Part 7 out of 9
"Everybody, of course! You know it. You always were spoiled to death."
"Are you becoming cynical?"
"I? Why should I?"
"You are! Stop it! Mercy on us! If that is what is going on in a certain
house on lower Fifth Avenue, facing the corner of certain streets, it's
time somebody dropped in to--"
"To the rescue! I've a mind to do it myself. They say you are not well,
"Who says that?"
"Oh, the usual little ornithological cockatrice--or, rather, cantatrice.
Don't ask me, because I won't tell you. I always tell you too much,
anyway. Don't I?"
"Of course I do. Everybody spoils you and so do I."
"Yes--I am rather in that way, I suppose."
And in a lower voice: "Please don't say such things--will you?"
"Especially to me."
"Especially to you. No, I won't, Sylvia."
And, after a hesitation, she continued sweetly:
"I wonder what you were doing, all alone in that old house of yours,
when I called you up?"
"I? Let me see. Oh, I was superintending some packing."
"Are you going off somewhere?"
"I think so."
"I don't know, Sylvia."
"Stephen, how absurd! You must know where you are going! If you mean
that you don't care to tell me--"
"I decline to be snubbed. I'm shameless, and I wish to be informed.
Please tell me."
"I'd rather not tell you."
"Very well. . Good-bye. . But don't ring off just yet, Stephen. . Do you
think that, sometime, you would care to see--any people--I mean when you
begin to go out again?"
"Who, for example?"
"No; I don't think I should care to."
"I wish you would care to. It is not well to let go every tie, drop
everybody so completely. No man can do that to advantage. It would be so
much better for you to go about a bit--see and be seen, you know; just to
meet a few people informally; go to see some pretty girl you know well
"To what? Make love to?"
"That would he very good for you," she said.
"But not for the pretty girl. Besides, I'm rather too busy to go about,
even if I were inclined to."
"Are you really busy, Stephen?"
"Yes--waiting. That is the very hardest sort of occupation. And I'm
obliged to be on hand every minute."
"But you said that you were going out of town."
"Did I? Well, I did not say it, exactly, but I am going to leave town."
"For very long?" she asked.
"Perhaps. I can't tell yet."
"Stephen, before you go--if you are going for a very, very long
while--perhaps you will--you might care to say good-bye?"
"Do you think it best?"
"No," she said innocently; "but if you care--"
"Do you care to have me?"
"Yes, I do."
There was a silence; and when his voice sounded again it had altered:
"I do not think you would care to see me, Sylvia. I--they say I am--I
have--changed--since my--since a slight illness. I am not over it yet, not
cured--not very well yet; and a little tired, you see--a little shaken. I
am leaving New York to--to try once more to be cured. I expect to be
well--one way or another--"
"Stephen, where are you going? Answer me!"
"I can't answer you."
"Is your illness serious? "
"A--it is--it requires some--some care."
Her fingers tightening around the receiver whitened to the delicate
nails under the pressure. Mute, struggling with the mounting impulse,
voice and lip unsteady, she still spoke with restraint:
"You say you require care? And what care have you? Who is there with
you? Answer me!"
"Why--everybody; the servants. I have care enough."
"Oh, the servants! Have you a physician to advise you?"
"Certainly--the best in the world. Sylvia, dea--, Sylvia, I didn't mean to
give you an impression--"
"Stephen, I will have you truthful with me! I know perfectly well you
are ill. I--if I could only--if there was something, some way--Listen: I
am--I am going to do something about it, and I don't care very much what
"What sweet nonsense!" he laughed, but his voice was no steadier than
"Will you drive with me?" she asked impulsively, "some afternoon--"
"Sylvia, dear, you don't really want me to do it. Wait, listen: I--I've
got to tell you that--that I'm not fit for it. I've got to be honest with
you; I am not fit, not in physical condition to go out just yet. I've
really been ill--for weeks. Plank has been very nice to me. I want to get
well; I mean to try very hard. But the man you knew--is--changed."
"Not in that way!" he said in a slow voice.
"H-how, then?" she stammered, all a-thrill.
"Nerve gone--almost. Going to get it back again, of course. Feel a
million times better already for talking with you."
"Do--does it really help?"
"It's the only panacea for me," he said too quickly to consider his
"The only one?" she faltered. "Do you mean to say that your
trouble--illness--has anything to do with--"
"No, no! I only--"
"Has it, Stephen?"
"Because, if I thought--"
"Sylvia, I'm not that sort! You mustn't talk to me that way. There's
nothing to be sorry for about me. Any man may lose his nerve, and, if he
is a man, go after it and get it back again. Every man has a fighting
chance. You said it yourself once--that a man mustn't ask for a fighting
chance; he must take it. And I'm going to take it and win out one way or
"What do you mean by 'another,' Stephen?"
"I--Nothing. It's a phrase."
"What do you mean? Answer me!"
"It's a phrase," he said again; "no meaning, you know."
"Stephen, Mr. Plank says that you are lame."
"What did he say that for?" demanded Siward wrathfully.
"I asked him. Kemp saw you on crutches at your window. So I asked Mr.
Plank, and he said you had discarded your crutches too soon and had
fallen and lamed yourself again. Are you able to walk yet?"
"Yes, of course."
"A--no, not just yet."
"In other words, you are practically bedridden."
"No, no! I can get about the room very well."
"You couldn't go down-stairs--for an hour's drive, could you?"
"Can't manage that for awhile," he said hastily.
"Oh, the vanity of you, Stephen Siward! the vanity! Ashamed to let me
see you when you are not your complete and magnificently attractive
self! Silly, I shall see you! I shall drive down on the first sunny
morning and sit outside in my victoria until you can't stand the
temptation another instant. I'm going to do it. You cannot stop me;
nobody can stop me. I desire to do it, and that is sufficient, I think,
for everybody concerned. If the sun is out to-morrow, I shall be out
too! . I am so tired of not seeing you! Let central listen! I don't
care. I don't care what I am saying. I've endured it so long--I--There's
no use! I am too tired of it, and I want to see you. . Can't we see each
other without--without--thinking about things that are settled once and
"I can't," he said.
"Then you'd better learn to! Because, if you think I'm going through
life without seeing you frequently you are simple! I've stood it too
long at a time. I won't go through this sort of thing again! You'd
better be amiable; you'd better be civil to me, or--or--nobody on earth
can tell what will happen! The idea of you telling me you had lost your
nerve! You've got to get it back--and help me find mine! Yes, it's gone,
gone, gone! I lost it in the rain, somewhere, to-day. . Does the scent
of the rain come in at your window? . Do you remember--There! I can't
say it. . Good-bye. Good-bye. You must get well and I must, too. Good-
The fruit of her imprudence was happiness--an excited happiness, which
lasted for a day. The rain lasted, too, for another day, then turned to
snow, choking the city with such a fall as had not been seen since the
great blizzard--blocking avenues, barricading cross-streets, burying
squares and circles and parks, and still falling, drifting, whirling
like wind-whipped smoke from cornice and roof-top. The electric cars
halted; even the great snow-ploughs roared impotent amid the snowy
wastes; waggons floundered into cross-streets and stuck until dug out;
and everywhere, in the thickening obscurity, battalions of emergency men
with pick and shovel struggled with the drifts in Fifth Avenue and
Broadway. Then the storm ended at daybreak.
All day long squadrons of white gulls wheeled and sailed in the sky
above the snowy expanse of park where the great, rectangular sheets of
water glimmered black in their white setting. As she sat at her desk she
could see them drifting into and out of the gray squares of sky framed
by her window-panes. Two days ago she had seen them stemming the sky
blasts, heralding the coming of unfelt tempests, flapping steadily
through the fragrant rain. Now, the false phantom which had mimicked
spring turned on the world the glassy glare of winter, stupefying hope,
stunning desire, clogging the life essence in all young, living things.
The first vague summons, the restlessness of awakening aspiration, the
first delicate, indrawn breath, were stilled to deathly immobility.
Sylvia, at her escritoire, chin cradled in her hollowed hand, sat
listlessly inspecting her mail--the usual pile of bills and
advertisements, social demands and interested appeals, with here and
there a frivolous note from some intimate to punctuate the endless
Her housekeeper had come and gone; the Belwether establishment could jog
through another day. Various specialists, who cared for the health and
beauty of her body, had entered and made their unctuous exits. The major
had gone to Tuxedo for the week's end; her maid had bronchitis; two
horses required the veterinary, and the kitchen range a new water-back.
Cards had come for the Caithness function; cards for young Austin
Wadsworth's wedding to a Charleston girl of rumoured beauty; Caragnini
was to sing for Mrs. Vendenning; a live llama, two-legged, had consented
to undermine Christianity for Mrs. Pyne-Johnson and her guests.
"Would Sylvia be ready for the inspection of imported head-gears to
harmonise with the gowns being built by Constantine?
"Would she receive the courteous agent of 'The Reigning Beauties of
Manhattan,' to arrange for her portrait and biographical sketch?
"Would she realise that Jefferson B. Doty could turn earth into heaven
for any young chatelaine by affixing to the laundry his anti-microbe
drying machine emitting sixty sterilised hot-air blasts in thirty
seconds, at a cost of one-tenth of one mill per blast?
But she turned her head, looking wearily across the room at the brightly
burning fire beside which Mrs. Ferrall sat, nibbling mint-paste, very
serious over one of those books that "everybody was reading."
