"Tell Mr. Malone"—Burton snapped his words out irritably—"that if he wants to find me I will be here in my own office for just thirty minutes."
The employee hesitated in momentary embarrassment, then he added:
"Of course, you know that I mean J.J. Malone himself, sir?"
Burton laughed. "In the world of finance, Carl, I didn't know there was more than one Malone."
Also, reflected the secretary as he closed the door behind him, there was in the world of finance only one who would care to ignore a summons from that source.
A few minutes afterward the door opened again, opened to frame the bulky figure of a man who had swept by those who sought to announce his coming. The heavy brows of J.J. Malone were contracted over smoldering gray eyes which many men feared and all but a few obeyed. At his elbow followed the slight wiry figure of a companion with nervous eyes, and a cigar which was always chewed and never lighted. This man had come, as Ham had come, from the hardness of some barren farm and had obdurately hammered his path by the sheer insistence of his brain into the inner circle of an oligarchy. These two greatest of America's money barons ignored the gesture with which the younger Warwick invited them to be seated. In the brief silence that followed upon their entrance was the portent of a brewing tempest. At last Malone said crisply:
"I sent for you, Mr. Burton. Most men come to me when I send for them."
"In several respects I differ from most men." The reply was too quiet to ring flippant. It was merely the assurance of invincible self-faith, and for an instant the man who had not in years been compelled to soften the iron grip of his mastery gazed his astonishment.
Then Malone burst into an oriflamme of anger. He was a whirlwind of fury before whose raging any small or timid man must have shriveled. The eyes that shone out under the heavy lashes as he paced the place, with clenched hands, were batteries raining shrapnel of wrath.
From their gray depths they blackened into ink, across which shot the red and yellow flocks of a fiery and passionate autocracy. The iron jaw, inherited from seafaring forefathers, snapped on words of threat, rebuke, and invective. He wore his sixty-five years as lightly as foliage, standing straight and strong like a poplar tree, save as he bent to the gusts of his own passion. Where his clenched fist fell upon desk or table the furniture trembled. Through the frosted glass of the door Hamilton Burton saw the shadows of hurrying figures and knew that the secretaries and stenographers out there were in a flutter of uneasy excitement. Wall street knew what it meant when the "old man" was on the rampage.
While this tempest endured the nervous-looking man took a chair and sat silent. His attitude was hunched up and he chewed on his unlighted cigar, while his restless gaze traveled here, there, everywhere. On casual glance one might have overlooked him as negligible, thereby falling gravely into error. The giant and the slight man had this kinship, that in the workings of great finance they were mainspring and balance wheel, and at their prompting many divisions of the world's industrial armies marched or marked time.
Suddenly J.J. Malone fell silent, and then Hamilton Burton spoke. He spoke with a surprising calm for one of his uncompromising arrogance. Perhaps it accorded with his whim to chill his words with icy insolence that they might cut the more and point the greater contrast when he chose to unleash his own hot wrath.
"You sent for me, Malone. I declined to come to you. Then you came to me. As yet you have shown no reason for the visit except to swear around my office like a drunken and abusive pirate. If you have nothing for temperate discussion, I will now say good-day to you. Take with you the honors of war, sir. You have outcussed me. I acknowledge your superiority in billingsgate—"—he paused and for an instant his voice mounted, as he added—"and in nothing else!"
"Have you reached so secure a stage, then, that you can defy and insult Harrison and myself? Are you prepared to declare war on the entire world of finance?" Now Malone spoke with regained composure, but an ominous undernote of threat. "Let's have done with pretense. In so far as any individuals can make or break—we can. When you came, an unlicked cub, into the world of large affairs it was through us you made the alliances upon which your success is built. However great you conceive yourself to be, 'Consolidated' still recognizes in us its active heads."
Hamilton Burton replied with a smile of unruffled calm. "You say I came to you. Many men have come to you, only to go away again with empty hands."
"You did not."
"No. You took me to your hearts—but why? Was it because you pitied me? Has pity or gentle courtesy ever yet prevented 'Consolidated' from crucifying a victim? You conceded me my seat at your directorates only because you were compelled to recognize my value there. You lifted me from the ranks to the general staff of finance because of unescapable conviction that I inherently belonged among you; that I should take my place there as an ally or an enemy. You had a suspicion then of what I knew before I ever saw a city—that I could not be stopped."
"Grant for the sake of brevity that Genius and Destiny are your handmaidens." Malone leaned across the table, resting his weight on his planted knuckles. Under his shaggy brows his eyes burned deeply and satirically. Across from him Hamilton Burton stood, younger, slenderer and more pliant of pose; his eyes meeting those of his protagonist, level and unwavering. "Grant that all your self-adulation is warrantable. Now that you have attained this place in the councils of the few, do you mean to become only a wrecker and a spoiler? Do you recognize no rules of war? Do you adhere to no principles of loyalty? Are you merely a breeder of storms and a maker of panics? Because if you are, by the Eternal God, I think we are yet strong enough to stamp you out—to utterly obliterate you!"
"So"—the younger man's lips twisted in a smile of cool irony—"you have come as the guardians of conservatism to admonish me, the fractious child of the Dollar family. It is delightful, gentlemen, to encounter in actual life so humorous a situation." Then the mouth line grew set again and the voice hardened. "Well, I make you no pledges. I say to you, to hell with the laws you draw for your own advantage and break when it suits your profit. I acknowledge no vested right in you to assail me as a wrecker—you who have risen on wreckage. You will not obliterate me. You will not even try."
Harrison from his chair gazed thoughtfully and silently out of the window. He watched a gull dip over the East River. He shifted the cigar to the other side of his mouth and across his gray eyes flickered a ghost of amusement. After a long pause he inquired in an impassive voice:
"Because just as you at first accepted me for my usefulness, so you will again come to me when you need me, and you know you will need me. We are playing the same game and it's no child's kissing game. When you have both the wish and power to crush me, I shall expect no kindly warning at your hands. When you need me, you will let no dislike bar my door to your coming. By the way, why did you come?"
"Your ticker isn't silent out there. It's not your custom to be uninformed." It was Malone who spoke. "You know that the floor is seething—and why!"
"I know that the market opened quiet and that later Coal Tars broke and there is a flurry—a panicky feeling perhaps. It doesn't surprise me."
For an instant Malone regarded his former protege across the table. Hamilton Burton's fingers had fallen on a small bronze paper-weight. It was an eagle with spread wings, not the bird of freedom, but the eagle of the emperor's standards.
"You perplex me," admitted the elder financier shortly. "You make great pretense of open frankness; brazen defiance even, and yet you choose to cloak every attack and to move by stealth. You know that just now such a flurry may precipitate a general panic that will shake and waste the nation like a fever in its marrow. Apparently you are deliberately breaking the market, yet you speak innocently of the matter as of something with which you have no concern."
For an instant it was Burton who laughed.
"And even yet, gentlemen, you have for active business men, bent on stemming a tide of disaster, spent much time in generalities and little on any concrete suggestion."
"We acted before we began to talk," said J.J. Malone; "we have taken steps to support Coal Tars, but the times are parlous. The tidal wave of a panic mounts rapidly. If you insist on forcing us into a duel on the floor of the Stock-Exchange today, the pillars of public confidence may be seriously shaken. By two o'clock this afternoon the president's gavel will be falling to announce failures. The disaster that we have feared will come. In the end we shall beat you, but all of us will have wasted ourselves in an exhausting struggle. There will be wreckage strewn from ocean to ocean. We have come to remonstrate. We have come to urge peace among ourselves and to warn you that a war between us is hardly a thing for you to court."
"In short," Burton's words came with a snap that his eyes, too, reflected, "you charge this flurry to my authorship. You come urging peace with threats. Almost, gentlemen, you tempt me to do what you charge me with doing. Threats have never seemed to me a persuasive argument for peace." He paused and then laughed. "Go hack to your respective sanctums of righteousness and plunder and you will see that this tide will soon turn. It is not in my plans that this day shall go down in Exchange history as a bear day. When I resolve on that, your threats will hardly alter me. This is not that day. The rumor of my attack is absurd. My brokers will be found bracing the market. The next time that you feel an itch to coerce me, regard my answer as given in advance. It is that you may go to hell. Good-day."
When they had gone Burton sent for Carl Bristoll and smilingly nodded toward the outer door.
"The folks out there seemed excited," he commented drily. "Kindly suggest to them that it's unnecessary for them to advertise their lack of confidence in their chief by scurrying about during my interviews like chickens when a hawk hovers overhead." Then he recounted what had occurred—for this was one of the matters in which the secretary might be admitted to his confidence. At the end of the recital Carl shook his head. "I think you were magnanimous, sir. Though you didn't start it you might have taken toll of the downward movement and lived up to your name of the Great Bear. They were playing into your hands, I should say."
Hamilton Burton laughed.
"Carl, you are young. A man can fork Hades up from its bottom-most clinkers only once in so often. I don't butcher my swine until I have fattened them. When the day comes, be assured they won't call me off, but until I am ready I don't strike." He took a turn or two across the floor and halted at the center of the room. His eyes were burning now with an intense fire of egotism.
"Their anger—their threats: it's all incense they burn to my power, but, good God, Carl, how they hate me!"
* * * * *
As the ship which was bringing Jefferson Edwardes back to his native shores drew near enough for the Navesink light to wink its welcome, the banker found himself in a pensive mood. The last evening of the voyage was being celebrated with a dance on deck, but Edwardes, who had remained somewhat of a recluse during the passage over, was content to play the part of the onlooker.
