AT AYRESFORD

It was the music-room in Mr. Bevis Urquhart’s mansion in Park Street.
The floor was polished, the walls panelled in white and gold, the
ceiling painted in the Watteau style. About forty fashionably dressed
people sat on gilded chairs in the body of the room. High in front of
them towered the organ; beneath it stretched a low platform containing a
white and gold grand piano pushed into a corner, and a Louis XV. table,
at which sat half a dozen men. Among these was Roderick, looking worn
and jaded, and from the front row of the chairs Ella Defries viewed him
in some concern. The committee of the Walden Art Colony had called
a general meeting of those interested in the project, and Mr. Bevis
Urquhart had lent his music-room for the purpose.

Mr. Redmayne, R. A., had been voted into the chair. He was a
business-like looking little man, clean-shaven and precise in attire,
and he spoke in a dry, sharp way like a barrister. He announced to the
meeting what Roderick had heard some days before,–that Sir Decimus
Bland had died suddenly and had made no testamentary provision for the
Colony. They all had looked to him for the payment of the Director’s
salary and for the guaranteeing of any pecuniary deficit that might
occur in working the concern. Their chief support gone, it was for the
meeting to decide whether the scheme should be continued or abandoned.
From a memorandum supplied by Roderick he read a statement of accounts.
Three thousand and twenty pounds at Mr. Usher’s bankers; two thousand
promised. Was there any person or combination of persons willing to
fill Sir Decimus Bland’s place? He sat down. No one responded. Lord
Eglington, a withered gentleman with a cracked voice, rose from the
committee table, and after expounding the aim of the Colony regretfully
proposed the entire abandonment of the scheme. Mr. Bevis Urquhart
seconded the resolution.

Roderick caught an appealing glance from Ella and sprang to his feet.
He pleaded eloquently. He had worked with heart and soul to organise the
Colony; was ready to devote his existence to it. The future of Art was
at stake. Here was the one glorious chance the century had offered
to free Art from the shackles that had degraded it and through its
inexorable influence had degraded modern life. Never had he felt such
pain as when he had heard Lord Eglington and Mr. Urquhart propose to
dismiss the scheme to that unutterable horror of desolation, the limbo
of forsaken ideals. He adjured them to weigh the vast responsibility
they had taken upon themselves. He urged those present to respond
generously to his appeal for funds to carry on the work.

“I speak as a man,” said he, “fighting for dear life, for all that is
sacred and holy to me in existence. I have pledged myself to bring this
boon upon the world, and I will do it ere I die.”

He sat down, flushed and excited. The company, moved by his enthusiasm,
applauded encouragingly. Ella rose.

“It will be a disgrace to us all if the motion is carried,” she said,
turning round to the general body. “Let us fill up a subscription list
now. I will head it with five thousand pounds.” She sat down. There was
a cold silence. Her heart sank with a feeling of shame at her outburst.
_Qui m’aime me suive_ is sometimes an excellent battle-cry. When no
one follows, it falls deadly flat. She realised that most of the people
there knew her personal interest in the affair, and her cheek grew
hotter. Roderick stepped boldly down to her, and whispered in her ear.

“You have the worshipping gratitude of all my life,” said he.

A man rose at the back of the room and began to speak. There was
a rustle of garments as every one turned to look at him. He was
a well-known journalist, the editor of a weekly paper that made a
specialty of diagnosing unsound institutions. Roderick tugged at his
Vandyke beard and watched him narrowly. He began in a light bantering
tone, described with delicate satiric touch the objects of the Colony.
Then he playfully analysed the idyllic conditions under which the
colonists would work. The meeting laughed. He sketched the boredom, the
universal hatred of the minor poet who insisted on reading his poems
aloud to the assembled Colony, the flirtations, imbroglios, jealousies,
the lady who paid nothing and went about declaring that the food was
not fit to eat. One by one he touched off the types. The meeting was
delighted. Then the speaker launched out into a trenchant indictment of
the whole scheme, disclosed its absurdity, its financial rottenness,
its infinite futility. He ended amid rounds of laughter and applause.
Ridicule had killed the scheme outright. There were cries that the
motion should be put. It was carried almost by acclamation. Thus ended
the great Walden Art Colony.

“I did think you would stand by it, Urquhart,” said Roderick to the
young semimillionaire.

The people were beginning to disperse, among much laughter and gossip.
Ella had lingered on an imploring sign from Roderick. Urquhart stifled a
yawn and buttoned his frock-coat.

“My dear fellow,” said he, from the heights of his superior culture,
“if you would only study Pradovitch,—- the one genius this century has
produced,–study him as I have done, you would not fail to be convinced
that Art is the leprosy of life.”

For once Roderick lost his temper. An evil look came into his face.

“What a God-forsaken fool you are!” he snarled out. And turning on his
heel he joined Ella.

The young man turned to Lord Eglington.

“That’s the worst of having to do with such _canaille_,” he said
languidly. But in spite of his assumption of supercilious indifference,
his face wore a malignant expression as he watched Roderick and his
companion disappear through the doorway. At the door however, Roderick’s
indignation evaporated. It is no doubt an immense satisfaction to tell
a posturing imbecile exactly what you, think of him, but when you have
misappropriated a couple of thousands of that imbecile’s money without
any reasonable prospect of restoring it, the satisfaction is apt to be
short hved.

Roderick and Ella gained the street without saying a word. A cab
sauntered up.

“Will you–?” began Roderick.

“I would sooner walk part of the way. Do you mind?”

“Delighted,” said Roderick.

“The room was so hot,” she explained, “and it is a beautiful afternoon.”

They walked down Park Lane in silence, hanging dejected heads, a new
Adam and Eve driven from Eden. Now and then she glanced sideways at
him, to see his brow set and deep lines descending parallel with his
moustache and losing themselves in his beard. His defeat seemed to have
crushed him. Ella felt a pang of pity. She touched his arm lightly.

“You must not take it too much to heart,” she said.

“I must,” he replied, with a gesture of despair. “To think it should
have all gone down like a house of cards!”

