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Murder in Any Degree by Owen Johnson

Part 2 out of 5

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mere triviality, Peters has constructed it in a masterly way, the proof
of which is that he has made me listen. Observe, each person present
might have taken the ring--Flanders, a broker, just come a cropper;
Maude Lille, a woman on the ragged side of life in desperate means;
either Mr. and Mrs. Cheever, suspected of being card sharps--very good
touch that, Peters, when the husband and wife glanced involuntarily at
each other at the end--Mr. Enos Jackson, a sharp lawyer, or his wife
about to be divorced; even Harris, concerning whom, very cleverly,
Peters has said nothing at all to make him quite the most suspicious of
all. There are, therefore, seven solutions, all possible and all
logical. But beyond this is left a great intellectual problem."

"How so?"

"Was it a feminine or a masculine action to restore the ring when
threatened with a search, knowing that Mrs. Kildair's clever expedient
of throwing the room in the dark made detection impossible? Was it a
woman who lacked the necessary courage to continue, or was it a man who
repented his first impulse? Is a man or is a woman the greater natural
criminal?"

"A woman took it, of course," said Rankin.

"On the contrary, it was a man," said Steingall, "for the second action
was more difficult than the first."

"A man, certainly," said De Gollyer. "The restoration of the ring was a
logical decision."

"You see," said Quinny triumphantly, "personally I incline to a woman
for the reason that a weaker feminine nature is peculiarly susceptible
to the domination of her own sex. There you are. We could meet and
debate the subject year in and year out and never agree."

"I recognize most of the characters," said De Gollyer with a little
confidential smile toward Peters. "Mrs. Kildair, of course, is all you
say of her--an extraordinary woman. The story is quite characteristic of
her. Flanders, I am not sure of, but I think I know him."

"Did it really happen?" asked Rankin, who always took the commonplace
point of view.

"Exactly as I have told it," said Peters.

"The only one I don't recognize is Harris," said De Gollyer pensively.

"Your humble servant," said Peters, smiling.

The four looked up suddenly with a little start.

"What!" said Quinny, abruptly confused. "You--you were there?"

"I was there."

The four continued to look at him without speaking, each absorbed in his
own thoughts, with a sudden ill ease.

A club attendant with a telephone slip on a tray stopped by Peters'
side. He excused himself and went along the porch, nodding from table to
table.

"Curious chap," said De Gollyer musingly.

"Extraordinary."

The word was like a murmur in the group of four, who continued watching
Peters' trim disappearing figure in silence, without looking at one
another--with a certain ill ease.

A COMEDY FOR WIVES

At half-past six o'clock from Wall Street, Jack Lightbody let himself
into his apartment, called his wife by name, and received no answer.

"Hello, that's funny," he thought, and, ringing, asked of the maid, "Did
Mrs. Lightbody go out?"

"About an hour ago, sir."

"That's odd. Did she leave any message?"

"No, sir."

"That's not like her. I wonder what's happened."

At this moment his eye fell on an open hat-box of mammoth proportions,
overshadowing a thin table in the living-room.

"When did that come?"

"About four o'clock, sir."

He went in, peeping into the empty box with a smile of satisfaction and
understanding.

"That's it, she's rushed off to show it to some one," he said, with a
half vindictive look toward the box. "Well, it cost $175, and I don't
get my winter suit; but I get a little peace."

He went to his room, rebelliously preparing to dress for the dinner and
theater to which he had been commanded.

"By George, if I came back late, wouldn't I catch it?" he said with some
irritation, slipping into his evening clothes and looking critically at
his rather subdued reflection in the glass. "Jim tells me I'm getting in
a rut, middle-aged, showing the wear. Perhaps." He rubbed his hand over
the wrinkled cheek and frowned. "I have gone off a bit--sedentary
life--six years. It does settle you. Hello! quarter of seven. Very
strange!"

He slipped into a lilac dressing-gown which had been thrust upon him on
his last birthday and wandered uneasily back into the dining-room.

"Why doesn't she telephone?" he thought; "it's her own party, one of
those infernal problem plays I abhor. I didn't want to go."

The door opened and the maid entered. On the tray was a letter.

"For me?" he said, surprised. "By messenger?"

"Yes, sir."

He signed the slip, glancing at the envelope. It was in his wife's
handwriting.

"Margaret!" he said suddenly.

"Yes, sir."

"The boy's waiting for an answer, isn't he?"

"No, sir."

He stood a moment in blank uneasiness, until, suddenly aware that she
was waiting, he dismissed her with a curt:

"Oh, very well."

Then he remained by the table, looking at the envelope which he did not
open, hearing the sound of the closing outer door and the passing of the
maid down the hall.

"Why didn't she telephone?" he said aloud slowly.

He looked at the letter again. He had made no mistake. It was from his
wife.

"If she's gone off again on some whim," he said angrily, "by George, I
won't stand for it."

Then carelessly inserting a finger, he broke the cover and glanced
hastily down the letter:

My dear Jackie:

When you have read this I shall have left you forever. Forget me and
try to forgive. In the six years we have lived together, you have
always been kind to me. But, Jack, there is something we cannot give
or take away, and because some one has come who has won that, I am
leaving you. I'm sorry, Jackie, I'm sorry.

Irene.

When he had read this once in unbelief, he read it immediately again,
approaching the lamp, laying it on the table and pressing his fists
against his temple, to concentrate all his mind.

"It's a joke," he said, speaking aloud.

He rose, stumbling a little and aiding himself with his arm, leaning
against the wall, went into her room, and opened the drawer where her
jewel case should be. It was gone.

"Then it's true," he said solemnly. "It's ended. What am I to do?"

He went to her wardrobe, looking at the vacant hooks, repeating:

"What am I to do?"

He went slowly back to the living-room to the desk by the lamp, where
the hateful thing stared up at him.

"What am I to do?"

All at once he struck the desk with his fist and a cry burst from him:

"Dishonored--I'm dishonored!"

His head flushed hot, his breath came in short, panting rage. He struck
the letter again and again, and then suddenly, frantically, began to
rush back and forth, repeating:

"Dishonored--dishonored!"

All at once a moment of clarity came to him with a chill of ice. He
stopped, went to the telephone and called up the Racquet Club, saying:

"Mr. De Gollyer to the 'phone."

Then he looked at his hand and found he was still clutching a forgotten
hair brush. With a cry at the grotesqueness of the thing, he flung it
from him, watching it go skipping over the polished floor. The voice of
De Gollyer called him.

"Is that you, Jim?" he said, steadying himself. "Come--come to me at
once--quick!"

He could have said no more. He dropped the receiver, overturning the
stand, and began again his caged pacing of the floor.

Ten minutes later De Gollyer nervously slipped into the room. He was a
quick, instinctive ferret of a man, one to whose eyes the hidden life of
the city held no mysteries; who understood equally the shadows that
glide on the street and the masks that pass in luxurious carriages. In
one glance he had caught the disorder in the room and the agitation in
his friend. He advanced a step, balanced his hat on the desk, perceived
the crumpled letter, and, clearing his throat, drew back, frowning and
alert, correctly prepared for any situation.

Lightbody, without seeming to perceive his arrival, continued his blind
traveling, pressing his fists from time to time against his throat to
choke back the excess of emotions which, in the last minutes, had dazed
his perceptions and left him inertly struggling against a shapeless
pain. All at once he stopped, flung out his arms and cried:

"She's gone!"

De Gollyer did not on the word seize the situation.

"Gone! Who's gone?" he said with a nervous, jerky fixing of his head,
while his glance immediately sought the vista through the door to assure
himself that no third person was present.

But Lightbody, unconscious of everything but his own utter grief, was
threshing back and forth, repeating mechanically, with increasing
_staccato_:

"Gone, gone!"

"Who? Where?"

With a sudden movement, De Gollyer caught his friend by the shoulder and
faced him about as a naughty child, exclaiming: "Here, I say, old chap,
brace up! Throw back your shoulders--take a long breath!"

With a violent wrench, Lightbody twisted himself free, while one hand
flung appealingly back, begged for time to master the emotion which
burst forth in the cry:

"Gone--forever!"

"By Jove!" said De Gollyer, suddenly enlightened, and through his mind
flashed the thought--"There's been an accident--something fatal.
Tough--devilish tough."

