A STRAINING OF FRIENDSHIP

Bette, light-footed, sprightly, in beaver cap, pelisse, and muff, brown
cloth gaiters and boots to match, her face pink from air and exercise,
her eyes wide and bright with consciousness of temerity, spricketed
toward her mother, leading René Dax by the hand.

“I found him outside in the courtyard as I returned from my walk with
my little friends,” she piped, the words tumbling over one another in
her pretty haste. “He told me that he wished so much to see us, but
that he never found us at home now. And he looked unhappy. You have
always instructed me that it is our duty to console the unhappy. So I
informed him that I knew you were at home to-day, because you would not
leave my grandmother, and I assured him that, speaking in your name, it
would give us much pleasure to receive him. And then I invited him to
come up-stairs with me. And that was all quite proper, wasn’t it,
mamma, because we do not like him to be unhappy, and it does give us
pleasure to receive M. Dax, does it not?”

“Assuredly it gives us pleasure to receive M. Dax,” Gabrielle said, her
head carried high and a just perceptible ring of defiance in her voice.

She smiled graciously upon the young man, and for an instant the three
stood hand in hand–René Dax, the Tadpole, offering the very strangest
of connecting links between the beautiful mother and delicious little
girl.

Miss Beauchamp uttered a sharp exclamation, which she vainly attempted
to mask by a cough. Adrian Savage looked, saw, and turned his back.
He stared blindly out of window at Paris beneath, sparkling in the
keen-edged February sunshine. The sweat broke out on his forehead. He
had received an agonizing, a hateful impression, amounting, sound and
self-confident though he was, to acute physical pain. “No, not that,
not that,” he cried to himself. “Of all conceivable combinations, not
that one. It is hideous, unbearable, out of nature!”

Miss Beauchamp touched him on the arm. Her face spoke volumes.

“Talk to me, my dear Savage,” she said, urgently. “I can imagine what
you feel. But talk. Create some, any excuse for staying, and take
_It_, that depraved little horror, away with you when you go. Rally
your resources, my dear friend. Play up, I entreat you, play up.”

Then louder.

“You had a deplorable crossing–fog, coming into Calais? Yes, February
is among the most odious months of the year. But I go over so seldom
now, you know, since my poor brother’s death. Nearly all my friends
are on this side; and, after all, one only has to wait. Everybody who
is anybody must pass through Paris sooner or later.–Talk, my dear
Savage, talk. Support me.–Ah yes, in London you observed many
changes? I hear a mania has taken the authorities lately for
improvements. You did not stay in town? Ah no, of course not.
Stourmouth?–Yes, I remember the place vaguely. Interminable black
fir-trees and interminable, perambulating pink-and-white
consumptives–I like neither. Yes, talk–talk–my own remarks are
abysmal in their fatuity. But no matter. It’s all in a good cause.
Let us keep on.”

René, meanwhile, successfully affected ignorance of any human presences
save those of his hostess and his little guide.

“Why have you refused me? Why have you never let me see you?” he
asked, gazing mournfully at Madame St. Leger.

“I have not been receiving,” she replied. “My mother has been ailing,
and my time has been devoted to her.”

“But to see me, even to be aware that I was near her, would have done
her good,” he returned. “She has a great regard for me; and, in the
case of a sensitive organization, the proximity of a person to whom one
is attached acts as a restorative. It was on that account I have
needed to come here. I, too, have been ailing. My exhibition is a
howling success. Being a person of refinement, this naturally has
disagreed with me, inducing repeated fits of the spleen, flooring me
with a dumb rage of melancholy. As a corrective I required the
soothing society of Madame, your mother, and of Mademoiselle Bette. I
required also to be with you, Madame, to look at you. This I believed
would prove beneficial to my nerves, lacerated by frenzied public
admiration. By excluding me, you have not only wounded my
susceptibilities, but prolonged my ill health. As I have already
proved to you, Madame Vernois’s regrettable illness is no sufficient
reason for that exclusion. There must have been some further reason.”

“There was a further reason,” Gabrielle replied, quietly.

René gazed up at her, a point of flame in his somber eyes. All of a
sudden, with an amazingly quick, very vulgar, street-boy gesture and a
wicked grimace, tipping his thumb over his shoulder, he indicated the
other two guests holding uneasy converse at the other side of the room.
The thing was done in a twinkling, and he regained his accustomed
plaintive solemnity of aspect.

“What further reason, that he, the janitor, otherwise Adrian the
Magnificent, was away?”

“You are impertinent,” Madame St. Leger said, sternly. At first her
anger concentrated itself upon René Dax. Then, quite arbitrarily and
unjustly, it took a wider sweep. She called Bette to her; and,
kneeling down, the train of her dress trailing out across the rosy
carpet, her head bowed, began undoing the frogs of the child’s fur
pelisse.

“Pray understand,” she said, still sternly, “Mr. Savage’s presence or
absence is a matter which in no degree affects my actions.”

While in the pause which followed Adrian’s voice, harsh from his effort
to make it sound quite disengaged and natural, asserted itself forcibly.

“Yes,” he was saying, “Colonel Rentoul Haig.–You cannot surely have
been so heartless as to have forgotten his existence, dear Miss
Beauchamp, when he retains such enthusiastic memories of you and of the
brilliancy of your conversation?”

“Rentoul Haig? Rentoul Haig? Ah! to be sure! I have it at last.
Yes, certainly, in the early eighties, at my cousin Delamere
Beauchamp’s place in Midlandshire. Of course, of course–a neat,
little, tea-party subaltern, out in camp with some militia regiment, in
general request for answering questions and running messages, and so
on; qualifying, even then, as a walking hand-book of the English landed
and titled gentry.”

“He has continued in that line until his genealogical learning has
reached truly monumental proportions,” Adrian returned, in the same
harsh voice. “It possesses and obsesses him, keeping him in a
perpetual ferment of apprehension lest he should be called upon to
associate with persons of no family in particular. In this connection
my arrival, I fear, caused him cruel searchings of heart. His mother
and my father were hundredth cousins. Hence, alarms. Should I prove
presentable to the funny old gentlemen at the local club, or should I
compromise him? He has hardly marched with the times, and pictured
me–this I learned from his own ingenuous lips–as some long-haired,
threadbare, starveling Bohemian, straight out of the pages of Henri
Mürger or Eugène Sue. My personal appearance did, I rejoice to say,
reassure him to a certain extent. But your name, and recollections
both of your cousin’s fine place and of your own conversational powers,
did much more toward allaying the torment of his social sense. He
ended, indeed, by conveying to me that, my beloved mother’s alien
nationality and my beloved father’s profession notwithstanding, I was
really quite a credit to the united houses of Savage and Haig.”

“Are you going again to exclude me, are you going to shut the door on
me, because I have been that which you qualify by the word
‘impertinent’?” René Dax asked, softly and sadly, as Madame St.
Leger–the little girl’s coat removed and her frilled white skirts
straightened out–rose proudly to her feet.

“You richly deserve that I should do so,” she replied.

“Ah! _pardon_–but just consider. For to be cross with me, to
repudiate me, is so conspicuously useless. It only serves to
accentuate my faults–always supposing I really have any. I am
controlled, I am led, by kindness, and I possess most engaging
qualities. In the interests of all concerned you should encourage the
display of those qualities.”

“Pray do not be severe with M. Dax any more,” little Bette put in,
prettily and busily. “You have, perhaps, dear mamma, been so on my
account, therefore it is for me to plead with you.”

Madame St. Leger’s expression softened. The Tadpole, his big
overdeveloped brain and puny body, touched the springs of maternal
compassion in her, somehow. She glanced at him. Surely she had
exaggerated the disturbing influences which could be exercised by so
quaint and relatively insignificant a creature? Then, stooping down,
she took little Bette up in her arms, smiling, her figure finely
poised, both in lifting and bearing the weight of that graceful burden.
In an ecstasy of affection the child snuggled against her, cheek to
cheek.

“I am no longer afraid of his little walking-cane,” Bette murmured, in
a confidential whisper. “That was a silly dream. I assure you I shall
not allow it to trouble me, should it repeat itself. So I entreat you,
mamma, tell M. Dax he may come here again and play with me and my
little friends as he used to do.”

Gabrielle’s smile sweetened to a tender merriment. With her child
pressed close against her, thus, she felt so satisfied, so secure in
the strong, pure joys of her motherhood, that she gave caution the
slip. So safeguarded, what, she asked herself, could disquiet her soul
or harm her? René Dax was right, moreover, in saying he possessed
engaging qualities–though it mightn’t be the best taste in the world
that he, himself, should announce the fact. What a good work, then, to
nurture those qualities, and, by keeping them in play, strengthen and
redeem all that was best in the young man’s complex and wayward nature!
A quite missionary spirit, toward the singular Tadpole, arose in her.
And something further–though this she did not willingly
acknowledge–namely, a hot desire to assert the completeness of her
personal liberty before witnesses just now present. She would conserve
her freedom, and demonstrate unequivocally to present company that she
intended so doing.

“Good, most precious one,” she said, returning the child’s fluttering
kisses. Then: “Since my little daughter wishes it, the door shall
remain open, M. Dax.”

But here Adrian Savage, partially overhearing the conversation,
partially divining that purpose of demonstration, smitten, moreover, by
Madame St. Leger’s resolved and exalted aspect, was overcome by alarm
and distress altogether too acute for further concealment. Miss
Beauchamp might wave her long, thin arms, and pour forth cascades of
transparently artificial conversation in the effort to delay his
departure, but he could bear the position no longer. She, after all,
was actuated by motives of social expediency and of friendship only,
was merely an onlooker at this drama, while he was a principal actor in
it, all his dearest hopes, all his future happiness at stake. He had
reached the limits of moral and emotional endurance. His handsome face
was drawn and blanched to an unnatural pallor as against his black,
pointed beard, black eyebrows, and dark, close-cropped hair. A few
moments more and he felt he might be guilty of some irretrievable
breach of good manners, might make a scene, commit some unpardonable
folly of speech and action, or that just simply he might collapse,
might faint. So, then and there, he bounded tiger-like, so to speak,
into the open space before the fire where his hostess still stood,
addressing her rapidly, imperatively, wholly ignoring her companion,
René Dax.

“Pardon me, Madame, that I interrupt you, but I have already, as I
fear, greatly outstayed your patience and will delay no further to bid
you good-by. My excuse, both for coming to-day and for remaining so
long, must be that I am here, in Paris, probably for but a few days on
the business of the Review. I may be recalled to England at any
moment, and it is conceivable in the press of work which demands my
attention that I may not have another opportunity of presenting myself
to you before I go.”

“Behold Vesuvius in full eruption,” René murmured, gazing pensively at
his hostess.

The latter had stood little Bette down on the seat of the
rose-cushioned chair. She still held the child close, one arm round
her waist. The unaccustomed tones of Adrian’s voice, his vehemence,
and air of unmistakable suffering, agitated her. Was it the price of
her independence to hurt a faithful friend so sorely as all this?

“I was unaware you were likely to leave Paris again so soon,” she said.
“I supposed you had returned for good; and there is so much that I
wished to hear, so much that I had promised myself the entertainment of
having you recount to me.”

“Unfortunately the claims of my venerable cousin’s affairs are
inexorable,” Adrian replied, with a not very successful attempt at
lightness, looking her in the eyes while his lips perceptibly shook.
“In death, as in life, he has proved himself an unscrupulously
devouring old tyrant. Indeed, I am quite unable to forecast, as yet,
when I shall escape out of the house of bondage for good.”

