A MODERN ANTIGONE

The next entry in Joanna Smyrthwaite’s diary dates several days later.
The handwriting, though quite clear, is less neat and studied than
usual.

“I have a sense of crowding and confusion, of incapacity to realize and
deal with that which is happening around me and in my own thought.
Hence I have delayed writing. I hoped to attain composure and
lucidity; but, since these seem as far off as ever, it is useless to
wait any longer. Possibly the act of writing may help me.

“Mr. Savage arrived on Thursday, immediately after luncheon. We had
not expected him until the evening, and I felt unprepared. I am afraid
my reception of him was awkward and ungracious, but his quick speech
and brilliant manner made me nervous. He spoke at once of his respect
for papa, and expressed sympathy for us in our bereavement, adding that
he ‘placed himself entirely at our disposition.’ I found it difficult
to make a suitable reply. I do not know whether he noticed
this–probably he put it down to my grief–and I am not grieved. I am
hard and cold, and, I am afraid, resentful. All of which is wrong. I
do not attempt to justify my state of mind, but it would be dishonest
to pretend, even to myself, about it.

“To return to Mr. Savage. He speaks English fluently, but employs
words and frames his sentences in a peculiar manner. This helps to
give vivacity and point to all which he says, but it might also give
rise to misunderstandings. I trust it will not do so when he and Mr.
Challoner and Andrew Merriman discuss business. Smallbridge valets
him, not Edwin. I was uncertain whether Smallbridge would like to do
so, but he said he preferred it. I think Mr. Savage has made a good
impression upon the servants. I am glad of this. He is certainly very
courteous to them. After Margaret and I came up-stairs, the first
evening he was here, she remarked that he was very handsome. She has
repeated this frequently since. I suppose it is true. Margaret is
always very much occupied about personal appearance. Mr. Savage is,
undoubtedly, very kind, and seems most anxious to save us trouble and
take care of us. Margaret evidently likes this. I am unaccustomed to
being taken care of. I find it embarrassing. It adds to my
nervousness.

“I feel dissatisfied with myself, and anxious lest I should not behave
with the dignity which my position, as head of the household, demands;
but I am tired and so many new duties and new ideas crowd in on me. I
seem to have lost my identity. Ever since I can remember, papa has
occupied the central place in my thoughts and plans. His will and
wishes supplied the pivot on which all our lives turned, and I cannot
accustom myself to the absence of his authority. I am pursued by a
fear that I am forgetting some order of his, or neglecting some duty
toward him, for which omission I shall presently be called to account.
He represented Fate, Nemesis to me. As I see now, I had never
questioned but that his power, or right to use that power, was
absolute. Even through all the trouble about poor Bibby, though I
protested against his action, I never doubted his right to act as he
saw fit. Now I cannot help reasoning about our relation to him, and
asking myself whether–in the general scheme of things–it can be
intended that one human being should exercise such complete and
arbitrary control over the minds and consciences of others. I know
that I was greatly his inferior in ability and knowledge, let alone
that I am a woman and that, as his daughter, I owed him obedience.
Still I cannot help feeling that I may have been rendered unnecessarily
stupid and diffident through subjection to him. Something which Mr.
Savage said to-day at luncheon about Individualism–though I do not
think he meant it to apply to papa–suggested to me that there are
other forms of cannibalism besides that practised by the degraded
savages who cook and eat the dead bodies of their captives. In
civilized communities a more subtle, but more cruel, kind of
cannibalism is neither impossible nor infrequent–a feeding upon the
intelligence, the energies and personality of those about you, which,
though it does not actually kill, leaves its victims sterile and
helpless. I suppose this idea would be called morbid, and should not
be encouraged. But my will is weak just now, and I cannot put it away
from me. I am haunted by remembrance of the classic legend of Saturn
devouring his own children. It is monstrous and shocking, yet it does
haunt me. If papa had been less stern and exacting with Bibby, the
latter might not have fallen into bad habits, or, at all events, might
have had strength to recover from them. But papa’s dominating
personality made him hopeless and helpless, depriving him of
self-respect and initiative. With me it has been the same, though in a
lesser degree; and I am aware of this, especially when talking to Mr.
Savage. Then I feel how dull I am, like some blighted, half-dead thing
incapable of self-expression and spontaneity. And I cannot help
knowing that he perceives this and pities me–not merely on account of
our present trouble, but for something inalienably wanting in myself.
This fills me with resentment toward the past, as though, by my
education and home circumstances, I had been wronged and deprived of a
power of happiness which was my natural right. Our lives were
devoured–mamma’s, Bibby’s, mine–by papa’s love of power and pursuit
of self-exaltation. Only Margaret, in virtue of her slighter nature,
escaped. It was so. I see it clearly. But I must not dwell on this.
I have said it once now. I must let that suffice. To enlarge upon it
is useless and would further embitter me.

“To go back to every-day matters. I asked Mr. Challoner to dine the
night before last, so that he and Mr. Savage might make further
acquaintance. I am afraid Mr. Savage found it a tedious dinner, after
the brilliant society he has been accustomed to in Paris. I know I
have little conversation, and Margaret, though she looked unusually
animated, never really has very much to say. Mr. Challoner did not
show to advantage. He is not at his ease with Mr. Savage. He is heavy
and crude in speech and in appearance beside him. I thought he showed
bad taste in his remarks about foreigners and his insistence on the
superiority of everything English. I do not think Margaret remarked
this, but it made me hot and nervous. Mr. Savage behaved with great
courtesy, for which I was grateful to him. I am afraid I was a poor
hostess, but we have entertained so little since we left Highdene, and
then papa always led the conversation. We were merely listeners. The
cooking was satisfactory with the exception of the cheese _soufflé_,
the top of which was slightly burnt. I spoke to Rossiter about it this
morning and begged her to be more careful in future.

“A young woman came from Grays’ yesterday, bringing a profusion of
dresses and millinery. Margaret seemed amused and interested, trying
everything on, asking the young woman’s advice and talking freely with
her. I tried to be interested, too, but I did not find it easy. The
styles seemed to me exaggerated and showy, and the prices exorbitant.
I should prefer what is simpler for such deep mourning, but Margaret
did not agree with me. It would not do for us to be differently
dressed, and when I suggested modifications the young woman, supported
by Margaret, overruled me. Margaret is fond of elaborate styles, and
the young woman said that a good deal of fullness and trimming was
necessary for me as I have so little figure. It was foolish to attach
importance to the remarks of a person in her position, yet what she
said hurt me. She admired Margaret’s figure, or affected to do so, and
paid her a number of compliments. I looked at myself in the long glass
in my room last night, after Margaret left me, and I see that I am very
thin. My cheeks have fallen in and there are lines across my forehead
and at the corners of my mouth. My face can give no pleasure to those
who see it–the features are not good, and the expression is anxious.
I look several years older than Margaret. I do not know why I should
mind this. Long ago I accepted the fact that I was not pretty. But
last night I was depressed by the realization of it. For the first
time since papa’s death I felt inclined to cry. When Isherwood came to
undress me I made an excuse and sent her away. I did not want her to
see me cry. I feared she might ask questions; and I had no reason for
crying–at least no fresh reason, none certainly that I could explain
to Isherwood. I am ashamed, remembering my state of mind last night.
I could not write, neither could I sleep. I sat for a long while in
front of the glass, looking at myself and crying. I seemed rarely to
have seen a less pleasing woman. I have always valued intellect and
talent more highly than beauty, but last night I doubted. My strongest
convictions seemed to be slipping away from me. I suppose this is
partly the result of physical strain. I must try not to give way thus
to useless emotion.

“Mrs. Paull and the Woodfords called yesterday to inquire. So did Mrs.
Spencer and Marion Chase. I was surprised at Mrs. Spencer calling. We
have met her at garden-parties and at-homes, but we have never
exchanged visits. No doubt her intention in calling was kind, but I
should not care to be intimate with her. Neither she nor her sister
appear to me very ladylike. I hope Margaret will not want to make
friends with her now. She strikes me as a frivolous person, whose
influence might be the reverse of desirable. Margaret saw Marion,
saying she wished to consult her about some details of our mourning. I
did not see her. She and Margaret spent more than an hour together in
the blue sitting-room. The Pottingers and Mrs. Norbiton sent around
cards of inquiry by a servant to-day. I think every one wishes to be
kind. Papa was very much respected, though perhaps he was not liked.
He was more highly educated and more intellectual than any one here,
and that helped to make him unpopular. His conversation and manner
tended to make others aware of their mental inferiority, which they
resented. This was only natural, yet it increased our isolation.

“Colonel Rentoul Haig called on the day of papa’s death. He has
written since, very civilly, asking if he can be of any help to us. He
appears anxious to make Mr. Savage’s acquaintance, but I do not want to
ask any one here until after the funeral. Colonel Haig assumes the
tone of a near relation. This pleased Margaret, and she is annoyed at
my unwillingness to invite him until after the funeral. I think she is
flattered by his expression of interest in our affairs.

“I am worried about Margaret. Mr. Challoner is here constantly, and I
cannot help observing how much attention he pays her. He refers to her
on every occasion and insists upon asking her opinion. It is almost as
though he placed her and himself in opposition to Mr. Savage and me;
this causes delays in business, and unnecessary discussions which are
very tiresome. His tone in speaking of or to Margaret is protective,
as though he thought she was not being well treated. Perhaps I am
unjust toward him, but he and Margaret are so frequently together. He
asks for her and goes up to the blue sitting-room to see her. I am
sure Mr. Savage observes this. I feel very anxious lest any wrong
impression should gain ground among the servants or others. I dread
anything approaching gossip just now. Since we left Highdene we have
always kept ourselves free of that. Ever since we came here people
have known little or nothing of our doings and affairs, and it would
humiliate me that they should be canvassed now. I wish Margaret would
be more careful of appearances. Then, too, although I do not like her,
it is our duty to consider Mrs. Spencer. Her name has been so freely
associated with that of Mr. Challoner. Every one has taken it for
granted they will eventually marry. I ought to remind Margaret of
this, since she seems to ignore it, and I have not the moral courage to
do so. I am afraid of her tears and reproaches. When the funeral is
over, Mr. Challoner will have less excuse for coming so often. I think
I will wait. Things may arrange themselves, and I may be spared the
unpleasantness of speaking.

