OME PASSAGES FROM JOANNA SYMRTHWAITE’S

Mrs. Spencer, the train of her mauve, cotton-back satin tea-gown thrown
negligently over her arm, held aside the strings of the beaded chick,
letting her guest pass into the inner hall. As she moved across to the
open door of the much be-frilled and be-palmed little drawing-room,
they rippled back into place behind her with a rattle of cane and
tinkle of glass. The familiar sound gave Challoner, who, heavily
deliberate, deposited gloves and hat on the hall table, a catch in his
throat. He found the first sight of Mrs. Gwynnie in her flimsy satin,
cream lace, and rather tired turquoise-blue ribbons, upsetting. She
was a straw-colored, insignificant-featured, fairly tall, fairly plump,
fairly graceful, uncomfortably small-waisted woman; looking, at a
distance, five-and-twenty, at close quarters, nearer five-and-thirty,
cheaply pretty and effective, though slightly washed out. And this
latter quality, or absence of quality, in her appearance took hold of
Challoner now with an appeal of pathos which he resented and made an
effort to ignore. It did not tend to the improvement of his manners or
of his temper.

“Since when have you taken to answering the front door yourself?” he
inquired, in tones of heavy banter. “Been having the periodic rumpus
with the maids again?”

“Oh no; the maids are quite good, thank you,” she answered, punctuating
her speech with a little meaningless, neighing laugh habitual to her.
“I’m on excellent terms with both of them, for a wonder. But it’s the
cook’s evening out, and I gave Esther leave to go with her. I didn’t
think we should have any particular use for them.” Again she laughed.
“But didn’t you get my note?”

“Yes, I got it right enough,” Challoner said. He had followed her into
the drawing-room and stood with his hands behind him and his back to
the hissing gas-fire, looking down at his seal-brown frieze trousers.
The suit was almost new, yet the knees showed signs of bagging already.
This vexed him. “That is why I am here. You said you wanted to see
me. So I stayed and dined in town to save time, and came on just as I
was.”

“So I perceive,” she put in with meaning.

Challoner continued to contemplate the knees of his trousers. Yet he
was well aware that her eyes were fixed on another item of his
costume–namely, his waistcoat, crocheted in red and white quarter-inch
squares, and finished with a gray cloth border and flat white horn
buttons. Mrs. Spencer had worked it for him last year as a Christmas
present. He wished to goodness he had not happened to be wearing it
to-night!

“Yes,” he repeated, without looking up, “I got your note right enough.
But, do you know, I begin to think I get rather too many of those
notes. You’ve fallen into the habit of writing too frequently.
Between ourselves, it worries me a lot.”

“Why?” she asked.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“Why? Because I have some regard for your reputation, I imagine. I
don’t care a twopenny damn on my own account, of course. My back’s
broad enough to bear the consequences of my own actions, even if they
are disagreeable. But it is quite another matter for you; and I must
say you’re getting very reckless. That’s not fair by me. I’ve been
awfully careful from the first. But where’s the use of my taking
extensive precautions to shield you if you go and invite gossip like
this?”

“Don’t be cross and scold me,” Mrs. Spencer said, archly.

She had placed herself on the sofa at right angles to the fireplace,
drawing the train of her tea-gown aside so as to leave room for a
second occupant of this, the most solid seat in the room. The rest of
the furniture ran to wicker chairs, colored Madras muslin veiling their
original cretonne coverings, and tables, whatnots, cabinets, and
flower-pot stands with mottled brown-and-biscuit bamboo frames and
plaited straw tops, brackets, and shelves to them.

“I won’t write so often if you really think it is dangerous,” she added.

“It is dangerous,” Challoner asserted, ignoring the invitation to share
the sofa. “Think for yourself. At Heatherleigh there are my servants.
At the office there are my clerks. Do you suppose they haven’t tongues
in their mouths or eyes in their heads? If that does not constitute
danger, I’ll thank you to tell me what does.”

“But you forbid me to telephone, so how am I to communicate with you
unless I write? You call so seldom. I hardly ever see you now.”

“Oh! come,” he remonstrated, “I was here Sunday week.”

“But that’s Beattie’s afternoon at home. You know I always give it up
to her friends. And a whole crowd of them was here Sunday week–Fred
Lawley, and the Busbridge boys, and Marion Chase. I didn’t get three
words with you.”

Challoner glanced at her in sharp anxiety.

“Fred Lawley come up to the scratch yet?” he asked.

“If you mean has he proposed, I am sure I can’t tell you. I don’t know
myself. I suppose if he had, Bee would have told me. He seems
tremendously gone on her. But you never can be sure of a man till your
engagement has been publicly announced.”

It was Challoner who laughed a little this time.

“Not quite invariably even then,” he said.

His chin settled into the V of the turned-back corners of his high
shirt-collar, while his eyes returned to contemplation of those
vexatiously baggy trousers. Mrs. Spencer began to speak, but he hulled
down her voice by asking, rather loudly:

“By the way, where is Miss Beattie?”

“Oh, she’s gone over to Marychurch to the Quartermains. They asked her
to stop the night because the Progressive Whist Club meets at their
house. I think those club parties awfully slow, but Bee wouldn’t miss
one on any account. They don’t play for money, only prizes.”

“China lucky pigs or a black velvet cat, home-made, with a pink ribbon
around its neck–I know the style,” Challoner returned. “Fred Lawley’s
the attraction, I imagine, rather than those high-class works of art.”

“I don’t think he’ll be there. Bee said something about his having
gone to Southampton to join his ship. You seem very interested in Fred
Lawley. But I told you in my note Bee was away to-night?”

“Very likely you did–I really don’t remember,” he replied, hastily.

For he detected, or fancied he detected, a suggestion in her tone and
words eminently unwelcome and embarrassing. He felt the brick-dust red
of his face and neck deepening to crimson; and this both angered and
alarmed him. Notwithstanding repudiation of sentiment, was the soft
side still uppermost? That would not do. He must buckram himself more
resolutely against poor Mrs. Gwynnie’s fascinations, and bring matters
to a head at once.

“But that reminds me–speaking of Beattie, I mean–what do you want
done about the lease of this house? It will be up at the end of the
half quarter.”

So far Mrs. Spencer had lolled in attitudes of studied ease upon the
sofa. Now she sat bolt upright, clasping her small waist with both
hands and advancing her bust. The little neighing laugh preceded,
instead of punctuating, her speech. Challoner observed a nervous ring
in the quality of it.

“Oh! well that rests more with you than with me, doesn’t it? Of course
I hadn’t forgotten the lease is nearly up. It was
partly–partly”–with emphasis–“about the house I wanted to see you
to-night, and I think it awfully sweet of you to ask what I want done–”

She paused, while her auditor, in growing uneasiness, again shifted his
weight, dancing-bear fashion, from one to the other foot.

“Yes, it’s awfully sweet of you to put it that way,” she repeated.
“And I quite know I ought to make up my mind. I suppose, on the whole,
I had better ask you to renew the lease for a year, or six months,
unless–unless–”

“Unless what?” Challoner snapped.

He could have bitten his tongue out immediately after, perceiving how
woefully he had blundered. For, although he carefully abstained from
looking at her, he knew that the light leaped into Mrs. Spencer’s eyes
and the pink into her cheek, while even her straw-colored hair, through
the intricate convolutions of which a wisp of turquoise chiffon was
twisted, took on a livelier tint. She blossomed, in short; her faded,
crumpled, played-out prettiness of person and manner transformed into
the younger, smarter, more convinced, and consequently more convincing,
prettiness which had raised an evil spirit of covetousness in him when
he first met her, and continued to provoke that covetousness
until–well, until something very much more profitable, socially and
financially, in the shape of possibly obtainable womanhood had risen
above his horizon. The moment was a very nasty one for Joseph
Challoner; since it could not but occur to him that, while responsible
for much existing damage, he was about to render himself liable for far
heavier damages in the near future. This taxed his courage. Again,
consciously, he “funked it”; so that for some few seconds Gwynneth
Spencer’s fate hung in the balance. But only for a few seconds did her
fate so hang. Ambition, and a brute obstinacy in face of attempted
coercion, a certain animal necessity to prove to himself the fact of
his own strength, carried the day. Challoner turned his coat once and
for all, in as far as poor light-weight Gwynnie Spencer was concerned,
letting the underlying element of cruelty and cunning in his nature
have free play.

“Unless what?” she echoed, laughing thinly. “Why, unless you have any
other plan to propose, Joe; any arrangement which you’d like better and
which I should like better than just sticking on here indefinitely at
Robin’s Rest.”

Challoner had moved away to a rickety little bamboo table, set out with
cheap flower-vases and knick-knacks. Absently he picked up a
photograph, in dilapidated silver frame, from among these treasures and
stood fingering it. The coat of many colors was fairly turned; yet at
the sound of his pet name Challoner started, letting the object he held
fall to the ground, where, to his relief, silver, leather, glass,
cardboard and portrait incontinently parted company.

“I need not put it more plainly, need I?” she quavered, an upward break
in her voice. “But, of course, if you have any other plan to propose
there would be no occasion to bother about the renewal of the lease.”

Challoner knelt on one knee, his large hands groping over the carpet as
he gathered up the _débris_.

“Bless me!” he said, “the wretched thing’s smashed. What a nuisance!
I hope you haven’t any special affection for it. I am awfully sorry.
Can’t imagine how I came to drop it! Stupid of me, wasn’t it? I must
get you a new one. I saw some uncommonly tasty silver frames in a shop
in the Marychurch Road to-day. I’ll go in and buy you one the first
time I pass. Tell your girl to be careful when she sweeps in the
morning, though, for the glass has splintered all over the place.”

He rose ponderously to his feet, and for the first time since his
arrival looked full at her.

“Peuh!” he went on, blowing out his breath and laying one hand across
the small of his back. “It strikes me I’m growing confoundedly stiff.
Old age comes on apace, eh, Mrs. Gwynnie? Not in your case, I don’t
mean. You are one of the sort that wears well. I haven’t seen you in
better looks for months. Some other plan to propose, did you say?
Yes, I have, otherwise I mightn’t have been quite so ready to eat a
beastly bad dinner down-town, so as to be free to come on here early to
see you.”

His manner had become almost boisterously jocose. Casting out the last
remnant of pity, he cast out the last remnant of fear of her even in
her present heightened prettiness. He came round behind the sofa and
perched himself on the back of it, sitting sideways, looking down at
her flushed, expectant, unimportant little face, and quite jauntily
swinging his leg.

“You’ll not forget to tell them about the broken glass?” he queried,
parenthetically, “or you’ll have somebody getting badly cut. As to my
alternative plan now, Mrs. Gwynnie, I have been thinking things over
too; and I feel, like you, they can’t very well continue as they are.
This Robin’s Rest arrangement, which served its purpose well enough at
first, is pretty thoroughly played out. We may regret that, but it is.
And, to tell you the truth, Mrs. Gwyn, I have been troubled by some
little qualms of conscience lately. Beattie’s affairs have been on my
mind a lot.”

“Beattie, Beattie?” she broke in, shrilly. “What on earth has Bee to
do with it?”

“The question is not so much what Beattie has to do with it”–laying
stress on the last word–“as what it has to do with Beattie,” Challoner
returned, in a benevolent, heavy-father tone. “In my opinion she has
been a mighty good little sister to you, and she must be mortally tired
of keeping her eyes shut and playing gooseberry by this time. I see no
reason why her prospects should be sacrificed. She’s a perfect right
to a look in of her own, poor girl.”

The answer to the above might appear obvious. But Challoner gauged the
mental caliber of the person he dealt with. Mrs. Spencer’s shallow,
trivial, fair-weather nature was ill-adapted to meet any great crisis.
Her small brain worked slowly, and with a permanent inclination toward
the irrelevant and indirect. He counted upon these defects of
perception and logic, and he was not disappointed.

“But–but, when I marry,” she said, essaying not very successfully to
practise her little laugh, “I always meant to make it a condition that
Bee should share my home.”

“Very nice and thoughtful. Quite right of you,” Challoner replied,
still benevolently jocose. “Only I was talking about Beattie’s
matrimonial projects just now, not about yours, you see. And you are
to blame, Mrs. Gwyn. You have been careless. I don’t want to pile on
the agony, but you have been most awfully careless. There is ever so
much gossip going round. I am afraid people are beginning to look just
a little askance. And what reflects on you reflects on your sister. I
have taken the trouble to make inquiries, and, from all I hear, Fred
Lawley is a very decent young fellow and will come into some money when
his grandfather dies. He is second officer now, and stands well for
promotion. The pay is above the average, too, on that Cape line. His
people are in a good position; quite gentlefolk, a solid old clerical
family–one of his uncles a canon of some cathedral or other, I forget
which. It would be a first-class marriage for Beattie. But you cannot
expect people like that to be best pleased at his taking up with a girl
out of such a queer stable as–well, as this one, Mrs. Gwyn. Therefore
I do not think I should be acting in your sister’s interests if I
renewed the lease of this house for you.”

