll drop out."
Hortense chose another line of speculation. "I wonder why your brother is
so sure of me?"
"Charley is a set man. And I've never seen him so set on anything as on
you, Hortense Rieppe."
"He is always so kind," murmured Hortense again.
"He's a man you'll always know just where to find," declared Kitty.
"Charley is safe. He'll never take you by surprise, never fly out, never
do what other people don't do, never make any one stare at him by the way
he looks, or the way he acts, or anything he says, or--or--why, how you
can hesitate between those two men after that ridiculous, childish,
conspicuous, unusual scene on the bridge--"
"Unusual. Yes," said Hortense.
Kitty's eloquence and voice mounted together. "I should think it was
unusual! Tearing people's money up, and making a rude, awkward fuss that
everybody had to smooth over as hard as they could! Why, even Mr. Rodgers
says that sort of thing isn't done, and you're always saying he knows."
"No," said Hortense. "It isn't done."
"Well, I've never seen anything approaching such behavior in our set. And
he was ready to go further. Nobody knows where it might have gone to, if
Charley's perfect coolness hadn't rebuked him and brought him to his
senses. There's where it is, that's what I mean, Hortense, by saying you
could always feel safe with Charley."
Hortense put in a languid word. "I think I should always feel safe with
But Kitty was a simple soul. "Indeed you couldn't, Hortense! I assure you
that you're mistaken. There's where you get so wrong about men sometimes.
I have been studying that boy for your sake ever since we got here, and I
know him through and through. And I tell you, you cannot count upon him.
He has not been used to our ways, and I see no promise of his getting
used to them. He will stay capable of outbreaks like that horrid one on
the bridge. Wherever you take him, wherever you put him, no matter how
much you show him of us, and the way we don't allow conspicuous things
like that to occur, believe me, Hortense, he'll never learn, he'll never
smooth down. You may brush his hair flat and keep him appearing like
other people for a while, but a time will come, something will happen,
and that boy'll be conspicuous. Charley would never be conspicuous."
"No," assented Hortense.
Kitty urged her point. "Why, I never saw or beard of anything like that
on the bridge--that is, among--among--us!"
"No," assented Hortense, again, and her voice dropped lower with each
statement. "One always sees the same thing. Always hears the same thing.
Always the same thing." These last almost inaudible words sank away into
the silent pool of Hortense's meditation.
"Have another cigarette," said Kitty. "You've let yours fall into the
I heard them moving a little, and then they must have resumed their
"You'll drop out of it," Kitty now pursued.
"Into what shall I drop?"
"Just being asked to the big things everybody goes to and nobody counts.
For even with the way Charley has arranged about the phosphates, it will
not be enough to keep you in our swim--just by itself. He'll weigh more
than his money, because he'll stay different--too different."
"He was not so different last summer."
"Because he was not there long enough, my dear. He learned bridge
quickly, and of course he had seen champagne before, and nobody had time
to notice him. But he'll be married now and they will notice him, and
they won't want him. To think of your dropping out!" Kitty became very
earnest. "To think of not seeing you among us! You'll be in none of the
small things; you'll never be asked to stay at the smart houses--why, not
even your name will be in the paper! Not a foreigner you entertain, not a
dinner you give, not a thing you wear, will ever be described next
morning. And Charley's so set on you, and you're so just exactly made for
each other, and it would all be so splendid, and cosey, and jolly! And to
throw all this away for that crude boy!" Kitty's disdain was high at the
thought of John.
Hortense took a little time over it "Once," she then stated, "he told me
he could drown in my hair as joyfully as the Duke of Clarence did in his
butt of Malmsey wine!"
Kitty gave a little scream. "Did you let him?"
"One has to guard one's value at times."
Kitty's disdain for John increased. "How crude!"
Hortense did not make any answer.
"How crude!" Kitty, after some silence, repeated. She seemed to have
found the right word.
Steps sounded upon the bridge, and the voice of Gazza cried out that the
stupid key was at the imbecile club-house, whither he was now going for
it, and not to be alarmed. Their voices answered reassuringly, and Gazza
was heard growing distant, singing some little song.
Kitty was apparently unable to get away from John's crudity. "He actually
"Where was it? Tell me about it, Hortense."
"We were walking in the country on that occasion."
Kitty still lingered with it. "Did he look--I've never had any man--I
wonder if--how did you feel?"
"Not disagreeably." And Hortense permitted herself to laugh musically.
Kitty's voice at once returned to the censorious tone. "Well, I call such
language as that very--very--"
Hortense helped her. "Operatic?"
"He could never be taught in those ways either," declared Kitty. "You
would find his ardor always untrained--provincial."
Once more Hortense abstained from making any answer.
Kitty grew superior. "Well, if that's to your taste, Hortense Rieppe!"
"It was none of it like Charley," murmured Hortense.
"I should think not! Charley's not crude. What do you see in that man?"
"I like the way his hair curls above his ears."
For this Kitty found nothing but an impatient exclamation.
And now the voice of Hortense sank still deeper in dreaminess,--down to
where the truth lay; and from those depths came the truth, flashing
upward through the drowsy words she spoke: "I think I want him for his
What light these words may have brought to Kitty, I had no chance to
learn; for the voice of Gazza returning with the key put an end to this
conversation. But I doubted if Kitty had it in her to fathom the nature
of Hortense. Kitty was like a trim little clock that could tick tidily on
an ornate shelf; she could go, she could keep up with time, with the
rapid epoch to which she belonged, but she didn't really have many works.
