The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
James Branch Cabell
Part 3 out of 5
"Rudolph, and has it never occurred to you that in marrying Patricia you
And naturally his eyebrows lifted.
"Because a woman wants love."
"Well, well! and don't I love Patricia?"
"I dare say that you think you do. Only you have played at loving so
long you are really unable to love anybody as a girl has every right to
be loved in her twenties. Yes, Rudolph, you are being rather subtly
punished for the good times you have had. And, after all, the saddest
punishment is something that happens in us, not something which happens
"I wish you wouldn't laugh, Clarice----"
"I wish I didn't have to. For I would get far more comfort out of
crying, and I don't dare to, because of my complexion. It comes in a
round pasteboard box nowadays, you know, Rudolph, with French
mendacities all over the top--and my eyebrows come in a fat crayon, and
the healthful glow of my lips comes in a little porcelain tub."
Mrs. Pendomer was playing with a teaspoon now, and a smile hovered about
the aforementioned lips.
"And yet, do you remember, Rudolph," said she, "that evening at
Assequin, when I wore a blue gown, and they were playing _Fleurs
d'Amour_, and--you said--?"
"Yes"--there was an effective little catch in his voice--"you were a
wonderful girl, Clarice--'my sunshine girl,' I used to call you. And
blue was always your color; it went with your eyes so exactly. And those
big sleeves they wore then--those tell-tale, crushable sleeves!--they
suited your slender youthfulness so perfectly! Ah, I remember it as
though it were yesterday!"
Mrs. Pendomer majestically rose to her feet.
"It was pink! And it was at the Whitebrier you said--what you said!
And--and you don't deserve anything but what you are getting," she
"I--it was so long ago," Rudolph Musgrave apologized, with mingled
discomfort and vagueness.
"Yes," she conceded, rather sadly; "it was so long--oh, very long ago!
For we were young then, and we believed in things, and--and Jack
Charteris had not taken a fancy to me--" She sighed and drummed her
fingers on the table. "But women have always helped and shielded you,
haven't they, Rudolph? And now I am going to help you too, for you have
shown me the way. You don't deserve it in the least, but I'll do it."
Thus it shortly came about that Mrs. Pendomer mounted, in meditative
mood, to Mrs. Musgrave's rooms; and that Mrs. Pendomer, recovering her
breath, entered, without knocking, into a gloom where cologne and
menthol and the odor of warm rubber contended for mastery. For Patricia
had decided that she was very ill indeed, and was sobbing softly in bed.
Very calmly, Mrs. Pendomer opened a window, letting in a flood of fresh
air and sunshine; very calmly, she drew a chair--a substantial
arm-chair--to the bedside, and, very calmly, she began:
"My dear, Rudolph has told me of this ridiculous affair, and--oh, you
equally ridiculous girl!"
She removed, with deft fingers, a damp and clinging bandage from about
Patricia's head, and patted the back of Patricia's hand, placidly.
Patricia was by this time sitting erect in bed, and her coppery hair was
thick about her face, which was colorless; and, altogether, she was very
rigid and very indignant and very pretty, and very, very young.
"How dare he tell you--or anybody else!" she cried.
"We are such old friends, remember," Mrs. Pendomer pleaded, and
rearranged the pillows, soothingly, about her hostess; "and I want to
talk to you quietly and sensibly."
Patricia sank back among the pillows, and inhaled the fresh air, which,
in spite of herself, she found agreeable. "I--somehow, I don't feel very
sensible," she murmured, half sulky and half shame-faced.
Mrs. Pendomer hesitated for a moment, and then plunged into the heart of
things. "You are a woman, dear," she said, gently, "though heaven knows
it must have been only yesterday you were playing about the nursery--and
one of the facts we women must face, eventually, is that man is a
polygamous animal. It is unfortunate, perhaps, but it is true.
Civilization may veneer the fact, but nothing will ever override it, not
even in these new horseless carriages. A man may give his wife the best
that is in him--his love, his trust, his life's work--but it is only the
best there is left. We give our hearts; men dole out theirs, as people
feed bread to birds, with a crumb for everyone. His wife has the
remnant. And the best we women can do is to remember we are credibly
informed that half a loaf is preferable to no bread at all."
Her face sobered, and she added, pensively: "We might contrive a better
universe, we sister women, but this is not permitted us. So we must take
it as it is."
Patricia stirred, as talking died away. "I don't believe it," said she;
and she added, with emphasis: "And, anyhow, I hate that nasty trollop!"
"Ah, but you do believe it." Mrs. Pendomer's voice was insistent. "You
knew it years before you went into long frocks. That knowledge is, I
suppose, a legacy from our mothers."
Patricia frowned, petulantly, and then burst into choking sobs. "Oh!"
she cried, "it's damnable! Some other woman has had what I can never
have. And I wanted it so!--that first love that means everything--the
love he gave her when I was only a messy little girl, with pig-tails and
too many hands and feet! Oh, that--that hell-cat! She's had everything!"
There was an interval, during which Mrs. Pendomer smiled crookedly, and
Patricia continued to sob, although at lengthening intervals. Then, Mrs.
Pendomer lifted the packet of letters lying on the bed, and cleared her
"H'm!" said she; "so this is what caused all the trouble? You don't
And, considering silence as equivalent to acquiescence, she drew out a
letter at hazard, and read aloud:
"'Just a line, woman of all the world, to tell you ... but what have I
to tell you, after all? Only the old, old message, so often told that it
seems scarcely worth while to bother the postman about it. Just three
words that innumerable dead lips have whispered, while life was yet good
and old people were unreasonable and skies were blue--three words that
our unborn children's children will whisper to one another when we too
have gone to help the grasses in their growing or to nourish the
victorious, swaying hosts of some field of daffodils. Just three
words--that is my message to you, my lady.... Ah, it is weary waiting
for a sight of your dear face through these long days that are so much
alike and all so empty and colorless! My heart grows hungry as I think
of your great, green eyes and of the mouth that is like a little wound.
I want you so, O dearest girl in all the world! I want you.... Ah, time
travels very slowly that brings you back to me, and, meanwhile, I can
but dream of you and send you impotent scrawls that only vex me with
their futility. For my desire of you--'
"The remainder," said Mrs. Pendomer, clearing her throat once more,
"appears to consist of insanity and heretical sentiments, in about equal
proportions, all written at the top of a boy's breaking voice. It isn't
Colonel Musgrave's voice--quite--is it?"
During the reading, Patricia, leaning on one elbow, had regarded her
companion with wide eyes and flushed cheeks. "Now, you see!" she cried
indignantly; "he loved her! He was simply crazy about her."
"Why, yes." Mrs. Pendomer replaced the letter, carefully, almost
caressingly, among its companions. "My dear, it was years ago. I think
time has by this wreaked a vengeance far more bitter than you could ever
plan on the woman who, after all, never thought to wrong you. For the
bitterest of all bitter things to a woman--to some women, at least--is
to grow old."
She sighed, and her well-manicured fingers fretted for a moment with the
"Ah, who will write the tragedy of us women who were 'famous Southern
beauties' once? We were queens of men while our youth lasted, and
diarists still prattle charmingly concerning us. But nothing was
expected of us save to be beautiful and to condescend to be made much
of, and that is our tragedy. For very few things, my dear, are more
pitiable than the middle-age of the pitiful butterfly woman, whose mind
cannot--cannot, because of its very nature--reach to anything higher!
Middle-age strips her of everything--the admiration, the flattery, the
shallow merriment--all the little things that her little mind longs
for--and other women take her place, in spite of her futile, pitiful
efforts to remain young. And the world goes on as before, and there is a
whispering in the moonlit garden, and young people steal off for wholly
superfluous glasses of water, and the men give her duty dances, and she
is old--ah, so old!--under the rouge and inane smiles and dainty
fripperies that caricature her lost youth! No, my dear, you needn't envy
this woman! Pity her, my dear!" pleaded Clarice Pendomer, and with a
note of earnestness in her voice.
"Such a woman," said Patricia, with distinctness, "deserves no pity."
"Well," Mrs. Pendomer conceded, drily, "she doesn't get it. Probably,
because she always grows fat, from sheer lack of will-power to resist
sloth and gluttony--the only agreeable vices left her; and by no stretch
of the imagination can a fat woman be converted into either a pleasing
or heroic figure."
Mrs. Pendomer paused for a breathing-space, and smiled, though not very
"It is, doubtless," said she, "a sight for gods--and quite certainly for
men--to laugh at, this silly woman striving to regain a vanished
frugality of waist. Yes, I suppose it is amusing--but it is also
pitiful. And it is more pitiful still if she has ever loved a man in the
unreasoning way these shallow women sometimes do. Men age so slowly; the
men a girl first knows are young long after she has reached
middle-age--yes, they go on dancing cotillions and talking nonsense in
the garden, long after she has taken to common-sense shoes. And the man
is still young--and he cares for some other woman, who is young and has
all that she has lost--and it seems so unfair!" said Mrs. Pendomer.
Patricia regarded her for a moment. The purple eyes were alert, their
glance was hard. "You seem to know all about this woman," Patricia
began, in a level voice. "I have heard, of course, what everyone in
Lichfield whispers about you and Rudolph. I have even teased Rudolph
about it, but until to-day I had believed it was a lie."
"It is often a mistake to indulge in uncommon opinions," said Mrs.
Pendomer. "You get more fun and interest out of it, I don't deny, but
the bill, my dear, is unconscionable."
"So! you confess it!"
"My dear, and who am I to stand aside like a coward and see you make a
mountain of this boy-and-girl affair--an affair which Rudolph and I had
practically forgotten--oh, years ago!--until to-day? Why--why, you
_can't_ be jealous of me!" Mrs. Pendomer concluded, half-mockingly.
Patricia regarded her with deliberation.
In the windy sunlight, Mrs. Pendomer was a well-preserved woman, but,
unmistakably, preserved; moreover, there was a great deal of her, and
her nose was in need of a judicious application of powder, of which
there was a superfluity behind her ears. Was this the siren Patricia had
dreaded? Patricia clearly perceived that, whatever had been her
husband's relations with this woman, he had been manifestly entrapped
into the imbroglio--a victim to Mrs. Pendomer's inordinate love of
attention, which was, indeed, tolerably notorious; and Patricia's anger
against Rudolph Musgrave gave way to a rather contemptuous pity and a
half-maternal remorse for not having taken better care of him.
"No," answered Mrs. Pendomer, to her unspoken thought; "no woman could
be seriously jealous of me. Yes, I dare say, I am _passee_ and vain and
frivolous and--harmless. But," she added, meditatively, "you hate me,
just the same."
