"Ah, Rudolph, Rudolph!" she cooed, "if I had only known all along that you loved me!"
"My dear," he protested, fondly, "it seemed such a matter of course." He was a little tired, perhaps; the portmanteau seemed very heavy.
"A woman likes to be told—a woman likes to be told every day. Otherwise, she forgets," Patricia murmured. Then her face grew tenderly reproachful. "Ah, Rudolph, Rudolph, see what your carelessness and neglect has nearly led to! It nearly led to my running away with a man like—like that! It would have been all your fault, Rudolph, if I had. You know it would have been, Rudolph."
And Patricia sighed once more, and then laughed and became magnanimous.
"Yes—yes, after all, you are the boy's father." She smiled up at him kindly and indulgently. "I forgive you, Rudolph," said Patricia.
He must have shown that pardon from Patricia just now was not unflavored with irony, for she continued, in another voice: "Who, after all, is the one human being you love? You know that it's the boy, and just the boy alone. I gave you that boy. You should remember that, I think—"
"I do remember it, Patricia—"
"I bore the child. I paid the price, not you," Patricia said, very quiet. "No, I don't mean the price all women have to pay—" She paused in their leisurely progress, and drew vague outlines in the roadway with the ferrule of her umbrella before she looked up into Rudolph Musgrave's face. She appraised it for a long while and quite as if her husband were a stranger.
"Yes, I could make you very sorry for me, if I wanted to." Her thoughts ran thus. "But what's the use? You could only become an interminable nuisance in trying to soothe my dying hours. You have just obstinately squatted around in Lichfield and devoted all your time to being beautiful and good and mooning around women for I don't know how many years. You make me tired, and I have half a mind to tell you so right now. And there really is no earthly sense in attempting to explain things to you. You have so got into the habit of being beautiful and good that you are capable of quoting Scripture after I have finished. Then I would assuredly box your jaws, because I don't yearn to be a poor stricken dear and weep on anybody's bosom. And I don't particularly care about your opinion of me, anyway."
Aloud she said: "Oh, well! let's go and get some breakfast."
And thus the situation stayed. Patricia told him nothing. And Rudolph Musgrave, knowing that according to his lights he had behaved not unhandsomely, was the merest trifle patronizing and rather like a person speaking from a superior plane in his future dealings with Patricia. Moreover, he was engrossed at this time by his scholarly compilation of Lichfield Legislative Papers prior to 1800, which was printed the following February.
She told him nothing. She was a devoted mother for two days' space, and then candidly decided that Roger was developing into the most insufferable of little prigs.
"And, besides, if he had never been born I would quite probably have lived to keep my teeth in a glass of water at night. And I can't help thinking of that privilege being denied me whenever I look at him."
She told Rudolph Musgrave nothing. She was finding it mildly amusing to note how people came and went at Matocton, and to appraise these people disinterestedly, because she would never see them again.
Patricia was drawing her own conclusions as to Lichfield's aristocracy. These people—for the most part a preposterously handsome race—were the pleasantest of companions and their manners were perfection; but there was enough of old Roger Stapylton's blood in Patricia's veins to make her feel, however obscurely, that nobody is justified in living without even an attempt at any personal achievement. The younger men evinced a marked tendency to leave Lichfield, to make their homes elsewhere, she noted, and they very often attained prominence; there was Joe Parkinson, for instance, who had lunched at Oyster Bay only last Thursday, according to the Lichfield Courier-Herald. And, meanwhile, the men of her husband's generation clung to their old mansions, and were ornamental, certainly, and were, very certainly, profoundly self-satisfied; for they adhered to the customs of yesterday under the comfortable delusion that this was the only way to uphold yesterday's ideals. But what, in heaven's name, had any of these men of Rudolph Musgrave's circle ever done beyond enough perfunctory desk-work, say, to furnish him food and clothes?
"A hamlet of Hamlets," was Patricia's verdict as to Lichfield—"whose actual tragedy isn't that their fathers were badly treated, but that they themselves are constitutionally unable to do anything except talk about how badly their fathers were treated."
No, it was not altogether that these men were indolent. Rudolph and Rudolph's peers had been reared in the belief that when any manual labor became inevitable, you as a matter of course entrusted its execution to a negro; and, forced themselves to labor, they not unnaturally complied with an ever-present sense of unfair treatment, and, in consequence, performed the work inefficiently. Lichfield had no doubt preserved a comely manner of living; but it had produced in the last half-century nothing of real importance except John Charteris.
For Charteris was important. Patricia was rereading all the books that Charteris had published, and they engrossed her with an augmenting admiration.
But it is unnecessary to dilate upon the marvelous and winning pictures of life in Lichfield before the War between the States which Charteris has painted in his novels. "Even as the king of birds that with unwearied wing soars nearest to the sun, yet wears upon his breast the softest down,"—as we learn from no less eminent authority than that of the Lichfield Courier-Herald—"so Mr. Charteris is equally expert in depicting the derring-do and tenderness of those glorious days of chivalry, of fair women and brave men, of gentle breeding, of splendid culture and wholesome living."
Patricia was not a little puzzled by these books. The traditional Lichfield, she decided in the outcome, may very possibly have been just the trick-work of a charlatan's cleverness; but, even in that event, here were the tales of life in Lichfield—ardent, sumptuous and fragrant throughout with the fragrance of love and roses, of rhyme and of youth's lovely fallacies; and for the pot-pourri, if it deserved no higher name, all who believed that living ought to be a uniformly noble transaction could not fail to be grateful eternally.
Esthetic values apart—and, indeed, to all such values Patricia accorded a provisional respect—what most impressed her Stapyltonian mind was the fact that these books represented, in a perfectly tangible way, success. Patricia very heartily admired success when it was brevetted as such by the applause of others. And while to be a noted stylist, and even to be reasonably sure of annotated reissuement for the plaguing of unborn schoolchildren, was all well enough, in an unimportant, high-minded way, Patricia was far more vividly impressed by the blunt figures which told how many of John Charteris's books had been bought and paid for. She accepted these figures as his publishers gave them forth, implicitly; and she marveled over and took odd joy in these figures. They enabled her to admire Charteris's books without reservation.
By this time Mrs. Ashmeade had managed, in the most natural manner, to tell Patricia a deal concerning Charteris. No halo graced the portrait Mrs. Ashmeade painted.... But, indeed, Patricia now viewed John Charteris, considered as a person, without any particular bias. She did not especially care—now—what the man had done or had omitted to do.
But the venerable incongruity of the writer and his work confronted her intriguingly. A Charteris writes In Old Lichfield; a Cockney drug-clerk writes The Eve of St. Agnes; a genteel printer evolves a Lovelace; and a cutpurse pens the Ballad of Dead Ladies in a brothel. It is manifestly impossible; and it happens.
So here, then, was a knave who held, somehow, the keys to a courtlier and nobler world. These tales made living seem a braver business, for all that they were written by a poltroon. Was it pure posturing? Patricia, at least, thought it was not. At worst, such dexterous maintenance of a pose was hardly despicable, she considered. And, anyhow, she preferred to believe that Charteris had by some miracle put the best of himself into these books, had somehow clarified the abhorrent mixture of ability and evil which was John Charteris; and the best in him she found, on this hypothesis, to be a deal more admirable than the best in Rudolph Musgrave.
