Part 6 out of 9
The flush of hot displeasure stained her cheeks.
"Are you really questioning me, Mr. Plank?"
"Yes. You have been questioning me rather seriously--have you not?"
"I did not comprehend your definition of friendship. I did not agree
with it. I questioned it, not you! That is all."
Plank rested his head on one big hand and stared at the clusters of dim
blossoms behind her; and after a while he said, as though thinking
"Many have taken my friendship for granted, and have never offered their
own in return. I do not know about Mr. Siward. There is nothing I can do
for him, nothing be can do for me. If there is to be friendship between
us it will be disinterested; and I would rather have that than anything
in the world, I think."
There was a pause; but when Sylvia would have broken it his gesture
committed her to silence with the dignity one might use in checking a
"You question my definition of friendship, Miss Landis. I should have
let your question pass, however keenly it touched me, had it not also
touched him. Now I am going to say some things which lie within the
straight and narrow bounds I spoke of. I never knew a man I cared for as
much as I care for Mr. Siward. I know why, too. He is disinterested. I
do not believe he wastes very many thoughts on me. Perhaps he will. I
want him to like me, if it's possible. But one thing you and I may be
sure of: if he does not care to return the friendship I offer him he
will never accept anything else from me, though he might give at my
request; and that is the sort of a man he is; and that is why he is
every inch a man; and so I like him, Miss Landis. Do you wonder?"
She did not reply.
"Do you wonder?" he repeated sharply.
"No," she said.
"Then--" He straightened up, and the silent significance of his waiting
attitude was plain enough to her.
But she shook her head impatiently, saying: "I don't know whose dance it
is, and I don't care. Please go on. It is--is pleasant. I like Mr.
Siward; I like to hear men speak of him as you do. I like you for doing
it. If you should ever come to care for my friendship that is the best
passport to it--your loyalty to Mr. Siward."
"No man can truthfully speak otherwise than I have spoken," he said
"No, not of these things. But--you know w-what is--is usually said when
his name comes up among men."
"Do you mean about his habits?" he asked simply.
"Yes. Is it not an outrage to drag in that sort of thing? It angers me
intensely, Mr. Plank. Why do they do it? Is there a single one among
them qualified to criticise Mr. Siward? And besides, it is not true any
more! . is it?--what was once said of him with--with some truth? Is it?"
The dull red blood mantled Plank's heavy visage. The silence grew grim
as he did his slow, laborious thinking, the while his eyes,
expressionless and almost opaque in the dim light, never left her's,
until, under the unchanging, merciless inspection, the mask dropped for
an instant from her anxious face, and he saw what he saw.
He was no fool. What he had come to believe she at last had only
confirmed; and now the question became simple: was she worth
enlightening? And by what title did she demand his confidence?
"You ask me if it is true any more. You mean about his habits. If I
answer you it is because I cannot be indifferent to what concerns him.
But before I answer I ask you this: Would your interest in his fortunes
matter to him?"
She waited, head bent; then:
"I don't know, Mr. Plank," very low.
"Did your interest in his fortunes ever concern him?"
He looked at her sternly, his jaw squaring until his heavy under lip
projected. "Within my definition of friendship, is he your friend?"
"You mean he--"
"No, I mean you! I can answer for him. How is it with you? Do you return
what he gives--if there is really friendship between you? Or do you take
what he offers, offering nothing in return?"
She had turned rather white under the direct impact of the questions.
The jarring repetition of his voice itself was like the dull echo of
distant blows. Yet it never occurred to her to resent it, nor his
attitude, nor his self-assumed privilege. She did not care; she no
longer cared what he said to her or thought about her; nor did she care
that her mask had fallen at last. It was not what he was saying, but
what her own heart repeated so heavily that drove the colour from her
face. Not he, but she herself had become the pitiless attorney for the
prosecution; not his voice, but the clamouring conscience within her
demanded by what right she used the name of friendship to characterise
the late relations between her and the man to whom she had denied
Then a bitter impatience swept her, and a dawning fear, too; for she had
set her foot on the fallen mask, and the impulse rendered her reckless.
"Why don't you speak?" she said. "Yes, I have a right to know. I care
for him as much as you do. Why don't you answer me? I tell you I care
"Do you?" he said in a dull voice. "Then help me out, if you can, for I
don't know what to do; and if I did, I haven't the authority of
friendship as my warrant. He is in New York. He did go to the country;
and, at his home, the servants suppose he is still away. But he isn't;
he is here, alone, and sick--sick of his old sickness. I saw him,
and"--Plank rested his head on his hand, dropping his eyes--"and he didn't
know me. I--I do not think he will remember that he met me, or that I
spoke. And--I could do nothing, absolutely nothing. And I don't know
where he is. He will go home after a while. I call--every day--to see--see
what can be done. But if he were there I would not know what to do. When
he does go home I won't know what to say--what to try to do. . And that
is an answer to your question, Miss Landis. I give it, because you say
you care for him as I do. Will you advise me what to do?--you, who are
more entitled than I am to know the truth, because he has given you the
friendship which he has as yet not accorded to me."
But Sylvia, dry-eyed, dry-lipped, could find no voice to answer; and
after a little while they rose and moved through the fragrant gloom
toward the sparkling lights beyond.
Her voice came back as they entered the brilliant rooms: "I should like
to find Grace Ferrall," she said very distinctly. "Please keep the
others off, Mr. Plank."
Her small hand on his arm lay with a weight out of all proportion to its
size. Fair head averted, she no longer guided him with that impalpable
control; it was he who had become the pilot now, and he steered his own
way through the billowy ocean of silk and lace, master of the course he
had set, heavily bland to the interrupter and the importunate from whom
she turned a deaf ear and dumb lips, and lowered eyes that saw nothing.
Fleetwood had missed his dance with her, but she scarcely heard his
eager complaints. Quarrier, coldly inquiring, confronted them; was
passed almost without recognition, and left behind, motionless, looking
after them out of his narrowing, black-fringed eyes of a woman.
Then Ferrall came, and hearing his voice, she raised her colourless
"Will you take me home with you, Kemp, when you take Grace?" she asked.
"Of course. I don't know where Grace is. Are you in a hurry to go? It's
only four o'clock."
They were at the entrance to the supper-room. Plank drew up a chair for
her, and she sank down, dropping her elbows on the small table, and
resting her face between her fingers.
"Pegged out, Sylvia?" exclaimed Ferrall incredulously. "You? What's the
younger set coming to?" and he motioned a servant to fill her glass. But
she pushed it aside with a shiver, and gave Plank a strange look which
he scarcely understood at the moment.
"More caprices; all sorts of 'em on the programme," muttered Ferrall,
looking down at her from where he stood beside Plank. "O tempora! O
Sylvia! . Plank, would you mind hunting up my wife? I'll stay and see
that this infant doesn't fall asleep."
But Sylvia shook her head, saying: "Please go, Kemp. I'm a little tired,
that's all. When Grace is ready, I'll leave with her." And at her
gesture Plank seated himself, while Ferrall, shrugging his square
shoulders, sauntered off in quest of his wife, stopping a moment at a
neighbouring table to speak to Agatha Caithness, who sat there with
Captain Voucher, the gemmed collar on her slender throat a pale blaze of
Plank was hungry, and he said so in his direct fashion. Sylvia nodded,
and exchanged a smile with Agatha, who turned at the sound of Plank's
voice. For a while, as he ate and drank largely, she made the effort to
keep up a desultory conversation, particularly when anybody to whom she
owed an explanation hove darkly in sight on the horizon. But Plank's
appetite was in proportion to the generous lines on which nature had
fashioned him, and she paid less and less attention to convention and a
trifle more to the beauty of Agatha's jewels, until the silence at the
small table in the corner remained unbroken except by the faint tinkle
of silver and crystal and the bubbling hiss of a glass refilled.
Major Belwether, his white, fluffy, chop-whiskers brushed rabbit
fashion, peeped in at the door, started to tiptoe out again, caught
sight of them, and came trotting back, beaming rosy effusion. He leaned
roguishly over the table, his moist eyes a-twinkle with suppressed
mirth; then, bestowing a sprightly glance on Plank, which said very
plainly, "I'm up to one of my irrepressible jokes again!" he held up a
smooth, white, and over-manicured forefinger:
"I was in Tiffany's yesterday," be said, "and I saw a young man in there
who didn't see me, and I peeped over his shoulder, and what do you think
he was doing?"
She lifted her eyes a little wearily:
"I don't know," she said.
"I do," he chuckled. "He was choosing a collar of blue diamonds and aqua
marines!--Te-he!--probably to wear himself!--Te-he! Or perhaps he was going
to be married!--He-he-he!--next winter--ahem!--next November--Ha-ha!
I don't know, I'm sure, what he meant to do with that collar. I only--"
Something in Sylvia's eyes stopped him, and, following their direction,
he turned around to find Quarrier standing at his elbow, icy and
"Oh," said the aged jester, a little disconcerted, "I'm caught talking
out in church, I see! It was only a harmless little fun, Howard."
"Do you mean you saw me?" asked Quarrier, pale as a sheet. "You are in
error. I have not been in Tiffany's in months."
Belwether, crestfallen under the white menace of Quarrier's face,
nodded, and essayed a chuckle without success.
Sylvia, at first listless and uninterested, looked inquiringly from the
major to Quarrier, surprised at the suppressed feeling exhibited over so
trivial a gaucherie. If Quarrier had chosen a collar like Agatha's for
her, what of it? But as he had not, on his own statement, what did it
matter? Why should he look that way at the foolish major, to whose
garrulous gossip he was accustomed, and whose inability to refrain from
prying was notorious enough.
Turning disdainfully, she caught a glimpse of Plank's shocked and
altered face. It relapsed instantly into the usual inert expression; and
a queer, uncomfortable perplexity began to invade her. What had happened
to stir up these three men? Of what importance was an indiscretion of an
old gentleman whose fatuous vanity and consequent blunders everybody was
familiar with? And, after all, Howard had not bought anything at
Tiffany's; he said so himself. . But it was evident that Agatha had
chanced on the collar that Belwether thought he saw somebody else
She turned, and looked at the dead-white neck of the girl. The collar
was wonderful--a miracle of pale fire. And Sylvia, musing, let her
thoughts run on, dreamy eyes brooding. She was glad that Agatha's means
permitted her now to have such things. It had been understood, for some
years, that the Caithness fortune was in rather an alarming condition.
