The Hermit And The Wild Woman
Part 2 out of 4
past which fortified this resolve. The Baron, at one time a familiar
figure in a much-observed London set, had been mixed up in an ugly
money-lending business ending in suicide, which had excluded him
from the society most accessible to his race. His alliance with Mrs.
Newell was doubtless a desperate attempt at rehabilitation, a
forlorn hope on both sides, but likely to be an enduring tie because
it represented, to both partners, their last chance of escape from
social extinction. That Hermione's marriage was a mere stake in
their game did not in the least affect Garnett's view of its
urgency. If on their part it was a sordid speculation, to her it had
the freshness of the first wooing. If it made of her a mere pawn in
their hands, it would put her, so Garnett hoped, beyond farther risk
of such base uses; and to achieve this had become a necessity to
The sense that, if he lost sight of Mr. Newell, the latter might not
easily be found again, nerved Garnett to hold his ground in spite of
the resistance he encountered; and he tried to put the full force of
his plea into the tone with which he cried: "Ah, you don't know your
MRS. NEWELL, that afternoon, met him on the threshold of her
sitting-room with a "Well?" of pent-up anxiety.
In the room itself, Baron Schenkelderff sat with crossed legs and
head thrown back, in an attitude which he did not see fit to alter
at the young man's approach.
Garnett hesitated; but it was not the summariness of the Baron's
greeting which he resented.
"You've found him?" Mrs. Newell exclaimed.
She followed his glance and answered it with a slight shrug. "I
can't take you into my room, because there's a dress-maker there,
and she won't go because she is waiting to be paid. Schenkelderff,"
she exclaimed, "you're not wanted; please go and look out of the
The Baron rose and, lighting a cigarette, laughingly retired to the
embrasure. Mrs. Newell flung herself down and signed to Garnett to
take a seat at her side.
"Well--you've found him? You've talked with him?"
"Yes; I have talked with him--for an hour."
She made an impatient movement. "That's too long! Does he refuse?"
"He doesn't consent."
"Then you mean--?"
"He wants time to think it over."
"Time? There _is_ no time--did you tell him so?"
"I told him so; but you must remember that he has plenty. He has
taken twenty-four hours."
Mrs. Newell groaned. "Oh, that's too much. When he thinks things
over he always refuses."
"Well, he would have refused at once if I had not agreed to the
She rose nervously from her seat and pressed her hands to her
forehead. "It's too hard, after all I've done! The trousseau is
ordered--think how disgraceful! You must have managed him badly;
I'll go and see him myself."
The Baron, at this, turned abruptly from his study of the Place
"My dear creature, for heaven's sake don't spoil everything!" he
Mrs. Newell coloured furiously. "What's the meaning of that
"I was merely putting myself in the place of a man on whom you have
ceased to smile."
He picked up his hat and stick, nodded knowingly to Garnett, and
walked toward the door with an air of creaking jauntiness.
But on the threshold Mrs. Newell waylaid him.
"Don't go--I must speak to you," she said, following him into the
antechamber; and Garnett remembered the dress-maker who was not to
be dislodged from her bedroom.
In a moment Mrs. Newell returned, with a small flat packet which she
vainly sought to dissemble in an inaccessible pocket.
"He makes everything too odious!" she exclaimed; but whether she
referred to her husband or the Baron it was left to Garnett to
She sat silent, nervously twisting her cigarette-case between her
fingers, while her visitor rehearsed the details of his conversation
with Mr. Newell. He did not indeed tell her the arguments he had
used to shake her husband's resolve, since in his eloquent sketch of
Hermione's situation there had perforce entered hints unflattering
to her mother; but he gave the impression that his hearer had in the
end been moved, and for that reason had consented to defer his
"Ah, it's not that--it's to prolong our misery!" Mrs. Newell
exclaimed; and after a moment she added drearily: "He has been
waiting for such an opportunity for years."
It seemed needless for Garnett to protract his visit, and he took
leave with the promise to report at once the result of his final
talk with Mr. Newell. But as he was passing through the ante-chamber
a side-door opened and Hermione stood before him. Her face was
flushed and shaken out of its usual repose of line, and he saw at
once that she had been waiting for him.
"Mr. Garnett!" she said in a whisper.
He paused, considering her with surprise: he had never supposed her
capable of such emotion as her voice and eyes revealed.
"I want to speak to you; we are quite safe here. Mamma is with the
dress-maker," she explained, closing the door behind her, while
Garnett laid aside his hat and stick.
"I am at your service," he said.
"You have seen my father? Mamma told me that you were to see him
to-day," the girl went on, standing close to him in order that she
might not have to raise her voice.
"Yes; I have seen him," Garnett replied with increasing wonder.
Hermione had never before mentioned her father to him, and it was by
a slight stretch of veracity that he had included her name in her
mother's plea to Mr. Newell. He had supposed her to be either
unconscious of the transaction, or else too much engrossed in her
own happiness to give it a thought; and he had forgiven her the last
alternative in consideration of the abnormal character of her filial
relations. But now he saw that he must readjust his view of her.
"You went to ask him to come to my wedding; I know about it,"
Hermione continued. "Of course it is the custom--people will think
it odd if he does not come." She paused, and then asked: "Does he
"No; he has not yet consented."
"Ah, I thought so when I saw Mamma just now!"
"But he hasn't quite refused--he has promised to think it over."
"But he hated it--he hated the idea?"
Garnett hesitated. "It seemed to arouse painful associations."
"Ah, it would--it would!" she exclaimed.
He was astonished at the passion of her accent; astonished still
more at the tone with which she went on, laying her hand on his arm:
"Mr. Garnett, he must not be asked--he has been asked too often to
do things that he hated!"
Garnett looked at the girl with a shock of awe. What abysses of
knowledge did her purity hide?
"But, my dear Miss Hermione--" he began.
"I know what you are going to say," she interrupted him. "It is
necessary that he should be present at the marriage or the du Trayas
will break it off. They don't want it very much, at any rate," she
added with a strange candour, "and they will not be sorry,
perhaps--for of course Louis would have to obey them."
"So I explained to your father," Garnett assured her.
"Yes--yes; I knew you would put it to him. But that makes no
difference, Mr. Garnett. He must not be forced to come unwillingly."
"But if he sees the point--after all, no one can force him!"
"No; but if it is painful to him--if it reminds him too much . . .
Oh, Mr. Garnett, I was not a child when he left us. . . . I was old
enough to see . . . to see how it must hurt him even now to be
reminded. Peace was all he asked for, and I want him to be left in
Garnett paused in deep embarrassment. "My dear child, there is no
need to remind you that your own future--"
She had a gesture that recalled her mother. "My future must take
care of itself; he must not be made to see us!" she said
imperatively. And as Garnett remained silent she went on: "I have
always hoped he did not hate me, but he would hate me now if he were
forced to see me."
"Not if he could see you at this moment!" he exclaimed.
She lifted her face with swimming eyes.
"Well, go to him, then; tell him what I have said to you!"
Garnett continued to stand before her, deeply struck. "It might be
the best thing," he reflected inwardly; but he did not give
utterance to the thought. He merely put out his hand, holding
Hermione's in a long pressure.
"I will do whatever you wish," he replied.
"You understand that I am in earnest?" she urged tenaciously.
"I am quite sure of it."
"Then I want you to repeat to him what I have said--I want him to be
left undisturbed. I don't want him ever to hear of us again!"
The next day, at the appointed hour, Garnett resorted to the
Luxembourg gardens, which Mr. Newell had named as a meeting-place in
preference to his own lodgings. It was clear that he did not wish to
admit the young man any further into his privacy than the occasion
required, and the extreme shabbiness of his dress hinted that pride
might be the cause of his reluctance.
Garnett found him feeding the sparrows, but he desisted at the young
man's approach, and said at once: "You will not thank me for
bringing you all this distance."
"If that means that you are going to send me away with a refusal, I
have come to spare you the necessity," Garnett answered.
Mr. Newell turned on him a glance of undisguised wonder, in which an
undertone of disappointment might almost have been detected.
"Ah--they've got no use for me, after all?" be said ironically.
Garnett, in reply, related without comment his conversation with
Hermione, and the message with which she had charged him. He
remembered her words exactly and repeated them without modification,
heedless of what they implied or revealed.
Mr. Newell listened with an immovable face, occasionally casting a
crumb to his flock. When Garnett ended he asked: "Does her mother
know of this?"
" Assuredly not!" cried Garnett with a movement of disgust.
"You must pardon me; but Mrs. Newell is a very ingenious woman." Mr.
Newell shook out his remaining crumbs and turned thoughtfully toward
"You believe it's quite clear to Hermione that these people will use
my refusal as a pretext for backing out of the marriage?"
"Perfectly clear--she told me so herself."
"Doesn't she consider the young man rather chicken-hearted?"
"No; he has already put up a big fight for her, and you know the
French look at these things differently. He's only twenty-three and
his marrying against his parents' approval is in itself an act of
"Yes; I believe they look at it that way," Mr. Newell assented. He
rose and picked up the half-smoked cigar which he had laid on the
bench beside him.
"What do they wear at these French weddings, anyhow? A dress-suit,
isn't it?" he asked.
The question was such a surprise to Garnett that for the moment he
could only stammer out--"You consent then? I may go and tell her?"
"You may tell my girl--yes." He gave a vague laugh and added: "One
way or another, my wife always gets what she wants."
MR. NEWELL'S consent brought with it no accompanying concessions. In
the first flush of his success Garnett had pictured himself as
bringing together the father and daughter, and hovering in an
attitude of benediction over a family group in which Mrs. Newell did
not very distinctly figure.