“Something happened this evening which threw me into a strange
excitement. I hardly know whether to set it down or not. I thought
the impression would pass away, but I have been writing for more than
an hour and it is still strongly upon me. My state of mind is
exaggerated. Perhaps if I set it down I shall become more composed.
When I bade Mr. Savage good-night in the hall–Margaret had gone on and
was half-way up-stairs, she was not in a good temper–he spoke kindly
about the responsibilities which have fallen upon me, and the amount I
have had to do lately. He said he admired my business capacity and my
high sense of duty. He addressed me as ‘my dear cousin,’ and kissed my
right hand. This surprised and affected me. No one ever kissed my
hand before. The tones of his voice are very varied. They caused me
unexpected emotion. All was said and done very lightly and gracefully,
almost playfully, but I cannot forget it. When I came up-stairs I
locked the door of my room, and walked up and down in the firelight,
looking at my hand, for a long while before I recovered sufficient
self-control to light the candles and sit down and write. I have a
strange feeling toward my own hand. It seems to have gained an
intrinsic beauty and value, as of something quite apart from myself. I
look at it with a sense of admiration. I enjoy touching it with my
other hand. And yet I am doubtful whether to write this down. Only
these sensations are so new to me that, when they are past, I shall be
glad, I think, to have some record of them. I wrote about other things
first, to-night, to test whether the impression was fugitive or not.
It is still with me, though I am quite composed now. I am composed,
but I still look at my hand with emotion. I will not write any more.
I think I shall sleep to-night.”

Adrian Savage, meanwhile, his native buoyancy of spirit
notwithstanding, became increasingly sensible of the depressing moral
atmosphere surrounding him. He was impatient of it. For did they not
really take things rather ridiculously hard, these excellent English
people? Had they no sense of proportion? Had they no power of
averaging, no little consolations of good-tempered philosophy? He went
so far, in moments of levity, as to accuse _le bon Dieu_ of
reprehensible squandering by thus bestowing the eminently good gift of
life upon persons so deplorably incapable of profiting by it. To him
they appeared thankless, cowardly, and quite unpardonably clumsy in
their handling of opportunity. Moreover, while curiously clannish,
ready on the slightest provocation to stand back to back against the
world, they waged internecine war, being permanently suspicious of, and
unamiable toward, one another. If this represented a fair sample of
the much-vaunted English home and the English character–well, for his
part, Adrian was of opinion they did these things quite as well, if not
a great deal better, in France!

He shrugged his shoulders, elevated his black eyebrows, stroked his
neat beard, trying at once to overcome his sense of depression and
stifle his sense of humor. The atmosphere would, he told himself, no
doubt become more exhilarating when poor Montagu Smyrthwaite’s body had
been removed from that rather terrible best bedroom–apparently “turned
up,” as the maids have it, for spring cleaning–and finally consigned
to the tomb. Never had he seen a dead fellow-creature treated with
such meager tribute, either in language or symbol, of human pity or
eternal hope! It shocked his sensibility that the corpse should lie
there, locked away by itself in a cold, dismal twilight of drawn
blinds, without any orderly setting-out of the death-chamber, without
watchers, or prayer offered, or lighted candles, or flowers, or other
suggestion either of tenderness or of religious obligation.
Observances of this sort, he was given to understand by Joseph
Challoner, were discredited in highly intellectual circles, such as
that in which the Smyrthwaites moved, as savoring of antiquated and
unscientific superstitions. The result, to Adrian’s thinking,
presented an effect at once so abjectly domestic, and so miserably
deficient in any appreciation of the eternal mystery of human fate,
that the crudest death-rites of the most degraded aborigines would have
been preferable.

And then, by a singular inversion of sentiment, it was held necessary
as a testimony of respect to keep the poor, disagreeable old
gentleman’s body waiting such a quite inordinately long time for
interment! During a, to Adrian, positively endless week did it remain
there, amid a doleful array of dusting-sheets and disinfectants! So
that, what with the dark, snow-patched fir woods without, and the dark,
neutral-tinted house within; what with conventionally hushed footsteps
and lowered voices, plus an all-pervasive odor of iodiform tainting the
close, heated air, the young man found the present among quite the most
trying and distasteful of all his personal experiences.

Yet, as the interminable days went by–while Joseph Challoner, jealous
alike of his own position and of the newcomer’s breeding and ability,
alternately bluffed, snarled and flattered, and pompous, little Colonel
Haig fell headlong from attempted patronage to a certain fulsomeness of
conciliation–against this dismal background the figure of Joanna
Smyrthwaite came to stand out, to Adrian’s seeing, with an intensity of
moral effort and sustained determination of duty both impressive and
admirable. Beneath the bloodless surface, behind the anxious, unlovely
countenance and coldly nervous manner, he began to divine a remarkable
character. He had been mistaken in calling her a shadow. She was a
distinct entity, but she was also, to him, quite arrestingly
unattractive. And, just on that account, the chivalry both of the man
and the artist grew alert to be very gentle to her, to omit no smallest
offering of friendliness or courtesy. The very reason and purpose of
woman’s existence being charm and beauty–his thought turned with a
great yearning to remembrance of a certain enigmatic fair lady, the
windows of whose rose-red and canvas-colored drawing-room overlooked
the heart of Paris from above the _Quai Malaquais_–it was pitiful in
the extreme to see any woman thus disfranchised.

The inherent tragedy of that disfranchisement was brought home to him,
with peculiar force, on the evening following Montagu Smyrthwaite’s
funeral. For eventually, almost to Adrian’s surprise, the poor lonely
corpse really did get itself buried! Then, at the Tower House, the
blinds were drawn up, and the mourners, local and official, returning
thither, discarding the appointed countenance assumed as due to the
mournful character of the rites lately accomplished and resuming that
common to them under ordinary conditions, prepared almost jovially to
do justice to an excellent luncheon. The Miss Smyrthwaites excused
themselves from attendance, no other ladies being there, so it fell to
Adrian’s lot to preside at the banquet. He was amused to note the fact
that they had left all which was mortal of the late owner of the house
in the new West Stourmouth cemetery–which, with its pale monuments,
roads and pathways, showed as a gigantic scar upon the face of the
dusky moorland–in no perceptible degree impaired the healthy appetite
of any member of the company. To eat offers agreeably convincing
testimony that one is as yet well within the pale of the living; and
none of the eighteen or twenty gentlemen present, whatever their
diversities of profession or of social standing, entertained the
faintest desire to follow Montagu Smyrthwaite–their neighbor, kinsman,
patron, or employer–to the grave in any sense save a strictly
complimentary one. That final civility being now duly paid in respect
of him, it was in the spirit of those who receive well-earned reward
for well-performed labor that they sat down to feed.

In Adrian, both the Latin and the Catholic were still somewhat in
revolt against this scant tenderness shown toward death. The whole
matter from start to finish had been, as he reflected, notably of the
earth-to-earth order. The alacrity, displayed by the assistants, in
the direction of food and drink, was of the earth earthy, too. It,
however, had at least the merit of being very human. Therefore, to
him, it came as a rather humorous relief. Since his childhood his
visits to England had been infrequent. With London and London society
he was fairly well acquainted, but of provincial life and its social
conditions he knew next to nothing. It followed that, in their racial
and psychological aspects, the members of the present company were
interesting to him. He tried to forget the poor, unloved corpse lying
beneath the rattling snow-sodden gravel of the moorland and absorb
himself in observation of the men seated on either side the
dinner-table; to where, at the opposite end of it, the hard-featured,
taciturn, sagacious, Yorkshire manufacturer, Andrew Merriman, manager
and part proprietor of the Priestly woolen mills, faced him. This man
had not taken off the appointed countenance, for the very good reason
that he had never put it on, his nature being of a type which disdains
conventional manifestations, either of joy or woe. Throughout the day,
in this as in other particulars, Merriman’s personality had struck
Adrian as distinct, standing away from the rest of the company,
silently declaring itself as possessed of unusual vigor and
independence. He tried to enter into conversation, but invariably
Joseph Challoner contrived to intervene; and it was not till evening,
shortly before Merriman and the rest of the Yorkshire contingent were
due to depart to Stourmouth on their return journey by the night mail
to Leeds, that he succeeded in getting private speech of him.

Then, after some brief mention of certain business details, Merriman
said to him, gruffly, and as though grudgingly:

“I own I am more satisfied now I have met you, Mr. Savage. I did not
much care about your appointment as executor. But I might have trusted
Mr. Smyrthwaite’s judgment. I have seldom known him wrong in his
estimate of a man.”

“You wish me to understand that you believe me to be quite fairly
honest and competent?” Adrian returned, in mingled annoyance and
pleasure. The intention was complimentary, but the address so
singularly blunt! “I venture to agree with you, my dear sir. Without
vanity, I have reason to believe I really am both.”

“So much the better,” Merriman answered, sardonically. “I have no wish
to offend you. But an uncommon amount of property, in which I am
interested, is changing hands; and honest, trustworthy persons are
pretty scarce.” He glanced from under penthouse eyebrows across the
room to where Challoner, shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to
the other, dancing-bear fashion, stood talking to Colonel Haig. “At
least in my experience they are, Mr. Savage. When a family is dying
out you generally find the males are debilitated specimens and the
females the strongest. In this family, if Miss Smyrthwaite had been
born a boy it would have been better for the name and for the business.
Only, then, you and I shouldn’t have met here to-day, because Mr.
Smyrthwaite would never have left Highdene, and I should never have
been manager at the mills.”

“Which would have been a misfortune–for me, in any case,” Adrian
returned, suavely.

“Maybe,” the other said. “But I can tell you Joanna Smyrthwaite’s all
right. She has sound commercial instincts if she’s allowed to use
them. It is an all-fired pity she’s a woman.”

An idea occurred to Adrian.

“She should have married,” he said. This bluntness of statement became
lamentably infectious! “Every woman should marry. Then her abilities
find their natural expression and development.”

“Quite right, sir. And it is on the cards, I am thinking, Joanna would
have married if a man had not been too much afraid of her father to ask
her. Mind,” he added, “I have no quarrel with our late head. My
father was a national schoolmaster. My grandfather was a mill-hand. I
should not be where I am but for Mr. Smyrthwaite. He fancied my looks
when I was quite a little nipper, picked me out and gave me my start.
And I’m not boasting, any more than you were just now, if I say I know
he never had reason to regret doing that.”

