"Now, don't be an ass, John. I was rather idiotic, I suppose—"
"Of course you were," he said, as we shook hands. "It is your unfailing charm. You silly boy, I came from the pleasantest sort of house-party at Matocton because I heard you were here, and I have been foolish enough to miss you. Anne and the others don't arrive until October. Oh, you adorable child, I have read the last book, and every one of the short stories as well, and I want to tell you that in their own peculiar line the two volumes are masterpieces. Anne wept and chuckled over them, and so did I, with an equal lack of restraint; only it was over the noble and self-sacrificing portions that Anne wept, and she laughed at the places where you were droll intentionally. Whereas I—!! Well, we will let the aposiopesis stand."
"Of course," I sulkily observed, "if you have simply come to Fairhaven to make fun of me, I can only pity your limitations."
He spoke in quite another voice. "You silly boy, it was not at all for that. I think you must know I have read what you have published thus far with something more than interest; but I wanted to tell you this in so many words. Afield is not perhaps an impeccable masterwork, if one may be thus brutally frank; but the woman—modeled after discretion will not inquire whom,—is distinctly good. And what, with you only twenty-five, does A field not promise! Child, you have found your metier. Now I shall look forward to the accomplishment of what I have always felt sure that you could do. I am very, very glad. More so than I can say. And I had thought you must know this without my saying it."
The man was sincere. And I was very much pleased, and remembered what invaluable help he could give me on my unfinished book, and what fun it would be to go over the manuscript with him. And, in fine, we became again, upon the spot as it were, the very best of friends.
It was excellent to have Charteris to talk against. The little man had many tales to tell me of those dissolute gay people we had known and frolicked with; indeed, I think that he was trying to allure me back to the old circles, for he preoccupied his life by scheming to bring about by underhand methods some perfectly unimportant consummation, which very often a plain word would have secured at once. But now he swore he was not "making tea."
That had always been a byword between us, by the way, since I applied to him the phrase first used of Alexander Pope—"that he could not make tea without a conspiracy." And it may be that in this case Charteris spoke the truth, and had come to Fairhaven just for the pleasure of seeing me, for certainly he must have had some reason for leaving the Musgraves' house-party so abruptly.
"You are very well rid of the Hardresses," he adjudged. "Did I tell you of the male one's exhibition of jealousy last year! I can assure you that the fellow now entertains for me precisely the same affection I have always borne toward cold lamb. It is the real tragedy of my life that Anne is ethically incapable of letting a week pass without partaking of a leg of mutton. She is not particularly fond of it, and indeed I never encountered anybody who was; she has simply been reared with the notion that 'people' always have mutton once a week. What, have you never noticed that with 'people,' to eat mutton once a week is a sort of guarantee of respectability? I do not refer to chops of course, which are not wholly inconsistent with depravity. But the ability to eat mutton in its roasted form, by some odd law of nature, connotes the habit of paying your pew-rent regularly and of changing your flannels on the proper date. However, I was telling you about Jasper Hardress—" And Charteris repeated the story of their imbroglio in such a fashion that it sounded farcical.
"But, after all, John, you did make love to her."
"I have forgotten what was exactly the last observation of the lamented Julius Caesar," Mr. Charteris leisurely observed,—"though I remember that at the time it impressed me as being uncommonly appropriate—But to get back: do you not see that this clause ought to come here, at the end of the sentence? And, child, on all my ancient bended knees, I implore you to remember that 'genuine' does not mean the same thing as 'real'...."
Meanwhile he and Bettie got on together a deal better than I had ever anticipated.
Charteris, though, received my confidence far too lightly. "You are going to marry her! Why, naturally! Ever since I encountered you, you have been 'going to marry' somebody or other. It is odd I should have written about the Foolish Prince so long before I knew you. But then, I helped to mould you—a little—"
And resolutely Bettie said the most complimentary things about him. But I trapped her once.
"Still," I observed, when he had gone, and she had finished telling me how delightful Mr. Charteris was, "still he shan't ever come to our house, shall he?"
"Why, of course not!" said Bettie, who was meditating upon some cosmic question which required immediate attention. And then she grew very angry and said, "Oh, you dog!" and threw a sofa-cushion at me.
