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The Fighting Chance by Robert W. Chambers

Part 5 out of 9

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sane man would ruin his own enterprise, when there is no need to. His
people are openly supporting Amalgamated and hammering Inter-County;
and, besides, there's Ferrall in it, and Mrs. Ferrall is Quarrier's
cousin; and there's Belwether in it, and Quarrier is engaged to marry
Sylvia Landis, who is Belwether's niece. It's a scrap with Harrington's
crowd, and the wheels inside of wheels are like Chinese boxes. Who knows
what it means? Only it's plain that Amalgamated is safe, if Quarrier
wants it to be. And unless he does he's crazy."

Mortimer puffed stolidly at his cigar until the smoke got into his eyes
and inflamed them. He sat for a while, wiping his puffy eyelids with his
handkerchief; then, squinting sideways at Plank, and seeing him still
occupied with Fleetwood, turned bluntly on O'Hara:

"See here: what do you mean by being nasty to Plank?" he growled. "I'm
backing him. Do you understand?"

"It is curious," mused O'Hara coolly, "how much of a cad a fairly decent
man can be when he's out of temper!"

"You mean Plank, or me?" demanded Mortimer, darkening angrily.

"No; I mean myself. I'm not that way usually. I took him for a bounder,
and he's caught me with the goods on. I've been thinking that the men
who bother with such questions are usually open to suspicion themselves.
Watch me do the civil, now. I'm ashamed of myself."

"Wait a moment. Will you be civil enough to do something for him at the
Patroons? That will mean something."

"Is he up? Yes, I will;" and, turning in his chair, he said to Plank:
"Awfully sorry I acted like a bounder just now, after having accepted
your hospitality at the Fells. I did mean to be offensive, and I'm sorry
for that, too. Hope you'll overlook it, and be friendly."

Plank's face took on the dark-red hue of embarrassment; he looked
questioningly at Mortimer, whose visage remained non-committal, then
directly at O'Hara.

"I should be very glad to be friends with you," he said with an
ingenuous dignity that surprised Mortimer. It was only the native
simplicity of the man, veneered and polished by constant contact with
Mrs. Mortimer, and now showing to advantage in the grain. And it
gratified Mortimer, because he saw that it was going to make many
matters much easier for himself and his protege.

The tall glasses were filled and drained again before they departed to
the cold plunge and dressing-rooms above, whence presently they emerged
in street garb to drive down town and lunch together at the Lenox Club,
Plank as Fleetwood's guest.

Mortimer, very heavy and inert after luncheon, wedged himself into a
great stuffed arm-chair by the window, where he alternately nodded over
his coffee and wheezed in his breathing, and leered out at Fifth Avenue
from half-closed, puffy eyes. And there he was due to sit, sodden and
replete, until the fashionable equipages began to flash past. He'd
probably see his wife driving with Mrs. Ferrall or with Miss Caithness,
or perhaps with some doddering caryatid of the social structure; and
he'd sit there, leering with gummy eyes out of the club windows, while
servants in silent processional replenished his glass from time to time,
until in the early night the trim little shopgirls flocked out into the
highways in gossiping, fluttering coveys, trotting away across the
illuminated asphalt, north and south to their thousand dingy
destinations. And after they had gone he would probably arouse himself
to read the evening paper, or perhaps gossip with Major Belwether and
other white-haired familiars, or perhaps doze until it was time to
summon a cab and go home to dress.

That afternoon, however, having O'Hara and Fleetwood to give him
countenance, he managed to arouse himself long enough to make Plank
known personally to several of the governors of the club and to a dozen
members, then left him to his fate. Whence, presently, Fleetwood and
O'Hara extracted him--fate at that moment being personified by a
garrulous old gentleman, one Peter Caithness, who divided with Major
Belwether the distinction of being the club bore--and together they
piloted him to the billiard room, where he beat them handily for a
dollar a point at everything they suggested.

"You play almost as pretty a game as Stephen Siward used to play," said
O'Hara cordially. "You've something of his cue movement--something of his
infernal facility and touch. Hasn't he, Fleetwood?"

"I wish Siward were back here," said Fleetwood thoughtfully, returning
his cue to his own rack. "I wonder what he does with himself--where he
keeps himself all the while? What the devil is there for a man to do, if
he doesn't do anything? He's not going out anywhere since his mother's
death; he has no clubs to go to, I understand. What does he do--go to his
office and come back, and sit in that shabby old brick house all day and
blink at the bum portraits of his bum and distinguished ancestors? Do
you know what he does with himself?" to O'Hara.

"I don't even know where he lives," observed O'Hara, resuming his coat.
"He's given up his rooms, I understand."

"What? Don't know the old Siward house?"

"Oh! does he live there now? Of course; I forgot about his mother. He
had apartments last year, you remember. He gave dinners--corkers they
were. I went to one--like that last one you gave."

"I wish I'd never given it," said Fleetwood gloomily. "If I hadn't, he'd
be a member here still. . What do you suppose induced him to take that
little gin-drinking cat to the Patroons? Why, man, it wasn't even an
undergraduate's trick! it was the act of a lunatic."

For a while they talked of Siward, and of his unfortunate story and the
pity of it; and when the two men ceased,

"Do you know," said Plank mildly, "I don't believe he ever did it."

O'Hara looked up surprised, then shrugged. "Unfortunately he doesn't
deny it, you see."

"I heard," said Fleetwood, lighting a cigarette, "that he did deny it;
that he said, no matter what his condition was, he couldn't have done
it. If he had been sober, the governors would have been bound to take
his word of honour. But he couldn't give that, you see. And after they
pointed out to him that he had been in no condition to know exactly what
he did do, he shut up. . And they dropped him; and he's falling yet."

"I don't believe that sort of a man ever would do that sort of thing,"
repeated Plank obstinately, his Delft-blue eyes partly closing, so that
all the Dutch shrewdness and stubbornness in his face disturbed its
highly coloured placidity. And he walked away toward the wash-room to
cleanse his ponderous pink hands of chalk-dust.

"That's what's the matter with Plank," observed O'Hara to Fleetwood as
Plank disappeared. "It isn't that he's a bounder; but he doesn't know
things; he doesn't know enough, for instance, to wait until he's a
member of a club before he criticises the judgment of its governors. Yet
you can't help tolerating the fellow. I think I'll write a letter for
him, or put down my name. What do you think?"

"It would be all right," said Fleetwood. "He'll need all the support he
can get, with Leroy Mortimer as his sponsor. . Wasn't Mortimer rather
nasty about Siward though, in his role of the alcoholic prophet? Whew!"

"Siward never had any use for Mortimer," observed O'Hara.

"I'll bet you never heard him say so," returned Fleetwood. "You know
Stephen Siward's way; he never said anything unpleasant about any man. I
wish I didn't either, but I do. So do you. So do most men. . Lord! I
wish Siward were back here. He was a good deal of a man, after all,

They were unconsciously using the past tense in discussing Siward, as
though he were dead, either physically or socially.

"In one way he was always a singularly decent man," mused O'Hara,
walking toward the great marble vestibule and buttoning his overcoat.

"How exactly do you mean?"

"Oh, about women."

"I believe it, too. If he did take that Vyse girl into the Patroons, it
was his limit with her--and, I believe his limit with any woman. He was
absurdly decent that way; he was indeed. And now look at the reputation
he has! Isn't it funny? isn't it, now?"

"What sort of an effect do you suppose all this business is going to
have on Siward?"

"It's had one effect already," replied Fleetwood, as Plank came up,
ready for the street. "Ferrall says he looks sick, and Belwether says
he's going to the devil; but that's the sort of thing the major is
likely to say. By the way, wasn't there something between that pretty
Landis girl and Siward? Somebody--some damned gossiping somebody--talked
about it somewhere, recently."

"I don't believe that, either," said Plank, in his heavy, measured,
passionless voice, as they descended the steps of the white portico and
looked around for a cab.

"As for me, I've got to hustle," observed O'Hara, glancing at his watch.
"I'm due to shine at a function about five. Are you coming up-town
either of you fellows? I'll give you a lift as far as Seventy-second
Street, Plank."

"Tell you what we'll do," said Fleetwood, impulsively, turning to Plank:
"We'll drive down town, you and I, and we'll look up poor old Siward!
Shall we? He's probably all alone in that God-forsaken red brick family
tomb! Shall we? How about it, Plank?"

O'Hara turned impatiently on his heel with a gesture of adieu, climbed
into his electric hansom, and went buzzing away up the avenue.

"I'd like to, but I don't think I know Mr. Siward well enough to do
that," said Plank diffidently. He hesitated, colouring up. "He might
misunderstand my going with you--as a liberty--which perhaps I might not
have ventured on had he been less--less unfortunate."

Again Fleetwood warmed toward the ruddy, ponderous young man beside him.
"See here," he said, "you are going as a friend of mine--if you care to
look at it that way."

"Thank you," said Plank; "I should be very glad to go in that way."

The Siward house was old only in the comparative Manhattan meaning of
the word; for in New York nothing is really very old, except the faces
of the young men.

Decades ago it had been considered a big house, and it was still so
spoken of--a solid, dingy, red brick structure, cubical in proportions,
surmounted by heavy chimneys, the depth of its sunken windows hinting of
the thickness of wall and foundation. Window-curtains of obsolete
pattern, all alike, and all drawn, masked the blank panes. Three massive
wistaria-vines, the gnarled stems as thick as tree-trunks, crawled
upward to the roof, dividing the facade equally, and furnishing some
relief to its flatness, otherwise unbroken except by the deep reveals of
window and door. Two huge and unsymmetrical catalpa trees stood
sentinels before it, dividing curb from asphalt; and from the centres of
the shrivelled, brown grass-plots flanking the stoop under the basement
windows two aged Rose-of-Sharon trees bristled naked to the height of
the white marble capitals of the flaking pillars supporting the stained

An old New York house, in the New York sense. Old in another sense, too,
where in a rapid land Time outstrips itself, painting, with the
antiquity of centuries, the stone and mortar which were new scarce ten
years since.

