DE PROFUNDIS

“Just now he is quieter. I have a hope that he sleeps. But, _per
Bacco_, Monsieur, what a month, what a six weeks since I had the honor
of speaking with you last! My poor master all the while going from bad
to worse, becoming more exacting, more eccentric in his habits, showing
tendencies toward cruelty quite foreign to his nature. And to-day,
what a scene after you left! I had been on the alert all the
afternoon, since he displayed signs of febrile excitement. I remained
here, in the passage, not far from the door, prepared, notwithstanding
his violent prohibition, to enter the studio should any sound of a
disturbing character reach me. But his voice appeared calm. I trusted
the visit of the Signora–ah, _Dio mio!_ what charm, what divine
grace!–was producing a beneficial effect, soothing and pacifying my
poor master. Upon my honor, I declare to you it was only at the actual
moment of my admitting you those heartrending cries for help arose.
Then, afterward, pouring forth words which made even my ears tingle,
hardened old reprobate–the saints forgive me!–though I am, he rushed
upon the drawing of the Signora, which has been a glorious adornment of
our studio for so long, tore it from the easel and reduced it to a
thousand fragments, which–since I have not yet dared to remove
them–Monsieur will still find scattered upon the carpet. This work of
destruction had the effect of appeasing his fury. He flung himself
among the pillows of the divan, and has remained there ever since in a
silence which justifies the hope that he sleeps.”

The spare, bright-eyed, velvet-spoken Giovanni folded his hands as in
prayer.

“Monsieur will take command, he will intervene to help us? Otherwise a
catastrophe may ensue, and the unrivaled genius of my poor master may
be lost to the world.”

As Adrian crossed the dusky studio in the now fading light René Dax
moved among the cushions and raised himself on his elbow.

“_Mon vieux_, is that you?” he asked feebly. “They told me–they–it
does not matter who–some one told me you had come back. I am glad,
for I need attention. I apprehend some lesion of the brain. My memory
plays me false. This causes inconveniences. Something here, at the
base of my skull, seems to have given way, to have snapped. I think it
would be well that I should leave Paris for a time, and take a cure of
some description. It is not pretty”–he looked up at Adrian with a
child-like candor wholly disarming–“no, very certainly it is a far
from pretty request, but I shall be indebted to you if you will make it
your business to discover a private hospital for the insane–a
civilized one, mind you–where I can be accommodated with a comfortable
suite of rooms. I have money enough. My illustrations to the _Contes
Drolatiques_ will pay for this agreeable little jaunt. But civilized,
I repeat, where no objection will be made to receiving well-conducted
domestic animals, since I shall require to take both Giovanni with me
and Aristides the Just.”

Adrian sat down upon the divan. His speech was somewhat thick and
broken as he answered.

“Yes, _mon petit_. Rest content that I will do my very best to find
you such a place as you want.”

“And you will come often to visit me?”

“Indeed, I will come very constantly to visit you,” Adrian said.

René Dax raised himself higher and looked long and searchingly at his
friend from head to foot. The red lamp began to glow behind his somber
eyes again.

“You do not possess one-tenth of my talent,” he declared; “but you
possess ten times my physique. Therefore you will obtain. You will
prosper. You will lie soft. From the most fastidious to the vilest
all women are the same. The Moslems are right. Women have neither
soul nor intellect, only bodies, bodies, bodies. All they want in a
man is physique.”

His tone changed to a wheedling one. He crawled over the soft, black
silk cushions and put his arm coaxingly about Adrian’s neck.

“See, _mon vieux_, see, be amiable! Do not loiter. Come at once. Let
us search together diligently every corner, every nook. To recover it
would fill me with rapture; and there is still time before the
school-bell rings for class. Come. Help me to find my lost laughter,”
he said.

And at that moment, with a startling emotion of hope and of relief,
Adrian observed, for the first time, that the infamous drawings upon
the walls had been painted out, leaving the whole, from floor to
ceiling, white.

The drought was slow in breaking. Day after day ragged-headed thunder
pillars boiled up along the southeastern horizon; and, drifting
northward, inland, in portentous procession as the afternoon advanced,
massed themselves as a mighty mountain range against the sulky blue of
the upper sky. About their flanks, later, sheet lightning streaked and
quivered, making the hot night unrestful, as with the winking of
malevolent and monstrous eyes.

Owing to the lie of the land and the encircling trees, this aerial
drama was not visible from the Tower House. But the atmospheric
pressure, and nervous tension produced by it, very sensibly invaded the
great woodland. The French window of Joanna Smyrthwaite’s bedroom
stood wide open on to the balcony. She had drawn an easy-chair close
up to it, and, dressed in her white woolen _négligé_, sat there in the
half-dark. She left the _négligé_ unfastened at the neck, it being an
unsuitably warm garment to wear on so hot a night. She was aware it
caused her discomfort; despite which she wore it. The pristine
freshness of it was passed. It was slightly soiled, and the
knife-pleatings, losing their sharpness of edge, sagged irregularly in
places, like the bellows of an old concertina. More than once Mrs.
Isherwood had declared, “Miss Joanna ought to buy herself a new
wrapper, or at any rate let this poor old object go to the cleaners’.”
But Joanna refused, almost angrily, to part with it even for a week.
She gave no reason for her refusal, but locked the insulted garment
away in a drawer of her wardrobe, whence she extracted it with jealous
tenderness after Isherwood had left her at night. Then she wore it, if
but for half an hour; and, wearing it, she brooded, fondling her right
hand, which, upon two occasions, Adrian Savage had kissed.

At the opposite end of the lawn, in front of the tennis pavilion,
figures sauntered to and fro and voices were raised in desultory talk.
Amy Woodford giggled. The elder Busbridge boy whistled “Yip-i-addy,”
and, losing his breath, coughed. The odor of cigarettes mingled with
that of the trumpet-honeysuckle and jasmine encircling the pillars of
the veranda below the window. Joanna neither looked at nor listened to
the others. Her eyes were fixed upon the circle of fir-trees, where
the dense plumed darkness of their topmost branches met the only less
dense darkness of the sky. And she brooded. Once she kissed the hand
which Adrian Savage had kissed.

But the figures and voices came nearer. Amy Woodford, her Oxford
undergraduate brother, and the two Busbridge boys were saying
good-night. Their feet tapped and scraped on the quarries of the
veranda. Somebody ran into a chair, toppled it over, gave a yelp, and
the whole company laughed. These playful goings-on came between Joanna
and her brooding. She rose impatiently, crossed the room to her
bureau, lighted the candles, and sat down to write.

“_August 21, 190-_

“We are never alone. I try not to be irritable, but this constant
entertaining wears me out. It is contrary to all the traditions of our
home life. I cannot help thinking how strongly papa would have
condemned it. Even mamma would have disapproved. I fear I am wanting
in moral courage and firmness in not expressing disapproval more often
myself; but Margaret always imputes wrong motives to me and inverts the
meaning of that which I say. She cannot be brought to see that I
object on principle, and accuses me of a selfish attempt to shirk
exertion. She says I am inhospitable and elusive. She even accuses me
of being niggardly and grudging my share in the increased household
expenditure. This is unjust, and I cannot help resenting it.
Yesterday I remonstrated with her, and our discussion degenerated to a
wrangle, which was painful and unbecoming. To-day she has avoided
speaking to me unless positively obliged to do so. I feel I have
failed in regard to Margaret, and that I ought to have kept up a higher
standard since papa died and I became, virtually, the head of the
house. Margaret is entirely occupied with amusement and with dress.
This must be, in part, my fault, though dear mamma always feared
frivolous inclinations in Margaret. It is all very trying. I doubt
whether Marion Chase’s influence is good for her. I am sure Mr.
Challoner’s is not. Marion is fairly well educated, but is without
cultivated tastes. Mr. Challoner is not even well educated. They both
flatter her and defer to her wishes far too much. Other people flatter
her too, even serious persons, such as the Norbitons and Mrs. Paull. I
do not think I am jealous of Margaret, but I will scrutinize my own
feelings more closely upon this point.

“I am afraid the servants observe that she and I are not on happy
terms. This worries me. I dread the household taking sides.
Isherwood and Johnson, and, I believe, Smallbridge are quite faithful
to me. So is Rossiter, though I cannot help attributing that mainly to
her dislike of the increased work in the kitchen. But Margaret’s new
maid and her chauffeur–whose manner I consider much too
familiar–create a fresh element in our establishment. They both are
showy, and I mistrust the effect of their companionship upon the
younger servants. I no longer really feel mistress in my own house.
My position is rendered undignified. Sometimes I regret the old days
at Highdene, or here, before papa’s death. But that is weak of me,
even hypocritical, since it is dread of responsibility rather than
affection for the past which dictates the wish. I must school myself
to indifference, and try more earnestly to rise superior to these
worries. I must look forward rather than look back.”

Joanna laid down her pen, held up her right hand, kissed the back of it
just above the ridge of the knuckles, thrust it within the open neck of
her _négligé_ and, placing her left hand over it, pressed it against
her meager bosom.

“I must look forward,” she said half aloud. “‘Nothing is changed
between us.’ He told me so himself the night before he left. I must
rest in that.”

She got up and paced the length of the room for a while, repeating–“I
must rest in that, must rest in that.”

A sound of voices still rose from the garden, now a man’s and a woman’s
in low and evidently intimate talk. Joanna stood still. The note of
intimacy excited subconscious, unacknowledged envy within her. She did
not distinguish, nor did she attempt to distinguish, the words said.
The tones were enough. It got upon her nerves to hear a man and woman
speak thus. A little longer and she felt she should be unable to bear
it–she must command them to stop.

She went back to her bureau again. Here, at a distance from the
window, the voices were less audible. She sat down and forced herself
to write.

“This is the second dinner-party we have given, or, rather, which
Margaret has given, within a week. I absented myself, pleading
neuralgia, and remained up-stairs in the blue sitting-room. With the
exception of Marion and Mr. Challoner, it was a boy-and-girl party. I
do not feel at my ease in such company. I fail to see the point of
their slang expressions and their jokes, and I do not understand the
technical terms regarding games which they so constantly employ. No
doubt my dining up-stairs will be a cause of offense, but I cannot help
it. If Margaret invites her own friends here so often she must at
least contrive sometimes to entertain them without my assistance. I
will try to dismiss this subject from my mind. To dwell upon it only
irritates me.

