The Wild Olive
Part 3 out of 6
"Of course, sir, I don't want to urge my private wishes against--"
"Quite so; quite so; I understand that. A--a--private wishes, you say?"
"Yes, sir; entirely private."
The gray-blue eyes rested on him in a gaze meant to be uninquisitive and
non-committal, but which, as a matter of fact, expressed something from
which Strange turned his own glance away.
"Very well; I'd go," the old man said, quietly.
Strange left his cards that afternoon at the house just when he knew Mrs.
Jarrott would be resting and Miss Jarrott driving with Miss Colfax. At
seven he took the night boat up the Plata to the Parana.
"Evie, what do you think made Mr. Strange rush away like that? Your uncle
says he didn't have to--that he might just as well have stayed in town."
"I'm sure I don't know," was Evie's truthful response, as she flitted
about the dining-room table arranging the flowers before luncheon.
"Your uncle thinks you do," Mrs. Jarrott said, leaning languidly back in
an arm-chair. Her tone and manner implied that the matter had nothing to
do with her, though she was willing to speak of it. This was as far as she
could come to showing an interest in anything outside herself since the
boys died. She would not have brought up the subject now if the girl's
pallor during the last few days had not made them uneasy.
"I haven't the least idea," Miss Colfax declared. "I was just as much
surprised as you were, Aunt Helen."
"Your uncle thinks you must have said something to him--"
"I didn't. I didn't say anything to him whatever. Why should I? He's
nothing to me."
"Of course he's nothing to you, if you're engaged to Billy Merrow."
Miss Colfax leaned across the table, taking a longer time than necessary
to give its value to a certain rose.
"I'm not engaged to him now," she said, as if after reflection--"not in
my own mind, that is."
"But you are in his, I suppose."
"Well, I can't help that, can I?"
"Not unless you write and tell him it's all over."
Miss Colfax stood still, a large red flower raised in protestation.
"That would be the cruellest thing I ever heard of," she exclaimed, with
conviction. "I don't see how you can bear to make the suggestion."
"Then what are you going to do about it?"
"I needn't do anything just yet. There's no hurry--till I get back to New
"Do you mean to let him go on thinking--?"
"He'd much rather. Whenever I tell him, it will be too soon for him.
There's no reason why he should know earlier than he wants to."
"But is that honor, dear?"
"How can I tell?" At so unreasonable a question the blue eyes clouded with
threatening tears. "I can't go into all those fine points, Aunt Helen, do
you see? I've just got to do what's right."
Mrs. Jarrot rose with an air of helplessness. She loved her brother's
daughter tenderly enough, but she admitted to herself that she did not
understand young girls. Having borne only sons, she had never been called
upon to struggle with the baffling.
"I hope you're not going to tell any one, Aunt Helen," Evie begged, as
Mrs. Jarrott seemed about to leave the room. "I shouldn't want Uncle
Jarrott to know, or Aunt Queenie, either."
"I shall certainly spare them," Mrs. Jarrott said, with what for her was
asperity. "They would be surprised, to say the least, after the
encouragement you gave Mr. Strange."
"I didn't give it--he took it. I couldn't stop him."
"Did you want to?"
"I thought of it--sometimes--till I gave up being engaged to Billy."
"And having passed that mental crisis, I suppose it didn't matter."
"Well, the mental crisis, as you call it, left me free. I sha'n't have to
"No; Mr. Merrow will do that for you."
"Of course he will. I expect him to. It would be very queer if he didn't.
I shall have a dreadful time making him see things my way. And with all
that hanging over me, I should think I might look for a little sympathy
from you, Aunt Helen. Lots of girls wouldn't have said anything about it.
But I told you because I want you to see I'm perfectly straight and
Mrs. Jarrott said no more for the moment, but later in the day she
confided to her husband that the girl puzzled her. "She mixes me up so
that I don't know which of us is talking sense." She was not at all sure
that Evie was fretting about Mr. Strange--though she might be. If she
wasn't, then she couldn't be well. That was the only explanation of her
depression and loss of appetite.
"You can bet your life he's thinking of her," Mr. Jarrott said, with the
lapse from colloquial dignity he permitted himself when he got into his
house-jacket. "He's praying to her image as if it was a wooden saint."
