Part 5 out of 6
tanned youth, hatless and frank-eyed like Martin, and--
She got up. A cold hand seemed suddenly to have been placed on her
heart. Joan,--it was Joan, the girl who, once before, at Martin's
house, had sent the earth spinning from under her feet and put
Martin suddenly behind barbed wire. What hideous trick was this of
Fate's? Why was this moment the one chosen for the appearance of
this girl,--his wife? This moment,--her moment?
Fight? With tooth and nail, with all the cunning and ingenuity of a
member of the female species to protect what she regarded as her
own. She and her plan against the world,--that was what it was.
Thank God, Martin was not in sight. She had a free hand.
She had not been seen. A thick honeysuckle growing up the pillar had
hidden her. She slipped into the house quickly, her heart beating in
her throat. "I'll try Lliis," said Harry. "Wait here." He left Joan
within a few feet of the stoop, went up the two steps, and not
finding a bell, knocked on the screen door. In less than an instant
he saw the girl with bobbed hair come forward. "I'm sorry to trouble
you," he said, with a little bow, "I thought Mr. Gray might live
here," and turned to go. Obviously it was the wrong house.
Very clearly and distinctly Tootles spoke. "Mr. Gray does live here.
I'm Mrs. Gray. Will you leave a message?"
Harry wheeled round. He felt that the bullet which had gone through
his back had lodged in Joan's heart. He opened his mouth to speak
but no word came. And Tootles spoke again, even more clearly and
distinctly. She intended that her voice should travel.
"My husband won't be back for several days," she said, "but I shall
be very glad to tell him that you called if you will leave your
"It--it doesn't matter," said Harry, stammering. After an
irresolute, unhappy pause, he turned to go--
He went straight to Joan. She was standing with her eyes shut and
both hands on her heart, as white as a white rose. She looked like a
young slim tree that had been struck by lightning.
"Joan," he said, "Joan," and touched her arm. There was no answer.
"Joan," he said, "Joany."
And with a little sob she tottered forward.
He caught her, blazing with anger that she had been so hurt,
inarticulate with indignation and a huge sympathy, and with the one
strong desire to get her away from that place, picked her up in his
arms,--a dead delicious weight,--and carried her down the incline of
sand and undergrowth to his car, put her in ever so gently, got in
himself, backed the machine out, turned it and drove away.
And Tootles, breathing hard and shaking, stood on the edge of the
stoop, and with tears streaming down her face, watched the car
become a speck and disappear.
The sun had gone down, and the last of its lingering glory had died
before the yawl managed to cajole her way back to her mooring.
Dinner was ready by the time the hungry threesome, laughing and
talking, arrived at the cottage. Howard, spoiling for a cocktail,
made for the small square dining-room, and Irene, waving her hand to
Tootles, cried out, "Cheero, dearie, you missed a speedy trip, I
don't think," and took her into the house to tidy up in the one
bathroom. Martin drew up short on the edge of the stoop, listened
and looked about, holding his breath. It was most odd, but--there
was something in the still air that had the sense of Joan in it.
After a moment, during which his very soul asked for a sight of her,
he stumped into the living room and rang the bell impatiently.
The imperturbable Judson appeared at once, his eyebrows slightly
"Has any one been here while I've been away?" asked Martin.
"No, sir. No one except Miss Capper, who's been reading on the
"You're quite sure?"
"You never can be quite sure about anything in this life, sir, but I
saw no one."
"Oh," said Martin. "All right, then." But when he was alone, he
stood again, listening and looking. There was nothing of Joan in the
room. A mixture of honeysuckle and tobacco and the aroma of cooking
that had slipped through the swing door into the the kitchen. That
was all. And Martin sighed deeply and said to himself "Not yet. I
must go on waiting," and went upstairs to his bedroom. He could hear
Irene's voice above the rush of water in the bathroom and Howard's,
outside, raised in song. In the trees outside his window a bird was
piping to its mate, and in the damp places here and there the frogs
had already begun to try their voices for their community chorus. It
was a peaceful earth, thereabouts falsely peaceful. An acute ear
could easily have detected an angry roar of guns that came ever
nearer and nearer, and caught the whisper of a Voice calling and
When Martin returned to the wood-lined sitting room with its large
brick chimney, its undergraduate chairs and plain oak furniture, its
round thick blue and white mats and disorderly bookcase, Tootles was
there, a Tootles with a high chin, a half defiant smile, and
honeysuckle at her belt.
"Have you been alone all the afternoon?"
"Yes." (Fight? Tooth and nail.) "Except for the flies. . . . Why,
"Oh, nothing. I thought--I mean, I wondered--but it doesn't matter.
By gum, you have made the room look smart, haven't you? Good old
Tootles. Even a man's room can be made to look like something when a
girl takes an interest in it."
If she had been a dog she would have wagged her tail and crinkled up
her nose and jumped up to put her nozzle against his hand. As it was
she flushed with pleasure and gave a little laugh. She was a
thousandfold repaid for all her pains. But, during the first half of
a meal made riotous by the invincible Howard and the animated Irene,
Tootles sat very quiet and thoughtful and even a little awed. How
could Martin have sensed the fact that she had been there? . . .
Could she,--could she possibly, even with the ever-ready help of
nature,--hope to win against such a handicap? She would see. She
would see. It was her last card. But during all the rest of the meal
she saw the picture of a muscular sun-tanned youth carrying that
pretty unconscious thing down the incline to a car, and, all against
her will, she was sorry. That girl, pampered as she was, outside the
big ring of hard daily effort and sordid struggle as she always had
had the luck to be, loved, too. Gee, it was a queer world.
The stoop called them when they left the boxlike dining room. It was
still hot and airless. But the mosquitoes were out with voracious
appetite and discretion held them to the living room.
Irene flung herself on the bumpy sofa with a cigarette between her
lips and a box near to her elbow. "This's the life," she said. "I
shall never be able to go back to lil' old Broadway and grease paint
and a dog kennel in Chorusland."
"Sufficient for the day," said Howard, loosening his belt. "If a
miracle man blew in here right now with a million dollars in each
hand and said: 'Howard Guthrie Oldershaw,'--he'd be sure to know
about the Guthrie,--'this is all yours if you'll come to the city,'
I'd . . ."
Irene leaned forward with her mouth open and her round eyes as big
as headlights. "Well?"
"Take it and come right back."
"You disappoint me, Funny-face. Go to the piano and hit the notes.
That's all you're fit for."
t was a baby grand, much out of tune, but Howard, bulging over the
stool, made it sound like an orchestra,--a cabaret orchestra, and
ran from Grieg to Jerome Kern and back to Gounod, syncopating
everything with the gusto and the sense of time that is almost
peculiar to a colored professional. Then he suddenly burst into song
and sang about a baby in the soft round high baritone of all men who
run to fat and with the same quite charming sympathy. A useful,
excellent fellow, amazingly unself-conscious and gifted.
Martin was infinitely content to listen and lie back in a deep straw
chair with a pipe between his teeth, the memories of good evenings
at Yale curling up in his smoke. And Tootles, thinking and thinking,
sat, Puck-like, at his feet, with her warm shoulders against his
knees. Not in her memory could she delve for pleasant things, not
yet. Eh, but some day she might be among the lucky ones, if--if her
plan went through--
Howard lit another cigarette at the end of the song, but before he
could get his hands on the notes again Irene bounded to her feet and
went over to the piano. "Say, can you play 'Love's Epitome'?" she
pronounced it "Eppy-tomy."
"Can a duck swim?" asked Howard, resisting a temptation to emit a
howl of mirth. She was too good a sort to chaff about her frequent
maltreatment of the language.
"Go ahead, then, and I'll give you all a treat." He played the
sentimental prelude of this characteristic product of the vaudeville
stage, every note of which was plagiarized from a thousand
plagiarisms and which imagined that eternity rhymed with serenity
and mother with weather. With gestures that could belong to no other
school than that of the twice-dailies and the shrill nasal voice
that inevitably goes with them, Irene, with the utmost solemnity,
went solidly through the whole appalling thing, making the frequent
yous "yee-ooo" in the true "vawdville" manner.
To Tootles it was very moving, and she was proud of her friend.
Martin almost died of it, and Howard was weak from suppressed
laughter. It was the first time that Irene had shown the boys what
she could do, and she was delighted at their enthusiastic applause.
She would have rendered another of the same sort gladly enough,--she
knew dozens of them, if Tootles had not given her a quick look and
risen to her feet.
"Us for the downey," she said, and put the palm of her hand on
Martin's lips. He kissed it.
"Not yet," said Howard. "It's early."
"Late enough for those who get up at dawn, old dear. Come on,
And Irene, remembering what her friend had said that morning, played
the game loyally, although most reluctant to leave that pleasant
atmosphere, and said "Good night." And she was in such good voice
and Howard played her accompaniment like a streak. Well, well.
Tootles took her hand away gently, gave Martin a little disturbing
smile, put her arm round the robust shoulders of her chum, opened
the screen door and was gone.
Howard immediately left the piano. He had only played to keep things
merry and bright. "Me for a drink," he said. "And I think I've
Martin's teeth gleamed as he gave one of his silent laughs.
"How well you know me, old son," he said.
"Of course. But--why?"
"I like Tootles awfully. She's one in a million. But somehow it's--
oh, I dunno,--mighty difficult to talk to her."
"Poor little devil," said Howard involuntarily.
"But she's having a real good time--isn't she?"
"Is she?" He helped himself to a mild highball in reluctant
deference to his weight.
"I've never seen her look so well," said Martin.
Wondering whether to tell the truth about her state of mind, which
his quick sophisticated eyes had very quickly mastered, Howard
drank, and decided that he wouldn't. It would only make things
uncomfortable for Martin and be of no service to Tootles. If she
loved him, poor little soul, and he was not made of the stuff to
take advantage of it, well, there it was. He, himself, was
different, but then he had no Joan as a silent third. No, he would
let things alone. Poor old Tootles.
