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The Wild Olive
by Basil King
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Strange, on his part, was aware of the unconventionality of his behavior, though he was incapable of moving on. He felt the occasion to be one which justified him in transcending the established rules of courtesy. He was face to face with the being who met not only all the longings of his earthly love, but the higher, purer aspirations that accompanied it. It was not, so he said to himself, a chance meeting; it was one which the ages had prepared, and led him up to. She was "his type of girl" only in so far as she distilled the essence of his gross imaginings and gave them in their exquisite reality. So, too, she was the incarnation of his dreams only because he had yearned for something mundane of which she was the celestial, and the true, embodiment. He had that sense of the insufficiency of his own powers of preconception which comes to a blind man when he gets his sight and sees a rose.

He was so lost in the wonder of the vision that he had to be awakened as from a trance when Miss Jarrott, very young and graceful, crossed the lawn and held out her hand.

"Mr. Strange! I didn't know you were in town. My brother never mentioned it. He's like that. He never tells. If I didn't guess his thoughts, I shouldn't know anything. But I always guess people's thoughts. Why do you suppose it is? I don't know. Do you? When I see people, I can tell what they're thinking of as well as anything. I'm like that; but I can't tell how I do it. I saw you from over there, and I knew you were thinking about Evelyn. Now weren't you? Oh, you can't deceive me. You were thinking of her just as plain—! Well, now you must come and be introduced."

He felt that he stumbled blindly as he crossed the bit of greensward in Miss Jarrott's wake; and yet he kept his head sufficiently to know that he was breaking his rules, contradicting his past, and putting himself in peril. In being presented to the Misses Martin and their group, he was actually entering that Organized Society to which Herbert Strange had no attachments, and in which he could thrust down no roots. By sheer force of will he might keep a footing there, as a plant that cannot strike into the soil may cling to a bare rock. All the same the attempt would be dangerous, and might easily lead to his being swept away.

It was in full consciousness, therefore, of the revolution in his life that he bowed before the Misses Martin, who received him coldly. He had not come to their dance, nor "called," nor shown them any of the civilities they were accustomed to look for from young men. Turning their attention at once to the other gentlemen about them, they made no effort to detain him as Miss Jarrott led him to Miss Colfax.

Here the introduction would have been disappointing if the greatness of the event had not been independent of the details with which it happened. Strange was not in a condition to notice them, any more than a soul can heed the formalities with which it is admitted into heaven. Nearly all his impressions were subconscious—to be brought to the surface and dwelt on after he went away. It was thus he recorded the facts relating to the gold tint—the teint dorA(C)—of her complexion, the curl of her lashes that seemed to him deep chestnut rather than quite black, as well as the little tremor about her mouth, which was pensive in repose, and yet smiled with the unreserved sweetness of an infant. He could not be said to have taken in any of these points at a glance; but they came to him later, vividly, enchantingly, in the solitude of his room at the Phoenix Hotel.

What actually passed would have been commonplace in itself had it not been for what lay behind. Miss Colfax acknowledged the introduction with a fleeting smile and a quick lifting of the curtains of her eyes. He did not need that glimpse to know that they were blue, but he got a throb of bliss from it, as does one from the gleam of a sunlit sea. To her answers to the questions he asked as to when she had arrived, how she liked the Argentine, and what she thought of the Hipodromo, he listened less than to the silvery timbre of her voice. Mere words were as unimportant to those first minutes of subtle ecstasy as to an old Italian opera. The music was the thing, and for that he had become one enraptured auditory nerve.

There was no chair for him, so that he was obliged to carry on the conversation standing. He did not object to this, as it would give him an excuse for passing on. That he was eager to go, to be alone, to think, to feel, to suffer, to realize, to trace step by step the minutes of the day till they had led him to the supreme instant when his eyes had fallen on her, to take the succeeding seconds one by one and extract the significance from each, was proof of the power of the spell that had been cast upon him.

"And isn't it funny, Evie, dear," Miss Jarrott began, just as he was about to take his leave, "that Mr. Strange's name should be—"

"Yes, I've been thinking about that," Miss Colfax fluted, with that pretty way she had of speaking with little movement of the lips.

But he was gone. He was gone with those broken sentences ringing in his ears—casual and yet haunting—meaningless and yet more than pregnant—creeping through the magic music of the afternoon, as a death-motive breathes in a love-chant.



X



After a night of little sleep and much thinking he determined to listen to nothing but the love-chant. He came to this decision, not in the recklessness of self-will, but after due consideration of his rights. It was true that, in biblical phrase, necessity was laid upon him. He could no more shut his ears against that entrancing song than he could shut his eyes against the daylight. This was not, however, the argument that he found most cogent, as it was not the impulse from which he meant to act. If he could make this girl his wife it would be something more than a case of getting his own way; it would be an instance—probably the highest instance—of the assertion of himself against a world organized to destroy him. He could not enter that world and form a part of it; but at least he could carry off a wife from it, as a lion may leap into a sheepfold and snatch a lamb.

It was in this light that he viewed the matter when he accepted Miss Jarrott's invitations—now to lunch, now to dinner, now to a seat in their box at the opera or in their carriage in the park—during the rest of the time he remained in town. It became clear to him that the family viewed with approval the attachment that had sprung up between Miss Colfax and himself, and were helping it to a happy ending. He even became aware that they were growing fond of him—making the discovery with a queer sensation of surprise. It was a thing so new in his experience that he would have treated the notion as ridiculous had it not been forced upon him. Women had shown him favors; one lonely old man, now lying in the Recoleta Cemetery, had yearned over him; but a household had never opened its heart to him before. And yet there could be no other reading of the present situation. He began to think that Mr. Jarrott was delaying his departure for Rosario purposely, to keep him near. It was certain that into the old man's bearing toward him there had crept something that might almost be called paternal, so that their business discussions were much like those between father and son. Mrs. Jarrott advanced as far out of the circle of her griefs to welcome him as it was possible for her languorous spirit to emerge. Miss Jarrott, friendly from the first, attached him to the wheels of her social chariot with an air of affectionate possession.

It required no great amount of perspicuity to see that the three elders would be glad if Miss Colfax and he were to "make a match of it," and why. It would be a means—and a means they could approve—of keeping their little girl among them. As matters stood, she was only a visitor, who spoke of her flight back to New York as a matter of course.

"I only came," she lisped to Strange, as they sat one day, under the parrot's chaperonage, in the shady corner of the patio—"I only came because when dear mamma died there was nothing else for me to do. Everything happened so unfortunately, do you see? Mamma died, and my stepfather went blind, and really I had no home. Of course that doesn't matter so much while I'm in mourning—I mean, not having a home—but I simply must go back to New York next autumn, in order to 'come out.'"



"Aren't you 'out' enough already?"

"Do you see?" she began to explain, with the quaint air of practical wisdom he adored in her, "I'm not out at all—and I'm nearly nineteen. Dear mamma fretted over it as it was—and if she knew it hadn't been done yet—Well something must be managed, but I don't know what. It isn't as if Miriam could do anything about it, though she's a great deal older than I am, and has seen a lot of social life at Washington and in England. But she's out of the question. Dear mamma would never have allowed it. And she's no relation to me, besides."

The question, "Who is Miriam?" was on his lips, but he checked it in time. He checked all questions as to her relatives and friends whom he did not know already. He was purposely making ignorance his bliss as long as possible, in the hope that before enlightenment could be forced upon him it would be too late for any one to recede.

"Couldn't they do it for you here?" he asked, when he was sure of what he meant to say. "I know the Miss Martins—"

"Carrie and Ethel! Oh, well! That isn't quite the same thing. I couldn't come out in a place like Buenos Aires—or anywhere, except New York."

"But when you've been through it all, you'll come back here, won't you?"

His eyes sought hers, but he saw only the curtains of the lids—those lids with the curious dusk on them, which reminded him of the petals of certain pansies.

"That'll—depend," she said, after a minute's hesitation.

"It'll depend—on what?" he persisted, softly.

Before she could answer the parrot interrupted, screaming out a bit of doggerel in its hoarse staccato.

"Oh, that bird!" the girl cried, springing up. "I do wish some one would wring its neck."

He got no nearer to his point that day, and perhaps he was not eager to. The present situation, with its excitements and uncertainties, was too blissful to bring to a sudden end. Besides, he was obliged to go through some further rehearsing of the creed adopted in the dawn on Lake Champlain before his self-justification could be complete. It was not that he was questioning his right to act; it was only that he needed to strengthen the chain of arguments by which his action must be supported—against himself. Within his own heart there was something that pleaded against the breaking off of this tender sprig of the true olive to graft it on the wild, in addition to which the attitude of the Jarrott family disconcerted him. It was one thing to push his rights against a world ready to deny them, but it was quite another to take advantage of a trusting affection that came more than half-way to meet him. His mind refused to imagine what they would do if they could know that behind the origin of Herbert Strange there lay the history of Norrie Ford. After all, he was not concerned with them, he asserted inwardly, but with himself. They were intrenched within a world able to take care of itself; while there was no power whatever to protect him, once he made a mistake.

So every night, as he sat in his cheerless hotel room, he reviewed his arguments, testing them one by one, strengthening the weak spots according to his lights, and weighing the for and against with all the nicety he could command. On the one side were love, happiness, position, a home, children probably, and whatever else the normal, healthy nature craves; on the other, loneliness, abnegation, crucifixion, slow torture, and slower death. Was it just to himself to choose the latter, simply because human law had made a mistake and put him outside the human race? The answer was obvious enough; but while his intelligence made it promptly, something else within him—some illogical emotion—seemed to lag behind with its corroboration.

