"What the hell is the matter with you?" asked Neergard, for the subtle something he had been encountering all day had suddenly seemed to wall him out of all he had conquered, forcing him back into the simpler sordid territory where ways and modes of speech were more familiar to him—where the spontaneous crudity of expression belonged among the husks of all he had supposed discarded for ever.
"Really," observed Ruthven, staring at the seated man, "I scarcely understand your remark."
"Well, you'll understand it perhaps when I choose to explain it," said Neergard. "I see there's some trouble somewhere. What is it? What's the matter with Orchil, and that hatchet-faced beagle-pup, Mottly? Is there anything the matter, Jack?"
"Nothing important," said Ruthven with an intonation which troubled Neergard. "Did you come here to—ah—ask anything of me? Very glad to do anything, I'm sure."
"Are you? Well, then, I want a card to the Orchils'."
Ruthven raised his brows slightly; and Neergard waited, then repeated his demand.
Ruthven began to explain, rather languidly, that it was impossible; but—"I want it," insisted the other doggedly.
"I can't be of any service to you in this instance."
"Oh, yes, I think you can. I tell you I want that card. Do you understand plain speech?"
"Ya-as," drawled Ruthven, seating himself a trifle wearily among his cushions, "but yours is so—ah—very plain—quite elemental, you know. You ask for a bid to the Orchils'; I tell you quite seriously I can't secure one for you."
"You'd better think it over," said Neergard menacingly.
"You mean you won't?"
Neergard's thin nose grew white and tremulous:
"You insist?" in mildly bored deprecation.
"Yes, I insist. Why can't you—or why won't you?"
"Well, if you really insist, they—ah—don't want you, Neergard."
"Who—why—how do you happen to know that they don't? Is this some petty spite of that young cub, Gerald? Or"—and he almost looked at Ruthven—"is this some childish whim of yours?"
"Oh, really now—"
"Yes, really now," sneered Neergard, "you'd better tell me. And you'd better understand, now, once for all, just exactly what I've outlined for myself—so you can steer clear of the territory I operate in." He clasped his blunt fingers and leaned forward, projecting his whole body, thick legs curled under; but his close-set eyes still looked past Ruthven.
"I need a little backing," he said, "but I can get along without it. And what I'm going to do is to marry Miss Orchil. Now you know; now you understand. I don't care a damn about the Erroll boy; and I think I'll discount right now any intentions of any married man to bother Miss Orchil after some Dakota decree frees him from the woman whom he's driven into an asylum."
Ruthven looked at him curiously:
"So that is discounted, is it?"
"I think so," nodded Neergard. "I don't think that man will try to obtain a divorce until I say the word."
"Oh! Why not?"
"Because of my knowledge concerning that man's crooked methods in obtaining for me certain options that meant ruin to his own country club," said Neergard coolly.
"I see. How extraordinary! But the club has bought in all that land, hasn't it?"
"Yes—but the stench of your treachery remains, my friend."
"Not treachery, only temptation," observed Ruthven blandly. "I've talked it all over with Orchil and Mottly—"
"You—what!" gasped Neergard.
"Talked about it," repeated Ruthven, hard face guileless, and raising his eyebrows—a dreadful caricature of youth in the misleading smoothness of the minutely shaven face; "I told Orchil what you persuaded me to do—"
"Not at all, not at all!" protested Ruthven, languidly settling himself once more among the cushions. "And by the way," he added, "there's a law—by-law—something or other, that I understand may interest you"—he looked up at Neergard, who had sunk back in his chair—"about unpaid assessments—"
Neergard now for the first time was looking directly at him.
"Unpaid assessments," repeated Ruthven. "It's a, detail—a law—never enforced unless we—ah—find it convenient to rid ourselves of a member. It's rather useful, you see, in such a case—a technical pretext, you know. . . . I forget the exact phrasing; something about' ceases to retain his membership, and such shares of stock as he may own in the said club shall be appraised and delivered to the treasurer upon receipt of the value'—or something like that."
Still Neergard looked at him, hunched up in his chair, chin sunk on his chest.
"Thought it just as well to mention it," said Ruthven blandly, "as they've seen fit to take advantage of the—ah—opportunity—under legal advice. You'll hear from the secretary, I fancy—Mottly, you know. . . . Is there anything more, Neergard?"
Neergard scarcely heard him. He had listened, mechanically, when told in as many words that he had been read out of the Siowitha Club; he understood that he stood alone, discarded, disgraced, with a certain small coterie of wealthy men implacably hostile to him. But it was not that which occupied him: he was face to face with the new element of which he had known nothing—the subtle, occult resistance to himself and his personality, all that he represented, embodied, stood for, hoped for.
And for the first time he realised that among the ruthless, no ruthlessness was permitted him; among the reckless, circumspection had been required of him; no arrogance, no insolence had been permitted him among the arrogant and insolent; for, when such as he turned threateningly upon one of those belonging to that elemental matrix of which he dared suppose himself an integral part, he found that he was mistaken. Danger to one from such as he endangered their common caste—such as it was. And, silently, subtly, all through that portion of the social fabric, he became slowly sensible of resistance—resistance everywhere, from every quarter.
Now, hunched up there in his chair, he began to understand. If Ruthven had been a blackguard—it was not for him to punish him—no, not even threaten to expose him. His own caste would take care of that; his own sort would manage such affairs. Meanwhile Neergard had presumed to annoy them, and the society into which he had forced himself and which he had digestively affected, was now, squid-like, slowly turning itself inside out to expel him as a foreign substance from which such unimportant nutrition as he had afforded had been completely extracted.
He looked at Ruthven, scarcely seeing him. Finally he gathered his thick legs under to support him as he rose, stupidly, looking about for his hat.
Ruthven rang for a servant; when he came Neergard followed him without a word, small eyes vacant, the moisture powdering the ridge of his nose, his red blunt hands dangling as he walked. Behind him a lackey laughed.
* * * * *
In due time Neergard, who still spent his penny on a morning paper, read about the Orchil ball. There were three columns and several pictures. He read all there was to read about—the sickeningly minute details of jewels and costumes, the sorts of stuffs served at supper, the cotillon, the favours—then, turning back, he read about the dozen-odd separate hostesses who had entertained the various coteries and sets at separate dinners before the ball—read every item, every name, to the last imbecile period.
Then he rose wearily, and started downtown to see what his lawyers could do toward reinstating him in a club that had expelled him—to find out if there remained the slightest trace of a chance in the matter. But even as he went he knew there could be none. The squid had had its will with him, not he with the squid; and within him rose again all the old hatred and fear of these people from whom he had desired to extract full payment for the black days of need he had endured, for the want, the squalor, the starvation he had passed through.
But the reckoning left him where he had started—save for the money they had used when he forced it on them—not thanking him.
So he went to his lawyers—every day for a while, then every week, then, toward the end of winter, less often, for he had less time now, and there was a new pressure which he was beginning to feel vaguely hostile to him in his business enterprises—hitches in the negotiations of loans, delays, perhaps accidental, but annoying; changes of policy in certain firms who no longer cared to consider acreage as investment; and a curiously veiled antagonism to him in a certain railroad, the reorganisation of which he had dared once to aspire to.
And one day, sitting alone in his office, a clerk brought him a morning paper with one column marked in a big blue-pencilled oval.
It was only about a boy and a girl who had run away and married because they happened to be in love, although their parents had prepared other plans for their separate disposal. The column was a full one, the heading in big type—a good deal of pother about a boy and a girl, after all, particularly as it appeared that their respective families had determined to make the best of it. Besides, the girl's parents had other daughters growing up; and the prettiest of American duchesses would no doubt remain amiable. As for the household cavalry, probably some of them were badly in need of forage, but that thin red line could hold out until the younger sisters shed pinafores. So, after all, in spite of double leads and the full column, the runaways could continue their impromptu honeymoon without fear of parents, duchess, or a rescue charge from that thin, red, and impecunious line.
* * * * *
It took Neergard all day to read that column before he folded it away and pigeonholed it among a lot of dusty documents—uncollected claims, a memorandum of a deal with Ruthven, a note from an actress, and the papers in his case against the Siowitha Club which would never come to a suit—he knew it now—never amount to anything. So among these archives of dead desires, dead hopes, and of vengeance deferred sine die, he laid away the soiled newspaper.