But Mr. Newell's conditions were inflexible. He would "see the thing
through" for his daughter's sake; but he stipulated that in the
meantime there should be no meetings or farther communications of
any kind. He agreed to be ready when Garnett called for him, at the
appointed hour on the wedding-day; but until then he begged to be
left alone. To this decision he adhered immovably, and when Garnett
conveyed it to Hermione she accepted it with a deep look of
understanding. As for Mrs. Newell she was too much engrossed in the
nuptial preparations to give her husband another thought. She had
gained her point, she had disarmed her foes, and in the first flush
of success she had no time to remember by what means her victory had
been won. Even Garnett's services received little recognition,
unless he found them sufficiently compensated by the new look in
The principal figures in Mrs. Newell's foreground were the Woolsey
Hubbards and Baron Schenkelderff. With these she was in hourly
consultation, and Mrs. Hubbard went about aureoled with the
importance of her close connection with an "aristocratic marriage,"
and dazzled by the Baron's familiarity with the intricacies of the
Almanach de Gotha. In his society and Mrs. Newell's, Mrs. Hubbard
evidently felt that she had penetrated to the sacred precincts where
"the right thing" flourished in its native soil. As for Hermione,
her look of happiness had returned, but with an undertint of
melancholy, visible perhaps only to Garnett, but to him always
hauntingly present. Outwardly she sank back into her passive self,
resigned to serve as the brilliant lay-figure on which Mrs. Newell
hung the trophies of conquest. Preparations for the wedding were
zealously pressed. Mrs. Newell knew the danger of giving people time
to think things over, and her fears about her husband being allayed,
she began to  dread a new attempt at evasion on the part of the
"The sooner it's over the sounder I shall sleep!" she declared to
Garnett; and all the mitigations of art could not conceal the fact
that she was desperately in need of that restorative. There were
moments, indeed, when he was sorrier for her than for her husband or
her daughter; so black and unfathomable appeared the abyss into
which she must slip back if she lost her hold on this last spar of
But she did not lose her hold; his own experience, as well as her
husband's declaration, might have told him that she always got what
she wanted. How much she had wanted this particular thing was shown
by the way in which, on the last day, when all peril was over, she
bloomed out in renovated splendour. It gave Garnett a shivering
sense of the ugliness of the alternative which had confronted her.
The day came; the showy coupe provided by Mrs. Newell presented
itself punctually at Garnett's door, and the young man entered it
and drove to the rue Panonceaus. It was a little melancholy back
street, with lean old houses sweating rust and damp, and glimpses of
pit-life gardens, black and sunless, between walls bristling with
iron spikes. On the narrow pavement a blind man pottered along led
by a red-eyed poodle: a little farther on a dishevelled woman sat
grinding coffee on the threshold of a _buvette_. The bridal carriage
stopped before one of the doorways, with a clatter of hoofs and
harness which drew the neighbourhood to its windows, and Garnett
started to mount the ill-smelling stairs to the fourth floor, on
which he learned from the _concierge _that Mr. Newell lodged. But
half-way up he met the latter descending, and they turned and went
Hermione's parent wore his usual imperturbable look, and his eye
seemed as full as ever of generalisations on human folly; but there
was something oddly shrunken and submerged in his appearance, as
though he had grown smaller or his clothes larger. And on the last
hypothesis Garnett paused--for it became evident to him that Mr.
Newell had hired his dress-suit.
Seated at the young man's side on the satin cushions, he remained
silent while the carriage rolled smoothly and rapidly through the
net-work of streets leading to the Boulevard Saint-Germain; only
once he remarked, glancing at the elaborate fittings of the coupe:
"Is this Mrs. Newell's carriage?"
"I believe so--yes," Garnett assented, with the guilty sense that in
defining that lady's possessions it was impossible not to trespass
on those of her friends.
Mr. Newell made no farther comment, but presently requested his
companion to rehearse to him once more the exact duties which were
to devolve on him during the coming ceremony. Having mastered these
he remained silent, fixing a dry speculative eye on the panorama of
the brilliant streets, till the carriage drew up at the entrance of
Saint Philippe du Roule.
With the same air of composure he followed his guide through the mob
of spectators, and up the crimson velvet steps, at the head of
which, but for a word from Garnett, a formidable Suisse, glittering
with cocked hat and mace, would have checked the advance of the
small crumpled figure so oddly out of keeping with the magnificence
of the bridal party. The French fashion prescribing that the family
_cortege _shall follow the bride to the altar, the vestibule of the
church was thronged with the participatore in the coming procession;
but if Mr. Newell felt any nervousness at his sudden projection into
this unfamiliar group, nothing in his look or manner betrayed it. He
stood beside Garnett till a white-favoured carriage, dashing up to
the church with a superlative glitter of highly groomed horseflesh
and silver-plated harness, deposited the snowy apparition of the
bride, supported by her mother; then, as Hermione entered the
vestibule, he went forward quietly to meet her.
The girl, wrapped in the haze of her bridal veil, and a little
confused, perhaps, by the anticipation of the meeting, paused a
moment, as if in doubt, before the small oddly-clad figure which
blocked her path--a horrible moment to Garnett, who felt a pang of
misery at this satire on the infallibility of the filial instinct.
He longed to make some sign, to break in some way the pause of
uncertainty; but before he could move he saw Mrs. Newell give her
daughter a sharp push, he saw a blush of compunction flood
Hermione's face, and the girl, throwing back her veil, bent her tall
head and flung her arms about her father.
Mr. Newell emerged unshaken from the embrace: it seemed to have no
effect beyond giving an odder twist to his tie. He stood beside his
daughter till the church doors were thrown open; then, at a sign
from the verger, he gave her his arm, and the strange couple, with
the long train of fashion and finery behind them, started on their
march to the altar.
Garnett had already slipped into the church and secured a post of
vantage which gave him a side-view over the assemblage. The building
was thronged--Mrs. Newell had attained her ambition and given
Hermione a smart wedding. Garnett's eye travelled curiously from one
group to another--from the numerous representatives of the
bridegroom's family, all stamped with the same air of somewhat dowdy
distinction, the air of having had their thinking done for them for
so long that they could no longer perform the act individually, and
the heterogeneous company of Mrs. Newell's friends, who presented,
on the opposite side of the nave, every variety of individual
conviction in dress and conduct. Of the two groups the latter was
decidedly the more interesting to Garnett, who observed that it
comprised not only such recent acquisitions as the Woolsey Hubbards
and the Baron, but also sundry more important figures which of late
had faded to the verse of Mrs. Newell's horizon. Hermione's marriage
had drawn them back, bad once more made her mother a social entity,
had in short already accomplished the object for which it had been
planned and executed.
And as he looked about him Garnett saw that all the other actors in
the show faded into insignificance beside the dominant figure of
Mrs. Newell, became mere marionettes pulled hither and thither by
the hidden wires of her intention. One and all they were there to
serve her ends and accomplish her purpose: Schenkelderff and the
Hubbards to pay for the show, the bride and bridegroom to seal and
symbolize her social rehabilitation, Garnett himself as the humble
instrument adjusting the different parts of the complicated
machinery, and her husband, finally, as the last stake in her game,
the last asset on which she could draw to rebuild her fallen
fortunes. At the thought Garnett was filled with a deep disgust for
what the scene signified, and for his own share in it. He had been
her tool and dupe like the others; if he imagined that he was
serving Hermione, it was for her mother's ends that he had worked.
What right had he to sentimentalise a marriage founded on such base
connivances, and how could he have imagined that in so doing he was
acting a disinterested part?
While these thoughts were passing through his mind the ceremony had
already begun, and the principal personages in the drama were ranged
before him in the row of crimson velvet chairs which fills the
foreground of a Catholic marriage. Through the glow of lights and
the perfumed haze about the altar, Garnett's eyes rested on the
central figures of the group, and gradually the others disappeared
from his view and his mind. After all, neither Mrs. Newell's schmes
nor his own share in them could ever unsanctify hermione's marriage.
It was one more testimony to life's indefatigable renewals, to
nature's secret of drawing fragrance from corruption; and as his
eyes turned from the girl's illuminated presence to the resigned and
stoical figure sunk in the adjoining chair, it occured to him that
he had perhaps worked better than he knew in placing them, if only
for a moment, side by side.
IN the good days, just after we all left college, Ned Halidon and I
used to listen, laughing and smoking, while Paul Ambrose set forth
They were immense, these plans, involving, as it sometimes seemed,
the ultimate aesthetic redemption of the whole human race; and
provisionally restoring the sense of beauty to those unhappy
millions of our fellow country-men who, as Ambrose movingly pointed
out, now live and die in surroundings of unperceived and unmitigated
"I want to bring the poor starved wretches back to their lost
inheritance, to the divine past they've thrown away--I want to make
'em hate ugliness so that they'll smash nearly everything in sight,"
he would passionately exclaim, stretching his arms across the shabby
black-walnut writing-table and shaking his thin consumptive fist in
the fact of all the accumulated ugliness in the world.
"You might set the example by smashing that table," I once suggested
with youthful brutality; and Paul, pulling himself up, cast a
surprised glance at me, and then looked slowly about the parental
library, in which we sat.
