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The Wild Olive
by Basil King
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It was not until a steamer crossed his bows, not more than a hundred yards in front of him, that he began to appreciate his safety. Under the protection of the dark, and in the wide loneliness of the waters, he was as lost to human sight as a bird in the upper air. The steamer—zigzagging down the lake, touching at little ports now on the west bank and now on the east—had shot out unexpectedly from behind a point, her double row of lights casting a halo in which his canoe must have been visible on the waves; and yet she had passed by and taken no note of him. For a second such good-fortune had seemed to his nervous imagination beyond the range of hope. He stopped paddling he almost stopped breathing, allowing the canoe to rock gently on the tide. The steamer puffed and pulsated, beating her way directly athwart his course. The throbbing of her engines seemed scarcely louder than that of his own heart. He could see people moving on the deck, who in their turn must have been able to see him. And yet the boat went on, ignoring him, in tacit acknowledgment of his right to the lake, of his right to the world.

His sigh of relief became almost a laugh as he began again to paddle forward. The incident was like a first victory, an assurance of victories to come. The sense of insecurity with whith he had started out gave place, minute by minute, to the confidence in himself which was part of his normal state of mind. Other small happenings confirmed his self-reliance. Once a pleasure party in a rowboat passed so near him that he could hear the splash of their oars and the sound of their voices. There was something almost miraculous to him in being so close to the commonplace of human fellowship. He had the feeling of pleasant inward recognition that comes from hearing one's mother-tongue in a foreign land. He stopped paddling again, just to catch meaningless fragments of their talk, until they floated away into silence and darkness. He would have been sorry to have them pass out of ear-shot, were it not for his satisfaction in being able to go his way unheeded.

On another occasion he found himself within speaking distance of one of the numerous small lakeside hotels. Lights flared from open doors and windows, while from the veranda, the garden, and the little pier came peals of laughter, or screams and shouts of young people at rough play. Now and then he could catch the tones of some youth's teasing, and the shrill, pretended irritation of a girl's retort. The noisy cheerfulness of it all reached his ears with the reminiscent tenderness of music heard in childhood. It represented the kind of life he himself had loved. Before the waking nightmare of his troubles began he had been of the unexacting type of American lad who counts it a "good time" to sit in summer evenings on "porches" or "stoops" or "piazzas," joking with "the boys," flirting with "the girls," and chattering on all subjects from the silly to the serious, from the local to the sublime. He was of the friendly, neighborly, noisy, demonstrative spirit characteristic of his age and class. He could have entered into this circle of strangers—strangers for the most part, in all probability, to one another—and in ten minutes' time been one of them. Their screams, their twang, their slang, their gossip, their jolly banter, and their gay ineptitude would have been to him like a welcome home. But he was Norrie Ford, known by name and misfortune to every one of them. The boys and girls on the pier, the elderly women in the rocking-chairs, even the waitresses who, in high-heeled shoes and elaborate coiffures, ministered disdainfully to the guests in the bare-floored dining-room, had discussed his life, his trial, his sentence, his escape, and formed their opinions upon him. Were it possible for them to know now that he was lurking out there in the dark, watching their silhouettes and listening to their voices, there would be such a hue and cry as the lake had not heard since the Indians sighted Champlain on its banks.

It was this reflection that first of all stirred the current of his deep, slow resentment. During the fifteen months since his arrest he had been either too busy, or too anxious, or too sorely puzzled at finding himself in so odd a position, to have leisure for positive anger. At the worst of times he had never lost the belief that the world, or that portion of the world which concerned itself with him, would come to recognize the fact that it was making a mistake. He had taken his imprisonment and his trial more or less as exciting adventures. Even the words of his sentence lost most of their awfulness in his inner conviction that they were empty sounds. Of the confused happenings on the night of his escape his clearest memory was that he had been hungry, while he thought of the weeks spent in the cabin as a "picnic." Just as good spirits had seldom failed him, so patience had rarely deserted him. Such ups and downs of emotion as he had experienced resulted in the long run in an increase of optimism. In the back of his slow mind he kept the expectation, almost the intention, of giving his anger play—some time; but only when his rights should have been restored to him.

But he felt it coming on him now, before he was prepared for it. It was taking him unawares, and without due cause, roused by the chance perception that he was cut off from rightful, natural companionship. Nothing as yet had brought home to him the meaning of his situation like the talk and laughter of these lads and girls, who suddenly became to him what Lazarus in Abraham's bosom was to Dives in his torment.

A few dips of the paddle took him out of sight and sound of the hotel; but the dull, indignant passion remained in his heart, finding outward vent in the violence with which he sent the canoe bounding northward beneath the starlight. For the moment it was a blind, objectless passion, directed against nothing and no one in particular. He was not skilled in the analysis of feeling, or in tracing effect to cause. For an hour or two his wrath was the rage of the infuriated animal roaring out its pain, regardless of the hand that has inflicted it. Other rowing-parties came within hearing distance, but he paid them no attention; lake steamers hove in sight, but he had learned how to avoid them; little towns, dotted at intervals of a few miles apart, lit up the banks with the lights of homes, but their shining domesticity seemed to mock him. The birth of a new creature was a painful process; and yet, through all his confused sensations and obscure elemental suffering, he kept the conviction that a new creature was somehow claiming its right to live.

Peace of mind came to him gradually, as the little towns put out their lights, and the lake steamers laid up in tiny ports, and the rowing-parties went home to bed. In the smooth, dark level of the lake and in the stars there was a soothing quality to which he responded before he was aware of doing so. The spacious solitude of the summer night brought with it a large calmness of outlook, in which his spirit took a measure of comfort. There was a certain bodily pleasure, too, in the regular monotony of paddling, while his mental faculties were kept alert by the necessity of finding points by which to steer, and fixing his attention upon them. So, by degrees, his limited reasoning powers found themselves at work, fumbling, with the helplessness of a man whose strong points are physical activity and concentration of purpose, for some light on the wild course on which he was embarked.

Perhaps his first reflection that had the nature of a conclusion or a deduction was on the subject of "old Wayne." Up to the present he had regarded him with special ill will, owing to the fact that Wayne, while inclining to a belief of his innocence, had nevertheless lent himself to the full working of the law. It came to Ford now in the light of a discovery that, after all, it was not Wayne's fault. Wayne was in the grip of forces that deprived him to a large extent of the power of voluntary action. He could scarcely be blamed if he fulfilled the duties he was appointed to perform The real responsibility was elsewhere. With whom did it lie? For a primitive mind like Ford's the question was not an easy one to answer.

For a time he was inclined to call to account the lawyers who had pleaded for the State. Had it not been for their arguments he would have been acquitted. With an ingenuity he had never supposed to exist they had analyzed his career—especially the two years of it spent with Uncle Chris—and showed how it led up to the crime as to an inevitable consequence. They seemed familiar with everything he had ever done, while they were able to prove beyond cavil that certain of his acts were inspired by sinister motives which he himself knew to have sprung from dissipation at the worst. It was astonishing how plausible their story was; and he admitted that if anybody else had been accused, he himself would probably have been convinced by it. Certainly, then, the lawyers must have been to blame—that is, unless they were only carrying out what others had hired them to do.

That qualifying phrase started a new train of thought. Mechanically, dip by dip, swaying gently with each stroke as to a kind of rhythm, he drove the canoe onward, while he pondered it. It was easy to meditate out here, on the wide, empty lake, for no sound broke the midnight stillness but the soft swish of the paddle and the skimming of the broad keel along the water. It was not by any orderly system of analysis, or synthesis, or syllogism, that Ford, as the hours went by, came at last to his final conclusion; and yet he reached it with conviction. By a process of elimination he absolved judge, jury, legal profession, and local public from the greater condemnation. Each had contributed to the error that made him an outlaw, but no one contributor was the whole of the great force responsible. That force, which had set its component parts to work, and plied them till the worst they could do was done, was the body which they called Organized Society. To Ford, Organized Society was a new expression. He could not remember ever to have heard it till it was used in court. There it had been on everybody's lips. Far more than old Chris Ford himself it was made to figure as the injured party. Though there was little sympathy for the victim in his own person, Organized Society seemed to have received in his death a blow that called for the utmost avenging. Organized Society was plaintiff in the case, as well as police, jury, judge, and public. The single human creature who could not apparently gain footing within its fold was Norrie Ford himself. Organized Society had cast him out.

He had been told that before, and yet the actual fact had never come home to him till now. In prison, in court, in the cabin in the woods, there had always been some human hand within reach of his own, some human tie, even though it was a chain. However ignoble, there had been a place for him. But out here on the great vacant lake there was an isolation that gave reality to his expulsion. The last man left on earth would not feel more utterly alone.

