Part 3 out of 9
aliens that escaped the guns were left to perish in the desolation of a
coming winter which they were unfitted to withstand.
So the first week of the season sped gaily, ending on Saturday with a
heavy flight of northern woodcock and an uproarious fusillade among the
Once Ferrall loaded two motor cars with pioneers for a day beyond his
own boundaries; and one day was spent ingloriously with the beagles; but
otherwise the Shotover estate proved more than sufficient for good bags
or target practice, as the skill of the sportsmen developed.
Lord Alderdene, good enough on snipe and cock, was driven almost frantic
by the ruffed grouse; Voucher did better for a day or two, and then lost
the knack; Marion Page attended to business in her cool and thorough
style, and her average on the gun-room books was excellent, and was also
adorned with clever pen-and-ink sketches by Siward.
Leroy Mortimer had given up shooting and established himself as a
haunter of cushions in sunny corners. Tom O'Hara had gone back to Lenox;
Mrs. Vendenning to Hot Springs. Beverly Plank, master of Black Fells,
began to pervade the house after a tentative appearance; and he and
Major Belwether pottered about the coverts, usually after luncheon--the
latter doing little damage with his fowling-piece, and nobody knew how
much with his gossiping tongue. Quarrier appeared in the field
methodically, shot with judgment, taking no chances for a brilliant
performance which might endanger his respectable average. As for the
Page boys, they kept the river ducks stirring whenever Eileen Shannon
and Rena Bonnesdel could be persuaded to share the canoes with them.
Otherwise they haunted the vicinity of those bored maidens, suffering
snubs sorrowfully, but persistently faithful. They were a great nuisance
in the evening, especially as their sister did not permit them to lose
more than ten dollars a day at cards.
Cards--that is Bridge and Preference--ruled as usual; and the latter game
being faster suited Mortimer and Ferrall, but did not aid Siward toward
recouping his Bridge losses.
Noticing this, late in the week, Major Belwether kindly suggested
Klondyke for Siward's benefit, which proved more quickly disastrous to
him than anything yet proposed; and he went back to Bridge, preferring
rather to "carry" Agatha Caithness at intervals than crumble into
bankruptcy under the sheer deadly hazard of Klondyke.
Two matters occupied him; since "cup day" he had never had another
opportunity to see Sylvia Landis alone; that was the first matter. He
had touched neither wine nor spirits nor malt since the night Ferrall
had found him prone, sprawling in a stupor on his disordered bed. That
was the second matter, and it occupied him, at times required all his
attention, particularly when the physical desire for it set in,
steadily, mercilessly, mounting inexorably like a tide. . But, like the
tide, it ebbed at last, particularly when a sleepless night had
He had gone back to his shooting again after a cool review of the ethics
involved. It even amused him to think that the whimsical sermon
delivered him by a girl who had cleverness enough to marry many
millions, with Quarrier thrown in, could have so moved him to
sentimentality. He had ceded the big cup of antique silver to Quarrier,
too--a matter which troubled him little, however, as in the irritation of
the reaction he had been shooting with the brilliancy of a demon; and
the gun-room books were open to any doubting guests' inspection.
Time, therefore, was never heavy on his hands, save when the tide
threatened--when at night he stirred and awoke, conscious of its crawling
advance, aware of its steady mounting menace. Moments at table, when the
aroma of wine made him catch his breath, moments in the gun-room
redolent of spicy spirits; a maddening volatile fragrance clinging to
the card-room, too! Yes, the long days were filled with such moments for
But afield the desire faded; and even during the day, indoors, he
shrugged desire aside. It was night that he dreaded--the long hours,
lying there tense, stark-eyed, sickened with desire.
As for Sylvia, she and Grace Ferrall had taken to motoring, driving away
into the interior or taking long flights north and south along the
coast. Sometimes they took Quarrier, sometimes, when Mrs. Ferrall drove,
they took in ballast in the shape of a superfluous Page boy and a girl
for him. Once Grace Ferrall asked Siward to join them; but no definite
time being set, he was scarcely surprised to find them gone when he
returned from a morning on the snipe meadows. And Sylvia, leagues away
by that time, curled up in the tonneau beside Grace Ferrall, watched the
dark pines flying past, cheeks pink, eyes like stars, while the rushing
wind drove health into her and care out of her--cleansing, purifying,
overwhelming winds flowing through and through her, till her very soul
within her seemed shining through the beauty of her eyes. Besides, she
had just confessed.
"He kissed you!" repeated Grace Ferrall incredulously.
"Yes--a number of times. He was silly enough to do it, and I let him."
"Did--did he say--"
"I don't know what he said; I was all nerves--confused--scared--a perfect
stick in fact! . I don't believe he'd care to try again."
Then Mrs. Ferrall deliberately settled down in her furs to extract from
the girl beside her every essential detail; and the girl, frank at
first, grew shy and silent--reticent enough to worry her friend into a
silence which lasted a long while for a cheerful little matron of her
Presently they spoke of other matters--matters interesting to pretty
women with much to do in the coming winter between New York, Hot
Springs, and Florida; surmises as to dinners, dances, and the newcomers
in the younger sets, and the marriages to be arranged or disarranged,
and the scandals humanity is heir to, and the attitude of the bishop
And the new pavillion to be built for Saint Berold's Hospital, and the
various states of the various charities each was interested in, and the
chances of something new at the opera, and the impossibility of saving
Fifth Avenue from truck traffic, and the increasing importance of
Washington as a social centre, and the bad manners of a foreign
ambassador, and the better manners of another diplomat, and the lack of
discrimination betrayed by our ambassador to a certain great Power in
choosing people for presentation at court, and the latest unhappy
British-American marriage, and the hopelessness of the French as decent
husbands, and the recent accident to the Claymores' big yacht, and the
tendency of well-born young men toward politics, and the anything but
distinguished person of Lord Alderdene, which was, however, vastly
superior to the demeanour and person of others of his rank recently
imported, and the beauty of Miss Caithness, and the chance that Captain
Voucher had if Leila Mortimer would let him alone, and the absurdity of
the Page twins, and the furtive coarseness of Leroy Mortimer and his
general badness, and the sadness of Leila Mortimer's lot when she had
always been in love with other people,--and a little scandalous surmise
concerning Tom O'Hara, and the new house on Seventy-ninth Street
building for Mrs. Vendenning, and that charming widow's success at last
year's horse show--and whether the fashion of the function was reviving,
and whether Beverly Plank had completely broken into the social sets he
had besieged so long, or whether a few of the hunting and shooting
people merely permitted him to drive pheasants for them, and why
Katharyn Tassel made eyes at him, having sufficient money of her own to
die unwed, and--and--and then, at last, as the big motor car swung in a
circle at Wenniston Cross-Roads, and poked its brass and lacquer muzzle
toward Shotover, the talk swung back to Siward once more--having
travelled half the world over to find him.
"He is the sweetest fellow with his mother," sighed Grace; "and that
counts heavily with me. But there's trouble ahead for her--sorrow and
trouble enough for them both, if he is a true Siward."
"Heredity again!" said Sylvia impatiently. "Isn't he man enough to win
out? I'll bet you he settles down, marries, and--"
"Marries? Not he! How many girls do you suppose have believed that--were
justified in believing he meant anything by his attractive manner and
nice ways of telling you how much he liked you? He had a desperate
affair with Mrs. Mortimer--innocent enough I fancy. He's had a dozen
within three years; and in a week Rena Bonnesdel has come to making eyes
at him, and Eileen gives him no end of chances which he doesn't see. As
for Marion Page, the girl had been on the edge of loving him for years!
You laugh? But you are wrong; she is in love with him now as much as she
ever can be with anybody."
"Yes I do. Hadn't you suspected it?"
And as Sylvia had suspected it she remained silent.
"If any woman in this world could keep him to the mark, she could,"
continued Mrs. Ferrall. "He's a perfect fool not to see how she cares
Sylvia said: "He is indeed."
"It would be a sensible match, if she cared to risk it, and if he would
only ask her. But he won't."
"Perhaps," ventured Sylvia, "she'll ask him. She strikes me as that
sort. I do not mean it unkindly--only Marion is so tailor-made and
Mrs. Ferrall looked up at her.
"Did he propose to you?"
"Yes--I think so."
"Then it's the first time for him. He finds women only too willing to
play with him as a rule, and he doesn't have to be definite. I wonder
what he meant by being so definite with you?"
"I suppose he meant marriage," said Sylvia serenely; yet there was the
slightest ring in her voice; and it amused Mrs. Ferrall to try her a
"Oh, you think he really intended to commit himself?"
"Why not?" retorted Sylvia, turning red. "Do you think he found me over-
willing, as you say he finds others?"
"You were probably a new sensation for him," inferred Mrs. Ferrall
musingly. "You mustn't take him seriously, child--a man with his record.
Besides, he has the same facility with a girl that he has with
everything else he tries; his pen--you know how infernally clever he is;
and he can make good verse, and write witty jingles, and he can carry
home with him any opera and play it decently, too, with the proper
harmonies. Anything he finds amusing he is clever with--dogs, horses,
pen, brush, music, women"--that was too malicious, for Sylvia had flushed
up painfully, and Grace Ferrall dropped her gloved hand on the hand of
the girl beside her: "Child, child," she said, "he is not that sort; no
decent man ever is unless the girl is too."
Sylvia, sitting up very straight in her furs, said: "He found me
anything but difficult--if that's what you mean."
"I don't. Please don't be vexed, dear. I plague everybody when I see an
opening. There's really only one thing that worries me about it all."
"What is that?" asked Sylvia without interest.
"It's that you might be tempted to care a little for him, which, being
useless, might be unwise."
"I am . tempted."