"Nice old family mausoleum," commented Fleetwood, descending from the
hansom, followed by Plank. The latter instinctively mounted the stoop on
tiptoe, treading gingerly as one who ventures into precincts unknown but
long respected; and as Fleetwood pulled the old-fashioned bell, Plank
stole a glance over the facade, where wisps of straw trailed from
sparrows' nests, undisturbed, wedged between plinth and pillar; where,
behind the lace pane-screens, shadowy edges of heavy curtains framed the
obscurity; where the paint had blistered and peeled from the iron
railings, and the marble pillars of the portico glimmered, scarred by
frosts of winters long forgotten.

"Cheerful monument," repeated Fleetwood with a sarcastic nod. Then the
door was opened by a very old man wearing the black "swallow-tail"
clothes and choker of an old-time butler, spotless, quite immaculate,
but cut after a fashion no young man remembers.

"Good evening," said Fleetwood, entering, followed on tiptoe by Plank.

"Good evening, sir." . A pause; and in the unsteady voice of age: "Mr.
Fleetwood, sir. . Mr.--." A bow, and the dim eyes peering up at Plank,
who stood fumbling for his card-case.

Fleetwood dropped both cards on the salver unsteadily extended. The
butler ushered them into a dim room on the right.

"How is Mr. Siward?" asked Fleetwood, pausing on the threshold and
dropping his voice.

The old man hesitated, looking down, then still looking away from
Fleetwood: "Bravely, sir, bravely, Mr. Fleetwood."

"The Siwards were always that," said the young man gently.

"Yes, sir. . Thank you. Mr. Stephen--Mr. Siward," he corrected, quaintly,
"is indisposed, sir. It was a--a great shock to us all, sir!" He bowed
and turned away, holding his salver stiffly; and they heard him
muttering under his breath, "Bravely, sir, bravely. A--a great shock,
sir! . Thank you."

Fleetwood turned to Plank, who stood silent, staring through the fading
light at the faded household gods of the house of Siward. The dim light
touched the prisms of a crystal chandelier dulled by age, and edged the
carved foliations of the marble mantel, above which loomed a tarnished
mirror reflecting darkness. Fleetwood rose, drew a window-shade higher,
and nodded toward several pictures; and Plank moved slowly from one to
another, peering up at the dead Siwards in their crackled varnish.

"This is the real thing," observed Fleetwood cynically, "all this Fourth
Avenue antique business; dingy, cumbersome, depressing. Good God! I see
myself standing it. . Look at that old grinny-bags in a pig-tail over
there! To the cellar for his, if this were my house. . We've got some,
too, in several rooms, and I never go into 'em. They're like a scene in
a bum play, or like one of those Washington Square rat-holes, where
artists eat Welsh-rabbits with dirty fingers. Ugh!"

"I like it," said Plank, under his breath.

Fleetwood stared, then shrugged, and returned to the window to watch a
brand-new French motor-car drawn up before a modern mansion across the

The butler returned presently, saying that Mr. Siward was at home and
would receive them in the library above, as he was not yet able to pass
up and down stairs.

"I didn't know he was as ill as that," muttered Fleetwood, as he and
Plank followed the old man up the creaking stairway. But Gumble, the
butler, said nothing in reply.

Siward was sitting in an arm-chair by the window, one leg extended, his
left foot, stiffly cased in bandages, resting on a footstool.

"Why, Stephen!" exclaimed Fleetwood, hastening forward, "I didn't know
you were laid up like this!"

Siward offered his hand inquiringly; then his eyes turned toward Plank,
who stood behind Fleetwood; and, slowly disengaging his hand from
Fleetwood's sympathetic grip, he offered it to Plank.

"It is very kind of you," he said. "Gumble, Mr. Fleetwood prefers rye,
for some inscrutable reason. Mr. Plank?" His smile was a question.

"If you don't mind," said Plank, "I should like to have some tea--that
is, if--"

"Tea, Gumble, for two. We'll tipple in company, Mr. Plank," he added.
"And the cigars are at your elbow, Billy," with another smile at

"Now," said the latter, after he had lighted his cigar, "what is the
matter, Stephen?"

Siward glanced at his stiffly extended foot. "Nothing much." He reddened
faintly, "I slipped. It's only a twisted ankle."

For a moment or two the answer satisfied Fleetwood, then a sudden,
curious flash of suspicion came into his eyes; he glanced sharply at
Siward, who lowered his eyes, while the red tint in his hollow cheeks

Neither spoke for a while. Plank sipped the tea which Wands, the second
man, brought. Siward brooded over his cup, head bent. Fleetwood made
more noise than necessary with his ice.

"I miss you like hell!" said Fleetwood musingly, measuring out the old
rye from the quaint decanter. "Why did you drop the Saddle Club,

"I'm not riding; I have no use for it," replied Siward.

"You've cut out the Proscenium Club, too, and the Owl's Head, and the
Trophy. It's a shame, Stephen."

"I'm tired of clubs."

"Don't talk that way."

"Very well, I won't," said Siward, smiling. "Tell me what is
happening--out there," he made a gesture toward the window; "all the
gossip the newspapers miss. I've talked Dr. Grisby to death; I've talked
Gumble to death; I've read myself stupid. What's going on, Billy?"

So Fleetwood sketched for him a gay cartoon of events, caricaturing
various episodes in the social kaleidoscope which might interest him. He
gossiped cynically, but without malice, about people they both knew,
about engagements, marriages, and divorces, plans and ambitions; about
those absent from the metropolis and the newcomers to be welcomed. He
commented briefly on the opera, reviewed the newer plays at the
theatres, touched on the now dormant gaiety which had made the season at
nearby country clubs conspicuous; then drifted into the hunting field,
gossiping pleasantly in the vernacular about horses and packs and drag-
hunts and stables, and what people thought of the new English hounds of
the trial pack, and how the new M. F. H., Maitland Gray, had managed to
break so many bones at Southbury.

Politics were touched upon, and they spoke of the possibility of Ferrall
going to the Assembly, the sport of boss-baiting having become
fashionable among amateurs, and providing a new amusement for the idle

So city, State, and national issues were run through lightly, business
conditions noticed, the stock market speculated upon; and presently
conversation died out, with a yawn from Fleetwood as he looked into his
empty glass at the last bit of ice.

"Don't do that, Billy," smiled Siward. "You haven't discoursed upon art,
literature, and science yet, and you can't go until you've adjusted the
affairs of the nation for the next twenty-four hours."

"Art?" yawned Fleetwood. "Oh, pictures? Don't like 'em. Nobody ever
looks at 'em except debutantes, who do it out of deviltry, to floor a
man at a dinner or a dance."

"How about literature?" inquired Siward gravely. "Anything doing?"

"Nothing in it," replied Fleetwood more gravely still. "It's another
feminine bluff--like all that music talk they hand you after the opera."

"I see. And science?"

"Spider Flynn is matched to meet Kid Holloway; is that what you mean,
Stephen? Somebody tumbled out of an air-ship the other day; is that what
you mean? And they're selling scientific jewelry on Broadway at a dollar
a quart; is that what you want to know?"

Siward rested his head on his hand with a smile. "Yes, that's about what
I wanted to know, Billy--all about the arts and sciences. . Much obliged.
You needn't stay any longer, if you don't want to."

"How soon will you be out?" inquired Fleetwood.

"Out? I don't know. I shall try to drive to the office to-morrow."

"Why the devil did you resign from all your clubs? How can I see you if
I don't come here?" began Fleetwood impatiently. "I know, of course,
that you're not going anywhere, but a man always goes to his club. You
don't look well, Stephen. You are too much alone."

Siward did not answer. His face and body had certainly grown thinner
since Fleetwood had last seen him. Plank, too, had been shocked at the
change in him--the dark, hard lines under the eyes; the pallor, the
curious immobility of the man, save for his fingers, which were always
restless, now moving in search of some small object to worry and turn
over and over, now nervously settling into a grasp on the arm of his

"How is Amalgamated Electric?" asked Fleetwood, abruptly.

"I think it's all right. Want to buy some?" replied Siward, smiling.

Plank stirred in his chair ponderously. "Somebody is kicking it to
pieces," he said.

"Somebody is trying to," smiled Siward.

"Harrington," nodded Fleetwood. Siward nodded back. Plank was silent.

"Of course," continued Fleetwood, tentatively, "you people need not
worry, with Howard Quarrier back of you."

Nobody said anything for a while. Presently Siward's restless hands,
moving in search of something, encountered a pencil lying on the table
beside him, and he picked it up and began drawing initials and scrolls
on the margin of a newspaper; and all the scrolls framed initials, and
all the initials were the same, twining and twisting into endless
variations of the letters S. L.

"Yes, I must go to the office to-morrow," he repeated absently. "I am
better--in fact I am quite well, except for this sprain." He looked down
at his bandaged foot, then his pencil moved listlessly again, continuing
the endless variations on the two letters. It was plain that he was

Fleetwood rose and made his adieux almost affectionately. Plank moved
forward on tiptoe, bulky and noiseless; and Siward held out his hand,
saying something amiably formal.

"Would you like to have me come again?" asked Plank, red with
embarrassment, yet so naively that at first Siward found no words to
answer him; then--

"Would you care to come, Mr. Plank?"


Siward looked at him curiously, almost cautiously. His first impressions
of the man had been summed up in one contemptuous word. Besides, barring
that, what was there in common between himself and such a type as Plank?
He had not even troubled himself to avoid him at Shotover; he had merely
been aware of him when Plank spoke to him; never otherwise, except that
afternoon beside the swimming pool, when he had made one of his rare
criticisms on Plank.

Perhaps Plank had changed, perhaps Siward had; for he found nothing
offensive in the bulky young man now--nothing particularly attractive,
either, except for a certain simplicity, a certain direct candour in the
heavy blue eyes which met his squarely.

