Part 4 out of 9
she was not awaiting it. She sat very still, her eyes lost in thought.
And Mortimer, peeping down at them over the thicket above, yawned
impatiently and glanced about him for the most convenient avenue of
self-effacement when the time arrived.
CHAPTER VII PERSUASION
The days of the house-party at Shotover were numbered. A fresh relay of
guests was to replace them on Monday, and so they were making the most
of the waning week on lawn and marsh, in covert and blind, or motoring
madly over the State, or riding in parties to Vermillion Light. Tennis
and lawn bowls came into fashion; even water polo and squash alternated
on days too raw for more rugged sport.
And during all these days Beverly Plank appeared with unflagging
persistence and assiduity, until his familiar, big, round head and
patient, delft-blue, Dutch eyes became a matter of course at Shotover,
indoors and out.
It was not that he was either accepted, tolerated, or endured; he was
simply there, and nobody took the trouble to question his all-pervading
presence until everybody had become too much habituated to him to think
about it at all.
The accomplished establishment of Beverly Plank was probably due as much
to his own obstinate and good-tempered persistence as to Mrs. Mortimer.
He was a Harvard graduate--there are all kinds of them--enormously
wealthy, and though he had no particular personal tastes to gratify, he
was willing and able to gratify the tastes of others. He did whatever
anybody else did, and did it well enough to be amusing; and as lack of
intellectual development never barred anybody from any section of the
fashionable world, it seemed fair to infer that he would land where he
wanted to, sooner or later.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Mortimer led him about with the confidence that was her
perquisite; and the chances were that in due time he would have house-
parties of his own at Black Fells--not the kind he had wisely denied
himself the pleasure of giving, with such neighbours as the Ferralls to
observe, but the sort he desired. However, there were many things to be
accomplished for him and by him before he could expect to use his great
yacht and his estates and his shooting boxes and the vast granite
mansion recently completed and facing Central Park just north of the new
palaces built on the edges of the outer desert where Fifth Avenue
fringes the hundreds.
Meanwhile, he had become in a measure domesticated at Shotover, and
Shotover people gradually came to ride, drive, and motor over the Fells,
which was a good beginning, though not necessarily a promise for
anything definite in the future.
Mortimer, riding a huge chestnut--he could still wedge himself into a
saddle--had now made it a regular practice to affect the jocular early-
bird squire, and drag Plank out of bed. And Plank, in no position to be
anything but flattered by such sans gene, laboriously and gratefully
splashed through his bath, wallowed amid the breakfast plates, and
mounted a hunter for long and apparently aimless gallops with Mortimer.
His acquaintance among people who knew Mortimer being limited, he had no
means of determining the latter's social value except through hearsay
and a toadying newspaper or two. Therefore he was not yet aware of
Mortimer's perennial need of money; and when Mortimer laughingly alluded
to his poverty, Plank accepted the proposition in a purely comparative
sense, and laughed, too, his thrifty Dutch soul untroubled by
Meanwhile, Mortimer had come, among other things, on information; how
much, and precisely of what nature, he was almost too much ashamed to
admit definitely, even to himself. Still, the idea that had led him into
this sudden intimacy with Plank, vague or not, persisted; and he was
always hovering on the edge of hinting at something which might elicit a
responsive hint from the flattered master of Black Fells.
There was much about Plank that was unaffected, genuine, even simple, in
one sense; he cared for people for their own sakes; and only stubborn
adherence to a dogged ambition had enabled him to dispense with the
society of many people he might easily have cultivated and liked--people
nearer his own sort; and that, perhaps, was the reason he so readily
liked Mortimer, whose coarse fibre soon wore through the polish when
rubbed against by a closer, finer fibre. And Plank liked him aside from
gratitude; and they got on famously on the basis of such mutual
recognition. Then, one day, very suddenly, Mortimer stumbled on
something valuable--a thread, a mere clew, so astonishing that for an
instant it absolutely upset all his unadmitted theories and
It was nothing--a vague word or two--a forced laugh--and the scared silence
of this man Plank, who had blundered on the verge of a confidence to a
man he liked.
A moment of amazement, of half-incredulous suspicion, of certainty; and
Mortimer pounced playfully upon him like a tiger--a big, fat, friendly,
"Plank, is that what you're up to!"
"Up to! Why, I never thought of such a--"
"Haw! haw!" roared Mortimer. "If you could only see your face!"
And Beverly Plank, red as a beet, comfortably suffused with reassurance
under the reaction from his scare, attempted to refute the other's
conclusions: "It doesn't mean anything, Mortimer. She's just the
handsomest girl I ever saw. I know she's engaged. I only admired her a
"You're not the only man," said Mortimer blandly, still striving to
reconcile his preconceived theories with the awkward half-confession of
this great, red-fisted, hulking horseman riding at his stirrup.
"I wouldn't have her dream," stammered Plank, "that I had ever thought
of such a--"
"Why not? It would only flatter her."
"Flatter a woman who is engaged to marry another man!" gasped Plank.
"Certainly. Do you think any woman ever had enough admiration in this
world?" asked Mortimer coolly. "And as for Sylvia Landis, she'd be
tickled to death if anybody hinted that you had ever admired her."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Plank, alarmed; "You wouldn't make a joke of it!
you wouldn't be careless about such a thing! And there's Quarrier! I'm
not on joking terms with him; I'm on most formal terms."
"Quarrier!" sneered the other, flicking at his stirrup with his crop.
"He's on formal terms with everybody, including himself. He never
laughed on purpose in his life; once a month only, to keep his mouth in;
that's his limit. Do you suppose any woman would stand for him if a
better man looked sideways at her?" And, reversing his riding crop, he
deliberately poked Mr. Plank in the ribs.
"A--a better man!" muttered Plank, scarce crediting his ears.
"Certainly. A man who can make good, is good; but a man who can make
better is it with the ladies--God bless 'em!" he added, displaying a
heavy set of teeth.
Beverly Plank knew perfectly well that, in the comparison so delicately
suggested by Mortimer, his material equipment could be scarcely compared
to the immense fortune controlled by Howard Quarrier; and as he thought
it, his reflections were put into words by Mortimer, airily enough:
"Nobody stands a chance in a show-down with Quarrier. But--"
Plank gaped until the tension became unbearable.
"But--what?" he blurted out.
"Plank," said Mortimer solemnly, and his voice vibrated with feeling,
"Let me do a little thinking before I ask you a--a vital question."
But Plank had become agitated again, and he said something so bluntly
that Mortimer wheeled on him, glowering:
"Look here, Plank: you don't suppose I'm capable of repeating a
confidence, do you?--if you choose to make me understand it's a
"It isn't a confidence; it isn't anything; I mean it is confidential, of
course. All there's in it is what I said--or rather what you took me up
on so fast," ended Plank, abashed.
"About your being in love with Syl--"
"Confound it!" roared Plank, crimson to his hair; and he set his heavy
spurs to his mount and plunged forward in a storm of dust. Mortimer
followed, silent, profoundly immersed in his own thoughts and
deductions; and as he pounded along, turning over in his mind all the
varied information he had so unexpectedly obtained in these last few
days, a dull excitement stirred him, and he urged his huge horse forward
in a thrill of rising exhilaration such as seizes on men who hunt, no
matter what they hunt--the savage, swimming sense of intoxication which
marks the man who chases the quarry not for its own value, but because
it is his nature to chase and ride down and enjoy spoils.
And all that afternoon, having taken to his room on pretence of
neuralgia, he lay sprawled on his bed, thinking, thinking. Not that he
meant harm to anybody, he told himself very frequently. He had, of
course, information which certain degraded men might use in a
contemptible way, but he, Mortimer, did not resemble such men in any
particular. All he desired was to do Plank a good turn. There was
nothing disreputable in doing a wealthy man a favour. . And God knew a
wealthy man's gratitude was necessary to him at that very
moment--gratitude substantially acknowledged. . He liked Plank--wished him
well; that was all right, too; but a man is an ass who doesn't wish
himself well also. . Two birds with one stone. . Three! for he hated
Quarrier. Four! . for he had no love for his wife. . Besides, it would
teach Leila a wholesome lesson--teach her that he still counted; serve
her right for her disgusting selfishness about Plank.
No, there was to be nothing disreputable in his proceedings; that he
would be very careful about. . Probably Major Belwether might express
his gratitude substantially if he, Mortimer, went to him frankly and
volunteered not to mention to Quarrier the scene he had witnessed
between Sylvia Landis and Stephen Siward at three o'clock in the morning
in the corridor; and if, in playful corroboration, he displayed the cap
and rain-coat and the big fan, all crushed, which objects of interest he
had discovered later in the bay-window. . Yes, probably Major Belwether
would be very grateful, because he wanted Quarrier in the family; he
needed Quarrier in his business. . But, faugh! that was close enough to
blackmail to rub off! . No! . No! He wouldn't go to Belwether and
promise any such thing! . On the contrary, he felt it his duty to inform
Quarrier! Quarrier had a right to know what sort of a girl he was
threatened with for life! . A man ought not to let another man go
blindly into such a marriage. . Men owed each other something, even if
they were not particularly close friends. . And he had always had a
respect for Quarrier, even a sort of liking for him--yes, a distinct
liking! . And, anyhow, women were devils! and it behooved men to get
together and stand for one another!
Quarrier would give her her walking papers damned quick! . And, in her
humiliation, is there anybody mad enough to fancy that she wouldn't snap
up Plank in such a fix? . And make it look like a jilt for Quarrier? .
But Plank must do his part on the minute; Plank must step up in the very
nick of time; Plank, with his millions and his ambitions, was bound to
be a winner anyway, and Sylvia might as well be his pilot and use his
money. . And Plank would be very, very grateful--very useful, a very good
friend to have. . And Leila would learn at last that he, Mortimer, had
cut his wisdom teeth, by God!
As for Siward, he amounted to nothing; probably was one of that
contemptible sort of men who butted in and kissed a pretty girl when he
had the chance. He, Mortimer, had only disgust for such amateurs of the
social by-ways; for he himself kept to the highways, like any self-
respecting professional, even when a tour of the highways sometimes
carried him below stairs. There was no romantic shilly-shallying fol-de-
rol about him. Women learned what to expect from him in short order. En
garde, Madame!--ou Mademoiselle--tant pis!