“Mamma, dearest,” little Bette whispered, politely, “I like it of
course, but you will excuse me if I mention that you are squeezing me
so very tight?”

And thereupon, somehow, Gabrielle’s gentler mood evaporated. She
ceased to be touched by the young man’s troubled aspect, or to regret
her share in the production of that trouble. She felt angry, though
not very certainly with innocent Bette. Mockery supplanted concern in
the expression of her beautiful face as she gave her hand to her
unhappy lover.

“In time the arrangement of even the richest succession must be
terminated. When that termination is reached we shall hope to welcome
you back, Mr. Savage–unless, of course, you have any thought of
forming ties which will necessitate your settling permanently in
England?”

And, before Adrian had either time or heart to parry this cruel thrust,
René intervened, patting him delicately on the back.

“So you are going, _mon vieux_? See, I will accompany you. No,
no–indeed, I gladly go with you, leaving Mademoiselle Beauchamp–who
detests me–as she so earnestly desires, in possession of the field of
battle. Why should I not go, my dear fellow? You do not hurry my
departure in the least. I have accomplished the object of my visit. I
am restored, soothed comforted. I have got all–all that, for the
moment, I want.”

As the door closed behind the two young men Anastasia advanced. She
re-adjusted her frisky hat, pulled her long gloves up at the elbow,
cast the heads and tails and feebly dangling paws of her fox furs about
her neck and shoulders.

“_Ma toute belle_, at the risk of your being angry and requesting me to
mind my own business, I am constrained to tell you that I fear you are
committing a very grave folly,” she said.

But Madame St. Leger was engaged in caressing little Bette.

Coming from under the _porte-cochère_ into the street, Adrian, pleading
a business appointment as excuse, shook off his companion somewhat
unceremoniously, and hailing the first empty motor-cab, sped away to
the office, his Review, in the _rue Druoi_. The rush across the center
of Paris, through the thick of the afternoon traffic, with its lively
chances of smashing or being smashed, served to steady him. Yet he was
still under the empire of considerable emotion when he entered his
private room at the office, and Emile Konski, his secretary, a
roundabout, pink-cheeked, gray-headed, alert little man of fifty, arose
bowing and beaming to relieve him of hat, coat, and umbrella.

“Thanks, thanks, my good Konski,” he said. “And now just arrange the
copy I have to revise, will you kindly, and take your own work into the
outer office. I am rather hurried. I will call through to you should
I want you.”

“Perfectly, sir,” the good Konski returned, obediently; but he beamed
no more. His employer was also the god of his ingenuous idolatry, and
to leave the private room for the outer office was to leave the
Sanctuary for the Court of the Gentiles. Opportunities of devotion had
been limited lately, hence banishment became the more grievous.

Once alone, Adrian sat down before his writing-table. The fortnightly
_chronique_ of home and foreign politics awaited his revision, so did
literary and art notices. Among the latter a _critique_ of René Dax’s
picture-show remained to be written, Adrian having expressed an
intention of dealing with it himself. He meant to have passed an hour
in the galleries after calling upon Madame St. Leger this afternoon,
but had relinquished his purpose. For he desired rightly to divide the
word of truth regarding René’s eccentric performances; and just now,
for reasons quite independent of their inherent merits or demerits, he
feared they might stink in his nostrils to a degree subversive of any
just exercise of the critical faculty.

He made an honest effort to settle to work and absorb himself in the
affairs of Morocco, the last new books, the last debates in the
Chamber. But the neatly typed words and sentences proved singularly
lacking in interest or meaning. He read them over and over again, only
to find them crumble into purposeless units, like so much dry sand,
incapable of cohesion. For what mattered–so, in a crisis, is even the
cleverest of us dominated by personal feeling–what mattered the future
of Morocco, for instance, though involving possibilities of war to all
Europe, as against the future of himself, Adrian Savage?

And that future did, unquestionably, present itself just now as
lamentably parlous. That he might fail, that Madame St. Leger might
eventually and finally refuse to marry him, had never really seriously
entered his head before. That he might have to diplomatize, to lay
long and patient siege to the enchanting and enchanted beleaguered city
before it fell he had long ago accepted; but that, in the end, it would
most assuredly fall and he rapturously claim it by right of conquest,
in his triumphant masculine optimism he had never, till this afternoon,
doubted. Now the doubt did very really present itself and proved a
staggering one. Nor was this all. For, save during those first few
delicious moments of greeting he had been sensible of a sinister
element battling against him, painfully affecting him, yet which he
failed to define or to grasp.

Adrian stared at the copy outspread on his blotting-pad, and its blank,
unmeaning sentences. Never before had he realized what a terrible,
imprisoning, stultifying thing it may be to love! Morocco? Morocco?
What, in the name of all which makes a man’s life worth living, did he
care about the fate of that forbidding North African coast? Let it
stew in its own barbarous juice! All the same, his inability to
concentrate his attention upon the subject of that disagreeable country
served to increase his perturbation and distress. Thanks to admirable
physical health, he was accustomed to have his faculties thoroughly and
immediately at command, and this refusal of his brain to work to order
fairly infuriated him.

There was the _critique_ of René Dax’s picture-show to be written, too!

Adrian rose from the table and walked restlessly, almost distractedly,
about the room. For where exactly, in respect of the resistance of
that beloved beleaguered city, did René come in? Oh! that Tadpole of
perverted genius, that perniciously clever Tadpole, who from childhood
he had protected and befriended, whose fortunes he had so assiduously
pushed! And again now, as when staring forth blindly from the high-set
windows of _la belle_ Gabrielle’s thrice-sacred drawing-room at Paris,
glittering in the sharp-edged sunshine, Adrian’s whole being cried
aloud against the blasphemy of a certain conceivable, yet
inconceivable, combination in a passionate, agonized “God forbid!”

But verbal protest against that combination, however loud-voiced and
vehement, ranging ineffectually within the narrow confines of his
office, was a transparently inadequate mode of self-expression. His
native impetuosity rendered uncertainty and suspense intolerable to
him. He must act, must make a reconnaissance, must discover some means
of ascertaining whether anything had occurred during his absence which
served to explain the apparently existing situation. But, here, the
intrinsic delicacy of the said situation asserted itself; since
precisely those questions to which an answer is most urgently needed
are the questions which a person of fine feeling cannot ask. Good
breeding, sensibility, a chivalrous regard for the feelings of others
are, as he reflected, at times a quite abominable handicap.

He sat down once again at the writing-table. What should he do? At
his elbow stood the ebonized upright of the telephone, the long, green,
silk-covered wire of it trailing away across the parquet floor to the
plug in the wainscot. From a man he could not ask advice or
information. But from a woman–surely it was different, permissible?
Adrian left off pulling the ends of his upturned mustache and
meditated. Distraction slightly lifted and lessened. He looked up an
address in the directory; and, after an at first polite then slightly
acrimonious parley with the operator at the exchange, got into
communication with the person wanted. Would she be at home to-night
after dinner, say about eight forty-five? Might he call? And, with
multiplied apologies, might he depend upon finding her alone? To these
questions the replies proved satisfactory, so that, in a degree
solaced, his thirst for immediate action in a measure appeased and his
scattered wits consequently once more fairly at command, Adrian
resolutely turned his attention to the affairs of neglected Morocco.

As to René Dax’s exhibition? Well, till to-morrow, at all events, it
must wait.

Ever since he could remember, Miss Beauchamp had occupied the same
handsome, second-floor flat in a quiet street just off the _Parc
Monceau_. Adrian recalled a visit, in company with his mother, made to
her there at a period when he still wore white frilled drawers and
long-waisted holland tunics. Later, during his early school-days, he
vaguely recollected a period during which his grandmother rarely
mentioned Anastasia, and then with a suggestive pursing up of the lips
and lift of the eyebrows. Afterward he came to know how, for some
years, Miss Beauchamp’s name had been rather conspicuously associated
with that of a certain famous Hungarian composer resident in Paris.
But the said composer had long since gone the way of all flesh, and the
question as to whether his and Anastasia’s friendship was, or was not,
strictly platonic in character had long since ceased to interest
society. Other stars rose and set in the musical firmament. Other
scandals, real or imaginary, offered food for discussion to those
greedy of such fly-blown provender. Miss Beauchamp, meanwhile, had
become an institution; was received–as the phrase goes–everywhere.
Report declared her rich. Her generosity to young musicians, artists,
and _literati_ was, unquestionably, large to the verge of prodigality.

The aspect of her domicile, when he entered it this evening, struck
Adrian as much the same now as on that long-ago visit with his mother.
The suite of living-rooms was lofty, having coved and painted ceilings,
captivating to his childish fancy. The rooms opened one from another
in a sequence of three. The two first, both somewhat encumbered with
furniture, pictures, and bric-à-brac–of very varying value and
merit–were dimly lighted and vacant, places of silence and shadows,
the atmosphere of them impregnated with a scent of cedar and sandal
wood. From the third, the doorway of which was masked by thick
curtains of Oriental embroidery, came the sound of a grand piano,
played, and in masterly fashion, by a man’s hands.

Adrian stopped abruptly, turning to the elderly maid.

“Miss Beauchamp informed me she would be alone,” he said.

“Mademoiselle is alone,” the maid answered. “She gave instructions no
one was to be admitted save monsieur.”

“Thanks–I will not detain you. I will announce myself,” Adrian said.

He crossed the second and larger room, threading his way in and out of
a perfect archipelago of furniture; and held one curtain partially
aside, while the purpose of his visit and the smart of his own
distractions alike were merged in a sensation of curiosity and surprise.

Miss Beauchamp sat at a grand piano, placed in the middle of the bare
polished floor at right angles to the doorway. Adrian saw her face and
high-shouldered, high-waisted figure in profile. She wore a
cinnamon-colored tea-gown, opening over an under-dress of copper
sequin-sewn net. A veritable pagoda of fiery curls crowned her head.
Yet, though thin and bony, hers were the man’s hands which compelled
such rich, forcible music from the piano, making it speak, declaim,
sing, plead, touch tragedy, triumphantly affirm, in this so very
convincing a manner. The method and mind of the player, in their
largeness of conception and fearless security of execution, held the
young man captive, raising his whole attitude and outlook to a nobler
plane. The music, indeed, carried his imagination up to regions
heroic. He was in no haste to have it cease. He waited, therefore.

When the final chords were struck Anastasia Beauchamp, raising her
hands from the keyboard, rested the tips of her fingers upon the edge
of the empty music-desk, and sat motionless, absorbed in thought.
Then, as the seconds passed, Adrian’s position became, in his opinion,
equivocal, courtesy demanding that he should either make his presence
known or withdraw. He chose the former alternative and, taking a step
forward, let the curtain fall into place behind him. Imperiously, with
a lift of the chin, Miss Beauchamp turned her head and looked full at
him; and, for a moment, the young man was fairly taken aback. For,
setting of flaming pagoda and frisky tea-gown notwithstanding, he
beheld a countenance no longer bizarre, that of an accredited jester,
but sibylline, that of a woman who, in respect of certain departments
of human knowledge, has touched ultimate wisdom, so that, in respect of
those departments, life has no further secrets to reveal. Here was
something outpacing the province of Adrian’s self-confident, young
masculine attainment; and it was to his credit that he instantly
recognized this, accepting it with quick-witted and intuitive sympathy.