They crossed the road and entered the Park. The grey mists of die early
December afternoon were beginning to gather among the trees. Far off a
great crimson blur announced the setting sun. To their right the statue
of Achilles loomed grimly on its deserted hillock. Roderick pointed to
it with his stick.

“Do you remember that Sunday afternoon six months ago, when all was hope
and sunshine?”

“Redmayne had just joined,” she remarked.

“And to-day he took the chair, so as to crush us. They had it all
arranged beforehand. A damnable conspiracy! And we were powerless. It
maddens me!”

His tones were those of intense feeling Ella was compelled to comfort.

“You fought splendidly,” she said. “A man can’t do more.”

He stopped abruptly in the path and laid both hands on her wrists by her
muff. A belated nursery maid wheeling a perambulator eyed them dully.

“Bless you for the words! You cannot tell what your sympathy means to me
now.”

By a happy chance he had struck the right note. Tears came into the
girl’s eyes. For the first time she was able to disassociate the man
from his work. She lost her own sense of disappointment in womanly pity
for the man who had been defeated while battling against great odds.

“And bless you for the tears standing in those eyes!” said Roderick.

They walked on. Somehow her hand found its way beneath his arm. They
spoke but little. Roderick’s pulses fluttered with a new hope; but his
perceptions into the nature of women were too keen to allow him to force
an advantage. He wore his stricken air, yet subtly conveyed to her the
deep comfort of her sympathy. He pressed her hand against his side and
left her to work out the situation for herself under these excellent
conditions.

Ella had never felt so near him. The unity in their golden dreams had
not bound them so closely as this unity in catastrophe. For even when
the dreams were most golden, she had haunting misgivings that they were
but visions. Outraged by Sylvester’s trampling on her heart, sickened
at herself by her years reckless follies, eager, with all a proud girl’s
passion, to vindicate herself, to follow some noble standard, she had
caught at the first that flaunted by and compelled herself imperiously
to believe in it. This forced faith had been the strenuous labour of her
inner life. She had armed herself in triple brass against Lady Milmo’s
shafts of flippant satire, against Matthew Lanyon’s kindly wisdom,
against her own common sense. The Colony would be merely a paradise of
cranks. No serious artist would throw away his or her career in such a
Cloud-cuckoo-land.

She herself, at the best but a well-taught amateur painter in
water-colours, what was she doing in that galley? She set aside reason.
To believe in Roderick, she must believe in the Colony. To believe in
the Colony, she must believe in Roderick. The two were inextricably
interfused. Realisation of the dreams was her only justification for
marrying the man. The man’s personality and enthusiasm for an ideal
had overpowered her. She would not think. She was young, inexperienced,
warm-natured, seeing things out of proportion. Flight from the self she
had deemed dishonoured was her only chance of salvation; and she mistook
the imaginary cries behind her, hounding her onward, for the voice of
inexorable necessity. If Roderick could accomplish it, the Colony was a
glorious thing. The Colony accomplished, Roderick was the conqueror to
whom she must yield. When the dreams were most golden she saw him such,
and they were near together.

But then had come the days of Roderick’s loss of interest in the scheme.
He put her above the Colony, desired her above all things. She shivered
back. For himself alone she could not marry him. Why, she could not
tell. A girl with a mind pure and sweet does not speculate on that
which, traced logically to its source, is simply elemental sexual
repulsion. She clung fiercely to her point. Then Roderick returned
to the scheme with his old ardour. In her heart she believed him
passionately sincere. Misfortune had come with terrible unexpectedness.
He had fought and failed. He was a beaten man. The dream had been
brutally proved to have been the emptiest of hallucinations. She was
miserably cast down. Roderick seemed broken-hearted. They were at one
in an absolute cynical reality. Both had been pierced by the same shaft.
The doors of the cranks’ Eden had clanged behind them, and they were
walking together in the grey, dreary expanse of Hyde Park, with an
unknown world of the most definite prose before them. They seemed alone,
to have nothing in common with the rest of society; to have in common
with each other this all-filling humiliation of defeat. So when he
spoke, the unreasoning woman leaped to comfort the man. She had never
felt so near him. A great and natural revulsion of feeling had lifted
her heart to consolation.

They quitted the Park at Hyde Park Corner, and paused by common impulse.

“I suppose you will take a cab now,” he said reluctantly.

“I suppose I must,” she said in the same tone. “I would ask you to come
with me, but it’s auntie’s day at home, and the place will be full of
chattering people.”

“I can’t bear leaving you,” said he.

“Nor I you.”

“You look tired, poor child. Let me give you some tea. Will you?
I belong to a club in Piccadilly,–the Hyde Park, where ladies are
admitted to tea. It is the home of all the depressed outcasts of London,
and even they shun it. We are sure to be alone in the tea-room. Come.”

He hailed a hansom. Ella, in that strange mood of passivity which is
woman’s fatalest, entered without remark. He followed, and they drove to
the Hyde Park Club.

As he had prophesied, the tea-room was empty, save for one dejected
member with his neck-tie riding over the back of his collar, who stared
at them for a moment and then passed out like a ghost. A blazing fire,
however, was burning in the grate, and the maroon leather chairs and
divans added a sense of warmth and comfort to the room. The despondent
ones took their seats in a little recess by the fireplace, and Roderick
ordered tea.

“It’s a new club, and no two members are acquainted. It is the most
desolate place in London. A man comes here when he wants to work out his
suicide. There’s no one to distract his thoughts. Then he goes out and
commits it.”

“Why did you join?” asked Ella, mechanically.

“Perhaps I foresaw this day. If your worshipped dearness had not waited
for me at Urquhart’s, I should have come here–and God knows what
desperate remedies I should have brooded over. But I never foresaw
having you here to strengthen me. Thank Heaven I did join, so as to have
a haven of rest and quietude to bring you to.”

He passed his hand across his forehead wearily, and rested his elbow on
the little table in front of him.

“My God!” he said. “It has been a bitter day for me.”

The waiter brought a tray with tea and delicately baked scones. Ella
filled the cups and tried to cheer her companion, praising the tea and
the arrangements of the club. The warmth, the little sense of novelty,
working an unconscious influence, had brought back animation to her
face. She looked very fresh and winsome in the man’s eyes. They fixed
themselves upon her despairingly. Ella suddenly broke off her trivial
chatter.