“I really needed to be alone to-night. I live stupidly, from day to
day. I feel that I ought to have a more definite routine of reading
and of self-culture. I ought to spend the present interval in
educating myself more thoroughly for my future occupations and duties.
I will draw up some general scheme of study. And I will keep my diary
more regularly. I so seldom write now, yet I know it is good for me.
Writing obliges me to be clear in my intentions and in my thought. I
am self-indulgent and allow myself to be too indefinite and vague, to
let my mind drift. Papa always warned me against that. He used to say
no woman was ever a sufficiently close thinker. The inherent
inferiority of the feminine intelligence was, he held, proved by this
cardinal defect. I know my inclination has always been toward too
great introspection, and I regret now that I have not striven more
consistently after mental directness and grasp. I have been reading
the _Révue de Deux Mondes_ lately, feeling it a duty to acquaint myself
with modern French literature. The luminous objectivity of the French
mind impresses me very strongly–an objectivity which is neither
superficial nor unduly materialistic. When listening to Adrian I was
often struck by this quality–”

Joanna laid down her pen once more. She sat still, her hands resting
upon the flat space of the desk on either side the blotting-pad, her
head thrown back and her eyes closed. The voices in the garden had
ceased, and the silence, save for the shutting of a door in a distant
part of the house and the faint grinding of wheels and bell of a
tram-car on the Barryport Road, was complete. For some minutes she
remained in the same position, her body inert, her inward activity
intense. At last she raised her hands as though in protest, and,
bending down, fell to work upon her diary again with a smothered
violence.

“I have resisted the temptation to write about it till now. I have
been afraid of myself, afraid for myself. But to-night I feel
differently. I feel a necessity to refer to it–to set it down in
words, and to relieve myself of the burden of the ‘thing unspoken.’ On
former occasions when I have been greatly harassed and troubled I have
found alleviation in so doing.

“I want to make it quite clear to myself that I have never doubted
consideration for me, a desire to spare me distress and agitation,
dictated Adrian’s silence regarding his sudden and unexpected
departure. He knew how painful it would be to me to part with him,
particularly after our conversation regarding Bibby. Seeing how
overwrought I had been by that conversation, he wished to put no
further strain upon me. I want to make it quite clear to myself that
the letter he left for us with Smallbridge was all that good taste and
courtesy demanded. Yet it hurt me. It hurts me still. He took pains
to thank us for our hospitality and to express his pleasure in having
helped us through all the business connected with our succession to
papa’s property. He said a number of kind and friendly things. Few
persons could have written a more graceful or cousinly letter. I know
all this. I entertain no doubt of his sincerity. Still the letter did
hurt me. Margaret appropriated it. It was addressed to her as well as
to me, so, I suppose, she believed herself to have a right to take
possession of it. And I am not sure I wished to keep it. I could not
have put it with his other letters, since it only belonged to me in
part. Yet I often wonder what Margaret has done with it–thrown it
into the waste-paper basket most likely! And it is very dreadful to
think any letter of his has been thrown away or burned. Just because
it was only half mine I feel so bitterly about it. I am afraid I have
allowed this bitterness to affect my attitude toward Margaret; but it
is very painful that she should share, in any degree, the
correspondence which is of such infinite value to me. I do accept the
fact that he acted in good faith, without an idea how deeply so
apparently simple a thing would wound me. I excuse him of the most
remote wish to wound me. But I was, and am, wounded; and his letters
since then–there are five of them–have failed to heal the wound.

“It is dreadful to write all this down; but it is far more dreadful to
let it remain on my mind, corroding all my thought of him. Not that it
really does so. In my agitation I overstate. ‘Nothing is changed
between us.’ No, nothing, Adrian–believe me, nothing. Yet in those
last five letters I do detect a change. They have not the playful
frankness of the earlier ones. I detect effort in them. They are very
interesting and very kind, I know; still there is something lacking
which I can only describe as the personal note. They are written as a
duty, they lack spontaneity. He tells me he has been detained in
Paris, all the summer, by the illness–nervous breakdown–of a former
schoolfellow. He tells me of his continued efforts to trace Bibby.
But these are outside things, of which he might write to any
acquaintance. I read and re-read these letters in the hope of
discovering some word, some message, actual or implied, addressed to me
as me, the woman he has so wonderfully chosen. But I do not find it,
so the wound remains unhealed.

“Yet how ungrateful I am to complain! To do so shows me my own nature
in a dreadful light–grasping, impatient, suspicious. Innumerable
duties and occupations may so readily interfere to prevent his writing
more frequently or more fully! Why cannot I trust him more? Is it not
the very height of ingratitude thus to cavil and to doubt?”

Overcome by emotion, Joanna left the bureau and paced the room once
more, her arms hanging straight at her sides, her hands plucking at the
pleatings of her _négligé_. The heat seemed to her to have increased
to an almost unbearable extent, notwithstanding which she clung to her
woolen garment. Crossing to the washing-stand, she dipped a
handkerchief in the water and, folding it into a bandage, held it
across her forehead. She blew out the candles and, returning to the
open window, sank into the easy-chair. The sky remained unclouded, but
in the last hour had so thickened with thunder haze that it was
difficult to distinguish the tree-tops from it. Joanna gazed fixedly
at this hardly determinable line of junction. Presently she began to
talk to herself in short, hurried sentences.

“I know I told him I would wait. I believed I had strength sufficient
for entire submission. But I am weaker than I supposed. I despise
myself for that weakness. But I cannot wait. He is my life. Without
him I have no life–none that is coherent and progressive. My
loneliness and emptiness, apart from my relation to him, are dreadful.
And lately jealousy has grown shockingly upon me. I think of nothing
else. I am jealous of every person whom he sees, of every object which
he touches, of his literary work because it interests him–jealous of
the old schoolfellow whom he is nursing; jealous of Bibby, for whom he
searches; jealous of the very air he breathes and ground on which he
treads. All these come between him and me, stealing from me that which
should be mine, since they are close to him and engage his attention
and thought.”

Joanna stopped, breathless, and, closing her eyes, lay back in the
chair, while drops oozing from the wet bandage trickled downward and
dripped upon her thin neck and breast.

“Now at last I am honest with myself,” she whispered. “I have spoken
the truth–the hateful truth, since it lays bare to me the inner
meanness of my own nature. I no longer palliate my own repulsive
qualities or attempt to excuse myself to myself. I admit my many
faults. I call them by their real names. Now, possibly, I shall
become calmer and more resigned. The completeness of my faith in him
will come back. And then, some day in the future, when I tell him how
I repent of my suspicions and rebellious doubts, he will forgive me and
help me to eradicate my faults and make me more worthy of the wonderful
gift of his love.”

Then she lay still, exhausted by her paroxysm of self-accusation.

“Here you are at last! You do take an unconscionably long time saying
good-night! I nearly gave up and went indoors to bed.”

This chaffingly, from the terrace outside the veranda, in Marion
Chase’s hearty barytone.

“I imagine people in our situation usually have a good deal to say to
each other.”

Rustlings of silk and creakings followed, occasioned by the descent of
a well-cushioned feminine body into a wicker chair.

“And pray, how far did you go with him?” still chaffingly.

“Only to the end of the carriage-drive, and then into the road for a
minute to see the lightning. Really, it’s too odd–quite creepy.
Looking toward the County Gates, the sky seems to open and shut like
the lid of a box.”

“I shouldn’t mind its opening wider and giving us some rain. It’s too
stuffy for words to-night. And then he proceeded to walk back with
you, I suppose?”

“No, he didn’t, because I dismissed him. I can be firm when I choose,
you know; and I am sure it is wisest to begin as I mean to go on. I
intend to be my own mistress–”

“And his master?”

“Doesn’t that follow as a matter of course–a ‘necessary corollary,’ as
Joanna would say? Too, I didn’t want to run the risk of meeting any of
the servants coming in. He is liable to be a little demonstrative when
we are alone, don’t you know.”

“Margaret!”

“Well, why not? I take demonstrations quite calmly so long as they are
made in private. It would be silly to do otherwise. They’re just, of
course, part of the–”

“Whole show?”

“Yes, if you like to be vulgar, Marion, and quote the Busbridge boys–I
limit my quotations to Joanna–of the whole show.”

After a short pause.

“Maggie, did you settle any dates to-night? I thought he seemed
preoccupied, as if he meant business of some sort. You don’t mind my
asking?”

“Not in the least. He says he is bothered because his position is an
equivocal one.”

“So it is.” This very sensibly from Marion Chase. “People begin to
think you are simply mean to keep him dangling.”

“Do they? How amusing!”

“Not for him, poor beast.” And both young women laughed.

“He is wild to have the announcement made at once.”

“In the papers, do you mean?”

“Yes, The Times and Morning Post, of course, and two local ones. He
suggests the Stourmouth and Marychurch Chronicle and the Barryport
Gazette. I should have thought the Courier ranked higher, but he says
it’s not nearly so widely read as the Chronicle. Then we ought to put
it in a Yorkshire paper as well, I think.”

“How awfully thrilling!”

At first to Joanna, at the open window above, still laboring with the
aftermath of her gloomy outbreaks of passion, this conversation had
been but as a chirping of birds or squeaking of bats. Such slipshod
telegraphic chatterings between the two young ladies, obnoxious alike
to her taste and scholarship, were her daily portion. Joanna had
scornfully trained herself to ignore them. She could not prevent their
assailing her ears; but she could, and as a rule did, successfully
prevent their reaching her understanding.

To-night, however, strained and on edge as she was, her will proved
incapable of prolonged effort, and indifference was unsustainable.
Gradually the manner of the speakers and significance of that which
they said mastered her unwilling attention. Surprise followed on
surprise. She knew how the two friends talked in her presence. Was
this how they talked in her absence, disclosing–especially in the case
of her sister–an attitude of mind, let alone definite purposes and
actions, of which she had been in total ignorance? And–to carry the
question a step farther–did this connote corresponding ignorance on
her part in other directions? Was she, Joanna, living in worlds very
much unrealized, where all manner of things of primary importance
remained unknown to or misinterpreted by her?

