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Title: Slaves Of Freedom

Author: Coningsby Dawson

Release Date: August 31, 2017 [EBook #55470]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

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SLAVES OF FREEDOM

By Coningsby Dawson

New York: Henry Holt And Company

1916



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CONTENTS

A SLAVE OF FREEDOM


BOOK I—LIFE TILL TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER I—MRS. SHEERUG’S GARDEN

CHAPTER II—THE FAERY-GODMOTHER

CHAPTER III—VASHTI

CHAPTER IV—THE ROUSING OF THE GIANT

CHAPTER V—THE GHOST BIRD OF ROMANCE

CHAPTER VI—A STRATEGY THAT FAILED

CHAPTER VII—“PASHUN” IN THE KITCHEN

CHAPTER VIII—THE EXPENSE OF LOVING

CHAPTER IX—THE FOG

CHAPTER X—THE WIFE OF A GENIUS

CHAPTER XI—THE LITTLE GOD LOVE

CHAPTER XII—DOUBTS

CHAPTER XIII—SHUT OUT.

CHAPTER XIV—BELIEVING HER GOOD

CHAPTER XV—THE FAERY TALE BEGINS AGAIN

CHAPTER XVI—A WONDERFUL WORLD

CHAPTER XVII—DESIRE

CHAPTER XVIII—ESCAPING

CHAPTER XIX—THE HIGH HORSE OF ROMANCE

CHAPTER XX—THE POND IN THE WOODLAND

CHAPTER XXI—VANISHED

CHAPTER XXII—THE FEAR OF KNOWLEDGE

CHAPTER XXIII—TEDDY AND RUDDY

CHAPTER XXIV—DUKE NINEVEH ENTERS

CHAPTER XXV—LUCK

CHAPTER XXVI—DREAMING OF LOVE


BOOK II—THE BOOK OF REVELATION

CHAPTER I—THE ISLAND VALLEY

CHAPTER II—A SUMMER’S NIGHT

CHAPTER III—A SUMMER’S MORNING

CHAPTER IV—HAUNTED

CHAPTER V—SUSPENSE

CHAPTER VI—DESIRE’S MOTHER

CHAPTER VII—LOVING DESIRE

CHAPTER VIII—FAITH RENEWS ITSELF

CHAPTER IX—SHE ELUDES HIM

CHAPTER X—AND NOTHING ELSE SAW ALL DAY LONG

CHAPTER XI—THE KEYS TO ARCADY

CHAPTER XII—ARCADY

CHAPTER XIII—DRIFTING

CHAPTER XIV—THE TRIFLERS GROW EARNEST

CHAPTER XV—SLAVES OF FREEDOM

CHAPTER XVI—THE GHOST OF HAPPINESS

CHAPTER XVII—THE TEST

CHAPTER XVIII—THE PRINCESS WHO DID NOT KNOW HER HEART

CHAPTER XIX—AN OLD PASSION

CHAPTER XX—SHE PROPOSES

CHAPTER XXI—THE EXPERIMENTAL HONEYMOON

CHAPTER XXII—SHE RECALLS HIM

CHAPTER XXIII—HIS WAITING ENDS








A SLAVE OF FREEDOM

The Night slips his arm about the Moon

And walks till the skies grow gray;

But my Love, when I speak of love,

Has never a word to say.


I set my dreams at her feet as lamps

For which all my hope must pay;

But my Love, when I speak of love,

Has never a word to say.


I fill her hands with a gleaming soul

For her plaything night and day;

But she, when I speak to her of love,

Has never a word to say.


I give my life, which is hers to kill

Or to keep with her alway;

And still, when I speak to her of love,

She’s never a word to say.


The Night slips his arm about the Moon

And walks till the skies grow gray;

But my Love, when I speak of love,

Has never a word to say.









BOOK I—LIFE TILL TWENTY-ONE








CHAPTER I—MRS. SHEERUG’S GARDEN

Nother bucket o’ mortar, Mr. Ooze.”

The excessively thin man glanced up from the puddle of lime that he was stirring and regarded the excessively fat man with a smile of meek interrogation.

“’Nother bucket o’ mortar, Willie Ooze, and don’t you put your ’ead on one side at me like a bloomin’ cockatoo.”

Mr. William Hughes stuttered an apology. “I was thin-thinking.”

“Thin-thinking!” The fat man laughed good-naturedly. Turning his back on his helper, he gave the brick which he had just laid an extra tap to emphasize his incredulity. “’Tisn’t like you.”

The thin man’s feelings were wounded. To the little boy who looked on this was evident from the way he swallowed. His Adam’s-apple took a run up his throat and, at the last moment, thought better of it. “But I was thinking,” he persisted; “thinking that I’d learnt something from stirring up this gray muck. If ever I was to kill somebody—you, for instance, or that boy—I’d know better than to bury you in slaked lime.”

“Uml Urn!” The fat man gulped with surprise. He puckered his vast chin against his collar so that his voice came deep and strangled. “It’s scraps o’ knowledge like that as saves men from the gallers. If ’alf the murderers that is ’anged ’ad come to me first, they wouldn’t be ’anging. But—but——” He seemed at last to realize the unkind implication of Mr. Hughes’s naive confession. “But I’d make four o’ you, Willyum! You couldn’t kill me, however you tried.”

In the face of contradiction Mr. Hughes forgot his nervousness. “I could.” he pleaded earnestly. “I’ve often thought about it. I’d put off till you was stooping, and then jump. What with you being so short of breath and me being so long in the arms and legs, why——! I’ve planned it out many times, you and me being such good friends and so much alone together.”

The face of the fat man grew serious with disapproval. “You? ’ave, ’ave you! You’ve got as far as that! You’re a nice domestic pet, I must say, to keep unchained to play with the children.” He attempted to go on with his bricklaying, but the memory of Mr. Hughes’s long arms and legs so immediately behind him was disturbing. He swung round holding his trowel like a weapon. “Don’t like your way of talking; don’t like it. O’ course you’ve ‘ad your troubles; for them I make allowances. But I don’t like it, and I don’t mind telling you. Um! Um!”

The thin man was crestfallen; he had hoped to give pleasure. “But I thought you liked murders.”

“Like ’em! I enjoy them—so I do.” The fat man spoke tartly. “But when you make me the corpse of your conversations, you presoom, Mr. Ooze, and I don’t mind telling you—you really do. Let that boy be the corpse next time; leave me out of it—— ’Nother bucket o’ mortar.”

That boy, who was sole witness to this quarrel, was very small—far smaller than his age. In the big walled garden of Orchid Lodge he felt smaller than usual. Everything was strange; even the whispered sigh of dead leaves was different as they swam up and swirled in eddies. In his own garden, only six walls distant, their sigh was gentle as Dearie’s footstep—but something had happened to Dearie; Jimmie Boy had told him so that morning. “Teddy, little man, it’s happened again”—the information had left Teddy none the wiser. All he knew was that Jane had told the milkman that something was expected, and that the milkman had told the cook at Orchid Lodge. The result had been the intrusion at breakfast of the remarkable Mrs. Sheerug.

For a long while Mrs. Sheerug had been a staple topic of conversation between Dearie and Jimmie Boy. They had wondered who she was. They had made up the most preposterous tales about her and had told them to Teddy. They would watch for her to come out of her house six doors away, so that as she passed their window in Eden Row Jimmie Boy might make rapid sketches of her trotting balloon-like figure. He had used her more than once already in books which he had been commissioned to illustrate. She was the faery-godmother in his Cinderella and Other Ancient Tales: With!6 Plates in color by James Gurney. She was Mother Santa Claus in his Christmas Up to Date. They had rather wanted to get to know her, this child-man and woman who seemed no older than their little son and at times, even to their little son, not half as sensible. They had wanted to get to know her because she was always smiling, and because she was always upholstered in such hideously clashing colors, and because she was always setting out burdened on errands from which she returned empty-handed. The attraction of Mrs. Sheerug was heightened by Jane’s, the maid-of-all-work’s, discoveries: Orchid Lodge was heavily in debt to the local tradesmen and yet (it was Dearie who said “And yet.” with a sigh of envy), and yet its mistress was always smiling.

When Mrs. Sheerug had invaded Teddy’s father that morning, she had come arrayed for conquest. She had worn a green plush mantle, a blue bonnet and, waving defiance from the blue bonnet, a yellow feather.

“I’m a total stranger,” she had said. “Go on with your breakfast, Mr. Gurney, I’ve had mine. I’ll watch you. Well, I’ve heard, and so I’ve dropped in to see what I can do. You mustn’t mind me; trying to be a mother to everyone’s my foible. Now, first of all, you can’t have that boy in the house—boys are nice, but a nuisance. They’re noisy.”

“But Teddy, I mean Theo, isn’t.”

It was just like Jimmie Boy to call him Theo before a stranger and to assume the rôle of a respected parent.

Mrs. Sheerug refused to be contradicted. She was cheerful, but emphatic. “If he never made a noise before, he will now. As soon as I’ve made Theo comfortable, I’ll come back to take care of you.”

Making Theo comfortable had consisted in leading him down the old-fashioned, little-traveled street, on one side of which the river ran, guarded by iron spikes like spears set up on end, and turning him loose in the strange garden, where he had overheard a fat man accusing a thin man of murderous intentions.

Teddy looked round. The walls were too high to climb. If he shouted for help he might rouse the men’s enmity. Neither of them seemed to be annoyed with him at present, for neither of them had spoken to him. There was no alternative—he must stick it out. That’s what his father told Dearie to do when pictures weren’t selling and bills were pressing. Already he had picked up the philosophy that life outlasts every difficulty—every difficulty except death.

Mr. Hughes, having supplied the bucket of mortar, was trying to make himself useful in a new direction. The groan and coughing of a saw were heard. The fat man dropped his trowel and turned. He watched Mr. Hughes sorrowfully.

“Mr. Ooze, that’s no way to make a job o’ that” For the first time he addressed the little boy: “He’s as busy as a one-armed paper-’anger with the itch this s’morning. Bless my soul, if he isn’t sawing more ground than wood.” Then to Mr. Hughes: “’Ere, give me that. Now watch me; this is the way to do it.”

The fat man took the saw from the meek man’s unresisting hand. “You lay it so,” he said. He laid the saw almost horizontal with the plank. The thin man leant forward that he might profit by instruction, and nodded.

“And now,” said the fat man, “you get all your weight be’ind it and drive forward.”

As he drove forward the blade slipped and jabbed Mr. Hughes’s leg. Mr. Hughes sat down with a howl and drew up his trousers to inspect the damage. When the fat man had examined the scratch and pronounced it not serious, he proposed a rest and produced a pipe. “Nice smoke,” he said, “is more comforting than any woman, only I wish I’d known it before I married.” Then he became aware that he alone was smoking.

“What, lost yours, Mr. Ooze? Just what one might expect! You’re the most unlucky chap I ever met, yes, and careless. You bring your troubles on yourself, Willie Ooze. First you go and lose a wife that you never ought to ’ave ’ad, and now you lose something still more valuable.”

“Ah, yes!” The thin man ceased from searching through his pockets and heaved a sigh. “I lose everything. Suppose I’ll go on losing till the grave shuts down on this body o’ me—and then I’ll lose that. My ’air began to come out before I was twenty—tonics weren’t no good. Now I always ’ave to wear a ’at—do it even in the ’ouse, unless I’m reminded. And then, as you say, there was poor ’Enrietta. I’m always wondering whether I really lost ’er, or whether——”

“Expect she gave you the slip on purpose,” said the fat man. “Best forget it; consider ’er as so much spilt milk.”

“That’s just what I can’t do.” Mr. Hughes clasped his bony hands: “It don’t seem respectful to what’s maybe dead.”

As far as Teddy could make out from their conversation, ’Enrietta had once been Mrs. Hughes. On a trip to Southend she had insisted on taking a swing in a highflyer. To her great annoyance her husband had been too timid to accompany her, and she had had to take it by herself. The last he had seen of her was a flushed face and flapping skirt swooping in daring semi-circles between the heavens and the ground. When the swing had stopped and he pressed through the crowd to claim her, she had vanished.

Perhaps it was the blood on the thin man’s leg that prompted the fat man’s observation. “It might ’ave been that.”

“What?”

The fat man drew his finger across his throat suggestively. “That.” He repeated. “It might ’ave ’appened to your ’Enrietta.”

“Often thought it myself.” Mr. Hughes spoke slowly. “But—but d’you think anybody would suspect that I——?”

“They might.” The fat man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It’s usually chaps of your build that does it; as the lofty Mr. Shakespeare puts it, ’I ’ate those lean and ’ungry men.’”

“Very true! Very true! Lefroy was lean and ’ungry. I know, ’cause I once rode with ’im in the same railway carriage.”

Teddy listened, fascinated and horror-stricken, to the fat and thin man swapping anecdotes of murders past and present. For half an hour they strove to outdo each other in ghastliness and minuteness of details.

When they had returned to their work and Mr. Hughes was at a safe distance, the fat man spoke beneath his breath to the little boy: “He’s no good at anything. I keep him with me ’cause we both makes a ’obby of ’omicide—that’s the doctor’s word for the kind o’ illness we was talking about. Also,” here his voice became as refined as Teddy’s father’s, “he amuses me with his Cockney dialect He says he’s unlucky because he was born in a hansom-cab. Whenever I speak to him I call him Ooze and drop my aitches. It’s another of my hobbies—that and keeping pigeons. Pretending to be vulgar relieves my feelings. When one’s married and as stout as I am, if one doesn’t relieve one’s feelings one bursts.”

For the same reason that one lavishes endearments on a dog of uncertain temper, Teddy thought it wise to feign an interest in the fat man’s hobbies. “It can’t be very nice for them,” he faltered.

“For ’oo?”

“The persons.”

“What persons?”

“The persons you do it to.”

“Do it to! Do it to! You’re making me lose my temper, which is bad for me ’ealth; that’s what you’re doing. Now, then, do what? Don’t beat about. Out with it.”

For answer the little boy drew a tremulous finger across his throat in imitation of one of the fat man’s gestures.

The fat man started laughing—laughing uproariously. His body shook like a jelly and fell into dimples. He tried to speak, but couldn’t. At last he shouted: “Mr. Ooze, come ’ere. This little boy—”

Then he stopped laughing suddenly and dropped his rough way of talking. The child’s face had gone desperately white. “Poor chap! Must have frightened you! Here, steady.”

“Now you’ve done it,” said Mr. Hughes, coming up from behind. “And when your wife knows, won’t you catch it!”








CHAPTER II—THE FAERY-GODMOTHER

There was nothing Mrs. Sheerug enjoyed better than an invalid. Illness in a stranger’s house was her opportunity; in her own house it was her glory. She loved to exaggerate the patient’s symptoms; the graver they were, the more a recovery would redound to her credit. When she had pushed her feet into old carpet-slippers, removed her bodice, put on her plum-colored dressing-gown, and fastened her scant gray hair with one pin into a tight little knob at the back of her head, she felt that she had gone through a ritual which made her superior to all doctors. She had remedies of her own invention which were calculated to grapple with any crisis of ill-health. But she did not allow her ingenuity to be fettered by past successes; each new case which fell into her hands was a heaven-sent chance for experimenting. Whatever came into her head first, went down her patient’s throat.

When she turned her house into a hospital this little gray balloon-shaped woman, with her rosy cheeks, her faded eyes and her constant touch of absurdity, managed to garb herself in a solemn awfulness. When “Mother went ’vetting,’” as Hal expressed it, even her children viewed her with, temporary respect. They weren’t quite sure that there wasn’t something in her witchcraft. So nobody complained if meals were delayed while she stood over the fire stirring, tasting, smelling and decocting. Contrary to what was usual in that unruly house, she had only to open the door of the sickroom and whisper, “Hush,” to obtain instant quiet. At such times she seemed a ridiculous angel into whose hands God had thrust the tragic scales of life and death.

If Teddy hadn’t fainted, he might have gone out of Orchid Lodge as casually as he had entered—in which case his entire career would have been different. By fainting he had put himself into the category of the weak ones of the earth, and therefore was to be reckoned among Mrs. Sheenes friends. A masterly stroke of luck! She at once decreed that he must be put to bed. His pleadings that he was quite well didn’t cause her to waver for a second. She knew boys. Boys didn’t faint when there was nothing the matter with them. What he required, in her opinion, was building up. A fire was lit in the spare-room. Hot-water bottles were placed in the bed and Teddy beside them, arrayed in a kind of christening-robe, the borrowed nightgown being much too long for him.

He hadn’t intended to be happy, but—— He raised his head stealthily from the pillow, so that his eyes and nose came just above the sheet. He had been given a hot drink with strict instructions to keep covered. No one was there; he sat up. What a secret room! Exactly the kind in which a faery-godmother might be expected to work her spells! Two steps led down into it. Across the door, to keep the draughts out, was hung a needlework tapestry, depicting Absalom’s misfortune. A young gentleman, of exceedingly Jewish countenance, was caught in a tree by his mustard colored hair; a horse, which looked strangely like a sheep, was shabbily walking away from under him. It would have served excellently as a barber’s coat-of-arms. All it lacked was a suitable legend, “The Risks of Not Getting Your Hair Cut.”

Against an easel rested an uncompleted masterpiece in the same medium. The right-hand half, which was done, revealed a negress heaving herself out of a marble slab with her arms stretched longingly towards the half which was only commenced. The subject was evidently that of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph. Outlined on the canvas of the unfinished half was a shrinking youth, bearing a faint resemblance to Mr. Hughes as he would have dressed had he been born in a warmer climate.

Encircling the backs of chairs were skeins of wool of various colors; the balls, which had been wound from them, had rolled across the floor and come to rest in a tangle against the fender. In the window, lending a touch of romance, stood a gilded harp, through whose strings shone the cold pale light of the December afternoon. In the grate a scarlet fire crackled; perched upon it, like a long-necked bird, was a kettle with a prodigiously long spout. It sang cheerfully and blew out white clouds of steam which filled the room with the pungent fragrance of eucalyptus.

In days gone by, after listening to his father’s stories, he had often climbed to the top of their house that he might spy into the garden of Orchid Lodge. He had little thought in those days that he would ever be Mrs. Sheerug’s prisoner. From the street a passer-by could learn nothing. Orchid Lodge rose up flush with the pavement; the windows, which looked out on Eden Row and the river, commenced on the second story, so that the curiosity of the outside world was eternally thwarted. He had fancied himself as ringing the bell and waiting just long enough to glance in through the opening door before he took to his heels and ran.

Footsteps in the passage! Absalom swayed among the branches, making a futile effort to free himself. The door behind the tapestry was being opened. Teddy sank his head deep into the pillows, hoping that his disobedience to orders would pass unobserved.

She came down the steps on tiptoe. Her entire bearing was hushed and concerned, as though the least noise or error on her part might produce a catastrophe. She carried a brown stone coffee-pot in her hand and a glass. From the coffee-pot came a disagreeable acrid odor, similar to that of the home-made plasters which his mother applied to his face in case of toothache.

Mrs. Sheerug went over to the fireplace. Before setting the jug in the hearth to keep warm she poured out a quantity of muddy looking fluid. Suspecting that she had no intention of drinking it herself, Teddy shut his eyes and tried to breathe heavily, as though he slept. She came and stood beside him; bent over him and listened.

“Little boy, you’re awake and pretending; what’s worse, you’ve been out of bed.”

The injustice of the last accusation took him off his guard. “If you please, I haven’t. I sat up like this because I wanted to look at that.” He pointed at the Jewish gentleman taking farewell of his horse.

“At that! What made you look at that?”

“I like it.”

To his surprise she kissed him. “That’s what comes of being the son of an artist. There aren’t many people who like it; you’re very nearly the first. I’m doing all the big scenes from the Bible in woolwork; one day they’ll be as famous as the Bayeux tapestries. But what am I talking about? Of course you’re too young to have heard of them. Come, drink this up before it gets cold; it’ll make you well.”

“But I’m quite well, thank you.”

“Come now, little boys mustn’t tell stories. You know you’re not. Smell it. Isn’t it nice?”

Teddy smelt it. It certainly was not nice. He shook his head.

“Ah,” she coaxed, “but it tastes ever so much better than it smells. It’ll make you perspire.”

He did not doubt that it would make him perspire, but still he eyed it with distrust. “What’s in it?” he questioned.

“Something I made especially for you; I’ve never given it to anybody else.”

“But what’s in it?” he insisted with a touch of childish petulance at her evasion.

She patted his hand. “Butter, and brown sugar, and vinegar, and bay leaves. There! It’ll make you sweat, Teddy—make you feel ever so much better.”

“But I’m quite——”

He got no further. As he opened his mouth to assert his perfect health, the glass was pressed against his lips and tilted. He had to swallow or be deluged.

“That’s a fine little fellow.” Mrs. Sheerug was generous in her hour of conquest; she tried to give him credit for having taken it voluntarily. “You feel better already, don’t you?”

“I don’t think,” he commenced; then he capitulated, for he saw her eye working round in the direction of the jug. “I expect I shall presently.”

She tucked him up, leaving only his head, not even a bit of his neck, showing. “If you don’t perspire soon, tell me,” she said, “and I’ll give you some more.”

It was a very big bed and unusually high. At each corner was a post, supporting the canopy. From where he lay he could watch Mrs. Sheerug. Having disentangled several balls of wool and balanced on the point of her nose a pair of silver spectacles, she had seated herself before the easel and was stitching a yellow chemise on to the timid figure of Joseph. The yellow chemise ended above Joseph’s knees; Teddy wondered whether she would give him a pair of stockings.

“I’m getting wet.”

The good little hump of a woman turned. She gazed at him searchingly above her spectacles. “Really?”

“Not quite really,” he owned; “but almost really. At least my toes are.”

“That’s the hot water bottles,” she said. “If you don’t perspire soon you must have some more medicine.”

He did his best to perspire. He felt that she had left the choice between perspiring and drinking more of the brown stuff in his hands. Trying accomplished nothing, so he turned his thoughts to strategy.

“Will they really be famous?”

Again she twisted round, watching him curiously. “Why d’you ask?”

“Because——” He wondered whether he dared tell her.

Usually people laughed at him when he said it. “Because my father wants his pictures to be famous and he’s afraid they never will be. And when I’m a man, I want to be famous; and I’m sure I shall.”

In the piping eagerness of his confession he had thrown back the clothes and was sitting up in bed. She didn’t notice it What she noticed was the brave poise of the head, the spun gold crushed against the young white forehead, and the blue eyes, untired with effort, which looked out with challenge on a wonder-freighted world.

The fire crackled. The kettle hummed, “Pooh, famous! Be contented. Pooh, famous! Be content.”

At last she spoke. “It’s difficult to be famous, Teddy. So many of us have been trying—wasting our time when we might have been doing kindness. What makes a little boy like you so certain——?”

“I just know,” he interrupted doggedly.

Then she realized that he was sitting up in bed and pounced on him. Some more of the brown stuff was forced down his throat and the clothes were once more gathered tightly round his neck.

His eyes were becoming heavy. He opened them with an effort By the easel a shaded lamp had been kindled; the faery-godmother bent above her work.








CHAPTER III—VASHTI

It seemed the last notes of a dream. He had been awake for some minutes, but had feared to stir lest the voice should stop. Slowly he unclosed his eyes. The voice went on. He had never heard such music; it was deep and sweet and luring. It was like the golden hair of the Princess Lettice lowered from her casement to her lover. It was like the silver feet of laughter twinkling up a beanstalk ladder to the stars. It was like spread wings, swooping and drifting over a fairyland of castellated tree-tops. Now it wandered up the passage and seemed to halt behind the tapestry of Absalom. Now it grew infinitely distant until it was all but lost.

He eased himself out of bed. Save for the pool of scarlet that weltered across floor and ceiling from the hearth, the room was filled with blackness.

“Who’s there?” he whispered.

No answer. He tiptoed up the steps and out into the passage. It was long and gloomy; at the end of it a strip of light escaped from a door which had been left ajar. It was from there that the voice was calling. Steadying himself with his hand against the wall, he stole noiselessly towards it Just as he reached the strip of light the singing abruptly ended.

“No, Hal. You shouldn’t do that. You do it too often. Please not any more.”

“Just once on your lips.”

“If it’s only once. You promise?”

“I promise.”

The door creaked. When he saw them, their bodies were still close together, but as they turned to glance across their shoulders their heads had drawn a little apart. Her hands, resting on the keyboard, were held captive by the man’s. Candles, flickering behind their heads, scorched a hole in the dusk to frame them.

The man’s face was boyish and clean-shaven, self-indulgent and almost handsome. It was a pleasant face: the corners of the mouth turned up with a hint of humor; the lips were full and kind; the eyes blue and impatient His complexion was high and his hair flaxen; his bearing sensitive and a little self-conscious. He was a man who could give himself excessively to any one he loved and who consequently would be always encountering new disappointments.

And the woman—she was like her voice: remote and passionate; haunting and unsatisfying; an instrument of romance for the awakening of idealized desires. She was fashioned no less for the attracting of love than for its repulse. Her forehead was intensely white; her brows were like the shadow of wings, hovering and poised; her eyes now vague as a sea-cloud, now flashing like sudden gleams of blue-gray sunlight Her hair was the color of ancient bronze—dark in the hollows and burnished at the edges. Her throat was her glory—full and young, throbbing like a bird’s and slender as the stalk of a flower. It was her mouth that gave the key to her character. It could be any shape that an emotion made it: petulant and unreasonable; kind and gracious and adoring. She was a darkened house when she was unresponsive; there was no stir in her—she seemed uninhabited. In the street below her windows some chance traveler of thought or affection halted; instantly all her windows blazed and the people of her soul gazed out.

The odd little figure, hesitating in the doorway, had worked this miracle. Her eyes, which had been troubled when first they rested on him, brightened. Her lips relaxed. Like a bubble rising from a still depth, laughter rippled up her throat and broke across the scarlet threshold of her mouth.

“Oh, Hal, what a darling! Where did you get him? And what a dear, funny nightgown!”

She tore her hands free from the man’s. Running to the little boy, she knelt beside him, bringing her face down to his level. As if to prevent him from escaping, she looped her arms about his neck.

“You are dear and funny,” she said. “Where d’you come from?”

Teddy was abashed. He didn’t mind being called dear, but he strongly objected to being called funny. He was terribly conscious of the pink flannel garment which clothed him. It hung like a sack from his narrow shoulders. If Mrs. Sheerug hadn’t safety-pinned a reef in at the neck, there would have been danger of its slipping off him. He couldn’t see his hands; they only reached to where his elbows ought to have been. He couldn’t see his feet; a yard of pink stuff draped them. He had had to kilt it to make his way along the passage. But the garment’s chief offense, as he regarded it, was that it was a woman’s: a rather stout middle-aged woman’s—the sort of woman who had given up trying to look pretty and probably wore a nightcap. Teddy forgot that had he not been press-ganged into sickness, the beautiful lady’s arms would not have been about him. All he remembered was that he looked a caricature at a moment when—he scarcely knew why—he wanted to appear most manly. Mrs. Sheerug was responsible and he felt hotly resentful.

“Where did you come from?”

“Bed.”

“But isn’t it rather early to be in bed? Perhaps you’re not well.”

“I’m quite well.” He spoke stubbornly, looking aside and trying to keep the tears back. “I’m quite well; it’s she who pretends I isn’t.”

She! Ah, I understand. Poor old boy, never mind.”

She drew him against her breast and kissed him. He thought she would release him; but still she held him. He could feel the beating of her heart and the slow movement of her breath. He didn’t want her to let him go; but why did she still hold him? Shyly he raised his eyes.

“Won’t you smile?” she said. “I’d like to see what you look like. And now tell me, what made you come here?”

“I heard you,” he whispered. “Please let me stay.”

She glanced back at the man; he sat where she had left him, by the piano, watching. She rather liked to make him jealous. Turning to the child, she lowered her voice, “You’ll catch cold if you don’t get back to bed and I’ll be blamed for it. If I come with you, will that be as good as if I let you stay?”

“Oh, better.”

“Then kiss me.”

As she rose from her knees she gathered him in her arms. The man left his seat to follow. She paused in the doorway, gazing across her shoulder. “No, Hal, it’s a time when you’re not wanted.”

“But Vashti——”

She laughed mischievously. “I said no. There’s some one else to-night who wants me all to himself.”

When Teddy became a man and looked back on that night there were two things that he remembered: the first was his pride and sense of triumph at hearing himself preferred to Hal; the second was that love, as an inspiring and torturing reality, entered into his experience for the first time. As she carried him into the darkness of the passage which had been full of fears without her, her act seemed symbolic. Gazing back from her arms, he saw the man—saw the perplexed humiliation of his expression, his aloneness and instinctively his tragedy, yet without pity and rather with contentment In later years all that happened to him seemed a refinement of spiritual revenge for his childish callousness. The solitary image of the man in the dim-lit room, his empty hands and following eyes took a place in the gallery of memory as a Velasquezesque masterpiece—a composition in brown and white of the St. Sebastian of a love self-pierced by the arrows of its own too great desire.








CHAPTER IV—THE ROUSING OF THE GIANT

She had picked up a quilt from the bed and wrapt it round him. Having drawn a chair to the fire, she sat rocking with his head against her shoulder. Since she had left the man, she had not spoken. Once the tapestry, falling into place, rustled as though the door were being opened. She turned gladly with a welcoming smile and remained staring into the darkness long after the smile had vanished. A footstep came along the passage. Again she turned, her lips parted in readiness to bid him enter. The footstep slowed as it reached the bedroom, hesitated and passed on.

She had ceased expecting; Teddy knew that by her “Don’t care” shrug of annoyance. Though she held him closely, she seemed not to notice him. With her head bent forward and her mouth a little trembling, she watched the dancing of the flames. He stirred against her.

“Comfy?” she murmured.

“Very.”

She laughed softly. Her laughter had nothing to do with his answer; it was the last retort in a bitter argument which had been waging in the stillness of her mind. When she spoke it was as though she yawned, rubbing unpleasant dreams from her eyes. “Well, little fellow, what are you going to do with me?”

The implied accusation that he had carried her off thrilled him. It was the way she said it—the coaxing music of her voice: it told him that she was asking for his adoration. His arms reached up and went about her neck; his lips stole up to hers. Made shy by what he had done, he hid his face against her breast.

She rested her hand on his head, ruffling his hair and trying to persuade him to look up.

“And I don’t even know your name! What do they call you? And do you kiss all strange ladies like that?”

His throat was choking. He knew that the moment he heard his own voice his eyes would brim over. But he was getting to an end of the list of first things—getting to an age when it wasn’t manly to cry just because the soul was stirred. So he bit his lip and kept silent.

“Ah, well,” she shook her head mournfully, “I can see what would happen. If we married, you would make an obstinate husband. You don’t really love me.”

Her despair sounded real. “Oh, it’s not that. It’s not that,” he cried, dragging her face towards him with both hands.

She took his hands away and held them. “Then, what Is it?”

“You’re so beautiful. I can’t—can’t speak. I can’t tell you.”

She clasped him closer. “Oh, I’m sorry. It was only my fun. I didn’t mean to make you cry. You’re the second person I’ve hurt to-night. But you—you’re only a little boy, and such a dear little boy! We were going to be such good friends. I must be bad-hearted to hurt everybody.”

“You’re not bad-hearted.” The fierceness with which he defended her made her smile. “You’re not bad-hearted, and I do love you. And I want to marry you only—only I’m so little, and you said it only in fun.”

She mothered him till he had grown quiet Then, with her lips against his forehead, “Don’t be ashamed of crying; I like you for it. I’m so very glad we met to-night I think—almost think—you were sent. I hadn’t been kind, and I wasn’t feeling happy. But I’d like to do something good now; I think I’d like to make you smile. How ought I to set about it?”

“Sing to me. Oh, please do.”

In the firelit room she sang to him in a half-voice, her long throat stretched out and throbbing like a bird’s as she stooped above him. She sang lullabies, making him feel very helpless; and then of lords and cruel ladies and knights. Shadows, sprawling across walls and ceiling, took fantastic shapes: horsemen galloping from castles; men waving swords and grappling in fight A footstep in the passage! He felt her arms tighten. “Close your eyes,” she sang, “close your eyes.”

She held up a hand as Mrs. Sheerug entered. “Shish!”

“Asleep?”

She nodded.

Mrs. Sheerug came over to the fire and gazed down. He could feel that she was gazing and was afraid that she would detect that he was awake. It was a relief when he heard her whisper: “It’s too bad of you, Vashti; he’d just reached the turning-point. You’re as irresponsible as a child when your moods take you.”

A second chair was drawn up. Vashti had made no reply. Mrs. Sheerug commenced speaking again: “Hal——”

“Hal’s gone out. I suppose you’ve been——”

“Yes, quarreling. My fault, as usual.”

The older woman’s tones became earnest “My dear, you’re not good to my boy. How much longer is it going to last? You’re not—not a safe woman for a man like Hal. He needs some one more loving; you could never make him a good wife. Your profession—I wish you’d give him up.” Then, after a pause, “Won’t you?”

The little boy listened as eagerly as Hal’s mother for the reply. At last it came, “I wish I could.”

He sat up. She saw the reproach in his eyes, but she gave no sign. “Hulloa! Wakened? Time you were in bed, old fellow.”

He was conscious that she was using him as a barrier between herself and further conversation. Rising, she carried him over to the high four-poster bed. While she tucked him in, he could hear the clinking of a glass, and knew that his tribulations had recommenced. Mrs. Sheerug crossed from the fireplace: “Here’s another drink of the nice medicine.”

He buried his face in the pillow. He didn’t want to get better. He wanted to die and to make people sorry.

“Teddy,” it was her voice, “Teddy, if you take it, I’ll sing to you. Do it for my sake.”

She turned to Mrs. Sheerug. “He will if I sing to him. You accompany me. He says it’s a promise.”

She stood beside the pillow holding his hand. Over by the window the faery-godmother was taking her seat; stars peeped through the harp-strings curiously. What happened next was like arms spread under him, carrying him away and away. “Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him.” Her voice sprang up like a strong white bird; at every beat of its wings the harp-strings hummed like the weak wings of smaller birds following. “Oh, rest in the Lord”—the white bird rose higher with a braver confidence and the little birds took courage, plunging deeper into the grave and gentle stillness. “Oh, rest in the Lord”—it was like a sigh of contentment traveling back from prepared places out of sight. The room grew silent.

It was Vashti who had moved. She bent over him, “I’m going.” He stretched out his arms, but they failed to reach her. At the door Mrs. Sheerug stood and stayed her. Vashti halted, very proud and sweet. “What is it? You said I wasn’t safe. You can tell Hal he’s free—I won’t trouble him.”

Mrs. Sheerug caught her by the hands and tried to draw her to her. “I was mistaken, Vashti; you’re good. You can always make me forgive you: you could make any one love you when you’re singing.”

Vashti shook her head. “I’m not good. I’m wicked.” The older woman tried to reach up to kiss her. Again Vashti shook her head, “Not to-night.”

The medicine had been taken. By the easel a shaded lamp had been lighted—lighted for hours. It must be very late; the faery-godmother still worked, sorting her wools and pushing her needle back and forth, clothing Joseph in the presence of Potiphar’s wife. Every now and then she sighed. Sometimes she turned and listened to catch the regular breathing of the little boy whom she supposed to be sleeping. Presently she rose and undressed. The lamp went out In the darkness Teddy could hear her tossing; then she seemed to forget her troubles.

But he lay and remembered. Vashti had asked him to marry her. Perhaps she had not meant it. How long would it take to become a man? Did little boys ever marry grown ladies?








CHAPTER V—THE GHOST BIRD OF ROMANCE

When his father entered Teddy was eating his breakfast propped up in bed, balancing a tray on his humped-up legs.

“Well, shrimp, you seem to have had a lucky tumble. Can’t say there seems to be much the matter.”

A large bite of hot buttered toast threatened to impede conversation. “It’s the brown stuff,” Teddy mumbled; “she wanted to see if it ’ud make me wet.”

“Kind of vivisection, eh? And did it?”

“All over—like in a bath playing ship-wrecked sailors.” The excavation of an egg absorbed the little boy’s attention. His father seated himself on the edge of the bed. He was a large childish man, unconsciously unconventional His brown velvet jacket smelt strongly of tobacco and varnish. It was spotted with bright colors, especially on the left sleeve between the wrist and elbow, where he had tested his paints instead of on his palette. His trousers bagged at the knees from neglect rather than from wear; their shabbiness was made up for by an extravagant waistcoat, sprigged with lilac. Double-breasted and cut low in a V shape, it exposed a soft silk shirt and a large red tie with loosely flowing ends. His head was magnificent—the head of a rebel enthusiast, too impatient to become a leader of men. It was broad in the forehead and heavy with a mane of coal-black ringlets. His mouth was handsome—a rare thing in a man. His nose was roughly molded, Cromwellian, giving to his face a look of rude strength and purpose. A tuft of hair immediately beneath his lower lip bore the same relation to his mustache that a tail bears to a kite—it lent to his expression balance. It was his eyes that astonished—they ought to have been fiercely brown to be in keeping with the rest of his gypsy appearance; instead they were a clear gray, as though with gazing into cloudy distances, as are the eyes of men who live by seafaring.

He had made repeated efforts to curb his picturesqueness; he knew that it didn’t pay in an age when the ideal for males is to be undecorative. He knew that his appearance appealed as affectation and bred distrust in the minds of the escutcheoned tradesmen who are England’s art patrons. When they came to confer a favor, they liked to find a gentlemanly shopkeeper—not a Phoenician pirate, with a voice like a gale. His untamedness impressed them as immorality. He always felt that they left him thoroughly convinced that he and Dearie were not married.

Whatever editors, art patrons and publishers might think about James Gurney, Teddy followed in his mother’s footsteps: to him James Gurney was Jimmie Boy, the biggest-hearted companion that a son ever had—a father of whom to be inordinately proud. There was no one as great as his father, no one as clever, no one as splendid to look at in the whole wide world. When he walked down the street, holding his father’s hand, he liked to fancy that people stared after him for his daring, just as they would have stared had he walked with his hand in the mane of a shaggy lion. It was wonderful to be friends with a father so fierce looking. And then his father treated him as a brother artist and borrowed notions from him—really did, without pretense; he’d seen the notions carried out in illustrations. His father had come to borrow from him now.

“Any ideas this morning, partner—any ideas that you don’t want yourself?”

Teddy hitched himself upon the pillow, trying to look as grave and important as if he wore spectacles. “Yes. A room like this, only lonely with a fire burning and an old, old woman sitting over there.” He pointed to the window and the gilded harp. “I’d let her be playing, Daddy; and a big white bird, that you can see through, must be beating its wings against the panes, trying and always trying to get out.”

“A ghost bird?” his father suggested.

“Don’t know—just a big white bird and a woman so old that she might be dead.”

“What’s the meaning of the bird, old chap? Dreams, or hopes, or memories—something like that?”

Teddy could find nothing more in the egg. “Don’t know; that’s the way I saw it” He ceased to be elderly, took off his imaginary spectacles and looked up like a dog who stands wagging his tail, waiting to be patted. “Was that an idea, Daddy?”

His father nodded.

“A good idea?”

“Quite a good idea. But, oh, while I remember it, Mr. Sheerug wanted to see you. You and he must have struck up a great friendship. The faery-godmother won’t let him—says you’re not well. He seems quite upset.”

Teddy was puzzled. “Mr. Sheerug!”

“Yes, a big fat man with whom you have a secret. He followed me up the stairs and asked me to thank you for not telling.”

“Was that Mr. Sheerug?” Teddy’s eyes became large and round. “Why, he’s the mur——I mean, the man who was in the garden.”

“That’s right He carried you in when you fainted. What made you faint, Teddy?”

The little boy looked blank. If he were to tell, he would get the fat man into trouble; an aggravated murderer, living only six doors removed, would make an awkward neighbor. There was another reason why he looked blank: were he to tell his father of Mr. Sheerug’s special hobby, he would certainly be forbidden to enter Orchid Lodge, and then—why, then he might never meet Vashti. He weighed his fear against his adoration, and decided to keep silent.

His father had fallen into a brown study. He had forgotten his inquiry as to the cause of Teddy’s fainting. “Theo.”

Something important was coming. To be called Theo was a warning.

“Theo, it hasn’t happened. When it’s so difficult to earn a living, I don’t know whether we ought to be sorry or glad.”

“What hasn’t happened?”

“There’s still only you and me and, thank God, Dearie.”

“But—” the small brain was struggling to discover a meaning—“but could there have been any one else?”

The large man took the little boy’s hand. “You don’t understand. Yes, there could have been several other people; but not now.” Rising, he walked over to the window and stood there, looking out. “Perhaps it’s just as well, with a fellow like me for your father, who spends all his time in chasing clouds and won’t—can’t get on in the world.”

Teddy couldn’t see his father’s face, but he thought he knew what was the matter. If Dearie had been there, she would have slipped her arms round the big man’s neck, calling him “Her Boy,” and would have made everything happy in a second. In her absence Teddy borrowed her comforting words—he had heard them so often. “Your work’s too good,” he said emphatically. “Every great man has been neglected.”

The phrase, uttered parrot-wise by the lips of a child, stirred the man to a grim humor. He saw himself as that white bird, battering itself into exhaustion against invisible panes that shut it out from the heavens. Every time it ceased to struggle the dream music recommenced, maddening it into aspiration; the old woman, so old that she might be dead, who fingered the strings of the harp was Fate.

He stared across the wintry gardens, blackened and impoverished by frost; each one like a man’s life—curtailed, wall-surrounded, monotonously similar, yet grandly roofed with eternity. Along the walls cats crept like lean fears; trees, stripped of leaves, wove spiders’ webs with their branches. So his work was too good and every great man had been neglected! His boy said it confidently now; as he grew older he might say it with less and less sincerity.

He laughed quietly. “So you’ve picked up my polite excuse, Ted! Yes, that’s what we all say of ourselves—we failures: ’My work’s too good.’”

“But it needn’t be an excuse, Mr. Gurney. It may be the truth. I often use the same consolation.”

Mrs. Sheerug stood, a burlesque figure of untidy optimism, smiling severely in the doorway. She was clad in her muddled plum-colored dressing-gown; her gray hair was disordered and sprayed about her neck; her tired blue eyes, peering above the silver-rimmed spectacles, took in the room with twinkling merriment. She came to the foot of the bed with the ponderous dignity of a Cochin-China hen, important with feathers.

“Yes, my dear sir,” she said, “you may not know it, but I, too, consider myself a genius. I believe all my family to be geniuses—that’s why I never interfere with the liberty of my children. Even my husband, he’s a genius in his fashion—a stifled fashion, I tell him; I let him go his own way in case it may develop. Genius must not be thwarted—so we all live our lives separately in this house and—and, as I dare say you know, run into debt. There’s a kind of righteousness about that—running into debt; the present won’t acknowledge our greatness, so we make it pay for our future. But, my dear sir, I caught you indulging in self-pity. It’s the worst of all crimes. You men are always getting sorry for yourselves. Look at me—I’ve not succeeded. I ask you, do I show it?”

“If to be always smiling—-” Mr. Gurney broke off.

“This is really a remarkable meeting, Mrs. Sheerug—three geniuses in one room! Oh, yes, if Teddy’s not told you yet, he will soon: he’s quite certain that he’s going to be a very big man. Aren’t you, Teddy?”

The little boy wriggled his toes beneath the counterpane and watched them working. “I have ideas,” he said seriously.

“What did I tell you?”

Mrs. Sheerug signified by the closing of her eyes that she considered it injudicious to discuss little boys in their presence. When she opened them again it was to discuss herself.

“As between artists, Mr. Gurney, I want your frank opinion. If you don’t like my work, say so.”

“Your work!” He looked about. “Oh, this!” His eyes fell on the unfinished woolwork picture on the easel. “It has—it has a kind of power,” he said—“the power of amateurishness and oddity. You’re familiar with the impelling crudity of Blake’s sketches? Well, it’s something like that What I mean is this: your colors are all impossible, your drawing’s all wrong and there’s no attempt at accuracy. And yet—— The result is something so different from ordinary conceptions that it’s almost impressive.”

Mrs. Sheerug, not sure whether she was being praised or blamed, shook her head with dignity. “You’re trying to let me down lightly, Mr. Gurney.”

“No, I’m not and I’ll prove it Joseph is supposed to be in the process of being tempted. Well, he isn’t tempted in your picture; he’s simply scared. I don’t know whether you intended it or whether it’s the unconscious way in which your mind works, but your prize-fighting negress, in the rôle of Mrs. Potiphar threatening a Cockney consumptive in an abbreviated nightgown, is a distinctly original interpretation of the Bible story; it achieves the success that Hogarth aimed at—the effect of the grotesque. It’s the same with your Absalom. You were so prejudiced against him that you even extended your prejudice to his horse. Every time you stuck your needle in the canvas you must have murmured, ’Serve him jolly well right. So perish all sons who fight against their fathers.’ So, instead of remembering that he was a prince of Israel, you’ve made him an old-clothes blood from Whitechapel who’s got into difficulties on a hired nag at Hampstead. I think I catch your idea: you’re a Dickens writing novels in woolwork. You’re Pickwickizing the Old Testament. In its way the idea’s immense.”

Mrs. Sheerug jerked her spectacles up the incline of her nose till they covered her eyes. “If I have to leave you now, don’t think that I’m offended.”

Mrs. Sheerug went out of the room like a cottage-loaf on legs. The door closed behind her trotting, kindly figure.

Mr. Gurney turned helplessly to Teddy. “And I meant to flatter her. In a worthless way they’re good. I was trying not to tell her the worthless part of it. Believe I’ve hurt her feelings, and after all her kindness—— I’m horribly sorry.”

“Father, when people marry, must they live together always?”

The irrelevancy of the question rather startled Mr. Gurney; Teddy’s questions had a knack of being startling. “Eh! What’s that? Live together always! Why, yes, it’s better. It’s usual.”

“But must they begin from the moment they marry?”

Mr. Gurney laughed. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t marry. It’s because they think that they’ll go on wanting to be every minute of their lives together that they do it.”

“Ah, yes.” Teddy sighed sentimentally. His sigh said plainly, “Whatever else I don’t know, I know that.” He cushioned his face against the pillow. “But what I meant,” he explained, “is supposing one hasn’t any money, and one’s father can’t give one any, and one wants to be with some one every minute, and—and very badly. Would they live together then from the beginning?”

Mr. Gurney gave up thinking about Mrs. Sheerug; Teddy’s questions grew interesting. “If any one hadn’t any money and the lady hadn’t any money, I don’t believe they’d marry. But the lady might have money.”

Teddy gave himself away completely. “But to live on her money! Oh, I don’t think I’d like that.”

His father seated himself on the bed, with one leg curled under him. “Hulloa, what’s this? Been losing your heart to Mrs. Sheerug? She’s got a husband. It won’t do, old man.”

“It isn’t Mrs. Sheerug. It’s just—just curiosity, I expect.”

No encouragement could lure him into a more explicit confession. All that day, after his father had left, he lay there with his face against the pillow, endeavoring to dis-cover a plan whereby a little boy might procure the money to marry a beautiful lady, of whom he knew comparatively nothing.








CHAPTER VI—A STRATEGY THAT FAILED

He had not seen her again. It was now four days since she had sung to him. For her sake, in the hope of her returning, he had made himself the accomplice of Mrs. Sheenes plans. By looking languid he invited the terrors of her medicines. By restraining his appetite and allowing half his meals to be carried away untasted, he gave to his supposed illness a convincing appearance of reality. Even Mrs. Sheerug, whose knowledge of boys was profound, was completely deceived by Teddy. It had never occurred to her that there was a boy in the world who could resist good food when he was hungry.

“Is your head aching? Where is it that you don’t feel better?”

“It’s just all over.”

More physic would follow. He swallowed it gladly—was willing to swallow any quantities, if it were the purchase price of at length seeing Vashti. Every day gained was a respite to his hope, during which he could listen for her coming. Perhaps her footstep in the passage would first warn him—or would it be her voice? He liked to think that any moment she might enter on tiptoe and lean across his pillow before he was aware. When in later years the deluge of love swept over him, destroying that it might recreate his world, he was astonished to find how faithfully it had been foreshadowed by this embryo passion of his childhood.

For three days Mrs. Sheerug had asked him where he ached most, and had invariably received the same answer, “It’s just all over.” Her ingenuity in prescribing had been sorely tested: she had never had such an uncomplaining victim for her remedies. However unpleasantly she experimented, she could always be sure of his murmured thanks.

Under his gentleness she began to allow her fondness to show itself. She held old-fashioned notions about children, believing that they were spoilt by too much affection. Her kind heart was continually at war with her Puritan standards of sternness; the twinkle in her eyes was always contradicting the harsh theories which her lips propounded. Sitting by her easel in the quiet room, she would carry on gossiping monologues addressed to Teddy. He gathered that in her opinion all men were born worthless; husbands were saved from the lowest depths of inferiority by the splendid women they married. All women were naturally splendid, and all bachelors so selfish as to be beneath contempt. She gave Teddy to understand that women were the only really adult people in the world; they pretended that their men were grown up as a mother plays a nursery game with children. She quoted instances to Teddy to prove her theories—indiscreet instances from her own experiences and the experiences of her friends.

“To hear me speak this way, you may wonder why I married, and why I married Alonzo of all men. Even I wondered that on the day I said yes to him, and I wondered it on the day I eloped with him, and I’ve not done wondering yet Yes, little boy, you may look at me and wonder whether I’m telling the truth, but my father was Lord Mayor of London and I could once have married anybody. I was a very pretty girl—I didn’t know how pretty then; and I had a host of suitors. I could have been a rich lady to-day with a title—but I chose Alonzo.”

“Alonzo sounds a fine name,” said Teddy. “Did he ride on a horse and carry a sword in the Lord Mayor’s Show?”

“Ride on a horse!” Mrs. Sheerug laughed gently; she was remembering. “Ride on a horse! No, he didn’t, Teddy. You see, he was called Sheerug as well as Alonzo. The Sheerug rather spoils the Alonzo, doesn’t it?”

A STRATEGY THAT FAILED

35

“Sheerug sounds kind and comfy,” murmured Teddy, trying to make the best of a disappointment.

Mrs. Sheerug smiled at him gratefully. “Yes, and just a little careless. I ran away with him because he was kind and comfy, and because he needed taking care of more than any man I ever met. He’s cost me more mothering than any child I ever——”

Teddy’s hands were tangled together; his words fell over one another with excitement. “Oh, tell me about the running. Did they follow you? And was it from the Lord Mayor’s house that you ran? And did they nearly catch you?”

Glancing above her spectacles disapprovingly, Mrs. Sheerug was recalled to the tender years of her audience. As though blaming the little boy for having listened, she said severely: “A silly old woman like myself says many things that you mustn’t remember, Teddy.”

On the morning of the fourth day she arrived at a new diagnosis of his puzzling malady. He knew she had directly she entered: her gray hair was combed back from her forehead and was quite orderly; she had abandoned her plum-colored dressing-gown. She halted at the foot of the bed and surveyed him.

“You rather like me?”

“Very much.”

“And you didn’t at first?”

He was too polite to acquiesce.

“And you don’t want to leave me?”

He looked confused. “Not unless you want—— Not until I’m well.”

A little gurgling laugh escaped her; it seemed to have been forced up under high pressure.

“You’ve been playing the old soldier, young man. Took me in completely. But I’m a woman, and I always, always find out.”

She shook her finger at him and stood staring across the high wall that was the foot of the bed. As she stared she kept on nodding, like the wife of a mandarin who had picked up the habit from her husband. Two fingers, spread apart, were pressed against the corners of her mouth to prevent it from widening to a smile.

“Humph!” she gave a jab to a hairpin which helped to fasten the knob at the back of her head. “Humph! I’ve been nicely had.” Then to Teddy: “We’ll get you well slowly. Now I’m going to fetch your clothes and you’ve got to dress.”

Clad as far as his shirt and knickerbockers, with a counterpane rolled about him, he was carried downstairs.

In the long dilapidated room that they entered the thin and the fat man were playing cards. They were too absorbed to notice that any one had entered.

“What d’you bet?” demanded the fat man.

“Ten thousand,” Mr. Hughes answered promptly.

“I’ll see you and raise you ten thousand. What’ve you got?”

Mr. Hughes threw down three aces; the fat man exposed a full house. “You’re twenty thousand down, Mr. Ooze.”

“Twenty thousand what?” asked Mrs. Sheerug contemptuously.

“Pounds,” Mr. Hughes acknowledged sheepishly. “Twenty thousand pounds, that’s wot I’ve lost—and it isn’t lunch time. ’urried into the world—that’s wot I was—that’s ’ow my bad luck started. You couldn’t h’expect nothing of a man ’oo was born in a ’ansom-cab.”

“You babies!” Mrs. Sheerug shifted her spectacles higher up her nose. “You know you never pay. It doesn’t matter whether you play for millions or farthings. Why don’t you work?”

When they had left, she made Teddy comfortable in a big armchair. Before she went about her household duties, she bent down and whispered: “No one shall ever know that you pretended. I’m—I’m even glad of it. Oh, we women, how we like to be loved by you useless men!”








CHAPTER VII—“PASHUN” IN THE KITCHEN

In the conducting of a first love-affair one inevitably bungles. When the young gentleman in love happens to be older than the lady, his lack of finesse may be forgiven by her still greater inexperience. When the young gentleman is considerably less than half his fiancée’s years and, moreover, she is an expert in courtship by reason of many suitors, the case calls for the utmost delicacy.

Teddy was keenly sensitive to the precariousness of his situation. He was aware that, if he confessed himself, there wasn’t a living soul would take him seriously. Even Dearie and Jimmie Boy, to whom he told almost everything, would laugh at him. It made him feel very lonely; it was bard to think that you had to be laughed at just because you were young. Of course ordinary boys, who were going to be greengrocers or policemen when they grew up, didn’t fall in love; but boys who already felt the shadow of future greatness brooding over them might. In fact, such boys were just the sort of boys to pine away and die if their love went unrequited—the sort of fine-natured boys who, whether love came to them at nine or twenty, could love only once.

Here he was secretly engaged to Vashti and threatened by many unknown rivals. He didn’t know her surname and he didn’t know her address. He had to find her; when he found her he wasn’t sure what he ought to do with her. But find her he must. Four days had passed since she had accepted his hand. If he were not to lose her, he must certainly get into communication with her. How? To make the most discreet inquiries of so magic a person as Mrs. Sheerug would be to tell her everything. If she knew everything, she might not want him in her house, for she believed that he had feigned illness solely out of fondness for herself. The only other person to whom he could turn was Mr. Sheerug, with whom already he shared one guilty secret; but from this house of lightning arrivals and departures Mr. Sheerug had vanished—vanished as completely as if he had mounted on a broomstick and been whisked off into thin air. Teddy did not discover this till lunch.

Lunch was a typically Sheerugesque makeshift, consisting of boiled Spanish onions, sardines and cream-puffs. It was served in a dark room, like a Teniers’ interior, with plates lining the walls arranged on shelves. There was a door at either end, one leading into the kitchen, the other into the hall. When one of these doors banged, which it did quite frequently, a plate fell down. Perhaps it was to economize on this constant toll of breakages that Mrs. Sheerug used enamel-ware on her table. The table had a frowsy appearance, as though the person who had set the breakfast had forgotten to clear away the last night’s supper, and the person who had set the lunch had been equally careless about the breakfast. Mrs. Sheerug explained: “I always keep it set, my dear; we’re so irregular and it saves worry when our friends drop in at odd seasons.”

This room, as was the case with half the rooms in the house, had steps leading down to it, the floor of the hall being on a higher level. Whether it was that the house had muddled itself into odd angles and useless passages under the influence of Mrs. Sheerug’s tenancy, or that the mazelike originality of its architecture had effected the pattern of her character, there could be no doubt that Orchid Lodge, with its rambling spaciousness, awkward comfort, and dusty hospitality, was the exact replica in bricks and mortar of its mistress’s personality.

“What’s the matter, Teddy? Don’t you like Spanish onions? You’ll have to make yourself like them. They’re good for you. I’ve known them cure consumption.”

“I haven’t got consumption.”

“But why don’t you eat them? You keep looking about you as if you’d lost something.”

“I was wondering whether Mr. Sheerug was coming.”

She rested her fork on her plate, tapping with it and gazing at him. “Well, I never! You’re a queer child for scattering your affections. You’re the first little boy I ever knew to take a fancy to Alonzo. He’s so silent and looks so gruff.”

Teddy laughed. “But he talks to me. When shall I see him again?”

“Upon my soul! What’s the man done to you? I don’t know, Teddy—I never do know when I’m going to see him. He goes away to earn money—that’s what men are made for—and he stays away sometimes for a week and sometimes for months; it all depends on how long he takes to find it There have been times,” she raised her voice with a note of pride, “when my husband has come back a very rich man. Once, for almost a year, we lived in West Kensington and kept our carriage. But there have been times——-” She left the sentence unended and shook her head. “It’s ups and downs, Teddy; and if we’re kind when we have money, the good Lord provides for us when we haven’t. ’Tisn’t money, it’s the heart inside us that makes us happy.”

Teddy wasn’t paying attention to the faery-godmother’s philosophy; he was thinking of Alonzo Sheerug, who had gone away to earn money. He pictured him as a fat explorer, panting off into a wilderness with a pail. When the pail was filled, and not until it was filled, he would return to his wife. That was what men were made for—to be fetch-and-carry persons. Teddy was thinking that if he could reach Mr. Sheerug, he would ask him to carry an extra bucket.

That an interval might elapse between his flow of questions, he finished his Spanish onion. Then, “I’d like to write him a question if you’d send it.”

“Oh, come!” She patted his hand. “There’s no question that you could ask him that I couldn’t answer. He’s only a man.”

Teddy knew that he would have to ask her something; so he asked her a question, but not the question. “Who is Hal?”

“My son.”

“Does he like the lady who sang in the bedroom?”

“He——” She frowned. “You’re too curious, Teddy; you want to know too much. See, here’s Harriet waiting to take the dishes and get on with her work.”

Mrs. Sheerug rose and trundled up the steps. Since it was she who had invited his curiosity, Teddy felt a little crestfallen at the injustice of her rebuff. He was preparing to follow her, when he caught the red-headed giantess from the kitchen winking at him as though she would squeeze her eye out of its socket. In her frantic efforts to attract his notice her entire face was convulsed. As the swish of Mrs. Sheerug’s skirts grew faint across the hall, the girl tiptoed over to Teddy and stood staring at him with her fists planted firmly on the table. Slowly she bent down—so slowly that he wondered what was coming.

“Does ’e like ’er!” she whispered scornfully. “Why, ’e loves ’er, you little Gubbins. Wot on h’earth possessed yer ter go and h’arsk ’is ’eart-sick ma a h’idiot quesching like that?”

To be twice blamed for a fault which had not been of his own choosing was too much. There was anger as well as a hint of tears in his voice when he answered, “My name isn’t Gubbins. And it wasn’t an idiot question. She made me ask her something, so I asked her that.”

The girl wagged her head with an immense display of tragedy. His anger seemed only to deepen her despondency. “H’it’s tumble,” she sighed, “tumble, h’all this business abart love. ’Ere’s h’every one wantin’ some one ter love ’em, and some of ’em is lovin’ the wrong pusson, and some of ’em is bein’ loved by three or four, and some-some of h’us ain’t got no one. H’it don’t look as though we h’ever shall ’ave. If I wuz Gawd——” She checked herself, awed by the Irreverence of her supposition. “If I wuz Gawd,” she repeated, lowering her voice, “I’d come right darn from ’eaven and sort awt the proper couples. H’I wouldn’t loll around with them there h’angels till h’every gal ’ad got ‘er feller. Gawd ought ter ’ave been a woman, I tell yer strite. If ’E wuz, things wouldn’t be in this ’ere muddle. A she-Gawd wouldn’t let h’us maike such fools of h’ourselves, if you’ll h’excuse me strong lang-widge.”

Teddy stared at her. It wasn’t her “strong langwidge” that made him stare; it was the confession that her words implied. “You’re—you’re in love?”

She jerked up her head defiantly. “In love! Yus, I’m in love. And ’oo isn’t?”

He watched her clearing the table; when that was done, he followed her into the kitchen. The idea that she was suffering from his complaint fascinated him. She of all persons should be able to tell him how to proceed in the matter.

She paused in her washing of the dishes; across her shoulder she had caught him looking at her. “You may well stare,” she said. “H’I’m a cureehosity, I h’am. I wuz left.” She nodded impressively.

He didn’t understand, but he knew the information was supposed to be staggering. “Left!”

“Yus. I wuz left—left h’at a work’ouse and brought h’up in a h’orphanage. P’raps I never wuz born. P’raps I never ’ad no parents. There’s no one can say. I wuz found on a doorstep, all finely dressed and tied h’up in a fish-basket—just left. H’I’m different from h’other gals, h’I am. My ma may ’ave been a queen—there’s never no tellin’.”

Harriet sank into a chair. Supporting her chin in her hand, she gazed wistfully into the fire. “Wot is it that yer wants wiv me, Gubbins?”

“Is it very difficult to get married?” he faltered.

She nodded. “One ‘as ter ’ave money. If a man didn’t ’ave no money, ’is wife would ’ave ter go out charing. She wouldn’t like that.”

“What’s the least a man ought to have?”

She deliberated. “Depends on the lady. If it wuz me, I should want five pounds. But look ’ere, wot maikes yer h’arsk so many queschings? Surely a little chap like you ain’t in love?”

He flushed. “Five pounds! But wouldn’t three be enough if two people were very, very much in love?”

“Five pounds, Gubbins.” She rose from her chair and went back to her dishes. “Not a penny less. I knows wot I’m talkin’ abart My ma wuz a queen, p’raps; ter h’offer a lady less would be a h’insult.”








CHAPTER VIII—THE EXPENSE OF LOVING

It happened in a comfortable room on the ground floor, looking out into the garden. All afternoon he had been puzzling over what Harriet had told him. Mrs. Sheerug sat by the fire knitting; he dared not question her.

Muted by garden walls and distance, a muffin-man passed up and down the streets, ringing his bell and crying to the night like a troubadour in search of romance. He crouched against the window, watching the winter dusk come drifting down. While watching, he fell asleep.

As though he had been coldly touched, he awoke startled, all his senses on edge. On the other side of the glass, peering in, standing directly over him, was a figure which he recognized as Harriet’s. At first he thought that she was trying to attract his attention; then he saw that she seemed unaware of him and that her attention was held by something beyond. A voice broke the stillness. It must have been that same voice that had roused him.

“My God, I’m wretched! For years it’s been always the same: the restlessness when I’m with her; the heartache when I’m without her. She won’t send me away and she won’t have me, and—and I haven’t the strength to go away myself. No, it isn’t strength. It’s something that I can’t tell even to you. Something that keeps me tortured and binds me to her.”

Scarcely daring to stir, Teddy turned his eyes away from Harriet, and stared into the darkness of the room. The air was tense with tragedy. In the flickering half-circle of firelight a man was crouched against the armchair—kneeling like a child with his head in the faery-godmother’s lap. He was sobbing. Teddy had heard his mother cry; this was different. There was shame in the man’s crying and the dry choking sound of a horrible effort to regain self-mastery. The faery-godmother bent above him. Teddy could see the glint of her spectacles. She was whispering with her cheek against the flaxen head. The voice went on despairingly.

“Sometimes I wonder whether I do love her. Sometimes I feel hard and cold, so that I wouldn’t care if it were all ended. Sometimes I almost hate her. I want to start afresh—but I haven’t the courage. I know myself. If I were certain that I’d lost her, I should begin to idealize her as I did at first. God, if I could only forget!”

“My dear! My dear!” Mrs. Sheerug’s voice was broken. Her tired hands wandered over him, patting and caressing. “My poor Hal! To think that any woman should dare to use you so and that I can’t prevent it! Why, Hal, if I could bear your burdens, and see you glad, and hear your laughter in the house, I’d—I’d die for you, Hal, to have you young and happy as you were. Doesn’t it mean anything to you that your mother can love you like that?”

He raised his face and put his arms about her neck. “I haven’t been good to you, mother. It’s like you to say that I have; but I haven’t. I’ve ignored you and given the best of myself to some one for whom it has no value. I’ve been sharp and irritable to you. You’ve wanted to ask questions—you had a right to ask questions; I’ve kept you at arm’s length. You’ve wanted to do what you’re doing now—to hold me close and show me that you cared; and I’ve—I’ve felt like striking you. That’s the way with a man when he’s pitied. You know I have.”

The gray head nodded. “But I’ve always understood, and—and you don’t want to strike me any longer.”

“You’re dearer than any woman in the world.”

“Dearer, but not so much desired.” She drew back from him, holding his face between her hands. “Hal, you’re my son, and you must listen to me. Perhaps I’m only a prejudiced old woman, years behind the times and jealous for my son’s happiness. Put it down to that, Hal; but let me have my say out. When I was young, girls didn’t treat men as Vashti treats you. If they loved a man, they married him. If they didn’t love him, they told him. They didn’t play fast and loose with him, and take presents from him, and keep him in suspense, and waste his power of hoping. It’s the finest moment in a good girl’s life when a good man puts his life in her hands. If a girl can’t appreciate that, there’s something wrong with her—something so wrong that she can never make the most persistent lover happy. Vashti’s beautiful on the outside and she’s talented, but—but she’s not wholesome.”

There was a pause full of unspoken pleadings and threatenings. The man jerked sharply away from his mother. Her hands slipped from his face to his shoulders. They stayed there clinging to him. His attitude was alert with offense.

“Shall I go on?” she asked tremulously.

His answer came grimly. “Go on.”

“It’s the truth I’m telling you, Hal—the truth, as any one can see it except yourself. Beneath her charm she’s cold and selfish. Selfishness is like frost; it kills everything. In time it would kill your passion. She’s gracious till she gets a man in her power, then she’s capricious. You haven’t told me what she’s done to you, my dear. I’m a woman; I can guess—I can guess. She doesn’t love you. She loves to be loved; she never thinks of loving in return. She’s kept you begging like a dog—you, who are my son, of whom any girl might be proud. Perhaps you think that, if she were your wife, it would make a difference. It wouldn’t. You’d spend all your life sitting up like a dog, waiting for her to find time to pet you. You’re my son—the best son a mother ever had. It’s a woman’s business to worship her man, even though she blinds herself to do it You shan’t be a vain woman’s plaything.”

She waited for him to say something. She would have preferred the most brutal anger to this silence. It struck her down. He knelt before her rigid, breathing heavily, his face hard and set.

She spoke again, slowly. “If ever Vashti were to accept you, it would be the worst day’s work. The gods you worship are different. Hers are—hers are worthless.”

He sprang to his feet, pushing aside his mother’s hand. His voice was low and stabbing. “Worthless! I won’t hear you say that. You don’t know—don’t understand. I ought to have gone on keeping this to myself—ought not to have spoken to you. No, don’t touch me. She’s good, I tell you. It’s my fault if I’m such a fool that I can’t make her care.”

He spoke like a man in doubt, anxious to convince himself.

“It’s not your fault, Hal. The finest years of life! Could any man give more? You’re belittling yourself that you may defend her. You’re the little baby I carried in my bosom. I watched you grow up. I know you—all your strength and weakness. You’re the kind of man for whom love is as necessary as bread. Where there’s no kindness, you flicker out You lose your confidence with her and her friends; their flippancy stifles you. I don’t even doubt that you appear a fool. She’s a beautiful, heartless vampire; if she married you, she’d absorb your personality and leave you shrunken—a nonentity. She’s no standards, no religion, no sense of fairness; she wants luxury and a career and independence—and she wants you as well. Doesn’t want you as a comrade, but as an et cetera. She’s willing to accept all love’s privileges, none of its duties. She has plenty of self-pity, but no tenderness. Oh, my poor, poor Hal, what is it that you love in her? Is it her unresponsiveness?”

She seized both his hands, dragging herself up so that she leaned against his breast. “Hal, I’m afraid for you.” She kissed his mouth. “She’ll make you bad. She will. Oh, I know it. She’ll break your heart and appear all the time to be good herself. Can’t you see what your life would be with her?”

“I can see what it would be without her,” he said dully.

His mother’s voice fell flat “You can’t see that. God hides the future. There are good girls in the world. Life for you with her would be bitterness, while she went on smiling. She’s a woman who’ll always have a man in love with her—always a different man. She’ll never mean any harm, but every affection she breathes on will lose its freshness. She’s given you your chance to free yourself.”

She tried to draw him down to her. “Take it,” she urged.

He stooped, smoothed back the gray hair and kissed her wrinkled forehead.

“You’re going to?”

He loosed himself. “Mother, it’s shameful that we should speak so of a girl.”

Crossing the room, he opened the door and halted on the point of departure.

“Are you going to?”

“I can’t There are things I haven’t told you.”

As the door closed, she extended her arms to him, then buried her face in her hands. When the sound of his footsteps had died out utterly, she followed.

Teddy turned from gazing into the darkened room. The window was empty. The other silent witness had departed.

As if coming to uphold him in his allegiance to romance, the Invincible Armada of dreamers sailed out: cresting the sullen horizon of housetops, the white moon swam into the heavens—the admiral ship of illusion, with lesser moons of faint stars following. He remembered that through all his years that white fleet of stars would be watching, riding steadily at anchor. Nothing of bitterness could sink one ship of that celestial armada. He clenched his hands. And nothing that he might hear of bitterness should sink one hope of his great belief in the goodness and kindness of the world.








CHAPTER IX—THE FOG

His exit from Orchid Lodge came hurriedly. Mrs. Sheerug had received a letter telling her that her daughter, Madge, and her younger son, Ruddy, were returning from the visit they had been paying. Consequently, one foggy winter’s afternoon with a tip of four shillings from Hal and of half-a-crown from Mrs. Sheerug—six shillings and sixpence in all towards the necessary five pounds—he was wrapped up and conducted the six doors lower down in the charge of Harriet.

It was as though a story-book had been snatched from his hands when he was halfway through the adventure. There were so many things that he wanted to know. It seemed to him that he had lost sight of Vashti for ever.

Jane, his own servant, admitted them. She was greatly excited, but not by his advent. Drawing Harriet into the hall, she at once began to make her her confidante.

“It wasn’t as though they ’adn’t been ’appy,” Jane was saying. “’Appy I They was that ’appy they got on my nerves. There was times when it was fair sick’ning to listen to ’em. Give me the pip, that’s wot it did. It was ’Dearie this’ and ’Jimmie Boy that,’ till it made a unmarried girl that angry she wanted to knock their ‘eads. Silly, I calls it, to be ’ave like that downstairs. Well, that’s ‘ow it was till the missus takes ill, and wot we’d expected didn’t ‘appen. Master Teddy goes ter stay with you; ‘is dear ma is safe in bed; and then she comes, this woman as says she wants to ’ave ‘er portrait painted. ’Er portrait painted!”

Jane beat her hands and sniffed derisively. Catching Teddy’s eye, she lowered her voice and bent nearer to Harriet “’Er portrait painted! It was all me eye and Betty Martin. Direckly I saw ’er I knew that, and I says to myself, ’Yer portrait painted! A fat lot you wants of that, my fine lady.’ And so it’s turned out When I opened the door to ’er fust, I nearly closed it in ’er face, she looked that daingerous. And there’s the missus on ’er back upstairs as flat as a pancake. I can’t tell ’er a thing of wot I suspeck.”

“Men’s all alike,” sighed Harriet, as though speaking out of a bitter marriage experience. “H’it’s always the newest skirt that attracks.”

Jane looked up sharply. It seemed to her that Teddy had grown too attentive. “‘Ere, Miss ’arriet, let’s go down to my kitching and talk this over. More private,” she added significantly. Then to Teddy, who was following, “No, you don’t, Master Theo. You stay ’ere till we comes back.”

High up in the darkness a door opened. Footsteps. They were descending. Huddling himself into an angle of the wall, he waited. A strange woman in a blue starched dress was coming down. As she passed him, he stretched out his hand, “If you please——”

She jumped away, startled and angry. “What a fright you did give me, hiding and snatching at me like that.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry! But who are you?”

“I’m Teddy. Where’s—where’s mother?”

The woman’s voice became quiet and professional. “She’s sleeping. When she wakes, I’ll send for you. She’s not been well. I must go now.”

He listened to her footsteps till they died out in the basement. He must find his father. Cautiously he set to work, opening doors, peeping into darkened rooms and whispering, “It’s only Teddy.”

Indoors he had searched everywhere; only one other place was left

The garden was a brooding sea of yellow mist, obscured and featureless. Trees stood up vaguely stark, like cowled skeletons.

He groped his way down the path. Once he strayed on to the lawn and lost himself; it was only by feeling the gravel beneath his tread that he could be sure of his direction. A light loomed out of the darkness—the faintest blur, far above his head. It strengthened as he drew nearer. Stretching out his hands, he touched ivy. Following the wall, he came to a door, and raised the latch.

Inside the stable he held his breath. Stacked against the stalls were canvases: some of them blank; some of them the failures of finished work; others big compositions which were set aside till the artist’s enthusiasm should again be kindled. Leading out of the stable into the converted loft was a rickety stairway and a trap-door. Teddy could not see these things; through familiarity he was aware of their presence.

Voices! One low and grumbling, the other fluty and high up. Then a snatch of laughter. Was there any truth in what Jane had said? The trap-door was heavy. Placing his hands beneath it, he pushed and flung it back. It fell with a clatter. He stood white and trembling, dazzled by the glare, only his head showing.

“What on earth!”

Some one rose from a chair so hurriedly that it toppled over. Then the same voice exclaimed in a glad tone, “Why, it’s the shrimp!”

His father’s arms were about him, lifting him up. Teddy buried his face against the velvet jacket. Though he had been deaf and blind, he would have recognized his father by the friendly smell of tobacco and varnish. Because of that smell he felt that his father was unaltered.

“Turned you out, old chap, did they? I didn’t know you were coming. Perhaps Jane told me. I’ve been having one of my inspirations, Teddy—hard at it every moment while the light lasted. I’d be at it now, if this infernal fog hadn’t stopped me.” He tried to raise the boy’s face from his shoulder. “Want to see what I’ve been doing?”

Teddy felt himself a traitor. His father had had an inspiration—that accounted for Jane’s suspicions and for anything awkward that had occurred. It was always when his father’s soul groped nearest heaven that his earthly manners were at their worst. Odd! Teddy couldn’t understand it; a person like Jane, who wasn’t even related, could understand it still less. But he had let himself sink to Jane’s level. If he had wanted to confess, he couldn’t have told precisely what it was that he had dreaded. So in reply to all coaxing he hid his face deeper in the shoulder of the velvet jacket. Its smoky, varnishy, familiar smell gave him comfort: it seemed to forgive him without words.

“Frightened?” his father questioned. “You were always too sensitive, weren’t you? I oughtn’t to have forgotten you like that. But—I say, Teddy, look up, old man. I really had something to make me forget.”

“I think he’ll look up for me.”

At sound of that voice, before the sentence was ended, he had looked up.

“There!”

Her laughter rang through the raftered room like the shivering of silver bells.

Holding out his hands to her, Teddy struggled to free himself. When force failed, he leaned his cheek against his father’s, “Jimmie Boy, dear Jimmie Boy, let me down.”

“Hulloal What’s this?”

Combing his fingers through his curly black hair, his father looked on, humorously perplexed by this frantic reunion of his son and the strange lady. She bent tenderly, pressing his hands against her lips and holding him to her breast.

“I never, never thought I’d find you,” he was explaining, “never in the world. I searched everywhere. I was always hoping you’d come back. When you didn’t, I tried to ask Harriet, and I nearly asked Mrs. Sheerug.”

“Ah, she wouldn’t tell you,” the lady said.

“I know all about marriage now,” he whispered.

“You do?”

He clapped his hands. “Harriet told me.”

His father interrupted. “How did you and Teddy come to meet, Miss Jodrell?”

Vashti glanced up; her eyes slanted and flashed mischief. It was quite true; any woman would have shared Jane’s opinion—Vashti’s look was “daingerous” when it dwelt on a man. It lured, beckoned and caressed. It hinted at unspoken tenderness. It seemed to say gladly, “At last we are together. I understand you as no other woman can.” It was especially dangerous now, when the bronze hair shone beneath the gray breast of a bird, the red lips were parted in kindness, and the white throat, like a swan floating proudly, swayed delicately above ermine furs. In the studio with its hint of the exotic, its canvases where pale figures raced through woodlands, its infinite yearning after beauty, its red fire burning, swinging lamps and gaping chairs, and against the window the muffled silence, Vashti looked like the materialization of a man’s desire. One arm was flung about the boy, her face leant against his shoulder, brooding out across the narrow distance at the man’s.

“How did we meet!” she echoed. “How does any one meet? In a fog, by accident, after loneliness. Sometimes it’s for better; sometimes it’s for worse. One never knows until the end.” She stood up and drew her wraps about her, snuggling her chin against her furs. “I ought to be going now; your wife must be needing you, Mr. Gurney—— Oh, well, if you want to see me out.”

She dropped to her knees beside Teddy. “Good-by, little champion. Some day you and I will go away together and you must tell me all that you learnt from Harriet about—about our secret.”

When they had vanished through the hole in the floor, Teddy tiptoed over to the trap-door and peered down. With a glance across his shoulder, his father signaled to him not to follow. He ran to the window to get one last glimpse of her, but the fog prevented; all he could see was the moving of two disappearing shadows. He heard the sound of their footsteps growing fainter, and less certain on the gravel.

Left to himself, he pulled from his knickerbockers’ pocket a knotted handkerchief. Undoing it, he counted its contents: Hal’s four shillings and Mrs. Sheerug’s half-a-crown. He smiled seriously. Sitting down on the floor, he spread out the coins to make sure that he hadn’t lost any of them. Six-and-sixpence! To grown people it might not seem wealth; to him it was the beginning of five pounds.








CHAPTER X—THE WIFE OF A GENIUS

But, my old pirate, who is she?

The orderliness of the room had been carried to excess; it suggested the austere orderliness of death. Life is untidy; it has no time for folded hands. The room’s garnished aspect had the chill of unkind preparedness.

From the window a bar of sunlight streamed across a woman lying on a white, unruffled bed. Its brilliance revealed the deep hollows of her eyes; they were like violets springing up in wells of ivory. Her arms, withdrawn from the sheets, stretched straightly by her side; the fingers were bloodless, as if molded from wax. Her head, which was narrow and shapely, lay cushioned on a mass of chestnut hair. She had the purged voluptuousness of one of Rossetti’s women who had turned saint. Her valiant mouth was smiling. Only her eyes and mouth, of all her body, seemed alive. She had spoken with effort. It was as though the bar of gold, which fell across her breast, was pinning her to the bed. Some such thought must have occurred to the man who was standing astraddle and bowed before the fire. He crossed the room and commenced to pull down the blind.

“Don’t, please. There’s to be no lowering of blinds—not yet.”

He paused rigid, as though he had been stabbed; then went slowly back to his old position before the fire.

“I didn’t mean to say it,” she whispered pleadingly. “I’m not going to die, Jimmie Boy—not so long as you need me. If I were lying here dead and you were to call, I—I should get up and come to you, Jimmie Boy. ’Dearie, I say unto thee arise’—that’s what you’d say, I expect, like Christ to the daughter of Jairus—‘Dearie, I say unto thee arise.’”

A third person, who had been sitting on the counterpane, playing with her hand, looked up. “And would you if I said it?”

“Perhaps, but I’m not going to give you the chance—not yet.”

“I’m glad,” sighed the little boy, “’cause, you know, I might forget the words.”

The ghost of a laugh escaped the woman’s lips and quickly spent itself. “Jimmie Boy’s glad too, only he’s such an old Awkward, he won’t tell. He hates being laughed at, even by his wife.”

The man raised his shaggy head. His voice sounded gruff and furious. “If you want to know, Jimmie Boy’s doing his best not to cry.”

His head jerked back upon his breast.

The woman lay still, gazing at him with adoring eyes. He cared—he was trying not to cry. She never quite knew what went on inside his head—never quite knew how to take him. When others would have said most, he was most silent He was noisy as a child over the little things of life. He did everything differently from other men. It was a proof of his genius.

In the presence of her frailty he looked more robust, more of a Phoenician pirate than ever. She gloried in his picturesque lawlessness, in the unrestraint of his gestures, in his uncouth silences. What a lover for a woman to have! As she lay there in her weakness she recalled the passion of his arms about her: how he had often hurt her with his kisses, and she had been glad. She wished that she might feel his arms about her now.

“Who is she?” she asked again.

Her question went unanswered. She turned her head wearily to the little boy. “Teddy, what’s my old pirate been doing? Who is she? You’ll tell.”

Before Teddy could answer, her husband laughed loudly. “If you’re jealous, you’re not going to die.”

The riot of relief in his voice explained his undemonstrativeness. Tears sprang into her eyes. How she had misjudged him! She rolled her head luxuriously from side to side. “You funny boy—die! How could I, when you’d be left?”

Running across the room, he sprawled himself out on the edge of the bed. Forgetting she was fragile, he leant across her breast and kissed her heavily on the mouth. She raised herself up to prolong the joy and fell back exhausted. “Oh, that was good!” she murmured. “The dear velvet jacket and the smoky smell—all that’s you! All that’s life! I’m not jealous any longer; but who is she?”

He pulled the loose ends of his tie and shook his head. “Don’t know, and that’s a fact. She just turned up and wanted to be painted. When I’d smarted, I lost my head; couldn’t stop; got carried away. Don’t know whether you’d like her, Dearie; she’s a wonderful person. Sings like a bird—sets me thinking—inspires. Work! Why, I’ve not worked so steadily since—I don’t know when. I was worried about you and glad to forget Hard luck on you, Dearie; I’m a stupid fellow to show my sorrow by stopping away. But as to who she is, seems to me that Teddy can tell you best.”

She squeezed the little boy’s hand. “Who is she, Teddy?” Teddy looked blank. “Don’t know—not exactly. She was in Mrs. Sheerug’s house with Hal, and—and then she came and sang to me in bed.”

“She did that?” His mother smiled. “She must be a good woman to love my little boy.” Then to her husband, after a moment’s reflection: “But what’s the picture?”