"Great weather," he said, wrenching the conversation into a harmless
generality. "Are you sleeping on the yawl to-night?"
"Yes," replied Martin. "It's wonderful on the water. So still. I can
hear the stars whisper."
"Most of the stars I know get precious noisy at night," said Howard,
characteristically unable to let such a chance go by. Then he grew
suddenly grave and sat down. "Martin, I'm getting frightfully fed up
with messing about in town. I'm going to turn a mental and physical
somersault and get a bit of self-respect."
"Oh? How's that, old man."
"It's this damn war, I think. I've been reading a book in bed by a
man called Philip Gibbs. Martin, I'm going to Plattsburg this August
to see if they can make something of me."
Martin got up. "I'm with you," he said. "If ever we get into this
business I'm going to be among the first bunch to go. So we may as
well know something. Well, how about turning in now? There'll be a
wind to-morrow. Hear the trees?" He filled his pocket with
cigarettes and slung a white sweater over his shoulder.
"All right," said Howard. "I shall read down here a bit. I won't
forget to turn out and lock up." He had forgotten one night and
Judson had reported him.
"Good night, old son."
"Good night, old man."
He was not given much to reading, but when Martin left the cottage
and stood out in the liquid silver of the moon under the vast dome
which dazzled with stars, and he caught the flash of fireflies among
the undergrowth that were like the lanterns of the fairies a line
came into his mind that he liked and repeated several times, rather
whimsically pleased with himself for having found it at exactly the
right moment. It was "the witching hour of night."
He remained on top of the incline for a little while, moved to that
spirit of the realization of God which touches the souls of
sensitive men when they are awed by the wonder and the beauty of the
earth. He stood quite still, disembodied for the moment, uplifted,
stirred, with all the scents and all the whisperings about him,
humble, childlike, able, in that brief flight of ecstasy, to
understand the language of another world.
And then the stillness was suddenly cut by a scream of vacuous
laughter, probably that of an exuberant Irish maid-servant, to whom
silences are made to break, carrying on, most likely, a rough
flirtation with a chauffeur.
It brought Martin back to earth like the stick of a rocket. But he
didn't go down immediately to the water. He sat there and nursed his
knees and began to think. Whether it was Howard's unexpected talk of
Plattsburg and of being made something of or not he didn't know.
What he did know was that he was suddenly filled with a sort of
fright. . . ."Good God," he said to himself, "time's rushing away,
and I'm nearly twenty-six. I'm as old as some men who have done
things and made things and are planted on their feet. What have I
done? What am I fit to do? Nearly twenty-six and I'm still playing
games like a schoolboy! . . . What's my father saying? 'We count it
death to falter not to die' . . . I've been faltering--and before I
know anything about it I shall be thirty--half-time. . . . This
can't go on. This waiting for Joan is faltering. If she's not coming
to me I must go to her. If it's not coming right it must end and I
must get mended and begin again. I can't stand in father's shoes
with all he worked to make in my hands like ripe plums. It isn't
fair, or straight. I must push up a rung and carry things on for
him. Could I look him in the face having slacked? My God, I wish I'd
watched the time rush by! I'm nearly twenty-six . . . Joan--to-
morrow. That's the thing to do." He got up and strode quickly down
to the water. "If she's going to be my wife, that's a good step on.
And she can help me like no one but my father. And then I'll make
something of myself. If not . . . if not,--no faltering, Gray,--then
I'll do it alone for both their sakes."
He chucked his sweater into the dingey, shoved it off the beach and
sprang in and rowed strongly towards the yawl. Somehow he felt
broader of back and harder of muscle for this summing up of things,
this audit of his account. He was nearly twenty-six and nothing was
done. That was the report he had to make to his conscience, that was
what he had to say to the man who smiled down upon him from his
place in the New York house. . . . Good Lord, it was about time that
he pulled himself together.
The yawl was lying alone, aloof from the other small craft anchored
near the pier. Her mast seemed taller and her lines more graceful
silhouetted against the sky, silvered by the moon. It was indeed the
witching hour of night.
He got aboard and tied up the dingey, cast a look round to see that
everything was shipshape, took in a deep breath and went into the
cabin. He was not tired and never felt less like sleep. His brain
was clear as though a fog had risen from it, and energy beat in him
like a running engine. He would light the lamp, get into his pajamas
and think about to-morrow and Joan. He was mighty glad to have come
to a decision.
Stooping, he lit the lamp, turned and gave a gasp of surprise.
There, curled up like a water sprite on the unmade bunk lay Tootles
in bathing clothes, holding a rubber cap in her hand, her head, with
its golden bobbed hair, dented into a cushion.
For a moment she pretended to be asleep, but anxiety to see how
Martin was looking was too much for her. Also her clothes were wet
and not very comfortable. She opened her eyes and sat up.
"My dear Tootles!" said Martin, "what's the idea? You said you were
going home to bed." She would rather that he had been angry than
amused. "It was the night," she said, "and something in the air. I
just had to bathe and swam out here. I didn't think you'd be coming
yet. I suppose you think I'm bug-house."
"No, I don't. If I hadn't taken my bathing suit to the cottage to be
mended I'd have a dip myself. Cigarette?" He held one out.
But she shook her head. How frightfully natural and brotherly this
boy was, she thought. Was her last desperate card to be as useless
as all the rest of the pack? How could it be! They might as well be
on a desert island out there on the water and she the only woman on
"Feel a bit chilly? You'd better put on this sweater."
She took it from him but laid it aside. "No. The air's too warm,"
she said. "Oh, ho, I'm so sleepy," and she stretched herself out
again with her hands under her head.
"I'm not," said Martin. "I'm tremendously awake. Let's talk if
you're not in a hurry to get back."
"I'm very happy here," she answered. "But must we have that lamp? It
glares and makes the cabin hot."
"The moon's better than all the lamps," said Martin, and put it out.
He sat on his bunk and the gleam of his cigarette came and went. It
was like a big firefly in the half dark cabin. "To-morrow," he said
to himself, with a tingle running through his blood, "to-morrow--and
Tootles waited for him to speak. She might as well have been miles
away for all that she affected him. He seemed to have forgotten that
she was alive.
He had. And there was a long silence.
"To-morrow,--and Joan. That's it. I'll go over to Easthampton and
take her away from that house and talk to her. This time I'll break
everything down and tell her what she means to me. I've never told
"He doesn't care," thought Tootles. "I'm no more than an old shoe to
"If I'd told her it might have made a difference. Even if she had
laughed at me she would have had something to catch hold of if she
wanted it. By Jove, I wish I'd had the pluck to tell her."
"He even looks at me and doesn't see me," she went on thinking, her
hopes withering like cut flowers, her eagerness petering out and a
great humiliation creeping over her. "What's the matter with me?
Some people think I'm pretty. Irene does . . . and last night, when
I kissed him there was an answer. . . . Has that girl come between
And so they went on, these two, divided by a thousand miles, each
absorbed in individual thought, and there was a long queer silence.
But she was there to fight, and having learned one side of men
during her sordid pilgrimage and having an ally in Nature, she got
up and sat down on the bunk at his side, snuggling close.
"You are cold, Tootles," he said, and put his arm round her.
And hope revived, like a dying fire licked by a sudden breeze, and
she put her bobbed head on his broad shoulder.
But he was away again, miles and miles away, thinking back,
unfolding all the moments of his first companionship with Joan and
looking at them wistfully to try and find some tenderness; thinking
forward, with the picture of Joan's face before him and wondering
what would come into her eyes when he laid his heart bare for her
Waiting and waiting, on the steady rise and fall of his chest,--poor
little starved Tootles, poor little devil,--tears began to gather,
tears as hot as blood, and at last they broke and burst in an awful
torrent, and she flung herself face down upon the other bunk, crying
incoherently to God to let her die.
And once more the boy's spirit, wandering high in pure air, fell
like the stick of a rocket, and he sprang up and bent over the
pitiful little form,--not understanding because Joan held his heart
and kept it clean.
"Tootles," he cried out. "Dear old Tootles. What is it? What's
But there was only brotherliness in his kind touch, only the same
solicitude that he had shown her all along. Nothing else. Not a
thing. And she knew it, at last, definitely. This boy was too
different, too much the other girl's--curse her for having all the
For an instant, for one final desperate instant, she was urged to
try again, to fling aside control and restraint and with her
trembling body pressed close and her eager arms clasped about his
neck, pour out her love and make a passionate stammering plea for
something,--just something to put into her memory, her empty
loveless memory,--but suddenly, like the gleam of a lamp in a
tunnel, her pride lit up, the little streak of pride which had taken
her unprofaned through all her sordid life, and she sat up, choked
back her sobs, and dried her face with the skirt of her bathing
"Don't mind me," she said. "It's the night or something. It got on
my nerves, I suppose, like--like the throb of an organ. I dunno. I'm
all right now, anyway." And she stood in front of him bravely, with
her chin up, but her heart breaking, and her attempt to make a laugh
must surely have been entered in the book of human courage.
But before Martin could say anything, she slipped into the cockpit,
balanced herself on the ledge of the cabin house, said "Good night,
old dear," and waved her hand, dived into the silver water and swam
strongly towards the beach.
It began to dawn upon Hosack that Joan had slipped away with Harry
Oldershaw from the fact that Palgrave first became restless and
irritable, then had a short sharp spat with Barclay about the length
of the line on the Western front that was held by the British and
finally got up and went into the house and almost immediately
prowled out alone for a sulky walk along the beach.