"My dear Mrs. Pendomer----" Patricia began, with cool courtesy; then
hesitated. "Yes," she conceded; "I dare say, it is unreasonable--but I
do hate you like the very old Nick."
"Why, then," spoke Mrs. Pendomer, with cheerfulness, "everything is as
it should be." She rose and smiled. "I am sorry to say I must be leaving
Matocton to-day; the Ullwethers are very pressing, and I really don't
know how to get out of paying them a visit----"
"So sorry to lose you," cooed Patricia; "but, of course, you know best.
I believe some very good people are visiting the Ullwethers nowadays?"
She extended the letters, blandly. "May I restore your property?" she
queried, with utmost gentleness.
"Thanks!" Clarice Pendomer took them, and kissed her hostess, not
without tenderness, on the brow. "My dear, be kind to Rudolph. He--he is
rather an attractive man, you know,--and other women are kind to him. We
of Lichfield have always said that he and Jack Charteris were the most
dangerous men that even Lichfield has ever produced----"
"Why, do people really find Mr. Charteris particularly attractive?"
Patricia demanded, so quickly and so innocently that Mrs. Pendomer could
not deny herself the glance of a charlatan who applauds his fellow's
And Patricia colored.
"Oh, well--! You know how Lichfield gossips," said Mrs. Pendomer.
Colonel Musgrave had smoked a preposterous number of unsatisfying
cigarettes on the big front porch of Matocton whilst Mrs. Pendomer was
absent on her mission; and on her return, flushed and triumphant, he
rose in eloquent silence.
"I've done it, Rudolph," said Mrs. Pendomer.
"Done what?" he queried, blankly.
"Restored what my incomprehensible lawyers call the _status quo_;
achieved peace with honor; carried off the spoils of war; and--in
short--arranged everything," answered Mrs. Pendomer, and sank into a
rustic chair, which creaked admonishingly. "And all," she added,
bringing a fan into play, "without a single falsehood. _I_ am not to
blame if Patricia has jumped at the conclusion that these letters were
written to me."
"My word!" said Rudolph Musgrave, "your methods of restoring domestic
peace to a distracted household are, to say the least, original!" He
seated himself, and lighted another cigarette.
"Oh, well, Patricia is not deaf, you know, and she has lived in
Lichfield quite a while." Mrs. Pendomer said abruptly, "I have half a
mind to tell you some of the things I know about Aline Van Orden."
"Please don't," said Colonel Musgrave, "for I would inevitably beard you
on my own porch and smite you to the door-mat. And I am hardly young
enough for such adventures."
"And poor Aline is dead! And the rest of us are middle-aged now,
Rudolph, and we go in to dinner with the veterans who call us 'Madam,'
and we are prominent in charitable enterprises.... But there was a time
when we were not exactly hideous in appearance, and men did many mad
things for our sakes, and we never lose the memory of that time.
Pleasant memories are among the many privileges of women. Yes," added
Mrs. Pendomer, meditatively, "we derive much the same pleasure from them
a cripple does from rearranging the athletic medals he once won, or a
starving man from thinking of the many excellent dinners he has eaten;
but we can't and we wouldn't part with them, nevertheless."
Rudolph Musgrave, however, had not honored her with much attention, and
was puzzling over the more or less incomprehensible situation; and,
perceiving this, she ran on, after a little:
"Oh, it worked--it worked beautifully! You see, she would always have
been very jealous of that other woman; but with me it is different. She
has always known that scandalous story about you and me. And she has
always known me as I am--a frivolous and--say, corpulent, for it is a
more dignified word--and generally unattractive chaperon; and she can't
think of me as ever having been anything else. Young people never really
believe in their elders' youth, Rudolph; at heart, they think we came
into the world with crow's-feet and pepper-and-salt hair, all complete.
So, she is only sorry for you now--rather as a mother would be for a
naughty child; as for me, she isn't jealous--but," sighed Mrs. Pendomer,
"she isn't over-fond of me."
Colonel Musgrave rose to his feet. "It isn't fair," said he; "the
letters were distinctly compromising. It isn't fair you should shoulder
the blame for a woman who was nothing to you. It isn't fair you should
be placed in such a false position."
"What matter?" pleaded Mrs. Pendomer. "The letters are mine to burn, if
I choose. I have read one of them, by the way, and it is almost word for
word a letter you wrote me a good twenty years ago. And you re-hashed it
for Patricia's benefit too, it seems! You ought to get a mimeograph. Oh,
very well! It doesn't matter now, for Patricia will say nothing--or not
at least to you," she added.
"Still----" he began.
"Ah, Rudolph, if I want to do a foolish thing, why won't you let me?
What else is a woman for? They are always doing foolish things. I have
known a woman to throw a man over, because she had seen him without a
collar; and I have known another actually to marry a man, because she
happened to be in love with him. I have known a woman to go on wearing
pink organdie after she has passed forty, and I have known a woman to go
on caring for a man who, she knew, wasn't worth caring for, long after
he had forgotten. We are not brave and sensible, like you men. So why
not let me be foolish, if I want to be?"
"If," said Colonel Musgrave in some perplexity, "I understand one word
of this farrago, I will be--qualified in various ways."
"But you don't have to understand," she pleaded.
"You mean--?" he asked.
"I mean that I was always fond of Aline, anyhow."
"Nonsense!" And he was conscious, with vexation, that he had undeniably
"I mean, then, I am a woman, and _I_ understand. Everything is as near
what it should be as is possible while Patricia is seeing so much of--we
will call it the artistic temperament." Mrs. Pendomer shrugged. "But if
I went on in that line you would believe I was jealous. And heaven knows
I am not the least bit so--with the unavoidable qualification that,
being a woman, I can't help rising superior to common-sense."
He said, "You mean Jack Charteris--? But what on earth has he to do with
"I don't mean any proper names at all. I simply mean you are not to undo
my work. It would only signify trouble and dissatisfaction and giving up
all this"--she waved her hand lightly toward the lawns of
Matocton,--"and it would mean our giving you up, for, you know, you
haven't any money of your own, Rudolph. Ah, Rudolph, we can't give you
up! We need you to lead our Lichfield germans, and to tell us naughty
little stories, and keep us amused. So _please_ be sensible, Rudolph."
"Permit me to point out I firmly believe that silence is the perfectest
herald of joy," observed Colonel Musgrave. "Only I do _not_ understand
why you should have dragged John Charteris's name into this ludicrous
"You really do not understand----?"
But Colonel Musgrave's handsome face declared very plainly that he did
"Well," Mrs. Pendomer reflected, "I dare say it is best, upon the whole,
you shouldn't. And now you must excuse me, for I am leaving for the
Ullwethers' to-day, and I shan't ever be invited to Matocton again, and
I must tell my maid to pack up. She is a little fool and it will break
her heart to be leaving Pilkins. All human beings are tediously alike.
But, allowing ample time for her to dispose of my best lingerie and of
her unavoidable lamentations, I ought to make the six-forty-five. I have
noticed that one usually does--somehow," said Mrs. Pendomer, and seemed
to smack of allegories.
And yet it may have been because she knew--as who knew
better?--something of that mischief's nature which was now afoot.
The colonel burned the malefic letters that afternoon. Indeed, the
episode set him to ransacking the desk in which Patricia had found
them--a desk which, as you have heard, was heaped with the miscellaneous
correspondence of the colonel's father dating back a half-century and
more. Much curious matter the colonel discovered there, for "Wild Will"
Musgrave's had been a full-blooded career. And over one packet of
letters, in particular, the colonel sat for a long while with an
unwontedly troubled face.
PART SIX - BYWAYS
"Cry _Kismet!_ and take heart. Eros is gone,
Nor may we follow to that loftier air
Olympians breathe. Take heart, and enter where
A lighter Love, vine-crowned, laughs i' the sun,
Oblivious of tangled webs ill-spun
By ancient wearied weavers, for it may be
His guidance leads to lovers of such as we
And hearts so credulous as to be won.
"Cry _Kismet!_ Put away vain memories
Of all old sorrows and of all old joys,
And learn that life is never quite amiss
So long as unreflective girls and boys
Remember that young lips were meant to kiss,
And hold that laughter is a seemly noise."
PAUL VANDERHOFFEN. _Egeria Answers._
Patricia sat in the great maple-grove that stands behind Matocton, and
pondered over a note from her husband, who was in Lichfield
superintending the appearance of the July number of the _Lichfield
Historical Association's Quarterly Magazine_. Mr. Charteris lay at
her feet, glancing rapidly over a lengthy letter, which was from his
wife, in Richmond.
The morning mail was just in, and Patricia had despatched Charteris for
her letters, on the plea that the woods were too beautiful to leave, and
that Matocton, in the unsettled state which marks the end of the week in
a house-party, was intolerable.
She, undoubtedly, was partial to the grove, having spent the last ten
mornings there. Mr. Charteris had overrated her modest literary
abilities so far as to ask her advice in certain details of his new
book, which was to appear in the autumn, and they had found a vernal
solitude, besides being extremely picturesque, to be conducive to the
forming of really matured opinions. Moreover, she was assured that none
of the members of the house-party would misunderstand her motives;
people were so much less censorious in the country; there was something
in the pastoral purity of Nature, seen face to face, which brought out
one's noblest instincts, and put an end to all horrid gossip and
Didn't Mrs. Barry-Smith think so? And what was her real opinion of that
rumor about the Hardresses, and was the woman as bad as people said she
was? Thus had Patricia spoken in the privacy of her chamber, at that
hour when ladies do up their hair for the night, and discourse of
mysteries. It is at this time they are said to babble out their hearts
to one another; and so, beyond doubt, this must have been the real state
of the case.
As Patricia admitted, she had given up bridge and taken to literature
only during the past year. She might more honestly have said within the
last two weeks. In any event, she now conversed of authors with a fitful
persistence like that of an ill-regulated machine. Her comments were
delightfully frank and original, as she had an unusually good memory. Of
two books she was apt to prefer the one with the wider margin, and she
was becoming sufficiently familiar with a number of poets to quote them
We have all seen John Charteris's portraits, and most of us have read
his books--or at least, the volume entitled _In Old Lichfield_, which
caused the _Lichfield Courier-Herald_ to apostrophize its author as a
"Child of Genius! whose ardent soul has sounded the mysteries of life,
whose inner vision sweeps over ever widening fields of thought, and
whose chiseled phrases continue patriotically to perpetuate the beauty
of Lichfield's past." But for present purposes it is sufficient to say
that this jewelsmith of words was slight and dark and hook-nosed, and
that his hair was thin, and that he was not ill-favored. It may be of
interest to his admirers--a growing cult--to add that his reason for
wearing a mustache in a period of clean-shaven faces was that, without
it, his mouth was not pleasant to look upon.