"I don't know." She turned in a sudden nervous impatience foreign to
her. "Howard Quarrier is too perfectly imperfect for me. I'm glad I've
said it. The things he knows about and doesn't know have been a
revelation in this last week with him. There is too much surface, too
much exterior admirably fashioned. And inside is all clock-work. I've
said it; I'm glad I have. He seemed different at Newport; he seemed nice
at Lenox. The truth is, he's a horrid disappointment--and I'm bored to
death at my brilliant prospects."
The low whizzing hum of the motor filled a silence that produced
considerable effect upon Grace Ferrall. And, after mastering her wits,
she said in a subdued voice:
"Of course it's my meddling."
"Of course it isn't. I asked your opinion, but I knew what I was going
to do. Only, I did think him personally possible--which made the
expediency, the mercenary view of it easier to contemplate."
She was becoming as frankly brutal as she knew how to be, which made the
revolt the more ominous.
"You don't think you could endure him for an hour or two a day, Sylvia?"
"It is not that," said the girl almost sullenly.
"I'm afraid of myself--call it inherited mischief if you like! If I let a
man do to me what Mr. Siward did when I was only engaged to Howard, what
might I do--"
"You are not that sort!" said Mrs. Ferrall bluntly. "Don't be exotic,
"How do you know--if I don't know? Most girls are kissed; I--well I didn't
expect to be. But I was! I tell you, Grace, I don't know what I am or
shall be. I'm unsafe; I know that much."
"It's moral and honest to realize it," said Mrs. Ferrall suavely; "and
in doing so you insure your own safety. Sylvia dear, I wish I hadn't
meddled; I'm meddling some more I suppose when I say to you, don't give
Howard his conge for the present. It is a horridly common thing to dwell
upon, but Howard is too materially important to be cut adrift on the
impulse of the moment."
"I know it."
"You are too clever not to. Consider the matter wisely, dispassionately,
intelligently, dear; then if by April you simply can't stand it--talk the
thing over with me again," she ended rather vaguely and wistfully; for
it had been her heart's desire to wed Sylvia's beauty and Quarrier's
fortune, and the suitability of the one for the other was apparent
enough to make even sterner moralists wobbly in their creed. Quarrier,
as a detail of modern human architecture, she supposed might fit in
somewhere, and took that for granted in laying the corner stone for her
fairy palace which Sylvia was to inhabit. And now!--oh, vexation!--the
neglected but essentially constructive detail of human architecture had
buckled, knocking the dream palace and its princess and its splendour
about her ears.
"Things never happen in real life," she observed plaintively; "only
romances have plots where things work out. But we people in real life,
we just go on and on in a badly constructed, plotless sort of way with
no villains, no interesting situations, no climaxes, no ensemble. No, we
grow old and irritable and meaner and meaner; we lose our good looks and
digestions, and we die in hopeless discord with the unity required in a
dollar and a half novel by a master of modern fiction."
"But some among us amass fortunes," suggested Sylvia, laughing.
"But we don't live happy ever after. Nobody ever had enough money in
"Some fall in love," observed Sylvia, musing.
"And they are not content, silly!"
"Why? Because nobody ever had enough love in real life," mocked Sylvia.
"You have said it, child. That is the malady of the world, and nobody
knows it until some pretty ninny like you babbles the truth. And that is
why we care for those immortals in romance, those fortunate lovers who,
in fable, are given and give enough of love; those magic shapes in verse
and tale whose hearts are satisfied when the mad author of their being
inks his last period and goes to dinner."
Sylvia laughed awhile, then, chin on wrist, sat musing there, muffled in
"As for love, I think I should be moderate in the asking, in the giving.
A little--to flavour routine--would be sufficient for me I fancy."
"You know so much about it," observed Mrs. Ferrall ironically.
"I am permitted to speculate, am I not?"
"Certainly. Only speculate in sound investments, dear."
"How can you make a sound investment in love? Isn't it always sheerest
"Yes, that is why simple matrimony is usually a safer speculation than
"Yes, but--love isn't matrimony."
"Match that with its complementary platitude and you have the essence of
modern fiction," observed Mrs. Ferrall. "Love is a subject talked to
death, which explains the present shortage in the market I suppose.
You're not in love and you don't miss it. Why cultivate an artificial
taste for it? If it ever comes naturally, you'll be astonished at your
capacity for it, and the constant deterioration in quantity and quality
of the visible supply. Goodness! my epigrams make me yawn--or is it age
and the ill humour of the aged when the porridge spills over on the
"I am the cat, I suppose," asked Sylvia, laughing.
"Yes you are--and you go tearing away, back up, fur on end, leaving me by
the fire with no porridge and only the aroma of the singeing fur to
comfort me. . Still there's one thing to comfort me."
"Kitty-cats come back, dear."
"Oh, I suppose so. . Do you believe I could induce him to wear his hair
any way except pompadour? . and, dear, his beard is so dreadfully silky.
Isn't there anything he could take for it?"
"Only a razor I'm afraid. Those long, thick, soft, eyelashes of his are
ominous. Eyes of that sort ruin a man for my taste. He might just as
reasonably wear my hat."
"But he can't follow the fashions in eyes," laughed Sylvia. "Oh, this is
atrocious of us--it is simply horrible to sit here and say such things. I
am cold-blooded enough as it is--material enough, mean, covetous,
"Dear!" said Grace Ferrall mildly, "you are not choosing a husband; you
are choosing a career. To criticise his investments might be bad taste;
to be able to extract what amusement you can out of Howard is a direct
mercy from Heaven. Otherwise you'd go mad, you know."
"Grace! Do you wish me to marry him?"
"What is the alternative, dear?"
"Why, nothing--self-respect, dowdiness, and peace."
"Is that all?"
"All I can see."
"Not Stephen Siward?"
"To marry? No. To enjoy, yes. . Grace, I have had such a good time with
him; you don't know! He is such a boy--sometimes; and I--I believe that I
am rather good for him. . Not that I'd ever again let him do that sort
of thing. . Besides, his curiosity is quenched; I am the sort he
supposed. Now he's found out he will be nice. . It's been days since
I've had a talk with him. He tried to, but I wouldn't. Besides, the
major has said nasty things about him when Howard was present; nothing
definite, only hints, smiling silences, innuendoes on the verge of
matters rather unfit; and I had nothing definite to refute. I could not
even appear to understand or notice--it was all done in such a horridly
vague way. But it only made me like him; and no doubt that actress he
took to the Patroons is better company than he finds in nine places out
of ten among his own sort."
"Oh," said Grace Ferrall slowly, "if that is the way you feel, I don't
see why you shouldn't play with Mr. Siward whenever you like."
"Nor I. I've been a perfect fool not to. . Howard hates him."
"How do you know?"
"What a question! A woman knows such things. Then, you remember that
caricature--so dreadfully like Howard? Howard has no sense of humour; he
detests such things. It was the most dreadful thing that Mr. Siward
could have done to him."
"Meddled again!" groaned Grace. "Doesn't Howard know that I did that?"
"Yes, but nothing I can say alters his conviction that the likeness was
intended. You know it was a likeness! And if Mr. Siward had not told me
that it was not intended, I should never have believed it to be an
After a prolonged silence Sylvia said, overcarelessly: "I don't quite
understand Howard. With me anger lasts but a moment, and then I'm open
to overtures for peace . I think Howard's anger lasts."
"It does," said Grace. "He was a muff as a boy--a prig with a prig's
memory under all his shallow, showy surface. I'm frank with you; I never
could take my cousin either respectfully or seriously, but I've known
him to take his own anger so seriously that years after he has visited
it upon those who had really wronged him. And he is equipped for
retaliation if he chooses. That fortune of his reaches far. . Not that I
think him capable of using such a power to satisfy a mere personal
dislike. Howard has principles, loads of them. But--the weapon is there."
"Is it true that Mr. Siward is interested in building electric roads?"
asked Sylvia curiously.
"I don't know, child. Why?"
"Nothing. I wondered."
"Mr. Mortimer said so."
"Then I suppose he is. I'll ask Kemp if you like. Why? Isn't it all
right to build them?"
"I suppose so. Howard is in it somehow. In fact Howard's company is
behind Mr. Siward's, I believe."
Grace Ferrall turned and looked at the girl beside her, laughing
"Oh, Howard doesn't do mysterious financial things to nice young men
because they draw impudent pictures of him running after his dog--or for
any other reason. That, dear, is one of those skilfully developed
portions of an artistic plot; and plots exist only in romance. So do
villains; and besides, my cousin isn't one. Besides that, if Howard is
in that thing, no doubt Kemp and I are too. So your nice young man is in
very safe company."
"You draw such silly inferences," said Sylvia coolly; but there was a
good deal of colour in her cheeks; and she knew it and pulled her big
motor veil across her face, fastening it under her chin. All of which
amused Grace Ferrall infinitely until the subtler significance of the
girl's mental processes struck her, sobering her own thoughts. Sylvia,
too, had grown serious in her preoccupation; and the partie-a-deux
terminated a few minutes later in a duet of silence over the tea-cups in
The weather had turned warm and misty; one of those sudden sea-coast
changes had greyed the blue in the sky, spreading a fine haze over land
and water, effacing the crisp sparkle of the sea, dulling the westering
A few moments later Sylvia, glancing over her shoulder, noticed that a
fine misty drizzle had clouded the casements. That meant that her usual
evening stroll on the cliffs with Quarrier, before dressing for dinner,
was off. And she drew a little breath of unconscious relief as Marion
Page walked in, her light woollen shooting-jacket, her hat, shoes, and
the barrels of the fowling-piece tucked under her left arm-pit, all
glimmering frostily with powdered rain drops.
She said something to Grace Ferrall about the mist promising good point-
shooting in the morning, took the order book from a servant, jotted down
her request to be called an hour before sunrise, filled in the gun-room
records with her score--the species and number bagged, and the number of
shells used--and accepting the tea offered, drew out a tiny cigarette-
case of sweet-bay wood heavily crusted with rose-gold.