“Forgive me if I have presumed upon your indulgence, dear lady,” he
said, advancing with a disarming air of admiration and modesty, “by
remaining here unannounced. I could not permit any interruption of
your wonderful playing. It would have amounted to profanity. Your art
is sublime, is so altogether impressively great. But oh! why,” he
added, as the sibylline countenance softened somewhat, “have you
elected to let me, to let your many friends, remain in ignorance? Why
have you deprived us all of the joy of your superb musical gift?”

“Because that gift served its turn very fully many years ago, when you,
my dear Savage, were little more than a baby,” she answered. “Since
then I have felt at liberty to regard my playing as a trifle of private
property which I might keep to and for myself.”

As she spoke Miss Beauchamp rose from her seat at the piano, and began
replacing a multiplicity of bracelets and rings, laid aside during the
performance.

“As we grow older we, most of us, are disposed to practise such
reservations, I suppose, whether openly acknowledged or not,” she
continued. “They may take their rise in inclinations of a sentimental,
avaricious, or penitential nature; but, however divergent their cause,
their object is identical–namely, to keep intact one’s individuality,
menaced by the disintegrating wear and tear of outward things. The
tendency of the modern world is to render one invertebrate, to pound
one’s character and opinions into a pulp. In self-defense one is
forced to reserve and to cultivate some hidden garden, wherein one’s
poor, battered individual me may walk in assuaging solitude and
recollection. Especially”–she looked bravely at Adrian through the
shaded light, while her long-armed, ungainly, rusty-gold figure, and
strangely wise face surmounted by that flaming top-knot, appeared to
him more than ever impressive–“especially, perhaps, is this the case
if that garden once represented–as my music possibly once did–a
Garden of Paradise in which one did not walk altogether solitary. But,
come. You want to speak to me. Let us go into the drawing-room and
have our talk there.”

“Let us talk, by all means,” Adrian put in, quickly, “but let it be
here, please. This room is sympathetic–full of splendid echoes good
for the soul.”

Anastasia’s expression softened yet more.

“That is charmingly said. We will stay here, since you wish it. The
sofa? Yes, this is my corner–thanks. And now, to be quite frank with
you, understand that I had lost count of time and you were inordinately
punctual, or you wouldn’t have caught me making music. And understand,
further, that had I not been unusually moved, by something which
occurred this afternoon, I should not have made music at all. I rarely
walk in the hidden garden now. As one grows older one has to economize
one’s emotions. They are too tiring, liable to endanger one’s sleep
afterward. But this evening circumstances, associations, were too
strong for me. The garden called to me and–I walked.”

Miss Beauchamp leaned back against the piled-up sofa cushions shading
her eyes with her left hand; and that hand must have been a little
unsteady, since Adrian heard the bracelets upon her wrist rattle and
clink.

“Shall I tell you what the something was which so moved me?” she asked.
“Unless I am greatly mistaken it is the main cause of our present
interview, so that to speak of it may help to make that interview
easier for us both.”

“Pray tell me.” Adrian felt curious as to what should follow; but his
curiosity was tempered by deepening respect.

“It comes to this, then, my dear young man, I think,” she said. “For
those who have once been acquainted with true love–I am not speaking
of mere sexual passion, still less of silly flirtations or wanton
amorettes–those who have once known that uniquely beautiful and
illuminating condition can neither forget nor mistake it. They carry
an infallible touchstone in their own eyes, and ears, and hearts. It
is my privilege to carry such a touchstone; and this afternoon–there,
there, don’t wince; quite, quite reverently and gently I put my finger
on the fact–I beheld true love again; but true love tormented and far
from happy. Wasn’t it so?”

“Yes,” Adrian replied, with a touch of bitterness, “it was.”

“And that brought certain events and experiences–your dear mother’s
sympathy and friendship among them–so vividly before me that I could
only come home here, to this practically deserted room, and make music,
as long ago, when another man, another true lover, sat where you now
sit. Do you follow me?”

Adrian’s heart was somewhat full. He bowed his head in silent assent.

“The ice is satisfactorily broken then? I am an old woman now. Many
people, I don’t doubt, describe me as a flighty, prankish old spinster,
who apes departed youth in a highly ridiculous manner.”

She no longer shaded her eyes with her hand, but looked full at Adrian,
through the quiet light, smiling–half sibyl, half jester, but, as he
felt, wholly wise, wholly kind.

“Such criticisms matter to me rather less than nothing,” she continued,
“since the hidden garden knows the why and wherefore of all that, and
more besides. And now, my dear boy, I have said enough, I think, to
show you that you can unburden yourself without reserve or hesitation.
You will not speak to me of an undiscovered country.”

But just then Adrian felt it difficult to speak. Coming to this woman,
he had found so much more than he had asked for or expected–namely, a
finding of high romance, of almost reckless generosity, which made him
feel humble, feel indeed quite quaintly ignorant and inexperienced. It
followed that, when he did speak, he did so in child-like fashion,
protesting his innocence as though needing to disarm censure.

“Believe me, I have not acted unworthily,” he said. “From the first I
was charmed, I was enthralled, but I made every effort to restrain
myself. Even in thought I was loyal to poor St. Leger. I did my best
to conceal my admiration–I kept away, as much as I could without
discourtesy. You see, her very perfection is, in a sense, her
safeguard, for how inconceivably vile to endanger the peace of mind of
so adorable a creature by any hint, any suggestion! It is only since
St. Leger’s death that I–”

“Yes, yes, I take all that for granted,” Anastasia broke in. “Doesn’t
it stand to reason, since we are talking of true love?”

And Adrian could not forbear to smile, notwithstanding his humbled
condition; the touch was so deliciously feminine in its assumption and
non-logic. Unless, by chance, she was laughing at him out of her
larger wisdom? Possibly she was. Well, she could do nothing but
right, anyhow–so he didn’t care! Whereupon he proceeded to pour forth
the history of his affection in all its phases, from its first
inception to the existing moment, with dramatic fervor, spreading
abroad his hands descriptively, while the sentences galloped with
increasing velocity and the mellow, baritone voice rose and fell.

“Ah! and can you not conceive it? After that dismal time in England,
burying the dead, contending with all manner of tiresomenesses, with
narrow-minded, over-strenuous, over-educated women and men–ye gods,
such men!–to come back, to see her, was like coming from some
underground cavern into the sunshine. She received me exquisitely. I
tasted ecstasy. I was transported by hope. Then, abruptly, her manner
changed; and that change did not appear to me spontaneous, but
calculated–as though, in obedience to some alien influence, she
unwillingly put a constraint upon herself. Since then I have
reconstituted the scene repeatedly–”

“My poor dear boy!” Anastasia murmured.

“Yes, repeatedly, repeatedly. I try to convince myself that her change
of manner was unwilling, not the result of caprice.”

“Madame St. Leger is not capricious.”

“I am sure of it. Her nature, at bottom, is serious. She reasons and
obeys reason. But in this case what reason? Not dislike of me? No,
no, my mind refuses such an explanation of her conduct. It would be
too horrible, too desolating.”

“Isn’t there another rather obvious explanation of Madame St. Leger’s
attitude–the fear of liking you a little too much?”

“But why should she fear to like me?” poor Adrian cried. “I am no
devouring monster! I have some talent, sufficient means, and no
concealed vices.”

And there the thought of René Dax invaded him, scorching him with
positively rampant jealousy and repulsion. For could this, which he
had just asserted regarding himself, be asserted with equal truth
regarding the Tadpole of genius? He knew very well it could not.
Still, even so, he shrank from the _rôle_ of treacherous friend or
detractor.

“She can be gracious enough to others,” he contented himself by saying,
gazing at his hostess meanwhile, his expression altogether orphaned and
pathetic.

“Dangerously gracious. And that is why I did all in my power to delay
your departure this afternoon, although I knew perfectly well you were
on the rack.”

“But, dear God in heaven!” he broke out, incoherently, burying his face
in both hands, “you cannot imply, you cannot intend to convey to me
your belief–”

“That Gabrielle St. Leger contemplates marrying that libelous little
horror, M. Dax? Never in life!”

Adrian got up and walked unsteadily–for indeed the floor seemed to
shift and lurch beneath his feet–across the room. Without the
faintest conception of what he was looking at, he minutely examined a
landscape hanging upon the opposite wall. He also blew his nose and
wiped his eyes. While Anastasia Beauchamp, her jaw set, leaning back
against the sofa cushions, very actually and poignantly walked in that
hidden garden of hers–once a Garden of Eden, and not an Adamless
one–wrapped about by remembrance.

After a time the young man came back and sat down beside her. His face
was white and his eyes were luminous.

“Most dear and kind friend, forgive me,” he said, very gently. “I have
climbed giddy pinnacles of rapture, and tumbled off them–plop–into
blackest morasses of despair to-day, and my nerves have suffered.”

“Ah! it has got you!” she returned. “I’m not a bit sorry for you. On
the contrary, I congratulate you. For you are very handsomely and
hopelessly in love.”

Adrian nodded assent, pushing up the ends of his mustache with a twist
of his fingers and smiling.

“Yes, yes, indeed I know,” he said. “It is a thing for which to be
immeasurably thankful. Yet, all the same, it has its little hours of
inconvenience, as I have to-day discovered. It can hold the field to
the exclusion of all else; and that with a quite demoralizing
intensity, making one feel murderous toward one’s oldest friends and,
in respect of one’s work, no better than a driveling idiot.”

“Such are inevitable symptoms of the blessed state. I still
congratulate you.”

“But you admit, at least, that they are practically extremely impeding?
And so, dear Mademoiselle, you whom my mother loved and who loved my
mother, you who have done so much to help and comfort me in the last
half-hour–will you do something more?”

“I suppose I shall,” Anastasia answered, with a laugh which was against
herself rather than against him. “I seem to be pretty thoroughly
committed to this business for–well, for two people’s sakes, perhaps.”

“Yes, for her sake also–for hers as well as mine,” Adrian cried,
impetuously. “Those few words are beautifully full of encouragement.
For see here,” he went on, “in some ways I am just simply an obstinate,
pig-headed Englishman. You permit me to speak quite freely? Loosing
her, I cannot console myself elsewhere. It is not merely a wife that I
want; having reached the age when a man should range himself a
well-bred, healthy, and generally unexceptionable mother for his
children! Don’t imagine that I would not like to make my subscription
to humanity in the form of charming babies. Of course I should. Still
those small people, however beguiling, are not to the point in this
connection. I am not in pursuit of a suitable marriage, but of–”

“_La belle Gabrielle_–only and solely _la belle Gabrielle_–that must
be conspicuously evident to the meanest intelligence,” Anastasia put
in, merrily. “But there, unfortunately, we run up against the crux of
the whole situation. For, it is only fair to tell you, our exquisite
young woman is even less in pursuit of a suitable marriage than you
yourself are. We have had some intimate conversations, she and I.
Don’t imagine for an instant your name, or any other name, has been
hinted at, much less mentioned. But she has been good enough to bestow
her confidence upon me, in as far as she bestows it upon any one.
Fundamentally she is a mysterious creature, and that’s exactly why, I
suppose, one finds her so endlessly interesting. And, from those
conversations, I gather her mind is set on things quite other than
marriage.”

“Ah! just Heaven–and what things, then?” poor Adrian exclaimed,
distraction again threatening him.

“She would, I think, have very great difficulty in telling you.”