The thought opened up vistas packed with agitation and alarm.
Self-defense admits few scruples; and it appeared to poor Joanna just
then that every man’s hand was against her. Living in the midst of
deceptions, what weapon except deceit–and in this case deceit was
tacit only–remained to her? Her sense of honor, and along with it the
self-respect in which the roots of honor are set, went overboard.
Instead of leaving the window and refusing to hear more, Joanna stayed.
A morbid desire to know, to learn all that which was being kept from
her, to get at the truth of these lives lived so close to her own, to
get at the truth of their opinion of her, seized upon her.

She took the moist handkerchief off her forehead, and, slipping
noiselessly out of her chair, knelt upon the rug laid along the inner
side of the window-sill, craning her neck forward so that no word of
the conversation might escape her.

“Personally, as I told him, I was in no particular hurry.”

“Pleasant news for him!” Marion Chase returned.

“But I’m not. There are several good reasons for waiting–our mourning
for one thing. And then the question of a house. Heatherleigh’s not
large enough, or smart enough–all very well for a bachelor
establishment, I dare say. What I should like is this house; but I
doubt whether Joanna would give it up, though it really is altogether
too extensive a place for her alone. I don’t mean that she could not
afford to keep it up. She could afford to; but it would be
ostentatious, ridiculously out of proportion for an unmarried woman.”

Joanna’s indignation nearly flamed into speech. She moved impatiently,
causing the chair behind her to scrape on its casters.

“What was that?” from Marion Chase.

“A fir-cone falling probably. It’s hotter than ever.–No, I haven’t
the smallest intention of not going through with this business; but I’m
in no hurry. Things are quite amusing as they are.”

“I believe you enjoy taking people in, you wicked old thing.”

“If keeping quiet about my own affairs is taking people in, I suppose I
do enjoy it. And then, of course, you see I am bound to tell Joanna
first. There’s no help for that–”

“Magsie, you know her windows are open? You don’t think we can be
overheard?”

“No; it’s all right. I looked when I came back. There’s no light.
Either she’s still in the blue sitting-room or she’s gone to bed. Too,
I must do her the justice to say Joanna is not the sort of person who
listens. She would consider it wrong.”

Joanna drew back and was on the point of rising. Again the chair
scraped.

“And then she would never condescend to listen to anything I might
happen to be saying. There is a compensating freedom in being beneath
notice!”

Joanna remained on her knees at the open window.

“I own I most cordially dislike the idea of telling her,” Margaret
continued. “I know she will be unreasonable and say things which will
lead to all sorts of disputes and disagreeables between us.”

“Oh! but she must know perfectly well already, only she means to make
you speak first,” the other returned. “It’s too absurd to suppose she
hasn’t spotted what’s been going on. Why, his state of mind has been
patent for ages. She can’t be off seeing.”

“I don’t believe for a single moment she does see. She’s so
frightfully self-absorbed and self-occupied. You know yourself,
Marion, how extraordinarily obtuse she can be. She lives in the most
hopeless state of dream–”

Joanna swayed a little as she knelt and laid hold of the folds of the
striped tabaret window-curtain for support.

“I know she always has been inclined to dream; but recently it has
grown upon her. For me to say anything to her about it is worse than
useless. She only sits upon me, and then we ‘have words,’ as Isherwood
says. At bottom Joanna is awfully obstinate. In many ways she reminds
me very much of papa; only, being a woman, unfortunately one can’t get
round her as one could round him. People are beginning to notice what
an odd, moody state she is in. Mrs. Norbiton said something about it
when they dined here on Monday. She said Joanna seemed so
absent-minded, and asked whether I thought she wasn’t well. And
Colonel Haig mentioned it to me the afternoon we had tea with him at
the golf club. That really led to his telling me what he had heard in
Paris.”

“Telling you–oh, I remember! What he had heard about Mr. Savage?”
Marion Chase remarked.

Joanna got on to her feet, went out on to the balcony, and hung over
the red balustrade into the hot, thick darkness.

“Margaret!” she called. “Margaret, I must speak to you. Please come
to my room. It is something urgent. Come at once.”

When Margaret Smyrthwaite entered her sister’s bedchamber she brought
the atmosphere of a perfumer’s shop along with her. Under the elder
and sterner reign scent-sprays and scent-caskets were unknown at the
Tower House, Montagu Smyrthwaite holding such adjuncts to the feminine
toilet in hardly less abhorrence than powder or paint itself. A modest
whiff of aromatic vinegar or of eau-de-Cologne touched the high-water
mark of permitted indulgence. But in the use of perfumes, as in other
matters, Margaret–so Mrs. Isherwood put it–“had broke out sadly since
the poor old gentleman went.” The intellectual streak common to the
Smyrthwaite family had from the first been absent in the young lady’s
composition; while the morbid streak, also common in the family, was
now cauterized, if not actually eliminated, by the sunshine of her
seven thousand a year. A North-country grit, a rather foxy astuteness
and a toughness of fiber–also inherited–remained, however, very much
to the fore in her, with the result that she would travel–was, indeed,
already traveling–the grand trunk road of modern life without
hesitation, or apology, or any of those anxious questionings of why,
wherefrom, and whither which beset persons of nobler spiritual caliber.

In the past few months she had shed the last uncertainties of girlhood.
She had filled out and was in act of blossoming into that which
gentlemen of the Challoner order, in moments of expansion, not without
a cocking of the eye and moistening of the lip, are tempted to describe
as a “d–d fine woman.” Now the light of the candle she carried showed
the rounded smoothness of her handsome neck and arms, through the
transparent yoke and sleeves of her black evening blouse, touched the
folds and curls of bright auburn hair upon her forehead, and brought
the hard bright blue of her eyes into conspicuous evidence. A
deficiency of eyelash and eyebrow caused her permanent vexation. This
defect she intended to remedy–some day. Not just at present, however,
as both Joanna and Isherwood were too loyally wedded to the aromatic
vinegar and eau-de-Cologne régime for such facial reconstructions to
pass without prejudiced and aggravating comment.

Advancing up the room, all of a piece and somewhat solid in tread, she
offered a notable contrast to Joanna, who awaited her palpitating and
angular, ravaged by agonies and aspirations, indignantly trembling
within the sagged knife-pleatings of her soiled white _négligé_. The
rough copy and _édition de luxe_, as Adrian had dubbed them, just then
very forcibly presented their likeness and unlikeness; yet, possibly,
to a discerning eye, the rough copy, though superficially so
conspicuously lacking in charm, might commend itself as the essentially
nobler of these two human documents.

“What is the matter, Joanna?” the _édition de luxe_ inquired. “Why
couldn’t you send Isherwood to say you wanted to speak to me? It’s
fortunate Marion’s and my nerves are steady, for your calling out gave
us both an awful start.”

“I did listen,” the other returned, in a breathlessness of strong
emotion. “I was sitting at the window in the dark when you began
talking. At first I paid no heed; but, as your conversation went on, I
found it bore reference to matters which you are keeping from me and
with which I ought to be acquainted. I found it concerned me–myself.
I offer no apology. I acted in self-protection. I listened
deliberately.”

Margaret laid the magazines and illustrated fashion papers, she carried
under her arm, upon the slab of the open bureau. She set down her flat
candlestick beside them, thus creating a triad of lighted
candles–unlucky omen!

“Then, Nannie,” she said, coolly, “you did something which was not at
all nice.”

The word stung Joanna by its grotesque inadequacy either to the depth
of her sufferings or of her transgression against the laws of honor.
To range at the tragic level, in relation to both, would have afforded
her consolation and support. Margaret denied such consolation by
taking her own stand squarely upon the conventional and commonplace.
Joanna’s transgression began to show merely vulgar. This compelled her
to descend from tragic heights.

“Am I to understand that you really are engaged to Mr. Challoner?” she
therefore asked, without further preamble.

“If you listened you must have gathered as much, I imagine,” Margaret
said.

“I did–I did, but I refused to believe it. I thought I must be
mistaken. I was unprepared for such news. It came to me as such a
shock, such a distressing surprise.”

“Really, it’s quite your own fault, Joanna,” Margaret returned. “What
did you suppose he’d been coming here for constantly?”

“Not for that–”

“Thank you!” Margaret said.

“You know I have always objected to his being here so much. I tried to
prevent it. I feared it might lead to gossip. I felt you did not
consider that seriously enough. It is so dreadful that what we do or
say should be commented upon. Until the business connected with the
property was settled I recognized a necessity for Mr. Challoner’s
frequent visits, but not since then, not for the last three months. I
am quite willing to admit his good points. I quite believe he has
served us faithfully in business.–Pray do not suppose I underrate his
services in that respect. But I never supposed he could presume to
propose to you, Margaret.”

“I don’t see anything presumptuous in his proposing. He admires me
very much. Is it such an unheard-of thing that he should wish me to
marry him?”

“No–no–but that you should give him encouragement.–For you must have
encouraged him–”

“And”–with disconcerting composure from the _édition de luxe_–“why
not?”

Joanna began to pace the room restlessly in her trailing draperies.

“Because–because”–she said–“your own instinct must tell you what an
unsuitable marriage this would be for you–for our parents’ daughter,
for my sister. I don’t want to be selfish, Margaret, but I have a
right to consider my own future to some extent; and Mr. Challoner–I
dislike to seem to deprecate him–it is invidious to do so–indeed, it
is intensely distasteful to me to point out his peculiarities–but when
I think of him as a brother-in-law–his antecedents, his standard of
manners and conversation strike me as so different to those to which we
have always been accustomed. I cannot avoid seeing this. It is so
very palpable. Others must see it too–members of our family, I mean,
with whom we are, or may in the future be, intimately associated.”

In her excitement clearness of statement failed somewhat. Margaret
stood listening, calmly obstinate, her head a little bent, while she
straightened the magazines and picture papers lying on the slab of the
bureau with her finger-tips.