"With whom were you shooting?" asked Grace, as Marion dropped one well-
shaped leg over the other and wreathed her delicately tanned features in
"Stephen Siward and Blinky. They're at it yet, but I had some letters to
write." She glanced leisurely at Sylvia and touched the ash-tray with
the whitening end of her cigarette. "That dog you let Mr. Siward have is
a good one. I'm taking him to Jersey next week for the cock-shooting."
Sylvia returned her calm gaze blankly.
An unreasonable and disagreeable shock had passed through her.
"My North Carolina pointers are useless for close work," observed Marion
indifferently; and she leaned back, watching the blue smoke curling
upward from her cigarette.
Sylvia, distrait, but with downcast eyes on fire under the fringed lids,
was thinking of the cheque Siward had given her for Sagamore. The
transaction, for her, had been a business one on the surface only. She
had never meant to use the cheque. She had laid it away among a few
letters, relics, pleasant souvenirs of the summer. To her the affair had
been softened by a delicate hint of intimacy,--the delight he was to take
in something that had once been hers had given her a faint taste of the
pleasure of according pleasure to a man. And this is what he had done!
The drizzle had turned to fog, through which rain was now pelting the
cliffs; people were returning from the open; a motor-car came whizzing
into the drive, and out of it tumbled Rena and Eileen and the faithful
Pages, the girls irritable and ready for tea, and the boys like a pair
of eager, wagging, setter puppies, pleased with everything and
everybody, utterly oblivious to the sombre repose brooding above the
Their sister calmly refused them the use of her cigarettes. Eileen
presented her pretty shoulder, Rena nearly yawned at them, but, nothing
dampened, they recounted a number of incidents with reciprocal
enthusiasm to Sylvia, who was too inattentive to smile, and to Grace
Ferrall, who smiled the more sweetly through sheer inattention.
Then Alderdene came in, blinking a greeting through his foggy goggles,
sloppy, baggy, heavy shoes wheezing, lingered in the vicinity long
enough to swallow his "peg" and acquire a disdainful opinion of his
shooting from Marion, and then took himself off, leaving the room noisy
with his laugh, which resembled the rattle of a startled kingfisher.
In ones and twos the guests reported as the dusk-curtained fog closed in
on Shotover. Quarrier came, dry as a chip under his rain-coat, but his
silky beard was wet with rain, and moisture powdered his long, soft
eyelashes and white skin; and his flexible, pointed fingers, as he drew
off his gloves, seemed startling in their whiteness through the
"I suppose our evening walk is out of the question," he said, standing
by Sylvia, who had nodded a greeting and then turned her head rather
hastily to see who had entered the room. It was Siward, only a vague
shape in the gloom, but perfectly recognisable to her. At the same
moment Marion Page rose leisurely and strolled toward the billiard-room.
"Our walk?" repeated Sylvia absently--"it's raining, you know." Yet only
a day or two ago she had walked to church with Siward through the rain,
the irritated Major feeling obliged to go with them. Her eyes followed
Siward's figure, suddenly dark against the door of the lighted billiard-
room, then brilliantly illuminated, as he entered, nodded acceptance to
Mortimer's invitation, and picked up the cue just laid aside by Agatha
Caithness, who had turned to speak to Marion. Then Mortimer's bulk
loomed nearer; voices became gay and animated in the billiard-room.
Siward's handsome face was bent toward Agatha Caithness in gay
challenge; Mortimer's heavy laugh broke out; there came the rattle of
pool-balls, and the dull sound of cue-butts striking the floor; then,
crack! and the game began, with Marion Page and Siward fighting Mortimer
and Miss Caithness for something or other.
Quarrier had been speaking for some time before Sylvia became aware of
it--something about a brisk walk in the morning somewhere; and she nodded
impatiently, watching Marion's supple waist-line as she bent far over
the illuminated table for a complicated shot at the enemy.
His fiancee's inattention was not agreeable to Quarrier. A dozen things
had happened since his arrival which had not been agreeable to him: her
failure to meet him at the Fells Crossing, and the reason for her
failure; and her informal acquaintance with Siward, whose presence at
Shotover he had not looked for, and her sudden intimacy with the man he
had never particularly liked, and whom within six months he had come to
detest and to avoid.
These things--the outrageous liberty Siward had permitted himself in
caricaturing him, the mortifying caprice of Sylvia for Siward on the day
of the Shotover cup-drive--had left indelible impressions in a cold and
rather heavy mind, slow to waste effort in the indulgence of any vital
In a few years indifference to Siward had changed to passive
disapproval; that, again, to an emotionless dislike; and when the
scandal at the Patroons Club occurred, for the first time in his life he
understood what it was to fear the man he disliked. For if Siward had
committed the insane imprudence which had cost him his title to
membership, he had also done something, knowingly or otherwise, which
awoke in Quarrier a cold, slow fear; and that fear was dormant, but
present, now, and it, for the time being, dictated his attitude and
bearing toward the man who might or might not be capable of using
viciously a knowledge which Quarrier believed that he must possess.
For that reason, when it was not possible to avoid Siward, his bearing
toward him was carefully civil; for that reason he dampened Major
Belwether's eagerness to tell everybody all he knew about the
shamelessly imprudent girl who had figured with Siward in the scandal,
but whose identity the press had not discovered.
Silence was always desirable to Quarrier; silence concerning all matters
was a trait inborn and congenially cultivated to a habit by him in every
affair of life--in business, in leisure, in the methodical pursuits of
such pleasures as a limited intellect permitted him, in personal and
family matters, in public questions and financial problems.
He listened always, but never invited confidences; he had no opinion to
express when invited. And he became very, very rich.
And over it all spread a thin membrane of vanity, nervous, not
intellectual, sensitiveness; for all sense of humour was absent in this
man, whose smile, when not a physical effort, was automatically and
methodically responsive to certain fixed cues. He smiled when he said
"Good morning," when declining or accepting invitations, when taking his
leave, when meeting anybody of any financial importance, and when
everybody except himself had begun to laugh in a theatre or a drawing-
room. This limit to any personal manifestation he considered a generous
one. And perhaps it was.
A sudden rain-squall, noisy against the casements, had darkened the
room; then the electric lights broke out with a mild candle-like lustre,
and Quarrier, standing beside Sylvia's chair, discovered it to be empty.
It was not until he had dressed for dinner that he saw her again, seated
on the stairs with Marion Page--a new appearance of intimacy for both
women, who heretofore had found nothing except a passing civility in
Marion was discussing dog-breeding with that cool, crude, direct
insouciance so unpleasant to some men. Sylvia was attentive, curious,
and instinctively shrinking by turns, secretly dismayed at the
overplainness of terms employed in kennel lore by the girl at her side.
The conversation veered toward the Sagamore pup. Marion explained that
Siward was too busy to do any Southern shooting, which was why he was
glad to have her polish Sagamore on Jersey woodcock.
"I thought it was not good for a dog to be used by anybody except his
master," said Sylvia carelessly.
"Only second-raters suffer. Besides, I have shot enough, now, with Mr.
Siward to use his dog as he does."
"He is an agreeable shooting companion, smiled Sylvia.
"He is perfect," answered Marion coolly. "The only test for a
thoroughbred is the field. He rings true."
They exchanged carefully impersonal views on Siward's good qualities for
a moment or two; then Marion said bluntly: "Do you know anything in
particular about that Patroons Club affair?"
"No," said Sylvia, "nothing in particular."
"Neither do I; and I don't care to; I mean, that I don't care what he
did; and I wish that gossiping old Major would stop trying to hint it to
"Oh! I forgot. Beg your pardon, you know, but--"
"I'm not offended," observed Sylvia, with a shrug of her pretty, bare
Marion laughed. "Such a gadabout! Besides, I'm no prude, but he and
Leroy Mortimer have no business to talk to unmarried women the way they
do. No matter how worldly wise we are, men have no right to suppose we
"Pooh!" shrugged Sylvia. "I have no patience to study out double-
entendre, so it never shocks me. Besides--"
She was going to add that she was not at all versed in doubtful worldly
wisdom, but decided not to, as it might seem to imply disapproval of
Marion's learning. So she went on: "Besides, what have innuendoes to do
with Mr. Siward?"
"I don't know whether I care to understand them. The Major hinted that
the woman--the one who figured in it--is--rather exclusively Mr. Siward's
"Exclusively?" repeated Sylvia curiously. "She's a public actress, isn't
"If you call the manoeuvres of a newly fledged chorus girl acting, yes,
she is. But I don't believe Mr. Siward figures in that unfashionable
role. Why, there are too many women of his own sort ready for mischief."
Marion turned to Sylvia, her eyes hard with a cynicism quite lost on the
other. "That sort of thing might suit Leroy Mortimer, but it doesn't fit
Mr. Siward," she concluded, rising as their hostess appeared from above
and the butler from below.
And all through dinner an indefinitely unpleasant remembrance of the
conversation lingered with Sylvia, and she sat silent for minutes at a
time, returning to actualities with a long, curious side-glance across
at Siward, and an uncomprehending smile of assent for whatever Quarrier
or Major Belwether had been saying to her.
Cards she managed to avoid after dinner, and stood by Quarrier's chair
for half an hour, absently watching the relentless method and steady
adherence to rule which characterised his Bridge-playing, the eager,
unslaked brutality of Mortimer, the set, selfish face of his pretty
wife, the chilled intensity of Miss Caithness.
And Grace Ferrall's phrase recurred to her, "Nobody ever has enough
money!"--not even these people, whose only worry was to find investment
for the surplus they were unable to spend. Something of the meanness of
it all penetrated her. Were these the real visages of these people,
whose faces otherwise seemed so smooth and human? Was Leila Mortimer
aware of the shrillness of her voice? Did Agatha Caithness realise how
pinched her mouth and nose had grown? Did even Leroy Mortimer dream how
swollen the pouches under his eyes were; how red and puffy his hands,
shuffling a new pack; how pendulous and dreadful his red under-lip when
absorbedly making up his cards?