He cast a furtive glance toward the bedrooms and then an alarmed one
toward his friend, standing in the embrasure of the windows, pressing
his forehead against the panes.

Suddenly Lightbody turned and, going abruptly to the desk, leaned
heavily on one arm, raising the letter in two vain efforts. A spasm of
pain crossed his lips, which alone could not be controlled. He turned
his head hastily, half offering, half dropping the letter, and
wheeling, went to an armchair, where he collapsed, repeating
inarticulately:

"Forever!"

"Who? What? Who's gone?" exclaimed De Gollyer, bewildered by the
appearance of a letter. "Good heavens, dear boy, what has happened?
Who's gone?"

Then Lightbody, by an immense effort, answered:

"Irene--my wife!"

And with a rapid motion he covered his eyes, digging his fingers into
his flesh.

De Gollyer, pouncing upon the letter, read:

My dear Jackie: When you read this, I shall have left you forever--

Then he halted with an exclamation, and hastily turned the page for the
signature.

"Read!" said Lightbody in a stifled voice.

"I say, this is serious, devilishly serious," said De Gollyer, now
thoroughly amazed. Immediately he began to read, unconsciously
emphasizing the emphatic words--a little trick of his enunciation.

When Lightbody had heard from the voice of another the message that
stood written before his eyes, all at once all impulses in his brain
converged into one. He sprang up, speaking now in quick, distinct
syllables, sweeping the room with the fury of his arms.

"I'll find them; by God, I'll find them. I'll hunt them down. I'll
follow them. I'll track them--anywhere--to the ends of the earth--and
when I find them--"

De Gollyer, sensitively distressed at such a scene, vainly tried to stop
him.

"I'll find them, if I die for it! I'll shoot them down. I'll shoot them
down like dogs! I will, by all that's holy, I will! I'll butcher them!
I'll shoot them down, there at my feet, rolling at my feet!"

All at once he felt a weight on his arm, and heard De Gollyer saying,
vainly:

"Dear boy, be calm, be calm."

"Calm!" he cried, with a scream, his anger suddenly focusing on his
friend, "Calm! I won't be calm! What! I come back--slaving all day,
slaving for her--come back to take her out to dinner where she wants to
go--to the play she wants to see, and I find--nothing--this letter--this
bomb--this thunderbolt! Everything gone--my home broken up--my name
dishonored--my whole life ruined! And you say be calm--be calm--be
calm!"

Then, fearing the hysteria gaining possession of him, he dropped back
violently into an armchair and covered his face.

During this outburst, De Gollyer had deliberately removed his gloves,
folded them and placed them in his breast pocket. His reputation for
social omniscience had been attained by the simple expedient of never
being convinced. As soon as the true situation had been unfolded, a
slight, skeptical smile hovered about his thin, flouting lips, and,
looking at his old friend, he was not unpleasantly aware of something
comic in the attitudes of grief. He made one or two false starts,
buttoning his trim cutaway, and then said in a purposely higher key:

"My dear old chap, we must consider--we really must consider what is to
be done."

"There is only one thing to be done," cried Lightbody in a voice of
thunder.

"Permit me!"

"Kill them!"

"One moment!"

De Gollyer, master of himself, never abandoning his critical enjoyment,
softened his voice to that controlled note that is the more effective
for being opposed to frenzy.

"Sit down--come now, sit down!"

Lightbody resisted.

"Sit down, there--come--you have called me in. Do you want my advice? Do
you? Well, just quiet down. Will you listen?"

"I am quiet," said Lightbody, suddenly submissive. The frenzy of his
rage passed, but to make his resolution doubly impressive, he extended
his arm and said slowly:

"But remember, my mind is made up. I shall not budge. I shall shoot
them down like dogs! You see I say quietly--like dogs!"

"My dear old pal," said De Gollyer with a well-bred shrug of his
shoulders, "you'll do nothing of the sort. We are men of the world, my
boy, men of the world. Shooting is archaic--for the rural districts.
We've progressed way beyond that--men of the world don't shoot any
more."

"I said it quietly," said Lightbody, who perceived, not without
surprise, that he was no longer at the same temperature. However, he
concluded with normal conviction: "I shall kill them both, that's all. I
say it quietly."

This gave De Gollyer a certain hortatory moment of which he availed
himself, seeking to reduce further the dramatic tension.

"My dear old pal, as a matter of fact, all I say is, consider first and
shoot after. In the first place, suppose you kill one or both and you
are not yourself killed--for you know, dear boy, the deuce is that
sometimes does happen. What then? Justice is so languid nowadays.
Certainly you would have to inhabit for six, eight--perhaps ten
months--a drafty, moist jail, without exercise, most indigestible food
abominably cooked, limited society. You are brought to trial. A jury--an
emotional jury--may give you a couple of years. That's another risk. You
see you drink cocktails, you smoke cigarettes. You will be made to
appear a person totally unfit to live with."

Lightbody with a movement of irritation, shifted the clutch of his
fingers.

"As a matter of fact, suppose you are acquitted, what then? You emerge,
middle-aged, dyspeptic, possibly rheumatic--no nerves left. Your
photograph figures in every paper along with inventors of shoes and
corsets. You can't be asked to dinner or to house parties, can you? As a
matter of fact, you'll disappear somewhere or linger and get shot by the
brother, who in turn, as soon as he is acquitted, must be shot by your
brother, et cetera, et cetera! _Voila!_ What will you have gained?"

He ceased, well pleased--he had convinced himself.

Lightbody, who had had time to be ashamed of the emotion that he, as a
man, had shown to another of his sex, rose and said with dignity:

"I shall have avenged my honor."

De Gollyer, understanding at once that the battle had been won, took up
in an easy running attack his battery of words.

"By publishing your dishonor to Europe, Africa, Asia? That's logic,
isn't it? No, no, my dear old Jack--you won't do it. You won't be an
ass. Steady head, old boy! Let's look at it in a reasonable way--as men
of the world. You can't bring her back, can you? She's gone."

At this reminder, overcome by the vibrating sense of loss, Lightbody
turned abruptly, no longer master of himself, and going hastily toward
the windows, cried violently:

"Gone!"

Over the satisfied lips of De Gollyer the same ironical smile returned.

"I say, as a matter of fact I didn't suspect, you--you cared so much."

"I adored her!"

With a quick movement, Lightbody turned. His eyes flashed. He no longer
cared what he revealed. He began to speak incoherently, stifling a sob
at every moment.

"I adored her. It was wonderful. Nothing like it. I adored her from the
moment I met her. It was that--adoration--one woman in the world--one
woman--I adored her!"

The imp of irony continued to play about De Gollyer's eyes and slightly
twitching lips.

"Quite so--quite so," he said. "Of course you know, dear boy, you
weren't always so--so lonely--the old days--you surprise me."

The memory of his romance all at once washed away the bitterness in
Lightbody. He returned, sat down, oppressed, crushed.

"You know, Jim," he said solemnly, "she never did this, never in the
world, not of her own free will, never in her right mind. She's been
hypnotized, some one has gotten her under his power--some scoundrel.
No--I'll not harm her, I'll not hurt a hair of her head--but when I meet
_him_--"

"By the way, whom do you suspect?" said De Gollyer, who had long
withheld the question.

"Whom? Whom do I suspect?" exclaimed Lightbody, astounded. "I don't
know."

"Impossible!"

"How do I know? I never doubted her a minute."

"Yes, yes--still?"

"Whom do I suspect? I don't know." He stopped and considered. "It might
be--three men."

"Three men!" exclaimed De Gollyer, who smiled as only a bachelor could
smile at such a moment.

"I don't know which--how should I know? But when I do know--when I meet
him! I'll spare her--but--but when we meet--we two--when my hands are on
his throat--"

He was on his feet again, the rage of dishonor ready to flame forth. De
Gollyer, putting his arm about him, recalled him with abrupt, military
sternness.

"Steady, steady again, dear old boy. Buck up now--get hold of yourself."

"Jim, it's awful!"

"It's tough--very tough!"

"Out of a clear sky--everything gone!"

"Come, now, walk up and down a bit--do you good."

Lightbody obeyed, locking his arms behind his back, his eyes on the
floor.

"Everything smashed to bits!"

"You adored her?" questioned De Gollyer in an indefinable tone.