"How far have you read?" inquired Sylvia without interest, turning over
a new letter to cut with her paper-knife.
Grace ruffled the uncut pages of her book without looking up, then
yawned shamelessly: "She's decided to try living with him for awhile,
and if they find life agreeable she'll marry him. . Pleasant situation,
isn't it? Nice book, very; and they say that somebody is making a play
of it. I"--She yawned again, showing her small, brilliant teeth--"I
wonder what sort of people write these immoral romances!"
"Probably immoral people," said Sylvia indifferently. "Drop it on the
But Mrs. Ferrall reopened the book where she had laid her finger to mark
the place. "Do you think so?" she asked.
"That rotten books and plays come from morally rotten people?"
"I don't think about it at all," observed Sylvia, opening another letter
"You're probably not very literary," said Grace mischievously.
"Not in that way, I suppose."
Mrs. Ferrall took another bonbon: "Did you see 'Mrs. Lane's
"I did," said Sylvia, looking up, the pink creeping into her cheeks.
"You thought it very strong, I suppose?" asked Grace innocently.
"I thought it incredible."
"But, dear, it was sheer realism! Why blink at truth? And when an author
has the courage to tell facts why not have the courage to applaud?"
"If that is truth, it doesn't concern me," said Sylvia. "Grace, why will
you pose, even if you are married? for you have a clean mind, and you
"I know it," sighed Mrs. Ferrall, closing her book again, but keeping
the place with her finger; "and that's why I'm so curious about all
these depraved people. I can't understand why writers have not found out
that we women are instinctively innocent, even after we are obliged to
make our morality a profession and our innocence an art. They all hang
their romances to motives that no woman recognises as feminine; they
ascribe to us instincts which we do not possess, passions of which we
are ignorant--a ridiculous moral turpitude in the overmastering presence
of love. Pooh! If they only knew what a small part love plays with us,
Sylvia said slowly: "It sometimes plays a small part, after all."
"Always," insisted Grace with emphasis. "No carefully watched girl knows
what it is, whatever her suspicions may be. When she marries, if she
doesn't marry from family pressure or from her own motives of common-
sense ambition, she marries because she likes the man, not because she
Sylvia was silent.
"Because, even if she wanted to love him," continued Grace, "she would
not know how. It's the ingrained innocence which men encounter that they
don't allow for or understand in us. Even after we are married, and
whether or not we learn to love our husbands, it remains part of us as
an educated instinct; and it takes all the scientific, selfish
ruthlessness of a man to break it down. That's why I say so few among us
ever comprehend the motives attributed to us in romance or in that
parody of it called realism. Love is rarer with us than men could ever
believe--and I'm glad of it," she said maliciously, with a final snap of
her pretty teeth.
"It was on that theory you advised me, I think," said Sylvia, looking
into the fire.
"Advised you, child?"
"Yes--about accepting Howard."
"Certainly. Is it not a sound theory? Doesn't it stand inspection?
Doesn't it wear?"
"It--wears," said Sylvia indifferently. Grace looked up from her open
book. "Is anything amiss?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"Of course you know, child. What is wrong? Has Howard made himself
insufferable? He's a master at it. Has he?"
"No; I don't remember that he has. . I'm tired, physically. I'm tired of
"Go to Florida for Lent."
"Horror! It's as stupid as a hothouse. It isn't that, either, dear--only,
when it was raining so deliciously the other day I was silly enough to
think I scented the spring in the park. I was glad of a change you know
--any excuse to stop this eternal carnival I live in."
"What is the matter?" demanded Mrs. Ferrall, withdrawing her finger from
the pages and plumping the closed book down on her knee. "You'd better
tell me, Sylvia; you might just as well tell me now as later when my
persistence has vexed us both. Now, what has happened?"
"I have been--imprudent," said Sylvia, in a low voice.
"You mean,"--Mrs. Ferrall looked at her keenly--"that he has been here?"
"No. I telephoned him; and I asked him to drive with me."
"Oh, Sylvia, what nonsense! Why on earth do you stir yourself up by that
sort of silliness at this late date? What use is it? Can't you let him
"I--No, I can't, it seems. Grace, I was--I felt so--so strangely about it
"About what, little idiot?"
"About leaving him--alone."
"Are you Stephen Siward's keeper?" demanded Mrs. Ferrall, exasperated.
"I felt as though I were, for awhile. He is ill."
"With an illness that, thank God, you are not going to nurse through
life. Don't look at me that way, dear. I'm obliged to speak harshly; I'm
obliged to harden my heart to such a monstrous idea. You know I love
you; you know I care deeply for that poor boy--but do you think I could
be loyal to either of you and not say what I do say? He is doomed, as
sure as you sit there! He has fallen, and no one can help him. Link
after link he has broken with his own world; his master-vice holds him
faster, closer, more absolutely, than hell ever held a lost soul!"
"Grace, I cannot endure--"
"You must! Are you trying to drug your silly self with romance so you
won't recognise truth when you see it? Are you drifting back into old
impulses, unreasoning whims of caprice? Have you forgotten what I know
of you, and what you know of yourself? Is the taint of your transmitted
inheritance beginning to show in you--the one woman of your race who is
fashioned to withstand it and stamp it out?"
"I am mistress of my emotions," said Sylvia, flushing.
"Then suppress them," retorted Grace Ferrall hotly, "before they begin
to bully you. There was no earthly reason for you to talk to Stephen. No
disinterested impulse moved you. It was a sheer perverse, sentimental
restlessness--the delicate, meddlesome deviltry of your race. And if that
poison is in you, it's well for you to know it."
"It is in me," said Sylvia, staring at the fire.
"Then you know what to do for it."
"No, I don't."
"Well, I do," said Grace decisively; "and the sooner you marry Howard
and intrench yourself behind your pride, the better off you'll be.
That's where, fortunately enough, you differ from your ancestors; you
are unable to understand marital treachery. Otherwise you'd make it
lively for us all."
"It is true," said Sylvia deliberately, "that I could not be treacherous
to anybody. But I am wondering; I am asking myself just what constitutes
treachery to myself."
"Sentimentalising over Stephen might fill the bill," observed Grace
"But it doesn't seem to," mused Sylvia, her blue gaze on the coals.
"That is what I do not understand. I have no conscience concerning what
I feel for him."
"What do you feel?"
"I was in love with him. You knew it."
"You liked him," insisted Grace patiently.
"No--loved him. I know. Dear, your theories are sound in a general way,
but what is a girl going to do about it when she loves a man? You say a
young girl can't love--doesn't know how. But I do love, though it is true
that I don't know how to love very wisely. What is the use in denying
it? This winter has been a deafening, stupefying fever to me. The sheer
noise of it stunned me until I forgot how I did feel about anything.
Then--I don't know--somehow, in the rain out there, I began to wake .
Dear, the old instincts, the old desires, the old truths, came back out
of chaos; that full feeling here"--she laid her fingers on her throat
--"the sense of expectancy, the restless hope growing out of torpid
acquiescence--all returned; and, dearest, with them all came memories of
him. What am I to do? Could you tell me?"
For a long while Mrs. Ferrall sat in troubled silence, her hand shading
her eyes. Sylvia, leaning over her desk, idling with pen and pencil,
looked around from time to time, as though awaiting the opinion of some
specialist who, in full possession of the facts, now had become
responsible for the patient.
"If you marry him," said Mrs. Ferrall quietly, "your life will become a
"Yes. But would it make life any easier for him?" asked Sylvia.
"How--to know that you had been dragged down?"
"No. I mean could I do anything for him?"
"No woman ever did. That is a sentimental falsehood of the emotional. No
woman ever did help a man in that way. Sylvia, if love were the only
question, and if you do truly love him, I--well, I suppose I'd be fool
enough to advise you to be a fool. Even then you'd be sorry. You know
what your future may be; you know what you are fitted for. What can you
do without Howard? In this town your role would be a very minor one
without Howard's money, and you know it."
"Yes, I know it."
"And your sacrifice could not help that doomed boy."
Sylvia nodded assent.
"Then, is there any choice? Is there any question of what to do?"
Sylvia looked out into the winter sky, through the tops of snowy trees;
everywhere the stark, deathly rigidity of winter. Under it, frozen, lay
the rain that had scented the air. Under her ambition lay the ghosts of
"No," she said, "there is no question of choice. I know what must be."
Grace, seated in the firelight, looked up as Sylvia rose from her desk
and came across the room; and when she sank down on the rug at her feet,
resting her cheek against the elder woman's knees, nothing was said for
a long time--a time of length sufficient to commit a memory to its grave,
lay it away decently and in quiet befitting.
Sore doubt assailed Grace Ferrall, guiltily aware that once again she
had meddled; and in the calm tenor of her own placid, marital
satisfaction, looking backward along the pleasant path she had trodden
with its little monuments to love at decent intervals amid the agreeable
monotony of content, her heart and conscience misgave her lest she had
counselled this young girl wrongly, committing her to the arid
lovelessness which she herself had never known.
Leaning there, her fingers lingering in light caress on Sylvia's bright
hair, for every doubt she brought up argument, to every sentimental
wavering within her heart she opposed the chilling reason of common
sense. Destruction to happiness lay in Sylvia's yielding to her caprice
for Siward. There was other happiness in the world besides the non-
essential one of love. That must be Sylvia's portion. And after all--and
after all, love was a matter of degree; and it was well for Sylvia that
she had the malady so lightly--well for her that it had advanced so
little, lest she suspect what its crowning miracles might be and fall
sick of a passion for what she had forever lost.