Then he went home, very tired with a mental lassitude that depressed him and left him drowsy in his great arm-chair before the grate—too drowsy and apathetic to examine the letters and documents laid out for him by his secretary, although one of them seemed to be important—something about alienation of affections, something about a yacht and Mrs. Ruthven, and a heavy suit to be brought unless other settlement was suggested as a balm to Mr. Ruthven.
To dress for dinner was an effort—a purely mechanical operation which was only partly successful, although his man aided him. But he was too tired to continue the effort; and at last it was his man alone who disembarrassed him of his heavy clothing and who laid him among the bedclothes, where he sank back, relaxed, breathing loudly in the dreadful depressed stupor of utter physical and neurotic prostration.
Meaningless to him the hurriedly intrusive attorneys—his own and Ruthven's—who forced their way in that night—or was it the next, or months later? A weight like the weight of death lay on him, mind and body. If he comprehended what threatened, what was coming, he did not care. The world passed on, leaving him lying there, nerveless, exhausted, a derelict on a sea too stormy for such as he—a wreck that might have sailed safely in narrower waters.
And some day he'd be patched up and set afloat once more to cruise and operate and have his being in the safer and smaller seas; some day, when the nerve crash had subsided and the slow, wounded mind came back to itself, and its petty functions were once more resumed—its envious scheming, its covetous capability, its vicious achievement. For with him achievement could embody only the meaner imitations of the sheer colossal coups by which the great financiers gutted a nation with kid-gloved fingers, and changed their gloves after the operation so that no blood might stick to Peter's pence or smear the corner-stones of those vast and shadowy institutions upreared in restitution—black silhouettes against the infernal sunset of lives that end in the shadowy death of souls.
* * * * *
Even before Neergard's illness Ruthven's domestic and financial affairs were in a villainous mess. Rid of Neergard, he had meant to deal him a crashing blow at the breakaway which would settle him for ever and incidentally bring to a crisis his own status in regard to his wife.
Whether or not his wife was mentally competent he did not know; he did not know anything about her. But he meant to. Selwyn's threat, still fairly fresh in his memory, had given him no definite idea of Alixe, her whereabouts, her future plans, and whether or not her mental condition was supposed to be permanently impaired or otherwise.
That she had been, and probably now was, under Selwyn's protection he believed; what she and Selwyn intended to do he did not know. But he wanted to know; he dared not ask Selwyn—dared not, because he was horribly afraid of Selwyn; dared not yet make a legal issue of their relations, of her sequestration, or of her probable continued infirmity, because of his physical fear of the man.
But there was—or he thought that there had been—one way to begin the matter, because the matter must sooner or later be begun: and that was to pretend to assume Neergard responsible; and, on the strength of his wife's summer sojourn aboard the Niobrara, turn on Neergard and demand a reckoning which he believed Selwyn would never hear of, because he did not suppose Neergard dared defend the suit, and would sooner or later compromise. Which would give him what he wanted to begin with, money, and the entering wedge against the wife he meant to be rid of in one way or another, even if he had to swear out a warrant against Selwyn before he demanded a commission to investigate her mental condition.
Ruthven was too deadly afraid of Selwyn to begin suit at that stage of the proceedings. All he could do was to start, through his attorneys, a search for his wife, and meanwhile try to formulate some sort of definite plan in regard to Gladys Orchil; for if that featherbrained youngster went abroad in the spring he meant to follow her and not only have the Atlantic between him and Selwyn when he began final suit for freedom, but also be in a position to ride off any of the needy household cavalry who might come caracolling and cavorting too close to the young girl he had selected to rehabilitate the name, fortune, and house of Ruthven.
This, in brief, was Ruthven's general scheme of campaign; and the entire affair had taken some sort of shape, and was slowly beginning to move, when Neergard's illness came as an absolute check, just as the first papers were about to be served on him.
There was nothing to do but wait until Neergard got well, because his attorneys simply scoffed at any suggestion of settlement ex curia, and Ruthven didn't want a suit involving his wife's name while he and Selwyn were in the same hemisphere.
But he could still continue an unobtrusive search for the whereabouts of his wife, which he did. And the chances were that his attorneys would find her without great difficulty, because Selwyn had not the slightest suspicion that he was being followed.
* * * * *
In these days Selwyn's life was methodical and colourless in its routine to the verge of dreariness.
When he was not at the Government proving grounds on Sandy Hook he remained in his room at Lansing's, doggedly forcing himself into the only alternate occupation sufficient to dull the sadness of his mind—the preparation of a history of British military organisation in India, and its possible application to present conditions in the Philippines.
He had given up going out—made no further pretense; and Boots let him alone.
Once a week he called at the Gerards', spending most of his time while there with the children. Sometimes he saw Nina and Eileen, usually just returned or about to depart for some function; and his visit, as a rule, ended with a cup of tea alone with Austin, and a quiet cigar in the library, where Kit-Ki sat, paws folded under, approving of the fireside warmth in a pleasureable monotone.
On such evenings, late, if Nina and Eileen had gone to a dance, or to the opera with Boots, Austin, ruddy with well-being and shamelessly slippered, stretched luxuriously in the fire warmth, lazily discussing what was nearest to him—his children and wife, and the material comfort which continued to attend him with the blessing of that heaven which seems so largely occupied in fulfilling the desires of the good for their own commercial prosperity.
Too, he had begun to show a peculiar pride in the commercial development of Gerald, speaking often of his gratifying application to business, the stability of his modest position, the friends he was making among men of substance, their regard for him.
"Not that the boy is doing much of a business yet," he would say with a tolerant shrug of his big fleshy shoulders, "but he's laying the foundation for success—a good, upright, solid foundation—with the doubtful scheming of Neergard left out"—at that time Neergard had not yet gone to pieces, physically—"and I expect to aid him when aid is required, and to extend to him, judiciously, such assistance, from time to time, as I think he may require. . . . There's one thing—"
Austin puffed once or twice at his cigar and frowned; and Selwyn, absently watching the dying embers on the hearth, waited in silence.
"One thing," repeated Austin, reaching for the tongs and laying a log of white birch across the coals; "and that is Gerald's fondness for pretty girls. . . . Not that it isn't all right, too, but I hope he isn't going to involve himself—hang a millstone around his neck before he can see his way clear to some promise of a permanent income based on—"
"Pooh!" said Selwyn.
"What's that?" demanded Austin, turning red.
Selwyn laughed. "What did you have when you married my sister?"
Austin, still red and dignified, said:
"Your sister is a very remarkable woman—extremely unusual. I had the good sense to see that the first time I ever met her."
"Gerald will see the same thing when his time comes," said Selwyn quietly. "Don't worry, Austin; he's sound at the core."
Austin considered his cigar-end, turning it round and round. "There's good stock in the boy; I always knew it—even when he acted like a yellow pup. You see, Phil, that my treatment of him was the proper treatment. I was right in refusing to mollycoddle him or put up with any of his callow, unbaked impudence. You know yourself that you wanted me to let up on him—make all kinds of excuses. Why, man, if I had given him an inch leeway he'd have been up to his ears in debt. But I was firm. He saw I'd stand no fooling. He didn't dare contract debts which he couldn't pay. So now, Phil, you can appreciate the results of my attitude toward him."
"I can, indeed," said Selwyn thoughtfully.
"I think I've made a man of him," persisted Austin.
"He's certainly a manly fellow," nodded Selwyn.
"You admit it?"
"Well, I'm glad of it. You thought me harsh—oh, I know you did!—but I don't blame you. I knew what I was about. Why, Phil, if I hadn't taken the firm stand I took that boy would have been running to Nina and Eileen—he did go to his sister once, but he never dared try it again!—and he'd probably have borrowed money of Neergard and—by Jove! he might even have come to you to get him out of his scrapes!"
"Oh, scarcely that," protested Selwyn with grave humour.
"That's all you know about it," nodded Austin, wise-eyed, smoking steadily. "And all I have to say is that it's fortunate for everybody that I stood my ground when he came around looking for trouble. For you're just the sort of a man, Phil, who'd be likely to strip yourself if that young cub came howling for somebody to pay his debts of honour. Admit it, now; you know you are."
But Selwyn only smiled and looked into the fire.
After a few moments' silence Austin said curiously: "You're a frugal bird. You used to be fastidious. Do you know that coat of yours is nearly the limit?"