“Ah you must not,” she said, with a little choke to keep down the tears.
“There are so many great things left in the world to fight for–. Oh, I
wish I could help you!”

“Bless you!” he replied solemnly–and how much was acting, and how much
was genuine, the man’s Maker alone could tell, for the man himself could
not; “there is only one way in which you could help me, and that must
not be. You are rich, I am poor. We are no longer working in the great
common cause in which all such differences could have been sunk. As a
man of honour I must release you from your engagement with me, for the
conditions on which our engagement was based have lapsed. You are quite
free, Ella, and I must go my way alone.”

He hid his face in his hands. Ella trifled with her tea-spoon.

“You are generous,” she said in a low voice. “But if your honour is at
stake, so is mine. I could not turn away from you in your hour of need.”

“I am a defeated man,” he replied brokenly. “You would despise me.”

The word pierced her like a knife. At that moment she was noble, with
the blind and piteous folly that is so often at the heart of woman’s
nobility. She drew herself up proudly, then stretched her arm
impulsively across the table and closed her fresh young fingers on his
hand.

“I will marry you whenever you please, and we will face the world
together and begin a new life,” she said.

*****

“My poor dear child,” said Lady Milmo, kissing Ella affectionately, when
she came home, “I am so sorry for you. Lady Elstree came here straight
after the meeting and told us all about it. But it was bound to come to
smash, darling.”

“I suppose it was, auntie,” replied Ella, taking off her fur necklet.

She sat down on the fender stool and looked into the fire. Lady Milmo
came up and took one of her hands and petted it in her kindly fashion.

“I’m very glad it’s all over,” she said. “As soon as it became serious,
I never liked it, you know, dear. And now we can start everything quite
fresh, can’t we?”

“Yes, quite fresh,” assented Ella.

“You see now,” continued Lady Milmo, “how wise it was to make that
condition about your engagement. I don’t want to say anything against
Roderick, but he’s an impossible visionary, dear. I always hated the
idea of your marrying him. It is all broken off now, isn’t it?”

To Lady Milmo’s great astonishment, the girl suddenly burst into a fit
of miserable crying. She knelt by her and petted her comfortingly.

“It will be quite easy, my child. I will write him a kind little note
about it, and you can go down to Ayresford and take care of that dear
Uncle Matthew of yours.”

“Oh, auntie,” cried Ella at last, “you don’t understand. I promised
Roderick this afternoon to marry him in a fortnight’s time.”

Whilst the meeting was taking place that brought the Walden Art Colony
to ludicrous collapse, Sylvester was on his way to Ayres-ford to pay
one of his periodical Saturday to Monday visits. Matthew, with Dorothy
clinging to his finger, met him at the station. Sylvester took the
child up in his arms and kissed her, striving hard to respond to her
demonstrations of affection. But his heart had turned from her. She was
the embodiment of a perpetual pain.

Sylvester’s bag being taken in charge by the gardener’s boy, the trio
walked up to the house, Dorothy skipping between them. The old man
looked proudly and lovingly down at her. Sylvester caught the glance
from time to time, and a pang queerly like jealousy passed through him.
If only he could love the small thing as he had loved her two years ago!
But it was impossible. It was a question of blood instinct; she came of
an alien race. He passed the house where he had lived with Constance,
where Frank Leroux had died after the confession of his miserable
secret. To the man’s gloomy fancy it appeared a lie in brick. Only when
he found himself alone with his father in the familiar library did he
put away these imaginings and wear a clearer brow.

“I hope the marriage is as far off as ever,” said Matthew, warming his
hands before the fire. Sylvester laughed.

“It seems to be postponed to the Greek Kalends. She won’t marry until he
takes her to this Colony in the air–and that will be never. The whole
thing will die a natural death.”

“I hope so indeed,” replied Matthew, reflectively. “She ought to marry a
better man.”

He glanced involuntarily at his son, and their eyes met, and each saw
that the other understood the reference.

“I know you wanted me to marry her,” said Sylvester, awkwardly. “I
couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

Matthew raised his hand, as if about to speak; but the habit of reserve
held him back. A word might have unlocked the son’s heart, but the
word remained unspoken. Sylvester dismissed the subject by saying in a
lighter manner,–

“It’s none of my business, but I often wonder what Roderick lives on.”

“He is an artist and a literary man. I suppose he sells his wares,” said
Matthew.

“Possibly he does. In fact, I suppose he must. I always was under the
impression that his father made him a handsome allowance.”

“Usher allows him a few hundreds a year,” said the old man, in a
matter-of-fact tone.

“Apparently we are both wrong, then. Usher hasn’t allowed him a penny
for years. Roderick told me so himself.”

Matthew started in his chair, and his face wore an expression of great
anxiety.

“Impossible!” he said almost angrily.

“I only quote Roderick’s explicit statement. And I fancy for once in a
way he wasn’t lying.”

Then he saw his father white and aged, his kind lips quivering, his
breath coming fast. In concern he rose, bent over him.

“Why, you ‘re ill–” he began.

But Matthew pushed him away gently.

“Nonsense, my boy. It’s only one of those confounded pains about my
heart. There, it’s all gone now. Don’t worry. It’s this hot room. I
think I’ll go out for a stroll.”

“You had better lie down,” said the physician.

“Yes, and stick out my tongue and chew that thermometer of yours! No,
thank you. There!” He rose to his feet, and held himself erect. “I’m as
strong as a horse.”

“I don’t like your going out,” said Sylvester.

The other looked at his watch. “I must, for a bit,” he said. “Go up and
talk to your aunt for an hour before dinner. She’s dying to hear all the
gossip.”

It was useless to try to restrain him. He had an imperious will to which
Sylvester had yielded all his life. So the son went upstairs, and the
father put on his overcoat and walked at a brisk pace through the dark
December evening to the house of his enemy.

Mr. Usher put down the “Financial News” and rose from his chair as
Matthew entered the room.

“My dear friend, how great a surprise! You have come for a
reconciliation. It is a Christian thing. I too am a Christian, Matthew.”

