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The Younger Set
by Robert W. Chambers
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"Oh, George Fane! That is particularly disagreeable of you, Captain Selwyn, because his wife has been very nice to me—Rosamund Fane—and she spoke most cordially of you—"

"Which one was she?"

"The Dresden china one. She looks—she simply cannot look as though she were married. It's most amusing—for people always take her for somebody's youngest sister who will be out next winter. . . . Don't you remember seeing her?"

"No, I don't. But there were dozens coming and going every minute whom I didn't know. Still, I behaved well, didn't I?"

"Pretty badly—to Kathleen Lawn, whom you cornered so that she couldn't escape until her mother made her go without any tea."

"Was that the reason that old lady looked at me so queerly?"

"Probably. I did, too, but you were taking chances, not hints. . . . She is attractive, isn't she?"

"Very fetching," he said, leaning down to examine his stirrup leathers which he had already lengthened twice. "I've got to have Cummins punch these again," he muttered; "or am I growing queer-legged in my old age?"

As he straightened up, Miss Erroll said: "Here comes Mr. Fane now—with a strikingly pretty girl. How beautifully they are mounted"—smilingly returning Fane's salute—"and she—oh! so you do know her, Captain Selwyn? Who is she?"

Crop raised mechanically in dazed salute, Selwyn's light touch on the bridle had tightened to a nervous clutch which brought his horse up sharply.

"What is it?" she asked, drawing bridle in her turn and looking back into his white, stupefied face.

"Pain," he said, unconscious that he spoke. At the same instant the stunned eyes found their focus—and found her beside his stirrup, leaning wide from her seat in sweet concern, one gloved hand resting on the pommel of his saddle.

"Are you ill?" she asked; "shall we dismount? If you feel dizzy, please lean against me."

"I am all right," he said coolly; and as she recovered her seat he set his horse in motion. His face had become very red now; he looked at her, then beyond her, with all the deliberate concentration of aloof indifference.

Confused, conscious that something had happened which she did not comprehend, and sensitively aware of the preoccupation which, if it did not ignore her, accepted her presence as of no consequence, she permitted her horse to set his own pace.

Neither self-command nor self-control was lacking now in Selwyn; he simply was too self-absorbed to care what she thought—whether she thought at all. And into his consciousness, throbbing heavily under the rushing reaction from shock, crowded the crude fact that Alixe was no longer an apparition evoked in sleeplessness, in sun-lit brooding; in the solitude of crowded avenues and swarming streets; she was an actual presence again in his life—she was here, bodily, unchanged—unchanged!—for he had conceived a strange idea that she must have changed physically, that her appearance had altered. He knew it was a grotesquely senseless idea, but it clung to him, and he had nursed it unconsciously.

He had, truly enough, expected to encounter her in life again—somewhere; though what he had been preparing to see, Heaven alone knew; but certainly not the supple, laughing girl he had known—that smooth, slender, dark-eyed, dainty visitor who had played at marriage with him through a troubled and unreal dream; and was gone when he awoke—so swift the brief two years had passed, as swift in sorrow as in happiness.

Two vision-tinted years!—ended as an hour ends with the muffled chimes of a clock, leaving the air of an empty room vibrant. Two years!—a swift, restless dream aglow with exotic colour, echoing with laughter and bugle-call and the noise of the surf on Samar rocks—a dream through which stirred the rustle of strange brocades and the whisper of breezes blowing over the grasses of Leyte; and the light, dry report of rifles, and the shuffle of bare feet in darkened bungalows, and the whisper of dawn in Manila town.

Two years!—wherever they came from, wherever they had gone. And now, out of the ghostly, shadowy memory, behold her stepping into the world again!—living, breathing, quickening with the fire of life undimmed in her. And he had seen the bright colour spreading to her eyes, and the dark eyes widen to his stare; he had seen the vivid blush, the forced smile, the nod, the voiceless parting of her stiffened lips. Then she was gone, leaving the whole world peopled with her living presence and the very sky ringing with the words her lips had never uttered, never would utter while sun and moon and stars endured.

Shrinking from the clamouring tumult of his thoughts he looked around, hard-eyed and drawn of mouth, to find Miss Erroll riding a length in advance, her gaze fixed resolutely between her horse's ears.

How much had she noticed? How much had she divined?—this straight, white-throated young girl, with her self-possession and her rounded, firm young figure, this child with the pure, curved cheek, the clear, fearless eyes, untainted, ignorant, incredulous of shame, of evil.

Severe, confident, untroubled in the freshness of adolescence, she rode on, straight before her, symbolic innocence leading the disillusioned. And he followed, hard, dry eyes narrowing, ever narrowing and flinching under the smiling gaze of the dark-eyed, red-mouthed ghost that sat there on his saddle bow, facing him, almost in his very arms.

* * * * *

Luncheon had not been served when they returned. Without lingering on the landing as usual, they exchanged a formal word or two, then Eileen mounted to her own quarters and Selwyn walked nervously through the library, where he saw Nina evidently prepared for some mid-day festivity, for she wore hat and furs, and the brougham was outside.

"Oh, Phil," she said, "Eileen probably forgot that I was going out; it's a directors' luncheon at the exchange. Please tell Eileen that I can't wait for her; where is she?"

"Dressing, I suppose. Nina, I—"

"One moment, dear. I promised the children that you would lunch with them in the nursery. Do you mind? I did it to keep them quiet; I was weak enough to compromise between a fox hunt or fudge; so I said you'd lunch with them.. Will you?"

"Certainly. . . . And, Nina—what sort of a man is this George Fane?"

"Fane?"

"Yes—the chinless gentleman with gentle brown and protruding eyes and the expression of a tame brontosaurus."

"Why—how do you mean, Phil? What sort of man? He's a banker. He isn't very pretty, but he's popular."

"Oh, popular!" he nodded, as close to a sneer as he could ever get.

"He has a very popular wife, too; haven't you met Rosamund? People like him; he's about everywhere—very useful, very devoted to pretty women; but I'm really in a hurry, Phil. Won't you please explain to Eileen that I couldn't wait? You and she were almost an hour late. Now I must pick up my skirts and fly, or there'll be some indignant dowagers downtown. . . . Good-bye, dear. . . . And don't let the children eat too fast! Make Drina take thirty-six chews to every bite; and Winthrop is to have no bread if he has potatoes—" Her voice dwindled and died, away through the hall; the front door clanged.

He went to his quarters, drove out Austin's man, arranged his own fresh linen, took a sulky plunge; and, an unlighted cigarette between his teeth, completed his dressing in sullen introspection.

When he had tied his scarf and bitten his cigarette to pieces, he paced the room once or twice, squared his shoulders, breathed deeply, and, unbending his eyebrows, walked off to the nursery.

"Hello, you kids!" he said, with an effort. "I've come to luncheon. Very nice of you to want me, Drina."

"I wanted you, too!" said Billy; "I'm to sit beside you—"

"So am I," observed Drina, pushing Winthrop out of the chair and sliding in close to Selwyn. She had the cat, Kit-Ki, in her arms. Kit-Ki, divining nourishment, was purring loudly.

Josephine and Clemence, in pinafores and stickout skirts, sat wriggling, with Winthrop between them; the five dogs sat in a row behind; Katie and Bridget assumed the functions of Hibernian Hebes; and luncheon began with a clatter of spoons.

It being also the children's dinner—supper and bed occurring from five to six—meat figured on the card, and Kit-Ki's purring increased to an ecstatic and wheezy squeal, and her rigid tail, as she stood up on Drina's lap, was constantly brushing Selwyn's features.

"The cat is shedding, too," he remarked, as he dodged her caudal appendage for the twentieth time; "it will go in with the next spoonful, Drina, if you're not careful about opening your mouth."

"I love Kit-Ki," said Drina placidly. "I have written a poem to her—where is it?—hand it to me, Bridget."

And, laying down her fork and crossing her bare legs under the table, Drina took breath and read rapidly:

"LINES TO MY CAT

"Why Do I love Kit-Ki And run after Her with laughter And rub her fur So she will purr? Why do I know That Kit-Ki loves me so? I know it if Her tail stands up stiff And she beguiles Me with smiles—"

"Huh!" said Billy, "cats don't smile!"

"They do. When they look pleasant they smile," said Drina, and continued reading from her own works:

"Be kind in all You say and do For God made Kit-Ki The same as you. "Yours truly, "ALEXANDRINA GERARD.

She looked doubtfully at Selwyn. "Is it all right to sign a poem? I believe that poets sign their works, don't they, Uncle Philip?"

"Certainly. Drina, I'll give you a dollar for that poem."

"You may have it, anyway," said Drina, generously; and, as an after-thought: "My birthday is next Wednesday."

"What a hint!" jeered Billy, casting a morsel at the dogs.

"It isn't a hint. It had nothing to do with my poem, and I'll write you several more, Uncle Philip," protested the child, cuddling against him, spoon in hand, and inadvertently decorating his sleeve with cranberry sauce.

Cat hairs and cranberry are a great deal for a man to endure, but he gave Drina a reassuring hug and a whisper, and leaned back to remove traces of the affectionate encounter just as Miss Erroll entered.