His parents were dead, and he had inherited the house in Seventeenth
Street, where his grandfather Ambrose had lived in a setting of
black walnut and pier glasses, giving Madeira dinners, and saying to
his guests, as they rejoined the ladies across a florid waste of
Aubusson carpet: "This, sir, is Dabney's first study for the
Niagara--the Grecian Slave in the bay window was executed for me in
Rome twenty years ago by my old friend Ezra Stimpson--" by token of
which he passed for a Maecenas in the New York of the 'forties,' and
a poem had once been published in the Keepsake or the Book of Beauty
"On a picture in the possession of Jonathan Ambrose, Esqre."
Since then the house had remained unchanged. Paul's father, a frugal
liver and hard-headed manipulator of investments, did not inherit
old Jonathan's artistic sensibilities, and was content to live and
die in the unmodified black walnut and red rep of his predecessor.
It was only in Paul that the grandfather's aesthetic faculty
revived, and Mrs. Ambrose used often to say to her husband, as they
watched the little pale-browed boy poring over an old number of the
_Art Journal:_ "Paul will know how to appreciate your father's
In recognition of these transmitted gifts Paul, on leaving Harvard,
was sent to Paris with a tutor, and established in a studio in which
nothing was ever done. He could not paint, and recognized the fact
early enough to save himself much wasted labor and his friends many
painful efforts in dissimulation. But he brought back a touching
enthusiasm for the forms of beauty which an old civilization had
revealed to him and an apostolic ardour in the cause of their
He had paused in his harangue to take in my ill-timed parenthesis,
and the color mounted slowly to his thin cheek-bones.
"It _is_ an ugly room," he owned, as though he had noticed the
library for the first time.
The desk was carved at the angles with the heads of helmeted knights
with long black-walnut moustaches. The red cloth top was worn
thread-bare, and patterned like a map with islands and peninsulas of
ink; and in its centre throned a massive bronze inkstand
representing a Syrian maiden slumbering by a well beneath a
"The fact is," I said, walking home that evening with Ned Halidon,
"old Paul will never do anything, for the simple reason that he's
Ned, who was an idealist, shook his handsome head. "It's not that,
my dear fellow. He simply doesn't see things when they're too close
to him. I'm glad you woke him up to that desk."
The next time I dined with Paul he said, when we entered the
library, and I had gently rejected one of his cheap cigars in favour
of a superior article of my own: "Look here, I've been looking round
for a decent writing-table. I don't care, as a rule, to turn out old
things, especially when they've done good service, but I see now
that this is too monstrous--"
"For an apostle of beauty to write his evangel on," I agreed, "it
_is_ a little inappropriate, except as an awful warning."
Paul colored. "Well, but, my dear fellow, I'd no idea how much a
table of this kind costs. I find I can't get anything decent--the
plainest mahogany--under a hundred and fifty." He hung his head, and
pretended not to notice that I was taking out my own cigar.
"Well, what's a hundred and fifty to you?" I rejoined. "You talk as
if you had to live on a book-keeper's salary, with a large family to
He smiled nervously and twirled the ring on his thin finger. "I
know--I know--that's all very well. But for twenty tables that I
_don't_ buy I can send some fellow abroad and unseal his eyes."
"Oh, hang it, do both!" I exclaimed impatiently; but the
writing-table was never bought. The library remained as it was, and
so did the contention between Halidon and myself, as to whether this
inconsistent acceptance of his surroundings was due, on our friend's
part, to a congenital inability to put his hand in his pocket, or to
a real unconsciousness of the ugliness that happened to fall inside
his point of vision.
"But he owned that the table was ugly," I agreed.
"Yes, but not till you'd called his attention to the fact; and I'll
wager he became unconscious of it again as soon as your back was
"Not before he'd had time to look at a lot of others, and make up
his mind that he couldn't afford to buy one."
"That was just his excuse. He'd rather be thought mean than
insensible to ugliness. But the truth is that he doesn't mind the
table and is used to it. He knows his way about the drawers."
"But he could get another with the same number of drawers."
"Too much trouble," argued Halidon.
"Too much money," I persisted.
"Oh, hang it, now, if he were mean would he have founded three
travelling scholarships and be planning this big Academy of Arts?"
"Well, he's mean to himself, at any rate."
"Yes; and magnificently, royally generous to all the world besides!"
Halidon exclaimed with one of his great flushes of enthusiasm.
But if, on the whole, the last word remained with Halidon, and
Ambrose's personal chariness seemed a trifling foible compared to
his altruistic breadth of intention, yet neither of us could help
observing, as time went on, that the habit of thrift was beginning
to impede the execution of his schemes of art-philanthropy. The
three travelling scholarships had been founded in the first blaze of
his ardour, and before the personal management of his property had
awakened in him the sleeping instincts of parsimony. But as his
capital accumulated, and problems of investment and considerations
of interest began to encroach upon his visionary hours, we saw a
gradual arrest in the practical development of his plan.
"For every thousand dollars he talks of spending on his work, I
believe he knocks off a cigar, or buys one less newspaper," Halidon
grumbled affectionately; "but after all," he went on, with one of
the quick revivals of optimism that gave a perpetual freshness to
his spirit, "after all, it makes one admire him all the more when
one sees such a nature condemned to be at war with the petty
inherited instinct of greed."
Still, I could see it was a disappointment to Halidon that the great
project of the Academy of Arts should languish on paper long after
all its details had been discussed and settled to the satisfaction
of the projector, and of the expert advisers he had called in
"He's quite right to do nothing in a hurry--to take advice and
compare ideas and points of view--to collect and classify his
material in advance," Halidon argued, in answer to a taunt of mine
about Paul's perpetually reiterated plea that he was still waiting
for So-and-so's report; "but now that the plan's mature--and _such_
a plan! You'll grant it's magnificent?--I should think he'd burn to
see it carried out, instead of pottering over it till his enthusiasm
cools and the whole business turns stale on his hands."
That summer Ambrose went to Europe, and spent his holiday in a
frugal walking-tour through Brittany. When he came back he seemed
refreshed by his respite from business cares and from the
interminable revision of his cherished scheme; while contact with
the concrete manifestations of beauty had, as usual, renewed his
"By Jove," he cried, "whenever I indulged my unworthy eyes in a long
gaze at one of those big things--picture or church or statue--I kept
saying to myself: 'You lucky devil, you, to be able to provide such
a sight as that for eyes that can make some good use of it! Isn't it
better to give fifty fellows a chance to paint or carve or build,
than to be able to daub canvas or punch clay in a corner all by
"Well," I said, when he had worked off his first ebullition, "when
is the foundation stone to be laid?"
His excitement dropped. "The foundation stone--?"
"When are you going to touch the electric button that sets the thing
Paul, with his hands in his sagging pockets, began to pace the
library hearth-rug--I can see him now, setting his shabby red
slippers between its ramified cabbages.
"My dear fellow, there are one or two points to be considered
still--one or two new suggestions I picked up over there--"
I sat silent, and he paused before me, flushing to the roots of his
thin hair. "You think I've had time enough--that I ought to have put
the thing through before this? I suppose you're right; I can see
that even Ned Halidon thinks so; and he has always understood my
difficulties better than you have."
This insinuation exasperated me. "Ned would have put it through
years ago!" I broke out.
Paul pulled at his straggling moustache. "You mean he has more
executive capacity? More--no, it's not that; he's not afraid to
spend money, and I am!" he suddenly exclaimed.
He had never before alluded to this weakness to either of us, and I
sat abashed, suffering from his evident distress. But he remained
planted before me, his little legs wide apart, his eyes fixed on
mine in an agony of voluntary self-exposure.
"That's my trouble, and I know it. Big sums frighten me--I can't
look them in the face. By George, I wish Ned had the carrying out of
this scheme--I wish he could spend my money for me!" His face was
lit by the reflection of a passing thought. "Do you know, I
shouldn't wonder if I dropped out of the running before either of
you chaps, and in case I do I've half a mind to leave everything in
trust to Halidon, and let him put the job through for me."
"Much better have your own fun with it," I retorted; but he shook
his head, saying with a sigh as he turned away: "It's _not_ fun to
me--that's the worst of it."
Halidon, to whom I could not help repeating our talk, was amused and
touched by his friend's thought.
"Heaven knows what will become of the scheme, if Paul doesn't live
to carry it out. There are a lot of hungry Ambrose cousins who will
make one gulp of his money, and never give a dollar to the work.
Jove, it _would_ be a fine thing to have the carrying out of such a
plan--but he'll do it yet, you'll see he'll do it yet!" cried Ned,
his old faith in his friend flaming up again through the wet blanket
PAUL AMBROSE did not die and leave his fortune to Halidon, but the
following summer he did something far more unexpected. He went
abroad again, and came back married. Now our busy fancy had never
seen Paul married. Even Ned recognized the vague unlikelihood of
such a metamorphosis.
"He'd stick at the parson's fee--not to mention the best man's
scarf-pin. And I should hate," Ned added sentimentally, "to see 'the
touch of a woman's hand' desecrate the sublime ugliness of the
ancestral home. Think of such a house made 'cozy'!"
But when the news came he would own neither to surprise nor to
"Goodbye, poor Academy!" I exclaimed, tossing over the bridegroom's
eight-page rhapsody to Halidon, who had received its duplicate by
the same post.
"Now, why the deuce do you say that?" he growled. "I never saw such
a beast as you are for imputing mean motives."
To defend myself from this accusation I put out my hand and
recovered Paul's letter.
"Here: listen to this. 'Studying art in Paris when I met her--"the
vision and the faculty divine, but lacking the accomplishment," etc.
. . . A little ethereal profile, like one of Piero della Francesca's
angels . . . not rich, thank heaven, _but not afraid of money_, and
already enamored of my project for fertilizing my sterile millions .