His face lit up with enthusiasm. “It’s going to do the trick this time. It’ll make us famous. We’ll move into a big house. You’ll have breakfast in bed with a boudoir cap, and all your gowns’ll come from Paris.”

She stroked the sleeve of his jacket affectionately. “Yes, that’s sure to happen. But what’s it all about?”

He commenced reciting, “‘She feedeth among the lilies. A garden enclosed is my sister: a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Awake, O north wind, and come thou south. Blow upon my garden that the spices thereof may flow out.’ Catch the idea? It was mine; Teddy didn’t have a thing to do with it See what I’m driving at?”

He sat back from her to take in the effect. She drew him near again. “It sounds beautiful; but I don’t quite see all of it yet.”

He knotted his hands, trying to reduce his imagination to words. “It’s the women who aren’t like you, Dearie—the women who love themselves. They feed among lilies; the soul of love is in ’em, but they won’t let it out They’re gardens enclosed, fountains sealed, springs shut up. Now are you getting there? The symbolism of it caught me. There I have her, just as she is in her bang-up modern dress, feeding among the lilies of an Eastern garden. Everything’s heavy with fragrance, beautiful and lonely; the hot sun’s shining and nothing stirs. The windows of the harem are trellised and shut. From under clouds the north and south wind are staring and puffing their cheeks as though they’d burst. Through a locked gate in the garden you get a glimpse of an oriental street with the dust scurrying; but in my sister’s garden the air hangs listless. The fountain is dry; the well is boarded over. And here’s the last touch: halting in the street, peering in through the bars of the gate is the figure of Love. The woman doesn’t see him, though he’s whispering and beckoning. Love’s got to be stark naked; that’s how he always comes. Because he’s naked he looks the same in all ages. D’you get the contrast between Love and the girl’s modern dress? There’s where I’ll need you, Teddy.”

Teddy blushed. He spoke woefully. “But—but I’m not going to undress before her.”

For answer his father laughed.

“But can’t I have any clothes at all—not even my shirt?”

“Not even your shirt. She won’t see you, old man; in the picture she’s looking in the other direction. And as for the real live lady, we’ll paint you when she’s not on hand.”

“It’s roo-ude,” Teddy stammered. “Besides, it’s silly. Nobody eats lilies; they’re for Easter and funerals, and they’re too expensive. And—and can’t I wear just my trousers?”

His father frowned in mock displeasure. “For a boy of ideas and the son of an artist you’re surprisingly modest. Now if you were Jane I could understand it. Love would always put on trousers when he went to visit her. But you’re Dearie’s son. I’m disappointed in you, Teddy; you really ought to know more about love.”

“But I do know about love.” Teddy screwed up his mouth. “I’ve learnt from Harriet.”

“And who’s Harriet?”

“A kind of princess.”

“Pooh!” His father turned to Dearie. “What d’you think of ‘A Garden Enclosed Is My Sister’’?”

Dearie kissed his hand. “Splendid! But does the lady expect to be painted like that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not telling her.”

The violet eyes met his. “Dear old glorious Impractical. Perhaps she’s like Jane and’ll want her love in trousers.” Jimmie wagged his head from side to side in negation. “If I’m any judge of character, she isn’t easily shocked.” He rose and stood staring out of the window. His shadow blotted out the bar of sunlight and lay across her breast He turned. “This light’s too good to lose. I must get back to my work.”

She clung to his lips. Until he had completely vanished her eyes followed.

“Teddy, is she beautiful?” Her whisper came sharply. “The most beautiful—after you, mother, she’s the most beautiful person in the world.”

She closed her eyes and smiled. “After me! I’m glad you put me first.” She stretched out her hand and drew him to her. “Now I’m ill, he’s lonely. He’s got no one to care for him. Don’t let him be by himself.”

“Not at all, Mummie?”

“Not for a moment. You’d better go to him now.”

He was on his way to the door when she beckoned him back. “What’s she called, Teddy?”

“Vashti.”

“Vashti.” She repeated the word.

“Don’t let him be lonely, Teddy—not for a moment alone with her. Good-by, darling. Go to him now.”








CHAPTER XI—THE LITTLE GOD LOVE

On the wall a clock was ticking; that and the rustling of the fire as the coals sank lower were the only sounds. Like a white satin mantle that had drifted from God’s shoulders, the snow lay across the world. The sun flashed down; the studio was flooded with glory.

About the snow and how it came Jimmie Boy had been inventing stories. It was the angels’ washing day up there and some of their wings had blown off the clothes line. No, wa it wasn’t. This was how the snow really happened. The impatient little children who were waiting to be born had had a pillow-fight, and had burst their pillows.

But his father hadn’t spoken for a long time. The fire was going out. Vashti might arrive at almost any moment And, alas, Teddy was naked. He was posing for the figure of Love, peering in forlornly through the fast-locked gate. He hadn’t wanted to do it; even now he was filled with shame. But Jimmie Boy had offered him money—and he needed money; and Dearie had begged him not to leave Jimmie Boy for a single second. When he had crept up to her room to visit her, she had seized his hands and whispered reproachfully, “Go back to him. Go back.” The best way to be always with his father had been to pose for him.

And there was another reason: by making himself necessary to the picture he had been able to see Vashti. Day after day he had sat in the studio, mouse-quiet, watching her. At night he had made haste to go to sleep that the next day might come more quickly. In the morning, when he had wakened, his first thoughts had been of her; as he dressed, he had told himself, “I shall see her in three hours.” Vashti hadn’t seen her portrait yet; she had been promised that this time she should see it—that this time it should be done. The promise had been made before, but now it was to be kept. So to-day was the last day.

“Please, mayn’t I move?”

“Not yet That’s the sixth time you’ve asked me. I’d have finished if you’d kept quiet.”

“But—but I’m all aches and shivers.”

“Nonsense! You can’t be cold with that great fire.” His father was too absorbed; he hadn’t noticed that the fire had gone out “I know what’s the matter with you, Teddy: you’re afraid she’ll be here before you’re dressed. Pooh! What of it? Now stop just as you are for ten minutes, and then——”

He left his sentence unended and fell to work again with concentrated energy. His mind was aflame with the fury of his imagination. He was far away from reality. It wasn’t Teddy he was painting; it was Love, famished by indifference and tantalized by yearning—Love, bruising his face against the bars which forever shut him out. This wasn’t a London studio, ignobly contrived above a stable; it was a spice-fragrant garden of the East, stared at by the ravishing eye of the sun, where a lady of dreams stooped feeding among tall lilies.

“When am I to see it?” Teddy questioned.

“When she sees it.”

“Not till then?”

“Be still, and don’t ask so many questions.”

“I wanted to see it before her,” explained Teddy, “because I’m hoping I don’t show too much.”

His father wiped a brush on the sleeve of his jacket and wriggled his eyebrows. “Take my word for it, sonny, you look much better as you are now. It’s a shame that we ever have to cover you up.” He laid aside his palette. “There, that’s the last touch. It’s done. By Mohammed, it’s splendid. Jump into your duds, you shrimp. I’m going to tell Dearie before Miss Jodrell comes.”

The wild head vanished through the hole in the floor. Teddy heard his father laughing as he passed through the stable. Creeping to the window, he watched him cut across flower-beds towards the house, kicking up the snow as he ran.

It was done. The great exhilaration was ended. Tomorrow, when he awoke, it would be no good saying, “I shall see her again in three hours.” At night he would gain nothing by going to sleep quickly; the new day when it came would bring him nothing. The studio without her would seem empty and dull. If only he had been fortified by the possession of five pounds, he would have boldly reminded her of her promise. Six-and-sixpence was the sum total of his wealth; it was hidden away in an old cigar box which he had labeled MARRIAGE. If a husband didn’t have at least five pounds, his wife would have to go out charing. He couldn’t imagine Vashti doing that.

Shivering with cold, yet drenched in sunlight he stood hesitating by the window. His body gleamed white and lithe; behind him, tall as manhood, stretched his shadow. Clasping his hands in a silent argument he stepped back and glanced towards the easel. Her face was there, hidden from him behind the canvas. Only his father had seen it yet; but he, too, wanted to see it—he had more right than any one in the world.

He tiptoed a few steps nearer, his bare feet making no sound; halted doubtfully, then stole swiftly forward, lured on by irresistible desire.

He drew back amazed. What had his father done? It was intoxicating. The breath of the lilies drifted out; he could feel their listlessness. An atmosphere of satiety brooded over the garden—a sense of too much sweetness, too much beauty, too much loneliness. The skies, for all their blueness, sagged exhausted. The winds puffed their cheeks in vain, hurrying strength from the north and south. They could not rouse the garden from its contentment. It stifled.

Centermost a woman drooped above the lilies, an enchantress who was herself enchanted. Dreamy with contemplation, she gazed out sideways at the little boy. Her eyes slanted and beckoned, but they failed to read his eyes. Her lips, aloof with indifference, were wistful and scarlet as poppies.

The face was Vashti’s—a striking interpretation; but——

Some latent hint of expression had been over-emphasized. One searched for the difference and found it in the smile that hovered indolently about the edges of her mouth. It wounded and fascinated; it did not satisfy. It seemed to say, “To you I will be everything; to me you shall be nothing.”

Clenching his fists, Teddy stared at her. Tears sprang into his eyes. He was little, but he loved her. She called to him; even while she called, it was as though she shook her head in perpetual denial. Naked in the street outside the garden he saw himself. He was whispering to her, striving to awake her from the trance of the flowers. His face was pressed between the bars and drawn with impatience.

Slowly he bent forward, tiptoeing up, his arms spread back and balanced like wings. His lips touched hers. Hers moved under them. He dashed his fingers across his mouth; they came away blood-colored. He trembled with fear, knowing what he had done.

A rush of footsteps behind him. He was caught in her embrace. It was as though she had leapt out from the picture. She was kneeling beside him, her arms about him, kissing the warm ivory of his body. His sense of shame was overpowered by his sense of wonder.

“The poor little god!” she whispered. “That woman won’t look at him. But when you are Love, Teddy, I open the gate.”

Some one was in the stable; feet were ascending. Shame took the place of wonder at being found naked in her presence.

“Quick. Run behind the curtain and dress,” she muttered.

From his place of hiding he heard his father enter.

“Hulloa! So you got here and saw it without me! Why, what’s this?” And then, “Your lip’s bleeding, Miss Jodrell. Ah, I see now. Vanity! Been kissing yourself; didn’t know the paint was wet. Jove, that’s odd!” He was bending to examine. “The blurring of the lips has altered the expression. There’s something in the face that I never intended.”

“It makes me look kinder, don’t you think?”

James Gurney stood up; he was still intent upon his original conception. “I’ll put that right with half-an-hour’s work.”

“You won’t; it’s my picture. It’s more like me, and I like it better.” She spoke with settled defiance; her voice altered to a tone of taunting slyness. “You’re immensely clever, Mr. Gurney, but you don’t know everything about women.”

She liked it better! Teddy couldn’t confess that his lips had carried the redness from the picture to her mouth. There was a sense of gladness in his guilt. Because of this he believed her irrevocably pledged to him.








CHAPTER XII—DOUBTS

It was the early morning of the last day of the year. Staring out into the street, Teddy flattened his nose against the window. He was doing his best to make himself inconspicuous; neither Jane nor his father had yet noticed that he was wearing his Eton suit on a week-day. That his father hadn’t noticed was not surprising. For Jane’s blindness there was a reason.

Jane’s method of clearing the table would have told him that last night had been her night out. She would be like this all day. Dustpans would fall on the landings. Brooms would slide bumpity-bump down the stairs. The front-door bell would ring maddeningly, till an exasperated voice called not too loudly, “Jane, Jane. Are you deaf? Aren’t you ever going?” It was so that Vashti might not be kept waiting that Teddy was pressing his nose against the window.

This was to be his great day, when matters were to be brought to a crisis. In his secret heart he was wondering what marriage would be like. He was convinced he would enjoy it. Who wouldn’t enjoy living forever and forever alone with Vashti? Of course, at first he would miss his mother and father—he would miss them dreadfully; but then he could invite them to stay with him quite often. He was amused to remember that he was the only person in the world who knew that this was to be his wedding day. Even Vashti didn’t know it. He was saving the news to surprise her.

At each new outburst of noise his thoughts kept turning back to speculations as to what might have caused this terrific upsetting of Jane. She herself would tell him presently; she always did, and he would do his best to look politely sympathetic. Perhaps her middle-aged suitor from the country had pounced on her while out walking with her new young man. He might have struck him—might have killed him. Love brought her nothing but tragedy. It seemed silly of her to continue her adventures in loving.

Crash! He spun round. The tray had slipped from Jane’s hands. In a mood of penitence she stood gaping at the wreckage. His father lowered his paper and gazed at her with an air of complete self-mastery. He was always angriest when he appeared most quiet “Go on,” he encouraged. “Stamp on them. Don’t leave anything. You can do better than that.”

“If I don’t give satisfackshun——” Jane lifted her apron and dabbed at her eyes. “If I don’t give satisfackshun——-”

Teddy heard his father strike a match and settle back into his chair. In the quiet that followed, Teddy’s thoughts returned to the channels out of which they had been diverted.

Funny! Love was the happiest thing in the world, and yet—yet it hadn’t made the people whom he knew happy.

Harriet was in love; and Hal with Vashti; and Vashti——

He remembered another sequence of people who hadn’t been made happy by love. Mrs. Sheerug hadn’t, even though she was the daughter of a Lord Mayor of London and had run away with Alonzo to get him. Mr. Hughes hadn’t, for his Henrietta had gone up in a swing-boat and had failed to come down. Most distinctly Jane hadn’t. And his mother and his father—concerning them his memories contradicted one another. Was Dearie afraid of the ladies who came to have their portraits painted? Why should she be, when Jimmie Boy was already her husband?

He shifted his nose to a new place on the window; the old place was getting wet.

And then there was Mr. Yaffon. Mr. Yaffon lived next door and seemed to sum up the entire problem in a nutshell.

His neighbors accounted for his oddities by saying that long ago he had had an unfortunate heart affair.

He had a squeaky voice, was thin as a beanpole and very shabby. His legs caved in at the knees and his shoulders looked crushed, as if a heavy weight was perpetually pressing on his head. He didn’t go to business or paint pictures like other people. In winter he locked himself in a backroom and studied something called philosophy; the summers he spent in his garden, planting things and then digging them up. He was rarely seen in the street; when he did go out his chief object seemed to be to avoid attracting attention. By instinct he chose the side which was in shadow. Hugging the wall, he would creep along the pavement, wearily searching for something. At an interval of a dozen paces a fox terrier of immense age followed. Teddy had discovered the dog’s name by accident He had stopped to stroke it, saying, “He’s nearly blind, poor old fellow.” Mr. Yaffon had corrected him with squeaky severity: “Alice is not a fellow; she’s a lady-dog.” That was the only conversation he and Mr. Yaffon had ever held. Since then, without knowing why, he had taken it for granted that the adored one of the unfortunate heart affair had been named Alice. He accounted for their separation by supposing that Mr. Yaffon’s voice had done it. The reason for this supposition was the green parrot.

The green parrot was a reprobate-looking bird with broken tail-feathers and white eyelids which, when closed, gave him a sanctimonious expression. When open, they revealed Satanic black eyes which darted evilly in every direction. During the winter he disappeared entirely; but with the first day of spring he was brought out into the garden and lived there for the best part of the summer. From the bedroom windows Teddy could watch him rattling his chain and jigging up and down on his perch. He would make noises like a cork coming out of a bottle and follow them up with a fizzing sound; then he would lower his white lids in a pious manner and say, deep down in his throat, “Let us pray.” He seemed to be trying to create the impression that, whatever his master was now, there had been a time when he had been something of a hypocrite and a good deal of a devil.

But the parrot’s great moment came when his master pottered inoffensively up the path towards him. The bird would wait until he got opposite; then he would scream in a squeaky voice, an exact imitation of Mr. Yaffon’s, “But I love you. I love you.” The old gentleman would grow red and shuffle into the house, leaving the bird turning somersaults on his perch and flapping his wings in paroxysms of laughter.

That was why, whatever calamity had occurred, Teddy supposed that Mr. Yaffon’s voice had done it Try as he would, whichever way he turned, he could find no proof that love made people happy. That didn’t persuade him that love couldn’t. It only meant that grown people were stupid. In his experience they often were.

The bell of the front door rang. It rang a second time.

“Who is it?” asked his father.

Teddy turned; his face was glowing with excitement. “It’s Vashti.”








CHAPTER XIII—SHUT OUT.

It’s to be our day, Teddy.”

The gate swung to behind them with a clang. He looked back and saw his father, framed in the window; then the palings of the next-door garden shut him out He was alone with her. It was as though with the clanging of the gate he had said “good-by” to childish things forever.

The world shone forth to meet them, romantic with frost and lacquered with ice. It was as though the sky had rained molten glass which, spreading out across trees, houses and pavements, had covered them with a skin of burning glory. Eden Row sparkled quaint and old-fashioned as a Christmas card. The river, which followed its length, gleamed like a bared saber. Windows, in the cliff-line of crooked houses, were jewels which glittered smoothly in the sunlight In the park, beyond the river, black boughs of trees were hieroglyphics carved on glaciers of cloud. Chimneys were top-hatted sentinels, crouching above smoldering camp-fires. Overhead the golden gong of the sun hung silent At any moment it seemed that a cloud must strike it and the brittle boom of the impact would mutter through the heavens. It was a world transformed—no longer a prison swung out into the void in which men and women struggled, and misunderstood, and loved and, in their loving, died.

Vashti felt for his hand. He wanted to take it and yet—— If he did, people who didn’t understand would think him nothing but a little boy. What he really wanted was to take her arm; he couldn’t reach up to that “Don’t you want to hold it?”

He laughed shyly and slipped his fingers softly into hers.

As they passed Orchid Lodge, standing flush with the pavement, she glanced up at the second story, where the line of windows commenced.

“The people who live there hate me. They’ll hate me more presently. I can’t blame them.”

She hurried her steps. Drawing a breath of relief, she whispered, “Look back and tell me whether anybody saw us.”

He looked back. Two figures were emerging from the doorway—one excessively fat, the other so lean that he looked like a straight line.

“Only the murd—— I mean Mr. Sheerug and Mr. Hughes. I don’t think they saw us.”

“That’s all right.”

She laughed merrily—not on one note as most people laugh, but all up and down the scale. The sparkle of morning was in her voice. Like a flash out of a happy dream she moved through the ice-cold world. People turned to gaze after her. A policeman, stamping his feet on the look-out for some attractive housemaid, touched his helmet She nodded.

“D’you know him?”

“Never clapped eyes on him in my life. A pretty woman belongs to the whole world, Teddy.”

Butcher boys, hopping down from carts, stood thunderstruck. After she had passed they whistled, giving vent to their approbation. Teddy had the satisfaction of knowing that he was envied; he snuggled his hand more closely into hers. Even Mr. Yaffon, the man who was as faded as a memory, raised dim eyes and shrunk against the wall, stung into painful life. His little dog waddled ahead, doing her best to coax him to come on, trying to say, “None of that, Master. You’ve done it once; please not a second time.”

Was it only Teddy’s fancy—the fancy of every lover since the world was created—that everything, animate and inanimate, was jealous of him? Streets seemed to blaze at her coming. Sparrows flew down and chirped noisily in the gutters, as though they felt that where she was there should be singing. Famished trees shivered and broke their silence, mumbling hoarse apologies: “It isn’t our fault Winter’s given us colds in the head. If we had our way, we’d be leafy for you.”

Years later Teddy looked back and questioned, was it love that the little boy felt that winter’s morning? He had experienced what the grown world calls real love by then, and yet he couldn’t see the difference, except that real love is more afraid, thinks more of itself and is more exacting. If love be a divine uplifting, a desirable madness, a mirage of fine deception which exists only in the lover’s brain, then he felt it that morning. And he felt it in all its goodness, without the manifold doubts as to ulterior motives, without the unstable tenderness which so swiftly changes to utterest cruelty, and without the need to crush in order to make certain. In his love of Vashti he came nearer to the white standards of chivalry than was ever again to be his lot In later years he asked himself, was she really so incredibly beautiful? Did her step have the lightness, her face the bewitching power, her voice the gentleness he had imagined? By that time he had learnt the cynical wisdom which wonders, “What is this hand that I hold so fast, more than any other hand? What are these lips? Flesh—-there are others as warm and beautiful Is this meeting love or is it chance?”

He was far from that blighting caution yet Merely to be allowed to serve her, if it could help her to be allowed to die for her, to be allowed to give his all—he asked no more. He carried his all in an ill-wrapped parcel beneath his arm. She observed it.

“Holloa! Brought your luggage?”

“Not my luggage.”

“Then what?”

He flushed. “Can’t tell you yet.”

“Oh, but tell me!”

“I—I couldn’t here—not where every one’s passing.”

“Something for me?” she guessed.

He nodded.

Higher up the street, outside a public house, a hansom cab was standing.

“I must know,” she laughed. “Can’t wait another second. We’ll be alone in that.”

“Where to?” asked the cabby, peering through the trap.

“Anywhere. Piccadilly Circus.”

The doors closed as if folded by invisible hands. The window lowered. They were in a little house which fled across main thoroughfares, up side streets, round corners. He was more alone with her than ever. He could feel the warmth of her furs. He could hear her draw her breath.

“Well?” she asked.

As he placed it in her lap the parcel jingled. “I saved it,” he explained, “for us—for you and me, because of what somebody told me.”

She tore the paper off. In her hands was a wooden box with MARRIAGE inked across it.

“Marriage!” She raised it to her ear and shook it “Money!”

Teddy gazed straight before him. The pounding of the horse’s hoofs seemed no louder than the pounding of his heart. ’Harriet said that five pounds were the least that a lady would expect. “And so—and so—— There’s five pounds.”

He wasn’t looking at her. He didn’t dare to look at her. And so he couldn’t be sure whether she had sighed or laughed. A horrible fear struck him: she might be wondering how so young a person could come honestly by so large a fortune. He spoke quickly. “It’s mine, all of it I asked for money for Christmas. Jimmie Boy paid me for going into his picture; and Hal and Mrs. Sheerug—they gave me——”

“And it’s for me?”

“Why, of course.”

“And it’s all you’ve got—everything you have in the world?” Her arm slipped about him. “You’re the little god Love, Teddy; that’s what you are.”

Traffic was growing thick about them. They came to a crossing where a policeman held up his hand. Through the panes misted over by their breath, they watched the crawling caravan of carts and buses. In the sudden cessation from motion it seemed to Teddy that the eyes of the world were gazing in on them. “A little boy and a grown lady!” they were saying. “He wants to be her husband!” And then they laughed. Not till they were traveling again did he pick up his courage.

“Can we—can we——”

“Can we what?”

“Be married to-day? You said ‘some day’ when you promised.”

For her it was a strange situation, as absurd as it was pathetic. For a moment she tried not to take him seriously, then she glanced down at the eager face, the Eton suit, the clasped hands. In his childish world the make-believe was real. For him the faery tale, enacted for her own diversion, had been a promise. She felt angry with herself—as angry as a sportsman who, intending to miss, has brought down a songbird. Playing at love was her recreation. She couldn’t help it—it was in her blood: her approach to everything masculine was by way of fascination. She felt herself a goddess; it was life to her to be worshiped. All men’s friendships had to be love affairs or else they were insipid; on her side she pledged herself to no more than friendship. Not to be adored piqued her.

But to have flirted with a child! To have filled him with dreams and to have broken down his shyness! As she sat there with his box, labeled MARRIAGE, in her lap, she wondered what was best to be done. If she told him it was a jest, she would rub the dust off the moth-wings of his faith forever. There was only one thing: to continue the extravagant pretense.

“It’s splendid of you, Teddy, to have saved so much.”

“Is it much? Really much?”

“Well, isn’t it?”

His high spirits came back. He laughed and leant his head against her shoulder. “I don’t know. I’m not very old yet.”

“It’s because of that——” She knitted her brows, puzzling how she could break the news to him most gently. In the back of her mind she smiled to remember how much this consideration would have meant to some of her lovers. “It’s because you’re not so very old yet, that I think we ought to wait a year.”

“A year!” He sat up and stared. “But a year’s a whole twelve months!”

She patted his hand. “You wouldn’t like to have people laugh at me, would you? A year would give you time to grow up. And besides, before I marry, there are so many things to be done. I haven’t told you, but I’m going to America almost directly—going to sing there. Five pounds is a terrific lot of money in England, but in America it would soon get spent. Even though you were my husband, you wouldn’t be able to come. You’d have to stay here alone in our new house, and that wouldn’t be very jolly.”

He saw his dream crumbling and tried to be a man; but his lip trembled. “I don’t think—— Perhaps you never meant your promise.”

The trap-door in the roof opened. The hoarse voice of the cabby intruded. “’Ere we are. Piccadilly Circus.”

Vashti felt for her purse in her muff. It wasn’t there. She thought for a minute, then gave the man an address and told him to drive on.

“But I did mean my promise,” she assured Teddy. “Why, a year’s not long. Cheer up. Think of all the fun we’ll have writing letters. Harriet can’t have told you properly about marriage. One has to be very careful. One has to get a house and buy things for it. There are heaps of things to be bought when one gets married.”

“And wouldn’t five pounds be enough?”

She shook her head sorrowfully. “Not quite enough. But don’t let’s think about it. This is our day, Teddy, and we’re going to be happy. Guess where I’m taking you; it proves that I meant my promise.”

When he couldn’t guess, she bent over him and whispered. He clapped his hands. “To see a house!”

“To see our house,” she corrected, smiling mysteriously. “I always knew that some day I’d meet the little god Love; and so I got a house ready for him. It’s a faery house, Teddy; only you and I can see it. If you were ever to tell any one, especially Mrs. Sheerug, it would vanish.”

“I’ll never, never tell. I won’t even tell Dearie. And does nobody, nobody but you and me, know about it?”

She hesitated; then, “Nobody,” she answered.

To have a secret with her which no one else shared, almost made up for the disappointment of not being married. Holding her hand, he watched eagerly the flying rows of houses, trying to guess which was the one.

“It’s in nearly the next street, Teddy.”

“This one?”

“Not this one. Ours has a little white gate and a garden; it’s ever so much cosier.”

They had left the traffic where the snow was churned into mud. Once more it was a world of spun glass, of whiteness and quiet, that they traversed. To Teddy it seemed that the cab was magic; it knew its way out of ugliness to the places where dreams grow up.

The cab halted; the window flew back and the doors opened of themselves. They stepped out on to the pavement. The little white gate was there, just as Vashti had said. A path led up, through snow as soft as cotton-wool, to a red-brick nest of a house. A look of warmth lay behind its windows. Plants, leaning forward to catch the light, pressed against the panes. A canary fluttered in a gilded cage like a captured ray of sun.

A maid in cap and apron answered the bell. She was not at all like Jane, who never looked tidy till after lunch.

“Lost my purse, Pauline,” Vashti pouted. “I couldn’t pay my fare, so had to drive home. The cabman’s waiting.” Pauline had been watching the strange little boy with unfriendly eyes. “If you please, mam, he’s here.” She sank her voice. Teddy caught the last words, “In the drawing-room, playing with Miss Desire.”

Vashti frowned. She looked at Teddy as Pauline had done. He felt at once that a mistake had been made, that there was something that he must not see and that, because of the person in the drawing-room, he was not wanted.

“What shall I do? Stupid of me!” Turning to the maid, Vashti spoke in a lowered voice, “Go up to my room quietly and bring me down my money. We’ll be sitting in the cab and you can bring it out—— No. That won’t do. He might think that I hadn’t wanted to see him. There’d be a fuss. What am I to do, Pauline? For heaven’s sake suggest something.”

“Couldn’t the little boy go and sit in the cab, while you——”

Vashti had her hand on the latch to let Teddy out when shrill laughter rang through the house. A door in the hall burst open and a small girl ran out, pursued by a man on his hands and knees. He had a rug flung over his head and shoulders, and was roaring loudly like a lion. The little girl was too excited to notice where she was going or who were present.

She ran on, glancing backward, till she charged full tilt into Teddy. “Save me,” she cried, clinging to him and trying to hide herself behind him. He put his arms about her and faced the lion.

Balked of his prey, the lion halted. No one spoke. In the unaccounted-for silence the lion lost his fierceness. Throwing back the rug, he looked up. Teddy found himself gazing into a face he recognized.

“Of all the——”

Hal rose to his feet and dusted his knees. He glanced meaningly from Teddy to Vashti. “Is this wise?”

“Shish!” Her lips did scarcely more than frame the warning. “Hal, I never told you,” she said gayly, “Teddy’s in love with me and one day we’re going to be married. That’s why I brought him to see the house. He’s promised never to breathe a word of what he sees, because it’s a faery house and, if he does, it’ll vanish.”

Hal tried to look very serious. “Oh, yes, most certainly it’s a faery house. I’m only allowed here because I’m your champion.”

The boy’s quick instinct told him that an attempt was being made to deceive him. He wondered why. Who was the little girl who had nestled against him? Finding that he was a stranger she had become shy. He looked at her. She was younger than himself. Long curls, the color of Vashti’s, fell upon her tiny shoulders. She was exquisitely slight Her frock was a pale blue to match her eyes, and very short above her knees. She looked like a spring flower, made to nod and nod in the sunshine and to last only for a little while. More spirit than body had gone to her making; a puff of wind would send her dancing out of sight.

“Desire, come here, darling. Say thank you to the boy for saving you from the lion.”

Kneeling, Vashti took the little girl’s reluctant hand and held it out to Teddy. Desire snatched it away and began to cry. A knocking at the door caused a diversion; it was the cabman demanding his fare and asking how much longer they expected him to wait Hal paid; Teddy noticed that Vashti let him pay as if it were his right.

He was mystified; the house and what happened in it were so different from anything he had expected. Vashti had been so emphatic that no one but herself and himself were to know about it, and here were Hal and Pauline and the little girl who knew about it already. Hal’s expression, when he had thrown the rug from his shoulders, had been that of a man who was found out. But his eyes, when they had met Vashti’s, had become daring with gladness. Teddy was aware that he had been brought unintentionally to the edge of a big secret which he could not understand.

The cabman had been gone for a long time. Teddy had been left to amuse himself in the room where the canary hopped in its cage and the plants leant forward to catch the sunlight. It was a long room, running from the front of the house to the back and was divided by an archway. In the back part a fire burned and a couch was drawn up before the fire. He hadn’t the heart to go to it, but stood gazing out between the plants into the street in the exact spot where Vashti had left him. Every now and then the canary twittered, as if trying to draw him into conversation; sometimes it dropped seeds on his head. He didn’t know quite what it was he feared or why. On an easel in the archway he espied The Garden Enclosed, which his father had painted. The little god was still peering in through the gate. Teddy had hoped that by now he might have entered the garden. Like the little god he waited, with ears attentive to catch any sound in the quiet He seemed to have been waiting for ages.

A door in the back half of the room opened. Hal and Vashti came in, walking near together. Vashti looked round Hal’s shoulder and called to Teddy, “Not much longer now. I’ll be with you in a moment.” Then they both seemed to forget him.

Seated on the couch before the fire, their heads nearly touching, they spoke earnestly. Perhaps they didn’t know how far their voices carried. Perhaps they were too self-absorbed to notice. Perhaps they didn’t care. Hal held her hand, opening and closing the fingers, and stooping sometimes to kiss the tips of them.

“I’d come to the breaking point,” he whispered; “I either had to have you altogether or to do without you. It was the shilly-shallying, the neither one thing nor the other, that broke me down.” He laughed and caught his breath. “I tried to do without you, Vashti; there were times when I almost hated you. You seemed not to trouble that I was going out of your life. But now—— Well, if you must keep your freedom, we’ll at least have all the happiness we can. I’ll do what you like. I’m not going to urge you any more, but I still hope for Desire’s sake that some day we’ll——”

“Poor boy, you still want to own me. But tell me, was it hearing that I was going to America that brought you back?”

“Brought me back!” He pressed her open palm against his mouth. “To you, dearest, wherever you were, I should always be coming back. How could I help it? Hulloa! That’s fine.” His eyes had caught the picture. “Where did you——”

“All the while you were angry with me I was having it painted for you. But I shan’t be giving it to you now.” She glanced sideways at him with mocking tenderness. “You won’t need it. It was to be a farewell present to some one who had changed his mind.”

He drew her face down. “My darling, my mind will never change.”

Suddenly she broke from his embrace and glanced back into the room, raising her voice. “You know it’s Teddy that I’m going to marry, if ever I do marry. Why, we almost thought we’d get married this morning. Come here, my littlest lover. Don’t look so downhearted. Champions are allowed to kiss their ladies’ hands. Didn’t Hal tell you? Well, they are, and you may if you like.”

Teddy didn’t kiss her hand. He cuddled down on the hearthrug with his head against her knees, feeling himself like Love in the picture, forever shut out. The soul had vanished from his glorious day. He was hoping that Hal would go; she didn’t seem to belong to him while he stayed. Lunch went by, tea came, and still he stayed. A blind forlornness filled his mind that he couldn’t be a man. In spite of her caresses he felt in his heart that all her promises had been pretense.

Not until night had fallen and she got into the cab to take him home did he have her to himself. The lamps stared out on the snow like two great eyes. Once again it was a faery world of mysterious hints and shadows.

She drew him to her. She realized the dull hopelessness of the child and wondered what would be his estimate of her, if he remembered, when he became a man. Would he think that he had been tampered with and made the plaything of a foolish woman’s idleness? She wanted to provide against that. She wanted him always to think well of her. She felt almost humble in the presence of his accusing silence. She had a strange longing to apologize.

“It hasn’t—hasn’t been quite our day, Teddy—not quite the day we’d planned. I’m dreadfully sorry; I wouldn’t have had it happen this way for the world.”

He didn’t stir—didn’t say a word. She made her voice sound as if she were crying; he wasn’t certain that she wasn’t crying.

“You’re not angry with me, are you? It’s so difficult being grown up. Sooner or later every one gets angry, even Hal. But I thought that my littlest lover would be different—that, though he didn’t understand, he’d still like me and believe that I’d tried——”

His arms shot up and clasped her neck. In the flashlight of the passing street lamps she saw his face, quivering and tear wet. She couldn’t account for it, why she, a woman, should be so deeply moved. She had conjured dreams of a man who would one day gaze into her eyes like that, believing only the best that was in her and, because of that belief, making the best permanent. She had experimented with the world and knew that she would never meet the man; love lit passion in men’s eyes. But for a moment she had found that faith in the face of a little child. The fickleness and wildness died down in her blood; the moment held a purifying silence. Taking his face between her hands, she kissed his lips.

“I’m going away,” she whispered. “Whatever you hear, even when you’ve become a man, believe always that I wanted to be good. Believe that, whatever happens. Promise me, Teddy. It—it’ll help.”








CHAPTER XIV—BELIEVING HER GOOD

For a week he had no news of her. Then his father said to him one morning, “Oh, by the way, The Garden Enclosed is going to be exhibited. I asked Miss Jodrell to lend it to me.”

“Will—will she bring it herself?” he asked, trying to disguise his anxiety.

“Herself! No. She’s rather an important person. She’s gone to America.”

Then the news leaked out that Hal had gone too.

Some nights later he was driving back down Eden Row with his father. They had been to the gallery where the picture was hanging. Without warning the cab pulled up with a jerk; he found himself clinging to the dashboard. His eyes were staring into the gas-lit gloom of Eden Row.

Almost touching the horse’s nose, two men, a fat and a lean one, had darted out from the shadow of the pavement They were shouting at something that sat balanced, humped like a sack, on the spiked palings which divided the river from the road. They had all but reached it; it screamed, shot erect, and jumped. There was a sullen splash, then silence and the gurgling of the river as the ripples closed slowly over it.

The silhouette of the fat man bent double; the silhouette of the lean man, using it as a stepping stone, climbed the palings and dived into the blackness. It would have been a dumb charade, if the fat man hadn’t said, “Um! Um!” when he felt the lean man’s foot digging into his back.

Teddy was hauled out into the road by his father. Grampus puffings were coming from the river, splashings and groanings. The cabman was standing up in his seat, profanely expressing his emotions. A police-whistle called near at hand. A hundred yards away another answered. Through the emptiness of night the pounding of feet sounded.

In an instant, as though it had sprung out of the ground, a crowd had gathered. People started to strike matches, which they held out through the palings in a futile endeavor to see what was happening.

A policeman came up, elbowing and shoving. He caught the horse’s head and whisked the cab round so that its lamps shone down on the river. They revealed Mr. Hughes, his bowler hat smashed over his forehead, swimming desperately with one hand and towing a bundle towards the bank.

Men swarmed over the palings and dragged him safe to land. Clearing his throat, he commenced explaining to the policeman, “As I was walkin’ with my friend, I sees ’er climbin’ over. I says to ’im, That’s queer. That ain’t allowed.’ And at that moment——”

Teddy lost the rest. Letting go his father’s hand, he was wriggling his way to the front through the legs of the crowd. He reached the palings and peered through.

Stretched limply on the bank, her hair broken loose, the policeman’s bull’s-eye glaring down on her, was Harriet.

Vashti’s name was never mentioned in connection with the attempted suicide, but he quickly knew that in some mysterious way she was held responsible. When he asked his mother, “Was it because Hal went to America?” she answered him evasively, “Harriet’s a curious girl—not quite normal. That may have had something to do with it.”

For many months, as far as Orchid Lodge was concerned, Vashti’s memory was a hand clapped over the mouth of laughter. Harriet broke dishes now only by accident and never in temper. She went about her work without singing. Mrs. Sheerug put away her gay green mantle; after Hal left, she dressed in black. She spoke less about men being shiftless creatures. If she caught herself doing it from habit, she stopped sharply, fearing lest she should be suspected of accusing some one man. Her great theme nowadays was the blighting influence of selfishness. She was always on the look-out for signs of selfishness in Teddy. Once, at parting with him, she refrained from the usual gift of money, saying, “My dear, beware of selfishness. I’m afraid you come here not because you love me, but for what you can get” She spent much of her time in covering page after page of foreign notepaper in the spare-room where the gilded harp stood against the window. She did it in the spare-room because, if it so happened that she wanted to cry, no one could see her there. Questioned by careless persons about Hal, she would answer, “He’s gone to America. He’s doing splendidly. He’ll be back some time. No, I can’t say when.”

Her other two children, Ruddy and Madge, didn’t interest her particularly. Ruddy was redheaded and always pulling things to pieces to see how they worked. Madge was twenty, a cross girl who loved animals and pretended to hate men.

When at the end of two months the portrait came back from the gallery, a dispute arose which brought home to Teddy the way in which Vashti was regarded. She had written none of the promised letters, so Jimmie Boy didn’t know her address. He might have asked Mrs. Sheerug, but the matter was too delicate. He made up his mind to hang the picture in his house and had set about doing so, when Dearie put her foot down.

“I won’t have it.”

“But it’s my best work. What’s got into your head, Dearie, to make you so prudish? You might as well object to all Romney’s Lady Hamiltons because she——”

“Lady Hamilton’s dead. Romney wasn’t my husband, and Nelson’s mother wasn’t my friend.”

Dearie was obstinate and so, as though it were something shameful, Vashti’s portrait was carried down to the stable. There, among the dust and cobwebs, with its face to the wall like a naughty child, The Garden Enclosed was forbidden the sunlight. Only Teddy gave it a respite from its penance when, having made certain that he was unobserved, he lifted it out to gaze at it. But because she never wrote to him, he went to gaze at it less and less. Little by little she became a beautiful and doubtful memory. He learnt to smile at his wistful faery story, as only a child can smile at his former childishness.

New interests sprang up to claim his attention; the chief of these was a gift from Mr. Sheerug of a pair of pigeons. In giving them to him he explained to Teddy, “My friend, Mr. Ooze—he’s a rum customer—drops his aitches and was born in a hansom cab, but he knows more about pigeons than any man in London. Trains mine for me—goes out into the country and throws ’em up. That’s where he’s gone now. When he lost his precious Henrietta he nearly went off his head. His hobby saved him. A hobby’s a kind of life-preserver—it keeps you afloat when your ship’s gone down.”

His pigeons, more than anything else, helped him to forget Vashti. His soul went with them on their flights through wide clean spaces. The sense gradually grew up within him that she had betrayed him; this was partly due to the hostile way in which she was regarded by others. At the time when she had tampered with his power of dreaming he had been without consciousness of sex; but as sex began to stir, he felt a tardy resentment. This was brought to a climax by Mr. Yaffon.

Looking from his bedroom window one morning across the neighbors’ walled-in strips of greenness, where crocuses bubbled and young leaves shuddered, he noticed that in Mr. Yaffon’s garden the parrot had been brought out. It was a sure sign that at last the spring had come. As he watched, Mr. Yaffon pottered into the sunlight to make an inspection of his bulbs. Several times he passed near the perch; each time the parrot jigged up and down more violently, screaming, “But I love you. I love you.”

As if unaware that he was being taunted, the old gentleman took no notice. But the parrot had been accustomed to measure success by the fear he inspired. When his master tried neither to appease nor escape him he redoubled his efforts, making still more public his shameful imitation of a falsetto voice declaring love.

Mr. Yaffon rose from examining a bed of tulips; blinking his dim eyes, he stood listening, with his head against his shoulder. Deliberately, without any show of anger, he sauntered up to the parrot, caught him by the neck and wrung it. It was so coolly done that it seemed to have been long premeditated. It looked like murder. The gurgling of that thin voice, so like Mr. Yaffon’s, protesting as it sank into the silence, “But I love you. I love you,” gave Teddy the shudders.

Mr. Yaffon got a spade, dug a hole, and buried the parrot. When he had patted down the mold, he went into the house and returned in a few minutes with a basketful of letters. With the same unhurried purpose, he walked down the path towards his tool-shed, made a pile of dead branches, and set a bonfire going. A breeze which was blowing in gusts rescued one of the papers and led Mr. Yaffon a chase across lawns and flower beds. Just as he was on the point of capturing it, the wind lifted it spitefully over the wall into Mr. Gurney’s garden.

Teddy, who had watched these doings with all his curiosity aroused, lost no time in hurrying down from the bedroom. In a lilac bush he found the lost paper. It was a letter, yellowed by age, charred with fire and written in a fine Italian hand—a woman’s. It read:

My dear Penny-Whistles,

You don’t like me calling you Penny-Whistles, do you? You mustn’t be angry with me for laughing at your voice: I can laugh and still like you. But can I laugh and still marry you? That’s the question. I’m afraid my sense of humor——

Teddy stopped. He realized that he was spying. He knew at last what Mr. Yaffon had been doing: burning up his dead regrets. The letter had already slipped from his hand, when the ivy behind him commenced to rustle. The top of a ladder appeared above the wall, followed by Mr. Yaffon’s head. It sounded as though the parrot had come to life.

“Little boy,” he said, in his squeaky voice, “a very important letter has—— Ah, there it is. To be sure! Right at your feet, boy. Make yourself tall and I’ll lean down for it. There, we’ve managed it. Thank you.”

When the head and the ladder had vanished, Teddy stood in the sunshine pondering. The spring was stirring. Everything was beginning afresh. Then he, too, lit a fire. When it was crackling merrily, he ran indoors to a cupboard. Standing on a chair, he dragged from a corner a box across whose lid was scrawled the one word MARRIAGE. Tucking it under his jacket, he escaped into the garden and rammed the box well down into the embers. As he watched it perish, he whispered to himself: “Silly kid—that’s what I was.”

No doubt Mr. Yaffon was telling himself the same thing, only in different language.

Then the child, on his side of the wall, strolled away to dream of pigeons; and the older child, on the other side, stooped above his flowers.








CHAPTER XV—THE FAERY TALE BEGINS AGAIN

The memories of a man are of the past. A child has no past; his memories are of the imagined future. His soul, in its haste for new experience, rushes on, outdistancing life.

After his false awakening by Vashti, the world which Teddy annexed for himself was composed of sky and pigeons. Often as he watched his birds rise into the air, he would make his mind the companion of their flight. It seemed to him that his body was left behind and that the earth lay far below him, an unfolding carpet of dwarfed trees and houses as small as pebbles. By day his thoughts were of wings. By night, gazing from his bedroom window when the coast-line of the clouds had grown blurred, he would watch the Invincible Armada of the stars, plunging onward and ever onward through the heavens. The little he had learnt of life had pained him; so he took Mr. Sheerug’s advice and remade the world with a hobby. When the stars winked, he believed they were telling him that they knew that one day he would be great.

His pigeons and the wide clean thoughts they gave him, kept his mind from morbid physical inquiries. The school he attended in Eden Row was conducted by an old Quaker, a man whose gentle religion shamed the boys of shameful conversations.

The inklings of life which he had gained through Vashti, made him re-act against further knowledge. Love in her case had begun with beauty, but it had ended with the wretched face of a woman and a policeman’s bull’s-eye staring down on it. Perhaps love always ended that way, causing pain to others and ugliness. He shrank from it. Like a tortoise when its head has been touched, he withdrew into his shell and stayed there. He was content to be young and to remain incurious as to the meaning of his growing manhood. The days slipped by while he lived his realities in books and pigeons, and in his father’s paintings. Not until he was fifteen did he again awaken, when the door unexpectedly opened, leading into a new experience.

It was an afternoon in July, the last day of the summer term. The school had broken up. The playground was growing empty. With the last of the boys he came out of the gate and stood saying “Good-by.” They had told him where they were going—all their plans for the green and leafy future. They were going to farmhouses in the country and to cottages by the sea. Some of them were not returning to school; they were going to the city to become men and to earn money. He watched them saunter away down Eden Row, joking and aiming blows at one another with their satchels.

From across the river, softened by distance, came laughter and the pitter-pat of tennis. In the golden spaces between trees of the park, girls advanced and retreated, volleying with their racquets. Their hair rose and fell upon their shoulders as they twisted and darted. They were as unintelligible to Teddy as if they had spoken a different language.

What was it that he wanted? It was something for which he never found a name—something which continually eluded his grasp. He was haunted by desire for an intenser beauty. All kinds of things, totally unrelated, would stab him into yearning: sometimes a passage in a book; sometimes the freedom of a bird in flight; and now the music of girlish laughter. He was burdened with the sense that life would not wait for him—would not last; that it was escaping like water through his fingers. He wanted to live it fully. He wanted to be wise, and happy, and splendid. And yet he was afraid—afraid of disillusion. He feared that if he saw anything too closely, it would lose its fascination. Those girls, if he were to be with them, he could not laugh as they laughed; he would have nothing to say. And yet, he knew of boys——

Hitching the strap of his satchel higher, he smiled. These thoughts were foolish; they had come to him because he had been saying good-by. They always came when he felt the hand of Change upon his shoulder.

Before his home a cab was standing. On entering the hall he heard the murmurous sound of voices. A door opened. His mother slipped out to him with the air of mystery that betokened visitors.

“How late you are, darling! Run and get tidy. Some one’s been waiting for you for hours.”

As he made a hasty schoolboy toilet he wondered who it could be. His mother had seemed flustered and excited. No one ever came to see him; to him nothing ever happened. Other boys went away for summer holidays; he knew of one who had been to France. But to stir out of Eden Row was expensive; all his journeys had to be of the imagination. When one had a genius for a father, even though he was unacknowledged, one ought to be proud of poverty. To be allowed to sacrifice for such a father was a privilege. That was what Dearie was always telling him.

The room in which the visitor was waiting was at the back of the house. It had folding windows, which were open, and steps leading down into the garden. Evening fragrances drifted in from flowers. In the waning sunlight the garden became twice peopled—by its old inhabitants and by their shadows. On the lawn a sprinkler was revolving, throwing up a mist which sank upon the turf with the rustle of falling rain.

A man rose from the couch as he entered—a fair, thin man with blue impatient eyes and a worn, wistful expression. He looked as though he had been always trying to clasp something and was going through life with his arms forever empty. He placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders, gazing at him intently.

“Taller, but not much older. In all the time I’ve been away you’ve scarcely altered. Do you know me?”

“Why, of course. It’s Mr. Hal.”

“No, just Hal. You didn’t used to call me ‘Mister.’ You can’t guess why I’ve come. I’ve told your mother, and she’s consented, if you are willing. I want your help.” Teddy glanced at his mother. Her eyes were shining; she had been almost crying. What could Hal have said to make her unhappy? How could he, a boy, help a man? In the silence he heard the sprinkler in the garden mimicking the sound of rain.

Hal’s voice grew low and embarrassed. “I want your help about a little girl. She’s lonely. I call her little, but in many ways she’s older than you are. She’s living in a house in the country, and she wants some one to play with. I’ve been so long out of England that I’d forgotten how tall you’d been getting. But, perhaps, you won’t mind, even though she’s a girl. It’s a pretty place, this house in the country, with cows and wild flowers and a river. You’d enjoy it, and—and you’d be helping me and her.”

“Sounds jolly,” said Teddy; “I’d like to go most awfully, only—only what makes you and mother so sad?”

Hal tried to appear more cheerful. “I’m not sad. I was worried. Thought you wouldn’t come when you heard it was to play with a girl.”

“He’s not sad,” said Dearie; “it’s only that, if you go, we mustn’t tell anybody—not even Mrs. Sheerug; at least, not yet.”

Teddy chuckled. At last something was going to happen. “That’ll be fun. But how glad Mrs. Sheerug must be to have you back.”

Hal rose to his feet. “She isn’t That’s another of the things she doesn’t know yet. I must be going. Your mother says she can have you ready to-morrow, so I’ll call for you.”

Teddy noticed how he dashed across the pavement to his cab. He felt certain that his reason was not lack of time, but fear lest he might be observed. He questioned his mother. She screwed her lips together: “Dear old boy, I’m not allowed to tell.”








CHAPTER XVI—A WONDERFUL WORLD

During the train journey Hal kept his face well hidden behind a newspaper. It wasn’t that he was interested in its contents, for he had turned only one page in half an hour. Teddy glanced at him occasionally. Funny! Why was it? Grown people seemed to enjoy themselves by being sad.

The train halted in a quiet station. An old farmer with screwed-up, merry eyes, white whiskers like a horse-collar about his neck, and creaking leather gaiters, approached them.

“Mornin’, mister. I was on the lookout for ’ee. I’ve brought the wagonette; it’s waitin’ outside. Jump in, while I get the luggage.” When he came back carrying the bags, his eyes winked meaningly both together at Teddy: “The little missie, she war that excited, I could scarce persuade her from comin’.”

He lumbered to his seat and tugged at the reins. The horse whisked its tail and set off at a jog-trot through the sleepy town. Houses grew fewer; the country swam up, spreading out between trees like a green swollen river.

As they passed by gates and over bridges, it was as though doors flew open on stealthy stretches of distance where shadows crouched like fantastic cattle.

Hal was speaking. He turned to him. “I was saying that we rather tricked you, Vashti and I. What did you think of us? We often wondered.”

Teddy laughed. “I was little then. I was angry. You see, I believed everything; and she said so positively that we were going to be married. I must have been a queer kid to have believed a thing like that.”

The old horse jogged on, whisking his tail. The farmer sat hunched, with the reins sagging. Hal felt for his case and drew out a cigarette. As he stooped to light it, he asked casually, “Do you ever think about her—ever wonder what’s become of her?”

The boy flushed. It was Vashti, always Vashti, when Hal spoke to him.

“I think of her only as a faery story. It’s silly of me. I don’t think about her more often than I can help.”

“Than you can help!” Hal leant forward with a strained expression. “You can’t help. You always remember. That’s the curse of it. The doors of the past won’t keep shut; they slam and they slam. They wake you up in the night; you can’t rest. You’re always creeping down the stairs and finding yourself in the rooms of old memories. Would you know her again if you saw her?”

Teddy looked up at the question. “I’d know her voice anywhere.” Then, with an excitement which he could not fathom, “Am I going to——?”

Hal shook his head. “I asked you because, if you do see her, you must send me word.”

They turned in at a gate off the highroad. It was scarcely more than a field-track that they followed. Ahead a wood grew up, which they entered. On the other side of it, remote from everything, lay a red farmhouse. A big yard was in front of it, with stacks standing yellow in the sun and horses wandering aimlessly about. Cocks were crowing and on the thatch, like flakes of snow, white fan-tails fluttered. At the sound of wheels, an old lady, in a large sunbonnet, came out and shaded her eyes, peering through her spectacles.

“Hulloa, Sarie!” cried the farmer. “Where’s the missie? We’ve brought ’er a young man.”

Sarie folded her hands beneath her apron. “She’s in the garden, as she always is, Joseph.”

Teddy entered the cool farmhouse, with its low rafters and spotlessness. Everything was old-fashioned, even the vague perfume of roses which hung about it.

Hal touched him on the arm. “Let’s go to her. She’ll be shy with you at first Even though we called, she wouldn’t come.”

He led the way through a passage into a garden at the back. It lay like a deep green well, wall-surrounded and content in the shade of fruit-trees. The trees were so twisted that they had to be held up like cripples on crutches. Paths, red-tiled and moss-grown, ran off in various directions. The borders of box had grown so high that they gave to the whole a mazelike aspect.

“She’s here somewhere,” Hal whispered, with suppressed excitement. “Step gently and don’t pretend you’re looking.”

They sauntered to and fro, halting now and then to listen. They came to a little brook that dived beneath the wall and ran through the garden chattering. Hal was beginning to look worried. “I wish she wouldn’t be like this. Perhaps she’s crept round us and got into the house without our knowing.”

At that moment, quite near them, they heard a sound of laughter. It was soft and elfin, and was followed by the clear voice of a child.

“You’re a darling. You’re more beautiful than any one in the world.”

A turn in the path brought them within sight of a ruined fountain. In the center, on a pedestal, stood the statue of a boy, emptying an urn from which nothing fell. In the gray stone basin that went about the pedestal was a pool of water, lying glassy and untroubled. Through a hole in the trees sunlight slanted. Kneeling beside the edge of the basin was a little girl, stooping to kiss her own reflection.

“Desire.”

She started to her feet with the swiftness of a wild thing. She would have escaped if Hal had not caught her. Across his shoulder she gazed indignantly at Teddy.

“He saw me do that,” she said slowly.

Teddy gazed back at her and smiled. He wanted to laugh, but he was stayed by her immense seriousness.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You’re not one bit,” she retorted.

She struggled down from Hal’s arms. “You may shake hands with me if you like.”

Very formally he shook hands with the little girl.

In the old garden Hal lost his sadness. It was late in the afternoon, when he was leaving, that she asked the question that brought it back, “When is mother coming?”

“Presently. Presently,” he said quickly.

As he climbed into the wagonette, he signed to Teddy.

Bending down he whispered: “If you should see her——You know whom I mean? I’ll be stopping at Orchid Lodge; you can reach me there.”








CHAPTER XVII—DESIRE

Next morning he was up so early that the farmhouse was still asleep when he tiptoed down the creaking stairs. As he opened the door into the orchard, a puppy squirmed from under the currant bushes and approached him with timid tail-waggings. He had the easily damped enthusiasm of most puppies; he was by no means certain that he might not be in disgrace for something. Nature had originally intended him for a bull-terrier; before finishing her work, she had changed her mind and decided that he should be a greyhound. The result was an ungainly object, white in color, too high on the legs, with red-rimmed eyes which blinked continually. Teddy knelt down and cuddled him, after which they were friends.

How still the world was! Now that no one was about, the garden seemed no longer a dumb thing, but a moving fluttering personality. Dew sparkled on the red-tiled paths. It glistened in spider-webs. It put tears into the eyes of flowers. A slow wind, cool with the memory of night, rustled the tree-tops; it sounded like an unseen woman turning languidly in bed. Through leaves the sunlight filtered and fell in patches. A sense of possession came upon the boy—it was all his, this early morning world.

The puppy kept lagging behind, collapsing on his awkward haunches, and turning his head to gaze back at the house. Teddy became curious to see what he wanted and let him choose the direction. Under a window in the thatch to which the roses climbed, he laid himself down.

“So you’re thinking of her, too?” he whispered.

They watched together. The sun climbed higher. Inside the farmhouse sounds began to stir.

When she appeared at breakfast, she chose to be haughty. After she had stalked away with Fanner Joseph, Mrs. Sarie explained to Teddy his breach of etiquette: he had failed to address her as “Princess.”

“She’s full o’ fancies,” said Mrs. Sarie, clearing away the dishes; “full o’ fancies. I’ve ’ad ten children in my time, but not one of ’em like ’er. She won’t let none of us be what we are; she makes us play every day that we’re something different. She’s a captive Princess to-day, and Joseph’s a giant and I’m a giantess.”

Peering through the curtain which hung before the window, he saw Desire, seated astride an ancient horse, which plodded round and round in the farmyard drawing water from a well.

He smiled. He knew little about feminine perversity. Picking up a book, he went into the orchard and threw himself down where the brook ran singing to itself.

Footsteps! She came walking sedately, pretending that she did not know that he was there. He buried his nose in his book. She went by, waited, came back. He heard a swishing sound behind him and glanced across his shoulder. She was standing with a twig in her hand, her face flushed with anger, striking at some scarlet poppies. “Hulloa! What are you doing?”

“They’re people who don’t love me. They’re beasts, and I’m cutting off their heads.”

“I wouldn’t do that. They’re so pretty, and they don’t have long to live, anyhow. Besides, you’re making the puppy frightened.”

The puppy was escaping, his tail quivering like an eel between his legs. Directly her attention was called to his terror, she threw the stick aside.

“Poor old Bones, she didn’t mean to frighten him. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt him for the world.”

She gathered him into her arms, and sat herself down beside the brook about a yard away from Teddy.

“Bones does love me; but some people don’t. We call him Bones ’cause he’s got hardly any flesh.”

She glanced shyly at Teddy to see whether he was taking her remarks impersonally or as addressed to himself.

He was smiling, so she edged a little nearer and smiled back.

“People aren’t kind to Bones,” she said; “they throw things at him. He’s such a coward; people only respect dogs when they bite. You shouldn’t be so nice; you really shouldn’t, Bones.” And then, significantly: “If you’re too nice to strangers at first, you aren’t valued.”

Teddy laughed softly. “So that was why you bit me this morning, Princess, after I’d got up so early and waited for you?”

She tossed her curls and lowered her eyes. “Did I bite? For the fun of it, I’m always being cross like that. I’m even cross to my mother—my beautiful mother. She’s the darlingest mother in the world.”

Teddy closed his book and leant out, bridging the distance. “Is she? Where is she now?”

“I don’t know, only—only I know I want her. Don’t get afraid; I never cry. P’raps she’s in America. He says that she’ll come to me here, but I don’t believe him.” Suddenly with a gesture that was all tenderness, she slipped out her hand. “I was so lonely till you came. Together we may find her. I’m going to have a little girl myself one day, and I know I should cry and cry if I lost her.”

“You’d have to get married first. When I was very little, I once——”

She interrupted. “Oh, no! Ladies don’t have to. When they want babies, they speak to God about it. I know because—— Is your mother married?”

“Yes, my mother’s married. My father paints pictures.”

“Is it nice to have a father?”

“Very nice. Just as nice as to have a mother, only in another way.”

“Do—do all boys have fathers?”

“Why, yes. And all girls.”

“They don’t. I’ve asked my beautiful mother about it so often, because I——”

She fell silent, gazing straight before her with the cloud of thought in her eyes. Bones, sprawling across her lap, licked her hand to attract her attention; she drew her hand away, but took no other notice. The brook bubbled past her feet; its murmurous monologue emphasized her silence. Through lichened trees the farmhouse glowed red. In and out the shadows the sunshine danced like a gold-haired child.

“If fathers are really nice,” she sighed wistfully, “p’raps I ought to have a father for my little girl. When we’re both growed up, I might ask you. Would you be her father, per—perhaps?”

Stretched at her side, he glanced up to see the mischief creep about the edges of her mouth. But her face was no longer elfin; it was earnest and troubled with things beyond her knowledge. When she looked like that she seemed older than twelve—almost the same age as himself; there were so many things that he, too, could not understand. He reflected that they both were very like Bones with their easily damped enthusiasm. A wave of pity swept through him; she was so slight, so dainty, so unprotected. He forgot his pigeons; he forgot everything that had happened before meeting her. He felt that of all things in the world, were he given the choice, he would ask that she might be his sister. Stooping his head, he kissed the white petal of a hand where it lay unfolded in the grass.

She looked down at him quietly. “My darling mother would say, ’You mustn’t let boys do that.’ But I expect she would let you do it. Do you—do you think I’m an odd child? Every one says I am.”

He laughed with a thrill of excitement; she made him feel so much younger than his yesterday self. “I couldn’t tell you, Princess. I’ve never known any girls. But you’re beautiful, and you’re dear, and you’re——”

“Let’s be tremenjous friends,” she whispered.

Through the long summer days that followed they lived in a world of self-created magic—a world which, because they had made it, belonged wholly to themselves. Its chief delight was that they alone could see it. No one else knew that the brook was a girl and that the mountain-ash that grew beside it was her lover. The boy turned back from his dreams of manhood to meet the childhood of the little girl; it was one last glorious flash of innocence before the curtain fell But in the presence of Farmer Joseph and Sarie, and of Hal when he came to visit them, he was shy of his friendship with Desire.

“You’re ashamed of me because I’m a girl and little,” she said. “But I know more than you do about—oh, lots of things!”

She did. She knew that gentlemen when they were in love with ladies, gave their ladies flowers. She knew much about lovers’ secret ways. When asked how she knew, she shook her curls and looked exceedingly wise. She could be impishly coquettish when she liked. There were times when she refused to let Teddy touch her because she would become ordinary to him, if it were always allowed. And there were times when she would creep into his breast like a little tired bird, and let him tell her stories by the hour. She tried to tantalize him into jealousy; Bones was usually the rival for her affections. When she did that, she only amused him, making him remember that he was older than herself. But when he made her feel that he was older, she would stamp her feet with rage. “You’ll be sorry when I wear long frocks,” she would threaten. “I shall pretend to despise you. I shall walk past you with my head held high.”

When she showed him how she would do it, creating the picture by puckering her nose and mincing her steps, she would only increase his merriment Then suddenly her wounded vanity would break and she would fly at him with all her puny strength. “You shan’t laugh at me. You shan’t I can’t bear it Oh, please say you forgive me and like me.”

In the lumber-room, which was across the passage from where she slept, they spent most of their rainy days. It was dirty and it was dusty, but it had something which compensated for dust and dirt—a box full of old-fashioned clothes and largely flowered muslins. Nothing pleased her better than to dress herself up and perform, while he played audience. She would go through passionate scenes, making up a tune and singing words. At the end of them she would explain, “My mamma does that.” And then: “Oh, I wish she would come. When I ask him, he always says, ’Presently. Presently.’ Can’t you take me to her, Teddy?”

It was in the lumber-room that she confided to Teddy how she came to leave America. “It was one day when mother was out. He came. He hadn’t come for a long while before that. He was very fond of me and brought me things; so I was very glad. We drove about all day and when it was time for me to go home to bed, he took me to a big ship—oh, a most ’normous ship. Next day, when I woke up, it was all water everywhere and he said I’d see my mamma when we got to land. But we got to land, and I didn’t. And then he said I’d see her here; but I didn’t. And now he says, ‘Presently. Presently.’ Oh, Teddy, you won’t leave me? I may never see her again.” And then, after he had quieted her: “If we stay here till we’re quite growed up, you’ll escape with me, won’t you, and help me to find her?”

She invariably spoke of Hal as he; she never gave him a name. Teddy felt that it would not be honorable to question her, but he kept his eyes wide for any clew that would solve the mystery. In Hal’s absence he would become bitter towards him, because he had dared to hurt Desire. But when he came to the farm with his arms full of presents, so hungry to win her love, he felt that somewhere there had been a big mistake and that whoever had been cruel, Hal was not the person.

It was Hal who, having heard them speak of knights and sorcerers, brought them The Idylls of the King. Many a golden day they spent reading aloud, while the sunlight dripped from leaves overhead, dappling the pages.

“I like Sir Launcelot best.”

-“But you mustn’t,” said Teddy; “King Arthur was the good one. If Sir Launcelot hadn’t done wrong, everything would have been happy always.”

“Yes, but if everything had been happy always, there wouldn’t have been any story,” she objected. She made bars of her fingers before her mischievous eyes; it was a warning that she was going to be impish. “I expect, when I grow up, I shall be like that story; very interesting and very bad.”

Teddy’s shocked appearance surpassed her expectations. Gapping her hands, she rose into a kneeling position and mocked him. “Teddy doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like my loving Sir Launcelot best. And I know why. It’s because he’s a King Arthur himself.”

All that day she irritated him by calling him King Arthur. They had quarreled hopelessly by supper-time. She went to bed without saying “Good-night,” and he wandered out into the dusky silence. He felt angry with her. Why had he ever liked her? So girls could be spite-full The worst of it was that it was true what she had said. He was a proper person. He would always be a proper person; and proper persons weren’t exciting. He felt like doing something desperate just to prove that he could be bad. Then his superiority in years came to his consolation. Why should he worry himself about a little girl who was younger than himself? When next Hal came to the farm, he would tell him that he was leaving.

It was in his bedroom, where the moonlight fell softly, that memories of her sweetness tiptoed back. He remembered the provocative tenderness of her laughter, the velvet softness of her tiny hands, and the way she had wreathed him with flowers, pretending that he was her knight. Life would never be the same without her. Romance walked into his day only when she had passed down the stairs. Not having had a sister, he supposed that these were the emotions of all brothers. She had conquered him at last: though he was in the right, he would ask her forgiveness to-morrow. She had been trying to make him do that from the first morning when he had failed to call her “Princess”—trying to make him bow to her prerogative of forgiving for having done wrong herself. He fell asleep smiling, but he was not happy.

He awoke with a start The house was still as death. The moon hung snared in a tree; his window was in shadow. Between the long intervals of silence he heard the sound of stifled sobbing.

“Who are you? What is it?” he whispered.

In the doorway he made out a blur of whiteness. Slipping from his bed, he stole towards it. Stooping, he touched it.

“You!”

Her arms flew up and tugged at him passionately. Her tears were on his cheeks. For the first time she kissed him.

“You’re cold, darling little girl.”

And then for the first time he kissed her mouth.

“Oh, I don’t want you to think that I’m bad. I’m not bad, Teddy. And I like you to be King Arthur or Sir Launcelot, or—or anybody.”

He fetched his counterpane and wrapt it round her, coaxing, her just inside the doorway so that they might not be heard. Together, crouched against the wall, with their arms about each other’s necks, they huddled in the darkness.

“I didn’t mind—not really.” Since she had kissed him, he was fully persuaded of the untruth himself. “I shouldn’t really mind whatever you called me. Little Desire, I thought you never cried. You do believe me, don’t you?”

“Oh, I do want my mother so,” she whispered, drawing deep sobs between her words. “If you was to help me to escape to your mother, I’m sure we could find her. And then, you could come and stay with us, and I could come and stay with you. And we should be always and always together.”

In defiance of Hal, he promised to help her at the first opportunity. To-morrow? Perhaps. He saw her safely back to her room, kissing her in the darkness on the threshold.

But to-morrow held its own surprise.








CHAPTER XVIII—ESCAPING

Farmer Joseph’s place was empty at breakfast next morning. It was market-day, and he had made an early start for town. Teddy pressed Desire’s foot beneath the table; when Mrs. Sarie wasn’t looking, he nodded towards the window and his lips formed the word, “To-day.”

The opportunity had come sooner than he had expected. It was quite necessary that, when he helped her to escape, Fanner Joseph’s back should be turned. The old man with’ the merry screwed-up eyes and the white horse-collar of whiskers round his neck, was always watching. He seemed to know by instinct every time that they wandered out of sight of the farmhouse. Sooner or later, as they sat in a field reading or telling stories, his face would peer above the hedge.

In the passage he caught Desire’s hand. “Run upstairs. Get your hat and jacket.—No, wait Mrs. Sarie might see them. Drop them out of the window to me in the garden.” He felt immensely excited. If he could get her to the station undetected, they would travel up to London. When it was evening he would smuggle her past Orchid Lodge, and then—— He supposed she would spend the night at his father’s, and all the other days and nights till her mother was found. But why had Hal stolen her? “Here, catch.”

The hat and jacket tumbled down. He caught a glimpse of the laughing face in the thatch. It was going to be a tremendous lark—almost as good as a King Arthur legend. The next moment she rejoined him.

“Sir Teddy, what are we going to do now?” She clung to his arm, jumping with excitement.

“Hulloa!” he exclaimed, “the babies have come into your eyes.” He told her that the babies came into her eyes when they became especially gray and round.

They tiptoed out of the garden into the passage of the house. All the downstair rooms were quiet; Mrs. Sarie’s footsteps overhead and the smacks she gave the pillow were the only sounds. They crossed the farmyard, walking unhurriedly as though nothing were the matter. From the gateway they glanced back. The white fan-tails fluttered and cooed on the thatch. The curtains blew in and out the open windows. Gaining the path which led across the meadows, they ran—ran till they were breathless.

Across the fields, with his nose to the ground, came another fugitive. As he caught sight of them, he expressed his joy in a series of sharp yaps.

“I say, this’ll never do. He’ll give us away before we know it Go back, bad dog. Go back.”

Bones came a little nearer, crawling on his stomach, making abject apologies, but positively refusing to go back.

They walked on together, the white cur following at their heels till lapse of time should have made him certain that his permission to follow was irrevocable.

They had been walking along the main-road, on the alert to scramble into the hedge at the first sign of any one approaching. It was just such a day as the one on which he had arrived, only dog-roses were fuller blown and blackberries were growing ripe. The wheat was yellowing to a deeper gold and the misty fragrance of meadow-sweet was in the air.

“Ha! Here’s one at last.”

It was a post with three fingers pointing.

“Yes, we’re all right. This one, sticking out the way we’re going, says To Ware; but it says that it’s nine miles. D’you think, with those little legs, you can manage it, Princess?”

She lowered her head, looking up through her lashes.

“They’re very strong little legs, and if you talk to me and talk to me, so that I forget—— If I get very tired, I’ll let you carry me.”

They struck into fields again, clambering through hedges and over gates, judging their direction by the road. Teddy was afraid to keep to the road lest they should meet Farmer Joseph coming back from market, or lest Mrs. Sarie, when she missed them, should send some one driving after them to bring them back.

It was pleasant in the fields. Rambling along, they almost lost their sense of danger and forgot they were escaping. Everything living seemed so friendly. Crickets in the grass chirped cheerily. Birds jumped out of their houses, leaving their doors wide open, Teddy said, to see them pass. He invented stories about the things they saw to prevent the little legs from thinking of their tiredness. Only the cows suspected them of escaping; they whisked their tails and blinked their eyes disapprovingly, like grandmothers who had had too many calves to be deceived by a pair of children.

Lunch time came and they grew hungry, but to buy food at a farmhouse was too risky.. They quenched their thirst at a stream and pictured to themselves the enormous meal they would eat when they got to London.

“Tired?”

“No. I’m not tired.”

“Let’s pretend I’m your war-horse,” he suggested.

The finger went up to her mouth. “That’ll be just playing; it won’t be the same as saying that I’m tired.”

He assured her that it wouldn’t; so she consented to straddle his neck, clasping his forehead with her sticky little hands while he held her legs to help her keep her balance.

Bones ran ahead with his ridiculous red tongue flapping, barking at whatever interested him and paying no attention when he was told to stop. Towards evening, as the sun’s rays were shortening and trees were lengthening their shadows, he made the great discovery of his puppyhood. It was in a field of long grass, the other side of a gate, well ahead of the children. With quick excited yelps and pawings, springing back in fear and jumping forward with clumsy boldness, he commenced to advertise his adventure.

Desire, riding shoulder-high, could see further than Teddy. “Oh, hurry. Be quick. He’s killing something. Let me down.”

When they had climbed the gate, they found themselves in a narrow pasture, hedge-surrounded, at the far end of which the road ran. Bones was rolling a cage over and over, in which a bird fluttered. It was a decoy placed there by bird-catchers, for in a net near by wild birds struggled. They dragged the puppy off and cuffed him. He slunk into the background and squatted, blinking reproachfully with his red-rimmed eyes. His noblest intentions perpetually ended in misunderstandings.

“Oh, the poor darlings! How cruel! Teddy, you do it; they peck my fingers.”

Teddy looked across the field growing vague with shadows. No one was in sight. Going down on his knees, with Desire bending eagerly across his shoulder, he set to work to free the prisoners.

They were so engrossed that they did not notice a rough-looking man who crept towards them. The first thing they knew was the howl of Bones as he shot up, lifted by a heavy boot; the next, when Desire was grabbed from behind and her mouth was silenced against a dirty coat.

Teddy sprang to his feet, clenching his fists. “You put her down.” His voice was low and unsteady.

“And wot abart my burds?” retorted the man, in jeering anger. “Yer’ll ’ave ter pay me for every damned one of ’em before I lets ’er go. I don’t know as I’ll let her go then—taken a kind o’ fancy to ’er, I ’ave. I’ll put ’er in a cage and keep ’er, that’s wot I’ll do. Now then, all yer money. ’And over that watch. Fork h’out.”

“Put her down.”

He looked round wildly. Hal’s warnings of danger then, they hadn’t been all inventions! Far off, at the end of the field, he-saw the real culprit, Bones, slipping through the hedge into the road. Along the road something was passing; he made out the top of a cart above the brambles. He thought of shouting; if he did, the man might kill Desire. At that moment she freed her mouth: “Teddy! Oh, Teddy!”

He threw himself upon the ruffian, kicking and punching. The man let her go and turned upon the boy.

“Yer’ve brought this on yerself, my son, and now yer go in’ ter ’ave it.”

He stepped up furiously, his hand stretched out to seize him by the throat. The fingers were on the point of touching; there was a thud. The thick arm hesitated and fell limply. On the man’s forehead a red wound spread.

“My-Gawd!”

His body crumpled. It sank into the grass and lay without a motion. “Is he dead?” Desire whispered.

“No fear. It ’ud take more than a stone to kill him. Come on, you kids, let’s run for it.”

They turned. Standing behind them in the evening quiet was a Puck-like figure. He was broad, and short, and grinning, and cocky. He wore a midshipman’s suit with brass buttons, which looked dusty and spotty. He had red hair, and was a miniature edition of Mrs. Sheerug.

“Why, Ruddy,” gasped Teddy, “where did you spring from?”

“Where didn’t I spring from? Ha! Get away from him and I’ll tell you. He’s stirring.”

The bird-catcher was struggling into a sitting position. He glared evilly at the children. “You just wait till I get yer,” he muttered. “Skin yer, that’s wot I’ll do. Boil yer. Tear every——”

They didn’t wait to hear more of what he would do. Each taking a hand of the little girl, they started to run—ran on and on across twilit meadows, till the staggering figure of the man who followed and the sound of his threats had utterly died out.








CHAPTER XIX—THE HIGH HORSE OF ROMANCE

You’re a kind of Bible boy, aren’t you?

They were resting on the edge of a wood, half hidden in bracken, recovering their breath. Oak-trees, overhanging them, made an archway. Behind, down green fern-carpeted aisles, mysterious paths led into the unknown. In front a vague sea of meadows stretched, with wild flowers for foam and wheat-fields for sands. In the misty distance the window of a cottage caught the sunset and glowed like the red lamp of a ship which rode at anchor.

“A Bible boy! Not if I know it.” Ruddy grinned, and frowned, and scratched his leg. He was embarrassed in the presence of feminine beauty. If anything but feminine beauty had called him “a Bible boy,” he would certainly have punched its head. “Not if I know it,” he said. “I’m no little Samuel-Here-Am-I, praying all over the shop in a white night-shirt.”

Again he scratched his leg; he wished that feminine beauty didn’t make him itch so.

The little girl rested her white petal of a hand on his grubby paw. “I didn’t mean anything horrid, only—just that it was so like David and Goliath, the way you made the stone sink into his forehead.”

“Yah!” He swelled with a sense of valor, now that his prowess was acknowledged. “I did catch ’em a whopper, didn’t I? If I hadn’t, you kids would be dead.”

Desire drew herself up with childish dignity. “It was nice of you, Boy; Teddy and I both thank you. But—but you mustn’t call me ’kid.’ Teddy always calls me ’Princess.’”

Ruddy’s good-humored, freckled face grew puzzled. “Princess? But, look here, are you?”

Teddy was wondering whether he ought to confide in Ruddy, when Desire took the matter out of his hands. “I expect I am. I’m a little girl who was stolen from America. We were ’scaping when you found us.—What’s in that box you’re carrying?”

Her eyes had been on it from the first. It was full of holes; inside something live kept moving.

“Teddy knows. It’s one of Pa’s pigeons. Didn’t think I’d get home to-night when I came to look for you, so I brought it to let ’em know not to expect me.”

“When you came to look for us!” Teddy leant forward. “Did you come to look for us? Who sent you?”

Ruddy winked knowingly. He was enjoying the mystery, and prolonged the ecstasy of suspense. Pulling a packet of Wild Woodbines from his pocket, he lit one and offered one to Teddy; but Teddy shook his head.

“Ma doesn’t know I do it,” he explained. “I chew parsley and peppermints so she shan’t smell my breath. Bible kids don’t do that. I’m a real bad boy—a detective.”

“But tell us—tell us. Did you know we were here? Did you come by accident?”

Ruddy pushed his midshipman’s cap back from his forehead. “It wasn’t by accident,” he said solemnly. “Since Hal’s come home, he’s been funny. It’s been worryin’ Ma; I’ve heard her talk about it. He’s brought dolls and silly things like that; and then he’s gone away with the dolls, without saying where he was going, and come back without ’em. He’s been acting kind o’ stealthy; we wouldn’t even have known they were dolls except for Harriet She looked among his socks and found ’em. I read ha’penny-bloods about detectives; one day I’m goin’ to be the greatest detective in the world. So I said to myself, ’I’ll clear up this mystingry and put Ma’s mind at rest’ I looked in Hal’s pockets and found a letter from a Farmer Joseph, posted at Ware. There you are! All the rest was easy.”

“But what were you doing on the road?”

Ruddy blew a cloud of smoke through his nose to let Desire see that he could do it. “Pooh! It was Farmer Joseph’s cart that I was following when the dog came running through the hedge.” He threw away his cigarette. “Going to toss up the pigeon while there’s some light left.”

To Desire this was the crowning marvel—that a boy could tie a message to a bird and tell it where to go. She watched Ruddy scrawl on the thin slip of paper and tiptoed to see the slate-blue wings beat high and higher towards the clouds. When it was no more than a speck, the Pucklike figure started laughing.

“What’s the matter?” asked Teddy.

“I was picturing Ma’s face when Pa comes in and shows her.”

“What did you write?”

“That I wouldn’t be home and that I’d found Hal’s princess.”

“But you didn’t tell her where we are, or anything like that?”

“I gave her Farmer Joseph’s address; it was written on the cart.”

“You ass! Hal may catch us because of that.”

Ruddy looked crestfallen; then he brightened. “No fear. Ma won’t tell Hal till she’s come to see for herself.”

Desire had sunk back upon the bed of bracken. “Oh, dear, I’m so hungry. My shoes is full of stockings and I can’t go any further. Poor Teddy’s tired, too; and I wouldn’t let a strange boy carry me. It wouldn’t be modest.”

Her escort drew away to consult in whispers as to what was to be done for her.

“Good egg!” Ruddy tossed his cap into the air. “I’ve got it. I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s a warm night and it won’t hint her. Let’s camp out. I’ll go and buy some grub—be back inside of an hour.”

Desire clapped her hands. “Just like knights and fair ladies in a forest! Oh, Teddy, it’ll be grand!”

There was nothing else to do. Farmer Joseph would soon be out searching. Ware seemed an interminable distance. The boys counted their money, and the red-headed rescuer tramped off sturdily to purchase food. Long after he had disappeared, they could hear his jaunty whistling.

“Teddy, let me cuddle closer. You weren’t jealous, were you?”

“Jealous!”

“Of the boy who threw the stone.”

“Of course I wasn’t.”

She laughed secretly, and pressed her face against his shoulder. “Oh, you! You were, just the same as you were jealous of Bones.”

“Bones was a dog. How silly you are, Princess.”

“Not silly.” Her voice sounded far away and elfin. “You want me to like only you. You wish he hadn’t come; now don’t you?”

It was Teddy’s turn to laugh. Was it true? He didn’t know. “It is nicer, isn’t it, to be just by our two selves?”

“Heaps nicer,” she whispered. “But, oh, I am hungry. Let’s talk to make me forget.”

“You talk,” he said. “Tell me about your mother. She must be very good to have a little girl like you.”

“My beautiful mother!” She clasped her hands against her throat.

From across misty fields came a low whistle. A stumpy dwarf-like figure crawled through the hedge and darted forward, crouching beneath the twilight and glancing back for an enemy in the most approved penny-dreadful manner. Rabbits, nibbling at the cool wet turf, sat up and stared before they scattered, mistaking him at first for an enlarged edition of themselves.

“My eye,” he panted, “but they’re looking for you.”

“Really or just pretence?” asked Teddy.

Ruddy scratched his red head. “More than pretence. I met Fanner Joseph on the road, and he stopped his horse and questioned me. Come on. Catch hold of some of the grub. Let’s be runaway slaves with bloodhounds after us.”

They waded through bracken dew-wet, clinging and shoulder-high. Above them trees grew gnarled and dense, shutting out the sky. At each step the world grew more hushed and quiet. The sleepy calling of birds faded on the night Dank fragrances of earth and moss and bark made the air heavy. Little hands touched them; the hands of foxgloves and ferns and trailing vines. They seemed to pat them more in welcome than affright.

In a narrow space where a tree had fallen, they lit a fire and nestled. As the flames leapt up, they revealed the whole wood moving, tiptoeing nearer, so that trees and foxgloves and ferns sprang back every time the flames jumped higher.

A green moon-drenched, imaginative night! As they sat round the sparkling embers and munched, they spoke in whispers. What were they not? They were never themselves for one moment. They were sailors, marooned on a. desert island. They were Robin Hoods. Ruddy’s fancies proved too violent for Desire—they savored too much of blood; so at last it was agreed that they should be knights from Camelot and that Desire should be the great lady they had rescued.

“I’m so cosy,” she whispered. “So happy. You won’t let anything bad get me, will you, Teddy?”

He put his arms about her. “Nothing.”