The speaker straightened up his heavy figure, looking Adrian steadily
in the eyes.

“I told you he was a sure judge of men. But women, except to bring him
children, and mind his house, and put up with his tempers, and fetch
and carry for him, didn’t enter into his calculations at all. He was a
bit of a Grand Turk was Mr. Smyrthwaite. And Joanna, from quite a
little mite, made herself useful as his amanuensis and reader and so
on. He looked upon her as his private property, and kept her busy, I
promise you; so that the man who wanted to take her away from him
didn’t have a fighting chance.”

“But now the Grand Turk is finally removed,” Adrian declared. “Haven’t
we just concluded all that?”

“And now a man is afraid of her money, I’m thinking,” the big
Yorkshireman returned, slowly, a grim smile pulling at the corners of
his mouth. “Joanna was always the plain one of the two girls. And she
has aged lately. You can’t seem to picture her with a healthy baby on
her lap. And so, nobody would believe–the man, though he wished it
ever so, would hardly believe himself–it was the woman he wanted, the
woman he was after, and not just her wealth.”

He stood silent a moment, his jaw set, and then held out a large, hard,
but not unkindly hand to Adrian.

“I reckon our time’s about up,” he said. “Write or wire me to come if
I am needed, Mr. Savage. And, when you leave, I should be obliged if
you’ll remind Joanna I’m always at her service. I shall look after the
girls’ interest at the mills right enough, but I can get away down here
for twenty-four hours almost any time at a push. Good-day to you, sir.
I am glad we’ve met. Now I must round up my lads and take ’em back
home to work.”

This conversation, in its crude sincerity of language and statement,
remained by Adrian, and was still present to his mind next morning when
he rose. Early in his stay at the Tower House he had petitioned
Smallbridge to bring him rolls and coffee when calling him, since a
solid breakfast at nine, followed by a solid luncheon at one-thirty,
proved too serious an undertaking for the comfort of the Latin stomach.
By the above arrangement he secured two or three hours to himself
either for writing or for exercise. This morning he went out soon
after eight and walked down the wide avenue, past large, jealously
secluded villas, each standing in its acre or half acre of thickly
planted grounds, to where the mouth of the long, dark wooded valley
opens between striated gray and orange sand-cliffs, as through a giant
gateway, upon the sea. Thin, primrose-yellow sunlight glinted on the
backs of the steel-blue waves. A great flight of gulls, driven inshore
by stress of weather, swept, and dropped, and lifted again, with wild,
yelping laughter, above the flowing tide. Fringing the cliff edge the
purple boles, red trunks, and black, ragged heads of a line of
wind-tormented Scotch firs, detached themselves, from foot to crown,
against the colorless winter sky.

The thirty or forty yards of level sand, stretching from the turn of
the road in the valley bottom to the dark windrows of sea-wrack marking
the tide-line, were pocketed by footsteps. But, at this hour, the
place was wholly deserted, it being too early in the day, and too early
in the season, for invasion by any advance guard of the mighty army of
tourists and trippers which infests the coast from Marychurch and
Stourmouth, westward to Barryport, during the summer and autumn months.
Adrian found himself solitary, in a silent wilderness, save for the
murmur of the pines, the plunge and hush of the waves, and harsh
laughter of the strong-winged gulls. From where he stood, looking
inland, the surface of the vast, somber amphitheater of blue-black fir
forest, variegated here and there by the purple-brown of a grove of
bare, deciduous trees, or the pallor of a snow-dusted space of
tussock-grass and heather, was unbroken by house-roof or other sign of
human habitation. Looking seaward no shipping was visible. To Adrian
the scene appeared arrestingly northern in character, the spirit of it
questioning, introspective, coldly complex, yet primitive and elfin,
reminding him of Grieg’s Occasional Music to the haunting parable-poem
of Peer Gynt. Then, as he paced the harder sand to the seaward side of
the tide-mark, the chill breeze pushing against him and the keen smell
of the brine in his nostrils, his thought carried back vividly to his
conversation of last night with Andrew Merriman.

For, now that he came to think of it, might not Joanna, the main
subject of that conversation, in all her feminine leanness and
overstrained mentality, have stepped straight out of one of those plays
of Ibsen’s which, heretofore, had so perplexed him by their distance
from any moral and racial conditions with which he was familiar?
Northern, joyless, uncertain in faith, burdened by scruples, prey to a
misplaced intellectualism, yet clear-headed and able in practical
matters, could not her prototype be found again and again in the
Norwegian playwright’s penetrating and disheartening pages? And, if it
came to that, in the relentless common-sense of the big Yorkshireman’s
cruelly sagacious estimate of his own attitude toward her was there not
an Ibsenish element, too? For that Andrew Merriman was, himself, “the
man” of whom he had spoken, Adrian entertained no doubt.

So he paced the sand, absorbed in analysis and in apprehension, while
ripples of spent waves slipped, in foam-outlined curves, near and
nearer to his feet. It seemed to him he touched something new here in
human tendencies and human development; something which, in the coming
social order, might very widely obtain, especially among Protestant
English-speaking peoples.–A democratic, scientific, unsparing
self-knowledge, physical and mental, on the one hand, and a narrow,
sectarian, self-sufficiency, on the other; a morbidly cold-blooded
acknowledgment of fact and application of means to ends, in which
neither poetry nor religion had any determining part. The artist in
him protested hotly. For really a world so ordered did not look
enticing in the very least!

Then, his thought fixing itself again exclusively on Joanna, played
around the everlastingly baffling problem of woman’s mind, woman’s
outlook, in itself, divorced from her relation to man. It was not the
first time his imagination had been held up by this problem, nor was he
conceited enough to suppose it would be the last. Woman in her
relation to man was a stale enough, obvious enough, story. But in her
relation to her fellow-woman, in her relation to herself–had not this
tripped even the cleverest novelists and dramatists of his own sex?
Wasn’t it, after all, easier for a woman rightly to imagine the life a
man lives among men, than for a man to conceive woman’s life with his
own great self left out of it? He feared so, though the admission was
far from flattering to masculine perspicacity. He resented his own
inability to negotiate those moral and emotional lines of cleavage
which do, so very actually, divide the sexes. To think, for example,
that Joanna Smyrthwaite and Gabrielle St. Leger–their radical
differences of circumstances, endowment, and experience
notwithstanding–were still essentially nearer to each other, more
capable of mutual sympathy and understanding in the deep places of
their nature, than he, with all his acute sensibility and dramatic
insight, could ever be to either of them!

But there the young man stopped and fairly laughed outright. For to
class Gabrielle St. Leger, the devoutly worshiped and desired, and poor
Joanna Smyrthwaite together, even in passing, was a little too
outrageously far-fetched. Here, indeed, the study of psychology ran
frankly and, in a sense, almost profanely mad.

He looked away, through the shifting cloud of screaming gulls, over the
steel-blue levels of the Channel toward far-distant France, and a
strong nostalgia took him for the delightful, quick-witted land of his
birth. It seemed a thousand years since he left Paris. What were they
all doing over there, the dear people whose friendship spelled for him
more than half the joy of living? Save for one brief note, in the
response to the announcement of his arrival, Madame St. Leger had given
no sign. And he, in face of his last interview with her, wanted to
know–wanted so very badly to know. He wanted to look at her. He
wanted to hear her voice.–Whereupon he turned positively vindictive.
Oh! most consoling doctrine of purgatory!–Might Montagu Smyrthwaite
very thoroughly suffer the depleting pains of it as punishment for this
fiendishly tiresome legacy of an executorship! Why couldn’t he have
left Adrian free to pursue his delicious love campaign, and appointed
somebody else–the unpleasant, heavy-weight Challoner, say, or the
worldly, feather-weight Haig? Either of them would have reveled in the
brief authority it conferred, while to him it constituted an
intolerable waste of time. He was sick to death, interesting racial
and psychological researches notwithstanding, sick to death of the
whole _corvée_.

And then he skipped aside with quite undignified haste, for an incoming
wave threatened his long-toed French boots with total immersion.

His retina still holding that northern elfin landscape and seascape,
his ears the voices of the forest and of the wildly yelping gulls, his
mind still working on the thought of that new moral and social order
now coming into being, his heart and his manhood crying out for the
woman he loved, Adrian–the keen freshness of the winter morning
pouring in through the open door along with him–entered the hall of
the Tower House. And down the broad staircase, over the thick,
sound-muffling carpet, the wan light streaming in through the blurred,
leaded glass of the great staircase windows falling upon her meager,
flat-bosomed, crape-clad figure, yellowish-auburn hair and strained,
anxious countenance, came the other woman, the Ibsen woman, concerning
whose nature and attributes he had just indulged in so much analytic
speculation.

Joanna held up the front of her crape dress. Her feet showed as she
stepped down the shallow treads. And Adrian, standing below, looking
up at her, hat in hand, saw–though he didn’t in the least want to
see–that she wore black velvet slippers with square toes and no heels
to them, and that both her feet and hands, though comparatively small,
were lacking in individuality and in that sharpness of outline which is
the mark of fineness of breeding. They might have been just anybody’s
hands and feet; and so–he felt amusedly ashamed of himself for
admitting it–they were exactly the hands and feet one would expect
Joanna Smyrthwaite to possess.

Taking himself to task for this involuntary cruelty of observation, his
manner the more persuasive and gallant because he felt himself to
blame, the young man advanced through the dull reds and browns of the
spacious hall to the foot of the staircase.

“Ah! you are here! Good-morning, _chère cousine_,” he said. “I rose
early and have already been out walking in your great woods and down on
the shore. It is all a poem of the first days of creation, before man
intruded his perplexing presence upon the earth. I felt quite
rampantly decadent in this overcivilized twentieth-century costume,
under obligation to offer the humblest apologies to the hairy mammoths
and pterodactyls, which, at every turn of the road, I instinctively
braced my courage to meet. But really it is rather wonderful how ‘the
desert and the sown’ jostle one another here in England. The contrasts
are so unexpected, so violent, so complete!”

Adrian talked on rather at random, smiling, his head thrown back, the
expression of his handsome face gay yet subtlely apologetic; the
general effect of him pleasantly healthy, self-secure, finished, and on
excellently good terms both with fortune and with himself. And Joanna,
looking down at him, faltered, stopped in her descent, let slip the
folds of her crape skirt, while she laid one hand hurriedly upon the
baluster-rail and pressed the other nervously against her left side
over her heart.