"Well, why the deuce--?" Ned began again, as though I had convicted
myself out of my friend's mouth; and I could only grumble obscurely:
"It's all too pat."
He brushed aside my misgivings. "Thank heaven, she can't paint, any
how. And now that I think of it, Paul's just the kind of chap who
ought to have a dozen children."
"Ah, then indeed: goodbye, poor Academy!" I croaked.
The lady was lovely, of that there could be no doubt; and if Paul
now for a time forgot the Academy, his doing so was but a
vindication of his sex. Halidon had only a glimpse of the returning
couple before he was himself snatched up in one of the chariots of
adventure that seemed perpetually waiting at his door. This time he
was going to the far East in the train of a "special mission," and
his head was humming with new hopes and ardors; but he had time for
a last word with me about Ambrose.
"You'll see--you'll see!" he summed up hopefully as we parted; and
what I was to see was, of course, the crowning pinnacle of the
Academy lifting itself against the horizon of the immediate future.
It was in the nature of things that I should, meanwhile, see less
than formerly of the projector of that unrealized structure. Paul
had a personal dread of society, but he wished to show his wife to
the world, and I was not often a spectator on these occasions. Paul
indeed, good fellow, tried to maintain the pretense of an unbroken
intercourse, and to this end I was asked to dine now and then; but
when I went I found guests of a new type, who, after dinner, talked
of sport and stocks, while their host blinked at them silently
through the smoke of his cheap cigars.
The first innovation that struck me was a sudden improvement in the
quality of the cigars. Was this Daisy's doing? (Mrs. Ambrose was
Daisy.) It was hard to tell--she produced her results so
noiselessly. With her fair bent head and vague smile, she seemed to
watch life flow by without, as yet, trusting anything of her own to
its current. But she was watching, at any rate, and anything might
come of that. Such modifications as she produced were as yet almost
imperceptible to any but the trained observer. I saw that Paul
wished her to be well dressed, but also that he suffered her to
drive in a hired brougham, and to have her door opened by the
raw-boned Celt who had bumped down the dishes on his bachelor table.
The drawing-room curtains were renewed, but this change served only
to accentuate the enormities of the carpet, and perhaps discouraged
Mrs. Ambrose from farther experiments. At any rate, the desecrating
touch that Halidon had affected to dread made no other inroads on
the serried ugliness of the Ambrose interior.
In the early summer, when Ned returned, the Ambroses had flown to
Europe again--and the Academy was still on paper.
"Well, what do you make of her?" the traveller asked, as we sat over
our first dinner together.
"Too many things--and they don't hang together. Perhaps she's still
in the chrysalis stage."
"Has Paul chucked the scheme altogether?"
"No. He sent for me and we had a talk about it just before he
"And what impression did you get?"
"That he had waited to send for me _till_ just before he sailed."
"Oh, there you go again!" I offered no denial, and after a pause he
asked: "Did _she_ ever talk to you about it?"
"Yes. Once or twice--in snatches."
"She thinks it all _too_ beautiful. She would like to see beauty put
within the reach of everyone."
"And the practical side--?"
"She says she doesn't understand business."
Halidon rose with a shrug. "Very likely you frightened her with your
ugly sardonic grin."
"It's not my fault if my smile doesn't add to the sum-total of
"Well," he said, ignoring me, "next winter we shall see."
But the next winter did not bring Ambrose back. A brief line,
written in November from the Italian lakes, told me that he had "a
rotten cough," and that the doctors were packing him off to Egypt.
Would I see the architects for him, and explain to the trustees?
(The Academy already had trustees, and all the rest of its official
hierarchy.) And would they all excuse his not writing more than a
word? He was really too groggy--but a little warm weather would set
him up again, and he would certainly come home in the spring.
He came home in the spring--in the hold of the ship, with his widow
several decks above. The funeral services were attended by all the
officers of the Academy, and by two of the young fellows who had won
the travelling scholarships, and who shed tears of genuine grief
when their benefactor was committed to the grave.
After that there was a pause of suspense--and then the newspapers
announced that the late Paul Ambrose had left his entire estate to
his widow. The board of the Academy dissolved like a summer cloud,
and the secretary lighted his pipe for a year with the official
paper of the still-born institution.
After a decent lapse of time I called at the house in Seventeenth
Street, and found a man attaching a real-estate agent's sign to the
window and a van-load of luggage backing away from the door. The
care-taker told me that Mrs. Ambrose was sailing the next morning.
Not long afterward I saw the library table with the helmeted knights
standing before an auctioneer's door in University Place; and I
looked with a pang at the familiar ink-stains, in which I had so
often traced the geography of Paul's visionary world.
Halidon, who had picked up another job in the Orient, wrote me an
elegiac letter on Paul's death, ending with--"And what about the
Academy?" and for all answer I sent him a newspaper clipping
recording the terms of the will, and another announcing the sale of
the house and Mrs. Ambrose's departure for Europe.
Though Ned and I corresponded with tolerable regularity I received
no direct answer to this communication till about eighteen months
later, when he surprised me by a letter dated from Florence. It
began: "Though she tells me you have never understood her--" and
when I had reached that point I laid it down and stared out of my
office window at the chimney-pots and the dirty snow on the roof.
"Ned Halidon and Paul's wife!" I murmured; and, incongruously
enough, my next thought was: "I wish I'd bought the library table
The letter went on with waxing eloquence: "I could not stand the
money if it were not that, to her as well as to me, it represents
the sacred opportunity of at last giving speech to his
inarticulateness . . ."
"Oh, damn it, they're too glib!" I muttered, dashing the letter
down; then, controlling my unreasoning resentment, I read on. "You
remember, old man, those words of his that you repeated to me three
or four years ago: 'I've half a mind to leave my money in trust to
Ned'? Well, it _has_ come to me in trust--as if in mysterious
fulfillment of his thought; and, oh, dear chap--" I dashed the
letter down again, and plunged into my work.
"WON'T you own yourself a beast, dear boy?" Halidon asked me gently,
one afternoon of the following spring.
I had escaped for a six weeks' holiday, and was lying outstretched
beside him in a willow chair on the terrace of their villa above
My eyes turned from the happy vale at our feet to the illuminated
face beside me. A little way off, at the other end of the terrace,
Mrs. Halidon was bending over a pot of carnations on the balustrade.
"Oh, cheerfully," I assented.
"You see," he continued, glowing, "living here costs us next to
nothing, and it was quite _her_ idea, our founding that fourth
scholarship in memory of Paul."
I had already heard of the fourth scholarship, but I may have
betrayed my surprise at the plural pronoun, for the blood rose under
Ned's sensitive skin, and he said with an embarrassed laugh: "Ah,
she so completely makes me forget that it's not mine too."
"Well, the great thing is that you both think of it chiefly as his."
"Oh, chiefly--altogether. I should be no more than a wretched
parasite if I didn't live first of all for that!"
Mrs. Halidon had turned and was advancing toward us with the slow
step of leisurely enjoyment. The bud of her beauty had at last
unfolded: her vague enigmatical gaze had given way to the clear look
of the woman whose hand is on the clue of life.
"_She's_ not living for anything but her own happiness," I mused,
"and why in heaven's name should she? But Ned--"
"My wife," Halidon continued, his eyes following mine, "my wife
feels it too, even more strongly. You know a woman's sensitiveness.
She's--there's nothing she wouldn't do for his memory--because--in
other ways. . . . You understand," he added, lowering his tone as
she drew nearer, "that as soon as the child is born we mean to go
home for good, and take up his work--Paul's work."
Mrs. Halidon recovered slowly after the birth of her child: the
return to America was deferred for six months, and then again for a
whole year. I heard of the Halidons as established first at
Biarritz, then in Rome. The second summer Ned wrote me a line from
St. Moritz. He said the place agreed so well with his wife--who was
still delicate--that they were "thinking of building a house there:
a mere cleft in the rocks, to hide our happiness in when it becomes
too exuberant"--and the rest of the letter, very properly, was
filled with a rhapsody upon his little daughter. He spoke of her as
The following year the Halidons reappeared in New York, and I heard
with surprise that they had taken the Brereton house for the winter.
"Well, why not?" I argued with myself. "After all, the money is
hers: as far as I know the will didn't even hint at a restriction.
Why should I expect a pretty woman with two children" (for now there
was an heir) "to spend her fortune on a visionary scheme that its
originator hadn't the heart to carry out?"
"Yes," cried the devil's advocate--"but Ned?"
My first impression of Halidon was that he had thickened--thickened
all through. He was heavier, physically, with the ruddiness of good
living rather than of hard training; he spoke more deliberately, and
had less frequent bursts of subversive enthusiasm. Well, he was a
father, a householder--yes, and a capitalist now. It was fitting
that his manner should show a sense of these responsibilities. As
for Mrs. Halidon, it was evident that the only responsibilities she
was conscious of were those of the handsome woman and the
accomplished hostess. She was handsomer than ever, with her two
babies at her knee--perfect mother as she was perfect wife. Poor
Paul! I wonder if he ever dreamed what a flower was hidden in the
Not long after their arrival, I dined alone with the Halidons, and
lingered on to smoke with Ned while his wife went alone to the
opera. He seemed dull and out of sorts, and complained of a twinge
"Fact is, I don't get enough exercise--I must look about for a
He had gone afoot for a good many years, and kept his clear skin and
quick eye on that homely regimen--but I had to remind myself that,
after all, we were both older; and also that the Halidons had
champagne every evening.