Howard had been able recently to do a favour or two for old Peter
Caithness. She had heard the major bragging about it. Evidently Mr.
Caithness must have improved the chance, if he was able to present such
gems to his daughter. And now somebody would marry her; perhaps Captain
Voucher; perhaps even Alderdene; perhaps, as rumour had it now and then,
Plank might venture into the arena. . Poor Plank! More of a man than
people understood. She understood. She--
And her thoughts swung back like the returning tide to Siward, and her
heart began heavily again, and the slightly faint sensation returned.
She passed her ungloved, unsteady fingers across her eyelids and
forehead, looking up and around. The major and Howard had disappeared;
Plank, beside her, sat staring stupidly into his empty wine-glass.
"Isn't Mrs. Ferrall coming?" she said wearily.
Plank gathered his cumbersome bulk and stood up, trying to see through
the entrance into the ball-room. After a moment he said: "They're in
there, talking to Marion. It's a good chance to make our adieux."
As they passed out of the supper-room Sylvia paused behind Agatha's
chair and bent over her. "The collar is beautiful," she said, "and so
are you, Agatha"; and with a little impulsive caress for the jewels she
passed on, unconscious of the delicate flush that spread from Agatha's
shoulders to her hair. And Agatha, turning, encountered only the stupid
gaze of Plank, moving ponderously past on Sylvia's heels.
"If you'll find Leila, I'm ready at any time," she said carelessly, and
resumed her tete-a-tete with Voucher, who had plainly been annoyed at
Plank went on, a new trouble dawning on his thickening mental horizon.
He had completely forgotten Leila. Even with all the demands made upon
him; even with all the time he had given to those whose use of him he
understood, how could he have forgotten Leila and the recent scene
between them, and the new attitude and new relations with her that he
must so carefully consider and ponder over before he presented himself
at the house of Mortimer again!
Ferrall and his wife and Sylvia were making their adieux to Marion and
her mother when he came up; and he, too, took that opportunity.
Later, on his quest for Leila, Sylvia, passing through the great hall,
shrouded in silk and ermine, turned to offer him her hand, saying in a
low voice: "I am at home to you; do you understand? Always," she added
He looked after her with an unconscious sigh, unaware that anything in
himself had claimed her respect. And after a moment he swung on his
broad heels to continue his search for Mrs. Mortimer.
CHAPTER X THE SEAMY SIDE
About four o'clock on the following afternoon Mrs. Mortimer's maid, who
had almost finished drying and dressing her mistress' hair, was called
to the door by a persistent knocking, which at first she had been bidden
It was Mortimer's man, desiring to know whether Mrs. Mortimer could
receive Mr. Mortimer at once on matters of importance.
"No," said Leila petulantly. "Tell Mullins to say that I can not see
anybody," and catching a glimpse of the shadowy Mullins dodging about
the dusky corridor: "What is the matter? Is Mr. Mortimer ill?"
But Mullins could not say what the matter might be, and he went away,
only to return in a few moments bearing a scratchy note from his master,
badly blotted and still wet; and Leila, with a shrug of resignation,
took the blotched scrawl daintily between thumb and forefinger and
unfolded it. Behind her, the maid, twisting up the masses of dark,
fragrant hair, read the note very easily over her mistress' shoulder. It
ran, without preliminaries:
"I'm going to talk to you, whether you like it or not. Do you understand
that? If you want to know what's the matter with me you'll find out fast
enough. Fire that French girl out before I arrive."
She closed the note thoughtfully, folding and double-folding it into a
thick wad. The ink had come off, discolouring her finger-tips; she
dropped the soiled paper on the floor, and held out her hands, plump
fingers spread. And when the maid had finished removing the stains and
had repolished the pretty hands, her mistress sipped her chocolate
thoughtfully, nibbled a bit of dry toast, then motioned the maid to take
the tray and her departure, leaving her the cup.
A few minutes later Mortimer came in, stood a moment blinking around the
room, then dropped into a seat, sullen, inert, the folds of his chin
crowded out on his collar, his heavy abdomen cradled on his short, thick
legs. He had been freshly shaved; linen and clothing were spotless, yet
the man looked unclean.
Save for the network of purple veins in his face, there was no colour
there, none in his lips; even his flabby hands were the hue of clay.
"Are you ill?" asked his wife coolly.
"No, not very. I've got the jumps. What's that? Tea? Ugh! it's
chocolate. Push it out of sight, will you? I can smell it."
Leila set the delicate cup on a table behind her.
"What time did you return this morning?" she asked, stifling a yawn.
"I don't know; about five or six. How the devil should I know what time
I came in?"
Sitting there before the mirror of her dresser she stole a second glance
at his marred features in the glass. The loose mouth, the smeared eyes,
the palsy-like tremors that twitched the hands where they tightened on
the arms of his chair, became repulsive to the verge of fascination. She
tried to look away, but could not.
"You had better see Dr. Grisby," she managed to say.
"I'd better see you; that's what I'd better do," he retorted thickly.
"You'll do all the doctoring I want. And I want it, all right."
"Very well. What is it?"
He passed his swollen hand across his forehead.
"What is it?" he repeated. "It's the limit, this time, if you want to
know. I'm all in."
"Roulette?" raising her eyebrows without interest
"Yes, roulette, too. Everything! They got me upstairs at Burbank's. The
game's crooked! Every box, every case, every wheel, every pack is
crooked! crooked! crooked, by God!" he burst out in a fever, struggling
to sit upright, his hands always tightening on the arms of the chair.
"It's nothing but a creeping joint, run by a bunch of hand-shakers!
Stuttering, choking, stammering imprecations, his hoarse clamour died
away after a while. She sat there, head bent, silent, impassive,
acquiescent under the physical and mental strain to which she had never
become thoroughly hardened. How many such scenes had she witnessed! She
could not count them. They differed very little in detail, and not at
all in their ultimate object, which was to get what money she had. This
was his method of reimbursing himself for his losses.
He made an end to his outburst after a while. Only his dreadful fat
breathing now filled the silence; and supposing he had finished, she
found her voice with an effort:
"I am sorry. It comes at a bad time, as you know--"
"A bad time!" he broke out violently. "How can it come at any other sort
of time? With us, all times are bad. If this is worse than the average
it can't be helped. We are in it for keeps this time!"
"Yes, we!" he repeated; but his face had grown ghastly, and his
uncertain eyes were fastened on her's in the mirror.
"What do you mean--exactly?" she asked, turning from the dresser to
He made no effort to answer; an expression of dull fright was growing on
his visage, as though for the first time he had begun to realise what
She saw it, and her heart quickened, but she spoke disdainfully: "Well,
I am ready to listen--as usual. How much do you want?"
He made no sign; his lower lip hung loose; his eyes blinked at her.
"What is it?" she repeated. "What have you been doing? How much have you
lost? You can't have lost very much; we hadn't much to lose. If you have
given your note to any of those gamblers, it is a shame--a shame! Leroy,
look at me! You promised me, on your honour, never to do that again.
Have you lied, after all the times I have helped you out, stripped
myself, denied myself, put off tradesmen, faced down creditors? After
all I have done, do you dare come here and ask for more--ask for what I
have not got--with not one bill settled, not one servant paid since
"Leila, I--I've got--to tell you--"
"What?" she demanded, appalled by the change in his face. If he was
overdoing it, he was overdoing it realistically enough.
"I--I've used Plank's cheque!" he mumbled, and moistened his lips with
She stared back at him, striving to comprehend. "Plank's!" she repeated
slowly, "Plank's cheque? What cheque? What do you mean?"
"The one he gave you last night. I've used that. Now you know!"
"The one he--But you couldn't! How could you? It was not filled in."
"I filled it."
Her dawning horror was reacting on him, as it always did, like a fierce
tonic; and his own courage came back in a sort of sullen desperation.
"You . You are trying to frighten me, Leroy," she stammered. "You are
trying to make me do something--give you what you want--force me to give
you what you want! You can't frighten me. The cheque was made out to
me--to my order. How could you have used it, if I had not indorsed it?"
"I indorsed it. Do you understand that!" he said savagely.
"No, I don't; because, if you did, it's forgery."
"I don't give a damn what you think it is!" he broke in fiercely. "All
I'm worried over is what Plank will think. I didn't mean to do it; I
didn't dream of doing it; but when Burbank cleaned me up I fished about,
and that cursed cheque came tumbling out!"
In the rising excitement of self-defence the colour was coming back into
his battered face; he sat up straighter in his chair, and, grasping the
upholstered arms, leaned forward, speaking more distinctly and with
increasing vigour and anger:
"When I saw that cheque in my hands I thought I'd use it
temporarily--merely as moral collateral to flash at Burbank--something to
back my I. O. U.'s. So I filled it in."
"For how much?" she asked, not daring to believe him; but he ignored the
question and went on: "I filled it and indorsed it, and--"
"How could you indorse it?" she interrupted coolly, now unconvinced
again and suspicious.
"I'll tell you if you'll stop that fool tongue a moment. The cheque was
made to 'L. Mortimer,' wasn't it? So I wrote 'L. Mortimer' on the back.
Now do you know? If you are L. Mortimer, so am I. Leila begins with L;
so does Leroy, doesn't it? I didn't imitate your two-words-to-a-page
autograph. I put my own fist to a cheque made out to one L. Mortimer;
and I don't care what you think about it as long as Plank can stand it.
Now put up your nose and howl, if you like."
But under her sudden pallor he was taking fright again, and he began to
bolster up his courage with bluster and noise, as usual:
"Howl all you like!" he jeered. "It won't alter matters or square
accounts with Plank. What are you staring at? Do you suppose I'm not
sorry? Do you fancy I don't know what a fool I've been? What are you
turning white for? What in hell--"
"How much have you--" She choked, then, resolutely: "How much have
"Taken!" he broke out, with an oath. "What do you mean? I've borrowed
about twenty thousand dollars. Now yelp! Eh? What?--no yelps? Probably
some weeps, then. Turn 'em on and run dry; I'll wait." And he managed to
cross one bulky leg over the other and lean back, affecting resignation,
while Leila, bolt upright in her low chair, every curved outline rigid
under the flowing, silken wrap, stared at him as though stunned.