He thought she had drowsed off, when she drew his head down to her. “I forgot. I haven’t said my prayers.”

The sleepier she grew, the more she seemed a dear little weary bird. Her caprice went from her, her fine airs and her love of being admired. Even when her eyes were fast locked and her breath was coming softly, her fingers twitched and tightened about her boy-protector’s hand.








CHAPTER XX—THE POND IN THE WOODLAND

Some one was kicking his foot He awoke to find Ruddy, hands in pockets, grinning down on him.

“Been op for hoars,” he whispered; “been exploring. Found a ripping pool Want to swim in it?”

Teddy eased his arm from under the little girl and nodded. “Let’s light a fire first. She’ll know then that we’re not far away, and won’t be nervous.”

The blur of foliage quivered with mysteries of a myriad coinings and goings. Everywhere unseen paths were being traveled to unseen houses. Within sight, yet sounding distant, a woodpecker, like a postman going his rounds, was tap-tap-tapping.

Ruddy knelt and struck a match; tongues of scarlet spurted. The camp-fire became a beating heart in this citadel of gray-green loneliness.

Desire lay curled among withered leaves, her face flushed with sleep, her lips parted. At sound of the fire snapping and cracking, she stirred and opened her eyes slowly.

“Oh, don’t leave me. Where are you going?”

“To have a swim,” they told her.

“But mayn’t I come? I promise to sit with my back turned. I promise not to look, honestly.”

Behind a holly, within sight of the pond, they left her. “Oh, dear, I wish I were a boy,” she pouted. “Boys have fathers and they can bathe and—and they can do almost everything.”

While they undressed, she kept on talking.

“It’s the same as if you weren’t there, when I can’t see you. Splash loud when you get into the water.”

As she heard them enter, “Splash louder,” she commanded. “Girls don’t have to be truthful. If you don’t make a noise I’ll look round.”

“Pooh! Look round. Who cares!” cried Ruddy.

“No, don’t—not yet,” shouted Teddy.

Then the sound of their laughter came to her, of the long cool stretch of arms plunging deep and panting growing always more distant.

She couldn’t resist. The babies came into her eyes and her finger went up to her mouth. She turned and saw two sleek heads, bobbing and diving among anchored lilies. Beneath the water’s surface, as though buried beneath a sheet of glass, the ghost of the wood lay shrouded. Trees crowded down to the mossy edge to gaze timidly at the wonder of their own reflection. Across the pond flies zigzagged, leaving a narrow wake behind them. A fish leapt joyously and curved in a streak of silver. With his chin resting in the highest branches, the sun stared roundly and smiled a challenge.

“I will be a boy,” she whispered rebelliously.

Her arms flew up and circled about her neck. Lest her daring should go from her, she commenced unbuttoning in a tremendous hurry.

“Hi, Princess, what are you doing?”

She was busy drawing off her stockings.

“I say, but you can’t do that.”

“No, you can’t do that.”

The scandalized duet of protests continued. Her knight-errants watched her aghast.

Sullen gray eyes glared defiance at them; yet they weren’t altogether sullen, for a glint of mischief hid in their depths.

“I am doing it. You daren’t come out to stop me.”

“We’ll come out if you’ll promise to turn round. We’ll do anything, Princess. You can have the pond all to yourself.”

“Don’t want the pond all to myself, stupids.”

She began to slip off her petticoat. Two shocked backs were turned on her. As the boys retreated further into the lilies, their pleadings reached her in spasms. Their agony at the thought of violated conventions made her relentless.

She was tired of being a girl; tired of being without a father. “I’ll be a boy,” she whispered, “and wear knickerbockers and have a father, like Teddy.” She really thought that, in some occult way, her outrageous conduct would accomplish that. It was all a matter of dress. She chuckled at imagining her mother’s amazement. The still sheet of water was a Pool of Siloam that would heal a little girl of her sex.

“When she’s once got in,” whispered Ruddy, “it won’t be so bad. We can——”

Teddy grabbed his shoulder fiercely. “You shan’t see her. We’ll stay just as far away as——”

A scream startled the air. They swung about. Knee-deep in the pool, at bay and pale as a wood-nymph, was Desire.

“I won’t come out,” she was shouting, “and I’m not a naughty girl.”

Leaning out from the bank, trying to hook her with an umbrella, was a balloon-shaped old lady.

Behind her, peering above the bushes, was the face of Farmer Joseph, his merry eyes screwed up with amusement.

“But you’ll catch cold, darling,” Mrs. Sheerug coaxed. “Oh, dear, oh, dear! What shall I do? Please do come out.”

“I shan’t catch cold either. And if I do come out you’ll only be cross with me.”

“I won’t be cross with you, darling. I’m too glad to find you for that.”

“Did my beautiful mother send you?”

With what guile Mrs. Sheerug answered the boys could only guess by the effect.

“Well, then,” came the piping little voice, “tell Farmer Joseph to stop looking, and you stop poking at me. I don’t like your umbrella.”

They saw her wade out, drops of water falling from her elfin whiteness like jewels; then saw her folded in the bat-like wings of the faery-godmother’s ample mantle. The glade emptied. The wood grew silent They dared to swim to land.

Ruddy was the first to say anything. “Ma—Ma’s a wonder. I oughtn’t to have sent that pigeon till this s’moming.” Then, in a burst of penitence for his zeal, “I’m afraid I’ve spoiled—— I say, I’m beastly sorry.”

He had spoiled everything; there was no denying it There would be no more camp-fires, no more slaying of bird-catchers, no more pretending you were a war-horse with a rescued Princess from Goblinland riding on your back. Teddy was too unhappy to blame or forgive Ruddy. He pulled on his shirt and indulged in reflections.

“Wonder how they found us?” muttered Ruddy. “Must have seen the smoke of our fire. That wasn’t my fault anyhow; you did agree to lighting that.”

“Oh, be quiet,” growled Teddy. “What does anything matter? Who cares now how they found out?”

Ruddy stole away to see what was happening, thinking that he might prove more acceptable elsewhere.

Teddy stared at the pool. Birds flew across its quiet breast; fish leaped; the sun smiled grandly. Everything was as it had been, yet he was altered. They would take her away from him; of that he was certain. Perhaps they would put her on another ship and send her traveling again across the world. There would be other boys who had never had a sister. He hated them. Because he was young, he would have to stay just where he had been always—in Eden Row, where nothing ever happened. The tyranny of it!

He was roused by hearing his name called softly. She was tiptoeing down the glade, dragging Mrs. Sheerug by the hand. Mrs. Sheerug’s other hand still clasped her umbrella.

As he turned, the child ran forward and flung her arms about his neck. “Oh, Teddy, this person says perhaps she’ll help us to find her.” Then, in a whisper, bringing her face so dose that the thistledown of her hair brushed his forehead and his whole world sank into two gray eyes, “The Princess wasn’t very nice this morning—not modest, so this person says. But you don’t mind—say you don’t I did so want to be like you and to do everything that boys do,” and then, long drawn out, when he thought her apology was ended, “Teddy.”

Mrs. Sheerug trundled up, her hands folded beneath her mantle, and looked down at them benevolently.

“Boys aren’t to be trusted; they shouldn’t be left alone with girls, shouldn’t.” Having uttered the moral she felt necessary, she allowed herself to smile through her shiny spectacles. “She’s fond of you, Teddy—a dear little maid. Ah, well! We must be getting back with Farmer Joseph to breakfast.”

In the wagonette, as they drove through the golden morning, few words were said. Mrs. Sheerug sat with Desire cuddled to her, kissing her again and again with a tender worship. Teddy-couldn’t divine why she should do it, since she had never seen her until that morning. He was conscious of a jealousy in Mrs. Sheerug’s attitude—a protective jealousy which made her want to keep touching Desire, the way Hal did, to realize her presence. It was as though they both shared his own dread that at any moment they might lose her.

It was in the late afternoon when Mrs. Sheerug left. Before going she led him aside. “I want to talk to you.” Her cheeks quivered with earnestness. “You did very wrong, my dear, very wrong. Just how wrong you didn’t know. Something terrible might have happened. That little girl’s in great danger. You must keep her in the garden where no one can see her. Promise me you will. I’d take her back to London to-night, only Hal doesn’t know I’ve found out I want to give him the news gently.” She broke off, wringing her hands and speaking to herself, “Why, oh why, was he so foolish? Why did he keep it from me?” Then, recovering, “Either Hal or I will come and fetch her to-morrow. Don’t look so down-hearted, my dear. If the good Lord remembers us, everything may turn out well. If it does, I’ll let you come and see her. Perhaps,” her dim eyes flickered with excitement, “I shall be able to keep her always and make sure that she grows into a good woman. Perhaps.”

She caught the boy to her breast. She was trembling all over and on the verge of tears. When she had climbed into the wagonette, with Ruddy seated beside her, and had lumbered slowly out of the farmyard, she left Teddy wondering: Why had she said “a good woman”? As though there was any doubt that little Desire would grow up good!








CHAPTER XXI—VANISHED

HE had searched the farmhouse, calling her name softly. He had peered into the lumber-room, where shadows were gathering. He had looked everywhere indoors. Now he stepped into the orchard and called more loudly, “Desire. Desire. Princess.”

Leaves shuddered. Across moss-grown paths slugs crawled. Everything betokened rain; all live things were hurrying for shelter. Behind high red walls, where peach-trees hung crucified, the end of day smoldered. The west was a vivid saffron. To the southward black clouds wheeled like vultures. The beauty of the garden shone intense. The greenness of apple-trees had deepened. Nasturtiums blazed like fire in the borders of box. The air was full of poignant fragrances: of lavender, of roses, and of cool, dean earth.

To-morrow night all that he was at present feeling would have become a memory. He called her name again and renewed his search. To-morrow night would she, too, have become a memory? How loud the whisper of his footsteps sounded I And if she had become a memory, would she forget—would the future prove faithless to the past?

The garden would not remember. The brook would babble no less contentedly because he was gone. All these flowers which shone so bravely—within a week they, too, would have vanished. The birds in the early morning would Scarcely notice his absence. In the autumn they would fly away; in the spring, when they returned, they would think no more of the boy who had parted the leaves so gently that a little girl might peep into their nests. And would the little girl remember? Even now, when he called, she did not answer.

In an angle of the garden, most remote from the farmhouse, he espied her. Something in her attitude made him halt Her head was thrown back; she was staring into a chestnut which tumbled its boughs across the wall. Her lips were moving. She seemed to be, talking; nothing reached him of what was said. At first he supposed she was acting a conversation.

“Desire,” he shouted. “Princess.”

She glanced across her shoulder and distinctly gave a warning. The chestnut quivered. He was certain some one was climbing down. She kissed her hand. The bough was still trembling when he reached her.

“Who was it?”

She pressed a finger to her lips.

“Was it Ruddy? But it couldn’t have been Ruddy unless——”

Beyond the wall he heard the sound of footsteps. They were stealing away through grass.

When he turned to her, she was smiling with mysterious tenderness.

“Who was it?”

She slipped her hand into his. “I am fond of you, dear Teddy, but I mustn’t, mustn’t tell.”

They walked in silence. Rain began to patter. They could hear it hiss as it splashed against the sunset.

“Best be getting indoors,” he said.

In the lumber-room, where so many happy hours had been spent, they sat with their faces pressed against the window.

“Do you want to play?”

He shook his head.

“You’re not sulky with me, Teddy, are you? It would be unkind if you were. I’m so happy.” She flung her arms about his neck, coaxing him to look at her. “What shall I do to make you glad? Shall I make the babies come into my eyes?”

He brushed his face against her carls. “It isn’t that. It’s not that I’m sulky.” Her hands fluttered to his lips that he might kiss them. “It’s—it’s only that I want you, and I’m afraid I may lose you.”

She laughed softly. “But I wouldn’t lose you. I wouldn’t let anybody, not even my beautiful mother, make me lose you. I would worry and worry and worry, till she brought me back.” She lowered her face and looked up at him slantingly. “I can make people do most anything when I worry badly.”

He smiled at her exact self-knowledge. She knew that she was forgiven and wriggled into his arms. “Why do you want me? I’m so little and not nice always.”

“I don’t know why I want you, unless——”

“Unless?” she whispered.

“Unless it’s because I’ve been always lonely.”

She frowned, so he hastened to add, “But I know I do want you.”

“When I’m a big lady do you think you’ll still want me?”

“Ah!” He tried to imagine her as a big lady. “You’ll be proud then, I expect. I once knew a big lady and she wasn’t—wasn’t very kind. I think I like you little best.” Outside it was growing dark. The rain beat against the window. The musty smell of old finery in boxes fitted with the melancholy of the sound.

“I’m glad you like me little best, because,” she drew her fingers down his cheek, “because, you see, I’m little now. But when I’m a big lady, I shall want you to like me best as I am then.”

He laughed. “I wonder whether you will—whether you’ll care.”

“You say all the wrong things.” She struggled to free herself. “You’re making me sad.”

“D’you know what you’ll be when you grow up?”

She ceased struggling; she was tremendously interested in herself.

“What?”

“A flirt.”

“What is a flirt?” she asked earnestly.

“A flirt’s a——” He puzzled to find words. “A flirt’s a very beautiful woman who makes every one love her especially, and loves nobody in particular herself.”

She clapped her hands. “Oh, I hope I shall.”

Outside her bedroom at parting she stopped laughing. “I am fond of you, dear Teddy.”

“Of course you are.”

She pouted. “Oh, no, not of course. I’m not fond of everybody.”

He had set too low a value on her graciousness. He had often done it wilfully before for the fun of seeing her give herself airs. “I didn’t mean ‘of course’ like that,” he apologized; “I meant I didn’t doubt it.”

“But—but,” she sighed, “you don’t say the right things, Teddy—no, never. You don’t understand.”

What did she want him to say, this little girl who was alternately a baby and a woman? When he had puzzled his brain and had failed to guess, he stooped to kiss her good-night She turned her face away petulantly; the next moment she had turned it back and was clinging to him desperately. “I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to leave you.”

“You shan’t.” He had caught something of her passion. “Mrs. Sheerug has promised. She lives quite near our house, and you’ll be my little sister. You shall come and feed my pigeons, and see my father paint pictures. My mother’s called Dearie—did I tell you that? Don’t be frightened; I’ll lie awake all to-night in case you call.”

“No, sleep.” She drew her fingers down his face caressingly. “Sleep for my sake, Teddy.”

He tried to keep awake, but his eyes grew heavy. Farmer Joseph and Mrs. Sarie came creaking up the stairs. The house was left to shadows. Several times he slipped from his bed and tiptoed to the door. More than once he fancied he heard sounds. They always stopped the second he stirred. The monotonous dripping of rain lulled him. It was like an army of footsteps which advanced and halted, advanced and halted. Even through his sleep they followed.

It seemed the last notes of a dream. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Where was he? In his thoughts he had gone back years. He ought to have been in Mrs. Sheerug’s bedroom, with the harp standing thinly against the panes and the kettle purring on the fire. He was confused at finding that the room was different. While that voice sang on, he had no time for puzzling.

It came from outside in the darkness, where trees knelt beneath the sky like camels. Sometimes it seemed very far away, and sometimes just beneath his window. It made him think of faeries dancing by moonlight It was like the golden hair of the Princess Lettice lowered from her casement to her lover. It was like the silver feet of laughter twinkling up a Beanstalk ladder to the stars. It was like spread wings, swooping and drifting over a faery-land of castellated tree-tops. It grew infinitely distant. He strained his ears; it was almost lost It kept calling and calling to his heart.

Something was moving. A shadow stole across his doorway. It was gone in an instant—gone so quickly that, between sleeping and waking, it might have been imagined. His heart was pounding.

In her room he saw the white blur of her bed. Timid lest he should disturb her, he groped his hand across her pillow. It was still warm.

As he ran down the passage a cold draught met him. The door into the farmyard was open. He hesitated on the threshold, straining his eyes into the dusk of moonlight that leaked from under clouds. As he listened, he heard Desire’s laugh, low and secret, and the whisper of departing footsteps. Barefooted he followed. In the road, the horses’ beads turned towards the wood, a carriage was standing with its lamps extinguished. The door opened; there was the sound of people entering; then it slammed.

“Desire! Desire!”

The driver humped his shoulders, tugged at the reins, and lashed furiously; the horses leapt forward and broke into a gallop. From the window Vashti leant out. A child’s hand fluttered. He ran on breathlessly.

Under the roof of the woods all was blackness. The sounds of travel grew fainter. When he reached the meadows beyond, there was nothing but the mist of moonlight on still shadows—he heard nothing but the sullen weeping of rain-wet trees and grass. He threw himself down beside the road, clenching his hands and sobbing.

Next day Hal arrived to fetch him back to London. The wagonette was already standing at the door. He thought that he had said all his farewells, fixed everything indelibly on his memory, when he remembered the lumber-room. Without explanation, he dashed into the house and climbed the stairs.

Pushing open the door, he entered gently. It was here, if anywhere, that he might expect to find her—the last place in which they had been together. Old’ finery, dragged from boxes by her hands, lay strewn about. The very sunshine, groping across the floor, seemed to be searching for her. He was going over to the place by the window where they had sat, when he halted, bending forward. Scrawled dimly in the dust upon the panes, in childish writing, were the words, “I love you.” And again, lower down, “I love you.”

His heart gave a bound. That was what she had been trying to make him say last night, “I love you.” He hadn’t said it—hadn’t realized or thought it possible that two children could love like that. He knew now what she had meant, “You don’t say the right things, Teddy—no, never. You don’t understand.” He knew now that from the first he had loved her; his boyish fear of ridicule had forbidden him to own it. There on the panes, like a message from the dead, soon to be overlaid with dust, was her confession.

Voices called to him, bidding him hurry. Footsteps were ascending. Some one was coming along the passage. The writing was sacred. It was meant for his eyes alone. No one should see it but himself. He stooped his lips to the pane. When Hal entered the writing had vanished.

“You—you played here,” he said. All day he had been white and silent “I’m sorry, but we really must be going now, old chap.”

On the stairs, where it was dark, he laid an arm on the boy’s shoulder.

“You got to be very fond of her? We were both fond of her and—and we’ve both lost her. I think I understand.”








CHAPTER XXII—THE FEAR OF KNOWLEDGE

The journey back to London was like the waking moments of a dream. He gazed out of the carriage window. He couldn’t bear to look at Hal; his eyes seemed dead, as though all the mind behind them was full of darkened passages. It wasn’t easy to be brave just now, so he turned his face away from him.

“Teddy.” There was no one in the carriage but themselves. “Did she ever say anything about me?”

“She said that you were fond of her.”

“Ah, yes, but I don’t mean that. Did she ever say how she felt herself?”

“About you?”

“About me.”

There was hunger in Hal’s voice—hunger in the way he listened for the answer.

“Not—not exactly. But she liked you immensely. She really did, Hal. She looked forward most awfully to your coming.”

“Any child would have done that when a man brought her presents. Then she didn’t say she loved me? No, she wouldn’t say that.”

Hal spoke bitterly. Teddy felt that Desire was being accused and sprang to her defense. “I don’t see how you could expect her to love you after what you had done.” The man looked up sharply. “After what I had done! D’you mean kidnaping her, or something further back?”

“I mean taking her away from her mother.”

Hal laughed gloomily. “No, as you say, a person with no claims on her couldn’t expect her to love him after that.”

Sinking his head forward, he relapsed into silence and sat staring at the seat opposite. When the train was galloping through the outskirts of London, he spoke again.

“I’ve dragged you into something that you don’t understand. Don’t try to understand it; but there’s something I want to say to you. If ever you’re tempted to do wrong, remember me. If ever you’re tempted to get love the wrong way, be strong enough to do without it. It isn’t worth having. You have to lie and cheat to get it at first, and you have to lie and cheat to keep some of it when it’s ended.” He turned his face away, speaking shamefully and hurriedly. “I sinned once, a long while ago—I don’t know whether you’ve guessed. I’m still paying for it. You’re paying for it. One day that little girl may have to pay the biggest price of any of us. I was trying to save her from that.”

Through the window shabby rows of cabs showed up. A porter jumped on the step, asking if there was any luggage. Hal waved him back. Turning to Teddy, he said, “When you’ve sinned, you never know where the paying ends. It touches a thousand lives with its selfishness. Remember me one day, and be careful.”

Driving home in the hansom, he referred but once to the subject “I’ve made you suffer. I don’t know how much—boys never tell. I owed you something; that’s why I spoke to you just now.”

Teddy’s arrival home scattered the last mists of his dream-world. As the cab drew up before the house, the door flew open and his father burst out, bundling a mildly protesting old gentleman down the steps.

“No, I don’t paint little pigs,” he was shouting, “and I don’t paint little girls sucking their thumbs and cooing, ‘I’m baby.’ You’ve come to the wrong shop, old man; no offense. I’m an artist; the man you’re looking for is a sign-painter. Good evening.”

The door banged in the old gentleman’s face. Jimmie Boy was so enjoying his anger that he didn’t notice that in closing the door he was shutting out his son.

When Teddy had been admitted by Jane, he heard his mother’s voice dodging through his father’s laughter like a child through a crowd.

“You needn’t have been so sharp with him, Jimmie. He only wanted to buy the kind of pictures you don’t paint You can’t expect every one to understand. Now he’ll go the rounds and talk about you, and you’ll have another enemy. Why do you do it, my silly old pirate?”

The old pirate pretended to become suspicious that his wife was trying to lower his standards—trying to persuade him to paint the rubbish that would sell She protested her innocence. Long after Teddy had made his presence known the argument continued, half in banter, half in seriousness. Then it took the familiar turning which led to a discussion of finance.

He stole away. The impatient world had swept him back into its maelstrom of realities. It had taken away his breath and staggered his courage. Hal’s harangue on the consequences of sin had made him see sin everywhere. He saw his father as sinning when he indulged his genius by pushing would-be purchasers down his steps. Hal was right—he and Dearie would have to pay for that; all their lives they had been paying for his father’s temperament. They had had to go short of everything because he would insist on trying to exchange his dreams for money.

He wandered out into the garden where his pigeons were flying. Instinctively his steps led him to the stable. From the stalls he dragged out The Garden Enclosed, which was to have made his father famous. He gazed at it; as he gazed, the world seemed better. The world must be a happy place so long as there were women in it like that. People said that his father hadn’t succeeded; but he had by being true to what he knew to be best.

He climbed the ladder to the studio where, through long years of discouragement, his father had refused to stoop below himself. Leaning from the window, he gazed into the garden. The dusty smell of the ivy came to him.

There in the darkness his mother found him. Coming in quietly, she crouched beside him, taking his hands.

“Mother, you’re very beautiful.”

Her heart quickened. “Something’s happened. Once you wouldn’t have said that.”

“I’ve been thinking about so many things,” he whispered, “about how it must have helped a man to have had some one like you always to himself.”

“You were thinking,” she brushed his cheek with hers, “you were thinking about yourself—about the long, long future.”

“Yes.” His voice scarcely reached her. “I was growing frightened because of Hal. I was feeling kind of lonely. Then I thought of you and Jimmie Boy. It would be fearful to grow up like Hal.”

“You won’t, Teddy.”

There was a long silence. They could hear each other’s thoughts ticking. At last he whispered, “Desire said she never had a father.”

“Poor little girl! You must have guessed?”

“Hal?”

Choking back her tears, she nodded.

“Things like that——” He broke off, staring into the darkness. “Things like that make a boy frightened, when first they’re told him.” She drew his head down to her shoulder. He lay there without speaking, feeling sheltered for the moment. All the threats of manhood, the fears that he might fail, the terror lest he might miss the highest things like Hal, drew away into the distance.

In the night, when he awoke and they returned, he drove them off with a new purpose. The pity and white chivalry of his boyhood were aflame with what he had learnt. Until he met her again, he would keep himself spotless. She should be to him what the Holy Grail was to Sir Gala-had. He would fight to be good and great not for his own sake—that would be lonely; but that he might be strong, when he became a man, to pay the price for Desire that Hal’s sin had imposed on her.








CHAPTER XXIII—TEDDY AND RUDDY

Fear is a form of loneliness; it was Ruddy who cured Teddy of that.

For years they had met in Orchid Lodge and up and down Eden Row, nodding to each other with the contemptuous tolerance of boys whose parents are friends. It was the shared memory of the adventure in the woodland that brought them together.

Two days after his return from the farm he stole out into Eden Row as night was falling. In the park, across the river, the bell for closing time was ringing. On tennis courts, between slumbering chestnuts, men in flannels were putting on their coats and gathering their shoes and rackets, while slim wraiths of girls waited for them. They swept together and drifted away through the daffodil-tinted dusk. Clear laughter floated across the river and the whisper of reluctantly departing footsteps. Park keepers, like angels in Eden, marched along shadowy paths, herding the lovers and driving them before them, shouting in melancholy tones, “All out. All out.” They seemed to be proclaiming that nothing could last.

“Hulloa!”

Teddy turned to find the sturdy figure in the midshipman’s suit leaning against the railings beside him.

“Must be rather jolly to be like that.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, don’t be a sausage.” Ruddy smiled imperturbably. “To be like them—old enough to put your arm round a girl without making people laugh.”

“Yes.”

Ruddy sank his voice. “Wonder where they all come from. Suppose they look quite proper by daylight, as though they’d never speak to a chap.”

The crowd was pouring out from the gates and melting away by twos and twos. Each couple seemed to walk in its own separate world, walled in by memories of tender things done and said. As they passed beneath lamps, the girls drew a little apart from their companions; but as they entered long intervals of twilit gloom their propriety relaxed.

Turning away from the river, the boys followed the crowd at random. Once Ruddy hurried forward to peer into a girl’s face as she passed beneath a lamp. She had flaxen hair which broke in waves about her shoulders.

Teddy flushed. He had wanted to do it himself, but something had restrained him. Secretly he admired Ruddy’s boldness. “Don’t do that,” he whispered.

“She looked pretty from the back,” Ruddy explained. “Wanted to see by her face whether her boy had been kissing her. You are a funny chap.”

They got tired of wandering. On the edge of a low garden wall, with their backs against the railing, they seated themselves. It was in a road of small villas, dotted with golden windows and shadowy with the foam of foliage.

Ruddy pulled out a cigarette. “I liked her most awfully. Us’ally I don’t like girls.”

“Desire?” Teddy’s heart bounded at being able to speak her name so frankly.

“Desire. Yes. I’ve got an idea that she’s a sort of relation. Ma won’t tell a thing about her. I can’t ask Hal—he’s too cut up. When I speak to Harriet, she says ‘Hush.’ There’s a mystingry.”

For a week Ruddy opened his heart wider and wider, till he had all but confessed that he was in love with Desire. Then one day, with the depressed air of a conspirator, he inveigled Teddy into the shrubbery of Orchid Lodge.

“Want to ask you something. You think I’m in love with that kid, Desire, don’t you? Well, I’m not.”

“I’m glad you’re not, because—you oughtn’t to be. Why you oughtn’t to be, I can’t tell you.”

“But I never was.”

“Oh, weren’t you?” Teddy shrugged his shoulders.

Up went Ruddy’s fists. His face grew red and his eyes became suspiciously wet. “You’re the only one who knows it. You’ve got to say I wasn’t. If you don’t, I’ll fight you.”

“But you’ve just said that I’m the only one who knows it. You silly chump, you’ve owned that you were in love.”

Ruddy stood hesitant; his fists fell “Don’t know what God’ll do to me. I’ve been in love with my——” He gulped. “I’m her uncle.”

For a fortnight he posed as a figure of guilt and hinted darkly at suicide. But the world at fifteen is too adventurous a place for even a boy who has been in love with his niece to remain long tragic. It was on this dark secret of his unclehood, that his momentous friendship with Teddy was founded. Mrs. Sheerug approved of it; she did all that she could to encourage it. She sent him to Mr. Quickly’s school in Eden Row which Teddy attended. From that moment the boys’ great days began.

It was Ruddy who invented one of their most exciting games, Enemies or Friends. This consisted in picking out some inoffensive boy from among their school-fellows and overwhelming him with flatteries. He was made the recipient of presents and invited to tea on half-holidays, till his suspicions of evil intentions were quite laid to rest. Then one afternoon, when school was over, he was lured into Orchid Lodge to look at the pigeons. Once within the garden walls, Orchid Lodge became a brigand’s castle, the boy a captive, and Ruddy and Teddy his captors. The boy was locked up in the tool-shed for an hour and made to promise by the most fearful threats not to divulge to his mother what had delayed him. Intended victims of this game knew quite well what fate was in store for them; a rumor of the brigands’ perfidy had leaked out. The chief sport in its playing lay in the Machiavellian methods employed to persuade the latest favorite that, whatever had happened to his predecessors, he was the great exception, beloved only for himself.

Opportunity for revenge arrived when Teddy’s first attempt at authorship was published. Mr. Quickly, the Quaker headmaster, brought out a magazine each Christmas to which his students were invited to contribute. Teddy’s contribution was entitled The Angel’s Sin. Perhaps it was inspired by remorse for his misdoings. Dearie nearly cried her eyes out when she read it, she was so impressed by its piety. But it moved his school-fellows to ridicule—especially the much-wronged boys who had spent an hour in the tool-shed. They recited it in chorus between classes; they followed him home reciting it; they stood outside the windows of his house and bawled it at him through the railings. “Heaven was silent, for one had sinned. Before the throne of God a prostrate figure lay. But the throne was wrapped in clouds. A voice rang out,” etc.

“They have no souls,” his mother whispered comfortingly.

The Angel’s Sin cost the brigands many bruises and their mothers much repairing of torn clothing. Teddy’s mother declared that it was all worth it—she had spent her life in paying the price for having genius in her family; Mrs. Sheerug was doubtful Ruddy was loyal in his public defense of Teddy, but secretly disapproving. “Stupid ass! Why did you do it? Why didn’t you write about pirates? Might have known we’d get ragged.”

Teddy shook his head. He was quite as much puzzled as Ruddy. “Don’t know. It just came to me. I had to do it.”

The Christmas holidays brought a joyous week. Teddy had a cold and was kept in bed. The light was too bad for painting, so his father came and sat with him.

“You’re younger than you were, chappie—more like what I used to be at your age. That young ruffian’s doing you good. What d’you play at?”

When penny dreadfuls were mentioned, Jimmie Boy closed one eye and squinted at his son humorously. “That’s not much of a diet—not much in keeping with The Ange’s Sin and a boy who’s going to be a genius. Tell you what I’ll do; let’s have Ruddy in and I’ll reform you.”

Then began a magic chain of nights and days. As soon as the breakfast-tray had been carried down, Jimmie Boy would commence his reading. It was Margaret of Valois that he chose as being the nearest thing in literature to a penny dreadful. Teddy, lying cosily between sheets, would listen to the booming voice, which rumbled like a gale about the pale walls of the bedroom. Seated in a great armchair, with his pipe going like a furnace and his knees spread apart before the fire, his rebel father acted out with his free hand all the glorious love scenes and stabbings. Ruddy, stretched like a dog upon the floor, his elbows digging into the carpet, gazed up at Jimmie Boy adoringly. For a week they kept company with kings and queens, listening to the clash of swords and witnessing the intrigue of stolen kisses. They wandered down moonlit streets of Paris, were present at the massacre of St. Batholomew’s Eve, and saw the Duchess of Guise, having rescued Coconnas from the blades of the Huguenots, hide him, dripping with blood, in her secret closet.

When Margaret of Valois was ended, Hereward the Wake followed, and then Rienzi.

“And that’s literature,” Jimmie Boy told them. “How about your penny dreadfuls now?”

In the afternoons Dearie would join them. “You three boys,” she called them. She always made a pretense that she was intruding, till she had been entreated in flowery romance language to enter. Then, sitting on the bed like a tall white queen, her hand clasped in Teddy’s, she would watch dreamily, with those violet eyes of hers, the shaggy head of Jimmie Boy tossing in a melody of words.

It was this week, with its delving into ancient stories, that taught him what his parents’ love really meant—it was a rampart thrown up by the soul against calamity. They had been poor and harassed and disappointed. There had been times when they had spoken crossly. But in their hearts they still stood hand-in-hand, always guarding a royal place in which they could be happy.

“I say,” whispered Ruddy, “your people—they’re toppers. Let’s go slow on the penny dreadfuls.”








CHAPTER XXIV—DUKE NINEVEH ENTERS

As the years passed the two boys grew into explorers of the undiscovered countries that lie behind the tail-treed reticence of people’s minds. Their sole equipment for these gallant raids was a daring sort of kindness.

Ruddy’s actions were inspired by good nature and high spirits; Teddy’s by introspection and a determination to inquire. He was possessed by a relentless curiosity to find out how things worked.

By a dramatic turn of luck their faculty for curious friendships flung the whole Sheerug household, and Jimmie Boy with it, high up on the strand of what Mrs. Sheerug would have termed “a secure nincome.”

At the time when this happened Teddy was already getting his hand in by helping his father with the letter-press for his illustrated volumes. Ruddy, much to Mrs. Sheerug’s disgust, had announced his intention of “going on the sands,” by which he meant becoming a pierrot.

One sparkling morning in June they were setting out for Brighton. Ruddy had heard of a troupe who were playing there and was anxious to add to his store of pierrot-knowledge. At the last moment, as the train was moving, a distinguished looking man who had been dawdling on the platform seemed to make up his mind to travel by it Paying no heed to the warning shouts of porters, as coolly as if he had been catching a passing bus, he leapt on the step of the boys’ third-class smoker, unlocked the door and entered.

“Handy things to keep about you,” he said, “keys to Tallway carriages. Oh, a third! Thought it was a first. Too bad. Make the best of it.”

There was a cheerful insolence about the way in which he sniffed, “Oh, a third!” addressing nobody in particular and thinking his thoughts aloud. He had a fine, rolling baritone. His aristocratic, drawling way of talking set up an immediate barrier between himself and the world—a barrier which he evidently expected the world to recognize.

Ruddy raised a democratic foot and tapped him on the shin. “Your ticket’s a third. It’s in your hand.”

The distinguished looking man leant down and flapped his trousers with his glove where the democratic foot had touched it Then he fixed Ruddy with a haughty stare. “Ah! So it is. Chap must have given it me in error.”

He settled himself in a corner, paying the utmost attention to his comfort, screwed a monocle in his eye and spread a copy of The Pink Un before him.

The boys threw inquiring glances at each other. Why should this ducal looking individual, with his complete self-assurance and patronizing vastness, have worried himself to try to make them believe that he was traveling third-class by accident? Was he an escaping criminal or a lunatic? Had the porters who had shouted warnings at him been disguised detectives? Was there any chance of his becoming violent when they entered the Box Hill Tunnel?

They scrutinized him carefully. He was probably nearing forty; he wore a straw hat, a black flannel suit with a thin white stripe running down it, patent-leather shoes and canvas spats. Everything about him was of expensive cut and bore the stamp of fashion. His face was wrinkled like a bloodhound’s, his hair sleek and tawny, his complexion brick-red with good living. His nose was slightly Roman, his eyes a sleepy gray; his attitude towards the world one of fastidious boredom. He was a large-framed man and would pass for handsome.

Ruddy was not easily awed. Reaching under the seat, he drew out one of the boxes which Mr. Hughes had entrusted to him.

“What message shall we send? The usual?”

On a narrow strip of paper he wrote, “We have just completed another murder.” As the train slowed down at Red Hill, he leant out of the window and tossed the pigeon up.

“Never trouble trouble, till trouble troubles you.”

The distinguished looking person had laid aside his paper.

“Excuse me,” he said, and with that he drew off his patent-leather shoes and rested his feet on the window ledge to air them.

“Tight?” suggested Teddy politely.

“Very,” said the distinguished looking person. “To tell the truth, they’re not mine. I’m too kind-hearted.”

He picked up his paper and wriggled his toes in his silk socks. It was difficult to trace the connection between wearing tight shoes and kind-heartedness.

“A mystingry,” whispered Ruddy.

“Eh! What’s that?” The Roman nose appeared for an instant above The Pink Un and the lazy gray eyes twinkled. “I’m wearing ’em easy out of affection for a dear friend. No splendor without pain. I take the pain and leave him the splendor.”

Both boys nodded as though his explanation had made his conduct, which had at first seemed unusual, entirely conventional. Teddy drew a pencil from his pocket and commenced to make a surreptitious sketch. If the imposing stranger were anything that he ought not to be, it might come in useful.

“What are you doing?” The paper was tossed aside. “Humph! Colossal! If I may, I’ll keep it I’m a black-and-white artist myself.” He narrowed his eyes as if to hide their real expression. “You won’t know my name. I’m what you might call a professional amateur. Could make a fortune at it, but won’t be bothered with the vulgarity of selling.” And then, with an airy wave of his hand, flicking the ash off his cigarette: “Of course I don’t need to.”

“Of course not,” said Teddy, with winning frankness.

“Of course not,” echoed Ruddy, with a sly intonation, winking at the patent-leather shoes.

The stranger, who had been using the seat as a couch, shifted his position and glanced at Ruddy. “My dee-ar boy, I meant that. If you have very affectionate friends and enough of them, you never need to earn money. It was only when I was young—about as young as you are—that I was fool enough to labor.” He pronounced it “laybore.”

“Well, I’ve not been fool enough to ’laybore’ yet,” said Ruddy, with sham indignation, as though defending himself from a shameful accusation.

“If you do what I do, there’ll be no necessity.” The stranger closed his eyes. “If you cater to the world’s vanity you can live well and do nothing. There’s nothing—absolute—” he yawned widely, “—lutely nothing to prevent you.”

They waited for his eyes to open. If he wasn’t mad, he was the possessor of a secret—a secret after which all the world was groping: nothing more nor less than how to fare sumptuously and not to work. But his eyes remained shut. Ruddy spoke. “I wish you’d tell us how.”

The stranger didn’t answer; he appeared to be sleeping—sleeping, however, with considerate care not to crumple the beautiful flannel suit The train raced on. A clear, sea-look was appearing above the Sussex Downs, like the bright reflection of a mirror flashing. It was exasperating. They would soon be at Brighton and this man would escape them with his valuable knowledge.

On the second message they sent back to Mr. Hughes they wrote, “A mystingry.” On the third, “The mystingry deepens.”

Brakes began to grind, slowing down the train as they neared their destination. The man sat up. “Best be putting on my shoes.”

Ruddy seized his last opportunity. “Look here, it ’ud be awfully decent of you if you’d tell us.”

“Tell you?”

“How to cater to people’s vanities. How to live without doing a stroke of work. My father’s been trying for years—he’s a promoter. You might tell us.”

“So your father’s a promoter!” The man was pulling on his spats. “Well, I’ll give you a hint and let you reason the rest out There are more women in the world than men, aren’t there? The women are always trying to win the men’s affection. The way in which they think they can do it is by being beautiful. There!”

“That’s a long stoop,” said Ruddy; “let me button them for you.”

By the time the spats were buttoned they had come to a halt in the station.

The man stood up. “Here’s my card. We may meet again.”

He jumped out of the carriage, leaving Ruddy turning his card over. It bore no address, only a name, Duke Ninevah.

“Not the Duke of,” whispered Teddy, peering over his shoulder, “so it can’t be a title.”

“Here, come on,” said Ruddy. “Let’s follow him.”

Further down the platform they saw Duke Ninevah helping a lady from a first-class carriage. She was slight and extremely stylish; even at that distance they guessed she must be beautiful. They had begun to follow when they remembered that they had left the empty pigeon boxes behind. They dashed back to find them; when they again looked up and down the platform, Duke Ninevah and his lady had vanished.

“Must be traceable,” said Ruddy. “Here, let’s leave these things at the parcel-room and clear for action. Now then, let’s use our intellecks. What does one come to the seaside for? To see the sea. We’ll find him either in it or beside it Why does one bring a lady to Brighton? To make love to her, and to make love one needs to be private. We’ve to find a private place by the sea, and then he’s cornered.”

“And what about the pierrots?”

“Let ’em wait. Humph!”

As they came down on to the promenade the waves heliographed to them. A warm south wind flapped against their faces. The air was full of voices, rising and falling and blending: ice-cream men shouting their wares; cabmen inviting hire; an evangelist, balancing on a chair and screaming “Redemption! Redemption!”; a comedian, dressed like a sultan and bawling breathlessly, “I’m the Emperor of Sahara, Tarara, Tarara”; the under-current chatter of conversation, and the laughing screams of girls as they stepped down from bathing huts and felt the first chill of the bubbling surf. Wriggling out like sea-serpents, their tails tethered to the land, were piers with swarms of insect-looking objects creeping along their backs. Gayety everywhere, and somewhere the man who knew how pleasure could be had without working! “By the sea with privacy,” Ruddy kept murmuring; the more remote their chances grew of finding him, the more certain they became that Duke Ninevah had a secret worth the knowing.

They had searched everywhere. It was afternoon and soon they would have to be returning. “Why not try the piers,” suggested Teddy; “if I wanted to gaze at the sea and make love to anybody——”

“Good idea. So would I.”

They passed through the turnstile and recommenced their quest On approaching a shelter, halfway down the pier, their attention was arrested by a slight and lonely figure. She was crouched in a corner with her head sunk forward.

“Hulloa! Left his girl. Let’s present his card and talk with her.”

But when they had walked round the glass shield of the shelter, they saw that she was sleeping. She must be sleeping soundly, for the insistent yapping of a Pomeranian did not seem to disturb her. Her hands lay loosely folded in her lap; in one of them a crumpled hankerchief was clutched. It was plain that she had been crying.

“She’s pretty!” They stole nearer. Then, “Jumping Jehosaphat!”

The tears had washed the color from her cheeks in places; they still hung sparkling on her painted lashes. With the sagging of her head her hat had slipped, and with it her wig, so that a scanty lock of white hair escaped across her forehead. But none of these things had called for the exclamation; they were apprehended at the same moment by something far more startling.

The lady’s head had came forward with a jerk; her mouth opened; her girlish beauty became convulsed, and then crumbled. As though a living creature were forcing an exit, something white and gleaming shot from her mouth. A complete set of excellent false teeth were only prevented from falling into the sea by the excited Pomeranian, who pounced on them and raced away, as though it were in expectation of precisely this event that he had been waiting.

In a flash the boys gave chase, leaving the distressed, scarcely awakened lady gazing after them and clasping imploring hands.

“Here’s a go!” panted Ruddy as they dodged through the crowd. “She’ll lose ’em for a cert. Why, I could have been in love with her myself if this hadn’t—— What a rumpage!”

They were nearing the turnstile. Above the turmoil of their pursuit they heard the comedian on the sands still declaring, “I’m the Emperor of Sahara, Tarara, Tarara.” Probably he was. In Brighton anything was possible. To Teddy it seemed a mad romance, a wild topsy-turvy, a staged burlesque in which Arthurian knights rescued ladies’ teeth instead of their virtue. Of the two, in Brighton, false teeth were the more precious.

The day was hot The Pomeranian was fat Perhaps in Pomerania false teeth are more nutritious. He was beginning to have doubts as to their value, for he had twice turned his head, wondering whether peace might be patched up with honor. He was turning for a third time when he blundered full tilt into a nursemaid’s skirts. He was so startled by the weight of the child she dropped on him that he abandoned his loot and fled. Of the two pursuers Teddy was the first to arrive. Snatching up the teeth, before they could be trampled by the crowd which the child’s screams were attracting, he wrapped them in his pocket-handkerchief, hiding them from public view, and strolled back unconcernedly. But what to do next? How to return them? How to put the lady to least shame?

“Well, they are hers,” Ruddy argued. “She knows that we know she wears ’em. They’re no good to us; and we shouldn’t have chased the dog unless we’d thought that she’d like to have ’em. You’re too delicate-minded.”

Seen from a distance as they approached her, she looked slight as a schoolgirl. Is was impossible to believe that she was really an old woman. She came hurrying towards them with one hand held out and the other pressed against her mouth. Not a word was said as her lost property was returned. The moment she had it, she walked to the side of the pier and gazed seawards, while both boys turned their backs. She was closing her vanity-case when she called to them.

They stared. The powder-puff and mirror had done their work. To the not too observing eye she was a girl.

“I want to thank you.” She gave them each a small gloved hand. “I’d like to send you a reward if you’ll give me your address. May I?”

They shook their heads. Ruddy acted spokesman. “No. But let us stay till Mr. Nineveh comes back.”

“Duke! You know him?”

She had a charming, flute-like note in her voice when she asked a question.

“We’ve been hunting him all day.”

“Why?”

“He said he knew how to get pleasure without,” Ruddy’s face puckered with genial impertinence, “without ’laybore’.”

The lady laughed. “I think I could tell you how he does it. You’ll never guess what the naughty man did to me. He brought me down here for one dear little day to our two selves and then,” she raised her shoulders ever so slightly, “he saw a pretty face and left me in the shelter to wait for him. I’ve waited; I’ve not had any lunch.”

“Had no lunch!” Teddy spoke in the tones of one to whom a missed meal spelled tragedy.

“You see, he carries my purse,” she explained.

The boys asked each other questions with their eyes, jingled the coins in their pockets and nodded.

“If you wouldn’t mind coming with us——”

She looked at them, this young girl, who was old enough to be their grandmother. “You’re very kind.” She smiled mysteriously. “Yes, I’ll let you treat me.”

They took her to the confectioner’s in a side street where they had had their midday meal. It was inexpensive. Seated at a marble-topped table, while trippers came in and out for buns, she looked strangely and exotically elegant.

She noticed that they weren’t eating. “Aren’t you having anything yourselves?”

“Not hungry.”

She guessed their shortage of funds. “You’re kinder than I thought First you prevent me from—well, from becoming seventy and then you take care of me with the last of your money. I’ve known a good many boys and men—they were all greedy, especially the men. But there’s something still more wonderful—something you haven’t done. You didn’t laugh at me when—— I’m always losing them one way or another. I’m in constant dread that Duke’ll see me without them. I know you won’t tell.”

“Has your husband got your ticket?” asked Teddy. He was wondering how they could get her to London.

She looked puzzled. “My husband?” She gave a comic little smile. “My husband—oh, yes! We can meet him at the station. I know the train by which he’ll travel.”

Then she commenced to coquette with them till they blushed. “I’m a silly old woman trying to be young, but you like it all the same.”

They did, for when she bent towards them laughing, fluttering her gay little hands, they forgot the strand of white hair and the way in which they had seen her beauty crumble.

“Ah, but when I was a girl, really a girl, not a painted husk, how you would have loved me! All the men loved me—so many that I can’t remember. What a life I’ve had! And you—you have all your lives before you.”

She made them feel that—this unaccountable old woman—made them throb to the wonder of having all their lives before them. She told them stories of herself to illustrate what that meant—risqué stories which failed of being utterly improper by ending abruptly. It was done with the gravest innocence.

They wandered out on to the promenade. The sun was going down. The waves were tipped with a flamingo redness. It was as though scarlet birds were darting so swiftly that they could not see their bodies.

“Let me be old,” she whispered, “what I am, before I see him. It’s such a rest.”

From frivolity she grew confessional. It seemed as though her false youth fell away from her and only the tell-tale paint was left “If I’d been wiser, I’d have had two boys like you for grandsons. But I’ve not been wise, my dears. I’ve always wanted to be loved; I’ve broken hearts, and now—— When a woman gets to my age, she’s left to do all the loving. I’m condemned to be always, always young. I’d like best, if I could choose, to be just a simple old woman. I’d like to wear a lace cap and no, corsets, and to sit rocking by a window, watching for you boys to come and tell me your hopes and troubles. You must have very dear mothers. I wonder—— If I asked you to visit me—not the me I look now, but the real me—would you come?”

At the station they were climbing into a third, when Duke Nineveh came breezily up.

“Ha! How d’you manage that? Made friends with Madame Josephine, have you?” Then to Madame Josephine, “I say, it’ll hurt business if you’re seen traveling third. Appearances, appearances, my dear—they’ve got to be kept up.”

“Oh, Duke, for once I’m not caring.”

She sat herself down between the two boys, like the little old lady she was, holding a hand of each in her lap. Duke Nineveh waited till her head was nodding, then drew off his shoes softly. “They’ve hurt most confoundedly all day.” He turned to Ruddy. “So your father’s a promoter! Is he any good at it?”

“Good at it! Phew! A regular steam-engine when he gets started.”

“Does he promote everything? I mean, he’s not too particular about what he handles?”

The description Ruddy gave of his father’s capacities would have compelled hair to grow on Mr. Ooze’s head, especially that it might stand up.

“Humph!” Mr. Nineveh rubbed his chin. “Here’s my address. If he cares to call on me, we might make each other’s fortunes.”

As the train was thundering between the walls of London, Madame Josephine woke up. Drawing out her vanity-case, she renewed her complexion. It was so elaborate an undertaking that it was scarcely completed when they came to a halt in the station. “We’re going to meet again,” she said.

As they watched her drive away in the brougham that was waiting for her, accompanied by the man who never had to work, they could scarcely believe that she was not what she looked at that distance—a girl of little more than twenty.

“A fine old world!” Ruddy stuck his hands in his trousers pockets. “One’s always walkin’ round the corner and findin’ something. It’s the walkin’ round the corner that does it.”

“Seems so,” Teddy assented.

They climbed on a bus and drove back through the evening primroses of street-lamps to Eden Row. After all, in spite of Mr. Yaffon, Mr. Ooze, Hal, and all the other disappointed persons, it must be a fine old world when it allowed boys to be so young.








CHAPTER XXV—LUCK

“Not a word to your mother,” Mr. Sheerug had warned Ruddy after his first interview with Duke Nineveh. “She wouldn’t understand—not yet. Um! Um!”

What he had meant was she would have understood too well. Ruddy communicated this urgent need for secrecy to Teddy. “Can’t make it out—what he’s up to.”

They watched carefully, feeling that whatever Mr. Sheerug was up to, it was something in which they also were concerned.

The first thing they noticed was that a proud-boy look was creeping over him—what Ruddy called an I-ate-the-canary look. For all his fatness he began to bustle. He began to make fusses if the meals weren’t punctual, to insist on his boots being properly blacked and to behave himself in general as though he were head of his household. He spoke vaguely of meetings in the city—meetings which it was vital that he should attend “punkchully.”

“If I’m not punkchull,” he said, “everything may go up the spout.” He didn’t explain what everything was; he was inviting his wife to ask a question.

She knew it—sensible woman. “Meetings in the city,” she thought to herself; “meetings in the city, indeed. Pooh! Men are all babies. If he thinks that he’s going to get me worked up——”

She had shared too many of his ups and downs to allow her excitement to show itself. She denied to herself that she was excited. These little flares of good fortune had deceived her faith too many times. So she treated her Alonzo like a big spoilt child, humoring his whims and feigning to be discreetly unobserving. She forbade the display of curiosity on the part of any of her family. “If you go asking questions,” she said, “you’ll drive him to it.”

She had seen him driven to it before—it was the moment when the dam of piled-up ambitions burst and they scrambled to save what they could from the whirlpool of collapsed speculations. The end of it had usually been a hasty retreat to a less expensive house.

Every day brought some new improvement in his dress. Within a fortnight he was looking exceedingly plump in a frock-coat and top-hat He hadn’t been so gorgeous in a dozen years—not since he had kept a carriage in Kensington. Each morning, shortly after nine, he left Orchid Lodge and marched down Eden Row, swinging his cane with a Mammon-like air of prosperity. When he came back in the evening, as frequently as not he had a flower blazing in his button-hole.

There were times when he strove to revive husbandly gallantries—little acts of forethought and gestures of tenderness. He had grown too fat and had been too long out of practice to do it graciously, and Mrs. Sheerug—she blinked at him with a happiness which tried in vain to conceal itself. They were Rip Van Winkles waking up to an altered world—a world in which a husband need no longer fear his wife, and in which there were more important occupations than talking Cockney to Mr. Ooze as an escape from dullness.

It took just three months for the suppressed expectations of Orchid Lodge to reach their climax. It was reached when Alonzo, of his own accord, without a helping hint or the least sign of necessity, offered his wife money. It happened one September evening, in the room with the French windows which opened into the garden. It was impossible for a natively inquisitive woman to refuse this bait to her curiosity.

“A hund—a hundred pounds! Why, Alonzo!”

Teddy and Ruddy were seated on the steps. At the sound of her gasping cry, they turned to gaze into the shabby comfort of the room. She stood tiptoeing against him, clinging to his hand and scanning his face with her faded eyes. Her gray hair straggled across her wrinkled forehead; her lips trembled. Her weary, worn-out, kindly appearance made her strangely pathetic in the presence of his plump self-assertiveness.

“Struck it,” he said gruffly, almost defiantly. “Going to do a splash. All of us. Um! Um! Those boys helped.”

“Ah!” She shuddered. “Ah, my dear, my splashing days are ended. Even if it’s true, I’m too old for that.”

“Too old!” For the first time that Ruddy could remember, his father took the withered face between his hands. “Too old! Not a bit of it! Going to make a splash, I tell you. Going to be Lord Mayor of London. Going to be a duke, maybe an earl. Beauty forever. Appeals to women’s vanity. Going up like a rocket till I bust. Only I shan’t bust Um! Um! Going up this time never to come down.”

“Never to come down,” she whispered, “never.” The words seemed the sweetest music. She laughed softly to make him think that she did not take him seriously.

They strolled out into the evening redness and sat beside the boys on the steps. Sparrows were rustling in the ivy. The drone of London, like a mill-wheel turning, came to them across the walls. In the garden there was a sense of rest Mr. Sheerug’s portly glory looked out of place and disturbing in its old-fashioned quiet He must have felt that, for he stood up and removed his frock-coat, loosened his waistcoat buttons, and sat down in his shirt-sleeves. He looked less like Mr. Sheerug, the conqueror, who had eaten the canary, and more like the pigeon-flying Mr. Sheerug now.

With unwieldly awkwardness he put his arm about her shoulder and drew her gray head nearer. “Don’t mind, do you?” His voice was husky. “Can’t do it, somehow—never could unless I was making money. Oughtn’t to have married you. Uml Um! Often thought it Dragged you down. Well——”

And then he told them. He began with Duke Nineveh. “He’s a chap who introduces outsiders to something that he says is society. Tells ’em where to buy their clothes and all that. Gets tipped for it. Calls himself a black-and-white artist. Maybe he is—I don’t know: but he’s a man of ideas. His great idea is Madame Josephine—she’s in love with him.”

At mention of Madame Josephine Mrs. Sheerug fluttered. “But Alonzo, she can’t be the same Madame Josephine——”

“The same,” he said.

“The woman who used to dance at——?”

He nodded. “A long time ago.”

“Who caused such a scandal with the Marquis of —————?” She whispered behind her hand. “And was the mistress of——————?” Again she whispered.

“That’s who she is,” he acknowledged. “But don’t you see that all that helps? It’s an advertisement. She’s the best preserved woman of seventy in London.”

“She’s a notorious character,” Mrs. Sheerug said firmly. “Alonzo, you’ll have nothing to do with her.”

His arm slipped from her shoulder. She stood up and reentered the window. Before she vanished, she came back and patted him kindly. “You won’t, Alonzo. You know you won’t.”

The mill-wheel of London droned on, turning and always turning. The sparrows grew silent in the ivy; shadows stole out Soon a light sprang up in the spare-room. They could hear the harp fingered gently; it brought memories of the ghost-bird of romance, beating its wings against the panes, struggling vainly to get out.

“Too righteous,” Mr. Sheerug muttered. “Not a business woman.” And then, as though stoking up his courage, “Won’t I? I shall.”

He heaved him up from the steps and wandered off in the direction of the shrubbery to find comfort with his pigeons.

It was Duke Nineveh, with his knowledge of human vanity, who won Mrs. Sheerug. He spoke to her as an artist to an artist, and asked permission to see her tapestries. He spent an entire afternoon, peering at them through his monocle. Next day he returned.

“Colossal! A shame the world shouldn’t know about them! It’s genius—a lost art recovered. Now, when we’ve built our Beauty Palace, if we could give an exhibition——”

So Beauty Incorporated was launched without Mrs. Sheerug’s opposition. Almost over night the slender white turrets of the Beauty Palace floated up. Madame Josephine began to appear in the West End, looking no more than twenty as seen through the traffic. She drove in a white coach, drawn by white horses, with a powdered coachman and lackeys. The street stopped to watch her. People went to St. James’s to catch a glimpse of her as she flashed down The Mall. She became one of the sights of London and was talked about.

Hints concerning her romantic career crept into the press. Old scandals were remembered, always followed by accounts of her beauty discoveries. Her discoveries, with her portrait for trade-mark, became a part of the stock-in-trade of every chemist: Madame Josephine’s Hair Restorer; Madame Josephine’s Face Cream; Madame Josephine’s Nail Polish. At breakfast when you glanced through your paper, her face gazed out at you, saying, “YOU Can Be Always Young.” It was on the hoardings, on the buses, in your theatre program. It was as impossible to escape as conscience. From morning till night it followed you, always saying, “YOU Can Be Always Young.” The world became self-conscious. It took to examining its complexion. It went to The Beauty Palace out of curiosity, and stayed to spend money. Madame Josephine became the rage: a theme for dinner conversations—a Personage.








CHAPTER XXVI—DREAMING OF LOVE

The immediate outcome of this was money—more money than Eden Row had ever imagined. Mrs. Sheerug refused to leave Orchid Lodge.

“I’ll help you splash,” she told Alonzo, “but I won’t move out of Orchid Lodge.”

As a compromise, Orchid Lodge was re-decorated in violent colors, and a carriage and pair waited before it. Mrs. Sheerug used her carriage for hunting up invalids that she might dose them with medicines of her own invention. She inclined to the garish in her method of dress, wearing yellow feathers and green plush, as in the old days when Jimmie Boy had dashed to the window to make sketches of her for the faery-godmother. And to him she was a faery-godmother, for she bought his pictures and insisted on having an exhibition of them at The Beauty Palace.

“Ah, my dear,” she would say, crossing her hands, “God sends us poverty that we may be kind when our money comes.”

Was she happy? Teddy wondered. Sometimes he fancied that she coveted the days of careless uncertainty and happy-go-lucky comfort. One of her chief hobbies had been taken from her: it was no longer possible to get into debt And her gifts didn’t mean so much, now that her giving could be endless. It would be absurd for the wife of the great Alonzo Sheerug to produce black bottles from under her mantle and thrust them at people with the information that the contents would “build you up.” She had to send whole cases of wine now, and there wasn’t the same personal pleasure.

She had saved the spare-room from the imagination of the decorators. More than once Teddy caught her there, shuffling about in her woolen slippers and plum-colored dressing-gown. She seemed more natural like that It was so that he loved her best.

For him the success of Beauty Incorporated brought two results: an income and a friend. Mr. Sheerug had rewarded his escapade at Brighton by allotting him shares in the company. The boom increased their value beyond all expectations; he found himself possessed of over three hundred pounds per annum. But the more valuable result was the knowledge of life which he gained from his friendship with Madame Josephine.

To the world in general she was a notorious woman who had sinned splendidly and with discretion. She seemed to deny the advantages of virtue. Was she not beautiful? Was she not young? Hadn’t she wealth? Teddy had come to an age when youth tests the conventions; it was Madame Josephine who answered his doubts on the subject.

The Madame Josephine he knew was a white-haired old lady who liked him to treat her as a grandmother. She would talk to him by the hour about books and dead people, and sometimes about love.

There was an adventure in going to see her, for she only dared to be old in his presence—to the rest of the world it was her profession to be young. As Duke Nineveh was always telling her, appearances had to be kept up.

She had a secret room at the top of her house to which Teddy alone was admitted. The servants were ignorant of what went on there. They invented legends.

He had to speak his name distinctly; then a chair would be pushed back, footsteps would sound, and the key would turn. The moment he was across the threshold, the lock grated behind him. And there, after all these mysteries, was an old lady, sweet-featured and wistful-looking—an old lady who an hour before had been admired for her youth by the London crowds.

Hanging from the ceiling was a cage with a canary. On the sill were flower-boxes. From the window, across trees, one could catch a glimpse of Kensington Gardens and the blown petals of children. It was an old lady’s room, filled with memories. On the walls were faded photographs with spidery signatures; on the table a work-basket; beside the table a rocking chair.

“Here’s where my soul lives,” she said. “The other person, phew!” Her hands opened expressively. “She’s the husk. Those who live to please, must please to live, Teddy. It’s a terrible thing to have to go on shamming when you’re seventy—shamming you’re gay, shamming you’re flippant, shamming you’re wicked. So few things matter when you’re seventy. Money doesn’t.”

She caught the question in his eyes. “Ah, my dear, but when all your life has been lived for adoration, you miss it The poison’s in the blood. At my age one has to pay a long price even for what looks like love.”

That was the nearest she ever came to explaining her relations with Duke Nineveh. She liked to forget him when Teddy was present. It was the ideality of the boy that appealed to her. She wanted to give wisdom to his sentiment, to forewarn his courage and to save him from disappointment It was a strange task for a woman with her record—a woman who had lived garishly, and was remembered for the careers she had ruined. Little by little she drew from him the story of Vashti, and later of Desire.

He looked up at her smiling, trying to treat his confession lightly. “Curious how people come into your life and make your dreams for you.”

She bent over him, taking his hands gently. “Curious! Not curious. People are the most real dreams we have.”

“Yes, but——” He hesitated. “Desire’s not as I remember her any longer. She’s growing up. I wonder what she’s like. If I met her, I might not recognize her. We might pass in the street, my dream and I. And yet——”

He lifted his face to hers. “You know I still think of her—of the price. It’s idiotic, because,” his voice fell, “I know nothing about girls.”

She drew him closer. “D’you know what women need most in this world? Kindness. Good men, like you’ll be,” she seemed to remember, “they’re harsh sometimes. They make women frightened. A good man’s always better than the best woman—that’s a truth that few people own to themselves. If you do find her or any one else, don’t judge—try to understand.” And later, “Never try to be fair to a woman, Teddy; when a good man tries to be fair, he’s unjust.”

From time to time, as they sat together in that locked room, she told him of herself. She gave him glimpses of passion and the despair of its ending. “It doesn’t pay. It doesn’t pay,” was the burden of what she said. One night, it was four years since he had known her, they forgot to turn on the light. Across the ceiling, like a phantom butterfly, the flare from the street-lamps fluttered.

“None of those others that I have told you about were love,” she whispered. “There was a good man in my life once. Whenever you see a woman like me, you may be sure of that. It’s the good men who make us women bad; they expect too much—build their dreams too high. There was a man——” She fell silent “You’re like him. That’s why.”

When he was leaving, she put her arms about him. “When you find her, don’t try to change her. Women long to be trusted. Be content to love.”

For the time being he tried to satisfy his heart-with work. His passion to be famous connected itself with his passion to love. He had an instinct that he must win fame first, and that all the rest would follow.

Much of what Madame Josephine told him about women he applied to Vashti. It made him look on all women with new eyes—the eyes of pity for their frailty. And all these emotions he wove about the figure of Desire.

In the writing of his first book—the book which brought him immediate success, Life Till Twenty-one—was un-cannily conscious of her presence. He would find himself leaving off in a sentence to sketch her face for one of those quaint little marginal drawings. It was as though she had come into the room; by listening intently, he would be able to hear her breathe. Working late at night, he would glance across his shoulder, half expecting to find her. He told himself that she was always standing behind him; why he never saw her was because she dodged in front when he turned his head. It was the old game that she had played in the farmhouse garden, when she had hidden in the bushes at the sound of his coming. He explained these fancies by telling himself that somewhere, out there in the world, she was remembering, and that her thoughts, flying across the distance, had touched him.








BOOK II—THE BOOK OF REVELATION








CHAPTER I—THE ISLAND VALLEY

It was a golden summer’s evening. In his little temperamental car he was chugging through the Quantock Hills. His car was temperamental chiefly because he had picked it up as a bargain second hand. In his wanderings of the last month he had established a friendship with it which was almost human, as a man does with a piece of machinery when he is lonely.

When the tour had first been planned it had included Ruddy; but at the last moment Ruddy had joined a pierrot-troupe, leaving Teddy to set off by himself. That vacant place at his side reproached him; a two-seater is so obviously meant for two persons. He had told himself faery-tales about how he might fill it. Sometimes he had invented a companion for himself—a girl with gray eyes and bronze-black hair. She seemed especially real to him when night had fallen and the timid shadows of lovers pressed back into the hedges as his lamps discovered them on the road ahead.

For the past month his mind had been ablaze with an uplifted sense of beauty. He had come down from London by lazy stages, halting here a day and there a day to sketch. Every mile of the way the air had been summer-freighted; the freedom of it had got into his blood. Everywhere that he had gone he had encountered new surprises—gray cathedral cities, sleepy villages, the blue sea of Devon; places and things of which he had only heard, and others which he hadn’t known existed. Dreams were materializing and stepping out to meet him. Eden Row, with its recluse atmosphere, was ceasing to be all his world. His emotions gathered themselves up into an urgent longing—to be young, to live intensely, to miss nothing.

To-day he had crossed Exmoor, black with peat and purple with heather, and was proposing to spend the night at Nether Stowey. He had chosen Nether Stowey because Coleridge had lived there. He had sent word to his mother that it was one of the points to which letters could be forwarded. When he had written his name in the hotel book, the proprietress looked up. “Oh, so you’re the gentleman!”

“Why? Have you got such stacks of letters for me?”

“No. A telegram.”

He tore it open and read, “However late, push on to-night to The Pilgrims? Inn, Glastonbury.” The signature was “Madame Josephine.”

He looked to see at what time it had been received. It had arrived at three o’clock; so it had been waiting for him five hours.

“I’m sorry I shan’t need that room,” he said. “How far is it to Glastonbury?”

“About twenty-three miles. I suppose you’ll stay to dinner, sir? It’s being served.”

“I’m afraid not.”

Without loss of time, he cranked up his engine, jumped into his car and started.

However late, push on to-night to Glastonbury.” Why on earth? What interest could Madame Josephine have in his going to Glastonbury, and why to-night so especially? He had planned to go there to-morrow—to make a dream-day of it, full of memories of King Arthur and reconstructions of chivalrous history and legend. He had intended reading The Idyls of the King that evening to key himself up to the proper pitch of enthusiasm. It seemed entirely too modern and not quite decent, to go racing at the bidding of an unexplained telegram into “The Island Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow.”

As he hummed along through the green-gold country he gave himself up to the mood of enchantment. In the transforming light of the fading sunset it seemed certain that a bend in the road would bring to view champions of The Round Table riding together.

He smiled and shook his head at himself; he hadn’t grown much older since those old days at Ware. It was this sight that he and Desire had expected—the sight of knights in clanking armor and ladies with flowing raiment, sauntering together in a magic world. It had seemed to them that the enraptured land which their hearts-imagined, must lie just a little further beyond the hills and hedges. To find it, it was only necessary to go on and on.

He recalled how he had read to her those legends as they had lain side by side, hidden in tall meadow-grasses from Fanner Joseph. He remembered how they had quarreled when she had said, “I like Sir Launcelot best.”

“But you mustn’t. King Arthur was the good one. If Sir Launcelot hadn’t done wrong, everything would have been happy always.”

“Yes, but if everything had been happy always, there wouldn’t have been any story, Teddy. I know why you don’t like my loving Sir Launcelot: it’s because you’re a King Arthur yourself.”

He laughed. How hurt he had felt at her accusation that he was a proper person!

And there was another memory: how, after playing at knights and ladies, she had tried to make him declare that she was beautiful. “Do you think I’m beautiful, Teddy?” And he, intent on keeping her vanity hungry, “You have beautiful hands.”

He had always promised himself that some day, if they ever met, one of the first places they would visit should be Glastonbury. It would add a last chapter to those chivalrous games which they had played together as children.

Far away in the orchard valley lights were springing up. Out of the misty distance came the lowing of cattle. Like a cowled monk, with peaceful melancholy, the gloaming crept across the meadows.

As he approached the town, it came as something of a shock to notice that its outskirts bore signs of newness. But as he drove into the heart of it, medieval buildings loomed up: gray, night-shrouded towers; stooping houses with leaded windows; the dusky fragrance of ivy, and narrow lanes which turned off into the darkness abruptly. Somewhere in the shadows was Chalice Hill, where the cup of the Last Supper lay buried. Not far distant, within the Abbey walls, the coffin of King Arthur was said to have been found. His imagination thrilled to the antiquity of the legend.

With reluctance he swung his mind back to the present. Pulling up outside The Pilgrims’ Inn, he left his car and entered.

“If you please, has any one been inquiring for me? My name’s Gurney.”

The landlady inspected him through the office-window. She was a kind-faced, motherly woman; the result of her inspection pleased her. She laid down her pen.

“Gurney! No. Not that I remember.”

“Puzzling!” He took her into his confidence, handing her the telegram. “I received that at Nether Stowey. I was going to have stayed there, and should have come on here to-morrow. But you see what it says, ’However late, push on to-night to The Pilgrims’ Inn, Glastonbury.’ So—so I pushed on.” He laughed.

“This Madame Josephine who signs it,” the landlady was turning the telegram over, “d’you know her?”

“Oh, yes. I know her.”

“I asked because—— Well, ladies do play jokes cm gentlemen. And we’ve a lot of actor-folk in Glastonbury at present—larky kind of people. I don’t take much stock in them myself. Shouldn’t think you did by the look of you.”

“I don’t.”

The landlady put her elbows on the desk and crouched her face in her hands. “I didn’t think you would. These people, they’ve been here a week for the Arthurian pageant Some of them stay with me; I’ve seen all I want of ’em. Too free in their manners, that’s what I say. It don’t seem right for girls and men to be so friendly. I wasn’t brought up that way. It puts false notions into girls’ heads, that’s what I say. I suppose you’ve dined already?”

“I haven’t. I hope it won’t put you to too much trouble.”

She led the way through the low-ceilinged hostel, explaining its history as she went. How in the middle-ages it had been the guest-house of the Abbey and the pilgrims had stayed there at the Abbot’s expense. How they had two haunted rooms upstairs, in one of which Anne Boleyn had slept. How the walls were tunneled with secret stairways which led down to subterranean passages. When the meal had been spread she left him, promising to let him know if there were any inquiries.

Odd! All through dinner he kept thinking about it. To have found out where to reach him Madame Josephine must have inconvenienced herself. Probably she’d had to send to Orchid Lodge, and Orchid Lodge had had to send to his mother. She wouldn’t have done all that unless her reason had been important.

He went down to the office. “Has any one called yet?”

“Not yet.”

He glanced at the clock; it was ten. Nobody would come now. He walked out into the High Street to garage his car and to take a stroll before turning in to bed.

The town lay silent. Here and there a faint light, drifting from a street-lamp or from behind a curtained window, streaked the darkness. No people were about. Stars, wheeling high above embattled house-tops, were the only traffic.

“The Island Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow.” The words sang themselves over as he wandered. What if the telegram had been a bait to lure him back into the past? What if the door of forgotten ages had opened to him and closed behind him, as in William Morris’s romance of The Hollow Land?

He played with the fancy, embroidering its extravagance. To-morrow he would awake in the ancient hostel to find that the landlady had changed into a fat old abbot. Pilgrims would be passing to and fro below his window; ladies on palfreys and palmers whose sandaled feet had brought them home from the Holy Land. What if he should remain a captive to the past and never find his way into the present?

He drew up sharply. Wailing music came to him, made by instruments that he had never heard before. It rose into a clamor and sank away sobbing. He tried to follow it, but it seemed to be everywhere and nowhere all in the same moment It lost itself in the echoing of overhanging walls. At last, turning down a passage, he traced it to a barnlike building. As he got there the doors were flung wide and people came pouring out.

He was amused; he had almost been persuaded that he had stumbled on the supernatural. Glancing in, he saw the orchestra gathering up their old-fashioned horns and wind-instruments. The curtain bad been partly raised; slipping from under it the performers, still in costume, were climbing down and mingling with the thinning audience. For the moment the audience seemed the unreal people and the performers the people of his world.

He went out into the darkness and stood back a little from the passage that he might retain the medieval illusion as they passed. He made guesses at their characters. Here came Sir Galahad in silver armor, joking with Merlin, who carried his beard across his arm to prevent it from sweeping the ground. King Arthur, with his sword rattling between his legs, was running to catch up with Sir Launcelot. The girls were more difficult to identify; in their long robes, with their bare arms and plaited hair, there was nothing to distinguish them. As he watched, he saw one with a crown upon her head. The stones in it glinted as she approached. Queen Guinevere, he thought.

She was supple and slight and tall. She walked unhurriedly, with an air of pride, as though she had not yet shaken off her part. A man accompanied her. He was speaking earnestly; she gazed straight before her, taking little notice of what he said. Her hair was brushed back from her forehead to reveal the curve of her ears and the gleam of her shoulders. Her garment was of green and gold, caught in at the waist with a golden girdle; on her feet were golden sandals, which twinkled. The white intensity of her face and throat shone in the darkness. There was an ardency about her that arrested attention.

“It can’t be helped,” she spoke shortly, “so there’s no use talking. I’ve got to get there, whatever happens.”

Teddy followed her down the street. At the sound of her voice his heart had quickened. He wished she would turn her head beneath a lamp that he might see her clearly. Before The Pilgrims’ Inn there was a crowd; when he came up to it she had vanished.

On entering, he found a scene which might have walked out of the brain of Chaucer, so utterly were the costumes in keeping with the hostel. He cast his eyes about, seeking for Queen Guinevere.

As he stood hesitating between pursuing his fancy further or going to bed, the landlady came out from her office. Catching sight of him, she elbowed her way towards him.

“News for me?” he asked.

“Not exactly.” She frowned slightly. “I thought you said you didn’t know any of these actor-folk?”

“I don’t.”

“Well, there’s one of them in there,” pointing back into the office, “who’s got a telegram. She says you’re the man she’s expecting, though she wouldn’t know you from Adam. She says she’s sure you’re the man because you’ve got a car.”

“I don’t think I am. But I’ll go and find out.”

The landlady smiled disapprovingly: “I begin to have my doubts about you, sir.”

In the office the girl who had played the part of Guinevere was standing. The moment he caught her eyes he was certain. Excitement ran through him like a sword.

He felt himself trembling. He wanted to rush forward and claim her. He wanted to go down on his knees to her. Most of all, he wanted to see her recognize him. But she stood there smilingly distant and gracious.

“I’m so sorry to trouble you,” she said. “I’m afraid our introduction’s a trifle unconventional, but I’m in rather a pickle. You see, I want to go to London to-night. In fact, I must go to London, and there are no trains till to-morrow. I have a friend who’s—— But there, read my telegram. It’ll save explan—— to London to-night. In fact, I must go to London, and there are no trains till to-morrow. I have a friend who’s—— But there, read my telegram. It’ll save explanations.”

He took it from her hand and read:

Dear little D.—Got to sail New York to-morrow. Train leaves Euston at twelve. Have booked your berth. Ask for a man at Pilgrims’ Inn with telegram signed Madame Josephine. Madame Josephine says, if you ask him nicely, he’ll bring you to London in his car. Tell him she suggested. Awful sorry to rush you. Real reason Horace too pressing. My excuse engagement with Freelevy. Love and kisses. Fluffy.

As he reached the end, she came close and took it from him. He could hear the circlet about her waist jingle; her breath touched him.

“Your hand’s trembling most awfully.” she laughed. “Is it too much of a shock?” And then, before he could answer: “Madame Josephine keeps The Beauty Palace. We go there to be glorified. You know Madame Josephine, don’t you?”

“Yes.” His voice hardly came above a whisper.

“Then, you are the man?”

Was he the man? He wanted to tell her. He had planned this meeting so often—staged it with such wealth of romance and tenderness. And this was how it had happened!

“Then, you are the man?”

Perhaps his nod didn’t carry sufficient enthusiasm. She began to explain and apologize. She made the babies come into her gray eyes, the way she used to as a child when she wanted anything. “I know it’s a lot to ask of a stranger, robbing him of his night’s rest and all. But you see I can’t help it. My friend, Fluffy, is an actress and—— Well, you know what actresses are—she’s very temperamental Of course that part about Freelevy may be true. He’s the great American producer. She wouldn’t tell a downright fib, I’m sure. But the part about Horace is truer; I expect he’s wanting to marry her and—and the only way she can think of escaping him and not hurting his feelings—— You understand what I mean, don’t you? As for me, I have a beautiful mother in America who let me come abroad with Fluffy; so of course I have to go back with her. You see, I’m not an actress yet—I’m only an amateur.” She rounded her eyes and made them very appealing. “If I don’t sail to-morrow, I’ll have to go back unchaperoned, and that—— Well, it wouldn’t be quite proper for a young girl. So you will take me to London to-night, won’t you?”

He burst out laughing. If this wasn’t Desire, it was some one extraordinarily like her—some one who knew how to use the same dear inconsequent coaxing arguments. Who but Desire would urge the propriety of a night ride to London with an unknown man to save the impropriety of an unchaperoned trip across the Atlantic?

She spread her fingers against the comers of her mouth to prevent her lips from smiling. “Why do you laugh? I rather like you when you laugh.”

He wasn’t going to tell her—at least, not yet. “I thought I’d strike a bargain with you. If you’ll promise not to change that dress, I’ll take you.”

“But why this dress?”

He hunched his shoulders. “A whim, perhaps.”

“All right. I’ll go up and pack.”

She walked slowly out of the office, her brows drawn together with thought. At the door she turned:

“You remind me of some one I once knew. I can’t remember who it was. He used to screw up his shoulders just like that.”

Before he could make up his mind whether or not to assist her memory, she was gone.








CHAPTER II—A SUMMER’S NIGHT

He had hurried so as not to keep her waiting. By the time he had brought his car round to the hotel the clocks were striking eleven. He throttled down his engine; it didn’t seem worth while shutting it off, since she might appear at any moment. Its muffled throbbing in the shadowy street seemed the panting of his heart How impatient he was to see her! Running up the steps, he peered into the hall.

The landlady approached him with a severe expression. “She sent word for me to tell you she’d be down directly. These—these are strange goings-on. Dangerous vagaries, I call them. It’s none of my business—me not being your mother nor related; but I do hope you know what you’re doing, young gentleman.”

The young gentleman laughed. “We shan’t come to any harm,” he assured her.

The company was breaking up. The vaulted hall and passages echoed with laughter, the jingling of armor and snatches of songs. Knights and ladies were bidding each other extravagant farewells, enacting the gallantries which went with their parts. Men dropped to one knee and pressed their lips to slender hands. Flower faces drooped above them mockingly—and not so mockingly after all, perhaps; for when the Pied Piper of Love makes his music, any heart that is hungry may follow. Those of them who were stopping at the inn caught up their lighted candles. By twos and threes, with backward glances, casting long shadows on the wall, they drifted up the wide carved stairs. Others, who had cheaper quarters, sauntered out into the summer stillness. The porter, like a relentless guardian of morals, stood with his hand upon the door, waiting sourly for the last of them to be gone.

Teddy followed them out. As the girls passed beneath the hotel windows, they dragged on their escorts’ arms, raising their faces and calling one final good-night to their friends who were getting into bed. Heads popped out, and stared down between the stars and the pavement. All kinds of heads. Heads with helmets on. Close-cropped ordinary heads. Heads which floated in a mist of trailing locks. Some one struck up a song; there, in the medieval moonlit street, these romance people danced. Away through the shadows they danced, the booming accompaniment of the men’s voices growing fainter, fainter, fainter, till at last even the clear eagerness of the girls’ singing was lost.

When Teddy turned to reenter the inn, the porter had barred the door. From the steep wall of windows which rose sheer to the stars all the different kinds of heads had been withdrawn. The only sound was the throb-throb-throbbing of the engine like the thump-thump-thumping of his heart.

He sat down on the steps to wait for her. She was a terribly long while in coming. It was nearly half-past eleven. Thirty minutes ago she had sent him word that she would be down “directly.”

“Of course,” he told himself, “there’s no need for hurry. It’s about a hundred and forty miles to London, and we’ve all the night before us.”

He was trying to decide to ring the bell, when the door opened noisily, and the porter stumbled out, bringing her luggage. As he helped Teddy strap it on the back of the car, he answered his questions gruffly: “Doin’! I don’t know wot she’s doin’. Said she’d be down direckly, which means whenever she chooses. The inkinsideration of these actresses beats all. Hurry ’er! Me hurry ’er! No, mister, she’s not the hurryin’ sort; she hurries other folk instead. I don’t know wot the world’s comin’ to, I’m sure. Thank you, sir.” He slipped the half-crown into his pocket “She’s a ’andsome lady; I will say that for ’er.”

And then she appeared, standing framed in the doorway, with the weak light from the hall throwing a golden mist about her. Over her head a hood was drawn, shadowing her features. Her cloak was gathered round her, so that beneath its folds she was recognizable only by her slightness. He felt that, however she had disguised herself, there would have been something in her presence that would have called to him.

“Have I kept you waiting long?” In the old days her apologies had always taken the interrogative form; now, as then, she hurried on, not risking an answer: “You see, I had to say ’good-by’ to everybody. It wouldn’t have been kind to have slipped off and left them. I felt sure you’d understand. And I did send down messages. You’re not cross?”

Cross! She spoke the word caressingly. Her voice sank into a trembling laugh, as though she herself was aware of the absurdity of such a question. Her explanation was totally inadequate, and yet how adorable in its childlike eagerness to conciliate and to avoid unpleasantness!

“Cross! Why, of course not. I was only anxious—a tiny bit afraid that you weren’t coming.”

He sounded so friendly that he convinced her. She sighed contentedly. “Has it seemed very long?”

He looked up from inspecting his lamps. She had come down the steps to the pavement. The porter had entered the hotel; inside he was shooting the last bolt into its socket.

He held his breath. In the moon-washed street after all these years he was alone with her.

“Without you, waiting would always seem long.”

She started. Glanced back across her shoulder. The sounds on the other side of the door had stopped. There was no retreat. Turning to him with girlish dignity, she said: “It’s very kind of you to have offered to help me, but—— I don’t want you to say things like that. We’ll enjoy ourselves much better if we’re sensible.”

He felt a sudden shame, as though she had accused him of taking advantage of her defenselessness. All the things he had been on the point of telling her—he must postpone them. Presently she would remember; her own heart would tell her.

“It was foolish of me,” he said humbly.

She laughed softly and shook back her head. Her hair lay upon her shoulders like a schoolgirl’s. “There now, we understand each other. Why do men always spoil things before they’re started by making stupid love?”