“I see that,” she said, her aspect brightening. “I see what you are
coming round to. How you have thought it all out! I see–of
course–go on.”

“I shall not renew the lease of this house,” he repeated, slowly, “but
I propose you and Miss Beattie shall move, bag and baggage, to
Marychurch, where–”

“Marychurch? Why? I thought you meant Heatherleigh! Why? Do you
want to get rid of us? Oh!” she gasped, “oh!”

“Yes,” Challoner said, jocosity waning somewhat. “Exactly, Mrs.
Gwynnie. How quick you are! I do want to get rid of you, for your own
good, and my good, and Beattie’s good as well–principally for hers.
This gossip must be stopped. I cannot have it. It is unpleasant for
me, but for you it is disastrous. At Marychurch Beattie has the
Quartermains and plenty of other friends. It will be handy for her
young man, too, when his vessel is at Southampton. You would see ever
so much more society there than you do here. And I can give you an
uncommonly nice house, very superior in every respect to this
one–Sunnyside, the white house with a veranda, opposite the new
Borough Recreation Ground in Wilmer Road. Nominally it belongs to old
Manby, but actually it belongs to me. It has been standing empty since
Christmas, and Manby will think himself only too lucky to let it to any
client of mine at a low rent–which I pay, of course. No one need know
anything about that.”

Challoner talked on, swinging his leg jauntily, though every nerve in
his big body was strained with the effort to apprehend and follow the
workings of his hearer’s mind. So far, save for that passing outbreak,
she had received his admonitions and propositions more reasonably than
he had anticipated. So he must exercise patience, must not rush her;
but give the idea time to sink in.

“Manby’s property is mortgaged up to the hilt,” he went on, “and he is
more than half a year behind with the interest. If he doesn’t come
into my terms I shall threaten to foreclose. He knows I have got him
between my finger and thumb, poor old chap, and he goes in terror of
the time I may begin to squeeze. I admit it does seem rather rough on
him, for he is in this hole through no fault of his own. His family
has owned the property for three generations. But his business has
dwindled to nothing, and that compelled him to raise money. The
co-operative stores at Stourmouth and Southampton are crushing him and
old-fashioned, jog-along, retail tradesmen like him out of existence.
The same thing is happening all over the country. Men of his type have
neither enterprise nor capital to compete with those large company
concerns.”

She sat so still, listening with such apparent docility, that Challoner
judged it safe to quit generalities.

“Sunnyside shall be properly done up and the sanitation inspected,” he
said. “I am willing to spend from seventy to a hundred on the place.
It is bound to be my own sooner or later, so any money I lay out on it
will come back to me in the end. Too, I want to do the thing
handsomely for you, Mrs. Gwyn. You and Beattie could go out by tram
to-morrow, or next day, and have a look at the place. I’ll advise
Manby by telephone to-morrow, first thing, I have found him a very
desirable tenant, so that he may open the house. Better make a list of
any little odds and ends you may think need doing. If you like, you
can choose the wall-papers yourself.”

“That’s awfully sweet of you. But supposing I don’t like the house
when I see it? I know I am rather fanciful and particular,” she put
in, with her little neighing laugh.

“I’ll guarantee you’ll like it,” he returned. “It’s just the sort of
house to appeal to your taste. Really high class, nothing cheap or
tawdry about it, built somewhere in the early seventies, tip-top style
in its own line, quite a gentlewoman’s house.”

Mrs. Spencer fingered the lace and ribbons of her tea-gown negligently,
advanced her left foot, studied the pointed toe of her beaded slipper,
then looked up archly in Challoner’s face.

“But supposing,” she said, “I really don’t want a house at Marychurch
at all–what then? Supposing I really prefer to remain at Stourmouth?
Supposing I am really determined to stay on here at our dear old
Robin’s Rest?”

Challoner’s expression darkened. He descended from his graceful perch
and stood behind the sofa, towering above her.

“Very sorry, Mrs. Gwyn,” he replied, “but I regret to say it can’t be
done. It doesn’t suit me to have you stay on at Robin’s Rest.”

“But why?” she insisted.

Challoner hesitated for an instant, decided to make exact truth
subservient to expediency, and spoke.

“Why? Well, if you press the point, not only for the very good reasons
which I have already given you at some length, but because I want the
house for another tenant. Pewsey, my junior partner, has asked for it
for his mother. I am anxious to oblige Pewsey. I have promised him
possession some time in the June quarter.”

“You have let Robin’s Rest, let our house, Joe, our own dear little
house, without ever telling me? Let it over my head?”

Looking at her upturned face, pretty, scared, brainless, Challoner’s
memory played a queer trick on him, harking back to scenes of long ago,
at which, as a schoolboy, he had more than once–to his
shame–assisted, on the Fairmead at Marychurch, the great, flat,
fifty-acre grass meadow which lies on the outskirts of the little town
between the River Wilmer and the Castle Moat. He saw, with startling
vividness of detail, the agonized leaping rush of the shrill-squealing
rabbits, wire-netting barrier in front of them and red-jawed,
hot-breathing dogs behind. Even then he had turned somewhat sick at
the hellish pastime, although excitement, and a natural disposition to
bully all creatures weaker than himself, made him yell and curse and
urge on the dogs with the roughest of the crowd. He sickened now,
watching this hapless, foolish, bewildered woman double and turn in
desperate effort to elude pursuing, self-created Fate, only to find
herself brought up short against the irrefragable logic of the
situation as demonstrated by his own relentless common-sense. Yet,
even while he sickened, excitement gained on him, and his bullying
instinct began to find satisfaction in the inhuman sport.

“Yes, Mrs. Gwynnie,” he said, “I own I have done just that–let Robin’s
Rest over your head. I saw it was the kindest thing, both by you and
by your sister, though it might strike you as a bit arbitrary at first.
My duty is to stop this infernal gossip at all costs. If you won’t
take proper care of your own reputation I must take care of it for
you–isn’t that as clear as mud?”

“But I don’t want to go away,” she cried, again missing the point. “I
refuse to be sent away. You have no right to interfere. It isn’t your
place. You can’t order me about and push me aside like that. I am a
lady, and I refuse to put up with such treatment. It is very rude of
you and quite unsuitable. Everybody would feel that. I shall appeal
to my friends. I shall tell every one I know about it.”

“Oh! as you please, of course. But just what will you tell them?”
Challoner asked.

“Why, the whole story–the whole truth.”

“As you please,” he repeated. “Only I’m afraid it’s not a story
likely, when told, to enlarge your local visiting-list.”

Challoner perched on the back of the sofa again, domineering,
masterful, leaning down and looking her straight in the eyes.

“See here, Gwynnie,” he said. “You’re in a tight place. Listen to
reason. Don’t be a fool and throw away your last chance in a pet.”

“I mean to expose you. I will tell everybody, everybody,” she cried.

“No,” Challoner said, “you won’t. I give you credit for more worldly
wisdom, more self-respect, more good feeling, than that. The injury
you might do me, by publishing this little love-passage of ours, would
not be a patch upon the injury you would do yourself. You don’t want
to commit social suicide, do you, and find every door shut in your
face? Tell any of these friends of yours, the Woodfords, Mrs. Paull,
Marion Chase, and they’d avoid you as they would a leper, drop you like
a hot potato, cut you dead, whether they believed your charming little
tale or not. You are fond of company, Mrs. Gwynnie–a gregarious
being. You would not the least enjoy being left out in the cold all by
yourself. And there is another point. I am perfectly willing to pay
for my pleasure honestly, as a man should, but it is not wise to tax my
good nature too far. Doing your best to blast my reputation is not
exactly the way to make me feel kindly or act generously toward you.
There would be no more nice houses, rent free, Mrs. Gwyn, rates and
taxes paid; no more quarterly allowance, I am afraid. I should cut off
supplies, my dear. Your widow’s pension is paid in rupees, remember,
not in sterling; and the value of the rupee is hardly likely to go up.
So you had better look at the question all round before you take the
neighborhood into your confidence. Listen here, I will give you a
hundred a year and the Marychurch house–”

“But if I tell everybody how you have treated me, public opinion will
force you to marry me,” she cried, with an air of announcing an
annihilating truth.

Challoner swung his big body from side to side contemptuously.

“Faugh!” he said. “Public opinion will do nothing of the sort. You
forget it is a case of my word against yours, and that, considering our
relative positions, my word will count a jolly sight most.”

“But you dare not deny–”

“Oh, indeed yes, I dare,” Challoner broke out. “I can deny and shall
deny–or rather should, for it won’t ever come to the test–that your
accusations have any foundation whatsoever in fact. If a woman is mad
enough to incriminate herself she must do so. But a man always denies,
at least every man of honor and proper feeling does. No, no; be
sensible. Think of Beattie. Think of yourself. Don’t put all your
eggs in one basket. You are a taking woman still, Mrs. Gwyn. Give
yourself another chance. For remember, you haven’t a shred of evidence
to offer in support of your attack. You have bombarded me with notes,
but, except as lawyer to client, I have never written you two lines in
my life.” He paused. “No, thank goodness! even at my hottest I kept
my head screwed on sufficiently the right way to avoid the old
letter-writing trap.”

“Then from the first, the very first,” she gasped, “did you never mean
to marry me?”

Challoner had the grace to hesitate, look down at the floor, and lower
his voice as he answered.

“No, my dear girl, never–from the day I found I could get what I
wanted at the cheaper rate.”

Gwynneth Spencer stared blankly in front of her. Then, as her small,
slow-working brain began to take in the measure of her own disgrace,
while the poor house of cards in which she trusted toppled and tumbled
flat, her silly, little, neighing laugh rose to a shriek. Beating the
air with both hands, she flung herself at full length on the sofa, her
body convulsed from head to foot and her throat torn by hysterical
cries and sobs. Challoner turned his back, put his hands over his
ears. The squealing of the mangled rabbits, on the Fairmead, had been
a lullaby compared with this! But he found it useless to try and shut
out the sounds. Piercing, discordant, rasping, they echoed through the
room. They must be heard next door. Heard out in the road. Heard, so
it seemed to Challoner, through the length and breadth of Stourmouth.
Must resound, startling the high respectabilities of the Baughurst Park
Ward. Must break in upon the dignified seclusion of the Tower House
itself, searing his name with infamy.

He turned round, leaned down over the back of the sofa. He felt the
greatest reluctance to touch the shrieking, struggling woman, but the
noise was unendurable. He caught both her wrists, in one hand, and
pinned them down among the ribbons and laces at her waist. The other
hand he laid upon her open and distorted mouth.

“Hush,” he said. “Be quiet. Hush, you fool! Gwynnie, be a good girl.
Hush, Gwyn. For God’s sake, don’t go on like this! Hush–pull
yourself together. Try to control yourself. My dear little
woman–curse you, leave off your caterwauling, you damned hell-cat. Do
you hear, hold your infernal row! Gwynnie love, darling, chummy little
sweetheart! Leave off, will you, or you’ll make me smother you. Leave
off.–Ah! my God! that’s better.–Oh! Oh!–ouf!”

The next thing Challoner knew clearly was that he stood in the little
dining-room. Upon the dinner-table, under the dim light of the
turned-down-gas-jets, a square spirit decanter, a syphon of soda, and a
couple of glasses were set out on a round red-lacquer tray. He
remembered often to have seen them set out thus. But, for the moment,
he could not recall why he was there or what he came for. He felt very
tired. His hands shook, the veins stood out on his forehead, and great
drops of perspiration ran down his face. He would be uncommonly glad
of some brandy. Then he started with a sudden movement of disgust. He
might be brutal, cynical, callous, but there were depths to which he
could not descend. Never again could he eat or drink in this house.

He remembered what he came for. A sound away in the offices arrested
his attention. The maids had come in, he supposed. He was glad of
that. He poured some brandy into a glass, and, crossing the hall, went
back into the drawing-room, shutting the door softly behind him. Mrs.
Spencer lay quite still, the fit of hysteric violence spent. Her face
was clay-colored. Her lips blue. Her eyes closed. Her body limp and
inert. She cried a little weakly and quietly.

Challoner knelt down beside the sofa, slipped one hand under the back
of her head, with its elaborately dressed hair and wisp of turquoise
chiffon, and held the glass to her lips.

“Drink this,” he said, in a thick whisper. “It will help to bring you
round. It will do you good.”

Then, as she sipped it, drawing away now and then and spluttering a
little as the raw spirit burned her tongue and throat, he went on:

“You are going to be sensible and not throw away your chance?”

“No–I mean yes,” she said.

“You will take Beattie over to Marychurch to look at the house?”

“Yes–oh! yes.”

“I’ll give you a hundred and fifty a year–fifty more than I promised.
You can do quite nicely on that?”

“Yes–thank you–yes.”

“And as long as you keep your part of the bargain I’ll keep mine. If
you play me false and talk–”

“I sha’n’t talk,” she said, feebly and fretfully. “Why should I talk
now it’s no use?”