“I didn’t for one moment imagine you would be pleased at my
engagement–that’s why I have not told you sooner. I was sure you’d be
disagreeable about it. And you are disagreeable, Joanna, very
disagreeable indeed. Like most people who plume themselves on being
very high-minded, you end by being very vulgar-minded and worldly. I
quite expected this tone from you; and so I put off telling you as long
as possible. Even now, you must remember, you have surprised my
confidence. I have not given it voluntarily. Useless discussions,
such as this, bore me.”

“Useless?” Joanna interrupted.

“Quite useless, unless I happen to change my mind, which I shall not
do. I have considered things all round. I have talked everything over
with Marion. You must make what you like of it, Joanna; but I am going
to marry Challoner.”

The scriptural Christian name annoyed her as suggesting possibilities
of humorous retrospect. The “mister” under existing romantic
circumstances savored of underbred, middle-class ceremony. So she
struck for the surname, pure and simple, thereby conferring, in some
sort, the noble conciseness of a title upon her admirer.

“I don’t share your very exalted opinions of our position and
importance,” she continued. “Papa was a successful Yorkshire mill
owner. Challoner is the head of a firm of successful South-country
solicitors. You talk of his antecedents. His father was a very
enterprising man, who built up the business here which he has carried
on and developed. Everybody in this part of England knows who
Challoner, Greatrex & Pewsey are. The firm’s reputation is above
suspicion. They opened a branch office four years ago at Southampton,
and one last year at Weymouth. Really, I can’t see what you have to
object to on the score of position, Joanna? Andrew Merriman’s
grandfather was only a mill-hand.”

“You need not have alluded to that,” the other cried, sharply. Then,
fighting for self-control, she added, “You know quite well it is a
marriage you would never have thought of making while papa was living.”

“And you know equally well, Nannie, it was utterly hopeless to think of
any marriage whatever when papa was alive. We hardly ever saw a man.
Papa snubbed every one who came near us. No one dared propose, even if
they wished to do so. Remember all the Andrew Merriman business?”

“Pray don’t refer to that again,” Joanna said.

“I only wanted to give you an instance–Nannie, would you mind sitting
down? It makes me so dreadfully hot to watch you roaming about in that
way. We could talk ever so much better if you would only keep
still.–And there is a great deal which has to be talked over some
time. As we have begun to-night, we may as well go on and get through
with it. The heat makes me fidgety. I’m not inclined to go to bed.”

Thus admonished, Joanna sank into the easy-chair once more. She
doubled herself together, working her hands nervously, ball-and-socket
fashion, in her lap. The perception that this was a new Margaret, a
Margaret wholly unreckoned with, grew upon her. And along with that
perception an apprehension of fronting things unknown yet of vital
significance, things which, when known, must inevitably color all her
future outlook, grew upon her likewise. As yet the screen of
ignorance, dense though impalpable as the dense thunder-thickened sky
there outside, interposed between her and those fateful things veiling
them. But Margaret, the new, composed, practical, highly perfumed
Margaret, was in act of drawing that screen aside. Then what would
she, Joanna, see? What concourse of cruel verities lurked behind,
waiting to jump on her?–Asking herself this, she shivered,
notwithstanding the heat of the atmosphere and of her woolen gown, with
premonition of coming chill–chill of loneliness, chill of disaster, of
which such loneliness was at once the bitter flower and the root.

Her sister had followed her to the window, and stood just within it,
nonchalant and comely, fanning herself with a little fan hanging by a
ribbon from her waistband. The silver spangles upon the black gauze
sparkled sharply in the candle-light, and the ebony sticks ticked as
she waved it to and fro.

“I do so wish you wouldn’t make a tragedy of all this, Nannie,” she
said. “But of course I knew you would, because you always think it
your duty to get into a wild state of mind over everything I say or do.
It would be so much more comfortable for both of us if you could get it
into your head once and for all that you’re not responsible for me in
any way. We are equals. We’re the same age–you always seem to forget
that–and I’m quite as competent to manage my affairs as you are to
manage yours. You have no authority over me of any description, legal
or moral, none whatsoever, you know.”

“I am only too well aware that I have failed to influence you,
Margaret,” Joanna returned, while waves of scented air, set in motion
by the black and silver fan, played upon her face. “I had been
thinking of that to-night, before I overheard your and Marion’s
conversation. I had been reproaching myself. I know we are the same
age; but our dispositions are different, and I have always occupied an
elder sister’s position toward you. It is very distressing to me to
realize how entirely I have failed to influence you. This contemplated
marriage of yours gives the measure of my non-success.”

“Oh! dear me! Influence–failure–really, you know, Nannie, you are
most awfully provoking!” the other exclaimed. “I don’t want to lose my
temper and be cross, but I am so frightfully sick of this whole
responsibility mania. It’s been the bugbear of our lives ever since we
were children. Papa and mamma sacrificed themselves and sacrificed us
to it, with the result that we’ve always been in an unnatural attitude,
like dogs trying to walk on their hind legs.”

“Margaret, Margaret!” Joanna protested, scandalized by the filial
profanity of the suggested picture.

“So we have, Nannie. And in what has this everlasting preaching of
responsibility ended? Why, simply in making papa believe he was doing
right by being rude and arrogant and dreadfully disagreeable over
trifles. In making mamma a hopeless invalid. In ruining Bibby, body
and soul, making him untruthful and dishonest, and inclined to do all
sorts of horrid, ungentlemanly things. Hush? No, I am not going to
hush, Joanna. You asked me to come here, and you asked me a question.
Now you really must listen till I have said all I have to say in
answer. I want to get it over. It’s far too unpleasant to go through
twice. And this mania about responsibility has been disastrous for you
too–you know that perfectly well. It has spoiled your life by keeping
you in a perpetual state of fuss and worry, and of dissatisfaction with
your own conduct and everybody else’s. As for me, it made me
hysterical and fretful, and deceitful too. How could one help being
deceitful when one was always dodging some silly trumped-up
fault-finding or bother? I believe it would have broken up my nerves
altogether if it had gone on much longer. And what on earth does it
all mean? What were we responsible for? Who were we responsible to?”
she went on contemptuously. “I don’t know. And I don’t believe you
know either, Joanna, if you would only use your common-sense and give
up worshiping words and phrases. The whole thing is nonsense, and
rather lying nonsense–just a pretending to oneself that one is better
and cleverer than other people. When you come to think of it, this
craze for superiority is so frightfully conceited! For who cares, or
ever has cared, whether we Smyrthwaites were intellectual, and
high-minded, and cultured, and well-read, and all the rest of it, or
not? In my opinion the system on which our parents brought us up, and
on which their parents brought them up, is nothing but an excuse for
self-adulation and pharisaism. I am sick to death of the whole thing,
and I mean to break away from it. And the simplest way to do so is to
marry Challoner. He’s about as far away from it all as anybody well
can be–just a modern, practical man, who cares for real things, not
for advanced thought, and reform, and political economy, and questions
of morals, and so on. He isn’t a bit intellectual. He only reads the
newspapers, or an occasional novel in the train when he’s traveling, I
am thankful to say. And, I am awfully glad he belongs to the Church of
England, for I mean to break with the Unitarian Connection, Joanna. I
don’t care about doctrine one way or another; but I can see how
narrow-minded and exclusive it makes people when they belong to a small
sect. Unitarians are always so frightfully pleased with themselves
because they believe less than other people. They’re always living up
to their own cleverness in not believing; and it does make them awfully
hind-leggy and boring.–And then, of course, being a Nonconformist cuts
one out of a lot. Socially it is no end of a disadvantage to one. It
didn’t signify so much in the North, but here it has stood horridly in
our way. Lots of nice people would have called on us when we first
came if we hadn’t been dissenters. And, please understand, I mean to
know everybody now and be popular. I should enjoy giving away prizes
and opening bazaars, and entertaining on a big scale, and taking part
in all that goes on here. It would amuse me. I can give large
subscriptions, and I mean to give them. As I say, I intend to be
popular and to be talked about. I intend to make myself a power in the
place. And then, Joanna, there’s something more–I dare say you’ll
think it necessary to be scandalized–but there’s this–”

She stopped fanning herself, and looked out into the hot darkness,
smiling, a certain luster upon her smooth skin and a fullness about her
bosom and her lips. Her voice took on richer tones when she spoke.

“I want to marry, and I mean to marry. I am nine and twenty, and I’m
tired of not knowing exactly what marriage is. So I’m not going to
wait, and hawk myself and my fortune about on the chance of a smarter
match. I have decided to be sensible and make the best of what I
have–namely, Challoner. I don’t pretend he is perfect. I take him as
he stands. After all, he is only just forty and he is in excellent
health. I care about that, for I dislike sickly people, especially
men. They’re always horridly selfish and fanciful. Either they
oughtn’t to marry at all or ought to marry hospital nurses.–Then
Challoner is making a good income. We’ve talked quite frankly over the
money question. And then–then–”

For the first time she showed signs of slight embarrassment, laughing a
little, pursing up her lips and fanning herself again lightly.

“Then,” she repeated, “he is desperately in love with me, and I enjoy
that. I want more of it. It interests and amuses me. It is exciting
to find one can twist a great, hard-headed fellow like Challoner round
one’s little finger; make him go hot and cold, grow nervous and all of
a tremor just by a word or a look. He is like so much dough in my
hands. I can shape him as I like. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to
please me. Oh! yes, he is desperately in love with me!”

This drawing back of the interposing screen and exhibition of the
Smyrthwaite tradition and system, stripped to the skin, stripped,
indeed, to an almost primordial nothingness, had been richly
distressing to poor Joanna. For was not she intrinsically the product
and exponent of the said tradition and system? Did it not stand for
the loom upon which the whole pattern of her character and conduct was
woven? In thus stripping the system, she was painfully conscious that
Margaret stripped her also to a like miserable nakedness and
nothingness. For, admitting the laws which she had been brought up to
reverence, and to obey which she had trained herself with such
unsparing diligence, were nugatory, what remained to her for guidance
or inspiration? Admitting her strenuously acquired mental attitude and
habit to be but senseless posturing, as of dancing dogs, how deplorably
she had wasted herself upon that which profiteth not! If the formative
processes of her education and culture represented nothing better than
laborious subscription to exploded fallacy, must she not make a return,
with all possible speed, upon whatever remnant of unalloyed instinct
and spontaneous purpose might still be left in her? But how to make
such a return? How to reform, to recreate, her attitude and outlook?

