WHEREIN A VERY MODERN YOUNG MAN TELL

Adrian Savage–a noticeably distinct, well-groomed, and well-set-up
figure, showing dark in the harsh light of the winter afternoon against
the pallor of the asphalt–walked rapidly across the Pont des Arts,
and, about half-way along the _Quai Malaquais_, turned in under the
archway of a cavernous _porte-cochère_. The bare, spindly planes and
poplars, in the center of the courtyard to which this gave access,
shivered visibly. Doubtless the lightly clad, lichen-stained nymph to
whom they acted as body-guard would have shivered likewise had her
stony substance permitted, for icicles fringed the lip of her tilted
pitcher and caked the edge of the shell-shaped basin into which, under
normal conditions, its waters dripped with a not unmusical tinkle. Yet
the atmosphere of the courtyard struck the young man as almost mild
compared with that of the quay outside, along which the northeasterly
wind scourged bitingly. Upon the farther bank of the turgid,
gray-green river the buildings of the Louvre stood out pale and stark
against a sullen backing of snow-cloud. For the past week Paris had
cowered, sunless, in the grip of a black frost. If those leaden
heavens would only elect to unload themselves of their burden the
weather might take up! To Adrian Savage, in excellent health and
prosperous circumstances, the cold in itself mattered nothing–would,
indeed, rather have acted as a stimulus to his chronic appreciation of
the joy of living but for the fact that he had to-day been suddenly and
unexpectedly called upon to leave Paris and bid farewell to one of its
inhabitants eminently and even perplexingly dear to him. Having, for
all his young masculine optimism, the artist’s exaggerated sensibility
to the aspects of outward things, and equally exaggerated capacity for
conceiving–highly improbable–disaster, it troubled him to make his
adieux under such forbidding meteorologic conditions. His regrets and
alarms would, he felt, have been decidedly lessened had kindly sunshine
set a golden frame about his parting impressions.

Nevertheless, as–raising his hat gallantly to the concierge, seated in
her glass-fronted lodge, swathed mummy-like in shawls and mufflers–he
turned shortly to the left along the backs of the tall, gray houses, a
high expectation, at once delightful and disturbing, took possession of
him to the exclusion of all other sensations. For the past eighteen
months–ever since, indeed, the distressingly sudden death of his old
friend, the popular painter Horace St. Leger–he had made this selfsame
little pilgrimage as frequently as respectful discretion permitted.
And invariably, at the selfsame spot–it was where, as he noted
amusedly, between the third and fourth of the heavily barred
ground-floor windows a square leaden water-pipe, running the height of
the house wall from the parapet of the steep slated roof, reached the
grating in the pavement–this quickening of his whole being came upon
him, however occupied his thoughts might previously have been with his
literary work, or with the conduct of the bi-monthly review of which he
was at once assistant editor and part proprietor. This quickening
remained with him, moreover, as he entered a doorway set in the near
corner of the courtyard and ran up the flights of waxed wooden stairs
to the third story. In no country of the civilized world, it may be
confidently asserted, do affairs of the heart, even when virtuous,
command more indulgent sympathy than in France. It followed that
Adrian entertained his own emotions with the same eager and friendly
amenity which he would have extended to those of another man in like
case. He was not in the least contemptuous or suspicious of them. He
permitted cynicism no smallest word in the matter. On the contrary, he
hailed the present ebullience of his affections as among those
captivating surprises of earthly existence upon which one should warmly
congratulate oneself, having liveliest cause for rejoicing.

To-day, as usual, there was a brief pause before the door of the
vestibule opened. A space of delicious anxiety—carrying him back to
the poignant hopes and despairs of childhood, when the fate of some
anticipated treat hangs in the balance–while he inquired of the trim
waiting-maid whether her mistress was or was not receiving. Followed
by that other moment, childlike, too, in its deliciously troubled
emotion and vision, when, passing from the corridor into the warm,
vaguely fragrant atmosphere of the long, pale, rose-red and
canvas-colored drawing-room, he once again beheld the lady of his
desires and of his heart.

From the foregoing it may be deduced, and rightly, that Adrian Savage
was of a romantic temperament, and that he was very much in love. Let
it be immediately added, however, that he was a young gentleman whose
head, to employ a vulgarism, was most emphatically screwed on the right
way. Only child of an eminent English physician of good family, long
resident in Paris, and of a French mother–a woman of great personal
charm and some distinction as a poetess–he had inherited, along with a
comfortable little income of about eighteen hundred pounds a year, a
certain sagacity and decision in dealing with men and with affairs, as
well as quick sensibility in relation to beauty and to drama. Artist
and practical man of the world went, for the most part, very happily
hand and hand in him. At moments, however, they quarreled, to the
production of complications.

The death of both his parents occurred during his tenth year, leaving
him to the guardianship of a devoted French grandmother. Under the
terms of Doctor Savage’s will one-third of his income was to be applied
to the boy’s maintenance and education until his majority, the
remaining two-thirds being set aside to accumulate until his
twenty-third birthday. “At that age,” so the document in question
stated, “I apprehend that my son will have discovered in what direction
his talents and aptitudes lie. I do not wish to fetter his choice of a
profession; still I do most earnestly request him not to squander the
considerable sum of money into possession of which he will then come,
but to spend it judiciously, in the service of those talents and
aptitudes, with the purpose of securing for himself an honorable and
distinguished career.” This idea that something definite, something
notable even in the matter of achievement was demanded from him, clung
to the boy through school and college, acting–since he was healthy,
high-spirited, and confident–as a wholesome incentive to effort. Even
before fulfilling his term of military service, Adrian had decided what
his career should be. Letters called him with no uncertain voice. He
would be a writer–dramatist, novelist, an artist in psychology, in
touch at all points with the inexhaustible riches of the human scene.
His father’s science, his mother’s poetic gift, should combine, so he
believed, to produce in him a very special vocation. His ambitions at
this period were colossal. The raw material of his selected art
appeared to him nothing less than the fee-simple of creation. He
planned literary undertakings beside which the numerically formidable
volumes of Balzac or Zola shriveled to positive next-to-nothingness.
Fortunately fuller knowledge begot a juster sense of proportion, while
his native shrewdness lent a hand to knocking extravagant conceptions
on the head. By the time he came into possession of the comfortable
sum of money that had accumulated during his minority and he was free
to follow his bent, Adrian found himself contented with quite modest
first steps in authorship. For a couple of years he traveled, resolved
to broaden his acquaintance with men and things, to get some clear
first-hand impressions both of the ancient, deep-rooted civilizations
of the East and the amazing mushroom growths of America. On his return
to Paris, it so happened that a leading bi-monthly review, which had
shown hospitality to his maiden literary productions, stood badly in
need of financial support. Adrian bought a preponderating interest in
it; and by the time in question–namely, the winter of 190- and the
dawn of his thirtieth year–had contrived to make it not only a
powerful factor in contemporary criticism and literary output, but a
solid commercial success.

To be nine-and-twenty, the owner of a well-favored person, of admitted
talent and business capacity, and to be honestly in love, is surely to
be as happily circumstanced as mortal man can reasonably ask to be.
That the course of true love should not run quite smooth, that the
beloved one should prove elusive, difficult of access, that obstacles
should encumber the path of achievement, that mists of doubt and
uncertainty should drift across the face of the situation, obscuring
its issues, only served in Adrian’s case to heighten interest and whet
appetite. The last thing he asked was that the affair should move on
fashionable, conventional lines, a matter for newspaper paragraphs and
social gossip. The justifying charm of it, to his thinking, resided in
precisely those elements of uncertainty and difficulty. If, in the
twentieth century, a man is to subscribe to the constraints of marriage
at all, let it at least be in some sort marriage by capture! And, as
he told himself, what man worth the name, let alone what artist, what
poet–vowed by his calling to confession of the transcendental, the
eternally mystic and sacred in this apparently most primitive, even
savage, of human relations–would choose to capture his exquisite prey
amid the blatant materialism, the vulgar noise and chaffer of the
modern social highway; rather than pursue it through the shifting
lights and shadows of mysterious woodland places, the dread of its
final escape always upon him, till his feet were weary with running,
and his hands with dividing the thick, leafy branches, his ears, all
the while, tormented by the baffling, piercing sweetness of the
half-heard Pipes of Pan?

Not infrequently Adrian would draw himself up short in the midst of
such rhapsodizings, humorously conscious that the artistic side of his
nature had got the bit, so to speak, very much between its teeth and
was running away altogether too violently with its soberer, more
practical, stable companion. For, as he frankly admitted, to the
ordinary observer it must seem a rather ludicrously far cry from Madame
St. Leger’s pleasant, well-found flat, in the center of cosmopolitan
twentieth-century Paris, to the arcana of pagan myth and legend! Yet,
speaking quite soberly and truthfully, it was of such ancient, secret,
and symbolic things he instinctively thought when looking into
Gabrielle St. Leger’s golden-brown eyes and noting the ironic
loveliness of her smiling lips. That was just the delight, just the
provocation, just what differentiated her from all other women of his
acquaintance, from any other woman who, so far, had touched his heart
or stirred his senses. Her recondite beauty–to quote the phrase of
this analytical lover–challenged his imagination with the excitement
of something hidden; though whether hidden by intentional and delicate
malice, or merely by lack of opportunity for self-declaration, he was
at a loss to determine. Daughter, wife, mother, widow–young though
she still was, she had sounded the gamut of woman’s most vital
experiences. Yet, it seemed to him, although she had fulfilled, and
was fulfilling, the obligations incident to each of these several
conditions in so gracious and irreproachable a manner, her soul had
never been effectively snared in the meshes of any net. Good Catholic,
good housewife, sympathetic hostess, intelligent and discriminating
critic, still–he might be a fool for his pains, but what artist
doesn’t know better than to under-rate the fine uses of folly?–he
believed her to be, either by fate or by choice, essentially a _Belle
au Bois Dormant_; and further believed himself, thanks to the workings
of constitutional masculine vanity, to be the princely adventurer
designed by providence for the far from disagreeable duty of waking her
up. Only just now providence, to put it roughly, appeared to have
quite other fish for him to fry. And it was under compulsion of such
prospective fish-frying that he sought her apartment overlooking the
_Quai Malaquais_, this afternoon, reluctantly to bid her farewell.

Disappointment awaited him. Madame St. Leger was receiving; but, to
his chagrin, another visitor had forestalled his advent–witness a
woman’s fur-lined wrap lying across the lid of the painted Venetian
chest in the corridor. Adrian bestowed a glance of veritable hatred
upon the garment. Then, recognizing it, felt a little better. For it
belonged to Anastasia Beauchamp, an old friend, not unsympathetic, as
he believed, to his suit.

Sympathy, however, was hardly the note struck on his entrance. Miss
Beauchamp and Madame St. Leger stood in the vacant rose-red carpeted
space at the far end of the long room, in front of the open fire. Both
were silent; yet Adrian was aware somehow they had only that moment
ceased speaking, and that their conversation had been momentous in
character. The high tension of it held them to the point of their
permitting him to walk the whole length of the room before turning to
acknowledge his presence. This was damping for Adrian, who, like most
agreeable young men, thought himself entitled to and well worth a
welcome. But not a bit of it! The elder woman–high-shouldered,
short-waisted, an admittedly liberal sixty, her arms disproportionate
in their length and thinness to her low stature–continued to hold her
hostess’s right hand in both hers and look at her intently, as though
enforcing some request or admonition.

Miss Beauchamp, it may be noted in passing, affected a certain
juvenility of apparel. To-day she wore a short purple serge
walking-suit. A velvet toque of the same color, trimmed with sable and
blush-roses, perched itself on her elaborately dressed hair, which, in
obedience to the then prevailing fashion, showed not gray but a full
coppery red. Her eyebrows and eyelids were darkly penciled, and powder
essayed to mask wrinkles and sallowness of complexion. Yet the very
frankness of these artifices tended to rob them of offense; or, in any
serious degree–the first surprise of them over–to mar the genial
promise of her quick blue-gray eyes and her thin, witty, strongly
marked, rather masculine countenance. Adrian usually accepted her
superficial bedizenments without criticism, as just part of her
excellent, if somewhat bizarre, personality. But to-day–his temper
being slightly ruffled–under the cold, diffused light of the range of
tall windows, they started, to his seeing, into quite unpardonable
prominence–a prominence punctuated by the grace and the proudly
youthful aspect of the woman beside her.

Madame St. Leger was clothed in unrelieved black, from the frill, high
about her long throat, to the hem of her trailing cling skirts. Over
her head she had thrown a black gauze scarf, soberly framing her
heart-shaped face in fine semi-transparent folds, and obscuring the
burnished lights in her brown hair, which stood away in soft, dense
ridges on either side the parting and was gathered into a loose knot at
the back of her head. Her white skin was very clear, a faint scarlet
tinge showing through it in the round of either cheek. But just now
she was pale. And this, along with the framing black gauze scarf,
developed the subtle likeness which–as Adrian held–she bore, in the
proportions of her face and molding of it, to Leonardo’s world-famous
“Mona Lisa” in Salon Carré of the Louvre. The strange recondite
quality of her beauty, and the challenge it offered, were peculiarly in
evidence; thereby making, as he reflected, cruel, though unconscious,
havoc of the juvenile pretensions of poor Anastasia. And this was
painful to him. So that in wishing–as he incontestably did–the said
Anastasia absent, his wish may have been dictated almost as much by
chivalry as by selfishness.

All of which conflicting perceptions and emotions tended to rob him of
his habitual and happy self-assurance. His voice took on quite
plaintive tones, and his gay brown eyes a quite pathetic and orphaned
expression, as he exclaimed:

“Ah! I see that I disturb you. I am in the way. My visit is
inconvenient to you!”

The faint tinge of scarlet leaped into Madame St. Leger’s cheeks, and
an engaging dimple indicated itself at the left corner of her closed
and smiling mouth. Meanwhile Anastasia Beauchamp broke forth
impetuously:

“No, no! On the contrary, it is I who am in the way, though our dear,
exquisite friend is too amiable to tell me so. I have victimized her
far too long already. I have bored her distractingly.”