"Heigho!" Patricia said, at length, with a little laugh; "it is very
strange that both of our encumbrances should arrive on the same day!"
"It is unfortunate," Mr. Charteris admitted, lazily; "but the blessed
state of matrimony is liable to these mishaps. Let us be thankful that
my wife's whim to visit her aunt has given us, at least, two perfect,
golden weeks. Husbands are like bad pennies; and wives resemble the cat
whose adventures have been commemorated by one of our really popular
poets. They always come back."
Patricia communed with herself, and to Charteris seemed, as she sat in
the chequered sunlight, far more desirable than a married woman has any
right to be.
"I wish--" she began, slowly. "Oh, but, you know, it was positively
criminal negligence not to have included a dozen fairies among my
"I too have desiderated this sensible precaution," said Charteris, and
laughed his utter comprehension. "But, after all," he said, and snapped
his fingers gaily, "we still have twenty-four hours, Patricia! Let us
forget the crudities of life, and say foolish things to each other. For
I am pastorally inclined this morning, Patricia; I wish to lie at your
feet and pipe amorous ditties upon an oaten reed. Have you such an
article about you, Patricia?"
He drew a key-ring from his pocket, and pondered over it.
"Or would you prefer that I whistle into the opening of this door-key,
to the effect that we must gather our rose-buds while we may, for Time
is still a-flying, fa-la, and that a drear old age, not to mention our
spouses, will soon descend upon us, fa-la-di-leero? A door-key is not
Arcadian, Patricia, but it makes a very creditable noise."
"Don't be foolish, _mon ami_!" she protested, with an indulgent smile.
"I am unhappy."
"Unhappy that I have chanced to fall in love with you, Patricia? It is
an accident which might befall any really intelligent person."
She shrugged her shoulders, ruefully.
"I have done wrong to let you talk to me as you have done of late.
I--oh, Jack, I am afraid!"
Mr. Charteris meditated. Somewhere in a neighboring thicket a bird
trilled out his song--a contented, half-hushed song that called his mate
to witness how infinitely blest above all other birds was he. Mr.
Charteris heard him to the end, and languidly made as to applaud; then
Mr. Charteris raised his eyebrows.
"Of your husband, Patricia?" he queried.
"I--Rudolph doesn't bother about me nowadays sufficiently to--notice
Mr. Charteris smiled. "Of my wife, Patricia?"
"Good gracious, no! I have not the least doubt you will explain matters
satisfactorily to your wife, for I have always heard that practise makes
Mr. Charteris laughed--a low and very musical laugh.
"Of me, then, Patricia?"
"I--I think it is rather of myself I am afraid. Oh, I hate you when you
smile like that! You have evil eyes, Jack! Stop it! Quit hounding me
with your illicit fascinations." The hand she had raised in threatening
fashion fell back into her lap, and she shrugged her shoulders once
more. "My nerves are somewhat upset by the approaching prospect of
connubial felicity, I suppose. Really, though, _mon ami_, your conceit
Charteris gave vent to a chuckle, and raised the door-key to his lips.
"When you are quite through your histrionic efforts," he suggested,
apologetically, "I will proceed with my amorous pipings. Really,
Patricia, one might fancy you the heroine of a society drama, working up
the sympathies of the audience before taking to evil ways. Surely, you
are not about to leave your dear, good, patient husband, Patricia?
Heroines only do that on dark and stormy nights, and in an opera
toilette; wearing her best gown seems always to affect a heroine in that
Mr. Charteris, at this point, dropped the key-ring, and drew nearer to
her; his voice sank to a pleading cadence.
"We are in Arcadia, Patricia; virtue and vice are contraband in this
charming country, and must be left at the frontier. Let us be adorably
foolish and happy, my lady, and forget for a little the evil days that
approach. Can you not fancy this to be Arcadia, Patricia?--it requires
the merest trifle of imagination. Listen very carefully, and you will
hear the hoofs of fauns rustling among the fallen leaves; they are
watching us, Patricia, from behind every tree-bole. They think you a
dryad--the queen of all the dryads, with the most glorious eyes and hair
and the most tempting lips in all the forest. After a little, shaggy,
big-thewed ventripotent Pan will grow jealous, and ravish you away from
me, as he stole Syrinx from her lover. You are very beautiful, Patricia;
you are quite incredibly beautiful. I adore you, Patricia. Would you
mind if I held your hand? It is a foolish thing to do, but it is
She heard him with downcast eyes; and her cheeks flushed a pink color
that was agreeable to contemplation.
"Do--do you really care for me, Jack?" she asked, softly; then cried,
"No, no, you needn't answer--because, of course, you worship me madly,
unboundedly, distractedly. They all do, but you do it more convincingly.
You have been taking lessons at night-school, I dare say, at all sorts
of murky institutions. And, Jack, really, cross my heart, I always
stopped the others when they talked this way. I tried to stop you, too.
You know I did?"
She raised her lashes, a trifle uncertainly, and withdrew her hand from
his, a trifle slowly. "It is wrong--all horribly wrong. I wonder at
myself, I can't understand how in the world I can be such a fool about
you. I must not be alone with you again. I must tell my
husband--everything," she concluded, and manifestly not meaning a word
of what she said.
"By all means," assented Mr. Charteris, readily. "Let's tell my wife,
too. It will make things so very interesting."
"Rudolph would be terribly unhappy," she reflected.
"He would probably never smile again," said Mr. Charteris. "And my
wife--oh, it would upset Anne, quite frightfully! It is our altruistic,
nay, our bounden duty to save them from such misery."
"I--I don't know what to do!" she wailed.
"The obvious course," said he, after reflection, "is to shake off the
bonds of matrimony, without further delay. So let's elope, Patricia."
Patricia, who was really unhappy, took refuge in flippancy, and laughed.
"I make it a rule," said she, "never to elope on Fridays. Besides, now
I think of it, there is, Rudolph--Ah, Rudolph doesn't care a button's
worth about me, I know. The funny part is that he doesn't know it. He
has simply assumed he is devoted to me, because all respectable people
are devoted to their wives. I can assure you, _mon ami_, he would be a
veritable Othello, if there were any scandal, and would infinitely
prefer the bolster to the divorce-court. He would have us followed and
torn apart by wild policemen."
Mr. Charteris meditated for a moment.
"Rudolph, as you are perfectly aware, would simply deplore the terribly
lax modern notions in regard to marriage and talk to newspaper reporters
about this much--" he measured it between thumb and forefinger
--"concerning the beauty and chivalry of the South. He would
do nothing more. I question if Rudolph Musgrave would ever in any
circumstances be capable of decisive action."
"Ah, don't make fun of Rudolph!" she cried, quickly. "Rudolph can't help
it if he is conscientious and in consequence rather depressing to live
with. And for all that he so often plays the jackass-fool about women,
like Grandma Pendomer, he is a man, Jack--a well-meaning, clean and
dunderheaded man! You aren't; you are puny and frivolous, and you sneer
too much, and you are making a fool of me, and--and that's why I like
you, I suppose. Oh, I wish I were good! I have always tried to be good,
and there doesn't seem to be a hatpin in the world that makes a halo
sit comfortably. Now, Jack, you know I've tried to be good! I've never
let you kiss me, and I've never let you hold my hand--until to-day--
Patricia paused, and laughed.
"But we were talking of Rudolph," she said, with a touch of weariness.
"Rudolph has all the virtues that a woman most admires until she
attempts to live in the same house with them."
"I thank you," said Mr. Charteris, "for the high opinion you entertain
of my moral character." He bestowed a reproachful sigh upon her, and
continued: "At any rate, Rudolph Musgrave has been an unusually lucky
man--the luckiest that I know of."
Patricia had risen as if to go. She turned her big purple eyes on him
for a moment.
"You--you think so?" she queried, hesitatingly.
Afterward she spread out her hands in a helpless gesture, and laughed
for no apparent reason, and sat down again.
"Why?" said Patricia.
It took Charteris fully an hour to point out all the reasons.
Patricia told him very frankly that she considered him to be talking
nonsense, but she seemed quite willing to listen.
Sunset was approaching on the following afternoon when Rudolph Musgrave,
fresh from Lichfield,--whither, as has been recorded, the bringing out
of the July number of the _Lichfield Historical Associations Quarterly
Magazine_ had called him,--came out on the front porch at Matocton. He
had arrived on the afternoon train, about an hour previously, in time to
superintend little Roger's customary evening transactions with an
astounding quantity of bread and milk; and, Roger abed, his father,
having dressed at once for supper, found himself ready for that meal
somewhat in advance of the rest of the house-party.
Indeed, only one of them was visible at this moment--a woman, who was
reading on a rustic bench some distance from the house, and whose back
was turned to him. The poise of her head, however, was not unfamiliar;
also, it is not everyone who has hair that is like a nimbus of
Colonel Musgrave threw back his shoulders, and drew a deep breath.
Subsequently, with a fine air of unconcern, he inspected the view from
the porch, which was, in fact, quite worthy of his attention.
Interesting things have happened at Matocton--many events that have been
preserved in the local mythology, not always to the credit of the old
Musgraves, and a few which have slipped into a modest niche in history.
It was, perhaps, on these that Colonel Musgrave pondered so intently.
Once the farthingaled and red-heeled gentry came in sluggish barges to
Matocton, and the broad river on which the estate faces was thick with
bellying sails; since the days of railroads, one approaches the mansion
through the maple-grove in the rear, and enters ignominiously by the
The house stands on a considerable elevation. The main portion, with its
hipped roof and mullioned windows, is very old, but the two wings that
stretch to the east and west are comparatively modern, and date back
little over a century. Time has mellowed them into harmony with the
major part of the house, and the kindly Virginia creeper has done its
utmost to conceal the fact that they are constructed of plebeian bricks
which were baked in this country; but Matocton was Matocton long before
these wings were built, and a mere affair of yesterday, such as the
Revolution, antedates them. They were not standing when Tarleton paid
his famous visit to Matocton.
In the main hall, you may still see the stairs up which he rode on
horseback, and the slashes which his saber hacked upon the hand-rail.