"Nonsense," said Selwyn, colouring.
"It is. . . . What do you do with your money? Invest it, of course; but you ought to let me place it. You never spend any; you should have a decent little sum tucked away by this time. Do your Chaosite experiments cost anything now?"
"No; the Government is conducting them."
"Good business. What does the bally Government think of the powder, now?"
"I can't tell yet," said Selwyn listlessly. "There's a plate due to arrive to-morrow; it represents a section of the side armour of one of the new 22,000-ton battleships. . . . I hope to crack it."
"Oh!—with a bursting charge?"
Selwyn nodded, and rested his head on his hand.
A little later Austin cast the remains of his cigar from him, straightened up, yawned, patted his waistcoat, and looked wisely at the cat.
"I'm going to bed," he announced. "Boots is to bring back Nina and Eileen. . . . You don't mind, do you, Phil? I've a busy day to-morrow. . . . There's Scotch over there—you know where things are. Ring if you have a sudden desire for anything funny like peacock feathers on toast. There's cold grouse somewhere underground if you're going to be an owl. . . . And don't feed that cat on the rugs. . . . Good-night."
"Good-night," nodded Selwyn, relighting his cigar.
He had no intention of remaining very long; he supposed that his sister and Eileen would be out late, wherever they were, and he merely meant to dream a bit longer before going back to bed.
He had been smoking for half an hour perhaps, lying deep in his chair, worn features dully illuminated by the sinking fire; and he was thinking about going—had again relighted his partly consumed cigar to help him with its fragrant companionship on his dark route homeward, when he heard a footfall on the landing, and turned to catch a glimpse of Gerald in overcoat and hat, moving silently toward the stairs.
"Hello, old fellow!" he said, surprised. "I didn't know you were in the house."
The boy hesitated, turned, placed something just outside the doorway, and came quickly into the room.
"Philip!" he said with a curious, excited laugh, "I want to ask you something. I never yet came to you without asking something and—you never have failed me. Would you tell me now what I had better do?"
"Certainly," said Selwyn, surprised and smiling; "ask me, old fellow. You're not eloping with some nice girl, are you?"
"Yes," said Gerald, calm in his excitement, "I am."
"What?" repeated Selwyn gravely; "what did you say?
"You guessed it. I came home and dressed and I'm going back to the Craigs' to marry a girl whose mother and father won't let me have her."
"Sit down, Gerald," said Selwyn, removing the cigar from his lips; but:
"I haven't time," said the boy. "I simply want to know what you'd do if you loved a girl whose mother means to send her to London to get rid of me and marry her to that yawning Elliscombe fellow who was over here. . . . What would you do? She's too young to stand much of a siege in London—some Englishman will get her if he persists—and I mean to make her love me."
"Oh! Doesn't she?"
"Y-es. . . . You know how young girls are. Yes, she does—now. But a year or two with that crowd—and the duchess being good to her, and Elliscombe yawning and looking like a sleepy Lohengrin or some damned prince in his Horse Guards' helmet!—Selwyn, I can see the end of it. She can't stand it; she's too young not to get over it. . . . So, what would you do?"
"Who is she, Gerald?"
"I won't tell you."
"Oh! . . . Of course she's the right sort?"
"Very. Out last season."
Selwyn rose and began to pace the floor; Kit-Ki, disturbed, looked up, then resumed her purring.
"There's nothing dishonourable in this, of course," said Selwyn, halting short.
"No," said the boy. "I went to her mother and asked for her, and was sent about my business. Then I went to her father. You know him. He was decent, bland, evasive, but decent. Said his daughter needed a couple of seasons in London; hinted of some prior attachment. Which is rot; because she loves me—she admits it. Well, I said to him, 'I'm going to marry Gladys'; and he laughed and tried to look at his moustache; and after a while he asked to be excused. I took the count. Then I saw Gladys at the Craigs', and I said, 'Gladys, if you'll give up the whole blooming heiress business and come with me, I'll make you the happiest girl in Manhattan.' And she looked me straight in the eyes and said, 'I'd rather grow up with you than grow old forgetting you.'"
"Did she say that?" asked Selwyn.
"She said,'We've the greatest chance in the world, Gerald, to make something of each other. Is it a good risk?' And I said, 'It is the best risk in the world if you love me.' And she said, 'I do, dearly; I'll take my chance.' And that's how it stands, Philip. . . . She's at the Craigs'—a suit-case and travelling-gown upstairs. Suddy Gray and Betty Craig are standing for it, and"—with a flush—"there's a little church, you know—"
"Around the corner. I know. Did you telephone?"
There was a pause; the older man dropped his hands into his pockets and stepped quietly in front of Gerald; and for a full minute they looked squarely at one another, unwinking.
"Well?" asked Gerald, almost tremulously. "Can't you say, 'Go ahead!'?"
"Don't ask me."
"No, I won't," said the boy simply. "A man doesn't ask about such matters; he does them. . . . Tell Austin and Nina. . . . And give this note to Eileen." He opened a portfolio and laid an envelope in Selwyn's hands. "And—by George!—I almost forgot! Here"—and he laid a check across the note in Selwyn's hand—"here's the balance of what you've advanced me. Thank God, I've made it good, every cent. But the debt is only the deeper. . . . Good-bye, Philip."
Selwyn held the boy's hand a moment. Once or twice Gerald thought he meant to speak, and waited, but when he became aware of the check thrust back at him he forced it on Selwyn again, laughing:
"No! no! If I did not stand clear and free in my shoes do you think I'd dare do what I'm doing? Do you suppose I'd ask a girl to face with me a world in which I owed a penny? Do you suppose I'm afraid of that world?—or of a soul in it? Do you suppose I can't take a living out of it?"
Suddenly Selwyn crushed the boy's hand.
"Then take it!—and her, too!" he said between his teeth; and turned on his heel, resting his arms on the mantel and his head face downward between them.
So Gerald went away in the pride and excitement of buoyant youth to take love as he found it and where he found it—though he had found it only as the green bud of promise which unfolds, not to the lover, but to love. And the boy was only one of many on whom the victory might have fallen; but such a man becomes the only man when he takes what he finds for himself—green bud, half blown, or open to its own deep fragrant heart. To him that hath shall be given, and much forgiven. For it is the law of the strong and the prophets: and a little should be left to that Destiny which the devout revere under a gentler name.
* * * * *
The affair made a splash in the social puddle, and the commotion spread outside of it. Inside the nine-and-seventy cackled; outside similar gallinaceous sounds. Neergard pored all day over the blue-pencilled column, and went home, stunned; the social sheet which is taken below stairs and read above was full of it, as was the daily press and the mouths of people interested, uninterested, and disinterested, legitimately or otherwise, until people began to tire of telling each other exactly how it happened that Gerald Erroll ran away with Gladys Orchil.
Sanxon Orchil was widely quoted as suavely and urbanely deploring the premature consummation of an alliance long since decided upon by both families involved; Mrs. Orchil snapped her electric-blue eyes and held her peace—between her very white teeth; Austin Gerard, secretly astounded with admiration for Gerald, received the reporters with a countenance expressive of patient pain, but downtown he made public pretence of busy indifference, as though not fully alive to the material benefit connected with the unexpected alliance. Nina wept—happily at moments—at moments she laughed—because she had heard all about the famous British invasion planned by the Orchils and abetted by Anglo-American aristocracy. She did not laugh too maliciously; she simply couldn't help it. Her set was not the Orchils' set, their ways were not her ways; their orbits merely intersected occasionally; and, left to herself and the choice hers, she would not have troubled herself to engineer any such alliance, even to stir up Mrs. Sanxon Orchil. Besides, deep in her complacent little New York soul she had the faintest germ of contempt for the Cordova ancestors of the house of Orchil.
But the young and silly pair had now relieved her as well as Mrs. Orchil of any further trouble concerning themselves, the American duchess, the campaign, and the Horse Guards: they had married each other rather shamelessly one evening while supposed to be dancing at the Sandon Craigs', and had departed expensively for Palm Beach, whither Austin, grim, reticent, but inwardly immensely contented, despatched the accumulated exclamatory letters of the family with an intimation of his own that two weeks was long enough to cut business even with a honeymoon as excuse.