"Oh, Eileen! Eileen!" cried the children; "are you coming to luncheon with us?"

As Selwyn rose, she nodded, amused.

"I am rather hurt," she said. "I went down to luncheon, but as soon as I heard where you all were I marched straight up here to demand the reason of my ostracism."

"We thought you had gone with mother," explained Drina, looking about for a chair.

Selwyn brought it. "I was commissioned to say that Nina couldn't wait—dowagers and cakes and all that, you know. Won't you sit down? It's rather messy and the cat is the guest of honour."

"We have three guests of honour," said Drina; "you, Eileen, and Kit-Ki. Uncle Philip, mother has forbidden me to speak of it, so I shall tell her and be punished—but wouldn't it be splendid if Aunt Alixe were only here with us?"

Selwyn turned sharply, every atom of colour gone; and the child smiled up at him. "Wouldn't it?" she pleaded.

"Yes," he said, so quietly that something silenced the child. And Eileen, giving ostentatious and undivided attention to the dogs, was now enveloped by snooping, eager muzzles and frantically wagging tails.

"My lap is full of paws!" she exclaimed; "take them away, Katie! And oh!—my gown, my gown!—Billy, stop waving your tumbler around my face! If you spill that milk on me I shall ask your Uncle Philip to put you in the guard-house!"

"You're going to bolo us, aren't you, Uncle Philip?" inquired Billy. "It's my turn to be killed, you remember—"

"I have an idea," said Selwyn, "that Miss Erroll is going to play for you to sing."

They liked that. The infant Gerards were musically inclined, and nothing pleased them better than to lift their voices in unison. Besides, it always distressed Kit-Ki, and they never tired laughing to see the unhappy cat retreat before the first minor chord struck on the piano. More than that, the dogs always protested, noses pointed heavenward. It meant noise, which was always welcome in any form.

"Will you play, Miss Erroll?" inquired Selwyn.

Miss Erroll would play.

"Why do you always call her 'Miss Erroll'?" asked Billy. "Why don't you say 'Eileen'?"

Selwyn laughed. "I don't know, Billy; ask her; perhaps she knows."

Eileen laughed, too, delicately embarrassed and aware of his teasing smile. But Drina, always impressed by formality, said: "Uncle Philip isn't Eileen's uncle. People who are not relations say Miss and Mrs."

"Are faver and muvver relations?" asked Josephine timidly.

"Y-es—no!—I don't know," admitted Drina; "are they, Eileen?"

"Why, yes—that is—that is to say—" And turning to Selwyn: "What dreadful questions. Are they relations, Captain Selwyn? Of course they are!"

"They were not before they were married," he said, laughing.

"If you married Eileen," began Billy, "you'd call her Eileen, I suppose."

"Certainly," said Selwyn.

"Why don't you?"

"That is another thing you must ask her, my son."

"Well, then, Eileen—"

But Miss Erroll was already seated at the nursery piano, and his demands were drowned in a decisive chord which brought the children clustering around her, while their nurses ran among them untying bibs and scrubbing faces and fingers in fresh water.

They sang like seraphs, grouped around the piano, fingers linked behind their backs. First it was "The Vicar of Bray." Then—and the cat fled at the first chord—"Lochleven Castle":

"Put off, put off, And row with speed For now is the time and the hour of need."

Miss Erroll sang, too; her voice leading—a charmingly trained, but childlike voice, of no pretensions, as fresh and unspoiled as the girl herself.

There was an interval after "Castles in the Air"; Eileen sat, with her marvellously white hands resting on the keys, awaiting further suggestion.

"Sing that funny song, Uncle Philip!" pleaded Billy; "you know—the one about:

"She hit him with a shingle Which made his breeches tingle Because he pinched his little baby brother; And he ran down the lane With his pants full of pain. Oh, a boy's best friend is his mother!"

"Billy!" gasped Miss Erroll.

Selwyn, mortified, said severely: "That is a very dreadful song, Billy—"

"But you taught it to me—"

Eileen swung around on the piano stool, but Selwyn had seized Billy and was promising to bolo him as soon as he wished.

And Eileen, surveying the scene from her perch, thought that Selwyn's years seemed to depend entirely upon his occupation, for he looked very boyish down there on his knees among the children; and she had not yet forgotten the sunken pallor of his features in the Park—no, nor her own question to him, still unanswered. For she had asked him who that woman was who had been so direct in her smiling salute. And he had not yet replied; probably never would; for she did not expect to ask him again.

Meanwhile the bolo-men were rushing the outposts to the outposts' intense satisfaction.

"Bang-bang!" repeated Winthrop; "I hit you, Uncle Philip. You are dead, you know!"

"Yes, but here comes another! Fire!" shouted Billy. "Save the flag! Hurrah! Pound on the piano, Eileen, and pretend it's cannon."

Chord after chord reverberated through the big sunny room, punctuated by all the cavalry music she had picked up from West Point and her friends in the squadron.

"We can't get 'em up! We can't get 'em up! We can't get 'em up In the morning!"

she sang, calmly watching the progress of the battle, until Selwyn disengaged himself from the melee and sank breathlessly into a chair.

"All over," he said, declining further combat. "Play the 'Star-spangled Banner,' Miss Erroll."

"Boom!" crashed the chord for the sunset gun; then she played the anthem; Selwyn rose, and the children stood up at salute.

The party was over.

Selwyn and Miss Erroll, strolling together out of the nursery and down the stairs, fell unconsciously into the amiable exchange of badinage again; she taunting him with his undignified behaviour, he retorting in kind.

"Anyway that was a perfectly dreadful verse you taught Billy," she concluded.

"Not as dreadful as the chorus," he remarked, wincing.

"You're exactly like a bad small boy, Captain Selwyn; you look like one now—so sheepish! I've seen Gerald attempt to avoid admonition in exactly that fashion."

"How about a jolly brisk walk?" he inquired blandly; "unless you've something on. I suppose you have."

"Yes, I have; a tea at the Fanes, a function at the Grays. . . . Do you know Sudbury Gray? It's his mother."

They had strolled into the living room—a big, square, sunny place, in golden greens and browns, where a bay-window overlooked the Park.

Kneeling on the cushions of the deep window seat she flattened her delicate nose against the glass, peering out through the lace hangings.

"Everybody and his family are driving," she said over her shoulder. "The rich and great are cornering the fresh-air supply. It's interesting, isn't it, merely to sit here and count coteries! There is Mrs. Vendenning and Gladys Orchil of the Black Fells set; there is that pretty Mrs. Delmour-Carnes; Newport! Here come some Cedarhurst people—the Fleetwoods. It always surprises one to see them out of the saddle. There is Evelyn Cardwell; she came out when I did; and there comes Sandon Craig with a very old lady—there, in that old-fashioned coach—oh, it is Mrs. Jan Van Elten, senior. What a very, very quaint old lady! I have been presented at court," she added, with a little laugh, "and now all the law has been fulfilled."

For a while she kneeled there, silently intent on the passing pageant with all the unconscious curiosity of a child. Presently, without turning: "They speak of the younger set—but what is its limit? So many, so many people! The hunting crowd—the silly crowd—the wealthy sets—the dreadful yellow set—then all those others made out of metals—copper and coal and iron and—" She shrugged her youthful shoulders, still intent on the passing show.

"Then there are the intellectuals—the artistic, the illuminated, the musical sorts. I—I wish I knew more of them. They were my father's friends—some of them." She looked over her shoulder to see where Selwyn was, and whether he was listening; smiled at him, and turned, resting one hand on the window seat. "So many kinds of people," she said, with a shrug.

"Yes," said Selwyn lazily, "there are all kinds of kinds. You remember that beautiful nature-poem:

"'The sea-gull And the eagul And the dipper-dapper-duck And the Jew-fish And the blue-fish And the turtle in the muck; And the squir'l And the girl And the flippy floppy bat Are differ-ent As gent from gent. So let it go at that!'"

"What hideous nonsense," she laughed, in open encouragement; but he could recall nothing more—or pretended he couldn't.

"You asked me," he said, "whether I know Sudbury Gray. I do, slightly. What about him?" And he waited, remembering Nina's suggestion as to that wealthy young man's eligibility.

"He's one of the nicest men I know," she replied frankly.

"Yes, but you don't know 'Boots' Lansing."

"The gentleman who was bucked out of his footwear? Is he attractive?"

"Rather. Shrieks rent the air when 'Boots' left Manila."

"Feminine shrieks?"

"Exclusively. The men were glad enough. He has three months' leave this winter, so you'll see him soon."

She thanked him mockingly for the promise, watching him from amused eyes. After a moment she said:

"I ought to arise and go forth with timbrels and with dances; but, do you know, I am not inclined to revels? There has been a little—just a very little bit too much festivity so far. . . . Not that I don't adore dinners and gossip and dances; not that I do not love to pervade bright and glittering places. Oh, no. Only—I—"

She looked shyly a moment at Selwyn: "I sometimes feel a curious desire for other things. I have been feeling it all day."

"What things?"

