Colonel Musgrave had dined often with the Charterises.
And then some frolic god, en route from homicide by means of an unloaded pistol in Chicago for the demolishment of a likely ship off Palos, with the cooeperancy of a defective pistonrod, stayed in his flight to bring Joe Parkinson to Lichfield.
It was Roger Stapylton who told the colonel of this advent, as the very apex of jocularity.
"For you remember the Parkinsons, I suppose?"
"The ones that had a cabin near Matocton? Very deserving people, I believe."
"And their son, sir, wants to marry my daughter," said Mr. Stapylton,—"my daughter, who is shortly to be connected by marriage with the Musgraves of Matocton! I don't know what this world will come to next."
It was a treat to see him shake his head in deprecation of such anarchy.
Then Roger Stapylton said, more truculently: "Yes, sir! on account of a boy-and-girl affair five years ago, this half-strainer, this poor-white trash, has actually had the presumption, sir,—but I don't doubt that Pat has told you all about it?"
"Why, no," said Colonel Musgrave. "She did not mention it this afternoon. She was not feeling very well. A slight headache. I noticed she was not inclined to conversation."
It had just occurred to him, as mildly remarkable, that Patricia had never at any time alluded to any one of those countless men who must have inevitably made love to her.
"Though, mind you, I don't say anything against Joe. He's a fine young fellow. Paid his own way through college. Done good work in Panama and in Alaska too. But—confound it, sir, the boy's a fool! Now I put it to you fairly, ain't he a fool?" said Mr. Stapylton.
"Upon my word, sir, if his folly has no other proof than an adoration of your daughter," the colonel protested, "I must in self-defense beg leave to differ with you."
Yes, that was it undoubtedly. Patricia had too high a sense of honor to exhibit these defeated rivals in a ridiculous light, even to him. It was a revelation of an additional and as yet unsuspected adorability.
Then after a little further talk they separated. Colonel Musgrave left that night for Matocton in order to inspect the improvements which were being made there. He was to return to Lichfield on the ensuing Wednesday, when his engagement to Patricia was to be announced—"just as your honored grandfather did your Aunt Constantia's betrothal."
Meanwhile Joe Parkinson, a young man much enamored, who fought the world by ordinary like Hal o' the Wynd, "for his own hand," was seeing Patricia every day.
Colonel Musgrave remained five days at Matocton, that he might put his house in order against his nearing marriage. It was a pleasant sight to see the colonel stroll about the paneled corridors and pause to chat with divers deferential workmen who were putting the last touches there, or to observe him mid-course in affable consultation with gardeners anent the rolling of a lawn or the retrimming of a rosebush, and to mark the bearing of the man so optimistically colored by goodwill toward the solar system.
He joyed in his old home,—in the hipped roof of it, the mullioned casements, the wide window-seats, the high and spacious rooms, the geometrical gardens and broad lawns, in all that was quaint and beautiful at Matocton,—because it would be Patricia's so very soon, the lovely frame of a yet lovelier picture, as the colonel phrased it with a flight of imagery.
Gravely he inspected all the portraits of his feminine ancestors that he might decide, as one without bias, whether Matocton had ever boasted a more delectable mistress. Equity—or in his fond eyes at least,—demanded a negative. Only in one of these canvases, a counterfeit of Miss Evelyn Ramsay, born a Ramsay of Blenheim, that had married the common great-great-grandfather of both the colonel and Patricia—Major Orlando Musgrave, an aide-de-camp to General Charles Lee in the Revolution,—Rudolph Musgrave found, or seemed to find, dear likenesses to that demented seraph who was about to stoop to his unworthiness.
He spent much time before this portrait. Yes, yes! this woman had been lovely in her day. And this bright, roguish shadow of her was lovely, too, eternally postured in white patnet, trimmed with a vine of rose-colored satin leaves, a pink rose in her powdered hair and a huge ostrich plume as well.
Yet it was an adamantean colonel that remarked:
"My dear, perhaps it is just as fortunate as not that you have quitted Matocton. For I have heard tales of you, Miss Ramsay. Oh, no! I honestly do not believe that you would have taken kindlily to any young person—not even in the guise of a great-great-grand-daughter,—to whom you cannot hold a candle, madam. A fico for you, madam," said the most undutiful of great-great-grandsons.
Let us leave him to his roseate meditations. Questionless, in the woman he loved there was much of his own invention: but the circumstance is not unhackneyed; and Colonel Musgrave was in a decorous fashion the happiest of living persons.
Meanwhile Joe Parkinson, a young man much enamored, who fought the world by ordinary, like Hal o' the Wynd "for his own hand," was seeing Patricia every day.
Joe Parkinson—tall and broad-shouldered, tanned, resolute, chary of speech, decisive in gesture, having close-cropped yellow hair and frank, keen eyes like amethysts,—was the one alien present when Colonel Musgrave came again into Roger Stapylton's fine and choicely-furnished mansion.
This was on the evening Roger Stapylton gave the long-anticipated dinner at which he was to announce his daughter's engagement. As much indeed was suspected by most of his dinner-company, so carefully selected from the aristocracy of Lichfield; and the heart of the former overseer, as these handsome, courtly and sweet voiced people settled according to their rank about his sumptuous table, was aglow with pride.
Then Rudolph Musgrave turned to his companion and said softly: "My dear, you are like a wraith. What is it?"
"I have a headache," said Patricia. "It is nothing."
"You reassure me," the colonel gaily declared, "for I had feared it was a heartache—"
She faced him. Desperation looked out of her purple eyes. "It is," the girl said swiftly.
"Ah—?" Only it was an intake of the breath, rather than an interjection. Colonel Musgrave ate his fish with deliberation. "Young Parkinson?" he presently suggested.
"I thought I had forgotten him. I didn't know I cared—I didn't know I could care so much—" And there was a note in her voice which thrust the poor colonel into an abyss of consternation.
"Remember that these people are your guests," he said, in perfect earnest.
"—and I refused him this afternoon for the last time, and he is going away to-morrow—"
But here Judge Allardyce broke in, to tell Miss Stapylton of the pleasure with which he had nolle prosequied the case against Tom Bellingham.
"A son of my old schoolmate, ma'am," the judge explained. "A Bellingham of Assequin. Oh, indiscreet of course—but, God bless my soul! when were the Bellinghams anything else? The boy regretted it as much as anybody."
And she listened with almost morbid curiosity concerning the finer details of legal intricacy.
Colonel Musgrave was mid-course in an anecdote which the lady upon the other side of him found wickedly amusing.
He was very gay. He had presently secured the attention of the company at large, and held it through a good half-hour; for by common consent Rudolph Musgrave was at his best to-night, and Lichfield found his best worth listening to.
"Grinning old popinjay!" thought Mr. Parkinson; and envied him and internally noted, and with an unholy fervor cursed, the adroitness of intonation and the discreetly modulated gesture with which the colonel gave to every point of his merry-Andrewing its precise value.
The colonel's mind was working busily on matters oddly apart from those of which he talked. He wanted this girl next to him—at whom he did not look. He loved her as that whippersnapper yonder was not capable of loving anyone. Young people had these fancies; and they outlived them, as the colonel knew of his own experience. Let matters take their course unhindered, at all events by him. For it was less his part than that of any other man alive to interfere when Rudolph Musgrave stood within a finger's reach of, at worst, his own prosperity and happiness.
He would convey no note to Roger Stapylton. Let the banker announce the engagement. Let the young fellow go to the devil. Colonel Musgrave would marry the girl and make Patricia, at worst, content. To do otherwise, even to hesitate, would be the emptiest quixotism....
Then came the fatal thought, "But what a gesture!" To fling away his happiness—yes, even his worldly fortune,—and to do it smilingly! Patricia must, perforce, admire him all her life.
Then as old Stapylton stirred in his chair and broke into a wide premonitory smile, Colonel Musgrave rose to his feet. And of that company Clarice Pendomer at least thought of how like he was to the boy who had fought the famous duel with George Pendomer some fifteen years ago.
Ensued a felicitous speech. Rudolph Musgrave was familiar with his audience. And therefore:
Colonel Musgrave alluded briefly to the pleasure he took in addressing such a gathering. He believed no other State in the 'Union could have afforded an assembly of more distinguished men and fairer women. But the fact was not unnatural; they might recall the venerable saying that blood will tell? Well, it was their peculiar privilege to represent to-day that sturdy stock which, when this great republic was in the pangs of birth, had with sword and pen and oratory discomfited the hirelings of England and given to history the undying names of several Revolutionary patriots,—all of whom he enumerated with the customary pause after each cognomen to allow for the customary applause.
