Part 2 out of 5
"You'll be a lot cooler in Scotland," Fred added, with what, for
him, was an unusual effort at explicitness.
"Oh, shall we?" she retorted gaily; and added with an air of
mystery and importance, pivoting about on her high heels:
"Nick's got work to do here. It will probably keep us all
"Work? Rot! You'll die of the smells." Gillow stared
perplexedly skyward from under his tilted hat-brim; and then
brought out, as from the depth of a rankling grievance: "I
thought it was all understood."
"Why," Nick asked his wife that night, as they re-entered
Ellie's cool drawing-room after a late dinner at the Lido, "did
Gillow think it was understood that we were going to his moor in
August?" He was conscious of the oddness of speaking of their
friend by his surname, and reddened at his blunder.
Susy had let her lace cloak slide to her feet, and stood before
him in the faintly-lit room, slim and shimmering-white through
She raised her eyebrows carelessly. "I told you long ago he'd
asked us there for August."
"You didn't tell me you'd accepted."
She smiled as if he had said something as simple as Fred. "I
accepted everything--from everybody!"
What could he answer? It was the very principle on which their
bargain had been struck. And if he were to say: "Ah, but this
is different, because I'm jealous of Gillow," what light would
such an answer shed on his past? The time for being jealous-if
so antiquated an attitude were on any ground defensible-would
have been before his marriage, and before the acceptance of the
bounties which had helped to make it possible. He wondered a
little now that in those days such scruples had not troubled
him. His inconsistency irritated him, and increased his
irritation against Gillow. "I suppose he thinks he owns us!" he
He had thrown himself into an armchair, and Susy, advancing
across the shining arabesques of the floor, slid down at his
feet, pressed her slender length against him, and whispered with
lifted face and lips close to his: "We needn't ever go anywhere
you don't want to." For once her submission was sweet, and
folding her close he whispered back through his kiss: "Not
In her response to his embrace he felt the acquiescence of her
whole happy self in whatever future he decided on, if only it
gave them enough of such moments as this; and as they held each
other fast in silence his doubts and distrust began to seem like
a silly injustice.
"Let us stay here as long as ever Ellie will let us," he said,
as if the shadowy walls and shining floors were a magic boundary
drawn about his happiness.
She murmured her assent and stood up, stretching her sleepy arm
above her shoulders. "How dreadfully late it is .... Will you
unhook me? ... Oh, there's a telegram."
She picked it up from the table, and tearing it open stared a
moment at the message. "It's from Ellie. She's coming to-
She turned to the window and strayed out onto the balcony. Nick
followed her with enlacing arm. The canal below them lay in
moonless shadow, barred with a few lingering lights. A last
snatch of gondola-music came from far off, carried upward on a
"Dear old Ellie. All the same ... I wish all this belonged to
you and me." Susy sighed.
IT was not Mrs. Vanderlyn's fault if, after her arrival, her
palace seemed to belong any less to the Lansings.
She arrived in a mood of such general benevolence that it was
impossible for Susy, when they finally found themselves alone,
to make her view even her own recent conduct in any but the most
"I knew you'd be the veriest angel about it all, darling,
because I knew you'd understand me-- especially now," she
declared, her slim hands in Susy's, her big eyes (so like
Clarissa's) resplendent with past pleasures and future plans.
The expression of her confidence was unexpectedly distasteful to
Susy Lansing, who had never lent so cold an ear to such warm
avowals. She had always imagined that being happy one's self
made one--as Mrs. Vanderlyn appeared to assume --more tolerant
of the happiness of others, of however doubtful elements
composed; and she was almost ashamed of responding so languidly
to her friend's outpourings. But she herself had no desire to
confide her bliss to Ellie; and why should not Ellie observe a
"It was all so perfect--you see, dearest, I was meant to be
happy," that lady continued, as if the possession of so unusual
a characteristic singled her out for special privileges.
Susy, with a certain sharpness, responded that she had always
supposed we all were.
"Oh, no, dearest: not governesses and mothers-in-law and
companions, and that sort of people. They wouldn't know how if
they tried. But you and I, darling--"
"Oh, I don't consider myself in any way exceptional," Susy
intervened. She longed to add: "Not in your way, at any
rate--" but a few minutes earlier Mrs. Vanderlyn had told her
that the palace was at her disposal for the rest of the summer,
and that she herself was only going to perch there--if they'd
let her!--long enough to gather up her things and start for St.
Moritz. The memory of this announcement had the effect of
curbing Susy's irony, and of making her shift the conversation
to the safer if scarcely less absorbing topic of the number of
day and evening dresses required for a season at St. Moritz.
As she listened to Mrs. Vanderlyn--no less eloquent on this
theme than on the other--Susy began to measure the gulf between
her past and present. "This is the life I used to lead; these
are the things I used to live for," she thought, as she stood
before the outspread glories of Mrs. Vanderlyn's wardrobe. Not
that she did not still care: she could not look at Ellie's
laces and silks and furs without picturing herself in them, and
wondering by what new miracle of management she could give
herself the air of being dressed by the same consummate artists.
But these had become minor interests: the past few months had
given her a new perspective, and the thing that most puzzled and
disconcerted her about Ellie was the fact that love and finery
and bridge and dining-out were seemingly all on the same plane
The inspection of the dresses lasted a long time, and was marked
by many fluctuations of mood on the part of Mrs. Vanderlyn, who
passed from comparative hopefulness to despair at the total
inadequacy of her wardrobe. It wouldn't do to go to St. Moritz
looking like a frump, and yet there was no time to get anything
sent from Paris, and, whatever she did, she wasn't going to show
herself in any dowdy re-arrangements done at home. But suddenly
light broke on her, and she clasped her hands for joy. "Why,
Nelson'll bring them--I'd forgotten all about Nelson! There'll
be just time if I wire to him at once."
"Is Nelson going to join you at St. Moritz?" Susy asked,
"Heavens, no! He's coming here to pick up Clarissa and take her
to some stuffy cure in Austria with his mother. It's too lucky:
there's just time to telegraph him to bring my things. I didn't
mean to wait for him; but it won't delay me more than day or
Susy's heart sank. She was not much afraid of Ellie alone, but
Ellie and Nelson together formed an incalculable menace. No one
could tell what spark of truth might dash from their collision.
Susy felt that she could deal with the two dangers separately
and successively, but not together and simultaneously.
"But, Ellie, why should you wait for Nelson? I'm certain to
find someone here who's going to St. Moritz and will take your
things if he brings them. It's a pity to risk losing your
This argument appealed for a moment to Mrs. Vanderlyn. "That's
true; they say all the hotels are jammed. You dear, you're
always so practical!" She clasped Susy to her scented bosom.
"And you know, darling, I'm sure you'll be glad to get rid of
me--you and Nick! Oh, don't be hypocritical and say 'Nonsense!'
You see, I understand ... I used to think of you so often, you
two ... during those blessed weeks when we two were alone...."
The sudden tears, brimming over Ellie's lovely eyes, and
threatening to make the blue circles below them run into the
adjoining carmine, filled Susy with compunction.
"Poor thing--oh, poor thing!" she thought; and hearing herself
called by Nick, who was waiting to take her out for their usual
sunset on the lagoon, she felt a wave of pity for the deluded
creature who would never taste that highest of imaginable joys.
"But all the same," Susy reflected, as she hurried down to her
husband, "I'm glad I persuaded her not to wait for Nelson."
Some days had elapsed since Susy and Nick had had a sunset to
themselves, and in the interval Susy had once again learned the
superior quality of the sympathy that held them together. She
now viewed all the rest of life as no more than a show: a jolly
show which it would have been a thousand pities to miss, but
which, if the need arose, they could get up and leave at any
moment--provided that they left it together.
In the dusk, while their prow slid over inverted palaces, and
through the scent of hidden gardens, she leaned against him and
murmured, her mind returning to the recent scene with Ellie:
"Nick, should you hate me dreadfully if I had no clothes?"
Her husband was kindling a cigarette, and the match lit up the
grin with which he answered: "But, my dear, have I ever shown
the slightest symptom--?"
"Oh, rubbish! When a woman says: 'No clothes,' she means:
'Not the right clothes.'"
He took a meditative puff. "Ah, you've been going over Ellie's
finery with her."
"Yes: all those trunks and trunks full. And she finds she's
got nothing for St. Moritz!"
"Of course," he murmured, drowsy with content, and manifesting
but a languid interest in the subject of Mrs. Vanderlyn's
"Only fancy--she very nearly decided to stop over for Nelson's
arrival next week, so that he might bring her two or three more
trunkfuls from Paris. But mercifully I've managed to persuade
her that it would be foolish to wait."
Susy felt a hardly perceptible shifting of her husband's
lounging body, and was aware, through all her watchful
tentacles, of a widening of his half-closed lids.
"You 'managed'--?" She fancied he paused on the word
ironically. "But why?"
"Why on earth should you try to prevent Ellie's waiting for
Nelson, if for once in her life she wants to?"
Susy, conscious of reddening suddenly, drew back as though the
leap of her tell-tale heart might have penetrated the blue
flannel shoulder against which she leaned.
"Really, dearest--!" she murmured; but with a sudden doggedness
he renewed his "Why?"
"Because she's in such a fever to get to St. Moritz--and in such
a funk lest the hotel shouldn't keep her rooms," Susy somewhat
"Ah--I see." Nick paused again. "You're a devoted friend,
"What an odd question! There's hardly anyone I've reason to be
more devoted to than Ellie," his wife answered; and she felt his
contrite clasp on her hand.