"I—don't know—exactly; substantial things. I'd like to learn about things. My father was the head of the American School of Archaeology in Crete. My mother was his intellectual equal, I believe—"

Her voice had fallen as she spoke. "Do you wonder that physical pleasure palls a little at times? I inherit something besides a capacity for dancing."

He nodded, watching her with an interest and curiosity totally new.

"When I was ten years old I was taken abroad for the winter. I saw the excavations in Crete for the buried city which father discovered near Praesos. We lived for a while with Professor Flanders in the Fayum district; I saw the ruins of Kahun, built nearly three thousand years before the coming of Christ; I myself picked up a scarab as old as the ruins! . . . Captain Selwyn—I was only a child of ten; I could understand very little of what I saw and heard, but I have never, never forgotten the happiness of that winter! . . . And that is why, at times, pleasures tire me a little; and a little discontent creeps in. It is ungrateful and ungracious of me to say so, but I did wish so much to go to college—to have something to care for—as mother cared for father's work. Why, do you know that my mother accidentally discovered the thirty-seventh sign in the Karian Signary?"

"No," said Selwyn, "I did not know that." He forbore to add that he did not know what a Signary resembled or where Karia might be.

Miss Erroll's elbow was on her knee, her chin resting within her open palm.

"Do you know about my parents?" she asked. "They were lost in the Argolis off Cyprus. You have heard. I think they meant that I should go to college—as well as Gerald; I don't know. Perhaps after all it is better for me to do what other young girls do. Besides, I enjoy it; and my mother did, too, when she was my age, they say. She was very much gayer than I am; my mother was a beauty and a brilliant woman. . . . But there were other qualities. I—have her letters to father when Gerald and I were very little; and her letters to us from London. . . . I have missed her more, this winter, it seems to me, than even in that dreadful time—"

She sat silent, chin in hand, delicate fingers restlessly worrying her red lips; then, in quick impulse:

"You will not mistake me, Captain Selwyn! Nina and Austin have been perfectly sweet to me and to Gerald."

"I am not mistaking a word you utter," he said.

"No, of course not. . . . Only there are times . . . moments . . ."

Her voice died; her clear eyes looked out into space while the silent seconds lengthened into minutes. One slender finger had slipped between her lips and teeth; the burnished strand of hair which Nina dreaded lay neglected against her cheek.

"I should like to know," she began, as though to herself, "something about everything. That being out of the question, I should like to know everything about something. That also being out of the question, for third choice I should like to know something about something. I am not too ambitious, am I?"

Selwyn did not offer to answer.

"Am I?" she repeated, looking directly at him.

"I thought you were asking yourself."

"But you need not reply; there is no sense in my question."

She stood up, indifferent, absent-eyed, half turning toward the window; and, raising her hand, she carelessly brought the rebel strand of hair under discipline.

"You said you were going to look up Gerald," she observed.

"I am; now. What are you going to do?"

"I? Oh, dress, I suppose. Nina ought to be back now, and she expects me to go out with her."

She nodded a smiling termination of their duet, and moved toward the door. Then, on impulse, she turned, a question on her lips—left unuttered through instinct. It had to do with the identity of the pretty woman who had so directly saluted him in the Park—a perfectly friendly, simple, and natural question. Yet it remained unuttered.

She turned again to the doorway; a maid stood there holding a note on a salver.

"For Captain Selwyn, please," murmured the maid.

Miss Erroll passed out.

Selwyn took the note and broke the seal:

"MY DEAR SELWYN: I'm in a beastly fix—an I.O.U. due to-night and pas de quoi! Obviously I don't want Neergard to know, being associated as I am with him in business. As for Austin, he's a peppery old boy, bless his heart, and I'm not very secure in his good graces at present. Fact is I got into a rather stiff game last night—and it's a matter of honour. So can you help me to tide it over? I'll square it on the first of the month.

"Yours sincerely,

"GERALD ERROLL.

"P.S.—I've meant to look you up for ever so long, and will the first moment I have free."

Below this was pencilled the amount due; and Selwyn's face grew very serious.

The letter he wrote in return ran:

"DEAR GERALD: Check enclosed to your order. By the way, can't you lunch with me at the Lenox Club some day this week? Write, wire, or telephone when.

"Yours,

"SELWYN."

When he had sent the note away by the messenger he walked back to the bay-window, hands in his pockets, a worried expression in his gray eyes. This sort of thing must not be repeated; the boy must halt in his tracks and face sharply the other way. Besides, his own income was limited—much too limited to admit of many more loans of that sort.

He ought to see Gerald at once, but somehow he could not in decency appear personally on the heels of his loan. A certain interval must elapse between the loan and the lecture; in fact he didn't see very well how he could admonish and instruct until the loan had been cancelled—that is, until the first of the New Year.

Pacing the floor, disturbed, uncertain as to the course he should pursue, he looked up presently to see Miss Erroll descending the stairs, fresh and sweet in her radiant plumage. As she caught his eye she waved a silvery chinchilla muff at him—a marching salute—and passed on, calling back to him: "Don't forget Gerald!"

"No," he said, "I won't forget Gerald." He stood a moment at the window watching the brougham below where Nina awaited Miss Erroll. Then, abruptly, he turned back into the room and picked up the telephone receiver, muttering: "This is no time to mince matters for the sake of appearances." And he called up Gerald at the offices of Neergard & Co.

"Is it you, Gerald?" he asked pleasantly. "It's all right about that matter; I've sent you a note by your messenger. But I want to talk to you about another matter—something concerning myself—I want to ask your advice, in a way. Can you be at the Lenox by six? . . . You have an engagement at eight? Oh, that's all right; I won't keep you. . . . It's understood, then; the Lenox at six. . . . Good-bye."

There was the usual early evening influx of men at the Lenox who dropped in for a glance at the ticker, or for a cocktail or a game of billiards or a bit of gossip before going home to dress.

Selwyn sauntered over to the basket, inspected a yard or two of tape, then strolled toward the window, nodding to Bradley Harmon and Sandon Craig.

As he turned his face to the window and his back to the room, Harmon came up rather effusively, offering an unusually thin flat hand and further hospitality, pleasantly declined by Selwyn.

"Horrible thing, a cocktail," observed Harmon, after giving his own order and seating himself opposite Selwyn. "I don't usually do it. Here comes the man who persuades me!—my own partner—"

Selwyn looked up to see Fane approaching; and instantly a dark flush overspread his face.

"You know George Fane, don't you?" continued Harmon easily; "well, that's odd; I thought, of course—Captain Selwyn, Mr. Fane. It's not usual—but it's done."

They exchanged formalities—dry and brief on Selwyn's part, gracefully urbane on Fane's.

"I've heard so pleasantly of you from Gerald Erroll," he said, "and of course our people have always been on cordial terms. Neither Mrs. Fane nor I was fortunate enough to meet you last Tuesday at the Gerards—such a crush, you know. Are you not joining us, Captain Selwyn?" as the servant appeared to take orders.

Selwyn declined again, glancing at Harmon—a large-framed, bony young man with blond, closely trimmed and pointed beard, and the fair colour of a Swede. He had the high, flat cheek-bones of one, too; and a thicket of corn-tinted hair, which was usually damp at the ends, and curled flat against his forehead. He seemed to be always in a slight perspiration—he had been, anyway, every time Selwyn met him anywhere.

Sandon Craig and Billy Fleetwood came wandering up and joined them; one or two other men, drifting by, adhered to the group.

Selwyn, involved in small talk, glanced sideways at the great clock, and gathered himself together for departure.

Fleetwood was saying to Craig: "Certainly it was a stiff game—Bradley, myself, Gerald Erroll, Mrs. Delmour-Carnes, and the Ruthvens."

"Were you hit?" asked Craig, interested.

"No; about even. Gerald got it good and plenty, though. The Ruthvens were ahead as usual—"

Selwyn, apparently hearing nothing, quietly rose and stepped out of the circle, paused to set fire to a cigarette, and then strolled off toward the visitors' room, where Gerald was now due.

Fane stretched his neck, looking curiously after him. Then he said to Fleetwood: "Why begin to talk about Mrs. Ruthven when our friend yonder is about? Rotten judgment you show, Billy."

"Well, I clean forgot," said Fleetwood; "what did I say, anyway? A man can't always remember who's divorced from who in this town."

Harmon, whose civility to Selwyn had possibly been based on his desire for pleasant relations with Austin Gerard and the Arickaree Loan and Trust Company, looked at Fleetwood thoroughly vexed. But nobody could have suspected vexation in that high-boned smile which showed such very red lips through the blond beard.

Fane, too, smiled; his prominent soft brown eyes expressed gentlest good-humour, and he passed his hand reflectively over his unusually small and retreating chin. Perhaps he was thinking of the meeting in the Park that morning. It was amusing; but men do not speak of such things at their clubs, no matter how amusing. Besides, if the story were aired and were traced to him, Ruthven might turn ugly. There was no counting on Ruthven.

Meanwhile Selwyn, perplexed and worried, found young Erroll just entering the visitors' room, and greeted him with nervous cordiality.

"If you can't stay and dine with me," he said, "I won't put you down. You know, of course, I can only ask you once in a year, so we'll stay here and chat a bit."