He laughed to himself and rolled over, digging his head into the pillows
and stretching his fat hands to ease their congestion. And most of all
he amused himself with figuring out the exact degree of his wife's
astonishment and chagrin when, without consulting her, he achieved the
triumph of Quarrier's elimination and the theatrical entry of Beverly
Plank upon the stage. He laughed when he thought of Major Belwether,
too, confounded under the loss of such a nephew-in-law, humiliated,
crushed, all his misleading jocularity, all his sleek pink-and-white
suavity, all his humbugging bonhomie knocked out of him, leaving only a
rumpled, startled old gentleman, who bore an amusing resemblance to a
very much mussed-up buck-rabbit.
"Haw! haw!" roared Mortimer, rolling about in his bed and kicking the
slippers from his fat feet. Then, remembering that he was supposed to be
suffering silently in his room, he hunched up to a sitting posture and
regarded his environment with a subdued grin.
Everything seems easy when it seems funny. After all, the matter was
simple--absurdly simple. A word to Quarrier, and crack! the match was
off! Girl mad as a hornet, but staggered, has no explanation to offer;
man frozen stiff with rage, mute as an iceberg. Then, zip! Enter Beverly
Plank--the girl's rescuer at a pinch--her preserver, the saviour of her
"face," the big, highly coloured, leaden-eyed deus ex machina. Would she
take fifty cents on the dollar? Would she? to buy herself a new "face"?
And put it all over Quarrier? And live happy ever after? Would she? Oh,
not at all!
And Mortimer rolled over in another paroxysm; which wasn't good for him,
and frightened him enough to lie still awhile and think how best he
might cut down on his wine and spirits.
The main thing, after all, was to promise Plank his opportunity, but not
tell him how he was to obtain it; for Mortimer had an uneasy idea that
there was something of the Puritan deep planted under the stolid young
man's hide, and that he might make some absurd and irrelevant objection
to the perfectly proper methods employed by his newly self-constituted
guide and mentor. No; that was no concern of Plank's. All he had to do
was to be ready. As for Quarrier, anybody could forecast his action when
once convinced of Sylvia's behaviour.
He lay there pondering several methods of imparting the sad but
necessary information to Quarrier. One thing was certain: there was not
now time enough before the house-party dissolved to mould Plank into
acquiescent obedience. That must be finished in town--unless Plank
invited him to stay at the Fells after his time was up at Shotover. By
Heaven! That was the idea! And there'd be a chance for him at cards! .
Only, of course, Plank would ask Leila too. . But what did he care! He
was no longer afraid of her; he'd soon be independent of her and her
pittance. Let her go to the courts for her divorce! Let her--
He sat up rather suddenly, perplexed with a new idea which, curiously
enough, had not appealed to him before. The astonishing hint so coolly
dropped by his wife concerning her fearlessness of divorce proceedings
had only awakened him to the consciousness of his own vulnerability and
carelessness of conduct.
Now it occurred to him, for the first time, that if it were not a mere
bluff on Leila's part, this sudden coquetting with the question of
divorce might indicate an ulterior object. Was Leila considering his
elimination in view of this ulterior object? Was there an ulterior
gentleman somewhere prepared to replace him? If so, where? And who?
His wife's possible indiscretions had never interested him; he simply
didn't care--had no curiosity, as long as appearances were maintained.
And she had preserved appearances with a skill which required all the
indifferent and easy charity of their set to pretend completely deceived
everybody. Yes, he gave her credit for that; she had been clever. Nobody
outside of the social register knew the true state of affairs in the
house of Leroy Mortimer--which, after all, was all anybody cared about.
And so, immersed in the details of his dirty little drama, he pondered
over the possibility of an ulterior gentleman as he moved heavily to and
fro, dressing himself--his neuralgia being much better--and presently
descended the stairs to find everybody absent, engaged, as a servant
explained, in a game of water basket-ball in the swimming pool. So he
strolled off toward the north wing of the house, which had been built
for the squash-courts and swimming pool.
There was a good deal of an uproar in the big gymnasium as Mortimer
walked in, threading his way through the palms and orange-trees; much
splashing in the pool, cries and stifled laughter, and the quick rattle
of applause from the gallery of the squash-courts.
The Page boys and Rena and Eileen on one side were playing the last
match game against Sylvia, Marion Page, Siward, and Ferrall on the
other; the big, slippery, glistening ball was flying about through
storms of spray. Marion caught it, but her brother Gordon got it away;
then Ferrall secured it and dived toward the red goal; but Rena
Bonnesdel caught him under water; the ball bobbed up, and Sylvia flung
both arms around it with a little warning shout and hurled it back at
Siward, who shot forward like an arrow, his opponents gathering about
him in full cry, amid laughter and excited applause from the gallery,
where Grace Ferrall and Captain Voucher were wildly offering odds on the
blue, and Alderdene and Major Belwether were thriftily booking them.
Mortimer climbed the slippery, marble stairway as fast as his lack of
breath permitted, anxious for his share of the harvest if the odds were
right. He ignored his wife's smilingly ironical offer, seeing no sense
in bothering about money already inside the family; but he managed to
make several apparently desirable wagers with Katharyn Tassel and one
with Beverly Plank, who was also obstinately backing the blues, the
losing side. Sylvia played forward for the blues.
Agatha Caithness, sleeves rolled up, tall and slim and strangely pale in
her white flannels, came from the squash-court with Quarrier to watch
the finish; and Mortimer observed her sidewise, blinking, irresolute,
for he had never understood her and was always a trifle afraid of her. A
pair of icicles, she and Quarrier, with whom he had never been on
betting terms; so he made no suggestions in that direction, and
presently became absorbed in the splashing battle below. Indeed, such a
dashing of foam and showering of spray was taking place that the fronds
of the big palms hung dripping amid drenched blossoms overweighted and
prone on the wet marble edges of the pool.
Suddenly, through the confused blur of foam and spray, the big,
glistening ball shot aloft and remained.
"Blue! Blue!" exclaimed Grace Ferrall, clapping her hands; and a little
whirlwind of cries and hand clapping echoed from the gallery as the
breathless swimmers came climbing out of the pool, with scarcely wind
enough left for a word or strength for a gesture toward the laughing
Mortimer, disgusted, turned away, already casting about him for somebody
to play cards with--it being his temperament and his temper to throw good
money after bad. But Quarrier and Miss Caithness had already returned to
the squash-courts, the majority of the swimmers to their several
dressing-rooms, and Grace Ferrall's party, equipped for motoring, to the
lawn, where they lost little time in disappearing into the golden haze
which a sudden shift of wind had spun out of the cloudless afternoon's
However, he got Marion, and also, as usual, the two men who had made a
practice of taking away his money--Major Belwether and Lord Alderdene.
He hadn't particularly wanted them; he wanted somebody he could play
with, like Siward, for example, or even the two ten-dollar Pages; not
that their combined twenty would do him much good, but it would at least
permit him the pleasures of the card-table without personal loss.
But the Pages had retired to dress, and Voucher was for motoring, and he
had no use for his wife, and he was afraid of Plank's game, and Siward,
seated on the edge of the pool and sharing a pint of ginger-ale with
Sylvia Landis, shook his head at the suggestion and resumed his division
of the ginger-ale.
Plank and Leila Mortimer came down to congratulate them. Sylvia, always
instinctively and particularly nice to people of Plank's sort whom she
occasionally encountered, was so faultlessly amiable, that Plank, who
had never before permitted himself the privilege of monopolising her,
found himself doing it so easily that it kept him in a state of
persistent mental intoxication.
That slow, sweet, upward training inflection to a statement which
instantly became a confided question was an unconscious trick which had
been responsible, in Sylvia's brief life, for more mistakes than
anything else. Like others before him, Beverly Plank made the mistake
that the sweetness of voice and the friendliness of eyes were
particularly personal to him, in tribute to qualities he had foolishly
enough hitherto not suspected in himself. Now he suspected them, and
whatever of real qualities desirable had been latent in him also
appeared at once, confirming his modest suspicions. Certainly he was a
wit! Was not this perfectly charming girl's responsive and delicious
laughter proof enough? Certainly he was epigrammatic! Certainly he could
be easy, polished, amusing, sympathetic, and vastly interesting all the
while. Could he not divine it in her undivided attention, the quick,
amused flicker of recognition animating her beautiful face when he had
turned a particularly successful phrase or taken a verbal hurdle without
a cropper? And above all, her kindness to him impressed him; her natural
and friendly pleasure in being agreeable. Here he was already on an
informal footing with one of the persons of whom he had been most shy
and uncertain. If people were going to be as considerate of him as she
had proved, why--why--
His dull, Dutch-blue eyes returned to her, fascinated. The conquest of
what he desired and meant to have became merged in a vague plan which
included such a marriage as he had dreamed of.
Somebody had once told him that a man who could afford to dress for
dinner could go anywhere; meaning that, being a man, nature had fitted
his feet with the paraphernalia for climbing as high as he cared to
There was just enough truth in the statement to determine him to use his
climbing irons; and he had done so, carrying his fortune with him, which
had proved neither an impediment nor an aid so far. But now he had
concluded that neither his god-sent climbing irons, his amiability, his
obstinacy, his mild, tireless persistency, nor his money counted. It had
come to a crisis where personal worth and sterling character must carry
him through sheer merit to the inner temple--that inner temple of raw
gold whose altars are served by a sexless skeleton in cap and bells!
Siward, inclined to be amused by the duration of the trance into which
Plank had fallen, watched the progress of that bulky young man's
infatuation as he sat there on the pool's marble edge, exchanging
trivial views on trivial subjects with Mrs. Leroy Mortimer.
But her conversation, even when inconsequential, was never wearisome
except when she made it so for her husband's benefit. Features, person,
personality, and temperament were warmly exotic; her dark eyes with
their slight Japanese slant, the clear olive skin with its rose bloom,
the temptation of mouth and slender neck, were always provocative of the
audacity in men which she could so well meet with amusement or surprise,
or at times with a fascinating audacity of her own wholly charming
because of its setting.
Once, in their history, during her early married life, Siward had been
very sentimental about her; but neither he nor she had approached the
danger line closer than to make daring eyes at one another across the
frontiers of good taste. And their youthful enchantment had faded so
naturally, so pleasantly, that always there had remained to them both an
agreeable after-taste--a sort of gay understanding which almost
invariably led to mutual banter when they encountered. But now something
appeared to be lacking in their rather listless badinage--something of
the usual flavour which once had salted even a laughing silence with
significance. Siward, too, had ceased to be amused at the spectacle of
Plank's calf-like infatuation; and Leila Mortimer's bored smile had
lasted so long that her olive-pink cheeks were stiff, and she relaxed
her fixed features with a little shrug that was also something of a
shiver. Then, looking prudently around, she encountered Siward's eyes;
and during a moment's hesitation they considered one another with an
increasing curiosity that slowly became tentative intelligence. And her
eyes said very plainly and wickedly to Siward's: "Oho, my friend! So it
bores you to see Mr. Plank monopolising an engaged girl who belongs to
And his eyes, wincing, denying, pretending ignorance too late, suddenly
narrowed in vexed retaliation: "Speak for yourself, my lady! You're no
more pleased than I am!"