The expectant spirit of home-coming lent a cheery animation to the rhythmic swaying of the dancing figures and brought a light to their eyes. Jefferson Edwardes realized that his own mood was difficult to analyze. His childhood had been spent in world-wandering and his youth in the exile of a battle for life in the mountains. His later young manhood had found its setting in such capitals as St. Petersburg and Berlin. It had been a life full of activity, yet strangely solitary and dominated by dreams and imagination. Now he realized that the most tangible thing to which he looked forward at home was a meeting with Mary Burton, and with the thought that tomorrow morning would bring the sky-line of Manhattan into view, a decided misgiving possessed him. He had heretofore treated the thing half-humorously—as a pleasant, but vague, dream. It could no longer remain so. He realized that it had been a definite enough dream to keep the door of his heart closed upon other women. He must see her and if, after seeing her, his dream could no longer exist he knew that it would be to him and his life a serious matter. A chance acquaintance of the voyage had known her and spoken of her. He was an Englishman of title and a thoroughly likable fellow. Somehow Edwardes fancied that this man's own heart carried a scar and that he had sought to be more than a casual friend to Mary Burton—and had failed. So the American felt a delicacy in asking those questions which might have enlightened him. Yet the talk that had passed between them had heightened his already keen impatience to see the girl with whom he had so strangely and intangibly fallen into an attitude which, in his own thoughts, was not unlike that of a lover.
For a time he would be very busy. His duties as head of the banking house which had for generations borne a high and honorable name in large affairs would occupy him with strenuous activities. The house of Edwardes and Edwardes stood as a pillar of conservatism in finance. He meant that its splendid record should under his guidance suffer no loss of prestige or confidence.
Unlike the tigerish methods of the more modern school, from which sprang such spectacular figures as Hamilton Burton, there was in the older days a different conception of business—and of that conception the firm of Edwardes and Edwardes was a worthy example.
The men who had founded it had recognized ideals and grave responsibilities beyond the importance of mere profits. A deep pride in the honor upon which they had based their upbuilding had actuated them, and in none of the line was that pride stronger than in this new head who feared nothing save dishonor and prized nothing above integrity.
Mary Burton had not long been back from Europe when sealed windows and boarded entrances began to give a sepulchral blankness to the houses of the rich. Society was leaving town, and for Mary Burton to remain when her set had gone would have been like reigning in an empty court, for already she had entered upon her dominion and her triumph was secure. New York society had at first received the over-seas report of her great charm and loveliness with such sceptical indulgence as New York accords to any excellence alien to the purlieus of her own boroughs.
Now New York had seen her, claimed her as its own—and capitulated.
Judged by every ordinary standard, Mary Burton should have been a very happy young woman, sitting crowned and in state, while before her Life passed in review. This afternoon, however, certain reflections brought the harassment of unrest to her eyes and a droop of wistfulness to the curve of her lips.
Self-analysis, that rude guest who comes sometimes, as unbidden and unwelcome as a constable, to set all one's favorite vanities out of doors and evict one's self-complacency, had intruded upon her thoughts. Though she had the amelioration of a pier glass which gave her a view of all her beauty, from the coronal of burnished hair to the satin points of small slippers, she did not seem quite happy. Mary was discovering that nature had endowed her with a brain which refused to accept longer its heretofore placid function of augmenting her physical allurements with its cleverness and its power of charm. Now it was in insurrection. Vassal no longer to the sense-thrilling appeal of eyes and lips and color and delicate curves, it was turning its batteries inward and preying upon itself.
Self-accusation had come to dispossess self-adulation.
Perhaps the silent voices of the mountains were in part responsible. Haverly Lodge lay in acres not only smooth, but elaborately beautified, yet the margins of the estate met and merged with nature's ragged fringe. Metaled roads ran out in lumber trails where the Adirondacks reared turrets of granite and primal forests. In summer, ease-loving guests took their pleasure here, but when winter held the hills, wild deer came down and gingerly picked their way close to the sundials and marble basins of the sunken gardens. Foxes, too, stole on cushioned feet across the terraces at the end of the pergola.
The master of Haverly Lodge was the great little man who chewed always at an unlighted cigar and built industries as a child rears houses of blocks. This Adirondack "camp" was one of H.A. Harrison's favorite playthings. Here alone the nervous restlessness that drove him gave place to something like peace. Among the guests now gathered there was Mary Burton. Hamilton Burton was absent, as he was always absent from the purely social side of the world into whose center he had forced his way. For such diversions he had neither time nor taste, but like a general who, under the dim light of his tent lantern, sticks pins into a war map, it pleased him to have his sister take her triumphant place among the court idlers whom he scorned.
Now she sat in her room overlooking the terraces and gardens at the side of the mansion. Just outside her window was a small gallery over whose wide coping clambered a profusion of flowering vines. Through half-drawn curtains as she lay in a long reclining chair she could see the purple veil of the young summer draped along the distance where rosy fires burned in the wake of day—or she could turn her eyes inward and have the other picture which the mirror offered. Her slender hands lay inertly quiet in her lap, holding an envelope.
Suddenly she turned her head and spoke to the only other occupant of the room—her maid.
"Julie," she said, almost sharply, "you may go. Come back in half an hour."
"But, mademoiselle," exclaimed the little French woman who had put by dreams of a small millinery shop in Paris to come with her mistress to America, "dinner is not far off, and you are not yet dressed."
Mary Burton did not answer. Her thoughts were elsewhere and after a moment's hesitation Julie went out and closed the door quietly behind her. The pearls lying near the mirror caught the light and echoed it in their soft shimmer.
"Hamilton Burton's collar," she murmured.
Then she slowly drew from the envelope in her lap a letter.
Its writer subscribed himself with many adoring superlatives, "Thy Carlos," but that was an abbreviated signature. In Andalusia, where his estates lay, his prerogative was to sign himself Juan Carlos Matisto y Carolla, Duke de Metuan.
She read the letter and let it fall from her listless fingers. Her eyes went again to the portrait in the glass. Very slowly she rose and studied herself standing. The lacy softness of her negligee fell away from her slenderly rounded throat. The creamy whiteness of arms and shoulders and bosom was touched with the rosiness of blossom petals.
"I suppose," she said with a short laugh, "I suppose—as men's ideas of women go—I'm worth possessing." Then she turned impatiently to the window and stood with one arm high above her head, resting on the white woodwork of its frame. While her eyes went off to the sunset, they became hungry for something she did not have, she who had so much.
In a few days, unless she forbade it, the duke would arrive, this note from his New York hotel announced. There had been also a brief communication from Hamilton, which she had angrily torn into small bits. The duke had called on him, said her brother, and craved permission to pay his addresses to Mary. Hamilton Burton had granted the boon with the manner of a king contemplating a noble alliance in his family. Mary Burton did not care for the manner.
It complicated matters, she admitted, that she herself had not precisely discouraged the duke over there in Cairo and in Nice. He had fitted rather comfortably into the artificial life she had been living, which she had not then begun to question with analysis. As she looked back she could not recall that she had definitely discouraged any of those titled suitors. Now that her brain had turned on her, forcing her to take stock of her life, many shapes and colors changed, as the light of day alters the aspect of gas and bares its deceit. The idea of meeting Carlos de Metuan brought a shiver of personal distaste.
"I never knew but one real man," she told herself bitterly. "I don't even know that he was a real man. I wonder if he is still alive." Once more she was in fancy a little girl, shyly twisting the toe of a rough shoe in the dust of the mountain roadside. Once more she saw a pair of eyes that won the heart with their honesty and seemed willing to have other eyes look through them into a soul concealing nothing. Though Jefferson Edwardes had been her first flatterer, he had flattered without ulterior motive. She was a ragged child and he a rich young man who might have to die. Suddenly she felt that the little girl who was once herself had been more admirable in every way than this polished woman who had succeeded her: the woman who was everything that little girl had yearned to be and who stood self-revealed as brilliant and hard as one of her own purely decorative diamonds.
A small clock chimed, and, with a somewhat weary step, Mary Burton crossed the room and rang for her maid.
At dinner and later when the moon had risen and the guests danced on the smooth mosaic floor of an outdoor pavilion cunningly fashioned in the semblance of a Greek theater, her eyes were pools of laughter and her repartee was like wine sparkle—for at least she had learned to act with the empty bravery of her world.
In the constant attendance of men who chattered compliments she felt a haunting sense of pursuit and a secret impulse for flight, so that at the first opportunity she slipped away for the relief of solitude.
There were many vine-embowered retreats about the place where those who did not wish to dance might talk softly in the blue shadows of Grecian urns with star-shine and moon-mist for their tete-a-tetes. In such a place sat Mary Burton, alone—looking about her for a means of more secure escape. Her imagination kept disturbing her with the figure of a small girl whose home was a soon-to-be-abandoned farm. A yearning possessed her for the one thing which she could not command, the sort of romance that sweeps one away like a torrent. That little girl had yearned for the gifts of the world, for experience, wealth and adulation, because she fancied that out of these things came romance and its prize of happiness. The woman had them all—except the end of them all for which she had wanted them. They were dulled and tarnished by satiety and she still craved the coming of a lover whose forceful wooing should frighten and dominate her. Never in her life had she known any man upon whom she could not, with her trained self-reliance, set her own metes and bounds. Surely somewhere in the world there must be the sort of love-making that wrenches a woman out of her perfect self-composure and bears her away on its flood tide of power and passion. Perhaps she had been schooled and "finished" until humanity and its wonderful reality had, for her, ceased to exist. Suddenly she felt an upflaming of resentment against the generosity of her Napoleonic brother. In exchange for life's golden chance of romance she had been given a wonderful veneer of hard brilliancy—and she hated it! After a few moments of rebellious introspection she shook her head and rose from her seat, slipping behind the tall marble urn that rose from the end of the bench into the enveloping shadows. She was seeking a refuge where she might hide and hear the music softened by the distance and she kept walking, lured on by the wildness of the surrounding hills which just now better suited her mood than the clipped hedges.
She found a place at last from which, as one apart, she could look up at the stars and down at the dancers.
There was a larger crowd dancing now than there had been. Evidently new guests had arrived since dinner. She was beginning to feel the solace of her escape from other human beings when she became conscious of a white-clad figure approaching her, and gave a low exclamation of annoyance. Yet something in the manner of the man's movement indicated that he was, like herself, finding greater pleasure in solitude than in the dance. It was only when he was almost upon her that she stood out visible in the depth of the shadow. He halted then and bowed his apology.