Meanwhile the disorganisation in the nursery was tremendous; the children, vaguely aware of the household demoralisation and excitement, took the opportunity to break loose on every occasion; and Kit-Ki, to her infinite boredom and disgust, was hunted from garret to cellar; and Drina, taking advantage, contrived to over-eat herself and sit up late, and was put to bed sick; and Eileen, loyal, but sorrowfully amazed at her brother's exclusion of her in such a crisis, became slowly overwhelmed with the realisation of her loneliness, and took to the seclusion of her own room, feeling tearful and abandoned, and very much like a very little girl whose heart was becoming far too full of all sorts of sorrows.
Nina misunderstood her, finding her lying on her bed, her pale face pillowed in her hair.
"Only horridly ordinary people will believe that Gerald wanted her money," said Nina; "as though an Erroll considered such matters at all—or needed to. Clear, clean English you are, back to the cavaliers whose flung purses were their thanks when the Cordovans held their horses' heads. . . . What are you crying for?"
"I don't know," said Eileen; "not for anything that you speak of. Neither Gerald nor I ever wasted any emotion over money, or what others think about it. . . . Is Drina ill?"
"No; only sick. Calomel will fix her, but she believes she's close to dissolution and she's sent for Boots to take leave of him—the little monkey! I'm so indignant. She's taken advantage of the general demoralisation to eat up everything in the house. . . . Billy fell downstairs, fox-hunting, and his nose bled all over that pink Kirman rug. . . . Boots is a dear; do you know what he's done?"
"What?" asked Eileen listlessly, raising the back of her slender hand from her eyes to peer at Nina through the glimmer of tears.
"Well, he and Phil have moved out of Boots's house, and Boots has wired Gerald and Gladys that the house is ready for them until they can find a place of their own. Of course they'll both come here—in fact, their luggage is upstairs now—Boots takes the blue room and Phil his old quarters, . . . But don't you think it is perfectly sweet of Boots? And isn't it good to have Philip back again?"
"Y-es," said Eileen faintly. Lying there, the deep azure of her eyes starred with tears, a new tremor altered her mouth, and the tight-curled upper lip quivered. Her heart, too, had begun its heavy, unsteady response in recognition of her lover's name; she turned partly away from Nina, burying her face in her brilliant hair; and beside her slim length, straight and tense, her arms lay, the small hands contracting till they had closed as tightly as her teeth.
It was no child, now, who lay there, fighting down the welling desolation; no visionary adolescent grieving over the colourless ashes of her first romance; not even the woman, socially achieved, intelligently and intellectually in love. It was a girl, old enough to realise that the adoration she had given was not wholly spiritual, that her delight in her lover and her response to him was not wholly of the mind, not so purely of the intellect; that there was still more, something sweeter, more painful, more bewildering that she could give him, desired to give—nay, that she could not withhold even with sealed eyes and arms outstretched in the darkness of wakeful hours, with her young heart straining in her breast and her set lips crushing back the unuttered cry.
Love! So that was it!—the need, the pain, the bewilderment, the hot sleeplessness, the mad audacity of a blessed dream, the flushed awakening, stunned rapture—and then the gray truth, bleaching the rose tints from the fading tapestries of slumberland, leaving her flung across her pillows, staring at daybreak.
* * * * *
Nina had laid a cool smooth hand across her forehead, pushing back the hair—a light caress, sensitive as an unasked question.
But there was no response, and presently the elder woman rose and went out along the landing, and Eileen heard her laughingly greeting Boots, who had arrived post-haste on news of Drina's plight.
"Don't be frightened; the little wretch carried tons of indigestible stuff to her room and sat up half the night eating it. Where's Philip?"
"I don't know. Here's a special delivery for him. I signed for it and brought it from the house. He'll be here from the Hook directly, I fancy. Where is Drina?"
"In bed. I'll take you up. Mind you, there'll be a scene, so nerve yourself."
They went upstairs together. Nina knocked, peeped in, then summoned Mr. Lansing.
"Oh, Boots, Boots!" groaned Drina, lifting her arms and encircling his neck, "I don't think I am ever going to get well—I don't believe it, no matter what they say. I am glad you have come; I wanted you—and I'm very, very sick. . . . Are you happy to be with me?"
Boots sat on the bedside, the feverish little head in his arms, and Nina was a trifle surprised to see how seriously he took it.
"Boots," she said, "you look as though your last hour had come. Are you letting that very bad child frighten you? Drina, dear, mother doesn't mean to be horrid, but you're too old to whine. . . . It's time for the medicine, too—"
"Oh, mother! the nasty kind?"
"Certainly. Boots, if you'll move aside—"
"Let Boots give it to me!" exclaimed the child tragically. "It will do no good; I'm not getting better; but if I must take it, let Boots hold me—and the spoon!"
She sat straight up in bed with a superb gesture which would have done credit to that classical gentleman who heroically swallowed the hemlock cocktail. Some of the dose bespattered Boots, and when the deed was done the child fell back and buried her head on his breast, incidentally leaving medicinal traces on his collar.
Half an hour later she was asleep, holding fast to Boots's sleeve, and that young gentleman sat in a chair beside her, discussing with her pretty mother the plans made for Gladys and Gerald on their expected arrival.
Eileen, pale and heavy-lidded, looked in on her way to some afternoon affair, nodding unsmiling at Boots.
"Have you been rifling the pantry, too?" he whispered. "You lack your usual chromatic symphony."
"No, Boots; I'm just tired. If I wasn't physically afraid of Drina, I'd get you to run off with me—anywhere. . . . What is that letter, Nina? For me?"
"It's for Phil. Boots brought it around. Leave it on the library table, dear, when you go down."
Eileen took the letter and turned away. A few moments later as she laid it on the library table, her eyes involuntarily noted the superscription written in the long, angular, fashionable writing of a woman.
And slowly the inevitable question took shape within her.
How long she stood there she did not know, but the points of her gloved fingers were still resting on the table and her gaze was still concentrated on the envelope when she felt Selwyn's presence in the room, near, close; and looked up into his steady eyes. And knew he loved her.
And suddenly she broke down—for with his deep gaze in hers the overwrought spectre had fled!—broke down, no longer doubting, bowing her head in her slim gloved hands, thrilled to the soul with the certitude of their unhappiness eternal, and the dreadful pleasure of her share.
"What is it?" he made out to say, managing also to keep his hands off her where she sat, bowed and quivering by the table.
"N-nothing. A—a little crisis—over now—nearly over. It was that letter—other women writing you. . . . And I—outlawed—tongue-tied. . . . Don't look at me, don't wait. I—I am going out."
He went to the window, stood a moment, came back to the table, took his letter, and walked slowly again to the window.
After a while he heard the rustle of her gown as she left the room, and a little later he straightened up, passed his hand across his tired eyes, and, looking down at the letter in his hand, broke the seal.
It was from one of the nurses, Miss Casson, and shorter than usual:
"Mrs. Ruthven is physically in perfect health, but yesterday we noted a rather startling change in her mental condition. There were, during the day, intervals that seemed perfectly lucid. Once she spoke of Miss Bond as 'the other nurse,' as though she realised something of the conditions surrounding her. Once, too, she seemed astonished when I brought her a doll, and asked me:' Is there a child here? Or is it for a charity bazaar?'
"Later I found her writing a letter at my desk. She left it unfinished when she went to drive—a mere scrap. I thought it best to enclose it, which I do, herewith."
The enclosure he opened:
"Phil, dear, though I have been very ill I know you are my own husband. All the rest was only a child's dream of terror—"
And that was all—only this scrap, firmly written in the easy flowing hand he knew so well. He studied it for a moment or two, then resumed Miss Casson's letter:
"A man stopped our sleigh yesterday, asking if he was not speaking to Mrs. Ruthven. I was a trifle worried, and replied that any communication for Mrs. Ruthven could be sent to me.
"That evening two men—gentlemen apparently—came to the house and asked for me. I went down to receive them. One was a Dr. Mallison, the other said his name was Thomas B. Hallam, but gave no business address.
"When I found that they had come without your knowledge and authority, I refused to discuss Mrs. Ruthven's condition, and the one who said his name was Hallam spoke rather peremptorily and in a way that made me think he might be a lawyer.
"They got nothing out of me, and they left when I made it plain that I had nothing to tell them.
"I thought it best to let you know about this, though I, personally, cannot guess what it might mean."