The next moment they both regretted the pale flash of telepathy. There
had been something wounded in his eyes; and she had not meant that. No;
a new charity for the hapless had softened her wonderfully within a
fortnight's time, and a self-pity, not entirely ignoble, had subdued the
brilliancy of her dark eyes, and made her tongue more gentle in dealing
with all failings. Besides, she was not yet perfectly certain what ailed
her, never having really cared for any one man before. No, she was not
at all certain. . But in the meanwhile she was very sorry for herself,
and for all those who drained the bitter cup that might yet pass from
her shrinking lips. Who knows! "Stephen," she said under her breath, "I
didn't mean to hurt you. . Don't scowl. Listen. I have already entirely
forgotten the nature of my offense. Pax, if you please."
He refused to understand; and she understood that, too; and she gazed
critically upon Sylvia Landis as a very young mother might inspect a
rival infant with whom her matchless offspring was coquetting.
Then, without appearing to, she took Plank away from temptation; so
skilfully that nobody except Siward understood that the young man had
been incontinently removed. He, Plank, never doubting that he was a
perfectly free agent, decided that the time had arrived for triumphant
retirement. It had; but Leila Mortimer, not he, had rendered the
decision, and so cleverly that it appeared even to Plank himself that he
had dragged her off with him rather masterfully. Clearly he was becoming
a devil of a fellow!
Sylvia turned to Siward, glanced up at him, hesitated, and began to
"What do you think of my latest sentimental acquisition?"
"He'd be an ornament to a stock farm," replied Siward, out of humour.
"How brutal you can be!" she mused, smiling.
"Nonsense! He's a plain bounder, isn't he?"
"I don't know. . Is he? He struck me a trifle appealingly--even
pathetically; they usually do, that sort. . As though the trouble they
took could ever be worth the time they lose! . There are dozens of men I
know who are far less presentable than this highly coloured and robust
young human being; and yet they are part of the accomplished scheme of
things--like degenerate horses, you know--always pathetic to me; but
they're still horses, for all that. Quid rides? Species of the same
genus can cross, of course, but I had rather be a donkey than a mule. .
And if I were a donkey I'd sing and cavort with my own kind, and let
horses flourish their own heels inside the accomplished scheme of
things. . Now I have been brutal. But--I'm easily coloured by my
She sat, smiling maliciously down at the water, smoothing out the soaked
skirt of her swimming suit, and swinging her legs reflectively.
"Are you reconciled?" she asked presently.
"To leaving Shotover. To-day is our last day, you know. To-morrow we all
go; and next day these familiar walls will ring with other voices, my
"'Yon rising moon that looks for us again--How oft hereafter will she
wax and wane; How oft hereafter, rising, look for us Through this same
mansion--and for one in vain!'"
"That is I--the one, you know. You may be here again; but I--I shall not
be I if I ever come to Shotover again."
Her stockinged heels beat the devil's tattoo against the marble sides of
the pool. She reached up above her head, drawing down a flowering branch
of Japanese orange, and caressed her delicate nose with the white
blossoms, dreamily, then, mischievously: "I'm accustoming myself to this
most significant perfume," she said, looking at him askance. And she
deliberately hummed the wedding march, watching the colour rise in his
"If you had the courage of a sparrow you'd make life worth something for
us both," he said.
"I know it; I haven't; but I seem to possess the remainder of his
lordship's traits--inconsequence, self-centred selfishness, the instinct
for Fifth Avenue nest-building--all the feathered vices, all the
unlovely personality and futility and uselessness of my prototype. .
Only, as you observe, I lack the quality of courage."
"I don't know how much courage it requires to do what you're going to
do," he said sulkily.
"Don't you? Sometimes, when you wear a scowl like that, I think that it
may require no more courage than I am capable of. . And sometimes--I
She crossed her knees, one slender ankle imprisoned in her hand, leaning
forward thoughtfully above the water.
"Our last day," she mused; "for we shall never be just you and I
again--never again, my friend, after we leave this rocky coast of Eden. .
I shall have hints of you in the sea-wind and the sound of the sea; in
the perfume of autumn woods, in the whisper of stirring leaves when the
white birches put on their gold crowns next year." She smiled, turning
to him, a little gravely: "When the Lesser Children return with April, I
shall not forget you, Mr. Siward, nor forget your mercy of a day on
them; nor your comradeship, nor your sweetness to me. . Nor your charity
for me, nor all that you overlook so far in me,--under the glamour of a
spell that seems to hold you still, and that still holds me. . I can
answer for my constancy so far, until one more spring and summer have
come and gone--until one more autumn comes, and while it lasts--as long as
any semblance of the setting remains which had once framed you; I can
answer for my constancy as long as that. . Afterwards, the snow!--symbol
of our separation. I am to be married a year from November first."
He looked up at her in dark surprise, for he had heard that their
wedding date had been set for the coming winter.
"A year's engagement?" he repeated, unconvinced.
"It was my wish. I think that is sufficient for everybody concerned."
Then, averting her face, which had suddenly lost a little of its colour:
"A year is little enough," she said impatiently. "I--what has happened to
us requires an interval--a decent interval for its burial. . Death is
respectable in any form. What dies between you and me can have no
resurrection under the snow. . So I bring to the burial my tribute--a
year of life, a year of constancy, my friend; symbol of an eternity I
could have given you had I been worth it." She looked up, flushed, the
forced smile stamped on lips still trembling. "Sentiment in such a woman
as I! 'A spectacle for Gods and men,' you are saying--are you not? And
perhaps sentiment with me is only an ancient instinct, a latent
ancestral quality for which I, ages later, have no use." She was
laughing easily. "No use for sentiment, as our bodies have no use for
that fashionable little cul-de-sac, you know, though wise men say it
once served its purpose, too. . Stephen Siward, what do you think of me
"I am learning," he replied simply.
"What, if you please?"
"Learning a little about what I am losing."
She bent forward impulsively, balancing her body on the pool's rim with
both arms, dropping her knee until her ankles swung interlocked above
the water. "Listen," she said in a low, distinct voice: "What you lose
is no other man's gain! If I warm and expand in your presence--if I say
clever things sometimes--if I am intelligent, sympathetic, and amusing--it
is because of you. You inspire it in me. Normally I am the sort of girl
you first met at the station. I tell you that I don't know myself
now--that I have not known myself since I knew you. Qualities of
understanding, ability to appreciate, to express myself without
employing the commonplaces, subtleties of intercourse--all, maybe, were
latent in me, but sterile, until you came into my life. . And when you
go, then, lacking impulse and incentive, the new facility, the new
sensitive alertness, the unconscious self-confidence, all will smoulder
and die out in me. . I know it; I realise that it was due to you--part of
me that I should never have known, of which I should have remained
totally ignorant, had it not blossomed suddenly, stimulated by you
Slowly the clouded seriousness of her blue eyes cleared, and the smile
began to glimmer again. "That is your revenge; you recommit me to my
commonplace self; you restore me to my tinsel career, practically a
dolt. Shame on you, Stephen Siward, to treat a poor girl so! . But it's
just as well. Blunted perceptions, according to our needs, you know; and
so life is tempered for us all, else we might not endure it long. . A
pleasantly morbid suggestion for a day like this, is it not? . Shall we
take a farewell plunge, and dress? You know we say good-bye to-morrow."
"Where do you go from here?"
"To Lenox; the Claymores have asked us for a week; after that, Hot
Springs for another two weeks or so; after that, to Oyster Bay. . Mr.
Quarrier opens his house on Sedge Point," she added demurely, "but I
don't think he expects to invite you to 'The Sedges.'"
"How long do you stay there?" asked Siward irritably.
"Until we go to town in December."
"What will you find to do all that time in Oyster Bay?" he asked more
"What a premature question! The yacht is there. Besides, there's the
usual neighbourhood hunting, with the usual packs and inevitable set;
the usual steeple-chasing; the usual exchange of social amenities; the
usual driving and riding; the usual, my poor friend, the usual, in all
its uncompromising certainty. . And what are you to do?"
"After you leave here?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know where you are going?"
"I'm going to town."
"I don't know."
"Oh, but haven't you been asked somewhere? You have, of course."
"Yes, and I have declined."
"Matters of business," she inferred. "Too bad!"
"Then," she concluded, laughing, "you don't care to tell me where you
"No," he said thoughtfully, "I don't care to tell you."
She laughed again carelessly, and, placing one hand on the tiled
pavement, sprang lightly to her feet.
"A last plunge?" she asked, as he rose at her side.
"Yes, one last plunge together. Deep! Are you ready?"
She raised her white arms above her head, finger-tips joined, poised an
instant on the brink, swaying forward; then, at his brief word, they
flashed downward together, cutting the crystalline sea-water, shooting
like great fish over the glass-tiled bed, shoulder to shoulder under the
water; and opening their eyes, they turned toward one another with a
swift outstretch of hands, an uncontrollable touch of lips, the very
shadow of contact; then cleaving upward, rising to the surface to lie
breathlessly floating, arms extended, and the sun filtering down through
the ground-glass roof above.
"We are perfectly crazy," she breathed. "I'm quite mad; I see that. On
land it's bad enough for us to misbehave; but submarine sentiment! We'll
be growing scales and tails presently. . Did you ever hear of a Southern
bird--a sort of hawk, I think--that almost never alights; that lives and
eats and sleeps its whole life away on the wing? and even its courtship,
and its honeymoon? Grace Ferrall pointed one out to me last winter, near
Palm Beach--a slender bird, part black, part snowy white, with long,
pointed, delicate wings like an enormous swallow; and all day, all
night, it floats and soars and drifts in the upper air, never resting,
never alighting except during its brief nesting season. . Think of the
exquisite bliss of drifting one's life through in mid-air--to sleep,
balanced on light wings, upborne by invisible currents flowing under the
stars--to sail dreamily through the long sunshine, to float under the
moon! . And at last, I suppose, when its time has come, down it whirls
out of the sky, stone dead! . There is something thrilling in such a
death--something magnificent. . And in the exquisitely spiritual
honeymoon, vague as the shadow of a rainbow, is the very essence and
aroma of that impalpable Paradise we women prophesy in dreams! . More
sentiment! Heigho! My brother is the weeping crocodile, and the five
winds are my wits. . Shall we dress? Even with a maid and the electric
air-blast it will take time to dry my hair and dress it."