"I beg your pardon," said a voice which struck a vaguely familiar chord of memory. "I didn't mean to intrude. I was just hunting for a spot where I could watch things without having to talk to anyone."
Mary Burton laughed.
"You don't have to talk to me," she assured him, "because, as it happens, that's why I'm here myself."
It was too dark for recognition of features, but there was a silvery quality in the girl's voice which piqued the interest of the newcomer and caused him to deviate from his avowed purpose of self-withdrawal. It seemed to him that music sounded across a space of years—music remembered and longed for.
"The dismissal is unmistakable in its terms," he answered. "Yet, since I have come a long way, may I not sit here for a moment of rest—provided I am very silent?"
Mary smiled and then quite unpremeditatedly she found herself inquiring, "A long way? Where do you come from then?"
"From St. Petersburg," he enlightened in a casual fashion, and after a moment he added, "to see you!"
"You just said you were seeking a place to be alone and why should you look for me whom you never saw before and whom you can't see now, for the dark? You don't even know what I'm like."
"I beg your pardon, Miss Burton.—There, you see I know your name."
The tantalizingly familiar note in his voice puzzled and interested her with a cumulative force. "I have a very definite idea what you are like. Not being a poet, I'm afraid I can't put it into words."
"But you haven't seen me!" Her speech became for an instant mischievously whimsical. "Of course, if you have a burglar's lantern about you—or a match I suppose you might."
The man drew a small case from his pocket and struck a wax match, holding it close.
She met his gaze, and he stood motionless until the tiny blaze traveled down the length of the shaft and burned his fingers. His eyes never left her face. In those eyes she felt a strange power of magnetism, for they did not burn as other eyes had burned. They did not shift or waver. When the match fell he spoke quietly. "You are as beautiful as starlight on water and I am a true prophet."
In the brief and limited illumination she had recognized him, too, and she bent impulsively toward him. In his coming just now as though in answer to her thoughts there seemed something almost occult.
"Then you didn't die? You won your fight with your even chance? Oh, I am so glad!"
"Thank you," answered Jefferson Edwardes gravely. "That's worth refusing to die for."
"It's strange, Mr. Edwardes," she spoke almost dreamily. "Perhaps it's because I've been listening to the voice of the hills, but I have been sitting here alone—hiding—and while I've been here I've been thinking of you—wondering where you were."
"For that, too, I thank 'whatever gods there be,'" he assured her. "It has been a long time since we met and I was afraid you had forgotten. Of course, I've read of you and I knew that my prophecy was being fulfilled. Twice I planned to leave St. Petersburg and pursue you to London or Paris, but each time business matters intervened with their relentless demands."
"What made you think of me?" An eager sincerity sounded through the question. She was weary of compliments, but Jefferson Edwardes had a manner of simple speech which gave worth to his utterances.
"Once upon a time," he began with a low laugh, "there lived a singularly sickening little prig of a kid, pampered and spoiled to his selfish marrow. Though I hate to roast a small boy, I am bound to say that this one was pretty nearly a total loss—and he was I. He threatened to grow into a more odious man, but Providence intervened in his behalf—with disguised kindness. Providence threw him out by the scruff of his arrogant neck to fight for his life or to die—which was what he needed. He went to your mountains to scrap with microbes—and he had leisure to discover what a microbe he was himself."
The girl's laugh was a peal of silvery music in the dark. "Were you a microbe?" she demanded. "All these years I've thought you a fairy prince." With a sudden gravity she added, "To one small girl, you opened a gate of dreams, and brought her contentment—" she broke off and the final words were almost whispered—"so long as they remained dreams."
"And now—" he took her up with grave and earnest interest—"now that they have become realities, what of them?"
"That comes later," she reminded him. "We aren't through yet with the little boy who won out with his fighting chance."
"When you knew him your hills had done something for him. They had humanized him. He went as one goes to exile, full of bitterness. Your hills were a miracle of wholesomeness. They cleansed and restored him with the song of their high-riding winds and the whispers of their pines. They confided to him those things that God only says to man in His own out-of-doors. Your mountains were good to me. I became something of a dreamer there, and in those dreams you have always stood as the personal incarnation of those hills. That is why I have thought of you unendingly ever since."
Mary Burton's answer was to shake her head and declare wistfully:
"I almost wish you hadn't seen me again. It would have been better if the illusion could have lasted."
"Since then," he went on, "the little girl has grown up and been crowned, but I shall prefer to think of her as she was before she knew she was to wear Cinderella's slipper."
"I wonder," she murmured, "if you can."
For a time they were silent while the dance music reached them softened by the distance, and then he inquired in a low voice:
"Do you by any miracle of chance remember an injunction I laid upon you one afternoon by the roadside?"
Mary Burton looked up and answered with a nod of her head. "Does any woman ever forget her first compliment?"
"What was it?"
"'Wield leniently the dangerous gift of your witchcraft—the—'" She abruptly broke off in the quotation and found herself coloring like a schoolgirl, so Jefferson Edwardes took up the injunction where she had left it incomplete. "The freakish beauty of your perfect, unmatched eyes," he prompted.
The girl felt a strange flutter in her breast. Just now she had blushed. What had happened to the poise of her usual self-command? Some influence was abroad tonight or some hypnotism in those steady eyes that gave her a sense of vague apprehension. It was an apprehension though that thrilled her strangely with a welcome fear—and a promise. Tides were stirring that were all new tides. It was as though marvels were possible. She heard him saying again as he had said once before, "You are as beautiful as starlight on water."
"So was Cleopatra, my friend. So was Helen of Troy. So were ... Circe and Faustina."
"But they," he laughed, "did not wield kindly the power of their eyes."
Mary Burton winced, then she turned and faced him. Her voice trembled.
"Why did I have to meet you tonight? It isn't fair! They have schooled my brain into every useless vanity. They have fed my selfishness until it has strangled my heart. Never until today did I face the truth. All afternoon I've been sitting alone—hating myself. I am nothing but an artificial little flirt, and I have not obeyed your injunction." She paused, then hurried on with the forced manner of one resolved upon full confession! "Perhaps so far I've hurt only myself—but I've done that—mortally. Then you come and I learn that you've woven an illusion about me—and I destroy it."
Jefferson Edwardes smiled in the dark, but spoke gravely.
"You call yourself an artificial little flirt. You haven't flirted with me. Why?"
"With you I have talked ten minutes." She laughed suddenly as though at some absurd thought. "Besides, did any woman ever flirt with you? Can one lie to eyes that see through one?"
"My eyes do see something," he said. "They see that you have never had a chance to be your real self. You have been surrounded by flatterers and sycophants, when you needed sincere and truthful friends."
"Truthful friends!" She repeated the words after him incredulously. "I wonder if such things exist."
"I am one," he announced bluntly. "I am going to give back to you the message your hills gave me—without flattery and without adjectives."
He came a step nearer and an unaccountable wave of attraction and fear thrilled her—flooded her heart until her temples burned. She had been wishing for the coming of a man who would not be clay in her hands. To Circe all men must have been swine, from the start, save the man who could pass by. Now, of a sudden, every wile of coquetry became a lost art to Mary Burton. She felt like an accomplished and intriguing diplomat, facing an adversary who has no secrets to conceal and no interest in the evasions of others. He roused a new eagerness because she knew intuitively that to mere fascination he would surrender no principle. With the realization came a sense of surprise and exaltation and timidity, and she spoke slowly with an interval between her words.
"Why—will—you—assume this role?"
"Because—" his voice was confident and inspired a responsive confidence—"there is such a thing as a chemistry of souls. Life is a laboratory where Destiny experiments with test-tubes and reagents. Powerful ingredients may be mixed without result because they hold in common no element of reaction. Other ingredients at the instant of mingling turn violet or crimson or explode or burst into flame—because they were meant to mingle to that end. Nature says so. Does the reason matter?"
She asked another question, rather faintly, because she felt herself startlingly lifted on a tide against which it was a useless thing to struggle. Something in her wanted to sing, and something else wanted to cry.
"I'm afraid chemistry is one of the things they didn't teach me much about. Probably because it was useful. Can you put it in words of one syllable?"
"Yes." He was standing close, but he bent nearer and his voice filled and amplified the brevity of his monosyllables. "In three. I love you."
Mary Burton started back, and a low exclamation broke incoherently from her lips.
The man caught both her hands and spoke with tense eagerness.
"You say I have met you in the dark for a few minutes. True. I have looked on your face while one match burned out ... but I have dreamed of you ever since I shrined you in my heart—back there—long ago by the roadside. If you are not the woman of my visions, you can be, and I mean that you shall be. You are a woman trained in the ways of your world. If you could help it, you would not let a man take your hands in his, like this, at a first meeting—would you?"
She shook her head, but her hands lay as motionless as though their nerves were dead. She could feel the throbbing pulses of his fingers and suddenly he bent forward and pressed his lips to hers, while she stood amazed and unresisting. "Or kiss your lips—like this—would you? With women I am timid, because I have never before been a lover. I could not do what I am doing unless something stronger than myself were acting through me. It is the chemistry of souls. It is written." He let his arms fall at his sides.
Mary Burton pressed her temples with her fingers. Her knees felt weak and she stood unsteadily on her feet. The man passed a supporting arm about her waist. Finally, she drew herself up and laughed with a nervousness that bordered on the hysterical.
"I wonder," she said brokenly; and paused only to repeat again: "I wonder whether it's the great adventure I've dreamed of—or just moon-madness? Ought I to be very angry?"
"You will have time to decide," he told her. "What I have said and done I shall say and do again—often."
"It's strange," she murmured as though talking to herself. "I thought I understood men. I'm not a schoolgirl any more. Yet I'm as bewildered as though you were the first man who ever said, 'I love you.'"
"Thank God for that."
She turned and laid a hand on his arm. Her voice came with a musical vehemence.