I think she would have scoffed at that last languorous speech as a piece
of Hortense's nonsense, and that is why Hortense uttered it aloud: she
was safe from being understood. But in my ears it sounded the note of
revelation, the simple central secret of Hortense's fire, a flame fed
overmuch with experience, with sophistication, grown cold under the
ministrations of adroitness, and lighted now by the "crudity" of John's
love-making. And when, after an interval, I had rowed my boat back, and
got into the carriage, and started on my long drive from Udolpho to Kings
Port, I found that there was almost nothing about all this which I did
not know now. Hortense, like most riddles when you are told the answer,
"I think I want him for his innocence."
Yes; she was tired of love-making whose down had been rubbed off; she
hungered for love-making with the down still on, even if she must pay for
it with marriage. Who shall say if her enlightened and modern eye could
not look beyond such marriage (when it should grow monotonous) to
XXI: Hortense's Cigarette Goes Out
John was the riddle that I could not read. Among my last actions of this
day was one that had been almost my earliest, and bedtime found me
staring at his letter, as I stood, half undressed, by my table. The calm
moon brought back Udolpho and what had been said there, as it now shone
down upon the garden where Hortense had danced. I stared at John's letter
as if its words were new to me, instead of being words that I could have
fluently repeated from beginning to end without an error; it was as if,
by virtue of mere gazing at the document, I hoped to wring more meaning
from it, to divine what had been in the mind which had composed it; but
instead of this, I seemed to get less from it, instead of more. Had the
boy's purpose been to mystify me, he could scarce have done better. I
think that he had no such intention, for it would have been wholly unlike
him; but I saw no sign in it that I had really helped him, had really
shaken his old quixotic resolve, nor did I see any of his having found a
new way of his own out of the trap. I could not believe that the dark
road of escape had taken any lodgement in his thought, but had only
passed over it, like a cloud with a heavy shadow. But these are surmises
at the best: if John had formed any plan, I can never know it, and
Juno's remarks at breakfast on Sunday morning sounded strange, like
something a thousand miles away. For she spoke of the wedding, and of the
fact that it would certainly be a small one. She went over the names of
the people who would have to be invited, and doubted if she were one of
these. But if she should be, then she would go--for the sake of Miss
Josephine St. Michael, she declared. In short, it was perfectly plain
that Juno was much afraid of being left out, and that wild horses could
not drag her away from it, if an invitation came to her. But, as I say,
this side of the wedding seemed to have nothing to do with it, when I
thought of all that lay beneath; my one interest to-day was to see John
Mayrant, to get from him, if not by some word, then by some look or
intonation, a knowledge of what he meant to do. Therefore, disappointment
and some anxiety met me when I stepped from the Hermana's gangway upon
her deck, and Charley asked me if he was coming. But the launch, sent
back to wait, finally brought John, apologizing for his lateness.
Meanwhile, I was pleased to find among the otherwise complete party
General Rieppe. What I had seen of him from a distance held promise, and
the hero's nearer self fulfilled it. We fell to each other's lot for the
most natural of reasons: nobody else desired the company of either of us.
Charley was making himself the devoted servant of Hortense, while Kitty
drew Beverly, Bohm, and Gazza in her sprightly wake. To her, indeed, I
made a few compliments during the first few minutes after my coming
aboard, while every sort of drink and cigar was being circulated among us
by the cabin boy. Kitty's costume was the most markedly maritime thing
that I have ever beheld in any waters, and her white shoes looked (I must
confess) supremely well on her pretty little feet. I am no advocate of
sumptuary laws; but there should be one prohibiting big-footed women from
wearing white shoes. Did these women know what a spatulated effect their
feet so shod produce, no law would be needed. Yes, Kitty was
superlatively, stridently maritime; you could have known from a great
distance that she belonged to the very latest steam yacht class, and that
she was perfectly ignorant of the whole subject. On her left arm, for
instance, was worked a red propeller with one blade down, and two
chevrons. It was the rating mark for a chief engineer, but this, had she
known it, would not have disturbed her.
"I chose it," she told me in reply to my admiration of it, "because it's
so pretty. Oh, won't we enjoy ourselves while those stupid old
blue-bloods in Kings Port are going to church!" And with this she gave a
skip, and ordered the cabin boy to bring her a Remsen cooler. Beverly
Rodgers called for dwarf's blood, and I chose a horse's neck, and soon
found myself in the society of the General.
He was sipping whiskey and plain water. "I am a rough soldiers sir," he
explained to me, "and I keep to the simple beverage of the camp. Had we
not 'rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not
of'?" And he waved a stately hand at my horse's neck. "You are
acquainted with the works of Shakespeare?"
I replied that I had a moderate knowledge of them, and assured him that a
horse's neck was very simple.
"Doubtless, sir; but a veteran is ever old-fashioned."
"Papa," said Hortense, "don't let the sun shine upon your head."
"Thank you, daughter mine." They said no more; but I presently felt that
for some reason she watched him.
He moved farther beneath the awning, and I followed him. "Are you a
father, sir? No? Then you cannot appreciate what it is to confide such a
jewel as yon girl to another's keeping." He summoned the cabin boy, who
brought him some more of the simple beverage of the camp, and I, feeling
myself scarce at liberty to speak on matters so near to him and so far
from me as his daughter's marriage, called his attention to the beautiful
aspect of Kings Port, spread out before us in a long white line against
the blue water.