"It is a part of Jack," she fiercely said. "It is, because I know it is. All this is part of him—as much a part of him as the cowardice and the trickery. So I don't really care if he is a liar and a coward. I ought to, I suppose. But at the bottom of my heart I admire him. He has made something; he has created these beautiful books, and they will be here when we are all dead. He doesn't leave the world just as he found it. That is the only real cowardice, I think—especially as I am going to do it——"
And later she said, belligerently: "If I had been a man I could have at least assassinated somebody who was prominent. I do wish Rudolph was not such a stick-in-the-mud. And I wish I liked Rudolph better. But on the whole I prefer the physical coward to the moral one. Rudolph simply bores me stiff with his benevolent airs. He just walks around the place forgiving me sixty times to the hour, and if he doesn't stop it I am going to slap him."
The world knows how Charteris was killed in Fairhaven by Jasper Hardress—the husband of "that flighty Mrs. Hardress" Anne had spoken of.
"And I hardly know," said Mrs. Ashmeade, "whether more to admire the justice or the sardonic humor of the performance. Here after hundreds of entanglements with women, John Charteris manages to be shot by a jealous maniac on account of a woman with whom—for a wonder—his relations were proven to be innocent. The man needed killing, but it is asking too much of human nature to put up with his being made a martyr of."
She cried a little, though. "It—it's because I remember him when he was turning out his first mustache," she explained, lucidly.
* * * * *
But with the horror and irony of John Charteris's assassination the biographer of Rudolph Musgrave has really nothing to do save in so far as this event influenced the life of Rudolph Musgrave.
It was on the day of Charteris's death—a fine, clear afternoon in late September—that Rudolph Musgrave went bass-fishing with some eight of his masculine guests. Luncheon was brought to them in a boat about two o'clock, along with the day's mail.
"I say—! But listen, everybody!" cried Alfred Chayter, whose mail included a morning paper—the Lichfield Courier-Herald, in fact.
He read aloud.
"I wish I could be with Anne," thought Colonel Musgrave. "It may be I could make things easier."
But Anne was in Lichfield now....
He had just finished dressing for supper when it occurred to him that since their return from the river he had not seen Patricia. He was afraid that Patricia, also, would be upset by this deplorable news.
As he crossed the hall Virginia came out of Patricia's rooms. The colonel raised his voice in speaking to her, for with age Virginia was growing very deaf.
"Yaas, suh," she said, "I'm doin' middlin' well, suh, thank yeh, suh. Jus' took the evenin' mail to Miss Patricy, like I always do, suh." She went away quietly, her pleasant yellow face as imperturbable as an idol's.
He went into Patricia's bedroom. Patricia had been taking an afternoon nap, and had not risen from the couch, where she lay with three or four unopened letters upon her breast. Two she had opened and dropped upon the floor. She seemed not to hear him when he spoke her name, and yet she was not asleep, because her eyes were partly unclosed.
There was no purple glint in them, as once there had been always. Her countenance, indeed, showed everywhere less brightly tinted than normally it should be. Her heavy copper-colored hair, alone undimmed, seemed, like some parasitic growth (he thought), to sustain its beauty by virtue of having drained Patricia's body of color and vitality.
There was a newspaper in her right hand, with flamboyant headlines, because to Lichfield the death of John Charteris was an event of importance.
Patricia seemed very young. You saw that she had suffered. You knew it was not fair to hurt a child like that.
But, indeed, Rudolph Musgrave hardly realized as yet that Patricia was dead. For Colonel Musgrave was thinking of that time when this same Patricia had first come to him, fire-new from the heart of an ancient sunset, and he had noted, for the first time, that her hair was like the reflection of a sunset in rippling waters, and that her mouth was an inconsiderable trifle, a scrap of sanguine curves, and that her eyes were purple glimpses of infinity.
"This same Patricia!" he said, aloud.
PART NINE - RELICS
"You have chosen the love 'that lives sans murmurings, Sans passion,' and incuriously endures The gradual lapse of time. You have chosen as yours A level life of little happenings; And through the long autumnal evenings Lord Love, no doubt, is of the company, And hugs your ingleside contentedly, Smiles at old griefs, and rustles needless wings.
"And yet I think that sometimes memories Of divers trysts, of blood that urged like wine On moonlit nights, and of that first long kiss Whereby your lips were first made one with mine, Awake and trouble you, and loving is Once more important and perhaps divine."
ALLEN ROSSITER. Two in October.
To those who knew John Charteris only through the medium of the printed page it must have appeared that the novelist was stayed in mid-career by an accident of unrelieved and singular brutality. And truly, thus extinguished by the unfounded jealousy of a madman, the force of Charteris's genius seemed, and seems to-day, as emphasized by that sinister caprice of chance which annihilated it.
But people in Lichfield, after the manner of each prophet's countrymen, had their own point of view. The artist always stood between these people and the artist's handiwork, in part obscuring it.
In any event, it was generally agreed in Lichfield that Anne Charteris's conduct after her husband's death was not all which could be desired. To begin with, she attended the funeral, in black, it was true, but wearing only the lightest of net veils pinned under her chin—"more as if she were going somewhere on the train, you know, than as if she were in genuine bereavement."
"Jack didn't approve of mourning. He said it was a heathen survival." That was the only explanation she offered.
It seemed inadequate to Lichfield. It was preferable, as good taste went, for a widow to be too overcome to attend her husband's funeral at all. And Mrs. Charteris had not wept once during the church ceremony, and had not even had hysterics during the interment at Cedarwood; and she had capped a scandalous morning's work by remaining with the undertaker and the bricklayers to supervise the closing of John Charteris's grave.
"Why, but of course. It is the last thing I will ever be allowed to do for him," she had said, in innocent surprise. "Why shouldn't I?"
Her air was such that you were both to talk to her about appearances.
"Because she isn't a bit like a widow," as Mrs. Ashmeade pointed out. "Anybody can condole with a widow, and devote two outer sheets to explaining that you realize nothing you can say will be of any comfort to her, and begin at the top of the inside page by telling her how much better off he is to-day—which I have always thought a double-edged assertion when advanced to a man's widow. But you cannot condole with a lantern whose light has been blown out. That is what Anne is."
Mrs. Ashmeade meditated and appeared dissatisfied. "And John Charteris of all people!"
Anne was presently about the Memorial Edition of her husband's collected writings. It was magnificently printed and when marketed achieved a flattering success. Robert Etheridge Townsend was commissioned to write the authorized Life of John Charteris and to arrange the two volumes of Letters.
Anne was considered an authority on literature and art in general, through virtue of reflected glory. And in the interviews she granted various journalists it was noticeable that she no longer referred to "Jack" or to "Mr. Charteris," but to "my husband." To have been his wife was her one claim on estimation. And, for the rest, it is inadequate to love the memory of a martyr. Worship is demanded; and so the wife became the priestess.
Into Colonel Musgrave's mental processes during this period it will not do to pry too closely. The man had his white nights and his battles, in part with real grief and regret, and in part with sundry emotions which he took on faith as the emotions he ought to have, and, therefore, manifestly, suffered under.... "Patricia was my wife, Jack was my brother," ran his verdict in the outcome; and beyond that he did not care to go.