These questions assailed Joanna, bewildering alike in their
multiplicity and intricacy. The wheels of her over-taxed brain whizzed
and whirred. For the curse of the system-ridden, of the pedant, of the
doctrinaire, is loss of clear-seeing simplicity, of initiative, of that
power of direct and unaided action which is the reward of simplicity.
Stripped of encompassing precept and precedent, deprived of sustaining
prejudice, Joanna found herself naked and helpless indeed. She ran
wildly in search of fresh precept and precedent in which to clothe
herself. And found them, after a fashion normal and natural enough had
they happened to be grounded in fact instead of in most pitiful
illusion.

For as, distressedly watching her sister’s rather cynical exposure of
the family tradition, she asked herself–in face of the said
exposure–what to her, personally, remained, she answered that Adrian
Savage remained. And thereupon proceeded with all the intensity and
pent-up passion of her morbidly introspective nature to fling herself
upon the thought of that delightful young man and his matrimonial
intentions. Hounding out doubts, furiously repressing misgivings, she
grappled herself to belief in Adrian with hooks of iron, chained
herself to it with links of steel, drank from the well of splendid
promise which it offered to the verge of inebriety. In him she hailed
her savior. Adrian would make good the wasted years. Adrian would
teach her where she had been mistaken, and where her intelligence had
gone astray. Adrian would instruct and counsel her, would supply her
with a rule of living at once just and distinguished. Adrian would be
gentle to her errors–had he not shown himself so already on more than
one occasion?–would be sympathetic, playful and charming even in
merited rebuke. She heard his voice once again. Saw him, in his habit
as he lived, gallant, courteous, eager yet debonair; and seeing, her
poor heart spilled itself upon the ground like water at his conquering
feet.

Joanna could sit still no longer. Her agitation was too vital, too
overmastering. She left the chair by the window and began to roam to
and fro, her hands plucking at the pleatings of her dress, her pale,
prominent eyes staring fixedly, her lips parted, her expression rapt.

“‘Because thou art more noble and like a king,'” she quoted, silently,
turning to the sonnets from the Portuguese for adequate expression of
her emotion. “‘Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling thy
purple round me.'”

The consequence of all of which was that she paid scant attention to
the concluding portion of her sister’s comprehensive argument in favor
of her projected espousal of Joseph Challoner, and only awoke from the
state of trance induced by her access of Adrian-worship when the
repetition of Margaret’s assertion of the violent character of
Challoner’s affection and the slightly ambiguous laugh following that
assertion struck her ear. Then she turned upon the speaker with the
righteous wrath of one who hears sacred words put to unworthy uses.

“Desperately in love?” she said harshly. “And do you intend me to
understand, Margaret, that you are desperately in love with Mr.
Challoner in return?”

“Oh dear, no!” the lady addressed replied calmly enough. “Though if I
were, I see no occasion for your scolding me about it, Nannie.–What
does make you so restless and cross to-night? However, if you’re
determined to be uncomfortable, I’m not–so I shall sit down here in
your chair. Did you see the lightning then? No, I’m not the least
silly about Challoner; but then I should be very sorry to be silly
about any man. I don’t think it dignified for a woman to be in a wild
state of mind about her _fiancé_. It’s not nice. I like Challoner
well enough to marry him, and well enough not to mind his making love
to me. That’s quite sufficient, I think.”

Jealous curiosity pricked Joanna. She stopped in her agitated walk and
stood stretching out her right hand and gazing abstractedly at it.

“What–what precisely do you mean when you speak of his making love to
you, Margaret?” she said, in a thin, urgent whisper.

“Really, for a person who plumes herself upon being particularly
refined you do say the most singular things, Joanna!” the other
exclaimed, laughing. “You can hardly expect me to go into details.
Making love is making love.”

“Kissing your hand–do you mean?” Joanna gasped, in awestruck accents,
a dry sob rising in her throat.

“One’s hand? Why, anybody might kiss one’s hand. Challoner’s
proceedings, I’m afraid, are considerably more unrestrained than that.
But I positively can’t go into details. How extraordinary you are,
Nannie! Doesn’t it occur to you there are questions which one doesn’t
ask?”

Streaks of pain shot across the back of Joanna’s right hand, as though
it were struck again and again with a rod. Moaning, just audibly, she
thrust it within the open bosom of her white _négligé_, and laid her
left hand upon it, fondling it as one striving to soothe some sorely
wounded creature.

Margaret leaned back in the easy-chair, fingering her little fan, a
sleekness, a suggestion of almost animal content in her expression and
attitude.

“No, really I can’t explain any further,” she said, laughing a little.
“I’m quite hot enough as it is, and refuse to make myself any hotter.
You must wait till somebody makes love to you, I’m afraid, Nannie, if
you want to know exactly what the process consists in. An
object-lesson would be necessary, and I am hardly equal to supplying
that.”

Joanna’s roamings had taken her as far as the door leading on to the
gallery. She waited, leaning against it. The back of Margaret’s chair
was toward her, so that she was safe from observation. For this she
was not sorry, as the pain in her hand was acute, particularly upon the
spot where Adrian’s lips had once touched it. There it throbbed and
smarted, as though a live coal were pressing into the flesh. Her face
was drawn with suffering. She dreaded to have her sister ask what
ailed her. But that young lady’s thoughts were quite otherwise
engaged. She spoke presently, over her shoulder. Her voice sounded
curiously cozy.

“This evening, when he said good-by to me, Challoner lifted me right
off my feet when he was kissing me. He had never done so before. I
liked it. It showed how strong he is. I felt a wee bit nervous, but I
enjoyed it too. I revel in his strength. My ribs ache still.–There,
Nannie, is that little sample of love-making illuminating enough?”

And, leaning against the polished surface of the door, Joanna shivered,
nursing and fondling her burning hand.

The obscure psychological relation existing between twins necessarily
produces either peculiar sympathy or peculiar opposition of tastes and
sentiment. The record of these twin sisters was of the discordant
sort. Unspoken rivalry and jealousy had divided them. Unconsciously,
yet unremittingly, they had struggled for pre-eminence. At the present
moment, in Joanna’s case these feelings combined to produce a sensation
approaching active hatred. As she leaned shivering against her bedroom
door, in the oppressive warmth of the summer night, all her petty
griefs and grudges against her more attractive and popular sister
complained in chorus. As a child Margaret had been pretty and taking.
At school, though lazy and by no means clever, she had been petted and
admired. Such affection as Montagu Smyrthwaite was capable of
displaying he had displayed toward her. “Margaret was sensitive,
Margaret was delicate”–which meant that Margaret knew just when to cry
loud enough to excite pity; just when to announce tiredness or a
headache, so as to escape unwelcome exertion. She had, in short,
reduced the practice of selfishness–so Joanna thought–to a fine art.

And now, finally, to-night, not timidly with disarming apology, but
with flaunting assurance, Margaret dared to infringe
her–Joanna’s–copyright in the wonder-story of a man’s love, thereby
capping the climax of offense. Her transcript of the said story might
be of the grosser sort; yet on that very account it showed the more
convincing. No misgivings, no agonized suspense, no tremulously
anxious reading between the lines, were demanded. It was printed in
large type, and in language coarsely vigorous as Joseph Challoner
himself! Morally it repelled Joanna, although inflaming her
imagination with vague drivings of desire. Her whole poor being,
indeed, was swept by conflicting and but half-comprehended passions,
from amid the tempest of which this one thing declared itself in a
rising scale of furious insistence–namely, that Margaret should not
once again best her; that no marriage Margaret might elect to make
should endanger her own marriage with Adrian Savage; that by some
means, any means fair or foul, Margaret must be prevented tasting the
fullness of man’s love–never mind how poor an edition of love this
might be, how unpoetic, bow vulgar–as long as she, Joanna, was denied
love’s fullness. Yet so deeply were tradition and system ingrained in
her that, even at this pass, she paid homage to their ruling, since
instead of making a direct attack, and owning anger as the cause of it,
she tricked herself with a fiction of moral obligation.

“Margaret,” she began presently from her station at the door, speaking
with such self-command as she could muster, “I dislike alluding to the
subject very much. No doubt you will be annoyed and will accuse me of
interference; still there is something I feel I ought to say to you.
If I do not say it now, there may not be a suitable opportunity later.”

“Then pray say it now. As I have told you, I want to get the whole
thing thoroughly thrashed out to-night, so that we may avoid odious
discussions in the future. What is it, Joanna?”

“I can’t help observing that it is only since papa’s death Mr.
Challoner has paid you so much attention. Before then–”

Margaret rose and faced round upon the speaker. Her manner remained
composed, but her blue eyes held the light of battle.

“You mean it is not me, but my fortune, Challoner is in love with? I
quite expected you would tell me that, Joanna, sooner or later; but I
am bound to say it is not a very elegant compliment either to him or to
me.”

“I did not intend to bring such an accusation against him,” Joanna
protested. “It would be very dreadful to suppose any one’s affection,
any one’s choice, could be seriously influenced by the fact we have
money.”

“I’m afraid my views are less romantic than yours. It seems to me
quite natural money should prove an attraction–particularly in cases
where other attractions are rather wanting.”

For some reason Joanna felt the stroke of a rod across her hand again.
The pain excited her. She came forward a step or two.

“You do not give me time to explain myself, Margaret. Before papa’s
death Mr. Challoner’s name was very freely associated with that of Mrs.
Spencer. Both you and Marion Chase spoke of an engagement between them
as certain. Others spoke of it also. The probability of a marriage
was accepted. I cannot forget this.”

Margaret laughed.

“Really, it’s too funny that you of all people should champion wretched
little Mrs. Spencer! Why, Joanna, you invariably intimated she was
quite beneath your notice, and have lost no opportunity of snubbing
her. I’ve had to be nice, more than once, simply because I felt so
awfully ashamed of your rudeness to her.”