The General immediately seized his opportunity. "'Sweet Auburn, loveliest
village of the plain!' You are acquainted with the works of Goldsmith,
I professed some knowledge of this author also, and the General's talk
flowed ornately onward. Though I had little to say to him about his
daughter's marriage, he had much to say to me. Miss Josephine St. Michael
would have been gratified to hear that her family was considered suitable
for Hortense to contract an alliance with. "My girl is not stepping down,
sir," the father assured me; and he commended the St. Michaels and the
whole connection. He next alluded tragically but vaguely to misfortunes
which had totally deprived him of income. I could not precisely fix what
his inheritance had been; sometimes he spoke of cotton, but next it would
be rice, and he touched upon sugar more than once; but, whatever it was,
it had been vast and was gone. He told me that I could not imagine the
feelings of a father who possessed a jewel and no dowry to give her. "A
queen's estate should have been hers," he said. "But what! 'Who steals my
purse steals trash.'" And he sat up, nobly braced by the philosophic
thought. But he soon was shaking his head over his enfeebled health. Was
I aware that he had been the cause of postponing the young people's joy
twice? Twice had the doctors forbidden him to risk the emotions that
would attend his giving his jewel away. He dwelt upon his shattered
system to me, and, indeed, it required some dwelling on, for he was the
picture of admirable preservation. "But I know what it is myself," he
declared, "to be a lover and have bliss delayed. They shall be united
now. A soldier must face all arrows. What!"
I had hoped he might quote something here, but was disappointed. His
conversation would soon cease to interest me, should I lose the
excitement of watching for the next classic; and my eye wandered
from the General to the water, where, happily, I saw John Mayrant
coming in the launch. I briskly called the General's attention to
him, and was delighted with the unexpected result.
"'Oh, young Lochinvar has come out of the West,'" said the General,
lifting his glass.
I touched it ceremoniously with mine. "The day will be hot," I said;
"'The boy stood on the burning deck.'"
On this I made my escape from him, and, leaving him to his whiskey and
his contemplating, I became aware that the eyes of the rest of the party
were eager to watch the greeting between Hortense and John. But there was
nothing to see. Hortense waited until her lover had made his apologies to
Charley for being late, and, from the way they met, she might have been
no more to him than Kitty was. Whatever might be thought, whatever might
be known, by these onlookers, Hortense set the pace of how the open
secret was to be taken. She made it, for all of us, as smooth and smiling
as the waters of Kings Port were this fine day. How much did they each
know? I asked myself how much they had shared in common. To these
Replacers Kings Port had opened no doors; they and their automobile had
skirted around the outside of all things. And if Charley knew about the
wedding, he also knew that it had been already twice postponed. He, too,
could have said, as Miss Eliza had once said to me, "The cake is not
baked yet." The General's talk to me (I felt as I took in how his health
had been the centred point) was probably the result of previous
arrangements with Hortense herself; and she quite as certainly inspired
whatever she allowed him to say to Charley.
As for Kitty, she knew that her brother was "set"; she always came back
If Hortense found this Sunday morning a passage of particularly delicate
steering, she showed it in no way, unless by that heightened radiance and
triumph of beauty which I had seen in her before. No; the splendor of the
day, the luxuries of the Hermana, the conviviality of the Replacers--all
melted the occasion down to an ease and enjoyment in which even John
Mayrant, with his grave face, was not perceptible, unless, like myself,
one watched him.
It was my full expectation that we should now get under way and proceed
among the various historic sights of Kings Port harbor, but of this I saw
no signs anywhere on board the Hermana. Abeam of the foremast her boat
booms remained rigged out on port and starboard, her boats riding to
painters, while her crew wore a look as generally lounging as that of her
passengers. Beverly Rodgers told me the reason: we had no pilot; the
negro Waterman engaged for this excursion in the upper waters had failed
of appearance, and when Charley was for looking up another, Kitty, Bohm,
and Gazza had dissuaded him.
"Kitty," said Beverly, "told me she didn't care about the musty old forts
and things, anyhow."
I looked at Kitty, and heard her tongue ticking away, like the little
clock she was; she had her Bohm, she had her nautical costume and her
Remsen cooler. These, with the lunch that would come in time, were enough
"But it was such a good chance!" I exclaimed in disappointment
"Chance for what, old man?"
"To see everything--the forts, the islands--and it's beautiful, you know,
all the way to the navy yard."
Beverly followed my glance to where the gay company was sitting among the
cracked ice, and bottles, and cigar boxes, chattering volubly, with its
back to the scenery. He gave his laisser-faire chuckle, and laid a hand
on my shoulder. "Don't worry 'em with forts and islands, old boy! They
know what they want. No living breed on earth knows better what it
"Well, they don't get it."
"Ho, don't they?"
"The cold fear of ennui gnaws at their vitals this minute."
Shrill laughter from Kitty and Gazza served to refute my theory.
"Of course, very few know what's the matter with them," I added. "You
seldom spot an organic disease at the start."
"Hm," said Beverly, lengthily. "You put a pin through some of 'em.
Hortense hasn't got the disease, though."
"Ah, she spotted it! She's taking treatment. It's likely to help her--for
He looked at me. "You know something;"
I nodded. He looked at Hortense, who was now seated among the noisy group
with quiet John beside her. She was talking to Bohm, she had no air of
any special relation to John, but there was a lustre about her that spoke
well for the treatment.
"Then it's coming off?" said Beverly.
"She has been too much for him," I answered.
Beverly misunderstood. "He doesn't look it."
"That's what I mean."
"But the fool can cut loose!"
"Oh, you and I have gone over all that! I've even gone over it with him."
Beverly looked at Hortense again. "And her fire-eater's fortune is about
double what it would have been. I don't see how she's going to square
herself with Charley."
"She'll wait till that's necessary. It isn't necessary to-day."