"I hate that wizened man," she presently volunteered, "more bitterly than I do any person on earth. For it was he who taught you to adopt infancy as a profession. He robbed me. And Setebos permitted it. And now you are just a man I am going to marry—Oh, well!" said Bettie, more sprightlily, "I was getting on, and you are rather a dear even in that capacity. Only I wonder what becomes of all the first choices?"
"They must keep them for us somewhere, Bettie dear. And that is probably the explanation of everything."
And a hand had snuggled into mine. "You do understand without having to have it all spelt out for you. And that's a comfort, too. But, oh," said Bettie, "what a wasteful Setebos it is!"
He Allows the Merits of Imperfection
I was quite contented now and assured as to the future. I foreknew the future would be tranquil and lacking in any particular excitement, and I had already ceded, in anticipation, the last tittle of mastery over my own actions; but Bettie would keep me to the mark, would wring—not painlessly perhaps—from Robert Townsend the very best there was in him; and it would be this best which, unalloyed, would endure, in what I wrote. I had never imagined that, for the ore, smelting was an agreeable process; so I shrugged, and faced my future contentedly.
One day I said, "To-morrow I must have holiday. There are certain things that need burying, Bettie dear, and—it is just the funeral of my youth I want to go to."
"So it is to-morrow that we go for an admiring walk around our emotions!" Bettie said. She knew well enough of what event to-morrow was the anniversary, and it is to her credit she added: "Well, for this once—!" For of all the women whom I had loved, there was but one that Bettie Hamlyn had ever bothered about. And to-morrow was Stella's birthday, as I had very unconcernedly mentioned a few moments earlier, when I was looking for the Austin Dobson book, and had my back turned to Bettie.
Next day, in Cedarwood, a woman in mourning—in mourning fluffed and jetted and furbelowed in such pleasing fashion that it seemed flamboyantly to demand immediate consolation of all marriageable males,—viewed me with a roving eye as I heaped daffodils on Stella's grave. They had cost me a pretty penny, too, for this was in September. But then I must have daffodils, much as I loathe the wet, limp feel o. them, because she would have chosen daffodils.... Well! I fancied this woman thought me sanctioned by both church and law in what I did,—and viewed me in my supposedly recent bereavement and gauged my potentialities,—viewed me, in short, with the glance of adventurous widowhood.
My faith (I meditated) if she knew!—if I could but speak my thought to her!
"Madam,"—let us imagine me, my hat raised, my voice grave,—"the woman who lies here was a stranger to me. I did not know her. I knew that her eyes were blue, that her hair was sunlight, that her voice had pleasing modulations; but I did not know the woman. And she cared nothing for me. That is why my voice shakes as I tell you of it. And I have brought her daffodils, because of all flowers she loved them chiefly, and because there is no one else who remembers this. It is the flower of spring, and Stella—for that was her name, madam,—died in the spring of the year, in the spring of her life; and Stella would have been just twenty-six to-day. Oh, and daffodils, madam, are all white and gold, even as that handful of dust beneath us was all white and gold when we buried it with a flourish of crepe and lamentation, some two years and five months ago. Yet the dust there was tender flesh at one time, and it clad a brave heart; but we thought of it—and I among the rest,—as a plaything with which some lucky man might while away his leisure hours. I believe now that it was something more. I believe—ah, well, my credo is of little consequence. But whatever this woman may have been, I did not know her. And she cared nothing for me."
I reflected I would like to do it. I could imagine the stare, the squawk, the rustling furbelows, as madam fled from this grave madman. She would probably have me arrested.
You see I had come to think differently of Stella. At times I remembered her childish vanity, her childish, morbid views, her childish gusts of petulance and anger and mirth; and I smiled,—oh, very tenderly, yet I smiled.
Then would awake the memory of Stella and myself in that ancient moonlight and of our first talk of death—two infants peering into infinity, somewhat afraid, and puzzled; of Stella making tea in the firelight, and prattling of her heart's secrets, half-seriously, half in fun; and of Stella striving to lift a very worthless man to a higher level and succeeding—yes, for the time, succeeding; and of Stella dying with a light heart, elate with dreams of Peter Blagden's future and of "a life that counted"; and of what she told me at the very last. And, irrationally perhaps, there would seem to be a sequence in it all, and I could not smile over it, not even tenderly.