“Do they?”

“Well, don’t they?” She smiled tolerantly. “Let’s be friends. If we’re sensible, we can have such a jolly trip to London—such a lark. No more sentimentals—promise—— Shake hands on it.”

As she held out both her hands, the cloak fell open, revealing her pageant costume. She noticed that his eyes rested on it. “Yes, I kept my bargain—even to the sandals.” The glimmer of her feet peeped out for a second beneath the hem of her skirt. “Now, how about making a start?”

He helped her into the seat which, up to now, had reproached him with its emptiness. He didn’t have to imagine any longer.

He climbed in beside her. “Are you warm?”

“Very comfy.”

“What time do you want to get there? I can get you there by seven or eight, doing twenty an hour—that’s to say, if nothing goes wrong.”

“Do me splendidly. I ought to tell you while I remember: I think this is awfully decent of you.”

“Not decent at all” He hesitated. “It’s not decent because—well, because I always told myself that I’d do something like this some day.”

“Remember your promise.” She held up a warning finger.

“You didn’t let me finish. What I meant to say was that, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve played at rescuing princesses.”

She looked up at him searchingly, then bit her lip to keep back her thoughts. “What a queer game to play!” That was all.

Like a robber bee, seeking honey while the garden of the world slept, the car sped humming through the silver town. Gray, shuttered houses faded upon the darkness like a dream that was spent. They were in the open country now, the white road before them, trees and hedges leaping to attention like lazy sentinels as the lamps flared on them, and throwing themselves down to rest again before the droning of the engine was gone.

“‘The Island Valley of Avilion, where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow.’ Know that?”

She nodded. “It sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it? Like a cold hand laid on an aching forehead. That’s the way those words have felt to me sometimes in the glare and bustle of New York. They’ve come to me when I’ve been walking up Fifth Avenue, and it’s been like a door opening into a green still orchard, somewhere inside my head.”

“You’re sorry to leave it? Why should we leave it? Let’s turn back.”

He slowed down the car.

“Oh, you foolish! I’ve got to catch my boat to-morrow. And besides——” She paused and reflected. “Besides, I’m never so very sorry to leave anything. I’m an odd girl” (The same old phrase, “D’you think I’m an odd child, Teddy?”) “I’m never too sorry to say good-by. I want to push on and on. I’m always looking ahead.”

“To what?”

“Things.” She glanced away into the vagueness of the ghostly meadows. “The kind of things that people do look forward to.”

He wanted to get her to talk about herself—about her past. He could make sure, then, and tell her—tell her everything without frightening her. So he said: “I don’t mean people. I mean girls. What kind of things do girls look forward to?”

Had she shared his hours of remembering? Had it really been her thoughts that had touched him in that little room in Eden Row? He stooped his head nearer to listen. It seemed to him that, above the throbbing of the engine, he could hear the blood dripping in his heart.

She stared into his eyes with her old suspicion—the veiled stare, half hostile, which a girl gives a man when she fears that he is going to kiss her.

“Girls look forward to—what kind of things?” she echoed. “I can’t tell. The same kind of things that men look forward to, I expect. The surprise things, and—yes, the excitements, most of all.”

“Like our meeting—it was a surprise thing, wasn’t it?”

“I suppose so.” She slipped back her cloak from her white shoulders. “Heaps of things are surprise things like that.”

It was as though she had said, “This meeting of ours—it’s of no importance.” He loved her for the way she was treating him. He knew now why she had dared to risk herself with a man who, so far as her knowledge went, was a complete stranger.

They both fell silent. He felt that there was only one thing that he could talk about, and he didn’t know when or where to start. He wanted above all things to say nothing only to take her in his arms; to kiss her lips, her hair, her hands and to kneel to the little sandaled feet that peeped out from below her queenly robe. He hardly dared to look at her lest, then and there, he should leave the wheel and do it. All that his heart asked was to be allowed to touch and reverence her.

As he stared between the rushing eyes of the car, watching the road ahead, his imagination painted pictures on the darkness. He saw her lifting her arms about his neck. He saw her lying close against his breast. He heard her whispering broken phrases—words which said so much by leaving so much unsaid. But whenever he stole a glance at her, he saw her gray eyes closed like a statue’s and her white hands folded.

He was wasting time—it would so soon be morning. She was going to America. She must not go, and yet he was helping her. If he could only find words to tell her. He had never thought it would be so difficult. Ah, but then he had imagined a child-Desire, just grown a little taller. But this Desire was different—so self-possessed and calm, with so many new interests and unknown friends estranging her from the faery-Desire of the farmhouse garden.

They passed through Wells, where the cathedral lay like a gigantic coffin beneath the stars. Having panted up the steep ascent beyond the town, they commenced the twenty-mile downhill run to Bath.

He heard a stirring beside him. Her eyes were open, quite near to his and shining with friendliness.

“What’s the matter? We’ve both gone silent.”

“I thought you were tired, so I didn’t disturb you.”

“Tired! Perhaps I was. But I’m all right now. Isn’t it magic with all the stars, and the mist and the being away from every one? Don’t you want to smoke? Here, I’ll hold the wheel while you light a cigarette. Yes, I know how.”

She leant across him to do it, her shoulder resting against his arm. The wind of their going fluttered her hair against his cheek. For a moment he was possessed with a mad longing to crush her to him.

“Haven’t you a match?”

She seemed utterly unconscious of her power to charm; yet instinctively she used it.

“All right?” she asked. “I wonder whether you’d mind——” Her finger went up to her mouth and her gray eyes coaxed him.

“I shouldn’t mind anything.”

She shook her head emphatically. “No. I won’t do it. People remember first impressions. You’d think me fast.”

“I shouldn’t I couldn’t ever think that.”

“Are you sure? Well, may I——?” She made a gesture imitative of withdrawing a cigarette from her lips. “I don’t smoke often—only when I feel like it. And, oh, I do feel so happy to-night.”

She lit her cigarette from his, steadying herself with her hand on his shoulder. Then she lay back, staring up at the fleecy sky where the moon tipped clouds to a silver glory. She began to sing softly between her puffs:


The night has a thousand eyes,

And the day but one;

Yet the light of a whole world dies

With the dying sun.”


She sang the same verse over three times, pausing between each singing as if she were repeating a question.

“Don’t you know the second verse?” he asked unsteadily.

“Yes, I know it.”

“Won’t you sing it? The whole meaning of life and everything is in the last two Unes.”

“D’you really want me to? I don’t care for it so much because it’s about love. I don’t think love ever made anybody happy.”

For a moment he was tempted to argue this heresy. “But sing it,” he urged.

In a soft sleepy voice she sang:


“The mind has a thousand eyes,

And the heart but one;

Yet the light of a whole world dies

When love is done.”


He waited for her to repeat it When she remained silent, he stopped the car. She turned to him lazily: “Something gone wrong with the engine?”

He was certain she knew what had gone wrong, and was equally certain that she was wilfully pretending to misunderstand him. Far below in the valley, like a faeryring, the lights of Bath winked and twinkled. The silence, after the sound of their going, breathed across the country like a prolonged sighing. How should he tell her? How did men speak to the women they loved? He turned aside from his purpose and procrastinated. “Sing it again,” he pleaded, “the last verse. Now, that everything’s quiet.”

“No.” She sat up determinedly. “It’s very beautiful; especially that part about light dying when love is done. But it isn’t true. People love heaps of times, and each new time they get more sensible. It’s like climbing a ladder: you see more as you go higher. Besides, that last verse makes me cry.”

“Love makes people happy.” His voice was low and trembling. “You shouldn’t pretend to be a cynic. You’re too beautiful.”

“Oh, well, perhaps you are right, but——” She threw away her cigarette. “Please be nice. You don’t know what things I’ve had done to me to make me talk like that” She touched him on the arm ever so lightly: “When we’re traveling, we talk so much better. Hadn’t we better be going?” And then, when they were again humming down the long hill, with the white lamps scything the shadows: “This really is fun. It’ll be something to remember.”

“Something to talk about together,” he said.

She cuddled herself down into the seat. “Not much time for that with me sailing for America. But you’ve not told me what you think of my telegram. Wasn’t it a quaint, jumpy message? That’s just like Fluffy to decide a problem in five minutes that other people would take five months over. If she finds that anything’s worrying her, she moves away from it This Horace, he’s Horace Overbridge, the playwright, and he’s in love with her. Ever since we landed in April they’ve been going about together, having motor-trips into the country and picnics on the river, and—oh, so many good times. Of course I’ve been there, too, to take care of her. But the trouble is he wants to marry her and, if he did, he’d never let her do what she likes. He can’t understand that it means just as much to her to be an actress as it does to him to be a playwright Men aren’t very understanding. Of course, while they’re not even engaged, he raves about her acting and helps her all he can. But she knows perfectly well that all that would end with marriage. And then she doesn’t love him. So you see——”

“But you said she’d let him take her about and give her good times.”

“Why, certainly. If a man chooses to do that it’s his own affair. And then Fluffy’s very dear and beautiful, and she wouldn’t let many men be in love with her. You did sound shocked when you said ‘But!’”

“I was thinking that she hadn’t played fair. She must have led him on. You don’t think that’s fair, do you?”

“Fair!” She pursed her lips. “He enjoyed himself while it lasted, and it’s his own fault if he’s spoilt it.” She threw back her head and trilled gayly. “Oh, I can see her stamping her little foot and saying, ’No. No. No, Horace.’ And then, I expect, she jumped straight into a cab and booked our berths on the very first ship that was sailing. You—you don’t approve of her?”

“I don’t know her. It wasn’t very thoughtful of her to give you such short notice.”

“But if I don’t mind—you see, it’s my business.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Then I have no right to mind. But I’m wondering where you’d have been if I hadn’t turned up.”

“I! Oh, I’d have hired a car, I suppose, and Fluffy’d have had to pay for it, or Horace, or somebody.—I wish I could remember who it was shrugged his shoulders the way you do.”

“Perhaps it was——”

He glanced at her and broke off. This didn’t seem the propitious time to assist her memory. She was frowning. He had displeased her. The flippancy of Fluffy’s way of loving had cheapened all passion for the moment.

They were coming into Bath, with its narrow streets and wide spaces, its fluted columns and Georgian mansions.

“When we get into the country on the other side,” he thought, “I’ll tell her.”

But on the other side he found that her eyes were shut She lay curled up, with her child’s face turned towards him and her cheek pillowed against her hand.

“Desire,” he whispered. “Desire.”

She sighed, but her eyes did not open.

“It’s Teddy. Don’t you remember?”

She did not stir.

Very tenderly, lest he should wake her, he tucked her cloak closer, and buttoned it across her breast. By degrees he pulled the hood up over her ears and forehead. He stooped to kiss her, but drew back at the last moment To kiss her, sleeping, seemed too much like theft; “I love you, dearest,” he whispered. “I love you.”

She made no answer.

He drove on, dreaming, through the summer night.








CHAPTER III—A SUMMER’S MORNING

Stars were weakening in their shining. He wished she would wake up. It was still night, but almost imperceptibly a paleness was spreading. The sky looked mottled. As he passed through an anonymous, shrouded village a clock was striking. One, two, three! If he kept up this pace, they would be in London, at the latest, by seven.

He began to calculate his respite. The boat-train left Euston at noon; if she allowed him to stay with her to the very last moment, he had—how much? About nine hours more of her company.

But probably she wouldn’t let him stay with her. She’d have packing to do. This Fluffy person would want to carry her off and gossip about Horace—what he had said to her and what she had said to him, and how thoroughly justified she was in her treatment of him. And so—he widened his mouth bitterly—and so she would blow out of his life like thistledown. This splendid meeting, which had been the dream of his boyhood, would be wasted—cold-shouldered into oblivion by. trivialities.

In his desperation he invented a dozen mad schemes for detaining her. It was on the cards that his car might break down. Unfortunately it showed every healthy sign of living beyond its reputation. Well, if it didn’t do it voluntarily, he might help it—might lose a spark-plug or loosen something. He might, but it wasn’t in him to do it. The moment he met her truthful gray eyes he’d be sure to shrive his conscience—then she’d detest him. No, if he was going to be a young Lochinvar, he had far better play the game boldly—swing off into side-roads and, when she wakened, explain to her laughingly: “You won’t catch your boat now, little Desire. I’ve made you lose it on purpose because—because I love you.”

Humph! And she’d be amiable, wouldn’t she? Some men might be able to carry that off. He couldn’t. He’d feel a cur; he’d look it. So he drove on through the darkness, cursing at every new mile-stone because it brought him nearer to the hour of parting.

He wished to heaven she would wake up. While he fumed and fretted, he built topply air-castles. Couldn’t he marry her—propose clean off the bat and get it over? Such things had happened. The idea allured him. He began to reckon his finances to see whether he could afford it. He had saved seven hundred pounds from his Beauty Incorporated dividends; every year there would be three hundred more. Then he had his future. His work was in demand. Several commissions had been offered him. No fiction-writer since Du Maurier, so the critics told him, had illustrated his own stories quite so happily. His next book was going to make him famous—he was sure of it. Oh, yes, so far as money went, he was eligible.

From somewhere at the back of his mind a wise voice kept warning: “You have to live all your life with a woman; marrying’s the least part of marriage. Go slowly. How d’you know that she isn’t another Fluffy?”

It was just as though Mrs. Sheerug were talking. He argued angrily against her disillusions. “But she’s not selfish like Vashti; and, anyway, you weren’t fair to Vashti. You wouldn’t believe that she was good—you wouldn’t even let Hal believe it. That was why he lost her.”

Then Madame Josephine took a hand: “When you find her, don’t try to change her. Women long to be trusted. Be content to love.”

He gasped. What a lot Madame Josephine knew about men and women. He was doing what all men did—and he had promised himself so faithfully to be the exception. Already he was wanting to change Desire: wanting to make her give up such friends as Fluffy; wishing she didn’t smoke cigarettes, though so long as she wasn’t married to him he found it rather fascinating; feeling shocked that she had trusted a strange man so carelessly, though, when he happened to be her chance-selected companion, he had been glad to profit by her carelessness.

And then—he didn’t like to own it—he felt piqued by her lack of curiosity. She had taken him so quietly for granted. She hadn’t asked who he was, or why he, of all men, had been sent to her rescue. Any man would have done, provided he had had a car. It was A Man with A Car that she had wanted. When the emergency was ended and he had served his purpose, she would dismiss him with a polite “Thank you,” and put him out of her memory. Thistledown—that was what she was.

He bent over her. Still sleeping! Her red lips were parted, the glint of her white teeth showing. One hand was beneath her cheek, the other against her breast like a crumpled petal. Below her eyes the long lashes made shadows. How sweet she was, how fragile, how trusting—how like the child-Desire who had snuggled into his arms in the woodland! With a sudden revulsion he despised his fault-finding. Chivalry and tenderness leapt up. He must make it a law with himself to believe the highest of her, whatever happened or had happened.

He longed to waken her. He imagined how her eyes would tremble on him if she awoke to find him bent above her hands. But would they? Because he wasn’t sure, he cursed his inherited reticence.

Out of the east, driving his misty sheep before him, the shepherd of the dawn came walking. Like a mischievous dog, with his red tongue lolling, the sun sprang up and scattered the flock through many pastures.

Still she slept.

Outside Reading the engine went wrong. For a moment he hoped—— But, no, it was nothing serious. In making adjustments he made much more noise than was necessary. She did not rouse.

Nearly five o’clock! Other people would claim her in two hours. For the next forty minutes that thought, that other people would claim her, provided him with exquisite torture. Some of those other people would be men—how could any man be near her without loving her?

He reached Maidenhead and came to the bridge—came to the river winding like a silver pathway between nose-gays of gayly painted houseboats.

“Ho-ho!”

Jamming on the brakes in the middle of the bridge, he brought the car to a halt. Her hand fluttered up to her mouth in a pretty pretense at checking the yawn. She rubbed her eyes. “Morning! Didn’t I choose a good place to wake up? Where are we?” She sat upright. “My, but I am cramped. And, oh, look at my dress! It’ll embarrass you most horribly when we get to London. The police’ll think you’re eloping with a faery.”

He crouched above the wheel, clutching it tightly, fearing what he might do with his hands. Her casual cheerfulness stifled his words. It was like a blow across his lips. What he had intended to say was so serious. His eyes felt hot. He had a vision of himself as a wild unkempt being, almost primeval, who struggled and panted. He was filled with a sickening sense of self-despising and dreaded lest at any moment he might hear her laughing.

“What a shame!” She stroked his sleeve gently. Her voice was concerned. “I am a little beast. You’ve been at it all night while I’ve been——” She rippled into laughter. “Do tell me whether I snored. Why don’t you say something? You’ll get me frightened; you look most awfully strange and funny.” And then, softly: “Poor you! You’re very tired.”

He was like a man turned to stone. She listened for any sound of footsteps; she might need help. Except for the sunshine, the lapping of the river and the careless singing of birds, the whole world was empty.

She swept the hair back from her forehead and gazed away from him. She mustn’t let him know that he’d upset her.

“The river! Isn’t it splendid? And all the little curly mists. Why, this must be Maidenhead. Yes, there’s the place where we hired the boat when I came here with Horace and Fluffy. I hate to leave it, but—— We’d better be getting on to London, hadn’t we?”

He didn’t answer. Slowly she turned and regarded him. Was he sulky, or ill, or——?

“I’m doing my best to be pleasant.” There was a hint of tears in the way she said it. “You won’t let me help you—won’t tell me what’s the matter. I suppose that’s because I look untidy and ugly.”

“Princess!”

Tremblingly he seized her hands. She drew back from him: “Oh, please! You’re hurting.”

His eyes had touched hers for a second, penetrating their cloudiness. He let her slip from his grasp. “I’m sorry. I thought—I thought you were some one else.”

He was on the point of starting when she rose and jumped out

“I’m stiff. Let’s say ’Good-by’ to the dear old Thames. It won’t take a minute.” And then, over her shoulder, as she leant across the parapet: “You thought I was some one else. Who knows? Perhaps I am.”

All that he could see of her was her slight figure and the back of her pretty head. He went and stood near her, within arm-stretch.

Without looking at him she asked a question. “Why do you beat about the bush? Last night you had something on your mind that you wouldn’t tell. This morning it’s worse. What makes you so timid? I’m only a girl.”

“Because——”

“Go on.”

“Because it’s something that would offend you if you weren’t——”

She shook her head. “I’m never offended. I’m too understanding. Perhaps—— Were you fond of this some one?”

“Fond, I?” The river grew blurred “It was years ago. I was a boy and she was only a little girl. It’s like a story—like some one I read about, and then went out to try and discover.”

A market-cart rumbled across the bridge, mountain-high with vegetables. When the sound of its going had died out, she moved closer.

“I knew a boy once who called me ’Princess.’ He used to tell me—it was a queer, dear thing to tell me—he used to tell me that the babies came into my eyes when I was happy. But that was only when I’d been awfully nice to him.” When he stared at her, she nodded. “Really. He did. I’m not joking.”

How long had she recognized him? Had she been cruel on purpose? Had she kept him on tenter-hooks for her own diversion? He laughed softly. It wasn’t quite the rushing together of two souls that imagination had painted. And yet, there were compensations: the sleeping houses with their blinds discreetly lowered; the sparkling river; the spray of plunging clouds; on the bridge, suspended between sky and river, this pale queenly sprite of a girl. The golden girdle about her waist jingled. He took no notice the first time and the second; but the third it seemed a challenge. He reached out his arm.

Tossing back her hair, she slipped from him. “Not allowed. You go too fast; you were too slow at first. Why on earth didn’t you tell me last night, instead of—— Think what a splendid time we might have had. And now we’ve only a few hours.”

He seized her hands and held them, palm to palm. This time she made no complaint that he hurt. “You’re not going.” He was breathing quickly. “You’re never going unless——”

Her half-closed eyes mocked him with their old impishness. “But you mustn’t hold me like that. It isn’t done in the best families—not in public, anyway—even by the oldest friends.”

She broke from him and stepped into the car. “Let’s be nice to each other. We haven’t been very nice yet.”

Very nice! He’d sat up all night and tossed his holiday plans to the winds for her. He grinned to himself as he cranked the engine. This was the same Desire with a vengeance—the old Desire who had tried to make people ask pardon when she was the offender.

They were traveling again. His hands were occupied; he could make love to her with nothing more alarming than words. She felt safe to lower her defenses.

“You were just a little judging last night.”

“Was I?”

“Just a little. About Fluffy. You don’t even know her We were stupid to quarrel.”

“It wasn’t as bad as that.”

“It was. You were, oh, so extremely righteous. But I’d have been just as angry in your defense, or any one else’s whom I liked. I make a loyal little friend.”

“Would you truly quarrel in my defense?”

She patted his hand where it rested on the wheel “Of course I would. But last night you hurt me so much that—— I wonder if I dare tell you. You see, it hurt all the more because we’d only just met. I pretended——”

He finished her sentence: “To be asleep.”

She bit her lip. “Yes.”

“Then you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“What I said when I buttoned your cloak about you?” She made her eyes innocently wide. “Did you do that? That was kind.”

She was dodging him. He knew it; yet he wondered. Had she heard him whisper that he loved her? If she had—— He glanced sideways; all he saw was the gleam of her throat through her blowy hair.

His mind went back across the years. How much he had lost of her—a child then, a woman now! If they were to bridge the gulf, it would be wiser to start with memories.

“I found what you’d written on the window—found it next morning, after you’d left.”

“Did I write anything? It’s so long ago. How wonderful that you should have remembered!”

“Not wonderful at all. If you’d meant it, you’d remember.”

She had gone too far with her evasions. Snuggling closer, their shoulders touching, she bent across him till their eyes met.

“I did mean it then. But you shouldn’t expect a girl to own it. I can prove to you that I meant it. I wrote, ’I love you,’ and then, lower down, ’I love you.’ I’ve—I’ve often thought about you, and about—— What times we had! D’you remember the bird-catcher and Bones? Poor Bones! How jealous you were of him, and I expect he’s dead.” She laughed: “So you needn’t be jealous any longer. And d’you remember how I would bathe? Shocking, wasn’t it? I thought it would change me from a girl to a boy. And how I called you King Arthur once, and made you angry? I think—— No, you won’t like me to say that.”

He urged her.

“I think you’re still a King Arthur or else—you wouldn’t have objected to Fluffy, and you wouldn’t have made such a mess about recognizing me.”

Stung by the old taunt he grew reckless. “I did tell you. You heard what I said, but you tricked me by pretending you were sleeping.”

“A Sir Launcelot wouldn’t have, been put off by pretense. He’d have shaken me by the shoulders. Oh, don’t look hurt. Let’s talk of something else. What d’you suppose I’ve been doing with myself?”

As they drove through the morning country, between hedges cool with dew and fragrant with opening flowers, she told him.

“After my father had kidnaped me” (so she knew that Hal was her father!) “my beautiful mother took me to America. Sometimes we traveled in Europe, but she was afraid to bring me to England so long as I was little. This summer’s the first time I’ve been back. She let me come with Fluffy. I’m going to be an actress—going to start next fall in New York, I expect, if my mother allows me. Fluffy’s promised to help. She’s a star. Janice Audrey’s her real name. You must have heard of her. No! Oh, well, she’s quite famous, even if you haven’t. So you see why it’s so important for me to sail with her.”

“You’re not going to sail with her.”

“I am.” She caught her breath and gazed at him wonderingly. “How foolish of you! That’s why we’ve driven all night, and——”

“You’re not going to now.”

She threw herself back in the seat a little contemptuously. “It’s nonsense to discuss it. I’d like to know what makes you say it.”

“Because——- It’s difficult to tell you. Because I couldn’t bear to lose you the moment we’ve met. I don’t think—well, of course, you can’t understand what you’ve been in my life. Don’t laugh, Desire; I’m not flirting—not exaggerating. I’ve always believed that I’d find you. I’ve lived for that. I’ve worked, and tried to be famous and worthy so that—so that you’d like me. I had an idea that somewhere, far out in the world, you were thinking of me and waiting for me.” He glanced at her shyly. “Were you?”

She was sitting motionless, staring ahead.

“Were you?”

Tears came into her eyes. “It’s very beautiful—what you’ve told me. It makes me feel—— Oh, I don’t know—that I wish I were better. You see, you’ve thought of me as a dream-person, as some one very wonderful. I’m only a reality—an ordinary girl with a little cleverness, who wants to be an actress. Yes, I’ve thought about you sometimes. Mother and I have often talked about you—but not in the way you mean, I expect.”

He thrilled. She had thought about him. She owned it “You couldn’t be better than you are,” he whispered.

She shook her head. “You haven’t known me long enough. I’m disappointing.”

He smiled incredulously.

“But I am,” she pouted, with a touch of petulance. “Then I’ll have to know you long enough. You’ll have to give me the chance to be disillusioned; that’s only fair. All the while you were sleeping I was planning a way to keep you from going. At first I hoped the car would break down. When it didn’t, I was tempted to loosen something so that we’d get stuck on the road. Not at all a King Arthur trick, that! But I couldn’t bring myself to do it after you’d trusted me. Then I thought I’d run off with you—let you wake up in Devon, miles from any railway, with no time to get back. Somehow, from what I remembered of you, I didn’t think that that would make you pleasant. Then I had a mad notion.”

“What was it?”

“You won’t laugh at me?”

“Honest Injun. I promise.”

“I thought I’d propose to you the moment you woke and we’d get married.”

“You thought of that all by your little self!” Her voice rose in a clear carol of music. “You quaint, funny person.” Catching her humor, he joined in her laughing. “It seemed tremendously possible while you slept. I even reckoned up my bank-account. But I’ve a real scheme now. When we ran away from Fanner Joseph, I was going to take you to my mother. D’you remember?”

“Well?”

“Let’s pick up our adventure where we dropped it. I’ll take you to her.”

“Dreamer! What about my sailing, and my mother waiting for me, and Fluffy?”

“Oh, hang Fluffy! She’s always intruding.”

“That’s not kind. Besides, I don’t want Fluffy hanged. If she were, she couldn’t help me to be an actress.”

“But you’re not going to be an actress. I’d hate to think of you being stared at by any one who could pay the money. An actress marries the public, but you—— Look here, I’m serious.”

“You think you are. I never met any one like you. You weave magic cloaks in your imagination and try to make live people wear them. If the magic cloaks don’t fit, you’ll be angry. So don’t weave one for me; I warn you. What’s the time? Then in less than seven hours I sail for America.”

He felt like a kite, straining toward the clouds, which the hand of a child was dragging down to earth. Her voice uttered prose, but her eyes smiled poetry. She seemed to be repeating disenchanted phrases which she had borrowed without comprehending. Every time he looked at her she inspired him to flights; but she refused to follow him herself. Because of that he fell silent.

Streets commenced. The smoke of freshly kindled fires boiled and bubbled against the sky. Frowsy maids knelt whitening doorsteps, as though saying their prayers. Blinds shot up at second-story windows. The world was getting dressed. It was the hour when dreams ended.

Desire drew her cloak closer, hiding the green and gold of her romance attire.

“I didn’t mean to be horrid. Don’t think that I don’t appreciate——”

Whatever it was she said was lost in the clatter of a passing tram.

“You weren’t horrid.” He spoke quietly. “Even if you had been, I deserved it. I’ve been,” he hesitated and shrugged his shoulders expressively, “just a little mad. What’s the address? Where am I to drive you?”

They had entered Regent’s Park. For a moment the spell of the country returned. In fields, beyond the canal, sheep were grazing.

“Can’t we go more slowly?” She touched his arm gently.

“We can. But, if we do, I’ll have more time to make a fool of myself, and I’ve done that pretty thoroughly.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But I have and I owe you an apology. You see, all my life you’ve been an inspiration. I’ve imagined you so intensely that I couldn’t treat you politely as a stranger—as what you call a ’real’ person.”

Her face trembled. All the mischief had gone out of it. Her hands moved distressfully as though they wanted to caress him, but didn’t dare. She crouched her chin against her shoulder and gazed away through the sun and shadows of the park.

“I don’t want you to be polite to me,” she faltered. “I don’t think you understand how difficult it is to be a girl. We neither of us know quite what we want.” She looked at him wistfully. “Disappointed in me already! Didn’t I warn you? And yet, if you’d take the trouble to know me, you’d find that I’m not—not so bad and heartless.”

“Little Desire, I never thought you were bad and heartless—never for one moment.”

The babies came into her eyes and her finger went childishly to her mouth. “No, you wouldn’t have the right to; but I’m ever so much nicer than you suspect.”

He slowed down the engine. His face had gone white beneath its tan. They were both stirred; they seemed to listen to the beating of each other’s heart “Give me another chance,” he urged unsteadily.

“But how? I must sail.” She gazed at him forlornly. “Here we are. You were going past it.”

They drew up before a tall, buff-colored house, standing in a terrace. As though glad to escape from their emotional suspense, she jumped out the moment they had stopped, ran up the steps and rang the bell. While she waited for her ring to be answered, she kept her back towards him. The door was opened by a maid in a white cap and apron.

“Hulloa, Ethel! So you see I’ve got back. How’s Miss Janice? Busy packing?”

“Still in bed, Miss Desire. I was just going up to help her dress.”

“Out last night with Mr. Horace?”

“Yes. He’s to be here to breakfast He’s going to the station to see you off.”

“All right. I’ll be in in a moment You needn’t stop.”

She came tripping down the steps to Teddy. He had got out of the car and had been standing watching her. He had feared that she would glance across her shoulder and dismiss him with a nod.

She rested her hand upon his arm and looked up at him timidly with an expression that was more than pity. The leaves of the park fluttered and the flakes of sunlight fell.

“If I wasn’t going——” The rumble of London shook the heavy summer stillness, hinting at adventures awaiting their exploring. “If only I wasn’t going—— I’m beginning to like you most awfully, the way I did once when—— But I must go. I can’t help it You’ll stay to breakfast, won’t you? Then we can drive to the station together.”

“I’d like to. But would they like it?”

“Who? Fluffy and Horace? I don’t suppose so.”

“Then breakfast with me somewhere else?”

She played with the temptation, raising his expectations. Then, “No. I’ve too much to do—packing and all sorts of things. Perhaps you’re right We’d be awkward with each other before them. We’d better say ’Good-by’ now.”

But she didn’t say it. Her hand still rested on his arm and the gold-green leaves of the park fluttered.

“I can’t let you go like this,” he whispered hoarsely.

“No. I know it. But what can we do? Poor you! I’m so sorry.”

Her mood changed swiftly. “Oh, how stupid we are! Give me a pencil and some paper. Now put your foot on the step of the car and make a table for me.”

As she stooped to his knee to write, her hair fell back, exposing the whiteness of her neck. The familiarity with which she was filling these last moments sent all his dreams soaring. The daintiness, the slimness, the elfin beauty of her quickened his longing. His instinct told him that she was hoping that he would kiss her; but he guessed that, if he did, she would repulse him. “You go too fast for me,” she had said. Once again his imagination wove a magic garment and flung it about her shoulders. There was no one like her. She was called Desire because she was desired. If love could compel love, she should come into his life. He vowed to himself that he would win her.

“There.”

As he took the paper from her, their fingers touched and clung together. “What’s this? Your New York address? You mean that we can write to each other?”

Her eyes mocked his trouble with tenderness. “That wasn’t what I meant.”

“Then what?”

“That you’ll know where to find me when you come to America.”

“But I can’t I——”

She broke from him and ran up the steps. As she crossed the threshold she let her cloak slip from her. He saw again for one fleeting moment her sandaled feet and her pageant costume.

The door was closing. Before it shut she kissed the tips of her fingers to him.

“You can if you really care.”








CHAPTER IV—HAUNTED

He eyed the windows furtively, hoping to catch her peering out. He commenced to tinker with his engine to give himself an excuse for delaying. Why hadn’t he accepted her breakfast invitation? Without her he felt utterly desolate.

Perhaps, if he stayed there long enough, she would come to him. The door would open and he would hear her saying shyly, “Ha! So it did break down!” Of course the sensible thing to do would be to walk boldly up the steps and ask for her. But love prefers strategy.

A man came strolling along the terrace. He was in gray flannels, wore a straw hat and was swinging a cane jauntily. He had a distinct waist-line and humorous blue eyes. He was the kind of man who keeps a valet.

“Hulloa! Something wrong?”

Teddy unstooped his shoulders. “Nothing much. Nothing that I can’t put right.”

“Well, I’m going in here.” The man glanced across his shoulder at the house. “If it’s water you want or anything like that, or if you’d care to use the phone——”

Teddy flushed scarlet beneath his tan. So this cheerful looking person was Horace who, cooperating with Fluffy, had set an example that had cheapened all love’s values?

“I won’t trouble you. Thanks all the same.”

Had he dared, he would have accepted the proffered assistance. But Desire would guess; they all would guess that he had acted a lie to gain an entrance. Contempt for the foolishness of his situation made him hurry. The car made a miraculous recovery—so miraculous that the blue eyes twinkled with dawning knowledge.

“Come a long way to judge from the dust! From Glastonbury, perhaps?”

Teddy jumped to the seat and seized the wheel. “Yes, from Glastonbury,” he said hastily.

As he drove away he muttered, “Played me like a trout! He’s no cause to laugh when he’s been refused himself.”

From the end of the terrace, he glanced back. The man, with leisurely self-possession, was entering the house. He felt for him the impotent envy that Dives in torment felt, when he saw Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom. He tried to jeer himself out of his melancholy. “I’m very young,” he kept saying. But when he imagined the party of three at breakfast, he could have wept.

Now that she had vanished, he remembered only her allurement. Her faults became attractions: her coldness was modesty; her defense of Fluffy, loyalty; her unreasonable request that he should come to America, love. What girl would expect a man to do that unless she loved him?

The reality of his predicament began to grow upon him. This wasn’t a romance or a dream he had invented; it had happened.

In a shadowed spot, overlooking the canal, he halted the car. He must think matters out—must get a grip on himself before he went further. Water-carts were going up and down. Well-groomed men were walking briskly through the park on their way to business. Boys and girls on bicycles passed him, going out by way of Hampstead for a day in the country. The absolute normality of life, its level orderliness, thrust itself upon him. He looked at the sedate rows of houses, showing up substantially behind sun-drenched branches. He saw their window-boxes, their whitened doorsteps, their general appearance of permanency. The men who lived in those houses wouldn’t say to a girl, “I love you,” in the first half-dozen hours of acquaintance. But neither would the girls say to a seven-hour-old lover, “Come to America”; they wouldn’t even say, “Run down to Southend,” for fear of being thought forward.

How distorted the views seemed to him now that he had held on the journey up from Glastonbury! They were the result of moonlight and of the pageant emotions stirred by a medieval world. How preposterously he had acted!

He tried to put himself in Desire’s place that he might judge her fairly. Irresponsible friends send her a telegram, saying that a man is coming to fetch her. Of course she believes that the man is to be trusted; but the first thing he does is to make love. In spite of that, she has to go with him; he is her one chance of getting to London. He at once commences to take advantage of her; she gets frightened and pretends to go to sleep in order to escape him. In the morning she discovers that he’s an old friend, but there’s too little time to replace the bad impression. At the last moment she feels sorry for him—begins to feel that she really does care for him; so she says the only thing possible under the circumstances, “Come to America.”

Obviously she wasn’t going to give herself away all at once. In that she had been wise, for, though he had wanted her to, he knew that if she had, she would have lowered her value.

But he wished she had shown more curiosity. She’d talked all about herself and hadn’t asked him a single question. She hadn’t even called him by his name—not once.

Then the cloud of his depression lifted. The truth came home to him in a flash: all these complaints and this unhappiness were proofs positive that at last he was in love. The splendor of the thought thrilled him—in love. The curtain had gone up. His long period of lonely waiting was ended. For him the greatest drama that two souls can stage had begun. Whither it would lead he could not guess. Everything was a blank except the present, and that was filled with an aching happiness. She was going from him. Already she was out of sight and sound; in a few hours he would be cut off from all communication with her. Yet he was happy in the knowledge that, however uncertain he might be of her, he belonged to her irrevocably. He longed to give himself to her service in complete self-surrender. His work, his ambitions, everything he was or could be, must be a gift for her. But how to make her understand this, while there was yet time?

He drove out of the park, passing by her house. Of her there was no sign. He wondered what they were doing in there. Was the man with the blue eyes taking his place and helping to strap her trunks? Or was he making love to Fluffy, while Desire looked on wistfully and wished—wished what he himself was wishing?

“You were a little judging?”

Yes, he had been judging. It had all taken place so differently from anything that he had conjectured. She herself was so different from the Desire he had imagined. All these years he had been preparing for her coming, but to her his coming had been an accident. That had hurt—hurt his pride, to have to acknowledge that she had almost forgotten the old kindnesses. And then she had tantalized him—-had taken a pleasure in treating him lightly. Perhaps all girls did that; it might be their way of defending themselves. Probably she hadn’t meant one half of what she had said, and had been trying to shock him. He couldn’t bear that she should think him narrow or censorious. The more he condemned himself, the more he longed to convince her of his breadth and generosity.

He found a florist’s and ordered a quantity of flowers.

“Shall I enclose your card, sir?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

He was afraid that, if she knew for certain they were from him, she might not accept them.

“The lady’s leaving Euston on the boat-train for Liverpool, so you must get them to her at once.”

“You shall see the boy start, sir. Going on a liner, is the lady, sir?”

“Yes, to America.”

“Then, may I make a suggestion?” Desire would have said that the florist was very understanding; he rubbed his hands and looked out of the window to avoid any needless causing of embarrassment. “If I might make a suggestion, sir, I would say it would be very nice to send the lady seven bouquets—one for every day of the voyage.”

“But can it be done? I mean, will the flowers keep fresh?”

“Oh, yes, sir. It’s quite the regular thing. We pack them in seven boxes and we mark each box for the day on which it’s to be opened. We send instructions with them for the lady to give to the purser, to keep them on ice. Usually we slip five shillings into the envelope with the instructions. Then the lady finds her bouquet waiting for her on her plate each morning with her breakfast. The idea is that she’ll think of the gentleman who sent them.” This florist understood too much. He treated love as a thing that happened every day, which, of course, it didn’t. Teddy assumed an off-hand manner. “If it won’t take too long to make up the bouquets, I’ll have them as well.”

“As well as the cut flowers?”

“Yes.”

He helped to select the rosebuds, orchids and violets that were to lie against her breast It gave him a comforting sense of nearness to her. When the man’s back was turned he stooped to catch their fragrance and brushed his lips against their petals. Perhaps she might do the same, and her lips would touch the flowers where his had touched. By subtler words than language they would explain to her his love. When she landed in that far-away New York, he would be with her, for the flowers would have kept his memory fresh.

“Certain you won’t send your card, sir? It’s quite etiquette, I assure you.”

He shook his head irritably. The man took the hint and became absorbed in his own affairs. The boxes were tied up, the bill settled. Teddy watched the boy bicycle away on his errand and envied him the privilege of ringing her door-bell.

Breakfast! He hadn’t had any. He was too excited to feel hungry. He didn’t want to go home yet; he’d have to explain the abrupt ending of his holiday. He was trying to make up his mind to go to the station to see her off. As he drove about, killing time, he came to Trafalgar Square. That made him think of Cockspur Street and the shipping offices. He pulled up at Ocean House to find out what boats were sailing on that day. There were three of them, any one of which might be hers. A mad whim took him. Of course it was out of the question that he should go to America. How could he explain such a voyage to his parents? He couldn’t say, “I met Desire for a handful of hours and I’m in love.” Besides, he would never let any one suspect that he was in love. He wouldn’t even be able to mention his night ride from Glastonbury. It would sound improper to people who weren’t romance-people. He could see the pained look that would steal into his mother’s eyes if he told her. Nevertheless, although it was quite impossible, he asked for a list of sailings and made inquiries as to fares.

Then he drove to Gatti’s for breakfast and a general tidy-up. Something was the matter with the mirrors this morning. He saw himself with humble displeasure. Until he had met Desire, he had felt perfectly contented with his appearance; he had found nothing in it at which to take offense. But now he began to have a growing sense of injury against the Almighty. As he sat in the mirrored room, waiting for his meal to be served, his reflections watched him from half-a-dozen angles. They seemed to be saying to him, “Poor chap! May as well face up to the fact. This is how you look; and you expect her to love you.”

He compared himself with her. He thought of her eyes, her lips, her hair, the grace of her figure, the wonderful smallness of her hands. Her voice came back to him—the sultry, emotional, coaxing way she had of using it The arch self-composure of her manner came back—the glances half-mocking, half-tender which she knew how to dart from under her long lashes. She was more elf than woman.

All her actions and speech were unconsciously calculated to win affection. Her beauty was without blemish; the memory of her filled him with self-ridicule. He regarded himself in the mirrors with sorrowful despising. His face was too long, his eyes too hollow, his mouth too sensitive—nothing was right. How could she ever bring herself to love him? How monstrous it seemed to him now that he should have dared to criticize her! There was only one way to win her approbation—to make her admire his talent A thought struck him. Leaving his meal untasted, he ran out in search of a bookshop.

“A copy of Life Till Twenty-One. Yes, by Theodore Gurney. Can you deliver it?... No, that’s too late. It’s got to be there by eleven. If you can send a boy now, I’ll give him half-a-crown for his trouble. I’ll drive him in my car to within a hundred yards of the house. It’s most important. The people who want it are sailing for America.”

As the shopman wrapped it up, he remarked, “You were in luck to get a copy. There’s been a run on it. The publishers are out of stock. This is our last one.”

Once again he came within sight of her house. At a discreet distance he set his messenger down and saw the book delivered. His heart fluttered as the door opened; she might—it was just possible—she might come out. But no, all he had was a fleeting glimpse of the maid in the white cap and apron.

The moment the deed was done, he was assailed by trepidations. It might seem egotistical to her, bad taste, vaunting. He could almost hear her laughing. Oh, well, if she troubled to read it—and surely she would do that out of curiosity—she would learn exactly how much she had meant to him. She would see her own face looking out from the pen-and-ink drawings that dodged up and down the margins.

Within the next hour he sent her three telegrams. The first simply gave his address in Eden Row. The second said, “Please write to me.” The third was a bold optimism, “Perhaps coming.” After that he had to stop, for the time was approaching when she would be leaving for the station. The signing of the telegrams gave him much difficulty. The first bore his signature in full, “Theodore Gurney”; the next was less formal, “Theodore”; the last touched the chord of memory, “Teddy.” His difficulty had arisen because he couldn’t remember that she had called him anything.

She lived in his thoughts as a phantom—too little as a creature of flesh and blood. Within the brief space that had elapsed since he had touched her, she had become again a faery’s child. The sound of her laughter was in his ears. He imagined how her finger had gone up to her mouth and the babies had come into her eyes, each time the bell had rung and something fresh had been handed in to her. “Very queer and dear of him,” she had said—something like that.

It was nearly twelve. He was torn between his anxiety to see her and his shyness at intruding. If he had had only her to face, he would have gone to Euston; but she’d be surrounded by friends. When it was too late, he cursed his lack of enterprise.

Perhaps she had sent him an answer to his telegrams. He hurried back to Eden Row. As he came in sight of the tree-shadowed street, with the river gleaming along its length and the staid, sleepy houses lining its pavement, the calm normality of an orderly world again accused him. To have suggested to Eden Row a trip to America merely to see a girl would have sounded like an affront to its sanity. As he passed by Orchid Lodge, the carriage-and-pair was waiting for Mrs. Sheerug to come out. For fifteen years she had been going through the same curriculum of self-imposed duties—playing her harp, working at her tapestries, scattering her philanthropies. How could he say to her, “I’m going to America,” without stating an adequate reason?

His mother met him in the hall. “Why, Teddy, back! What’s the matter? You didn’t send us warning.”

“I got tired of roving,” he said. “Has anything come?”

“Come! No. I forwarded your last letters to Glastonbury. I thought you were to be there this morning.”

“So I was to have been, but—I changed my mind suddenly.”

“You look awfully tired.”

“I am.” He forced a laugh. “I haven’t slept. I drove all night for the fun of it. I think I’ll go and lie down.” In the room where he had passed his boyhood dreaming of her, he sat down to wait for her message. He looked out of the window. How unaltered everything was, and yet how different! The pigeons fluttered. In the studio at the bottom of the garden he could make out the figure of his father, standing before his easel. Across the wall, Mr. Yaffon carried cans of water back and forth among his flowers. He remembered the great dread he had had that nothing would ever happen. And now it had happened—money, reputation, and at last Desire. He ought to be feeling immensely glad; he was in love—the make-believe passions of childhood on which he had fed his imagination were ended. The real thing had come. If he could only have one sign from her that she cared——

He listened. Every time he heard the bell ring he went out on to the landing and called, “Anything for me? What is it?”

Afternoon lengthened out. He manufactured reasons for her silence. She had probably intended to telegraph him from Euston, but had been rushed at the last minute. She would do it from Liverpool before she sailed. That would mean that he would hear from her by seven. Anyway she had his flowers and she had his book—so many things to remind her of him. He pictured her curled up in a corner of the railway-carriage, blind to the flying country, deaf to what was going on about her, smiling over the pages of Life Till Twenty-One, and recognizing what poetry he had brought to his loving of her. She wouldn’t be hard on him any longer for his behavior on the ride from Glastonbury. She would understand why he hadn’t liked her to speak of love as though it were flirtation. Perhaps already she was feeling a little proud of him—nearly as proud as he felt of her.

Seven struck on the clock downstairs. Eight, nine, ten! No message would come till morning now; but he would not let himself believe that she had not sent one. Probably she had given it to Horace, and he had slipped it into his pocket and forgotten. Something like that! Or else, being a girl and afraid to appear forward, she would write a letter on the ship and send it ashore by the pilot. A letter would seem to her so much less important than a telegram.

His mother looked in on her way to bed. “Still up? You’ve been hiding all evening. What have you been doing? Working?”

She slipped her arm about his neck and laid her face against his cheek. She was trying to sympathize—trying to draw him out. What did she suspect? Instinctively he barricaded his privacy. He felt a cruel shame that his secret should be guessed. Why he should feel ashamed of love—of love which was so beautiful—he could not tell. “What have you been doing, Teddy?”

He smiled cheerfully. “Doing! I’ve had an idea. A good one. I’ve been thinking it out.”

“For your next book?”

“Perhaps.”

When she was gone, he turned out his light. He knew she would be watching for its glow against the trees. If she did not see it, she would believe him sleeping and her mind would be at rest. Then he seated himself by the open window in the darkness.

He thought of Vashti, who had not married Hal. Did Desire know that her mother had not married? He remembered the horror he had felt when he had learnt that fact—the chivalrous pity for Desire it had aroused. It was then that he had planned, when he became a man, to help her in the paying of the price. And now——

He smiled frowningly. She didn’t seem to need his help. She was the happiest, most radiant person he had ever met. She had found the intenser world, for which he had always been searching—the world which is forever somewhere else. His world—his poor little world, which he had tried to make so fine that he might offer it to her—his world seemed dull in comparison.

“Come to America,” she had said, as though the people she knew were those lucky persons who are at all times free to travel, and never need to trouble about expense. It hadn’t seemed to enter her head that he might have obligations or a living to earn. She hadn’t even inquired; she had just said, “Come to America,” as another might say, “If you care to call, you’ll find me at home on Fridays.”

He adored her the more, as is the way with lovers, for the magnificent inconsequence of her request. It was the standard she set for his need of her—the proof she required. The more he thought, the more certain he was of that.

Next morning brought neither telegram nor letter. All day he stayed at home, fearing that, if he went out, something might arrive in his absence. Her silence drove him to distraction. Could it be that she was offended? Was she annoyed because he had put her into a book? Had she expected him to turn up at Euston for a final farewell? He must get some word to her. There were three ships, any one of which might be carrying her. He went out that evening and addressed a wireless message to her on each of them: “Thinking of you. Longing to hear from you. Love.” He felt very discomforted when the clerk, before accepting them, insisted on reading them over aloud. Again he hoped vainly that she might guess his suspense—perhaps gauge his by her own—and return a wireless. Nothing.

The next three weeks were the longest in his memory. He became an expert on transatlantic sailings. Every day he covered several pages to her. He filled them with sketches; he put into them all the emotion and cleverness of which he was capable. He said all the tender and witty things he had intended to say to her when they met.

He burlesqued his own shyness. He recalled happenings of the old farmhouse days which even he had all but forgotten. As an artist he knew that he was outdoing himself. His letters were masterpieces. He laughed and cried over some of the passages in the same breath. They couldn’t fail to move her. When three weeks had elapsed he began to look for an answer. None came. It was as though she mocked him, saying: “Come to America if you really care.”

He grew hurt. For a month he tried the effect of not writing. Then he tried to forget her, and did his best to become absorbed in his work. But the old habits of industry had lost their attraction; every day was a gray emptiness. His quietness seemed irrecoverable. She haunted him. Sometimes the wind was in her hair and her face was turned from him. Sometimes her gray eyes watched him cloudily, and her warm red lips pouted with tender melancholy. He saw her advancing through the starlit streets of Glastonbury, walking proudly in her queen’s attire. He saw her in a thousand ways; every one was sweet, and every one was torturing.

“This is love,” he told himself; “love which all the inspired people of the world have painted and described and sung.”

The odd thing was that, much as it made him suffer, he would not have been without it.

His mother noticed his restlessness and would have coaxed hi$ secret from him, but his lips were obstinately sealed. He could not bring himself to confess. He resorted to evasions which he felt to be unworthy.

Gradually the determination grew up in him to go to America. He sought for an excuse that would disguise his real purpose. It came to him in a letter from a New York editor, offering prices, which sounded fabulous by English standards, for a series of illustrated reminiscences of childhood similar to those contained in Life Till Twenty-one.

He read the letter aloud at the breakfast table. “I’m going,” he said, “to talk it over.”

“Going where?” his father questioned.

“To America.”

“Oh, nonsense!”

He let the subject drop for the time being; but a few days later he walked out of Ocean House and whistled his way down Cockspur Street to Trafalgar Square. He halted in the drowsy August sun and pulled the ticket from his pocket to examine it. He could scarcely credit the reckless length to which his infatuation had carried him.

He seemed to see her again, standing on the threshold in her green-and-gold pageant costume, whispering tauntingly, “Come to America if you really care.”

She would have to acknowledge now how much she meant to him. He couldn’t wait to tell her. Crossing the street to Charing Cross Telegraph Office, he cabled her the date of his arrival, the ship on which he was sailing and the one word, “Coming.” Then he turned thoughtfully homeward, to break the news to Eden Row.

Her masterly faculty for silence had conquered.








CHAPTER V—SUSPENSE

Not until the shores of England had faded behind him did he realize the decisiveness of the step he had taken. Divorced from his familiar surroundings, in the No-Man’s-Land of shipboard, he had an opportunity of taking an outsider’s view of his actions. Now that there was no going back, a fatalistic calm settled down on him. During the past weeks he had lived in a tempest of speculations, of wild hopes and unreasonable doubts. He had had to hide his emotions, and yet had dreaded lest they were suspected. The fear of ridicule had been heavy upon him. He had walked on tiptoe, always listening for a voice which never answered. Now at last he regained self-possession.

Lying lazily in his steamer-chair, with the sun-dazzled vacancy of ocean before him, the bigness of life came acutely home to him. Looking back over his few years, he saw that the supreme need for great living is charity—to be content to love, as Madame Josephine would put it. He saw something else: that life has amazing recuperative powers and that no single defeat is overwhelming. Disappointment only becomes overwhelming when it is used for bitterness, as it was used by Hal.

“Life’s an eternal picking one’s self up and going forward,” he told himself.

And so, if the unthinkable were to befall him, and he were to fail to make Desire love him—— He couldn’t believe that love could ever fail to awaken love—not the kind of love he had for her; but, lest that disaster should happen and that he might prevent it from crushing him, he tried not to take the purpose of his voyage too seriously. He pretended to regard it cavalierly as an adventure. He schooled himself in the knowledge that he might not be wanted. Except for her having said, “Come to America if you really care,” he had no grounds for supposing that she would want him. Why should he be anything to her? She was only something to him because, by reason of her parentage, she had appealed powerfully to his imagination at the chivalrous period of adolescence. He had woven his dreams about her memory, clothed it with affection and brought it with him up to manhood; then, by pure accident, he had met her. She herself had warned him that he did not love the actual Desire, but the magic cloak in which he had enfolded her. Perhaps most men did that—worshiped a fantastic ideal, till they became sufficiently humble to set out in search of reality.

It didn’t follow that, because the child-Desire had cared for him, the Desire of twenty was still fond of him. It was that supposition that had made him so precipitate in his own actions, and so unreasonable in his expectations of hers. She had cared for him so little that she had been in England since April and hadn’t troubled to discover him. Well, if he found that she didn’t care for him now, he would make his business the excuse for his voyage and return directly it was ended. He wasn’t going to repeat Hal’s humiliating performance and give himself hopelessly. He couldn’t, if he would. He knew that ultimately, if a woman didn’t choose to make herself important, his work would take him from her. That, at least, was his compensation for being an artist and over-sensitive: when reality had made him suffer, his dreams would again claim him. So, having assured himself many times that he was calm, he came to believe that he was fortified against disillusion and would remain unshaken by it.

He was living up to her test by coming to America—proving to her beyond a doubt that he really did care. A few days would be sufficient to let him know precisely how much that meant to her. At worst, he would have enriched himself by an experience. And at best—at best, he would have gained the thing which in all the world was most precious to him.

Thus armed with the cardboard weapons of a sham cynicism, he allowed himself to wander, like a knight-errant, still deeper into the haunted forest of his imagination. And there, as is the way with knight-errants, he grew impatient with his caution. Why should he strive so desperately to rein in his passion with doubts—this strange and wonderful passion that was so new to him? Of course she had wanted him. At this very moment she was thinking of him—ticking off the hours till they should be together. If she hadn’t written, hadn’t cabled, had ignored him entirely, it was because—— Perhaps because in the early stages women show their love by hiding it, just as men show theirs by displaying it A man’s excitement is to win; a woman’s to be won. Perhaps! He smiled humorously; he had invented so many motives for her silence. The obvious motive he had overlooked—that it was her silence that was compelling him to her.

Probably his ardor had frightened her. Their introduction had been so unusual that it afforded no basis for correspondence, though he had shut his eyes to that. If Desire were here, and he were to ask her why she hadn’t written, she would probably crouch her chin against her shoulder and tell him, “It isn’t done in the best families.”

It wasn’t. But in New York conditions would be different. Vashti would be there. Vashti for whom he had saved his marriage-box. Vashti who could make Mrs. Sheerug believe that she was good only when she sang. Vashti whose voice was like a beanstalk ladder by which lovers might escape to the stars. Did she remember The Garden Enclosed, and how his boyish kiss had changed her painted lips from an expression of brooding to one of kindness? Odd to think of her as Desire’s mother! “My beautiful mother!” Vashti would be generous; already he was counting on her alliance. When Desire had her mother’s consent, she would no longer want to conceal her affection.

His optimism caught fire. It was a wonderful world to which he was sailing—a world of enchantment.- She might be on the dock to meet him. Would she look very altered with her hair done like a woman’s? How would a modern dress suit her? What fun it would be to go wandering through a strange city at her side!

His thoughts ran madly ahead. Marriage!’ Where would they live? Would Vashti want them to stay in America? Anyway, they’d go back to Eden Row for their honeymoon. Hal would be happy at last In time he might meet Vashti. They might learn to love each other afresh, and then——

He drew up sharply, assuring himself gravely that all these peeps into the future were highly problematic. The chances were that in two weeks’ time he’d be sailing on the return-journey, doing his best to forget that he had ever believed himself in love.

The blue trackless days passed quickly, while his mood alternated between precautionary coldness and passionate anticipation. His thoughts spread their wings, beating up into the unknown in broad flights of fancy.

The last morning. He had scarcely slept. The throb of the engines was slower. Overhead he could hear the creaking of pulleys, and the commotion of trunks being raised from the hold and piled upon the deck. He rose with the first flush of dawn to see the wraith of land stealing nearer. He had the feeling that, in so doing, he was proving his loyalty. Somewhere, over there to the westward, her eyes were closed and she was dreaming of him. It was his old idea that their thoughts could reach out and touch.

His heart was in his throat. He paced up and down in a vain endeavor to keep it quiet. Gulls, skimming the foam with shrill cries, seemed her messengers. Through the pearl-colored haze white shipping passed noiselessly. The sun streamed a welcome.

As they crept up the harbor, he could no longer disguise his excitement. It nearly choked him. He seemed disembodied; he was a pair of eyes. His soul ran out before him. He felt sure she would be waiting for him. He saw nothing of the panting little tugs, which pulled and shoved the liner to her moorings. He hardly noticed the man-made precipices of New York, rising like altar-steps to a shrine of turquoise. He was straining his eyes toward the gaps in the dock-shed, white with clustered indistinguishable faces. One of them must be hers. It seemed wrong that, even at this distance, he should not be able to pick her out As they moved slowly alongside, he kept persuading himself that he had found her and waved furiously—only to realize that he had been mistaken.

He passed down the gang-plank with eager eyes, asking himself: “How shall I greet her? What will she expect me to say to her?” On every side, friends were darting forward, shaking hands, clasping each other and not caring who witnessed their emotional gladness. At any minute he might see her pressing through the crowd.

He had been searching for her for half-an-hour. “If your friends have come to meet you,” an official told him, “they’ll look for you where your baggage is examined. What’s your name? Gurney. Well, they’ll be waiting for you under the letter G., if they’re waiting anywhere.”

His luggage had been passed by the inspector. The crowd was thinning. The only people left were a few flustered passengers who were having trouble with the customs. His hope was ebbing; after his high anticipations he was suffering from reaction. Loitering disconsolately by his trunks, he clutched obstinately at the skirts of his vanishing optimism. His brain was fertile in producing excuses for why she had not met him. The news that the ship had docked might not have reached her, or it might have reached her too late. Perhaps at this very moment she was hurrying to him, sharing his suspense.

He wouldn’t leave yet. It would seem as though he blamed her, didn’t trust her, if she should arrive to find him gone.

Two hours had elapsed since he had landed. It wasn’t likely that she would come now. As he drove to the Brevoort, he tried to explain the situation to himself so that it might appear in its bravest aspect. She must know that he had landed to-day; if his cable, telling her of his coming, had failed to be delivered, he would have been notified. And if, when she had received it, she hadn’t wanted him, she would have replied. Therefore, she both wanted him and knew that he had landed. He came to the conclusion that he had hoped for too much in expecting her to meet him. Until he had got excited, he hadn’t really expected that. It was only at the last minute that he had persuaded himself she would be there. To have had to welcome him in public, knowing the purpose of his voyage and knowing so little about him, would have been embarrassing. She was waiting for him to go to her home where their meeting would be private.

At the Brevoort, the telephone-clerk found the phone-number of her address. He was trembling as he slipped into the booth. He was going to hear her voice. What would she say to him—to his daring at having accepted her challenge; and what would he say to her? He took up the receiver.

“I’ve come, Desire. Who’s this? Can’t you guess? It’s the person you used to call Teddy.”

He listened. There was a pause. “Hulloa! Are you there?”

Muffled and metallic the answer came back: “Yes.—But Miss Desire’s not at home. This is Madame Jodrell’s maid speaking.—No. Madame Jodrell’s gone out. She won’t be home to lunch. She didn’t say when I was to expect her.—Has she gone to the dock to meet some one? No. I’m sure she hasn’t. Will you leave a message?”

He repeated his name and gave her his address.

“I’ll tell whichever of them gets home first,” the distant voice assured him; then he heard the click of the receiver hung up.

He was bewildered. Things grew more and more discouraging. Desire must have mistaken the day of his arrival. If not, however pressing her engagement, she would have left him some word of welcome.

He had a lonely lunch at a table looking out on Fifth Avenue. From where he sat he caught a glimpse of Washington Square—a glimpse which suggested both Paris and London. He was inclined to feel angry; the next moment he was amused at his petulance. A lover was always in haste. He wouldn’t let himself feel angry. It would be time enough for that if he found that she’d led him on a wild-goose chase. Then anger would help him to forget. In the meanwhile he must take Madame Josephine’s advice and be content to love. “Women long to be trusted.” Perhaps all this apparent indifference was a part of Desire’s test; she was trying to discover how far he would trust her. When he thought of her cloudy gray eyes, he felt certain that any seeming unkindness wasn’t intended. “I’m far nicer than you suspect,” she had told him.

Then, from anger he became all tenderness. What did a little postponement matter? It would make their meeting all the finer. He wouldn’t ask her a single accusing question..That was the kind of thing Hal would have done, spoiling available happiness by a remembered grievance. Love, if it was worth anything, was a rivalry between two people to be generous. The man had to set the example; the girl didn’t dare.

As he passed out of the hotel, his eye caught a florist’s tucked away behind the doorway. He ordered some lilies of the valley to be sent to her. This time he inclosed his card. He smiled. If he took to sending her presents at the rate he had in London, she’d have no excuse for not knowing that he had landed.

“She feedeth among the lilies.” Where had he heard that? As he sauntered up Fifth Avenue in the ripe September sunlight, the scene drew from out the shadows of his memory: a little boy standing naked in a stable-studio, while a piratical-looking wild-haired father worked upon a canvas and chanted, “‘She feedeth among the lilies. She looketh forth in the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. If a man give all his substance for love he cannot...’” He remembered how his father had wagged his head at him: “No, he cannot, Teddy. Yet many waters cannot quench love.”

“She feedeth among the lilies!” He wished he had sent her a different kind of flower.

The magic of the streets took his interest—the elation of being in a new country. He was conscious of a height, a daring, a vigor which were novel in his experience. Mountains of concrete and steel met his gaze. What kind of a people was this who raised soaring palaces, bigger than cathedrals, and used them as offices? To get to the top must be a day’s journey. The people who inhabited the highest stories must live among the clouds and come down for week-ends. He watched the eagerness of the keen alert faces which hurried past him on the pavements—the quick tripping step of the girls, and the thin racing look of everybody. The types of the faces were cosmopolitan, but their expression was one: they all had the high-wrought look of athletes who were rushing to a future which would not wait for them. He felt himself caught up, daunted, stung into vitality, and whirled forward by a wave of monstrous endeavor.

That afternoon he visited the editor who was the excuse for his journey. All the while, as he sat talking to him, he kept thinking: “The flowers will have arrived by now. She’ll know that I have come.”

He talked prices which should have astounded him; but the only thought he had was how much this influx of money and reputation would enable him to do for her. When he had arranged the nature of his contributions, he was on edge for his interview to end. The moment it was over, he dashed to the elevator, found the nearest telephone and rang up his hotel.

“This is Mr. Gurney. Has a message been left for me?”

“None.”

Strange. There must be some reason. She would tell him when they met. Should he call her up? Or go to her house and camp till she came back? He shook his head. His pride warned him that that wouldn’t be policy. The next sign must come from her. And then he wondered, was it right to have either pride or policy when you were in love? It was pride and policy that had made him waste his chances on that night drive from Glastonbury.

He went to see his publisher, who was astonished by his youth and had had no idea that he was in America. He found himself treated as a personality—a man to be reckoned with. It was exhilarating, flattering; but all that it meant to him was something to tell Desire to make her glad. That was all that any success meant now.

It was five o’clock when he returned to his hotel. He went to the desk.

“Any message?”

The clerk glanced down the row of pigeon-holes and drew out a slip of paper.

“A lady called you up.”

With nervous fingers he took it from him and read:

“Come to dinner seven forty-five. Vashti Jodrell.”

From Desire nothing!








CHAPTER VI—DESIRE’S MOTHER

The address which Desire had given him was on Riverside Drive. Shortly after seven he left the Brevoort and climbed to the roof of a passing bus. The polished asphalt of Fifth Avenue gleamed like a waterway. Round and unwinking, like tethered moons, arc-lights shone in endless lines. As he passed through Madison Square, he had a glimpse of carnival—trolleys streaming like comets, and Broadway seething in a blaze of light. Then, as though velvet curtains had fallen, again the quiet.

With the secret magic and passivity of night, the city had undergone a change. It had lost its haste. It went on tiptoe now. Tall buildings stood silent as tombs, quarried from the granite of the dusk. Streets had become orientalized. A spirit of poetry was abroad. Over the turrets of this Babylon of a day the wings of Time brooded, shadowing its modern glare with the pomp of a sombre and mysterious austerity. It had become a metropolis of dreamers, as fitting a stage as Florence for any tale that love might choose to tell.

Vashti! It was a far cry from this September night to the spare-bedroom at Orchid Lodge, with the red winking eye of the winter’s fire, the tapestry of Absalom swinging by his hair and the little boy sitting up in bed, spellbound by the enchantment of a woman’s voice. A far cry to the marriage-box, to the wistful consultations with Harriet and to that same ecstasy of love, unfulfillable then, that he was dreaming now! He wondered how much of his passion for Desire was the outcome of that ghostly passion for her mother. It was like a faery-story which, with pauses and diversions, had been telling itself throughout his life. Vashti had been the enchantress who, by lifting her voice, had created his hopes and his despairs. Her voice had lured Desire from him in the darkened silence of the farmhouse. And now, with starry eyes, he was going to her that she might give him back Desire.

The coolness and rustling of trees! To his left a river black and silent To his right a rampart of houses, honey-combed with fire. Flitting on speedy errands, cars darted through the shadows with staring eyes. He caught glimpses of women, and of men who sat beside them. Men and women always and everywhere together! Where were they going? What did they talk about? With them lovers’ ways were an old story, but with him——

The conductor called from the top of the steps and pointed to an apartment-house. While his name was being telephoned up, he took in his surroundings. All this was familiar to her. He compared it with Eden Row, and was filled with hesitations. Everywhere his eye detected luxury. She might be wealthy. He had never thought of that; he had only thought of what he could give her. Their ways of life must be utterly divergent. What had he to offer? And he had come to America to marry her!

He was told he was expected. The elevator shot up and halted; the boy directed him to a door in the passage. As he stood waiting, he heard the sound of a piano played softly. The moment he was admitted, the playing stopped.

In a luxurious room illumined by a solitary shaded lamp, a woman was seated with her hands upon the keyboard. The window was open and a breeze rustled the curtains. Distant across the river in the abyss of night lights twinkled like stars in an inverted firmament. The air was filled with a summer fragrance: it drifted from a bowl of lilies of the valley which had been placed on the piano beneath the lamp.

The woman turned her head slightly; he could just begin to see her profile. Her voice reached him softly:

“Don’t speak. I was remembering. It pains, and yet it’s good to remember—sometimes, Teddy.”

Her hands commenced to wander, picking out chords, starting little airs, leaving them abruptly and starting them afresh.

“I wonder what you look like, and I’m afraid to find out. I’ve always thought of you as still a little chap, and I don’t want to undeceive myself. You used to be the faery-tale I told my little girl. ’Tell me more about Teddy,’ she used to say. And then I’d invent such wonderful stories. You were our dream-person.—She wouldn’t let you know that for worlds; you mustn’t let her guess that you know. She’s like that—an odd girl: she feels far more than she’ll ever express—goes out of her way to make people misunderstand, to make them think she’s cold and careless. It’s because—— Can you guess? It’s because she’s afraid to love too much. Her mother let love have power over her and—she got hurt. Oh, well!” She shrugged her white shoulders. “No use regretting. Ah, this brings memories!”

In a half-voice, like a lark beating up into the clouds, she commenced to hum to the accompaniment; then took up the words. In the dim-lit room, with the blackness of night peering in at the window and the lilies breathing out their exotic fragrance, all the wistful past came trooping back. He forgot New York, forgot his anxiety and loneliness. Pictures formed and melted under the spell of her singing. He remembered his childish elation, when she had carried him back to the tapestried bedroom, making him believe that she preferred him to Hal. He saw again the tenderness in her face as she had bent over him by the firelight, listening expectantly for Hal’s footstep in the passage. He felt again the despair of his first disillusion, when the great day had been spoilt and she had driven home with him through the lamp-smirched London night, begging him to believe that she was good—that she was good whatever happened. After all these years the memory of that childish tragedy burnt again intensely.

Had love hurt her? A strange complaint to hear from Vashti! Hadn’t she rather hurt herself? Her fatal sweetness must have proved cruel to many men.

His mother, Mrs. Sheerug, every one had doubted her. Even Hal doubted her now—Hal who had promised to follow her through the dark wood that few women had dared to tread. What had happened to her in the dark wood? Teddy could only guess; but because she was Desire’s mother, and still more at this moment because she was singing, he could not help but think that she was good. At last, after all these years of following, he had come up with her. Did she need his help? Was she trying to tell him?

She swung round with a rippling laugh which had tears in it. “Have you forgiven me, Teddy? A sentimental question! Of all the big sins I’ve done, that’s the one that I’ve most regretted.—Ah, you’ll not say that you havel Boys don’t forget things like that.”

He was filled with an immense compassion for her. Beneath her forced gayety he suspected heart-hunger. She looked a proud woman, with just that touch of distinction and mystery that makes for lurement. Her smile was a mask, rather than a means of self-expression. She would impress a stranger as being courteously on the defensive, yet anxiously ready for the excitement of attack. “A woman of experience!” one would say. “A proficient man-tamer! She fears nothing.”

Her face was made up; her lips too scarlet. Teddy could see that even in the half-light. Her figure was finer than in the old days—more rounded and gracious, but still sinuous in its lines. She possessed to an even greater extent her dangerous power to fascinate. By a trick of kindness, which might mean nothing, by a hint of restrained tenderness, she could quicken the blood and set a man dreaming of goddesses in a riot of blue seas, and the throb of Pan’s pipes heard distantly in sun-smitten woodlands. Her eyes spoke of other things to Teddy. They had lost their old contentment. He recognized in them the questing melancholy that he had seen in Hal’s.

She was beautiful—in some ways more beautiful: haunting and unsatisfying: an instrument for romance; a shuttered house from behind whose windows there was a continual sense of watching.

Her forehead was intensely cold and white, contradicting the eagerness of the rest of her expression. Her brows were like spread wings, hovering and poised; her eyes vague as sea-clouds till they smiled, when they flashed with gleams of blue-gray sunlight. Again he wondered whether his love for Desire was an outcome of this earlier ghostly passion. They were more than ordinarily alike, even to their gestures. The hair of both was the color of ancient bronze, dark in the hollows and burnished at the edges. The mouth of each gave the key to her character, becoming any shape that an emotion made it: petulant and unreasonable; kind and gracious and adoring. But there was this great difference: Desire’s beauty had youth’s conscious certainty of conquest; in Vashti’s there was the pathetic appeal to be allowed to conquer. Her throat was still her glory, throbbing like a bird’s and slender as a flower. Rising from her low-cut gown, it showed in its full perfection.

She clapped her hands, as Desire would have done, and laughed softly at the impression she had created. “Nearly old enough to be your mother; but still vain and pleased because you like me. I dressed especially for you, my littlest lover. And now—now that I’ve seen you, I’m not sorry that you’ve grown up.” She stretched out both her hands and drew him to her. “You’re nice. You’re even nicer. So tall! So brave-looking! And you’re still a dreamer, Teddy—a little god Love, peering in through the gate.”

Suddenly she reached up her arms. “There! Why, you’re blushing, you dear boy. We’re going to be great friends, you and I and Desire.”

He wanted to ask about Desire, but he couldn’t bring himself to frame the question. He listened intently to catch the rustle of her approach. He expected every minute to see her through the darkness, across the threshold. Why didn’t Vashti tell him? Was her kindness a subtle way of apologizing foe Desire’s absence? He had found hidden meanings in everything that had been said: “She feels far more than she’ll ever express—goes out of her way to make people misunderstand.” And then: “We’re going to be great friends, you and I and Desire.”

Vashti touched his hand gently. “You’ve something on your mind.”

Would she never be frank with him?

“On my mind! No, really. It’s only seeing you and finding myself a man. Last time,” he laughed into her eyes, “it was you that I thought I was going to marry.”

“And wouldn’t you now? No, you wouldn’t. I can see that.”

A gong tinkled faintly. She slipped an arm through his. On the right-hand side of the passage doors led off. He watched for one of them to open. When they reached the small paneled dining-room at the far end, his heart sank: only two places had been set.

“Let’s make it our day—the day that I promised you. Now tell me everything. What brought you over?”

He glanced sharply across the table. Was she poking sly fun at him? “Brought me over?”

“Yes. That’s not such an unreasonable question. You can’t persuade me that you came just to see me, Teddy.”

“And yet,” he said, “it was partly that.”

“And the rest?”

“Work. I’m a writer. I’ve had a little success. Don’t you remember how I always said I was going to be famous? But aren’t you playing with me? D’you really mean that you didn’t expect me?”

Vashti met his eyes quietly. “My baby-girl told me something. But how did you discover our address?”

While he answered, he watched her narrowly to catch the flicker of any tell-tale expression. “When she was in London this summer, she visited Madame Josephine’s Beauty Parlors. Madame Josephine’s my friend. I’ve told her a good many things about myself; amongst others—— You spoke about dream-persons. I’ve had my dream-person for years—ever since I was at the farmhouse. So there——! She spotted Desire directly.”

Vashti raised her glass: “To our dream-persons; and may they not disappoint us when they become realities.” There was a pause. He trembled on the brink of a confession. The maid entered to change the dishes. When she had gone, he leant towards Vashti. His voice was husky. “When shall I see her?”

Vashti closed her eyes and caught her breath in a quick laugh. “That depends—depends on how late you stay. Desire’s out at Long Island, taking part in some amateur theatricals. She may ’phone me up presently to say she’s stopping the night If she comes back, she’ll have to get some man to drive her, She won’t arrive till after twelve.”

He had a curious feeling of impropriety in discussing Desire with her mother. It was a stupid feeling to have just because, long ago, he had given Vashti his boyish affection. Yet instinctively he felt that he might rouse her jealousy if he laid too much stress on his change of homage. Was that why she was evading him? How much did she know of what had happened? He began to skirmish for information.

Speaking carelessly, he said, “So she’s not gone on the stage yet?”

Vashti betrayed surprise. “She wants to—but, how did you know?” Then, finding her own explanation: “Madame Josephine again, I suppose. Desire talks about her ambitions to every one.”

“You don’t want her to be an actress?”

“She’ll do what she likes. I shan’t thwart her. I’d much rather—— It’s funny that I should tell you, Teddy. I’d much rather that she should marry some nice boy, and have heaps of children. I’d like her to have all the wholesome things that her mother hasn’t had—the really good things—not the shams. It’s lonely to be forty and to have no one to protect you. Unfortunately we don’t find that out till we’re forty, and we can’t hand on our experience. She’s very young.—Tell me about yourself. How’s that big father with the bushy head?”

While they talked of the past a closer sense of comradeship grew up between them. He told her about Madame Josephine and Duke Nineveh, and how the wonderful change in their fortunes had occurred.

“And Mrs. Sheerug,” she asked, “does she still wear green plush and yellow feathers?”

“She still wears green plush and yellow feathers. But she does a bit of splashing now—drives about in a carriage-and-pair. I don’t think she likes it; she wants to please her Alonzo.—It is good to be able to speak of Eden Row. Why, I don’t feel a bit homesick now.”

“Homesick!” She pushed back her chair and rose languidly. Her hand went slowly to her heart. “My home’s hidden here; it’s an imagined place, Teddy. I’ve lived always swinging on a perch. How I envy your being able to feel homesick!—It’s seeing you that’s done it. I want to be young, young, young again to-night.”

With the reflected light from the table drifting up across her breast and her eyes brooding on him through the shadows, she looked both gorgeous and tragic. He couldn’t think of anything to say; he had always pictured her as wandering from happiness to happiness. While he struggled with his silence, a sob escaped her; she hurried from him.

He followed her into the other room, where the shaded lamp shone softly on the lilies. Ever since he had entered the apartment, he had had the sense of a thinness of atmosphere, a temporary quality, a consciousness of something lacking. He knew what it was that he had missed now; these rooms were tenanted only by women.

She was beside the window, with one knee upon the couch, staring out to where night yawned above the river and lights twinkled, like stars in an inverted firmament.

Come.” She slipped her arm about his shoulder. “Wouldn’t you have loved me once for doing that? Am I terribly older—not quite what you expected? No, don’t tell me. Don’t lie to me. Life! It goes from us. When a woman’s lived merely to be beautiful, she’s reached the fag-end at forty. Seeing you so brave and tall, has brought that home to me. I’ll have to live whatever life I have left, through the beauty of Desire now. A little hard for a selfish woman! I trusted to my beauty to do everything. And I was beautiful when first you knew me.”

“And you’re still beautiful.”

“Dear of you to say so! Still beautiful! In a way, yes. But,” she laughed scornfully, “with an effort—with such an effort. How I’d love to see myself the way I was when your father painted me. A garden enclosed, he called me, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. You see, I remember. It was my remoteness that attracted then. All the men were at my feet, even your father. Oh, yes, he was; your mother knew it. Common men in the street, and little boys like you, and—and poor old Hal—they’d do anything for me if I raised an eyelash.”

The maid brought in coffee.

“Let’s sit down. No, not so far away—quite near to me, for old times’ sake, my littlest lover. D’you mind if I smoke a cigarette? Mrs. Sheerug, dear old Mrs. Sheerug, she wouldn’t approve of it. I always loved her and wanted her to think well of me. She’d never believe that. You’re a bit shocked yourself. I don’t often do it before my baby-girl. But tell me,” she sank her voice, “what about Hal?”

He tried to think of things to tell her. What was there to tell? Good fortune had worked no change in Hal. Money hadn’t made him happier. He was a man thrust forward by the years, but always with his face turned back.

“Ah,” she whispered, “I know. Don’t go any further. He would be like that. He lives remembering.” Her grip on Teddy’s hands tightened. “Learn a lesson. Don’t be kind to women, Teddy. You’ll get no thanks. A woman’s mean-hearted. If a man’s too good to her, she doesn’t try to be nobly good in return; she takes advantage. She plays pranks with him—wants to see how much he’ll forgive her; if he’s still magnanimous, she despises him. It takes a good woman to appreciate a good man; few women are both good and beautiful. It wasn’t till Mary Magdalene had lost her looks that she broke the alabaster box of ointment. What I mean is that beautiful women are cruel; God gives them too much power. Oh, yes, it’s true. Desire’s like that—sweetly ungrateful. I can see myself in her. A man’ll have to be a brute to make her love him.—Ah, you almost hate me! I wish she could make you hate her so that you’d go home to Eden Row, and—oh, do big work and marry another Dearie. I’m fond of you, Teddy.” She let go his hands. “When we’re forty, we beautiful women learn to be gentle, and—and you thank us, don’t you?”

She got up and buried her face in the lilies. “Sent them to her, eh? Hoped you’d find her wearing them.”

She seated herself at the piano, looking back across her shoulder and playing while she spoke, as though her hands were a separate personality.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. There was a garden enclosed—the gates all locked, and Love gazed in at it! But there came a time when Love grew tired. While he had waited, the garden had taken no notice. But when he had gone, all the lilies, and sunflowers, and roses rushed to the gates and clamored to follow him. But the locks had grown rusty. The garden which had enclosed itself against Love, found itself shut out from Love. Tra-la-la! Yea, verily.”

Her hands lay idle in her lap for a moment. “You mustn’t mind me. It’s a luxury to indulge in self-pity. I shall be so gay to-morrow you won’t know me. But just at present I’m wishing,” she mocked her own melancholy, slanting her eyes at him, “rather wishing I were Mrs. Hal Sheerug—wishing I were any good domestic woman instead of Vashti, the singer. And if I were Mrs. Hal, I’d be as much of a curiosity as Eden Row set down on Broadway.”

Again she took up her playing. “And yet—and yet life would be tedious without love. We’re so afraid that love will never come to us, aren’t we, Teddy? Afraid that our latest chance will be our last. You see, I’m like that, too; I know all about it. You’re asleep. Perhaps we’re both asleep—both dreaming of something more splendid than reality. Don’t let’s wake up—we’ll be unhappy. Let’s go on dreaming together.”

She ceased speaking, but her hands wandered from melody to melody. She played very softly. From far below in the darkness the hum of speeding cars was like the drowsy trumpeting of gnats in an English garden. Through half-closed eyes he watched her, trying to make himself believe she was Desire.

Why had she so deliberately filled his mind with doubts? And Desire—why had she gone away without mentioning him on the very day that he had landed? Was it carelessness, or a young girl’s way of impressing him with her value? “She feels far more than she’ll ever express.” It might be that—a paradoxical way of showing affection.

Vashti gazed towards him and nodded, as much as to say, “I know what thoughts are passing.” She struck three chords.

What happened next was like arms spread under him, carrying him away and away from every trouble. “Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him.” Her voice sprang up like a strong white bird; at every beat of its wings the accompaniment fluttered like the weak wings of small birds following. “Oh; rest in the Lord”—the white bird rose higher with a braver confidence and the little birds took courage, plunging deeper into the grave and gentle stillness. “Oh, rest in the Lord”—it was like a sigh of contentment traveling back from prepared places. The room grew silent.

She was kneeling beside him—kneeling the way his mother would have knelt, with her arms about him and her face almost touching.

“I’m really religious, Teddy. Won’t you trust me? Don’t you think that there must be some good in me when I can sing like that?” It was like a little child pleading with him. “I’ve tried to turn you back. Desire’s too young and I don’t think—— But you won’t be turned back; so let me help you. I don’t know much of what’s happened between you, but——”

In the hall a key grated. The sound of the door opening. A gust of laughter—a man’s and a girl’s.

“Shish! It’s tee-rrifically late.—My goodness, Tom, but you were reckless! I thought every moment we’d upset.”

“Some driving, wasn’t it? You oughtn’t to complain. You liked it.”

“Liked it! I should say so. But Twinkles didn’t like it Poor Twinkles was mos’ awf’lly scared. Wasn’t ’oo, Twinkles?—Wonder if mother’s in bed.”

“Coming. I have a visitor.”

After Vashti had left him, their voices sank to a whisper.

So she’d been out with another man! While he had been waiting, almost counting the seconds, she’d been out with another man! They’d been driving through the darkness together. Perhaps they’d been making love. No wonder she hadn’t answered his letters or cables. “Come to America if you really care.” She had said it lightly and forgotten. It had meant nothing to her. And here he’d been finding delicate excuses to explain what was no more than indifference.