Here distraction did more than threaten. It jumped on him, so that in
his agitation he positively bounced, ball-like, upon the seat of the
sofa.

“I knew it,” he cried. “I was sure of it. Almost immediately I
detected an alien and inimical influence intrude itself between us, as
I have already told you, and battle against me. And this was the more
detestable to me because I felt powerless to combat it, being ignorant
whence it came and what its nature actually was.”

Miss Beauchamp looked at him indulgently. And he, distraction
notwithstanding, perceived that her countenance once more had grown
sibylline. This served sensibly to quiet and steady him.

“I fancy that influence comes from very deep and very far,” she said.
“A woman of so much temperament and so much intelligence as Gabrielle
St. Leger must, of necessity, be the child of the age in which she
lives, in touch with the spirit of it. Her eyes are turned toward the
future, and the strange unrestful wind, the wind of Modernity, which
blows from out the future, is upon her face. This is the influence you
have to battle against, my dear young man, I am afraid, nothing less
than the Spirit of the Age, the spirit of Modernity. You have your
work cut out for you! To combat it successfully will be–to put it
vulgarly–a mighty tough job.”

“Like King David of old, I’d rather fall into the hands of God than
into those of man,” Adrian returned, with rather rueful humor.

“Is one so very sure they are the hands of the Almighty? Too often one
has reason to suspect they belong to exactly the opposite person–the
inspirer–namely, of so many of your friend M. René Dax’s unpardonable
caricatures. But there,” she added, “I don’t want to give place to
prejudice; though whether Modernity is veritably the highroad to the
state of human earthly felicity its exponents so confidently–and
truculently–predict, or not rather to some appalling and final
catastrophe, some Armageddon, and Twilight of the Gods, appears to me,
in the existing stage of its evolution, open to the liveliest question.
Fortunately, at my time of life one is free to stand aside and look on,
passively awaiting the event without taking part in the production of
it. But with Madame St. Leger, as with yourself, it is different. You
are on the active list. Whether you like or not, you are bound to
participate in the production of the event–and she, at least, is by no
means unwilling to do so.”

“But how, _chère Mademoiselle_, but how?” Adrian questioned.

“After a fashion you can hardly be expected to indorse
enthusiastically.”

Miss Beauchamp shaded her eyes with her left hand again, while the many
bracelets slipping up her thin wrist clinked and rattled.

“See here, my dear Savage,” she said, “among all the destructions and
reconstructions, the changes–many of them nominal rather than real,
and, consequently, superfluous–of which Modernity is made up, one
change is very real and has, I sincerely believe, come to stay. I mean
the widespread change in thought and attitude of my sex toward yours.”

“Feminism, in short.”

“In short, Feminism.”

A little silence followed. Then: “You take the dose very nicely,”
Anastasia said.

“Perhaps I take it so nicely because I am convinced it is innocuous.
On the other hand, perhaps I don’t take it at all. Really, I am not
certain which.”

He shifted his position, planting his elbows on his knees and his chin
in the hollow of his hands.

“The deuce, the deuce!” he said, softly, tapping one long-toed boot
meditatively upon the floor.

Miss Beauchamp watched him, amused, observant, making no comment.

“I am sorry,” he went on, presently. “It’s all moonshine, of course.
Nature’s too strong for them. In the end they must come into line.”

“Moonshine has often proved a very dangerous, because so very
intangible an enemy. And the end promises to be far off.”

“Yes, I am sorry,” Adrian repeated, “very sorry, we were over in
England I could understand. Women there have an excuse for revolt.
All Englishmen are pedants, even in their games, even in their sport.
They have been called a nation of shopkeepers. They might with equal
truth be called a nation of schoolmasters; not because they desire to
impart knowledge, but because they crave to exercise power and prove,
to themselves, their innate superiority by the chastisement of others.
Ah! I have witnessed plenty of that in the last month! Truly, they
are very disagreeable sons, husbands, and fathers, those middle-class
Britons, the schoolmaster, so to speak, permanently on top. And there
are not even enough of them to go round! Numerically they are
inferior; and this helps to feed their arrogance and inflame their
conceit. But even if there were enough, they wouldn’t–if I may so
express myself–go round. On the contrary, they would go in the
opposite direction, to their own selfish pleasures, their clubs, their
playing-fields, their interminable football, and cricket, and golf.”

“Hum–hum! What about the British flag you waved so vigorously five
minutes ago?”

“Did I? Forget it, then. It was a passing aberration. I repent and
wrap myself once more in the folds of the tricolor. Most distinctly
that is the flag under which a lover of your adorable sex should fight!”

“With the Gallic cock set symbolic at the top of the flag-staff?”

“And why not? Why not? Who can do otherwise than behold with approval
that smart, well-groomed, abundantly amatory, I grant you, but also
abundantly chivalrous fowl? His absence is, in a sense, precisely that
with which I quarrel on the other side of the Channel. It goes to make
the revolt of the Englishwoman comprehensible. Her countrymen’s
relation to her is so inartistic, so utilitarian, so without delicate
humor. We hear of her freedom from annoyance, her personal security.
But in what do these take their rise? Simply in her countrymen’s
indifference to her–to her emotions, her mentality, her thousand and
one delicate needs, elusive and charming necessities. If he thinks
about her at all, it is with the schoolmaster’s odious design of
correcting her faults, of improving her. The blatant conceit of the
animal! As if she could be improved, as if she were not perfect
already! But stay. There I pause to correct myself. The Englishwoman
is susceptible of improvement. And how? By being snubbed, depressed,
depreciated, grumbled at, scolded, made to think meanly of herself?
Never a bit.–She has suffered generations of that treatment already.
By being admired, reverenced, playfully delighted in, appreciated,
encouraged.”

Adrian spread abroad his hands with the most amiably persuasive
expression and gesture.

“Ah! believe me, dear friend,” he cried, “when Luther, the burly
renegade German monk; Calvin, the parchment-dry, middle-class Picard
lawyer, and English ‘King Hal,’ of grossest memory, conspired to depose
Our Blessed Lady from her rightful throne in heaven, they,
incidentally, went far to depose woman from her rightful throne here
upon earth. So that, small wonder, having no eternal, universal
Mother, whose aid and patronage she can invoke in hours of perplexity
and distress, the modern, non-Catholic woman is constrained to rush
around in prison-vans, or any other unlovely public vehicle which may
come handy, invoking the aid of parliamentary suffrage and kindred
dreary mechanical forms of protection against the tedious tyrannies of
arrogant, sullen, selfish, slow-witted, birch-rod-wielding, pedagogic
man. Yes, truly, as over there, I understand, I sympathize. But here,
where, though we may have tolerated, even invented, Revolution, we have
at least withstood that most time-serving and inartistic compromise,
Reformation–with an impudent capital letter–here, in the patrimony of
Chantecler, enveloped in the folds of the gallant tricolor, surely such
revolt is unreasonable, is out of place! For here are we not all
Feminists, every man-jack of us? _Chère Mademoiselle_, you know that
we are. What more, then, have the members of your adored sex to ask?”

And, for the moment, Anastasia Beauchamp’s usually ready tongue played
her false. The whirl of words had been somewhat overpowering, while,
through the whirl, his good faith was so transparently apparent, his
argument suggested rather than aggressively pressed home, so evidently
to himself conclusive, that a cogent answer was far from easy to frame.

“What more have they to ask?” she said, presently, smiling at him.
“Well, just those alluring, because new, untried and intangible
satisfactions which the Spirit of the Age promises so largely, and
which you, my dear Savage, if you’ll pardon my saying, don’t and can’t
promise at all.”

“The Spirit of the Age now, as so often in history, will prove a false
prophet, a charlatan and juggler, making large promises which he will
fail to redeem,” Adrian declared. “See, do not art, nature, the
cumulative result of human experience, combine to discredit his methods
and condemn his objects?”

“Convince Gabrielle St. Leger of that, and my thanks and applause will
not be wanting.”

“I will convince her,” Adrian cried, with growing exaltation. “I will
convince her. I devote my life to that purpose, to that end.”

And thereupon a certain solemnity seemed to descend upon and diffuse
itself through the quiet, lofty room, affecting both speaker and
listener, causing them to sit silent, as though in hushed suspense,
awaiting the sensible ratification of some serious engagement entered
into, some binding oath taken. In the stillness faint, fugitive echoes
reached them of the palpitating life and movement of the city outside.
The effect was arresting. To Adrian it seemed as though he stood on
the extreme edge, the crumbling, treacherous verge, of some momentous
episode in which he was foredoomed to play a part, but a part alien to
his desires and defiant of his control. While–and this touched him
with intimate, though half-ashamed, shrinking and repudiation–not
Gabrielle St. Leger, but Joanna Smyrthwaite appeared to stand beside
him imploring rescue and safety upon that treacherously crumbling
verge. His sense of her presence was so acute, so overmastering in its
intensity, that he felt in an instant more he should hear her flat,
colorless voice and be compelled–how unwillingly!–to meet the fixed
scrutiny of her pale, insatiable eyes.

Then, startling in its suddenness as the ping of a rifle-bullet, came a
very different sound to that of Joanna’s toneless voice close at hand.
For, with a wrenching twang and thin, piercing, long-drawn vibration
which shuddered through the air, shuddered through every object in the
room, strangely setting in motion that pervasive scent of cedar and
sandalwood, a string of the piano broke.

Miss Beauchamp uttered an angry, yet smothered, cry, as one who
receives and resents an unexpected hurt. And Adrian, alarmed,
agitated, hardly understanding what had actually occurred, turning to
her, perceived that her countenance again had changed. Now it was that
neither of sibyl nor of jester, but vivid, keen with fight. Yet, even
as he looked, it grew gray, grief-smitten, immeasurably, frighteningly
old.

Natural pity, and some inherited instinct of healing, made the young
man lean toward her and take her hand in his, holding and chafing it,
while his finger-tips sought and found the little space between the
sinews of the wrist where the tides of life ebb and flow. Her pulse
was barely perceptible, intermittent, weak as a thread.

Adrian took the other passive hand, and, chafing both, used this
contact as a conduit along which to transmit some of his own fine
vitality. His act of willing this transmission was conscious,
determined, his concentration of purpose great; so that presently,
while he watched her, the grayness lifted, her lips regained their
normal color, her pulse steadied and strengthened, and her face filled
out, resuming its natural contours. Then as she moved sat upright,
smiling, an unusual softness in her expression.

“Don’t attempt to speak yet,” he said, still busy with and somewhat
excited by his work of restoration. “Rest a little. I have been a
shameless egoist this evening. I have talked too much, have made too
heavy a demand upon your sympathies, and so have exhausted you.”

“Whatever you may have taken, you have more than paid back,” she
answered. She was touched–a nostalgia being upon her for things no
longer possible, for youth and all the glory and sweetness of youth.
“It is not for nothing that you are the son of a famous physician and
of a woman of remarkable imaginative gifts,” she went on. “You have
_la main heureuse_, life-giving both to body and spirit. This is a
power and a great one. But now that, thanks to you, my weakness is
passed we will not remain in this room. You said it was full of
splendid echoes, good for the soul. It is rather too full of them,
since one’s soul is still weighted with a body. I find them oppressive
in their suggestion and demand. Frankly, I dare not expose myself to
their influence any longer.”

Helped by Adrian, she rose and, taking his arm, moved slowly toward the
doorway.