Selwyn turned the page:
"One other matter worries Miss Bond and myself. The revolver you sent us at my request has disappeared. We are nearly sure Mrs. Ruthven has it—you know she once dressed it as a doll—calling it her army doll!—but now we can't find it. She has hidden it somewhere, out of doors in the shrubbery, we think, and Miss Bond and I expect to secure it the next time she takes a fancy to have all her dolls out for a 'lawn-party.'
"Dr. Wesson says there is no danger of her doing any harm with it, but wants us to secure it at the first opportunity—"
He turned the last page; on the other side was merely the formula of leave-taking and Miss Casson's signature.
For a while he stood in the centre of the room, head bent, narrowing eyes fixed; then he folded the letter, pocketed it, and walked to the table where a directory lay.
He found the name, Hallam, very easily—Thomas B. Hallam, lawyer, junior in the firm of Spencer, Boyd & Hallam. They were attorneys for Jack Ruthven; he knew that.
Mallison he also found—Dr. James Mallison, who, it appeared, conducted some sort of private asylum on Long Island.
And when he had found what he wanted, he went to the telephone and rang up Mr. Ruthven, but the servant who answered the telephone informed him that Mr. Ruthven was not in town.
So Selwyn hung up the receiver and sat down, thoughtful, grim, the trace of a scowl creeping across his narrowing gray eyes.
Of the abject cowardice of Ruthven he had been so certain that he had hitherto discounted any interference from him. Yet, now, the man was apparently preparing for some sort of interference. What did he want? Selwyn had contemptuously refused to permit him to seek a divorce on the ground of his wife's infirmity. What was the man after?
* * * * *
The man was after his divorce, that was what it all meant. His first check on the long trail came with the stupefying news of Gerald's runaway marriage to the young girl he was laying his own plans to marry some day in the future, and at first the news staggered him, leaving him apparently no immediate incentive for securing his freedom.
But Ruthven instantly began to realise that what he had lost he might not have lost had he been free to shoulder aside the young fellow who had forestalled him. The chance had passed—that particular chance. But he'd never again allow himself to be caught in a position where such a chance could pass him by because he was not legally free to at least make the effort to seize it.
Fear in his soul had kept him from blazoning his wife's infirmity to the world as cause for an action against her; but he remembered Neergard's impudent cruise with her on the Niobrara, and he had temporarily settled on that as a means to extort revenue, not intending such an action should ever come to trial. And then he learned that Neergard had gone to pieces. That was the second check.
Ruthven needed money. He needed it because he meant to put the ocean between himself and Selwyn before commencing any suit—whatever ground he might choose for entering such a suit. He required capital on which to live abroad during the proceedings, if that could be legally arranged. And meanwhile, preliminary to any plan of campaign, he desired to know where his wife was and what might he her actual physical and mental condition.
He had supposed her to be, or to have been, ill—at least erratic and not to be trusted with her own freedom; therefore he had been quite prepared to hear from those whom he employed to trace and find her that she was housed in some institution devoted to the incarceration of such unfortunates.
But Ruthven was totally unprepared for the report brought him by a private agency to the effect that Mrs. Ruthven was apparently in perfect health, living in the country, maintaining a villa and staff of servants; that she might be seen driving a perfectly appointed Cossack sleigh any day with a groom on the rumble and a companion beside her; that she seemed to be perfectly sane, healthy in body and mind, comfortable, happy, and enjoying life under the protection of a certain Captain Selwyn, who paid all her bills and, at certain times, was seen entering or leaving her house at Edgewater.
Excited, incredulous, but hoping for the worst, Ruthven had posted off to his attorneys. To them he naiively confessed his desire to be rid of Alixe; he reported her misconduct with Neergard—which he knew was a lie—her pretence of mental prostration, her disappearance, and his last interview with Selwyn in the card-room. He also gave a vivid description of that gentleman's disgusting behaviour, and his threats of violence during that interview.
To all of which his attorneys listened very attentively, bade him have no fear of his life, requested him to make several affidavits, and leave the rest to them for the present.
Which he did, without hearing from them until Mr. Hallam telegraphed him to come to Edgewater if he had nothing better to do.
And Ruthven had just arrived at that inconspicuous Long Island village when his servant, at the telephone, replied to Selwyn's inquiry that his master was out of town.
* * * * *
Mr. Hallam was a very busy, very sanguine, very impetuous young man; and when he met Ruthven at the Edgewater station he told him promptly that he had the best case on earth; that he, Hallam, was going to New York on the next train, now almost due, and that Ruthven had better drive over and see for himself how gaily his wife maintained her household; for the Cossack sleigh, with its gay crimson tchug, had but just returned from the usual afternoon spin, and the young chatelaine of Willow Villa was now on the snow-covered lawn, romping with the coachman's huge white wolf-hound. . . . It might he just as well for Ruthven to stroll up that way and see for himself. The house was known as the Willow Villa. Any hackman could drive him past it.
As Hallam was speaking the New York train came thundering in, and the young lawyer, facing the snowy clouds of steam, swung his suit-case and himself aboard. On the Pullman platform he paused and looked around and down at Ruthven.
"It's just as you like," he said. "If you'd rather come back with me on this train, come ahead! It isn't absolutely necessary that you make a personal inspection now; only that fellow Selwyn is not here to-day, and I thought if you wanted to look about a bit you could do it this afternoon without chance of running into him and startling the whole mess boiling."
"Is Captain Selwyn in town?" asked Ruthven, reddening.
"Yes; an agency man telephoned me that he's just back from Sandy Hook—"
The train began to move out of the station. Ruthven hesitated, then stepped away from the passing car with a significant parting nod to Hallam.
As the train, gathering momentum, swept past him, he stared about at the snow-covered station, the guard, the few people congregated there.
"There's another train at four, isn't there?" he asked an official.
"Four-thirty, express. Yes, sir."
A hackman came up soliciting patronage. Ruthven motioned him to follow, leading the way to the edge of the platform.
"I don't want to drive to the village. What have you got there, a sleigh?"
It was the usual Long Island depot-wagon, on runners instead of wheels.
"Do you know the Willow Villa?" demanded Ruthven.
"Wilier Viller, sir? Yes, sir. Step right this way—"
"Wait!" snapped Ruthven. "I asked you if you knew it; I didn't say I wanted to go there."
The hackman in his woolly greatcoat stared at the little dapper, smooth-shaven man, who eyed him in return, coolly insolent, lighting a cigar.
"I don't want to go to the Willow Villa," said Ruthven; "I want you to drive me past it."
"Past it. And then turn around and drive back here. Is that plain?"
Ruthven got into the closed body of the vehicle, rubbed the frost from the window, and peeked out. The hackman, unhitching his lank horse, climbed to the seat, gathered the reins, and the vehicle started to the jangling accompaniment of a single battered cow-bell.
The melancholy clamour of the bell annoyed little Mr. Ruthven; he was horribly cold, too, even in his fur coat. Also the musty smell of the ancient vehicle annoyed him as he sat, half turned around, peeping out of the rear window into the white tree-lined road.
There was nothing to see but the snowy road flanked by trees and stark hedges; nothing but the flat expanse of white on either side, broken here and there by patches of thin woodlands or by some old-time farmhouse with its slab shingles painted white and its green shutters and squat roof.
"What a God-forsaken place," muttered little Mr. Ruthven with a hard grimace. "If she's happy in this sort of a hole there's no doubt she's some sort of a lunatic."
He looked out again furtively, thinking of what the agency had reported to him. How was it possible for any human creature to live in such a waste and be happy and healthy and gay, as they told him his wife was. What could a human being do to kill the horror of such silent, deathly white isolation? Drive about in it in a Cossack sleigh, as they said she did? Horror!
The driver pulled up short, then began to turn his horse. Ruthven squinted out of the window, but saw no sign of a villa. Then he rapped sharply on the forward window, motioning the driver to descend, come around, and open the door.
When the man appeared Ruthven demanded why he had turned his horse, and the hackman, pointing to a wooded hill to the west, explained that the Willow Villa stood there.
Ruthven had supposed that the main road passed the house; he got out of the covered wagon, looked across at the low hill, and dug his gloved hands deeper into his fur-lined pockets.
For a while he stood in the snow, stolid, thoughtful, puffing his cigar. A half-contemptuous curiosity possessed him to see his wife once more before he discarded her; see what she looked like, whether she appeared normal and in possession of the small amount of sense he had condescended to credit her with.