"How do you like these cigars? They're some I've just got out from
London, but I'm not quite satisfied with them myself," he grumbled,
pushing toward me the silver box and its attendant taper.
I leaned to the flame, and our eyes met as I lit my cigar. Ned
flushed and laughed uneasily. "Poor Paul! Were you thinking of those
execrable weeds of his?--I wonder how I knew you were? Probably
because I have been wanting to talk to you of our plan--I sent Daisy
off alone so that we might have a quiet evening. Not that she isn't
interested, only the technical details bore her."
I hesitated. "Are there many technical details left to settle?"
Halidon pushed his armchair back from the fire-light, and twirled
his cigar between his fingers. "I didn't suppose there were till I
began to look into things a little more closely. You know I never
had much of a head for business, and it was chiefly with you that
Paul used to go over the figures."
"There it is, you see." He paused. "Have you any idea how much this
thing is going to cost?"
"And have you any idea how much we--how much Daisy's fortune amounts
"None whatever," I hastened to assert.
He looked relieved. "Well, we simply can't do it--and live."
"Paul didn't _live_," he said impatiently. "I can't ask a woman with
two children to think of--hang it, she's under no actual
obligation--" He rose and began to walk the floor. Presently he
paused and halted in front of me, defensively, as Paul had once done
years before. "It's not that I've lost the sense of _my_
obligation--it grows keener with the growth of my happiness; but my
position's a delicate one--"
"Ah, my dear fellow--"
"You _do_ see it? I knew you would." (Yes, he was duller!) "That's
the point. I can't strip my wife and children to carry out a plan--a
plan so nebulous that even its inventor. . . . The long and short of
it is that the whole scheme must be re-studied, reorganized. Paul
lived in a world of dreams."
I rose and tossed my cigar into the fire. "There were some things he
never dreamed of," I said.
Halidon rose too, facing me uneasily. "You mean--?"
"That _you_ would taunt him with not having spent that money."
He pulled himself up with darkening brows; then the muscles of his
forehead relaxed, a flush suffused it, and he held out his hand in
"I stand a good deal from you," he said.
He kept up his idea of going over the Academy question--threshing it
out once for all, as he expressed it; but my suggestion that we
should provisionally resuscitate the extinct board did not meet with
"Not till the whole business is settled. I shouldn't have the
face--Wait till I can go to them and say: 'We're laying the
foundation-stone on such a day.'"
We had one or two conferences, and Ned speedily lost himself in a
maze of figures. His nimble fancy was recalcitrant to mental
discipline, and he excused his inattention with the plea that he had
no head for business.
"All I know is that it's a colossal undertaking, and that short of
living on bread and water--" and then we turned anew to the hard
problem of retrenchment.
At the close of the second conference we fixed a date for a third,
when Ned's business adviser was to be called in; but before the day
came, I learned casually that the Halidons had gone south. Some
weeks later Ned wrote me from Florida, apologizing for his
remissness. They had rushed off suddenly--his wife had a cough, he
When they returned in the spring, I heard that they had bought the
Brereton house, for what seemed to my inexperienced ears a very
large sum. But Ned, whom I met one day at the club, explained to me
convincingly that it was really the most economical thing they could
do. "You don't understand about such things, dear boy, living in
your Diogenes tub; but wait till there's a Mrs. Diogenes. I can
assure you it's a lot cheaper than building, which is what Daisy
would have preferred, and of course," he added, his color rising as
our eyes met, "of course, once the Academy's going, I shall have to
make my head-quarters here; and I suppose even you won't grudge me a
roof over my head."
The Brereton roof was a vast one, with a marble balustrade about it;
and I could quite understand, without Ned's halting explanation,
that "under the circumstances" it would be necessary to defer what
he called "our work--" "Of course, after we've rallied from this
amputation, we shall grow fresh supplies--I mean my wife's
investments will," he laughingly corrected, "and then we'll have no
big outlays ahead and shall know exactly where we stand. After all,
my dear fellow, charity begins at home!"
THE Halidons floated off to Europe for the summer. In due course
their return was announced in the social chronicle, and walking up
Fifth Avenue one afternoon I saw the back of the Brereton house
sheathed in scaffolding, and realized that they were adding a wing.
I did not look up Halidon, nor did I hear from him till the middle
of the winter. Once or twice, meanwhile, I had seen him in the back
of his wife's opera box; but Mrs. Halidon had grown so resplendent
that she reduced her handsome husband to a supernumerary. In January
the papers began to talk of the Halidon ball; and in due course I
received a card for it. I was not a frequenter of balls, and had no
intention of going to this one; but when the day came some obscure
impulse moved me to set aside my rule, and toward midnight I
presented myself at Ned's illuminated portals.
I shall never forget his look when I accosted him on the threshold
of the big new ballroom. With celibate egoism I had rather fancied
he would be gratified by my departure from custom; but one glance
showed me my mistake. He smiled warmly, indeed, and threw into his
hand-clasp an artificial energy of welcome--"You of all people--my
dear fellow! Have you seen Daisy?"--but the look behind the smile
made me feel cold in the crowded room.
Nor was Mrs. Halidon's greeting calculated to restore my
circulation. "Have you come to spy on us?" her frosty smile seemed
to say; and I crept home early, wondering if she had not found me
It was the following week that Halidon turned up one day in my
office. He looked pale and thinner, and for the first time I noticed
a dash of gray in his hair. I was startled at the change in him, but
I reflected that it was nearly a year since we had looked at each
other by daylight, and that my shaving-glass had doubtless a similar
tale to tell.
He fidgeted about the office, told me a funny story about his little
boy, and then dropped into a chair.
"Look here," he said, "I want to go into business."
"Business?" I stared.
"Well, why not? I suppose men have gone to work, even at my age, and
not made a complete failure of it. The fact is, I want to make some
money." He paused, and added: "I've heard of an opportunity to pick
up for next to nothing a site for the Academy, and if I could lay my
hands on a little cash--"
"Do you want to speculate?" I interposed.
"Heaven forbid! But don't you see that, if I had a fixed job--so
much a quarter--I could borrow the money and pay it off gradually?"
I meditated upon this astounding proposition. "Do you really think
it's wise to buy a site before--"
"Well--seeing ahead a little?"
His face fell for a moment, but he rejoined cheerfully: "It's an
exceptional chance, and after all, I _shall_ see ahead if I can get
regular work. I can put by a little every month, and by and bye,
when our living expenses diminish, my wife means to come
forward--her idea would be to give the building--"
He broke off and drummed on the table, waiting nervously for me to
speak. He did not say on what grounds he still counted on a
diminution of his household expenses, and I had not the cruelty to
press this point; but I murmured, after a moment: "I think you're
right--I should try to buy the land."
We discussed his potentialities for work, which were obviously still
an unknown quantity, and the conference ended in my sending him to a
firm of real-estate brokers who were looking out for a partner with
a little money to invest. Halidon had a few thousands of his own,
which he decided to embark in the venture; and thereafter, for the
remaining months of the winter, he appeared punctually at a desk in
the brokers' office, and sketched plans of the Academy on the back
of their business paper. The site for the future building had
meanwhile been bought, and I rather deplored the publicity which Ned
gave to the fact; but, after all, since this publicity served to
commit him more deeply, to pledge him conspicuously to the
completion of his task, it was perhaps a wise instinct of
self-coercion that had prompted him.
It was a dull winter in realty, and toward spring, when the market
began to revive, one of the Halidon children showed symptoms of a
delicate throat, and the fashionable doctor who humoured the family
ailments counselled--nay, commanded--a prompt flight to the
"He says a New York spring would be simply criminal--and as for
those ghastly southern places, my wife won't hear of them; so we're
off. But I shall be back in July, and I mean to stick to the office
He was true to his word, and reappeared just as all his friends were
deserting town. For two torrid months he sat at his desk, drawing
fresh plans of the Academy, and waiting for the wind-fall of a "big
deal"; but in September he broke down from the effect of the
unwonted confinement, and his indignant wife swept him off to the
"Why Ned should work when we have the money--I wish he would sell
that wretched piece of land!" And sell it he did one day: I chanced
on a record of the transaction in the realty column of the morning
paper. He afterward explained the sale to me at length. Owing to
some spasmodic effort at municipal improvement, there had been an
unforeseen rise in the adjoining property, and it would have been
foolish--yes, I agreed that it would have been foolish. He had made
$10,000 on the sale, and that would go toward paying off what he had
borrowed for the original purchase. Meanwhile he could be looking
about for another site.
Later in the winter he told me it was a bad time to look. His
position in the real-estate business enabled him to follow the trend
of the market, and that trend was obstinately upward. But of course
there would be a reaction--and he was keeping his eyes open.
As the resuscitated Academy scheme once more fell into abeyance, I
saw Halidon less and less frequently; and we had not met for several
months, when one day of June, my morning paper startled me with the
announcement that the President had appointed Edward Halidon of New
York to be Civil Commissioner of our newly acquired Eastern
possession, the Manana Islands. "The unhealthy climate of the
islands, and the defective sanitation of the towns, make it
necessary that vigorous measures should be taken to protect the
health of the American citizens established there, and it is
believed that Mr. Halidon's large experience of Eastern life and
well-known energy of character--" I read the paragraph twice; then I
dropped the paper, and projected myself through the subway to
Halidon's office. But he was not there; he had not been there for a
month. One of the clerks believed he was in Washington.
