WHEREIN ADRIAN SAVAGE SUCCEEDS

Adrian sat well back in the car. The tires ate up the long
perspectives of white road, while the brave music of the engines made
accompaniment to the lyrics of his thought. On either side the lines
of poplars galloped, and behind them the great gold, green and
rusty-red squares of the crops, marked only by the nature of their
respective growths, innocent of dividing fence or hedge-row, swished
back, half the circle, as on a turn-table. In the valleys herds of
oxen and stout-built, white-bellied, tortoise-shell cows moved
leisurely through the rich meadow-grass. Prosperous gray homesteads,
flanked by mellow wide-ranging barns and sheds, orchards of reddening
apples, and yards containing a cheerfully garrulous population of
poultry, calves, and pigs, came into view only to vanish backward along
with the rest. In places, tracts of forest, the trees crowded and for
the most part very tall and slight, as is the habit of northern French
woodlands, made a dark stain amid the gilded brightness, casting long
shadows across the downward-sloping pastures at their foot. A note of
pastel blue in farmers’ and peasants’ clothing, now and again of
lustrous dappled gray in the barrel or buttocks of some well-shaped
draught-horse, of orange or rose in a child’s frock or walled garden
close, of white in airing linen, struck momentarily into observation.
But dominant was the gilt of the level sunlight, the gold of the
harvest, and the silver powdering dust of the highway. All these found
sublimated repetition in the iridescence of a sunset modulated to rare
half-tones by the near neighborhood of the sea. And Adrian sat well
back in the car, restful yet keen, affected sensuously and passively
rather than consciously and actively by the fair, fruitful landscape
fleeting to right and left of him, revising his impressions of the past
day.

Those impressions were, as he told himself, in a high degree both
stimulating and poetic. He had been happy, very happy; but his
happiness was of the traveling rather than the stationary order. No
touch of satiety showed in it; rather much haunting solicitation of the
Unattained and the Beyond. From Pisgah height he had beheld the Land
of Promise, for the first time reasonably secure of entrance into that
ardently coveted and most delectable country. But the waters of Jordan
still rolled between; and whether these would pile themselves politely
apart, bidding him cross dry-shod, or whether a pretty smart bit of
swimming would be required before he touched the opposite bank, he was
as yet by no means sure. _Enfin_–he could swim for it, if all came to
all, and would swim for it gaily and strongly enough!

As that afternoon he first caught sight of Gabrielle St. Leger
standing, tall and svelte in her light summer dress, upon a grass-grown
mound on the turn of the slope, her strong yet pliant figure detaching
itself in high relief against the immense expanse of Ste. Marie’s blue
lagoons and gleaming sands, Adrian apprehended that she too suffered
those solicitations of the Unattained and the Beyond. Her attitude,
indeed, was eloquent of questioning expectation. It recalled to him
the superb and ill-fated drawing of her, uplifted amid the cruel and
witty obscenities of poor René Dax’s studio–the exalted Madonna of the
Future, her child upon her arm, going forth from things habitual and
familiar in obedience to the call of Modernity, of the new and
tremendous age. Resemblance was there; yet as he looked a difference
in her to-day’s attitude soon disclosed itself to this analytic though
ardent lover. For, assuredly, the sentiment of this second and living
picture of her was less abstract, more warm and directly human? Not
devotion to a Cause, to an impersonal ideal or idea, inspired that
outlooking of questioning expectation across the shimmering levels to
the freedom of the open sea, but some stirring of the heart, some
demand of her sweet flesh for those natural joys which were its
rightful portion. This difference–and then another, which, even here
by himself in the rapidly running car, Adrian approached sensitively
and with inward deprecation. In to-day’s picture she had been alone.
She had not carried her child on her arm; so that only the woman,
beautiful and youthful, not the already made mother, was present.

And the above fact, it must be owned, contributed in no small degree to
the young man’s content. A thousand times, notwithstanding his love of
analysis, he had refused and shied away from analysis of precisely
this–namely, the feeling he entertained toward little Bette. She was
a delicious being, granted; but she was also poor Horace St. Leger’s
child, and from much which this implied Adrian did quite incontestably
shrink. _La belle Gabrielle_ might still be, as he sincerely believed
still was, essentially _la Belle au Bois Dormant_, just as he himself
was the princely adventurer selected by Providence for the very
agreeable task of waking her up. Yet, during that protracted sleep of
hers, things had happened, primitive and practical things, to the
actuality of which delicious Mademoiselle Bette’s existence bore
indubitable witness. Hence to carry away with him that other picture
of Gabrielle as seen to-day, interrogating the fair sunlit spaces
unaccompanied, gave him quite peculiar satisfaction. In the glow of
which his thoughts now turned affectionately to the memory of poor
Horace St. Leger. For wasn’t _la belle Gabrielle_, after all, his, and
not Adrian’s, discovery? And wasn’t he, Adrian, consequently under a
gigantic debt of gratitude to Horace for so speedily taking his
departure and leaving the coast clear? He might have lived
on–agonizing reflection!–ten, twenty, even–since centenarians are at
present so conspicuously the fashion–a good thirty years longer; lived
on, indeed, until it ceased to matter much whether he took his
departure or not. Thinking over all which, Adrian forgave the poor man
his abbreviated enjoyment of paternity, and in so doing made his final
peace with the existence of little Bette.

Not to have done so would, in his opinion, have betrayed a culpably
ungenerous and churlish spirit. The more as when–her attention
attracted by the pretty outcry of little Bette herself and of Madame
Vernois–Gabrielle turning her gaze landward became aware of his
presence, the light in her face and quick welcoming gesture of her hand
showed his advent as far from displeasing to her. Both expression and
action struck him so spontaneous and unstudied that, without undue
vanity, he might well believe himself to count for something in those
allurements of the Beyond and the Unattained. Delightfully certain it
was, in any case, that she descended with haste from her grassy
monticule, and–he could most joyfully have sworn–put some restraint
upon herself so as to advance and offer her greetings with due
soberness and dignity.

All through his visit her manner had remained gentle, serious, touched
even with a hint of embarrassment. From these signs he drew most
hopeful auguries. After tea, under the quite perceptibly out-of-joint
noses of the two excellent young Americans, she had drawn him aside and
plied him with questions respecting his nursing of René Dax. In
response he gave her a detailed account of the last two months. With
the artist’s happy faculty for playing two mutually destructive parts
at one and the same time in all sincerity, he mourned René’s mental
affliction and felt the pity of it while looking into Gabrielle’s eyes,
watching her every change of expression and reveling in the emotion his
eloquent recital evoked. Her quickness of sympathy and comprehension
were enchanting. Never had he found her so responsive. Never had he
felt so closely united to her in sentiment.–And that the egregious
Tadpole, of all living creatures, should prove so excellent a
stalking-horse!

Putting aside the high delight of having Madame St. Leger as a
listener, he found sensible relief in speaking freely of the subject.
For the responsibility of his position had been severe and wearing.
Especially had it been so during those, at first, frequently recurrent
periods of acute mania, when his affection and philosophy alike were
strained to breaking-point, making him doubt whether the protracted
struggle to keep wayward soul and distempered body together was either
merciful or obligatory. If this unhappy lunatic of genius was so
passionately desirous of letting loose that same wayward soul of his
through a gaping wound in his throat, why the deuce should he, Adrian,
in company with three or four other strong and healthy men, be at such
tremendous pains to prevent it? Mightn’t the poor Tadpole know very
much best what was best for him? And wouldn’t it, therefore, be more
humane and intelligent to leave nicely sharpened razors within easy
reach, ignoring the probable consequences of such intentional
negligence? Are there not circumstances which render connivance at
suicide more than permissible? Time and again he had argued the vexed
question with himself as to the binding necessity, even the practical
morality, of preserving human life when, through disease, life has so
cruelly lost its distinctively human characteristics and values.

“And,” Gabrielle St. Leger remarked, with a smile edged by engagingly
gentle mockery, “then invariably ended, against your better judgment,
by still carefully removing the razors!”

That same smile dwelt in the young man’s memory as singularly rich with
promise, justifying the belief that a lifetime spent in _la belle
Gabrielle’s_ society would fail to exhaust her power of–to put it
vulgarly–jumping the unexpected upon you, and bracing your interest by
the firing off of all manner of fine little surprises. Monotony, he
thanked Heaven, would very certainly not be among the dangers to be
feared in marriage with Madame St. Leger!

But while his imagination played about these agreeable matters the
music of the engines changed its tune, the brakes gripped under Martin
the chauffeur’s boot-sole, and the car slowed down to a crawl in
passing a flock of sheep. Two large dogs, bobtailed and shaggy, their
red mouths widely open as they raced barking to and fro, rounded up the
scared and scattering flock into a compact, bleating, palpitating mass
of bister color picked out with rusty black upon the dust-whitened
strip of turf by the roadside. The shepherd, tall and lean, a long
staff in his hand, his felt hat, hawk-nosed face, unkempt beard, ragged
cloak and string-girt leggings, presenting a study in rich browns and
umbers under the last glinting gold of the sunset, gesticulated and
shouted, directing the evolutions of the racing dogs in a harsh and
guttural patois. The scene, a somewhat violent pastoral, stamped
itself as a picturesque inset upon the wide-margined page of Adrian’s
reflections.

The sheep once safely cleared and the pace again quickening, his
thought centered complacently upon the moment of his farewells. For
surely these showed handsomely on the credit side of his day’s pleasure?

The friendly little company–not exclusive of the forgiving though
cheapened Americans–had gathered at the hotel entrance to witness his
start. Anastasia’s voice and manner were rich with meaning and
affectionate admonition as she invited him speedily to return. In the
expression of Madame Vernois’s refined face he seemed to read something
approaching appeal as she gracefully seconded that invitation. While
Gabrielle herself–she standing a little apart from the rest, nearer to
the waiting automobile–answered, not lightly, but with a sweet and
grave dignity, on his asking her:

“And you, _chère Madame et amie_, have I your invitation also? May I
soon come back? Without your sanction it would, perhaps, be
preferable, be wiser, more desirable for me to stay away.”

“I, too, hope you may find it possible soon to return here. If your
doing so depends in any degree upon my sanction I give that sanction
readily.”

And thus speaking she had looked him full in the eyes. Whereupon,
though furiously unwilling to quit the dear sight and sound of her,
this very modern young god mounted up into his very modern car in quite
celestial serenity of spirit.

But as the dusk deepened and the lights of Rouen multiplied in the
distance, happy retrospect gave place to happy on-looking, since, at
nine and twenty, no sound and wholesome man seriously questions the
existence of earthly bliss.

Yes, a week, possibly even a few days, would suffice to assure him all
went well with René in his new quarters. Then he might reckon himself
at liberty to return to Ste. Marie and the dear people there. And,
once there, no overstrained delicacy should withhold him from putting
it to the touch with Gabrielle St. Leger. Bowing to Anastasia’s
advice, he would risk saying the word too much, so as to avoid the
greater danger of saying the word too little;–risk it the more gladly
because he gratefully believed it mightn’t prove the word too much, but
the word acceptable, even the word actually, though silently and
proudly, waited for. The immediate consequence of which belief was
that, the car striking into the town through the _Faubourg Beauvosine_
and traveling the Boulevard and the _rue St. Hilaire_ successively, it
appeared to Adrian in act of traversing an altogether heavenly city,
whose now poetic ancient buildings, now stately new ones, were alike
built of silver, and whose deep-resounding streets, in the growing
brilliance of the lamp-light, were paved with gold. Such extravagant
tricks, even in this machine-made, mammon-worshiping twentieth century,
can love still contrive to play upon the happy lover!

On the way to the hotel, where he had left his light traveling baggage
when passing through from Caen in the morning, Adrian alighted at the
central post-office, in the _rue Jeanne d’Arc_, to claim his two-days’
mail forwarded from Paris.

Coming out, he stood awhile at the edge of the pavement verifying the
several items. Two consignments of proofs–this pleased him. A slim
one from the office, containing, as he knew, his fortnightly
_chronique_ of current home and foreign politics for the forthcoming
number of the Review. The other–and his glance settled upon it
affectionately–was stouter, holding the slips of a story of some forty
pages. Into that story he had put all the imaginative and verbal skill
of which he, as yet, felt himself capable. It was a drama, at once
pathetic and brutal, of the Paris underworld which he had this year so
intimately investigated during his unsuccessful search for Bibby
Smyrthwaite. He felt keen to know how it looked and read in print; for
in the back of his mind lurked a hope that just conceivably it might
prove a little masterpiece and assure his place among those writers of
contemporary fiction whose literary output really counts.

And here for the moment it must be owned the lover was called upon to
make room for the artist, while Adrian promised himself the best of
good hours, after dinner to-night, in revising punctuation, correcting
misprints, and leisurely making those carefully considered alterations
in wording so absorbing to one emulous of combining grace and high
finish with pungency and vivacity of style. Tenderly he laid the
packet down on the seat of the waiting car, and raised his eyes as in
invocation to the star-pierced blue of the summer sky roofing the
perspective of silver-gray houses and silver-gilt street. For mightn’t
he take it as a fortunate omen that the proofs should come to hand on
this so fortunate day? Omen that the story would strike home and its
readers acclaim him as a doer of notable and living work?

He glanced rapidly at the envelopes of his private letters; and, while
thus occupied, became aware that Martin, the chauffeur, was engaged–as
not infrequently–in an altercation. The man was a clever driver, and
to him, Adrian, a willing and trustworthy servant. But his temper was
inconveniently inflammable, and he inclined to pick quarrels with half
the men and make amorous overtures to more than half the women he met,
thus involving both himself and his master in superfluously dramatic
incidents. Under provocation his language became variegated and
astonishingly ripe. Epithets of the latter description he was now in
process of discharging upon some individual who had knocked up against
him, in passing, as he stood at the edge of the pavement bending down
to examine the tire of the near front wheel of the car.

“Martin, stop that, if you please,” Adrian said, warningly, over his
shoulder, and returned to the survey of his letters.

There was one from Anastasia Beauchamp. Bless the dear woman, wasn’t
she indeed a jewel of a friend! And there was one, black-bordered, and
addressed, though less neatly than usual, in Joanna Smyrthwaite’s
small, scholarly handwriting. Adrian was conscious of impatience, of
an unreasoning sense of injury. For why, of all days in the year,
should he hear from Joanna to-day? He had thought of her seldom
lately, owing to preoccupation with and anxiety regarding René Dax; and
it struck him as a rather wanton smirching of his delightful day’s
record and subtle menace to the success of his precious little story
that the rather unpleasant matter of poor Joanna should thus obtrude
itself. Undefinable apprehension of coming trouble flashed through his
mind.

All this was a matter of seconds; but during those seconds, the voice
of the choleric chauffeur had risen from a gusty snarl into the screech
of a blazing sky-rocket, bursting finally into a star-shower of
unrecordable invective.

Adrian, imposingly tall in his long dust-colored frieze motor-coat,
wheeled round upon the man angrily.

“Ah, _par exemple!_ but this is intolerable!” he exclaimed. “Have I
not already commanded you to be silent? Do you propose to disgrace me,
as well as yourself, by fighting in the open street? Behave
respectably, not like an idiot. Do you hear–get in behind your
steering-wheel and keep quiet until I am ready to start.”

“But, Monsieur, the fellow has grossly insulted me. He cannoned into
me by design, the thrice filthy animal, the sodden ass, and would have
rolled me in the gutter had I not skilfully braced myself. Clearly his
intention was robbery. He is a danger to society, a thief, a
pickpocket. Only let Monsieur look for himself, and declare whether a
more verminous gaol-bird has ever been presented for his inspection?”

And looking, Adrian beheld the chauffeur, fiery-eyed, with bristling
black mustache, and, struggling in his vicious grip, Joanna Smyrthwaite
herself–Joanna dissipated, degraded, with prominent, blear blue eyes
and weak hanging underlip, masquerading in man’s attire, as in those
infamous, now obliterated drawings upon René Dax’s studio wall.

Disgust, and a vague apprehension of something unnatural and outside
reason, seized on Adrian Savage. The sight was loathsome, to a degree,
both in suggestion and in fact. Then he understood; and,
understanding, suffered a moment of acute indecision. But a crowd was
collecting. The police might arrive upon the scene. Making a strong
effort to surmount his disgust, he said:

“Let him go, Martin. I know him. I will explain to you presently.
Now I require your help.”

Then he added rapidly, in English:

“Pardon my servant’s rudeness. In the end you shall not have cause to
regret it. You are William Smyrthwaite–Bibby–are you not?”

Martin relinquished his hold sulkily. His victim, dazed and
breathless, stood at bay; a ring of curious, contemptuous faces behind
him, and Adrian, stern, yet excited, and with difficulty repressing
evidences of his repugnance, in front.

“And, if I am Bibby Smyrthwaite, what the devil is that to you?” he
answered petulantly in English. “I never set eyes on you before. Why
should you interfere with me? Haven’t I as much right to the pavement
as that liveried brute of yours? I’ve got a job as cab-washer. If I’m
late at the yard I shall forfeit my pay. And I want my pay.”