For death cowed his thoughts. In the colonel's explicit theology dead people were straightway conveyed to either one or the other of two places. He had very certainly never known anybody who in his opinion merited the torments of his orthodox Gehenna; so that in imagination he vaguely populated its blazing corridors with Nero and Judas and Caesar Borgia and Henry VIII, and Spanish Inquisitors and the aboriginal American Indians—excepting of course his ancestress Pocahontas—and with Benedict Arnold and all the "carpet-baggers" and suchlike other eminent practitioners of depravity. For no one whom Rudolph Musgrave had ever encountered in the flesh had been really and profoundly wicked, Rudolph Musgrave considered; and so, he always gravely estimated this-or-that acquaintance, after death, to be "better off, poor fellow"—as the colonel phrased it, with a tinge of self-contradiction—even if he actually refrained in fancy from endowing the deceased with aureate harps and crowns and footgear. In fine, death cowed the colonel's thoughts; beyond the grave they did not care to venture, and when confronted with that abyss they decorously balked.
Patricia and Jack were as a matter of course "better off," then—and, miraculously purged of faults, with all their defects somehow remedied, the colonel's wife and brother, with Agatha and the colonel's other interred relatives, were partaking of dignified joys in bright supernal iridescent realms, which the colonel resignedly looked forward to entering, on some comfortably remote day or another, and thus rejoining his transfigured kindred.... Such was the colonel's charitable decision, in the forming whereof logic was in no way implicated. For religion, as the colonel would have told you sedately, was not a thing to be reasoned about. Attempting to do that, you became in Rudolph Musgrave's honest eyes regrettably flippant.
Meanwhile Cousin Lucy Fentnor was taking care of the colonel and little Roger. And Lichfield, long before the lettering on Patricia's tombstone had time to lose its first light dusty gray, had accredited Cousin Lucy Fentnor with illimitable willingness to become Mrs. Rudolph Musgrave, upon proper solicitation, although such tittle-tattle is neither here nor there; for at worst, a widowed, childless and impoverished second-cousin, discreetly advanced in her forties, was entitled to keep house for the colonel in his bereavement, as a jointly beneficial arrangement, without provoking scandal's tongue to more than a jocose innuendo or two when people met for "auction"—that new-fangled perplexing variant of bridge, just introduced, wherein you bid on the suits.... And, besides, Cousin Lucy Fentnor (as befitted any one born an Allardyce) was to all accounts a notable housekeeper, famed alike for the perilous glassiness of her hardwood floors, her dexterous management of servants, her Honiton-braid fancy-work (familiar to every patron of Lichfield charity bazaars), and her unparalleled calves-foot jelly. Under Cousin Lucy Fentnor's systematized coddling little Roger grew like the proverbial ill weed, and the colonel likewise waxed perceptibly in girth.
Thus it was that accident and a woman's intervention seemed once more to combine in shielding Rudolph Musgrave from discomfort. And in consequence it was considered improbable that at this late day the colonel would do the proper thing by Clarice Pendomer, as, at the first tidings of Patricia's death, had been authentically rumored among the imaginative; and, in fact, Lichfield no longer considered that necessary. The claim of outraged morality against these two had been thrown out of court, through some unworded social statute of limitation, as far as Lichfield went. Of course it was interesting to note that the colonel called at Mrs. Pendomer's rather frequently nowadays; but, then, Clarice Pendomer had all sorts of callers now—though not many in skirts—and she played poker with men for money until unregenerate hours of the night, and was reputed with a wealth of corroborative detail to have even less discussable sources of income: so that, indeed, Clarice Pendomer was now rather precariously retained within the social pale through her initial precaution of having been born a Bellingham.... But all such tittle-tattle, as has been said, is quite beside the mark, since with the decadence of Clarice Pendomer this chronicle has, in the outcome, as scant concern as with the marital aspirations of Cousin Lucy Fentnor.
And, moreover, the colonel—in colloquial phrase at least—went everywhere. After the six months of comparative seclusion which decency exacted of his widowerhood—and thereby afforded him ample leisure to complete and publish his Lichfield Legislative Papers prior to 1800—the colonel, be it repeated, went everywhere; and people found him no whit the worse company for his black gloves and the somber band stitched to his coatsleeve. So Lichfield again received him gladly, as the social triumph of his generation. Handsome and trim and affable, no imaginable tourist could possibly have divined—for everybody in Lichfield knew, of course—that Rudolph Musgrave had rounded his half-century; and he stayed, as ever, invaluable to Lichfield matrons alike against the entertainment of an "out-of-town" girl, the management of a cotillon, and the prevention of unpleasant pauses among incongruous dinner-companies.
But of Anne Charteris he saw very little nowadays. And, indeed, it was of her own choice that Anne lived apart from Lichfieldian junketings, contented with her dreams and her pride therein, and her remorseful tender memories of the things she might have done for Jack and had not done—lived upon exalted levels nowadays, to which the colonel's more urbane bereavement did not aspire.
"Charteris" was engraved in large, raised letters upon the granite coping over which Anne stepped to enter the trim burial-plot wherein her dead lay.
The place to-day is one of the "points of interest" in Cedarwood. Tourists, passing through Lichfield, visit it as inevitably as they do the graves of the Presidents, the Southern generals and the many other famous people which the old cemetery contains; and the negro hackmen of Lichfield are already profuse in inaccurate information concerning its occupant. In a phrase, the post card which pictures "E 9436—Grave of John Charteris" is among the seven similar misinterpretations of localities most frequently demanded in Lichfieldian drugstores and news-stands.
Her victoria had paused a trifle farther up the hill, where two big sycamores overhung the roadway. She came into the place alone, walking quickly, for she was unwarrantably flustered by her late encounter. And when she found, of all people, Rudolph Musgrave standing by her husband's grave, as in a sort of puzzled and yet reverent meditation, she was, and somehow as half-guiltily, assuring herself there was no possible reason for the repugnance—nay, the rage,—which a mere glimpse of trudging, painted and flamboyant Clarice Pendomer had kindled. Yet it must be recorded that Anne had always detested Clarice.
Now Anne spoke, as the phrase runs, before she thought. "She came with you!"
And he answered, as from the depths of an uncalled-for comprehension which was distinctly irritating:
"Yes. And Harry, too, for that matter. Only our talk got somehow to be not quite the sort it would be salutary for him to take an interest in. So we told Harry to walk on slowly to the gate, and be sure not to do any number of things he would never have thought of if we hadn't suggested them. You know how people are with children——"
"Harry is—her boy?" Anne, being vexed, had almost added—"and yours?"
"Oh——! Say the fons et origo of the Pendomer divorce case, poor little chap. Yes, Harry is her boy."
Anne said, and again, as she perceived within the moment, a thought too expeditiously: "I wish you wouldn't bring them here, Colonel Musgrave."
Indeed, it seemed to her flat desecration that Musgrave should have brought his former mistress into this hallowed plot of ground. She did not mind—illogically, perhaps—his bringing the child.
"Eh——? Oh, yes," said Colonel Musgrave. He was sensibly nettled. "You wish 'Colonel Musgrave' wouldn't bring them here. But then, you see, we had been to Patricia's grave. And we remembered how Jack stood by us both when—when things bade fair to be even more unpleasant for Clarice and myself than they actually were. You shouldn't, I think, grudge even such moral reprobates the privilege of being properly appreciative of what he did for both of us. Besides, you always come on Saturdays, you know. We couldn't very well anticipate that you would be here this afternoon."
So he had been at pains to spy upon her! Anne phrased it thus in her soul, being irritated, and crisply answered:
"I am leaving Lichfield to-morrow. I had meant this to be my farewell to them until October."