“Ah,” Challoner returned, “I am very glad you have come to your senses,
Mrs. Gwyn. I believed, give it a little thought, you’d see it all in a
reasonable light. That’s right.”

He rose and went out into the hall again, carrying the glass; put it
down, took up his gloves and hat, crossed to the door leading to the
offices, opened it and called.

A young woman, in a trim black serge coat and skirt and pink sailor
hat, appeared in the kitchen doorway with a knowing and slightly
disconcerting smirk.

“Look here, Esther,” Challoner said, “Mrs. Spencer has been extremely
unwell. It was most fortunate I happened to call in to-night. If I
hadn’t, I don’t quite know what would have become of her. She ought
not to be left alone in the house. Next time Miss Beattie is away,
mind both of you do not go out. It is not safe.”

He felt among the loose coins in his trousers pocket; laid hold of a
sovereign, considered that it was too much–might have the flavor of a
bribe about it. Found a couple of half-crowns, drew them out and put
them into the young woman’s hand.

“You understand what I say? Never let your mistress be alone in the
house.”

Once outside in the road, Challoner took off his hat, walking slowly.
He was grateful for the freshness and the soothing half-dark. He had
gone about fifty yards when the blond road seemed to lurch. That
horrible shrieking laughter was in his ears–or was it only the
squealing of the tortured rabbits? He turned giddy, laid hold of the
top of some garden palings for support. A spasm contracted his throat.
He retched, vomited. And then passed onward, homeward, through the
chill, moist fragrance of the spring night.

The concert was over. Coming out of the Rotunda–a domed and pinnacled
building of glass and iron, half conservatory, half theater, set on the
hillside against a crown of evergreen-trees–the audience poured in a
dark stream down the steep garden walks to where, flanked by red and
yellow wooden kiosks, the turnstiles and entrance gates open on to the
public road.

Joanna Smyrthwaite was among the last to leave the auditorium. She did
so in a dazed and almost sleep-walking condition, exhausted and
enervated by the tumult of her own sensations. But that enervation was
singularly pleasant to her, since, by reducing the claims of her
overdeveloped intellectual and moral nature, it left the emotional
element in undisputed ascendancy. She was, indeed, jealous of any
interruption or curtailment of this condition. Therefore she lingered,
unwilling to leave the place where so much inward felicity had been
procured her, and fearing to meet any of her acquaintance. Dr. and
Mrs. Norbiton and Mrs. Paull had, she believed, occupied stalls a
couple of rows behind her. She wished to avoid conversation with them,
and still more to avoid offering–her carriage was waiting at the
entrance gates–to drive them to their respective homes. Their
comments upon the performance, however intelligent and appreciative,
must, she knew, jar upon her in her present frame of mind. Felicity
would be extinguished in irritation, and for such deplorable downfall
she should, she knew, hold her good neighbors responsible. It was
wiser to avoid occasion of offense since she so wanted, so really
needed, to be alone.

Her sister Margaret’s musical requirements went no further than the
modern English ballad. For preference of the description in which
roses, personal pronouns, cheap erotic sentiment, endearing
diminutives, and tags of melody appropriated–without
acknowledgment–from the works of early masters go to make up so
remarkably meritricious a whole. Of this Joanna, while duly deploring
Margaret’s artistic limitations, was really very glad. It enabled her
to attend the weekly Wednesday and Friday classical concerts, at the
Rotunda, by herself. She had always wished to attend these concerts,
but only since her father’s demise had she felt free to gratify her
wishes in respect of them. Since that event, they had become first a
permitted pleasure, then an indulgence crying aloud for gratification,
and finally a duty of a semi-religious character on no account to be
omitted. To-day the religious sentiment was conspicuously present, as
the programme consisted of excerpts from Wagner’s operas. Reared in a
creed which sublimates the deity to an inoperative abstraction,
Joanna’s thought reacted just now toward an exaggerated
anthropomorphism. In her mind, as in those of many persons deficient
in the finer and more catholic musical instinct, the titanic quality of
so much of the great composer’s work excited feelings of astonishment
and awe which resulted in an attitude closely akin to worship. The
elevation of primitive human passions–desire, remorse, anger, revenge,
blood-hunger–to regions of portent and prodigy, so that they stalk,
altogether phantasmal and gigantic clothed in rent garments of amazing
and tormented harmonies across the world stage, their heads threatening
the integrity of the constellations while their feet are made of, and
squarely planted upon, very common clay, is, undoubtedly, a spectacle
calculated at once to flatter human pride and provoke a species of
idolatry. For some reason, moreover, lust is less readily conceivable
in the neighborhood of the pole than in that of the equator; so that
the bleak Northern atmosphere, in which the Wagnerian dramas move,
procures for them an effect of austerity, not to say of chastity,
almost amusingly misleading.

Humor, however, is indispensable to the recognition of the above little
truths, and Joanna’s composition was innocent of the smallest admixture
of that merrily nose-pulling ingredient. She took her emotions quite
seriously; not only nursing them when present, but finding in them
later assurance of the reality of certain fond dreams, vehement hopes
and longings, which possessed her. Therefore, standing under the
glazed marquise of the Rotunda she watched, with strained face and
pale, anxious eyes, until the little company of her acquaintance–she
could distinguish Dr. Norbiton by his height and the green felt hat,
cleft in the crown, which he wore–reached the turnstiles and passed
out toward the animated open space of The Square.

This last, like the flat of the valley, lay in shadow; faint pearl-gray
mist veiling the modest stream whence Stourmouth derives its name, and
the lawns and borders–now gay with spring flowers–of the well-kept
ornamental grounds through which it flows. But, across the valley, the
fir plantation upon the opposite slope, and the houses and big
hotels–the streaming flags of which supplied a welcome note of crude
color in the landscape–rising behind the dark bar of it, along with
the upward curve of shops and offices in Marychurch Road, and the three
tall church spires–two of buff-gray stone, the third red-tiled and
elegantly slender–were flooded with steady sunshine. Thrushes sang
loud in the grove at the back of the Rotunda. Perched on the
outstanding ironwork of the dome, starlings creaked and whistled. A
grind of tram wheels, hooting of motor horns, barking of dogs, and
sound of voices, borne on the easterly breeze, arose from The Square.
The bell of an Anglican church called to evensong. From the bandstand,
situated at the far end of the public gardens, came the strains of a
popular march; while with these, in a soft undertone, mingled the
murmur of the many trees and hush of the sea.

Seeing and hearing all of which, in her present highly sensitized
condition, realization of the inherent beauty of things, the inherent
wonder and delight of Being, pierced Joanna Smyrthwaite’s understanding
and heart. Her whole nature was fused by the fires of a limitless
tenderness and sympathy. And, being thus delivered from the tyranny of
words and empty phrases, from the false standards of thought and
conduct engendered by her upbringing, and from ever-present
consciousness of her own circumscribed and discordant personality, for
the first time in her experience she tasted the strong wine of life,
pure and undiluted. During a few splendid moments she knew the joy of
genius’ sixth sense–becoming one with the soul and purpose of all that
which she looked upon. Hot tears rose to her eyes. She was broken by
a mute ecstasy of thanksgiving.

But it was impossible this happy state should continue. The malady of
introspection was too deeply ingrained in her. Tormenting fears and
scruples again arose. Innate pessimism laid its paralyzing influence
upon her. She felt as one in whose hands a gift of great value has
been placed; but whose muscles being too weak to grasp it, the precious
lovely thing falls to the ground and is shattered. Whereat tears of
enraptured sensibility turned to tears of bitter humiliation. Drawing
a black-bordered handkerchief from the silver-mounted bag hanging at
her waist, she pressed it against her wet, yet burning, face and
hurried down the hill.

At the gates the well-appointed barouche and pair of fine brown horses
awaited her–Johnson, the coachman, rotund and respectful, in his black
livery, upon the box; Edwin the footman, elongated and respectful, her
rugs and wraps over his arm, at the carriage door. The spring evenings
still grew chill toward sundown; and Joanna’s circulation was never of
the best. She stood silent and abstracted while Edwin put her cloak–a
costly garment of Persian lamb lined with ermine–about her thin
shoulders; nor, until she was seated in the carriage, the fur rug
warmly tucked round her, had her agitation subsided sufficiently for
her to speak. She would not go the short way home by Barryport Road.
She disliked the traffic. The trams made her nervous. She would go by
the new drive along the West Cliff, and across Tantivy Common.

Obediently the carriage turned to the left through the shadow, up the
steep hill behind the Rotunda. The horses climbed, straining at the
collar. Then, the top of the ascent being reached, they bowled along
the broad, even road, snorting in the sparkle of the upland air and
recovered sunshine. Joanna sat stiffly upright, shivering a little and
blinking in the strong light. She still held her handkerchief in her
hand, and it was through a blur of again up-welling tears that she saw
the uninviting red and gray terraces and large, straggling
boarding-houses, set in a sparse fringe of fir-trees, on either side
the road. This quarter of Stourmouth, declining from fashion, is given
over to cheap _pensions_, nursing-homes, and schools. The footwalks
were infested by hospital nurses and bath-chairs, while long files of
girls, marching two and two, meandered home and seaward. Some of these
maidens stared enviously at the young lady, wrapped in furs, driving
along in her smart carriage, and sighed for the glorious days when
mistresses and lessons would have no more dominion over them. But
Joanna remained unconscious of the interest she excited. Her thoughts
had returned upon a subject which now constantly and all too
exclusively occupied them–a subject to which even the admirable
playing of the Rotunda orchestra and noble singing of the young
dramatic soprano–though she had listened to both in a fervor of
reverential emotion–supplied, after all, little more than a humble
accompaniment.

In the silver-mounted velvet bag hanging at her waist, neatly filed and
dated, encircled by elastic bands to keep them perfectly flat and
prevent their edges from crumpling, were all the letters she had
received from Adrian Savage. Even the thin French envelopes,
cross-hatched with blue inside to secure opacity, had been carefully
preserved. Even the telegram she had received from Adrian, in response
to the announcement of her father’s death, found a place there. The
letters in question were discreet, even ceremonious epistles, dealing
with business and plans, expressing regret at the delays in his return
to England caused by “our good Challoner’s” slowness in preparing
documents and accounts, and making civil inquiries as to Joanna and her
sister’s health and well-being. Quaint turns of phrase and vivacity of
diction gave these letters a flavor of originality; but, taken as a
whole, less intimate or more uncompromising effusions it would be
difficult to conceive. By this fact, however, Joanna was in no wise
daunted. As all his many friends agreed, Adrian Savage was a dear,
delightful, and very clever fellow, who would assuredly make a name for
himself. But Joanna went far beyond that, endowing him with enough
virtues, graces, and talents to people this naughty old earth with
sages and stock all heaven with saints. Consequently in the graceful
lightness and polite restraint of his letters, alike, she found food
for admiration and security of hope–namely, consideration for the
difficulties of her unprotected position, delicacy in face of her
recent bereavement, a high-minded determination in no way to hurry her
to a decision.

At night Joanna placed the slender packet in a Russia-leather wallet
beneath her pillow. By day she carried it in the bag at her waist.
Often, when alone, she drew it forth from its hiding-place and fondled
it tremulously. She had done so this afternoon during the concert more
than once. It was unnecessary for her to re-read the letters. She
knew their contents by heart. Adrian had touched them. He thought of
her when writing them, when folding the thin sheets of paper, when
stamping and addressing the envelopes. Thus they constituted a direct
material, as well as mental, link between herself and him. Perpetually
she dwelt on this fact, finding in it a pleasure almost painful in its
intensity. Only for a few minutes at a time, indeed, could she dare to
hold or look at the packet. Then, replacing it in the wallet or bag,
she struggled to regain her composure, merely to take it out at the
first favorable opportunity, and repeat the whole process again.

In the same way, although longing for the young man’s return, to the
point of passion, she hailed each obstacle which postponed that return.
To see him, to hear his voice and footsteps, meet his gallant and
kindly eyes, to watch him come and go about the house, to listen to his
clever and sympathetic talk, would constitute rapture, but a rapture
from which she shrank in terror. She felt that she could hardly endure
his presence. It would drain her of vitality.

Now, sitting upright in the carriage, while the horses carried her
forward at a spanking pace through the sea and moorland freshness and
the delights of the spring sunshine, a new form of these fears tortured
her. Adrian’s love, constant association with him, participation in
the varied interests and activities of his daily life and in that of
the brilliant society in which he moved–this, and nothing less than
this, in sum and in detail, constituted the lovely precious gift placed
in her, till now, so sad and empty hands by a strange turn of Fortune’s
wheel. Were those poor hungry hands strong enough to close upon and
hold it? Or would they, weakly faltering and failing, let it fall to
the ground and be shattered? The shame of such prospective failure
agonized her. To renounce a crown may be heroic, but to have it
incontinently tumble off, when you are straining every nerve, exerting
every faculty, to keep it safely balanced on your head, is feeble, as
she felt, to the point of ignominy.