And theirs, too, was the blood of those heroic men who fought more recently beneath the stars and bars, as bravely, he would make bold to say, as Leonidas at Thermopylae, in defense of their loved Southland. Right, he conceded, had not triumphed here. For hordes of brutal soldiery had invaded the fertile soil, the tempest of war had swept the land and left it desolate. The South lay battered and bruised, and pros trate in blood, the "Niobe of nations," as sad a victim of ingratitude as King Lear.
The colonel touched upon the time when buzzards, in the guise of carpet-baggers, had battened upon the recumbent form; and spoke slightingly of divers persons of antiquity as compared with various Confederate leaders, whose names were greeted with approving nods and ripples of polite enthusiasm.
But the South, and in particular the grand old Commonwealth which they inhabited, he stated, had not long sat among the ruins of her temples, like a sorrowing priestess with veiled eyes and a depressed soul, mourning for that which had been. Like the fabled Phoenix, she had risen from the ashes of her past. To-day she was once more to be seen in her hereditary position, the brightest gem in all that glorious galaxy of States which made America the envy of every other nation. Her battlefields converted into building lots, tall factories smoked where once a holocaust had flamed, and where cannon had roared you heard to-day the tinkle of the school bell. Such progress was without a parallel.
Nor was there any need for him, he was assured, to mention the imperishable names of their dear homeland's poets and statesmen of to-day, the orators and philanthropists and prominent business-men who jostled one another in her splendid, new asphalted streets, since all were quite familiar to his audience,—as familiar, he would venture to predict, as they would eventually be to the most cherished recollections of Macaulay's prophesied New Zealander, when this notorious antipodean should pay his long expected visit to the ruins of St. Paul's.
In fine, by a natural series of transitions, Colonel Musgrave thus worked around to "the very pleasing duty with which our host, in view of the long and intimate connection between our families, has seen fit to honor me"—which was, it developed, to announce the imminent marriage of Miss Patricia Stapylton and Mr. Joseph Parkinson.
It may conservatively be stated that everyone was surprised.
Old Stapylton had half risen, with a purple face.
The colonel viewed him with a look of bland interrogation.
There was silence for a heart-beat.
Then Stapylton lowered his eyes, if just because the laws of caste had triumphed, and in consequence his glance crossed that of his daughter, who sat motionless regarding him. She was an unusually pretty girl, he thought, and he had always been inordinately proud of her. It was not pride she seemed to beg him muster now. Patricia through that moment was not the fine daughter the old man was sometimes half afraid of. She was, too, like a certain defiant person—oh, of an incredible beauty, such as women had not any longer!—who had hastily put aside her bonnet and had looked at a young Roger Stapylton in much this fashion very long ago, because the minister was coming downstairs, and they would presently be man and wife,—provided always her pursuing brothers did not arrive in time....
Old Roger Stapylton cleared his throat.
Old Roger Stapylton said, half sheepishly: "My foot's asleep, that's all. I beg everybody's pardon, I'm sure. Please go on"—he had come within an ace of saying "Mr. Rudolph," and only in the nick of time did he continue, "Colonel Musgrave."
So the colonel continued in time-hallowed form, with happy allusions to Mr. Parkinson's anterior success as an engineer before he came "like a young Lochinvar to wrest away his beautiful and popular fiancee from us fainthearted fellows of Lichfield"; touched of course upon the colonel's personal comminglement of envy and rage, and so on, as an old bachelor who saw too late what he had missed in life; and concluded by proposing the health of the young couple.
This was drunk with all the honors.
Upon what Patricia said to the colonel in the drawing-room, what Joe Parkinson blurted out in the hall, and chief of all, what Roger Stapylton asseverated to Rudolph Musgrave in the library, after the other guests had gone, it is unnecessary to dwell in this place. To each of these in various fashions did Colonel Musgrave explain such reasons as, he variously explained, must seem to any gentleman sufficient cause for acting as he had done; but most candidly, and even with a touch of eloquence, to Roger Stapylton.
"You are like your grandfather, sir, at times," the latter said, inconsequently enough, when the colonel had finished.
And Rudolph Musgrave gave a little bowing gesture, with an entire gravity. He knew it was the highest tribute that Stapylton could pay to any man.
"She's a daughter any father might be proud of," said the banker, also. He removed his cigar from his mouth and looked at it critically. "She's rather like her mother sometimes," he said carelessly. "Her mother made a runaway match, you may remember—Damn' poor cigar, this. But no, you wouldn't, I reckon. I had branched out into cotton then and had a little place just outside of Chiswick—"
So that, all in all, Colonel Musgrave returned homeward not entirely dissatisfied.
The colonel sat for a long while before his fire that night. The room seemed less comfortable than he had ever known it. So many of his books and pictures and other furnishings had been already carried to Matocton that the walls were a little bare. Also there was a formidable pile of bills upon the table by him,—from contractors and upholsterers and furniture-houses, and so on, who had been concerned in the late renovation of Matocton,—the heralds of a host he hardly saw his way to dealing with.
He had flung away a deal of money that evening, with something which to him was dearer. Had you attempted to condole with him he would not have understood you.
"But what would you have had a gentleman do, sir?" Colonel Musgrave would have said, in real perplexity.
Besides, it was, in fact, not sorrow that he felt, rather it was contentment, when he remembered the girl's present happiness; and what alone depressed the colonel's courtly affability toward the universe at large was the queer, horrible new sense of being somehow out of touch with yesterday's so comfortable world, of being out-moded, of being almost old.
"Eh, well!" he said; "I am of a certain age undoubtedly."
By an odd turn the colonel thought of how his friends of his own class and generation had honestly admired the after-dinner speech which he had made that evening. And he smiled, but very tenderly, because they were all men and women whom he loved.
"The most of us have known each other for a long while. The most of us, in fact, are of a certain age.... I think no people ever met the sorry problem that we faced. For we were born the masters of a leisured, ordered world; and by a tragic quirk of destiny were thrust into a quite new planet, where we were for a while the inferiors, and after that just the competitors of yesterday's slaves.
"We couldn't meet the new conditions. Oh, for the love of heaven, let us be frank, and confess that we have not met them as things practical go. We hadn't the training for it. A man who has not been taught to swim may rationally be excused for preferring to sit upon the bank; and should he elect to ornament his idleness with protestations that he is self-evidently an excellent swimmer, because once upon a time his progenitors were the only people in the world who had the slightest conception of how to perform a natatorial masterpiece, the thing is simply human nature. Talking chokes nobody, worse luck.
"And yet we haven't done so badly. For the most part we have sat upon the bank our whole lives long. We have produced nothing—after all—which was absolutely earth-staggering; and we have talked a deal of clap-trap. But meanwhile we have at least enhanced the comeliness of our particular sand-bar. We have lived a courteous and tranquil and independent life thereon, just as our fathers taught us. It may be—in the final outcome of things—that will be found an even finer pursuit than the old one of producing Presidents.
"Besides, we have produced ourselves. We have been gentlefolk in spite of all, we have been true even in our iniquities to the traditions of our race. No, I cannot assert that these traditions always square with ethics or even with the Decalogue, for we have added a very complex Eleventh Commandment concerning honor. And for the rest, we have defiantly embroidered life, and indomitably we have converted the commonest happening of life into a comely thing. We have been artists if not artizans."
There was upon the table a large photograph in sepia of Patricia Stapylton. He studied this now. She was very beautiful, he thought.
"'Nor thou detain her vesture's hem'—" said the colonel aloud. "Oh, that infernal Yankee understood, even though he was born in Boston!" And this as coming from a Musgrave of Matocton, may fairly be considered as a sweeping tribute to the author of Give All to Love.
Colonel Musgrave was intent upon the portrait.... So! she had chosen at last between himself and this young fellow, a workman born of workmen, who went about the world building bridges and canals and tunnels and such, in those far countries which were to Colonel Musgrave just so many gray or pink or fawn-colored splotches on the map. It seemed to Colonel Musgrave almost an allegory.
So Colonel Musgrave filled a glass with the famed Lafayette madeira of Matocton, and solemnly drank yet another toast. He loved to do, as you already know, that which was colorful.
"To this new South," he said. "To this new South that has not any longer need of me or of my kind.
"To this new South! She does not gaze unwillingly, nor too complacently, upon old years, and dares concede that but with loss of manliness may any man encroach upon the heritage of a dog or of a trotting-horse, and consider the exploits of an ancestor to guarantee an innate and personal excellence.
"For to her all former glory is less a jewel than a touchstone, and with her portion of it daily she appraises her own doing, and without vain speech. And her high past she values now, in chief, as fit foundation of that edifice whereon she labors day by day, and with augmenting strokes."
* * * * *
And yet—"It may be he will serve you better. But, oh, it isn't possible that he should love you more than I," said Colonel Musgrave of Matocton.