Chortling as he watched him, although annoyed that he, himself, was
not going to have an opportunity of saying soft things to Joan for
some hours, Hosack made himself comfortable, lit another cigar and
pondered sleepily about what he called "the infatuation of Gilbert
"I can sympathize with the feller's being gone on the girl," he said
to himself, undisturbed by Regina's frequent bursts of loud laughter
at young Barclay's quiet but persistent banter, "but dammit, why
make a conspicuous ass of himself? Why make the whole blessed house
party, including his hostess, pay for his being turned down in favor
of young Harry? Bad form, I call it. Any one would imagine that he
was engaged to be married to Joan and therefore had some right to a
monopoly by the way he goes on, snarling at everybody and showing
the whites of his eyes like a jealous collie. Everybody's talking,
of course, and making jokes about him, especially as it's perfectly
obvious that the harder he hunts her the more she dodges him. . . .
Curious chap, Gilbert. He goes through life like the ewe lamb of an
over-indulgent mother and when he takes a fancy to a thing he can't
conceive why everybody doesn't rush to give it him, whatever the
cost or sacrifice. . . . If young Harry hadn't been here to keep her
amused and on the move I wonder if Joan would have been a bit kinder
to our friend G. P.? She's been in a weird mood, as perverse as
April. I don't mind her treating me as if I was a doddering old
gentleman so long as she keeps Gilbert off. . . . A charming,
pretty, heart-turning thing. I'd give something to know the real
reason why that husband of hers lets her run loose this way. And
where's her mother, and why don't those old people step in?--such a
child as she is. Well, it's a pretty striking commentary on the way
our young people are brought up, there's no doubt about it. If she
was my daughter, now--but I suppose she'd tell me to go and hang
myself if I tried to butt in. Divorce and a general mess-up-the
usual end, I take it."
He shook his head, and his ash dropped all over his clothes and he
began to nod. He would have given a great deal to put his feet on a
chair and a handkerchief over his face and sink into a blissful nap.
The young people had gone off somewhere, and there were only his
wife, the Major, and the bride on the veranda. And, after all, why
shouldn't he? Cornucopia could always be relied upon to play up--her
conversational well was inexhaustible, and as for Mrs. Thatcher--
nothing natural ever stopped the incessant wagging of her tongue.
But it was not to be. He heard a new voice, the squeak of a cane
chair suddenly pushed back, looked up to see the Major in an
attitude of false delight and out came Mrs. Cooper Jekyll followed,-
-as he inwardly exclaimed,--"by the gentle Alice Palgrave, by all
that's complicating! Well, I'm jiggered."
"Well," cried Cornucopia, extending her ample hand. "This IS a
"Yes, I intended it to be," said Mrs. Jekyll, more than ever
Southampton in her plague veil and single eyeglass, "just to break
the aloofness of your beach life."
"And dear Alice, too,--neater than ever. How very nice to see you,
my dear, and how's your poor mother?"
Her little hand disappearing between Mrs. Hosack's two podgy members
like the contents of a club sandwich, Alice allowed herself to be
kissed on both cheeks, murmured an appropriate response, greeted the
Thatchers, waved to Hosack who came forward as quickly as he could
with pins and needles in one leg and threw a searching glance about
Every one caught it and gathered instinctively that Mrs. Jekyll had
been making mischief. She had certainly succeeded in her desire to
break the aloofness. The presence of Alice at that moment, with
Gilbert behaving like a madman, was calculated to set every
"Um, this won't make G. P. any better tempered," thought Hosack, not
without a certain sense of glee.
Mrs. Jekyll disclosed her nose and mouth, which, it seemed, were
both there and in perfect condition. "I was in town yesterday
interviewing butlers,--that Swiss I told you about refused to be
glared at by Edmond and left us on the verge of a dinner party,
summing us all up in a burst of pure German,--and there was Alice
having a lonely lunch at the Ritz, just back from her mother's
convalescent chair. I persuaded her to come to me for a few days and
what more natural than that she should want to see what this
wonderful air has done for Gilbert--who has evidently become one of
the permanent decorative objects of your beautiful house."
"Cat," thought Mrs. Thatcher.
"And also for the pleasure of seeing so many old friends," said
Alice. "What a gorgeous stretch of sea!" She bent forward and
whispered congratulations to the Major's bride. Her quiet courage in
the face of what she knew perfectly well was a universal knowledge
of the true state of Gilbert's infatuation was good to watch. With
his one brief cold letter in her pocket and Mrs. Jekyll's
innuendoes,--"all in the friendliest spirit,"--raking her heart, her
self-control deserved all the admiration that it won from the
members of the house party. To think that Joan, her friend and
schoolfellow in whose loyalty she had had implicit faith should be
the one to take Gilbert away from her.
With shrewd eyes, long accustomed to look below the surface of the
thin veneer of civilization that lay upon his not very numerous set,
Hosack observed and listened for the next half an hour, expecting at
any moment to see Joan burst upon the group or Gilbert make his
appearance, sour, immaculate and with raised eyebrows. He studied
Mrs. Jekyll, with her brilliantly made-up face, her apparent lack of
guile, and her ever-watchful eye. He paid tribute to his copious
wife for her determined babble of generalities, well-knowing that
she was bursting with suppressed excitement under the knowledge that
Alice had come to try and patch up a lost cause. He chuckled at the
feline manners of the little lady whom they had all known so long as
Mrs. Edgar Lee Reeves, her purring voice, her frequent over-emphasis
of exuberant adjectives, her accidental choice of the sort of verb
that had the effect of smashed crockery, her receptiveness to the
underlying drama of the situation and the cunning with which she
managed to hide her anxiety to be "on" in the scene which must
inevitably come. He examined his old friend, Thatcher, under whose
perfect drawing-room manners, felicitous quips and ready laughter
there was an almost feminine curiosity as to scandal and the
inadvertent display of the family wash. And, having a certain amount
of humor, he even turned an introspective eye inwards and owned up
to more than a little excitement as to what was going to happen when
Gilbert realized that Mrs. Jekyll had brought his wife over to
rescue him. Conceive Gilbert being rescued! "All of us as near the
primeval as most of us are to lunacy," he told himself. "Education,
wealth, leisure and all the shibboleths of caste and culture,--how
easily they crack and gape before a touch of nature. Brooks Brothers
and Lucile do their derndest to disguise us, but we're still Adam
and Eve in a Turkish bath. . . . Somehow I feel,--I can't quite say
why,--that this comedy of youth in which the elements of tragedy
have been dragged in by Gilbert, is coming to a head, and unless
things run off at a sudden tangent I don't see how the curtain can
fall on a happy ending for Joan and the husband who never shows
himself and the gentle Alice. Spring has its storms and youth its
penalties. I'm beginning to believe that safety is only to be found
in the dull harbor of middle-age, curse it, and only then with a
good stout anchor."
It was at the exact moment that Joan and Harry went together up the
incline towards Martin's cottage at Devon, eyed by Tootles through
the screen door, that Gilbert came back to the veranda and drew up
short at the sight of his wife.
It was when Gilbert, after a most affectionate greeting and ten
minutes of easy small talk, led her away from the disappointed
group, that Alice made her first mistake.
"You don't look at all well, Gilbert," she said anxiously.
The very fact that he knew himself to be not at all well made him
hate to be told so. An irritable line ran across his forehead. "Oh,
yes, I'm well," he said, "never better. Come along to the summer
house and let's put a dune between us and those vultures."
He led her down a flight of stone steps and over a stretch of
undulating dry sand to the place where Hosack invariably read the
morning paper and to which his servants led their village beaux when
the moon was up, there to give far too faithful imitations of the
hyena. And there he sat her down and stood in front of her,
enigmatically, wondering how much she knew. "If it comes to that,"
he said, "you look far from well yourself, Alice."
And she turned her pretty, prim face up to him with a sudden
trembling of the lips. "What do you expect," she asked, quite
simply, "when I've only had one short letter from you all the time
I've been away."
"I never write letters," he said. "You know that. How's your
"But I wrote every day, and if you read them you'd know."
He shifted one shoulder. These gentle creatures could be horribly
disconcerting and direct. As a matter of fact he had failed to open
more than two of the collection. They were too full of the vibration
of a love that had never stirred him. "Yes, I'm glad she's better.
I'm afraid you've been rather bored. Illness is always boring."
"I can only have one mother," said Alice.
Palgrave felt the need of a cigarette. Alice, admirable as she was,
had a fatal habit, he thought, of uttering bromides.
And she instantly regretted the remark. She knew that way of his of
snapping his cigarette case. Was that heavily be-flowered church a
dream and that great house in New York only part of a mirage? He
seemed to be the husband of some other girl, barely able to tolerate
this interruption. She had come determined to get the truth, however
terrible it might be. But it was very difficult, and he was
obviously not going to help her, and now that she saw him again,
curiously worn and nervous and petulant, she dreaded to ask for
facts under which her love was to be laid in waste.
"No wonder you like this place," she said, beating about the bush.
"I don't. I loathe it. The everlasting drumming of the sea puts me
on edge. It's as bad as living within sound of the elevated railway.
And at night the frogs on the land side of the house add to the
racket and make a row like a factory in full blast. I'd rather be
condemned to a hospital for incurables than live on a dune." He said
all this with the sort of hysteria that she had never noticed in him
before. He was indeed far from well. Hardly, in fact, recognizable.
The suave, imperturbable Gilbert, with the quiet air of patronage
and the cool irony of the polished man of the world,--what had
become of him? Was it possible that Joan had resisted him? She
couldn't believe such a thing.
"Then why have you stayed so long?" she asked, with this new point
of view stirring hope.
"There was nowhere else to go to," he answered, refusing to meet her
This was too absurd to let pass. "But nothing has happened to the
house at Newport, and the yacht's been lying in the East River since
the first of June and you said in your only letter that the two
Japanese servants have been at the cottage near Devon for weeks!"
"I'm sick of Newport with all its tuft-hunting women, and the yacht
doesn't call me. As for the cottage, I'm going there to-morrow,
Alice got up quickly and stood in front of him. There was a spot of
color on both her cheeks, and her hands were clasped together.