"Right you are," said young Erroll, flinging off his very new and very fashionable overcoat—a wonderfully handsome boy, with all the attraction that a quick, warm, impulsive manner carries. "And I say, Selwyn, it was awfully decent of you to—"

"Bosh! Friends are for that sort of thing, Gerald. Sit here—" He looked at the young man hesitatingly; but Gerald calmly took the matter out of his jurisdiction by nodding his order to the club attendant.

"Lord, but I'm tired," he said, sinking back into a big arm-chair; "I was up till daylight, and then I had to be in the office by nine, and to-night Billy Fleetwood is giving—oh, something or other. By the way, the market isn't doing a thing to the shorts! You're not in, are you, Selwyn?"

"No, not that way. I hope you are not, either; are you, Gerald?"

"Oh, it's all right," replied the young fellow confidently; and raising his glass, he nodded at Selwyn with a smile.

"You were mighty nice to me, anyhow," he said, setting his glass aside and lighting a cigar. "You see, I went to a dance, and after a while some of us cleared out, and Jack Ruthven offered us trouble; so half a dozen of us went there. I had the worst cards a man ever drew to a kicker. That was all about it."

The boy was utterly unconscious that he was treading on delicate ground as he rattled on in his warmhearted, frank, and generous way. Totally oblivious that the very name of Ruthven must be unwelcome if not offensive to his listener, he laughed through a description of the affair, its thrilling episodes, and Mrs. Jack Ruthven's blind luck in the draw.

"One moment," interrupted Selwyn, very gently; "do you mind saying whether you banked my check and drew against it?"

"Why, no; I just endorsed it over."

"To—to whom?—if I may venture—"

"Certainly," he said, with a laugh; "to Mrs. Jack—" Then, in a flash, for the first time the boy realised what he was saying, and stopped aghast, scarlet to his hair.

Selwyn's face had little colour remaining in it, but he said very kindly: "It's all right, Gerald; don't worry—"

"I'm a beast!" broke out the boy; "I beg your pardon a thousand times."

"Granted, old chap. But, Gerald, may I say one thing—or perhaps two?"

"Go ahead! Give it to me good and plenty!"

"It's only this: couldn't you and I see one another a little oftener? Don't be afraid of me; I'm no wet blanket. I'm not so very aged, either; I know something of the world—I understand something of men. I'm pretty good company, Gerald. What do you say?"

"I say, sure!" cried the boy warmly.

"It's a go, then. And one thing more: couldn't you manage to come up to the house a little oftener? Everybody misses you, of course; I think your sister is a trifle sensitive—"

"I will!" said Gerald, blushing. "Somehow I've had such a lot on hand—all day at the office, and something on every evening. I know perfectly well I've neglected Eily—and everybody. But the first moment I can find free—"

Selwyn nodded. "And last of all," he said, "there's something about my own affairs that I thought you might advise me on."

Gerald, proud, enchanted, stood very straight; the older man continued gravely:

"I've a little capital to invest—not very much. Suppose—and this, I need not add, is in confidence between us—suppose I suggested to Mr. Neergard—"

"Oh," cried young Erroll, delighted, "that is fine! Neergard would be glad enough. Why, we've got that Valleydale tract in shape now, and there are scores of schemes in the air—scores of them—important moves which may mean—anything!" he ended, excitedly.

"Then you think it would be all right—in case Neergard likes the idea?"

Gerald was enthusiastic. After a while they shook hands, it being time to separate. And for a long time Selwyn sat there alone in the visitors' room, absent-eyed, facing the blazing fire of cannel coal.

How to be friends with this boy without openly playing the mentor; how to gain his confidence without appearing to seek it; how to influence him without alarming him! No; there was no great harm in him yet; only the impulse of inconsiderate youth; only an enthusiastic capacity for pleasure.

One thing was imperative—the boy must cut out his card-playing for stakes at once; and there was a way to accomplish that by impressing Gerald with the idea that to do anything behind Neergard's back which he would not care to tell him about was a sort of treachery.

Who were these people, anyway, who would permit a boy of that age, and in a responsible position, to play for such stakes? Who were they to encourage such—?

Selwyn's tightening grasp on his chair suddenly relaxed; he sank back, staring at the brilliant coals. He, too, had forgotten.

Now he remembered, in humiliation unspeakable, in bitterness past all belief.

Time sped, and he sat there, motionless; and gradually the bitterness became less perceptible as he drifted, intent on drifting, back through the exotic sorcery of dead years—back into the sun again, where honour was bright and life was young—where all the world awaited happy conquest—where there was no curfew in the red evening glow; no end to day, because the golden light had turned to silver; but where the earliest hint of dawn was a challenge, and where every yellow star whispered "Awake!"

And out of the magic she had come into his world again!

Sooner or later he would meet her now. That was sure. When? Where? And of what significance was it, after all?

Whom did it concern? Him? Her? And what had he to say to her, after all? Or she to him?

Not one word.

* * * * *

About midnight he roused himself and picked up his hat and coat.

"Do you wish a cab, please?" whispered the club servant who held his coat; "it is snowing very hard, sir."



CHAPTER III

UNDER THE ASHES

He had neither burned nor returned the photograph to Mrs. Ruthven. The prospect perplexed and depressed Selwyn.

He was sullenly aware that in a town where the divorced must ever be reckoned with when dance and dinner lists are made out, there is always some thoughtless hostess—and sometimes a mischievous one; and the chances were that he and Mrs. Jack Ruthven would collide, either through the forgetfulness or malice of somebody or, through sheer hazard, at some large affair where Destiny and Fate work busily together in criminal copartnership.

And he encountered her first at a masque and revel given by Mrs. Delmour-Carnes where Fate contrived that he should dance in the same set with his ci-devant wife before the unmasking, and where, unaware, they gaily exchanged salute and hand-clasp before the jolly melee of unmasking revealed how close together two people could come after parting for ever and a night at the uttermost ends of the earth.

When masks at last were off there was neither necessity nor occasion for the two surprised and rather pallid young people to renew civilities; but later, Destiny, the saturnine partner in the business, interfered; and some fool in the smoking room tried to introduce Selwyn to Ruthven. The slightest mistake on their parts would have rendered the incident ridiculous; and Ruthven made that mistake.

That was Selwyn's first encounter with the Ruthvens. A short time afterward at the opera Gerald dragged him into a parterre to say something amiable to one of the debutante Craig girls—and Selwyn found himself again facing Alixe.

If there was any awkwardness it was not apparent, although they both knew that they were in full view of the house.

A cool bow and its cooler acknowledgment, a formal word and more formal reply; and Selwyn made his way to the corridor, hot with vexation, unaware of where he was going, and oblivious of the distressed and apologetic young man, who so contritely kept step with him through the brilliantly crowded promenade.

That was the second time—not counting distant glimpses in crowded avenues, in the Park, at Sherry's, or across the hazy glitter of thronged theatres. But the third encounter was different.

It was all a mistake, born of the haste of a heedless and elderly matron, celebrated for managing to do the wrong thing, but who had been excessively nice to him that winter, and whose position in Manhattan was not to be assailed.

"Dear Captain Selwyn," she wheezed over the telephone, "I'm short one man; and we dine at eight and it's that now. Could you help me? It's the rich and yellow, this time, but you won't mind, will you?"

Selwyn, standing at the lower telephone in the hall, asked her to hold the wire a moment, and glanced up at his sister who was descending the stairs with Eileen, dinner having at that instant been announced.

"Mrs. T. West Minster—flying signals of distress," he said, carefully covering the transmitter as he spoke; "man overboard, and will I kindly take a turn at the wheel?"

"What a shame!" said Eileen; "you are going to spoil the first home dinner we have had together in weeks!"

"Tell her to get some yellow pup!" growled Austin, from above.

"As though anybody could get a yellow pup when they whistle," said Nina hopelessly.

"That's true," nodded Selwyn; "I'm the original old dog Tray. Whistle, and I come padding up. Ever faithful, you see."

And he uncovered the transmitter and explained to Mrs. T. West Minster his absurd delight at being whistled at. Then he sent for a cab and sauntered into the dining-room, where he was received with undisguised hostility.

"She's been civil to me," he said; "jeunesse oblige, you know. And that's why I—"

"There'll be a lot of debutantes there! What do you want to go for, you cradle robber!" protested Austin—"a lot of water-bibbing, olive-eating, talcum-powdered debutantes—"

Eileen straightened up stiffly, and Selwyn's teasing smile and his offered hand in adieu completed her indignation.

"Oh, good-bye! No, I won't shake hands. There's your cab, now. I wish you'd take Austin, too; Nina and I are tired of dining with the prematurely aged."

"Indeed, we are," said Mrs. Gerard; "go to your club, Austin, and give me a chance to telephone to somebody under the anesthetic age."

Selwyn departed, laughing, but he yawned in his cab all the way to Fifty-third Street, where he entered in the wake of the usual laggards and, surrendering hat and coat in the cloak room, picked up the small slim envelope bearing his name.