"It's true, then!" I said to myself. "But Mrs. Halidon in the
A day or two later Ned appeared in my office. He looked better than
when we had last met, and there was a determined line about his
"My wife? Heaven forbid! You don't suppose I should think of taking
her? But the job is a tremendously interesting one, and it's the
kind of work I believe I can do--the only kind," he added, smiling
"But my dear Ned--"
He faced me with a look of quiet resolution. "I think I've been
through all the _buts_. It's an infernal climate, of course, but
then I am used to the East--I know what precautions to take. And it
would be a big thing to clean up that Augean stable."
"But consider your wife and children--"
He met this with deliberation. "I _have_ considered my
children--that's the point. I don't want them to be able to say,
when they look back: 'He was content to go on living on that
"My dear Ned--"
"That's the one thing they _shan't_ say of me," he pressed on
vehemently. "I've tried other ways--but I'm no good at business. I
see now that I shall never make money enough to carry out the scheme
myself; but at least I can clear out, and not go on being _his_
pensioner--seeing his dreams turned into horses and carpets and
He broke off, and leaning on my desk hid his face in his hands. When
he looked up again his flush of wrath had subsided.
"Just understand me--it's not _her_ fault. Don't fancy I'm trying
for an instant to shift the blame. A woman with children simply
obeys the instinct of her sex; she puts them first--and I wouldn't
have it otherwise. As far as she's concerned there were no
conditions attached--there's no reason why she should make any
sacrifice." He paused, and added painfully: "The trouble is, I can't
make her see that I am differently situated."
"But, Ned, the climate--what are you going to gain by chucking
He lifted his brows. "That's a queer argument from _you_. And,
besides, I'm up to the tricks of all those ague-holes. And I've
_got_ to live, you see: I've got something to put through." He saw
my look of enquiry, and added with a shy, poignant laugh--how I hear
it still!--: "I don't mean only the job in hand, though that's
enough in itself; but Paul's work--you understand.--It won't come in
_my_ day, of course--I've got to accept that--but my boy's a
splendid chap" (the boy was three), "and I tell you what it is, old
man, I believe when he grows up _he'll put it through_."
Halidon went to the Mananas, and for two years the journals brought
me incidental reports of the work he was accomplishing. He certainly
had found a job to his hand: official words of commendation rang
through the country, and there were lengthy newspaper leaders on the
efficiency with which our representative was prosecuting his task in
that lost corner of our colonies. Then one day a brief paragraph
announced his death--"one of the last victims of the pestilence he
had so successfully combated."
That evening, at my club, I heard men talking of him. One said:
"What's the use of a fellow wasting himself on a lot of savages?"
and another wiseacre opined: "Oh, he went off because there was
friction at home. A fellow like that, who knew the East, would have
got through all right if he'd taken the proper precautions. I saw
him before he left, and I never saw a man look less as if he wanted
I turned on the last speaker, and my voice made him drop his lighted
cigar on his complacent knuckles.
"I never knew a man," I exclaimed, "who had better reasons for
wanting to live!"
A handsome youth mused: "Yes, his wife is very beautiful--but it
And then some one nudged him, for they knew I was Halidon's friend.
MRS. RANSOM, when the front door had closed on her visitor, passed
with a spring from the drawing-room to the narrow hall, and thence
up the narrow stairs to her bedroom.
Though slender, and still light of foot, she did not always move so
quickly: hitherto, in her life, there had not been much to hurry
for, save the recurring domestic tasks that compel haste without
fostering elasticity; but some impetus of youth revived,
communicated to her by her talk with Guy Dawnish, now found
expression in her girlish flight upstairs, her girlish impatience to
bolt herself into her room with her throbs and her blushes.
Her blushes? Was she really blushing?
She approached the cramped eagle-topped mirror above her plain prim
dressing-table: just such a meagre concession to the weakness of the
flesh as every old-fashioned house in Wentworth counted among its
relics. The face reflected in this unflattering surface--for even
the mirrors of Wentworth erred on the side of depreciation--did not
seem, at first sight, a suitable theatre for the display of the
tenderer emotions, and its owner blushed more deeply as the fact was
forced upon her.
Her fair hair had grown too thin--it no longer quite hid the blue
veins in her candid forehead--a forehead that one seemed to see
turned toward professorial desks, in large bare halls where a snowy
winter light fell uncompromisingly on rows of "thoughtful women."
Her mouth was thin, too, and a little strained; her lips were too
pale; and there were lines in the corners of her eyes. It was a face
which had grown middle-aged while it waited for the joys of youth.
Well--but if she could still blush? Instinctively she drew back a
little, so that her scrutiny became less microscopic, and the pretty
lingering pink threw a veil over her pallor, the hollows in her
temples, the faint wrinkles of inexperience about her lips and eyes.
How a little colour helped! It made her eyes so deep and shining.
She saw now why bad women rouged. . . . Her redness deepened at the
But suddenly she noticed for the first time that the collar of her
dress was cut too low. It showed the shrunken lines of the throat.
She rummaged feverishly in a tidy scentless drawer, and snatching
out a bit of black velvet, bound it about her neck. Yes--that was
better. It gave her the relief she needed. Relief--contrast--that
was it! She had never had any, either in her appearance or in her
setting. She was as flat as the pattern of the wall-paper--and so
was her life. And all the people about her had the same look.
Wentworth was the kind of place where husbands and wives gradually
grew to resemble each other--one or two of her friends, she
remembered, had told her lately that she and Ransom were beginning
to look alike. . . .
But why had she always, so tamely, allowed her aspect to conform to
her situation? Perhaps a gayer exterior would have provoked a
brighter fate. Even now--she turned back to the glass, loosened the
tight strands of hair above her brow, ran the fine end of the comb
under them with a rapid frizzing motion, and then disposed them,
more lightly and amply, above her eager face. Yes--it was really
better; it made a difference. She smiled at herself with a timid
coquetry, and her lips seemed rosier as she smiled. Then she laid
down the comb and the smile faded. It made a difference,
certainly--but was it right to try to make one's hair look thicker
and wavier than it really was? Between that and rouging the ethical
line seemed almost impalpable, and the spectre of her rigid New
England ancestry rose reprovingly before her. She was sure that none
of her grandmothers had ever simulated a curl or encouraged a blush.
A blush, indeed! What had any of them ever had to blush for in all
their frozen lives? And what, in Heaven's name, had she? She sat
down in the stiff mahogany rocking-chair beside her work-table and
tried to collect herself. From childhood she had been taught to
"collect herself"--but never before had her small sensations and
aspirations been so widely scattered, diffused over so vague and
uncharted an expanse. Hitherto they had lain in neatly sorted and
easily accessible bundles on the high shelves of a perfectly ordered
moral consciousness. And now--now that for the first time they
_needed_ collecting--now that the little winged and scattered bits
of self were dancing madly down the vagrant winds of fancy, she knew
no spell to call them to the fold again. The best way, no doubt--if
only her bewilderment permitted--was to go back to the
beginning--the beginning, at least, of to-day's visit--to
recapitulate, word for word and look for look. . . .
She clasped her hands on the arms of the chair, checked its swaying
with a firm thrust of her foot, and fixed her eyes upon the inward
vision. . . .
To begin with, what had made to-day's visit so different from the
others? It became suddenly vivid to her that there had been many,
almost daily, others, since Guy Dawnish's coming to Wentworth. Even
the previous winter--the winter of his arrival from England--his
visits had been numerous enough to make Wentworth aware that--very
naturally--Mrs. Ransom was "looking after" the stray young
Englishman committed to her husband's care by an eminent Q. C. whom
the Ransoms had known on one of their brief London visits, and with
whom Ransom had since maintained professional relations. All this
was in the natural order of things, as sanctioned by the social code
of Wentworth. Every one was kind to Guy Dawnish--some rather
importunately so, as Margaret Ransom had smiled to observe--but it
was recognized as fitting that she should be kindest, since he was
in a sense her property, since his people in England, by profusely
acknowledging her kindness, had given it the domestic sanction
without which, to Wentworth, any social relation between the sexes
remained unhallowed and to be viewed askance. Yes! And even this
second winter, when the visits had become so much more frequent, so
admitted a part of the day's routine, there had not been, from any
one, a hint of surprise or of conjecture. . . .
Mrs. Ransom smiled with a faint bitterness. She was protected by her
age, no doubt--her age and her past, and the image her mirror gave
back to her. . . .
Her door-handle turned suddenly, and the bolt's resistance was met
by an impatient knock.
She started up, her brightness fading, and unbolted the door to
admit her husband.
"Why are you locked in? Why, you're not dressed yet!" he exclaimed.
It was possible for Ransom to reach his dressing-room by a slight
circuit through the passage; but it was characteristic of the
relentless domesticity of their relation that he chose, as a matter
of course, the directer way through his wife's bedroom. She had
never before been disturbed by this practice, which she accepted as
inevitable, but had merely adapted her own habits to it, delaying
her hasty toilet till he was safely in his room, or completing it
before she heard his step on the stair; since a scrupulous
traditional prudery had miraculously survived this massacre of all
"Oh, I shan't dress this evening--I shall just have some tea in the
library after you've gone," she answered absently. "Your things are
laid out," she added, rousing herself.
He looked surprised. "The dinner's at seven. I suppose the speeches
will begin at nine. I thought you were coming to hear them."
She wavered. "I don't know. I think not. Mrs. Sperry's ill, and I've
no one else to go with."
He glanced at his watch. "Why not get hold of Dawnish? Wasn't he
here just now? Why didn't you ask him?"