The man was destined to remember that utterance—and, with the recollection, to laugh not altogether in either scorn or merriment.
PART FOUR - APPRECIATION
"You have chosen; and I cry content thereto, And cry your pardon also, and am reproved In that I took you for a woman I loved Odd centuries ago, and would undo That curious error. Nay, your eyes are blue, Your speech is gracious, but you are not she, And I am older—and changed how utterly!— I am no longer I, you are not you.
"Time, destined as we thought but to befriend And guerdon love like ours, finds you beset With joys and griefs I neither share nor mend Who am a stranger; and we two are met Nor wholly glad nor sorry; and the end Of too much laughter is a faint regret."
R.E. TOWNSEND. Sonnets for Elena.
Next morning Rudolph Musgrave found the world no longer an impassioned place, but simply a familiar habitation,—no longer the wrestling-ground of big emotions, indeed, but undoubtedly a spot, whatever were its other pretensions to praise, wherein one was at home. He breakfasted on ham and eggs, in a state of tolerable equanimity; and mildly wondered at himself for doing it.
The colonel was deep in a heraldic design and was whistling through his teeth when Patricia came into the Library. He looked up, with the outlines of a frown vanishing like pencilings under the india-rubber of professional courtesy,—for he was denoting or at the moment, which is fussy work, as it consists exclusively of dots.
Then his chair scraped audibly upon the floor as he pushed it from him. It occurred to Rudolph Musgrave after an interval that he was still half-way between sitting and standing, and that his mouth was open....
He could hear a huckster outside on Regis Avenue. The colonel never forgot the man was crying "Fresh oranges!"
"He kissed me, Olaf. Yes, I let him kiss me, even after he had asked me if he could. No sensible girl would ever do that, of course. And then I knew—"
Patricia was horribly frightened.
"And afterwards the jackass-fool made matters worse by calling me 'his darling.' There is no more hateful word in the English language than 'darling.' It sounds like castor-oil tastes, or a snail looks after you have put salt on him."
The colonel deliberated this information; and he appeared to understand.
"So Parkinson has gone the way of Pevensey,—. and of I wonder how many others? Well, may Heaven be very gracious to us both!" he said. "For I am going to do it."
Then composedly he took up the telephone upon his desk and called Roger Stapylton.
"I want you to come at once to Dr. Rabbet's,—yes, the rectory, next door to St. Luke's. Patricia and I are to be married there in half an hour. We are on our way to the City Hall to get the license now.... No, she might change her mind again, you see.... I have not the least notion how it happened. I don't care.... Then you will have to be rude to him or else not see your only daughter married.... Kindly permit me to repeat, sir, that I don't care about that or anything else. And for the rest, Patricia was twenty-one last December."
The colonel hung up the receiver. "And now," he said, "we are going to the City Hall."
"Are you?" said Patricia, with courteous interest. "Well, my way lies uptown. I have to stop in at Greenberg's and get a mustard plaster for the parrot."
He had his hat by this. "It isn't cool enough for me to need an overcoat, is it?"
"I think you must be crazy," she said, sharply.
"Of course I am. So I am going to marry you."
"Let me go—! Oh, and I had thought you were a gentleman—."
"I fear that at present I am simply masculine." He became aware that his hands, in gripping both her shoulders, were hurting the girl.
"Come now," he continued, "will you go quietly or will I have to carry you?"
She said, "And you would, too—." She spoke in wonder, for Patricia had glimpsed an unguessed Rudolph Musgrave.
His hands went under her arm-pits and he lifted her like a feather. He held her thus at arm's length.
"You—you adorable whirligig!" he laughed. "I am a stronger animal than you. It would be as easy for me to murder you as it would be for you to kill one of those flies on the window-pane. Do you quite understand that fact, Patricia?"
"Oh, but you are an idiot—."
"In wanting you, my dear?"
"Please put me down."
She thoroughly enjoyed her helplessness. He saw it, long before he lowered her.
"Why, not so much in that," said Miss Stapylton, "because inasmuch as I am a woman of superlative charm, of course you can't help yourself. But how do you know that Dr. Rabbet may not be somewhere else, harrying a defenseless barkeeper, or superintending the making of dress-shirt protectors for the Hottentots, or doing something else clerical, when we get to the rectory?"
After an irrelevant interlude she stamped her foot.
"I don't care what you say, I won't marry an atheist. If you had the least respect for his cloth, Olaf, you would call him up and arrange—Oh, well! whatever you want to arrange—and permit me to powder my nose without being bothered, because I don't want people to think you are marrying a second helping to butter, and I never did like that Baptist man on the block above, anyhow. And besides," said Patricia, as with the occurrence of a new view-point, "think what a delicious scandal it will create!"
Patricia spoke the truth. By supper-time Lichfield had so industriously embroidered the Stapylton dinner and the ensuing marriage with hypotheses and explanations and unparented rumors that none of the participants in the affair but could advantageously have exchanged reputations with Benedict Arnold or Lucretia Borgia, had Lichfield believed a tithe of what Lichfield was repeating.
A duel was of course anticipated between Mr. Parkinson and Colonel Musgrave, and the colonel indeed offered, through Major Wadleigh, any satisfaction which Mr. Parkinson might desire.
The engineer, with garnishments of profanity, considered dueling to be a painstakingly-described absurdity and wished "the old popinjay" joy of his bargain.
Lichfield felt that only showed what came of treating poor-white trash as your equals, and gloried in the salutary moral.
Meanwhile the two originators of so much Lichfieldian diversion were not unhappy.
But indeed it were irreverent even to try to express the happiness of their earlier married life ...
They were an ill-matched couple in so many ways that no long-headed person could conceivably have anticipated—in the outcome—more than decorous tolerance of each other. For apart from the disparity in age and tastes and rearing, there was always the fact to be weighed that in marrying the only child of a wealthy man Rudolph Musgrave was making what Lichfield called "an eminently sensible match"—than which, as Lichfield knew, there is no more infallible recipe for discord.
In this case the axiom seemed, after the manner of all general rules, to bulwark itself with an exception. Colonel Musgrave continued to emanate an air of contentment which fell perilously short of fatuity; and that Patricia was honestly fond of him was evident to the most impecunious of Lichfield's bachelors.
True, curtains had been lifted, a little by a little. Patricia could hardly have told you at what exact moment it was that she discovered Miss Agatha—who continued of course to live with them—was a dipsomaniac. Very certainly Rudolph Musgrave was not Patricia's informant; it is doubtful if the colonel ever conceded his sister's infirmity in his most private meditations; so that Patricia found the cause of Miss Agatha's "attacks" to be an open secret of which everyone in the house seemed aware and of which by tacit agreement nobody ever spoke. It bewildered Patricia, at first, to find that as concerned Lichfield at large any over-indulgence in alcohol by a member of the Musgrave family was satisfactorily accounted for by the matter-of-course statement that the Musgraves usually "drank,"—just as the Allardyces notoriously perpetuated the taint of insanity, and the Townsends were proverbially unable "to let women alone," and the Vartreys were deplorably prone to dabble in literature. These things had been for a long while just as they were to-day; and therefore (Lichfield estimated) they must be reasonable.
Then, too, Patricia would have preferred to have been rid of the old mulatto woman Virginia, because it was through Virginia that Miss Agatha furtively procured intoxicants. But Rudolph Musgrave would not consider Virginia's leaving. "Virginia's faithfulness has been proven by too many years of faithful service" was the formula with which he dismissed the suggestion ... Afterward Patricia learned from Miss Agatha of the wrong that had been done Virginia by Olaf's uncle, Senator Edward Musgrave, the noted ante-bellum orator, and understood that Olaf—without, of course, conceding it to himself, because that was Olaf's way—was trying to make reparation. Patricia respected the sentiment, and continued to fret under its manifestation.
Miss Agatha also told Patricia of how the son of Virginia and Senator Musgrave had come to a disastrous end—"lynched in Texas, I believe, only it may not have been Texas. And indeed when I come to think of it, I don't believe it was, because I know we first heard of it on a Monday, and Virginia couldn't do the washing that week and I had to send it out. And for the usual crime, of course. It simply shows you how much better off the darkies were before the War," Miss Agatha said.
Patricia refrained from comment, not being willing to consider the deduction strained. For love is a contagious infection; and loving Rudolph Musgrave so much, Patricia must perforce love any person whom he loved as conscientiously as she would have strangled any person with whom he had flirted.
And yet, to Patricia, it was beginning to seem that Patricia Musgrave was not living, altogether, in that Lichfield which John Charteris has made immortal—"that nursery of Free Principles" (according to the Lichfield Courier-Herald) "wherein so many statesmen, lieutenants-general and orators were trained to further the faith of their fathers, to thrill the listening senates, draft constitutions, and bruise the paws of the British lion."