“I do not like her. She is unladylike. Still I think Mr. Challoner’s
change of attitude requires explanation.”

“Do you?” Margaret retorted. “Here is the explanation then. Simply
that Challoner is too kind-hearted to save himself at the expense of a
woman, even when she has treated him badly. He told me all about her
months ago. He felt I had better hear it from him, but he did his best
to excuse her. He showed wonderfully nice feeling about it all. I was
not prepared for his being so scrupulous, and it made me admire him.
For she is the sort of person who spends her time in extracting money
and presents from every man she can get hold of. Challoner admits he
was taken in by her at first, and was foolishly weak with her. She
pretended to be almost penniless, and worked upon his feelings so much
that he let her live in that house of his in Silver Chine Road, rent
free, for nearly two years. And when her demands became too
extortionate, and she persecuted him so disgracefully that he was
compelled in self-defense to get rid of her, he found her another house
at Marychurch, and, I believe, pays half the rent of it for her still.
I know he gave her sister, Beattie Stacey–who is engaged to an officer
on one of the Cape liners–a beautifully fitted traveling-bag as a
wedding present. Marion saw it only last week.–Those are the facts,
Joanna. I hope now your conscience is easy.”

She stood looking down, pressing back an upturned corner of the rug,
upon which Joanna had knelt earlier in the evening, with the pointed
toe of her beaded slipper.

“Of course I sha’n’t receive her,” she said. “I told Challoner my
magnanimity wouldn’t carry me as far as that after the abominable way
in which she’s exploited him. All the same, I’m rather grateful to the
wretched little woman. But for her I mightn’t have known how generous
Challoner could be. I really believe the satisfaction of rescuing him
from her clutches is among my chief reasons for accepting him–that,
and then, of course, Cousin Adrian Savage.”

With a sort of rush Joanna came close–the violence of some
half-starved creature in her pale eyes, her drawn face and her parted
lips.

“Adrian?” she cried. “Adrian? What possible connection can there be
between Cousin Adrian and your engagement to Mr. Challoner?”

For some seconds Margaret Smyrthwaite looked hard and thoughtfully at
her sister. Then, holding the skirt of her dress aside, she pressed
the upturned corner of the rug into place again with the pointed toe of
her slipper.

“I shall be so thankful,” she said, “when you give up wearing that
frightful old dressing-gown, Nannie. Decidedly, it is not as clean as
it might be, and it looks so horridly stuffy. I never have understood
your craze for hoarding–”

“But–but–Adrian?” Joanna insisted.

“Adrian? Surely you must have seen, Nannie? It’s just one of those
things which aren’t easy to put into words, but which I should have
thought even you must have grasped, though you are so different to most
people. I sometimes have wondered lately, though, whether you really
are so different to other people, or whether you’re only
extraordinarily secretive.–But, naturally having a young man like
Cousin Adrian staying so long in the house this winter, put ideas into
one’s head and made one think a good deal about marriage, and so on. I
took for granted papa had some notion of that kind when he appointed
Adrian his executor. He had a great opinion of him, and would have
liked him as a son-in-law–or fancied he would. Of course he wanted to
bring us together–that was the object of the appointment.”

“You think so?” Joanna questioned. Joy, anxious but great, arose in
her.

“I haven’t a doubt about it. All the same I couldn’t, out of respect
for papa’s wishes, make advances to a young man who showed quite
clearly he didn’t care a row of pins about me.”

“He was always kind and civil to you, Margaret,” Joanna interrupted
restrainingly. Jealousy folded its beating wings, betaking itself to
most unaccustomed repose.

“Civil and kind, I dare say. But–well, of course there are signs one
can’t mistake, unless one blinds oneself wilfully to their meaning.”

She tossed her head, her eyes hard and bright. Joanna’s expression
meanwhile became increasingly ecstatic.

“Yes, there are signs one cannot mistake–signs which it would be weak
and faithless to mistake,” she whispered.

“I don’t deny I felt rather enraged,” Margaret continued, too busy with
her own vexation to remark the other’s singular aspect. “I could have
been very much upset about it all if I had let myself go.”

“I am sorry,” Joanna murmured, touched by unexpected pity. “Indeed,
Margaret, I am sorry.”

“Oh, you weren’t to blame in any way, Nannie. And, you see, I didn’t
let myself go. I just turned my attention to Challoner. There is
nothing ambiguous about his admiration. And now”–she glanced
curiously at her sister–“now,” she continued, “as things have turned
out, I’m most uncommonly glad I didn’t allow myself to get into a state
of mind about Adrian.”

“As things have turned out?–I understand. I am pleased you do not
blame me, Margaret. Yes, as things have turned out!” Joanna repeated
excitedly.

For here, as she saw it, was the hour of her triumph, of assured and
splendid victory. The room seemed too small to hold her rapture.
Hardly aware of that which she did, she brushed past her sister–still
standing, fan in hand, beside the chair at the window–and went out on
to the balcony.

She required to be alone, so as to savor to the full the heady
sweetness of her own emotion. She wanted to forget every one,
everything, save that only. She wanted to abandon herself without
reserve to the thought of Adrian Savage; to gloat over every incident
of her intercourse with him, and project her imagination onward to the
closer, the continuous and exclusive intercourse of the future. For
had not Margaret’s confession–the more persuasive because reluctantly
made–amounted to an admission that Adrian’s affection belonged to her,
and to her only? Did it not supply reasonable confirmation of her
sorely tried faith in him, and ratify all her hopes by setting the seal
of witness upon the fact of his love for her?

Such was the meaning she read into the recent conversation, piecing
evidence together into a coherent whole. Never before had she been
absolutely certain. Now, as she told herself, she was certain–could
safely be so, in that Margaret had admitted the fact, if not in so many
words, yet implicitly. Her father’s wish and purpose had been that the
young man should marry one of his two daughters–Margaret had perceived
this. And she, Joanna, was the one he had chosen, thereby justifying
all her past efforts and labors, and rehabilitating the poor, cynically
denuded family system into the bargain. Was not the whole habit and
conduct of her life vindicated, inasmuch as it led to this superb
result? The years had not been wasted, but were, on the contrary, the
patient seed-time of this welcome harvest. She had been right from the
first, right in every particular, so that not upon her or her methods,
but upon those who differed from, undervalued, or slighted her rested
the onus of proof. And here the intellectual and moral arrogance
latent in Joanna Smyrthwaite’s nature upheaved itself mightily and
stood aggressively erect. Overweening self-esteem, as on giant wings,
sustained her. For to such disastrous inflations of pride are
introspective persons liable when they fail–as they do so frequently
fail–to discriminate between deeds and emotions, between the barren
power to feel and the fertile, the life-giving power to act! Of all
traps set by Satan for the catching of souls, the trap of “feelings” is
perhaps the wiliest and the worst. And into this trap poor Joanna
walked, head in air, careless of consequence. She felt deified, lifted
above the crawling, common ways of common men, defiant of all
opposition, all criticism; since, being the chosen and desired of him
whom she so dotingly worshiped, she became an object worthy of worship
in and to herself.

And the night–playing into the devil’s hands somewhat, as at times the
aspects of Nature will–in its windless silence and opaque, hot
darkness, appeared queerly reflective of and sympathetic to Joanna’s
mood of portentous self-exaltation. The planes rather than the forms
of all which composed the scene were perceptible. Joanna’s eyes
detected the slope of the veranda roof immediately beneath the balcony,
the flat outspread of the gardens and lawns, and the vertical palisade
of lofty trees encircling them; but no single object detached
itself–all were fused by and soaked in that thick broth of
thunder-smoke. And this heated obscurity she welcomed, because it
ministered to the sense of solitude and of aloofness which she craved.
Nothing visible interfered to distract her attention from herself and
the thought of her high destiny. Only once or twice the sky opened,
for the distant storm had moved westward, striking the black canopies
of the firs, their stems and many branches, into vivid and
instantaneous relief, while behind and above them, midway to the
zenith, lightning licked and flickered like some miracle of soundless,
sardonic laughter playing over the livid features of a corpse nine days
dead.

It was in the moment of one such disquieting celestial display that
Margaret Smyrthwaite, stifling an audible yawn, strolled on to the
balcony. She had gathered up her magazines and papers again, and
tucked them under her arm.

“If you don’t intend to come in and talk any more, Nannie,” she said,
rather irritably, “I may as well go. I’m getting frightfully sleepy,
and I’ve promised Challoner to motor him over to Weymouth to-morrow.
We make an early start. Too, Marion’s sure to be waiting to hear how
my talk with you has gone off, and I’ve a conscience about keeping her
up any longer.–Now, you do quite understand, don’t you, that I am
going to marry Challoner, and that opposition is absolutely no good?
It would look ever so much better, and be so very much more comfortable
for every one concerned, if you could only make up your mind to be nice
about it. You’re always saying how you hate people talking over our
affairs. Why give them occasion to talk then by being disagreeable and
contrary about a thing which is really no business of yours, and which
you are quite powerless to prevent?”

Contemptuously Joanna turned from contemplation of that strangely
flickering sky and contemplation of her own–subjective–glory. She
resented the intrusion of Margaret, with her perfumes and fashion
papers, her complacent utilitarianism, her motor-car and underbred
lover; but resented it half-pityingly, as the weakness of an inferior
being behaving according to the manner of its kind.

“I may be powerless to prevent your marriage,” she said, “still I most
deeply object to it. I cannot do otherwise. I consider it unsuitable
and most unfortunate. I cannot disguise from myself that it will stand
between us in the future and render intercourse difficult. There can
be little sympathy between two persons whose aims and interests are as
far apart as yours and mine must inevitably be. I feel it my duty to
mention this to you, Margaret, although I know that I have ceased to
exercise any influence over you. It is all very sad. It is painful to
me that you should repudiate our parents’ teaching, all the more
painful because I never understood as fully as I now do how noble that
teaching is, and how much it has done to form my character and tastes,
thus preparing me for the position and duties to which I am called.”

She drew her breath sharply, raising her hands to her forehead, greatly
moved by the thought of that high calling.