This hesitation of his entire being to respond to the bugle-call of his need gave to his wooing a certain irregularity—an advance and recession like that of the tide. At the very instant when the words of declaration were trembling on his lips this doubt about himself would check him. There were minutes—moonlit minutes, in the patio, when the birds were hushed, and the scent of flowers heavy, and the voices of the older ones stole from some lighted room like a soft, human obligato to the melody of the night—minutes when he felt that to his "I love you!" hers would come as surely as the echo to the sound; and yet he shrank from saying it. Their talk would drift near to it, dally with it, flash about it, play attack and defence across it, and drift away again, leaving the essential thing unspoken. The skill with which she fenced with this most fragile of all topics, never losing her guard, never missing her thrust or parry, and yet never inflicting anything like a wound, filled him with a sort of rapture. It united the innocence of a child to the cleverness of a woman of the world, giving an exquisite piquancy to both. In this young creature, who could have had no experience of anything of the kind, it was the very essence of the feminine.

By dint of vigil and meditation he drew the conclusion that his inner hesitancy sprang from the fact that he was not being honest with himself. He was shirking knowledge that he ought to face. Up to the present he had done his duty in that respect, and done it pluckily. He had not balked at the statement that his rA'le in the world was that of an impostor—though an impostor of the world's own creation. It had been part of the task forced upon him "to deceive men under their very noses," as he had expressed it to himself that night on Lake Champlain. Whatever vengeance, therefore, discovery might call upon him, he could suffer nothing in the loss of self-respect. He would be always supported by his inner approval. Remorse would be as alien to him as to Prometheus on the rock.

In the present situation he was less sure of that, and there he put his finger on his weakness. Seeing shadows flitting in the background he dodged them, instead of calling them out into daylight. He was counting on happy chances in dealing with the unforeseen, when all his moves should be based on the precise information of a general.

Therefore, when, in the corner of the patio, the next opportunity arose for asking the question, "Who is Miriam?" he brought it out boldly.

"She's a darling." The unexpected reply was accompanied by a sudden lifting of the lashes for a rapturous look and one of the flashing smiles.

"That's high praise—from you."

"She deserves it—from any one!"

"Why? What for? What has she done to win your enthusiasm when other people find it so hard?"

"It isn't so hard—only some people go the wrong way to work about it, do you see?"

She leaned back in her wicker chair, fanning herself slowly, and smiling at him with that air of mingled innocence and provocation which he found the most captivating of her charms.

"Do I?" he was tempted to ask.

"Do you? Now, let me think. Really, I never noticed. You'd have to begin all over again—if you ever did begin—before I could venture an opinion."

This was pretty, but it was not keeping to the point.

"Evidently Miriam knows how to do it, and when I see her I shall ask her."

"I wish you could see her. You'd adore her. She'd be just your style."

"What makes you think that? Is she so beautiful? What is she like?"

"Oh, I couldn't tell you what she's like. You'd have to see her for yourself. No, I don't think I should call her beautiful, though some people do. She's awfully attractive anyhow."

"Attractive? In what way?"

"Oh, in a lot of ways. She isn't like anybody else. She's in a class by herself. In fact, she has to be, poor thing."

"Why should she be poor thing, with so much to her credit in the way of assets?"

"Do you see?—that's something I can't tell you. There's a sort of mystery about her. I'm not sure that I understand it very well myself. I only know that dear mamma didn't feel that she could take her out, in New York, except among our very most intimate friends, where it didn't matter. And yet when Lady Bonchurch took her to Washington she got a lot of offers—I know that for a fact—and in England, too."

"I seem to be getting deeper in," Strange smiled, with the necessary air of speaking carelessly. "Who is Lady Bonchurch?"

"Don't you know? Why, I thought you knew everything. She was the wife of the British Ambassador. They took a house at Greenport that year because they were afraid about Lord Bonchurch's lungs. It didn't do any good, though. He had to give up his post the next winter, and not long after that he died. I don't think air is much good for people's lungs, do you? I know it wasn't any help to dear mamma. We had all those tedious years at Greenport, and in the end—but that's how we came to know Lady Bonchurch, and she took a great fancy to Miriam. She said it was a shame a girl like that shouldn't have a chance, and so it was. Mamma thought she interfered and I suppose she did. Still, you can't blame her much, when she had no children of her own, can you?"

"I shouldn't want to blame her if she gave Miriam her chance."

"That's what I've always said. And if Miriam had only wanted to, she could have been—well, almost anybody. She had offers and offers in Washington, and in England there was a Sir Somebody-or-other who asked her two or three times over. He married an actress in the end—and dear mamma thought Miriam must be crazy not to have taken him while he was to be had. Dear mamma said it would have been such a good thing for me to have some one like Miriam—who was under obligations to us, do you see?—in a good social position abroad."

"But Miriam didn't see it in that way?"

"She didn't see it in any way. She's terribly exasperating in some respects, although she's such a dear. Poor mamma used to be very tried about her—and she so ill—and my stepfather going blind—and everything. If Miriam had only been in a good social position abroad it would have been a place for me to go—instead of having no home—like this."

There was something so touching in her manner that he found it difficult not to offer her a home there and then; but the shadows were marching out into daylight, and he must watch the procession to the end.

"It seems to have been very inconsiderate of Miriam," he said. "But why do you suppose she acted so?"

"Dear mamma thought she was in love with some one—some one we didn't know anything about—but I never believed that. In the first place, she didn't know any one we didn't know anything about—not before she went to Washington with Lady Bonchurch. And besides, she couldn't be in love with any one without my knowing it, now could she?"

"I suppose not; unless she made up her mind she wouldn't tell you."

"Oh, I shouldn't want her to tell me. I should see it for myself. She wouldn't tell me, in any case—not till things had gone so far that—but I never noticed the least sign of it, do you see? and I've a pretty sharp eye for that sort of thing at all times. There was just one thing. Dear mamma used to say that for a while she used to do a good deal of moping in a little studio she had, up in the hills near our house—but you couldn't tell anything from that. I've gone and moped there myself when I've felt I wanted a good cry—and I wasn't in love with any one."

There was a long silence, during which he sat grave, motionless, reflecting. Now and then he placed his extinguished cigarette to his lips, with the mechanical motion of a man forgetful of time and place and circumstance.

"Well, what are you thinking about?" she inquired, when the pause had lasted long enough. He seemed to wake with a start.

"Oh—I—I don't know. I rather fancy I was thinking about—about this Miss—after all, you haven't given me any name but Miriam."

"Strange, her name is. The same as yours."

"Oh? You've never told me that."

"Aunt Queenie has, though. But you always seem to shuffle so when it's mentioned that I've let it alone. I don't blame you, either; for if there's one thing more tedious than another, it's having people for ever fussing about your name. There was a girl at our school whose name was Fidgett—Jessie Fidgett—a nice, quiet girl, as placid as a church—but I do assure you, it got to be so tiresome—well, you know how it would be—and so I decided I wouldn't say anything about Miriam's name to you, nor about yours to her. Goodness knows, there must be lots of Stranges in the world—just as much as Jarrotts."

"So that—after all—her name was Miriam Strange."

"It was, and is, and always will be—if she goes on like this," Miss Colfax rejoined, not noticing that he had spoken half-musingly to himself. "She was a ward of my step-father's till she came of age," she added, in an explanatory tone. "She's a sort of Canadian—or half a Canadian—or something—I never could quite make out what. Anyhow, she's a dear. She's gone now with my stepfather to Wiesbaden, about his eyes—and you can't think what a relief to me it is. If she hadn't, I might have had to go myself—and at my age—with all I've got to think about—and my coming out—Well, you can see how it would be."

She lifted such sweet blue eyes upon him that he would have seen anything she wanted him to see, if he had not been determined to push his inquiries until there was nothing left for him to learn.

"Were you fond of him?—your stepfather?"

"Of course—in a way. But everything was so unfortunate I know dear mamma thought she was acting for the best when she married him; and if he hadn't begun to go blind almost immediately—But he was very kind to mamma, when she had to go to the Adirondacks for her health. That was very soon after she returned to New York from here—when papa died. But she was so lonely in the Adirondacks—and he was a judge—a Mr. Wayne—with a good position—and naturally she never dreamed he had anything the matter with his eyes—it isn't the sort of thing you'd ever think of asking about beforehand—and so it all happened that way, do you see?"

He did see. He could have wished not to see so clearly. He saw with a light that dazzled him. Any step would be hazardous now, except one in retreat; though he was careful to explain to himself that night that it was retreat for reconnoitre, and not for running away. The mere fact that the Wild Olive had taken on personality, with a place of some sort in the world, brought her near to him again; while the knowledge that he bore her name—possibly her father's name—seemed to make him the creation of her magic to an even greater degree than he had felt hitherto. He could perceive, too, that by living out the suggestions she had made to him in the cabin—the Argentine—Stephens and Jarrott—"the very good firm to work for"—he had never got beyond her influence, no more than the oak-tree gets beyond the acorn that has been its seed. The perception of these things would have been enough to puzzle a mind not easily at home in the complex, even if the reintroduction of Judge Wayne had not confused him further.

It was not astonishing, therefore, that he was seized with a sudden longing to get away—a longing for space and solitude, for the pampas and the rivers, and, above all, for work. In the free air his spirit would throw off its oppression of discomfort, while in a daily routine of occupation he often found that difficulties solved themselves.

"If you think that this business of Kent's can get along without me now," he said to Mr. Jarrott, in the private office, next morning, "perhaps I had better be getting back to Rosario."