At last the schools, _pensions_, nursing-homes, and lodging-houses were
left behind. The carriage reached the open common. Tracts of gorse,
thick-set with apricot-yellow blossom, broke up the silvery brown
expanse of heather. In sharply green, grass-grown hollows ancient
hawthorns, their tops clipped by the sea wind into quaint shapes,
compact and ruddy, were dusted over by opening leaf-buds. High in air
screaming gulls circled. The shadows were long, for the sun drew down
toward its setting. Then, as once before to-day, the happy appeal of
outward things–in which, as in glass, man may, if he will, catch some
faint reflection of God’s glory–made its voice heard, awakening Joanna
Smyrthwaite from the fever-dreams of her almost maniacal egoism.

Obeying a sudden impulse, she stopped the carriage, alighted, and
walked out on to the little promontory the neck of which the road
crosses. Here the sand cliffs, dyed all shades from deepest rusty
orange to palest lemon-yellow and glistening white, descend, almost
perpendicularly in narrow water-worn shelves and ledges to the beach
nearly a hundred feet below. Looking eastward, up the wind, the sea
horizon, Stourmouth, its many buildings and its pier, and all the
curving coastline away to Stonehorse Head–the dark mass of which
guards the entrance to Marychurch Haven–showed through a film of fine
gray mist. Westward, the colors of both land and sea, though opaque,
were warmer. Across the golden gorse of the common in the immediate
foreground Joanna saw the great amphitheater of the Baughurst Park
Woods extending far inland, the rich blue-purple of the pines and firs
pierced here and there by the living sunlight of a larch plantation.
Beyond Barryport Harbor, only the farthest coves and inlets of whose
gleaming waters were visible, the quiet, rounded outlines of the Slepe
Hills pushed seaward in blunt-nosed headland after headland, softening
from heliotrope to ethereal lavender in the extreme distance, under a
sky resembling the tint and texture of a pink pearl.

Joanna, her fur cloak gathered closely about her, stood a lonely black
figure amid the splendor of the scented gorse. There is an exciting
quality in the east wind. The harsh tang of it galvanized her into an
unusual physical well-being, making her chest expand and her blood
circulate more rapidly.

A new thought came to her. To doubt her power of meeting the demands
of Adrian’s affection and of rising to his level was really to doubt
the vivifying power of that affection, to doubt his ability to raise
her to his own level. Her doubt of her own worthiness was, in point of
fact, an accusation against his intelligence and his judgment.

Joanna slipped one hand inside the velvet bag under her cloak and
clasped the thin packet of letters. With the other she momentarily
covered her eyes, as though in apology and penitence.

“Ah! how miserably faithless I am,” she murmured in her flat, toneless
voice. “How wickedly ungrateful it is not to trust him. As though he
were not capable of supplying all that is wanting in me–as though he
did not know so far, far best!”

That evening Joanna went to her room early. She permitted Mrs.
Isherwood to help her off with her evening dress and on with a purple
lamb’s-wool kimono, the color and cut of which were singularly
ill-suited to her pasty complexion and narrow-chested figure. She then
rather summarily dismissed the good woman, who retired accompanied by
black silk rustlings indicative of respectful displeasure and protest.
These Joanna refused to let affect her. The experiences of the day had
aroused an inherited, though until now latent, arrogance. She regarded
herself as sealed to that altogether-otherwise-engaged young gentleman,
Adrian Savage, and set apart. Yet ingrained habits of obedience and
self-repression still stirred within her, making her timid in the
presence of any sort of established authority, even in that of her old
nurse. She needed solitude to enable her to enjoy the luxury of such
“sealing” to the full. Therefore, when the door shut upon those
remonstrant rustlings, she followed almost stealthily and locked it,
stood for a moment listening to make sure of Isherwood’s final
departure, then extended both arms with a voiceless cry of
satisfaction, crossed to her satinwood bureau, opened it and took the
current volume of her diary from a pigeon-hole, fetched lighted candles
and the silver-mounted bag containing Adrian’s letters from off her
dressing-table, and sat down to write.

“_April 20, 190-_

“I have neglected my diary for many weeks. But I have feared I might
set down that which I should afterward regret. Indeed, all my
accustomed occupations and employments have been neglected. They have
appeared to me tedious and trivial. My mind has been strangely
disordered. But to-night I feel this state is passed. I see my duty
clearly, and shall not allow anything to interfere with it or deflect
me from the pursuit of it. I owe this to the person who has so
wonderfully chosen me.”

At this point the small, neat, scholarly writing became irregular and
almost illegible. Joanna rose and paced the room, pressing her hands
against her high forehead. Presently she returned and sat down again.

“It is unwise to dwell too much on this. As yet I am unequal to any
adequate expression of my feelings. When rearranging the books in
library last week I happened to open a volume of Mrs. Browning’s poems
containing her ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese.’ They appeared to me
singularly appropriate to my own case. I have, indeed, been weakly
jealous that any other woman should have felt, and so exactly
expressed, my own thoughts and emotions. Yet I read and re-read the
sonnets daily. They speak for me not only more eloquently, but more
truthfully, than I can speak for myself. But, unhappily, I have less,
terribly less, to offer in return than the poetess had. This has
racked me with distress, annihilating my peace of mind, and in great
measure dimming my gratitude, until to-day. I see how very wrong this
has been. It has its root in pride. For, as I now understand,
distrust of myself is nothing less than distrust of him. I am resolved
to exterminate my pride and submit to be nothing, so that he may give
everything. Already I feel relief and a growing repose of mind from
this resolve. Already I feel my pride yielding. Soon, I believe, I
shall almost rejoice in my own absence of gifts and attractions, since
it enlarges his opportunity for generosity.”

The chatter of young women upon the gallery, accompanied by smothered
laughter, not to say giggling. Joanna ceased writing, blotted the
page, and returned the diary to its pigeonhole. She moved into the
center of the room and stood anxiously listening. But to her relief no
knock came at the door. The two voices grew faint along the corridor,
and ceased. Joanna could not, however, immediately settle to her diary
again. The giggling had brought her down, from high poetic regions to
common earth, with a bump. Pride, cast out in one direction, pranced
in another unrestrained–as is pride’s wont. When Joanna resumed her
writing subject and treatment alike were changed.

“Marion Chase is staying here, as usual,” she wrote. “In some ways I
am glad of this. It relieves me of any obligation to be constantly
with Margaret. To be constantly with her would be very irksome to me.
I no longer pretend that she and I have much in common. Since papa’s
authority has been removed the radical divergence between Margaret’s
character and mine becomes more and more evident. Marion Chase has no
intellectual life. Her pleasures are active and practical. These
Margaret appears increasingly to enjoy sharing. To-day she and Marion
have been to Southampton and back in a new motor-car Margaret has on
trial. Mr. Challoner selected it for her in London. It came down
yesterday. Margaret is very much excited about it. She is, of course,
at liberty to buy a motor-car if she pleases, though I think it would
have been better taste to wait until the business connected with our
inheritance was finally settled before making any such costly purchase.
I prefer Johnson and the horses. Motoring would, I feel sure, cause me
nervousness. Mr. Challoner, I heard this evening, met them in
Stourmouth, and, under plea of seeing how the car worked before
advising Margaret to keep it, accompanied them to Southampton and back.
This appears to me quite unnecessary. I could not make out from Marion
whether his going was by previous arrangement or merely the result of a
sudden thought and invitation. In either case I cannot but disapprove
of his joining the party. He is still here very frequently, and
Margaret quotes his opinions on every occasion. Those opinions are
prejudiced and insular, as one might expect from a man who has enjoyed
few social and educational advantages. Papa used to say the worst
enemies of patriotism were patriots. This is certainly true in the
case of Mr. Challoner in as far as the effect of his conversation upon
me is concerned. He knows nothing of foreign countries and foreign
politics, and yet speaks contemptuously of whatever and whoever is not
English. Margaret has taken to echoing him until I grow weary and
irritable. Surely it might occur to her that reiterated depreciation
of everything foreign must be displeasing to me. But Margaret has no
perception. Argument is lost upon her, so I am constrained to remain
silent. Yet I cannot disguise from myself that her constant
association with Mr. Challoner and the influence he undoubtedly has
obtained over her may lead to great difficulties in the
future–particularly in the event of my own marriage.”

Here, once again, the neat writing became erratic. Emotion gained upon
Joanna, compelling her to lay down her pen, rise, and pace the room.

“My own marriage–my own marriage,” she repeated, her head thrown back,
her eyes shut, her arms hanging straight at her sides, while her hands
worked, opening and closing in nervous, purposeless clutchings.

Presently she walked back to the bureau and took Adrian’s letters out
of the velvet bag. Resting her left hand, her fingers outstretched,
upon the flat slab of the bureau for support, she held the letters in
her right. Their contact made her wince and shrink, as though she held
white-hot metal instead of innocent bluey-white note-paper. Only by
degrees could she muster sufficient composure to look at the slim
little packet upon which encircling elastic bands conferred a
distinctly prosaic and even bill-like appearance.

“‘And yet because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble and like a king,
Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
Thy purple round me, till my heart–‘”

Her voice failed, dying in her throat, leaving the quotation
incomplete. Hastily she pushed the packet of letters back into the
bag, snapped to the silver catch, and, again pressing her hands to her
forehead, paced the room till such time as her agitation had
sufficiently subsided for her to resume her writing.

“I must resist the temptation to dwell upon a certain subject, save in
silence. To refer to it in words moves me too deeply. That subject is
the life of my life. Of this I am so utterly sure, so utterly
convinced, that I can surely afford to keep silence. Just in
proportion as I know that my heart is beating, it becomes unnecessary
to count the heart-beats. I had better write of practical things. To
do so has lessened the worry they too often caused me in the past. I
trust it may do so again. I mean this specially in connection with the
anxiety Margaret’s association with Mr. Challoner occasions me. I fear
Margaret is disingenuous. Mamma used to deplore a tendency to deceit
in her, deceit in little things, even when she was a child. Margaret
enjoys concealment. It amuses her and gives her an idea of her own
astuteness and superiority. I do not wish to be unjust, but I cannot
help fearing this tendency to slyness is increased by her intercourse
with Mr. Challoner and with Marion.

“In addition to the fact of Mr. Challoner’s drive with them to
Southampton something else came out at dinner, to-night, which
disturbed me. On my way home to-day, after crossing Tantivy Common,
Johnson turned along Silver Chine Road. A pantechnicon van stood
before one of the small houses which I recognized as that which
Margaret once pointed out to me as belonging to Mrs. Spencer. As the
carriage passed, I saw Mrs. Spencer herself and her young sister, Miss
Beatrice Stacey, directing the men who were carrying out the furniture.
I thought they both looked hard at me, but I did not bow. I sent cards
to Mrs. Spencer, as to every one else who called here to inquire after
papa’s death, but I do not desire her acquaintance. On the few
occasions when I have met her she appeared to me a frivolous, dressy
person, whose influence upon Margaret would not be for good. I do not
wish to be uncharitable, but her manners struck me as unladylike. At
dinner I mentioned the circumstances under which I saw her this
afternoon. Marion glanced at Margaret with a singular expression of
face.

“‘I heard Mrs. Spencer and Bee were leaving soon,’ she said. ‘I
believe they have taken a house at Marychurch.’

“I observed Margaret flushed, but she did not speak.

“‘Of course I don’t believe there is any real harm in her,’ Marion
added, again looking at Margaret, ‘or I should not have gone there so
often. But I do think whatever talk there has been is entirely her own
fault.’

“Then Margaret began to speak of the car, and Mr. Challoner’s advice to
her about buying it, in a rather loud tone. She hardly spoke to me
during the rest of the evening. I certainly had no intention of
annoying her by mentioning Mrs. Spencer, but she was evidently very
angry with me. I cannot help being anxious–yet I know my own great
happiness should make me patient and tolerant, even when vulgar and
trivial matters are pressed upon my attention. I am very weak. I
ought to rise above all such things and rest calmly in the one
wonderful thought that I am no longer alone, that I no longer belong to
myself.”

Joanna put her hand over her eyes.

“‘Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling thy purple round me,'”
she again quoted half aloud. Then once more she wrote.

“I am glad that I am rich. I have never felt glad of this till to-day.
We have always been rich, and, though papa inculcated economy as a
duty, I have taken riches for granted as a natural part of my own
position. Now I recognize their value. I have at least that to
give–I mean, a not despicable amount of wealth, and the dignified ease
which wealth obtains. In this respect at least I can make some slight
return. Since there has been time to look into affairs, we find papa’s
estate considerably larger than we supposed. Margaret and I shall each
have between seven and eight thousand a year. Yes, I am very, very
glad. At least I do not go to him an empty-handed beggar in material
things.”