For a week or more the snow continued; colder, gloomier weather set in,
and the impending menace of Ash Wednesday redoubled the social pace,
culminating in the Westervelt ball on the eve of the forty days. And
Sylvia had not yet seen Siward or spoken to him again across the
wilderness of streets and men.
In the first relaxation of Lent she had instinctively welcomed an
opportunity for spiritual consolation and a chance to take her spiritual
bearings; not because of bodily fatigue--for in the splendour of her
youthful vigour she did not know what that meant.
Saint Berold was a pretty good saint, and his church was patronised by
Major Belwether's household. The major liked two things high: his game
and his church. Sylvia cared for neither, but had become habituated to
both the odours of sanctity and of pheasants; so to Saint Berold's she
went in cure of her soul. Besides, she was fond of Father Curtis, who,
if he were every inch a priest, was also every foot of his six feet a
man--simple, good, and brave.
However, she found little opportunity, save at her brief confession, for
a word with Father Curtis. His days were full days to the overbrimming,
and a fashionable pack was ever at his heels, fawning and shoving and
importuning. It was fashionable to adore Father Curtis, and for that
reason she shrank from venturing any demand upon his time, and nobody
else at Saint Berold's appealed to her. Besides, the music was hard,
commonplace, even blatant at times, and, having a delicate ear, she
shrank from this also. It is probable then that what comfort she found
under Saint Berold's big, brand-new Episcopal cross she extracted from
observing the rites, usages, and laws of a creed that had been accepted
for her by that Christian gentleman, Major Belwether. Also, she may have
found some solace from the still intervals devoted to an inventory of
her sins and the wistful searching of a heart too young for sadness. If
she did it was her own affair, not Grace Ferrall's, who went with her to
Saint Berold's determined always to confess to too much gambling, but
letting it go from day to day so that the penance could not interfere
with the next seance.
Agatha Caithness was there a great deal, looking like a saint in her
subdued plumage; and very devout, dodging nothing--neither confession nor
Quarrier's occasionally lifted eyes, though their gaze, meeting, seemed
lost in dreamy devotion or drowned in the contemplation of the spiritual
Plank came docilely from his Dutch Reformed church to sit beside Leila.
As for Mortimer, once a vestryman, he never came at all--made no pretence
or profession of what he elegantly expressed as "caring a damn" for
anything "in the church line," though, he added, there were "some good
lookers to be found in a few synagogues." His misconception of the
attractions of the church amused the new set of men among whom he had
recently drifted, to the unfeigned disgust of gentlemen like Major
Belwether; "club" men, in the commoner and more sinister interpretation
of the word; unfit men, who had managed to slip into good clubs; men,
once fit, who had deteriorated to the verge of ostracism; heavy, over-
fed, idle, insolent men in questionable financial situation, hard card
players, hard drinkers, hard riders, negative in their virtues,
merciless in their vices, and whose cynical misconduct formed the
sources of the stock of stories told where such men foregather.
Mortimer had already furnished his world with sufficient material for
jests of that flavour; now they were telling a new one: how, as Leila
was standing before Tiffany's looking for her carriage, a masher
accosted her, and, at her haughty stare, said sneeringly: "Oh, you can't
play that game on me; I've seen you with Leroy Mortimer!"
The story was repeated frequently enough. Leila heard it with a shrug;
but such things mattered to her now, and she cried over it at night,
burning that Plank should hear her name used jestingly to emphasise the
depth of her husband's degradation.
Mortimer stayed out at night very frequently now. Also, he appeared to
make his money go farther, or was luckier at his "card killings,"
because he seldom attempted to bully Leila, being apparently content
with his allowance.
Once or twice Plank saw him with an unusually attractive girl belonging
to a world very far removed from Leila's. Somebody said she was an
actress when she did anything at all--one Lydia Vyse, somewhat celebrated
for an audacity not too delicate. But Plank was no more interested than
any man who can't afford to endanger his prospects by a closer
acquaintance with that sort of pretty woman.
Meanwhile Mortimer kept away from home, wife, and church, and Plank
frequented them, so the two men did not meet very often; and the less
they met the less they found to say to one another.
Now that the forty days had really begun, Major Belwether became
restless for the flesh-pots of the south, although Lenten duties sat
lightly enough upon the house of Belwether. These decent observances
were limited to a lax acknowledgment of fast days, church in moderation,
and active participation in the succession of informal affairs
calculated to sustain life in those intellectually atrophied and wealthy
people entirely dependent upon others for their amusements.
To these people no fear of punishment hereafter can equal the terror of
being left to their own devices; and so, though the opera was over,
theatres unfashionable, formal functions suspended and dances ended, the
pace still continued at a discreet and decorous trot; and those who had
not fled to California or Palm Beach, remained to pray and play Bridge
with an unction most edifying.
And all this while Sylvia had not seen Siward.
Sylvia was changing. The characteristic amiability, the sensitive
reserve, the sweet composure which the world had always counted on in
her, had become exceptions and no longer the rules which governed the
caprice and impulse always latent. An indifference so pointed as to
verge on insolence amazed her intimates at times; a sudden, flushed
impatience startled the habitues of her shrine. There was a new,
unseeing hardness in her eyes; in her attitude the faintest hint of
cynicism. She acquired a habit of doing selfish things coldly,
indifferent to the canons of the art; and true selfishness, the most
delicate of all the arts, requires an expert.
That which had most charmed--her unfeigned pleasure in pleasure, her
unfailing consideration for all, her gentleness with ignorance, her
generous unconsciousness of self--all these still remained, it is true,
though no longer characteristic, no longer to be counted on.
For the first time a slight sense of fear tinctured the general
In public her indifference and growing impatience with Quarrier had not
reached the verge of bad taste, but in private she was scarcely at pains
to conceal her weariness and inattention, showing him less and less of
the formal consideration which had been their only medium of
coexistence. That he noticed it was evident even to her who carelessly
ignored the consequences of her own attitude.
Once, speaking of the alterations in progress at The Sedges, his place
near Oyster Bay, he casually asked her opinion, and she as casually
observed that if he had an opinion about anything he wouldn't know what
to do with it.
Once, too, she had remarked in Quarrier's hearing to Ferrall, who was
complaining about the loss of his hair, that a hairless head was a
visitation from Heaven, but a beard was a man's own fault.
Once they came very close to a definite rupture, close enough to scare
her after all the heat had gone out of her and the matter was ended.
Quarrier had lingered late after cards, and something was said about the
impending kennel show and about Marion Page judging the English setters.
"Agatha tells me that you are going with Marion," continued Quarrier.
"As long as Marion has chosen to make herself conspicuous there is
nothing to be said. But do you think it very good taste for you to
figure publicly on the sawdust with an eccentric girl like Marion?"
"I see nothing conspicuous about a girl's judging a few dogs," said
Sylvia, merely from an irritable desire to contradict.
"It's bad taste and bad form," remarked Quarrier coldly; "and Agatha
thought it a mistake for you to go there with her."
"Agatha's opinions do not concern me."
"Perhaps mine may have some weight."
"Not the slightest."
He said patiently: "This is a public show; do you understand? Not one of
those private bench exhibitions."
"I understand. Really, Howard, you are insufferable at times."
"Do you feel that way?"
"Yes, I do. I am sorry to be rude, but I do feel that way!" Flushed,
impatient, she looked him squarely between his narrowing, woman's eyes:
"I do not care for you very much, Howard, and you know it. I am marrying
you with a perfectly sordid motive, and you know that, too. Therefore it
is more decent--if there is any decency left in either of us--to interfere
with one another as little as possible, unless you desire a definite
rupture. Do you?"
"I? A--a rupture?"
"Yes," she said hotly; "do you?"
"Do you, Sylvia?"
"No; I'm too cowardly, too selfish, too treacherous to myself. No, I
"Nor do I," he said, lifting his furtive eyes.
"Very well. You are more contemptible than I am, that is all."
Her voice had grown unsteady; an unreasoning rush of anger had set her
whole body a-thrill, and the white heat of it was driving her to provoke
him, as though that might cleanse her of the ignominy of the bargain--as
though a bargain did not require two of the same mind to make it.
"What do you want of me?" she said, still stinging under the angry waves
of self-contempt. "What are you marrying me for? Because, divided, we
are likely to cut small figures in our tin-trumpet world? Because,
united, we can dominate the brainless? Is there any other reason?"
Showing his teeth in that twitching snicker that contracted the muscles
of his upper lip: "Children!" he said, looking at her.
She turned scarlet to her hair; the deliberate grossness stunned her.
Confused, she stood confronting him, dumb under a retort the coarseness
of which she had never dreamed him capable.
"I mean what I say," he repeated calmly. "A man cares for two things:
his fortune, and the heirs to it. If you didn't know that you have
learned it now. You hurt me deliberately. I told you a plain truth very
bluntly. It is for you to consider the situation."
But she could not speak; anger, humiliation, shame, held her tongue-
tied. The instinctive revolt at the vague horror--the monstrous,
meaningless threat--nothing could force words from her to repudiate, to
deny what he had dared to utter.
