IN THE TRACK OF THE BRAIN-STORM

Some half-hour later Adrian turned into the garden of the Tower House
by the wicket gate opening off the carriage-drive. And so doing, the
tranquil beauty of the night made itself felt. During his walk from
Heatherleigh his preoccupation had been too great to admit of the
bestowal of intelligent attention upon outward things, however poetic
their aspect. He possessed the comfortable assurance, it is true, of
having worsted the animal Challoner in the only way possible, swords
and pistols being forbidden. He also possessed the comfortable
assurance of having scrupulously and successfully regulated the
_affaire_ Smyrthwaite, in as far as business was concerned, and taken
his discharge in respect of it. But the events of the afternoon had
proved to him, beyond all shadow of doubt and denial, the existence of
a second _affaire_ Smyrthwaite, compared with which regulation of
hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of property was, from his
personal standpoint, but the veriest bagatelle! Now the question of
how to deal with this second _affaire_, alike scrupulously and
successfully, racked his brain, usually so direct in decision, so
prompt in honorable instinct and thought. And it was to the young
man’s credit that, while fully measuring the abominable nature of the
hole in which the unhappy Joanna had put him, he remained just and
temperate in his judgment of Joanna herself. The more to his credit,
because, as a native of a country where certain subjects are treated in
a spirit of merry common-sense–which, if it makes in some degree for
license, also makes for absence of hypocrisy and much wholesome delight
in life–Joanna’s attitude offered an obscure problem. Were she a
vicious woman his position would be a comparatively simple one. But
Joanna and vice were, he felt, far as the poles asunder. Even that
ugly matter of “trying to buy him”–as in his first overwhelming
disgust he had defined it–proved, on calmer inspection, innocent of
any intention of offense. She didn’t know, poor, dear woman, she
didn’t know. In her virtuous ignorance of certain fundamental
tendencies of human nature, of the correlative action of body and
spirit, she had not a conception of the atrocities she was in process
of committing! For she was essentially high-minded, deep-hearted,
sincere; a positive slave to the demands of her own overdeveloped moral
sense. But, heavens and earth, if only those responsible for her
education had taught her a little more about the nature of the _genus
homo_–male and female–and the physiology of her own emotions, and a
little less about quite supererogatory theoretic ethics! The burning,
though veiled, passion from which he recoiled was, he believed, in
great measure the result of the narrow intellectualism on which she had
been nurtured working upon a naturally ardent temperament. What she
must have suffered! What she would suffer in the coming days!

For it was that last which hit Adrian hardest, in all this distracting
imbroglio, giving him that “uncommon nasty blow below the belt” the
effects of which Joseph Challoner had noted. The more he analyzed,
and, analyzing, excused, Joanna’s attitude the more odiously
distasteful did his own position become. In how far was he to blame?
What had he done, by word, act, or look, to provoke or to foster
Joanna’s most lamentable infatuation? He explored his memory, and, to
his rather bitter amusement, found it an absolute blank. He had not
flirted with her, even within the most restrained of the limits
sanctioned by ordinary social intercourse. For this he did not commend
himself. On the contrary, he felt almost penitent; since–there hadn’t
been any temptation to flirt. Positively not any–though Adrian knew
himself to be by no means insensible to feminine influence. He loved
Madame St. Leger. She constituted, so to speak, the religion of his
heart. But he found dozens of other women charming, and did not
scruple to–as good as–tell them so.–Why not? Are not such tellings
the delightful and perfectly legitimate small change of a gallant man’s
affections? And out of the farthings and half-farthings, the very
fractions of half-farthings, indeed–of such small change, Joanna had
constructed a great and serious romance terminating in matrimony! The
young man could have beat his breast, torn his hair, poured ashes upon
his thus forcibly denuded scalp, and rent his up-to-date and
particularly well-tailored garments. He, Adrian Savage, the husband of
Joanna!–From this his lively Gallic imagination galloped away,
blushing in humorous horror, utterly refusing to contemplate the
picture. At the same time his pity for her was immense. And how, oh!
how, without gross and really sickening cruelty, to dispel her
disastrous delusion?

With the above question upon his lips, Adrian turned by the wicket gate
into the garden, where the tranquil beauty surrounding him compelled
his observation.

High above the dark-feathered crests of the firs, the moon, two days
short of the full, rode in the south-eastern sky, obliterating all
stars in the vicinity of her pathway. She showed to-night not as a
flat disk plastered against the solid vault, but as a mammoth,
delicately tarnished silver ball, traveling in stateliest fashion the
steel-blue fields of space. The roofs and façade of the house, its
multiplicity of glinting window-panes, the lawns and shrubberies, and
all-encircling woodland, were alike overlaid with the searching
whiteness of her light. The air was dry and very mellow, rich with a
blending of forest and garden scents. Faintly to northward Adrian’s
ear could detect the rattle and grind of a belated tram on the
Barryport Road, and, southward, the continuous wistful murmur of the
mile-distant sea!

Now, as often before, he was sensible of the subtle charm produced by
this conjunction of a highly finished, material civilization with
gently savage and unsubjugated Nature. England is, in so great
measure, a sylvan country even yet; a country of close-coming,
abounding, and invading trees. And when, as now, just upon midnight,
its transitory human populations–which in silly pride suppose
themselves proprietors of the soil and all that grows upon it–are
herded safe indoors, abed and asleep, the trees resume their primitive
sovereignty, making their presence proudly evident. They had no voice
to-night, it is true. They stood becalmed and silent. Yet the genius
of them, both in their woodland unity and endless individual diversity
of form and growth, declared itself nevertheless. For this last the
infiltration of moonlight was partly accountable, since it lent each
stem, branch, and twig, each differing species of foliage–the large
leaves of laurel and rhododendron, the semi-transparent, fringed and
fluted leaves of the beech, the finely spiked tufts of fir-needles–a
definiteness and separateness such as hoar-frost might. Each tree and
bush stood apart from its fellows in charming completeness and relief,
challenging the eye by a certain sprightly independence of mien and
aspect. Had they moved from their fixed places, the big trees mingling
in some stately procession or dance, while the shrubs and bushes
frisked upon the greensward, Adrian would hardly have been surprised.
A spirit of phantasy was abroad–here in the Baughurst Park Ward, local
municipal government notwithstanding–entrancing to his poetic sense.

Therefore he lingered, walking slowly along the path leading to the
garden entrance of the house, here shaded by a broken line of tall
Scotch firs, their smooth stems rising like pillars, bare of branches
for some twenty or thirty feet. Now and again he stopped, held captive
by the tranquil yet disquieting beauty of the scene. It reminded him
strangely of Gabrielle St. Leger’s beauty, and the something elusive,
delicately malicious and ironic, in the character of it. Her smiling,
unclosed lips, the dimple in her left cheek; those mysterious oblique
glances from beneath her long-shaped, half-closed eyelids, full at once
of invitation and reserve; the untamed, deliciously tricksy spirit he
apprehended in her; and a something majestic, too, as of those vast,
calm, steel-blue fields of space,–these, all and severally, he,
lover-like, found mirrored in the loveliness of this May night.

On his left the lawns, flooded by moonlight, stretched away to the
tennis court and the terrace walk in front of the pavilion. On his
right, backed by the line of Scotch firs aforesaid, a thick wall of
deciduous shrubs–allspice, lilac, syringa, hydrangea, sweetbrier, and
laburnum–shut out the carriage-drive. The quaint leathery flowers of
the allspice gave off a powerful and luscious sweetness as of
sun-ripened fruit. Adrian paused, inhaling it, gazing meanwhile in
fond imagination into _la belle Gabrielle’s_ golden-brown eyes,
refreshingly forgetful of the distracting perplexities of the _affaire_
Smyrthwaite No. 2.

It was a good moment, at once chaste and voluptuous, wherein the very
finest flame of ideal love burned upon his heart’s altar. But it was
broken up by an arresting apparition. For a white owl swept,
phantom-like, out of the plantation behind the pavilion and beat over
the moonlit turf in swift and absolutely noiseless flight. A soft
thistle-down could hardly have passed more lightly or silently than the
great wide-winged bird. Beneath it, its shadow, skimming the close-cut
surface of the grass, seemed as much alive and more substantial than
itself. Twice, while Adrian watched, moved and a little startled, it
quartered the lawn in search of prey; then flung itself up, high in
air, vanishing among the tree-tops, with a long-drawn hoo-hoo-hooing of
hollow laughter. And in the space of a few seconds, from the recesses
of the woodland, its mate answered with a far-off elfin echo of its
sinister note. Then Adrian heard a window open. And, on to the far
end of the red-balustraded balcony–extending along the first floor of
the house, in the recess above the veranda–a woman came.

She was dressed in a white _négligé_ of some soft, woolen material,
which hung straight in knife-edge pleatings from her shoulders to her
feet, covering them–as the young man could see between the wide-spaced
balusters–and lying outspread for some inches around her upon the
floor. Over this she wore a black cloak, straight-hanging too, made of
some fine and supple fur. The fronts of it, which were thrown open,
leaving her arms free, appeared to be lined with ermine. Her peculiar
garb and the perceptible angularity of her form and action suggested
some crabbed medieval figure of church wood-carving or memorial brass.

The woman looked so tall standing there as in a mural pulpit, high
against the house-front, that at first sight Adrian, took her to be
Marion Chase. But medieval and ecclesiastical associations were a
little too glaringly out of place in connection with that remarkably
healthy young amazon and athlete. Adrian dismissed them, with a
sensible sinking of the heart. Instinctively he moved aside, seeking
the deepest of the shadows cast by the fir-trees, pressing himself back
among the bushes of sweet-flowered allspice. Of two evils one must
choose the least. Concealment was repugnant to him; but, to go forward
meant to be recognized and compelled to speak. And, to play the part
of hero in some grim travesty of the Garden Scene from “Romeo and
Juliet,” was of the two vastly the more repugnant.

Becoming aware of a movement in the garden below, the woman leaned
forward and gazed fixedly in his direction, showing in the bleaching
moonlight Joanna Smyrthwaite’s heavy, upturned hair, strained,
prominent eyes and almost terrible face, so ravaged was it by emotion.

The night traffics in exaggerations; and Adrian’s senses and
sensibilities were already somewhat over-stimulated. Perhaps,
therefore, it followed that, looking up at Joanna, she appeared to him
clothed in hieratic garments as the elect exponent and high-priestess
of all lovelorn, unmated, childless womanhood throughout the world. To
him, just then, her aspect gathered up and embodied the fiercely
disguised sufferings of all the barren, the ugly, the ungifted, the
undesired and unsought; of that disfranchised multitude of women whose
ears have never listened to recitation of a certain Song of Songs. Her
youth–she was as young as he–her wealth, the ease, leisure, solid
luxury which surrounded her, her possession of those material
advantages which make for gaiety and security, for pleasant vanities,
for participation in all the light-hearted activities of modern life,
only deepened the tragedy. Denied by man and–since she was without
religion–denying God, she did indeed offer a piteous spectacle. The
more so, that he apprehended a toughness of fiber in her, arguing a
power of protracted and obstinate resistance. Happier for her, surely,
had she been made of weaker stuff, like her wretched brother of the
vile drawings upon René Dax’s studio wall!

Adrian’s own personal share in this second and tragic _affaire_
Smyrthwaite came home to him with added poignancy as he stood thus, in
hiding, amid the luscious sweetness of the flowering allspice. For one
intolerable moment he questioned whether he could, whether he should,
sacrifice himself, transmuting Joanna’s besotted delusion into fact and
truth. But reason, honor, love, the demands of his own rich vitality,
his keen value of life and of the delights of living, his poetic and
his artistic sense, the splendid call of all the coming years, his
shrewdness, his caution, his English humor and his Gallic wit, arose in
hot and clamorous rebellion, shouting refusal final and absolute. He
couldn’t do it. Death itself would be preferable. It came very simply
to this–he could not.

Just then he saw Joanna draw her costly cloak about her neck and
shoulders, as though struck by sudden and sharp cold. Again the
sinister note of the owls in greeting and in answer came from the
recesses of the great woodland. And again Joanna, leaning forward,
scrutinized the shadows of the garden path with pale, strained eyes.
Then raising both hands and pressing them against her forehead as
though in physical pain, she turned and went indoors, closing the
window behind her.