She sat awhile looking up, both hands resting on the edge of the slab.
Her mouth was half open, her eyes fixed, her face irradiated by an
expression of ecstasy painful in its strained intensity. A little more
and ecstasy might decline to idiocy. Joanna doted; and always–though
particularly under such circumstances as Joanna’s–it is a mistake to
dote.

CHAPTER V

IN WHICH ADRIAN’S KNOWLEDGE OF SOME INHABITANTS
OF THE TOWER HOUSE IS SENSIBLY INCREASED

A week of the burning mid-May weather, such as often comes in the fir
and heather country. The Baughurst woods and all the coast-line from
Marychurch to Barryport basked in the strong, still heat. Over open
spaces the heat became visible, dancing and swirling like the vapors
off a lime-kiln as it baked all residue of moisture out of the light
surface soil. Aromatic scents given off by the lush foliage and lately
risen sap filled the air. The furze-pods crackled and snapped.
Fir-cones fell, softly thudding, on to the deep, dry beds of
fir-needles, and films of bark scaling off the red upper branches made
small, ticking noises in the sun-scorch. All day long in the heart of
the woodland turtle doves repeated their cozy, crooning lament.
Wandering cuckoos called. In the gardens blackbirds and thrushes,
though silent at mid-day, sang early and late. Great blue and green
dragonflies hawked over the lawns, darting back and forth from the warm
dappled shade of the fir plantations, where their enameled bodies and
transparent wings glinted across long slanting shafts of sunlight. In
the shrubberies rhododendrons, azaleas, pink thorns, and crab-trees
were in flower. Lilac and syringa blossom was about to break. The
sky, high and unclouded, showed a deep, hot blue above the dark-plumed
pines and fir-trees and against the red-tiled roofs and sextagonal
red-brick tower–surmounted by a gilt weather-vane–of the Tower House
from sunrise to sunset.

Adrian Savage lay back in a long cane chair set upon the veranda,
around the fluted terra-cotta pillars of which trumpet-flowered
honeysuckle, jasmine, and climbing roses flourished. He found the
English heat heavy and somewhat enervating, clear though the atmosphere
was. It made him lazy, inclined to dream and disinclined to act or
think. He laid The Times down on the wicker table beside him, put his
Panama hat on the top of it, returned a small illustrated French
newspaper, of questionable modesty, to the breast-pocket of his jacket,
stretched, stifled a yawn, and lighted his third cigarette. Then,
reclining in the chair again, he contemplated the perspective of his
own person–clad in a suit of white flannel with a faint four-thread
black stripe–to where the said perspective ended in a pair of tan
boots. He had bought the boots in London. He knew they represented
the last word of the right thing. So he ought to like them.–He
crossed and re-crossed his feet.–But he wasn’t sure he did like them.
On the whole he thought not. Therefore he sighed meditatively, pulled
the tip of his close-cut black beard and pushed up the rather fly-away
ends of his mustache. Stared sadly at the tan boots, raised his
eyebrows and shoulders just perceptibly, and mournfully shook his
close-cropped black head. Sighed again, and then looked away, across
the gravel terrace and flower-beds immediately below it crowded with
pink, mauve, and pale-yellow tulips, to where, on the sunk court at the
far end of the long, wide lawn, four agile, ruddy-faced, white-clothed
young people very vigorously played tennis.

In the last three months Adrian had lost weight. _La belle Gabrielle_
had not been kind; not at all kind. More than ever did she appear
elusive and baffling. More than ever was the mysterious element of her
complex and enchanting personality in evidence. She frequented
drawing-room meetings at which Feminists, male as well as female, held
forth. She received Zélie de Gand and other such vermin–the term is
Adrian’s–at her thrice-sacred flat. Finally, her attitude was
altogether too maternal and beneficent toward M. René Dax. These
things caused Adrian rage and unhappiness. He lost flesh. In his eyes
was a permanently pathetic and orphaned look. Happily, his nose
retained its native pugnacity of outline, testifying to the fact that,
although he might voluminously sigh as a lover, as a high-spirited and
perfectly healthy young gentleman he could still very handsomely spoil
for a fight.

But no legitimate fight presented itself–that was exactly where, from
Adrian’s point of view, the worry came in. He might haunt _la belle
Gabrielle’s_ staircase, spend hours in consultation with wise and witty
Anastasia Beauchamp, exert all his ingenuity to achieve persuasion or
excision of René Dax, but without practicable result. About as useful
to try to bottle a shadow, play leap-frog with an echo, tie up the wind
in a sack! Really he felt quite glad to go away to England for a time,
out of the vexatiously profitless wear and tear of it all.

The sun, sloping westward, slanted in under the round-headed
terra-cotta arches supporting the roof of the veranda. Adrian drew his
feet back out of the scorch, and in so doing sat more upright, thereby
gaining a fuller view of the tennis players.

Marion Chase happened to be serving. She interested him as a type
produced by current English methods of mental and physical culture
practically unknown in France. She stood–so she informed him with the
utmost frankness–five feet ten in her stockings, took eight and a half
in shoes, measured forty inches round the chest and twenty-nine and
three-quarters round the waist. To these communicated details he could
add from personal observation that she had the complexion of a Channel
pilot, owned a sensible, good-tempered, very managing face, and spoke
in a full barytone voice. He accredited her with being very fairly
honorable, irreproachably virtuous, and conspicuously devoid of either
the religious or artistic sense–though she frequented concerts,
picture galleries, and church services with praiseworthy regularity and
persistence. He liked her rather, and wondered at her much–being
unaccustomed to the society of such large-boned, athletic, and sexless
persons, petticoated, yet conspicuously deficient in haunches and busts.

Miss Chase, he further remarked, was permanently in waiting upon
Margaret Smyrthwaite, while a tail of youths and maidens was almost as
permanently in waiting upon Miss Chase. Their relation to her was
gregarious rather than sentimental, a mere herding of children who
follow a leader at play. The said tail to-day consisted of the
Busbridge boys and Amy Woodford–the former two lanky, sandy-headed,
quite innocuous young fellows in immaculate flannels, their nether
garments sustained by green and orange silk handkerchiefs
knotted–Adrian trusted securely–about their waists; the latter a
rather stout, dark-haired young lady, arrayed in white linen, who would
have been very passably pretty had not her mouth been too small, her
nose too long, and her bright, boot-button-black eyes set
insufficiently far apart.

Idly he watched the quartette as the members of it ran, leaped, backed,
called, stood breathing after a long rally, with, apparently, as little
soul or mind in their active young bodies as a mob of colts and
fillies. Then his eyes traveled to Margaret Smyrthwaite sitting
outside the larch-built, heather-thatched tennis pavilion beyond the
court in the shade of a grove of tall fir and beech trees.

If Marion Chase caused him wonder, Margaret caused him very much more,
though from a different angle. Her development in the last three
months struck him as phenomenal–a startling example of the
adaptability to environment inherent in the feminine nature. From a
rather negative and invertebrate being, with little to say and a manner
alternately peevish and silly, she had grown into a self-possessed
young woman, capable of making her presence, pleasure, and displeasure,
definitely felt. The likeness and the unlikeness she bore to Joanna
had from the first appeared to Adrian both pathetic and singular. Now,
on seeing the twin sisters again, this likeness and unlikeness passed
the bounds of pathos and became, to his eyes, quite actively cruel.
For they bore to each other–it was thus he put it–the same relation
that the _édition de luxe_ of a book bears to its original rough
copy–Joanna, naturally, representing the rough copy. All the
ungracious and ungrateful aspects of Joanna’s appearance were nicely
corrected in her sister, fined down or filled out–heavy, yellowish
auburn hair, improved to crisp copper; a pasty complexion giving place
to a fair though freckled skin and bright color; blue eyes no longer
prominent or anxious, but clear, self-content, and possibly a trifle
sly.

At forty Adrian could imagine her fat and a little coarse-looking, but
now her figure was graceful, and she dressed well, though with perhaps
too great elaboration for impeccable taste. Adrian trembled as to the
flights of decorative fancy which might present themselves when her
period of mourning was passed! To-day she wore a black muslin dress
and a wide-brimmed, black chip hat, trimmed with four enormous black
silk and gauze roses, the whole of rather studied candor of effect.
Yes, she was quite an agreeable object to look upon; but Joanna, oh!
poor, poor Joanna!

Adrian lit a fourth cigarette, stretched himself in his chair again,
crossing his legs and gazing up at the roof rafters. Joanna afforded
him an uncomfortable subject of thought, and one which he tried to
avoid in so far as possible. He respected her. More than ever he felt
a chivalrous pity toward her. But he did not like her, somehow.
Ridiculous though it might sound, he was a wee bit afraid of her,
conscious of self-protective instincts, of an inclination to erect
small barricades and throw up small earthworks behind which to shelter
when alone with her. He was ashamed of his own sensations, but–and
more particularly since he had seen those degraded drawings upon the
wall of René’s studio which so dreadfully resembled her–she, to use a
childish expression, gave him the creeps.

Then, suddenly penetrated by a conviction that her pale eyes were at
that very moment fixed upon him, Adrian whipped out of his chair and
wheeled round, very alert and upright in his tan boots and light
flannel suit.

“Ah! my dear cousin, it is you! I thought so,” he said, quickly. “At
last you come out to enjoy this ideal afternoon. That is well. Is it
not ravishing?”

For quite a perceptible space of time Joanna made no reply. She stood
on the stone step of one of the large French windows opening on to the
veranda. Her lips were parted and upon her face was a singular
expression, midway–so it struck Adrian–between driveling folly and
rapture. This recalled to him with such vividness those evil drawings
upon the studio wall that had the likeness been completed by her
sporting masculine attire it would hardly have surprised him. She, in
point of fact, however, wore nothing more peculiar than a modest,
slightly limp, black alpaca coat and skirt. Adrian was aware of
developing an unreasoning detestation of that innocent and very
serviceable material.

“I am so sorry,” she said, at last, in a sort of hurried whisper. “I
ought not to have come out unexpectedly thus, by the window. I have
disturbed you. It was thoughtless of me and inconsiderate.”

“But–no–no–not in the least,” he assured her. “I was doing
absolutely nothing. The hot weather disposes one to idleness. I tried
to read The Times. I found it a monument of dullness. I looked into a
little French paper I have here.” He patted the breast-pocket of his
jacket. “I found it quite too lively.”

The corners of his mouth gave slightly; for oh! how very far away from
poor Joanna’s was the outlook upon things in general of that naughty
little print!

“Have no fear,” he added. “It shall remain safely stowed away. It is
not, I admit, exactly designed for what you call family
reading–unsuited, for example, to the ingenuous minds of those
excellent young tennis players! Ah, the energy they display! It puts
me to shame.”

Joanna came forward slowly, touching chairs, flower-stands, tables, in
passing, as though blindly feeling her way.

“I have wanted so much to speak to you alone,” she said.

“Yes–yes?” Adrian answered inquiringly, with a hasty mental looking
around for suitable barricade-building material.

“Ever since you told me you had lately suffered anxiety and trouble,”
she continued.

“Ah! my dear cousin, you are too sympathetic, too kind. Who among us
is free from anxieties and troubles–_des ennuis_? One accepts them as
an integral part of one’s existence upon this astonishing planet. One
even cherishes a certain affection for them, perhaps one’s own dear
little personal _ennuis_.”

Joanna sank into a chair. Her lips worked with emotion.

“I wish I could feel as you do,” she said. “But I am weak. I rebel
against that which pains me or causes me anxiety. I have no large
tolerance of philosophy. But, therefore, all the more do I admire it
in you. Now, when I allude to your trouble you try to put the matter
aside gracefully out of consideration for me. Indeed, I appreciate
that consideration, but while it causes me gratitude, it increases my
regret.–You will not think me officious or intrusive? But I cannot
tell you how it distresses me that you should endure any mental
suffering, that you should have troubles or anxieties. I had never
thought of the possibility of anything unhappy in your life or
circumstances. Since you told me I think of it continually. Forgive
me if I appear presumptuous, but you have done so incalculably much
for–for us–Margaret, I mean, and me–especially, I know”–her voice
faded to a mere thread–“I know, of course, for me–that I have
wondered whether there was not anything in which I could be of some
slight use to you, in which I could help you, in return?”

Adrian had subsided into his long chair again. He leaned sideways, his
legs crossed, his right arm extended to its full length across the arm
of the chair, holding his cigarette between his first and second
fingers, as far from his companion as possible lest the smoke of it
should be unpleasant to her. His lean, shapely hand and wrist showed
brown against the hard white of his shirt-cuff, and the blue smoke from
the smoldering cigarette curled delicately upward in the hot, fragrant
air. And Joanna watched his every movement; watched with the fixed
intentness, the beatified idiocy, of those who dote.

Outwardly the young man remained charmingly debonair. Inwardly he
labored at the erection of barricades and the strengthening of
earthworks with positive frenzy, distractedly apprehensive of what
might be coming next.