Except as the effrontery of brutality, except as a formless menace born
of his anger, the reason he flung at her for his marrying her conveyed
nothing to her in its grotesque impossibility. Only the intentional
coarseness of it was to be endured--if she chose to endure it; for the
rest was empty of concrete meaning to her.
Lent was half over before she saw him again. Neither he nor she had
taken any steps to complete the rupture; and at the Mi-careme dance,
given by the Siowa Hunt, Quarrier, who was M. F. H., took up the thread
of their suspended intercourse as methodically and calmly as though it
had never quivered to the breaking point. He led the cotillon with
agreeable precision and impersonal accuracy, favouring her at intervals;
and though she wasted no favours on him, she endured his, which was
sufficient evidence that matters were still in statu quo.
She returned to town next morning with Grace Ferrall, irritable, sulky,
furious with herself at the cowardly relief she felt. For, spite of her
burning anger against Quarrier, the suspense at times had been wearing;
and she would not make the first move--had not decided even to accept his
move if it came--at least, had not admitted to herself that she would
accept it. It had come and the tension was over, and now, entering Mrs.
Ferrall's brougham which met them at Thirty-fourth Street Ferry, she was
furious with herself for her unfeigned feeling of relief.
All hot with self-contempt she lay back in the comfortably upholstered
corner of the brougham, staring straight before her, sullen red mouth
unresponsive to the occasional inconsequent questions of Grace Ferrall.
"After awhile," observed Grace, "people will begin to talk about the
discontented beauty of your face."
Sylvia's eyebrows bent still farther inward.
"A fretful face, but rather pretty," commented Grace maliciously. "It
won't do, dear. Your role is dignified comedy. O dear! O my!" She
stifled a yawn behind her faultlessly gloved hand. "I'm feeling these
late hours in my aged bones. It wasn't much of a dance, was it? Or am I
disillusioned? Certainly that Edgeworth boy fell in love with me--the
depraved creature--trying his primitive wiles there in the conservatory!
Little beast! There are no nice boys any more; they're all too young or
too sophisticated. . Howard does lead well, I admit that. . You're on
the box seat together again I see. Pooh! I wasn't a bit alarmed."
"I was," said Sylvia, curling her lip in biting self-contempt.
"Well, that's a wholesome confession, anyway. O dear, how I do yawn! and
Lent only half over. . Sylvia, what are you staring at? Oh, I--see."
They had driven south to Washington Square, where Mrs. Ferrall had
desired to leave a note, and were now returning. Sylvia had leaned
forward to look up at Siward's house, but with Mrs. Ferrall's first word
she sank back, curiously expressionless and white; for she had seen a
woman entering the front door and had recognised her as Marion Page.
"Well, of all indiscretions!" breathed Grace, looking helplessly at
Sylvia. "Oh, no, that sort of thing is sheer effrontery, you know! It's
rotten bad taste; it's no worse, of course--but it's bad taste. I don't
care what privileges we concede to Marion, we're not going to concede
this--unless she puts on trousers for good. It's all very well for her to
talk her plain kennel talk, and call spades by their technical names,
and smoke all over people's houses, and walk all over people's
prejudices; but there's no sense in her hunting for trouble; and she'll
get it, sure as scandal is scandal!"
And still Sylvia remained pale and silent, eyes downcast, shrinking
close into her upholstered corner, as though some reflex instinct of
self-concealment was still automatically dominating her.
"She ought to be spanked!" said Grace viciously. "If she were my
daughter I'd do it, too!"
Sylvia did not stir.
"Little idiot! Going into a man's house in the face of all Fifth Avenue
and the teeth of decency!"
"She has courage," said Sylvia, still very white.
"Courage! Do you mean fool-hardiness?"
"No, courage--the courage I lacked. I knew he was too ill to leave his
room and I lacked the courage to go and see him."
"You mean, alone?"
"You dare tell me you ever contemplated--"
"Oh, yes. I think I should have done it yet, but--but Marion--"
Suddenly she bent forward, resting her face in her hands; and between
the fingers a bright drop ran, glimmered, and fell.
"O Lord!" breathed Mrs. Ferrall, and sank back, nerveless, into her own
corner of the rocking brougham.
CHAPTER XII THE ASKING PRICE
Siward, at his desk, over which the May sunshine streamed, his crutches
laid against his chair, sat poring over the piles of papers left there
by Beverly Plank some days before with a curt recommendation that he
master their contents.
Some of the papers were typewritten, some appeared to be engraved
certificates of stock, a few were in Plank's heavy, squat handwriting.
There were several packages tied in pink tape, evidently legal papers of
some sort; and also a pile of scrap-books containing newspaper clippings
to which Siward referred occasionally, or read them at length, resting
his thin, fatigued face between two bony hands.
The curious persistence of youth in his features seemed unaccountable in
view of the heavy marks imprinted there; but they were marks, not lines;
bluish hollows under eyes still young, marred contours of the cheek-
bone; a hardness about the hollow temples above which his short, bright
hair clustered with all its soft, youthful allure undimmed; and in every
movement, every turn of his head, there still remained much of that
indefinable attractiveness which had always characterised his race--much
of the unconscious charm usually known as breeding.
In men of Mortimer's fibre, dissipation produced coarser
symptoms--distended veins, and sagging flesh--where in Siward it seemed
to bruise and harden, driving the colour of blood out of him and leaving
the pallor of marble, and the bluish shadows of it staining the hollows.
Only the eyes had begun to change radically; something in them had been
That he could never hope to become immune he had learned at last when he
had returned, physically wholesome, from his long course of training
under the famous Irish specialist on the Hudson. He had expected to be
immune, spite of the blunt and forcible language of Mulqueen when he
turned him out into the world again:
"Ye'll be afther notin'," said Mr. Mulqueen, "that a poonch in the
plexis putts a man out; but it don't kill him. That's you! Whin a man
mixes it up wid the booze, l'ave him come here an' I'll tache him a
thrick. But it's not murther I tache; it's the hook on the jaw that
shtops, an' the poonch in the plexis that putts the booze-divil on the
bum! L'ave him take the count; he'll niver rise to the chune o' the bell
av ye l'ave him lie. But he ain't dead, Misther Sayward; mark that, me
son! An' don't ye be afther sayin', 'Th' inimy is down an' out fur good!
Pore lad! Sure, I'll shake hands over a dhrink wid him, for he can do me
no hurrt anny more!' No, sorr! L'ave him lie, an' l'ave the years av ver
life count him out; fur the day you die, he dies, an' not wan shake o'
the mixer sooner! G'wan, now, fur the rub-down. Ye've faught yer lasht
round, if ye ain't a fool!"
He had been a fool. He had imagined that he could control himself, and
practise the moderation that other men practised when they chose. The
puerile restraint annoyed him; his implied inability to master himself
humiliated him, the more so because, secretly, he was horribly afraid in
the remote depths of his heart.
Exactly how it happened he did not remember, except that he had gone
down town on business and had lunched with several men. There was
claret. Later he remembered another cafe, farther up town, and another,
more brilliantly lighted. After that there were vague hours--the fierce
fever of debauch wrapping night and day in flame through which he moved,
unseeing, unheeding, deafened, drenched soul and body in the living
fire; or dreaming, feeling the subsiding fury of desire pulse and ebb
and flow, rocking him to unconsciousness.
His father's old servants had found him again, this time in the area;
and this time the same ankle, not yet strong, had been broken.
Through the waning winter days, as he lay brooding in bitterness,
realising that it was all to do over again, Plank's shy visits became
gradually part of the routine. But it was many days before Siward
perceived in the big, lumbering, pink-fisted man anything to attract him
beyond the faintly amused curiosity of one man for another who is in
process of establishing himself as the first of a race.
As for reciprocation in other forms except the most superficial, or of
permitting a personal note to sound ever so discreetly, Siward tolerated
no such idea. Even the tentative advances of Plank hinting on
willingness, and perhaps ability, to help Siward in the Amalgamated
tangle were pleasantly ignored. Unpaid services rendered by men like
Plank were impossible; any obligation to Plank was utterly out of the
question. Meanwhile they began to like one another--at least Siward often
found himself looking forward with pleasure to a visit from Plank. There
had never been any question of the latter's attitude toward Siward.
Plank began to frequent the house, but never informally. It is doubtful
whether he could have practised informality in that house even at
Siward's invitation. Something of the attitude of a college lower
classman for a man in a class above seemed to typify their relations;
and that feeling is never entirely eradicated between men, no matter how
close their relationship in after-life.
One very bad night Plank came to the house and was admitted by Gumble.
Wands, the second man, stood behind the aged butler; both were
That something was amiss appeared plainly enough; and Plank,
instinctively producing a card, dropped it on a table and turned to go.
It may have been that the old butler recognised the innate delicacy of
the motive, or it may have been a sudden confidence born of the
necessities of the case, for he asked Plank to see his young master.
And Plank, looking him in the eyes, considered, until his courage began
to fail. Then he went up-stairs.
It was a bad night outside, and it was a bad night for Siward. The
master-vice had him by the throat. He sat there, clutching the arms of
his chair, his broken leg, in its plaster casing, extended in front of
him; and when be saw Plank enter he glared at him.
Hour after hour the two men sat there, the one white with rage, but
helpless; the other, stolid, inert, deaf to demands for intercession
with the arch-vice, dumb under pleadings for a compromise. He refused to
interfere with the butler, and Siward insulted him. He refused to go and
find the decanters himself, and Siward deliberately cursed him.