"Come in for a cigar when you have a few moments idle," said Siward

"It will give me great pleasure," said Plank, bowing.

And that was all. He followed Fleetwood down the stairs; Wands held
their coats, and bowed them out into the falling shadows of the winter

Siward, sitting beside his window, watched them enter their hansom and
drive away up the avenue. A dull flush had settled over his cheeks; the
aroma of spirits hung in the air, and he looked across the room at the
decanter. Presently he drank some of his tea, but it was lukewarm, and
he pushed the cup from him.

The clatter of the cup brought the old butler, who toddled hither and
thither, removing trays, pulling chairs into place, fussing and
pattering about, until a maid came in noiselessly, bearing a lamp. She
pulled down the shades, drew the sad-coloured curtains, went to the
mantelpiece and peered at the clock, then brought a wineglass and a
spoon to Siward, and measured the dose in silence. He swallowed it,
shrugged, permitted her to change the position of his chair and
footstool, and nodded thanks and dismissal.

"Gumble, are you there?" he asked carelessly.

The butler entered from the hallway. "Yes, sir."

"You may leave that decanter."

But the old servant may have misunderstood, for he only bowed and ambled
off downstairs with the decanter, either heedless or deaf to his
master's sharp order to return.

For a while Siward sat there, eyes fixed, scowling into vacancy; then
the old, listless, careworn expression returned; he rested one elbow on
the window-sill, his worn cheek on his hand, and with the other hand
fell to weaving initials with his pencil on the margin of the newspaper
lying on the table beside him.

Lamplight brought out sharply the physical change in him--the angular
shadows flat under the cheek-bones, the hard, slightly swollen flesh in
the bluish shadows around the eyes. The mark of the master-vice was
there; its stamp in the swollen, worn-out hollows; its imprint in the
fine lines at the corners of his mouth; its sign manual in the faintest
relaxation of the under lip, which had not yet become a looseness.

For the last of the Siwards had at last stepped into the highway which
his doomed forebears had travelled before him.

"Gumble!" he called irritably.

A quavering voice, an unsteady step, and the old man entered again. "Mr.
Stephen, sir?"

"Bring that decanter back. Didn't you hear me tell you just now?"


"Didn't you hear me?"

"Yes, Mr. Stephen, sir."

There was a silence.



"Are you going to bring that decanter?"

The old butler bowed, and ambled from the room, and for a long while
Siward sat sullenly listening and scoring the edges of the paper with
his trembling pencil. Then the lead broke short, and he flung it from
him and pulled the bell. Wands came this time, a lank, sandy, silent
man, grown gray as a rat in the service of the Siwards. He received his
master's orders, and withdrew; and again Siward waited, biting his under
lip and tearing bits from the edges of the newspaper with fingers never
still; but nobody came with the decanter, and after a while his tense
muscles relaxed; something in his very soul seemed to snap, and he sank
back in his chair, the hot tears blinding him.

He had got as far as that; moments of self-pity were becoming almost as
frequent as scorching intervals of self-contempt.

So they all knew what was the matter with him--they all knew--the doctor,
the servants, his friends. Had he not surprised the quick suspicion in
Fleetwood's glance, when he told him he had slipped, and sprained his
ankle? What if he had been drunk when he fell--fell on his own
doorsteps, carried into the old Siward house by old Siward servants,
drunk as his forefathers? It was none of Fleetwood's business. It was
none of the servants' business. It was nobody's business except his own.
Who the devil were all these people, to pry into his affairs and doctor
him and dose him and form secret leagues to disobey him, and hide
decanters from him? Why should anybody have the impertinence to meddle
with him? Of what concern to them were his vices or his virtues?

The tears dried in his hot eyes; he jerked the old-fashioned bell
savagely; and after a long while he heard servants whispering together
in the passageway outside his door.

He lay very still in his chair; his hearing had become abnormally acute,
but he could not make out what they were saying; and as the dull,
intestinal aching grew sharper, parching, searing every strained muscle
in throat and chest, he struck the table beside him, and clenched his
teeth in the fierce rush of agony that swept him from head to foot,
crying out an inarticulate menace on his household. And Dr. Grisby came
into the room from the outer shadows of the hall.

He was very small, very meagre, very bald, and clean-shaven, with a face
like a nut-cracker; and the brown wig he wore was atrocious, and curled
forward over his colourless ears. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles, each
glass divided into two lenses; and he stood on tiptoe to look out
through the upper lenses on the world, and always bent almost double to
use the lower or reading lenses.

Besides that, he affected frilled shirts, and string ties, which nobody
had ever seen snugly tied. His loose string tie was the first thing
Siward could remember about the doctor; and that the doctor had
permitted him to pull it when he had the measles, at the age of six.

"What's all this racket?" said the little old doctor harshly. "Got
colic? Got the toothache? I'm ashamed of you, Stephen, cutting capers
and pounding the furniture! Look up! Look at me! Out with your tongue!
Well, now, what the devil's the trouble?"

"You--know," muttered Siward, abandoning his wrist to the little man, who
seated himself beside him. Dr. Grisby scarcely noted the pulse; the
delicate pressure had become a strong caress.

"Know what?" he grunted. "How do I know what's the matter with you? Hey?
Now, now, don't try to explain, Steve; don't fly off the handle! All
right; grant that I do know what's bothering you; I want to see that
ankle first. Here, somebody! Light that gas. Why the mischief don't you
have the house wired for electricity, Stephen? It's wholesome. Gas
isn't. Lamps are worse, sir. Do as I tell you!" And he went on
loquaciously, grumbling and muttering, and never ceasing his talk, while
Siward, wincing as the dressing was removed, lay back and closed his

Half an hour later Gumble appeared, to announce dinner.

"I don't want any," said Siward.

"Eat!" said Dr. Grisby harshly.

"I--don't care to."

"Eat, I tell you! Do you think I don't mean what I say?"

So he ate his broth and toast, the doctor curtly declining to join him.
He ate hurriedly, closing his eyes in aversion. Even the iced tea was
flat and distasteful to him.

And at last he lay back, white and unstrung, the momentarily deadened
desperation glimmering under his half-closed eyes. And for a long while
Dr. Grisby sat, doubled almost in two, cuddling his bony little knees
and studying the patterns in the faded carpet.

"I guess you'd better go, Stephen," he said at length.

"Up the river--to Mulqueen's?"

"Yes. Let's try it, Steve. You'll be on your feet in two weeks. Then
you'd better go--up the river--to Mulqueen's."

"I--I'll go, if you say so. But I can't go now."

"I didn't say go now. I said in two weeks."


"Will you give me your word?" demanded the doctor sharply.

"No, doctor."

"Why not?"

"Because I may have to be here on business. There seems to be some sort
of crisis coming which I don't understand."

"There's a crisis right here, Steve, which I understand!" snapped Dr.
Grisby. "Face it like a man! Face it like a man! You're sick--to your
bones, boy--sick! sick! Fight the fight, Steve! Fight a good fight.
There's a fighting chance; on my soul of honour, there is, Steve, a
fighting chance for you! Now! now, boy! Buckle up tight! Tuck up your
sword-sleeve! At 'em, Steve! Give 'em hell! Oh, my boy, my boy, I know;
I know!" The little man's voice broke, but he steadied it instantly with
a snap of his nut-cracker jaws, and scowled on his patient and shook his
little withered fist at him.

His patient lay very still in the shadow.

"I want you to go," said the doctor harshly, "before your self-control
goes. Do you understand? I want you to go before your decision is
undermined; before you begin to do devious things, sly things, cheating
things, slinking things--anything and everything to get at the thing you
crave. I've given you something to fight with, and you won't take it
faithfully. I've given you free rein in tobacco and tea and coffee. I've
helped you as much as I dare to weather the nights. Now, you help me--do
you hear?"

"Yes . I will."

"You say so; now do it. Do something for yourself. Do anything! If
you're sick of reading--and I don't blame you, considering the stuff you
read--get people down here to see you; get lots of people. Telephone 'em;
you've a telephone there, haven't you? There it is, by your elbow. Use
it! Call up people. Talk all the time."

"Yes, I will."

"Good! Now, Steve, we know what's the matter, physically, don't we? Of
course we do! Now, then, what's the matter mentally?"

"Mentally?" repeated Siward under his breath.

"Yes, mentally. What's the trouble? Stocks? Bonds? Lawsuits? Love?" the
slightest pause, and a narrowing of the gimlet eyes behind the lenses.
"Love?" he repeated harshly. "Which is it, boy? They're all good to let

"Business," said Siward. But, being a Siward, he was obliged to add

"Business--partly," repeated the doctor. "What's the matter with

"I don't know. There are rumours. Hetherington is pounding
us--apparently. That Inter-County crowd is acting ominously, too. There's
something underhand, somewhere." He bent his head and fell to plucking
at the faded brocade on the arm of his chair, muttering to himself,
"somewhere, somehow, something underhand. I don't know what; I really

"All right--all right," said the doctor testily; "let it go at that!
There's treachery, eh? You suspect it? You're sure of it--as reasonably
sure as a gentleman can be of something he is not fashioned to
understand? That's it, is it? All right, sir--all right! Very well--ver-y
well. Now, sir, look at me! Business symptoms admitted, what about the
'partly,' Stephen ?--what about it, eh? What about it?"

But Siward fell silent again.

"Eh? Did you say something? No? Oh, very well, ver-y well, sir. .
Perfectly correct, Stephen. You have not earned the right to admit
further symptoms. No, sir, you have not earned the right to admit them
to anybody, not even to yourself. Nor to--her!"



"I have--admitted them."

"To yourself, Steve? I'm sorry. You have no right to--yet. I'm sorry--"

"I have admitted them--admitted them--to her."