"Darling! No; nor I--. Or more grateful to for leaving us
alone in this heaven."
Dimness had fallen on the waters, and her lifted lips met his
Trailing late into dinner that evening, Ellie announced that,
after all, she had decided it was safest to wait for Nelson.
"I should simply worry myself ill if I weren't sure of getting
my things," she said, in the tone of tender solicitude with
which she always discussed her own difficulties. "After all,
people who deny themselves everything do get warped and bitter,
don't they?" she argued plaintively, her lovely eyes wandering
from one to the other of her assembled friends.
Strefford remarked gravely that it was the complaint which had
fatally undermined his own health; and in the laugh that
followed the party drifted into the great vaulted dining-room.
"Oh, I don't mind your laughing at me, Streffy darling," his
hostess retorted, pressing his arm against her own; and Susy,
receiving the shock of their rapidly exchanged glance, said to
herself, with a sharp twinge of apprehension: "Of course
Streffy knows everything; he showed no surprise at finding Ellie
away when he arrived. And if he knows, what's to prevent
Nelson's finding out?" For Strefford, in a mood of mischief,
was no more to be trusted than a malicious child.
Susy instantly resolved to risk speaking to him, if need be even
betraying to him the secret of the letters. Only by revealing
the depth of her own danger could she hope to secure his
On the balcony, late in the evening, while the others were
listening indoors to the low modulations of a young composer who
had embroidered his fancies on Browning's "Toccata," Susy found
her chance. Strefford, unsummoned, had followed her out, and
stood silently smoking at her side.
"You see, Streff--oh, why should you and I make mysteries to
each other?" she suddenly began.
"Why, indeed: but do we?"
Susy glanced back at the group around the piano. "About Ellie,
I mean--and Nelson."
"Lord! Ellie and Nelson? You call that a mystery? I should as
soon apply the term to one of the million candle-power
advertisements that adorn your native thoroughfares."
"Well, yes. But--" She stopped again. Had she not tacitly
promised Ellie not to speak?
"My Susan, what's wrong?" Strefford asked.
"I don't know...."
"Well, I do, then: you're afraid that, if Ellie and Nelson meet
here, she'll blurt out something--injudicious."
"Oh, she won't!" Susy cried with conviction.
"Well, then--who will! I trust that superhuman child not to.
And you and I and Nick--"
"Oh," she gasped, interrupting him, "that's just it. Nick
doesn't know ... doesn't even suspect. And if he did...."
Strefford flung away his cigar and turned to scrutinize her. "I
don't see--hanged if I do. What business is it of any of us,
That, of course, was the old view that cloaked connivance in an
air of decency. But to Susy it no longer carried conviction,
and she hesitated.
"If Nick should find out that I know...."
"Good Lord--doesn't he know that you know? After all, I suppose
it's not the first time--"
She remained silent.
"The first time you've received confidences--from married
friends. Does Nick suppose you've lived even to your tender age
without ... Hang it, what's come over you, child?"
What had, indeed, that she could make clear to him? And yet
more than ever she felt the need of having him securely on her
side. Once his word was pledged, he was safe: otherwise there
was no limit to his capacity for wilful harmfulness.
"Look here, Streff, you and I know that Ellie hasn't been away
for a cure; and that if poor Clarissa was sworn to secrecy it
was not because it 'worries father' to think that mother needs
to take care of her health." She paused, hating herself for the
ironic note she had tried to sound.
"Well--?" he questioned, from the depths of the chair into which
he had sunk.
"Well, Nick doesn't ... doesn't dream of it. If he knew that we
owed our summer here to ... to my knowing...."
Strefford sat silent: she felt his astonished stare through the
darkness. "Jove!" he said at last, with a low whistle Susy bent
over the balustrade, her heart thumping against the stone rail.
"What was left of soul, I wonder--?" the young composer's voice
shrilled through the open windows.
Strefford sank into another silence, from which he roused
himself only as Susy turned back toward the lighted threshold.
"Well, my dear, we'll see it through between us; you and I-and
Clarissa," he said with his rasping laugh, rising to follow her.
He caught her hand and gave it a short pressure as they re-
entered the drawing-room, where Ellie was saying plaintively to
Fred Gillow: "I can never hear that thing sung without wanting
to cry like a baby."
NELSON VANDERLYN, still in his travelling clothes, paused on the
threshold of his own dining-room and surveyed the scene with
He was a short round man, with a grizzled head, small facetious
eyes and a large and credulous smile.
At the luncheon table sat his wife, between Charlie Strefford
and Nick Lansing. Next to Strefford, perched on her high chair,
Clarissa throned in infant beauty, while Susy Lansing cut up a
peach for her. Through wide orange awnings the sun slanted in
upon the white-clad group.
"Well--well--well! So I've caught you at it!" cried the happy
father, whose inveterate habit it was to address his wife and
friends as if he had surprised them at an inopportune moment.
Stealing up from behind, he lifted his daughter into the air,
while a chorus of "Hello, old Nelson," hailed his appearance.
It was two or three years since Nick Lansing had seen Mr.
Vanderlyn, who was now the London representative of the big New
York bank of Vanderlyn & Co., and had exchanged his sumptuous
house in Fifth Avenue for another, more sumptuous still, in
Mayfair; and the young man looked curiously and attentively at
Mr. Vanderlyn had grown older and stouter, but his face still
kept its look of somewhat worn optimism. He embraced his wife,
greeted Susy affectionately, and distributed cordial hand-grasps
to the two men.
"Hullo," he exclaimed, suddenly noticing a pearl and coral
trinket hanging from Clarissa's neck. "Who's been giving my
daughter jewellery, I'd like to know!"
"Oh, Streffy did--just think, father! Because I said I'd rather
have it than a book, you know," Clarissa lucidly explained, her
arms tight about her father's neck, her beaming eyes on
Nelson Vanderlyn's own eyes took on the look of shrewdness which
came into them whenever there was a question of material values.
"What, Streffy? Caught you at it, eh? Upon my soul-spoiling
the brat like that! You'd no business to, my dear chap-a
lovely baroque pearl--" he protested, with the half-apologetic
tone of the rich man embarrassed by too costly a gift from an
"Oh, hadn't I? Why? Because it's too good for Clarissa, or too
expensive for me? Of course you daren't imply the first; and as
for me--I've had a windfall, and am blowing it in on the
Strefford, Lansing had noticed, always used American slang when
he was slightly at a loss, and wished to divert attention from
the main point. But why was he embarrassed, whose attention did
he wish to divert, It was plain that Vanderlyn's protest had
been merely formal: like most of the wealthy, he had only the
dimmest notion of what money represented to the poor. But it
was unusual for Strefford to give any one a present, and
especially an expensive one: perhaps that was what had fixed
"A windfall?" he gaily repeated.
"Oh, a tiny one: I was offered a thumping rent for my little
place at Como, and dashed over here to squander my millions with
the rest of you," said Strefford imperturbably.
Vanderlyn's look immediately became interested and sympathetic.
"What--the scene of the honey-moon?" He included Nick and Susy
in his friendly smile.
"Just so: the reward of virtue. I say, give me a cigar, will
you, old man, I left some awfully good ones at Como, worse
luck--and I don't mind telling you that Ellie's no judge of
tobacco, and that Nick's too far gone in bliss to care what he
smokes," Strefford grumbled, stretching a hand toward his host's
"I do like jewellery best," Clarissa murmured, hugging her
Nelson Vanderlyn's first word to his wife had been that he had
brought her all her toggery; and she had welcomed him with
appropriate enthusiasm. In fact, to the lookers-on her joy at
seeing him seemed rather too patently in proportion to her
satisfaction at getting her clothes. But no such suspicion
appeared to mar Mr. Vanderlyn's happiness in being, for once,
and for nearly twenty-four hours, under the same roof with his
wife and child. He did not conceal his regret at having
promised his mother to join her the next day; and added, with a
wistful glance at Ellie: "If only I'd known you meant to wait
But being a man of duty, in domestic as well as business
affairs, he did not even consider the possibility of
disappointing the exacting old lady to whom he owed his being.
"Mother cares for so few people," he used to say, not without a
touch of filial pride in the parental exclusiveness, "that I
have to be with her rather more than if she were more sociable";
and with smiling resignation he gave orders that Clarissa should
be ready to start the next evening.
"And meanwhile," he concluded, "we'll have all the good time
The ladies of the party seemed united in the desire to further
this resolve; and it was settled that as soon as Mr. Vanderlyn
had despatched a hasty luncheon, his wife, Clarissa and Susy
should carry him off for a tea-picnic at Torcello. They did not
even suggest that Strefford or Nick should be of the party, or
that any of the other young men of the group should be summoned;
as Susy said, Nelson wanted to go off alone with his harem. And
Lansing and Strefford were left to watch the departure of the
happy Pasha ensconced between attentive beauties.
"Well--that's what you call being married!" Strefford
commented, waving his battered Panama at Clarissa.
"Oh, no, I don't!" Lansing laughed.