Outside the storm raged all night. Inside that house Plank faced a more
awful tempest. There was a sedative on the mantel and he offered it to
Siward, who struck it from his hand.
Once, toward morning, Siward feigned sleep, and Plank, heavy head on his
breast, feigned it, too. Then Siward bent over stealthily and opened a
drawer in his desk; and Plank was on his feet like a flash, jerking the
morphine from Siward's fingers.
The doctor arrived at daylight, responding to Plank's summons by
telephone, and Plank went away with the morphine and Siward's revolver
bulging in the side-pockets of his dinner coat.
He did not come again for a week. A short note from Siward started him
toward lower Fifth Avenue.
There was little said when he came into the room:
"Hello, Plank! Glad to see you."
"Hello! Are you all right?"
"All right. . Much obliged for pulling me through. Wish you'd pull me
through this Amalgamated Electric knot-hole, too--some day!"
"Do--do you mean it?" ventured Plank, turning red with delight.
"Mean it? Indeed I do--if you do. Sit here; ring for whatever you want--or
perhaps you'd better go down to the sideboard. I'm not to be trusted
with the odour in the room just yet."
"I don't care for anything," said Plank.
"Whenever you please, then. You know the house, and you don't mind my
being unceremonious, do you?"
"No," said Plank.
"Good!" rejoined Siward, laughing. "I expect the same friendly lack of
ceremony from you."
But that, for Plank, was impossible. All he could do was to care the
more for Siward without crossing the border line so suddenly made free;
all he could do was to sit there rolling and unrolling his gloves into
wads with his clumsy, highly coloured hands, and gaze consciously at
everything in the room except Siward.
On that day, at Plank's shy suggestion, they talked over Siward's
business affairs for the first time. After that day, and for many days,
the subject became the key-note to their intercourse; and Siward at last
understood that this man desired to do him a service absolutely and
purely from a disinterested liking for him, and as an expression of that
liking. Also he was unexpectedly made aware of Plank's serenely unerring
That surface cynicism which all must learn, sooner or later, or remain
the victims of naive credulity, was, in Siward, nothing but an outer
skin, as it is in all who acquire wisdom with their cynicism. It was not
long proof against Plank's simple attitude and undisguised pleasure in
doing something for a man he liked. Under that simplicity no motive, no
self-interest could skulk; and Siward knew it.
As for the quid pro quo, Siward had insisted from the first on a
business arrangement. The treachery of Major Belwether through sheer
fright had knocked the key-stone from the syndicate, and the dam which
made the golden pool possible collapsed, showering Plank's brokers who
worked patiently with buckets and mops.
The double treachery of Quarrier was now perfectly apparent to Plank.
Siward, true to his word, held his stock in the face of ruin. Kemp
Ferrall, furious with the major, and beginning to suspect Quarrier, came
to Plank for consultation.
Then the defence formed under Plank. Legal machinery was set in motion,
meeting followed meeting, until Harrington cynically showed his hand and
Quarrier smiled his rare smile; and the fight against Inter-County was
on in the open, preceded by a furious clamour of charge and counter-
charge in the columns of the daily press.
That Quarrier had been guilty of something or other was the vague
impression of that great news-reading public which, stunned by the
reiteration of figures in the millions, turns to the simpler pleasures
of a murder trial. Besides, whatever Quarrier had done was no doubt done
within the chalk-marked courts of the game, though probably his shoes
may have become a little dusty.
But who could hope to bring players like Quarrier before the ordinary
umpire, or to investigate his methods with the everyday investigations
reserved for everyday folk, whose road through business life lay always
between State's prison and the penitentiary and whose guide-posts were
Let the great syndicates join in battle; they could only slay each
other. Let the millions bury their millions; the public, though poorer,
could never be the wiser.
Siward, at his desk, the May sunshine pouring over him, sat conning the
heaps of typewritten sheets, striving to see between the lines some sign
of fortune for his investments, some promise of release from the
increasing financial stringency, some chance of justice being done on
those high priests who had been performing marvellous tricks upon their
altar so that by miracle, mine and thine spelled "ours," and all the
tablets of the law were lettered upside down and hind-side before, like
the Black Mass.
Gumble knocked presently. Siward raised his perplexed eyes.
"Miss Page, sir."
"Oh," said Siward doubtfully; then, "Ask Miss Page to come up."
Marion strolled in a moment later, exchanged a vigorous hand shake with
Siward, pulled up a chair and dropped into it. She was in riding-habit
and boots, faultlessly groomed as usual, her smooth, pale hair sleek in
its thick knot, collar and tie immaculate as her gloves.
"Well," she said, "any news of your ankle, Stephen?"
"I inquired about my ankle," said Siward, amused, "and they tell me it
is better, thank you."
"Sit a horse pretty soon?" she asked, dropping one leg over the other
and balancing the riding-crop across her knee.
"Not for awhile. You have a fine day for a gallop, Marion," looking
askance at the sunshine filtering through the first green leaves of the
tree outside his window.
"It's all right--the day. I'm trying Tom O'Hara's new mare. They say
she's a little devil. I never saw a devil of a horse--did you? There may
be some out West."
"Don't break that pretty neck of yours, Marion," he said.
She lifted her eyes; then, briefly, "No fear."
"Yes, there is," he said. "There's no use looking for trouble in a
horse. Women who hunt as you hunt take all that's legitimately coming to
them. Why doesn't Tom ride his own mare?"
"She rolled on him," said Marion simply.
"Oh. Is he hurt?"
"Well, he's lucky."
"Isn't he! He'll miss a few drills with his precious squadron, that's
She was looking about her, preoccupied. "Where are your cigarettes,
Stephen? Oh, I see. Don't try to move--don't be silly."
She leaned over the desk, her fresh young face close to his, and reached
for the cigarettes. The clean-cut head, the sweetness of her youth and
femininity, boyish in its allure, were very attractive to him--more so,
perhaps, because of his isolation from the atmosphere of women.
"It's all very well, Marion, your coming here--and it's very sweet of
you, and I enjoy it immensely," he said: "but it's a deuced imprudent
thing for you to do, and I feel bound to say so for your sake every time
She leaned back in her chair and coolly blew a wreath of smoke at him.
"All right," he said, unconvinced.
"Certainly it's all right. I've done what suited me all my life. This
"It suits me, too," he said, "only I wish you'd tell your mother before
somebody around this neighbourhood informs her first."
"Let 'em. You'll be out by that time. Do you think I'm going to tell my
mother now and have her stop it?"
"Oh, Marion, you know perfectly well that it won't do for a girl to
ignore first principles. I'm horribly afraid somebody will talk about
"What would you do, then?"
"I?" he asked, disturbed. "What could I do?"
"Why, I suppose," she said slowly, "you'd have to marry me."
"Then," he rejoined with a laugh, "I should think you'd be scared into
prudence by the prospect."
"I am not easily--scared," she said, looking down.
"Not at that prospect?" he said jestingly.
She looked up at him; and he remembered afterward the poise of her small
head, and the slow, clear colour mounting; remembered that it conveyed
to him, somehow, a hint of courage and sincerity.
"I am not frightened," she said gravely.
Gravity fell upon him, too. In this young girl's eyes there was no
evasion. For a long while he had felt vaguely that matters were not
perfectly balanced between them. At moments, even, he had felt an
indefinable uneasiness in her presence. The situation troubled him, too;
and though he had known her from childhood and had long ago learned to
discount her vagaries of informality, her manners sans facon, her
careless ignoring of convention, and the unembarrassed terms of her
speech, his common-sense could not countenance this defiance of social
usage, sure to involve even such a privileged girl as she in some
This troubled him; and now, partly sceptical, yet partly conscious, too,
of her very frank liking for himself, he looked at her, perplexed,
apprehensive, unwilling to credit her with any deeper meaning than her
She had grown pink and restless under his gaze, using her cigarette
frequently, and continually flicking the ashes to the floor, until the
little finger of her glove was blackened.
But courage characterised her race. It had required more than he knew
for her to come into his house; and now that she was there loyalty to
her professed principles--that a man and a woman were by right endowed
with equal privileges--forced her to face the consequences of her theory
in the practise.
She had, with calm face and quivering heart, given him an opening. That
was a concession to her essential womanhood and a cowardice on her part;
and, lest she turn utterly traitor to herself, she faced him again,
cool, quiet, and terror in her heart:
"I'd be very glad to marry you--if you c-cared to," she said.
"Oh--I--it is--of course it's a joke."
"No; I'm serious."
"Please don't say that."
He looked at her, appalled.
"But I--but you don't love--can't be in love with me!" he stammered.
Gloved hands tightening on either end of her riding-crop, she bent her
knee against it, balancing there, looking straight at him.
"I meant to tell you so," she said, "if you didn't tell me first. So--I
was rather--tired waiting. So I've told you."
"It is only a fancy," he said, scarcely knowing what he was saying.
"I don't think so, Stephen."
But he could not meet her candour, and he sat, silent, miserable,
staring at the papers on his desk.
After a while she drew a deep, even breath, and rose to her feet.
"I'm sorry," she said simply.