"That settles it," said the doctor grimly, "that clinches it! That locks
you to the wheel! That pledges you. The squabble is on, now. It's your
honour that's engaged now, not your nerves, not your intestines. It's a
good fight--a very good fight, with no chance of losing anything but
life. You go up the river to Mulqueen's. That's the strategy in this
campaign; that's excellent manoeuvring; that's good generalship! Eh?
Mask your purpose, Steve; make a feint of camping out here under my
guns; then suddenly fling your entire force up the Hudson and fortify
yourself at Mulqueen's! Ho, that'll fix 'em! That's going to astonish
the enemy!"

His harsh, dry, crackling laughter broke out like the distant rattle of

The ghost of a smile glimmered in Siward's haunted eyes, then faded as
he leaned forward.

"She has refused me," he said simply.

The little doctor, after an incredulous stare, began chattering with
wrath. "Refused you! Pah! Pooh! That's nothing! That signifies
absolutely nothing! It's meaningless! It's a detail. You get well--do you
hear? You go and get well; then try it again! Then you'll see! And if
she is an idiot--in the event of her irrational persistence in an
incredible and utterly indefensible attitude"--he choked up, then fairly
barked at Siward--"take her anyway, sir! Run off with her! Dominate
circumstances, sir! take charge of events! . But you can't do it till
you've clapped yourself into prison for life. . And God help you if you
let yourself escape!"

And after a long while Siward said: "If I should ever marry--and--and--"

"Had children, eh? Is that it? Oh, it is, eh? Well, I say, marry! I say,
have children! If you're a man, you'll breed men. The chances are they
may not inherit what you have. It skips some generations--some, now and
then. But if they do, good God! I say it's better to be born and have a
chance to fight than never to come into the arena at all! By winning
out, the world learns; by failure, the world is no less wise. The
important thing is birth. The main point is to breed--to produce--to
reproduce! but not until you stand, sword in hand, and your armed heel
on the breast of your prostrate and subconscious self!"

He jumped up and began running about the room with short little bantam
steps, talking all the while.

"People say, 'Shall criminals be allowed to mate and produce young?
Shall malefactors be allowed to beget? No!' And I say no, too. Never so
long as they remain criminals and malefactors; so long as the evil in
them is in the ascendant. Never, until they are cured. That's what I
say; that's what I maintain. Crime is a disease; criminals are sick
people. No marriage for them until they're cured; no children for them
until they're well. If they cure themselves, let 'em marry; let 'em
breed; for then, if their children inherit the inclination, they also
inherit the grit to cauterise the malady."

He produced a huge handkerchief from the tails of his coat, and wiped
his damp features and polished his forehead so violently that his wig
took a new and jaunty angle.

"I'm talking too much," he said fretfully; "I'm talking a great deal--all
the time--continually. I've other patients--several--plenty! Do you think
you're the only man I know who's trying to disfigure his liver and make
spots come out all over inside him? Do you?"

Siward smiled again, a worn, pallid smile.

"I can stand it while you are here, doctor, but when I'm alone
it's--hard. One of those crises is close now. I've a bad night ahead--a
bad outlook. Couldn't you--"


"Just enough--"

"No, Stephen."

"--Enough to dull it--just a little? I don't ask for enough to make me
sleep--not even to make me doze. You have your needle; haven't you,


"Then, just this once--for the last time."


"Why? Are you afraid? You needn't be, doctor. I don't care for it except
to give me a little respite, a little rest on a night like this. I'm so
tired of this ache. If I could only have some sleep, and wake up in good
shape, I'd stand a better chance of fighting. . Wait, doctor! Just one
moment. I don't mean to be a coward, but I've had a hard fight, and--I'm
tired. . If you could see your way to helping me--"

"I dare not help you any more that way."

"Not this once?"

"Not this once."

There was a dead silence, broken at last by the doctor with a violent
gesture toward the telephone. "Talk to the girl! Why don't you talk to
the girl! If she's worth a hill o' beans she'll help you to hang on.
What's she for, if she isn't for such moments? Tell her you need her
voice; tell her you need her faith in you. Damn central! Talk out in
church! Don't make a goddess of a woman. The men who want to marry her,
and can't, will do that! The nincompoop can always be counted on to
deify the commonplace. And she is commonplace. If she isn't, she's no
good! Commend me to sanity and the commonplace. I take off my hat to it!
I honour it. God bless it! Good-night!"

Siward lay still for a long while after the doctor had gone. More than
an hour had passed before he slowly sat up and groped for the telephone
book, opened it, and searched in a blind, hesitating way until he found
the number he was looking for.

He had never telephoned to her; he had never written her except once, in
reply to her letter in regard to his mother's death--that strange, timid,
formal letter, in which, grief-stunned as he was, he saw only the
formality, and had answered it more formally still. And that was all
that had come of the days and nights by that northern sea--a letter and
its answer, and silence.

And, thinking of these things, he shut the book wearily, and lay back in
the shadow of the faded curtain, closing his sunken eyes.


In a city in transition, where yesterday is as dead as a dead century,
where those who prepare the old year for burial are already taking the
ante-mortem statement of the new, the future fulfils the functions of
the present. Time itself is considered merely as a by-product of horse-
power, discounted with flippancy as the unavoidable friction clogging
the fly-wheel of progress.

Memory, once a fine art, is becoming a lost art in Manhattan.

His world and his city had almost ceased to think of Siward.

For a few weeks men spoke of him in the several clubs of which he had
lately been a member--spoke of him always in the past tense; and after a
little while spoke of him no more.

In that section of the social system which he had inhabited, his absence
on account of his mother's death being taken for granted, people laid
him away in their minds almost as ceremoniously as they had laid away
the memory of his mother. Nothing halted because he was not present;
nothing was delayed, rearranged, or abandoned because his familiar
presence chanced to be missing. There remained only one more place to
fill at a cotillion, dinner, or bridge party; only another man for opera
box or week's end; one man the more to be counted on, one more man to be
counted out--transferred to the credit of profit and loss, and the ledger
closed for the season.

They who remembered him, among those who had not yet lost that old-
fashioned art, were very few--a young girl here and there, over whom he
had been absent-mindedly sentimental; a debutante or two who had adored
him from a distance as a friend of elder sister or brother; here and
there an old, old lady to whom he had been considerate, and who perhaps
remembered something of the winning charm of the Siwards when the town
was young--his father, perhaps, perhaps his grandfather--these thought of
him at intervals; the remainder had no leisure to remember even if they
had not forgotten how to do it. Several cabmen missed him for a while;
now and then a privileged cafe waiter inquired about him from gay, noisy
parties entering some old haunt of his. Mr. Desmond, of art gallery and
roulette notoriety, whose business is not to forget, was politely
regretful at his absence from certain occult ceremonies which he had at
irregular intervals graced with votive offerings. And the list ended
there--almost, not quite; for there were two people who had not forgotten
Siward: Howard Quarrier and Beverly Plank; and one other, a third, who
could not yet forget him if she would--but, as yet, she had not tried
very desperately.

The day that Siward left New York to visit everybody's friend, Mr.
Mulqueen, in the country, Plank called on him for the second time in his
life, and was presently received in the south drawing-room, the library
being limited to an informality and intimacy not for Mr. Plank.

Siward, still lame, and using unskilfully two shiny new crutches, came
down the stairs and stumped into the drawing-room, which, in spite of
the sombre, clustering curtains, was brightly illuminated by the winter
sunshine reflected from the snow in the street. Plank was shocked at the
change in him--at the ghost of a voice, listlessly formal; at the thin,
nerveless hand offered; startled, so that he forgot his shyness, and
retained the bony hand tightly in his, and instinctively laid his other
great cushion-like paw over it, holding it imprisoned, unable to speak,
unconscious, in the impulse of the moment, of the liberty he permitted
himself, and which he had never dreamed of taking with such a man as

The effect on Siward was composite; his tired voice ceased; surprise,
inability to understand tinged with instinctive displeasure, were
succeeded by humourous curiosity; and, very slowly it became plain to
him that this beefy young man liked him, was naively concerned about
him, felt friendly toward him, and was showing it as spontaneously as a
child. Because he now understood something of how it is with a man who
is in the process of being forgotten, his perceptions were perhaps the
finer in these days, and the direct unconsciousness of Plank touched him
more heavily than the pair of heavy hands enclosing his.

"I thought I'd come," began Plank, growing redder and redder as he began
to realise the enormity of familiarity committed only on the warrant of
impulse. "You don't look well."

"It was good of you to think of me," said Siward. "Come up to the
library, if you've a few minutes to spare an invalid. Please go first;
I'm a trifle lame yet."

"I--I am sorry," muttered Plank, "very, very sorry."

At first, in the library, Plank was awkward and silent, finding nothing
to say, and nowhere to dispose of his hands, until Siward gave him a
cigar to occupy his fingers. Even then he continued to sit
uncomfortably, his bulk balanced on a rickety, spindle-legged chair,
which he stubbornly refused to exchange for another, at Siward's
suggestion, out of sheer embarrassment, and with a confused idea that
his refusal would somehow ultimately put him at his ease with his

Siward, secretly amused, rang for tea, although the hour was early.
After a little while, either the toast or the tea appeared to act on
Plank as a lingual laxative, for he began suddenly to talk, which is
characteristic of bashful men; and Siward gravely helped him on when he
floundered and turned shy. After a little, matters went very well with
them, and Plank, much more at ease than he had ever dared to hope he
could be with Siward, talked and talked; and Siward, his crutches across
his knees, lay back in his arm-chair, chatting with that winning
informality so becoming to men who are unconscious of their charm.

Watching Plank, it occurred to him gradually that this great, cumbersome
creature was not a shrewd, thrifty, self-made and self-finished adult at
all; only a big, wistful, lonely boy, without comrades and with nowhere
to play. On Plank's round face there remained no trace of shrewdness, of
stubbornness, nothing even of the heavy, saturnine placidity of a dogged
man who waits his turn.