His loose-lipped mouth twisted miserably and tears began to dribble
down his sunken cheeks.

“Let me go,” he blubbered. “I haven’t done you any harm, and I want my
pay.”

Then Adrian, moved by compassion, came close to him and spoke kindly.

“See here, my poor boy,” he said. “I am commissioned by persons who
have a regard for you to provide for you. You need not worry about
your pay. I will take care of all that. For months I have tried to
find you to tell you this. I am Adrian Savage, a cousin of your late
father, and his executor.”

The tears ceased, and the young man’s face was overspread by an
expression of almost imbecile rapture. Adrian turned sick. Exactly
thus had Joanna looked, more than once.

“Is my father dead, then?” Bibby asked.

“Yes, he is dead,” Adrian replied, in bewilderment.

Bibby reeled forward and squatted on the broad footboard of the car,
his head thrown back, holding his sides, his thin, loose-jointed limbs
and body writhing with and shaken by hysterical laughter.

“Dead!” he quavered out–“dead! By God! they’ve got him at last,
then–got him, the stinking, slave-driving old hypocrite! And, please
God, they’re cooking him now–now–at this very identical
minute–cooking him to a turn, down in hell.”

The room, furnished in dark walnut, was upholstered in red Utrecht
velvet, the walls hung with a striped fawn-and-red paper. A mirror, in
a florid gilt frame, was fixed above the low mantel-shelf. The
atmosphere held odors reminiscent of cigarettes, patchouli, and food in
process of cooking. The dinner-table had, by Adrian’s orders, been
placed near the central window, the two casements of which stood open
to the ground. After so many hours spent in the open air, dining in
present company he felt the necessity of such freshness as he could by
any means get. In the center of the long flagged courtyard the big
palmate leaves of a row of pollarded chestnuts caught the light coming
from the offices on the left. White-coated, white-capped _chefs_ and
scullions passed to and fro. An old liver-colored bitch, basset as to
her legs and pointer as to her body, waddled after them, her nose in
the air, sniffing, permanently hopeful of scraps. On the flags, just
outside the salon window, three tabby kittens played–stalking one
another round pots of fuchsia and musk, bouncing out, leaping in the
air, spitting, galloping sideways, highly diabolic with teapot-handle
tails. Farther along the courtyard, hidden by the lower branches of
the intervening trees, a stable-helper sang and whistled as he washed
down the hotel omnibus. The servants talked, laughed, scolded over
their work. Almost incessantly from the _rue Jeanne d’Arc_ came the
long-drawn rattle and swish of the electric trams. And opposite to
Adrian at table, clad in a complete outfit of his, Adrian’s clothes–a
white flannel suit with a faint four-thread black stripe on it, a soft,
pale blue shirt, an immaculate collar and narrow black tie–sat William
Smyrthwaite, outwardly, at all events, surprisingly transformed.

Adrian had hesitated to propose him as an inmate; but an up-to-date
motor-car, a ruffling chauffeur, a well-built suit-case and kit-bag
bearing an English name, a very good Paris address, are calculated to
promote not only faith, but charity. The hotel proprietor, a short,
fat, bland little man with a dancing step and a shrewd, rapacious
Norman eye, was sympathy itself.

“That Monsieur should remove his effects and seek another, an inferior,
hotel would desolate him, was not to be thought of! He would arrange
the affair on the instant. Such lamentable lapses will occur at
times–are there not, alas, members of the most respectable, the most
distinguished, families who turn badly? Let Monsieur, then, rest
assured he was infinitely touched by the confidence Monsieur reposed in
him. And, see”–tapping his forehead with a fat forefinger–“the
little suite at the back on the ground floor, giving upon the
courtyard, became precisely this morning vacant. True, these were not
the rooms he should have selected for Monsieur’s occupation; but, under
the circumstances, it was conceivable they would serve. They were
comfortable though modest. They were retired–two bed-chambers
connected by a salon. There Monsieur and his guest could dine in
private, secure from the intrusive observation of strangers. But,
indeed, no–Monsieur was too amiable! He himself was undeserving of
thanks, since did it not become evident that Monsieur was engaged in a
work of the highest benevolence–the attempted reclamation of an
unhappy fellow-creature?–With which work to be associated, even in the
humblest capacity, could not but be esteemed by any person of feeling
as a privilege.”

Then with a rapid change of manner, becoming autocratic, Napoleonic:

“Gustave,” he cried, over his shoulder, “_portez les bagages de ces
messieurs aux numeros sept et huit._”–And waving Adrian to follow, he
bounced lightly away down the corridor; his eyebrows drawn together as
he inwardly debated how many francs extra he dared charge for the
Utrecht-velvet upholstered suite without seeming too flagrantly
extortionate.

After that first outbreak of unseemly rejoicing at the announcement of
his father’s death, young Smyrthwaite subsided into a state of
acquiescent apathy. He did as he was bid, but with what mental
reservations, what underlying thoughts or emotions, Adrian failed to
discover. Somewhere, in this weak, slipshod creature, he suspected a
bed-rock of obstinacy. He also suspected predatory instincts. Or, was
it only that the instinct of self-preservation had taken–as under the
stress of poverty it almost must take–a predatory form?

At the beginning of dinner Smyrthwaite spoke little, but sat, his
elbows upon the table, his head bent low over his plate, putting away
food with the sullen haste of an animal suspicious of its
fellow-animal’s intentions and appetite. And when Adrian, to whom this
exhibition of gluttony proved anything but agreeable, hinted civilly
there was no cause for hurry, he looked across the nicely ordered table
with a half-sneering yet oddly boyish smile.

“Oh! it’s all very well for you,” he said. “You’re safe enough to have
your solid three meals to-morrow, and all the other blooming to-morrows
as long as you live. But, I tell you, I mean to make jolly sure of
this meal while I can get it. I’ve learned not to put much trust in
to-morrows. I want to be on the safe side, so that if the wind
changes, as far as this meal goes, anyhow, I shall have nothing to
repent of.”

“But, my good fellow, the wind will not change. That is exactly what I
have been trying to assure you,” Adrian interposed, pity and repulsion
playing see-saw within him to a bewildering extent. “For the future
you can be just as secure of three meals a day as I myself am if you
choose.”

“Bully!” Smyrthwaite said. “I wonder! The old man cut up well?” he
added, his face again bent down over the table.

“Your father left a large fortune,” Adrian replied, repulsion now very
much on the top.

“To me? Not likely!”

“To your sisters. And Joanna”–Adrian hesitated, conscious of a
singular distaste to using the Christian name–“at once devoted a
considerable sum of money to be employed, in the event of your return,
for your maintenance.”

With his coarse, thick-jointed fingers Smyrthwaite rubbed a bit of
bread round his plate, sopping up the remains of the gravy.

“That’s no more than right,” he said, “if you come to think of it. Why
should the girls have all the stuff?”

His hand went out furtively across the table to a dish of braised beef
and richly cooked vegetables which he proceeded to transfer to his own
plate.

“All the same, it’s nice of Nannie. We were rather chummy in the old
days–the blasted old days which I’ve nearly forgot. But I didn’t
suppose she cared still. Poor old Nannie! What a beastly hash my
father made of our lives! Nannie ought to have married Merriman. Then
I should have had a home. Andrew’s a bit peachy, but he’s a rare good
sort.”

He slushed in the food silently for a while; and Adrian, anxious to
avoid observation of the details of that process, watched the kittens
sporting round the flower-pots on the flags just outside.

He had searched for Bibby, spending time, money, even risking personal
safety, in that search. He had found Bibby. He had brought him here
to civilized quarters. He had clothed him from head to foot.–Adrian
felt a pang, for they were such nice clothes! He was rather fond of
that particular flannel suit. Really it cost him not a little to part
with it; and, he could almost fancy, hanging now upon Bibby’s angular,
narrow-chested frame, that it bore the plaintive air of a thing
unkindly treated, consciously humiliated and disgraced. He apologized
to it half sentimentally, half humorously, in spirit.–And then because
the small things of life whip one’s sense of the great ones into higher
activity, the trivial matter of the ill-used flannel suit brought home
to Adrian with disquieting clearness the difficulties of this whole
third _affaire_ Smyrthwaite in which he had, as it now occurred to him,
rather recklessly embarked.

As if the two first _affaires_, those of father and daughter, hadn’t
been enough, he must needs go and add that of the degenerate son and
brother! And who, after all, would thank him? Wasn’t he very much a
fool, then, for his pains? Psychologically and in the abstract, as an
example of lapse and degradation, Smyrthwaite presented an interesting
and instructive study. But in the concrete, as a guest, a companion,
as a young man, a relation, moreover, to be reclaimed from evil courses
and socially reinstated, the situation took on quite other color.
Looking across the table now as, his plate again empty, Bibby sank back
in his chair, slouched together, his hands in his trousers pockets, his
blue eyes turned upon the door, anxiously awaiting the advent of the
_garçon_ with the next course, Adrian was tempted to deplore his own
philanthropic impulse. All hope of pulling the boy up to any
permanently decent level of living seemed so unspeakably remote.

And, as though some silent transmission of thought had taken place
between them, Bibby’s next speech went to confirm Adrian’s fears.

“You say if I choose,” he began; “but the question is, can I choose?
You see I’m so beastly out of the habit of all that.–Now I’m getting
full I seem to understand things, so I’d best talk at once.”

“I ask nothing better than that you should talk,” Adrian put in,
good-temperedly. For Heaven’s sake, let him at least gain whatever
scientific knowledge of and from Bibby he could!

“Presently I shall turn sleepy,” the other continued, with a curiously
unblushing directness of statement. “I always do when I’m first filled
up after going short. You see, I’ve never set eyes on you before, and
you come along and tell me some blooming fairy story about poor old
Nannie and her money. It may be true or it may be false, but anyhow I
don’t seem to tumble to it. I fancy these clothes and I fancy this
feed, but I don’t feel to go much beyond that.–Chicken?–Yes, rather.
Leave me the breast. Golly! I do like white meat! Two or three years
ago it would have set me on fire. I should have felt like bucking up
and making play with it–repentant prodigal, don’t you know, and all
that kind of rot. But now I don’t seem to be able to bother much. If
it was winter I suppose I should be more ready to fix on to it, because
I’m afraid of the cold. When you’re empty half the time cold makes you
so beastly sick; and then I get chilblains and my skin chaps. But in
the summer I’d just as soon lie out.–Say, can I have the rest of the
fowl?”

“By all means,” Adrian replied, handing him the dish.

“You see, it’s like this,” he went on, picking up the bones and ripping
off the meat with his teeth, “I’ve knocked about so long it’s grown
second nature. I have to move on. I can’t stick to one job or stop in
one place. I suppose that’s left over from the old days, when my
father was always down on me with some infernal row or other. He hated
me like poison. It’s a trick Englishmen have with their sons. They’ve
not got the knack of paternity like you French. I got into the habit
of feeling I’d best run because he was sure to be after me; and that’s
a sort of feeling you can’t be quit of. It keeps you always looking
over your shoulder to see what’s coming next. People haven’t been half
nasty to me on the whole, and I mightn’t have done so badly if I could
have stuck. A little mincing devil of an artist, with a head like the
dome of St. Paul’s–draws for the comic papers–you may know him–René
Dax–”

“Yes, I know him,” Adrian said.

“He picked me up this winter when I was just pitching myself into the
river. It was cold, you see, and I’d been drinking. It’s silly to
drink when you’re empty. It gives you the hump. He took me home with
him, and drew funny pictures of me. They were pretty low down some of
them, but they made me laugh. He did me very well as to food and all
that, but two or three days of it was enough. I couldn’t stand the
confinement. I pinched what I could and left.”

Adrian raised his eyebrows and passed his hand down over his black
beard meditatively. A sweet youth, a really sweet and promising youth
this!–René had never mentioned the thieving incident to him, and it
explained much. It also showed René’s conception of the duty entailed
by hospitality in an admirable light. Even active exercise of the
predatory instinct must be passed over in silence in the case of a
guest.

“What he paid me, with what I took, kept me going quite a good while,”
Smyrthwaite said, stretching and yawning audibly. “But I’m turning
thundering sleepy. I told you I should. I’ll be shot if I can sit up
on end jawing any more like this,” he added querulously. “You might
let a fellow have ten minutes’ nap.”

Ten minutes, twenty minutes, all the minutes of the unnumbered ages
spent by Bibby in slumber would, Adrian just then felt, supply a more
than grateful respite! He lit a cigarette and stepped out of the open
window on to the flags, thereby startling the tabby kittens, who, with
arched backs and frenzied spittings, vanished behind the flower-pots.
An arc lamp was fixed to the wall just over the kitchen entrance. One
of the white-clad _chefs_ brought out a chair, and sat there reading a
flimsy, little two-page evening paper. The heavy foliage of the
chestnuts hung motionless. In the distance a bugle sounded to
quarters. And Adrian thought of Gabrielle St. Leger, standing on the
grass-grown monticle looking across the gleaming sands of Ste. Marie
into the beckoning future. When next they met he would speak, she
would answer–and Adrian’s eyes grew at once very gay and very gentle.
He pushed up the ends of his mustache and smoothed the tip of his
pointed beard. Then he remembered on a sudden that in the houroosh
over the finding of Bibby he had forgotten all about his letters.

So he took them out of his pocket and looked at them. It wasn’t
necessary to read dear Anastasia’s letter now, since he knew pretty
well what it must contain, having seen her so lately. But here was
Joanna’s black-edged envelope. He shrugged his shoulders.–Oh! this
interminable _famille_ Smyrthwaite! Why, the dickens, had his
great-aunt committed the maddening error of marrying into it? With an
expressive grimace, followed by an expression of saintly resignation,
Adrian tore the envelope open. The letter was a long one, worse luck!
He read a few lines, and moved forward to where the arc lamp gave a
fuller light. “_Par exemple!_” he said, once or twice; also, very
softly, “_Sapristi!_” drawing in his breath. Then all lurking sense of
comedy deserted him. He straightened himself up, his face bleaching
beneath its brown coating of sunburn and his eyes growing hot. The old
dog waddled across from the offices and planted herself in front of
him, wagging a disgracefully illegitimate tail, looking up in his face,
sniffing and feebly grinning. He paid no heed to her feminine
cajoleries; paid no heed to the fact that his cigarette had gone out,
or to the antics of the again emergent kittens, or to the intermittent
sounds from the courtyard and city, or to the all-pervasive stable and
kitchen smells.

“Dear Cousin Adrian,” Joanna’s letter ran, “I find it difficult and
even painful to write to you, yet I can no longer refrain from writing.
In refraining I might be guilty of an injustice toward you. This
nerves me to write. I have suffered very greatly in the past week. I
know suffering may purify, but I am not purified by this suffering. On
the contrary, the tendencies of my nature which I least approve are
brought into prominence by it. I owe it to whatever is best in me; I
owe it to you–yes, above all to you–to take steps to check this
dreadful florescence of evil in myself.

“But before explaining the principal cause of my suffering, I must tell
you this. You may have heard from Margaret. In that case forgive my
repeating what you already know. She has engaged herself to Mr.
Challoner. The news came to me as a great shock. From every point of
view such a marriage is displeasing to me. I have regretted Mr.
Challoner’s influence over Margaret. Already I cannot but see she is
deteriorating, and adopting a view of life dreadfully wanting in
elevation of feeling and thought. I know you will sympathize with me
in this, and that you will also deplore Margaret’s choice. Indeed, the
thought of the effect that this news must have upon your mind has
caused me much sorrow. You may so reasonably object to Mr. Challoner
entering our family. I have never considered that he appreciated your
great superiority to himself both in position and in attainments, or
treated you with the deference due to you. Mr. Challoner is not a
gentleman, and I am humiliated by the prospect of his becoming nearly
connected with you by marriage. You are too just to visit this upon
me; but it must color your thought of me and of all our future relation.

“I speak of our future relation; and there the agony of suspense in
which I have lately lived overcomes me. I can hardly write. Believe
me, Adrian, I do not doubt you; I know you are incapable of an
inconsiderate, still more of a cruel, action. My trust in you is as
deep as my affection. It is myself whom I distrust. Knowing my
absence of talent and beauty, knowing my own faults of character from
the first, the wonder of your love for me has been almost overpowering,
almost incredible.”

Adrian folded the thin sheets together and walked back and forth over
the flags, looking up at the fair night sky above the big-leaved
chestnuts.

“My God! Poor thing! poor Joanna! What can one do? Poor thing!” he
said.

Then he stood still again in the lamplight and re-opened the letter.

“And hence, when gossiping reports reach me, however contrary to my
knowledge of you and however unworthy of credence they may be, aware as
I am of my many shortcomings, they torture me. I cannot control my
mind. It places dreadful ideas before me. I realize my utter
dependence upon you for all that makes life desirable–I could almost
say for all that makes its continuance possible. Before you came to
us, at the time of papa’s death this winter, I was unhappy, but
passively unhappy, as one born blind might be yearning for a sense
denied and unknown to him. Now, when fears regarding our relation to
each other assail me I am like one who, having enjoyed the rapture and
glory of sight, is struck blind, or who learns that sightlessness,
absolute and incurable, awaits him. A horror of great darkness is upon
me. Only you can relieve me of that horror; therefore I write to you.