Instinctively she moved a step forward for a glimpse of Quarrier's face.
The face appeared to be a study in blankness. His natural visage was
emotionless and inexpressive enough, but this face, from which every
vestige of colour had fled, fascinated her with its dead whiteness; and
the hair brushed high, the long, black lashes, the silky beard, struck
her as absolutely ghastly, as though they had been glued to a face of
She turned on her heel, restless, depressed, inclined for companionship.
The Page boys had tempted Rena and Eileen to the billiard-room; Voucher,
Alderdene, and Major Belwether were huddled over a table, immersed in
Preference; Katharyn Tassel and Grace Ferrall sat together looking over
the announcements of Sylvia's engagement in a batch of New York papers
just arrived; Ferrall was writing at a desk, and Siward and Marion were
occupied in the former's sketch for an ideal shooting vehicle, to be
built on the buckboard principle, with a clever arrangement for dogs,
guns, ammunition, and provisions. Siward's profile, as it bent in the
lamplight over the paper, was very engaging. The boyish note
predominated as he talked while he drew, his eyes now smiling, now
seriously intent on the sketch which was developing so swiftly under his
Marion's clean-cut blond head was close to his, her supple body twisted
in her seat, one bare arm hanging over the back of the chair. Something
in her attitude seemed to exclude intrusion; her voice, too, was hushed
in comment, though his was pitched in his naturally agreeable key.
Sylvia had taken a hesitating step toward them, but halted, turning
irresolutely; and suddenly over her crept a sensation of
isolation--something of that feeling which had roused her at midnight
from her bed and driven her to Grace Ferrall for a refuge from she knew
The rustle of her silken dinner gown was scarcely perceptible as she
turned. Siward, moving his head slightly, glanced up, then brought his
sketch to a brilliant finish.
"Don't you think something of this sort is practicable?" he asked
pleasantly, including Mrs. Ferrall and Katharyn Tassel in a general
appeal which brought them into the circle of two. Grace Ferrall leaned
forward, looking over Marion's shoulder, and Siward rose and stepped
back, with a quick glance into the hall--in time to catch a glimmer of
pale blue and lace on the stairs.
"I suppose my cigarettes are in my room as usual," he said aloud to
himself, wheeling so that he could not have time to see Marion's offer
of her little gold-encrusted case, or notice her quickly raised eyes,
bright with suspicion and vexation. For she, too, had observed Sylvia's
distant entrance, had been perfectly aware of Siward's cognizance of
Sylvia's retreat; and when Siward went on sketching she had been
content. Now she could not tell whether he had deliberately and
skillfully taken his conge to follow Sylvia, or whether, in his quest
for his cigarettes, chance might meddle, as usual. Even if he returned,
she could not know with certainty how much of a part hazard had played
on the landing above, where she already heard the distant sounds of
Sylvia's voice mingling with Siward's, then a light footfall or two, and
He had greeted her in his usual careless, happy fashion, just as she had
reached her chamber door; and she turned at the sound of his voice,
confused, unsmiling, a little pale.
"Is it headache, or are you too in quest of cigarettes?" he asked, as he
stopped in passing her where she stood, one slender hand on the knob of
"I don't smoke, you know," she said, looking up at him with a cool
little laugh. "It isn't headache either. I was--boring myself, Mr.
"Is there any virtue in me as a remedy?"
"Oh, I have no doubt you have lots of virtues. . Perhaps you might do as
a temporary remedy--first aid to the injured." She laughed again,
uncertainly. "But you are on a quest for cigarettes."
"A rendezvous--with the Sand-Man. . Good night."
"Good night . if you must say it."
"It's polite to say something . isn't it?"
"It would be polite to say, 'With pleasure, Mr. Siward!'"
"But you haven't invited me to do anything--not even to accept a
cigarette. Besides, you didn't expect to meet me up here?"
The trailing accent made it near enough a question for him to say, "Yes,
"How could you?"
"I saw you leave the room."
"You were sketching for Marion Page. Do you wish me to believe that you
"--And followed you? Yes, I did follow you." She looked at him, then past
him toward a corner of the wide hall where a maid in cap and apron sat
pretending to be sewing. "Careful!" she motioned with smiling lips,
"servants gossip. . Good night, again."
"Oh, dear! you mustn't speak so loud," she motioned, with her fresh,
sweet lips curving on the edge of that adorable smile once more.
"Couldn't we have a moment--"
"Hush! I must open my door"--lingering. "I might come out again, if you
have anything particularly important to communicate to me."
"I have. There's a big bay-window at the end of the other corridor. Will
But she opened her door, with a light laugh, saying "good night" again,
and closed it noiselessly behind her.
He walked on, turning into his corridor, but kept straight ahead,
passing his own door, on to the window at the end of the hall, then
north along a wide passageway which terminated in a bay-window
overlooking the roof of the indoor swimming tank.
Rain rattled heavily, against the panes and on the lighted roof of
opalescent glass below, through which he could make out the shadowy
fronds of palms.
It appeared that he had cigarettes enough, for he lighted one presently,
and, leaving his chair, curled up in the cushioned and pillowed window-
seat, gathering his knees together under his arm.
The cigarette he had lighted went out. He had bitten into it and twisted
it so roughly that it presently crumbled; and he threw the rags of it
into a metal bowl, locking his jaws in silence. For the night threatened
to be a bad one for him. A heavy fragrance from his neighbour's wine-
glass at dinner had stirred up what had for a time lain dormant; and, by
accident, something--some sweetmeat he had tasted--was saturated in
Now, his restlessness at the prospect of a blank night had quickened to
uneasiness, with a hint of fever tinting his skin, but, as yet, the dull
ache in his body was scarcely more than a premonition.
He had his own devices for tiding him over such periods--reading,
tobacco, and the long, blind, dogged tramps he took in town. But here,
to-night, in the rain, one stood every chance of walking off the cliffs;
and he was sick of reading himself sightless over the sort of books sent
wholesale to Shotover; and he was already too ill at ease, physically,
to make smoking endurable.
Were it not for a half-defiant, half-sullen dread of the coming night,
he might have put it from his mind in spite of the slowly increasing
nervous tension and the steady dull consciousness of desire. He drew
another Sirdar from his case and sat staring at the rain-smeared night,
twisting the frail fragrant cigarette to bits between his fingers.
After a while he began to walk monotonously to and fro the length of the
corridor, like a man timing his steps to the heavy ache of body or mind.
Once he went as far as his own door, entered, and stepping to the wash-
basin, let the icy water run over hands and wrists. This sometimes
helped to stimulate and soothe him; it did now, for a while--long enough
to change the current of his thoughts to the girl he had hoped might
have the imprudence to return for a tryst, innocent enough in itself,
yet unconventional and unreasonable enough to prove attractive to them
Probably she wouldn't come; she had kept her fluffy skirts clear of him
since Cup Day--which simply corroborated his vague estimate of her. Had
she done the contrary, his estimate would have been the same; for,
unconsciously but naturally, he had prejudged her. A girl who could
capture Quarrier at full noontide, and in the face of all Manhattan, was
a girl equipped for anything she dared--though she was probably too
clever to dare too much; a girl to be interested in, to amuse and be
amused by; a girl to be reckoned with. His restlessness and his fever
subdued by the icy water, he stood drying his hands, thinking, coolly,
how close he had come to being seriously in love with this young girl,
whose attitude was always a curious temptation, whose smile was a
charming provocation, whose youth and beauty were to him a perpetual
challenge. He admitted to himself, calmly, that he had never seen a
woman he cared as much for; that for the brief moment of his declaration
he had known an utterly new emotion, which inevitably must have become
the love he had so quietly declared it to be. He had never before felt
as he felt then, cared as he cared then. Anything had been possible for
him at that time--any degree of love, any devotion, any generous
renunciation. Clear-sighted, master of himself, he saw love before him,
and knew it when he saw it; recognised it, was ready for it, offered it,
emboldened by her soft hands so eloquent in his.
And in his arms he held it for an instant, he thought, spite of the
sudden inertia, spite of the according of cold lips and hands still
colder, relaxed, inert; held it until he doubted. That was all; he had
been wise to doubt such sudden miracles as that. She, consummate and
charming, had soon set him right. And, after all, she liked him; and she
had been sure enough of herself to permit the impulse of a moment to
carry her with him--a little way, a very little way--merely to the formal
symbol of a passion the germ of which she recognised in him.
Then she had become intelligent again, with a little laughter, a little
malice, a becoming tint of hesitation and confusion; all the sense, all
the arts, all the friendly sweetness of a woman thorough in training,
schooled in self-possession, clear enough to be audacious and perverse
without danger to herself, to the man, or to the main chance.
Standing there alone in his lighted room, he wondered whether, had her
trained and inbred policy been less precise, less worldly, she might
have responded to such a man as he. Perfectly conscious that he had been
capable of loving her; aware, too, that his experience had left him on
that borderland only through his cool refusal to cross it and face a
hopeless battle already lost, he leisurely and mentally took the measure
of his own state of mind, and found all well, all intact; found himself
still master of his affections, and probably clear-minded enough to
remain so under the circumstances.
To such a man as he, impulse to love, capacity to love, did not mean
instant capsizing with a flop into sentimental tempests, where swamped,
ardent and callow youth raises a hysterically selfish clamour for
reciprocity or death. His nature partly, partly his character, accounted
for this balance; and, in part, a rather wide experience with women of
various degrees counted more.
So, by instinct and experience, normally temperate, only what was
abnormal and inherited might work a mischief in this man. His
listlessness, his easy acquiescence, were but consequent upon the self-
knowledge of self-control. But mastery of the master-vice required
something different; he was sick of a sickness; and because, in this
sickness, will, mind, and body are tainted too, reason and logic lack
clarity; and, to the signals of danger his reply had always been either
overconfident or weak--and it had been always the same reply: "Not yet.