"Well, we're good for it, aren't we?" he said threateningly. "If he's
going to turn ugly about it, here's the house."
"Yes, your house! I suppose you'd rather raise something on the house
than have the thing come out in the papers."
"Do you think so?" she asked, staring into his bloodshot eyes.
"Yes, I do. I'm damn sure of it!"
"You are wrong."
"You mean that you are not inclined to stand by me?" he demanded.
"Yes, I mean that."
"You don't intend to help me out?"
"I do not intend to--not this time."
He began to show his big teeth, and that nervous snickering "tick"
twitched his upper lip.
"How about the courts?" he sneered. "Do you want to figure in them with
"I don't want to," she said steadily, "but you can not frighten me any
more by that threat."
"Oh! Can't frighten you! Perhaps you think you'll marry Plank when I get
a decree? Do you? Well, you won't for several reasons; first, because
I'll name other corespondents and that will make Plank sick; second,
because Plank wants to marry somebody else and I'm able to assist him.
So where do you come out in the shuffle?"
"I don't know," she said, under her breath, and rested her head against
the back of the chair, as though suddenly tired.
"Well, I know. You'll come out smirched, and you know it," said
Mortimer, gazing intently at her. "Look here, Leila: I didn't come here
to threaten you. I'm no black-mailer; I'm no criminal. I'm simply a
decent sort of a man, who is pretty badly scared over what he's done in
a moment of temptation. You know I had no thought of anything except to
borrow enough on my I. O. U.'s to make a killing at Burbank's. I had to
show them something big, so I filled in that cheque, not meaning to use
it; and before I knew it I'd indorsed it, and was plunging against it.
Then they stacked everything on me--by God, they did! and if I had not
been in the condition I was in I'd have stopped payment. But it was too
late when I realised what I was against. Leila, you know I'm not a bad
man at heart. Can't you help a fellow?"
His manner, completely changed, had become the resentful and fretful
appeal of the victim of plot and circumstance. All the savage brutality
had been eliminated; the sneer, the truculent attempts to browbeat, the
pitiful swagger, the cynical justification, all were gone. It was really
the man himself now, normally scared and repentant; the frightened,
overfed pensioner on his wife's bounty; not the human beast maddened by
fear and dissipation, half stunned, half panic-stricken, driven by sheer
terror into a role which even he shrank from--had shrunk from all these
years. For, leech and parasite that he was, Mortimer, however much the
dirty acquisition of money might tempt him in theory, had not yet
brought himself to the point of attempting the practice, even when in
sorest straits and bitterest need. He didn't want to do it; he wished to
get along without it, partly because of native inertia and an aversion
to the mental nimbleness that he would be required to show as a law-
breaker, partly because the word "black-mail" stood for what he did not
dare suggest that he had come to, even to himself. His distaste was
genuine; there were certain things which he didn't want to commit, and
extortion was one of them. He could, at a pinch, lie to his wife, or try
to scare her into giving him money; he could, when necessary, "borrow"
from such men as Plank; but he had never cheated at cards, and he had
never attempted to black-mail anybody except his wife--which, of course,
was purely a family matter, and concerned nobody else.
Now he was attempting it again, with more sincerity, energy, and
determination than he ever before had been forced to display. Even in
his most profane violence the rage and panic were only partly real. He
was, it is true, genuinely scared, and horribly shaken physically, but
he had counted on violence, and he stimulated his own emotions and made
them serve him, knowing all the while that in the reaction his ends
would be accomplished, as usual. This policy of alternately frightening,
dragooning, and supplicating Leila had carried him so far; and though it
was true that this was a more serious situation than he had ever yet
faced, he was convinced that his wife would pull him out somehow; and
how that was to be accomplished he did not very much care, as long as he
was pulled out safely.
"What this household requires," he said, "is economy. He spread his
legs, denting the Aubusson carpet with his boot-heels, and glanced
askance at his wife. "Economy," he repeated, furtively wetting his lips
with a heavily coated tongue; "that's the true solution; economical
administration in domestic matters. Retrenchment, Leila! retrenchment!
Fewer folderols. I've a notion to give up that farm, and stop trying to
breed those damfool sheep. They cost a thousand apiece, and do you know
what I got for those six I sent to Westbury? Just twelve hundred dollars
from Fleetwood--the bargaining shopkeeper! Twelve hundred! Think of
that! And along comes Granby and sells a single ram for six thousand
Leila's head was lowered. He could not see her expression, but he had
always been confident of his ability to talk himself out of trouble, so
he rambled on in pretence of camaraderie, currying favour, as he
believed, ingratiating himself with the coarse bluntness that served him
among some men, even among some women.
"We'll fix it somehow," he said reassuringly; "don't you worry, Leila.
I've confidence in you, little girl! You've got me out of sticky messes
before, eh? Well, we've weathered a few, haven't we?"
Even the horrible parody on wedded loyalty left her silent, unmoved,
dark eyes brooding; and he began to grow a little restless and anxious
as his jocularity increased without a movement in either response or
aversion from his wife.
"You needn't be scared, if I'm not," he said reproachfully. "The house
is worth two hundred and fifty thousand, and there's only fifty on it
now. If that fat, Dutch skinflint, Plank, shows his tusks, we can clap
on another fifty." And as she made no sound or movement in reply: "As
far as Plank goes, haven't I done enough for him to square it? What have
we ever got out of him, except a thousand or two now and then when the
cards went against me? If I took it, it was practically what he owes me.
And if he thinks it's too much--look here, Leila! I've a trick up my
sleeve. I can make good any time I wish to. I'm in a position to marry
that man to the girl he's mad about--stark, raving mad."
Mrs. Mortimer slowly raised her head and looked at her husband.
"Leroy, are you mad?"
"I! Not much!" he exclaimed gleefully. "I can make him the husband of
the most-run-after girl in New York--if I want to. And at the same time I
can puncture the most arrogant, the most cold-blooded, selfish, purse-
proud, inflated nincompoop that ever sat at the head of a director's
table. O-ho! Now you're staring, Leila. I can do it; I can make good.
What are you worrying about? Why, I've got a hundred ways to square that
cheque, and each separate way is a winner."
He rose, shook out the creases in his trousers, and adjusted the squat,
gold fob which ornamented his protruding waistcoat.
"So you'll fix it, won't you, Leila?" he said, apparently oblivious that
he had expressed himself as able to adjust the matter in one hundred
equally edifying and satisfactory manners.
She did not answer. He lingered a moment at the door, looking back with
an ingratiating leer; but she paid him no attention, and he took himself
off, confident that her sulkiness could not result in anything
unpleasant to anybody except herself.
Nor did it, as far as he could see. The days brought no noticeable
change in his wife's demeanour toward him. Plank, when he met him, was
civil enough, though it did occur to Mortimer that he saw very little of
Plank in these days.
"Ungrateful beggar!" he thought bitterly; "he's toadying to Belwether
now. I can't do anything more for him, so I don't interest him."
And for a while he wore either a truculent, aggrieved air in Plank's
presence, or the meeker demeanour of a martyr, sentimentally
misunderstood, but patient under the affliction.
Then there came a time when he needed money. During the few days he
spent circling tentatively and apprehensively around his wife he learned
enough to know that there was nothing to be had from her at present. No
doubt the money she raised to placate Plank--if she had placated him in
that fashion--was a strain on her resources, whatever those resources
One thing was certain: Plank had not remained very long in ignorance of
the cheque drawn against his balance, if indeed, as Mortimer feared, the
bank itself had not communicated with Plank as soon as the cheque was
presented for payment. Therefore Plank must have been placated by Leila;
how, Mortimer was satisfied not to know.
"Some of these days," he said to himself, "I'll catch her tripping, and
then there'll be a decent division of property, or--there'll be a
divorce." But, as usual, Mortimer found such practices more attractive
in theory than in execution, and he was really quite contented to go on
as things were going, if somebody would see that he had some money
One of these occasions when he needed it was approaching. He had made a
"killing" at Desmond's, and had used the money to stop up the more
threatening gaps in the tottering financial fabric known as his
"personal accounts." The fabric would hold for a while, but meantime he
needed money to go on with. And Leila evidently had none. He tried
everybody except Plank. He had scarcely the impudence to go to Plank
just yet; but when, completing the vicious circle, he found his
borrowing capacity exhausted, and himself once more face to face with
the only hope, Plank, he sat down to consider seriously the possibility
of the matter.
Of course Plank owed him more than he could ever pay--the ungrateful
parvenu!--but what Plank had thought of that cheque transaction he had
never been able to discover.
Somehow or other he must put Plank under fresh obligations; and that
might have been possible had not Leila invaded the ground, leaving
nothing, now that Plank was secure in club life.
Of course the first thing that presented itself to Mortimer's
consideration was the engineering of Plank's matrimonial ambitions.
Clearly the man had not changed. He was always at Sylvia's heels; he was
seen with her in public; he went to the Belwether house a great deal. No
possible doubt but that he was as infatuated as ever. And Quarrier was
going to marry her next November--that is, if he, Mortimer, chose to keep
silent about a certain midnight episode at Shotover.
It was his inclination, except in theory, to keep silent, partly because
of his native inertia and unwillingness to go to the physical and
intellectual exertion of being a rascal, partly because he didn't really
want to be a rascal of that sort.
Like a man with premonitions of toothache, who walks down to the
dentist's just to see what the number of the house looks like, and then
walks around the block to think it over, so Mortimer, suffering from
lack of money, walked round and round the central idea, unable to bring
himself to the point.
Several times he called up Quarrier on the 'phone and made appointments
to lunch with him; but these meetings never resulted in anything except
luncheons which Mortimer paid for, and matters were becoming desperate.