"Marion--I never dreamed that--"
"You should dream truer," she said. There was a suspicion of mist in her
clear eyes; she turned abruptly to the window and stood there for a few
moments, looking down at her brougham waiting in front of the house. "It
can't be helped, can it!" she said, turning suddenly.
He found no answer to her question.
"Good-bye," she said, walking to him with outstretched hand; "it's all
in a lifetime, Steve, and that's too short for a good, clean friendship
like ours to die in. I don't think I'd better come again. Look me up for
a gallop when you're fit. And you might drop me a line to say how you're
getting on. Is it all right, Stephen?"
"All right," he said hoarsely.
Their hands tightened in a crushing clasp; then she swung on her spurred
heel and walked out, leaving him haggard, motionless. He heard the front
door close, and he swayed forward, dropping his face in his hands, arms
half buried among the papers on his desk.
Plank found him there, an hour later, fumbling among the papers, and at
first feared that he read in Siward's drawn and sullen face a
premonition of the ever-dreaded symptoms.
"Quarrier has telephoned asking for a conference at last," he said
abruptly, sitting down beside Siward.
"Well," inquired Siward, "how do you interpret that--favourably?"
"I am inclined to think he is a bit uneasy," said Plank cautiously.
"Harrington made a secret trip to Albany last week. You didn't know
"Well, he did. It looks to me as though there were going to be a ghost
of a chance for an investigation. That is how I am inclined to consider
Harrington's trip and Quarrier's flag of truce. But--I don't know.
There's nothing definite, of course. You are as conversant with the
situation as I am."
"No, I am not. That is like you, Plank, to ascribe to me the same
business sense that you possess, but I haven't got it. It's very nice
and considerate of you, but I haven't it, and you know it."
"I think you have."
"You think so because you think generously. That doesn't alter the
facts. Now tell me what you have concluded that we ought to do and I'll
say 'Amen,' as usual."
Plank laughed, and looked over several sheets of the typewritten matter
on the desk beside him.
"Suppose I meet Quarrier?" he said.
"All right. Did he suggest a date?"
"At four, this afternoon."
"Do you think you had better go?"
"I think it might do no harm," said Plank.
"Amen!" observed Siward, laughing, and touched the electric button for
the early tea, which Plank adored at any hour.
For a while they dropped business and discussed their tea, chatting very
comfortably together. Long ago Siward had found out something of the
mental breadth of the man beside him, and that he was worth listening to
as well as talking to. For Plank had formed opinions upon a great many
subjects; and whatever culture he possessed was from sheer desire for
"You know, Siward," he was accustomed to say with a smile, "you inherit
what I am qualifying myself to transmit."
"It will be all one in a thousand years," was Siward's usual rejoinder.
"That is not going to prevent my efforts to become a good ancestor to my
descendants," Plank would say laughingly. "They shall have a chance,
every one of them. And it will be up to them if they don't make good."
Sipping their tea in the pleasant, sunny room, they discussed matters of
common interest--Plank's recent fishing trip on Long Island and the
degeneracy of liver-fed trout; the North Side Club's Experiments with
European partridges; Billy Fleetwood's new stables; forestry, and the
chance of national legislation concerning it--a subject of which Plank
was very fond, and on which he had exceedingly sound ideas.
Drifting from one topic to another through the haze of their cigars,
silent when it pleased them to be so, there could be no doubt of their
liking for each other upon a basis at least superficially informal; and
if Plank's manner retained at times a shade of quaint reserve, Siward's
was perhaps the more frankly direct for that reason.
"I think," observed Plank, laying his half-consumed cigar on the silver
tray, "that I'd better go down town and see what our pre-glacial friend
Quarrier wants. I may be able to furnish him with a new sensation."
"I wonder if Quarrier ever experienced a genuine sensation," mused
Siward, arranging the papers before him into divisional piles.
"Plenty," said Plank drily.
"I don't think so."
"Plenty," repeated Plank. "It's your thin-lipped, thin-nosed, pasty-
pale, symmetrical brother who is closer to the animal under his mask
than any of us imagine. I--" He hesitated. "Do you want to know my
opinion of Quarrier? I've never told you. I don't usually talk about
my--dislikes. Do you want to know?"
"Certainly," said Siward curiously.
"Then, first of all, he is a sentimentalist."
"Oh! oh!" jeered Siward.
"A sentimentalist of the weakest type," continued Plank obstinately;
"because he sentimentalises over himself. Siward, look out for the man
with elaborate whiskers! Look out for a pallid man with eccentric hair
and a silky beard! He's a sentimentalist of the sort I told you, and is
usually utterly remorseless in his dealings with women. I suppose you
think me a fool."
"I think Quarrier is indifferent concerning women," said Siward.
"You are wrong. He is a sensualist," insisted Plank.
"Oh, no, Plank--not that!"
"A sensualist. His sentimental vanity he lavishes upon himself--the
animal in him on women. His caution, born of self-consideration, is the
caution of a beast. Such men as he believe they live in the focus of a
million eyes. Part of his vanity is to deceive those eyes and be what he
is under the mask he wears; and to do that one must be the very master
of caution. That is Quarrier's vanity. To conceal, is his monomania."
"I cannot see how you draw that conclusion."
"Siward, he is a bad man, and crafty--every inch of him."
"Oh, come, now! Only characters in fiction have no saving qualities. You
never heard of anybody in real life being entirely bad."
"No, I didn't; and Quarrier isn't. For example, he is kind to valuable
animals--I mean, his own."
"Good to animals! The bad man's invariable characteristic!" laughed
Siward. "I'm kind to 'em, too. What else is he good to?"
"Everybody knows that he hasn't a poor relation left; not one. He is
loyal to them in a rare way; he filled one subsidiary company full of
them. It is known down town as the 'Home for Destitute Nephews.'"
"Seriously, Plank, the man must have something good in him."
"Because of your theory?"
"Yes. I believe that nobody is entirely bad. So do the great masters of
Plank said gravely: "He is a good son to his father. That is perfectly
true--kind, considerate, dutiful, loyal. The financial world is perfectly
aware that Stanley Quarrier is to-day the most unscrupulous old
scoundrel who ever crushed a refinery or debauched a railroad! and his
son no more believes it than he credits the scandalous history of the
Red Woman of Wall Street. Why, when I was making arrangements for that
chapel Quarrier came to me, very much perturbed, because he understood
that all the memorial chapels for the cathedral had been arranged for,
and he had desired to build one to the memory of his father! His father!
Isn't it awful to think of!--a chapel to the memory of the briber of
judges and of legislatures, the cynical defier of law!--this hoary old
thief, who beggared the widow and stripped the orphan, and whose only
match, as a great unpunished criminal, was that sinister little
predecessor of his, who dreamed even of debauching the executive of
these United States!"
Siward had never before seen Plank aroused, and he said so, smiling.
"That is true," said Plank earnestly; "I waste little temper over my
likes and dislikes. But what I know, and what I legitimately infer
concerning the younger Quarrier is enough to rouse any man's anger. I
won't tell you what I know. I can't. It has nothing to do with his
financial methods, nothing to do with this business; but it is bad--bad
all through! The blow his father struck at the integrity of the bench
the son strikes at the very key-stone of all social safeguard. It isn't
my business; I cannot interfere; but Siward, I'm a damned restless
witness, and the old, primitive longing comes back on me to strike--to
take a stick and use it to splinters on that man whom I am going down
town to politely confer with! . And I must go now. Good-bye. . Take care
of that ankle. Any books I can send you--anything you want? No? All
right. And don't worry over Amalgamated Electric, for I really believe
we are beginning to frighten them badly."
"Good-bye," said Siward. "Don't forget that I'm always at home."
"You must get out," muttered Plank; "you must get well, and get out into
the sunshine." And he went ponderously down-stairs to the square hall,
where Gumble held his hat and gloves ready for him.
He had come in a big yellow and black touring-car; and now, with a brief
word to his mechanic, he climbed into the tonneau, and away they sped
down town--a glitter of bull's-eye, brass, and varnish, with the mellow,
horn notes floating far in their wake.
It was exactly four o'clock when he was ushered into Quarrier's private
suite in the great marble Algonquin Loan and Trust Building, the upper
stories of which were all golden in the sun against a sky of sapphire.
Quarrier was alone, gloved and hatted, as though on the point of
leaving. He showed a slight surprise at seeing Plank, as if he had not
been expecting him; and the manner of offering his hand subtly
emphasised it as he came forward with a trace of inquiry in his
"You said four o'clock, I believe," observed Plank bluntly.
"Ah, yes. It was about that--ah--matter--ah--I beg your pardon; can you
"I don't know what it is you want. You requested this meeting," said
"Certainly. I recollect it perfectly now. Will you sit here, Mr.
Plank--for a moment--"
"If it concerns Inter-County, it will take longer than a moment--unless
you cannot spare the time now," said Plank. "Shall we call it off?"
"As a matter of fact I am rather short of time just now."
"Then let us postpone it. I shall probably be at my office if you are
anxious to see me."
Quarrier looked at him, then laid aside his hat and sat down. There was
little to be done in diplomacy with an oaf like that.
"Mr. Plank," he said, without any emphasis at all, "there should be some
way for us to come together. Have you considered it?"
"No, I haven't," replied Plank.
"I mean, for you and me to try to understand each other."
"For us?" asked Plank, raising his blond eyebrows. "Do you mean
Amalgamated Electric and Inter-County, impersonally?"
"I mean for us, personally."
