Part 9 out of 9
now bent to this newest phase of the same question which he and Fate
were finding simpler to solve every minute. Of all the luxuries he
permitted himself openly or furtively, one--the rarest of them all--his
self-denial had practically eliminated from the list: the luxury of
punishing where no end was served save that of mere personal
satisfaction. The temptation of this luxury now presented itself; and
the means of gratification were so simple, so secret, so easy to
command, that the temptation became almost a duty.
Siward he had not turned out of his way to injure; Siward had been in
the way, that was all, and his ruin was to have been merely an agreeable
coincidence with the purposed ruin of Amalgamated Electric before Inter-
County absorbed the fragments. But here was a new phase; Mrs. Mortimer,
whom he had expected to use, and if necessary sacrifice, had suddenly
turned vicious. And he now hated her as coldly as he hated Major
Belwether for betraying suspicions of a similar nature. As for Plank,
fear and hatred of him was becoming hatred and contempt. He had the
means of checking Plank if Mortimer did not drop dead before midnight.
There remained Sylvia, whom he had selected as the fittest object
attainable to transmit his name. Long ago, whatever of liking, of
affection, of passion he had ever entertained for her had quieted to
indifference and the unemotional contemplation of a future methodically
arranged for. Now of a sudden, this young girl he had bought--he knowing
what she sold and what he was paying for--had become exposed to the
infection of a suspicion concerning himself and another woman; a woman
unmarried, and of his own caste, and numbered among her own friends.
And he knew enough of Sylvia to know that if anybody could once arouse
her suspicion nothing on earth could induce her to look into his face
again. Suppose Leila should do so this evening?
Certainly Quarrier had several matters to ponder over and provide for;
and first and foremost of all to provide for his own security and the
vital necessity of preserving his name and his character untainted. In
this he had to deal with that miserable judge who had betrayed him; with
Mortimer, who had once black-mailed him and who now was temporarily in
his service; with Mrs. Mortimer, who--God knew how, when, or where--had
become suspicious of Agatha and himself; with Major Belwether, who had
deserted him before he could sacrifice the major, and whom he now hated
and feared for having stumbled over suspicions similar to Mrs.
Mortimer's. He had to deal with Sylvia herself, and with Siward--reckon
with Siward's knowledge of matters which it were best that Sylvia should
But first of all, and most important of all, he had to deal with Beverly
Plank. And he was going to do it in a manner that Plank could not have
foreseen; he was going to stop Plank where he stood, and to do this he
was deliberately using his knowledge of the man and paying Plank the
compliment of counting on his sense of honour to defeat him.
For he had suddenly found the opportunity to defend himself; he had
discovered the joint in Plank's old-fashioned armour--the armour of the
old paladins--who placed a woman's honour before all else in the world.
Now, through his creature, Mortimer, he could menace Plank with a threat
to involve him and Leila in a vile publicity; now he was in a position
to demand a hearing and a compromise through his new ambassador,
Mortimer, knowing that he could at last halt Plank by threatening Leila
with this shameful danger. Plank must sign the truce or face with Leila
an action for damages and divorce.
First of all he went to the Lenox Club and dressed. Then he dined
sparingly and alone. The Mercedes was waiting when he came out ready to
run down to the great Hotel Corona, whither the Japanese steward had
conducted Mortimer. Mortimer had dined heavily, but his disorganised
physical condition was such that it had scarcely affected him at all.
Again Quarrier went over patiently and carefully the very simple part he
had reserved for Mortimer that evening, explaining exactly what to say
to Leila and what to say to Plank in case of insolent interruption. Then
he told Mortimer to be ready at nine o'clock, turned on his heel with a
curt word to the Japanese, descended to the street, entered his motor-
car again, and sped away to the Hotel Santa Regina.
Miss Caithness was at home, came the message in exchange for his cards
for Agatha and Mrs. Vendenning. He entered the gilded elevator, stepped
out on the sixth floor into a tiny, rococo, public reception-room.
Nobody was there besides himself; Agatha's maid came presently, and he
turned and followed her into the large and very handsome parlour
belonging to the suite which Agatha was occupying with Mrs. Vendenning
for the few days that they were to stop in town.
"Hello," she said serenely, sauntering in, her long, pale hands
bracketed on her narrow hips, her lips disclosing her teeth in a smile
so like that nervous muscular recession which passed for a smile on
Quarrier's visage that for one moment he recognised it and thought she
was mocking him. But she strolled up to him, meeting his eye calmly, and
lifted her slim neck, lips passive under his impetuous kiss.
"Is Mrs. Vendenning out?" he asked, laying his hands on the bare
shoulders of the tall, pallid girl--tall as he, and as pallid.
"No, Mrs. Ven. is in, Howard."
"Now? You mean she is coming in to interrupt--"
"Oh no; she isn't fond of you, Howard."
"You said--" he began almost angrily, but she laid her fingers across his
"I said a very foolish thing, Howard. I said that I'd manage to dispense
with Mrs. Ven. this evening."
"You mean that you couldn't manage it?"
"Not at all; I could easily have managed it. But--I didn't care to."
She looked at him calmly at close range as he held her embraced, lifted
her arms and, with slender, white fingers patted her hair into place
where his arm around her head had disarranged it, watching him all the
while out of her pale, haunted eyes.
"You promised me," he said, "that you--"
"Oh Howard! Do men still believe in promises?"
Quarrier's face had colour enough now; his voice, too, had lost its
passionless, monotonous precision. Whatever was in the man of emotion
was astir; his impatient voice, his lack of poise, the almost human lack
of caution in his speech betrayed him in a new and interesting light.
"Look here, Agatha, how long is this going to last? Are you trying to
make a fool of me? What is the matter? Is there anything wrong?"