With the omission of the word wooden this was much what Strange was doing
at Rosario. Not venturing--in view of all the circumstances--to write to
her, he could only erect a shrine in his heart, and serve it with a
devotion very few saints enjoy. He found, however, that absence from her
did not enable him to form detached and impartial opinions on his
situation, just as work brought no subconsciously reached solution to the
problems he had to face. In these respects he was disappointed in the
results of his unnecessary flight from town.
At the end of two months he was still mentally where he was when he left
Buenos Aires. His intelligence assured him that he had the right of a man
who has no rights to seize and carry off what he can; while that nameless
something else within him refused to ratify the statement. What precise
part of him raised this obstacle he was at a loss to guess. It could not
be his conscience, since he had been free of conscience ever since the
night on Lake Champlain. Still less could it be his heart, seeing that his
heart was crying out for Evie Colfax more fiercely than a lion roars for
food. The paralysis of his judgment had become such that he was fast
approaching the determination to make Love the only arbiter, and let all
the rest go hang!
He was encouraged in this impulse by the thought that between her and
himself there was the mysterious bond of something "meant." He believed
vaguely in a Power, which, with designs as to human destinies, manifests
its intentions by fitful gleams, vouchsafed somewhat erratically. In this
way Evie Colfax, as a beautiful, fairy-like child, had been revealed to
him at the most critical instant of his life. His mind had never hitherto
gone back willingly to recollections of that night; but now he made the
excursion into the past with a certain amount of pleasure. He could see
her still, looking at a picture-book, her face resting on the back of her
hand, and golden ringlets falling over her bare arm. He could see the
boy, too. He remembered that his name was Billy. Billy who? he wondered.
He could hear the sweet, rather fretful voice calling from the shadows:
"Evie dear, it's time to go to bed. Billy, I don't believe they let you
stay up as late as this at home."
How ridiculous it would have been to remember such trivial details all
these years if something hadn't been "meant" by it. There was a hint in
the back of his mind that by the same token something might have been
"meant" about the Wild Olive, too, but he had not an equal temptation to
dwell on it. The Wild Olive, he repeated, had never been "his type of
girl"--not from the very first. It was obviously impossible for a
superintending Power to "mean" things that were out of the question.
He had got no further than this when the news was conveyed to him by Mrs.
Green, whom he met accidentally in the street, that Mr. Skinner, the
second partner, had had a "stroke," and had been ordered to Carlsbad. Mrs.
Skinner, so Mrs. Green's letters from the Port informed her, was to
accompany her husband. Furthermore, Miss Colfax was seizing the
opportunity to travel with them to Southampton, where she would be able to
join friends who would take her to New York. There was even a rumor that
Miss Jarrott was to accompany her niece, but Mrs. Green was unable to
vouch for the truth of it. In any case, she said, there were signs of "a
regular shaking up," such as comes periodically in any great mercantile
establishment; and this time, she ventured to hope, Mr. Green would get
The knowledge that it was a juncture at which to execute a daring movement
acted as an opiate on what would otherwise have been, for Strange, a day
of frenzy. While to the outward eye he was going quietly about his work,
he was inwardly calling all his resources to his aid to devise some plan
for outwitting circumstance. After forty-eight hours of tearing at his
heart and hacking at his brain, he could think of nothing more original
than to take the first train down to the Port, ask the girl to be his
wife, and let life work out the consequence. At the end of two days,
however, he was saved from a too deliberate defiance of the
unaccounted-for inner voice, by an official communication from Mr.
It was in the brief, dry form of his business conversation, giving no hint
that there were emotions behind the stilted phraseology, and an old man's
yearnings. Mr. Skinner was far from well, and would "proceed immediately"
to Carlsbad. Strange would hand over the business at Rosario to Mr.
Green--who would become resident manager, _pro tem_ at any rate--and
present himself in Buenos Aires at the earliest convenient moment. Mr.
Jarrott would be glad to see him as soon as possible after his arrival.
That was all; but as far as the young man was concerned, it saved the
situation. On consulting the steamer-list he saw that the Royal Mail
Steam Packet _Corrientes_ would sail for Southampton in exactly six days'
time. By dint of working all night with Mr. Green, who was happy to lend
himself to anything that would show him the last of his rival, he was able
to take a train to the Port next day. It was half-past six when he arrived
in Buenos Aires. By half-past eight he had washed, changed to an evening
suit, and dined. At nine his cab stopped at the door of the house at
As he followed the elderly man-servant who admitted him, the patio was so
dim that he made his way but slowly. He made his way but slowly, not only
because the patio was dim, but because he was trying to get his crowding
emotions under control before meeting his employer in an interview that
might be fraught with serious results. For once in his life he was
unnerved, tremulous, almost afraid. As he passed the open doors and
windows of unlighted, or dimly lighted, rooms he knew she might be in any
one of the shadowy recesses. It would have been a relief to hear her at
the piano, or in conversation, and to know her attention was diverted.