“Indeed, it is impossible you should ever bore me,” the younger woman
put in quietly.

“Then I have done worse. I have just a little bit angered you,” Miss
Beauchamp declared. “Oh! I know I have been richly irritating,
preaching antiquated doctrines of moderation in thought and conduct.
But ‘_les vérités bêtes_’ remain ‘_les vérités vraies_,’ now as ever.
With that I go. _Ma toute chère et belle_, I leave you. And,” she
added, turning to Adrian, “I leave you, you lucky young man, in
possession. Retrieve my failures! Be as amusing as I have been
intolerable.–But see, one moment, since the opportunity offers. Tell
me, you are going to accept those articles on the Stage in the
Eighteenth Century, by my poor little protégé, Lewis Byewater, for
publication in the Review?”

“Am I not always ready to attempt the impossible for your sake, dear
Mademoiselle?” Adrian inquired gallantly.

“Hum–hum–is it as bad as that, then? Are his articles so impossible?
Byewater has soaked himself in his subject. He has been tremendously
conscientious. He has taken immense trouble over them.”

“He has taken immensely too much; that is just the worry. His
conscience protrudes at every sentence. It prods, it positively
impales you!” The speaker raised his neat black eyebrows and broad
shoulders in delicate apology. “Alas! he is pompous, pedantic, I
grieve to report; he is heavy, very heavy, your little Byewater. The
eighteenth-century stage was many things which it had, no doubt, much
better not have been, but was it heavy? Assuredly not.”

“Ah! poor child, he is young. He is nervous. He has not command of
his style yet. You should be lenient. Give him opportunity and
encouragement, and he will find himself, will rise to the possibilities
of his own talent. After all,” she added, “every writer must begin
some time and somewhere!”

“But not necessarily in the pages of my Review,” Adrian protested.
“With every desire to be philanthropic, I dare not convert it into a
_crèche_, a foundling hospital, for the maintenance of ponderous
literary infants. My subscribers might, not unreasonably, object.”

“You floated René Dax.”

“But he is a genius,” Madame St. Leger remarked quietly.

“Yes,” Adrian asserted, “there could be no doubt about his value from
the first. He is extraordinary.”

“He is extraordinarily perverted,” cried Miss Beauchamp.

“I am much attached to M. René Dax.” Madame St. Leger spoke
deliberately; and a little silence followed, as when people listen,
almost anxiously, to the sound of a pebble dropped into a well, trying
to hear it touch bottom. Miss Beauchamp was the first to break it.
She did so laughing.

“In that case, _ma toute belle_, you also are perverse, though I trust
not yet perverted. It amounts to this, then,” she continued, pulling
her long gloves up her thin arms: “I am to dispose of poor Byewater,
shatter his hopes, crush his ambitions, tell him, in short, that he
won’t do. Just Heaven, you who have arrived, how soon you become
cruel!” She looked from the handsome black-bearded young man to the
beautiful enigmatic young woman, and her witty, accentuated face bore a
singular expression. “Good-by, charming Gabrielle,” she said.
“Forgive me if I have been tedious, for truly I am devotedly fond of
you. And good-by to you, Mr. Savage. Yes! I go to dispose of the
ill-fated Byewater. But ah! ah! if you only knew all I have done this
afternoon, or tried to do, to serve you!”

Whereupon Adrian, smitten by sudden apprehension of deep and possibly
dangerous issues, followed her to the door, crying eagerly:

“Wait, I implore you, dear Mademoiselle. Do not be too precipitate in
disposing of Byewater. I may have underrated the worth of his
articles. I will re-read, I will reconsider. Nothing presses. I have
to leave Paris for a week or two. Let the matter rest till my return.
I may find it possible, after all, to accept them.”

Then, the door closed, he came back and stood on the vacant space of
rose-red carpet in the pleasant glow of the fire.

“She is a clever woman,” he said, reflectively. “She has cornered me,
and that is not quite fair–on the Review. For they constitute a
veritable atrocity of dullness, those articles by her miserable little
Byewater.”

“It is part of her code of friendship–it holds true all round. If she
helps others–”

Madame St. Leger left her sentence unfinished and, glancing with a hint
of veiled mockery at her guest, sat down in a carven, high-backed,
rose-cushioned chair at right angles to the fireplace, and picked up a
bundle of white needlework from the little table beside it.

“You mean that Miss Beauchamp does her best for me, too?” Adrian
inquired, tentatively.

But the lady was too busy unfolding her work, finding needle and
thimble to make answer.

“I foresee that I shall be compelled to print the wretched little
Byewater in the end,” he murmured, still tentatively.

“Did you not tell Miss Beauchamp you were going away?” Gabrielle asked.
She had no desire to continue the conversation on this particular note.

“Yes, I leave Paris to-night. That is my excuse for asking to see you
this afternoon. But I feel that my visit is ill-timed. I observed
directly I came in that you looked a little fatigued. I fear you are
suffering. Ought you to undertake the exertion of receiving visitors?
I doubt it. Yet I should have been desolated had you refused me. For
I leave, as I say, to-night in response to a sudden call to England
upon business–that of certain members of my father’s family. I am
barely acquainted with them. But they claim my assistance, and I
cannot refuse it. I could not do otherwise than tell you of this
unexpected journey, could I? It distresses me to find you suffering.”

Gabrielle had looked at him smiling, her lips closed, the little dimple
again showing in her left cheek. His eagerness and volubility were
diverting to her. They enabled her to think of him as still very
young; and she quite earnestly wished thus to think of him. To do so
made for security. At this period Madame St. Leger put a very high
value upon security.

“But, indeed,” she said, “I am quite well. The corridor is chilly, and
I have been going to and fro preparing a little _fête_ for Bette. She
has her friends, our neighbor Madame Bernard’s two little girls, from
the floor below, to spend the afternoon with her. My mother is now
kindly guarding the small flock. But I could not burden her with
preliminaries.–I am quite well, and, for the moment, I am quite at
leisure. Bring a chair. Sit down. It is for me to condole with you
rather than for you to condole with me,” she went on, in her quiet
voice, “for this is far from the moment one would select for a
cross-Channel journey! But then you are more English than French in
all that. Hereditary instincts assert themselves in you. You have the
islander’s inborn sense of being cramped by the modest proportions of
his island, and craving to step off the edge of it into space.”

The young man placed his hat on the floor, opened the fronts of his
overcoat, and drew a chair up to the near side of the low work-table
whence he commanded an uninterrupted view of his hostess’s charming
person.

“That is right,” she said. “Now tell me about this sudden journey. Is
it for long? When may we expect you back?”

“What do I know?” he replied, spreading out his hands quickly. “It may
be a matter of days. It may be a matter of weeks. I am ignorant of
the amount of business entailed. The whole thing has come upon me as
so complete a surprise. What induced my venerable cousin to select me
as his executor remains inexplicable. I remember seeing him when, as a
child, I visited England with my parents. I remember, also, that he
filled me with alarm and melancholy. He lived in a big, solemn house
on the outskirts of a great, noisy, dirty, manufacturing town in
Yorkshire. It was impressed upon me that I must behave in his presence
with eminent circumspection, since he was very religious, very
intellectual. I fear I was an impertinent little boy. He appeared to
me to worship a most odious deity, who permitted no amusements, no
holidays, no laughter; while his conversation–my cousin’s, I mean, not
that of the Almighty–struck me as quite the dullest I had ever
listened to. I cried, very loud and very often, to the consternation
of the whole establishment, and demanded to be taken home to Paris at
once. I never saw him again until three years ago, when he spent a few
days here, on a return journey from Carlsbad. As in duty bound, I did
what I could to render their stay agreeable to him and his companions.”
Adrian’s expression became at once apologetic and merry. “My efforts
were not, as I supposed, crowned with at all flattering success. My
venerable cousin still filled me with melancholy and alarm. In face of
his immense seriousness I appeared to myself as some capering
harlequin. Therefore it is, as you will readily understand, with
unqualified amazement that I learn he has intrusted the administration
of his very considerable estate to my care. Really, his faith in me
constitutes a vastly embarrassing compliment. I wish to heaven he had
formed a less exalted estimate of my probity and business acumen and
looked elsewhere for an executor!”

“He had no children, poor man?” Madame St. Leger inquired,
sympathetically.

“On the contrary, he leaves twin daughters. And it is in conjunction
with the–briefly–elder of these two ladies that I am required to act.”

Gabrielle moved slightly in her chair. Her eyelids were half-closed.
She looked at the young man sideways without turning her head. Her
resemblance to the Mona Lisa was startling just then; but it was Mona
Lisa in a most mischievous humor.

“In many ways you cannot fail to find that interesting,” she said.
“You are a professional psychologist, a student of character. And
then, too, it is your nature to be untiring in kindness and helpfulness
to women.”

“To women of flesh and blood, yes, possibly, if they are amiable enough
to accept my services,” Adrian returned, somewhat warmly, a lover’s
resentment of any ascription of benevolence toward the sex, merely as
such, all agog in him. “But are these ladies really of flesh and
blood? They affected me, when I last saw them, rather as shadowy and
harassed abstractions. I gazed at them in wonder. They are not old.
But have they ever been young? I doubt it, with so aggressively
ethical and educative a father. I was at a loss how to approach them;
they were so silent, so restrained, so apparently bankrupt in the small
change of social intercourse. If they did not add sensibly to my alarm
they most unquestionably contributed to my melancholy–the humiliating,
disintegrating melancholy of harlequin, capering in conscious fatuity
before an audience morally and physically incapable of laughter. All
this was bad enough when our connection was but superficial and
transitory. It will be ten thousand times worse when we are forced
into a position of unnatural intimacy.”

During this tirade, Gabrielle had shaken out the thin folds of her
needlework and begun setting quick stitches methodically. Her hands
were strong, square in the palm and the finger-tips, finely modeled,
finely capable–more fitted, as it might seem, to hold maul-stick and
palate, or even wield mallet and chisel, than to put rows of small,
even, snippety stitches in a child’s lawn frock. If the fifteenth
century and the voluptuous humanism of the Italian Renaissance found
subtle reflection in her face, the twentieth century and its awakening
militant feminism found expression in her firm hands and their promise
of fearless and ready strength.

“I believe you do both yourself and those two ladies an injustice,” she
said, her head bent over her stitching. “It will not be the very least
in the character of harlequin that they receive you, but rather in that
of a savior, a liberator. For you will be delightful to them–ah! I
see it all quite clearly–tactful, considerate, reassuring. That is
your _rôle_, and you will play it to perfection. How can you do
otherwise, since not only your sense of dramatic necessity but your
goodness of heart will be engaged? And, take it from me, the enjoyment
will not be exclusively on their side. For you will find it
increasingly inspiring to act providence to those two shadowy old-young
ladies as you see age vanish and youth return. I envy you. Think what
an admirable mission you are about to fulfil!”

She glanced up suddenly, her eyes and the turn of her mouth conveying
to unhappy Adrian a distracting combination of friendliness–detestable
sentiment, since it went no further!–and of raillery. Then, her face
positively brilliant with mischief, she gave him a final dig.

“What a thousand pities, though, that there are two of these
abstractions whom it is your office to materialize! Had there been but
one, how far simpler the problem of your position!”

The young man literally bounded on to his feet, his expression eloquent
of the liveliest repudiation and reproach. But Madame St. Leger’s head
was bent over her needlework again. She stitched, stitched, in the
calmest manner imaginable, talking, meanwhile, in a quiet, even voice.

“Did I not tell you we are _en fête_? Bette has her friends, the
little Bernards, to spend the afternoon with her. It is an excuse for
keeping her indoors. The modern craze for sending children out in all
weathers does not appeal to me. I do not believe in a system of
hardening.”

“Indeed?” Adrian commented, with meaning.

“For little girls?” she inquired. “Oh no, decidedly not. For grown-up
people, especially for men when they are young and in good health, it
may, of course, have excellent results.”

“Ah!” he said, resentfully.

“They–the children, I mean–are busy in the dining-room making rather
terrible culinary experiments with a new doll’s cooking stove. Shall
we go and see how they are getting on? I ought, perhaps, to just take
a look at them and assure myself they are not tiring my mother too
much. And then they will be distressed, my mother and Bette, if they
do not have an opportunity to bid you good-by before your journey.”

For once Adrian was guilty of ignoring his hostess’s suggestions. He
stood leaning one elbow upon the chimneypiece, and–above the
powder-blue Chinese jars and ivory godlings adorning it–scrutinizing
his own image in the looking-glass. He had just suffered a sharp and,
to his thinking, most uncalled-for rebuff. He smarted under it, unable
for the moment to recover his equanimity. But, contemplating the image
held by the mirror, his soul received a sensible measure of comfort.
The smooth, opaque, colorless complexion; the pointed black beard, so
close cut as in no degree to hide the forcible line of the jaw or
distort the excellent proportions of the mask; the thick, well-trimmed
mustache, standing upward from the lip and leaving the curved mouth
free; the straight square-tipped nose, with its suggestion of
pugnacity; let alone the last word of contemporary fashion in collar
and tie and heavy box-cloth overcoat, the cut of which lent itself to
the values of a tall, well-set-up figure–all these went to form a far
from discouraging picture. Yes! surely he was a good-looking fellow
enough! One, moreover, with the promise of plenty of fight in him;
daring, constitutionally obstinate, not in the least likely tamely to
take “No” for an answer once his mind was made up.