"Wrong? Oh dear no! How could there be anything wrong between you and
"Agatha, what is the matter! Look here; let's settle this thing now and
settle it one way or the other! I won't stand it; I--I can't!"
"Very well," she said, releasing herself from his tightening arms and
stepping back with another glance at the mirror and another light touch
of her finger-tips on her burnished hair. "Very well," she repeated,
gazing again into the mirror; "what am I to understand, Howard?"
"You know what to understand," he said in a low voice; "you know what we
both understood when--when--"
"When I--when you--"
"Oh what, Howard?" she prompted indolently; and he answered in brutal
exasperation, and for the first time so plainly that a hint of rose
tinted her strange, pale beauty and between her lips the breath came
less regularly as she stood there looking at the dull, silvery rug under
"Did you ever misunderstand me?" he demanded hotly. "Did I give you any
chance to? Were you ignorant of what that meant," with a gesture toward
the splendid crescent of flashing gems, scintillating where the low,
lace bodice met the silky lustre of her skin. "Did you misinterpret the
collar? Or the sudden change of fortune in your own family's concerns?
Answer me, Agatha, once for all. But you need not answer after all: I
know you have never misunderstood me!"
"I misunderstood nothing," she said; "you are quite right."
"Then what are you going to do?"
"Do?" she asked in slow surprise. "What am I to do, Howard?"
"You have said that you loved me."
"I said the truth, I think."
"How long are you going to keep me at arm's length?" he asked violently.
"That lies with you," she said, smiling. She looked at him for a moment,
then, resting her hands on her hips, she began to pace the floor, to and
fro, to and fro, and at every turn she raised her head to look at him.
All the strange grace of her became insolent provocation--her pale eyes,
clear, limpid, harbouring no delusions, haunted with the mockery of
wisdom, challenged and checked him. "Howard," she said, "why should I be
the fool you want me to be because I love you? Why should I be even if I
wished to be? You desire an understanding? Voila! You have it. I love
you; I never misunderstood you from the first; I could not afford to.
You know what I am; you know what you arouse in me?"
Slim, pale, depraved in all but body she stood, eyeing him a moment, the
very incarnation of vicious perversity.
"You know what you arouse in me," she repeated. "But don't count on it!"
"You have encouraged--permitted me to count--" His anger choked him--or was
it the haunting wisdom of her eyes that committed him to silence.
"I don't know," she said, musingly, "what it is in you that I am so mad
about--whether it is your brutality, or the utter corruption of you that
holds me, or your wicked eyes of a woman, or the fascination of the mask
you turn on the world, and the secret visage, naked in its vice, that
you reserve for me. But I love you--in my own fashion. Count on that,
Howard; for that is all you can surely count on. And now, at last, you
As he stood there, it came to him slowly that, deep within him he had
always known this; that he had never really counted on anything else
though he had throttled his doubts by covering her throat with diamonds.
Her strangeness, her pallor, her acquiescence, the delicate hint of
depravity in her, the subtle response to all that was worst in him had
attracted him, only to learn, little by little, that the taint of
corruption was only a taint infecting others, not her; that the promise
of evil was only a promise; that he had to deal with a young body but an
old intelligence, and a mind so old that at moments her faded gaze
almost appalled him with its indolent clairvoyance.
Long since he knew, too, that in all the world he could never again find
such a mate for him. This had, unadmitted even to himself, always
remained a hidden secret within this secret man--an unacknowledged,
undrawn-on reserve in case of the failure which he, even in sanguine
moods, knew in his inmost corrupted soul that his quest was doomed to.
And now he had no more need of secrets from himself; now, turning his
gaze inward, he looked upon all with which he had chosen to deceive
himself. And there was nothing left for self-deception.
"If I marry you!" he said calmly "at least I know what I am getting."
"I will marry you, Howard. I've got to marry somebody pretty soon. You
or Captain Voucher."
For an instant a vicious light flashed in his narrowing eyes. She saw it
and shook her head with weary cynicism:
"No, not that. It could not attract me even with you. It is really
vulgar--that arrangement. Noblesse oblige, mon ami. There is a depravity
in marrying you that makes all lesser vices stale as virtues."
He said nothing; she looked at him, lazily amused; then, inattentive,
turned and paced the floor again.
"Shall I see you to-morrow?" he demanded.
"If you wish. Captain Voucher came down on the same train with me. I'll
set him adrift if you like."
"Is he preparing for a declaration?" sneered Quarrier.
"I think so," she said simply.
"Well if he comes to-night after I'm gone, you wait a final word from
me. Do you understand?" he repeated with repressed violence.
"No, Howard. Are you going to propose to me to-morrow?"
"You'll know to-morrow," he retorted angrily. "I tell you to wait. I've
a right to that much consideration anyway."
"Very well, Howard," she said, recognising in him the cowardice which
she had always suspected to be there.
She bade him good night; he touched her hand but made no offer to kiss
her. She laughed a little to herself, watching him striding toward the
elevator, then, closing the door, she stood still in the centre of the
room, staring at her own reflection, full length, in the gilded pier-
glass, her lips edged with a sneer so like Quarrier's that, the next
moment she laughed aloud, imitating Quarrier's rare laugh from sheer
"I think," she said to her reflected figure in the glass, "I think that
you are either mentally ill or inherently a kind of devil. And I don't
much care which."
And she turned leisurely, her slim hands balanced lightly on her narrow
hips, and strolled into the second dressing-room, where Mrs. Vendenning
sat sullenly indulging in that particular species of solitaire known as
"The Idiot's Delight."
"Well?" inquired Mrs. Vendenning, looking up at the tall, pale girl she
was chaperoning so carefully during their sojourn in town.
"Oh, you know the rhyme to that," yawned Agatha; "let's ring up
somebody. I'm bored stiff."
"What did Howard Quarrier want?"
"He knows, I think, but he hasn't yet informed me."