Besides, here was a safe chance to see her. Selwyn was in New York, and the absolute certainty of his personal safety attracted him strongly, rousing all the latent tyranny in his meagre soul.
Probably—but he didn't understand the legal requirements of the matter, and whether or not it was necessary for him personally to see this place where Selwyn maintained her, and see her in it—probably he would be obliged to come here again with far less certainty of personal security from Selwyn. Perhaps that future visit might even be avoided if he took this opportunity to investigate. Whether it was the half-sneering curiosity to see his wife, or the hope of doing a thing now which, by the doing, he need not do later—whether it was either of these that moved him to the impulse, is not quite clear.
He said to the hackman: "You wait here. I'm going over to the Willow Villa for a few moments, and then I'll want you to drive me back to the station in time for that four-thirty. Do you understand?"
The man said he understood, and Ruthven, bundled in his fur coat, picked his way across the crust, through a gateway, and up what appeared to be a hedged lane.
The lane presently disclosed itself as an avenue, now doubly lined with tall trees; this avenue he continued to follow, passing through a grove of locusts, and came out before a house on the low crest of a hill.
There were clumps of evergreens about, tall cedars, a bit of bushy foreland, and a stretch of snow. And across this open space of snow a young girl was moving, followed by a white wolf-hound. Once she paused, hesitated, looked cautiously around her. Ruthven, hiding behind a bush, saw her thrust her arm into a low evergreen shrub and draw out a shining object that glittered like glass. Then she started toward the house again.
At first Ruthven thought she was his wife, then he was not sure, and he cast his cigar away and followed, slinking forward among the evergreens. But the youthful fur-clad figure kept straight on to the veranda of the house, and Ruthven, curious and determined to find out whether it was Alixe or not, left the semi-shelter of the evergreens and crossed the open space just as the woman's figure disappeared around an angle of the veranda.
Vexed, determined not to return without some definite discovery, Ruthven stepped upon the veranda. Just around the angle of the porch he heard a door opening, and he hurried forward impatient and absolutely unafraid, anxious to get one good look at his wife and be off.
But when he turned the angle of the porch there was no one there; only an open door confronted him, with a big, mild-eyed wolf-hound standing in the doorway, looking steadily up at him.
Ruthven glanced somewhat dubiously at the dog, then, as the animal made no offensive movement, he craned his fleshy neck, striving to see inside the house.
He did see—nothing very much—only the same young girl, still in her furs, emerging from an inner room, her arms full of dolls.
In his eagerness to see more, Ruthven pushed past the great white dog, who withdrew his head disdainfully from the unceremonious contact, but quietly followed Ruthven into the house, standing beside him, watching him out of great limpid, deerlike eyes.
But Ruthven no longer heeded the dog. His amused and slightly sneering gaze was fastened on the girl in furs who had entered what appeared to be a living room to the right, and now, down on her knees beside a couch, smiling and talking confidentially and quite happily to herself, was placing her dolls in a row against the wall.
The dolls were of various sorts, some plainly enough home-made, some very waxy and gay in sash and lace, some with polished smiling features of porcelain. One doll, however, was different—a bit of ragged red flannel and something protruding to represent the head, something that glittered. And the girl in the fur jacket had this curious doll in her hands when Ruthven, to make sure of her identity, took a quick impulsive step forward.
Then the great white dog growled, very low, and the girl in the fur jacket looked around and up quickly.
Alixe! He realised it as she caught his pale eyes fixed on her; and she stared, sprang to her feet still staring. Then into her eyes leaped terror, the living horror of recognition distorting her face. And, as she saw he meant to speak she recoiled, shrinking away, turning in her fright like a hunted thing. The strange doll in her hand glittered; it was a revolver wrapped in a red rag.
"W-what's the matter?" he stammered, stepping forward, fearful of the weapon she clutched.
But at the sound of his voice she screamed, crept back closer against the wall, screamed again, pushing the shining muzzle of the weapon deep into her fur jacket above her breast.
"F-for God's sake!" he gasped, "don't fire!—don't—"
She closed both eyes and pulled the trigger; something knocked her flat against the wall, but she heard no sound of a report, and she pulled the trigger again and felt another blow.
The second blow must have knocked her down, for she found herself rising to her knees, reaching for the table to aid her. But her hand was all red and slippery; she looked at it stupidly, fell forward, rose again, with the acrid smell of smoke choking her, and her pretty fur jacket all soaked with the warm wet stuff which now stained both hands.
Then she got to her knees once more, groped in the rushing darkness, and swayed forward, falling loosely and flat. And this time she did not try to rise.
* * * * *
It was her way; it had always been her way out of trouble; the quickest, easiest escape from what she did not choose to endure. And even when in her mind the light of reason had gone out for ever, she had not lost that instinct for escape; and, wittingly or not, she had taken the old way out of trouble—the shortest, quickest way. And where it leads—she knew at last, lying there on her face, her fur jacket and her little hands so soiled and red.
As for the man, they finally contrived to drag the dog from him, and lift him to the couch, where he lay twitching among the dolls for a while; then stopped twitching.
Later in the night men came with lanterns who carried him away. A doctor said that there was the usual chance for partial recovery. But it was the last excitement he could ever venture to indulge in. His own doctors had warned him often enough. Now he had learned something, but not as much as Alixe had already learned. And perhaps he never would; but no man knows such things with the authority to speak of them.
Nine days is the period of time allotted the human mind in which to wonder at anything. In New York the limit is much less; no tragedy can hold the boards as long as that where the bill must be renewed three times u day to hold even the passing attention of those who themselves are eternal understudies in the continuous metropolitan performance. It is very expensive for the newspapers, but fortunately for them there is always plenty of trouble in the five boroughs, and an occasional catastrophe elsewhere to help out.
So they were grateful enough that the Edgewater tragedy lasted them forty-eight hours, and on the forty-ninth they forgot it.
In society it was about the same. Ruthven was evidently done for; that the spark of mere vitality might linger for years in the exterior shell of him familiar to his world, concerned that world no more. Interest in him was laid aside with the perfunctory finality with which the memory of Alixe was laid away.
As for Selwyn, a few people noticed his presence at the services; but even that episode was forgotten before he left the city, six hours later, under an invitation from Washington which admitted of no delay on the score of private business or of personal perplexity. For the summons was peremptory, and his obedience so immediate that a telegram to Austin comprised and concluded the entire ceremony of his leave-taking.
Later he wrote a great many letters to Eileen Erroll—not one of which he ever sent. But the formality of his silence was no mystery to her; and her response was silence as profound as the stillness in her soul. But deep into her young heart something new had been born, faint fire, latent, unstirred; and her delicate lips rested one on the other in the sensitive curve of suspense; and her white fingers, often now interlinked, seemed tremulously instinct with the exquisite tension hushing body and soul in breathless accord as they waited in unison.
* * * * *
Toward the end of March the special service battleship squadron of the North Atlantic fleet commenced testing Chaosite in the vicinity of the Southern rendezvous. Both main and secondary batteries were employed. Selwyn had been aboard the flag-ship for nearly a month.
In April the armoured ships left the Southern drill ground and began to move northward. A destroyer took Selwyn across to the great fortress inside the Virginia Capes and left him there. During his stay there was almost constant firing; later he continued northward as far as Washington; but it was not until June that he telegraphed Austin:
"Government satisfied. Appropriation certain next session. Am on my way to New York."
Austin, in his house, which was now dismantled for the summer, telephoned Nina at Silverside that he had been detained and might not be able to grace the festivities which were to consist of a neighbourhood dinner to the younger set in honour of Mrs. Gerald. But he said nothing about Selwyn, and Nina did not suspect that her brother's arrival in New York had anything to do with Austin's detention.
There was in Austin a curious substreak of sentiment which seldom came to the surface except where his immediate family was involved. In his dealings with others he avoided it; even with Gerald and Eileen there had been little of this sentiment apparent. But where Selwyn was concerned, from the very first days of their friendship, he had always felt in his heart very close to the man whose sister he had married, and was always almost automatically on his guard to avoid any expression of that affection. Once he had done so, or attempted to, when Selwyn first arrived from the Philippines, and it made them both uncomfortable to the verge of profanity, but remained as a shy source of solace to them both.