We had to drop our subject here, for the owner of the Hermana approached
us with the amiable purpose, I found, of making himself civil for a while
"I think you would have been interested to see the navy yard," I said to
"I have seen it," Charley replied, in his slightly foreign, careful
voice. "It is not a navy yard. It is small politics and a big swamp. I
was not interested."
"Dear me!" I cried. "But surely it's going to be very fine!"
"Another gold brick sold to Uncle Sam." Charley's words seemed always to
drop out like little accurately measured coins from some minting machine.
"They should not have changed from the old place if they wanted a harbor
that could be used in war-time. Here they must always keep at least one
dredge going out at the jetties. So the enemy blows up your dredge and
you are bottled in, or bottled out. It is very simple for the enemy. And,
for Kings Port, navy yards do not galvanize dead trade. It was a gold
brick. You have not been on the Hermana before?"
He knew that I had not, but he wishes to show her to me; and I soon noted
a difference as radical as it was diverting between this banker-
yachtsman's speech when he talked of affairs on land and when he attempted
to deal with nautical matters. The clear, dispassionate finality of his
tone when phosphates, or railroads, or navy yards, or imperial loans were
concerned, left him, and changed to something very like a recitation of
trigonometry well memorized but not at all mastered; he could do that
particular sum, but you mustn't stop him; and I concluded that I would
rather have Charley for my captain during a panic in Wall Street than in
a hurricane at sea. He, too, wore highly pronounced sea clothes of the
ornamental kind; and though they fitted him physically, they hung baggily
upon his unmarine spirit; giving him the air, as it were, of a broiled
quail served on oyster shells. Beverly Rodgers, the consummate Beverly,
was the only man of us whose clothes seemed to belong to him; he looked
as if he could sail a boat.
While the cabin boy continued to rush among the guests with siphons, ice,
and fresh refreshments, Charley became the Hermana's guidebook for me;
and our interview gave me, I may say, entertainment unalloyed, although
there lay all the while, beneath the entertainment, my sadness and
concern about John. Charley was owner of the Hermana, there was no doubt
of that; she had cost him (it was not long before he told me) fifty
thousand dollars, and to run her it cost him a thousand a month. Yes, he
was her owner, but there it stopped, no matter with how solemn a face he
inspected each part of her, or spoke of her details; he was as much a
passenger on her as myself; and this was as plain on the equally solemn
faces of his crew, from the sailing-master down through the two
quartermasters to the five deck-hands, as was the color of the Hermana's
stack, which was, of course, yellow. She was a pole-mast, schooner-rigged
steam yacht, Charley accurately told me, with clipper bow and spiked
"About a hundred tons?" I inquired.
"Yes. A hundred feet long, beam twenty feet, and she draws twelve feet,"
said Charley; and I thought I detected the mate listening to him.
He now called my attention to the flags, and I am certain that I saw the
sailing-master hide his mouth with his hand. Some of the deck-hands
seemed to gather delicately nearer to us.
"Sunday, of course," I said; and I pointed to the Jack flying from a
staff at the bow.
But Charley did not wish me to tell him about the flags, he wished to
tell me about the flags. "I am very strict about all this," he said, his
gravity and nauticality increasing with every word. "At the fore truck
flies our club burgee."
I went through my part, giving a solemn, silent, intelligent assent.
"That is my private signal at the main truck. It was designed by Miss
As I again intelligently nodded, I saw the boatswain move an elbow into
the ribs of one of the quartermasters.
"On the staff at the taffrail I have the United States yacht ensign,"
Charley continued. "That's all," he said, looking about for more flags,
and (to his disappointment, I think) finding no more. For he added: "But
at twelve o'c--at eight bells, the crew's meal-flag will be in the port
fore rigging. While we are at lunch, my meal-flag will be in the
starboard main rigging."
"It should be there all day," I was tempted to remark to him, as my
wandering eye fell on the cabin boy carrying something more on a plate to
Kitty. But instead of this I said: "Well, she's a beautiful boat!"
Charley shook his head. "I'm going to get rid of her."
I was surprised. "Isn't she all right?" It seemed to me that the crew
behind us were very attentive now.
"There is not enough refrigerator space," said Charley. One of the
deck-hands whirled round instantly; but stolidity sat like adamant upon
the faces of the others as Charley turned in their direction, and we
continued our tour of the Hermana. Thus the little banker let me see his
little soul, deep down; and there I saw that to pass for a real
yachtsman--which he would never be able to do--was dearer to his pride
than to bring off successfully some huge and delicate matter in the
world's finance--which he could always do supremely well. "I'm just like
that, too," I thought to myself; and we returned to the gay Kitty.
But Kitty, despite her gayety, had serious thoughts upon her mind.
Charley's attentions to me had met all that politeness required, and as
we went aft again, his sister caused certain movements and rearrangements
to happen with chairs and people. I didn't know this at once, but I knew
it when I found myself somehow sitting with her and John, and saw
Hortense with Charley. Hortense looked over at Kitty with a something
that had in it both raised eyebrows and a shrug, though these visible
signs did not occur; and, indeed, so far as anything visible went (except
the look) you might have supposed that now Hortense had no thoughts for
any man in the world save Charley. And John was plainly more at ease with
Kitty! He began to make himself agreeable, so that once or twice she gave
him a glance of surprise. There was nothing to mark him out from the
others, except his paleness in the midst of their redness. Yachting
clothes bring out wonderfully how much you are in the habit of eating and
drinking; and an innocent stranger might have supposed that the Replacers
were richly sunburned from exposure to the blazing waters of Cuba and the
tropics. Kitty deemed it suitable to extol Kings Port to John. "Quaint"
was the word that did most of this work for her; she found everything
that, even the negroes; and when she had come to the end of it, she
supposed the inside must be just as "quaint" as the outside.