It may be remembered that Lichfield had asked long ago, "But who, pray, are the Stapyltons?" It was characteristic of Colonel Musgrave that he went about answering the question without delay. The Stapletons—for "Stapylton" was a happy innovation of Roger Stapylton's dead wife—the colonel knew to have been farmers in Brummell County, and Brummell Courthouse is within an hour's ride, by rail, of Lichfield.
So he set about his labor of love.
And in it he excelled himself. The records of Brummell date back to 1750 and are voluminous; but Rudolph Musgrave did not overlook an item in any Will Book, or in any Orders of the Court, that pertained, however remotely, to the Stapletons. Then he renewed his labors at the courthouse of the older county from which Brummell was formed in 1750, and through many fragmentary, evil-odored and unindexed volumes indefatigably pursued the family's fortune back to the immigration of its American progenitor in 1619,—and, by the happiest fatality, upon the same Bona Nova which enabled the first American Musgrave to grace the Colony of Virginia with his presence. It could no longer be said that the wife of a Musgrave of Matocton lacked an authentic and tolerably ancient pedigree.
The colonel made a book of his Stapyltonian researches which he vaingloriously proclaimed to be the stupidest reading within the ample field of uninteresting printed English. Patricia was allowed to see no word of it until the first ten copies had come from the printer's, very splendid in green "art-vellum" and stamped with the Stapylton coat-of-arms in gold.
She read the book. "It is perfectly superb," was her verdict. "It is as dear as remembered kisses after death and as sweet as a plaintiff in a breach-of-promise suit. Only I would have preferred it served with a few kings and dukes for parsley. The Stapletons don't seem to have been anything but perfectly respectable mediocrities."
The colonel smiled. At the bottom of his heart he shared Patricia's regret that the Stapylton pedigree was unadorned by a potentate, because nobody can stay unimpressed by a popular superstition, however crass the thing may be. But for all this, an appraisal of himself and his own achievements profusely showed high lineage is not invariably a guarantee of excellence; and so he smiled and said:
"There are two ends to every stick. It was the Stapletons and others of their sort, rather than any soft-handed Musgraves, who converted a wilderness, a little by a little, into the America of to-day. The task was tediously achieved, and without ostentation; and always the ship had its resplendent figure-head, as always it had its hidden, nay! grimy, engines, which propelled the ship. And, however direfully America may differ from Utopia, to have assisted in the making of America is no mean distinction. We Musgraves and our peers, I sometimes think, may possibly have been just gaudy autumn leaves which happened to lie in the path of a high wind. And to cut a gallant figure in such circumstances does not necessarily prove the performer to be a rara avis, even though he rides the whirlwind quite as splendidly as any bird existent."
Patricia fluttered, and as lightly and irresponsibly as a wren might have done, perched on his knee.
"No! there is really something in heredity, after all. Now, you are a Musgrave in every vein of you. It always seems like a sort of flippancy for you to appear in public without a stock and a tarnished gilt frame with most of the gilt knocked off and a catalogue-number tucked in the corner." Patricia spoke without any regard for punctuation. "And I am so unlike you. I am only a Stapylton. I do hope you don't mind my being merely a Stapylton, Olaf, because if only I wasn't too modest to even think of alluding to the circumstance, I would try to tell you about the tiniest fraction of how much a certain ravishingly beautiful half-strainer loves you, Olaf, and the consequences would be deplorable."
"My dear——" he began.
"Ouch!" said Patricia; "you are tickling me. You don't shave half as often as you used to, do you? No, nowadays you think you have me safe and don't have to bother about being attractive. If I had a music-box I could put your face into it and play all sorts of tunes, only I prefer to look at it. You are a slattern and a jay-bird and a joy forever. And besides, the first Stapleton seems to have blundered somehow into the House of Burgesses, so that entitles me to be a Colonial Dame on my father's side, too, doesn't it, Olaf?"
The colonel laughed. "Madam Vanity!" said he, "I repeat that to be descended of a line of czars or from a house of emperors is, at the worst, an empty braggartism, or, at best—upon the plea of heredity—a handy palliation for iniquity; and to be descended of sturdy and honest and clean-blooded folk is beyond doubt preferable, since upon quite similar grounds it entitles one to hope that even now, 'when their generation is gone, when their play is over, when their panorama is withdrawn in tatters from the stage of the world,' there may yet survive of them 'some few actions worth remembering, and a few children who have retained some happy stamp from the disposition of their parents.'"
Patricia—with eyes widened in admiration at his rhetoric,—had turned an enticing shade of pink.
"I am glad of that," she said.
She snuggled so close he could not see her face now. She was to all appearances attempting to twist the top-button from his coat.
"I am very glad that it entitles one to hope—about the children—Because—"
The colonel lifted her a little from him. He did not say anything. But he was regarding her half in wonder and one-half in worship.
She, too, was silent. Presently she nodded.
He kissed her as one does a very holy relic.
It was a moment to look back upon always. There was no period in Rudolph Musgrave's life when he could not look back upon this instant and exult because it had been his.
* * * * *
Only, Patricia found out afterward, with an inexplicable disappointment, that her husband had not been talking extempore, but was freely quoting his "Compiler's Foreword" just as it figured in the printed book.
One judges this posturing, so inevitable of detection, to have been as significant of much in Rudolph Musgrave as was the fact of its belated discovery characteristic of Patricia.
Yet she had read this book about her family from purely normal motives: first, to make certain how old her various cousins were; secondly, to gloat over any traces of distinction such as her ancestry afforded; thirdly, to note with what exaggerated importance the text seemed to accredit those relatives she did not esteem, and mentally to annotate each page with unprintable events "which everybody knew about"; and fourthly, to reflect, as with a gush of steadily augmenting love, how dear and how unpractical it was of Olaf to have concocted these date-bristling pages—so staunch and blind in his misguided gratitude toward those otherwise uninteresting people who had rendered possible the existence of a Patricia.
Matters went badly with Patricia in the ensuing months. Her mother's blood told here, as Colonel Musgrave saw with disquietude. He knew the women of his race had by ordinary been unfit for childbearing; indeed, the daughters of this famous house had long, in a grim routine, perished, just as Patricia's mother had done, in their first maternal essay. There were many hideous histories the colonel could have told you of, unmeet to be set down, and he was familiar with this talk of pelvic anomalies which were congenital. But he had never thought of Patricia, till this, as being his kinswoman, and in part a Musgrave.
And even now the Stapylton blood that was in her pulled Patricia through long weeks of anguish. Surgeons dealt with her very horribly in a famed Northern hospital, whither she had been removed. By her obdurate request—and secretly, to his own preference, since it was never in his power to meet discomfort willingly—Colonel Musgrave had remained in Lichfield. Patricia knew that officious people would tell him her life could be saved only by the destruction of an unborn boy.
She never questioned her child would be a boy. She knew that Olaf wanted a boy.
"Oh, even more than he does me, daddy. And so he mustn't know, you see, until it is all over. Because Olaf is such an ill-informed person that he really believes he prefers me."
"Pat," her father inconsequently said, "I'm proud of you! And—and, by God, if I want to cry, I guess I am old enough to know my own mind! And I'll help you in this if you'll only promise not to die in spite of what these damn' doctors say, because you're mine, Pat, and so you realize a bargain is a bargain."
"Yes—I am really yours, daddy. It is just my crazy body that is a Musgrave," Patricia explained. "The real me is an unfortunate Stapylton who has somehow got locked up in the wrong house. It is not a desirable residence, you know, daddy. No modern improvements, for instance. But I have to live in it!... Still, I have not the least intention of dying, and I solemnly promise that I won't."
So these two hoodwinked Rudolph Musgrave, and brought it about by subterfuge that his child was born. At most he vaguely understood that Patricia was having rather a hard time of it, and steadfastly drugged this knowledge by the performance of trivialities. He was eating a cucumber sandwich at the moment young Roger Musgrave came into the world, and by that action very nearly accomplished Patricia's death.
And the gods cursed Roger Stapylton with such a pride in, and so great a love for, his only grandson that the old man could hardly bear to be out of the infant's presence. He was frequently in Lichfield nowadays; and he renewed his demands that Rudolph Musgrave give up the exhaustively-particularized librarianship, so that "the little coot" would be removed to New York and all three of them be with Roger Stapylton always.
Patricia had not been well since little Roger's birth.
It was a peaked and shrewish Patricia, rather than Rudolph Musgrave, who fought out the long and obstinate battle with Roger Stapylton.