None the less, he peered about for a glimpse of her, and strained his
hearing for a sound of her voice. But all was still and silent, except for
the muffled footfall of the servant leading him to the library at the far
end of the court.
If she had not moved out unexpectedly from behind a pillar, a little
fluttering figure in a white frock, he could have kept his self-control.
If he had not come upon her in this sudden way, when she believed him in
Rosario, she, too, would not have been caught at a disadvantage. As it
was, he stood still, as if awe-struck. She gave a little cry, as if
frightened. It is certain that his movement of the arms was an automatic
process, not dictated by any order of the brain; and the same may be said
for the impulse which threw her on his breast. If, after that, the rest
was not silence, it was little more. What he uttered and she replied was
scarcely audible to either, though it was understood by both. It was all
over so quickly that the man-servant had barely thrown open the library
door, and announced "Mr. Strange," when Strange himself was on the
It was a moment at which to summon all his wits together to attend to
business; but he was astonished at the coolness and lightness of heart
with which he did it. After those brief, sudden vows exchanged, it was as
easy to dismiss Evie Colfax momentarily from his mind as it is to forget
money troubles on inheriting a fortune. Nevertheless as he got himself
ready to deal with practical, and probably quite commercial, topics, he
was fully conscious of the rapture of her love, while he was scarcely less
aware of a comfort closely akin to joy in feeling that the burden of
decision had been lifted from him. Since Fate had taken the matter into
her own hands, she could be charged with the full responsibility.
* * * * *
Mr. Jarrott, who was smoking a cigar and sipping his after-dinner coffee,
was in evening dress, but wore his house-jacket--a circumstance of which
Strange did not know the significance, though he felt its effect. The old
man's welcome was not unlike that of a shy father trying to break the
shackles of reserve with a home-coming son. He pushed Strange gently into
the most comfortable arm-chair beside which he drew up a small table for
the cigar-box, the ash-tray, and the matches. He rang for another cup,
and brought the coffee with his own hands. Strange remembered how often,
after a hard day's work, he had been made uncomfortable by just such
awkward, affectionate attentions from poor old Monsieur Durand.
"I didn't expect you so soon," Mr. Jarrott began, when they were both
seated, "but you've done well to come. I'm afraid we're in for a regular
upset all round."
"I hope it isn't going to make things harder for you, sir," Strange
ventured, in the tone of personal concern which his kindly treatment
seemed to warrant him in taking.
"It won't if I can get the right men into the right places. That'll be the
tough part of the business. The wool department will suffer by Mr.
Skinner's absence--he's very ill, in my opinion--and there's only one man
who can take his place." Strange felt his heart throbbing and the color
rising to his face. He did not covet the position, for he disliked the
wool department; but it was undeniably a "rise," and right along the line
of highest promotion. "That's Jenkins," Mr. Jarrott finished, quietly.
Strange said nothing. After all, he was relieved. Mr. Jarrott did not go
on at once, but when he did speak Strange fell back into the depths of his
arm-chair, in an attitude suggestive of physical collapse.
"And if Jenkins came back here," the old man pursued, "you'd have to take
his place in New York."
Strange concealed his agitation by puffing out successive rings of smoke.
If he had not long ago considered what he would say should this proposal
ever be made to him, he would have been even more overcome than he
actually was. He had meant to oppose the offer with a point-blank refusal,
but what had happened within the last quarter of an hour had so modified
this judgment that he could only sit, turning things rapidly over in his
mind, till more was said.
"There's no harm in--a--telling you," Mr. Jarrott went on again, with that
hesitancy Strange had begun to associate with important announcements,
"that--a--Jenkins will be--a--taken into partnership. You won't--a--be
taken into partnership--a--yet. But you will have a good salary in New
York. I can--a--promise you that much."
It was because he was unnerved that tears smarted in the young man's eyes
at the implications in these sentences. He took his time before
responding, the courtesies of the occasion being served as well by silence
as by speech.