“I have come to ask you a question,” said Matthew, ignoring the other’s
proffered hand. “Roderick denies that he receives any allowance from
you. Is that true?”

“I am too poor to make my son an allowance,” replied Usher.

“You know what I mean,” replied Matthew, sternly. “I pay £100 a quarter
into your banking account for you to remit, as from yourself, to
Roderick. Does he get it?”

Ushers eyes shifted from Matthew’s glance. He shuffled a step towards
the fireplace before replying.

“You outrage a father’s feelings, Matthew. I live for my son. You
yourself have a son.”

Matthew strode up to him and laid a hand on his collar.

“Confound it, sir, answer my question! Roderick states that he hasn’t
received a penny from you for years. Have you kept all these sums back
from him? By God! you shall speak.”

Involuntarily he shook him in his angry grasp. Usher was scared.

“No violence, Matthew.”

Matthew released him with a contemptuous exclamation.

“I see by your face you have kept the money. I was a fool to trust you.
You’re an infernal mean-spirited hound. I’ve known that for years. But I
never thought you would rob your son.”

“He’s not your son–At least,” he added with an ugly smile, “I presume
not. I have trained him as I have thought judicious. I am a judicious
man.”

“You ‘re a damned thief,” said Matthew. Usher waved his hand towards the
door.

“I think you had better go. I do not like to see an old man so carried
away by passion. It will shorten your life. I am always calm.” Matthew
regarded him for a moment, astounded. Then he spoke in blazing anger:
“_You_ show _me_ the door? _You?_ Sit down in that chair at once.”
Usher obeyed. “There! I stay in this house as long as I choose. It is
mine,–everything in it paid for with my heart’s blood. By God, if we
were younger men, I should thrash you within an ace of your life! Now
then–let me see your passbooks for the last six years. Give them to me
at once, I say.”

Instinctively Usher shrank before Matthew’s tone of authority. He rose,
whimpering allusions to his own poverty and Matthew’s domineering ways,
and extracted a set of vellum-covered books from a safe in a corner of
the room. Matthew threw his hat and stick upon a chair, and sat down,
by the round table on which Usher had laid the books. The latter resumed
his armchair on the opposite side and watched him furtively as he
scanned the pages with practised eye and bent brows. When Matthew was
dangerous, he had no power to resist. The craven within him yielded to
the stronger personality. But he hated Matthew with a deadlier hatred.
Even now, in the moment of his humiliation, there was a gleam in his
eyes of a revengeful joy at the imperious man’s discovery of the manner
in which he had been fooled for years past. He rubbed his palms softly
together beneath the level of the table.

There was a dead silence, broken only by the faint rustling of the
leaves as Matthew turned them over. At last, when he had looked through
the books, he rose and returned his glasses to their little
leather case. His face was gray and peaked. There on the table lay
incontrovertible proof that his life’s atonement had been frustrated,
that instead of smoothing Roderick’s path, he had merely been
pandering to Usher’s senile vices. A whole fortune had gone in insane
speculations, rotten companies for the exploitation of imaginary mines,
futile inventions, wild-cat schemes. Here and there were amounts
for £100, £200, paid to names which he recognised as those of great
postage-stamp dealers. Not once had a cheque been drawn payable to
Roderick. On the credit side were two large sums which he himself had
paid to extricate Roderick from special difficulties. On the debit side
was nothing to correspond. He felt stricken with sudden age. But he drew
himself up haughtily lest Usher should see his despair.

“And you have been lying, I perceive,” said he, “when you have come to
me for money to pay Roderick’s debts,–or else you haven’t paid them.”

“I have paid them all–all his debts–with securities, Matthew. That is
why nothing is in my pass-book.”

Matthew shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

“Your word is about as good as your bond,” he said, taking up his hat
and stick.

Usher rose and leaned his hands on the table and regarded him
reproachfully, wagging his head.

“I could not blacken the character of my only son, Matthew. He has been
wild, but I have a parent’s love. Why should I give him £400 a year
when he did not need it? But when he has come to me in distress, I have
relieved his necessities.”

“I have learned all I wanted to know,” said Matthew. “Good-night to
you.” And he strode out of the room.

An hour or two later he was sitting alone with Sylvester over their
wine, in the comfortable dining-room, as he had done so many, many times
before,–and the same silence reigned between them. He lay back in
his chair and watched his son, whose face was turned from him in half
profile. He wondered what were the thoughts that held him so serious,
as he gazed into the fire. It was a man’s face, marked with the cares
of life, the responsibilities of an anxious profession; proud, reserved,
and intellectual. Matthew was immensely proud of him. In this hour of
relaxed moral fibre, he was humbly grateful, wondered what pleasure a
brilliant man like Sylvester could find in the company of a dull old
country lawyer. It was only the love between them. His heart warmed
towards his son, and a foolish moisture gathered in his eyes. And then,
almost suddenly, came a great longing to tell Sylvester all. He was a
physician, accustomed to view the dark places in the human soul. If only
he could tell him, share with him the burden he had borne for so many
years! It would no longer be a burden. He would face the world at last,
a free man. For otherwise what would be the end? He himself was on the
verge of ruin. He might spit upon Usher’s gaberdine, but Usher’s demands
must be met. How to meet them and preserve an inheritance for Sylvester?
And Roderick? He felt crushed by this evening’s revelations. He had
struggled as few men have struggled to make atonement. It had been in
vain. He had no longer the strength to make fresh effort. A word to
Sylvester, and peace would possess his soul.

Sylvester glanced round and saw his father’s eyes fixed upon him with
a strange yearning. He rose, went up to his chair, and laid a hand upon
his shoulder.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, with more tenderness than usual in
his tone.

“Think well of me when I am gone, Syl,” said the old man. Sylvester
grasped his shoulder a little tighter.

“That’s a strange thing to ask me,” he said. “You know what I think of
you. And for God’s sake don’t talk of the other matter.”

He moved away and struck a match to relight his cigar, which had gone
out during his reverie. Matthew was silent for a few seconds.

“Suppose,” he said at last, “that any one you loved and thought the
world of had done you a great wrong and had kept it hidden from you?”

