MADAME GILBERT REFUSES THE “HUMMING TOP”

“You have, if I may say so, done us the greatest service.”

Madame and Sir John Toppys were together in the Owner’s Room of the
_Humming Top_, and all had been told.

“It was not intended,” replied Madame Gilbert sadly. “I have been frank
with you. All the interest and all the wealth of Toppys for their
numberless generations would not have induced me to raise my hand
against Willatopy. In some ways he was more worthy than the best of you.
I was bringing him to England to put him in his place, and yet I am glad
that Fate interposed. White blood drags down more than it uplifts.
Willatopy in his own island, before the fatal knowledge of his
succession reached him, was a simple, gallant, charming boy. Would to
God that so he could have remained. But those very qualities, which made
him so admirable as a savage youth, dragged him into the pit of
degeneracy. He grabbed white vices with both hands, and sloughed off his
native virtues. He was losing his soul very fast, lamentably fast. I
killed him that I might save what was left.”

“You speak as if you need not have fired–to kill,” said Toppys slowly.

“At the end I had no choice,” replied Madame. “But I feel now, and have
felt many times since the tragedy of the _Humming Top_, that he would
never have leaped upon me had I spoken. My power over him was great.
Until recently he had honoured me as a goddess. With my eyes upon his he
could not have struck. And yet I waited for his attack to be delivered.
I waited while he felt the point of the dagger, and tested the fittings
on his hand. I might have spoken in the old friendly tone, which always
moved him–and yet I did not. For it suddenly was revealed to me that
here was the solution of his troubled destiny. Now that Willatopy, the
dear boy of Tops Island, was no more, his successor, Lord Topsham, were
better dead before far worse disasters than death, a clean, quick death,
overtook him. So I waited for him to spring–it was a terrible moment,
and I cannot speak of it now without a creeping of the flesh–I waited
for him to spring that I might shoot. I am not a praying woman,” added
she, “but there was a prayer in my heart when I sped the bullet through
his. I never loved the boy more honestly than in that instant when I
deliberately slew him.”

They turned to leave the room.

“I shall be sorry to give up my temporary ownership of the _Humming
Top_,” said Madame. “I agree with Alexander that she is a bonnie wee
beastie.”

“Will you not keep her?” asked Toppys calmly.

Madame shook her head. “A yacht, especially a steam yacht of a thousand
tons, is too sharp-edged a gift for my poor hands to receive. She must
cost twenty thousand a year to run, and I cannot spend a tithe of that
amount upon my travels.”

“I did not mean that you should maintain her,” said Toppys.

Madame smiled wickedly. “Sir John Toppys, in my day I have been offered
many gifts by the undiscerning. Jewellery, of course. Perfectly
appointed flats and houses, of course. One refuses calmly from habit I
have never yet had a fully maintained thousand-ton yacht laid at my
feet, yet it costs me little to refuse. Madame Gilbert, Sir John Toppys,
is not for sale, and she is slightly disappointed that one whom she
thought her friend should have offered to purchase her.”

“You misunderstand me again,” said Sir John Toppys, “I suspect wilfully.
I did not offer the _Humming Top_ as your purchase price. I wished to
hint, somewhat crudely I fear, that I am a widower, and that—-”

He paused. Madame looked at him curiously. It was almost unbelievable,
yet plain to see, that the Baronet of Wigan was tongue-tied with genuine
emotion. She softened towards him, and her mantle of cynicism fell.

“_Et puis?_” she murmured with encouragement.

“My wife has long since been dead. My two sons have fought through the
war, and happily are unhurt. My line is safe. One son is already
married; the other hopes soon to be married. I have no daughter to be an
embarrassment to a stepmother. There is no reason, therefore, in my
domestic circumstances why Madame Gilbert should refuse to share my
home–and my yacht.”

“No reason,” observed Madame reflectively. “No reason, and every
inducement, except the will of Madame Gilbert.”

“Is what I ask impossible?”

“Quite. Even if I personally desired to accept your offer, it would be
impossible. You are what you are, because my hand opened the way. I
cannot share in succession the hereditary honours of Willatopy.”

“Is that your only reason?” he asked, his eyes brightening. They were
the steel blue Toppys eyes, the eyes of Willatopy.

“No,” said she, and told him of her vagabond life. Once she had loved
and married, but for the future was resolved to remain free. She had
played with the hearts of men too long to submit to mastery.

“I understand,” said he, when her tale was told. “Not even the _Humming
Top_, not even the overflowing disgusting wealth of a War Profiteer, can
persuade you to take a husband in earnest. And yet when I look at you,
especially now when you so obdurately dismiss me, I shall dearly love to
pour my ill-gotten riches into your bonny lap.”

“So would the Chief Engineer Ewing,” quoth Madame, smiling.

She moved towards the door, but Toppys had not yet done with her. “Is
there anything that I can do or offer which will shake your unhappy
resolution?”

“Women,” observed Madame contemplatively, “are selfish toads. Their one
unchanging purpose from the cradle to the coffin is to grab as much as
they can from men, and to give as little as they can in return. I have
grabbed more than most because I am more agreeable to look upon than are
most. We are vampires. I am true to the purpose of my sex, Sir John
Toppys. I have snatched at all I could get from you, and have refused to
give anything in return. I have even asked you to forgo your share in
Alexander’s boodle, and you have consented. You are a better man than I
am a woman. You are well rid of me, even as an associate.”

“I shall not claim the Barony of Topsham,” said he. “My son, when his
day shall dawn, may succeed if he will–it is his lawful right. But I
shall go to my grave as Sir John Toppys. Your hand has given me the
Barony, but my hand, no less resolute than yours, refuses the gift.”

“You are right,” said she thoughtfully. “You with your yacht and I with
my automatic have slain Willatopy, and we cannot either of us accept the
price of blood. I am glad that you will never sit in the poor lad’s
place.”

She held out both her hands to him, and Toppys–as he had done months
before on the deck of the _Humming Top_–Toppys stooped down and kissed
her fingers.

“There is blood upon them,” she whispered.

“And yet I can kiss them,” murmured he. “Were it not that your harsh
will forbids, I would go on kissing them all my life.”