For the first time since the night of his escape there came back to him that vague feeling of deserting something he might have defended, that almost physical sensation of regret at not having stood his ground and fought till he fell. He began to understand now what it meant. Dip, splash, dip, splash, his paddle stirred the dimly shining water, breaking into tiny whirlpools the tremulous reflection of the stars. Not for an instant did he relax his stroke, though the regret took more definitive shape behind him. Convicted and sentenced, he was still part of the life of men, just as a man whom others are trying to hurl from a tower is on the tower till he has fallen. He himself had not fallen; he had jumped off, while there was still a chance of keeping his foothold.

It required an hour or two of outward rhythmic movement and confused inward feeling to get him ready for his next mental step. He had jumped off the tower; true; but he was alive and well, with no bones broken. What should he do now? Should he try to tear the tower down? The attempt would not be so very ludicrous, seeing he should only have to join those—socialists, anarchists, faddists—already at the work. But he admired the tower, and preferred to see is stand. If he did anything at all, it would be to try to creep back into it.

The reflection gave still another turn to his thoughts. He was passing Burlington by this time—the electric lamps throwing broad bands of light along the deserted, up-hill streets, between the sleeping houses. It was the first city he had seen since leaving New York to begin his useless career in the mountains. The sight moved him with an odd curiosity, not free from a homesick longing for normal, simple ways of life. He kept the canoe at a standstill, looking hungrily up the empty thoroughfares, as a poor ghost may gaze at familiar scenes while those it has loved are dreaming. By-and-by the city seemed to stir in its sleep. Along the waterside he could hear the clatter of some belated or too early wayfarer; a weird, intermittent creaking told him that the milk-cart of provincial towns was on its beat; from a distant freight-train came the long, melancholy wail that locomotives give at night; and then drowsily, but with the promptness of one conscientious in his duty, a cock crew. Ford knew that somewhere, unseen as yet by him, the dawn was coming, and—again like a wandering ghost—sped on.

But he had been looking on the tower which the children of men had builded, and had recognized his desire to clamber up into it again. He was not without the perception that a more fiery temperament than his own—perhaps a nobler one—would have cursed the race that had done him wrong, and sought to injure it or shun it. Misty recollections of proud-hearted men who had taken this stand came back to him.

"I suppose I ought to do the same," he muttered to himself humbly; "but what would be the use when I couldn't keep it up?"

Understanding himself thus well, his purpose became clearer. Like the ant or the beaver that has seen its fabric destroyed, he must set patiently to work to reconstruct it. He suspected a poor-spirited element in this sort of courage; but his instinct forced him within his limitations. By dint of keeping there and toiling there he felt sure of his ability to get back to the top of the tower in such a way that no one would think he lacked the right to be on it.

But he himself would know it. He shrank from that fact with the repugnance of an honest nature for what is not straightforward; but the matter was past helping. He should be obliged to play the impostor everywhere and with every one. He would mingle with men, shake their hands, share their friendships, eat their bread, and accept their favors—and deceive them under their very noses. Life would become one long trick, one daily feat of skill. Any possible success he could win would lack stability, would lack reality, because there would be neither truth nor fact behind it.

From the argument that he was innocent he got little comfort. He had forfeited his right to make use of that fact any longer. Had he stayed where he was he could have shouted it out till they gagged him in the death-chair. Now he must be dumb on the subject forevermore. In his disappearance there was an acceptation of guilt which he must remain powerless to explain away.

Many minutes of dull pain passed in dwelling on that point. He could work neither back from it nor forward. His mind could only dwell on it with an aching admission of its justice, while he searched the sky for the dawn.

In spite of the crowing of the cock he saw no sign of it—unless it was that the mountains on the New York shore detached themselves more distinctly from the sky of which they had seemed to form a part. On the Vermont side there was nothing but a heaped-up darkness, night piled on night, till the eye reached the upper heavens and the stars.

He paddled on, steadily, rhythmically, having no sense of hunger or fatigue, while he groped for the clew that was to guide him when he stepped on land. He felt the need of a moral programme, of some pillar of cloud and fire that would show him a way he should be justified in taking. He expressed it to himself by a kind of aspiration which he kept repeating, sometimes half aloud:

"O Lord, O Holy One! I want to be a man!"

Suddenly he struck the water with so violent a dash that the canoe swerved and headed landward.

"By God!" he muttered, under his breath, "I've got it.... It isn't my fault.... It's theirs.... They've put me in this fix.... They've brought this dodging, and shifting, and squirming upon me.... The subterfuge isn't mine; it's theirs.... They've taken the responsibility from me.... When they strip me of rights they strip me of duties.... They've forced me where right and wrong don't exist for me any more.... They've pitched me out of their Organized Society, and I've had to go.... Now I'm free ... and I shall profit by my freedom."

In the excitement of these discoveries he smote the waters again. He remembered having said something of the sort on the night of his interview with Wayne; but he had not till now grasped its significance. It was the emancipation of his conscience. Whatever difficulties he might encounter from outside, he should be hampered by no scruples from within. He had been relieved of them; they had been taken from him. Since none had a duty toward him, he had no duty toward any. If it suited his purposes to juggle with men, the blame must rest upon themselves. He could but do his best with the maimed existence they had left to him. Self-respect would entail observance of the common laws of truth and honesty, but beyond this he need never allow consideration for another to come before consideration for himself. He was absolved from the necessity in advance. In the region in which he should pass his inner life there would be no occupant but himself. From the world where men and women had ties of love and pity and mutual regard they had cast him out, forcing him into a spiritual limbo where none of these things obtained. It was only lawful that he should make use of such advantages as his lot allowed him.

There was exaltation in the way in which he grasped this creed as his rule of life; and looking up suddenly, he saw the dawn. It had taken him unawares, stealing like a gray mist of light over the tops of the Vermont hills, lifting their ridges faintly out of night, like the ghosts of so many Titans. Among the Adirondacks one high peak caught the first glimmer of advancing day, while all the lower range remained a gigantic silhouette beneath the perceptibly paling stars. Over Canada the veil was still down, but he fancied he could detect a thinner texture to the darkness.

Then, as he passed a wooded headland, came a sleepy twitter, from some little pink and yellow bill barely withdrawn from its enfolding wing—to be followed by another, and another, and another, till both shores were aquiver with that plaintive chirrup, half threnody for the flying darkness, half welcome to the sun, like the praise of a choir of children roused to sing midnight matins, but still dreaming. Ford's dip was softer now, as though he feared to disturb that vibrant drowsiness; but when, later, capes and coves began to define themselves through the gray gloaming, and, later still, a shimmer of saffron appeared above the eastern summits, he knew it was time to think of a refuge from the daylight.

The saffron became fire; the fire lit up a heaven of chrysoprase and rose. Where the lake had been as a metal mirror for the stars, it rippled and dimpled and gleamed with the tints of mother-of-pearl. He knew the sun must be on the farther slope of the Green Mountains, because the face they turned toward him was dense in shadow, like the unilluminated portion of the moon. On the western shore the Adirondacks were rising out of the bath of night as dewy fresh as if they had been just created.

But the sun was actually in the sky when he perceived that he no longer had the lake to himself. From a village nestling in some hidden cove a rowboat pulled out into the open—a fisherman after the morning's catch. It was easy enough for Ford to keep at a prudent distance; but the companionship caused him an uneasiness that was not dispelled before the first morning steamer came pounding from the northward. He fixed his attention then on a tiny islet some two or three miles ahead. There were trees on it, and probably ferns and grass. Reaching it, he found himself in a portion of the lake forest-banked and little frequented. Pastures and fields of ripening grain on the most distant slopes of Vermont gave the nearest token of life. All about him there was solitude and stillness—with the glorious, bracing beauty of the newly risen day.

Landing with stiffened limbs, he drew up the canoe on a bit of sandy beach, over which sturdy old bushes, elder and birch, battered by the north winds, leaned in friendly, concealing protection. He himself would be able to lie down here, among the tall ferns and the stunted blueberry-scrub, as secluded and secure as ever he had been in prison.

Being hungry and thirsty, he ate and drank, consulting his map the while and fixing approximately his whereabouts. He looked at his little watch and wound it up, and fingered the pages of the railway guide he found beside it.

The acts brought up the image of the girl who had furnished him with these useful accessories to flight. For lack of another name he called her the Wild Olive—remembering her yearning, not wholly unlike his own, to be grafted back into the good olive-tree of Organized Society. With some shame he perceived that he had scarcely thought of her through the night. It was astounding to recollect that not twelve hours ago she had kissed him and sent him on his journey. To him the gulf between then and now was so wide and blank that it might have been twelve weeks, or twelve months, or twelve years. It had been the night of the birth of a new creature, of the transmigration of a soul; it had no measurement in time, and threw all that preceded it into the mists of prenatal ages.