“Col. Rentoul Haig tells Margaret he heard from acquaintances of yours
in Paris this summer that you have long been attached to a lady there
who would in every respect be a suitable wife for you. I know that
this cannot be true. Indeed, I know it. But I implore you to tell me
_yourself_ that it is not true. Set my mind at rest. The limits of my
endurance are reached. Misery is undermining my health, as well as all
the nobler elements of my character. I am a prey to insomnia, and to
obtain sleep I am obliged to have recourse to drugs. I grow afraid of
my own impulses. Dear Adrian, write to me. Forgive me. Comfort me.
Reassure me. Yours,

“JOANNA SMYRTHWAITE.”

Adrian folded up the letter slowly, returned it to his pocket, and
stood thinking.

Thanks to his strong dramatic sense, at first the thing in itself, the
isolating intensity of Joanna’s passion, filled his imagination. Every
word was sincere, dragged live and bleeding out of her heart. Baldness
of statement only made it the more telling. This was what she actually
believed regarding herself, what she really felt and meant.–“The
limits of my endurance are reached, I suffer too much, I grow afraid of
my own impulses.” This was not a way of talking, rhetoric, a pose; it
was reasoned and accurate fact. And, if he understood Joanna aright,
her capacity of suffering was enormous. If the limit of endurance had
now been reached, about all which lay short of that limit it was
terrible to think! She had been tortured, and only in the extremity of
torture did she cry for help.

But here Adrian’s dramatic sense gave before the common instinct of
humanity. The most callous of men might very well be moved by Joanna’s
letter; and Adrian was among the least callous of men, especially where
a woman was concerned. Therefore, for him, practically, what followed?
This question struck him as quite the ugliest he had ever been called
upon to answer in the whole course of his life. To use poor Joanna’s
favorite catch-word, a “dreadful” question–a very dreadful question,
as he saw it just now, taking the warmth out of the sunshine and the
color out of life. He recalled those extremely disagreeable ten
minutes, spent among the sweet-scented allspice bushes, in the garden
of the Tower House. He had argued out the question, or the equivalent
of the question, then–and, as he had believed, answered it fully and
finally, once and for all. But apparently he hadn’t answered it
finally, since on its recurring now the consequences of either
alternative presented themselves to him with such merciless
distinctness.–The fact that his conscience was clear in respect of
Joanna, that she was the victim of self-invented delusion–in as far as
reciprocal affection on his part went–made little appreciable
difference to the situation. Indeed, to prove his own innocence was
merely to cap the climax of her humiliation with conviction of
presumptuous folly.

Indescribably perplexed and pained, shocked by the position in which he
found himself, Adrian passed absently back from the courtyard into the
salon. He had forgotten the third _affaire_ Smyrthwaite in the storm
and stress of the second. Here, the third _affaire_ presented itself
to him under a guise far from encouraging.

Bibby, the whiteness of the flannel suit bringing out his limp,
slatternly yet boyish figure into high relief as against the red
Utrecht velvet, lay crumpled sideways in the largest of the chairs.
His legs dangled over one arm of it, his head nodded forward, sunk
between his pointed shoulders, his chin rested on his breast. An
ill-conditioned, hopeless, irreclaimable fellow! Yet still the family
likeness to Joanna remained–to the degraded Joanna of the “funny
pictures” upon René Dax’s studio wall–a Joanna wearing his, Adrian’s,
clothes, moreover, whose mouth hung open as he breathed stertorously in
almost bestial after-dinner sleep.

Adrian looked once, picked up his hat, and fled.

For the ensuing three or four hours he walked aimlessly up and down the
streets of Rouen, along the pleasant tree-planted boulevards and the
quays beside the broad, silent-flowing Seine. He was aware of lights,
of blottings of black shadow, of venerable buildings rich in beautiful
detail, of the brightly lighted interiors of wine-shops and cafes open
to the pavement, of people loud-voiced and insistent, and of
vehicles–these in lessening number as it drew toward midnight–passing
by. But all his impressions were indefinite, his vision strangely
blurred. He walked, as a living man might walk through a phantom city
peopled by chaffering ghosts, for all that his surroundings meant to
him, his thoughts concentrated upon the overwhelming personal drama,
and personal question, raised by Joanna’s letter.

Must he, taking his courage rather brutally in both hands, disillusion
her and risk the results of such disillusionment? Chivalry, pity,
humanity, the very honor of his manhood, protested as against some
dastardly and unpardonable act of physical cruelty. How he wished she
hadn’t employed that illustration of blindness and sight! The thought
of her pale eyes fixed on him, doting, imploring, worshiping, hungry
with unsatisfied passion, starving for his love, pursued him, making
itself almost visible to his outward sense. How was it possible to
sear those poor eyes, extinguishing light in them forever by
application of the white-hot iron of truth? Before God, he could not
do it! It was too horrible.

And yet, the alternative–to lie to her, to lie to love, to be false to
himself, to be false to the hope and purpose of years, didn’t his
manhood, every mental, and moral, and–very keenly–every physical
fiber of him protest equally against that? He saw Gabrielle as he had
seen her only this afternoon, in her fresh, grave beauty, the promise
of hidden delights, of enchanting discoveries in her mysterious smile.
Saw, as he so happily believed, a certain awakening of her heart and
sense toward the joys which man has with woman and woman with man. How
could he consent to cut himself from all this and take Joanna’s meager
and unlovely body in his arms? It wasn’t to be done. He turned faint
with loathing and unspeakable distress, staggered as though drunk,
nearly fell.

Bibby Smyrthwaite and Joseph Challoner for brothers, Margaret
Smyrthwaite for sister, Joanna for bride–this, all which went along
with it and which of necessity it implied, was more than he could face.
He would rather be dead, rather ten thousand times. He said so in
perfect honesty, knowing that were the final choice offered him now and
here, notwithstanding his immense value of life and joy in living he
would choose to die.

But in point of fact no such choice was offered him, since in his
opinion it is the act of a most contemptible poltroon to avoid the
issue by means of self-inflicted death. No, he must take the
consequences of his own actions, and poor Joanna must take the
consequences of her own actions–in obedience to the fundamental
natural and moral law which none escape. And among those consequences,
both of her and of his own past actions, was the cruel suffering which
he found himself constrained to inflict. He shrank, he sickened, for
to be cruel was hateful to him, a violation of his nature. In a sort
of despair he went back upon the whole question, arguing it through
once more, wearily, painfully, point by point.

Adrian’s aimless wanderings had, now, conducted him to a small public
garden laid out with flower borders, shrubberies, and carefully tended
islands of turf, beneath the shadow of a chaste yet florid
fifteenth-century church. Clerestory windows glinted high above,
touched by the lamplight, and flying buttresses, thick with fantastic
carven flowers and little lurking demons, formed a lace-work of stone
against the sky. He sat down on one of the garden benches, laying his
hat beside him on the seat. He doubled himself together, his elbows
upon his knees, pressing his hands against either side of his head.

He was very tired. He was also desperately sad. Never before had he
felt the chill breath of a trouble from which there seemed no issue
save by the creation of further, deeper trouble. Never before had
he–so it now appeared to him–gauged the possibilities of tragedy in
human life. And the present situation had grown out of such wholly
accidental happenings–well-meant kindnesses and courtesies, an
overstrained delicacy in admitting the reality of poor Joanna’s
infatuation and making her understand that his affections were engaged
elsewhere. In his fear of assuming too much and appearing fatuous, he
had let things drift. He had been guilty of saying that fatal word
“too little” against which dear Anastasia Beauchamp to-day fulminated.
There he was to blame. There was his real error, his real mistake. It
gnawed mercilessly at his conscience and his sensibility. It would
continue so to gnaw, whatever the upshot of this disastrous business,
as long as he lived. In the restrained and conventional intercourse of
modern, civilized life, the difficulty of avoiding that fatal word “too
little” is so constant and so great. His mind, spent with thought and
emotion, dwelt with languid persistence upon this point. In this
particular he had shirked his duty both to Joanna and to himself, with
the terrible result that he was doomed to inflict a cruel injury upon
her or to wreck his own life.

And at that moment, dully, without any quickening of interest, amiable
or the reverse, he perceived that a young woman sat at the farther end
of the bench. When he came to think of it, he believed she had
followed him through the streets for some little time. Now she coughed
slightly and moved rather nearer to him, fidgeted, pushing about the
loose, shingly gravel, which made small rattling noises, with her foot.
Adrian still sat doubled together pressing his hands against either
side of his head. Presently she began to speak, making overtures to
him, praising his handsome looks, his youth his dress, his bearing, his
walk, flattering and wheedling him after the manner of her sorry kind.
While expressing admiration and offering endearing phrases, her voice
remained toneless and monotonous. And this peculiarity rather than
what she said aroused Adrian’s attention. He looked round and received
a definite impression, notwithstanding the dimness of the light. Her
reddish hair was turned loosely back from her forehead. Her face was
gaunt and worn under its layer of fard. Her mouth was large, and the
painted lips, though coarse, were sensitive–her soul had not yet been
killed by her infamous trade. Her eyes were pale, desperate with shame
and with entreaty. And these were the eyes which, if he would save all
which made life noble and dear to him, Adrian must strike blind!

During some few seconds he looked straight at her. Then, feeling among
the loose coins in his pocket, he found a gold twenty-franc piece and
put it into her hand.

“It is no use,” he said gravely and very sadly–speaking whether to her
or to Joanna Smyrthwaite he could not tell. “I do not want you. My
poor woman, I do not want you. It is not possible that I ever should
want you. I am bitterly grieved for you, but you waste your time.”

And he rose and moved away, having suddenly regained full possession of
himself. He had ceased to doubt in respect of Joanna. That passing of
money was to him symbolic, setting him free. He understood that to
marry Joanna would be a crime against God-given instinct, against
God-given love, against the God-given beauty of all wholesome and
natural things. The sour, pedantic, man-imagined deity of some
Protestant sect might demand such hideous, almost blasphemous sacrifice
from its votaries; but never that supreme artist, Almighty God the
Creator, maker of man’s flesh as well as of his spirit, _le bon Dieu_
of the divinely reasonable and divinely human Catholic Church. To
marry Joanna would, in the end, constitute a blacker cruelty than to
tell her the whole truth. For he couldn’t live up to that lie and keep
it going. He would hate her, and sooner or later show that he hated
her; he would inevitably be unfaithful to her and leave her, thereby
ruining her life as well as his own.

He went back to the hotel. The little red Utrecht-velvet upholstered
_salon_ still smelled of cooking, patchouli, and cigarettes, plus the
dregs of a tumbler of brandy and soda and a something human and
insufficiently washed. Smyrthwaite’s door was shut, and no sound
proceeded from behind it, for which Adrian returned thanks and betook
himself to bed. He was dog-tired. He slept till broad day. On making
a morning reconnaissance he found Smyrthwaite’s door still locked, nor
did knocking elicit any response. Somewhat anxious, he went out into
the courtyard. The window was ajar, the room vacant, the bed
undisturbed. Then he remembered to have seen a tall, slight, loosely
made figure, wearing whitish garments, flitting hastily away down a dim
side-street as he turned into the _rue Jeanne d’Arc_ on his way home.
Later Adrian discovered that a pair of diamond and enamel sleeve-links,
a set of pearl studs, some loose gold and a hundred-franc note were
missing from his suit-case, of which the fastening had been forced.

True to his predatory and roving instincts, Bibby had “pinched” what he
could and left.

The long drought broke at last in an afternoon and night of thunder and
scourging violence of rain, drowning out summer. A week of chill
westerly weather followed, lowering gray skies, a perpetual lament of
wind through the great woodland, combined with a soaking, misty drizzle
which forced the firs and pines into their blue-black winter habit and
rusted the pink spires of the heather. The flower-garden, dashed by
the initial downpour, became daily more sodden, its glory very sensibly
departed. Water stood in pools on the lawns. Leaves, dessicated by
the continuous sun-scorch, fell in dingy brown showers from the
beeches; and a robin, perching upon one of the posts of the tennis-net,
practised the opening, plaintively sweet notes of his autumn song.

On the Thursday evening of this wet week, Joanna Smyrthwaite went to
her room immediately after dinner, and, lighting the candles, sat down
at her bureau. The rain beat against the windows. She heard it drip
with a continuous monotonous tapping off the edge of the balcony on to
the glass and tile roof of the veranda below. She heard the
intermittent sighing sweep of the wind through the near trees, and the
wet sucking sob of it in the hinges and fastenings of the casements.
Nature wept, now petulantly, now, as it seemed, with the resignation of
despair; and Joanna, sitting at the bureau with her diary open before
her, listened to that weeping. It offered a fitting accompaniment to
her gloomy concentration and exaltation of mind.

“_August 29, 190-_

“I supposed that I should have received an answer to my letter in the
course of to-day at latest, but none has reached me,” she wrote. “I am
not conscious of regretting the delay. The reply, when it does come,
can only confirm that which I already now know. I am no longer in
suspense, and I wait to receive the reply merely to prevent the
possibility of its falling into other hands than my own. That I could
not permit. Although it can modify neither my intention nor my
thought, it is mine, it belongs to me alone; and I refuse to allow the
vulgar curiosity of any third person to be satisfied by perusal of it.
I am sure that I do not regret the delay. It gives me time to reckon
with myself and with all that has occurred. It also gives me time to
test myself and make sure that I am not swayed by impulse, but that my
will is active and my reason unbiased by feeling. I am quite calm. I
have been so all day. For this I am thankful, although whether my
calmness arises from self-control or from physical incapacity of
further emotion I cannot decide. I do not know that the cause really
matters, yet I should prefer to believe it self-control.”

Joanna paused, leaning upon her elbow and listening to the sobbing of
wind and rain.

“I suppose finality must always produce repose, however dreadful the
cost at which finality is obtained. Only so can I account for my
existing attitude of mind. I want, if I can, to put down clearly and
consecutively exactly what happened last night. I think it may be
useful to me in face of this period of waiting for the answer to my
letter; also, I wish to live through it again step by step. I have
learned very much during the last twenty-four hours. I have learned
that pain, self-inflicted pain, can be voluptuous. Even a few days ago
I should have been scandalized by such an admission. I am no longer
scandalized. Torture has emancipated me from many delusions and
overnice prejudices. I have not time now, even had I still
inclination, to be overnice.

“Margaret and Marion Chase dined in town and went to the theater with
Mr. Challoner last night. A London touring company is giving some
musical comedy at Stourmouth. When they returned I was still awake. I
had not taken any of the tabloids Doctor Norbiton gave me to procure
sleep. I did not care to sleep. I preferred to think. Margaret and
Marion remained some time upon the gallery laughing and talking rather
excitedly. They kept on repeating scraps of a frivolous song which
they had heard at the play; and of which, so Margaret told me
to-day–she apologized for the thoughtless disturbance they had
made–neither could remember the exact tune. Their voices and the
interest they evidently took in so senseless and trivial a thing jarred
upon me. I felt annoyed and resentful. Their behavior offered such a
startling contrast to my own trouble and to the whole tenor of my life
that I could not but be displeased by their light-mindedness. I felt
my own superiority. I did not attempt to disguise the fact of that
superiority from myself. I despised them. I may have done wrong in
despising them, but I did not care. The ambition to assert myself, in
some striking and forcible manner which should compel recognition not
only from Margaret and Marion, but from the whole circle of our
acquaintance, took possession of me. I have always shrunk from
publicity and been weakly sensitive to criticism and remark. I have
been disposed to efface myself. To rule others has been an effort to
me. Any influence I may have exercised has been exercised in obedience
not to inclination but to my sense of duty. Now I felt differently. I
felt my nature and intelligence had never found their full expression,
that the strength of my character had never fully disclosed itself. I
desired–I still desire–to manifest what I really am, of what I am
capable. I even crave after the astonishment and possible alarm such a
disclosure would create.

“Thinking steadily, I came to the conclusion this desire for entire and
arresting self-expression is not actually new in me. I saw that I have
always, implicitly though silently, entertained a conviction that the
opportunity for self-expression would eventually present itself. This
conviction has supported me under many mortifications. In the events
of the last six months that opportunity appeared in process of taking
tangible and very perfect shape. More than my imagination had ever
dared suggest was in process of being granted me. If I married
Adrian–”

Joanna raised her hand from the paper, or rather it raised itself, with
a jerk, refusing further obedience. She sat stiffly upright, listening
to the wind and the rain. The steady drip off the edge of the balcony
on to the roof below sounded indescribably mournful in its single,
muffled, reiterated note. Taken in connection with the words she had
just written, that mournfulness threatened her composure. The muscles
of her poor face twitched and her winged nostrils quivered, in her
effort to repress an outbreak of emotion. After a struggle she turned
fiercely to her open diary.