Both pity and policy kept the young man for another, far from
agreeable, five minutes in the shelter of the allspice bushes before
venturing into the open. Upon the veranda he waited again, conscious
of intense reluctance to enter the house. He knew his decision to be
sane and right, the only one possible, in respect of Joanna; yet he
felt like a criminal, a betrayer, a profligate trader in women’s
affections. He called himself hard names, knowing them all the while
to be inapplicable and unjust; but his sympathies were excited, his
imagination horror-struck by that lately witnessed vision of feminine
disfranchisement and distress.

At his request the men-servants had left the door opening from the
veranda unlocked. Passing along the corridor into the hall, he became
very sensible of the silence and suspended animation of the sleeping
house. The curtains of the five-light, twenty-foot staircase window
were drawn back. Through the leaded panes of thickened clouded glass
moonlight filtered, stamping misty diaper-work upon walls and floor,
painting polished edges and surfaces of woodwork with lines and patches
of shining white. On a small table at the foot of the stairs decanters
and glasses, a cut-glass jug of iced water, a box of cigars, silver
candlestick and matchbox had been placed against his return. But the
young man was in no humor just now for superfluous drinks or
superfluous lights. He felt apprehensive, childishly distrustful of
the quiet reigning in the house, as though, behind it, some evil lay in
wait to leap upon and capture him He felt nervous. This at once
annoyed him and made him keenly observant and alert. He stood a moment
listening, then ran up the wide, shallow tread of the stairs lightly,
three steps at a time. On the level of the half-flight, under the
great window, he paused. The air was hot and heavy. His heart beat.
A door opened from the right on to the gallery above. Some one came
forward, with a soft dragging of draperies over the thick carpet,
through the dim checkerings of the moonlight.

“Adrian,” Joanna called, whisperingly, “Adrian, is that you?”

The young man took a long breath. His nerves grew steady. He came
calmly up the remaining half-flight, his head carried high, his face
serious, his eyes a little hard and very bright. Childish fears,
exaggerations of self-condemnation, left him at the sound of Joanna’s
voice; but he was sorry, very sorry, both for her and–for himself.

“Yes, Cousin Joanna,” he answered, and his speech, to his own hearing,
had a somewhat metallic ring in it.

If there must be an interview at this highly indiscreet hour of the
night it should at least be open and above-board, conducted in tones
which the entire household could, if it chose, hear plainly enough.
Both for his own honor and Joanna’s this was best.

“I have just come back from Heatherleigh,” he continued. “You will be
glad to know that Mr. Challoner and I have finished the business
connected with your father’s property. All outstanding accounts and
all duties upon the estate are now paid. All documents are signed,
receipted, and in order.”

Joanna made an impatient gesture as though thrusting aside some foolish
obstruction.

“Yes,” she said, “no doubt; but it is not about the property I need to
speak to you, Adrian. My mind is quite at ease about that. It is
about something else. It is about myself.”

“Ah, yes?” the young man inquired, gravely.

“I did not come down to dinner to-night. I felt sure you would
understand and excuse me. I could not. I could not have borne to be
with Margaret and Marion Chase and to listen to their trivial talk in
your presence, after our conversation of this afternoon. I had to be
alone that I might think, that I might bring my temper into subjection
to my will. Isherwood told me you had gone out after dinner. But I
felt I could not rest without seeing you again to-night. I felt I must
speak to you, must ask your forgiveness, must try to explain. So I
waited up. The owls startled me, and I went on to the balcony. I
fancied you were in the garden. But I could not see you. Later I
heard your footsteps”–Joanna paused breathlessly–“your footsteps,”
she repeated, “upon the pavement of the veranda. My courage failed. I
felt ashamed to meet you. But it would be so very dreadful to have you
think harshly of me–so, so I came.”

Owing to the vague quality of the light Adrian failed to see her face
distinctly, and for this he was thankful. But he knew that her arms
hung straight at her sides, and that, under cover of her costly cloak,
her poor hands clutched and clutched against the white knife-pleatings
of her dress.

“Dear cousin,” he said, “I have no cause to think harshly of you.
Indeed, my thought has been occupied with sympathy for the trials that
you have already undergone, and with regret that I should be
instrumental in recalling distressing events to your mind.”

“Ah! I deserve no sympathy,” she declared, vehemently, turning aside
and moving restlessly to and fro. “I do not deserve that excuses
should be made for me. This afternoon I showed my character in a
shocking light. Perhaps it was the true light. Perhaps my character
is objectionable. I both felt and said what was cruel and intemperate.
I was selfish. I only considered my own happiness. I repudiated my
duty toward my brother. I wished him dead, because his return, and all
the anxiety and thought the probability of that return necessarily
occasions, interfered with my own plans, with my own beautiful
prospects and hopes.”

She came close, standing before the young man, her hands clasped, her
body visibly shuddering beneath her hieratic garments.

“Now I have come to myself, Adrian. I realize–indeed I realize–the
enormity of my own callousness, my own selfishness. I realize, too,
the dreadful impression of my nature which you must have received. If
you repudiated me I should have no valid cause for complaint. My
reason forces me to acknowledge that I deserve your censure; that if
you turn from me–dreadful, dreadful as it would be–I shall have
brought that misery upon myself. Dreadful, dreadful,” she moaned, “too
dreadful to contemplate–yet deserved, invited by the exhibition of my
own ungovernable temper–deserved–there is the sting of it.”

“But–but, my dear Joanna,” Adrian broke forth, carried out of himself
by the spectacle of her grief, “you are fighting with shadows. You are
torturing yourself with non-existent iniquities. Calm yourself, dear
cousin. Look at things quietly and in a reasonable spirit. Your
brother is, unfortunately, unsatisfactory and troublesome, a difficult
person to deal with. His errors of conduct have caused his family
grave inconvenience and sorrow. Let us be honest. Let us freely admit
all that. He is not a young man to be proud of. What more natural
then than that you should recoil from the idea of his return? That, in
the first shock of the idea being presented to you, you should strongly
express your alarm, your distaste? It is only human. Who but a
hypocrite or pedant would condemn you for that! Calm yourself, dear
cousin. Be just to yourself. I could not permit you to revoke your
gifts to your brother. My own honor was a little involved there
perhaps–”

Adrian smiled at her reassuringly, putting some force upon himself.

“Let us be sensible,” he continued. “Let us be moderate. At the
present time we have no reliable information as to where your brother
is. We may not discover him. He may never come back. Meanwhile, I
implore you, dismiss this painful subject from your mind. Be merciful
to your own nerves, dear Joanna. Remember Andrew Merriman and I engage
to do our best, to exercise all care, all delicacy, in the prosecution
of our inquiries. When necessary we will consult with you”–he spread
out his hands, his head a little on one side, consolatory, debonair,
charming.–“Ah! dear cousin, be advised–do not agitate yourself
further. Leave it all at that.”

Joanna sighed once or twice. Put up her hands, pressing them against
her forehead. Her body swayed slightly as she stood. Her hands
dropped at her side again. She looked fixedly, intently, at Adrian
Savage. Her mouth was a little open. The ecstatic expression, so
nearly touching upon idiocy, had come back.

“Then nothing is changed–nothing is altered between us?” she whispered.

The young man took her hand, and bowing low over it, kissed it. As he
raised himself he looked her full in the face.

“No, nothing, my dear cousin,” he said.

There were tears in his eyes, and his voice shook. He was filled with
apology, with immeasurable concern and regret, with an immeasurable
craving for her forgiveness, in that he spoke actual and literal truth.
For nothing was changed–no, nothing.–He never had loved, he did not
love, he never could love Joanna Smyrthwaite.

He stayed for no further word or look. Practically he ran away. But
there is just one thing, on the face of the earth, from which a brave
man may run without smallest accusation of cowardice–namely, a woman
who loves him and whom he does not love! Once in his room Adrian
bolted the door on the inside as well as locking it, and began to pack.
He would take the mid-day rather than the night cross-Channel boat
to-morrow. Then, with relief, he remembered that it was already
to-morrow. In a few hours the servants would be about.

Twice before dawn he fancied he heard footsteps and a soft dragging of
draperies over the carpet of the corridor. He opened the windows wide,
and let in the singing of birds greeting the morning from the woodland.
For the sound of those footsteps and softly dragging draperies cut him
to the heart with sorrow for womanhood unfulfilled–womanhood denied by
man, and, not having religion, denying God.

The last of Miss Beauchamp’s receptions for the season drew to a
vivacious close. Sunday would witness the running of the _Grand Prix_.
Then the world would begin to scatter, leaving Paris to the inquiring
foreigner, the staggering sunshine, some few millions of the governing
classes–new style–the smells, the sparrows, and the dust.

As a woman consciously looking threescore and ten in the face Anastasia
felt very tired. Her throat was husky and her back ached. But, as a
hostess, she felt elate, gratified, even touched. For everybody had
come. Had worn their smartest new summer clothes. Had been animated,
complimentary, appreciative. Had drunk China tea or iced coffee; eaten
strawberries and cream, sweetmeats, ices, and wonderful little cakes,
and declared “Mademoiselle Beauchamp’s ravishing ‘five-o’clock'” to be
entirely different from and superior to any other “five-o’clock” of the
whole of their united and separate experience.

Art and letters were, of course, fully represented; but politics and
diplomacy made a fair show as well. Anastasia greeted three members of
the Chamber, two of the Senate, a Cabinet Minister, and a contingent
from the personnel of both the English and the Italian embassies. The
coveted red ribbon was conspicuous by its presence. And all these
delightful people had the good sense to arrive in relays; so that the
rooms–the furniture of them disposed against the walls–had never
throughout the afternoon been too crowded for circulation, had never
been too hot.

Delicious Nanny Legrenzi, of the _Opéra Comique_, sang–and
looked–like an impudent angel. Ludovico Müller played like a
whirlwind, a zephyr, a lost soul, a quite rampantly saved soul–what
you will! And every one talked. Heavenly powers, how they had
talked!–their voices rising from a gentle adagio, through a tripping
capriccioso, to the magnificently sustained fortissimo so welcome, so
indescribably satisfying, to the ear of the practised hostess. Yes,
all had gone well, excellently well, and now they were in act of
departing.

Anastasia, weary, but genial and amused, on capital terms with her
fellow-creatures and with herself, stood in the embrasure of one of the
windows in the second room of the suite. Behind her red and pink
rambler roses and ferns, in pots, formed a living screen against the
glass, pleasantly tempering the light. Ludovico Müller had just made
his bow and exit, leaving the music-room empty; while in the first and
largest room Madame St. Leger, who helped her to receive to-day, bade
farewell to the guests as they passed on into the cool, lofty hall.

“I have entertained him the best I know, Miss Beauchamp,” Lewis
Byewater said. “But he did not appear keen to converse on general
topics. Seemed to need to specialize. Wanted to have me tell him just
who every one present was.”

“His talent always lay in the direction of biographical
research–modern biography, well understood. And so, like a dear, kind
young man, you told him who everybody was?”

“Within the limits of my own acquaintance, I did so. But, you see, in
this crowd quite a number of persons were unknown to me,” Byewater–a
clean, fair, ingenuous and slightly unfinished-looking youth, with a
candid, shining forehead, carefully tooled and gilded teeth, a meager
allowance of hair, a permanent pince-nez, and a pronounced
transatlantic accent–explained conscientiously. “I did my best, and
when I got through with my facts I started out to invent. I believe I
thickened up the ranks of the French aristocracy to a perfectly
scandalous extent. But the Colonel appeared thirsty on titles.”

“A form of thirst entirely unknown to your side of the Atlantic!”
Anastasia retorted. “Never mind. If you have done violence to the
purity of your republican principles by a promiscuous ennobling of my
guests you have sinned in the cause of friendship, my dear Byewater,
and I am infinitely obliged to you. But where is Colonel Haig now?”

“In the outer parlor, I believe, watching Madame St. Leger wish the
rear-guard good-day. He proposes to remain to the bitter end of this
reception, Miss Beauchamp. He confided as much to me. He is sensible
of having the time of his life _re_ Parisian society people, so he
proposes to stick. But you must be pretty well through with any wish
for entertaining by this,” the kindly fellow went on–“so you just tell
me truly if you would prefer to have me go off right now, or have me
wait awhile till the Colonel shows signs of getting more satiated and
take him along too? I intended proposing to dine him somewhere,
anyway, to-night.”

“You are the very nicest of all nice young men, and unquestionably I
shall meet you in heaven,” Anastasia asserted, heartily. “And as I
shall arrive there so long before you, you may count on my saying all
manner of handsome things to St. Peter about you. Oh yes, stay, my
dear boy, and carry the title-thirsty Colonel away with you. By all
manner of means, stay.”

