The Wild Olive
Part 2 out of 6
a sudden impulse she leaned to him and kissed him. Then, releasing the
light craft, she allowed it to glide out like a swan on the tiny bay. In
three strokes of the paddle it had passed between the low, enclosing
headlands and was out of sight. When she summoned up strength to creep to
an eminence commanding the lake, it was already little more than a speck,
moving rapidly northward, over the opal-tinted waters.
On finding himself alone, and relatively free, Ford's first sensation was
one of insecurity. Having lived for more than a year under orders and
observation, he had lost for the moment some of his natural confidence in
his own initiative. Though he struck resolutely up the lake he was aware
of an inner bewilderment, bordering on physical discomfort, at being his
own master. For the first half-hour he paddled mechanically, his
consciousness benumbed by the overwhelming strangeness. As far as he was
able to formulate his thought at all he felt himself to be in process of a
new birth, into a new phase of existence. In the darkening of the sky
above him and of the lake around there came upon him something of the
mental obscurity that might mark the passage of a transmigrating soul.
After the subdued excitement of the past weeks, and especially of the past
hour, the very regularity of his movements now lulled him into a passivity
only quickened by vague fears. The noiseless leaping forward of the canoe
beneath him heightened his sense of breaking with the past and hastening
onward into another life. In that life he would be a new creature, free to
be a law unto himself.
A new creature! A law unto himself! The ideas were subconscious, and yet
he found the words framing themselves on his lips. He repeated them
mentally with some satisfaction as a cluster of lights on his left told
him he was passing Greenport. Other lights, on a hill, above the town and
away from it, were probably those of Judge Wayne's villa. He looked at
them curiously, with an odd sense of detachment, of remoteness, as from
things belonging to a time with which he had nothing more to do. That was
over and done with.
It was not until a steamer crossed his bows, not more than a hundred yards
in front of him, that he began to appreciate his safety. Under the
protection of the dark, and in the wide loneliness of the waters, he was
as lost to human sight as a bird in the upper air. The steamer--zigzagging
down the lake, touching at little ports now on the west bank and now on
the east--had shot out unexpectedly from behind a point, her double row of
lights casting a halo in which his canoe must have been visible on the
waves; and yet she had passed by and taken no note of him. For a second
such good-fortune had seemed to his nervous imagination beyond the range
of hope. He stopped paddling he almost stopped breathing, allowing the
canoe to rock gently on the tide. The steamer puffed and pulsated, beating
her way directly athwart his course. The throbbing of her engines seemed
scarcely louder than that of his own heart. He could see people moving on
the deck, who in their turn must have been able to see him. And yet the
boat went on, ignoring him, in tacit acknowledgment of his right to the
lake, of his right to the world.
His sigh of relief became almost a laugh as he began again to paddle
forward. The incident was like a first victory, an assurance of victories
to come. The sense of insecurity with whith he had started out gave place,
minute by minute, to the confidence in himself which was part of his
normal state of mind. Other small happenings confirmed his self-reliance.
Once a pleasure party in a rowboat passed so near him that he could hear
the splash of their oars and the sound of their voices. There was
something almost miraculous to him in being so close to the commonplace of
human fellowship. He had the feeling of pleasant inward recognition that
comes from hearing one's mother-tongue in a foreign land. He stopped
paddling again, just to catch meaningless fragments of their talk, until
they floated away into silence and darkness. He would have been sorry to
have them pass out of ear-shot, were it not for his satisfaction in being
able to go his way unheeded.
On another occasion he found himself within speaking distance of one of
the numerous small lakeside hotels. Lights flared from open doors and
windows, while from the veranda, the garden, and the little pier came
peals of laughter, or screams and shouts of young people at rough play.
Now and then he could catch the tones of some youth's teasing, and the
shrill, pretended irritation of a girl's retort. The noisy cheerfulness of
it all reached his ears with the reminiscent tenderness of music heard in
childhood. It represented the kind of life he himself had loved. Before
the waking nightmare of his troubles began he had been of the unexacting
type of American lad who counts it a "good time" to sit in summer evenings
on "porches" or "stoops" or "piazzas," joking with "the boys," flirting
with "the girls," and chattering on all subjects from the silly to the
serious, from the local to the sublime. He was of the friendly,
neighborly, noisy, demonstrative spirit characteristic of his age and
class. He could have entered into this circle of strangers--strangers for
the most part, in all probability, to one another--and in ten minutes'
time been one of them. Their screams, their twang, their slang, their
gossip, their jolly banter, and their gay ineptitude would have been to
him like a welcome home. But he was Norrie Ford, known by name and
misfortune to every one of them. The boys and girls on the pier, the
elderly women in the rocking-chairs, even the waitresses who, in
high-heeled shoes and elaborate coiffures, ministered disdainfully to the
guests in the bare-floored dining-room, had discussed his life, his trial,
his sentence, his escape, and formed their opinions upon him. Were it
possible for them to know now that he was lurking out there in the dark,
watching their silhouettes and listening to their voices, there would be
such a hue and cry as the lake had not heard since the Indians sighted
Champlain on its banks.
It was this reflection that first of all stirred the current of his deep,
slow resentment. During the fifteen months since his arrest he had been
either too busy, or too anxious, or too sorely puzzled at finding himself
in so odd a position, to have leisure for positive anger. At the worst of
times he had never lost the belief that the world, or that portion of the
world which concerned itself with him, would come to recognize the fact
that it was making a mistake. He had taken his imprisonment and his trial
more or less as exciting adventures. Even the words of his sentence lost
most of their awfulness in his inner conviction that they were empty
sounds. Of the confused happenings on the night of his escape his clearest
memory was that he had been hungry, while he thought of the weeks spent in
the cabin as a "picnic." Just as good spirits had seldom failed him, so
patience had rarely deserted him. Such ups and downs of emotion as he had
experienced resulted in the long run in an increase of optimism. In the
back of his slow mind he kept the expectation, almost the intention, of
giving his anger play--some time; but only when his rights should have
been restored to him.
But he felt it coming on him now, before he was prepared for it. It was
taking him unawares, and without due cause, roused by the chance
perception that he was cut off from rightful, natural companionship.
Nothing as yet had brought home to him the meaning of his situation like
the talk and laughter of these lads and girls, who suddenly became to him
what Lazarus in Abraham's bosom was to Dives in his torment.
A few dips of the paddle took him out of sight and sound of the hotel; but
the dull, indignant passion remained in his heart, finding outward vent in
the violence with which he sent the canoe bounding northward beneath the
starlight. For the moment it was a blind, objectless passion, directed
against nothing and no one in particular. He was not skilled in the
analysis of feeling, or in tracing effect to cause. For an hour or two his
wrath was the rage of the infuriated animal roaring out its pain,
regardless of the hand that has inflicted it. Other rowing-parties came
within hearing distance, but he paid them no attention; lake steamers hove
in sight, but he had learned how to avoid them; little towns, dotted at
intervals of a few miles apart, lit up the banks with the lights of homes,
but their shining domesticity seemed to mock him. The birth of a new
creature was a painful process; and yet, through all his confused
sensations and obscure elemental suffering, he kept the conviction that a
new creature was somehow claiming its right to live.
Peace of mind came to him gradually, as the little towns put out their
lights, and the lake steamers laid up in tiny ports, and the
rowing-parties went home to bed. In the smooth, dark level of the lake and
in the stars there was a soothing quality to which he responded before he
was aware of doing so. The spacious solitude of the summer night brought
with it a large calmness of outlook, in which his spirit took a measure of
comfort. There was a certain bodily pleasure, too, in the regular monotony
of paddling, while his mental faculties were kept alert by the necessity
of finding points by which to steer, and fixing his attention upon them.
So, by degrees, his limited reasoning powers found themselves at work,
fumbling, with the helplessness of a man whose strong points are physical
activity and concentration of purpose, for some light on the wild course
on which he was embarked.
Perhaps his first reflection that had the nature of a conclusion or a
deduction was on the subject of "old Wayne." Up to the present he had
regarded him with special ill will, owing to the fact that Wayne, while
inclining to a belief of his innocence, had nevertheless lent himself to
the full working of the law. It came to Ford now in the light of a
discovery that, after all, it was not Wayne's fault. Wayne was in the grip
of forces that deprived him to a large extent of the power of voluntary
action. He could scarcely be blamed if he fulfilled the duties he was
appointed to perform The real responsibility was elsewhere. With whom did
it lie? For a primitive mind like Ford's the question was not an easy one
For a time he was inclined to call to account the lawyers who had pleaded
for the State. Had it not been for their arguments he would have been
acquitted. With an ingenuity he had never supposed to exist they had
analyzed his career--especially the two years of it spent with Uncle
Chris--and showed how it led up to the crime as to an inevitable
consequence. They seemed familiar with everything he had ever done, while
they were able to prove beyond cavil that certain of his acts were
inspired by sinister motives which he himself knew to have sprung from
dissipation at the worst. It was astonishing how plausible their story
was; and he admitted that if anybody else had been accused, he himself
would probably have been convinced by it. Certainly, then, the lawyers
must have been to blame--that is, unless they were only carrying out what
others had hired them to do.
That qualifying phrase started a new train of thought. Mechanically, dip
by dip, swaying gently with each stroke as to a kind of rhythm, he drove
the canoe onward, while he pondered it. It was easy to meditate out here,
on the wide, empty lake, for no sound broke the midnight stillness but the
soft swish of the paddle and the skimming of the broad keel along the
water. It was not by any orderly system of analysis, or synthesis, or
syllogism, that Ford, as the hours went by, came at last to his final
conclusion; and yet he reached it with conviction. By a process of
elimination he absolved judge, jury, legal profession, and local public
from the greater condemnation. Each had contributed to the error that made
him an outlaw, but no one contributor was the whole of the great force
responsible. That force, which had set its component parts to work, and
plied them till the worst they could do was done, was the body which they
called Organized Society. To Ford, Organized Society was a new expression.
He could not remember ever to have heard it till it was used in court.
There it had been on everybody's lips. Far more than old Chris Ford
himself it was made to figure as the injured party. Though there was
little sympathy for the victim in his own person, Organized Society seemed
to have received in his death a blow that called for the utmost avenging.
Organized Society was plaintiff in the case, as well as police, jury,
judge, and public. The single human creature who could not apparently gain
footing within its fold was Norrie Ford himself. Organized Society had
cast him out.
He had been told that before, and yet the actual fact had never come home
to him till now. In prison, in court, in the cabin in the woods, there had
always been some human hand within reach of his own, some human tie, even
though it was a chain. However ignoble, there had been a place for him.
But out here on the great vacant lake there was an isolation that gave
reality to his expulsion. The last man left on earth would not feel more
For the first time since the night of his escape there came back to him
that vague feeling of deserting something he might have defended, that
almost physical sensation of regret at not having stood his ground and
fought till he fell. He began to understand now what it meant. Dip,
splash, dip, splash, his paddle stirred the dimly shining water, breaking
into tiny whirlpools the tremulous reflection of the stars. Not for an
instant did he relax his stroke, though the regret took more definitive
shape behind him. Convicted and sentenced, he was still part of the life
of men, just as a man whom others are trying to hurl from a tower is _on_
the tower till he has fallen. He himself had not fallen; he had jumped
off, while there was still a chance of keeping his foothold.
It required an hour or two of outward rhythmic movement and confused
inward feeling to get him ready for his next mental step. He had jumped
off the tower; true; but he was alive and well, with no bones broken. What
should he do now? Should he try to tear the tower down? The attempt would
not be so very ludicrous, seeing he should only have to join
those--socialists, anarchists, faddists--already at the work. But he
admired the tower, and preferred to see is stand. If he did anything at
all, it would be to try to creep back into it.