“If I married Adrian Savage,” she wrote, “this, in itself, would bear
indisputable witness to the fact of my superiority, would justify me to
myself and command the respect of others. But, last night, I saw it
was necessary to go beyond that, and ask myself a question which, even
in my worst hours of doubt, I have never had sufficient fortitude to
ask myself before. I am anxious here to state positively that I did
ask myself the said question; and that I answered it deliberately and
calmly before certain things happened, which I shall presently set
down. If I did not marry Adrian–”

Again Joanna’s hand jerked away from the paper, while every nerve in
her body was contracted by a spasm of almost intolerable pain. She put
her left hand over her heart, gasping, the agony for the moment was so
mercilessly acute. Yet, during that same moment, the old doting,
ecstatic expression overspread her face. In a sense she welcomed, she
gloried, in this visitation of pain.

“If I did not marry Adrian,” she went on, “what then? The need for
self-justification, the need for entire self-expression, would in that
very dreadful event become more than ever desirable–the only solace,
indeed, which could remain to me. Therefore, what had better happen?
What–because I definitely and irrevocably willed it–must and should
happen? I answered the question last night, and my purpose has never
wavered. To-day I have spent some time in examining the stock
arguments against this purpose of mine. They do not affect my
determination, as I find that each one of them is based upon some
assumption which my reason condemns as unsound and inadequate, or which
is not applicable in my peculiar case. I know what I am going to do.
The relief of that knowledge was immediate. It continues to sustain
me.”

Here Joanna rose and paced the room. She still wore the black silk and
lace evening gown she had worn at dinner. Her hair was dressed with
greater care than usual. Plain, flat-bosomed, meager, hard lines
seaming her cheeks and forehead, yet there was nothing broken or weak
in her bearing or aspect. Rather did she show as a somewhat tremendous
creature, pacing thus, solitary, the familiar and soberly luxurious
room, bearing with indomitable pride the whole realized depth and
height of her trouble–a trouble to the thought of which, even while it
racked her, she clung with jealous obstinacy as her sole possession of
supreme and splendid worth. Her restlessness being somewhat assuaged,
she went back and sat down to write.

“I do not attempt to account for what followed; I only set it down in
good faith and with such accuracy as my memory permits. My memory has
always been good, and, since now I have nothing left to gain or to
lose, I have no temptation either to invent or to falsify. About an
hour after Margaret and Marion Chase returned from the theater, and
without any intervening period of unconsciousness–my mind, indeed,
still occupied with the decision I had arrived at regarding my future
action–I found myself walking through the streets of some foreign
city. I was anxiously following a person of whose name and character I
was ignorant, but who I was aware had a message of great importance
which he needed to deliver to me, and to whom I felt an overpowering
wish to speak. He walked apparently without any particular destination
in view, yet so rapidly that I found it difficult to keep him in sight.
Being tall, however, and of fashionable appearance, he, fortunately for
me, was easily distinguishable from all other persons whom I met.

“I say, _I_–yet I am conscious, dreadfully, even infamously,
conscious, that throughout I shared this experience with a woman of
different antecedents, of a lower social position and inferior
education to myself. Our two personalities inhabited one and the same
body, for independent possession and control of which we contended
without intermission, sometimes I, sometimes she, gaining the
advantage. This association was very frightful to me. I felt soiled
by it. And, not only did I in myself feel soiled, but hopes, emotions,
aspirations which until now I had believed to be pure and elevated,
assumed a vile aspect when shared by this woman’s mind and heart.
Still I knew that of necessity I must remain with her, continue to be,
in a sense, part of her, if I was to get speech of the man whom
I–we–followed, and to receive the message which he had to deliver.

“After long wandering through streets, some modern and reminding me of
Paris, others narrow, crooked, and lined with ancient houses, I came to
a small, formally laid-out pleasure garden in the center of the town,
dominated by a singularly beautiful Gothic building, probably a church.
Benches were placed at intervals round the garden along the shingled
paths, between massed shrubs and beds of heliotrope and roses. Upon
one of these benches, being overcome by fatigue and by a conviction of
unescapable fate, I sat down. So doing, I perceived that, at the far
end of the bench, the man whom I had so long followed already sat. His
attitude was expressive of extreme dejection. His figure was bowed
together. His elbows rested upon his knees, his hands were pressed
against the sides of his head. I felt drawn to him not only by a very
vital attraction, but by pity, for I could not doubt that, for some
cause, he had recently suffered severely, and was suffering severely
even now. I saw that this suffering blinded him to the outer things,
rendering him quite indifferent to or unaware of my presence.
Notwithstanding which, I–or she–the woman to whom my personality was
so horribly united–after making some vulgar efforts to arouse his
attention, began to speak to him, pouring forth, to my utter and
inextinguishable shame, a gross travesty of my love for Adrian Savage,
of my most secret thoughts and sensations in relation to that love, of
my joy in his presence, of my admiration for his talents, even for his
person, employing words and phrases meanwhile of a nature revolting to
me which outraged my sense of propriety and self-respect–words and
phrases which I was utterly incapable of using and of which I had never
indeed gauged the actual meaning until they passed her lips.

“A considerable time passed before the man gave any sign that he heard
what she–what I–said. He remained immersed in thought, his head
bent, his hands supporting it. At last–”

And Joanna closed her eyes, waiting for a space, listening to the
sobbing of wind and dripping of rain.

“–he looked round at me. His face,” she wrote, “was that of Adrian;
but of an Adrian whom I had never seen before. It was worn and very
pale. There were blue stains beneath the eyes. All the gaiety, the
beautiful, self-confident strength and hopefulness were banished from
his expression, which was very stern though not actually unkind. Then
I knew that he had received and read my letter; that the marks of
suffering which he bore had been caused by the contents of my letter.
I knew that the message which he had to deliver to me, and to obtain
which I had followed him through the streets, forcing myself into union
with this vicious woman–in whose speech and actions I so dreadfully
participated–was nothing less than his answer to that letter.

“At last, looking fixedly at me, he said, very sadly: ‘It is no use. I
do not want you. Poor woman, I do not want you. It is not possible
that I should ever want you. I am bitterly grieved for you; but you
waste your time.’

“As he spoke he placed some money in her hand, and, having finished
speaking, he rose and went away. Not once did he hesitate or look
back, but held himself erect and walked as a man whose decision is
deliberate. She clutched the money tightly, whimpering; but I had no
part in her tears. I had no disposition to cry then; nor have I had
any since. I understood what that piece of money meant. It was the
price of Adrian’s freedom from my love. He paid me to go away.

“I remember noticing the fantastic carven stonework of the church
outlined against the night sky, while shame and despair devoured
me–shame and despair intimate, merciless, unmitigated. Still
clutching the piece of money, the woman got up. I do not know anything
more about her, what she did, or who she was, or where she went. For a
time, as far as I am concerned, the pulse of the world ceased to beat.
And then I lay here, at home, in my own room at the Tower House, and
heard the rain and wind in the trees just as I hear them to-night.

“When Isherwood brought me my tea, at half-past seven, she expressed
concern at my appearance. I told her I had not slept and that I felt
tired and faint. She insisted upon sending for Doctor Norbiton. I let
her do so. It was matter of indifference to me whether I saw him or
not. Nothing can change either facts or the event. But Isherwood has
always been kind and faithful to me. I did not want to hurt her by
opposing her wishes. Doctor Norbiton sounded my heart. He told both
Isherwood and Margaret it was in a weak state; but added that he
believed such mischief as exists to be functional rather than organic.
He recommended me to take the tabloids, which he gave me for insomnia,
sparingly, as their effect upon the heart is depressing. I listened
and agreed. Margaret expressed regret at my condition. She offered to
see Rossiter for me and spare me the trouble of housekeeping. I let
her do so.

“It has rained all day; but I have been fully occupied in going through
papers and accounts, and making sure that my own affairs and those of
the household are in perfect order. This almost mechanical work is
soothing. I have always been fond of accounts. I remain quite calm.
Why should I be otherwise? I know the truth, and have nothing left,
therefore, either to fear or to hope.”

The following evening Joseph Challoner was due to dine at the Tower
House. Pleading a return of faintness and disinclination for
conversation, Joanna remained up-stairs in the blue sitting-room and
retired early to bed. The next entry in her diary reads thus:

“THE TOWER HOUSE, _August_ 30, 190-, 9 P.M.

“I let Isherwood undress me. I asked her for my white pleated
_négligé_, which I found she had sent to the cleaners’ during the time
my hands were hurt and I had been obliged to give her my keys. I am
glad to wear it to-night. Isherwood was very kind and attentive to me.
I could almost think she suspected something, but I did what I could to
dissipate any suspicion she might entertain. I promised her I would
call her if I wanted her during the night; but all that I really needed
is quiet. This is perfectly true. I do need quiet, unbroken quiet.

“Still I must try to put down events in their proper order.–And first,
I feel it is only just that I should note how much I have thought of
papa during these last two very dreadful days. I have felt singularly
near to him in spirit and in sympathy. I know that I have rebelled
against his methods; and have both thought and spoken harshly of him.
I am sorry for this. I see now that, in his position and possessing
his authority, I should have acted as he did. He valued wealth as
lightly as I do; though he was interested in the acquisition of it.
Business to him was an occupation rather than an end in itself. He
craved for entire self-expression–as I have craved for it; and it was
impossible for him to find such expression in business. In public
affairs, economic or social reform, he might have found it; and to the
last, I believe, he hoped some opportunity of entire self-expression
would present itself. That, I think, was why he disliked the idea of
dying. He was ambitious of impressing himself upon the mind of his
generation in the manner he inwardly felt himself capable of doing. It
hurt and angered him to leave life with his personal equation
unrecorded. He knew himself–as I have known myself–to be superior to
others both in intellect and in the nature of his aims and ambitions.
He despised weakness. He despised what is common, trivial, ignorant.
He could not tolerate that those about him should run after cheap
pleasures in which the mind has no part.

“This morning, about twelve o’clock, the rain lessened. I ordered the
carriage and drove by myself to the West Stourmouth Cemetery. Leaving
the carriage at the entrance gates, I walked to his grave. The
cemetery is still but partially laid out. Patches of heather remain,
making the tombstones and monuments look bare and white. I am glad
papa’s grave is on the highest ground. Standing by it, I saw, through
scuds of driving mist, the Baughurst Woods, sloping to the shore, and
beyond them the sea. The loneliness of this growing camp of the dead
was sympathetic to me. I am leaving instructions that I am to be
buried beside papa’s grave, if not in it. I have never been so much of
a companion or help to any one as to him. He, at least, wanted me,
though he often frightened and wounded me. So I will go back to him in
death; and lie beside him in the rain, and snow, and wind, and sunshine
out there under the barren gravel of the moor.

“I received Adrian’s answer to my letter by the six-o’clock post this
evening. I feared giving way to emotion on opening it; but I
experienced very little emotion. Of this I am glad. I am glad, too,
infinitely glad, that I determined what I would do before I so
strangely saw Adrian and spoke with him the night before last. If I
had not determined my state of mind would have been far more agonizing.
Calmness and self-respect would have been impossible. Margaret was
with me in the blue sitting-room when Edwin brought me my letters. I
do not know whether she observed that I received one from Adrian. I
fancy not. I waited until she had gone before reading it. It proved
just such a letter as I might have anticipated, written with every
intention of kindness. It exhibits his character in a very agreeable
light–affectionate, courteous, penetrated by regret on my account. He
does his utmost to spare my feelings and soften the blow he is
compelled to deal me. I appreciate all this. He praises my
intelligence, and points out to me, very gracefully, the advantages of
my education and of my wealth. He points out, too, the endlessly
varied interests of life. He admits that he has loved Madame St. Leger
for many years; and he reproaches himself deeply with not having spoken
to me about his affection for her when he stayed here in May, and when
I pressed him to tell me whether he was suffering from any anxiety in
which I could be helpful to him.

“That is the answer of the man of society, the well-bred man of the
world; the man, moreover, of sensibility and nice feeling. I quite
appreciate the tone and tact of his letter. But I had already received
the answer of the man himself. It was simpler, so simple as to need no
supplement–‘It is no use. I do not want you. My poor woman, I do not
want you. It is not possible that I should ever want you. I am
bitterly grieved for you; but you waste your time.’

“_He has never wanted me. I have wasted my time._–That is all. And
assuredly that is enough, and more than enough? I will waste no more
time, Adrian. I will go where time, thought, love, and the rejection
of love are not.

“The rain has come back. It drips and drips upon the veranda roof. I
have burned all your letters. No one has ever seen or touched them
save myself. This volume of my diary I leave to you. I shall seal it
up, and direct it to you. At least read it–I am no longer ashamed. I
want you to know me as I really am. Life is already over. I am
already dead. So I am not afraid. I welcome the darkness of the
everlasting night which is about to absorb me into itself.–I wear the
white gown I wore the second time you kissed my hand.–I do not blame
you, Adrian. It is just as natural that you should not love me as that
I should have loved you. I understand that.

“And very soon now all my trouble will be over and passed. Soon I
shall sleep in the arms of the lover who has never failed man or woman
yet–in the arms of Death. JOANNA SMYRTHWAITE.”

Challoner stood turning up the collar of his mackintosh. Looking back
between the lines of dark, wind-agitated trees, the red mass of the
house, through a dull whiteness of driving rain, showed imposing both
in height and in extent. Challoner measured it with a satisfied, even
triumphant, eye. Its large size suited his own large proportions
capitally. This evening, though early and still light, all the blinds
were drawn down. This was as it should be. He favored the observance
of such outward conventional decencies. Then, as he moved away with
his heavy, lunging tread, the rain and wind took him roughly on the
quarter.

This rearward onslaught caused him no annoyance, however, since his
thoughts were altogether self-congratulatory. Circumstance had played,
and was playing, into his hands in the handsomest fashion. Well, every
one gets his deserts in the long run; so he could but suppose he
deserved his present good fortune! Only in this case the run had
proved such an unexpectedly short and easy one. For hadn’t he arrived,
practically arrived, feeling every bit as fresh as when he
started?–Here a turn of half-superstitious, half-cynical piety took
him. The Lord helps those who have the nous to help themselves. He
praised the Lord! Having offered which small tribute, or bribe, to the
Judge of all the Earth who cannot do other than right, he proceeded to
check off a few of his well-earned blessings.

The announcement of his engagement to Margaret Smyrthwaite had
appeared, about three weeks previously, in the society columns of local
and London papers. Stourmouth buzzed with the news, to a loudness
which he found both humorous and flattering. In private Challoner
laughed a horse-laugh more than once at thus finding how he had made
his fellow-townsmen “sit up.” He enjoyed the joke of his own social
elevation and prospective wealth hugely. And Mrs. Gwynnie had been
quite good, thank the Powers! If the rest of his acquaintance had been
made to “sit up” by the news, she–to quote his own graceful manner of
speech–had “taken it lying down.” Really he felt very kindly toward
her. She’d given no trouble. But then the world was going a lot
better with Mrs. Gwyn than she’d any right to expect. Her rent and her
quarterly allowance were paid with absolute regularity. Not every man
would have done as much for her after the dance she’d led him! Beattie
Stacey was safely married last week to her young R.M.S. second officer.
And, so Challoner heard, mainly on the strength of the said young
officer’s excellent reputation, Gwynnie herself had taken out a new
lease of social life since her installation in the white house opposite
the Marychurch Borough Recreation Ground. She’d been cute enough to
throw herself into that department of Anglican religio-parochial
activity which busies itself with variety entertainments, rummage
sales, concerts, “happy evenings,” bazaars, and such-like contrivances
for providing–under cover of charity–audiences for idle amateurs
ambitious of publicity. Curates waxed enthusiastic over “Mrs.
Spencer’s splendidly unselfish helpfulness” and “wonderful organizing
power.”–The thought of that poor little, earnest, light-weight,
impecunious baggage of an Anglo-Indian widow in the character of a
church-worker tickled her ex-lover consumedly.

But now Challoner felt constrained to put a term to the slightly ribald
mirth induced by this checking of his well-deserved blessings, and
bestow himself within the four corners of an appropriately black-edged
manner. For, as he turned out of the gates at the end of the
carriage-drive, he caught sight of Col. Rentoul Haig’s unmistakable
figure, pompous and dapper even when clothed in an “aquascutum” and
carrying a streaming umbrella, walking briskly down The Avenue. Making
a pretense of deep abstraction, Challoner passed him; then, drawing up
suddenly, wheeled round.

“You, Colonel?” he said. “I beg your pardon. For the minute I didn’t
recognize you. My thoughts were elsewhere.”

He looked on the ground, as one who struggles with manly pride against
strong emotion.

“You may have heard of the trouble we are in at the Tower House?” he
added.

Rentoul Haig disapproved the “we”; but then he warmly and articulately
disapproved the whole matter of the Challoner-Smyrthwaite alliance.
Nevertheless he hungered for first-hand news, thirsted for retailable
detail; and who could supply these better than Challoner? He pocketed
disapproval, and answered with fussy alacrity, peering upward, into the
younger man’s curiously non-committal countenance, from beneath the
shelter of his umbrella.

“Very fortunate to run across you like this, Challoner,” he said. “I
was coming to leave cards and inquire. Shocking news this, most
shocking. I heard the report from Woodford, at the Club, after
luncheon, and, I give you my word, it quite upset me.”