"I'll tell you one thing, Agatha," said Mrs. Vendenning, gathering up
the packs for a new shuffle: "Grace Ferrall doesn't fancy Howard's
attention to you and she's beginning to say so. When you go back to
Shotover you'd better let him alone."
"I'm not going back to Shotover," said Agatha.
"No; I don't think so. However, I'll let you know to-morrow. It all
depends--but I don't expect to." She turned as her maid tapped on the
door. "Oh, Captain Voucher. Are you at home to him?" flipping the
pasteboard onto the table among the scattered cards.
"Yes," said Mrs. Vendenning aggressively, "unless you expect him to flop
down on his knees to-night. Do you?"
"I don't--to-night. Perhaps to-morrow. I don't know; I can't tell yet."
And to her maid she nodded that they were at home to Captain Voucher.
Quarrier had met him, too, just as he was leaving the hotel lobby. They
exchanged the careful salutations of men who had no use for one another.
On the Englishman's clean-cut face a deeper hue settled as he passed; on
Quarrier's, not a trace of emotion; but when he entered his motor he sat
bolt upright, stiff-backed and stiff-necked, his long gray-gloved
fingers moving restlessly over his pointed heard.
The night was magnificent; myriads of summer stars spangled the heavens.
Even in the reeking city itself a slight freshness grew in the air,
although there was no wind to stir the parched leaves of the park trees,
among which fire-flies floated--their intermittent phosphorescence
breaking out with a silvery, star-like brilliancy.
Plank, driving his big motor northward through the night, Leila Mortimer
beside him, twice mistook the low glimmer of a fire-fly for the distant
lamp of a motor, which amused Leila, and her clear, young laughter
floated back to the ears of Sylvia and Siward, curled up in their
corners of the huge tonneau. But they were too profoundly occupied with
each other to heed the sudden care-free laughter of the young matron,
though in these days her laughter was infrequent enough to set the more
merciless tongues wagging when it did sound.
Plank had never seen fit to speak to her of her husband's scarcely
veiled menace that day he had encountered him in the rotunda of the
Algonquin Trust Company. His first thought was to do so--to talk it over
with her, consider the threat and the possibility of its seriousness,
and then come to some logical and definite decision as to what their
future relations should be. Again and again he had been on the point of
doing this when alone with Leila--uncomfortable, even apprehensive,
because of their frank intimacy; but he had never had the opportunity to
do so without deliberately dragging in the subject by the ears in all
its ugliness and implied reproach for her imprudence, and seeing that
dreadful, vacant change in Leila's face, which the mere mention of her
husband's name was sure to bring, turn into horror unspeakable.
A man not prone to fear his fellows, he now feared Mortimer, but that
fear struck him only through Leila--or had so reached him until the days
of his closing struggle with Quarrier. Whether the long strain had
unnerved him, whether minutely providing against every possible danger
he had been over-scrupulous, over-anxious, morbidly exact--or whether a
foresight almost abnormal had evoked a sinister possibility--he did not
know; but that threat of Mortimer's to involve Plank with Leila in one
common ruin, that boast that he was able to do so could not be ignored
as a possible weapon if Quarrier should by any chance learn of it.
In all his life he had taken Leila into his arms but once; had kissed
her but once--but that once had been enough to arm Mortimer with danger
from head to foot. Some prying servant had either listened or seen
--perhaps a glimmer of a mirror had betrayed them. At all events, whoever
had seen or heard had informed Mortimer, and now the man was equipped;
the one and only man in all the world who could with truth accuse Plank;
the only man of whom he stood in honest fear.
And it was characteristic of Plank that never for one moment had it
occurred to him that the sheer fault of it all lay with Leila; that it
was her imprudence alone that now threatened herself and the man she
loved--that threatened his very success in life as long as Mortimer
All this, Plank, in his thorough, painstaking review of the subject, had
taken into account; and he could not see how it could possibly bear upon
the matters now finally to be adjusted between Quarrier and himself,
because Quarrier was in New York and Mortimer in Saratoga, and unless
the latter had already sold his information the former could not strike
at him through knowledge of it.
And yet a curious reluctancy, a hesitation inexplicable--unless overwork
explained it--had come over him when Siward had proposed their dining
together on the very eve of his completed victory over Quarrier.
It seemed absurd, and Plank was too stolid to entertain superstitions,
but he could not, even with Leila laughing there beside him, shake off
the dull instinct that all was not well--that Quarrier's attitude was
still the attitude of a dangerous man; that he, Plank, should have had
this evening in his room alone to study out the matters he had so
patiently plodded through in the long hours while Siward slept.
Yet not for one instant did he dream of shifting the responsibility--if
responsibility entailed blame--on Siward, who, against Plank's judgment
and desire, had on the very eve of consummation drawn him away from that
sleepless vigilance which must for ever be the price of a business man's
Leila, gay and excited as a schoolgirl, chattered on ceaselessly to
Plank; all the silence, all the secrecy of the arid years turning to
laughter on her red lips, pouring out, in broken phrases of delight,
words strung together for the sheer pleasure of speech and the happiness
of her lot to be with him unrestrained.
He remembered once listening to the song of a wild bird on the edge of a
clearing at night, and how, standing entranced, the low, distant jar of
thunder sounded at moments, scarcely audible--like his heart now, at
intervals, dully persistent amid the gaiety of her voice.
"And would you believe it, Beverly," she said, "I formed the habit at
Shotover of walking across the boundary and strolling into your
greenhouses and deliberately helping myself. And every time I did it I
was certain one of your men would march me out!"
He laughed, but did not tell her that his men had reported the first
episode and that he had instructed them that Mrs. Mortimer and her
friends were to do exactly as they pleased at the Fells. However she
knew it, because a garrulous gardener, proud of his service with Plank,
had informed her.