And I would depicture her, a foiled and wistful little wraith, very lonely in eternity, and a bit regretful of the world she loved and of its blundering men, and unhappy,—for she could never be entirely happy without Peter,—and I feared, indignant. For Stella desired very heartily to be remembered—she was vain, you know,—and they have all forgotten. Yes, I am sure that even as a wraith, Stella would be indignant, for she had a fine sense of her own merits.
"But I am just a little butterfly-woman," she would say, sadly; then, with a quick smile, "Aren't I?" And her eyes would be like stars—like big, blue stars,—and afterward her teeth would glint of a sudden, and innumerable dimples would come into being, and I would know she was never meant to be taken seriously....
But we must avoid all sickly sentiment.
You see the world had advanced since Stella died,—twice around the sun, from solstice to solstice, from spring to winter and back again, travelling through I forget how many millions of miles; and there had been wars and scandals and a host of debutantes and any number of dinners; and, after all, the world is for the living.
So we of Lichfield agreed unanimously that it was very sad, and spoke of her for a while, punctiliously, as "poor dear Stella"; and the next week Emily Van Orden ran away with Tom Whately; and a few days later Alicia Wade's husband died, and we debated whether Teddy Anstrother would do the proper thing or sensibly marry Celia Reindan: and so, a little by a little, we forgot our poor, dear Stella in precisely the decorous graduations of regret with which our poor dear Stella would have forgotten any one of us.
Yes, even those who loved her most deeply have forgotten Stella. They remember only an imaginary being who was entirely perfect, and of whom they were not worthy. It is this fictitious woman who has usurped the real Stella's place in the heart of the real Stella's own mother, and whom even Lizzie d'Arlanges believes to have been once her sister, and over whom Peter Blagden is always ready to grow maudlin; and it is this immaculate woman—who never existed,—that will be until the end of Avis' matrimonial existence the standard by which Avis is measured and found wanting. And thus again the whirligig of time, by an odd turn, brings in his revenges.
And I? Well, I was very fond of Stella. And the woman they speak of to-day, in that hushed, hateful, sanctimonious voice, I must confess I never knew. And of all persons I chiefly rage against that faultless angel, that "poor dear Stella," who has pilfered even the paltry tribute of being remembered from the Stella that to-day is mine alone. For it is to this fictitious person that the people whom my Stella loved, as she did not love me, now bring their flowers; and it was to this person they erected their pompous monument,—nay, more, it was for this atrocious woman they ordered the very coffin in which my Stella lay when I last saw her. And it is not fair.
And I? Well, I was very fond of Stella. It would be good to have her back,—to have her back to jeer at me, to make me feel red and uncomfortable and ridiculous, to say rude things about my waist, and indeed to fluster me just by being there. Yes, it would be good. But, upon the whole, I am not sorry that Stella is gone.
For there is Peter Blagden to be considered. We can all agree to-day that Peter is a good fellow, that he is making the most of his Uncle Larry's money, and that he is nobody's enemy but his own; and we have smugly forgotten the time when we expected him to become a great lawyer. We do not expect that of Peter now; instead, we are content enough—particularly since Peter has so admirably dressed his part by taking to longish hair and gruffness and a cane,—to point him out to strangers in Lichfield as "one of our wealthiest men," and to elect him to all civic committees, and to discuss his semi-annual sprees and his monetary relations with various women whom one does not "know." And the present Mrs. Blagden, too, appears content enough.
And as Stella loved him—
Well, as it was, Peter was then off on his honeymoon, and there was only I to bring the daffodils to Stella. She was always vain, was Stella; it would have grieved her had no one remembered.
Then I caught the afternoon train for Fairhaven, and went back to my capable fiancee.
But I walked over to Willoughby Hall that night and found Charteris alone in his queer library, among the serried queer books and the portraits of his "literary creditors." When I came into the apartment he was mending a broken tea-cup, for he peculiarly delighted in such infinitesimal task-work; but the vexed countenance at once took on the fond young look my coming would invariably provoke, and he shoved aside the fragments....