"Gilbert, let's both go there. Let's get away from all these people
for a time. I won't ask you any questions or try and pry into what's
happened to you. I'll be very quiet and help you to find yourself
She had made another mistake. His sensitiveness gave him as many
quills as a porcupine. "Find myself," he said, quoting her
unfortunate words with sarcasm. "What on earth do you mean by that,
my good child?"
She forced back her rising tears. Had she utterly lost her rights as
a wife? He was speaking to her in the tone that a man uses to an
interfering sister. "What's to become of me?" she asked.
"Newport, of course. Why not? Fill the house up. I give you a free
"And will you join me there, Gilbert?"
"No. I'm not in the mood."
He turned on his heel and went to the other side of the summer
house, and flicked his half-smoked cigarette into the scrub below. A
frog took a leap. When he spoke again it was with his back to her.
"Don't you think you'd better rejoin Mrs. Jekyll? She may be
impatient to get off."
But Alice took her courage in both hands. If this was to be the end
she must know it. Uncertainty was not to be endured any longer. All
her sleepless nights and fluctuations of hope and despair had marked
her, perhaps for life. Hers was not the easily blown away
infatuation of a debutante, the mere summer love of a young girl. It
was the steady and devoted love of a wife, ready to make sacrifices,
to forgive inconstancies, to make allowances for temporary
aberrations and, when necessary, to nurse back to sanity, without
one word or look of reproach, the husband who had slipped into
delinquency. Not only her future and his were at stake, but there
were the children for whom she prayed. They must be considered.
And so, holding back her emotion, she followed him across the
pompous summer house in which, with a shudder, she recognized a
horrible resemblance to a mausoleum, and laid her little hand upon
"Gilbert," she said, "tell me the truth. Be frank with me. Let me
help you, dear."
Poor little wife. For the third time she had said the wrong thing.
"Help"--the word angered him. Did she imagine that he was a callow
youth crossed in love?
He drew his arm away sharply. There was something too domestic in
all this to be borne with patience. Humiliating, also, he had to
"When did I ever give you the right to delve into my private
affairs?" he asked, with amazing cruelty. "We're married,--isn't
that enough? I've given you everything I have except my
independence. You can't ask for more than that,--from me."
He added "from me" because the expression of pain on her pretty face
made him out to be a brute, and he was not that. He tried to hedge
by the use of those two small words and put it to her, without
explanation, that he was different from most men,--more careless and
callous to the old-fashioned vows of marriage, if she liked, but
different. That might be due to character or upbringing or the times
to which he belonged. He wasn't going to argue about it. The fact
remained. "I'll take you back," he added.
But she blocked the way. "I only want your love," she said. "If
you've taken that away from me, nothing else counts."
He gave a sort of groan. Her persistence was appalling, her courage
an indescribable reproach. For a moment he remained silent, with a
drawn face and twitching fingers, strangely white and wasted, like a
man who had been through an illness,--a caricature of the once easy-
going Gilbert Palgrave, the captain of his fate and the master of
"All right then," he said, "if you must know, you shall, but do me
the credit to remember that I did my best to leave things vague and
blurred." He took her by the elbow and put her into a chair. With a
touch of his old thoughtfulness and rather studied politeness he
chose one that was untouched by the sun that came low over the dune.
Then he sat down and bent forward and looked her full in the eyes.
"This is going to hurt you," he said, "but you've asked for the
truth, and as everything seems to be coming to a head, you'd better
have it, naked and undisguised. In any case, you're one of the women
who always gets hurt and always thrives on it. You're too earnest
and sincere to be able to apply eye-wash to the damn thing we call
life, aren't you?"
"Yes, Gilbert," she answered, with the look of one who had been
placed in front of a firing squad, without a bandage over her eyes.
There was a brief pause, filled by what he had called the
everlasting drumming of the sea.
"One night, in Paris, when I was towering on the false confidence of
twenty-one,"--curious how, even at that moment, he spoke with a
certain self-consciousness,--"I came out of the Moulin Rouge alone
and walked back to the Maurice. It was the first time I'd ever been
on the other side, and I was doing it all in the usual way of the
precocious undergraduate. But the 'gay Paree' stuff that was
specially manufactured to catch the superfluous francs of the
pornographic tourist and isn't really in the least French, bored me,
almost at once. And that night, going slowly to the hotel, sickened
by painted women, chypre and raw champagne I turned a mental
somersault and built up a picture of what I hoped I should find in
life. It contained a woman, of course--a girl, very young, the very
spirit of spring, whose laugh would turn my heart and who, like an
elusive wood nymph, would lead me panting and hungry through a maze
of trees. I called it the Great Emotion and from that night on I
tried to find the original of that boyish picture, looking
everywhere with no success. At twenty-nine, coming out of what
seemed to be the glamor of the impossible, I married you to oblige
my mother,--you asked for this,--and imagined that I had settled
into a conventional rut. Do you want me to go on with it?"
"Please, Gilbert," said Alice.
He shrugged his shoulders as much as to say, "Well, if you enjoy the
Christian martyr business it's entirely your lookout."
But he dropped his characteristic habit of phrase making and became
more jerky and real. "I respected you, Alice," he went on. "I didn't
love you but I hoped I might, and I played the game. I liked to see
you in my house. You fitted in and made it more of a home than that
barrack had ever been. I began to collect prints and first editions,
adjust myself to respectability and even to look forward with pride
to a young Gilbert."
Alice gave a little cry and put her hand up to her breast. But he
was too much obsessed by his own pain to notice hers.
"And then,--it's always the way,--I saw the girl. Yes, by God, I saw
the girl, and the Great Emotion blew me out of domestic content and
the pleasant sense of responsibility and turned me into the panting
hungry youth that I had always wanted to be." He stopped and got up
and walked up and down that mausoleum, with his eyes burning and the
color back in his face.
"And the girl is Joan?" asked Alice in a voice that had an oddly
sharp note for once.
"Yes," he said. "Joan. . . . She's done it," he added, no longer
choosing his words. "She's got me. She's in my blood. I'm insane
about her. I follow her like a dog, leaping up at a kind word,
slinking away with my tail between my legs when she orders me to
heel. My God, it's hell! I'm as near madness as a poor devil of a
dope fiend out of reach of his joy. I wish I'd never seen her. She's
made me loathe myself. She's put me through every stage of
humiliation. I'd rather be dead than endure this craving that's
worse than a disease. You were right when you said that I'm ill. I
am ill. I'm horribly ill. I'm . . . I'm . . ."
He stammered and his voice broke, and he covered his face with his
And instantly, with the maternal spirit that goes with all true
womanly love ablaze in her heart, Alice went to him and put her arms
about his neck and drew his head down on her shoulder.
And he left it there, with tears.
A little later they sat down again side by side, holding hands.
As Hosack had told himself, and Gilbert had just said, things seemed
to be coming to a head. At that moment Tootles was strung up to play
her last card, Joan was being driven back by Harry from the cottage
of "Mrs. Gray" and Martin, becalmed on the water, with an empty pipe
between his teeth, was thinking about Joan.
Palgrave was comforted. The making of his confession was like having
an abscess lanced. In his weakness, in his complete abandonment of
affectation, he had never been so much of a man.
There was not to Alice, who had vision and sympathy, anything either
strange or perverse in the fact that Gilbert had told his story and
was not ashamed. Love had been and would remain the one big thing in
her own life, the only thing that mattered, and so she could
understand, even as she suffered, what this Great Emotion meant to
Gilbert. She adopted his words in thinking it all over. They
appealed to her as being exactly right.
She too was comforted, because she saw a chance that Gilbert, with
the aid of the utmost tact and the most tender affection, might be
drawn back to her and mended. She almost used Hosack's caustic
expression "rescued." The word came into her mind but was instantly
discarded because it was obvious that Joan, however impishly she had
played with Gilbert, was unaffected. Angry as it made her to know
that any girl could see in Gilbert merely a man with whom to fool
she was supremely thankful that the complication was not as tragic
as it might have been. So long as Joan held out. the ruin of her
marriage was incomplete. Hope, therefore, gleamed like a distant
light. Gilbert had gone back to youth. It seemed to her that she had
better treat him as though he were very young and hurt.
"Dearest," she said, "I'm going to take you away."
"Are you, Alice?"
"Yes. We will go on the yacht, and you shall read and sleep and get
your strength back."
He gave a queer laugh. "You talk like a mother," he said, with a
catch in his voice.
She went forward and kissed him passionately.
"I love you like a mother as well as a wife, my man," she whispered.
"Never forget that."
"You're,--you're a good woman, Alice; I'm not worthy of you, my
It pained her exquisitely to see him so humble. . . . Wait until she
met Joan. She should be made to pay the price for this! "Who cares?"
had been her cry. How many others had she made to care?
"I'll go back to Mrs. Jekyll now," she went on, almost afraid that
things were running too well to be true, "and stay at Southampton
to-night. To-morrow I'll return to New York and have everything
packed and ready by the time you join me there. And I'll send a
telegram to Captain Stewart to expect us on Friday. Then we'll go to
sea and be alone and get refreshment from the wide spaces and the
"Just as you say," he said, patting her hand. He was terribly like a
boy who had slipped and fallen.
Then she got up, nearer to a breakdown than ever before. It was such
a queer reversal of their old positions. And in order that he
shouldn't rise she put her hands on his shoulders and stood close to
him so that his head was against her breast.
"God bless you, dearest boy," she said softly. "Trust in me. Give
all your troubles to me. I'm your wife, and I need them. They belong
to me. They're mine. I took them all over when you gave me my ring."
She lifted his face that was worn as from a consuming fire and
kissed his unresponsive lips. "Stay here," she added, "and I'll go
back. To-morrow then, in New York."
He echoed her. "To-morrow then, in New York," and held her hand
against his forehead.
Just once she looked back, saw him bent double and stopped. A
prophetic feeling that she was never to hear his voice again seized
her in a cold grip,--but she shook it off and put a smile on her
face with which to stand before the scandal-mongers.