To the front of the mansion lies a close-shaven lawn, dotted with
sundry oaks and maples; and thence, the formal gardens descend in six
broad terraces. There is when summer reigns no lovelier spot than this
bright medley of squares and stars and triangles and circles--all Euclid
in flowerage--which glow with multitudinous colors where the sun
strikes. You will find no new flowers at Matocton, though. Here are
verbenas, poppies, lavender and marigolds, sweet-william, hollyhocks and
columbine, phlox, and larkspur, and meadowsweet, and heart's-ease, just
as they were when Thomasine Musgrave, Matocton's first chatelaine, was
wont to tend them; and of all floral parvenus the gardens are innocent.
Box-hedges mark the walkways.
The seventh terrace was, until lately, uncultivated, the trees having
been cleared away to afford pasturage. It is now closely planted with
beeches, none of great size, and extends to a tangled thicket of
fieldpines and cedar and sassafras and blackberry bushes, which again
masks a drop of some ten feet to the river.
The beach here is narrow; at high tide, it is rarely more than fifteen
feet in breadth, and is in many places completely submerged. Past this,
the river lapses into the horizon line without a break, save on an
extraordinarily clear day when Bigelow's Island may be seen as a dim
smudge upon the west.
All these things, Rudolph Musgrave regarded with curiously deep interest
for one who had seen them so many times before. Then, with a shrug of
the shoulders, he sauntered forward across the lawn. He had planned
several appropriate speeches, but, when it came to the point of giving
them utterance, he merely held out his hand in an awkward fashion, and
She looked up from her reading.
She did this with two red-brown eyes that had no apparent limits to
their depth. Her hand was soft; it seemed quite lost in the broad palm
of a man's hand.
"Dear Rudolph," she said, as simply as though they had parted yesterday,
"it's awfully good to see you again."
Colonel Musgrave cleared his throat, and sat down beside her.
A moment later Colonel Musgrave cleared his throat once more.
Then Mrs. Charteris laughed. It was a pleasant laugh--a clear, rippling
carol of clean mirth that sparkled in her eyes, and dimpled in her
"So! do you find it very, very awkward?"
"Awkward!" he cried. Their glances met in a flash of comprehension which
seemed to purge the air. Musgrave was not in the least self-conscious
now. He laughed, and lifted an admonitory forefinger.
"Oh, good Cynara," he said, "I am not what I was. And so I cannot do it,
my dear--I really cannot possibly live up to the requirements of being a
Buried Past. In a proper story-book or play, I would have to come back
from New Zealand or the Transvaal, all covered with glory and epaulets,
and have found you in the last throes of consumption: instead, you have
fattened, Anne, which a Buried Past never does, and which shows a sad
lack of appreciation for my feelings. And I--ah, my dear, I must confess
that my hair is growing gray, and that my life has not been entirely
empty without you, and that I ate and enjoyed two mutton-chops at
luncheon, though I knew I should see you to-day. I am afraid we are
neither of us up to heroics, Anne. So let's be sensible and comfy, my
"You brute!" she cried--not looking irreparably angry, yet not without a
real touch of vexation; "don't you know that every woman cherishes the
picture of her former lovers sitting alone in the twilight, and growing
lackadaisical over undying memories and faded letters? And you--you
approach me, after I don't dare to think how many years, as calmly as if
I were an old schoolmate of your mother's, and attempt to talk to me
about mutton-chops! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Rudolph
Musgrave. You might, at least, have started a little at seeing me, and
have clasped your hand to your heart, and have said, 'You, you!' or
something of the sort. I had every right to expect it."
Mrs. Charteris pouted, and then trifled for a moment with the pages of
"And--and I want to tell you that I am sorry for the way I spoke to
you--that night," she swiftly said. Anne did not look at him. "Women
don't understand things that are perfectly simple to men, I suppose--I
mean--that is, Jack said--"
"That you ought to apologize? It was very like him"--and Colonel
Musgrave smiled to think how like John Charteris it was. "Jack is quite
wonderful," he observed.
She looked up, saying impulsively, "Rudolph, you don't know how happy he
"Heartless woman, and would you tempt me to end the tragedy of my life
with a Shakesperian fifth act of poisonings and assassination? I spurn
you, temptress. For, after all, it was an unpleasantly long while ago we
went mad for each other," Musgrave announced, and he smiled. "I fancy
that the boy and girl we knew of are as dead now as Nebuchadnezzar.
'Marian's married, and I sit here alive and merry at'--well, not at
forty year, unluckily--"
"If you continue in that heartless strain, I shall go into the house,"
Mrs. Charteris protested.
Her indignation was exaggerated, but it was not altogether feigned;
women cannot quite pardon a rejected suitor who marries and is content.
They wish him all imaginable happiness and prosperity, of course; and
they are honestly interested in his welfare; but it seems unexpectedly
callous in him. And besides his wife is so perfectly commonplace.
Mrs. Charteris, therefore, added, with emphasis: "I am really
"Glad to hear it," said Musgrave, placidly. "So am I."
"Oh, Rudolph, Rudolph, you are hopeless!" she sighed. "And you used to
make such a nice lover!"
Mrs. Charteris looked out over the river, which was like melting gold,
and for a moment was silent.
"I was frightfully in love with you, Rudolph," she said, as half in
wonder. "After--after that horrible time when my parents forced us to
behave rationally, I wept--oh, I must have wept deluges! I firmly
intended to pine away to an early grave. And that second time I liked
you too, but then--there was Jack, you see."
"H'm!" said Colonel Musgrave; "yes, I see."
"I want you to continue to be friends with Jack," she went on, and her
face lighted up, and her voice grew tender. "He has the artistic
temperament, and naturally that makes him sensitive, and a trifle
irritable at times. It takes so little to upset him, you see, for he
feels so acutely what he calls the discords of life. I think most men
are jealous of his talents; so they call him selfish and finicky and
conceited. He isn't really, you know. Only, he can't help feeling a
little superior to the majority of men, and his artistic temperament
leads him to magnify the lesser mishaps of life--such as the steak being
overdone, or missing a train. Oh, really, a thing like that worries him
as much as the loss of a fortune, or a death in the family, would upset
anyone else. Jack says there are no such things as trifles in a
harmonious and well-proportioned life, and I suppose that's true to men
of genius. Of course, I am rather a Philistine, and I grate on him at
times--that is, I used to, but he says I have improved wonderfully. And
so we are ridiculously happy, Jack and I."
Musgrave cast about vainly for an appropriate speech. Then he
compromised with his conscience, and said: "Your husband is a very
"Isn't he?" She had flushed for pleasure at hearing him praised. Oh,
yes, Anne loved Jack Charteris! There was no questioning that; it was
written in her face, was vibrant in her voice as she spoke of him.
"Now, really, Rudolph, aren't his books wonderful? I don't appreciate
them, of course, for I'm not clever, but I know you do. I don't see why
men think him selfish. I know better. You have to live with Jack to
really appreciate him. And every day I discover some new side of his
character that makes him dearer to me. He's so clever--and so noble.
Why, I remember--Well, before Jack made his first hit with _Astaroth's
Lackey_, he lived with his sister. They hadn't any money, and, of
course, Jack couldn't be expected to take a clerkship or anything like
that, because business details make his head ache, poor boy. So, his
sister taught school, and he lived with her. They were very happy--his
sister simply adores him, and I am positively jealous of her
sometimes--but, unfortunately, the bank in which she kept her money
failed one day. I remember it was just before he asked me to marry him,
and told me, in his dear, laughing manner, that he hadn't a penny in
the world, and that we would have to live on bread and cheese and
kisses. Of course, I had a plenty for us both, though, so we weren't
really in danger of being reduced to that. Well, I wanted to make his
sister an allowance. But Jack pointed out, with considerable reason,
that one person could live very comfortably on an income that had
formerly supported two. He said it wasn't right I should be burdened
with the support of his family. Jack was so sensitive, you see, lest
people might think he was making a mercenary marriage, and that his
sister was profiting by it. Now, I call that one of the noblest things I
ever heard of, for he is devotedly attached to his sister, and,
naturally, it is a great grief to him to see her compelled to work for a
living. His last book was dedicated to her, and the dedication is one of
the most tender and pathetic things I ever read."
Musgrave was hardly conscious of what she was saying. She was not
particularly intelligent, this handsome, cheery woman, but her voice,
and the richness and sweetness of it, and the vitality of her laugh,
contented his soul.
Anne was different; the knowledge came again to him quite simply that
Anne was different, and in the nature of things must always be a little
different from all other people--even Patricia Musgrave. He had no
desire to tell Anne Charteris of this, no idea that it would affect in
any way the tenor of his life. He merely accepted the fact that she was,
after all, Anne Willoughby, and that her dear presence seemed, somehow,
to strengthen and cheer and comfort and content beyond the reach of
Yet Musgrave recognized her lack of cleverness, and liked and admired
her none the less. A vision of Patricia arose--a vision of a dainty,
shallow, Dresden-china face with a surprising quantity of vivid hair
about it. Patricia was beautiful; and Patricia was clever, in her
pinchbeck way. But Rudolph Musgrave doubted very much if her mocking
eyes now ever softened into that brooding, sacred tenderness he had seen
in Anne's eyes; and he likewise questioned if a hurried, happy thrill
ran through Patricia's voice when Patricia spoke of her husband.
"You have unquestionably married an unusual man," Musgrave said. "I--by
Jove, you know, I fancy my wife finds him almost as attractive as you
"Ah, Rudolph, I can't fancy anyone whom--whom you loved caring for
anyone else. Don't I remember, sir, how irresistible you can be when you
Anne laughed, and raised plump hands to heaven.
"Really, though, women pursue him to a perfectly indecent extent. I have
to watch over him carefully; not that I distrust him, of course,
for--dear Jack!--he is so devoted to me, and cares so little for other
women, that Joseph would seem in comparison only a depraved _roue_. But
the _women_--why, Rudolph, there was an Italian countess at Rome--the
impudent minx!--who actually made me believe--However, Jack
explained all that, after I had made both a spectacle and a nuisance of
myself, and he had behaved so nobly in the entire affair that for days
afterwards I was positively limp with repentance. Then in Paris that
flighty Mrs. Hardress--but he explained that, too. Some women are
shameless, Rudolph," Mrs. Charteris concluded, and sighed her pity for
"Utterly so," Musgrave assented, gravely.
He was feeling a thought uncomfortable. To him the place had grown
portentous. The sun was low, and the long shadows of the trees were
black on the dim lawn. People were assembling for supper, and passing to
and fro under low-hanging branches; and the gaily-colored gowns of the
women glimmered through a faint blue haze like that with which Boucher
and Watteau and Fragonard loved to veil, and thereby to make wistful,
somehow, the antics of those fine parroquet-like manikins who figure in
their _fetes galantes._
Inside the house, someone was playing an unpleasant sort of air on the
piano--an air which was quite needlessly creepy and haunting and
insistent. It all seemed like a grim bit out of a play. The tenderness
and pride that shone in Anne's eyes as she boasted of her happiness
troubled Rudolph Musgrave. He had a perfectly unreasonable desire to
carry her away, by force, if necessary, and to protect her from clever
people, and to buy things for her.