There is time." And now, this last week, it had come upon him that the
time was now; the skirmish was already on; and it had alarmed him
suddenly to find that the skirmish was already a battle, and a rough
As he stood there he heard voices on the stairs. People had already
begun to retire, because late cards and point-shooting at dawn do not
agree. And a point-shooting picnic in snugly elaborate blinds was
popular with women--or was supposed to be.
He could distinguish by their voices, by their laughter and step, the
people who were mounting the stairway and lingering for gossip or
passing through the various corridors to court the sleep denied him; he
heard Mortimer's heavy tread and the soft shuffling step of Major
Belwether as they left the elevator; and the patter of his hostess's
satin slippers, and her gay "good night" on the stairs.
Little by little the tumult died away. Quarrier's measured step came,
passed; Marion Page's cool, crisp voice and walk, and the giggle and
amble of the twins, and Rena and Eileen,--the last laggards, with
Ferrall's brisk, decisive tones and stride to close the procession.
He turned and looked grimly at his bed, then, shutting off the lights,
he opened his door and went out into the deserted corridor, where the
elevator shaft was dark and only the dim night-lights burned at angles
in the passageways.
He had his rain-coat and cap with him, not being certain of what he
might be driven to; but for the present he found the bay-window
overlooking the swimming tank sufficient to begin the vigil.
Secure from intrusion, as there were no bedrooms on that corridor, he
tossed coat and cap into the window-seat, walked to and fro for a while
listening to the rain, then sat down, his well-shaped head between his
hands. And in silence he faced the Enemy.
How long he had sat there he did not know. When he raised his face, all
gray and drawn with the tension of conflict, his eyes were not very
clear, nor did the figure standing there in the dim light from the hall
mean anything for a moment.
"Mr. Siward?" in an uncertain voice, almost a whisper.
He stood up mechanically, and she saw his face.
"Are you ill? What is it?"
"Ill? No." He passed his hand over his eyes. "I fancy I was close to the
edge of sleep." Some colour came back into his face; he stood smiling
now, the significance of her presence dawning on him.
"Did you really come?" he asked. "This isn't a very lovely but
impalpable astral vision, is it?"
"It's horridly imprudent, isn't it?" she murmured, still considering the
rather drawn and pallid face of the man before her. "I came out of pure
curiosity, Mr. Siward."
She glanced about her. He moved a big bunch of hothouse roses so she
could pass, and she settled down lightly on the edge of the window-seat.
When he had piled some big downy cushions behind her back, she made a
quick gesture of invitation.
"I have only a moment," she said, as he seated himself beside her. "Part
of my curiosity is satisfied in finding you here; I didn't suppose you
"I can be fairly faithful. What else are you curious about?"
"You said you had something important--"
"--To tell you? So I did. That was bribery, perjury, false pretences,
robbery under arms, anything you will! I only wanted you to come."
"That is a shameful confession!" she said; but her smile was gay enough,
and she noiselessly shook out her fluffy skirts and settled herself a
trifle more deeply among the pillows.
"Of course," she observed absently, "you are dreadfully mortified at
"Naturally," he admitted.
The patter of the rain attracted her attention; she peered out through
the blurred casements into the blackness. Then, picking up his cap and
indicating his raincoat, "Why?" she asked.
"Oh--in case you hadn't come--"
"A walk? By yourself? A night like this on the cliffs! You are not
perfectly mad, are you?"
Her face grew serious and beautiful.
"What is the matter, Mr. Siward?"
"Do you care to be more explicit?"
"Well," he said, with a humourous glance at her, "I haven't seen you for
ages. That's not wholesome for me, you know."
"But you see me now; and it does not seem to benefit you."
"I feel much better," he insisted, laughing; and her blue eyes grew very
lovely as the smile broke from them in uncertain response.
"So you had nothing really important to tell me, Mr. Siward?"
"Only that I wanted you."
"Oh! . I said important."
But he did not argue the question; and she leaned forward, broke a rose
from its stem, then sank back a little way among the cushions, looking
at him, idly inhaling the hothouse perfume.
"Why have you so ostentatiously avoided me, Mr. Siward?" she asked
"Well, upon my word!" he said, with a touch of irritation.
"Oh, you are so dreadfully literal!" she shrugged, brushing her
straight, sensitive nose with the pink blossom; "I only said it to give
you a chance. . If you are going to be stupid, good night!" But she made
no movement to go. . "Yes, then; I have avoided you. And it doesn't
become you to ask why."
"Because I kissed you?"
"You hint at the true reason so chivalrously, so delicately," she said,
"that I scarcely recognise it." The cool mockery of her voice and the
warm, quick colour tinting neck and face were incongruous. He thought
with slow surprise that she was not yet letter-perfect in her role of
the material triumphant over the spiritual. A trifle ashamed, too, he
sat silent, watching the silken petals fall one by one as she slowly
detached them with delicate, restless lips.
"I am sorry I came," she said reflectively. "You don't know why I came,
do you? Sheer loneliness, Mr. Siward; there is something of the child in
me still, you see. I am not yet sufficiently resourceful to take it out
in a quietly tearful obligato; I never learned how to produce tears. .
So I came to you." She had stripped the petals from the rose, and now,
tossing the crushed branch from her, she leaned forward and broke from
its stem a heavy, perfumed bud, half unfolded.
"It seems my fate to pass my life in bidding you good night," she said,
straightening up and turning to him with the careless laughter touching
mouth and eyes again. Then, resting her weight on one hand, her smooth,
white shoulder rounded beside her cheek, she looked at him out of
"What is it that women find so attractive in you? The man's experienced
insouciance? The boy's unconscious cynicism? The mystery of your self-
sufficiency? The faulty humanity in you? The youth in you already
showing traces of wear that hint of future scars? What will you be at
thirty-five? At forty? . Ah," she added softly, "what are you now? For I
don't know, and you cannot tell me if you would. . Out of these little
windows called eyes we look at one another, and study surfaces, and try
to peep into neighbours' windows. But all is dark behind the
windows--always dark, in there where they tell us souls hide."
She laid the shell-pink bud against her cheek that matched it, smiling
with wise sweetness to herself.
"What counts with you?" he asked after a moment.
"In your affections. What prepossesses you?"
She laughed audaciously: "Your traits--some of them--all of them that you
reveal. You must be aware of that much already, considering everything--"
"Then, what is it I lack? Where do I fail?"
"But you don't lack--you don't fail! I ask nothing more of you, Mr.
"A man from whom a woman desires nothing is already convicted of
insufficiency. . You would recognise this very quickly if I made love to
"Is that the only way I am to discover your insufficiency, Mr. Siward?"
"Or my sufficiency. . Have you enough curiosity to try?"
"Oh! I thought you were to try." Then, quickly: "But I think you have
already experimented; and I did not notice your shortcomings. So there
is no use in pursuing that line of investigation any farther--is there?"
And always with her the mischief lay in the trailing upward inflection;
in the confused sweetness of her eyes, and their lovely uncertainty.
One slim white hand held the rose against her cheek; the other lay idly
on her knee, fresh and delicate as a fallen petal; and he laid both
hands over it and lifted it between them.
"Mr. Siward, I am afraid this is becoming a habit with you." The gay
mockery was not quite genuine; the curve of lips too sensitive for a
voice so lightly cynical.
He smiled, bending there, considering her hand between his; and after a
moment her muscles relaxed, and bare round arm and hand lay abandoned to
"Quite flawless--perfect," he said aloud to himself.
"Do you--read hands?"
"Vaguely." He touched the smooth palm: "Long life, clear mind, and"--he
laughed--"heart supreme over reason! There is written a white lie--but a
"It is no lie."
He laughed again, unconvinced.
"It is the truth," she said, seriously insisting and bending sideways
above her own hand where it lay in his. "It is a miserable confession to
admit it, but I'm afraid intelligence would fight a losing battle with
heart if the conflict ever came. You see, I know, having nobody to study
except myself all these years. . There is the proof of it--that selfish,
smooth contour, where there should be generosity. Then, look at the
tendency of imagination toward mischief!" She laid her right forefinger
on the palm of the left hand which he held, and traced the developments
arising in the Mount of Hermes. "Is it not a horrid hand, Mr. Siward? I
don't know how much you know about palms, but--" She suddenly flushed,
and attempted to close her hand, doubling the thumb over. There was a
little half-hearted struggle, freeing one of his arms, which fell,
settling about her slender waist; a silence, a breathless moment, and he
had kissed her. Her lips were warm, this time.
She recovered herself, avoiding his eyes, and moved backward, shielding
her face with pretty upflung elbows out-turned. "I told you it was
becoming a habit with you!" The loud beating of her pulses marred her
voice. "Must I establish a dead-line every time I commit the folly of
being alone with you?"
"I'll draw that line," he said, taking her in his arms.
"I--I beg you will draw it quickly, Mr. Siward."
"I do; it passes through your heart and mine!"
"Is--do you mean a declaration--again? You are compromising yourself, you
know. I warn you that you are committing yourself."
"So are you. Look at me!"
In his arms, her own arms pressed against his breast, resisting, she
raised her splendid youthful eyes; and through and through her shot
pulse on pulse, until every nerve seemed aquiver.
"While I'm still sane," he said with a dry catch in his throat, "before
I tell you that I love you, look at me."
"I will, if you wish," she said with a trembling smile, "but it is
"That is what I shall find out in time. . You must meet my eyes. That is
well; that is frank and sweet--"
"And useless--truly it is. . Please don't tell me--anything."
"You will not listen?"
"There is no chance for you--if you mean love. I--I tell you in time, you
see. . I am utterly frivolous--quite selfish and mercenary."
"I take my chance!"
"No, I give you none! Why do you interfere! A--a girl's policy costs her
something if it be worth anything; whatever it costs it is worth it to
me. . And I do not love you. In so short a time how could I?"