"If I do come to love you, I think it will be heaven or hell to me. I'm not going to be angry until I've thought about it—and thought hard, and I'm not going to love you unless you make me. Come, let's go back."
As they turned into the path toward the house, she broke irrelevantly into laughter.
"When you lighted your match—and burned your fingers—what did you think of my pearls?"
"I didn't see them," he promptly replied. "Were you wearing pearls?"
Confused by the sudden and marvelous consciousness of all life being changed at a stroke, of doors that had swung wide between all the old and all the new, Mary Burton walked as in a daze, her fingers toying with the gems about her neck. But before she had taken many steps the man laid a hand on her arm and halted her. When she turned he caught her by her shoulders and his words came tumultuously and with an impassioned earnestness.
"You must not deny me the chance to say something more," he declared. "What I have said is either too much or too little. You ask me whether I saw your pearls. When I first spoke to you—a child with all autumn's glory blazing at your back, did I have eyes for trees and skies and landscapes; though they were splendid and profligate in their beauty? No. I saw you—only you! If you had stood against a drab curtain it would have been the same. You were a child, too young to stir an adult heart to love or passion.... What was it then that fixed you from that moment in my heart?"
She looked back at him and asked faintly, "What was it?"
"That same chemistry of souls," he declared. "That same writing of our futures in one horoscope; a voice that decreed: 'You shall wait for her,' though I did not understand its message—until now. And now that I have seen you, how can I think of pearls?"
To hear words of love spoken in a wild onrush of feeling was no new experience to Mary Burton, yet it was as though she had never heard them before. In the past her ears had heard, but now her heart was listening, and her heart pounded in her breast as it drank in what the man said. He talked fast, with his eyes on her eyes, and his hands grasping her white shoulders. His heart, too, rather than his tongue, was speaking.
"You will read in every book," he declared, "that such things as this are impossible. Give our lives the chance to write their own pages and you will know that they are true and inevitable. To me you have been a dream—I have told myself over and over again that it was only a dream, the whimsical imagination of a man who has lived too much to himself—who was abnormal. Now I have seen you. Had I seen you every day since that first day it could mean no more to me. At the first syllable of your voice—I knew. I need no further test."
"But I—?" she faltered.
"You shall take all the time you need. I told you that you had stood in my mind as the spirit of the hills that gave me back my life. I told you what I have been telling myself. Now I know better. From that first instant my life has been molded—for this. Though I did not then know it, I lived because I had to live. I had to live because it was written that my life should complete itself by loving you. It was not your hills that gave me health again—it was yourself. You do not personify the hills, but the hills personify you. My dream is no longer a dream, it is a reality. I love you."
"But I have told you," she persisted, "that I am not what you think."
"You are what I know. I love you."
She stood tremblingly before him, and her words came with a whispered wonderment.
"Things like this don't happen," she said. Then she added, "All the things you tell me are such things as life laughs at, and yet there is another side—my side. I have yearned to feel something that had the power to lift me out of myself and make me gloriously helpless, something big enough to set my heart beating beyond control—and I never have felt it—till now. I—I am not the same girl. I don't know myself.... You have come and I am suddenly different."
"Love's chemistry," he assured her. "The Mary Burton of this moment is to be the Mary Burton of always, until she becomes Mary Edwardes."
"At all events, I must be alone—to think," she told him. "You can go and dance, if you like. I've been here two days and I know all the secret passages. I'm going to slip into my room by a back stairway and think hard about how angry I am to be with you tomorrow."
"And I," he answered, "shall not dance. I am going to sequester myself in the woods and pray the gods of fair auspices that you won't be too angry."
Mary Burton made her way between tall hedgerows of box where an alley of shade ran to a side terrace, and when she had gained her own room her eyes were aglow with a new and rather radiant sort of smile, that also crept to the corners of her lips and hovered happily. It was a vague smile, but if the man who had enticed it there had seen it, he would have felt reassured. The threat of tomorrow's wrath would not have troubled him.
When Mary Burton, changed into bedroom attire, had dismissed her maid for the night, she still moved about with a restlessness which did not at once yield to the composure needed for the rigid self-analysis upon which she was resolved. She stood before the mirror and looked gravely into the glass.
With the lustrous masses of hair falling braided over her shoulders and the new glow of discovery in her eyes she might have been a girl just budding into womanhood. She seemed in the last hour to have slipped back into the blossom time of her beauty—and though it was a beauty which she had always realized she now felt a new happiness in its possession. Heretofore her pride had been such as one feels for a means of conquest.
Now it was different. Her breast rose suddenly and fell to the excitement of a subtly powerful emotion. This beauty had a new value. It might be a prize worth surrendering proudly and as a gift to a man of her choosing. If this rainbow of promised love proved real she would wish herself even lovelier—for his pleasure. It was of course too soon to feel sure—and at that thought a sudden gasp of fear rose in her throat. At all events it was not too early to hope that the night had brought her the thing for which she had yearned—brought the commencement. She gave to the face in the mirror a friendly smile. "This afternoon I rather hated you," she announced gravely. "I gazed at you and a soulless little pig stared back ... but who knows? Maybe down under your vanity and selfishness you have after all the cobwebbed little germ of a soul. If so we must dig it out and brush it off and put it to work."
Then she turned out the lights and sank down dreamily in the broad window seat. The moon rode high and bathed the hills in its limpid yet elusive wash of silver and blue and dove grays. Far off like a brush-stroke from a dream palette ran the horizon's margin of hills and nearer at hand tapering poplars stood up like dark sentinels. The lights and music told of the dance still in progress and strolling figures occasionally crossed the silver patches between the shadows.
In her own mind she was reviewing all the men who with her had sought to throw off the mantle of the Platonic and invest themselves in the more romantic habiliments of courtship. One lesson had been taught her from the first, and she had learned it thoroughly—too thoroughly! She was no ordinary girl to give way to unwise throbbing of the pulses. Her future must run side by side with brilliant things and brilliant men.
It takes experience to teach distrust to those frolicsome playmates, Youth and Buoyancy. She had met with that experience and had learned that fortune-hunters are by no means mythical or extinct. When to the honey-pot of wealth is added the lure of beauty, how can one be sure that any proffered love is free from the taint of greed? Her brother was one of America's most brilliant money-getters. He gathered in and disbursed with a lavish magnificence. She had been called the most beautiful woman in Europe and her gem-like brilliancy had been set in Life's gold and platinum of environment. When Cupid came to her what bill of health could he produce to prove that he was not a sneak-thief in disguise? She had accepted the cynical conclusion that she might never be sure of any man's love and the tenderer little heart-nerves which govern impulse were growing numb. Under a naive freshness and girlish fragrance of personality, lay masked batteries of distrust and hardness. The Duke de Metuan fancied himself genuinely in love with her. Of that she was sure, but should the Duke de Metuan learn tomorrow morning that she had overnight become penniless—she broke off and laughed.
And tonight had come the unwarned tumult of feeling against which she possessed no argument. Jefferson Edwardes had looked at her and his eyes were a guarantee of honesty beyond question. She did not even ask to see the Love God's passport. This man was a member of a great family of bankers; a family that had stood for generations among the richest in the country. Ham's magic control of the money tides could not even subconsciously influence his decisions.
It was wonderful to sit there in the window, adrift on a tide of elation, and to know that the numbness of her heart was not a permanent paralysis—that she had a soul. It was absurdedly delightful, too, to reflect upon the illogical swiftness with which it had all happened.
"Tomorrow," she announced to herself, nodding her head very decisively, "I shall be furious with him. I shall refuse to speak to him. I shall let him realize that such lordly assumption brings swift retribution." Then, low and gaily, she laughed. "After I've punished him I'll be very nice to him, unless—" her lips tightened as she added—"unless he says he's sorry he did it and apologizes. If he does that I'll never speak to him again."
* * * * *
While Mary was spending so comfortable and pleasing an hour with her reflections and while Jefferson Edwardes was tramping the hills several miles away, a small number of unattached men lingered near the punch-bowl and cigars in the huge living-room of the lodge.
One of these refugees from the zone of dancing activities was of more than ordinarily striking appearance. When he stood he towered and even when he sat, as now, morosely lounging and taciturn, he bulked large and wore a countenance of such strength and determination as suited his giant body. In spite of his great physique he carried no superfluous flesh, but tapered to the waist and, notwithstanding his present detachment and a seriousness that verged on sullenness, the face seemed more patterned by nature for the broad grin of good fellowship and clean mirthfulness.
Quite obviously Len Haswell, whose laugh ordinarily rang like a fog-horn over the chorus of conversation, would just now have preferred being elsewhere. When their customary joviality left those gray eyes, the man's immensity took on something of an ogre's power. He tinkled the ice in his high-ball glass—a process to which he had devoted himself with unaccustomed repetition this evening and, instead of mellowing into conviviality under his libations, his eyes narrowed a little and the small frowning line between his brows deepened.
"The Big Fellow's having a grouch, eh, what? He's getting a bit squiffy, if you ask me," suggested Norvil Thayre to the group centered where the punch-bowl was being administered. Norvil Thayre was not having a grouch. If he had ever had a grouch he had kept his secret well. An American by adoption, he was still aggressively British in speech, dress and eccentricity.
Norvil Thayre's chest was always thrust out as cheerily and confidently as a cock-robin's, and his step was as elastic as though he had just come, freshly galvanized, from some electric source of exuberant energy. His clothing escaped the extremes of fashion by the narrowest margin of good taste, and his mustache ends bristled up toward the laughing wrinkles about his wide-awake eyes like exclamation points of alertness.
"And," went on Mr. Thayre amiably, "if he hungers for solitude I'm the last chap in the world to intrude on his meditations. I jolly well know myself what it means to hang precariously on the fringe of plutocracy with only a beastly whisper of an income—and by the Lord Harry I'm a bachelor." Several auditors nodded their sympathetic understanding, but a tall youth with viking blond hair and vacant eyes which seemed to proclaim, "I am looking, but I see not," was less judicious. He lounged over and dropped into a chair at Haswell's side.