We talked of trifles; apropos of nothing, Charteris said, "Yes,—but, then, I devoted the morning to drawing up my will." And I laughed over such forethought.
The man rose and with clenched fist struck upon the littered table. "It is in the air. I swear to you that, somehow, I have been warned. But always I have been favoured—Why, man, I protest that never in my life have I encountered any person in associating with whom I did not condescend, with reason to back me! Yet today Death stands within arm's reach, and I have accomplished—some three or four little books! And yet—why, Ashtaroth's Lackey, now—Yes, by God! it is perfected speech such as few other men have ever written. I know it, and I do not care at all even though you piteous dullards should always lack the wit to recognise and revere perfected speech when it confronts you. But presently I die! and there is nothing left of me save the inefficient testimony of those three or four little books!"
I patted his shoulder and protested he had over-worked himself.
"Eh, well," he said, and with that easy laugh I knew of old; "in any event, I have been thinking for a whole two hours of my wife, and of how from the very beginning I have utilised her, and of how good and credulous she is, and of how happy I have made her—! For I have made her happy. That is the preposterous part of it—"
"Why, yes; Anne loves you very dearly. Oh, I think that everybody is irrationally fond of you, John. No, that is not a compliment, it is rather the reverse. It is simply an instance of what I have been brooding over all this afternoon,—that we like people on account of their good qualities and love them on account of their defects. I honestly believe that the cornerstone of affection is the agreeable perception of our superiority in some one point, at least, to the beloved. And that is why so many people are fond of you, I think."
He laughed a little. "And de te fabula—Yet I would distinguish. You think me a futile person and not, as we will put it, a disastrously truthful person, and so on through the entire list of all those so-called vices which are really just a habit of not doing this or that particular thing. Well! it is no longer a la mode to talk about God,—yet I must confess to an old-fashioned faith in our Author's existence and even in His amiability. I believe He placed me in this colourful world, and that He is not displeased because I have spent therein some forty-odd years pleasurably. Then too I have not wasted that pleasure, I have philanthropically passed it on. I have bequeathed posterity the chance to spend an enjoyable half-hour or so over one or two little books. That is not much to claim, but it is something."
John Charteris was talking to himself now.
"Had I instead the daily prayers of seven orphans, or the proud consciousness of having always been afraid to do what I wanted to,—which I take to be the universally accredited insurance of a blissful eternity,—or even a whole half-column with portrait in the New York papers to indicate what a loss my premature demise had been to America,—or actually all three together, say, to exhibit as the increment of this period, I honestly cannot imagine any of the more intelligent archangels lining up to cheer my entry into Paradise. I believe, however, that to be contented, to partake of the world's amenities with moderation as a sauce, and to aggrieve no fellow-being, except in self-protection, and to make other people happy as often as you find it possible, is a recipe for living that will pass muster even in heaven. There you have my creed; and it may not be impeccable, but I believe in it."
"You have forgotten something," I said, with a grin. "'One must not think too despondently nor too often of the grim Sheriff who arrives anon to dispossess you, no less than all the others, nor of any subsequent and unpredictable legal adjustments.' See, here it is, your own words printed in the book."
"Dear me, did I say that? How nicely phrased it is! Well! you and I have defiantly preserved the gallant attitude in an era not very favorable thereto. And we seem to prosper—as yet—"
"But certainly! We are the highly exceptional round pegs that flourish like green bay-trees in a square hole," I summed it up. "Presently of course our place knoweth us not. But in the mean while—well, as it happens, I was recalling to-day how adroitly I scaled the summit of human wisdom when I was only fourteen. For I said then, 'You can have a right good time first, any way, if you keep away from ugly things and fussy people.' And at twenty-five I stick to it."
"I wonder now if it is not at a price?" said Charteris, rather mirthlessly. "Either way, you have as yet the courage of the unconvicted. And you have managed, out of it all, to get together the makings of an honest book. I do not generally believe in heaping flattery upon young authors, but if I had written that last book of yours it would not grieve me. Even so, I wonder—? But it is dreary here, in this old house, with all my wife's high-minded ancestors chilling the air. Come, let us concoct some curious sort of drink."