These thoughts passed through his mind as he made a pillow for himself with his white flannel jacket, and twisted the ferns above it into a shelter from the flies. Having done this, he stood still and pondered.

"Have I really become a new creature?" he asked himself.

There was much in the outward conditions to encourage the fancy, while his inner consciousness found it easy to be credulous. Nothing was left of Norrie Ford but the mere flesh and bones—the least stable part of personality. Norrie Ford was gone—not dead, but gone—blasted, annihilated stamped out of existence, by the act of Organized Society. In its place the night of transition had called up some one else.

"But who? ... Who am I? ... What am I?"

Above all, a name seemed required to give him entity. It was a repetition of his feeling about the Wild Olive—the girl in the cabin in the woods. Suddenly he remembered that, if he had found a name for her, she had also found one for him—and that it was written on the steamer ticket in his pocket. He drew it out, and read:

"Herbert Strange."

He repeated it at first in dull surprise, and then with disapproval. It was not the kind of name he would have chosen. It was odd, noticeable—a name people would remember He would have preferred something commonplace such as might be found for a column or two in any city directory. She had probably got it from a novel—or made it up. Girls did such things. It was a pity, but there was no help for it now. As Herbert Strange he must go on board the steamer, and so he should be called until—

But he was too tired to fix a date for the resumption of his own name or the taking of another. Flinging himself on his couch of moss and trailing ground-spruce, with the ferns closing over him, and the pines over them, he was soon asleep.



Part II

Strange



VII



Dressed in overalls that had once been white, he was superintending the stacking of wool in a long, brick-walled, iron-roofed shed in Buenos Aires when the thought came to him how easy it had all been. He paused for a minute in his work of inspection—standing by an open window, where a whiff of fresh air from off the mud-brown Rio de la Plata relieved the heavy, greasy smell of the piles of unwashed wool—just to review again the past eighteen months. Below him stretched the noisy docks, with their row of electric cranes, as regular as a line of street lamps, loading or unloading a mile of steamers lying broadside on, and flying all flags but the Stars and Stripes. Wines, silk, machinery, textiles were coming out; wheat, cattle, hides, and beef were pouring in. In the confusion of tongues that reached him he could, on occasions, catch the tones of Spaniard, Frenchman, Swede, and Italian, together with all the varieties of English speech from Highland Scotch to Cockney; but none of the intonations of his native land. The comparative rarity of anything American in his city of refuge, while it added to his sense of exile, heightened his feeling of security. It was still another of the happy circumstances that had helped him.

The strain under which he had lived during this year and a half had undoubtedly been great; but he could see now that it had been inward strain—the mental strain of unceasing apprehension, the spiritual strain of the new creature in casting off the old husk, and adapting itself not merely to new surroundings, but to a new life. This had been severe. He was not a rover, and still less an adventurer, in any of the senses attached to that word. His instincts were for the settled, the well-ordered, and the practical. He would have been content with any humdrum existence that permitted his peaceable, commercially gifted soul to develop in its natural environment. The process, therefore, by which Norrie Ford became Herbert Strange, even in his own thoughts, had been one of inner travail, though the outward conditions could not have been more favorable. Now that he had reached a point where his more obvious anxieties were passing away, and the hope of safety was becoming a reality, he could look back and see how relatively easy everything had been.

He had leisure for reflection because it was the hour for the men's midday meal and siesta. He could see them grouped together—some thirty-odd—at the far end of the shed—sturdy little Italians, black-eyed, smiling, thrifty, dirty, and contented to a degree that made them incomprehensible to the ambitious, upward-toiling American set over them. They sat, or lounged, on piles of wood, or on the floor, some chattering, most of them asleep. He had begun like them. He had stacked wool under orders till he had made himself capable of being in command. He had been beneath the ladder; and though his foot was only on the lowest rung of it even now, he was satisfied to have made this first step upward.

He could not be said to have taken it to his own surprise, since he had prepared himself for it, and for other such steps to follow it, knowing that they must become feasible in time. He had been given to understand that what the Argentine, in common with some other countries, needed most was neither men nor capital, but intelligence. Men were pouring in from every corner of the globe; capital was keen in looking for its opportunity; but for intelligence the demand was always greater than the supply.

The first intimation of such a need had come to him on the Empress of Erin, in mid-Atlantic, by a chance opportunity of the voyage. It was on one of the first days of liberty when he had ventured to mix freely with his fellow-passengers. Up to the present he had followed the rule of conduct adopted at the little Canadian station of Saint Jean du Clou Noir. He went into public when necessary, but no oftener. He did then what other people did, in the way to attract the least attention. The season favored him, for amid the throngs of early autumn travellers, moving from country back to town, or from seaside resorts to the mountains he passed unnoticed. At Quebec he was one of the crowd of tourists come to see the picturesque old town. At Rimouski he was lost among the trainful of people from the Canadian maritime provinces taking the Atlantic steamer at a convenient port. He lived through each minute in expectation of the law's tap on his shoulder; but he acquired the habit of nonchalance. On shipboard it was a relief to be able to shut himself up in his cabin—his suite!—feigning sickness, but really allowing his taut nerves to relax, as he watched first the outlines of the Laurentides, and then the shores of Anticosti, and lastly the iron-black coast of Labrador, follow each other below the horizon. Two or three appearances at table gave him confidence that he had nothing to fear. By degrees he allowed himself to walk up and down the deck, where it was a queer sensation to feel that the long row of eyes must of necessity be fixed upon him. The mere fact that he was wearing another man's clothes—clothes he had found in the cabin trunk that had come on board for him—produced a shyness scarcely mitigated by the knowledge that he was far from looking grotesque.

Little by little he plucked up courage to enter the smoking-room where the tacit, matter-of-course welcome of his own sex seemed to him like extraordinary affability. An occasional word from a neighbor, or an invitation to "take a hand at poker," or to "have a cocktail," was like an assurance to a man who fancies himself dead that he really is alive. He joined in no conversations and met no advances, but from the possibilities of doing so he would go back to his cabin smiling.

The nearest approach to pleasure he allowed himself was to sit in a corner and listen to the talk of his fellow-men. It was sometimes amusing, but oftener stupid; it turned largely on food, with irrelevant interludes on business. It never went beyond the range of topics possible to the American or Canadian merchants, professional men, politicians, and saloon-keepers, who form the rank and file of smoking-room society on any Atlantic liner; but the Delphic worshipper never listened to Apollo's oracle with a more rapt devotion than Ford to this intercommunion of souls.

It was in this way that he chanced one day to hear a man speaking of the Argentine. The remarks were casual, choppy, and without importance, but the speaker evidently knew the ground. Ford had already noticed him, because they occupied adjoining steamer-chairs—a tall, sallow Englishman of the ineffectual type, with sagging shoulders, a drooping mustache, and furtive eyes. Ford had scarcely thought of the Argentine since the girl in the cabin had mentioned it—- now ten or twelve days ago; but the necessity of having an objective point, and one sufficiently distant turned his mind again in that direction.

"Did I hear you speaking yesterday of Buenos Aires?" he ventured to ask, on the next occasion when he found himself seated beside his neighbor on deck.

The Englishman drew his brier-root pipe from his mouth, glanced sidewise from the magazine he was reading, and jerked his head in assent.

"What kind of place did it seem to you?"

"Jolly rotten."

Pondering this reply, Ford might have lost courage to speak again had he not caught the eye of the Englishman's wife as she leaned forward and peeped at him across her husband's brier-root. There was something in her starry glance—an invitation, or an incitement—that impelled him to continue.

"I've been told it's the land of new opportunities."

The Englishman grunted without looking up. "I didn't see many."

"May I ask if you saw any?"

"None fit for a white man."

"My husband means none fit for a—gentleman. I liked the place."

From the woman's steely smile and bitter-sweet tones Ford got hints of masculine inefficiency and feminine contempt which he had no wish to follow up. He knew from fragments of talk overheard in the smoking-room that they had tried Mexico, California, and Saskatchewan in addition to South America. From the impatience with which she shook the foot just visible beneath the steamer-rug, while all the rest of her bearing feigned repose, he guessed her humiliation at returning empty to the land she had left with an Anglo-Saxon's pioneering hope, beside a husband who could do nothing but curse luck. To get over the awkward minute he spoke hurriedly.

"I've heard of a very good house out there—Stephens and Jarrott. Do you happen to know anything about them?"