"He does. But do you know--" Strefford paused and swung about
on his companion--"do you know, when the Rude Awakening comes, I
don't care to be there. I believe there'll be some crockery
"Shouldn't wonder," Lansing answered indifferently. He wandered
away to his own room, leaving Strefford to philosophize to his
Lansing had always known about poor old Nelson: who hadn't,
except poor old Nelson? The case had once seemed amusing
because so typical; now, it rather irritated Nick that Vanderlyn
should be so complete an ass. But he would be off the next day,
and so would Ellie, and then, for many enchanted weeks, the
palace would once more be the property of Nick and Susy. Of all
the people who came and went in it, they were the only ones who
appreciated it, or knew how it was meant to be lived in; and
that made it theirs in the only valid sense. In this light it
became easy to regard the Vanderlyns as mere transient
Having relegated them to this convenient distance, Lansing shut
himself up with his book. He had returned to it with fresh
energy after his few weeks of holiday-making, and was determined
to finish it quickly. He did not expect that it would bring in
much money; but if it were moderately successful it might give
him an opening in the reviews and magazines, and in that case he
meant to abandon archaeology for novels, since it was only as a
purveyor of fiction that he could count on earning a living for
himself and Susy.
Late in the afternoon he laid down his pen and wandered out of
doors. He loved the increasing heat of the Venetian summer, the
bruised peach-tints of worn house-fronts, the enamelling of
sunlight on dark green canals, the smell of half-decayed fruits
and flowers thickening the languid air. What visions he could
build, if he dared, of being tucked away with Susy in the attic
of some tumble-down palace, above a jade-green waterway, with a
terrace overhanging a scrap of neglected garden--and cheques
from the publishers dropping in at convenient intervals! Why
should they not settle in Venice if he pulled it off!
He found himself before the church of the Scalzi, and pushing
open the leathern door wandered up the nave under the whirl of
rose-and-lemon angels in Tiepolo's great vault. It was not a
church in which one was likely to run across sight-seers; but he
presently remarked a young lady standing alone near the choir,
and assiduously applying her field-glass to the celestial
vortex, from which she occasionally glanced down at an open
As Lansing's step sounded on the pavement, the young lady,
turning, revealed herself as Miss Hicks.
"Ah--you like this too? It's several centuries out of your
line, though, isn't it!" Nick asked as they shook hands.
She gazed at him gravely. "Why shouldn't one like things that
are out of one's line?" she answered; and he agreed, with a
laugh, that it was often an incentive.
She continued to fix her grave eyes on him, and after one or two
remarks about the Tiepolos he perceived that she was feeling her
way toward a subject of more personal interest.
"I'm glad to see you alone," she said at length, with an
abruptness that might have seemed awkward had it not been so
completely unconscious. She turned toward a cluster of straw
chairs, and signed to Nick to seat himself beside her.
"I seldom do," she added, with the serious smile that made her
heavy face almost handsome; and she went on, giving him no time
to protest: "I wanted to speak to you--to explain about
father's invitation to go with us to Persia and Turkestan."
"Yes. You found the letter when you arrived here just after
your marriage, didn't you? You must have thought it odd, our
asking you just then; but we hadn't heard that you were
"Oh, I guessed as much: it happened very quietly, and I was
remiss about announcing it, even to old friends."
Lansing frowned. His thoughts had wandered away to the evening
when he had found Mrs. Hicks's letter in the mail awaiting him
at Venice. The day was associated in his mind with the
ridiculous and mortifying episode of the cigars--the expensive
cigars that Susy had wanted to carry away from Strefford's
villa. Their brief exchange of views on the subject had left
the first blur on the perfect surface of his happiness, and he
still felt an uncomfortable heat at the remembrance. For a few
hours the prospect of life with Susy had seemed unendurable; and
it was just at that moment that he had found the letter from
Mrs. Hicks, with its almost irresistible invitation. If only
her daughter had known how nearly he had accepted it!
"It was a dreadful temptation," he said, smiling.
"To go with us? Then why--?"
"Oh, everything's different now: I've got to stick to my
Miss Hicks still bent on him the same unblinking scrutiny.
"Does that mean that you're going to give up your real work?"
"My real work--archaeology?" He smiled again to hide a twitch
of regret. "Why, I'm afraid it hardly produces a living wage;
and I've got to think of that." He coloured suddenly, as if
suspecting that Miss Hicks might consider the avowal an opening
for he hardly knew what ponderous offer of aid. The Hicks
munificence was too uncalculating not to be occasionally
oppressive. But looking at her again he saw that her eyes were
full of tears.
"I thought it was your vocation," she said.
"So did I. But life comes along, and upsets things."
"Oh, I understand. There may be things--worth giving up all
other things for."
"There are!" cried Nick with beaming emphasis.
He was conscious that Miss Hicks's eyes demanded of him even
more than this sweeping affirmation.
"But your novel may fail," she said with her odd harshness.
"It may--it probably will," he agreed. "But if one stopped to
consider such possibilities--"
"Don't you have to, with a wife?"
"Oh, my dear Coral--how old are you? Not twenty?" he
questioned, laying a brotherly hand on hers.
She stared at him a moment, and sprang up clumsily from her
chair. "I was never young ... if that's what you mean. It's
lucky, isn't it, that my parents gave me such a grand education?
Because, you see, art's a wonderful resource." (She pronounced
He continued to look at her kindly. "You won't need it--or any
other--when you grow young, as you will some day," he assured
"Do you mean, when I fall in love? But I am in love--Oh,
there's Eldorada and Mr. Beck!" She broke off with a jerk,
signalling with her field-glass to the pair who had just
appeared at the farther end of the nave. "I told them that if
they'd meet me here to-day I'd try to make them understand
Tiepolo. Because, you see, at home we never really have
understood Tiepolo; and Mr. Beck and Eldorada are the only ones
to realize it. Mr. Buttles simply won't." She turned to
Lansing and held out her hand. "I am in love," she repeated
earnestly, "and that's the reason why I find art such a RE
She restored her eye-glasses, opened her manual, and strode
across the church to the expectant neophytes.
Lansing, looking after her, wondered for half a moment whether
Mr. Beck were the object of this apparently unrequited
sentiment; then, with a queer start of introspection, abruptly
decided that, no, he certainly was not. But then--but then--.
Well, there was no use in following up such conjectures .... He
turned home-ward, wondering if the picnickers had already
reached Palazzo Vanderlyn.
They got back only in time for a late dinner, full of chaff and
laughter, and apparently still enchanted with each other's
society. Nelson Vanderlyn beamed on his wife, sent his daughter
off to bed with a kiss, and leaning back in his armchair before
the fruit-and-flower-laden table, declared that he'd never spent
a jollier day in his life. Susy seemed to come in for a full
share of his approbation, and Lansing thought that Ellie was
unusually demonstrative to her friend. Strefford, from his
hostess's side, glanced across now and then at young Mrs.
Lansing, and his glance seemed to Lansing a confidential comment
on the Vanderlyn raptures. But then Strefford was always having
private jokes with people or about them; and Lansing was
irritated with himself for perpetually suspecting his best
friends of vague complicities at his expense. "If I'm going to
be jealous of Streffy now--!" he concluded with a grimace of
Certainly Susy looked lovely enough to justify the most
irrational pangs. As a girl she had been, for some people's
taste, a trifle fine-drawn and sharp-edged; now, to her old
lightness of line was added a shadowy bloom, a sort of star-
reflecting depth. Her movements were slower, less angular; her
mouth had a needing droop, her lids seemed weighed down by their
lashes; and then suddenly the old spirit would reveal itself
through the new languor, like the tartness at the core of a
sweet fruit. As her husband looked at her across the flowers
and lights he laughed inwardly at the nothingness of all things
Vanderlyn and Clarissa left betimes the next morning; and Mrs.
Vanderlyn, who was to start for St. Moritz in the afternoon,
devoted her last hours to anxious conferences with her maid and
Susy. Strefford, with Fred Gillow and the others, had gone for
a swim at the Lido, and Lansing seized the opportunity to get
back to his book.
The quietness of the great echoing place gave him a foretaste of
the solitude to come. By mid-August all their party would be
scattered: the Hickses off on a cruise to Crete and the AEgean,
Fred Gillow on the way to his moor, Strefford to stay with
friends in Capri till his annual visit to Northumberland in
September. One by one the others would follow, and Lansing and
Susy be left alone in the great sun-proof palace, alone under
the star-laden skies, alone with the great orange moons-still
theirs!--above the bell-tower of San Giorgio. The novel, in
that blessed quiet, would unfold itself as harmoniously as his
He wrote on, forgetful of the passing hours, till the door
opened and he heard a step behind him. The next moment two
hands were clasped over his eyes, and the air was full of Mrs.
Vanderlyn's last new scent.
"You dear thing--I'm just off, you know," she said. "Susy told
me you were working, and I forbade her to call you down. She
and Streffy are waiting to take me to the station, and I've run
up to say good-bye."
"Ellie, dear!" Full of compunction, Lansing pushed aside his
writing and started up; but she pressed him back into his seat.
"No, no! I should never forgive myself if I'd interrupted you.
I oughtn't to have come up; Susy didn't want me to. But I had
to tell you, you dear .... I had to thank you..."
In her dark travelling dress and hat, so discreetly conspicuous,
so negligent and so studied, with a veil masking her paint, and
gloves hiding her rings, she looked younger, simpler, more
natural than he had ever seen her. Poor Ellie such a good
fellow, after all!
"To thank me? For what? For being so happy here?" he laughed,
taking her hands.