I looked at him compassionately. "And have Bettie staying up to let me in and smelling it on me! You must be out of your head."
And then Charteris laughed and derided me, and afterward we chatted for a good two hours,—quite at random, and disposing of the most important subjects, as was our usage when in argument, in a half-sentence.
It was excellent to have Charteris to talk against, and I enjoyed it. Taking him by and large, I loved the little fellow as I have loved no other man.
He Gilds the Weather-Vane
But I would not go along with Charteris the next morning when he came by the Hamlyns' on his way to King's College. I could not, because I was labouring over a batch of proof-sheets; and as I laboured my admiration for the very clever young man who had concocted this new book augmented comfortably; so that I told Charteris he was a public nuisance, and please to go to Tillietudlem.
He had procured the key to the Library,—for the College had not opened as yet,—and meant to borrow an odd volume or so of Lucian. Charteris had evolved the fantastic notion of treating Lucian's Zeus as a tragic figure. He sketched a sympathetic picture of the fallen despot, and of the smokeless altars, girdled by a jeering rabble of so-called philosophers, and of how irritating it must be to anybody to have your actual existence denied. Did I not see the pathos of poor Zeus's situation with the god business practically "cornered," and the Jews getting all the trade?
I informed him that the only pathos in life just at present was my inability to disprove, in default of abolishing, the existence of people who bothered me when I was busy. So Charteris went away, just as Byam brought the mail from the post-office.
There were two cheques from magazines. Life was very pleasant, in a quiet uneventful world. The Fairhaven Gazette for the week had come, too, to indicate that, as usual, nothing of grave import was happening in an agreeably monotonous world. True, the Bulgarians were issuing an appeal to civilization on the ground that they objected to being massacred, and cyclones were wrecking towns and killing quite a number of persons in Florida, and the strikes in Colorado were leading to divers homicides; but in Fairhaven these things did not seem to matter. And so the front page of the Gazette was, rightfully, reserved for Plans of the College for the Session of 1903-4....
I looked again. The President was explaining that he had intended no discourtesy to Sir Thomas Lipton by declining to attend the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club dinner; Major Delmar had failed to beat Lou Dillon's time, on the same track; the National Dressmakers' Association had declared that the kangaroo walk and Gibson shoulders would shortly be eschewed by all really fashionable women; and these matters were more interesting, of course, but certainly no cause for excitement. Well, I reflected, no news was good news proverbially; and I was content to let the axiom pass.
In fine, there was nothing to worry over anywhere. And the book was going to be good, quite astonishingly good....
And yonder Bettie waited for me, and I could hear the piano that proclaimed she was not idle. I was ineffably content; and at ease within a rather kindly universe, taking it by and large....
"Quite a nice Setebos, after all! a big, fine generous-hearted fellow, who doesn't bother to keep accounts to the last penny. I heartily approve of Setebos, and Bettie ought not to rag Him so. She would think it tremendously nice and boyish of me if I were to go impulsively and tell her something like that—"
So I decided I had worked quite long enough.
But as I reached out toward the portieres, a man came into the room, entering from the hall-way. And I gave a little whistling sound of astonishment and hastened to him with extended hand.
"My dear fellow," I began; "why, have you dropped from the moon?"
"They—they told me you were here," said Jasper Hardress, and paused to moisten his lips. "My wife died, yonder in Montana, ten days ago last Thursday,—yes, it was on a Tuesday she died, I think."
And I was silent for a breathing-space. "Yes?" I said, at last; for I had seen the shining thing in Jasper Hardress's hand, and I was wondering now why he had pocketed the toy, and for how long.
"It was of a fever she died. She was delirious,—oh, quite three days. And she talked in her delirium."
I began to smile; it was like witnessing a play. "Yonder is Bettie and my one chance of manhood; and blind chance, just the machination of a tiny microbe, entraps me as I tread toward all this. I was wrong about Setebos. Heine was right; there is an Aristophanes in heaven."