"Wool," the Englishman grunted again. "Wool and wheat. Beastly brutes."

"They were horribly impertinent to my husband," the woman spoke up, with a kind of feverish eagerness to have her say. "They actually asked him if there was anything he could do. Fancy!"

"Oh, I know people of that sort put a lot of superfluous questions to you," Ford said. But the lady hurried on.

"As to questions, there are probably fewer asked you in Argentine than anywhere else in the world. It's one of the standing jokes of the place, both in Buenos Aires and out in the Camp. Of course, the old Spanish families are all right; but when it comes to foreigners a social catechism wouldn't do. That's one of the reasons the place didn't agree with us. We wanted people to know who we'd been before we got there; but that branch of knowledge isn't cultivated."

"More beastly Johnnies in the Argentine passin' under names not their own," said the man, moved to speak, at last, "than in all the rest of the world put together. Heard a story at the Jockey Club—lot of beastly native bounders in the Jockey Club—heard a story at the Jockey Club of a little Irish Johnny who'd been cheatin' at cards. Three other asses kicked him out. Beggar turned at the door and got in his lick of revenge. 'Say boys, d'yez know why they call me Mickey Flanagan out here? Because it's me na-ame.' Beggar 'd got 'em all there."

Ford nerved himself to laugh, but made an excuse for rising.

"Oh, there's lots of cleverness among them," the lady observed, before he had time to get away. "In fact, it's one of the troubles with the country—for people like us. There's too much competition in brains. My husband hit the right nail on the head when he said there was no chance for any beastly Johnny out there, unless he could use his bloomin' mind—and for us that was out of the question."

Ford never spoke to them again, but he meditated on their words, finding himself at the end of twenty-four hours in possession of a new light. "I've got to use my bloomin' mind." The words seemed to offer him the clew to life. It was the answer to the question, "What should I do there?" which positively asked itself, whenever he thought of seeking a refuge in this country or in that. It came as a discovery that within himself was the power that would enable him to make the best of any country, and the country to make the best of him.

He could hardly have explained how his decision to try Argentina had become fixed. Until he saw whether or not he should get successfully ashore at Liverpool there was a paralysis of all mental effort; but once on the train for London his plans appeared before him already formed. The country where few questions were asked and the past had no importance was clearly the place for him. Within a fortnight he was a second-class passenger on board the Royal Mail Steam Packet Parana, bound for Buenos Aires—thus fulfilling, almost unexpectedly to himself, the suggestion made by the girl in the Adirondack cabin, whose star, as he began to believe, must rule his fate.

He thought of her now and then, but always with the same curious sense of remoteness—or unreality, as of a figure seen in a dream. Were it not for the substantial tokens of her actuality he possessed she would have seemed to him like the heroine of a play. He would have reproached himself for disloyalty if the intensity of each minute as he had to meet it had not been an excuse for him. The time would come when the pressure of the instant would be less great, and he should be able to get back the emotion with which he left her. Perhaps if she had been "his type of girl," her image would not have faded so quickly.

There was but one thing for which he was not grateful to her. She had fixed the name of Herbert Strange upon him in such a way that he was unable to shake it off. His own first name was the unobjectionable monosyllable John—though he had always been known by his less familiar middle name, Norrie—and as John Ford he could have faced the world with a certain amount of bluff. He meant to begin the attempt immediately on reaching London, but the difficulty of appearing in a hotel under one name while everything he brought with him bore another was patent to him at once. Similarly, he could not receive the correspondence incidental to his outfit and his passage under the name of Ford in a house where he was known as Strange. Having applied for his passage as Strange, he knew it would create comment if he asked to be put down in the books as Ford. Do what he would he was obliged to appear on the printed list of second-cabin passengers as Herbert Strange, and he had made at least one acquaintance who would expect to call him so after they reached land.

This was a little, clean-shaven man, in the neighborhood of sixty, always dressed at sea as he probably dressed on shore. He wore nothing but black, with a white shirt and a ready-made black bow-tie. He might have been a butler, an elderly valet, or a member of some discreet religious order in street costume. Ford had heard a flippant young Frenchman speak of him as an "ancien curA(C), qui a fait quelque bAtise"; and indeed there was about him that stamp of the ecclesiastic which is sometimes ineffaceable.

"I call myself Durand," he said to Ford, using the conveniently ambiguous French idiom, "je m'appelle Durand."

"Et je m'appelle Strange, I call myself Strange," Ford had replied, claiming the name for the first time without hesitation, but feeling the irrevocable nature of the words as soon as he had uttered them.

Out of the crowd of second-rate Europeans of all races who made up the second cabin, the man who called himself Strange had selected the man who called himself Durand by some obscure instinct of affinity. "He looks like an old chap who could give one information," was Strange's own way of putting it, not caring to confess that he was feeling after a bit of sympathy. But the give and take of information became the basis of their friendship, and imparted the first real stimulus to the young man's awkward efforts to use his mind.

Monsieur Durand had been thirty years in the Argentine, observing the place and the people, native and foreign, with the impartial shrewdness only possible to one who sought little for himself. It was a pleasure to share the fruits of his experience with one so eager to learn, for young men were not in the habit of showing him deference. He could tell Mr. Strange many things that would be to his advantage—what to do—what to avoid—what sort of place to live in—what he ought to pay—and what sort of company to keep.

Yes, he knew the firm of Stephens and Jarrott—an excellent house. There was no Mr. Stephens now, only a Mr. Jarrott. Mr. Stephens had belonged to the great days of American enterprise in the southern hemisphere, to the time of Wheelwright, and Halsey, and Hale. The Civil War had put an end to that. Mr. Jarrott had come later—a good man, not generally understood. He had suffered a great loss a few years ago in the death of his brother-in-law and partner, Mr. Colfax. Mrs. Colfax, a pretty little woman, who hadn't old age in her blood either—one could see that—had gone back to the United States with her child—but a child!—blond as an angel—altogether darling—tout A fait mignonne. Monsieur Durand thought he remembered hearing that Mrs. Colfax had married again, but he couldn't say for certain. What would you? One heard so many things. He knew less of the family since the last boy died—the boy to whom he gave lessons in Spanish and French. Death hadn't spared the household—taking the three sons one after another and leaving father and mother alone. It was a thousand pities Mrs. Colfax had taken the little girl away. They loved her as if she had been their own—especially after the boys died. An excellent house! Mr. Strange couldn't do better than seek an entry there—it is I who tell you so—c'est moi qui vous le dis.

All this was said in very good English, with occasional lapses into French, in a soft, benevolent voice, with slow benedictory movements of the hands, more and more suggestive of an ecclesiastic en civile—or under a cloud. Strange stole an occasional glance into the delicate, clear-cut face, where the thin lips were compressed into permanent lines of pain, and the sunken brown eyes looked out from under scholarly brows with the kind of hopeful anguish a penitent soul might feel in the midst of purifying flames. He remembered again that the flippant young Frenchman had said, "Un ancien curA(C), qui a fait quelque bAtise." Was it possible that some tragic sin lay under this gentle life? And was the four-funnelled, twin-screwed Parana but a ghostly ship bearing a cargo of haunted souls into their earthly purgatory?

"But listen, monsieur," the old man began next day. But listen! There would be difficulties. Stephens and Jarrott employed only picked men, men with some experience—except for the mere manual labor such as the Italians could perform. Wouldn't it be well for Mr. Strange to qualify himself a little before risking a refusal? Ah, but how? Monsieur Durand would explain. There was first the question of Spanish. No one could get along in the Argentine without a working knowledge of that tongue. Monsieur Durand himself gave lessons in it—and in French—but in the English and American colonies of Buenos Aires exclusively. There were reasons why he did not care to teach among Catholics, though he himself was a fervent one, and he hoped—repentant. He pronounced the last word with some emphasis, as though to call Strange's attention to it. If his young friend would give him the pleasure of taking a few lessons, they could begin even now. It would while away the time on the voyage. He had his own method of teaching, a method based on the Berlitz system, but not borrowed from it, and, he ventured to say, possessing its own good points. For example: el tabaco—la pipa—los cigarillos. Que es esto? Esto es la pipa. Very simple. In a few weeks' time the pupil is carrying on conversations.

It would be an incalculable advantage to Mr. Strange if he could enter on his Argentine life with some command of the vernacular. It might even be well to defer his search for permanent employment until he could have that accomplishment to his credit. If he possessed a little money—even a very little—Oh, he did? Then so much the better. He need not live on it entirely, but it would be something to fall back on while getting the rudiments of his education. In the mean time he could learn a little about wool if he picked up jobs—Oh, very humble ones!—they were always to be had by the young and able-bodied—at the Mercado Central, one of the great wool-markets of the world. He could earn a few pesetas, acquire practical experience, and fit himself out in Spanish, all at the same time.