The reflection gave still another turn to his thoughts. He was passing
Burlington by this time--the electric lamps throwing broad bands of light
along the deserted, up-hill streets, between the sleeping houses. It was
the first city he had seen since leaving New York to begin his useless
career in the mountains. The sight moved him with an odd curiosity, not
free from a homesick longing for normal, simple ways of life. He kept the
canoe at a standstill, looking hungrily up the empty thoroughfares, as a
poor ghost may gaze at familiar scenes while those it has loved are
dreaming. By-and-by the city seemed to stir in its sleep. Along the
waterside he could hear the clatter of some belated or too early wayfarer;
a weird, intermittent creaking told him that the milk-cart of provincial
towns was on its beat; from a distant freight-train came the long,
melancholy wail that locomotives give at night; and then drowsily, but
with the promptness of one conscientious in his duty, a cock crew. Ford
knew that somewhere, unseen as yet by him, the dawn was coming, and--again
like a wandering ghost--sped on.
But he had been looking on the tower which the children of men had
builded, and had recognized his desire to clamber up into it again. He was
not without the perception that a more fiery temperament than his
own--perhaps a nobler one--would have cursed the race that had done him
wrong, and sought to injure it or shun it. Misty recollections of
proud-hearted men who had taken this stand came back to him.
"I suppose I ought to do the same," he muttered to himself humbly; "but
what would be the use when I couldn't keep it up?"
Understanding himself thus well, his purpose became clearer. Like the ant
or the beaver that has seen its fabric destroyed, he must set patiently to
work to reconstruct it. He suspected a poor-spirited element in this sort
of courage; but his instinct forced him within his limitations. By dint of
keeping there and toiling there he felt sure of his ability to get back to
the top of the tower in such a way that no one would think he lacked the
right to be on it.
But he himself would know it. He shrank from that fact with the repugnance
of an honest nature for what is not straightforward; but the matter was
past helping. He should be obliged to play the impostor everywhere and
with every one. He would mingle with men, shake their hands, share their
friendships, eat their bread, and accept their favors--and deceive them
under their very noses. Life would become one long trick, one daily feat
of skill. Any possible success he could win would lack stability, would
lack reality, because there would be neither truth nor fact behind it.
From the argument that he was innocent he got little comfort. He had
forfeited his right to make use of that fact any longer. Had he stayed
where he was he could have shouted it out till they gagged him in the
death-chair. Now he must be dumb on the subject forevermore. In his
disappearance there was an acceptation of guilt which he must remain
powerless to explain away.
Many minutes of dull pain passed in dwelling on that point. He could work
neither back from it nor forward. His mind could only dwell on it with an
aching admission of its justice, while he searched the sky for the dawn.
In spite of the crowing of the cock he saw no sign of it--unless it was
that the mountains on the New York shore detached themselves more
distinctly from the sky of which they had seemed to form a part. On the
Vermont side there was nothing but a heaped-up darkness, night piled on
night, till the eye reached the upper heavens and the stars.
He paddled on, steadily, rhythmically, having no sense of hunger or
fatigue, while he groped for the clew that was to guide him when he
stepped on land. He felt the need of a moral programme, of some pillar of
cloud and fire that would show him a way he should be justified in taking.
He expressed it to himself by a kind of aspiration which he kept
repeating, sometimes half aloud:
"O Lord, O Holy One! I want to be a man!"
Suddenly he struck the water with so violent a dash that the canoe swerved
and headed landward.
"By God!" he muttered, under his breath, "I've got it.... It isn't my
fault.... It's theirs.... They've put me in this fix.... They've brought
this dodging, and shifting, and squirming upon me.... The subterfuge isn't
mine; it's theirs.... They've taken the responsibility from me.... When
they strip me of rights they strip me of duties.... They've forced me
where right and wrong don't exist for me any more.... They've pitched me
out of their Organized Society, and I've had to go.... Now I'm free ...
and I shall profit by my freedom."
In the excitement of these discoveries he smote the waters again. He
remembered having said something of the sort on the night of his interview
with Wayne; but he had not till now grasped its significance. It was the
emancipation of his conscience. Whatever difficulties he might encounter
from outside, he should be hampered by no scruples from within. He had
been relieved of them; they had been taken from him. Since none had a duty
toward him, he had no duty toward any. If it suited his purposes to juggle
with men, the blame must rest upon themselves. He could but do his best
with the maimed existence they had left to him. Self-respect would entail
observance of the common laws of truth and honesty, but beyond this he
need never allow consideration for another to come before consideration
for himself. He was absolved from the necessity in advance. In the region
in which he should pass his inner life there would be no occupant but
himself. From the world where men and women had ties of love and pity and
mutual regard they had cast him out, forcing him into a spiritual limbo
where none of these things obtained. It was only lawful that he should
make use of such advantages as his lot allowed him.
There was exaltation in the way in which he grasped this creed as his rule
of life; and looking up suddenly, he saw the dawn. It had taken him
unawares, stealing like a gray mist of light over the tops of the Vermont
hills, lifting their ridges faintly out of night, like the ghosts of so
many Titans. Among the Adirondacks one high peak caught the first glimmer
of advancing day, while all the lower range remained a gigantic silhouette
beneath the perceptibly paling stars. Over Canada the veil was still down,
but he fancied he could detect a thinner texture to the darkness.
Then, as he passed a wooded headland, came a sleepy twitter, from some
little pink and yellow bill barely withdrawn from its enfolding wing--to
be followed by another, and another, and another, till both shores were
aquiver with that plaintive chirrup, half threnody for the flying
darkness, half welcome to the sun, like the praise of a choir of children
roused to sing midnight matins, but still dreaming. Ford's dip was softer
now, as though he feared to disturb that vibrant drowsiness; but when,
later, capes and coves began to define themselves through the gray
gloaming, and, later still, a shimmer of saffron appeared above the
eastern summits, he knew it was time to think of a refuge from the
The saffron became fire; the fire lit up a heaven of chrysoprase and rose.
Where the lake had been as a metal mirror for the stars, it rippled and
dimpled and gleamed with the tints of mother-of-pearl. He knew the sun
must be on the farther slope of the Green Mountains, because the face they
turned toward him was dense in shadow, like the unilluminated portion of
the moon. On the western shore the Adirondacks were rising out of the bath
of night as dewy fresh as if they had been just created.
But the sun was actually in the sky when he perceived that he no longer
had the lake to himself. From a village nestling in some hidden cove a
rowboat pulled out into the open--a fisherman after the morning's catch.
It was easy enough for Ford to keep at a prudent distance; but the
companionship caused him an uneasiness that was not dispelled before the
first morning steamer came pounding from the northward. He fixed his
attention then on a tiny islet some two or three miles ahead. There were
trees on it, and probably ferns and grass. Reaching it, he found himself
in a portion of the lake forest-banked and little frequented. Pastures and
fields of ripening grain on the most distant slopes of Vermont gave the
nearest token of life. All about him there was solitude and
stillness--with the glorious, bracing beauty of the newly risen day.
Landing with stiffened limbs, he drew up the canoe on a bit of sandy
beach, over which sturdy old bushes, elder and birch, battered by the
north winds, leaned in friendly, concealing protection. He himself would
be able to lie down here, among the tall ferns and the stunted
blueberry-scrub, as secluded and secure as ever he had been in prison.
Being hungry and thirsty, he ate and drank, consulting his map the while
and fixing approximately his whereabouts. He looked at his little watch
and wound it up, and fingered the pages of the railway guide he found
The acts brought up the image of the girl who had furnished him with these
useful accessories to flight. For lack of another name he called her the
Wild Olive--remembering her yearning, not wholly unlike his own, to be
grafted back into the good olive-tree of Organized Society. With some
shame he perceived that he had scarcely thought of her through the night.
It was astounding to recollect that not twelve hours ago she had kissed
him and sent him on his journey. To him the gulf between then and now was
so wide and blank that it might have been twelve weeks, or twelve months,
or twelve years. It had been the night of the birth of a new creature, of
the transmigration of a soul; it had no measurement in time, and threw all
that preceded it into the mists of prenatal ages.
These thoughts passed through his mind as he made a pillow for himself
with his white flannel jacket, and twisted the ferns above it into a
shelter from the flies. Having done this, he stood still and pondered.
"Have I really become a new creature?" he asked himself.
There was much in the outward conditions to encourage the fancy, while his
inner consciousness found it easy to be credulous. Nothing was left of
Norrie Ford but the mere flesh and bones--the least stable part of
personality. Norrie Ford was gone--not dead, but gone--blasted,
annihilated stamped out of existence, by the act of Organized Society. In
its place the night of transition had called up some one else.
"But who? ... Who am I? ... What am I?"
Above all, a name seemed required to give him entity. It was a repetition
of his feeling about the Wild Olive--the girl in the cabin in the woods.
Suddenly he remembered that, if he had found a name for her, she had also
found one for him--and that it was written on the steamer ticket in his
pocket. He drew it out, and read:
He repeated it at first in dull surprise, and then with disapproval. It
was not the kind of name he would have chosen. It was odd, noticeable--a
name people would remember He would have preferred something commonplace
such as might be found for a column or two in any city directory. She had
probably got it from a novel--or made it up. Girls did such things. It was
a pity, but there was no help for it now. As Herbert Strange he must go on
board the steamer, and so he should be called until--
But he was too tired to fix a date for the resumption of his own name or
the taking of another. Flinging himself on his couch of moss and trailing
ground-spruce, with the ferns closing over him, and the pines over them,
he was soon asleep.
Dressed in overalls that had once been white, he was superintending the
stacking of wool in a long, brick-walled, iron-roofed shed in Buenos Aires
when the thought came to him how easy it had all been. He paused for a
minute in his work of inspection--standing by an open window, where a
whiff of fresh air from off the mud-brown Rio de la Plata relieved the
heavy, greasy smell of the piles of unwashed wool--just to review again
the past eighteen months. Below him stretched the noisy docks, with their
row of electric cranes, as regular as a line of street lamps, loading or
unloading a mile of steamers lying broadside on, and flying all flags but
the Stars and Stripes. Wines, silk, machinery, textiles were coming out;
wheat, cattle, hides, and beef were pouring in. In the confusion of
tongues that reached him he could, on occasions, catch the tones of
Spaniard, Frenchman, Swede, and Italian, together with all the varieties
of English speech from Highland Scotch to Cockney; but none of the
intonations of his native land. The comparative rarity of anything
American in his city of refuge, while it added to his sense of exile,
heightened his feeling of security. It was still another of the happy
circumstances that had helped him.
The strain under which he had lived during this year and a half had
undoubtedly been great; but he could see now that it had been inward
strain--the mental strain of unceasing apprehension, the spiritual strain
of the new creature in casting off the old husk, and adapting itself not
merely to new surroundings, but to a new life. This had been severe. He
was not a rover, and still less an adventurer, in any of the senses
attached to that word. His instincts were for the settled, the
well-ordered, and the practical. He would have been content with any
humdrum existence that permitted his peaceable, commercially gifted soul
to develop in its natural environment. The process, therefore, by which
Norrie Ford became Herbert Strange, even in his own thoughts, had been one
of inner travail, though the outward conditions could not have been more
favorable. Now that he had reached a point where his more obvious
anxieties were passing away, and the hope of safety was becoming a
reality, he could look back and see how relatively easy everything had
He had leisure for reflection because it was the hour for the men's midday
meal and siesta. He could see them grouped together--some thirty-odd--at
the far end of the shed--sturdy little Italians, black-eyed, smiling,
thrifty, dirty, and contented to a degree that made them incomprehensible
to the ambitious, upward-toiling American set over them. They sat, or
lounged, on piles of wood, or on the floor, some chattering, most of them
asleep. He had begun like them. He had stacked wool under orders till he
had made himself capable of being in command. He had been beneath the
ladder; and though his foot was only on the lowest rung of it even now, he
was satisfied to have made this first step upward.