"So, I am an old, old married woman now, and--and I think in some ways
I suit Jack better than a more brilliant person might. I am glad your
wife has taken a fancy to him. And I want you to profit by her example.
Jack says she is one of the most attractive women he ever met. He asked
me to-day why I didn't do my hair like hers. She must make you very
"My wife," Colonel Musgrave said, "is in my partial opinion, a very
clever and very beautiful woman."
"Yes; cleverness and beauty are sufficient to make any man happy, I
suppose," Anne hazarded. "Jack says, though--_Are_ cleverness and beauty
the main things in life, Rudolph?"
"Undoubtedly," he protested.
"Now, that," she said, judicially, "shows the difference in men. Jack
says a man loves a woman, not for her beauty or any other quality she
possesses, but just because she is the woman he loves and can't help
"Ah! I dare say that is the usual reason. Yes," said Colonel
Musgrave,--"because she is the woman he loves and cannot help loving!"
Anne clapped her hands. "Ah, so I have penetrated your indifference at
Impulsively, she laid her hand upon his arm, and spoke with earnestness.
"Dear Rudolph, I am so glad you've found the woman you can really love.
Jack says there is only one possible woman in the world for each man,
and that only in a month of Sundays does he find her."
"Yes." said Musgrave. He had risen, and was looking down in friendly
fashion into her honest, lovely eyes. "Yes, there is only one possible
woman. And--yes, I think I found her, Anne, some years ago."
Thus it befell that all passed smoothly with Rudolph Musgrave and Anne
Charteris, with whom he was not in the least in love any longer (he
reflected), although in the nature of things she must always seem to him
a little different from all other people.
And it befell, too, that the following noon--this day being a Sunday,
warm, clear, and somnolent--Anne Charteris and Rudolph Musgrave sat upon
the lawn before Matocton, and little Roger Musgrave was with them. In
fact, these two had been high-handedly press-ganged by this small despot
to serve against an enemy then harassing his majesty's equanimity and by
him, revilingly, designated as Nothing-to-do.
And so Anne made for Roger--as she had learned to do for her dead
son--in addition to a respectable navy of paper boats, a vast number of
"boxes" and "Nantucket sinks" and "picture frames" and "footballs." She
had used up the greater part of a magazine before the imp grew tired of
her novel accomplishments.
For as he invidiously observed, "I can make them for myself now, most
as good as you, only I always tear the bottom of the boat when you pull
it out, and my sinks are kind of wobbly. And besides, I've made up a
story just like your husband gets money for doing. And if I had a
quarter I would buy that green and yellow snake in the toy-store window
and wiggle it at people and scare them into fits."
"Sonnikins," said Colonel Musgrave, "suppose you tell us the story, and
then we will see if it is really worth a quarter, and try to save you
from this unblushing mendicancy."
"Well, God bless Father and Mother and little cousins--Oh, no, that's
what I say at night." Roger's voice now altered, assuming shrill
singsong cadences. His pensive gravity would have appeared excessive if
manifested by the Great Sphinx. "What I meant to say was that once upon
a time when the Battle of Gettysburg was going on and houses were being
robbed and burned, and my dear grandfather was being shot through the
heart, a certain house, where the richest man in town lived, was having
feast and merriment, never dreaming of any harm, or thinking of their
little child Rachel, who was on the front porch watching the battle and
screaming with joy at every man that fell dead. One dark-faced man was
struck with a bullet and was hurt. He saw the child laughing at him and
his heart was full of revenge. So that night, when all had gone to bed,
the old dark-faced man went softly in the house and got the little girl
and set the house on fire. And he carried her out in the mountains, and
is that worth a quarter?"
"Good heavens, no!" said Anne. "How dare you leave us in such harrowing
"Well, a whole lot more happened, because all the while Rachel was
asleep. When she woke up, she did not know where under the sun she was.
So she walked along for about an hour and came to a little village, and
after a few minutes she came to a large rock, and guess who she met? She
met her father, and when he saw her he hugged her so hard that when he
got through she did not have any breath left in her. And they walked
along, and after a while they came to the wood, and it was now about six
o'clock, and it was very dark, and just then nine robbers jumped out
from behind the trees, and they took a pistol and shot Rachel's father,
and the child fainted. Her papa was dead, so she dug a hole and buried
him, and went right back home. And of course that was all, and if I had
that snake, I wouldn't try to scare you with it, father, anyhow."
So Colonel Musgrave gave his son a well-earned coin, as the colonel
considered, and it having been decreed, "Now, father, _you_ tell a
story," obediently read aloud from a fat red-covered book. The tale was
of the colonel's selecting, and it dealt with a shepherdess and a
"And so," the colonel perorated, "the little china people remained
together, and were thankful for the rivet in grandfather's neck, and
continued to love each other until they were broken to pieces--And
the tale is a parable, my son. You will find that out some day. I wish
you didn't have to."
"But is that all, father?"
"You will find it rather more than enough, sonnikins, when you begin to
interpret. Yes, that is all. Only you are to remember always that they
climbed to the very top of the chimney, where they could see the stars,
before they decided to go back and live upon the parlor table under the
brand-new looking-glass. For the stars are disconcertingly unconcerned
when you have climbed to them, and so altogether unimpressed by your
achievement that it is the nature of all china people to slink home
again, precisely as your Rachel did--and as Mrs. Charteris will assure
"I?" said Anne. "Now, honestly, Rudolph, I was thinking you ought not to
let him sit upon the grass, because he really has a cold. And if I were
you, I would give him a good dose of castor-oil to-night. Some people
give it in lemon-juice, I know, but I found with my boy that peppermint
is rather less disagreeable. And you could easily send somebody over to
the store at the station----"
Anne broke off short. "Was I being inadequate again? I am sorry, but
with children you never know what a cold may lead to, and I really do
not believe it good for him to sit in this damp grass."
"Sonnikins," said Rudolph Musgrave, "you had better climb up into my
lap, before you and I are Podsnapped from the universe by the only
embodiment of common-sense just now within our reach."
He patted the boy's head and latterly resumed: "I am afraid of you,
Anne. Whenever I am imagining vain things or stitching romantic
possibilities, like embroideries, about the fabric of my past, I always
find the real you in my path, as undeniable as a gas-bill. I don't
believe you ever dare to think, because there is no telling what it
might lead to. You are simply unassailably armored by the courage of
other people's convictions."
Her candid eyes met his over the boy's bright head. "And what in the
world are you talking about?"
"I am lamenting. I am rending the air and beating my breast on account
of your obstinate preference for being always in the right. I do wish
you would endeavor to impersonate a human being a trifle more
But the great gong, booming out for luncheon, interrupted him at this
point, and Colonel Musgrave was never permitted to finish his complaint
against Anne's unimaginativeness.
On that same Sunday morning, while Anne Charteris and Rudolph Musgrave
contended with little Roger's boredom on the lawn before Matocton,
Patricia and Charteris met by accident on the seventh terrace of the
gardens. Patricia had mentioned casually at the breakfast-table that she
intended to spend the forenoon on this terrace unsabbatically making
notes for a paper on "The Symbolism of Dante," which she was to read
before the Lichfield Woman's Club in October; but Mr. Charteris had not
He was seated on the front porch, working out a somewhat difficult point
in his new book, when it had first occurred to him that this particular
terrace would be an inspiring and appropriate place in which to think
the matter over, undisturbed, he said. And it was impossible he should
have known that anyone was there, as the seventh terrace happens to be
the only one that, being planted with beech-trees, is completely
screened from observation. From the house, you cannot see anything that
It was a curious accident, though. It really seemed, now that Patricia
had put an ending to their meetings in the maple-grove, Fate was
conspiring to bring them together.
However, as Mr. Charteris pointed out, there could be no possible
objection to this conspiracy, since they had decided that their
friendship was to be of a purely platonic nature. It was a severe trial
to him, he confessed, to be forced to put aside certain dreams he had
had of the future--mad dreams, perhaps, but such as had seemed very dear
and very plausible to his impractical artistic temperament.
Still, it heartened him to hope that their friendship--since it was to
be no more--might prove a survival, or rather a veritable renaissance,
of the beautiful old Greek spirit in such matters. And, though the blind
chance that mismanaged the world had chained them to uncongenial, though
certainly well-meaning, persons, this was no logical reason why he and
Patricia should be deprived of the pleasures of intellectual
intercourse. Their souls were too closely akin.
For Mr. Charteris admitted that his soul was Grecian to the core, and
out of place and puzzled and very lonely in a sordid, bustling world;
and he assured Patricia--she did not object if he called her
Patricia?--that her own soul possessed all the beauty and purity and
calm of an Aphrodite sculptured by Phidias. It was such a soul as Horace
might have loved, as Theocritus might have hymned in glad Greek song.
Patricia flushed, and dissented somewhat.
"Frankly, _mon ami_," she said, "you are far too attractive for your
company to be quite safe. You are such an adept in the nameless little
attentions that women love--so profuse with lesser sugar-plums of speech
and action--that after two weeks one's husband is really necessary as an
antidote. Sugar-plums are good, but, like all palatable things,
unwholesome. So I shall prescribe Rudolph's company for myself, to ward
off an attack of moral indigestion. I am very glad he has come
back--really glad," she added, conscientiously. "Poor old Rudolph! what
between his interminable antiquities and those demented sections of the
alphabet--What are those things, _mon ami_, that are always going up and
down in Wall Street?"
"Elevators?" Mr. Charteris suggested.
"Oh, you jay-bird! I mean those N.P.'s and N.Y.C.'s and those other
letters that are always having flurries and panics and passed dividends.
They keep him incredibly busy."
And she sighed, tolerantly. Patricia had come within the last two weeks
to believe that she was neglected, if not positively ill-treated, by her
husband; and she had no earthly objection to Mr. Charteris thinking
likewise. Her face expressed patient resignation now, as they walked
under the close-matted foliage of the beech-trees, which made a
pleasant, sun-flecked gloom about them.
Patricia removed her hat--the morning really was rather close--and
paused where a sunbeam fell upon her copper-colored hair, and glorified
her wistful countenance. She sighed once more, and added a finishing
touch to the portrait of a _femme incomprise_.