So one day, after having lunched too freely, he sat down and wrote Plank
the following note:
My Dear Beverly: You will remember that I once promised you my aid in
securing what, to you, is the dearest object of your existence. I have
thought, I have pondered, I have given the matter deep and, I may add
without irreverence, prayerful consideration, knowing that the life's
happiness of my closest friend depended on my judgment and wisdom and
intelligence to secure for him the opportunity to crown his life's work
by the acquisition of the brightest jewel in the diadem of old
"By George! that's wickedly good, though!" chuckled Mortimer, refreshing
himself with his old stand-by, an apple, quartered, and soaked in very
old port. So he sopped his apple and swallowed it, and picked up his pen
again, chary of overdoing it.
All I say to you is, be ready! The time is close at hand when you may
boldly make your avowal. But be ready! All depends upon the
psychological moment. An instant too soon, an instant too late, and you
are lost. And she is lost forever. Remember! Be faithful; trust in me,
and wait. And the instant I say, "Speak!" pour out your soul, my dear
friend, and be certain you are not pouring it out in vain.
Writing about "pouring out" made him thirsty, so he fortified himself
several times, and then, sealing the letter, went out to a letter-box
and stood looking at it.
"If I mail it I'm in for it," he muttered. After a while he put the
letter in his pocket and walked on.
"It really doesn't commit me to anything," he reflected at last, halting
before another letter-box. And as he stood there, hesitating, he glanced
up and saw Quarrier entering the Lenox Club. The next moment he flung up
the metal box lid, dropped in his letter, and followed Quarrier into the
Then events tumbled forward almost without a push from him. Quarrier was
alone in a window corner, drinking vichy and milk and glancing over the
afternoon papers. He saw Mortimer, and invited him to join him; and
Mortimer, being thirsty, took champagne.
"I've been trying a new coach," said Quarrier, in his colourless and
rather agreeable voice; and he went on leisurely explaining the points
of the new mail-coach which had been built in Paris after plans of his
own, while Mortimer gulped glass after glass of chilled wine, which
seemed only to make him thirstier. Meantime he listened, really
interested, except that his fleshy head was too full of alcohol and his
own project to contain additional statistics concerning coaching.
Besides, Quarrier, who had never been over-cordial to him, was more so
now--enough for Mortimer to venture on a few tentative suggestions of a
financial nature; and though, as usual, Quarrier was not responsive, he
did not, as usual, get up and go away.
A vague hope stirred Mortimer that it might not be beyond his persuasive
tongue to make this chilly, reticent young man into a friend some day--a
helpful friend. For Mortimer all his life had trusted to his tongue; and
though poorly enough repaid, the few lingual victories remained in his
memory, along with an inexhaustible vanity and hope; while his countless
defeats and the many occasions on which his tongue had played him false
were all forgotten. Besides, he had been drinking more heavily all day
than was his custom.
So Quarrier talked, sparingly, about his new coach, about Billy
Fleetwood's renowned string of hunters, about Ashley Spencer's new
stable and his chances at Saratoga with Roy-a-neh, for which he had paid
a fabulous sum--the sum and the story probably equally fabulous.
Mortimer's head was swimming with ideas; he was also talking a great
deal, much more than he had intended; he was saying things he had not
exactly intended to say, either, in just that way. He realised it, but
he went on, unable to stop his own tongue, the noise of which
Once or twice he thought Quarrier looked at him rather strangely; but he
would show Quarrier that he was nobody's fool; he'd show Quarrier that
he was a friend, a good, staunch friend; and that Quarrier had long,
long undervalued him. Waves of sentiment spread through and through him;
his affection for Quarrier dampened his eyes; and still he blabbed on
and on, gazing with brimming eyes upon Quarrier, who sat back silent and
attentive as Mortimer circled and blundered nearer and nearer to the
crucial point of his destination.
Midway in one of his linguistic ellipses Quarrier leaned forward and
caught his arm in a grip of steel. Another man had entered the room.
Mortimer, made partly conscious by the pain of Quarrier's vise-like
grip, was sober enough to recognise the impropriety of his continuing
aloud the veiled story he had been constructing with what he supposed to
be a cunning as matchless as it was impenetrable.
Later he found himself upstairs in a private card-room, facing Quarrier
across a table, and still talking and quenching his increasing thirst.
He knew now what he was telling Quarrier; he was unveiling the parable;
he was stripping metaphor from a carefully precise story. He used
Siward's name presently; presently he used Sylvia's name. A moment
later--or was it an hour?--Quarrier stopped him, coldly, without a trace
of passion, demanding corroborative detail. And Mortimer gave it,
wagging his head and one fat forefinger as emphasis.
"You saw that?" repeated Quarrier, deadly white of a sudden.
"Yes; an' I--"
"At three in the morning?"
"Yes; an' I want--"
"You saw him enter her room?"
"Yes; an' I wan' tersay thish to you, because I'm your fr'en'. Don' wan'
anny fr'en's mine get fooled on women! See? Thash how I feel. I respec'
the sect! See! Women, lovely women! See? Respec' sect! Gimme y'han',
buzzer--er--brother Quar'er! Your m' fr'en'; I'm your fr'en'. I know how
it is. Gotter wife m'own. Rotten one. Stingy! Takes money outter m'
pockets. Dam 'stravagant. Ruin me! . Say, old boy, what about dividend
due 'morrow on Orange County Eclectic--mean Erlextic--no!--mean 'Letric!
Damn!--Wasser masser tongue?"
Opening his fond and foggy eyes, and finding himself alone in the card-
room, he began to cry; and a little later, attempting to push the
electric button, he fell over a lounge and lay there, his shirt-front
soiled with wine, one fat leg trailing to the floor; not the ideal
position for slumber, perhaps, but what difference do attitudes and
postures and poses make when a gentleman, in the sacred seclusion of his
own club, is wooing the drowsy goddess with blasts of votive music
through his empurpled nose?
In the meantime, however, he was due to dine at the Belwether house; and
when eight o'clock approached, and he had not returned to dress, Leila
called up Sylvia Landis on the telephone:
"My dear, Leroy hasn't returned, and I suppose he's forgotten about the
Bridge. I can bring Mr. Plank, if you like."
"Very well," said Sylvia, adding, "if Mr. Plank is there, may I speak to
him a moment?"
So Leila rose, setting the receiver on the desk, and Plank came in from
the library and settled himself heavily in the chair:
"Did you wish to speak to me, Miss Landis?"
"Is that you, Mr. Plank? Yes; will you dine with us at eight? Bridge
afterward, if you don't mind."
"And, Mr. Plank, you had a note from me this morning?"
"Please disregard it."
"If you wish."
"I do. It is not worth while." And as Plank made no comment, "I have no
further interest in the matter. Do you understand?"
"No," said Plank doggedly.
"I have nothing more to say. I am sorry. We dine at eight," concluded
Plank hung up the receiver and sat eyeing it for a while in silence.
Then his jaw began to harden and his under lip protruded, and he folded
his great hands, resting them in front of him on the edge of the desk,
brooding there, with eyes narrowing like a sleepy giant at prayer.
When Leila entered, in her evening wraps, she found him there, so
immersed in reverie that he failed to hear her; and she stood a moment
at the doorway, smiling to herself, thinking how pleasant it was to come
down ready for the evening and find him there, as though he belonged
where he sat, and was part of the familiar environment.
Recently she had grown younger in a smooth-skinned, full-lipped way--so
much younger that it was spoken of. Something girlish in figure, in
spontaneity, in the hesitation of her smile, in the lack of that hard,
brilliant confidence which once characterised her, had developed; as
though she were beginning her debut again, reverting to a softness and
charm prematurely checked. Truly, her youth's discoloured blossom,
forced by the pale phantom of false spring, was refolding to a bud once
more; and the harsher tints of the inclement years were fading.
"Beverly," she said, "I am ready."
Plank stood up, dazed from his reverie, and walked toward her. His white
tie had become disarranged; she raised her hands, halting him, and
pulled it into shape for him, consciously innocent of the intimacy.
"Thank you," he said. "Do you know how pretty you are this evening?"
"Yes; I was very happy at my mirror. Do you know, the withered years
seem to be dropping from me like leaves from an autumn sapling. And I
feel young enough to say so poetically. . Did Sylvia try to flirt with
you over the wire?"
"Yes, as usual," he said drily, descending the stairs beside her.
"And really you don't love her any more?" she queried.
"Scarcely." His voice was low and rather disagreeable, and she looked
"I wish I knew what you and Sylvia find to talk about so frequently, if
you're not in love."
But he made no answer; and they drove away to the Belwether house, a
rather wide, old-style mansion of brown stone, with a stoop dividing its
ugly facade, and a series of unnecessary glass doors blockading the
A drawing-room and a reception-room flanked the marble-tiled hall;
behind these the dining-room ran the width of the rear. It was a typical
gentlefolk's house of the worst period of Manhattan, and Major Belwether
belonged in it as fittingly as a melodeon belongs in a west-side flat.
The hall-way was made for such a man as he to patter through; the
velvet-covered stairs were as peculiarly fitted for him as a runway is
for a rabbit; the suave pink-and-white drawing-room, the discreet, gray
reception-room, the soft, fat rugs, the intricacies of banisters and
alcoves and curtained cubby-holes--all reflected his personality, all
corroborated the ensemble. It was his habitat, his distinctly, from the
pronounced but meaningless intricacy of the architecture to the studied
but unconvincing tints, like a man who suddenly starts to speak, but
checks himself, realising he has nothing in particular to say.
There were half a dozen people there lounging informally between the
living-room on the second floor and Sylvia's apartments in the rear--the
residue from a luncheon and Bridge party given that afternoon by Sylvia
to a score or so of card-mad women. A few of these she had asked to
remain for an informal dinner, and a desperate game later--the sort of
people she knew well enough to lose to heavily or win from without
remorse--Grace Ferrall, Marion Page, Agatha Caithness. Trusting to the
telephone that morning, she had secured the Mortimers and Quarrier,
failing three men; and now the party, with Plank as Mortimer's
substitute, was complete, all thorough gamesters--sex mattering nothing
in the preparation for such a seance.