Plank spoke of himself after a while, sounding the personal note with
tentative timidity. Siward gravely encouraged him, and in a little while
the outlines of his crude autobiography appeared, embodying his
eventless boyhood in a Pennsylvania town; his career at the high school;
the dawning desire for college equipment, satisfied by his father, who
owned shares in the promising Deepvale Steel Plank Company; the unhappy
years at Harvard--hard years, for he learned with difficulty; solitary
years, for he was not sought by those whom he desired to know. Then he
ventured to speak of his father's growing interest in steel; the merging
and absorbing of independent plants; his own entry upon the scene on the
death of his father; and--the rest--material fortune and prosperity,
which, perhaps, might stand substitute as a social sponsor for him;
stand, perhaps, for something of what he lacked in himself, which only
long residence amid the best, long-formed habits for the best, or a long
inheritance of the best could give. Did Siward think so? Was the best
beyond his reach? Was it hopeless for such a man as he to try? And why?

The innocent snobbery, the abashed but absolute simplicity of this
ponderous pilgrim from the smelting pits clambering upward through the
high school of the smoky town, groping laboriously through the chilly
halls of Harvard toward the outer breastworks of Manhattan, interested
Siward; and he said so in his pleasant way, without offence, and with a
smiling question at the end.

"Worth while?" repeated Plank, flushing heavily, "it is worth while to
me. I have always desired to be a part of the best that there is in my
own country; and the best is here, isn't it? "

"Not necessarily," said Siward, still smiling. "The noisiest is here,
and some of the best."

"Which is the best?" inquired Plank naively.

"Why, all plain people, whose education, breeding, and fortune permit
them the luxury of thinking, and whose tastes, intelligence, and sanity
enable them to express their thoughts. There are such people here, and
some of them form a portion of the gaudier and noisier galaxy we call

"That is what I wish to be part of," said Plank. "Could you tell me what
are the requirements?"

"I don't believe I could, exactly," said Siward, amused. "With us, the
social system, as an established and finished system, has too recently
been evolved from outer chaos to be characteristic of anything except
the crudity and energy of the chaos from which it emerged. The balance
between wealth, intelligence, and breeding has not yet been
established--not from lack of wealth or intelligence. The formula has not
been announced, that is all."

"What is the formula?" insisted Plank.

"The formula is the receipt for a real society," replied Siward,
laughing. "At present we have its uncombined ingredients in the
raw--noisy wealth and flippant fashion, arrogant intelligence and dowdy
breeding--all excellent materials, when filtered and fused in the
retort; and many of our test tubes have already precipitated pure metal
besides, and our national laboratory is turning out fine alloys. Some
day we'll understand the formula, and we'll weld the entire mass; and
that will be society, Mr. Plank."

"In the meanwhile," repeated Plank, unsmiling, "I want to be part of the
best we have. I want to be part of the brightness of things. I mean,
that I cannot be contented with an imitation."

"An imitation?"

"Of the best--of what you say is not yet society. I ask no more than your
footing among the people of this city. I wish to be able to go where
such men as you go; be permitted, asked, desired to be part of what you
always have been part of. Is it a great deal I ask? Tell me, Mr.
Siward--for I don't know--is it too much to expect?"

"I don't think it is a very high ambition," said Siward, smiling. "What
you ask is not very much to ask of life, Mr. Plank."

"But is there any reason why I may not hope to go where I wish to go?"

"I think it depends upon yourself," said Siward, "upon your capacity for
being, or for making people believe you to be exactly what they require.
You ask me whether you may be able to go where you desire; and I answer
you that there is no limit to any journey except the sprinting ability
of the pilgrim."

Plank laughed a little, and his squared jaws relaxed; then, after a few
moments' thought:

"It is curious that what you cast away from you so easily, I am waiting
for with all the patience I have in me. And yet it is always yours to
pick up again whenever you wish; and I may never live to possess it."

He was so perfectly right that Siward said nothing; in fact, he could
have no particular interest or sympathy for a man's quest of what he
himself did not understand the lack of. Those born without a tag
unmistakably ticketing them and their positions in the world were
perforce ticketed. Siward took it for granted that a man belonged where
he was to be met; and all he cared about was to find him civil, whether
he happened to be a policeman or a master of fox-hounds.

He was, now that he knew Plank, contented to accept him anywhere he met
him; but Plank's upward evolutions upon the social ladder were of no
interest to him, and his naive snobbery was becoming something of a

So Siward directed the conversation into other channels, and Plank,
accepting another cup of tea, became very communicative about his
stables and his dogs, and the preservation of game; and after a while,
looking up confidently at Siward, he said:

"Do you think it beastly to drive pheasants the way I did at Black
Fells? I have heard that you were disgusted."

"It isn't my idea of a square deal," said Siward frankly.

"That settles it, then."

"But you should not let me interfere with--"

"I'll take your opinion, and thank you for it. It didn't seem to me to
be the thing; only it's done over here, you know. The De Coursay's and

"Yes, I know. . Glad you feel that way about it, Plank. It's pretty
rotten sportsmanship. Don't you think so?"

"I do. I--would you--I should like to ask you to try some square shooting
at the Fells," stammered Plank, "next season, if you would care to."

"You're very good. I should like to, if I were going to shoot at all;
but I fancy my shooting days are over, for a while."


"Business," nodded Siward, absently grave again. "I see no prospect of
my idling for the next year or two."

"You are in--in Amalgamated Electric, I think," ventured Plank.

"Very much in," replied the other frankly. "You've read the papers and
heard rumours, I suppose?"

"Some. I don't suppose anybody quite understands the attacks on

"I don't--not yet. Do you?"

Plank sat silent, then his shrewd under lip began to protrude.

"I'm wondering," he began cautiously, "how much the Algonquin crowd
understands about the matter?"

Siward's troubled eyes were on him as he spoke, watching closely,

"I've heard that rumour before," he said.

"So have I," said Plank, "and it seems incredible." He looked warily at
Siward. "Suppose it is true that the Algonquin Trust Company is
godfather to Inter-County. That doesn't explain why a man should kick
his own door down when there's a bell to ring and servants to let him
in--and out again, too."

"I have wondered," said Siward, "whether the door he might be inclined
to kick down is really his own door any longer."

"I, too," said Plank simply. "It may belong to a personal enemy--if he
has any. He could afford to have an enemy, I suppose."

Siward nodded.

"Then, hadn't you better--I beg your pardon! You have not asked me to
advise you."

"No. I may ask your advice some day. Will you give it when I do?"

"With pleasure," said Plank, so warmly disinterested, so plainly proud
and eager to do a service that Siward, surprised and touched, found no
word to utter.

Plank rose. Siward attempted to stand up, but had trouble with his

"Please don't try," said Plank, coming over and offering his hand. "May
I stop in again soon? Oh, you are off to the country for a month or two?
I see. . You don't look very well. I hope it will benefit you. Awfully
glad to have seen you. I--I hope you won't forget me--entirely."

"I am the man people are forgetting," returned Siward, "not you. It was
very nice of you to come. You are one of very few who remember me at

"I have very few people to remember," said Plank; "and if I had as many
as I could desire I should remember you first."

Here he became very much embarrassed. Siward offered his hand again.
Plank shook it awkwardly, and went away on tiptoe down the stairs which
creaked decorously under his weight.

And that ended the first interview between Plank and Siward in the first
days of the latter's decline.

The months that passed during Siward's absence from the city began to
prove rather eventful for Plank. He was finally elected a member of the
Patroons Club, without serious opposition; he had dined twice with the
Kemp Ferralls; he and Major Belwether were seen together at the
Caithness dance, and in the Caithness box at the opera. Once a
respectable newspaper reported him at Tuxedo for the week's end; his
name, linked with the clergy, frequently occupied such space under the
column headed "Ecclesiastical News" as was devoted to the progress of
the new chapel, and many old ladies began to become familiar with his

At the right moment the Mortimers featured him between two fashionable
bishops at a dinner. Mrs. Vendenning, who adored bishops, immediately
remembered him among those asked to her famous annual bal poudre; a
celebrated yacht club admitted him to membership; a whole shoal of
excellent minor clubs which really needed new members followed suit, and
even the rock-ribbed Lenox, wearied of its own time-honoured immobility,
displayed the preliminary fidgets which boded well for the stolid
candidate. The Mountain was preparing to take the first stiff step
toward Mohammed. It was the prophet's cue to sit tight and yawn

Meanwhile he didn't want to; he was becoming anxious to do things for
himself, which Leila Mortimer, of course, would not permit. It was
difficult for him to understand that any effort of his own would
probably be disastrous; that progress could come only through his own
receptive passivity; that nothing was demanded, nothing required,
nothing permitted from him as yet, save a capacity for assimilating such
opportunities as sections of the social system condescended to offer.

For instance, he wanted to open his art gallery to the public; he said
it was good strategy; and Mrs. Mortimer sat upon the suggestion with a
shrug of her pretty shoulders. Well, then, couldn't he possibly do
something with his great, gilded ball-room? No, he couldn't; and the
less in evidence his galleries and his ball-rooms were at present the
better his chances with people who, perfectly aware that he possessed
them, were very slowly learning to overlook the insolence of the
accident that permitted him to possess what they had never known the
want of. First of all people must tire of repeating to each other that
he was nobody, and that would happen when they wearied of explaining to
one another why he was ever asked anywhere. There was time enough for
him to offer amusement to people after they had ceased to find amusement
in snubbing him; plenty of time in the future for them to lash him to a
gallop for their pleasure. In the meanwhile he was doing very well,
because he began to appear regularly in the Caithness-Bonnesdel box, and
old Peter Caithness was already boring him at the Patroons; which meant
that the thrifty old gentleman considered Plank's millions as a possible
underpinning for the sagging house of Caithness, of which his pallid
daughter Agatha was the sole sustaining caryatid in perspective.