She turned toward her dressing-table, and straightened the comb and
brush with a nervous hand. Her husband had given her, that morning,
two tickets for the ladies' gallery in Hamblin Hall, where the great
public dinner of the evening was to take place--a banquet offered by
the faculty of Wentworth to visitors of academic eminence--and she
had meant to ask Dawnish to go with her: it had seemed the most
natural thing to do, till the end of his visit came, and then, after
all, she had not spoken. . . .
"It's too late now," she murmured, bending over her pin cushion.
"Too late? Not if you telephone him."
Her husband came toward her, and she turned quickly to face him,
lest he should suspect her of trying to avoid his eye. To what
duplicity was she already committed!
Ransom laid a friendly hand on her arm: "Come along, Margaret. You
know I speak for the bar." She was aware, in his voice, of a little
note of surprise at his having to remind her of this.
"Oh, yes. I meant to go, of course--"
"Well, then--" He opened his dressing-room door, and caught a
glimpse of the retreating house-maid's skirt. "Here's Maria now.
Maria! Call up Mr. Dawnish--at Mrs. Creswell's, you know. Tell him
Mrs. Ransom wants him to go with her to hear the speeches this
evening--the _speeches_, you understand?--and he's to call for her
at a quarter before nine."
Margaret heard the Irish "Yessir" on the stairs, and stood
motionless, while her husband added loudly: "And bring me some
towels when you come up." Then he turned back into his wife's room.
"Why, it would be a thousand pities for Guy to miss this. He's so
interested in the way we do things over here--and I don't know that
he's ever heard me speak in public." Again the slight note of
fatuity! Was it possible that Ransom was a fatuous man?
He paused in front of her, his short-sighted unobservant glance
concentrating itself unexpectedly on her face.
"You're not going like that, are you?" he asked, with glaring
"Like what?" she faltered, lifting a conscious hand to the velvet at
"With your hair in such a fearful mess. Have you been shampooing it?
You look like the Brant girl at the end of a tennis-match."
The Brant girl was their horror--the horror of all right-thinking
Wentworth; a laced, whale-boned, frizzle-headed, high-heeled
daughter of iniquity, who came--from New York, of course--on long,
disturbing, tumultuous visits to a Wentworth aunt, working havoc
among the freshmen, and leaving, when she departed, an angry wake of
criticism that ruffled the social waters for weeks. _She_, too, had
tried her hand at Guy--with ludicrous unsuccess. And now, to be
compared to her--to be accused of looking "New Yorky!" Ah, there are
times when husbands are obtuse; and Ransom, as he stood there, thick
and yet juiceless, in his dry legal middle age, with his wiry
dust-coloured beard, and his perpetual _pince-nez_, seemed to his
wife a sudden embodiment of this traditional attribute. Not that she
had ever fancied herself, poor soul, a "_ femme incomprise_." She
had, on the contrary, prided herself on being understood by her
husband, almost as much as on her own complete comprehension of him.
Wentworth laid a good deal of stress on "motives"; and Margaret
Ransom and her husband had dwelt in a complete community of motive.
It had been the proudest day of her life when, without consulting
her, he had refused an offer of partnership in an eminent New York
firm because he preferred the distinction of practising in
Wentworth, of being known as the legal representative of the
University. Wentworth, in fact, had always been the bond between the
two; they were united in their veneration for that estimable seat of
learning, and in their modest yet vivid consciousness of possessing
its tone. The Wentworth "tone" is unmistakable: it permeates every
part of the social economy, from the _coiffure_ of the ladies to the
preparation of the food. It has its sumptuary laws as well as its
curriculum of learning. It sits in judgment not only on its own
townsmen but on the rest of the world--enlightening, criticising,
ostracizing a heedless universe--and non-conformity to Wentworth
standards involves obliteration from Wentworth's consciousness.
In a world without traditions, without reverence, without stability,
such little expiring centres of prejudice and precedent make an
irresistible appeal to those instincts for which a democracy has
neglected to provide. Wentworth, with its "tone," its backward
references, its inflexible aversions and condemnations, its hard
moral outline preserved intact against a whirling background of
experiment, had been all the poetry and history of Margaret Ransom's
life. Yes, what she had really esteemed in her husband was the fact
of his being so intense an embodiment of Wentworth; so long and
closely identified, for instance, with its legal affairs, that he
was almost a part of its university existence, that of course, at a
college banquet, he would inevitably speak for the bar!
It was wonderful of how much consequence all this had seemed till
now. . . .
WHEN, punctually at ten minutes to seven, her husband had emerged
from the house, Margaret Ransom remained seated in her bedroom,
addressing herself anew to the difficult process of self-collection.
As an aid to this endeavour, she bent forward and looked out of the
window, following Ransom's figure as it receded down the elm-shaded
street. He moved almost alone between the prim flowerless
grass-plots, the white porches, the protrusion of irrelevant
shingled gables, which stamped the empty street as part of an
American college town. She had always been proud of living in Hill
Street, where the university people congregated, proud to associate
her husband's retreating back, as he walked daily to his office,
with backs literary and pedagogic, backs of which it was whispered,
for the edification of duly-impressed visitors: "Wait till that old
boy turns--that's so-and-so."
This had been her world, a world destitute of personal experience,
but filled with a rich sense of privilege and distinction, of being
not as those millions were who, denied the inestimable advantage of
living at Wentworth, pursued elsewhere careers foredoomed to
futility by that very fact.
She rose and turned to her work-table where she had dropped, on
entering, the handful of photographs that Guy Dawnish had left with
her. While he sat so close, pointing out and explaining, she had
hardly taken in the details; but now, on the full tones of his low
young voice, they came back with redoubled distinctness. This was
Guise Abbey, his uncle's place in Wiltshire, where, under his
grandfather's rule, Guy's own boyhood had been spent: a long gabled
Jacobean facade, many-chimneyed, ivy-draped, overhung (she felt
sure) by the boughs of a venerable rookery. And in this other
picture--the walled garden at Guise--that was his uncle, Lord
Askern, a hale gouty-looking figure, planted robustly on the
terrace, a gun on his shoulder and a couple of setters at his feet.
And here was the river below the park, with Guy "punting" a girl in
a flapping hat--how Margaret hated the flap that hid the girl's
face! And here was the tennis-court, with Guy among a jolly
cross-legged group of youths in flannels, and pretty girls about the
tea-table under the big lime: in the centre the curate handing bread
and butter, and in the middle distance a footman approaching with
Margaret raised this picture closer to her eyes, puzzling, in the
diminished light, over the face of the girl nearest to Guy
Dawnish--bent above him in profile, while he laughingly lifted his
head. No hat hid this profile, which stood out clearly against the
foliage behind it.
"And who is that handsome girl?" Margaret had said, detaining the
photograph as he pushed it aside, and struck by the fact that, of
the whole group, he had left only this member unnamed.
"Oh, only Gwendolen Matcher--I've always known her--. Look at this:
the almshouses at Guise. Aren't they jolly?"
And then--without her having had the courage to ask if the girl in
the punt were also Gwendolen Matcher--they passed on to photographs
of his rooms at Oxford, of a cousin's studio in London--one of Lord
Askern's grandsons was "artistic"--of the rose-hung cottage in Wales
to which, on the old Earl's death, his daughter-in-law, Guy's
mother, had retired.
Every one of the photographs opened a window on the life Margaret
had been trying to picture since she had known him--a life so rich,
so romantic, so packed--in the mere casual vocabulary of daily
life--with historic reference and poetic allusion, that she felt
almost oppressed by this distant whiff of its air. The very words he
used fascinated and bewildered her. He seemed to have been born into
all sorts of connections, political, historical, official, that made
the Ransom situation at Wentworth as featureless as the top shelf of
a dark closet. Some one in the family had "asked for the Chiltern
Hundreds"--one uncle was an Elder Brother of the Trinity House--some
one else was the Master of a College--some one was in command at
Devonport--the Army, the Navy, the House of Commons, the House of
Lords, the most venerable seats of learning, were all woven into the
dense background of this young man's light unconscious talk. For the
unconsciousness was unmistakable. Margaret was not without
experience of the transatlantic visitor who sounds loud names and
evokes reverberating connections. The poetry of Guy Dawnish's
situation lay in the fact that it was so completely a part of early
associations and accepted facts. Life was like that in England--in
Wentworth of course (where he had been sent, through his uncle's
influence, for two years' training in the neighbouring electrical
works at Smedden)--in Wentworth, though "immensely jolly," it was
different. The fact that he was qualifying to be an electrical
engineer--with the hope of a secretaryship at the London end of the
great Smedden Company--that, at best, he was returning home to a
life of industrial "grind," this fact, though avowedly a bore, did
not disconnect him from that brilliant pinnacled past, that
many-faceted life in which the brightest episodes of the whole body
of English fiction seemed collectively reflected. Of course he would
have to work--younger sons' sons almost always had to--but his uncle
Askern (like Wentworth) was "immensely jolly," and Guise always open
to him, and his other uncle, the Master, a capital old boy too--and
in town he could always put up with his clever aunt, Lady Caroline
Duckett, who had made a "beastly marriage" and was horribly poor,
but who knew everybody jolly and amusing, and had always been
particularly kind to him.
It was not--and Margaret had not, even in her own thoughts, to
defend herself from the imputation--it was not what Wentworth would
have called the "material side" of her friend's situation that
captivated her. She was austerely proof against such appeals: her
enthusiasms were all of the imaginative order. What subjugated her
was the unexampled prodigality with which he poured for her the same
draught of tradition of which Wentworth held out its little
teacupful. He besieged her with a million Wentworths in one--saying,
as it were: "All these are mine for the asking--and I choose you
For this, she told herself somewhat dizzily, was what it came
to--the summing-up toward which her conscientious efforts at
self-collection had been gradually pushing her: with all this in
reach, Guy Dawnish was leaving Wentworth reluctantly.