She was jealous at the bottom of her heart. She would not have anyone, not even her father, be too fond of what was preeminently hers; the world at large, including Rudolph Musgrave, was at liberty to adore her boy, as was perfectly natural, but not to meddle: and in fine, Patricia was both hysterical and vixenish whenever a giving up of the Library work was suggested.
The old man did not quarrel with her. And with Roger Stapylton's loneliness in these days, and the long thoughts it bred, we have nothing here to do. But when he died, stricken without warning, some five years after Patricia's marriage, his will was discovered to bequeath practically his entire fortune to little Roger Musgrave when the child should come of age; and to Rudolph Musgrave, as Patricia's husband, what was a reasonable income when judged by Lichfield's unexacting standards rather than by Patricia's anticipations. In a word, Patricia found that she and the colonel could for the future count upon a little more than half of the income she had previously been allowed by Roger Stapylton.
"It isn't fair!" she said. "It's monstrous! And all because you were so obstinate about your picayune Library!"
"Patricia—" he began.
"Oh, I tell you it's absurd, Olaf! The money logically ought to have been left to me. And here I will have to come to you for every penny of my money. And Heaven knows I have had to scrimp enough to support us all on what I used to have—Olaf," Patricia said, in another voice, "Olaf! why, what is it, dear?"
"I was reflecting," said Colonel Musgrave, "that, as you justly observe, both Agatha and I have been practically indebted to you for our support these past five years—"
It must be enregistered, not to the man's credit, but rather as a simple fact, that it was never within Colonel Musgrave's power to forget the incident immediately recorded.
He forgave; when Patricia wept, seeing how leaden-colored his handsome face had turned, he forgave as promptly and as freely as he was learning to pardon the telling of a serviceable lie, or the perpetration of an occasional barbarism in speech, by Patricia. For he, a Musgrave of Matocton, had married a Stapylton; he had begun to comprehend that their standards were different, and that some daily conflict between these standards was inevitable.
And besides, as it has been veraciously observed, the truth of an insult is the barb which prevents its retraction. Patricia spoke the truth: Rudolph Musgrave and all those rationally reliant upon Rudolph Musgrave for support, had lived for some five years upon the money which they owed to Patricia. He saw about him other scions of old families who accepted such circumstances blithely: but, he said, he was a Musgrave of Matocton; and, he reflected, in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed is necessarily very unhappy.
He did not mean to touch a penny of such moneys as Roger Stapylton had bequeathed to him; for the colonel considered—now—it was a man's duty personally to support his wife and child and sister. And he vigorously attempted to discharge this obligation, alike by virtue of his salary at the Library, and by spasmodic raids upon his tiny capital, and—chief of all—by speculation in the Stock Market.
Oddly enough, his ventures were through a long while—for the most part—successful. Here he builded a desperate edifice whose foundations were his social talents; and it was with quaint self-abhorrence he often noted how the telling of a smutty jest or the insistence upon a manifestly superfluous glass of wine had purchased from some properly tickled magnate a much desiderated "tip."
And presently these tips misled him. So the colonel borrowed from "Patricia's account."
And on this occasion he guessed correctly.
And then he stumbled upon such a chance for reinvestment as does not often arrive. And so he borrowed a trifle more in common justice to Patricia....
When those then famous warriors, Colonel Gaynor and Captain Green, were obstinately fighting extradition in Quebec; when in Washington the Senate was wording a suitable resolution wherewith to congratulate Cuba upon that island's brand-new independence; and when Messieurs Fitzsimmons and Jeffries were making amicable arrangements in San Francisco to fight for the world's championship:—at this remote time, in Chicago (on the same day, indeed, that in this very city Mr. S.E. Gross was legally declared the author of a play called Cyrano de Bergerac), the Sons of the Colonial Governors opened their tenth biennial convention. You may depend upon it that Colonel Rudolph Musgrave represented the Lichfield chapter.
It was two days later the telegram arrived. It read:
Agatha very ill come to me roger in perfect health. PATRICIA.
He noted how with Stapyltonian thrift Patricia telegraphed ten words precisely....
And when he had reached home, late in the evening, the colonel, not having taken his bunch of keys with him, laid down his dress-suit case on the dark porch, and reached out one hand to the door-bell. He found it muffled with some flimsy, gritty fabric. He did not ring.
Upon the porch was a rustic bench. He sat upon it for a quarter of an hour—precisely where he had first talked with Agatha about Patricia's first coming to Lichfield.... Once the door of a house across the street was opened, with a widening gush of amber light wherein he saw three women fitting wraps about them. One of them was adjusting a lace scarf above her hair.
"No, we're not a bit afraid—Just around the corner, you know—Such a pleasant evening——" Their voices carried far in the still night.
Rudolph Musgrave was not thinking of anything. Presently he went around through the side entrance, and thus came into the kitchen, where the old mulattress, Virginia, was sitting alone. The room was very hot.... In Agatha's time supper would have been cooked upon the gas-range in the cellar, he reflected.... Virginia had risen and made as though to take his dress-suit case, her pleasant yellow face as imperturbable as an idol's.
"No—don't bother, Virginia," said Colonel Musgrave.
He met Patricia in the dining-room, on her way to the kitchen. She had not chosen—as even the most sensible of us will instinctively decline to do—to vex the quiet of a house wherein death was by ringing a bell.
Holding his hand in hers, fondling it as she talked, Patricia told how three nights before Miss Agatha had been "queer, you know," at supper. Patricia had not liked to leave her, but it was the night of the Woman's Club's second Whist Tournament. And Virginia had promised to watch Miss Agatha. And, anyhow, Miss Agatha had gone to bed before Patricia left the house, and anybody would have thought she was going to sleep all night. And, in fine, Patricia's return at a drizzling half-past eleven had found Miss Agatha sitting in the garden, in her night-dress only, weeping over fancied grievances—and Virginia asleep in the kitchen. And Agatha had died that afternoon of pneumonia.
Even in the last half-stupor she was asking always when would Rudolph come? Patricia told him....
Rudolph Musgrave did not say anything. Without any apparent emotion he put Patricia aside, much as he did the dress-suit case which he had forgotten to lay down until Patricia had ended her recital.
He went upstairs—to the front room, Patricia's bedroom. Patricia followed him.
Agatha's body lay upon the bed, with a sheet over all. The undertaker's skill had arranged everything with smug and horrible tranquillity.
Rudolph Musgrave remembered he was forty-six years old; and when in all these years had there been a moment when Agatha—the real Agatha—had not known that what he had done was self-evidently correct, because otherwise Rudolph would not have done it?
"I trust you enjoyed your whist-game, Patricia."
"Well, I couldn't help it. I'm not running a sanitarium. I wasn't responsible for her eternal drinking."
The words skipped out of either mouth like gleeful little devils.
Then both were afraid, and both were as icily tranquil as the thing upon the bed. You could not hear anything except the clock upon the mantel. Colonel Musgrave went to the mantel, opened the clock, and with an odd deliberation removed the pendulum from its hook. Followed one metallic gasp, as of indignation, and then silence.
He spoke, still staring at the clock, his back turned to Patricia. "You must be utterly worn out. You had better go to bed."
He shifted by the fraction of an inch the old-fashioned "hand-colored" daguerreotype of his father in Confederate uniform. "Please don't wear that black dress again. It is no cause for mourning that we are rid of an encumbrance."
Behind him, very far away, it seemed, he heard Patricia wailing, "Olaf——!"
Colonel Musgrave turned without any haste. "Please go," he said, and appeared to plead with her. "You must be frightfully tired. I am sorry that I was not here. I seem always to evade my responsibilities, somehow—"
Then he began to laugh. "It is rather amusing, after all. Agatha was the most noble person I have ever known. The—this habit of hers to which you have alluded was not a part of her. And I loved Agatha. And I suppose loving is not altogether dependent upon logic. In any event, I loved Agatha. And when I came back to her I had come home, somehow—wherever she might be at the time. That has been true, oh, ever since I can remember—"
He touched the dead hand now. "Please go!" he said, and he did not look toward Patricia. "For Agatha loved me better than she did God, you know. The curse was born in her. She had to pay for what those dead, soft-handed Musgraves did. That is why her hands are so cold now. She had to pay for the privilege of being a Musgrave, you see. But then we cannot always pick and choose as to what we prefer to be."
"Oh, yes, of course, it is all my fault. Everything is my fault. But God knows what would have become of you and your Agatha if it hadn't been for me. Oh! oh!" Patricia wailed. "I was a child and I hadn't any better sense, and I married you, and you've been living off my money ever since! There hasn't been a Christmas present or a funeral wreath bought in this house since I came into it I didn't pick out and pay for out of my own pocket. And all the thanks I get for it is this perpetual fault-finding, and I wish I was dead like this poor saint here. She spent her life slaving for you. And what thanks did she get for it? Oh, you ought to go down on your knees, Rudolph Musgrave—!"