“I am afraid,” she said, “you get up and go out so early on our
account–I mean so that you may devote all the rest of the day to us.”

“Oh no,” Adrian returned, still smiling. “It is an old habit, one of
my very few good habits, that of early rising. You see, I am quite a
busy man in my own small way, what with my Review, my friends, my
literary work–”

“I realize that, and so I am very much distressed at the demands which
we are making upon your valuable time. I cannot justify or excuse it
to myself. I do not think it was proper that papa should have
appointed you as my coexecutor without consulting you and asking your
permission first.”

She spoke with a suppressed violence of feeling which caused Adrian to
gulp down his complete agreement in these sentiments, and reply in
soothing tones:

“But, dear cousin, surely at this time of day it is superfluous to vex
yourself about that! Believe me, you are too scrupulous, too
considerate. I assure you, as I have so often assured you before, that
I am touched by the confidence your father showed me in thus
temporarily intrusting not only his affairs, but yourself and your
sister, to my care. My sole desire is worthily to fulfil that trust.
To do so constitutes, in as far as my time is concerned, an
all-sufficient reward. And then, after all,” he added, gaily, “ten
days, a fortnight even, should I have to go north to Leeds for a brief
visit, will see all imperative business through and so put a term to
our joint labors.”

There he paused, looking discreetly aside as he unbuttoned his
overcoat, since he was aware that the gladness of coming freedom might
declare itself with unflattering distinctness. For in imagination he
sprinted once again, three steps at a time, up the three flights of
stairs to the top story of the tall, gray house overlooking the _Quai
Malaquais_, while high expectation, at once delicious and disturbing,
circulated through every fiber of his being. How adorable it would
be–how richly, poignantly enchanting! But just then, though by no
means easily open to hypnotic or mesmeric influences, he became
conscious that Joanna Smyrthwaite’s eyes–those tenacious, prominent,
faded-blue eyes, with red-rimmed lids to them, which, to his seeing, so
perpetually gave away the inward tempest of feeling to which the
compressed lips refused utterance–were fixed upon him with an
extraordinary intensity of questioning scrutiny. For a moment the
young man felt frankly embarrassed, uncertain how to comport himself.
For he had no answer whatever to give to that questioning scrutiny. He
suddenly grew wary, fearing demand might create supply–of a fraudulent
sort–courtesy betraying him into return glances dishonestly
sympathetic in character. But, to his relief, the sound of an opening
door, followed by that of two chattering feminine voices–high-pitched,
unmusical in tone, one indeed peevish and complaining–coming from the
gallery above created a diversion. He felt, rather than saw, Joanna
Smyrthwaite start and look impatiently upward. Thus the awkward minute
passed, resolving itself; and the situation–if the little episode
deserved so high-sounding a title–was saved. Adrian backed away and
slipped off his overcoat, doubling it together across his arm.

Joanna, her expression and manner agitated, descending the remaining
treads of the staircase hastily, followed and stood close by him.

“That is Margaret,” she said, in a hurried undertone. “Marion Chase is
with her as usual. And Mr. Challoner comes here at half-past eleven.
It was his own proposition. I had a note from him early this morning.
I should have been glad to put aside legal business just for to-day,
but Margaret expressed unwillingness that I should refuse to receive
him. There is something I feel I must explain to you, Cousin Adrian,
before I see him. But I cannot speak of it before Margaret, still less
before Marion Chase. Would it trouble you too much to come into the
library with me? We should be alone. Margaret would hardly attempt to
bring Marion in there, I should think.”

The young man assented readily, though the invitation was not very much
to his taste. Of all the rooms in this finely proportioned yet gloomy
house, that distinctly masculine apartment, the library aforesaid, was,
to his thinking, the most depressing. Facing north and east, its
windows were darkened by the rough corrugated trunks and scraggy lower
branches of a grove of Weymouth pines, spared when the rest of the site
had been cleared for building. These, at close quarters and when old,
are doleful trees, lifeless and unchanging in aspect, telling of sour
soil and barren, unprofitable spaces. Two sides of the room were
lined, to within a couple of feet of the ceiling, with mahogany
bookcases, the contents of which, in Adrian’s opinion, only too
thoroughly harmonized in spirit with the doleful grove outside. They
consisted of ranges of well-bound volumes upon such juiceless subjects
as commercial and municipal law, ethics of citizenship and political
economy, together with an extensive collection of pamphlets embodying
the controversies of the last fifty years–social, political,
ecclesiastical, and religious–neatly indexed and bound. Not only did
the complete works of Adam Smith, David Hume, Dugald Stewart, and the
two Mills–elder and younger–decorate the shelves; but portrait prints
of these authors, along with those of certain liberal statesmen and
Nonconformist divines, solidly framed and glazed, decorated the
remaining wall spaces. The carpet and curtains were of a dull brown,
patterned in dusky blues and greens. A writing-table of huge
dimensions, fitted with many drawers; dark leather-covered chairs,
various mechanical devices in the form of reading-desks and leg-rests,
and an elaborate adjustable invalid couch constituted the other
appointments of the room.

Following Joanna’s crape-clad figure into this severely educational
sanctuary, Adrian could not but think of the long joyless hours she
must have spent there reading to or writing for that imperious old
gentleman, the late lamented Montagu. And this thought softened his
attitude toward her, reawakening sentiments of chivalrous pity. For,
though rich, highly educated, and clever, had not she, poor girl, every
bit as much as her cautious, halting lover, been denied the very barest
fighting chance?

“You are tired, _chère cousine_,” he said, consolingly. “Is it any
wonder after the painful fatigues of yesterday? See, I place this
chair comfortably near the fire for you. Sit down, and, while resting,
tell me at your leisure what it is that you wish to explain.”

And Joanna not only sat down obediently, but, rather to his
consternation, bowed her lean person together and pressed a fine,
black-bordered pocket-handkerchief–insisted upon by the stylish young
person from Grays’ as a necessary part of her mourning
equipment–against her faded eyes and wept. Ah! poor thing! poor
thing! she was a pitiful spectacle, a pitiful creature, inciting all
the young man’s goodness of heart, sense of personal success, delight
in living, physical soundness and well-being, to claim sympathy and
forbearance toward her!

“Yes, yes,” he declared, almost tenderly. “I comprehend and associate
myself with your grief. The trial has been so prolonged. You cannot
expect to throw off painful impressions and adjust yourself to new
conditions immediately. But that adjustment will come, dear cousin,
believe me. It is merely a question of time, for you are young, and in
youth our recuperative power is immense. So do not fight against your
tears. If they relieve you, shed them freely.”

For a while Joanna remained bowed together, then she threw herself back
in her chair almost convulsively.

“You must not be too kind to me,” she cried. “I enjoy it, but it
encourages my want of self-control.”

“Don’t you good English people set an exaggerated value upon
self-control, perhaps?” Adrian asked, gently, argumentatively. “Why
waste so much energy in the effort to maintain an appearance of Red
Indian stoicism and impassivity? Why fear to be human? Sensibility is
a grace rather than a fault, especially in a woman–”

He moved away and stood by one of the eastern windows looking out into
the pine grove. A draught of air, round the corner of the house, shook
the stiff branches. He felt sorry for her, quite horribly sorry. But,
just Heaven, how plain she was, with that tear-blotched face and those
quivering lips and nostrils! Andrew Merriman’s appraisement of her
appearance and the consequences entailed by it in respect of a possible
suitor were not overstated. Adrian waited, giving not only her, but
himself, time to recover, and, approaching her again, did so smiling.

“Ah! that is well, dear cousin,” he said. “Already you feel better,
you regain your serenity. Well then, let us talk quietly about this
matter which you wish to explain to me.”

“It was about our wills–Margaret’s and mine, I mean; about the
disposition of our property.” As she spoke she clenched her right
hand, working it against the palm of her left, like a ball working in a
socket. “Mr. Challoner has mentioned this subject to Margaret,
impressing upon her that we ought to attend to it without delay.”

“Our good Challoner is a little disposed to magnify his office,” Adrian
put in, lightly.

“So I have thought–sometimes,” Joanna agreed, a trace of eagerness in
her flat, colorless voice, produced–as always–from the top of an
empty lung. “But he has great influence over Margaret. I do not want
to be unjust, but I think the ideas he suggests to her are not always
suitable. They tend to create difficulties between us. From what
Margaret tells me I gather that he has discussed this subject very
freely with her. She refers to it and quotes him continually when we
are alone. I gather that he thinks I ought to make a will exclusively
in Margaret’s favor, so that in the event of my death the estate may
pass to papa’s direct descendants. He tells Margaret, as I gather,
that papa wished this although he left no written instructions
regarding it. And he–he–Mr. Challoner, I mean–appears to take for
granted that while Margaret will almost certainly marry now, it is
improbable I shall ever marry.”

“But,” Adrian cried, indignantly, though against his convictions and
his better judgment, “in even hinting at such a thing Challoner is
guilty of a very great impertinence! He takes for granted that which
is no concern of his, and takes it for granted altogether prematurely,
thereby laying himself open to a well-deserved and very extensive
snubbing.”

Joanna’s breath caught in her throat. Again the young man felt her
eyes fix on him with an extraordinary intensity of gaze.

“Cousin Adrian,” she said, hurriedly, “has any one ever told you–do
you know–I think you ought to know–about our brother William–about
Bibby?”

This time Adrian met her gaze steadily. He felt it imperative to do
so. To his relief, after a momentary fluttering, the red-rimmed
eyelids were lowered.

“I have heard a little about him, poor boy,” he answered, gently and
respectfully. “I have heard that he caused those who loved him anxiety
and trouble.”

“And humiliation and disgrace,” Joanna whispered.

“But what would you have, dear cousin? It must be so at times. Life
is a tremendous, a dangerous, though, in my opinion, a very splendid
experiment. We all start as amateurs, in ignorance of the laws which
govern it. Is it not, therefore, inevitable that some should get off
the true lines, and make mistakes injurious to themselves and
lamentable to others?”

“But papa did not permit mistakes. He never forgave them.”

“Pardon me, but in not forgiving them did he not himself, perhaps,
commit the very gravest of all mistakes?” Adrian could not resist
asking, though he feared the question trenched on levity.