"That singularly frightful little ass, Larry Kirk, is going to cheer him up now," smiled Thayre. "Trust him to make himself a nuisance."
"Not dancing much this evening, Len?" suggested Kirk by way of opening the conversation with the silent one.
"No." The reply was curt.
"I've been wanting to dance with your wife," persisted the other, "but she's as illusive as a wraith."
This time Haswell did not vouchsafe even a monosyllable in reply, and the tactless Kirk assumed the double burden of the conversation.
"I call it rough treatment when the two truly beautiful women in society come to a dance and proceed, to all intents and purposes, to evaporate. Miss Burton, too, seems to have been converted into thin air. What's the use of struggling to keep up with new steps?"
Len Haswell rose stiffly from his chair, and, tossing his cigar through the open window, stalked silently from the room.
The blond young man glanced uncomprehendingly after him, and Thayre's laugh broke in a booming peal.
"Rather gratuitous, son, wasn't it?" he suggested.
"What do you mean?" Larry Kirk put his question blankly.
"Nothing, except that you know Len or ought to. He's the present-day Othello, sulking because he can't get a dance with his wife. It's barely conceivable that he's not aching to have it rubbed in."
"Can't get a dance?" repeated the empty-eyed youth perplexedly. "Why?"
Thayre snorted. "What chance has he—or any one else when Ham Burton's gifted pomeranian sequesters her in some shaded nook and whispers musical nonsense into her coral ear?"
"You mean Paul Burton? Gifted pomeranian fits him nicely ... but why should any man be jealous of—him?"
"A man may be jealous of any creature that all women pet. Paul Burton can play to them until their golden souls come soaring out to be playmates with his golden soul. You and I, having no wives, may be able to laugh at such things—but Len Haswell has a devilish pretty one—and a devilish foolish one."
To young Mr. Kirk the situation seemed simple.
"Why doesn't Len just take this pleasing minstrel by the scruff of his neck and say to him, 'Nice little doggy, run away'?"
"For two reasons. First, behind the pleasing minstrel stands the Emperor—damn his magnificently audacious soul! Secondly, when you chase a man who has access to the treasure of the Incas ... you take a fairish chance of chasing the lady along with him."
"I'm sorry I made Len sore." The blond man spoke contritely. Then his voice snapped into animosity. "He's worth a dozen Paul Burtons, the vapid little piano-player."
"Right-o!" Thayre stood with his feet well apart and his baldish head thrown back. "Even that profound gift for reading human nature, which it pleased a Divine Providence to bestow upon me, could hardly have hit more jolly well on the peg." He paused, then added, "But be that as it may—in the habit which has become so prevalent among us money-changers in the temple, of damning the soul of Hamilton Burton—when he is absent—I think we overlook a few patent truths. We hate the man and all his breed simply because he outclasses us at our own game."
"You mean he outplunders us," contradicted Kirk.
"It comes to much the same thing, young son, though High Finance is a prettier name for the pastime. He gathers in millions to our thousands not only because he is a naughty, wicked man, but because of his greater caliber and range. Brother Paul shines by some of this reflected glory—so it has become the fashion to damn Brother Paul, too."
It began to dawn on the fair-haired young man that he was being chaffed. His reply came sulkily.
"To my mind Paul Burton is nothing but a hanger-on."
"Quite true. So am I. So are you. So are all of us who produce nothing tangible. Paul is a hanger-on by better right than many others who depend directly or indirectly on the energies of this great producing pirate."
Kirk had exhausted his line of argument and fell silent, but Jack Staples stepped into the breach. Staples himself was no mean type of financier, holding as he did a commission as one of Malone's chief lieutenants. He was a striking man with a lower jaw which thrust itself aggressively forward and a single white lock over his forehead, though except for that the blackness of his hair bore no touch of gray even at the temples.
"I hate the lot of them!" he announced vehemently. "I hate this upstart Cyclops and his conscienceless power. I hate the pampered brother—but Thayre is right. Great God in heaven, gentlemen, it is a family of geniuses. Stop and reflect. Fifteen years ago they were bare-footed—ragged—half-starved, the whole brood. Now consider them. Hamilton is magnificent, ruthless, but almost omnipotent. He is one of the world's few blazing and dazzling figures. As for Paul, in spite of his weakness, he's inspirational. His genius is no less intrinsic. I'm not emotional, but I've heard them all play and that boy can carry me out of myself as can no other artist, professional or amateur, to whom I've ever listened. He is a gifted troubadour. His fingers control the magic of harmony as his brother's control the magic of money. For my part I'd rather be Paul than Hamilton. Hamilton will be hated to death—by men, but Paul will be loved to death—by women."
"Well," suggested another member of the group drily, "when one New York family can move as stolid an old cynic as Staples to eulogy, it must be some family."
"I tell you," protested Staples hotly, "I hate them, but we gain nothing by belittling our enemies. It sets a man's imagination afire to see a strain of remarkable blood proclaiming itself in so diverse a fashion through members of one household; a household that has come from the pinch of want. Take the girl. Leave her beauty out of the question, because beauty is not genius. But her mind is as trenchant as her brother's. She could reign on any throne in Europe and stand out as conspicuous in brilliant contrast to that colorless royalty as a torch flaming among candles. I'll wager that her courage is as unflinching as his and her gifts as varied and remarkable. Why, even old Tom, the father, is, for all his seeming of pompous emptiness, the craftiest and cagiest old chap in the National Union Club. He plays rotten bridge, but he still has a brain in his old head."
"I suppose as far as that goes," commented Mr. Kirk, fortified by the entry of a new disputant into the argument, "that even Nero had his attractive angles of personality."
Thayre laughed and lighted a cigarette. Then as he inhaled deeply he nodded and replied.
"I hold no brief for Nero, but I dare say he was a bit misunderstood."
"Since you've undertaken the modern Nero's defense, suppose you catalogue his good points—aside from a conceded brilliancy in finance," suggested another member of the group.
The Englishman nodded, and began his summary.
"An unswerving loyalty to his friends—until they are guilty of lese majeste; a personal integrity which no man questions; a wit that makes him in his lighter moments a rare companion; a generosity as broad as his fighting ruthlessness is deep; and, finally, a lion-like courage. To me, my lads, those assets seem worth a moment's consideration."
* * * * *
The gardens and grounds of Haverly Lodge were that night such a terrain as best suits the ambuscading warfare of the small god with the bow and darts.
Loraine Haswell was thinking something of the sort as she strolled with Paul Burton away from the dancers, leaving their destination to chance. Kirk had hardly exaggerated when he bracketed the name of this slender and graceful wife of the gigantic broker with that of Mary Burton as the two most beautiful women in society.
They were opposite types, for while Mary was a glowing incarnation of color, rich as a golden morning in blossom-time, Loraine, with heavy masses of softly spun jet coiled above her brow, looking out from eyes that were pools of liquid darkness, might have been the queen of night. But her mouth was a carmine blossom. This evening she wore a gown almost barbaric in its richness of color and pattern, and when she walked ahead of Paul Burton where the path narrowed, it seemed to him that some slim and lithe Cleopatra was preceding him. The waltz music came across the short distance, and Loraine Haswell went with a step that captured the rhythm of the measure. When they had come to a corner of the garden where a fountain tinkled in shadow and only a lacey strand or two of moonlight fell on the grass, she halted with her outstretched arms resting lightly on the tall basin, and let her fingers dip into the clear water while she turned to smile on him.
"Do you know, Mrs. Haswell," Paul spoke low and with a musical thrill in his voice, "you are the loveliest creature in captivity tonight? Your loveliness is to a man's imagination what Wilde said white hyacinths are to the soul—worth going without bread for."
She laughed, but into her mirth there crept, or was injected as the case may be, a note of wistfulness.
"In captivity," she repeated, slowly. "I am always in captivity."
With most men Paul was diffident and prone to silence, but something in his effete nature gave him confidence with women. He had been flattered into a sort of assurance that they found him irresistible. They thought him clairvoyantly sympathetic—and he was by the very over-refinement of his music and dream-fed temperament.
"The other evening when I left you, I went home and closed my eyes and sat alone—thinking of you," he told her. "To me all that is fine beyond words I try to translate into music. Where words—even poetry—fail, notes begin. So at the piano I tried to express something like a portrayal of you—to myself."
She seated herself on a stone bench while he stood looking down at her. Her head was for a moment bent and something in the droop of her shoulders intimated unhappiness.
"Does my improvising music about you offend?" He put the question very gently. "You know that I go to the piano as another man might go to his prayers."
She looked up and shook her head. Then she said softly. "Offend me? No, it makes me very proud.... I was just thinking of something else—that troubled me."
"Of what?" Into the two short words Paul Burton put such a sympathy as only voices of women and partly feminine men can express.
"Of the word you used just now ... captivity."
He seated himself at her side and his hand fell to the edge of the stone bench—where her own fingers lightly rested. The cool satiny touch of the hand his own encountered, which she made no effort to withdraw, affected him as though a clear and silvery note had sounded near him.
Paul was one whose senses were exquisitely attuned.
"Mrs. Haswell—Loraine," he said, and his voice was seductively tender, "you are unhappy."
Slowly she nodded her dark head and her voice was a whisper. "Yes.... Paul, I'm afraid I am just that."
It was the first time they had called each other by their first names. It was the first time that the gradually ripening intimacy between them had had a more propitious setting than a table at Sherry's. Paul Burton had awaited this moment patiently, knowing that it must sometime come. Now he bent toward her until her hair brushed his face.
"It is your right to find life a thing of joy," he whispered. "Your soul is a flower. It should have the fulness and radiance of sunshine."
"Our rights," she said slowly, "are not always the things we get."
"But just why are you unhappy?" he insisted.
"I guess you summed it up in that one word, Paul ... captivity."
Paul Burton, the easily swayed, the facilely led, rose and paced up and down, and after a few moments he halted before her.
"Doesn't he—your jailer—appreciate you, Loraine?"
She shrugged her lovely shoulders and looked up at him, smiling through lashes that glistened a little.