Then in his arms she fell a-trembling. Something blinded her eyes, and
she turned her head sharply, only to encounter his lips on hers in a
deep, clinging embrace that left her dazed, still resisting with the
fragments of breath and voice.
"Not again--I beg--you. Let me go now. It is not best. Oh! truly, truly it
is all wrong with us now." She bent her head, blinded with tears,
swaying, stunned; then, with a breathless sound, turned in his arms to
meet his lips, her hands contracting in his; and, confronting, they
paused, suspending the crisis, young faces close, and hearts afire.
"Sylvia, I love you."
For an instant their lips clung; she had rendered him his kiss. Then,
tremblingly, "It is useless . even though I loved you."
"I--I cannot! . And it is no use--no use! I do not know myself--this way.
My eyes--are wet. It is not like me; there is nothing of me in this girl
you hold so closely, so confidently. . I do care for you--how can I help
it? How could any woman help it? Is not that enough?"
"Until you are a bride, yes."
"A bride? Stephen!--I cannot--"
"You cannot help it, Sylvia."
"I must! I have my way to go."
"My way lies that way."
"No! no! I cannot do it; it is not best for me--not best for you. . I do
care for you; you have taught me how to say it. But--you know what I have
done--and mean to do, and must carry through. Then, how can you love a
girl like that?"
"Dear, I know the woman I love."
"Silly, she is what her life has made her--material, passionately
selfish, unable to renounce the root of all evil. . Even if this--this
happiness were ours always--I mean, if this madness could last our
wedded life--I am not good enough, not noble enough, to forget what I
might have had, and put away. . Is it not dreadful to admit it? Do you
not know that self-contempt is part of the price? . I have no money. I
know what you have. . I asked. And it is enough for a man who remains
unmarried. . For I cannot 'make things do'; I cannot 'contrive'; I will
not cling to the fringe of things, or play that heartbreaking role of
the shabby expatriated on the Continent. . No person in this world ever
had enough. I tell you I could find use for every flake of metal ever
mined! . You see you do not know me. From my pretty face and figure you
misjudge me. I am intelligent--not intellectual, though I might have
been, might even be yet. I am cultivated, not learned; though I care for
learning--or might, if I had time. . My role in life is to mount to a
security too high for any question as to my dominance. . Can you take me
"There are other heights, Sylvia."
"The spiritual; I know. I could not breathe there, if I cared to climb.
. And I have told you what I am--all silk and lace and smooth-skinned
selfishness." She looked at him wistfully. "If you can change me, take
me." And she rose, facing him.
"I do not give you up," he said, with a savage note hardening his voice;
and it thrilled her to hear it, and every drop of blood in her body
leaped as she yielded to his arms again, heavy-lidded, trembling,
confused, under the piercing sweetness of contact.
The perfume of her mouth, her hair, the consenting fingers locked in
his, palm against palm, the lips, acquiescent, then afire at last,
responsive to his own; and her eyes opening from the dream under the
white lids--these were what he had of her till every vein in him pulsed
flame. Then her voice, broken, breathless:
"Good night. Love me while you can--and forgive me! . Good night. . Where
are we? All--all this must have stunned me, blinded me. . Is this my
door, or yours? Hush! I am half dead with fear--to be here under the
light again. . If you take me again, my knees will give way. . And I
must find my door. Oh, the ghastly imprudence of it! . Good night . good
night. I--I love you!"
CHAPTER VI MODUS VIVENDI
After the first few days of his arrival at Shotover time had threatened
to hang heavily on Mortimer's mottled hands. After the second day afield
he recognised that his shooting career was practically over; he had
become too bulky during the last year to endure the physical exertion;
his habits, too, had at length made traitors of his eyes; a half hour's
snipe-shooting in the sun, and the veins in his neck swelled ominously.
Panting, eyes inflamed, fat arms wobbly, he had scored miss after miss,
and laboured onward, sullenly persistent to the end. But it was the end.
That cup day finished him; he recognised that he was done for. And,
following the Law of Pleasure, which finishes us before we are finished
with it, he did not experience any particular sense of deprivation in
the prospect. Only the wholesome dread caging. But Mortimer, not yet
done with self-indulgence in more convenient forms, cast about him
within his new limits for occupation between those hours consecrated to
the rites of the table and the card-room.
He drove four, but found that it numbed his arms, and that the sea air
made him sleepy. Motor-cars agreed with him only when driving with a
pretty woman. Forced through ennui to fish off the rocks, he soon tired
of the sea-perch and rock-cod and the malodours of periwinkle and clam.
Then he frankly took to Major Belwether's sunny side of the gun-room,
with illustrated papers and apples and decanter. But Major Belwether,
always as careful of his digestion as of his financial secrets, blandly
dodged the pressing invitations to rum and confidence, until Mortimer
sulkily took up his headquarters in the reading-room, on the chance of
his wife's moving elsewhere. Which she did, unobtrusively carrying
Captain Voucher with her in a sudden zeal for billiard practice on rainy
mornings now too frequent along the coast.
Mortimer possessed that mysterious talent, so common among the
financially insolvent, for living lavishly on an invisible income. But,
plan as he would, he had never been able to increase that income through
confidential gossip with men like Quarrier or Belwether, or even
Ferrall. What information his pretty wife might have extracted he did
not know; her income had never visibly increased above the vanishing
point, although, like himself, she denied herself nothing. One short,
lively interview with her had been enough to drive all partnership ideas
out of his head. If he wanted to learn anything financially advantageous
to himself he must do it without her aid; and as he was perpetually in
hopes of the friendly hint that never came, he still moused about when
opportunity offered; and this also helped to kill time.
Besides, he was always studying women. Years before, Grace Ferrall had
snapped her slim fingers in his face; and here, at Shotover, the field
was limited. Mrs. Vendenning had left; Agatha Caithness was still a pale
and reticent puzzle; Rena, Katharyn, and Eileen tormented him; Marion
Page, coolly au fait, yawned in his face. There remained Sylvia, who,
knowing nothing about his species, met him half-way with the sweet and
sensitive deference due a somewhat battered and infirm gentleman of
forty-eight--until a sleek aside from Major Belwether spoiled everything,
as usual, for her, leaving her painfully conscious and perplexed between
doubt and disgust.
Meanwhile, the wealthy master of Black Fells, Beverly Plank, had found
encouragement enough at Shotover to venture on tentative informality.
There was no doubt that ultimately he must be counted on in New York;
but nobody except him was impatiently cordial for the event; and so, at
the little house party, he slipped and slid from every attempt at closer
quarters, until, rolling smoothly enough, he landed without much
discomfort somewhere between Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Mortimer. And it was not
a question as to "which would be good to him," observed Major Belwether,
with his misleading and benevolent mirth; "it was, which would be
And Mrs. Mortimer, abandoning Captain Voucher by the same token,
displayed certain warning notices perfectly comprehensive to her
husband. And at first he was inclined to recognise defeat.
But the general insuccess which had so faithfully attended him recently
had aroused the long-dormant desire for a general review of the
situation with his wife--perhaps even the furtive hope of some conjugal
arrangement tending toward an exchange of views concerning possible
The evening previous, to his intense disgust, host, hostess, and guests
had retired early, in view of the point-shooting at dawn. For not only
was there to be no point-shooting for him, but he had risen from the
card-table heavily hit; and besides, for the first time his apples and
port had disagreed with him.
As he had not risen until mid-day he was not sleepy. Books were an
aversion equalled only by distaste for his own company. Irritated,
bored, he had perforce sulkily entered the elevator and passed to his
room, where there was nothing on earth for him to do except to thumb
over last week's sporting periodicals and smoke himself stupid.
But it required more than that to ensnare the goddess of slumber. He
walked about the room, haunted of slow thoughts; he stood at the rain-
smeared pane, fat fingers resting on the glass. The richly flavoured
cigar grew distasteful; and if he could not smoke, what, in pity's name,
was he to do?
Involuntarily his distended eyes wandered to his wife's locked and
bolted door; then he thought of Beverly Plank, and his own failure to
fasten himself upon that anxiously over-cordial individual with his
houses and his villas and his yachts and his investments!
He stepped to the switch and extinguished the lights in his room. Under
the door, along the sill, a glimmer came from his wife's bed-chamber. He
listened; the maid was still there; so he sat down in the darkness to
wait; and by-and-by he heard the outer bedroom door close, and the
subdued rustle of the departing maid.
Then, turning on his lights, he moved ponderously and jauntily to his
wife's door and knocked discreetly.
Leila Mortimer came to the door and opened it; her hair was coiled for
the night, her pretty figure outlined under a cascade of clinging lace.
"What is the matter?" she asked quietly.
"Are you point-shooting to-morrow?"
"I wanted to chat with you."
"I'm sorry. I'm driving to Wenniston, after breakfast, with Beverly
Plank, and I need sleep."
"I want to talk to you," he repeated doggedly.
She regarded him for a moment in silence, then, with an assenting
gesture, turned away into her room; and he followed, heavily
apprehensive but resolved.
She had seated herself among a pile of cushions, one knee crossed over
the other, her slim white foot half concealed by the silken toe of her
slipper. And as he pulled a chair forward for himself, her pretty black
eyes, which slanted a little, took his measure and divined trouble.
"Leila," he said, "why can't we have--"
"A cigarette?" she interrupted, indicating her dainty case on the table.
He took one, savagely aware of defiance somewhere. She lighted her own
from a candle and settled back, studying the sequence of blue smoke-
rings jetting upward to the ceiling.
"About this man Plank," he began, louder than he had intended through
sheer self-mistrust; and his wife made a quick, disdainful sign of
caution, which subdued his voice instantly. "Why can't we take him up
--together, Leila?" he ended lamely, furious at his own uneasiness in a
matter which might concern him vitally.
"I see no necessity of your taking him up," observed his wife serenely.