And there stood Joan, looking as though she had seen a ghost.
Alice marched up to her, blazing with anger and indignation. She
was not, at that moment, the gentle Alice, as everybody called her,
Alice-sit-by-the-fire, equable and pacific, believing the best of
people. She was the mother-woman eager to revenge the hurt that had
been done to one who had all her love.
"Ah," she said, "you're just in time for me to tell you what I think
"Whatever you may think of me," replied Joan, "is nothing to what I
think of myself."
But Alice was not to be diverted by that characteristic way of
evading hard words, as she thought it. She had seen Joan dodge the
issues like that before, many times, at school. They were still
screened from the veranda by a scrub-supported dune. She could let
"You're a thief," she blurted out, trembling and out of all control
for once. "Not a full-blown thief because you don't steal to keep.
But a kleptomaniac who can't resist laying hands on other women's
men. You ought not to be allowed about loose. You're a danger, a
trap. You have no respect for yourself and none for friendship.
Loyalty? You don't know the meaning of the word. You're not to be
trusted out of sight. I despise you and never want to see you
Could this be Alice,--this little fury, white and tense, with
clenched hands and glinting eyes, animal-like in her fierce
Joan looked at her in amazement. Hadn't she already been hit hard
enough? But before she could speak Alice was in breath again. "You
can't answer me back,--even you, clever as you are. You've nothing
to say. That night at my house, when we had it out before, you said
that you were not interested in Gilbert. If that wasn't a cold-
blooded lie what was it? Your interest has been so great that you've
never let him alone since. You may not have called him deliberately,
but when he came you flaunted your sex in his face and teased him
just to see him suffer. You were flattered, of course, and your
vanity swelled to see him dogging your heels. There's a pretty
expressive word for you and your type, and you know it as well as I
do. Let me pass, please."
Joan moved off the narrow board-walk without a word.
And Alice passed, but piqued by this unexpected silence, turned and
went for her once most intimate friend again. If she was callous and
still in her "Who Cares?" mood words should be said that could never
"I am Mrs. Gray. My husband won't be back for several days," These
were the only words that rang in Joan's ears now. Alice might as
well have been talking to a stone.
"Things are coming to a head," Alice went on, unconsciously using
Gilbert's expression and Hosack's.
"And all the seeds that you've carelessly sown have grown into great
rank weeds. Ask Mrs. Jekyll what you've driven Martin into doing if
you're curious to know. She can tell you. Many people have seen. But
if you still don't care, don't trouble, because it's too late. Go a
few yards down there and look at that man bent double in the summer
house. If you do that and can still cry out 'Who Cares?' go on to
the hour when everything will combine to make you care. It can't be
"I'm Mrs. Gray. My husband won't be back for several days." Like the
song of death the refrain of that line rose above the sound of the
sea and of Alice's voice. Joan could listen to nothing else.
And Alice caught the wounded look in the eyes of the girl in whom
she had once had faith and was recompensed. And having said all that
she had had in her mind and more than she had meant to say, she
turned on her heel, forced herself back into control and went
smiling towards the group on the veranda. And there Joan remained
standing looking as though she had seen a ghost,--the ghost of
"Mrs. Gray,--and her husband Martin. . . . But what have I got to
say,--I, who refused to be his wife? It only seemed half true when I
found them together before, although that was bad enough. But this
time, now that my love for Martin has broken through all those days
of pretending to pretend and that girl is openly in that cottage,
nothing could be truer. It isn't Martin who has taken off his armor.
It's I who have cut the straps and made it fall from his shoulders
Oh, my God, if only I hadn't wanted to finish being a kid."
She moved away, at last, from the place where Alice had left her
and without looking to the right or left walked slowly down to the
edge of the sea. Vaguely, as though it was something that had
happened in a former life, she remembered the angry but neat
figure of Alice and a few of the fierce words that had got through
to her. "Rank weeds . . . driven Martin . . . too late. . . . Who
Cares?" Only these had stuck. But why should Alice have said them?
It was all unnecessary. She knew them. She had said them all on
the way back from Devon, all and many more, seated beside that nice
boy, Harry, in his car. . . . She had died a few feet from the stoop
of the cottage, in the scent of honeysuckle and Come back to
something that wasn't life to be tortured with regrets. All the way
back she had said things to herself that Alice, angry and bitter as
she had seemed to be, never could have invented. But they too were
unnecessary. Saying things now was of no more use than throwing
stones into the sea at any time. Rank weeds . . . driven
Martin . . . too late . . . who cares--only who cares should
have come first because everything else was the result.
And for a little while, with the feeling that she was on an island,
deserted and forgotten, she stood on the edge of the sea, looking at
a horizon that was utterly blank. What was she to do? Where was she
to go? . . . Not yet a woman, and all the future lay about her in
chaos. . . . Once more she went back in spirit to that room of
Martin's which had been made the very sanctum of Romance by young
blood and moonlight and listened to the plans they had made together
for the discovery of a woild out of which so many similar explorers
had crept with wounds and bitterness.
"I'm going to make my mark," she heard Martin cry. "I'm going to
make something that will last. My father's name was Martin Gray, and
I'll make it mean something out here for his sake."
"And I," she heard herself say, "will go joy-riding on that huge
Round-about. I've seen what it is to be old and useless, and so I
shall make the most of every day and hour while I'm young. I can
live only once, and I shall make life spin whichever way I want it
to go. If I can get anybody to pay my whack, good. If not, I'll pay
it myself,--whatever it costs. My motto's going to be a good time as
long as I can get it and who cares for the price!"
Young fool, you young fool!
The boy followed her to the window, and the moonlight fell upon them
"Yes, you'll get a bill all right. How did you know that?"
And once more she heard her answer. "I haven't lived with all those
old people so long for nothing. But you won't catch me grumbling if
I get half as much as I'm going out for. Listen to my creed, Martin,
and take notes if you want to keep up with me. . . . I shall open
the door of every known Blue Room, hurrying out if there are ugly
things inside. I shall taste a little of every known bottle, feel
everything there is to feel except the thing that hurts, laugh with
everybody whose laugh is catching, do everything there is to do, go
into every booth in the big Bazaar, and when I'm tired and there's
nothing left, slip out of the endless procession with a thousand
things stored in my memory. Isn't that the way to live?"
"Young fool, you young fool," she cried, with the feeling of being
forgotten and deserted, with not one speck on the blank horizon.
"You've failed--failed in everything. You haven't even carried out
your program. Others have paid,--Martin and Gilbert and Alice, but
the big bill has come in to you . . . Who cares? You do, you do, you
young fool, and you must creep out of the procession with only one
thing stored in your memory,--the loss of Martin, Martin."
It was a bad hour for this girl-child who had tried her wings too
And when Gilbert straightened up and gave thanks to God for the
woman who had never stirred him, but whose courage and tenderness
had added to his respect, he too turned towards the sea with its
blank horizon,--the sea upon which he was to be taken by his good
wife for rest and sleep, and there was Joan . . . young, and slight
and alluring, with her back to him and her hands behind her back,
and the mere sight of her churned his blood again, and set his dull
fire into flames. Once more the old craving returned, the old
madness revived, as it always would when the sight and sound of her
caught him, and all the common sense and uncommon goodness of the
little woman who had given him comfort rose like smoke and was blown
away. . . . To win this girl he would sacrifice Alice and barter his
soul. She was in his blood. She was the living picture of his
youthful vision. She only could satisfy the Great Emotion. . . .
There was the plan that he had forgotten,--the lunatic plan from
which, even in his most desperate moment, he had drawn back,
afraid,--to cajole her to the cottage away from which he would send
his servants; make, with doors and windows locked, one last
passionate appeal, and then, if mocked and held away, to take her
with him into death and hold her spirit in his arms.
To own himself beaten by this slip of a girl, to pack his traps and
leave her the field and sneak off like a beardless boy,--was that
the sort of way he did things who had had merely to raise his voice
to hear the approach of obsequious feet? . . . Alice and the yacht
and nothing but sea to a blank horizon? He laughed to think of it.
It was, in fact, unthinkable.
He would put it to Joan in a different way this time. He would hide
his fire and be more like that cursed boy. That would be a new way.
She liked new things.
He left the summer house, only the roof of which was touched by the
last golden rays of the sun, and with curious cunning adopted a sort
of caricature of his old light manner. There was a queer jauntiness
in his walk as he made his way over the sand, carrying his hat, and
a flippant note in his voice when he arrived at her side.
"Waiting for your ship to come home?" he asked.
"It's come," she said.
"You have all the luck, don't you?"
She choked back a sob.
He saw the new look on her face. Something,--perhaps boredom,--
perhaps the constant companionship of that cursed boy,--had brought
her down from her high horse. This was his chance! . . .
"You thought I had gone, I suppose?"
"Yes," she said.
"To-morrow suits me best. I'm off to-morrow,--I've not decided
where. A long journey, it may be. If you're fed up with these people
what do you say to my driving you somewhere for dinner? A last
little dinner to remind us of the spring in New York?"
"Would you like me to very much?"
He steadied his voice. "We might be amused, I think."
"That doesn't answer my question," she said.
"I'd love you to," he answered. "It would be fair, too. I've not
seen much of you here."
Yes, it would be fair. Let her try, even at that late stage of the
game, to make things a little even. This man had paid enough.
"Very well," she said. "Let's go." It would be good to get away from
prying eyes and the dull ache of pain for a few hours.
He could hardly believe his ears. Joan,--to give him something! It
was almost incredible.
She turned and led the way up. The sun had almost gone. "I'll get my
hat at once," she said, "I'll be ready in ten minutes."
His heart was thumping. "I'll telephone to a place I know, and be
waiting in the car."
"Let me go in alone," she said. "We don't want to be held up to
explain and argue. You're sure you want me to come?" She drew up and
looked at him.
He bowed to hide his face. "Of all things on earth," he said.