"It is," said John Mayrant. He was enjoying Kitty. Then he became
impertinent. "You ought to see it."
"Do you stay inside much?" said Kitty.
"We all do," said John. "Some of us never come out."
"But you came out?" Kitty suggested.
"Oh, I've been out," John returned. He was getting older. I doubt if the
past few years of his life had matured him as much as had the past few
days. Then he looked at Kitty in the eyes. "And I'd always come out--if
Romance rang the bell."
"Hm!" said Kitty. "Then you know that ring?"
"We begin to hear it early in Kings Port," remarked John. "About the age
Kitty looked at him with an interest that now plainly revealed curiosity
also. It occurred to me that he could not have found any great
embarrassment in getting on at Newport. "What if I rang the bell myself?"
"Come in the evening," returned John. "We won't go home till morning."
Kitty kissed her hand to him, and, during the pleased giggle that she
gave, I saw her first taking in John and then Hortense. Kitty was
thinking, thinking, of John's "crudity." And so I made a little
experiment for myself.
"I wonder if men seem as similar in making love as women do in receiving
"They aren't!" shouted both John and Kitty, in the same indignant breath.
Their noise brought Bohm to listen to us.
This experiment was so much a success that I promptly made another for
the special benefit of Bohm, Kitty's next husband. I find it often
delightful to make a little gratuitous mischief, just to watch the victims.
I addressed Kitty. "What would you do if a man said he could drown in
your hair as joyfully as the Duke of Clarence did in his butt of
"Why--why--" gasped Kitty, "why--why--"
I suppose it gave John time; but even so he was splendid.
"She has heard it said!" This was his triumphant shout. I should not have
supposed that Kitty could have turned any redder, but she did. John
buried his nose in his tall glass, and gulped a choking quantity of its
contents, and mopped his face profusely; but little good that effected.
There sat this altogether innocent pair, deeply suffused with the crimson
of apparent guilt, and there stood Kitty's next husband, eyeing them
suspiciously. My little gratuitous mischief was a perfect success, and
remains with me as one of the bright spots in this day of pleasure.
Vivacious measures from the piano brought Kitty to her feet.
"There's Gazza!" she cried. "We'll make him sing!" And on the instant she
was gone down the companionway. Bohm followed her with a less agitated
speed, and soon all were gone below, leaving John and me alone on the
deck, sitting together in silence.
John lolled back in his chair, slowly sipping at his tall glass, and
neither of us made any remark. I think he wanted to ask me how I came to
mention the Duke of Clarence; but I did not see how he very well could,
and he certainly made no attempt to do so. Thus did we sit for some time,
hearing the piano and the company grow livelier and louder with solos,
and choruses, and laughter. By and by the shadow of the awning shifted,
causing me to look up, when I saw the shores slowly changing; the tide
had turned, and was beginning to run out. Land and water lay in immense
peace; the long, white, silent picture of the town with its steeples on
the one hand, and on the other the long, low shore, and the trees behind.
Into this rose the high voice of Gazza, singing in broken English,
"Razzla-dazzla, razzla-dazzla," while his hearers beat upon glasses with
spoons--at least so I conjectured.
"Aren't you coming, John?" asked Hortense, appearing at the companionway.
She looked very bacchanalian. Her splendid amber hair was half riotous,
and I was reminded of the toboggan fire-escape.
He obeyed her; and now I had the deck entirely to myself, or, rather, but
one other and distant person shared it with me. The hour had come, the
bells had struck; Charley's crew was eating its dinner below forward;
Charley's guests were drinking their liquor below aft; Charley's correct
meal-flag was to be seen in the port fore rigging, as he had said, red
and triangular; and away off from me in the bow was the anchor watch,
whom I dreamily watched trying to light his pipe. His matches seemed to
be bad; and the brotherly thought of helping him drifted into my mind--
and comfortably out of it again, without disturbing my agreeable repose.
It had been really entertaining in John to tell Kitty that she ought to
see the inside of Kings Port; that was like his engaging impishness with
Juno. If by any possible contrivance (and none was possible) Kitty and
her Replacers could have met the inside of Kings Port, Kitty would have
added one more "quaint" impression to her stock, and gone away in total
ignorance of the quality of the impression she had made--and Bohm would
probably have again remarked, "Worse than Sunday." No; the St. Michaels
and the Replacers would never meet in this world, and I see no reason
that they should in the next. John's light and pleasing skirmish with
Kitty gave me the glimpse of his capacities which I had lacked hitherto.
John evidently "knew his way about," as they say; and I was diverted to
think how Miss Josephine St. Michael would have nodded over his adequacy
and shaken her head at his squandering it on such a companion. But it was
no squandering; the boy's heavy spirit was making a gallant "bluff" at
playing up with the lively party he had no choice but to join, and this
one saw the moment he was not called upon to play up.
The peaceful loveliness that floated from earth and water around me
triumphed over the jangling hilarity of the cabin, and I dozed away,
aware that they were now all thumping furiously in chorus, while Gazza
sang something that went, "Oh, she's my leetle preety poosee pet." When I
roused, it was Kitty's voice at the piano, but no change in the quality
of the song or the thumping; and Hortense was stepping on deck. She had a
cigarette, her beauty flashed with devilment, and John followed her.
"They are going to have an explanation," I thought, as I saw his face. If
that were so, then Kitty had blundered in her strategy and hurt Charley's
cause; for after the two came Gazza, as obviously "sent" as any emissary
ever looked: Kitty took care of the singing, while Gazza intercepted any
tete-a-tete. I rose and made a fourth with them, and even as I was
drawing near, the devilment in Hortense's face sank inward beneath cold
I had never been a welcome person to Hortense, and she made as little
effort to conceal this as usual. Her indifferent eyes glanced at me with
drowsy insolence, and she made her beautiful, low voice as remote and
inattentive as her skilful social equipment could render it.