"I won't try to thank you for all your kindness, sir," he said, with a
visible effort, "until I've told you something--something that, very
likely, you won't approve of. I've asked Miss Colfax to marry me, and
The old man's brows shot up incredulously.
"That's odd," he said, "because not half an hour ago she told my wife
there was nothing whatever between you--that you hadn't even written to
her since you went away. Mrs. Jarrott only left this room as you rang the
"But it was after I rang the door-bell," Strange stammered "that
"Quick work," was the old man's only comment, but the muscles of his lips
relaxed slowly, as if rusty from disuse, into one of his rare smiles.
With the assurance of this reception, Strange could afford to sit silent
till Mr. Jarrott made some further sign.
"By the terms of her father's will," he explained some minutes later, "I'm
her guardian and trustee. She can't marry without my consent till she
comes of age. I don't say that in this instance I should--a--withhold my
consent; but I should feel constrained to--a--give it with conditions."
"If it's anything I can fulfil, sir--"
"No; it wouldn't concern you so much as her. She's very young--and in
heart she's younger than her age. She knows nothing about men--she can't
know--and I dare say you're the first young fellow who ever said anything
to her about--well, you understand what I mean. Mind you, we've no
objections to you whatever. You are your own credentials; and we take them
at their face value. You tell me you're an orphan, with no near relations,
so that there couldn't be any complications on that score. Besides that,
you're--a likely chap; and I don't mind saying that--a--my ladies--Mrs.
Jarrott and my sister--have taken rather a fancy to you. It can't do you
any--a--harm to know as much as that."
Strange murmurred his appreciation, and the old man went on.
"No; you're all right. But, as I said before, she's very young, and if we
married her to you out of hand we feel that we shouldn't be giving her a
fair show. We think she ought to have a little more chance to look round
her, so to speak. In fact, she isn't what ladies call 'out.' She's
scarcely ever seen a man, except through a window. Consequently, we think
we must send her back to New York, for a winter at any rate, and trot the
procession before her. My sister is to undertake it, and they're to sail
next week. That won't make so much difference to you now, as it would if
you weren't soon going to follow them."
Strange nodded. He felt himself being wafted to New York, whether he would
"Now all I have to say is this: if, when she's regularly started, she
sees some other young fellow she likes better than you, you're to give her
up without making a fuss."
"Of course. Naturally, she would have to be free to do as she chose in the
long run. I'm not afraid of losing her--"
"That'll be your own lookout. You'll be on the spot, and will have as good
a chance as anybody else. You'll have a better chance; for you'll only
have to keep what you've won, while any one else would have to start in at
the beginning. But it's understood that there--a--can be no talk of a
wedding just yet. She must have next winter to reconsider her promise to
you, if she wants to."
Strange having admitted the justice of this, the old man rose, and held
out his hand.
"We'll keep the matter between ourselves--in the family, I mean--for the
time being," he said, with another slowly breaking smile; "but the ladies
will want to wish you luck. You must come into the drawing-room and see
They were half-way to the door when Mr. Jarrott paused.
"And, of course, you'll go to New York? I didn't think it necessary to ask
you if you cared to make the change."
With the question straight before him, Strange knew that an answer must be
given. He understood now how it is that there are men and women who find
it worth their while to thrust their heads into lions' mouths.
"Yes, sir, of course," he answered, quietly; and they went on to join the
On a day when Evie Colfax was nearing Southampton, and Herbert Strange
sailing northward from the Rio de la Plata, up the coast of Brazil, Miriam
Strange, in New York, was standing in the embrasure of a large bay-window
of a fifth-floor apartment, in that section of Fifty-ninth Street that
skirts the southern limit of Central Park. Her conversation with the man
beside her turned on subjects which both knew to be only preliminary to
the business that had brought him in. He inquired about her voyage home
from Germany, and expressed his sympathy with "poor Wayne" on the
hopelessness and finality of the Wiesbaden oculist's report. Taking a
lighter tone, he said, with a gesture toward the vast expanse of autumn
color on which they were looking down:
"You didn't see anything finer than that in Europe. Come now!"
"No, I didn't--not in its own way. As long as I can look at this I'm
almost reconciled to living in a town."