She looked at him, laughed back, and flung her arms about his
"For helping me to be so happy elsewhere--you and Susy, you two
blessed darlings!" she cried, with a kiss on his cheek.
Their eyes met for a second; then her arms slipped slowly
downward, dropping to her sides. Lansing sat before her like a
"Oh," she gasped, "why do you stare so? Didn't you know ...?"
They heard Strefford's shrill voice on the stairs. "Ellie,
where the deuce are you? Susy's in the gondola. You'll miss
Lansing stood up and caught Mrs. Vanderlyn by the wrist. "What
do you mean? What are you talking about?"
"Oh, nothing ... But you were both such bricks about the
letters .... And when Nelson was here, too .... Nick, don't
hurt my wrist so! I must run!"
He dropped her hand and stood motionless, staring after her and
listening to the click of her high heels as she fled across the
room and along the echoing corridor.
When he turned back to the table he noticed that a small morocco
case had fallen among his papers. In falling it had opened, and
before him, on the pale velvet lining, lay a scarf-pin set with
a perfect pearl. He picked the box up, and was about to hasten
after Mrs. Vanderlyn--it was so like her to shed jewels on her
path!--when he noticed his own initials on the cover.
He dropped the box as if it had been a hot coal, and sat for a
long while gazing at the gold N. L., which seemed to have burnt
itself into his flesh.
At last he roused himself and stood up.
WITH a sigh of relief Susy drew the pins from her hat and threw
herself down on the lounge.
The ordeal she had dreaded was over, and Mr. and Mrs. Vanderlyn
had safely gone their several ways. Poor Ellie was not noted
for prudence, and when life smiled on her she was given to
betraying her gratitude too openly; but thanks to Susy's
vigilance (and, no doubt, to Strefford's tacit co-operation),
the dreaded twenty-four hours were happily over. Nelson
Vanderlyn had departed without a shadow on his brow, and though
Ellie's, when she came down from bidding Nick good-bye, had
seemed to Susy less serene than usual, she became her normal
self as soon as it was discovered that the red morocco bag with
her jewel-box was missing. Before it had been discovered in the
depths of the gondola they had reached the station, and there
was just time to thrust her into her "sleeper," from which she
was seen to wave an unperturbed farewell to her friends.
"Well, my dear, we've been it through," Strefford remarked with
a deep breath as the St. Moritz express rolled away.
"Oh," Susy sighed in mute complicity; then, as if to cover her
self-betrayal: "Poor darling, she does so like what she likes!"
"Yes--even if it's a rotten bounder," Strefford agreed.
"A rotten bounder? Why, I thought--"
"That it was still young Davenant? Lord, no--not for the last
six months. Didn't she tell you--?"
Susy felt herself redden. "I didn't ask her--"
"Ask her? You mean you didn't let her!"
"I didn't let her. And I don't let you," Susy added sharply, as
he helped her into the gondola.
"Oh, all right: I daresay you're right. It simplifies things,"
Strefford placidly acquiesced.
She made no answer, and in silence they glided homeward.
Now, in the quiet of her own room, Susy lay and pondered on the
distance she had travelled during the last year. Strefford had
read her mind with his usual penetration. It was true that
there had been a time when she would have thought it perfectly
natural that Ellie should tell her everything; that the name of
young Davenant's successor should be confided to her as a matter
of course. Apparently even Ellie had been obscurely aware of
the change, for after a first attempt to force her confidences
on Susy she had contented herself with vague expressions of
gratitude, allusive smiles and sighs, and the pretty "surprise"
of the sapphire bangle slipped onto her friend's wrist in the
act of their farewell embrace.
The bangle was extremely handsome. Susy, who had an
auctioneer's eye for values, knew to a fraction the worth of
those deep convex stones alternating with small emeralds and
brilliants. She was glad to own the bracelet, and enchanted
with the effect it produced on her slim wrist; yet, even while
admiring it, and rejoicing that it was hers, she had already
transmuted it into specie, and reckoned just how far it would go
toward the paying of domestic necessities. For whatever came to
her now interested her only as something more to be offered up
The door opened and Nick came in. Dusk had fallen, and she
could not see his face; but something in the jerk of the door-
handle roused her ever-wakeful apprehension. She hurried toward
him with outstretched wrist.
"Look, dearest--wasn't it too darling of Ellie?"
She pressed the button of the lamp that lit her dressing-table,
and her husband's face started unfamiliarly out of the twilight.
She slipped off the bracelet and held it up to him.
"Oh, I can go you one better," he said with a laugh; and pulling
a morocco case from his pocket he flung it down among the scent-
Susy opened the case automatically, staring at the pearl because
she was afraid to look again at Nick.
"Ellie--gave you this?" she asked at length.
"Yes. She gave me this." There was a pause. "Would you mind
telling me," Lansing continued in the same dead-level tone,
"exactly for what services we've both been so handsomely paid?"
"The pearl is beautiful," Susy murmured, to gain time, while her
head spun round with unimaginable terrors.
"So are your sapphires; though, on closer examination, my
services would appear to have been valued rather higher than
yours. Would you be kind enough to tell me just what they
Susy threw her head back and looked at him. "What on earth are
you talking about, Nick! Why shouldn't Ellie have given us
these things? Do you forget that it's like our giving her a
pen-wiper or a button-hook? What is it you are trying to
It had cost her a considerable effort to hold his eyes while she
put the questions. Something had happened between him and
Ellie, that was evident-one of those hideous unforeseeable
blunders that may cause one's cleverest plans to crumble at a
stroke; and again Susy shuddered at the frailty of her bliss.
But her old training stood her in good stead. There had been
more than one moment in her past when everything-somebody
else's everything-had depended on her keeping a cool head and a
clear glance. It would have been a wonder if now, when she felt
her own everything at stake, she had not been able to put up as
good a defence.
"What is it?" she repeated impatiently, as Lansing continued to
"That's what I'm here to ask," he returned, keeping his eyes as
steady as she kept hers. "There's no reason on earth, as you
say, why Ellie shouldn't give us presents--as expensive presents
as she likes; and the pearl is a beauty. All I ask is: for
what specific services were they given? For, allowing for all
the absence of scruple that marks the intercourse of truly
civilized people, you'll probably agree that there are limits;
at least up to now there have been limits ...."
"I really don't know what you mean. I suppose Ellie wanted to
show that she was grateful to us for looking after Clarissa."
"But she gave us all this in exchange for that, didn't she?" he
suggested, with a sweep of the hand around the beautiful shadowy
room. "A whole summer of it if we choose."
Susy smiled. "Apparently she didn't think that enough."
"What a doting mother! It shows the store she sets upon her
"Well, don't you set store upon Clarissa?"
"Clarissa is exquisite; but her mother didn't mention her in
offering me this recompense."
Susy lifted her head again. "Whom did she mention?"
"Vanderlyn," said Lansing.
"Yes--and some letters ... something about letters .... What is
it, my dear, that you and I have been hired to hide from
Vanderlyn? Because I should like to know," Nick broke out
savagely, "if we've been adequately paid."
Susy was silent: she needed time to reckon up her forces, and
study her next move; and her brain was in such a whirl of fear
that she could at last only retort: "What is it that Ellie said
Lansing laughed again. "That's just what you'd like to find
out--isn't it?--in order to know the line to take in making your
The sneer had an effect that he could not have foreseen, and
that Susy herself had not expected.
"Oh, don't--don't let us speak to each other like that!" she
cried; and sinking down by the dressing-table she hid her face
in her hands.
It seemed to her, now, that nothing mattered except that their
love for each other, their faith in each other, should be saved
from some unhealable hurt. She was willing to tell Nick
everything--she wanted to tell him everything--if only she could
be sure of reaching a responsive chord in him. But the scene of
the cigars came back to her, and benumbed her. If only she
could make him see that nothing was of any account as long as
they continued to love each other!
His touch fell compassionately on her shoulder. "Poor child--
don't," he said.
Their eyes met, but his expression checked the smile breaking
through her tears. "Don't you see," he continued, "that we've
got to have this thing out?"
She continued to stare at him through a prism of tears. "I
can't--while you stand up like that," she stammered, childishly.
She had cowered down again into a corner of the lounge; but
Lansing did not seat himself at her side. He took a chair
facing her, like a caller on the farther side of a stately tea-
tray. "Will that do?" he asked with a stiff smile, as if to
"Nothing will do--as long as you're not you!"
She shook her head wearily. "What's the use? You accept things
theoretically--and then when they happen ...."
"What things? What has happened!"
A sudden impatience mastered her. What did he suppose, after
all--? "But you know all about Ellie. We used to talk about
her often enough in old times," she said.
"Ellie and young Davenant?"
"Young Davenant; or the others ...."
"Or the others. But what business was it of ours?"
"Ah, that's just what I think!" she cried, springing up with an
explosion of relief. Lansing stood up also, but there was no
answering light in his face.
"We're outside of all that; we've nothing to do with it, have
we?" he pursued.
"Then what on earth is the meaning of Ellie's gratitude?
Gratitude for what we've done about some letters--and about
"Oh, not you," Susy cried, involuntarily.
"Not I? Then you?" He came close and took her by the wrist.
"Answer me. Have you been mixed up in some dirty business of
There was a pause. She found it impossible to speak, with that
burning grasp on the wrist where the bangle had been. At length
he let her go and moved away. "Answer," he repeated.
"I've told you it was my business and not yours."