"Beverly," she said, "you are a dear. If people only knew what I know!"
He began to turn red; she could see it even in the flickering, lamp-shot
darkness. And she teased him for a while, very gently, even tenderly;
and their voices grew lower in a half-serious badinage that ended with a
quiet, indrawn breath, a sigh, and silence.
And now the river swept into view, a darkly luminous sheet set with
reflected stars. Mirrored lights gleamed in it; sudden bright, yellow
flashes zigzagged into its sombre depths; the foliage edged it with a
deeper gloom over which, on the heights, twinkled the multicoloured
lights of Riverside Inn.
Up the broad, gentle grade they sped, curving in and out among the
clumps of trees and shrubbery, then on a level, sweeping in a great
circle up to the steps of the inn.
Now all about them from the brilliantly lighted verandas the gay tumult
broke out like an uproarious welcome after the swift silence of their
journey; the stir of jolly people keen for pleasure; the clatter of
crockery; the coming and going of waiters, of guests, of hansoms,
coupes, victorias, and scores of motor-cars wheeling and turning through
the blinding glare of their own headlights.
Somewhere a gipsy orchestra, full of fitful crescendoes and throbbing
suspensions of caprice, furnished resonant accompaniment to the joyous
clamour; the scent of fountain spray and flowers was in the air.
"I didn't know you had telephoned for a table," said Siward, as a head-
waiter came up smiling and bowing to Plank. "I confess, in the new
excitement of things, I clean forgot it! What a man you are to think of
Plank reddened again, muttering something evasive, and went forward with
Sylvia, moving leisurely beside Siward who was walking slowly but
confidently without crutches, whispered to him: "I never really liked
Mr. Plank before I understood his attitude toward you."
"He is a man, every inch," said Siward simply.
"I think that generally includes what men of your sort demand, doesn't
it?" she asked.
"Men of my sort sometimes demand in others what they themselves are
lacking in," said Siward, laughing. "Sylvia, look at this jolly crowd!
Look at all those tables! It seems an age since I have done anything of
this sort. I feel like a boy of eighteen--the same funny, quickening
fascination in me toward everything gay and bright and alive!" He looked
around at her, laughingly. "As for you," he said, "you look about
sixteen. You certainly are the most beautiful thing this beautiful world
"Schoolboy courtship!" she mocked him, lingering as he made his slow way
through the crowded place. The tint of excitement was in her eyes and
cheeks; the echo of it in her low, happy voice. "Where on earth is Mr.
Plank? Oh, I see them! They have a table by the balcony rail, in the
corner; and it seems to be rather secluded, Stephen, so I shall, of
course, expect you to say nothing further about beauty of any species. .
Are you a trifle tired? No? . Well, you need not be indignant. I don't
care whether you tumble. Indeed, I don't believe there is really
anything the matter with you--you are walking with the same old careless
saunter. Mr. Plank," as they arrived and seated themselves, "Mr. Siward
has just admitted that he uses crutches only because they are
ornamental. Leila, isn't this air delicious? All sorts of people, too,
aren't there, Mr. Plank? Such curious-looking women, some of them--quite
pretty, too, in a certain way. Are you hungry, St--Mr. Siward?"
"Are you, St--Mr. Siward?" mimicked Leila promptly.
"I am," said Siward, laughing at Sylvia's significant colour and noting
Plank's direct gaze as the waiter filled Leila's slender-stemmed glass.
And "nothing but Apollinaris," he said coolly, as the waiter approached
him; but though his voice was easy enough, a dull patch of colour came
out under the cheek-bones.
"That is all I care for, either," said Sylvia with elaborate
Plank and Leila immediately began to make conversation. Siward, his eyes
bent on the glass of mineral water at his elbow, looked up in silence at
There was something in her face he did not quite comprehend. She made as
though to speak, looked at him, hesitated, her lovely face eloquent
under the impulse. Then, leaning toward him, she said:
"'And thy ways shall be my ways.'"
"Sylvia, you must not deny yourself, just because I--"
"Let me. It is the happiest thing I have ever done for myself."
"But I don't wish it."
"Ah, but I do," she said, the low excited laughter scarcely fluttering
her lips. "Listen: I never before, in all my life, gave up anything for
your sake, only this one little pitiful thing."
"I won't let you!" he breathed; "it is nonsense to--"
"You must let me! Am I to be on friendly terms with--with your mortal
enemy?" She was still smiling, but now her sensitive mouth quivered
He sat silent, considering her, his restless fingers playing with his
glass in which the harmless bubbles were breaking.
"I drink to your health, Stephen," she said under her breath. "I drink
to your happiness, too; and--and to your fortune, and to all that you
desire from fortune." And she raised her glass in the star-light,
looking over it into his eyes.
"All I desire from fortune?" he repeated significantly.
"No, all," he demanded.
But she only raised the glass to her lips, still looking at him as she
They became unreasonably gay almost immediately, though the beverage
scarcely accounted for the delicate intoxication that seemed to creep
into their veins. Yet it was sufficient for Siward to say an amusing
thing wittily, for Sylvia to return his lead with all the delightful,
unconscious brilliancy that he seemed to inspire in her--as though
awaking into real life once more. All that had slumbered in her through
the winter and spring, and the long, arid summer now crumbling to the
edge of autumn, broke out into a delicate riot of exquisite florescence;
the very sounds of her voice, every intonation, every accent, every
pause, were charming surprises; her laughter was a miracle, her beauty a
Leila, aware of it, exchanged glance after glance with Plank. Siward,
alternately the leader in it all, then the enchanted listener,
bewitched, enthralled, felt care slipping from his shoulders like a
mantle, and sadness exhaling from a heart that was beating strongly,
steadily, fearlessly--as a heart should beat in the breast of him who has
taken at last his fighting chance. He took it now, under her eyes, for
honour, for manhood, and for the ideal which had made manhood no longer
an empty term muttered in desperation by a sick body, and a mind too
sick to control it.