"As much, I suppose, as a man can appreciate a woman whom he fails to understand. It's not his fault."
"Of course he—cares for you?"
Loraine Haswell shot him a quick inquiring glance. "Yes," she smiled, "he cares enough to persecute me with little jealousies. He cares enough to want me to make love to him when—" she halted and put both hands over her face; through her slight figure ran a faint shudder—"when I can't."
The man pressed his tapering fingers to his temples. He must seem agitated and his emotions lay so ready to call that seeming so was almost being so. Yet in the back of his mind was the thought: "She will be in my arms in five minutes."
Suddenly she rose from her seat. "I oughtn't to say such things to you," she declared in a voice freighted with self-accusation. "Please forget it, Paul. But it's a thing you can understand. You know the emptiness of a life that deals only with material things."
He leaned forward with one knee on the bench and one hand on the fountain basin. She was beautiful and his heart responded to her beauty's challenge.
"To me you can say anything. In me you will always find one who has no interest above your interests." He stopped and took her hands, but she shook her head in gentle negation, and, as he obeyed the unuttered mandate and let his own arms fall at his sides, she rewarded him with a smile that thrilled him like an embrace.
"Len is fine and big and everybody likes him," went on the wife as though bent on being fair at all costs. "Sometimes I think that's the trouble. It's like being married to a standing army. In times of peace one doesn't need a standing army and in times of war it's me that he makes war on."
Loraine rose and started toward the house. Paul followed, her, appraising her beauty with eyes into which a new interest had come. In a moment she turned and halted so suddenly that the man found her face close to his as she spoke. "I don't know what's the matter with me tonight. I feel faint and giddy—and full of undefined longings. I sha'n't sleep—unless—" she looked questioningly up at him—"unless you will play for me, Paul. Will you?"
Then she put out both hands and swayed unsteadily. Paul caught her in his arms and pressed her to him. The fragrance of her breath and the velvet coolness of the cheek he found himself kissing were details that brought an exquisite responsiveness to his senses. He did not know whether she had fainted or was still conscious, for she rested there in his embrace limp and unresisting and wordless.
"What is the matter, dearest?" he whispered, when the first flush of exultation had passed. "What is the matter?"
Slowly the dark fringe of lashes flickered up and the jet eyes gazed languorously into his own. The blossom lips parted over the flashing whiteness of a smile. Still she did not move except to close both her hands tightly on the arms that circled her.
"Paul," she told him, "I ought to be unconscious or—or break away, but I'm just—just forgetting my captivity." Her eyes held his, drawing them hypnotically nearer and he lowered his face till his lips met hers and received from them the answer to his kiss.
Then Loraine Haswell drew away and straightened up. She was a very lovely picture of contrite confusion as she put up both gleaming arms and rearranged the dark hair he had rumpled. All the way to the house she was silent.
An hour later Mrs. Haswell sat before the cheval glass of her dressing-table. Her dark hair, loosened now from its coils, cascaded abundantly over her white shoulders. She was thinking, and the charmingly chiseled lips and brow here in the privacy of her own room wore a rather calculating and somewhat satisfied smile. No note of contrition or self-accusation marred their serenity. A knock on the door interrupted her reverie and with a smothered exclamation of annoyance she glanced at the clock and rose.
"May I come in a moment?" Her husband's voice was a shade thicker than usual and his face still wore the somber expression which seemed so out of place there.
"It's almost two o'clock, Len." There was an uninviting coolness in the quality of Loraine's tone—almost a protest. "Won't tomorrow do?" She stood still, holding the door only a few inches ajar.
"I won't keep you up long," he assured her.
"I'm very tired."
Len Haswell laid his hand on the knob and opened the door in spite of her unwelcome. "If you please," he said quietly. He came in and lighted a cigarette, then he inquired with an unaccustomed irony: "What tired you, Loraine? You didn't seem to be dancing much."
His wife shrugged her shoulders. Beyond that she failed to reply.
The big man came over and took both her hands in his own with a half-savage affection. "Loraine," he said pleadingly, "I wanted to dance with you tonight. I searched high and low, but I couldn't find you. For my part I have spent a very dreary evening."
"You know, Len," she casually reminded him, "you and I can't dance together. I'm a fair dancer and you are a very good one, but together we can't manage it. There were plenty of other girls, weren't there?"
The man's face for an instant worked spasmodically and in pain, then it grew dark. "For me, Loraine, there is never any other girl. You know that. Why do you avoid me as if I were a pestilence? Why can't you sometimes be the girl you used to be? Presumably you married me because you wanted to. You had better offers, richer lovers. Have I changed so much in five years—and if not, what in God's name has changed you?"
She withdrew her hands from his and sat again in the chair before the mirror. "Len," she said with a touch of petulance in her voice, "you get into grouches and spur your imagination to all sorts of absurdities. I'm very sleepy. Why can't you reserve your fault-finding until tomorrow?"
Len Haswell answered quietly, but obdurately. "For two reasons. In the first place I sha'n't be able to sleep unless you answer me. In the second place I shall probably see as much of you tomorrow as I have today—which is nothing." His tone hardened. "You are too tired to give me a few minutes, but you found it both possible and agreeable to give Paul Burton the entire evening."
"Oh," she laughed easily and with well-simulated amusement, "I should fancy from the contemptuous things I have heard you men say about Paul, you would regard him as quite harmless."
"Paul!" repeated the man accusingly. "When did you begin calling him by his first name? Does he call you Loraine, too?"
"Why not? We are friends." She looked up at her husband's face with an air of injured innocence and he paced a turn or two across the floor before he halted before her.
"I wish you would see less of him. I don't talk business to you often. It bores you, but you know that we are always strained to hold the pace that richer members of our set cut out. We have to pay very high for a privilege which has no value to me except that you like it."
Loraine Haswell sighed—and masked a yawn behind a small uplifted hand. "I wonder," she mused as though to herself, yet quite loud enough to be heard, "why some men find it so hard to make money, and to others it seems so easy."
Len Haswell flushed brick red to his cheekbones. He bit his lip and forced himself to remain silent for a moment, then he spoke gently. "I'm sorry I am not as brilliant a financier as some others. Nature doesn't endow us all alike. A good many people would regard me as fairly successful, I dare say. For myself a small house on the Sound would be good enough, if you were there—"
"Thank you," she answered with deliberate cruelty, "I don't think I'd care for that."
The man's scowl became ominously black. The hands at his side twitched, and the temper with which few credited him because of his perpetual control, flared out.
"No, by the Almighty, you would rather prefer to be where the gods of life are pleasure and extravagance and selfish indulgence! Where the loyal love of a husband means less than the flatteries of a tame cat...." As suddenly as the eruption had come it subsided. He raised both hands. "Forgive me," he implored, "I didn't mean that. But I am distraught and financial affairs are very precarious, Loraine. We may stand on the brink of a disastrous panic. It lies in Hamilton Burton's power to make me or break me—absolutely. Don't you see what that means?"
His wife shook her head, "I'm afraid I don't understand the intricacies of finance." Her tone added that neither was she extravagantly interested in them.
"It means this," Haswell spoke gravely. "You have been seen with Paul Burton more perhaps than is advisable. Paul Burton is Hamilton Burton's brother ... he is the one man with whom I can't afford to quarrel."
"I haven't suggested your quarreling with him."
"Then please don't drive me to it."
"Again I say that you are letting your imagination make you the victim of absurdities. Of just what are you accusing me?"
He came over and took her hand. "I am not accusing you of anything. I am willing to let my honor rest in your hands, but I am warning you against innocent mistakes."
He sought to put an arm about her, but she slipped from his grasp, and after a moment he said "Good-night" with a sort of sullen resignation, and went out, closing the door noiselessly after him.
* * * * *
Jefferson Edwardes had tramped far. When Mary Burton had gone to her own room, he had plunged into the thicketed slopes of the hills and walked for hours. Since his long exile in the White Mountains he had always held to the idea that a man can think more clearly close to the rocks and under open skies. Just now he wanted an untinged clarity to attend his thoughts.
Although the occurrences of the evening had possessed an Arabian Night's quality of unreality, he felt no misgivings for the love he had announced and pledged. It was not as though he looked back on a record of broken promises. He had no troubling memories to sweep from his conscience before his heart should be clear for a new entry. He had come away from the mountains with something hermit-like in his nature and much of the idealistic. It had been a pleasanter thing to him to keep unsullied the more important dreams of life than to endanger them with the transitory pleasures of the philanderer. The Mary Burton he had known in the dilapidated farm-house had of course been nothing more than a picturesque little waif of the country-side. Yet she had been a memory that remained distinct through years in New York and Russia; a memory which his imagination had quickened into life. Of Hamilton's spectacular successes his world of banking and finance had given him cognizance, but only such interest as one accedes to matters of impersonal news.
So a curiosity had arisen in his mind to see this young woman to whom he had once played the fairy prince, and since he was a whimsical man, that curiosity had woven and twisted itself into a dream. A dream long entertained may become something more than a dream. Perhaps it may be a menace. About their meeting tonight had been so much of the fortuitous that he might regard the whole affair as one operated from the knees of the gods—and disclaim responsibility.
The house windows had darkened one by one by the time his tramp ended again at Haverly Lodge. The moon was near the western timber fringe of the mountains, but Mary Burton, still wide-eyed and wakeful, had slipped out of her room to the balcony by her window.
The stone coping where she sat was partly black with shadow and partly platinum gray with the last of the moonlight. Her hair, falling in two heavy braids, caught the glistening light and her lips were parted in a smile. "It is strange," she told herself, "that once before he came along—and waked me into a new self. His second coming is stranger still. It would almost seem that there is no chance about it. It would almost seem that it has been definitely planned." Then she laughed low to herself. "And if that's true I have no responsibility in the matter at all. Nothing I do about it is my fault—and I needn't be very angry about his kissing me before he was introduced to me."