“I’m not surprised, Colonel,” Challoner put in gloomily.

“Why, only yesterday morning I saw her out driving between twelve and
one–just upon the half-hour it must have been–as I was crossing The
Square on my way to the Club. When Woodford told me, I said, ‘God
bless my soul, it’s incredible!'”

Challoner’s lips parted with an unctuous smack.

“Incredible or not, Colonel, it is only too sadly true. In the midst
of life we are in death, you know. I don’t set up to be a serious man,
but an event like this does bring the meaning of those words home to
you–makes you think a bit, reminds you what an uncommonly slippery
hold even the healthiest of us has on life.”

Watching the effect of these lugubrious moralizings upon his auditor,
Challoner had the pleasure of seeing the latter’s face grow small and
blue in the shade of the wet umbrella.–“Looks like a sick frog under a
toadstool,” he reflected. “Well, let snobby old froggy turn blue, feel
blue–the bluer the better.” It served him jolly well right. Hadn’t
he said no end of nasty things about his, Challoner’s, coming marriage?
Then he proceeded with the amiable operation commonly known as “rubbing
it in.”

“Ah! yes,” he said, “I knew how you’d feel it, Colonel. Without being
oversentimental, it is a thing to break up one’s sense of personal
security. And a relation of yours too! Only nine-and-twenty–a mere
child compared to you, of course, Colonel. It’s always painful to see
the younger generation go first. Yes, I knew how you’d feel it. Kind
of you to come off at once like this to make inquiries. It will please
Margaret, poor, dear girl. She sent for me directly they made the
discovery this morning, and I’ve been with her ever since, looking
after her and putting things through. You see, Joanna always kept the
management of the establishment in her own hands, and the whole
household fell to pieces like a bundle of sticks to-day. All the
servants lost their heads. Somebody had to step in and lay hold.
Margaret is behaving beautifully. This bearing up is all very well at
first, but I’m afraid she’s bound to pay later. However, thank God!
I’ve the right, now, to take care of her.”

“Quite so–no doubt–yes, exactly,” Haig responded, in rather chilly
accents. “Of course. But I have heard nothing but the bare fact,
Challoner. Quite sudden, was it–quite unexpected?”

“Yes, and no.” He spoke slowly, as one weighing his words.

“I sincerely trust there isn’t any question of an inquiry?”

From his superior height Challoner looked down at the speaker in
momentary and sharp suspicion. What story was current in Stourmouth,
he wondered? Could the servants have talked? Had the empty tabloid
bottle and the tumbler with a film of white sediment clouding the
inside of it, become a matter of common knowledge? He found Rentoul
Haig’s expression reassuring.

“Certainly not–quite uncalled for, I am thankful to say,” he replied
largely. “No, no, Colonel, nothing of that sort. An inquest is a
pretty sickening business under ordinary circumstances; but it amounts
to a positive insult, in my opinion, in the case of a refined,
sensitive gentlewoman.”

Rentoul Haig came near dancing with impatience.

“True, true,” he murmured.

“So, pray put that idea out of your head, and out of everybody else’s
head, Colonel. You’ll be doing Margaret a kindness, doing poor Joanna
a kindness too. People are awfully unscrupulous in the reports they
circulate. But then, of course, I know we can count on your
gentlemanly feeling and good taste.”

A moment more and Colonel Haig believed he should burst. He was being
patronized–patronized, he the bright, particular star of the most
elect circle of Stourmouth society, and by Joseph Challoner!

“The fact is she hasn’t been in a good state of health for some time.
Margaret has spoken to me about it and a lot of people have remarked
upon it. Her peculiarities seemed to grow upon her lately. And she
was not an easy person to deal with–in some ways very like our poor
friend her father. Margaret hasn’t said much to me, but I fancy she’s
found her sister’s temper a little trying. Health, I dare say, as much
as anything. Norbiton has been treating her for sleeplessness and
general debility–nerves, you know. She always was highly strung.
Yesterday morning, they tell me, she looked appallingly ill and
complained of having fainted in the night. They had Norbiton in, and
he sounded her–was not at all satisfied with the heart’s action. I am
not surprised at that. You remember how peculiar her eyes
were–globular–”

Challoner looked down with rich enjoyment at the “pop-eyes,” so he
gracefully phrased it, staring eagerly, angrily up from beneath the
streaming umbrella.

“Globular,” he repeated; “and with that pale circle round the edge of
the iris, which invariably, in my experience, indicates a weak heart.
Norbiton prescribed for her, and told her to keep quiet. Margaret,
poor, dear girl, did her best; but Joanna insisted on driving out. I
was dining there last night, and she didn’t come down. They told me
Norbiton’s opinion, but I supposed it was just a case for care. And
then, when her maid went to call her this morning, she found her stone
cold. She must have been dead several hours–died in her sleep.”

And both men stood silent, awed in spite of themselves, by the thought
of Joanna Smyrthwaite lying dead.

“Shocking occurrence, very shocking indeed!” Colonel Haig remarked
presently, fussily clearing his throat. “You say peculiarities had
grown upon poor Miss Smyrthwaite recently. One would be glad to know
why–to have some clue to the reason for that. There were rumors, I
believe, a few months back of an–er–of an attachment on her part,
which–it is a delicate subject to approach–was, in fact, rather
misplaced. And–well–you know, one cannot help putting two and two
together.”

“Oh, as to anything of that sort,” Challoner returned somewhat roughly,
throwing his big body back from the hips and moving a step aside, as
though to conceal justifiable annoyance,–“you really must excuse me,
Colonel. Standing in the relation I do to both the Smyrthwaite ladies,
it is a subject I hardly care to discuss. I can’t help knowing a good
deal, and I can’t help what I’ve noticed; but I don’t feel at liberty
to speak. Mr. Savage stayed twice at the Tower House this year, as you
are aware; and–people have eyes in their heads. I don’t mind telling
you, he and I came to loggerheads over the division of the property.
That’s what first really brought Margaret and me together. I had to
protect her interests, or she would have come off a very bad second.
And, though it’s early days to mention it, I don’t mind telling you in
confidence–the strictest confidence, you understand, Colonel–”

“You know by this time, I hope, Challoner, how entirely you can trust
me?” the other remonstrated, at once famished for further information
and bristling with offended dignity.

“To be sure I do.–Well, then, it may interest you to hear that
Margaret has the old home secured to her. I am pleased on her account,
for she’s fond of the place. Personally, there are several houses in
Baughurst Park I prefer. However, that’s neither here nor there. If
she’s pleased I’m pleased, naturally. But, exclusive of the house and
its contents, she hardly benefits at all under her sister’s will.”

In his excitement Rentoul Haig lost control of his umbrella, which,
tilting in a gust of wind, discharged a small cataract of water down
the back of his neck.

“Bless my soul,” he exclaimed, “you don’t say so! What ungodly
weather! Where on earth does all her money go to?”

“You may well ask,” Challoner replied grimly. “In the case of her
dying unmarried her share in the mills and the rest of the Yorkshire
property is left to Mr. Andrew Merriman, the partner and manager–a
self-made man, who had the wit to get round old Mr. Smyrthwaite. He’s
feathered his own nest very tidily, it strikes me, one way and another.
And the bulk of the invested property–prepare yourself for a pleasant
surprise, Colonel–Joanna leaves, on trust, to her scrapegrace,
rascally brother.”

A flashlight hope of a solid legacy had momentarily illuminated Rentoul
Haig’s horizon. But the light of hope was extinguished almost as soon
as kindled, giving him just time to be mortally disappointed. His face
fell, while Challoner, watching, could barely repress his glee.

“But, but,” he bubbled, “every one has been assured for years that the
good-for-nothing boy was dead!”

“I don’t want to be inhuman, but I can only say that, for the sake of
my future wife’s peace of mind, I most sincerely and cordially trust he
is dead–dead and done with. Judging by what you told me yourself,
Colonel, from a child he has been a downright bad lot, a regular
waster. You may also be interested to hear we owe this precious bit of
business to Mr. Adrian Savage. He came to Joanna, when he was over
last, with some cock-and-bull story about young Smyrthwaite’s turning
up, half-starved, in Paris last winter. Worked upon her feelings no
end with a whole lot of Frenchified false sentiment–brother and
sister, the sacredness of family, and that sort of fluff-stuff. I am
bound to say plainly I date the break-up of her health from that
moment. He spoke to me about young Smyrthwaite, but, of course, I
refused to touch it. Gave him a piece of my mind which I fancy he
didn’t quite relish, as he packed up and took himself off, on the
quiet, next morning. As I told him, if he and Merriman wanted to dump
the young scoundrel upon his two unfortunate sisters they mustn’t look
to me for assistance–the job, as I told him, wasn’t in Joseph
Challoner’s line, not at all. Now, Colonel, I ought not to detain you
any longer. I’m pleased to have had the chance to set your mind at
ease on one or two points. And you’ll do both Margaret and myself a
favor if you will tell every one it was heart, just simply heart–a
thing that might happen to any one of us, you or me, for instance, any
day. Margaret will feel it very kind and thoughtful of you to call,
like this at once, to inquire. Now I really must be off. Good-evening
to you. Let you know the date of the funeral? Of
course–good-evening.”

And he swung up The Avenue, in the shrinking light, under the swaying,
dripping trees, highly elate.

“Choked old froggy off neatly,” he said to himself, “and got my knife
into highty-tighty Cousin Adrian too. I wonder if he did carry on with
Joanna. I’d give something to know–dare say it’ll come out in time.
Anyhow, he wouldn’t touch her money; though it would have been bad
policy to acquaint old Haig with that little fact. Better take the
short-cut home. Stiff from standing so long in the wet; but it’s worth
while, if only for the fun of making old Haig feel so confoundedly
cheap.”

Supported by these charitable reflections, he turned off the main road
into a footpath which, after skirting the gardens of a large villa
facing on to The Avenue, struck northwestward across an as yet
unreclaimed portion of the Baughurst Park Estate. By following this
route Challoner took the base instead of the two sides of a triangle,
thus saving about a quarter of a mile in his walk home to Heatherleigh.
A dark plain of high, straggling heather, broken here and there by a
thicker darkness of advancing ranks of self-sown firs, lay on either
side the grayness of the sand and flint strewn track. Even in sunshine
the region in question was cheerless, and, as seen now, in the driving
rain and fading daylight, it bore a positively forbidding aspect. But
to this Challoner, having returned to enumeration of his well-deserved
blessings, was sublimely indifferent.

And among those blessings–here, alone, free to disregard conventional
black-edged decencies and be honest with himself–Joanna Smyrthwaite’s
death, although an ugly suspicion of suicide did hang around it, might,
he felt, be counted. Making the admission, he had the grace to feel
slightly ashamed of his own cynicism. In the first shock of the
tragedy, when Marion Chase sent for him in the morning, he had been
genuinely troubled and overset. But, as the day wore on, the
advantages of the melancholy event disclosed themselves more and more
clearly. Joanna Smyrthwaite never liked him, considered him her social
inferior, didn’t mince matters in expressing her objection to her
sister’s engagement. Ignored him, when she got the chance, or snubbed
him. Distinctly she’d done her best to make him feel awkward; and
there was bound to be friction in the future both in their family
relation and in the management of the Smyrthwaite property. Joanna was
uncommonly strong. He, for one, had never underrated the force of her
character. He even owned himself a trifle afraid of her, afraid of
some pull–as he expressed it–that she might have over Margaret. Now
he would have Margaret to himself, exclusively to himself–and
Challoner’s blood grew hot, notwithstanding the chill dreariness of
wind and wet, thinking of that.

For his feeling toward Margaret Smyrthwaite had come to be the master
power of his life, of all his schemes of self-aggrandizement. After
the somewhat coarse and primitive manner of his kind, he was over head
and ears in love with her. He was proud of her, almost sensitively
anxious to please her; ready, for all his burly, bullying roughness, to
play faithful dog, fetch and carry and slave for her. No woman had
ever affected him or excited his passions as she did. In food he
relished highly seasoned dishes to apprehend the flavor of which you do
not need to shut your eyes and listen. And Margaret Smyrthwaite’s
attractions were of the highly seasoned order, the effect of her
full-fleshed, slightly overdressed and overscented person presenting
itself without any baffling reserve, frankly assailing and provoking
the senses.–Oh! he’d treat her like a queen; work for her; buy her
jewels, motor-cars, aeroplanes if she fancied them; pet, amuse, make
Stourmouth bow down to, make himself a great man, for her!–Sir Joseph
and Lady Challoner–a loftier flight than that–who could tell? Maybe
a peerage. Lord and Lady Baughurst–why not? After all, if you play
your cards cleverly enough such apparently improbable things do happen,
particularly in this blessed twentieth century, when money is the prime
factor.

And there was money in plenty, would be more, unless he was uncommonly
out of his reckoning. At the start, so he calculated, their united
incomes–his own and Margaret’s–would amount to getting on for twelve
thousand. All to the good, too, since there was no drain of a large
landed estate absorbing more than half its yearly revenue in compulsory
outgoings. They would be married soon, quite soon. Her sister’s death
and her present loneliness supplied ample reason for pushing on the
wedding. It must be a quiet one, of course, out of respect for
black-edged decencies. But he didn’t object to that. The thing was to
get her.–And then he’d carry her away, right away, shaking her free of
the dismal, old-fashioned, Smyrthwaite rut altogether. They’d take a
three months’ honeymoon and travel somewhere, anywhere; go a yachting
trip, say, up the Mediterranean. Never since he was a boy at school
had he taken a holiday. It had been grind, grind, scheme, scheme,
climb, climb without intermission. Not but what he’d climbed to some
purpose, since he’d got high enough at forty to pluck such a luscious
mouthful as Margaret off the apple-tree against which he’d set up his
ladder! Now he would take a holiday, if only to show other men what a
prize Joseph Challoner had won in the shape of a woman.

Amorous, uxorious, his whole big body tingling with emotion, he forged
along the path across the darkling moorland, breasting the wind-driven
sheets of cold rain.

“Hi! slow up there, you great, lumbering, greasy-skinned elephant, and
tell me where the devil I’ve got to in this blasted old wilderness!” a
voice shouted.

At the same time he was aware that a narrow strip of the gray pathway
in front of him reared itself up on end, assuming human form–a human
form, moreover, oddly resembling that of Adrian Savage.

The style of the address was scarcely mollifying, and Challoner had all
a practical man’s hatred both of being taken by surprise and of
encountering phenomena which he could not account for at once in a
quite satisfactory and obvious manner. He came straight to the
baffling apparition, and looked it steadily, insolently, up and down,
the bully in him stirred into rather dangerous activity. The ridicule
of his personal appearance wounded his vanity. The interruption of his
dreams of love and glory infuriated him; while the fancied likeness of
the speaker to Adrian Savage sharpened the edge of both offenses.

“I advise you to keep a civil tongue in your head, or you may happen to
find this wilderness an even more blasted and blasting locality than
will at all suit you,” he said threateningly.

At close quarters the slouching figure was certainly not that of Adrian
Savage, nor was the weak, dissolute, blue-eyed face. Yet, although
seen indistinctly in the waning light, the said face struck Challoner
as unaccountably familiar. What on earth, who on earth was the fellow?
Not an ordinary tramp, for his speech, though thick with drink, and his
clothes, though ill-kept and dirty, were those of a man of education
and position. Challoner continued to scrutinize him. And under that
unfriendly and menacing scrutiny the young man’s tone changed,
declining to petulant almost whining apology.

“You needn’t bluster,” he said. “I meant no harm; and you know you did
look awfully funny and shiny! I want to know where I am. I came
across from Havre to Barryport in an onion-boat, because it was
cheapest. I’m not overflush of cash. So I’ve come to look up some of
my people who live about here.”

“Charming surprise for them,” Challoner said.

“And it blew like blazes all last night. Between the motion and the
stench of the onions I was as sick as Jonah’s whale. Nothing left
inside of me except just myself. One of those Breton sailor chaps,
hawking his beastly vegetables, came a bit of the way from Barryport
with me. He told me to cut across these commons and I should be sure
to come out all right; but I expect he lied just to get quit of me.”

“More than possible,” Challoner said.

“I ought to have stuck to the tram-lines, but my head’s rather light.
I haven’t got over the Jonah business yet. I lost my bearings
altogether somehow, through feeling so awfully slack. I’ve been
sheltering in under those mangy old fir-trees for I don’t know how
long, hoping somebody might pass. And I’m wet to the skin, and as cold
as charity.”

“Very interesting indeed, but no earthly concern of mine. So if you’ve
got to the end of your tale I’ll continue my walk. Good-day,”
Challoner commented, preparing to resume his homeward journey.

The young man caught him by the arm.

“Say, but you can’t leave me alone in this God-forsaken hole?”

“Oh yes, I can,” Challoner answered. “Kindly take your dirty paw off
my sleeve, will you? else I may be compelled to have a word with the
local authorities about a case of assault, attempted robbery with
violence, and such sweet little games. However, it wouldn’t be the
first time you’ve made acquaintance with the inside of a police cell,
unless I’m much mistaken.”