Then, in thought, he made a rapid survey of the mental, social, moral,
and financial qualifications of those who had formed the circle of poor
Horace St. Leger’s friends, and who, during the years of his marriage,
had been permitted the _entrée_ of his house. A varied and remarkable
company when one came to review it–savants, artists, politicians, men
of letters, musicians, journalists, from octogenarian M. de Cubières,
Member of the Senate, Member of the Academy, and Chevalier of the
Legion of Honor, to that most disconcerting sport of wayward genius,
vitriolic caricaturist and elegant minor poet, René Dax, whose immense
domed head and neat little toy of a body had won him at school the
nickname of _le tetard_–the tadpole–an appellation as descriptive as
it was unflattering, and which–rather cruelly–had stuck to him ever
since. Adrian marshaled all these, examined their possible claims, and
pronounced each, in turn, ineligible. Some, thank Heaven! were
securely married already. Others, though untrammeled by the bonds of
holy matrimony, were trammeled by bonds in no wise holy, yet scarcely
less prohibitive. Some were too old, others too young or too poor.
Some, as, for example, René Dax, were altogether too eccentric. True,
Madame St. Leger had just now declared herself warmly attached to him.
But wasn’t that the best proof of the absence of danger? A woman
doesn’t openly affirm her regard for a man unless that regard is of
purely platonic and innocuous character. And then, after
all–excellent thought!–was it not he, Adrian Savage, who had been
admitted even during the tragic hours of poor Horace’s agony; who had
watched by the corpse through a stifling summer night, a night too hot
for sleep, restless with the continual sound of footsteps and voices,
the smell of the asphalt and of the river? And, since then, was it not
to him Gabrielle and her mother, Madame Vernois, had repeatedly turned
for advice in matters of business?

Fortified by which reflections, stimulated, though stung, by her
teasing, defiant of all other possible and impossible lovers, the young
man wheeled round and stood directly in front of Gabrielle St. Leger.

“Listen, _très chère Madame et amie_, listen one little minute,” he
said, “I implore you. It is true that I go to-night, and for how long
a time I am ignorant, to arrange the worldly affairs of my alarming old
relative, Montagu Smyrthwaite, and, incidentally, to adjust those of
his two dessicated daughters. But it is equally true–for I vehemently
refuse such a solution of the problem of my relation to either of those
ladies as your words seem to prefigure–I repeat, it is equally true
that I shall return at the very earliest opportunity. And return in
precisely the same attitude of mind as I go–namely, wholly convinced,
wholly faithful, incapable of any attachment, indifferent to any
sentiment save one.”

The corners of his mouth quivered and his gay brown eyes were misty
with tears.

“I do not permit myself to enlarge upon the nature of that sentiment
to-day. To do so might seem intrusive, even wanting in delicacy. But
I do permit myself–your own words have procured me the
opportunity–both to declare its existence and to assert my profound
assurance of its permanence. You may not smile upon it, dear Madame.
You may even regard it as an impertinence, a nuisance. Yet it is
there–there.” Adrian drummed with his closed fist upon the region of
his heart. “It has been there for a longer period than I care to
mention. And it declines to be eradicated. While life remains, it
remains, unalterable. It is idle, absolutely idle, believe me, to
invite it to lessen or to depart.”

Madame St. Leger had risen, too, laying her work down on the little
table. Her face was grave to the point of displeasure. The tinge of
scarlet had died out in the round of her cheeks. She was about to
speak, but the young man spread out his hands with an almost violent
gesture.

“No–no,” he cried. “Do not say anything. Do not, I entreat, attempt
to answer me. When I came here this afternoon I had no thought of
making this avowal. It has been forced from me, and may well appear to
you premature. Therefore I entreat you for the moment ignore it. Let
everything between us remain as before. That is so easy, you see,
since I am going away. Only,” he added, more lightly, “I think, if you
will excuse me, I will not join that interesting conference of amateur
chefs in the dining-room. My mind, I confess, at this moment is
slightly preoccupied, and I might prove a but clumsy and distracted
assistant. May I ask you, therefore, kindly to express to your mother,
Madame Vernois, and to the ravishing Mademoiselle Bette my regret at
being unable to make my farewells in person?”

He picked up his hat, buttoned his overcoat, and, without attempting to
take his hostess’s hand, backed away from her.

“With your permission I shall write at intervals during my unwilling
exile,” he said. “But merely to recount my adventures–nothing beyond
my adventures, rest assured. These are likely to possess a certain
piquancy, I imagine, and may serve to amuse you.”

Something of his habitual happy self-confidence had returned to him.
His air was high-spirited, courteous, instinct with the splendid
optimism of his vigorous young manhood, as he paused, hat in hand, for
a last word in the doorway.

“_Au revoir, très chère Madame_,” he cried. “I go to a land of
penetrating fogs and a household of pensive abstractions, but I shall
come back unaffected by either, since I carry a certain memory, a
certain aspiration in my heart. _Au revoir_. God keep you. Ah! very
surely, and with what a quite infinite gladness I shall come back!”

Wrapped in a wadded silk dressing-gown, with frilled muslin cape and
under-sleeves to it, Gabrielle St. Leger had made her nightly round.
Had seen that lights were switched off, fires safe, shutters bolted,
and the maids duly retired to their bedchamber. Had embraced her
mother, and looked into details of night-light and spirit-lamp, lest
the excessive cold should render some hot beverage advisable for the
elder lady in the course of the night. Had visited Bette in the little
room adjoining her own, and found the child snuggled down in her cot
profoundly and deliciously asleep. Then, being at last free of further
obligation to house or household, she turned the key in the lock of her
bedroom door and sat down to think.

Until the day’s work, its courtesies as well as its duties, was fully
done she had agreed with herself not to think. For even startling
events and agitating experiences should, in her opinion, be dealt with
methodically in their proper season and order, without fear and without
haste. Only so could you be both just and clear-sighted in respect of
them. All of which—had she known it–went to prove a theory of
Adrian’s–namely, that in her case, as in that of so many modern women
between the ages of eighteen and, say, eight and twenty, the reasoning,
the intellectual, rather than the sensuous and emotional elements are
in the ascendant.

And, indeed, Gabrielle honestly regretted that which had to-day
happened by the conversion of a valued friend into a declared lover.
It was tiresome, really tiresome to a degree! Nor was her vexation
lessened by the fact that she could not excuse herself of blame. The
catastrophe had been precipitated by her fatal habit of teasing. How
constantly she resolved to be staid and serious in the presence of
mankind! And then, all uninvited, a sprickety, mischievous humor would
take her, making it irresistible delicately to poke fun at those large,
self-confident, masculine creatures, to plague and trick them, placing
them at a disadvantage; and, by so doing, to lower, for a moment at
least, the crest of their over-weening self-complacency. Only this
afternoon, as she ruefully admitted, she had gone unwisely far, letting
malice tread hard on the heels of mere mischief. This was what vexed
her most. For why should malice find entrance in this particular
connection? Gabrielle would gladly have shirked the question. But it
stood out in capital letters right in front of her, with a portly note
of interrogation at the end of the sentence, asking, almost audibly,
“Why? Why? Why?”

With a movement of her hands, at once impatient and deprecatory, the
young woman lay back in her long chair. In part it was Anastasia
Beauchamp’s fault. Anastasia had come rather close, venturing to
criticize and to warn. Anastasia was anti-feministe, distrustful of
modern tendencies, of independence, of woman’s life and outlook in and
for itself. This genial unbeliever preached orthodoxy; this unmarried
woman–with a legend, for there were those who reported events in the
far past–preached matrimony. “In the end,” she said, “in the end
independence proved a mistake.” And not improbably she was right in as
far as her own generation was concerned. But now the world had moved
forward a big piece. The conditions were different. And in this,
Gabrielle’s generation, how, save by experiment, could you possibly
prove that independence mightn’t very much pay? Whereupon her thought
began to march down alluring avenues of speculation guarded by vague,
masterful theories of feminine supremacy.

The crimson shades of the electric lights above her dressing-table, the
crimson silk coverlet of her bed, gave an effect of warmth and comfort
to the otherwise cool-colored room, its carved, white furniture and
blue-green carpet, curtains, and walls. Formerly this had been a
guest-chamber. But, since her husband’s death, Gabrielle had taken it
for her own. Her former room was too peopled with experiences and
memories for solitude. And, like all strong and self-realized natures,
Gabrielle demanded solitude at times–a place not only for rest, but
for those intimate unwitnessed battles which necessarily beset the
strong.

Just now, however, the desired solitude was almost too complete.
Presently her attention began to be occupied by it to the exclusion of
all other things. In the stillness of the sleeping house she heard the
wind crying along the steep house-roofs and hissing against the
windows. There was a note of homelessness, even of desolation, in the
sound. Involuntarily her thought returned upon Adrian Savage. She saw
the mail steamer thrashing out from Calais harbor into the black welter
of blizzard and winter sea. Saw, too, the young man’s momentarily
tremulous lips and tearful eyes as he declared his love. And the
subsequent fine recovery of his natural gladness of aspect, as,
standing hat in hand in the doorway, a notably gallant and handsome
figure, he had asserted his speedy return rather than bade her good-by.

For quite an appreciable space of time she gazed at this visualized
recollection of him. Then, shutting her eyes, she turned her back on
it, and lay sideways in the long chair. She determined to be rid of
it. Almost fiercely she told it to go. For it was useless to deny
that it both charmed and moved her. And she didn’t want that and all
which it involved and stood for. Earnestly, honestly, she didn’t want
it!–Ah! what misguided temerity to have teased! For she wanted–yes
she did, Anastasia Beauchamp’s middle-aged wisdom notwithstanding–to
retain her but lately acquired freedom; not only the repose, but the
stimulating clarity of mind and obligation, the conscious development
of personality and broadening of thought which went along with that
freedom. She had passed straight from the obedience of young girlhood
to the obedience of young wifehood. Now she wanted to belong wholly
and exclusively to herself, not to be the property of any man, however
devoted, talented, charming–not ever–not certainly for a long while
yet.

This craving for the conservation of her freedom took its rise neither
in the fact that the memory of her husband was hateful to her, nor that
it was so dear as to render the thought of a second marriage a
desecration, shocking to the heart. She remembered Horace St. Leger
with affection, in many respects with gratitude. He had been
considerate, watchfully protective of her beauty and her youth. As the
mother of his child he had yielded her a worship touched by an immense
tenderness. He had been irreproachably loyal and indulgent. All this
she admitted and valued. Wasn’t it, indeed, very much?–The
circumstances of her marriage, moreover, had not been without their
romantic aspect. Madame Vernois, after the death of her husband, who
held a professorship at the Collège de France, both from motives of
economy and the wish to be near her own family, had retired to her
native Chambéry, in the _Haute Savoie_. It was in this strangely
picturesque town, rich in remarkable buildings and in traditions both
literary and historic, guarded by fantastic mountains and traversed by
unruly torrents, that Gabrielle Vernois passed her childhood–mixing in
a society both refined and devout though somewhat prejudiced and
circumscribed of outlook, the members of it being more distinguished
for the magnitude of their united ages and the multitude of their
quarterings, than for the length of their purses or their acquaintance
with the world as it now actually is.

And it was here, too–she being barely nineteen, he little short of
fifty–that Horace St. Leger had met her; had been captivated by her
singular type of beauty and the delicious combination of her innocence
and ready wit. He was something of a connoisseur in women. Now he
surely discovered a unique specimen! Naturally he wished to acquire
that specimen for himself. The years of his apprenticeship were over.
He had made a name; had, within the limits of his capacity, evolved his
style and mastered the exacting technique of his art. He was young for
his age, too; well-preserved, in the plentitude of his popularity. He
had made money and he had spent money, but he had never, to all
appearance, been more secure of continuing to make. He could well
afford to indulge his tastes, even when they took the expensive form of
a serious establishment and a seductive wife. He hastened back to
Paris, put a final and satisfactory termination to a connection which
had long lost its pristine ardors and begun to pall upon him, and then
returned to Chambéry, officially to offer this enchanting child of
nineteen the sum total of his life’s achievement in respect of fame,
fortune, social opportunity, along with that suavity of temper and
outlook which result from the successful cultivation of a facile talent
untroubled by the torments and dislocations of genius.

The young girl’s dowry was of the slenderest. The marriage offered not
only a secure and agreeable future for herself; but–and this
influenced her decision at least equally–relief to her mother from
straitened means and their attendant deprivations and anxieties. The
subtle unrest, the haunting ambitions and curiosities of her awakening
womanhood stirred in her, while the disparity of age between herself
and her suitor seemed, to her inexperience, a matter of indifference.
The marriage took place in due course, and ostensibly all went well.
Yet, looking back upon it now, sitting here alone in her bedchamber
while the wind cried along the house-roofs and Paris cowered in the
grip of the bitter frost, Gabrielle St. Leger knew that she had learned
life, the actualities both of human nature and civilized society, in a
hard enough school.

For indisputably the thirty years’ difference in age between herself
and her husband, which, before marriage, had seemed so negligible a
quantity, entailed consequences that intruded themselves at every turn.
St. Leger’s character and opinions were fixed, crystallized,
insusceptible of change, while her own were still, if not in the
actually fluid, yet in the distinctly malleable stage. This rendered
any equality of intercourse impossible. Her husband treated her as a
child, whose ignorance one finds exquisitely entertaining, and
enlightens with high, if indulgent, amusement–his attitude toward her
quasi-paternal in its serene assumption of omniscience. Yet, being
quick-witted and observant, she soon perceived that assumption did not
receive, by any means, universal indorsement. Among the younger
generation of the artistic and literary brotherhood it became evident
to her that, though the man was held in affection, the painter was
regarded as a bit of a charlatan, destitute of illumination and
sincerity of method–as one who had never possessed the courage or the
capacity to attempt any lifting the veil of Isis and penetration of the
mysteries it conceals. Nor was she slow to learn, hearing the witty
talk and covert allusions of the dinner-table and studio–although her
guests made honest and honorable effort to restrain their tongues in
her presence–that the rule of faith and morals which had been so
earnestly enjoined upon her in her childhood was very much of a dead
letter to the average man and woman of the world. The general scheme
of existence was a far more complicated affair than she had been taught
to suppose. The dividing line between the sheep and the goats was by
no means always easy of recognition. Delightful people did very shady,
not to say very outrageous and abominable, things. She suffered
moments of cruel perspicacity and consequent disgust, during which she
was tempted to accuse even her dearly loved mother of having purposely
misled and lied to her. For was it not idle to suppose that her
husband differed from other men? Or that his passion for her was
unique, without predecessors? Was it not very much more reasonable to
see, in the perfection of tactful delicacy with which he treated her,
proof positive of a large and varied emotional experience?