“I wish I could believe that.” She spoke bitterly. “It would simplify
so much for me. I should be so thankful to believe it. It would help
to excuse Bibby. I know he was weak in character; but he was so
nervous and delicate as a child. Papa alarmed him. He demanded too
much of him, and was stern and sarcastic because Bibby could not meet
that demand. My brother did not go to a preparatory school, but at
thirteen he was sent to Rugby. It was papa’s old school, and he
believed the traditions and atmosphere of it were calculated to induce
the serious sense of moral and intellectual responsibility in which he
thought Bibby deficient.”

“Poor child!” Adrian murmured.

“Yes,” she said; “I am thankful you understand and pity him. I know
papa’s purpose was Bibby’s good, the improvement and development of his
character; but the treatment was too severe. It did not brace him, but
only broke his spirit. He was unaccustomed to associate with other
boys. They frightened and bullied him. He was so miserable that at
the beginning of his second term he ran away.”

She waited a moment, struggling against rising emotion, her hands
working again ball-and-socket fashion.

“It was all very dreadful. For nearly a week he was lost. We knew he
could have very little money, for his allowance was small. Papa held
economy to be a duty for the young. I think, next to mamma, I suffered
most, for I always loved Bibby best–better than I did Margaret. I
shall never forget that week. I suppose papa suffered, too, in his own
way. He was very silent, and looked angry. Andrew Merriman traced
Bibby to London and brought him home. Mamma pleaded to keep him for a
time, but he was sent straight back to school. About six months later
papa received a request to remove him. He was accused of taking money
from another boy’s locker. Nothing was actually proved, but suspicion
clung to him, and as his general conduct was reported unsatisfactory,
the authorities thought it better he should leave. Papa sent him
abroad to a private school at Lausanne. He remained there three years,
until he was seventeen. Papa refused to let him spend the holidays at
home, so during the whole of that time we only saw him twice, when we
were traveling.”

The monotonous, colorless voice, the monotonous story of well-meaning,
cold-blooded tyranny it narrated, got upon the listener’s nerves. With
difficulty he restrained explosive comment reflecting far from politely
upon the so recently buried dead. He really could not sit still under
the indignation it provoked in him. He got up, moved away and stood
leaning his shoulder against the dark, polished woodwork of the eastern
window, his back to the light. He thought it well the narrator should
not see his expression too clearly.

“It is almost inconceivable,” he said.

“I am not exaggerating, Cousin Adrian,” Joanna returned, straining her
eyes in the effort to fix them upon his face. “All these events in
their consecutive order are stamped indelibly upon my memory.”

“I am convinced you are not exaggerating, my dear cousin, and just on
that very account it is the more inconceivable,” Adrian declared.

“But in your present relation to us–to me–I feel you ought to know
all about poor Bibby, all about our–my–family history. My duty is to
place the facts before you. I should be guilty of great
self-indulgence if I concealed anything from you in that connection,”
Joanna protested, with growing agitation. “I should do very wrong if,
to spare myself pain, I deceived you.”

And again that sensation of embarrassment, of uncertainty how to
comport himself, returned upon Adrian.

“But, dear cousin,” he said, in a mildly argumentative manner, “don’t
you emphasize the obligation of truth-telling unnecessarily? I am here
to be of help to you, to shield you, in so far as possible, from that
which is distressing. In thus reviving painful memories do you not
defeat the very object of my presence?”

“Oh no, no,” Joanna cried. “Surely you realize how bitterly I might
have cause to upbraid myself–later–if I now left anything untold
which it was right you should have heard? It is incumbent upon me, a
matter of–of honor, to be perfectly explicit.”

Adrian raised his eyebrows the least bit. How providential he stood
with his back to the light! He passed his left hand down over his neat
black beard, and his lips parted silently. Poor, dear young woman,
what in the name of wonder did–And then he came near laughing. The
idea was too preposterous, and, worse still–shame filled him at even
momentary entertainment of it–too fatuous! He gave it unqualified
dismissal.

“No,” she repeated, with a veiled and somber violence, “I should do
very wrong by permitting you to remain in ignorance. I should deserve
any after suffering which might come to me. For I have a duty to
fulfil to Bibby as well–that is what I wanted to explain to you before
giving instructions to Mr. Challoner about drafting my will. Some day
my duty to Bibby may appear to clash with another duty; and therefore
it is necessary you should know clearly beforehand.”

Joanna flung herself back in her chair.

“Whatever it may cost me now or–or–in the future, I must tell you the
rest, Adrian.”

More mystified than ever, startled by the use of his Christian name
without any qualifying prefix, at once affected and repelled by her
excitement, the young man moved from his station at the window and
stood near her, leaning his hands upon the head of the ungainly
adjustable, couch.

“Pray tell me any and everything which may help to procure you relief,”
he said, kindly.

And Joanna, lying back, looked up at him, an immense appeal, a
something desperate and unsatiable in her faded blue eyes, which made
him consciously shrink. The Ibsen woman–the Ibsen woman in another
manifestation!–It was not pleasant. He didn’t like it in the very
least.–Then, as if at the touch of a spring, she sat bolt upright,
looking past him out of the window at the dark, wind-shaken branches of
the pines.

“When my brother returned from Lausanne,” she began again in that
colorless, monotonous voice, “he was put into Andrew Merriman’s office
at the mills. Mamma and I were glad at first. We trusted Andrew
Merriman. He had always been tactful and kind about Bibby. But papa
decided he–my brother–should live at home so that he might exert a
direct personal authority over him. And the two had nothing, nothing
in common. You can judge from the contents of this library what papa’s
tastes and pursuits were. My brother did not care anything about
politics, or social reform, or that class of subject. He was
pleasure-loving, and I do not think his long stay abroad improved him
in that respect. Papa supposed the discipline at M. Leonard’s school
to be rigid. Among the elder boys I have reason to fear it was
decidedly lax.”

Adrian made a slight movement of comprehension. He could picture the
_régime_, and could well imagine the nice little games these exiled
young gentlemen had been at!

“Papa was stern; Bibby inattentive, sullen, and nervous. At dinner
we–mamma and I–used constantly to be in dread of collisions. We were
in perpetual anxiety as to what Bibby might inadvertently say, or not
say, which might provoke papa’s sarcasm. Then mamma’s health began to
give way. We went to Torquay for the winter, taking the servants, and
Highdene was shut up. Bibby went into lodgings near to Andrew
Merriman, in the suburb of Leeds, in which the mills are situated.
Papa wishing to train him in habits of economy, only allowed him the
salary of a junior clerk. But every one there knew we were rich, so
the tradespeople were only too ready to give Bibby credit, while
unscrupulous persons borrowed of him. He was naturally generous, and
easily imposed upon, and he enjoyed the society of those who flattered
and made much of him. It was said he frequented low company, that he
gambled at cards and got intoxicated. I I do not know how far this was
true, but he did get deeply into debt. More than once Andrew Merriman
helped him, but he could not afford to be responsible for Bibby’s
continued extravagance. And then–then–my brother manipulated certain
accounts and embezzled a large sum of money. Andrew Merriman
discovered this. He tried to shield him, and interceded with papa for
him–”

The speaker broke off, pausing for breath, bending down as though
crushed by the weight of her recollections.

“It was very, very dreadful,” she said. “Papa paid my brother’s debts,
but he forbade him all intercourse with us. He cut Bibby out of our
family life, as a surgeon might cut out some malignant growth. He
regarded him thus, I think–indeed, he said so once–as a diseased part
the excision of which was imperative if the moral health of the family
was to be preserved. He gave Andrew Merriman a capital sum, which was
to be remitted to Bibby in small quarterly instalments. When that sum
was exhausted he was to receive nothing further. We never saw him
again. Papa bought this house, and we moved here. He would not remain
at Highdene. The scandal had been too great. He could not forgive,
nor could he endure pity. He made the business into a company, and
retired. Mamma had become a complete invalid. The doctors thought
this climate might benefit her; and then this place is far away from
our former friends and associations. We knew no one here.”

Joanna raised herself, looking, not at Adrian Savage, but past him, out
at the dusky pines. She wiped her lips with her black-bordered
handkerchief.

“That is all, Cousin Adrian,” she said.

But, when the young man would have spoken she held up one hand
restrainingly, and he saw that she shivered.

“Except–except this,” she went on. “Papa ordered that Bibby should be
considered as dead. Later Andrew ceased to hear from him, and rumors
came that he was actually dead–that he had died at Buenos Ayres, where
he had gone as a member of some theatrical troupe. But mamma and I
never credited those rumors. Nor did Andrew Merriman. He does not
credit them now.”

She turned her head, looking full at Adrian with that same desperation
of appeal.

“I asked him yesterday,” she said. “It was dreadful to speak to him on
the subject, but I felt it my duty to do so. I felt I ought to know
where I stood in regard to my fortune, because–because of the future.
Andrew believes my brother is still alive. And that is why I must
refuse to make a will in Margaret’s favor. If, as you say, papa made
the gravest of all mistakes in never pardoning mistakes, clearly my
duty to his memory is to redress the mistake he made in the case of my
brother in as far as it is possible for me to do so. Margaret will
have ample means of her own. I cannot be ruled by Mr. Challoner’s
opinion.”

Joanna rose and walked over to the window, standing exactly where
Adrian had stood some ten minutes before. There seemed a definite
purpose in her selection of the exact spot, both in the placing of her
feet and the leaning of her shoulder against the window-frame. Her
back was to the light. Adrian could not see the expression of her face
distinctly. He was glad of this. He did not want to see it, for again
he was conscious of shrinking from her.

“After all, Mr. Challoner may be wrong–as you yourself just now said,
Cousin Adrian–in taking for granted I shall never marry. I may marry.
But, whatever happens, I shall not leave any part of my fortune to
Margaret. I shall leave two-thirds of it to Bibby, and the rest–”

Smallbridge threw open the library door.

“Mr. Challoner, ma’am,” he said; and the Stourmouth solicitor, his
Mongolian countenance quite strikingly devoid of all expression,
ponderously entered the room.

It was still cold, but the skies were clear. The snow had been carted
away and Paris was herself again; the note of her exhilarating,
seductive, vibrant–a note at once curiously fiercer and more feminine
than that of London.