He received this in silence; then he questioned: "You've been
sending letters for her, I suppose? To whom?"
"Oh, why do you torment me? Nelson was not supposed to know
that she'd been away. She left me the letters to post to him
once a week. I found them here the night we arrived .... It
was the price--for this. Oh, Nick, say it's been worth it-say
at least that it's been worth it!" she implored him.
He stood motionless, unresponding. One hand drummed on the
corner of her dressing-table, making the jewelled bangle dance.
"How many letters?"
"I don't know ... four ... five ... What does it matter?"
"And once a week, for six weeks--?"
"And you took it all as a matter of course?"
"No: I hated it. But what could I do?"
"What could you do?"
"When our being together depended on it? Oh, Nick, how could
you think I'd give you up?"
"Give me up?" he echoed.
"Well--doesn't our being together depend on--on what we can get
out of people? And hasn't there always got to be some give-and-
take? Did you ever in your life get anything for nothing?" she
cried with sudden exasperation. "You've lived among these
people as long as I have; I suppose it's not the first time--"
"By God, but it is," he exclaimed, flushing. "And that's the
difference--the fundamental difference."
"Between you and me. I've never in my life done people's dirty
work for them--least of all for favours in return. I suppose
you guessed it, or you wouldn't have hidden this beastly
business from me."
The blood rose to Susy's temples also. Yes, she had guessed it;
instinctively, from the day she had first visited him in his
bare lodgings, she had been aware of his stricter standard. But
how could she tell him that under his influence her standard had
become stricter too, and that it was as much to hide her
humiliation from herself as to escape his anger that she had
held her tongue?
"You knew I wouldn't have stayed here another day if I'd known,"
"Yes: and then where in the world should we have gone?"
"You mean that--in one way or another--what you call give-and-
take is the price of our remaining together?"
"Well--isn't it," she faltered.
"Then we'd better part, hadn't we?"
He spoke in a low tone, thoughtfully and deliberately, as if
this had been the inevitable conclusion to which their
passionate argument had led.
Susy made no answer. For a moment she ceased to be conscious of
the causes of what had happened; the thing itself seemed to have
smothered her under its ruins.
Nick wandered away from the dressing-table and stood gazing out
of the window at the darkening canal flecked with lights. She
looked at his back, and wondered what would happen if she were
to go up to him and fling her arms about him. But even if her
touch could have broken the spell, she was not sure she would
have chosen that way of breaking it. Beneath her speechless
anguish there burned the half-conscious sense of having been
unfairly treated. When they had entered into their queer
compact, Nick had known as well as she on what compromises and
concessions the life they were to live together must be based.
That he should have forgotten it seemed so unbelievable that she
wondered, with a new leap of fear, if he were using the wretched
Ellie's indiscretion as a means of escape from a tie already
wearied of. Suddenly she raised her head with a laugh.
"After all--you were right when you wanted me to be your
He turned on her with an astonished stare. "You--my mistress?"
Through all her pain she thrilled with pride at the discovery
that such a possibility had long since become unthinkable to
him. But she insisted. "That day at the Fulmers'--have you
forgotten? When you said it would be sheer madness for us to
Lansing stood leaning in the embrasure of the window, his eyes
fixed on the mosaic volutes of the floor.
"I was right enough when I said it would be sheer madness for us
to marry," he rejoined at length.
She sprang up trembling. "Well, that's easily settled. Our
"Oh, that compact--" he interrupted her with an impatient laugh.
"Aren't you asking me to carry it out now?"
"Because I said we'd better part?" He paused. "But the
compact--I'd almost forgotten it--was to the effect, wasn't it,
that we were to give each other a helping hand if either of us
had a better chance? The thing was absurd, of course; a mere
joke; from my point of view, at least. I shall never want any
better chance ... any other chance ...."
"Oh, Nick, oh, Nick ... but then ...." She was close to him,
his face looming down through her tears; but he put her back.
"It would have been easy enough, wouldn't it," he rejoined, "if
we'd been as detachable as all that? As it is, it's going to
hurt horribly. But talking it over won't help. You were right
just now when you asked how else we were going to live. We're
born parasites, both, I suppose, or we'd have found out some way
long ago. But I find there are things I might put up with for
myself, at a pinch--and should, probably, in time that I can't
let you put up with for me ... ever .... Those cigars at Como:
do you suppose I didn't know it was for me? And this too?
Well, it won't do ... it won't do ...."
He stopped, as if his courage failed him; and she moaned out:
"But your writing--if your book's a success ...."
"My poor Susy--that's all part of the humbug. We both know that
my sort of writing will never pay. And what's the alternative
except more of the same kind of baseness? And getting more and
more blunted to it? At least, till now, I've minded certain
things; I don't want to go on till I find myself taking them for
She reached out a timid hand. "But you needn't ever, dear ...
if you'd only leave it to me ...."
He drew back sharply. "That seems simple to you, I suppose?
Well, men are different." He walked toward the dressing-table
and glanced at the little enamelled clock which had been one of
"Time to dress, isn't it? Shall you mind if I leave you to dine
with Streffy, and whoever else is coming? I'd rather like a
long tramp, and no more talking just at present except with
He passed her by and walked rapidly out of the room. Susy stood
motionless, unable to lift a detaining hand or to find a final
word of appeal. On her disordered dressing-table Mrs.
Vanderlyn's gifts glittered in the rosy lamp-light.
Yes: men were different, as he said.
BUT there were necessary accommodations, there always had been;
Nick in old times, had been the first to own it .... How they
had laughed at the Perpendicular People, the people who went by
on the other side (since you couldn't be a good Samaritan
without stooping over and poking into heaps of you didn't know
what)! And now Nick had suddenly become perpendicular ....
Susy, that evening, at the head of the dinner table, saw--in the
breaks between her scudding thoughts--the nauseatingly familiar
faces of the people she called her friends: Strefford, Fred
Gillow, a giggling fool of a young Breckenridge, of their New
York group, who had arrived that day, and Prince Nerone
Altineri, Ursula's Prince, who, in Ursula's absence at a
tiresome cure, had, quite simply and naturally, preferred to
join her husband at Venice. Susy looked from one to the other
of them, as if with newly-opened eyes, and wondered what life
would be like with no faces but such as theirs to furnish
Ah, Nick had become perpendicular! .... After all, most people
went through life making a given set of gestures, like dance-
steps learned in advance. If your dancing manual told you at a
given time to be perpendicular, you had to be, automatically--
and that was Nick!
"But what on earth, Susy," Gillow's puzzled voice suddenly came
to her as from immeasurable distances, "Are you going to do in
this beastly stifling hole for the rest of the summer?"
"Ask Nick, my dear fellow," Strefford answered for her; and:
"By the way, where is Nick--if one may ask?" young Breckenridge
interposed, glancing up to take belated note of his host's
"Dining out," said Susy glibly. "People turned up: blighting
bores that I wouldn't have dared to inflict on you." How easily
the old familiar fibbing came to her !
"The kind to whom you say, 'Now mind you look me up'; and then
spend the rest of your life dodging-like our good Hickses,"
The Hickses--but, of course, Nick was with the Hickses! It went
through Susy like a knife, and the dinner she had so lightly
fibbed became a hateful truth. She said to herself feverishly:
"I'll call him up there after dinner--and then he will feel
silly"--but only to remember that the Hickses, in their
mediaeval setting, had of course sternly denied themselves a
The fact of Nick's temporary inaccessibility--since she was now
convinced that he was really at the Hickses'--turned her
distress to a mocking irritation. Ah, that was where he carried
his principles, his standards, or whatever he called the new set
of rules he had suddenly begun to apply to the old game! It was
stupid of her not to have guessed it at once.
"Oh, the Hickses--Nick adores them, you know. He's going to
marry Coral next," she laughed out, flashing the joke around the
table with all her practiced flippancy.
"Lord!" grasped Gillow, inarticulate: while the Prince
displayed the unsurprised smile which Susy accused him of
practicing every morning with his Mueller exercises.
Suddenly Susy felt Strefford's eyes upon her.
"What's the matter with me? Too much rouge?" she asked, passing
her arm in his as they left the table.
"No: too little. Look at yourself," he answered in a low tone.
"Oh, in these cadaverous old looking-glasses-everybody looks
fished up from the canal!"
She jerked away from him to spin down the long floor of the
sala, hands on hips, whistling a rag-time tune. The Prince and
young Breckenridge caught her up, and she spun back with the
latter, while Gillow-it was believed to be his sole
accomplishment-snapped his fingers in simulation of bones, and
shuffled after the couple on stamping feet.
Susy sank down on a sofa near the window, fanning herself with a
floating scarf, and the men foraged for cigarettes, and rang for
the gondoliers, who came in with trays of cooling drinks.
"Well, what next--this ain't all, is it?" Gillow presently
queried, from the divan where he lolled half-asleep with
dripping brow. Fred Gillow, like Nature, abhorred a void, and
it was inconceivable to him that every hour of man's rational
existence should not furnish a motive for getting up and going
somewhere else. Young Breckenridge, who took the same view, and
the Prince, who earnestly desired to, reminded the company that
somebody they knew was giving a dance that night at the Lido.
Strefford vetoed the Lido, on the ground that he'd just come
back from there, and proposed that they should go out on foot
for a change.