"I adored her!" replied Lightbody explosively.

"Really now?"

"I adored her. There's nothing left now--nothing--nothing."

"Steady."

Lightbody, at the window, made another effort, controlled himself and
said, as a man might renounce an inheritance:

"You're right, Jim--but it's hard."

"Good spirit--fine, fine, very fine!" commented De Gollyer in critical
enthusiasm, "nothing public, eh? No scandal--not our class. Men of the
world. No shooting! People don't shoot any more. It's reform, you know,
for the preservation of bachelors."

The effort, the renunciation of his just vengeance, had exhausted
Lightbody, who turned and came back, putting out his hands to steady
himself.

"It isn't that, it's, it's--" Suddenly his fingers encountered on the
table a pair of gloves--his wife's gloves, forgotten there. He raised
them, holding them in his open palm, glanced at De Gollyer and, letting
them fall, suddenly unable to continue, turned aside his head.

"Take time--a good breath," said De Gollyer, in military fashion, "fill
your lungs. Splendid! That's it."

Lightbody, sitting down at the desk, wearily drew the gloves to him,
gazing fixedly at the crushed perfumed fingers.

"Why, Jim," he said finally, "I adore her so--if she can be
happier--happier with another--if that will make her happier than I can
make her--well, I'll step aside, I'll make no trouble--just for her,
just for what she's done for me."

The last words were hardly heard. This time, despite himself, De Gollyer
was tremendously affected.

"Superb! By George, that's grit!"

Lightbody raised his head with the fatigue of the struggle and the pride
of the victory written on it.

"Her happiness first," he said simply.

The accent with which it was spoken almost convinced De Gollyer.

"By Jove, you adore her!"

"I adore her," said Lightbody, lifting himself to his feet. This time it
came not as an explosion, but as a breath, some deep echo from the soul.
He stood steadily gazing at his friend. "You're right, Jim. You're
right. It's not our class. I'll face it down. There'll be no scandal.
No one shall know."

Their hands met with an instinctive motion. Then, touched by the fervor
of his friend's admiration, Lightbody moved wearily away, saying dully,
all in a breath:

"Like a thunderclap, Jim."

"I know, dear old boy," said De Gollyer, feeling sharply vulnerable in
the eyes and throat.

"It's terrible--it's awful. All in a second! Everything turned upside
down, everything smashed!"

"You must go away," said De Gollyer anxiously.

"My whole life wrecked," continued Lightbody, without hearing him,
"nothing left--not the slightest, meanest thing left!"

"Dear boy, you must go away."

"Only last night she was sitting here, and I there, reading a book." He
stopped and put forth his hand. "This book!"

"Jack, you must go away for a while."

"What?"

"Go away!"

"Oh, yes, yes. I suppose so. I don't care."

Leaning against the desk, he gazed down at the rug, mentally and
physically inert.

De Gollyer, returning to his nature, said presently: "I say, dear old
fellow, it's awfully delicate, but I should like to be frank, from the
shoulder--out and out, do you mind?"

"What? No."

Seeing that Lightbody had only half listened, De Gollyer spoke with some
hesitation:

"Of course it's devilish impudent. I'll offend you dreadfully. But, I
say, now as a matter of fact, were you really so--so seraphically
happy?"

"What's that?"

"As a matter of fact," said De Gollyer changing his note instantly, "you
were happy, _terrifically_ happy, _always_ happy, weren't you?"

Lightbody was indignant.

"Oh, how can you, at such a moment?"

The new emotion gave him back his physical elasticity. He began to pace
up and down, declaiming at his friend, "I was happy, _ideally_ happy. I
never had a thought, not one, for anything else. I gave her everything.
I did everything she wanted. There never was a word between us. It was
_ideal_"

De Gollyer, somewhat shamefaced, avoiding his angry glance, said
hastily:

"So, so, I was quite wrong. I beg your pardon."

"_Ideally_ happy," continued Lightbody, more insistently. "We had the
same thoughts, the same tastes, we read the same books. She had a mind,
a wonderful mind. It was an _ideal_ union."

"The devil, I may be all wrong," thought De Gollyer to himself. He
crossed his arms, nodded his head, and this time it was with the
profoundest conviction that he repeated:

"You adored her."

"I _adored_ her," said Lightbody, with a ring to his voice. "Not a word
against her, not a word. It was not her fault. I know it's not her
fault."

"You must go away," said De Gollyer, touching him on the shoulder.

"Oh, I must! I couldn't stand it here in this room," said Lightbody
bitterly. His fingers wandered lightly over the familiar objects on the
desk, shrinking from each fiery contact. He sat down. "You're right, I
must get away."

"You're dreadfully hard hit, aren't you?"

"Oh, Jim!"

Lightbody's hand closed over the book and he opened it mechanically in
the effort to master the memory. "This book--we were reading it last
night together."

"Jack, look here," said De Gollyer, suddenly unselfish before such a
great grief, "you've got to be bucked up, boy, pulled together. I'll
tell you what I'll do. You're going to get right off. You're going to be
looked after. I'll knock off myself. I'll take you."

Lightbody gave him his hand with a dumb, grateful look that brought a
quick lump to the throat of De Gollyer, who, in terror, purposely
increasing the lightness of his manner, sprang up with exaggerated
gaiety.

"By Jove, fact is, I'm a bit dusty myself. Do me good. We'll run off
just as we did in the old days--good days, those. We knocked about a
bit, didn't we? Good days, eh, Jack?"

Lightbody, continuing to gaze at the book, said:

"Last night--only last night! Is it possible?"

"Come, now, let's polish off Paris, or Vienna?"

"No, no." Lightbody seemed to shrink at the thought. "Not that, nothing
gay. I couldn't bear to see others gay--happy."

"Quite right. California?"

"No, no, I want to get away, out of the country--far away."

Suddenly an inspiration came to De Gollyer--a memory of earlier days.

"By George, Morocco! Superb! The trip we planned out--Morocco--the very
thing!"

Lightbody, at the desk still feebly fingering the leaves that he
indistinctly saw, muttered:

"Something far away--away from people."

"By George, that's immense," continued De Gollyer exploding with
delight, and, on a higher octave, he repeated: "Immense! Morocco and a
smashing dash into Africa for big game. The old trip just as we planned
it seven years ago. IMMENSE!"

"I don't care--anywhere."

De Gollyer went nimbly to the bookcase and bore back an atlas.

"My boy--the best thing in the world. Set you right up--terrific air,
smashing scenery, ripping sport, caravans and all that sort of thing.
Fine idea, very fine. Never could forgive you breaking up that trip, you
know. There." Rapidly he skimmed through the atlas, mumbling,
"M-M-M--Morocco."

Lightbody, irritated at the idea of facing a decision, moved uneasily,
saying, "Anywhere, anywhere."

"Back into harness again--the old camping days--immense."

"I must get away."

"There you are," said De Gollyer at length. With a deft movement he
slipped the atlas in front of his friend, saying, "Morocco, devilish
smart air, smashing colors, blues and reds."

"Yes, yes."

"You remember how we planned it," continued De Gollyer, artfully
blundering; "boat to Tangier, from Tangier bang across to Fez."

At this Lightbody, watching the tracing finger, said with some
irritation, "No, no, down the coast first."

"I beg your pardon," said De Gollyer; "to Fez, my dear fellow."

"My dear boy, I know! Down the coast to Rabat."

"Ah, now, you're sure? I think--"

"And I _know_," said Lightbody, raising his voice and assuming
possession of the atlas, which he struck energetically with the back of
his hand. "I ought to know my own plan."

"Yes, yes," said De Gollyer, to egg him on. "Still you're thoroughly
convinced about that, are you?"

"Of course, I am! My dear Jim--come, isn't this my pet idea--the one
trip I've dreamed over, the one thing in the world I've longed to do,
all my life?" His eyes took energy, while his forefinger began viciously
to stab the atlas. "We go to Rabat. We go to Magazam, and we
cut--so--long sweep, into the interior, take a turn, so, and back to
Fez, so!"

This speech, delivered with enthusiasm, made De Gollyer reflect. He
looked at the somewhat revived Lightbody with thoughtful curiosity.

"Well, well--you may be right. You always are impressive, you know."