And he could live with relative economy. Monsieur Durand could explain that too. In fact, he might get board and lodging in the same house as himself, with Mrs. Wilson who conducted a modest home for "gentlemen only." Mrs. Wilson was a Protestant—what they called a Methodist, he believed—but her house was clean, with a few flowers in the patio, very different from the frightful conventillos in which the poor were obliged to herd. If Mr. Strange thought it odd that he, Monsieur Durand, should be living beneath a Protestant roof—well, there were reasons which were difficult to explain.

Later on, perhaps, Mr. Strange might take a season on some great sheep estancia out in the Camp, where there were thousands of herds that were thousands strong. Monsieur Durand could help him in that too. He could introduce him to wealthy proprietors whose sons he had taught. It would be a hard life, but it need not be for long. He would live in a mud hut, dirty, isolated, with no companionship but that of the Italian laborers and their womenkind. But the outdoor existence would do him good; the air over the pampas was like wine; and the food would not be as bad as he might expect. There would be an abundance of excellent meat, chiefly mutton, it was true, which when cooked A la guacho—carne concuero, they called it in the Camp—roasted in the skin so as to keep all the juices in the meat—! A gesture of the hands, accompanied by a succulent inspiration between the teeth, gave Strange to understand that there was one mitigation at least to life on an Argentine estancia.

To come into actual contact with the sheep, to know Oxfords, Cheviots, Leicesters, and Black-faced Downs, to assist at the feedings and washings and doctorings and shearings, to follow the crossings and recrossings and crossings again, that bred new varieties as if they were roses, to trace the processes by which the Argentine pampas supply novel resources to the European manufacturer, and the European manufacturer turns out the smart young man of London or New York, with his air of wearing "the very latest"—all this would not only give Strange a pleasing sense of being at the root of things, but form a sort of apprenticeship to his trade.

* * * * *

The men had not yet finished their hour of siesta, but Strange himself was at work. Ten minutes were sufficient for his own snack, and he never needed rest. Moreover, he was still too new to his position to do other than glory in the fact that he was a free being, doing a man's work, and earning a man's wage. Out in the Camp he had been too desolate to feel that, but here in Buenos Aires, at the very moment when the great city was waking to the knowledge of her queenship in the southern world—when the commercial hordes of the north were sweeping down in thousands of ships across the equator to outdo each other in her markets, it was an inspiring thing merely to be alive and busy. He was as proud of Stephens and Jarrott's long brick shed, where the sun beat pitilessly on the corrugated iron roof, and the smell of wool nearly sickened him, as if it had been a Rothschild's counting-house. His position there was just above the lowest; but his enthusiasm was independent of trivial things like that. How could he lounge about, taking siestas, when work was such a pleasure in itself? The shed of which he had the oversight was a model of its kind, not so much because his ambition designed to make it so, as because his ardor could make it nothing else.

The roar of dock traffic through the open windows drowned everything but the loudest sounds, so that busily working, he heard nothing, and paid no attention, when some one stopped behind him. He had turned accidentally, humming to himself in the sheer joy of his task, when the presence of the stranger caused him to blush furiously beneath his tan. He drew himself up, like a soldier to attention. He had never seen the head of the firm that employed him, but he had heard a young Englishman describe him as "looking like a wooden man just coming into life," so that he was enabled to recognize him now. He did look something like a wooden man, in that the long, lean face, of the tone of parchment, was marked by the few, deep, almost perpendicular folds that give all the expression there is to a Swiss or German medieval statue of a saint or warrior in painted oak. One could see it was a face that rarely smiled, though there was plenty of life in the deep-set, gray-blue eyes, together with a force of cautious, reserved, and possibly timid, sympathy. Of the middle height and slender, with hair just turning from iron-gray to gray, immaculate in white duck, and wearing a dignified Panama, he stood looking at Strange—who, tall and stalwart in his greasy overalls, held his head high in conscious pride in his position in the shed—as Capital might look at Labor. It seemed a long time before Mr Jarrott spoke—the natural harshness of his voice softened by his quiet manner.

"You're in charge of this gang?"

"Yes, sir."

There was an embarrassed pause. As though not knowing what to say next, Mr. Jarrott's gaze travelled down the length of the shed to where the Italians, rubbing their sleepy eyes, were preparing for work again.

"You're an American, I believe?"

"Yes, sir."

"How old are you?"

"Not quite twenty-six."

"What's your name?"

"Herbert Strange!"

"Ah? One of the Stranges of Virginia?"

"No, sir."

There was another long pause, during which the older man's eyes wandered once more over the shed and the piles of wool, coming back again to Strange.

"You should pick up a little Spanish."

"I've been studying it. Hablo EspaA+-ol, pero no muy bien."

Mr. Jarrott looked at him for a minute in surprise.

"So much the better—tanto mejor," he said, after a brief pause, and passed on.



VIII



He was again thinking how easy it had been, as he stood, more than three years later, on the bluffs of Rosario, watching the sacks of wheat glide down the long chute—full seventy feet—into the hold of the Walmer Castle. The sturdy little Italians who carried the bags from the warehouse in long single file might have been those he had superintended in the wool-shed in Buenos Aires in the early stages of his rise. But he was not superintending these. He superintended the superintendents of those who superintended them. Tired with his long day in the office, he had come out toward the end of the afternoon not only to get a breath of the fresh air off the Parana, but to muse, as he often did, over the odd spectacle of the neglected, half-forgotten Spanish settlement, that had slumbered for two hundred years, waking to the sense of its destiny as a factor of importance in the modern world. Wheat had created Chicago and Winnipeg Adam-like from the ground; but it was rejuvenating Rosario de Santa FA(C) Faust-like, with its golden elixir. It interested the man who called himself Herbert Strange—resident manager of Stephens and Jarrott's great wheat business in this outlet of the great wheat provinces—to watch the impulse by which Decrepitude rose and shook itself into Youth. As yet the process had scarcely advanced beyond the early stages of surprise. The dome of the seventeenth-century Renaissance cathedral accustomed for five or six generations to look down on low, one-storied Spanish dwellings surrounding patios almost Moorish in their privacy, seemed to lift itself in some astonishment over warehouses and flour-mills; while the mingling of its sweet old bells with the creaking of cranes and the shrieks of steam was like that chorus of the centuries in which there can be no blending of the tones.

Strange felt himself so much a part of the rejuvenescence that the incongruity gave him no mental nor A sthetic shock. If in his present position he took a less naA-ve pride than in that of three years ago, he was conscious none the less of a deep satisfaction in having his part, however humble, in the exercise of the world's energies. It gave him a sense of oneness with the great primal forces with the river flowing beneath him, two hundred miles to the Atlantic, with the wheat fields stretching behind him to the confines of Brazil and the foothills of the Andes to be a moving element in this galvanizing of new life into the dormant town, in this finding of new riches in the waiting earth. There was, too, a kind of companionship in the steamers moored to the red buoys in the river, waiting their turns to come up to the insufficient quays and be loaded. They bore such names as Devonshire, Ben Nevis, and Princess of Wales. They would go back to the countries where the speech was English, and the ideals something like his own. They would go back, above all, to the north, to the north that he yearned for with a yearning to which time brought no mitigation, to the north which was coming to mean for him what heaven means to a soul outside the scope of redemption.

It was only on occasions that this sentiment got possession of him strongly. He was generally able to keep it down. Hard work, assisted by his natural faculty for singleness of purpose and concentration of attention, kept him from lifting the eyes of his heart toward the unattainable. Moreover, he had developed an enthusiasm, genuine in its way, for the land of his adoption. The elemental hugeness of its characteristics—its rivers fifty to a hundred miles in width, its farms a hundred thousand acres in extent, its sheep herds and cattle herds thousands to the count—were of the kind to appeal to an ardent, strenuous nature. There was an exhilarating sense of discovery in coming thus early to one of the world's richest sources of supply at a minute when it was only beginning to be tapped. Out in the Camp there was an impression of fecundity, of earth and animal alike, that seem to relegate poverty and its kindred ills to a past that would never return; while down in the Port the growth of the city went on like the bursting of some magic, monstrous flower. It was impossible not to share in some degree the pride of the braggart Argentine.

It was difficult, too, not to love a country in which the way had been made so smooth for him. While he knew that he brought to his work those qualities most highly prized by men of business, he was astonished nevertheless at the rapidity with which he climbed. Men of long experience in the country had been more than once passed over, while he got the promotion for which they had waited ten and fifteen years. He admired the way in which for the most part they concealed their chagrin, but now and then some one would give it utterance.