“This for us is the parting of the ways, Margaret,” she added, a
singular effect of dramatic tension in her manner, her pale ungracious
face and figure against the red-brick background of the house-front,
momentarily illuminated by a swift amazement of lightning rippling and
shuddering behind the fir-trees in the west. “The parting of the
ways,” she repeated. “You go yours, I mine. I deplore your choice.
Can I do otherwise, seeing how different my own prospects are? But as,
after due consideration, you have made that choice, all further
argument must, I fear, be wasted upon you.”

“Very well, then–there’s an end of the matter.”

As she spoke Margaret crossed the balcony, and, leaning upon the
balustrade, looked down into the gloom-shrouded garden. The
candle-light streaming outward through the open window touched her
shapely back and shoulders, and her bright, curled and folded, auburn
hair.

“There’s an end of it, then,” she repeated coldly, rather bitterly.
“We agree to part. You might easily have been kinder and nicer to me;
but I bear you no ill-will. I suppose you can’t help being
disagreeable. Certainly it’s nothing new.–Only, Nannie, though I
don’t want to upset you or make a quarrel, there is something I should
like to be quite clear about, because, I own, I’ve been half afraid
lately that you were getting yourself into a silly state over Adrian
Savage.”

She stood upright, looking full at Joanna.

“I know you’ve corresponded with him a good deal, so, of course, you
may know already. Colonel Haig told me. He met her in Paris, on his
way to Carlsbad, and was awfully smitten with her. Has Cousin Adrian
ever spoken to you about Madame St. Leger?”

Silence followed. A distinct menace was perceptible in Joanna’s tone
when she at last answered.

“I have never attempted to force myself into Adrian’s confidence. To
do so would be the worst possible taste under existing circumstances.
I should never dream of asking him questions regarding his–his former
friends.”

“Then you don’t know about Madame St. Leger, Nannie?”

“I do not know, nor have I the least wish to hear anything respecting
any acquaintance of Adrian’s, except what he himself may choose to tell
me.”

Joanna spoke violently, her back against the wall, both in the literal
and figurative sense.

“That’s all very proper, but I really think you ought to hear this. In
the end it may save everybody a lot of misunderstanding and worry. I’m
pretty sure Colonel Haig meant me to pass the information on to you.
That was why he told me.”

Joanna stretched her arms out on either side, the palms of her hands
toward the wall. As her fingers worked, opening and closing, her nails
gritted upon the rough surface of the brick.

“I do not wish to hear anything, Margaret, not anything,” she repeated
vehemently.

“But evidently there’s no secret about this whatever. Every one, so
Haig says, knows the whole story in Paris. The affair has been going
on for ever so long; only until Madame St. Leger’s husband died, of
course, there couldn’t be any question of marriage. I don’t mean to
imply the smallest harm. Haig says there never has been the slightest
scandal. But her husband was years and years her senior, and she is
very beautiful–Haig raves about her. I have never heard him so
enthusiastic over any one. And he was told Adrian has been in–”

“I refuse to hear anything more. I will not, Margaret–no–no–I will
not. This is a wicked fabrication. I do not believe it. It is not
true, I tell you–it is not true,” Joanna panted, her finger-nails
tearing at the brickwork.

“But what possible object could Haig have in repeating the story if it
wasn’t true? I’m awfully sorry to put you in such a fuss, Nannie, but
Haig believes it implicitly himself. There isn’t the least doubt of
that. And when one comes to think, it does explain Adrian’s behavior
when he was with us. One sees, of course, how improbable it is that a
young man like him should not have some attachment which–”

Joanna quitted the sheltering wall, and came toward the speaker,
holding up her hands–the finger-tips frayed and reddened–with a
threatening gesture.

“Go away, Margaret!” she cried passionately. “Go away! Leave me
alone–you had much better. This story is false–it is false, I tell
you. And I forbid you to repeat it. I will not listen. I will not
have it said. Go–or I may do something dreadful to you. Go–and
never speak to me again about this–never dare to do
so–never–never–do you hear?”

“Really, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Nannie,” the other
protested, half angry, half frightened. “I’m positively astonished at
your making such an exhibition of yourself–”

But Joanna laid hold of her by the shoulders, and pushed her back
forcibly through the open window, into the center of the quiet, softly
lighted room.

“Take your candle and go,” she said, and her face was terrible,
forbidding argument or rebuke. “This is a wicked falsehood, concocted
by some jealous person who is trying to alienate Adrian’s affection
from me. Who that person is I do not know. I had better not know. It
is all very cruel, very dreadful; but I want no explanations, or
questions, or advice. Above all I want no sympathy. I only want to be
alone.–And I warn you, Margaret, if you ever betray what has happened
here to-night I will take my own life. I shall be certain to find you
out sooner or later, and I will not survive betrayal, so my death will
lie at your door. Remember that, if you are tempted to gossip about me
with Mr. Challoner or Marion Chase.–And now, pray, go away, and leave
me to myself. That is all I ask of you. Don’t call Isherwood and send
her to me. I want nothing–nobody. If she came I should not let her
in. Go away–here is your candle–go away and leave me alone!”

Joanna locked the door behind her sister, came back to the middle of
the room and stood there motionless, her arms stiffly extended. She
had no words, no thoughts, but an ache through mind and body of blank
misery, at once incomprehensible and deadening from its very
completeness. Presently she blew out the lights. They irritated her
as showing her definite objects, her own reflection in the cheval glass
beside the dressing-table, her diary and silver writing-set upon the
slab of the open bureau, all the ornaments and fittings of her bedroom.
She called on the darkness to cover her, and to cover these things
also, blotting remembrance of them out. She needed to make her
loneliness more lonely, her solitude more unmitigated and absolute.

An intolerable restlessness seized on her. She began to range blindly,
aimlessly, to and fro. More than once she knocked against some angle
or outstanding piece of furniture, bruising herself; but she was hardly
sensible of pain. At last, treading upon the trailing fronts of her
pleated _négligé_, she stumbled, fell her length, face downward, and
lay exhausted for a time; then slowly dragging herself into a sitting
position, she remained there, massed together stupidly, upon the
floor–while, through the large, well-ordered, soberly luxurious house,
the clocks chimed the hours and half-hours, to be answered by the chime
of the stable clock out of doors.

As the night drew toward morning the lightning became faint and
infrequent behind the fir-trees in the west, for the drought still held
and the refreshment of rain would not be yet. But in the gray of the
dawn a cool breathing of wind came up from the sea. Then, for a minute
or so, the great woodland stirred, finding its lost voice; and the
tree-tops swayed, singing together to hail the sun-rising and the
coming day.

The cool draught of air sweeping in at the still open window aroused
Joanna somewhat from her stupor. In the broadening light she looked
about her. The room was in disorder–chairs pushed aside, a table
thrown down, well-bound books, fragments of a gold and glass bowl,
sprigs of lemon verbena and fading roses, the wallet in which she kept
Adrian Savage’s letters lying open, alongside its contents, scattered
broadcast upon the ground.

Joanna stared at these treasured possessions apathetically. She put up
her hands to push back her hair, which hung down in heavy strands over
her face and shoulders. Her fingers felt sticky. They pricked and
smarted. She examined them. The nails were nicked and jagged, in
places the tips were raw.

“I will wait until they have healed,” she said half aloud in her thin,
toneless voice, “then I will write to Adrian and ask him if it is true.
But I must wait till they are healed, I think. Now I had better sleep.
There is nothing else left for me to do.”

She staggered to her feet, walked unsteadily across the intervening
space and threw herself, unkempt and half-dressed as she was, upon the
fine embroidered linen sheets and delicate lace coverlet of the
satinwood bed.

“A thousand times welcome, my dear Savage!” Anastasia Beauchamp cried,
taking Adrian’s hand in both hers and looking up at him affectionately
from beneath a broad-brimmed brown hat crowned by a positive vineyard
of purple and white glass grapes and autumn foliage, the whole
inwrapped cloudily in a streaming blue gauze veil. “You have played
the good Samaritan quite long enough in my opinion, and it’s high time
you bestowed some attention upon the rest of us, though we are neither
insane nor conspicuously immoral. And here we all are, that’s to say,
all of us who matter, in this really quite tidy, comfortable hotel,
plus the amiable family Bernard, my devoted, despised little Byewater
and his compatriot Lenty B. Stacpole–note the inevitable transatlantic
initial, I beseech you! Clever, excellent fellows both of them, though
a trifle slight temperamentally. And here, to complete our circle, you
arrive as the God in the Car.”

Anastasia’s smile bore effective testimony to her appreciation of
Adrian’s handsome looks and gallant bearing.

“Yes, very much the God in the Car, my dear boy,” she repeated. “You
are the picture of health. Playing the good Samaritan, it must be
conceded, hasn’t damaged you.–And I honestly believe, though I won’t
swear to it for fear of committing an indiscretion, that every one,
every one, mind you–save possibly our excellent Americans, to whom
your near neighborhood may reveal their own temperamental
deficiencies–will be as genuinely happy to see you as I am myself.”

“Kindest and most sympathetic of friends,” Adrian returned, touched
both by her words and warmth of manner, “how inexpressibly good you are
to me!”

“I only pay an old debt. Your mother was good to me once–well–” She
caught at an end of her streaming veil and brought it to anchor under
her chin. “Well–when I stood in need of a wise and sweet counselor
very badly. And I never forget. Gratitude can be–mind, I don’t say
it always is, but it can be–a very delightful sentiment to
entertain.–But now you are expiring for a detailed account of a
certain dear lady. At this moment she is down on the beach with the
rest of our company. They will be back shortly for tea. So come here
with me on to the piazza, while we wait for them, and I’ll give you all
the news I can.”

Adrian, the brave song of the engines still in his ears, his eyes still
dazzled by the seventy-mile rush along the white roads of the rich and
pleasant Norman country, followed Miss Beauchamp and her somewhat
Bacchanalian headgear from the large, light-colored hotel saloon into
the arcade, found her a comfortable seat, and stationed himself beside
her.