“I don’t mean any harm. I only want you to tell me the way. I can’t
lie out here in the wet all night. It would rot me with chills and
fever.”

The wind had increased in force. Now the tumult of it was loud. It
rushed through the firs, bending them low, tearing off dry branches and
tufted tassels; then fled on, screaming, across the dark plain of
heather like some demented thing let loose. The speaker craned his
neck upward and raised his voice to a quavering shout in the effort to
make himself heard. His face was close to Challoner’s; and again the
latter was puzzled by something unaccountably familiar in the features
and general effect of it. Whereupon the bullying instinct gave place
to caution.

“See here,” he said, “you must behave like a reasonable being, not like
a driveling sot, if you want me to take any trouble about you. Tell
you your way, you young fool, your way where?”

“To the Tower House, something Park–Baughurst Park–that’s the
blooming name of it, where my people live.”

Challoner started; he could not help it. Then he waited till the next
gust of wind had spent its fury, and, in the lull which followed, spoke
very slowly.

“So that’s the blooming name of the blooming place where your people
live, is it? And who may your people be, if you please, and what is
your business with them?”

“What, the deuce, does that matter to you?” the other answered, trying
to ruffle, yet shrinking away nervously, while the wind, gathering
force again, whipped his legs and back, showing the lines of his
wasted, large-boned frame through his thin, light-colored clothing.

“As it happens, it matters very much to me,” Challoner retorted,
“because some very particular friends of mine live at the Tower House.
It may amuse you to hear I have just come from there, and that you very
certainly can’t gain access to the Tower House without my permission,
and that I very certainly shall not give that permission. Young
gentlemen of your particular kidney aren’t required there. The
men-servants would kick you out, and quite properly. We know how to
treat loafers and tippling impostors who try to sponge upon gentlewomen
here in England.–Now come along with me. I’ll see you as far as the
tram-line, and pay your fare to Barryport, and you can go on board your
onion-boat again. Also I’ll telephone through to the central police
station directly I get home and give the Stourmouth and Barryport
police a little description of you. So step out, if you please. No
malingering.”

As he finished speaking Challoner grasped the young man solidly by the
shoulder, propelling him forward, but the latter, slippery as an eel,
wriggled himself free.

“Let go, you great hulking beast!” he cried. “I’m not an impostor.
I’m William Smyrthwaite, and my sister Joanna means to provide for me.
I know all about that. A chap who I ran across three days ago in Rouen
told me. We always were chummy in the old days, Nannie and I. She’ll
tell you I’m speaking the truth fast enough, and make you look d–d
silly. She’ll recognize and acknowledge me, see if she don’t!”

“Upon my word, I’m afraid she’s not likely to have an opportunity of
doing anything of the kind, poor lady,” Challoner returned; and he
laughed at his own rather horrible joke. “So come along, Mr.
Who-ever-you-are, alias William Smyrthwaite, Esq. I begin to think I’d
better see you safe on board your precious onion-boat myself, and have
you affectionately looked after till she sails. It may save both of us
trouble.”

“You beast, you cursed, great, shiny, black devil!” Bibby shouted. And
he clawed and struck at his tormentor passionately.

The first touch of those striking, clawing hands let the underlying
wild animal loose in Challoner. A primitive lust of fight took him,
along with a savage joy in the act of putting forth his own immense
physical strength. Still, at first, his temper remained fairly under
control, and he played with his adversary, feinted and parried. But
the wretched boy did not fight fair. He indulged in sneaking, tricky
dodges learned amid the moral and social filth of the Paris under-world
and in South American gambling hells and doss-houses. Soon Challoner
lost his temper, saw his chance, took it; delivered one blow, straight
from the shoulder, which, landing on Bibby’s temple, dropped him like
so much lead on the rain-washed flints of the crown of the pathway.
Then he stood breathing heavily, his eyes bloodshot, the veins standing
out like cords on his forehead, the intoxication of battle at once
stupefying and maddening him.

Presently Bibby’s limbs twitched; and, as though moved by a spring, he
sat bolt upright, his elbows set back, his hands, the thick-jointed
fingers wide apart, raised to the level of his shoulders.

“He’s done me in, the clumsy, murderous brute!” he panted. Then
childishly whimpering–“Nannie,” he wailed, “poor old Nannie, so you’re
dead too. Golly, what a sell! Never mind. I’m just coming.”

He lurched and fell sideways, rolling over face downward into a long,
sandy puddle edging the pathway.

Five minutes, nearly ten minutes passed, while Challoner remained
standing stock-still in the volleying wind and blinding rain and
forlorn fading light of the moorland. At last he shook himself, went
forward and knelt beside the motionless Thing lying close against the
black ragged fringe of heath, upon its stomach, in the sandy wetness.
For some time he couldn’t bring himself to touch it. Then putting
strong constraint upon himself, he turned it over and bent low, staring
at it. It reminded him of the big, white, yellow-headed maggots he
used to pick out of the decaying wood of the old summer-house in the
little garden at home as a boy, and use for bait when he went fishing
in the river at Mary church. Yes–it was queerly like those maggots.
But somehow it wore the clothes of Adrian Savage. And its poor face
was that of Joanna Smyrthwaite as he had seen her this morning in the
agitated silence of her room, stretched cold and lifeless beneath the
fine lace coverlet of her satin wood bed. Only her eyes were shut, and
this Thing’s eyes were wide, wide open. Now its loose lips parted.
Its mouth opened too, while a dark thread trickled slowly down its chin
into the hollow of its throat inside its dirty, crumpled collar.

Challoner tumbled up hastily and waited, breathing hard and brushing
the rain and sweat off his face with the back of his hand. Gradually
his mind began to work clearly. His sense of ordinary every-day
happenings, their correlation and natural consequences, of his own
identity, his business, his hopes of worldly advancement, wealth and
titles, came back to him. He understood that he must decide, act,
cover up what he had done, get rid of this accusing, motionless Thing
lying open-eyed, open-mouthed in the pathway.

He knelt down again, put his arms round the limp body, with a mighty
lift and heave flung it sack-like across his shoulder, staggered on to
his feet, and, heading southwestward in the teeth of the gale, laboring
under the weight of that which he carried, plowed his way doggedly
across the desolate outstretch of rough, resilient heather, down into
the heart of the straining, bellowing, storm-swept woodland.

It was late, long past his usual dinner-hour, when Challoner reached
Heatherleigh. To his own surprise, he accounted for himself to his
servant as the man helped him off with his mackintosh. He’d been
detained, had got a chill, he believed; didn’t know that he wanted any
dinner. Yes–let them send whatever they’d got ready–hot, and the
plainer the better. He’d have it when he came down–in ten minutes.
He must change first, he was so confoundedly wet.

For the sake of appearances he made an effort to eat; but the sight and
smell of food turned his stomach. Still complaining of chill, he left
the table and went into the smoking-room. Though an abstemious man,
both from habit and policy, he mixed himself a remarkably stiff brandy
and soda, set it down on the large writing-table–loaded with bundles
of folded papers, documents engrossed on vellum and tied with pink
tape–and forgot to drink it. Went round the room turning all the
incandescent gas-lamps full on. The chocolate-colored imitation
leather paper with which the walls were hung made the room dark; and
Challoner felt a strong aversion to the dark. He wanted to see every
object quite plainly and in its entirety. He took a cigar from the
cedar-lined silver box Margaret Smyrthwaite had given him, standing on
the revolving bookcase–looked at it and put it back. Somehow he
couldn’t smoke. Sank down in an arm-chair and sat glowering, like some
sullen, savage, trapped animal, into the empty grate.

More than once, fatigue overcoming him, he dozed, only to wake, with a
start, crying out loud:

“It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t begin it. He hit me first.”

Then, clearer understanding returning, he continued:

“I struck him in self-defense–before God–as I hope to be saved, I
did. At most they could bring it in manslaughter. I did it for
Margaret’s sake, to save her from being exploited and sponged on by the
drunken young rotter. Ah! my God–but if it was true, if, as he
claimed to be, he was her brother, how can I go to her with his blood
on my hands? Margaret–I’m in hell. Forgive me–don’t believe it!
Never know–my own poor, splendid darling–God, how I love
her–Margaret–Margaret–never know–I can’t, I can’t lose you.”

And Challoner broke down, sobs shaking his great, amorous body and
tearing his bull throat.

Toward morning at the turn of the tide the gale abated and the rain
ceased. When daylight came, but not until then, Challoner went
up-stairs to his bedroom, the windows of which faced east. He drew
back the curtains, pulled up the wooden-slatted Venetian blinds and
watched the brightness widen outward and upward behind the ragged
crests of the stone pines. As a rule he had not time or care to waste
on the beauties of nature, but he found vague, inarticulate solace in
the gaudy colors of this wild sunrise. He was calmer now, and the
strong daylight helped to drive out exaggerations of sentiment and
fearful fancies. In short, his impregnable health and physical
courage, his convenient coarseness of moral fiber and indomitable
tenacity of purpose, began to assert themselves. He began to argue and
not unably to plead his own cause to himself.

For, look at the ghastly episode what way you pleased, how could he be
blamed for it? The whole thing was accident, accident pure and simple,
which he could not foresee, and equally could not prevent. It had been
sprung on him out of a clear sky. He was rushed, not given an
instant’s breathing space for consideration. And that was manifestly
unfair. Any man might lose his head and be betrayed into violence by
such vile provocation.

His spirits revived.

And, when all came to all, there was not a tittle of evidence against
him! After parting with Haig he had not met a soul. He could swear no
one had seen him turn out of The Avenue into the footpath. The rain
would have obliterated all traces of the struggle by this time, and wet
heather, thank goodness, doesn’t show tracks. Though why he should
trouble about such details he didn’t know. It was blitheringly silly,
for, who the devil would be on the lookout for tracks? A thousand to
one the body would not be found until the estate foresters cut the
bracken in November; and by then–

Sweat broke out on Challoner’s forehead, and he was not sorry the sun
stood high behind the pines, throwing slanting shafts of light between
their dark stems across the rain-swamped garden, where the blackbirds
and thrushes patroled, worm-hunting, on the turf.

By that time, whatever was left would be in no condition to tell tales.
“Painful discovery in the Baughurst Park Woods”–he could see the
headlines in the local papers–“Mysterious death”–“No clue to the
identity of the remains”–None, thank the Lord, none, none! But for a
couple of francs and a few English coppers the boy’s pockets were
empty. Challoner, praise to God! had mustered sufficient spunk to
ascertain that.

All the same–and here callousness failed him a little–his and
Margaret’s honeymoon should be a long one, long enough to insure their
being far away from Stourmouth when the foresters cut the bracken in
November. Distance, travel, new scenes and new interests, are said to
draw the sting of remembrance. And it was best, immeasurably best, not
only for himself, but indirectly for Margaret also, that remembrance
should be blunted, that he should–if he only could–forget.

For, after all–his spirits in the honest sunshine reviving yet
further–what proof had he the miserable drink and vice corrupted
wastrel had spoken the truth? Wasn’t it much more probable Haig’s
story was the right one, and that this was some low, blackmailing
scoundrel trading upon scraps of hearsay information he’d happened to
pick up? A lying, misbegotten whelp, in short, of whom society at
large was extremely well rid–really, to expend sentiment upon the
summary removal of such refuse came near being maudlin. As to any
fancied resemblance he bore to Joanna Smyrthwaite, one couldn’t attach
any serious importance to that. In the ghostly twilight it was
impossible to see distinctly. And, after the uncommonly nasty upset of
the morning and the bullying he’d been obliged to give that old
grannie, Norbiton, before the latter would consent to ignore the empty
tabloid bottle, and certify the cause of death simply as syncope, it
was hardly surprising if he’d got poor Joanna’s personal appearance a
little upon his brain. No–it is an awful misfortune, no doubt, to be,
however accidentally, the means of taking a fellow-creature’s life;
but, looking at the whole occurrence coolly, he–Challoner–came to the
comforting conclusion that he was hardly more to blame, more
responsible, than he would be if some reckless fool had blundered
across the road under the nose of his motor and got run down.

Whereupon, the sun having now cleared the crests of the pines and it
being imperative not to give the servants any handle for gossip,
Challoner undressed and went to bed.

He succeeded in advancing the date of the wedding; but during the five
weeks which elapsed before it took place his moods caused some
perplexity and no small discomfort to his poorer clients, junior
partners, and clerks. At moments he indulged in boisterous mirth; but
for the most part was abominably bad-tempered, irritable, and morose.

Colonel Haig, however, noted unexpected signs of grace in him,
concerning which he spoke to Mr. Woodford one day at the Club.

“Challoner’s coming more into line,” he said; “he is less noisy and
self-assertive–very much less so. A good deal of the improvement in
his manner is due to me, I flatter myself. I have been at the trouble
of giving him some very strong hints. If you propose to associate with
gentlemen you must learn to behave like a gentleman. His election to
the Club vexed me at the time. Too much country-attorney sharp
practice in the methods he employed, I thought. So I am relieved,
greatly relieved, he has taken my friendly admonitions to heart. It
would have annoyed me extremely if his membership had lowered the
social tone of the Club. Too, it’s pleasanter for me personally, as I
am bound, I suppose, to see a good deal of him in the future, on my
cousin, Margaret Smyrthwaite’s, account.”

When alone with his _fiancée_ during this period of waiting Challoner’s
attitude alternated between anxious, almost servile, humility and
extravagant making of love. Margaret, however, being a young woman of
limited imagination, put down both humility and “demonstrations” to the
potent effect of her own charms, thus remaining altogether sensible,
self-complacent, outwardly composed, inwardly excited, and, in fine,
very well content. While unknown to her, unknown, indeed, to all save
the man who so slavishly obeyed and fiercely caressed her, the
unsightly Thing, which had once been her playmate and brother, lay out,
below the ever-talking trees, among the heath, and sedge-grass, and
bracken, the tragedy and unspeakable disgrace of its decomposition not
hidden by so much as a pauper’s deal coffin-lid.

In consequence of the bad weather every one returned to Paris early
that autumn. Anastasia Beauchamp’s first reception–the fourth
Thursday in September–proved a crowded and animated function. Each
guest expressed rapture at meeting every other guest, and at being
back, yes, once again veritably established in our dear, good, brave,
inexhaustibly interesting, intelligent and entertaining Paris! How
they–the speakers–ever mustered sufficient fortitude to go away,
still more to stay away, they could really now form no conception. But
it was finished, thank Heaven! the mortally tedious exile; and they
were restored to the humanities, the arts, the sciences, in short, to
civilization, of which last dear Mademoiselle Beauchamp’s hospitality
represented so integral and so wholly charming a part. This and much
more to this effect. The French mind and French diction rarely fumble;
but arrive, with graceful adroitness, squarely on the spot. Lightness
of touch and finish of phrase effectually safeguarded these raptures
against any suggestion of insincerity or absurdity. They were
diverting, captivating, as were the retailers of them. And Anastasia
listened, retorted, sympathized, capped a climax with further witty
extravagance, heartily pleased and amused.

Nevertheless, to her, this yearly _rentrée_ was not without an element
of pathos. In the matter of reminiscence and retrospect Miss Beauchamp
was the least self-indulgent of women; her tendency to depress her
juniors by exaltation of the past at expense of the present being of
the smallest. To hours of solitary communing in her hidden garden she
restricted all that. Still this joyous homing, when the members of her
acquaintance taking up their residence once again in Paris blossomed
into fullness of intellectual and social activity, left her a little
wistful, a little sad. Recognition of the perpetual shifting of the
human scene, of the instability of human purpose, oppressed her. How
few of those who greeted her to-day with such affectionate
_empressement_ were precisely the same in thought, circumstance or
character as when they bade her farewell at the end of May! She could
not but note changes. Those changes might be slight, infinitesimal,
but they existed. Not only do things, as a whole, march on; but the
individual marches on also–marches on, too often, out completeness of
sympathy, completeness of comprehension, or, through the ceaselessly
centrifugal, scattering action of the social machine, marches on
actually out of hearing and out of sight! And this thinning of the
ranks, these changes in those who remained, did cause her sorrow. She
could not bring herself to acquiesce in and accept them with entire
philosophy.

Arrayed in a dress of clove carnation satin veiled with black _ninon de
soie_, Miss Beauchamp stood near the door opening from the first of the
suite of reception-rooms–in which tea had been served–on to the
entrance hall. She had taken up her position there when bidding her
guests adieu. In the second room two persons were talking, Lewis
Byewater’s slow, detached, slightly nasal accents making themselves
clearly audible.

“Lenty Stacpole feels Madame Vernois is just the loveliest mature
French feminine type he has yet encountered. He would be gratified to
work up those thumbnail sketches of her he made at Ste. Marie into a
finished portrait for exhibition with his other work in New York this
winter–”

With an unconscious, but very expressive, little gesture of reprobation
Anastasia moved across to the embrasure of the near window, pleasant
from the fresh, pungent scent of a bank of white and lemon-colored
chrysanthemums. She looked up into the limpid clarity of the twilight
sky seen above the house-roofs on the opposite side of the quiet street.