"Hello, grafter!" a little man had said to him, on the day when his present appointment had become known among his colleagues.

The speaker was coming down the stairs of the head office in the Avenida de Mayo as Strange was going up. His name was Green, and though he had been twenty years in Argentine, he haled from Boston. Short and stout, with gray hair, a gray complexion, a gray mustache, and wearing gray flannels, with a gray felt hat, he produced a general impression of neutrality. Strange would have gone on his way unheeding had not the snarling tone arrested him. He had ignored this sort of insult more than once; but he thought the time had come for ending it. He turned on an upper step, looking down on the ashy-faced little man, to whom he had once been subordinate and who was now subordinate to him.

"Hello—what?" he asked, with an air of quiet curiosity.

"I said, Hello, grafter," Green repeated, with bravado.

"Why?"

"I guess you know that as well as I do."

"I don't. What is it? Out with it. Fire away."

His tranquil air of strength had its effect in overawing the little man, though the latter stood firm and began to explain.

"A grafter is a fellow with an underground pull for getting hold of what belongs to some one else. At least that's what I understand by it—"

"It's very much what I understand by it, too. But have I ever got hold of anything of yours?"

"Yes, confound you! You've taken my job—the job I've waited for ever since 1885."

"Did waiting for it make it yours? If so, you would have come by it more easily than I did. I worked for it."

"Worked for it? Haven't I worked for it, too? Haven't I been in this office for going on seventeen years? Haven't I done what they've paid me for—?"

"I dare say. But I've done twice what they've paid me for. That's the secret of my pull, and I don't mind giving it away. You mayn't like it—some fellows don't; but you'll admit it it's a pull you could have had, as well as I. Look here, Green," he continued, in the same quiet tone, "I'm sorry for you. If I were in your place, I dare say I should feel as you do. But if I were in your place, I'll be hanged if I shouldn't make myself fit to get out of it. You're not fit—and that's the only reason why you aren't going as resident manager to Rosario. You're labelled with the year '1885,' as if you were a bottle of champagne—and you've forgotten that champagne is a wine that gets out of date. You're a good chap—quite as good as your position—but you're not better than your position—and when you are you won't be left in it any longer."

In speaking in this way the man who had been Norrie Ford was consciously doing violence to himself. His natural tendency was to be on friendly terms with those around him, and he had no prompting stronger than the liking to be liked. In normal conditions he was always glad to do a kindness; and when he hurt any one's feelings he hurt his own still more. Even now, though he felt justified in giving little Green to understand his intoleration of impertinence, he was obliged to fortify himself by appealing to his creed that he owed no consideration to any one. Little Green was protected by a whole world organized in his defence; Norrie Ford had been ruined by that world, while Herbert Strange had been born outside it. With a temperament like that of a quiet mastiff, he was forced to turn himself into something like a wolf.

In spite of the fact that little Green's account of the brief meeting on the stairs presented it in the light of the castigation he had administered to "that confounded upstart from nobody knows where," Strange noticed that it made the clerks in the office, most of whom had been his superiors as Green had been, less inclined to bark at his heels. He got respect from them, even if he could not win popularity—and from popularity, in any case, he had been shut out from the first. No man can be popular who works harder than anybody else, shuns companionship, and takes his rare amusements alone. He had been obliged to do all three, knowing in advance that it would create for him a reputation of an "ugly brute" in quarters whence he would have been glad to get good-will.

Finding the lack of popularity a safeguard not only against prying curiosity, but against inadvertent self-betrayal, it was with some misgiving that he saw his hermit-like seclusion threatened, as he rose higher in the business and consequently in the social—scale. In the English-speaking colony of Buenos Aires the one advance is likely to bring about the other—especially in the case of a good-looking young man, evidently bound to make his mark, and apparently of respectable antecedents. The first menace of danger had come from Mr. Jarrott himself, who had unexpectedly invited his intelligent employee to lunch with him at a club, in order to talk over a commission with which Strange was to be intrusted. On this occasion he was able to stammer his way out of the invitation; but when later, Mr. Skinner, the second partner, made a like proposal, he was caught without an excuse, being obliged, with some confusion, to eat his meal in a fashionable restaurant in the Calle Florida. Oddly enough, both his refusal on the one occasion and his acceptance on the other obtained him credit with his elders and superiors, as a modest young fellow, too shy to seize an honor, and embarrassed when it was thrust upon him.

To Strange both occurrences were so alarming that he put himself into a daily attitude of defence, fearing similar attack from Mr. Martin, the third member of the firm. He, however, made no sign; and the bomb was thrown by his wife. It came in the shape of a card informing Mr. Strange that on a certain evening, a few weeks hence, Mrs. Martin would be at home, at her residence in Hurlingham. It was briefly indicated that there would be dancing, and he was requested to answer if he pleased. The general information being engraved, his particular name was written in a free bold hand, which he took to be that of one of the daughters of the family.

Though he did his best to keep his head, there was everything in that bit of pasteboard to throw him into a state of something like excitement. Not only were the doors of the world Norrie Ford had known being thrown open to Herbert Strange, but the one was being moved by the same thrill—the thrill of the feminine—that had been so powerful with the other. He was growing more susceptible to it in proportion as it seemed forbidden—just as a man in a desert island may dream of the delights of wine.

He had looked at the Misses Martin, but had never supposed they could fling a glance at him. He had seen them at the public gathering-places—in their box at the opera, in the grand stand at the Jockey Club, in their carriage at Palermo or in the Florida. They were handsome girls—blonde and dashing—whose New York air was in pleasant contrast to the graceful indolence or stolid repose of the dark-eyed ladies of the Argentine, too heavily bejewelled and too consciously dressed according to the Paris mode. Strange said of the Misses Martin, as he had said of Wild Olive, that they were "not his type of girl"—but they were girls—they were American girls—they were bright, lively girls, representing the very poetry and romance of the world that had turned him out.

It was a foregone conclusion that he should decline their invitation, and he did so; but the mere occasion for doing it gave his mind an impetus in the direction in which he had been able hitherto to check it. He began again to think of the feminine, to dream of it, to long for it. For the time being it was the feminine in the abstract—without features or personality. As far as it took form at all it was with the dainty, nestling seductiveness that belonged to what he called his "type"—a charm that had nothing in common with the forest grace of the Wild Olive or the dash of the Misses Martin.

Now and then he caught glimpses of it, but it was generally out of reach. Soft eyes, of the velvety kind that smote him most deliciously, would lift their light upon him through the casement of some old Spanish residence, or from the daily procession of carriages moving slowly along the palm avenue at Palermo or in the Florida. When this happened he would have a day or two of acting foolishly, in the manner of the Bonarense bucks. He would stand for hours of his leisure time—if he could get away from the office at the minute of the fashionable promenade—on the pavement of the Florida, or under a palm-tree in the park, waiting for a particular carriage to drive round again and again and again, while he returned the sweet gaze which the manners of the country allow an unknown lady to bestow, as a rose is allowed to shed its beauty. This being done, he would go away, and realize that he had been making himself ridiculous.

Once the incarnation of his dreams came so near him that it was actually within his grasp. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil dangled its fruit right before his eyes in the person of Mademoiselle Hortense, who sang at the CafA(C) Florian, while the clients, of whom he was sometimes one, smoked and partook of refreshments. She was just the little round, soft, dimpling, downy bundle of youth and love he so often saw in his mind's eye, and so rarely in reality, and he was ready to fall in love with any one. The mutual acquaintance was formed, as a matter of course, over the piece of gold he threw into the tambourine, from which, as she passed from table to table, she was able to measure her hearer's appreciation of art. Those were the days in which he first began to be able to dress well, and to have a little money to throw away. For ten days or a fortnight he threw it away in considerable sums, being either in love or in a condition like it. He respected Mademoiselle Hortense, and had sympathy with her in her trials. She was desperately sick of her roving life as he was of Mrs. Wilson's boarding-house. She was as eager to marry and settle down as he to have a home. The subject was not exactly broached between them, but they certainly talked round it. The decisive moment came on the night when her troupe was to sail for Montevideo. In the most delicate way in the world she gave him to understand that she would remain even at the eleventh hour if he were to say the word. She might be on the deck, she might be in her berth, and it still would not be too late. He left her at nine, and she was to sail at eleven. During the two intervening hours he paced the town, a prey to hopes, fears, temptations, distresses. To do him justice, it was her broken heart he thought of, not his own. To him she was only one of many possibilities; to her, he was the chance of a lifetime. She might never, he said to himself, "fall into the clutches of so decent a chap again." It was a wild wrestle between common sense and folly—so wild that he was relieved to hear a clock strike eleven, and to know she must have sailed.