Colonel Musgrave had glanced toward the little headstone, with its rather lengthy epitaph, which marked the resting-place of this woman's only child; and then to the tall shaft whereon was engraved just "John Charteris." The latter inscription was very characteristic of her view-point, he reflected; and yet reasonable, too; as one might mention a Hector or a Goethe, say, without being at pains to disclaim allusion to the minor sharers of either name.
"Yes," he said. "Well, I shall not intrude."
"No—wait," she dissented.
Her voice was altered now, for there had come into it a marvelous gentleness.
And Colonel Musgrave remained motionless. The whole world was motionless, ineffably expectant, as it seemed to him.
Sunset was at hand. On one side was the high wooden fence which showed the boundary of Cedarwood, and through its palings and above it, was visible the broad, shallow river, comfortably colored, for the most part, like cafe au lait, but flecked with many patches of foam and flat iron-colored rocks and innumerable islets, some no bigger than a billiard-table, but with even the tiniest boasting a tree or two. On the other—westward—was a mounting vista of close-shaven turf, and many copings, like magnified geometrical problems, and a host of stunted growing things—with the staid verdancy of evergreens predominant—and a multitude of candid shafts and slabs and crosses and dwarfed lambs and meditant angels.
Some of these thronged memorials were tinged with violet, and others were a-glitter like silver, just as the ordered trees shaded them or no from the low sun. The disposition of all worldly affairs, the man dimly knew, was very anciently prearranged by an illimitable and, upon the whole, a kindly wisdom.
She was considering the change in him. Anne was recollecting that Colonel Musgrave had somewhat pointedly avoided her since her widowhood. He seemed almost a stranger nowadays.
And she could not recognize in the man any resemblance to the boy whom she remembered—so long ago—excepting just his womanish mouth, which was as in the old time very full and red and sensitive. And, illogically enough, both this great change in him and this one feature that had never changed annoyed her equally.
She was also worried by his odd tone of flippancy. It jarred, it vaguely—for the phrase has no equivalent—"rubbed her the wrong way." Here at a martyr's tomb it was hideously out-of-place, and yet she did not see her way clear to rebuke. So she remained silent.
But Rudolph Musgrave was uncanny in some respects. For he said within the moment, "I am not a bit like John Charteris, am I?"
"No," she answered, quietly. It had been her actual thought.
Anne stayed a tiny while quite motionless. Her eyes saw nothing physical. It was the attitude, Colonel Musgrave reflected, of one who listens to a far-off music and, incommunicably, you knew that the music was of a martial sort. She was all in black, of course, very slim and pure and beautiful. The great cluster of red roses, loosely held, was like blood against the somber gown.
The widow of John Charteris, in fine, was a very different person from that Anne Willoughby whom Rudolph Musgrave had loved so long and long ago. This woman had tasted of tonic sorrows unknown to Rudolph Musgrave, and had got consolation too, somehow, in far half-credible uplands unvisited by him. But, he knew, she lived, and was so exquisite, mainly by virtue of that delusion which he, of all men, had preserved; Anne Charteris was of his creation, his masterpiece; and viewing her, he was aware of great reverence and joy.
Anne was happy. It was for that he had played.
But aloud, "I am envious," Rudolph Musgrave declared. "He is the single solitary man I ever knew whose widow was contented to be simply his relict for ever and ever, amen. For you will always be just the woman John Charteris loved, won't you? Yes, if you lived to be thirty-seven years older than Methuselah, and every genius and potentate in the world should come a-wooing in the meantime, it never would occur to you that you could possibly be anything, even to an insane person, except his relict. And he has been dead now all of three whole years! So I am envious, just as we ordinary mortals can't help being of you both; and—may I say it?—I am glad."
They were standing thus when a boy of ten or eleven came unhurriedly into the "section." He assumed possession of Colonel Musgrave's hand as though the action were a matter of course.
"I got lost, Colonel Musgrave," the child composedly announced. "I walked ever so far, and the gate wasn't where we left it. And the roads kept turning and twisting so, it seemed I'd never get anywhere. I don't like being lost when it's getting dark and there's so many dead people 'round, do you?"
The colonel was moved to disapproval. "Young man, I suppose your poor deserted mother is looking for you everywhere, and has probably torn out every solitary strand of hair she possesses by this time."
"I reckon she is," the boy assented. The topic did not appear to be in his eyes of preeminent importance.
Then Anne Charteris said, "Harry," and her voice was such that Rudolph Musgrave wheeled with amazement in his face.
The boy had gone to her complaisantly, and she stood now with one hand on either of his shoulders, regarding him. Her lips were parted, but they did not move at all.
"You are Mrs. Pendomer's boy, aren't you?" said Anne Charteris, in a while. She had some difficulty in articulation.
"Yes'm," Harry assented, "and we come here 'most every Wednesday, and, please, ma'am, you're hurtin' me."
"I didn't mean to—dear," the woman added, painfully. "Don't interfere with me, Rudolph Musgrave! Your mother must be very fond of you, Harry. I had a little boy once. I was fond of him. He would have been eleven years old last February."
"Please, ma'am, I wasn't eleven till April, and I ain't tall for my age, but Tubby Parsons says——"
The woman gave an odd, unhuman sound. "Not until April!"
"Harry," said Colonel Musgrave then, "an enormous whale is coming down the river in precisely two minutes. Perhaps if you were to look through the palings of that fence you might see him. I don't suppose you would care to, though?"
And Harry strolled resignedly toward the fence. Harry Pendomer did not like this funny lady who had hurt, frightened eyes. He did not believe in the whale, of course, any more than he did in Santa Claus. But like most children, he patiently accepted the fact that grown people are unaccountable overlords appointed by some vast betise, whom, if only through prudential motives, it is preferable to humor.
Colonel Musgrave stood now upon the other side of John Charteris's grave—just in the spot that was reserved for her own occupancy some day.
"You are ill, Anne. You are not fit to be out. Go home."
"I had a little boy once," she said. "'But that's all past and gone, and good times and bad times and all times pass over.' There's an odd simple music in the sentence, isn't there? Yet I remember it chiefly because I used to read that book to him and he loved it. And it was my child that died. Why is this other child so like him?"
"Oh, then, that's it, is it?" said Rudolph Musgrave, as in relief. "Bless me, I suppose all these little shavers are pretty much alike. I can only tell Roger from the other boys by his red head. Humanity in the raw, you know. Still, it is no wonder it gave you a turn. You had much better go home, however, and not take any foolish risks, and put your feet in hot water, and rub cologne on your temples, and do all the other suitable things——"
"I remember now," she continued, without any apparent emotion, and as though he had not spoken. "When I came into the room you were saying that the child must be considered. You were both very angry, and I was alarmed—foolishly alarmed, perhaps. And my—and John Charteris said, 'Let him tell, then'—and you told me—"
"The truth, Anne."
"And he sat quietly by. Oh, if he'd had the grace, the common manliness—!" She shivered here. "But he never interrupted you. I—I was not looking at him. I was thinking how vile you were. And when you had ended, he said, 'My dear, I am sorry you should have been involved in this. But since you are, I think we can assure Rudolph that both of us will regard his confidence as sacred.' Then I remembered him, and thought how noble he was! And all those years that were so happy, hour by hour, he was letting you—meet his bills!" She seemed to wrench out the inadequate metaphor.
You could hear the far-off river, now, faint as the sound of boiling water.
After a few pacings Colonel Musgrave turned upon her. He spoke with a curious simplicity.