“Sometimes, unexpectedly, the merciful dimness which holds our eyes is
broken up, giving place to momentary clear-seeing of all which lies
beyond and around the commonplace and conventional medium in which we
live. Unless one is rather abnormally constituted that clear-seeing is
liable to blind rather than to illuminate. Flesh and blood aren’t
quite equal to it. And so with the snapping of the piano string.
Doubtless the causes were simple enough–some peculiar atmospheric
conditions, along with the fact that the instrument has been unused for
many months. Still in me it produced one of those fateful instants of
clairvoyance. I knew it for the signing of a death-warrant. Not my
own. Thanks to the kindly ministrations of _la main heureuse_ the
signature of that particular warrant is postponed for a while yet. Nor
yours either, of that I am convinced. I cannot say whose. The
clear-seeing was too rapidly obscured by failing bodily strength. I am
not talking nonsense. This has happened twice before. The second time
a string broke my brother’s death followed within the year.”

“And the first time?” Adrian felt impelled to ask. His recent
expenditure of will-power had left his nerves in a state of slightly
unstable equilibrium which rendered him highly impressionable.

“The first time?” Miss Beauchamp repeated, lifting her hand from his
arm. “The death of that other true lover, who listened here to my
playing, of the friend who walked with me in the hidden garden,
followed the breaking of the first string.”

Adrian stepped forward and held aside the embroidered curtain, letting
her pass into the drawing-room. Here the air was lighter, the moral
and emotional atmosphere, as it seemed to him, lighter likewise. He
was aware of a relaxation of mental tension and a deadening of
sensation which he at once welcomed and regretted. He waited a few
seconds until he was sure that in his own case, too, any disquieting
tendency to clairvoyance was over and the conventional and commonplace
had fairly come back.

Miss Beauchamp passed on into the first room of the suite. Here the
lights were turned on and he found her seated at a little supper-table,
vivacious, accentuated in aspect and manner, flaming pagoda of curls
and frisky cinnamon-colored, sequin-sewn tea-gown once again very much
in evidence. But these things no longer jarred on him. He could view
them in their true perspective, as the masquerade make-up with which a
proud woman elected–in self-defense–to disguise too deep a knowledge,
too sensitive a nature, and too passionate a heart.

“Yes, sit down, my dear Savage,” she cried, “sit down. Eat and drink.
For really it is about time we both indulged in what are vulgarly
called ‘light refreshments.’ We have been surprisingly clever, you and
I, and have rubbed our wits together to the emission of many sparks! I
am not a bit above restoring wasted tissue in this practical
manner–nor, I trust, are you. Moreover, our lengthy discourse
notwithstanding, I have still five words to say to you. For, see, very
soon Madame St. Leger’s period of mourning will be over. She will
begin to go into society again.”

“Alas! yes.” Adrian sighed.

“You don’t like it? Probably not. You would prefer keeping her, like
blessed St. Barbara, shut up on the top of her tower, I dare say. But
doesn’t it occur to you that there are as insidious dangers on the
tower top as in the world below–visits from the little horror, M. René
Dax, for example? Anyhow, she will shortly very certainly descend from
the tower. For we are neither of us, I suppose, under the delusion she
has buried all her joy of living in poor Horace St. Leger’s grave.”

“I have no violent objection to her not having done so,” Adrian said,
with becoming gravity.

“That first descent after her long seclusion will be critical. She
will need protection and advice.”

“Her mother, Madame Vernois, is at hand,” Adrian remarked, perhaps
rather tentatively.

“Yes, a sweet person and a devoted mother; but a little conspicuously
with the outlook and moral standards of a past generation. She is at
once too charitable and too humble-minded to be a judge of
character–one born to follow rather than to lead–and, though a woman
of breeding and position, always a provincial. She followed Professor
Vernois as long as he was here to follow. Then she followed her noble
and needy relations away in Chambéry. Now she follows her beautiful
daughter. And the daughter, in the near future, is going to be a mark
for the archers–male and female. Already I have reason to believe
that archery practice has begun. The sweet, timid mother, though
perplexed and anxious, hasn’t a notion how to turn those arrows aside.”

Miss Beauchamp gazed into the shallow depths of her wine-glass.

“It’s an unsavory subject,” she continued, “and, I agree with you,
Feminism has next to no legitimate excuse for existence here. That is
just why, I imagine, it has allied itself with ideas and practices not
precisely legitimate. It makes its appeal to by no means the most
exalted elements of our very mixed human nature.”

“Ah! but,” Adrian broke out in a white heat of anger, “it is not
possible! Such persons would never presume–”

“They have already presumed. Zélie de Gand, helped by I don’t quite
know who, though I have my suspicions, has approached Madame St. Leger.
She is crazy to recover lost ground, to get herself and her clique
reinstated. Madame St. Leger’s beauty, brains, and her reputation–so
absolutely unsullied and above suspicion–represent an immense asset to
any cause she may embrace.”

“But need she embrace any cause?”

“My dear young man,” Miss Beauchamp returned, smiling rather broadly,
“you had better take it for said, once and for all, that a beautiful
young woman of seven and twenty, who is beginning the world afresh
after being relieved of a not entirely satisfactory marriage, is
perfectly certain to embrace–well–well–Something, if she doesn’t
embrace Somebody.”

Presently, after a silence, Anastasia spoke again, gently and seriously.

“I am altogether on your side,” she said. “But I cannot pretend it is
plain sailing for you. There is a reserve of enthusiasm in her nature,
an heroic strain pushing her toward great enterprises. It may be she
will suffer before she arrives, will be led astray, will follow
delusions. Her mind is critical rather than creative. She is disposed
to distrust her instincts and to reason where she had ten thousand
times better only feel. And, as I tell you, she looks toward the
future; the restless wind of it is upon her face, alluring, exciting
her. No–no–it is not plain sailing for you, my dear young man. But,
for Heaven’s sake, don’t let true love be your undoing, seducing you
from work, from personal achievement in your own admirable world of
letters. For remember, the greater your own success the more you have
to offer. And the modern woman asks that. She requires not merely
Somebody to whom to give herself, but Something which shall so satisfy
her brain and her ambitions as to make that supreme act of giving worth
while.”

Anastasia smiled wistfully, sadly.

“Yes, indeed, times have changed and the fashion of them! Man’s
supremacy is very quaintly threatened. For the first time in the
history of the human race he finds sex at a discount.–But now
good-night, my dear Savage. Whenever you think I can help you, come.
You will always be welcome. And–this last word at parting–do your
possible to keep that little horror away from her. In him Modernity
finds a most malign embodiment. Farewell.”

The gray lemur sat before the fire in a baby’s scarlet-painted cane
chair. He kept his knees well apart, so that the comfortable warmth,
given off by the burning logs and bed of glowing ashes, might reach his
furry concave stomach and the inside of his furry thighs. His long,
ringed tail, slipped neatly under the arm of the little scarlet chair,
lay, like a thick gray note of interrogation, upon the surface of the
black Aubusson carpet. Now and again he leaned his slender,
small-waisted body forward, grasping the chair-arms with his two
hands–which resembled a baby’s leather gloves with fur backs to
them–and advanced a sensitive, inquisitive, pointed muzzle toward the
blaze, his nose being cold. His movements were attractive in their
composure and restraint. For this quadrumanous exile from sub-tropic
Madagascan forests was a dignified little personage, not in the least
addicted, as the vulgar phrase has it, to giving himself away.

At first sight the lemur, sitting thus before the fire, appeared to be
the sole inhabitant of the bare white-walled studio. Then, as the eye
became accustomed to the dusky light, shed by hanging electric lamps
with dark smoked-glass shades to them, other queer living creatures
disclosed their presence.

At the end of the great room farthest from the door, where it narrowed
in two oblique angles under high, shelving skylights, in a glass
tank–some five feet by three and about two feet deep–set on a square
of mosaic pavement, goldfish swam lazily to and fro. In the center of
the tank, about the rockwork built up around the jet of a little
tinkling fountain, small, dull-hued tortoises with skinny necks and
slimy carapaces and black-blotched, orange-bellied, crested tritons
crawled. While all round the room, forming a sort of dado to the
height of above five feet, ran an arabesque of scenes and figures, some
life-size, some even colossal, some minute and exquisitely finished,
some blurred and half obliterated, in places superimposed, sketched one
over the other to the production of madly nightmarish effects of heads,
limbs, trunks, and features attached, divided, flung broadcast, heaped
together in horrible promiscuosity. All were drawn boldly, showing an
astonishing vivacity of line and mastery of attitude and expression, in
charcoal or red and black chalk, or were washed in with the brush in
Indian ink and light red. In the dusky lamplight and scintillating
firelight this amazing decoration seemed endowed with life and
movement, so that shamelessly, in unholy mirth, hideousness, and
depravity it stalked and pranced, beckoned, squirmed, and flaunted upon
those austerely snow-white walls.

For the rest, chairs, tables, easels, even the model’s movable
platform, were, like the carpet, dead black. Two low, wide divans
upholstered in black brocade stood on either side of the deep
outstanding chimney-breast; and upon the farther one, masked by a
red-lacquer folding screen, amid a huddle of soft, black pillows, flat
on its back, a human form reposed–but whether of living man or of
cleverly disposed lay figure remained debatable, since it was shrouded
from head to heel in a black silk _resai_, even the face being covered,
and its immobility complete.

On taking leave of Anastasia Beauchamp, Adrian Savage had found himself
in no humor either for work or for sleep. His search for the further
reason had led him a longer journey than he anticipated. And in some
of its stages that journey offered disquieting episodes. He admitted
he was still puzzled, still anxious; more than ever determined as to
the final result, yet hardly more clear as to how the result in
question might be obtained. There were points which needed thinking
out, but to think them out profitably he must regain his normal
attitude of mind and self-possession. So, reckoning it useless to go
home to his well-found bachelor apartments in the _rue de
l’Université_, he decided to walk till such time as physical exercise
had regulated both his bodily and mental circulation.

It happened to be the moment of the turn-out of theaters and other
places of entertainment, and, as the young man made his way down toward
the _Place de l’Opéra_, the aspect of the town struck him as
conspicuously animated and brilliant. His eyes, still focused to the
quiet English atmosphere and landscape, were quick to note the contrast
to these presented by his existing surroundings. He invited
impressions, looking at the scene sympathetically, yet idly, as at the
pages of a picture-book. Strong effects of light and color held the
ground plan, above which the tall, many-windowed houses rose as some
pale striated cliff-face toward the strip of infinitely remote,
star-pierced sky. It was sharply cold, and through the exciting tumult
of the streets he could detect a shrill singing of wind in telegraph
and telephone wires and amid the branches of the leafless trees. In
like manner, passing from the material to the moral plane, through the
accentuated vivacity of the amusement-seeking crowd, he seemed to
detect, as so often in Paris–is not that, indeed, half the secret of
her magic and her charm?–a certain instability and menace, a shrill
singing of possible social upheaval, of Revolution always there close
at hand awaiting her surely recurrent hour of opportunity.