"Please leave," he said.
"I will leave when I feel like it, and not a single minute before, and you might just as well understand as much. You have been living off my money. Oh, you needn't go to the trouble of lying. And she did too. And she hated me, she always hated me, because I had been fool enough to marry you, and she carried on like a lunatic more than half the time, and I always pretended not to notice it, and this is my reward for trying to behave like a lady."
Patricia tossed her head. "Yes, and you needn't look at me as if I were some sort of a bug you hadn't ever seen before and didn't approve of, because I've seen you try that high-and-mighty trick too often for it to work with me."
Patricia stood now beneath the Stuart portrait of young Gerald Musgrave. She had insisted, long ago, that it be hung in her own bedroom—"because it was through that beautiful boy we first got really acquainted, Olaf." The boy smiles at you from the canvas, smiles ambiguously, as the colonel now noted.
"I think you had better go," said Colonel Musgrave. "Please go, Patricia, before I murder you."
She saw that he was speaking in perfect earnest.
Rudolph Musgrave sat all night beside the body. He had declined to speak with innumerable sympathetic cousins—Vartreys and Fentons and Allardyces and Musgraves, to the fifth and sixth remove—who had come from all quarters, with visiting-cards and low-voiced requests to be informed "if there is anything we can possibly do."
Rudolph Musgrave sat all night beside the body. He had not any strength for anger now, and hardly for grief, Agatha had been his charge; and the fact that he had never plucked up courage to allude to her practises was now an enormity in which he could not quite believe. His cowardice and its fruitage confronted him, and frightened him into a panic frenzy of remorse.
Agatha had been his charge; and he had entrusted the stewardship to Patricia. Between them—that Patricia might have her card-game, that he might sit upon a platform for an hour or two with a half-dozen other pompous fools—they had let Agatha die. There was no mercy in him for Patricia or for himself. He wished Patricia had been a man. Had any man —an emperor or a coal-heaver, it would not have mattered—spoken as Patricia had done within the moment, here, within arm's reach of the poor flesh that had been Agatha's, Rudolph Musgrave would have known his duty. But, according to his code, it was not permitted to be discourteous to a woman....
He caught himself with grotesque meanness wishing that Agatha had been there,—privileged by her sex where he was fettered,—she who was so generous of heart and so fiery of tongue at need; and comprehension that Agatha would never abet or adore him any more smote him anew.
* * * * *
And chance reserved for him more poignant torture. Next day, while Rudolph Musgrave was making out the list of honorary pall-bearers, the postman brought a letter which had been forwarded from Chicago. It was from Agatha, written upon the morning of that day wherein later she had been, as Patricia phrased it, "queer, you know."
He found it wildly droll to puzzle out those "crossed" four sheets of trivialities written in an Italian hand so minute and orderly that the finished page suggested a fly-screen. He had so often remonstrated with Agatha about her penuriousness as concerned stationery.
"Selina Brice & the Rev'd Henry Anstruther, who now has a church in Seattle, have announced their engagement. Stanley Haggage has gone to Alabama to marry Leonora Bright, who moved from here a year ago. They are both as poor as church mice, & I think marriage in such a case an unwise step for anyone. It brings cares & anxieties enough any way, without starting out with poverty to increase and render deeper every trouble...."
Such was the tenor of Agatha's last letter, of the last self-expression of that effigy upstairs who (you could see) knew everything and was not discontent.
Here the dead spoke, omniscient; and told you that Stanley Haggage had gone to Alabama, and that marriage brought new cares and anxieties.
"I cannot laugh," said Rudolph Musgrave, aloud. "I know the jest deserves it. But I cannot laugh, because my upper lip seems to be made of leather and I can't move it. And, besides, I loved Agatha to a degree which only You and I have ever known of. She never understood quite how I loved her. Oh, won't You make her understand just how I loved her? For Agatha is dead, because You wanted her to be dead, and I have never told her how much I loved her, and now I cannot ever tell her how much I loved her. Oh, won't You please show me that You have made her understand? or else have me struck by lightning? or do anything....?"
Nothing was done.
And afterward Rudolph Musgrave and his wife met amicably, and without reference to their last talk. Patricia wore black-and-white for some six months, and Colonel Musgrave accepted the compromise tacitly. All passed with perfect smoothness between them; and anyone in Lichfield would have told you that the Musgraves were a model couple.
She called him "Rudolph" now.
"Olaf is such a silly-sounding nickname for two old married people, you know," Patricia estimated.
The colonel negligently said that he supposed it did sound odd.
"Only I don't think Clarice Pendomer would care about coming," he resumed,—for the two were discussing an uncompleted list of the people Patricia was to invite to their first house-party.
"And for heaven's sake, why not? We always have her to everything."
He could not tell her it was because the Charterises were to be among their guests. So he said: "Oh, well—!"
"Mrs. C.B. Pendomer, then"—Patricia wrote the name with a flourish. "Oh, you jay-bird, I'm not jealous. Everybody knows you never had any more morals than a tom-cat on the back fence. It's a lucky thing the boy didn't take after you, isn't it? He doesn't, not a bit. No, Harry Pendomer is the puniest black-haired little wretch, whereas your other son, sir, resembles his mother and is in consequence a ravishingly beautiful person of superlative charm—"
He was staring at her so oddly that she paused. So Patricia was familiar with that old scandal which linked his name with Clarice Pendomer's! He was wondering if Patricia had married him in the belief that she was marrying a man who, appraised by any standards, had acted infamously.
"I was only thinking you had better ask Judge Allardyce, Patricia. You see, he is absolutely certain not to come—"
* * * * *
This year the Musgraves had decided not to spend the spring alone together at Matocton, as they had done the four preceding years.
"It looks so silly," as Patricia pointed out.
And, besides, a house-party is the most economical method,—as she also pointed out, being born a Stapylton—of paying off your social obligations, because you can always ask so many people who, you know, have made other plans, and cannot accept.
* * * * *
"So we will invite Judge Allardyce, of course," said Patricia. "I had forgotten his court met in June. Oh, and Peter Blagden too. It had slipped my mind his uncle was dead...."
"I learned this morning Mrs. Haggage was to lecture in Louisville on the sixteenth. She was reading up in the Library, you see—"
"Rudolph, you are the lodestar of my existence. I will ask her to come on the fourteenth and spend a week. I never could abide the hag, but she has such a—There! I've made a big blot right in the middle of 'darling,' and spoiled a perfectly good sheet of paper!... You'd better mail it at once, though, because the evening-paper may have something in it about her lecture."
This was after supper, and Patricia was playing solitaire. Her husband was reading the paper.
"Agatha told me all about Virginia, you know—"
Here Colonel Musgrave frowned. "It is not a pleasant topic."
"You jay-bird, you behave entirely too much as if you were my grandfather. As I was saying, Agatha told me all about your uncle and Virginia," Patricia hurried on. "And how she ran away afterwards, and hid in the woods for three days, and came to your father's plantation, and how your father bought her, and how her son was born, and how her son was lynched—"
"Now, really, Patricia! Surely there are other matters which may be more profitably discussed."
"Of course. Now, for instance, why is the King of Hearts the only one that hasn't a moustache?" Patricia peeped to see what cards lay beneath that monarch, and upon reflection moved the King of Spades into the vacant space. She was a devotee of solitaire and invariably cheated at it.
She went on, absently: "But don't you see? That colored boy was your own first cousin, and he was killed for doing exactly what his father had done. Only they sent the father to the Senate and gave him columns of flubdub and laid him out in state when he died—and they poured kerosene upon the son and burned him alive. And I believe Virginia thinks that wasn't fair."
"What do you mean?"
"I honestly believe Virginia hates the Musgraves. She is only a negro, of course, but then she was a mother once—Oh, yes! all I need is a black eight—" Patricia demanded, "Now look at your brother Hector—the awfully dissipated one that died of an overdose of opiates. When it happened wasn't Virginia taking care of him?"
"Of course. She is an invaluable nurse."
"And nobody else was here when Agatha went out into the rain. Now, what if she had just let Agatha go, without trying to stop her? It would have been perfectly simple. So is this. All I have to do is to take them off now."
Colonel Musgrave negligently returned to his perusal of the afternoon paper. "You are suggesting—if you will overlook my frankness—the most deplorable sort of nonsense, Patricia."
"I know exactly how Balaam felt," she said, irrelevantly, and fell to shuffling the cards. "You don't, and you won't, understand that Virginia is a human being. In any event, I wish you would get rid of her."