The card within disclosed the information that he was to take in Mrs. Somebody-or-Other; he made his way through a great many people, found his hostess, backed off, stood on one leg for a moment like a reflective water-fowl, then found Mrs. Somebody-or-Other and was absently good to her through a great deal of noise and some Spanish music, which seemed to squirt through a thicket of palms and bespatter everybody.

"Wonderful music," observed his dinner partner, with singular originality; "so like Carmen."

"Is it?" he replied, and took her away at a nod from his hostess, whose daughter Dorothy leaned forward from her partner's arm at the same moment, and whispered: "I must speak to you, mamma! You can't put Captain Selwyn there because—"

But her mother was deaf and smilingly sensitive about it, so she merely guessed what reply her child expected: "It's all settled, dear; Captain Selwyn arrived a moment ago." And she closed the file.

It was already too late, anyhow; and presently, turning to see who was seated on his left, Selwyn found himself gazing into the calm, flushed face of Alixe Ruthven. It was their third encounter.

They exchanged a dazed nod of recognition, a meaningless murmur, and turned again, apparently undisturbed, to their respective dinner partners.

A great many curious eyes, lingering on them, shifted elsewhere, in reluctant disappointment.

As for the hostess, she had, for one instant, come as near to passing heavenward as she could without doing it when she discovered the situation. Then she accepted it with true humour. She could afford to. But her daughters, Sheila and Dorothy, suffered acutely, being of this year's output and martyrs to responsibility.

Meanwhile, Selwyn, grimly aware of an accident somewhere, and perfectly conscious of the feelings which must by this time dominate his hostess, was wondering how best to avoid anything that might resemble a situation.

Instead of two or three dozen small tables, scattered among the palms of the winter garden, their hostess had preferred to construct a great oval board around the aquarium. The arrangement made it a little easier for Selwyn and Mrs. Ruthven. He talked to his dinner partner until she began to respond in monosyllables, which closed each subject that he opened and wearied him as much as he was boring her. But Bradley Harmon, the man on her right, evidently had better fortune; and presently Selwyn found himself with nobody to talk to, which came as near to embarrassing him as anything could, and which so enraged his hostess that she struck his partner's name from her lists for ever. People were already glancing at him askance in sly amusement or cold curiosity.

Then he did a thing which endeared him to Mrs. T. West Minster and to her two disconsolate children.

"Mrs. Ruthven," he said, very naturally and pleasantly, "I think perhaps we had better talk for a moment or two—if you don't mind."

She said quietly, "I don't mind," and turned with charming composure. Every eye shifted to them, then obeyed decency or training; and the slightest break in the gay tumult was closed up with chatter and laughter.

"Plucky," said Sandon Craig to his fair neighbour; "but by what chance did our unfortunate hostess do it?"

"She's usually doing it, isn't she? What occupies me," returned his partner, "is how on earth Alixe could have thrown away that adorable man for Jack Ruthven. Why, he is already trying to scramble into Rosamund Fane's lap—the horrid little poodle!—always curled up on the edge of your skirt!"

She stared at Mrs. Ruthven across the crystal reservoir brimming with rose and ivory-tinted water-lilies.

"That girl is marked for destruction," she said slowly; "the gods have done their work already."

But whatever Alixe had been, whatever she now was, she showed to her little world only a pale brunette symmetry—a strange and changeless lustre, varying as little as the moon's phases; and like that burnt-out planet, reflecting any flame that flared until her clear, young beauty seemed pulsating with the promise of hidden fire.

Selwyn, outwardly amiable and formal, was saying in a low voice: "My dinner partner is quite impossible, you see; and I happen to be here as a filler in—commanded to the presence only a few minutes ago. It's a pardonable error; I bear no malice. But I'm sorry for you."

There was a silence; Alixe straightened her slim figure, and turned; but young Innis, who had taken her in, had become confidential with Mrs. Fane. As for Selwyn's partner, she probably divined his conversational designs on her, but she merely turned her bare shoulder a trifle more unmistakably and continued her gossip with Bradley Harmon.

Alixe broke a tiny morsel from her bread, sensible of the tension.

"I suppose," she said, as though reciting to some new acquaintance an amusing bit of gossip—"that we are destined to this sort of thing occasionally and had better get used to it."

"I suppose so."

"Please," she added, after a pause, "aid me a little."

"I will if I can. What am I to say?"

"Have you nothing to say?" she asked, smiling; "it need not be very civil, you know—as long as nobody hears you."

To school his features for the deception of others, to school his voice and manner and at the same time look smilingly into the grave of his youth and hope called for the sort of self-command foreign to his character. Glancing at him under her smoothly fitted mask of amiability, she slowly grew afraid of the situation—but not of her ability to sustain her own part.

They exchanged a few meaningless phrases, then she resolutely took young Innis away from Rosamund Fane, leaving Selwyn to count the bubbles in his wine-glass.

But in a few moments, whether by accident or deliberate design, Rosamund interfered again, and Mrs. Ruthven was confronted with the choice of a squabble for possession of young Innis, of conspicuous silence, or of resuming once more with Selwyn. And she chose the last resort.

"You are living in town?" she asked pleasantly.

"Yes."

"Of course; I forgot. I met a man last night who said you had entered the firm of Neergard & Co."

"I have. Who was the man?"

"You can never guess, Captain Selwyn."

"I don't want to. Who was he?"

"Please don't terminate so abruptly the few subjects we have in reserve. We may be obliged to talk to each other for a number of minutes if Rosamund doesn't let us alone. . . . The man was 'Boots' Lansing."

"'Boots!' Here!"

"Arrived from Manila Sunday. Sans gene as usual he introduced you as the subject, and told me—oh, dozens of things about you. I suppose he began inquiring for you before he crossed the troopers' gangplank; and somebody sent him to Neergard & Co. Haven't you seen him?"

"No," he said, staring at the brilliant fish, which glided along the crystal tank, goggling their eyes at the lights.

"You—you are living with the Gerards, I believe," she said carelessly.

"For a while."

"Oh, 'Boots' says that he is expecting to take an apartment with you somewhere."

"What! Has 'Boots' resigned?"

"So he says. He told me that you had resigned. I did not understand that; I imagined you were here on leave until I heard about Neergard & Co."

"Do you suppose I could have remained in the service?" he demanded. His voice was dry and almost accentless.

"Why not?" she returned, paling.

"You may answer that question more pleasantly than I can."

She usually avoided champagne; but she had to do something for herself now. As for him, he took what was offered without noticing what he took, and grew whiter and whiter; but a fixed glow gradually appeared and remained on her cheeks; courage, impatience, a sudden anger at the forced conditions steadied her nerves.

"Will you please prove equal to the situation?" she said under her breath, but with a charming smile. "Do you know you are scowling? These people here are ready to laugh; and I'd much prefer that they tear us to rags on suspicion of our over-friendliness."

"Who is that fool woman who is monopolising your partner?"

"Rosamund Fane; she's doing it on purpose. You must try to smile now and then."

"My face is stiff with grinning," he said, "but I'll do what I can for you—"

"Please include yourself, too."

"Oh, I can stand their opinions," he said; "I only meet the yellow sort occasionally; I don't herd with them."

"I do, thank you."

"How do you like them? What is your opinion of the yellow set? Here they sit all about you—the Phoenix Mottlys, Mrs. Delmour-Carnes yonder, the Draymores, the Orchils, the Vendenning lady, the Lawns of Westlawn—" he paused, then deliberately—"and the 'Jack' Ruthvens. I forgot, Alixe, that you are now perfectly equipped to carry aloft the golden hod."

"Go on," she said, drawing a deep breath, but the fixed smile never altered.

"No," he said; "I can't talk. I thought I could, but I can't. Take that boy away from Mrs. Fane as soon as you can."

"I can't yet. You must go on. I ask your aid to carry this thing through. I—I am afraid of their ridicule. Could you try to help me a little?"

"If you put it that way, of course." And, after a silence, "What am I to say? What in God's name shall I say to you, Alixe?"

"Anything bitter—as long as you control your voice and features. Try to smile at me when you speak, Philip."

"All right. I have no reason to be bitter, anyway," he said; "and every reason to be otherwise."

"That is not true. You tell me that I have ruined your career in the army. I did not know I was doing it. Can you believe me?"

And, as he made no response: "I did not dream you would have to resign. Do you believe me?"

"There is no choice," he said coldly. "Drop the subject!"

"That is brutal. I never thought—" She forced a smile and drew her glass toward her. The straw-tinted wine slopped over and frothed on the white skin of her arm.

"Well," she breathed, "this ghastly dinner is nearly ended."

He nodded pleasantly.

"And—Phil?"—a bit tremulous.

"What?"

"Was it all my fault? I mean in the beginning? I've wanted to ask you that—to know your view of it. Was it?"

"No. It was mine, most of it."

"Not all—not half! We did not know how; that is the wretched explanation of it all."

"And we could never have learned; that's the rest of the answer. But the fault is not there."

"I know; 'better to bear the ills we have.'"

"Yes; more respectable to bear them. Let us drop this in decency's name, Alixe!"

After a silence, she began: "One more thing—I must know it; and I am going to ask you—if I may. Shall I?"