From thence he commanded a comprehensive view of the opposite side of
the shallow valley, dotted with modest green-shuttered villas and
rustic chalets set in ledges of roughly terraced garden. Of the rutted
road, bordered by elms and sycamores, leading down from the fertile
uplands through the straggling gray village of Ste. Marie to the shore.
Of the high chalk cliffs forming the headland, which closed the view
westward, and the quarter-mile-wide sweep of grass running up the back
of it, stunted, bronzed oak and thorn thickets filling in the rounded
hollows. Of the curving beach, its rows of gaily painted wooden
bathing-cabins, and chairs arranged in friendly groups along the
fore-shore occupied by women in airy summer costumes,–their docile
men-kind, assisted in some cases by white-capped nurses, dealing
meanwhile with a slightly turbulent infant population upon the near
shingle and the dark mussel and seaweed covered reef of rocks just
below.

Upon that same friendly grouping of chairs Adrian’s glance directed
itself eagerly, seeking a feminine presence acutely interesting to him,
but without result. Open parasols and hats of brobdingnagian
proportions rendered their charming owners practically invisible.
Wistfully he relinquished the search. Then, looking at the scene as a
whole, his poetic sense was fired by the spaciousness and freedom of
the expanse of gleaming sands for which Ste. Marie is celebrated.
Furrowed in places and edged by rare traceries of blue shadow,
traversed by sparkling blue-green waterways, interspersed with broad,
smooth lagoons–where the rather overdefined forms of pink-armed,
pink-legged bathers, clad in abbreviated garments, swam, splashed, and
floated–the sands ranged out under a translucent clearness of early
afternoon sunshine to the first glinting ripples of the gently
inflowing tide. Farther still, along the horizon, the solid blue of
the intervening belt of deep sea melted, by imperceptible gradations,
into low-lying tracts of furrowed, semi-transparent opaline cloud.

Those gold and silver shimmering levels, washed by and rimmed with
heavenly blue, commanded Adrian’s imagination. He found the strong air
sweet to breathe, the keen scent of the brine pleasant to his nostrils.
Disease, age, death, and kindred ugly concomitants of human experience
lost their vraisemblance and meaning. Only glad and gracious things
were credible. These in multitude innumerable; and along with them,
making audible the note of pathos without which even perfect beauty
still lacks perfection, the haunting solicitation of the Beyond and of
the Unattained, forever beckoning the feet of man onward with the
promise of stranger and more noble joys hidden from him as yet within
the womb of the coming years.

Whereupon Anastasia Beauchamp, divining in some sort the trend of her
companion’s meditations, proceeded to pat him genially upon the arm.

“My dear young god, ‘come down off that roof right away,’ as little
Byewater would put it, and listen to my recital of sordid domestic woes
recently suffered by our _belle Gabrielle_.”

Adrian became practical, his nose at once pugnacious and furiously
busy, on the instant.

“Great heavens!” he exclaimed, “who has dared to offer her annoyance?”

“Mice, my dear Savage, beetles, and, to be quite plain with you,
drains. Yes, you may well make a grimace. That mild-looking little
chalet yonder across the valley–the one with the parterre of
marigolds–which she had rented without preliminary inspection, proved
a veritable pest-house. When I arrived in July–mainly with a view to
safeguarding your interests, since frankly I hold most seaside places
in abhorrence–”

“How can I ever be sufficiently grateful to you!” the young man
murmured fervently.

“I have no child–and–perhaps, at my age, even the ghost, even the
fiction, of motherhood is better than nothing.–But this is a
digression–sentimental or scientific, which? To return. I found
Madame Vernois nervous and debilitated, little Bette with a temperature
and sore throat, the indispensable maid Henriette drowned in tears and
sulks, and our poor, beautiful Gabrielle in a most admired distraction.”

Harrowed by which description, her hearer gave way to smothered
imprecations.

“Exactly. At the time I too made little remarks. Then I sniffed
once–twice. Twice was quite sufficient. Better sacrifice a month’s
rent than be poisoned. Without ceremony I bundled them over here, bag
and baggage, since when, dear creatures, they flourish. The Bernards,
who had taken the villa next door to the pest-house, also had cause for
dissatisfaction. They joined us. This addition to our party I could
have dispensed with. I entertain the highest respect for M. Bernard’s
acquirements, only I could wish he had learned early in life that
imparting information and making conversation are by no means
synonymous. Never am I alone with him for over five minutes but he
positively lapidates me with the remains of the architectural past.
Conversation should be interchange of opinions, ideas, experiences, not
a bombardment with facts which one is perfectly competent to read up
for oneself if one’s a mind to. Should you ever be tempted to start a
hobby–we none of us know what we may come to!–avoid archæology, my
dear Savage, I implore you, out of retrospective tenderness for my
sufferings during the last few weeks! Yes–and then I must record one
truly alarming episode. The great Zélie and a horde of her nauseating
adherents threatened a descent upon Madame St. Leger. Promptly I
engaged all the vacant rooms in the hotel–fortunately they weren’t
very numerous–until the peril was over-past.”

“You are not only the kindest and the most superb of friends, but you
are a great general. You should command armies,” Adrian declared.
“Forever shall archæology be anathema to me!”

“Saving the proposed raid of the objectionable Zélie, our history has
been of the simplest,” Anastasia continued. “People, pleasant and
unpleasant, have come and gone; we remain–and there’s the sum total of
it. Now tell me about yourself. How long do we keep you?”

“Alas, only until this evening. I must go back to Rouen, where my
letters await me. We have been moving daily from place to place, as
inclination suggested. To-morrow I must rejoin René Dax–for a few
days, a week probably, to observe how the new treatment prospers. It
is decided that he shall remain in the country-house, near Caen, of an
intelligent young doctor who has been in attendance upon him during our
touring. His man-servant, of course, is with him. And there he can
also have his pet animals.”

“Will he recover?”

Adrian raised his shoulders and spread out his hands.

“God knows!” he answered. “He is quite gentle, quite tractable. At
moments he is irresistibly entertaining. On his good days he composes
little poems of an exquisite fancifulness and fragility–iridescent
flowers as of spun glass. But whether he will ever draw or paint again
is an open question.”

“It is pathetic,” Miss Beauchamp put in musingly. “What a sequel to
his extravagant popularity!”

And both lapsed into silence, looking out across the immense expanse of
gleaming sands. Adrian was the first to speak. He did so with
uncertain hesitation.

“You said it was high time I came, _tres chère Mademoiselle_. Does
that imply that I have stayed away too long? I feared to be
precipitate, lest I might appear to take unfair advantage of the–”

“The studio escapade–precisely.”

“And employ it to further my own interests. On that account I have
resolutely effaced myself. To do so has constituted a severe penance;
but to do otherwise would, in my opinion, have shown an odious lack of
imagination and of delicacy.”

“I venture to doubt whether in affairs of the heart delicacy has not
more miscarriages of happiness to answer for than precipitancy! The
word too much, as between man and woman, is more easily forgiven than
the word too little.”

“It is inconceivable,” Adrian broke out hotly, all of a fume and a
fluster, “that Madame St. Leger should mistake my motives.”

“Take it from me, my dear Savage,” Anastasia replied, with a finely
humorous smile, “that exactly in proportion as a woman is indifferent
is she just and clear-sighted. Let her care for one of you tiresome
male creatures ever, yes, ever so little, and those praiseworthy
qualities suffer instant suspension. Reason and probability pick up
their petticoats and scuttle. She develops a positively inordinate
ingenuity in misconstruction and mistake.”

Adrian turned an eagerly inquiring countenance upon the speaker, his
whole soul in his eyes.

“But, dearest, most deeply valued friend, tell me, tell me, may I
believe that she does then care?”

And asking it he bared his head, instinctively doing homage to that
most lovely idea. Miss Beauchamp’s smile changed in character,
softening to a sweetness which held something of relinquishment and
farewell.

“Ah! the good years, the good years,” she said, “when love and all the
world is young!–May you believe that she cares, my dear boy? Well,
without its being the least unnatural, she very well might care, I
fancy. But you really must find that out for yourself. Listen–the
chirruping of the children. Here they all come.”

She rose and went forward; and Adrian, an odd tingling sensation in his
blood, went forward too and stood beside her under the central arch of
the arcade watching the little procession winding its way by the rough
path up the broken grass slope from the beach.

First, slender-legged, short-kilted, fresh as flowers, frisking
lambkin-like and chattering in high-pitched, clear little voices, came
Bette and her two little friends. Next M. Bernard, dignified, serious,
robust, wearing light-brown tweeds, Panama in hand, decidedly warm,
expounding, recounting, archæologically dilating to Madame
Vernois–refined, fragile, dressed in black–who leaned upon his arm.
At a little distance Madame Bernard, small, fair-haired, neat-featured,
pretty, inclining to stoutness, her person rigorously controlled by the
last word in corsets and clothed in the last word of mauve linen
costumes and mauve and white hats. She was not an ardent pedestrian,
and mounted laboriously with the help of a long-handled parasol,
uttering reproachful little ejaculations and complaints the while for
the benefit of the two young Americans, who, good-naturedly loaded up
with the ladies’ folding chairs, rugs and cushions, followed close
behind.

And there, apparently, was an end of the procession. Whereupon Adrian
turned to Anastasia with a deeply injured countenance and a quite
lamentably orphaned look in his handsome eyes.

“Madame St. Leger is not with them? What can have occurred? Where
then can she be?” he demanded, in tones of child-like disappointment
and distress.

“There–there!” Anastasia returned, merrily. “See, no ill-chance has
befallen your goddess, my dear distracted young god. Look–look–near
the cliff edge, to the right.”

Then noting the change which came over Adrian’s expression and bearing
as his eyes followed her pointing hand, Miss Beauchamp’s broadly amused
smile faded. She shook her head, sighed, turned away, while the witty,
large-featured face grew gray, aged, sibylline beneath the shadow of
her broad-brimmed, vine-crowned, slightly rampageous hat.

“Like to like,” she murmured. “However, others before now have gone
through that enchanted and perilous gate! Only may the Almighty permit
these two not to cram their romance into one flimsy, purple-patched,
paper-bound yellow-back, but print it openly and honestly in three
good, stout volumes, of which all save the first twenty or thirty pages
deal with the married state.”

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