When he came out of his dressing-room she was apparently still in the
hands of the maid. So he sauntered through the house as far as the
library, and drawing a cheque-book from one pocket, fished out a
memorandum-book from another, and began to cast up totals with a view to
learning something about the various debts contracted at Shotover.
He seemed to owe everybody. Fortune had smitten him hip and thigh; and,
a trifle concerned, he began covering a pad with figures until he knew
where he stood. Then he drew a considerable cheque to Major Belwether's
order, another to Alderdene. Others followed to other people for various
amounts; and he was very busily at work when, aware of another presence
near, he turned around in his chair. Sylvia Landis was writing at a desk
in the corner, and she looked up, nodding the little greeting that she
always reserved for him even after five minutes' separation.
"I'm writing cheques," she said. "I suppose you're writing to your
"Why do you think so?" he asked curiously.
"You write to her every day, don't you?"
"Yes," he said, "but how do you know?"
She looked at him with unblushing deliberation. "You wrote every day. .
If it was to a woman, I wanted to know. . And I told Grace Ferrall that
it worried me. And then Grace told me. Is there any other confession of
my own pettiness that I can make to you."
"Did you really care to whom I was writing?" he asked slowly.
"Care? I--it worried me. Was it not a pitifully common impulse? 'Sisters
under our skin,' you know--I and the maid who dresses me. She would have
snooped; I didn't; that's the only generic difference. I wanted to know
just the same. . But--that was before--"
"Before I--please don't ask me to say it. . I did, once, when you asked
"Before you cared for me. Is that what you mean?"
"Yes. You are so cruelly literal when you wish to punish me. . You are
interrupting me, too. I owe that wretched Kemp Ferrall a lot of money,
and I'm trying to find out how much seven and nine are, to close
accounts with Marion Page."
Siward turned and continued his writing. And when the little sheaf of
cheques was ready he counted them, laid them aside, and, drawing a flat
packet of fresh bank-notes from his portfolio, counted out the tips
expected of him below stairs. These arranged for, he straightened up and
glanced over his shoulder at Sylvia, but she was apparently absorbed in
counting something on the ends of her fingers, so he turned smilingly to
his desk and wrote a long letter to his mother--the same tender,
affectionately boyish letter he had always written her, full of
confidences, full of humour, gaily anticipating his own return to her on
the heels of the letter.
In his first letter to her from Shotover he had spoken casually of a
Miss Landis. It seemed the name was familiar enough to his mother, who
asked about her; and he had replied in another letter or two, a trifle
emphatic in his praise of her, because from his mother's letters it was
quite evident that she knew a good deal concerning the very
unconventional affairs of Sylvia's family.
Of his swift and somewhat equivocal courtship he had had nothing to say
in his letters; in fact recently he had nothing to say about Sylvia at
all, reserving that vital confidence for the clear sympathy and
understanding which he looked forward to when he should see her, and
which, through dark days and bitter aftermaths, through struggle and
defeat by his master-vice, had never failed him yet, never faltered for
So he brought his letter to a close with a tender and uneasy inquiry
concerning her health, which, she had intimated, was not exactly
satisfactory, and for that reason she had opened the house in town in
order to be near Dr. Grisby, their family doctor.
Sealing and directing the letter, he looked up to see Sylvia standing at
his elbow. She dropped a light hand on his shoulder for a second, barely
touching him--a fugitive caress, delicate as the smile hovering on her
lips, as the shy tenderness in her eyes.
"More letters to your sweetheart?" she asked, abandoning her hand to
"One more--the last before I see her. . I wish you could see her,
"I wish so, too," she answered simply, seating herself on the arm of his
chair as though it were a side-saddle.
They sat there very silent for a few moments, curiously oblivious to the
chance curiosity of any one who might enter or pass.
"Would she--care for me--do you think?" asked the girl in a low voice.
"I think so,--for your real self."
"I know. She could only feel contempt for me--as I am."
"She is old-fashioned," he said reverently.
"That means all that is best in a woman. . The old fashion of truth and
faith; the old fashion of honour, and faith in honour; the old, old
fashion of--love. . All that is best, Stephen; all that is worth the love
of a man. . Some day somebody will revive those fashions."
"Dear, they would not become me," she said, the tenderness in her eyes
deepening a little; and she touched his head lightly in humourous
"What shall we do with the waning daylight?" she asked. "It is my last
day with you. I told Howard it was my last day with you, and I did not
care to be disturbed."
"You probably didn't say it that way," he commented, amused.
"How much of that sort of thing is he prepared to stand?" asked Siward
"How much? I don't know. I don't believe he cares. It is my uncle, Major
Belwether, who is making things unpleasant for me. I had to tell Howard,
"What!" exclaimed Siward incredulously.
"Certainly. Do you think my conduct has passed without protest?"
"You told Quarrier!" he repeated.
"Did you imagine I could do otherwise?" she asked coolly. "I have that
much decency left. Certainly I told him. Do you suppose that, after what
we did--what I admitted to you--that I could meet him as usual? Do you
think I am afraid of him?"
"I thought you were afraid of losing him," muttered Siward.
"I was, dreadfully. And the morning after you and I had been imprudent
enough to sit up until nearly daylight--and do what we did--I made him
take a long walk with me, and I told him plainly that I cared for you,
that I was too selfish and cowardly to marry you, and that if he
couldn't endure the news he was at liberty to terminate the engagement
"What did he say?" stammered Siward.
"A number of practical things."
"You mean to say he stands it!"
"It appears so. What else is there for him to do, unless he breaks the
"No. I was informed that he held me strictly and precisely to my
promise; that he would never release me voluntarily, though I was, of
course, at liberty to do what I chose. . My poor friend, he cares no
more for love than do I. I happen to be the one woman in New York whom
he considers absolutely suitable for him; by race, by breeding, by
virtue of appearance and presence, eminently fitted to complete the
material portion of his fortune and estate."
Her voice had hardened as she spoke; now it rang a little at the end,
and she laughed unpleasantly.
"It appears that I was a little truer to myself than you gave me credit
for--a little truer to you--a little less treacherous, less shameless,
than you must have thought me. But I have gone to my limit of decency; .
and, were I ten times more in love with you than I am, I could not put
away the position and power offered me. But I will not lie for it, nor
betray for it. . Do you remember, once you asked me for what reasons I
dropped men from my list? And I told you, because of any falsehood or
treachery, any betrayal of trust--and for no other reason. You remember?
And did you suppose that elemental standard of decency did not include
women--even such a woman as I?"
She dropped one arm on the back of his chair and rested her chin on it,
staring at space across his shoulders.
"That's how it had to be, you see, when I found that I cared for you.
There was nothing to do but to tell him. I was quite certain that it was
all off; but I found that I didn't know the man. I knew he was
sensitive, but I didn't know he was sensitive to personal ridicule only,
and to nothing else in all the world that I can discover. I--I suppose,
from my frankness to him, he has concluded that no ridicule could ever
touch him through me. I mean, he trusts me enough to marry me. . He will
be safe enough, as far as my personal conduct is concerned," she added
naively. "It seems that I am capable of love; but I am incapable of its
Siward, leaning heavily forward over his desk, rested his head in both
hands; and she stooped from her perch on the arm of the chair, pressing
her hot cheeks against his hands--a moment only; then slipping to her
feet, she curled up in a great arm-chair by the fire, head tipped back,
blue gaze concentrated on him.
"The thing for you to do," she said, "is to ambush me some night, and
throw me into a hansom, and drive us both to the parson's. I'd hate you
for it as much as I'd love you, but I'd make you an interesting wife."
"I may do that yet," he said, lifting his head from his hands.
"You've a year to do it in," she observed. . "By the way, you're to take
me in to dinner, as you did the first night. Do you remember? I asked
Grace Ferrall then. I asked her again to-day. Heigho! It was years ago,
wasn't it, that I drove up to the station and saw a very attractive and
perplexed young man looking anxiously about for somebody to take him to
Shotover. Ahem! the notorious Mr. Siward! Dear, . I didn't mean to hurt
you! You know it, silly! Mayn't I have my little joke about your
badness--your redoubtable badness of reputation? There! You had just
better smile. . How dare you frighten me by making me think I had hurt
you! . Besides, you are probably unrepentant."
She watched him closely for a moment or two, then, "Are you
"About your general wickedness? About--" she hesitated--"about that girl,
"What girl?" he asked coldly.
"That reminds me that you have told me absolutely nothing about her."
"There is nothing to tell," he said, in a tone so utterly new to her in
its finality that she sat up as though listening to an unknown voice.
Tone and words so completely excluded her from the new intimacy into
which she had imperceptibly drifted that both suddenly developed a
significance from sheer contrast. Who was this girl, then, of whom he
had absolutely nothing to say? What was she to him? What could she be to
him--an actress, a woman of common antecedents?
She had sometimes idly speculated in an indefinitely innocent way as to
just what a well-born man could find to interest him in such women; what
he could have to talk about to persons of that sort, where community of
tastes and traditions must be so absolutely lacking.
Gossip, scandal of that nature, hints, silences, innuendoes, the wise
shrugs of young girls oversophisticated, the cool, hard smiles of
matrons, all had left her indifferent or bored, partly from distaste,
partly from sheer incredulity; a refusal to understand, an innate
delicacy that not only refrains from comprehension, but also denies
itself even the curiosity to inquire or the temptation of vaguest
surmise on a subject that could not exist for her.
But now, something of the uncomfortable uneasiness had come over her
which she had been conscious of when made aware of Marion Page's worldly
wisdom, and which had imperceptibly chilled her when Grace Ferrall spoke
of Siward's escapade, coupling this woman and him in the same scandal.
She took it for granted that there must be, for men, an attraction
toward women who figured publicly behind the foot-lights, though it
appeared very silly to her. In fact it all was silly and
undignified--part and parcel, no doubt, of that undergraduate foolishness
which seemed to cling to some men who had otherwise attained discretion.
But it appeared to her that Siward had taken the matter with a
seriousness entirely out of proportion in his curt closure of the
subject, and she felt a little irritated, a little humiliated, a little
hurt, and took refuge in a silence that he did not offer to break.
Early twilight had fallen in the room; the firelight grew redder.
"Sylvia," he said abruptly, reverting to the old, light tone hinting of
the laughter in his eyes which she could no longer see, "Suppose, as you
suggested, I did ambush you--say after the opera--seize you under the very
nose of your escort and make madly for a hansom?"
"I know of no other way," she said demurely.