Then followed a further discovery. In this marriage she had looked
confidently for a brilliant future. But, in plain truth, what future
remained? St. Leger had reached the zenith of his career. He was well
on in middle life. The only possible future for him lay in the
direction of decline and decay. She recognized that her mission,
therefore, was not to share a brightening glory, but to maintain a
fondly cherished illusion, to soften the asperities of his declension
and mask the approach of age and lessening powers by the stimulus of
her own radiant youth.

One by one these revelations came upon her with the shock of detected
and abiding deceptions. Her pride suffered. Her jealous respect for
her own intelligence and personality was rudely shaken. But she kept
her own counsel, making neither complaint nor outcry. Silently, after
a struggle which left its impress in the irony of her smiling eyes and
lips, she faced each discovery in turn and reckoned with it. Then she
ranged herself, dismissing once and for all, as she believed,
high-flown heroic conceptions of love between man and woman, accepting
human nature and human relations as they actually are and
forgiving–though it shrewdly taxed her longanimity–all those pious
frauds which, from time immemorial, civilized parents and teachers have
supposed it their duty to practise upon the children whom they at once
adore and betray.

It remained to her credit, however, that, even in the most searching
hours of disillusionment, Gabrielle did not lose her sense of justice
or fail to discriminate, to the best of her ability, between that for
which the society in which he moved and that for which her husband,
personally, should be held responsible. So doing she admitted, and
gladly, that any legitimate cause of quarrel with him was of the
smallest. Taking all the circumstances of the case into account, he
had behaved well, even admirably, by her. The way of the world, its
habits and standards, the constitution of human nature, rather than
Horace St. Leger, was in fault. And it was precisely on that finding,
as she told herself now, having reasoned it out sitting here alone in
her bedchamber, that she deprecated any change of estate, the
contraction of any fresh and intimate relation. If she had not known
it might have been different–and there she paused a little wistfully,
sorrowfully. But she did know, and therefore she could not consent to
part with her freedom, with the repose of mind and the large liberty of
thought and action her freedom permitted her. Her body was her own.
Her soul, her emotions were her own. Almost fiercely she protested
they should remain so. Hence it was useless, useless, that Anastasia
should warn, or that the image of Adrian Savage should solicit her,
standing there handsome, devoted, and how maddeningly self-confident!
She could not listen. She would not listen. No, no, simply she would
not.

Having thus analyzed the position, summed up and delivered judgment
upon it, clearly it was the part of common-sense to go to bed and to
sleep. Gabrielle stretched out her hand for the crystal and silver
rosary lying, along with her missal and certain books of devotion, on a
whatnot beside her chair. She fingered it, making an effort to
concentrate and compose her thoughts. But they refused to be composed,
darting hither and thither like a flight of startled birds.
Restlessness still possessed her, making recitation of the hallowed
invocations which mark each separate bead trench perilously on
profanity. She let the rosary drop and pressed her hands over her
eyes. Certain words, over and above the disturbing ones spoken by
Adrian Savage, haunted her. For the agitations of the afternoon had
not ended with his declaration and exit. A subsequent episode had
contributed, in no small degree, to produce her existing state of
perturbation.

It had happened thus. A few minutes after Adrian left her, going out
on to the gallery, which runs the length of the flat from the vestibule
and studio at one end to the dining-room and offices at the other, she
had been struck by the strangely cold, haggard light filling it. The
ceiling stared, while details of pictures and china upon the walls, the
graceful statuette of a slim, unclad boy carrying a hooded hawk on his
wrist, and, farther on, a portrait bust of Horace St. Leger–each set
on an antique porphyry column–started into peculiar and shadowless
prominence. The windows of the gallery gave on to the courtyard.
Gabrielle held aside one of the vitrine curtains and looked out.

Snow was falling. Countless thin, fine flakes circled and eddied,
drifted earthward, and swept up again caught in some local draught.
Through the lace work of black, quivering branches the backs of the
houses across the courtyard showed pallid and gaunt. Far below, on the
frost-bitten grass-plat, the lichen-stained nymph tilted her ice-bound
pitcher above the frozen basin. The familiar scene in its present
aspect was indescribably dreary, provocative of doubting, distrustful
thoughts. With a movement of impatience, her expression hard, her
charming lips compressed, the young woman turned away, conscious of
being foolishly, unreasonably out of conceit with most things. Doing
so, the bust of her husband confronted her, seeming to watch her from
out the blank cavities in the eyeballs which so uncomfortably travesty
sight. An expression of amused, slightly cynical inquiry rested upon
the sculptured face. This, in her present somewhat irritable and
over-sensitized condition, she resented, finding it singularly
unpleasant. She moved rapidly away along the gallery. Then stopped
dead.

From the dining-room came a joyful racket. But, to her astonishment,
cutting through the rippling staccato of children’s talk and laughter,
came the grave tones of a man’s voice. Hearing which, steady of nerve
and strong though she was, Gabrielle turned faint. The blood left her
heart. She made for the nearest window-seat and sank down on
it.–Horace was there, in the dining-room, playing with Bette and her
little friends as he so dearly loved to play. The fact of her
widowhood, the past eighteen months of freedom, became as though they
were not. In attitude and sentiment she found herself relegated to an
earlier period, against which her whole nature rose in rebellion. She
realized how quite horribly little she wanted to see Horace again, or
renew his and her former relation. Realized her jealousy of him in
respect of her child. Realized, indeed, that, notwithstanding his many
attractive qualities and invariable kindness, his resurrection must
represent to her something trenching upon despair.

Yet it was cruel, she knew, heartless, to feel thus. She glanced in
positive mental torment at the marble bust. It still watched her,
through the haggard clarity of the snow-glare, with the same effect of
cynically questioning criticism and amusement, almost, so she thought,
as one should say: “My dear, be consoled. Even had I the will, I am
powerless to return and to claim you. Follow your own fancy. Make
yourself perfectly easy. Have no fear but that I am very effectually
wiped out of your life.”

The blood rushed back to her heart. Her face flamed. She felt
humiliated, as though detected in a secret villainy, in an act of
detestable meanness. It is an ugly thing to pillage the dead. But she
was also very angry, for she understood what had happened. Not
Horace–poor, undesired Horace–but Adrian Savage was there in the
dining-room. He had changed his mind after all; and, in the hope of
somehow working upon her, had stayed to bid grandmother and grandchild
good-by. This was a plot, a plant, and she was furious, her sense of
justice suffering violent eclipse. For was it not abominable of him to
have placed her in so unworthy and mortifying a position in respect of
her dead husband, and, incidentally, to have given her such a dreadful
fright? Regardless of reason she piled his offenses mountain-high.
However, this simplified matters in a way, disposing of a certain
question forever. Marry him? She’d as soon marry a ragpicker, a
scavenger! She hoped devoutly he would have an atrocious crossing when
he did at last seek foreign shores.

Thereupon she rose and swept onward, in the stateliest manner
imaginable, with trailing, somber skirts, over the polished, shining
floor.

As she threw open the dining-room door a slender, white-frocked,
black-silk-legged figure rushed upon her and clasped her about the hips
with ecstatic cries.

“Ah! mamma,” it piped. “At last you have come! I am so excited. We
have waited and listened. But it was a secret. He forbade us to tell
you he was here. It was to be a great surprise. Now you may look, but
you must promise not to interrupt with conversation. That is very
important, you understand, because the next few moments are critical.
M. Dax is cooking an omelette in my tiny, weeny frying-pan for our
dolls and Teddy-bears.”

And so, once again upon this day of self-revelations, Madame St. Leger
had to revise her position and own herself in the wrong. Yet the
relief of finding neither resuscitated husband nor importunate lover,
but simply M. René Dax, in possession was so great that she greeted
that eccentric and gifted young man with warm cordiality–wholly
ignoring his affectations and the rumors current regarding his moral
aberrations, remembering only the irreproachable correctness of his
dress and manners, and the quaintly pathetic effect of his small, tired
face, great domed head and bulging forehead–like those of a
hydrocephalic baby–and the ingeniously fascinating qualities he
displayed as self-elected playfellow of Bette and her little friends.

Yes, she told herself, she really had a great regard for René Dax. He
touched her. And now she, undoubtedly, passed a wholly delightful
three-quarters of an hour in his and the little girls’ company, Madame
Vernois looking on, meanwhile, sympathetic yet slightly perplexed. For
Gabrielle, in her reaction of feeling, forgetful of her black dress and
twenty-seven years, and the rather tedious restraints and dignities of
her matronhood, was taken with the sprightliest humor. She remembered
that three-quarters of an hour now with a degree of regret. If only it
could have stopped at that! But, unfortunately, things went further.

For, at parting, she had lingered in the gallery, where the haggard
whiteness of the snow-glare struggled with the deepening twilight,
thanking René Dax for his kindness to the children and for the happy
afternoon he had given them. The sense of holiday, of playtime, was
still upon her and she spoke with unaccustomed gaiety and intimacy of
tone.

The young man looked up at her attentively, queerly–the top of his
head barely level with her shoulder–and answered, a certain harshness
observable in his carefully modulated voice:

“Do not spoil it all by accusing me of a good action. In accusing me
of that you do my intelligence a gross injustice. My conduct has been
dictated, as always, by calculated selfishness.”

And, when she smilingly protested, he went on:

“I have many faults, no doubt. But I am guiltless of the weakness of
altruism–contemptible word, under which the modern mind tries to
conceal its cowardice and absence of all sound philosophy. I am an
egoist, dear Madame, believe me, an egoist pure and simple.”

He paused, looking down with an effect of the utmost gravity at his
very small and exquisitely shod feet.

“It happened, for reasons with which it is superfluous to trouble you,
that to-day I required a change of atmosphere. I needed to bathe
myself in innocence. I cast about for the easiest method of performing
such ablutions, and my thought traveled to Mademoiselle Bette. The
weather being odious, it was probable I should find her in the house.
My plan succeeded to admiration. Have no delusions under that head.
It is invariably the altruist, not the egoist, whose plans miscarry or
are foiled!”

He took a long breath, stretching his puny person.

“I am better. I am cleansed,” he said. “For the moment at least I am
restored, renewed. And for this restoration the reason is at once
simple and profound. You must understand,” he went on, in a soft
conversational manner, as one stating the most obvious common-place,
“my soul when it first entered my body was already old, immeasurably
old. It had traversed countless cycles of human history. It had heard
things no man may repeat and live. It had fed on gilded and splendid
corruptions. It had embraced the forbidden and hugged nameless
abominations to its heart. It had gazed on the naked face of the
Ultimate Self-Existent Terror whose breath drives the ever-turning
Wheel of Being. It had galloped back, appalled, through the blank,
shouting nothingness, and clothed itself in the flesh of an unborn,
unquickened infant, thus for a brief space obtaining unconsciousness
and repose.”

René Dax looked up at her again, his little, tired face very solemn,
his eyes glowing as though a red lamp burned behind them.

“Has it ever occurred to you why we worship our mothers?” he asked.
“It is not because they bring us into life, but because for nine sacred
months they procure us blessed illusion of non-living. How can we ever
thank them sufficiently for this? And that,” he added, “is why at
times, as to-day, I am driven to seek the society of young children.
It rests and refreshes me to be near them, because they have still gone
but a few steps along the horrible, perpetually retrodden pathway.
They have not begun to recognize the landmarks. They have not yet
begun to remember. They fancy they are here for the first time. Past
and future are alike unrealized by them. The aroma of the enchanted
narcotic of non-living, which still exhales from their speech and
laughter, renders their neighborhood infinitely soothing to a soul like
mine, staggering beneath the paralyzing burden of a knowledge of
accumulated lives.”

Whether the young man had spoken sincerely, giving voice to a creed he
actually, however mistakenly, held, or whether his utterances were
merely a pose, the outcome of a perverse and morbid effort at
singularity, Madame St. Leger was uncertain. Still it was undeniable
that those utterances–whether honest or not–and the somber visions
evoked by them remained, distressing and perplexing her with a dreary
horror of non-progression, of perpetual and futile spinning in a
vicious circle, of perpetual and futile actual sameness throughout
perpetual apparent change.

So far all the essentials of the Faith in which she had been born and
educated remained to her. Yet, too often now, as she sorrowfully
admitted, her declaration of that Faith found expression in the
disciple’s cry, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.” For
unbelief, reasoned not merely scoffing, had, during these years of
intercourse with the literary and artistic world of Paris, become by no
means inconceivable to her. More than half the people she met smiled
at, if they might not openly repudiate, Christianity. It followed that
she no longer figured the Faith to herself as a “fair land and large”
wherein she could dwell in happy security, but rather as a fortress set
on an island of somewhat friable rock, against which winds and waves
beat remorselessly. And truly, at moments–cruel moments, which she
dreaded–the onslaught of modern ideas, of the modern attitude in its
contempt of tradition and defiance of authority–flinging back
questions long since judged and conclusions long established into the
seething pot of individual speculation–seemed to threaten final
undermining of that rock and consequent toppling of the fortress of
Faith surmounting it into the waters of a laughing, envious,
all-swallowing sea. This troubled her the more because certain modern
ideas–notably that of emancipated and self-sustained
womanhood–appealed to and attracted her. Was there no middle way?
Was no marriage between the old Faith and the new science, the new
democracy, possible? If you accepted the latter, did negations and
denials logically follow, compelling you to let the former go?

And so it came about that to-night, she alone waking in the sleeping
house, the gloomy pictures called up by René Dax’s strange talk held
her painfully. They stood between her and sleep, between her and
prayer, heightening her restlessness and suggesting thoughts very
subversive of Christian theology and Christian ethics.