"I _was_ a bit lonely here at first--but _now!_" And again: "It will
be jolly, of course, to see them all again--but there are some
things one doesn't easily give up. . . ."
If he had known only Wentworth, it would have been wonderful enough
that he should have chosen her out of all Wentworth--but to have
known that other life, and to set her in the balance against
it--poor Margaret Ransom, in whom, at the moment, nothing seemed of
weight but her years! Ah, it might well produce, in nerves and
brain, and poor unpractised pulses, a flushed tumult of sensation,
the rush of a great wave of life, under which memory struggled in
vain to reassert itself, to particularize again just what his last
words--the very last--had been. . . .
When consciousness emerged, quivering, from this retrospective
assault, it pushed Margaret Ransom--feeling herself a mere leaf in
the blast--toward the writing-table from which her innocent and
voluminous correspondence habitually flowed. She had a letter to
write now--much shorter but more difficult than any she had ever
been called on to indite.
"Dear Mr. Dawnish," she began, "since telephoning you just now I
have decided not--"
Maria's voice, at the door, announced that tea was in the library:
"And I s'pose it's the brown silk you'll wear to the speaking?"
In the usual order of the Ransom existence, its mistress's toilet
was performed unassisted; and the mere enquiry--at once friendly and
deferential--projected, for Margaret, a strong light on the
importance of the occasion. That she should answer: "But I am not
going," when the going was so manifestly part of a household
solemnity about which the thoughts below stairs fluttered in proud
participation; that in face of such participation she should utter a
word implying indifference or hesitation--nay, revealing herself the
transposed, uprooted thing she had been on the verge of becoming; to
do this was--well! infinitely harder than to perform the alternative
act of tearing up the sheet of note-paper under her reluctant pen.
Yes, she said, she would wear the brown silk. . . .
ALL the heat and glare from the long illuminated table, about which
the fumes of many courses still hung in a savoury fog, seemed to
surge up to the ladies' gallery, and concentrate themselves in the
burning cheeks of a slender figure withdrawn behind the projection
of a pillar.
It never occurred to Margaret Ransom that she was sitting in the
shade. She supposed that the full light of the chandeliers was
beating on her face--and there were moments when it seemed as though
all the heads about the great horse-shoe below, bald, shaggy, sleek,
close-thatched, or thinly latticed, were equipped with an additional
pair of eyes, set at an angle which enabled them to rake her face as
relentlessly as the electric burners.
In the lull after a speech, the gallery was fluttering with the
rustle of programmes consulted, and Mrs. Sheff (the Brant girl's
aunt) leaned forward to say enthusiastically: "And now we're to hear
A louder buzz rose from the table, and the heads (without relaxing
their upward vigilance) seemed to merge, and flow together, like an
attentive flood, toward the upper end of the horse-shoe, where all
the threads of Margaret Ransom's consciousness were suddenly drawn
into what seemed a small speck, no more--a black speck that rose,
hung in air, dissolved into gyrating gestures, became distended,
enormous, preponderant--became her husband "speaking."
"It's the heat--" Margaret gasped, pressing her handkerchief to her
whitening lips, and finding just strength enough left to push back
farther into the shadow.
She felt a touch on her arm. "It _is_ horrible--shall we go?" a
voice suggested; and, "Yes, yes, let us go," she whispered, feeling,
with a great throb of relief, _that_ to be the only possible, the
only conceivable, solution. To sit and listen to her husband
_now_--how could she ever have thought she could survive it?
Luckily, under the lingering hubbub from below, his opening words
were inaudible, and she had only to run the gauntlet of sympathetic
feminine glances, shot after her between waving fans and programmes,
as, guided by Guy Dawnish, she managed to reach the door. It was
really so hot that even Mrs. Sheff was not much surprised--till long
afterward. . . .
The winding staircase was empty, half dark and blessedly silent. In
a committee room below Dawnish found the inevitable water jug, and
filled a glass for her, while she leaned back, confronted only by a
frowning college President in an emblazoned frame. The academic
frown descended on her like an anathema when she rose and followed
her companion out of the building.
Hamblin Hall stands at the end of the long green "Campus" with its
sextuple line of elms--the boast and the singularity of Wentworth. A
pale spring moon, rising above the dome of the University library at
the opposite end of the elm-walk, diffused a pearly mildness in the
sky, melted to thin haze the shadows of the trees, and turned to
golden yellow the lights of the college windows. Against this soft
suffusion of light the Library cupola assumed a Bramantesque grace,
the white steeple of the congregational church became a campanile
topped by a winged spirit, and the scant porticoes of the older
halls the colonnades of classic temples.
"This is better--" Dawnish said, as they passed down the steps and
under the shadow of the elms.
They moved on a little way in silence before he began again: "You're
too tired to walk. Let us sit down a few minutes."
Her feet, in truth, were leaden, and not far off a group of park
benches, encircling the pedestal of a patriot in bronze, invited
them to rest. But Dawnish was guiding her toward a lateral path
which bent, through shrubberies, toward a strip of turf between two
of the buildings.
"It will be cooler by the river," he said, moving on without waiting
for a possible protest. None came: it seemed easier, for the moment,
to let herself be led without any conventional feint of resistance.
And besides, there was nothing wrong about _this_--the wrong would
have been in sitting up there in the glare, pretending to listen to
her husband, a dutiful wife among her kind. . . .
The path descended, as both knew, to the chosen, the inimitable spot
of Wentworth: that fugitive curve of the river, where, before
hurrying on to glut the brutal industries of South Wentworth and
Smedden, it simulated for a few hundred yards the leisurely pace of
an ancient university stream, with willows on its banks and a
stretch of turf extending from the grounds of Hamblin Hall to the
boat houses at the farther bend. Here too were benches, beneath the
willows, and so close to the river that the voice of its gliding
softened and filled out the reverberating silence between Margaret
and her companion, and made her feel that she knew why he had
brought her there.
"Do you feel better?" he asked gently as he sat down beside her.
"Oh, yes. I only needed a little air."
"I'm so glad you did. Of course the speeches were tremendously
interesting--but I prefer this. What a good night!"
There was a pause, which now, after all, the soothing accompaniment
of the river seemed hardly sufficient to fill.
"I wonder what time it is. I ought to be going home," Margaret began
"Oh, it's not late. They'll be at it for hours in there--yet."
She made a faint inarticulate sound. She wanted to say:
"No--Robert's speech was to be the last--" but she could not bring
herself to pronounce Ransom's name, and at the moment no other way
of refuting her companion's statement occurred to her.
The young man leaned back luxuriously, reassured by her silence.
"You see it's my last chance--and I want to make the most of it."
"Your last chance?" How stupid of her to repeat his words on that
cooing note of interrogation! It was just such a lead as the Brant
girl might have given him.
"To be with you--like this. I haven't had so many. And there's less
than a week left."
She attempted to laugh. "Perhaps it will sound longer if you call it
The flatness of that, again! And she knew there were people who
called her intelligent. Fortunately he did not seem to notice it;
but her laugh continued to sound in her own ears--the coquettish
chirp of middle age! She decided that if he spoke again--if he _said
anything_--she would make no farther effort at evasion: she would
take it directly, seriously, frankly--she would not be doubly
"Besides," he continued, throwing his arm along the back of the
bench, and turning toward her so that his face was like a dusky
bas-relief with a silver rim--"besides, there's something I've been
wanting to tell you."
The sound of the river seemed to cease altogether: the whole world
Margaret had trusted her inspiration farther than it appeared likely
to carry her. Again she could think of nothing happier than to
repeat, on the same witless note of interrogation: "To tell me?"
The constraint, the difficulty, seemed to be on his side now: she
divined it by the renewed shifting of his attitude--he was capable,
usually, of such fine intervals of immobility--and by a confusion in
his utterance that set her own voice throbbing in her throat.
"You've been so perfect to me," he began again. "It's not my fault
if you've made me feel that you would understand everything--make
allowances for everything--see just how a man may have held out, and
fought against a thing--as long as he had the strength. . . . This
may be my only chance; and I can't go away without telling you."
He had turned from her now, and was staring at the river, so that
his profile was projected against the moonlight in all its beautiful
There was a slight pause, as though he waited for her to speak; then
she leaned forward and laid her hand on his.
"If I have really been--if I have done for you even the least part
of what you say . . . what you imagine . . . will you do for me,
now, just one thing in return?"
He sat motionless, as if fearing to frighten away the shy touch on
his hand, and she left it there, conscious of her gesture only as
part of the high ritual of their farewell.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked in a low tone.
"_ Not_ to tell me!" she breathed on a deep note of entreaty.
"_ Not_ to tell you--?"
"Anything--_anything_--just to leave our . . . our friendship . . .
as it has been--as--as a painter, if a friend asked him, might leave
a picture--not quite finished, perhaps . . . but all the more
exquisite. . . ."
She felt the hand under hers slip away, recover itself, and seek her
own, which had flashed out of reach in the same instant--felt the
start that swept him round on her as if he had been caught and
turned about by the shoulders.
"You--_you_--?" he stammered, in a strange voice full of fear and
tenderness; but she held fast, so centred in her inexorable resolve
that she was hardly conscious of the effect her words might be
"Don't you see," she hurried on, "don't you _feel_ how much safer it
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