"Would you resist, physically?"
"I would, if nobody were looking."
"How do I know? Besides, it couldn't last long," she said, thinking of
his slimly powerful build as she had noticed it in his swimming costume.
Smiling, amused, she wondered how long she could resist him with her own
wholesome supple activity strengthened to the perfection of health in
saddle and afoot.
"I should advise you to chloroform me," she said defiantly. "You don't
realise my accomplishments with the punching-bag."
"So you mean to resist?"
"Yes, I do. If I were going to surrender at once, I might as well go off
to church with you now."
"Wenniston church!" he said promptly. "I'll order the Mercedes."
She laughed, lazily settling herself more snugly by the fire. "Suppose
it were our fire?" she smiled. "There would be a dog lying across that
rug, and a comfortable Angora tabby dozing by the fender, and--you,
cross-legged, at my feet, with that fascinating head of yours tipped
back against my knees."
The laughter in her voice died out, and he had risen, saying unsteadily:
"Don't! I--I can't stand that sort of thing, you know."
She had made a mistake, too; she also had suddenly become aware of her
own limits in the same direction.
"Forgive me, dear! I meant no mockery."
"I know. . After a while a man finds laughter difficult."
"I was not laughing at--anything. I was only pretending to be happy."
"Your happiness is before you," he said sullenly.
"My future, you mean. You know I am exchanging one for the other. . And
some day you will awake to the infamy of it; you will comprehend the
depravity of the monstrous trade I made. . And then--and then--"
She passed one slim hand over her face--"then you will shake yourself
free from this dream of me; then, awake, my punishment at your hands
will begin. . Dear, no man in his right senses can continue to love a
girl such as I am. All that is true and ardent and generous in you has
invested my physical attractiveness and my small intellect with a magic
that cannot last, because it is magic; and you are the magician,
enmeshed for the moment in the mists of your own enchantment. When this
fades, when you unclose your eyes in clear daylight, dear, I dread to
think what I shall appear to you--what a dreadful, shrunken, bloodless
shell, hung with lace and scented, silken cerements--a jewelled mummy-
case--a thing that never was! . Do you understand my punishment a
"If it were true," he said in a dull voice, "you will have forgotten,
"I pray I may," she said under her breath.
And, after a long silence: "Do you think, before the year is out, that
you might be granted enough courage?" he asked.
"No. I shall not even pray for it. I want what is offered me! I desire
it so blindly that already it has become part of me. I tell you the
poison is in every vein; there is nothing else but poison in me. I am
what I tell you, to the core. It is past my own strength of will to stop
me, now. If I am stopped, another must do it. My weakness for you, being
a treachery if not confessed, I was obliged to confess, horribly
frightened as I was. He might have stopped me; he did not. . And now,
what is there on earth to halt me? Love cannot. Common decency and
courage cannot. Fear of your unhappiness and mine cannot. No, even the
certitude of your contempt, some day, is powerless to halt me now. I
could not love; I am utterly incapable of loving you enough to balance
the sacrifice. And that is final."
Grace Ferrall came into the room and found a duel of silence in progress
under the dull fire-glow tinting the ceiling.
"Another quarrel," she commented, turning on the current of the drop-
light above the desk from which Siward had risen at her entrance. "You
quarrel enough to marry. Why don't you?"
"I wish we could," said Sylvia simply.
Grace laughed. "What a little fool you are!" she said tenderly, seating
herself in Siward's chair and dropping one hand over his where it rested
on the arm. "Stephen, can't you make her--a big, strong fellow like you?
Oh, well; on your heads be it! My conscience is now clear for the first
time, and I'll never meddle again." She gave Siward's hand a perfunctory
pat and released him with a discreetly stifled yawn. "I'm disgracefully
sleepy; the wind blew like fury along the coast. Sylvia, have you had a
good time at Shotover--the time of your life?"
Sylvia raised her eyes and encountered Siward's.
"I certainly have," she said faintly.
"C'est bien, cherie. Can you be as civil, Stephen--conscientiously? Oh,
that is very nice of you! But there's one thing: why on earth didn't you
make eyes at Marion? Life might be one long, blissful carnival of horse
and dog for you both. Oh, dear! there, I'm meddling again! Pinch me,
Sylvia, if I ever begin to meddle again! How did you come out at Bridge,
Stephen? What--bad as that? Gracious! this is disgraceful--this gambling
the way people do! I'm shocked and I'm going up to dress. Are you
The dinner was very gay. The ceremony of christening the Shotover Cup,
which Quarrier had won, proceeded with presentation speech and a speech
of acceptance faultlessly commonplace, during which Quarrier wore his
smile--which was the only humorous thing he contributed.
The cup was full. Siward eyed it, perplexed, deadly afraid, yet seeing
no avenue of escape from what must appear a public exhibition of
contempt for Quarrier if he refused to taste its contents. That meant a
bad night for him; yet he shrank more from the certain misinterpretation
of a refusal to drink from the huge loving-cup with its heavy wreath of
scented orchids, now already on its way toward him, than he feared the
waking struggle so sure to follow.
Marion received the cup, lifted it in both hands, and said distinctly,
"Good Hunting!" as she drank to Quarrier. Her brother Gordon took it,
and drank entirely too much. Then Sylvia lifted it, her white hands half
buried among the orchids: "To you!" she murmured for Siward's ear alone;
then drank gaily, mischievously, "To the best shot at Shotover!" And
Siward took the cup: "I salute victory," he said, smiling, "always, and
everywhere! To him who takes the fighting chance and wins out! To the
best man! Health!" And he drank as a gentleman drinks, with a gay bow to
Quarrier, and with death in his heart.
Later, the irony of it struck him so grimly that he laughed; and Sylvia,
beside him, looked up, dismayed to see the gray change in his face.
"What is it?" she faltered, catching his eye; "why do you--why are you so
But he only smiled, as though he had misunderstood, saying:
"The survival of the fittest; that is the only test, after all. The man
who makes good doesn't whine for justice. There's enough of it in the
world to go round, and he who misses it gets all that's due him just the
Later, at cards, the aromatic odour from Alderdene's decanter roused him
to fierce desire, but he fought it down until only the deadened, tearing
ache remained to shake and loosen every nerve. And when Ferrall,
finishing his usual batch of business letters, arrived to cut in if
needed, Siward dropped his cards with a shudder, and rose so utterly
unnerved that Captain Voucher, noticing his drawn face, asked him if he
were not ill.
He was leaving on an earlier train than the others, having decided to
pass through Boston and Deptford, at which latter place he meant to
leave Sagamore for the winter in care of the manager of his mother's
farm. So he took a quiet leave of those to whom the civility might not
prove an interruption--a word to Alderdene and Voucher as he passed out,
a quick clasp for Ferrall and for Grace, a carefully and cordially
formal parting from the Page boys, which pleased them ineffably.
Eileen and Rena, who had never had half a chance at him, took it now,
delighted to discipline their faithful Pages; and he submitted in his
own engagingly agreeable way, and so skilfully that both Eileen and Rena
felt sorry that they had not earlier understood how civilly anxious he
had been to devote himself to them alone. And they looked at the Pages,
In the big hall he passed Marion, and stopped to take his leave.
No, he would do no hunting this season either at Carysford or with the
two trial packs at Eastwood. Possibly at Warrenton later, but probably
not; business threatened to detain him in town more or less. . Of course
he'd come to see her when she returned to town. . And it had been a
jolly party, and it was a shame to sound "lights out" so soon! Good-bye.
. Good night. And that was all.
And that was all, unless he disturbed Sylvia, seated at cards with
Quarrier and Major Belwether and Leila Mortimer--and very intent on the
dummy, very still, and a trifle pallid with the pallor of concentration.
So--that was all, then.
Ascending the stairs, a servant handed him a letter bearing the crest of
the Lenox Club. He pocketed it unopened and continued his way.
In the darkness of his own room he sat down, the devil's own clutch on
his shrinking nerves, a deathly desire tearing at his very vitals, and
every vein a tiny trail of fire run riot. He had been too long without
it, too long to endure the craving aroused by that gay draught from
The awakened fury of his desire appalled him, and for a while that
occupied him, enabling him to endure. But fear and dismay soon passed in
the purely physical distress; he walked the floor, haggard, the sweat
starting on his face; he lay with clenched hands, stiffened out across
the bed, deafened by the riotous clamour of his pulses, conscious that
he was holding out, unconscious how long he could hold out.
Crisis after crisis swept him; sometimes he found his feet and moved
blindly about the room.
Strange periods of calm intervened; sensation seemed deadened; and he
stood as a man who listens, scarcely daring to breathe lest the enemy
awake and seize him.
He turned on the light, later, to look for his pipe, and he caught a
glimpse of himself in the mirror. It was a sick man who stared back at
him out of hollow eyes, and the physical revulsion shocked him into
something resembling self-command.
"Damn you!" he said fiercely, setting his teeth and staring back at his
reflected face, "I'll kill you yet before I've finished with you!"
Then he filled his pipe, and opening his bedroom window, sat down,
resting his arm on the sill. A splendid moon silvered the sea; through
the intense stillness he heard the surf, magnificently dissonant among
the reefs, and he listened, fascinated, loathing the tides as he feared
and loathed the inexorable tides that surged and ebbed with his accursed
Once he said to himself, weakly--for he was deadly tired--"What am I
making the fight for, anyway?" And "Who are you making the fight for?"
echoed his heavy pulses.
He had asked that question and received that answer before. After all,
it had been for his mother's sake alone. And now--and now?--his heart beat
out another answer; and before his eyes two other eyes seemed to open,
fearlessly, sweetly, divinely tender. But they were no longer his
mother's grave, gray eyes.
After the second pipe he remembered his letter. It gave him something to
do, so he opened it and tried to read it, but for a long while, in his
confused physical and mental condition, he could make no sense of it.
Little by little he began to comprehend its purport that his resignation
was regretfully requested by the governors of the Lenox Club for reasons
The shock of the thing came to him after a while, like a distant, dull
report long after the flash of the explosion. Well, the affair, bad
enough at first, was turning worse, that was all. How much of that sort
of discredit could a man stand and keep his balance? . And what would
his mother say?
Confused from his own physical suffering, the blow had fallen with a
deadened force on nerves already numbed; but his half-stupefied
acquiescence had suddenly become a painful recoil when he remembered
where the brunt of the disgrace would fall--where the centre of suffering
must always be, and the keenest grief concentrated. Roused, appalled,
almost totally unnerved, he stood staring at the letter, beginning to
realise what it would mean to his mother. A passion of remorse and
resentment swept him. She must be spared that! There must be some
way--some punishment for his offence that could not strike her through
him! It was wicked, it was contemptible, insane, to strike her! What
were the governors of the Lenox about--a lot of snivelling hypocrites,
pandering to the horrified snobbery at the Patroons! Who were they,
anyway, to discipline him! Scarce one in fifty among the members of the
two clubs was qualified to sit in judgment on a Siward!