"Right? Of course I'm right," continued Lightbody, unaware of his
friend's critical contemplation. "Haven't I worked out every foot of
it?"

"A bit of a flyer in the game country, then? Topple over a rhino or so.
Stunning, smart sport, the rhino!"

"By George, think of it--a chance at one of the brutes!"

When De Gollyer had seen the eagerness in his friend's eyes, the imps
returned, ironically tumbling back. He slapped him on the shoulder as
Mephistopheles might gleefully claim his own, crying, "Immense!"

"You know, Jim," said Lightbody, straightening up, nervously alert,
speaking in quick, eager accents, "it's what I've dreamed of--a chance
at one of the big beggars. By George, I have, all my life!"

"We'll polish it off in ripping style, regiments of porters, red and
white tents, camels, caravans and all that sort of thing."

"By George, just think of it."

"In style, my boy--we'll own the whole continent, buy it up!"

"The devil!"

"What's the matter?"

Lightbody's mood had suddenly dropped. He half pushed back his chair and
frowned. "It's going to be frightfully extravagant."

"What of it?"

"My dear fellow, you don't know what my expenses are--this apartment, an
automobile--Oh, as for you, it's all very well for you! You have ten
thousand a year and no one to care for but yourself."

Suddenly he felt almost a hatred for his friend, and then a rebellion
at the renunciation he would have to make.

"No--it can't be done. We'll have to give it up. Impossible, utterly
impossible, I can't afford it."

De Gollyer, still a little uncertain of his ground, for several moments
waited, carefully considering the dubious expression on his friend's
face. Then he questioned abruptly:

"What is your income--now?"

"What do you mean by _now_?"

"Fifteen thousand a year?"

"It has always been that," replied Lightbody in bad humor.

De Gollyer, approaching at last the great question, assumed an air of
concentrated firmness, tempered with well-mannered delicacy.

"My dear boy, I beg your pardon. As a matter of fact it has always been
fifteen thousand--quite right, quite so; but--now, my dear boy, you are
too much of a man of the world to be offended, aren't you?"

"No," said Lightbody, staring in front of him. "No, I'm not offended."

"Of course it's delicate, ticklishly delicate ground, but then we must
look things in the face. Now if you'd rather I--"

"No, go on."

"Of course, dear boy, you've had a smashing knock and all that sort of
thing, but--" suddenly reaching out he took up the letter, and, letting
it hang from his fingers, thoughtfully considered it--"I say it might be
looked at in this way. Yesterday it was fifteen thousand a year to dress
up a dashing wife, modern New York style, the social pace, clothes that
must be smarter than Thingabob's wife, competitive dinners that you stir
up with your fork and your servants eat, and all that sort of thing, you
know. To-day it's fifteen thousand a year and a bachelor again."

Releasing the letter, he disdainfully allowed it to settle down on the
desk, and finished:

"Come now, as a matter of fact there is a little something consoling,
isn't there?"

From the moment he had perceived De Gollyer's idea. Lightbody had become
very quiet, gazing steadily ahead, seeing neither the door nor the
retaining walls.

"I never thought of that," he said, almost in a whisper.

"Quite so, quite so. Of course one doesn't think of such things, right
at first. And you've had a knock-down--a regular smasher, old chap." He
stopped, cleared his voice and said sympathetically: "You adored her?"

"I suppose I could give up the apartment and sell the auto," said
Lightbody slowly, speaking to himself.

De Gollyer smiled--a bachelor smile.

"Riches, my boy," he said, tapping him on the shoulder with the same
quick, awakening Mephistophelean touch.

The contact raised Lightbody from revery. He drew back, shocked at the
ways through which his thoughts had wandered.

"No, no, Jim," he said. "No, you mustn't, nothing like that--not at such
a time."

"You're right," said De Gollyer, instantly masked in gravity. "You're
quite right. Still, we are looking things in the face--planning for the
future. Of course it's a delicate question, terrifically delicate. I'm
almost afraid to put it to you. Come, now, how shall I express
it--delicately? It's this way. Fifteen thousand a year divided by one is
fifteen thousand, isn't it; but fifteen thousand a year divided by two,
may mean--" He straightened up, heels clicking, throwing out his elbows
slightly and lifting his chin from the high, white stockade on which it
reposed. "Come, now, we're men of the world, aren't we? Now, as a matter
of fact how much of that fifteen thousand a year came back to you?"

"My dear Jim," said Lightbody, feeling that generosity should be his
part, "a woman, a modern woman, a New York woman, you just said
it--takes--takes--"

"Twelve thousand--thirteen thousand?"

"Oh, come! Nonsense," said Lightbody, growing quite angry. "Besides, I
don't--"

"Yes, yes, I know," said De Gollyer, interrupting him, now with fresh
confidence. "All the same your whiskies have gone off, dear boy--they've
gone off, and your cigars are bad, very bad. Little things, but they
show."

A pencil lay before him. Lightbody, without knowing what he did, took it
up and mechanically on an unwritten sheet jotted down $15,000, drawing
the dollar sign with a careful, almost caressing stroke. The sheet was
the back of his wife's letter, but he did not notice it.

De Gollyer, looking over his shoulder, exclaimed:

"Quite right. Fifteen thousand, divided by one."

"It will make a difference," said Lightbody slowly. Over his face passed
an expression such as comes but once in a lifetime; a look defying
analysis; a look that sweeps back over the past and challenges the
future and always retains the secret of its judgment.

De Gollyer, drawing back slowly, allowed him a moment before saying:

"And no alimony!"

"What?"

"Free and no alimony, my boy!"

"No alimony?" said Lightbody, surprised at this new reasoning.

"A woman who runs away gets no alimony," said De Gollyer loudly. "Not
here, not in the effete East!"

"I hadn't thought of that, either," said Lightbody, who, despite
himself, could not repress a smile.

De Gollyer, irritated perhaps that he should have been duped into
sympathy, ran on with a little vindictiveness.

"Of course that means nothing to you, dear boy. You were happy,
_ideally_ happy! You adored her, didn't you?"

He paused and then, receiving no reply, continued:

"But you see, if you hadn't been so devilish lucky, so seraphically
happy all these years, you might find a certain humor in the situation,
mightn't you? Still, look it in the face, what have you lost, what have
you left? There is something in that. Fifteen thousand a year, liberty
and no alimony."

The moment had come which could no longer be evaded. Lightbody rose,
turned, met the lurking malice in De Gollyer's eyes with the blank
indecision screen of his own, and, turning on his heel, went to a little
closet in the wall, and bore back a decanter and glasses.

"This is not what we serve on the table," he said irrelevantly. "It's
whisky."

De Gollyer poured out his drink and looked at Lightbody _en
connoisseur_.

"You've gone off--old--six years. You were the smartest of the old
crowd, too. You certainly have gone off."

Lightbody listened, with his eyes in his glass.

"Jack, you're middle-aged--you've gone off--badly. It's hit you hard."

There was a moment's silence and then Lightbody spoke quietly:

"Jim!"

"What is it, old boy?"

"Do you want to know the truth?"

"Come--out with it!"

Lightbody struggled a moment, all the hesitation showing in his lips.
Then he said, slowly shaking his head, never lifting his eyes, speaking
as though to another:

"Jim, I've had a hell of a time!"

"Impossible!"

"Yes."

He lifted his glass until he felt its touch against his lips and
gradually set it down. "Why, Jim, in six years I've loved her so that
I've never done anything I wanted to do, gone anywhere I wanted to go,
drank anything I've wanted to drink, saw anything I wanted to see, wore
anything I wanted to wear, smoked anything I wanted to smoke, read
anything I wanted to read, or dined any one I wanted to dine! Jim, it
certainly has been a _domestic_ time!"

"Good God! I can't believe it!" ejaculated De Gollyer, too astounded to
indulge his sense of humor.

All at once a little fury seemed to seize Lightbody. His voice rose and
his gestures became indignant.

"Married! I've been married to a policeman. Why, Jim, do you know what
I've spent on myself, really spent? Not two thousand, not one thousand,
not five hundred dollars a year. I've been poorer than my own clerk. I'd
hate to tell you what I paid for cigars and whisky. Everything went to
her, everything! And Jim--" he turned suddenly with a significant
glance--"such a temper!"

"A temper? No, impossible, not that!"