A Pekinese lap-dog waddled in; catching sight of him, it sniffed contemptuously. It was followed by a boy who had the perky air of an impudent fox-terrier. He stared at Teddy with an amused gleam of challenge.

“Here, all this evening! Oh, what a shame and me out!” It was Desire’s piping voice. “Get out of the way, Tom, you’re blocking up everything.”

He saw her—her piquant face alight with welcome. She tripped across the room, extending both her hands. Her eyes begged him to keep their secret “It is good of you to visit us so promptly,” she said. “Fancy your remembering! I didn’t think we’d see you till to-morrow at earliest.”

She waited for him to help her. Then: “Mother says you’re over on business. Are you going to be here long?” His sense of injury died down. He saw only the small penitent face, with its gray eyes and quivering childish mouth.

“That depends.”

“Well, we’ll see heaps of you, won’t we?”

He couldn’t endure this pretending. He pushed aside her question. “What are you doing to-morrow?” he asked abruptly.

“To-morrow! To-morrow!”

She gazed vaguely round. Her mother came to her rescue. “My baby-girl never knows what she’s doing tomorrow. She never plans ahead. Better call her up, Teddy.”

“Not too early,” Desire smiled poutingly. “I’m awfully tired. And Twinkles is tired. Isn’t ’oo, Twinkles darling?” She stooped down and touched the dog’s nose with the tip of her finger. “We shan’t get up till——”

“Call up at eleven,” said Vashti. “Before you go, I may as well introduce you two men. If I don’t, you’ll glower at each other all the way down in the elevator.”

He was passing out; Desire touched him on the arm possessingly. “I couldn’t help it,” she whispered. “We’ll have all to-morrow to ourselves. You’re not angry?” Angry! As though he’d come all the way to America to be angry.

“Couldn’t ever be angry with you,” he whispered back.








CHAPTER VII—LOVING DESIRE

During the past two hours since he had breakfasted, he had watched the telephone as though it were a live thing—as though it were her lips which might speak to him at any moment He felt that she was there in the room with him, obstinately keeping silent.

She had told him not to disturb her till eleven, but he had persuaded himself that he would hear from her long before that—at nine, perhaps; at ten, at latest. She had tried to appear offhand in arranging the appointment because another man had been present He pretended to think it rather decent of her to have let the chap down so lightly.

During every minute of the last two hours, he had been expecting to hear the shrill tinkle of her summons. As he bent above his writing his heart was in his throat He kept glancing up, telling himself that his sixth sense had warned him that her voice was already asking its way across the wires. Though previous premonitions had proved unwarranted, he was confident that his latest was truly psychic.

Surely a girl who knew that she was loved wouldn’t sleep away the freshness of a blue September morning! Curiosity, if nothing better, would rouse her. It didn’t often happen that a man came three thousand miles to do his courting. She’d kept him waiting so long. If she felt one-tenth part of his impatience——

He finished his letter to his mother. It was all about his voyage and the interviews of yesterday. He ought to tell her more—but how, without telling her too much?

He scrawled a postscript, “By the way, yesterday I met Vashti”; then sealed the envelope. By the time an inquiry could be returned, he would know everything. He would know for certain whether Desire loved him. He pulled out his watch. A few minutes past ten! To keep his nerves quiet he made a pretense at working. He would outline the first of his series of articles.

But his thoughts wandered. There was no room in his mind for anything save her. She possessed him. The birdlike inflexions of her voice piped in his memory; he could hear her laughter, the murmur of her footsteps, the rustle of her dress. The subtle fragrance of her presence was all about him. In the silence of his brain she pleaded with him, taunted him, explained her omissions of consideration. “You don’t know what things have done to me—don’t know what things have done to me.”

It was useless; he gave up his attempt. All he had accomplished was to fill a page with sketches of her face. Here she was as he had seen her last night, fashionably attired, with her hair like a crown of bronze upon her forehead. And here as the Guinevere of that bewildering drive, mystic as the dawn in a web of shadows. And here as the coaxing, elusive sprite, who had scribbled her heart upon the dusty panes of childhood.

Would he ever be able to work again, ever be able to pursue any ambition or any dream in which she did not share?

He rose restlessly and fumbled for his watch. A minute to eleven! He stepped across to the telephone. While the boy at the switchboard was getting his number, he tapped with his foot, consumed with impatience.

“Madame Jodrell’s apartment?—I want to speak to Miss Desire.—Oh, no, I’m sure she’s not sleeping. You’re mistaken.” He laughed nervously. “This is Mr. Gurney. She asked me to ring her up at eleven.”

Silence. A long wait. “She’ll speak to you, sir.” The clicking of a new connection. He heard the receiver taken down at the other end and a curious sound which, after puzzling over, he decided must be the running of bathwater.

“Are you there?”

He listened.

“Is that you, Desire?”

No answer.

Then she gave herself away. Across the wire came to him a stifled yawn, followed by a bubbling little laugh.

“Yes, it’s Desire. What a lot of time you’re wasting. A whole minute! Time enough to decide the destiny of nations. And weren’t you punctual!—Can you come at once! Certainly not. Can’t you guess where I am? I shan’t be ready till twelve.—Oh, well, if you don’t mind waiting, I’ll expect you.”

He had intended to say more, but she rang off.

Streets were gilded with sunlight The sky was a smooth shell-like blue, without a cloud. It seemed much more distant than any sky he had seen in London. Over London the sky broods companionably; from London streets, even at their merriest the hint of melancholy is never absent But here, in New York, he was conscious of an invigorating reckless valor, a magnificent and lonely daring. It was every man for himself. There was no friendship between the city and the heavens; as ladders of stone were set up higher against the blue, the heavens receded in challenge.

There was a tang of autumn in the air. Leaves on trees began to have a brittle look. Everything shone: trolley-lines, windows, the slender height of sky-scrapers. It was a wide day—just the day for adventures.

As he passed further uptown, he noticed that people walked more leisurely; men’s faces grew rarer. He had a glimpse of the Park, a green valley of coolness between the quarried, sun-dazzled crags of the metropolis. Presently he turned off to the left, down one of those tunnels hewn between apartment-houses and sacred to the morning promenades of yapping dogs—proud little useless dogs like Twinkles, led on leashes by lately-risen mistresses. Then, in a flash, he saw the Hudson, going from one great quietness to another, sweeping down to the ocean full-bosomed and maternal from its sanctuary in the hills.

The elevator-boy seemed to have been warned of his coming; when he gave his name, he was taken up without suspicious preliminaries.

“Miss Desire hasn’t finished dressing yet,” the maid told, him. “If you’ll wait in here, she’ll be with you presently.”

He was shown into the room in which Vashti had played to him. He hadn’t taken much notice of it on his previous visit Now, as he tiptoed about he saw that it was expressive of its occupants’ personalities. It had a gay, delicate, insubstantial air. It didn’t look lived in. Everything could be packed up within an hour. It wasn’t a home; it was what Vashti had called a “perch.”

The furniture was slight and dainty, as though there for appearance rather than for use. The sofa by the window seemed the only piece meant to be sat on. On the table a dwarf Japanese garden was growing. Beside it lay a copy of Wisdom and Destiny, opened and turned face down. The books within sight were few, for the most part plays and the latest fiction. They were strewn about with a calculated carelessness. On the walls was a water-color of the Grand Canal and another of the Bay of Naples. The rest of the pictures were elaborate photos of actresses, with spidery signatures scrawled across them. One face predominated: the face of a beautiful woman, with a vague smile upon her childish, self-indulgent mouth and a soft mass of hair swathed about her head. She was taken in a variety of poses, but always with the same vague smile and always with her face stooping, as though she were trying to hypnotize the onlooker. One might have supposed that this was the den of a man who was in love with her. Scratched hurriedly in the corner of each of her portraits, prefaced by some extravagant sentiment, was the name “Fluffy.”

On the piano stood the photo of the only man in the collection, signed “To my dearest Girl.”

Teddy paused before it. He recognized the man who had brought Desire home last night—the man who had kept her from him. “To my dearest Girl.” He read and re-read it. Was that the secret of her indifference—that she was in love already? But wouldn’t Vashti have warned him? He stared his defiance. The more inaccessible she became to him, the more he felt the need of her. Something of the valor and bright hardness of the day had entered into his soul. He was like those tall buildings, climbing more recklessly into the blue every time the sky receded from them. He didn’t care who claimed her. He was glad that he would have to fight. She was his by the divine right of the dreamer, and had been his for years. At whatever sacrifice he would win her. Inconsistently, the more difficult she became to him, the more certain he grew of success.

“Hulloa, King Arthur! Getting impatient? I’ll soon be> with you.”

He stepped to the door and looked out into the passage. “Impatient! Of course I’m impatient. Where are you?”

Her laugh floated back. “Where you’re not allowed to come. You can’t complain; I told you I wouldn’t be dressed till twelve.”

“It’s nearer one by now.”

“Is it? But you’ve nothing to do. If you hunt about, you’ll find some cigarettes. Make yourself happy.”

He had hoped she would continue the conversation; but her voice grew secret as she whispered to her maid. He heard cupboards and drawers being opened and shut, a snatch of song, and, every now and then, the infectious gayety of her laughter.

He came back into the room and smiled at the photo on the piano. “She mayn’t be in love with me yet, but she’s certainly not in love with you,” he thought. Then he stood gazing at his unresponsive rival, wondering how much he could tell.

He was still intent upon the portrait when she danced across the threshold, swinging her gloves.

“Taking a look at Tom? Be careful; you’ll make him jealous.” She slipped her small hand into his. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.”

“D’you mean that—that you’re really glad?”

Her eyes sparkled with mischief, but she said demurely: “Why shouldn’t I mean it? I’m always glad to see my friends.—And now, don’t you think you’ve held my hand long enough? See how lonely it looks, just as if it were asking me to put on its glove.”

She tripped over to the window and gazed out. “Isn’t it glorious?—And I feel so happy—so full of life, so young.” Her back was towards him; she felt him drawing nearer. “I ought to tell you about my hands before we know each other better. They have names. The right one is Miss Self-Reliance, and the left Miss Independence. They’re both of them very ambitious and—” she swung round, lowering her eyes—“and they don’t like being held.” He glanced at the photo on the piano. “Did no one ever hold them?”

“Hardly any one, truth and honest” She finished the last button and winked at him solemnly. “Here have I been ready since eleven, sending you cables and whole gardens of flowers.” She burst out laughing: “I’m glad you don’t drizzle. Come on, I’m hungry for the sun.”

As they shot down in the elevator he asked her: “Drizzle! That’s a new word. What do you mean by it?”

“You’ll know soon enough.” She nodded. “Sooner or later all men do it. Tom drizzles most awfully. He drizzled last night, when I didn’t want him to come up because I thought you’d be in the apartment.”

“Then you did think that? You hadn’t forgotten that it was the day I landed?”

“Forgotten after you’d cabled me! You must think me callous.”

She gave her shoulders a haughty shrug and ran down the steps into the sunlight. He followed, inwardly laughing. Already she had taught him one way of stealing a march on the rest of her suitors. All the other men grew gloomy—“drizzled,” as she called it—when they fancied that she had hurt their feelings. He decided, then and there, that under no provocation whatsoever would he drizzle. She might do what she liked to him, he would always meet her smiling. Amor Omnia Vincit should be the legend written on his banner.

“What shall we do?” She clasped her hands against her throat in a gesture of ecstasy.

“Anything you like.”

“Anything! Really anything? Even something quite expensive?”

“Hang the expense.”

“Then come on.”

He had no idea where she was taking him, and he didn’t care. All places were alike, so long as he was alone with her. They walked shoulder to shoulder, their arms just touching. Sometimes in crossing a road they drew apart and then, as if to apologize for their brief aloofness, came together with a little bump on the farther pavement. They were embarrassed, and glad to be embarrassed. When their silences had lasted too long, they stole furtive glances at each other; when their eyes met, they smiled archly.

They had passed through the tunnels where the dogs take their morning walks, and had come out on to Broadway. Suddenly she stopped and regarded him with an expression of unutterable calamity.

“I’ve got to go back.”

“No, don’t—please.”

“I must.”

He scented tragedy—a previous engagement, perhaps. “But why—why, when we’ve only just met?”

“I’ve forgotten your lilies. I was going to wear them as—as an apology.”

He laughed his relief. “Pooh! There are heaps more.”

“But it isn’t that. I wouldn’t accept any more. It’s the dear old ones that I want—the ones you sent me almost the minute you landed.”

He glanced round sharply; a few doors off he saw a florist’s. “Don’t go back,” he pleaded. And then, with a frankness which he feared might offend her: “If you did go back, we might meet other people. I want you all to myself to-day; I can’t spare a second of you to other persons. Promise to stop here for me.”

“But I—perhaps I don’t want to lose a second of you to other persons.” She rested her hand on his arm lightly. “Where are you going?”

“Be back before you can say Jack Robinson.”

He darted off. As he entered the shop, he caught her slow smile of intelligence forbidding him.

While the flowers were being arranged, he kept his eyes turned to where she hovered on the pavement; the anxiety that she might escape him was not quite gone. He saw her hail a taxi. For a moment he thought—— But, no, she was having an earnest conversation.

“It’s all arranged, brother. We’re going to drive down

“Don’t tell me.” He banged the door and settled himself beside her. “Life’s much more surprising when you don’t know where you’re going.” He laid the flowers in her lap. “For you. You won’t refuse them?”

She bent over them curiously, as though she hadn’t the least idea what he had been purchasing. As she stripped the paper from them and the white cup of the blossoms began to appear, she frowned severely.

“Lilies of the valley! You’re too good. You spoil me. And now you’ll think that I was asking for them. No. I won’t wear them.”

Having registered her protest, she at once rewarded him with her fluttering delight as she turned back her coatee and tried several effects before finally deciding where to fasten them.

While he had walked at her side, he had been too embarrassed to take much notice of how she was dressed.

Now that her attention was occupied, he grew bold to examine her toilet.

Her beauty was a subtle, intoxicating perfume, like incense suggesting the spirit of worship. She was different from his mother—different even from Vashti, and from any woman that he had known. Her difference might not be the result of virtues—might even be due to omitted qualities. He did not stop to analyze; to him the very newness of her type was a fascination.

Nothing that she wore was useful. It was perishable as a spring garden. A shower of rain, and it would be eternally ruined. None of it could be employed as second-best when its first freshness was gone. It couldn’t even be given to the poor: her attire was too modish—it bespoke luxury and marked the wearer’s class in society. Her clothes were the whim of the moment—utterly uneconomic. If Mrs. Sheerug had had to pass judgment on them, she would have said that they weren’t sensible.

In the exact sense they weren’t even clothing; they were adornments, planned with a view to exposing quite as much as to concealing the person. To enhance the effect of beauty was their sole purpose.

The skirt was a creamy shade of muslin, with small green and blue flowers dotted over it. It was thin and blowy, and so modeled as to pronounce rather than to hide the lines of the figure. A pair of pretty feet peeped from under; the kind of feet that demand a carriage and are not meant for walking. They were clad in gossamer silk-stockings; the shoes seemed to have been designed for dancing and were absurdly high in the heel. Both shoes and stockings exactly matched the creamy tint of the muslin. Teddy thought with joy that any one who wore them would be in constant need of a man’s protection. There would be many puddles in life over which, with such shoes, she would require to be carried.

The coatee was of apple-green satin, turned back from the neck and belted in at the waist, revealing a gauzy blouse cut into a low V-shape, so as to display the gentle breathing of the throat and breast.

His eyes stole up to her face. It was shadowed by a broad hat of limp straw, trimmed with dog-roses and trailing cherry-colored ribbon. On her fresh young cheeks was the faintest dust of powder, giving to them a false bloom and smoothness. He wondered why she did that, when her unaided complexion would have been so much more attractive. Below her left eye was a beauty-patch. Behind her left ear hung a tremulous curl, which added a touch of demure quaintness. In appearance she was like to one of Lely’s portraits of the beauties of the Cavalier period—to a Nell Gwynn, whose very aspect of innocence made her latent naughtiness the more provocative.

Though he was exceptionally ignorant of the feminine arts and familiar only with domestic types of women, Teddy thought that he now understood why she had taken two hours to dress. For his sake she had made herself a work of art. It was as though she had told him, “I want you to like me better than any girl in the world, Teddy”—only, for some unexplained reason, she had avoided calling him Teddy as yet.

He sat watching her as she pinned the lilies against her breast How pretty her hair was, with its reddish tinge like specks of gold shining through its blackness! And her ears—they were like pale petals enmeshed within her tresses.

He couldn’t blame her if other men had loved her first; but he wished they hadn’t. The knowledge had come as a shock.

“Been inspecting me for quite some time! Do I meet with monsieur’s approval?” She leant her head at a perky angle and glanced up at him.

“Approval! My mind was made up before I started. I didn’t come to America to——”

“No, I know.” She cut him short. “Mother told me: you’re a gree-at success. You came on business.—Please don’t interrupt; I’ve something most important to tell you. I do want you to approve of me to-day— to-day most especially. That’s why I didn’t get up till eleven.” She saw the smile creeping round the edges of his mouth. “I didn’t mean that the way you thought. You’re looking sarcastic and—and I hate sarcastic persons. I stayed in bed to get rested that I might look my prettiest, because——- Presently I’ll tell you. I’ve done something terrible; No, I won’t tell you now—later. But promise you’ll forgive me.”

“Forgive you!” His voice trembled. Had he dared, he would have slipped his arm about her; but she had huddled herself closer into her corner. “I’ll forgive you anything, if you’ll do one thing to please me.”

He waited for her to ask him what it was; but her strategic faculty for silence again asserted itself. She sat, not looking at him, with her eyes shaded.

It was a childish longing that prompted him to make his request. “I want to see your hands,” he whispered. “They’re so beautiful. It’s a shame to keep them covered. On my word of honor,” he sank his voice, “I won’t—won’t take advantage.”

She considered poutingly whether she would grant the favor.

“The first I’ve ever asked,” he urged.

The smile came like sunshine flashing through cloud. “That kind is rarely the last.”

She pulled off the glove from her right-hand, Miss Self-Reliance, because it was furthest from him.

“When I was very little,” she said, “I used to ask you whether I was pretty. You used to drizzle in those days; all you’d tell me was, ’You have beautiful hands.’ Then Bones and I would steal away and cry in the currant-bushes. D’you remember?”

“I must have been a grudging little beast.”

“No, you were a nice boy when you weren’t quite horrid. But if I were to ask you now, ’Do you think I’m pretty?’ Please don’t answer. I’m not asking. But because of all that—the times we used to have—let’s be good playfellows while it lasts. We won’t say silly things or do silly things. Let’s be tremendously sensible. There! That’s a bargain.”

It wasn’t. If being in love wasn’t sensible, the last thing he wanted was to be sensible. He hadn’t come to America to be sensible in her meaning of the word. But the swiftness with which she took his consent for granted left no room for argument. She might mistake his arguing for drizzling—the fault which she held the most in contempt. So he kept both his tongue and his hands quiet, doing his best to forget all the ardent scenes which his imagination had conjured.

The lonely distance in the taxi between his corner and hers seemed to have widened. They passed over a long cat’s-cradle of girders, spanning the East River. She didn’t speak. She sat with her ungloved hand before her eyes and her face averted. Any stranger who had glanced in on them at that moment would have said they had quarreled. It felt very much like it to Teddy.








CHAPTER VIII—FAITH RENEWS ITSELF

They had traveled for fully twenty minutes in silence; to Teddy it had seemed as many hours. The patches of waste-land with hoardings, advertising chewing-gums and New York plays, were growing less frequent. A sea-look was softening the blueness of the sky. The greenness by the roadside remained unmarred for longer and longer stretches. They skirted a little bay, where power-boats lay tethered to buoys and a white-winged yacht was spreading sail. They panted through a town of scattered wooden houses, cool with lawns and shadowy with trees. Then they came to a sandy turf-land, across which a horseman distantly galloped, leaping ditches and hurdles.

He paid scant attention to his changing surroundings. He kept gazing at the girl at his side. He feared to raise his eyes from her for a second, lest she should drift away like thistledown.

Was she asleep or pretending? Why should she be asleep, when they had so much to say and she had been up for barely three hours? Her ungloved hand screened her eyes. He suspected that she was spying on him through her fingers. Did it amuse her to torment him with silence? She had done that with variations from the moment of their meeting at Glastonbury. He couldn’t understand her motive in trying to make him wretched. His impulse, if he liked people, was to make them glad. He became ingenious in unearthing reasons for her conduct. Perhaps she was getting ready to confess the thing for which she had to ask his forgiveness. Perhaps she was offended by his request that she should remove her glove. But she hadn’t seemed offended at the time of asking. And, if she were, how trivial! She need only have refused him. She’d given him far graver causes for offense.

He had reached this point in his despair, when suddenly she uncovered her face and sat up vivaciously.

“Smell the sea! Cheer up. We’re nearly there.”

Darting out her hand, she patted his knee, laughing gayly at her familiarity.

“You are restful You don’t expect me to chatter all the time. People need to be very good friends to be able to sit silent. I know men who’d be quite snappy if I—— But you’re different.”

She spoke caressingly, giving him credit for a delicacy which he did not merit. He felt cheap in the accepting of it He wasn’t at all convinced of her sincerity. He had the uncomfortable sense that she was aware that he wasn’t convinced of it.

“Poor you! You do look squashed. One would think you weren’t enjoying yourself. Was it really only business that brought you to America?”

He smiled crookedly, making a lame effort to clamber back to her level of high spirits. “Didn’t you arrange that we were going only to be sensible?”

She clasped her hands and gazed at him wistfully. “But we needn’t be sensible quite always; it wouldn’t be fun. Besides, if it was just business that brought you over, I ought to know, because——”

“Because,” he laughed, “if it was just business, then it wasn’t you that brought me. And, if it wasn’t you, I’ll be going back directly. If it was just business, the only way you could make me stop longer would be by being more lavish with your sweetness. You’ve not changed. Desire; you’re still the dear, imperious Princess, always kindest at the moment of parting.‘’

“Now you’re drizzling.”

“I’m not. But you push me over precipices for the sheer joy of making me thank you when you pull me back to safety. I’m most happy to thank you, little Desire; but I’d be ever so much obliged if you wouldn’t try such risky experiments. You see, you know you’re going to rescue me, but I’m never certain.”

She drooped towards him fluttering with merriment “Oh, youl What a lot you know!”

With a quick transition of mood, she sat erect and became severely solemn. “I shan’t be nice all day unless you tell me. But if you do tell me——” The blank was wisely left for his imagination to fill in with eloquent promises. Then, putting all her charm into the question, “Why did you come?”

He looked away, ashamed that she should see his unshared emotion. “You know already.”

“But I’d rather hear it from your lips. It isn’t half as exciting to have to take things for granted.”

“If you must have it, I came because of you.”

“And not one scrap because of business?”

“Not one scrap because of business. Business was my excuse to my people. I had to tell them something.”

He was staring at her now. His soul stood beckoning in the windows of his eyes, watching for an answering signal.

It was her turn to glance away. She had wakened something which both thrilled and frightened her. She took refuge in disappointment.

“Then you didn’t mention me to them. My father doesn’t know. I wonder why you didn’t mention me. Was it because they—all those old-fashioned people—wouldn’t think me good enough?—No. No. Don’t touch me. Perhaps, after all, it’s better to be sensible. Let’s talk of something else.”

“We’ve got to finish this now that you’ve started it.” His face was stern and he spoke determinedly. “I’d have passed over everything, for your sake, Princess-gone on pretending to take things for granted. But-d’you think you’re fair to me? You said, ‘Come to America if you really care.’ I thought that meant that you’d begun to care.-I hope it does.”

She crossed her feet and resigned herself to the danger she had courted. “You’re spoiling a most glorious day; but I suppose it’s best to get things off one’s chest.” Then, in a composed, cool little voice, “Well?”

He surprised himself by a touch of anger. It came and was gone like a flicker of lightning.

“I’ve obeyed you,” he said slowly; “I’ve come. I’ve done everything decent that I could think of to keep you reminded of me. Since we said ’Good-by,’ I’ve known nothing but purgatory. Even happy things haven’t been happy, because you weren’t there to share. That’s the way I feel about you, Desire: whatever I am or can be must be for you. But you—— From the moment you sailed out of Liverpool, you dropped me. You didn’t answer my letters. You went out of New York the day I landed, leaving no message. When we met last night for five minutes, you were with another man. This morning for about half-an-hour you did seem glad, but since then——”

He bit his lips and watched her. Outwardly she seemed utterly unmoved. “Shall I go on?”

“Just as you like.”

His words came with a rush. “This means too much to me; it’s all or nothing. If it means nothing to you, say so. I’m not playing. I can go away now—there’s time; soon you’ll have become too much a part of me.—When you’ve forced me up to the point of being frank, you say, ’Let’s talk of something else.’ Can’t you understand that you’re becoming my religion—that I do everything thinking, ’This’ll make her happy,’ and dream about you day and night?”

She sat beside him motionless. He had expected her either to surrender or to show resentment. She made no attempt to alter her position; their shoulders were still touching.

At last, when he had come to the breaking-point, she lifted her grave gray eyes. “You’re foolish,” she said quietly. “Of course I’m glad of you. But you’ll spoil everything by being in such a hurry. You don’t know what kind of a girl I am. We’ve not been together twenty-four hours all told, and yet that’s been long enough to teach me that we’re totally unlike. I’m temperamental—-one of those girls who alter with the fashions. You’re one of the people who never change. You’re the same nice boy I used to play with, and fancy that—oh, that on some far-off day I might marry. You’re nearly famous, so mother says. I want to be famous, too; but I’m younger than you—I’ve not had time. But I know much more about the world. Don’t be hurt when I say it: your ideas about love and your generosity, and everything you do, make me feel that you’re such a child. I like you for it,” she added quickly.

Then, speaking in a puzzled way: “You make things difficult. I shouldn’t be doing right by encouraging you, and——” She faltered over her words. The innocent kindness shone in her eyes. “And I can’t bear to send you away. I don’t know what to do. I’d have encouraged you if I’d written to thank you for those flowers, shouldn’t I? But they made me just as happy as—— I was a regular baby over them. Every morning they lay there on my plate and I wore them the whole day. Fluffy used to chaff me. You don’t like Fluffy.” She winked at him provokingly. “Oh, no, you don’t! You think actresses improper persons. You needn’t deny it.—And I do so want to be an actress, so as to prove to my father and Mrs. Sheerug, and all the lot of them, that I’m worth knowing. Can’t you understand? After I’m great, I might be content to chuck the stage and become only a simple good little wife.”

“Wouldn’t it be as fine,” he whispered, “to share some one else’s success?”

She gazed at him wisely. “Philanthropic egotist! You know it wouldn’t. Own up—don’t you know it wouldn’t?”

“For a man it wouldn’t,” he conceded ruefully.

She smiled vaguely. “Then why for a woman? Only love could make it different. You believe in love at first sight. I don’t At least, I’m not sure about it.”

“But you can’t call ours love at first sight.”

“Ours!” She raised her brows. “Yours was. You had your magic cloak ready to pop over me the moment you thought you’d found me. I’m only a lay figure.”

“You’re not,” he protested hotly. “If you’d read my book, you’d know that. Your face is on every page.”

“A lay figure,” she repeated imperturbably.

She did not gratify his curiosity as to whether she had read Life Till Twenty-one. He waited. At last, driven to desperation, he asked, “What am I to do?”

“Do?”

“Yes. I’ve nothing to keep me in America; I had nothing to bring me over except you. If I stay here and don’t give my people an explanation, they’ll begin to wonder. It won’t be playing the game. So if you don’t care——”

She laughed so gayly that she made all his mountain difficulties seem molehills. “What an old serious! You can’t set times and seasons for love. Sooner or later, if you keep on jogging, everything turns out all right. You’ve got to believe that. It does.”

Since she was his prophetess, he let her optimism go undisputed. He almost shared it. But it didn’t provide him with a certain foundation for his future.

“If you’ll stop drizzling,” she said, “I’ll set Miss Independence free for a run. There!” She pulled the glove off her left hand and made it scamper in the blue and green meadow of her gown. Then, of a sudden, the temptress fingers shot out and caressed him for the merest second.

“Life’s so much more surprising when you don’t know where you’re going. That’s what you said, King Arthur. We don’t know where we’re going—we’re both too young. It’s silly to pretend we do. Let’s agree to be immensely kind to each other. Don’t let’s try to be anything closer as yet. If we do—” She wriggled her shoulders; the little curl trembled violently. “I do hate quarreling.—Hulloa! There’s the sea. We’ll be there in a second.”

The taxi had halted in a line of automobiles. They were on a bare, sun-baked road. On every side salt-marshes stretched away, criss-crossed with ditches which drained into a muddy canal The canal crossed the road; the bridge was up to allow a fishing-boat passage. Over to the left a board-walk ran; behind it the sea flashed like a mirror. Straight ahead, in a straggling line of diminishing importance, hotels rose up. A little over to the right an encampment of match-box summer-cottages sweltered in the glare. Hoardings met the eyes wherever they turned, announcing the choicest places to lunch, to garage or to put up for the night in Long Beach. At no great distance a wooden cow, of more than lifelike proportions, gave a burlesque imitation of the rural, stooping its head as if to graze while its back advertised a brand of malted milk.

The landscape would have been dreary enough without the people and the sun. But the people lent the touch of vivacity. The bright colors of women’s dresses stood out boldly in the strong, fluttering air. When seen distantly clumped together, they looked like a stage-garden, a-blow with artificial flowers. The men and women were for the most part in pairs and young—only the older people were in parties. Teddy had the sense that he had joined a carnival of irresponsible lovers. Probably all those men had their problems. And the girls—they, too, didn’t know where they were going. No one was indulging in the careful cowardice which takes thought for the morrow. They were leaving all future evil to take care of itself. They were finding to-day sufficient in its goodness; and of its goodness they intended to miss nothing.

When he turned to Desire, he found her studying her face in a pocket-mirror and dabbing a film of powder on her impertinent little nose. He glanced away, thinking his watching would embarrass her.

She spoke with a bewitching self-composure, still scrutinizing her reflection: “I could hear your brain ticking. I was right, wasn’t I? It’s best at first not to be too much to each other?”

Her naive frankness in not attempting to hide her vanity, sent a wave of affection tingling through him. It was as though by one foolish act she had entrusted him with the key to her character—her unabashed truthfulness.

He leant forward, brushing her shoulder intimately, and peered into the mirror from which her eyes watched him.

“I’ve been an old serious,” he whispered tenderly. “But now I’ll be anything you choose. Let’s be just as kind as we know how.”

“Let’s,” she nodded, “you convenient person.” The curl against her neck shook roguishly.

They pulled up in the courtyard of a hotel. By its architecture it might have been in Spain. Great palms in tubs cast heavy shadows. Somewhere nearby, but out of sight, an orchestra twanged a ragtime tune. He held her hand for one breathless moment as she alighted.

“What next? Are you hungry?”

She closed her eyes with feigned contempt: “Hungry! Glutton.”

Away she fled, light as pollen, dancing in her steps in unconscious rhythm with the unseen orchestra. He caught her up where the flash of waves, rising and falling, burst upon them in tumultuous glory. She was leaning back, clutching at the brim of her hat, while the eager wind dragged at her skirt like a child entreating her to join in its frolic. She laid her hand on his arm.

“This is life. Doesn’t it wake you up—make you wonder why you ever had the drizzles? We’re not the same persons. I’m not. Cling on to me. I’ll blow away. You’ll have to chase me as you would your hat.”

They stepped down on to the sands and strolled along by the water’s edge, watching the bathers bobbing and splashing. When they had reached the point where the crowd grew less dense, they climbed to the board-walk for the return journey. They had made a discovery which their action confessed: aloneness brought silence; they spoke more freely when strangers swarmed about them.

Teddy became aware that, wherever they passed, Desire roused comment. Men, who were themselves accompanied, turned to gaze after him enviously. He compared her with the other women; she was in a separate class—there wasn’t one who could match her. She had a grace, a distinction, a subtlety—an indescribable and exquisite atmosphere of freshness, which lifted her beyond the range of competition. She was like a tropic bird which had flown into a gathering of house-sparrows. Moreover, she had a knack, highly flattering to his masculine vanity, of appearing to have appropriated him, of appearing to be making him her sole interest. The pride of possession shot through him that he, of all living men, should be allowed to walk by her side as if she belonged to him.

“You’re creating quite a sensation,” he told her.

She affected an improvised boredom. “Oh, yes. I always do.” Then, with a flash of girlishness: “Look here, you’re mine to-day absolutely, aren’t you?”

“To-day and always.”

“We’ll leave out the always. But to-day you’ll do whatever I tell you.”

“Anything at all.”

“Then go and bathe.”

He grimaced his astonishment at the smallness of the request What was she after?

“I’ll bathe,” he consented, “if you’ll come with me. But aren’t you hungry?”

“Not a bit I breakfasted late.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, if you’ll wash first, I’ll let you feed after.”

“I—” he hesitated, “I don’t want to leave you.”

“But I’m keen to see you bathe,” she insisted childishly. Then, employing her most winning manner, “I’ll sit here on the beach and watch you.”

He made a last effort to tempt her. “D’you remember the pool in the woodland—the place where we camped? You thought it would make you a boy. Perhaps, if you tried now——”

“Nonsense.” She shook her head determinedly and sat down.

The situation was too absurd to argue over. Before he left, he gave his watch and money into her keeping. He derived a queer sensation from seeing her pop them into her vanity-case. That was just the matter-of-fact way in which she’d do it if they were married.

As he undressed in the concrete bathing-house, he puzzled to discover what caprice had prompted her order. Had she done it to prove that she had power over him? Or had she wanted to get rid of him? Had he bored her? He reviewed their conversation. All small talk! Not very inspiring! His brain had been weaving a lover’s phrases, which she wouldn’t permit him to utter. The result was that the potentially eloquent lover, when stifled, had been neither brilliant nor entertaining—in fact, a dull fellow.

A horrid little suspicion sprang up. He tried to stamp it out, but it ran from him like flame through withered grass. Had she wanted to be alone to enjoy the admiration she inspired? By Eden Row standards they had no right to be out unchaperoned. It was still less respectable for her to be alone in that fast crowd.

He hurried into his bathing-costume and stepped into the sunshine. She wasn’t where he had left her. She was nowhere in sight He was half-minded to go back and dress, but was deterred by her imagined laughter. He ran down to the sea and swam about. Every time he rose on the crest of a wave he watched for her. When he passed the spot again she was still absent.

Making haste over his dressing, he came out. She wasn’t there. Panic began to seize him—all kinds of feverish alarms. He was setting out to search, when he saw her coming sauntering along the beach.

“Hulloa!” she called breezily. “You haven’t been long. Did you only paddle or did you duck your head as well?”

“Where’d you get to?” he asked pantingly. “I’ve been awfully nervous.”

She cocked her head on one side like a knowing little bird.

“Nervous! I’ve lived years and years without you to take care of me, and haven’t come to much harm.—You silly old thing, I was getting something for you.” She opened her vanity-case and pulled out a tin-type photograph. “There!”

Then she noticed that his hand trembled. “Why—why, you are upset I thought you were only cross. I’m awfully sorry.”

She melted and gazed at him penitently. In the next breath she was chaffing. “If you go on this way, I shan’t bring you out for holidays. You might die in my arms. Nice thing, that! It’d ruin my reputation.”

He was regarding the cheap little picture. It was of her, with the wind breaking against her dress and the sea backing her. It was scarcely dry yet. “For me?”

“Of course. And, before I lose them, here’s your watch and money.”

“And—and that’s why you insisted on my bathing: to get rid of me for a little while so that——”

She cut him short. “Feeding-time. You ask too many questions.”

As they walked to the hotel, she chattered at length of her adventure. “The man who took it, he thought I was an actress. Wanted to know in what show I was playing.—You don’t consider that a compliment?”

“Not much.”

He was only half listening. He was remembering his unworthy suspicion, that she had stolen a respite to court admiration. Perhaps all his suspicions had been equally ill-founded. Perhaps behind each of her inconsideratenesses lay a concealed kindness—a tender forethought. If it had been so in one case, why not in all?

“Sweetly ungrateful,” Vashti had called her; “she feels far more than she’ll ever express—goes out of her way to make people misunderstand her.” And she’d added: “It’s because—— Can’t you guess? She’s afraid to love too much. Her mother got hurt.”

He felt humiliated—unworthy to walk beside her. No wonder she’d smiled at his ideas of love! He’d make it his life’s work, if need be, to teach her what love really meant. He vowed to himself that whatever she did, no matter how compromising the circumstances, for the future he would give her the benefit of the doubt He would never again distrust her. He would keep that pathetically cheap little photograph and gaze at it as a poignant warning.








CHAPTER IX—SHE ELUDES HIM

They were crossing the hotel foyer, when something caught her attention. Without explanation, she darted from his side. Thinking she had seen a friend, he did not follow at first. She made straight for the news-stand; picking up a magazine, she commenced skimming its pages. He strolled over and peered across her shoulder.

The Theatre! Something in it that you want? Shall I buy it for you?”

She did not seem to hear him. He touched her hand, repeating his question. For answer she turned back to the cover-design. “Isn’t she wonderful?”

He recognized the stooping face and the vague hypnotic smile that he had seen in the many photographs that decorated the walls of the apartment.

“Don’t know about wonderful,” he said carelessly; “she’s all right.”

“All right!” Desire frowned her restrained annoyance. “No one who knows anything about Fluffy would call her ‘all right.’ She’s wonderful. I adore her.”

He chuckled. He hadn’t wakened to the enormity of his offense. “You’re a curious girl Surely you, of all persons, don’t want me to adore her?”

Her frown did not lighten.

“Shall I buy it for you, Princess? You can glance through it while we’re waiting for our meal to be served.”

She ignored his offer and drew out her purse. As they turned away she said, “If you’d liked her, I’d have allowed you to pay for it.”

“But why should I like her? I’ve never met her. You talk as though I detested her.”

“You do. And I know why. You’re jealous.”

Again her daring truthfulness took away his breath. She had discovered something so latent in his mind that he hadn’t owned it to himself. He was jealous of Fluffy—just as jealous as if she had been a man. He resented her power to whisk Desire from his side. He dreaded lest she had occupied so much of the girl’s capacity for loving that nothing worth having was left He suspected that the use of powder, the trivial views of marriage, the passion to go upon the stage were all results of her influence. It wasn’t natural that a girl of twenty should focus all her dreams on an older woman. She should be picturing the arrival of Prince Charming, of a home and the graciousness of little children.

Desire lifted to him a face grown magically free from cloud. “That wasn’t at all nice of me—not one bit ladylike. After all, I am your guest.”

Did she say it out of sweet revenge? It was as though she had told him, “I keep my friendships in separate watertight compartments. To-day it’s your turn to be taken but. To-morrow I shall lock you away and remember some one else.” It hurt, this polite intimation of his standing. He wanted to be everything to her—to feel all that she felt, to know her as his very self. To him she was his entire life. And she—she was satisfied to term herself his guest.

She led the way as they entered the grill-room. Heads were turned and glances exchanged, in the usual tribute to her beauty. The orchestra was still madly twanging. Between tables in the centre, a space had been cleared that two paid artistes might give exhibitions of the latest dance-steps. When they rested, the diners took their places and did their best to copy their example. Doors and windows were open. In lulls, while the musicians mopped their foreheads, the better music drifted in of waves breaking and the long sigh of receding surge. They took their seats in a sunlit corner, a little retired, to which they were piloted by a discreet and perspiring waiter. As Desire examined the mena he inquired, “What will madam have?” To every order that she gave he murmured, “Yes, madam. Certainly, madam.”

When he had left, she glanced mischievously across at Teddy. “Why did he call me that?” She knew the answer, but it amused her to embarrass him.

“Because—obviously, he thought we were married.”

“Married!” She was pulling off her gloves. “I shan’t be married for ages—perhaps never. I expect he thought we were married because we looked so separate—so uninterested.”

She didn’t speak again till she had satisfied herself, by means of the pocket-mirror, that no irreparable ruin had befallen her pretty face since the last inspection. Her action seemed prompted by childish curiosity rather than by vanity. It was as though when she saw her own beauty, she saw it with amazement as belonging to another person. It made him think of the first sight he had had of her: a small girl kneeling beside the edge of a fountain and stooping to kiss her own reflection. He remembered her clasped hands and dismay when her lips had disturbed the water’s surface, and her image had vanished.

The examination ended, she gazed at him thoughtfully. “I’ve still to tell you about that—the thing for which I’ve to ask your forgiveness. Shall I tell you now?—No. It’s about Fluffy, and——” Her finger went up to her mouth.

“We don’t agree on Fluffy. And we’ve neither of us recovered from our last—— Was it a quarrel?” She coaxed him with her smile, as though he were insisting that it was. “Not quite a quarrel. Not as bad as that I expect you and I’ll always have to be forgiving. I have a feeling—But you’ll always forgive me, won’t you?” Before he could answer, she leant companionably across the table, “Do you believe in romance? I don’t.”

His sense of humor was touched. One minute she rapped him over the knuckles as though he were a tiny, misbehaving boy, the next it was she who was young and he who was elderly.

“You’re irresistible.”

“Ah!” She gave a pleased little sigh. “When I choose to be fascinating—yes. D’you think the waiter would call me madam, if he could see me now? But tell me, do you believe in romance?”

“Believe in romance!” He felt her slippered foot touching his beneath the table. “I couldn’t look at you and not believe in it. Everything that’s ever happened to you and me is romance: the way Hal and Farmer Joseph brought me to you; the way we met in the dead of night at Glastonbury; and now—— I’ve come like a troubadour as far as Columbus, just to be near you. Isn’t that romance? Romance is like happiness; it’s in the heart It doesn’t shine into you; it shines out Even those people over there, hopping about to rag-time, they don’t seem vulgar; they become romance when you and I watch them.”

“But they’re not vulgar.” She spoke on the defensive. “If you could turkey-trot, I’d be one of them. Oh, dear, what an awful lot of things you disapprove of. I’ll have to make a list of them. There! You see——” She spread out her appealing hands. “I’m being horrid again. I can’t help it.” The babies crept into her eyes. “I’m not the girl you think me. I’m really not.”

The slippered foot beneath the table had withdrawn itself.

“You’re better,” he whispered. “You’re unexpected. None of my magic cloaks fit you. You’re surprising. A man likes to be surprised.”

She refused to look at him. With her chin tucked in the palm of her hand, she gazed listlessly to where the dancers whirled and glided. When she spoke, her voice sounded tired, as if with long contending.

“Why won’t you be disillusioned? Every time I show you a fault, you turn it into a virtue. From the moment we met, I’ve acted as selfishly as I knew how; and yet you still follow, follow, follow. Don’t you ever lose your temper? You can’t really like me.”

To her bewilderment a great wave of gladness swept into his eyes. At last he had stumbled on the hidden forethought that lurked behind all her omissions of kindness. She had been trying to save him from herself. In the light of this new interpretation, every grievance that he had harbored became an infidelity. He stretched out his hand, as though unconsciously, till the tips of his fingers were just touching hers.

“I shall always follow, and follow, and follow. I shall know now that, even when you’re trying to be cross, it only means that you’re——”

What it would only mean he didn’t tell her; at that moment the waiter returned.

When the covers had been removed from the dishes and they had something to distract them from their own intensity, the gayety of the rag-time caught them.

She flashed a friendly glance at him. “We’re always getting back to that old subject, like sitting hens to a nest.”

“We hadn’t got there quite.”

She pursed her lips judiciously. “Perhaps not quite. Wouldn’t it be safer to talk of something else?”

“About what? I can’t think of anything but you, Princess.”

She clapped her hands. “Splendid. Let’s talk about me. You start.”

He bent forward, smiling into her eyes, grateful for the chance. “There’s so much to tell. All day I’ve been making discoveries. I’ve found out that you’re half-a-dozen persons—not just the one person whom I thought you, Desire. Sometimes you’re Joan of Arc, with dreams in your eyes and your hands lying idly in your lap. Sometimes you’re Nell Gwynn, utterly unshockable and up to any naughtiness. That’s the way you are now—the way I like you best. And sometimes you’re a faery’s child, a Belle Dame Sans Merci, a beautiful witch-girl, who won’t come into my life and won’t let me forge.”

She became extraordinarily interested. At last he had absorbed her attention. “That Belle Dam whatever you call her, she sounds rather lurid. Tell me about her.”

All through the meal, to the alternate thunder of the sea and the jiggling accompaniment of rag-time, he told her. How La Belle Dame Sans Merci lay in wait in woodlands to tempt knights aside from their quests and, when she had made them love her, left them spell-bound and unsatisfied. They forgot time and place as they talked. The old trustful intimacy held them hanging on each other’s words. They were children again in the meadows at Ware, hiding from Farmer Joseph; only now Farmer Joseph was their fear of their own shyness.

“I did something last summer,” he said; “it was just before I met you. Perhaps it’ll make you smile. I’d just come to success, and I wanted to tell you; but I hadn’t an idea where to find you in the whole wide world. I tried to pretend that you were still in the woodland beside the pond. I went there and stayed all day, willing that you should come. You couldn’t have been so far away; you may have been in London. Well, I had that poem with me, and—— You know the way one gets into moods? It seemed to me that you weren’t a truly person and never had been—that you were just a faery’s child, a ghost in my mind.”


‘I set her on my prancing steed,

And nothing else saw all day long;

For sidelong would she bend, and sing

A faery’s song.’


“That sort of thing. Perhaps you were thinking of me at the very time.”

“Perhaps,” she nodded. “Coming back to England after all those years did make me think of you. But how does the whole poem go? Can’t you repeat it?”

He had come to, “And there I shut her wild, wild eyes with kisses four,” when she stopped him.

“I should never let you do that If I did——” She bent towards him flippantly, lowering her voice. “If I did, d’you know what I’d do next? I should marry you.” The curl against her neck shook in emphatic affirmative. “I’m not going to be La Belle Dame whatever you call her any more. I’m going to try to be Nell Gwynn always. You must tell me next time I’m that La Belle person, and I’ll stop it.”

“Ah, but I can’t—that’s a part of the spell When you look that way I can’t speak to you. I’m dazed. It’s as though you’d buried me beneath a mountain of ice. I can only see you and feel unhappy. I can’t even stir.”

He fell to gazing at her. His silence lasted so long that she grew restless. “Say it,” she urged.

“I was thinking that, in spite of all these people and the orchestra and the dancing, we’re by ourselves—not afraid of each other the way we were.”

“Oh!” She twisted her shoulders. “And now I’ll tell you why: it’s because there’s a table between us and, however much you wanted, you couldn’t do anything silly. So, you see, I’m safe, and can afford to be gracious.”

He knew at once that it was the truth that she had stated. How few girls would have said it! They had finished their coffee. She had been very pressing that he should smoke a cigar. He had just lighted one, and was comfortably wondering what they should do next; a drive in the country perhaps, and then back to the tall city lying spectral in moonlight. She consulted her wrist-watch and pushed back her chair. “How about the taxi?”

He at once began to seek the connection between his smoking and the taxi. Behind all her actions lay a motive, which she disguised with an appearance of irresponsibility. Being in her company was like studying the moves in a game of chess. Had she persuaded him to smoke in self-protection, so that he might be occupied when they were alone together?

“The taxi! It’s early. We don’t need to go yet. Or d’you mean that you want to take a longer drive?”

“I’ve——” She winked at him. “This isn’t the great big confession—— I’ve to get back for the theatre. Don’t look crestfallen; you’re coming—just the two of us. If we don’t start now, I shan’t have time to dress.”

As he followed her out into the courtyard, he made a mental note: her insistance that he should smoke had been a precautionary measure for a home-defense. Already her manner towards him was growing circumspect. When she had given the driver instructions, she took her seat remotely in the corner. There was one last flicker of her Nell Gwynn mood when she leant out to gaze at the sea lying red behind the gray salt-marshes.

“Good-by, dear little day; you’ve been a sort of honeymoon.” She spied out of the comers of her eyes at Teddy with an impish raising of her brows. It was as though she were asking him whether the day need end.

“Why go back? Why ever go back? Why not get married?” The hand which he tried to seize happened to be Miss Independence. It gave him a friendly pat in rebuke as it escaped him.

“We’re getting stupid again.” Closing her eyes, she curled herself up against the cushions. Her voice was small and tired.

In an instant he was miles away from her, buried beneath his mountain of ice. She was La Belle Dame Sans Merd, chilling his affection with silence. He was amused. He was beginning to understand her tactics. She was easy of approach, but difficult of capture. He looked back; from a child she had been like that. But he wished that she wouldn’t show distrust of him whenever they were alone. It made love seem less gallant, almost ugly—a thing to be dreaded. Was it what had happened to her mother that made her——? “She’s afraid to love too much. Her mother got hurt.” Was this the price of which Hal had spoken? Was his share of the paying to have his ideal lowered by the girl by whom it had been inspired?

He sat in his corner, smoking and scrupulously preserving the gap that lay between them. He was doing his best to show her by his actions that her defensive measures were unnecessary. One hand shaded her eyes, the other lay half open in her lap. Her head drooped forward slightly and her knees were crossed. Her attitude was one of prayer.

“Please go on talking,” she murmured. “Don’t mind if I’m a little quiet.”

He tried to talk. His monologue grew halting. He asked a question; she returned no answer. He ceased speaking to see if that would pique her and rouse response. She seemed to have divined his intention; he felt that, if he peeped behind her hand, he would find her laughing.

Easy of approach, but difficult of capture! If he didn’t take care, she might keep him dawdling and spellbound forever. Ah, but when she began to learn what love really was, not Fluffy’s kind of tepid flirtation, but the kind of love that thinks no sacrifice too costly—— How long would it take him to fire her with earnestness?

Traffic was thickening. Automobiles, snorting and tooting their horns, came racing up behind and passed. The road ahead was a cloud of dust, which the sunset tinted to a crimson glory. The laughter of women’s voices was in the air. He had glimpses of their faces peering merrily into men’s. In a flash they were gone; but his imagination followed, listening to the happy tendernesses that were said. How closely these other lovers sat! Sometimes beneath the dust-cloth that lay across their knees, he suspected that hands were being clasped. At others he didn’t need to suspect; it was done proudly and bravely. There were disadvantages in being in love with a young lady who gave remarkable names to her hands.

He smiled grimly at the respectable distance that separated him from his praying girl. It so honestly published to the world: “The two people in this taxi are wasting an opportunity—they are not in love.” The waiter, had he had to address her now, would certainly have called her madam.

Teddy tried to see the humor of his situation. He wondered whether she was really as indifferent as she pretended—whether she might not be glad if he were to slip his arm about her? But he refrained from making the experiment; he feared lest she should interpret his action flippantly or resent it. When he pictured the kind of happiness they were losing, he felt a little sick at heart.

They had come to the great cat’s-cradle of girders that spans the East River.

“That’s better. I’m rested. You are good.”

She spoke gratefully and sat up. From his corner, making no attempt to narrow the distance, he watched her quietly. “D’you always do that?”

“What?”

“Pretend to go to sleep when you’re unchaperoned? You don’t need to do it with me. It’s the third time you’ve done it.”

She laughed tolerantly. “Oh, you! What old-fashioned notions! I never am chaperoned.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to say that in her case it wasn’t necessary. Instead he asked: “Do you do that with Tom? Does he appreciate it?”

She threw up her hands in an abandonment to merriment “Tom! He hates it Poor Tom! Haven’t I told you he drizzles?”

When no answer was returned, she began to sing provocatively:


“If no one ever marries me,

And I don’t see why he should.

For Nurse says I am not pretty

And I’m very seldom good,

I’ll——”


She broke off and glanced over at him, making her mouth sad. “You do sit far away.” When he made no motion to accept her invitation, she smiled the unreserved smile of friendship. “Look here, if I come half way over, will you?”

She made the journey and waited for him to follow her example. He came reluctantly, but not all the way; there was still a gap between them.

“Well, if you won’t, I’ll have to be forward.” She closed up the distance. “There! Isn’t that happier?”

“Yes. But what’s the good? We’re in the middle of streets and nearly there now.”

“I was tired,” she said appealingly. “I thought you’d understand.”

It was impossible to resist her. Perhaps she had been tired. Perhaps she had done with him what she would have dared to do with no other man; and what he had mistaken for indifference and distrust had been a reliance on his chivalry.

“I do understand.”

“I wonder.”

Ahead, across the misty greenness of the Park, the troglodyte dwellings of the West Side barricaded the horizon. In some of the windows lights were springing up. It was as though lonely people flashed unnoticed signals to the cold hearts beating in the heavens.

“Desire, why do we try to hurt each other?”

“Do we? I wasn’t trying. I was thinking of something that Fluffy told Horace. She said that men never married the women who said ‘Yes.’ It’s the women who say ‘No’ sweetly that men marry.”

“So you were saying ‘No’ sweetly by keeping quiet.”

“I was looking back to find out if it was true.”

“And is it?”

She gazed down demurely at her folded hands. “I once knew a girl; she didn’t care a straw for her man. He waited for her for five years always hoping, and she made all kinds of cruel jokes about him. Then one night—she didn’t know how it happened—all the ice broke and she felt that she wanted him most awfully. They were alone. Suddenly, without warning and without being asked, she kissed him and put her arms about his neck—— Can you guess what he did? You’re a man. You ought to know.”

“He kissed her back again, I suppose, and after that they were married.”

“Wrong. He picked up his hat and walked out of the house. He’d made her want him ten times worse than he’d ever wanted her. He never went back.”

“But why? I don’t understand.”

They were on Riverside Drive. The taxi was halting. She leant forward and opened the door. “He’d won, don’t you see? Because she’d given in he despised her. It was the holding off that made her value.”

“A parable?”

As she jumped out, she glanced roguishly across her shoulder. “No. A fact.”

To save time, since they both had to dress, they arranged to meet at the theatre. The curtain had gone down on the first act when they entered.

It was a first-night performance; the place was packed. Desire at once became interested in the audience, spying round with her glasses and picking out the critics, the actors and actresses who were present She gave him concise accounts of their careers, surprising him with her knowledge. She was intensely alive; it was difficult to recognize in her the bored praying girl who had traveled with him from Long Beach on that late September afternoon. In her low-cut evening-dress, with her white arms and dazzling shoulders, he found her twice as alluring. But he wished she would show more interest in him and a little less in the audience. Every time he thought he had secured her attention, she would discover a new face on which to focus her glasses.

The curtain had risen only a few minutes, when he realized why she had brought him. From the wings Tom entered; from that moment she became spellbound. Teddy tried to reason away his jealousy—his feeling that he had been trapped into coming. It was quite natural that she should have wanted to see her friend—there was nothing so disastrous in that. But—— And he couldn’t get over that but. It would have been fair to have warned him.

In the second interval he found that he was expected to eulogize his rival’s acting. This time, cautioned by the error he had made over Fluffy’s portrait, he was more careful in expressing his opinion. She quickly detected the effort in his enthusiasm. “I didn’t like to tell you,” she whispered apologetically; “but I had to come. Ever so long ago, before I knew you’d be here, I promised him.”

“So that’s the confession that’s been worrying you?”

“One of them.” She touched his hand.

It wasn’t until midnight, when they had had supper and were flying uptown, that she told him.

“We’ve had a good first day, Meester Deek, in spite—in spite of everything.”

Mister Dick had been the name of the hero in the play; Meester Deek had been the caressing way in which the Italian woman who loved him had pronounced it. That Desire should call him Meester Deek seemed an omen.

He turned to her gladly. She was in her Nell Gwynn mood and at her tenderest. Through the darkness he could see the convulsive little curl. The beauty-patch seemed a sign put there to mark the acceptable place to kiss her.

“So I’m Meester Deek! You won’t call me Teddy. I knew you’d have to find a name for me.”

“D’you like my name for you, Meester Deek?”

She sat bending forward, her face illumined by the racing street-lights and her body in darkness. He was tempted to trespass—tempted to reach out for her hand and, if she allowed that, to take her in his arms. She looked very sweet and unresisting, with her cloak falling back from her white shoulders and her head drooping. But instinct warned him: she beckoned attack only to repell it. He remembered what she had told him about the women who said “No,” the women who eked out their affection.

“D’you like my name for you, Meester Deek?” There was all the passion of the south in the way she asked it.

“I like it. But why don’t you call me by my own name? You speak of Horace and Tom.”

“Ah, that’s different.”

“How?”

She shrugged her shoulders and threw back her cloak. The fragrance of her stole out towards him.

“They’ll be always just Horace and Tom to me, while you—perhaps. I can’t explain, Meester Deek, if you don’t understand.”

In her own peculiar way, half shy, half bold, she had told him that, just as he held her separate from all women, so she held him separate.

“I’d rather have you call me Meester Deek than—than anything in the whole world, now that I know.”

“And will you forgive me the big confession?”

He laughed emotionally. “Anything.”

She shrank back into the shadow so that her face was hidden. “I’m just as sorry as I can be. But I can’t break my word. Perhaps you’ll be so hurt that you’ll sail back to England, and won’t wait for me.”

His heart sank. For a moment he had felt so sure of her. Again she was planning to elude him.

“You don’t say anything, Meester Deek. I’m afraid you’re angry. It’s only for two weeks. I start to-morrow.” Two weeks without her! It spelt tragedy. He had a desperate inspiration, “Can’t I come with you?”

“Poor you! No.” She shook her head slowly. “I wish you could. You see, I’ve got to do without you, too. But you don’t like her—I mean Fluffy. She’s on the road in a try-out before she opens in New York.—Only two weeks, Meester Deek! Look on the bright side of things. You can get through all your work while I’m gone and then, when I come back, we can play together.—If you stay,” she added softly.

Two weeks! It seemed a very short time to make a fuss over.

But in two weeks he had hoped to go so far with her. He had hoped to be able to win a promise from her, so that he could send good news to Eden Row. And now, at the end of two weeks, he would be just where he had started.

“I’ll write to you, oh, such long letters.” And then, like a little child on the verge of crying: “You said you’d forgive me. You’re not keeping your promise.”

At the moment of parting, as she was stepping into the elevator, he drew her back. “When d’you start? Mayn’t I come and fetch you, and see you off?”

“It’ll be so early. Won’t that be a lot of trouble for a very little pleasure?”

“But if I think the trouble’s worth it?”

“Then I’d love to have you.”

She held out her hand and let it linger in his clasp. Other revellers, returning from theatres and dinners, passed them. For the first time that day she didn’t seem to care who guessed that he loved her.

“It’s too late to ask you up,” she whispered regretfully. “It’s been a nice day in spite of—of everything, Meester Deek. Thank you.”

She withdrew her hand and darted from him, as if fearing that, if she stayed, she might commit herself irrevocably. He saw her gray eyes smiling pityingly down on him as the iron cage shot up.








CHAPTER X—AND NOTHING ELSE SAW ALL DAY LONG

He had lost count of days in the swiftness of happenings. As he drove uptown to fetch her, he wondered why the streets were so quiet. He pulled out his watch; it was past eight. Not so extraordinarily early! His watch might be wrong. His eye caught a clock; it wasn’t Then the knowledge dawned on him that the emptiness of the streets and his sense of earliness were due to the leisure which betokens Sunday morning.

New York had a look of the rural. Now that few people were about, trees claimed more attention and spread abroad their branches. Grass-plots in squares showed conspicuously. It almost seemed that on these islands of greenness, lapped by sun-scorched pavement, one ought to see rabbits hopping.

When he reached the apartment, she wasn’t ready. From somewhere down the passage she called to him: “Good-morning, Meester Deek. You’re early.” Then he heard her tripping footsteps crossing and recrossing a room, and the busy rustling of packing.

He leant out of the window, drinking in the sunny stillness. A breeze ruffled the Hudson. The Palisades shone fortress-like. Far below, dwarfed by distance beneath trees of the Drive, horsemen moved sluggishly like wound-up toys. A steamer, heavily loaded with holidaymakers, churned its way up-river; he caught the faint cheerfulness of brazen music. The tension of endeavor was relaxed; a spirit of peace and gayety was in the air. His thoughts went back to Eden Row, lying blinking and quaint in the Sabbath calm. In this city of giant energies he smiled a little wistfully at the remembrance.

He listened. The sounds of packing hadn’t stopped. Time grew short; it wasn’t for him to hurry her. Secretly he hoped she would lose her train; they might steal an extra day together.

She entered radiant and laughing. “You’ll think I always keep you waiting. Come on. We’ve got to rush for it.”

“But let me have a look at you.”

“Time for that on the way to the station.”

When he had seen the luggage put on, he jumped in beside her—really beside her, for she sat well out of the corner.

“Almost like a honeymoon,” he laughed, “with all the bags.”

“A spoilt honeymoon.” As they made a sharp turn into Broadway she was thrown against him. “Poor old you, not to be coming!”

“Hulloa!” He looked at her intently.

“A discovery?”

“The beauty-patch has wandered. It’s at the corner of your mouth to-day.”

“Observing person! There’s a reason.” She leant nearer to whisper. “It’s a sleep-walker.”

In the midst of her high spirits she became serious. “It’s mean of me to leave you. If I’d known that it was only to see me that you’d sailed—— I couldn’t believe it—not even when you’d cabled. I ought to feel flattered. I shouldn’t think—shouldn’t think it’s often happened that a man came so far on ’spec.’”

“Perhaps never,” he said. “There was never a Desire——”

Then they felt that they had gone far enough with words, and sat catching each other’s smile in silence.

“You don’t want to go?” he asked.

“I oughtn’t to say that.” She frowned thoughtfully. “It would be ungracious to Fluffy. But I don’t want to go much.” Then, letting her hand rest on his for a second: “It’ll make our good times that are coming all the better.”

All the way to the station, like shy children, without owning to it, they were doing their best to comfort each other.

“I’m glad I had that photograph taken.”

“Was that why? Because——”

“Meester Deek, I didn’t know you so well then. It didn’t seem so terrible to leave you. But—it was partly.”

The tiffs and aloofness of yesterday seemed as distant as a life-time.

“We were stupid to quarrel.” His tone invited her indorsement.

“We’ll do it again,” she laughed.

They swung into the Grand Central. She let him look to her luggage as though it were his right. It was nearly as good as being married to her.

“Shall I take your ticket?”

“Let’s get it together.”

When they came to the window, she opened her bag and handed him the money.

“Where to?” he asked. Then he remembered: “Why, you haven’t given me your address.”

“To Springfield. Here, I’ll scribble out the address while you get the change. You’d better write your first letter to the theatre in care of Fluffy. I’ll send you the names of the other towns later.”

At the barrier they met with an unexpected setback; the gateman refused to let him see her off. “Not allowed. You ought to have a pass.”

It seemed hopeless. The man looked too righteous for bribery and too inhuman for argument. Desire leant forward: “Oh, please, won’t you let my brother——?”

Slowly and knowingly the man smiled. He glanced from the anxious little face, doing its best to appear tearful, to the no less anxious face of Teddy. He scented romance and signed to them to go forward. So Teddy had proof that others could become weak when she employed her powers of fascination.

He followed her into the train and sat down at her side.

“I wish I were coming.”

She gazed out of the window. He bent across to see her face.

“Why, Desire, you’re——”

“I’m silly,” she said quickly. “Parting with anybody makes me cry. Oh, dear, I wish I wasn’t going.”

“Then don’t.”

He covered her hand in his excitement. There was no time to lose. The conductor was calling for the last time; passengers were scurrying to get aboard.

She considered the worth of his suggestion. “I must There’s Fluffy. But why don’t you come? You can get back to-night.”

He wavered. She was always at her sweetest when saying good-by; if he went with her, she might get “tired” and become the praying girl again. He had almost made up his mind to accompany her when the train gave a preliminary jerk, as though the engine were testing its strength.

“Oh, well, you know best.” Her expression was annoyed and her tone disappointed. “Only two weeks, after all.”

“But two weeks without you.” He had not quite given up the idea of accompanying her.

“Hurry up,” she said, “or you won’t get off.”

It was no good going with her now. From the platform he watched her. As the train began to move, he ran beside her window. At the point of vanishing she smiled forgiveness and kissed the finger-tips of Miss Self-Reliance.

In passing out of the station it occurred to him to inquire how long it took to get to Springfield. He wanted to follow her in imagination and to picture her at the exact hour of arrival. He was surprised to find that it was such a short journey and that she might have gone by a later train. If she’d been so sorry, she needn’t have left him in such a hurry. When he came to reason things out, he saw that she could have gone just as well on Monday, since Fluffy’s company was evidently playing in Springfield another night. Perhaps she had a good reason for going. It was some comfort to remember that at the last train. If she’d been so sorry, she needn’t have left him in such a hurry. When he came to reason things out, he saw that she could have gone just as well on Monday, since Fluffy’s company was evidently playing in Springfield another night. Perhaps she had a good reason for going. It was some comfort to remember that at the last moment she had wanted to stay.

Then began the long days of waiting, from which all purpose in living seemed to have been banished. Ambitions, which had goaded him forward, were at a halt. Everything unconnected with her took on an air of unreality. His personality became distasteful to him because it seemed not to have attracted her sufficiently.

Things that once would have brought him happiness failed to stir him. A boom was being worked for him. He was on the crest of a wave. Interviewers were continually calling to get personal stories. Articles appeared in which he confided to the public: “How I Became Famous at Twenty-three,” “Why I Came to America,” “What I Think of New York,” “Why I Distrust Co-education.” There seemed to be no subject, however trivial, upon which his views were not of value to the hundred million inhabitants of America. He was continually finding his face in the papers. He sprang into an unexpected demand both as writer and artist.

The fun he derived from this fluster was in imagining the added worth it would give him in her eyes. He liked to think of her as dashing up to news-stands and showering on him the enthusiasm he had seen her shower on Fluffy. Success left him the more humble in proportion as it failed to rouse her comment. If success couldn’t make her proud of him, there must be some weakness in his character. He searched her letters for any hint that would betray her knowledge of what was happening. Perhaps her very omissions were a sign that she was feeling more than she expressed. At last he wrote and told her. She replied inadequately, “How very nice for you!” His hope had been that she would have included herself as a sharer in his good fortune.

Though he sat for long hours at a stretch, he accomplished laborious results. His attention refused to concentrate. He was always thinking of her: the men who might be with her in his absence; the things she had said and done; the things he had said to her, and which might have been said better; her tricks of gesture and shades of intonation. Her very faults endeared themselves in retrospect He coveted the least happy of the hours he had spent in her company.

For the first day he was consoled by the sight of her tin-type photograph on the desk before him. He glanced at it between sentences and felt that she was near him. But soon he made a sad discovery: it was fast fading. As the days went by he exposed it to the light more and more grudgingly. He had the superstitious fear that, if it was quite dark before she returned, his hope of winning her would be ended.

He lived for the arrival of her letters. His anxiety was a repetition of what he had suffered after her departure from London. He left orders with the hotel-clerk to have them sent up to his room at once. Every time a knock sounded on his door he became breathless.

They came thick and fast, funny little letters dashed off at top-speed in a round girlish handwriting and made to look longer than they were by being sprawled out over many pages. They were full of broken phrases like her speech, with dashes and dots for which he might substitute whatever tenderness his necessity demanded. Usually they began “Dear Miester Deek” and ended “Yours sincerely, Desire.” Once, in a glorious burst of expansiveness, she signed herself “Affectionately, Desire,” and scratched it out. He watched for the error to occur again; it was never repeated. They were the kind of letters that it was perfectly safe to leave lying about; his replies emphatically were not. He marveled at her unvarying discretion.

She had a knack of reproducing the atmosphere of her environment. It was a gay, pulsating world in which she lived. Like Flora, flowers and the singing of birds sprang up where she passed. He contrasted with hers the world he had to offer; it seemed a dull place. She had the keys to Arcady. How false had been his chivalrous dream that a fate hung over her from which she must be rescued!

His lover’s eye detected a wealth of cleverness in her correspondence. He sincerely believed that she was more gifted as a writer than himself. Her letters were full of descriptions of Fluffy in her part, thumb-nail sketches of the other members of the cast and accounts of the momentously personal adventures of a theatrical company on tour. She had a trick of humor that made her intimate in an adjective, and made him laugh. She also had a trick of allotting to him prejudices. “You’d call our leading man a very bad character, but I like him: I think one needs to have faults to be truly charitable. I’d ask you to join us, but—— You wouldn’t get on with theatrical people; you rather—I know, so you needn’t deny it—you rather despise them. I think they’re the jolliest crowd. We dance every night when the show is ended and have late suppers, and—you can guess.”

It was after receiving this that he made up his mind, in preparation for her return, to learn the latest dances. He wondered where she could have gathered the impression that he was puritanical.

But there were other letters in which she joined his future with hers. “Perhaps you’ll write a great play one day, and allow me to be your leading lady.”

He paused to let the picture form before he went further. It would be rather fun. He saw himself holding hands with her and bowing to applauding audiences. As husband and wife they’d travel the world together, emancipated beings who never gave a thought to money, each contributing to the other’s triumph. Fun! Yes. But unsettling. The life that he had always planned was a kind of glorified Eden Row existence without the worries. He thought of Jimmie Boy and Dearie, and all the quiet bonds of dependence they had built up by living always in one place together.

His eyes went back to her letter. “You’ll come and see me, won’t you, Meester Deek, if ever I become a great actress? And I shall.—Oh, did I tell you? Horace is on his way over. I wonder what he and Fluffy will do? Perhaps quarrel. Perhaps just dawdle.”

He was tempted to go to her; but she hadn’t really invited him. He felt that she wouldn’t be his in her nomad setting. He couldn’t bear to have to share her with these butterfly people who viewed love as a diversion, and marriage as a catastrophe.

Sometimes he doubted whether he was as unhappy as he fancied. He searched through books to prove to himself that his case was by no means solitary—that it was the common lot of lovers. He became an admirer of the happy ending in novels. He sought for fiction-characters upon whose handling of similar situations he could pattern his conduct One writer informed him that the secret of success in love was to keep a woman guessing; another, that with blonde women a heated courting brought the best results, while with women of a darker complexion a little coldness paid excellently. All this was too calculating—too like diplomacy. He fell back on the advice of Madame Josephine: “Don’t judge—try to understand. When a good man tries to be fair, he’s unjust.” As an atonement for the disloyalty of his research, he sent Desire a needlessly large box of flowers.

“It’s only two weeks, after all,” she had said. But the two weeks had come and gone. All his plans were dependent on hers, and she seemed to be without any. Already he was receiving inquiries from Eden Row as to when he could be expected back. He could give no more definite answer than when he had left; he procrastinated by enclosing press-cuttings and talking vaguely about taking advantage of his American opportunities. His position was delicate. He didn’t dare to use the argument with Desire that she was his sole reason for remaining in New York; it would have seemed like blackmailing her into returning. Meanwhile, since her letters arrived regularly, he attributed her continued absence not to lack of fondness, but to fear of facing up to a decision. He must do nothing to increase her timidity.

On several occasions he visited Vashti. Each time other people were present. He noticed that her eyes followed him with a curious expression of amusement and compassion. At last one afternoon he found her alone.

She was curled up on the couch by the window, wearing a pale-blue peignoir and a boudoir cap embroidered with tiny artificial roses. A novel lay face downwards on the floor beside her, and she was playing with the silky ears of Twinkles, who snuggled in her lap. As he entered, she reached out her hand without rising and made a sign for him to sit beside her.

“Twinkles is lonely, too. Aren’t you, Twinkles? We’re all waiting for our little mistress.”

She went on smiling and playing with the dog’s ears. Slowly she raised her eyes.

“I can guess what you’re wishing. You’re wishing that I wore a little curl against my neck and had a beauty-patch.”

“A beauty-patch that’s a sleep-walker,” he added.

She laughed softly. “And did she tell you that? I’ve been thinking about you—expecting to hear any day that you were sailing to England.”

He shook his head. “I’m like Twinkles. I’m waiting.”

Vashti lifted herself from the cushions and gazed at him intently. “How long are you prepared to wait?”

“D’you mean how long till she comes back?”

“No. For her. She’s young, Teddy, and she asks so much—so many things that life’ll never give her. She’s got to learn. She may keep you waiting a long, long while yet.”

“I’ll wait.” He smiled confidently.

She leant forward and kissed him. “I’m glad. If you win, she’ll be worth it.”

She went back to playing with Twinkles; he watched her in silence.

With her face averted she said: “At first you thought you had only to love and she’d love you in return—wasn’t that it? With you to love her has been a mission; that’s where you’re different from other men. Other men start by flirting—they intend the run-away right up to the last minute; then they find themselves caught But you—— It takes an older woman than Desire to understand. You’re so impetuously in earnest, you almost frighten her. You’re such a dreamer—the way you were about the marriage-box. You always take a woman at her word; and a woman, when she’s loved, means most by the things she leaves unsaid. What happened to the marriage-box after you found me out?”

He blushed at the confession. “I burnt it.”

“Ah! Burnt me in effigy. That’s what Hal’s done, I expect. That’s where men make mistakes; they’re so impatient. Often a woman’s love begins at the point where a man’s ends. I wonder, one day will you get tired and do something like that to her?”

He wanted to ask her whether her love had begun for Hal at the point where his had ended; but he said, “I was a little boy, then.”

She took his hands and made him meet her eyes. “Little boys and men are alike. Don’t wait at all, Teddy, unless you know you’re strong enough to wait till she’s ready.”

“I am.”

“Easily said. A man once told me that. There came a time when I wanted him badly; I turned round to give him all that he had asked; he was gone.”

She sank her voice. “Can you go on bearing disappointment without showing anger? Can you go on being generous when she hides her kindness? You may have to see her wasting her affection on all kinds of persons who don’t know its value. She may stop away from you to punish herself—she won’t tell you that; and perhaps all the time she’ll be longing to be with you. That’s the kind of girl Desire is, Teddy; she leaves you to guess all that’s best Can you stand that?”

280

He nodded. He couldn’t trust his voice to answer.

“Then, here’s a word of advice. Don’t let her see that you’re too much in earnest.” She laughed, relieving the suspense. “Almost like the wedding-service, wasn’t it?”

As he left, the last sight he had of her she was still sitting curled up on the couch, in her pale-blue peignoir, with the sky behind her, playing with the silky ears of Twinkles snuggled asleep in her lap. She, too, was waiting. For whom? For what?

That night he wrote a letter to Hal; tore it up and rewrote it. Even then he hesitated. At last he decided to sleep over the wisdom of sending it.








CHAPTER XI—THE KEYS TO ARCADY

Of a sudden life became glorious—more glorious than he had ever believed possible. It commenced on the morning after he had written his letter to Hal.

He was seated in the white mirrored room of the Brevoort which looks out on Fifth Avenue. From the kitchen came the mutter of bass voices, passing orders along in French, and the cheerful smell of roasting coffee. Scattered between tables, meditative waiters were dreaming that they were artists’ models, each with a graceful hand resting on the back of a chair in readiness to flick it out invitingly at the first sight of an uncaptured guest. From the left arm of each dangled a napkin, betraying that he had served his appenticeship in boulevard cafés of Paris.

Outside, at irregular intervals, green buses raced smoothly with a whirr-whirr, which effaced during the moment of their passage the clippity-clap of horses. Past the window, from thinning trees, leaves drifted. When they had reached the pavement, the breeze stirred them and they struggled weakly to rise like crippled moths. There was an invigorating chill in the October air as though the sunshine had been placed on ice. Pedestrians moved briskly with their shoulders flung back. They seemed to be smiling over the great discovery that life was worth living, after all.

A boy halted under the archway and threw about him a searching glance. Catching sight of Teddy, he hurried over and whispered. Teddy rose. In the hall the telephone-clerk was watching. “Booth number three, Mr. Gurney.”

As he lifted the receiver he was still discussing with himself whether or no he should send Hal that letter.

“Yes. It’s Mr. Gurney.”

A faint and unfamiliar voice answered—a woman’s voice, exceedingly pleasant, with a soft slurring accent. It was a voice that, whatever it said, seemed to be saying, “I do want you to like me.”

“I didn’t quite catch. Would you mind speaking a little louder?” he asked.

There was a laughing dispute at the other end; then the voice which he had heard at first spoke again:

“This is Janice Audrey, Desire’s friend—Fluffy. Desire’s too shy to phone herself, so I—— She’s here at my elbow. She says that she’s not shy any longer and she’ll speak with you herself.”

It was as though he could feel her gray eyes watching.

A pause. Then, without preliminaries: “You can’t guess where I am. For all you know, I might be dead and this might be my ghost.—No. Let me do the talking. It’s long distance from Boston and expensive; I don’t know how many cents per second. If you were here, I’d let you do the paying; but since you’re not—— Here’s what I called up to tell you: we’re coming in on the Bay State Limited at three o’clock.—I thought you’d be interested. Ta-ta.”

He commenced a hurried question; she had rung off.

Adorably casual! Adorably because she contradicted herself. By calling him up all the way from Boston she had said, “See how much I care.” By not allowing him to speak, she had tried to say, “I don’t care at all.” It amused him; the odd thing was that he loved her the more for her languid struggles to escape him. He agreed with her entirely that the woman who said “No” bewitchingly increased her value. As he finished his breakfast he reflected: she was dearer to him now than a week ago, and much dearer than on the drive from Glastonbury. Instead of blaming her for making herself elusive, he ought to thank her. He’d been too headlong at the start. He fell to making plans to take Vashti’s advice: he wouldn’t speak to her of love any more—he’d try to hide from her how much he was in earnest.

In his eagerness not to disappoint her, he had reached the Grand Central a quarter of an hour too early. He was standing before the board on which the arriving trains are chalked up, when from behind some one touched him.

“Seen you before. How are you? I expect we’re here on the same errand.”

He found himself gazing into the humorous blue eyes which had discovered him playing tricks with his engine before the house in Regent’s Park.

“You’re Mr. Horace Overbridge, I think.”

“Yes. I’m here to see October put on; that’s my new play in which Miss Audrey is acting. What are you doing?” Then, because Teddy hesitated, “Perhaps I oughtn’t to ask.”

At that moment the arrival-platform of the Bay State Limited was announced; they drifted away at the tail of the crowd towards the barrier. Teddy wanted to hurry; his companion saw it. “Heaps of time,” he laughed. “If I know anything about them, they’ll be out last.”

His prophecy proved correct. The excited welcomes were over; the stream of travelers had thinned down to a narrow trickle of the feeble or heavily laden, when Desire, walking arm-in-arm with a woman much more beautiful than her portraits, drew into sight behind the gates. After hats had been raised and they knew that they had been recognized, they did not quicken their pace. They approached still leisurely and talking, as much as to say: “Let’s make the most of our opportunity before we sink to the level of these male-creatures.”

Horace Overbridge, leaning on his cane, watched them with tolerant amusement. “Take their time, don’t they?” he remarked. “One wouldn’t think we’d both come three thousand miles to meet them. What fools men are!”

“Hulloa,” said Desire, holding out her hand gladly, “it’s good to see you. So you two men have introduced yourselves! Fluffy, this is Mr. Gurney.”

It was arranged that the maid should be seen into a taxi to take care of the luggage. When she had been disposed of, they crossed the street for tea at the Belmont. Fluffy and Desire still walked arm-in-arm as though it was they who had been so long separated. At the table Teddy found himself left to talk to Fluffy; Desire and the man with the amused blue eyes were engaged in bantering reminiscences of the summer. The game seemed to be to pretend that you were not in love; or, if you were, that it was with some one for whom actually you didn’t care a rap.

“Did it go well?” asked Teddy.

“Wonderfully.”

“I wish you’d tell me. Of course Desire wrote me; but I don’t know much.”

While she told him, he kept stealing glances at the others. He wondered at what they were laughing; then he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t at what was being said, but at the knowledge each had of the game that was in the playing. He began to take notice of Fluffy. She had pale-gold hair—quantities of it—a drooping mouth and eyes of a child’s clearness. She had a way of employing her eyes as magnets. She would fix them on the person to whom she talked so that presently what she said counted for nothing; questions would begin to rise in the mind as to whether she was lonely, why she should be lonely and how her loneliness might be dispelled. Then her glance would fall away and she would seem to say: “I shall have to bear my burden; you won’t help me.” After that all the impulse of the onlooker was to carry her over rough places in his arms. Her voice sounded as though all her life she had been petted; her face made you feel that, however good people had been, she deserved far more. Why had Desire been so positive that he wouldn’t like her? He did; or rather he would, if she would let him. But he had the feeling that, while she was kind, she was distrustful and had fenced herself off so that he could not get near her. He had an idea that he had met her before; he recognized that grave assured air of being worthy to be loved without the obligation of taking notice of the loving. Then he spotted the resemblance, and had difficulty to refrain from laughing. In her quiet sense of beautiful importance she was like Twinkles.

“It’s wonderful,” she was saying; “I never had such a part. ‘Little girl,’ Simon Freelevy said when he saw me, ‘little girl, you’ll take New York by storm.’ And I shall.” She nodded seriously. “Simon Freelevy ought to know; he’s the cleverest producer in America; I believe he was so pleased with himself that he’d have kissed me if I hadn’t had my make-up on. And then, you see, it’s called October, and we open in October. The idea’s subtle; it may catch on.”

She spoke as though the play was a negligible quantity and any success it might have would be due to her acting. Teddy caught the amused eyes of the playwright opposite. He turned back to Janice Audrey. “What’s the plot?” he asked.

“The plot! I’m the plot. You may smile, but I am.—I am the plot of October—isn’t that so, Horace?”

“Oh, yes, Miss Audrey is the plot,” the playwright said gravely. “I have nothing to do with it, except to draw my royalties.” He picked up the thread of his conversation with Desire.

A puzzled look crept into Fluffy’s clear child’s eyes—a wounding suspicion that she was being mocked. She put it from her as incredible.

“When I say I’m the plot, I mean I gave him the story. I told it to him in a punt at Pangbourne this summer. It’s about a woman called October, who’s come to the October of her beauty, but has spring hidden in her heart. She’d loved a man excessively once, when she was young and generous; and he hadn’t valued her love. After that she determined to wear armor, to keep her dreams locked away in her heart and to leave it to the men to do the loving. She becomes an actress, like me. Almost autobiography! At last, when she realizes that her popularity depends on her beauty and she hears the feet of the younger generation climbing after her—at last he comes, the one wearing a smoke-blue corded velvet, trimmed with gray-squirrel fur at the sleeves and collar. Her hat was the gray breast of a bird and sat at a slant across her forehead. There was a flush of color in her cheeks. Again the beauty-patch had wandered; it was on the left of her chin now. As he watched, he felt the lack of something; then he knew what it was.