Gabrielle rose from her chair and moved to and fro, her hands clasped
behind her. She never remembered to have felt like this before. The
room seemed too narrow, too neat, its appointments too finicking and
orderly, to contain her erratic and overflowing mental activity. The
abiding mystery which not only surrounds each individual life, but
permeates each individual nature, the impassable gulf which divides
even the nearest and most unselfishly loved–even she herself and her
own darling little Bette–from one another, presented itself oppressive
and distressing as a nightmare. Just now it appeared to her
inconceivable that to-morrow she would rise just as usual, satisfied to
accept conventions, subscribe to compromises, take things in general at
their face value, while contentedly expending her energies of brain and
body upon trivialities of clothes, housekeeping, gossip, the thousand
and one ephemeral interests and occupations of a sheltered, highly
civilized woman’s daily existence. The inadequacy, the amazing
futility of it all!

Then, half afraid of the great stillness, she stood perfectly quiet,
listening to the desolate cry of the wind along the house-roofs and its
hissing against the window-panes.

“‘My soul has gazed on the Ultimate Self-Existent Terror whose breath
drives the ever-turning Wheel of Being,'” she murmured as she listened.
“‘It galloped back, appalled, through the blank, shouting
nothingness'”–

Yes, that was dreadful conception of human fate! But what if it were
true? Millions believed it, or something very closely akin to it, away
in the East, in those frightening lands of yellow sunrise and yellow,
expressionless peoples of whom it always alarmed her to think! Swiftly
her mind made a return upon the three men, living and dead, who to-day
had so deeply affected her, breaking up her practised calm and
self-restraint. She ranged them side by side, and, in her present
state of exaltation, they severally and equally–though for very
different reasons–appeared to her as enemies against whom she was
called upon to fight. Seemed to her as tyrants, either of whom to
sustain his own insolent, masculine supremacy schemed to enslave her,
to rob her of her intellectual and physical freedom, of her so
jealously cherished ownership of herself.

“‘It galloped back through the blank, shouting nothingness,'” she
repeated. But there came the sharpest sting of the situation. For to
what covert? Where could her soul take sanctuary since friendship and
marriage proved so full of pitfalls, and her fortress of Faith was just
now, as she feared, shaken to the base?

Then, the homeless cry of the wind finding echo in her homelessness of
spirit, a sort of anger upon her, blind anger against things as they
are, she moved over to the window, drew back the curtains and opened
the locked casements. The cold clutched her by the throat, making her
gasp for breath, making her flesh sting and ache. Yet the apprehension
of a Presence, steadying and fortifying in its great simplicity of
strength, compelled her to remain. She knelt upon the window-seat and
leaned out between the inward opening casements, planting her elbows on
the window-ledge and covering her mouth with her hands to protect her
lips from the blistering chill.

Outside was the wonder of an unknown Paris, a vacant, frozen, voiceless
Paris, wrapped in a winding-sheet of newly fallen snow. Under the
lamps, along the quay immediately below, that winding-sheet glittered
in myriad diamond points, a uniform surface as yet unbroken by wheel
tracks or footprints–misery, pleasure, business, alike in hiding from
the bitter frost. Elsewhere it spread in a heavy, muffling
bleachedness, from the bosom of which walls, buildings, bridges reared
themselves strangely unsubstantial, every ledge and projection enameled
in white. Beneath the _Pont des Arts_ on the right and the _Pont des
Saints Pères_ on the left–each very distinct with glistening roadway
and double row of lamps–the river ran black as ink. The trees
bordering the quays were black, a spidery black, in their agitated,
wind-tormented bareness. And the sky was black, too, impenetrable,
starless, low and flat, engulfing the many domes, monuments, and towers
of Paris, engulfing even the roofs and pavilions of the Louvre along
the opposite bank of the Seine, inclosing and curiously isolating the
scene. This effect of an earth so much paler and, for the most part,
so much less solid than the sky above it, this effect of buildings
rising from that pallor to lose themselves in duskiness, was unnatural
and disquieting in a high degree. The sentiment of this desert,
voiceless Paris was more disquieting still. For Gabrielle retained
something of the provincial’s persistent distrust of the siren
personality of _la ville lumière_. The wonderful and brilliant city
had enthralled her imagination, but had never quite conquered her
affections. Now, leaning out of the high-set window, she gazed as far
as sight carried, east, west, and north, while a vague, deep-seated
excitement possessed her. It was as though she touched the verge of
some extraordinary revelation, some tremendous crisis of the cosmic
drama. Had universal paralysis seized the heart of things, she asked
herself, of which this desert, voiceless Paris was the symbol? Had the
ever-turning Wheel of Being ceased to turn, struck into immobility, as
the world-famous city appeared to be, by some miracle of incalculable
frost?

The cry of the wind answered. So the wind, at least, was alive and
awake yet, as were the black seaward-flowing waters of the river.

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, along with that homeless cry of the wind
hailing from she knew not what immense desolation of polar spaces, came
a small, plaintive, human cry close at hand.

Hearing which last the young woman sprang down from her kneeling place,
locked the gaping casements together, and ran lightly and swiftly into
the adjoining room. There in the warm dimness, her hands outstretched
grasping the rail of her cot on either side, slim little Bette sat
woefully straight up on end.

“Mamma, mamma,” she wailed, “come and hold me tight, very tight! I
have had a bad dream. I am frightened. M. René Dax touched all my
toys, all my darling, tiny saucepans and kettles, all my dolls and
Teddy-bears with his little walking-cane. And it was terrifying. They
all came alive and chased me. Hold me tight. I am so frightened.
They rushed along. They chased me and chased me. They panted. Their
mouths were open. I could see their red tongues. And they yelped as
the little pet dogs do in the public gardens when they try to catch the
sparrows. I called and called to you, but you were not there. You did
not come. I tried very hard to run away, but my feet stuck to the
floor. They were so very heavy I could not lift them. It is not true?
Tell me it is not true. He cannot touch all my toys with his little
cane and make them come alive? I think I shall be afraid ever to play
with them any more. They were so dreadfully unkind. Tell me it is not
true!”

“No, no, my angel,” Gabrielle declared, soothingly. “It is not true,
not in the very least true. It is only a silly dream. All the poor
toys are quite good. You will find them obedient and loving, asking
ever so prettily to be played with again to-morrow morning.”

She took the slender, soft, warm body up in her arms–it was sweet with
the flower-like sweetness of perfect cleanliness and health–and held
it close against her. And for the moment perplexities, far-reaching
speculations and questionings were obliterated in a passion of
tenderness for this innocent life, this innocent body, which was the
fruit of her own life and her own body. All else fell away from her,
leaving her motherhood triumphant and supreme.

The child, making good the opportunity, began to wheedle and coax.

“I think it is really very cold in my bed,” she said. “I am sure it
would be far warmer in yours. And I may dream M. Dax came back and
touched my toys with his little walking-cane and made them naughty if I
remain here by myself. Do not you think it would be rather dangerous
to leave me here alone? I might wake grandmamma if I were to be
terrified again and to scream. I like your big bed so very much best.”

The consequence of all of which was that Gabrielle St. Leger said her
rosary that night fingering the beads with one hand while the other
clasped the sleeping child, whose pretty head lay on her bosom. Her
mind grew calm. The fortress of Faith stood firm again, as she
thankfully believed, upon its foundation of rock. She recovered her
justness of attitude toward departed husband and absent lover. But she
determined to reduce her intercourse with M. René Dax to a minimum,
since the tricks he played with his little walking-cane seemed liable
to be of so revolutionary and disintegrating a character.

The snow had been cleared away from the drive and carriage sweep, but
still lay in thick billowy masses upon the branches of the fir and pine
trees and upon the banks of laurel and rhododendron below. At sunset
the sky had cleared somewhat, and a scarlet glow touched the under side
of the vast perspective of pale, folded cloud, and blazed on the upper
south westward-facing windows of the Tower House as with a dazzle of
fierce flame. Joseph Challoner, however, was unaware of these rather
superb impressionist effects as, with his heavy, lunging step, he came
out of the house on to the drive. The drawing-room had been hot, and
he had gone through a somewhat emotional interview. A man at once hard
and sentimental, just now sentiment was, so to speak, on the top. His
upright face and head were decidedly flushed. He felt warm. He also
felt excited, perceiving perspectives quite other than those presented
by the folded clouds and the afterglow.

Usually Joseph Challoner affected a country-gentleman style of
dress–tweeds of British manufacture, noted for their wear and
wet-resisting qualities, symbolic of those sturdy, manly, no-nonsense
sort of virtues, of which he reckoned himself so conspicuous an
exponent, and which have, as we all know, gone to make England what she
is. But to-day out of respect for his late client, Montagu
Smyrthwaite, he had put on garments of ceremony, black braid-edged coat
and waistcoat, pepper-and-salt-mixture overcoat with black-velvet
collar, striped dove-gray and black trousers–which had served at a
recent local wedding–and top hat. This costume tended to make an
awkwardness of gait and action which belonged to him the more
observable. Over six feet in height, he was commonly described by his
admirers–mostly women–as “a splendid-looking man.” Others, doubtless
envious of his success with the fair sex and of his inches, compared
him, with his straight, thick, up-and-down figure, as broad across the
loins as at the shoulders, his large paw-like hands and feet and
flattened, slightly Mongolian caste of countenance, to a colossal
infant. His opinion of his own appearance, concerning which he was in
a chronic state of anxiety, fluctuated between these two extremes, with
hopeful leanings toward the former. At the present moment, for private
reasons, he hoped fervently that he was “a splendid-looking man.”

That he was a moist and hot one was undeniable. He took off his hat
and passed his hand over his straight, shiny, reddish hair–carefully
brushed across impending calvities–and sucked the ends of his rather
ragged mustache nervously into the corners of his mouth.

He was touched, very much touched. He had not felt so upset for years.
He admired his own sensibility. Yes, most distinctly he trusted that
he was “a splendid-looking man”–and that she so regarded him. Then,
coming along the drive toward him, between the snow-patched banks of
evergreen, he caught sight of the short, well-bred, well-dressed, busy,
not to say fussy, little figure of that cherished institution of the
best Stourmouth society, Colonel Rentoul Haig. This diverted his
thoughts into another channel, or, to be perfectly accurate, set a
second stream running alongside the first. Both, it may be added,
tended in the direction of personal self-aggrandizement.

“Good-day to you, Challoner. Glad to meet you,” Colonel Haig said, a
hint of patronage in his tone. “I heard the sad news from Woodward at
the club at luncheon-time, and I took the tram up as far as the County
Gates as soon as I could get away. We had a committee meeting at
two-thirty. I felt it would be only proper to come and inquire.”

“Yes,” the other answered, in a suitably black-edged manner, “our poor
friend passed away early this morning. I was sent for immediately.”

Having a keen sense of the value of phrases, Colonel Haig pricked up
his ears, so to speak. His attitude of mind was far from democratic,
and “our poor friend” from a local solicitor struck him as a trifle
familiar. He looked up sharply at the speaker. He felt very much
tempted to teach the man his place. But there was such a lot he wanted
to hear which only this man could tell him. And so, the inquisitive
nose and puckered, gossipy mouth getting the better of the commanding
military eye, he decided to postpone the snubbing of Challoner to a
more convenient season.

“I came round this afternoon chiefly to see Miss Margaret,” the latter
continued. “She was terribly distressed and felt unequal to seeing me
this morning. She is very sensitive, very sensitive and feminine. Her
father’s death came as a great shock to her. And then owing to some
mistake or neglect she was not present at the last. As she told me,
she feels that very much indeed.” The speaker’s voice took a severe
tone. He shifted his weight from one massive foot to the other, rather
after the manner of a dancing bear. “Her grief was painful to witness.
And I think you’ll agree with me, Colonel, it was just one of the
neglects which ought not to have occurred.”

“A pity, a pity!” the other admitted. “But on such occasions people
will lose their heads. It’s unavoidable. Look here, Challoner, I must
go on and leave cards. But I sha’n’t be more than five minutes. I
shall not ask to see either of the ladies to-day. So if you’ll wait
I’ll walk as far as the County Gates with you, supposing you’re going
in my direction.”

The Mongolian caste of countenance is conveniently non-committal,
lending itself to no compromising play of expression. Challoner was
more than willing to wait. He had certain things to say, a favor,
indeed, to ask. And it always looked well, moreover–conferred a sort
of patent of social solvency upon you–to be seen in public with
Colonel Haig. He wished the weather had been less inclement so that
more people might be about! But he betrayed no eagerness. Took out
his watch, even, and noted the hour before answering.

“Yes, I think I may allow myself the pleasure,” he said. “I have been
too much engaged here to get down to my office to-day, and there will
be a mass of business waiting for me at home–no taking it easy in my
profession if you’re to do your duty by your clients–but, yes, I shall
be happy to wait for you.”

Then, left alone in the still, clear cold, he became absorbed in
thought again.

When Joseph Challoner, the elder, settled at Stourmouth in the early
sixties of the last century, that famous health-resort had consisted of
a single street of small shops, stationed along a level space about
half a mile up the fir and pine clad valley from the sea, plus some
dozen unattractive lodging-houses perched on the top of the West Cliff.
The beginnings of business had been meager. Now Stourmouth and the
outlying residential districts to which it acts as center–among them
the great stretch of pine-land known as the Baughurst Park
Estate–covers the whole thirteen miles, in an almost unbroken series
of shops, boarding-houses, hotels, villas, and places of amusement,
from the ancient abbey-town of Marychurch at the junction of the rivers
Wilmer and Arn, on the east, to Barryport, the old sea-faring town,
formerly of somewhat sinister reputation, set beside a wide, shallow,
island-dotted, land-locked harbor to the west. Along with the
development of Stourmouth the elder Challoner’s fortunes developed. So
that when, as an old man, he died in the last of the eighties, his son,
the younger Joseph, succeeded to a by no means contemptible patrimony.