Byewater flushed up to the top of his shining forehead. He looked at
her shyly out of his clear, guileless eyes.

“I do not feel to worry any wearing amount over the Apostle, Miss
Beauchamp,” he said, slowly. “I believe it is more Mr. Adrian Savage
at the present who stands to break up my rest. If you could say some
favorable things about me to him, I own it would be a let up. He
accepted my articles upon the Eighteenth-Century Stage; but I do not
seem any forwarder with getting them positively published. I suppose
he is holding them over for the dead season. Well, I presume there is
appropriateness in that; for, seeing the time it has lain in his
office, the manuscript must be very fairly moth-eaten by this.”

“Oh, trust me!” Anastasia cried, genially. “I’ll jog his memory
directly I see him–which I shall do as soon as he returns from
England. Never fear, I’ll hustle him to some purpose if you’ll stay
now and deliver me from this military genealogical incubus. Look–how
precious a contrast!–here they come.”

Madame St. Leger entered the room, talking, smiling, while Rentoul
Haig, short, but valiantly making the most of his inches, his chest
well forward, neat as a new pin, his countenance rosy, furiously
pleased and furiously busy, with something between a marching and a
dancing step, paraded proudly beside her.

_La belle Gabrielle_ had discarded black garments, and blossomed
delicately into oyster-gray chiffon and a silk netted tunic to match,
finished with self-colored silk embroideries and deep, sweeping knotted
fringe. The crown of her wide-brimmed gray hat was massed with soft,
drooping ostrich plumes of the same reposeful tint, which lifted a
little, waving slightly as she advanced. A scarlet tinge showed in the
round of her charming cheeks. Mischief looked out of her eyes and
tipped the corners of her smiling mouth. She was, indeed, much
diverted by the small and pompous British warrior strutting at her
side. He offered example of a type hitherto unknown to her. She
relished him greatly. She also relished the afternoon’s experiences.
They were exhilarating. She felt deliciously mistress of herself and
deliciously light-hearted. It is comparatively easy to despise the
world when you are out of it. But now, the seclusion of her mourning
being over, returning to the world, she could not but admit it a vastly
pleasant place. This afternoon it had broadly smiled upon her; and she
found herself smiling back without any mental reservation in respect of
ideas and causes. At seven and twenty, though you may hesitate to
circumscribe your personal liberty by marriage with one man, the homage
of many men–if respectfully offered–is by no manner of means a thing
to be sneezed at. Gabrielle St. Leger did not sneeze at it. On the
contrary she gathered admiring looks, nicely turned compliments,
emulous attentions, veiled ardors of manner and of speech, into a
bouquet, so to speak, to tuck gaily into her waistband. The sense of
her own beauty, and of the power conferred by that beauty, was joyful
to her. Under the stimulus of success her tongue waxed merry, so that
she came off with flying colors from more than one battle of wit. And,
for some reason, all this went to make her think with unusual
kindliness of her absent lover. In this vivacious, mundane atmosphere,
Adrian Savage would be so eminently at home and in place! His
presence, moreover, would give just that touch of romance, that touch
of sentiment, to the sparkling present which–and there Gabrielle
thought it safest to stop.

“Ah! it has been so very, very agreeable, your party, most dear
friend,” she said in her pretty careful English, taking her hostess’s
hand in both hers. “I find myself quite sorrowful that it should be at
an end. I could say ‘and please how soon may we begin all over again’
like my little Bette when she too is happy.”

“Dear child, dear child,” Anastasia returned affectionately, almost
wistfully, for nostalgia of youth is great in those who, though bravely
acquiescent, are no longer young.

Gray hair happened to be the fashion in Paris this season. About a
week previously Miss Beauchamp had mysteriously closed her door to all
comers. To-day she emerged gray-headed. This transformation at once
perplexed and pleased her many friends. If it admitted her age, and by
lessening the eccentricity of her appearance made her less conspicuous,
it gave her an added dignity, strangely softening and refining the
expression of her large-featured, slightly masculine face. Just now,
in a highly ornate black lace and white silk gown, and suite of ruby
ornaments set in diamonds–whereby hung a tale not unknown to a certain
hidden garden–Anastasia Beauchamp, in the younger woman’s opinion,
showed not only as an impressive but as a noble figure.

“Ah yes, and you should know, Colonel ‘Aig,” the latter continued, the
aspirate going under badly in her eagerness, “since you have not for so
long a time seen her, that it is always thus with Mademoiselle
Beauchamp at her parties. She produces a mutual sympathy between her
guests so that, while in her presence, they adore one another. It is
her secret. She makes all of us at our happiest, at our best. We
laugh, but we are also gentle-hearted. We desire to do good.”

“That is so,” Byewater put in nasally. “I indorse your sentiments,
Madame St. Leger. When I came over I believed I should find I had left
the finest specimens of modern woman behind in America. But I was
mistaken. Miss Beauchamp is positively great.”

“And–and me, Mr. Byewater?” Gabrielle asked with a naughty mouth.

“Oh! well, you–Madame St. Leger,” the poor youth faltered, turning
away modestly, his countenance flaming very bright red.

“I require no assurances regarding our hostess’s brilliant social
gifts,” Rentoul Haig declared, mouthing his words so as to make himself
intelligible to this foreign, or semi-foreign, audience. “My memory
carries me back to–”

“The year one, my dear Colonel, the year one,” Anastasia
interrupted–“the old days at Beauchamp Sulgrave. Great changes there,
alas, since my poor brother’s death. Between Death Duties and Land
Taxes, my cousin can’t afford to keep the place up, or thinks he can’t,
which amounts to much the same thing. He is trying to sell a lot of
the farms at Beauchamp St. Anne’s hear.

“England is being ruined by those iniquitous Land Taxes, I give you my
word, Miss Beauchamp, simply ruined. Take Beauchamp Sulgrave, for
instance. Perfect example of an English country-house, amply large
enough yet not too large for comfort, and really lovely grounds. Just
the type of place that always has appealed to me. I remember every
stick and stone of it. I give you my word, I find it difficult to
speak with moderation of these Radical nobodies, whose thieving
propensities endanger the preservation of such places on the old
hospitable and stately basis. I remember my regiment was in camp at
Beauchamp St. Anne’s–I am afraid it was in the seventies–and your
party from Sulgrave used kindly to drive over to tea, regimental
sports, and impromptu gymkhanas. Charming summer! How it all comes
back to me, Miss Beauchamp!”

He cleared his throat, pursing up his lips and nodding his head quite
sentimentally.

“Really, I cannot say what a resuscitation of pleasant memories it gave
me, when our mutual friend Savage mentioned your name one day at my
cousin, the Smyrthwaites’ house, at Stourmouth, this winter. Directly
my doctor ordered me to Aix-les-Bains.–A touch of gout, nothing more
serious. My health is, and always has been, excellent, I am thankful
to say.–I determined to remain a few days in Paris on my way out, in
the hope of renewing our acquaintance. Savage told me–”

Gabrielle had dropped her friend’s hand.

“Ah! these climbing roses, are they not ravishing?” she exclaimed,
advancing her nose to the pink clusters daintily. “See then, M.
Byewater, if you please, can you tell me the name of them? I think I
will buy some to decorate my own drawing-room. The colors would
sympathize–‘armonize–is it that, yes?–so prettily with my
carpet.–You recall the tone of my carpet?–And of my curtains. Though
whether it is worth while, since I so soon leave Paris!”

“Is that so, Madame St. Leger?” Byewater asked rather blankly.

“Savage is a delightful fellow, a really delightful fellow,” Rentoul
Haig asserted largely.

“For the summer, oh yes,” _la belle Gabrielle_ almost gabbled. “I take
my mother and my little girl to the–how do you say?–to the
sea-bathings. On the Norman coast I have rented a _chalet_. The
climate is invigorating. It will benefit my mother, whose health
causes me anxieties. And my little girl will enjoy the society of some
little friends, whose parents rent for this season a neighboring villa.”

“Ah! precisely that is what I want to talk to you about. Come and sit
down, Colonel Haig.”

Anastasia raised her voice slightly.

“Here–yes–on the settee. And now about Adrian Savage. I confess I
begin to look upon this executorship as an imposition. It is not quite
fair on him, poor dear fellow. It occupies time and thought which
would be expended much more profitably elsewhere. He is as good as
gold about it all, but I know he feels it a most inconvenient tie. It
interferes with his literary work, which is serious, and with his
social life here–with his friendships.”

“Yes, I do not usually go to the coast. I accompany my mother to her
native province–to Savoy”–Madame St. Leger’s voice had also risen.
“To Chambéry, where we have relations. You are not acquainted with
Chambéry, M. Byewater? Ah! but you make a mistake. You should be. It
is quite the old France, very original, quite of the past ages. I love
it; but this year–”

“In my opinion it is quite time Savage was set free.” Anastasia’s tone
waxed increasingly emphatic. “You must forgive my saying the
Smyrthwaite ladies are very exacting, Colonel Haig. They appear to
trade upon his chivalry and forbearance to a remarkable extent.
Doesn’t it occur to them that a young man, in his position, has affairs
of his own in plenty to attend to?”

“This year the sea-bathing will certainly be more efficacious. No
doubt the mountain air in Savoy is also invigorating; but the changes
of climate are so rapid, so injurious–”

“Perhaps there are other attractions, of a not strictly business
character. One cannot help hearing rumors, you know. And recently I
have been a good deal at the Miss Smyrthwaites’ myself. As a
connection of their mother’s, in their rather unprotected condition, I
have felt it incumbent upon me to keep my eye on matters.”

Rentoul Haig settled himself comfortably upon the settee beside his
hostess, inclining sideways, a little toward her. He spoke low,
confidentially, as one communicating state secrets, his nose
inquisitive, his mouth puckered, his whole dapper person irradiated by
a positive rapture of gossip. He simmered, he bubbled, he only just
managed not to boil over, in his luxury of enjoyment. Anastasia
listened, now fanning herself, now punctuating his discourse with
incredulous ejaculations and gestures descriptive of the liveliest
dissent.

“Incredible! my dear Colonel,” she cried. “You must be misinformed.
Savage is regarded as a most desirable _parti_ here in Paris. He can
marry whom he pleases. Impossible! I know better.”

“Then do you tell me it is unhappily quite true that M. René Dax is
ill, M. Byewater?” Gabrielle St. Leger inquired in unnecessarily loud,
clear accents.

“Well, I would hesitate to make you feel too badly about him, Madame
St. Leger,” the conscientious youth returned cautiously. “I cannot
speak from first-hand knowledge, since I would not presume to give
myself out as among M. Dax’s intimates. He has been a made man this
long time, while I am only now starting out on schemes for arriving at
fame myself way off in the far by and by.”

“Never in life!” Anastasia cried, in response to further confidential
bubblings. “You misread our friend Savage altogether if you suppose
his heart could be influenced by the lady’s wealth. He is the least
mercenary person I know. The modern fortune-hunting madness has not
touched him, I am delighted to say. Then, he is really quite
comfortably off already. He has every reasonable prospect of being
rich eventually. He is very shrewd in money matters; and he has
friends whom, I can undertake to say, will not forget him when the
final disposition of their worldly goods is in question. He is a man
of sensibility, of deep feeling, capable of a profound and lasting
attachment.”

She paused, glancing at _la belle Gabrielle_.

“I would not like to have you think I underrate Mr. Dax’s talent.”
This from Byewater. “I recognize he is just as clever as anything.
But I am from a country where the standards are different, and much of
Mr. Dax’s art is way over the curve of the world where my sympathy
fails to follow. This being so, I have never made any special effort
to get into direct personal contact–”

“You may take it from me, my dear Colonel, that profound and lasting
attachment is already in existence.”

“But I was lunching with Lenty B. Stacpole, our leading black-and-white
artist, yesterday. Maybe you are not acquainted with his work, Madame
St. Leger? Most of the time he puts it right on the American market,
and does not show here. And, Lenty told me Mr. Dax is so badly broken
up with neurasthenia that if he does not quit work and exercise more,
and cultivate normal habits generally, he risks soon being just as sick
a man as any but a coroner’s jury can have use for.”

“It is a matter of fact, I may almost say of common knowledge”–fatigue
and huskiness notwithstanding, Anastasia’s voice rang out in a
veritable war-cry. “All his friends are aware that for years he has
been devoted–honorably and honestly devoted–to a most lovely woman,
here, in Paris.”