Sylvester started, and his face grew suddenly pale. Did his father know?
The old pain returned. He stood staring at the back of his father’s
chair. The match burned itself out between his fingers. His voice
trembled as he spoke.

“There are some sins that are unforgivable. We needn’t discuss them.”

It was Matthew’s turn to start and look round at his son in anxious
surmise.

“You are of course speaking of the matter in the abstract?” he said.

Sylvester struck another match, and spoke between the first few whiffs
of his cigar.

“Yes. In the abstract. There is the woman, for instance, who betrays
her husband, whose life is a horrible lie. To say to a man ‘forgive,’ is
vain breath. I know men who say they have forgiven. They are almost as
contemptible as their wives.”

“You would not forgive, Syl?” said Matthew, gravely.

“By God, no!” said Sylvester.

“You are right, my boy,” said Matthew. “We had better not pursue the
subject. Abstract ethics are unprofitable matter for discussion.”

He smiled in his kindly way and settled himself comfortably in his
chair. But his heart was twenty-fold heavier than before. He closed his
eyes. The memory came vividly of a woman throwing herself on her knees
before him, in that very room, several years ago, and pouring out to him
the agony of her soul. He had listened, questioned, bidden her go and
sin no more. For Sylvester’s sake he had counselled silence, secret
atonement. It had been unutterable comfort to him that Sylvester’s
happiness had been untouched. And now, in spite of all, Sylvester knew.
Else why should Sylvester have spoken thus of the faithless wife? The
vague conjecture that had haunted him for nearly two years shaped itself
into certainty. Many things that had been dark in Sylvester’s recent
life now became clear. But how he must have suffered! None knew better
than he. For a while he forgot his own burden. Then suddenly the memory
returned. But no longer had he the desire to share it with Sylvester. It
was more imperative than ever to keep the secret undivulged. It was no
new thing for him to struggle and endure. And the man of iron purpose
and pathetic tenderness felt ashamed of his former impulse.

“I’m afraid we’ve been talking a pack of nonsense, Syl,” he said
lightly.

“And we’re both old enough to know better,” replied Sylvester, with a
laugh. “How did we get on to the subject?”

“I began to croak in an absurd way.”

“And I’m afraid I helped you. I must come down here oftener. That dingy
old house of mine is getting on my nerves.”

“Oh, bosh!” said the old man, “you and I don’t believe in nerves. We
leave that to the feeble folk.”

“Well, I haven’t got many, I must confess,” said Sylvester, drawing up
his well-knit figure. “And as a matter of fact, except your seediness, I
haven’t a care in the whole wide world.”

“Neither have I,” returned Matthew, briskly. “And as for my health, I’m
as fit as ever I was. Oh, I know I can’t live for ever, but I’m good for
another ten years at least.”

“You’ve got to be careful and do what you ‘re told,” said the physician.

“Let’s have another glass of port before we go up to Agatha,” said
Matthew, reaching out for the decanter.

Thus father and son tried to throw dust into each other’s eyes, so that
each should regard the other as the happiest of men.

The servant entered, bearing a tray with the letters that had arrived by
the evening post. Matthew glanced at the addresses.

“Will you excuse me?” he said courteously. And Sylvester, trained in
a brusquer school of manners, felt a great respect for his father’s
old-world politeness to a guest. Matthew opened two envelopes and
glanced cursorily at their contents. Over the third letter he paused,
and his lips twitched as he read. Then without comment he handed it to
Sylvester.

It was a long letter from Ella, written that morning. Amid many feminine
explanations and ambiguities she announced the fact of the downfall of
the Walden Art Colony and her marriage with Roderick in a fortnight’s
time.

“This upsets all my calculations,” said Sylvester, gravely. “I thought
the affair was as good as broken off.”

“It is only natural,” said Matthew.

“Natural! How?”

“The chivalry of woman, Syl.”

Respect kept Sylvester from contradiction, but his lips curled somewhat
ironically.

“If a woman won’t have a man when he is up, will she rush into his arms
when he is down?”

“It often happens, my boy,” replied the old man.

Sylvester took one or two turns about the room. Then he paused by the
table and lifted his wine-glass.

“Here’s to our friend Roderick’s confusion,” said he. “I’m afraid I have
been slack in carrying out your wishes, but now I’ll use every means in
my power to stop the marriage.” Matthew deliberately set down the glass
which he happened to be holding in his hand, and remained for a moment
in deep thought. Then he spoke.

“I can’t drink a toast like that, nor must you. I release you entirely
from your promise. I have reason to believe I may have misjudged
Roderick, and I have no right to interfere. It is my wish that the
marriage should take place.”

This was final. Sylvester made an Englishman’s awkward little bow of
acquiescence.

“I have no personal feelings in the matter, as you are aware,” said
he. “On the other hand, if Roderick should be proved to be–well,
as undesirable as you thought, it would be wise to let Ella know, I
suppose?”

“I would not have her marry a scamp,” replied Matthew, in a low voice.
“It would break my heart. But, O God! Syl, what is a scamp? Which of
us dare judge his fellow?” He was feeling utterly weary, and from his
prostration came the personal utterance which his ordinary strength
rigidly restrained.

Sylvester, unaware of the stirring of great depths, replied coldly, “A
man with a clean record behind him, like either of us, is certainly in a
position to judge.”

“And pity?”

“Pity generally seems to be an elegant method of condoning those
offences which one has in common with the person pitied,” replied
Sylvester.

“So that when you are stainless you are pitiless?”

“In the sense of sympathising with evil in any form–yes.”

“Well,” said the old man, throwing himself back in his chair and
covering his eyes with his hand, “thank God there’s still some sin left
in the world to keep it sweet!”