“Sympathy so generously given as yours can never be otherwise than
helpful, dear cousin,” he said. “Believe me, I am deeply touched by
the interest you take in me. But the trouble I have on my mind–and
which it was foolish and selfish of me ever to allude to–”

“Oh no,” Joanna interrupted, breathlessly. “Do not say that. Pray
don’t. It was entirely my doing. Both Margaret and I observed that
you–you looked sad, that you had grown thinner. I questioned you.
Perhaps it was intrusive of me to do so. Yet how could I remain silent
when all which affects you necessarily concerns me so profoundly?”

Notwithstanding the high temperature, Adrian felt something queerly
like a trickle of iced water down the length of his spine. He just
managed not to change his position, but remained leaning sideways
toward her.

“You are more than kind to me, dear cousin,” he said. “Really, more
than kind and good. But I am sure your ready sympathy will make you
comprehend there is a stage of most _ennuis_, private worries and
bothers, when it is only discreet, only, indeed, honorable, to maintain
silence. Yet, believe me, I shall never forget your amiable solicitude
for my happiness. Some day in the future it may become possible for me
to explain–”

“Yes–oh! yes–in the future–thank you–I know–in the future,” Joanna
whispered, pressing her hands over her eyes.

And Adrian shrank away from her. He couldn’t help it. Mercifully, she
wasn’t looking. He uncrossed his legs, sat upright. Then, leaning
forward with bent head, he stared at the red and purple quarries of the
pavement, resting his wrists upon his knees. He was about to reply,
but Joanna’s toneless speech rushed onward.

“Pray, pray do not suppose that I wish to cross-question you or force
myself into your confidence. Nothing could be further from my
intention than that. I am so sure you know far best what to tell and
what to withhold from me. I could never question your judgment for an
instant. In this, as in everything–yes, everything–I am ready and
contented to wait. Only sometimes there are practical ways of being
helpful. I have lived among business people all my life, and I could
not help thinking that if there was any scheme–connected with your
Review, for instance–forgive me if I am presumptuous–but any business
affair in which you were interested and which might require capital,
might need financing–”

Adrian raised his head slightly. His face was drawn and very pale.
His nostrils quivered. He had sufficient self-control to keep his eyes
steadily upon the white, capering forms of the tennis players there on
the other side of the sunny lawn. Was it conceivable that she,
Joanna–of all created women–was trying to buy him? The degradation,
the infinite disgust of it!–But no, that really was too vile a
thought. With all the cleanness, all the chivalry of his nature,
Adrian thrust it aside, refusing to dishonor her so much. Again he
nerved himself to speak, and again her speech rushed onward like–so it
seemed to him–some toneless hissing of wind over a barren, treeless,
seedless waste.

“Pray, pray do not be displeased with me,” she pleaded. “I may be
acting unconventionally in touching thus upon matters apparently
outside my province. But, as I think you will admit, I am at most only
forestalling the right, the privilege rather–for to me no privilege
could be greater–which will be mine later on, in the future of which
you just now spoke. Please think of it thus. And if my action is
premature, a little unbecoming or unusual, you–who understand
everything–will most surely forgive. No–Cousin Adrian, do not answer
me, I implore you–not just yet. I have longed so earnestly for this
opportunity of talking alone with you. Give me time. Let me finish.
I know I do not express myself well. But be patient with me. When we
are together I am only conscious of your presence. I become miserably
deficient in courage and resource. Words fail me. I am so sensible of
my own shortcomings. Therefore I cannot consent to lose this
opportunity. There is something I so intensely need to tell you,
because I cannot help hoping it may lighten the anxieties which have
been troubling you–”

During this extraordinary address Adrian held himself rigidly still,
his head again bent, while he stared at the red and purple quarries.
He could not trust himself to move by so much as an inch lest he should
betray the repulsion with which she inspired him. Meanwhile his mind
worked like some high-powered engine at full pressure, for, indeed, the
situation was extravagant in its unpleasantness. How to say anything
conclusive without assuming too much passed human wit. Yet what more
fatuous, what more execrably bad taste than to assume just that too
much? He wanted to spare the poor woman, and act toward her with as
perfect charity, as perfect good breeding, as he might.

“This is what I have so wanted to tell you, Adrian,” Joanna went on.
“Lately I have felt quite differently about my unfortunate brother,
about poor Bibby, of whose unhappy career I spoke to you when you were
here before. I have learned to think differently upon many subjects in
the last three months–”

Joanna paused, pressing her hands against her forehead.

“Yes–upon many, many subjects,” she said. “That is natural,
inevitable, with the wonderful prospect which lies before me.”

The young man braced himself, each muscle growing taut, as a man braces
himself for a life-and-death fight. But he did not alter his position.

“When we talked of my brother before, I told you–I thought it right to
do so–that I proposed to put aside the larger portion of my fortune
for his benefit. I believed it my duty to do my utmost to make amends
for papa’s harshness toward him. But since then I have come to see the
matter in a different light. I no longer feel that my brother has the
first claim upon me. I no longer believe my first duty is to Bibby.
It is to some one else. And I have ceased to believe he is still
living. A strange and deepening conviction has grown upon me that he
is dead.”

Adrian’s muscles relaxed. He threw back his head and looked into the
sky, into the strong, steady sunlight. For hearing Joanna’s last
words, he hailed salvation–salvation coming, be it added, from the
very queerest and most unexpected quarter.

“Consequently I have decided to alter my will,” Joanna continued. “I
scrutinized my own motives carefully. I have earnestly tried not to be
unduly influenced by my own inclinations, but to do what is just and
right. I have not yet spoken to Margaret about it, but I intend to
make a redistribution of my property, devoting that portion of it which
I held in reserve for my brother to another person–I mean another
purpose. Under my altered circumstances I feel not only that I am
justified in doing this, but that it has become an imperative
obligation. Were my poor brother still living the news of papa’s death
must have reached him by this time and he would have communicated
either with Andrew Merriman or with me. As he has not communicated
with either of us, I am free to assume the fact of his death. You
agree with me, Adrian? I am at liberty to make this redistribution of
my property? You–you assent?”

“Since you are good enough to ask my advice, dear cousin,” Adrian said,
looking upon the ground and speaking quietly and distinctly, “I am
compelled to answer you truthfully. You are not free at the present
time, in my opinion, to make any alteration in your will which affects
your bequest to your brother.”

“But,” Joanna protested, with a smoldering violence, “but if I am
certain, morally certain, that my unfortunate brother is dead?”

Putting a strong force upon himself, Adrian leaned sideways in his
chair, again crossing his legs, turning his face toward Joanna, and
looking gravely and kindly at her.

“Dear cousin,” he said, “perhaps I should have acted more wisely had I
written or spoken to you before now of a certain discovery which I
happened, accidentally, to make immediately after my return to France.
I hesitated after the exhausting experiences you had recently passed
through to subject you to further anxiety and suspense or to raise
hopes which might be fated to disappointment. But I possess
evidence–to myself conclusive–that your brother was living as lately
as three months ago; that in February last he was in Paris. Yes, I
know, I sympathize–I readily comprehend,” he went on, feelingly, “how
greatly this information is calculated to surprise you. On that
account I have withheld it, and I grieve it is not possible to soften
the shock of it by giving a happy account of your brother’s state of
mind or of his circumstances.”

Here the speaker stopped, for Joanna raised her hand with an almost
menacing gesture.

“Wait, Adrian,” she cried, “wait! I cannot bear any more at present.
I must accustom myself to this idea. It means so much, so dreadfully
much. I must have time to think.”

Coming in by the wicket gate from the carriage-drive, Challoner
sauntered with a deliberate and even proprietary tread along the
shrubbery path skirting the eastern side of the lawn. He was clothed,
with a view to sports and pastimes, in a loosely fitting gray Norfolk
jacket, white trousers, and a hard, white straw hat, the low crown of
it encircled by a band of purple-and-scarlet-striped ribbon. The said
hat, set on the top of his tall, upright head and neck, and straight,
solid figure, gave him–in outline–an appearance remarkably suggestive
of a large medicine bottle with the cork rammed well in. Over his
shoulder he carried a racket, from which dangled a pair of by no means
diminutive tennis shoes.

Only recently had Challoner received invitations to the Tower House of
this purely social character. They gave him the warmest satisfaction,
as marking progress toward the goal of his ambitions. He had been
elected to the Baughurst Park Ward; by a narrow majority, it is true,
still he had been elected–and that was the main thing, since it
supplied a secure basis from which to manoeuver. Before the next
election, if all went well–and he would compel all, never fear, to go
well–he would be in a position to ride rough-shod over the Baughurst
Park Ward, herding its voters to the poll like so many obedient sheep.
His wits and professional standing plus Margaret Smyrthwaite’s fortune
and social standing would make him master not only of the Baughurst
Park Ward, but of all Stourmouth. Yes, Sir Joseph and Lady Challoner,
sons, perhaps, at Eton, daughters presented at Court and marrying into
the peerage! Such beatific visions floated before him, and Challoner
felt then, indeed, he would not have lived in vain. The job of
uprooting and deporting Mrs. Gwynnie had been a nasty one. It hit him
very hard at the time. There were moments of it he didn’t care to
remember very clearly even now. But, as he sauntered slowly in the
still afternoon heat through the aromatic atmosphere of the radiant
garden, and glanced up at the imposing mass of the big red house, its
gilt weather-vane cutting into the blazing blue, he thanked Almighty
God from his heart, piously, that he had had the pluck, and
forethought, and resolution to go through with that nasty job of
uprooting and deportation. Only weak men let women wreck them; and,
thank God, he, Joseph Challoner, wasn’t weak. Meanwhile–here piety
had the grace to walk out and let honest cynicism walk in,
winking–meanwhile Margaret Smyrthwaite grew better-looking and more
accessible every day. Yes, unquestionably Providence is on the side of
the clear-headed, helping those who help themselves, who know the
chance of their lives when it comes along and don’t allow sentimental
scruples to prevent their fixing right on to it. Only the unfit go
under–such, for instance, as that flimsy little baggage, Mrs. Gwynnie.
And, if you look at things all round calmly and scientifically, how
very much better for everybody concerned, public morals included, that
under such very unfit little feminine baggages should very completely
and finally go!

Chewing the cud of which philosophic reflections, Challoner pursued his
prosperous and contented way. From the tennis court the players waved
and called their greetings as he approached them. Margaret
Smyrthwaite, leaving her seat in front of the pavilion, came forward to
meet him, her smart black figure and enormous hat backed by a bank of
crimson and pink rhododendron in full blossom. She moved with the
rather studied grace of a girl who expects, and is altogether ready, to
be admired. Challoner had no quarrel with this. For his taste she
could not be too ornate. He appraised her appearance, her costume, the
general effect of her, as he might a fine piece of plate for his table.
Well, didn’t he propose she should be, in a sense, just that–his
domestic and social centerpiece? The more glory to him, then, the more
expensive she looked! And she could afford to look expensive, thank
God!–here piety stepped in again momentarily.–And he could afford to
let her look so; for once that handsome fortune of hers in his keeping,
be d—-d if he would not double or treble it.

He raised his hat and stood with it in his hand. His eyes covered her
covetously. If she wanted admiration, it was hers to order. He could
supply a perfectly genuine article in unlimited quantity. And, though
his countenance was not an expressive one, he contrived to convey the
above information to her quite clearly. The young lady responded. She
talked of the weather, the heat, the game, and such-like inanities; but
she displayed her fine plumage and trailed her wings all the while.
Challoner began to think of a game of tennis as a wholesome corrective.
The temperature became high in more senses than the meteorologic one.
Presently she made a gesture calling his attention to her sister and
Adrian Savage sitting on the veranda; smiled slyly, looking up at him,
and then turned and sauntered a few steps beside him back along the
path.

Witnessing all which suggestive pantomime from his distant station,
Adrian had much ado to maintain an attitude of circumspection and
restraint. For was it conceivable that those two–Margaret and
Challoner–in any degree shared, or affected to share, poor Joanna’s
infatuated delusion? Was ever man landed in so false a position! An
atmosphere of intrigue surrounded him. He felt as though walking among
treacherous quicksands, where every step spells danger of being sucked
under and engulfed. Inwardly he tore and plunged, cursing against the
hateful, the dishonoring silence imposed upon him by circumstance. He
was tempted to rush out on to the sun-bathed lawn, regardless of all
mercy, of all decorum, and shout to the four winds of heaven his
unique, inextinguishable devotion to Gabrielle St. Leger, his sole
desire and love! Only by some such public loud-tongued demonstration
did he feel he could regain safe foothold and cleanse his honor from
the detestable and insidious duplicity fathered upon him through no act
or lapse of his.

But here Joanna’s voice once more claimed his attention. It still
hissed and whispered, causing him shrinking and repulsion. Yet he
detected a change in the spirit of it. Some finer, more wholesome
chord had been struck. She no longer cringed.

“I am ready now, Cousin Adrian,” she said, “to hear that which you have
to tell me about my brother.”