… Yes, the perpetual shifting of the human scene, the instability of
human purpose. And, as concrete example of all that, a portrait of
gentle, shrinking, timid, pre-eminently old-world Madame Vernois on
exhibition in New York! The shouting incongruity of the proposition!
Would her daughter, _la belle Gabrielle_, entertain it? And there, as
Anastasia confessed to herself, she ran up against the provoking cause
of her quarrel with existing conditions and tendencies. For, of the
two living persons whom she had recently come to hold dearest, wasn’t
the one changed and the other absent?

Since that pleasant afternoon at Ste. Marie she had neither sight nor
word of Adrian Savage. The young man appeared to have incontinently
vanished. She rang up his office in the _rue Druot_. The good Konski
replied over the telephone, “Monsieur was, alas! _encore en voyage_.”
She rang up his home address in the _rue de l’Université_, only to
receive the same response; supplemented by the information that Adrian
had not notified the date of his return, nor left orders as to the
forwarding of his letters. What did this mean? She became anxious.

“Lenty has worried quite a wearing amount,” Byewater was saying,
“whether it would be suitable he should ask you to let him work up a
portrait. I tell you, Madame St. Leger, Lenty’s silver-point is just a
dream. Do not go thinking it is because I am his friend I judge it so.
Mr. Dax positively enthused when he saw some samples last fall; and
Lenty has broken his own record since then–”

Anastasia, still consulting the calm evening sky, began to play a quite
other than calm little fantasia with the fingers of one hand upon the
window-pane. For why, in the name of diplomacy, of logic, of Eros
himself, had Adrian Savage elected to vanish at this moment of all
conceivable moments? The goal of his ambitions was in sight–hadn’t
she told him as much at Ste. Marie? Eros awaiting, as she believed, to
crown him victor in the long, faithful fight. And then that he, the
dear, exasperating young idiot, should gallop off thus, the Lord only
knew whither, instead of claiming the enchanting fruit of his victory!
Really, it was too wildly irritating. For _la belle Gabrielle_ wasn’t
pleased–not a bit of it. She resented his absence at this particular
juncture, as any woman of spirit not unreasonably must. Only too
probably she would make him pay for his apparent slight of her. And to
what extent would she make him pay? Faster and faster grew the time of
the fantasia upon the window-pane, for this question greatly disturbed
Anastasia.

For if Adrian must be cited as an example of the absent, _la belle
Gabrielle_ must be cited as among the changed. Miss Beauchamp, who
watched her with affectionate solicitude, perceived something was a
little bit wrong with her. She was not quite contented, not quite
happy. Her manner had lost its delightful repose, her beauty, though
great, its high serenity. Her wit had a sharp edge to it. She avoided
occasions of intimacy. To-day she had helped Anastasia receive; and
the latter remarked that, during the whole course of the afternoon, men
had gathered about her and that she flirted–gracefully–yet
undeniably–with each and all in turn. Since her return to Paris she
had discarded the last outward signs of mourning. The smoke-gray
walking-suit she wore to-day was lavishly embroidered in faint pastel
shades of mauve, turquoise, and shell-pink, the pattern outlined here
and there in silver thread, which glinted slightly as she moved. The
same delicate tones tipped the _panache_ of smoke-gray ostrich plumes
set at the side of her large black hat. In this donning of charming
colors Anastasia read the signing of some private declaration of
independence, some assertion, not only of her youth and youth’s
acknowledged privilege of joyous costume, but of intention to make
capital out of the admiration her youth and beauty excited after the
manner of other fair _mondaines_.

Clearly Madame St. Leger had arrived at a definite and momentous
parting of the ways. Her mourning, all which it implied and which went
along with it, was a thing of the past. Her nature was too rich–let
it be added, too normal and wholesome–for the senses not to play their
part in the shaping of her destiny. She had coquetted with Feminism,
it is true; but such appeals and opportunities as Feminism has to offer
the senses are not of an order wholesome natures can accept. To
Gabrielle those appeals and opportunities were, briefly, loathsome;
while, in her existing attitude, an exclusively intellectual
fanaticism–such as alone can render advanced Feminism morally
innocuous–no longer could control or satisfy her. Against it her
ironic and critical humor rebelled, making sport of it. It followed,
therefore, as Anastasia saw, that _la belle Gabrielle_ would inevitably
seek satisfaction, scope for her young energies, for her unimpaired joy
of living, elsewhere. And this signaled possible danger. For, just
now, being piqued, as Anastasia believed, and pushed by wounded pride,
she might commit a folly. She might marry the wrong man, marry for
position merely, or for money. Plenty of aspirants, judging by this
afternoon, needed but little encouragement to declare themselves. She
had borne the trials of one loveless marriage bravely, without faintest
breath of scandal or hint of disaster. Throughout she had been
admirable, both in taste and in conduct. But what about a second
loveless marriage, made now in the full bloom of her womanhood?

Miss Beauchamp’s fingers positively drummed upon the window. For she
had come to love them both so closely, love them foolishly, even
weakly, much–perhaps–this very attractive young couple, of whom the
one, just now, was absent, the other changed! Beyond measure would it
grieve her if the consummation of their romance should be frustrated or
should come about other than quite honest and noble lines. Why, oh!
why, in Heaven’s name, did Adrian Savage absent himself? Why, at this
eminently psychologic moment, was he not here? Anastasia could have
wept.

Then, becoming aware of footsteps, and some presence entering from the
hall behind her, she turned round hastily to find herself confronted by
Adrian himself.

“_Enfin!_” she cried, enthusiastically. “What an inexpressible relief
to see you, my dear Savage! You discover me in the very act of
exhaling my doubtfully pious soul in prayers for your speedy return.
You are late, in some respects perhaps dangerously late; but ‘better
late than never’–immeasurably better in this connection. Only, pardon
me, where on earth have you been?”

The young man held her hand affectionately.

“In a land which possesses no frontiers, alas!” he said; “a land which
bears no relation to geography.”

“Hum! Hum!” Anastasia responded, just a trifle impatiently, shaking
her head. “And in addition to its other peculiarities is this famous
country devoid of a postal system, may I ask?”

“Practically, yes,” Adrian answered. “Unless one is prepared to make
oneself a really unpardonable bore. Some people call it the Land of
Regrets, dear friend, others call it Purgatory. The two names are
synonymous for most of us, I imagine. I have spent several weeks
there, and the atmosphere of the accursed place still so clings to me
that, although I needed immensely to see you, I shrank from coming here
to-day until, as I supposed, all your other guests would have gone.”

Then Anastasia, looking at him, perceived that this delightful young
man–her great fondness for whom she did not attempt to disguise or
deny–must also be added to the number of the homing Parisians who had
suffered change since she saw them last.

To begin with, he was in mourning of the correct French order, which,
in man’s attire only in a degree less than in woman’s, prescribes
uncompromising severity of black. But the change in him, as she
quickly apprehended, went deeper than such merely outward
acknowledgment of mournful occurrence. Some profound note had been
struck since she saw him at Ste. Marie of the gleaming sands and
alluring horizons, revealing tremendous and vital issues to him; and,
in view of those same issues, revealing him to himself. From the
effect of this revelation his whole being was still vibrant.
Anastasia’s heart went out to him in large and generous sympathy; but
she abstained from question or comment. The matter, whatever it might
be, was grave, not to be taken lightly or played with. If he intended
to give her his confidence, he would find an opportunity for doing so
himself. Men, as she reflected, in their dealings with women are made
that way. Express no desire to learn what troubles them, and they
hasten to tell you. Show, however discreetly, your anxiety to hear,
and they roll like hedgehogs, prickles outward, at once! So she merely
said, smiling at him:

“I am afraid you should have waited even longer, my dear Savage, if
your object was to avoid all my guests. Two, in any case, still
linger. Listen–we cannot hope for solitude _à deux_ just yet.”

For once more Byewater’s slow, penetrating accents made themselves
audible.

“If you feel not to be able to entertain Lenty Stacpole’s proposal,
Madame St. Leger, I would not have you hesitate to tell me. I believe
I catch on to your objection, though in America our ladies do not have
such strong prejudices against publicity. I will explain to Lenty the
way you feel. I would not wish to put you to any worry of refusing his
proposal yourself.”

“Eh! _Par exemple_! And pray what next?” Adrian said, under his
breath, with raised eyebrows, looking his hostess inquiringly in the
face.

“Ste. Marie offered only too many fatally magical quarters of an hour.
They are both very hopelessly far gone, the two poor innocents!”

“Both? But it is preposterous, incredible! Dearest friend, you do not
say to me both–not both?” Adrian cried, in a rising scale of heated
protest.

To which Anastasia, hailing these symptoms of militant jealousy as
altogether healthy, replied genially, taking his arm:

“If you doubt my word, come and judge for yourself.”

Lewis Byewater, his hands clasped behind him, leaned his limp height
against one of the few wall-spaces unincrusted with pictures, mirrors,
china and other liberal confusion of ornament. Madame St. Leger stood
near him, smoothing out the wrinkles in the wrists of her long gloves.
To Adrian, as he entered the room, her charming person presented itself
in profile. He perceived, and this gave him a curious turn in the
blood, half of subtle alarm, half of high promise, that she once more
wore colors.

Anastasia Beauchamp felt his arm tremble.

“Yes,” she murmured, “a certain enchanting woman puts on her armor and
takes the field again. Believe me, it is time, high time, you came
back!”

“You are so very good to try to spare me the pain of making Mr.
Stacpole a refusal,” Gabrielle was saying sweetly to the young
American. “But you do always show yourself so very amiable, so
thoughtful I think your countrymen are of the most–how do you
say?–the most unselfish of any–”

Turning her head–“Ah!” she exclaimed, quite sharply, living red
leaping into the round of her cheeks and living light into her
eyes–“it is you, Mr. Savage?”

But even while the answering light leaped into Adrian’s eyes, very
effectually for the moment dissipating their melancholy, her expression
hardened, becoming mocking and ironic.

“You have the pleasure to know my kind friend, M. Byewater?” she asked,
with a graceful wave of the hand toward that excellent youth, who had
ceased to lounge against the wall and stood rather anxiously upright,
the blankness of unexpected discomfiture upon his ingenuous countenance.

“Incontestably I have the pleasure of knowing M. Byewater,” Adrian
replied. “I have also had the pleasure of reading, and further, of
publishing, two of his a little–yes, I fear, perhaps just a
little–lengthy articles.”

“I did condense all I knew,” Byewater put in ruefully, addressing his
hostess. “But I presume I was over-weighted by the amount of my
material.”

“Quite so; and the whole secret both of style and of holding your
reader’s attention lies in selection, in the intuitive knowledge of
what to leave out,” Adrian declared, his eyes fixed with positively
ferocious jealousy upon _la belle Gabrielle’s_ partially averted face.

That poor, inoffensive Byewater should receive this public roasting was
flagrantly unjust, Anastasia felt, still she abstained from
intervention. The silence which followed was critical. She refused to
break it. The responsibility of doing so appeared to her too great.
One or other of the two principal actors in the little scene must
undertake that. She really couldn’t. At last, coldly, unwilling, as
though forced against her inclination to speak, Madame St. Leger,
turning to Adrian Savage, said:

“It is long since we have any news of him. How is M. Dax?”

Adrian shrugged his shoulders.

“I have not heard, _chère Madame_,” he replied.

Whereupon Miss Beauchamp, satisfied that, whether for good or ill,
relations were safely established between this altogether dear and not
a little perverse young couple, called cheerfully to the American youth.

“Come here, come here, Mr. Byewater. I have hardly had one word with
you all this afternoon, and there is something I greatly wish to ask
you. What is this that I hear about our good, clever Mr. Stacpole’s
leaving for New York?”

“It is so, Miss Beauchamp. Lenty is fairly through with the work for
his winter exhibition, and he looks to start the first of the month.”

“But I do not comprehend how it is you do not bring any news of M. Dax.
Have you not then been with him all the time since we have last seen
you?”

“I have been abroad,” Adrian replied. “My cousin, of whom you may
remember to have heard me speak–Joanna Smyrthwaite–”

He hesitated, and his companion, though stoutly resolved against all
yielding and pity in his direction, could not but note the melancholy
and extreme pallor of his handsome face.

“But certainly I remember,” she returned rather hastily. “Is she ill,
then, poor lady, one of those pensive abstractions whom it has been
your interesting mission to materialize and rejuvenate?”

“She is no longer ill,” he answered. “She is dead.”

“_Ah! quel malheur inattendu_! Truly that is most sad,” Gabrielle said
in accents of concern. Then for a moment she looked at Adrian with a
very singular expression. “I offer you my sympathy, my condolences,
Mr. Savage, upon this unhappy event.”

And, turning aside, she began to move toward the doorway of the outer
room, upon the threshold of which her hostess stood talking to Byewater.

But Adrian arrested her impetuously.

“Stay, Madame!” he cried, joining his hands as in supplication. “Stay,
I implore you, and permit me a few minutes’ conversation. By this you
will confer the greatest benefit upon me; for so, and so only, can
misunderstandings and misconstructions be avoided.”

Thus admonished, Gabrielle paused. Her aspect and bearing were
reserved, as those of one who yields in obedience to good manners
rather than to personal inclination. But Adrian, nothing daunted,
followed up his advantage.

“I came here to-day, _chère Madame_,” he said, “as soon as possible
after my return. My idea was to consult our friend Miss Beauchamp, to
ask her advice and enlist her assistance. I feared my conduct might
have appeared erratic, inexplicable. I proposed begging her to act as
my ambassadress, asking her to recount to you certain things which have
taken place since we parted at Ste. Marie–things very grievous, in a
way unexampled and unnatural. But as I have the good fortune to find
you here, I entreat you to wait and hear me while I acquaint you with
those occurrences myself. You will remain, yes? Let us go over there
then, out of earshot of the insupportably recurrent Mr. Byewater. I
need to speak to you alone, _chère Madame_, without frivolous
interruptions. And Mr. Byewater is forever at hand. He annoys me. He
is so very far from decorative. He reminds me of a fish–of an
underdone _filet de sole_.”

Madame St. Leger’s reserve gave slightly.

“Unhappy Mr. Byewater!” she murmured.

“Yes, indeed unhappy, since you too observe the likeness,” Adrian
pursued, darting positively envenomed glances in the direction of the
doorway. “Yet is it not unpardonable in any man to resemble the
insufficiently fried section of a flat fish? You recognize it as
unpardonable? Sit down here then, _trés chère Madame_, at the farthest
distance possible from that lanky _poisson d’Amérique_. Ah! I am
grateful to you,” he added, with very convincing earnestness. “For in
listening you will help to dissipate the blackness of regret which
engulfs me. You will hear and you will judge; yes, it is for you, for
you only and supremely to do that–to judge.”

“I fear you will be no end fatigued, Miss Beauchamp, standing all this
long time talking,” the excellent, and, fortunately, quite unconscious
Byewater was meanwhile saying. “I believe I ought to go right now. I
had promised myself I would escort Madame St. Leger home to the _Quai
Malaquais_. But I don’t believe I stand to gain anything by waiting.
Recent developments hardly favor the supposition that promise is likely
to condense into fact.”

He nodded his head, indicating the couple ensconced at the opposite end
of the room in two pillowed, cane-seated, cane-backed gilt chairs of
pseudo-classic pattern. The wall immediately behind them carried a
broad, tall panel of looking-glass, the border of which blossomed on
either side at about half its height into a cluster of shaded electric
lamps. The mellow light from these covered the perfectly finished
figures of the young man and woman, sitting there in such close
proximity, and created a bright circle about them, as Anastasia
Beauchamp noted, curiously isolating them from all surrounding objects
save their own graceful images repeated in the great looking-glass.
Her eyes dwelt upon them in indulgent tenderness. Might they prosper!
And therewith, very genially, she turned her attention to the fish-like
Byewater once more.

But that same bright isolation and close proximity worked strongly upon
Gabrielle St. Leger. Her pulse quickened. A subtle excitement took
possession of her, which, just because of her anxiety to ignore and
conceal it, obliged her to speak.

“Your cousin’s death has evidently pained you. You mourn her very
truly, very much?”

“I cannot mourn enough.”

“Indeed!” she said, dwelling upon the word with a peculiar and slightly
incredulous inflection.

“No,” he repeated, “I cannot mourn enough. But to make my state of
mind intelligible to you–and it is vitally important to me to do
so–it is necessary you should know what has happened. I cannot deny
that I am very sad.”

He bowed himself together, setting his elbows on his knees, pressing
his hands against either side of his head.

“I have cause to be sad,” he continued. “Involuntarily I have
contributed to the commission of a crime. All the values are altered.
I am become a stranger to myself. Therefore I ask just this of you, to
hear me and to judge.”