"Not violent--oh, no--but firm--smiling, you know, but irresistible."

He drew a long breath charged with bitter memories and said between his
teeth, rebelling: "I always agreed."

"Can it be? Is it possible?" commented De Gollyer, carefully mastering
his expression.

Lightbody, on the new subject of his wrongs, now began to explode with
wrath.

"And there's one thing more--one thing that hurts! You know what she
eloped in? She eloped in a hat, a big red hat, three white feathers--one
hundred and seventy-five dollars. I gave up a winter suit to get it."

He strode over to the grotesquely large hat-box on the slender table,
and struck it with his fist.

"Came this morning. Jim, she waited for that hat! Now, that isn't right!
That isn't delicate!"

"No, by Jove, it certainly isn't delicate!"

"Domesticity! Ha!" At the moment, with only the long vision of petty
tyranny before him, he could have caught her up in his hands and
strangled her. "Domesticity! I've had all I want of domesticity!"

Suddenly the eternal fear awakening in him, he turned and commanded
authoritatively:

"Never tell!"

"Never!"

De Gollyer, at forty-two, showed a responsive face, invincibly, gravely
sympathetic, patiently awaiting his climax, knowing that nothing is so
cumulatively dangerous as confession.

Lightbody took up his glass and again approached it to his lips,
frowning at the thought of what he had revealed. All at once a fresh
impulse caught him, he put down his glass untasted, blurting out:

"Do you want to know one thing more? Do you want to know the truth, the
real truth?"

"Gracious heavens, there is something more?"

"I never married her--never in God's world!"

He ceased and suddenly, not to be denied, the past ranged itself before
him in its stark verity.

"She married me!"

"Is it possible?"

"She did!"

What had been an impulse suddenly became a certainty.

"As I look back now, I can see it all--quite clear. Do you know how it
happened? I called three times--not one time more--three times! I liked
her--nothing more. She was an attractive-looking girl--a certain
fascination--she always has that--that's the worst of it--but gentle,
very gentle."

"Extraordinary!"

"On the third time I called--the third time, mind you," proceeded
Lightbody, attacking the table, "as I stood up to say good-by, all at
once--the lights went out."

"The lights?"

"When they went on again--I was engaged."

"Great heavens!"

"The old fainting trick."

"Is it possible?"

"I see it all now. A man sees things as they are at such a moment."

He gave a short, disagreeable laugh. "Jim, she had those lights all
fixed!"

"Frightful!"

Lightbody, who had stripped his soul in confession, no longer was
conscious of shame. He struck the table, punctuating his wrath, and
cried:

"And that's the truth! The solemn literal truth! That's my story!"

To confess, it had been necessary to be swept away in a burst of anger.
The necessity having ceased, he crossed his arms, quite calm, laughing a
low, scornful laugh.

"My dear boy," said De Gollyer, to relieve the tension, "as a matter of
fact, that's the way you're all caught."

"I believe it," said Lightbody curtly. He had now an instinctive desire
to insult the whole female sex.

"I know--a bachelor knows. The things I have seen and the things I have
heard. My dear fellow, as a matter of fact, marriage is all very well
for bankers and brokers, unconvicted millionaires, week domestic animals
in search of a capable housekeeper, you know, and all that sort of
thing, but for men of the world--like ourselves, it's a mistake. Don't
do it again, my boy--don't do it."

Lightbody laughed a barking laugh that quite satisfied De Gollyer.

"Husbands--modern social husbands--are excrescences--they don't count.
They're mere financial tabulators--nothing more than social
sounding-boards."

"Right!" said Lightbody savagely.

"Ah, you like that, do you?" said De Gollyer, pleased. "I do say a good
thing occasionally. Social sounding-boards! Why, Jack, in one-half of
the marriages in this country--no, by George, in two-thirds--if the
inconsequential, tabulating husband should come home to find a letter
like this--he'd be dancing a _can-can_!"

Lightbody felt a flood of soul-easing laughter well up within him. He
bit his lip and answered:

"No!"

"Yes."

"Pshaw!"

"A _can-can_!"

Lightbody, fearing to betray himself, did not dare to look at the
triumphant bachelor. He covered his eyes with his hands and sought to
fight down the joyful hysteria that began to shake his whole body. All
at once he caught sight of De Gollyer's impish eyes, and, unable longer
to contain himself, burst out laughing. The more he laughed at De
Gollyer, who laughed back at him, the more uncontrollable he became.
Tears came to his eyes and trickled down his cheeks, washing away all
illusions and self-deception, leaving only the joy of deliverance,
acknowledged at last.

All at once holding his sides, he found a little breath and cried
combustibly:

"A _can-can_!"

Suddenly, with one impulse, they locked arms and pirouetted about the
room, flinging out destructive legs, hugging each other with bear-like
hugs as they had done in college days of triumph. Exhausted at last,
they reeled apart, and fell breathless into opposite chairs. There was a
short moment of weak, physical silence, and then Lightbody, shaking his
head, said solemnly:

"Jim--Jim, that's the first real genuine laugh I've had in six vast
years!"

"My boy, it won't be the last."

"You bet it won't!" Lightbody sprang up, as out of the ashen cloak of
age the young Faust springs forth. "To-morrow--do you hear, to-morrow
we're off for Morocco!"

"By way of Paris?" questioned De Gollyer, who likewise gained a dozen
years of youthfulness.

"Certainly by way of Paris."

"With a dash of Vienna?"

"Run it off the map!"

"Good old Jack! You're coming back, my boy, you're coming strong!"

"Am I? Just watch!" Dancing over to the desk, he seized a dozen heavy
books:

"'Evolution and Psychology,' 'Burning Questions!' 'Woman's Position in
Tasmania!' Aha!"

One by one, he flung them viciously over his head, reckoning not the
crash with which they fell. Then with the same _pas de ballet_ he
descended on the hat-box and sent it from his boot crashing over the
piano. Before De Gollyer could exclaim, he was at the closet, working
havoc with the boxes of cigars.

"Here, I say," said De Gollyer laughing, "look out, those are cigars!"

"No, they're not," said Lightbody, pausing for a moment. Then, seizing
two boxes, he whirled about the room holding them at arms' length,
scattering them like the sparks of a pin-wheel, until with a final
motion he flung the emptied boxes against the ceiling, and, coming to an
abrupt stop, shot out a mandatory forefinger, and cried:

"Jim, you dine with me!"

"The fact is--"

"No buts, no excuses! Break all engagements! To-night we celebrate!"

"Immense!"

"Round up the boys--all the boys--the old crowd. I'm middle-aged, am I?"

"By George," said De Gollyer, in free admiration, "you're getting into
form, my boy, excellent form. Fine, fine, very fine!"

"In half an hour at the Club."

"Done."

"Jim?"

"Jack!"

They precipitated themselves into each other's arms. Lightbody, as
delirious as a young girl at the thought of her first ball, cried:

"Paris, Vienna, Morocco--two years around the world!"

"On my honor!"

Rapidly Lightbody, impatient for the celebration, put De Gollyer into
his coat and armed him with his cane.

"In half an hour, Jim. Get Budd, get Reggie Longworth, and, I say, get
that little reprobate of a Smithy, will you?"

"Yes, by George."

At the door, De Gollyer, who, when he couldn't leave on an epigram,
liked to recall the best thing he had said, turned:

"Never again, eh, old boy?"

"Never," cried Lightbody, with the voice of a cannon.

"No social sounding-board for us, eh?"

"Never again!"

"You do like that, don't you? I say a good thing now and then, don't I?"

Lightbody, all eagerness, drove him down the hall, crying:

"Round 'em up--round them all up! I'll show them if I've come back!"

When he had returned, waltzing on his toes to the middle of the room, he
stopped and flung out his arms in a free gesture, inhaling a delicious
breath. Then, whistling busily, he went to a drawer in the book-shelves
and came lightly back, his arms crowded with time-tables, schedules of
steamers, maps of various countries. All at once, remembering, he seized
the telephone and, receiving no response, rang impatiently.

"Central--hello--hello! Central, why don't you answer? Central, give
me--give me--hold up, wait a second!" He had forgotten the number of his
own club. In communication at last, he heard the well-modulated accents
of Rudolph--Rudolph who recognized his voice after six years. It gave
him a little thrill, this reminder of the life he was entering once
more. He ordered one of the dinners he used to order, and hung up the
receiver, with a smile and a little tightening about his heart at the
entry he, the prodigal, would make that night at the Club.