"Why not? What fun!" Susy was up in an instant. "Let's pay
somebody a surprise visit--I don't know who! Streffy, Prince,
can't you think of somebody who'd be particularly annoyed by our
"Oh, the list's too long. Let's start, and choose our victim on
the way," Strefford suggested.
Susy ran to her room for a light cloak, and without changing her
high-heeled satin slippers went out with the four men. There
was no moon--thank heaven there was no moon!--but the stars hung
over them as close as fruit, and secret fragrances dropped on
them from garden-walls. Susy's heart tightened with memories of
They wandered on, laughing and dawdling, and yielding to the
drifting whims of aimless people. Presently someone proposed
taking a nearer look at the facade of San Giorgio Maggiore, and
they hailed a gondola and were rowed out through the bobbing
lanterns and twanging guitar-strings. When they landed again,
Gillow, always acutely bored by scenery, and particularly
resentful of midnight aesthetics, suggested a night club near at
hand, which was said to be jolly. The Prince warmly supported
this proposal; but on Susy's curt refusal they started their
rambling again, circuitously threading the vague dark lanes and
making for the Piazza and Florian's ices. Suddenly, at a calle-
corner, unfamiliar and yet somehow known to her, Susy paused to
stare about her with a laugh.
"But the Hickses--surely that's their palace? And the windows
all lit up! They must be giving a party! Oh, do let's go up
and surprise them!" The idea struck her as one of the drollest
that she had ever originated, and she wondered that her
companions should respond so languidly.
"I can't see anything very thrilling in surprising the Hickses,"
Gillow protested, defrauded of possible excitements; and
Strefford added: "It would surprise me more than them if I
But Susy insisted feverishly: "You don't know. It may be
awfully exciting! I have an idea that Coral's announcing her
engagement--her engagement to Nick! Come, give me a hand,
Streff--and you the other, Fred-" she began to hum the first
bars of Donna Anna's entrance in Don Giovanni. "Pity I haven't
got a black cloak and a mask ...."
"Oh, your face will do," said Strefford, laying his hand on her
She drew back, flushing crimson. Breckenridge and the Prince
had sprung on ahead, and Gillow, lumbering after them, was
already halfway up the stairs.
"My face? My face? What's the matter with my face? Do you
know any reason why I shouldn't go to the Hickses to-night?"
Susy broke out in sudden wrath.
"None whatever; except that if you do it will bore me to death,"
Strefford returned, with serenity.
"Oh, in that case--!"
"No; come on. I hear those fools banging on the door already."
He caught her by the hand, and they started up the stairway.
But on the first landing she paused, twisted her hand out of
his, and without a word, without a conscious thought, dashed
down the long flight, across the great resounding vestibule and
out into the darkness of the calle.
Strefford caught up with her, and they stood a moment silent in
"Susy--what the devil's the matter?"
"The matter? Can't you see? That I'm tired, that I've got a
splitting headache--that you bore me to death, one and all of
you!" She turned and laid a deprecating hand on his arm.
"Streffy, old dear, don't mind me: but for God's sake find a
gondola and send me home."
It was never any concern of Streff's if people wanted to do
things he did not understand, and she knew that she could count
on his obedience. They walked on in silence to the next canal,
and he picked up a passing gondola and put her in it.
"Now go and amuse yourself," she called after him, as the boat
shot under the nearest bridge. Anything, anything, to be alone,
away from the folly and futility that would be all she had left
if Nick were to drop out of her life ....
"But perhaps he has dropped already--dropped for good," she
thought as she set her foot on the Vanderlyn threshold.
The short summer night was already growing transparent: a new
born breeze stirred the soiled surface of the water and sent it
lapping freshly against the old palace doorways. Nearly two
o'clock! Nick had no doubt come back long ago. Susy hurried up
the stairs, reassured by the mere thought of his nearness. She
knew that when their eyes and their lips met it would be
impossible for anything to keep them apart.
The gondolier dozing on the landing roused himself to receive
her, and to proffer two envelopes. The upper one was a telegram
for Strefford: she threw it down again and paused under the
lantern hanging from the painted vault, the other envelope in
her hand. The address it bore was in Nick's writing. "When did
the signore leave this for me? Has he gone out again?"
Gone out again? But the signore had not come in since dinner:
of that the gondolier was positive, as he had been on duty all
the evening. A boy had brought the letter--an unknown boy: he
had left it without waiting. It must have been about half an
hour after the signora had herself gone out with her guests.
Susy, hardly hearing him, fled on to her own room, and there,
beside the very lamp which, two months before, had illuminated
Ellie Vanderlyn's fatal letter, she opened Nick's.
"Don't think me hard on you, dear; but I've got to work this
thing out by myself. The sooner the better-don't you agree? So
I'm taking the express to Milan presently. You'll get a proper
letter in a day or two. I wish I could think, now, of something
to say that would show you I'm not a brute--but I can't. N. L. "
There was not much of the night left in which to sleep, even had
a semblance of sleep been achievable. The letter fell from
Susy's hands, and she crept out onto the balcony and cowered
there, her forehead pressed against the balustrade, the dawn
wind stirring in her thin laces. Through her closed eyelids and
the tightly-clenched fingers pressed against them, she felt the
penetration of the growing light, the relentless advance of
another day--a day without purpose and without meaning--a day
without Nick. At length she dropped her hands, and staring from
dry lids saw a rim of fire above the roofs across the Grand
Canal. She sprang up, ran back into her room, and dragging the
heavy curtains shut across the windows, stumbled over in the
darkness to the lounge and fell among its pillows-face
downward--groping, delving for a deeper night ....
She started up, stiff and aching, to see a golden wedge of sun
on the floor at her feet. She had slept, then--was it
possible?--it must be eight or nine o'clock already! She had
slept--slept like a drunkard--with that letter on the table at
her elbow! Ah, now she remembered--she had dreamed that the
letter was a dream! But there, inexorably, it lay; and she
picked it up, and slowly, painfully re-read it. Then she tore
it into shreds hunted for a match, and kneeling before the empty
hearth, as though she were accomplishing some funeral rite, she
burnt every shred of it to ashes. Nick would thank her for that
After a bath and a hurried toilet she began to be aware of
feeling younger and more hopeful. After all, Nick had merely
said that he was going away for "a day or two." And the letter
was not cruel: there were tender things in it, showing through
the curt words. She smiled at herself a little stiffly in the
glass, put a dash of red on her colourless lips, and rang for
"Coffee, Giovanna, please; and will you tell Mr. Strefford that
I should like to see him presently."
If Nick really kept to his intention of staying away for a few
days she must trump up some explanation of his absence; but her
mind refused to work, and the only thing she could think of was
to take Strefford into her confidence. She knew that he could
be trusted in a real difficulty; his impish malice transformed
itself into a resourceful ingenuity when his friends required
The maid stood looking at her with a puzzled gaze, and Susy
somewhat sharply repeated her order. "But don't wake him on
purpose," she added, foreseeing the probable effect on
"But, signora, the gentleman is already out."
"Already out?" Strefford, who could hardly be routed from his
bed before luncheon-time! "Is it so late?" Susy cried,
"After nine. And the gentleman took the eight o'clock train for
England. Gervaso said he had received a telegram. He left word
that he would write to the signora."
The door closed upon the maid, and Susy continued to gaze at her
painted image in the glass, as if she had been trying to
outstare an importunate stranger. There was no one left for her
to take counsel of, then--no one but poor Fred Gillow! She made
a grimace at the idea.
But what on earth could have summoned Strefford back to England?
NICK LANSING, in the Milan express, was roused by the same bar
of sunshine lying across his knees. He yawned, looked with
disgust at his stolidly sleeping neighbours, and wondered why he
had decided to go to Milan, and what on earth he should do when
he got there. The difficulty about trenchant decisions was that
the next morning they generally left one facing a void ....
When the train drew into the station at Milan, he scrambled out,
got some coffee, and having drunk it decided to continue his
journey to Genoa. The state of being carried passively onward
postponed action and dulled thought; and after twelve hours of
furious mental activity that was exactly what he wanted.
He fell into a doze again, waking now and then to haggard
intervals of more thinking, and then dropping off to the clank
and rattle of the train. Inside his head, in his waking
intervals, the same clanking and grinding of wheels and chains
went on unremittingly. He had done all his lucid thinking
within an hour of leaving the Palazzo Vanderlyn the night
before; since then, his brain had simply continued to revolve
indefatigably about the same old problem. His cup of coffee,
instead of clearing his thoughts, had merely accelerated their
At Genoa he wandered about in the hot streets, bought a cheap
suit-case and some underclothes, and then went down to the port
in search of a little hotel he remembered there. An hour later
he was sitting in the coffee-room, smoking and glancing vacantly
over the papers while he waited for dinner, when he became aware
of being timidly but intently examined by a small round-faced
gentleman with eyeglasses who sat alone at the adjoining table.
"Hullo--Buttles!" Lansing exclaimed, recognising with surprise
the recalcitrant secretary who had resisted Miss Hicks's
endeavour to convert him to Tiepolo.
Mr. Buttles, blushing to the roots of his scant hair, half rose
and bowed ceremoniously.
Nick Lansing's first feeling was of annoyance at being disturbed
in his solitary broodings; his next, of relief at having to
postpone them even to converse with Mr. Buttles.
"No idea you were here: is the yacht in harbour?" he asked,
remembering that the Ibis must be just about to spread her
Mr. Buttles, at salute behind his chair, signed a mute negation:
for the moment he seemed too embarrassed to speak.