A few days afterwards Sylvester received an invitation to the wedding,
accompanied by a despairing note from Lady Milmo. Ella _would_ do
it, and who could prevent her? When a woman was _bent_ on a thing,
especially _matrimony_, no mule in the world was so _obstinate_. Lady
Milmo italicised freely, “obstinate” being doubly underlined. She hoped,
however, that the lovers would be happy, explained that the wedding
would be as quiet as her enormous circle of acquaintance would allow,
and besought Sylvester to come and support her as the only soul that
sympathised with her in this disastrous occurrence. Sylvester read the
letter through somewhat grimly. Then he glanced at the silver-printed
card. The conjuncture of the names caused him a sudden feeling of
repugnance, and with an impulse he did not seek to explain, he threw the
card into the fire. As for the invitation, he declined it on the score
of professional engagements; also because he disapproved of marriage
in the abstract. If all the race for one generation, he wrote, passed
a self-denying ordinance of celibacy, there would be an end of this
miserable thing that was called humanity.

On receipt of this letter, Lady Milmo smiled astutely and took advantage
of a confidential hour before bedtime to tread upon delicate ground.

“I shall always wonder why you refused Sylvester Lanyon, Ella,” she said
meditatively.

The blood flew angrily into Ella’s cheeks, and she turned away her head.

“I never refused him because he never did me the honour to ask me to
marry him.”

“Perhaps he needed a little encouragement, dear,” said Lady Milmo,
somewhat taken aback.

“He needs a lot to make a man of him that only his Maker could give
him,” replied Ella, turning round vindictively. “His blood is a kind
of Condy’s Fluid, and his heart is a glass retort. He’s just a piece of
sentient mechanism. How do you think a man like that could ask a girl to
marry him?”

“Well, he did once,” murmured Lady Milmo.

“He was different then,” said Ella, with a queer little shock of pain.
“I used to like him. But now–now there is no one in the whole wide
world I dislike so much. Sometimes when he comes here and talks to me
in that cold, emotionless voice of his, I absolutely hate him. And if it
wasn’t for my dear old Uncle Matthew–” she broke off and rang the bell
for her maid. “It’s about time to go to bed, auntie.”

Lady Milmo made no response. A flash of the truth occurred to her;
but the whole matter of Ella’s state of mind was very complicated. She
yawned behind gracefully lifted Angers.

“I think so too, my dear,” she said.

They bade each other good-night, and Ella fell asleep while cataloguing
the infirmities of the man whom she was not about to marry.

The man whom she was to marry in ten days’ time was meanwhile passing
through a period of sweet delight alternating with the most poignant
anxiety. Ready money for the ordinary expenses of the wedding he had in
plenty. Some overdue royalties on prints from a couple of pictures came
in most opportunely, and these, added to an advance made by a friendly
editor for whose weekly he wrote the art article, put him beyond the
fear of embarrassment. But the thought of the £3,000 which he could not
restore, haunted him night and day. Urquhart had twice asked casually
for a cheque for the amount of his deposit, and he had promised in his
off-hand way. A third demand had been made somewhat threateningly; he
had laughed airily, apologised for his forgetfulness, and undertaken
to send him a cheque for £2000 by return of post. After that Roderick
avoided his club and the haunts where he was likely to meet Urquhart.

That was three days ago. Roderick hoped that Urquhart would not renew
his request till after his marriage. Then he could obtain a large sum
from Ella, who would be no longer under Matthew Lanyon’s trusteeship,
but would be free to dispose of her money as she chose. Besides, no man
would pester another for money during his honeymoon. He would have ample
time to arrange things. He had been rather sore at Matthew’s absolute
refusal to allow Ella to make any marriage settlements. Not that he had
taken the initiative in the matter. Matthew himself had done so, in a
friendly letter in which he referred to the greater dignity and feeling
of independence of the man upon whom none of his wife’s fortune had
been settled. Roderick had acquiesced with good grace, and in his heart
wished that he really possessed the delicacy of sentiment that would
have made his deprecation of such things as marriage settlements
genuine. For he had grown to love Ella genuinely, and he hated himself
for counting on her money.

“Just one week more, dear, and then we shall begin our new life
together.” So ran a sentence of a letter from Ella, which Roderick was
reading at breakfast. He sighed, rested his elbows on the table and his
chin in his hands, his yellow beard protruding over his fingers, and
gazed sadly over the elegantly set meal. Their new life! He was
past forty, past the age of fresh ideals. Hitherto his had been the
gratification of the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh.
At times he deceived himself, an exuberant mood carrying its own
persuasiveness. But there were hours, and they had been very frequent of
late, when he saw himself as he was and hated the picture. A _poseur_,
a sham, a creature of imperfect moral sense; gifted, it is true, with
certain artistic faculties, wherewith he imposed upon a superficial
world and so made his living; but insincere, devoid of real enthusiasms,
cynically despising the gospel that he preached. For the first time
he had touched a fervent and earnest soul, and the sense of his
responsibility overwhelmed him. He rose and looked into the Empire
mirror over the fireplace. He was middle-aged, puffed, wrinkled, worn
out. There could be no new ideals,–only a reattiring of the old shams
that had peopled his life. He threw himself down in an armchair and read
Ella’s letter through again.

“My God,” said he, from his heart, as a million futile men have said,
“if only I had ordered my life differently!”

A trim maid-servant, one of the staff of the mansions in which his
chambers were situated, entered with the announcement of a visitor. A
moment afterwards Bevis Urquhart came in, languid, supercilious, with an
ugly expression on his flabby face. Roderick rose, assumed at once his
jaunty manner.

“Sit down, my dear friend. You come like a ray of morning sunshine
piercing through the fog.”

Urquhart put his hat on the table and unbuttoned his gloves. “No, I
won’t sit down, thank you,” he drawled. “My brougham is at the door, and
I’m in a hurry. I rather want that subscription back.”

“Why, my dear fellow, you ‘re worse than a bankrupt bootmaker,” cried
Roderick, pleasantly.

“Perhaps I am, but I want the money,” replied the young man.

“I’ll send you a cheque this afternoon, ’pon my soul,” said Roderick.

“You’ve told me that before, Usher. I want you to write the cheque now.”

Roderick looked him between the eyes, and threw off his mask of
cordiality.

“Suppose I say I don’t like your tone, and will see you damned before I
do otherwise than suit my own convenience?”

“Then I shall conclude you have bagged the money and can’t repay.”

“You are insulting,” said Roderick.