"I couldn't decently do that," said Rudolph Musgrave, with careful patience. "Virginia's faithfulness has been proven by too many years of faithful service. Nothing more strikingly attests the folly of freeing the negro than the unwillingness of the better class of slaves to leave their former owners—"
"Now you are going to quote a paragraph or so from your Gracious Era. As if I hadn't read everything you ever wrote! You are a fearful humbug in some ways, Rudolph."
"And you are a red-headed rattlepate, madam. But seriously, Patricia, you who were reared in the North are strangely unwilling to concede that we of the South are after all best qualified to deal with the Negro Problem. We know the negro as you cannot ever know him."
"You! Oh, God ha' mercy on us!" mocked Patricia. "There wasn't any Negro Problem hereabouts, you beautiful idiot, so long as there were any negroes. Why, to-day there is hardly one full-blooded negro in Lichfield. There are only a thousand or so of mulattoes who share the blood of people like your Uncle Edward. And for the most part they take after their white kin, unfortunately. And there you have the Lichfield Negro Problem in a nutshell. It is a venerable one and fully set forth in the Bible. You needn't attempt to argue with me, because you are a ninnyhammer, and I am a second Nestor. The Holy Scriptures are perfectly explicit as to what happens to the heads of the children and their teeth too."
"I wish you wouldn't jest about such matters—"
"Because it isn't lady-like? But, Rudolph, you know perfectly well that I am not a lady."
"My dear!" he cried, in horror that was real, "and what on earth have I said even to suggest—"
"Oh, not a syllable; it isn't at all the sort of thing that your sort says ... And I am not your sort. I don't know that I altogether wish I were. But if I were, it would certainly make things easier," Patricia added sharply.
"My dear—!" he again protested.
"Now, candidly, Rudolph"—relinquishing the game, she fell to shuffling the cards—"just count up the number of times this month that my—oh, well! I really don't know what to call it except my deplorable omission in failing to be born a lady—has seemed to you to yank the very last rag off the gooseberry-bush?"
He scoffed. "What nonsense! Although, of course, Patricia—"
She nodded, mischief in her brightly-colored tiny face. "Yes, that is just your attitude, you beautiful idiot."
"—although, of course—now, quite honestly, Patricia, I have occasionally wished that you would not speak of sacred and—er, physical and sociological matters in exactly the tone in which—well! in which you sometimes do speak of them. It may sound old-fashioned, but I have always believed that decency is quite as important in mental affairs as it is in physical ones, and that as a consequence, a gentlewoman should always clothe her thoughts with at least the same care she accords her body. Oh, don't misunderstand me! Of course it doesn't do any harm, my dear, between us. But outside—you see, for people to know that you think about such things must necessarily give them a false opinion of you."
She said, with utter solemnity, "Anathema maranatha! oh, hell to damn! may the noses of all respectable people be turned upside down and jackasses dance eternally upon their grandmothers' graves!"
"Patricia—!" cried a shocked colonel.
"I mean every syllable of it. No, Rudolph; I can't help it if the vinaigretted beauties of your boyhood were unabridged dictionaries of prudery. You see, I know almost all the swearwords there are. And I read the newspapers, and medical books, and even the things that boys chalk up on fences. In consequence I am not a bit whiteminded, because if you use your mind at all it gets more or less dingy, just like using anything else."
He could not help but laugh, much as he disapproved. Patricia fluttered and, as a wren might have done, perched presently upon his knee.
"Rudolph, can't you laugh more often, and not devote so much time to tracing out the genealogies of those silly people, and being so tediously beautiful and good?" she asked, and with a hint of seriousness. "Rudolph, you don't know how I would adore you if you would rob a church or cut somebody's throat in an alley, and tell me all about it because you knew I wouldn't betray you. You are so infernally respectable in everything you do! How did you come to bully me that day at the Library? It seems almost as if those two were different people... doesn't it, Rudolph?"
"My dear," the colonel said whimsically, "I am afraid we are rather like the shepherdess and the chimney-sweep of the fable I read you very long ago. We climbed up so far that we could see the stars, once, very long ago, Patricia, and we have come back to live upon the parlor table. I suppose it happens to all the little china people."
She took his meaning. Each was aware of an odd sense of intimacy. "Everything we have to be glad for now, Rudolph, is the rivet in grandfather's neck. It is rather a fiasco, isn't it?"
"Eh, there are all sorts of rivets, Patricia. And the thing one cannot do because one is what one is, need not be necessarily a cause for grief."
It was excellent to see Jack Charteris again, as Colonel Musgrave did within a few days of this. Musgrave was unreasonably fond of the novelist and frankly confessed it would be as preposterous to connect Charteris with any of the accepted standards of morality as it would be to judge an artesian-well from the standpoint of ethics.
Anne was not yet in Lichfield. She had broken the journey to visit a maternal grand-aunt and some Virginia cousins, in Richmond, Charteris explained, and was to come thence to Matocton.
"And so you have acquired a boy and, by my soul, a very handsome wife, Rudolph?"
"It is sufficiently notorious," said Colonel Musgrave. "Yes, we are quite absurdly happy." He laughed and added: "Patricia—but you don't know her droll way of putting things—says that the only rational complaint I can advance against her is her habit of rushing into a hospital every month or so and having a section or two of her person removed by surgeons. It worries me,—only, of course, it is not the sort of thing you can talk about. And, as Patricia says, it is an unpleasant thing to realize that your wife is not leaving you through the ordinary channels of death or of type-written decrees of the court, but only in vulgar fractions, as it were—"
"Please don't be quite so brutal, Rudolph. It is not becoming in a Musgrave of Matocton to speak of women in any tone other than the most honeyed accents of chivalry."
"Oh, I was only quoting Patricia," the colonel largely said, "and—er—Jack," he continued. "By the way, Jack, Clarice Pendomer will be at Matocton—"
"I rejoice in her good luck," said Charteris, equably.
"—and—well! I was wondering—?"
"I can assure you that there will be no—trouble. That skeleton is safely locked in its closet, and the key to that closet is missing—more thanks to you. You acted very nobly in the whole affair, Rudolph. I wish I could do things like that. As it is, of course, I shall always detest you for having been able to do it."
Charteris said, thereafter: "I shall always envy you, though, Rudolph. No other man I know has ever attained the good old troubadourish ideal of domnei—that love which rather abhors than otherwise the notion of possessing its object. I still believe it was a distinct relief to a certain military officer, whose name we need not mention, when Anne decided not to marry you."
The colonel grinned, a trifle consciously. "Well, Anne meant youth, you comprehend, and all the things we then believed in, Jack. It would have been decidedly difficult to live up to such a contract, and—as it were—to fulfil every one of the implied specifications!"
"And yet"—here Charteris flicked his cigarette—"Anne ruled in the stead of Aline Van Orden. And Aline, in turn, had followed Clarice Pendomer. And before the coming of Clarice had Pauline Romeyne, whom time has converted into Polly Ashmeade, reigned in the land—"
"Don't be an ass!" the colonel pleaded; and then observed, inconsequently: "I can't somehow quite realize Aline is dead. Lord, Lord, the letters that I wrote to her! She sent them all back, you know, in genuine romantic fashion, after we had quarreled. I found those boyish ravings only the other day in my father's desk at Matocton, and skimmed them over. I shall read them through some day and appropriately meditate over life's mysteries that are too sad for tears."
He meditated now.
"It wouldn't be quite equitable, Jack," the colonel summed it up, "if the Aline I loved—no, I don't mean the real woman, the one you and all the other people knew, the one that married the enterprising brewer and died five years ago—were not waiting for me somewhere. I can't express just what I mean, but you will understand, I know—?"
"That heaven is necessarily run on a Mohammedan basis? Why, of course," said Mr. Charteris. "Heaven, as I apprehend it, is a place where we shall live eternally among those ladies of old years who never condescended actually to inhabit any realm more tangible than that of our boyish fancies. It is the obvious definition; and I defy you to evolve a more enticing allurement toward becoming a deacon."
"You romancers are privileged to talk nonsense anywhere," the colonel estimated, "and I suppose that in the Lichfield you have made famous, Jack, you have a double right."
"Ah, but I never wrote a line concerning Lichfield. I only wrote about the Lichfield whose existence you continue to believe in, in spite of the fact that you are actually living in the real Lichfield," Charteris returned. "The vitality of the legend is wonderful."