She paused, again looking the bubbling little warrior hard in the eye.

“Here,” she repeated.

“But that pains me so much”–Gabrielle also spoke for the benefit of
all and any hearers. “Without doubt I did know that M. René Dax was
ailing; but that he was so very ill–no–no.”

Miss Beauchamp laid her fan lightly upon Colonel Haig’s coat-cuff,
silently drawing his attention to the somewhat unfinished American
youth and the perfectly finished young Frenchwoman, standing together
in the embrasure of the window backed by the trellis of red and pink
rambler roses. Again she looked him hard in the eye.

“Now does it occur to you why any other affair of the heart, in Mr.
Savage’s case, is preposterous and unthinkable?” she inquired. He
swallowed, nodded: “Upon my word–indeed! Most interesting.”

“And most convincing?”

“My dear lady, is it necessary to ask that question, in face of such
remarkable charm and beauty? Enviable fellow! Upon my word, is it
convincing?”

But here _la belle Gabrielle_, conscious alike of their scrutiny and
the purport of their partly heard conversation, advanced from the
window. The ostrich plumes upon her hat lifted and waved as she moved.
The scarlet tinge in her cheeks had deepened, and her eyes were at once
troubled and daring.

Rentoul Haig got upon his feet in a twinkling.

“Enviable fellow!” he repeated feelingly. Then added, “I–I am at
liberty to mention this very interesting piece of information, Miss
Beauchamp?”

“Cry it aloud from the housetops if you will. I vouch for the truth of
it,” Anastasia replied, rising also. “All her friends wish him
success. I say advisedly friends. In such a case, as you can readily
imagine, there are others”–she turned to Madame St. Leger. “Why, _ma
toute belle_, is anything wrong? You appear a little disturbed,
disquieted.”

“M. Byewater has just communicated a very unhappy news to me,” she
replied.

“Heartless young man! As punishment let us send him packing instantly.”

Anastasia smiled at the perplexed youth in the kindest and most
encouraging fashion.

“I am ever so mortified to have caused Madame St. Leger to feel badly,”
he said.

“Oh! She will get over it. In time she will forgive you. Leave her
to me! I will reason with her. You must be going, too, Colonel Haig?”
Anastasia held out her hand, cheerfully enforcing farewell. “Ah! well,
it has been very nice, very nice indeed, to see you and talk over old
times and so on. Don’t fail to look me up whenever you pass through
Paris. I give you a standing invitation. You’re sure to find me. I
am as much a fixture as the _Bois_ or the river.”

As the two men passed from the outer room into the hall Anastasia sank
down on the settee again.

“Just Heaven!” she said, “but I expire with fatigue, simply expire.”

Gabrielle looked at her mutinously. Then, sitting down beside her, she
kissed her lightly on the cheek.

“You are malicious,” she said; “you are very obstinate. Perhaps I too
am obstinate. You will not succeed in driving me into–into marriage.”

“Never a bit! I trust your own heart, dearest child, to do the
driving.”

“Ah! my heart–have I any left? Save where my mother and Bette are
concerned, I sometimes wonder!”

“You don’t give your heart the chance to speak. You are afraid of it,
because you know beforehand what it would say, what it is already
saying.”

Madame St. Leger rose, shaking her head, big hat, waving plumes and
all, with captivating petulance.

“How can I tell, how can I tell?” she exclaimed. “Is not marriage for
me ancient history? Did I not read it all years ago, when I was still
but an infant?”

“That is exactly the reason why you should read it again, now that you
are no longer an infant–conceivably.”

“But I do not care to read again that which I have already read. I
have learned all the lessons that particular ancient history has to
teach.” Her tone and expression were not without a point of
bitterness. “I want to go forward, to learn a new science, rather than
to repeat discredited fables.”

Anastasia sighed, raising her shoulders, smiling keenly and sadly.

“Ah! you are still a baby,” she said; “very much a baby, stretching out
soft, eager fingers toward any and every untried thing which sparkles,
or jiggets, or rattles. Poor enough stuff, my dear, for the most part,
when you do contrive to grasp it! Not new at all, either, save for the
high-sounding modern names with which it is labeled–only old clothes
made over to ape new fashions! Believe me, the love of a clever and
handsome young man is a thousand times more satisfying, more
entertaining, than any such sartorial reconstructions from the
world-old rag-bag of social experiment. Ah! vastly more entertaining,”
she added, placing her fan against her lips, and looking at the younger
woman over the top of it with meaning.

“M. Byewater informs me that M. René Dax is really, really ill,”
Gabrielle remarked rather hastily, her eyes turned upon the roses.

“Umph–and pray what, my dear, has that precious piece of information
to do with it?”

“He may perhaps even die.”

“I, for one, should survive his loss with conspicuous resignation and
fortitude.”

“But for the past week he has written to me almost daily.”

“An impertinence which makes me the more resigned to his speedy demise.”

“Yes–piteous, eloquent little letters, telling me how he suffers. And
I have not answered.”

“I take that for granted, _ma toute belle_.”

“I did not reply because–I am sorry now–I did not quite believe him.
His eloquence was affecting. But it was also misleading. I thought it
improbable any person would write so very well if he were so very ill.
I lament my suspicions. I have added to his sufferings. He implores
me, in each letter, since it is impossible he should at present visit
me, that I should go, if only for a few moments, to see him.”

“Out of all question–a monstrous and infamous proposal!”

“So I myself thought at first. But if it is true that he may die?
Listen, dear friend, tell me–”

With a rapid, sweeping movement Gabrielle again sat down beside her
friend. Again kissed her lightly on the cheek, manoeuvering the
wide-brimmed hat skilfully, so as to avoid scrapings and collisions.

“Listen,” she repeated coaxingly–“for really I find myself in a
dilemma. I cannot consult my mother. She is timid and diffident
before questions such as these, of what is and is not socially
permissible. Her charity, dear, sainted being, is limitless. It
conflicts with her natural timidity. Between the two she becomes
incapable of exercising clear judgment. She does not comprehend modern
life.”

“Few of us do,” Anastasia commented.

“And her health is, alas, still far from being re-established. I
desire to spare her all physical as well as all moral exertion.
Therefore I cannot propose that she should accompany me to visit M.
René Dax. That would render my position comparatively simple; but the
excitement and fatigue of such a proceeding are practically prohibitive
for her.”

“Am I then to understand,” Anastasia inquired somewhat grimly, “that
you kindly propose I should play duenna, and call on that singularly
objectionable young man in company with you?”

“Ah! if it only could be arranged! But I fear he might not improbably
refuse to receive you.”

“Execrable taste on his part, of course. Yet I thank him, for it
disposes of the matter, since you cannot go alone.”

“But if he should be dying? Ah, forgive me,” she cried, with charming
penitence. “I weary, I even annoy you, most dear Anastasia, most
cherished, most valued friend. It is unconscionable to do so after you
have given me the enjoyment of so charming, so inspiriting, an
afternoon. You should rest. I will ask nothing more of you. I will
go.”

“But not to call on M. René Dax–” she caught _la belle Gabrielle’s_
two hands in hers. “My darling child, you must surely perceive the
impropriety, the scandal, of such a _démarche_ on your part–at your
age, with your attractions, well known as you are–and, putting
prejudice aside, with his reputation, whether deserved or not, for
libertinism, for grossness of ideas, for reckless indiscretion–”

Madame St. Leger had risen. The elder woman still held her hands
imprisoned. She stood looking down, the brim of her hat forming a gray
halo about her abundant burnished hair, and pale, grave, heart-shaped
face.

“I perceive all that,” she answered quietly. “I have thought carefully
of it. I did so while I yet was doubtful of the actuality of his
illness. But now that I am no longer doubtful, that I am assured he is
practising no deceit upon me, I ask myself whether I–who embrace the
nobler and larger conceptions of the office of woman–am not thereby
committed to disregard such conventions. Whether it is not of the
essence of the reforms, the ideals for which we work that we should,
each one of us, have the courage, when occasion arises, to defy
tradition. Only to talk, is silly. To make a protest of action gives
the true measure of our faith, our sincerity. The making of such a
protest against current usages cannot be agreeable. I do not make it
light-heartedly, with any satisfaction in my own audacity. To gratify
myself, to obtain amusement or frivolous pleasure, I would never risk
outraging the accepted code of conduct, the accepted proprieties. But
for the sake of one who suffers, of one to whom–without vanity–I
believe my friendship to have been helpful–for the sake of one whose
attitude toward me has been irreproachable, and who, though so gifted,
is in many ways so greatly to be pitied–”

She bent her head and kissed her hostess.

“Farewell,” she said gently. “I shall not in any case go to-day. It
is now too late. But, beyond that, I make no promises for fear I may
perjure myself. Yes, I have been so happy, so happy this afternoon.
For this, most dear friend, all my thanks.”

Regardless of aching back and aching throat, Anastasia Beauchamp went
to the telephone. First she told the operator, at the exchange, to
ring up the number of Adrian’s bachelor flat in the _rue de
l’Université_. From thence no response was obtainable. Nothing
daunted, Anastasia requested to be put into communication with the
office in the _rue Druot_. Here with polite alacrity the good Konski’s
amiable voice answered her.

“Alas, no! To the desolation of his colleagues M. Savage had not yet
returned. But in a few days he would without doubt do so. The conduct
of the Review compelled it. Without him, the machine refused any
longer to work. His presence became imperative. Madame would write?
Precisely. Her letter should receive his,” the good Konski’s, “most
eager attention. Let Madame repose entire confidence in his assiduity,
resting assured that not an instant’s delay should occur in the
delivery of her distinguished communication.”

“At last you have arrived. Through an interminable progression of
hours I have waited, the days and nights mixing themselves into one
abominable salad of expectation, disappointment, rage against those
whom I pictured as interfering to detain you; and, as dressing and
sauce to the whole infernal compound, a yearning for the assuaging
repose of your presence which gnawed, like the undying worm, at my
entrails.”

This address, although delivered in the young man’s accustomed
unemotional manner, with studied, carefully modulated utterance, was
hardly calculated to allay the embarrassment or disquietude aroused by
the uncompromising stare of the concierge, and very evident, though
more deferential, curiosity of Giovanni, the bright-eyed, velvet-spoken
Italian man-servant who admitted her.

Nor were other sources of discomfort lacking. Madame St. Leger, like
all persons of temperament, in whom mind and body, the soul and senses,
are constantly and actively interpenetrative, instinctively responded
to the spiritual influences which reside in places and even in material
objects. Now, coming directly into it from the glitter and movement,
the thousand and one very articulate activities of the sun-bathed city,
the vivid foliage of whose many trees tossed in the crisp freshness of
the summer wind, René Dax’s studio struck her as the strangest and,
perhaps, most repellant human habitation she had ever yet set foot in.
Struck her, too, as belonging to a section of that exclusively man’s
world, in which woman’s part is at once fugitive and not a little
suspect.

The black hangings and furniture stared at, the bare immaculately white
walls bluffed, her. Only a mournful travesty of the splendid daylight,
reigning out of doors, filtered down through the gathered black-stuff
blinds drawn across the great, sloping skylights, and contended
languidly against the harsh clarity of a couple of electric
lights–with flat smoked-glass shades to them–hanging, spider-like, at
the end of long black cords from the beam supporting the central span
of the arched ceiling. Notwithstanding the height of the room and its
largeness of area, the atmosphere was stagnant, listless, and dead.
This constituted Madame St. Leger’s initial impression. This, and a
singular persuasion–returning upon her stealthily, persistently,
though she strove honestly to cast it out–that the studio, although
apparently so bare and empty, was, in point of fact, crowded by forms
and conceptions the reverse of wholesome or ennobling, which pushed
upon and jostled her, while, by their number and grossness, they
further exhausted the already lifeless air.

The sense of suffocation, thus produced, so oppressed her that her
heart beat nervously and her pulse fluttered. Though unwilling to
discard the modest shelter it afforded and gain closer acquaintance
with the details of her surroundings, Gabrielle untwisted the flowing
gray veil which she wore over her hat and around her throat, and threw
it back from her face. Then, for a while, all else was forgotten in
the thought of, the sight of, René Dax. And, although that thought and
seeing was in itself painful, it tended to restore both her outward
serenity and her inward assurance and strength.

“Ah! my poor friend,” she said, soothingly, “had I understood how
suffering you were, how greatly in need of sympathy, I would have put
aside obstacles and come to you sooner; though–though you will still
remember, it is no small concession that I should come at all.”