In Sylvia's boudoir Grace Ferrall and Agatha Caithness sat before the
fire; Sylvia, at the mirror of her dresser, was correcting the pallor
incident to the unbroken dissipation of a brilliant season; Marion, with
her inevitable cigarette, wandered between Sylvia's quarters and the
library, where Quarrier and Major Belwether were sitting in low-voiced
Leila, greeted gaily from the boudoir, went in. Plank entered the
library, was mauled effusively by the major, returned Quarrier's firm
hand shake, and sat down with an inquiring smile.
"Oh, yes, we're out for blood to-night," tittered Major Belwether,
grasping Quarrier's arm humourously and shaking it to emphasise his
words--a habit that Quarrier thoroughly disliked. "Sylvia had a lot of
women here playing for the season score, so I suggested she keep the
pick of them for dinner, and call in a few choice ones to make a night
"It's agreeable to me," said Plank, still looking at Quarrier with the
same inquiring expression, which that gentleman presently chose to
"I haven't had a chance to look into that matter," he said carelessly.
"Some day, when you have time to go over it--"
"I have time now," said Plank; "there's nothing to go over; there's no
reason for any secrecy. All I wrote you was that I proposed to control
the stock of Amalgamated Electric and that I wished your advice in the
"I could not give you any advice off-hand on such an extraordinary
suggestion," returned Quarrier coldly. "If you know where the stock is,
"Do you mean what it is quoted at, or who owns it?" interrupted Plank.
"Who owns it. Everybody knows where it has dropped to, I suppose. Most
people know, too, where it is held."
"Yes; I do."
"And who is manipulating it," added Quarrier indifferently.
"Do you mean Harrington's people?"
"I don't mean anybody in particular, Mr. Plank."
"Oh!" said Plank, staring, "I was sure you couldn't have meant
Harrington; because," he went on deliberately, "there are other theories
floating about that mysterious pool, one of which I've proved."
Quarrier looked at him out of his velvety-lidded eyes:
"What have you proved?"
"I'll tell you, if you'll appoint an interview."
"I'll come too," began Belwether, who had been listening, loose-mouthed
and intent; "we're all in it--Howard, Kemp Ferrall, and I--"
"And Stephen Siward," observed Plank, so quietly that Quarrier never
even raised his eyes to read the stolid face opposite.
Presently he said: "Do you know anybody who can deliver you any
considerable block of Amalgamated Electric at the market figures?"
"I could deliver you several blocks, if you care to bid," said Plank
Belwether grew red, then pale. Quarrier stiffened in his chair, but his
eyes were only sceptical. Plank's under lip had begun to protrude again;
he swung his massive head, looking from Belwether back to Quarrier:
"Pool or no pool," he continued, "you Amalgamated people will want to
see the stock climb back into the branches from which somebody shook it
out; and I propose to put it there. That is all I had meant to say to
you, Mr. Quarrier. I'm not averse to saying it here to you, and I do.
There's no secrecy about it. Figure out for yourself how much stock I
control, and who let it go. Settle your family questions and put your
house in order; then invite me to call, and I'll do it. And I have an
idea that we are going to stand on our own legs again, and recover our
self-respect and our fighting capacity; and I rather think we'll stop
this hold-up business, and that our Inter-County friend will let go the
sand-bag and pocket the jimmy, and talk business across the line-fence."
Quarrier's characteristic pallor was no index to his feelings, nor was
his icy reticence. All hell might be boiling below.
When anybody gave Quarrier a letter to read he took a long time reading
it; but if he was slow he was also minute; he went over every word again
and again, studying, absorbing each letter, each period, the
conformation of every word. And when he ended he had in his brain a
photograph of the letter which he would never forget.
And now, slowly, minutely, methodically, he was going over and over
Plank's words, and his manner of saying them, and their surface import,
and the hidden one, if any.
If Plank had spoken the truth--and there was no reason to doubt it--Plank
had quietly acquired a controlling interest in Amalgamated Electric.
That meant treachery in somebody. Who? Probably Siward, perhaps
Belwether. He would not look at the latter just yet; not for a minute or
two. There was time enough to see through that withered, pink-and-white
old fraud. But why had Plank done this? And why did Plank suspect him of
any desire to wreck his own property? He did suspect him, that was
After a silence, he spoke quietly and without emotion:
"Everybody concerned will be glad to see Amalgamated Electric declaring
dividends. This is a shock to us," he glanced impassively at the
shrunken major, "but a pleasant shock. I think it well to arrange a
meeting as soon as possible."
"To-morrow," said Plank, with a manner of closing discussion. And in his
brusque ending of the matter Quarrier detected the ringing undertone of
an authority he never had and never would endure; and though his pale,
composed features betrayed not the subtlest shade of emotion, he was
aware that a new element had come into his life--a new force was growing
out of nothing to confront him, an unfamiliar shape loomed vaguely
ahead, throwing its huge distorted shadow across his path. He sensed it
with the instinct of kind for kind, not because Plank's millions meant
anything to him as a force; not because this lumbering, red-faced
meddler had blundered into a family affair where confidence consisted in
joining hands lest a pocket be inadvertently picked; not because Plank
had knocked at the door, expecting treachery to open, and had found it,
but because of the awful simplicity of the man and his methods.
If Plank suspected him, he must also suspect him of complicity in the
Inter-County grab; he must suspect him of the ruthless crushing power
that corrupts or annihilates opposition, making a mockery of
legislation, a jest of the courts, and an epigram of a people's
And yet, in the face of all this, careless, fearless, frank to the outer
verge of stupidity--which sometimes means the inability to be afraid--this
man Plank was casually telling him things which men regard as secrets
and as weapons of defence--was actually averting him of his peril, and
telling him almost contemptuously to pull up the drawbridge and prepare
for siege, instead of rushing the castle and giving it to the sack.
As Quarrier sat there meditating, his long, white fingers caressing his
soft, pointed beard, Sylvia came in, greeting the men collectively with
a nod, and offering her hand to Plank.
"Dinner is announced," she said; "please go in farm fashion. Wait!" as
Plank, following the major and Quarrier, stood aside for her to pass.
"No, you go ahead, Howard; and you," to the major.
Left for a moment in the room with Plank, she stood listening to the
others descending the stairs; then:
"Have you seen Mr. Siward?"
"Yes," said Plank.
"Oh! Is he well?"
"Is he well enough to read a letter, and to answer one?"
"Oh, yes; he's well enough in that way."
"I supposed so. That is why I said to you, over the wire, not to trouble
him with my request."
"You mean that I am not to say anything about your offer to buy the
"No. If I make up my mind that I want the horse I'll write him--perhaps."
Lingering still, she let one hand fall on the banisters, turning back
toward Plank, who was following:
"I understood you to mean that--that Mr. Siward's financial affairs were
anything but satisfactory?"--the sweet, trailing, upward inflection
making it a question.
"When did I say that?" demanded Plank.
"Once--a month ago."
"I didn't," said Plank bluntly.
"Oh, I had inferred it, then, from something you said, or something you
were silent about. Is that it?"
"I don't know."
"Am I quite wrong, then?" she asked, looking him in the eyes.
And Plank, who never lied, found no answer. Considering him for a moment
in silence, she turned again and descended the stairs.
The dinner was one of those thoroughly well-chosen dinners of few
courses and faultless service suitable for card-players, who neither
care to stuff themselves as a preliminary to a battle royal, nor to
dawdle through courses, eliminating for themselves what is not good for
them. The men drank a light, sound, aromatic Irish of the major's; the
women--except Marion, who took what the men took--used claret sparingly.
Coffee was served where they sat; the men smoking, Agatha and Marion
producing their own cigarettes.
"Don't you smoke any more?" asked Grace Ferrall of Leila Mortimer, and
at the smiling negative, "Oh, that perhaps explains it. You're growing
positively radiant, you know. You'll he wearing a braid and a tuck in
your skirt if you go on getting younger."
Leila laughed, colouring up as Plank turned in his chair to look at her
"No, it won't rub off, Mr. Plank," said Marion coolly, "but mine will.
This," touching a faint spot of colour under her eyes, "is art."
"Pooh! I'm all art!" said Grace. "Observe, Mr. Plank, that under this
becoming flush are the same old freckles you saw at Shotover." And she
laughed that sweet, careless laugh of an adolescent and straightened her
boyish figure, pretty head held high, adding: "Kemp won't let me
'improve' myself, or I'd do it."
"You are perfect," said Sylvia, rising from the table, her own lovely,
rounded, youthful figure condoning the exaggeration; "you're
sufficiently sweet as you are. Good people, if you are ready, we will go
through the ceremony of cutting for partners--unless otherwise you
decide. How say you?"
"I don't care to enter the scramble for a man," cried Grace. "If it's to
choose, I'd as soon choose Marion."
Plank looked at Leila, who laughed.
"All right; choose, then!" said Sylvia. "Howard, you're dying, of
course, to play with me, but you're looking very guiltily at Agatha."
The major asked Leila at once; so Plank fell to Sylvia, pitted against
Marion and Grace Ferrall.
A few moments later the quiet of the library was broken by the butler
entering with decanters and ice, and glasses that tinkled frostily.
Play began at table Number One on a passed make of no trumps by Sylvia,
and at the other table on a doubled and redoubled heart make, which sent
a delicate flush into Agatha's face, and drove the last vestige of
lingering thoughtfulness from Quarrier's, leaving it a tense, pallid,
and expressionless mask, out of which looked the velvet-fringed eyes of
Of all the faces there at the two tables, Sylvia's alone had not
changed, neither assuming the gambler's mask nor the infatuated glare of
the amateur. She was thoughtful, excited, delighted, or dismayed by
turns, but always wholesomely so; the game for its own sake, and not the
stakes, absorbing her, partly because she had never permitted herself to
weigh money and pleasure in the same balance, but kept a mental pair of
scales for each.
As usual, the fever of gain was fiercest in those who could afford to
lose most. Quarrier, playing to rule with merciless precision, coldly
exacted every penalty that a lapse in his opponents permitted. Agatha,
her teeth set in her nether lip, her eyes like living jewels, answered
Quarrier's every signal, interpreted every sign, her play fitting in
exactly with his, as though she were his subconscious self balancing the
perfectly adjusted mechanism of his body and mind.