“Why, what’s happened to your curl?”

She put her hand up to her neck and opened her eyes widely. “H’I sye, old sort, yer don’t mean ter tell me as I’ve lost it?”

While he was laughing at this sudden change of personality, she commenced searching her vanity-case with sham feverishness; to his amazement she drew out the missing decoration.

“Oh, ’ere it is. You’re learnin’ h’all me secrets, dearie. It ain’t wise. But, Lawd, ‘cause yer likes it and ter show yer ‘ow glad I am ter be wiv yer——”

She deliberately pinned it into place behind her ear; it hung there trembling, looking entirely natural.

Dropping her Cockney characterization, she bowed to him with bewitching archness: “Do I look like Nell Gywnn now? I expect, if she were here for an inquisitive person like you to ask, she’d tell you that hers were false.”

He loved her for her honesty; if any one had told him a month ago that so slight and foolish an action could have made him love her better, he would have laughed them to scorn.

It was intoxicating—transforming. It was as though these stone-palaces of Fifth Avenue fell back, disclosing magic woodlands—woodlands such as his father painted through whose shadows pale figures glided. People on the pavement were lovers, going to meetings which memory would make sacred. Like Arcady springing out to meet him, the Park swam into sight, tree-tufted, lagooned, embowered, canopied with the peacock-blue and saffron of the sunset.

“It’s a pity,” Desire murmured, as though continuing a conversation, “that they couldn’t have remained happy.”

“Who?”

“Those two. They were such good companions, till he began to speak of love. I was with them all summer, wherever they went We used to talk philosophy, and life, and—oh, everything. Then one day I wasn’t with them; after that our happiness stopped.”

“But she must have known that he loved her before he told her.”

“Of course. That was what made us all so glad, because there was something left unsaid—something secret and throbbing. It was all gone when once it had been uttered.”

“It oughtn’t to have gone. It ought to have become bigger and better.” He spoke urgently, hoping to hear her agree, “Yes. It ought.”

They were fencing with their problem, discussing it in parables of other people’s lives.

“Why doesn’t she marry him?” he asked. “I expect I’ve been brought up to a different set of standards, so I’m not criticizing; I’m trying to see things from her angle. I’ve been brought up to believe that marriage is what we were all made for; that it’s something gloriously natural and to be hoped for; that to grow old unmarried is to be maimed, especially if you’re a woman. All poetry and religion springs from motherhood; it’s the inspiration of all the biggest painters. I never dreamed that there were people who wilfully kept themselves from loving. I don’t know quite how to express myself. But to see yourself growing up in little children has always seemed to me to be a kind of immortality. There was a thing my mother once said: that marriage is the rampart which the soul flings up to guard itself against calamity. Don’t you think that’s true?”

“You put it beautifully. That’s the man’s view of it.” She smiled broodingly; the plodding of the horse’s steps filled the pause. “When a man asks a woman to marry him, he asks her to give up her freedom. Before she’s married, she has the power; but afterwards—— When a man tells her that he loves her, he really means that he wants to be her master.”

“Not her master.” He had forgotten now that it was Fluffy they were supposed to be discussing; he spoke desperately and his voice trembled. “Women aren’t strong like men. They can’t stand alone and, unless they’re loved, they lose half their world when their beauty’s gone. You say a woman gives up her freedom, but so does a man. They both lose one kind of freedom to get another. What he wants is to be allowed to protect her, to——”

“And what Fluffy wants is the right to fulfill herself,” she interrupted, bringing the argument back to the point from which it started. “My beautiful mother——” There she stopped. Their glances met and dropped. He hadn’t thought of her mother. Everything that he had been saying had been an accusation. “My beautiful mother——” She had said it without anger, as though gently reminding him of the reason for her defense. He felt ashamed; in uttering things that were sacred he had been guilty of brutality. Would the shadow of Vashti always lie between them when he spoke to her of love?

She came to the rescue. “You’ll think I haven’t any ideals; but I have.” She laughed softly. “You men are like boys who make cages. Some one’s told you that if you can put salt on a bird’s tail, you can catch it. Away you go with your cages and the first bird you see, you start saying pretty things to it and trying to creep nearer. It hops away and away through the bushes and you follow, still calling it nice names. Presently it spreads its wings and then, because you can’t reach it, you throw stones at it That’s what Horace is doing to poor little Fluffy. He never ought to have made his cage; if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have got angry.—But we’ve not struck a happy subject, Meester Deek. Tell me, did you miss me much?”

It took one and a half times round the Park to tell her. That she cared to listen was a proof to him that she wasn’t quite as interested in preserving her freedom as she pretended. As he described his anxiety in waiting for her letters, she made her eyes wide and sympathetic. Once or twice she let her hands flutter out to touch him. He didn’t touch hers; it was so important to hide from her how much he was in earnest. He mustn’t do a thing that would startle her.

As darkness fell and her face grew indistinct, he found that he had less difficulty in talking. Horsemen had disappeared. The procession of cars and carriages was gone. They jingled through a No-Man’s-Land of whispering leaves and shadows; lamps buoyed their passage like low-hanging stars.

Behind trees on a knoll, lights flashed. She pushed up the trap and spoke to the driver: “Well stop here for dinner.” She turned to Teddy: “Shall we? It’s McGown’s.”

He helped her out As they passed up the steps to the bungalow, he took her arm and felt its shy answering pressure. In the hall she drew away from him.

“Where are you going? Don’t go.”

“Only for a minute. Please, Meester Deek, I want to make myself beautiful for you.”

“But I can’t spare a minute of you. I’ve lost you for so long.”

“Only one little minute,” she pleaded, “but if you don’t want me to be beautiful——”

While she was gone he played tricks to make the time pass quickly. He would see her returning by the time he had counted fifty; no, sixty; no, a hundred. If he walked to the door and looked out into the Park, by the time he turned round she would be waiting for him. At last she came—ten minutes had elapsed; her eyes were shining. He guessed that she had purposely delayed in order to spur her need of him. They seated themselves by a window through which they could watch the goblin-eyes of automobiles darting through the blackness, and the white moon climbing slowly above tattered tree-tops.

She sat with her hand against her throat, gazing at him smilingly.

“What are you thinking, Princess?”

“Thoughts.”

“Won’t you tell me?”

“I was thinking that I say some very foolish things. I pretend to know so much about life, and I don’t know anything. I borrow other people’s disappointments—Fluffy’s, for instance. And then I talk to poor you, as though you had disappointed me. I wish I were a little girl again, asking you what it was like to have a father. D’you remember?—I always wanted to have a father. Tell me about my father, please, won’t you?”

His eyes had grown blurred. The witch-girl was gone. They had traveled mysteriously back across the years to the old untested faiths and loyalties. She had become his child-companion of the lumber-room days. On her submissive lips, like parted petals, hovered the unspoken words: “I love you. I love you.”

“I didn’t mean to make you sad,” she said gently, “so, if it’ll make you sad to tell me——” Two fingers were spread against the comers of her mouth to prevent it from widening into smiling.

“That’s what Mrs. Sheerug does when she doesn’t want to smile.”

When she asked him “What?” he showed her.

“Funny! The only time I saw her was when she fished me out of the pond with her umbrella. She seemed a strict old lady. And there was a boy named Ruddy; he was my cousin, wasn’t he? It’s a kind of romance to have a father whom you don’t know. I sometimes think I’m to be envied. D’you think I am, Meester Deek?—Ahl you don’t Never mind; tell me about him.”

Then they fell to talking of Eden Row. He had to describe Orchid Lodge to her and how he had first met her mother there, and had thought that she had really meant to marry him. They got quite excited in building up their reminiscences.

“Yes, and you came to our house when my father, whom I didn’t know was my father, was playing lions with me. And I ran to you for protection. When Pauline took me away, I fought to get back to you and got slapped for it You didn’t know that? Didn’t you hear me crying? Go on with what you were saying. It’s fine to be able to remember. Don’t let’s stop.”

They were picking up the threads of each other’s lives and winding them together. She told him about herself—how for long stretches, while her mother had been on tour singing, she had been left in the care of maids, and her favorite game had been to play that she was a great actress. “And you’ll never guess why it was my favorite. I used to pretend that my father was in the audience and came afterwards to tell me he was proud of me. That’s why——— Do you think he would be proud of me?”

“He’d be proud of you without that, wild bird.”

“Why do you call me wild bird, Meester Deek? But I know: because I’m always struggling and flying beyond my strength. You think that, if I became an actress, I wouldn’t succeed. You don’t believe in me very much. I’ll have to show you—have to show you all. Everybody discourages me.”

His heart was beating furiously. Where was the good of hiding things? She knew he was in earnest “My dear,” he said, and a kind disapproval came into her eyes, “I believe in you so much—more than in any woman. It isn’t that; but I’m afraid that you’ll lose so many things that you’ll some day want.”

“You mean that an actress oughtn’t to marry? That’s what Fluffy says—she must be like a man and live for her art. If you married, you’d still go on sketching and writing; but men expect their wives to drop everything. It’s selfish of them and hard.”

“But it’s always been like that and you’re not an actress yet, and—and, if you were, it would be terrible to think of you going through love-scenes every night with some one else.”

She laughed into his eyes; he almost believed that her talk had been an ambush to lead him on. “You could be very jealous.”

She rose from the table. When they were settled in the hansom, she whispered: “Let me be little again, Meester Deek. Tell me abouts knights and faeries, the way you did when you were only Teddy.”

“There was once a knight,” he began, “who dreamt always of a princess whom he would marry. At last he found her, and she pretended that she didn’t want him.”

“And did she?”

“She did at last The title of the story is The Princess Who Didn’t Know Her Heart.”

“Go on.”

“That’s all.”

“It’s very short.—That’s Miss Self-Reliance you’re holding, Meester Deek. I don’t know whether she likes it.” And again she said in a drowsy whisper, “I don’t know whether she likes it.”

They both fell silent, staring straight before them into the darkness.

“You don’t mind if I close my eyes, Meester Deek? I’m really tired.”

He answered her with a pressure of the hand. She drooped nearer. “You are good to me.”

In a husky contented little voice, she began to sing to herself. It was a darkie song about a pickaninny who had discovered that she was different from the rest of the world because the white children refused to play with her. To Teddy it seemed Desire’s pathetic way of explaining to him the loneliness of her childhood. At the end of each verse the colored mammy crooned comfortingly:


“So, honey, jest play in your own backyard,

Don’t mind what dem white chiles say.”


He stooped lower over her closed eyes and murmuring lips. She seemed aware of him; she turned her face aside. He brushed her cool cheek and thrilled to the touch of it.

He waited. She still sang softly with her eyes fast shut, as though advising him:


“So, honey, jest play in your own backyard.”


Over and over she hummed the line. He crept back into his place in the darkness.

When they had drawn up before the apartment and he had jumped to the pavement to help her out, she whispered reproachfully, “Meester Deek, you did get out quickly.” Then, as they said good-by, “It’s been the nicest time we’ve ever had.”

It was only after she had vanished that he asked himself what she had meant, “You did get out quickly.” At the last moment was she going to have kissed him, or to have given him her lips to kiss? And, “The nicest time we’ve ever had”—did she know that he had been trembling to ask her to marry him?

When he got back to the Brevoort he destroyed the letter he had written to Hal. His optimism was aflame; soon he would have something better to write him. He fell asleep that night with the coolness of her cheek upon his lips.








CHAPTER XII—ARCADY

His first sensation on awaking next morning was of that stolen kiss. All night he had been dreaming of it. All night he had been conscious of the porcelain smoothness of her hand held closely in his own. He closed his eyes against the amber shaft of sunlight which streamed from the window across the counterpane. He strove to recall those dreams; but the harder he strove the dimmer grew the lamps in the haunted chamber of remembrance. He saw vague shapes, which receded from him and melted. Since dreams failed him, he flung wide the windows of imagination.

He saw himself walking with his arm about her, between pollarded trees along a silver road. She clung against his breast like a blown spray of lilac. Now he was stretched at her feet in the greenest of green meadows, while above the curve of her knees her brooding smile watched him. He pictured her, always in new landscapes of more than earthly beauty, enacting a hundred scenes of uninterrupted tenderness.

The burden of his longing made him weary. Until he had kissed her, he had had no real understanding of what love meant; she had been to him an idea—an enchanting, disembodied spirit. Now she was white and warm, exquisitely clothed with glowing flesh. It was not the magic cloak any longer, but Desire herself, sweetly perverse and wilfully cold, that he worshiped.

How old he had become since last night, and yet how young! In kissing her he had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge; from now on his thirst would grow unquenchably till he knew her as himself. All that that knowledge might mean passed before his mind in slow procession. Ominous as the rustle of God’s feet in Eden, he could hear her humming her plaintive warning:


“So, honey, jest play in your own backyard.”


He threw back the clothes and jumped out. Such imaginings were not allowed. But they returned. Like a snow-capped mountain in the dawning, his manhood caught the rose-red glow of passion and trembled, a tower of flame and ivory, above the imperiled valleys of experience.

As he dressed he molded the future to any shape he chose, rolled it into a ball and molded it afresh. Now that he had kissed her, all things were possible. His interest in all the world was quickened. His work and success again became important. He thought of her thin little high-heeled shoes, her dancing decorative way of walking, the costly frailty of her dress. He would need money—heaps of it—to marry her.

It was half-an-hour later, while he sat at breakfast, that a small cloud loomed on his horizon. It grew out of the sobering effect which comes of being among everyday people. A doubt arose in his mind as to the propriety of his last night’s actions. He’d whisked her away from the station without letting her see her mother, and had brought her home late after driving for hours through the darkness. Would Vashti consider him a safe person after such behavior? He knew that Eden Row wouldn’t. But in Desire’s company he lost sight of conventions in the absolute rightness of their being together. Besides, as he knew to his cost, she was well able to take care of herself. Strangers might think—— It didn’t matter what they thought. Nevertheless, it was with some trepidation that he approached the telephone and heard Vashti answer; “You brought my baby-girl home rather late. I hope you had a good time.—Oh, no, I didn’t mind; but I should have if it had been any one but Teddy.”

He wondered whether Desire had told her mother that he had kissed her. Did girls tell their mothers things like that?

“May I speak with Desire?”

“She’s not here. Fluffy called with Mr. Overbridge just after you’d brought her back. They took her out to supper. Desire slept with her last night. I don’t know what plans she’s made for to-day.—Yes, I’ll ask her to call you up.”

Fluffy again! He frowned. Overbridge hadn’t wanted her—that was Fluffy’s doing; she had taken her for protection. He didn’t like to think of Desire’s being put to such uses. He didn’t like to think of her being made a foil to another woman’s ill-conducted love-affair. There was a lack of system about not knowing where you were going to sleep up to within five minutes of getting into bed. He felt chagrined that his imagination had been wasted in picturing her thinking of him. He criticized Vashti for the leniency of her attitude; it was proper, if bonds of affection were worth anything, for a mother and daughter to be together after a three weeks’ separation. For his own lack of consideration in keeping Desire from her mother, there was some excuse; but for Fluffy’s—— The thing that hurt most was that Desire should have been willing to telescope the most exalted moment of his life into the next trivial happening, allowing herself no time for reflection.

All that day he waited with trembling suspense to hear from her; it was not until the following morning that she called him and arranged to go to lunch. Almost her first words on meeting were, “I’ve thought it over.”

“Over! Was there anything?”

“Thieves must be punished. You mustn’t do it again.” Then, with a quick uplifting of her eyes—so quick that the gray seas seemed to splash over: “Come, Meester Deek, let’s forget and be happy.”

So he learnt that it was he who had done wrong—he who had to be forgiven. Her forgiveness was offered so generously that it would have been churlish to dispute its necessity. Besides, argument wasted time and might lead to fretfulness.

In the weeks that followed a dangerous comradeship sprang up between them; dangerous because of its quiet confidence, which seemed to deny the existence of passion. Her total ignoring of the fact of sex made any reference to it seem vulgar; yet everything that she did, from the itinerant beauty-patch to the graceful frailty of her dress, was a silent and provocative acknowledgment that sex was omnipresent.

“I wouldn’t dare to trust myself so much with any other man,” she told him.

It was what Vashti had said: “Oh, no, I didn’t mind; but I should have if it had been any one but Teddy.”

So he found himself isolated on a peak of chivalry, from which the old sweet ways of love looked satyrish. Other men would have tried to hold her hands. Given his opportunities, other men would have crushed their lips against her sweet red mouth. Because she had proclaimed him nobler than other men he refrained from any of these brutalities—and all the while his mind was on fire with the vision of them. Instead, he put the poetry of his passion into the parables of love that he told her. They were like children in a forest, hiding from each other, yet continually calling and making known their whereabouts out of fear of the forest’s solitariness.

They showed their need of each other in a thousand ways which were more eloquent than words. Every morning at ten promptly—ten being her hour for rising—he phoned her. Sometimes he found her at Vashti’s apartment, sometimes at Fluffy’s; at Fluffy’s there were frequently sleepy sounds which told him that she was answering him from bed. This morning conversation grew to be a habit on which they both depended.

It was a rare day when they did not lunch together. She would meet him in the foyer of one of the fashionable hotels. They had special nooks where they found each other—nooks known only to themselves. In the Waldorf it was against a pillar at the end of Peacock Alley, opposite to the Thirty-fourth Street entrance which is nearest to Fifth Avenue. In the Vanderbilt it was a deep armchair, two windows uptown from the marble stairs. In the same way they had their special tables; they got to know the waiters, and often to please her he would order the table to be reserved. He learnt that lavish tips and the appearance of wealth were the Open Sesame to pleasures of which the frugality of Eden Row had never dreamt.

She was invariably late to their appointments—or almost invariably; if he counted on her lateness and arrived late himself, it would so happen that she had got there early. Her instinct seemed to keep her informed, even when he was out of her sight, as to what he was thinking and doing, so that she was able to forestall him, thwart him, surprise him. He felt that this was as it should be if she were in love. The contradiction was that, though he loved her, his sixth sense never served him. When he had calculated that this would be her early day and had arrived with ten minutes in hand, he would watch for an hour the surf of faces washed in through the revolving doors. As time passed, he would begin to conjecture all kinds of dismal happenings; underlying all his conjectures was the suspicion of unexpected death. Then, like a comforting strain of music, she would emerge from the discord of the crowd and take his hand. In the joy that she was still alive, he would hardly listen to her breathless apologies.

In all his dealings with her there was this constant harassment of uncertainty. She would never make an arrangement for a day ahead; he must call her up in the morning—she wasn’t sure of her plans. He knew what this meant: she wasn’t sure whether Fluffy would command her attentions. Fluffy came first. He determined at all costs to supplant Fluffy’s premiership in her affections. He had to prove to her, not by talking, but by accumulated acts, how much his love for her meant. So he never complained of her irresponsibility. She could be as capricious as she chose; it never roused his temper. His reward was to have her pat his hand and murmur softly, “Meester Deek, you are good to me.”

Through the blue-gold blur of autumn afternoons they would drift off to a matinée or he would accompany her shopping. There was a peculiar intimacy attaching to being made the witness of her girlish purchases. She would take him into a millinery shop and try on a dozen hats, referring always to his judgment. The assistant would delight him by mistaking him for her husband. Desire would correct the wrong impression promptly by saying: “I don’t know which one I’ll choose; I guess I’ll have to bring my mother.” In the street she would confess to him that she’d done it for a lark and hadn’t intended to buy anything.

“But why do they all—waiters and everybody—think that we’re married?”

“Perhaps because we were made for each other, and look it.”

She would twist her shoulders with a pretense of annoyance; her gray eyes would become cloudy as opals. “That’s stupid. I’m so young—only twenty.”

On one of these excursions she filled him with joy by accepting from him a dozen pairs of silk-stockings. He was perpetually begging her to let him spend his money on her and she was perpetually refusing.

“You tempt me, Meester Deek. What would people think?”

“I don’t know and don’t care. People be hanged. There aren’t any people—only you and I alone in the world. How’d you like a new set of furs?”

“Now, do be good,” she would beg of him, eyeing the furs enviously.

“I don’t know,” he told her, “whether you really mean no or yes.”

“And perhaps I don’t know myself,” she mocked him.

Later, when wild-flowers of the streets flamed in the hedges of the dusk, they would again postpone their parting. Some new palace would magically spring up to lure them. Then they would dine to music and she would insist on acting the hostess and serving him; sometimes by seeming inadvertence their hands would touch. They would dawdle over their coffee; like a mother humoring a child full of fancies, at his repeated request she would sweeten his cup with the lips that were forbidden him. They might sit on all evening; they might stroll languorously off to find a new stimulus to illusion in a theatre. Their evenings were intolerably fugitive. Before midnight they would ride uptown through the carnival of Broadway, where light foamed on walls of blackness like champagne poured across ebony.

At first he was inclined to be dissatisfied that he gained so little ground: when he advanced, she retreated; when he retreated, she advanced. If, to woo him back to a proper demonstrativeness, she had to display some new familiarity, she was careful not to let it become a habit.

“The more stand-offish I am with you,” he said, “the more sweet you are to me. Directly I start to fall in love with you again——”

“Again?” she questioned, with a raising of her brows.

“Again,” he repeated stubbornly. “Directly I do that, you grow cold. The thing works automatically like a pair of scales—only we hardly ever balance. When you’re up, I’m down. When I’m up, you’re down.”

“What charming metaphors you use,” she exclaimed petulantly; and then, with swift tormenting compassion, “Poor Meester Deek.”

But his protestations worked no difference. One night, in crossing Times Square, she said, “You may take my arm if you choose.” When an hour later he tried to do it, she drew away from him, with, “I cross heaps of streets without that.” Sometimes, driving home, she would unglove a temptress hand and let it rest invitingly in her lap. At the first sign that he was going to take it, it would pop like a rabbit into the warren of her muff.

At the moment of parting she became most fascinating; then, for an instant, poignancy would touch her, making her humble. The dread foreknowledge would creep into her eyes that even such loyalty as his could be exhausted; the imminent fear would clutch her that one evening there would be a final parting and the hope of a new dawn would bring no hope of his returning. She would coax him to come up to the apartment; if he consented, she would divert him by chattering to the astonished elevator-boy in what she conceived to be French. She would slip her key into the latch, calling softly: “Mother! Mother!” Sometimes Vashti would come out from the front-room where she had been sitting in the half-light with a man—usually a Mr. Kingston Dak. As often as not she would be in bed. Like conspirators they would tiptoe across the passage. By the piano, with her back towards him, she would seat herself and play softly with one hand, “In the Gloaming, oh My Darling,” one of the few tunes which she could strum without error. He would stand with his face hanging over her shoulder, and they would both wonder silently whether he was going to crush her to him. Just as he had made up his mind, she would swing round with eyes mysterious as moonstones: “Meester Deek, let’s take Twinkles out.”

So, leaving the apartment with its heavy atmosphere of sleepers, they would seize for themselves this last respite.

Loitering along pale streets with the immensity of night brooding over them, the world became wholly theirs and she again the haunting dream of his boyhood. There was only the blind white eye of the moon to watch them. Reluctantly they would come back to the illumined cave which was fated to engulf her.

Their hands would come together and linger. Their lips would stumble over words and grow dumb.

“And to-morrow?” he would falter.

“To-morrow!—Phone me.—It’s one of the nicest days we’ve ever had.”

In a flash she would stoop to Twinkles, tuck the bundle of wriggling fur beneath her arm, wave her hand and run lightly up the steps.

If he stayed, he would see her turn before entering the elevator, wave her hand again and throw a last smile to him—a smile which seemed to reproach him, to plead with him and to extend a promise.








CHAPTER XIII—DRIFTING

Through the red flame-days of October she danced before him, a tantalizing heart of thistledown. If she settled, it was always well ahead. When he came up with her and stooped, thinking her capture certain, some new breeze of caprice or reticence would sweep her beyond the reach of his grasp.

They discussed love in generalizations—in terms of life, literature and the latest play. They discussed very little else.

“When I’m married———-” he would say.

“Well?” she would encourage him, snuggling her face against her white-fox furs.

“When I am married, every day’ll be a new romance. I can live anywhere I like—that’s the beauty of being an artist. I think I shall live in Italy first, somewhere on the Bay of Naples. I and my wife” (how her eyes would twinkle when he said that!), “I and my wife will dress up every evening. We’ll have a different set of costumes for every night in the week, and we’ll dine out in an arbor in our little garden. Sometimes she’ll be a Dresden Shepherdess, and sometimes a Queen Guinevere, and sometimes——-”

“And won’t she ever be herself?”

“She’ll always be that, with a beauty-patch just about where you wear yours and a little curl bobbing against her neck.”

“But what’s the idea of so many costumes?”

“We shall never get used to each other; we shall always seem to be loving for the first time—beginning all afresh.—Doesn’t it attract you, Princess?”

“Me? I don’t see what I’ve got to do with it. Here’s the kind of woman you’ll marry: a nice little thing without any ambitions, who’ll think you’re a genius. You’ll live in one house forever and ever, and have a large family and go to church every Sunday. And you’ll have a dead secret that you’ll never be able to tell her, about a famous actress whom you once romped with in New York before she was famous.”

She had a thousand ways of turning him aside from confession.

“Men are rotters—all men except you, Meester Deek. Poor little Fluffy! Horace isn’t at all nice to her.”

It transpired on inquiry that Horace wasn’t at all nice to Fluffy because she was dividing her leisure between himself and Simon Freelevy.

“You see, she must,” Desire explained. “It’s business. October isn’t the success they expected—it’s too English in its atmosphere. If Freelevy likes her, he can put her into his biggest productions. Horace won’t understand that it’s business. He sulks and makes rows. That’s why I go about with her so much—her little chaperone, she calls me. Men have to be polite and can’t take advantage when a young girl is present.”

“But what does she give them in return?” Teddy asked.

Desire became cold. “Any man should feel proud to be seen in her company.”

Her way of saying it made him feel that all women were queens and all men their servitors. His idea that love-affairs ended in marriage seemed rustic and adolescent. To be seen in the company of a pretty face was all the reward a man ought to expect for limousines, late suppers, tantalized hopes and the patient devotion of an honorable passion. He couldn’t bear that Desire should class herself with the nuns of pleasure, who dole out their lure as payment, and have blocks of ice where less virtuous women have hearts. In her scornful defense of Fluffy, she seemed to be building up a case for herself.

In the last extremity, when a proposal of marriage threatened, she employed a still more effective weapon.

“Look here, Meester Deek, I like you most awfully and we’ve had some splendid times, but why are you stopping in America?”

He would gaze into her eyes dumbly, thinking, “Now’s my chance.”

His hesitancy would infect her with boldness. “If it’s for my sake, I’m not worth the trouble. I think you’d better go back to England. The Lusitania’s sailing tomorrow.”

Piqued by her assumed indifference, he would pretend to take her at her word: “Perhaps I had better. Would you come to see me off?”

“Maybe.”

“And kiss me good-by?”

“If I felt like it.”

“Then it’s almost worth going.”

“Why don’t you?”

Once he gave her a fright They were passing The International Sleeping Car Company on Fifth Avenue. “I think I will,” he said lightly.

Entering, he made a reservation and paid the deposit money. During the next hour she was so sweet to him, so sad, that they raced back through the thickening night, arriving just as the last clerk was leaving, and canceled the booking.

“Did you mean it?” she whispered.

“Well, didn’t I?”

“But do tell me,” she pleaded. “If you don’t, I shall never be at rest.”

He slipped his arm into hers without rebuff. “Odd little, dear little Princess, was it likely?”

After that, when in this mood of self-effacement, she would insist without fear of being taken seriously that he should sail.

“If you don’t, I’ll refuse to see you ever again. But,” she would add, “that’s only if you really are stopping here on my account.”

To relieve her conscience of responsibility he would lie like a corsair, bolstering up the fiction that business was his sole reason for remaining.

“Then, it’s your funeral, isn’t it?”

“My funeral,” he echoed solemnly.

The Indian summer sank into a heap of ashes from which all heat was spent. November looked in with its thin-lipped mornings and its sudden pantherlike dusks. Still they wandered, separate and yet together, from the refuge of one day to the next, establishing shrines of habit which made them less and less dispensable to each other’s happiness. She was always darting ahead into the uncertain shadows, hiding, and springing out that she might test his gladness in having refound her.

Each new day was an exquisite wax-statue which by night had melted to formlessness in his hands. He made repeated resolutions to organize his energies. He lived im-paradised in a lethargy of fond emotions. His career was at a halt; his opportunities were slipping from him. To encourage his industry he drew up a chart of the hours in the current month that he would work. He pinned it to the wall above his desk that it might reproach him if he fell below his average. The average was never reached. The chart was tom up. His most stalwart plans were driven as mist before the breath of her lightest fancy. Not that she encroached on him by deed or word; but her memory was a delirium which kept him always craving for her presence.

“If you were to drop me to-morrow,” she told him, “you’d never hear from me. I’m like that. I shouldn’t run after you.”

She left him to place his own construction on the statement—to discover its origin in nobility or carelessness. Whichever it was, it made him the needle while she remained the magnet. When he wasn’t with her, he was waiting for her; so the hours after midnight, when he had seen her home, were the only ones free from feverishness. His work suffered; he stole from the hours when he ought to have been in bed. He began to suspect that he was losing his confidence of touch. The suspicion was sharply confirmed when one of his commissioned articles came back with the cryptic intimation that it wasn’t exactly what the editor had expected. That meant the loss of five hundred dollars; what was worse, it filled him with artistic panic.

In the old days—the days of Life Till Twenty-one—fame had been the goal of his ambitions. He had set before his eyes, as though it were a crucifix, the austere aloofness of his father’s pure motives. He couldn’t afford to do that any longer. He was spending lavishly; the example of the extravagance of Fluffy’s lovers spurred his expenditures. He didn’t care how he won Desire’s admiration; win it he must. Unconsciously he was trying to win it with a display of generosity. Dimly he foresaw that he was doing her an injustice; he would have to cut down and recuperate the moment they were married. In preparation he painted to her the joys of simplicity and of life in the country. Her curl became agitated with merriment.

“That isn’t the way I’ve been brought up. Cottages don’t have bathrooms, and the country’s muddy except in summer. It wouldn’t suit me. And I do like to wear silk.” Then, with a shudder: “Poverty’s so ugly. There’s only one thing worse, and that’s growing old. Please, Meester Deek, let’s talk of something else.”

She was like a child, stopping her ears with her fingers and pleading, “Please don’t tell me any more ghost-stories.” He felt sorry for her; at such times she seemed so inexperienced and young. By her misplaced valuations, she was giving life such power to hurt her. Her sophistication seemed more apparent than real—a disguise for her lack of knowledge. He wanted to comfort her against old age. If one were loved, neither poverty nor growing old mattered. He thought of Dearie and the way she had married his father, with their joint affection and her high belief in him for their sole assets.

There were times when Desire seemed to guess his problem.

“I wish you’d do more work. Why don’t you leave me alone to-morrow? And you oughtn’t to keep on spending and spending. I’d be just as happy if you spent less.”

The joy of her thoughtfulness gave him hope and made him the more reckless. Besides, it wasn’t possible to economize in her company. Her fear of the subway and her abhorrence of crowded surface-cars made taxis a continual necessity. Her shoes were so thin that a mile of walking tired her; her clothes were so stylish that she would have looked conspicuous in any but a fashionable setting. Her method of dress, in which he delighted, limited them both to costly environments. He had named her rightly years ago in calling her “Princess.”

Vashti puzzled him. She seemed to avoid him. When he visited the apartment she was out, just going out or expected back shortly. He had fugitive glimpses of her hurrying off to concert engagements, or going on some pleasure jaunt with the unexplained Mr. Dak, similar to those which he and Desire enjoyed together.

Mr. Kingston Dak was a little grasshopper of a man. He had lemon-colored hair, white teeth, extremely well-kept hands and was nearly forty. His littleness was evidently a sore point with him, for the heels of his shoes were built up like a woman’s. He held himself erectly and when others were seated he usually remained standing. He seemed to be always in search of something to lean against which would enable him to tiptoe unobtrusively and to add another inch to his stature. He was clean-shaven, and in appearance shy and boyish; he would have looked excellently well in clerical attire. By hobby he was an occultist; by profession a stockbroker. His chief topic of conversation was the superiority of Mohammedanism to Christianity.

Desire called him “King” familiarly; Vashti referred to him as “My little broker.” Although in his early twenties he had been divorced and tattered by the thorns of a disastrous passion, neither of them seemed to regard him as dangerously masculine. They treated him as a maiden-aunt—as a pale person receiving affection in lieu of wages, expected to safeguard their comfort and to slip into a cupboard when he wasn’t wanted.

“King’s quite nice,” Desire told Teddy; “he was most awfully fond of her. His troubles have made him so understanding.”

Teddy wondered what had happened to the world that all its women had become Vestal Virgins and all its men unassailable St. Anthonies. He watched Mr. Dak for any sign that he remembered the days of his flesh. The little man was as perfunctory over his duties as a well-trained lackey.

Vashti’s bearing towards himself during their brief meetings was affectionately sentimental. There was a hint of the proprietary in the way she touched him, as though she regarded him already as her son. Her eyes would rest on him with veiled inquiry; she never put her question into words. She was giving him his chance, and he felt infinitely grateful to her—so grateful that he was blind to the unexplained situations which surrounded her. That she should allow his unchaperoned relations with Desire endowed her with broadmindedness. “Unto the pure all things are pure,” seemed the maxim on which she acted. In accepting that ruling for his own conduct, he had to extend the same leniency to Mr. Dak’s.

Desire stretched it a point further and made it apply to herself. He found that frequently after he had said “Good-by” to her at close on midnight, Fluffy would call with a car and carry her off to make a party of three at supper, or sometimes to join a larger party—mostly of men—in her apartment. He remonstrated with her: “It’s all very well for an actress; but I hate to think of you mixing with all kinds of people whose standards are just anyhow, and playing ’gooseberry’ for two people older than yourself.”

“I don’t see that you can complain,” she laughed. “If my standards weren’t theatrical and if I were the kind of girl who sees evil in everything, you wouldn’t be allowed to go about with me so much.”

There was his dilemma in a nut-shell. In joining the ranks of the superiorly pure, he was pledged to see purity everywhere. Divorces were pure. Nobody was to blame for anything. People ought to be sympathized with, not punished, when they got into trouble. He seemed to have made lax conventions his own by taking advantage of them for facilitating his courtship. It would look like hypocrisy to disapprove of them after marriage. It was very jolly, for instance, to hear her whisper in the jingling secrecy of a hansom, “Meester Deek, please light me a cigarette.” Very jolly to convey it from his lips to hers, and to watch the red glow of each puff make a cameo of her face against the blackness. But—— And that but was perpetually walking round new corners to confront him—if she were his wife, would the sight of her smoking afford him such abiding happiness? She had taunted him with being a King Arthur. In the presence of her emotional tolerance, which found excuses for everything and ostracized nobody, his sense of propriety seemed a lack of social charity. He guessed the reason for her continual plea that people should be forgiving—her mother. The knowledge silenced his criticisms and roused his compassion.

Two moods possessed him alternately: in the one he despised himself as an austere person, in whom an undue restraint of upbringing had dammed the stream of youth, so that it lay alone and unruffled as a mountain-tarn; in the other he saw himself as a man with a chivalrous duty.

Little by little he came to see that her faery lightheartedness, her faculty for taking no thought for the morrow, made her an easy prey for the morrow. Her ease in acquiring new friendships made friendship of small value.

Her butterfly Sittings from pleasure to pleasure left her without garnerings. She lived, he calculated, at the rate of at least five thousand dollars per annum. But different people paid for it; she contributed as her share her gay well-dressed schoolgirl self. The chances were that she rarely had a five-dollar bill in her purse, and yet she was accustoming herself to extravagance.

He began to watch her friends. When he ran over the list of them, he found that they were all temporary, held by the flimsiest bonds of common knowledge. They had been met at hotels, in pensions, on transatlantic voyages. A good many of them were divorced or unattached persons. They were all on the wing; none of them seemed to comply with any settled code of morals. The more he saw of her, the more aghast he became at the precariousness of her prosperity. Some day these friends, who could dispense with her for months together, would happen all to dispense with her at the same moment Then the telephone, which was her wizard summons to dinners, balls, and motor-parties, would suddenly grow silent. She would wait and listen; and listen and wait; her round of gayeties would be ended. Perhaps this thirst for the insubstantial things of life was a part of the price which Hal had mentioned. Did she know it? Winged creature as she was, she must covet the security of a nest sometimes, though, while she was without it, she affected to despise it as dullness.

When he married her—— He became lost in thought

If they went on living as they were living now, his career would be torn to shreds by her unsatisfied energy. They would have to settle down. In putting up with any irritations that might result, he’d be helping her to pay the penalty—the penalty which Vashti had imposed on so many lives—on her own most of all—by her early selfishness. Towering above his passion and mingling with it oddly, was the great determination to save her from the ruinous lightness to which her mother’s undefined social position had committed her.

She was fully aware of the unspoken strictures which lent melancholy to his ardor.

“You think I’m a silly little moth. I know you do. I’m pyschic. You think I’m fluttering about a candle and that my wings’ll get scorched. Just you wait. I’ll have to show you.”

Or she would say, leaning out towards him, “I wonder what it is that you like about me, Meester Deek. There are so many things you don’t like, though you never tell me. You don’t like my powdering, or my smoking cigarettes, or—oh, such lots of things. But where’s the harm? And there’s another thing you won’t like—I’m going to dye my hair to auburn.”

This threat, that she would dye her hair, led to endless conversations. It made him bold to tell her how pretty she was, which was exactly what she wanted.

Sometimes she was sweetly grown up, preparing him for disillusionment; but it was when she was little that he loved her best Then she would give him the most artless confidences; telling him about her religion, how she prayed for him night and morning, and of her longings to know her father. She would plead with him to tell her about Orchid Lodge and Mrs. Sheerug, and Ruddy, and Harriet She came to picture the old house as if she had lived there, and yet she was never tired of hearing the old details afresh. Orchid Lodge became a secret between them—one of their many secrets, like the name she had given him. And still they drifted undecided.

Then the series of events happened which forced their love to its first anchorage.








CHAPTER XIV—THE TRIFLERS GROW EARNEST

Night was tremulous with the beat of wings. The first snow of the season was falling, giving to familiar streets a theatric look of enchanted strangeness. Large flakes sailed confidently as descending doves; little ones came in flurries like a storm of petals. Perhaps boy-angels in heavenly orchards were shaking the blossoms with their romping. Teddy glanced at the girl beside him; it seemed that an all-wise providence had sent the snow especially as a background for her.

They were returning from the final performance of October. They had been behind the scenes with Fluffy, where friends had been drugging her melancholy with the assurance that, whatever might be said of the play, her acting had scored a triumph.

The illusion of the footlights followed them. Streets were a new stage-setting in which they had become the dominant personalities. The shrieking of motor-horns above the din of traffic seemed the agonized cry of defeated lovers, divided in a chaos of misunderstandings.

As they drove up Broadway Desire crouched with her cheek against the pane. She was trying to make out the hoardings on which the name of Janice Audrey was featured in large letters. While she performed her ritual at each vanishing shrine, Teddy sat unheeded.

Her saint-like hands were clasped against her breast. Her face hung palely meditative, a shadow cast upon the dusk. She filled the night with fragrance. The falling flakes outside seemed to kiss her hair in passing.

He could only imagine the old-rose shade of the velvet opera-cloak that hid her from him. Her white-fox furs lay across her shoulders like drifted snow. He ached intolerably to take her in his arms.

Her eyes were turned away. He could only see the faint outline of her cheek and the slender curve of her girlish neck. She threw out remarks as they traveled—remarks which called for no answer and expected none.

“Horace’ll have to own now that she was wise in cultivating other friendships. Poor old Horace!—And all those bills will be covered up to-morrow with some new great success. Such is fame!—Fluffy’s so discouraged.”

“Do you think that was true?”

“What?” Her question was asked lazily, more out of politeness than curiosity.

“That October was her autobiography?”

“Partly. Artistic people like to think themselves tragic. You do. I’ve noticed.”

“I think it was.” He refused to be diverted. “I think it was real tragedy. She’s given up so much for fame; it’s brought her nothing.”

Desire laughed quietly. “The old subject. I knew where you were going the minute you started. It’s like a hat that you want to get rid of; you hang it on every peg you come to. No, I’m not meaning to be unkind; but you do amuse me, Meester Deek.—Fluffy’s very much to be envied.”

“Why?”

“She’s beautiful.”

“So are you. But being beautiful isn’t everything. Being loved is the thing that satisfies.”

“Does it? And loving too, I expect. But you see I don’t know: I’ve never loved.”

“You won’t let yourself love.” He spoke the words almost inaudibly.

They both fell silent. She still bent forward, her head and shoulders silhouetted against the pane. Her lack of response made his passion seem foolishness.

During the weeks of enforced friendship the physical bond between them had been growing more compelling.

It was only in crowded places that her actions acknowledged it; when they were by themselves her reticence announced plainly, “Trespassers will be prosecuted.” Then she became forbidding; but her sudden gusts of coldness, her very inaccessibility, only added the more to her attraction. He told himself that women who left men nothing to conquer were not valued. He found himself filled with overpowering longings to defy her attempts to thwart him. His mind seethed with pictures of what might happen. He saw himself pressing those hands against his lips, kissing her eyes or her slender neck, where the false curl danced and beckoned. Would this pain of expectancy never end? Did she also suffer beneath her pale aloofness?

With the high-strung sensitiveness of the lover, he began to suspect that his procrastination piqued her. Sometimes he fancied that even Vashti criticized his delay in announcing his intentions. He dreaded lest Desire should think that he was flirting. But why didn’t she help him? Did girls ever help their lovers? She increased his difficulties at every opportunity. Shyness, perhaps! Time and again when he had nerved himself to the point of proposing, she had struck him dumb with a languid triviality or flippancy of gesture.

But to-night it would be different The enchantment of the snow tingled in his blood. The warning of the woman who had procrastinated so long that she had lost her sincerity, spurred him to confession. Surely to-night, if ever——

His hand set out on a voyage of discovery. It slipped into her muff and found her fingers.

She shuddered. It was as though a chill had struck her. “What are you doing? You’re queer to-night. Funny.”

He had no words in which to tell her. He was terribly in earnest. Hammers were pounding in his temples. His face was twitching. The darkness choked him.

He drooped closer. His lips brushed her furs. She sat breathless. His lips crept higher and touched her hair.

“No, please.” Her voice was shaky and childish. “Not now. I—I don’t feel like it.”

He drew back. Though she had denied him, their hands clung together. Hers lay motionless, like the beating heart of a spent bird that has lost the strength to save itself. The power that he knew he had over her at that moment made him feel like a ruffian who had lain in ambush and taken her unaware.

“Shall I let it go?” he whispered.

For answer the slim fingers nestled closer.

“Meester Deek, you were never in love before, were you?”

“Never.”

“Very wonderful. I thought not. You don’t act like it.”

“And you, Princess?”

“Ah!” She smiled mysteriously. “There was a boy who asked permission to marry me once. It was just after I’d put up my hair. I was only fifteen, but I looked just as old as I do now. He told mother that he’d saved fifty dollars, and that he wanted to start early so as to raise a large family. Very sweet and domestic of him, wasn’t it?”

“But that wasn’t serious.”

“No, not serious, you poor Meester Deek; but it makes you jealous.—And there were others.”

“How many?”

“Oh, dozens. I’ve always had some one in love with me, ever since I can remember. That’s why I gave names to my hands.”

“Then no one ever held them before?”

“I shouldn’t say that. But almost no one. I used to let Tom hold them when he wouldn’t stop drizzling. Tom was different; he was a kind of brother.”

“And what am I?”

“I’ve often wondered.” Her brows drew together. “You’re a kind of friend, and yet you’re not.”

“More than a friend?”

They were halting. She freed her hand and stroked his face daringly. “You’re Meester Deck. Isn’t that enough? Some one whom I love and trust.”

She threw the door open. On the point of jumping out, she hesitated. “The pavement’s so slushy. Whatever shall I do with my thin shoes and all?”

“Let me carry you.”

As his arms enfolded her, she stiffened. For a moment there was a rebellious struggle. Then her arm went about his neck and her face sank against his shoulder.

How light she was! How little! How unchanged from the child-Desire of the woodland!

“D’you remember the last time?” he whispered. “It’s years since I’ve done it.”

“Not your fault,” she laughed. “You’d have done it often and often, if I’d allowed you. I guess you wish it was always snowing.”

The distance was all too short. He would have carried her across the lighted foyer, into the elevator, up to the apartment. He didn’t mind who stared at him. He would have gone on holding her thus forever. As they reached the steps she slipped from his arms.

“Oh, you big, strong man!” Her gray eyes were dancing; a faint flush spread across her forehead. “I do hope nobody saw us.” He was stealing his arm into hers. She turned him back. “Forgetful! You haven’t paid the taxi.”

After he had paid, he searched round for her. She had gone. It was the first time she had done it; she always waited for him. So she knew what was coming! By her flight she was lengthening by a few more minutes their long uncertainty. In the quiet of the dim-lit room, with the snow gliding past the window, each separate flake tiptoeing like a faery, he would tell her. But would he need to tell her? She would be waiting for him, her face drooping against her shoulder, looking sweet and weary. She would be like a tired child, its mischief forgotten, ready to stretch out its arms and snuggle in his breast. All that need be said would come in broken phrases—phrases which no one but themselves could understand. And then, after that—— She might cry a little. When they were married, perhaps Hal——

He waited till the elevator had descended before he tapped. Probably she was listening for him, fearing and yet hoping for the pressure of his arms and all the newness that they would begin together. He would read in her eyes the writing of surrender—the same writing that he had read on the dusty panes of childhood, “I love you. I love you.”

He tapped; he tapped more loudly. The door was opened ty Mr. Dak. “Hulloa! Come in.”

“Where’s Desire?”

“In her room getting ready.”

“Ready? For what?”

They entered the dim-lit room where the most splendid moment of life should have been happening.

“Didn’t you know?” Mr. Dak appeared not to notice his emotion. “Everybody else knew. There’s a supper-party to Miss Audrey. Just the six of us.”

They fell to making conversation. Mr. Dak did most of the talking. Teddy found himself agreeing to the statement that Christianity was a colossal blunder, and that Mohammedanism was the only religion worth the having. He would have agreed to anything. As he listened for Desire’s footstep, he nodded his head, saying, “Yes. Of course. Obviously.” All the while he was aware of the embarrassed kindness that looked out from the eyes of the little man. Somewhere, in the silence of his brain, a voice kept questioning, “Mr. Dak, are you in love with Vashti? Does she laugh at you when you try to tell her? Do you wish the world was pagan because then you’d be her lord and master?”

“In the Mohammedan faith,” Mr. Dak was saying, “a woman’s hope of immortality lies in merging her life with a man’s.”

Then he set himself to criticize pedantically the breakdown of the Christian ideal of marriage.

The door-bell rang. Fluffy and Horace entered. The sparkle of laughter was in their eyes. They brought with them an atmosphere of love-making. As Horace helped her out of her sables, his hands loitered on her shoulders caressingly.

She turned to the others with the sad little smile of one who summons all the world to her protection. She looked extremely beautiful and lavish, with her daffodil-colored hair floating like a cloud above her blue, hypnotic eyes. “I’m so depressed. I do hope you’ll cheer me. Fancy having to learn a new part and to worry with rehearsals, and then to go on the road again.” She sat down on the couch, her hands tucked beneath her, her arms making handles for the vase of her body. “I wish I wasn’t an actress. I wish I were just a wife in a dear little house—a sort of nest—with a kind man to take care of me. Only——” She glanced at Horace. “Only I never met the always kind man.”

“Women never know their own minds,” said Horace. “A law ought to be passed to compel every woman who’s loved to marry.”

At supper Desire’s place was empty. Teddy turned to Vashti and whispered, “Where is she? Isn’t she coming?”

Vashti looked at him with her slow, comprehending smile. “She’s coming. But she’s thinking. I wonder what about.”

At that moment Desire entered and slipped into the vacant chair beside him. All through the meal as the atmosphere brightened, she sat silent. She seemed to be doing her best not to notice that he was there.

The talk turned on women and what men thought of them.

“Men may think what they like, but they never know us,”. Fluffy said. “Love’s a game of guess-work and deception. Half the time when a man’s blaming a woman for not having married him, he ought to be down on his knees thanking her for having spared him. She knows what she is, and she knows what he is. He doesn’t. Men invariably confuse friendship with matrimony. They can’t understand how women can enjoy their company and yet couldn’t fancy them as husbands.”

Desire woke up. “And the worst of it is that sometimes we women can’t understand ourselves.”

“Some men can.” Vashti glanced at Mr. Dak, whom she had so often praised for his understanding. Mr. Dak returned her gaze as non-committingly as a Buddhish idol. Horace leant forward across the table. The gleam of tolerant amusement was never absent from his eyes.

“You ladies are all talking nonsense, and you know it. Even little Desire over there knows it. Directly you begin to like a man you begin to think of marriage—only some of you begin to think of running away from it ‘Between men and women there is no friendship possible. Passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship’—you remember Lord Darlington’s lines. When love is trifled with, it sours into hatred. Every man who loves a woman has his moments when he hates her intensely.”

“Did you ever hate me?” Fluffy covered his hand to insure the answer she required.

“Yes. And you’ve hated me. Desire could tell just how much if she dared. You women all discuss your love-affairs. You’re fondest of a man when he’s absent. When he’s present, you never confess.”

Teddy sat quietly listening. He thought how silly these people were to talk so much and to love so little. Life was going by them; none of them had begun to live yet They were like timid bathers at the seaside, who splashed and paddled, but never really got wet. They wouldn’t learn to swim for fear of getting drowned. He wished he could take them to a house in Eden Row, where a man and woman were living bravely and accepting hard knocks as things to be expected. While he listened, he watched Desire, wondering what ghostly thoughts were wandering behind her wistful eyes.

Chairs were pushed back. They were leaving the room. Fluffy turned to meet him in the doorway. Her arm was about Desire. She hung her head, glancing searchingly from one to the other.

“We’re a pack of fools,” she whispered intensely. “Don’t you listen to us.” She took Teddy’s hand and hesitated at a loss for words. With a sudden gust of emotion she kissed him. “Little Desire, why don’t you marry him? He looks at you so lovingly and sadly.”

“Marry him!” Desire faltered. “I don’t know. But we’re very fond of each other, aren’t we, Teddy?”

It was the first time she had called him that. The babies came into her eyes; she broke from Fluffy and ran down the passage. From a safe distance she called laughingly, “I won’t have you hanging about with my beau. You’ll be kissing him again; and I won’t have you kissing him when I’m not present.”

In the room which overlooked the Hudson, Vashti was playing. For a minute Teddy had a vision of how he had first seen her with Hal; only times had changed. The man who bent across her shoulder now was Mr. Dak. It was a child’s song that she was singing, about a lady who was devoted to a poodle-dog which died, and how she fretted and fretted. The last verse leapt out of melancholy into merriment,


“But e’er three months had past

She had bought another poodle-dog.

Exactly like the last”


To Teddy the words were a philosophy of fickleness; that was precisely what she had done on losing Hal. A worrying fear came upon him as he glanced from mother to daughter: in outward appearance they were so much alike. If he were to leave Desire, would she, too, replace him?

The thought was in the air. Mr. Dak, leaning against the piano to make himself an inch taller, began to descant on the transience of affection. He had arrived at his favorite topic and was saying, “Now, among the Mohammedans——” when Horace interrupted.

“It depends on what you mean by transience. One’s got to go on living, so one goes on loving. But if you mean that one forgets—why, it’s not true.”


Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine

There fell thy shadow, Cynara! Thy breath was shed

Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;

And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,

Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion.’


“One never forgets. There’s always a Cynara. One may love twenty times, but betwixt your lips and the lips of the latest woman there’s always the memory of the first ghostly rapture. You seek Cynara to the end of life; but if you met her again, you would not find her.”

Across the window the snow drifted white as the loosened hair of Time. In the room there was no stir. Unseen people entered. Vashti shaded her face with her hand; it was easy to guess of whom she was thinking. Fluffy gazed into space, a child who finds itself alone and is frightened. Mr. Dak was inscrutable. Horace lay back, staring at the ceiling, watching the ascending smoke of his cigarette. To Teddy the room was like an empty house in which innumerable clocks ticked loudly.

He met Desire’s eyes. “We are young. We are young,” they said. “Why won’t they leave us to ourselves?”

“My God, I wish I were little. I wish I were no older than Desire. I wish I could get away from all this rottenness and wake up to-morrow in the country. Think what it’ll look like, all white and sparkling and shiny! Where’s the good of your telling me you love me, Horace, if you can’t make me good and little—if you can’t put back the hands of Time?”

Fluffy jumped up, half laughing, half crying, and threw wide the window. She leant out, so that the snow fell glistening in the gold of her hair.

“Not a sound. Listen!”

Horace rose and stood beside her. “Would you like to wake up in the country? I’ll manage it. I’d manage anything for you, little girl.”

Mr. Dak broke his silence. “I know a farm. It’s up the Hudson—seventy miles at least from here. The people are my friends.”

In a babel of excited voices it was planned. Of a sudden the triflers had become lovers confessed. They seemed to think that by the childish trick of escaping, their youth could be recaptured. While the women ran off to change and wrap up, the men completed arrangements for the journey.

When the limousine arrived it had seats for only five; cushions were strewn on the floor for Desire and Teddy. She kept far away from him till the light went out. Again it was like standing in an empty house; people’s brains were clocks which ticked solemnly, “And I was desolate and sick of an old passion.”

They two alone had nothing to remember—all the rapture of life lay ahead. In the darkness he felt her hand groping. One by one he coaxed apart the reluctant fingers and pressed the little palm against his mouth. She allowed herself to be drawn closer; he could feel the wild bird of her heart beating its wings against the walls of the flesh.

“Dearest.”

“Hush! Dear is enough,” she whispered.

Long after she was asleep he sat staring into the blackness. To-morrow—all the long to-morrows would be theirs.








CHAPTER XV—SLAVES OF FREEDOM

It was as though he were in a nest; the windows were padded with the feathers of snow that had frozen to them overnight. He felt cramped. Then he found that his arm was about a girl and that her head was against his shoulder. She roused and gazed at him drowsily. She sat up, rubbing her fists into her eyes. They stared at each other in amused surprise.

“Well, I never!” she whispered. “Wot liberties ter taik wiv a lady!”

She drew away from him in pretended haughtiness, tilting her chin into the air.

Some one yawned. “Good Lord! We must have been mad.”

Disenchantment spoke in the complaining voice. They turned. The rest of the party were awake, looking bored and fretful.

“I’m aching for some sleep,” Fluffy sighed; “I know I’m going to quarrel with some one. It was you and your wretched Cynaras did this for us, Horace. If I’m not in bed in half-an-hour, I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Why mother, where’s King?” Desire noticed the absence of Mr. Dak.

“If he’s wise, he’s walking back to New York,” Vashti said; “but I think he’s outside, directing the driver.—We certainly were mad. I am tired.”

A discontented silence settled down. Teddy wished that they all would close their eyes and leave him alone with Desire. She was like a wild thing when others were watching; beneath her stillness he could detect her agitation lest he should betray to others that he loved her.

“You’re not cross, too—are you?” he whispered. “Are you, Princess?”

She shook her head. “You made a splendid pillow.”

She gave him no encouragement, so he sank into himself. He tried to recapture his sensations of the night In his dreams he must have been conscious of her; they must have gone together on all manner of adventures. He blamed himself for having slept; if he had kept his vigil, what memories he would have had.

The car halted. The door was opened by Mr. Dak. White and soft as a swan’s breast, gleaming in the early morning sunlight, lay a rolling expanse of unruffled country. Distant against the glassy sky mountains shone imperturbably, like the humped knees of Rip Van Winkles taking their eternal rest.

Mr. Dak beamed with pride. He seemed to be claiming all the credit for the stillness and whiteness, and most especially for the low-roofed farmhouse, with its elms and barns, and its plume of blue smoke curling up hospitably into the frosted silence. He was pathetically eager to be thanked. He looked more like a maiden-aunt than ever.

As the company tumbled out, their self-ridicule was heightened by the patent unsuitability of their attire. The men in their silk-hats and evening-dress, the women in their high-heeled shoes and dainty gowns looked dishonest and shallow apart from their environment.

“Damn!” said Fluffy, giving way to temperament “I want to hide.”

Horace attempted comfort. “You’ll feel better when you’ve had breakfast.”

“I shan’t. I shan’t ever feel better. You oughtn’t to have brought me. You know I’m not responsible after midnight.”

“But you were so keen on waking in the country.”

She swept by him indignantly up the uncleared path, kilting her skirt. “Could I wake when I haven’t slept?”

In the door a young man was standing—a very stolid and sensible young man. He wore oiled boots and corduroy breeches; he was coatless; his sleeves were rolled up and, despite the cold, his shirt was unbuttoned at the neck. In an anxious manner Mr. Dak was explaining to him the situation. As the others came up he was introduced as Sam; he at once began to speak of breakfast.

“I don’t want any breakfast,” Fluffy pouted ungraciously; “all I want is a place to lie down.”

Sam eyed her rather contemptuously—the way a mastiff might have looked at Twinkles.

“The wife’s bathing the babies; but I daresay it can be managed.” He stepped back into the hall and shouted, “Mrs. Sam! Mrs. Sam!”

Mrs. Sam appeared with a child in her arms, which she had hastily wrapped in a towel. She was a wholesome, smiling, deep-breasted young woman, with a face as placid as a Madonna’s. Three beds were promised and the ladies immediately retired.

“Cross, aren’t they?” said Sam, before the last skirt had rustled petulantly up the stairs.

“Rather,” Horace assented.

“It’s to be expected,” said Mr. Dak.

“Expected! Is it?” Sam scratched his head. “Well, all I can say is if a woman doesn’t choose to be agreeable, she can go somewhere else, as far as I’m concerned.”

It was a rambling old house, paneled, many-windowed, and full of quaint furniture. The room in which breakfast was set was a converted kitchen, with shiny oak-chairs and a wide open-fireplace in which great logs blazed and crackled. It was cheerful with the strong reflected light thrown in by the newly laundered landscape. From the next room came the rumble of farm-hands talking; as the door opened for the maid to bring in dishes, the smell of baking bread and coffee entered. When the guests had seated themselves, their host became busy about serving.

“I used to be a bit wild myself,” he said. “I knew Broadway as well as any man. But it made me tired—there’s nothing in it. If you want to be really happy, take my advice: settle down and have babies.”

Mrs. Sam returned. Having dressed the fair-haired mite she was carrying, she gave it into her husband’s care. He took it on his knee and commenced spooning food into its mouth. Drawing nearer to the fire, she set about bathing her youngest. Teddy watched her as she stooped to kiss the kicking limbs, laughing and keeping up a flow of secret chatter. Neither she nor her husband apologized for this intimate display of domesticity. Sometimes he caught her quiet eyes. They made him think of his mother’s. Try as he would, he could not prevent himself from comparing her with the women upstairs. Old standards, odd glimpses of his own childhood flitted across his memory. “These people are married,” he told himself. How foolish the cynicisms of last night sounded now!

“So I ran away from towns and the women they breed; I became a farmer and married her,” Sam was saying. “I don’t reckon I did so badly.”

When the meal was ended, Mr. and Mrs. Sam excused themselves and went about their work. Mr. Dak lit a cigar; before the first ash had fallen, he was nodding.

Horace and Teddy drew up to the logs, toasting themselves and sitting near together. There was a distinct atmosphere of disappointment. They glanced at each other occasionally, saying nothing. It was an odd thing, Teddy reflected—the men whom he met at Vashti’s apartment rarely had anything to say to each other. They met distrustfully as the women’s friends. They never talked of their interests or displayed any curiosity; yet most of them were distinguished in their own line and would have been knowable, if met under other circumstances.

Horace glanced up and spoke abruptly in a lowered voice. “When I was at Baveno one summer, I ran across an old man. He had a cottage in a vineyard half a mile up the hill, overlooking Maggiore. He came every year all the way from Madrid to photograph the view from his terrace. He thought it the most beautiful view in the world, and was as jealous of letting any one else share it as if it had been a woman. He had taken thousands of pictures of it, all similar and yet all different He was always hoping to get two that were alike; but the light on snow-mountains is fickle. I suppose he was a little cracked. He had fooled away his career, and was old and hadn’t married. When he went back to Madrid, it was only to earn money so as to be able to return and to take still more photographs next year.—Can you guess why I’ve told you?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Because we’re like that—you and I. We let a woman who’s as unpossessable as a landscape, become a destructive habit with us. You’re not very old yet, but you’ll find out that there are women in the world who can never be possessed. There’s only one thing to do when you meet one—run away before she becomes a habit.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit cowardly?” Teddy objected.

“In her heart every woman wants to marry and be like—— Well, like Mrs. Sam was with those kiddies.”

“Go on believing. It’s good that you should believe it. But don’t put your belief to the test.” Horace leant forward and tapped him on the knee. “Go back to England while you can.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I think you do. Fluffy isn’t discreet over other people’s affairs. You’ve fallen in love with a dream, my boy—with an exquisite, unrealizable romance. Keep your dreams for your work; don’t try to find ’em in life—they aren’t there. Look what’s happened this morning through following a dream into the daylight. Here we sit, a pair of foolish tragedies in evening-dress, while our ideals are sleeping off their tempers upstairs.”

When Teddy frowned and didn’t answer, Horace smiled. “I know how it is. I’ve been through it. You oughtn’t to get angry; anything that I’m saying applies twice as forcibly to myself. Look here, Gurney, your affection for Desire is made up of memories of how you’ve loved her. She’s given you nothing. That isn’t right. Neither she, nor her mother, nor Fluffy know how to——”

“Desire——”

“No. Hear me out There are women who never take a holiday from themselves. They’re too timid—too selfish. They’re afraid of marrying; they distrust men. They’re afraid of having children; they worship their own bodies. They loath the disfigurement of child-bearing. All their standards are awry. They regard the sacredness of birth as defilement—think it drags them down to the level of the animals. They make love seem ugly. They’ve got a morbid streak that makes them fear everything that’s blustering and genuine. Their fear lest they should lose their liberty keeps them captives. They’re slaves of freedom, starving their souls and living for externals. Because they’re women, their nature cries out for men; but the moment they’ve dragged the soul out of a man their weak passion is satisfied. They have the morals of nuns and the lure of courtesans. They’re suffocating and unhealthy as tropic flowers.—I’ve been at it too long, but I want you to get out while you can.”

All this was spoken in the whisper of a conspirator lest Mr. Dak should be aroused. It was as though Horace had raised a mask, revealing behind his bored good-humor a face emaciated with longings. Teddy wanted to be angry—felt he ought to be angry; but he couldn’t. “I’d rather we didn’t discuss Desire,” he said coldly. “You see, my case is different from yours. I intend to marry her.”

“My dear boy, it’s not different; I was no more a trifler than you are—I intended to marry Fluffy. I gave up a good woman—a good woman who’s waiting for me now. But I’m like that old man at Baveno; the unpossessable haunts me. I’ve been infatuated so long that I can’t break myself of the habit. But you haven’t. You’re young, with a life before you. For God’s sake go back to the simple good people—the people you understand. Your mother wasn’t a Desire, I’ll warrant; if she had been, you wouldn’t be her son. A man commits a crime against his children when he willfully stoops below his mother to the girl he worships. Desire’ll never belong to you, even though you marry her. She’s not of your flesh. Her pretty, baby hands’ll tear the wings off your idealism. She won’t even know she’s doing it. You’ve made your soul the purchase-price of love, while she—she commits sacrilege against love every hour.” He gripped him by the arm. “Cut loose from her while there’s time. She doesn’t know what you’re offering.”

“Shish!” Mr. Dak was sitting up, a finger pressed against his mouth.

Some one stirred behind them. In the middle of the room Desire was standing. Her hands were clasped against her breast as though she held a bird. Through the windows the purity of the snow-covered country formed a dazzling background for her head and shoulders. The gold in the bronze of her hair glistened. She might have been posing for a realist painting of the immaculate conception. There was a misty, pained looked in the grayness of her eyes—an eloquence of yearning.

“Teddy.”

That was all. It was the second time. It meant more than if she had held out her arms to him. Her clear, lazy voice, speaking his name, seemed to mark the end of evasion. He went to her without a word. There was the heat of tears behind his eyes and a swollen feeling in his heart. The passion she had roused in him at other times sank into gentleness.

The things that Horace had been saying were true—he knew it; but if his love could reach her imagination, they would prove them false together. What was the good of love if it couldn’t do that? Probably Hal had thought to do the same for Vashti, and Horace for Fluffy—all the men who had loved in vain had promised themselves to do just that; but they hadn’t loved with sufficient obstinacy—with sufficient courage.

He helped her into her wraps. They passed out into the gold and silver landscape. It was like entering into a new faith—like leaving deceit behind. Merriness was in the air. Birds fluttered out of hedges, making the snow glitter in their exit. From farms out of sight, roosters blew shrill challenges, like trumpeters riding through a Christmas faeryland. Humping their knees against the horizon, mountains lay hushed in their eternal rest.

There was scarcely a sound save the crunch of their footsteps. At a turn, where the lane descended and the house was lost to sight, she drew closer. “You may take my arm if you like.”

He thrilled to the warmth of it. His fingers closed upon the slimness of her wrist. Their bodies came together, separated and came together with the unevenness of the treading.

She laughed softly. “It’s like a legend. It’s ever so much better than our other good times.”

“I’m glad you think that.” He pressed against her. “We’ve always talked across hotel-tables and in theatres; we’ve always been going somewhere or doing something up till now. We’ve never met only to be together. It was a little vulgar, wasn’t it, buying all our pleasures with money?”

“A little, and stupid when we had ourselves.”

They spoke in whispers; there was no one to hear what they said.

“Horace was persuading you to go away?”

“Yes.”

“Because of me? He was right. Are you going?”

“Never.”

“You ought to go. I’m—I’m glad you’re not going.”

On they went, heedless of direction. At times their lips grew silent, but their hearts twittered like birds. They did not look at each other. Strange that they should be so shy after so much boldness! When one saw some new beauty to be admired, a hugging of the arm would tell it.

They came to a wood—an enchanted place of maple and silver birch. The squirrel’s granary was full; there was no sound of life. It was a sylvan Pompeii frozen in its activities by the avalanche from the clouds. Trees stood stiffly, like arrested dancers, sheathed in their scabbards of burnished ice. Boughs hung heavy with snow blossoms. Scrub-oak and berries of winter-green wrought mosaics of red and brown on the silver flooring. Over all was the coffined stillness of death. Here and there a solitary leaf shone more scarlet, like the resurrection hope of a lamp kept burning in the hollow of a shrine. It was a forsaken temple of broken arches. Summer acolytes, with their flower-faces, no longer fidgeted on the altar-steps. The choir of birds had fled. The sun remained as priest and sole worshiper. Night and morning he raised the host to the wintry tinkling of crystal bells. Down a far vista, as they plunged deeper, their attention was held by a steady brightness—a pond which glowed like a stained-glass window. By its withered sedges they sat down.

“It’s like—-”

“Yes, isn’t it?”

“I was a little girl then. Meester Deek, was I a dear little girl?”

“The dearest in the world. Not half so dear as you are now.”

“Ah, you would say that; you’re always kind. If—if you only knew, I was much dearer then.”

He was holding her hand. Slowly he unbuttoned her glove. She watched him idly. He drew it off and raised the slender fingers to his lips.

“You always told me I had beautiful hands.”

He kissed the fingers separately and then the palm, which was delicate as a rose-leaf.

“And don’t miss the little mole on the back; mother used to say that it told her when I had been bad.”

So he kissed the little mole on the back as well. Curious that he should take so little, when his heart cried out for so much! His head was swimming. He felt nothing, saw nothing but her presence.

“I wouldn’t have let you do that once,” she whispered.

In the long silence that followed, the snow-laden trees shivered, muttering their suspense. Each time he tried to meet her eyes, she looked away as though his glance scorched her.

“My dear! My dearest!”

She did not answer.

“I love you. I’ve always loved you. I can’t live without you. You’re more to me than anything in the world.”

“Don’t say that” Her voice trembled. “It’s terrible to love people so much; you give them such power to hurt you. I might die, or I might love some one else, or——”

“But you don’t—you wouldn’t.”

His arm stole about her neck. Like a child fondling a child, he tried to coax her face towards him. He yearned, as if his soul depended on it, to rest his lips on hers. She smiled, closing her eyes in denial. As he leant out, she turned her face swiftly aside. He kissed her where the little false curl quivered.

“Oh, Meester Deek, why must you kiss me? Where’s the good of it? Can’t we be just friends?”

“All my life I’ve loved you,” he pleaded hoarsely. “Doesn’t it mean anything to you? Care for me a little—only a little, Desire. Say you do, and I’ll be content.”

“I’m not good,” she whispered humbly. “You don’t know anything about me; and yet you’ve seen what I am. My friends are all so gay; I like them to be gay. And I want to be an actress; and I live for clothes and vanities. You’d soon get sick of me if we married.—Dear Meester Deek, please let’s be as we were. I’ve tried to spare you because I don’t love you so as to marry you. I couldn’t give up my way of living even for you. I never could love you as you deserve.”

“But you do love me,” he urged. “Look at the way we’ve gone about together. I’ve never tired you, have I? If I had, you wouldn’t have wanted to see me so much. You must love me, Desire.” Then, in a voice which was scarcely above a breath, “I would ask so little if you married me.”

“You dear fellow!”

She laid her cool cheek against his, trying to give comfort for what she had done. Their bodies grew hushed, listen-ing for each other. The wood, with its snow-paved aisles and arcades of twisted turnings, became a white cathedral in, which their hearts beat as one and worshiped.

“You do love me, Princess.”

“I’m cold,” she whispered mournfully. “I’m trying to feel what I ought to be feeling, but I can’t. I’m disappointed. God left something out when He made me. If only you weren’t so fine, but—— My dear, you’re better than any man I ever met. I couldn’t be good the way you are, and I’m ashamed to be worse. Sometimes I’m almost bitter against you for your goodness. My beautiful mother.—I’m all she has. And there’s your family. I haven’t any. I’ve missed so much. Surely you under-stand?”

“Darling, I want to make it all up to you. I want to give you everything.”

“And I—I can give you nothing.” She closed her eyes tiredly. “I’m so young—so young. I don’t think I want to be married. So much may happen. If we married, everything would be ended; there’d be nothing to dream about. We’d know everything.” Her face moved against his caressingly. “But it is so sweet to be loved.”

He laughed softly. “You will marry me, Princess. You will. One day you’ll want to know everything. I’ll wait till you’re ready.”

She let him draw her to him. Her eyelids drooped. She lay in his arms pulseless. The silkiness of her hair trembled against his forehead.

“Give me your lips.” His voice was thirsty.

She did not stir.

“Just this once.”

She rested her hands on his shoulders. The moist sweet mouth shuddered as he pressed it. He clung to it; an eternity was in the moment. He was drinking her soul from the chalice of her body. Gently she pushed him from her. It was over—this ecstasy to which all his life had been a preface.

She crumpled forward, her knees drawn up, burying her face in her hands.

He was dizzy. The world swung under him.

“I’m not crying,” she panted brokenly. “I’m not glad, and I’m not sorry. No one ever kissed me like that.—Oh, please don’t touch me. I ought to send you away forever.”

He knelt beside her, conscience-stricken. It was as if he had done her a great wrong. Passion was tossed aside by compassion. As he knelt, he kissed timidly the quivering hands which hid her eyes from him.

“Forgive me, my darling. You couldn’t send me away. I shall never leave you.”

“Poor you! There’s nothing to forgive.” It was a little child talking. Making bars of her fingers, she peered out at him. “If I let you stay, will you promise not to blame me—never to think I’ve led you on when—when I don’t marry you?”

“I won’t blame you,” his voice was strained and husky, “but I’ll wait for you forever.”

“Will you? All men say that.” She shook her head wisely. “I wonder?”

She tidied her hair. It gave him a thrilling sense of possession to be allowed to watch her. When he had helped her to rise, he stooped to brush the snow from her. Suddenly he fell to his knees in a wild abandon of longing, and reverently kissed the hem of her gown.

“Meester Deek, don’t. To see you do that—it hurts.”

They walked through the wood in silence, retracing their old footsteps. At the point where it was lost to sight, they gazed back, hand-in-hand, to the sacred spot where all had happened. The snow would melt; they might come in search of the place one day—they might not find it. Would they come alone or together? Their hands gripped more closely; the present at least was theirs.

The storm of emotion which had rocked them, had left them exhausted. They had said so much without words; the eloquence of language seemed inadequate. Each thought as it rose to their lips seemed too trifling for utterance.

As they turned from the wood into the road, she began to whistle softly. He listened. Memory set the tune to words:


“So, honey, jest play in your own backyard,

Don’t mind what dem white chiles say.”


“I can’t bear it.”

She glanced at him sidelong. “Now, old dear, h’if I wants ter whistle, why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s as though you were telling me, I don’t want you.’ You sang it in the Park that night.”

“But she doesn’t want him, perhaps. There! But she does a little. Does that make him feel better? Come, let’s be sensible. You don’t recommend love by getting tragic. Take my arm and stop tickling my hand. I’m going to ask you a question.—Hasn’t there ever been another girl?”

“Never, upon my——”

“You needn’t be so fierce in denying. I didn’t ask you whether you’d killed anybody.”

“I believe you almost wish there had been another girl” She shrugged her shoulders. “My darling mother was before me—you forgot that. But I don’t mind her.”

“I think,” he said, smiling at the mysticism of the fancy, “I think I must have been loving you even then. Yes, I’m sure it was the you in her, before ever I knew you, that I was loving.”

She glanced at him tauntingly. “I’m afraid I’ve not been so economic; you’ll hate me because I haven’t. Shall I tell you about all my lovers?”

“I won’t listen.”

But she insisted. Whether it was truth or invention that she told him, he could not guess. All he knew was that, having lowered her barriers, she was carefully replacing them for her defense. Her way of doing it was to make him suspect that he was only an incident in a long procession; that all this poetry of passion, which for him had the dew on it, had been experienced by her already; that she had often watched men travel through weeks and months from trembling into boldness; that Love to her was the clown in Life’s circus and that she was proof against the greed of his mock humility.

“For God’s sake, stop!”

“Why?” Her tone was innocent of offense.

“If it’s all true, this isn’t the time to confess it.”

“Confess it! D’you think I’m ashamed, then?” She withdrew her arm. “Thank you, I can walk quite nicely by myself.”

He tried to detain her. She shook him off and ran ahead. As he followed, his eyes implored her. She did not turn. Between the white cage of hedges she whistled her warning,


“So, honey, jest play in your own backyard.”


He wondered how any one so beautiful could be so cruel. She seemed to regard herself as a shrine at which it was ordained that men should worship, while her right was to view them with neither heat nor coldness. “Slaves of freedom”—Horace’s words came back.

He caught up with her. “Why did you tell me? I didn’t mean to speak crossly.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I didn’t, really. I’m sorry. But why did you tell me?”

“Because I wanted to be honest: to let you know the kind of girl I am. And because,” her eyes flooded, “because you’re the first man who ever kissed me like that and—and I didn’t want to let you know it—and I wish I hadn’t let you kiss me now.”

She didn’t give him her lips this time. With her face averted, she lay trembling in his arms without a struggle. While his lips wandered from her hair to her cheeks, to her throat, she seemed unconscious of what he was doing. “I do like being kissed by you,” she murmured.

“You’re so fragrant, so soft, so sweet, so like a lily,” he whispered.

Her finger went up to her mouth. “Am I fragrant? That isn’t me. That’s just soap.”

She sprang from his embrace laughing; he joined her in sheer gladness that their quarrel was ended.

As they came into sight of the farmhouse she insisted that he should behave himself.

“But you’re walking further away from me,” he objected, “than you would from a stranger you’d only just met. No wonder Horace thinks you don’t care for me.”

“Well, and who said I did?” She slanted her eyes.

“Oh, well—— But before other people, I wish you wouldn’t ignore me so obviously. It makes me humiliated.”. “That’s good for you.”

Mr. Sam was splitting logs by the wood-pile. He laid down his ax and came towards them.

“You’ve missed it,” he chuckled. “We’ve had a fine old row. They’ve queer notions of enjoying themselves, your city folks.—Has anything happened! I guess it has. When Golden-Hair got through with her snooze, she came down and started things going. She wanted to know whose fault it was that she had a head-ache, and whose fault it was she’d come here, and a whole lot besides. Her beau told her straight that he’d had enough of it, and got the car out. Mr. Dak seemed frightened that it would be his turn next; he said he was going too. So they all piled in, quarreling like mad, a regular happy little party. Daresay they’re still at it.”

“But what about us?” Desire looked blank. “How do we get back?”

“No need to, unless you’re in a hurry. There’s plenty of room; we’ll be glad to have you. But if you must go, there’s a station ten miles distant; I can get the sleigh out.”

Teddy tried to persuade her to stay a day longer. The country was changing her. Who knew what a few more walks in the silver wood might accomplish? New York meant Fluffy, life jigged to rag-time, and the feverish quest for unsatisfying pleasures.

She laid her head on her shoulder and winked, like a knowing little bird. She understood perfectly what the country was doing for her.

“In these clothes,” she asked, “and borrow the hired man’s tooth-brush? And leave my dear mother alone, and Fluffy to cry her poor little eyes out? And run the risk of what people would think when we both came creeping back? I guess I’d have to marry you then, Meester Deek. No, thanks.”

So at four o’clock, as the dusk was drawing a helmet of steel over the vagueness of the country, the sleigh was brought round. There were farewells and promises to come again; the twinkling of lanterns; the jingling of harness; the babies to be kissed; the quiet eyes of the mother who had found happiness; the atmosphere of sentiment which kindly people create for half-way lovers; then the last good-by, the steady trot of the horses, and the tinkling magic of sleigh-bells. Romance!

“You like babies, Meester Deek? If ever I were married, I’d like to have a baby-girl first. They’re so cuddly and dear to dress.”

He tucked the robe round her warmly and held it against her chin to keep the cold out. His free hand was clasped in hers. Then he let go her hand and slipped his arm about her, and found her hand waiting for him on the other side.

“Better and better,” she murmured contentedly, “and it isn’t the day we’d planned. I feel so safe with you, Meester Deek—far safer than I ought to if I loved you. You won’t say I led you on, will you? You won’t ever?”

“Never,” he promised.

“That’s what the sleigh-bells seem to say. ‘Never! Never! Never!’ as though they were telling us that this is the end.”

“To me they don’t say that.” His lips were against her cheek. “To me they say, ‘Forever. Forever. Forever.’”

The moon, gazing down on them, recognized him and smiled. The stars clapped their hands. Even the mountains, which had slept all day, uncrouched their knees and sat up in bed to look at them. Farmhouse windows, across the drifted whiteness, blinked wisely, speaking of home and children, and an end of journeys. Sometimes she drowsed with the swaying motion. Sometimes when he thought her drowsing, her eyes were wide.

“What are you thinking, dearest?”

“Isn’t dear enough?”

“Not now.”

“It ought to be—— What was I thinking? I was wondering: could a girl make a man whom she liked very much believe that she loved him? Would he find her out?”

“He’d find her out But liking’s almost loving sometimes.”

“I haven’t kissed you yet. I’ve only let you kiss me. Have you noticed?”

“Yes.”

“When I kiss you, Meester Deek, without your asking, you’ll know then.”

“Kiss me now.”

She shook her head. “It would be a lie.”

Once she said, “Shall we be horrid to each other one day like Horace and Fluffy?” And, when he drew her closer for answer, “I wonder why I let you do it. It’s so hard not to let you; you kiss so gently—I guess every girl loves to be loved.”

When they came to the station he had to wake her. In the train she slept. He scarcely removed his eyes from her. Behind the window he was aware of the shadowy breadth of river, the steep mountains, and the winking, swiftly vanishing lights of towns. It was a return from faery-land, with all the pain of returning. He wasn’t sure of her yet, and he had used all his arguments. Was it always like that? Did girls always say “No” at first? He feared lest in the flare and rush of the city he might lose her. He dreaded the casualness of their telephone engagements—the way she fitted him into the gaps between her pleasures. He wanted to be first in her life—more than that: to be dearer to her than her body, than her soul itself. The permission which she gave him to love her, without hope of reciprocity, was torturing. He would not own it to himself, but at the back of his mind he knew that it was not fair.

Once more they were fleeing up Fifth Avenue; night was polluted by the glare of lamps.

“It isn’t the same,” she whispered. “It’s somehow different.”

“We’ve seen something better and got our perspective.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she laughed. “New York has its uses.”

She sat up as they swung into Columbus Circle, and seemed to forget him. She was watching the hoardings for the announcements of October, seeing whether Janice Audrey’s name had been blotted out.

Already she was slipping from him. The silver wood—had it ever existed? If it had, had they ever walked there? It seemed a dream created by his ardent fancy, too kind and generous for reality.

He leant towards her; she drew away from him. “No more pilfering.”

“Our good times are always coming to an end,” he said sadly.

She smiled at his tone of melancholy. “And beginning; don’t forget that But I do wish it were last night.”

“You do! Then, you do wish it could last forever? Dear little D., if you chose, you could make it last.”

“Not forever. If anything lasted forever it would make me tired.—Hulloa, here we are.”

He helped her to alight The pavement had been swept; there was no excuse for carrying her.

“I live here,” she reminded him as he tried to touch her hand; “so let’s behave ourselves.”

She was settling back into the old rut of reticence, thinking again more of appearances than affection; even employing her old phrases to defend herself.

They stepped from the elevator and she slipped her key into the latch. He was trying to think of one final argument by which he might persuade her.

As the door pushed open, they halted; there was a sense of evil in the air. Desire clutched his arm for protection. They listened: panting; a chair falling; silence. Then the panting recommenced.

“Mother!”

The struggle stopped.