"It is so hot in the cabin."
This was all she had for me. Then she looked at Gazza with returning
"Oh, la la!" said Gazza. "If it is hot in the cabin!" And he flirted his
handkerchief back and forth.
"I think I had the best of it," I remarked. "All the melody and none of
Hortense saw no need of noticing me further
"The singer has the worst of it," said Gazza.
"But since you all sang!" I laughed.
"Miss Rieppe, she is cool," continued Gazza. "And she danced. It is not
John contributed nothing. He was by no means playing up now. He was
looking away at the shore.
Gazza hummed a little fragment. "But after lunch I will sing you good
"So long as it keeps us cool," I suggested.
"Ah, no! It will not be cool music!" cried Gazza--"for those who
"Are those boys bathing?" Hortense now inquired.
We watched the distant figures, and presently they flashed into the
"Oh, me!" sighed Gazza. "If I were a boy!"
Hortense looked at him. "You would be afraid." The devilment had come out
again, suddenly and brilliantly:
"I never have been afraid!" declared Gazza.
"You would not jump in after me," said Hortense, taking his measure more
and more provokingly.
Gazza laid his hand on his heart. "Where you go, I will go!"
Hortense looked at him, and laughed very slightly and lightly.
"I swear it! I swear!" protested Gazza.
John's eyes were now fixed upon Hortense.
"Would you go?" she asked him
"Decidedly not!" he returned. I don't know whether he was angry or
"Oh, yes, you would!" said Hortense; and she jumped into the water,
cigarette and all.
"Get a boat, quick," said John to me; and with his coat flung off he was
in the river, whose current Hortense could scarce have reckoned with; for
they were both already astern as I ran out on the port boat boom.
Gazza was dancing and shrieking, "Man overboard!" which, indeed, was the
correct expression, only it did not apply to himself. Gazza was a very
sensible person. I had, as I dropped into the nearest boat, a brisk sight
of the sailing-master, springing like a jack-in-the-box on the deserted
deck, with a roar of "Where's that haymaker?" His reference was to the
anchor watch. The temptation to procure good matches to light his pipe
had ended (I learned later) by proving too much for this responsible
sailor-man, and he had unfortunately chosen for going below just the
unexpected moment when it had entered the daring head of Hortense to
perform this extravagance. Of course, before I had pulled many strokes,
the deck of the Hermana was alive with many manifestations of life-saving
and they had most likely been in time. But I am not perfectly sure of
this; the current was strong, and a surprising distance seemed to
broaden between me and the Hermana before another boat came into sight
around her stern. By then, or just after that (for I cannot clearly
remember the details of these few anxious minutes), I had caught up with
John, whose face, and total silence, as he gripped the stern of the boat
with one hand and held Hortense with the other, plainly betrayed it was
high time somebody came. A man can swim (especially in salt water) with
his shoes on, and his clothes add nothing of embarrassment, if his arms
are free; but a woman's clothes do not help either his buoyancy or the
freedom of his movement. John now lifted Hortense's two hands, which took
a good hold of the boat. From between her lips the dishevelled cigarette,
bitten through and limp, fell into the water. The boat felt the weight of
the two hands to it.
"Take care," I warned John.
Hortense opened her eyes and looked at me; she knew that I meant her.
"I'll not swamp you." This was her first remark. Her next was when, after
no incautious haste, I had hauled her in over the stern, John working
round to the bow for the sake of balance: "I was not dressed for
swimming." Very quietly did Hortense speak; very coolly, very evenly; no
fainting--and no flippancy; she was too game for either.
After this, whatever emotions she had felt, or was feeling, she showed
none of them, unless it was by her complete silence. John's coming into
the boat we managed with sufficient dexterity; aided by the horrified
Charley, who now arrived personally in the other boat, and was for taking
all three of us into that. But this was altogether unnecessary; he was
made to understand that such transferences as it would occasion were
superfluous, and so one of his men stepped into our boat to help me to
row back against the current; and for this I was not unthankful.
Our return took, it appeared to me, a much longer time than everything
else which had happened. When I looked over my shoulder at the Hermana,
she seemed an incredible distance off, and when I looked again, she had
grown so very little nearer that I abandoned this fruitless proceeding.
Charley's boat had gone ahead to announce the good news to General Rieppe
as soon as possible. But if our return was long to me, to Hortense it was
not so. She sat beside her lover in the stern, and I knew that he was
more to her than ever: it was her spirit also that wanted him now. Poor
Kitty's words of prophecy had come perversely true: "Something will
happen, and that boy'll be conspicuous." Well, it had happened with a
vengeance, and all wrong for Kitty, and all wrong for me! Then I
remembered Charley, last of all. My doubt as to what he would have done,
had he been on deck, was settled later by learning from his own lips that
he did not know how to swim.
Yes, the sentimental world (and by that I mean the immense and mournful
preponderance of fools, and not the few of true sentiment) would soon be
exclaiming: "How romantic! She found her heart! She had a glimpse of
Death's angel, and in that light saw her life's true happiness!" But I
should say nothing like that, nor would Miss Josephine St. Michael, if I
read that lady at all right. She didn't know what I did about Hortense.