Yes, he was doing well; for that despotic beauty, Sylvia Landis, whose
capricious perversity had recently astonished those who remembered her
in her first season as a sweet, reasonable, and unspoiled girl, was
always friendly with him. That must be looked upon as important,
considering Sylvia's unassailable position, and her kinship to the
autocratic old lady whose kindly ukase had for generations remained the
undisputed law in the social system of Manhattan.

"There is another matter," said Leila Mortimer innocently, as Plank,
lingering after a disastrous rubber of bridge with her, her husband, and
Agatha Caithness, had followed her into her own apartments to write his
cheque for what he owed. "You've driven with me so much and you come
here so often and we are seen together so frequently that the clans are
sharpening up their dirks for us. And that helps some."

"What!" exclaimed Plank, reddening, and twisting around in his chair.

"Certainly. You didn't suppose I could escape, did you?"

"Escape! What?" demanded Plank, getting redder.

"Escape being talked about, savagely, mercilessly. Can't you see how it
helps? Oh dear, are you stupid, Beverly?

"I don't know," replied Plank, staring, "just how stupid I am. If you
mean that I'm compromising you--"

"Oh, please! Why do you use back-stairs words? Nobody talks about
compromising now; all that went out with New Year's calls and brown-
stone stoops."

"What do they call it, then?" asked Plank seriously.

"Call what? you great boy!"

"What you say I'm doing?"

"I don't say it."

"Who does?"

Leila laughed, leaned back in her big, padded chair, dropping one knee
over the other. Her dark eyes with the Japanese slant to them rested
mockingly on Plank, who had now turned completely around in his chair,
leaving his half-written cheque on her escritoire behind him.

"You're simply credited with an affair with a pretty woman," she said,
watching the dull colour mounting to his temples, "and that is certain
to be useful to you, and it doesn't affect me. What on earth are you
blushing about?" And as he said nothing, she added, with a daring little
laugh: "You are credited with being very agreeable, you see."

"If--if that's the way you take it--" he began.

"Of course! What do you expect me to do--call for help before I'm hurt?"

"You mean that this talk--gossip--doesn't hurt?"

"How silly!" She looked at him, smiling. "You know how likely I am to
require protection from your importunities." She dropped her pretty
head, and began plaiting with her fingers the silken gown over her knee.
"Or how likely I would be to shriek for it even if"--she looked up with
childlike directness--"even if I needed it."

"Of course you can take care of yourself," said Plank, wincing.

"I could, if I wanted to."

"Everybody knows that. I know it, Leroy knows it; only I don't care to
figure as that kind of man."

Already he had lost sight of her position in the matter; and she drew a
long, quiet breath, almost like a sigh.

"Time enough after you marry," she said deliberately, and lighted a
cigarette from a candle, recreating her knees the other way.

He considered her, started to speak, checked himself, and swung around
to the desk again. His pen hovered over the space to be filled in. He
tried to recollect the amount, hesitated, dated the cheque and affixed
his signature, still trying to remember; then be looked at her over his

"I forget the exact amount."

She surveyed him through the haze of her cigarette, but made no answer.

"I forget the amount," he repeated.

"So do I," she nodded indolently.

"But I--"

"Let it go. Besides, I shall not accept it."

He flushed up, astonished. "You can't refuse to take a gambling debt."

"I do," she retorted coolly. "I'm tired of taking your money."

"But you won it."

"I'm tired of winning it. It is all I ever do win . from you."

Her pretty head was wreathed in smoke. She tipped the ashes from the
cigarette's end, watching them fall to powder on the rug.

"I don't know what you mean," he persisted doggedly.

"Don't you? I don't believe I do, either. There are intervals in my
career which might prove eloquent if I opened my lips. But I don't,
except to make floating rings and cabalistic signs out of cigarette
smoke. Can you read their meaning? Look! There goes one, and there's
another, and another--all twisting and uncurling into hieroglyphics. They
are very significant; they might tell you a lot of things, if you would
only translate them. But you haven't the key--have you?"

There was a heavy, jarring step in the main living-room, and Mortimer's
bulk darkened the doorway.

"Entrez, mon ami," nodded Leila, glancing up. "Where is Agatha?"

"I'm going to Desmond's," he grunted, ignoring his wife's question; "do
you want to try it again, Beverly?"

"I can't make Leila take her own winnings," said Plank, holding out the
signed but unfilled cheque to Mortimer, who took it and scrutinised it
for a moment, rubbing his heavy, inflamed eyes; then, gesticulating, the
cheque fluttering in his puffy fingers:

"Come on," he insisted. "I've a notion that I can give Desmond a whirl
that he won't forget in a hurry. Agatha's asleep; she's going to that
ball--where is it?" he demanded, turning on his wife. "Yes, yes; the Page
blow-out. You're going, I suppose?"

Leila nodded, and lighted another cigarette.

"All right," continued Mortimer impatiently; "you and Agatha won't start
before one. And if you think Plank had better go, why, we'll be back
here in time."

"That means you won't be back at all," observed his wife coolly; "and
it's good policy for Beverly to go where he's asked. Can't you turn in
and sleep, now, and amuse your friend Desmond to-morrow night?"

"No, I can't. What a fool I'd be to let a chance slip when I feel like a

"You never feel otherwise when you gamble," said Leila.

"Yes, I do," he retorted peevishly. "I can tell almost every time what
the cards are going to do to me. Leila, go to sleep. We'll be back here
for you by one, or half past."

"Look here, Leroy," began Plank, "there's one thing I can't stand for,
and that's this continual loss of sleep. If I go with you I'll not be
fit to go to the Pages."

"What a farmer you are!" sneered Mortimer. "I believe you roost on the
foot-board of your bed, like a confounded turkey. Come on! You'd better
begin training, you know. People in this town are not going to stand for
the merry ploughboy game, you see!"

But Plank was shrewdly covering his principal reason for declining; he
had too often "temporarily" assisted Mortimer at Desmond's and
Burbank's, when Mortimer, cleaned out and unable to draw against a
balance non-existent, had plucked him by the sleeve from the faro table
with the breathless request for a loan.

"I tell you I can wring Desmond dry to-night," repeated Mortimer
sullenly. "It isn't a case of 'want to,' either; it's a case of 'got
to.' That old pink-and-white rabbit, Belwether, got me into a game this
afternoon, and between him and Voucher and Alderdine I'm stripped clean
as a kennel bone."

But Plank shook his head, pretending to yawn; and Mortimer, glowering
and lingering, presently went off, his swollen hands thrust into his
trousers' pockets, his gross features dark with disgust; and presently
they heard the front door slam, and a rattling tattoo of horses' feet on
the asphalt; and Leila sprang up impatiently, and, passing Plank,
traversed the passage to the windows of the front room.

"He's taken the horses--the beast!" she said calmly, as Plank joined her
at the great windows and looked out into the night, where the round,
drooping, flower-like globes of the electric lamps spread a lake of
silver before the house.

It was rather rough on Leila. The Mortimers maintained one pair of
horses only; and the use given them at all hours resulted in endless
scenes, and an utter impossibility for Leila to retain the same coachman
and footman for more than a few weeks at a time.

"He won't come back; he'll keep Martin and the horses standing in front
of Delmonico's all night. You'd better call up the stables, Beverly."

So Plank called up a livery and arranged for transportation at one; and
Leila seated herself at a card-table and began to deal herself cold
decks, thoughtfully.

"That bit in 'Carmen,'" she said, "it always brings the shudder; it
never palls on me, never grows stale." She whipped the ominous spade
from the pack and held it out. "La Mort!" she exclaimed in mock tragedy,
yet there was another undertone ringing through it, sounding, too, in
her following laugh. "Draw!" she commanded, holding out the pack; and
Plank drew a diamond.

"Naturally," she nodded, shuffling the pack with her smooth, savant
fingers and laying them out as she repeated the formula: "Qui frappe?
Qui entre? Qui prend chaise? Qui parle? Oh, the deuce! it's always the
same! Tiens! je m'ennui!" There was a flash of her bare arm, a flutter,
and the cards fell in a shower over them both.

Plank flipped a card from his knee, laughing uncertainly, aware of
symptoms in his pretty vis-a-vis which always made him uncomfortable.
For months, now, at certain intervals, these recurrent symptoms had made
him wary; but what they might portend he did not know, only that, alone
with her, moments occurred when he was heavily aware of a tension which,
after a while, affected even his few thick nerves. One of those
intervals was threatening now: her flushed cheeks, her feverish activity
with her hands, the unconscious reflex movement of her silken knees and
restless slippers, all foreboded it. Next would come the nervous
laughter, the swift epigram which bored and puzzled him, the veiled
badinage he was unequal to; and then the hint of weariness, the curious
pathos of long silences, the burnt-out beauty of her eyes from which the
fire had gone as though quenched by invisible tears within.

He ascribed it--desired to ascribe it--to her relations with her husband.
He had naturally learned and divined how matters stood with them; he had
learned considerable in the last month or two--something of Mortimer's
record as a burly brother to the rich; something of his position among
those who made no question of his presence anywhere. Something of Leila,
too, he had heard, or rather deduced from hinted word or shrug or
smiling silence, not meant for him, but indifferent to what he might
hear and what he might think of what he heard.

He did listen; he did patiently add two and two in the long solitudes of
his Louis XV chamber; and if the results were not always four, at least
they came within a fraction of the proper answer. And this did not alter
his policy or weaken his faith in his mentors; nor did it impair his
real gratitude to them, and his real and simple friendship for them
both. He was faithful in friendship once formed, obstinately so, for
better or for worse; but he was shrewd enough to ignore opportunities
for friendships which he foresaw could do him no good on his plodding
pilgrimage toward the temple of his inexorable desire.

Lifting, now, his Delft-coloured eyes furtively, he studied the silk-
and-lace swathed figure of the young matron opposite, flung back into
the depths of her great chair, profile turned from him, her chin
imprisoned in her ringed fingers. The brooding abandon of the attitude
contrasted sharply with the grooming of the woman, making both the more

"Turn in, if you want to," she said, her voice indistinct, smothered by
her pink palm. "You're to dress in Leroy's quarters."