But that tempest of passion and mortification passed, too, leaving him
standing there, dumb, desperate, staring at the letter crushed in his
He must see somebody, some member of the Lenox, and do
something--something! Ferrall! Was that Ferrall's step on the landing?
He sprang to the door and opened it. Quarrier, passing the corridor,
turned an expressionless visage toward him, and passed on with a nod
"Quarrier!" he called, swept by a sudden impulse.
Quarrier halted and turned.
"Could you give me a moment--here in my room? I won't detain you."
The faint trace of surprise faded from Quarrier's face; he quietly
retraced his steps, and, entering Siward's room, stood silently
confronting its pallid tenant.
"Will you sit down a moment?"
Quarrier seated himself in the arm-chair by the window, and Siward found
a chair opposite.
"Quarrier," said the younger man, turning a tensely miserable face on
his visitor, "I want to ask you something. I'll not mince matters. You
know that the Patroons have dropped me, and you know what for."
"Yes, I know."
"When I was called before the Board of Governors to explain the matter,
if I could, you were sitting on that Board."
"I denied the charge, but refused to explain. . You remember?"
Quarrier nodded coldly.
"And I was dropped by the club!"
A slight inclination of Quarrier's symmetrical head corroborated him.
"Now," said Siward, slowly and very distinctly, "I shall tell you
unofficially what I refused to tell the other governors officially."
And, as he began speaking, Quarrier's face flushed, then the features
became immobile, set, and inert, and his eyes grew duller and duller, as
though, under a smooth surface the soul inside of him was shrinking back
into some dark corner, silent, watchful, suspicious, and perhaps
"Mr. Quarrier," said Siward quietly, "I did not take that girl to the
Patroons Club--and you know it."
Quarrier was all surface now; he had drawn away internally so far that
even his eyes seemed to recede until they scarcely glimmered through the
slits in his colourless mask. And Siward went on:
"I knew perfectly well what sort of women I was to meet at that fool
supper Billy Fleetwood gave; and you must have, too, for the girl you
took in was no stranger to you. . Her name is Lydia Vyse, I believe."
The slightest possible glimmer in the elder man's eyes was all the
answer he granted.
"What happened," said Siward calmly, "was this: She bet me she could so
disguise herself that I could safely take her into any club in New York.
I bet her she couldn't. I never dreamed of trying. Besides, she was
your--dinner partner," he added with a shrug.
His concentrated gaze seemed at length to pierce the expressionless
surface of the other man, who moved slightly in his chair and moistened
his thin lips under the glossy beard.
"Quarrier," said Siward earnestly, "What happened in the club lobby I
don't exactly know, because I was not in a condition to know. I admit
it; that was the trouble with me. When I left Fleetwood's rooms I left
with a half dozen men. I remember crossing Fifth Avenue with them; and
the next thing I remember distinctly was loud talking in the club lobby,
and a number of men there, and a slim young fellow in Inverness and top
hat in the centre of a crowd, whose face was the face of that girl,
Lydia Vyse. And that is absolutely all. But I couldn't do more than deny
that I took her there unless I told what I knew; and of course that was
not possible, even in self-defence. But it was for you to admit that I
was right. And you did not. You dared not! You let another man blunder
into your private affairs and fall a victim to circumstantial evidence
which you could have refuted; and it was up to you to say something! And
you did not! . And now--what are you going to do? The Lenox Club has
taken this thing up. A man can't stand too much of that sort of thing.
What am I to do? I can't defend myself by betraying my accidental
knowledge of your petty, private affairs. So I leave it to you. I ask
you what are you going to do?"
"Do you mean"--Quarrier's voice was not his own, and he brought it
harshly under command--"do you mean that you think it necessary for me to
say I knew her? What object would be attained by that? I did not take
her to the Patroons'."
"Nor did I. Ask her how she got there. Learn the truth from her, man!"
"What proof is there that I ever met her before I took her into supper
"Proof! Are you mad? All I ask of you is to say to the governors what I
cannot say without using your name."
"You wish me," asked Quarrier icily, "to deny that you made that wager?
I can do that."
"You can't do it! I did make that bet."
"Oh! Then, what is it you wish me to say?"
"Tell them the truth. Tell them you know I did not take her to the club.
You need not tell them why you know it. You need not tell them how much
you know about her, whose brougham she drove home in. I can't defend
myself at your expense--intrench myself behind your dirty little romance.
What could I say? I denied taking her to the club. Then Major Belwether
confronted me with my wager. Then I shut up. And so did you, Quarrier--so
did you, seated there among the governors, between Leroy Mortimer and
Belwether. It was up to you, and you did not stir!"
"Stir!" echoed the other man, exasperated. "Of course I did not stir.
What did I know about it? Do you think I care to give a man like
Mortimer a hold on me by admitting I knew anything?--or Belwether--do you
think I care to have that man know anything about my private and
personal business? Did you expect me to say that I was in a position to
prove anything one way or another? And," he added with increasing
harshness, "how do you know what I might or might not prove? If she went
to the Patroons Club, I did not go with her; I did not see her; I don't
know whether or not you took her."
"I have already told you that I did not take her," said Siward, turning
"You told that to the governors, too. Tell them again, if you like. I
decline to discuss this matter with you. I decline to countenance your
unwarranted intrusion into what you pretend to believe are my private
affairs. I decline to confer with Belwether or Mortimer. It's enough
that you are inclined to meddle--" His cold anger was stirring. He rose
to his full, muscular height, slow, menacing, his long, pale fingers
twisting his silky beard. "It's enough that you meddle!" he repeated.
"As for the matter in question, a dozen men, including myself, heard you
make a wager; and later I myself was a witness that the terms of that
wager had been carried out to the letter. I know absolutely nothing
except that, Mr. Siward; nor, it appears, do you, for you were drunk at
the time, and you have admitted it to me."
"I have asked you," said Siward, rising, and very grave, "I have asked
you to do the right thing. Are you going to do it?"
"Is that a threat?" inquired Quarrier, showing the edges of his well-
kept teeth. "Is this intimidation, Mr. Siward? Do I understand that you
are proposing to bespatter others with scandal unless I am frightened
into going to the governors with the flimsy excuse you attempt to offer
me? In other words, Mr. Siward, are you bent on making me pay for what
you believe you know of my private life? Is it really intimidation?"
And still Siward stared into his half-veiled, sneering eyes, speechless.
"There is only one name used for this kind of thing," added Quarrier,
taking a quick involuntary step backward to the door as the blaze of
fury broke out in Siward's eyes.
"Good God! Quarrier," whispered Siward with dry lips, "what a cur you
are! What a cur!"
And long after Quarrier had passed the door and disappeared in the
corridor, Siward stood there, frozen motionless under the icy waves of
rage that swept him.
He had never before had an enemy worth the name; he knew he had one now.
He had never before hated; he now understood something of that, too. The
purely physical craving to take this man and crush him into eternal
quiescence had given place to a more terrible mental desire to punish.
His brain surged and surged under the first flood of a mortal hatred.
That the hatred was sterile made it the more intense, and, blinded by
it, he stood there or paced the room minute after minute, hearing
nothing but the wild clamour in his brain, seeing nothing but the
smooth, expressionless face of the man whom he could not reach.
Toward midnight, seated in his chair by the window, a deathly lassitude
weighing his heart, he heard the steps of people on the stairway, the
click of the ascending elevator, gay voices calling good night, a ripple
of laughter, the silken swish of skirts in the corridor, doors opening
and closing; then silence creeping throughout the house on the receding
heels of departure--a stillness that settled like a mist through hall and
corridor, accented for a few moments by distant sounds, then absolute,
echoless silence. And for a long while he sat there listening.
The cool wind from the ocean blew his curtains far into the room, where
they bellied out, fluttering, floating, subsiding, only to rise again in
the freshening breeze. He sat watching their silken convolutions,
stupidly, for a while, then rose and closed his window, and raised the
window on the south for purposes of air.
As he turned to adjust his transom, something white thrust under the
door caught his eye, and he walked over and drew it across the sill. It
was a sealed note. He opened it, reading it as he walked back to the
drop-light burning beside his bed:
"Did you not mean to say good-bye? Because it is to be good-bye for a
long, long time--for all our lives--as long as we live--as long as the
world lasts, and longer. . Good-bye--unless you care to say it to me."
He stood studying the note for a while; presently, lighting a match, he
set fire to it and carried it blazing to the grate and flung it in,
watching the blackened ashes curl up, glow, whiten, and fall in flakes
to the hearth. Then he went out into the corridor, and traversed the
hall to the passage which led to the bay-window. There was nobody there.
The stars looked in on him, twinkling with a frosty light; beneath, the
shadowy fronds of palms traced a pale pattern on the glass roof of the
swimming pool. He waited a moment, turned, retraced his steps to his own
door and stood listening. Then, moving swiftly, he walked the length of
the corridor, and, halting at her door, knocked once.
After a moment the door swung open. He stepped forward into the room,
closing the door behind him, and confronted the tall girl standing there
silhouetted against the lamp behind her.
"You are insane to do this!" she whispered. "I let you in for fear you'd
"I went to the bay-window," he said.
"You went too late. I was there an hour ago. I waited. Do you know what
time it is?"
"Come to the bay-window," he said, "if you fear me here."
"Do you know it is nearly three o'clock?" she repeated. "And you leave
"Shall we say good-bye here?" he asked coolly.
"Certainly. I dare not go out. And you--do you know the chances we are
running? You must be perfectly mad to come to my room. Do you think
anybody could have seen--heard you--"
"No. Good night." He offered his hand; she laid both of hers in it. He
could scarcely distinguish her features where she stood dark against the
brilliant light behind her.
"Good-bye," he whispered, kissing her hands where they lay in his.
"Good-bye." Her fingers closed convulsively, retaining his hands. "I
hope--I think that--you--" Her head was drooping; she could not control her
"Good-bye, Sylvia," he said again.
It was quite useless, she could not speak; and when he took her in his
arms she clung to him, quivering; and he kissed the wet lashes, and the
hot, trembling lips, and the smooth little hands crushed to his breast.