He smiled cordially, and she laughed as though confiding a delightful bit of news to him:

"Do you regard me as sufficiently important to dislike me?"

"I do not—dislike you."

"Is it stronger than dislike, Phil?"

"Y-es."

"Contempt?"

"No."

"What is it?"

"It is that—I have not yet—become—reconciled."

"To my—folly?"

"To mine."

She strove to laugh lightly, and failing, raised her glass to her lips again.

"Now you know," he said, pitching his tones still lower. "I am glad after all that we have had this plain understanding. I have never felt unkindly toward you. I can't. What you did I might have prevented had I known enough; but I cannot help it now; nor can you if you would."

"If I would," she repeated gaily—for the people opposite were staring.

"We are done for," he said, nodding carelessly to a servant to refill his glass; "and I abide by conditions because I choose to; not," he added contemptuously, "because a complacent law has tethered you to—to the thing that has crawled up on your knees to have its ears rubbed."

The level insult to her husband stunned her; she sat there, upright, the white smile stamped on her stiffened lips, fingers tightening about the stem of her wine-glass.

He began to toss bread crumbs to the scarlet fish, laughing to himself in an ugly way. "I wish to punish you? Why, Alixe, only look at him!—Look at his gold wristlets; listen to his simper, his lisp. Little girl—oh, little girl, what have you done to yourself?—for you have done nothing to me, child, that can match it in sheer atrocity!"

Her colour was long in returning.

"Philip," she said unsteadily, "I don't think I can stand this—"

"Yes, you can."

"I am too close to the wall. I—"

"Talk to Scott Innis. Take him away from Rosamund Fane; that will tide you over. Or feed those fool fish; like this! Look how they rush and flap and spatter! That's amusing, isn't it—for people with the intellects of canaries. . . . Will you please try to say something? Mrs. T. West is exhibiting the restless symptoms of a hen turkey at sundown and we'll all go to roost in another minute. . . . Don't shiver that way!"

"I c-can't control it; I will in a moment. . . . Give me a chance; talk to me, Phil."

"Certainly. The season has been unusually gay and the opera most stupidly brilliant; stocks continue to fluctuate; another old woman was tossed and gored by a mad motor this morning. . . . More time, Alixe? . . . With pleasure; Mrs. Vendenning has bought a third-rate castle in Wales; a man was found dead with a copy of the Tribune in his pocket—the verdict being in accordance with fact; the Panama Canal—"

But it was over at last; a flurry of sweeping skirts; ranks of black and white in escort to the passage of the fluttering silken procession.

"Good-bye," she said; "I am not staying for the dance."

"Good-bye," he said pleasantly; "I wish you better fortune for the future. I'm sorry I was rough."

He was not staying, either. A dull excitement possessed him, resembling suspense—as though he were awaiting a denouement; as though there was yet some crisis to come.

Several men leaned forward to talk to him; he heard without heeding, replied at hazard, lighted his cigar with the others, and leaned back, his coffee before him—a smiling, attractive young fellow, apparently in lazy enjoyment of the time and place and without one care in the world he found so pleasant.

For a while his mind seemed to be absolutely blank; voices were voices only; he saw lights, and figures moving through a void. Then reality took shape sharply; and his pulses began again hammering out the irregular measure of suspense, though what it was that he was awaiting, what expecting, Heaven alone knew.

And after a while he found himself in the ballroom.

The younger set was arriving; he recognised several youthful people, friends of Eileen Erroll; and taking his bearings among these bright, fresh faces—amid this animated throng, constantly increased by the arrival of others, he started to find his hostess, now lost to sight in the breezy circle of silk and lace setting in from the stairs.

He heard names announced which meant nothing to him, which stirred no memory; names which sounded vaguely familiar; names which caused him to turn quickly—but seldom were the faces as familiar as the names.

He said to a girl, behind whose chair he was standing: "All the younger brothers and sisters are coming here to confound me; I hear a Miss Innis announced, but it turns out to be her younger sister—"

"By the way, do you know my name?" she asked.

"No," he said frankly, "do you know mine?"

"Of course, I do; I listened breathlessly when somebody presented you wholesale at your sister's the other day. I'm Rosamund Fane. You might as well be instructed because you're to take me in at the Orchils' next Thursday night, I believe."

"Rosamund Fane," he repeated coolly. "I wonder how we've avoided each other so consistently this winter? I never before had a good view of you, though I heard you talking to young Innis at dinner. And yet," he added, smiling, "if I had been instructed to look around and select somebody named Rosamund, I certainly should have decided on you."

"A compliment?" she asked, raising her delicate eyebrows.

"Ask yourself," he said.

"I do; and I get snubbed."

And, smiling still, he said: "Do you know the most mischievous air that Schubert ever worried us with?"

"'Rosamund,'" she said; "and—thank you, Captain Selwyn." She had coloured to the hair.

"'Rosamund,'" he nodded carelessly—"the most mischievous of melodies—" He stopped short, then coolly resumed: "That mischievous quality is largely a matter of accident, I fancy. Schubert never meant that 'Rosamund' should interfere with anybody's business."

"And—when did you first encounter the malice in 'Rosamund,' Captain Selwyn?" she asked with perfect self-possession.

He did not answer immediately; his smile had died out. Then: "The first time I really understood 'Rosamund' was when I heard Rosamund during a very delightful dinner."

She said: "If a woman keeps at a man long enough she'll extract compliments or yawns." And looking up at a chinless young man who had halted near her: "George, Captain Selwyn has acquired such a charmingly Oriental fluency during his residence in the East that I thought—if you ever desired to travel again—" She shrugged, and, glancing at Selwyn: "Have you met my husband? Oh, of course."

They exchanged a commonplace or two, then other people separated them without resistance on their part. And Selwyn found himself drifting, mildly interested in the vapid exchange of civilities which cost nobody a mental effort.

His sister, he had once thought, was certainly the most delightfully youthful matron in New York. But now he made an exception of Mrs. Fane; Rosamund Fane was much younger—must have been younger, for she still had something of that volatile freshness—that vague atmosphere of immaturity clinging to her like a perfume almost too delicate to detect. And under that the most profound capacity for mischief he had ever known of. Sauntering amiably amid the glittering groups continually forming and disintegrating under the clustered lights, he finally succeeded in reaching his hostess.

And Mrs. T. West Minster disengaged herself from the throng with intention as he approached.

No—and he was so sorry; and it was very amiable of his hostess to want him, but he was not remaining for the dance.

So much for the hostess, who stood there massive and gem-laden, her kindly and painted features tinted now with genuine emotion.

"Je m'accuse, mon fils!—but you acted like a perfect dear," she said. "Mea culpa, mea culpa; and can you forgive a very much mortified old lady who is really and truly fond of you?"

He laughed, holding her fat, ringed hands in both of his with all the attractive deference that explained his popularity. Rising excitement had sent the colour into his face and cleared his pleasant gray eyes; and he looked very young and handsome, his broad shoulders bent a trifle before the enamelled and bejewelled matron.

"Forgive you?" he repeated with a laugh of protest; "on the contrary, I thank you. Mrs. Ruthven is one of the most charming women I know, if that is what you mean?"

Looking after him as he made his way toward the cloak room: "The boy is thoroughbred," she reflected cynically; "and the only amusement anybody can get out of it will be at my expense! Rosamund is a perfect cat!"

* * * * *

He had sent for his cab, which, no doubt, was in line somewhere, wedged among the ranks of carriages stretching east and west along the snowy street; and he stood on the thick crimson carpet under the awning while it was being summoned. A few people like himself were not staying for the dance; others who had dined by prearrangement with other hostesses, had now begun to arrive, and the confusion grew as coach and brougham and motor came swaying up through the falling snow to deposit their jewelled cargoes of silks and laces under the vast awning picketed by policemen and lined with fur-swathed grooms and spindle-legged chauffeurs in coats of pony-skin.

The Cornelius Suydams, emerging from the house, offered Selwyn tonneau room, but he smilingly declined, having a mind for solitude and the Lenox Club. A phalanx of debutantes, opera bound, also left. Then the tide set heavily the other way, and there seemed no end to the line of arriving vehicles and guests, until he heard a name pronounced; a policeman warned back an approaching Fiat; and Selwyn saw Mrs. Ruthven, enveloped in white furs, step from the portal.

She saw him as he moved back, nodded, passed directly to her brougham, and set foot on the step. Pausing here, she looked about her, right and left, then over her shoulder straight back at Selwyn; and as she stood in silence evidently awaiting him, it became impossible for him any longer to misunderstand without a public affront to her.

When he started toward her she spoke to her maid, and the latter moved aside with a word to the groom in waiting.

"My maid will dismiss your carriage," she said pleasantly when he halted beside her. "There is one thing more which I must say to you."

Was this what he had expected hazard might bring to him?—was this the prophecy of his hammering pulses?

"Please hurry before people come out," she added, and entered the brougham.

"I can't do this," he muttered.

"I've sent away my maid," she said. "Nobody has noticed; those are servants out there. Will you please come before anybody arriving or departing does notice?"

And, as he did not move: "Are you going to make me conspicuous by this humiliation before servants?"