Yes, at last the lifelong battle was on. He knew it. He knew, too,
whatever his fate with her or without her, he must always go on with the
battle for the safe-guarding of that manhood the consciousness of which
she had aroused.
All he knew was that, through the medium of his love for her, whatever
in him of the spiritual remained, or had been generated, was now awake,
alive, strong, vital, indestructible--an impalpable current flowing from
a sane intelligence, through medium of her, back to the eternal truth,
returning always, always, to the deathless source from whence it came.
Lingering over the fruit, the champagne breaking in the glasses standing
on the table between them, rim to rim, Leila and Plank had fallen into a
low, desultory, yet guarded exchange of words and silences.
Sylvia sprang up and pushed her chair into the farther corner against
the balcony rail, where no light fell except the radiance of the stars.
Here Siward joined her, dragging his chair around so that it faced her
as she leaned back, tilted against a shadowy column.
"Is this Bohemianism, Stephen? If it is, I rather like it. Don't you?
You are going to smoke now, aren't you? Ah, that is delightful!"
daintily sniffing the aroma from his cigarette. "It always reminds me of
you--there on the cliffs, that first day. Do you remember?--the smoke
from your cigarette whirling up in my face? . You say you remember. .
Oh, of course there's nothing else to say when a girl asks you . is
there? Oh, I won't argue with you, if you insist that you do remember.
You will not be like any other man if you do, that's all. . The little
things that women remember! . And believe that men remember! It is
pitiful in a way. There! I am not going to spill over, and I don't care
a copper penny whether you really do remember or not! . Yes, I do care!
. Oh, all women care. It is their first disappointment to learn how much
a man can forget and still remember to care for them--a little! .
Stephen, I said a little; and that is all that you are permitted to care
for me; isn't it? . Please, don't. You are deliberately beginning to say
things! . Stephen, you silly! you are making love to me!"
In the darkness his hand encountered hers on the wooden rail, and the
tremor of the contact silenced her. She freed one finger, then let it
rest with its slender fellow-prisoners. There was no use in trying to
speak just then--utterly useless her voice in the soft, rounded throat
imprisoned by the swelling pulses that tightened and hammered and
Years seemed to fall away from her, slipping back, back into girlhood,
into childhood, drawing not her alone on the gliding tide, but carrying
him with her. An exquisite languor held her. Through it vague hints of
those splendid visions of her lonely childhood rose, shaping themselves
in the starry darkness--the old mystery of dreams, the old, innocent
desires, the old simplicity of clairvoyance wherein right was right and
wrong, wrong--in all the conventional significance of right and wrong, in
all the old-fashioned, undisturbed faith of childhood.
Drifting deliciously, her eyes sometimes meeting his, sometimes lost in
the magic of her reverie, she lay there in her chair, her unresisting
fingers locked in his.
Odd little thoughts came hovering into her reverie--thoughts that seemed
distantly familiar, the direct, unconscious impulses of a child. To feel
was once more the only motive for expression; to think fearlessly was
once more inherent; to desire was to demand--unlock her lips, naively,
and ask for what she wished.
Under the spell, she turned her blue gaze on him, and her lips parted
without a tremor:
"What do you offer for what you ask? And do you still ask it? Is it me
you are asking me for? Because you love me? And what do you give--love?"
"Weigh it with the--other," he said.
"I have--often--every moment since I have known you. And what a winter!"
Her voice was almost inaudible. "What a winter--without you!"
"That hell is ended for me, too. Sylvia, I know what I ask. And I ask. I
know what I offer. Will you take it?"
"Yes," she said.
He rose, blindly. She stood up, pale, wide-eyed, confronting him,
stammering out the bargain:
"I take all--all! every virtue, every vice of you. I give all--all! all I
have been, all I am, all I shall be! Is that enough? Oh, if there were
only more to give! Stephen, if there were only more!"
Her hands had fallen into his, and they looked each other in the eyes.
Suddenly, through the hush of the enchanted moment, a sullen sound
broke--the sound of a voice they knew, threateningly raised, louder and
louder, growling, profanely menacing.
Aghast, they turned in the darkness, peering toward the lighted space
beyond. Leroy Mortimer, his face shockingly congested, stood unsteadily
balancing there, confronting his wife, who sat staring at him in horror.
At the same instant Plank rose and laid a hand on Mortimer's shoulder,
but Mortimer shook him off with a warning oath.
"You and I will settle with each other to-morrow!" he said thickly,
pointing a puffy finger at Plank. "You'll find me at the Algonquin
Trust. Do you hear? That's where you'll settle this matter--in the
president's office!" He stood swaying and leering at Plank, repeating
loudly: "In Quarrier's office! Understand? That's where you'll settle
Leila, white face quivering, shrank as though he had struck her, and he
turned on her again, grinning: "As for you, you come home! And that'll
be about all for yours."
"Are you insane, to make a scene like this?" whispered Plank.
But Mortimer swung on him insultingly: "That's about all from you, too!"
he said. "Leila, are you coming?"
He stepped heavily toward her; but Plank's sudden crushing grip was on
his fat arm above the elbow, and he emitted a roar of surprise and pain.
"Don't touch him! Don't, in Heaven's name!" stammered Leila, as Plank,
releasing him, stepped back beside her chair. "Can't you see that I must
go with him! I--I must go." She cast one terrified glance around her,
where scores of strange faces met hers; and at every table people were
standing up to see better.
Plank, who had dropped Mortimer's arm as the latter emitted his bellow
of amazement, stepped toward him again, dropping his voice as he spoke:
"You go! Do you hear?" he said quietly. "I'll do what you ask me,
to-morrow! I will do what you ask, if you'll go now!"