The incident sobered him by showing him how near and how easily he could come to a certain form of madness. After that he worked harder than ever, and in the course of time got his appointment at Rosario. It was a great "rise," not only in position and salary, but also in expectations. Mr. Martin had been resident manager at Rosario before he was taken into partnership—so who could tell what might happen next?

The first intimation of the change was conveyed by Mr. Jarrott in a manner characteristically casual. Strange, being about to leave the private office one day, after a consultation on some matter of secondary import, was already half-way to the door, while Mr. Jarrott himself was stooping to replace a book in the revolving bookcase that stood beside his chair.

"By-the-way," he said, without looking up, "Jenkins is going to represent the house in New York. We think you had better take his place at Rosario."

Strange drew himself up to attention. He knew the old man liked his subordinates to receive momentous orders as if they came in the routine of the day.

"Very well, sir," he said, quietly, betraying no sign of his excitement within. Raising himself, Mr. Jarrott looked about uneasily, as if trying to find something else to say, while Strange began again to move toward the door.

"And Mrs. Jarrott—"

Strange stopped so still that the senior partner paused with that air of gentlemanly awkwardness—something like an Englishman's—which he took on when he had firmly made up his mind.

"Mrs. Jarrott," he continued, "begs me to say she hopes you will—a—come and lunch with us on Sunday next."

There was a long pause, during which the young man searched wildly for some formula that would soften his point-blank refusal.

"Mrs. Jarrott is awfully kind," he began at last to stammer, "but if she would excuse me—"

"She will expect you on Sunday at half-past twelve."

The words were uttered with that barely perceptible emphasis which, as the whole house knew, implied that all had been said.

* * * * *

In the end the luncheon was no formidable affair. Except for his fear, lest it should be the thin edge of the wedge of that American social life which it would be perilous for him to enter, he would have enjoyed this peep into a comfortable home, after his long exile from anything of the sort. In building his house at Palermo, Mr. Jarrott had kept, in the outlines at least, to the old Spanish style of architecture, as being most suited to the history and climate of the country, though the wealthy Argentines themselves preferred to have their residences look—like their dresses, jewels, and carriages—as if they had come from Paris. The interior patio was spacious, shaded with vines, and gay with flowers, while birds, caged or free, were singing everywhere. The rooms surrounding it were airy and cool, and adapted to American standards of comfort. In the dining-room mahogany, damask, crystal, and silver gave Strange an odd feeling of having been wafted back to the days and usages of the boyhood of Norrie Ford.

As the only guest he found himself seated on Mrs. Jarrott's right, and opposite Miss Queenie Jarrott, the sister of the head of the house. The host, as his manner was, spoke little. Miss Jarrott, too, only looked at Strange across the table, smiling at him with her large, thin, upward-curving smile, comic in spite of itself, and with a certain pathos, since she meant it to be charged with sentiment. Over the party at table, over the elderly men-servants who waited on them, over the room, over the patio, there was—except for the singing of the birds—the hush that belongs to a household that never hears the noise or the laughter of youth.

Mrs. Jarrott took the brunt of the conversation on herself She was a beautiful woman, faded now with the pallor that comes to northern people after a long residence in the sub-tropical south, and languid from the same cause. Her handsome hazel eyes looked as if they had been used to weeping, though they conserved a brightness that imparted animation to her face. A white frill round her throat gave the only relief to her plain black dress, but she wore many handsome rings, after the Argentine fashion as well as a brooch and earrings of black pearls.

She began by asking her guest if it was true, as Mr. Jarrott had informed her, that he was not one of the Stranges of Virginia. She thought he must be. It would be so odd if he wasn't. There were Stranges in Virginia, and had been for a great many generations. In fact, her own family, the Colfaxes, had almost intermarried with them. When she said almost, she meant that they had intermarried with the same families—the Yorkes, the Endsleighs and the Poles. If Mr. Strange did belong to the Virginia Stranges, she was sure they could find relatives in common. Oh, he didn't? Well, it seemed really as if he must. If Mr. Strange came from New York, he probably knew the Wrenns. Her own mother was a Wrenn. She had been Miss Wrenn before she was Mrs. Colfax. He thought he had heard of them? Oh, probably. They were well-known people—at least they had been in the old days—though New York was so very much changed. She rarely went back there now, the voyage was so long, but when she did she was quite bewildered. Her own family used to be so conservative, keeping to a little circle of relatives and friends that rarely went north of Boston or south of Philadelphia; but now when she made them a visit she found them surrounded by a lot of people who had never been heard of before. She thought it a pity that in a country where there were so few distinctions, those which existed shouldn't be observed.

It was a relief to Strange when the sweet, languorous monologue, punctuated from time to time by a response from himself, or an interjectory remark from one of the others, came to an end, and they proceeded to the patio for coffee.

It was served in a corner shaded by flowering vines, and presided over by a huge green and gray parrot in a cage. The host and hostess being denied this form of refreshment took advantage of the moment to stroll arm in arm around the court, leaving Miss Jarrott in tAte-A -tAte with Strange. He noticed that as this lady led the way her figure was as lithe as a young girl's and her walk singularly graceful. "No one is ever old with a carriage like yours," Miss Jarrott had been told, and she believed it. She dressed and talked according to her figure, and, had it not been for features too heavily accentuated in nose and chin, she might have produced an impression of eternal spring-tide. As it was, the comic papers would have found her cruelly easy to caricature, had she been a statesman. The parrot screamed at her approach, croaking out an air, slightly off the key:

/P "Up and down the ba-by goes, Turning out its lit-tle ..." P/

Tempted to lapse into prose, it proceeded to cry:

"Wa-al, Polly, how are you to-day? Wa-al, pretty well for an old gal," after which there was a minute of inarticulate grumbling. When coffee was poured, and the young man's cigarette alight, Miss Jarrott seized the opportunity which her sister-in-law's soft murmur at the table had not allowed her.

"It's really funny you should be Mr. Strange, because I've known a young lady of the same name. That is, I haven't known her exactly, but I've known about her."

Not to show his irritation at the renewal of the subject, Strange presumed she was one of the Stranges of Virginia, with right and title to be so called.

"She is and she isn't," Miss Jarrot replied. "I know you'll think it funny to hear me speak so; but I can't explain I'm like that. I can't always explain. I say lots and lots of things that people just have to interpret for themselves It's funny I should be like that, isn't it? I wonder why? Can you tell me why? And this Miss Strange—I never knew her really—not really—but I feel as if I had. I always feel that way about friends of friends of mine. I feel as if they were my friends, too. I'd go through fire and water for them. Of course that's just an expression but you know what I mean, now don't you?"

Having been assured on that point, she continued:

"I'm afraid you'll find us a very quiet household, Mr. Strange, but we're in mourning. That is, Mrs. Jarrott is in mourning; and when those dear to me are in mourning I always feel that I'm in mourning, too. I'm like that. I never can tell why it is, but—I'm like that. My sister-in-law has just lost her sister-in-law. Of course that's no relation to me, is it? And yet I feel as if it was. I've always called Mrs. Colfax my sister-in-law, and I've taught her little girl to call me Aunt Queenie. They lived here once. Mr. Colfax was Mrs. Jarrott's brother and Mr. Jarrott's partner. The little girl was born here. It was a great loss to my brother when Mr. Colfax died. Mrs. Colfax went back to New York and married again. That was a blow, too; so we haven't been on the same friendly terms of late years. But now I hope it will be different. I'm like that. I always hope. It's funny, isn't it? No matter what happens, I always think there's a silver lining to the cloud. Now, why should I be like that? Why shouldn't I despair, like other people?"

Strange ventured the suggestion that she had been born with a joyous temperament.

"Wa-al, pretty well for an old gal!" screamed the parrot ending in a croaking laugh.