He could not be said to have taken it to his own surprise, since he had
prepared himself for it, and for other such steps to follow it, knowing
that they must become feasible in time. He had been given to understand
that what the Argentine, in common with some other countries, needed most
was neither men nor capital, but intelligence. Men were pouring in from
every corner of the globe; capital was keen in looking for its
opportunity; but for intelligence the demand was always greater than the
The first intimation of such a need had come to him on the _Empress of
Erin_, in mid-Atlantic, by a chance opportunity of the voyage. It was on
one of the first days of liberty when he had ventured to mix freely with
his fellow-passengers. Up to the present he had followed the rule of
conduct adopted at the little Canadian station of Saint Jean du Clou Noir.
He went into public when necessary, but no oftener. He did then what other
people did, in the way to attract the least attention. The season favored
him, for amid the throngs of early autumn travellers, moving from country
back to town, or from seaside resorts to the mountains he passed
unnoticed. At Quebec he was one of the crowd of tourists come to see the
picturesque old town. At Rimouski he was lost among the trainful of people
from the Canadian maritime provinces taking the Atlantic steamer at a
convenient port. He lived through each minute in expectation of the law's
tap on his shoulder; but he acquired the habit of nonchalance. On
shipboard it was a relief to be able to shut himself up in his cabin--his
suite!--feigning sickness, but really allowing his taut nerves to relax,
as he watched first the outlines of the Laurentides, and then the shores
of Anticosti, and lastly the iron-black coast of Labrador, follow each
other below the horizon. Two or three appearances at table gave him
confidence that he had nothing to fear. By degrees he allowed himself to
walk up and down the deck, where it was a queer sensation to feel that the
long row of eyes must of necessity be fixed upon him. The mere fact that
he was wearing another man's clothes--clothes he had found in the cabin
trunk that had come on board for him--produced a shyness scarcely
mitigated by the knowledge that he was far from looking grotesque.
Little by little he plucked up courage to enter the smoking-room where the
tacit, matter-of-course welcome of his own sex seemed to him like
extraordinary affability. An occasional word from a neighbor, or an
invitation to "take a hand at poker," or to "have a cocktail," was like an
assurance to a man who fancies himself dead that he really is alive. He
joined in no conversations and met no advances, but from the possibilities
of doing so he would go back to his cabin smiling.
The nearest approach to pleasure he allowed himself was to sit in a corner
and listen to the talk of his fellow-men. It was sometimes amusing, but
oftener stupid; it turned largely on food, with irrelevant interludes on
business. It never went beyond the range of topics possible to the
American or Canadian merchants, professional men, politicians, and
saloon-keepers, who form the rank and file of smoking-room society on any
Atlantic liner; but the Delphic worshipper never listened to Apollo's
oracle with a more rapt devotion than Ford to this intercommunion of
It was in this way that he chanced one day to hear a man speaking of the
Argentine. The remarks were casual, choppy, and without importance, but
the speaker evidently knew the ground. Ford had already noticed him,
because they occupied adjoining steamer-chairs--a tall, sallow Englishman
of the ineffectual type, with sagging shoulders, a drooping mustache, and
furtive eyes. Ford had scarcely thought of the Argentine since the girl in
the cabin had mentioned it--- now ten or twelve days ago; but the
necessity of having an objective point, and one sufficiently distant
turned his mind again in that direction.
"Did I hear you speaking yesterday of Buenos Aires?" he ventured to ask,
on the next occasion when he found himself seated beside his neighbor on
The Englishman drew his brier-root pipe from his mouth, glanced sidewise
from the magazine he was reading, and jerked his head in assent.
"What kind of place did it seem to you?"
Pondering this reply, Ford might have lost courage to speak again had he
not caught the eye of the Englishman's wife as she leaned forward and
peeped at him across her husband's brier-root. There was something in her
starry glance--an invitation, or an incitement--that impelled him to
"I've been told it's the land of new opportunities."
The Englishman grunted without looking up. "I didn't see many."
"May I ask if you saw any?"
"None fit for a white man."
"My husband means none fit for a--gentleman. I liked the place."
From the woman's steely smile and bitter-sweet tones Ford got hints of
masculine inefficiency and feminine contempt which he had no wish to
follow up. He knew from fragments of talk overheard in the smoking-room
that they had tried Mexico, California, and Saskatchewan in addition to
South America. From the impatience with which she shook the foot just
visible beneath the steamer-rug, while all the rest of her bearing feigned
repose, he guessed her humiliation at returning empty to the land she had
left with an Anglo-Saxon's pioneering hope, beside a husband who could do
nothing but curse luck. To get over the awkward minute he spoke hurriedly.
"I've heard of a very good house out there--Stephens and Jarrott. Do you
happen to know anything about them?"
"Wool," the Englishman grunted again. "Wool and wheat. Beastly brutes."
"They were horribly impertinent to my husband," the woman spoke up, with a
kind of feverish eagerness to have her say. "They actually asked him if
there was anything he could do. Fancy!"
"Oh, I know people of that sort put a lot of superfluous questions to
you," Ford said. But the lady hurried on.
"As to questions, there are probably fewer asked you in Argentine than
anywhere else in the world. It's one of the standing jokes of the place,
both in Buenos Aires and out in the Camp. Of course, the old Spanish
families are all right; but when it comes to foreigners a social catechism
wouldn't do. That's one of the reasons the place didn't agree with us. We
wanted people to know who we'd been before we got there; but that branch
of knowledge isn't cultivated."
"More beastly Johnnies in the Argentine passin' under names not their
own," said the man, moved to speak, at last, "than in all the rest of the
world put together. Heard a story at the Jockey Club--lot of beastly
native bounders in the Jockey Club--heard a story at the Jockey Club of a
little Irish Johnny who'd been cheatin' at cards. Three other asses
kicked him out. Beggar turned at the door and got in his lick of revenge.
'Say boys, d'yez know why they call me Mickey Flanagan out here? Because
it's me na-ame.' Beggar 'd got 'em all there."
Ford nerved himself to laugh, but made an excuse for rising.
"Oh, there's lots of cleverness among them," the lady observed, before he
had time to get away. "In fact, it's one of the troubles with the
country--for people like us. There's too much competition in brains. My
husband hit the right nail on the head when he said there was no chance
for any beastly Johnny out there, unless he could use his bloomin'
mind--and for us that was out of the question."
Ford never spoke to them again, but he meditated on their words, finding
himself at the end of twenty-four hours in possession of a new light.
"I've got to use my bloomin' mind." The words seemed to offer him the clew
to life. It was the answer to the question, "What should I do _there_?"
which positively asked itself, whenever he thought of seeking a refuge in
this country or in that. It came as a discovery that within himself was
the power that would enable him to make the best of any country, and the
country to make the best of him.
He could hardly have explained how his decision to try Argentina had
become fixed. Until he saw whether or not he should get successfully
ashore at Liverpool there was a paralysis of all mental effort; but once
on the train for London his plans appeared before him already formed. The
country where few questions were asked and the past had no importance was
clearly the place for him. Within a fortnight he was a second-class
passenger on board the Royal Mail Steam Packet _Parana_, bound for Buenos
Aires--thus fulfilling, almost unexpectedly to himself, the suggestion
made by the girl in the Adirondack cabin, whose star, as he began to
believe, must rule his fate.
He thought of her now and then, but always with the same curious sense of
remoteness--or unreality, as of a figure seen in a dream. Were it not for
the substantial tokens of her actuality he possessed she would have seemed
to him like the heroine of a play. He would have reproached himself for
disloyalty if the intensity of each minute as he had to meet it had not
been an excuse for him. The time would come when the pressure of the
instant would be less great, and he should be able to get back the emotion
with which he left her. Perhaps if she had been "his type of girl," her
image would not have faded so quickly.
There was but one thing for which he was not grateful to her. She had
fixed the name of Herbert Strange upon him in such a way that he was
unable to shake it off. His own first name was the unobjectionable
monosyllable John--though he had always been known by his less familiar
middle name, Norrie--and as John Ford he could have faced the world with a
certain amount of bluff. He meant to begin the attempt immediately on
reaching London, but the difficulty of appearing in a hotel under one name
while everything he brought with him bore another was patent to him at
once. Similarly, he could not receive the correspondence incidental to his
outfit and his passage under the name of Ford in a house where he was
known as Strange. Having applied for his passage as Strange, he knew it
would create comment if he asked to be put down in the books as Ford. Do
what he would he was obliged to appear on the printed list of second-cabin
passengers as Herbert Strange, and he had made at least one acquaintance
who would expect to call him so after they reached land.
This was a little, clean-shaven man, in the neighborhood of sixty, always
dressed at sea as he probably dressed on shore. He wore nothing but black,
with a white shirt and a ready-made black bow-tie. He might have been a
butler, an elderly valet, or a member of some discreet religious order in
street costume. Ford had heard a flippant young Frenchman speak of him as
an "ancien curA(C), qui a fait quelque bAŠtise"; and indeed there was about
him that stamp of the ecclesiastic which is sometimes ineffaceable.
"I call myself Durand," he said to Ford, using the conveniently ambiguous
French idiom, "je m'appelle Durand."
"Et je m'appelle Strange, I call myself Strange," Ford had replied,
claiming the name for the first time without hesitation, but feeling the
irrevocable nature of the words as soon as he had uttered them.
Out of the crowd of second-rate Europeans of all races who made up the
second cabin, the man who called himself Strange had selected the man who
called himself Durand by some obscure instinct of affinity. "He looks like
an old chap who could give one information," was Strange's own way of
putting it, not caring to confess that he was feeling after a bit of
sympathy. But the give and take of information became the basis of their
friendship, and imparted the first real stimulus to the young man's
awkward efforts to use his mind.
Monsieur Durand had been thirty years in the Argentine, observing the
place and the people, native and foreign, with the impartial shrewdness
only possible to one who sought little for himself. It was a pleasure to
share the fruits of his experience with one so eager to learn, for young
men were not in the habit of showing him deference. He could tell Mr.
Strange many things that would be to his advantage--what to do--what to
avoid--what sort of place to live in--what he ought to pay--and what sort
of company to keep.
Yes, he knew the firm of Stephens and Jarrott--an excellent house. There
was no Mr. Stephens now, only a Mr. Jarrott. Mr. Stephens had belonged to
the great days of American enterprise in the southern hemisphere, to the
time of Wheelwright, and Halsey, and Hale. The Civil War had put an end to
that. Mr. Jarrott had come later--a good man, not generally understood. He
had suffered a great loss a few years ago in the death of his
brother-in-law and partner, Mr. Colfax. Mrs. Colfax, a pretty little
woman, who hadn't old age in her blood either--one could see that--had
gone back to the United States with her child--but a child!--blond as an
angel--altogether darling--_tout A fait mignonne_. Monsieur Durand thought
he remembered hearing that Mrs. Colfax had married again, but he couldn't
say for certain. What would you? One heard so many things. He knew less of
the family since the last boy died--the boy to whom he gave lessons in
Spanish and French. Death hadn't spared the household--taking the three
sons one after another and leaving father and mother alone. It was a
thousand pities Mrs. Colfax had taken the little girl away. They loved her
as if she had been their own--especially after the boys died. An excellent
house! Mr. Strange couldn't do better than seek an entry there--it is I
who tell you so--_c'est moi qui vous le dis_.