As business increased other members came into the firm, which now
figured as that of Challoner, Greatrex & Pewsey. But, and that not in
virtue of his senior partnership alone, Joseph Challoner’s interest
remained the largely predominant one. He was indefatigable, quick to
spot a good thing, and, so some said, more clever than scrupulous in
his pursuit of it. He came to possess the reputation of a man who it
is safer to have for your friend than your enemy. So much for the hard
side of his character.

As to the sentimental side. When a youth of twenty he had fallen head
over ears in love with the daughter of a local retail chemist, a
pretty, delicate girl, with the marks of phthisis already upon her.
She brought him a few hundred pounds. They married. And he was quite
a good husband to her–as English husbands go. Still this marriage had
been, he came to see, a mistake. The money, after all, was but a
modest sum, while her ill-health proved decidedly costly. And then he
had grown to know more of the world, grown harder and stronger, grown
to perceive among other things that connection with a shop is a
handicap. The smell of it sticks. There’s no ridding yourself of it.
Joseph Challoner may be acquitted of being more addicted to peerage or
money worship, to being a greater snob, in short, than the average
self-respecting Anglo-Saxon; yet it would be idle to deny that when an
all-wise and merciful providence permitted his poor, pretty young
wife–after several unsuccessful attempts at the production of infant
Challoners–to die of consumption, her husband felt there were
compensations. He recognized her death as a call, socially speaking,
to come up higher. He set himself to obey that call, but he did not
hurry. For close upon thirteen years now, though of an amorous and
domestic disposition, he had remained a widower. And this of set
purpose, for he proposed that the last whiff of the shop should have
time to evaporate. By the period immediately in question he had reason
to believe it really had done so. Privately he expended a considerable
sum in procuring his father-in-law a promising business near London.
Stourmouth knew that retail chemist no more. And so it followed that
the dead wife’s compromising origin was, practically, forgotten; only
admiration of the constancy of the bereaved husband remained. To
complete the divorce between past and present, Challoner, some few
years previously, had let the “upper part” over the firm’s offices, at
the corner where the Old Marychurch Road opens upon the public gardens
and The Square in the center of Stourmouth, to his junior partner, Mr.
Pewsey, and removed to Heatherleigh, a fair-sized villa on the
Baughurst Park Estate, which he bought at bargain price owing to the
insolvency of its owner. Here, with a married couple at the head of
his household, as butler and cook-housekeeper, he lived in solid
British comfort–so-called–giving tea and tennis parties at intervals
during the summer months, and somewhat heavy dinners during the winter
ones, followed by bridge and billiards.

Granted the man and his natural tendencies, it was impossible that the
thirteen years which had elapsed since the death of his wife should
have been altogether free from sentimental complications. These had,
in point of fact, been numerous. Upon several of them he could not
look back with self-congratulation. Still the main thing was that he
had escaped, always managing to sheer off in time to avoid being “had,”
being run down and legally appropriated. The retreat may not have been
graceful, might not, to a scrupulous conscience, even figure as
strictly honorable, but it had been accomplished. And for
that–standing here, now, to-day, on the snow-powdered carriage sweep
of the Tower House–with a movement of unsuspected cynicism and
profanity he gave thanks, sober, heartfelt, deliberate thanks to God
his Maker. For his chance had come, the chance of a lifetime! He
turned fiercely, grimly angry at the bare notion that any turn of
events might have rendered him not free to embrace it. And his anger,
as anger will, fixed itself vindictively upon a concrete object, upon a
particular person.

But, at this point, his meditations were broken in upon by the sound of
Colonel Haig’s slightly patronizing speech and the ring of his brisk
returning footsteps over the hard gravel.

“Very obliging of you to wait for me, Challoner,” he said. “There are
several things which I should be glad to hear, in confidence, about all
this matter. Since their father’s death I feel a certain
responsibility toward the Miss Smyrthwaites. They have only
acquaintances here in the south of England–no old friends, no
relatives. I really stand nearest to them, though we are but distantly
connected.”

“I was not aware of even a distant connection,” Challoner returned.

“Probably not. I suppose hardly any one here is aware of it. In a
watering-place like Stourmouth, a place that has come up like a
mushroom in a night, as you may say, only a very small and exclusive
circle do know who is who. That is one of the things one has to put up
with, though I confess I find it annoying at times. Well, you see, my
grandmother and poor Smyrthwaite’s mother were first cousins once
removed–both Savages, the Yorkshire, not the Irish, branch of the
family. I have reason to believe there was a good deal of opposition
to Mrs. Smyrthwaite’s marriage. She was not a Roman Catholic, like
most of her people. But they all were–and all are, I am thankful to
say–people of very solid standing, landed gentry, soldiers, and so on.
Naturally they objected to a marriage with a manufacturer and a
Non-conformist. I am quite prepared to admit Unitarians have more
breeding than most dissenters, but still it isn’t pleasant, it isn’t
quite the thing, you know. Prejudice? Perhaps. But gentle-people are
naturally prejudiced in favor of their own class. And, upon my word, I
am inclined to believe it is very happy for the community at large they
should be so.”

The two men reached the gate opening from the grounds of the Tower
House on to the public road–a broad, straight avenue, the foot-paths
on either side divided from the carriage-way by a double line of Scotch
firs rising from an undergrowth of rhododendron and laurel. At
intervals the roofs, gables, and turrets of other jealously secluded
villas–in widely differing styles and no-styles of architecture–were
visible. But these struck the eye as accidental. The somber,
far-stretching fir and pine woods were that which held the attention.
They, and the great quiet of them; in which the cracking of a branch
over-weighted with snow, the distant barking of a dog, or the
twittering of a company of blue-tits foraging from tree-stem to
tree-stem where the red scaling bark gave promise of insect provender,
amounted to an arresting event.

After a moment of just perceptible hesitation Joseph Challoner pushed
open the heavy gate for the elder man and let him pass out first.
Several points in Colonel Haig’s discourse pleased him exceedingly
little, but, in dealing with men as with affairs, he never permitted
minor issues to obscure his judgment regarding major ones. If the old
lad chose to be a bit impertinent and showy, never mind. Let him amuse
himself that way if he wanted to. Challoner had a use for him just
now, and could be patient till he had used him–used him right up, in
fine, and no longer had any use left for him. It followed that as,
side by side, the two turned north-eastward up The Avenue he answered
in a noticeably conciliatory tone:

“I really am indebted to you, Colonel, for telling me this. I own my
position looked awkward in some respects. I foresaw I might want to
consult some one, unofficially, you understand, about the Miss
Smyrthwaites’ affairs; and, as you truly say, they’ve nothing beyond
acquaintances here. I recognized there really wasn’t a soul to whom I
should feel at liberty to speak. But now that I know of your
connection with and the interest you take in the family, I feel I have
some one to turn to if I should need advice. It is a great relief.”

Colonel Haig’s self-importance was agreeably tickled.

“I am very happy to have the opportunity of being of service to you,
Challoner,” he said, graciously, “particularly in connection with my
cousin’s affairs.” Then he became eminently businesslike. “The
disposition of the property is intricate?” he asked.

“No, not exactly. The provisions of the will–I drew it–are simple
enough–in a way. But there is such a large amount of property to deal
with.”

“Yes, yes, Smyrthwaite was very close, of course, very reticent. Still
I have always supposed there was a good deal of money. Now, what about
is the amount, approximately, I mean–if you are free to tell me?”

“Under the circumstances I see no reason why I should not tell you–in
strict confidence, of course.”

“That is understood, my dear Challoner. Whatever you may feel it
advisable, in the interests of these ladies, to say to me goes no
farther, absolutely no farther.”

This from one whose face was irradiated with the joy of prospective
gossipings struck his hearer as a trifle simple-minded. Never mind.
The said hearer had the game well in hand.

“I take that for granted, Colonel,” he answered. “Professional
instinct made me allude to it. One gets so much into the habit of
insisting on silence regarding confidential communications that one
insists when, as in the present case, there’s not the slightest
necessity for doing so. A form of words–nothing more. With you I
know I’m safe. Well, the estate stands at about two hundred thousand,
rather more than less, with a considerable yearly income from the mills
at Leeds in addition.”

Haig stopped short. He went very red in the face.

“Yes, it makes a very tidy heiress of each of the ladies,” Challoner
said, parenthetically.

“It all goes to them?”

“Practically all of it.”

“I doubt if women should be left so much money,” Colonel Haig
exclaimed, explosively. Remembrance of his own eight or nine hundred a
year disgusted him. What a miserable pittance! He moved forward
again, still red from mingled surprise and disgust, his neat, frizzly,
gray mustache positively bristling. “Yes, I doubt, I very much doubt,”
he repeated, “whether it is doing any woman a kindness, an unmarried
woman, in particular, to leave her so much money. It opens the door to
all sorts of risks. Women have no idea of money. It’s not in them.
The position of an heiress is a most unfortunate one, in my opinion.
It places her at the mercy of every description of rascally,
unscrupulous fortune hunter.”

“You’re perfectly right, Colonel–I agree,” Challoner said. “It does.”

His face was unmoved, but his voice shook, gurgling in his throat like
that of a man on the edge of a boisterous horse-laugh. For a few steps
the two walked in silence, then he added: “And that is why I am so
relieved at having you to turn to, Colonel. Unscrupulous fortune
hunters are just the sort of dirty gentry we shall have to protect the
two ladies against.”

“You may be sure of me, Challoner,” Colonel Haig said, with much
seriousness. “We must work together.”

“Yes, we must work together, Colonel–in a good cause–that’s it.” And
again his voice shook.

“Are you executor?” the other inquired, after a pause.

“No, and, between ourselves, I am glad of it. I shall be able to
safeguard the Miss Smyrthwaites’ interests better since I am not
dealing directly with the property. Miss Joanna and a distant relative
are the executors. I think the second appointment a bad one, and
ventured to say as much to Mr. Smyrthwaite when I drew this new will
for him about two years ago.”

“A new will?”

“Yes; a name occurred in the earlier one which he wished to have cut
out.”

The speaker paused, and the other man rose, metaphorically speaking, as
a fish at a neatly cast fly.

“Ah! his son’s, I suppose. Poor Bibby’s–William, I mean, William
Smyrthwaite. Everybody knew him as Bibby.”

“Yes,” Challoner said, “his son, William Smyrthwaite. Of course I am
aware something went wrong there, but, to tell you the truth, Colonel,
I have never got fairly at the story.”

“Well you may take it from me the story is a disgraceful one. I am a
man of the world, Challoner, and not squeamish. I can make excuses,
but, you may take it from me, young Smyrthwaite was a hopelessly bad
lot. A low, vicious, ill-conditioned young fellow–degenerate, that is
the only word, I am sorry to say. He was several years younger than
his sisters. I heard all about it at the time through friends. There
were nasty rumors about him at Rugby, and he was expelled–quite
properly. His father put him into the business. Then things happened
at Leeds–gambling, chorus girls, drink. I need not go into
particulars. There was some question, too, of embezzlement, and young
Smyrthwaite had to disappear. It was a terrible blow to his father.
He decided to leave Leeds. He came south, bought the Tower House and
settled here. I think he was quite right. The position was a very
humiliating one, especially for his wife and daughters.”

Joseph Challoner listened carefully.

“And what became of the boy?”

“Oh, dead–fortunately for everybody concerned, dead.”

“Dead? Very fortunate. But a proven case of death or only an accepted
one?”

“Oh, proven, I take it. Yes, unquestionably proven. I never heard
there was the slightest doubt about that.”

“What a chattering fool the old bird is!” Challoner said to himself
irreverently, adding, aloud: “Apparently, then, we may leave Master
Bibby out of our count. That’s a good thing, anyhow. I am extremely
obliged to you for giving me such a clear account of the whole matter,
Colonel. It explains a great deal. Really I can’t be sufficiently
glad that I happened to run across you this afternoon. I may call it
providential. But now to go back to another young gentleman, Miss
Joanna’s coexecutor, who is not in the very least dead.”

“Yes?” Haig inquired, with avidity. “Speak without reserve, Challoner.
Ask me anything you are in any difficulty about.”

“I don’t want to abuse your good nature. And I don’t forget you have
seen a lot more of the world than I have. Your point of view may be
different. I shall be only too glad if you can reassure me. For I
tell you, Colonel, it makes me uneasy. England’s good enough for me,
England and Englishmen. I may be narrow-minded and insular, but I can
do without the foreigner.”

“Yes, and I’m not sure you are not right in that,” the other said,
rising at another clever cast. “Yes?”

“I am glad you agree. Well, this coexecutor whom we have to look after
is, to all intents and purposes, a foreigner, that is to say, born
abroad–a Parisian and a journalist. Ah, exactly! I am not sorry to
see it strikes you as it did me, Colonel, when poor Mr. Smyrthwaite
first broached the subject. Doesn’t sound very substantial, does it?
And when you remember the amount of money that will pass through his
hands! Still you may be able to reassure me. By the way, I suppose he
must be a relative of yours. His name is Adrian Savage.”

“Never heard of him in my life,” Haig exclaimed, irritably. Then,
afraid he had altogether too roundly given away his ignorance, he went
on:

“But wait a moment, wait! Yes, now I come to think, I do recollect
that one of the Savages, a younger son, went into the medical
profession. I never saw anything of him. There was a strong feeling
in the family about it. Like marriage with a dissenter, they felt
doctoring wasn’t exactly the thing for a Savage. So he was advised, if
he must follow the medical profession, to follow it at a distance. I
remember I heard he settled in Paris and married there. This
journalist fellow may be a son of his.” The speaker cleared his
throat. He was put about, uncertain what line it would be best to
take. “At one time I used to be over there often. As a young man I
knew my Paris well enough–”

“I’ll be bound you did, Colonel,” Challoner put in, with a flattering
suggestiveness. “Silly old goat!” he said to himself.

“Yes, I do not deny I have amused myself there a little in the past,”
the other acknowledged. “But somehow I never looked Doctor Savage up.
It was unfriendly, perhaps, but–well–in point of fact I never did.”