Not a muscle moved in the old man's long, wooden face, but the gray-blue eyes threw Strange a curious look.

"Do you want to go?" he asked, after a slight pause.

Strange smiled, with an embarrassment that did not escape observation.

"I've been away longer than I expected—a good deal longer. Things must want looking after, I suppose. Green can take my place for a while, but—"

"Green is doing very well—better than I thought he could. He seems to have taken a new start, that man."

"I'm not used to loafing, sir. If there's no particular reason for my staying on here—"

Mr. Jarrott fitted the tips of his fingers together, and answered slowly.

"There's no particular reason—just now. We've been speaking of—of—a—certain changes—But it's too soon—"

"Of course, sir, I don't want to urge my private wishes against—"

"Quite so; quite so; I understand that. A—a—private wishes, you say?"

"Yes, sir; entirely private."

The gray-blue eyes rested on him in a gaze meant to be uninquisitive and non-committal, but which, as a matter of fact, expressed something from which Strange turned his own glance away.

"Very well; I'd go," the old man said, quietly.

Strange left his cards that afternoon at the house just when he knew Mrs. Jarrott would be resting and Miss Jarrott driving with Miss Colfax. At seven he took the night boat up the Plata to the Parana.



XI



"Evie, what do you think made Mr. Strange rush away like that? Your uncle says he didn't have to—that he might just as well have stayed in town."

"I'm sure I don't know," was Evie's truthful response, as she flitted about the dining-room table arranging the flowers before luncheon.

"Your uncle thinks you do," Mrs. Jarrott said, leaning languidly back in an arm-chair. Her tone and manner implied that the matter had nothing to do with her, though she was willing to speak of it. This was as far as she could come to showing an interest in anything outside herself since the boys died. She would not have brought up the subject now if the girl's pallor during the last few days had not made them uneasy.

"I haven't the least idea," Miss Colfax declared. "I was just as much surprised as you were, Aunt Helen."

"Your uncle thinks you must have said something to him—"

"I didn't. I didn't say anything to him whatever. Why should I? He's nothing to me."

"Of course he's nothing to you, if you're engaged to Billy Merrow."

Miss Colfax leaned across the table, taking a longer time than necessary to give its value to a certain rose.

"I'm not engaged to him now," she said, as if after reflection—"not in my own mind, that is."

"But you are in his, I suppose."

"Well, I can't help that, can I?"

"Not unless you write and tell him it's all over."

Miss Colfax stood still, a large red flower raised in protestation.

"That would be the cruellest thing I ever heard of," she exclaimed, with conviction. "I don't see how you can bear to make the suggestion."

"Then what are you going to do about it?"

"I needn't do anything just yet. There's no hurry—till I get back to New York."

"Do you mean to let him go on thinking—?"

"He'd much rather. Whenever I tell him, it will be too soon for him. There's no reason why he should know earlier than he wants to."

"But is that honor, dear?"

"How can I tell?" At so unreasonable a question the blue eyes clouded with threatening tears. "I can't go into all those fine points, Aunt Helen, do you see? I've just got to do what's right."

Mrs. Jarrot rose with an air of helplessness. She loved her brother's daughter tenderly enough, but she admitted to herself that she did not understand young girls. Having borne only sons, she had never been called upon to struggle with the baffling.

"I hope you're not going to tell any one, Aunt Helen," Evie begged, as Mrs. Jarrott seemed about to leave the room. "I shouldn't want Uncle Jarrott to know, or Aunt Queenie, either."

"I shall certainly spare them," Mrs. Jarrott said, with what for her was asperity. "They would be surprised, to say the least, after the encouragement you gave Mr. Strange."

"I didn't give it—he took it. I couldn't stop him."

"Did you want to?"

"I thought of it—sometimes—till I gave up being engaged to Billy."

"And having passed that mental crisis, I suppose it didn't matter."

"Well, the mental crisis, as you call it, left me free. I sha'n't have to reproach myself—"

"No; Mr. Merrow will do that for you."

"Of course he will. I expect him to. It would be very queer if he didn't. I shall have a dreadful time making him see things my way. And with all that hanging over me, I should think I might look for a little sympathy from you, Aunt Helen. Lots of girls wouldn't have said anything about it. But I told you because I want you to see I'm perfectly straight and above-board."

Mrs. Jarrott said no more for the moment, but later in the day she confided to her husband that the girl puzzled her. "She mixes me up so that I don't know which of us is talking sense." She was not at all sure that Evie was fretting about Mr. Strange—though she might be. If she wasn't, then she couldn't be well. That was the only explanation of her depression and loss of appetite.

"You can bet your life he's thinking of her," Mr. Jarrott said, with the lapse from colloquial dignity he permitted himself when he got into his house-jacket. "He's praying to her image as if it was a wooden saint."

With the omission of the word wooden this was much what Strange was doing at Rosario. Not venturing—in view of all the circumstances—to write to her, he could only erect a shrine in his heart, and serve it with a devotion very few saints enjoy. He found, however, that absence from her did not enable him to form detached and impartial opinions on his situation, just as work brought no subconsciously reached solution to the problems he had to face. In these respects he was disappointed in the results of his unnecessary flight from town.

At the end of two months he was still mentally where he was when he left Buenos Aires. His intelligence assured him that he had the right of a man who has no rights to seize and carry off what he can; while that nameless something else within him refused to ratify the statement. What precise part of him raised this obstacle he was at a loss to guess. It could not be his conscience, since he had been free of conscience ever since the night on Lake Champlain. Still less could it be his heart, seeing that his heart was crying out for Evie Colfax more fiercely than a lion roars for food. The paralysis of his judgment had become such that he was fast approaching the determination to make Love the only arbiter, and let all the rest go hang!

He was encouraged in this impulse by the thought that between her and himself there was the mysterious bond of something "meant." He believed vaguely in a Power, which, with designs as to human destinies, manifests its intentions by fitful gleams, vouchsafed somewhat erratically. In this way Evie Colfax, as a beautiful, fairy-like child, had been revealed to him at the most critical instant of his life. His mind had never hitherto gone back willingly to recollections of that night; but now he made the excursion into the past with a certain amount of pleasure. He could see her still, looking at a picture-book, her face resting on the back of her hand, and golden ringlets falling over her bare arm. He could see the boy, too. He remembered that his name was Billy. Billy who? he wondered. He could hear the sweet, rather fretful voice calling from the shadows:

"Evie dear, it's time to go to bed. Billy, I don't believe they let you stay up as late as this at home."

How ridiculous it would have been to remember such trivial details all these years if something hadn't been "meant" by it. There was a hint in the back of his mind that by the same token something might have been "meant" about the Wild Olive, too, but he had not an equal temptation to dwell on it. The Wild Olive, he repeated, had never been "his type of girl"—not from the very first. It was obviously impossible for a superintending Power to "mean" things that were out of the question.

He had got no further than this when the news was conveyed to him by Mrs. Green, whom he met accidentally in the street, that Mr. Skinner, the second partner, had had a "stroke," and had been ordered to Carlsbad. Mrs. Skinner, so Mrs. Green's letters from the Port informed her, was to accompany her husband. Furthermore, Miss Colfax was seizing the opportunity to travel with them to Southampton, where she would be able to join friends who would take her to New York. There was even a rumor that Miss Jarrott was to accompany her niece, but Mrs. Green was unable to vouch for the truth of it. In any case, she said, there were signs of "a regular shaking up," such as comes periodically in any great mercantile establishment; and this time, she ventured to hope, Mr. Green would get his rights.



XII



The knowledge that it was a juncture at which to execute a daring movement acted as an opiate on what would otherwise have been, for Strange, a day of frenzy. While to the outward eye he was going quietly about his work, he was inwardly calling all his resources to his aid to devise some plan for outwitting circumstance. After forty-eight hours of tearing at his heart and hacking at his brain, he could think of nothing more original than to take the first train down to the Port, ask the girl to be his wife, and let life work out the consequence. At the end of two days, however, he was saved from a too deliberate defiance of the unaccounted-for inner voice, by an official communication from Mr. Jarrott.

It was in the brief, dry form of his business conversation, giving no hint that there were emotions behind the stilted phraseology, and an old man's yearnings. Mr. Skinner was far from well, and would "proceed immediately" to Carlsbad. Strange would hand over the business at Rosario to Mr. Green—who would become resident manager, pro tem at any rate—and present himself in Buenos Aires at the earliest convenient moment. Mr. Jarrott would be glad to see him as soon as possible after his arrival.

That was all; but as far as the young man was concerned, it saved the situation. On consulting the steamer-list he saw that the Royal Mail Steam Packet Corrientes would sail for Southampton in exactly six days' time. By dint of working all night with Mr. Green, who was happy to lend himself to anything that would show him the last of his rival, he was able to take a train to the Port next day. It was half-past six when he arrived in Buenos Aires. By half-past eight he had washed, changed to an evening suit, and dined. At nine his cab stopped at the door of the house at Palermo.

As he followed the elderly man-servant who admitted him, the patio was so dim that he made his way but slowly. He made his way but slowly, not only because the patio was dim, but because he was trying to get his crowding emotions under control before meeting his employer in an interview that might be fraught with serious results. For once in his life he was unnerved, tremulous, almost afraid. As he passed the open doors and windows of unlighted, or dimly lighted, rooms he knew she might be in any one of the shadowy recesses. It would have been a relief to hear her at the piano, or in conversation, and to know her attention was diverted. None the less, he peered about for a glimpse of her, and strained his hearing for a sound of her voice. But all was still and silent, except for the muffled footfall of the servant leading him to the library at the far end of the court.