René Dax, crossing the _Place du Carrousel_, stood for a moment
listening to that vibrant note, sensible of its charm and challenge;
looking westward, meanwhile, across the Tuileries Gardens and _Place de
la Concorde_ to the ascending perspective of the _Champs-Élysées_. The
superb _ensemble_ and detail of the scene, softened by lavender mist at
the ground levels, was crowned by the blood-red and gold of a
wide-flung frosty sunset–a city of fire, as the young man told
himself, built on foundations of dreams!

He had just come away from the press view of a one-man show of his own
drawings. The rooms were crowded to suffocation. The success of the
exhibition was already assured, promising to be prodigious, to amount
to a veritable sensation. He was aware of this, yet his mood remained
an unhappy one. As usual the critics showed themselves a herd of
imbeciles. They praised the wrong things, or, more exasperating still,
praising the right ones praised them wrongly, extolling their weak
points rather than their fine ones, misinterpreting their message and
inner meaning. Had Adrian Savage been there–unluckily he was still in
England–some sense might have been spoken. Adrian was an austere
critic, but always an intelligent and discriminating one. As for the
rest of the confraternity–René gazed mournfully at the flaming sunset
splendor–they got upon his nerves, they nauseated him.

And it all went deeper than that. For those many square yards of wall,
plastered with his mordant verdict upon the human species, got upon his
nerves, too, and nauseated him. He recoiled, as he had often recoiled
before–taking it thus wholesale–from his own merciless exposure of
the follies, vulgarities, the mental and physical deformities and
distortions of his fellow-creatures; recoiled from the reek of his own
Rabelaisian humor, of his own extravagant ribaldry and ingenious
grossness. It was his vocation, as that of other and more famous
satirists, to wreak a vindictive vengeance thus upon humanity. Only,
in his care, reaction invariably followed. The devil of unsanctified
laughter for the time satiated and cast out of him, he wandered–as
this evening–a very sad and plaintive little being, firmly
resolving–as how often before!–once and for all to throw away his
rather horrible pencil, and betake himself exclusively to the
construction of those delicate lyrics and rondels from which, whatever
minor perversions of sentiment they might exhibit, the witty bestiality
common to his caricatures was conspicuously absent.

He wanted to forget the hot, close rooms, packed with admirers, male,
and, though happily in a minority, female also. By René Dax that
minority was held in particularly small respect. The woman who
relished, or affected to relish, his art ought to be ashamed of
herself–such at least was his opinion. His art was meant for men, not
for women; and the women who couldn’t arrive at that conclusion by
instinct, unaided, were women for whom, especially in his existing
mood, he had no use whatever, didn’t want in the very least. That
which he did want, under the head of things feminine, was something
conspicuously different–a far-removed, stately, inaccessible type of
womanhood. And, still more, he wanted the child who should grow into
such womanhood–a tender, elusive, sprite-like, spotlessly innocent and
unsoiled creature, to whom moral and physical ugliness were equally
unknown and equally, saving the paradox, abhorrent.

Well, were not the tall, old-fashioned houses of the _Quai Malaquais_
across the river there just opposite, and was it not still early enough
to pay a visit? But then, as he rather fretfully remembered, Madame
St. Leger had been pertinaciously invisible of late. He had called
several times, only to be told she was not receiving or that she was
out. He had never succeeded in seeing her and little Bette; never, now
that he came to think of it, since the day of the great snow, the day
when Adrian, whose absence he had just been deploring, left for England.

The bringing of these two facts into any relation of cause and effect
had not previously occurred to him. It did not do so seriously even
now. Yet unquestionably the names of Madame St. Leger and Adrian
Savage took up a position side by side in his mind, thereby subtly
coloring his reflections. He had no friend upon whom he depended and
who, in his capricious exacting fashion, he loved as he did Adrian.
The friendship had remained practically unbroken since the time when
Adrian, the healthier, happier-natured boy, protected him, the queer
little Tadpole, from tormentors at school. This friendship had been
among the wholesomest influences of his life, and, amid many
aberrations and perversities of thought and conduct, he clung to it.
But it followed on his self-absorption and selfishness, natural and
assumed, that his friend’s interests and concerns, save in so far as
they bore direct relation to his own, were a matter of indifference to
him. He had never troubled himself as to the possible state or
direction of Adrian’s affections, and perhaps consequently, this sudden
juxtaposition of names came to him as a surprise, and an irritating one.

Slipping in and out between private cars, taxis, and humbler,
horse-drawn vehicles, he crossed the roadway to the _Pont des Saints
Pères_. The sunset glories faded, while avenues of living white and
glow-worm green lights sprang into being. Still, here and there, red
splashes, as of blood, stained the livid, swirling surface of the
Seine, which, in half flood, fed by the melted snow, hissed and gurgled
under the arches and against the masonry of the bridge.

As it happened, just then, a lull occurred in the cross-river traffic,
a break in the quick-moving throng of foot-passengers, so that in front
of René Dax the pale arc of the right-hand pavement showed empty in the
whole of its length, save for a single tall, slouching, shabby figure,
clothed in a blue-serge suit unmistakably English in cut and in
pattern. As René advanced, his mind still working around those two
names set in such irritating juxtaposition, he saw the man in the
English-made suit first glance sharply to right and left, then bend
down, grasping the outer edge of the parapet, while slowly and, as it
seemed, furtively, drawing one knee up on to the flat of the coping.

–Was it possible that Madame St. Leger’s repeated refusals to receive
him were other than accidental? Was it possible they had some
connection with Adrian’s absence? Was it conceivable his friend had
turned traitor, had interfered, saying or hinting at that which might,
socially, justify such denial of admission? Suspicion, resentment,
self-pity, a lively sense of personal injury invaded him.–

The shabby, slouching loafer’s right knee was fairly upon the coping
now. He threw up both arms, threw back his head, his mouth opened wide
as one letting loose a great cry. René Dax saw his extended arms, his
bare head, his profile with that wide-open mouth, dark against a pale
background of buildings and cold, translucent sky. The effect was of
the strangest, the more so that no sound came from the apparently
loud-crying mouth. Suddenly his chin dropped on his breast. His hands
were lowered, clutching at the edge of the parapet again, and he
remained thus for a few seconds, immobile, crouched together, his left
foot, in a well-cut but bulging hole-riddled boot, still resting upon
the pavement.

Then in a flash, awakening from contemplation of his own lately
discovered woes, René realized what was about to occur. His height and
reach were insufficient, encumbered as he was, moreover, by a thick
fur-lined overcoat, for him to get his arms round the crouching figure.
So he just clutched whatever came handiest, the back of the fellow’s
jacket, the slack of the seat of his trousers. Exerting all his
strength, René hauled and jerked at these well-worn garments. The
attack, though neither very forcible nor very scientific, was
completely unexpected. The man’s grip relaxed. His knee slipped and
he fell back, an amorphous indigo and sandy-red heap, upon the pallid
asphalt.

René pulled a scented pocket-handkerchief out of the breast-pocket of
his coat and proceeded delicately to wipe the fingers and palms of his
gray _suède_ gloves. He was unaccustomed to such exertion. His heart
thumped against his ribs. His sight was blurred. He felt slightly
faint and light-headed and was grateful for the cold back-draught of
air off the rapidly flowing river. It was his pride, part of his pose,
in fact, never to display emotion; and he now found himself excited and
shaken, by no means fully self-possessed. He needed a space of quiet
in which to regain his accustomed affectations of bearing and manner.
He was aware, too, that those shabby garments were decidedly unpleasant
to touch. Therefore he stood still, breathing rather hard through his
nostrils, and daintily wiping the neat, little gray suede gloves
incasing his quick, clever little fingers.

“I must express regret for my violence,” he said, with the utmost
civility, to the heap on the pavement, as soon as he judged his voice
sufficiently steady for speech. “I must apologize to you for such
absence of ceremony, but really, my dear sir, it appeared to me no time
should be lost. You had, unconsciously of course, placed yourself in a
highly ridiculous position from which it was clearly incumbent upon me,
as an amiable and sympathetic person, immediately to remove you. At
times one is compelled to act with decision rather than politeness.
This was a case in point. Doubtless you are at present annoyed with
me. But a few moments’ reflection will, I feel sure, commend my action
to you. You will recognize how right, even to the point of an apparent
sacrifice of personal dignity, I was.”

The man by now had got upon all fours, looking like some unsightly,
shambling animal. Limply he rose to his feet and, supporting himself
against the balustrade, turned upon his savior a dissipated boyish
countenance, down which tears dribbled miserably.

“Why the devil couldn’t you leave me alone?” he asked, petulantly, in
English. “What earthly concern is it of yours? Aren’t I my own
master?”

His voice rose to a wail.

“I’ve been trying to–to do it all day, but there have been too many
people about. They stared at me. They suspected and followed me. I
could not dodge them. Now I thought the opportunity had come. I was
rid of them at last. I never saw you, curse you, you’re so short.
After all, one doesn’t think of looking on the ground, except for
vermin. And I’d just pulled myself together. I mayn’t have the nerve
to try again. I’ve lost my chance,” he wailed, childishly, his weak,
loose-lipped mouth twisted by the wretchedness of crying. “I’ve lost
my chance through you, you beast. And you’ve torn my coat, too. It’s
the only one I have left; and I did want to look decent, when they
found me, when I was dead.”

He flung away passionately, pressing his face down on his folded arms
upon the parapet, while his angular shoulders heaved and his body
shuddered under the ragged blue-serge jacket.

“I shall not have the pluck again. I know myself, and I sha’n’t have
it. By now I should have been out of the whole accursed tangle. The
whole show would have been over–over–I should know nothing more. I
should be quit of my misery. I should be dead–ah! my God,
dead–dead–”

But René Dax continued to wipe his neat, little gray _suède_ gloves.
For his mood had changed. The taunt regarding his smallness of stature
had turned him wicked, so that the exquisite minor poet, yearning for
the companionship of things pure, lovely, and of good report, fled
away. The injured friend fled away likewise. And the satirist, the
caricaturist, impure and unsimple, greedy of human ugliness and
degradation, malignant, mercilessly scoffing, reigned in their stead.
And here, in this loose-limbed, blue-eyed, tawny-headed foreign
youth–whose voice and speech, coarseness of expression
notwithstanding, witnessed to education and gentle blood–vainly
essaying to drown himself under the dying sunset skies of the city of
fire built on foundations of dreams, was a subject, surely made to the
satirist’s hand, a subject of great price! The despotism of his art
came upon René Dax, that necessity for vengeance upon humanity; and
this time, for him, the edge of vengeance was sharpened by personal
insult. For this was no common vagabond wastrel, thrown up from the
foul underlying dregs of the population, but a person of condition,
once his social equal, whose insolence therefore touched his honor as
that of a man of the people could not.