Then she saw a figure leave the shadow of the hedges and cross the moonlit lawn with a confident stride. Mary Burton leaned a little forward, resting on her hands, and her lips remained parted.
"He seems just about as shameless about the whole affair as I am," she reflected, and when he was directly below she accosted him in a careful voice: "Halt, Restless Stranger. Does a disturbed conscience send you out to wander in the night mists?"
Jefferson Edwardes obeyed the command and raised his eyes to the commanding voice. "Perhaps," he announced in a guarded tone, "it is, in a fashion, dread of the wrath to come—though my conscience is clear. But you"—in his half-whisper she caught an eager note of hope—"why aren't you asleep?" She shook her head and in the moon-bath her face flashed into a luminous smile. "I am working up that wrath," she assured him. "I am preparing to be terribly angry with you tomorrow."
"And until tomorrow?"
"Until tomorrow I am very happy. Good-night."
"Tomorrow is always—tomorrow, dearest—" he said, "Good-night."
* * * * *
A many-sided man was J.J. Malone, with a nature as brilliant and as capable of flashing varying lights from its facets as a diamond—and when need be as hard as a diamond. Had he lived in feudal times other barons would have said, "Where Malone sits there is the head of the table," and the monarch himself would have taken thought before provoking his wrath. In these days of alleged intolerance for tyrants he dispensed with the fanfare of trumpets and the tossing of flambeaux. The door of his office in a gray shaft-like building down-town bore the simple inscription, "American Transportation Co., President's Office."
Many men to whom the mighty money leverage of "Consolidated" was a familiar story had heard of J.J. Malone only in the casual sense. Yet the oligarchy had been built and rendered, supposedly, impregnable from the conceptions of his constructive brain. Concentration of power into one vast unit had been "Consolidated's" triumph—and his realized dream. Always the master tactician had been he who unobtrusively wore the title of president of "American Transportation." To others he had relinquished title roles, but, unseen, he had set and managed the stage. Hamilton Burton had been taught at Malone's knee, but Hamilton Burton was young and hot with vitality, aflame with ambition. From Malone himself he had absorbed the principle, "Never forget that today's ally may be tomorrow's enemy. Be prepared to use him—or crush him." In secret Burton had been building to that end, and only he himself knew the full reserve force of his resources.
"You are about the only man in the Street, sir," declared young Bristoll one morning, in a burst of admiration, as he and his chief sat together over their coffee, "to whom J.J. Malone seems willing to grant an equality of status."
Hamilton Burton smiled.
"That is true just now, Carl," he replied. "It can not always remain true."
"Our young Minister of Finance sees the present in just proportions," laughed Burton. "But his vision has not yet mastered the horizons of the future."
Carl flushed. He knew that for all the flattering confidence to which he was admitted, many broadly conceived pictures moved across the screen of his employer's mind of which he was vouchsafed no intimation.
"I'll elucidate, Carl, though it's scarcely a matter for advertisement," went on the other. "Hasn't it occurred to you that Malone and I started life in very similar fashion? Each of us came raw and uninitiated from the country. Each of us brought rugged physiques and fairly alert minds to our tasks. Each of us has, I think, been fairly successful." Hamilton Burton paused to laugh frankly at his own modesty of expression.
"Each of us has been a little swifter than the generality in reading signs; a little bolder in conception and execution. If you read the papers you will gather that each of us is, in private life, impeccable, and each of us is, in business, as merciless as an epidemic."
"That is the voice of envy," protested the younger man with heat.
"Thank you. I am grateful for the acquittal. There is room for only one absolute master. Only one side of a coin can lie face up at the same time. Heads or tails must be turned down."
To the front of Malone's mind a train of dispassionate logic had forced a similar conviction. As between himself and this rising sun of finance it was a matter of heads or tails. In consequence, on a certain June afternoon his yacht, Albatross, cleared from its slip in the Hudson and stood out toward midstream with her prow pointed toward the bay and the narrows.
It was a sparkling day, warm enough to make the breeze agreeable as it fanned the faces of the loungers on the white deck. J.J. Malone himself was seemingly nothing more formidable than the unexcelled host. As he leaned, bareheaded, on the rail of the forward deck the river breath stirred his iron-gray hair and his changeful eyes were kindly and atwinkle. Yet the party had not been wholly devised for purposes of pleasuring. There were no ladies on board and only four men exclusive of the crew. These four could swing directorates controlling the major interests of Consolidated. For this twenty-four hours of cruising, one had come down from Newport, one had delayed his sailing date to Europe and the third, H.A. Harrison, had left the entertainment of his guests at Haverly Lodge in the hands of others.
Dinner passed with no reference to business. Anecdote and repartee held the right of way, but later when the myriad lights of lower Manhattan glowed out like the fire-spray of a thousand arrested rockets, cigars were lighted and the flanneled quartette settled back into their four deck-chairs. Then it was that Harrison gave the cue with a terse question: "Well, why are we here?" Instantly Malone's face altered.
"To consider a method for clipping Burton's claws," he announced with decisive brevity.
"Why not let sleeping dogs lie?" The inquiry came thoughtfully from Meegan of the Cosmopolitan Bank.
Malone's voice rang like steel on flint. "Gentlemen, this man is a charlatan. As his power grows his menace increases. Consolidated has never brooked disobedience nor insolence. It has been our policy to reward the faithful servant and punish the unfaithful." He glanced around the group, then continued in the manner of one issuing an edict. "Heretofore we have not waited until the refractory child grew too big to punish. We should not do so now."
"For my part," suggested Harrison with a quiet twinkle in his eyes, "I'm just as willing to let someone else take this child out to the woodshed now."
"Hamilton Burton is outgrowing restraint." Malone was snapping out his words with categorical crispness. "Do you realize the perilous scope of his dream? His overvaulting ambition looks to a one-man power of finance; a power vested solely in himself. We are rearing a Frankenstein, gentlemen. To overlook it means our ultimate ruin—and, what is more, a national cataclysm."
"And yet," interposed Harrison quietly, "his power is largely of our making. We took him to our hearts."
J.J. Malone admitted the statement with a grave nod.
"Up to the point where arrogance became a mania, he was a most valuable lieutenant. I select men for efficiency. When they seek to become usurpers, I endeavor to halt them."
The Honorable S.T. Browne, as general counsel for many Consolidated interests, had evolved the theorem that from every statute there is an escape. Now he inquired, "How did he gain his seat in the saddle? Sudden, wasn't it?"
"He came into my office one day only a few years ago," answered the chief baron. "Twice I refused to see him, but he meant to see me—and he did. More than that, he fascinated me. I knew that I was talking with a genius and a man of dauntless mind. Such minds I can use. I used his."
Meegan knocked the ash from his cigar and laughed. "Burton has a certain hypnotic quality of address," he conceded.
"It is not address—it is genius. This man held me with his eye and forced me to listen. He came with no apology and no misgiving. He knew himself for a child of Destiny, and within ten minutes I knew it, too. What is the biggest accomplishment, gentlemen, that stands to the credit of Consolidated in the past ten years?"
"The merging of Inter-ocean Coal and Ore." Meegan gave the response without hesitation, and no one contradicted him.
"That," asserted Malone, "was the wild scheme which Hamilton Burton brought to me as his letter of introduction. I found no flaw in his plan—aside from its stupendous audacity. You ask me why I put him in a position of power. He rode in on his own usefulness—led by his intrinsic self-faith."
"So far as you have gone," suggested Harrison drily, "you have summarized several fairly solid reasons for keeping him with us."
"Quite true. I concede him a Napoleonic caliber and I recognize his Napoleonic effrontery. His conscienceless lust for power has unbalanced him. He seeks to sack the world. He must be stopped."
"So you suggest—?" Browne left his question unfinished save for the interrogation of his lifted brows.
"He sits in seven of our directorates. You know how Consolidated has sought to avoid the appearance of too narrow a domination. You know, too, that we have avoided directors who were obviously pure dummies. For several weeks I have been tracing out the holdings in Coal and Ore stock. Hamilton Burton with his following looms too large. Left to his own devices, he may outgrow control."
Meegan studied his cigar with attentively knit brows before he inquired: "Does Burton assume such proportions in Coal and Ore as to suggest turning the balance of control? Is that what you mean?"
"Not yet." Malone drew from his pocket a small note-book and consulted its pages. "We hold a safe balance in our own hands, barring treachery, but we have let him gain a stronger nucleus than now seems advisable. You gentlemen know that we have always held out the impression that only a small amount of Consolidated stock is offered the general public."
"As we also know," amended Harrison bluntly, "that in fact a large proportion of it is in the hands of the casual investor. Still another fact is sure. Burton's sobriquet of the Great Bear was not gratuitously bestowed. If we read him out of meeting he will bring a panic about our cars."
Malone puffed for a space at his cigar in silence. The quiet drone of the engines came up from below, and the moonlight fell in a broad band of radiance on the foaming ribbon of the wake.
"I have also considered that point," he said at last. "Burton has two cardinal maxims of finance. One is that Securities are usually sold above their intrinsic worth. The other is that Cash alone is an absolutely stable form of property. Acting on these two principles, he is doubtless building to the logical end. Some day he will make another raid—and, if he is allowed to select the day and the conditions, it will be a panic-making raid. If an enemy's attack is inevitable the best defense is offense. There is no wisdom in giving him time to prepare. Every day we stand idle his power grows. We must show enough strength at the next meeting of our stock-holders to reorganize the Coal and Ore directorate."
Harrison rose and walked to the rail. He stood for a moment looking out, then came back and spoke quickly.
"If this is to be done we should let no more time slip by. It's a safe bet that he isn't wasting days."
Malone's fist crashed down on the arm of his chair. He rose, too, and paced backward and forward, talking as he walked.
"Waste time! By heaven, we must waste no minute. We must go after him and bring in his pelt. We must treat him like a wolf prowling around our sheep-folds. There can be no peace for any of us until he is destroyed ... and, damn him, I mean to see that it's done!"
The others watched the broad shoulders of the head baron and the resolute carriage of the head, thrown back as if in challenge. He paused once to relight the cigar which in his vehemence he had let die, and as the match flared they saw that his eyes blazed and his features were set in that wrath which the Street feared.
"By heaven," exclaimed Malone fiercely, "we've got to smash him—damn him!"
Mary Burton was discovering some things about June. She had often watched lovers leaning silently on a deck-rail, with eyes fixed on a moonlit wake and hands that crept surreptitiously together. She had envied the credulity of these people and turned away with an ache and emptiness in her own heart.
Now at twenty-five she awoke each morning with a smile for the sunlight and a proprietary joy in the blue of the skies and a delight for the roses whose hearts were no younger than her own had become. Bridge-tables and tennis courts saw little of her, because the woods were waiting and Jefferson Edwardes was there to tramp and ride and fish and be companion and guide.
It was most beautiful far back from the oiled roads and trimmed hedges, for here were only woodland voices and languorous forest fragrances. Here, too, hid all those wild flowers that in childhood she had known and fancifully christened—and since forgotten, and here two people with the lilt of this abundant June song in their hearts could leave a few of their years by the roadside and forget them. To Mary Burton it was all a rediscovery and a miracle. He had promised to give her back the message of her hills. He was giving her back the joy of life.
One afternoon she and Jefferson Edwardes were tramping toward a brook where the trout would be flashing like phantom darts, and as he led the way along a narrow trail she followed him with a smile on her lips.
At a sheer twist around the hill's shoulder he stopped and pointed his hand. The view from there was almost county-wide, billowing away across heights and depths to a blue merging of hill and sky.
As she stood by his side her eyes and parted lips spoke her unworded appreciation and the man's gaze came back from the broad picture and dwelt upon her.
"It's strange," she said finally with a vaguely puzzled expression, "that I who was born in just such hills as these should now be realizing their wonder for the first time."
But her companion laughed at her seriousness. "When you knew them first," he reminded her, "you had nothing else with which to compare them. It is one who comes from the north who finds a marvel in the bigness and softness of southern stars. Now you have been away—and have come home, dearest."
She was standing very lancelike and straight by the slender bole of a silver birch. A golden sun flooded richly through the greenery. Overhead was a tunefully unflecked sky and into the shadows crept a richness of furtively underlying color and echoes of color. It was all vivid and beautiful and the girl standing there seemed to dominate its vividness and its beauty. But her eyes were grave, even when a shaft of the radiance struck her delicately blossoming cheeks and played upon the escaping locks with which the breeze played, too.
"Do you know, I suppose in a way I ought to hate you?" she told the man, and he swiftly demanded:
"Hate me? In heaven's name, why?"
"When a woman has been deluded into believing herself a bird of paradise ... and has been content with her feathers, it doesn't precisely help to discover that—" her voice grew self-contemptuous—"that after all she has only lived the life of a Strassburg goose and has been fed to death until she is no earthly good for anything except to be some glutton's delicacy—"
"Strassburg geese don't search their consciences," he smiled. "They are too busy being fed to death. If you had lost your soul I should help you find it—thank God, you don't need my guidance."
"Yet your coming crystallized all the self-accusations that had begun to stir in me. It made me feel my utter emptiness."
"Which only means realizing—that you might have become empty and have not." He came close and bent upon her the eyes whose honesty was so convincing and whose fealty was so clearly writ. In a voice that lost a little of its steadiness he demanded tensely, "Do you hate me?"
Mary Burton stood motionless, almost rigid, but some heart-wave welled up until she felt physically weak yet spiritually stronger than she had ever felt. Her two hands clutched tautly at his shoulders and her eyes gazed into his. Slowly they widened until they had unmasked all their depths and shown what was in her heart. Then as the man's pulses leaped to the elation of what he read there, he heard her shaken whisper inviting him very softly, "Look at me—and answer for yourself. Do I hate you?"
With sudden self-recovery, as he sought to take her in his arms, she slipped aside and after a short space the same voice that had just now been tense rippled into whimsical laughter. "No," she commanded. "It mustn't become a habit." The laugh died and her words and pupils were grave once more. "Why should I lie to you, dear? It's no use trying. I'm absurdly mad about you—but I've doubted my power of really loving so long that we must both be content to put it to the test of time. It's too new to trust. I can't tell how much of it is my own heart and how much is your hypnotism."
"I have come a long way," he said quietly. "I have waited a long while. I can wait longer, if that's the edict, but not as he waits who fears the issue. You are going to love me and marry me."
"I hope so. I pray so." Her answer was vibrantly eager. "I have longed vainly for a day that should make my heart leap beyond control. You brought the day—and if, between us, we can keep it—"
She broke off, and he took both her hands in both of his.
"You are going to marry me," he repeated. "Don't make me wait too long, my sweetheart and comrade. Life is all too short to waste when it can be happy."
"Are we wasting it?" she demanded; then she smiled at him and added: "Thank you, for introducing me to the wonderful originality of being natural. On the whole I don't think I hate you—much."
All that afternoon her eyes held a starry happiness and sometimes they twinkled with a mischievous ripple.
Once she demanded, "Suppose Hamilton were to go broke tomorrow. Stony, flat, hopelessly broke. Would you still want me?" And before he could answer she broke into a merry peal of laughter. "Don't trouble to answer that question," she commanded. "I already know—and I'm fairly contented."
* * * * *
The Duke de Metuan had come and gone back—with his answer, and Paul, too, had left Haverly Lodge. For Paul's return there were two reasons. The music-room which Hamilton had built as a gift to his brother was nearing completion, and the finishing touches demanded personal supervision. As the heart of a high priest turns to his temple, so turned Paul Burton's heart to this spot at this time. It was a temple, but decidedly a pagan temple. Porphyry columns went up from a mosaic floor to a richly encrusted ceiling, and in conception and detail it was lavishly beautiful and perfect. Hamilton had conceived and planned the structure with a very ferocity of tense interest: though to Hamilton a music-room was in itself about as absorbing as a steam laundry.
In the undertaking he saw a monument to a dream and the fulfilment of a promise that one ragged boy had made to another ragged boy standing by a panel of broken fence. Hamilton had never forgotten that moment when first his pent-up ambitions had broken into fiery utterance while his little brother listened with eyes wide and wondering—yet full of faith. Then he had promised Paul an organ in a cathedral of dreams, where the imaginary self which was his greater self might find expression.
This was to be the worthy realization of that boast.
The second reason for the younger Burton's withdrawal from the house party was the departure of Loraine Haswell.
Now, finding himself in town, he had accepted one of those invitations which meant the acknowledgment of his lionizing in Fashion's world of music. Paul had little in common with those struggling men whose passion for violin or piano leads them through poverty and hunger in pursuit of their bays. But to face and stir with his art's hypnosis an audience of the smartest men and women in town, was meat and drink to his soul—was his soul's vanity. Of all his vanities it was the least weak—because the most sincere.
To see faces awaken from ennui and kindle into attentiveness, then soulfulness as he swayed them with the touch of his fingers on the keys was no mean triumph. To draw men out of lolling ease into tense and unconsidered attitudes; to cause women's lips to part and their pupils to grow misty as he carried them with him,
"Through the meadows of the sunset, through the poppies and the wheat, To the land where the dead dreams go"
—these were his delights. There are meaner pleasures.
But when he had played a little while, the composite pattern of faces always faded and darkened into a blur and he forgot them: forgot himself, forgot everything except the instrument that had become the mouthpiece of his soul. Then he, like his audience, was swept away into an impalpable world where nothing remained save the marvelous cascading and crushing tides which were the tides of golden sound. At such moments Paul Burton was almost a master.
This evening it was a benefit recital at the Plaza. He did not recall precisely to what worthy cause he was dedicating his gifted services, but that did not matter. He was bowing with a winning and boyish smile on his cameo features. Such fashionables as lingered in town so late as June were there to do homage; and other anonymous human units drawn from the millions followed where the fashionables led.
As Paul Burton looked out over the seated humanity, secretly searching for Loraine Haswell, he became conscious of another face near the front. It was that of a woman, who seemed quite alone and who was simply dressed. Paul wondered why the features held his interest. It was not precisely a beautiful face, but in its gray-green eyes dwelt a distinctive quality and as some thought parted the lips in a smile there came a sudden flooding of light which was better than ordinary beauty. This girl was frankly looking forward to the evening, for her expression mirrored that rapt anticipation which comes only to the eyes of the true music-lover. The small head under its brown hair was modeled as though a sculptor had spent loving care upon it, and Paul Burton thought that she was inwardly purring with the expectation of pleasure. A responsive glow at once awakened in him. He was subtly flattered because he recognized in that attitude of mind a tribute to his art for its own sake.
Then he began, and as the tide of his emotion swelled and lifted him out of himself, individual countenances grew misty—yet, for some reason this face stood out clear and single for a moment or two after the rest had faded.
Afterward he was told that even he had not played so well before.
As he turned from a congratulatory group when the recital was ended, one of the women whom he knew only by reason of her activity in arranging the entertainment, stopped him. "Mr. Burton," she said, "I want you to meet Miss Terroll." It was a general form of introduction and the man turned to bow—and recognized the face that had been the last to fade. The girl gave him a small and well-gloved hand. She smiled, but said nothing, and her sponsor talked on rapidly.
"I was in the midst of a heated suffrage discussion when you began," she declared. "But of course it was forgotten—at once."
"I'm sorry," laughed Paul Burton, "if I broke up a good argument."
"Oh," she assured him with a prepared quotation, "'I can always leave off talking, when I hear a master play.'"
When Paul Burton reached the street most of the private motors had been summoned and dispatched by the starter. He stood for a little while looking up at the stars and breathing deeply the grateful night air. The moon-mist made a shadowy lacework of the trees in the park, and the dark contours of the avenue's mansions were silhouetted beyond the lights of the Savoy and Netherland. The expenditure of so much of his emotional self always left him strangely restless, and made him crave a brief aftermath of solitude. So he sent his car away and turned down the avenue.