“Only by concessions is life rendered supportable,” he answered. “I
too have made concessions. If you defy conventional decorum for my
sake, I, on the other hand, have sacrificed to it for your sake very
royally. I have destroyed the labor of months, have obliterated
priceless records to safeguard your delicacy, to insure you
immunity–should you at last visit me–from all offense.”

And _la belle Gabrielle_, listening, was moved and touched. But she
asked no explanation–shrank from it, indeed, divining the sacrifice in
question bore vital relation to that unseen yet jostling, unwholesome
and ignoble crowd. She therefore rallied the mothering, ministering
spirit within her, resolving to let speech, action and feeling be
inspired and controlled by this, and this alone.

For one thing was indisputable–namely, that René Dax, caricaturist and
poet, was, as the cleanly young American yesterday told her, just as
sick a man as any man need be. His puny person had wasted. He looked
all head–all brain, rather, since his tired little face seemed to also
have dwindled and to occupy the most restricted space permissible in
proportion to the whole. The full, black linen painting-blouse, which
he wore in place of a coat, produced, along with his lowness of
stature, a queerly youthful and even childish effect. To stand on
ceremony with this small, sad human being, still more to go in fear of
it, to regard it as possibly dangerous, its poor little neighborhood as
in any degree compromising, was to Gabrielle St. Leger altogether
absurd and unworthy. Let the overpunctilious or overworldly say what
they pleased, she congratulated herself. She was glad to have
disregarded opposition, glad to have come. Where custom and humanity
conflict–so she told herself–let it be custom which goes to the wall.

Therewith she drew herself up proudly, and, carrying her charming head
high, looked bravely around the strange and somewhat sinister place.
Noted the wide divans on either side the fireplace and the diminutive
scarlet cane chair set on the hearth-rug; the five-fold red lacquer
screen; the trophy of arms–swords, rapiers, simitars, daggers, and
other such uncomfortably cutting, ripping, and stabbing tools–upon the
chimney-breast above the mantelpiece. Noted, not without a shudder of
disgust, the glass tank and its slimy swimming and crawling population;
the tables loaded with books, materials and implements of the
draftsman’s craft; the model’s platform; the array of portfolios,
canvases, drawing-boards–surely the place had been very scrupulously
swept and garnished against her coming! It was minutely, even rigidly,
clean and neat. This pleased her as a pretty tribute of respect.
Finally, her eyes sought the nearly life-size red-chalk drawing set on
an easel in the center of the studio immediately beneath the electric
light.

René Dax stood beside her. She tall, noticeably elegant in her
short-waisted, long-coated, pale-gray, braided walking-dress. He
reserved and weary in bearing, but very watchful and very intent.

“You observe my drawing?” he inquired softly. “I have been waiting for
that–waiting for you to grasp the fact that there is nothing new,
nothing extraordinary in your being here with me–you, and Mademoiselle
Bette. For months now you are my companions all day and all
night–yes, then very sensibly also. Look, I lie there upon the divan.
I fold the red screen back–it is loot from the Imperial Palace at
Peking, that screen. Grotesquely sanguinary scenes figure upon it.
But I forget them and the entertainment they afford me.–I fold the
screen back, I turn upon my side among the cushions and I look at you.
I look until, on those nights when my will is active and yours in
abeyance, or perhaps a little weak, you step off the paper and cross
the room, there–between the platform and the long table–always
carrying Mademoiselle Bette on your arm; and, coming close, you bend
down over me. You never speak, neither do you touch me. But I cease
to suffer. The tension of my nerves is relaxed. The hideous pain at
the base of my skull, where the brain and spinal-cord form their
junction, no longer tortures me. I am inexpressibly soothed. I become
calm. I sleep.”

Gabrielle St. Leger had grown very serious. For this small, sad human
being to whom she proposed to minister and to mother had
disconcertingly original and even consternating ways with it. Should
she resent the said ways, soundly snubbing him? Or, making allowance
for his ill-health and acknowledged eccentricity, parley with and humor
him? To steer a wise course was difficult.

“I willingly believe your intention in making this drawing was not
disloyal,” she said, quietly. “Yet I cannot but be displeased. Before
making it you should have asked my approval and obtained my consent.”

“Which you would have refused?–No, I knew better than that. But
dismiss the idea of disloyalty. Rise above paltry considerations of
expediency and etiquette. You can do so if you choose. Accept the
position in its gravity, in its permanent consequences both to me and
to yourself. In making this drawing I thought not merely of the ease
and relief I might obtain through it. I thought of you also. For I
perceived the perversion which threatened you. I decided to intervene,
to rescue you. I decided to co-operate with destiny, to interest
myself in the evolution of your highest good. So now it amounts to no
less than this–that your future and mine are inextricably conjoined,
intermingled, incapable of separation henceforth.”

“Gently, gently, my poor friend,” Gabrielle said.

“Are you not then sorry for me?” he asked quickly, with very disarming
and child-like pathos. “Is it a fraud, a heartless experiment, coming
to-day to see me thus? Have you no real desire to console or bring me
hope?”

“From my heart I pity and commiserate you,” Gabrielle said.

“Then where is your logic, where is your reason? For I–I–René
Dax–I, and my recovery, my welfare, constitute your highest good. I
am your destiny. Your being here to-day regardless of etiquette, your
stepping off the paper there upon the easel, crossing the room and
bending over me at night, carrying the little maiden child, the flower
of innocence, in your arms, these are at least a tacit admission of the
truth of that.”

A point of fear came into Madame St. Leger’s eyes. Outward serenity,
inward assurance, were not easy of maintenance. The more so, that
again she was very sensible of the unseen crowd of ignoble forms and
conceptions peopling the room, tainting and exhausting the air of it,
pressing upon and–as she felt–deriding her.

“You speak foolishly and extravagantly,” she said, steadying her voice
with effort. “I pardon that because I know that you are suffering and
not altogether master of yourself. But I do not enjoy this
conversation. I beg you to talk more becomingly, or I shall be unable
to remain. I shall feel compelled to leave you.”

For an instant René Dax looked up at her with a positively diabolic
expression of resentment. Then his face was distorted by a sudden
spasm.

“It is only too true that I suffer,” he cried bitterly. “My head
aches–there at the base of my brain. It is like the grinding of iron
knuckles. I become distracted. Very probably I speak extravagantly.
My sensations are extravagant, and my talk matches them. But do not
leave me. I will not offend you. I will be altogether good,
altogether mild and amiable. Only remain. Place yourself here in this
chair. Your presence comforts and pacifies me–but only if you are in
sympathy with me. Let your sympathy flow out then. Do not restrain
it. Let it surround and support me, buoying me up, so that I float
upon the surface of it as upon some divine river of peace. Ah, Madame,
pity me. I am so tired of pain.”

Reluctantly, out of her charity and against her better, her mundane
judgment, Gabrielle St. Leger yielded. She sat down in the large,
black brocade-covered chair indicated. Her back was toward the drawing
upon the easel. She was glad not to see it, glad that the electric
light no longer glared in her eyes. She clasped her hands lightly in
her lap, trying to subdue all inward agitation, to maintain a perfectly
sane and normal outlook, thereby infusing something of her own health
and sweetness as a disinfectant into this morbid atmosphere.

The young man sat down, too, upon the edge of the divan just opposite
to her. He set his elbows upon his knees, his big head projected
forward, his eyes closed, his chin resting in the hollow of his hard,
clever little hands. For a time there was silence, save for the
dripping of the fountain in the glass tank, and the ticking of a clock.
Presently, very softly, he began to speak.

“My art is killing me–killing me–and only you and Mademoiselle Bette
can save me,” he said. “And I am worth saving; for, not only am I the
most accomplished draftsman of the century, but my knowledge of the
human animal is unsurpassed. Moreover, that I should die is so
inconceivably purposeless. Death is such a stupidity, such an outrage
on intelligence and common-sense.”

Gabrielle remained passive. To reason with him would, she felt, be
useless as yet. She would wait her opportunity.

“Yes, my art is killing me,” he went on. “It asks too much. More than
once I have tried to sever myself from it; but it is the stronger. It
refuses amputation. Long ago, when, as a child–unhappy, devoured by
fancies, by curiosity about myself, about other children, about
everything which I saw–I found that I possessed this talent, I was
both shy and enchanted. It gave me power. Everything that I looked at
belonged to me. I could reproduce it in beauty or the reverse. I
could cover with ridicule those who annoyed me. By means of my talent
I could torment. I played with it as naughty little boys play
together, ingenious in provocation, in malice, in dirty monkey tricks.
Then as I grew older I enjoyed my talent languorously. I spent long
days of dreams, long nights of love with it. That was a period when my
heart was still soft. I believed. The trivial vices of the little boy
were left behind. The full-blooded vices of manhood were untried as
yet. Later ambition took me. I would study. I would know. I would
train my eye and my hand to perfect mastery in observation and in
execution. My own mechanical skill, my power of memorizing, of
visualizing, intoxicated me. I reviewed the work of famous draftsmen.
I recognized that I was on the highroad to surpass it, both in
effrontery of conception and perfection of technique. I refused my art
nothing, shrank from nothing. I had loved my art as a companion in
childish mischief; then as a youth loves his first mistress. Now I
loved it as a man loves his career, loves that which raises him above
his contemporaries. I stood above others, alone. I was filled with an
immense scorn of them. I unveiled their deceit, their hypocrisy, their
ignorance, their vileness, the degradation of their minds and habits.
I whipped them till the blood came. No one could escape. I jeered. I
laughed. I made them laugh too. Between the cuts of the lash, even
while the blood flowed, they laughed. How could they help doing so?
My wit was irresistible. They cursed me, yet shouted to me to lay on
to them again.”

For a minute or more silence, save for the dripping fountain, the
ticking clock, and a bubbling, sucking sound as one of the
black-and-orange blotched newts dived from the rockwork down to the
sandy, pebbly floor of the glass tank. Madame St. Leger leaned back in
her chair. She pressed her handkerchief against her lips. She felt as
one who witnesses some terrible drama upon the stage which holds the
attention captive. She could not have gone away and left René Dax
until the scene was concluded, even if she would.

“That was the period of my apotheosis, when I appeared to myself as a
god,–last year, the year before last, even this winter,” he said,
presently, “before the pain came and while still I myself was greater
than my art. But now, now, to-day, I do not laugh any more, nor can I
make others laugh. My art is greater than I. It has grown unruly,
arrogant. I am unequal to its demands. It asks of me what I am no
longer able to give. It hounds me along. It storms at me–‘Go further
yet, imagine the unimaginable, pass all known limits. You are too
squeamish, too fastidious, too modest, too nice. There yet remain
sanctities to be defiled, shames to be depicted, agonies to be stewed
in the vitriol juice of sarcasm. Go forward. You are lazy. Exert
yourself. Discover fresh subjects. Invent new profanities. Turn the
spit on which you have impaled humanity faster and faster. Draw
better–you grow lethargic, indolent–draw better and better yet.’–But
I cannot, I cannot,” René Dax said, the corners of his mouth drooping
like those of a tired baby. “We have changed places, my art and I. It
is greater than me. It masters me instead of my mastering it. Like
some huge brazen Moloch, with burning, brazen arms it presses me
against its burning, brazen breast, scorching me to a cinder. It has
squeezed me dry–dry–I am no longer able to collect my ideas, to
memorize that which I see. My imagination is sterile. My hand refuses
to obey my brain. My line, my beloved, my unexampled line, wavers, is
broken, uncertain, loses itself. I scrabble unmeaning nonsense upon
the paper.”

He unbuttoned the wristband of his blouse and stripped up the sleeve of
it.

“See,” he went on, “how my muscles have deteriorated. My arm resembles
some withered, sapless twig. Soon I shall not possess sufficient
strength to hold a pencil or a bit of charcoal. Yes, yes, I know what
you would say. Others have already said it. Travel, try change of
scene, rest, consult doctors. But pah! Butchers, carrion-feeders,
what can they tell me which I do not know already? For–for–”

He rose, came nearer to Gabrielle St. Leger, pointing to the inner
corner of the great room in a line with the door.