Teddy rushed across the hall to the front-room. He tried to keep Desire back. Vashti was stretched upon the couch, white as death, breathing hard, and exhausted. Her hair had broken loose and lay spread like a shawl across her breast. Mr. Dak was standing over her, his hands clenched. His collar was crumpled and had burst at the stud. His tie was drawn tight, as though it had been used to strangle him.

Desire threw herself down beside her mother, kissing her wildly and smoothing back her hair. “Oh, what is it? What is it, dearest? Tell me.”

She leant her face against her mother’s to catch the words. Springing to her feet, she glared at Mr. Dak.

“You low beast.” Her white virago fist shot up and struck him on the mouth. “You little swine. Get out.”

In the hall, as Teddy was seeing him off the premises, Mr. Dak commenced a mumbling defense. “What did she suppose I thought she meant? I wanted to marry her, but she wouldn’t. If she didn’t mean anything, what right had she to let me spend my money trotting her round?” From the dim-lit room came the terrible sound of sobbing. Desire met him on the threshold. “She’s only frightened. She wants you to help her to bed.”

Outside the bedroom door Vashti took his face between her hands. “Thank God, there are good men in the world.” He waited for Desire. All tenderness had become a trap. She nodded to him sullenly, “Good-night.” Then, flam-ing up, “Fluffy’s right. All men are beasts, I expect.”

The bedroom door shut. He switched off the lights and let himself out.








CHAPTER XVI—THE GHOST OF HAPPINESS

To a man who has never been in love the humble passion of his heart is to be allowed to love. He conjures visions of the woman who will call out his affection; he is always looking for her, seeing a face which seems the companion of his dreams, following, turning back disappointed and setting out afresh. When he does find her, his first feeling is one of overwhelming gratitude. His one idea is to give unstintingly, expecting nothing. He robes himself in a white unselfishness.

But the moment he has been allowed to love his attitude changes. He still wants to love, but he craves equally to be loved. He is no longer content to worship solitarily; he becomes sensitive to be worshiped in return. He is anxious to compete with the woman’s generosity. If she receives and does not give, he grows infidel like a devotee whose prayers God has not answered.

The right to clasp her without repulse, which the silver wood had granted him, had brought him to this second stage in his journey—the urgent longing to be loved. Then, like a coarse cynicism, discovering in all love’s loyalties an unsuspected foulness, had come the scene which he had witnessed in her presence. It had struck the barbaric note, stripping of conventional pretenses the motives which underlie all passion. It had revealed to him the direction of impulses which he himself possessed. Mr. Dak was no worse than any other man, if only the other man were tantalized sufficiently. Vashti had starved him too much and relied too much on his awe of her. She was a lion-tamer who had grown reckless through immunity; the beast had taken her unaware. Probably Mr. Dak was as surprised as herself.

Teddy understood now what Horace had meant by calling her “a slave of freedom.” All this gayety which he had envied, which had made him wish that he was more of a Sir Launcelot and less of a King Arthur—it was nothing but the excitement of skating over the treacherous thin ice of sex.

Mr. Dak was no worse than he might be if circumstances pushed him far enough. Desire had told him as much: “All men are beasts, I expect.”

He felt hot with shame. He sympathized with her virginal anger. He, too, felt besmirched. But her words rankled; they had destroyed their common faith in each other. Never again would he be able to approach her with his old simplicity. Never again would he hear her whisper, “I feel so safe with you, Meester Deek.” How could she feel safe with him? All men were beasts. She classed him with the lowest Any moment he might be swept out of caution into touching and caressing her. They would both remember the ugliness they had witnessed; she would flinch from him, and view him with suspicion. He would suspect himself. His very gentleness would seem to follow her panther-footed.

He returned to the Brevoort, but not to sleep. As he tossed restlessly in the darkness, he could hear her words of dismissal. She spoke them sorrowfully with disillusion; she spoke them mockingly; she spoke them angrily, clenching her white virago fists. It was she who ought to have said, “Thank God, there are good men.” Her mother had said that She had said, “All men are beasts, I expect” In the saying of it, she had seemed to attribute to his courting the disarming smugness of a Mr. Dak. The silver wood with its magnanimity counted for nothing. Whatever ideals he had built up for her were shattered by this haphazard brutality.

He shifted his head on the pillow. How did she look when she was tender and little? His last memory of her had blotted out all that. Rising wearily, he switched on the light and commenced a search for the tin-type photograph. At last he found it. Her features were undiscernible—faded into blackness.

Sleep refused to come to him. He dressed and sat himself by the window. How quiet it was! Night obliterates geography. The yards at the back of the hotel were merged into a garden—a garden like the one in Eden Row. He had only to half close his eyes to image it.

Eden Row set him remembering. The disgust with life that he was now feeling, had only one parallel in his experience—that, too, was concerned with her: the shock which her father’s confession had caused him on the train-journey back from Ware. “If you’re ever tempted to do wrong, remember me. If you’re ever tempted to get love the wrong way, be strong enough to do without it” And then, “I sinned once—a long while ago. I’m still paying for it You’re paying for it One day Desire may have to pay the biggest price of any of us.”

She was paying for it now when she could see no difference between his love and Mr. Dak’s—between honor and mere passion. “All men are beasts, I expect.” That was the conclusion at which she had arrived. She was incapable of high beliefs at twenty!

He recalled what the knowledge of Hal’s sin had done for him. Perhaps it had done the same for her. It had made him see sin everywhere; marriage itself had seemed impurity—all things had been polluted until into the dusk of the studio his mother had entered. He could hear himself whispering, “Things like that make a boy frightened, mother, when—when they’re first told to him.” It was after that that he had determined to make Desire in his life what the Holy Grail had been in Sir Galahad’s.

Would the consequences of this wrong, more than twenty years old, never end? Ever since he had begun to think, it had striven to uproot his idealism. Yet once, in the little moment of selfishness, it must have been ecstatic.

He had been thinking only of himself. In a great wave of compassion his thoughts swept back to her. She had had to live in the knowledge of this sin always. For her there had been no escape from it—no people like his mother and father to set her other standards of truer living. What was his penalty as compared with hers? What was the worth of his chivalry if it broke before the first shock of her injustice? He saw her again as a little girl, inquiring what it was like to have a father. There must have been a day in her waking womanhood when the knowledge that all children are not fatherless had dawned on her. Perhaps it had been explained to her coarsely by a servant or by the cruel ostracism of school-children. He could imagine the shame and tears that had followed, and then the hardening.

If she would only allow herself to understand what it was that he was offering! He longed to take her in his arms—not the way he had; but as he would cuddle a sick child against his breast to give it comfort. His compassion for her was almost womanly; it was something that he dared not tell her. Compassion from him was the emotion which she would most resent.

It was her pride that made her so poignantly tragic—her pose of being an enviable person. There was no getting behind it except by a brutal statement of facts. The scene which they had surprised in the apartment had staged those facts with ugly vividness. Despite the gayety with which she drugged herself, she must know that her mother’s position made her fair game for the world’s Mr. Daks. Her way of speaking of her as “my beautiful mother” was an acknowledgment, and sounded like a defense.

Her fear of losing her maiden liberty, her dread of the natural responsibilities of marriage, her eagerness to believe the worst of men, her light friendships, her vague, continually postponed ambitions—they were all part of the price she was paying. Her glory in her questionable enfranchisement was the worst part of her penalty; it made what was sad seem romantic, and kept her blind to the better things in the world. She did not want to be rescued from the dangers of her position. She ignored any sacrifice that he might be making and spoke only of the curtailments that love would bring to her. In putting forward her unattempted career as an obstacle, she did not recognize that his accomplished career was in jeopardy while she dallied.

Increasingly since he had landed in New York, his financial outlook had worried him. At the time of sailing he had had seven hundred pounds in the bank; then there were the three hundred pounds per annum from his Beauty Incorporated shares. This, in addition to what he could earn, had looked like affluence by Eden Row standards. But in the last few months he had been spending recklessly. The frenzy which held him prevented work. Commissions from magazines were still uncompleted. His American and English publishers were urging him to let them have a second manuscript. He assured them they should have it, but the manuscript was scarcely commenced. The dread weighed upon him like a nightmare that he had lost his creative faculty. His intellect was paralyzed; he had only one object in living—to win her.

And when he had won her, at the rate at which he was now going, marriage might be impossible. Already he had drawn on his English savings. After accustoming her to a false scale of expenditure, he could scarcely urge retrenchment It would seem to prove all her assertions of the dullness which overtakes a woman when she has placed herself absolutely in a man’s power. At this stage there was no chance of curtailing his generosity. So long as they were both in New York the endless round of theatres, taxis and restaurants must continue. He could not confess to her how it was draining his resources. It would seem like accusing her of avarice and himself of poverty. Poverty and the loss of beauty were the two calamities which filled her heart with the wildest panic.

Like a thunderstorm that had spent itself, the clamor of argument died down. It left him with a lucid quietness. Again she lay hushed in his embrace; her lips shuddered beneath his pressure. That moment of dearness, more than any ceremony of God or man, had bound him to her. It had made him sure of subtle shades of fineness in her character which she refused to reveal to him yet His love should outlast her wilfulness. He would wait for years, but he would win her. The day would come when she would awake to her need of him. Meanwhile he would make himself a habit—what the landscape was to the old man at Baveno—adding link upon link to her chain of memories, so that in every day when she looked back, there would be some kindness to remind her of him.

A thought occurred. He would put his chances to the test. He fetched a pack of cards from his trunk and drew up to the desk. Having shuffled them, he spread them out face-downwards. If he picked a heart, he would many her within the year. When he found with a thrill of dismay that it was a spade, he changed his bargain and agreed to give himself three chances. The next two were hearts. That encouraged him. He played on for hours in the silent room—played feverishly, as though his soul depended on it He craved for certainty. When luck ran against him, he made his test more lenient till the odds were in his favor. Whatever the cards said, he refused to take no for an answer. Morning found him with the lights still burning, his shoulders crouched forward, his head pillowed on his arms.

All that day he waited to hear from her. He could not bring himself to telephone her. After what had happened, delicacy kept him from intruding. In the afternoon he sent her flowers to provide her with an excuse for calling him up. She let the excuse pass unnoticed. Her strategic faculty for silence was again asserting itself. He lived over all the events of the previous day, marking them in sequence hour by hour, finding them doubly sweet in remembrance. The longest day of his life had ended by the time he crept to bed.

Next morning he searched his mail for a letter from her. There was nothing. He was sitting in his room trying to work—it was about lunch-time—when the telephone tinkled.

“Hulloa,” a voice said which he did not recognize, “are you Mr. Gurney, the great author?—Well, something terrible’s happened; you’ve not spoken to your girl for more than twenty-four hours. It’s killing her.” A laugh followed and the voice changed to one he knew. “Don’t you think I’m very gracious, after all your punishment?—Where am I?—No, try another guess. You’re not very psychic or you’d know. I’m within—let me count—forty seconds of you. I’m here, in a booth of the Brevoort, downstairs.—Eh! What’s that?—Will I stop to lunch with you? Why, of course. That’s what I’ve come for.”

It was extraordinary how his world brightened. The ache had gone out of it Finances, work, nothing mattered. The future withdrew its threat “I’m wearing my Nell Gwynn face,” she laughed as he took her hands. Then they stood together silent, careless of strangers passing, smiling into each other’s eyes.

“You silly Meester Deek,” she whispered, “why did you keep away if you wanted me so badly?”

“Because——” and there he ended. He couldn’t speak to her of the ugliness they had seen together; she looked so girlish and innocent and fresh. It was hateful that they should share such a memory.

“I’m not proud when I’ve done wrong,” she said. Her eyes winked and twinkled beneath their lashes. “And it’s rather fun to have to ask forgiveness when you know you’ve been forgiven beforehand.”

He led her into the white room with its many mirrors. Quickly forestalling the waiter, he helped her off with her furs and jacket. She glanced up at him as he did it. “Rather mean of you to do the poor man out of that It’s about the nearest a waiter ever comes to romance.”

When he had taken his seat opposite to her, she questioned him, “Why did you act so queerly?”

“Queerly!”

“You know. After the night before last?”

He wished she would let him forget it “I thought you might not want me.”

“Want you!” She reached across the table and touched his hand. “You do think unkind thoughts. If I did say something cruel, it wasn’t meant—not in my heart I’m afraid you think I’m fickle.”

He delayed her hand as she was withdrawing it “If I did, I shouldn’t love you the way I do, Princess.”

A waiter intruded to take their order. It seemed to Teddy that ever since Long Beach, waiters had been clearing away his tenderest passages as though it were as much a part of their duties as to change the courses.

When they were left alone, she brought matters to a head. “I suppose you got that strange notion because—because of what I said. Poor King! He did make me angry, and yesterday he came to us so penitent and sorry. We had to forgive him.—You’re looking as though you thought we oughtn’t But it doesn’t do to be harsh. We all slip up sooner or later, and the day’s always coming when we’ll have to ask forgiveness ourselves.”

He stared at her in undisguised amazement Was this merely carelessness or a charity so divine that it knew no bounds?

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking,” she continued; “you’re thinking we’re lax. That’s what people thought about Jesus when he talked to the woman of Samaria. Mr. Dak’s quite a good little man, if he did make a mistake. He’s always been understanding until this happened.”

She described as a mistake something that had appealed to him as tragedy. Had her innocence prevented her from guessing the truth? Perhaps it was he who was distorting facts.

“You seem to be accusing me of self-righteousness when you speak of other people being understanding. I’m not self-righteous—really I’m not, Desire—I do wish you’d believe that. Can’t you see why I’m not so lenient as some of your friends? It’s because I’m so anxious to protect you. If people are too lenient, it’s usually because they don’t want to be criticized themselves. But when a man’s in love with a girl, he doesn’t like to see her doing things that he might encourage her to do if he didn’t respect her and if they were only out for a good time together.”

She had frowned while he was speaking. When he ended, she lifted her gray eyes. “I do understand. I think I understand much more than you’ve said. But please don’t judge me—that’s what I’m afraid of. I know I’m all wrong—wrong and stupid in so many directions.—I’ve only found out how wrong,” her voice dropped, “since I’ve known you.” He felt like weeping. He had judged her; in spite of his resolutions to let his love be blind, he had been judging her. Every time he had judged her, her intuition had warned her. And there she sat abasing herself that she might treat him with kindness.

He became passionate in her defense. “You’re not wrong. I wouldn’t have anything, not a single thing in your life altered—nothing, Desire, from—from the very first. You’re the dearest, sweetest——”

She pressed a finger to her lips and pointed to the mirror. He caught sight of his strained expression, and remembered they were in public.

While he recovered himself, she did the talking. “I’m not the dearest, sweetest anything; you don’t see straight. Some day you’ll put on your spectacles. You’ll see too much that’s bad then. That’s what Horace has done.—He sailed for England this morning.”

“What’s that? D’you mean he’s broken with——”

She nodded. “Too bad, isn’t it? She didn’t much want him to come to America, but she’s fearfully cut up now he’s left She was counting on having such good times with him at Christmas. He didn’t explain anything; he just went. And——” She made a pyramid of her hands over which she watched him. “D’you know, she owns up now that some day she might have married him.”

“But she never told him?”

Desire looked away. “A girl never tells a man that till the last moment. He got huffy because she was cross with him for taking her to the country. He didn’t know that when a woman dares to be angry with a man, it’s quite often a sign that she’s in love with him.”

“Is it?” He asked the question eagerly. Desire had been cross; this might be the key to her conduct.

She caught his meaning and smiled mysteriously. “Yes—quite often.” Then, speaking slowly, “I guess most misunderstandings happen between men and women because they’re not honest with each other.”

The tension broke. “Fancy calling you a man and me a woman,” she laughed. She bent forward across the table. “We both ought to be spanked—you most especially.”

“Why me especially?”

“A little boy like you coming to a little girl like me and pretending to speak seriously of marriage.—But let’s be honest with each other always. Do you promise?”

“I promise.”

“Then, I’ll tell you something. I think it’s splendid of you to go on loving me when you know that I’m not loving you in return.”

“And I think it’s splendid of you to let me go on loving.”

“But do I?” She eyed him mockingly. Then, with one of those sudden changes to wistfulness, “What Horace has done has made me frightened. I’m afraid—and I’m only telling you because we’ve promised to be honest—I’m so afraid that you’ll leave me, and that then I may begin to care. But you’d never be unkind like that, would you?” His hand stole out and met hers in denial. They kept on assuring each other that, whatever had befallen other people’s happiness, theirs was unassailable.

They had dawdled through lunch. When at last they rose the room was nearly empty.

“What next?”

She clapped her hands. “I know. Make this day different from all the others. Let’s pretend.”

“Pretend what?”

“You’ll see.”

On the Avenue they hailed a hansom and drove the long length of New York, through the Park to the Eighties on the West Side. Then she told him: they were to examine apartments, pretending they wanted to rent one. Wherever they saw a sign up they stopped the cabby and went in to make inquiries. Sometimes she talked Cockney. Sometimes she was a little French girl, who had to have everything that the janitor said translated to her by Teddy. She only once broke down—when the janitor, as ill-luck would have it, was a Frenchman; then they beat an ignominious retreat, laughing and covered with confusion.

It was a very jolly game to play with a girl you loved—this pretending that you were seeking a nest. It was all the jollier because she would not own that that was the underlying excitement of their pretense. As they passed from room to room, and when no one was looking, he would slip his arm about her and kiss her unwilling cheek. “Wait till we’re in the hansom,” she would whisper. “Oh, Meester Deek, you do embarrass me.”

Try as he would, he could not disguise the fact that he was in love with her. A light shone in his eyes. This seemed no game, but a natural preliminary to something that must happen. She was indignant when the custodians of the apartments took it for granted that they were an engaged couple. She ungloved her hand that they might see for themselves that the ring was lacking. “It’s for my mother,” she explained. “Yes, I like the apartment; but I can’t decide till my mother has seen it” She referred to Teddy pointedly as “My friend.” The janitors looked knowing. They smiled sentimentally and put her conduct down to extreme bashfulness.

That afternoon was a sample of many that followed. In ingenious and unacknowledged ways they were continually playing this game that they were married. Frequently it commenced with his presumption that she shared his purse, and that it was his right to give her presents. If a dress in a window caught her fancy, he would say, “How’d you like me to buy you that?”

“But you can’t. It isn’t done in the best families.”

“But I could if I were your husband.”

“If! Ah, yes!”

Then, for the fun of it, she would enter and try on the dress. Once he surprised her. She had fitted on a green tweed suit-far more girlish than anything that she usually wore-and the shop-woman was appealing to him for his approval. When Desire wasn’t looking, he nodded and paid for it in cash.

“Very pretty,” Desire said, not knowing it had been purchased, “but a little too expensive. Thank you for your trouble.”

At dinner, long after the store had closed, he told her.

“But I can’t accept things from you like that. It’s very sweet of you, but the suit’ll go back to-morrow. Even if I were willing, mother wouldn’t allow it.”

But Vashti only smiled. She was giving him his chance. It pleased her to regard them as children.

“Of course it isn’t the thing to do, but if it gives Teddy pleasure——”

So when the suit came home it was not returned. When she met him in the day time she invariably wore it He knew that her motive was to make him happy. The little tweed suit gave him an absurd sense of warmth about the heart whenever he thought of it. It was another bond between them.

“I wonder whether my fattier was at all like you—whether he was always buying things for my beautiful mother. It is strange to have a father and to know so little of him. You’re the only person, Meester Deek, I ever talk to about him. That’s a compliment. D’you think——” she hesitated, “don’t you think some day you and I might bring them together?”

It became one of the secret dreams they shared. He told her about the letter he had written to Hal and never sent.

“Don’t you ever mention me to your father and mother?”

It was an awkward question.

“You don’t Why not?”

He wasn’t sure why he didn’t He hadn’t dared to admit to himself why he didn’t. His world was out of focus. He supposed that every man’s world grew out of focus when he fell in love. But the supposition wasn’t quite satisfying; his conscience often gave him trouble.

“But why not?” she persisted. “Are you ashamed of me?”

“Ashamed of you!” he laughed desperately. “What is there to tell? If we were engaged———- But so long as we’re not, they wouldn’t understand. I’m waiting till I can tell them that.”

“I wish they knew,” she pouted. “I wish it wasn’t my fault that you were stopping in America. I wish so many things. I wouldn’t do a thing to prevent you if you wanted to sail to-morrow. You won’t ever blame me, will you?”

It always came back to that, her fear that he might accuse her of having led him on.

One day he made a discovery. He had gone to the apartment to call for her earlier than he was expected. She was out Lying on the table under some needle-work was a book which he recognized. He picked it up; it was the copy of Life Till Twenty-One which he had bought for her after the ride from Glastonbury, the receipt of which she had never acknowledged. He had invented all manner of reasons for her silence: that she was annoyed with him for having written about her; that she didn’t take him seriously as an artist. On opening it he found that not only had it been read, but carefully annotated throughout. The passages which referred most explicitly to herself were underscored. Against his more visionary flights she had set query marks. They winked at him humorously up and down the margins. They were like her voice, counseling with laughing petulance, “Now, do be sensible.”

She came in with her arms full of parcels. He held the book up triumphantly. “I’m awfully-proud. You are a queer kiddy. Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you didn’t care.”

Her parcels scattered. She grabbed the book from him. “That’s cheating.” She flushed scarlet. “Of course I care. What girl wouldn’t? But if I feel a thing deeply I don’t gush. I’m like that.”

“But you talk about Fluffy’s work; you’re always diving through crowds to see if her picture isn’t on news-stands. You tell me what your friend, Tom, is doing and—and heaps of people.”

“They’re different.”

“How?”

“If you don’t know, I can’t tel! you.”

“But I’m so proud of you, Princess. I do wish that sometimes,” he tried to take her hand—she fortressed herself behind a chair, “that sometimes you’d show that you were a little proud of me.”

“Oh, you!” She bit her finger the way she did when she suspected that he was going to try to kiss her mouth. Her eyes danced and mocked him above her hand. “Fancy poor little you wanting some one to be proud of you. Meester Deek, that does sound soft.”

“Does it?” His voice trembled. “I don’t mind how foolish I am before you. But I do wish sometimes that you’d treat me as though I wasn’t different. You’ve only called me twice by my name. You won’t dance with me, though I learnt especially for you. You won’t do all kinds of ordinary things that you’re willing to do with people who don’t count.”

All the while that he had been speaking she had smiled at him, her finger still childishly in her mouth. When he had ended, she came from behind her chair and threw herself on the couch. “I have piped unto you and ye have not danced. Is that it, Meester Deek? So now you’re weeping to see if I won’t mourn. I’m afraid I’m not the mourning sort; life’s too happy.—But I’m not nice to you. Come and sit down. I’m afraid I’m least gracious to the people I like best. Ask mother; she’ll tell you.”

Just as he was about to accept her invitation, Twinkles entered, her tail erect, and hopping on the couch, planted herself between them. She had the prim air of a dog who is the custodian of her mistress’s morals.

Desire began to toy with the silky ears. “My little chaperone knows what’s best for me, I guess.—Meester Deek doesn’t love ’oo, Twinkles. He thinks ’oo’s a very interfering little doggie.”

He did. Despite his best efforts Twinkles growled at him and refused to be friends. She was continually making his emotion ridiculous. She timed her absurdly sedate entrances for the moments when the cloud of his pent-up feelings was about to burst.

Love’s Labor Lost or Divided by a Dog.” Desire glanced, through her lashes laughingly. “You could write a play on it Twinkles and I could take the leading parts without rehearsing.”

After his discovery that she had read his book he began to try to interest her in his work—his contemplated work which was scarcely commenced while she kept him waiting. She seemed pleased when he placed his manuscripts in her lap. She loved to play the part of his severest critic, sweeping tempestuously aside all ideas that she pronounced unworthy of him.

The only side of his career in which she failed to show interest was the financial. The mere mention of money made her shrivel up. He had hoped that if he could persuade her to talk about it, he might be able to confess his straitened circumstances. He guessed the reason for her delicacy and respected it: concern on her part over his bank-account might make her look grasping. After each vain attempt to broach the subject, he would dodge back to cover as if he hadn’t meant it, and would commence to tell her hurriedly of his dreams of fame. While he did it, a comic little smile would keep tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“I don’t think you’re wasting time with me,” she said.

“I know I’m not.”

“But I meant something different. I meant that you’re learning about life; I’m making awfully good copy for you. One day, when I’m a famous actress and you’re married to some nice little woman who’s jealous of me, you’ll write a book—a most heart-rending book—that’ll make her still more jealous. It’ll be a kind of sequel to Life Till Twenty-one, I guess. All experience, however much it costs, is valuable.—You’re laughing at me. But isn’t it?”

“You wise little person.”

“Just common-sense—and not so terribly little, either,” she corrected.

Many of these conversations took place towards midnight, after he had seen her home from dinners or theatres. Usually they were carried on in whispers so as not to waken Vashti, who left her bedroom door ajar when she knew that Desire was to be late in returning. As a rule, Desire was in evening-dress; he was sensitively conscious of her mist of hair, and of the long sweet slope of her white arms and shoulders. After taking Twinkles for a final outing, he always accompanied her up to the apartment Once she had had to press him to do so; now she often pretended that she had expected him to say good-night in the public foyer.

Saying good-night was a lengthy process, packed with the day’s omitted tendernesses and made poignant by a touch of dread. After he had risen reluctantly from the couch, they would linger in the hall, lasting out the seconds. There were few words uttered. When a man has said, “I love you,” many times, there is no room for further eloquence. She would stand with her back against the wall, eyeing him luringly and a little compassionately. Presently her hand would creep up to the latch and he would seize the opportunity to slip his arm about her. Wouldn’t she appoint a place of meeting for to-morrow? She would shake her head and whisper evasively, “Phone me in the morning.”

Gazing at each other in quivering excitement, they would droop nearer together. She knew that soon he would draw her to his breast. At the first movement on his part she would turn the latch and her free hand would fly up to shield her mouth. He would attempt to coax it away with kisses.

“I’ve only kissed your lips once. And you’ve never kissed me yet. Won’t you kiss me, Desire?”

The tenacious little hand would remain obdurate. “Meester Deek, you mustn’t. The door’s open. If anybody saw us——”

If he tried to pull it away, she would call softly so that nobody could hear her, “Help, Meester Deek is kissing me.” If he went on trying, she would gradually call louder.

By degrees she would get him to the elevator; but unless she rang the bell, he preferred to descend by the stairs for the joy of seeing her leaning over the rail and raining down kisses to him. The further he descended the more willing she seemed to be accessible. If he turned to go back to her, her face would vanish and he would hear her door shutting.

These farewells embodied for him the ghostly acme of romance. They were the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet enacted on the stairway of a New York apartment-house. From such frail materials till the new day brought promise, he constructed the palace of his hopes and ecstasies. It was the ghost of happiness that he had found; happiness itself escaped him. He longed for her to love him.








CHAPTER XVII—THE TEST

Was she incapable of passion—she who could rouse it to the danger-mark in others? He suspected that he was too gentle with her; but forcefulness brought memories of Mr. Dak. Though she made herself the dearest of companions, he knew that her feeling was no more than intense liking. He had failed to stir her.

Sometimes he thought that out of cowardice she was wilfully preventing herself from loving; sometimes that she was diverting the main stream of her affection in a wrong direction. She could still court separation from him without regret Fluffy had only to raise her finger and all his plans were scattered. Fluffy raised her finger very often now that Horace had left.

He despised himself for feeling jealous of a woman; but he was jealous. Fluffy knew that she was his rival. When they were all three together, she would amuse herself with half-sincere attempts to help him in his battle: “He looks at you so nicely. Why don’t you marry him?” But she robbed him remorselessly of Desire whenever it pleased her fancy. “Oh, these men!” she would sigh, shrugging her pretty shoulders. “Don’t you know, little Desire, that it does them good to keep them guessing?”

While the days slipped by unnumbered, he tried to persuade himself that Desire’s difficulty of winning made her the more worthy of his worship. He often thought of his father’s picture, buried beneath dusty canvasses in the stable at Eden Row. It was like that. He had stumbled into a Garden Enclosed, basking in lethargy, where Love peered in through the locked gate, and all things waited and slumbered. Then came the awakening, shattering in its earnestness.

It was three days before Christmas. The weather had turned to a sparkling coldness. Tall buildings looked like Niagaras of stone, poured from the glistening blueness of the heavens. In Madison Square and Columbus Circle Christmas trees had been set up. New York had a festive atmosphere—almost an atmosphere of childhood. Schools had broken up; streets were animated with laughing faces. Mistletoe and holly were in evidence. At frequent corners a Santa Claus was standing, white-bearded and red-coated, clattering his bell. Broadway and Fifth Avenue were thronged with matinée-girls and their escorts. They sprang up like flowers, tripping along gayly, snuggling their cheeks against their furs. Stores were Aladdin’s Caves, where money could make dreams come true. The spendthrift good-nature of the crowds was infectious.

All afternoon he had been shopping with her. “Our first Christmas together,” he kept saying. He invented plan after plan for making the season memorable. “When we’re old married people,” he told her, “we’ll look back. It’ll be something to talk about.”

“Only you mustn’t talk about it before your wife,” she warned him slyly.

“Why not?”

“She won’t like it, naturally. A Joan likes to think she was her Darby’s first and only.”

He drew her arm closer into his, and peeped beneath the brim of her hat, “Well, and wasn’t she?”

“Old stupid.”

Over his cheerfulness, though he tried to dispel it, hung a mist of melancholy. He was reminded of all the Christmases which his father and mother had helped to make glad. If this was the first he had spent with Desire, it was the first he had been absent from them. They would be lonely. His gain in happiness was in proportion to their loss. He felt guilty; it came home to him at every turn that his treatment of them had not been handsome.

Suddenly she bubbled into laughter. “You do look tragic Cheer up.” Perching her chin on her clasped hands, she leant towards him, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“But there is. Is it anything that I’ve said or done? I’m quite willing to apologize. Tell me.” Her voice sank from high spirits till it nearly trembled into tears. “You promised always to be honest” Her hand stole out and caressed his fingers. “Our first Christmas together! Mee-ster Deek, you’re not going to make it sad after—after all our good times together?”

“I’m not making it sad.” He spoke harshly. His tone startled her. She stared at him, puzzled. For the first time he had failed to be long-suffering.

“Perhaps we’d better be going.”

Assuming an air of dignity, she slipped into her jacket and commenced to gather up her furs. Usually they enacted a comedy in which he hurried to her assistance and she made haste to forestall him. Instead, he beckoned for the bill.

“Perhaps we had,” he said shortly.

When the waiter had gone for the change, he began to relent. Fumbling in his breast-pocket, he pulled out the case and placed it on the table.

“I got this for you, not because it cost money, but because I thought you’d like it.”

She did not touch it. “Three days till Christmas. It isn’t time for presents yet.”

“Will you promise to accept it?”

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s a little brooch or somethings isn’t it? Let’s wait till Christmas Eve, anyway—till the day after to-morrow.”

“I want you to see it now.”

The waiter came back with the change. He picked it up without counting it, keeping his eyes on hers. She was fingering the case with increasing curiosity.

“But why now?”

“Because——-” He couldn’t explain to her.

Her face cleared and broke into graciousness. “You are funny. Well, if it means so much to you——” She examined the case first. “Tiffany’s! So that’s what you were doing when you left me—busting yourself? Shall I take just one peek at it?—Give me a smile then to show that we’re still friends—— All right—to please you.”

He twisted on his chair and gazed into the room. The moment while he waited was an agony. He was a prisoner waiting for the jury to give its verdict. All his future hung upon her words.

She gasped. “What a darling! Diamonds! Are they diamonds? They must be since they’re Tiffany’s. But it must have cost—-”

He swung round. Her glance fell. “I can’t take it.”

“You can. You’re going to. Here, let’s try it on—There!”

She fidgeted it round, watching the stones sparkle. She seemed fascinated, and wavered. Then she gathered her will-power: “No, Meester Deek. What kind of a girl d’you think I am?”

She tried to remove it; he stayed her. They sat in silence. It was very much as though they had quarreled—the queerest way to give and receive a present.

He picked up the empty case and slipped it in his pocket “I’ll carry it for you. What’ll we do next? A theatre?”

She glanced down at her green tweed suit. “Not dressy enough. Besides,” she consulted the watch on her wrist, “it’s nine.—Oh, I know; let’s visit Fluffy. We’ll catch her between the acts.”

Fluffy was leading lady in Who Killed Cock Robin? which was playing to crowded houses at The Belshazzar.

At the corner of Forty-second Street and Times Square he held her elbow gingerly to guide her through the traffic; on the further pavement he released it They walked separately. Then something happened which marked an epoch in their relations. Shyly she took his arm; previously it was he who had taken hers. She hugged it to her so that their shoulders came together. “Can’t you guess why I wanted to see Fluffy? I’m dying to show it to her.” Then, in a shamefaced little whisper: “Don’t think I’m ungrateful, Meester Deek. I never could say thanks. People—people who really like me understand.”

They came to The Belshazzar with its blazing sign, branding Janice Audrey on the night in fiery letters. There was something rather magnificent about marching in at the stage-entrance unchallenged. As they turned into the narrow passage which ran up beside the theatre, passers-by would halt to watch them, thinking they had discovered a resemblance in their faces to persons well known in stage-land. Even Teddy felt the thrill of it, though he was loth to own it, for these peeps behind the scenes cost him dearly; they invariably rekindled Desire’s ambitions to be an actress. She would talk of nothing else till midnight. The chances were that the rest of his evening would be spoilt; that was what usually happened if he allowed himself to be coaxed into the lady-peacock’s dressing-room. If the lady herself was before the footlights, he would have to hear Desire talking theatrical shop with her dresser. If she was present, he would have to sit ignored, listening to her accepting the grossest flatteries, till he seemed to himself to have become conspicuous by not joining in the chorus of adoration. In the seductive insincerity of that little nest, with its striped yellow wall-paper, its dressing-table littered with grease-paints, its frothy display of strewn attire, its perfumed atmosphere and its professional acceptance of the feminine form as a fact, he had spent many an unamiable hour.

As they passed the door-keeper, Desire smiled proudly. “We’re visiting Miss Audrey.” The man peered above his paper, recognized her and nodded. She glanced up at Teddy merrily, “Just as if we were members of the company.”

Breaking from him, she ran ahead up the stairs: “You wait here. I’ll let you know if it’s all right.”

In his mind’s eye he followed her. He imagined her flitting along the passage from which the dressing-rooms led off, on whose doors were pinned the names of their temporary occupants. He imagined the faded photographs of forgotten stars, gazing mournfully down on her youth from the walls. At the far end she would pause and tap, listening like an alert little bird for the answer. Then the door would open, and she would vanish. She was showing Fluffy her watch-bracelet now; they were vying with each other in their excited exclamations. He could picture it all.

It seemed to him that she had kept him waiting a long while—a longer time than usual. It might be only his impatience; time always hung heavy without her. Men passed—men who belonged to the management. They looked worried and evidently resented his presence. He returned their resentment, feeling that they were mistaking him for a stage Johnny.

At last he determined to wait no longer. As he climbed the stairs, he heard the muttering of voices and some one sobbing. All the doors of the dressing-rooms were open. The passage was crowded. The entire cast was there in their stage attire. Managers of various sorts were pushing their way back and forth. A newspaper man was being hustled out. Something might have happened to Desire. The disturbance was in Fluffy’s dressing-room. He elbowed his way to the front and peered breathlessly across the threshold.

Stretched on a couch was a slim boyish figure, in the costume of a Tyrolese huntsman. Her face was buried in her hands, her feet twitched one against the other and her shoulders shook with an agony of crying. The cap which she had been wearing had been tom off and hurled into a far corner. Her hair fell in a shining tide and gleamed in a golden pool upon the carpet. By the side of the couch her dresser stood, wringing her hands and imploring: “Now, Miss Audrey, this’ll never do. They’ve sent for Mr. Freelevy. You must pull yourself together. The curtain’s waiting to go up. It’ll be your call in a second.”

“Oh, go away—go away, all of you,” Fluffy wept “I don’t care what happens now. Nothing matters.”

Desire was kneeling beside her with her arms about her. She was crying too, dipping her lips into the golden hair. “Don’t, darling. You’re breaking my heart. Tell me. It may help.”

Simon Freelevy shouldered his way into the room. He was a stout, short man with a bald, shiny head. His hurry had made him perspire; he was breathing heavily.

“What’s all this?” he asked angrily. “Tantrums or what?”

Fluffy sat up. She looked pitiful as a frightened child. The penciling beneath her blue eyes made them larger than ever. She fisted her hands against her mouth to silence her sobs.

The dresser answered. “A cable was waiting for her. She read it after the first act It took her by surprise, sir. It was to tell her that Mr. Overbridge had married.”

“Sensible fellow.” Simon Freelevy took one look at Fluffy. In the quiet that had attended his entrance the roar of the impatient theatre, clamoring for the curtain to rise, could be heard. “She can’t go on,” he said brusquely. “She’s no more good to-night. Where’s her understudy?—Oh, youl Good girl—you got ready. Get back into the wings all of you.”

He drove them out like a flock of sheep, slamming the door contemptuously behind him.

Desire turned to Teddy. “Fetch a taxi. I can’t leave her to-night We’ll take her home to my apartment.”

As they drove through Columbus Circle the Christmas tree was illuminated at the entrance to the Park. The happiness which it betokened provoked another shower of tears from Fluffy. “It was cruel of him,” she wept, “cruel of him. I always, always intended—— You know I did, little Desire.”

She was like a hurt child; there was no consoling her. Her only relief seemed to be derived from repeating her wrongs monotonously. She kept appealing to Desire to confirm her assertions of the injustice that had been done her. Desire gathered her into her arms and drew her head to her shoulder. “Don’t cry, darling. He wasn’t worthy of you. There are thousands more men in the world.”

As soon as they had reached the apartment Fluffy said: “Let me go to bed. I want to cry my heart out.” In the hall as she bade Teddy good-night, she gazed forlornly from him to Desire: “You two, you’re very happy. You don’t know how happy. No one ever does until—until It ends.”

He watched them down the passage. He supposed he ought to go now. Instead, he went into the front-room and seated himself. He couldn’t tear himself away. He was hungry for Desire. He hadn’t known that she could be so tender. He yearned for some great calamity to befall him, that he might see her kneeling at his side and might feel her arms about him.

Finality was in the air. Horace’s example had startled him into facing up to facts; perhaps it had done the same for her. He felt that this was the psychologic crisis to which all his courtship had been leading. She cared for him, or she wouldn’t have accepted his present. Knowing her as he did, the very ungraciousness of her acceptance was a proof to him of how much she cared. And now this new happening I It had darted swiftly across their insecurity as the shadow of nemesis approaching. To-night her lips must give him his answer. She had said: “When I kiss you, Meester Deek, without your asking, you’ll know then.” They could drag on no longer. It wasn’t honorable to her, to himself, to his parents—it wasn’t fair to any of them. Like a stave of music her words sang in his memory, “And we’re about the right height, aren’t we?”

Twinkles wandered in; seeing that he was alone and that her services were not required, she wandered out. He got up restlessly. To kill time, he examined the little piles of books and set them in order. He picked up a boudoir-cap that she was making, pressing it to his lips because her hands had touched it. He smiled fondly; even in her usefulness she was decorative. She made boudoir-caps when buttons needed sewing on her gloves.

Whatever he did, the eyes of Tom watched him from the photograph on the piano. He had been hoping for months that she would remove it The eyes watched him in malicious silence. She had told him that Tom was a sort of brother. He had never disputed it, but he knew that no man could play the brother for long with such a girl. He wondered if Tom had found her lips more accessible, and whether she had ever kissed him in return.

It was getting late. Not quite the evening he had expected! Very few of his evenings were.

At a sound he turned. She was standing in the doorway, a wrapper clutched about her, her hair hanging long as at Glastonbury, her bare feet peeping out from bedroom slippers. She looked half-child, half-elf.

“Oh, it’s you. I thought you’d gone—been gone for hours.”

“Gone! How could I go? We didn’t say good-night.” He lowered his voice, copying her whisper. Everything seemed to listen in the quietness, especially Tom’s photograph.

He approached her. If she would be only a tenth as tender to him as she had been to Fluffy! He was quivering like a leaf. The mystic wind that blew through him was so gentle that it could only be seen, not heard. It seemed to fill the room with flutterings. She shook her head, tossing her hair clear of her shoulders. He halted. Then he seized her hands. They struggled to free themselves.

“You’re eating my heart out, Desire. I’m good for nothing. You must say yes. If you don’t love me, you at least like me. You like me immensely, don’t you? The other will come later.” His voice trembled with the need of her; it was more like crying. He tried to draw her to him; she clutched her wrap more tightly, and dodged across the threshold.

Something in him broke. “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

She closed her eyes in dreamy denial. “Never?”

“How can I tell?”

“Then let me kiss you. You’ve let me do it so often. You’ll at least do that And—and it’s so nearly Christmas.”

“You’ve kissed me so many, many times. I don’t know why I allow it.” Her voice sounded infinitely weary.

He let go her hand. His face became ashen. “This can’t go on forever.”

“Shish! You’ll wake Fluffy.” She pressed her finger to her lip. “I know. It can’t go on forever. Don’t let’s talk about it.”

He turned slowly, and picked up his coat and hat. “You and I can talk of that or nothing.”

As he approached the hall, she slipped after him into the passage. With his hand on the latch he looked back, “Then you won’t let me kiss you?”

Her expression quickened into a bewitching smile. “You silly Meester Deek!” She glanced down at her gauzy attire. “How can I? You wouldn’t have seen me this way if it hadn’t been for an accident. Besides,” with a drooping of her head, “I’m so fagged; I don’t feel like kissing to-night.”

“If you loved me,” he said vehemently, “you’d let me kiss you, anyhow. You wouldn’t mind. You’d be glad. Why, you and I, the way we’ve been together, we’re as good as married.”

“Not as bad as that,” she murmured drowsily.

He opened the door. At the last moment she ran forward, holding out her hand. “You’re angry. Poor Meester Deek! You’re splendid when you’re angry. Cheer up. There are all the to-morrows.”

He could have taken her in his arms then. He would have taken her cruelly, crushing her to him. He feared himself. He feared the quiet. He feared her, lest directly he relented, she would repulse him. She lifted her hand part way to his mouth. He arrested it; it was her lips for which he was hungry—to feel them shuddering again beneath his pressure before love died. He hurried from her.

At last he had stirred her. He had wounded her pride. Tears gushed to her eyes, deepening their grayness. She stood gazing after him, dumbly reproachful.

As he entered the Brevoort the clerk handed him a letter. He glanced at the writing; it was from his mother. He waited till he was in his room before he tore the envelope.

Aren’t you ever coming home!” [he read], “It makes us feel so old, living without you. What is it that’s keeping you? Until now I’ve not liked to suggest it. But isn’t it a girl? It can’t be the right one, Teddy, or you wouldn’t hide the news from your mother. When it’s the right one a boy comes running to tell her; he knows it’ll make her glad. But you must know it wouldn’t make me glad—so come back to where we’re so proud of you. If you cable that you’re coming, we’ll postpone our Christmas so that you can share it.”

And then, in a paragraph:

I’ve bad news to tell you. The Sheerugs have lost all their money. Madame Josephine died suddenly; Duke Nineveh has stolen everything and decamped with a chorus-girl. Beauty Incorporated is exposed and exploded. The papers say it was a swindle. This’ll affect you financially, poor old chap.”








CHAPTER XVIII—THE PRINCESS WHO DID NOT KNOW HER HEART

He sat with his mother’s letter in his hand—the same kind of letter that years ago Mrs. Sheerug must have penned to Hal. If Hal had preserved them, there must be stacks of them stowed away in the garrets at Orchid Lodge. How selfish lovers were in the price they made others pay! What dearly purchased happiness!

And he was becoming like Hal. He resented the comparison; but he was. Fame and opportunity were knocking at his door. Instead of opening to them, he sat weakly waiting for a girl who didn’t seem to care. One day fame and opportunity would go away; when they were gone, he would have lost his only chance of making the girl respond. If he became great—really great—she might appreciate him.

For the first time in his dealings with Desire strategy suggested itself. Not until Fluffy had lost Horace had she discovered that she had a heart. If he were to leave Desire—— Fear gripped him lest, while he was gone, some one else might claim her. The loneliness of what he would have to face appalled him. It was a loneliness which she would share at least in part; the habits formed from having been loved, even though she had not loved in return, might lead her into another man’s arms.

And yet, strategy or no strategy, he would have to leave New York; he couldn’t keep up the pace. The three hundred pounds per annum which had come to him from Beauty Incorporated hadn’t been much; but, while it lasted, it had seemed certain. It had been something to fall back on. It had stood between him and poverty. His nerve was shaken. What if his vein of fancy should run dry?

His habits of industry were already lost. He would have to go into retreat to re-find them—go somewhere where people believed in him; then he might retrieve his confidence. The yearning to be mothered, which the strongest men feel at times, swept over him like a tide. He wanted to hear himself called Teddy, as though his name was not absurd or disgraceful—a name to be avoided with a nickname.

If he appealed to Desire one last time, would she understand—would she be kind to him as she had been to Fluffy? He wondered—and he doubted. If he told her of the loss of the three hundred pounds his trouble would sound paltry. It might sound to her as though he were asking her to restore to him the watch-bracelet. It was in her company that he had spent so riotously; she might think that he was accusing her of having been mercenary. She had never been that; she had given him far more in happiness than the means of happiness had cost But he couldn’t conceive of being in her company and refraining from extravagance. Her personality made recklessness contagious; it acted like strong wine, diminishing both the future and the past, till the present became of total importance.

There was a phrase in his mother’s letter which brought an unreasonable warmth to his heart: “Come back to where we feel so proud of you.” It was a long while since any one had felt proud of him. But how had she guessed that? He had poured out his admiration. He had been so selfless in his adoration that he had sometimes fancied that he had been despised for it. He had almost come to believe that there was an unpleasantness in his appearance or a taint in his character which the love-blind eyes of Eden Row had failed to discover. Desire seemed most conscious of it when he stood in the light. It was only in the dusk of cabs and taxis that she almost forgot it. Sometimes she seemed morbidly aware of this defect; then she would say in a weary little voice, “I don’t feel like kissing to-night.”

Humiliation was enervating his talent. He was losing faith in his own worth—the faith so necessary to an artist. Desire said that it was “soft” of him to want her to be proud of him. Perhaps it was. But if she ought not to be proud of him, who ought?

He would have been content with much less than her pride—if only, when others were present, she had not ignored him. Her friends unconsciously imitated her example. They passed him over and chattered about trifles. Their conversations were a shallow exchange of words in which, when every nerve in his body was emotionalized, it was impossible for him to take part. He showed continually at a disadvantage. They none of them had the curiosity to inquire why he was there or who he was. He felt that behind his back they must smile at Desire’s treatment of him.

It would be good to get back to people who frankly reciprocated his pride—to artist father with his lofty ideals, who went marching through life with all his bands playing, never halting for spurious success to overtake him. It would be good to get back, and yet——

She had worked herself into his blood. She was a disease for which she herself was the only cure. Without the hope of seeing her his future would lose its sight. Up till now the short nightly partings had been agonies, which called for many kisses to dull their pain. When absent from her, he had made haste to sleep, that oblivion might bridge the gulf of separation. To have to face interminable days which would bring no promise of her girlish presence, seemed worse than death. If he returned to England, what certainty would he have that they would ever meet again?

He stung himself into shame by remembering what weakness had done for Hal. Hal would form a link between them, when every other means of communication had failed.

The wildness of his panic abated. He urged himself to be strong. If he went on as he was going now, he would bankrupt his life. To-morrow he would plead with her.

If she still procrastinated, then the only way to draw her nearer would be to go from her. The horror of parting confronted him again. He closed his eyes to shut it out. He would decide nothing to-night.

Next morning he phoned her at the usual time. She was still sleeping; he left a request that she should call him. He waited till twelve. At last he grew impatient and phoned her again. He was told that she had gone out with Fluffy, leaving word that he would hear from her later. By three o’clock he had not heard. All day he had been kept at high tension on the listen. The cavalierness of her conduct roused his indignation. Her punishment was out of all proportion to his offense, especially after the way in which she had received the watch-bracelet A month ago he would have hurried out to send her a peace-offering of flowers. To-day he hurried out on a different errand.

Jumping on a bus, he rode up Fifth Avenue and alighted at The International Sleeping Car Company. Entering swiftly, for fear his resolution should forsake him, he booked a berth on the Mauretania, sailing on Christmas Eve, the next night. He hesitated as to whether he should send his mother a cable; he determined to postpone that final step. He had booked and canceled a berth before. He tried to believe that he was no more serious now than on that occasion. He was only proving to himself and to her his supreme earnestness. ‘If she gave him any encouragement, even though she didn’t definitely promise to marry him, he would postpone his sailing.

He wandered out into the streets. Floating like gold and silver tulips on the dusk, lights had sprung up. Crowds surged by merrily; all their talk was of Christmas. The look of Christmas was in their faces. Girls hung on the arms of men. Everywhere he saw lovers: they swayed along the pavement as though they were one; they snuggled in hansoms, sitting close together; they fled by in taxis, wraithlike in the darkness, fleeting as the emotion they expressed. He knew all their secrets, all their thoughts: how men’s hands groped into muffs to squeeze slender fingers; how the fingers lay quiet, pretending they were numb; how speech became incoherent, and faces drooped together. He listened to the lisp of footsteps—all going somewhere to sorrow or happiness. How many lovers would meet in New York to-night! He felt stunned. His heart ached intolerably.

In sheer aimlessness he strolled into the Waldorf and hovered by the pillar from which he had so often watched to see her come. To see her approaching now he would give a year of his life. She would be wearing her white-fox furs and the little tweed suit he had given her. The fur rubbed off on his sleeves; it told many tales.

His resolution was weakening every minute; soon it would be impossible to leave her—even to pretend he had thought of leaving her.

He must keep his mind occupied; must go to some place which held no associations. Sauntering along Thirty-fourth Street, he passed by the Beauty Parlor where she went, as she said, “to be glorified.” He passed the shop to which he had gone with her to buy the earliest of his more personal gifts, the dozen silk stockings. Foolish recollections, full of poignancy! He crossed Broadway beneath the crashing Elevated. Gimbel’s at least would leave him unreminded; she despised any store which was not on Fifth Avenue. He had drifted through several departments, when he was startled by a voice. He turned as though he had been struck. A salesman, demonstrating a gramophone, had chosen the record of Absent for the purpose. He stood tensely, listening to the tenor wail that came from the impersonal instrument:


“Thinking I see you—thinking I see you smile.”


It was the last straw. His pride was broken. What did it matter whether she cared? The terrible reality was his need of her. He made a dash for the nearest pay-station and rang her up.

A man answered. He wasn’t Mr. Dak. “Who? Mr. Gurney? Hold the line. I’ll call her.—— Little D., here’s your latest. Hurry!”

He heard Desire’s tripping footsteps in the passage and her reproving whisper to her companion, “You had no right to do that.” Then her clear voice, thrilling him even at that distance: “Hulloa, Bright Eyes! I’ve just this minute got home. Did you get my wire?—You didn’t! But you must have. I sent it after you left last night.—Humph! That’s what comes of staying at these cheap hotels. You’d better ask the clerk at the desk.—Oh, you’re not at the Brevoort. At Gimbel’s! What are you doing there? Buying me another watch-bracelet? Never mind, tell me presently.—No, I’m not going to tell you what was in the telegram.—What’s that?”

He had asked who was with her.

“Naturally I can’t answer,” she said; “not now—later. You understand why.—Of course you can come. Hurry! I’m dying to see you. By-by.”

He had been conscious, while she was speaking, that her conversation was framed quite as much for the other man’s mystification as for his own. There had been a tantalizing remoteness in her tones. But what man had the privilege to call her “Little D.”? He remembered now that, when he had done it, an annoyed look of remembrance had crept into her eyes.

Life had become worth living again. The madness was on him to spend, to be gay, to atone. On his way uptown he went into Maillard’s to buy her a box of her favorite caramels. He stopped at Thorley’s and purchased a corsage of orchids. He was allowing her to twist him round her little finger. He confessed it. But what did anything matter? He was going to her. Life had become radiantly happy. He no longer had to eye passing lovers with envy. He was of their company and glorified.

When he had pressed the button of the apartment, he was kept waiting—kept waiting so long that he rang twice. On the other side Twinkles was barking furiously; then he heard the soft swish of approaching garments. The door opened. Through the crack he could just make out her face.

“Don’t come in till I hide,” she warned him in a whisper. “Every one’s out, except me and Twinkles. I’m halfway through dressing.” She retreated, leaving the door ajar. When she had fled across the hall into the passage, she called to him, “You may enter.”

He closed the door and listened in the discreet silence. She was in her bedroom. She had made a great secret of her little nest. She had told him about the pictures on the walls, the Japanese garden in the window, and the queer things she saw from the window when she spied across the air-shaft on her neighbors. She had a child’s genius for disguising the commonplace with glamour. Of this the name she had given him, which was known to no one but her and himself, was an example. She made every hour that he had not shared with her bristle with mysteries by sly allusions to what had happened in it Her bedroom was a forbidden spot; she deigned to describe it to him and left his imagination to do the rest. In his lover’s craving to picture her in all her environments—to be in ignorance of nothing that concerned her—he had often begged her to let him peep across the threshold. She had invariably denied him, putting on her most shocked expression.

He walked into the front-room; it was littered with presents, received and to be given, and their torn wrappings.

She heard him. “You mustn’t go in there,” she called.

“Then where am I to go?”

“Bother. I don’t know. You can stand in the passage and talk to me if you like.”

For a quarter of an hour he leant against the wall, facing her closed door. While they exchanged remarks he judged her progress by sounds. Sometimes she informed him as to their meaning. “It’s my powder-box that I’m opening now.—What you heard then was the stopper of my Mary Garden bottle.—Shan’t be long. Why don’t you smoke?”

He didn’t want to smoke, but when she asked him a second time, her question had become an imperative.

Her voice reached him muffled; by the rustling she must be slipping on her skirt. “I’m keeping you an awfully long while, Meester Deek; you’re very patient.” There was a lengthy pause. Then: “Of course it isn’t done in the best families, but we’re different and, anyhow, nobody’ll know. I’ve drawn down the shades.—If you promise to be good, you can come inside.”

She was seated at her dressing-table before the mirror, adjusting her broad-brimmed velvet hat.

“Hulloa!” She did not turn, but let her reflection do the welcoming. “I haven’t allowed many gentlemen to come in here.” She seemed to be saying it lest he should think himself too highly flattered.

He bent across her shoulder, asking permission by his silence.

“You may take a nice Christmas kiss, if that’s what you’re after. Just one.”

He brushed her cool cheek, the unresponsive cheek of an obedient child. Her arms curved up to her head like the fine handles of a fragile vase. She proceeded quietly with the pinning of her hat. His arms went about her passionately. His action was unplanned. He was on his knees beside her, clutching her to him and kissing the hands which strove to push him from her. When his lips sought hers, she turned her face aside so that he could only reach the merest corner of her mouth. So she lay for some seconds, her face averted, till her motionlessness had quelled his emotion.

She laughed, freeing herself from his embrace. “Oh, Meester Deek,” she whispered softly, “and when I wasn’t wearing any corsets! Now let me go on with the pinning of my hat.”

He filled in the awkward silence by placing the corsage of orchids in her lap. Before she thanked him, she tried them at various angles against her breast, studying their effect in the mirror. Then she whispered reproachfully:

“Aren’t you extravagant? Money does burn holes in your pocket. You ought to give it to some one to take care of for you.”

There was no free chair. The room was strewn with odds and ends of clothing as though a cyclone had blown through it He seated himself on the edge of the white bed and glanced about him. On the dressing-table in a silver frame was a photograph of Tom. On the wall, in a line above the bed, were four more of him. Vaguely he began to guess why she had made such a secret of her bedroom, and why she had let him see it at this stage in his courtship. Jealousy smoldered like a sullen spark; it sprang into a flame which tortured and consumed him.

What right had this man to watch her? Why should she wish to have him watch?

He threw contempt on his jealousy. It made him feel brutal. But it had burnt long enough to harden his resolve.

She rose and picked up her jacket. “D’you want to help me?”

He took it from her without alacrity. As he guided her arms into the sleeves, she murmured: “Why were you so naughty last night, Meester Deek? You almost made me cross, I was so upset and tired. You weren’t kind.” Then, with a flickering uplifting of her lashes, “But I’m not tired any longer.”

She waited expectant. Nothing happened. She picked up a hand-mirror, surveying the back of her neck and giving her rebellious little curl a final pat, as though bidding it be careful of its manners. In laying it down she contrived to hold the glass so as to get a glimpse of his face across her shoulder. Her expression stiffened. As if he were not there, she swept over to the door, switched off the light and left him to follow.

He found her in the front-room. She had unwrapped a pot of azaleas and was clearing a space to set it on the table.

“Tom brought me this,” she explained in a preoccupied tone. “He was waiting for me when I got back. It was Tom who answered the phone when you called me. Kind of him to remember me, wasn’t it?”

“Very kind.”

“You don’t need to agree if you don’t really think so.” She spoke petulantly, with her back toward him. “Even a plant means a lot to some people. Tom’s only an actor. He’s not a rich author to whom money means nothing.”

“And I’m not.”

“Well, you act like it.”

She had found that the bottom of the pot was wet and walked out of the room to fetch a plate before setting it on the table. While she was gone, he groped after the deep-down cause of her annoyance.

“Did you really send me a telegram?” he asked the moment she reentered.

“You’ve never caught me fibbing yet. I’ve been careful. Why d’you doubt it?”

“I thought you might have said it—well, just for something to say. Perhaps because you were embarrassed, or to make Tom jealous.”

“Embarrassed! Why embarrassed? Tom’s an old friend. I must say you have a high opinion of me. It strikes me Mrs. Theodore Gurney’s going to have a rough time.”

There was a dead silence. She pivoted slowly and captured both his hands. Dragging him to the couch, she made him sit beside her. In the sudden transition of her moods, her face had become as young and mischievous with smiles as before it had been elderly and cross.

“Well, Meester Deek, haven’t you anything to say? Don’t you like me better now?” She dived to within an inch of his face as though she were about to kiss him, and there stopped short, laughing into his eyes. When he made no response, she became tensely grave. “I can be a little cat sometimes, and yet you want to live with me all your life. I should think you’d get sick of me. I’m very honest to let you see what I really am.” She said this with a wise shake of her head and an air of self-congratulation. “But you’re a beast, too, when you’re offended.” She stooped and kissed his hand. “The first time I’ve ever done that,” she murmured, “to you or any man. Haven’t we gone far enough with our quarreling?”

“I think we have.”

“But you’ve not forgiven me?—Well, I’ll tell you, and then you’ll ask my pardon.” She moved away from him to the other end of the couch. “I’ve really been very sweet to you all the time and you haven’t known it. Last night we were both stupid; I was upset. I don’t know which of us was the worst. But after you’d gone I was sorry, and I dressed, and I went out all alone at midnight to send you a telegram so you’d know that I was sorry directly you woke in the morning. It wasn’t my fault that you didn’t get it. And then about to-day—you’re angry because I didn’t call you up. It was because I was looking after your Christmas present. And when you came here all glum and sulky I let you see my bedroom. And now I’ve kissed your hand. Isn’t that enough?”

She was turning all the tables on him. “Let’s be friends,” he said. When he slipped his arm about her, she flinched. “Mind my flowers. Don’t crush them. You must first say that you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry. Terribly sorry.”

“All right, then. But you did hurt me last night when—when you went away like that.”

“But you often let me go away like that.”

She held up a finger. “You’re starting again.”

She rose and walked over to a pile of parcels which were lying on the piano. As he watched her, the thought of Tom came back. She hadn’t explained those photographs; his pride wouldn’t permit him to ask her.

“You’re not very curious, Meester Deek. Why d’you think I kept you waiting in the passage and wouldn’t let you come in here? I was afraid you might see something. I’ll let you see it now.”

She was leaning against the piano. He went and stood beside her. She moved nearer so that her hair swept his cheek like a caress. “Do you like it?” She placed a miniature of herself done on ivory in his hand. “Better than the poor little tin-type portrait that faded!”

“For me?” he asked incredulously.

“Who else? No, listen before you thank me. I thought they’d never get it done. They’ve been weeks over it. All day I’ve been hurrying them. Now, won’t you own that you have been misunderstanding?”

“I’ve been an unjust idiot.”

“Not so bad as that. And I’m not so bad, either, if you only knew—— Now I’ll put on your bracelet Did you notice that I wasn’t wearing it?”

“Why weren’t you?”

The babies came into her eyes. “You’ve had a narrow escape. If you hadn’t been nice, I was going to have given it back to you. Let’s fetch it. You can fasten it on for me.”

From the steps of the apartment-house they hailed a hansom, and drove through the winking night to the Claremont. “‘So, honey, jest play in your own backyard,” she sang. When she found that she couldn’t intimidate him, she started on another fragment, filling in the gaps with humming when she forgot the words:


“Oh, you beautiful girl,

What a beautiful girl you are!

You’ve made my dreams come true to me——”


“Sounds as though I were praising myself, doesn’t it? Don’t come so near, Meester Deek; every time you hug me you carry away so much of my little white foxes. ‘Beware of the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the something or other.’ Didn’t some one once say that? I wish you’d beware; soon there won’t be any fur left.”

While she went to the lady’s room to see whether her appearance had suffered under his kisses, he engaged a table in a corner, overlooking the Hudson.

Towards the end of the meal, when she was finishing an ice and he was lighting a cigar, a silence fell between them. She sat back with her eyes partly closed and her body relaxed. Up to that moment she had been daringly vivacious. He had learnt to fear her high spirits and fits of niceness. They came in gusts; they always had to be paid for with periods of languor.

“What are you thinking?” he asked. “Something sad, I’ll warrant.”

“Fluffy.” She glanced across at him, appealing for his patience.

“How is she?” He tried to humor her with a display of interest

“She’s broken up. She’s been speaking to Simon Freelevy. She absolutely refuses to go on playing in New York; it’s too full of memories. So it’s all arranged; she’s going to California in the New Year with a road-company.”

He understood her depression now. If Fluffy was leaving New York, this was his chance. Somehow or other he must manage to hang on. He was glad he had not sent that cable to his mother.

“That’s hard lines on you.” He sank his voice sympathetically. “You’ll miss her awfully.”

Desire woke up and became busy with what remained of her ice. “I shan’t. She wants me to go with her. It’ll do me good.” Then coaxingly, as though she were asking his permission, “I’ve never been to California.”

The heat drained from him. He paused, giving himself time to grow steady. If he counted for so little, she shouldn’t guess his bitter disappointment. “But will you leave your mother? I should think she’ll be frightfully lonely.”

“My beautiful mother’s so unselfish.”

“But——”

“Well?”

They gazed at each other. He wondered whether she was only playing with him—whether she had only said it that he might amuse her with a storm of protests.

“You were going to ask about yourself?” she suggested. “I’ve thought all that out. You and mother can come and join us somewhere. There’s splendid riding out West. I’ve always wanted to ride. It would be fine to go flying along together if—if you were there.”

He didn’t understand this girl, who could give him ivory miniatures one minute and propose to go away for months the next—who, while she refused to become anything to him, undertook to arrange his life.

He laughed tolerantly. “I’m afraid that can’t be. I shouldn’t accomplish much by tagging after a road-company all across a continent. You don’t seem to realize that I have a living to earn.”

“That was a nasty laugh,” she pouted; “I didn’t like it one little bit.”

She played with his fingers idly, lifting them up and letting them fall, like soldiers marking time. “You manicure them now. You’ve learnt something by coming to America—— Your living!” She smiled. “It seems to come easily enough. I hear you talk about it, but I never see you working.”

Here was the opening for which he had been waiting. “You’re right. I’ve hardly done a stroke since I landed. Winning you has taken all my time.”

“Has it?” She glanced round the room dreamily, making confidences impossible by her lack of enthusiasm.

He got up. “Shall we go back to the apartment? We can talk better there.”

She lounged to her feet. “If you’ll promise not to worry me. I’ve gone through too much to-day already.”

He knew the meaning of her fatigue; once more she was barricading herself. He was doubly sure of it when he saw her open her vanity-case and produce a veil. A veil was a means of protection which, above all others, he detested. “Don’t put that thing on.”

“I must. It’ll keep the wind off. I don’t like getting chapped.”

On the drive back she sat rigid with her hand before her eyes, as though she slept. It seemed to him that he had not advanced a pace since the ride to Long Beach; the only difference was that his arm encircled her. She paid so little heed to it that he withdrew it. She gave no sign that she noticed its withdrawal. It was only when they were halting that she came to herself with a drowsy yawn. Leaning against his shoulder for a second, she peered up at him with mock regret: “And to think that my head might have been resting there all the time!”

It was plain that she didn’t want him to come up. In the foyer she held out her hand. When he did not take it, she lowered her eyes: “I’m sorry. I thought you were going.”

After the elevator had left them, she stood outside the door and carefully removed her veil. It was a frank invitation to him to kiss her and say good-by. He did neither. She drew the palms of her hands across her eyes. “I ought to go to bed.—You are a sticker. Well, if you won’t go, just for a little while.”

She produced the key from her vanity-case. He took it from her and slipped it into the latch. Only Twinkles was at home. For Twinkles she mustered the energy for a display of fun-making. Romping with the dog revived her.

“Take the nice gentleman in there,” she said, “while mistress makes herself beautiful. Mistress can’t allow the same gentleman, however pleasant, to come into her bedroom twice.”

He didn’t feel flippant. He was quivering with earnestness. While he waited among the litter of presents and paper he tried to master his emotion. He knew that if he once got to touching and kissing her, he would go out of the door with matters as undecided as when he had entered.

She drifted into the room rubbing her hands. “Been putting scent on them,” she explained, holding out to him her smooth little palms. “Don’t they smell nice?”

He didn’t kiss them. He didn’t dare. She gave him a puzzled look of inquiry; then showed him her back and became absorbed in gathering up the scattered papers. When several minutes of silence had elapsed, she turned.

“I’m not going to quarrel with you, if that’s what you want You’d have been wise to have said good-night to me downstairs. If you’ve really got something on your mind, for Heaven’s sake get it off.”

“It’s difficult and you don’t help me.”

She tossed her head impatiently. “You make me tired. It isn’t a girl’s place to help.”

Seating herself on the floor, with her legs curled about her and her ankles peeping out from under her skirt, she began to wrap up presents. “Please be nice,” she implored him in a little voice, “because I really do like you. Sit down here beside me and put your finger on the knots, so that I can tie them.”

He sat down opposite to her. That wasn’t quite what she had intended. She made a mischievous face at him.

“It isn’t a question of being nice,” he said quietly; “it’s a question of being honest. I’ve booked my berth on the Mauretania for to-morrow night.”

She gave a scarcely perceptible start. When she spoke, it was without raising her eyes. “You did that once before. You can’t play the same trick twice.”

“It isn’t a trick this time.”

She eyed him cloudily, still persuaded that it was. “Are you saying that because of what I told you about going to California? I thought you were too big and splendid to return tit for tat.”

“It isn’t tit for tat I booked this afternoon, before I knew about California.”

She gave her shoulders a shrug of annoyance. “Well, you know your business best.”

“I don’t; that’s why I’m telling you. I’m not being unkind. My business may be yours.”

At last she took him seriously. “I don’t see how it can be; you’d better explain. But first tell me: are you trying to imitate Horace? Because if you are, it won’t work.”

“I’m not.”

“Then light me a cigarette and let’s be sensible.”

Seated on the floor in the dim-lit room, with the Christmas presents strewn around, he told her. The first part was the old story of how he had dreamt about her from a child.

“You know that’s true, Princess?”

“And I’ve dreamt about you,” she nodded. “You were my faery-story.”

“Then why——”

“You tell me first.”

So he told her: told her how she had pained him in England by her silence; told her what her words “Come to America” had implied; described to her the expectations with which he had set sail; the disappointment when on landing he had found that she was absent; and then the growing heartache that had come to him while she trifled with him. He spared her nothing. “And you act as if my loving bored you,” he said; “and yet, if I take you at your word, you’re petulant May I speak about money now? I know how you hate me to talk of it—— And you won’t misunderstand?”

She gave her silent consent.

“I can’t afford to live in New York any longer. Last night there was a letter waiting for me. It told me that my only certain source of income was lost. It told me a whole lot besides; they’re lonely and promise to postpone Christmas if I’ll cable them that I’m coming.”

“Have you cabled?”

He shook his head.

“You must. Your poor little mother,” she murmured.

“You’d love my mother,” he said eagerly, “and my father, too. The moment he clapped eyes on you he’d want to paint you.”

“Would he? And after I’d taken you from him?” She screwed up her mouth in denial and crushed out the stub of her cigarette against her heel. It seemed the symbol of things ended. “You were telling me about the letter. What else?”

“That’s all. But you see, I’ve got nothing now except what I earn. And when my mind’s distracted—— It’s—— You don’t mind my saying it, do you? It’s waiting for you that’s done it. My power seems gone. If only I were sure of you and that you’d be to me always as you are now, I’d be strong to do anything.”

She had been fidgeting with her bracelet. When he had ended, she commenced to slip it off. “And it was the day that you lost everything that you were most generous. And I didn’t thank you properly, like the little pig I am. Teddy, please don’t be offended, but I’d so much rather you——”

He pressed his lips against the slim wrist that she held out. “Please don’t. It would hurt me most awfully.”

“And it makes me feel guilty to keep it,” she pouted.

They sat holding hands, gazing at each other. In the silence, without the fever of caresses, he had come nearer to her than at any previous moment. They were two children who had experimented with things they did not understand, and were a little frightened at what had happened and a little glad.

“You called me Teddy just now,” he whispered. “It’s the third time.”

She smiled at him with a flicker of her old wickedness. “I didn’t intend to. It slipped out because—because I was so unhappy.”

“But you needn’t be unhappy. Neither of us need be unhappy. Everything’s in our own hands. I’d work for you, Desire. I’d become famous for you. We’d live life splendidly. The way we’ve been living is stupid and wasteful; it doesn’t lead anywhere. If you’d marry me and come back with me——”

“To-morrow?” she questioned. “Meester Deek, you didn’t go and book two berths? You weren’t as foolish as that?”

He sought her lips. She turned her face ever so slightly, as though apologizing for a necessary unkindness! His look of disappointment brought tears to her eyes. She stroked his cheek gently in atonement.

“You weren’t as foolish as that?”

He hung his head. “No, I wasn’t: I wish I had been, and I would be if you——”

She stared beyond him, watching pictures form and dissolve before her inward eyes.

“We could sail to-morrow,” he urged her; “or wait till after Christmas. I’d wait for you for years if you’d only say that some day—— Can’t we at least be engaged?”

“Don’t wait,” she whispered.

“But I shall wait always—always. I shall never love any one but you.”

“They all say that.”

A key grated in the latch. She didn’t snatch away her hand the way she would have done formerly. She sat motionless, courting discovery. They heard Vashti’s voice, bidding some man good-night. The door shut. Glancing in on them in passing, she pretended to be unaware of what was happening. “I’m going straight to bed. You don’t mind if I don’t stay to talk with you? I’m tired.”

The quiet settled down. Desire crept closer. They had been sitting facing. “I guess you’re badly hurt. You thought that all girls wanted to get married, and to have little babies and a kind man to take care of them.” When he tried to answer her, she placed her hand upon his mouth. He held it there with his own, as though it had been a flower.

“I’m glad we got mad,” she whispered; “it’s made us real. It’s nice to be real sometimes. But I don’t know what to say to you—what to do to you. I haven’t played fair. At first I thought you were like all the rest. I know I’m responsible.”

She snuggled up to him like a weary child. “I’m at the cross-roads.—Don’t kiss me—you put me out when you do that. Just put your arms about me so that I feel safe. I—I want to tell you.”

“Then tell me, Princess.”

“I’m two persons. There’s the me that I am now, and the other me that’s horrid.”

“I love them both.”

“You don’t. The me that’s horrid is a spiteful little cat, and I may become the horrid me at any moment Meester Dèek, you’d have to marry us both. I’m not a restful person at the best. I can never say the kind things that I feel. Most of the time I ought to be whipped and shaken. I suppose if I fell really in love it might be different.”

“Then fall really in love.”

She seemed to ponder his advice. “My love’s such a feeble little trickle. Yours is so deep and wide; mine would be lost in it And yet I do like you. I speak to you the way I speak to no other man. I could go on speaking to you forever. If I’d seen as much of any other man, he’d have bored me long ago.”

“And isn’t that just saying that you do love me?”

“Perhaps.” Her head stirred against his shoulder. Then: “No. That’s only saying that you’ve not found fault with me and that you’ve let me be selfish. You need some one who’ll be to you what your mother has been to your father. I’ll hate her when you find her; but, oh, Meester Deek, there are heaps of better girls in the world. I can’t cook, can’t sew, can’t even be agreeable very often. I want to live, and make mistakes, and then experiment afresh.—Perhaps I don’t know what I want. I feel more than friendship for you, but much less than love, because if it were love, it would stop at nothing. Oh, I know, though you don’t think it. Perhaps one day, when I’m older and wiser, I’ll look back and regret to-night. But I’m not going to let you spoil your life.”

“You’d make it.”

“Spoil it.”

She released herself from him. He helped her to rise.

“I’ve at least been an education for your soul. Do say it. I haven’t done you nothing but harm, have I?”

His emotion choked him.

She came and leant her forehead against his shoulder. “Do say it. Have I?”

“You darling kiddy, you’ve been the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“I have my own little religion,” she whispered. “I shall say a prayer for you to-night.”

“Will you pray that one day you may be my wife?”

She was silent. They moved together as in a trance towards the door. He was remembering what she had said it would mean if she kissed him without his asking. He was hoping. She accompanied him to the head of the stairs. Suddenly his will-power gave way. “I’m not going. You don’t think I’m going after to-night? You’ve shown me so much that—— Desire, I can’t live without you.”

She took his face between her hands. “You must go. If you don’t, it’ll be all the same. You’ve told me things, too. I’m hindering your work. After what you’ve told me, I would refuse to see you if you stayed. Perhaps it’s only for a little while. I may marry you some day. Who knows? And I wouldn’t want your mother to hate me.”

They clung together in silence.

“We’ll write often?”

“Yes, often.”

“And to-morrow?”

“Phone me in the morning.”

He thought she had repeated the phrase from habit. “My last day,” he pleaded.

“Phone me in the morning,” she reiterated.

He had said good-by; she was waving to him across the rail. He was nearly out of sight. He turned and came bounding back.

“What is it? I can’t keep brave if you make me go through it twice.”

He caught her to him. “Give me your lips,” he panted.

She averted her face.

His arms fell from her. “I thought not,” he whispered brokenly.

He had begun to descend. At the last moment she stooped. Her lips fluttered against his own; they neither kissed nor returned his pressure. She fled from him trembling across the threshold. The door shut with a bang. He waited to see her come stealing out. He was left alone with her memory.

On returning to the Brevoort he inquired for her telegram. At first he was told that none had arrived. He insisted. After a search it was discovered tucked away in the wrong pigeon-hole. Paying no heed to the clerk’s apologies, he slit the envelope and read:


“Forgive me. I’m sorry. Desire”


If only he had received it earlier! If only it had been brought to his bedside in the morning, what a difference it would have made! She would never have known that he had thought of going. She would have heard nothing about her hindering his work. She would have been ignorant of his money embarrassments. He couldn’t unsay anything now. It was as though a force, stronger than himself, had conspired to drive him to this crisis. He saw her in his mind’s eye, slipping out at midnight to send him that message. His tenderness magnified her kindness and clothed her with pathos. The unkindness of the thoughts he had had of her that day rose up like conscience to reproach him. From the first he had misjudged her. He had always misjudged her. He forgot all her omissions, remembering only her periods of graciousness.

He didn’t send the cable to his mother. He went upstairs and commenced packing. It was only a precaution, he told himself; he wasn’t really going. To-morrow they would cease to be serious and would laugh about to-night.

When to-morrow came, he phoned her. Vashti answered. “She didn’t sleep here, Teddy. She left half-an-hour after you left; she made me promise not to tell you where she was going.—She was crying. She said she was sure you hated her or that you would hate her one day.—What’s that? No. I think you’re doing right I should advise you to sail. It’ll do her good to miss you.—Yes, if she comes in, I’ll tell her.”

When he had seen his boxes put on the express-wagon, it began to dawn on him that he was doing things for the last time. He still told himself that he wasn’t going. He still procrastinated over sending the cable. Yet he proceeded mechanically with preparations for departure. He saw his publisher. He interviewed magazine-editors. He promised to execute work in the near future. He lunched at the Astor by himself, at a table across which he had often faced her. The waiter showed concern at seeing him alone and made discreet inquiries after “Madame.” Wherever he turned he saw girls with young men. The orchestra played rag-time tunes that they had hummed together. Every sight and sound was a reminder. The gayety burlesqued his unhappiness.

After lunch he had an inspiration: of course she was at Fluffy’s. He felt certain that he had only to talk with her to put matters right.

Fluffy was out. It was her maid’s voice that answered; she professed to know nothing of the movements of Miss Jodrell.

Night gathered—the night before Christmas with its intangible atmosphere of legendary excitements. All the world over stockings were being hung at the ends of beds and children were listening for Santa Claus’s reindeers. Cafés and restaurants were thronged with men and women in evening-dress. Taxis purred up before flashing doorways and girls stepped out daintily. Orchestras were crashing out syncopated music. In cleared spaces, between tables, dancers glided. If he hadn’t been so wise, he might have been one of them.

Slowly, like pirouetting faeries, snowflakes drifted gleaming down the dusk. It was the first snow since that memorable flight to the country.

The pain of his loneliness was more than he could bear. There was no use in telephoning. Perhaps she had been at home all the time and had given orders that people should say she was out. Quite likely! But why? Why should she avoid him? She seemed to have been so near to loving him last night. What had she meant by telling her mother that he hated her or would hate her one day? He had said and done nothing that would hint at that The idea that he should ever hate her was absurd. Perhaps the “horrid me” had got the upper-hand—that would account for it.

Eight o’clock! Four more hours! At midnight the ship sailed.

He hurried to the apartment in Riverside Drive. The elevator-boys told him that the ladies were out. He refused to believe them and insisted on being taken up. He knocked at the door and pressed the button. Dead silence. Even Twinkles didn’t answer.

He was seized with panic. They might have gone to the Brevoort, expecting to say good-by to him there. He rushed back.. No one had inquired for him. The laughter of merry-makers in the white-mirrored dining-room was a mockery. He hid himself in his room upstairs—his room which would be a stranger’s to-morrow.

Nine! Ten! He sat with his head between his hands. He kept counting from one to a hundred, encouraging himself that the telephone would tinkle before he had completed the century. It did once—a wrong number. He attempted to get on to both the apartment and Fluffy’s a score of times. “They’re out—out—out.” The answer came back with maddening regularity. The telephone operators recognized his anxious voice; they cut him off, as though he were a troublesome child, before he had completed his question.

He grew ashamed. At last he grew angry. It wasn’t decent of Desire. He had given her no excuse for the way she was acting.

He pulled out his watch. Nearly eleven! Slipping into his coat and picking up his bag, he glanced round the room for the last time. What interminable hours he had wasted there—waiting for her, finding explanations for her, cutting cards to discover by necromancy whether she would marry him! With a sigh that was almost of relief, he opened the door and switched off the light.

While his bill was being receipted at the desk, he wrote out a cable to his mother:


Sailing Christmas Eve. Mauretania


It would reach them as they were sitting down to breakfast to-morrow—a kind of Christmas present.

At last he had made the step final. He wondered how far he had paralleled Hal. The comparison should end at this point; he had better things to do than to mope away his life.

On arriving at the dock he inquired for letters. He was informed that he would find them on board at the Purser’s office. A long queue of people was drawn up. He took his place impatiently at the end. He told himself that this episode was ended; that from first to last his share had been undignified. Doubtless he would marry her some day; but until she was ready, he would not think about her. He thought of nothing else. Each time the line moved up his heart gave a thump. There might be one from her. He became sure there was one from her. A man named Godfrey, two places ahead, was being served. As the G’s were sorted, he watched sharply; he made certain he had seen a letter in her hand.

At last it was his turn.

“You have a letter for me. Theodore Gurney.”

A minute’s silence.

“Nothing, sir.”

“But are you sure? I thought I saw one.”

“I’ll look again if you like.—Nothing.”

He staggered as he walked away. His face was set and white. An old lady touched him gently. “Is the news so bad?”

He shook off her kindness and laughed throatily. “News I No, it’s nothing.”

He felt ill and unmanned. Tears tingled behind his eyes. He refused to shed them. They seemed to scald his brain. He didn’t care whether he lived or died. He’d given so much; he’d planned such kindness; he’d dreamed with such persistent courage. The thanks he had received was “Nothing.”

He found his way out on deck and leant across the rail. A gang-plank had been lowered to his right. Passengers came swarming up it, laughing with their friends—diners from Broadway who were speeding the parting guest. Some of them seemed to be dancing; the rhythm of the rag-time was in their steps. For the most part they were in evening-dress. The opera-cloaks and wraps of women flew back, exposing their throats and breasts. He twisted his mouth into a bitter smile. They employed their breasts for ornament, not for motherhood. They were all alike.

He had lost count of time while standing there. His eyes brooded sullenly through the drifting snow on the sullen water and the broken lights. Shouted warnings that the ship was about to sail were growing rare. The tardiest of the visitors were being hurried down the gang-plank. Sailors stood ready to cast away and put up the rail.

There was a commotion. Hazily he became aware of it A girl had become hysterical. She seemed alone; which was odd, for she was in evening-dress. She was explaining, almost crying, and wringing her hands. She was doing her best to force her way on deck; a steward and a man in uniform were turning her back.

Suddenly he realized. He was fighting towards her through the crowd. He had his hand on the steward’s shoulder. “Damn you. Don’t touch her.”

The ship’s eyes were on them. His arms went about her.

“I couldn’t stop away,” she whispered. “I had to come at the last moment. I was almost too late. I’ve been a little beast all day. I want to hear you say you forgive me, Teddy.”