"There isn't any use in lying to you. You wouldn't believe. You would only go to some one else—some woman probably,—who would jump at the chance of telling you everything and a deal more. Yes, there are a great many 'they do say's' floating about. This was the only one that came near being—serious. The man was very clever.—Oh, he wasn't vulgarly lecherous. He was simply—Jack Charteris. He always irritated Lichfield, though, by not taking Lichfield very seriously. You would hear every by-end of retaliative and sniggered-over mythology, and in your present state of mind you would believe all of them. I happen to know that a great many of these stories are not true."
"A great many of these stories," Anne repeated, "aren't true! A great many aren't! That ought to be consoling, oughtn't it?" She spoke without a trace of bitterness.
"I express myself very badly. What I really mean, what I am aiming at, is that I wish you would let me answer any questions you might like to ask, because I will answer them truthfully. Very few people would. You see, you go about the world so like a gray-stone saint who has just stepped down from her niche for the fraction of a second," he added, as with venom, "that it is only human nature to dislike you."
Anne was not angry. It had come to her, quite as though she were considering some other woman, that what the man said was, in a fashion, true.
"There is sunlight and fresh air in the street," John Charteris had been wont to declare, "and there is a culvert at the corner. I think it is a mistake for us to emphasize the culvert."
So he had trained her to disbelieve in its existence. She saw this now. It did not matter. It seemed to her that nothing mattered any more.
"I've only one question, I think. Why did you do it?" She spoke with bright amazement in her eyes.
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" he seriocomically deplored. "Why, because it was such a noble thing to do. It was so like the estimable young man in a play, you know, who acknowledges the crime he never committed and takes a curtain-call immediately afterwards. In fine, I simply observed to myself, with the late Monsieur de Bergerac, 'But what a gesture!'" And he parodied an actor's motion in this role.
She stayed unsmiling and patiently awaiting veracity. Anne did not understand that Colonel Musgrave was telling the absolute truth. And so,
"You haven't any sense of humor," he lamented. "You used to have a deal, too, before you took to being conscientiously cheerful, and diffusing sweetness and light among your cowering associates. Well, it was because it helped him a little. Oh, I am being truthful now. I had some reason to dislike Jack Charteris, but odd as it is, I know to-day I never did. I ought to have, perhaps. But I didn't."
"My friend, you are being almost truthful. But I want the truth entire."
"It isn't polite to disbelieve people," he reproved her; "or at the very least, according to the best books on etiquette, you ought not to do it audibly. Would you mind if I smoked? I could be more veracious then. There is something in tobacco that makes frankness a matter of course. I thank you."
He produced an amber holder, fitted a cigarette into it, and presently inhaled twice. He said, with a curt voice:
"The reason, naturally, was you. You may remember certain things that happened just before John Charteris came and took you. Oh, that is precisely what he did! You are rather a narrow-minded woman now, in consequence—or in my humble opinion, at least—and deplorably superior. It pleased the man to have in his house—if you will overlook my venturing into metaphor,—one cool room very sparsely furnished where he could come when the mood seized him. He took the raw material from me, wherewith to build that room, because he wanted that room. I acquiesced, because I had not the skill wherewith to fight him."
Anne understood him now, as with a great drench of surprise. And fear was what she felt in chief when she saw for just this moment as though it had lightened, the man's face transfigured, and tender, and strange to her.
"I tried to buy your happiness, to—yes, just to keep you blind indefinitely. Had the price been heavier, I would have paid it the more gladly. Fate has played a sorry trick. You would never have seen through him. My dear, I have wanted very often to shake you," he said.
And she knew, in a glorious terror, that she desired him to shake her, and as she had never desired anything else in life.
"Oh, well, I am just a common, ordinary, garden-sort of fool. The Musgraves always are, in one fashion or another," he sulkily concluded. And now the demigod was merely Rudolph Musgrave again, and she was not afraid any longer, but only inexpressibly fordone.
"Isn't that like a woman?" he presently demanded of the June heavens. "To drag something out of a man with inflexibility, monomania and moral grappling-irons, and then not like it! Oh, very well! I am disgusted by your sex's axiomatic variability. I shall take Harry to his fond mamma at once."
She did not say anything. A certain new discovery obsessed her like a piece of piercing music.
Then Rudolph Musgrave gave the tiniest of gestures downward. "And I have told you this, in chief, because we two remember him. He wanted you. He took you. You are his. You will always be. He gave you just a fragment of himself. That fragment was worth more than everything I had to offer."
Anne very carefully arranged her roses on the ivy-covered grave. "I do not know—meanwhile, I give these to our master. And my real widowhood begins to-day."
And as she rose he looked at her across the colorful mound, and smiled, half as with embarrassment. A lie, he thought, might ameliorate the situation, and he bravely hazarded a prodigious one. "Is it necessary to tell you that Jack loved you? And that the others never really counted?"
He rejoiced to see that Anne believed him. "No," she assented, "no, not with him. Oddly enough, I am proud of that, even now. But—don't you see?—I never loved him. I was just his priestess—the priestess of a stucco god! Otherwise, I would know it wasn't his fault, but altogether that of—the others."
He grimaced and gave a bantering flirt of his head. He said, with quizzing eyes:
"Would it do any good to quote Lombroso, and Maudsley, and Gall, and Krafft-Ebing, and Flechsig, and so on? and to tell you that the excessive use of one brain faculty must necessarily cause a lack of nutriment to all the other brain-cells? It would be rather up-to-date. There is a deal I could tell you also as to what poisonous blood he inherited; but to do this I have not the right." And then Rudolph Musgrave said in all sincerity: "'A wild, impetuous whirlwind of passion and faculty slumbered quiet there; such heavenly melody dwelling in the heart of it.'"
She had put aside alike the drolling and the palliative suggestion, like flimsy veils. "I think it wouldn't do any good whatever. When growing things are broken by the whirlwind, they don't, as a rule, discuss the theory of air-currents as a consolation. Men such as he was take what they desire. It isn't fair—to us others. But it's true, for all that—"
Their eyes met warily; and for no reason which they shared in common they smiled together.
"Poor little Lady of Shalott," said Rudolph Musgrave, "the mirror is cracked from side to side, isn't it? I am sorry. For life is not so easily disposed of. And there is only life to look at now, and life is a bewilderingly complex business, you will find, because the laws of it are so childishly simple—and implacable. And one of these laws seems to be that in our little planet, might makes right—"
He stayed to puff his cigarette.
"Oh, Rudolph dear, don't—don't be just a merry-Andrew!" she cried impulsively, before he had time to continue, which she perceived he meant to do, as if it did not matter.
And he took her full meaning, quite as he had been used in the old times to discourse upon a half-sentence. "I am afraid I am that, rather," he said, reflectively. "But then Clarice and I could hardly have weathered scandal except by making ourselves particularly agreeable to everybody. And somehow I got into the habit of making people laugh. It isn't very difficult. I am rather an adept at telling stories which just graze impropriety, for instance. You know, they call me the social triumph of my generation. And people are glad to see me because I am 'so awfully funny' and 'simply killing' and so on. And I suppose it tells in the long run—like the dyer's hand, you know."
"It does tell." Anne was thinking it would always tell. And that, too, would be John Charteris's handiwork.
Ensued a silence. Rudolph Musgrave was painstakingly intent upon his cigarette. A nestward-plunging bird called to his mate impatiently. Then Anne shook her head impatiently.
"Come, while I'm thinking, I will drive you back to Lichfield."