And the young man, finding relief to his pent-up feelings in voluminous
and rapid speech, told her how, calling late one night upon an old
school-fellow, a widely known draftsman and caricaturist, he had seen
certain drawings–here Adrian picked his phrases a little–representing
a young man of six or seven and twenty–“Who,” he said, “bore such a
striking resemblance to you, my dear cousin, and to Margaret, that I
was transfixed with veritable amazement. I do not disguise from you
that I was also pained, that for the moment I was furious. For these
pictures were objectionable in character, in many respects odious. It
appeared to me my friend had been guilty of an outrage for which it was
my duty to administer sharp chastisement. But I could demand no
immediate satisfaction, because he and I had already quarreled that
evening, and he concealed himself from me, thereby rendering it
impracticable that I should question him. This, perhaps, was as well,
since I was heated and it gave me space for reflection. I realized the
extreme improbability of his ever having seen either you or your
sister–the absolute impossibility of his having done so recently, as
you had been at home in England for some years. Then I recalled the
pathetic history of your brother which you had confided to me. I
grasped the situation. I understood. I called upon my friend next
day. Still he was rancorous. He flew into a passion and refused to
admit me. I restrained my resentment. I wrote to him explaining the
gravity and urgency of the case. I appealed to his better nature,
entreated him to be reasonable and to give me information. Indeed, I
conducted myself with praiseworthy reticence, while he remained
obstinate to the point of exasperation. Upon more than one count, I
fear, I should have derived the very warmest satisfaction from wringing
his neck.”

Adrian’s handsome eyes danced and glittered. His teeth showed white
and wicked under his fly-away mustache.

“Yes, I, on my side, also possibly harbored a trifle of rancor,” he
said. “But I suppressed my legitimate annoyance. I ignored his
provocations. I insisted. At last I elicited this much.”

“That was very noble of you; still it distresses me that, indirectly, I
should have caused you this trouble. Though I am grateful–some day I
may find words in which to tell you how grateful,” Joanna whispered,
leaning forward and working her hands together nervously in her black
alpaca lap.

All of which served to bring Adrian, who had grown quite comparatively
at ease and happy in his subjective belaborings of The Unspeakable
Tadpole, back to the entanglements and distractions of the immediate
present, with a bounce.

“Upon my word, my dear Joanna,” he replied almost brusquely, “I am
afraid it very much remains to be proved whether I deserve your
gratitude or not. I labor under the ungracious necessity of
communicating much to you that is painful, that is sad. Yet, having
gone thus far it becomes imperative, for many reasons, that I should
put you in possession of all the facts. Then it will be for you to
decide what further steps are to be taken next.”

“You will know best–far best,” she murmured.

The young man set his teeth. Never before had he come so near being
cruel to a woman. Instinctively he crossed himself. _Sancta Maria,
Mater Dei_, in mercy preserve him from the guilt of so dastardly a sin!
He turned to Joanna and spoke, dealing out his words slowly, so that
the full meaning of them might reach her beclouded, love-sick brain.

“My friend, René Dax, found this young man, whose likeness to you and
your sister is so indisputable, so intimate, in the act of attempting
his life.”

“Ah! Bibby, Bibby!” Joanna cried harshly, throwing back her head.

“Yes,” Adrian continued, pursuing his advantage, “unnerved by the
horror of his friendless and destitute condition, the unhappy boy was
about to throw himself from one of the bridges into the Seine. At his
age one must have suffered very greatly to take refuge in that! But
from the drawings of which I have spoken one can form only too forcible
a conception of his desperation. They supply a human document of a
deplorably convincing order. René, who, notwithstanding his
eccentricity, possesses admirable instincts, struggled with him and
succeeded in preventing the accomplishment of his fatal design. Then,
forcing him into a passing cab–kidnapping him, in short–carried him
off with him home.”

“Oh, wait, wait!” Joanna broke in. “This is all so very dreadful. It
is so remote from my experience, from all I am accustomed to, from all
the habits and purposes of my life. I do not wish to be self-indulgent
and shirk my duty. I wish to hear the whole, Cousin Adrian; but I must
pause. I must recover and collect myself, if I am to follow your
narrative intelligently.”

Just then Joseph Challoner, having laid aside hat and jacket and put on
tennis shoes, came out of the pavilion and joined the group, gathered
around Margaret Smyrthwaite, on the terraced grass bank of the court.
Challoner had the reputation of being a formidable player, his height,
and reach, and sureness of eye more than counterbalancing any lack of
agility. It may be added that, along with a losing game, he had the
reputation of too often mislaying his manners and losing his temper.
But this afternoon no question presented itself of losing either game
or temper. He had practised regularly lately. He felt in fine form.
He felt in high good humor. While both sense and senses called for
strong physical exercise as a wholesome outlet to emotion.

Amid discussion and laughter, Marion Chase tossed for partners. The
elder of the Busbridge boys fell to her lot, the younger to
Challoner’s, and the set began. Margaret returned to her chair, and
Amy Woodford lolled on the pavilion step, in the shadow close beside
her, fanning a very pink face with a large palm-leaf fan. As the game
progressed the two girls commented and applauded, with clapping of
hands and derisive or encouraging titterings and cries. Against this
gaily explosive feminine duet, the rapid thud of balls, and sharp
calling of the score, Joanna’s voice asserted itself, with–to her
hearer–a consuming dreariness of interminable and fruitless moral
effort, a grayness of perpetual non-arrival, perpetual frustration,
misconception and mistake.

“I am composed now, Adrian,” she said. “My will again controls my
feelings. Please tell me the rest.”

“I am afraid there is disappointingly little more to tell,” he replied.
“For two days the unfortunate boy remained with my friend as his guest.
René clothed him properly, fed and cared for him, and paid him
liberally for his services as a model. But on the third morning, under
plea of requiring to obtain some particular drug from a neighboring
pharmacy, the young man left my friend’s studio. He did not return.”

“Where did he go?”

“That is what I have asked myself a thousand times, and made every
effort to discover. I have friends at the Prefecture of Police. I
consulted them. They were generous in their readiness to put their
knowledge at my disposal and aid me in my research. Unluckily I could
only give them a verbal description of the missing man, for René
refused me all assistance, refused to allow any police agent to view
the drawings, refused even to allow photographs of them to be taken.
To do so, he declared, would constitute an unpardonable act of
treachery, a violation of hospitality and crime against his own good
faith. The unhappy fellow had trusted him on the understanding that no
inquiry would be made regarding his family or his name. Now the
episode was closed. René did not want it reopened. He had other
things to think about. Rather than have the drawings employed for
purposes of identification, he would destroy them, obliterate them with
a coat of paint. When it became evident, however, the young man had
disappeared for good René’s valet, less scrupulous than his master,
carefully examined the wretched clothes he had left behind. Between
the lining and stuff of the jacket he found a small photograph. It
must have worked through from a rent in the breast-pocket. Though
creased and defaced, the subject of it was still in a degree
distinguishable. I did not wish to agitate you, my dear cousin, by
communicating this matter to you until I had made further efforts to
discover the truth. I sent the photograph to Mr. Merriman. He tells
me it represents the garden front of your old house, Highdene, near
Leeds.”

Joanna neither moved nor spoke, though her breath sighed and caught.
The sounds from the tennis court, meanwhile, increased both in volume
and in animation, causing Adrian to look up.

Challoner stood as near to the net as is permissible, volleying or
smashing down ball after ball, until his opponents began to lose heart
and science and grow harried and spent. And Adrian, watching, found
himself, though unwillingly, impressed by and admiring the force, not
only the great brute strength but determination of the man, which
bestowed a certain dignity upon the game, raising it from the level of
a mere amusement to that of a serious duel. And across the intervening
space Challoner became sensible of that unwilling admiration–the
admiration of a quasi-enemy, curiously supplementing another admiration
of which he was also conscious–namely, that of Margaret Smyrthwaite,
of the woman who craves to be justified, by public exhibition of his
skill and prowess, of the man to whom she meditates intrusting her
person and her fate. This excited Challoner, flattering his pride,
stimulating his ambition and belief in himself.–Yes, he would show
them all what he was made of, show them all what he could do, what he
was worth! So that now he no longer played simply to win a set at
tennis from a harmless, lanky Busbridge boy and amazon-like Marion
Chase; but to revenge himself for Adrian Savage’s past distrust of him,
detection and prevention of his shady little business tricks, played to
revenge himself for the younger man’s superiority in breeding,
knowledge of the world, culture, talents, charm of manner and of looks.
He gave himself to the paying off of old scores in that game of tennis,
all his bullying instinct, his necessity to beat down and trample
Opposition under foot, actively militant. Yet since Margaret
Smyrthwaite’s approval, not to mention her goodly fortune, came into
reckoning, the bullying instinct made him deadly cool and cunning
rather than headlong or reckless in his play.

Presently Joanna silently motioned Adrian once again to take up his
sordid story. And with a feeling of rather hopeless weariness he
obeyed, recounting his scouring of Paris, accompanied by a private
detective. Told her of clues found, or apparently found, only again to
be lost. Told her, incidentally, a little about the haunts of
vagabondage and crime and vice, of the seething, foul-smelling,
festering under-world which there, as in every great city, lies below
the genial surface of things, ready to drag down and absorb the
friendless and the weak. So doing–while he still watched Challoner,
and divined much of the human drama–finding expression in his
masterful manipulation of racket and ball–Adrian’s imagination took
fire. He forgot his companion, gave reign to his natural eloquence and
described certain scenes, certain episodes, with only too telling
effect.

“But you must have been exposed to great danger,” she broke in
breathlessly at last.

“Ah! like that!” he cried, shrugging his shoulders and laughing a
little fiercely. “Danger is, after all, an excellent sauce to meat. I
had entire confidence in the loyalty and discretion of my companion,
and we were armed.”

Joanna got up, pushing away her chair, which scrooped upon the quarries.

“And you did all this for me–for my sake, because Bibby is my
brother!” she exclaimed. “You risked contracting some illness,
receiving some injury! For me, because of Bibby’s relation to me, you
endangered your life!”

“But in point of fact, I didn’t suffer in the least, my dear Joanna,”
he replied, rising also. “I enlarged my acquaintance with a city of
which I am quite incorrigibly fond; which, even at her dirtiest and
naughtiest, I very heartily love. And here I am, as you see, in
excellent health, perfectly intact, ready to start on my voyage of
discovery again to-morrow, if there should seem any reasonable hope of
its being crowned with success. Common humanity demands that much of
me. One cannot let a fellow-creature, especially one who has the claim
of kinship, perish in degradation and misery without making every
rational effort to rescue and rehabilitate him.”

Joanna hardly appeared to listen. She moved to and fro, her arms
hanging straight at her sides, her hands opening and closing in
nervous, purposeless clutchings.

“No,” she declared violently, “no! When I think of the risks which you
have exposed yourself, and the shocking and cruel things which might
have happened to you, I cannot control my indignation. When I think
that Bibby might have been the cause of your death no vestige of
affection for him is left in me. None–none–I cast him out of my
heart. Yes, it is dreadful. Looking back, all the anguish of which my
brother has been the cause is present to me–the constant anxiety which
his conduct gave rise to, the concealments mamma and I had to practise
to shield him from papa’s anger, the atmosphere of nervousness and
unrest which, owing to him, embittered my girlhood. He was the cause
of estrangement between my parents; between papa and myself. He was
the cause of the break-up of our home at Leeds, of the severing of old
friendships and associations, of the sense of disgrace which for so
many years lay upon our whole establishment. It destroyed my mother’s
health. It emphasized the unsympathetic tendencies of my father’s
character. And now, now, when so much has happened to redress the
unhappiness of the past, to glorify and enlarge my life, when my future
is so inexpressibly full of hope and promise, it is too much, too much,
that my brother should reappear, that he should intervene between us,
Adrian, between you and me–endangering your actual existence. And he
will come back–I know it, I feel it,” she added wildly. “I believed
him dead because I wished him dead. I still wish it. But that is
useless–useless.”

And, as though in ironic applause of Joanna’s passionate denunciation,
the two young ladies watching the game of tennis broke into
enthusiastic hand-clapping.

“Well played–good–good–splendid–played indeed!” they cried, their
voices ringing out through the still, hot air.

Marion Chase flung herself down on the terraced grass-bank.

“You’re out of sight too strong for us,” she gasped, laughingly. “We
didn’t have the ghost of a chance.”

Challoner stood wiping his face and neck with his handkerchief. He was
puffed up with pride, almost boisterously exultant. Ah! yes, let the
hen-bird display her fine plumage and trail her wings ever so prettily,
when it came to a fight the cock-bird had his innings, and could show
he wasn’t lacking in virility or spunk! He’d given them all a taste of
his metal this afternoon, he flattered himself; taught them Joseph
Challoner was something more than a common low-caste, office-bred,
country attorney, half sharper, half lick-spittle sneak!