And now as Selwyn came leisurely up the front steps, Austin, awaiting him feverishly, hastened to smooth the florid jocose mask over his features, and walked into the room, big hand extended, large bantering voice undisturbed by the tremor of a welcome which filled his heart and came near filling his eyes:
"So you've stuck the poor old Government at last, have you? Took 'em all in—forts, fleet, and the marine cavalry?"
"Sure thing," said Selwyn, laughing in the crushing grasp of the big fist. "How are you, Austin? Everybody's in the country, I suppose," glancing around at the linen-shrouded furniture. "How is Nina? And the kids? . . . Good business! . . . And Eileen?"
"She's all right," said Austin; "gad! she's really a superb specimen this summer. . . . You know she rather eased off last winter—got white around the gills and blue under the eyes. . . . Some heart trouble—we all thought it was you. Young girls have such notions sometimes, and I told Nina, but she sat on me. . . . Where's your luggage? Oh, is it all here?—enough, I mean, for us to catch a train for Silverside this afternoon."
"Has Nina any room for me?" asked Selwyn.
"Room! Certainly. I didn't tell her you were coming, because if you hadn't, the kids would have been horribly disappointed. She and Eileen are giving a shindy for Gladys—that's Gerald's new acquisition, you know. So if you don't mind butting into a baby-show we'll run down. It's only the younger bunch from Hitherwood House and Brookminster. What do you say, Phil?"
Selwyn said that he would go—hesitating before consenting. A curious feeling of age and grayness had suddenly come over him—a hint of fatigue, of consciousness that much of life lay behind him.
Yet in his face and in his bearing he could not have shown much of it, though at his deeply sun-burned temples the thick, close-cut hair was silvery; for Austin said with amused and at the same time fretful emphasis: "How the devil you keep the youth" in your face and figure I don't understand! I'm only forty-five—that's scarcely eight years older than you are! And look at my waistcoat! And look at my hair—I mean where the confounded ebb has left the tide-mark! Gad, I'd scarcely blame Eileen for thinking you qualified for a cradle-snatcher. . . . And, by the way, that Gladys girl is more of a woman than you'd believe. I observe that Gerald wears that peculiarly speak-easy-please expression which is a healthy sign that he's being managed right from the beginning."
"I had an idea she was all right," said Selwyn, smiling.
"Well, she is. People will probably say that she 'made' Gerald. However," added Austin modestly, "I shall never deny it—though you know what part I've had in the making and breaking of him, don't you?"
"Yes," replied Selwyn, without a smile.
Austin went to the telephone and called up his house at Silverside, saying that he'd be down that evening with a guest.
Nina got the message just as she had arranged her tables; but woman is born to sorrow and heiress to all the unlooked-for idiocies of man.
"Dear," she said to Eileen, the tears of uxorial vexation drying unshed in her pretty eyes, "Austin has thought fit to seize upon this moment to bring a man down to dinner. So if you are dressed would you kindly see that the tables are rearranged, and then telephone somebody to fill in—two girls, you know. The oldest Craig girl might do for one. Beg her mother to let her come."
Eileen was being laced, but she walked to the door of Nina's room, followed by her little Alsatian maid, who deftly continued her offices en route.
"Whom is Austin bringing?" she asked.
"He didn't say. Can't you think of a second girl to get? Isn't it vexing! Of course there's nobody left—nobody ever fills in in the country. . . . Do you know, I'll be driven into letting Drina sit up with us!—for sheer lack of material. I suppose the little imp will have a fit if I suggest it, and probably perish of indigestion to-morrow."
Eileen laughed. "Oh, Nina, do let Drina come this once! It can't hurt her—she'll look so quaint. The child's nearly fifteen, you know; do let me put up her hair. Boots will take her in."
"Well, you and Austin can administer the calomel to-morrow, then. . . . And do ring up Daisy Craig; tell her mother I'm desperate, and that she and Drina can occupy the same hospital to-morrow."
And so it happened that among the jolly youthful throng which clustered around the little candle-lighted tables in the dining-room at Silverside, Drina, in ecstasy, curly hair just above the nape of her slim white neck, and cheeks like pink fire, sat between Boots and a vacant chair reserved for her tardy father.
For Nina had waited as long as she dared; then Boots had been summoned to take in Drina and the youthful Craig girl; and, as there were to have been six at a table, at that particular table sat Boots decorously facing Eileen, with the two children on either hand and two empty chairs flanking Eileen.
A jolly informality made up for Austin's shortcoming; Gerald and his pretty bride were the centres of delighted curiosity from the Minster twins and the Innis girls and Evelyn Cardwell—all her intimates. And the younger Draymores, the Grays, Lawns, and Craigs were there in force—gay, noisy, unembarrassed young people who seemed scarcely younger or gayer than the young matron, their hostess.
As for Gladys, it was difficult to think of her as married; and to Boots Drina whispered blissfully: "I look almost as old; I know I do. After this I shall certainly make no end of a fuss if they don't let me dine with them. Besides, you want me to, don't you, Boots?"
"Of course I do."
"And—am I quite as entertaining to you as older girls, Boots, dear?"
"Far more entertaining," said that young man promptly. "In fact, I've about decided to cut out all the dinners where you're not invited. It's only three more years, anyway, before you're asked about, and if I omit three years of indigestible dinners I'll be in better shape to endure the deluge after you appear and make your bow."
"When I make my bow," murmured the child; "oh, Boots, I am in such a hurry to make it! It doesn't seem as if I could wait three more long, awful, disgusting years! . . . How does my hair look?"
"Adorable," he said, smiling across at Eileen, who had heard the question.
"Do you think my arms are very thin? Do you?" insisted Drina.
"Dreams of Grecian perfection," explained Boots. And, lowering his voice, "You ought not to eat everything they bring you; there'll be doings to-morrow if you do. Eileen is shaking her head."
"I don't care; people don't die of overeating. And I'll take their nasty old medicine—truly I will, Boots, if you'll come and give it to me."
The younger Craig maiden also appeared to be bent upon self-destruction; and Boots's eyes opened wider and wider in sheer amazement at the capacity of woman in embryo for rations sufficient to maintain a small garrison.
"There'll be a couple of reports," he said to himself with a shudder, "like Selwyn's Chaosite. And then there'll be no more Drina and Daisy—Hello!"—he broke off, astonished—"Well, upon my word of words! Phil Selwyn!—or I'm a broker!"
"Phil!" exclaimed Nina.. "Oh, Austin!—and you never told us—"
Austin, ruddy and bland, came up to make his excuses; a little whirlwind of excitement passed like a brisk breeze over the clustered tables as Selwyn followed; and a dozen impulsive bare arms were outstretched to greet him as he passed, returning the bright, eager salutations on every hand.
"Train was late as usual," observed Austin. "Philip and I don't mean to butt into this very grand function—Hello, Gerald! Hello, Gladys! . . . Where's our obscure corner below the salt, Nina? . . . Oh, over there—"
Selwyn had already caught sight of the table destined for him. A deeper colour crept across his bronzed face as he stepped forward, and his firm hand closed over the slim hand offered.
For a moment neither spoke; she could not; he dared not.
Then Drina caught his hands, and Eileen's loosened in his clasp and fell away as the child said distinctly, "I'll kiss you after dinner; it can't be done here, can it, Eileen?"
"You little monkey!" exclaimed her father, astonished; "what in the name of cruelty to kids are you doing here?"
"Mother let me," observed the child, reaching for a bonbon. "Daisy is here; you didn't speak to her."
"I'm past conversation," said Austin grimly, "and Daisy appears to be also. Are they to send an ambulance for you, Miss Craig?—or will you occupy the emergency ward upstairs?"
"Upstairs," said Miss Craig briefly. It was all she could utter. Besides, she was occupied with a pink cream-puff. Austin and Boots watched her with a dreadful fascination; but she seemed competent to manage it.
Selwyn, beside Eileen, had ventured on the formalities—his voice unsteady and not yet his own.
Her loveliness had been a memory; he had supposed he realised it to himself; but the superb, fresh beauty of the girl dazed him. There was a strange new radiancy, a living brightness to her that seemed almost unreal. Exquisitely unreal her voice, too, and the slightly bent head, crowned with the splendour of her hair; and the slowly raised eyes, two deep blue miracles tinged with the hues of paradise.