"Pray, don't think, _mon ami_," she said very earnestly, "that I am
blaming Rudolph! I suppose no wife can ever hope to have any part in her
husband's inner life."
"Not in her own husband's, of course," said Charteris, cryptically.
"No, for while a woman gives her heart all at once, men crumble theirs
away, as one feeds bread to birds--a crumb to this woman, a crumb to
that--and such a little crumb, sometimes! And his wife gets what is left
"Pray, where did you read that?" said Charteris.
"I didn't read it anywhere. It was simply a thought that came to me,"
Patricia lied, gently. "But don't let's try to be clever. Cleverness is
always a tax, but before luncheon it is an extortion. Personally, it
makes me feel as if I had attended a welsh-rabbit supper the night
before. Your wife must be very patient."
"My wife," cried Charteris, in turn resolved to screen an unappreciative
mate, "is the most dear and most kind-hearted among the Philistines. And
yet, at times, I grant you--"
"Oh, but, of course!" Patricia said impatiently. "I don't for a moment
question that your wife is an angel."
"And why?" His eyebrows lifted, and he smiled.
"Why, wasn't it an angel," Patricia queried, all impishness now, "who
kept the first man and woman out of paradise?"
"If--if I thought you meant that----!" he cried; and then he shrugged
his shoulders. "My wife's virtues merit a better husband than Fate has
accorded her. Anne is the best woman I have ever known."
Patricia was not unnaturally irritated. After all, one does not take the
trouble to meet a man accidentally in a plantation of young beech-trees
in order to hear him discourse of his wife's good qualities; and
besides, Mr. Charteris was speaking in a disagreeably solemn manner,
rather as if he fancied himself in a cathedral.
Therefore Patricia cast down her eyes again, and said:
"Men of genius are so rarely understood by their wives."
"We will waive the question of genius." Mr. Charteris laughed heartily,
but he had flushed with pleasure.
"I suppose," he continued, pacing up and down with cat-like fervor,
"that matrimony is always more or less of a compromise--like two
convicts chained together trying to catch each other's gait. After a
while, they succeed to a certain extent; the chain is still heavy, of
course, but it does not gall them as poignantly as it used to do. And I
fear the artistic temperament is not suited to marriage; its capacity
for suffering is too great."
Mr. Charteris caught his breath in shuddering fashion, and he paused
before Patricia. After a moment he grasped her by both wrists.
"We are chained fast enough, my lady," he cried, bitterly, "and our
sentence is for life! There are green fields yonder, but our allotted
place is here in the prison-yard. There is laughter yonder in the
fields, and the scent of wild flowers floats in to us at times when we
are weary, and the whispering trees sway their branches over the
prison-wall, and their fruit is good to look on, and they hang within
reach--ah, we might reach them very easily! But this is forbidden fruit,
my lady; and it is not included in our wholesome prison-fare. And so
don't think of it! We have been happy, you and I, for a little. We
might--don't think of it! Don't dare think of it! Go back and help your
husband drag his chain; it galls him as sorely as it does you. It galls
us all. It is the heaviest chain was ever forged; but we do not dare
shake it off!"
"I--oh, Jack, Jack, don't you dare to talk to me like that! We must be
brave. We must be sensible." Patricia, regardless of her skirts, sat
down upon the ground, and produced a pocket-handkerchief. "I--oh, what
do you mean by making me so unhappy?" she demanded, indignantly.
"Ah, Patricia," he murmured, as he knelt beside her, "how can you hope
to have a man ever talk to you in a sane fashion? You shouldn't have
such eyes, Patricia! They are purple and fathomless like the ocean, and
when a man looks into them too long his sanity grows weak, and sinks
and drowns in their cool depths, and the man must babble out his foolish
heart to you. Oh, but indeed, you shouldn't have such eyes, Patricia!
They are dangerous, and to ask anybody to believe in their splendor is
an insult to his intelligence, and besides, they are much too bright to
wear in the morning. They are bad form, Patricia."
"We must be sensible," she babbled. "Your wife is here; my husband is
here. And we--we aren't children or madmen, Jack dear. So we really must
be sensible, I suppose. Oh, Jack," she cried, upon a sudden; "this isn't
"Why, no! Poor little Anne!"
Mr. Charteris's eyes grew tender for a moment, because his wife, in a
fashion, was dear to him. Then he laughed, very musically.
"And how can a man remember honor, Patricia, when the choice lies
between honor and you? You shouldn't have such hair, Patricia! It is a
net spun out of the raw stuff of fire and blood and of portentous
sunsets; and its tendrils have curled around what little honor I ever
boasted, and they hold it fast, Patricia. It is dishonorable to love
you, but I cannot think of that when I am with you and hear you speak.
And when I am not with you, just to remember that dear voice is enough
to set my pulses beating faster. Oh, Patricia, you shouldn't have such a
Charteris broke off in speech. "'Scuse me for interruptin'," the old
mulattress Virginia was saying, "but Mis' Pilkins sen' me say lunch
raydy, Miss Patrisy."
Virginia seemed to notice nothing out-of-the-way. Having delivered her
message, she went away quietly, her pleasant yellow face as
imperturbable as an idol's. But Patricia shivered.
"She frightens me, _mon ami_. Yes, that old woman always gives me
gooseflesh, and I don't know why--because she is as deaf as a post--and
I simply can't get rid of her. She is a sort of symbol--she, and how
many others, I wonder!... Oh, well, let's hurry."
So Mr. Charteris was never permitted to finish his complaint against
It was absolutely imperative they should be on time for luncheon; for,
as Patricia pointed out, the majority of people are censorious and lose
no opportunity for saying nasty things. They are even capable of
sneering at a purely platonic friendship which is attempting to preserve
the beautiful old Greek spirit.
* * * * *
She was chattering either of her plans for the autumn, or of Dante and
the discovery of his missing cantos, or else of how abominably Bob
Townsend had treated Rosalind Jemmett, and they had almost reached the
upper terrace--little Roger, indeed, his red head blazing in the
sunlight, was already sidling by shy instalments toward them--when
Patricia moaned inconsequently and for no ascertainable cause fainted.
It was the first time for four years she had been guilty of such an
indiscretion, she was shortly afterward explaining to various members of
the Musgraves' house-party. It was the heat, no doubt. But since
everybody insisted upon it, she would very willingly toast them in
another bumper of aromatic spirits of ammonia.
"Just look at that, Rudolph! you've spilt it all over your coat sleeve.
I do wish you would try to be a little less clumsy. Oh, well, I'm spruce
as a new penny now. So let's all go to luncheon."
Patricia had not been in perfect health for a long while. It seemed to
her, in retrospect, that ever since the agonies of little Roger's birth
she had been the victim of what she described as "a sort of
all-overishness." Then, too, as has been previously recorded, Patricia
had been operated upon by surgeons, and more than once....
"Good Lord!" as she herself declared, "it has reached the point that
when I see a turkey coming to the dinner-table to be carved I can't help
treating it as an ingenue."
Yet for the last four years she had never fainted, until this. It
disquieted her. Then, too, awoke faint pricking memories of certain
symptoms ... which she had not talked about ...
Now they alarmed her; and in consequence she took the next morning's
train to Lichfield.
Mrs. Ashmeade, who has been previously quoted, now comes into the story.
She is only an episode. Still, her intervention led to peculiar
results--results, curiously enough, in which she was not in the least
concerned. She simply comes into the story for a moment, and then goes
out of it; but her part is an important one.
She is like the watchman who announces the coming of Agamemnon;
Clytemnestra sharpens her ax at the news, and the fatal bath is prepared
for the _anax andron_. The tragedy moves on; the house of Atreus falls,
and the wrath of implacable gods bellows across the heavens; meanwhile,
the watchman has gone home to have tea with his family, and we hear no
more of him. There are any number of morals to this.
Mrs. Ashmeade comes into the story on the day Patricia went to
Lichfield, and some weeks after John Charteris's arrival at Matocton.
Since then, affairs had progressed in a not unnatural sequence. Mr.
Charteris, as we have seen, attributed it to Fate; and, assuredly, there
must be a special providence of some kind that presides over country
houses--a freakish and whimsical providence, which hugely rejoices in
confounding one's sense of time and direction.
Through its agency, people unaccountably lose their way in the simplest
walks, and turn up late and embarrassed for luncheon. At the end of the
evening, it brings any number of couples blinking out of the dark, with
no idea the clock was striking more than half-past nine.
And it delights in sending one into the garden--in search of roses or
dahlias or upas-trees or something of the sort, of course--and thereby
causing one to encounter the most unlikely people, and really, quite the
last person one would have thought of meeting, as all frequenters of
house-party junketings will assure you. And thus is this special
house-party providence responsible for a great number of marriages, and,
it may be, for a large percentage of the divorce cases; for, if you
desire very heartily to see anything of another member of a house-party,
this lax-minded and easy-going providence will somehow always bring the
event about in a specious manner, and without any apparent thought of
And the Musgraves' house-party was no exception.
Mrs. Ashmeade, for reasons of her own, took daily note of this. The
others were largely engrossed by their own affairs; they did not
seriously concern themselves about the doings of their fellow-guests.
And, besides, if John Charteris manifestly sought the company of
Patricia Musgrave, her husband did not appear to be exorbitantly
dissatisfied or angry or even lonely; and, be this as it might, the fact
remained that Celia Reindan was at this time more than a little
interested in Teddy Anstruther; and Felix Kennaston was undeniably very
attentive to Kathleen Saumarez; and Tom Gelwix was quite certainly
devoting the major part of his existence to sitting upon the beach with
For, in Lichfield at all events, everyone's house has at least a pane or
so of glass in it; and, if indiscriminate stone-throwing were ever to
become the fashion, there is really no telling what damage might ensue.
And so had Mrs. Ashmeade been a younger woman--had time and an adoring
husband not rendered her as immune to an insanity _a deux_ as any of us
may hope to be upon this side of saintship or senility--why, Mrs.
Ashmeade would most probably have remained passive, and Mrs. Ashmeade
would never have come into this story at all.
As it was, she approached Rudolph Musgrave with a fixed purpose this
morning as he smoked an after-breakfast cigarette on the front porch of
"Rudolph," said Mrs. Ashmeade, "are you blind?"
"You mean--?" he asked, and he broke off, for he had really no
conception of what she meant.
And Mrs. Ashmeade said, "I mean Patricia and Charteris. Did you think I
was by any chance referring to the man in the moon and the Queen of
If ever amazement showed in a man's eyes, it shone now in Rudolph
Musgrave's. After a little, the pupils widened in a sort of terror. So
this was what Clarice Pendomer had been hinting at.