"There is no way," said Plank, with conviction.
"I think there is."
"You are wasting time thinking it, Mr. Quarrier."
Quarrier's velvet-fringed eyes began to narrow, but his calm voice
remained unchanged: "We are merely wasting energy in this duel," he
"Oh, no; I don't feel wasted."
"We are also wasting opportunities," continued Quarrier slowly. "This
whole matter is involving us in a tangle of litigation requiring our
constant effort, constant attention."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Quarrier, but you take it too seriously. I have
found, in this affair, nothing except a rather agreeable mental
"Mr. Plank, if you are not inclined to be serious--"
"I am," said Plank so savagely that Quarrier, startled, could not doubt
him. "I like this sort of thing, Mr. Quarrier. Anything that is hard to
overcome, I like to overcome. The pleasure in life, to me, is to win
out. I am fighting you with the greatest possible satisfaction to
"Perhaps you see victory ahead," said Quarrier calmly.
"I do, Mr. Quarrier, I do. But not in the manner you fear I may hope for
"Do you mind saying in what manner you are already discounting your
victory, Mr Plank?"
"No, I don't mind telling you. I have no batteries to mask. I don't care
how much you know about my resources; so I'll tell you what I see, Mr.
Quarrier. I see a parody of the popular battle between razor-back and
rattler. The rattler only strives to strike and kill, not to swallow.
Mr. Quarrier, that old razor-back isn't going home hungry; but--he's
"I'm afraid I am not familiar enough with the natural history you quote
to follow you," said Quarrier with a sneer, his long fingers busy with
the silky point of his beard.
"No, you won't follow me home; you'll come with me, when it's all over.
Now is it very plain to you, Mr. Quarrier?"
Quarrier said, without emotion: "I repeat that it would be easy for you
and me to merge our differences on a basis absolutely satisfactory to
you and to me--and to Harrington."
"You are mistaken," said Plank, rising. "Good afternoon."
Quarrier rose, too. "You decline to discuss the matter?" he asked.
"It has been discussed sufficiently."
"Then why did you come here?"
"To see for myself how afraid of me you really are," said Plank. "Now I
know, and so do you."
"You desire to make it a personal matter?" inquired Quarrier, in a low
voice, his face dead white in the late sunlight which illuminated the
"Personal? No--impersonal; because there could be absolutely nothing
personal between us, Mr. Quarrier; and the only thing in the world that
there ought to be between us are a few stout, steel bars. Beg pardon for
talking shop. I'm a shopkeeper, and I'm in the steel business, and I
lack opportunities for cultivation. Good day."
"Mr. Quarrier, I want to tell you something. Never before, in business
differences, has private indignation against any individual interfered
or modified my course of action. It does now; but it does not dictate my
policy toward you; it merely, as I say, modifies it. I am perfectly
aware of what I am doing; what social disaster I am inviting by this
attitude toward you personally; what financial destruction I am courting
in arousing the wrath of the Algonquin Trust Company and of the powerful
interests intrenched behind Inter-County Electric. I know what the lobby
is; I know what judge cannot be counted on; I know my peril and my
chances, every one; and I take them--every one. For it is a good fight,
Mr. Quarrier; it will be talked of for years to come, wonderingly; not
because of your effrontery, not because of my obstinacy, but because
such monstrous immorality could ever have existed in this land of ours.
Your name, Harrington's, mine, will have become utterly forgotten long,
long before the horror of these present conditions shall cease to be
He stretched out one ponderous arm, pointing full between Quarrier's
"Take your fighting chance--it is the cleanest thing you ever touched;
and use it cleanly, or there'll be no mercy shown you when your time
comes. Let the courts alone--do you hear me? Let the legislature alone.
Keep your manicured hands off the ermine. And tell Harrington to shove
his own cold, splay fingers into his own pockets for a change. They'll
be warmer than his feet by this time next year."
For a moment he towered there, powerful, bulky, menacing; then his arm
dropped heavily--the old stolid expression came back into his face,
leaving it calm, bovine, almost stupid again. And he turned, moving
slowly toward the door, holding his hat carefully in his gloved hand.
Stepping out of the elevator on the ground floor he encountered
Mortimer, and halted instinctively. He had not seen Mortimer for weeks;
neither had Leila; and now he looked at him inquiringly, disturbed at
his battered and bloodshot appearance.
"Oh," said Mortimer, "you down here?"
"Have you been out of town?" asked Plank cautiously.
Mortimer nodded, and started to pass on toward the bronze cage of the
elevator, but something seemed to occur to him suddenly; he checked his
pace, turned, and waddled after Plank, rejoining him on the marble steps
of the rotunda.
"See here," he panted, holding Plank by the elbow and breathing heavily
even after the short chase across the lobby, "I meant to tell you
something. Come over here and sit down a moment."
Still grasping Plank's elbow in his puffy fingers, he directed him
toward a velvet seat in a corner of the lobby; and here they sat down,
while Mortimer mopped his fat neck with his handkerchief, swearing at
the heat under his breath.
"Look here," he said; "I promised you something once, didn't I?"
"Did you?" said Plank, with his bland, expressionless stare of an
"Oh, cut that out! You know damn well I did; and when I say a thing I
make good. D'ye see?"
"I don't see," said Plank, "what you are talking about."
"I'm talking about what I said I'd do for you. Haven't I made good?
Haven't I put you into everything I said I would? Don't you go
everywhere? Don't people ask you everywhere?"
"Yes--in a way," said Plank wearily. "I am very grateful; I always will
be. . Can I do anything for you, Leroy?"
Mortimer became indignant at the implied distrust of the purity of his
motives; and Plank, failing to stem the maudlin tirade, relapsed into
patient silence, speculating within himself as to what it could be that
It came out presently. Mortimer had attended a "killing" at Desmond's,
and, as usual, had provided the piece de resistance for his soft-voiced
host. All he wanted was a temporary deposit to tide over matters. He had
never approached Plank in vain, and he did not do so now, for Plank had
a pocket cheque-book and a stylograph.
"It's damn little to ask, isn't it?" he muttered resentfully. "That will
only square matters with Desmond; it doesn't leave me anything to go on
with," and he pocketed his cheque with a scowl.
Plank was discreetly silent.
"And that is not what I chased you for, either," continued Mortimer. "I
didn't intend to say anything about Desmond; I was going to fix it in
another way!" He cast an involuntary and sinister glance at the
elevators gliding ceaselessly up and down at the end of the vast marble
rotunda; then his protruding eyes sought Plank's again:
"Beverly, old boy, I've got a certain mealy-faced hypocrite where any
decent man would like to have him--by the scruff of his neck. He's fit
only to kick; and I'm going to kick him good and plenty; and in the
process he's going to let go of several things." Mortimer leered,
pleased with his own similes, then added rather hastily: "I mean, he's
going to drop several things that don't belong to him. Leave it to me to
shake him down; he'll drop them all right. . One of 'em's yours."
Plank looked at him.
"I told you once that I'd let you know when to step up and say 'Good
evening' didn't I?"
Plank continued to stare.
"Didn't I?" repeated Mortimer peevishly, beginning to lose countenance.
"I don't understand you," said Plank, "and I don't think I want to
"What do you mean?" demanded Mortimer thickly; "don't you want to marry
that girl!" but he shrank dismayed under the slow blaze that lighted
Plank's blue eyes.
"All right," he stammered, struggling to his fat legs and instinctively
backing away; "I thought you meant business. I--what the devil do I care
who you marry! It's the last time I try to do anything for you, or for
anybody else! Mark that, my friend. I've plenty to worry over; I've a
lot to keep me busy without lying awake to figure out how to do
kindnesses to old friends. Damn this ingratitude, anyway!"
Plank gazed at him for a moment; the anger in his face had died out.
"I am not ungrateful," he said. "You may say almost anything except
that, Leroy. I am not disloyal, no matter what else I may be. But you
have made a bad mistake. You made it that day at Black Fells when you
offered to interfere. I supposed you understood then that I could never
tolerate from anybody anything of such a nature. It appears that you
didn't. However, you understand it now. So let us forget the matter."
But Mortimer, keenly appreciative of the pleasures of being
misunderstood, squeezed some moisture out of his distended eyes, and sat
down, a martyr to his emotions. "To think," he gulped, "that you, of all
men, should turn on me like this!"
"I didn't mean to. Can't you understand, Leroy, that you hurt me?"
"Hurt hell!" retorted Mortimer vindictively. "You've had sensation
battered out of you by this time. I guess society has landed you a few
while I was boosting you over the outworks. Don't play that old con game
on me! You tried to get her and you couldn't. Now I come along and offer
to put you next and you yell about your hurt feelings! Oh, splash!
There's another lady, that's all."
"Let it go at that, then," said Plank, reddening.
"But I tell you--"
"Drop it!" snapped Plank.
"Oh, very well! if you're going to take it that way again--"
"I am. Cut it! And now let me ask you a question: Where were you going
when I met you?"
"What do you want to know for?" asked Mortimer sullenly.
"Why, I'll tell you, Leroy. If you have any idea of identifying yourself
with Quarrier's people, of seeking him at this juncture with the
expectation of investing any money in his schemes, you had better not do
"Investing!" sneered Mortimer. "Well, no, not exactly, having nothing to
invest, thanks to my being swindled into joining his Amalgamated
Electric gang. Don't worry. If there's any shaking down to be done, I'll
do it, my friend," and he rose, and started toward the elevators.