“You are offensive, my young friend,” he said, in careful, slightly
over-pronounced, but fluent English. “You are also remarkably
unattractive and wanting in intelligence. But I, being happily none of
these things–offensive, I would say, unattractive or wanting in
intelligence–can afford to be magnanimous. Learn, then, that had I
not intervened–at much inconvenience to myself–to prevent your
projecting your unsavory carcass into the river, but permitted you to
carry out your thrice-idiotic purpose, it would not, as you say, have
been all over by now and you quit of your misery, not one bit of it!
Were you less crude in idea, less bestially ignorant, you would be
aware that the principle of life is indestructible. Choking and
struggling in the black water there you would have suffered abominable
discomfort. But, even when the process of asphyxiation was complete,
you yourself would have been still alive, still conscious, and would
have discovered, to your infinite chagrin, that you had merely
exchanged one state of being for an other and more odious one.”

René rested his elbows upon the top of the balustrade, and, putting his
little, tired baby face close, spoke with incisive clearness of
enunciation into the young man’s ear.

“Be under no delusion,” he said. “Once alive, always alive. There is
no breaking out of that prison. It is too cleverly constructed. You
cannot get away. Your sentence is for life; and there is no term to
living–none, absolutely none, forever and forever. You might have
killed your present very unpleasing body, I grant, but this would not
have advanced matters. For your essential self, the Me, the ego, would
have remained and would have been compelled by incalculable and
indomitable natural forces to surround itself with another body, in
which to endure the shame of birth, the agonizing sorrows of childhood,
and all that which, from childhood, has rendered existence intolerable
to you, over again. Or you might, very probably, have come to rebirth
lower down in the scale of creation–as a beetle to be crushed under
foot, a dog to be pinned out on the vivisector’s table, a lamb to be
flayed at the abattoir, a worm to writhe on the fisherman’s hook, a
formless grub to bloat itself with carrion.”

Here the wretched youth raised his head and stared at his
self-constituted mentor. Tearful wretchedness had given place to an
expression of moral terror, almost trenching on insanity–terror of
immeasurable possibilities, of conceptions monstrous and unnatural.

“Who are you, what are you,” he cried, “you mincing little devil?
Isn’t it all horrible enough already without you trying to scare me? I
hate you. And you haven’t been dead. How can you know?”

“Ah! you begin to take notice, to listen. And although you continue
offensive, that you should listen is satisfactory, as it assures me my
amiable attentions and instructive conversation are not altogether
wasted. Learn then, my cherished pupil,” René added, in a soft, easy,
small-talk tone, “that you are still in error, since I–I who so
patiently reason with you–have unquestionably been dead scores,
hundreds, probably thousands of times. I have sampled many different
incarnations, just as you, doubtless, under less indigent
circumstances, have sampled dinners at many different restaurants; with
this distinction, however, that whereas, in Paris at all events, you
must have eaten a number of quite passable dinners, I have never yet
experienced an incarnation which was not in the main detestable, a
flagrant outrage on sensibility and good taste. Hence, you see, I do
not speak at random, but from a wide basis of fact. I know all about
it. And, therefore, I just emphasize this point once more. Engrave it
upon the tablets of your memory. It is well worth remembering,
particularly in reckless and exaggerated moments. Life is
indestructible. To end it is merely to begin it under slightly altered
material conditions, with a prelude of acute mental and physical
discomfort thrown in; hideous disappointment, moreover, waiting to
transfix you when your higher faculties are–like mine–sufficiently
developed for you to have acquired the power of looking backward and
visualizing the premutations of your past.”

The speaker turned sideways, leaning on one elbow. He took his
handkerchief neatly from his breast-pocket again and held it to his
nose.

“Really, you do need washing rather badly, my young friend!” he said.
“But not down there, not in the but dubiously cleanly waters of our
beloved Seine. A Turkish bath, and a vigorous shampoo afterward, and,
subsequently, a change of linen.–However, that, for the moment, must
wait. To return to our little lesson in practical philosophy.–I have
rescued you from the disaster of premature reincarnation. I have also
striven to improve your mind, to enlighten you, and that at
considerable discomfort to myself, for I find it very cold standing and
instructing you in the fundamental principles of being, here on this
remarkably draughty bridge. I risk double pneumonia in your service.
Be grateful, then, and make suitable acknowledgment of the immense
charity I have shown you.”

“You are a devil, and I hate you. Why can’t you go away?” the young
man answered in a terrified sulkiness.

“Truly you are mistaken,” René returned, imperturbably. “My charity is
too great to permit me to go away until you, my pupil, are provided
for. You have so much which it would be to your advantage to learn! I
am not a devil. No–but I admit that I am, to-day, one of the
most-talked-about persons in Paris. I must therefore entreat you to
adopt a more respectful tone and less accentuated manner. We have
ceased to be alone. Many people are crossing the bridge. Among them
must be those to whom my appearance is familiar; and, if I am remarked
pleading thus with a debauched, would-be suicide, I shall certainly
read in the morning papers that M. René Dax has discovered a new method
of self-advertisement, a catchy puff for his picture-show. This would
be disagreeable to me. My work is big enough to stand on its own
merits. Self-advertisement, in my case, is as superfluous as it is
vulgar. Compose yourself. Cease to be ridiculous. And above all do
not call me rude names in the hearing of the public. Ah!
excellent!–There is an empty cab.”

He hailed a passing taxi, and, as the chauffeur drew up to the curb,
put his arm within that of his companion, persuasively, even
affectionately.

“Come, then, my child,” he said. “See, my charity is really
inexhaustible! I will take you home with me, though I confess you are
a far from fragrant fellow-traveler, pending that so desirable Turkish
bath. And, listen–I will take you home, I will also feed you. And I
will draw little pictures of you, several little pictures, because I
find in you a singularly edifying example of a singularly degraded
type. After I have drawn as many little pictures as pleases me, I will
have you washed, I will give you clothes, I will give you money, and
then I will send you away without asking any questions, without so much
as inquiring your name.”

He moved toward the waiting car, the door of which the chauffeur held
open. But the young man showed a disposition to struggle and hang back.

“Get in, dirty animal, or I call the police,” René Dax ordered,
sharply, “and recount to them your recent exploit. They will not give
you money or clothes, nor will they abstain from asking inconvenient
questions. Ah! you decide to accompany me? That is well.”

And, with a roughly helping hand from the chauffeur, he projected the
limp, wretched figure into the cab.

“A good tip, my son, and drive smartly,” he added, after giving an
address in the _Boulevard du Mont Parnasse_.

“Yes, I have returned. I am here, veritably here, _chère Madame et
amie_. At last I have effected my escape from the Land of Egypt and
the House of Bondage–and such a bondage! Ah! it is an incredibly
happy thing to be back!”

Adrian permitted himself to hold his hostess’s hand some seconds longer
than is demanded by strict etiquette. His face was as glad as a spring
morning. Tender gallantry lurked in his eyes. His voice had a ring of
joy irrepressible. His aspect was at once that of suppliant and of
conqueror. And this whole brilliant effect was infectious, finding
readier and more sympathetic reflection in Madame St. Leger’s
expression and humor than she at all intended or bargained for. For
the moment, indeed, the charm and the rush of it came near sweeping her
off her feet. She ceased to subscribe to theory, ceased to reason,
yielded to spontaneous feeling, practice claiming her–the secular and
delightful practice of he being man, she woman, and of both being
fearless, high-spirited, beautifully human, and beautifully young.

“In any case the House of Bondage has not disagreed with you,” she
said, gaily. “For I have never seen you looking more admirably well.”

“Ah! you must not put that down to the credit of the House of Bondage,
but to the fact of my entrancing escape from it, to the fact that once
more I am here–here–with you.” As he spoke Adrian glanced round the
dear rose-red-and-canvas-colored room. He wished to make sure that, in
every detail, he found it precisely as he had left it, every article of
furniture, every picture, every ornament in its accustomed position.
He felt jealous of the minutest change of object or of place. “No,
nothing is altered, nothing,” he said, answering his own thought aloud
in the greatness of his content.

Gabrielle abstained from comment. She owned herself moved, excited,
uplifted, by the joyful atmosphere which his presence exhaled. Indeed,
that presence affected her far more deeply than she had anticipated,
catching her imagination and emotions as in the dazzling meshes of a
golden net. Some men are gross, some absurd, some unspeakably tedious
when in love. Adrian was very certainly neither of these objectionable
things. He struck, indeed, an almost perfect note. And that was just
where the danger came in, just why she dared not let this interview
continue at the enthusiastic level. She might suffer the charm of it
too comprehensively, and–for already she began to reason again–that
would entail regret, and, only too likely, worse than regret.

So, steeling herself against the insidious charm which so worked on and
quickened her, she moved away from the vacant place before the fire,
where she had been standing with Adrian Savage, sat down in her
high-backed, rose-cushioned chair and picked up the bundle of white
lawn and lace lying on the little table beside it. She needed
protection–whether from him or from herself she did not quite care to
inquire–and reckoned it wiser to put a barrier of actual space and
barrier of sobering employment between herself and this inconveniently
moving returned guest and lover. She refused to be taken by storm.

But Adrian’s buoyancy of spirit was not so easily to be crushed.

“Ah! only that was needed,” he declared, “to complete my
satisfaction–that you should place yourself thus and shake out your
pretty needlework. It procures me the welcome belief that no time has
really been lost or wasted; it almost convinces me that I have not been
away at all. You cannot conceive what pleasure, what happiness it
gives me, to be here, to see you again. But now that I am able to
observe you calmly, _chère Madame_–”

“Yes, calmly, calmly,” she put in, without raising her eyes from her
stitching. “How I value, how I appreciate calm!”

“Do you not appear a little tired, a little pale?”

“Very possibly,” she answered. “I have been troubled about my mother
recently. The extreme cold affected her circulation. For some days we
were in grave anxiety. Her vitality is low. Indeed, I have passed
through some trying hours.”

“And I was ignorant of her illness, ignorant of your anxiety! Why did
you not write and tell me?”