She ran on ahead, slipped into the house and up to her room.
Exultant and full of hope, Gilbert waited for a moment before
following her in. Going straight to the telephone room he shut the
door, asked for the number of his cottage and drummed the instrument
with his fingers.
"Is that you, Itrangi? . . . Lay some sort of dinner for two,--cold
things with wine. It doesn't matter what, but at once. I shall be
over in about an hour. Then get out, with the cook. I want the place
to myself to-night. Put the door key on the earth at the left-hand
corner of the bottom step. Telephone for a car and go to the hotel
at Sag Harbor. Be back in the morning about nine. Do these things
without fail. I rely upon you."
He hardly waited for the sibilant assurance before putting back the
receiver. He went round to the garage himself. This was the first
time he had driven Joan in his car. It might be the last.
Harry was at the bottom of the stairs as Joan came down.
"You're not going out?" he asked. She was still in day clothes,
wearing a hat.
"Yes, I am, Harry."
She laid her hand on his arm. "Don't grudge Gilbert one evening,--
his last. I've been perfectly rotten to him all along."
"Palgrave? Are you going out with Palgrave?"
"Yes, to dine somewhere. I want to, Harry, oh, for lots of reasons.
You know one. Don't stop me." Her voice broke a little.
"But not with Palgrave."
"I saw him dodge out of the telephone room a minute ago. He looked--
queer. Don't go, Joan."
"I must," she said and went to the door. He was after her and caught
hold of her arm.
"Joan, don't go. I don't want you to."
"I must," she said again." Surely you can understand? I have to get
away from myself."
"But won't I do?"
"It's Gilbert's turn," she said. "Let go, Harry dear." It was good
to know that she hadn't hurt this boy.
"I don't like it. Please stay," but he let her go, and watched her
down the steps and into the car, with unaccountable misgiving. He
had seen Gilbert's face.
And he saw it again under the strong light of the entrance--
For minutes after the car had gone, with a wave from Joan, he stood
still, with an icy hand on his heart.
"I don't like it," he repeated. "I wish to God I'd had the right to
She thought that he didn't love her, and he had done his best to
obey. But he did love her, more than Martin, it seemed, more than
Gilbert, he thought, and by this time she was well on her way to--
It was one of those golden evenings that sometimes follows a hot
clear day--one of those rare evenings which linger in the memory
when summer has slipped away and which come back into the mind like
a smile, an endearment or a broad sweet melody, renewing optimism
and replenishing faith. The sun had gone, but its warm glow lingered
in a sky that was utterly unspotted. The quiet unruffled trees in
all the rich green of early maturity stood out against it almost as
though they were painted on canvas. The light was so true that
distances were brought up to the eye. Far-away sounds came closely
to the ear. The murmur from the earth gathered like that of a
multitude of voices responding to prayers.
Palgrave drove slowly. The God-given peace and beauty that lay over
everything quieted the stress and storm of his mind. Somehow, too,
with Joan at his side on the road to the cottage in which he was to
play out the second or the last act of the drama of his Great
Emotion, life and death caught something of the truth and dignity of
that memorable evening--the sounds of life and the distance of
death. If he was not to live with Joan he would die with her. There
was, to him, in the state of mind into which this absorbing passion
had worked him, no alternative. Love, that he had made his lodestar
in early youth and sought in vain, had come at last. Marriage,
convention, obligations, responsibility, balance and even sanity
mattered nothing. They were swept like chaff before this sex-storm.
Ten years of dreams were epitomized in Joan. She was the ideal that
he had placed on the secret altar of his soul. She struck, all
vibrant with youth, the one poetic note that was hidden in his
character behind vanity and sloth, cynicism and the ingrained belief
that whatever he desired he must have. And as he drove away from
Easthampton and the Hosack house he left behind him Alice and all
that she was and meant. She receded from his mind like the white
cliffs of a shore to which he never intended to return. He was
happier than he had ever been. In his curious exaltation, life, with
its tips and downs, its pettiness, its monotony, lay far below him,
as the moving panorama of land does to a flying man. His head was
clear, his plan definite. He felt years younger--almost boyish.
Laughter came easy--the sort of reasonless laughter that comes to
tired men as they start out on a holiday. He saw the strangeness of
it all with some wonder and much triumph. The Gilbert Palgrave who
had been molded by money and inertia and autocracy was discarded,
and the man with Joan at his side was the young Gilbert whom he had
caught sight of that night in Paris, when, on his way home under the
stars, Joan, with her brown hair and laughing eyes, tip-tilted nose
and the spirit of spring in her breath, had come out of his inner
consciousness and established herself like a shape in a dream.
His heart turned when he looked at Joan's face. Was its unusual
gravity due to the fact that she had come to the end of fooling--
that she, too, had sensed the finality or the beginning? He thought
so. He believed so. She looked younger than ever, but sweeter, less
flippant, less triumphantly irresponsible. She sat, like a child,
with her hands in her lap, her mouth soft, an odd wistfulness in her
eyes with their long curling lashes. A black straight-brimmed straw
hat sat well down on her small head and put a shadow on her face.
The slim roundness of her arms showed through the white silk shirt,
and her low collar proved all the beauty of her throat and neck. She
looked more than ever unplucked, untouched, like a rosebud.
On the tip of his tongue there were words of adoration, not
fastidious and carefully chosen, but simple, elemental words such as
a farmhand might blunder out in the deep shadow of a lane, after
dark. But he held them back. He would wait until after they had
dined together and all round them there were silence and solitude.
He drove still more slowly in order to give the two Japanese
servants time to carry out his instructions and remove themselves.
That cottage, which he had bought on the spur of the moment, fitted
out with elaborate care and used only twice, for two weeks since,
was to justify itself, after all. Who knows? He might have bought it
two years before under an inspiration. Even then, months and months
before he met Joan or knew of her existence, this very evening might
have been mapped out He was a fatalist, and it fell into his creed
to think so.
He didn't wonder why Joan was silent or ask himself jealously of
what she was thinking. He chose to believe that she had arrived at
the end of impishness, had grown weary of Harry Oldershaw and his
cubbish ways and had turned to himself naturally and with relief,
choosing her moment with the uncanny intuition that is the gift of
women. She was only just in time. To-morrow would have found him
following the faithful Alice on her forlorn hope--the incurable man.
It was only when they turned into the narrow sandy road that was
within a quarter of a mile of the club at Devon that Joan came out
of the numbness that had settled upon her and recognized things that
were stamped with the marks of an afternoon that was never to be
forgotten. Martin--Martin--and it was all her fault.
"But why are you coming this way?" she asked, drawing back into her
"Because my cottage is just here," said Gilbert.
"Yes. Why not? I had a fancy for playing hermit from time to time. I
saw the sun set behind the water,--a Byron sunset,--and in the hope
of seeing just such another I bought this shack. I did those things
once for want of something better. Look at it," he said, and turned
the car through a rustic gate, alive with honeysuckle.
It was a bungalow, put up on a space cleared among a wood of young
trees that was carpeted with ferns. It might have been built for a
poet or a novelist or just an ordinary muscular man who loved the
water and the silences and the sense of being on the edge of the
world. It was a bungalow of logs, roughly constructed and saved from
utter banality by being almost completely clothed in wisteria. It
was admirably suited to two men who found amusement in being
primitive or to a romantic honeymoon couple who wanted to fancy
themselves on a desert island. Better still, it might have been
built for just that night, for Palgrave and the girl who had taken
shape in his one good dream.
Joan got out of the opulent car and watched Gilbert run it round to
the side of the house. There was no garage and not even a shed to
give it cover. Gilbert left it in the open, where it remained sulky
and supercilious, like a grand piano in an empty kitchen.
Joan had noticed this place twice that day--on the way out to find
Martin, and again on the way back from having heard the voice of the
girl with the white face and the red lips and the hair that came out
of a bottle. Martin--Martin--and it was all her fault.
She wondered for a moment why no one came to open the door. Some one
was there because smoke was coming out of a chimney. But she refused
to be impatient. She had decided to give Gilbert one evening--to be
nice to him for one evening. He was terribly humble. Fate had dealt
her a smashing blow on the heart, and she had returned to
consciousness wistfully eager to make up at least to this man as
well as she could for the pain that she had caused. There was only
this one evening in which to do so because to-morrow she was going
back to the old house, the old people, the old servants and the old
days, a failure, having fallen off the Round-about, of which she had
spoken so much. She was going back a sort of cripple to the place
from which she had escaped to put the key into life; once more to
read to her grandfather, to obey the orders of her grandmother, to
sleep in the warm kind arms of her old bedroom, to go among the
flowers and trees among which she had grown up, herself old and
tired and ashamed and broken-hearted, with her gold ring burning
into her finger and the constant vision of Martin's shining armor
lying bent and rusty before her eyes. What an end to her great
Gilbert came up. He walked without his usual affectation of never
permitting anything to hurry him. All about him there was still a
sort of exaltation. His eyes were amazingly bright. His face had
lost its cynicism. Ten years seemed to have fallen from his
shoulders like a pack. He was a youth again, like Martin and Harry
and Howard. Joan noticed all this and was vaguely surprised--and
glad, because obviously she was giving him pleasure. He deserved it
after her impish treatment of him. What a fool she had been.
He said, bending down, "We keep the key here," and picked it up,
unlocked the door and stood back for her to pass.
"Oh, isn't this nice!" said Joan.
"Do you like it? It amused me to make it comfortable."
"Comfortable! But it's like a picture."