“There,” he said, with a singular sly gleefulness, “there–you see,
Madame, behind the port folio-wagon? Yes?–It has its lair there, its
retreat in which it conceals itself. It always says one thing, and it
always tells the truth. It has once been a man; now it has no skin.
You can observe all the muscles and sinews in action, which is
extremely instructive. But naturally it is red–red all over. And it
is highly varnished, otherwise, of course, it would feel the cold too
much. It places its red hands on the edges of the
portfolios–thus–and it vaults into the room. It is astonishingly
agile. I think it may formerly have been, by profession, an acrobat,
it runs so very swiftly. Its contortions are infinite. It avoids the
pieces of furniture with extraordinary dexterity. Sometimes it leaps
over them. The rapidity of its movements excites me. The pain–here
at the base of my skull–always increases when I see it. I cannot
restrain myself. I pursue it with frenzy. I hurl books, pictures,
firewood, anything I can lay hands upon, at it–even my precious
daggers and javelins from off the wall. But it sustains no injury.
They–these objects which I throw–pass clean through it; yet they
leave no aperture, no mark. My servant afterward finds them scattered
upon the ground quite clean and free from moisture. And, as it runs,
it screams to me, over its red shoulder, in a rasping voice like the
cutting of stone with a saw, ‘You are going mad, René Dax. You are
going mad–mad.'”

Madame St. Leger raised both hands in mute horror, pity, protest. Her
lips trembled. The tears ran down her cheeks. The young man watched
her for some seconds, the strangest expression of triumph upon his
solemn little face. Then, with a great sigh, he backed away and sat
down on the divan once more.

“Ah! Ah!” he said, quite calmly and gently. “It is so adorable to see
you weep! Better even than that you should step down off the easel, as
you sometimes do at night, and, crossing the room, bend over me and
give me sleep. Still the red man speaks truth, Madame, accurate,
unassailable truth. It comes just to this. Very soon now the final
act of this infernal comedy will be reached. I shall be mad–unless–”

“Unless–unless–what?”

Gabrielle St. Leger asked the question not because she wished to ask
it, but because outward things forced her.

All disease is actually infecting, if not actively infectious, since
contact with it disturbs the emotional and functional equilibrium,
maintenance of which constitutes perfect health. Such disturbance is
most readily and injuriously produced in persons of fine sensibility.
Just now Madame St. Leger’s faculties and feelings alike were in
disarray. René Dax, his genius and the neurosis from which he
suffered, his strange dwelling-place, all that which had happened in
and–morally–adhered to it, combined to put compulsion upon her. In a
sense, she knew the world. She was not inexperienced. But the
amenities of a polished and highly civilized society, whose principal
business it is to veil and mitigate the asperities of fact, had stood
between her and direct acquaintance with the fundamental brutalities of
life. Now she consciously met the shock of those brutalities, and met
it single-handed. This exclusively man’s world, the gates of which she
had forced with wilful self-confidence, produced in her humiliation and
helplessness, a sense of having projected herself into regions where
accustomed laws are inoperative and direction-posts–for guidance of
wandering feminine footsteps–agitatingly non-existent. Under this
stress of circumstance her initiative deserted her. The vein of
irony–running like a steel ribbon through her mentality–became
suddenly and queerly worked out. She could not detach herself from the
immediate position, stand aside, review it as a whole, and deal with
it. That which made for individuality had gone under. Only her
womanhood as womanhood–a womanhood sheltered, petted, moving ever in a
gracefully artificial atmosphere–was left. She had come, intending to
console, to minister, sagely to advise. It looked quite anxiously much
as though, tyrannized by rude, unfamiliar forces, she would remain to
yield and to obey. Thus, taking up the tag-end of René Dax’s speech,
she asked, unwillingly, almost fearfully:

“Unless–unless what?”

“Unless you consent to save me, Madame,” he replied, with insinuating
gravity and sweetness. “Unless you consecrate yourself to the work of
my recovery, you and the delicious Mademoiselle Bette.”

“But, my poor friend,” she reasoned, “how is it possible for me to do
that?”

“In a way very obvious and simple, wholly consonant to the most exalted
aspirations of your nature,” he returned. “I have planned it all out.
No serious difficulties present themselves. Good will, Madame, on your
part, some forethought on mine, and all is satisfactorily arranged. As
to Mademoiselle Bette, she will find herself in a veritable paradise.
You know her affection for me? And, putting aside my own gifts as a
comrade, I have most pleasing little animals for her to play with. You
have seen those in the aquarium? There is also Aristides. To my
anguish I struck him last night with a hearth-brush during my pursuit
of the red man, and Giovanni has charge of him in hospital to-day. The
affair was purely accidental. I am convinced that he bears me no
malice, poor cherished little cabbage; yet it cuts me to the quick to
see his empty chair. But to return to your coming, Madame. For it is
thus that you will save me–by coming here to remain permanently, by
devoting yourself to me unremittingly, exclusively–by coming
here–here to live.”

The color rushed into Madame St. Leger’s face and neck. Then ebbed,
leaving her white to the lips, deathly white as against the black
brocade of the chair-back. Here was a direction-post, at last, with
information written upon it of–as it seemed to her–the very plainest
and ugliest sort; the road which it signalized leading to well-known
and wholly undesirable places, though trodden, only too frequently, by
wandering feminine feet! For the moment she doubted his good faith;
doubted whether he was not playing some infamous trick upon her;
doubted whether his illness was not, after all, a treacherous
fabrication. Her mouth and throat went dry as a lime-kiln. She could
barely articulate.

“Monsieur,” she said sternly, “I fear it is already too late to save
you. In making such a proposition you show only too convincingly that
you are already mad.”

But the young man’s expression lost nothing of its triumph or his
manner of its sweetness.

“Madame, that is a very cruel speech,” he said.

“You deserve it should be cruel,” she answered.

“Indeed,” René replied, looking calmly at her. “Indeed, I do not. You
rush too hastily to injurious conclusions. It is an error to do so.
You cause yourself unnecessary annoyance. You, also, cause me a waste
of tissue, which, in my existing condition of health, I can ill afford.
It is irrevocably decided that you come here to live. Evidently it has
to be. I make no disloyal proposition to you. As I have told you, I
earnestly consider your good. It is to rescue you from threatening
perversions of office and of instinct, from declension to a lower
emotional level, that I invite you, require you, to make your home with
me. For I crave your presence not as other men crave for association
with so beautiful a person–that is, sensually, for gratification of
the beast within them–but spiritually, as an object of faith, an
object of worship, as a healing and purifying aura, a divine emanation
efficacious to the exorcism of that devouring devil, my art.
Mistress–wife–pah!–Madame, my art has been all that to me, and more
than that–not to mention those more active amatory excursions, common
to generous youth, in which I do not deny participation. But my art
has never been to me that thing so far more sacred, more human–a
mother.”

René Dax leaned toward her, both arms wide extended, his somber eyes
glowing as though a red lamp shone behind them, his features contracted
by spasms of pain.

“This,” he pursued, “is what I ask, what in the depths and heights, in
the utmost sincerity of my being, I need and must have.–The Madonna of
the Future, the perfect woman, whose experience as woman is at once
passionless and complete, human yet spiritual–the ever-lasting mother.
A mother, moreover, such as in the entire course of the uncounted ages
no man has ever yet possessed; still young, young as himself, unsoiled,
untired, still in the spring-time of her charm, yet mysterious, in a
sense awful, so that she is hedged about with inviolable reverence and
respect, the intimate wonders of whose beauty never fully disclose
themselves, but continue adorably unknown and remote. This is what I
need; and this you only can give. It is your unique and commanding
destiny. You must, rallying your fortitude and virtue, rise to it.”

He stood up, his head thrown back, his arms still extended, as he
indicated the extent and appointments of the studio with large,
sweeping gestures.

“See,” he cried, in increasing excitement, “here is the temple prepared
for your worship! I had decorated the walls of it with obscenities
which have caused rapture to the most emancipated intellects in Paris.
To spare you offense, when I decided that you should come to me, I sent
for plasterers, for whitewashes, who, even while they worked, rocked
with laughter at the masterpieces of humor they were in process of
destroying. The more intelligent of them mutinied, declaring it
vandalism to obliterate such expressions of genius. I seized a brush.
I myself worked, hailing invectives upon them. I never rested till my
purpose was achieved. Then, when the temple was cleansed, I wrote to
you.”

He sank down, squatting on the carpet, a queer black lump amid the
surrounding blackness, his shoulders resting against the front of the
divan, his hands clasped behind and supporting his pale, unwieldy head.

“Ah, ah!” he cried plaintively; “the pain, the pain–again it pierces
me! It becomes extravagant. Surely, Madame, I need not explain to you
any further? You witness my sufferings. Terminate them. It is in
your power to do so. You cannot refuse a request so wholly reasonable
and natural! You consent to remain with me?–There need be no delay.
Giovanni, my servant, is a good fellow, trustworthy and intelligent.
He will take a motor-cab and proceed immediately to the _Quai
Malaquais_. After informing Madame, your mother, that you remain here
permanently, he will return accompanied by Mademoiselle Bette. Within
the course of half an hour the thing is done; it becomes an
accomplished fact. Your welfare is assured; and I, Madame, I am
rescued from the bottomless pit, from a hell of unspeakable
disgust.–The pain ceases. The brazen Moloch no longer presses me to
his burning breast. I am recreated. My childhood is given back to
me–but a childhood of such peace, such innocent gaiety as no child
ever yet experienced. I sleep in exquisite content. I wake, not
merely to find and pray for help from your image reflected there upon
paper, but to find you yourself my guest and my savior, you here moving
to and fro among my possessions, breathing, speaking, smiling, making
day and night alike fragrant by your presence, distilling the healing
virtue of a deified maternity, of an enshrined and consecrated life.”

As he finished speaking the young man rose to his feet. He came near
to Gabrielle, and stood looking down at her, solemn, imploring, yet
with a strange, flickering impishness in his manner and his face. He
clasped his hard little hands, turning the palms of them outward,
alternately bowing over her and rising on tiptoe, holding himself
stiffly erect.

“Can you hesitate, Madame?” softly and sweetly he asked.
“No–assuredly–it is inconceivable that you should hesitate!”

Gabrielle had stripped off her gloves, thrown back the fronts of her
coat. Her bosom rose and fell with an abrupt irregular motion under
the lace and chiffon of her blouse. More than ever was the air dead,
the atmosphere suffocating. More than ever did those depraved forms
and conceptions, defying expulsion by plaster and whitewash, crowd in
upon and oppress her. Supernatural, moral, and physical terror,
joining hands, created a very evil magic circle around her, isolating
her, cutting her off from all familiar, amusing, pleasant, tender and
gracious every-day matters dear to her social and domestic sense. She
no longer entertained any doubt about the young man’s mental condition.
Shut away with him here, alone, behind closed doors, beneath
black-muffled skylights, with only clay-cold fish and reptiles as
witnesses, the situation began to appear alarming in the extreme. How
to effect her escape? How to temporize until rescue should in some
form come to her? Her circumstances were so incredible, so nightmarish
in their improbability, their merciless reality, their insane logic,
that her brain reeled under the strain. Wordlessly but passionately
she prayed for strength, guidance, help.

“It is inconceivable, Madame, that you still hesitate,” René repeated,
insinuatingly.

Making a supreme effort, Gabrielle rose from her chair. She felt
braver, more mistress of herself standing up. With an assumption of
ease and indifference she buttoned her coat and began drawing on her
long gloves.

“You are right,” she replied, but without looking at him. “I no longer
hesitate. You have made your meaning clear. You have also said many
affecting and poetic things to me. But, as you will be the first to
admit, there are certain filial obligations I am bound to discharge,
and to discharge personally. My beloved mother has been my companion
and my constant care for so long, that it is imperative I should go
with Giovanni; and, in a few words, tell her myself of the decision we
have arrived at. To commit the communication of such news to a
servant, however excellent, who is also a stranger, would be both cruel
and impertinent. You, who reverence motherhood so deeply, will
sympathize with this mother from whom you propose to take away those
dearest to her.”

The sobs rose in Gabrielle’s throat. But she swallowed them
courageously. If she once gave way, once lost her head–well–

“Moreover,” she continued, “unless I myself go, unless I myself claim
her, my mother will, and rightly, refuse to part with my little Bette.”

A pause followed, during which the young man appeared immersed in
thought. During that pause a faint sound of footsteps seemed to reach
Gabrielle’s fear-quickened hearing; but whether from the common
stairway, the flat underneath, or here, nearer at hand, she could not
determine. She prayed with all the fervor of her spirit, while deftly,
daintily smoothing out the wrinkles in the wrists of her long gloves.

“You appreciate the force of that which I say regarding my mother and
my little Bette?” she asked, glancing at him.

“I do–most incontestably, I do.”