He said something between his set teeth and entered the brougham.

"Do you know what you've done?" he demanded harshly.

"Yes; nothing yet. But you would have done enough to stir this borough if you had delayed another second."

"Your maid saw—"

"My maid is my maid."

He leaned back in his corner, gray eyes narrowing.

"Naturally," he said, "you are the one to be considered, not the man in the case."

"Thank you. Are you the man in the case?"

"There is no case," he said coolly.

"Then why worry about me?"

He folded his arms, sullenly at bay; yet had no premonition of what to expect from her.

"You were very brutal to me," she said at length.

"I know it; and I did not intend to be. The words came."

"You had me at your mercy; and showed me little—a very little at first. Afterward, none."

"The words came," he repeated; "I'm sick with self-contempt, I tell you."

She set her white-gloved elbow on the window sill and rested her chin in her palm.

"That—money," she said with an effort. "You set—some—aside for me."

"Half," he nodded calmly.

"Why?"

He was silent.

"Why? I did not ask for it? There was nothing in the—the legal proceedings to lead you to believe that I desired it; was there?"

"No."

"Well, then," her breath came unsteadily, "what was there in me to make you think I would accept it?"

He did not reply.

"Answer me. This is the time to answer me."

"The answer is simple enough," he said in a low voice. "Together we had made a failure of partnership. When that partnership was dissolved, there remained the joint capital to be divided. And I divided it. Why not?"

"That capital was yours in the beginning; not mine. What I had of my own you never controlled; and I took it with me when I went."

"It was very little," he said.

"What of that? Did that concern you? Did you think I would have accepted anything from you? A thousand times I have been on the point of notifying you through attorney that the deposit now standing in my name is at your disposal."

"Why didn't you notify me then?" he asked, reddening to the temples.

"Because—I did not wish to hurt you—by doing it that way. . . . And I had not the courage to say it kindly over my own signature. That is why, Captain Selwyn."

And, as he remained silent: "That is what I had to say; not all—because—I wish to—to thank you for offering it. . . . You did not have very much, either; and you divided what you had. So I thank you—and I return it.". . . The tension forced her to attempt a laugh. "So we stand once more on equal terms; unless you have anything of mine to return—"

"I have your photograph," he said.

The silence lasted until he straightened up and, rubbing the fog from the window glass, looked out.

"We are in the Park," he remarked, turning toward her.

"Yes; I did not know how long it might take to explain matters. You are free of me now whenever you wish."

He picked up the telephone, hesitated: "Home?" he inquired with an effort. And at the forgotten word they looked at one another in stricken silence.

"Y-yes; to your home first, if you will let me drop you there—"

"Thank you; that might be imprudent."

"No, I think not. You say you are living at the Gerards?"

"Yes, temporarily. But I've already taken another place."

"Where?"

"Oh, it's only a bachelor's kennel—a couple of rooms—"

"Where, please?"

"Near Lexington and Sixty-sixth. I could go there; it's only partly furnished yet—"

"Then tell Hudson to drive there."

"Thank you, but it is not necessary—"

"Please let me; tell Hudson, or I will."

"You are very kind," he said; and gave the order.

Silence grew between them like a wall. She lay back in her corner, swathed to the eyes in her white furs; he in his corner sat upright, arms loosely folded, staring ahead at nothing. After a while he rubbed the moisture from the pane again.

"Still in the Park! He must have driven us nearly to Harlem Mere. It is the Mere! See the cafe lights yonder. It all looks rather gay through the snow."

"Very gay," she said, without moving. And, a moment later: "Will you tell me something? . . . You see"—with a forced laugh—"I can't keep my mind—from it."

"From what?" he asked.

"The—tragedy; ours."

"It has ceased to be that; hasn't it?"

"Has it? You said—you said that w-what I did to you was n-not as terrible as what I d-did to myself."

"That is true," he admitted grimly.

"Well, then, may I ask my question?"

"Ask it, child."

"Then—are you happy?"

He did not answer.

"—Because I desire it, Philip. I want you to be. You will be, won't you? I did not dream that I was ruining your army career when I—went mad—"

"How did it happen, Alixe?" he asked, with a cold curiosity that chilled her. "How did it come about?—wretched as we seemed to be together—unhappy, incapable of understanding each other—"

"Phil! There were days—"

He raised his eyes.

"You speak only of the unhappy ones," she said; "but there were moments—"

"Yes; I know it. And so I ask you, why?"

"Phil, I don't know. There was that last bitter quarrel—the night you left for Leyte after the dance. . . . I—it all grew suddenly intolerable. You seemed so horribly unreal—everything seemed unreal in that ghastly city—you, I, our marriage of crazy impulse—the people, the sunlight, the deathly odours, the torturing, endless creak of the punkha. . . . It was not a question of—of love, of anger, of hate. I tell you I was stunned—I had no emotions concerning you or myself—after that last scene—only a stupefied, blind necessity to get away; a groping instinct to move toward home—to make my way home and be rid for ever of the dream that drugged me! . . . And then—and then—"

"He came," said Selwyn very quietly. "Go on."

But she had nothing more to say.

"Alixe!"

She shook her head, closing her eyes.

"Little girl!—oh, little girl!" he said softly, the old familiar phrase finding its own way to his lips—and she trembled slightly; "was there no other way but that? Had marriage made the world such a living hell for you that there was no other way but that?"

"Phil, I helped to make it a hell."

"Yes—because I was pitiably inadequate to design anything better for us. I didn't know how. I didn't understand. I, the architect of our future—failed."

"It was worse than that, Phil; we"—she looked blindly at him—"we had yet to learn what love might be. We did not know. . . . If we could have waited—only waited!—perhaps—because there were moments—" She flushed crimson.

"I could not make you love me," he repeated; "I did not know how."

"Because you yourself had not learned how. But—at times—now looking back to it—I think—I think we were very near to it—at moments. . . . And then that dreadful dream closed down on us again. . . . And then—the end."

"If you could have held out," he breathed; "if I could have helped! It was I who failed you after all!"

For a long while they sat in silence; Mrs. Ruthven's white furs now covered her face. At last the carriage stopped.

As he sprang to the curb he became aware of another vehicle standing in front of the house—a cab—from which Mrs. Ruthven's maid descended.

"What is she doing here?" he asked, turning in astonishment to Mrs. Ruthven.

"Phil," she said in a low voice, "I knew you had taken this place. Gerald told me. Forgive me—but when I saw you under the awning it came to me in a flash what to do. And I've done it. . . . Are you sorry?"

"No. . . . Did Gerald tell you that I had taken this place?"

"Yes; I asked him."

Selwyn looked at her gravely; and she looked him very steadily in the eyes.

"Before I go—may I say one more word?" he asked gently.

"Yes—if you please. Is it about Gerald?"

"Yes. Don't let him gamble. . . . You saw the signature on that check?"

"Yes, Phil."

"Then you understand. Don't let him do it again."

"No. And—Phil?"

"What?"

"That check is—is deposited to your credit—with the rest. I have never dreamed of using it." Her cheeks were afire again, but with shame this time.

"You will have to accept it, Alixe."

"I cannot."

"You must! Don't you see you will affront Gerald? He has repaid me; that check is not mine, nor is it his."

"I can't take it," she said with a shudder. "What shall I do with it?"

"There are ways—hospitals, if you care to. . . . Good-night, child."

She stretched out her gloved arm to him; he took her hand very gently and retained it while he spoke.

"I wish you happiness," he said; "I ask your forgiveness."

"Give me mine, then."

"Yes—if there is anything to forgive. Good-night."

"Good-night—boy," she gasped.

He turned sharply, quivering under the familiar name. Her maid, standing in the snow, moved forward, and he motioned her to enter the brougham.

"Home," he said unsteadily; and stood there very still for a minute or two, even after the carriage had whirled away into the storm. Then, looking up at the house, he felt for his keys; but a sudden horror of being alone arrested him, and he stepped back, calling out to his cabman, who was already turning his horse's head, "Wait a moment; I think I'll drive back to Mrs. Gerard's. . . . And take your time."

* * * * *

It was still early—lacking a quarter of an hour to midnight—when he arrived. Nina had retired, but Austin sat in the library, obstinately plodding through the last chapters of a brand-new novel.

"This is a wretched excuse for sitting up," he yawned, laying the book flat on the table, but still open. "I ought never to be trusted alone with any book." Then he removed his reading glasses, yawned again, and surveyed Selwyn from head to foot.

"Very pretty," he said. "Well, how are the yellow ones, Phil? Or was it all debutante and slop-twaddle?"

"Few from the cradle, but bunches were arriving for the dance as I left."

"Eileen went at half-past eleven."

"I didn't know she was going," said Selwyn, surprised.

"She didn't want you to. The Playful Kitten business, you know—frisks apropos of nothing to frisk about. But we all fancied you'd stay for the dance." He yawned mightily, and gazed at Selwyn with ruddy gravity.

"Whisk?" he inquired.

"No."

"Cigar?"—mildly urgent.

"No, thanks."

"Bed?"

"I think so. But don't wait for me, Austin. . . . Is that the evening paper? Where is St. Paul?"