“Had neater and sweeter things to look up, eh, Colonel?” Challoner put
in again. “I believe you. Wish I’d ever had your luck.”

Here resisted laughter got the better of him, jarring the quiet of the
woods with a coarseness of quality startling even to his own ears.
Nothing betrays lack of breeding more than a laugh. He knew this, and
it galled him. He felt angry, and hastened in so far as he might to
recover himself.

“Seriously, though, joking apart, I very much wish, as things turn out,
you had kept in touch with the doctor,” he said. “Then you would have
been in a position to give me your views on this son of his. Mr.
Smyrthwaite seems to have taken an awful fancy to him. But I don’t
attach much importance to that. He was ill and crotchety, just in the
state of health to take unreasoning likes and dislikes. And I can’t
help being anxious, I tell you, Colonel. It does not affect my pocket
in any way–I’m not thinking of myself. And I am no sentimentalist.
My line of business leaves neither time nor room for that. Still I
tell you candidly it goes tremendously against the grain with me to
think of some irresponsible, long-haired, foreign, Bohemian chap being
mixed up with the affairs of two refined English gentlewomen like the
Miss Smyrthwaites. Of course he may turn out a less shadowy individual
than I anticipate. Nothing would please me better than that he should.
But, in any case, I mean to keep my eye upon him. He’s not going to
play hanky-panky with the ladies’ money if Joseph Challoner can prevent
it. I hold myself responsible to you, as well as to them and to my own
conscience, Colonel, to keep things straight.”

“I am confident you will do your best,” the other replied, graciously.
“And I trust you to consult me whenever you think fit. Don’t hesitate
to make use of me.”

“I won’t, Colonel. Make yourself easy on that point. I am greatly
indebted to you. I won’t.”

The end of the long avenue had come into sight, where, between high
stone gate-posts–surmounted by just-lighted gas-lamps–it opens upon
the main road and tram-line running from Stourmouth to Barryport.
After the silence and solitude of the woods the street appeared full of
movement. A row of shop-fronts, across the roadway, threw a yellow
glare over the pavement and on to the snow-heaps piled in the gutter.
The overhead wires hummed in the frosty air. A gang of boys snowballed
one another in the middle of the street, scattering before some passing
cart, and rushed back, shouting, to renew the fight. Groups of
home-going workmen tramped along the pavement, their breath and the
smoke of their pipes making a mist about their heads in the cold winter
dusk.

Challoner held out a paw-like hand.

“You’ll excuse me if I leave you, Colonel?” he said. “I have outstayed
my time already. I am afraid I must be getting home–a lot of work
waiting for me. Good-night.”

He turned away. Then, just inside the gates, a sudden thought
apparently striking him, he hesitated and came back.

“By the way,” he said, “I had been meaning to write a line to you
to-day, but this sad business at the Tower House put it clean out of my
head. I may just as well ask you by word of mouth. It’ll save you the
bother of a note. Woodford has nominated me for election at the club.
Your name, as one of the oldest and most influential members, of
course, carries much weight. If you second me you’ll do me a great
kindness.”

Here the towering, well-lighted tram from Barryport sailed majestically
up, with a long-drawn growl, ending in a heavy clang and thin shriek as
the powerful brakes gripped, bringing it to a stop.

“All right. I may take it for settled, then. I have your promise.
Really I am awfully obliged to you. Don’t let me make you miss your
tram, though. Hi! conductor, steady a minute. Colonel Haig’s going
with you.–Thanks, Colonel, good-night,” Challoner cried, all in a
breath, without giving the hustled, harried, almost apoplectic
ex-warrior time to utter a syllable good or bad.

“Had him neatly,” he said to himself, as he turned once more into the
stillness and twilight of the woods. “He can’t back out–daren’t back
out. Their swagger, aristocratic, d—–your-impudence Stourmouth Club
taken by assault!”

And again he laughed, but this time the coarse quality of the sound
failed to jar him. On the contrary, he rather relished its stridency.
He was winning all along the line, so he could afford–for a little
while here alone under the snow-laden fir-trees in the deepening
dusk–to be himself.

In the hall at Heatherleigh his man-servant–a thin, yellowish, gentle,
anxious-looking person, who played the part of shuttlecock to the
battledores of his strong master and of a commanding wife, ten years
his senior–met him.

“Mr. Pewsey is waiting for you in the smoke-room, sir,” he said, while
helping Challoner off with the pepper-and-salt-mixture overcoat. “And
Mrs. Spencer, sir, called to leave this note. She said there was no
answer, but I was to be sure and give it to you directly you came in.”

Challoner took the note, and stopped for a minute under the hanging,
colored-glass gas-lantern to read it. It was written in a large,
showy, yet tentative hand, on highly scented mauve paper with a white
border to it, and ran thus:

“B. gone to Mary church to dine and sleep. Alone. Come round if you
can after dinner. Want you. Quite safe. Love. GWYNNIE.”

Challoner rolled the small scented sheet into a ball and tossed it
viciously on to the fire, watching till the flame licked it up.

“No, there’s no answer. Quite true, Mrs. Gwynnie–even even less
answer than you suppose or will in the least bit like,” he said,
between his teeth.

Then he opened the door and passed into the smoking-room to join his
junior partner, with a quite expressionless face.

“You won’t go sitting up writing to-night, Miss Joanna? You should get
right into bed, for you are properly worn out.”

“It would be useless for me to attempt to sleep yet, Isherwood, but I
shall not sit up late.”

This, between two women standing on the gallery of the spacious,
heavily carpeted stair-head. Save for the feeble light of their
glass-shaded candles the place was in darkness. The atmosphere,
oppressive from the heat given off by radiators in the hall below and
upon the landing itself, was permeated by the clinging odor of some
disinfectant. They spoke in subdued voices, covered and whispering as
those of reverent-minded persons unwillingly compelled to hold
conversation in church. The northeasterly wind–which, at this same
hour, cried homeless along the steep house-roofs of the _Quai
Malaquais_ to the disturbance of Gabrielle St. Leger’s meditations upon
the deceptions of modern marriage–raked the thick-set fir and pine
trees bordering the carriage-drive outside, and shattered against the
elaborately leaded panes of the high staircase windows, making the
thick velvet curtains which covered them sway and quiver in the draught.

“You had better let me wait and brush your hair as usual, Miss Joanna.
It might soothe your nerves,” the elder of the two women said. She was
a comely, vigilant-eyed person, a touch of mustache on her long upper
lip and a ruddiness upon her high cheek-bones as of sun-ripened fruit.
Though well on in the sixties, her carriage was upright, and her hair,
looped window-curtain fashion over her ears and plaited in a round at
the back of her head, still showed as black as her close-fitted black
silk dress. First nurse in the Smyrthwaite family, now for many years
lady’s maid and housekeeper, capable, prejudiced, caustic of speech,
untiring in faithful devotion to those–the very few–whom she loved,
Mrs. Isherwood, virgin and spinster, represented a domestic type
becoming all too rapidly extinct.

The younger woman made no immediate answer. Her bearing and attitude
bespoke a great lassitude as she stood resting her right hand on the
ball of the newel-post. The light of the candle she carried was thrown
upward, showing a face making but small claim to beauty. A thick,
pasty complexion, straight, heavy, yellowish auburn hair turned back
over a pad from the high, square forehead. No sufficient softening of
the pale, anxious, blue-gray eyes by eyelash or eyebrow. An acquiline
nose with upcut winged nostrils, and a mouth, which, but for the
compression of the lips, might have argued a certain coarseness of
nature. A face, in fine, almost painful in its effect of studied
self-repression, patient as it was unsatisfied, an arrested,
consciously resisted violence of feeling perceptible in every line of
it.

“I could hardly bear having my hair brushed to-night, I am afraid,
Isherwood,” she said, presently. “I am really only fit to be alone.
You say Margaret is quite composed now? You think she will sleep?”

“Oh! dear me, yes, Miss Joanna, Miss Margaret will sleep. She drank a
full tumbler of hot milk and fairly settled off before I left her. I
wish I was half as easy about your night’s rest as I am about hers.”

“My good Isherwood,” Miss Smyrthwaite said, softly, as she moved away
across the landing. Suddenly she paused and came hurriedly back.

“Isherwood, Isherwood,” she called under her breath, “the smell of that
disinfectant seems so very strong. You’re sure the door of–of papa’s
room is shut and locked?”

“Dear me, yes, Miss Joanna. I have the key here in my pocket. Mr.
Smallbridge and I went in the last thing before I came up, and I locked
the door myself. You’ve got the smell of that nasty stuff in your
nose. Anybody would, the amount those nurses used of it! Now you
promise you’ll ring, Miss Joanna, if you should feel nervous or poorly
in the night? You know it never troubles me the least to get up.”

“My good Isherwood!” the younger woman said again.

From the age of fourteen Joanna Smyrthwaite had been encouraged to keep
a diary. For the diary was an acknowledged part of the system of
feminine education–“forming the character,” it used euphemistically to
be called–that obtained so largely among serious-minded persons of
leisure during the earlier half of the Victorian Era. Thoughtfulness,
reserve, methodical habits, the saving of time, hands never unemployed,
the conforming of one’s own conduct to and testing of the conduct of
others by certain wholly arbitrary and conventional standards–these
nominal rather than real virtues were perpetually pressed home upon the
minds and consciences of the “well-brought-up” female child.
Inevitable reaction carried the majority of _fin-de-siècle_ female
children notably far in the quite opposite direction. But in some
instances the older system survived its appointed span–that of the
Smyrthwaite family may be cited as a case in point. The consequences
were of doubtful benefit; since conditions have changed, and
adaptability to environment is a necessity of mental as well as of
physical health.

Joanna Smyrthwaite was now in her twenty-ninth year. She still kept a
diary. Written in a very small, neat, scholarly hand, it filled many
octavo volumes, bound in dark-purple leather, each with a clasp and
lock to it, her initials and the date stamped in gold lettering on the
back. She was a diarist absolutely innocent of any thought or wish of
eventual print. A fierce modesty, indeed, overlay the whole matter of
her diary. That it should be secret, unseen by any eyes save her own,
gave it its value. She regarded it with a singular jealousy of
possession. As nothing else belonging to her, her diaries were
exclusively, inviolably her own. It may almost be asserted that she
took refuge in them, as weaker women, under stress of unsatisfied
passion, will take refuge in a drug.

And so to-night, without waiting to make any change in her dress,
feverishly, as one at last set free from unwelcome observation, she
pushed back the cylinder of the handsome satinwood bureau in her
bedroom, set lighted candles upon the flat desk of it, took the current
volume of the diary out of one of the pigeon-holes, and sat down, her
thin hands trembling with mingled fatigue and excitement, to write.

“_Wednesday, Jan. 12, 190-_

“It has been impossible to put down anything for some days. The strain
of nursing and the demands upon my time have been incessant and too
great. I do not know that I am justified in writing to-night.
Isherwood begged me not to do so, but it is a relief. It will quiet
me, and bring me into a more normal relation to myself and to my own
thought. For days I have been a mere beast of burden, bearing the
anxieties of the sick-room and of the household upon my back. My
intellectual life has been at a standstill. I have read nothing, not
even the newspapers–The Times or last week’s Spectator. There has
been perpetual friction between the servants and the nurses which I
have had to adjust. Margaret could not be looked to for help in this.
She is too easily influenced, being disposed always to take sides with
the person who last spoke to her. Mr. Savage cannot arrive before
to-morrow afternoon. I am glad of this breathing space, for the
thought of his coming is oppressive to me. He appeared so lively and
so much a man of society, when we met him in Paris, that I felt shy and
awkward in talking to him. But it is useless to dwell upon this. He
is coming. I must accept the fact. My head aches. I keep on fancying
there are strange sounds in the house. But, as Isherwood says, I am
overtired. I meant to state quite simply what has occurred since I
last wrote; but I find it difficult to concentrate my attention.

“Papa died just before five o’clock this morning. It was snowing and
the wind was high. Isherwood and I were in the room, with the
night-nurse. Margaret had gone to lie down and I did not call her.
She has reproached me for this since and will probably continue to do
so. Perhaps I acted wrongly in not calling her, but I was dazed.
Everything appeared unreal, and I did not grasp what was occurring
until they told me. We had watched so long that I had grown dull and
unresponsive. I was sitting upon the ottoman–in which mamma’s evening
gowns used to be kept–at the foot of the bed, when Isherwood came
close to me and said, ‘Miss Joanna, Mr. Smyrthwaite’s going.’ I said,
‘Where?’ not understanding what she meant. ‘You had better be quick,’
the night-nurse said. Her manner has never been respectful. I got up
and went to the side of the bed. Papa’s eyes were open. They seemed
to stare at something which made him angry. He used to look thus at
poor Bibby. I felt a spirit of opposition arise in me. This I now
regret, for it was not a proper state of mind. Presently the
night-nurse felt his pulse and held a hand-mirror to his mouth. I saw
that the surface of it remained unblurred. She looked across at
Isherwood and nodded familiarly. ‘I thought so,’ she said. Then I
understood that papa was dead; and I felt sorry for him, both because I
knew how much he disliked the idea of dying, and also because I should
never be afraid of him any more.

“The night-nurse said, quite out loud–her offhand way of speaking has
struck me, all along, as objectionable–‘There is no reason Miss
Smyrthwaite should stop any longer. I always prefer to do the
laying-out by myself. I get through with it so much quicker.’

“‘Isherwood will remain,’ I said. I felt it right to assert my
authority, and I so dread the upper servants being annoyed. It makes
everything so difficult to manage.

“‘That is quite unnecessary,’ she answered. ‘If I require assistance
for lifting I can call Nurse Bagot. She will be coming on duty anyhow
in another hour, and as the case is over I should not mind disturbing
her. She can finish her rest later.’

“But I wish Mrs. Isherwood to remain,’ I repeated.

“‘Of course I shall stay, Miss Joanna,’ Isherwood said. ‘It is my
place to do so. It is not suitable or likely I should leave the
laying-out to strangers. Besides, I do not take orders from anybody in
this house but you or Miss Margaret.’

“To have a wrangle just then was painful; but I think both Isherwood
and I spoke under great provocation.

“Afterward I went to Margaret. It was still dark, and I heard the wind
and snow driving against the passage windows. I found Margaret
difficult to awaken. When I told her, she became hysterical and said I
ought to have spoken less suddenly. But Margaret cries readily. I
believe it is a relief to her and enables her to get over trouble more
easily. I have had no disposition to cry so far, yet I have been much
more of a companion to papa than Margaret ever has. Latterly, in
particular, she avoided being with him on the plea that was too
exhausting for her. Sometimes I have thought her selfish. When I
asked her to sit with him she was so ready with excuses. Still he
cared for her more than for me. She is pretty and I am not–less than
ever now, my eyes look so tired and have red rims to them–and then
Margaret never opposed him. She has a way of slipping out of things
without expressing a direct opinion. I did oppose him during the
terrible troubles about poor Bibby, and when he spoke harshly or
sarcastically before mamma. And I kept him at Carlsbad, away from
mamma, during the last days of her illness, by telegraphing false
reports to him. That is nearly eight years ago. He never actually
knew that I had deceived him, unless Margaret has hinted at it, and I
hardly think she would dare do so–she is not very courageous–but he
suspected something, and he never forgave me, although he gradually
grew more and more dependent upon me. I have examined my conscience
strictly, and it is clear in relation to him. Yet he looked angry this
morning when he was dead. I suppose I shall always think of him as
looking angry. But I think I do not care. How extraordinary it is to
feel that–to feel that I have ceased to mind, to be afraid.

“I sent round quite early to Heatherleigh for Mr. Challoner. He came
at once. He strongly expressed the wish to do all he can to help me,
and inquired more than once for Margaret. He said that, directly he
heard of papa’s death, he thought of Margaret, as he feared she would
be prostrated by the shock. He said she impressed him as so fragile
and so sensitive. The words struck me because it had never occurred to
me that Margaret was fragile. She has better health than I have. She
is more excitable than I am, and easily gets into a fuss, but I do not
think her particularly sensitive. Probably it was just Mr. Challoner’s
way of expressing himself, but I cannot think the terms are
particularly applicable. I am afraid Mr. Challoner is vexed at papa
having appointed Mr. Savage my coexecutor. He intimated that Margaret
had been slighted by the arrangement. I may do him an injustice, but I
fancy he is disappointed at not being executor himself. In this I am
not to blame. As I told him, I should have preferred to act with him
rather than with Mr. Savage, as he knows so much about the property. I
told him I urged papa, in as far as I could, to give up the idea of
appointing Mr. Savage. I think this pleased him. He kindly sent off
the telegram to Mr. Savage for me and the obituary notices for the
newspapers himself. He said he would call later in the day to inquire
for Margaret, and to see if there was anything further he could do for
us. I told Margaret this. She became more composed when she knew he
was coming, and ceased reproaching me for not having called her when
papa was dying. She said she should be glad to see Mr. Challoner. She
has always liked him better than I have. He is clever, but
uncultivated. But Margaret has never really cared about culture. I
know mamma feared she might become frivolous and worldly if she was not
under intellectual influences. If mamma had only lived till now!–I
dare not develop all I mean in saying that. I foresee difficulties
with Margaret. I earnestly hope she will not take up the idea she has
been slighted. I do not want to put myself forward, yet it is my duty
not only to carry out papa’s instructions, but, in as far as I know
them, mamma’s wishes also.

“I tried to word the obituary notices as papa would have liked.
Perhaps I should have inserted the words _Liberal_ and _Unitarian_, so
as to define his political and religious position. Yet he differed
from the main body of Unitarians on so many points and condemned so
many modern Liberal tendencies and measures that I did not feel
justified in employing those terms. They are generic, and, as it
appeared to me, committed him to views he had long ceased actually to
hold. I should have consulted Margaret, but she was very fretful just
then; and it was useless to ask Mr. Challoner, as he would not
appreciate fine distinctions, I fancy. So I simply put ‘At his
residence, the Tower House, Baughurst Park Estate, Stourmouth, Hants,
Montagu Priestly Smyrthwaite, formerly of the Priestly Mills and of
Highdene, Leeds, aged seventy-six. No flowers, by special request.’ I
suppose Andrew Merriman and others from the mills will attend the
funeral. I dread seeing Andrew Merriman again. It will bring back all
the terrible trouble about poor Bibby. And I cannot think how Mr.
Savage will get on with the people from the mills. It would have been
simpler to have Mr. Challoner act officially in the capacity of host.
I dare not think much about the funeral.

“After luncheon I filled in their papers and dismissed the nurses. I
think they expected some present, but I did not feel it necessary to
give them any. They had only done what they were well paid to do; and
I liked neither of them, though Nurse Bagot was the least patronizing
and interfering. Their refusing to take their meals in the
housekeeper’s room and the upper servants’ objection to waiting upon
them made arrangements very trying. I sympathized with the servants,
but I had to consider the nurses, lest they should be quarrelsome and
make everybody even more uncomfortable. I am thankful we had no
professional nurses when mamma was ill, and that Isherwood and I nursed
her. But this case was different. We could not have done without
professional help even had we wished to do so.

“I went to papa’s room this afternoon, when the undertakers had
finished taking measurements for the coffin. I thought it my duty to
go. I supposed Margaret would have accompanied me, but she refused,
saying it would only upset her again just as she was expecting Mr.
Challoner. I told her I feared the servants might think it unnatural
and unfeeling if she did not go into the room at all. She said if she
felt better to-morrow she would make an effort to go then. I hope she
will. I should not like her to expose herself to criticism, even
though unspoken, on the part of the servants. One of our first duties,
now we are alone, is to set an example to the household. I think she
is wrong in putting off going. It will not be any less painful
to-morrow than to-day. And if I can bear it, she should be able to
bear it. We are different, but I do not pretend to be Margaret’s
superior in any way.

“The room was very cold. I suppose I remarked this particularly
because of the high temperature which has been kept up in it for so
many weeks. The upper sashes of all the windows were open behind the
drawn blinds, which the air alternately inflated and sucked outward.
This made an unpleasant dragging sound. I was foolish to mind it, but
I am tired. There was a sheet over the bed, which was quite proper;
but there were sheets over the toilet-glass, the cheval-glass, and the
mirror above the chimneypiece also. This must have been Isherwood’s
doing. It placed me in a difficulty. I did not want to hurt her
feelings, but I know papa would have disapproved. He was so intolerant
of all superstition, that the ignorant notion any one might see the
dead person’s face reflected in a looking-glass in the death-chamber,
and that it would bring misfortune, would have made him extremely
angry. He was contemptuous of uneducated people and of their ideas. I
had begun taking the sheet off the cheval-glass when I saw that
Margaret’s gray Persian cat was in the room. I suppose it must have
slipped in beside me without my noticing it. The light was very dim
and I was thinking only of my own feelings. I called it, in a whisper,
but it ran away from me mewing. It went twice right round the bed,
squeezing in between the head of it and the wall. It stood upon its
hind-legs, and then crouched, preparing to spring up over the
footboard. I drove it away, but it kept on mewing. It hid under the
bed and I could not dislodge it. I was afraid to go across and ring
the bell lest it should attempt to spring up again. The room grew
dark. It was weak of me, but I felt helpless and nervous. I seemed to
see a movement upon the bed, as though some one was trying to crawl
from underneath the sheet and had not sufficient strength to do so. No
doubt this was the result of my brain being so exhausted by
sleeplessness and anxiety, but I could not reason with myself just
then. It seemed quite real and it terrified me. I was afraid I should
scream. At last Isherwood came. She had missed me and came to look
for me. I could not explain at first, but when she understood, she
called Sarah, the second housemaid, of whom the cat is fond. Sarah was
frightened at entering the room, and Isherwood had to speak sharply to
her. It was all very dreadful. At last Sarah coaxed the cat from
under the bed. Isherwood knelt down and pushed it behind with a broom.
When Sarah had taken it away, I lost my self-control and was quite
overcome. I felt and spoke bitterly about the maids’ and Margaret’s
carelessness. During the whole of papa’s illness the cat has been kept
out of the south wing, and it would have been so easy to exercise care
a little longer. I said it appeared things were intentionally
neglected now that papa’s authority is withdrawn, and that those who
formerly cringed to him now took pleasure in defying his orders and
wishes. This was an exaggerated statement; but the incident brought
home to me how little any person, even the most important and
autocratic, matters as soon as he or she is dead. Death does more than
level, it obliterates.

“Moreover, I could not rid my mind of the thought of those feeble,
ineffectual movements beneath the sheet. This added to my distress and
nervousness. I asked Isherwood to uncover the bed so that I might
assure myself the body remained in the same position. I looked closely
at it, though it was extremely painful to me to do so. The eyes were
now closed, but the face was still severe, expressive of disapproval.
Why, and for what? Obviously it is useless to disapprove of whatever
may follow death–if, indeed, anything does, sensibly, follow it.
Papa’s belief in the survival of consciousness and individuality was of
the slightest. So is mine. The so-called ‘future life’ is, I fear,
but a ‘fond thing vainly imagined.’ The extinction of myriads of
intelligent, highly organized and highly gifted beings after a few
years–few, as against the vast stretch of astral or geologic
periods–of earthly struggle, suffering, and attainment appears
incredibly wasteful. But that constitutes no valid argument against
extinction–at least, in my opinion, it would be weakly optimistic to
accept it as a valid one. A very superficial study of biology
convinces one of the supreme indifference of Nature to waste. As far
as sentient living creatures, other than man, are concerned, Nature is
certainly no economist. She destroys as lavishly as she creates.
Therefore it is safer to eliminate all hope of restitution or reward
from one’s outlook, and accustom oneself to the thought of extinction.
I have long tried to school myself to this, but I find it difficult. I
must try harder.

“Recalling the scene of this afternoon, I feel grateful to Isherwood.
I was childishly unreasonable and passionate, and she was very patient
with me. She is always kind to me; but I must not permit myself to
lean too much upon her. She is an uneducated woman, and has the
prejudices and superstitions of her class. To lean upon her might
prove enfeebling to my character and judgment.

“I have not yet spoken to Margaret about the cat; for, when I was
sufficiently composed to go down-stairs, Mr. Challoner had just left
and she began talking about his visit, which seemed to have pleased and
excited her. She praised his thoughtfulness and sympathy. No doubt he
has valuable qualities, but I own something in his manner and way of
expressing himself jars upon me. He is not quite gentleman-like in
mind or appearance. Margaret called me proud and fastidious, and added
that I took pleasure in depreciating those who showed her attention.
That is neither true nor just, but I will be more careful what I say
about people before her. It is unwise to be betrayed into discussions
since she so often misunderstands me and so easily takes offense.
Later on she spoke about our mourning. I had not given the subject a
thought, I admit, since there has been so very much else to occupy me.
I took for granted Madame Pell would make it for us, in Stourmouth, as
she has done all our dressmaking lately. But Margaret said Madame
Pell’s things were always rather old-fashioned and that she wished to
have our mourning from Grays’. I pointed out that it would be
inconvenient and unsuitable for either of us to go up to London, for a
day, just now. She replied that Grays’ would send some one down with a
selection for us to choose from. I mentioned expense. Margaret said
that need not be considered, adding:

“‘Mr. Challoner tells me we shall both be rich. For years papa Has
lived very much below his income and has saved a great deal of money.
All the property is left to you and me. We shall each have a large
fortune.’

“I was annoyed by her tone, which struck me as both exultant and
unfeeling. I cannot forget that the greater proportion of papa’s
property would have been Bibby’s, and it is dreadful to me that
Margaret and I should profit by our brother’s disgrace and death.–If
he is dead! To the last mamma believed he was still alive, in hiding
somewhere. I still believe it, and hope he may come back–poor,
darling Bibby! Margaret, I am convinced, neither wishes nor hopes
this. She has said more than once, lately, that if people do wrong it
is better to put them out of one’s life altogether, and I know she was
thinking of Bibby. I could never put him out of my life, even if I
wished to do so. I had the greatest difficulty to-day in not speaking
of him when she talked about our large fortunes, but I controlled
myself. I was still shaken by the scene with her cat, and feared I
might exhibit temper. I did reason with her about having our mourning
from Grays’, as it seems to me ostentatious. But she became fretful
and inclined to cry again, accusing me of always wanting my own way and
of trying to deny her every little interest and amusement, so I thought
it best to give in to her.

“I promised Isherwood I would not sit up, so I must stop writing. The
smell of the disinfectant pursues and disgusts me, and I go on fancying
that I hear strange noises in the house. I wish I could feel sorrow
for papa’s death. It would be more natural. But I feel none. I only
feel resentment against mamma’s suffering and Bibby’s disgrace. How
cruel and purposeless the past seems! And I feel alarm in thinking of
the future. I cannot picture Margaret’s and my life alone together.
Will it be cruel and purposeless, too? I shall not sleep, but I must
not break my word to Isherwood. I will stop writing and go to bed.”

Two o’clock had struck before Joanna Smyrthwaite closed and locked her
diary and replaced it in the pigeon-hole of the satin wood bureau. At
the same hour, away in Paris, Gabrielle St. Leger, answering little
Bette’s cry, gathered the child’s soft, warm body in her arms and found
the solution of many perplexities in the God-ordered discipline of
mother-love. The less fortunate Englishwoman also received comfort–of
a kind. Her hands were stiff with cold. The small, neat writing on
the last page of the diary showed cramped and almost illegible. She
was faint from the long vigil. Yet the fever of her spirit was
somewhat appeased. For, in thus visualizing and recording her
emotions, in thus setting the picture of her life outside her, she had,
in a measure, lightened the strain of it. The drug from which she had
sought relief acted, so to speak, allaying the ache of her loveless,
unsatisfied heart.

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