"I'm sure I don't know," Miss Jarrott mused. "Everybody is different, don't you think? And yet it sometimes seems to me that no one can be so different as I am. I always hope and hope; and you see, in this case I've been justified. We're going to have our little girl again. She's coming to make us a long, long visit. Her name is Evelyn; and once we get her here we hope she'll stay. Who knows? There may be something to keep her here. You never can tell about that. She's an orphan, with no one in the world but a stepfather, and he's blind. So who has a better right to her? I always think that people who have a right to other people should have them, don't you? Besides, he's going to Wiesbaden, to a great oculist there, so that Evelyn will come to us as her natural protectors. She's nearly eighteen now, and she wasn't eight when she left us. Oh yes, of course we've seen her since then—when we've gone to New York—but that hasn't been often. She will have changed; she'll have her hair up, and be wearing her dresses long; but I shall know her. Oh, you couldn't deceive me. I never forget a face. I'm like that. No, nor names either. I should remember you, Mr. Strange, if I met you fifty years from now. I noticed you when you first began to work for Stephens and Jarrott. So did my sister-in-law, but I noticed you first. We've often spoken of you, especially after we knew your name was Strange. It seemed to us so strange. That's a pun, isn't it? I often make them. We both thought you were like what Henry—that's Mr. Jarrott's oldest son—might have grown to, if he had been spared to us. We've had a great deal of sorrow—Oh, a great deal! It's weaned my sister-in-law away from the world altogether. She's like that. My brother, too—he isn't the same man. So when Evelyn comes we hope we shall see you often, Mr. Strange. You must begin to look on this house as your second home. Indeed, you must. It'll please my brother. I've never heard him speak of any young man as he's spoken of you. I think he sees the likeness to Henry. That'll be next year when Evelyn comes. No, I'm sorry to say it isn't to be this year. She can't leave her stepfather till he goes to Wiesbaden. Then she'll be free. Some one else is going to Wiesbaden with him. And isn't it funny, it's the same Miss Strange—the lady we were speaking of just now."

It was already some months since those words had been spoken, so that he had ceased to dwell on them; but at first they haunted him like a snatch of an air that passes through the mental hearing, and yet eludes the attempt to bring it to the lips. Even if he had had the synthetic imagination that easily puts two and two together, he had not the leisure, in the excitement of his removal to Rosario and the undertaking of his duties there, to follow up a set of clews that were scarcely more palpable than odors. Nevertheless the words came back to him from time to time, and always with the same odd suggestion of a meaning special—perhaps fatal—to himself. They came back to him at this minute, as he stood watching the loading of the Walmer Castle and breathing the fresh air off the Parana. But if they threatened danger, it was a danger that disappeared the instant he turned and faced it—leaving nothing behind but the evanescent memory of a memory, such as will sometimes remain from a dream about a dream.



IX



Another year had passed before he learned what Miss Jarrott's words were to mean to him. Knowledge came then as a flash of revelation in which he saw himself and his limitations clearly defined. His success at Rosario had been such that he had begun to think himself master of Fate; but Fate in half an hour laughingly showed herself mistress of him.

He had been called to Buenos Aires on an errand of piety and affection—to bury Monsieur Durand. The poor old unfrocked priest had been gathered to his rest, taking his secret with him—penitent, reconciled to the Church, and fortified with the Last Sacraments. Strange slipped a crucifix between the wax-like fingers, and followed—the only mourner—to the Recoleta Cemetery.

Having ordered a cross to mark the grave, he remained in town a day or two longer to attend to a small matter which for some time past he had at heart and on his conscience. It was now three or four years since he had set aside the sum lent him by the girl for whom he had still no other name than that of the Wild Olive. He had invested it, and reinvested it, till it had become a fund of some importance. Putting it now into the safest American securities, he placed them in the hands of a firm of English solicitors in Buenos Aires, with directions not only to invest the interest from time to time, but—in the event of his death—to follow certain sealed instructions with which also he intrusted them. From the few hints he was able to give them in this way he had little doubt but that her identity could be discovered, and the loan returned.

In taking these steps he could not but see that what would be feasible in case of his death must be equally feasible now; but he had two reasons for not attempting it. The first was definite and prudential. He was unwilling to risk anything that could connect him ever so indirectly with the life of Norrie Ford. Secondly, he was conscious of a vague shrinking from the payment of this debt otherwise than face to face. Apart from considerations of safety, he was unwilling to resort to the commonplace channels of business as long as there was a possibility of taking another way.

Not that he was eager to see her again. He had questioned himself on that point, and knew she had faded from his memory. Except for a vision of fugitive dark eyes—eyes of Beatrice Cenci—he could scarcely recall her features. Events during the last six years had pressed so fast on each other, life had been so full, so ardent, each minute had been so insistent that he should give it his whole soul's attention, that the antecedent past was gone like the passion no effort can recapture. As far as he could see her face at all, it looked at him out of an abyss of oblivion to which his mind found it as hard to travel back as a man's imagination to his infancy.

It was with some shame that he admitted this. She had saved him—in a sense, she had created him. By her sorcery she had raised up Herbert Strange out of the ruin of Norrie Ford, and endowed him with young vigor. He owed her everything. He had told her so. He had vowed his life to her. It was to be hers to dispose of, even at her caprice. It was what he had meant in uttering his parting words to her. But, now, that he had the power in some degree, he was doing nothing to fulfil his promise. He had even lost the desire to make the promise good.

It was not difficult to find excuses for himself. They were ready-made to his hand. There was nothing practical that he could do except what he had done about the money. Life was not over yet; and some day the chance might come to prove himself as high-souled as he should like to be. If he could only have been surer that he was inwardly sincere he would not have been uneasy over his inactivity.

Then, within a few minutes, the thing happened that placed him in a new attitude, not only toward the Wild Olive, but toward all life.

Business with the head office detained him in Buenos Aires longer than he had expected. It was business of a few hours at a time, leaving him leisure for the theatres and the opera, for strollings at Palermo, and for standing stock-still watching the procession of carriages in the Florida or the Avenida Sarmiento, in the good Bonarense fashion. He was always alone, for he had acquired the art—none too easy—of taking pleasure without sharing it.

So he found himself, one bright afternoon, watching the races from the lawn of the Hipodromo of the Jockey Club. He was fond of horses, and he liked a good race. When he went to the Hipodromo it was for the sporting, not the social, aspect of the affair. Nevertheless, as he strolled about, he watched for that occasional velvety glance that gave him pleasure, and amused himself with the types seated around him, or crossing his path—heavy, swarthy Argentines, looking like Italian laborers grown rich—their heavy, swarthy wives, come out to display all the jewels that could be conveniently worn at once—pretty, dark-eyed girls, already with a fatal tendency to embonpoint, wearing diamonds in their ears and round their necks as an added glory to costumes fresh from the rue de la Paix—grave little boys, in gloves and patent-leather boots, seated without budging by their mammas, sucking the tops of their canes in imitation of their elder brothers, who wandered about in pairs or groups, all of the latest cut, eying the ladies but rarely addressing them—tall Englishmen, who looked taller than they were in contrast to the pudgy race around them, as the Germans looked lighter and the French more blond—Italian opera singers, Parisian actresses Spanish dancers, music-hall soubrettes—diplomats of all nations—clerks out for a holiday—sailors on shore—tourists come to profit by a spectacle that has no equal in the southern world, and little of the kind that is more amusing in the north.

As Strange's glance roamed about in search of a response he not infrequently received it, for he was a handsome fellow by this time—tall, well dressed, and well set up, his trim, fair beard emphasizing the clear-cut regularity of his profile, without concealing the kindliness that played about the mouth. A little gray on the temples, as well as a few tiny wrinkles of concentration about the eyes, gave him an air of maturity beyond his age of thirty-two. The Anglo-Saxon influence in the Argentine is English—from which cause he had insensibly taken on an English air, as his speech had acquired something of the English intonation. He was often told that he might pass for an Englishman anywhere, and he was glad to think so. It was a reason the less for being identified as Norrie Ford. It sometimes seemed to him that he could, in case of necessity, go back to North America, to New York, to Greenport, or even to the little county town where he had been tried and sentenced to death, and run no risk of detection.

* * * * *

The staring of other men first directed his attention toward her. She was sitting slightly detached from the party of Americans to whom she clearly belonged, and in which the Misses Martin formed the merrily noisy centre. Though dressed in white, that fell softly about her feet, and trained on the grass sidewise from her chair, her black cuffs, collar and hat suggested the last days of mourning. Whether or not she was aware of the gaze of the passers-by it was difficult to guess, for her air of demure simplicity was proof against penetration. She was one of those dainty little creatures who seem to see best with the eyes downcast; but when she lifted her dark lashes, the darker from contrast with the golden hair, to sweep heaven and earth in a blue glance that belonged less to scrutiny than to prayer, the effort seemed to create a shyness causing the lids, dusky as some flowers are, to drop heavily into place again, like curtains over a masterpiece. It was so that they rose and fell before Strange, her eyes meeting his in a look that no Argentine beauty could ever have bestowed, in that it was free from coquetry or intention, and wholly accidental.

It was in fact this accidental element, with its lack of preparation, that gave the electric thrill to both. That is to say, in Strange the thrill was electric; as for her, she gave no sign further than that she opened her parasol and raised it to shade her face. Having done this she continued to sit in undisturbed composure, though she probably saw through her fringing lashes that the tall, good-looking young man still stood spellbound, not twenty yards away.

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