I said, aloud: "Well, Hardress, you wouldn't have me dispute the veracity of a lady?"
But the man did not appear to hear me. "Oh, it was very horrible," he said. "Oh, I would like you, first of all, to comprehend how horrible it was. She was always calling—no, not calling exactly, but just moaning one name, and over and over again. He had been so cruel, she said. He didn't really care for anything, she said, except to write his hateful books. And I had loved her, you understand. And for three whole days I must sit there and hear her tell of what another man had meant to her! I have not been wholly sane, I think, since then, for I had loved her for a long time. And her throat was so little that I often thought how easy it would be to stop the moaning and talking, but somehow I did not like to do it. And it isn't my honour that I mean to avenge. It is Gillian that I must avenge,—Gillian who died because a coward had robbed her of the will to live. For it was that in chief. Why, even you must understand that," he said, as though he pleaded with me.
And yonder Bettie played,—with lithe fingers which caressed the keys rather than struck them, I remembered. And always at the back of my mind some being that was not I was taking notes as to how unruffled the man was; and I smiled a little, in recognition of the air, as Bettie began The Funeral March of a Marionette....
"Yes," I said; "I think I understand. There is something to be advanced upon the other side perhaps; but that scarcely matters. You act within your rights; and, besides, you have a pistol, and I haven't. I am getting afraid, though, Jasper. I can't stand this much longer. So for God's sake, make an end of this!"
Jasper Hardress said: "I mean to. But they told me he was here? Yes, I am sure that someone told me he was here."
I think I must have reeled a little. I know my brain was working automatically. Gillian Hardress had always called me Jack; and Jasper Hardress was past reason; and yonder was Bettie, who had made life too fine and dear a thing to be relinquished....
"Jasper," someone was saying, and that someone seemed to laugh, "we aren't living in the Middle Ages, remember. No, just as I said, I cannot stand this nonsense any longer, and you must make an end of this foolishness. Just on a bare suspicion—just on the ravings of a delirious woman—! Why, she used to call me Jack,—and I write books—Why, you might just as logically murder me!"
"I thought at first it was you. Oh, only for a moment, boy. I was not quite sane, I think, for at first I suspected you of such treachery as in my sober senses I know you never dreamed of. And I had forgotten you were just a child—But she was conscious at the end," said Jasper Hardress, "and when I—talked with her about what she had said in delirium, she told me it was Charteris whose son we christened Jasper Hardress some two years ago—"
I said: "I never knew there was a child." But I was thinking of a hitherto unaccounted-for photograph.
"He only lived three months. I had always wanted a son. You cannot fancy how proud I was of him." Hardress laughed here.
"And she told you it was Charteris! in the moment of death when—when you were threatening me, she told you it was Charteris!"
"It is different when you are dying. You see—Gillian knew that eternity depended on what she said to me then—" He spoke as with difficulty, and he kept licking at restless lips.
"Yes,—she did believe that. And she told you—!" I comprehended how Gillian Hardress had loved me, and my shame was such that now it was the mere brute will to live which held me. But it held me, none the less. Besides, I saw the least unpleasant solution.
"I suppose I can't blame you," I said,—"for if she told you, why, of course—" Then I barked out: "He was here a moment ago. You must have come around one corner, in fact, just as he turned the other. You will find him at Willoughby Hall, I suppose. He said he was going straight home."
For I knew that Charteris was at King's College, a mile away from Willoughby Hall; and, I assured myself, there would be ample time to warn him. Only how much must now depend upon the diverting qualities of Lucian! For should the Samosatan flag in interest, John would be leaving the College presently; and there is but one street in Fairhaven.
I had my hand upon the garden-gate, and Hardress had just turned the corner below, going toward Cambridge Street, when Bettie came upon the porch.
"Well," she said, "and who's your fat friend, Mr. Sheridan?"
"I can't stop now, dear. I forgot to tell John about something which is rather important—"
"Gracious!" Bettie Hamlyn said; "that sounds like shooting. Why, it is shooting, isn't it?"
"Yes," said I.