If she had not moved out unexpectedly from behind a pillar, a little fluttering figure in a white frock, he could have kept his self-control. If he had not come upon her in this sudden way, when she believed him in Rosario, she, too, would not have been caught at a disadvantage. As it was, he stood still, as if awe-struck. She gave a little cry, as if frightened. It is certain that his movement of the arms was an automatic process, not dictated by any order of the brain; and the same may be said for the impulse which threw her on his breast. If, after that, the rest was not silence, it was little more. What he uttered and she replied was scarcely audible to either, though it was understood by both. It was all over so quickly that the man-servant had barely thrown open the library door, and announced "Mr. Strange," when Strange himself was on the threshold.

It was a moment at which to summon all his wits together to attend to business; but he was astonished at the coolness and lightness of heart with which he did it. After those brief, sudden vows exchanged, it was as easy to dismiss Evie Colfax momentarily from his mind as it is to forget money troubles on inheriting a fortune. Nevertheless as he got himself ready to deal with practical, and probably quite commercial, topics, he was fully conscious of the rapture of her love, while he was scarcely less aware of a comfort closely akin to joy in feeling that the burden of decision had been lifted from him. Since Fate had taken the matter into her own hands, she could be charged with the full responsibility.

* * * * *

Mr. Jarrott, who was smoking a cigar and sipping his after-dinner coffee, was in evening dress, but wore his house-jacket—a circumstance of which Strange did not know the significance, though he felt its effect. The old man's welcome was not unlike that of a shy father trying to break the shackles of reserve with a home-coming son. He pushed Strange gently into the most comfortable arm-chair beside which he drew up a small table for the cigar-box, the ash-tray, and the matches. He rang for another cup, and brought the coffee with his own hands. Strange remembered how often, after a hard day's work, he had been made uncomfortable by just such awkward, affectionate attentions from poor old Monsieur Durand.

"I didn't expect you so soon," Mr. Jarrott began, when they were both seated, "but you've done well to come. I'm afraid we're in for a regular upset all round."

"I hope it isn't going to make things harder for you, sir," Strange ventured, in the tone of personal concern which his kindly treatment seemed to warrant him in taking.

"It won't if I can get the right men into the right places. That'll be the tough part of the business. The wool department will suffer by Mr. Skinner's absence—he's very ill, in my opinion—and there's only one man who can take his place." Strange felt his heart throbbing and the color rising to his face. He did not covet the position, for he disliked the wool department; but it was undeniably a "rise," and right along the line of highest promotion. "That's Jenkins," Mr. Jarrott finished, quietly.

Strange said nothing. After all, he was relieved. Mr. Jarrott did not go on at once, but when he did speak Strange fell back into the depths of his arm-chair, in an attitude suggestive of physical collapse.

"And if Jenkins came back here," the old man pursued, "you'd have to take his place in New York."

Strange concealed his agitation by puffing out successive rings of smoke. If he had not long ago considered what he would say should this proposal ever be made to him, he would have been even more overcome than he actually was. He had meant to oppose the offer with a point-blank refusal, but what had happened within the last quarter of an hour had so modified this judgment that he could only sit, turning things rapidly over in his mind, till more was said.

"There's no harm in—a—telling you," Mr. Jarrott went on again, with that hesitancy Strange had begun to associate with important announcements, "that—a—Jenkins will be—a—taken into partnership. You won't—a—be taken into partnership—a—yet. But you will have a good salary in New York. I can—a—promise you that much."

It was because he was unnerved that tears smarted in the young man's eyes at the implications in these sentences. He took his time before responding, the courtesies of the occasion being served as well by silence as by speech.

"I won't try to thank you for all your kindness, sir," he said, with a visible effort, "until I've told you something—something that, very likely, you won't approve of. I've asked Miss Colfax to marry me, and she's consented."

The old man's brows shot up incredulously.

"That's odd," he said, "because not half an hour ago she told my wife there was nothing whatever between you—that you hadn't even written to her since you went away. Mrs. Jarrott only left this room as you rang the door-bell."

"But it was after I rang the door-bell," Strange stammered "that I—I—asked her."

"Quick work," was the old man's only comment, but the muscles of his lips relaxed slowly, as if rusty from disuse, into one of his rare smiles.

With the assurance of this reception, Strange could afford to sit silent till Mr. Jarrott made some further sign.

"By the terms of her father's will," he explained some minutes later, "I'm her guardian and trustee. She can't marry without my consent till she comes of age. I don't say that in this instance I should—a—withhold my consent; but I should feel constrained to—a—give it with conditions."

"If it's anything I can fulfil, sir—"

"No; it wouldn't concern you so much as her. She's very young—and in heart she's younger than her age. She knows nothing about men—she can't know—and I dare say you're the first young fellow who ever said anything to her about—well, you understand what I mean. Mind you, we've no objections to you whatever. You are your own credentials; and we take them at their face value. You tell me you're an orphan, with no near relations, so that there couldn't be any complications on that score. Besides that, you're—a likely chap; and I don't mind saying that—a—my ladies—Mrs. Jarrott and my sister—have taken rather a fancy to you. It can't do you any—a—harm to know as much as that."

Strange murmurred his appreciation, and the old man went on.

"No; you're all right. But, as I said before, she's very young, and if we married her to you out of hand we feel that we shouldn't be giving her a fair show. We think she ought to have a little more chance to look round her, so to speak. In fact, she isn't what ladies call 'out.' She's scarcely ever seen a man, except through a window. Consequently, we think we must send her back to New York, for a winter at any rate, and trot the procession before her. My sister is to undertake it, and they're to sail next week. That won't make so much difference to you now, as it would if you weren't soon going to follow them."

Strange nodded. He felt himself being wafted to New York, whether he would or no.

"Now all I have to say is this: if, when she's regularly started, she sees some other young fellow she likes better than you, you're to give her up without making a fuss."

"Of course. Naturally, she would have to be free to do as she chose in the long run. I'm not afraid of losing her—"

"That'll be your own lookout. You'll be on the spot, and will have as good a chance as anybody else. You'll have a better chance; for you'll only have to keep what you've won, while any one else would have to start in at the beginning. But it's understood that there—a—can be no talk of a wedding just yet. She must have next winter to reconsider her promise to you, if she wants to."

Strange having admitted the justice of this, the old man rose, and held out his hand.

"We'll keep the matter between ourselves—in the family, I mean—for the time being," he said, with another slowly breaking smile; "but the ladies will want to wish you luck. You must come into the drawing-room and see them."

They were half-way to the door when Mr. Jarrott paused.

"And, of course, you'll go to New York? I didn't think it necessary to ask you if you cared to make the change."

With the question straight before him, Strange knew that an answer must be given. He understood now how it is that there are men and women who find it worth their while to thrust their heads into lions' mouths.

"Yes, sir, of course," he answered, quietly; and they went on to join the ladies.



Part III

Miriam



XIII



On a day when Evie Colfax was nearing Southampton, and Herbert Strange sailing northward from the Rio de la Plata, up the coast of Brazil, Miriam Strange, in New York, was standing in the embrasure of a large bay-window of a fifth-floor apartment, in that section of Fifty-ninth Street that skirts the southern limit of Central Park. Her conversation with the man beside her turned on subjects which both knew to be only preliminary to the business that had brought him in. He inquired about her voyage home from Germany, and expressed his sympathy with "poor Wayne" on the hopelessness and finality of the Wiesbaden oculist's report. Taking a lighter tone, he said, with a gesture toward the vast expanse of autumn color on which they were looking down:

"You didn't see anything finer than that in Europe. Come now!"

"No, I didn't—not in its own way. As long as I can look at this I'm almost reconciled to living in a town."

As her eyes roamed over the sea of splendor that stretched from their very feet, a vision of October gorgeousness against the sky, he was able to steal a glance at her. His immediate observation was to the effect that the suggestion of wildness—or, more correctly, of a wild origin—was as noticeable in her now, a woman of twenty-seven, as it was when he first knew her, a girl of nineteen. That she should have brought it with her from a childhood passed amid lakes and rivers and hills was natural enough—just as it was natural that her voice should have that liquid cadence which belongs to people of the forest, though it is rarely caught by human speech elsewhere; but that she should have conserved these qualities through the training of a woman of the world was more remarkable. But there it was, that something woodland-born which London and New York had neither submerged nor swept away. It was difficult to say in what it consisted, since it eluded the effort to say, "It is this or that." It resisted analysis, as it defied description. Though it might have been in the look, or in the manner, it conveyed itself to the observer's apprehension, otherwise than by the eye or ear, as if it appealed to some extra sense. People who had not Charles Conquest's closeness of perception spoke of her as "odd," while those who had heard the little there was to learn about her, said to each other, "Well, what could you expect?" Young men, as a rule, fought shy of her, not so much from indifference as from a sense of an indefinable barrier between her and themselves so that it was the older men who sought her out. There was always some fear on Conquest's part lest the world should so assimilate her that her distinctiveness—which was more like an influence that radiated than a characteristic that could be seen—would desert her; and it was with conscious satisfaction that he noted now, after an absence of some months, that it was still there.

He noted, too, the sure lines of her profile—a profile becoming clearer cut as she grew older—features wrought with delicacy and yet imbued with strength, suggestive of carved ivory. Delicacy imbued with strength was betokened, too, by the tall slenderness of her figure, whose silence and suppleness of movement came—in Conquest's imagination at least—from her far-off forest ancestry.