“I believe I am stating facts. It was rather odd your meeting those
bills that Willie Lathrop backed, just at that time, wasn’t it?”
Roderick again cursed Willie Lathrop under his breath. He turned aside
and lit a cigarette, so as to gain time. Then he forced a laugh.

“Come, come, Urquhart. This is all nonsense. It was too large a sum to
leave idle at my bankers,–besides, there’s always a risk, you know,–so
I invested it,–in Trust Funds, of course. One can’t buy and sell stock
over a counter. There are delays of correspondence. And I’ve been
so devilish busy with wedding preparations, you know, that I haven’t
attended to it. I’ll write at once to my broker. There.”

Urquhart listened with an incredulous smile. He gathered up his hat and
gloves.

“Sometimes it pleases me to act the Godforsaken fool you did yourself
the pleasure to call me. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll give you till
to-morrow night to send me your cheque for £2,000 with the per cent
interest. If you don’t–”

“Well, my dear friend, what if I don’t?”

“I’ll publish it all over London that you have bagged the money–and
make sure that Miss Defries hears it.”

“And what if I kick you down the ten flights of stairs of these
mansions?” snarled Roderick, his hands clenched and the sweat standing
on his forehead through the effort to maintain self-control.

“I’ll publish it at once,” said the young man, languidly. “Good day,
Usher. Till tomorrow evening, then?” He nodded superciliously and
disappeared, leaving his enemy impotent with wrath and fear.

“Revengeful devil!” he exclaimed stupidly.

The servant came in to clear away the breakfast things. Roderick pushed
aside the _portiere_ and went into his studio. The great window was
open. He stood by it, heedless of the raw, damp air. From beneath the
veil of fog came the uncanny rumbling of the traffic in the street.
Everything was hidden. He seemed to be an immeasurable height from the
earth. All below was abysmal, inscrutable.

A thought shuddered through his being. One plunge into the unknown,
and the sordid fears of living would be at an end. But the fog made him
cough, and the tiny check threw him back again, like a wheel, into his
normal groove. He shut the window and walked moodily to the studio fire.

Two thousand pounds had to be obtained by to-morrow night. Otherwise,
social disaster and loss of Ella. He had not the faith to trust her with
his wretched story. “I promised to marry a gentleman, and not a thief,”
he heard her saying. The tone of her voice stabbed him with a greater
pain than he had thought himself capable of feeling. There was only
one way out of it,–another appeal to his father. He would go down to
Ayresford at once. It was characteristic of him that he shivered at the
thought of the comfortless journey.

A few hours later he stood, white and haggard, in the porch of Mr.
Usher’s house, bidding his father good-bye. It was fresh and clear
at Ayresford, and the gathering twilight deepened the country hush of
things.

“I’ve always looked upon myself as a bad lot, but compared with you I’m
an innocent babe,” said Roderick, in a queer, low voice.

The old man put out a deprecatory hand and looked at his son out of
expressionless blue eyes.

“I only point the way, my son. These reverses on the Stock Exchange have
brought me near to penury. I look forward to your marriage, so that you
can provide for your poor old father.”

“You could easily have lent me the money,” muttered Roderick.

“I have shown you how to obtain it. Do not fear Matthew Lanyon, my son.
We are not friends, and I will meet him no longer. But he is a snake
with the fangs drawn; and I have drawn them. I have power over men. It
is my way.”

There was a touch of savage exultation in the old man’s tone which was
new to Roderick.

“You are quite sure about it?” he asked quickly.

“He would not dare to hurt a hair of my dear boy’s head.”

“What the devil is this hold you have got over him?”

“I’ll leave that to you as your inheritance, my son.”

Roderick watched the old, ignoble figure with a feeling of horrible
repulsion. He turned, bidding him an abrupt farewell, and walked fast
through the garden and out at the gate on to the road that led to the
station. At the refreshment bar he drank a shilling’s worth of brandy.

Late that night he went into his club,–not the desolate Hyde Park where
he had drunk tea with Ella,–but the little Belvidere in St. James’s
Street where they talk Art in Gothic capitals and play “bridge” for
high stakes. As he had hoped, he found Urquhart in the smoking-room
surrounded by half a dozen men who formed the esoteric ring of the club.
The young semi-millionaire was holding forth on his newly discovered
genius, Pradovitch.

“Thought rapt, deep, unexpressive,–that is the only medium for the
soul. The only ideal of life is to express all consciousness in terms of
abstract and absolute thought–I don’t know if I make myself clear. But
that in vulgar language is his doctrine. As for Art, what is it but the
scum that rises to the surface of the pure well of thought?”

“Oh, rot!” exclaimed young Willie Lathrop, rising with a yawn. “The
Venus of Milo and Beethoven are good enough for me. Let’s have a
flutter. Hallo, Usher–”

Roderick came forward, elegant in his evening dress and great white bow,
and suave in manner.

“Gentlemen,” he said formally, in a voice that commanded attention, “I
am glad to find you all here. Urquhart came to my rooms this morning
and expressed himself in a manner that I am sure he will see calls for a
public apology. I take you all to witness that I hand him my cheque for
£2,050, being the amount he deposited with me as his subscription to the
funds of the Walden Art Colony, together with the interest on the same.”

And with his grandest gesture he held out the cheque to Urquhart. There
was a great silence as every one looked at the young man to see what
he would do. He took the cheque, eyed it for a moment, and then met
Roderick’s mocking glance.

“It is quite correct?”

“Quite,” said Urquhart; and then somewhat desperately, “I have much
pleasure in withdrawing anything I said this morning that you may have
objected to.”

“Hooray!” cried Lathrop. “Now shake hands, you two, and be friends
again. And Urquhart shall stand the crowd supper on the interest.”

And so peace was concluded. But Roderick did not sleep that night, and
the next day it was torture to meet a girl’s honest eyes.

She noticed his preoccupation, was tenderly solicitous. What were his
anxieties?

“If I have any, they are lest any unforeseen disaster should occur
between now and Wednesday,” he replied.

“Why, what should come?” she asked.

“It is only a man’s inability to realise that such happiness can ever be
his.”