"We have a year yet," she gasped. "Dear, take me by force before it
ends. I--I simply cannot endure this. I told you to take me--to tear me
from myself. Will you do it? I will love you--truly, truly! Oh, my
darling, my darling! Don't--don't give me up! Can't you do something for
us? Can't you--"
"Will you come with me now?"
A sudden sound broke out in the night--the distant pealing of the lodge-
gate bell. Startled, she shrank back; somebody in the adjoining room had
sprung to the floor and was opening the window.
"What is it?" she motioned with whitening lips. "Quick! oh, quick,
before you are seen! Grace may come! I--I beg of you to go!"
As he stepped into the corridor he heard, below, a sound at the great
door, and the stirring of the night watchman on post. At his own door he
turned, listening to the movement and whispering. Ferrall, in dressing-
gown and slippers, stepped into the corridor; below, the chains were
rattling as the wicket swung open. There was a brief parley at the door,
sounds of retreating steps on the gravel outside, sounds of approaching
steps on the stairway.
"What's that? A telegram?" said Ferrall sharply. "Here, give it to me. .
Wait! It isn't for me. It's for Mr Siward!"
Siward, standing at his open door, swayed slightly. A thrill of pure
fear struck him through and through. He laid one hand on the door to
steady himself, and stepped forward as Ferrall came up.
"Oh! You're awake, Stephen. Here's a telegram." He extended his hand.
Siward took the yellow envelope, fumbled it, tore it open.
"Good God!" whispered Ferrall; "is it bad?"
And Siward's glazed eyes stared and stared at the scrawled and inky
"YOUR MOTHER IS VERY ILL. COME AT ONCE."
The signature was the name of their family physician, Grisby.
CHAPTER VIII CONFIDENCES
By January the complex social mechanism of the metropolis was whirling
smoothly again; the last ultra-fashionable December lingerer had
returned from the country; those of the same caste outward bound for a
Southern or exotic winter had departed; and the glittering machine,
every part assembled, refurbished, repolished, and connected, having
been given preliminary speed-tests at the horse show, and a tuning up at
the opera, was now running under full velocity; and its steady, subdued
whir quickened the clattering pulse of the city, keying it to a
sublimely syncopated ragtime.
The commercial reaction from the chaos of the holidays had become a
carnival of recovery; shop windows grew brighter and gayer than ever,
bursting into gaudy winter florescence; the main arteries of the town
roared prosperity; cross streets were packed; Fifth Avenue, almost
impassible in the morning, choked up after three o'clock; and all the
afternoon through, and late into the night, mounted police of the
traffic squad, adrift in the tide of carriages, stemmed the flashing
currents pouring north and south from the white marble arch to the
gilded bronze battle-horse and its rider on guard at the portals of the
richest quarter of the wealthiest city in the world.
So far, that winter, snow had fallen only twice, lasting but a day or
two each time; street and avenue remained bone dry where the white-
uniformed cleaning squads worked amid clouds of dust; and all day long
the flinty asphalt echoed the rattling slap of horses' feet; all day
long the big, shining motor-cars sped up town and down town, droning
their distant warnings. It was an open winter in New York, and,
financially, a prosperous one; and that meant a brilliant social season.
Like a set piece of fireworks, with its interdependent parts taking fire
in turn, function after function, spectacle after spectacle, glittered,
fizzed, and was extinguished, only to give place to newer and more
splendid spectacles; separate circles, sets, and groups belonging to the
social solar system whizzed, revolved, rotated, with edifying effects on
everybody concerned, unconcerned, and not at all concerned; and at
intervals, when for a moment or two something hung fire, the twinkle of
similar spectacles sputtering away in distant cities beyond the horizon
was faintly reflected in the social sky above the incandescent
metropolis. For the whole nation was footing it, heel and toe, to the
echoes of strains borne on the winds from the social capital of the
republic; and the social arbiter at Bird Centre was more of a facsimile
of his New York confrere than that confrere could ever dream of even in
the most realistic of nightmares.
Three phenomena particularly characterised that metropolitan winter: the
reckless rage for private gambling through the mediums of bridge and
roulette; the incorporation of a company known as The Inter-County
Electric Company, capitalised at a figure calculated to disturb nobody,
and, so far, without any avowed specific policy other than that which
served to decorate a portion of its charter which otherwise might have
remained ornately and comparatively blank; the third phenomenon was the
retirement from active affairs of Stanley S. Quarrier, the father of
Howard Quarrier, and the election of the son to the presidency of the
great Algonquin Loan and Trust Company, with its network system of
dependent, subsidiary, and allied corporations.
The day that the newspapers gave this interesting information to the
Western world, Leroy Mortimer, on being bluntly notified that he had
overdrawn his account with the Algonquin Loan and Trust, began
telephoning in every direction until he located Beverly Plank at the
Saddle Club--an organisation of wealthy men, and sufficiently exclusive
not to compromise Plank's possible chances for something better; in
fact, the Saddle Club, into which Leroy Mortimer had already managed to
pilot him, was one riser and tread upward on the stair he was climbing,
though it was more of a lobby for other clubs than a club in itself. To
be seen there was, perhaps, rather to a man's advantage, if he did not
loaf there in the evenings or use it too frequently. As Plank carefully
avoided doing either, Mortimer was fortunate in finding him there; and
he crawled out of his hansom, saying that the desk clerk would pay, and
entered the reading-room, where Plank sat writing a letter.
Beverly Plank had grown stouter since he had returned to town from Black
Fells; but the increase of weight was evenly distributed over his six
feet odd, which made him only a trifle more ponderous and not
abdominally fat. But Mortimer had become enormous; rolls of flesh
crowded his mottled ear-lobes outward and bulged above his collar;
cushions of it padded the backs of his hands and fingers; shaving left
his heavy, distended face congested and unpleasantly shiny. But be was
as minutely groomed as ever, and he wore that satiated air of prosperity
which had always been one of his most important assets.
The social campaign inaugurated by Leila Mortimer in behalf of Beverly
Plank had, so far, received no serious reverses. His box at the horse
show, of course, produced merely negative results; his box at the opera
might mean something some day. His name was up at the Lenox and the
Patroons; he had endowed a ward in the new pavilion of St. Berold's
Hospital; he had presented a fine Gainsborough--The Countess of Wythe--to
the Metropolitan Museum; and it was rumoured that he had consulted
several bishops concerning a new chapel for that huge bastion of the
citadel of Faith looming above the metropolitan wilderness in the north.
So far, so good. If, as yet, he had not been permitted to go where he
wanted to go, he at least had been instructed where not to go and what
not to do; and he was as docile as he was dogged, understanding how much
longer it takes to shuffle in by way of the mews and the back door than
to sit on the front steps and wait politely for somebody to unchain the
Meanwhile he was doggedly docile; his huge house, facing the wintry park
midway between the squat palaces of the wealthy pioneers and the outer
hundreds, remained magnificently empty save for certain afternoon
conferences of very solemn men, fellow directors and associates in
business and financial matters--save for the periodical presence of the
Mortimers: a mansion immense and shadowy, haunted by relays of yawning,
livened servants, half stupefied under the vast silence of the twilit
splendour. He was patient, not only because he was told to be, but also
because he had nothing better to do. Society stared at him as blankly as
the Mountain confronted Mahomet. But the stubborn patience of the man
was itself a strain on the Mountain; he was aware of that, and he waited
for it to come to him. As yet, however, he could detect no symptoms of
mobility in the Mountain.
"Things are moving all the same," said Mortimer, as he entered the
reading room of the Saddle Club. "Quarrier and Belwether have listened a
damned sight more respectfully to me since they read that column about
you and the bishops and that chapel business."
Plank turned his heavy head with a disturbed glance around the room; for
he always dreaded Mortimer's indiscretions of speech--was afraid of his
cynical frankness in the presence of others; even shrank from the brutal
bonhomie of the man when alone with him.
"Can't you be careful?" he said; "there was a man here a moment ago." He
picked up his unfinished letter, folded and pocketed it, touched an
electric bell, and when a servant came, "Take Mr. Mortimer's order," he
said, supporting his massive head on his huge hands and resting his
elbow on the writing-desk.
"I've got to cut out this morning bracer," said Mortimer, eyeing the
servant with indecision; but he gave his order nevertheless, and later
accepted a cigar; and when the servant had returned and again retired,
he half emptied his tall glass, refilled it with mineral water, and,
settling back in the padded arm-chair, said: "If I manage this thing as
it ought to be managed, you'll go through by April. What do you think of
Plank's phlegmatic features flushed. "I'm more obliged to you than I can
say," he began, but Mortimer silenced him with a gesture: "Don't
interrupt. I'm going to put you through The Patroons Club by April.
That's thirty yards through the centre; d'ye see, you dunderheaded
Dutchman? It's solid gain, and it's our ball. The Lenox will take
longer; they're a 'holier-than-thou' bunch of nincompoops, and it always
horrifies them to have any man elected, no matter who he is. They'd
rather die of dry rot than elect anybody; it shocks them to think that
any man could have the presumption to be presented. They require the
spectacle of fasting and prayer--a view of a candidate seated in
sackcloth and ashes in outer darkness. You've got to wait for the Lenox,
"I am waiting," said Plank, squaring his massive jaws.
"You've got to," growled Mortimer, emptying his glass aggressively.
Plank looked out of the window, his shrewd blue eyes closing in
"Another thing," continued Mortimer thickly; "the Kemp Ferralls are
disposed to be decent. I don't mean in asking you to meet some
intellectual second-raters, but in doing it handsomely. I don't know
whether it's time yet," he added, with a sidelong glance at Plank's
stolid face; "I don't want to push the mourners too hard . Well, I'll
see about it . And if it's the thing to do, and the time to do it"--he
turned on Plank with his boisterous and misleading laugh and clapped him
on the shoulder--"it will be done, as sure as snobs are snobs; and that's
the surest thing you ever bet on. Here's to them!" and he emptied his
glass and fell back into his chair, wheezing and sucking at his
"I want to say," began Plank, speaking the more slowly because he was
deeply in earnest, "that all this you are doing for me is very handsome
of you, Mortimer. I'd like to say--to convey to you something of how I
feel about the way you and Mrs. Mortimer--"
"Oh, Leila has done it all."
"Mrs. Mortimer is very kind, and you have been so, too. I--I wish there
was something--some way to--to--"
"To what?" asked Mortimer so bluntly that Plank flushed up and
"To be--to do a--to show my gratitude."
"How? You're scarcely in a position to do anything for us," said
Mortimer, brutally staring him out of countenance.
"I know it," said Plank, the painful flush deepening.