Now and then lifting her eyes, she sent a long, limpid glance at
Quarrier like a pale shaft of light; and under his heavy-fringed lashes,
at moments, his level gaze encountered her's with a slow narrowing of
lids--as though there was more than one game in progress, more than one
stake being played for under the dull rose glow of the clustered lights.
Sylvia, sitting dummy at the other tables mechanically alert to Plank's
cards dropping in rapid sequence as he played alternately from his own
hand and the dummy, permitted her thoughtful eyes to wander toward
Agatha from moment to moment. How alluring her subtle beauty, in its own
strange way! How perfect her accord with her partner! How faultless her
intelligence, divining the very source of every hidden motive
controlling him, forestalling his intent--acquiescent, delicate,
marvellous intelligence--the esoteric complement of two parts of a single
The collar of diamonds and aqua marines shimmered like the reflection of
shadowy lightning across her throat; a single splendid jewel glowed on
her left hand as her fingers flashed among the cards for the make-up.
"A hundred aces," broke in Plank's heavy voice as he played the last
trick and picked up the scoring card and pencil.
Sylvia's blue eyes were laughing as Plank cut the new pack. Marion Page
coolly laid aside her cigarette, dealt, and made it "without" in the
"May I play?" asked Sylvia sweetly.
"Please," growled Plank.
So Sylvia serenely played from the "top of nothing," and Grace Ferrall
whisked a wonderful dummy across the green; and Plank's thick under lip
began to protrude, and he lowered his heavy head like a bull at bay.
Once Marion, over-intent, touched a card in the dummy when she should
have played from her own hand; and Sylvia would have let it pass, had
not Plank calmly noted the penalty.
"Oh, dear! It's too much like business," sighed Sylvia. "Can't we play
for the sake of the sport? I don't think it good sportsmanship to profit
by a blunder."
"Rule," observed Marion laconically. "'Ware barbed wire, if you want the
"I myself never was crazy for the brush," murmured Sylvia.
Grace whispered maliciously: "But you've got it, with the mask and
pads," and her mischievous head barely tipped backward in the direction
"Especially the mask," returned Sylvia, under her breath, and laid on
the table the last card of a Yarborough.
Plank scored without comment. Marion cut, and resumed her cigarette.
Sylvia dealt with that witchery of rounded wrists and slim fingers
fascinating to men and women alike. Then, cards en regle, passed the
make. Plank, cautiously consulting the score, made it spades, which
being doubled, Grace led a "singleton" ace, and Plank slapped down a
strong dummy and folded his great arms.
Toward midnight, Sylvia, absorbed in her dummy, fancied she heard the
electric bell ringing at the front door. Later, having barely made the
odd, she was turning to look at the major, when, beyond him, she saw
Leroy Mortimer enter the room, sullen, pasty-skinned, but perfectly
sober and well groomed.
"You are a trifle late," observed Sylvia carelessly. Grace Ferrall and
Marion ignored him. Plank bade him good evening in a low voice.
The people at the other table, having completed their rubber, looked
around at Mortimer in disagreeable surprise.
"I'll cut in, if you want me. If you don't, say so," observed Mortimer.
It was plain that they did not; so he settled himself in an arm-chair,
with an ugly glance at his wife and an insolent one at Quarrier; and the
game went on in silence; Leila and the major still losing heavily under
the sneering gaze of Mortimer.
At last, "Who's carrying you?" he broke out, exasperated; and in the
shocked silence Leila, very white, made a movement to rise, but Quarrier
laid his long fingers across her arm, pressing her backward.
"You don't know what you're saying," he remarked, looking coldly at
Plank laid down his cards, rose, and walked over to Mortimer:
"May I have a word with you?" he asked bluntly.
"You may. And I'll help myself to a word or two with you," retorted
Mortimer, following Plank out of the room, down the stairs to the
lighted reception-room, where they wheeled, confronting one another.
"What is the matter?" demanded Plank. "At the club they told me you were
asleep in the card-room. I didn't tell Leila. What is wrong?"
"I'm--I'm dead broke," said Mortimer harshly. "Billy Fleetwood took my
paper. Can you help me out? It's due to-morrow."
Plank looked at him gravely, but made no answer.
"Can you? "repeated Mortimer violently. "Haven't I done enough for you?
Haven't I done enough for everybody? Is anybody going to show me any
consideration? Look at Quarrier's manner to me just now! And this very
day I did him a service that all his millions can't repay. And there you
stand, too, staring at me as though I were some damned importuning
shabby-genteel, hinting around for an opening to touch you. Yes, you do!
And this very day I have done for you the--the most vital thing--the most
sacred favour one man can do for another--"
He halted, stammered something incoherent, his battered eyes wet with
tears. The man was a wreck--nerves, stamina, mind on the very verge of
"I'll help you, of course," said Plank, eyeing him. "Go home, now, and
sleep. I tell you I'll help you in the morning. . Don't give way! Have
you no grit? Pull up sharp, I tell you!"
But Mortimer had fallen into a chair, his ravaged face cradled in his
hands. "I've got all that's c-coming to me," he said hoarsely; "I'm all
in--all in! God! but I've got the jumps this trip. . You'll stand for
this, won't you, Plank? I was batty, but I woke up in time to grasp the
live wire Billy Fleetwood held--three shocks in succession--and his were
queens full to my jacks--aces to kings twice!--Alderdene and Voucher
sitting in until they'd started me off hiking hellward!"
He began to ramble, and even to laugh weakly, passing his puffy, shaking
hands across his eyes.
"It's good of you, Beverly; I appreciate it. But I've been good to you.
You're all to the good, my boy! Understand? All to the good. I fixed it;
I did it for you. You can have your innings now. You can have her when
you want her, I tell you."
"What do you mean?" said Plank menacingly.
"Mean! I mean what I told you that day at Black Fells, when we were
riding. I told you you had a chance to win out. Now the chance has
come--same's I told you. Start in, and by the time you're ready to say
'When?' she'll be there with the bottle!"
"I don't think you are perfectly sane yet," said Plank slowly.
"Let it go at that, then," sniggered Mortimer, struggling to his feet.
"Bring Leila back; I'm all in; I'm going home. You'll be around in the
morning, won't you?"
"Yes," said Plank. "Have you got a cab?"
Mortimer had one. The glass and iron doors clanged behind him, and
Plank, waiting a moment, sighed, raised his head, and, encountering the
curious gaze of a servant, trudged off up-stairs again.
The game had ended at both tables. Quarrier and Agatha stood by the
window together, conversing in low voices. Belwether, at a desk, sat
muttering and fussing with a cheque-book. The others were in Sylvia's
A few moments later Kemp Ferrall arrived, in the best of spirits, very
much inclined to consider the night as still young; but his enthusiasm
met with no response, and presently he departed with his wife and Marion
in their big Mercedes, wheeling into the avenue at a reckless pace, and
streaming away through the night like a meteor run mad.
Leila, in her wraps, emerged in a few moments, looking at Plank out of
serious eyes; and they made their brief adieux and went away in Plank's
When Agatha's maid arrived, Quarrier also started to take his leave; but
Sylvia, seated at a card-table, idly arranging the cards in geometrical
designs and fanciful arabesques, looked up at him, saying:
"I wanted to say something to you, Howard."
Agatha passed them, going into Sylvia's room for her wraps; and Quarrier
turned to Sylvia:
"Well?" he said, with the slightest hint of impatience.
"Can't you stay a minute?" asked Sylvia, surprised.
"Agatha is going in the motor with me. Is it anything important?"
She considered him without replying. She had never before detected that
manner, that hardness in a voice always so even in quality.
"What is it?" he repeated.
She thought a moment, putting aside for the time his manner, which she
could not comprehend; then:
"I wanted to ask you a question--a rather ignorant one, perhaps. It's
about your Amalgamated Electric Company. May I ask it, Howard?"
After a second's stare, "Certainly," he said.
"It's only this: If the other people--the Inter-County, I mean--are slowly
ruining Amalgamated, why don't you stop it?"
Quarrier's eyes narrowed. "Oh! And who have you been discussing the
"Mr. Plank," she said simply. "I asked him. He shook his head, and said
I'd better ask you. And I do ask you."
For a moment he stood mute; then his lips began to shrink back over his
beautiful teeth in one of his rare laughs.
"I'll be very glad to explain it some day," he said; but there was no
mirth in his voice or eyes, only the snickering lip wrinkling the
"Will you not answer now?" she asked.
"No, not now. But I desire you to understand it some day--some day before
November. And one or two other matters that it is necessary for you to
understand. I want to explain them, Sylvia, in such a manner that you
will never be likely to forget them. And I mean to; for they are never
out of my mind, and I wish them to be as ineffaceably impressed on
yours. . Good night."
He took her limp hand almost briskly, released it, and stepped down the
stairs as Agatha entered, cloaked, to say good night.
They kissed at parting--"life embracing death"--as Mortimer had sneered
on a similar occasion; then Sylvia, alone, stood in her bedroom, hands
linked behind her, her lovely head bent, groping with the very ghosts of
thought which eluded her, fleeing, vanishing, reappearing, to peep out
at her only to fade into nothing ere she could follow where they flitted
through the dark labyrinths of memory.
The major, craning his neck in the bay-window, saw Agatha and Quarrier
enter the big, yellow motor, and disappear behind the limousine. And it
worried him horribly, because he knew perfectly well that Quarrier had
lied to him about a jewelled collar precisely like the collar worn by
Agatha Caithness; and what to do or what to say to anybody on the
subject was, for the first time in his life, utterly beyond his
garrulous ability. So, for the first time also in his chattering career,
he held his tongue, reassured at moments, at other moments panic-
stricken lest this marriage he had engineered should go amiss, and his
ambitions be nipped at the very instant of triumphant maturity.
"This sort of thing--in your own caste--among your own kind," his panicky
thoughts ran on, "is b-bad form--rotten bad taste on both sides. If they
were married--one of them, anyway! But this isn't right; no, by gad! it's
bad taste, and no gentleman could countenance it!"