As her eyes roamed over the sea of splendor that stretched from their very
feet, a vision of October gorgeousness against the sky, he was able to
steal a glance at her. His immediate observation was to the effect that
the suggestion of wildness--or, more correctly, of a wild origin--was as
noticeable in her now, a woman of twenty-seven, as it was when he first
knew her, a girl of nineteen. That she should have brought it with her
from a childhood passed amid lakes and rivers and hills was natural
enough--just as it was natural that her voice should have that liquid
cadence which belongs to people of the forest, though it is rarely caught
by human speech elsewhere; but that she should have conserved these
qualities through the training of a woman of the world was more
remarkable. But there it was, that something woodland-born which London
and New York had neither submerged nor swept away. It was difficult to say
in what it consisted, since it eluded the effort to say, "It is this or
that." It resisted analysis, as it defied description. Though it might
have been in the look, or in the manner, it conveyed itself to the
observer's apprehension, otherwise than by the eye or ear, as if it
appealed to some extra sense. People who had not Charles Conquest's
closeness of perception spoke of her as "odd," while those who had heard
the little there was to learn about her, said to each other, "Well, what
could you expect?" Young men, as a rule, fought shy of her, not so much
from indifference as from a sense of an indefinable barrier between her
and themselves so that it was the older men who sought her out. There was
always some fear on Conquest's part lest the world should so assimilate
her that her distinctiveness--which was more like an influence that
radiated than a characteristic that could be seen--would desert her; and
it was with conscious satisfaction that he noted now, after an absence of
some months, that it was still there.
He noted, too, the sure lines of her profile--a profile becoming clearer
cut as she grew older--features wrought with delicacy and yet imbued with
strength, suggestive of carved ivory. Delicacy imbued with strength was
betokened, too, by the tall slenderness of her figure, whose silence and
suppleness of movement came--in Conquest's imagination at least--from her
far-off forest ancestry.
"I couldn't live anywhere else but here--if it must be in New York," she
said, turning from the window. "I couldn't do without the sense of woods,
and space, and sky. I can stand at this window and imagine all sorts of
things--that the park really does run into the Catskills, as it seems to
do--that the Catskills run into the Adirondacks--and that the Adirondacks
take me up to the Laurentides with which my earliest recollections begin."
"I think you're something like Shelley's Venice," he smiled, "a sort of
'daughter of the earth and ocean.' You never seem to me to belong in just
the ordinary category--"
She had been afraid of something like this from the minute he was
announced, and so hastened to cling to the impersonal.
"Then, the apartment is so convenient. Being all on one floor, it is so
much easier for Mr. Wayne to get about it than if he had stairs to climb.
I didn't tell you that I've had Mrs. Wayne's room done over for Evie. It's
so much larger and lighter than her old one--"
He cleared his throat uneasily.
"I remember your saying something of the kind before you went away in the
spring. It's one of the things I came in to talk about to-day?"
"Indeed?" His change of tone alarmed her. He had taken on the air of a man
about to break unpleasant news. "Won't you sit down? I'll ring for tea.
We're not in very good order yet, but the servants can give us that much."
She spoke for the purpose of hiding her uneasiness, just as she felt that
she should be more sure of herself while handling the teacups than if she
were sitting idle.
"I've had a letter from Mr. Jarrott," he said, making himself comfortable,
while she moved the tea-table in front of her. "He wrote to me, partly as
Stephens and Jarrott's legal adviser, and partly as a friend."
He allowed that information time to sink in before continuing.
"He tells me Miss Jarrott is on her way home, with Evie."
"Yes; Evie herself wrote me that. I got the letter at Cherbourg."
"Then she probably told you about the house."
"The house? What house?"
"The house they've asked me to take for the winter--for Miss Jarrott and
The tea-things came, giving her the relief of occupation. She said nothing
for the moment, and her attention seemed concentrated on the rapid, silent
movements of her own hands among the silver and porcelain. Once she looked
up, but her glance fell as she saw his small, keen, gray-green eyes
scanning her obliquely.
"So I'm not to have her?" she said, at last.
"It's only for this winter--"
"Oh, I know. But what's for this winter will be for every winter!"
"And she won't be far away. I've taken the Grant's house in Seventy-second
Street. They asked for a house in which they could do some entertaining.
You see, they want to give her a good time--"
"I quite understand all that. Evie has to 'come out.' I've not the least
doubt that they're managing it in the best way possible. Yes, I see that.