He cocked his head to one side—an habitual gesture with Charteris—and the colonel noted, as he had often done before, how extraordinarily reminiscent Jack was of a dried-up, quizzical black parrot. Said Charteris:
"I love to serve that legend. I love to prattle of 'ole Marster' and 'ole Miss,' and throw in a sprinkling of 'mockin'-buds' and 'hants' and 'horg-killing time,' and of sweeping animadversions as to all 'free niggers'; and to narrate how 'de quality use ter cum'—you spell it c-u-m because that looks so convincingly like dialect—'ter de gret hous.' Those are the main ingredients. And, as for the unavoidable love-interest—" Charteris paused, grinned, and pleasantly resumed: "Why, jes arter dat, suh, a hut Yankee cap'en, whar some uv our folks done shoot in de laig, wuz lef on de road fer daid—a quite notorious custom on the part of all Northern armies—un Young Miss had him fotch up ter de gret hous, un nuss im same's he one uv de fambly, un dem two jes fit un argufy scanlous un never spicion huccum dey's in love wid each othuh till de War's ovuh. And there you are! I need not mention that during the tale's progress it is necessary to introduce at least one favorable mention of Lincoln, arrange a duel 'in de low grouns' immediately after day-break, and have the family silver interred in the back garden, because these points will naturally suggest themselves."
"Jack, Jack!" the colonel cried, "it is an ill bird that fouls its own nest."
"But, believe me, I don't at heart," said Charteris, in a queer earnest voice. "There is a sardonic imp inside me that makes me jeer at the commoner tricks of the trade—and yet when I am practising that trade, when I am writing of those tender-hearted, brave and gracious men and women, and of those dear old darkies, I very often write with tears in my eyes. I tell you this with careful airiness because it is true and because it would embarrass me so horribly if you believed it."
Then he was off upon another tack. "And wherein, pray, have I harmed Lichfield by imagining a dream city situated half way between Atlantis and Avalon and peopled with superhuman persons—and by having called this city Lichfield? The portrait did not only flatter Lichfield, it flattered human nature. So, naturally, it pleased everybody. Yes, that, I take it, is the true secret of romance—to induce the momentary delusion that humanity is a superhuman race, profuse in aspiration, and prodigal in the exercise of glorious virtues and stupendous vices. As a matter of fact, all human passions are depressingly chicken-hearted, I find. Were it not for the police court records, I would pessimistically insist that all of us elect to love one person and to hate another with very much the same enthusiasm that we display in expressing a preference for rare roast beef as compared with the outside slice. Oh, really, Rudolph, you have no notion how salutary it is to the self-esteem of us romanticists to run across, even nowadays, an occasional breach of the peace. For then sometimes—when the coachman obligingly cuts the butler's throat in the back-alley, say—we actually presume to think for a moment that our profession is almost as honest as that of making counterfeit money...."
The colonel did not interrupt his brief pause of meditation. Then the novelist said:
"Why, no; if I were ever really to attempt a tale of Lichfield, I would not write a romance but a tragedy. I think that I would call my tragedy Futility, for it would mirror the life of Lichfield with unengaging candor; and, as a consequence, people would complain that my tragedy lacked sustained interest, and that its participants were inconsistent; that it had no ordered plot, no startling incidents, no high endeavors, and no especial aim; and that it was equally deficient in all time-hallowed provocatives of either laughter or tears. For very few people would understand that a life such as this, when rightly viewed, is the most pathetic tragedy conceivable."
"Oh, come, now, Jack! come, recollect that your reasoning powers are almost as worthy of employment as your rhetorical abilities! We are not quite so bad as that, you know. We may be a little behind the times in Lichfield; we certainly let well enough alone, and we take things pretty much as they come; but we meddle with nobody, and, after all, we don't do any especial harm."
"We don't do anything whatever in especial, Rudolph. That would be precisely the theme of my story of the real Lichfield if I were ever bold enough to write it. There seems to be a sort of blight upon Lichfield. Oh, yes! it would be unfair, perhaps, to contrast it with the bigger Southern cities, like Richmond and Atlanta and New Orleans; but even the inhabitants of smaller Southern towns are beginning to buy excursion tickets, and thereby ascertain that the twentieth century has really begun. Yes, it is only in Lichfield I can detect the raw stuff of a genuine tragedy; for, depend upon it, Rudolph, the most pathetic tragedy in life is to get nothing in particular out of it."
"But, for my part, I don't see what you are driving at," the colonel stoutly said.
And Charteris only laughed. "And I hardly expected you to do so, Rudolph—or not yet, at least."
PART FIVE - SOUVENIR
"I am contented by remembrances— Dreams of dead passions, wraiths of vanished times, Fragments of vows, and by-ends of old rhymes— Flotsam and jetsam tumbling in the seas Whereon, long since, put forth our argosies Which, bent on traffic in the Isles of Love, Lie foundered somewhere in some firth thereof, Encradled by eternal silences."
"Thus, having come to naked bankruptcy, Let us part friends, as thrifty tradesmen do When common ventures fail, for it may be These battered oaths and rhymes may yet ring true To some fair woman's hearing, so that she Will listen and think of love, and I of you."
F. Ashcroft Wheeler. Revisions.
When the Reliance, the Constitution and the Columbia were holding trial races off Newport to decide which one of these yachts should defend the America's cup; when the tone of the Japanese press as to Russia's actions in Manchuria was beginning to grow ominous; when the Jews of America were drafting a petition to the Czar; and when it was rumored that the health of Pope Leo XIII was commencing to fail:—at this remote time, the Musgraves gave their first house-party.
And at this period Colonel Musgrave noted and admired the apparent unconcern with which John Charteris and Clarice Pendomer encountered at Matocton. And at this period Colonel Musgrave noted with approval the intimacy which was, obviously, flourishing between the little novelist and Patricia.
Also Colonel Musgrave had presently good reason to lament a contretemps, over which he was sulking when Mrs. Pendomer rustled to her seat at the breakfast-table, with a shortness of breath that was partly due to the stairs, and in part attributable to her youthful dress, which fitted a trifle too perfectly.
"Waffles?" said Mrs. Pendomer. "At my age and weight the first is an experiment and the fifth an amiable indiscretion of which I am invariably guilty. Sugar, please." She yawned, and reached a generously-proportioned arm toward the sugar-bowl. "Yes, that will do, Pilkins."
Colonel Musgrave—since the remainder of his house-party had already breakfasted—raised his fine eyes toward the chandelier, and sighed, as Pilkins demurely closed the dining-room door.
Leander Pilkins—butler for a long while now to the Musgraves of Matocton—would here, if space permitted, be the subject of an encomium. Leander Pilkins was in Lichfield considered to be, upon the whole, the handsomest man whom Lichfield had produced; for this quadroon's skin was like old ivory, and his profile would have done credit to an emperor. His terrapin is still spoken of in Lichfield as people in less favored localities speak of the Golden Age, and his mayonnaise (boasts Lichfield) would have compelled an Olympian to plead for a second helping. For the rest, his deportment in all functions of butlership is best described as super-Chesterfieldian; and, indeed, he was generally known to be a byblow of Captain Beverley Musgrave's, who in his day was Lichfield's arbiter as touched the social graces. And so, no more of Pilkins.
Mrs. Pendomer partook of chops. "Is this remorse," she queried, "or a convivially induced requirement for bromides? At this unearthly hour of the morning it is very often difficult to disentangle the two."
"It is neither," said Colonel Musgrave, and almost snappishly.
Followed an interval of silence. "Really," said Mrs. Pendomer, and as with sympathy, "one would think you had at last been confronted with one of your thirty-seven pasts—or is it thirty-eight, Rudolph?"
Colonel Musgrave frowned disapprovingly at her frivolity; he swallowed his coffee, and buttered a superfluous potato. "H'm!" said he; "then you know?"
"I know," sighed she, "that a sleeping past frequently suffers from insomnia."
"And in that case," said he, darkly, "it is not the only sufferer."
Mrs. Pendomer considered the attractions of a third waffle—a mellow blending of autumnal yellows, fringed with a crisp and irresistible brown, that, for the moment, put to flight all dreams and visions of slenderness.
"And Patricia?" she queried, with a mental hiatus.
Colonel Musgrave flushed.
"Patricia," he conceded, with mingled dignity and sadness, "is, after all, still in her twenties——"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pendomer, with a dryness which might mean anything or nothing; "she was only twenty-one when she married you."
"I mean," he explained, with obvious patience, "that at her age she—not unnaturally—takes an immature view of things. Her unspoiled purity," he added, meditatively, "and innocence and general unsophistication are, of course, adorable, but I can admit to thinking that for a journey through life they impress me as excess baggage."
"Patricia," said Mrs. Pendomer, soothingly, "has ideals. And ideals, like a hare-lip or a mission in life, should be pitied rather than condemned, when our friends possess them; especially," she continued, buttering her waffle, "as so many women have them sandwiched between their last attack of measles and their first imported complexion. No one of the three is lasting, Rudolph."