"I don't want to turn in just yet."

"You said you needed sleep."

"I do. But it's not eleven yet."

She slipped into another posture, reaching for a cigarette, and, setting
it afire from the match he offered, exhaled a cloud of smoke and looked
dreamily through it at him.

"Who is she?" she asked in a colourless voice. "Tell me, for I don't
know. Agatha? Marion Page? Mrs. Vendenning? or the Tassel girl?"

"Nobody--yet," he admitted cheerfully.

"Nobody--yet," she repeated, musing over her cigarette. "That's good
politics, if it's true."

"Am I untruthful?" he asked simply.

"I don't know. Are you? You're a man."

"Don't talk that way, Leila."

"No, I won't. What is it that you and Sylvia Landis have to talk about
so continuously every time you meet?"

"She's merely civil to me," he explained.

"That's more than she is to a lot of people. What do you talk about?"

"I don't know--nothing in particular; mostly about Shotover, and the
people there last summer."

"Doesn't she ever mention Stephen Siward?"

"Usually. She knows I like him."

"She likes him, too," said Leila, looking at him steadily.

"I know it. Everybody likes him--or did. I do, yet."

"I do, too," observed Mrs. Mortimer coolly. "I was in love with him. He
was only a boy then."

Plank nodded in silence.

"Where is he now--do, you know?" she asked. "Everybody says he's gone to
the devil."

"He's in the country somewhere," replied Plank cautiously. "I stopped in
to see him the other day, but nobody seemed to know when he would

Mrs. Mortimer tossed her cigarette onto the hearth. For a long interval
of silence she lay there in her chair, changing her position restlessly
from moment to moment; and at length she lay quite still, so long that
Plank began to think she had fallen asleep in her chair.

He rose. She did not stir, and, passing her, he instinctively glanced
down. Her cheeks, half buried against the back of the chair, were
overflushed; under the closed lids the lashes glistened wet in the

Surprised, embarrassed, he halted, as though afraid to move; and she sat
up with a nervous shake of her shoulders.

"What a life!" she said, under her breath; "what a life for a woman to

"Wh-whose?" he blurted out.


He stared at her uneasily, finding nothing to say. He had never before
heard anything like this from her.

"Can't anybody help me out of it?" she said quietly.

"Who? How? . Do you mean--"

"Yes, I mean it! I mean it! I--"

And suddenly she broke down, in a strange, stammering, tearless way,
opening the dry flood-gates over which rattled an avalanche of
words--bitter, breathless phrases rushing brokenly from lips that shrank
as they formed them.

Plank sat inert, the corroding echo of the words clattering in his ears.
And after a while he heard his own altered voice sounding persistently
in repetition:

"Don't say those things, Leila; don't tell me such things."

"Why? Don't you care?"

"Yes, yes, I care; but I can't do anything! I have no business to
hear--to see you this way."

"To whom can I speak, then, if I can not speak to you? To whom can I
turn? Where am I to turn, in all the world?"

"I don't know," he said fearfully; "the only way is to go on."

"What else have I done? What else am I doing?" she cried. "Go on? Am I
not trudging on and on through life, dragging the horror of it behind me
through the mud, except when the horror drags me? To whom am I to
turn--to other beasts like him?--sitting patiently around, grinning and
slavering, awaiting their turn when the horror of it crushes me to the

She stretched out a rounded, quivering arm, and laid the small fingers
of the left hand on its flawless contour. "Look!" she said, exasperated,
"I am young yet; the horror has not yet corrupted the youth in me. I am
fashioned for some reason, am I not?--for some purpose, some happiness. I
am not bad; I am human. What poison has soaked into me can be
eliminated. I tell you, no woman is capable of being so thoroughly
poisoned that the antidote proves useless.

"But I tell you men, also, that unless she find that antidote she will
surely reinfect herself. A man can not do what that man has done to me
and expect me to recover unaided. People talk of me, and I have given
them subjects enough! But--look at me! Straight between the eyes! Every
law have I broken except that! Do you understand? That one, which you
men consider yourselves exempt from, I have not broken--yet! Shall I
speak plainer? It is the fashion to be crude. But--I can't be; I am
unfashionable, you see."

She laughed, her haunted eyes fixed on his.

"Is there no chance for me? Because I drag his bedraggled name about
with me is there no decent chance, no decent hope? Is there only
indecency in prospect, if a man comes to care for a married woman? Can't
a decent man love her at all? I--I think--"

Her hands, outstretched, trembled, then flew to her face; and she stood
there swaying, until Plank perforce stepped to her side and steadied her
against him.

So they remained for a while, until she looked up dazed, weary, ashamed,
expecting nothing of him; and when it came, leaving her still
incredulous, his arms around her, his tense, flushed face recoiling from
their first kiss, she did not seem to comprehend.

"I can't turn on him," he stammered, "I--we are friends, you see. How can
I love you, if that is so?"

"Could you love me?" she asked calmly.

"I--I don't know. I did love--I do care for--another woman. I can't marry
her, though I am given to understand there is a chance. Perhaps it is
partly ambition," he said honestly, "for I am quite sure she has never
cared for me, never thought of me in that way. I think a man can't stand
that long."

"No; only women can. Who is she?"

"You won't ask me, will you?"

"No. Are you sorry that I am in love with you?"

His arms unclasped her body, and he stepped back, facing her.

"Are you?" she asked violently.


"You speak like a man," she said tremulously. "Am I to be permitted to
adore you in peace, then--decently, and in peace?"

"Don't speak that way, Leila. I--there is no woman, no friend, I care for
as much as I do you. It is easy, I think, for a woman, like you, to make
a man care for her. You will not do it, will you?"

"I will," she said softly.

"It's no use; I can't turn on him. I can't! He is my friend, you see."

"Let him remain so. I shall do what I can. Let him remain a monument to
his fellow-beasts. What do I care? Do you think I desire to turn you
into his image? Do you think I hope for your degradation and mine? Are
you afraid I should not recognise love unaccompanied by the attendant
beast? I--I don't know; you had better teach me, if I prove blind. If you
can love me, do so in charity before I go blind forever."

She laid one hand on his arm, looked at him, then turned and passed
slowly through the doorway.

"If you are going to sleep before we start you had better be about it!"
she said, looking back at him from the stairs.

But he had no further need of sleep; and for a long while he stood at
the windows watching the lamps of cabs and carriages sparkling through
the leafless thickets of the park like winter fire-flies.

At one o'clock, hearing Agatha Caithness speak to Leila's maid, he left
the window, and sitting down at the desk, telephoned to Desmond's; and
he was informed that Mortimer, hard hit, had signified his intention of
recouping at Burbank's. Then he managed to get Burbank's on the wire,
and finally Mortimer himself, but was only cursed for his pains and cut
off in the middle of his pleading.

So he wandered up-stairs into Mortimer's apartments, where he tubbed and
dressed, and finally descended, to find Agatha Caithness alone in the
library, spinning a roulette wheel and whistling an air from "La

"That's pretty," he said; "sing it."

"No; it's better off without the words; and so are you," added Agatha
candidly, relinquishing the wheel and strolling with languid grace about
the room, hands on her hips, timing her vagrant steps to the indolent,
wicked air. And,

"'Je rougirais de men ivresse Si tu conservais ta raison!'"

she hummed deliberately, pivoting on her heels and advancing again
toward Plank, her pretty, pale face delicate as an enamelled cameo under
the flood of light from the crystal chandeliers.

"I understand that Mr. Mortimer is not coming with us," she said
carelessly. "Are you going to dance with me, if I find nobody better?"

He expressed himself flattered, cautiously. He was one of many who never
understood this tall, white, low-voiced girl, with eyes too pale for
beauty, yet strangely alluring, too. Few men denied the indefinable
enchantment of her; few men could meet her deep-lidded, transparent gaze
unmoved. In the sensitive curve of her mouth there was a kind of
sensuousness; in her low voice, in her pallor, in the slim grace of her
a vague provocation that made men restless and women silently curious
for something more definite on which to base their curiosity.

She was wearing, over the smooth, dead-white skin of her neck, a collar
of superb diamonds and aquamarines--almost an effrontery, as the latter
were even darker than her eyes; yet the strange and effective harmony
was evident, and Plank spoke of the splendour of the gems.

She nodded indifferently, saying they were new, and that she had picked
them up at Tiffany's; and he mentally sketched out the value of the
diamonds, a trifle surprised, because Leila Mortimer had carefully
informed him about the condition of the Caithness exchequer.

That youthful matron herself appeared in a few moments, very lustrous,
very lovely in her fragrant, exotic brightness, and Plank for the first
time thought that she was handsome--the vigorous, youthful incarnation of
Life itself, in contrast to Agatha's almost deathly beauty. She greeted
him not only without a trace of embarrassment, but with such a friendly,
fresh, gay confidence that he scarcely recognised in her the dry-eyed,
feverish woman of an hour ago, whose very lips shrank back, scorched by
the torrent of her own invective.

And so they drove the three short blocks to the Page's in their hired
livery; the street was inadequate for the crush of vehicles; and the
glittering pressure within the house was outrageous; all of which
confused Plank, who became easily confused by such things.

How they got in--how they managed to present themselves--who took Leila
and Agatha from him--where they went--where he himself might be--he did
not understand very clearly. The house was large, strange, full of
strangers. He attempted to obtain his bearings by wandering about
looking for a small rococo reception-room where he remembered he had
once talked kennel talk with Marion Page, and had on another occasion
perspired freely under the arrogant and strabismic glare of her mother.
That good lady had really rather liked him; he never suspected it.