All this was said in very good English, with occasional lapses into
French, in a soft, benevolent voice, with slow benedictory movements of
the hands, more and more suggestive of an ecclesiastic _en civile_--or
under a cloud. Strange stole an occasional glance into the delicate,
clear-cut face, where the thin lips were compressed into permanent lines
of pain, and the sunken brown eyes looked out from under scholarly brows
with the kind of hopeful anguish a penitent soul might feel in the midst
of purifying flames. He remembered again that the flippant young Frenchman
had said, "Un ancien curA(C), qui a fait quelque bAŠtise." Was it possible
that some tragic sin lay under this gentle life? And was the
four-funnelled, twin-screwed _Parana_ but a ghostly ship bearing a cargo
of haunted souls into their earthly purgatory?
"But listen, monsieur," the old man began next day. But listen! There
would be difficulties. Stephens and Jarrott employed only picked men, men
with some experience--except for the mere manual labor such as the
Italians could perform. Wouldn't it be well for Mr. Strange to qualify
himself a little before risking a refusal? Ah, but how? Monsieur Durand
would explain. There was first the question of Spanish. No one could get
along in the Argentine without a working knowledge of that tongue.
Monsieur Durand himself gave lessons in it--and in French--but in the
English and American colonies of Buenos Aires exclusively. There were
reasons why he did not care to teach among Catholics, though he himself
was a fervent one, and he hoped--repentant. He pronounced the last word
with some emphasis, as though to call Strange's attention to it. If his
young friend would give him the pleasure of taking a few lessons, they
could begin even now. It would while away the time on the voyage. He had
his own method of teaching, a method based on the Berlitz system, but not
borrowed from it, and, he ventured to say, possessing its own good
points. For example: _el tabaco--la pipa--los cigarillos. Que es esto?
Esto es la pipa_. Very simple. In a few weeks' time the pupil is carrying
It would be an incalculable advantage to Mr. Strange if he could enter on
his Argentine life with some command of the vernacular. It might even be
well to defer his search for permanent employment until he could have that
accomplishment to his credit. If he possessed a little money--even a very
little--Oh, he did? Then so much the better. He need not live on it
entirely, but it would be something to fall back on while getting the
rudiments of his education. In the mean time he could learn a little about
wool if he picked up jobs--Oh, very humble ones!--they were always to be
had by the young and able-bodied--at the Mercado Central, one of the great
wool-markets of the world. He could earn a few pesetas, acquire practical
experience, and fit himself out in Spanish, all at the same time.
And he could live with relative economy. Monsieur Durand could explain
that too. In fact, he might get board and lodging in the same house as
himself, with Mrs. Wilson who conducted a modest home for "gentlemen
only." Mrs. Wilson was a Protestant--what they called a Methodist, he
believed--but her house was clean, with a few flowers in the patio, very
different from the frightful conventillos in which the poor were obliged
to herd. If Mr. Strange thought it odd that he, Monsieur Durand, should be
living beneath a Protestant roof--well, there were reasons which were
difficult to explain.
Later on, perhaps, Mr. Strange might take a season on some great sheep
estancia out in the Camp, where there were thousands of herds that were
thousands strong. Monsieur Durand could help him in that too. He could
introduce him to wealthy proprietors whose sons he had taught. It would be
a hard life, but it need not be for long. He would live in a mud hut,
dirty, isolated, with no companionship but that of the Italian laborers
and their womenkind. But the outdoor existence would do him good; the air
over the pampas was like wine; and the food would not be as bad as he
might expect. There would be an abundance of excellent meat, chiefly
mutton, it was true, which when cooked _A _ la guacho--_carne concuero_,
they called it in the Camp--roasted in the skin so as to keep all the
juices in the meat--! A gesture of the hands, accompanied by a succulent
inspiration between the teeth, gave Strange to understand that there was
one mitigation at least to life on an Argentine estancia.
To come into actual contact with the sheep, to know Oxfords, Cheviots,
Leicesters, and Black-faced Downs, to assist at the feedings and washings
and doctorings and shearings, to follow the crossings and recrossings and
crossings again, that bred new varieties as if they were roses, to trace
the processes by which the Argentine pampas supply novel resources to the
European manufacturer, and the European manufacturer turns out the smart
young man of London or New York, with his air of wearing "the very
latest"--all this would not only give Strange a pleasing sense of being at
the root of things, but form a sort of apprenticeship to his trade.
* * * * *
The men had not yet finished their hour of siesta, but Strange himself was
at work. Ten minutes were sufficient for his own snack, and he never
needed rest. Moreover, he was still too new to his position to do other
than glory in the fact that he was a free being, doing a man's work, and
earning a man's wage. Out in the Camp he had been too desolate to feel
that, but here in Buenos Aires, at the very moment when the great city was
waking to the knowledge of her queenship in the southern world--when the
commercial hordes of the north were sweeping down in thousands of ships
across the equator to outdo each other in her markets, it was an inspiring
thing merely to be alive and busy. He was as proud of Stephens and
Jarrott's long brick shed, where the sun beat pitilessly on the corrugated
iron roof, and the smell of wool nearly sickened him, as if it had been a
Rothschild's counting-house. His position there was just above the lowest;
but his enthusiasm was independent of trivial things like that. How could
he lounge about, taking siestas, when work was such a pleasure in itself?
The shed of which he had the oversight was a model of its kind, not so
much because his ambition designed to make it so, as because his ardor
could make it nothing else.
The roar of dock traffic through the open windows drowned everything but
the loudest sounds, so that busily working, he heard nothing, and paid no
attention, when some one stopped behind him. He had turned accidentally,
humming to himself in the sheer joy of his task, when the presence of the
stranger caused him to blush furiously beneath his tan. He drew himself
up, like a soldier to attention. He had never seen the head of the firm
that employed him, but he had heard a young Englishman describe him as
"looking like a wooden man just coming into life," so that he was enabled
to recognize him now. He did look something like a wooden man, in that the
long, lean face, of the tone of parchment, was marked by the few, deep,
almost perpendicular folds that give all the expression there is to a
Swiss or German medieval statue of a saint or warrior in painted oak. One
could see it was a face that rarely smiled, though there was plenty of
life in the deep-set, gray-blue eyes, together with a force of cautious,
reserved, and possibly timid, sympathy. Of the middle height and slender,
with hair just turning from iron-gray to gray, immaculate in white duck,
and wearing a dignified Panama, he stood looking at Strange--who, tall and
stalwart in his greasy overalls, held his head high in conscious pride in
his position in the shed--as Capital might look at Labor. It seemed a long
time before Mr Jarrott spoke--the natural harshness of his voice softened
by his quiet manner.
"You're in charge of this gang?"
There was an embarrassed pause. As though not knowing what to say next,
Mr. Jarrott's gaze travelled down the length of the shed to where the
Italians, rubbing their sleepy eyes, were preparing for work again.
"You're an American, I believe?"
"How old are you?"
"Not quite twenty-six."
"What's your name?"
"Ah? One of the Stranges of Virginia?"
There was another long pause, during which the older man's eyes wandered
once more over the shed and the piles of wool, coming back again to
"You should pick up a little Spanish."
"I've been studying it. Hablo EspaA+-ol, pero no muy bien."
Mr. Jarrott looked at him for a minute in surprise.
"So much the better--tanto mejor," he said, after a brief pause, and
He was again thinking how easy it had been, as he stood, more than three
years later, on the bluffs of Rosario, watching the sacks of wheat glide
down the long chute--full seventy feet--into the hold of the _Walmer
Castle_. The sturdy little Italians who carried the bags from the
warehouse in long single file might have been those he had superintended
in the wool-shed in Buenos Aires in the early stages of his rise. But he
was not superintending these. He superintended the superintendents of
those who superintended them. Tired with his long day in the office, he
had come out toward the end of the afternoon not only to get a breath of
the fresh air off the Parana, but to muse, as he often did, over the odd
spectacle of the neglected, half-forgotten Spanish settlement, that had
slumbered for two hundred years, waking to the sense of its destiny as a
factor of importance in the modern world. Wheat had created Chicago and
Winnipeg Adam-like from the ground; but it was rejuvenating Rosario de
Santa FA(C) Faust-like, with its golden elixir. It interested the man who
called himself Herbert Strange--resident manager of Stephens and Jarrott's
great wheat business in this outlet of the great wheat provinces--to watch
the impulse by which Decrepitude rose and shook itself into Youth. As yet
the process had scarcely advanced beyond the early stages of surprise.
The dome of the seventeenth-century Renaissance cathedral accustomed for
five or six generations to look down on low, one-storied Spanish dwellings
surrounding patios almost Moorish in their privacy, seemed to lift itself
in some astonishment over warehouses and flour-mills; while the mingling
of its sweet old bells with the creaking of cranes and the shrieks of
steam was like that chorus of the centuries in which there can be no
blending of the tones.
Strange felt himself so much a part of the rejuvenescence that the
incongruity gave him no mental nor A|sthetic shock. If in his present
position he took a less naA-ve pride than in that of three years ago, he
was conscious none the less of a deep satisfaction in having his part,
however humble, in the exercise of the world's energies. It gave him a
sense of oneness with the great primal forces--with the river flowing
beneath him, two hundred miles to the Atlantic, with the wheat fields
stretching behind him to the confines of Brazil and the foothills of the
Andes--to be a moving element in this galvanizing of new life into the
dormant town, in this finding of new riches in the waiting earth. There
was, too, a kind of companionship in the steamers moored to the red buoys
in the river, waiting their turns to come up to the insufficient quays and
be loaded. They bore such names as _Devonshire_, _Ben Nevis_, and
_Princess of Wales_. They would go back to the countries where the speech
was English, and the ideals something like his own. They would go back,
above all, to the north, to the north that he yearned for with a yearning
to which time brought no mitigation, to the north which was coming to mean
for him what heaven means to a soul outside the scope of redemption.
It was only on occasions that this sentiment got possession of him
strongly. He was generally able to keep it down. Hard work, assisted by
his natural faculty for singleness of purpose and concentration of
attention, kept him from lifting the eyes of his heart toward the
unattainable. Moreover, he had developed an enthusiasm, genuine in its
way, for the land of his adoption. The elemental hugeness of its
characteristics--its rivers fifty to a hundred miles in width, its farms a
hundred thousand acres in extent, its sheep herds and cattle herds
thousands to the count--were of the kind to appeal to an ardent, strenuous
nature. There was an exhilarating sense of discovery in coming thus early
to one of the world's richest sources of supply at a minute when it was
only beginning to be tapped. Out in the Camp there was an impression of
fecundity, of earth and animal alike, that seem to relegate poverty and
its kindred ills to a past that would never return; while down in the Port
the growth of the city went on like the bursting of some magic, monstrous
flower. It was impossible not to share in some degree the pride of the
It was difficult, too, not to love a country in which the way had been
made so smooth for him. While he knew that he brought to his work those
qualities most highly prized by men of business, he was astonished
nevertheless at the rapidity with which he climbed. Men of long experience
in the country had been more than once passed over, while he got the
promotion for which they had waited ten and fifteen years. He admired the
way in which for the most part they concealed their chagrin, but now and
then some one would give it utterance.
"Hello, grafter!" a little man had said to him, on the day when his
present appointment had become known among his colleagues.
The speaker was coming down the stairs of the head office in the Avenida
de Mayo as Strange was going up. His name was Green, and though he had
been twenty years in Argentine, he haled from Boston. Short and stout,
with gray hair, a gray complexion, a gray mustache, and wearing gray
flannels, with a gray felt hat, he produced a general impression of
neutrality. Strange would have gone on his way unheeding had not the
snarling tone arrested him. He had ignored this sort of insult more than
once; but he thought the time had come for ending it. He turned on an
upper step, looking down on the ashy-faced little man, to whom he had once
been subordinate and who was now subordinate to him.
"Hello--what?" he asked, with an air of quiet curiosity.
"I said, Hello, grafter," Green repeated, with bravado.
"I guess you know that as well as I do."
"I don't. What is it? Out with it. Fire away."
His tranquil air of strength had its effect in overawing the little man,
though the latter stood firm and began to explain.
"A grafter is a fellow with an underground pull for getting hold of what
belongs to some one else. At least that's what I understand by it--"
"It's very much what I understand by it, too. But have I ever got hold of
anything of yours?"
"Yes, confound you! You've taken my job--the job I've waited for ever
"Did waiting for it make it yours? If so, you would have come by it more
easily than I did. I worked for it."
"Worked for it? Haven't I worked for it, too? Haven't I been in this
office for going on seventeen years? Haven't I done what they've paid me
"I dare say. But I've done twice what they've paid me for. That's the
secret of my pull, and I don't mind giving it away. You mayn't like
it--some fellows don't; but you'll admit it it's a pull you could have
had, as well as I. Look here, Green," he continued, in the same quiet
tone, "I'm sorry for you. If I were in your place, I dare say I should
feel as you do. But if I _were_ in your place, I'll be hanged if I
shouldn't make myself fit to get out of it. You're not fit--and that's the
only reason why you aren't going as resident manager to Rosario. You're
labelled with the year '1885,' as if you were a bottle of champagne--and
you've forgotten that champagne is a wine that gets out of date. You're a
good chap--quite as good as your position--but you're not better than your
position--and when you are you won't be left in it any longer."
In speaking in this way the man who had been Norrie Ford was consciously
doing violence to himself. His natural tendency was to be on friendly
terms with those around him, and he had no prompting stronger than the
liking to be liked. In normal conditions he was always glad to do a
kindness; and when he hurt any one's feelings he hurt his own still more.
Even now, though he felt justified in giving little Green to understand
his intoleration of impertinence, he was obliged to fortify himself by
appealing to his creed that he owed no consideration to any one. Little
Green was protected by a whole world organized in his defence; Norrie Ford
had been ruined by that world, while Herbert Strange had been born outside
it. With a temperament like that of a quiet mastiff, he was forced to turn
himself into something like a wolf.
In spite of the fact that little Green's account of the brief meeting on
the stairs presented it in the light of the castigation he had
administered to "that confounded upstart from nobody knows where," Strange
noticed that it made the clerks in the office, most of whom had been his
superiors as Green had been, less inclined to bark at his heels. He got
respect from them, even if he could not win popularity--and from
popularity, in any case, he had been shut out from the first. No man can
be popular who works harder than anybody else, shuns companionship, and
takes his rare amusements alone. He had been obliged to do all three,
knowing in advance that it would create for him a reputation of an "ugly
brute" in quarters whence he would have been glad to get good-will.
Finding the lack of popularity a safeguard not only against prying
curiosity, but against inadvertent self-betrayal, it was with some
misgiving that he saw his hermit-like seclusion threatened, as he rose
higher in the business and consequently in the social--scale. In the
English-speaking colony of Buenos Aires the one advance is likely to bring
about the other--especially in the case of a good-looking young man,
evidently bound to make his mark, and apparently of respectable
antecedents. The first menace of danger had come from Mr. Jarrott himself,
who had unexpectedly invited his intelligent employee to lunch with him at
a club, in order to talk over a commission with which Strange was to be
intrusted. On this occasion he was able to stammer his way out of the
invitation; but when later, Mr. Skinner, the second partner, made a like
proposal, he was caught without an excuse, being obliged, with some
confusion, to eat his meal in a fashionable restaurant in the Calle
Florida. Oddly enough, both his refusal on the one occasion and his
acceptance on the other obtained him credit with his elders and superiors,
as a modest young fellow, too shy to seize an honor, and embarrassed when
it was thrust upon him.
To Strange both occurrences were so alarming that he put himself into a
daily attitude of defence, fearing similar attack from Mr. Martin, the
third member of the firm. He, however, made no sign; and the bomb was
thrown by his wife. It came in the shape of a card informing Mr. Strange
that on a certain evening, a few weeks hence, Mrs. Martin would be at
home, at her residence in Hurlingham. It was briefly indicated that there
would be dancing, and he was requested to answer if he pleased. The
general information being engraved, his particular name was written in a
free bold hand, which he took to be that of one of the daughters of the
Though he did his best to keep his head, there was everything in that bit
of pasteboard to throw him into a state of something like excitement. Not
only were the doors of the world Norrie Ford had known being thrown open
to Herbert Strange, but the one was being moved by the same thrill--the
thrill of the feminine--that had been so powerful with the other. He was
growing more susceptible to it in proportion as it seemed forbidden--just
as a man in a desert island may dream of the delights of wine.
He had looked at the Misses Martin, but had never supposed they could
fling a glance at him. He had seen them at the public gathering-places--in
their box at the opera, in the grand stand at the Jockey Club, in their
carriage at Palermo or in the Florida. They were handsome girls--blonde
and dashing--whose New York air was in pleasant contrast to the graceful
indolence or stolid repose of the dark-eyed ladies of the Argentine, too
heavily bejewelled and too consciously dressed according to the Paris
mode. Strange said of the Misses Martin, as he had said of Wild Olive,
that they were "not his type of girl"--but they were girls--they were
American girls--they were bright, lively girls, representing the very
poetry and romance of the world that had turned him out.
It was a foregone conclusion that he should decline their invitation, and
he did so; but the mere occasion for doing it gave his mind an impetus in
the direction in which he had been able hitherto to check it. He began
again to think of the feminine, to dream of it, to long for it. For the
time being it was the feminine in the abstract--without features or
personality. As far as it took form at all it was with the dainty,
nestling seductiveness that belonged to what he called his "type"--a charm
that had nothing in common with the forest grace of the Wild Olive or the
dash of the Misses Martin.
Now and then he caught glimpses of it, but it was generally out of reach.
Soft eyes, of the velvety kind that smote him most deliciously, would lift
their light upon him through the casement of some old Spanish residence,
or from the daily procession of carriages moving slowly along the palm
avenue at Palermo or in the Florida. When this happened he would have a
day or two of acting foolishly, in the manner of the Bonarense bucks. He
would stand for hours of his leisure time--if he could get away from the
office at the minute of the fashionable promenade--on the pavement of the
Florida, or under a palm-tree in the park, waiting for a particular
carriage to drive round again and again and again, while he returned the
sweet gaze which the manners of the country allow an unknown lady to
bestow, as a rose is allowed to shed its beauty. This being done, he
would go away, and realize that he had been making himself ridiculous.
Once the incarnation of his dreams came so near him that it was actually
within his grasp. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil dangled its
fruit right before his eyes in the person of Mademoiselle Hortense, who
sang at the CafA(C) Florian, while the clients, of whom he was sometimes one,
smoked and partook of refreshments. She was just the little round, soft,
dimpling, downy bundle of youth and love he so often saw in his mind's
eye, and so rarely in reality, and he was ready to fall in love with any
one. The mutual acquaintance was formed, as a matter of course, over the
piece of gold he threw into the tambourine, from which, as she passed from
table to table, she was able to measure her hearer's appreciation of art.
Those were the days in which he first began to be able to dress well, and
to have a little money to throw away. For ten days or a fortnight he threw
it away in considerable sums, being either in love or in a condition like
it. He respected Mademoiselle Hortense, and had sympathy with her in her
trials. She was desperately sick of her roving life as he was of Mrs.
Wilson's boarding-house. She was as eager to marry and settle down as he
to have a home. The subject was not exactly broached between them, but
they certainly talked round it. The decisive moment came on the night when
her troupe was to sail for Montevideo. In the most delicate way in the
world she gave him to understand that she would remain even at the
eleventh hour if he were to say the word. She might be on the deck, she
might be in her berth, and it still would not be too late. He left her at
nine, and she was to sail at eleven. During the two intervening hours he
paced the town, a prey to hopes, fears, temptations, distresses. To do him
justice, it was her broken heart he thought of, not his own. To him she
was only one of many possibilities; to her, he was the chance of a
lifetime. She might never, he said to himself, "fall into the clutches of
so decent a chap again." It was a wild wrestle between common sense and
folly--so wild that he was relieved to hear a clock strike eleven, and to
know she must have sailed.
The incident sobered him by showing him how near and how easily he could
come to a certain form of madness. After that he worked harder than ever,
and in the course of time got his appointment at Rosario. It was a great
"rise," not only in position and salary, but also in expectations. Mr.
Martin had been resident manager at Rosario before he was taken into
partnership--so who could tell what might happen next?
The first intimation of the change was conveyed by Mr. Jarrott in a manner
characteristically casual. Strange, being about to leave the private
office one day, after a consultation on some matter of secondary import,
was already half-way to the door, while Mr. Jarrott himself was stooping
to replace a book in the revolving bookcase that stood beside his chair.
"By-the-way," he said, without looking up, "Jenkins is going to represent
the house in New York. We think you had better take his place at Rosario."
Strange drew himself up to attention. He knew the old man liked his
subordinates to receive momentous orders as if they came in the routine of
"Very well, sir," he said, quietly, betraying no sign of his excitement
within. Raising himself, Mr. Jarrott looked about uneasily, as if trying
to find something else to say, while Strange began again to move toward
"And Mrs. Jarrott--"
Strange stopped so still that the senior partner paused with that air of
gentlemanly awkwardness--something like an Englishman's--which he took on
when he had firmly made up his mind.
"Mrs. Jarrott," he continued, "begs me to say she hopes you will--a--come
and lunch with us on Sunday next."
There was a long pause, during which the young man searched wildly for
some formula that would soften his point-blank refusal.
"Mrs. Jarrott is awfully kind," he began at last to stammer, "but if she
would excuse me--"
"She will expect you on Sunday at half-past twelve."
The words were uttered with that barely perceptible emphasis which, as the
whole house knew, implied that all had been said.
* * * * *
In the end the luncheon was no formidable affair. Except for his fear,
lest it should be the thin edge of the wedge of that American social life
which it would be perilous for him to enter, he would have enjoyed this
peep into a comfortable home, after his long exile from anything of the
sort. In building his house at Palermo, Mr. Jarrott had kept, in the
outlines at least, to the old Spanish style of architecture, as being most
suited to the history and climate of the country, though the wealthy
Argentines themselves preferred to have their residences look--like their
dresses, jewels, and carriages--as if they had come from Paris. The
interior patio was spacious, shaded with vines, and gay with flowers,
while birds, caged or free, were singing everywhere. The rooms
surrounding it were airy and cool, and adapted to American standards of
comfort. In the dining-room mahogany, damask, crystal, and silver gave
Strange an odd feeling of having been wafted back to the days and usages
of the boyhood of Norrie Ford.
As the only guest he found himself seated on Mrs. Jarrott's right, and
opposite Miss Queenie Jarrott, the sister of the head of the house. The
host, as his manner was, spoke little. Miss Jarrott, too, only looked at
Strange across the table, smiling at him with her large, thin,
upward-curving smile, comic in spite of itself, and with a certain pathos,
since she meant it to be charged with sentiment. Over the party at table,
over the elderly men-servants who waited on them, over the room, over the
patio, there was--except for the singing of the birds--the hush that
belongs to a household that never hears the noise or the laughter of
Mrs. Jarrott took the brunt of the conversation on herself She was a
beautiful woman, faded now with the pallor that comes to northern people
after a long residence in the sub-tropical south, and languid from the
same cause. Her handsome hazel eyes looked as if they had been used to
weeping, though they conserved a brightness that imparted animation to her
face. A white frill round her throat gave the only relief to her plain
black dress, but she wore many handsome rings, after the Argentine fashion
as well as a brooch and earrings of black pearls.
She began by asking her guest if it was true, as Mr. Jarrott had informed
her, that he was not one of the Stranges of Virginia. She thought he must
be. It would be so odd if he wasn't. There _were_ Stranges in Virginia,
and had been for a great many generations. In fact, her own family, the
Colfaxes, had almost intermarried with them. When she said almost, she
meant that they had intermarried with the same families--the Yorkes, the
Endsleighs and the Poles. If Mr. Strange did belong to the Virginia
Stranges, she was sure they could find relatives in common. Oh, he didn't?
Well, it seemed really as if he must. If Mr. Strange came from New York,
he probably knew the Wrenns. Her own mother was a Wrenn. She had been Miss
Wrenn before she was Mrs. Colfax. He thought he had heard of them? Oh,
probably. They were well-known people--at least they had been in the old
days--though New York was so very much changed. She rarely went back there
now, the voyage was so long, but when she did she was quite bewildered.
Her own family used to be so conservative, keeping to a little circle of
relatives and friends that rarely went north of Boston or south of
Philadelphia; but now when she made them a visit she found them surrounded
by a lot of people who had never been heard of before. She thought it a
pity that in a country where there were so few distinctions, those which
existed shouldn't be observed.
It was a relief to Strange when the sweet, languorous monologue,
punctuated from time to time by a response from himself, or an
interjectory remark from one of the others, came to an end, and they
proceeded to the patio for coffee.
It was served in a corner shaded by flowering vines, and presided over by
a huge green and gray parrot in a cage. The host and hostess being denied
this form of refreshment took advantage of the moment to stroll arm in arm
around the court, leaving Miss Jarrott in tAŠte-A -tAŠte with Strange. He
noticed that as this lady led the way her figure was as lithe as a young
girl's and her walk singularly graceful. "No one is ever old with a
carriage like yours," Miss Jarrott had been told, and she believed it. She
dressed and talked according to her figure, and, had it not been for
features too heavily accentuated in nose and chin, she might have produced
an impression of eternal spring-tide. As it was, the comic papers would
have found her cruelly easy to caricature, had she been a statesman. The
parrot screamed at her approach, croaking out an air, slightly off the
"Up and down the ba-by goes,
Turning out its lit-tle ..."
Tempted to lapse into prose, it proceeded to cry:
"Wa-al, Polly, how are you to-day? Wa-al, pretty well for an old gal,"
after which there was a minute of inarticulate grumbling. When coffee was
poured, and the young man's cigarette alight, Miss Jarrott seized the
opportunity which her sister-in-law's soft murmur at the table had not
"It's really funny you should be Mr. Strange, because I've known a young
lady of the same name. That is, I haven't known her exactly, but I've
known about her."
Not to show his irritation at the renewal of the subject, Strange presumed
she was one of the Stranges of Virginia, with right and title to be so
"She is and she isn't," Miss Jarrot replied. "I know you'll think it funny
to hear me speak so; but I can't explain I'm like that. I can't always
explain. I say lots and lots of things that people just have to interpret
for themselves It's funny I should be like that, isn't it? I wonder why?
Can you tell me why? And this Miss Strange--I never knew her really--not
really--but I feel as if I had. I always feel that way about friends of
friends of mine. I feel as if they were my friends, too. I'd go through
fire and water for them. Of course that's just an expression but you know
what I mean, now don't you?"
Having been assured on that point, she continued:
"I'm afraid you'll find us a very quiet household, Mr. Strange, but we're
in mourning. That is, Mrs. Jarrott is in mourning; and when those dear to
me are in mourning I always feel that I'm in mourning, too. I'm like that.
I never can tell why it is, but--I'm like that. My sister-in-law has just
lost her sister-in-law. Of course that's no relation to me, is it? And yet
I feel as if it was. I've always called Mrs. Colfax my sister-in-law, and
I've taught her little girl to call me Aunt Queenie. They lived here once.
Mr. Colfax was Mrs. Jarrott's brother and Mr. Jarrott's partner. The
little girl was born here. It was a great loss to my brother when Mr.
Colfax died. Mrs. Colfax went back to New York and married again. That was
a blow, too; so we haven't been on the same friendly terms of late years.
But now I hope it will be different. I'm like that. I always hope. It's
funny, isn't it? No matter what happens, I always think there's a silver
lining to the cloud. Now, why should I be like that? Why shouldn't I
despair, like other people?"
Strange ventured the suggestion that she had been born with a joyous
"Wa-al, pretty well for an old gal!" screamed the parrot ending in a
"I'm sure I don't know," Miss Jarrott mused. "Everybody is different,
don't you think? And yet it sometimes seems to me that no one can be so
different as I am. I always hope and hope; and you see, in this case I've
been justified. We're going to have our little girl again. She's coming to
make us a long, long visit. Her name is Evelyn; and once we get her here
we hope she'll stay. Who knows? There may be something to keep her here.
You never can tell about that. She's an orphan, with no one in the world
but a stepfather, and he's blind. So who has a better right to her? I
always think that people who have a right to other people should have
them, don't you? Besides, he's going to Wiesbaden, to a great oculist
there, so that Evelyn will come to us as her natural protectors. She's
nearly eighteen now, and she wasn't eight when she left us. Oh yes, of
course we've seen her since then--when we've gone to New York--but that
hasn't been often. She will have changed; she'll have her hair up, and be
wearing her dresses long; but I shall know her. Oh, you couldn't deceive
me. I never forget a face. I'm like that. No, nor names either. I should
remember you, Mr. Strange, if I met you fifty years from now. I noticed
you when you first began to work for Stephens and Jarrott. So did my
sister-in-law, but I noticed you first. We've often spoken of you,
especially after we knew your name was Strange. It seemed to us so
strange. That's a pun, isn't it? I often make them. We both thought you
were like what Henry--that's Mr. Jarrott's oldest son--might have grown
to, if he had been spared to us. We've had a great deal of sorrow--Oh, a
great deal! It's weaned my sister-in-law away from the world altogether.
She's like that. My brother, too--he isn't the same man. So when Evelyn
comes we hope we shall see you often, Mr. Strange. You must begin to look
on this house as your second home. Indeed, you must. It'll please my
brother. I've never heard him speak of any young man as he's spoken of
you. I think he sees the likeness to Henry. That'll be next year when
Evelyn comes. No, I'm sorry to say it isn't to be this year. She can't
leave her stepfather till he goes to Wiesbaden. Then she'll be free. Some
one else is going to Wiesbaden with him. And isn't it funny, it's the same
Miss Strange--the lady we were speaking of just now."
It was already some months since those words had been spoken, so that he
had ceased to dwell on them; but at first they haunted him like a snatch
of an air that passes through the mental hearing, and yet eludes the
attempt to bring it to the lips. Even if he had had the synthetic
imagination that easily puts two and two together, he had not the leisure,
in the excitement of his removal to Rosario and the undertaking of his
duties there, to follow up a set of clews that were scarcely more palpable
than odors. Nevertheless the words came back to him from time to time, and
always with the same odd suggestion of a meaning special--perhaps
fatal--to himself. They came back to him at this minute, as he stood
watching the loading of the _Walmer Castle_ and breathing the fresh air
off the Parana. But if they threatened danger, it was a danger that
disappeared the instant he turned and faced it--leaving nothing behind but
the evanescent memory of a memory, such as will sometimes remain from a
dream about a dream.
Another year had passed before he learned what Miss Jarrott's words were
to mean to him. Knowledge came then as a flash of revelation in which he
saw himself and his limitations clearly defined. His success at Rosario
had been such that he had begun to think himself master of Fate; but Fate
in half an hour laughingly showed herself mistress of him.
He had been called to Buenos Aires on an errand of piety and affection--to
bury Monsieur Durand. The poor old unfrocked priest had been gathered to
his rest, taking his secret with him--penitent, reconciled to the Church,
and fortified with the Last Sacraments. Strange slipped a crucifix between
the wax-like fingers, and followed--the only mourner--to the Recoleta
Having ordered a cross to mark the grave, he remained in town a day or two
longer to attend to a small matter which for some time past he had at
heart and on his conscience. It was now three or four years since he had
set aside the sum lent him by the girl for whom he had still no other name
than that of the Wild Olive. He had invested it, and reinvested it, till
it had become a fund of some importance. Putting it now into the safest
American securities, he placed them in the hands of a firm of English
solicitors in Buenos Aires, with directions not only to invest the
interest from time to time, but--in the event of his death--to follow
certain sealed instructions with which also he intrusted them. From the
few hints he was able to give them in this way he had little doubt but
that her identity could be discovered, and the loan returned.
In taking these steps he could not but see that what would be feasible in
case of his death must be equally feasible now; but he had two reasons for
not attempting it. The first was definite and prudential. He was unwilling
to risk anything that could connect him ever so indirectly with the life
of Norrie Ford. Secondly, he was conscious of a vague shrinking from the
payment of this debt otherwise than face to face. Apart from
considerations of safety, he was unwilling to resort to the commonplace
channels of business as long as there was a possibility of taking another
Not that he was eager to see her again. He had questioned himself on that
point, and knew she had faded from his memory. Except for a vision of
fugitive dark eyes--eyes of Beatrice Cenci--he could scarcely recall her
features. Events during the last six years had pressed so fast on each
other, life had been so full, so ardent, each minute had been so insistent
that he should give it his whole soul's attention, that the antecedent
past was gone like the passion no effort can recapture. As far as he could
see her face at all, it looked at him out of an abyss of oblivion to which
his mind found it as hard to travel back as a man's imagination to his
It was with some shame that he admitted this. She had saved him--in a
sense, she had created him. By her sorcery she had raised up Herbert
Strange out of the ruin of Norrie Ford, and endowed him with young vigor.
He owed her everything. He had told her so. He had vowed his life to her.
It was to be hers to dispose of, even at her caprice. It was what he had
meant in uttering his parting words to her. But, now, that he had the
power in some degree, he was doing nothing to fulfil his promise. He had
even lost the desire to make the promise good.
It was not difficult to find excuses for himself. They were ready-made to
his hand. There was nothing practical that he could do except what he had
done about the money. Life was not over yet; and some day the chance might
come to prove himself as high-souled as he should like to be. If he could
only have been surer that he was inwardly sincere he would not have been
uneasy over his inactivity.
Then, within a few minutes, the thing happened that placed him in a new
attitude, not only toward the Wild Olive, but toward all life.
Business with the head office detained him in Buenos Aires longer than he
had expected. It was business of a few hours at a time, leaving him
leisure for the theatres and the opera, for strollings at Palermo, and for
standing stock-still watching the procession of carriages in the Florida
or the Avenida Sarmiento, in the good Bonarense fashion. He was always
alone, for he had acquired the art--none too easy--of taking pleasure
without sharing it.
So he found himself, one bright afternoon, watching the races from the
lawn of the Hipodromo of the Jockey Club. He was fond of horses, and he
liked a good race. When he went to the Hipodromo it was for the sporting,
not the social, aspect of the affair. Nevertheless, as he strolled about,
he watched for that occasional velvety glance that gave him pleasure, and
amused himself with the types seated around him, or crossing his
path--heavy, swarthy Argentines, looking like Italian laborers grown
rich--their heavy, swarthy wives, come out to display all the jewels that
could be conveniently worn at once--pretty, dark-eyed girls, already with
a fatal tendency to embonpoint, wearing diamonds in their ears and round
their necks as an added glory to costumes fresh from the rue de la
Paix--grave little boys, in gloves and patent-leather boots, seated
without budging by their mammas, sucking the tops of their canes in
imitation of their elder brothers, who wandered about in pairs or groups,
all of the latest cut, eying the ladies but rarely addressing them--tall
Englishmen, who looked taller than they were in contrast to the pudgy race
around them, as the Germans looked lighter and the French more
blond--Italian opera singers, Parisian actresses Spanish dancers,
music-hall soubrettes--diplomats of all nations--clerks out for a
holiday--sailors on shore--tourists come to profit by a spectacle that has
no equal in the southern world, and little of the kind that is more
amusing in the north.
As Strange's glance roamed about in search of a response he not
infrequently received it, for he was a handsome fellow by this time--tall,
well dressed, and well set up, his trim, fair beard emphasizing the
clear-cut regularity of his profile, without concealing the kindliness
that played about the mouth. A little gray on the temples, as well as a
few tiny wrinkles of concentration about the eyes, gave him an air of
maturity beyond his age of thirty-two. The Anglo-Saxon influence in the
Argentine is English--from which cause he had insensibly taken on an
English air, as his speech had acquired something of the English
intonation. He was often told that he might pass for an Englishman
anywhere, and he was glad to think so. It was a reason the less for being
identified as Norrie Ford. It sometimes seemed to him that he could, in
case of necessity, go back to North America, to New York, to Greenport, or
even to the little county town where he had been tried and sentenced to
death, and run no risk of detection.
* * * * *
The staring of other men first directed his attention toward her. She was
sitting slightly detached from the party of Americans to whom she clearly
belonged, and in which the Misses Martin formed the merrily noisy centre.
Though dressed in white, that fell softly about her feet, and trained on
the grass sidewise from her chair, her black cuffs, collar and hat
suggested the last days of mourning. Whether or not she was aware of the
gaze of the passers-by it was difficult to guess, for her air of demure
simplicity was proof against penetration. She was one of those dainty
little creatures who seem to see best with the eyes downcast; but when she
lifted her dark lashes, the darker from contrast with the golden hair, to
sweep heaven and earth in a blue glance that belonged less to scrutiny
than to prayer, the effort seemed to create a shyness causing the lids,
dusky as some flowers are, to drop heavily into place again, like curtains
over a masterpiece. It was so that they rose and fell before Strange, her
eyes meeting his in a look that no Argentine beauty could ever have
bestowed, in that it was free from coquetry or intention, and wholly
It was in fact this accidental element, with its lack of preparation, that
gave the electric thrill to both. That is to say, in Strange the thrill
was electric; as for her, she gave no sign further than that she opened
her parasol and raised it to shade her face. Having done this she
continued to sit in undisturbed composure, though she probably saw
through her fringing lashes that the tall, good-looking young man still
stood spellbound, not twenty yards away.
Strange, on his part, was aware of the unconventionality of his behavior,
though he was incapable of moving on. He felt the occasion to be one which
justified him in transcending the established rules of courtesy. He was
face to face with the being who met not only all the longings of his
earthly love, but the higher, purer aspirations that accompanied it. It
was not, so he said to himself, a chance meeting; it was one which the
ages had prepared, and led him up to. She was "his type of girl" only in
so far as she distilled the essence of his gross imaginings and gave them
in their exquisite reality. So, too, she was the incarnation of his dreams
only because he had yearned for something mundane of which she was the
celestial, and the true, embodiment. He had that sense of the
insufficiency of his own powers of preconception which comes to a blind
man when he gets his sight and sees a rose.
He was so lost in the wonder of the vision that he had to be awakened as
from a trance when Miss Jarrott, very young and graceful, crossed the lawn
and held out her hand.
"Mr. Strange! I didn't know you were in town. My brother never mentioned
it. He's like that. He never tells. If I didn't guess his thoughts, I
shouldn't know anything. But I always guess people's thoughts. Why do you
suppose it is? I don't know. Do you? When I see people, I can tell what
they're thinking of as well as anything. I'm like that; but I can't tell
how I do it. I saw you from over there, and I knew you were thinking about
Evelyn. Now weren't you? Oh, you can't deceive me. You were thinking of
her just as plain--! Well, now you must come and be introduced."
He felt that he stumbled blindly as he crossed the bit of greensward in
Miss Jarrott's wake; and yet he kept his head sufficiently to know that he
was breaking his rules, contradicting his past, and putting himself in
peril. In being presented to the Misses Martin and their group, he was
actually entering that Organized Society to which Herbert Strange had no
attachments, and in which he could thrust down no roots. By sheer force of
will he might keep a footing there, as a plant that cannot strike into the
soil may cling to a bare rock. All the same the attempt would be
dangerous, and might easily lead to his being swept away.
It was in full consciousness, therefore, of the revolution in his life
that he bowed before the Misses Martin, who received him coldly. He had
not come to their dance, nor "called," nor shown them any of the
civilities they were accustomed to look for from young men. Turning their
attention at once to the other gentlemen about them, they made no effort
to detain him as Miss Jarrott led him to Miss Colfax.
Here the introduction would have been disappointing if the greatness of
the event had not been independent of the details with which it happened.
Strange was not in a condition to notice them, any more than a soul can
heed the formalities with which it is admitted into heaven. Nearly all his
impressions were subconscious--to be brought to the surface and dwelt on
after he went away. It was thus he recorded the facts relating to the gold
tint--the _teint dorA(C)_--of her complexion, the curl of her lashes that
seemed to him deep chestnut rather than quite black, as well as the little
tremor about her mouth, which was pensive in repose, and yet smiled with
the unreserved sweetness of an infant. He could not be said to have taken
in any of these points at a glance; but they came to him later, vividly,
enchantingly, in the solitude of his room at the Phoenix Hotel.
What actually passed would have been commonplace in itself had it not been
for what lay behind. Miss Colfax acknowledged the introduction with a
fleeting smile and a quick lifting of the curtains of her eyes. He did not
need that glimpse to know that they were blue, but he got a throb of bliss
from it, as does one from the gleam of a sunlit sea. To her answers to the
questions he asked as to when she had arrived, how she liked the
Argentine, and what she thought of the Hipodromo, he listened less than to
the silvery timbre of her voice. Mere words were as unimportant to those
first minutes of subtle ecstasy as to an old Italian opera. The music was
the thing, and for that he had become one enraptured auditory nerve.
There was no chair for him, so that he was obliged to carry on the
conversation standing. He did not object to this, as it would give him an
excuse for passing on. That he was eager to go, to be alone, to think, to
feel, to suffer, to realize, to trace step by step the minutes of the day
till they had led him to the supreme instant when his eyes had fallen on
her, to take the succeeding seconds one by one and extract the
significance from each, was proof of the power of the spell that had been
cast upon him.
"And isn't it funny, Evie, dear," Miss Jarrott began, just as he was about
to take his leave, "that Mr. Strange's name should be--"
"Yes, I've been thinking about that," Miss Colfax fluted, with that pretty
way she had of speaking with little movement of the lips.
But he was gone. He was gone with those broken sentences ringing in his
ears--casual and yet haunting--meaningless and yet more than
pregnant--creeping through the magic music of the afternoon, as a
death-motive breathes in a love-chant.
After a night of little sleep and much thinking he determined to listen to
nothing but the love-chant. He came to this decision, not in the
recklessness of self-will, but after due consideration of his rights. It
was true that, in biblical phrase, necessity was laid upon him. He could
no more shut his ears against that entrancing song than he could shut his
eyes against the daylight. This was not, however, the argument that he
found most cogent, as it was not the impulse from which he meant to act.
If he could make this girl his wife it would be something more than a case
of getting his own way; it would be an instance--probably the highest
instance--of the assertion of himself against a world organized to destroy
him. He could not enter that world and form a part of it; but at least he
could carry off a wife from it, as a lion may leap into a sheepfold and
snatch a lamb.
It was in this light that he viewed the matter when he accepted Miss
Jarrott's invitations--now to lunch, now to dinner, now to a seat in their
box at the opera or in their carriage in the park--during the rest of the
time he remained in town. It became clear to him that the family viewed
with approval the attachment that had sprung up between Miss Colfax and
himself, and were helping it to a happy ending. He even became aware that
they were growing fond of him--making the discovery with a queer
sensation of surprise. It was a thing so new in his experience that he
would have treated the notion as ridiculous had it not been forced upon
him. Women had shown him favors; one lonely old man, now lying in the
Recoleta Cemetery, had yearned over him; but a household had never opened
its heart to him before. And yet there could be no other reading of the
present situation. He began to think that Mr. Jarrott was delaying his
departure for Rosario purposely, to keep him near. It was certain that
into the old man's bearing toward him there had crept something that might
almost be called paternal, so that their business discussions were much
like those between father and son. Mrs. Jarrott advanced as far out of the
circle of her griefs to welcome him as it was possible for her languorous
spirit to emerge. Miss Jarrott, friendly from the first, attached him to
the wheels of her social chariot with an air of affectionate possession.
It required no great amount of perspicuity to see that the three elders
would be glad if Miss Colfax and he were to "make a match of it," and why.
It would be a means--and a means they could approve--of keeping their
little girl among them. As matters stood, she was only a visitor, who
spoke of her flight back to New York as a matter of course.
"I only came," she lisped to Strange, as they sat one day, under the
parrot's chaperonage, in the shady corner of the patio--"I only came
because when dear mamma died there was nothing else for me to do.
Everything happened so unfortunately, do you see? Mamma died, and my
stepfather went blind, and really I had no home. Of course that doesn't
matter so much while I'm in mourning--I mean, not having a home--but I
simply _must_ go back to New York next autumn, in order to 'come out.'"
[Illustration: "Who is Miriam?" was on his lips]
"Aren't you 'out' enough already?"
"Do you see?" she began to explain, with the quaint air of practical
wisdom he adored in her, "I'm not out at all--and I'm nearly nineteen.
Dear mamma fretted over it as it was--and if she knew it hadn't been done
yet--Well something must be managed, but I don't know what. It isn't as if
Miriam could do anything about it, though she's a great deal older than I
am, and has seen a lot of social life at Washington and in England. But
she's out of the question. Dear mamma would never have allowed it. And
she's no relation to me, besides."
The question, "Who is Miriam?" was on his lips, but he checked it in time.
He checked all questions as to her relatives and friends whom he did not
know already. He was purposely making ignorance his bliss as long as
possible, in the hope that before enlightenment could be forced upon him
it would be too late for any one to recede.
"Couldn't they do it for you here?" he asked, when he was sure of what he
meant to say. "I know the Miss Martins--"
"Carrie and Ethel! Oh, well! That isn't quite the same thing. _I_ couldn't
come out in a place like Buenos Aires--or anywhere, except New York."
"But when you've been through it all, you'll come back here, won't you?"
His eyes sought hers, but he saw only the curtains of the lids--those lids
with the curious dusk on them, which reminded him of the petals of certain
"That'll--depend," she said, after a minute's hesitation.
"It'll depend--on what?" he persisted, softly.
Before she could answer the parrot interrupted, screaming out a bit of
doggerel in its hoarse staccato.
"Oh, that bird!" the girl cried, springing up. "I do wish some one would
wring its neck."
He got no nearer to his point that day, and perhaps he was not eager to.
The present situation, with its excitements and uncertainties, was too
blissful to bring to a sudden end. Besides, he was obliged to go through
some further rehearsing of the creed adopted in the dawn on Lake Champlain
before his self-justification could be complete. It was not that he was
questioning his right to act; it was only that he needed to strengthen the
chain of arguments by which his action must be supported--against himself.
Within his own heart there was something that pleaded against the breaking
off of this tender sprig of the true olive to graft it on the wild, in
addition to which the attitude of the Jarrott family disconcerted him. It
was one thing to push his rights against a world ready to deny them, but
it was quite another to take advantage of a trusting affection that came
more than half-way to meet him. His mind refused to imagine what they
would do if they could know that behind the origin of Herbert Strange
there lay the history of Norrie Ford. After all, he was not concerned with
them, he asserted inwardly, but with himself. They were intrenched within
a world able to take care of itself; while there was no power whatever to
protect him, once he made a mistake.
So every night, as he sat in his cheerless hotel room, he reviewed his
arguments, testing them one by one, strengthening the weak spots according
to his lights, and weighing the for and against with all the nicety he
could command. On the one side were love, happiness, position, a home,
children probably, and whatever else the normal, healthy nature craves;
on the other, loneliness, abnegation, crucifixion, slow torture, and
slower death. Was it just to himself to choose the latter, simply because
human law had made a mistake and put him outside the human race? The
answer was obvious enough; but while his intelligence made it promptly,
something else within him--some illogical emotion--seemed to lag behind
with its corroboration.
This hesitation of his entire being to respond to the bugle-call of his
need gave to his wooing a certain irregularity--an advance and recession
like that of the tide. At the very instant when the words of declaration
were trembling on his lips this doubt about himself would check him. There
were minutes--moonlit minutes, in the patio, when the birds were hushed,
and the scent of flowers heavy, and the voices of the older ones stole
from some lighted room like a soft, human obligato to the melody of the
night--minutes when he felt that to his "I love you!" hers would come as
surely as the echo to the sound; and yet he shrank from saying it. Their
talk would drift near to it, dally with it, flash about it, play attack
and defence across it, and drift away again, leaving the essential thing
unspoken. The skill with which she fenced with this most fragile of all
topics, never losing her guard, never missing her thrust or parry, and yet
never inflicting anything like a wound, filled him with a sort of rapture.
It united the innocence of a child to the cleverness of a woman of the
world, giving an exquisite piquancy to both. In this young creature, who
could have had no experience of anything of the kind, it was the very
essence of the feminine.
By dint of vigil and meditation he drew the conclusion that his inner
hesitancy sprang from the fact that he was not being honest with himself.
He was shirking knowledge that he ought to face. Up to the present he had
done his duty in that respect, and done it pluckily. He had not balked at
the statement that his rA'le in the world was that of an impostor--though
an impostor of the world's own creation. It had been part of the task
forced upon him "to deceive men under their very noses," as he had
expressed it to himself that night on Lake Champlain. Whatever vengeance,
therefore, discovery might call upon him, he could suffer nothing in the
loss of self-respect. He would be always supported by his inner approval.
Remorse would be as alien to him as to Prometheus on the rock.
In the present situation he was less sure of that, and there he put his
finger on his weakness. Seeing shadows flitting in the background he
dodged them, instead of calling them out into daylight. He was counting on
happy chances in dealing with the unforeseen, when all his moves should be
based on the precise information of a general.
Therefore, when, in the corner of the patio, the next opportunity arose
for asking the question, "Who is Miriam?" he brought it out boldly.
"She's a darling." The unexpected reply was accompanied by a sudden
lifting of the lashes for a rapturous look and one of the flashing smiles.
"That's high praise--from you."
"She deserves it--from any one!"
"Why? What for? What has she done to win your enthusiasm when other people
find it so hard?"
"It isn't so hard--only some people go the wrong way to work about it, do
She leaned back in her wicker chair, fanning herself slowly, and smiling
at him with that air of mingled innocence and provocation which he found
the most captivating of her charms.
"Do I?" he was tempted to ask.
"Do you? Now, let me think. Really, I never noticed. You'd have to begin
all over again--if you ever did begin--before I could venture an opinion."
This was pretty, but it was not keeping to the point.
"Evidently Miriam knows how to do it, and when I see her I shall ask her."
"I wish you _could_ see her. You'd adore her. She'd be just your style."
"What makes you think that? Is she so beautiful? What is she like?"
"Oh, I couldn't tell you what she's like. You'd have to see her for
yourself. No, I don't think I should call her beautiful, though some
people do. She's awfully attractive anyhow."
"Attractive? In what way?"
"Oh, in a lot of ways. She isn't like anybody else. She's in a class by
herself. In fact, she has to be, poor thing."
"Why should she be poor thing, with so much to her credit in the way of
"Do you see?--that's something I can't tell you. There's a sort of mystery
about her. I'm not sure that I understand it very well myself. I only know
that dear mamma didn't feel that she could take her out, in New York,
except among our very most intimate friends, where it didn't matter. And
yet when Lady Bonchurch took her to Washington she got a lot of offers--I
know that for a fact--and in England, too."
"I seem to be getting deeper in," Strange smiled, with the necessary air
of speaking carelessly. "Who is Lady Bonchurch?"
"Don't you know? Why, I thought you knew everything. She was the wife of
the British Ambassador. They took a house at Greenport that year because
they were afraid about Lord Bonchurch's lungs. It didn't do any good,
though. He had to give up his post the next winter, and not long after
that he died. I don't think air is much good for people's lungs, do you? I
know it wasn't any help to dear mamma. We had all those tedious years at
Greenport, and in the end--but that's how we came to know Lady Bonchurch,
and she took a great fancy to Miriam. She said it was a shame a girl like
that shouldn't have a chance, and so it was. Mamma thought she interfered
and I suppose she did. Still, you can't blame her much, when she had no
children of her own, can you?"
"I shouldn't want to blame her if she gave Miriam her chance."
"That's what I've always said. And if Miriam had only wanted to, she could
have been--well, almost anybody. She had offers and offers in Washington,
and in England there was a Sir Somebody-or-other who asked her two or
three times over. He married an actress in the end--and dear mamma thought
Miriam must be crazy not to have taken him while he was to be had. Dear
mamma said it would have been such a good thing for me to have some one
like Miriam--who was under obligations to us, do you see?--in a good
social position abroad."
"But Miriam didn't see it in that way?"
"She didn't see it in any way. She's terribly exasperating in some
respects, although she's such a dear. Poor mamma used to be very tried
about her--and she so ill--and my stepfather going blind--and everything.
If Miriam had only been in a good social position abroad it would have
been a place for me to go--instead of having no home--like this."
There was something so touching in her manner that he found it difficult
not to offer her a home there and then; but the shadows were marching out
into daylight, and he must watch the procession to the end.
"It seems to have been very inconsiderate of Miriam," he said. "But why do
you suppose she acted so?"
"Dear mamma thought she was in love with some one--some one we didn't know
anything about--but I never believed that. In the first place, she didn't
know any one we didn't know anything about--not before she went to
Washington with Lady Bonchurch. And besides, she couldn't be in love with
any one without my knowing it, now could she?"
"I suppose not; unless she made up her mind she wouldn't tell you."
"Oh, I shouldn't want her to tell me. I should see it for myself. She
wouldn't tell me, in any case--not till things had gone so far that--but I
never noticed the least sign of it, do you see? and I've a pretty sharp
eye for that sort of thing at all times. There was just one thing. Dear
mamma used to say that for a while she used to do a good deal of moping in
a little studio she had, up in the hills near our house--but you couldn't
tell anything from that. I've gone and moped there myself when I've felt I
wanted a good cry--and I wasn't in love with any one."
There was a long silence, during which he sat grave, motionless,
reflecting. Now and then he placed his extinguished cigarette to his
lips, with the mechanical motion of a man forgetful of time and place and
"Well, what are you thinking about?" she inquired, when the pause had
lasted long enough. He seemed to wake with a start.
"Oh--I--I don't know. I rather fancy I was thinking about--about this
Miss--after all, you haven't given me any name but Miriam."
"Strange, her name is. The same as yours."
"Oh? You've never told me that."
"Aunt Queenie has, though. But you always seem to shuffle so when it's
mentioned that I've let it alone. I don't blame you, either; for if
there's one thing more tedious than another, it's having people for ever
fussing about your name. There was a girl at our school whose name was
Fidgett--Jessie Fidgett--a nice, quiet girl, as placid as a church--but I
do assure you, it got to be so tiresome--well, you know how it would
be--and so I decided I wouldn't say anything about Miriam's name to you,
nor about yours to her. Goodness knows, there must be lots of Stranges in
the world--just as much as Jarrotts."
"So that--after all--her name was Miriam Strange."
"It was, and is, and always will be--if she goes on like this," Miss
Colfax rejoined, not noticing that he had spoken half-musingly to himself.
"She was a ward of my step-father's till she came of age," she added, in
an explanatory tone. "She's a sort of Canadian--or half a Canadian--or
something--I never could quite make out what. Anyhow, she's a dear. She's
gone now with my stepfather to Wiesbaden, about his eyes--and you can't
think what a relief to me it is. If she hadn't, I might have had to go
myself--and at my age--with all I've got to think about--and my coming
out--Well, you can see how it would be."
She lifted such sweet blue eyes upon him that he would have seen anything
she wanted him to see, if he had not been determined to push his inquiries
until there was nothing left for him to learn.
"Were you fond of him?--your stepfather?"
"Of course--in a way. But everything was so unfortunate I know dear mamma
thought she was acting for the best when she married him; and if he hadn't
begun to go blind almost immediately--But he was very kind to mamma, when
she had to go to the Adirondacks for her health. That was very soon after
she returned to New York from here--when papa died. But she was so lonely
in the Adirondacks--and he was a judge--a Mr. Wayne--with a good
position--and naturally she never dreamed he had anything the matter with
his eyes--it isn't the sort of thing you'd ever think of asking about
beforehand--and so it all happened that way, do you see?"
He did see. He could have wished not to see so clearly. He saw with a
light that dazzled him. Any step would be hazardous now, except one in
retreat; though he was careful to explain to himself that night that it
was retreat for reconnoitre, and not for running away. The mere fact that
the Wild Olive had taken on personality, with a place of some sort in the
world, brought her near to him again; while the knowledge that he bore her
name--possibly her father's name--seemed to make him the creation of her
magic to an even greater degree than he had felt hitherto. He could
perceive, too, that by living out the suggestions she had made to him in
the cabin--the Argentine--Stephens and Jarrott--"the very good firm to
work for"--he had never got beyond her influence, no more than the
oak-tree gets beyond the acorn that has been its seed. The perception of
these things would have been enough to puzzle a mind not easily at home in
the complex, even if the reintroduction of Judge Wayne had not confused
It was not astonishing, therefore, that he was seized with a sudden
longing to get away--a longing for space and solitude, for the pampas and
the rivers, and, above all, for work. In the free air his spirit would
throw off its oppression of discomfort, while in a daily routine of
occupation he often found that difficulties solved themselves.
"If you think that this business of Kent's can get along without me now,"
he said to Mr. Jarrott, in the private office, next morning, "perhaps I
had better be getting back to Rosario."
Not a muscle moved in the old man's long, wooden face, but the gray-blue
eyes threw Strange a curious look.
"Do you want to go?" he asked, after a slight pause.
Strange smiled, with an embarrassment that did not escape observation.
"I've been away longer than I expected--a good deal longer. Things must
want looking after, I suppose. Green can take my place for a while, but--"
"Green is doing very well--better than I thought he could. He seems to
have taken a new start, that man."
"I'm not used to loafing, sir. If there's no particular reason for my
staying on here--"
Mr. Jarrott fitted the tips of his fingers together, and answered slowly.
"There's no particular reason--just now. We've been speaking
of--of--a--certain changes--But it's too soon--"
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