The answer came so spontaneously and in so perfectly natural a tone
that Gabrielle’s glance steadied upon the speaker in swift inquiry and
hope. Had the cloud lifted, leaving his mind clear, permitting an
interval of lucidity, of reason and normal thought?

“Ah, my poor friend, then all is well?” she cried, a great thankfulness
irradiating her face.

“Perhaps, yes,” he returned, in the same quiet and natural manner.
“Personally I should have preferred the other plan. To relinquish it
disappoints me. All promised so well. But I put it aside, for toward
Madame, your mother, I am, believe me, incapable of an unsympathetic or
discourteous act.”

Gabrielle continued her little preparations for departure. She began
to arrange her veil. Raising both hands, she drew the edge of it
forward over the crown of her hat. Later, reaction would set in. Safe
in her own home, she would break down, paying in physical and mental
exhaustion the price of this very terrible act of charity. But just
now she felt strong and elate in her thankfulness for answered prayer
and prospect of release. Never had family affection, the love of
friends, all the wholesome sentiments of human intercourse, appeared to
her so delightful or so good. Delicate color tinged her cheeks.
Kindness and pity softened her golden-brown eyes. Standing there, with
upraised hands and gently smiling lips, her beauty was very noble, full
of soul as well as of victorious health and youth.

For some seconds René Dax gazed at her, as though fascinated, studying
every detail of her appearance. Then, once more, a flickering
impishness crossed his sad little face. He went down on one knee, laid
hold of the hem of her dress, and, bowing his great head to the ground,
kissed and again kissed it.

“Accept my worship, my homage, oh! Madonna–Madonna of the Future!” he
said.

He sprang upright, clasping his little hands again, the palms turned
outward.

“Yes,” he went on reflectively, “honestly, I prefer the other plan.
Yet this one, as I increasingly perceive, possesses merits. Let us
dwell upon them. They will console us. For, after all, what I am
about to carry out is, also, a masterpiece–daring, voluptuous,
merciless, at once lovely and hideous–and conclusive. Yes, amazingly
conclusive. Unmitigated–just that. It will set the public
imagination on fire. All Paris will seethe with it. All Paris which
can gain admittance will rush, fight, trample, to obtain a look at it.
It will represent the most scathing of my revenges upon the
unfathomable stupidity of mankind. But it will do more than that. It
will constitute my supreme revenge upon my art. Thus I sterilize the
brazen Moloch, rendering him voiceless, eyeless, handless, denying him
all means of self-expression. In myself dying, I make him worse than
dead–though he still exists. Art, being eternal, necessarily still
exists. Yet what an existence! I, who have so long parted company
with laughter, could almost laugh! Yes, veritably I draw his teeth.
By depriving him of my assistance as interpreter, by depriving him of
the vehicle of my unrivaled technique, I annihilate his power. Blind,
deaf, maimed, impotent, yes–yes–is it not beyond all words
magnificent? Let us hasten, Madame, to accomplish this.”

René had delivered himself of his harangue with growing indications of
excitement, his voice rising finally to a scream. Throughout the
nerve-shattering jar and rush of it, Madame St. Leger, in deepening
terror, listened for any sound of delivering footsteps–listened and
prayed. Now his manner changed, became cool, matter-of-fact, rather
horribly busy and business-like.

“See, Madame,” he said, “the divan on the left will certainly be the
most suitable. You will place yourself at the farther end of it.
There are plenty of cushions.–When Giovanni has filled the large
bronze bowl–you see which I mean–there upon the ebony pedestal?”

He pointed with one hand. With the other he laid hold of Madame St.
Leger’s wrist, the hard, short fingers closing down like the teeth of a
steel trap. To struggle was useless. Might God in his mercy hear and
send help!

“When Giovanni, I repeat, has filled the bowl with warm water–warm,
not too hot–and set it upon the center of the divan–thus–I will
instruct him to draw the screen across, concealing us. You understand,
we shall place ourselves on either side of the bowl, plunging our arms
as far as the elbow into it. The warmth of the water at once soothes
the nerves and accelerates the flow of blood.–Ah, do not draw back
from me!” he pleaded. “Do not render my task more difficult. Obey
your highest instincts. Be perfect in grace and in beneficence to the
close. The pain racks my head. Do not by opposition or reluctance
oblige me to concentrate my brain upon further explanation or
thought.–Consider only that from which I save you. The degradation of
marriage, of the embraces of a lover–of Adrian, my old
schoolfellow–the impious assumption of the beast!–of Adrian
Savage.–From the shame of old age, too–from the anguish of tears shed
beside the bedside of, possibly, your child, your little Bette–of,
certainly, Madame, your mother! And, as against all these tragedies,
to what does the other amount? I give you my word it will not hurt.
You will barely be sensible of that which is occurring.–The merest
scratch.–In my student days I obtained bodies from the hospitals.
With minute and faithful accuracy I dissected them out. I know
precisely where to cut, what portion of the arteries and sinews to
sever.–And we shall sit here alone–alone–you and I, behind the red
screen, while our veins empty themselves of their red liquor, and
slowly, serenely life ebbs, our vision growing dim and yet more–

“Help!” Gabrielle called aloud. “Help!”

For truly the sound of voices and of footsteps came at last. The
studio door was thrown open. A man entered. Who he was she did not
know; but, with a strength born of despair and of hope, she wrenched
herself free from René Dax’s grasp, ran across the big room, flung her
arms round the man’s neck, her beautiful head crushing down upon his
breast, while her breath rushed out in great strangled, panting cries:
“Ah!” And again, “Ah! Ah!”

Adrian stood on the edge of the pavement beside his well-appointed,
blue-black automobile, the door of which the chauffeur held open. The
hinged top of the limousine was folded back, and the sunshine, slanting
down over the roofs of the high, white houses on the right, brought the
pale, gray-clad figure of its occupant into charming relief as against
the oatmeal-colored upholstering of the inside of the car in tones at
once blending and standing finely apart. An itinerant flower-seller,
bareheaded, short-skirted, trimly shod, her flat, wicker tray heaped up
with vivid blossoms, held out a graceful bunch of crimson and yellow
roses, with the smiling suggestion that–“Monsieur should assuredly
present them to Madame, who could not fail to revel in their ravishing
odor.” Monsieur, however, showed himself unflatteringly ignorant of
her presence, while Martin, the chauffeur, dissembling his natural
inclination toward every member of the sex, motioned her away with, so
to speak, a front of adamant.

Adrian put one foot on the step of the car, and there paused,
hesitating. At last, with a point of eagerness piercing his
constraint, he said:

“Instead of going directly to the _Quai Malaquais_, will you permit me
to take you for a short, a quiet drive, Madame? The air may refresh
you.”

“I shall be grateful,” Gabrielle replied, briefly and hoarsely.

Adrian delivered himself of rapid, emphatic directions to his
chauffeur, swung into the car, and placed himself beside her, arranging
the thin dust-rug carefully over the skirt of her dress. Then, his
nostrils quivering slightly, his face noticeably drawn and set, he
leaned back in his corner of the luxurious vehicle. Martin slipped in
behind the steering-wheel; and with a preliminary snarl and rattling
vibration, gaining silence and smoothness as it made the pace, the car
headed up the glittering perspective of the wide, tree-bordered street.

Somewhere in the back of his consciousness, when he had bought this car
a few weeks prior to his last visit to Stourmouth, there floated
entrancing visions of circumstances such as the present. At that time
his affair of the heart promised lamentably ill, and realization of
such visions appeared both highly improbable and most wearifully
distant. Now a wholly unexpected turn of events had converted them
into actual fact. Through the delight of the brilliant summer
afternoon, the caressing wind, and clear, brave sunlight he bore
Gabrielle St. Leger away whither he would. Verily he had his desire,
but leanness withal in his soul. For, God in heaven! what a question
squatted there upon the biscuit-colored seat, interposing its hateful
presence between them, poisoning his mind with an anguish of suspense
and doubt!

He was still, even physically, under the dominion of the almost
incredible scene in which he had recently taken part. He had carried
rather than led Madame St. Leger down the five flights of stairs from
René Dax’s flat, and had just only not required the help of the
chauffeur to lift her into the waiting car. His heart still thumped,
sledge-hammer fashion, against his ribs. Every muscle was strained and
taut. Not his eyes only, but the whole temper and spirit of him, were
still hot with desire of vengeance. That loud, hardly human cry of
Gabrielle’s as, lost to all dignity, lost almost to all modesty, she
flung herself upon him still rang in his ears. The primitive savagery
of it coming from the lips of so fastidious, elusive, quick-witted a
creature, from those of so artistic a product of our complicated modern
civilization, at once horrified and filled him with vicarious shame.
In that wild moment of impact the dormant violence of the young man’s
passion had been aroused. Yet a gross and cynical query was scrawled
across his remembrance of it all. For what could, in point of fact,
have happened previous to his arrival to produce so amazing a result?

And to Adrian not the least cruel part of this business was the duty,
so clearly laid upon him, of rigid self-restraint, of maintaining, for
her protection, as sparing and shielding her, his ordinary air of
courteous, unaccentuated and friendly intercourse. Good breeding and
fine feeling alike condemned him to behave just as usual, not assuming
by so much as a hair’s breadth that closer intimacy which the events of
the last half-hour might very reasonably justify. Unless she herself
chose to speak, this whole astounding episode must remain as though it
never had been and was not.–And here his lover’s and artist’s
imagination crimped him, projecting torments of unsatisfied conjecture
extending throughout the unending cycles of eternity. Yet in
uncomplaining endurance of such torment, as he perceived, must the
perfection of his attitude toward her declare itself, must the
perfection of his loyalty come in.

Meanwhile as the car hummed along the upward-trending avenues toward
the southern heights, leaving the more fashionable and populous
districts of the city behind, the air grew lighter and the breeze more
lively. Adrian, still sitting tight in his corner, trusted himself to
look at his companion. Through the fluttering gray veil, as through
some tenuous, drifting mist, he saw her proud, delicate profile. Saw
also that though she remained apparently passive and strove to hold all
outward signs of emotion in check, the tears ran slowly down her cheek,
while the rounded corner of her usually enigmatic, smiling mouth
trembled nervously and drooped.

Presently, as he still watched, she slipped the chain of her gold and
gray vanity-bag off her wrist and essayed to open it. But her fingers
fumbled ineffectually with the gilt snap. The beautiful, capable hands
he so fondly loved shook, having suddenly grown weak. Tears came into
Adrian’s eyes also. To him the helplessness of those dear hands stood
for so very much. Silently he took the little bag, opened and held it,
while she pulled out a lace-bordered handkerchief, and, pushing it
beneath the fluttering veil, wiped her wet eyes and wet cheeks. He
kept the bag open, waiting for her to put the handkerchief back. But,
without speaking, Gabrielle shook her head slightly, in token that
further drying operations might not improbably shortly be required.
Adrian obediently snapped to the gold catch; yet, since he really shut
up such a very big slice of his own heart within it, was it not, after
all, but natural and legitimate that he should retain possession of the
little bag?

This trifle of service rendered and accepted bore fruit, bringing the
two into a more normal relation and lessening the tension of their
mutual constraint. After a while Gabrielle spoke, but low and
hoarsely, her throat still strained by those hardly human cries.
Adrian found himself obliged to draw nearer to her if he would catch
her words amid the clatter of the street and humming of the engines of
the car.

“There is that, I feel, I should without delay make you know,” she
said, speaking in English; for it comes easier, sometimes, to clothe
the telling of ugly and difficult things with the circumscriptions of a
foreign language.

“Yes?” Adrian put in, as she paused.

“You should know that he is insane. Possibly my visiting him
contributed to precipitate the crisis. I do not know. But he is now
no longer responsible. Therefore truly I commiserate rather than feel
anger toward him.”

Again the handkerchief went up under the fluttering veil. Again, when
it was withdrawn, Adrian saw, as through thin, drifting mist, the
proud, delicate profile.

“I should make you know,” she went on, resolutely, “it was my
life–yes, my life–but my honor, no–never–which was in jeopardy.”

“Thank God! thank God for that!” the young man almost groaned, bowing
himself together, while his grasp tightened upon the pretty little gold
and gray bag almost mercilessly.