"—Quite as though the Monnachins and the Massawomeks and all the other jaw-breakers were attacking Fairhaven as they used to do on alternate Thursdays, and affording both of us an excellent opportunity to get nicely scalped in time for dinner. So I don't mind confessing that it was against precisely such an emergency I declined to turn out an elaborate suite of hair; and now I expect the world at large to acknowledge that I acted very sensibly."
"It is much more likely to be some drunken country-man on his monthly spree—" I was reflecting while Bettie talked nonsense that there had been no less than four shots. I was wondering whom the last was for. It would be much pleasanter, all around, if Hardress had sent it into his own disordered brain. Yes, certainly, three bullets ought amply to account for an unprepared and unarmed and puny Charteris....
So I said: "Well, I suppose my business with John must wait for a while. Besides, Bettie, you are such a dear in that get-up. And if you will come down into the garden at once, I will explain a few of my reasons for advancing the assertion."
Standing upon the porch, she patted me ever so lightly upon the head. "What a child it is!" she said. "I don't think that, after all, I shall put twenty-six candles on your cake next week. The fat and lazy literary gent is not really old enough, not really more than ten."
"—And besides, apart from the proposed discussion of your physical charms, I have something else quite equally important to tell you about."
"Oh, drat the pertinacious infant, then I'll come for half an hour. Just wait until I get a hat. Still, what a worthless child it is! to be quitting work before noon."
And she would have gone, but I detained her. "Yes, what a worthless child it is,—or rather, what an unproverbial sort of busy bee it has been, Bettie dear. For his has been the summer air, and the sunshine, and the flowers; and gentle ears have listened to him, and gentle eyes have been upon him. Now it is autumn. And he has let others eat his honey-which I take to include all that he actually made, all that wasn't in the world before he came, as Stella used to say,—so that he might have his morsel and his song. And sometimes it has been Sardinian honey, very bitter in the mouth,—and even then he has let others eat it—"
"You are a most irrelevant infant," said Miss Hamlyn, "with these insectean divagations—Dear me, what lovely words! And of course if you really want to drag me into that baking-hot garden, and have the only fiancee you just at present possess laid up by a sunstroke—"
The Epilogue: Which Suggests that Second Thoughts—
So I waited there alone. Whatever the four shots implied, I must tell Bettie everything, because she was Bettie, and it was not fair I should have any secrets from her. "Oh, just be honest with me," she had said, in this same garden, "and I don't care what you do!" And I had never lied to Bettie: at worst, I simply had not told her anything concerning matters about which I was glad she had not happened to ask any questions. But this was different....
Dimly I knew that everything must pivot on my telling Bettie. John was done for, the Hardress woman was done for, and whether or no Jasper had done for himself, there was no danger, now, that anyone would ever know how that infernal Gillian had badgered me into, probably, three homicides. There might be some sort of supernal bookkeeping, somewhere, but very certainly it was not conformable to any human mathematics.... And therefore I must tell Bettie.
I must tell Bettie, and abide what followed. She had pardoned much. It might be she would pardon even this, "because I had been honest with her when I didn't want to be." And in any event—even in her loathing,— Bettie would understand, and know I had at least kept faith with her....
I must tell Bettie, and abide what followed. For living seemed somehow to have raised barriers about me a little by a little, so that I must view and talk with all my fellows more and more remotely, and could not, as it were, quite touch anybody save Bettie. At all other persons I was but grimacing falsely across an impalpable barrier. And now just such a barrier was arising between Bettie and me, as I perceived in a sort of panic. Yes, it was rising resistlessly, like an augmenting mist not ever to be put aside, except by plunging forthwith into hours, or days, or even into months perhaps, of ugliness and discomfort....
It was the season of harvest. The leaves were not yet turned, and upon my face the heatless, sun-steeped air was like a caress. The whole world was at full-tide, ineffably sweet and just a little languorous: and bees were audible, as in a humorous pretence of vexation....
The world was very beautiful. I must tell Bettie presently, of course; only the world was such a comfortable place precisely as it was; and I began to wonder if I need tell Bettie after all?
For, after all, to tell the truth could resurrect nobody; and to know the truth would certainly make Bettie very unhappy; and never in my life have I been able to endure the contact of unhappiness.