"Ah--you're here as an advance guard? I remember now--I saw
Miss Hicks in Venice the day before yesterday," Lansing
continued, dazed at the thought that hardly forty-eight hours
had passed since his encounter with Coral in the Scalzi.
Mr. Buttles, instead of speaking, had tentatively approached his
table. "May I take this seat for a moment, Mr. Lansing? Thank
you. No, I am not here as an advance guard--though I believe
the Ibis is due some time to-morrow." He cleared his throat,
wiped his eyeglasses on a silk handkerchief, replaced them on
his nose, and went on solemnly: "Perhaps, to clear up any
possible misunderstanding, I ought to say that I am no longer in
the employ of Mr. Hicks."
Lansing glanced at him sympathetically. It was clear that he
suffered horribly in imparting this information, though his
compact face did not lend itself to any dramatic display of
"Really," Nick smiled, and then ventured: "I hope it's not
owing to conscientious objections to Tiepolo?"
Mr. Buttles's blush became a smouldering agony. "Ah, Miss Hicks
mentioned to you ... told you ...? No, Mr. Lansing. I am
principled against the effete art of Tiepolo, and of all his
contemporaries, I confess; but if Miss Hicks chooses to
surrender herself momentarily to the unwholesome spell of the
Italian decadence it is not for me to protest or to criticize.
Her intellectual and aesthetic range so far exceeds my humble
capacity that it would be ridiculous, unbecoming ...."
He broke off, and once more wiped a faint moisture from his
eyeglasses. It was evident that he was suffering from a
distress which he longed and yet dreaded to communicate. But
Nick made no farther effort to bridge the gulf of his own
preoccupations; and Mr. Buttles, after an expectant pause, went
on: "If you see me here to-day it is only because, after a
somewhat abrupt departure, I find myself unable to take leave of
our friends without a last look at the Ibis--the scene of so
many stimulating hours. But I must beg you," he added
earnestly, "should you see Miss Hicks--or any other member of
the party--to make no allusion to my presence in Genoa. I
wish," said Mr. Buttles with simplicity, "to preserve the
Lansing glanced at him kindly. "Oh, but--isn't that a little
"No other course is possible, Mr. Lansing," said the ex-
secretary, "and I commit myself to your discretion. The truth
is, if I am here it is not to look once more at the Ibis, but at
Miss Hicks: once only. You will understand me, and appreciate
what I am suffering."
He bowed again, and trotted away on his small, tightly-booted
feet; pausing on the threshold to say: "From the first it was
hopeless," before he disappeared through the glass doors.
A gleam of commiseration flashed through Nick's mind: there was
something quaintly poignant in the sight of the brisk and
efficient Mr. Buttles reduced to a limp image of unrequited
passion. And what a painful surprise to the Hickses to be thus
suddenly deprived of the secretary who possessed "the foreign
languages"! Mr. Beck kept the accounts and settled with the
hotel-keepers; but it was Mr. Buttles's loftier task to
entertain in their own tongues the unknown geniuses who flocked
about the Hickses, and Nick could imagine how disconcerting his
departure must be on the eve of their Grecian cruise which Mrs.
Hicks would certainly call an Odyssey.
The next moment the vision of Coral's hopeless suitor had faded,
and Nick was once more spinning around on the wheel of his own
woes. The night before, when he had sent his note to Susy, from
a little restaurant close to Palazzo Vanderlyn that they often
patronized, he had done so with the firm intention of going away
for a day or two in order to collect his wits and think over the
situation. But after his letter had been entrusted to the
landlord's little son, who was a particular friend of Susy's,
Nick had decided to await the lad's return. The messenger had
not been bidden to ask for an answer; but Nick, knowing the
friendly and inquisitive Italian mind, was almost sure that the
boy, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Susy, would linger
about while the letter was carried up. And he pictured the maid
knocking at his wife's darkened room, and Susy dashing some
powder on her tear-stained face before she turned on the light--
poor foolish child!
The boy had returned rather sooner than Nick expected, and he
had brought no answer, but merely the statement that the
signora was out: that everybody was out.
"The signora and the four gentlemen who were dining at the
palace. They all went out together on foot soon after dinner.
There was no one to whom I could give the note but the gondolier
on the landing, for the signora had said she would be very late,
and had sent the maid to bed; and the maid had, of course, gone
out immediately with her innamorato."
"Ah--" said Nick, slipping his reward into the boy's hand, and
walking out of the restaurant.
Susy had gone out--gone out with their usual band, as she did
every night in these sultry summer weeks, gone out after her
talk with Nick, as if nothing had happened, as if his whole
world and hers had not crashed in ruins at their feet. Ah, poor
Susy! After all, she had merely obeyed the instinct of self
preservation, the old hard habit of keeping up, going ahead and
hiding her troubles; unless indeed the habit had already
engendered indifference, and it had become as easy for her as
for most of her friends to pass from drama to dancing, from
sorrow to the cinema. What of soul was left, he wondered--?
His train did not start till midnight, and after leaving the
restaurant Nick tramped the sultry by-ways till his tired legs
brought him to a standstill under the vine-covered pergola of a
gondolier's wine-shop at a landing close to the Piazzetta.
There he could absorb cooling drinks until it was time to go to
It was after eleven, and he was beginning to look about for a
boat, when a black prow pushed up to the steps, and with much
chaff and laughter a party of young people in evening dress
jumped out. Nick, from under the darkness of the vine, saw that
there was only one lady among them, and it did not need the lamp
above the landing to reveal her identity. Susy, bareheaded and
laughing, a light scarf slipping from her bare shoulders, a
cigarette between her fingers, took Strefford's arm and turned
in the direction of Florian's, with Gillow, the Prince and young
Breckenridge in her wake ....
Nick had relived this rapid scene hundreds of times during his
hours in the train and his aimless trampings through the streets
of Genoa. In that squirrel-wheel of a world of his and Susy's
you had to keep going or drop out--and Susy, it was evident, had
chosen to keep going. Under the lamp-flare on the landing he
had had a good look at her face, and had seen that the mask of
paint and powder was carefully enough adjusted to hide any
ravages the scene between them might have left. He even fancied
that she had dropped a little atropine into her eyes ....
There was no time to spare if he meant to catch the midnight
train, and no gondola in sight but that which his wife had just
left. He sprang into it, and bade the gondolier carry him to
the station. The cushions, as he leaned back, gave out a breath
of her scent; and in the glare of electric light at the station
he saw at his feet a rose which had fallen from her dress. He
ground his heel into it as he got out.
There it was, then; that was the last picture he was to have of
her. For he knew now that he was not going back; at least not
to take up their life together. He supposed he should have to
see her once, to talk things over, settle something for their
future. He had been sincere in saying that he bore her no ill-
will; only he could never go back into that slough again. If he
did, he knew he would inevitably be drawn under, slipping
downward from concession to concession ....
The noises of a hot summer night in the port of Genoa would have
kept the most care-free from slumber; but though Nick lay awake
he did not notice them, for the tumult in his brain was more
deafening. Dawn brought a negative relief, and out of sheer
weariness he dropped into a heavy sleep. When he woke it was
nearly noon, and from his window he saw the well-known outline
of the Ibis standing up dark against the glitter of the harbour.
He had no fear of meeting her owners, who had doubtless long
since landed and betaken themselves to cooler and more
fashionable regions: oddly enough, the fact seemed to
accentuate his loneliness, his sense of having no one on earth
to turn to. He dressed, and wandered out disconsolately to pick
up a cup of coffee in some shady corner.
As he drank his coffee his thoughts gradually cleared. It
became obvious to him that he had behaved like a madman or a
petulant child--he preferred to think it was like a madman. If
he and Susy were to separate there was no reason why it should
not be done decently and quietly, as such transactions were
habitually managed among people of their kind. It seemed
grotesque to introduce melodrama into their little world of
unruffled Sybarites, and he felt inclined, now, to smile at the
incongruity of his gesture .... But suddenly his eyes filled
with tears. The future without Susy was unbearable,
inconceivable. Why, after all, should they separate? At the
question, her soft face seemed close to his, and that slight
lift of the upper lip that made her smile so exquisite. Well-
he would go back. But not with any presence of going to talk
things over, come to an agreement, wind up their joint life like
a business association. No--if he went back he would go without
conditions, for good, forever ....
Only, what about the future? What about the not far-distant day
when the wedding cheques would have been spent, and Granny's
pearls sold, and nothing left except unconcealed and
unconditional dependence on rich friends, the role of the
acknowledged hangers-on? Was there no other possible solution,
no new way of ordering their lives? No--there was none: he
could not picture Susy out of her setting of luxury and leisure,
could not picture either of them living such a life as the Nat
Fulmers, for instance! He remembered the shabby untidy bungalow
in New Hampshire, the slatternly servants, uneatable food and
ubiquitous children. How could he ask Susy to share such a life
with him? If he did, she would probably have the sense to
refuse. Their alliance had been based on a moment's midsummer
madness; now the score must be paid ....
He decided to write. If they were to part he could not trust
himself to see her. He called a waiter, asked for pen and
paper, and pushed aside a pile of unread newspapers on the
corner of the table where his coffee had been served. As he did
so, his eye lit on a Daily Mail of two days before. As a
pretext for postponing his letter, he took up the paper and
glanced down the first page. He read:
"Tragic Yachting Accident in the Solent. The Earl of Altringham
and his son Viscount d'Amblay drowned in midnight collision.