“The gray mare isn’t the better horse yet awhile, eh, Miss Marion, your
friends the suffragettes notwithstanding?” he said, jocosely. “All the
same, I congratulate you. You and your partner made a plucky stand.”

The elder Busbridge boy lay on his back, panting and tightening the
supporting silk handkerchief about his lean young waist.

“My hat! that last rally was a breather though,” he grunted. “I got
regularly fed up with the way you kept me bargeing from side to side of
that back court, Challoner. Double-demon, all-round champion
terrifier–that’s about the name to suit you, my good chap.”

Joanna had come close to Adrian. Her prominent eyes were strained and
clouded. Seam-like lines showed in her forehead and cheeks. Her poor
mouth looked bruised, the outline of her lips frayed and discolored.
Her likeness to the drawings upon the wall was phenomenal just then.
It shocked Adrian, and it caused him to think.

“They have finished playing,” she said. “They will come in to tea
directly. I cannot remain and meet them. I must show some respect for
my own dignity. They are all Margaret’s friends. I do not care for
them. I cannot expose myself to their observation. She must entertain
them herself. I will go to my room. I must be alone until I have had
time to regain my composure, until I know my own thought about this
cruel, cruel event; until I have recovered in some degree from the
shock I have suffered, and begin to see what my duty is.”

“This is the last of the documents, Mr. Challoner?”

“Yes, that is the last of the lot. You noted the contents of Schedule
D, covering the period from the end of the December quarter to the date
of Mr. Smyrthwaite’s death, among the Priestly Mills statement of
accounts? The typed one–quite right. Yes, that’s the lot.”

“We may consider the whole of our business concluded?”

“That is so,” Challoner said.

He stood in an easy attitude resting his elbow on the shelf of the red
porphyry-mantelpiece of the smoking-room at Heatherleigh–a heavily
furnished apartment, the walls hung with chocolate-colored imitation
leather, in a raised self-colored pattern of lozenge-shaped medallions,
each centered with a Tudor rose. The successes of the afternoon still
inflated him. In addition to his triumphs in sports and pastimes, he
had managed to say five words to Margaret Smyrthwaite. And, though the
crucial question had neither been asked nor answered, he felt sure of
her at last. His humor was hilarious and expansive–of the sort which
chucks young women under the chin, digs old gentlemen in the ribs or
slaps them familiarly upon the back. There was a covert sneer in the
tail of Challoner’s eye and a braggart tang in his talk. He swaggered,
every inch of his big body pleased with living, almost brutally
self-congratulatory and content.

“I am really under considerable obligation to you for giving up your
evening to me, and letting me finish our business after office-hours
thus. It will enable me to catch the night cross-Channel boat from
Dover to-morrow. I shall be particularly glad to do so.”

As he spoke, Adrian swung round the revolving chair, in which he sat
before the large writing-table–loaded with bundles of folded papers,
and legal documents engrossed on vellum tied round with pink tape. In
turning, the light from the shaded incandescent gas-lamp, hanging
directly above the table, brought his black hair and beard and white
face into the high relief of some Rembrandt portrait.

“What’s up with young Master Highty Tighty?” Challoner asked himself.
“Looks off color, somehow, as if he’d had an uncommon nasty blow below
the belt.”

The windows and glass door stood open on to the garden, and the pungent
scents of the great fir woods drawn forth by the day’s sunshine mingled
with that of Challoner’s cigar and Adrian’s cigarette.

“Oh! so you’re off at once then, are you?” the former said. “That’s
something new, isn’t it? I understood from the ladies you thought of
stopping on here a bit. And when may we hope for the pleasure of
seeing you again on this side of the silver strip?”

Adrian leaned back in his chair, stretching out his legs and crossing
his feet.

“At the present time I really have no idea,” he replied.

Challoner could hardly conceal his glee. For an instant he debated.
Concluded he would venture on a reconnaissance. Flicked the end off
his cigar into the fireplace.

“Miss Joanna will be sorry,” he said.

“Both my cousins have been perfect in their amiability, in their
hospitality, in their generous appreciation of any small services it
has been in my power to render them,” Adrian declared, rolling his r’s
and speaking with the hint of a foreign accent common to him when tired
or vexed. “My cousins know that they can command my co-operation at a
moment’s notice should they require counsel or advice. But my own
affairs, as they kindly and readily comprehend, cannot be too long
neglected. My interests and my work are necessarily abroad–in France.
It becomes imperative that I should return to my work.”

“Not a doubt about it,” Challoner said. “Work stands first. Though I
own I’m glad my work doesn’t oblige me to expatriate myself. I
shouldn’t relish that. Not a bit. Poor old England’s good enough for
me.”

“Precisely–your interests and your work are here.”

Challoner fitted the toe of his boot into the pattern of the
hearth-rug, looking down and permitting himself a quiet laugh.

“Oh! Lord, yes,” he said, “to be sure. My work and my interests are
here right enough–very much here. I’m not ashamed of the word
‘local,’ or of the word ‘provincial’ either, Mr. Savage. My father
invented Stourmouth, as you may say, and I’ve patented his invention.
Stourmouth owes a good deal to the two Joseph Challoners, father and
son; and I propose it should owe a long sight more, one way and
another, before I join my poor old daddy ‘under the churchyard sod.'”

“It is an act of piety to devote one’s talents and energies to the
welfare of one’s native place,” Adrian returned.

And therewith, judging he had made sufficient concession to the
exigencies of the position in the matter of general conversation, he
rose to depart. But Challoner stopped him.

“Just half a minute, will you please, Mr. Savage,” he said. “It occurs
to me if we’re not likely to meet for some time there’s one matter I
ought to mention to you. I don’t exactly care to take the whole onus
of the thing upon my own shoulders. Of course, if you’re cognizant of
it, there’s the beginning and end of the story as far as my
responsibility goes. I may have my own opinion as to the wisdom,
and–not to mince matters–the honesty of the arrangement. But, if you
are aware of it and approve, my mouth, of course, is shut. Has Miss
Smyrthwaite told you of the alteration she proposes making in her will?”

“Yes, she spoke of it to-day; and I dissuaded her from making it.”

Challoner sucked in his breath with a soft whistle.

“Indeed?” he said. “That’s a self-denying ordinance.”

Adrian held himself extremely erect. His eyebrows were raised and the
tip of his pugnacious nose was very much in the air.

“Pardon me, but I do not quite follow you,” he said.

“Miss Smyrthwaite didn’t explain the nature of the alterations very
fully then, I take it?”

“My cousin informed me that she proposed to revoke certain gifts and
bequests she had made to her brother, William Smyrthwaite–supposing
him still to be living. Of this I disapproved. I told her so, giving
her the reasons for my disapproval.”

Challoner looked down and fitted the toe of his boot into the
hearth-rug pattern once more.

“You hold the property should remain in the family–go to the direct
heirs, the next of kin? A very sound principle; but one, if you’ll
excuse my saying so, few persons stick to where their personal
advantage is involved.”

“I repeat, I fail to follow you,” Adrian returned, shrugging his
shoulders and spreading out his hands with an impatient movement.

“Perhaps Miss Smyrthwaite omitted to explain that this redistribution
of her property was exclusively in your favor; all she mulcted her
precious specimen of a brother of was to go not to her direct heir–her
sister–but to yourself.”

Whereupon, it must be conceded, the younger man’s bearing became not a
little insolent.

“Preposterous, my dear Challoner, utterly preposterous!” he cried.
“For once your professional acumen must have quite scandalously
deserted you, or you could not have so misunderstood my cousin’s
instructions.”

It was not Challoner’s cue to lose his temper. He had too many causes
for self-congratulation to-night. And then, whether Adrian was
bluffing or not, he believed–though it was annoying to find the young
man so unmercenary–this repudiation of the proffered inheritance to be
sincere.

“Joanna–Miss Smyrthwaite, I mean, I beg her pardon–is too good a
woman of business to trust to verbal instructions. I have got the
whole thing on paper, in black and white, there”–he pointed to the
table. “I can lay my hand on it in half a minute. Possibly you’d like
to look at it yourself, as you appear to doubt my word.”

But for the moment Adrian was incapable of reply. This was what Joanna
had meant! It was even worse than he had feared. He felt humiliated,
hot with shame. And then, in spirit, he clasped those infamous
drawings upon the wall and the subject of them, Bibby, the miserable
wastrel Bibby, to his breast.

“Do you wish to look at Miss Smyrthwaite’s instructions as to the
transfer of her property, Mr. Savage?” Challoner repeated, a sneer in
his voice.

But the young man had recovered his native adroitness.

“Clearly it would be superfluous for me to do so; because, as I have
already informed you, Miss Smyrthwaite, recognizing the validity of my
arguments, decides to cancel those instructions, to make no alteration
in the disposition of her property. Happily I was in a position to
convince her that it is premature to assume the fact of her brother’s
death. I have comparatively recent news of him.”

Challoner’s jaw dropped.

“The devil you have,” he said, under his breath.

“Yes–‘the devil,’ quite possibly–as you so delicately put it,” Adrian
returned, lightly. “I have been tempted, at moments, to put it myself
so, my dear Mr. Challoner. At others I have seemed to trace a really
providential element in this strange affair. Directly the facts of
William Smyrthwaite’s reappearance came to my knowledge I placed Mr.
Andrew Merriman in full possession of them.”

“Oh, you did, did you?” Challoner commented.

“Yes. I considered this the correct course to pursue. Mr. Merriman
was formerly employed by Mr. Smyrthwaite as the channel of
communication between himself and his son.”

“Graceless young hound!” Challoner snarled, caution swamped by anger
and chagrin. It made him mad to think Adrian Savage had had this
eminently disconcerting piece of information up his sleeve all along!
Once more he’d been checkmated.

“Mr. Merriman generously accepts all responsibility in the conduct of
this matter,” Adrian went on. “And, I am sure you will feel with me,
that his long and intimate connection with my cousins’ family renders
him quite the most suitable person to deal with it. Therefore, until
further developments declare themselves–I beg your pardon? You
express a pious hope further developments never will declare
themselves? Possibly that might save trouble; but I fear the saving of
trouble is hardly the main point in the present case. Therefore, until
they do declare themselves, you will, I feel sure, agree that it is
most undesirable this subject should be spoken about. Discussion of it
can only cause my cousins agitation and heighten their suspense. This
I am naturally most anxious they should be spared. Nothing, meanwhile,
will be neglected. I shall do my part. Mr. Merriman will do his. I
will ask you therefore to consider this conversation as strictly
confidential.”

“Oh! you needn’t be afraid I shall blab,” Challoner said. “Poor girl,”
he went on presently, pronouncing that dangerous catch-word as though
it rhymed with _curl_–“poor girl, poor Miss Margaret! It’ll be an
awful blow to her. She is so sensitive. She’s given me to
understand–indirectly, of course–when we’ve been talking over
business, what an out-and-out rotter this precious brother of hers was.
To my mind, you know, Mr. Savage, it’s not a nice thing to turn such
vermin as young Smyrthwaite loose on two defenseless women. I don’t
like it. Honestly I don’t. So you needn’t be afraid of my blabbing.
My whole object, out of respect for the ladies and for poor old
Smyrthwaite’s memory, will be to keep matters dark. At the same time I
note what you say about Merriman; which, I take it, is equivalent to
telling me to keep my hands off. Very good, Mr. Savage. What I have
just said proves I think that I am more than willing to keep my hands
very much off this very dirty job. Still, there is one question which,
even so, I imagine I am at liberty to ask. Are you sure of your facts?”

To Adrian Savage it appeared only two alternatives were open to
him–namely, to treat his host with studied politeness or call him out.
And England, perhaps unfortunately, is no longer a dueling country.
Adrian’s manner became elaborately sweet.

“As far as they go,” he said, “I am, dear Mr. Challoner, absolutely
sure of my facts.”

“As far as they go? Well, there’s room for hope they mayn’t go very
far, then–may be something of the nature of a scare, in short. And,
if I may be allowed one question more, has this very edifying piece of
family news been communicated to Margaret?”

“To–to whom?” Adrian said, with a civil interrogatory face, raised
eyebrows, and a slightly elongated neck.

“Sorry I didn’t speak plainly enough,” Challoner snarled back.
“Communicated to your cousin, Mr. Savage, Miss Margaret Smyrthwaite?”

“Not by me,” the other returned, smiling affably. “And now, my dear
Mr. Challoner,” he went on, “since these labors in which we have been
associated are at an end, let me thank you warmly for your able
concurrence and for the priceless assistance you have given me in the
administration of Mr. Smyrthwaite’s estate. Accept, also, my thanks
for your courtesy in permitting me to come here to your charming house
to-night.”

Adrian glanced around the forbidding apartment.

“I carry away with me so many interesting and instructive impressions,”
he said. “But now I really must trespass upon your time and indulgence
no longer. Again thanks–and, since I leave at a comparatively early
hour to-morrow, good-by, Mr. Challoner–good-by, good-night.”

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