Surprised, impressed, alarmed even, Gabrielle St. Leger gathered
herself back gravely in her gilded, long-seated pseudo-classic chair.
The young man’s genuine and undisguised trouble combined with his
actual physical nearness to threaten her emotional equilibrium. More
eagerly than she cared to admit even to herself had she looked forward
to his return to Ste. Marie. Her disappointment was proportionate,
causing her anger. The thought of the slight he had put upon her
rankled. She was, or rather wished to be, angry still. But just now
wishes and feeling ranged themselves in irritating opposition and
conflict. And during the silence following his last strangely
sorrowful and self-accusing words–he so very near to her, dejected,
abstracted, with bent head–feeling gained, waxing masterful and
intimate. The personal charm of the man, his distinction of
appearance, his quick brain and eloquent speech, his unimpeachable
sincerity, his virility–refined, but in no degree impaired by the
artificial conditions of modern life–even his boyish outbreak of
jealousy toward Lewis Byewater, stirred and agitated her, proving
dangerous alike to her senses and her heart. The culminating moment of
that terrible experience in René Dax’s studio, when, half beside
herself from the horror of madness and death, she had flung herself
upon Adrian’s breast, there finding safety and restoration to all the
dear joys of living, presented itself to her memory with importunate
insistence. Was it conceivable that she craved to have that moment
repeat itself?

“Mr. Savage–you asked me to listen. I listen,” she said, and her
voice shook.

In response the young man looked up at her, a rather pitiful smile on
his white face.

“Thank you–it was like this, then, _chère Madame et amie_,” he said.
“Pushed by certain sinister fears, without waiting to communicate with
you or with any one, I went straight to England on receiving from her
sister the announcement of my cousin’s death. Letters had passed
between us during the previous fortnight which rendered that
announcement peculiarly and acutely distressing to me.”

Adrian bent his head again and sat staring blindly at the floor.

“She had asked a pledge of me which neither in honor nor in honesty
could I give,” he said, bitterly. “My cousin was an admirable woman of
business. I knew that all her worldly affairs were scrupulously
regulated. I was in no way concerned in the distribution of her
property. I went to attend her funeral as a tribute of regard and
respect. I also went in the hope the sinister fears of which I have
spoken might prove unfounded. I stayed in London, merely going down to
Stourmouth for a few hours. It was a wretched, wretched day, the
weather cold and wet.”

He ceased speaking. For at this moment–whether through some inward
compelling, some mental necessity to arrive at a just and comprehensive
estimate of the history of the last eight months, or whether through
some external influence emanating from the unseen world of spirit and
striving to dominate and coerce him, he could neither then, nor
afterward, determine–the whole gloomy _affaire_ Smyrthwaite, in its
entirety, from start to finish, presented itself to his mind. The
slightly bizarre yet charming room, its crowded furniture, subdued
gaiety of lights and flowers, even Gabrielle St. Leger’s well-beloved
and ardently desired presence, became strangely unreal to him and
remote; while his mind fixed itself in turn upon the autocratic,
self-centered husband and father warping the lives of wife and children
in obedience to cold-blooded theory; upon the interruption of his own
work, and prosecution of his fair romance, by the tedious labors of the
executorship; of his long fruitless search amid the filth of the Paris
underworld for the wastrel degenerate, Bibby; of the squalid finding,
the still more squalid redisappearance of the wretched fellow, and the
disquieting uncertainty which even now covered his whereabouts and his
fate; and lastly, with sharp inward shrinking, upon the commencement,
the progress, the extinction, of Joanna’s infatuation for himself.

And as sum total and result what remained? What was there to show in
the way of harvest for all that strenuous and painful sowing? Only
this–that now, very strangely, he himself at once participant and
spectator, he saw in the mournful chill of the rain-swept September day
a dark, straggling, ill-assorted procession passing up a trampled,
puddle-pocketed road between ranks of pale and vulgarly commonplace
monuments set against a backing of somber fir-trees and heather.
Margaret Smyrthwaite, composed, callous, and comely, swathed in
abundance of brand-new crape, walked beside him immediately behind a
coffin–the hard, polished lines of which were unsoftened by pall or by
flowers–carried shoulder high. The big Yorkshireman, Andrew Merriman,
followed in company with Joseph Challoner–the latter oddly subdued and
nervous, obsequious even in bearing and in speech. Next came fussy
little Colonel Haig, Doctor Norbiton, and the amazon Marion Chase. A
contingent of servants from the Tower House, headed by Smallbridge, the
butler; Johnson, the portly coachman, and Mrs. Isherwood, brought up
the rear. Isherwood, alone of the company, wept, silently but
heart-brokenly, mourning not only a mistress who was to her as a
daughter, but the passing of an order of things which had filled and
molded her life and in the service of which she had grown old. To
Adrian the faithful woman’s tears supplied the one sincere and human
note in the otherwise cruelly barren and perfunctory performance. And,
to his seeing, her desolation found sympathetic echo in the desolation
of the autumn moorland, of the bare coffin, and the gray curtain of
drifting mist blotting out the distance–the vast amphitheater of the
Baughurst Park woods, the streets and buildings of Stourmouth, and all
the noble freedom of the sea. The hopelessness of that desolation
clutched at him still, penetrating him, even now and here, with
conviction of failure and futility, with doubt of any eternal and
reasoned direction and purpose in things human, and with very searching
doubt of himself. His fine and healthy optimism–in other words, his
faith in God’s goodness–suffered bitter eclipse.

“I would not be surprised if I concluded to take the trip with Lenty
the first of the month, Miss Beauchamp.”

As he spoke Lewis Byewater’s mild and honest eyes, half humorously,
half reproachfully, sought the delightful young man and young woman
sitting silent in their gilded chairs.

“I am ever so grateful to you for all the splendid times you have given
me,” he continued, rather irrelevantly; “but I begin to have a notion
it would prove healthier for me to leave Paris this fall.”

Again his eyes sought the silent couple enthroned before the tall
mirror.

“Yes,” he said, “I feel pretty confident I will accompany Lenty. Seems
as though this gay city had turned ever so lonesome and foreign
to-night. Europe is enervating for a continuance. I know others who
have found it affect them that way. There is too much atmosphere over
here. I have a notion my moral system is in need of toning up; and I
believe our bright American climate might help me some if I took a
spell of it.”

Madame St. Leger threw back her head and loosened the lace scarf about
her rounded throat.

“Return, Mr. Savage. Again I remind you that I wait to hear that which
you ask to tell me, that I listen. Return, lest I grow too impatient
of waiting,” she said.

Adrian straightened himself. His looked dazed, absorbed. He passed
his hands across his eyes and forehead, as one who awakens from a
feverish sleep.

“Ah! forgive me, _chère Madame_,” he answered. “But that is precisely
what I need, what I desire–just that–to return, to come back; and to
come back by your invitation, at your calling. I ask nothing better,
nothing else.”

He spread out his hands, leaning sideways in his chair, looking at her.

“Forgive me. I am very stupid, incoherent; but the events of the last
three weeks are still so vividly present to me that they confuse and
distract me. I cannot see my way clearly. I find it difficult to tell
you what is necessary, just what I should. See, then, it had been the
habit of my cousin to keep a journal daily from early childhood. The
last volume of that journal she had, I found, left as a legacy to me.
Her sister gave it to me after the funeral. I took it back with me to
London. The night was wet, and I was in no humor for amusement. I
remained indoors, in my room at the hotel. The sinister fears which I
entertained in connection with my cousin’s death had not been allayed
by my visit to Stourmouth. A certain mystery appeared to surround the
circumstances attending it. I perceived a great unwillingness to
answer my inquiries on the part of those most nearly concerned. That
night, after dinner, I opened the packet containing the journal,
unwillingly, I own; I would rather have delayed. But I could not do
so. With the muffled roar of the ceaseless London traffic in my ears I
sat and read the journal from cover to cover. Having once begun, I
could not leave off. I did not go to bed that night. In the morning
early I left London. I left England. I traveled. I hardly know where
I went, Madame. I wanted to escape. I wanted to get away from every
person I knew, whom I had ever seen. Above all I wanted to get away
from myself; but I was obliged to take myself along with me. And I
found myself a dreadful companion. I hated myself.”

Madame St. Leger moved slightly in her gilded chair.

“My poor friend!” she murmured almost inaudibly.

“Yes, I hated myself,” Adrian repeated. “That journal is the most
poignant, the most convincing human document I have ever read. My
cousin had the misfortune to love a person who did not return her
affection. In the pages of her journal, with uncompromising
truthfulness, with appalling self-scrutiny, self-revelation and
unflinching courage, with, I may add, the amazing abandon possible only
to a rigidly virtuous woman, she has recorded the successive phases of
that love, from its first unsuspected and almost unconscious inception
to the hour when by an act of will, so extraordinary as to be little
short of miraculous, she sent her soul out of her body, across land and
sea, in pursuit of the man whom she loved and forced from his own lips
the confession of his indifference to her.”

Again Madame St. Leger moved slightly.

“You tell me this soberly, Mr. Savage?” she asked. “In good faith?”

Adrian looked fixedly at her. Her beautiful face, her whole attitude,
was tense with excitement.

“In absolute good faith, Madame,” he replied. “I have not only the
detailed testimony of her journal, but the perfectly independent and
equally detailed testimony of the person whom she loved. The two
statements agree in every particular.”

“Still,” Gabrielle cried, a sudden yearning in her eyes, “still I
cannot count her as altogether unfortunate, your poor cousin! For it
is not given to many–it is the mark of a very strong, a very great
nature, to be capable of such love. And when she had obtained this
man’s confession?”

“She decided to live no longer,” Adrian replied hoarsely. “She had no
religion, no faith in Almighty God or in the survival of human
personality and consciousness, no hope of a hereafter, to restrain her
from taking her own life. She made her preparations calmly and
silently, with the dignity of sincere and very impressive stoicism.
The concluding words of the terrible book, in which she has dissected
out all the passion and agony of her heart, of her poor tortured body
as well as her poor tortured soul, are words of pity, of tenderness,
toward the man who found himself unable to return her affection.”

For a time both remained silent, while in the outer room Miss Beauchamp
bade a genial farewell to the disconsolate Byewater.

“Yes, go, my dear young man, go,” she said, “and breathe the surprising
air of your very surprising native land. I shall miss you. But I
understand the position, and give you my blessing. Later you will
return to us–for Europe is full of illumination and of instruction.
You will return, and, be very sure, we shall all be delighted to see
you. Be sure, also, that you leave an altogether pleasant and friendly
reputation behind you.”

“But, but,” Gabrielle said, presently, with a certain protest and
hesitancy, “it pains, it angers me to think of so great a waste. For
it is no ordinary thing, the bestowal by any woman of so magnificent a
gift of love. That a woman, young and rich, should die for love–and
now, at the present time, when our interest moves quickly from person
to person, when we console ourselves easily with some new occupation,
new friendship, when our morals are perhaps a little–how do you
say?–easy, is it not particularly surprising, is it not, indeed,
unique? To reject such affection, is not that to throw away, in a
sense, a positive fortune? How could such devotion fail to attract,
fail to create a response? Why, Monsieur, could not this man of whom
you tell me return your cousin’s great love?”

Adrian Savage spread out his hands with a gesture at once hopeless and
singularly appealing.

“Because, Madame, because the man already loved you,” he said. “And,
that being so, for him there could be no possible room, no conceivable
question, of any other love.”

Madame St. Leger remained absolutely motionless, expressionless, for a
moment; then she threw back her head, closing her eyes. “Ah!” she
sighed, sharply. “Ah!”

And Adrian waited, watching her, a sudden keenness in his face. For
what, indeed, did it betoken, where did it lead to, this praise and
advocacy of Joanna Smyrthwaite’s tragic devotion, followed by that
singularly unrestrained and unconventional little outcry? The said
outcry struck right through him, giving him a queer turn in the
blood–carrying him back in sentiment, moreover, to the horrible yet
perfect experience in René Dax’s studio, when he had felt the whole
weight of Gabrielle’s beloved body flung against him and the clasp of
her arms about his neck. He straightened himself, took a deep breath,
his nostrils dilated, his lips parted. He emerged from the confusion
and lethargy which had oppressed him, quickened by that same outcry
into newness and fullness of life. To him all this was as the drawing
aside of some gloomy, jealously impenetrable curtain–the curtain of
desolate gray mist, was it, blotting out the distance, the town, the
great woods, and the noble freedom of the sea, when he walked in that
ill-assorted funeral procession up the wet road behind Joanna’s
coffin?–a drawing of it aside and letting the glad and wholesome
sunlight shine on him once more. He no longer felt a stranger to
himself. The past–all which had happened, all which went to shape his
character and inspire his action, all which he had desired and held
infinitely dear before the _affaire_ Smyrthwaite imposed itself upon
him–linked up with the present, in sane and intelligible sequence of
cause and effect. Thus, chastened, it is true, a little older, sadder,
wiser, but fearless, ardent, purposeful as ever, did Adrian the
Magnificent come into his own again.

He drew nearer to her, laid his right arm somewhat possessively upon
the arm of Madame St. Leger’s chair, and spoke softly, yet with much of
his former impetuosity.

“See, _chère Madame_, see,” he said; “do you perhaps remember, this
winter, in the week of the great snow, when I came to tell you I was
summoned to my cousins’ home in England? You were not quite, quite
kind. You mocked me a little, suggesting a solution of the problems
raised by my impending visit. The solution you proposed was, as I
ventured to explain to you, impossible then. It remained impossible to
the end, the cruel end, and for the same reason.”

His manner changed. His voice deepened.

“Yet, believe me, when by degrees, against my will, against my respect
for my cousin and sincere desire for her happiness, the fact of her
unfortunate partiality was brought home to me, I tried with all my
strength to command my heart. Twice I faced the situation without
reserve, and tried to submit, to sacrifice myself, rather than cause
her humiliation and distress.”

Adrian looked away across the crowded, pleasant room, with its scent of
autumn flowers, cedar, and sandalwood, and its many shaded lights. His
lips worked, but at first no sound passed them.

“I could not do it,” he said. “I could not. I loved you too much.”

He raised his hand from the arm of _la belle Gabrielle’s_ chair,
turning proudly upon her, as a man who on his trial fiercely protests
his own innocence.

“I had given her no cause for her disastrous delusion–before God,
Madame, I had not. And my passion, too, has its authority, its
unalienable rights. I could not, I dared not, betray them. It may be
that the happiness to which I aspire will never be granted me. Very
well. I shall suffer, but I shall know how to accommodate myself. But
to cut myself off voluntarily from all hope of that happiness by
marriage with another woman was like asking me to mutilate myself. I
refused. Could the situation repeat itself, I should again refuse,
although when I read her terrible journal and learned the reason of my
cousin’s suicide I was consumed by remorse, by grief and self-reproach.”

Adrian paused.

“Now I have told you everything, Madame,” he added, quietly. “I leave
myself in your hands. It is for you to condemn or to acquit me, to
judge whether I have behaved as an honorable man, whether I have done
right.”

After a silence, a pathetic bewilderment in her mysterious eyes,
Gabrielle St. Leger answered brokenly:

“I do not know. I do not know. I cannot presume to judge. What you
tell me is all so difficult, so sad–only I may say, perhaps, that I am
glad you did not sacrifice yourself.”

“You are glad? Then–” Adrian stammered, “then you will marry me?”

“Eh! but,” _la belle Gabrielle_ cried, and her voice shook, though
whether with tears or with laughter she herself knew not, “you go so
quick, so very quick!”

“You are mistaken–pardon me. I do not go quick, but slow, slow as the
centuries, as æons, as innumerable and cumulative eternities. Have I
not served for you, _tres chère Madame_, a good seven years?”

“So long as that?”

“Yes, as long as that. Ever since the day I first saw you. You had
but recently come to Paris. Much has happened–for both of us–since
that date. Yes, I can still describe to you the gown you wore, the
manner in which your hair was dressed, can recall the subjects of our
conversation, can repeat the words which you said.”

Madame St. Leger gathered herself back in her gilded chair, her head
bent. For a quite perceptible space of time she remained absolutely
still. The inclination of her head and the shadow cast by the brim of
her hat concealed her face. Adrian’s heart thumped in his ears. His
breath came short and thick. At last he could bear the suspense no
longer. He leaned forward again.

“Madame, Madame,” he called softly, urgently, “think of the seven
years. Remember that I am young and that I am on fire, since I love as
the young love. Do not prolong my trial. Give me my answer–yes or
no–now, here, at once.”

Thus adjured, Madame St. Leger raised her head, looked full at him with
wide-open eyes, something profound, exalted, in a way desperate, in her
expression. She shivered slightly, and holding out both her hands:

“I surrender,” she said.

The young man took her extended hands in his, bent down and kissed them
reverently; then looked back at her gravely, resolutely, though he was
white to the lips.

“But not under compulsion, not out of pity?” he said. “Now, even now,
with the consummation of all my hopes and desire within my grasp, I
would rather you sent me away than, than–that–”

_La belle Gabrielle_ shook her head gently, smiling.

“No, no,” she answered. “Not under compulsion, not out of pity, _mon
ami_; but because I find nature is too strong for me. Because I find I
too love, and find–since you will have me lay bare my heart and tell
you everything–it is you, precisely and solely you, whom I love.”

And from the inner room–into which Anastasia Beauchamp had passed
unperceived by her two guests during this, for them, momentous
colloquy–came strains of heroic music, good for the soul.

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