Both bodies recovered."
He read on. He grasped the fact that the disaster had happened
the night before he had left Venice and that, as the result of a
fog in the Solent, their old friend Strefford was now Earl of
Altringham, and possessor of one of the largest private fortunes
in England. It was vertiginous to think of their old
impecunious Streff as the hero of such an adventure. And what
irony in that double turn of the wheel which, in one day, had
plunged him, Nick Lansing, into nethermost misery, while it
tossed the other to the stars!
With an intenser precision he saw again Susy's descent from the
gondola at the calle steps, the sound of her laughter and of
Strefford's chaff, the way she had caught his arm and clung to
it, sweeping the other men on in her train. Strefford--Susy and
Strefford! ... More than once, Nick had noticed the softer
inflections of his friend's voice when he spoke to Susy, the
brooding look in his lazy eyes when they rested on her. In the
security of his wedded bliss Nick had made light of those signs.
The only real jealousy he had felt had been of Fred Gillow,
because of his unlimited power to satisfy a woman's whims. Yet
Nick knew that such material advantages would never again
suffice for Susy. With Strefford it was different. She had
delighted in his society while he was notoriously ineligible;
might not she find him irresistible now?
The forgotten terms of their bridal compact came back to Nick:
the absurd agreement on which he and Susy had solemnly pledged
their faith. But was it so absurd, after all? It had been
Susy's suggestion (not his, thank God!); and perhaps in making
it she had been more serious than he imagined. Perhaps, even if
their rupture had not occurred, Strefford's sudden honours might
have caused her to ask for her freedom ....
Money, luxury, fashion, pleasure: those were the four
cornerstones of her existence. He had always known it--she
herself had always acknowledged it, even in their last dreadful
talk together; and once he had gloried in her frankness. How
could he ever have imagined that, to have her fill of these
things, she would not in time stoop lower than she had yet
stooped? Perhaps in giving her up to Strefford he might be
saving her. At any rate, the taste of the past was now so
bitter to him that he was moved to thank whatever gods there
were for pushing that mortuary paragraph under his eye ....
"Susy, dear [he wrote], the fates seem to have taken our future
in hand, and spared us the trouble of unravelling it. If I have
sometimes been selfish enough to forget the conditions on which
you agreed to marry me, they have come back to me during these
two days of solitude. You've given me the best a man can have,
and nothing else will ever be worth much to me. But since I
haven't the ability to provide you with what you want, I
recognize that I've no right to stand in your way. We must owe
no more Venetian palaces to underhand services. I see by the
newspapers that Streff can now give you as many palaces as you
want. Let him have the chance--I fancy he'll jump at it, and
he's the best man in sight. I wish I were in his shoes.
"I'll write again in a day or two, when I've collected my wits,
and can give you an address. NICK."
He added a line on the subject of their modest funds, put the
letter into an envelope, and addressed it to Mrs. Nicholas
Lansing. As he did so, he reflected that it was the first time
he had ever written his wife's married name.
"Well--by God, no other woman shall have it after her," he
vowed, as he groped in his pocketbook for a stamp.
He stood up with a stretch of weariness--the heat was stifling!
--and put the letter in his pocket.
"I'll post it myself, it's safer," he thought; "and then what in
the name of goodness shall I do next, I wonder?" He jammed his
hat down on his head and walked out into the sun-blaze.
As he was turning away from the square by the general Post
Office, a white parasol waved from a passing cab, and Coral
Hicks leaned forward with outstretched hand. "I knew I'd find
you," she triumphed. "I've been driving up and down in this
broiling sun for hours, shopping and watching for you at the
He stared at her blankly, too bewildered even to wonder how she
knew he was in Genoa; and she continued, with the kind of shy
imperiousness that always made him feel, in her presence, like a
member of an orchestra under a masterful baton; "Now please get
right into this carriage, and don't keep me roasting here
another minute." To the cabdriver she called out: Al porto."
Nick Lansing sank down beside her. As he did so he noticed a
heap of bundles at her feet, and felt that he had simply added
one more to the number. He supposed that she was taking her
spoils to the Ibis, and that he would be carried up to the deck-
house to be displayed with the others. Well, it would all help
to pass the day--and by night he would have reached some kind of
a decision about his future.
On the third day after Nick's departure the post brought to the
Palazzo Vanderlyn three letters for Mrs. Lansing.
The first to arrive was a word from Strefford, scribbled in the
train and posted at Turin. In it he briefly said that he had
been called home by the dreadful accident of which Susy had
probably read in the daily papers. He added that he would write
again from England, and then--in a blotted postscript--: "I
wanted uncommonly badly to see you for good-bye, but the hour
was impossible. Regards to Nick. Do write me just a word to
The other two letters, which came together in the afternoon,
were both from Genoa. Susy scanned the addresses and fell upon
the one in her husband's writing. Her hand trembled so much
that for a moment she could not open the envelope. When she had
done so, she devoured the letter in a flash, and then sat and
brooded over the outspread page as it lay on her knee. It might
mean so many things--she could read into it so many harrowing
alternatives of indifference and despair, of irony and
tenderness! Was he suffering tortures when he wrote it, or
seeking only to inflict them upon her? Or did the words
represent his actual feelings, no more and no less, and did he
really intend her to understand that he considered it his duty
to abide by the letter of their preposterous compact? He had
left her in wrath and indignation, yet, as a closer scrutiny
revealed, there was not a word of reproach in his brief lines.
Perhaps that was why, in the last issue, they seemed so cold to
her .... She shivered and turned to the other envelope.
The large stilted characters, though half-familiar, called up no
definite image. She opened the envelope and discovered a post-
card of the Ibis, canvas spread, bounding over a rippled sea.
On the back was written:
"So awfully dear of you to lend us Mr. Lansing for a little
cruise. You may count on our taking the best of care of him.
WHEN Violet Melrose had said to Susy Branch, the winter before
in New York: "But why on earth don't you and Nick go to my
little place at Versailles for the honeymoon? I'm off to China,
and you could have it to yourselves all summer," the offer had
been tempting enough to make the lovers waver.
It was such an artless ingenuous little house, so full of the
demoralizing simplicity of great wealth, that it seemed to Susy
just the kind of place in which to take the first steps in
renunciation. But Nick had objected that Paris, at that time of
year, would be swarming with acquaintances who would hunt them
down at all hours; and Susy's own experience had led her to
remark that there was nothing the very rich enjoyed more than
taking pot-luck with the very poor. They therefore gave
Strefford's villa the preference, with an inward proviso (on
Susy's part) that Violet's house might very conveniently serve
their purpose at another season.
These thoughts were in her mind as she drove up to Mrs.
Melrose's door on a rainy afternoon late in August, her boxes
piled high on the roof of the cab she had taken at the station.
She had travelled straight through from Venice, stopping in
Milan just long enough to pick up a reply to the telegram she
had despatched to the perfect housekeeper whose permanent
presence enabled Mrs. Melrose to say: "Oh, when I'm sick of
everything I just rush off without warning to my little shanty
at Versailles, and live there all alone on scrambled eggs."
The perfect house-keeper had replied to Susy's enquiry: "Am
sure Mrs. Melrose most happy"; and Susy, without further
thought, had jumped into a Versailles train, and now stood in
the thin rain before the sphinx-guarded threshold of the
The revolving year had brought around the season at which Mrs.
Melrose's house might be convenient: no visitors were to be
feared at Versailles at the end of August, and though Susy's
reasons for seeking solitude were so remote from those she had
once prefigured, they were none the less cogent. To be alone--
alone! After those first exposed days when, in the persistent
presence of Fred Gillow and his satellites, and in the mocking
radiance of late summer on the lagoons, she had fumed and turned
about in her agony like a trapped animal in a cramping cage, to
be alone had seemed the only respite, the one craving: to be
alone somewhere in a setting as unlike as possible to the
sensual splendours of Venice, under skies as unlike its azure
roof. If she could have chosen she would have crawled away into
a dingy inn in a rainy northern town, where she had never been
and no one knew her. Failing that unobtainable luxury, here she
was on the threshold of an empty house, in a deserted place,
under lowering skies. She had shaken off Fred Gillow, sulkily
departing for his moor (where she had half-promised to join him
in September); the Prince, young Breckenridge, and the few
remaining survivors of the Venetian group, had dispersed in the
direction of the Engadine or Biarritz; and now she could at
least collect her wits, take stock of herself, and prepare the
countenance with which she was to face the next stage in her
career. Thank God it was raining at Versailles!
The door opened, she heard voices in the drawing-room, and a
slender languishing figure appeared on the threshold.
"Darling!" Violet Melrose cried in an embrace, drawing her into
the dusky perfumed room.
"But I thought you were in China!" Susy stammered.
"In China ... in China," Mrs. Melrose stared with dreamy eyes,
and Susy remembered her drifting disorganised life, a life more
planless, more inexplicable than that of any of the other
ephemeral beings blown about upon the same winds of pleasure.
"Well, Madam, I thought so myself till I got a wire from Mrs.
Melrose last evening," remarked the perfect house-keeper,
following with Susy's handbag.
Mrs. Melrose clutched her cavernous temples in her attenuated
hands. "Of course, of course! I had meant to go to China--no,
India .... But I've discovered a genius ... and Genius, you
know ...." Unable to complete her thought, she sank down upon a