It was plain that he could, however, his only fear being that somebody
might whisper something to turn Sylvia's innocence into a terrible
wisdom which would ruin everything, and knock the underpinning from the
new tower which his inflated fancy beheld slowly growing heavenward,
surmounting the house of Belwether.
Another matter: he had violated his word, and had been caught at it by
his prospective nephew-in-law--broken his pledged word not to sell his
Amalgamated Electric holdings, and had done it. Yet, how could Plank
dominate, unless another also had done what he had done? And it made him
a little more comfortable to know he was sharing the fault with
somebody--probably with Siward, whom he now had the luxury of despising
for the very thing he himself had done.
"Drunkard!" he muttered to himself; "he's in the gutter at last!"
And he repeated it unctuously, almost reconciled to his own shortcoming,
because it was the first time, as far as he knew, that a Belwether might
legitimately enjoy the pleasures of holding the word of a Siward in
Sylvia had dismissed her maid, the old feeling of distaste for the touch
of another had returned since the last mad, crushed embrace in Siward's
arms had become a memory. More and more she was returning to old
instincts, old habits of thought, reverting to type once more, virgin of
lip and thought and desire, save when the old memory stopped her heart
suddenly, then sent it racing, touching her face with quick, crimson
Now, blue eyes dreaming under the bright masses of her loosened hair,
she sat watching the last glimmer amid the ashes whitening on the
hearth, thinking of Siward and of what had been between them, and of
what could never be--never, never be.
One red spark among the ashes--her ambition, deathless amid the ashes of
life! When that, too, went out, life must be extinct.
What he had roused in her had died when he went away. It could never
awake again, unless he returned to awaken it. And he never would; he
would never come again.
One brief interlude of love, of passion, in her life could neither tint
nor taint the cool, normal sequence of her days. All that life held for
a woman of her caste--all save that--was hers when she stretched out her
hand for it--hers by right of succession, of descent; hers by warrant
unquestioned, by the unuttered text of the ukase to be launched, if
necessary, by that very, very old lady, drowsing, enthroned, as the
endless pageant wound like a jewelled river at her feet.
So Siward could never come again, sauntering toward her through the
sunlight, smiling his absent smile. She caught her breath painfully,
straightening up; a single ash fell in the fire; the last spark went
CHAPTER XI THE CALL OF THE RAIN
The park was very misty and damp and still that morning.
There was a scent of sap and new buds in the February haze, a glimmer of
green on southern slopes, a distant bird note, tentative, then
confident, rippling from the gray tangle of naked thickets. Here and
there in hollows the tips of amber-tinted shoots pricked the soil's dark
surface; here and there in the sparse woodlands a withered leaf still
clinging to oak or beech was forced to let go by the swelling bud at its
base and fell rustling stiffly in the silence.
Far away on the wooded bridle-path the dulled double gallop of horses
sounded, now muffled in a hollow, now louder, jarring the rising ground,
nearer, heavier, then suddenly checked to a trample, as Sylvia drew
bridle by the reservoir, and, straightening in her saddle, raised her
flushed face to the sky.
"Rain?" she asked, as Quarrier, controlling his beautiful, restive
horse, ranged up beside her.
"Probably," he said, scarcely glancing at the sky, where, above the
great rectangular lagoons, hundreds of sea-gulls, high in the air, hung
flapping, stemming some rushing upper gale unfelt below.
She walked her mount, head lifted, watching the gulls; he followed,
uninterested, imperturbable in his finished horsemanship. With horses he
always appeared to advantage, whether on the box of break or coach, or
silently controlling a spike or tandem, or sitting his saddle in his
long-limbed, faultless fashion, maintaining without effort the very
essence of form. Here he was at his best, perfectly informal, informally
They had ridden every day since the weather permitted--even before it
permitted--thrashing and slashing through the rotting ice and snow,
galloping over the frozen, gravelly loam, amid leafless trees and a
winter-smitten perspective--drearier for the distant, eastern glimpse of
the avenue's marble and limestone facades and the vast cliffs of masonry
and brick looming above the west and south.
On these daily rides together it was her custom to discuss practical
matters concerning their future; and it was his custom to listen until
pressed for a suggestion, an assent, or a reply.
Sparing words--cautious, chary of self-commitment, and seldom offering to
assume the initiative--this was the surface character which she had come
to recognise and acquiesce in; this was Quarrier as he had been
developed from her hazy, preconceived ideas of the man before she had
finally accepted him at Shotover the autumn before. She also knew him as
a methodical man, exacting from others the orderly precision which
characterised his own dealings; a man of education and little learning,
of attainments and little cultivation, conversant with usages, formal,
intensely sensitive to ridicule, incapable of humour.
This was Quarrier as she knew him or had known him. Recently she had,
little by little, become aware of an indefinable change in the man. For
one thing, he had grown more reticent. At times, too, his reserve seemed
to have something almost surly about it; under his cold composure a hint
of something concealed, watchful, and very quiet.
Confidences she had never looked for in him nor desired. It appalled her
at moments to realise how little they had in common, and that only on
the surface--a communion of superficial interest incident to the
fulfilment of social duties and the pursuit of pleasure. Beyond that she
knew nothing of him, required nothing of him. What was there to know?
what to require?
Now that the main line of her route through life had been surveyed and
carefully laid out, what was there more for her in life than to set out
upon her progress? It was her own road. Presumptive leader already,
logical leader from the day she married--leader, in fact, when the ukase,
her future legacy, so decreed; it was a royal road laid out for her
through the gardens and pleasant places; a road for her alone, and over
it she had chosen to pass. What more was there to desire?
From the going of Siward, all that he had aroused in her of love, of
intelligence, of wholesome desire and sane curiosity--the intellectual
restlessness, the capacity for passion, the renaissance of the simpler
innocence--had subsided into the laissez faire of dull quiescence. If in
her he had sown, imprudently, subtle, impulsive, unworldly ideas,
flowering into sudden brilliancy in the quick magic of his
companionship, now those flowers were dead under the inexorable winter
of her ambition, where all such things lay; her lonely childhood, with
its dimmed visions of mother-love ineffable; the strange splendour of
the dreams haunting her adolescence--pageants of bravery and the glitter
of the cross, altars of self-denial and pure intent, service and
sacrifice and the scorn of wrong; and sometimes, seen dimly with
enraptured eyes through dissolving mists--the man! glimmering for an
instant, then fading, resolved into the starry void which fashioned him.
Riding there, head bent, her pulses timing the slow pacing of her horse,
she presently became aware, without looking up, that Quarrier was
watching her. Dreams vanished. A perfectly unreasonable sense of being
spied upon, of something stealthy about it all, flashed to her mind and
was gone, leaving her grave and perplexed. What a strange suspicion!
What an infernal inference! What grotesque train of thought could have
culminated in such a sinister idea!
She moved slightly in her saddle to look at him, and for an instant
fancied that there was something furtive in his eyes; only for an
instant, for he quietly picked up the thread of conversation where she
had dropped it, saying that it had been raining for the last ten
minutes, and that they might as well turn their horses toward shelter.
"I don't mind the rain," she said; "there is a spring-like odour in it.
Don't you notice it?"
"Not particularly," he replied.
"I was miles away a moment ago," she said; "years away, I mean--a little
girl again, with two stiff yellow braids, trying to pretend that a big
arm-chair was my mother's lap and that I could hear her whispering to
me. And there I sat, on a day like this, listening, pretending, cuddled
up tight, and looking out at the first rain of the year falling in the
backyard. There was an odour like this about it all. Memory, they say,
is largely a matter of nose!" She laughed, fearing that be might have
thought her sentimental, already regretting the familiarity of thrusting
such trivial and personal incidents upon his notice. He was probably too
indifferent to comment on it, merely nodding as she ended.
Then, without reason, through and through her shot a shiver of
loneliness--utter loneliness and isolation. Without reason, because from
him she expected nothing, required nothing, except what he offered--the
emotionless reticence of indifference, the composure of perfect
formality. What did she want, then--companions? She had them. Friends?
She could scarcely escape from them. Intimates? She had only to choose
one or a hundred attuned responsive to her every mood, every caprice.
Lonely? With the men of New York crowding, shouldering, crushing their
way to her feet? Lonely? With the women of New York struggling already
for precedence in her favour?--omen significant of the days to come, of
those future years diamond-linked in one unbroken, triumphant glitter.
The rain was falling out of the hanging mist, something more than a
drizzle now. Quarrier spoke of it again, but she shook her head, walking
her horse slowly onward. The train of thought she followed was slower
still, winding on and on, leading her into half light and shadow, and in
and out through hidden trails she should have known by this time--always
on, skirting the objective, circling it through sudden turns. And now
she was becoming conscious of the familiar way; now she recognised the
quiet, still by-ways of the maze she seemed doomed to wander in forever.
But, for that matter, all paths of thought were alike to her, for,
sooner or later, all ultimately led to him; and this she was already
aware of as a disturbing phenomenon to consider and account for and to
provide against--when she had leisure.
"About that Amalgamated Electric Company," she began without prelude;
"would you mind answering a question or two, Howard?"
"You could not understand it," he said, unpleasantly disturbed by her
"As you please. It is quite true I can make nothing of what the
newspapers are saying about it, except that Mr. Plank seems to be doing
a number of things."
"Injunctions, and other matters," observed Quarrier.
"Is anybody going to lose any money in it?"
"Who, for example?"
"Why--you, for example," she said, laughing.
"I don't expect to."
"Then it is going to turn out all right? And Mr. Plank and Kemp Ferrall
and the major and--the other people interested, are not going to be
almost ruined by the Inter-County people?"
"Do you think a man like Plank is likely to be ruined, as you say, by
"No. But Kemp and the major--"
"I think the major is out of danger," replied Quarrier, looking at her
with the new, sullen narrowing of his eyes.
"I am glad of that. Is Kemp--and the others?"
"Ferrall could stand it if matters go wrong. What others?"
"Why--the other owners and stockholders--"
"What others? Who do you mean?"
"Mr. Siward, for example," she said in an even voice, leaning over to
pat her horse's neck with her gloved hand.
"Mr. Siward must take the chances we all take," observed Quarrier.