"I can do what may be useful to him in town."
"So can I. There are clubs where he ought to be seen--"
"I can manage such matters much better."
"You can't manage everything," he insisted sullenly. "There are chances
of various sorts--"
"Investments?" asked Mrs. Mortimer, with bright malice.
"See here, Leila, you have your own way too much. I say little; I make
damned few observations; but I could, if I cared to. . It becomes you to
be civil at least. I want to talk over this Plank matter with you; I
want you to listen, too."
A shade of faint disgust passed over her face. "I am listening," she
"Well, then, I can see several ways in which the man can be of use to
me. . I discovered him before you did, anyway. And what I want to do is
to have a frank, honourable--"
"--An honourable understanding with you, I said," he repeated, reddening.
"Oh!" She snapped her cigarette into the grate. "Oh! I see. And what
"Yes; what then?"
"Why, you and I can arrange to stand behind him this winter in town,
"Then--damn it!--the beggar can show his gratitude, can't he?"
"How?" she asked listlessly.
"By making good. How else?" he retorted savagely. "He can't welch
because there's little to climb for beyond us; and even if he climbs, he
can't ignore us. I can do as many things for him in my way as you can in
yours. What is the use of being a pig, Leila? Anything he does for me
isn't going to cancel his obligations to you."
"I know him better than you do," she observed, bending her head and
pleating the lace on her knee. "There is Dutch blood in him."
"Not good Hollander, but common Dutch," sneered Mortimer. "And you mean
he'll squeeze a dollar till the eagle screams-don't you?"
She sat silent, pleating her lace with steady fingers.
"Well, that's all right, too," laughed Mortimer easily; "let the Audubon
Society worry over the eagle. It's a perfectly plain business
proposition; we can do for him in a couple of winters what he can't do
for himself in ten. Figure it out for yourself, Leila," he said, waving
a mottled fat hand at her.
"I--have," she said under her breath.
"Then, is it settled?
"That we form ourselves into a benevolent society of two in behalf of
"I--I don't want to, Roy," she said slowly.
She did not say why not, seated there nervously pleating the fragile
stuff clinging to her knee.
"Why not?" he repeated menacingly. Her unexpectedly quiescent attitude
had emboldened him to a bullying tone--something he had not lately
She raised her eyes to his: "I--rather like him," she said quietly.
"Then, by God! he'll pay for that!" he burst out, mask off, every
inflamed feature shockingly congested.
"Roy! You dare not--"
"I tell you I--"
"You dare not!"
The palpitating silence lengthened; slowly the blood left the swollen
veins. Heavy pendulous lip hanging, he stared at her from distended
eyes, realising that he had forgotten himself. She was right. He dared
not. And she held the whip-hand as usual.
For every suspicion he could entertain, she had evidence of a certainty
to match it; for every chance that he might have to prove anything, she
had twenty proven facts. And he knew it. Why they had, during all these
years, made any outward pretence of conjugal unity they alone knew. The
modus vivendi suited them better than divorce: that was apparent, or had
been until recently. Recently Leila Mortimer had changed--become subdued
and softened to a degree that had perplexed her husband. Her attitude
toward him lacked a little of the bitterness and contempt she usually
reserved for him in private; she had become more prudent, almost
cautious at times.
"I'll tell you one thing," he said with a sudden snarl: "You'd better be
careful there is no gossip about you and Plank."
She reddened under the insult.
"Now we'll see," he continued venomously, "how far you can go alone."
"Do you suppose," she asked calmly, "that I am afraid of a divorce
The question so frankly astonished him that he sat agape, unable to
reply. For years he had very naturally supposed her to be afraid of
it--afraid of not being qualified to obtain it. Indeed, he had taken that
for granted as the very corner-stone of their mutual toleration. Had he
been an ass to do so? A vague alarm took possession of him; for, with
that understanding, he had not been at all careful of his own behaviour,
neither had he been at any particular pains to conceal his doings from
her. His alarm increased. What had he against her, after all, except
ancient suspicions, now so confused and indefinite that memory itself
outlawed the case, if it ever really existed. What had she against him?
Facts--unless she was more stupid than any of her sex he had ever
encountered. And now, this defiance, this increasing prudence, this
subtle change in her, began to make him anxious for the permanency of
the small income she had allowed him during all these years--doled out
to him, as he believed, though her dormant fear of him.
"What are you talking about?" he said harshly.
"I believe I mentioned divorce."
"Well, cut it out! D'ye see? Cut it, I say. You'd stand as much chance
before a referee as a snowball in hell."
"There's no telling," she said coolly, "until one tries."
He glared at her, then burst into a laugh. "Rot!" he said thickly. "Talk
sense, Leila! And keep this hard-headed Dutchman for yourself, if you
feel that way about it. I don't want to butt in. I only thought--for old
times' sake--perhaps you'd--"
"Good night," she managed to say, her disgust almost strangling her.
And he went, furtively, heavy-footed, perplexed, inwardly cursing his
blunder in stirring up a sleeping lioness whom he had so long mistaken
for a dozing cat.
For hours he sat in his room, or paced the four walls, doubtful,
chagrined, furious by turns. Once he drew out a memorandum-book and
stood under a lighted sconce, studying the figures. His losses at
Shotover staggered him, but he had looked to his wife heretofore in such
Certainly the time had come for him to do something. But what?--if his
wife was going to strike such attitudes in the very face of decency?
Certainly a husband in these days was without honour in his own
His uneasiness had produced a raging thirst. He punched an electric
button with his fleshy thumb, and prowled around, waiting. Nobody came;
he punched again, and looked at his watch. It astonished him to find the
hour was three o'clock in the morning. That discovery, however, only
appeared to increase his thirst. He opened the hall door, prepared to
descend into the depths of the house and raid a sideboard; and as he
thrust his heavy head out into the lighted corridor his eyes fell upon
two figures standing at the open door of a bedroom. One was Siward; that
was plain. Who was the girl he had kissed? One of the maids? Somebody's
Every dull pulse began to hammer in Mortimer's head. In his excitement
he stepped half-way into the corridor, then skipped nimbly back, closing
his door without a sound.
"Sylvia Landis, by all that's holy!" he breathed to himself, and sat
down rather suddenly on the edge of the bed.
After a while he rose and crept to the door, opened it, glued his eyes
to the crack, in time to catch a glimpse of Siward entering his own
And that night, Mortimer, lying awake in bed, busy with schemes, became
conscious of a definite idea. It took shape and matured so suddenly that
it actually shocked his moral sense. Then it scared him.
"But--but that is blackmail!" he whispered aloud. "A man can't do that
sort of thing. What the devil ever put it into my head? . And there are
men I know--women, too--scoundrelly blackguards, who'd use that
information somehow; and make it pay, too. The scoundrels!"
He squirmed down among the bedclothes with a sudden shiver; but the
night had turned warm.
"Scoundrels!" he said, with milder emphasis. "Blackmailers! Contemptible
He fell asleep an hour later, muttering something incoherent about
scoundrels and blackmail.
And meanwhile, in the darkened house, from all round came the noise of
knocking on doors, sounds of people stirring--a low voice here and there,
lights breaking out from transoms, the thud of rubber-shod heels, the
rattle of cartridges from the echoing gun-room. For the guests at
Shotover were awaking, lest the wet sky, whitening behind the east, ring
with the whimpering wedges of wild-fowl rushing seaward over empty
The unusual stillness of the house in the late morning sunshine was
pleasant to Miss Landis. She had risen very late, unconscious of the
stir and movement before dawn; and it was only when a maid told her, as
she came from her bath, that she remembered the projected point-
shooting, and concluded, with an odd, happy sense of relief, that she
was almost alone in the house.
A little later, glancing from her bedroom window for a fulfilment of the
promise of the sun which a glimpse of blue sky heralded, she saw Leila
Mortimer settling herself in the forward seat of a Mercedes, and Beverly
Plank climbing in beside her; and she watched Plank steer the big
machine across the wet lawn, while the machinist swung himself into the
tonneau; and away they rolled, faster, faster, rushing out into the
misty hinterland, where the long streak of distant forest already began
to brighten, edged with the first rays of watery sunshine.
So she had the big house to herself--every bit of it and with it freedom
from obligation, from comment, from demand or exaction; freedom from
restraint; liberty to roam about, to read, to dream, to idle, to
remember! Ah, that was what she needed--a quiet interval in this hurrying
youth of hers to catch her breath once more, and stand still, and look
back a day or two and remember.
So, to breakfast all alone was delicious; to stroll, unhurried, to the
sideboard and leisurely choose among the fresh cool fruits; to loiter
over cream-jug and cereal; to saunter out into the freshness of the
world and breathe it, and feel the sun warming cheek and throat, and the
little breezes from a sunlit sea stirring the bright strands of her
In the increasing brilliancy of the sunshine she stretched out her
hands, warming them daintily as she might twist them before the fire on
the hearth. And here, at the fragrant hearth of the world, she stood,
sweet and fresh as the morning itself, untroubled gaze intensely blue
with the tint of the purple sea, sensitive lips scarcely parting in the
dreaming smile that made her eyes more wonderful.
As the warmth grew on land and water, penetrating her body, a faintly
delicious glow responded in her heart,--nothing at first wistful in the
serene sense of well-being, stretching her rounded arms skyward in the
unaccustomed luxury of a liberty which had become the naively
unconscious licence of a child. The poise of sheer health stretched her
to tiptoe; then the graceful tension relaxed, and her smooth fingers
uncurled, tightened, and fell limp as her arms fell and her superb young
figure straightened, confronting the sea.
Out over the rain-wet, odorous grass she picked her way, skirts swung
high above the delicate contour of ankle and limb, following a little
descending path she knew full of rocky angles, swept by pendant sprays
of blackberry, and then down under the jutting rock, south through
thickets of wild cherry along the crags, until, before her the way
opened downward again where a tiny crescent beach glimmered white hot in
From his bedroom window Mortimer peeped forth, following her progress
with a leer.