"I couldn't live anywhere else but here—if it must be in New York," she said, turning from the window. "I couldn't do without the sense of woods, and space, and sky. I can stand at this window and imagine all sorts of things—that the park really does run into the Catskills, as it seems to do—that the Catskills run into the Adirondacks—and that the Adirondacks take me up to the Laurentides with which my earliest recollections begin."

"I think you're something like Shelley's Venice," he smiled, "a sort of 'daughter of the earth and ocean.' You never seem to me to belong in just the ordinary category—"

She had been afraid of something like this from the minute he was announced, and so hastened to cling to the impersonal.

"Then, the apartment is so convenient. Being all on one floor, it is so much easier for Mr. Wayne to get about it than if he had stairs to climb. I didn't tell you that I've had Mrs. Wayne's room done over for Evie. It's so much larger and lighter than her old one—"

He cleared his throat uneasily.

"I remember your saying something of the kind before you went away in the spring. It's one of the things I came in to talk about to-day?"

"Indeed?" His change of tone alarmed her. He had taken on the air of a man about to break unpleasant news. "Won't you sit down? I'll ring for tea. We're not in very good order yet, but the servants can give us that much."

She spoke for the purpose of hiding her uneasiness, just as she felt that she should be more sure of herself while handling the teacups than if she were sitting idle.

"I've had a letter from Mr. Jarrott," he said, making himself comfortable, while she moved the tea-table in front of her. "He wrote to me, partly as Stephens and Jarrott's legal adviser, and partly as a friend."

He allowed that information time to sink in before continuing.

"He tells me Miss Jarrott is on her way home, with Evie."

"Yes; Evie herself wrote me that. I got the letter at Cherbourg."

"Then she probably told you about the house."

"The house? What house?"

"The house they've asked me to take for the winter—for Miss Jarrott and her."

The tea-things came, giving her the relief of occupation. She said nothing for the moment, and her attention seemed concentrated on the rapid, silent movements of her own hands among the silver and porcelain. Once she looked up, but her glance fell as she saw his small, keen, gray-green eyes scanning her obliquely.

"So I'm not to have her?" she said, at last.

"It's only for this winter—"

"Oh, I know. But what's for this winter will be for every winter!"

"And she won't be far away. I've taken the Grant's house in Seventy-second Street. They asked for a house in which they could do some entertaining. You see, they want to give her a good time—"

"I quite understand all that. Evie has to 'come out.' I've not the least doubt that they're managing it in the best way possible. Yes, I see that. If I feel a little—well, I won't say hurt—but a little—sorry—it's because I've almost brought Evie up. And I suppose I'm the person she's most fond of—as far as she's fond of any one."

"I presume she's fond of my nephew, Billy Merrow."

"I hope so. Billy rather teased her into that engagement, you know. She's too young to be deeply in love—unless it was with one romantic. And Billy isn't that. I'm not sure that there isn't trouble ahead for him."

"Then I shall let him worry through it himself. I've got other things to think about."

When she had given him his tea and begun to sip her own, she looked up with that particular bright smile which in women means the bracing of the courage.

"It'll be all right," she said, with forced conviction. "I know it will. It's foolish in me to think I shall miss her, when she will be so near. It's only because she and Mr. Wayne are all I've got—"

"They needn't be," he interposed, draining his cup, and setting it down, like a man preparing for action.

She knew her own words had exposed her to this, and was vexed with herself for speaking in a dangerous situation without due foresight. For a minute she could think of nothing to say that would ward off his thrust. She sat looking at him rather helplessly, unconsciously appealing to him with her eyes to let the subject drop.

If he meant to go on with it, he took his time—flecking a few crumbs from his white waistcoat and from his fingertips. In the action he showed himself for what he was—a man so neat as just to escape being dapper. There was nothing large about him, in either mind or body; while, on the contrary, there was much that was keen and able. The incisiveness of the face would have been too sharp had it not been saved by the high-bred effect of a Roman nose and a handsome mouth and chin. The fair mustache, faded now rather than gray, softened the cynicism of the lips without concealing it. It was the face of a man accustomed to "see through" other men—to "see through" life—compelling its favors from the world rather than asking them. The detailed exactness and unobtrusive costliness of everything about him, from the pearl in his tie to the polish on his boots, were indicative of a will rigorously demanding "the best," and taking it. The refusal of it now in the person of the only woman whom he had ever wanted as a wife left him puzzled, slightly exasperated, as before a phenomenon not to be explained. It was this unusual resistance that caused the somewhat impatient tone he took with her.

"It's all nonsense—your living as you do—like a professional trained nurse."

"The life of a professional trained nurse isn't nonsense."

"It is for you."

"On the contrary; it's for me, more than for almost any one, to justify my right to being in the world."

"Oh, come now! Don't let us begin on that."

"I don't want to begin on it. I'd much rather not. But if you don't, you throw away the key that explains everything about me."

"All right," he rejoined, in an argumentative tone. "Let's talk about it, then. Let's have it out. You feel your position; granted. Mind you, I've always said you wouldn't have done so if it hadn't been for Gertrude Wayne. The world to-day has too much common sense to lay stress on a circumstance of that kind. Believe me, nobody thinks about it but yourself. Did Lady Bonchurch? Did any of her friends? You've got it a little bit—just a little bit—on the brain; and the fault isn't yours; it belongs to the woman whose soul is gone, I hope, where it's freed from the rules of a book of etiquette."

"She meant well—"

"Oh, every failure, and bungler, and mischief-maker means well. That's their charter. I'm not concerned with that. I'm speaking of what she did. She fixed it in your mind that you were like a sapling sprung from a seed blown outside the orchard. You think you can minimize that accident by bringing forth as good as any to be found within the pale. Consequently you've taken a poor, helpless, blind man off the hands of the people whose duty it is to look after him—and who are well able to do it—"

"That isn't the reason," she declared, flushing. "If Mr. Wayne and I live together it's because we're used to each other—and in a way he has taken the place of my father."

"Oh, come now! That's all very fine. But haven't you got in the back of your mind the thought that the wild tree that's known by its good fruit is the one that's best worth grafting?"

"If I had—" she began, with color deepening.

"If you had, you'd simply be taking a long way round, when there's a short cut home. I'm the orchard, Miriam. All you've got to do is to walk into it—with me."

A warmer tone came into his voice as he uttered the concluding words, adding to her discomfort. She moved the tea-things about, putting them into an unnecessary state of order, before she could reply.

"There's a reason why I couldn't do that," she said, meeting his sharp eyes with one of her fugitive glances. "I would have given it to you when—when you brought up this subject last spring, only you didn't ask me."

"Well, what is it?"

"I couldn't love you."

She forced herself to bring out the words distinctly. He leaned back in his chair, threw one leg across the other, and stroked the thin, colorless line of his mustache.

"No, I suppose you couldn't," he said, quietly, after considering her words.

"So that my answer has to be final."

"I don't see that. Love is only one of the many motives for marriage—and not, as I understand it, the highest one. The divorce courts are strewn with the wrecks of marriages made for love. Those that stand the test of life and time are generally those that have been contracted from some of the more solid—and worthier—motives."

"Then I don't know what they are."

"I could explain them to you if you'd let me. As for love—if it's needed at all—I could bring enough into hotch-potch as the phrase goes, to do for two. I'm over fifty years of age. It never occurred to me that you could—care about me—as you might have cared for some one else. But as far as I can see, there's no one else. If there was, perhaps I shouldn't persist."

She looked up with sudden determination.

"If there was any one else, you—would consider that as settling the question?"

"I might. I shouldn't bind myself. It would depend."

"Then I'll tell you; there is some one else." The words caused her to flush so painfully that she hastened to qualify them. "That is, there might have been."

"What do you mean by—might have been?"

"I mean that, though I don't say I've ever—loved—any man, there was a man I might have loved, if it had been possible."

"And why wasn't it possible?"

"I'd rather not tell you. It was a long time ago. He went away. He never came back again."

"Did he say he'd come back again?"

She shook her head. She tried to meet his gaze steadily, but it was like facing a search-light.

"Were you what you would call—engaged?"

"Oh no." Her confusion deepened. "There was never anything. It was a long time ago. I only want you to understand that if I could care for any one it would be for him. And if I married you—and he came back—"

"Are you expecting him back?"

She was a long time answering the question. She would not have answered it at all had it not been in the hope of getting rid of him.

"Yes."

He took the declaration coolly, and went on.

"Why? What makes you think he'll come?"

"I have no reason. I think he will—that's all."

"Where is he now?"

"I haven't the faintest idea."

"Hasn't he ever written to you?"

"Never."

"And you don't know what's become of him?"

"Not in the least."

"And yet you expect him back?"

She nodded assent.

"You're waiting for him?"

Once more she braced herself to look him in the eyes and answer boldly.

"I am."

He leaned back in his chair and laughed, not loudly, but in good-humored derision.

"If that's all that stands between us—"

To her relief he said no more; though she was disappointed that the subject should be dropped in a way that made it possible to bring it up again. As he was taking his leave she renewed the attempt to end the matter once for all.

"I know you think me foolish—" she began.

"No, not foolish; only romantic."

"Then, romantic. Romance is as bad as folly when one is twenty-seven. I confess it," she went on, trying to smile, "only that you may understand that it's a permanent condition which I sha'n't get over."

"Oh yes, you will."

"Things happened—long ago—such as don't generally happen; and so—I'm waiting for him. If he never comes—then I'd rather go on—waiting—uselessly."

It was hard to say, but it was said. He laughed again—not quite so derisively as before—and went away.