"Oh, no; that wouldn't do at all," he said, with absolute decision. "No, you see I have to return the boy. And I can't quite imagine your carriage waiting at the doors of 'that Mrs. Pendomer.'"
"Oh," Anne fleetingly thought, "he would have understood." But aloud she only said: "And do you think I hate her any longer? Yes, it is true I hated her until to-day, and now I'm just sincerely sorry for her. For she and I—and you and even the child yonder—and all that any of us is to-day—are just so many relics of John Charteris. Yet he has done with us—at last!"
She said this with an inhalation of the breath; but she did not look at him.
"Take care!" he said, with an unreasonable harshness. "For I forewarn you I am imagining vain things."
"I'm not afraid, somehow." But Anne did not look at him.
He saw as with a rending shock how like the widow of John Charteris was to Anne Willoughby; and unforgotten pulses, very strange and irrational and dear, perplexed him sorely. He debated, and flung aside the cigarette as an out-moded detail of his hobbling part.
"You say I did a noble thing for you. I tried to. But quixotism has its price. To-day I am not quite the man who did that thing. John Charteris has set his imprint too deep upon us. We served his pleasure. We are not any longer the boy and girl who loved each other."
She waited in the rising twilight with a yet averted face. The world was motionless, ineffably expectant, as it seemed to him. And the disposition of all worldly affairs, the man dimly knew, was very anciently prearranged by an illimitable and, upon the whole, a kindly wisdom.
So that, "My dear, my dear!" he swiftly said: "I don't think I can word just what my feeling is for you. Always my view of the world has been that you existed, and that some other people existed—as accessories—"
Then he was silent for a heart-beat, appraising her. His hands lifted toward her and fell within the moment, as if it were in impotence.
Anne spoke at last, and the sweet voice of her was very glad and proud and confident.
"My friend, remember that I have not thanked you. You have done the most foolish and—the manliest thing I ever knew a man to do, just for my sake. And I have accepted it as if it were a matter of course. And I shall always do so. Because it was your right to do this very brave and foolish thing for me. I know you joyed in doing it. Rudolph ... you cannot understand how glad I am you joyed in doing it."
Their eyes met. It is not possible to tell you all they were aware of through that moment, because it is a knowledge so rarely apprehended, and even then for such a little while, that no man who has sensed it can remember afterward aught save the splendor and perfection of it.
* * * * *
And yet Anne looked back once. There was just the tall, stark shaft, and on it "John Charteris." The thing was ominous and vast, all colored like wet gravel, save where the sunlight tipped it with clean silver very high above their reach.
"Come," she quickly said to Rudolph Musgrave; "come, for I am afraid."
And are we then to leave them with glad faces turned to that new day wherein, above the ashes of old errors and follies and mischances and miseries, they were to raise the structure of such a happiness as earth rarely witnesses? Would it not be, instead, a grateful task more fully to depicture how Rudolph Musgrave's love of Anne won finally to its reward, and these two shared the evening of their lives in tranquil service of unswerving love come to its own at last?
Undoubtedly, since the espousal of one's first love—by oneself—is a phenomenon rarely encountered outside of popular fiction, it would be a very gratifying task to record that Anne and Rudolph Musgrave were married that autumn; that subsequently Lichfield was astounded by the fervor of their life-long bliss; that Colonel and (the second) Mrs. Musgrave were universally respected, in a word, and their dinner-parties were always prominently chronicled by the Lichfield Courier-Herald; and that Anne took excellent care of little Roger, and that she and her second husband proved eminently suited to each other.
But, as a matter of fact, not one of these things ever happened....
"I have been thinking it over," Anne deplored. "Oh, Rudolph dear, I perfectly realize you are the best and noblest man I ever knew. And I have always loved you very much, my dear; that is why I could never abide poor Mrs. Pendomer. And yet—it is a feeling I simply can't explain——"
"That you belong to Jack in spite of everything?" the colonel said. "Why, but of course! I might have known that Jack would never have allowed any simple incidental happening such as his death to cause his missing a possible trick."
Anne would have comforted Rudolph Musgrave; but, to her discomfiture, the colonel was grinning, however ruefully.
"I was thinking," he stated, "of the only time that I ever, to my knowledge, talked face to face with the devil. It is rather odd how obstinately life clings to the most hackneyed trick of ballad-makers; and still naively pretends to enrich her productions by the stale device of introducing a refrain—so that the idlest remarks of as much as three years ago keep cropping up as the actual gist of the present!... However, were it within my power, I would evoke Amaimon straightway now to come up yonder, through your hearthrug, and to answer me quite honestly if I did not tell him on the beach at Matocton that this, precisely this, would be the outcome of your knowing everything!"
"I told you that I couldn't, quite, explain——" Anne said.
"Eh, but I can, my dear," he informed her. "The explanation is that Lichfield bore us, shaped us, and made us what we are. We may not enjoy a monopoly of the virtues here in Lichfield, but there is one trait at least which the children of Lichfield share in common. We are loyal. We give but once; and when we give, we give all that we have; and when we have once given it, neither common-sense, nor a concourse of expostulating seraphim, nor anything else in the universe, can induce us to believe that a retraction, or even a qualification, of the gift would be quite worthy of us."
"But that—that's foolish. Why, it's unreasonable," Anne pointed out.
"Of course it is. And that is why I am proud of Lichfield. And that is why you are to-day Jack's wife and always will be just Jack's wife—and why to-day I am Patricia's husband—and why Lichfield to-day is Lichfield. There is something braver in life than to be just reasonable, thank God! And so, we keep the faith, my dear, however obsolete we find fidelity to be. We keep to the old faith—we of Lichfield, who have given hostages to the past. We remember even now that we gave freely in an old time, and did not haggle.... And so, we are proud—yes! we are consumedly proud, and we know that we have earned the right to be proud."
A little later Colonel Musgrave said:
"And yet—it takes a monstrous while to dispose of our universe's subtleties. I have loved you my whole life long, as accurately as we can phrase these matters. There is no—no reasonable reason why you should not marry me now; and you would marry me if I pressed it. And I do not press it. Perhaps it all comes of our both having been reared in Lichfield. Perhaps that is why I, too, have been 'thinking it over.' You see," he added, with a smile, "the rivet in grandfather's neck is not lightly to be ignored, after all. No, you do not know what I am talking about, my dear. And—well, anyhow, I belong to Patricia. Upon the whole, I am glad that I belong to Patricia; for Patricia and what Patricia meant to me was the one vital thing in a certain person's rather hand-to-mouth existence—oh, yes, in spite of everything! I know it now. Anne Charteris," the colonel cried, "I wouldn't marry you or any other woman breathing, even though you were to kneel and implore me upon the knees of a centipede. For I belong to Patricia; and the rivet stays unbroken, after all."
"Oh, and am I being very foolish again?" Anne asked. "For I have been remembering that when—when Jack was not quite truthful about some things, you know,—the truth he hid was always one which would have hurt me. And I like to believe that was, at least in part, the reason he hid it, Rudolph. So he purchased my happiness—well, at ugly prices perhaps. But he purchased it, none the less; and I had it through all those years. So why shouldn't I—after all—be very grateful to him? And, besides"—her voice broke—"besides, he was Jack, you know. He belonged to me. What does it matter what he did? He belonged to me, and I loved him."
And to the colonel's discomfort Anne began to cry.
"There, there!" he said, "so the real truth is out at last. And tears don't help very much. It does seem a bit unfair, my dear, I know. But that is simply because you and I are living in a universe which has never actually committed itself, under any penalizing bond, to be entirely candid as to the laws by which it is conducted."