"Nonsense!" he cried. "Why--why, it is utter, preposterous, Bedlamite
nonsense!" He caught his breath in wonder at the notion of such a jest,
remembering a little packet of letters hidden in his desk. "It--oh, no,
Fate hasn't quite so fine a sense of humor as that. The thing is
incredible!" Musgrave laughed, and flushed. "I mean----"
"I don't think you need tell me what you mean," said Mrs. Ashmeade. She
sat down in a large rocking-chair, and fanned herself, for the day was
warm. "Of course, it is officious and presumptuous and disagreeable of
me to meddle. I don't mind your thinking that. But Rudolph, don't make
the mistake of thinking that Fate ever misses a chance of humiliating us
by showing how poor are our imaginations. The gipsy never does. She is a
posturing mountebank, who thrives by astounding humanity."
Mrs. Ashmeade paused, and her eyes were full of memories, and very wise.
"I am only a looker-on at the tragic farce that is being played here,"
she continued, after a little, "but lookers-on, you know, see most of
the game. They are not playing fairly with you, Rudolph. When people set
about an infringement of the Decalogue they owe it to their self-respect
to treat with Heaven as a formidable antagonist. To mark the cards is
not enough. They are not playing fairly, my dear, and you ought to know
He walked up and down the porch once or twice, with his hands behind
him; then he stopped before Mrs. Ashmeade, and smiled down at her.
Without, many locusts shrilled monotonously.
"No, I do not think you are officious or meddling or anything of the
sort, I think you are one of the best and kindest-hearted women in the
world. But--bless your motherly soul, Polly! the thing is utterly
preposterous. Of course, Patricia is young, and likes attention, and it
pleases her to have men admire her. That, Polly, is perfectly natural.
Why, you wouldn't expect her to sit around under the trees, and read
poetry with her own husband, would you? We have been married far too
long for that, Patricia and I. She thinks me rather prosy and stupid at
times, poor girl, because--well, because, in point of fact, I am. But,
at the bottom of her heart--Oh, it's preposterous! We are the best
friends in the world, I tell you! It is simply that she and Jack have a
great deal in common--"
"You don't understand John Charteris. I do," said Mrs. Ashmeade,
placidly. "Charteris is simply a baby with a vocabulary. His moral
standpoint is entirely that of infancy. It would be ludicrous to
describe him as selfish, because he is selfishness incarnate. I
sometimes believe it is the only characteristic the man possesses. He
reaches out his hand and takes whatever he wants, just as a baby would,
quite simply, and as a matter of course. He wants your wife now, and he
is reaching out his hand to take her. He probably isn't conscious of
doing anything especially wrong; he is always so plausible in whatever
he does that he ends by deceiving himself, I suppose. For he is always
plausible. It is worse than useless to argue any matter with him,
because he invariably ends by making you feel as if you had been caught
stealing a hat. The only argument that would get the better of John
Charteris is knocking him down, just as spanking is the only argument
which ever gets the better of a baby. Yes, he is very like a
baby--thoroughly selfish and thoroughly dependent on other people; only,
he is a clever baby who exaggerates his own helplessness in order to
appeal to women. He has a taste for women. And women naturally like him,
for he impresses them as an irresponsible child astray in an artful and
designing world. They want to protect him. Even I do, at times. It is
really maternal, you know; we would infinitely prefer for him to be soft
and little, so that we could pick him up, and cuddle him. But as it is,
he is dangerous. He believes whatever he tells himself, you see."
Her voice died away, and Mrs. Ashmeade fanned herself in the fashion
addicted by perturbed women who, nevertheless, mean to have their say
out--slowly and impersonally, and quite as if she was fanning some one
else through motives of charity.
"I don't question," Musgrave said, at length, "that Jack is the highly
estimable character you describe. But--oh, it is all nonsense, Polly!"
he cried, with petulance, and with a tinge--if but the merest nuance
--of conviction lacking in his voice.
The fan continued its majestic sweep from the shade into the sunlight,
and back again into the shadow. Without, many locusts shrilled
"Rudolph, I know what you meant by saying that Fate hadn't such a fine
sense of humor."
"My dear madam, it was simply thrown out, in the heat of
conversation--as an axiom----"
For a moment the fan paused; then went on as before. It was never
charged against Pauline Ashmeade, whatever her shortcomings, that she
was given to unnecessary verbiage.
Colonel Musgrave was striding up and down, divided between a disposition
to swear at the universe at large and a desire to laugh at it. Somehow,
it did not occur to him to doubt what she had told him. He comprehended
now that, chafing under his indebtedness in the affair of Mrs. Pendomer,
Charteris would most naturally retaliate by making love to his
benefactor's wife, because the colonel also knew John Charteris. And for
the rest, it was useless to struggle against a Fate that planned such
preposterous and elaborate jokes; one might more rationally depend on
Fate to work out some both ludicrous and horrible solution, he
reflected, remembering a little packet of letters hidden in his desk.
Nevertheless, he paused after a while, and laughed, with a tolerable
affectation of mirth.
"I say--I--and what in heaven's name, Polly, prompted you to bring me
this choice specimen of a mare's-nest?"
"Because I am fond of you, I suppose. Isn't one always privileged to be
disagreeable to one's friends? We have been friends a long while, you
Mrs. Ashmeade was looking out over the river now, but she seemed to see
a great way, a very great way, beyond its glaring waters, and to be
rather uncertain as to whether what she beheld there was of a humorous
or pathetic nature.
"Rudolph, do you remember that evening--the first summer that I knew
you--at Fortress Monroe, when we sat upon the pier so frightfully late,
and the moon rose out of the bay, and made a great, solid-looking,
silver path that led straight over the rim of the world, and you talked
to me about--about what, now?"
"Oh, yes, yes!--I remember perfectly! One of the most beautiful evenings
I ever saw. I remember it quite distinctly. I talked--I--and what, in
the Lord's name, did I talk about, Polly?"
"Ah, men forget! A woman never forgets when she is really friends with a
man. I know now you were telling me about Anne Charteris, for you have
been in love with her all your life, Rudolph, in your own particular
half-hearted and dawdling fashion. Perhaps that is why you have had so
many affairs. You plainly found the run of women so unimportant that it
put every woman on her pride to prove she was different. Yes, I
remember. But that night I thought you were trying to make love to me,
and I was disappointed in you, and--yes, rather pleased. Women are all
vain and perfectly inconsistent. But then, girl-children always take
after their fathers."
Mrs. Ashmeade rose from her chair. Her fan shut with a snap.
"You were a dear boy, Rudolph, when I first knew you--and what I liked
was that you never made love to me. Of all the boys I have known and
helped to form, you were the only sensible one--the only one who never
presumed. That was rather clever of you, Rudolph. It would have been
ridiculous, for even arithmetically I am older than you.
"Wouldn't it have been ridiculous, Rudolph?" she demanded, suddenly.
"Not in the least," Musgrave protested, in courteous wise. "You--why,
Polly, you were a wonderfully handsome woman. Any boy----"
"Oh, yes!--I was. I'm not now, am I, Rudolph?" Mrs. Ashmeade threw back
her head and laughed naturally. "Ah, dear boy that was, it is unfair,
isn't it, for an old woman to seize upon you in this fashion, and insist
on your making love to her? But I will let you off. You don't have to do
She caught her skirts in her left hand, preparatory to going, and her
right hand rested lightly on his arm. She spoke in a rather peculiar
"Yes," she said, "the boy was a very, very dear boy, and I want the man
to be equally brave and--sensible."
Musgrave stared after her. "I wonder--I wonder--? Oh, no, that
couldn't be," he said, and wearily.
"There must be some preposterous situations that don't come about."
* * * * *
And afterward he strolled across the lawn, where the locusts were
shrilling, as if in a stubborn prediction of something which was
inevitable, and he meditated upon a great number of things. There were a
host of fleecy little clouds in the sky. He looked up at them,
And then he smiled and shook his head.
"Yet I don't know," said he; "for I am coming to the conclusion that the
world is run on an extremely humorous basis."
And oddly enough, it was at the same moment that Patricia--in
Lichfield--reached the same conclusion.
PART SEVEN - YOKED
"We are as time moulds us, lacking wherewithal
To shape out nobler fortunes or contend
Against all-patient Fates, who may not mend
The allotted pattern of things temporal
Or alter it a jot or e'er let fall
A single stitch thereof, until at last
The web and its drear weavers be overcast
And predetermined darkness swallow all.
"They have ordained for us a time to sing,
A time to love, a time wherein to tire
Of all spent songs and kisses; caroling
Such elegies as buried dreams require,
Love now departs, and leaves us shivering
Beside the embers of a burned-out fire."
PAUL VANDERHOFFEN. _Egeria Answers._
The doctor's waiting-room smelt strongly of antiseptics. That was
Patricia's predominating thought as she wandered aimlessly about the
apartment. She fingered its dusty furniture. She remembered afterward
the steel-engraving of Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet, with General Lee
explaining some evidently important matter to those attentive and
unhumanly stiff politicians; and she remembered, too, how in depicting
one statesman, who unavoidably sat with his back to the spectator, the
artist had exceeded anatomical possibilities in order to obtain a
recognizable full-faced portrait. Yet at the time this picture had not
roused her conscious attention.
She went presently to the long table austerely decorated with two rows
of magazines, each partly covered by its neighbor, just as shingles are
placed. The arrangement irritated her unreasonably. She wanted to
disarrange these dog-eared pamphlets, to throw them on the floor, to
destroy them. She wondered how many other miserable people had tried to
read these hateful books while they waited in this abominable room.
She started when the door of the consultation-room opened. The doctor
was patting the silk glove of a harassed-looking woman in black as he
escorted her to the outer door, and was assuring her that everything was
going very well indeed, and that she was not to worry, and so on.
And presently he spoke with Patricia, for a long while, quite levelly,
of matters which it is not suitable to record. Discreet man that he was,
Wendell Pemberton could not entirely conceal his wonder that Patricia
should have remained so long in ignorance of her condition. He spoke
concerning malformation and functional weaknesses and, although
obscurely because of the bugbear of professional courtesy, voiced his
opinion that Patricia had not received the most adroit medical treatment
at the time of little Roger's birth.
She was dividedly conscious of a desire to laugh and of the notion that
she must remain outwardly serious, because though this horrible
Pemberton man was talking abject nonsense, she would presently be having
him as a dinner-guest.
But what if he were not talking nonsense? The possibility, considered,
roused a sensation of falling through infinity.