Mortimer, fussing and growling over his cigar, was nevertheless
stealthily intent on the game which had so long absorbed him. His wits,
clogged, dulled by excesses, were now aroused to a sort of gross
activity through the menace of necessity. At last Plank had given him an
opening. He recognised his chance.
"There's one thing," he said deliberately, "that I won't stand for, and
that's any vulgar misconception on your part of my friendship for you.
Do you follow me?"
"I don't misunderstand it," protested Plank, angry and astonished; "I
"--As though," continued Mortimer menacingly, "I were one of those needy
social tipsters, one of those shabby, pandering touts who--"
"For Heaven's sake, Mortimer, don't talk like that! I had no intention--"
"--One of those contemptible, parasitic leeches," persisted Mortimer,
getting redder and hoarser, "who live on men like you. Confound you,
Plank, what the devil do you mean by it?"
"Mortimer, are you crazy, to talk to me like that?"
"No, I'm not, but you must be! I've a mind to drop the whole cursed
business! I've every inclination to drop it! If you haven't horse-sense
enough--if you haven't innate delicacy sufficient to keep you from making
such a break--"
"I didn't! It wasn't a break, Mortimer. I wouldn't have hurt you--"
"You did hurt me! How can I feel the same again? I never imagined you
thought I was that sort of a social mercenary. Why, so little did I
dream that you looked on our friendship in that light that I was--on my
word of honour!--I was just now on the point of asking you for three or
four thousand, to carry me to the month's end and square my bridge
"Mortimer, you must take it! You are a fool to think I meant anything by
saying I wanted to show my gratitude. Look here; be decent and fair with
me. I wouldn't offer you an affront--would I?--even if I were a cad. I
wouldn't do it now, just when you're getting things into shape for me.
I'm not a fool, anyway. This is in deadly earnest, I tell you, Mortimer,
and I'm getting angry about it. You've got to show your confidence in
me; you've got to take what you want from me, as you would from any
friend. I resent your failure to do it now, as though you drew a line
between me and your intimates. If you're really my friend, show it!"
There was a pause. A curious and unaccustomed sensation had silenced
Mortimer, something almost akin to shame. It astonished him a little. He
did not quite understand why, in the very moment of success over this
stolid, shrewd young man and his thrifty Dutch instincts, he should feel
uncomfortable. Were not his services worth something? Had he not earned
at least the right to borrow from this rich man who could afford to pay
for what was done for him? Why should he feel ashamed? He had not been
treacherous; he really liked the fellow. Why shouldn't he take his
"See here, old man," said Plank, extending a huge highly coloured hand,
"is all square between us now?"
"I think so," muttered Mortimer.
But Plank would not relinquish his hand.
"Then tell me how to draw that cheque! Great Heaven, Mortimer, what is
friendship, anyhow, if it doesn't include little matters like
this--little misunderstandings like this? I'm the man to be sensitive,
not you. You have been very good to me, Mortimer. I could almost wish
you in a position where the only thing I possess might square something
of my debt to you."
A few minutes later, while he was filling in the cheque, a dusty youth
in riding clothes and spurs came in and found a seat by one of the
windows, into which he dropped, and then looked about him for a servant.
"Hello, Fleetwood!" said Mortimer, glancing over his shoulder to see
whose spurs were ringing on the polished floor.
Fleetwood saluted amiably with his riding-crop; including Plank, whom he
did not know, in a more formal salute.
"Will you join us?" asked Mortimer, taking the cheque which Plank
offered and carelessly pocketing it without even a nod of thanks. "You
know Beverly Plank, of course? What! I thought everybody knew Beverly
Mr. Fleetwood and Mr. Plank shook hands and resumed their seats.
"Ripping weather!" observed Fleetwood, replacing his hat and rebuttoning
the glove which he had removed to shake hands with Plank. "Lot of jolly
people out this morning. I say, Mortimer, do you want that roan hunter
of mine you looked over? I mean King Dermid, because Marion Page wants
him, if you don't. She was out this morning, and she spoke of it again."
Mortimer, lifting a replenished glass, shook his head, and drank
thirstily in silence.
"Saw you at Westbury, I think," said Fleetwood politely to Plank, as the
two lifted their glasses to one another.
"I hunted there for a day or two," replied Plank, modestly. "If it's
that big Irish thoroughbred you were riding that you want to sell I'd
like a look in, if Miss Page doesn't fancy him."
Fleetwood laughed, and glanced amusedly at Plank over his glass. "It
isn't that horse, Mr. Plank. That's Drumceit, Stephen Siward's famous
horse." He interrupted himself to exchange greetings with several men
who came into the room rather noisily, their spurs resounding across the
oaken floor. One of them, Tom O'Hara, joined them, slamming his crop on
the desk beside Plank and spreading himself over an arm-chair, from the
seat of which he forcibly removed Mortimer's feet without excuse.
"Drink? Of course I want a drink!" he replied irritably to
Fleetwood--"one, three, ten, several! Billy, whose weasel-bellied pinto
was that you were kicking your heels into in the park? Some of the
squadron men asked me--the major. Oh, beg pardon! Didn't know you were
trying to stick Mortimer with him. He might do for the troop ambulance,
inside! . What? Oh, yes; met Mr. Blank--I mean Mr. Plank--at Shotover, I
think. How d'ye do? Had the pleasure of potting your tame pheasants.
Rotten sport, you know. What do you do it for, Mr. Blank?"
"What did you come for, if it's rotten sport?" asked Plank so simply
that it took O'Hara a moment to realise he had been snubbed.
"I didn't mean to be offensive," he drawled.
"I suppose you can't help it," said Plank very gently; "some people
can't, you know." And there was another silence, broken by Mortimer,
whose entire hulk was tingling with a mixture of surprise and amusement
over his protege's developing ability to take care of himself. "Did you
say that Stephen Siward is in Westbury, Billy?"
"No; he's in town," replied Fleetwood. "I took his horses up to hunt
with. He isn't hunting, you know."
"I didn't know. Nobody ever sees him anywhere," said Mortimer. "I guess
his mother's death cut him up."
Fleetwood lifted his empty glass and gently shook the ice in it. "That,
and--the other business--is enough to cut any man up, isn't it?"
"You mean the action of the Lenox Club?" asked Plank seriously.
"Yes. He's resigned from this club, too, I hear. Somebody told me that
he has made a clean sweep of all his clubs. That's foolish. A man may be
an ass to join too many clubs but he's always a fool to resign from any
of 'em. You ask the weatherwise what resigning from a club forecasts.
It's the first ominous sign in a young man's career."
"What's the second sign?" asked O'Hara, with a yawn.
"Squadron talk; and you're full of it," retorted Fleetwood--"'I said to
the major,' and 'The captain told the chief trumpeter'--all that sort of
thing--and those Porto Rico spurs of yours, and the ewe-necked
glyptosaurus you block the bridle-path with every morning. You're an
awful nuisance, Tom, if anybody should ask me."
Under cover of a rapid-fire exchange of pleasantries between Fleetwood
and O'Hara, Plank turned to Mortimer, hesitating:
"I rather liked Siward when I met him at Shotover," he ventured. "I'm
very sorry he's down and out."
"He drinks," shrugged Mortimer, diluting his mineral water with Irish
whisky. "He can't let it alone; he's like all the Siwards. I could have
told you that the first time I ever saw him. We all told him to cut it
out, because he was sure to do some damfool thing if he didn't. He's
done it, and his clubs have cut him out. It's his own funeral. . Well,
here's to you!"
"Cut who out?" asked Fleetwood, ignoring O'Hara's parting shot
concerning the decadence of the Fleetwood stables and their owner.
"Stephen Siward. I always said that he was sure, sooner or later, to
land in the family ditch. He has a right to, of course; the gutter is
"It's a damned sad thing," said Fleetwood slowly.
After a pause Plank said: "I think so, too. . I don't know him very
"You may know him better now," said O'Hara insolently.
Plank reddened, and, after a moment: "I should be glad to, if he cares
to know me."
"Mortimer doesn't care for him, but he's an awfully good fellow, all the
same," said Fleetwood, turning to Plank; "he's been an ass, but who
hasn't? I like him tremendously, and I feel very bad over the mess he
made of it after that crazy dinner I gave in my rooms. What? You hadn't
heard of it? Why man, it's the talk of the clubs."
"I suppose that is why I haven't heard," said Plank simply; "my club-
life is still in the future."
"Oh!" said Fleetwood with an involuntary stare, surprised, a trifle
uncomfortable, yet somehow liking Plank, and not understanding why.
"I'm not in anything, you see; I'm only up for the Patroons and the
Lenox," added Plank gravely.
"I see. Certainly. Er--hope you'll make 'em; hope to see you there soon.
Er--I see by the papers you've been jollying the clergy, Mr. Plank.
Awfully handsome of you, all that chapel business. I say: I've a
cousin--er--young architect; Beaux Arts, and all that--just over. I'd
awfully like to have him given a chance at that competition; invited to
try, you see. I don't suppose it could be managed, now--"
"Would you like to have me ask the bishops?" inquired Plank, naively
shrewd. And the conversation became very cordial between the two, which
Mortimer observed, keeping one ironical eye on Plank, while he continued
a desultory discussion with O'Hara concerning a very private dinner
which somebody told somebody that somebody had given to Quarrier and the
Inter-County Electric people; which, if true, plainly indicated who was
financing the Inter-County scheme, and why Amalgamated stock had tumbled
again yesterday, and what might be looked for from the Algonquin Trust
"Amalgamated Electric doesn't seem to like it a little bit," said
O'Hara. "Ferrall, Belwether, and Siward are in it up to their necks; and
if Quarrier is really the god in the machine, and if he really is doing
stunts with Amalgamated Electric, and is also mixing feet with the
Inter-County crowd, why, he is virtually paralleling his own road; and
why, in the name of common sense, is he doing that? He'll kill it;
that's what he'll do."
"He can afford to kill it," observed Mortimer, punching the electric
button and making a significant gesture toward his empty glass as the
servant entered; "a man like Quarrier can afford to kill anything."
"Yes; but why kill Amalgamated Electric? Why not merge? Why, it's a
crazy thing to do, it's a devil of a thing to do, to parallel your own
line!" insisted O'Hara. "That is dirty work. People don't do such things
these days. Nobody tears up dollar bills for the pleasure of tearing."
"Nobody knows what Quarrier will do," muttered Mortimer, who had tried
hard enough to find out when the first ominous rumours arose concerning
Amalgamated, and the first fractional declines left the street
speechless and stupefied.
O'Hara sat frowning, and fingering his glass. "As a matter of fact," he
said, "a little cold logic shows us that Quarrier isn't in it at all. No