He sat upright, took a deep breath, staring with unseeing eyes at the
bright, variegated prospect of shops, houses, trees, traffic, people
scampering past on either side the rushing car. Only now did he begin
to gauge the vital character of his recent misery, and the tremendous
force of the love which in so happily constituted and circumstanced a
man as himself could render such a misery possible. Until to-day,
until, indeed, this thrice-blessed minute when he learned from her own
lips that no shame sullied her, he had never really gauged the depth of
his love for Gabrielle St. Leger, or quite realized how all the many
ambitions, interests, satisfactions of his very agreeable existence
were as so much dust, froth, garbage, burnt-out cinder in comparison to
that love. He had told Anastasia Beauchamp, in the course of a certain
memorable conversation, he would devote his life to that love. But, he
now discovered, it was quite unnecessary that he should take active
steps toward the production or maintenance of it, since his life was
already almost alarmingly devoted, leaving room, in truth, as he now
perceived, for nothing outside that same love. And thereupon–the
balance essaying to right itself, as in sane, healthy natures it
instinctively must and will–poor Joanna Smyrthwaite’s face, and its
expression of semi-idiot ecstasy, as he had seen it only two nights ago
at the Tower House on the gallery in the checkered moonlight, arose
before him. Adrian was conscious of pulling himself together
sharply.–Love–if you will–and with all the strength, all the vigor
of his nature. But to dote? Devil take the notion–no thank you!
Never, if he knew it, would he dote.

Wherefore, it followed that his wits were very thoroughly, if very
tenderly, about him when next Gabrielle St. Leger spoke.

“I see now,” she said, “the method by which he proposed we–he and
myself–should die amounted to an absurdity, since it involved the
concurrence of his servant.”

Covered by the noise of the car, Adrian permitted himself the relief of
cursing a little quietly under his breath.

“But at the time I could not reason. I found myself too confused and
terrified by the extraordinary and horrible things he told me–things
in themselves demented, extravagant, yet as he told them so apparently
sensible. His poor, disordered brain was so fertile in expedients that
from moment to moment I could not foresee what fresh unnatural demand
he might make on me, what new scheme he might not devise for my
destruction.”

“Alone with a maniac no degree of fear can be excessive,” Adrian
asserted, warmly.

For he perceived her pride was touched, so that her self-esteem called
for support and encouragement. To his hearing her words conveyed a
rather pathetic hint of apology, both to herself and to him, for that
moment of wild self-abandonment.

“It doesn’t require much imagination,” he went on, “to understand the
danger you ran was appalling–in every way appalling–simply that.
And, good heavens! why didn’t I know?” he broke out, slapping his two
hands down on his knees in sudden fury. “Why didn’t my instinct warn
me, thick-headed fool that I am? Why didn’t I get to that hateful
carrion-bird’s roost of a studio an hour, half an hour earlier? Pardon
me, dear Madame,” he added, moderating his transports, “if I shock you
by my violence. But when I consider what you must have endured, when I
picture what might have happened, I confess I am almost beside myself
with rage and distress.”

_La belle Gabrielle_ had turned her head. She looked straight at him.
The timid ghost of her mysterious, finely malicious smile visited her
lips. Yet seen through the mist of her fluttering veil her eyes were
singularly soft and lovely, wistful–so, at least, it seemed to
Adrian–with the dawning of a sentiment other than that of bare
friendship. Whereupon the young man’s heart began to thump against his
ribs again, while the engines of the car broke into a most marvelous
sweet singing.

“I am not sure,” she commenced, speaking with engaging hesitation,
“whether, perhaps, since I am, thanks to _le bon Dieu_, here in safety
and about to return unhurt to my child and my mother, it is not well I
should have had this trial. For you did come in time–yes, mercifully
in time. I doubt if I could have endured much longer. There were
other things,” she went on, hurriedly, “besides those which I
consciously heard or saw which combined to disgust and terrify me.
You, too, believe, do you not, that thoughts may acquire a separate
existence–thoughts, purposes, imaginations–and that they may inhabit
particular places? I cannot explain, but by such things I believe
myself to be surrounded. I felt they might break through whatever
restraining medium withheld them, and become visible. A little longer
and my reason, too, might have given way–” She paused. “But you
came–you came–”

“Yes, I came,” Adrian repeated quietly.

“And, that being so–I being mercifully spared the worst, being unhurt,
I mean–”

“Yes, precisely–unhurt,” he repeated with praiseworthy docility.

“This experience may be of value. It may help to make me revise some
mistaken ideas”–she turned away, and, though her head was held high,
tears, as Adrian noted, were again somewhat in evidence–“some perhaps
foolishly self-willed and–how shall I say?–conceited opinions.”

In the last few minutes the car had traversed one of those unkempt and,
in a sense, nomadic districts common to the fringe of all great cities.
Spaces of waste land, littered with nondescript rubbish and materials
for new buildings in course of noisy construction, alternated with rows
of low-class houses, off the walls of which the plaster cracked and
scaled; with long lines of hoardings displaying liberal assortment of
flaming posters; wine-shops at once shabby and showy, crude reds,
greens, and yellows adorning their wooden balconies and striped,
flapping awnings; gaudy-fronted dancing-booths and shooting-galleries
tailing away at the back into neglected weed-grown gardens. All these,
with a sparse population, male and female, very much to match; while
here and there some solitary shuttered dwelling standing back from the
wide avenue in an inclosed plot of ground betrayed a countenance
suggestive of disquieting adventures.

As Madame St. Leger finished making her, to Adrian, very touching
confession, the automobile, quitting these doubtful purlieus–which,
however, thanks to a charm of early summer foliage and generous breadth
of sunshine, took on an air of jovial devil-may-care vagabondage,
inspiriting rather than objectionable–headed eastward, along the
boulevard skirting the grass-grown slopes and mounds of the dismantled
fortifications, and drew up opposite the entrance to the _Parc de
Montsouris_. Here, Adrian proposed they should alight and stroll in
the tree-shaded alleys, as a relief from the dust and noise of the
streets.

But once on her feet, Gabrielle discovered how very tired she still
was, weak-kneed and tremulous to the point of gladly accepting the
support of her companion’s arm. This renewed contact, though of a
comparatively perfunctory and unofficial character, proved by no means
displeasing to Adrian. In truth it gave him such a lively sense of
happiness, that to his dying day he will cherish a romantic affection
for those remote and unfashionable pleasure-grounds upon the southern
heights. Happiness is really the simplest of God’s creatures–easily
gratified, large in charity, hospitable to all the minor poetry of
life. Whence it came about that this critical, traveled, shrewd, and
smart young gentleman had never, surely, beheld trees so green,
flower-borders so radiant, walks so smooth and well-swept, statues so
noble, cascades so musical, lakes so limpid and so truthfully mirroring
the limpid heavens above. Even the rococo and slightly ridiculous
reproduction of the Palace of the Bey of Tunis, now used as an
observatory, which crowns the highest ground, its domes, cupolas,
somberly painted mural surfaces, peacock-blue encaustic tiles, and rows
of horseshoe-headed Moorish arches–looking in its modern Western
surroundings about as congruous as a camel in a
cabbage-patch–presented itself to his happy eyes with all the
allurements of some genii-and-gem-built palace from out the immortal
pages of the _Arabian Nights_. Gabrielle St. Leger’s hand rested upon
his arm, her feet kept step with his feet. The folds of her dainty
gown swept lightly against him as he walked. Past and future fell out
of the reckoning. Nothing obtained save the beatified present, while
his heart and his senses were, at once, sharply hungry and exquisitely
at peace.

The grounds were practically deserted. Only a few employees from the
observatory, blue-habited gardeners, a batch of Cook’s
tourists–English and American–weary with sight-seeing, and some
respectable French fathers of families, imparting, _al fresco_,
instruction in local natural science, topography and art, to their
progeny, were at hand to greet the passing couple with starings,
sympathetic, self-consicous, or envious, as the case might be. Among
the first ranked the French fathers of families, who paused in frank
admiration and interest.

“For was not the lady arrestingly elegant?–_Sapristi!_ if ever a young
man had luck! Yet, after all, why not? For he, too, repaid
observation. Truly a handsome fellow, and of a type of male beauty
eminently Gallic–refined yet virile; perfectly distinguished,
moreover, in manner and in dress. She appeared languid. Well, what
more easily comprehensible, since–a marriage of inclination, without
doubt–”

Whereupon, in the intervals of anxiously retrieving some strayed all
too adventurous Mimi or Toto, the fond parental being beheld, in
prophetic vision, Adrian the Magnificent also shepherding a delicious
little human flock.

“How did you know, or was it by chance that you came?” Gabrielle
presently inquired.

And, in reply, Adrian explained that, the affairs of the Smyrthwaite
inheritance being completed sooner than he anticipated, he had advanced
his return–Ah! shade, accusing shade, of Joanna! But with _la belle
Gabrielle’s_ hand resting confidingly upon his arm, he could hardly be
expected to turn aside to appease that unhappy phantom.

“Unfortunately I missed the connection in London, and failed to catch
the midday Channel boat. Consequently I only reached Paris early this
morning. I had passed two practically sleepless nights”–again
accusing shade of Joanna, sound of footsteps, and dragging of draperies
upon the corridor outside his bedroom door!–“To my shame,” he
continued, “I made up for my broken rest to-day. It was already past
three o’clock when I went to my office. I had omitted to warn my
people there of my return. Picture then, _chère Madame_, my emotion
when my secretary handed me a letter from our friend Miss Beauchamp!”

“So it was Anastasia,” Madame St. Leger murmured; but whether
resentfully or gratefully her hearer failed to determine.

“I flung myself into the automobile–and–_enfin_–you know the rest.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “I know the rest.”

And, thereupon, she gave a little cry of astonishment.

For, turning the eastern side of the would-be Moorish palace and
passing on to the terrace in front of it, the whole of Paris was
disclosed to view outspread below along the valley of the Seine. In
intermingling, finely gradated tones, blond and silver, the immense
panorama presented itself; squares, gardens, monuments, world-famous
streets and world-famous buildings seen in the splendid clarity of the
sun-penetrated atmosphere, purple-stained here and there by the shadows
of detached high-sailing clouds. Upon the opposite height, crowning
Montmartre, the Church of the _Sacré Coeur_ rose ivory-white, its dome
and clock-tower seeming strangely adjacent to the vast blue arch of the
summer sky; while, in the extreme distance both to right and left,
beyond the precincts of the laughing city, a gray, angular grimness of
outlying forts struck the vibrant and masculine note of the peril of
war.

For quite a sensible period of time Gabrielle St. Leger gazed at the
scene in silence. Then she took her hand from Adrian’s arm and moved a
step away. But he could not quarrel with this, since she put up her
veil and looked frankly yet wistfully at him, a great sweetness in her
charming face.

“Ah!” she said, stretching out her hand with a gesture of welcome to
the noble view, “this is a thing to do one good, to renew one’s
courage, one’s sanity and hope. I am grateful to you. It was both
wise and kind of you to bring me here and show me this. By so doing
you have washed my mind of dark and sinister impressions. You have
made me once more in love with the goodness of God, in love with life.
But come,” she added, quickly, almost shyly, “I must ask you to take me
home to the _Quai Malaquais_. I can meet my mother and child now
without betraying emotion–without letting them suspect the grave and
terrible trial through which I have passed.”

And upon this speech Adrian Savage, being an astute and politic lover,
offered no comment. He had gained so much to-day that he could afford
to be patient, making no attempt to press his point. Restraining his
natural impetuosity, he rested in the happiness of the present and
spoke no word of love. Only his eyes, perhaps, gave him away just a
little; and, undoubtedly, on the return journey in the merrily singing
car he permitted himself to sit a little closer to _la belle Gabrielle_
than on the journey out.

At the foot of the shining, waxed, wooden staircase within the doorway
at the corner of the courtyard, where, backed by her bodyguard of
spindly planes and poplars, the lichen-stained nymph still poured the
contents of her tilted pitcher into the shell-shaped basin below,
Adrian left Madame St. Leger.

“No, I will not come farther, _chère Madame et amie_,” he said, his air
at once gallant and tender, standing before her, hat in hand. “It will
perhaps be easier, in face of the pious fraud you propose to practise
upon Madame, your mother, that you should meet her alone.”

He backed away. It was safer. Farewells are treacherous. All had
been perfect so far. He would give himself no chance of occasion for
regret.

“Mount the stairs slowly, though, dear Madame,” he called after her,
moved by sudden anxiety. “Remember your recent fatigue–they are
steep.”

Then, the beloved gray gown and floating gray veil having passed upward
out of sight, he turned and went.

“And now for that poor, unhappy little devil of a Tadpole,” he said.

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