As she descended, noticing the rifts of bronzing seaweed piled along the
tide mark, her foot dislodged a tiny triangle of rock, which rolled
clattering and ringing below; and as she sprang lightly to the sand, a
man, lying full length and motionless as the heaped seaweed, raised
himself on one arm, turning his sun-dazzled eyes on her.
The dull shock of surprise halted her as Siward rose to his feet, still
dazed, the sand running from his brown shooting-clothes over his tightly
"Have you the faintest idea that I supposed you were here?" she asked
briefly. Then, frank in her disappointment, she looked up at the cliffs
overhead, where her line of retreat lay.
"Why did you not go with the others?" she added, unsmiling.
"I--don't know. I will, if you wish." He had coloured slowly, the frank
disappointment in her face penetrating his surprise; and now he turned
around, instinctively, also looking for the path of retreat.
"Wait," she said, aware of her own crude attitude and confused by it;
"wait a moment, Mr. Siward. I don't mean to drive you away."
"It's self-exile," he said quietly; "quite voluntary, I assure you."
And, as he looked up coolly, "Have you nothing more friendly to say to
me? Is your friendship for me so limited that my first caprice oversteps
the bounds? Must I always be in dread of wounding you when I give you
the privilege of knowing me better than anybody ever knew me--of seeing
me as I am, with all my faults, my failings, my impulses, my real self?
. I don't know why the pleasure of being alone to-day should have meant
exclusion for you, too. It was the unwelcome shock of seeing anybody--a
selfish enjoyment of myself--that surprised me into rudeness. That is
all. . Can you not understand?"
"I think so. I meant no criticism--"
"Wait, Mr. Siward!" as he moved slowly toward the path. "You force me to
say other things, which you have no right to hear. . After last
night"--the vivid tint grew in her face--"after such a night, is it
not--natural--for a girl to creep off somewhere by herself and try to
think a little?"
He had turned full on her; the answering colour crept to his forehead.
"Is that why?" he asked slowly.
"Is it not a reason?"
"It was my reason--for being here."
She bit her bright lip. This trend to the conversation was ominous, and
she had meant to do her drifting alone in still sun-dreams, fearing no
witness, no testimony, no judgment save her own self in court with
"I--I suppose you cannot go--now," she reflected innocently.
"Indeed I can, and must."
"And leave me here to dig in the sand with my heels? Merci!"
"Do you mean--"
"I certainly do, Mr. Siward. I don't want to dream, now; I don't care to
reflect. I did, but here you come blundering into my private world and
upset my calculations and change my intentions! It's a shame, especially
as you've been lying here doing what I wished to do for goodness knows
"I'm going," he said, looking at her curiously.
"Then you are very selfish, Mr. Siward."
"We will call it that," he said with an odd laugh.
"Very well." She seated herself on the sand and calmly shook out her
"About what time would you like to be called?" he asked smilingly.
"Thank you, I shall do no sun-dreaming."
"Please. It is good for you."
"No, it isn't good at all. And I am grateful to you for waking me," she
retorted with a sudden gay malice that subdued him. And she, delicate
nose in the air, laughingly watching him, went on with her punishment:
"You see what you've done, don't you?--saved me from an entire morning
wasted in sentimental reverie over what might have been. Now you can
appreciate it, can't you?--your wisdom in appearing in the flesh to save
a silly girl the effort of evoking you in the spirit! Ah, Mr. Siward, I
am vastly obliged to you! Pray sit here beside me in the flesh, for fear
that in your absence I might commit the folly that tempted me here."
His low running laughter accompanying her voice had stimulated her to a
gay audacity, which for the instant extinguished in her the little fear
of him she had been barely conscious of.
"Do you know," he said, "that you also aroused me from my sun-dreams?"
"Did I? And can't you resume them?"
"You save me the necessity."
"Oh, that is a second-hand compliment," she said disdainfully--"a weak
plagiarism on what I conveyed very wittily. You were probably really
asleep, and dreaming of bird-murder."
He waited for her to finish, then, amused eyes searching, he roamed
about until high on a little drifted sand dune he found a place for
himself; and while she watched him indignantly, he curled up in the
sunshine, and, dropping his head on the hot sand, calmly closed his
"Upon--my word!" she breathed aloud.
He unclosed his eyes. "Now you may dream; you can't avoid it," he
observed lazily, and closed his eyes; and neither taunts nor jeers nor
questions, nor fragments of shells flung with intent to hit, stirred him
from his immobility.
She tired of the attempt presently, and sat silent, elbows on her
thighs, hands propping her chin. Thoughts, vague as the fitful breeze,
arose, lingered, and, like the breeze, faded, dissolved into calm,
through which, cadenced by the far beat of the ebb tide, her heart
echoed, beating the steady intervals of time.
She had not meant to dream, but as she sat there, the fine-spun golden
threads flying from the whirling loom of dreams floated about her,
settling over her, entangling her in unseen meshes, so that she stirred,
groping amid the netted brightness, drawn onward along dim paths and
through corridors of thought where, always beyond, vague splendours
seemed to beckon.
Now lost, now restless, conscious of the perils of the shining path she
followed, the rhythm of an ocean soothing her to false security, she
dreamed on awake, unconscious of the tinted sea and sky which stained
her eyes to hues ineffable. A long while afterward a small cloud floated
across the sun; and, in the sudden shadow on the world, doubt sounded
its tiny voice, and her ears listened, and the enchantment faded and
Turning, she looked across the sand at the man lying there; her eyes
considered him--how long she did not know, she did not heed--until,
stirring, he looked up; and she paled a trifle and closed her eyes,
stunned by the sudden clamour of pulse and heart.
When he rose and walked over, she looked up gravely, pouring the last
handful of white sand through her stretched fingers.
"Did you dream?" he asked lightly.
"Did you dream true?"
"Nothing of my dream can happen," she said. "You know that, . don't
"I know that we love . and that we dare not ignore it."
She suffered his arm about her, his eyes looking deeply into hers--a
close, sweet caress, a union of lips, and her dimmed eyes' response.
"Stephen," she faltered, "how can you make it so hard for me? How can
you force me to this shame!"
"Shame?" he repeated vaguely.
"Yes--this treachery to myself--when I cannot hope to be more to you--when
I dare not love you too much!"
"You must dare, Sylvia!"
"No, no, no! I know myself, I tell you. I cannot give up what is
offered--for you!--dearly, dearly as I do love you!" She turned and caught
his hands in hers, flushed, trembling, unstrung. "I cannot--I simply
cannot! How can you love me and listen to such wickedness? How can you
still care for such a girl as I am--worse than mercenary, because I have
a heart--or had, until you took it! Keep it; it is the only part of me
not all ignoble."
"I will keep it--in trust," he said, "until you give yourself with it."
But she only shook her head wearily, withdrawing her hands from his, and
for a time they sat silent, eyes apart.
Then--"There is another reason," she said wistfully.
He looked up at her, hesitated, and--"My habits?" he asked simply.
"I have them in check."
"I think I may be--now."
"Yet," she said timidly, "you lost one fight--since you knew me."
The dull red mantling his face wrung her heart. She turned impulsively
and laid both hands on his shoulders. "That chance I would take, with
all its uncertainty, all the dread inheritance you have come into. I
love you enough for that; and if it turned out that--that you could not
stem the tide, even with me to face it with you; and if the pity of it,
the grief of it, killed me, I would take that chance--if you loved me
through it all. . But there is something else. Hush; let me have my say
while I find the words--something else you do not understand. . Turn your
face a little; please don't look at me. This is what you do not
know--that, in three generations, every woman of my race has--gone wrong.
. Every one! and I am beginning--with such a marriage! . deliberately,
selfishly, shamelessly, perfectly conscious of the frivolous, erratic
blood in me, aware of the race record behind me.
"Once, when I knew nothing--before I--I met you--I believed such a
marriage would not only permit me mental tranquillity, but safely anchor
me in the harbour of convention, leaving me free to become what I am
fashioned to become--autocrat and arbiter in my own world. And now! and
now! I don't know--truly I don't know what I may become. Your love forces
my hand. I am displaying all the shallowness, falseness, pettiness, all
the mean, and cruel and callous character which must be truly my real
self. . Only I shall not marry you! You are not to run the risk of what
I might prove to be when I remember in bitterness all I have renounced.
If I married you I should remember, unreconciled, what you cost me.
Better for you and for me that I marry him, and let him bear with me
when I remember that he cost me you!"
She bent over, almost double, closing her eyes with small clenched
hands; and he saw the ring shimmering in the sunshine, and her hair,
heavily, densely gold, and the white nape of her neck, and the tiny
close-set ears, and the curved softness of cheek and chin; every smooth,
childlike contour and mould--rounded arms, slim, flowing lines of body
and limb--all valued at many millions by her as her own appraiser.
Suddenly, deep within him, something seemed to fail, die out--perhaps a
tiny newly lighted flame of unaccustomed purity, the dawning flicker of
aspiration to better things. Whatever it was, material, spiritual, was
gone now, and where it had glimmered for a night, the old accustomed
twilit doubt crept in--the same dull acquiescence--the same uncertainty
of self, the familiar lack of will, of incentive, the congenial tendency
to drift; and with it came weariness--perhaps reaction from the recent
skirmishes with that master-vice.
"I suppose," he said in a dull voice, "you are right."
"No, I am wrong--wrong!" she said, lifting her lovely face and heavy
eyes. "But I have chosen my path. . And you will forget."
"I hope so," he said simply.
"If you hope so, you will."
He nodded, unconvinced, watching a flock of sand-pipers whirling into
the cove like a gray snow-squall and fearlessly settling on the beach.
After a while, with a long breath: "Then it is settled," she concluded.
If she expected corroboration from him she received none; and perhaps