Then, seizing a map of Morocco in one hand and a schedule of sailings in
the other, he sat down to plan, chanting over and over, "Paris, Vienna,
Morocco, India, Paris, Vienna--"

At this moment, unnoticed by him, the doors moved noiselessly and Mrs.
Lightbody entered; a woman full of appealing movements in her lithe
body, and of quick, decisive perceptions in the straight, gray glance of
her eyes. She held with one hand a cloak fastened loosely about her
throat. On her head was the hat with the three white feathers.

A minute passed while she stood, rapidly seizing every indication that
might later assist her. Then she moved slightly and said in a voice of
quiet sadness:

"Jackie."

"Great God!"

Lightbody, overturning chair and table, sprang up--recoiling as one
recoils before an avenging specter. In his convulsive fingers were the
time-tables, clinging like damp lily pads.

"Jackie, I couldn't do it. I couldn't abandon you. I've come back."
Gently, seeming to move rather than to walk, advancing with none of the
uncertainty that was in her voice, she cried, with a little break:
"Forgive me!"

"No, no, never!"

He retreated behind a chair, fury in his voice, weak at the thought of
the floating, entangling scarf, and the perfume he knew so well. Then,
recovering himself, he cried brutally:

"Never! You have given me my freedom. I'll keep it! Thanks!"

With a gradual motion, she loosened her filmy cloak and let it slip from
the suddenly revealed shoulders and slender body.

"No, no, I forbid you!" he cried. Anger--animal, instinctive
anger--began to possess him. He became brutal as he felt himself growing
weak.

"Either you go out or I do!"

"You will listen."

"What? To lies?"

"When you have heard me, you will understand, Jack."

"There is nothing to be said. I have not the slightest intention of
taking back--"

"Jack!"

Her voice rang out with sudden impressiveness: "I swear to you I have
not met him, I swear to you I came back of my own free will, because I
could not meet him, because I found that it was you--you only--whom I
wanted!"

"That is a lie!"

She recoiled before the wound in his glance. She put her long white hand
over her heart, throwing all of herself into the glance that sought to
conquer him.

"I swear it," she said simply.

"Another lie!"

"Jack!"

It was a physical rage that held him now, a rage divided against
itself--that longed to strike down, to crush, to stifle the thing it
coveted. He had almost a fear of himself. He cried:

"If you don't go, I'll--I'll--"

Suddenly he found something more brutal than a blow, something that must
drive her away, while yet he had the strength of his passion. He
crossed his arms, looking at her with a cold look.

"I'll tell you why you came back. You went to him for just one reason.
You thought he had more money than I had. You came back when you found
he hadn't."

He saw her body quiver and it did him good.

"That ends it," she said, hardly able to speak. She dropped her head
hastily, but not before he had seen the tears.

"Absolutely."

In a moment she would be gone. He felt all at once uneasy, ashamed--she
seemed so fragile.

"My cloak--give me my cloak," she said, and her voice showed that she
accepted his verdict.

He brought the cloak to where she stood wearily, and put it on her
shoulders, stepping back instantly.

"Good-by."

It was said more to the room than to him.

"Good-by," he said dully.

She took a step and then raised her eyes to his.

"That was more than you had a right to say, even to me," she said
without reproach in her voice.

He avoided her look.

"You will be sorry. I know you," she said with pity for him. She went
toward the door.

"I am sorry," he said impulsively. "I shouldn't have said it."

"Thank you," she said, stopping and returning a little toward him.

He drew back as though already he felt her arms about him.

"Don't," she said, smiling a tired smile. "I'm not going to try that."

Her instinct had given her possession of the scene. He felt it and was
irritated.

"Only let us part quietly--with dignity," she said, "for we have been
happy together for six years." Then she said rapidly:

"I want you to know that I shall do nothing to dishonor your name. I am
not going to him. That is ended."

An immense curiosity came to him to learn the reason of this strange
avowal. But he realized it would never do for him to ask it.

"Good-by, Jackie," she said, having waited a moment. "I shall not see
you again."

He watched her leaving with the same moving grace with which she had
come. All at once he found a way of evasion.

"Why don't you go to him?" he said harshly.

She stopped but did not turn.

"No," she said, shaking her head. And again she dared to continue toward
the door.

"I shall not stand in your way," he said curtly, fearing only that she
would leave. "I will give you a divorce. I don't deny a woman's
liberty."

She turned, saying:

"Do you allow a woman liberty to know her own mind?"

"What do you mean?"

She came back until he almost could have touched her, standing looking
into his eyes with a wistful, searching glance, clasping and unclasping
her tense fingers.

"Jack," she said, "you never really cared."

"So it is all my fault!" he cried, snapping his arms together, sure now
that she would stay.

"Yes, it is."

"What!" he cried in a rage--already it was a different rage--"didn't I
give you anything you wanted, everything I had, all my time, all--"

"All but yourself," she said quietly; "you were always cold."

"I!"

"You were! You were!" she said sharply, annoyed at the contradiction.
But quickly remembering herself, she continued with only a regretful
sadness in her voice:

"Always cold, always matter-of-fact. Bob of the head in the morning,
jerk of the head at night. When I was happy over a new dress or a new
hat you never noticed it--until the bill came in. You were always
matter-of-fact, absolutely confident I was yours, body and soul."

"By George, that's too much!" he cried furiously. "That's a fine one.
I'm to blame--of course I'm to blame!"

She drew a step away from him, and said:

"Listen! No, listen quietly, for when I've told you I shall go."

Despite himself, his anger vanished at her quiet command.

"If I listen," he thought, "it's all over."

He still believed he was resisting, only he wanted to hear as he had
never wanted anything else--to learn why she was not going to the other
man.

"Yes, what has happened is only natural," she said, drawing her eyebrows
a little together and seeming to reason more with herself. "It had to
happen before I could really be sure of my love for you. You men know
and choose from the knowledge of many women. A woman, such as I, coming
to you as a girl, must often and often ask herself if she would still
make the same choice. Then another man comes into her life and she makes
of him a test to know once and for all the answer to her question. Jack,
that was it. That was the instinct that drove me to try if I _could_
leave you--the instinct I did not understand then, but that I do now,
when it's too late."

"Yes, she is clever," he thought to himself, listening to her, desiring
her the more as he admired what he did not credit. He felt that he
wanted to be convinced and with a last angry resistance, said:

"Very clever, indeed!"

She looked at him with her clear, gray look, a smile in her eyes,
sadness on her lips.

"You know it is true."

He did not reply. Finally he said bruskly:

"And when did--did the change come to you?"

"In the carriage, when every turn of the wheel, every passing street,
was rushing me away from you. I thought of you--alone--lost--and
suddenly I knew. I beat with my fists on the window and called to the
coachman like a madman. I don't know what I said. I came back."

She stopped, pressing back the tears that had started on her eyelids at
the memory. She controlled herself, gave a quick little nod, without
offering her hand, went toward the door.

"What! I've got to call her back!" He said it to himself, adding
furiously: "Never!"

He let her go to the door itself, vowing he would not make the advance.

When the door was half open, something in him cried: "Wait!"

She closed the door softly, but she did not immediately turn round. The
palms of her hands were wet with the cold, frightened sweat of that
awful moment. When she returned, she came to him with a wondering,
timid, girlish look in her eyes.

"Oh, Jack, if you only could!" she said, and then only did she put out
her hands and let her fingers press over his heart.

The next moment she was swept up in his arms, shrinking and very still.

All at once he put her from him and said roughly:

"What was his name?"

"No, no!"

"Give me his name," he said miserably. "I must know it."

"No--neither now nor at any other time," she said firmly, and her look
as it met his had again all the old domination. "That is my condition."

"Ah, how weak I have been," he said to himself, with a last bitter,
instinctive revolt. "How weak I am."

She saw and understood.

"We must be generous," she said, changing her voice quickly to
gentleness. "He has been pained enough already. He alone will suffer.
And if you knew his name it would only make you unhappy."

He still rebelled, but suddenly to him came a thought which at first he
was ashamed to express.

"He doesn't know?"

She lied.

"No."