She hadn't overheard Sophistication confessing amorous curiosity about
Innocence; but the old Kings Port lady's sound instinct would tell her
that a souse in the water wasn't likely to be enough to wash away the
seasoning of a lifetime; and she would wait, as I should, for the day
when Hortense, having had her taste of John's innocence, and having grown
used to the souse in the water, would wax restless for the Replacers, for
excitement, for complexity, for the prismatic life. Then it might
interest her to corrupt John; but if she couldn't, where would her
occupation be, and how were they going to pull through?
But now, there sat Hortense in the stern, melted into whatever best she
was capable of; it had come into her face, her face was to be read--for
the first time since I had known it--and, strangely enough, I couldn't
read John's at all. It seemed happy, which was impossible.
"Way enough!" he cried suddenly, and, at his command, the sailor and I
took in our oars. Here was Hermana's gangway, and crowding faces above,
and ejaculations and tears from Kitty. Yes, Hortense would have liked
that return voyage to last longer. I was first on the gangway, and stood
to wait and give them a hand out; but she lingered, and; rising slowly,
spoke her first word to him, softly:--
"And so I owe you my life."
"And so I restore it to you complete," said John, instantly.
None could have heard it but myself--unless the sailor, beyond whose
comprehension it was--and I doubted for a moment if I could have heard
right; but it was for a moment only. Hortense stood stiff, and then,
turning, came in front of him, and I read her face for an instant longer
before the furious hate in it was mastered to meet her father's embrace,
as I helped her up the gang.
"Daughter mine!" said the General, with a magnificent break in his voice.
But Hortense was game to the end. She took Kitty's-hysterics and the
men's various grades of congratulation; her word to Gazza would have been
supreme, but for his imperishable rejoinder.
"I told you you wouldn't jump," was what she said.
Gazza stretched both arms, pointing to John. "But a native! He was surer
to find you!"
At this they all remembered John, whom they thus far hadn't thought of.
"Where is that lion-hearted boy?" the General called out.
John hadn't got out of the boat; he thought he ought to change his
clothes, he said; and when Charley, truly astonished, proffered his
entire wardrobe and reminded him of lunch, it was thank you very much,
but if he could be put ashore--I looked for Hortense, to see what she
would do, but Hortense, had gone below with Kitty to change her clothes,
and the genuinely hearty protestations from all the rest brought merely
pleasantly firm politeness from John, as he put on again the coat he had
flung off on jumping. At least he would take a drink, urged Charley. Yes,
thank you, he would; and he chose brandy-and-soda, of which he poured
himself a remarkably stiff one. Charley and I poured ourselves milder
ones, for the sake of company.
"Here's how," said Charley to John.
"Yes, here's how," I added more emphatically.
John looked at Charley with a somewhat extraordinary smile. "Here's
unquestionably how!" he exclaimed.
We had a gay lunch; I should have supposed there was plenty of room in
the Hermana's refrigerator; nor did the absence of Hortense and John, the
cause of our jubilation, at all interfere with the jubilation itself; by
the time the launch was ready to put me ashore, Gazza had sung several
miles of "good music" and double that quantity of "razzla-dazzla," and
General Rieppe was crying copiously, and assuring everybody that God was
very good to him. But Kitty had told us all that she intended Hortense to
remain quiet in her cabin; and she kept her word.
Quite suddenly, as the launch was speeding me toward Kings Port, I
exclaimed aloud: "The cake!"
And, I thought, the cake was now settled forever.
XXII: Behind the Times
It was my lot to attend but one of the weddings which Hortense
precipitated (or at least determined) by her plunge into the water; and,
truth to say, the honor of my presence at the other was not requested;
therefore I am unable to describe the nuptials of Hortense and Charley.
But the papers were full of them; what the female guests wore, what the
male guests were worth, and what both ate and drank, were set forth in
many columns of printed matter; and if you did not happen to see this,
just read the account of the next wedding that occurs among the New York
yellow rich, and you will know how Charley and Hortense were married; for
it's always the same thing. The point of mark in this particular ceremony
of union lay in Charley's speech; Charley found a happy thought at the
breakfast. The bridal party (so the papers had it) sat on a dais, and was
composed exclusively of Oil, Sugar, Beef, Steel, and Union Pacific;
merely at this one table five hundred million dollars were sitting (so
the papers computed), and it helped the bridegroom to his idea, when, by
the importunate vociferations of the company, he was forced to get on his
"Poets and people of that sort say" (Charley concluded, after thanking
them) "that happiness cannot be bought with money. Well, I guess a poet
never does learn how to make a dollar do a dollar's work. But I am no
poet; and I have learned it is as well to have a few dollars around. And
I guess that my friends and I, right here at this table, could organize a
corner in happiness any day we chose. And if we do, we will let you all
in on it."
I am told that the bride looked superb, both in church and at the
reception which took place in the house of Kitty; and that General
Rieppe, in spite of his shattered health, maintained a noble appearance
through the whole ordeal of parting with his daughter. I noticed that
Beverly Rodgers and Gazza figured prominently among the invited guests:
Bohm did not have to be invited, for some time before the wedding he had
become the husband of the successfully divorced Kitty. So much for the
nuptials of Hortense and Charley; they were, as one paper pronounced
them, "up to date and distingue." The paper omitted the accent in the
French word, which makes it, I think, fit this wedding even more happily.
"So Hortense," I said to myself as I read the paper, "has squared herself
with Charley after all." And I sat wondering if she would be happy. But
she was not constructed for happiness. You cannot be constructed for all
the different sorts of experiences which this world offers: each of our
natures has its specialty. Hortense was constructed for pleasure; and I
have no doubt she got it, if not through Charley, then by other means.