“Does not the difficulty of answering letters one has never received
occur to you?” Gabrielle inquired, mildly. “And it was not I, you
know, who volunteered to write.”

The young man had drawn a chair up to the near side of the little
table. Now he leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, both hands
extended, as one who offers a petition.

“Do not reproach me with my silence or I shall be broken-hearted,” he
said. “My inclination was to write reams to you, volumes. I did, in
fact, begin many letters. But I restrained myself. I destroyed them.
To have sent them would have been selfish and indiscreet. I was bound,
by my promise to you at parting, not to allude to the subject which
most vitally touches my happiness. And I found over there so much
which was perplexing and sad. I asked myself what right I had to
inflict upon you a recital of melancholy impressions and events. I
came to the conclusion that I really had none.”

Madame St. Leger looked at him sideways from between half-closed
eyelids. The dimple showed in her cheek, but her smile was distinctly
ironic.

“Why not admit that I was right in foretelling that you would find
those shadowy ladies, and your mission to them, of absorbing interest?
It occupied your time and thoughts to the exclusion of all else–now,
was it not so? Was I not right?”

“Yes and no, _chère Madame_,” he answered, presently, slowly and with
so perceptible a change of tone that his hearer was startled to the
point of finding it difficult to go on with her needlework.

Adrian sat silently watching her. The singular character of her
beauty, both in its subtlety and suggestion of a reserve of moral
force, had never been more evident to him. More than ever, in each
gesture, in the long, suave lines of her body and limbs shrouded in
clinging black, in the gleam of her furrowed hair as she turned or bent
her charming head, in the abiding provocation and mystery of her eyes
and lips, did she appear to him unique and infinitely desirable.
Watching her, he inclined to become lyrical and cry aloud his worship
in heroic fashion, careless of twentieth-century decorum and restraint.
But if her room, the material frame and setting of that beauty, to his
immense content remained unchanged in every particular, her attitude of
mind, to his immense discontent, evidently remained unchanged likewise.
In the first surprise of his arrival she had yielded somewhat, catching
alight from his flame. But with a determined hand she shut down those
sympathetic fires, becoming obdurate as before. He could feel her will
sensibly stiffening against his own; and this at once hurt him shrewdly
and whipped up passion, preaching a reckless war of conquest, bidding
him disregard promises, bidding him speak and thunder down opposition
by sheer law of the strongest. In every man worth the name temptation
must arise, at moments, to beat the defiant beloved object into an
obedient and docile jelly–the defiant beloved object, it may
confidently be added, would regard any man as unworthy of serious
consideration did it not. But, in Adrian’s case, sitting watching her
now, though such temptation did very really arise, its duration was
brief. Less primitive counsels prevailed. She was far from kind and
he was hotly in love; but he was also the child of his age, and a fine
gentleman at that, to whom, given time for reflection, berserker
methods must inevitably present themselves as both unworthy and
ludicrous. So, if she condemned him to play a waiting game, he would
bow to her ruling and play it. He had considerable capital of
self-confidence to draw upon. In as far as the ultimate issues were
concerned he wasn’t a bit afraid–as yet. He could afford, so he
believed, to wait. Only, since tormenting was about, all the fun of
that amiable pastime shouldn’t be on her side. And to this end now he
would make her speak first.

He remained silent, therefore, still observing her, until the color
deepened in the round of her cheeks, and the stitches were set less
regularly in the white work, while uneasiness gained on her causing her
presently to look up.

“Yes and no?” she said, “yes and no? That is nothing of an answer. I
am all attention. I am curious to hear your explanation. And
then–yes and no–what next?”

“This,” he replied, “that on nearer acquaintance the two ladies proved
anything but shadowy. They proved, in some respects, even a little
tremendous. Far from being absorbed in them, I came alarmingly near
being absorbed by them–which is a very different matter.”

“Ah, that is interesting. You did not like them?”

“I really cannot say. They both–but particularly the elder sister, my
cousin Joanna–were new to my experience. I do not feel that I have
even yet placed them in my mind. The members of all nations above a
certain social level can meet on common ground. It is below that level
national tendencies and eccentricities actually declare themselves. I
went over, strong in the conceit of ignorance. I supposed I knew all
about it and should find myself quite at home. I was colossally
mistaken. The manners and mental attitude of the provincial
middle-class English were a revelation to me of the blighting effects
of a sea frontier and a Puritan descent. The men have but three
subjects of conversation–politics, games, and their own importance.
The women”–Adrian paused, looking full at Madame St. Leger–“I am
very, very sorry for the women. Ah! dear Madame,” he added, “let us
return devout thanks that we were born on this side, the humane, the
amiable, the artistic side of the Channel, you and I. For they are
really a very uncomfortable people those middle-class Anglo-Saxons.
Until I spent this age-long three weeks among them I had no conception
what a convinced Catholic–in sentiment, if not, to my shame,
altogether in practice–and thorough-paced Latin I was!”

During the above harangue Gabrielle’s hands remained idle. He was
really very good, meeting her thus half-way in the suppression of the
personal and amatory note. She was obliged to him, of course; yet, in
honest truth, was she so very much pleased by his readiness to take the
hint? She could not but ask herself that–and then hurry away, so to
speak, from the answer, her fingers in her pretty ears. His cue was an
intelligent exchange of ideas then? An excellent one!–She stopped her
ears more resolutely.–She, too, would be intelligent.

“Increased faith and increased patriotism as the result of your
journey! How admirable! Clearly it is highly beneficial to one’s
morale to cross the Channel. Were it rather later in the year, and
were the weather less inclement, I should be disposed to take the
little cure, without delay, myself.”

“It would not suit you in the least,” Adrian asserted. “You would
dislike it all quite enormously.”

Gabrielle St. Leger at the Tower House! The idea produced in him a
violent unreasoning repulsion, as though she ran some actual physical
danger. Heaven forbid!

“I should not go with any purpose of enjoyment, but rather as a
penance, hoping the dislike of what I found over there might heighten
my appreciation of all my blessings here at home.”

Whereupon Adrian, careless of diplomacy, clutched at his chance.

“Then you are not so entirely satisfied, _chère Madame et amie_,” he
cried, laughing a little in his eagerness, “not so utterly happy and
content!”

“Is one ever as devout, ever as patriotic, as one ought to be?” she
asked, gravely.

“Or as sincere?” he returned, with corresponding gravity.

The hot color deepened in the young woman’s face, and she picked up her
needlework again quickly.

“I–insincere?” she asked. “Is not that precisely why you find me
slightly vexatious, my dear Mr. Savage, that I am only too sincere, a
veritable model of sincerity?”

And she rose, gracious, smiling, to receive another guest.

“Ah! _ma toute belle_, how are you, and how is the poor, darling
mother? Better? Thank God for that! But still in her room? Dear!
dear! Yet, after all, what can one expect? In such weather
convalescence must necessarily be protracted. I am forced to come and
ask for news in person since you refuse to have a telephone. Just
consider the many annoying intrusions, such as the present, which that
useful instrument would spare you!”

Anastasia Beauchamp, overdressed and genial as ever, interspersed these
remarks with the unwinding of voluminous fox furs, all heads and tails
and feebly dangling paws, the kissing of her hostess on either cheek,
and finally a hand-shake to Adrian.

“So you are restored to us, my dear Savage,” she continued. “I am more
than delighted to see you, though at this moment I am well aware that
delight is not reciprocated.–There, there, it is superfluous to
perjure yourself by a denial.–And you are back just in time to write a
scathing criticism of your _protégé_ M. Dax’s exhibition, in the
Review. Here is matter for sincere congratulation, for, believe me,
very plain speaking is demanded. The newspapers are afraid of him.
They cringe. Their pusillanimity is disgusting. Really this time he
has broken his own record! It is just these things which create a
wrong impression and bring France into bad odor with other nations. He
is a traitor to the best traditions of the art of this country. I
deplore it from that point of view. His exhibition is a scandal. The
correctional police should step in.”

“You have yourself visited the exhibition, dear Anastasia?” Madame St.
Leger inquired, demurely.

“Naturally, I have been to see it. Don’t I see everything which is
going? Isn’t that my acknowledged little hobby, my dear? Then, too,
where does the benefit of increasing age come in unless you claim the
privileges of indiscretion conferred by it? Still, even in senile
indiscretion, one should observe a decent limit. I went alone,
absolutely alone, to inspect those abominable productions. I wore a
thick veil, too, and–I blushed behind it. Needless to relate, I now
and then quivered with laughter. One is but human after all, and to be
human is also to be diverted by impropriety. But I could have whipped
myself for laughing, even though quite alone and behind the veil. Go
and judge for yourself whether I am not justified in my disgust, my
dear Savage. And as for you, _ma toute belle_, do not, I implore you,
go at all–unless you have had the misfortune to do so already–even
though going would effectually cure you of any kindness you may
entertain toward the artist–an end, in my poor opinion, greatly to be
desired.”

“I have not seen M. Dax’s exhibition, nor have I seen M. Dax himself
for some length of time,” Gabrielle remarked, quietly.

“You have dropped him? I rejoice to hear it. A man of so villainous
an imagination is unfit to approach you.”

“I will not say that I have dropped him.” As she spoke she was aware
that Adrian looked keenly, inquiringly at her. And this displeased
her, as an intrusion upon her liberty of action. “M. Dax has a
charming devotion to my little Bette,” she continued. “No one whom I
know is so perfect a playfellow to children. His sympathy with them is
extraordinary. He understands their tastes and pleasures, and is
unwearied in his kindness to them. Only, perhaps, his games are a
little overstimulating, overexciting. After his last visit my poor
Bette suffered from agitating dreams and awoke in the night frightened
and crying. I had difficulty in soothing her.”

“Praiseworthy babe, how profoundly right are her instincts!” Miss
Beauchamp declared, fervently. “But, Heaven help us, what’s this!” she
added, under her breath. “Perfidious infant, how these praiseworthy
babies can fool one!”

She nodded and beckoned to Adrian, still speaking under her breath.

“As you value my friendship, don’t go, on no account go, my dear
Savage. Come and sit here by me and tell me about your time in
England. Like the chivalrous young man you are, stick to me. Supply
me with a valid excuse for remaining. For, manners or no manners, I am
resolved not to leave her alone with that depraved little horror. I am
resolved to outstay him.”

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