To Adrian, after precedent-ridden, firmly planted, middle-class England
and the English, that effect of instability, that shrill singing of
social upheaval, proved stimulating. He breathed it in with conscious
enjoyment while negotiating thickly peopled pavements or madly tram-
and- motor-rushed crossings. For these dear Parisians, as he told
himself, alike in mind and in appearance, are both individual and
individualists with a positive vengeance, possessing not only the
courage of their physical types–and making, for beauty or the reverse,
the very most of them–and the courage of their convictions; but the
courage of their emotions likewise. And how refreshingly many are
those emotions, how variegated, how incalculable, how explosive! How
articulate, too, ready at a moment’s notice to justify their existence
by the discharge of salvos of impassioned rhetoric! If the English
might fairly be called a nation of pedants, these might, with at least
equal fairness, be called a nation of comedians; not in the sense of
pretending, of intentionally playing a part–to that affectation the
English were far more addicted–but in the sense of regarding
themselves and life from a permanently dramatic standpoint. Wasn’t it
worth while to have been away for a time, since absence had so
heightened his appreciation of racial contrasts and power of
recognizing them?

And there he paused in his pæan. For on second thoughts, were these
psychologic determinations so well worth the practical cost of them?
Is gain of the abstract ever worth loss in the concrete? His thought
turned with impatience to Stourmouth, to the Tower House and its
inhabitants, and to the loss of precious time which devotion to their
affairs had, in point of fact, caused him. Resultant appreciation of
psychologic phenomena seemed but a meager recompense for such
expenditure. For this absence had made him lose ground in relation to
Madame St. Leger. Miss Beauchamp intimated as much; intimated, too,
that while he lost ground others had gained it, had done their best to
jump his claim, so to speak, and had, in a measure at least,
succeeded–take Mademoiselle Zélie de Gand, for example.

Whereupon Adrian ceased to take any interest, philosophic or otherwise,
in the wonderful midnight streets and midnight people; becoming himself
actively, even aggressively, individualist, as he brushed his way
through the throng, his expression the reverse of urbane and his pace
almost headlong.

For who, in the devil’s name, had dared give that much-discussed,
plausible, very astute and clever, also very much discredited arrivist
and novelist–Zélie de Gand–an introduction to Madame St. Leger? Miss
Beauchamp owned to a suspicion. And then, yes, of course he remembered
last year meeting the great Zélie at René Dax’s studio! Remembered,
too, how René had pressed a short story of hers upon him for
publication in the Review; and had sulked for a week afterward
when–not without laughter–he had pronounced the said story quite
clearly unprintable. Did René, after all, represent the further
reason, not as aspirant to _la belle Gabrielle’s_ thrice-sacred hand
indeed; but as her mental director, inciting her to throw in her lot
with agitators and extremists, Feminists, Futurists, and such-like
pestilent persons–enemies of marriage and of the family, of moral and
spiritual authority, of all sane canons of art, music and literature,
reckless anarchists in thought and purpose if not, through defective
courage, in actual deed? Was this what Anastasia Beauchamp hinted at?
Was it against risk of such abominable stabling of swine in his own
particular Holy of Holies–for the young man’s anger and alarm, now
thoroughly aroused, tended to express themselves in no measured
language–she did her best to warn him?

Again, as earlier that day, a necessity for immediate and practical
action laid hold on him. Delay became not only intolerable, but
unpardonable. He must know, and he must also prevent this campaign of
defilement and outrage going further. Wherefore he bolted into the
first empty cab, had himself whirled to the _Boulevard du
Montparnasse_, and projected himself, bomb-like, bursting with protest
and indignation, into René Dax’s great, dusky, white-walled studio; to
find, in the stillness, nothing more pertinent to the matter in hand
than the gentle, gray lemur sitting in its scarlet-painted baby’s chair
before the fire, the orange-and-black blotched newts and small ancient
tortoises crawling upon the rock-work of the little fountain, while in
the glass tank the gleaming fishes swam lazily to and fro. Of the
owner of this quaint menagerie no signs were visible.

But neither René’s absence nor the presence of his queer associates
held Adrian’s attention more than a few seconds; for, upon an easel
facing him as he entered, placed where the light of the hanging lamps
fell strongest, was a drawing in red chalk, which at once fed his anger
by its subject and commanded his unqualified admiration by its
consummate beauty and art.

Nearly half life-size, the figure poised, the head slightly inclined,
proudly yet lovingly, toward the delicious child she carried on her
arm, Gabrielle St. Leger stepped toward him, as on air, from off the
tall panel of ivory-tinted cartridge paper. The attitude was precisely
that in which he had seen her this afternoon, when she told René Dax
the “door should remain open since little Bette wished it.” The two
figures were rendered with a suavity, yet precision, of treatment, a
noble assurance of line and faithfulness of detail, little short of
miraculous considering the time in which the drawing must have been
executed.–Yes, it was _la belle Gabrielle_ to the life; and alive–how
wonderfully alive! The tears came into the young man’s eyes, so deeply
did this counterfeit presentment of her move him, and so very deeply
did he love her. He noted, in growing amazement, little details, even
little blemishes, dear to his heart as a lover, since these
differentiated her beauty from that of other beautiful women, giving
the original, the intimate and finely personal note.

And then anger shook him more sharply than ever, for how dare any man,
save himself, note these infinitely precious, because exclusively
personal, touches? How dare René observe, still more how dare he
record them? His offense was rank; since to do so constituted an
unpardonable liberty, a gross intrusion upon her individuality. René
knew too much, quite too much, and, for the moment, Adrian was assailed
by a very simple and comprehensive desire to kill him.

But now a wave of humiliation, salt and bitter, submerged this unhappy
lover. For not only was that little devil of a Tadpole’s drawing a
masterpiece in its realization of the outward aspect of Gabrielle St.
Leger, but of insight into the present workings of her mind and heart.
Had not he apprehended and set forth here, with the clarity and force
of undeniable genius, just all that which Anastasia Beauchamp had tried
to tell him–Adrian Savage–about her? What he, Adrian,
notwithstanding the greatness of his devotion, fumbled over and
misinterpreted, René grasped unaided, and thus superbly chronicled!
For, here indeed, to quote Anastasia, Gabrielle’s eyes were turned
toward the future and the strange unrestful wind–the wind of
Modernity–which blows from out the future, was upon her face; with the
result that her expression and bearing were exalted, a noble going
forth to meet fate in them, she herself as one consecrated, at once the
embodiment and exponent of some compelling idea, the leader of some
momentous movement, the elect spokeswoman of a new and tremendous age.

Beholding all which, poor Adrian’s spirits descended with most
disintegrating velocity into his boots, and miserably camped at that
abject level. For though he might declare, and very honestly believe,
the idea in question, the movement in question, to be so much
moonshine, and the Spirit of the Age a rank impostor, how did he
propose to convince Madame St. Leger of that? The inquiry brought him
up as against a brick wall. Yes, Miss Beauchamp had been rather
cruelly right when she told him his work was cut out for him and would
prove a mighty tough job. For what, calmly considered, had he, after
all, to offer as against those alluring and immense
perspectives?–Really, when he came to ask himself, it made him
blush.–Only an agreeable, fairly talented and well-conditioned young
man–that was all; and marriage–marriage, an old story to Gabrielle, a
commonplace affair about which she already knew everything that there
is to know. Of course she didn’t know everything about it, he went on,
plucking up a little spirit again. Hers had been a marriage of
convenience; a marriage of reason. Poor Horace was by a whole
generation her senior. Whereas, in the present case, it all would be
so different–a great and exclusive passion, et cetera, et cetera. He
would have liked to wax eloquent, descanting upon that difference and
its resultant illuminating values. But his eloquence stuck in his
throat somehow. Himself as a husband–humor compelled him to own, with
a pretty sharp stab of mortification, this a rather stale and meager
programme as alternative to cloudy splendors of self-consecration to
the mighty purposes of Modernity and the Spirit of the Age.

“She is very beautiful, is she not, my Madonna of the Future?”

René Dax asked the question in soft, confidential accents. He stood at
Adrian’s elbow, clothed in a scarlet Japanese silk smoking-suit. Upon
his neat bare feet he wore a pair of black Afghan sandals. Uttering
little loving, crooning cries, the gray lemur balanced itself upon his
shoulders, clasping his great domed head with thin furry arms and
furry-backed, black-palmed hands, the finger-tips of which just met
upon the center of his forehead.

“I have been watching, from behind the screen, the effect she produced
on you. I have given up going to bed, you see. I wrap myself in
blankets and quilts and sleep here–when I do sleep–upon one of the
divans. It is more artistic. It is simpler. The bed, when you come
to consider it, is, like the umbrella, the mark of the bourgeois, of
the bourgeoise and of all their infected progeny. It represents, as
you may say, the battle-cry of middle-class civilization. The domestic
hearth? No, no. The domestic bed. How far more scientific and
philosophic a definition! Therefore I abjure it.–So I was lying there
on the divan in meditation. I am preparing illustrations for an
_édition de luxe of Les Contes Drolatiques_. It is not designed for
family reading. It will probably be printed in Belgium and sold at
Port Said. I lie on my back. I cover my face, thus isolating myself
from contemplation of surrounding objects, so that my imagination may
play freely around those agreeable tales. In the midst of my
meditation I heard you burst in. At first I felt annoyed. Then I
arose silently and watched the effect this portrait produced on you. I
was rewarded; for it knocked the bluster pretty effectually out of you,
eh, _mon vieux_? I saw you droop, grow dejected, pull your beard, wipe
your eyes, eh? And you deserved all that, for your manner was
offensive this afternoon. You treated me disrespectfully. Have you
now come to apologize? It would be only decent you should do so. But
I do not press the point. I can afford to be magnanimous, since, in
any case, I am even with you. My Madonna is my revenge.”

“I did not come to apologize, but to demand explanation,” Adrian began,
hotly. Then his tone changed. Truly he was very unhappy, very heavy
of heart. “You are right,” he added. “This drawing is your revenge.”

“You do not like my drawing.”

“On the contrary, I find it glorious, wonderful.”

“And it hurts you?”

“Yes, it hurts me,” he answered hoarsely, backing away. “I hate it.”

“I am so glad,” René said, sweetly. He put his hand behind his scarlet
back, and tweaked the tip of the lemur’s long furry tail affectionately.

“You hear, you rejoice with me, oh, venerable Aristides!” he murmured.

To which the little creature replied by clasping his head more tightly
and making strange, coaxing noises.

“But there,–for the moment my Madonna has done precisely what I asked
of her, so now let us talk about something else, _mon vieux_, something
less controversial. Why not? For here, after all, she is fixed, my
Madonna. She can’t run away, happily. We can always return and,
though she is mine, I will permit you to take another look at her.
So–well–do you remark how I have changed my decorative scheme since
you last visited me? Is it original, startling, eh? That is what I
intended. Again I felt the need to simplify. I called for plasterers,
painters, upholsterers. When they will be paid I haven’t a conception;
but that is a contemptible detail. I rushed them. I harried them. I
drove them before me like a flock of geese, a troop of asses. ‘Work,’
I screamed, ‘work. Delay is suffocation to my imagination. This
transformation must be effected instantly.’ For suddenly color
sickened me. I comprehended what a fraud, what a subterfuge and
inanity it is. Form alone matters, alone is permanent and essential.
Color bears to form the same relation which emotion bears to reason,
which sensation bears to intellect. It represents an attitude rather
than an entity. I recognized it as adventitious, accidental,
unscientific, hysterical. So I had them all washed out, ripped off,
obliterated, my tender, tearful blues and greens, my caressing pinks,
my luscious mauves and purples, my rapturously bilious, sugar-sweet
yellows, all my adorably morbid florescence of putrifaction in
neutral-tinted semi-tones, and limited my scheme to this harshly
symbolic triad. See everywhere, everywhere, black, white, red–these
three always and only–beating upon my brain, feeding my eyes with
thoughts of darkness, night, death, the bottomless pit, despair,
iniquity; of light, day, snow, the colorless ether, virtue, the child’s
blank soul, immaculate sterility. And then red–red, the horrid
whipper-in and huntsman of us all, meaning life, fire, lust, pain,
carnage, sex, revolution and war, scarlet-lipped scorn and mockery–the
raw, gaping, ever-bleeding, ever-breeding wound, in short, upon the
body of the Cosmos which we call Humanity.”