"But, Howard, it would really mean ruin for him if matters went badly.
"I am not familiar with the details of Mr. Siward's investments."
"Nor am I," she said slowly.
He made no reply.
Lack of emotion in the man beside her she always expected, and therefore
this new, sullen note in his voice perplexed her. Too, at times, in his
increasing reticence there seemed to be almost a hint of cold
effrontery. She felt it now--an indefinite suggestion of displeasure and
the power to retaliate; something evasive, watchful, patiently hostile;
and, try as she might, she could not rid herself of the discomfort of
it, and the perplexity.
She spoke about other things; he responded in his impassive manner.
Presently she turned her horse and Quarrier wheeled his, facing a warm,
fine rain, slanting thickly from the south.
His silky, Vandyke beard was all wet with the moisture. She noticed it,
and unbidden arose the vision of the gun-room at Shotover: Quarrier's
soft beard wet with rain; the phantoms of people passing and repassing;
Siward's straight figure swinging past, silhouetted against the glare of
light from the billiard-room. And here she made an effort to efface the
vision, shutting her eyes as she rode there in the rain. But clearly
against the closed lids she saw the phantoms passing--spectres of dead
hours, the wraith of an old happiness masked with youth and wearing
She must stop it! What was all this crowding in upon her as she rode
forward through the driving rain--all this resurgence of ghosts long
laid, long exorcised? Had the odour of the rain stolen her senses,
awakening memory of childish solitude? Was it that which was drugging
her with remembrance of Siward and the rattle of rain in the bay-window
above the glass-roofed swimming-pool?
She opened her eyes wide, staring straight ahead into the thickening
rain; but her thoughts were loosened now, tuned to the increasing rhythm
of her heart: and she saw him seated there, his head buried in his hands
as she stole through the dim corridors to her first tryst; saw him look
up; saw herself beside him among the cushions; tasted again the rose-
petals that her lips had stripped from the blossoms; saw once more the
dawn of something in his steady eyes; felt his arm about her, his
Her horse, suddenly spurred, bounded forward through the rain, and she
rode breathless, with lips half parted, as if afraid, turning her head
to look behind--as though she could outride the phantom clinging to her
stirrup, masked like youth, wearing the shadowy eyes of Love!
In her drenched habit, standing before her dressing-room fire, she heard
her maid soliciting entrance, and paid no heed, the door being locked--as
though a spectre could be bolted out of rooms and houses! Pacing the
floor, restless, annoyed, and dismayed by turns, she flung her wet skirt
and coat from her, piece by piece, and stood for awhile, like some
slender youth in riding breeches and shirt, facing the fire, her fingers
resting on her hips.
In the dull light of a rainy noon-day the fire reddened the ceiling,
throwing her giant shadow across the wall, where it towered, swaying,
like a ghost above her. She caught sight of it over her shoulder, and
watched it absently; then gazed into the coals again, her chin dropping
on her bared chest.
At her maid's repeated knocking she turned, her boots and the single
spur sparkling in the firelight, and opened the door.
An hour later, fresh from her bath, luxurious in loose and filmy lace,
her small, white feet shod with silk, she lunched alone, cradled among
the cushions of her couch.
Twice she strolled through the rooms leisurely, summoned by her maid to
the telephone; the first time to chat with Grace Ferrall, who, it
appeared, was a victim of dissipation, being still abed, and out of
humour with the rainy world; the second time to answer in the negative
Marion's suggestion that she motor to Lakewood with her for the week's
end before they closed their house.
Sauntering back again, she sipped her milk and vichy, tasted the
strawberries, tasted a big black grape, discarded both, and lay back
among the cushions, her naked arms clasped behind her head, and dropping
one knee over the other, stared at the ceiling.
Restlessness and caprice ruled her. She seldom smoked, but seeing on the
table a stray cigarette of the sort she kept for any intimates who might
desire them, she stretched out her arm, scratched a match, and lighted
it with a dainty grimace.
Lying there, she tried to make rings; but the smoke only got into her
delicate uptilted nose and stung her tongue, and she very soon had
enough of her cigarette.
Watching the slow fire consume it between her fingers she lay supine,
following the spirals of smoke with inattentive eyes. By-and-by the
lengthening ash fell, powdering her, and she threw the cigarette into
the grate, flicked the ashes from her bare, round arm, and, clasping her
hands under her neck, turned over and closed her eyes.
Sleep?--with every pulse awake and throbbing, every heart-beat sending
the young blood rushing out through a body the incarnation of youth and
life itself! There was a faint flush in the hollow of each upturned
palm, where the fingers like relaxed petals curled inward; a deepening
tint in the parted lips; and under the lids, through the dusk of the
lashes, a glimmer of blue.
Lying there, veiled gaze conscious of the rose-light which glowed and
waned on the ceiling, she awaited the flowing tide on which so often she
had embarked and drifted out into that golden gloom serene, where,
spirit becalmed, Time and Grief faded, and Desire died out upon the
unshadowed sea of dreams.
It is long waiting for the tide when the wakeful heart beats loudly,
when the pulses quicken at a memory, and the thousand idle little
cellules of the brain, long sealed, long unused, and consigned to the
archives of What Is Ended, open one by one, releasing each its own
And how can the heart rest, the pulse sleep, startled to a flutter, as
one by one the tiny cells unclose unbidden, and the dead remembrance,
from its cerements freed, brightens to life?
Words he had used, the idle lifting of his head, the forgotten
inflection of his voice, the sunlight on his hair and the sea-wind
stirring it; his figure as it turned to move away, the half-caught echo
of his laugh, faint, faint!--so that her own ears, throbbing, strained to
listen; the countless unimportant moments she had thought unmarked, yet
carefully stored up, without her knowledge, in the magic cellules of her
brain--all, all were coming back to life, more and more distinct,
And she lay like one afraid to move, lest her stirring waken a vague
something that still slept, something she dared not arouse, dared not
meet face to face, even in dreams. An interval--perhaps an hour, perhaps
a second--passed, leaving her stranded so close to the shoals of slumber
that sleep passed only near enough to awaken her.
The room was very still and dim, but the clamour in her brain unnerved
her, and she sat up among the cushions, looking vacantly about her with
the blue, confused eyes, the direct, unseeing gaze of a child roused by
a half-heard call.
The call--low, imperative, sustained--continued softly persistent against
her windows--the summons of the young year's rain.
She went to the window and stood among the filmy curtains, looking out
into the mist; a springlike aroma penetrated the room. She opened the
window a little way, and the sweet, virile odour enveloped her.
A thousand longings rose within her; unnumbered wistful questions
stirred her, sighing, unanswered.
Aware that her lips were moving unconsciously, she listened to the words
forming automatic repetitions of phrases long forgotten:
"And those that look out of the windows be darkened, And the door shall
be shut in the streets."
What was it she was repeating?
"Also they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fear shall be in
What echo of the past was this?
". And desire shall fail: because--"
Intent, absorbed in retracing the forgotten sequence to its source, she
stood, breathing the thickening incense of the rain; and every breath
was drawing her backward, nearer, nearer to the source of memory. Ah,
the cliff chapel in the rain!--the words of a text mumbled deafly--the
yearly service for those who died at sea! And she, seated there in the
chapel dusk thinking of him who sat beside her, and how he feared a
heavier, stealthier, more secret tide crawling, purring about his feet!
Enfin! Always, always at the end of everything, He! Always, reckoning
step by step, backward through time, He! the source, the inception, the
meaning of all!
Unmoored at last, her spirit swaying, enveloped in memories of him, she
gave herself to the flood--overwhelmed, as tide on tide rose, rushing
over her--body, mind, and soul.
She closed her eyes, leaning there heavily amid the cloudy curtains; she
moved back into the room and stood staring at space through wet lashes.
The hard, dry pulse in her throat hurt her till her under lip, freed
from the tyranny of her small teeth, slipped free, quivering rebellion.
She had been walking her room to and fro, to and fro, for a long time
before she realised that she had moved at all.
And now, impulse held the helm; a blind, unreasoning desire for relief
hurried into action on the wings of impulse.
There was a telephone at her elbow. No need to hunt through lists to
find a number she had known so long by heart--the three figures which had
reiterated themselves so often, monotonously insistent, slyly
persuasive; repeating themselves even in her dreams, so that she awoke
at times shivering with the vision in which she had listened to
temptation, and had called to him across the wilderness of streets and
"Is he at home?"
"Would you ask him to come to the telephone?"
"Please say to him that it is a--a friend. . Thank you."
In the throbbing quiet of her room she heard the fingers of the prying
rain busy at her windows; the ticking of the small French clock, very
dull, very far away--or was it her heart? And, faintly ringing in the
receiver pressed against her ear, millions of tiny stirrings, sounds
like instruments of an elfin orchestra tuning, echoes as of steps
passing through the halls of fairy-land, a faint confusion of human-like
"Who is it?"
Her voice left her for an instant; her dry lips made no answer.
"Who is it?" he repeated in his steady, pleasant voice.
"It is I."
There was absolute silence--so long that it frightened her. But before
she could speak again his voice was sounding in her ears, patient,
"I don't recognise your voice. Who am I speaking to?"
There was no response, and she spoke again:
"I only wanted to say good morning. It is afternoon now; is it too late
to say good morning?"
"No. I'm badly rattled. Is it you, Sylvia?"
"Indeed it is. I am in my own room. I--I thought--"
"Yes, I am listening."
"I don't know what I did think. Is it necessary for me to telephone you
a minute account of the mental processes which ended by my calling you
up--out of the vasty deep?"
The old ring in her voice hinting of the laughing undertone, the same
trailing sweetness of inflection--could he doubt his senses any longer?
"I know you, now," he said.
"I should think you might. I should very much like to know how you
are--if you don't mind saying?"
"Thank you. I seem to be all right. Are you all right, Sylvia?"
"Shamefully and outrageously well. What a season, too! Everybody else is
in rags--make-up rags! Isn't that a disagreeable remark? But I'll come to
the paint-brush too, of course. . We all do. Doesn't anybody ever see
you any more?"
She heard him laugh to himself unpleasantly; then: "Does anybody want