"Yes, yes," Patricia civilly assented. "These young doctors have taken
this out of me, and that out of me, as you might take the works out of a
watch. And it has done no good; and they were mistaken in their first
diagnoses, because what they took for true osteomalacia was only----
Would you mind telling me again? Oh, yes; I had only a
pseudo-osteomalacic rhachitic pelvis, to begin with. To think of
anybody's being mistaken about a simple little trouble like that! And I
suppose I was just born with it, like my mother and all those other
luckless women with Musgrave blood in them?"
"Fehling and Schliephake at least consider this variety of pelvic
anomaly to be congenital in the majority of cases. But, without going
into the question of heredity at all, I think it only, fair to tell you,
Mrs. Musgrave----" And Pemberton went on talking.
Neither of the two showed any emotion.
The doctor went on talking. Patricia did not listen. The man was
talking, she comprehended, but to her his words seemed blurred and
indistinguishable. "Like a talking-machine when it isn't wound up
enough," she decided.
Subconsciously Patricia was thinking, "You have two big beads of
perspiration on your nose, and if I were to allude to the fact you would
very probably die of embarrassment."
Aloud Patricia said: "You mean, then, that, to cap it all, a functional
disorder of my heart has become organic, so that I would inevitably die
under another operation? or even at a sudden shock? And that particular
operation is now the solitary chance of saving my life! The dilemma is
neat, isn't it? How God must laugh at the jokes He contrives," said
Patricia. "I wish that I could laugh. And I will. I don't care whether
you think me a reprobate or not, Dr. Pemberton, I want a good stiff
drink of whiskey--the Musgrave size."
He gave it to her.
Patricia had as yet an hour to spend in Lichfield before her train left.
She passed it in the garden of her own home, where she had first seen
Rudolph Musgrave and he had fought with Pevensey. All that seemed very
The dahlia leaves, she noticed, were edged with yellow. She must look to
it that the place was more frequently watered; and that the bulbs were
dug up in September. Next year she meant to set the dahlias thinly, like
"Oh, yes, I meant to. Only I won't be alive next year," she recollected.
She went about the garden to see if Ned had weeded out the wild-pea
vines--a pest which had invaded the trim place lately. Only a few of the
intruders remained, burnt-out and withered as they are annually by the
mid-summer sun. There would be no more fight until next April.
"Oh, and I have prayed to You, I have always tried to do what You
wanted, and I never asked You to let me be born locked up in a
good-for-nothing Musgrave body! And You won't even let me see a
wild-pea vine again! That isn't much to ask, I think. But You won't let
me do it. You really do have rather funny notions about Your jokes."
She began to laugh.
"Oh, very well!" Patricia said aloud. "It is none of my affair that You
elect to run Your world on an extremely humorous basis."
She was at Matocton in good time for luncheon.
Colonel Musgrave had a brief interview with his wife after luncheon. He
began with quiet remonstrance, and ended with an unheard extenuation of
his presumption. Patricia's speech on this occasion was of an unfettered
and heady nature.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said, when she had finally
paused for breath, and had wiped away her tears, and had powdered her
nose, viciously, "to bully a weak and defenseless woman in this way. I
dare say everybody in the house has heard us--brawling and squabbling
just like a hod-carrier and his wife. What's that? You haven't said a
word for fifteen minutes? Oh, la, la, la! well, I don't care. Anyhow, I
have, and I am perfectly sure they heard me, and I am sure I don't care
in the least, and it's all your fault, anyway. Oh, but you have an
abominable nature, Rudolph--a mean and cruel and suspicious nature. Your
bald-headed little Charteris is nothing whatever to me; and I would have
been quite willing to give him up if you had spoken to me in a decent
manner about it. You only _said_----? I don't care what you said; and
besides, if you did speak to me in a decent manner, it simply shows that
your thoughts were so horrid and vulgar that even you weren't so
abandoned as to dare to put them into words. Very well, then, I won't be
seen so much with him in future. I realize you are quite capable of
beating me if I don't give way to your absurd prejudices. Yes, you are,
Rudolph; you're just the sort of man to take pleasure in beating a
woman. After the exhibition of temper you've given this afternoon, I
believe you are capable of anything. Hand me that parasol! Don't keep on
talking to me; for I don't wish to hear anything you have to say. You're
simply driving me to my grave with your continual nagging and abuse and
fault-finding. I'm sure I wish I were dead as much as you do. Is my hat
on straight? How do you expect me to see into that mirror if you stand
directly in front of it? There! not content with robbing me of every
pleasure in life, I verily believe you were going to let me go
downstairs with my hat cocked over one ear. And don't you snort and look
at me like that. I'm not going to meet Mr. Charteris. I'm going driving
with Felix Kennaston; he asked me at luncheon. I suppose you'll object
to him next; you object to all my friends. Very well! Now you've made me
utterly miserable for the entire afternoon, and I'm sure I hope you are
There was a rustle of skirts, and the door slammed.
Colonel Musgrave went to his own room, where he spent an interval in
meditation. He opened his desk and took out a small packet of papers,
some of which he read listlessly. How curiously life re-echoed itself!
he reflected, for here, again, were castby love-letters potent to breed
mischief; and his talk with Polly Ashmeade had been peculiarly
reminiscent of his more ancient talk with Clarice Pendomer. Everything
that happened seemed to have happened before.
But presently he shook his head, sighing. Chance had put into his hands
a weapon, and a formidable weapon, it seemed to him, but the colonel did
not care to use it. He preferred to strike with some less grimy cudgel.
Then he rang for one of the servants, questioned him, and was informed
that Mr. Charteris had gone down to the beach just after luncheon. A
moment later, Colonel Musgrave was walking through the gardens in this
As he came to the thicket which screens the beach, he called
Charteris's name loudly, in order to ascertain his whereabouts. And the
novelist's voice answered--yet not at once, but after a brief silence.
It chanced that, at this moment, Musgrave had come to a thin place in
the thicket, and could plainly see Mr. Charteris; he was concealing some
white object in the hollow of a log that lay by the river. A little
later, Musgrave came out upon the beach, and found Charteris seated upon
the same log, an open book upon his knees, and looking back over his
"Oh," said John Charteris, "so it was you, Rudolph? I could not imagine
who it was that called."
"Yes--I wanted a word with you, Jack."
Now, there are five little red-and-white bath-houses upon the beach at
Matocton; the nearest of them was some thirty feet from Mr. Charteris.
It might have been either imagination or the prevalent breeze, but
Musgrave certainly thought he heard a door closing. Moreover, as he
walked around the end of the log, he glanced downward as in a casual
manner, and perceived a protrusion which bore an undeniable resemblance
to the handle of a parasol. Musgrave whistled, though, at the bottom of
his heart, he was not surprised; and then, he sat down upon the log, and
for a moment was silent.
"A beautiful evening," said Mr. Charteris.
Musgrave lighted a cigarette.
"Jack, I have something rather difficult to say to you--yes, it is
deuced difficult, and the sooner it is over the better. I--why,
confound it all, man! I want you to stop making love to my wife."
Mr. Charteris's eyebrows rose. "Really, Colonel Musgrave----." he began,
"Now, you are about to make a scene, you know," said Musgrave, raising
his hand in protest, "and we are not here for that. We are not going to
tear any passions to tatters; we are not going to rant; we are simply
going to have a quiet and sensible talk. We don't happen to be
characters in a romance; for you aren't Lancelot, you know, and I am not
up to the part of Arthur by a great deal. I am not angry, I am not
jealous, nor do I put the matter on any high moral grounds. I simply say
it won't do--no, hang it, it won't do!"
"I dare not question you are an authority in such matters," said John
Charteris, sweetly--"since among many others, Clarice Pendomer is near
enough to be an obtainable witness."
Colonel Musgrave grimaced. "But what a gesture!" he thought,
half-enviously. Jack Charteris, quite certainly, meant to make the most
of the immunity Musgrave had purchased for him. None the less, Musgrave
had now his cue. Patricia must be listening.
And so what Colonel Musgrave said was: "Put it that a burnt child dreads
the fire--is that a reason he should not warn his friends against it?"
"At least," said Charteris at length, "you are commendably frank. I
appreciate that, Rudolph. I honestly appreciate the fact you have come
to me, not as the husband of that fiction in which kitchen-maids
delight, breathing fire and speaking balderdash, but as one sensible man
to another. Let us be frank, then; let us play with the cards upon the
table. You have charged me with loving your wife; and I answer you
frankly--I do. She does me the honor to return this affection. What,
Musgrave blew out a puff of smoke. "I don't especially mind," he said,
slowly. "According to tradition, of course, I ought to spring at your
throat with a smothered curse. But, as a matter of fact, I don't see why
I should be irritated. No, in common reason," he added, upon
consideration, "I am only rather sorry for you both."
Mr. Charteris sprang to his feet, and walked up and down the beach. "Ah,
you hide your feelings well," he cried, and his laughter was a trifle
unconvincing and a bit angry. "But it is unavailing with me. I know! I
know the sick and impotent hatred of me that is seething in your heart;
and I feel for you the pity you pretend to entertain toward me. Yes, I
pity you. But what would you have? Frankly, while in many ways an
estimable man, you are no fit mate for Patricia. She has the sensitive,
artistic temperament, poor girl; and only we who are cursed with it can
tell you what its possession implies. And you--since frankness is the
order of the day, you know--well, you impress me as being a trifle
inadequate. It is not your fault, perhaps, but the fact remains that you
have never amounted to anything personally. You have simply traded upon
the accident of being born a Musgrave of Matocton. In consequence you
were enabled to marry Patricia's money, just as the Musgraves of
Matocton always marry some woman who is able to support them. Ah, but it
was her money you married, and not Patricia! Any community of interest
between you was impossible, and is radically impossible. Your marriage
was a hideous mistake, just as mine was. For you are starving her soul,
Rudolph, just as Anne has starved mine. And now, at last, when Patricia
and I have seen our single chance of happiness, we cannot--no! we cannot
and we will not--defer to any outworn tradition or to fear of Mrs.
Grundy's narrow-minded prattle!"
Charteris swept aside the dogmas of the world with an indignant gesture
of somewhat conscious nobility; and he turned to his companion in an
attitude of defiance.
Musgrave was smiling. He smoked and seemed to enjoy his cigarette.
The day was approaching sunset. The sun, a glowing ball of copper, hung
low in the west over a rampart of purple clouds, whose heights were
smeared with red. A slight, almost imperceptible, mist rose from the
river, and, where the horizon should have been, a dubious cloudland
prevailed. Far to the west were orange-colored quiverings upon the
stream's surface, but, nearer, the river dimpled with silver-tipped
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