The young man’s affectation of imperturbability for once deserted him.
He was shaken by the force of his own speech. His voice rose,
vibrating with passion, taking on, indeed, an almost maniacal quality,
highly distressing to Adrian and altogether terrifying to the lemur,
which moaned audibly and shivered as it clutched at his forehead.

“Get down, Aristides,” he cried with sudden childish petulance.
“Unclasp your hands. You scratch. You hurt me. Go back to your
little chair. I am tired. I have worked too hard. The back of my
head stabs with pain. I suffer, I suffer so badly.”

He came close to Adrian, who, his nerves too very much on edge, still
stood before the noble drawing of Gabrielle St. Leger.

“I am not well,” he said, plaintively. “Certainly I have overworked,
and it is all your fault. Yet listen, _mon vieux_. Your affection is
necessary to me. Therefore do not let us quarrel. I own you enraged
me this afternoon. I did not want you just then.”

“Nor I you,” Adrian returned, with some asperity.

“And your manner was at once insufferably brusque and insufferably
possessive. I could not let it pass. I felt it incumbent upon me to
administer correction. But I would not descend to anything commonplace
in the way of chastisement. I would lay an ingenious trap for you. I
came straight home. I seated myself here. I set up this panel, and I
drew, and drew, and drew, without pause, without food, in a tense
frenzy of concentration, of recollection, till I had completed this
portrait. I was possessed, inspired. Never have I worked with such
fury, such torment and ecstasy. For I had, at once, to assure myself
of your sentiments toward the subject of that picture, and to read you
a lesson. I had to prove to you that I, too, amount to something which
has to be reckoned with; that I, too, have power.”

“You have commanding power,” Adrian answered, bitterly. “The power of
genius.”

“Then, then,” René Dax cried, “since you acknowledge my power, will you
consent to leave my Madonna alone? Will you consent not to make any
further attempt to interfere between her and me, to pay court to and
marry her?”

The attack in its directness proved, for the moment, staggering.
Adrian stood, his eyes staring, his mouth half open, actually
recovering his breath, which seemed fairly knocked out of him by the
amazing impudence of this proposition. Yet wasn’t it perfectly in the
part? Wasn’t it just exactly the egregious Tadpole all over? His mind
swung back instinctively to scenes of years ago in play-ground,
class-room, dormitory, when–while though himself exasperated–he had
intervened to protect René, a boy brilliant as he was infuriating, from
the consequences of some colossal impertinence in word or deed. And
that swing back to recollection of their school-days produced in Adrian
a salutary lessening of nervous excitement, restoring his
self-confidence, focusing his outlook, both on events and persons to a
normal perspective.

“So that I may leave the stage conveniently clear for you, _mon
petit_?” he inquired, quite good-temperedly. “No, I am sorry, but I’m
afraid I cannot consent to do anything of the kind.”

And then he moved away across the studio, leaving the egregious Tadpole
to digest his refusal. For he did not want to quarrel, either. Far
from it. That instinctive throw-back into their school-boy friendship
brought home to him how very much attached to this wayward being he
actually was. So that, of all things, he wanted to avoid a quarrel, if
such avoidance were consonant with restraint of René’s influence in a
certain dear direction and development of his own.

“Nothing will turn me from my purpose, _mon petit_,” he said, gently,
even gaily, over his shoulder. “Nothing–make sure of that–nothing,
nobody, past, present, or to come.”

He proceeded, with slightly ostentatious composure, to study the dado
of pictured figures rioting along the surface of the white distempered
walls. He had delivered his ultimatum. Very soon he meant to depart,
for it was no use attempting to hold further intercourse with René
to-night. Once you brought him up short, like this, for a greater or
lesser period he was certain to sulk. It was wisest to let him have
his sulk out. And–his eyes growing accustomed to the dusky
light–good heavens, how superbly clever, how grossly humorous those
pictured figures were! Was there any draftsman living who could
compare with René Dax? No, decidedly he didn’t want to quarrel with
the creature. He only wanted to prevent his confusing certain issues
and doing harm. Yet, as he passed from group to group, from one
outrageous witticism to another, the difficulty of maintaining an
equable attitude increased upon him. For it was hateful to remember
that the same hand and brain which had projected that heroic portrait
of Madame St. Leger was responsible for these indecencies as well.
Looking at some of these, thinking of that, he could have found it in
his heart, he feared, to take Master René by the throat and put an end
to his drawing for ever, so atrocious a profanity did such coexistence,
such, in a sense, correlation appear.

And then, moving on again, he started and drew back in absolute
consternation. For there, right in front of him, covering the wall for
a space of two yards or more, he came on a series of sketches–some
dashed in in charcoal, some carefully finished in red and black
chalk–of Joanna Smyrthwaite.–Joanna, arrayed in man’s clothing, a
slovenly, ragged jacket suit, sagging from her thin limbs and angular
shoulders; she bareheaded, moreover, her hair cropped, her face telling
of drink and dissipation, loose-lipped, repulsive to the point of
disgust in its weakness and profligate misery, her attitudes degraded,
almost bestial as she cringed on all fours or lay heaped together like
so much shot rubbish.

Adrian put his hands over his eyes. Looked again. Turned indignantly
to demand an answer to this hideous riddle. But his host had
disappeared. Only the gray lemur sat in its scarlet-painted baby’s
chair before the fire; and from off the tall white panel Gabrielle St.
Leger, carrying her child on her arm, stepped forth to meet the Future,
while the unrestful wind which blows from out the Future–the fateful
wind of Modernity–played upon her beloved face.

Joseph Challoner telephoned up to Heatherleigh from his office in
Stourmouth that, being detained by business, he should dine in town
to-night. This seemed to him the safest way to manage it, since you
never could be quite sure how far your servants didn’t shadow you.

He had put off dealing with the matter in question from day to day, and
week to week, because, in plain English, he funked it. True, this was
not his first experience of the kind; but, looking back upon
other–never mind about the exact number of them–other experiences of
like nature, this struck him as very much the most unpleasant of the
lot. His own moral and social standpoint had changed; there
perhaps–he hoped so–was the reason. In more senses than one he had
“come up higher,” so that anything even distantly approaching scandal
was actively alarming to him, giving him–as he expressed it–“the
goose-skin all over.” Yet, funk or no funk, the thing had to be seen
to. Further shilly-shallying was not permissible. The by-election for
the Baughurst Park Ward, vacant through the impending retirement of Mr.
Pottinger, was imminent. Challoner had offered himself as a candidate.
The seat was well worth gaining, since the Baughurst Park Ward was the
richest and, in many respects, most influential in the borough. To
represent it was, with a little adroit manipulation, to control a very
large amount of capital available for public purposes. Moreover, in a
year or so it must inevitably lead to the mayoralty; and Joseph
Challoner fully intended one of these days to be Mayor of Stourmouth.
Not only did the mayoralty, in itself, confer much authority and local
distinction, but it offered collateral opportunities of
self-advancement. Upon these Challoner had long fixed his thoughts, so
that already he had fully considered what course of action, in the
present, promised the most profitable line of investment in view of
that coveted future.

Should he push the construction of the new under-cliff drive, for
instance? But, as he argued, at most you could invite a Duke or
Field-Marshal to perform the opening ceremony–the latter for choice,
since it gives legitimate excuse for the military display, always
productive of enthusiasm in a conspicuously non-combatant population
such as that of Stourmouth. Unfortunately Dukes and Field-Marshals,
though very useful when, socially speaking, you could not get anything
better, were not altogether up to Challoner’s requirements. He
aspired, he in fact languished, to entertain Royalty. But under-cliff
drives were no use in that connection, only justifying a little
patriotic beating of drums to the tune of coast defense, and incidental
trotting-out of the hard-worked German invasion bogey. The first came
too near party politics, the second too near family relationships, to
be acceptable to the highest in the land. No, as he very well saw, you
must sail on some other tack, cloaking your designs with the
much-covering mantle of charity if you proposed successfully to exploit
princes.

And, after all, what simpler? Was not Stourmouth renowned as a health
resort, and are not hospitals the accredited highroad to royal favor?
A hospital, evidently; and, since it is always safest to
specialize–that enables you to make play with scare-inducing
statistics and impressive scientific formulæ, flavoring them here and
there with the sentimental anecdotal note–clearly a hospital for the
cure of tuberculosis–nothing just now more fashionable, nothing more
popular! Really, it suited him to a tee, for had not his own poor
little wife fallen a victim to the fell disease in question? And had
not he–here Challoner just managed not to put his tongue in his
cheek–had not he remained, through all these long, long years,
affectingly faithful to her memory? Therefore, not only upon the
platform, but during the private pocket-pickings he projected among the
wealthy residents of the Baughurst Park Ward, he could give a personal
turn to his appeal by alluding feelingly to the cutting short of his
own early married happiness, to the pathetic wreck of “love’s young
dream” all through the operation of that terrible scourge, consumption.
Yes, quite undoubtedly, tuberculosis was, as he put it, “the ticket.”

He remembered, with a movement of active gratitude toward his Maker–or
was it perhaps toward that quite other deity, the God of Chance, so
ardently worshiped by all arrivists?–the big stretch of common, Wytch
Heath, just beyond the new West Stourmouth Cemetery, recently thrown on
the market and certain to go at a low figure. Lying so high and dry,
the air up there must be remarkably bracing–fit to cut you in two,
indeed, when the wind was northerly. Clearly it was a crying shame to
waste so much salubrity upon the dead! True, Stourmouth already
bristled with sanatoria of sorts. But these were, for the most part,
defective in construction or obsolete in equipment; whereas his,
Challoner’s, new Royal Hospital should be absolutely up to date,
furnished, regardless of expense, in accordance with the latest costly
fad of the latest pathological faddist. No extravagance should be
debarred, while, incidentally, handsome measure of commissions and
perquisites should be winked at so as to keep the staff, both above and
below stairs, in good humor. Salaries must be on the same extensive
scale as the rest. Later, when a certain personal end had been gained,
it would be plenty time enough to placate protesting subscribers by
discovering reprehensible waste, and preaching reform and retrenchment.

Finally, Royalty should be humbly prayed to declare the record-breaking
institution open, during his, Challoner’s, tenure of office. He licked
his lips, not figuratively but literally, thinking of it. “Our
public-spirited and philanthropic Mayor, to whose generous expenditure
of both time and money, combined with his untiring zeal in the service
of his suffering fellow-creatures, we are mainly indebted for the
inception and completion of this truly magnificent charity,” et cetera,
et cetera. Let them pile on the butter, bless them–he could put up
with any amount of that kind of basting–until Royalty, impressed alike
by the magnitude of his altruistic labors and touched by the tragedy of
his early sorrow–for the sentimental personal chord should here be
struck again softly–would feel constrained to bestow honors on so
deeply tried and meritorious a subject. “Sir Joseph Challoner.”–He
turned the delicious phrase over in his mouth, as a small boy turns a
succulent lollipop, to get the full value and sweetness out of it. He
amplified the luscious morsel, almost blushingly. “Sir Joseph and Lady
Challoner”–not the poor little first wife, well understood, with the
fatal stamp of disease and still more fatal stamp of her father’s shop
upon her, reminiscences of whose premature demise had contributed so
tactfully to the realization of his present splendor; but the second,
the coming wife, in the serious courting of whom he thirsted to embark
immediately, since she offered such conspicuous contrast to the said
poor little first one both in solid fortune and social opportunity.