"You come--do you hear!" snarled Mortimer, turning on his wife, who had
already risen. "If you don't I'll make a row here that you'll never hear
the end of as long as you live! And there'll be nothing to talk over in
Quarrier's office, if I do."
Leila looked at Plank, rose, and moved swiftly toward the veranda steps,
her head resolutely lowered, the burning shame flaming in her face.
Mortimer cast one triumphant glance at Plank, then waddled unsteadily
after his wife.
"Hold on," he growled; "I've a Mercedes here! I'll drive you back--wait!
Here it is! Here we are!" And to Quarrier's machinist he said: "You get
into the tonneau. I want to show Mrs. Mortimer what night-driving is. Do
you hear? I tell you I'm going to drive this machine and show you how!"
Leila scarcely heard him. She obeyed the impulse of his hand on her arm,
and mounted to the seat, staring straight ahead of her with dazed and
straining eyes that saw nothing.
Then Mortimer clambered to his seat, and, without an instant's warning,
opened up and seized the wheel.
Unprepared, the machinist attempted to swing aboard, missed his footing
in the uncertain light, and fell sprawling on the gravel. Plank saw him
from the veranda and instantly vaulted the rail to the lawn below.
"You damn fool!" yelled Mortimer, looking around, "what in hell do you
think you'll do?" And he clapped on full speed as Plank made a leap for
the car and missed.
Mortimer laughed, and turned his head to look back, and the next instant
something seemed to wrench the steering-wheel from its roots. There was
a blinding glare of light, a scream, and the great machine bounded into
the air full length, turned completely over, and lay across a flower-
bed, partly on one side.
Something was afire, too. Men were rushing from the verandas, women
screamed, and stood up wringing their hands; a mounted policeman came
galloping through the darkness; people shouted: "Throw sand on it! Get
shovels, for God's sake! Lift that tonneau! There's a woman under it."
But they were mistaken, for Leila lay at the foot of the slope, one
little bloody hand clutching the dead grass; and Plank knelt beside her,
giving his orders quietly to those who came running down the hill from
the roadway above, which was now fiercely illuminated by burning
gasoline. At last they got sand enough to quench the fire and men
sufficient to lift the weight from the dead man's neck, and drag what
was left of him onto the grass.
"Don't look," whispered Siward, drawing Sylvia back.
He and she both had put their shoulders to the tonneau along with the
others; and now they stood there together in the shifting lantern-light,
sickened, shivering under the summer stars, staring at the gathering
crowd around that shapeless lump on the grass.
Plank passed them, walking beside an improvised stretcher, calm, almost
smiling, as Sylvia sprang forward with a little sob of inquiry.
"There's the doctor, over there; that man is a doctor; he knows,"
repeated Plank with studied deliberation, looking down at Leila's
deathly face. "He says it's all right; he says he'll get a candle, and
that he can tell by the flame's effect on the pupils of the eyes what
exactly is the matter. No," to Siward beside him, pressing forward
through the crowd which eddied from the dead man to the stretcher; "no,
there is not a bone broken. She is stunned, that's all; she fell in the
shrubbery. We'll have an ambulance here pretty quick. Stephen," using
his first name unconsciously, "won't you look out for Sylvia? I'm going
back on the ambulance. If you'll find somebody to drive my machine, I
wish you would take Sylvia back. No, I don't want you to drive,
Stephen--if you don't mind. Get that machinist, please. I'm rattled, and
I don't want you to drive."
Leila lay on the stretcher, her bloodless face upturned to the stars.
Beyond, under a blanket, something else lay very still on the lawn.
Plank beckoned a policeman, and whispered to him.
Then, far away in the darkness, a distant clamour grew on the night air,
Plank, standing beside the stretcher, raised his head, listening to the
ambulance arriving at full speed.
CHAPTER XV THE ENEMY LISTENS
In September, her marriage to Siward excitingly imminent, Sylvia had
been seized with a passion for wholesale renunciation and rigid self-
chastisement. All that had been so materially desirable to her in life,
all that she had heretofore worshipped, in and belonging to her own
world, she now denied. Down went the miniature golden calf from the
altar in her private shrine, its tiny crashing fall making considerable
racket throughout her world, and the planets and satellites adjacent to
that section of the social system which she had long been expected to
The spectacle of their youthful ruler-elect in sackcloth as the future
bride of a business man had more than disconcerted them. The amazing
announcement of Quarrier's engagement to Agatha Caithness stupefied the
elect, rendering in one harrowing instant null and void the thousand
petty plans and plots, intrigues and schemes, upon which future social
constructions on the social structure had been based.
The grief and amazement of Major Belwether, already distracted by his
non-participation, through his own fault, in Plank's consolidation of
Amalgamated with Inter-County, was pitiable to the verge of the
unpleasant. Like panic-stricken rabbits, his thoughts ran in circles,
and he skipped in their wake, scurrying from Quarrier to Harrington,
from Harrington to Plank, from Plank to Siward, in distracted hope of
recovering his equilibrium and squatting safely somewhere in somebody's
luxuriantly perpetual cabbage-patch. He even squeezed under the fence
and hopped humbly about old Peter Caithness, who suddenly assumed
monumental proportions among those who had so long tolerated him.
But Quarrier coldly drove him away and the increasing crowds besieging
poor, bewildered old Peter Caithness trod upon the major, and there was
nothing for him to do but to scuttle back to his own brush-heap and
huddle there, squeaking pitifully.
As for Grace Ferrall, she lost no time in tears, but took Agatha
publicly to her bosom, turned furiously on Quarrier in private, and for
the first time in her life permitted herself the luxury of telling him
exactly what she thought of him.