Gilbert laughed boyishly. Her enthusiasm delighted him. To make the
long low living room with its big brick chimney and open fireplace
absolutely right had dispelled his boredom--little as he had
intended to use it. The whole thing was carried out on the lines of
the main room in an English shooting box. The walls were
matchboarded and stained an oak color, and the floor was polished
and covered with skins. Old pewter plates and mugs, and queer ugly
delightful bits of pottery were everywhere--on shelves, on the wide
mantelpiece, and hanging from the beams. Colored sporting prints
covered the walls, among stuffed fish and heads of deer with royal
antlers and beady eyes with a fixed stare. The furniture was
Jacobean--the chairs with ladder backs and cane seats; a wide
dresser, lined with colored plates; a long narrow table with rails
and bulging legs. Two old oak church pews were set on each side of
the fireplace filled with cushions covered with a merry chintz.
There were flowers everywhere in big bowls--red rambler roses,
primula, sweet williams, Shasta daisies, and scarlet poppies. All
the windows were open, and there was nothing damp or musty in the
smell of the room. On the contrary, the companionable aroma of
tobacco smoke hung in the air mixed with the sweet faint scent of
flowers. The place seemed "lived-in"--as well it might. The two Japs
had played gentlemen there for some weeks. The table was laid for
two, and appetizing dishes of cold food, salad and fruit were spread
out on the dresser and sideboard, with iced champagne and claret
"The outside of the cottage didn't suggest all this comfort," said
"Comfort's the easiest thing in the world when you can pay for it.
There's one bedroom half the size of this and two small ones. A
bathroom and kitchen beyond. There's water, of course, and electric
light, and there's a telephone. I loathe the telephone, the
destroyer of aloofness, the missionary that breaks into privacy." He
switched on the lights in several old lanterns as he spoke. The day
had almost disappeared.
He went over to her and stood smiling.
"Well, isn't this better than a road-house reeking of food and flies
and made hideous by a Jazz band?"
"Much better," she said.
The delightful silence was broken by the crickets.
"Martin--Martin," she thought," and it was all my fault."
A sort of tremble ran over Gilbert as he looked at her. Agony and
joy clashed in his heart. He had suffered, gone sleepless, worn
himself out by hard, grim exercise in order, who knew how many
times, to master his almost unendurable passion. He had killed long
nights, the very thought of which made him shudder, by reading books
of which he never took in a word. He had stood up in the dark,
unmanned, and cursed himself and her and life. He had denounced her
to himself and once to her as a flapper, a fool-girl, an empty-
minded frivolous thing encased in a body as beautiful as spring. He
had thrown himself on his knees and wept like a young boy who had
been hurt to the very quick by a great injustice. He had faced
himself up, and with the sort of fear that comes to men in moments
of physical danger, recognized madness in his eyes. But not until
that instant, as she stood before him unguarded in his lonely
cottage, so slight and sweet and unexpectedly gentle, her eyes as
limpid as the water of a brook, her lips soft and kind and unkissed,
her whole young body radiating virginity, did he really know how
amazingly and frighteningly he loved her. But once again he held
back a rush of adoring words and a desire to touch and hold and
claim. The time had not come yet. Let her warm to him. Let him live
down the ugliness of the mood that she had recently put him into, do
away with the impression he must have given her of jealousy and
petulance and scorn. Let her get used to him as a man who had it in
him to be as natural and impersonal, and even as cubbish, as some of
the boys she knew. Later, when night had laid its magic on the
earth, he would make his last bid for her kisses--or take her with
him across the horizon.
"How do you like that?" he asked, and pointed to a charmingly
grotesque piece of old Staffordshire pottery which made St. George a
stunted churchwar den with the legs of a child, his horse the kind
of animal that would be used in a green grocer's cart and the dragon
a cross between a leopard and a half-bred bulldog.
"Very amusing," she said, going over to it.
And the instant her back was turned, he opened a drawer in a
sideboard and satisfied himself that the thing which might have to
put them into Eternity together lay there, loaded.
"And now," he said gayly, "let's dine and, if you don't mind, I
will buttle. I hate servants in a place like this." He went to the
head of the table and drew back a chair.
Joan sat down, thanking him with a smile. It was hard to believe
that, with the words of that girl still ringing in her ears and the
debris of her hopes lying in a heap about her feet, she was going
through the process of being nice to this man who had his claims. It
was unreal, fantastic. It wasn't really happening. She must be lying
face down on some quiet corner of Mother Earth and watering its
bosom with tears of blood. Martin--Martin! It was all her fault.
Tomorrow she would be back again in the old house, with the old
people and the old dogs and the old trees and follow her old
routine--old, old. That was the price she must pay for being a kid
when she should have been a woman.
Palgrave stood at the sideboard and carved a cold chicken decorated
with slips of parsley. "Have you ever gone into a room in which
you've never been before and recognized everything in it or done
some thing for the first time that you suddenly realize isn't new to
"Yes, often," replied Joan. "Why?"
"You've never sat in that chair until this minute and this chicken
was probably killed this morning. But I've seen you sitting in just
that attitude at that table and cut the wing of this very bird and
watched that identical smile round your lips when I put the plate in
front of you." He put it in front of her and the scent of her hair
made him catch his breath. "Oh, my God!" he said to himself. "This
girl--this beautiful, cool, bewitching thing--the dew of youth upon
her, as chaste as unsunned snow--Oh, my God. . . ."
But Joan had caught the scent of honeysuckle, and back into her
brain came that cottage splashed with sun, the lithe figure of Harry
Oldershaw with his face tanned the color of mahogany and the clear
voice of "Mrs. Gray."
Gilbert filled her glass with champagne cup, carved for himself and
sat at the foot of the table. "The man from whom I bought this
place," he said, saying anything to make conversation and keep
himself rig idly light and, as he hoped, like Oldershaw, "owns a
huge ready-made clothes store on Broadway--appalling things with
comic belts and weird pockets."
"Oh!" said Joan. Always, for ever, the scent of honeysuckle would
bring that picture back. Martin--Martin.
"He makes any amount of money by dressing that portion of young
America which sells motors and vacuum cleaners and gramaphone
records and hangs about stage doors smoking cheap cigarettes."
"Yes?" Joan listened but heard nothing except that high clear voice
coming through the screen door.
"He built this cottage as an antidote and spent his week-ends here
entirely alone with the trees and crickets, trying to write poetry.
He was very pleased with it and believed that this atmosphere was
going to make him immortal."
"I see,"--but all she saw was a porch covered with honeysuckle, a
hammock with an open book face downwards in it and the long shadow
of Harry Oldershaw flung across the white steps.
Gilbert went on--pathetically unable to catch the unaffected young
stuff of the nice boy and his kind. He had never been young.
"He had had no time during his hard struggle to read the masters,
and when, without malice, I quoted a chunk of Grey's 'Elegy' to him,
the poor devil's jaw fell, he withdrew his blank refusal to sell the
place to me, pocketed my cheque, packed his grip, and slouched off
then and there, looking as if a charge of dynamite had blown his
chest away. His garments, I notice, are as comic as ever, and I
suppose he is now living in a turretted house with stucco walls and
stone lions at New Rochelle, wedded to Commerce and a buxom girl who
talks too much and rag-times through her days."
Joan joined in his laugh. She was there to make up for her
unkindness. She would do her best under the circumstances. She hoped
he would tell lots of long stories to cover her wordlessness.
Gilbert emptied his glass and filled it again. He was half conscious
of dramatizing the episode as it unrolled itself and thrilled to
think that this might be the last time that he would eat and drink
in the only life that he knew. Death, upon which he had looked
hitherto with horror, didn't scare him if he went into it hand in
hand with Joan. With Alice trying, in her per sistently gentle way,
to cure him, life was unthinkable. Life with Joan--there was that to
achieve. Let the law unravel the knots while he and she wandered in
France and Italy, she triumphantly young, and he a youth again, his
dream come true. . . . Would she have come with him to-night if she
hadn't grown weary of playing flapper? She knew what she meant to
him. He had told her often enough. Too often, perhaps. He had taken
the surprise of it away, discounted the romance..
He got up and gave her some salad and stood by her for a moment. He
was like a moth hovering about a lamp.
She smiled up at him again--homesick for the old bedroom and the old
trees, eager to sit in her grand father's room and read the paper to
him. He was old and out of life and so was she. Oh, Martin, Martin.
Why couldn't he have waited a little while longer?
The shock of touching her fingers as she took the salad plate sent
the blood to Gilbert's brain. But he reined himself in. He was
afraid to come to the point yet. Life was too good like this. The
abyss yawned at their feet. He would turn his back to it and see
only the outstretched landscape of hope.
They ate very little, and Joan ignored her glass. Gilbert frequently
filled his own, but he might just as well have been drinking water.
He was already drunk with love.
Finally, after a long silence, Joan pushed her chair back and got
Instantly he was in front of her, with his back to the door. "Joan,"
he said, and held out his hands in supplication.
"Don't you think we ought to drive home now?" she asked.
"Yes. It must be getting late."
"Not yet," he said, steadying his voice. "Time is ours. Don't
He went down suddenly on to his knees and kissed her feet.
At any other time, in any other mood, the action would have stirred
her sense of the ridiculous. She would have laughed and whipped him
with sarcasm. He had done exuberant things before and left her
unmoved except to mirth. But this time she raised him up without a
word, and he answered her touch with curious unresistance, like a
man hypnotized and stood speechless, but with eyes that were filled
"Be good to-night, Gilbert," she said. "I've . . . I've been awfully
hurt to-day and I feel tired and worn--not up to fencing with you."
The word "fencing" didn't strike home at first, nor did he gather at
once from her simple appeal that she had not come in the mood that
he had persuaded himself was hers.
"This is the first time that you've given me even an hour since you
drew me to the Hosacks," he said. "Be generous. Don't do things by
She could say nothing to that. She was there only because of a
desire to make up ever so little for having teased him. He had been
consistently generous to her. She had hoped, from his manner, that
he was simply going to be nice and kind and not indulge in
romantics. She was wrong, evidently. It was no new thing, though.