"Wait," said Plank. "Why, man, you can't frighten Quarrier! What did you
sell your holdings for? Why didn't you come to us--to me? What's the use
of going to Quarrier now, and scolding? You can't scare a man like
Mortimer fairly grinned in his face.
"Your big mistake," he sneered, "is in undervaluing others. You don't
think I amount to very much, do you, Beverly? But I'm going to try to
take care of myself all the same." He laughed, showing his big teeth,
and the vanity in him began to drug him. "No, you think I don't know
much. But men like you and Quarrier will damn soon find out! I want you
to understand," he went on excitedly, forgetting the instinctive caution
which in saner moments he was only too certain that his present business
required--"I want you to understand a few things, my friend, and one of
them is that I'm not afraid of Quarrier, and another is, I'm not afraid
"No, not afraid of you, either!" repeated Mortimer with an ugly stare.
"Don't try any of your smug, aint-it-a-shame-he-drinks ways on me,
Beverly! I'm getting tired of it; I'm tired of it now, by God! You keep
a civil tongue in your head after this--do you understand?--and we'll get
on all right. If you don't, I've the means to make you!"
"Are you crazy?"
"Not a bit of it! Too damn sane for you and Leila to hoodwink!"
"You are crazy!" repeated Plank, aghast.
"Am I? You and Leila can take the matter into court, if you want
to--unless I do. And"--here he leaned forward, showing his teeth
again--"the next time you kiss her, close the door!"
Then he went away up the marble steps and entered an elevator; and
Plank, grave and pale, went out into the street and entered his big
touring-car. But the drive up town and through the sunlit park gave him
no pleasure, and he entered his great house with a heavy, lifeless step,
head bent, as though counting every crevice in the stones under his
lagging feet. For the first time in all his life he was afraid of a man.
The man he was afraid of had gone directly to Quarrier's office, missing
the gentleman he was seeking by such a small fraction of a minute that
he realised they must have passed each other in the elevators, he
ascending while Quarrier was descending.
Mortimer turned and hurried to the elevator, hoping to come up with
Quarrier in the rotunda, or possibly in the street outside; but he was
too late, and, furious to think of the time he had wasted with Plank, he
crawled into a hansom and bade the driver take him to a number he gave,
designating one of the new limestone basement houses on the upper west
All the way up town, as he jolted about in his seat, he angrily
regretted the meeting with Plank, even in spite of the cheque. What
demon had possessed him to boast--to display his hand when there had been
no necessity? Plank was still ready to give him aid at a crisis--had
always been ready. Time enough when Plank turned stingy to use
persuasion; time enough when Plank attempted to dodge him to employ a
club. And now, for no earthly reason, intoxicated with his own vanity,
catering to his own long-smouldering resentment, he had used his club on
a willing horse--deliberately threatened a man whose gratitude had been
good for many a cheque yet.
"Ass that I am!" fumed Mortimer; "now when I'm stuck I'll have to go at
him with the club, if I want any money out of him. Confound him, he's
putting me in a false position! He's trying to make it look like
extortion! I won't do it! I'm no blackmailer! I'll starve, before I go
to him again! No blundering, clumsy Dutchman can make a blackmailer out
of me by holding hands with that scoundrelly wife of mine! That's the
reason he did it, too! Between them they are trying to make my loans
from Plank look like blackmail! It would serve them right if I took them
up--if I called their bluff, and stuck Plank up in earnest! But I won't,
to please them! I won't do any dirty thing like that, to humour them!
He lay back, rolling about in the jouncing cab, scowling at space.
"Not much!" he repeated. "I'll shake down Quarrier, though! I'll make
him pay for his treachery--scaring me out of Amalgamated! That will be
restitution, not extortion!"
He was the angrier because he had been for days screwing up his courage
to the point of seeking Quarrier face to face. He had not wished to do
it; the scene, and his own attitude in it, could only be repugnant to
him, although he continually explained to himself that it was
restitution, not extortion.
But whatever it was, he didn't like to figure in it, and he had hung
back as long as circumstances permitted. But his new lodgings and his
new friends were expensive; and Plank, he supposed, was off somewhere
fishing; so he hung on as long as it was possible; then, exasperated by
necessity, started for Quarrier's office, only to miss him by a few
seconds because he was fool enough to waste his temper and his
opportunity in making an enemy out of a friend!
"Oh," he groaned, "what an ass I am!" And he got out of his cab in front
of a very new limestone basement house with red geraniums blooming on
the window-sills, and let himself in with a latch-key.
The interior of the house was attractive in a rather bright, new, clean
fashion. There seemed to be a great deal of white wood-work about, a
wilderness of slender white spindles supporting the dark, rich mahogany
handrail of the stairway; elaborate white grilles between snowy,
Corinthian pillars separating the hall from the drawing-room, where a
pale gilt mirror over a white, colonial mantel reflected a glass
chandelier and panelled walls hung with pale blue silk.
All was new, very clean, very quiet; the maid, too, who appeared at the
sound of the closing door and took his hat and gloves was as newly
groomed as the floors and wood-work, and so noiseless as to be
conspicuous in her swift, silent movements.
Yet there was something about it all--about the bluish silvery half-
light, the spotless floors and walls, the abnormally noiseless maid in
her flamboyant cap and apron--that arrested attention and fixed it. The
soundless brightness of the house was as conspicuous as the contrast
between the maid's black gown and her snow-white cuffs. There was
nothing subdued about anything, although the long, silvery blue curtains
were drawn over the lace window hangings; no shadows anywhere, no half-
lights. The very stillness was gay with suspense, like a pretty woman's
suppressed laughter glimmering in her eyes.
And into this tinted light, framed in palest blue and white, waddled
Mortimer, appropriate as a June-bug scrambling in a Sevres teacup.
"Anybody here?" he growled, leering into the drawing-room at a tiny
grand piano cased in unvarnished Circassian walnut.
"There is nobody at home, sir," said the maid.
"Music lesson over?"
"Yes, sir, at three."
He began to ascend the stairway, breathing heavily, thud, thud over the
deep velvet strip, his fat hand grasping the banister rail.
Somewhere on the second floor a small dog barked, and Mortimer traversed
the ball and opened the door into a room hung with gold Spanish leather
and pale green curtains.
"Hello, Tinto!" he said affably as a tiny Japanese spaniel hurled
herself at him, barking furiously, then began writhing and weaving
herself about him, gurgling recognition and welcome.
He sat down heavily in a padded easy-chair. The spaniel sprang into his
lap, wheezing, sniffling, goggling its protruding eyes. Mortimer liked
the dog, but he didn't like what the owner of the dog said about the
resemblance between his own and Tinto's eyes.
"Get down!" he said; "you're shedding black and white hairs all over
me." But the dog didn't want to get down, and Mortimer's good nature
permitted her to curl up on his fat knees and sleep that nervous,
twitching sleep peculiar to overpampered toy canines.
The southern sun was warm in the room; the windows open, but not a
silken hanging stirred.
Presently another maid entered, with an apple cut into thin wafers and a
decanter of port; and Mortimer lay back in his chair, sopping his apple
in the thick, crimson wine, and feeding morsels of the combination to
himself and to Tinto at intervals until the apple was all gone and the
decanter three-fourths empty.
It was very still in the room--so still, that Mortimer, opening his eyes
at longer and longer intervals to peer at the door, finally opened them
The droning gurgle that he made kept Tinto awake. When his lower jaw
sagged, and he began to really show what snoring could be, Tinto, very
nervous, got up and hopped down.
It was still daylight when Mortimer awoke, conscious of people about
him. As he opened his eyes, a man laughed; several people seated by the
windows joined in. Then, straightening up with an effort, something
tumbled from his head to the floor and he started to rise.
"Oh, look out, Leroy! Don't step on my hat!" cried a girl's voice; and
he sank back in his chair, gazing stupidly around.
"Hello! you people!" he said, amused; "I guess I've been asleep. Oh, is
that you Millbank? Whose hat was that--yours, Lydia?"
He yawned, laughed, turning his heavy eyes from one to another,
recognising a couple of young girls at the window. He didn't want to get
up; but there is, in the society he now adorned, a stringency of
etiquette known as "re-finement," and which, to ignore, is to become
So he got onto his massive legs and went over to shake hands with a
gravity becoming the ceremony.
"How d'ye do, Miss Hutchinson? Thought you were at Asbury Park. How de
do, Miss Del Garcia. Have you been out in Millbank's motor yet?"
"We broke down at McGowan's Pass," said Miss Del Garcia, laughing the
laugh that had made her so attractive in "A Word to the Wise."
"Muddy gasoline," nodded Millbank tersely--an iron-jawed, over-groomed
man of forty, with a florid face shaved blue.
"We passed Mr. Plank's big touring-car," observed Lydia Vyse, shifting
Tinto to the couch and brushing the black and white hairs from her
automobile coat. "How much does a car like that cost, Leroy?"
"About twenty-five thousand," he said gloomily. Then, looking up, "Hold
on, Millbank, don't be going! Why can't you all dine with us? Never mind
your car; ours is all right, and we'll run out into the country for
dinner. How about it, Miss Del Garcia?"
But both Miss Del Garcia and Miss Hutchinson had accepted another
invitation, in which Millbank was also included.