"You had your chance," she said; "but you are all surface! There's
nothing to you but soft beard and manicuring, and the reticence of
stupidity! The one girl for you--and you couldn't hold on to her! The one
chance of your life--and it's escaped you, leaving a tuft of pompadour
hair and a pair of woman's eyes protruding from the golden dust-heap
your father buried you in. Now you'd better sit there and let it cover
your mouth, and try to breathe through your nose. Agatha is looking for
a new sensation; she's tried everything, now she's going to try you,
that's all. She will be an invaluable leader, Howard, and we shall not
yawn, I assure you. But, oh! the chance you've lost, for lack of a drop
of red blood, and a barber to give you the beard of a man!"
Which merely deepened the fear and hatred which Quarrier had entertained
for his pretty cousin from the depths of his silk-wadded cradle. As for
Kemp Ferrall, now third vice-president of Inter-County, he only laughed
with the tolerance of a man in safety; and, looking at Quarrier through
the pickets of the financial fence, not only forgot how close his escape
had been, but, being a busy and progressive young man, began to consider
how he might ultimately extract a little profit from the expensive
tenant of the enclosure.
Grace made the journey to town to express herself freely for Sylvia's
benefit; but when she saw Sylvia, the girl's radiant beauty checked her,
and all she could say was: "My dear! my dear, I knew you would do it! I
knew you would fling him on his head. It's in your blood, you little
jade! you little jilt! you mix of a baggage! I knew you'd behave like
all the women of your race!"
Sylvia held Mrs. Ferrall's pretty face impressed between both her hands,
and looking her mischievously in the eyes, she whispered:
"'Comme vous, maman, faut-il faire?--Eh! mes petits-enfants, pourquoi,
Quand j'ai fait comme ma grand' mere, Ne feriez-vous pas comme moi?'"
"O Lord!" said Mrs. Ferrall, "I'll never meddle again--and the entire
world may marry and take the consequences!" Then she drove to the Santa
Regina, where Marion was to join her in her return to Shotover; and she
was already trying to make up her disturbed mind as to which might prove
the more suitable for Marion--Captain Voucher, gloomily recovering from
his defeat by Quarrier, or Billy Fleetwood, who didn't want to marry
In the meanwhile, Siward's new duties as second vice-president of Inter-
County had given him scant leisure for open-air convalescence. He was
busy with Plank; he was also busy with the private investigation stirred
up at the Patroons' Club and the Lenox, and which was slowly but
inevitably resulting in clearing him, so that his restoration to good
standing and full membership remained now only a matter of formal
So Siward was becoming a very busy man among men; and Plank, still
carrying on his broad shoulders burdens unbearable by any man save such
a man as he, shook his heavy head, and ordered Siward into the open. And
Siward, who had learned to obey, obeyed.
But September had nearly ended, when Leila, in Plank's private car,
attended by Siward and Sylvia and two trained nurses, arrived at the
Fells. The nurses--Plank's idea--were a surprise to Leila; and the day
after her arrival at the Fells she dismissed them, got out of bed, and
dressed and came downstairs all alone, on a pair of sound though
Sylvia and Siward were in the music-room, very busily figuring out the
probable cost of a house in that section of the city east of Park
Avenue, where the newly married imprudent are forming colonies--a just
punishment for those reckless brides who marry for love, and are obliged
to drive over two car-tracks to reach their wealthy friends and
relatives of the Golden Zone.
And Leila, in her pretty invalid's gown of lace, stood silently at the
music-room door, watching them. Her thick, dark hair was braided, and
looped up under a black bow behind; and she looked like a curious and
impertinent schoolgirl peeping at them there through the crack of the
door, bending forward, her joined hands flattened between her knees.
"Oh," she said at length, in a frankly disappointed voice, "is that all
you do when your chaperone is abed?"
"Angel!" cried Sylvia, springing up, "how in the world did you ever
manage to come downstairs?"
"On the usual number of feet. If you think it's very gay up there--" She
laid her hands in Sylvia's, and looked at Siward with all the old
mockery in her eyes--eyes which slanted a little at the corners,
Japanese-wise: "Stephen, you are growing positively plump. You'd better
not do that until Sylvia marries you. Look at him, dear! He's getting
all smooth in the cheeks, like a horrid undergraduate boy!"
She released one hand and greeted Siward. "Thank you," she said
serenely, replying to his inquiry, "I am perfectly well. You pay me no
compliment when you ask me, after you have seen me." And to Sylvia,
looking at her white flannels: "What have you been playing? What do you
find to do with yourself, Sylvia, with that plump sun-burned boy at your
heels all day long? Are there no men about?"
"One's coming to-day," said Sylvia, laughing; and slipping her arm
around Leila's waist, she strolled with her out through the tall glass
doors to the terrace, with a backward glance of airy dismissal for
Plank had wired from New York, the night before, that he was coming; in
another hour he would be there. Leila knew it perfectly well, and she
looked into the wickedly expressive young face of the girl beside her,
eyes soft but unsmiling.
"Child, child," she murmured, "you do not know how much of a man a man
"Yes, I do!" said Sylvia hotly.
Leila smiled. "Hush, you little silly! I've talked Stephen and praised
Stephen to you for days and days, and the moment I dare mention another
man you fly at me, hair on end!"
"Oh, Leila, I know it! I'm perfectly mad about him, that's all. But
don't you think he is looking like himself again? And, Leila, isn't he
strangely attractive?--I don't mean just because I happen to be in love
with him, but give me a perfectly cold and unbiassed opinion, dear,
because there is simply no use in a girl's blinding herself to facts, or
in ignoring certain fixed laws of symmetry, which it is perfectly
obvious that Mr. Siward fulfils in those well-known and established
"What?" she asked, startled.
"Nothing. Only for two solid weeks--"
"Of course, if you are not interested--"
"But I am, child--I am! desperately interested! He is handsome! I knew
him before you did, and I thought so then!"
"Did you?" said Sylvia, troubled.