"There's no use," sighed Drina, "I shall not be able to dance. Boots, there's to be a dance, you know; so I'll sit on the stairs with Daisy Craig; and you'll come to me occasionally, won't you?"
Miss Craig yawned frightfully and made a purely mechanical move toward an iced strawberry. Before she got it Nina gave the rising signal.
"Are you remaining to smoke?" asked Eileen as Selwyn took her to the doorway. "Because, if you are not—I'll wait for you."
"Where?" he asked.
"Anywhere. . . . Where shall I?"
Again the twin blue miracles were lifted to his; and deep in them he saw her young soul, waiting.
Around them was the gay confusion, adieux, and laughter of partners parted for the moment; Nina passed them with a smiling nod; Boots conducted Drina to a resting-place on the stairs; outside, the hall was thronged with the younger set, and already their partners were returning to the tables.
"Find me when you can get away," said Eileen, looking once more at Selwyn; "Nina is signalling me now."
Again, as of old, her outstretched hand—the little formality symbolising to him the importance of all that concerned them. He touched it.
"A bientot," she said.
"On the lawn out there—farther out, in the starlight," he whispered—his voice broke—"my darling—"
She bent her head, passing slowly before him, turned, looked back, her answer in her eyes, her lips, in every limb, every line and contour of her, as she stood a moment, looking back.
Austin and Boots were talking volubly when he returned to the tables now veiled in a fine haze of aromatic smoke. Gerald stuck close to him, happy, excited, shy by turns. Others came up on every side—young, frank, confident fellows, nice in bearing, of good speech and manner.
And outside waited their pretty partners of the younger set, gossiping in hall, on stairs and veranda in garrulous bevies, all filmy silks and laces and bright-eyed expectancy.
The long windows were open to the veranda; Selwyn, with his arm through Gerald's, walked to the railing and looked out across the fragrant starlit waste. And very far away they heard the sea intoning the hymn of the four winds.
Then the elder man withdrew his arm and stood apart for a while. A little later he descended to the lawn, crossed it, and walked straight out into the waste.
The song of the sea was rising now. In the strange little forest below, deep among the trees, elfin lights broke out across the unseen Brier water, then vanished.
He halted to listen; he looked long and steadily into the darkness around him. Suddenly he saw her—a pale blur in the dusk.
"Is it you, Philip?"
She stood waiting as he came up through the purple gloom of the moorland, the stars' brilliancy silvering her—waiting—yielding in pallid silence to his arms, crushed in them, looking into his eyes, dumb, wordless.
Then slowly the pale sacrament changed as the wild-rose tint crept into her face; her arms clung to his shoulders, higher, tightened around his neck. And from her lips she gave into his keeping soul and body, guiltless as God gave it, to have and to hold beyond such incidents as death and the eternity that no man clings to save in the arms of such as she.
THE LEADING NOVEL OF TODAY.
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The Fighting Chance.
By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS. Illustrated by A.B. Wenzell. 12mo. Ornamental Cloth, $1.50.
In "The Fighting Chance" Mr. Chambers has taken for his hero, a young fellow who has inherited with his wealth a craving for liquor. The heroine has inherited a certain rebelliousness and dangerous caprice. The two, meeting on the brink of ruin, fight out their battles, two weaknesses joined with love to make a strength. It is refreshing to find a story about the rich in which all the women are not sawdust at heart, nor all the men satyrs. The rich have their longings, their ideals, their regrets, as well as the poor; they have their struggles and inherited evils to combat. It is a big subject, painted with a big brush and a big heart.
"After 'The House of Mirth' a New York society novel has to be very good not to suffer fearfully by comparison. 'The Fighting Chance' is very good and it does not suffer."—Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"There is no more adorable person in recent fiction than Sylvia Landis."—New York Evening Sun.
"Drawn with a master hand."—Toledo Blade.
"An absorbing tale which claims the reader's interest to the end."—Detroit Free Press.
"Mr. Chambers has written many brilliant stories, but this is his masterpiece."—Pittsburg Chronicle Telegraph.
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D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.
* * * * *
A GREAT ROMANTIC NOVEL.
By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS. Illustrated by Henry Hutt. $1.50.
"A thrilling and engrossing tale."—New York Sun.
"When we say that the new work is as good as 'Cardigan' it is hardly necessary to say more."—The Dial.
"Robert Chambers' books recommend themselves. 'The Reckoning' is one of his best and will delight lovers of good novels."—Boston Herald.
"It is an exceedingly fine specimen of its class, worthy of its predecessors and a joy to all who like plenty of swing and spirit."—London Bookman.
"Robert W. Chambers' stories of the revolutionary period in particular show a care in historic detail that put them in a different class from the rank and file of colonial novels."—Book News.
"A stirring tale well told and absorbing. It is not a book to forget easily and it will for many throw new light on a phase of revolutionary history replete with interest and appeal."—Chicago Record-Herald.
"Chambers' bullets whistle almost audibly in the pages; when a twig snaps, as twigs do perforce in these chronicles, you can almost feel the presence of the savage buck who snaps it. Then there are situations of force and effect everywhere through the pages, an intensity of action, a certain naturalness of dialogue and 'human nature' in the incidents. But over all is the glamor of the Chambers fancy, the gauzy woof of an artist's imagination which glories in tints, in poesies, in the little whims of the brush and pencil, so that you have just a pleasant reminder of unreality and a glimpse of the author himself here and there to vary the interest."—St. Louis Republic.
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.
WORKS OF ROBERT W. CHAMBERS.
* * * * *
Color inlay on the cover and many full-page illustrations, borders, thumbnail sketches, etc., by J.C. Leyendecker, Arthur Becher, and Karl Anderson. $1.25.
The story of eight pretty girls and their fat poetical father, an apostle of art "dead stuck on Nature and simplicity."
"'Iole' is unquestionably a classic."—San Francisco Bulletin.
"Mr. Chambers is a benefactor to the human race."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"Quite the most amusing and delectable bit of nonsense that has come to light for a long time."—Life.
"One of the most alluring books of the season."—Louisville Courier-Journal.
"The joyous abounding charm of 'Iole' is indescribable. It is for you to read. 'Iole' is guaranteed to drive away the blues."—New York Press.
"Mr. Chambers has never shown himself more brilliant and more imaginative than in this little satirical idyllic comedy."—Kansas City Star.
"A fresh proof of Mr. Chambers' amazing versatility."—Everybody's Magazine.
"As delicious a satire as one could want to read."—Pittsburg Chronicle.
"It is an achievement to write a genuinely funny book and another to write a truly instructive book; but it is the greatest of achievements to write a book that is both. This Mr. Chambers has done in 'Iole.'"—Washington Star.
"Amid the outpour of the insipid 'Iole' comes as June sunshine. The author of 'Cardigan' shows a fine touch and rarer pigments as the number of his canvases grows. 'Iole' is a literary achievement which must always stand in the foremost of its class."—Chicago Evening Post.
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D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.
* * * * *
By DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS.
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The Second Generation.
Illustrated. Cloth, $1.50.
"The Second Generation" is a double-decked romance in one volume, telling the two love-stories of a young American and his sister, reared in luxury and suddenly left without means by their father, who felt that money was proving their ruination and disinherited them for their own sakes. Their struggle for life, love and happiness makes a powerful love-story of the middle West.
"The book equals the best of the great story tellers of all time."—Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"'The Second Generation,' by David Graham Phillips, is not only the most important novel of the new year, but it is one of the most important ones of a number of years past."—Philadelphia Inquirer.
"A thoroughly American book is 'The Second Generation.'. . . The characters are drawn with force and discrimination."—St. Louis Globe Democrat.
"Mr. Phillips' book is thoughtful, well conceived, admirably written and intensely interesting. The story 'works out' well, and though it is made to sustain the theory of the writer it does so in a very natural and stimulating manner. In the writing of the 'problem novel' Mr. Phillips has won a foremost place among our younger American authors."—Boston Herald.
"'The Second Generation' promises to become one of the notable novels of the year. It will be read and discussed while a less vigorous novel will be forgotten within a week."—Springfield Union.
"David Graham Phillips has a way, a most clever and convincing way, of cutting through the veneer of snobbishness and bringing real men and women to the surface. He strikes at shams, yet has a wholesome belief in the people behind them, and he forces them to justify his good opinions."—Kansas City Times.
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D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK