The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
James Branch Cabell
Part 4 out of 5
waves; and, at their feet, the water grew transparent, and splashed over
the sleek, brown sand, and sucked back, leaving a curved line of
bubbles which, one by one, winked, gaped and burst. There was a drowsy
peacefulness in the air; behind them, among the beeches, were many
stealthy wood-sounds; and, at long intervals, a sleepy, peevish
twittering went about the nested trees.
In Colonel Musgrave's face, the primal peace was mirrored.
"May I ask," said he at length, "what you propose doing?"
Mr. Charteris answered promptly. "I, of course, propose," said he, "to
ask Patricia to share the remainder of my life."
"A euphemism, as I take it, for an elopement. I hardly thought you
intended going so far."
"Rudolph!" cried Charteris, drawing himself to his full height--and he
was not to blame for the fact that it was but five-feet-six--"I am, I
hope, an honorable man! I cannot eat your salt and steal your honor. So
I loot openly, or not at all."
The colonel shrugged his shoulders.
"I presuppose you have counted the cost--and estimated the necessary
"True love," the novelist declared, in a hushed, sweet voice, "is above
"I think," said Musgrave slowly, "that any love worthy of the name will
always appraise the cost--to the woman. It is of Patricia I am
"She loves me," Charteris murmured. He glanced up and laughed. "Upon my
soul, you know, I cannot help thinking the situation a bit
farcical--you and I talking over matters in this fashion. But I honestly
believe the one chance of happiness for any of us hinges on Patricia and
me chucking the whole affair, and bolting."
"No! it won't do--no, hang it, Jack, it will not do!" Musgrave glanced
toward the bath-house, and he lifted his voice. "I am not considering
you in the least--and under the circumstances, you could hardly expect
me to. It is of Patricia I am thinking. I haven't made her altogether
happy. Our marriage was a mating of incongruities--and possibly you are
justified in calling it a mistake. Yet, day in and day out, I think we
get along as well together as do most couples; and it is wasting time to
cry over spilt milk. Instead, it rests with us, the two men who love
her, to decide what is best for Patricia. It is she and only she we must
"Ah, you are right!" said Charteris, and his eyes grew tender. "She must
have what she most desires; and all must be sacrificed to that." He
turned and spoke as simply as a child. "Of course, you know, I shall be
giving up a great deal for love of her, but--I am willing."
Musgrave looked at him for a moment. "H'm doubtless," he assented. "Why,
then, we won't consider the others. We will not consider your wife,
who--who worships you. We won't consider the boy. I, for my part, think
it is a mother's duty to leave an unsullied name to her child, but,
probably, my ideas are bourgeois. We won't consider Patricia's
relatives, who, perhaps, will find it rather unpleasant. In short, we
must consider no one save Patricia."
"Of course, one cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."
"No; the question is whether it is absolutely necessary to make the
omelet. I say no."
"And I," quoth Charteris smiling gently, "say yes."
"For Patricia," Musgrave went on, as in meditation, but speaking very
clearly, "it means giving up--everything. It means giving up her friends
and the life to which she is accustomed; it means being ashamed to face
those who were formerly her friends. We, the world, our world of
Lichfield, I mean--are lax enough as to the divorce question, heaven
knows, but we can't pardon immorality when coupled with poverty. And you
would be poor, you know. Your books are tremendously clever, Jack,
but--as I happen to know--the proceeds from them would not support two
people in luxury; and Patricia has nothing. That is a sordid detail, of
course, but it is worth considering. Patricia would never be happy in a
Mr. Charteris was frankly surprised. "Patricia has--nothing?"
"Bless your soul, of course not! Her father left the greater part of his
money to our boy, you know. Most of it is still held in trust for our
boy, who is named after him. Not a penny of it belongs to Patricia, and
even I cannot touch anything but a certain amount of interest."
Mr. Charteris looked at the colonel with eyes that were sad and hurt
and wistful. "I am perfectly aware of your reason for telling me this,"
he said, candidly. "I know I have always been thought a mercenary man
since my marriage. At that time I fancied myself too much in love with
Anne to permit any sordid considerations of fortune to stand in the way
of our union. Poor Anne! she little knows what sacrifices I have made
for her! She, too, would be dreadfully unhappy if I permitted her to
realize that our marriage was a mistake."
"God help her--yes!" groaned Musgrave.
"And as concerns Patricia, you are entirely right. It would be hideously
unfair to condemn her to a life of comparative poverty. My books sell
better than you think, Rudolph, but still an author cannot hope to
attain affluence so long as he is handicapped by any reverence for the
English language. Yes, I was about to do Patricia a great wrong. I
rejoice that you have pointed out my selfishness. For I have been
abominably selfish. I confess it."
"I think so," assented Musgrave, calmly. "But, then, my opinion is,
naturally, rather prejudiced."
"Yes, I can understand what Patricia must mean to you"--Mr. Charteris
sighed, and passed his hand over his forehead in a graceful
fashion,--"and I, also, love her far too dearly to imperil her
happiness. I think that heaven never made a woman more worthy to be
loved. And I had hoped--ah, well, after all, we cannot utterly defy
society! Its prejudices, however unfounded, must be respected. What
would you have? This dunderheaded giantess of a Mrs. Grundy condemns me
to be miserable, and I am powerless. The utmost I can do is to refrain
from whining over the unavoidable. And, Rudolph, you have my word of
honor that henceforth I shall bear in mind more constantly my duty
toward one of my best and oldest friends. I have not dealt with you
quite honestly. I confess it, and I ask your pardon." Mr. Charteris held
out his hand to seal the compact.
"Word of honor?" queried Colonel Musgrave, with an odd quizzing sort of
fondness for the little novelist, as the colonel took the proffered
hand. "Why, then, that is settled, and I am glad of it. I told you, you
know, it wouldn't do. See you at supper, I suppose?"
And Rudolph Musgrave glanced at the bath-house, turned on his heel, and
presently plunged into the beech plantation, whistling cheerfully. The
effect of the melody was somewhat impaired by the apparent necessity of
breaking off, at intervals, in order to smile.
The comedy had been admirably enacted, he considered, on both sides; and
he did not object to Jack Charteris's retiring with all the honors of
The colonel had not gone far, however, before he paused, thrust both
hands into his trousers' pockets, and stared down at the ground for a
matter of five minutes.
Musgrave shook his head. "After all," said he, "I can't trust them.
Patricia is too erratic and too used to having her own way. Jack will
try to break off with her now, of course; but Jack, where women are
concerned, is as weak as water. It is not a nice thing to do, but--well!
one must fight fire with fire."
Thereupon, he retraced his steps. When he had come to the thin spot in
the thicket, Rudolph Musgrave left the path, and entered the shrubbery.
There he composedly sat down in the shadow of a small cedar. The sight
of his wife upon the beach in converse with Mr. Charteris did not appear
to surprise Colonel Musgrave.
Patricia was speaking quickly. She held a bedraggled parasol in one
hand. Her husband noted, with a faint thrill of wonder, that, at times,
and in a rather unwholesome, elfish way, Patricia was actually
beautiful. Her big eyes glowed; they flashed with changing lights as
deep waters glitter in the sun; her copper-colored hair seemed luminous,
and her cheeks flushed, arbutus-like. The soft, white stuff that gowned
her had the look of foam; against the gray sky she seemed a freakish
spirit in the act of vanishing. For sky and water were all one lambent
gray by this. In the west was a thin smear of orange; but, for the rest,
the world was of a uniform and gleaming gray. She and Charteris stood in
the heart of a great pearl.
"Ah, believe me," she was saying, "Rudolph isn't an ophthalmic bat. But
God keep us all respectable! is Rudolph's notion of a sensible
morning-prayer. So he just preferred to see nothing and bleat out
edifying axioms. That is one of his favorite tricks. No, it was a comedy
for my benefit, I tell you. He will allow a deal for the artistic
temperament, no doubt, but he doesn't suppose you fetch along a
white-lace parasol when you go to watch a sunset--especially a parasol
he gave me last month."
"Indeed," protested Mr. Charteris, "he saw nothing. I was too quick for
She shrugged her shoulders. "I saw him looking at it. Accordingly, I
paid no attention to what he said. But you--ah, Jack, you were splendid!
I suppose we shall have to elope at once now, though?"
Charteris gave her no immediate answer. "I am not quite sure, Patricia,
that your husband is not--to a certain extent--in the right. Believe me,
he did not know you were about. He approached me in a perfectly
sensible manner, and exhibited commendable self-restraint; he has played
a difficult part to admiration. I could not have done it better myself.
And it is not for us who have been endowed with gifts denied to Rudolph,
to reproach him for lacking the finer perceptions and sensibilities of
life. Yet, I must admit that, for the time, I was a little hurt by his
evident belief that we would allow our feeling for each other--which is
rather beyond his comprehension, isn't it, dear?--to be coerced by
"Oh, Rudolph is just a jackass-fool, anyway." She was not particularly
interested in the subject.
"He can't help that, you know," Charteris reminded her, gently; then, he
asked, after a little: "I suppose it is all true?"
"That what is true?"
"About your having no money of your own?" He laughed, but she could see
how deeply he had been pained by Musgrave's suspicions. "I ask, because,
as your husband has discovered, I am utterly sordid, my lady, and care
only for your wealth."
"Ah, how can you expect a man like that to understand--you? Why, Jack,
how ridiculous in you to be hurt by what the brute thinks! You're as
solemn as an owl, my dear. Yes, it's true enough. My father was not very
well pleased with us--and that horrid will--Ah, Jack, Jack, how
grotesque, how characteristic it was, his thinking such things would
influence you--you, of all men, who scarcely know what money is!"
"It was even more grotesque I should have been pained by his thinking
it," Charteris said, sadly. "But what would you have? I am so abominably
in love with you that it seemed a sort of desecration when the man
lugged your name into a discussion of money-matters. It really did. And
then, besides--ah, my lady, you know that I would glory in the thought
that I had given up all for you. You know, I think, that I would
willingly work my fingers to the bone just that I might possess you
always. So I had dreamed of love in a cottage--an idyl of blissful
poverty, where Cupid contents himself with crusts and kisses, and mocks
at the proverbial wolf on the doorstep. And I give you my word that
until to-day I had not suspected how blindly selfish I have been! For
poor old prosaic Rudolph is in the right, after all. Your delicate,
tender beauty must not be dragged down to face the unlovely realities
and petty deprivations and squalid makeshifts of such an existence as
ours would be. True, I would glory in them--ah, luxury and riches mean
little to me, my dear, and I can conceive of no greater happiness than
to starve with you. But true love knows how to sacrifice itself. Your
husband was right; it would not be fair to you, Patricia."
"You--you are going to leave me?"
"Yes; and I pray that I may be strong enough to relinquish you forever,
because your welfare is more dear to me than my own happiness. No, I do
not pretend that this is easy to do. But when my misery is earned by
serving you I prize my misery." Charteris tried to smile. "What would
you have? I love you," he said, simply.
"Ah, my dear!" she cried.
Musgrave's heart was sick within him as he heard the same notes in her
voice that echoed in Anne's voice when she spoke of her husband. This
was a new Patricia; her speech was low and gentle now, and her eyes held
a light Rudolph Musgrave had not seen there for a long while.
"Ah, my dear, you are the noblest man I have ever known; I wish we women
could be like men. But, oh, Jack, Jack, don't be quixotic! I can't give
you up, my dear--that would never be for my good. Think how unhappy I
have been all these years; think how Rudolph is starving my soul! I want
to be free, Jack; I want to live my own life,--for at least a month or
Patricia shivered here. "But none of us is sure of living for a month.
You've shown me a glimpse of what life might be; don't let me sink back
into the old, humdrum existence from a foolish sense of honor! I tell
you, I should go mad! I mean to have my fling while I can get it. And I
mean to have it with you, Jack--just you! I don't fear poverty. You
could write some more wonderful books. I could work, too, Jack dear.
I--I could teach music--or take in washing--or something, anyway. Lots
of women support themselves, you know. Oh, Jack, we would be so happy!
Don't be honorable and brave and disagreeable, Jack dear!"
For a moment Charteris was silent. The nostrils of his beak-like nose
widened a little, and a curious look came into his face. He discovered
something in the sand that interested him.
"After all," he demanded, slowly, "is it necessary--to go away--to be
"I don't understand." Her hand lifted from his arm; then quick remorse
smote her, and it fluttered back, confidingly.
Charteris rose to his feet. "It is, doubtless, a very spectacular and
very stirring performance to cast your cap over the wind-mill in the
face of the world; but, after all, is it not a bit foolish, Patricia?
Lots of people manage these things--more quietly."
"Oh, Jack!" Patricia's face turned red, then white, and stiffened in a
sort of sick terror. She was a frightened Columbine in stone. "I thought
you cared for me--really, not--that way."
Patricia rose and spoke with composure. "I think I'll go back to the
house, Mr. Charteris. It's a bit chilly here. You needn't bother to
Then Mr. Charteris laughed--a choking, sobbing laugh. He raised his
hands impotently toward heaven. "And to think," he cried, "to think that
a man may love a woman with his whole heart--with all that is best and
noblest in him--and she understand him so little!"
"I do not think I have misunderstood you," Patricia said, in a crisp
voice. "Your proposition was very explicit. I--am sorry. I thought I had
found one thing in the world which I would regret to leave--"
"And you really believed that I could sully the great love I bear you by
stooping to--that! You really believed that I would sacrifice to you my
home life, my honor, my prospects--all that a man can give--without
testing the quality of your love! You did not know that I spoke to try
you--you actually did not know! Eh, but yours is a light nature,
Patricia! I do not reproach you, for you are only as your narrow
Philistine life has made you. Yet I had hoped better things of you,
Patricia. But you, who pretend to care for me, have leaped at your first
opportunity to pain me--and, if it be any comfort to you, I confess you
have pained me beyond words." And he sank down on the log, and buried
his face in his hands.
She came to him--it was pitiable to see how she came to him, laughing
and sobbing all in one breath--and knelt humbly by his side, and raised
a grieved, shamed, penitent face to his.
"Forgive me!" she wailed; "oh, forgive me!"
"You have pained me beyond words, Patricia," he repeated. He was not
angry--only sorrowful and very much hurt.
"Ah, Jack! dear Jack, forgive me!"
Mr. Charteris sighed. "But, of course, I forgive you, Patricia," he
said. "I cannot help it, though, that I am foolishly sensitive where you
are concerned. And I had hoped you knew as much."
She was happy now. "Dear boy," she murmured, "don't you see it's just
these constant proofs of the greatness and the wonderfulness of your
love--Really, though, Jack, wasn't it too horrid of me to misunderstand
you so? Are you quite sure you're forgiven me entirely--without any
nasty little reservations?"
Mr. Charteris was quite sure. His face was still sad, but it was
"Don't you see," she went on, "that it's just these things that make me
care for you so much, and feel sure as eggs is eggs we will be happy?
Ah, Jack, we will be so utterly happy that I am almost afraid to think
of it!" Patricia wiped away the last tear, and laughed, and added, in a
matter-of-fact fashion: "There's a train at six-five in the morning; we
can leave by that, before anyone is up."
Charteris started. "Your husband loves you," he said, in gentle reproof.
"And quite candidly, you know, Rudolph is worth ten of me."
"Bah, I tell you, that was a comedy for my benefit," she protested, and
began to laugh. Patricia was unutterably happy now, because she, and not
John Charteris, had been in the wrong. "Poor Rudolph!--he has such a
smug horror of the divorce-court that he would even go so far as to
pretend to be in love with his own wife in order to keep out of it.
Really, Jack, both our better-halves are horribly commonplace and they
will be much better off without us."
"You forget that Rudolph has my word of honor," said Mr. Charteris, in
And that instant, with one of his baffling changes of mood, he began to
laugh. "Really, though, Patricia, you are very pretty. You are April
embodied in sweet flesh; your soul is just a wisp of April cloud, and
your life an April day, half sun that only seems to warm, and half
tempest that only plays at ferocity; but you are very pretty. That is
why I am thinking, light-headedly, it would be a fine and past doubt an
agreeable exploit to give up everything for such a woman, and am
complacently comparing myself to Antony at Actium. I am thinking it
would be an interesting episode in one's _Life and Letters_. You see, my
dear, I honestly believe the world revolves around John
Charteris--although of course I would never admit that to you if I
thought for a moment you would take me seriously."
Then presently, sighing, he was grave again. "But, no! Rudolph has my
word of honor," Mr. Charteris repeated, and with unconcealed regret.
"Ah, does that matter?" she cried. "Does anything matter, except that we
love each other? I tell you I have given the best part of my life to
that man, but I mean to make the most of what is left. He has had my
youth, my love--there was a time, you know, when I actually fancied I
cared for him--and he has only made me unhappy. I hate him, I loathe
him, I detest him, I despise him! I never intend to speak to him
again--oh, yes, I shall have to at supper, I suppose, but that doesn't
count. And I tell you I mean to be happy in the only way that's
possible. Everyone has a right to do that. A woman has an especial
right to take her share of happiness in any way she can, because her
hour of it is so short. Sometimes--sometimes the woman knows how short
it is and it almost frightens her.... But at best, a woman can be really
happy through love alone, Jack dear, and it's only when we are young and
good to look at that men care for us; after that, there is nothing left
but to take to either religion or hand-embroidery, so what does it
matter, after all? Yes, they all grow tired after a while. Jack, I am
only a vain and frivolous person of superlative charm, but I love you
very much, my dear, and I solemnly swear to commit suicide the moment my
first wrinkle arrives. You shall never grow tired of me, my dear."
She laughed to think how true this was.
She hurried on: "Jack, kneel down at once, and swear that you are
perfectly sore with loving me, as that ridiculous person says in
Dickens, and whose name I never could remember. Oh, I forgot--Dickens
caricatures nature, doesn't he, and isn't read by really cultured
people? You will have to educate me up to your level, Jack, and I warn
you in advance you will not have time to do it. Yes, I am quite aware
that I am talking nonsense, and am on the verge of hysterics, thank you,
but I rather like it. It is because I am going to have you all to myself
for whatever future there is, and the thought makes me quite drunk. Will
you kindly ring for the patrol-wagon, Jack? Jack, are you quite sure you
love me? Are you perfectly certain you never loved any one else half so
much? No, don't answer me, for I intend to do all the talking for both
of us for the future! I shall tyrannize over you frightfully, and you
will like it. All I ask in return is that you will be a good boy--by
which I mean a naughty boy--and do solemnly swear, promise and affirm
that you will meet me at the side-door at half-past five in the morning,
with a portmanteau and the intention of never going back to your wife.
You swear it? Thank you so much! Now, I think I would like to cry for a
few minutes, and, after that, we will go back to the house, before
supper is over and my eyes are perfectly crimson."
In fact, Mr. Charteris had consented. Patricia was irresistible as she
pleaded and mocked and scolded and coaxed and laughed and cried, all in
one bewildering breath. Her plan was simple; it was to slip out of
Matocton at dawn, and walk to the near-by station. There they would take
the train, and snap their fingers at convention. The scheme sounded
preposterous in outline, but she demonstrated its practicability in
performance. And Mr. Charteris consented.
Rudolph Musgrave sat in the shadow of the cedar with fierce and confused
emotions whirling in his soul. He certainly had never thought of this
PART EIGHT - HARVEST
"Time was I coveted the woes they rued
Whose love commemorates them,--I that meant
To get like grace of love then!--and intent
To win as they had done love's plenitude,
Rapture and havoc, vauntingly I sued
That love like theirs might make a toy of me,
At will caressed, at will (if publicly)
Demolished, as Love found or found not good.
"To-day I am no longer overbrave.
I have a fever,--I that always knew
This hour was certain!--and am too weak to rave,
Too tired to seek (as later I must do)
Tried remedies--time, manhood and the grave--
To drug, abate and banish love of you."
ALLEN ROSSITER. _A Fragment_.
When Patricia and Charteris had left the beach, Colonel Musgrave parted
the underbrush and stepped down upon the sand He must have air--air and
an open place wherein to fight this out.
Night had risen about him in bland emptiness. There were no stars
overhead, but a patient, wearied, ancient moon pushed through the
clouds. The trees and the river conferred with one another doubtfully.
He paced up and down the beach....
Musgrave laughed in the darkness. His heart was racing, racing in him,
and his thoughts were blown foam. He raised his hat and bowed
fantastically in the darkness, because the colonel loved his gesture.
"Signor Lucifer, I present my compliments. You have discoursed with me
very plausibly. I honor your cunning, signor, but if you are indeed a
gentleman, as I have always heard, you will now withdraw and permit me
to regard the matter from a standpoint other than my own. For the others
are weak, signor; as you have doubtless discovered, good women and bad
men are the weakest of their sex. I am the strongest among them, for all
that I am no Hercules; and the outcome of this matter must rest with
So he sat presently upon the log, where Charteris had sat when Musgrave
came to this beach at sunset. Very long ago that seemed now. For now the
colonel was tired--physically outworn, it seemed to him, as if after
prolonged exertion--and now the moon looked down upon him, passionless,
cold, inexorable, and seemed to await the colonel's decision.
And it was woefully hard to come to any decision. For, as you know by
this, it was the colonel's besetting infirmity to shrink from making
changes; instinctively he balked--under shelter of whatever
grandiloquent excuse--against commission of any action which would alter
his relations with accustomed circumstances or persons. To guide events
was never his forte, as he forlornly knew; and here he was condemned
perforce to play that uncongenial role, with slender chances of reward.
Yet always Anne's face floated in the darkness. Always Anne's voice
whispered through the lisping of the beeches, through the murmur of the
He sat thus for a long while.
Musgrave was, not unnaturally, late for supper. It is not to be supposed
that at this meal the colonel faltered in his duties as a host, for, to
the contrary, he narrated several anecdotes in his neatest style. It was
with him a point of honor always to be in company the social triumph of
his generation. He observed with idle interest that Charteris and
Patricia avoided each other in a rather marked manner. Both seemed a
trifle more serious than they were wont to be.
After supper, Tom Gelwix brought forth a mandolin, and most of the
house-party sang songs, sentimental and otherwise, upon the front porch
of Matocton. Anne had disappeared somewhere. Musgrave subsequently
discovered her in one of the drawing-rooms, puzzling over a number of
papers which her maid had evidently just brought to her.
Mrs. Charteris looked up with a puckered brow. "Rudolph," said she,
"haven't you an account at the Occidental Bank?"
"Hardly an account, dear lady,--merely a deposit large enough to
entitle me to receive monthly notices that I have overdrawn it."
"Why, then, of course, you have a cheque-book. Horrible things, aren't
they?--such a nuisance remembering to fill out those little stubs. Of
course, I forgot to bring mine with me--I always do; and equally, of
course, a vexatious debt turns up and finds me without an Occidental
Bank cheque to my name."
Musgrave was amused. "That," said he, "is easily remedied. I will get
you one; though even if--Ah, well, what is the good of trying to teach
you adorable women anything about business! You shall have your
indispensable blank form in three minutes."
He returned in rather less than that time, with the cheque. Anne was
alone now. She was gowned in some dull, soft, yellow stuff, and sat by a
small, marble-topped table, twiddling a fountain-pen.
"You mustn't sneer at my business methods, Rudolph," she said, pouting a
little as she filled out the cheque. "It isn't polite, sir, in the first
place, and, in the second, I am really very methodical. Of course, I am
always losing my cheque-book, and drawing cheques and forgetting to
enter them, and I usually put down the same deposit two or three
times--all women do that; but, otherwise, I am really very careful. I
manage all the accounts; I can't expect Jack to do that, you know." Mrs.
Charteris signed her name with a flourish, and nodded at the colonel
wisely. "Dear infant, but he is quite too horribly unpractical. Do you
know this bill has been due--oh, for months--and he forgot it entirely
until this evening. Fortunately, he can settle it to-morrow; those
disagreeable publishers of his have telegraphed for him to come to New
York at once, you know. Otherwise--dear, dear! but marrying a genius is
absolutely ruinous to one's credit, isn't it, Rudolph? The tradespeople
will refuse to trust us soon."
Involuntarily, Musgrave had seen the cheque. It was for a considerable
amount, and it was made out to John Charteris.
"Beyond doubt," said Musgrave, in his soul, "Jack is colossal! He is
actually drawing on his wife for the necessary expenses for running away
with another woman!"
The colonel sat down abruptly before the great, open fireplace, and
stared hard at the pine-boughs which were heaped up in it.
"A penny," said she, at length.
He glanced up with a smile. "My dear madam, it would be robbery! For a
penny, you may read of the subject of my thoughts in any of the yellow
journals, only far more vividly set forth, and obtain a variety of more
or less savory additions, to boot. I was thinking of the Lethbury case,
and wondering how we could have been so long deceived by the man."
"Ah, poor Mrs. Lethbury!" Anne sighed, "I am very sorry for her,
Rudolph; she was a good woman, and was always interested in charitable
"Do you know," said Colonel Musgrave, with deliberation, "it is she I
cannot understand. To discover that he had been systematically
hoodwinking her for some ten years; that, after making away with as much
of her fortune as he was able to lay hands on, he has betrayed business
trust after business trust in order to--to maintain another
establishment; that he has never cared for her, and has made her his
dupe time after time, in order to obtain money for his gambling debts
and other even less reputable obligations--she must realize all these
things now, you know, and one would have thought no woman's love could
possibly survive such a test. Yet, she is standing by him through thick
and thin. Yes, I confess, Amelia Lethbury puzzles me. I don't understand
her mental attitude."
Musgrave was looking at Anne very intently as he ended.
"Why, but of course," said Anne, "she realizes that it was all the fault
of that--that other woman; and, besides, the--the entanglement has been
going on only a little over eight years--not ten, Rudolph."
She was entirely in earnest; Colonel Musgrave could see it plainly.
"I admit I hadn't looked on it in that light," said he, at length, and
was silent for a moment Then, "Upon my soul, Anne," he cried, "I believe
you think the woman is only doing the natural thing, only doing the
thing one has a right to expect of her, in sticking to that blackguard
after she has found him out!"
Mrs. Charteris raised her eyebrows; she was really surprised.
"Naturally, she must stand by her husband when he is in trouble; why,
if his own wife didn't, who would, Rudolph? It is just now that he needs
her most. It would be abominable to desert him now."
Anne paused and thought. "Depend upon it, she knows a better side of his
nature than we can see; she knows him, possibly, to have been misled, or
to have acted thoughtlessly; because otherwise, she would not stand by
him so firmly." Having reached this satisfactory conclusion, Anne began
to laugh--at Musgrave's lack of penetration, probably. "So, you see,
Rudolph, in either case, her conduct is perfectly natural."
"And this," he cried, "this is how women reason!"
"Am I very stupid? Jack says I am a bit illogical at times. But,
Rudolph, you mustn't expect a woman to judge the man she loves; if you
call on her to do that, she doesn't reason about it; she just goes on
loving him, and thinking how horrid you are. Women love men as they do
children; they punish them sometimes, but only in deference to public
opinion. A woman will always find an excuse for the man she loves. If he
deserts her, she is miserable until she succeeds in demonstrating to
herself it was entirely her own fault; after that, she is properly
repentant, but far less unhappy; and, anyhow, she goes on loving him
just the same."
The colonel pondered over this. "Women are different," he said.
"I don't know. I think that, if all women could be thrown with good
men, they would all be good. Women want to be good; but there comes a
time to each one of them when she wants to make a certain man happy, and
wants that more than anything else in the world; and then, of course, if
he wants--very much--for her to be bad, she will be bad. A bad woman is
always to be explained by a bad man."
Anne nodded, very wisely; then, she began to laugh, but this time at
herself. "I am talking quite like a book," she said. "Really, I had no
idea I was so clever. But I have thought of this before, Rudolph, and
been sorry for those poor women who--who haven't found the right sort of
man to care for."
"Yes." Musgrave's face was alert. "You have been luckier than most,
Anne," he said.
"Lucky!" she cried, and that queer little thrill of happiness woke again
in her rich voice. "Ah, you don't know how lucky I have been, Rudolph! I
have never cared for any one except--well, yes, you, a great while
ago--and Jack. And you are both good men. Ah, Rudolph, it was very dear
and sweet and foolish, the way we loved each other, but you don't
mind--very, very much--do you, if I think Jack is the best man in the
world, and by far the best man in the world for me? He is so good to me;
he is so good and kind and considerate to me, and, even after all these
years of matrimony, he is always the lover. A woman appreciates that,
Rudolph; she wants her husband to be always her lover, just as Jack is,
and never to give in when she coaxes--because she only coaxes when she
knows she is in the wrong--and never, never, to let her see him shaving
himself. If a husband observes these simple rules, Rudolph, his wife
will be a happy woman; and Jack does. In consequence, every day I live I
grow fonder of him, and appreciate him more and more; he grows upon me
just as a taste for strong drink might. Without him--without him--"
Anne's voice died away; then she faced Musgrave, indignantly. "Oh,
Rudolph!" she cried, "how horrid of you, how mean of you, to come here
and suggest the possibility of Jack's dying or running away from me, or
doing anything dreadful like that!"
Colonel Musgrave was smiling, "I?" said he, equably. "My dear madam! if
you will reconsider,--"
"No," she conceded, after deliberation, "it wasn't exactly your fault. I
got started on the subject of Jack, and imagined all sorts of horrible
and impossible things. But there is a sort of a something in the air
to-night; probably a storm is coming down the river. So I feel very
morbid and very foolish, Rudolph; but, then, I am in love, you see.
Isn't it funny, after all these years?" Anne asked with a smile;--"and
so you are not to be angry, Rudolph."
"My dear," he said, "I assure you, the emotion you raise in me is very
far from resembling that of anger." Musgrave rose and laughed. "I fear,
you know, we will create a scandal if we sit here any longer. Let's see
what the others are doing."
That night, after his guests had retired, Colonel Musgrave smoked a
cigarette on the front porch of Matocton. The moon, now in the zenith,
was bright and chill. After a while, Musgrave raised his face toward it,
"Isn't it--isn't it funny?" he demanded, echoing Anne's query ruefully.
"Eh, well! perhaps I still retained some lingering hope; in a season of
discomfort, most of us look vaguely for a miracle. And, at times, it
comes, but, more often, not; life isn't always a pantomime, with a fairy
god-mother waiting to break through the darkness in a burst of glory and
reunite the severed lovers, and transform their enemies into pantaloons.
In this case, it is certain that the fairy will not come. I am condemned
to be my own god in the machine."
Having demonstrated this to himself, Musgrave went into the house and
drugged his mind correcting proofsheets--for the _Lichfield Historical
Association's Quarterly Magazine_--and brought down to the year 1805 his
"List of Wills Recorded in Brummell County."
The night was well advanced when Charteris stepped noiselessly into the
room. The colonel was then sedately writing amid a host of motionless
mute watchers, for at Matocton most of the portraits hang in the East
Thus, above the great marble mantel,--carved with thyrsi, and supported
by proud deep-bosomed caryatides,--you will find burly Sebastian
Musgrave, "the Speaker," an all-overbearing man even on canvas. "Paint
me among dukes and earls with my hat on, to show I am in all things a
Republican, and the finest diamond in the Colony shall be yours," he had
directed the painter, and this was done. Then there is frail Wilhelmina
Musgrave--that famed beauty whose two-hundred-year-old story all
Lichfield knows, and no genealogist has ever cared to detail--eternally
weaving flowers about her shepherd hat. There, too, is Evelyn Ramsay,
before whose roguish loveliness, as you may remember, the colonel had
snapped his fingers in those roseate days when he so joyously considered
his profound unworthiness to be Patricia's husband. There is also the
colonial governor of Albemarle--a Van Dyck this--two Knellers, and
Lely's portrait of Thomas Musgrave, "the poet," with serious blue eyes
and flaxen hair. The painting of Captain George Musgrave, who
distinguished himself at the siege of Cartagena, is admittedly an
inferior piece of work, but it has vigor, none the less; and below it
hangs the sword which was presented to him by the Lord High Admiral.
So quietly did Charteris come that the colonel was not aware of his
entrance until the novelist had coughed gently. He was in a
dressing-gown, and looked unusually wizened.
"I saw your light," he said. "I don't seem to be able to sleep, somehow.
It is so infernally hot and still. I suppose there is going to be a
thunderstorm. I hate thunderstorms. They frighten me." The little man
was speaking like a peevish child.
"Oh, well--! it will at least clear the air," said Rudolph Musgrave.
"Sit down and have a smoke, won't you?"
"No, thanks." Charteris had gone to the bookshelves and was gently
pushing and pulling at the books so as to arrange their backs in a
mathematically straight line. "I thought I would borrow something to
read--Why, this is the Tennyson you had at college, isn't it? Yes, I
remember it perfectly."
These two had roomed together through their college days.
"Yes; it is the old Tennyson. And yonder is the identical Swinburne you
used to spout from, too. Lord, Jack, it seems a century since I used to
listen by the hour to _The Triumph of Time and Dolores!_"
"Ah, but you didn't really care for them--not even then." Charteris
reached up, his back still turned, and moved a candlestick the fraction
of an inch. "There is something so disgustingly wholesome about you,
Rudolph. And it appears to be ineradicable. I can't imagine how I ever
came to be fond of you."
The colonel was twirling his pen, his eyes intent upon it. "And yet--we
_were_ fond of each other, weren't we, Jack?"
"Why, I positively adored you. You were such a strong and healthy
animal. Upon my word, I don't believe I ever missed a single football
game you played in. In fact, I almost learned to understand the game on
your account. You see--it was so good to watch you raging about with
touzled hair, like the only original bull of Bashan, and the others
tumbling like ninepins. It used to make me quite inordinately proud."
The colonel smoked. "But, Lord! how proud _I_ was when you got medals!"
"Even if I did bully you sometimes. Remember how I used to twist your
arm to make you write my Latin exercises, Jack?"
"I liked to have you do that," Charteris said, simply. "It hurt a great
deal, but I liked it."
He had come up behind the colonel, who was still seated. "Yes, that was
a long while ago," said Charteris. "It is rather terrible--isn't it?--to
reflect precisely how long ago it was. Why, I shall be bald in a year or
two from now. But you have kept almost all your beautiful hair,
Charteris touched the colonel's head, stroking his hair ever so lightly
once or twice. It was in effect a caress.
The colonel was aware of the odor of myrrh which always accompanied
Charteris and felt that the little man was trembling.
"Isn't there--anything you want to tell me, Jack?" the colonel said. He
sat quite still.
There was the tiniest pause. The caressing finger-tips lifted from
Musgrave's head, but presently gave it one more brief and half-timid
"Why, only _au revoir_, I believe. I am leaving at a rather ungodly hour
to-morrow and won't see you, but I hope to return within the week."
"I hope so, Jack."
"And, after all, it is too late to be reading. I shall go back to bed
and take more trional. And then, I dare say, I shall sleep. So good-by,
"Oh, yes--! I meant good-night, of course."
The colonel sighed; then he spoke abruptly:
"No, just a moment, Jack. I didn't ask you to come here to-night; but
since you have come, by chance, I am going to follow the promptings of
that chance, and strike a blow for righteousness with soiled weapons.
Jack, do you remember suggesting that my father's correspondence during
the War might be of value, and that his desk ought to be overhauled?"
"Why, yes, of course. Mrs. Musgrave was telling me she began the task,"
said Charteris, and smiled a little.
"Unluckily; yes--but--well! in any event, it suggested to me that old
letters are dangerous. I really had no idea what that desk contained. My
father had preserved great stacks of letters. I have been going through
them. They were most of them from women--letters which should never have
been written in the first place, and which he certainly had no right to
"What! and is 'Wild Will's' love-correspondence still extant? I fancy it
made interesting reading, Rudolph."
"There were some letters which in a measure concern you, Jack." The
colonel handed him a small packet of letters. "If you will read the top
one it will explain. I will just go on with my writing."
He wrote steadily for a moment or two.... Then Charteris laughed
"I have always known there was a love-affair between my mother and 'Wild
Will.' But I never suspected until to-night that I had the honor to be
your half-brother, Rudolph--one of 'Wild Will's' innumerable bastards."
Charteris was pallid, and though he seemed perfectly composed, his eyes
glittered as with gusty brilliancies. "I understand now why my reputed
father always made such a difference between my sister and myself. I
never liked old Alvin Charteris, you know. It is a distinct relief to be
informed I have no share in his blood, although of course the knowledge
comes a trifle suddenly."
"Perhaps I should have kept that knowledge to myself. I know it would
have been kinder. I had meant to be kind. I loathe myself for dabbling
in this mess. But, in view of all things, it seemed necessary to let you
know I am your own brother in the flesh, and that Patricia is your
"I see," said Charteris. "According to your standards that would make a
great difference. I don't know, speaking frankly, that it makes much
difference with me." He turned again to the bookshelves, so that
Musgrave could no longer see his face. Charteris ran his fingers
caressingly over the backs of a row of volumes. "I loved my mother,
Rudolph. I never loved anyone else. That makes a difference." Then he
said, "We Musgraves--how patly I catalogue myself already!--we Musgraves
have a deal to answer for, Rudolph."
"And doesn't that make it all the more our duty to live clean and honest
lives? to make the debt no greater than it is?" Both men were oddly
"Eh, I am not so sure." John Charteris waved airily toward Sebastian
Musgrave's counterfeit, then toward the other portraits. "It was they
who compounded our inheritances, Rudolph--all that we were to have in
this world of wit and strength and desire and endurance. We know their
histories. They were proud, brave and thriftless, a greedy and lecherous
race, who squeezed life dry as one does an orange, and left us the
dregs. I think that it is droll, but I am not sure it places us under
any obligation. In fact, I rather think God owes us an apology,
He spoke with quaint wistfulness. The colonel sat regarding him in
silence, with shocked, disapproving eyes. Then Charteris cocked his head
to one side and grinned like a hobgoblin.
"What wouldn't you give," he demanded, "to know what I am really
thinking of at this very moment while I talk so calmly? Well, you will
never know. And for the rest, you are at liberty to use your
all-important documents as you may elect. I am John Charteris; whatever
man begot my body, he is rotten bones to-day, and it is as such I value
him. I was never anybody's son--or friend or brother or lover,--but just
a pen that someone far bigger and far nobler than John Charteris writes
with occasionally. Whereas you--but, oh, you are funny, Rudolph!" And
then, "Good-night, dear brother," Charteris added, sweetly, as he left
* * * * *
And Rudolph Musgrave could not quite believe in the actuality of what
had just happened. In common with most of us, he got his general notions
concerning the laws of life from reading fiction; and here was the
material for a Renaissance tragedy wasted so far as any denouement went.
Destiny, once more, was hardly rising to the possibilities of the
situation. The weapon chance had forged had failed Rudolph Musgrave
utterly; and, indeed, he wondered now how he could ever have esteemed it
formidable. Jack was his half-brother. In noveldom or in a melodrama
this discovery would have transformed their mutual dealings; but as a
workaday world's fact, Musgrave would not honestly say that it had in
any way affected his feelings toward Jack, and it appeared to have left
Charteris equally unaltered.
"I am not sure, though. We can only guess where Jack is concerned. He
goes his own way always, tricky and furtive and lonelier than any other
human being I have ever known. It is loneliness that looks out of his
eyes, really, even when he is mocking and sneering," the colonel
Then he sighed and went back to the tabulation of his lists of wills.
The day was growing strong in the maple-grove behind Matocton. As yet,
the climbing sun fired only the topmost branches, and flooded them with
a tempered radiance through which birds plunged and shrilled vague
rumors to one another. Beneath, a green twilight lingered--twilight
which held a gem-like glow, chill and lucent and steady as that of an
emerald. Vagrant little puffs of wind bustled among the leaves, with a
thin pretense of purpose, and then lapsed, and merged in the large,
ambiguous whispering which went stealthily about the grove.
Rudolph Musgrave sat on a stone beside the road that winds through the
woods toward the railway station, and smoked, nervously. He was
disheartened of the business of living, and, absurdly enough, as it
seemed to him, he was hungry.
"It has to be done quietly and without the remotest chance of Anne's
ever hearing of it, and without the remotest chance of its ever having
to be done again. I have about fifteen minutes in which to convince
Patricia both of her own folly and of the fact that Jack is an
unmitigated cad, and to get him off the place quietly, so that Anne will
suspect nothing. And I never knew any reasonable argument to appeal to
Patricia, and Jack will be a cornered rat! Yes, it is a large contract,
and I would give a great deal--a very great deal--to know how I am going
to fulfil it."
At this moment his wife and Mr. Charteris, carrying two portmanteaux,
came around a bend in the road not twenty feet from Musgrave. They were
both rather cross. In the clean and more prosaic light of morning an
elopement seemed almost silly; moreover, Patricia had had no breakfast,
and Charteris had been much annoyed by his wife, who had breakfasted
with him, and had insisted on driving to the station with him. It was a
trivial-seeming fact, but, perhaps, not unworthy of notice, that
Patricia was carrying her own portmanteau, as well as an umbrella.
The three faced one another in the cool twilight. The woods stirred
lazily about them. The birds were singing on a wager now.
"Ah," said Colonel Musgrave, "so you have come at last. I have been
expecting you for some time."
Patricia dropped her portmanteau, sullenly. Mr. Charteris placed his
with care to the side of the road, and said, "Oh!" It was perhaps the
only observation that occurred to him.
"Patricia," Musgrave began, very kindly and very gravely, "you are
about to do a foolish thing. At the bottom of your heart, even now, you
know you are about to do a foolish thing--a thing you will regret
bitterly and unavailingly for the rest of time. You are turning your
back on the world--our world--on the one possible world you could ever
be happy in. You can't be happy in the half-world, Patricia; you aren't
that sort. But you can never come back to us then, Patricia; it doesn't
matter what the motive was, what the temptation was, or how great the
repentance is--you cannot ever return. That is the law, Patricia;
perhaps, it isn't always a just law. We didn't make it, you and I, but
it is the law, and we must obey it. Our world merely says that, leaving
it once, you cannot ever return: such is the only punishment it awards
you, for it knows, this wise old world of ours, that such is the
bitterest punishment which could ever be devised for you. Our world has
made you what you are; in every thought and ideal and emotion you
possess, you are a product of our world. You couldn't live in the
half-world, Patricia; you are a product of our world that can never take
root in that alien soil. Come back to us before it is too late,
Musgrave shook himself all over, rather like a Newfoundland dog coming
out of the water, and the grave note died from his voice. He smiled, and
rubbed his hands together.
"And now," said he, "I will stop talking like a problem play, and we
will say no more about it. Give me your portmanteau, my dear, and upon
my word of honor, you will never hear a word further from me in the
matter. Jack, here, can take the train, just as he intended. And--and
you and I will go back to the house, and have a good, hot breakfast
together. Eh, Patricia?"
She was thinking, unreasonably enough, how big and strong and clean her
husband looked in the growing light. It was a pity Jack was so small.
However, she faced Musgrave coldly, and thought how ludicrously wide of
the mark were all these threats of ostracism. She shudderingly wished he
would not talk of soil and taking root and hideous things like that, but
otherwise the colonel left her unmoved. He was certainly good-looking,
Charteris was lighting a cigarette, with a queer, contented look. He
knew the value of Patricia's stubbornness now; still, he appeared to be
using an unnecessary number of matches.
"I should have thought you would have perceived the lack of dignity, as
well as the utter uselessness, in making such a scene," Patricia said.
"We aren't suited for each other, Rudolph; and it is better--far better
for both of us--to have done with the farce of pretending to be. I am
sorry that you still care for me. I didn't know that. But, for the
future, I intend to live my own life."
Patricia's voice faltered, and she stretched out her hands a little
toward her husband in an odd gust of friendliness. He looked so kind;
and he was not smiling in that way she never liked. "Surely that isn't
so unpardonable a crime, Rudolph?" she asked, almost humbly.
"No, my dear," he answered, "it is not unpardonable--it is impossible.
You can't lead your own life, Patricia; none of us can. Each life is
bound up with many others, and every rash act of yours, every hasty word
of yours, must affect to some extent the lives of those who are nearest
and most dear to you. But, oh, it is not argument that I would be at!
Patricia, there was a woman once--She was young, and wealthy, and--ah,
well, I won't deceive you by exaggerating her personal attractions! I
will serve up to you no praises of her sauced with lies. But fate and
nature had combined to give her everything a woman can desire, and all
this that woman freely gave to me--to me who hadn't youth or wealth or
fame or anything! And I can't stand by, for that dear dead girl's sake,
and watch your life go wrong, Patricia!"
"You are just like the rest of them, Olaf"--and when had she used that
half-forgotten nickname last, he wondered. "You imagine you are in love
with a girl because you happen to like the color of her eyes, or because
there is a curve about her lips that appeals to you. That isn't love,
Olaf, as we women understand it."
And wildly hideous and sad, it seemed to Colonel Musgrave--this dreary
parody of their old love-talk. Only, he dimly knew that she had
forgotten John Charteris existed, and that to her this moment seemed no
Charteris inhaled, lazily; yet, he did not like the trembling about
Patricia's mouth. Her hands, too, opened and shut tight before she
"It is too late now," she said, dully. "I gave you all there was to
give. You gave me just what Grandma Pendomer and all the others had left
you able to give. That remnant isn't love, Olaf, as we women understand
it. And, anyhow, it is too late now."
Yet Patricia was remembering a time when Rudolph's voice held always
that grave, tender note in speaking to her; it seemed a great while ago.
And he was big and manly, just like his voice, Rudolph was; and he
looked very kind. Desperately, Patricia began to count over the times
her husband had offended her. Hadn't he talked to her in the most
unwarrantable manner only yesterday afternoon?
"Too late!--oh, not a bit of it!" Musgrave cried. His voice sank
persuasively. "Why, Patricia, you are only thinking the matter over for
the first time. You have only begun to think of it. Why, there is the
boy--our boy, Patricia! Surely, you hadn't thought of Roger?"
He had found the right chord at last. It quivered and thrilled under his
touch; and the sense of mastery leaped in his blood. Of a sudden, he
knew himself dominant. Her face was red, then white, and her eyes
wavered before the blaze of his, that held her, compellingly.
"Now, honestly, just between you and me," the colonel said,
confidentially, "was there ever a better and braver and quainter and
handsomer boy in the world? Why, Patricia, surely, you wouldn't
willingly--of your own accord--go away from him, and never see him
again? Oh, you haven't thought, I tell you! Think, Patricia! Don't you
remember that first day, when I came into your room at the hospital and
he--ah, how wrinkled and red and old-looking he was then, wasn't he,
little wife? Don't you remember how he was lying on your breast, and how
I took you both in my arms, and held you close for a moment, and how for
a long, long while there wasn't anything left of the whole wide world
except just us three and God smiling down upon us? Don't you remember,
Patricia? Don't you remember his first tooth--why, we were as proud of
him, you and I, as if there had never been a tooth before in all the
history of the world! Don't you remember the first day he walked? Why,
he staggered a great distance--oh, nearly two yards!--and caught hold of
my hand, and laughed and turned back--to you. You didn't run away from
him then, Patricia. Are you going to do it now?"
She struggled under his look. She had an absurd desire to cry, just that
he might console her. She knew he would. Why was it so hard to remember
that she hated Rudolph! Of course, she hated him; she loved that other
man yonder. His name was Jack. She turned toward Charteris, and the
reassuring smile with which he greeted her, impressed Patricia as being
singularly nasty. She hated both of them; she wanted--in that brief time
which remained for having anything--only her boy, her soft, warm little
Roger who had eyes like Rudolph's.
"I--I--it's too late, Rudolph," she stammered, parrot-like. "If you had
only taken better care of me, Rudolph! If--No, it's too late, I tell
you! You will be kind to Roger. I am only weak and frivolous and
heartlesss. I am not fit to be his mother. I'm not fit, Rudolph!
Rudolph, I tell you I'm not fit! Ah, let me go, my dear!--in mercy, let
me go! For I haven't loved the boy as I ought to, and I am afraid to
look you in the face, and you won't let me take my eyes away--you won't
let me! Ah, Rudolph, let me go!"
"Not fit?" His voice thrilled with strength, and pulsed with tender
cadences. "Ah, Patricia, I am not fit to be his father! But, between
us--between us, mightn't we do much for him? Come back to us,
Patricia--to me and the boy! We need you, my dear. Ah, I am only a
stolid, unattractive fogy, I know; but you loved me once, and--I am the
father of your child. My standards are out-of-date, perhaps, and in any
event they are not your standards, and that difference has broken many
ties between us; but I am the father of your child. You must--you _must_
come back to me and the boy!" Musgrave caught her face between his
hands, and lifted it toward his. "Patricia, don't make any mistake!
There is nothing you care for so much as that boy. You can't give him
up! If you had to walk over red-hot ploughshares to come to him, you
would do it; if you could win him a moment's happiness by a lifetime of
poverty and misery and degradation, you would do it. And so would I,
little wife. That is the tie which still unites us; that is the tie
which is too strong ever to break. Come back to us, Patricia--to me and
"I--Jack, Jack, take me away!" she wailed helplessly.
Charteris came forward with a smile. He was quite sure of Patricia now.
"Colonel Musgrave," he said, with a faint drawl, "if you have entirely
finished your edifying and, I assure you, highly entertaining monologue,
I will ask you to excuse us. I--oh, man, man!" Charteris cried, not
unkindly, "don't you see it is the only possible outcome?"
Musgrave faced him. The glow of hard-earned victory was pulsing in the
colonel's blood, but his eyes were chill stars. "Now, Jack," he said,
equably, "I am going to talk to you. In fact, I am going to discharge an
agreeable duty toward you."
Musgrave drew close to him. Charteris shrugged his shoulders; his smile,
however, was not entirely satisfactory. It did not suggest enjoyment.
"I don't blame you for being what you are," Musgrave went on, curtly.
"You were born so, doubtless. I don't blame a snake for being what it
is. But, when I see a snake, I claim the right to set my foot on its
head; when I see a man like you--well, this is the right I claim."
Thereupon Rudolph Musgrave struck his half-brother in the face with his
open hand. The colonel was a strong man, physically, and, on this
occasion, he made no effort to curb his strength.
"Now," Musgrave concluded, "you are going away from this place very
quickly, and you are going alone. You will do this because I tell you to
do so, and because you are afraid of me. Understand, also--if you will
be so good--that the only reason I don't give you a thorough thrashing
is that I don't think you are worth the trouble. I only want Patricia to
perceive exactly what sort of man you are."
The blow staggered Charteris. He seemed to grow smaller. His clothes
seemed to hang more loosely about him. His face was paper-white, and the
red mark showed plainly upon it.
"There would be no earthly sense in my hitting you back," he said
equably. "It would only necessitate my getting the thrashing which, I
can assure you, we are equally anxious to avoid. Of course you are able
to knock me down and so on, because you are nearly twice as big as I am.
I fail to see that proves anything in particular. Come, Patricia!" And
he turned to her, and reached out his hand.
She shrank from him. She drew away from him, without any vehemence, as
if he had been some slimy, harmless reptile. A woman does not like to
see fear in a man's eyes; and there was fear in Mr. Charteris's eyes,
for all that he smiled. Patricia's heart sickened. She loathed him, and
she was a little sorry for him.
"Oh, you cur, you cur!" she gasped, in a wondering whisper. Patricia
went to her husband, and held out her hands. She was afraid of him. She
was proud of him, the strong animal. "Take me away, Rudolph," she said,
simply; "take me away from that--that coward. Take me away, my dear. You
may beat me, too, if you like, Rudolph. I dare say I have deserved it.
But I want you to deal brutally with me, to carry me away by force, just
as you threatened to do the day we were married--at the Library, you
remember, when the man was crying 'Fresh oranges!' and you smelt so
deliciously of soap and leather and cigarette smoke."
Musgrave took both her hands in his. He smiled at Charteris.
The novelist returned the smile, intensifying its sweetness. "I fancy,
Rudolph," he said, "that, after all, I shall have to take that train
Mr. Charteris continued, with a grimace: "You have no notion, though,
how annoying it is not to possess an iota of what is vulgarly considered
manliness. But what am I to do? I was not born with the knack of
enduring physical pain. Oh, yes, I am a coward, if you like to put it
nakedly; but I was born so, willy-nilly. Personally, if I had been
consulted in the matter, I would have preferred the usual portion of
valor. However! the sanctity of the hearth has been most edifyingly
preserved--and, after all, the woman is not worth squabbling about."
There was exceedingly little of the mountebank in him now; he kicked
Patricia's portmanteau, frankly and viciously, as he stepped over it to
lift his own. Holding this in one hand, John Charteris spoke, honestly:
"Rudolph, I had a trifle underrated your resources. For you are a brave
man--we physical cowards, you know, admire that above all things--and a
strong man and a clever man, in that you have adroitly played upon the
purely brutal traits of women. Any she-animal clings to its young and
looks for protection in its mate. Upon a higher ground I would have
beaten you, but as an animal you are my superior. Still, a thing done
has an end. You have won back your wife in open fight. I fancy, by the
way, that you have rather laid up future trouble for yourself in doing
so, but I honor the skill you have shown. Colonel Musgrave, it is to you
that, as the vulgar phrase it, I take off my hat."
Thereupon, Mr. Charteris uncovered his head with perfect gravity, and
turned on his heel, and went down the road, whistling melodiously.
Musgrave stared after him, for a while. The lust of victory died; the
tumult and passion and fervor were gone from Musgrave's soul. He could
very easily imagine the things Jack Charteris would say to Anne
concerning him; and the colonel knew that she would believe them all. He
had won the game; he had played it, heartily and skilfully and
successfully; and his reward was that the old bickerings with Patricia
should continue, and that Anne should be taught to loathe him. He
foresaw it all very plainly as he stood, hand in hand with his wife.
But Anne would be happy. It was for that he had played.
They came back to Matocton almost silently. The spell of the dawn was
broken; it was honest, garish day now, and they were both hungry.
Patricia's spirits were rising, as a butterfly's might after a
thunderstorm. Since she had only a few months to live, she would at
least not waste them in squabbling. She would be conscientiously
agreeable to everybody.
"Ah, Rudolph, Rudolph!" she cooed, "if I had only known all along that
you loved me!"
"My dear," he protested, fondly, "it seemed such a matter of course." He
was a little tired, perhaps; the portmanteau seemed very heavy.
"A woman likes to be told--a woman likes to be told every day.
Otherwise, she forgets," Patricia murmured. Then her face grew tenderly
reproachful. "Ah, Rudolph, Rudolph, see what your carelessness and
neglect has nearly led to! It nearly led to my running away with a man
like--like that! It would have been all your fault, Rudolph, if I had.
You know it would have been, Rudolph."
And Patricia sighed once more, and then laughed and became magnanimous.
"Yes--yes, after all, you are the boy's father." She smiled up at him
kindly and indulgently. "I forgive you, Rudolph," said Patricia.
He must have shown that pardon from Patricia just now was not unflavored
with irony, for she continued, in another voice: "Who, after all, is the
one human being you love? You know that it's the boy, and just the boy
alone. I gave you that boy. You should remember that, I think--"
"I do remember it, Patricia--"
"I bore the child. I paid the price, not you," Patricia said, very
quiet. "No, I don't mean the price all women have to pay--" She paused
in their leisurely progress, and drew vague outlines in the roadway with
the ferrule of her umbrella before she looked up into Rudolph Musgrave's
face. She appraised it for a long while and quite as if her husband were
"Yes, I could make you very sorry for me, if I wanted to." Her thoughts
ran thus. "But what's the use? You could only become an interminable
nuisance in trying to soothe my dying hours. You have just obstinately
squatted around in Lichfield and devoted all your time to being
beautiful and good and mooning around women for I don't know how many
years. You make me tired, and I have half a mind to tell you so right
now. And there really is no earthly sense in attempting to explain
things to you. You have so got into the habit of being beautiful and
good that you are capable of quoting Scripture after I have finished.
Then I would assuredly box your jaws, because I don't yearn to be a poor
stricken dear and weep on anybody's bosom. And I don't particularly care
about your opinion of me, anyway."
Aloud she said: "Oh, well! let's go and get some breakfast."
And thus the situation stayed. Patricia told him nothing. And Rudolph
Musgrave, knowing that according to his lights he had behaved not
unhandsomely, was the merest trifle patronizing and rather like a person
speaking from a superior plane in his future dealings with Patricia.
Moreover, he was engrossed at this time by his scholarly compilation of
Lichfield Legislative Papers prior to 1800, which was printed the
She told him nothing. She was a devoted mother for two days' space, and
then candidly decided that Roger was developing into the most
insufferable of little prigs.
"And, besides, if he had never been born I would quite probably have
lived to keep my teeth in a glass of water at night. And I can't help
thinking of that privilege being denied me whenever I look at him."
She told Rudolph Musgrave nothing. She was finding it mildly amusing to
note how people came and went at Matocton, and to appraise these people
disinterestedly, because she would never see them again.
Patricia was drawing her own conclusions as to Lichfield's aristocracy.
These people--for the most part a preposterously handsome race--were the
pleasantest of companions and their manners were perfection; but there
was enough of old Roger Stapylton's blood in Patricia's veins to make
her feel, however obscurely, that nobody is justified in living without
even an attempt at any personal achievement. The younger men evinced a
marked tendency to leave Lichfield, to make their homes elsewhere, she
noted, and they very often attained prominence; there was Joe Parkinson,
for instance, who had lunched at Oyster Bay only last Thursday,
according to the _Lichfield Courier-Herald_. And, meanwhile, the men of
her husband's generation clung to their old mansions, and were
ornamental, certainly, and were, very certainly, profoundly
self-satisfied; for they adhered to the customs of yesterday under the
comfortable delusion that this was the only way to uphold yesterday's
ideals. But what, in heaven's name, had any of these men of Rudolph
Musgrave's circle ever done beyond enough perfunctory desk-work, say, to
furnish him food and clothes?
"A hamlet of Hamlets," was Patricia's verdict as to Lichfield--"whose
actual tragedy isn't that their fathers were badly treated, but that
they themselves are constitutionally unable to do anything except talk
about how badly their fathers were treated."
No, it was not altogether that these men were indolent. Rudolph and
Rudolph's peers had been reared in the belief that when any manual labor
became inevitable, you as a matter of course entrusted its execution to
a negro; and, forced themselves to labor, they not unnaturally complied
with an ever-present sense of unfair treatment, and, in consequence,
performed the work inefficiently. Lichfield had no doubt preserved a
comely manner of living; but it had produced in the last half-century
nothing of real importance except John Charteris.
For Charteris was important. Patricia was rereading all the books that
Charteris had published, and they engrossed her with an augmenting
But it is unnecessary to dilate upon the marvelous and winning pictures
of life in Lichfield before the War between the States which Charteris
has painted in his novels. "Even as the king of birds that with
unwearied wing soars nearest to the sun, yet wears upon his breast the
softest down,"--as we learn from no less eminent authority than that of
the _Lichfield Courier-Herald_--"so Mr. Charteris is equally expert in
depicting the derring-do and tenderness of those glorious days of
chivalry, of fair women and brave men, of gentle breeding, of splendid
culture and wholesome living."
Patricia was not a little puzzled by these books. The traditional
Lichfield, she decided in the outcome, may very possibly have been just
the trick-work of a charlatan's cleverness; but, even in that event,
here were the tales of life in Lichfield--ardent, sumptuous and
fragrant throughout with the fragrance of love and roses, of rhyme and
of youth's lovely fallacies; and for the pot-pourri, if it deserved no
higher name, all who believed that living ought to be a uniformly noble
transaction could not fail to be grateful eternally.
Esthetic values apart--and, indeed, to all such values Patricia accorded
a provisional respect--what most impressed her Stapyltonian mind was the
fact that these books represented, in a perfectly tangible way, success.
Patricia very heartily admired success when it was brevetted as such by
the applause of others. And while to be a noted stylist, and even to be
reasonably sure of annotated reissuement for the plaguing of unborn
schoolchildren, was all well enough, in an unimportant, high-minded way,
Patricia was far more vividly impressed by the blunt figures which told
how many of John Charteris's books had been bought and paid for. She
accepted these figures as his publishers gave them forth, implicitly;
and she marveled over and took odd joy in these figures. They enabled
her to admire Charteris's books without reservation.
By this time Mrs. Ashmeade had managed, in the most natural manner, to
tell Patricia a deal concerning Charteris. No halo graced the portrait
Mrs. Ashmeade painted.... But, indeed, Patricia now viewed John
Charteris, considered as a person, without any particular bias. She did
not especially care--now--what the man had done or had omitted to do.
But the venerable incongruity of the writer and his work confronted her
intriguingly. A Charteris writes _In Old Lichfield;_ a Cockney
drug-clerk writes _The Eve of St. Agnes;_ a genteel printer evolves a
Lovelace; and a cutpurse pens the _Ballad of Dead Ladies_ in a brothel.
It is manifestly impossible; and it happens.
So here, then, was a knave who held, somehow, the keys to a courtlier
and nobler world. These tales made living seem a braver business, for
all that they were written by a poltroon. Was it pure posturing?
Patricia, at least, thought it was not. At worst, such dexterous
maintenance of a pose was hardly despicable, she considered. And,
anyhow, she preferred to believe that Charteris had by some miracle put
the best of himself into these books, had somehow clarified the
abhorrent mixture of ability and evil which was John Charteris; and the
best in him she found, on this hypothesis, to be a deal more admirable
than the best in Rudolph Musgrave.
"It _is_ a part of Jack," she fiercely said. "It is, because I know it
is. All this is part of him--as much a part of him as the cowardice and
the trickery. So I don't really care if he is a liar and a coward. I
ought to, I suppose. But at the bottom of my heart I admire him. He has
made something; he has created these beautiful books, and they will be
here when we are all dead. He doesn't leave the world just as he found
it. That is the only real cowardice, I think--especially as I am going
to do it----"
And later she said, belligerently: "If I had been a man I could have at
least assassinated somebody who was prominent. I do wish Rudolph was
not such a stick-in-the-mud. And I wish I liked Rudolph better. But on
the whole I prefer the physical coward to the moral one. Rudolph simply
bores me stiff with his benevolent airs. He just walks around the place
forgiving me sixty times to the hour, and if he doesn't stop it I am
going to slap him."
The world knows how Charteris was killed in Fairhaven by Jasper
Hardress--the husband of "that flighty Mrs. Hardress" Anne had spoken
"And I hardly know," said Mrs. Ashmeade, "whether more to admire the
justice or the sardonic humor of the performance. Here after hundreds of
entanglements with women, John Charteris manages to be shot by a jealous
maniac on account of a woman with whom--for a wonder--his relations were
proven to be innocent. The man needed killing, but it is asking too much
of human nature to put up with his being made a martyr of."
She cried a little, though. "It--it's because I remember him when he was
turning out his first mustache," she explained, lucidly.
* * * * *
But with the horror and irony of John Charteris's assassination the
biographer of Rudolph Musgrave has really nothing to do save in so far
as this event influenced the life of Rudolph Musgrave.
It was on the day of Charteris's death--a fine, clear afternoon in late
September--that Rudolph Musgrave went bass-fishing with some eight of
his masculine guests. Luncheon was brought to them in a boat about two
o'clock, along with the day's mail.
"I say--! But listen, everybody!" cried Alfred Chayter, whose mail
included a morning paper--the _Lichfield Courier-Herald_, in fact.
He read aloud.
"I wish I could be with Anne," thought Colonel Musgrave. "It may be I
could make things easier."
But Anne was in Lichfield now....
He had just finished dressing for supper when it occurred to him that
since their return from the river he had not seen Patricia. He was
afraid that Patricia, also, would be upset by this deplorable news.
As he crossed the hall Virginia came out of Patricia's rooms. The
colonel raised his voice in speaking to her, for with age Virginia was
growing very deaf.
"Yaas, suh," she said, "I'm doin' middlin' well, suh, thank yeh, suh.
Jus' took the evenin' mail to Miss Patricy, like I always do, suh." She
went away quietly, her pleasant yellow face as imperturbable as an
He went into Patricia's bedroom. Patricia had been taking an afternoon
nap, and had not risen from the couch, where she lay with three or four
unopened letters upon her breast. Two she had opened and dropped upon
the floor. She seemed not to hear him when he spoke her name, and yet
she was not asleep, because her eyes were partly unclosed.
There was no purple glint in them, as once there had been always. Her
countenance, indeed, showed everywhere less brightly tinted than
normally it should be. Her heavy copper-colored hair, alone undimmed,
seemed, like some parasitic growth (he thought), to sustain its beauty
by virtue of having drained Patricia's body of color and vitality.
There was a newspaper in her right hand, with flamboyant headlines,
because to Lichfield the death of John Charteris was an event of
Patricia seemed very young. You saw that she had suffered. You knew it
was not fair to hurt a child like that.
But, indeed, Rudolph Musgrave hardly realized as yet that Patricia was
dead. For Colonel Musgrave was thinking of that time when this same
Patricia had first come to him, fire-new from the heart of an ancient
sunset, and he had noted, for the first time, that her hair was like the
reflection of a sunset in rippling waters, and that her mouth was an
inconsiderable trifle, a scrap of sanguine curves, and that her eyes
were purple glimpses of infinity.
"This same Patricia!" he said, aloud.
PART NINE - RELICS
"You have chosen the love 'that lives sans murmurings,
Sans passion,' and incuriously endures
The gradual lapse of time. You have chosen as yours
A level life of little happenings;
And through the long autumnal evenings
Lord Love, no doubt, is of the company,
And hugs your ingleside contentedly,
Smiles at old griefs, and rustles needless wings.
"And yet I think that sometimes memories
Of divers trysts, of blood that urged like wine
On moonlit nights, and of that first long kiss
Whereby your lips were first made one with mine,
Awake and trouble you, and loving is
Once more important and perhaps divine."
ALLEN ROSSITER. _Two in October._
To those who knew John Charteris only through the medium of the printed
page it must have appeared that the novelist was stayed in mid-career by
an accident of unrelieved and singular brutality. And truly, thus
extinguished by the unfounded jealousy of a madman, the force of
Charteris's genius seemed, and seems to-day, as emphasized by that
sinister caprice of chance which annihilated it.
But people in Lichfield, after the manner of each prophet's countrymen,
had their own point of view. The artist always stood between these
people and the artist's handiwork, in part obscuring it.
In any event, it was generally agreed in Lichfield that Anne Charteris's
conduct after her husband's death was not all which could be desired. To
begin with, she attended the funeral, in black, it was true, but wearing
only the lightest of net veils pinned under her chin--"more as if she
were going somewhere on the train, you know, than as if she were in
"Jack didn't approve of mourning. He said it was a heathen survival."
That was the only explanation she offered.
It seemed inadequate to Lichfield. It was preferable, as good taste
went, for a widow to be too overcome to attend her husband's funeral at
all. And Mrs. Charteris had not wept once during the church ceremony,
and had not even had hysterics during the interment at Cedarwood; and
she had capped a scandalous morning's work by remaining with the
undertaker and the bricklayers to supervise the closing of John
"Why, but of course. It is the last thing I will ever be allowed to do
for him," she had said, in innocent surprise. "Why shouldn't I?"
Her air was such that you were both to talk to her about appearances.
"Because she isn't a bit like a widow," as Mrs. Ashmeade pointed out.
"Anybody can condole with a widow, and devote two outer sheets to
explaining that you realize nothing you can say will be of any comfort
to her, and begin at the top of the inside page by telling her how much
better off he is to-day--which I have always thought a double-edged
assertion when advanced to a man's widow. But you cannot condole with a
lantern whose light has been blown out. That is what Anne is."
Mrs. Ashmeade meditated and appeared dissatisfied. "And John Charteris
of all people!"
Anne was presently about the Memorial Edition of her husband's
collected writings. It was magnificently printed and when marketed
achieved a flattering success. Robert Etheridge Townsend was
commissioned to write the authorized _Life of John Charteris_ and to
arrange the two volumes of _Letters_.
Anne was considered an authority on literature and art in general,
through virtue of reflected glory. And in the interviews she granted
various journalists it was noticeable that she no longer referred to
"Jack" or to "Mr. Charteris," but to "my husband." To have been his wife
was her one claim on estimation. And, for the rest, it is inadequate to
love the memory of a martyr. Worship is demanded; and so the wife became
Into Colonel Musgrave's mental processes during this period it will not
do to pry too closely. The man had his white nights and his battles, in
part with real grief and regret, and in part with sundry emotions which
he took on faith as the emotions he ought to have, and, therefore,
manifestly, suffered under.... "Patricia was my wife, Jack was my
brother," ran his verdict in the outcome; and beyond that he did not
care to go.
For death cowed his thoughts. In the colonel's explicit theology dead
people were straightway conveyed to either one or the other of two
places. He had very certainly never known anybody who in his opinion
merited the torments of his orthodox Gehenna; so that in imagination he
vaguely populated its blazing corridors with Nero and Judas and Caesar
Borgia and Henry VIII, and Spanish Inquisitors and the aboriginal
American Indians--excepting of course his ancestress Pocahontas--and
with Benedict Arnold and all the "carpet-baggers" and suchlike other
eminent practitioners of depravity. For no one whom Rudolph Musgrave
had ever encountered in the flesh had been really and profoundly wicked,
Rudolph Musgrave considered; and so, he always gravely estimated
this-or-that acquaintance, after death, to be "better off, poor
fellow"--as the colonel phrased it, with a tinge of
self-contradiction--even if he actually refrained in fancy from endowing
the deceased with aureate harps and crowns and footgear. In fine, death
cowed the colonel's thoughts; beyond the grave they did not care to
venture, and when confronted with that abyss they decorously balked.
Patricia and Jack were as a matter of course "better off," then--and,
miraculously purged of faults, with all their defects somehow remedied,
the colonel's wife and brother, with Agatha and the colonel's other
interred relatives, were partaking of dignified joys in bright supernal
iridescent realms, which the colonel resignedly looked forward to
entering, on some comfortably remote day or another, and thus rejoining
his transfigured kindred.... Such was the colonel's charitable decision,
in the forming whereof logic was in no way implicated. For religion, as
the colonel would have told you sedately, was not a thing to be reasoned
about. Attempting to do that, you became in Rudolph Musgrave's honest
eyes regrettably flippant.
Meanwhile Cousin Lucy Fentnor was taking care of the colonel and little
Roger. And Lichfield, long before the lettering on Patricia's tombstone
had time to lose its first light dusty gray, had accredited Cousin Lucy
Fentnor with illimitable willingness to become Mrs. Rudolph Musgrave,
upon proper solicitation, although such tittle-tattle is neither here
nor there; for at worst, a widowed, childless and impoverished
second-cousin, discreetly advanced in her forties, was entitled to keep
house for the colonel in his bereavement, as a jointly beneficial
arrangement, without provoking scandal's tongue to more than a jocose
innuendo or two when people met for "auction"--that new-fangled
perplexing variant of bridge, just introduced, wherein you bid on the
suits.... And, besides, Cousin Lucy Fentnor (as befitted any one born an
Allardyce) was to all accounts a notable housekeeper, famed alike for
the perilous glassiness of her hardwood floors, her dexterous management
of servants, her Honiton-braid fancy-work (familiar to every patron of
Lichfield charity bazaars), and her unparalleled calves-foot jelly.
Under Cousin Lucy Fentnor's systematized coddling little Roger grew like
the proverbial ill weed, and the colonel likewise waxed perceptibly in
Thus it was that accident and a woman's intervention seemed once more to
combine in shielding Rudolph Musgrave from discomfort. And in
consequence it was considered improbable that at this late day the
colonel would do the proper thing by Clarice Pendomer, as, at the first
tidings of Patricia's death, had been authentically rumored among the
imaginative; and, in fact, Lichfield no longer considered that
necessary. The claim of outraged morality against these two had been
thrown out of court, through some unworded social statute of
limitation, as far as Lichfield went. Of course it was interesting to
note that the colonel called at Mrs. Pendomer's rather frequently
nowadays; but, then, Clarice Pendomer had all sorts of callers
now--though not many in skirts--and she played poker with men for money
until unregenerate hours of the night, and was reputed with a wealth of
corroborative detail to have even less discussable sources of income: so
that, indeed, Clarice Pendomer was now rather precariously retained
within the social pale through her initial precaution of having been
born a Bellingham.... But all such tittle-tattle, as has been said, is
quite beside the mark, since with the decadence of Clarice Pendomer this
chronicle has, in the outcome, as scant concern as with the marital
aspirations of Cousin Lucy Fentnor.
And, moreover, the colonel--in colloquial phrase at least--went
everywhere. After the six months of comparative seclusion which decency
exacted of his widowerhood--and thereby afforded him ample leisure to
complete and publish his _Lichfield Legislative Papers prior to
1800_--the colonel, be it repeated, went everywhere; and people found
him no whit the worse company for his black gloves and the somber band
stitched to his coatsleeve. So Lichfield again received him gladly, as
the social triumph of his generation. Handsome and trim and affable, no
imaginable tourist could possibly have divined--for everybody in
Lichfield knew, of course--that Rudolph Musgrave had rounded his
half-century; and he stayed, as ever, invaluable to Lichfield matrons
alike against the entertainment of an "out-of-town" girl, the management
of a cotillon, and the prevention of unpleasant pauses among incongruous
But of Anne Charteris he saw very little nowadays. And, indeed, it was
of her own choice that Anne lived apart from Lichfieldian junketings,
contented with her dreams and her pride therein, and her remorseful
tender memories of the things she might have done for Jack and had not
done--lived upon exalted levels nowadays, to which the colonel's more
urbane bereavement did not aspire.
"Charteris" was engraved in large, raised letters upon the granite
coping over which Anne stepped to enter the trim burial-plot wherein her
The place to-day is one of the "points of interest" in Cedarwood.
Tourists, passing through Lichfield, visit it as inevitably as they do
the graves of the Presidents, the Southern generals and the many other
famous people which the old cemetery contains; and the negro hackmen of
Lichfield are already profuse in inaccurate information concerning its
occupant. In a phrase, the post card which pictures "E 9436--Grave of
John Charteris" is among the seven similar misinterpretations of
localities most frequently demanded in Lichfieldian drugstores and
Her victoria had paused a trifle farther up the hill, where two big
sycamores overhung the roadway. She came into the place alone, walking
quickly, for she was unwarrantably flustered by her late encounter. And
when she found, of all people, Rudolph Musgrave standing by her
husband's grave, as in a sort of puzzled and yet reverent meditation,
she was, and somehow as half-guiltily, assuring herself there was no
possible reason for the repugnance--nay, the rage,--which a mere
glimpse of trudging, painted and flamboyant Clarice Pendomer had
kindled. Yet it must be recorded that Anne had always detested Clarice.
Now Anne spoke, as the phrase runs, before she thought. "She came with
And he answered, as from the depths of an uncalled-for comprehension
which was distinctly irritating:
"Yes. And Harry, too, for that matter. Only our talk got somehow to be
not quite the sort it would be salutary for him to take an interest in.
So we told Harry to walk on slowly to the gate, and be sure not to do
any number of things he would never have thought of if we hadn't
suggested them. You know how people are with children----"
"Harry is--her boy?" Anne, being vexed, had almost added--"and yours?"
"Oh----! Say the _fons et origo_ of the Pendomer divorce case, poor
little chap. Yes, Harry is her boy."
Anne said, and again, as she perceived within the moment, a thought too
expeditiously: "I wish you wouldn't bring them here, Colonel Musgrave."
Indeed, it seemed to her flat desecration that Musgrave should have
brought his former mistress into this hallowed plot of ground. She did
not mind--illogically, perhaps--his bringing the child.
"Eh----? Oh, yes," said Colonel Musgrave. He was sensibly nettled. "You
wish 'Colonel Musgrave' wouldn't bring them here. But then, you see, we
had been to Patricia's grave. And we remembered how Jack stood by us
both when--when things bade fair to be even more unpleasant for Clarice
and myself than they actually were. You shouldn't, I think, grudge even
such moral reprobates the privilege of being properly appreciative of
what he did for both of us. Besides, you always come on Saturdays, you
know. We couldn't very well anticipate that you would be here this
So he had been at pains to spy upon her! Anne phrased it thus in her
soul, being irritated, and crisply answered:
"I am leaving Lichfield to-morrow. I had meant this to be my farewell to
them until October."
Colonel Musgrave had glanced toward the little headstone, with its
rather lengthy epitaph, which marked the resting-place of this woman's
only child; and then to the tall shaft whereon was engraved just "John
Charteris." The latter inscription was very characteristic of her
view-point, he reflected; and yet reasonable, too; as one might mention
a Hector or a Goethe, say, without being at pains to disclaim allusion
to the minor sharers of either name.
"Yes," he said. "Well, I shall not intrude."
"No--wait," she dissented.
Her voice was altered now, for there had come into it a marvelous
And Colonel Musgrave remained motionless. The whole world was
motionless, ineffably expectant, as it seemed to him.
Sunset was at hand. On one side was the high wooden fence which showed
the boundary of Cedarwood, and through its palings and above it, was
visible the broad, shallow river, comfortably colored, for the most
part, like _cafe au lait_, but flecked with many patches of foam and
flat iron-colored rocks and innumerable islets, some no bigger than a
billiard-table, but with even the tiniest boasting a tree or two. On the
other--westward--was a mounting vista of close-shaven turf, and many
copings, like magnified geometrical problems, and a host of stunted
growing things--with the staid verdancy of evergreens predominant--and a
multitude of candid shafts and slabs and crosses and dwarfed lambs and
Some of these thronged memorials were tinged with violet, and others
were a-glitter like silver, just as the ordered trees shaded them or no
from the low sun. The disposition of all worldly affairs, the man dimly
knew, was very anciently prearranged by an illimitable and, upon the
whole, a kindly wisdom.
She was considering the change in him. Anne was recollecting that
Colonel Musgrave had somewhat pointedly avoided her since her widowhood.
He seemed almost a stranger nowadays.
And she could not recognize in the man any resemblance to the boy whom
she remembered--so long ago--excepting just his womanish mouth, which
was as in the old time very full and red and sensitive. And,
illogically enough, both this great change in him and this one feature
that had never changed annoyed her equally.
She was also worried by his odd tone of flippancy. It jarred, it
vaguely--for the phrase has no equivalent--"rubbed her the wrong way."
Here at a martyr's tomb it was hideously out-of-place, and yet she did
not see her way clear to rebuke. So she remained silent.
But Rudolph Musgrave was uncanny in some respects. For he said within
the moment, "I am not a bit like John Charteris, am I?"
"No," she answered, quietly. It had been her actual thought.
Anne stayed a tiny while quite motionless. Her eyes saw nothing
physical. It was the attitude, Colonel Musgrave reflected, of one who
listens to a far-off music and, incommunicably, you knew that the music
was of a martial sort. She was all in black, of course, very slim and
pure and beautiful. The great cluster of red roses, loosely held, was
like blood against the somber gown.
The widow of John Charteris, in fine, was a very different person from
that Anne Willoughby whom Rudolph Musgrave had loved so long and long
ago. This woman had tasted of tonic sorrows unknown to Rudolph Musgrave,
and had got consolation too, somehow, in far half-credible uplands
unvisited by him. But, he knew, she lived, and was so exquisite, mainly
by virtue of that delusion which he, of all men, had preserved; Anne
Charteris was of his creation, his masterpiece; and viewing her, he was
aware of great reverence and joy.
Anne was happy. It was for that he had played.
But aloud, "I am envious," Rudolph Musgrave declared. "He is the single
solitary man I ever knew whose widow was contented to be simply his
relict for ever and ever, amen. For you will always be just the woman
John Charteris loved, won't you? Yes, if you lived to be thirty-seven
years older than Methuselah, and every genius and potentate in the world
should come a-wooing in the meantime, it never would occur to you that
you could possibly be anything, even to an insane person, except his
relict. And he has been dead now all of three whole years! So I am
envious, just as we ordinary mortals can't help being of you both;
and--may I say it?--I am glad."
They were standing thus when a boy of ten or eleven came unhurriedly
into the "section." He assumed possession of Colonel Musgrave's hand as
though the action were a matter of course.
"I got lost, Colonel Musgrave," the child composedly announced. "I
walked ever so far, and the gate wasn't where we left it. And the roads
kept turning and twisting so, it seemed I'd never get anywhere. I don't
like being lost when it's getting dark and there's so many dead people
'round, do you?"
The colonel was moved to disapproval. "Young man, I suppose your poor
deserted mother is looking for you everywhere, and has probably torn out
every solitary strand of hair she possesses by this time."
"I reckon she is," the boy assented. The topic did not appear to be in
his eyes of preeminent importance.
Then Anne Charteris said, "Harry," and her voice was such that Rudolph
Musgrave wheeled with amazement in his face.
The boy had gone to her complaisantly, and she stood now with one hand
on either of his shoulders, regarding him. Her lips were parted, but
they did not move at all.
"You are Mrs. Pendomer's boy, aren't you?" said Anne Charteris, in a
while. She had some difficulty in articulation.
"Yes'm," Harry assented, "and we come here 'most every Wednesday, and,
please, ma'am, you're hurtin' me."
"I didn't mean to--dear," the woman added, painfully. "Don't interfere
with me, Rudolph Musgrave! Your mother must be very fond of you, Harry.
I had a little boy once. I was fond of him. He would have been eleven
years old last February."
"Please, ma'am, I wasn't eleven till April, and I ain't tall for my age,
but Tubby Parsons says----"
The woman gave an odd, unhuman sound. "Not until April!"
"Harry," said Colonel Musgrave then, "an enormous whale is coming down
the river in precisely two minutes. Perhaps if you were to look through
the palings of that fence you might see him. I don't suppose you would
care to, though?"
And Harry strolled resignedly toward the fence. Harry Pendomer did not
like this funny lady who had hurt, frightened eyes. He did not believe
in the whale, of course, any more than he did in Santa Claus. But like
most children, he patiently accepted the fact that grown people are
unaccountable overlords appointed by some vast _betise_, whom, if only
through prudential motives, it is preferable to humor.
Colonel Musgrave stood now upon the other side of John Charteris's
grave--just in the spot that was reserved for her own occupancy some
"You are ill, Anne. You are not fit to be out. Go home."
"I had a little boy once," she said. "'But that's all past and gone, and
good times and bad times and all times pass over.' There's an odd simple
music in the sentence, isn't there? Yet I remember it chiefly because I
used to read that book to him and he loved it. And it was my child that
died. Why is this other child so like him?"
"Oh, then, that's it, is it?" said Rudolph Musgrave, as in relief.
"Bless me, I suppose all these little shavers are pretty much alike. I
can only tell Roger from the other boys by his red head. Humanity in the
raw, you know. Still, it is no wonder it gave you a turn. You had much
better go home, however, and not take any foolish risks, and put your
feet in hot water, and rub cologne on your temples, and do all the other
"I remember now," she continued, without any apparent emotion, and as
though he had not spoken. "When I came into the room you were saying
that the child must be considered. You were both very angry, and I was
alarmed--foolishly alarmed, perhaps. And my--and John Charteris said,
'Let him tell, then'--and you told me--"
"The truth, Anne."
"And he sat quietly by. Oh, if he'd had the grace, the common
manliness--!" She shivered here. "But he never interrupted you. I--I was
not looking at him. I was thinking how vile you were. And when you had
ended, he said, 'My dear, I am sorry you should have been involved in
this. But since you are, I think we can assure Rudolph that both of us
will regard his confidence as sacred.' Then I remembered him, and
thought how noble he was! And all those years that were so happy, hour
by hour, he was letting you--meet his bills!" She seemed to wrench out
the inadequate metaphor.
You could hear the far-off river, now, faint as the sound of boiling
After a few pacings Colonel Musgrave turned upon her. He spoke with a
"There isn't any use in lying to you. You wouldn't believe. You would
only go to some one else--some woman probably,--who would jump at the
chance of telling you everything and a deal more. Yes, there are a great
many 'they _do_ say's' floating about. This was the only one that came
near being--serious. The man was very clever.--Oh, he wasn't vulgarly
lecherous. He was simply--Jack Charteris. He always irritated Lichfield,
though, by not taking Lichfield very seriously. You would hear every
by-end of retaliative and sniggered-over mythology, and in your present
state of mind you would believe all of them. I happen to know that a
great many of these stories are not true."
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