The marriage of Eliza La Heu and John Mayrant was of a different quality;
no paper pronounced it "up to date," or bestowed any other adjectival
comments upon it; for, being solemnized in Kings Port, where such purely
personal happenings are still held (by the St. Michael family, at any
rate) to be no business of any one's save those immediately concerned,
the event escaped the famishment of publicity. Yes, this marriage was
solemnized, a word that I used above without forethought, and now repeat
with intention; for certainly no respecter of language would write it of
the yellow rich and their blatant unions. If you're a Bohm or a Charley,
you may trivialize or vulgarize or bestialize your wedding, but solemnize
it you don't, for that is not "up to date."
And to the marriage of Eliza and John I went; for not only was the honor
of my presence requested, but John wrote me, in both their names, a
personal note, which came to me far away in the mountains, whither I had
gone from Kings Port. This was the body of the note:--
"To the formal invitation which you will receive, Miss La Heu joins her
wish with mine that you will not be absent on that day. We should both
really miss you. Miss La Heu begs me to add that if this is not
sufficient inducement, you shall have a slice of Lady Baltimore."
Not a long note! But you will imagine how genuinely I was touched by
their joint message. I was not an old acquaintance, and I had done little
to help them in their troubles, but I came into the troubles; with their
memory of those days I formed a part, and it was a part which it warmed
me to know they did not dislike to recall. I had actually been present at
their first meeting, that day when John visited the Exchange to order his
wedding-cake, and Eliza had rushed after him, because in his embarrassment
he had forgotten to tell her the date for which he wanted it.
The cake had begun it, the cake had continued it, the cake had brought
them together; and in Eliza's retrospect now I doubted If she could find
the moment when her love for John had awakened; but if with women there
ever is such a moment, then, as I have before said, it was when the girl
behind the counter looked across at the handsome, blushing boy, and felt
stirred to help him in his stumbling attempts to be businesslike about
that cake. If his youth unwittingly kindled hers, how could he or she
help that? But, had he ever once known it and shown it to her during his
period of bondage to Hortense, then, indeed, the flame would have turned
to ice in Eliza's breast. What saved him for her was his blind
steadfastness against her. That was the very thing she prized most, once
it became hers; whereas, any secret swerving toward her from Hortense
during his heavy hours of probation would have degraded John to nothing
in Eliza's eyes. And so, making all this out by myself in the mountains
after reading John's note, I ordered from the North the handsomest old
china cake-dish that Aunt Carola could find to be sent to Miss Eliza La
Heu with my card. I wanted to write on the card, "Rira bien qui viva le
dernier"; but alas! so many pleasant thoughts may never be said aloud in
this world of ours. That I ordered china, instead of silver, was due to
my surmise that in Kings Port--or at any rate by Mrs. Weguelin and Miss
Josephine St. Michael--silver from any one not of the family would be
considered vulgar; it was only a surmise, and, of course, it was
precisely the sort of thing that I could not verify by asking any of
But (you may be asking) how on earth did all this come about? What
happened in Kings Port on the day following that important swim which
Hortense and John took together in the waters of the harbor?
I wish that I could tell you all that happened, but I can only tell you
of the outside of things; the inside was wholly invisible and inaudible
to me, although we may be sure, I think, that when the circles that
widened from Hortense's plunge reached the shores of the town, there must
have been in certain quarters a considerable splashing. I presume that
John communicated to somebody the news of his broken engagement; for if
he omitted to do so, with the wedding invitations to be out the next day,
he was remiss beyond excuse, and I think this very unlikely; and I also
presume (with some evidence to go on) that Hortense did not, in the
somewhat critical juncture of her fortunes, allow the grass to grow under
her feet--if such an expression may be used of a person who is shut up in
the stateroom of a steam yacht. To me John Mayrant made no sign of any
sort by word or in writing, and this is the highest proof he ever gave me
of his own delicacy, and also of his reliance upon mine; for he must have
been pretty sure that I had overheard those last destiny-deciding words
spoken between himself and Hortense in the boat, as we reached the Hermana's
gangway. In John's place almost any man, even Beverly Rodgers, would have
either dropped a hint at the moment, or later sent me some line to the
effect that the incident was, of course, "between ourselves." That would
have been both permissible and practical; but there it was, the
difference between John of Kings Port and us others; he was not practical
when it came to something "between gentlemen," as he would have said. The
finest flower of breeding blossoms above the level of the practical, and
that is why you do not find it growing in the huge truck-garden of our
age, save in corners where it has not yet been uprooted. John's silence
to me was something that I liked very much, and he must have found that
it was not misplaced.
The first external splash of the few that I have to narrate was a
negative manifestation, and occurred at breakfast: Juno supposed if the
wedding invitations would be out later in the day. The next splash was
somewhat louder on, was at dinner, when Juno inquired of Mrs. Trevise if
she had received any wedding invitation. At tea time was very decided
splashing. No invitation had come to anybody. Juno had called at five of
the St. Michael houses and got in at none of them, and there was a rumor
that the Hermana had disappeared from the harbor. So far, none of the
splashing had wet me but I now came in for a light sprinkle.
"Were you not on board that boat yesterday?" Juno inquired; and to see
her look at me you might have gathered that I was suspected of sinking
"A most delightful occasion!" I exclaimed, filling my face with a bright
"Isn't he awful to speak that way about Sunday!" said the up-country
This was a chance for the poetess, and she took it. "To me," she mused,
"every day seems fraught with an equal holiness."
"But I should think," observed the Briton, "that you could knock off a
hymn better on Sundays."
All this while Juno was looking at me, and I knew it, and therefore I ate
my food in a kindly sort of unconscious way, until she fired another shot
at me. "There is an absurd report that somebody fell overboard."