* * * * *
But it may be that Rudolph Musgrave voiced quite obsolete views. For he said this at a very remote period—when the Beef Trust was being "investigated" in Washington; when an excited Iberian constabulary was still hunting the anarchists who had attempted to assassinate the young King and Queen of Spain upon their wedding-day; when the rebuilding of an earthquake-shattered San Francisco was just beginning to be talked of as a possibility; and when editorials were mostly devoted to discussion of what Mr. Bryan would have to say about bi-metallism when he returned from his foreign tour.
And, besides, it was Rudolph Musgrave's besetting infirmity always to shrink—under shelter of whatever grandiloquent excuse—from making changes. One may permissibly estimate this foible to have weighed with him a little, even now, just as in all things it had always weighed in Lichfield with all his generation. An old custom is not lightly broken.
PART TEN - IMPRIMIS
"So let us laugh, lest vain rememberings Breed, as of old, some rude bucolic cry Of awkward anguishes, of dreams that die Without decorum, of Love lacking wings Yet striving you-ward in his flounderings Eternally,—as now, even when I lie As I lie now, who know that you and I Exist and heed not lesser happenings.
"I was. I am. I will be. Eh, no doubt For some sufficient cause, I drift, defer, Equivocate, dream, hazard, grow more stout, Age, am no longer Love's idolater,— And yet I could and would not live without Your faith that heartens and your doubts which spur."
LIONEL CROCHARD. Palinodia.
So weeks and months, and presently irrevocable years, passed tranquilly; and nothing very important seemed to happen nowadays, either for good or ill; and Rudolph Musgrave was content enough.
True, there befell, and with increasing frequency, periods when one must lie abed, and be coaxed into taking interminable medicines, and be ministered unto generally, because one was of a certain age nowadays, and must be prudent. But even such necessities, these underhanded indignities of time, had their alleviations. Trained nurses, for example, were uncommonly well-informed and agreeable young women, when you came to know them—and quite lady-like, too, for all that in our topsy-turvy days these girls had to work for their living. Unthinkable as it seemed, the colonel found that his night-nurse, a Miss Ramsay, was actually by birth a Ramsay of Blenheim; and for a little the discovery depressed him. But to be made much of, upon whatever terms, was always treatment to which the colonel submitted only too docilely. And, besides, in this queer, comfortable, just half-waking state, the colonel found one had the drollest dreams, evolving fancies such as were really a credit to one's imagination....
For instance, one very often imagined that Patricia was more close at hand nowadays.... No, she was not here in the room, of course, but outside, in the street, at the corner below, where the letterbox stood. Yes, she was undoubtedly there, the colonel reflected drowsily. And they had been so certain her return could only result in unhappiness, and they were so wise, that whilst she waited for her opportunity Patricia herself began to be a little uneasy. She had patrolled the block six times before the chance came.
And it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave, drowsily pleased by his own inventiveness, that Patricia was glad this afternoon was so hot that no one was abroad except the small boy at the corner house, who sat upon the bottom porch-step, and, as children so often do, appeared intently to appraise the world at large with an inexplicable air of disappointment.
"Now think how Rudolph would feel,"—the colonel whimsically played at reading Patricia's reflection—"if I were to be arrested as a suspicious character—that's what the newspapers always call them, I think—on his very doorstep! And he must have been home a half-hour ago at least, because I know it's after five. But the side-gate's latched, and I can't ring the door-bell—if only because it would be too ridiculous to have to ask the maid to tell Colonel Musgrave his wife wanted to see him. Besides, I don't know the new house-girl. I wish now we hadn't let old Mary go, even though she was so undependable about thorough-cleaning."
And it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave that Patricia was tired of pacing before the row of houses, each so like the other, and compared herself to Gulliver astray upon a Brobdingnagian bookshelf which held a "library set" of some huge author. She had lost interest, too, in the new house upon the other side.
"If things were different I would have to call on them. But as it is, I am spared that bother at least," said Patricia, just as if being dead did not change people at all.
Then a colored woman, trim and frillily-capped, came out of the watched house. She bore some eight or nine letters in one hand, and fanned herself with them in a leisurely flat-footed progress to the mailbox at the lower corner.
"She looks capable," was Patricia's grudging commentary, in slipping through the doorway into the twilight of the hall. "But it isn't safe to leave the front-door open like this. One never knows—No, I can tell by the look of her she's the sort that can't be induced to sleep on the lot, and takes mysterious bundles home at night."
And it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave, now in the full flow of this droll dream, that Patricia resentfully noted her front-hall had been "meddled with." This much alone might Patricia observe in a swift transit to the parlor.
She waited there until the maid returned; and registered to the woman's credit the discreet soft closing of the front-door and afterward the well-nigh inaudible swish of the rear door of the dining-room as the maid went back into the kitchen.
"In any event," Patricia largely conceded, "she probably doesn't clash the knives and forks in the pantry after supper, like she was hostile armaments with any number of cutlasses apiece. I remember Rudolph simply couldn't stand it when we had Ethel."
So much was satisfactory. Only—her parlor was so altered!
There was—to give you just her instantaneous first impression—so little in it. Broad spaces of plain color showed everywhere; and Patricia's ideal of what a parlor should be, as befitted the chatelaine of a fine home in Lichfield, had always been the tangled elegancies of the front show-window of a Woman's Exchange for Fancy Work. The room had even been repapered—odiously, as she considered; and the shiny floor of it boasted just three inefficient rugs, like dingy rafts upon a sea of very strong coffee.
Patricia looked in vain for her grandiose plush-covered chairs, her immaculate "tidies," and the proud yellow lambrequin, embroidered in high relief with white gardenias, which had formerly adorned the mantelpiece. The heart of her hungered for her unforgotten and unforgettable "watered-silk" papering wherein white roses bloomed exuberantly against a yellow background—which deplorably faded if you did not keep the window-shades down, she remembered—and she wanted back her white thick comfortable carpet which hid the floor completely, so that everywhere you trod upon the buxomest of stalwart yellow roses, each bunch of which was lavishly tied with wind-blown ribbons.
Then, too, her cherished spinning-wheel, at least two hundred and fifty years old, which had looked so pretty after she had gilded it and added a knot of pink sarsenet, was departed; and gone as well was the mirror-topped table, with its array of china swan and frogs and water-lilies artistically grouped about its speckless surface. Even her prized engraving of "Michael Angelo Buonarotti"—contentedly regarding his just finished Moses, while a pope tiptoed into the room through a side-door—had been removed, with all its splendors of red-plush and intricate gilt-framing.
Just here and there, in fine, like a familiar face in a crowd, she could discover some one of her more sedately-colored "parlor ornaments"; and the whole history of it—its donor or else its price, the gestures of the shopman, even what sort of weather it was when she and Rudolph found "exactly what I've been looking for" in the shop-window, and the Stapyltonian, haggling over the price with which Patricia had bargained—such unimportant details as these now vividly awakened in recollection.... In fine, this room was not her parlor at all, and in it Patricia was lonely.... Yes, yes, she would be nowadays, the colonel reflected, for he himself had never been in thorough sympathy with all the changes made by Roger's self-assured young wife.
Thus it was with the first floor of the house, through which Patricia strayed with uniform discomfort. This place was home no longer.