Only, unluckily, before these bright unworldly dreams could even
approximately be translated into fact, there was a nasty awkward bit of
rooting up and clearing out to be done in, so to speak, Challoner’s own
private back garden. And it was with a view to effecting such
clearance, quietly, unobserved and undisturbed, that he elected
to-night to eat a third-rate dinner at an obscure commercial tavern in
Stourmouth, where recognition was improbable, rather than a first-rate
one in his own comfortable dining-room at Heatherleigh.

After the consummation of that unattractive meal, he took a tram up
from The Square to the top of Hill Street, where this joins the
Barryport Road about three-quarters of a mile short of Baughurst Park
and the County Gates. Here, alighting, he turned into the maze of
roads, bordered by villas and small lodging-houses interspersed with
undeveloped plots of building land, which extends from the left of the
Barryport Road to the edge of the West Cliff. The late March evening
was fine and keen, and Challoner, whose large frame cried out for
exercise after a long day of sedentary employment, would have relished
the walk in the moist salt air had it not been for that disagreeable
bit of back-garden clearing work looming up as the ultimate purpose of
it.

In the recesses of his mind, moreover, lurked an uneasy suspicion that
he would really be very much less of a cur if he felt a good deal more
of one. This made him savage, since it appeared a reflection upon the
purity of his motives and the solid worth of his character. He stated
the case to himself, as he had stated it any number of times already,
and found it a convincingly clear one. Still that irritating suspicion
of insufficient self-disgust continued to haunt him. He ran through
the well-worn arguments again, pleading the justice of his own cause to
his own conscience. For, when all is said and done, how can any man
possessing an average allowance of susceptibility resist a pretty,
showy woman if she throws herself at his head? And Mrs. Gwynnie had
very much thrown herself at his head, pertinaciously coaxed, admired
and flattered him. Whatever had taken place was more than half her
doing–before God it was. He might have been weak, might have been a
confounded fool even; but then, hadn’t every man, worth the name, a
soft side to him? Take all your famous heroes of history–weren’t
there funny little tales about every one of them, from the Royal
Psalmist downward? If he, Challoner, had been a fool, he could quote
plenty of examples of that particular style of folly among the most
aristocratic company. And, looking at the actual facts, wasn’t the
woman most to blame? Hadn’t she run after him just all she knew how?
Hadn’t she subjected him to a veritable persecution?

But now Challoner found himself at the turn into Silver Chine Road, the
long, yellow-gray web of which meandered away through the twilight,
small detached houses set in little gardens ranged on either side of it
shoulder to shoulder, the walls of them shrouded by creepers, and their
lower windows–where lights glowed faintly through muslin curtains and
drawn blinds–masked by luxuriant growth of arbutus, escallonia,
euonymus, myrtle and bay. Now and again a solitary Scotch fir, relic
of the former moorland, raised its dense crown, velvet black, against
the sulphur-stained crystal of the western sky. Stourmouth is nothing
if not well-groomed and neat, so that roads, fences, lawns and houses
looked brushed up, polished and dusted as some show-case exhibit. Only
a misanthropic imagination could suppose questionable doings or
primitive passions sheltering behind those tidy, clean-pinafored,
self-respecting gray and red house-fronts, in their setting of trim
turf, beds of just-opening snowdrops and crocuses, and fragrant
glossy-leaved shrubs.

Joseph Challoner drew up and stood, in large vexation and worry,
contemplating the pleasant, well-to-do prospect. The alert calm of an
early spring evening held the whole scene. Faintly, in the distance,
he could hear a long-drawn murmur of wind in the Baughurst woods and
the rhythmic plunge of the sea. And he was aware that–still to employ
his own not very graceful vernacular–he funked the business in hand,
consciously and very thoroughly funked it. He had all the mind in the
world to retrace his steps, board the tram again and get home to
Heatherleigh. He took off his hat, hoping the chill, moist air might
cool his tall brick-dust-red face and bare head, while he fenced thus
grimly with indecision. For it had come to that–he had grown so
ignominiously chicken-livered–had he the pluck to go on or should he
throw up the game? Let the whole show slide, in short–Baughurst Park
Ward, record-breaking hospital, probable mayoralty, possible
knighthood, wealthy second wife, whose standing and ample fortune would
lift him to the top of the best society Stourmouth could offer–and all
for the very inadequate reason that a flimsy, flirtatious, impecunious
little Anglo-Indian widow had elected to throw her bonnet over the
windmills for his sake? To Challoner it seemed hard, beastly hard, he
should be placed in such a fix. How could he be certain, moreover,
that it was for his sake, and not mainly for her own, she had sent that
precious bit of millinery flying? What assurance had he that it wasn’t
a put-up job to entangle and land him, not for love of him himself, of
what he was, but for love of what he’d got?

Challoner dragged his handkerchief out of his shirt-cuff and wiped his
forehead. Of all his amatory experiences this one did, without
question, “take the cake” for all-round inconvenience and exasperation!

Of course, he went on again, picking up the thread of the argument, if
he could be convinced, could believe in the sincerity of her affection,
be certain it was he, himself, whom she really loved and wanted, not
just Heatherleigh and a decent income, that would make just all the
difference, put matters on an absolutely different footing and
radically alter his feeling toward her.

And then, with a horse-laugh, he spat on the ground, regardless of the
Stourmouth Borough Council’s by-law prohibiting “expectoration in a
public place under penalty of a fine not exceeding twenty shillings.”
The lie was so transparent, the hypocrisy so glaring, that, although no
stickler for truth where the truth told against him, he was obliged to
rid himself of this particular violation of it in some open and
practical manner. For he knew perfectly well that her love, whether
for the man or merely for his possessions, in no appreciable degree
affected the question. Not doubt as to the quality or object of Mrs.
Gwynnie’s affections, but rank personal cowardice in face of the
situation, kept him standing here in this contemptible attitude of
indecision amid the chill sweetness of the spring dusk.

Yet that coarse outward repudiation of inward deceit, if failing to
make him a better man morally, had emotionally, and even physically, a
beneficial effect. It braced him somehow, so that he squared his
shoulders, while his native bullying pluck, his capacity of cynically
measuring himself against fact and taking the risks of the duel,
revived in him.

For this shilly-shallying didn’t pay. And it wasn’t like him. Every
man has a soft side to him–granted; but he’d be hung if he was going
to let himself turn a softie all over! The smart of his own gibes
stimulated him wonderfully, so that in the pride of his recovered
strength of mind, and consciousness of his brawny strength of body, he
found himself growing almost sentimentally sorry for the fate of his
puny adversary. Poor little soul, perhaps she really was in love with
him!–Challoner wiped his face again with a flourish. Well, plenty of
people did call him “a splendid-looking man”! All the same, she’d got
to go under. She must be rooted up and cleared out. He was sorry, for
it’s always a nasty thing for a woman to be made to understand she is
only a side-show in a man’s life. Only if he meant to stand for the
Baughurst Park Ward–and unquestionably he did now mean to do so–his
address to the electors must be printed and distributed and his canvass
started within the week. Yes, no doubt very, very sorry for her, still
he was bound to make short work with this rooting up and clearing out
of poor Mrs. Gwynnie.

Nor did his election supply the only reason against further
shilly-shally. Here Challoner cleared his throat, while the brick-dust
of his complexion deepened to crimson. It was funny how shy the
thought of Margaret Smyrthwaite always turned him! But when once the
winding up of old Montagu Smyrthwaite’s estate was completed, he would
no longer have a legitimate excuse for dropping in at the Tower House
at odd hours, indulging in nice confidential little chats with Margaret
in the blue sitting-room or taking a _tête-à-tête_ stroll with her
around the gardens and through the conservatories. Miss Joanna did not
like him, he was sure of that. She certainly wouldn’t give him
encouragement. So time pressed, for the completion of the winding up
of the estate could not be delayed much longer. Montagu Smyrthwaite
had left his affairs in quite vexatiously good order, from Challoner’s
point of view, thereby obliging the latter to expend much ingenuity in
the invention of obstacles to the completion of business. His object
was to keep Adrian Savage out of England and away from his cousins as
long as possible. But the young man–with how much heartiness
Challoner consigned him and all his works and ways to regions
infernal!–might grow suspicious and run over from Paris just to hasten
matters. That would not suit Challoner’s little game in the least. He
must make certain of his standing with Margaret before that most
unwelcome descent of the enemy.

For the whole matter of Adrian Savage had become to him as the
proverbial red rag to a bull. By its irritating associations it acted
very sensibly upon him now, causing him to charge down the road
headlong, with his heavy, lunging tread. Had Adrian proved a bad man
of business, ignorant, careless, or bungling, Challoner felt his
superiority in other departments might have been more easily stomached.
But to find this highly polished man of the world as smart a business
man as his somewhat unpolished and provincial self rubbed him very
shrewdly on the raw. When, with an eye to a not impossible future, he
essayed so to jockey affairs as to secure some advantage to Margaret
Smyrthwaite, in the disposition of her father’s property, Adrian
invariably detected the attempted small swindle and promptly, though
politely, checkmated it.

Such encounters had occurred more than once; and both his own failure
and Adrian’s adroitness in disposing of them rankled so much still that
Challoner walked nearly half the length of Silver Chine Road absorbed
in disagreeable remembrance. Then the name on a gate-post, which
happened to catch his eye, acquainted him with the hardly less
disagreeable fact that he neared the end of his journey.

Ferndale–and he went on repeating the names of the houses as he passed
them, mostly by rote, occasionally refreshing his memory where the
light permitted by a glance at gate or gate-post. Ferndale, then
Ambleside, The Hollies, St. Miguel, Killarney, followed by Castlebar,
The Moorings, Peshawar, Mon Repos, Clovelly. And next, after crossing
the end of St. Cuthbert’s Road, Leicester Lodge, Fairlawn, Chatsworth,
Ben Nevis, Santander. Less than a year ago these same names had been
to him as mile-stones on love’s pilgrimage, each one of which brought
him a few steps nearer to a hotly coveted goal. Now he waxed sarcastic
at the expense of their far-fetched, high-flown titles. Take
Chatsworth, for instance–a forty-five-pound-a-year house, rates and
taxes included, with, at the outside, an eighth of an acre of garden to
it–could snobbish silliness go much farther?

But here was Robin’s Rest, capping the climax, in respect of its title,
by vulgar folly.

Challoner’s large, stiff-jointed hands came down roughly on the top bar
of the little white gate. He waited a few seconds, breathing rather
stertorously.

“Robin’s Rest–why not Joseph’s Coat?” he snarled, “a coat of many
colors. Convenient, that, when you happen to want to turn it, perhaps!
Now, no more squish-squash. Straight ahead–go in and win, and my best
wishes to you, Sir Joseph Turncoat.”

With that he swung the gate open and tramped up the path to the front
door, a certain bullying swagger in the carriage of his big person and
tall, upright head.

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