When he had gone, she resumed her seat behind the tea-table. She sat looking absently at the floor and musing on the words she had just spoken. Not in all the seven or eight years since Norrie Ford went away had she acknowledged to her own heart what, within the last few minutes, she had declared aloud. The utmost she had ever owned to herself was that she "could have loved him." When she refused other men, she did not confess to waiting for him; she evaded the question with herself, and found pretexts. She would have continued doing so with Conquest, had not his persistency driven her to her last stand. But now that she had uttered the words for his benefit, she had to repeat them for her own. Notwithstanding her passionate love of woods, winds, and waters, she had always been so sane, so practical, in the things that pertained to daily life that she experienced something like surprise at detecting herself in this condition of avowed romance. She had actually been waiting for Norrie Ford to return, and say what he had told her he would say, should it ever become possible! She was waiting for him still! If he never came she would rather go on waiting for him—uselessly! The language almost shocked her; but now that the thing was spoken she admitted it was true. It was a light thrown on herself—if not precisely a new light, at least one from which all shades and colored wrappings that delude the eye and obscure the judgment had been struck away.

She smiled to herself to think how little Conquest understood her when he ascribed to her the ambition to graft her ungarnered branch on the stock of a duly cultivated civilization. She might have had that desire once, but it was long past. It was a kind of glory to her now to be outside the law—with Norrie Ford. There they were exiles together, in a wild paradise with joys of its own, not less sweet than those of any Eden. She had faced more than once the question of being "taken into the orchard," as Conquest put it. The men who had asked her at various times to marry them had been like himself, men of middle age, or approaching it—men of assured position either by birth or by attainment. As the wife of any one of them her place would have been unquestioned. She had not rejected their offers lightly, or from any foregone conclusion. She had taken it as a duty to weigh each one seriously as it came; and, leaving the detail of love apart, she had asked herself whether it was not right for her to seize the occasion of becoming "some one" in the world. Once or twice the position offered her was so much in accordance with her tastes that her refusal brought with it a certain vague regret. "But I couldn't do it," were the words with which she woke from every dream of seeing herself mistress in a quiet English park, or a big house in New York. Her habits might be those of civilized mankind; but her heart was listening for a call from beyond the limits in which men have the recognized right to live. She could put no shackles on her freedom to respond to it—if it ever came.



XIV



She discovered that Norrie Ford had come back, and that some of her expectations were fulfilled by finding him actually seated beside her one evening at dinner.

Miss Jarrott's taste in table light was in the direction of candles tempered by deep-red shades. As no garish electricity was allowed to intrude itself into this soft glow, the result was that only old acquaintances among her guests got a satisfactory notion of each other's features. It was with a certain sense of discovery that, by peering through the rose-colored twilight, Miriam discerned now a Jarrott or a Colfax, now an Endsleigh or a Pole—faces more or less well known to her which she had not had time to recognize during the few hurried minutes in the drawing-room.

It was the dinner of which Evie had said, in explaining her plan of campaign to Miriam, "We must kill off the family first of all." It was plain that she regarded the duty as a bore; but she was too worldly wise not to see that her bread cast upon the waters would return to her. Most of the Jarrotts were important; some were wealthy; and one—Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott—was a power in such matters as assemblies and cotillons. The ladies Colfax were little less influential; and while the sphere of the Poles and Endsleighs was in the world of art, letters, and scholarship, rather than in that of fashion and finance, they had the uncontested status of good birth. To Evie they represented just so much in the way of her social assets, and she was quick in appraising them at their correct relative values. Some would be good for a dinner given in her honor, others for a dance. The humblest could be counted on for a theatre-party or a "tea." She was skilful, too, in presenting her orphan state with a touching vividness that enlisted their sympathies on behalf of "poor Jack's," or "poor Gertrude's," pretty little girl, according to the side of the house on which they recognized the relationship.

With the confusion incidental to the arrival from South America, the settling into a new house, and the ordering of new clothes, Miriam had had little of the old intimate intercourse with Evie during the six weeks since the latter's return. There was no change in their mutual relation; it was only that Evie was caught up into the glory of the coming winter, and had no time for the apartment in Fifty-ninth Street. It was with double pleasure, therefore, that Miriam responded one day to Evie's invitation to "come and look at my things," which meant an inspection of the frocks and hats that had just come home. They lay about now, in clouds like a soft summer sunset, or in gay spots of feathers and flowers, on the bed and the sofa in Evie's room, and filled all the chairs except the one on which Miriam had retreated into the farthest corner of the bay-window. Seated there, not quite in profile, against the light, her head turned and slightly inclined, in order to get a better view of Evie's finery, her slender figure possessed a sort of Vandyke grace, heightened rather than diminished by the long plumes and rich draperies of the month's fashion. Evie flitted between closets, wardrobes, and drawers, prattling while she worked off that first event of her season, in which the family were to be "killed off." She recited the names of those who would "simply have to be asked" and of those who could conveniently be omitted.

"And, of course, Popsey Wayne must come," she observed in her practical little way. "I dare say he won't want to, poor dear, but it wouldn't do if he didn't. Only you, you dear thing, will have to go in with him—to pilot him and look after him when the dishes are passed. But I'm going to have some one nice on your other side, do you see?—some one awfully nice. We shall have to ask a few people outside the family, just to give it relief, and save it from looking like Christmas."

"You'll have Billy, I suppose."

Evie took the time to deposit a lace blouse in a drawer, as softly as a mother lays a sleeping babe to rest.

"No, I sha'n't ask Billy," she said, while she was still stooping.

"Won't he think that queer?"

"I hope so." She turned from the drawer, and lifted a blue gossamer creation from the bed. Miriam smiled indulgently.

"Why? What's the matter? Have you anything to punish him for?"

"I've nothing to punish him for; I've only got something I want to—bring home to him." She paused in the middle of the room, with her blue burden held in her outstretched arms, somewhat like a baby at a christening. "I might as well tell you, Miriam, first as last. You've got to know it some time, though I don't want it talked about just yet. I've broken my engagement to Billy."

"Broken your engagement! Why, I saw Billy myself this morning. I met him as I was coming over. He said he was here last night, and seemed particularly cheerful."

"He doesn't know it yet. I'm doing it—by degrees."

"You're doing it by—what?" Miriam rose and came toward her, stopping midway to lean on the foot-rail of the bed. "Evie darling, what do you mean?"

Evie's eyes brimmed suddenly, and her lip trembled.

"If you're going to be cross about it—"

"I'm not going to be cross about it, but I want you to tell me exactly what you're doing."

"Well, I'm telling you. I've broken my engagement, and I want to let Billy know it in the kindest way. I don't want to hurt his feelings. You wouldn't like me to do that yourself. I'm trying to bring him where he'll see things just as I do."

"And may I ask if you're—getting him there?"

"I shall get him there in time. I'm doing lots of things to show him."

"Such as what?"

"Such as not asking him to the dinner, for one thing. He'll know from that there's something wrong. He'll make a fuss, and I shall be disagreeable. Little by little he'll get to dislike me—and then—"

"And how long do you think it will take for that good work to be accomplished?"

"I don't see that that matters. I suppose I may take all the time I need. We're both young—"

"And have all your lives to give to it. Is that what you mean?"

"I don't want to give all my life to it, because—I may as well tell you that, too, while I'm about it—because I'm engaged to some one else."

"Oh, Evie!"

Miriam went back, like a person defeated, to the chair from which she had just risen, while Evie buried herself in the depths of a closet, where she remained long enough, as she hoped, to let Miriam's first astonishment subside. On coming out she assumed a virtuous tone.

"You see now why I simply had to break with Billy. I couldn't possibly keep the two things going together—as some girls would. I'm one of those who do right, whatever happens. It's very hard for me—but if people would only be a little more sympathetic—"

It was some minutes before Miriam knew just what to say. Even when she began to speak she doubted her capacity for making herself understood.

"Evie darling," she said, trying to speak as for a child's comprehension, "this is a very serious matter. I don't think you realize how serious it is. If you find you don't love Billy well enough, of course you must ask him to release you. I should be sorry for that, but I shouldn't blame you. But until you've done it you can't give your word to any one."

"Well, I must say I never heard anything like that," Evie declared, indignantly. "You do have the strangest ideas, Miriam. Dear mamma used to say so, too. I try to defend you, but you make it difficult for me, I must say. I never knew any one like you for making things more complicated than they need be. You talk of my asking Billy to release me when I released myself long ago—in my own mind. That's where I have to look. I must do things according to my conscience—and when that's clear—"

"It isn't only a case of conscience, dear; it's one of common sense. Conscience has a way of sometimes mistaking the issue, whereas common sense can generally be trusted to be right."

"Of course, if you're going to talk that way, Miriam, I don't see what's left for me to answer; but it doesn't sound very reverent, I must say. I'm trying to look at things in the highest light, and it doesn't strike me as the highest light to be unkind to Billy when I needn't be. If you think I ought to treat him cruelly you must keep your opinion, but I know you'll excuse me if I keep mine."

She carried her head loftily as she bore another gown into the adjoining darkness, and Miriam waited patiently till she emerged again.

"Does your other—I hardly know what to call him—does your other fiancA(C) know about Billy?"

"Why on earth should he? What good would that do? It will be all over—I mean about Billy—before I announce my second engagement, and as the one to Billy will never be announced at all there's no use in saying anything about it."

"But suppose Billy himself finds out?"

"Billy won't find out anything whatever until I get ready to let him."

The finality of this retort reduced Miriam to silence. She allowed some minutes to pass before saying, with some hesitation:

"I suppose you don't mind my knowing—who it is?"

Evie was prepared for this question and answered it promptly.