Thus it was with the first floor of the house. Everywhere the equipments were strange, or at best arranged not quite as Patricia would have placed them. Yet they had not any look of being recently purchased. Even that hideous stair-carpet was a little worn, she noted, as noiselessly she mounted to the second story.
The house was perfectly quiet, save for a tiny shrill continuance of melody that somehow seemed only to pierce the silence, not to dispel it. Rudolph—of all things!—had in her absence acquired a canary. And everybody knew what an interminable nuisance a canary was.
She entered the front room. It had been her bedroom ever since her marriage. She remembered this as with a gush of defiant joy.
So it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave that Patricia came actually into the room that had been hers....
A canary was singing there, very sweet and shrill and as in defiant joy. Its trilling seemed to fill the room. In the brief pauses of his song the old clock, from which Rudolph had removed the pendulum on the night of Agatha's death would interpose an obstinate slow ticking; and immediately the clock-noise would be drowned in melody. Otherwise the room was silent.
In the alcove stood the bed which had been Patricia's. Intent upon its occupant were three persons, with their backs turned to her. One Patricia could easily divine to be a doctor; he was twiddling a hypodermic syringe between his fingers, and the set of his shoulders was that of acquiescence. Profiles of the others she saw: one a passive nurse in uniform, who was patiently chafing the right hand of the bed's occupant; the other a lean-featured red-haired stranger, who sat crouched in his chair and held the dying man's left hand.
For in the bed, supported by many pillows, and facing Patricia, was a dying man. He was very old, having thick tumbled hair which, like his two-weeks' beard, was uniformly white. His eyelids drooped a trifle, so that he seemed to meditate concerning something ineffably remote and serious, yet not, upon the whole, unsatisfactory. You saw and heard the intake of each breath, so painfully drawn, and expelled with manifest relief, as if the man were very tired of breathing. Yet the bedclothes heaved with his vain efforts just to keep on breathing. And sometimes his parted lips would twitch curiously.... Rudolph Musgrave, too, could see all this quite plainly, in the mirror over the mantel.
The doctor spoke. "Yes—it's the end, Professor Musgrave," he said. For this lean-featured red-haired stranger to whom the doctor spoke, a pedagogue to his finger-tips, had once been Patricia's dearly-purchased, chubby baby Roger.
And Rudolph Musgrave stayed motionless. He knew Patricia was there; but that fact no longer seemed either very strange or even unnatural; and besides, it was against some law for him to look at her until Patricia had called him.... Meanwhile, just opposite, above the mirror, and facing him, was the Stuart portrait of young Gerald Musgrave. This picture had now hung there for a great many years. The boy still smiled at you in undiminished raillery, even though he smiled ambiguously, and with a sort of humorous sadness in his eyes. Once, very long ago—when the picture hung downstairs—some one had said that Gerald Musgrave's life was barren. The dying man could not now recollect, quite, who that person was.
Rudolph Musgrave stayed motionless. He comprehended that he was dying. The greatest of all changes was at hand; and he, who had always shrunk from making changes, was now content enough.... Indeed, with Rudolph Musgrave living had always been a vaguely dissatisfactory business, a hand-to-mouth proceeding which he had scrambled through, as he saw now, without any worthy aim or even any intelligible purpose. He had nothing very heinous with which to reproach himself; but upon the other side, he had most certainly nothing of which to be particularly proud.
So this was all that living came to! You heard of other people being rapt by splendid sins and splendid virtues, and you anticipated that to-morrow some such majestic energy would transfigure your own living, and change everything: but the great adventure never arrived, somehow; and the days were frittered away piecemeal, what with eating your dinner, and taking a wholesome walk, and checking up your bank account, and dovetailing scraps of parish registers and land-patents and county records into an irrefutable pedigree, and seeing that your clothes were pressed, and looking over the newspapers—and what with other infinitesimal avocations, each one innocent, none of any particular importance, and each consuming an irrevocable moment of the allotted time—until at last you found that living had not, necessarily, any climax at all.... And Patricia would call him presently.
Once, very long ago, some one had said that the most pathetic tragedy in life was to get nothing in particular out of it. The dying man could not now recollect, quite, who that person was.
He wondered, vaguely, what might have been the outcome if Rudolph Musgrave had whole-heartedly sought, not waited for, the great adventure; if Rudolph Musgrave had put—however irrationally—more energy and less second-thought into living; if Rudolph Musgrave had not been contented to be just a Musgrave of Matocton.... Well, it was too late now. He viewed his whole life now, in epitome, and much as you may see at night the hackneyed vista from your window leap to incisiveness under the lash of lightning. No, the life of Rudolph Musgrave had never risen to the plane of dignity, not even to that of seeming to Rudolph Musgrave a connected and really important transaction on Rudolph Musgrave's part. Yet Lichfield, none the better for Rudolph Musgrave's having lived, was none the worse, thank heaven! And there were younger men in Lichfield—men who did not mean to fail as Rudolph Musgrave and his fellows all had failed.... Eh, yes, what was the toast that Rudolph Musgrave drank, so long ago, to the new Lichfield which these younger men were making?
"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."
Yes, that was it. And it was true. Yet Rudolph Musgrave's life on earth was ending now—the only life that he would ever have on earth—and it had never risen to the plane of seeming even to Rudolph Musgrave a really important transaction on Rudolph Musgrave's part....
Then Patricia spoke. Low and very low she called to Olaf, and the dim, wistful eyes of Rudolph Musgrave lifted, and gazed full upon her standing there, and were no longer wistful. And the man made as though to rise, and could not, and his face was very glad.
For in the dying man had awakened the pulses of an old, strange, half-forgotten magic, and all his old delight in the girl who had shared in and had provoked this ancient wonder-working, together with a quite new consciousness of the inseparability of Patricia's foibles from his existence; so that he was incuriously aware of his imbecility in not having known always that Patricia must come back some day, not as a glorious, unfamiliar angel, but unaltered.
"I am glad you haven't changed.... Why, but of course! Nothing would have counted if you had changed—not even for the better, Patricia. For you and what you meant to me were real. That only was real—that we, not being demigods, but being just what we were, once climbed together very high, where we could glimpse the stars—and nothing else can ever be of any importance. What we inherited was too much for us, was it not, my dear? And now it is not formidable any longer. Oh, but I loved you very greatly, Patricia! And now at last, my dear, I seem to understand—as in that old, old time when you and I were glad together——"
But he did not say this aloud, for it seemed to him that he stood in a cool, pleasant garden, and that Patricia came toward him through the long shadows of sunset. The lacy folds and furbelows and semi-transparencies that clothed her were now tinged with gold and now, as a hedge or a flower bed screened her from the level rays, were softened into multitudinous graduations of grays and mauves and violets.
They did not speak. But in her eyes he found compassion and such tenderness as awed him; and then, as a light is puffed out, they were the eyes of a friendly stranger. He understood, for an instant, that of necessity it was decreed time must turn back and everything, even Rudolph Musgrave, be just as it had been when he first saw Patricia. For they had made nothing of their lives; and so, they must begin all over again.
"Failure is not permitted" he was saying....
"You're Cousin Rudolph, aren't you?" she asked....
And Rudolph Musgrave knew he had forgotten something of vast import, but what this knowledge had pertained to he no longer knew. Then Rudolph Musgrave noted, with a delicious tingling somewhere about his heart, that her hair was like the reflection of a sunset in rippling waters—only many times more beautiful, of course—and that her mouth was an inconsiderable trifle, a scrap of sanguine curves, and that her eyes were purple glimpses of infinity.