"Yes, I did. When I wore short skirts I kissed him, too!"
"Did you? W--what did he wear?"
"Knickerbockers, silly! You don't think he was still in the cradle, do
you? I'm not as aged as that!"
"I missed a great deal in my childhood," said Sylvia naively.
"By not knowing Stephen? Pooh! He used to pinch me, and then we'd put
out our tongues in mutual derision. Once--"
"Stop!" said Sylvia faintly. "And anyhow, you probably taught him. .
Look at him as he saunters across the lawn, Leila--look at him!"
"Well? I see him."
"Isn't he almost an ideal?"
"He is. He certainly is, dear."
"Do you think he walks as though he were perfectly well?"
"Well, I don't know," said Leila thoughtfully. "Sometimes people whose
walk is a gracefully languid saunter develop adipose tissue after
"Nonsense! Really, Leila, do you think he walks like a perfectly well
"He may be coming down with whooping-cough--"
Sylvia rose indignantly, but Leila pulled her back to the sun-warmed
"A girl in love loses her sense of humour temporarily. Sit down, you
"Leila, you laugh at everything when I don't feel like it."
"I'm not in love, and that's why."
"You are in love!"
Leila looked at her, then under her breath: "In love, am I--with the
whole young world ringing with the laughter I had forgotten the very
sound of? Do you call that love?--with the sea and sky laughing back at
me, and the wind in my ears fairly tremulous with laughter? Do you, who
look out upon the pretty world so seriously through those sea-blue eyes
of yours, think that I can be in love?"
"Oh, Leila, a girl's happiness is serious enough, isn't it? Dear, it
frightens me! I was so close to losing it--once."
"I lost mine," said Leila, closing her eyes for a moment. "I shall not
sigh if I find it again."
They sat there in the sun, Leila's hand lying idly in Sylvia's, the soft
sea-wind stirring their hair, and in their ears the thunderous undertone
of the mounting sea.
"Look at Stephen!" murmured Sylvia, her enraptured eyes following him as
he strolled hatless and coatless along the cliff's edge, the sun
glimmering on his short hair, a tall, slim, well-coupled, strongly knit
shape against the sky and sea.
But Leila's quick ear had caught a significant sound from the gravel
drive behind her, and she stood up, a delicious colour tinting her face.
"Are you going in?" asked Sylvia. Then she, too, heard the subdued
whirring of a motor from the front of the house, and she looked at Leila
as she turned and recrossed the terrace, walking slowly but erect, her
pretty head held high.
Then Sylvia faced the sea again and presently descended the terrace,
crossing the long lawn toward the headland, where Siward stood looking
out across the water.
Leila, from the music-room, watched her; then she heard Plank's voice,
and his step on the stair, and she called out to him gaily:
"I am downstairs, thank you. How dared you send me those foolish
She was laughing when he came into the room, standing there erect, head
high, a brilliant colour in her cheeks; and she offered him both hands
which he took between his own, holding them strongly, and looking into
her face with steady, questioning eyes.
"Well?" she said, still smiling, but her scarlet under-lip trembled a
little; then: "Yes, you may say what you wish--what I--I wish you to say.
. There can be no harm in talking about it. But--will you be very gentle
with me? Don't m-make me cry; I h-have--I am t-trying to remember how it
feels to laugh once more."
Sylvia, lying in the hot sand on the tiny crescent beach under the
cliffs, listened gravely to Siward's figures, as, note-book in hand, he
went over the real-estate problem, commenting thoughtfully as he
discussed the houses offered.
"Twenty by a hundred and two; good rear, north side of the street--next
door to the Tommy Barclays, you know, Sylvia; only they're asking forty-
"That is an outrage!" said Sylvia seriously; "besides, I remember there
was a wretched cellar, and only a butler's pantry extension. I'd much
rather have that little house in Sixty-fourth Street, where the
Fetherbraynes live--next house on the west, you know. Then we can pull it
down and build--when we want to."
"We won't be able to afford to build for a while, you know," said Siward
"What do we care, dear? We'll have millions of things to do, anyway, and
what is the use of building?"
"As many things to do as that?" he said, looking over his note-book with
"More! Are we not just beginning to live, and open our eyes, silly?
Listen: Books, books, books, from top to bottom of the house, that is
what I want first of all--except my piano."
"Do let us have a little plumbing, dear," he said so seriously that for
a fraction of a second she was on the verge of taking him seriously.
"Why extravagant plumbing when books furnish sufficient circulation for
the flow of soul, dear?" she retorted gravely.
"Nobody we know will ever come to see us, if they think we read books,"
"Isn't it delightful!" sighed Sylvia. "We're going to become frumps! I
mustn't forget the blue stockings for my trousseau, and you mustn't
forget the California claret for the cellar, dear. We will need it when
we read Henry James to each other."
Siward, resting his weight on one hand, laughed, and looked out at the
surf drenching the reefs with silver.
"To think," he said, "that I could ever have been enough afraid of the
sea to hate it! After all, at low tide the reef is always there in the
same place and none the worse for the drenching. All that surf only
shows how strong a rock can be."
He smiled, and turned to look at Sylvia; and she lay there, silent, blue
eyes looking back into his. Suddenly they glimmered with tears, and she
stretched out both arms, drawing his head down to hers convulsively, her
quivering mouth crushed against his lips. Then she rose to her knees, to
her feet, dazed, brushing the tears from her eyes.
"To think--to think," she stammered," that I might have let you face the
world alone! Dearest, dearest, we must fight a good fight. The sea is
always there--always, always there!"
He looked straight into her eyes, fearlessly, tenderly, and she looked
back with the divine, untroubled gaze of a child, laying her slender,
sun-tanned hands in his.
And, deep in his body, as he stood there, he heard the low challenge of
his soul on guard; and he knew that the Enemy listened.