He burst into rapturous speech, carrying the girl with him on its flood.
For the moment she forgot his troubled look, and when he had gone her
attention was absorbed by practical details. In fact, during these days
of hurried preparation, the material affairs of life were sufficient for
her content. Countless letters had to be written, innumerable purchases
to be made, plans for future living to be discussed. At no time does
modern civilisation allow sentiment to come less within a woman’s
spiritual horizon than during the week before her marriage.

As usually happens, the wedding preparations extended far beyond the
original design. The guest list swelled day by day. Instead of a mere
vicar, Lady Milmo’s favourite colonial bishop was engaged for the
ceremony. The bridesmaids increased in number from two to six. The
meeting of a few intimates at Lady Milmo’s to drink the bride and
bridegroom’s health was gradually magnified into a vast reception for
which the house was being turned upside down. On one point Ella remained
firm. She would be married in a travelling dress. Then there were after
arrangements to be considered. Lady Milmo’s old friends, Lord and Lady
Greatorex, who were wintering in Cairo, had put their little place in
Shropshire at the disposal of the young couple for their honeymoon. When
they came back to London, they would take a furnished flat until a house
could be found to suit them; but the furnished flat had first to be
obtained. The days passed in a whirl of occupation, and when Ella laid
her head upon the pillow at night, sheer physical fatigue sent her
forthwith to sleep.

Once she was touched to tears. Matthew Lanyon had given her a
magnificent present which already stood on the special table in the
morning room. But he had also sent her an intimate gift, a little ruby
ring, with a letter of tender affection. “It belonged to my dear wife,”
he wrote; “and I could give you nothing dearer to me,–perhaps it
symbolises a drop of my heart’s blood…. I would come to your wedding,
my dear, but this old machine is getting cracked and wheezy, and is at
present laid up for repairs. I must get Sylvester to come and mend me.
But all my love will be with you.” And that night she sat up late in her
room writing him a long, long letter, pouring out her heart to him, as
she had never done before.

*****

The letter reached him on Monday morning. He had been suffering
considerably, and Sylvester was there, having made hasty arrangements
for the care of his patients in town. Matthew submitted to confinement
to the house, but insisted on getting up for breakfast. Bed was not
the proper place for a man to eat in, he declared, and nothing but main
force would have kept him there. So he sat down to table and made a
valiant pretence at eating, while Miss Lanyon cast appealing glances at
Sylvester and suggested arrow-root, and beef-tea, and eggs, and brandy,
at intervals.

“If you hint at any more horrors, Agatha,” said the old man, looking up
from his letter, “I’ll go to the office.”

The white reflected glare from a slight fall of snow that covered the
lawn filled the comfortable dining-room. Miss Lanyon glanced through the
French window and shivered. Matthew was quite capable of carrying
out his threat. She refrained from further suggestions, and meanwhile
Matthew finished his letter in peace.

He folded it up when he had read it and put it in his pocket. He felt
happier. Ella had revealed to him a Roderick that he had never realised.
The girl’s early struggles showed that she had mistrusted him. Now
she had arrived at the man’s heart and found it loyal and worthy. A
fluttering at the glass caused him to rise and gather up a handful
of breadcrumbs for the birds. Having thrown it out on to the lawn, he
closed the window and stood watching the feast, Dorothy by his side. It
was a bright morning, the sun shining from a pale blue sky and glinting
on the myriad facets of the snow. The red clusters on a holly bush and
the breasts of a couple of robins among the fluttering birds made tiny
specks of colour against the white. The earth was sweet. Matthew felt a
sense of exhilaration. After all, perhaps this was the great reparation
that through his indirect agency had been accomplished. Materially,
Roderick was relieved for life from the sordid cares of poverty; and
spiritually, if ever woman could raise a man’s soul to gentler things,
that woman was Ella Defries. His life had not been wholly lived in vain.

Soon his managing clerk brought the office letters. They retired to the
library, and Matthew threw himself with more spirit into affairs than
he had been able to show for some time past. At twelve o’clock Sylvester
entered with some medicine. He found his father alone, writing hard amid
a sea of papers. A professional rebuke induced him to desist.

“If you write another line, I’ll go straight back to London,” said
Sylvester.

“You are much more needed there than you are here, I assure you,” said
the old man. “I’m as fit as ever I was.”

But he blotted his letter and put his papers by, and pushing his
writing-chair away from the table settled himself comfortably for a
chat. He was full of small interests this morning. There had been fine
doings, he had learned, the evening before, at the Town Council. The
idiots had actually voted against the Free Library that he had schemed
out in every particular. Hodgkins, the progressive butcher, whose face
was like a hollyhock, had said that he blushed to bear the name of
Englishman in common with them. Matthew wondered how he did it. All the
same, he must get about again and put some sense into the Council.

“I don’t quite know why they listen to me, but they do,” he said.

Then there were other matters. Jenkins’s wife was laid up. That made the
tenth child. Would Sylvester make arrangements for the three youngest
children to board with the Jellicoes as usual?

“Can Jenkins afford it?” asked Sylvester.

“Of course not. Otherwise what would be the sense of our arranging
things?”

Sylvester assented. The old man launched out into an invective against
all the ne’er-do-weels of Ayresford who procreated large families which
they could not support and spent their small earnings in drink. The
brutes! Boiling oil was too dreamy a death for them. As Sylvester knew
that any man of them would, if bidden, have licked his father’s boots,
he smoked his pipe imperturbably, unaffected by this outburst of
ferocity.

“I suppose all this is pretty parochial,” said Matthew, at length, “but
it’s a bit of the cosmos, anyhow.”

There was a knock at the door, and one of his clerks appeared with a
small leather-covered book. Matthew took it from him and laid it on the
table.

“Take all this stuff to Mr. Findlay,” he said, indicating a pile of
papers. The clerk gathered them up and withdrew.

Matthew continued his parable, but his fingers played with the banker’s
pass-book.

“Excuse me for a moment, while I see how the balance stands,” he said at
last.

Sylvester nodded and stretched himself comfortably behind the morning
paper. A few moments passed. Then suddenly he heard a choking sound
and the violent creak of a chair. He started to his feet. There was his
father fallen limp over the arm of the chair, while from his nerveless
fingers a strip of pink paper fluttered to the ground.

Share