He was thinking quickly.

“You’ve come by yourself?”

“I slipped away from a party. Nobody knows.”

“You can’t go back alone. I’ll come with you. I’m not sailing.”

She laughed breathlessly. “But your luggage!”

“Hang my luggage.”

She took his face between her hands as though no one was watching. “Meester Deek, I shouldn’t have come if I’d thought it would make you a coward.”

“A coward, but———”

She rested her cheek against his face. “Your mother’s expecting you. And—and we’ll meet so very soon.”

“Give me something,” he implored her; “something for remembrance.”

She looked down at herself. What could she give him? “Your little curl.”

“But it’s false.”

“But it’s dear,” he murmured.

An officer touched him. He glanced across his shoulder and nodded. This, then, was the end.

He drew her closer. “I can’t tell you. I never have told you. In all these months I’ve told you nothing.—I love you. I love you.—Your lips just once, Princess.”

Her obedient mouth lay against his own. Her lips were motionless. She slipped from him.

Waving and waving, he watched her from the deck. Now he lost her; again he saw her where raised screens in the sheds made golden port-holes. She raced along the dock, as with bands playing the Christmas ship stole out. Now that it was too late, she hoarded every moment. Beneath a lamp, leaning out through the drift of snowflakes, she fluttered a scarf that she had torn from her throat It was the last glimpse he had of her. A Goddess of Liberty she seemed to him; a slave of freedom, Horace would have said.








CHAPTER XIX—AN OLD PASSION

He was like a man from the tropics suddenly transplanted to an Arctic climate. He was chilled to the soul; the coldness brought him misery, but no reaction. His vigor had been undermined by the uncertainties and ardors which he had endured. Building a fire out of his memories, he shivered and crouched before it.

Hour by hour in the silence of his brain he relived the old pulsating languors. He had no courage to look ahead to any brightness in the future. The taste of the present was as ashes in his mouth. He felt old, disillusioned, exhausted. The grayness of the plunging wintry sea was the reflection of his soul’s gray loneliness.

He had spent so long in listening and waiting that listening and waiting had become a habit. He would hear the telephone tinkle soon. His heart would fly up like a bird into his throat. Her voice would steal to him across the distance: “Meester Deek, hulloa! What are we going to do this morning?” He often heard it in imagination. He could not bear to believe that at last his leisure was his own—that suspense was at once and forever ended.

Among the passengers he was a romantic figure. Stories went the rounds about him. It was said that the girl who had delayed the sailing was an actress—no, an heiress—no, one of the most beautiful of the season’s débutantes. Men’s eyes followed him with envy. Women tried to coax him into a confession—especially the old lady who had met him coming white-faced from the Purser’s office. He was regarded as a triumphant lover; he alone knew that he was an impostor.

His grip on reality had loosened. There were times when he believed she had never existed. He was a child who had slept in a ring of the faeries. He had seen the little people steal out from brakes and hedges. All night In their spider-web and glow-worm raiment they had danced about him, caressing him with their velvet arms. The dawn had come; he sat up rubbing his eyes, to find himself forsaken. He would wake up in Eden Row presently to discover that all his ecstasies had been imagined.

The little false curl was a proof to the contrary. He carried it near his heart. It was the Nell Gwynn part of her—a piece of concrete personality. It still seemed to mock his seriousness.

He had left so many things unsaid; in all those months he had told her nothing. He argued his way over the old ground, blaming himself and making excuses for her. If only he had acted thus and so, then she would have responded accordingly. He was almost persuaded that he had been unkind to her. And there was so much—so much more than he had imagined, from which he ought to save her. If she played with other men as she had played with him, she would be in constant danger. She seemed to regard men as puppies who could be sent to heel by a frown. Mr. Dak had taught her nothing. She skirted the edge of precipices when strong winds were blowing. She would do it once too often; the day was always coming. It might come to-morrow.

He missed her horribly—all her tricks of affection and petulance. He had so much to remember: her casual way of singing in the midst of his talking; the way she covered her mouth with her hand, laughing over it, that she might provoke him into coaxing apart her fingers that he might reach her lips through them; the waving down the stairs at the hour of parting—every memory flared into importance now that she had vanished. Most of all, he missed the name she had called him. Meester Deek I What a fool he had been to be so impatient because she would not employ the name by which any one could call him!

No, he hadn’t realized her value. Their separation was his doing. He might have been with her now, if only——

And back there at the end of the lengthening wake, did Broadway still flash and glitter, a Vanity Fair over which sky-signs wove ghostly and monstrous sorceries?

At night he paced the deck, staring into the unrelieved blackness. With whom was she now? Was she thinking of him? Was she thinking of him with kindness, or had the “horrid me” again taken possession? Perhaps she was with Fluffy. “Oh, these men!” Fluffy would say contemptuously. She was with some one—he knew that; it was impossible to think of her as sitting alone. She wouldn’t allow herself to be sad; she was somewhere where there was feverish gayety, lights and the seduction of music. But with whom?

He saw again her little white bedroom which had been such a secret. On the dressing-table, where it could watch her night and morning at her mirror, was the silver-framed photograph. (She had never asked him for his portrait) In a line on the wall, looking down on her as she lay curled up in bed, were four more photographs. His jealousy became maddening. His old suspicions crept back to haunt him. Who was this Tom? What claims had he on her? Was Tom her permanent lover, and he the man with whom she had trifled for relaxation—was that it? Even in the moment of parting, after she had shown herself capable of abandon, her lips had been motionless beneath his passion. To her he had offered himself soul and body; at intervals she had been sorry for him.

His one consolation was in writing to her—that made her seem nearer. He poured out his heart hour after hour, in unconsidered, fiery phrases. The journal which he kept for her on the voyage was less a journal of contemporary doings than of rememberings. It was a history of all their intercourse, stretching back from the scarf fluttered on the dock to the far-off, cloistral days of childhood. He believed that in the writing of it he became telepathic; messages seemed to reach him from her. He heard her speaking so distinctly that at times he would drop his pen and glance across his shoulder: “Meester Deek! Meester Deek!” He noted down the hours when the phenomenon occurred, begging her to tell him whether at these hours she had been thinking of him. Like a refrain, to which the music was forever returning, “I shall wait for you always—always,” he wrote.

“And we’ll meet so very soon,” she had said at parting. What had she meant? He had had no time to ask her. Had she meant that she would follow him—that she had at last reached the point at which she could not do without him? That she wasn’t going to California? That her foolish and excessive friendship for Fluffy had ceased to be of supreme importance? “And we shall meet so soon.” He built his hopes on that promise.

In the moments just before sleeping he was almost physically conscious of her. When lights along passageways of the ship had been lowered and feet no longer clattered on the decks, when only the thud of the engines sounded, the swish of waters and the sigh of sleepers, then he believed she approached him. He prayed Matthew Arnold’s prayer, and it seemed to him that it was answered:


“Come to me in my dreams and then

By day I shall be well again!

For then the night will more than pay

The hopeless longing of the day.”


They say love is blind; it would be truer to say love is lenient. He had intervals of calmness when he appreciated to the full the wisdom of what he was doing. He recognized her faults; he recognized them with tenderness as the imperfections which sprang from her environment. If he could take her out of her hot-house, her limp attitudes towards life would straighten and her sanity would grow fresh. The trouble was that she preferred her hothouse and the orchid-people by whom she was surrounded; she had never known the blowy gardens of the world, which lie honest beneath the rain and stars. She pitied them for their blustering robustness. She pitied him for the distinctions he made between right and wrong. They impressed her as barbarous. Once, when she had told him that she was cold by temperament, he had answered, “You save yourself for the great occasions.” He was surer of that than ever; he was only afraid that the great occasion might not prove to be himself. There lay the hazard of his experiment in leaving her.

He dared not count on her final act of remorse. She was theatrical by temperament. To arrive at the last moment when a ship was sailing had afforded her a fine stage-setting. Her conduct might have meant everything; it might have meant no more than a girl’s display of emotionalism.

He began to understand her. It was like her to become desperate to inveigle him back just when he had resigned himself to forget her. In the past he had grown afraid to set store by her graciousness or to plan any kindness for her. To allow her to feel her power over him seemed to blunt her interest. It was always after he had shown her coldness that she had shown him most affection. Directly he submitted to her fascination, she affected to become indifferent. It was a trick that could be played too often. If this see-saw game was too long continued, one of them would out-weary the other’s patience. If only he had been sure that she was missing him, his mind would have been comparatively at rest.

He disembarked at Fishguard an hour after midnight The December air was raw and damp. His first action on landing was to dispatch his journal-letter to her. As he drowsed in the cold, ill-lighted carriage it was of her that he thought Now that the voyage was ended, the ocean that lay between them seemed impassable as the gulf that is fixed between hell and heaven. She had seen the steamer—she had been a topic of conversation on board; but everything that he saw now, and would see from now on, was unfamiliar to her.

The entrance into London did nothing to cheer him. He had flying glimpses of stagnant gardens, windows like empty sockets plugged with fog, forlorn streets like gutters down which the scavenger dawn wandered between flapping lamps. London looked mean; even in its emptiness, it looked overcrowded. He missed the boastful tallness of New York. Before the train had halted his nostrils were full of the stale stench of cab-ranks and the sulphurous pollutions of engines. Milk-cans made a cemetery of the station; porters looked melancholy as mourners. His gorge rose against the folly of his return.

He had stepped out and was giving instructions about his luggage, when he heard his name called tremblingly. As he turned, he was swept into a whirlwind of embraces. His father stood by, preserving his dignity, giving all the world to understand that a father can disguise his emotions under all circumstances.

“But how did you get here?” Teddy asked. “It’s so shockingly early.”

“Been here most of the night,” his mother told him, between tears and laughter. “You didn’t think we were going to let you arrive unmet? And we didn’t keep Christmas. When we got your cable, we put all our presents away and waited for you.”

How was it that he had so far forgotten what their love had meant? He compared this arrival with his unwelcomed arrival in New York. A flush of warmth spread from his heart They had stayed awake all night on the wintry station that he might not be disappointed.

On the drive back in the cab, all through breakfast and as they sat before the fire through the lazy morning, they gossiped of the things of secondary importance—his work, the Sheerugs, his impressions of America. Of the girl in America they did not talk. His mother’s eyes asked questions, which his eyes avoided. His father, man-like, showed no curiosity. He sat comfortably puffing away at his pipe, feeling in his velvet-coat for matches, and combing his fingers through his shaggy hair, just as if he had no suspicions that anything divisive had happened. It was only when an inquisitive silence had fallen that he showed his sympathy, chasing up a new topic to divert their interest. Desire was not mentioned that day, nor the next; even when her letters began to arrive, Teddy’s reticence was respected. For that he was infinitely thankful. The ordeal of explaining and accepting pity would have been more than he could have borne. Pity for himself would have meant condemnation of her conduct. In the raw state of his heart, neither would have been welcome.

During the afternoon of the first day of his home-coming he visited Orchid Lodge. He was drawn there by the spectres of Desire’s past. Harriet admitted him. What a transformation! All the irksome glory was gone. Carriages no longer waited against the pavement. It was no longer necessary to strive to appear as if you really had “a nincome.”

Tiptoeing across the hall, he peeped into the parlor with its long French-windows. It was seated on the steps outside in the garden that he had listened to Alonzo convincing Mrs. Sheerug of his new-found wealth. It was a different Alonzo that he saw now—an Alonzo who carried him back to his childhood. Facing Mr. Ooze across the table, he was dealing out a pack of cards. He was in his shirtsleeves; Mr. Ooze wore a bowler hat at a perilous angle on the back of his bald head. Both were too intent on the game to notice that the door had opened.

“What d’you bet?” Mr. Sheerug was asking.

“Ten thousand,” Mr. Ooze answered.

“I’ll see you and raise you ten thousand. What’ve you got?”

Teddy closed the door gently and stole away. Was he really grown up? Had time actually moved forward? The thin and the fat man sat there, as in the days when he had supposed they were murderers, still winning and losing fabulous fortunes in the unconquered land of their imaginations.

Upstairs, in the spare-room, he found Mrs. Sheerug. With a bag of vivid-colored wools beside her, she was busy on a new tapestry. She rose like a little old hen from its nest at the sound of his entrance. Her arms flew up to greet him.

“You’ve come back.”

“I’ve come back.”

That was all. Whatever she had guessed, she asked no questions. Had they all agreed to a kindly conspiracy of silence?

As he sat at her feet, watching her work, she told him philosophically of the loss of their money. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. I wouldn’t be so terribly sorry if it hadn’t given Alonzo sciatica of the back.”

“Do you get sciatica in the back?” he asked.

She peered at him over her spectacles. “Most people don’t, but that’s where he’s got it. He never does any work.—Oh, dear, if he’d only take my lemon cure! I’m sure he’d be better. I don’t think he wants to be better. He can sit about the house all day while he’s got it. Poor man, it doesn’t hurt him very badly.”

It soon became evident to Teddy that she wasn’t so cut up as might have been expected now that her wealth was gone. Straitened means gave her permission to muddle. “Those coachmen and men-servants,” she told him, “they worried me, my dear. Their morals were very lax.”

When he tried to find out what had really occurred to cause the collapse of her affluence, she shook her head. “Shady tricks, my dear—very shady. Unkind things were said.”

More than that he could not learn; she did not wish to pursue the subject further.

Little by little the old routine came back, and with it his ancient dread that nothing would ever happen. Every morning, the moment breakfast was ended, he climbed the many stairs to his room to work. From his window he could see his father in the studio, and the pigeons springing up like dreams from the garden and growing small above the battlements of house-tops. If he watched long enough, he might see Mr. Yaflfon come out on his steps, like an old tortoise that had wakened too early, thrusting its bewildered head out of its shell.

He wanted to work; he wanted to do something splendid. He longed more than he had ever longed before to make himself famous—famous that she might share his glory. At first his thoughts were slow in coming. Day and night, between himself and his imaginings she intruded, passing and re-passing. He saw her in all her attitudes and moods, wistful, friendly, and brooding. He could not escape her. Even his father and mother filled him with envy when he watched them; he and Desire should have been as they were, if things had turned out happily. Hal rose up as a warning of the man he might become.

Since he could think of nothing else, he determined to make her his story. Gradually his purpose cleared and concentrated; his book should be a statement of what she meant to him—an idealized commentary from his point of view on what had happened. He would call it The Book of Revelation. It should be a sequel to Life Till Twenty-One. His first book had been the account of love’s dreaming; this should be his record of its realization. After the idea had fastened on him, he rarely stirred out He wrote enfevered. If his lips had failed to tell her, she should at last know what she meant to him. As he wrote, he lost all consciousness of the public; his book was addressed to her.

Although he seemed to have lost her, he was perpetually recovering her. He re-found her in other men’s writings, in Keats’s love-letters to Fanny Brawne and particularly In Maud.


“O that ’twere possible

After long grief and pain

To find the arms of my true love

Round me once again.”


He had never felt her arms about him, but such lines seemed the haunting echo of his own yearning. They gave tongue to the emotions which the dull ache of his heart had made voiceless.

He recovered her in the dusty portrait of Vashti, which had lain in disgrace in the stable for so many years. Vashti’s youthful figure, listening in the Garden Enclosed, was very like Desire’s; the lips, which his boyish kiss had blurred, prophesied kindness. He brought it out from its place of hiding and hung it on the wall above his desk.

He recovered her most poignantly in small ways: in the stubs of theatre-tickets for performances they had attended. When unpacking one of his trunks, he found some white hairs clinging to the sleeve of one of his coats. They set him dreaming of the pale, reluctant hands that had snuggled in the warmth of the white-fox muff.

But he recovered her most effectually a week after his home-coming, when her letters began to arrive. Not that they were satisfactory letters; if they had been, they would not have been like her. Her sins as a correspondent were the same as her sins of conduct: they consisted of things omitted. Where she might have said something comforting, she filled up the sentence with dots and dashes. He begged her to confess that she was missing him. She escaped him. She let all his questions go unanswered. There was a come-and-find-me laughter in her way of writing. She would tell him just enough to make him anxious—no more. She had been to this play; she had danced at that supper; last Sunday she had automobiled with a jolly party out into the country. Of whom the jolly party had consisted she left him in ignorance.

Strange letters these to receive in the old-fashioned quiet of Eden Row, where days passed orderly and marshaled by duties! They came fluttering to him beneath the gray London skies, like tropic birds which had lost their direction. He would sit picturing her in an Eden Row setting, telling himself stories of the wild combinations of circumstances that might bring her tripping to him!

He was homesick for the faeries. He felt dull in remembering her intenser modes of living—modes of living which in his heart he distrusted. They could not last. There lay his hope. When they failed, she might turn to him for security. He excused her carelessness. Why, because he was sad, should she not be glad-hearted? For such leniency he received an occasional reward, as when she wrote him, “I do wish I could hear your nice English voice. I met a lady the other day who asked me, ‘Is there any chance of your marrying Theodore Gurney? If you don’t, you’re foolish.’ You’d have loved her.” And then, in a mischievous postscript, “I forgot to tell you, she said you had beautiful eyes.”

Tantalizing as an echo of laughter from behind a barrier of hills!

In her first letters she coquetted with various forms of address: Meester Deek; Dear Meester Deek; My Dear. This last seemed to please her as a perch midway between the chilliness of friendship and too much fervor. She settled down to it. Her endings were equally experimental: Your Friend Desire; Your Little Friend; Yours of the White Foxes; Yours affectionately, the Princess. Usually her signature was preceded by some such sentiment as, “You know you always have my many thoughts”—which might mean anything. She never committed herself.

His chief anxiety was to discover what she had meant by her promise that they would meet very shortly. She refused to tell him. Worse still, as time went on, he suspected that she was missing him less and less. While to him no happiness was complete without her, she seemed to be embarrassed by no such curtailment. Her good times were coming thick and fast; her infatuation for Fluffy seemed to have strengthened. At last word reached him in February that they were off to California; she was too full of anticipation to express regret for the extra three thousand miles that would part them. On the day before she started, he cabled the florist at the Brevoort to send her flowers. In return he received a line of genuine sentiment. “Meester Deek, you are thoughtful! I nearly cried when I got them. You’ll never know what they meant. New York hasn’t been New York without you. It was almost as though you yourself had brought them. I wanted to run out and stop you, waving and waving to you down the stairs.”

That was the climax. From that point on her correspondence grew jerky, dealing more and more with trivial externals and less and less with the poignant things of the past. In proportion as she withdrew from him, he tried to call her back with his sincerity. When he complained of her indifference, she told him mockingly, “I’m keeping all your letters. They’ll give you away entirely when I bring my suit for breach of promise.”

He could detect Fluffy’s influence, “Oh, these men!” He waited longer and longer to hear from her. Sometimes three weeks elapsed. Then from Santa Barbara she wrote, “I’m having such a gay time. Don’t you envy me? I’m riding horseback and some one is teaching me to drive a car.”

He knew what that meant. How could she travel so far and freely without attracting love? A man had appeared on the horizon.

For a day he was half-minded to go to her. It was no longer a question, of whether she wanted him, but of whether he could live without her. He answered in a fit of jealousy and self-scorn, “I wish I had your faculty for happiness. I hope your good times are lasting.” And then the fatal phrase, “I’m afraid you’re one of those lucky persons who feel nothing very deeply.”

It was his first written criticism of her. She kept him waiting six weeks for a reply; when it came it was cabled. He broke the seal tremblingly, not daring to conjecture what he might expect. Her message was contained in one line, “I hate you to be flippant” After keeping him waiting so long, she had been in a great hurry to send him those six words. After that dead silence. It dawned on him that everything was ended.

He had completed his book. It was in the printer’s hands and he knew that once more success had come to him. Money was in sight; nothing kept her from him except her own wayward heart of thistledown. He still believed the best of her. With the courage of despair he told himself that, sooner or later, he was bound to marry her. Perhaps she was keeping away from him out of a sense of justice, because she could not yet care for him sufficiently. When his book had found her, she would relent Glancing through his paper one June morning, his eye was arrested by the head-lines of a motor-accident. It had happened to a party of newly-landed Americans, two women and three men, on the road from Liverpool to London. He caught sight of the name of Janice Audrey, and then—— Dashing out into Eden Row, he ran to Orchid Lodge. Hal was setting out for business, when he intercepted him. Thrusting the paper into his hand, he pointed.








CHAPTER XX—SHE PROPOSES

He had not been allowed to see her. She had been at Orchid Lodge for three days. No one was aware of his special reason for wanting to see her. Not even to his mother had he let fall a hint that Desire was the girl for whose sake he had stayed in America. His thoughtfulness in making inquiries and in sending flowers was attributed to his remembrance of their childhood’s friendship.

“Her bedroom’s a bower already,” Hal told him; “you really mustn’t send her any more just yet.”

“Does she ask about me?” He awaited the answer breathlessly.

“Sometimes. I was telling her only this morning how you’d spent the autumn in New York.”

“Did she say anything?”

“She was interested.”

He could imagine the mischief that had crept into her gray eyes as she had listened to whatever Hal had told her. Why didn’t she send for him?

As far as he could learn, she wasn’t hurt—only shaken. He suspected that Mrs. Sheerug was making her an excuse for a bout of nursing. The house went on tiptoe. The door of the spare-room opened and closed softly.

He had to see her. It was on the golden evening of the fourth day that he waylaid Hal on the stairs. “Would you please give her this note? I’ll wait. There’ll be an answer. I’m sure of it.”

Hal eyed him curiously. Up till now he had been too excited to notice emotion in any one else. For the first time he seemed to become aware of the eagerness with which Teddy mentioned her. He took the note without a word.

For several minutes Teddy waited. They seemed more like hours. From the Park across the river came the ping of tennis and the laughter of girls. A door opened. Mrs. Sheerug’s trotting footsteps were approaching. As she came in sight, she lowered her head and blinked at him above the rims of her spectacles.

“My grand-daughter says she wants to thank you for the flowers. She insists on thanking you herself. I don’t know whether it’s right. She’s in—— She’s an invalid, you know.”

Leaving her to decide this point of etiquette, he hurried along the passage and tapped. He heard her voice and thrilled to the sound. “Now don’t any of you disturb us till I call for you.—Promise?”

As Hal slipped out, he left the door open and nodded. “She’ll see you.”

Pushing aside the tapestry curtain of Absalom, he entered. A breeze was ruffling the curtains. Against the wall outside ivy whispered. The evening glow, pouring across tree-tops, gilded the faded gold of the harp and filled the room with an amber vagueness.

She was sitting up in bed, propped on pillows, with a blue shawl wrapped about her shoulders. She looked such a tiny Desire—such a girl. Her bronze-black hair was braided in a plait and fell in a long coil across the bedclothes. Their eyes met. He halted.

Slowly her face broke into a smile. “I wonder which of us has been the worse.”

He knelt at her side, pressing her hand.

“Which is it, Meester Deek? D’you remember their names? It’s Miss Independence. I wouldn’t kiss it if I were you; it’s an unkind, a scratchy little hand.”

He raised his eyes. “Are you very much hurt?”

She gazed down at him mockingly. “By the accident or by your letter?—By the accident, no. By your letter, yes. I do feel things deeply—I was feeling them more than ordinarily deeply just then. I didn’t like you when you wrote that.”

“But I wrote you so often. I told you how sorry I was. You never answered.”

She crouched her chin against her shoulder. “Shall I tell you the absolute truth? It’s silly of me to give away my secrets; a girl ought always to be a mystery.” Her finger went up to her mouth and her eyes twinkled. “It was because I knew that I was coming to England. I wanted to see how patient you—— You understand?”

He jumped to his feet. “Then you hadn’t chucked me? All the time you were intending to come to me?”

She winked at him. “Perhaps, and perhaps not. It would have depended on my temper and how full I was with other engagements.—No, you’re not to kiss me when I’m in bed; it isn’t done in the best families.”

He drew back from her, laughing. “How good it is to be mocked! And how d’you like your family?” He seated himself on the edge of the bed.

“Not there,” she reproved him; “that isn’t done either. Bring a chair.”

When he had obeyed, she lay back with her face towards him and let him take her hand.

“Meester Deek, it’s very sweet to have a father.”

When he nodded, she shook her head. “You needn’t look so wise. You don’t know anything about it; you’ve had a father always. But to find a father when you’re grown up—that’s what’s so sweet and wonderful.” She fell silent. Then she said, “It’s like having a lover you don’t need to be afraid of. We know nothing unhappy about each other; he’s never had to whip me or be cross with me, the way he would have done if I’d always been his little girl.—You do look funny, Meester Deek; I believe you’re envying me and—and almost crying.”

“It was in this room,” he said, “that I first met your mother. I heard her singing when I was lying in this very bed. She looked like you, Princess; and in fun she asked me to marry her.”

Desire laughed softly. “I haven’t—not even in fun.” Then quickly, to prevent what he was on the point of saying, “I would have liked to have known you, Meester Deek, when you were quite, quite little. You’d never guess what I and my father talk about.”

He had to try. At each fresh suggestion she shook her head.

“About my beautiful mother. Isn’t it wonderful of him to have remembered and remembered? I believe if I wanted, I could help them to marry. Only,” she looked away from him, “that would spoil the romance.”

“It wouldn’t spoil it Why do you always speak as if——”

She pursed her lips. “It would. Marriage may be very nice, but it doesn’t do to let people know you too well. And then, there’s another reason: Mrs. Sheerug’s a dear, but she doesn’t like my mother.”

“Doesn’t she?” He did his best to make his voice express surprise.

“You know she doesn’t. And she has her doubts about me, too. I can tell that by the way she says, ’My dear, you laugh like your mother,’ as if to laugh like my mother was a crime. She thinks it’s wrong to be gay. I think in her heart she hates my mother.”

Suddenly she sat up. “All from you, and I haven’t thanked you yet!”

He looked round the room; the amber had faded to the silver of twilight. In vases and bowls the flowers he had sent her glimmered like memories and threw out fragrance.

Her fingers nestled closer in his hand. “I’m not good at thanking, but—— Ever since I met you, all along the way there’s been nothing but kindness. What have I given you in return?—Don’t tell me, because it won’t be true.—You can kiss my cheek just once, Meester Deek, if you do it quietly.”

She bent towards him. In that room, where so many things had happened, with the perfumed English dusk steal ing in at the window, she seemed to have become for the first time a part of his real world.

“Shall we tell them, Princess?”

“Tell them?”

“About New York?”

She laid her finger on his lips. “No. It’s the same with me now as it was with you in New York. You never mentioned me in your letters to your mother. Besides, don’t you think it’ll be more exciting if only you and I know it?” Her voice sank. “I’m changed somehow. Perhaps it’s having a father. I want to be good and little. And—and he wouldn’t be proud of me if he knew——”

The door opened. Desire withdrew her hand swiftly. Mrs. Sheerug entered.

“Why, it’s nearly dark!” She struck a match and lit the gas. “I waited for you to call me, and since you didn’t——”

Teddy rose. “I’ve stayed rather long.”

He shook Desire’s hand conventionally. At the door, as he lifted the tapestry to pass out, he glanced back. Mrs. Sheerug was closing the window. Desire kissed the tips of her fingers to him.

It seemed that at last all his dreams were coming true. During the week that followed he spent many hours in the spare-room. She was soon convalescent. Her trunks had been sent from Fluffy’s house and all her pretty, decorative clothes unpacked. Mrs. Sheerug thought them vain and actressy, but the spell of Desire was over her.

“She thinks I’ll come to a bad end,” Desire said. “Perhaps I shall.”

Usually he found her sitting by the window in a filmy peignoir and boudoir-cap. Very often her father was beside her. Hal’s relations with her were peculiarly tender. He was more like a lover than a father. He had changed entirely; there was a brightness in his eyes and an alertness in his step. He seemed to be re-finding her mother in her and to be re-capturing his own lost youth.

Teddy rarely heard any of their conversations. When he appeared, they grew silent. Even if Desire had not told him, he would have guessed that it was of Vashti they had been talking. Presently Hal would make an excuse to leave them. When the door had shut, Desire would slip her hand into his. Demonstrations of affection rarely went beyond that now. The place where they met and the continual possibility of interruption restrained them. There was another reason as far as Teddy was concerned: he realized that in New York he had cheapened his affection by forcing it on her. She told him as much.

“You thought that I was holding back; I wasn’t then, and I’m not now. Only—I hardly know how to put it—the first time you do things they thrill me; after that—— The second kiss is never as good as the first. Every time we repeat something it becomes less important. So you see, if we married, when we could do things always—I think that’s why I never kissed you. I wasn’t holding off; I was saving the best.”

A new frankness sprang up between them. They discussed their problem with a comic air of aloofness. Now that he gave her no opportunities to repulse him, her fits of coldness became more rare. Sometimes she would invite the old intimacies. “Meester Deek, I’m not sure that it’s so much fun being only friends.”

He was amused by her naïveté. “Perhaps it isn’t But don’t let’s spoil things by talking about it. Let’s be sensible.” In these days it was he who said, “Let’s be sensible.” She pouted when he said it, and accused him of strategy. “Be sweet to me, like you were.”

He steeled himself against her coquetry. Until she could tell him that his love was returned, he must not let her feel her power. “When you can do that,” he told her, “we’ll cease to be only friends.”

“And yet I do wish you’d pilfer sometimes.” She clasped her hands against her throat. “I want you, and I don’t want you. I don’t want any. one to have you; but if I had you always to myself, I shouldn’t know what to do with you. You’d be awful strict, I expect” She sighed and sank back in her chair. “It’s such a large order—marriage. I’m so young. A girl mortgages her whole future.”

She always approached these discussions from the angle of doubt. “When it was too late, you might see a girl you liked better.”

He assured her of the impossibility. She shook her head wisely. “It has happened.”

He read in her distrust the influence of the people among whom her girlhood had been spent, the Vashtis, Fluffys, and Mr. Daks—the slaves of freedom who, having disdained the best in life, used pleasure as a narcotic. He knew that it was not his inconstancy that she dreaded, but the chance that after marriage she herself might be fascinated by some man. The knowledge made him cautious. Nothing that he could say would carry any weight; he would be a defendant witnessing in his own defense. That she was willing to open her mind to him kept him hopeful. It was a step forward.

He brought his mother to see her. When she had gone Desire said, “I know now what you meant when you wanted me to be proud of you. I’d give anything to feel that I was really needed by a man I loved.” And then, “Meester Deek, you never talk to me about your work. Won’t you let me see what you’ve been doing?”

He brought to her the book he had written for her that it might tell her the things which his lips had left unsaid. After she had commenced it, she refused to see him until she had reached the end.

She heard his footsteps in the passage; her eyes were watching before he entered. Her lips moved, but she thought better of it. He drew a chair to her side. “Well?”

She gazed out of the window. “It’s all about us.” Then, with a laughing glance at him, “I don’t know whatever you’d do, if you didn’t have me to write about.”

“I wrote it for you,” he whispered, “so that you might understand.”

She frowned. “And I was in California, having such good times.”

He waited.

“It’s very beautiful.” After an interval she repeated her words, “It’s very beautiful.” Without looking at him, she took his hand. “But it isn’t me. It’s the magic cloak—the girl you’d like me to become. I never shall be like that. If that’s what you think I am, you’ll be disappointed.” She turned to him appealingly. “Meester Deek, you make me frightened. You expect so much; you’re willing to give so much yourself. But I’m cold. I couldn’t return a grand passion. Wouldn’t you be content with less? Couldn’t we be happy if——”

He wanted to lie to her.

“You couldn’t,” she said.

He met her honest eyes. “No, I couldn’t. If—if you feel no passion after all these months, you’d feel less when we were married.”

She nodded sadly. “Yes, it would be the way it was in New York: I’d always be only just allowing you—neither of us could bear that.—So, if I were to tell you that I admired you—admired you more than any man I ever met—and that I was willing to marry you, you wouldn’t?”

“It wouldn’t be fair—wouldn’t be fair to you, Princess.” His voice trembled. “One day you yourself will want more than that.”

She no longer bargained for terms or set up her stage ambitions as a barrier. His restraint proved to her that she was approaching the crisis at which she must either accept or lose him. It was to postpone this crisis that she took advantage of Mrs. Sheerug’s anxiety to prolong her convalescence.

Towards the end of the second week of her visit Teddy got his car out. One day they ran down to Ware, hoping to find the farm. It was as though the country that they had known had vanished with their childhood.

Now that she began to get about, the glaring contrast between her standards and those of Eden Row became more apparent. Her clothes, the things she talked about, even her dancing way of walking pronounced her different. She began to get restless under the censures which she read in Mrs. Sheerug’s eyes.

“And what wouldn’t she say,” she asked Teddy, “if she knew that I’d smoked a cigarette? I do so want to use a little powder—and I daren’t.”

One afternoon when he called, he found the house in commotion. She was packing. Fluffy had been to see her; after she had gone the pent-up storm of criticisms had burst Something had been said about Vashti—what it was he couldn’t learn. He insisted on seeing her. She came down with her face tear-stained and flushed. They walked out into the garden in silence. Where the shrubbery hid them from the house—the shrubbery in which he had first met Alonzo and Mr. Ooze—they sat down.

“Going?”

“Yes.”

“But do you think you ought to?”

“I’m not thinking. I’m angry. Mrs. Sheerug’s a dear; I know that as well as you. But she wants to reform me. She makes me wild when she says, ‘You have your mother’s laugh,’ as though being like my mother damned me. And she said something horrid about Fluffy and about the way I’ve been brought up.”

“Are you going to Fluffy’s now?”

She shook her head. “Fluffy’s leaving for the continent.”

“Then where?”

Suddenly she laughed. “With you, if you like.”

He stared at her incredulously. “With me?”

“Yes.”

He seized her hands, “You mean that you’ll——”

All the hunger to touch and hold her which he had staved off, urged him to passion. She turned her lips aside. He drew her to him, kissing her eyes and hair. He was full of sympathy for the fierceness in her heart; it was right that she should be angry in her mother’s defense.

“You queer Meester Deek, not marry you—I didn’t say that.” She tried to free herself, but he clasped her to him. “You must let me go or I won’t tell you.”

They sat closely, with locked hands.

“I’ve been thinking very carefully what to do. I’m not sure of myself. We need to be more certain of each other.”

“But how? How can we be more certain now you’re going?”

She smiled at his despair. “The honeymoon ought to come first,” she said. “Every marriage ought to be preceded by a honeymoon.” She spoke slowly. “A—a quite proper affair; it would be almost the same as being married. It’s only by being alone that two people have a chance to find each other out If we could do that without quarreling or getting tired—— What do you say? If you don’t say yes, you may never get another chance.”

When she saw him hesitating, she added, “You’re thinking of me. No one need know. We could meet in Paris.”

His last chance! Dared he trust himself?

“What day shall I meet you?” he questioned.








CHAPTER XXI—THE EXPERIMENTAL HONEYMOON

He caught the boat-train from Charing Cross. It was a sparkling morning in the last week of June, the season of hay-making and roses. He had received his instructions in a brief note. It bore no address; the postmark showed that it had been dispatched from Rouen. When the train was in motion he studied it afresh; he could have repeated it line for line from memory:

My dear,

Come Saturday. I’ll meet you in Paris at the Gare du Nord 445. Bring only hand-baggage—evening dress not necessary.

Here are my terms. No kissing, no love-making, nothing like that till I give permission. We’re just two friends who have met by accident and have made up our minds to travel together. Don’t join me, if you can’t live up to the contract.

Many thoughts,

Yours affectionately,

The Princess.

He had stared at the letter so long that they were panting through the hop-fields of Kent by the time he put it back in his pocket. A breeze silvered the backs of leaves, making them tremulous. The spires of Canterbury floated up.

He knew the way she traveled, with mountainous trunks and more gowns than she could wear. Why had she been so explicit that he should bring only hand-baggage? Was it because their time together was to be short, or because she knew that at the last minute she might turn coward? She had left herself another loop-hole: she had sent him no address. Even if she were there to meet him, he might miss her on the crowded platform. And if he did—— His fears lest he might miss her battled with his scruples.

Dover and the flash of the sea! Scruples dwindled in importance; the goal of his anticipations grew nearer.

On the boat there was a bridal couple. He watched them, trying to discover with how much discretion honeymoon people were supposed to act.

On French soil the gayety of his adventure caught him. One day they would repeat it; she would travel with him openly from London, and it wouldn’t be an experiment From Calais he would have liked to send a telegram—but to where? She was still elusive. The train was delayed in starting. He fumed and fretted; if it arrived late he might lose her. For the last hour, as he was nearing Paris, he sat with his watch in his hand.

Before they were at a standstill, he had leapt to the platform, glancing this way and that. He had begun to despair, when a slight figure in a muslin dress emerged from the crowd. He stared hard at the simplicity of her appearance, trying to fathom its meaning.

Disguising her emotion with mockery, she caught him by both hands. “What luck! I’ve been so lonely. Fancy meeting you here!” She laughed at him slyly through her lashes. She looked at his suit-case. “That all? Good. I wondered if you’d take me at my word.”

She moved round to the side on which he carried it, so that they had to walk a little apart In the courtyard, from among the gesticulating cochers, he selected a fiacre. As he helped her in he asked, “Where are we staying?”

“In the Rue St. Honoré at The Oxford and Cambridge; close by there are heaps of other hotels. You can easily find a good one.”

Again she surprised him; a fashionable hotel in the Place Vendôme was what he had expected.

They jingled off down sunlit boulevards. On tree-shadowed pavements tables were arranged in rows before cafés. Great buses lumbered by, drawn by stallions. Every sight and sound was noticeable and exciting. It was a world at whose meaning they could only guess; between it and themselves rose the barrier of language. Already the foreignness of their surroundings was forcing them together. They both felt it—felt it gladly; yet they sat restrained and awkward. None of their former unconventions gave them the least clews as to how they should act.

She turned inquisitive eyes on him. “Quite overcome, aren’t you? You didn’t expect to find such a modest little girl.—Tell me, Meester Deek, do you like the way I’m dressed?”

“Better than ever. But why——”

She clapped her hands. “For you. I’ll tell you later.”

She looked away as if she feared she had encouraged him too much. Again the silence settled down.

He watched her: the slope of her throat, the wistful drooping of her face, the folded patience of her hands.

“When does a honeymoon like ours commence?” he whispered.

She shrugged her shoulders and became interested in the traffic.

“Well, then if you won’t tell me that, answer me this question. How long does it last?”

She pursed her mouth and began to do a sum on her fingers. When she had counted up to ten, she peeped at him from under her broad-brimmed hat. “Until it ends.” Then, patting his hand quickly, “But it’s only just started. Don’t let’s think about the end—— Here, this hotel will do. Dig the cocher in the back. I’ll sit in the fiacre till you return; then there’ll be no explanations.”

He took the first room that was offered him, and regained his place beside her. All the time he had been gone, he had been haunted by the dread that she might drive off without him.

“What next?”

She smiled. “The old New York question. Anywhere—— I don’t care.” She slipped her arm into his and then withdrew it. “It is fun to be alone with you.”

He told the man to drive them through the Tuileries and over the river to the Luxembourg Gardens.

He touched her. She frowned. “Not here. It’s too full of Americans. We might be recognized.” Huddling herself into her corner, she tried to look as if he were not there.

As they came out on the quays, the river blazed golden, shining flash upon flash beneath its intercepting bridges. The sun was setting, gilding domes and spires. The sky was plumed and saffron with the smoke of clouds. Bareheaded work-girls were boarding trams; mischievous-eyed artisans in blue blouses jostled them. Eyes flung back glances. Chatter and a sense of release were in the air. The heart of Paris began to expand with the ecstasy of youth and passion. Her hand slipped from her lap and rested on the cushion. His covered it; by unspoken consent they closed up the space between them.

“Are you giving me permission?”

“Not exactly. Can you guess why I planned this? I—I wanted to be fair.”

“The strangest reason!” He laughed softly.

“But I did.” She spoke with pouting emphasis. “I’ve given you an awful lot of worry.”

“Don’t know about that. If you have, it’s been worth it.”

“Has it?” She shook her head doubtfully. “It might have been worth it, if——” A slow smile crept about her mouth. “Whatever happens, you’ll have had your honeymoon. People say it’s the best part of marriage.”

He didn’t know what she meant by a honeymoon. It wasn’t much like a honeymoon at present—it wasn’t so very different from the ride to Long Beach. He dared not question. Without warning, in the quick shifting of her moods, she might send him packing back to London.

They were crossing the Pont Neuf; her attention was held by a line of barges. When they had reached the farther bank, he reminded her, “You were going to tell me——”

He glanced at her dress. “Was it really for me that you did it?”

She nodded. “For you. I’m so artificial; I’m not ashamed of it. But until I saw you in Eden Row, I didn’t realize how different I am. In New York—well, I was in the majority. It was you who felt strange there. But in Eden Row I saw my father. He’s like you and—and it came over me that perhaps I’m not as nice as I fancy—not as much to be envied. There may even be something in what Mrs. Sheerug says.”

“But you are nice.” His voice was hot in her defense. “I can’t make out why you’re always running yourself down.”

She thought for a moment, brushing him with her shoulder. “Because I can stand it, and to hear you defend me, perhaps.—But it was for you that I bought this dress, Mees-ter Deek. I tried to think how you’d like me to look if—if we were always going to be together. And so I’ve given up my beauty-patch. And I won’t smoke a single cigarette unless you ask me. I’m going to live in your kind of a world and,” she bit her lip, inviting his pity, “and I’m going to travel without trunks, and I’ll try not to be an expense. I think I’m splendid.”

They drew up at the Luxembourg Gardens and dismissed the fiacre.

A band was playing. The splash of fountains and fluttering of pigeons mingled with the music. Seen from a distance, the statues of dryads and athletes seemed to stoop from their pedestals and to move with the promenading crowd. They watched the eager types by which they were surrounded: artists’ models, work-girls, cocottes; tired-eyed, long-haired, Daudetesque young men; Zouaves, chasseurs, Svengalis—they were people of a fiction world. Some walked in pairs—others solitary. Here two lovers embraced unabashed. There they met for the first time, and made the moment an eternity. Romance, the brevity of life, the warning against foolish caution were in the air. For all these people there was only one quest.

They had been walking separately, divided by shyness. In passing, a grisette swept against him, and glanced into his eyes in friendly fashion.

“Here, I won’t have that.” Desire spoke with a hint of jealousy. She drew nearer so that their shoulders were touching. “Nobody’ll know us. Don’t let’s be misers. I’ll take your arm,” she whispered.

“The second time you’ve done it.”

“When was the first?”

“That night at the Knickerbocker after we’d quarreled and I’d given you the bracelet.”

She smiled in amused contentment “How you do keep count!”

The band had ceased playing; only the music of the fountains was heard. Shadows beneath trees deepened. Constellations of street-lamps lengthened. Twilight came tiptoeing softly, like a young-faced woman with silver hair.

She hung upon his arm more heavily. “Oh, it’s good to be alone with you! You don’t mind if I don’t talk? One can talk with anybody.” And, a little later, “Meester Deek, I feel so safe alone with you.”

When they were back in thoroughfares, “Where shall we dine?” he asked her.

“In your world,” she said. “No, don’t let’s drive. This isn’t New York. We’d miss all the adventure. I’d rather walk now.”

After wandering the Boule Michel, losing their way half-a-dozen times and making inquiries in their guide-book French, they found the Café d’Harcourt. Its walls were decorated with student-drawings by artists long since famous. At a table in the open they seated themselves. Romance was all about them. It danced in the eyes of men and girls. Through the orange-tinted dusk it lisped along the pavement It winked at them through the blinds of pyramided houses.

She bent towards him. “You’ve become very respectful—not at all the Meester Deek that you were—more like a little boy on his best behavior.”

He rested his chin in his hand. “Naturally.”

“Why?”

“Your contract. I’m here on approval.”

“Let’s forget it,” she said. “I’m learning. I’ve learnt so much about life since we met.”

Through the meal she amused him by speaking in broken English and misunderstanding whatever he said. When it was ended he offered her a cigarette. “No. You’re only trying to be polite, and tempting me.”

They drove across the river and up the Champs-Elysées to a theatre where they had seen Polaire announced. The performance had hardly commenced, when she tugged at his arm. “Meester Deek, it’s summer outside. We’ve spent so much time in seeing things and people. I want to talk.” From under the shadow of trees he hailed a fiacre. “Where?”

“Anywhere.” When he had taken his place at her side, “You may put your arm about me,” she murmured drowsily.

They lay back gazing up at the star-strewn sky. Their rubber-tires on the asphalt made hardly any sound. They seemed disembodied, drifting through a pageant of dreams. The summer air blew softly on their faces; sometimes it bore with it the breath of flowers. The night world of Paris went flashing by, swift in its pursuit of pleasure. They scarcely noticed it; it was something unreal that they had left.

“What’s going on in your mind?”

She didn’t stir. She hung listless in his embrace. “I was thinking of growing old—growing old with nobody to care.—You care now; I know that But if I let you go, in five years’ time you’d——” He felt the shrug she gave her shoulders. “Mother’s the only friend I have. You might be the second if—— But mothers are more patient; they’re always waiting for you when you come back.”

“And I shall be always waiting. Haven’t I always told you that?”

“You’ve told me.” Then, in an altered tone, “Did you ever think you knew what happened in California?”

“I guessed.”

She freed herself and sat erect. “There was a man.” She waited, and when he remained silent, “You’d taught me to like to be loved. I didn’t notice it while you were with me, but I missed it terribly after you’d left. I used to cry. And then, out there—after he’d kissed me, I lay awake all night and shivered. I wanted to wash away the touch of his mouth. It was my fault; I’d given him chances and tried to fascinate him. I’d been so stingy with you—that made it worse; and he was a man for whom I didn’t care. I felt I couldn’t write. And it was when I was feeling’ so unhappy that your letter arrived.—Can’t you understand how a girl may like to flirt and yet not be bad?—I’m not saying that I love you, Meester Deek—perhaps I haven’t got it in me to love; only—only that of all men in the world, I like to be loved by you the best.”

He drew her closer to his side. “You dear kiddy.”

“You forgive me?”

It was late when they parted at the door of her hotel.

“I’ll try to be up early,” she promised. “We might even breakfast together. It’s the only meal we haven’t shared.”

He turned back to the streets. Passing shrouded churches, he came to the fire-crowned hill of Montmartre. He wandered on, not greatly caring where he went. From one of the bridges, when the vagueness of dawn was in the sky, he found himself gazing down at the black despair of the silent-flowing river. Wherever he had been, love that could be purchased had smiled into his eyes. The old fear took possession of him: he was different from other men. Why couldn’t he rouse her? Was it his fault—or because there was nothing to arouse?

She wore a troubled look when he met her next morning.

“Shall we breakfast here or at my hotel?”

“At yours,” she said sharply.

When she spoke like that she created the effect of being more distant than an utter stranger. It wasn’t until some minutes later, when they were seated at table, that he addressed her.

“There’s something that I want to say; I may as well say it now. When a man’s in love with a girl and she doesn’t care for him particularly, she has him at an ungenerous disadvantage: she can make a fool of him any minute she chooses. I don’t think it’s quite sporting of her to do it.”

Her graciousness came back. “But I do care for you particularly. Poor you! Did I speak crossly? Here’s why: we’ve got to leave Paris. There’s a man at my hotel who knows me. I wouldn’t have him see us together for the world.”

“So that was all? I was afraid I’d done something to offend.”

She made eyes at him above her cup of coffee. “You’re all right, Meester Deek. You don’t need to get nervous.—But where’ll we go for our honeymoon?”

“I’m waiting for it to commence.” He smiled ruefully. “You’re just the same as you always were.”

“But where’ll we go?” she repeated. “We’ve got all the world to choose from.”

He told the waiter to bring a Cook’s Time Table. Turning to the index, he began to read out the names alphabetically. “Aden?”

“Too hot,” she said.

“Algiers?”

“Same reason, and fleas as well.”

“Athens?”

“Too informing, and we don’t want any scandals—I’d be sure to meet a boy who shone my shoes in New York.—Here, give me the old book.—What about Avignon? We can start this evening and get there to-morrow.”

Through the gayety of the sabbath morning they made their way to Cook’s. While purchasing their tickets they almost came to words. He insisted that she would need a berth for the journey; she insisted that she wouldn’t.

“But you’re not used to sitting up all night. You’ll be good for nothing next morning. Do be reasonable.”

“I’m not used to a good many of the things we’re doing. I’m trying to save you expense. And I don’t think it’s at all nice of you to lose your temper.”

“I didn’t,” he protested.

“A matter of opinion,” she said.

When he had bought a guide-book on Provence, they walked out into the sunlight in silence. They reached the Pont de la Concorde; neither of them had uttered a word. With a gap of about a foot between them, they leant against the parapet, watching steamers puff in to the landing to take aboard the holiday crowd. She kept her face turned away from him, with her chin held at a haughty angle. In an attempt to pave the way to conversation, he commenced to read about Avignon in his guide-book.

Suddenly she snatched it from him and tossed it into the river. He watched it fall; then stared at her quietly. Like a naughty child, appalled by her own impishness, she returned his stare.

“Two francs fifty banged for nothing!” She closed up the distance between them, snuggling against him like a puppy asking his forgiveness.

“Meester Deek, you can be provoking. I got up this morning intending to be so fascinating. Everything goes wrong.—And as for that berth,” she made her voice small and repentant, “I was only trying to be sweet to you.”

“I, too, was trying to be decent.” He covered her hand. “How is it? I counted so much on this—this experiment, or whatever you call it. We’re not getting on very well.”

“We’re not.” She lifted her face sadly. In an instant the cloud vanished. The gray seas in her eyes splashed over with merriment. “It’ll be all right when we get out of Paris. You see if it isn’t! Quite soon now my niceness will commence.”

“Then let’s get out now.”

They ran down to the landing and caught a steamer setting out for Sèvres. From Sèvres they took a tram to Versailles. It was late in the afternoon when they got back to Paris with scarcely sufficient time to dine and pack.

All day he had been wondering whether, in her opinion, her niceness had commenced. They had enjoyed themselves. She had taken his arm. She had treated him as though she claimed him. But they had broken no new ground. He felt increasingly that the old familiarities had lost their meaning while the new familiarities were withheld. She was still passionless. She allowed and she incited, but she never responded. When they had arrived at the farthest point that they had reached in their New York experience, she either halted or turned back. She played at a thing which to him was as earnest as life and death. He had once found a dedication which read about as follows: “To the woman with the dead soul and the beautiful white body.” There were times when the words seemed to have been written for her.

At the station he searched in vain for an empty carriage. At last he had to enter one which was already occupied. Their companion was a French naval officer, who had a slight acquaintance with English, of which he was exceedingly proud. He informed them that he was going to Marseilles to join his ship; since Marseilles was several hours beyond Avignon, all hope that they would have any privacy was at an end. They had been in crowds and public places ever since they had met; now this stranger insisted on joining in their conversation. He addressed himself almost exclusively to Desire; under the flattering battery of his attentions she grew animated. Finding himself excluded, Teddy looked out of the window at the pollarded trees and flying country. He felt like the dull and superseded husband of a Guy de Maupassant story.

Night fell. When it was time to hood the lamp, the stranger still kept them separate by his gallantry in inviting her to change comers with him, that she might steady herself while she slept by slipping her arms through the loops which he had hung from the baggage-rack.

In the darkness Teddy drowsed occasionally; but he never entirely lost consciousness. With tantalization his love grew furious. It was tinged with hatred now. He glanced across at the quiet girl with the shadows lying deep beneath her lashes. Her eyes were always shuttered; every time he hoped that he might surprise her watching him. The only person he surprised was the naval officer who feigned sleep the moment he knew he was observed. Did she really feel far more than she expressed? She gave him few proofs of it.

She had removed her hat for comfort. Once a fire-fly blew in at the window and settled in her hair. It wandered across her face, lighting up her brows, her lips—each memorized perfection. She raised her hand and brushed it aside. It flew back into the night, leaving behind it a trail of phosphorescence. His need of her was growing cruel.

He gave up his attempt at sleeping. Going out into the corridor, he opened a window and smoked a cigarette. Dawn was breaking. As the light flared and spread, he found that they were traveling a mountainous country. White towns, more Italian than French, gleamed on the crests of sun-baked hills. Roads were white. Rivers looked white. The sky was blue as a sapphire, and smooth as a silken curtain. The fragrance of roses hung in the air. Above the roar of the engine he could hear the cicalas chirping.

At six-thirty, as the train panted into Avignon, she awoke. “Hulloa! Are we there?”

She was so excited that in stepping from the carriage she would have left her hat behind if the naval officer hadn’t reminded her.

They drove through the town to the tinkling of water flowing down the gutters. The streets were narrow, with grated medieval houses rising gray and fortress-like on either side. Great two-wheeled wagons were coming in from the country; their drivers ran beside them, cracking their whips and uttering hoarse cries. All the way she chattered, catching at his lapels and sleeves to attract his attention. She was full of high spirits as a child. She kept repeating scraps of information which she had gathered from the naval officer. “He was quite a gentleman,” she said. And then, when she received no answer, “Didn’t you think that he was very kind?”

In the centre of the town they alighted in a wide square, the Place de la Republique, tree-shadowed, sun-swept, surrounded by public buildings and crooked houses. Carrying their bags, they sat themselves down at a table beneath an awning, and ordered rolls and chocolate.

Frowning over them, a little to their left, was a huge precipice of architecture, rising tower upon tower, embattled against the burning sky. Desire began to retail to him the information she had picked up in the train: how it was the palace of the popes, built by them in the fourteenth century while they were in exile. The source of her knowledge made it distasteful to him. He had difficulty in concealing his irritation. He felt as if he had sand at the back of his eyes. His gaze wandered from her to the women going back and forth through the sunlight, balancing loads on their heads and fetching long loaves of bread from the bakers. Hauntingly at intervals he heard a flute-like music; it was a tune commencing, which at the end of five notes fell silent. A wild-looking herdsman entered the square, followed by twelve black goats. He stood Pan-like and played; advanced a few steps; raised his pipe to his lips and played again. A woman approached him; he called to one of the goats, and squatting on his heels, drew the milk into the woman’s bowl. Through a tunnel leading out of the square, he vanished. Like faery music, his five notes grew fainter, to the accompaniment of sabots clapping across the pavement.

All the while that Desire had been talking, handing on what the stranger had told her about Avignon, he had watched the soul of Avignon wander by, dreamy-eyed and sculptured by the sunlight.

She fell silent. Pushing back her chair, she frowned at him. “I’m doing my best.—I don’t understand you. You’re chilly this morning.”

“Am I?”

“Where’s the good of saying ‘Am I?’ You know you are. What’s the matter? Jealous?”

“Jealous! Hardly.” He stifled a yawn. “I scarcely got a wink of sleep last night. I was keeping an eye on your friend. He was watching you all the time.”

“Then you were jealous.” She leant forward and spoke slowly. “You were rude; you acted like a spoilt child. Why on earth did you go off and glue your nose against the window? You left me to do all the talking.”

Suddenly his anger flamed; he knew that his face had gone set and white. “You didn’t need to talk to him. When are you going to stop playing fast and loose with me? I’ll tell you what it is, Desire: you haven’t any passion.”

He was sorry the moment he had said it. A spark of his resentment caught fire in her eyes. He watched it flicker out. She smiled wearily, “So you think I haven’t any passion!—Oh, well, we’re going to have fine times, now that you’ve begun to criticize.—I’m sleepy. I think I’ll go to bed.”

She rose and strolled away. Leaving his own suit-case at the cafe, he picked up hers and followed. They found a quaint hotel with a courtyard full of blossoming rhododendrons. Running round it, outside the second-story, was a balcony on to which the bedrooms opened. While he was arranging terms in the office, she went to inspect the room that was offered. In a few minutes she sent for her suitcase. He waited half-an-hour; she did not rejoin him.

At the far end of the square he had noticed an old-fashioned hostel. He claimed his baggage at the café, and took a room at the wine-tavern. Having bought a sketching-book, pencils and water-colors, he found the bridge which spans the Rhone between Avignon and Villeneuve. All morning he amused himself making drawings. About every half-hour a ramshackle bus passed him, going and returning. It was no more than boards spread across wheels, with an orange-colored canopy stretched over it. It was drawn by two lean horses, harnessed in with ropes and driven by a girl. He didn’t notice her much at first; the blue river, the white banks, the blue sky, the jagged, vineyard covered hills, and the darting of swallows claimed his attention. It was the bus that he noticed; it creaked and groaned as though it would fall to pieces. Then he saw the girl; she was young and bronzed and laughing. He traced a resemblance in her to Desire—to Desire when she was lenient and happy. She was bare-armed, bare-headed, full-breasted; her hair was black as ebony. She was always singing. About the fifth time in passing him, she smiled. He began to tell himself stories; in Desire’s absence, he watched for her as Desire’s proxy.

At mid-day he went to find Desire; he was told that she was still sleeping. He had déjeuner by himself at the café in the square from which the bus started. When the meal was ended, as he finished his carafe of wine, he made sketches of the girl. When he presented her with one of them, she accepted it from him shyly. His Anglicized French was scarcely intelligible; but after that when she passed him, she smiled more openly.

During the afternoon he called three times at the hotel. Each time he received the same reply, that Mademoiselle was sleeping.

The sky was like an open furnace. Streets were empty. While sketching he had noticed a bathing-house, tethered against the bank below the bridge. He went there to get cool He tried the diving-boards; none of them were high enough. Presently he climbed on to the scorching roof and went off from there. People crossing the bridge stopped to watch him. Once as he was preparing to take the plunge, he saw the orange streak of the old bus creeping across the blue between the girders. He waited till it was just above him. It pulled up. The girl leant out and waved. After that, when he saw the orange streak approaching he waited until it had stopped above him.

The quiet of evening was falling when he again went in search of Desire. This time he was told she had gone out. He left word that he was going to the old Papal Garden, on the rock above the palace, to watch the sunset.

As he climbed the hundred steps of the Escalier de Sainte Anne, which wind round the face of the precipice, the romance of the view that opened out before him took away his breath. He felt injured and angry that she was not there to share it. He went over the details of the first day in Paris. It had been a fiasco; this day had been worse.

If ever he were to marry her—— For the first time he realized that winning her was not everything.

Near the top of the ascent, where a gateway spanned the path, he halted. A fig-tree leant across the wall, heavy with fruit that was green and purple. Behind him from a rock a spring rushed and gurgled. He stooped across the parapet, gazing down into the town. It wasn’t aloof like New York, nor sullen like London. It was a woman lifting her arms behind her head and laughing lazily through eyes half-shut.

Against the sweep of encircling distance, mountains lay blue and smoking. A faint pinkness spread across the country like a blush. White walls and hillsides were tinted to salmon-color. The sunset drained the red from the tiles of house-tops. Plane-trees, peeping above gray masonry, looked clear and deep as wells. The Rhone wound about the city walls like a gold and silver spell.

Now that coolness had come, shutters began to open. The murmur of innumerable sounds floated up. A breeze whispered through the valley like the voice of yearning. It seemed that behind those windows girls were preparing to meet their lovers. And the other women, the women who were too old or too cold to love! He thought of them.

Suddenly his eyes were covered from behind by two hands. He struggled to remove them; then he felt that they were slender and young.

“Who are you?”

Silence.

He repeated his question in French.

The hands slipped from his eyes to his shoulders. “Well, you’re a nice one! Who should it be? It’s the last time I allow you to play by yourself.”

He swung round and caught her fiercely, shaking her as he pressed her to him.

“Don’t, Meester Deek. You hurt.”

His lips were within an inch of hers; he didn’t try to kiss her. “You leave me alone all day,” he panted; “and then you make a joke of it.”

She drew her fingers down his face. “I was very tired, and—and we weren’t good-tempered. I’ve been lonely, too.” She laid her cheek against his mouth. “Come, kiss me, Meester Deek. You look as though you weren’t ever going to.—I’m glad, so glad that——”

“That what?”

She held her hand against her mouth and laughed into his eyes. “That you haven’t enjoyed yourself without me.”

They climbed to the top of the rock. In the sun-baked warmness of the garden cicalas were still singing. In the town lights were springing up. The after-glow lingered on the mountains. Beneath trees the evening lay silver as moonlight. From a fountain in the middle of a pool rose the statue of Venus aux Hirondelles.

His arm was still about her. Every few paces he stopped to kiss her. She patted his face and drew it close to hers. “You’re foolish,” she whispered. “You spoil me. You’re always nicest when I’ve been my worst.”

Then she commenced to ask him questions. “Do you really think that I’ve not got any passion?—If I’d been scarred in that motor-car accident, would you still love me?—Mrs. Theodore Gurney! It does sound funny. I wonder if I’ll ever be called that.”

It was during the descent to the town that she made him say that he was glad she had quarreled with him.

“Well, I do make it up to you afterwards, don’t I? If we hadn’t quarreled, you wouldn’t be doing what you are now. No, you wouldn’t I shouldn’t allow it. And please don’t try to kiss me just here; it’s so joggly. Last time you caught the brim of my hat.”

They had dinner in the courtyard of her hotel, in the sweet, earthy dusk of the rhododendrons. It was like a stage-setting: the canopy of the sky with the stars sailing over them; the golden panes of windows; the shadows of people passing and re-passing; the murmur of voices; the breathless whisper of far-off footsteps. At another table a black-bearded Frenchman sat and watched them.

“I wish he wouldn’t look at us,” Desire said. “I wonder why he does.”

They took a final walk before going to bed. In the courtyard where the bushes grew densest, they parted. When he kissed her, she drooped her face against his shoulder. “Give me your lips.”

She shook her head.

A tone of impatience crept into his voice. “Why not? You’ve done it before. Why not now?”

He tried to turn her lips towards him; she took away his hand.

“I don’t know. I’m odd. I don’t feel like it.”

He let her go. Again the flame of anger swept through him. “Will you ever feel like it?”

“How can I tell—now?”

“You’ve never once kissed me. Any other girl——”

“I’m not any other girl.” And then, “We’re alone. I’ve got to be wise for both of us.”

She ran from him. In the doorway of the hotel she turned and kissed the tips of her fingers.

He seated himself at a table, watching for the light to spring up in her window. It was just possible that she might relent and come back, or that she might lean over the balcony and wave to him While he waited, the bearded Frenchman slipped out from the shadow. He approached and raised his hat formally.

“Monsieur, I understand that you are not stopping at this hotel.”

“No, but I have a friend——”

“Mademoiselle, who has just gone from you?’

“Yes.”

“Then let me tell you, Monsieur, that there is a place near here that will cure you of the illness from which you suffer.” The man took a card from his pocket and commenced to scribble on it.

“But I’m not suffering from any——”

“Ah, then, it will cure mademoiselle.”

The man laid his card on the table, and again raised his hat

By the time Teddy had recovered from his surprise, the stranger had vanished. He hurried into the street and gazed up and down. When he returned to the courtyard. Desire’s window was in darkness. Picking up the card, he struck a match and read the words, “Les Baux.” What was Les Baux? Where was it? He fell asleep thinking of the miracle that had been promised; when he awoke next morning he was still thinking of it. As he dressed he heard the five faint notes of the goatman. Life had become fantastic. Perhaps——

He set about making inquiries. It was a ruined city in the hills he discovered. Oh, yes, there had been several books written about it and innumerable poems. It had been a nest of human eagles once—the home of troubadours. It was the place where the Queens of Beauty and the Courts of Love had started. It was said that if a lover could persuade a reluctant girl to go there with him, she would prove no longer reluctant It was only a superstition; of course Monsieur understood that Monsieur hurried to purchase a guide-book to Les Baux. While he waited among the rhododendrons for Desire, he read it Then he looked up time-tables and found that the pleasantest way to go was from Arles, and that from there one had to drive a half day’s journey.

Desire surprised him at his investigations. She was all in white, with a pink sash about her waist, her dress turned bade deeply at the neck for coolness and her arms bare to die elbow. She looked extremely young and pretty.

“’Ulloa, old dear!” she cried, bursting into Cockney. She peered over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Looking up routes.”

“Routes!” She raised her brows.

“Yes. To Les Baux.”

“You’re not going to get me out of here, old dear. Don’t you think it We’ve not seen Avignon yet.”

“But Les Baux——”

Quoting from the guide-book, he commenced to explain to her its excellences and beauties. She smiled, obstinately repeating, “We’ve not seen Avignon yet.”

It was after they had breakfasted, when they were crossing the square, that the bus-girl nodded to him.

“Who’s she?”

“A girl. Don’t you think she’s like you?”

Desire tossed her head haughtily, but slipped her arm into his to show that she owned him. “Like me, indeed! You’re flattering!”

Presently she asked, “What did you do all yesterday, while I was horrid?”

“Sat on the bridge and sketched.”

“Sketched! I never saw you sketch. If you’ll buy me a parasol to match my sash, I’ll sit beside you to-day and watch you.”

On the bridge he set to work upon a water-color of the Rhone as it flowed past Villeneuve. She was going over his drawings. Suddenly she stopped. She had come across three of the same person. Just then the orange-bus lumbered by; again the girl laughed at him.

“Look here, Meester Deek, you’ve got to tell me everything that you did when I wasn’t with you.”

He was too absorbed in his work to notice what had provoked her curiosity. When he came to the account of his bathing, she interrupted him. “I want to see you bathe.”

“All right, presently.”

“No. Now.”

He rather liked her childish way of ordering him. He spoke lazily. “I don’t mind, if you’ll take care of—— I say, this is like Long Beach, isn’t it? You made me bathe there. But promise you won’t slip off while I’m gone.”

“Honest Injun, I promise.”

He had climbed to the roof of the bathing-house and was straightening himself for the plunge, when he heard the creaking of the bus approaching. He looked up. The bus-girl had alighted and was leaning down from the bridge, waving to him. Before diving, he waved back. When he had climbed to the roof again, he searched round for Desire. She was nowhere to be found.

He dressed quickly. At the hotel he was informed that she was packing. He called up to her window from the courtyard. She came out on to the balcony.

“They tell me you’re packing. What——”

“Going to Les Baux,” she said, “or any other old place. I won’t stay another hour in Avignon.”

“But this morning at breakfast——”

“I know.” She frowned. As she reentered her window, she glanced back across her shoulder. “I didn’t know as much about Avignon then.”

Arles was little more than an hour’s journey. It was noon when they left Avignon. He had been fortunate in getting an empty compartment Without any coaxing, she came and sat herself beside him. When the train had started, she took off her hat and leant her head against his shoulder.

“Did you do that on purpose to make me mad?”

“Do what on purpose?”

She played with his hand. “You know, Meester Deck. Don’t pretend. You did it first with the grisette in the Luxembourg, and now here with that horrid bus-girl. If you do it a third time, you’ll have me making a little fool of myself.”

He burst out laughing. She was jealous; she cared for him. He had infected her with his own uncertainty.

“A nasty, masterful laugh,” she pouted.

He at once became repentant. “I only noticed her when I was lonely,” he excused himself; “I thought she was like you.”

Desire screwed up her mouth thoughtfully. “Then I’ll have to keep you from being lonely.”

She tilted up her face. He pressed her lips gently at first; then fiercely. They did not stir. “That’s enough.” She strained back from him. “Be careful Remember what you told me—that I haven’t any passion.”

“You have.”

“But you said I hadn’t.”

Her strength went from her and he drew her to him. “The fourth time,” he whispered.

“When were the others?”

“That day up the Hudson when I asked you to marry me.”

“And the next?”

“At the apartment, when we said good-by across the stairs.”

“How long ago it all sounds! And the third?”

“On Christmas Eve. Princess, I’m going to kiss your lips whenever I like now.”

She slanted her eyes at him. “Are you? See if you can.”

Her cheeks were flushed. Slipping her finger into her mouth, she pretended to thwart him. She lay in his arms, happy and unresisting—a little amused.

“When are you going to kiss me back?”

She laughed into his eyes like a witch woman. “Ah, when? You’re greedy—never contented. I’ve given you so much.”

“I shall never be contented till——”

She flattened her palm against his lips to silence him.

“Didn’t I tell you that my niceness would commence quite suddenly? I can be nicer than this.” She nodded. “I can. And I can be a little pig again presently—especially if we meet another naval officer. I’m always liable to—”

“Not if you’re in love with any one,” he pleaded.

She sighed. “I’m afraid I am, Meester—Meester Teddy.” She barricaded her lips with her hand. “No more. Do be good. I’ve got to be wise for both of us. I suppose you think I was jealous? I wasn’t.”

As the train drew near Arles, she made him release her. His heart was beating fast. Producing a pocket-mirror, she inspected herself. For the moment she seemed entirely forgetful of him. Then, “Tell me about this old Les Baux place,” she commanded.

The engine halted. He helped her out. “It’s a surprise. You’ll see for yourself.”

On making inquiries, they found that the drive was so long that they would have to start at once to arrive by evening. To save time, they took their lunch with them—grapes, wine and cakes. When the town was left behind, they commenced to picnic in the carriage. They had only one bottle, from which they had to drink in turns. She played a game of feeding him, slipping grapes into his mouth. They had to keep a sharp eye on the cocher, who was very particular that they should miss none of the landmarks. When he turned to attract their attention, pointing with his whip, they straightened their faces and became very proper. After he had twice caught them, Desire said, “He’ll think we’re married now, so we may as well deceive him.”

Teddy was allowed to place an arm about her, while she held the parasol over them.

“If we were really married, d’you think you’d let me smoke a cigarette?”

He lit one and, having drawn a few puffs, edged it between her lips.

“You are good to me,” she murmured; “you save me so much trouble.”

The fierce sun of Provence blazed down on them. A haze hung over the country, making everything tremble. Cicalas chirped more drowsily. The white straight road looked molten. Plane-trees, stretching on in an endless line, seemed to crouch beneath their shadows. The air was full of the fragrance of wild lavender. Farmhouses which they passed were silent and shuttered. No life moved between the osier partitions of their gardens. Even birds were in hiding. Only lizards were awake and darted like a flash across rocks which would have scorched the hand. Beneath a wild fig-tree a mule-driver slumbered, his face buried in his arms and his bare feet thrust outward. It was a land enchanted.

Desire grew silent. Her head drooped nearer to his shoulder. Beads of moisture began to glisten on her throat and forehead. Once or twice she opened her eyes, smiling dreamily up at him; then her breath came softly and she slept.

At Saint Rémy they stopped to water the horse. The first coolness of evening was spreading. As the breeze fluttered down the hills, trees shuddered, like people rising from their beds. Shutters were being pushed back from windows. Faces peered out Loiterers gazed curiously at the carriage, with the unconscious girl drooping like a flower in the arms of the gravely defiant young man. Saint Rémy had been left behind; the ascent into the mountains had commenced before she wakened.

She rubbed her eyes and sat up. “What! Still holding me? I do think you’re the most patient man—— Do you still love me, Meester Deek?”

He stooped to kiss her yawning mouth. “More every hour. But why?”

“Because if a man can still love a woman after seeing her asleep—— When I’m asleep, I don’t look my prettiest.”

The scenery was becoming momentarily more wild. The horse was laboring in its steps. On either side white bowlders hung as if about to tumble. The narrow road wound up through the loneliness in sweeping curves. Hawks were dipping against the sky. Not a tree was in sight—only wild lavender and straggling furze.

She clutched his arm. “It’s frightening.”

“Let’s walk ahead and not think about it,” he suggested. “We’ll talk and forget.”

But the scenery proved silencing.

“Do say something,” she whispered. “Can’t we quarrel? We’ll talk if we’re angry.”

He thought. “What kind of a beast was that man in California?”

“He wasn’t a beast. He was quite nice. You came near seeing him.”

“I did! When?”

“He was the man who was stopping in Paris at my hotel.—There, now you’re really angry! That’s the worst of telling anything. A woman should keep all her faults to herself.”

“And he saw us?”

She stared at him, surprised at his intuition. “How long have you known that?”

They were entering a tunnel hewn between rocks; they rose up scarred and forbidding, nearly meeting overhead.

She shuddered. “I wish we hadn’t come. It’s——”

Suddenly, like a guilty conscience left behind, the tunnel opened on to a platform. Far below lay a valley, trumpet-shaped and widening as it faded into the distance. It was snow-white with lime-stone, and flecked here and there with blood-red earth. The sides of the hills were monstrous cemeteries, honeycombed with troglodyte dwellings. In the plain, like naked dancing girls with flying hair, olive-trees fluttered. Rocks, strewn through the greenness, seemed hides stretched out to dry. Men, white as lepers, were crawling to and fro in the lime-stone quarries. Straight ahead, cleaving the valley with its shadow, rose a sheer column—a tower of Babel, splintered by the sunset. As they gazed across the gulf to its summit, they made out roofs and ivy-spattered ramparts. It looked deserted. Then across the distance from the ethereal height the chiming of bells sounded.

He drew her to him. It was as though with one last question, he was putting all their doubts behind. “Was it true about that man?”

“Quite true. Fluffy gave him my address. Let’s forget him now, and—and everything.”

As he stooped above her, she whispered, “Meester Deek, our quarrels have brought us nearer.”

They heard the rattle of the carriage in the tunnel. Joining hands, they set out down the steep decline. In the valley they found themselves among laurel-roses, pink with bloom and heavy with fragrance. Then they commenced the climb to Les Baux, through cypresses standing stiffly as sentinels. Beady-eyed, half-naked children watched them and hid behind rocks when they beckoned.

Beneath a battered gateway they entered the ancient home of the Courts of Love. Near the gateway, built flush with the precipice, stood a little house which announced that it was the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne. An old gentleman with eyes like live coals and long white hair, stepped out to greet them. He informed them that he was the folk-lore poet of Les Baux and its inn-keeper. They engaged rooms; while doing so they noticed that many of the walls were covered with frescoes.

“Ah, yes,” said the poet inn-keeper, “an English artist did them in payment for his board when he had spent all his money. He came here like you, you understand; intending to stay for one night; but he stayed forever. It has happened before in Les Baux, this becoming enchanted. He was a very famous artist, but he works in the vineyards now and has married one of our Saracen girls.”

Then he explained that Les Baux was like a pool front which the tides of Time had receded. Its inhabitants were descendants of Roman legionaries and of the Saracens who had conquered it later. That was why there were no blue eyes in Les Baux, though it stood so near to heaven.

They wandered out into the charmed silence. There was no wheel-traffic. The toy streets could be spanned by the arms outstretched. There were no shops—only deserted palaces, with defaced escutcheons and wall-flowers nestling in their crannies. Only women and children were in sight; they looked like camp-followers of a lost army. Old imperial splendors moldered in this sepulchre of the clouds, as out of mind as the Queens of Beauty asleep in their leaden coffins.

They came to the part that was Roman. Cicalas and darting swallows were its sole tenants. From the huge structure of the crag houses had been carved and hollowed. The pavement was still grooved by the wheels of chariots.

In Paris it had been the foreignness of their surroundings that had forced them together; now it was the antiquity—the brooding sense of the eventlessness of life and the eternal tedium of expectant death.

“A doll’s house of the gods,” he said.

“No, a faery land waiting for its princess to waken.”

He folded her hands together and held them against his breast. “She will never waken till her lips have kissed a man.”

She peered up at him shyly. Her face quivered. She had a hunted indecision in her eyes. The clamor, as of feet pounding through her body, communicated itself through her hands. She tore them from him. “Don’t touch me.” She ran from him wildly, and did not stop till streets where people lived commenced.

When he had come up with her, she tried to cover her confusion with laughter. “You remember what he said about becoming enchanted? It nearly happened to us.”

“And why not?”

“Because——” She shrugged her shoulders.

In their absence a table had been spread on the terrace and a lamp placed on it as a beacon. By reaching out from where they sat, they could gaze sheer down through the twilight. Night, like a blue vapor, was steaming up from the valley. In the shadows behind, they were vaguely aware that the town had assembled to watch them. Bare feet pattered. A girl laughed. Now and then a mandolin tinkled, and a love-song of Provence drifted up like a perfume flung into the poignant dusk. At intervals the sentinel in the church-tower gave warning how time was forever passing.

“You were afraid of me; that was why you ran.”

She lowered her eyes. “I was more afraid of myself.—Meester Deek, you’ve never tried to understand what sort of a girl I am. Everything that I’ve seen of life, right from the very start, has taught me to be a coward—to believe that the world is bad. Don’t you see how I’d drag you down? It’s because of that—— When I feel anything big and terrible I run from it. It—it seems safer.”

“But you can’t run away forever.” He leant across the table and took her hand. “One day you’ll want those big and terrible things and—and a man to protect you. They won’t come to you then, perhaps.”

She lifted her face and gazed at him. “You mean you wouldn’t wait always? Of course you wouldn’t. You don’t know it, but if I were to go away to-morrow, your waiting would end.”

“It wouldn’t.”

“It would. A girl’s instinct tells her. And I ought to go.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I’m not the wife for you. I’ve given you far more misery than happiness.”

He laughed quietly. “Little sweetheart, if you were to go, I should follow you and follow you.”

She shook her head. “Not far.—Meester Deek, some day you may learn to hate me, so I want to tell you: until I met you, I believed the worst of every man. I was a little stream in a wilderness; I wanted so to find the sea, and it seemed that I never should. But now——”

His clasp on her hand tightened. “But now?”

She looked at him sadly. “I should spoil your whole life. Would you spoil your whole life for the kind of girl I am?”

“Gladly.”

She smiled wistfully. “I wonder how many women have been loved like that.”

They rose. “Shall we go in?”

“Not yet,” he pleaded.

“It would be better.”

As they were crossing the terrace, the cocher approached them. He wanted to know at what hour they proposed to leave next morning. He was anxious to start early, before the heat of the day had commenced.

“I don’t think we’re leaving.” Teddy glanced at Desire. Then, with a rush of decision: “We’re planning to stay a day or two longer. It’ll be all the same to you; I’ll pay for the return journey.”

Saying that he would be gone before they were out of bed, the man bade them farewell.

When they had entered the darkness of the narrow streets, he put his arm about her. She came to him reluctantly; then surrendered and leant against him heavily. They sauntered silently as in a dream. All the steps which had led up to this moment passed before him: her evasions and retractions. She was no longer a slave of freedom. For the first time he felt certain of her; with the certainty came an overwhelming sense of gratitude and tranquillity. He feared lest by word or action he should disturb it, and it should go from him.

They passed by the old palaces perfumed with wallflowers; in a window an occasional light winked at them. They reached the Roman part of the town and hurried their steps. By contrast it seemed evil and ghost-haunted; through the caves that had been houses, bats flew in and out A soft wind met them. They felt the turf beneath their tread and stepped out on to the ruined battlements. Wild thyme mingled with the smell of lavender. The memory of forsaken gardens and forgotten ecstasies was in the air. Three towers, Roman, Saracen and French, pointed mutilated fingers at eternity. They halted, drinking in the silence, and lifted their eyes to the stars wheeling overhead. Far away, through mists across the plain, Marseilles struck sparks on the horizon and the moon rose red.

She turned in his embrace. “I’m not half as sweet as you would make me out, I’m not. Oh, won’t you believe me?”

His tranquillity gave way; he caught her to him, raining kisses on her throat, her eyes, her mouth.

“You’re crushing me!” Her breath came stifled and sobbing.

Tenderness stamped out his passion. As his grip relaxed, she slipped from him. She was running; he followed. On the edge of the precipice, the red moon swinging behind her like a lantern, she halted. Her hands were held ready to thrust him back.

“It would be better for you that I should throw myself down than—than——”

He seized her angrily and drew her roughly to him. “You little fool,” he panted.

With a sudden abandon she urged herself against him. As he bent over her, her arms reached up and her lips fell warm against his mouth.

“I do love you. I do. I do,” she whispered. “Take care of me. Be good to me. I daren’t trust myself.”

The hotel was asleep when they got back. They fumbled their way up the crooked stairs. Outside her room, as in the darkness they clung together, she took his face between her hands. “And you said I hadn’t any passion!—You’re good, Meester Deck. God bless you.”

Her door closed. He waited. He heard the lock turn.

“When I kiss you without your asking me, you’ll know then,” she had said. His heart sang. All night, in his dreaming and waking, he was making plans.

When he came down next morning, he found the table spread on the terrace. He walked over to it, intending while he waited for her, to sit down and smoke a cigarette. One place had been already used. He hadn’t known that another guest had been staying at the hotel. Calling the inn-keeper, he asked him to have the place reset.

“But for whom?”

“For Mademoiselle.”

“Mademoiselle! But Mademoiselle——” The man looked blank. “But Mademoiselle, a six hours she left this morning with the carriage.”








CHAPTER XXII—SHE RECALLS HIM

Now that she had gone from him, he realized how mistaken he had been in his chivalry. From the first, instead of begging, he ought to have commanded. She was a girl with whom it paid to be rough. It was only on the precipice, when he had seized her savagely, that her passion had responded. In the light of what had happened, her last words seemed a taunt—an echo of her childish despising of King Arthurs: “And you said I hadn’t any passion I—You’re good, Meester Deek.” Had he been less honorable in her hour of weakness, he would still have had her.

“That ends it!” he told himself. Nevertheless he set out hot-footed for Arles. There he hunted up the cocher who had driven them to Les Baux, and learnt that she had taken train for Paris. In Paris he inquired at The Oxford and Cambridge. He searched the registers of a dozen hotels. Tramping the boulevards of the city of lovers, he revisited all the places where they had been together; he hoped that a whim of sentiment might lead her on the same errand.

A new thought struck him: she had written to Eden Row and his mother didn’t know his address. All the time that he had been wasting in this intolerable aloneness her explanation had been waiting for him. He returned posthaste, only to be met with her unconquerable silence. He hurried to Orchid Lodge; her father might know her whereabouts. There he was told that Hal had sailed for New York—with what motive he could guess. This lent the final derisive touch to his tragedy.

It was the end of July, nearly a year to the day since he had made his great discovery at Glastonbury. He had spent a month of torture. Since the key had turned in her lock at the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne, he had had no sign of her. He came down to breakfast one sunshiny morning; lying beside his plate was a letter in her hand. He slipped it into his pocket with feigned carelessness, till he should be alone; then he opened it and read:

Dearest Teddy:

I need you.

Savoy Hotel,

The Strand.

Come at once.

Your foolish Desire.

She needed him! It was the first time she had owned as much. From her that admission in three words was more eloquent than many pages. Had her slavery to freedom become irksome? Had it got her into trouble?

He reached the Savoy within the hour. As he passed his card