"I shan't mind your knowing—by-and-by. I want you to meet him first. When you've once seen him, I know you'll be more just to me. Till then I'm willing to go on being—misunderstood."

* * * * *

During the three more weeks that intervened before the family dinner Miriam got no further light on Evie's love-affairs. She purposely asked no questions through fear of seeming to force the girl's confidence, but she obtained some relief from thinking that the rival suitor could be no other than a certain young Graham, of whom she had heard much from Evie during the previous year. His chances then had stood higher than Billy Merrow's; and nothing was more possible than a discovery on Evie's part that she liked him the better of the two. It was a situation that called for sympathy for Billy, but not otherwise for grave anxiety, so that Miriam could wait quietly for further out-pourings of Evie's heart, and give her mind to the mysteries incidental to the girl's social presentation to the world.

Of the ceremonies attendant on this event the "killing off" of the family was the one Miriam dreaded most. It was when she came within the periphery of this powerful, meritorious, well-to-do circle, representing whatever was most honorable in New York, that she chiefly felt herself an alien. She could scarcely have explained herself in this respect, since many of the clan had been kind to her, and none had ever shown her incivility. It was when she confronted them in the mass, when she saw their solidarity, their mutual esteem, their sum total of wealth, talents, and good works, that she grew conscious of the difference of essence between herself and them. Not one of them but had the right to the place he sat in!—a right maintained by himself, but acquired by his fathers before him—not one of them but was living in the strength of some respectable tradition of which he could be proud! Endsleigh Jarrott's father, for example, had been a banker, Reginald Pole's the president of a university, Rupert Colfax's a judge; and it was something like that with them all. In the midst of so much that was classified, certified, and regular she was as obviously a foreign element as a fly in amber. She came in as the ward of Philip Wayne, who himself was a new-comer and an intruder, since he entered merely as "poor Gertrude's second husband," by a marriage which they all considered a mistake.

With the desire to be as unobtrusive as possible, she dressed herself in black, without ornament of any kind, unaware of the fact that with her height of figure, her grace of movement, her ivory tint, and that expression of hers which disconcerted people because it was first appealing and then proud, she would be more than ever conspicuous against the background of brilliant toilets, fine jewels, and assured manners which the family would produce for the occasion. As a matter of fact, there was a perceptible hush in the hum of talk as she made her entry into the drawing-room, ostensibly led by Philip Wayne, but really leading him. As she paused near the door, half timid, half bewildered, looking for her hostess, it did not help her to feel at ease to see Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott—a Rubens Maria de Medici in white satin and pearls—raise her lorgnette and call on a tall young man who stood beside her to take a look. There was no time to distinguish anything further before Miss Jarrott glided up, with mincing graciousness, to shake hands.

"How do you do! How do you do! So glad you've come. I think you must know nearly every one here, so I needn't introduce any one. I hardly ever introduce. It's funny, isn't it? They say it's an English custom not to introduce, but I don't do it just by nature. I wonder why I shouldn't?—but I never do—or almost never. So if you don't happen to know your neighbors at table just speak. It was Evie who arranged where every one was to sit. I don't know. They say that's English, too—just to speak. I believe it's quite a recognized thing in London to say, 'Is this your bread or mine?' and then you know each other. Isn't it funny? Now I think we're all here. Will you take in Miriam, Mr. Wayne?"

A hasty embrace from Evie—an angelic vision in white—was followed by a few words of greeting from Charles Conquest after which Miriam saw Miss Jarrott take the arm of Bishop Endsleigh, and the procession began to move.

At table Miriam was glad of the dim, rose-colored light. It offered her a seclusion into which she could withdraw, tending her services to Wayne. She was glad, too, that the family, having so much to say to itself, paid her no special attention. She was sufficiently occupied in aiding the helpless blind man beside her, and repeating for his benefit the names of their fellow-guests. As the large party talked at the top of its lungs, Miriam's quiet voice, with its liquid, almost contralto, quality, reached her companion's ears unheard by others. She began with Bishop Endsleigh who was on Miss Jarrott's right. Then came Mrs. Stephen Colfax; after her Mr. Endsleigh Jarrott, who had on his right Mrs. Reginald Pole. Mrs. Pole's neighbor was Charles Conquest, whom she shared with Mrs. Rodney Wrenn. Now and then Wayne himself would give proof of that increased acuteness in his hearing of which he had spoken more than once since his blindness had become total. "Colfax Yorke is here," he observed at one time. "I hear his voice. He's sitting on our side of the table." "Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott is next but one to you," he said at another time. "She's airing her plans for the reconstruction of New York society."

So for a while they kept one another in small talk, affecting the same sort of vivacity that obtained around them. It was not till dinner was half over that he asked in an undertone:

"Who is your neighbor?"

"I don't know," she managed to whisper back. "He's so taken up with Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott that he hasn't looked this way. I don't think he's any member of the family."

"He must be," Wayne replied. "I know his voice. I have some association with it, but just what I can't remember."

Miriam herself listened to hear him speak, catching only an irrelevant word or two.

"He sounds English," she said then.

"No, he isn't English. That's not my association. It's curious how the mind acts. Since I became—since my sight failed—my memory instinctively brings me voices instead of faces, when I want to recall anything. Aren't you going to speak to him? You've got the formula: Is this your bread or mine?"

"It's very convenient, but I don't think I shall use it."

"He'd like you to, I know. I heard him say to Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott as we came in—while Queenie Jarrott was talking—that you were he most strikingly beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. How's that for a compliment from a perfect stranger?"

"I certainly sha'n't speak to him now. A man who could say that to Mrs. Endsleigh, after having seen her, must be wofully wanting in tact."

Mary Pole on Wayne's right claimed his attention and Miriam was left her own mistress. Almost at once her attention was arrested by hearing Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott saying in that appealing voice which she counted as the secret of her success with men:

"Now do give me your frank opinion, Mr. Strange. You don't know how much I should like it. It's far from my idea that we should slavishly copy London. You know that, don't you? We've an entirely different stock of materials to work with. But I'm firmly convinced that by working on the London model we should make society far more general, far more representative, and far—oh, far—more interesting! Now, what do you think? Do give me your frank opinion."

Mr. Strange! Her own name was sufficiently uncommon to cause Miriam to glance sidewise, in her rapid, fugitive way, at the person who bore it. His face was turned from her as he bent toward Mrs. Jarrott, but again she heard his voice, and this time more distinctly.

"I'm afraid my opinion wouldn't be of much value. Nevertheless, I know you must be right."

"Now I'm disappointed in you," Mrs. Jarrott said, with pretty reproachfulness. "You're not taking me seriously. Oh, I see, I see. You're just an ordinary man, after all; when I thought for a minute you might be—well, a little different. Do take some of that asparagus," she added in another tone. "It's simply delicious."

It was while he was helping himself to this delicacy that Miriam got the first clear view of his face, half turned as it was toward her. He seemed aware that she was observing him, for during the space of some seconds he held the silver implements idle in his hands, while he lifted his eyes to meet hers. The look they exchanged was significant and long, and yet she was never quite sure that she recognized him then. For the minute she was only conscious of a sudden, inward shock, to which she was unable to ascribe a cause. Something had happened, though she knew not what. Having in the course of a few minutes regained her self-control, she could only suppose that it was a repetition of that unreasoning panic which had now and then brought her to the verge of fainting, when by chance, in London, Paris, or New York, she caught a glimpse of some tall figure that carried her imagination back to the cabin in the Adirondacks. She had always thought that he might appear in some crowd and take her by surprise. She had never expected to find him in a gathering that could be called social. Still less had she looked to meet him like this, with Philip Wayne who had sentenced him to death not three feet away. The mere idea was preposterous. And yet—

She glanced at him again. He was listening attentively while Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott's voice ran on:

"People say our society has no traditions. It has traditions. It has the traditions of the country village, and it has never outgrown them. We're nothing but the country village writ large. New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore—we're the country village over again, with its narrowness its sets, its timidity, all writ so large that they hide anything like a real society from us. Now isn't it so, Mr. Strange? Don't be afraid to give me your frank opinion because that's what I'm asking for."

Miriam herself made an effort to seem to be doing something that would enable her to sit unnoticed. She was glad that Wayne was engaged by Mary Pole so that he could no longer listen to the voice that wakened his recollections. She looked again at the tall, carefully dressed man beside her, so different in all his externals from anything she imagined Norrie Ford could ever become. Norrie Ford was an outlaw and this was a man of the world. She felt herself being reassured—and yet disappointed. Her first feeling of faintness passed away, enabling her to face the situation with greater calm. Under cover of the energetic animation characteristic of every American dinner-party at which the guests are intimate, she had leisure to think over the one or two hints that were significant. Now and then a remark was addressed to her across the table to which she managed to return a reply sufficiently apt to give her the appearance of being in touch with what was going on around her; but in reality she was taking in the fact, with the spirit rather than the mind, that Norrie Ford had returned.

She never understood just how and when that assurance came to her. It was certainly not by actual recognition of his features, as it was not by putting together the few data that came under her observation. Thinking it over in after years, she could only say that she "just found herself knowing it." He was there—beside her. Of that she had no longer a doubt.

Her amazement did not develop all at once. Indeed, the position had an odd naturalness, like something in a dream. The element of impossibility in what had happened was so great that for the time being her mind refused to meet it. She was only aware of that vague sense of satisfaction, of inward peace, that comes when long-desired ends have been fulfilled.

The main fact being accepted, her outer faculties could respond to the call that a dinner-party makes on its least important member. When the conversation at her end of the table became general she took her part, and later engaged in a three-cornered discussion with Wayne and Mary Pole on the subject of an endowed theatre; but all the while her subconscious mind was struggling for a theory to account for Norrie Ford's presence in that particular room and in that unexpected company. The need of some immediate, plausible reason for so astounding an occurrence deadened her attention to the comparative quietness with which she accepted his coming—now that she had regained her self-control, although she was conscious of stirrings of wild joy in this evidence that he had been true to her. Had she recalled what she had said to him eight years ago as to the Argentine, and the "very good firm to work for," she would have had an easy clew, but that had passed from her mind almost with the utterance—certainly with his departure He had gone out into the world, leaving no more trace behind him than the bird that has flown southward. Not once during the intervening years did the thought cross her mind that words which she had spoken nearly at haphazard could have acted as a guide to him, while still less did she dream that they could have led him into the very seat beside her which he was occupying now.

Nevertheless, he was there, and for the present she could dispense with the knowledge of the adventures that had brought him. He was there, and that was the reason of his coming in itself. He had hewn his way through all difficulties to reach her—as Siegfried came to Brunhild, over the mountains and through the fire. He had found the means—both the means and the daring—to enter and make himself accepted in her own world, her own circle, her own family—in so far as she had a family—and to sit right down at her side.

She was not surprised at it. She assured herself of that. At the very instant when she was saying to Mary Pole, across Philip Wayne's white waistcoat, that she had always thought of endowed institutions of creative art as belonging to the races of weaker individual initiative—at the very instant when she was saying that, she was repeating to herself that the directness, the high-handedness, and the success of this kind of exploit was exactly what she would have expected of Norrie Ford. It was what she had expected of him—in one form or another. It was with a sense of inward pride that she remembered that her faith in him had never wavered, even though it was not until Conquest forced her that she had confessed the fact. She glanced at Conquest across the table now and caught his eye. He smiled at her and raised his glass, as though to drink to her health. She smiled in return, daringly, triumphantly, as she would not have ventured to do an hour ago. She could see him flush with pleasure—a rare occurrence—at her unusual graciousness, while she was only rejoicing in her escape from him. Under the shadow of the tall man beside her, who had achieved the impossible in order to be loyal to her, she felt for the first time in her life that she had found a shelter. It mattered nothing that he was engrossed with Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott, and that, after the one glance, he had not turned toward her again; she was sure he knew that she understood him, and that he recognized her power to wait in patience to have the mystery explained.

In the drawing-room he was introduced to her. Miss Jarrott led him up and made the presentation.

"Miss Strange, I want you to know Mr. Strange. Now isn't that funny? You can't think how many times I've thought how interesting it would be to see you two meet. It's so unusual to have the same name, especially when it's such a strange name as yours. There's a pun. I simply can't help making them. My brother says I inherited all the sense of humor in the family. I don't know why I do it, but I always see a joke. Can you tell me why I do it?"

Neither Strange nor Miriam knew what replies they made, but a conversation of some sort went on for a minute or two, after which Miss Jarrott whisked him away to present him to some one else. When he had gone Miriam was left with a feeling of spiritual chill. While it was impossible to betray a previous acquaintance before Miss Jarrott, there had been nothing whatever in his bearing to respond to the recognition in hers. There was something that might have been conveyed from mind to mind without risk, and he had not used the opportunity. In as far as he addressed her at all it had been through Miss Jarrott, and he had looked around her and over her rather than directly into her eyes.

During the rest of the evening she caught glimpses of him only in the distance, talking now to one member of the family, now to another. It was clear that Miss Jarrott was, in a way, showing him off, and that he was received as some one of importance. She admired the coolness with which he carried himself, while her inherited instincts gave her a curious thrill of content that these law-making, law-keeping people should be duped.

She hoped he would find an occasion for passing again in her direction. If she could have only a word with him it might help to make the situation intelligible. But he did not return, and presently she noticed, in looking about the room, that he had disappeared. She, too, was eager to be gone. Only in solitude could she get control of the surging thoughts, the bewildering suggestions, the contradictory suppositions that crowded it on her. She saw how useless it was to try to build a theory without at least one positive fact to go on.

It was just as they were departing that her opportunity to ask a question came. They had said their good-nights to Miss Jarrott and were in the hall, waiting for the footman to call their carriage, when Evie, whom they had not wanted to disturb, came fluttering after them. She was flushed but radiant, and flung herself into Miriam's arms.

"You dear thing! I haven't had time to say a word to you or Popsey Wayne the entire evening. But you'll excuse me, won't you? I've had to be civil to them all—do you see?—and do them up well. I knew you wouldn't mind. I wanted you to have a good time, but I'm afraid you haven't."

"Oh yes," Miriam said, disengaging herself from the girl's embrace. "It's been wonderful—it really has. But, Evie dear," she whispered, drawing her away from the group of ladies who stood cloaked and hooded, also waiting for their carriages, "tell me—who is that Mr. Strange who sat next to me?"

Evie's eyes went heavenward, and she took on a look of rapture.

"I hope you liked him."

"I didn't have much chance to see. But why do you hope it?"

"Because—don't you see? Oh, surely you must see—because—he's the one."



XV



Enlightenment came to her in the carriage while she was driving homeward. During the five or ten minutes since Evie had spoken she, Miriam, had been sitting still and upright in the darkness, making no further attempt to see reason through this succession of bewilderments from sheer inability to contend against them. For the time being, at any rate, the struggle was too much for her. The issues raised by Evie's overwhelming announcement were so confusing that she must postpone their consideration. She must postpone everything but her own tumultuous passion, which had to be faced and mastered instantly. She was fighting with herself, with her own wild inward cries of protest, anger, jealousy, and self-pity, trying to distinguish each from the others and to silence it by appeal to her years of romantic folly, when suddenly Wayne spoke, in the cheery tone of a man who has unexpectedly passed a pleasant evening.

"I had a nice long chat with the Great Unknown, who was sitting beside you, when the ladies left the dining-room. Who do you think he is?"

After the shocks of the last two hours, she was prepared to hear Wayne tell her, in an offhand way, that it was Norrie Ford. Nevertheless, she summoned what was left of her stunned faculties and did her best to speak carefully.

"I heard them call him Mr. Strange—"

"Odd that was, wasn't it? But it isn't such a very uncommon name. I've met other Stranges—"

"Oh yes. So have I."

"Well, who do you think he is? Why, he's Stephens and Jarrott's new man in New York. He's taken Jenkins's place. You remember Jenkins, don't you? That little man with a lisp. I had a nice long chat with him—Strange, I mean. He tells me he's a New-Yorker by birth, but that he went out to the Argentine after his father failed in business. Well, he won't fail in business, I bet a penny. He's tremendously enthusiastic over the Argentine, too. Showed he had his head put on the right way when he went there. Wonderful country—the United States of South America some people call it. We're missing our opportunities out there. Great volume of trade flowing to Europe of which we had almost the monopoly at one time. I had a nice long chat with him."

Her tired emotions received a new surprise as Wayne's words directed her thoughts to the morning when she had made to Ford the first suggestion of the Argentine. She had not precisely forgotten it; she had only thought it of too little importance to dwell on. She remembered that she had considered the idea practical till she had expressed it, but that his opposition had seemed to turn it into the impossible. She had never supposed that he might have acted on it—not any more than she had expected him to retain her father's name once he had reached a place of safety. In spite of the suddenness with which her dreams regarding him had been dispelled, it gave her a thrill of satisfaction to think that the word which, in a sense, had created him had been hers. To her fierce jealousy, with which her pride was wrestling even now, there was a measure of comfort in the knowledge that he could never be quite free from her, that his existence was rooted in her own.

"Queenie Jarrott tells me," Wayne meandered on, "that her brother thinks very highly of this young man. It seems that his business abilities are quite remarkable, and they fancy he looks like Henry—the eldest of the boys who died. It's extraordinary how his voice reminds me of some one—don't know who. It might be—But then again—"

"His voice is like a thousand other voices," she thought it well to say, "just as he looks like a thousand other men. He's one of those rather tall, rather good-looking, rather well-dressed youngish men—not really young—of whom you'll pass twenty within a mile any day in Fifth Avenue, and who are as thick as soldiers on a battle-field at the lower end of Broadway."

* * * * *

With the data Wayne had given her she worked out the main lines of the story during the night; but it was not until she had done so that its full significance appeared to her. Having grasped that, she could scarcely wait for daylight in order to go to Evie, and yet when morning came she abandoned that course as impolitic. Reflection showed her that her struggle must be less with Evie than with Ford, while she judged that he himself would lose no time in putting the battle in array. He must see as plainly as she did that she stood like an army across his path, and that he must either retreat before her or show fight. She believed he would do the latter and do it soon. She thought it probable that he would appear that very day, and that her wisest plan was to await his opening attack. The necessity, so unexpectedly laid upon her, of defending the right deflected her mind from dwelling too bitterly on her own disillusioning.

The morning having passed without a sign from him, she made her arrangements for having the afternoon undisturbed sending Wayne to drive, and ordering the servants to admit no one but Mr. Strange, should he chance to call. Having intrenched herself behind the fortification of the tea-table, she waited. In spite of her preoccupation, or rather because of it, she purposely read a book, forcing herself to fix her attention on its pages in order to have her mind free from preconceived notions as to how she must act and what she must say. Her single concession to herself was to put on a new and becoming house dress, whose rich tones of brown and amber harmonized with her ivory coloring and emphasized the clear-cut distinction of her features. Before taking up her position she surveyed herself with the mournful approval which the warrior about to fall may give to the perfection of his equipment.

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