"He's still waiting--there?"

"Yes."

"Ah, he's waiting," he said to himself.

A gleam of vanity, of triumph over the discarded, humiliated one, leaped
up fiercely within him and ended all the lingering, bitter memories.

"Then you care?" she said, resting her head on his shoulder that he
might not see she had read such a thought.

"Care?" he cried. He had surrendered. Now it was necessary to be
convinced. "Why, when I received your letter I--I was wild. I wanted to
do murder."

"Jackie!"

"I was like a madman--everything was gone--nothing was left."

"Oh, Jack, how I have made you suffer!"

"Suffer? Yes, I have suffered!" Overcome by the returning pain of the
memory, he dropped into a chair, trying to control his voice. "Yes, I
have suffered!"

"Forgive me!" she said, slipping on her knees beside him, and burying
her head in his lap.

"I was out of my head--I don't know what I did, what I said. It was as
though a bomb had exploded. My life was wrecked, shattered--nothing
left."

He felt the grief again, even more acutely. He suffered for what he had
suffered.

"Jack, I never really could have _abandoned_ you," she cried bitterly.
She raised her eyes toward him and suddenly took notice of the
time-tables that lay clutched in his hands. "Oh, you were going away!"

He nodded, incapable of speech.

"You were running away?"

"I was running away--to forget--to bury myself!"

"Oh, Jack!"

"There was nothing here. It was all a blank! I was running away--to bury
myself!"

At the memory of that miserable hopeless moment, in which he had
resolved on flight, the tears, no longer to be denied, came dripping
down his cheeks.

THE LIE

I

For some time they had ceased to speak, too oppressed with the needless
anguish of this their last night. At their feet the tiny shining windows
of Etretat were dropping back into the night, as though sinking under
the rise of that black, mysterious flood that came luminously from the
obscure regions of the faint sky. Overhead, the swollen August stars had
faded before the pale flush that, toward the lighthouse on the cliff,
heralded the red rise of the moon.

He held himself a little apart, the better to seize every filmy detail
of the strange woman who had come inexplicably into his life, watching
the long, languorous arms stretched out into an impulsive clasp, the
dramatic harmony of the body, the brooding head, the soft, half-revealed
line of the neck. The troubling alchemy of the night, that before his
eyes slowly mingled the earth with the sea and the sea with the sky,
seemed less mysterious than this woman whose body was as immobile as the
stillness in her soul.

All at once he felt in her, whom he had known as he had known no other,
something unknown, the coming of another woman, belonging to another
life, the life of the opera and the multitude, which would again flatter
and intoxicate her. The summer had passed without a doubt, and now, all
at once, something new came to him, indefinable, colored with the vague
terror of the night, the fear of other men who would come thronging
about her, in the other life, where he could not follow.

Around the forked promontory to the east, the lights of the little
packet-boat for England appeared, like the red cinder in a pipe,
slipping toward the horizon. It was the signal for a lover's embrace,
conceived long ago in fancy and kept in tenderness.

"Madeleine," he said, touching her arm. "There it is--our little boat."

"Ah! _le p'tit bateau_--with its funny red and green eyes."

She turned and raised her lips to his; and the kiss, which she did not
give but permitted, seemed only fraught with an ineffable sadness, the
end of all things, the tearing asunder and the numbness of separation.
She returned to her pose, her eyes fixed on the little packet, saying:

"It's late."

"Yes."

"It goes fast."

"Very."

They spoke mechanically, and then not at all. The dread of the morning
was too poignant to approach the things that must be said. Suddenly,
with the savage directness of the male to plunge into the pain which
must be undergone, he began:

"It was like poison--that kiss."

She turned, forgetting her own anguish in the pain in his voice,
murmuring, "Ben, my poor Ben."

"So you will go--to-morrow," he said bitterly, "back to the great public
that will possess you, and I shall remain--here, alone."

"It must be so."

He felt suddenly an impulse he had not felt before, an instinct to make
her suffer a little. He said brutally:

"But you want to go!"

She did not answer, but, in the obscurity, he knew her large eyes were
searching his face. He felt ashamed of what he had said, and yet because
she made no protestation, he persisted:

"You have left off your jewels, those jewels you can't do without."

"Not to-night."

"You who are never happy without them--why not to-night?"

As, carried away by the jealousy of what lay beyond, he was about to
continue, she laid her fingers on his lips, with a little brusk, nervous
movement of her shoulders.

"Don't--you don't understand."

But he understood and he resented the fact that she should have put
aside the long undulating rope of pearls, the rings of rubies and
emeralds that seemed as natural to her dark beauty as the roses to the
spring. He had tried to understand her woman's nature, to believe that
no memory yet lingered about them, to accept without question what had
never belonged longed to their life together, and remembering what he
had fought down he thought bitterly:

"She has changed me more than I have changed her. It is always so."

She moved a little, her pose, with instinctive dramatic sense, changing
with her changing mood.

"Do not think I don't understand you," she said quietly.

"What do you understand?"

"It hurts you because I wish to return."

"That is not so, Madeleine," he said abruptly. "You know what big things
I want you to do."

"I know--only you would like me to say the contrary--to protest that I
would give it all up--be content to be with you alone."

"No, not that," he said grudgingly, "and yet, this last night--here--I
should like to hear you say the contrary."

She laughed a low laugh and caught his hand a little tighter.

"That displeases you?"

"No, no, of course not!" Presently she added with an effort:

"There is so much that we must say to each other and we have not the
courage."

"True, all summer we have never talked of what must come after."

"I want you to understand why I go back to it all, why I wish every year
to be separated from you--yes, exactly, from you," she added, as his
fingers contracted with an involuntary movement. "Ben, what has come to
me I never expected would come. I love, but neither that word nor any
other word can express how absolutely I have become yours. When I told
you my life, you did not wonder how difficult it was for me to believe
that such a thing could be possible. But you convinced me, and what has
come to me has come as a miracle. I adore you. All my life has been
lived just for this great love; ah yes, that's what I believe, what I
feel." She leaned swiftly to him and allowed him to catch her to him in
his strong arms. Then slowly disengaging herself, she continued, "You
are a little hurt because I do not cry out what you would not accept,
because I do not say that I would give up everything if you asked it."

"It is only to _hear_ it," he said impulsively.

"But I have often wished it myself," she said slowly. "There's not a day
that I have not wished it--to give up everything and stay by you. Do you
know why? From the longing that's in me now, the first unselfish
longing I have ever had--to sacrifice myself for you in some way,
somehow. It is more than a hunger, it is a need of the soul--of my love
itself. It comes over me sometimes as tears come to my eyes when you are
away, and I say to myself, 'I love him,' and yet, Ben, I shall not, I
shall never give up my career, not now, not for years to come."

"No," he said mechanically.

"We are two great idealists, for that is what you have made me, Ben.
Before I was always laughing, and I believed in nothing. I despised even
what my sacrifice had won. Now, when I am with you, I remain in a
revery, and I am happy--happy with the happiness of things I cannot
understand. To-night, by your side, it seems to me I have never felt the
night before or known the mystery of the silent, faint hours. You have
made me feel the loneliness of the human soul, and that impulse it must
have before these things that are beyond us, that surround us, dominate
us, to cling almost in terror to another soul. You have so completely
made me over that it is as though you had created me yourself. I am
thirty-five. I have known everything else but what you have awakened in
me, and because I have this knowledge and this hunger I can see clearer
what we must do. You and I are a little romanesque, but remember that
even a great love may tire and grow stale, and that is what I won't
have, what must not be." Her voice had risen with the intensity of her
mood. She said more solemnly: "You are afraid of other men, of other
moods of mine--you have no reason. This love which comes to some as the
awakening of life is to me the end of all things. If anything should
wound it or belittle it, I should not survive it."

She continued to speak, in a low unvarying voice. He felt his mind clear
and his doubts dissipate, and impatiently he waited for her to end, to
show her that his weakness of the moment was gone and that he was still
the man of big vision who had awakened her.

"There are people who can put in order their love as they put in order
their house. We are not of that kind, Ben. I am a woman who has lived on
sensations. You, too, are a dreamer and a poet at the bottom. If I
should give up the opera and become to you simply a housewife, if there
was no longer any difficulty in our having each other, you would still
love me--yes, because you are loyal--but the romanticism, the mystery,
the longing we both need would vanish. Oh, I know. Well, you and I, we
are the same. We can only live on a great passion, and to have fierce,
unutterable joys we must suffer also--the suffering of separation. Do
you understand?"