But he couldn't find the rococo room--or perhaps he didn't recognise it.
So many people--so many, many people whom he did not know, whom he had
never before laid eyes on--high-bred faces hard as diamonds; young, gay,
laughing faces; brilliant eyes encountering his without a softening of
recognition; clean-cut, attractive men in swarms, all animated, all
amused, all at home among themselves and among the silken visions of
loveliness passing and repassing, with here an extended gloved arm and
the cordial greeting of camaraderie, there a quick smile, a swift turn
in passing, a capricious bending forward for a whisper, a compliment, a
jest--all this swept by him, around him, enveloping him with its
brightness, its gaiety, its fragrance, and left him more absolutely
alone than he had ever been in all his life.

He tried to find Leila, and gave it up. He saw Quarrier talking to
Agatha, but the former saluted him so coldly that he turned away.

After a while he found Marion, but she hadn't a dance left for him;
neither had Rena Bonnesdel, whom he encountered while she was adroitly
avoiding one of the ever-faithful twins. The twin caught up with her in
consequence, and she snubbed Plank for his share in the disaster, which
depressed him, and he started for the smoking-room, wherever that haven
might be found. He got into the ball-room, however, by mistake, and
adorned the wall, during the cotillon, as closely as his girth
permitted, until an old lady sent for him; and he went and talked about
bishops for nearly an hour to her, until his condition bordered on
frenzy, the old lady being deaf and peevish.

Later, Alderdene used him to get rid of an angular, old harridan who
seemed to be one solid diamond-mine, and who drove him into a corner and
talked indelicacies until Plank's broad face flamed like the setting
sun. Then Captain Voucher unloaded a frightened debutante on him who
tried to talk about horses and couldn't; and they hated each other for a
while, until, looking around her in desperation, she found he had
vanished--which was quick work for a man of his size.

Kathryn Tassel employed him for supper, and kept him busy while she
herself was immersed in a dawning affair with Fleetwood. She did
everything to him except to tip him; and her insolence was the last

Then, unexpectedly in the throng, two wonderful sea-blue eyes
encountered his, deepening to violet with pleasure, and the trailing
sweetness of a voice he knew was repeating his name, and a slim, white-
gloved hand lay in his own.

Her escort, Ferrall, nodded to him pleasantly. She leaned forward from
Ferrall's arm, saying, under her breath, "I have saved a dance for you.
Please ask me at once. Quick! do you want me?"

"I--I do," stammered Plank.

Ferrall, suspicious, stepped forward to exchange civilities, then
turning to the girl beside him: "See here, Sylvia, you've dragged me all
over this house on one pretext or another. Do you want any supper, or
don't you? If you don't, it's our dance."

"No, I don't. No, it isn't. Kemp, you annoy me!"

"That's a nice thing to say! Is it your delicately inimitable way of
giving me my conge?"

"Yes, thank you," nodded Miss Landis coolly; "you may go now."

"You're spoiled, that's what's the matter," retorted Ferrall wrathfully.
"I thought I was to have this dance. You said--"

"I said 'perhaps,' because I didn't see Mr. Plank coming to claim it.
Thank you, Kemp, for finding him."

Her nod and smile took the edge from her malice. Ferrall, who really
adored dancing, glared about for anybody, and presently cornered the
frightened and neglected debutante who had hated Plank.

Sylvia, standing beside Plank, looked up at him with her confident and
friendly smile.

"You don't care to dance, do you? Would you mind if we sat out this

"If you'd rather," he said, so wistfully that she hesitated; then with a
little shrug laid one hand on his arm, and they swung out across the
floor together, into the scented whirl.

Plank, like many heavy men, danced beautifully; and Sylvia, who still
loved dancing with all the ardour of a schoolgirl, permitted a moment or
two of keen delight to sweep her dreamily from her purpose. But that
purpose must have been a strong one, for she returned to it in a few
minutes, and, looking up at Plank, said very gently that she cared to
dance no more.

Her hand resting lightly on his arm, it did not seem possible that any
pressure of hers was directing them to the conservatory; yet he did not
know where he was going, and she was familiar with the house, and they
soon entered the conservatory, where, in the shadow of various palms
various youths looked up impatiently as they passed, and various maidens
sat up very straight in their chairs.

Threading their dim way into the farther recesses they found seats among
thickets of forced lilacs over-hung by early wistaria. A spring-like
odour hung in the air; somewhere a tiny fountain grew musical in the

"Marion told me you had been asked," she said. "We have been so
friendly; you've always asked me to dance whenever we have met; so I
thought I'd save you one. Are you flattered, Mr. Plank?"

He said he was, very pleasantly, perfectly undeceived, and convinced of
her purpose--a purpose never even tacitly admitted between them; and the
old loneliness came over him again--not resentment, for he was willing
that she should use him. Why not? Others used him; everybody used him;
and if they found no use for him they let him alone. Mortimer,
Fleetwood, Belwether--all, all had something to exact from him. It was
for that he was tolerated--he knew it; he had slowly and unwillingly
learned it. His intrusion among these people, of whom he was not one,
would be endured only while he might be turned to some account. The
hospital used him, the clergy found plenty for him to do for them, the
museum had room for other pictures of his. Who among them all had ever
sought him without a motive? Who among them all had ever found unselfish
pleasure in him? Not one.

Something in the dull sadness of his face, as he sat there, checked the
first elaborately careless question her lips were already framing.
Leaning a little nearer in the dim light she looked at him inquiringly
and he returned her gaze in silence.

"What is it, Mr. Plank," she said; "is anything wrong?"

He knew that she did not mean to ask if anything was amiss with him. She
did not care. Nobody cared. So, recognising his cue, he answered: "No,
nothing is wrong that I have heard of."

"You wear a very solemn countenance."

"Gaiety affects me solemnly, sometimes. It is a reaction from frivolity.
I suppose that I am over-enjoying life; that is all."

She laughed, using her fan, although the place was cool enough and they
had not danced long. To and fro flitted the silken vanes of her fan, now
closing impatiently, now opening again like the wings of a nervous moth
in the moonlight.

He wished she would come to her point, but he dared not lead her to it
too brusquely, because her purpose and her point were supposed to be
absolutely hidden from his thick and credulous understanding. It had
taken him some time to make this clear to himself; passing from
suspicion, through chagrin and overwounded feeling, to dull certainty
that she, too, was using him, harmlessly enough from her standpoint, but
how bitterly from his, he alone could know.

The quickened flutter of her fan meant impatience to learn from him what
she had come to him to learn, and then, satisfied, to leave him alone
again amid the peopled solitude of clustered lights.

He wished she would speak; he was tired of the sadness of it all.
Whenever in his isolation, in his utter destitution of friendship, he
turned guilelessly to meet a new advance, always, sooner or later, the
friendly mask was lifted enough for him to divine the cool, fixed gaze
of self-interest inspecting him through the damask slits.

Sylvia was speaking now, and the plumy fan was under savant control,
waving graceful accompaniment to her soft voice, punctuating her
sentences at times, at times making an emphasis or outlining a gesture.

It was the familiar sequence; topics that led to themes which adroitly
skirted the salient point; returned capriciously, just avoiding it--a
subtly charming pattern of words which required so little in reply that
his smile and nod were almost enough to keep her aria and his
accompaniment afloat.

It began to fascinate him to watch the delicacy of her strategy, the
coquetting with her purpose; her naive advance to the very edges of it,
the airy retreat, the innocent detour, the elaborate and circuitous
return. And at last she drifted into it so naturally that it seemed
impossible that fatuous man could have the most primitive suspicion of
her premeditation.

And Plank, now recognising his cue, answered her: "No, I have not heard
that he is in town. I stopped to see him the other day, but nobody there
knew how soon he intended to return from the country."

"I didn't know he had gone to the country," she said without apparent

And Plank was either too kind to terminate the subject, or too anxious
to serve his turn and release her; for he went on: "I thought I told you
at Mrs. Ferrall's that Mr. Siward had gone to the country."

"Perhaps you did. No doubt I've forgotten."

"I'm quite sure I did, because I remember saying that he looked very
ill, and you said, rather sharply, that he had no business to be ill. Do
you remember?"

"Yes," she said slowly. "Is he better?"

"I hope so."

"You hope so?"--with the controlled emphasis of impatience.

"Yes. Don't you, Miss Landis? When I saw him at his home, he was lame--on
crutches--and he looked rather ghastly; and all he said was that he
expected to leave for the country. I asked him to shoot next year at
Black Fells, and he seemed bothered about business, and said it might
keep him from taking any vacation."

"He spoke about his business?"

"Yes, he--"

"What is the trouble with his business? Is it anything about Amalgamated
and Inter-County?"

"I think so."

"Is he worried?"

Plank said deliberately: "I should be, if my interests were locked up in
Amalgamated Electric."

"Could you tell me why that would worry you?" she asked, smiling
persuasively across at him.

"No," he said, "I can't tell you."

"Because I wouldn't understand?"

"Because I myself don't understand."

She thought awhile, brushing the rose velvet of her mouth with the fan's
edge, then, looking up confidently:

"Mr. Siward is such a boy. I'm so glad he has you to advise him in such

"What matters?" asked Plank bluntly.

"Why, in--in financial matters."

"But I don't advise him."

"Why not?"

"Because he hasn't asked me to, Miss Landis."

"He ought to ask you. . He must ask you. . Don't wait for him, Mr.
Plank. He is only a boy in such things."

And, as Plank was silent:

"You will, won't you?"

"Do what--make his business my business, without an invitation?" asked
Plank, so quietly that she flushed with annoyance.

"If you pretend to be his friend is it not your duty to advise him?" she
asked impatiently.

"No; that is for his business associates to do. Friendship comes to
grief when it crosses the frontiers of business."

"That is a narrow view to take, Mr. Plank."

"Yes, straight and narrow. The boundaries of friendship are straight and
narrow. It is best to keep to the trodden path; best not to walk on the
grass or trample the flowers."

"I think you are sacrificing friendship for an epigram," she said,
careless of the undertone of contempt in her voice.

"I have never sacrificed friendship." He turned, and looked at her
pleasantly. "I never made an epigram consciously, and I have never
required of a friend more than I had to offer in return. Have you?"

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