She was well accustomed to his being dramatic and almost foreign. He
had said many amazing things but always remained the civilized man,
and never attempted to make a scene. She liked him for that, and she
had tried him pretty high, she knew. She did wish that he would be
good that night, but there was nothing to say in reply to his
appeal. And so she went over to one of the pews and sat down among
"I'll give you another hour, then," she said.
But the word had begun to rankle. "Fencing!--Fencing! . . ."
He repeated it several times.
She watched him wander oddly about the room, thinking aloud rather
than speaking to her. How different he had become. For the first
time it dawned upon her that the whole look of the man had undergone
a change. He held himself with less affectation. His petulance had
gone. He was like a Gilbert Palgrave who had been ill and had come
out of it with none of his old arrogance.
He took up a cigarette and began wandering again, muttering her
unfortunate word. She was sorry to have hurt his feelings. It was
the very last thing that she had wanted to do. "Aren't there any
matches?" she asked. "Ring for some."
She was impatient of indecision.
He drew up and looked at her. "Ring? Why? No one will come."
"Are we the only people in the house, then?"
"Yes," he said. "That's part of my plan."
"Plan?" She was on her feet. "What do you mean? Have you thought all
this out and made a scheme of it?"
"Yes; all out," he said. "The moment has come, Joan."
No longer did the scent of honeysuckle take Joan back to the sun-
bathed cottage and the voice behind the door. No longer did she feel
that all this wasn't really happening, that it was fantastic. Stark
reality forced itself upon her and brought her into the present as
though some one had turned up all the lights in a dark room. She was
alone with the man whom she had driven to the limit of his patience.
No one knew that she was there. It was a trick into which she had
fallen out of a new wish to be kind. A sense of self-preservation
scattered the dire effects of everything that had happened during
the afternoon. She must get out, quickly. She made for the door.
But Gilbert was there first. He locked it, drew out the key, put it
in his pocket and before she could turn towards the door leading to
the other rooms, he was there. He repeated the process with peculiar
deftness and when he saw her dart a look at the windows, he shook
"You can't jump through those screens," he said.
"It isn't fair," she cried.
"Have you been fair?"
"I shall shout for help."
"The nearest cottage is too far away for any one to hear you."
"What are you going to do?"
He went back to her. He was far too quiet and dignified and unlike
himself. She could have managed the old vain Gilbert. A scoffing
laugh, and he would have withered. But this new Gilbert, who looked
at her with such a curious, exalted expression--what was she to do
"Joan," he said, "listen. This is the end or the beginning. I
haven't locked the doors and sent the servants away to get you into
a vulgar trap. I might have done it a few weeks ago, but not as I am
now. This is my night, my beautiful Joan. You have given it to me.
After all this fencing, as you call it, you are here with me alone,
as far away from the old foolishness as if you were out at sea. What
I have to say is so much a private thing, and what I may have to do
so much a matter to be treated with the profoundest solemnity that
we must run no risk of disturbance. Do you begin to understand,
"No," she said.
"I will explain it to you, then. You are very young and have been
very thoughtless. You haven't stopped to think that you have been
playing with a soul as well as a heart. I have brought you here to-
night to face things up simply and quietly and finally, and leave it
to you to make a choice."
"Yes, between life with me or death in my arms."
All that was healthy and normal in Joan broke into revolt. There
was something erotic, uncanny about all this. Life or death? What
was he talking about? Her pride, too, which had never been put to
such a test, was up in arms against the unfairness and cunning of
the way in which she had been taken advantage of. She had meant to
be kind and pay something of her debt to this man, and it was a
vulgar trap, whatever he said in excuse. Let him dare to touch her.
Let him dare. She would show him how strong she was and put up such
a fight as would amaze him. Just now she had placed herself among
those old people and old trees, because she had suffered. But she
was young, tingling with youth, and her slate was clean,
notwithstanding the fool game that she had played, and she would
keep it clean, if she had to fight her way out.
She took up her stand behind the table, alert and watchful.
"I don't get you when you go in for melodrama," she said. "I much
prefer your usual way of talking. Translate for me." She spoke
scornfully because hitherto she had been able to turn him off by
But it didn't work this time. It was not anger that came into his
eyes, only an unexpected and disconcerting reproach. He made no
attempt to go near her. He looked extraordinarily patient and
gentle. She had never seen him like this before. "Don't stand
there," he said. "Come and sit down and let's go into this sensibly,
like people who have emerged from stupidity. In any case you are not
going back to Easthampton to-night."
She began to be frightened. "Not going back to Easthampton?"
"No, my dear."
She left her place behind the table and went up to him. Had all the
world gone wrong? Had her foolishness been so colossal that she was
to be broken twice on the same day? "Gilbert," she said. "What is
it? What do you mean? Why do you say these odd things in this queer
way? You're--you're frightening me, Gilbert."
Young? She was a child as she stood there with her lovely face
upturned. It was torture to keep his hands off her and not take her
lips. But he did nothing. He stood steady and waited for his brain
to clear. "Odd things in a queer way? Is that how I strike you?"
"Yes. I've never seen you in this mood before. If you've brought me
here to make me say I'm sorry, I will, because I am sorry. I'd do
anything to have all these days over again--every one since I
climbed out of my old bedroom window. If you said hard things to me
all night I should deserve them all and I'll pay you what I can of
my debt, but don't ask me to pay too much. I trusted you by coming
here alone. Don't go back on me, Gilbert."
He touched her cheek and drew his hand away.
"But I haven't brought you here to make you humble yourself," he
said. "There's nothing small in this. What you've done to me has
left its marks, of course, deep marks. I don't think you ever really
understood the sort of love mine is. But the hour has gone by for
apologies and arguments and regrets. I'm standing on the very edge
of things. I'm just keeping my balance on the lip of eternity. It's
for you to draw me back or go tumbling over with me. That's why
you're here. I told you that. Are you really so young that you don't
"I'm a kid, I'm a kid," she cried out, going back to her old excuse.
"That's the trouble."
"Then I'll put it into plain words," he said, with the same
appalling composure. "I've had these things in my mind to say to you
for hours. I can repeat them like a parrot. If the sort of
unimaginative people who measure everybody by themselves were to
hear what I'm going to say, I suppose they would think I'm insane.
But you won't. You have imagination. You've seen me in every stage
of what I call the Great Emotion. But you've not treated me well,
Joan, or taken me seriously, and this is the one serious thing of my
He was still under control, although his voice had begun to shake
and his hands to tremble. She could do nothing but wait for him to
go on. The crickets and the frogs filled in the short silence.
"And now it's come to this. I can be played with no longer. I can't
wait for you any more. Either you love me, or you don't. If you do,
you must be as serious as I am, tear up your roots such as they are
and come away with me. Your husband, who counts for as little as my
wife, will set the law in action. So will Alice. We will wander
among any places that take your fancy until we can be married and
then if you want to come back, we will. But if you don't and won't
love me, I can't live and see you love any other man. I look upon
you as mine. I created you for myself ten years ago. Not being able
to live without you, I am not made of the stuff to leave you behind
me. I shall take you and if there's another life on the other side,
live it with you. If not, then we'll snuff out together. Like all
great lovers, I'm selfish, you see. That's what I meant when I
talked just now about choice."
He moved away, quietly, and piled several cushions into a corner of
one of the pews. The look of exaltation was on his face again.
"Sit here, my dream girl," he added, with the most wonderful
tenderness, "and think it over. Don't hurry. The night belongs to
us." He found a match and lit a cigarette and stood at one of the
windows looking out at the stars.
But Joan was unable to move. Her blood was as cold as ice. As though
a searchlight had suddenly been thrown on to Gilbert, she saw him as
he was. "Unimaginative people will think I'm insane." . . . SHE
didn't think he was insane, imaginative as he said she was. She KNEW
it. If she had been able to think of one thing but Martin and that
girl and her own chaos, she must have guessed it at Easthampton from
the look in his eyes when he helped her into his car. . . . He had
lost his balance, gone over the dividing hue between soundness and
unsoundness. And it was her fault for having fooled with his
feelings. Everything was her fault, everything. And now she stood on
what Gilbert had called the lip of Eternity. "Who Cares?" had come
back at her like a boomerang. And as to a choice between giving
herself to Gilbert or to death, what was the good of thinking that
over? She didn't love this man and never could. She loved Martin,
Martin. She had always loved Martin from the moment that she had
turned and found him on the hill. She had lost him, that was true,
He had been unable to wait. He had gone to the girl with the white
face and the red lips and the hair that came out of a bottle. She
had sent him to her, fool that she had been. Already she had decided
to creep back to the old prison house and thus to leave life.
Without Martin nothing mattered. Why put up a fight for something
that didn't count? Why continue mechanically to live when living
meant waiting for death? Why not grasp this opportunity of leaving
it actually, at once, and urge Gilbert on to stop the beating of her
wounded and contrite heart? . . . Death, the great consoler. Sleep,
endless sleep and peace.
But as she stood there, tempted, with the weight of Martin's
discarded armor on her shoulders and the sense of failure hanging
like a millstone round her neck, she saw the creeper bursting into
buds on the wall beneath the window of her old room, caught the
merry glint of young green on the trees below her hill, heard the
piping of birds to their nesting mates, the eager breeze singing
among the waving grasses and the low sweet crooning of baby voices--
felt a tiny greedy hand upon her breast, was bewildered with a
sudden overwhelming rush of mother-longing . . . young, young? Oh,
God, she was young, and in the springtime with its stirring sap, its
call to life and action, its urge to create, to build, its ringing
cry to be up and doing, serving, sowing, tending--the pains of
winter forgotten, hope in the warming sun.
She must live. Even without Martin she must live. She was too young
for death and sleep and peace. Life called and claimed and demanded.
It had need of the young for a good spring, a ripe summer, a golden
autumn. She must live and work and justify.
There was Gilbert watching the stars with a smile, calmly and
quietly and horribly waiting for her to make a choice, having
slipped over on the other side of the dividing line. A scream of
fear and terror rose to her throat. This quiet, exalted man, so