"Yes, I do."

"That is why I shall never give up my career. That is why I can bear
the sadness of leaving you. I want you to be proud of me, Ben. I want
you to think of me as some one whom thousands desire and only you can
have. I want our love to be so intense that every day spent apart is
heavy with the longing for each other; every day together precious
because it will be a day nearer the awful coming of another separation.
Believe me, I am right. I have thought much about it. You have your
diplomatic career and your ambitions. You are proud. I have never asked
you to give that up to follow me. I would not insult you. In January you
will have a leave of absence, and we will be together for a few
wonderful weeks, and in May I shall return here. Nothing will be
changed." She extended her arm to where a faint red point still showed
on the unseen water. "And each night we will wait, as we have waited,
side by side, the coming of our little boat,--_notre p'tit bateau_"

"You are right," he said, placing his lips to her forehead. "I was
jealous. I am sorry. It is over."

"But I, too, am jealous," she said, smiling.

"You?"

"Of course--no one can love without being jealous. Oh, I shall be afraid
of every woman who comes near you. It will be an agony," she said, and
the fire in her eyes brought him more healing happiness than all her
words.

"You are right," he repeated.

He left her with a little pressure of the hand, and walked to the edge
of the veranda. A nervous, sighing breeze had come with the full coming
of the moon, and underneath him he heard the troubled rustle of leaves
in the obscurity, the sifting and drifting of tired, loose things, the
stir of the night which awakened a restless mood in his soul. He had
listened to her as she had proclaimed her love, and yet this love,
without illusions, sharply recalled to him other passions. He remembered
his first love, a boy-and-girl affair, and sharply contrasting it with a
sudden ache to this absence of impulse and illusions, of phrases, vows,
without logic, thrown out in the sweet madness of the moment. Why had
she not cried out something impulsive, promised things that could not
be. Then he realized, standing there in the harvest moonlight, in the
breaking up of summer, that he was no longer a youth, that certain
things could not be lived over, and that, as she had said, he too felt
that this was the great love, the last that he would share; that if it
ended, his youth ended and with his youth all that in him clung to life.

He turned and saw her, chin in the flat of her palm, steadily following
his mood. He had taken but a dozen steps, and yet he had placed a
thousand miles between them. He had almost a feeling of treachery, and
to dispel these new unquiet thoughts he repeated to himself again:

"She is right."

But he did not immediately return. The memory of other loves, faint as
they had been in comparison with this all-absorbing impulse, had yet
given him a certain objective point of view. He saw himself clearly, and
he understood what of pain the future had in store for him.

"How I shall suffer!" he said to himself.

"You are going so far away from me," she said suddenly, warned by some
woman's instinct.

He was startled at the conjunction of her words and his moods. He
returned hastily, and sat down beside her. She took his head in her
hands and looked anxiously into his eyes.

"What is it?" she said. "You are afraid?"

"A little," he said reluctantly.

"Of what--of the months that will come?"

"Of the past."

"What do you mean?" she said, withdrawing a little as though disturbed
by the thought.

"When I am with you I know there is not a corner of your heart that I do
not possess," he began evasively.

"Well?"

"Only it's the past--the habits of the past," he murmured. "I know you
so well, Madeleine, you have need of strength, you don't go on alone.
That is the genius of women like you--to reach out and attach to
themselves men who will strengthen them, compel them on."

"Ah, I understand," she said slowly.

"Yes, that is what I'm afraid of," he said rapidly.

"You are thinking of the artist, not the woman."

"Ah, there is no difference--not to a man who loves," he said
impulsively. "I know how great your love is for me, and I believe in it.
I know nothing will come to efface it. Only you will be lonely, you'll
have your trials and annoyances, days of depression, of doubt, when you
will need some one to restore your faith in yourself, your courage in
your work, and then, I don't say you will love any one else, but you
will need some one near you who loves you, always at your service--"

"If you could only understand me," she said, interrupting him. "Men,
other men, are like actors to me. When I am on the stage, when I am
playing Manon, do you think I see who is playing Des Grieux? Not at all.
He is there, he gives me my _replique_, he excites my nerves, I say a
thousand things under my breath, when I am in his arms I adore him, but
when the curtain goes down, I go off the stage and don't even say good
night to him."

"But he, he doesn't know that."

"Of course not; tenors never do. Well, that is just the way I have
lived, that is just what men have meant to me. They give the _replique_
to my moods, to my needs, and when I have no longer need of them, I go
off tranquilly. That is all there is to it. I take from them what I
want. Of course they will be around me, but they will be nothing to me.
They will be like managers, press-agents, actors. Don't you understand
that?"

"Yes, yes, I understand," he said without sincerity. Then he blurted
out, "I wish you had not said it, all the same."

"Why?"

"I cannot see it as you see it, and besides, you put a doubt in my mind
that I never wish to feel."

"What doubt?"

"Do I really have you, or only a mood of yours?"

"Ben!"

"I know. I know. No, I am not going to think such things. That would be
unworthy of what we have felt." He paused a moment, and when he spoke
again his voice was under control. "Madeleine, remember well what I say
to you now. I shall probably never again speak to you with such absolute
truth, or even acknowledge it to myself. I accept the necessity of
separation. I know all the sufferings it will bring, all the doubts, the
unreasoning jealousies. I am big enough in experience to understand what
you have just suggested to me, but as a man who loves you, Madeleine, I
will never understand it. I know that a dozen men may come into your
life, interest you intensely, even absorb you for a while, and that they
would still mean nothing to you the moment I come. Well, I am
different. A man is different. While you are away, I shall not see a
woman without resentment; I shall not think of any one but you, and if I
did, I would cease to love you."

"But why?"

"Because I cannot share anything of what belongs to you. That is my
nature. There is no use in pretending the contrary. Yours is different,
and I understand why it is so. I have listened to many confidences,
understood many lives that others would not understand. I have always
maintained that it is the natural thing for a human being to love many
times--even that there might he in the same heart a great, overpowering
love and a little one. I still believe it--with my mind. I know it is
so. These are the things we like to analyze in human nature together. I
know it is true, but it is not true for me. No, I would never understand
it in you. I know myself too well, I am jealous of everything of the
past--oh, insanely jealous. I know that no sooner are you gone than I
will be tortured by the most ridiculous doubts. I will see you in the
moonlight all across that endless sea with other men near you. I will
dream of other men with millions, ready to give you everything your eyes
adore. I will imagine men of big minds that will fascinate you. I will
even say to myself that now that you have known what a great love can
mean you will all the more be likely to need it, to seek something to
counterfeit it--"

"Ben, my poor Ben--frightful," she murmured.

"That is how it is. Shall I tell you something else?"

"What?"

"I wish devoutly you had never told me a word of--of the past."

"But how can you say such things? We have been honest with each other.
You yourself--"

"I know, I know, I have no right myself, and yet there it is. It is
something fearful, this madness of possession that comes to me. No, I
have no fear that I will not always be first in your heart, only I
understand the needs, the habits, of your nature. I understand myself
now as I have not before, and that's why I say to you solemnly,
Madeleine, if ever for a moment another man should come into your
life--never, never, let me know."

"But--"

"No, don't say anything that I may remember to torture me. Lie to me."

"I have never lied."

"Madeleine, it is better to be merciful than to tell the truth, and,
after all, what does such a confession mean? It only means that you free
your conscience and that the wound--the ache--remains with the other.
Whatever happens, never tell me. Do you understand?"

This time she made no answer. She even ceased to look at him, her head
dropped back, her arms motionless, one finger only revolving slowly on
the undulating arm of her chair.

"I shall try by all the strength that is in me never to ask that
question," he rushed on. "I know I shall make a hundred vows not to do
so, and I know that the first time I look into your face I shall blurt
it out. Ah, if--if--if it must be so, never let me know, for there are
thoughts I cannot bear now that I've known you." He flung himself at her
side and took her roughly in his arms. "Madeleine, I know what I am
saying. I may tell you the contrary later. I may say it lightly,
pretending it is of no importance. I may beg the truth of you with tears

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