Austin passed it across the table and sat for a moment, alternately yawning and skimming the last chapter of his novel.

"Stuff and rubbish, mush and piffle!" he muttered, closing the book and pushing it from him across the table; "love, as usual, grossly out of proportion to the ensemble. That theory of the earth's rotation, you know; all these absurd books are built on it. Why do men read 'em? They grin when they do it! Love is only the sixth sense—just one-sixth of a man's existence. The other five-sixths of his time he's using his other senses working for a living."

Selwyn looked up over his newspaper, then lowered and folded it.

"In these novels," continued Gerard, irritably, "five-sixths of the pages are devoted to love; everything else is subordinated to it; it controls all motives, it initiates all action, it drugs reason, it prolongs the tuppenny suspense, sustains cheap situations, and produces agonisingly profitable climaxes for the authors. . . . Does it act that way in real life?"

"Not usually," said Selwyn.

"Nobody else thinks so, either. Why doesn't somebody tell the truth? Why doesn't somebody tell us how a man sees a nice girl and gradually begins to tag after her when business hours are over? A respectable man is busy from eight or nine until five or six. In the evening he's usually at the club, or dining out, or asleep; isn't he? Well, then, how much time does it leave for love? Do the problem yourself in any way you wish; the result is a fraction every time; and that fraction represents the proper importance of the love interest in its proper ratio to a man's entire life."

He sat up, greatly pleased with himself at having reduced sentiment to a fixed proportion in the ingredients of life.

"If I had time," he said, "I could tell them how to write a book—" He paused, musing, while the confident smile spread. Selwyn stared at space.

"What does a young man know about love, anyway?" demanded his brother-in-law.

"Nothing," replied Selwyn listlessly.

"Of course not. Look at Gerald. He sits on the stairs with a pink and white ninny; and at the next party he does it with another. That's wholesome and natural; and that's the way things really are. Look at Eileen. Do you suppose she has the slightest suspicion of what love is?"

"Naturally not," said Selwyn.

"Correct. Only a fool novelist would attribute the deeper emotions to a child like that. What does she know about anything? Love isn't a mere emotion, either—that is all fol-de-rol and fizzle!—it's the false basis of modern romance. Love is reason—not a nervous phenomenon. Love is a sane passion, founded on a basic knowledge of good and evil. That's what love is; the rest!"—he lifted the book, waved it contemptuously, and pushed it farther away—"the rest is neuritis; the remedy a pill. I'm going to bed; are you?"

But Selwyn had lighted a cigar, and was again unfolding his evening paper; so his brother-in-law moved ponderously away, yawning frightfully at every heavy stride, and the younger man settled back in his chair, a fragrant cigar balanced between his strong, slim fingers, one leg dropped loosely over the other. After a while the newspaper fell to the floor.

He sat there without moving for a long time; his cigar, burning close, had gone out. The reading-lamp spread a circle of soft light over the floor; on the edge of it lay Kit-Ki, placid, staring at him. After a while he noticed her. "You?" he said absently; "you hid so they couldn't put you out."

At the sound of his voice she began to purr.

"Oh, it's all very well," he nodded; "but it's against the law. However," he added, "I'm rather tired of rules and regulations myself. Besides, the world outside is very cold to-night. Purr away, old lady; I'm going to bed."

But he did not stir.

A little later, the fire having burned low, he rose, laid a pair of heavy logs across the coals, dragged his chair to the hearth, and settled down in it deeply. Then he lifted the cat to his knees. Kit-Ki sang blissfully, spreading and relaxing her claws at intervals as she gazed at the mounting blaze.

"I'm going to bed, Kit-Ki," he repeated absently, "because that's a pretty good place for me . . . far better than sitting up here with you—and conscience."

But he only lay back deeper in the velvet chair and lighted another cigar.

"Kit-Ki," he said, "the words men utter count in the reckoning; but not as heavily as the words men leave unuttered; and what a man does scores deeply; but—alas for the scars of the deeds he has left undone."

The logs were now wrapped in flame, and their low mellow roaring mingled to a monotone with the droning of the cat on his knees.

Long after his cigar burnt bitter, he sat with eyes fixed on the blaze. When the flames at last began to flicker and subside, his lids fluttered, then drooped; but he had lost all reckoning of time when he opened them again to find Miss Erroll in furs and ball-gown kneeling on the hearth and heaping kindling on the coals, and her pretty little Alsatian maid beside her, laying a log across the andirons.

"Upon my word!" he murmured, confused; then rising quickly, "Is that you, Miss Erroll? What time is it?"

"Four o'clock in the morning, Captain Selwyn," she said, straightening up to her full height. "This room is icy; are you frozen?"

Chilled through, he stood looking about in a dazed way, incredulous of the hour and of his own slumber.

"I was conversing with Kit-Ki a moment ago," he protested, in such a tone of deep reproach that Eileen laughed while her maid relieved her of furs and scarf.

"Susanne, just unhook those two that I can't manage; light the fire in my bedroom; et merci bien, ma petite!"

The little maid vanished; Kit-Ki, who had been unceremoniously spilled from Selwyn's knees, sat yawning, then rose and walked noiselessly to the hearth.

"I don't know how I happened to do it," he muttered, still abashed by his plight.

"We rekindled the fire for your benefit," she said; "you had better use it before you retire." And she seated herself in the arm-chair, stretching out her ungloved hands to the blaze—smooth, innocent hands, so soft, so amazingly fresh and white.

He moved a step forward into the warmth, stood a moment, then reached forward for a chair and drew it up beside hers.

"Do you mean to say you are not sleepy?" he asked.

"I? No, not in the least. I will be to-morrow, though."

"Did you have a good time?"

"Yes—rather."

"Wasn't it gay?"

"Gay? Oh, very."

Her replies were unusually short—almost preoccupied. She was generally more communicative.

"You danced a lot, I dare say," he ventured.

"Yes—a lot," studying the floor.

"Decent partners?"

"Oh, yes."

"Who was there?"

She looked up at him. "You were not there," she said, smiling.

"No; I cut it. But I did not know you were going; you said nothing about it."

"Of course, you would have stayed if you had known, Captain Selwyn?" She was still smiling.

"Of course," he replied.

"Would you really?"

"Why, yes."

There was something not perfectly familiar to him in the girl's bright brevity, in her direct personal inquiry; for between them, hitherto, the gaily impersonal had ruled except in moments of lightest badinage.

"Was it an amusing dinner?" she asked, in her turn.

"Rather." Then he looked up at her, but she had stretched her slim silk-shod feet to the fender, and her head was bent aside, so that he could see only the curve of the cheek and the little close-set ear under its ruddy mass of gold.

"Who was there?" she asked, too, carelessly.

For a moment he did not speak; under his bronzed cheek the flat muscles stirred. Had some meddling, malicious fool ventured to whisper an unfit jest to this young girl? Had a word—or a smile and a phrase cut in two—awakened her to a sorry wisdom at his expense? Something had happened; and the idea stirred him to wrath—as when a child is wantonly frightened or a dumb creature misused.

"What did you ask me?" he inquired gently.

"I asked you who was there, Captain Selwyn."

He recalled some names, and laughingly mentioned his dinner partner's preference for Harmon. She listened absently, her chin nestling in her palm, only the close-set, perfect ear turned toward him.

"Who led the cotillion?" he asked.

"Jack Ruthven—dancing with Rosamund Fane."

She drew her feet from the fender and crossed them, still turned away from him; and so they remained in silence until again she shifted her position, almost impatiently.

"You are very tired," he said.

"No; wide awake."

"Don't you think it best for you to go to bed?"

"No. But you may go."

And, as he did not stir: "I mean that you are not to sit here because I do." And she looked around at him.

"What has gone wrong, Eileen?" he said quietly.

He had never before used her given name, and she flushed up.

"There is nothing the matter, Captain Selwyn. Why do you ask?"

"Yes, there is," he said.

"There is not, I tell you—"

"—And, if it is something you cannot understand," he continued pleasantly, "perhaps it might be well to ask Nina to explain it to you."

"There is nothing to explain."

"—Because," he went on, very gently, "one is sometimes led by malicious suggestion to draw false and unpleasant inferences from harmless facts—"

"Captain Selwyn—"

"Yes, Eileen."

But she could not go on; speech and thought itself remained sealed; only a confused consciousness of being hurt remained—somehow to be remedied by something he might say—might deny. Yet how could it help her for him to deny what she herself refused to believe?—refused through sheer instinct while ignorant of its meaning.

Even if he had done what she heard Rosamund Fane say he had done, it had remained meaningless to her save for the manner of the telling. But now—but now! Why had they laughed—why had their attitudes and manner and the disconnected phrases in French left her flushed and rigid among the idle group at supper? Why had they suddenly seemed to remember her presence—and express their abrupt consciousness of it in such furtive signals and silence?

It was false, anyway—whatever it meant. And, anyway, it was false that he had driven away in Mrs. Ruthven's brougham. But, oh, if he had only stayed—if he had only remained!—this friend of hers who had been so nice to her from the moment he came into her life—so generous, so considerate, so lovely to her—and to Gerald!

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