If I feel a little--well, I won't say hurt--but a little--sorry--it's
because I've almost brought Evie up. And I suppose I'm the person she's
most fond of--as far as she's fond of any one."
"I presume she's fond of my nephew, Billy Merrow."
"I hope so. Billy rather teased her into that engagement, you know. She's
too young to be deeply in love--unless it was with one romantic. And Billy
isn't that. I'm not sure that there isn't trouble ahead for him."
"Then I shall let him worry through it himself. I've got other things to
When she had given him his tea and begun to sip her own, she looked up
with that particular bright smile which in women means the bracing of the
"It'll be all right," she said, with forced conviction. "I know it will.
It's foolish in me to think I shall miss her, when she will be so near.
It's only because she and Mr. Wayne are all I've got--"
"They needn't be," he interposed, draining his cup, and setting it down,
like a man preparing for action.
She knew her own words had exposed her to this, and was vexed with herself
for speaking in a dangerous situation without due foresight. For a minute
she could think of nothing to say that would ward off his thrust. She sat
looking at him rather helplessly, unconsciously appealing to him with her
eyes to let the subject drop.
If he meant to go on with it, he took his time--flecking a few crumbs from
his white waistcoat and from his fingertips. In the action he showed
himself for what he was--a man so neat as just to escape being dapper.
There was nothing large about him, in either mind or body; while, on the
contrary, there was much that was keen and able. The incisiveness of the
face would have been too sharp had it not been saved by the high-bred
effect of a Roman nose and a handsome mouth and chin. The fair mustache,
faded now rather than gray, softened the cynicism of the lips without
concealing it. It was the face of a man accustomed to "see through" other
men--to "see through" life--compelling its favors from the world rather
than asking them. The detailed exactness and unobtrusive costliness of
everything about him, from the pearl in his tie to the polish on his
boots, were indicative of a will rigorously demanding "the best," and
taking it. The refusal of it now in the person of the only woman whom he
had ever wanted as a wife left him puzzled, slightly exasperated, as
before a phenomenon not to be explained. It was this unusual resistance
that caused the somewhat impatient tone he took with her.
"It's all nonsense--your living as you do--like a professional trained
"The life of a professional trained nurse isn't nonsense."
"It is for you."
"On the contrary; it's for me, more than for almost any one, to justify my
right to being in the world."
"Oh, come now! Don't let us begin on that."
"I don't want to begin on it. I'd much rather not. But if you don't, you
throw away the key that explains everything about me."
"All right," he rejoined, in an argumentative tone. "Let's talk about it,
then. Let's have it out. You feel your position; granted. Mind you, I've
always said you wouldn't have done so if it hadn't been for Gertrude
Wayne. The world to-day has too much common sense to lay stress on a
circumstance of that kind. Believe me, nobody thinks about it but
yourself. Did Lady Bonchurch? Did any of her friends? You've got it a
little bit--just a little bit--on the brain; and the fault isn't yours; it
belongs to the woman whose soul is gone, I hope, where it's freed from the
rules of a book of etiquette."
"She meant well--"
"Oh, every failure, and bungler, and mischief-maker means well. That's
their charter. I'm not concerned with that. I'm speaking of what she did.
She fixed it in your mind that you were like a sapling sprung from a seed
blown outside the orchard. You think you can minimize that accident by
bringing forth as good as any to be found within the pale. Consequently
you've taken a poor, helpless, blind man off the hands of the people whose
duty it is to look after him--and who are well able to do it--"
"That isn't the reason," she declared, flushing. "If Mr. Wayne and I live
together it's because we're used to each other--and in a way he has taken
the place of my father."
"Oh, come now! That's all very fine. But haven't you got in the back of
your mind the thought that the wild tree that's known by its good fruit is
the one that's best worth grafting?"
"If I had--" she began, with color deepening.
"If you had, you'd simply be taking a long way round, when there's a short
cut home. I'm the orchard, Miriam. All you've got to do is to walk into
A warmer tone came into his voice as he uttered the concluding words,
adding to her discomfort. She moved the tea-things about, putting them
into an unnecessary state of order, before she could reply.
"There's a reason why I couldn't do that," she said, meeting his sharp
eyes with one of her fugitive glances. "I would have given it to you
when--when you brought up this subject last spring, only you didn't ask
"Well, what is it?"
"I couldn't love you."
She forced herself to bring out the words distinctly. He leaned back in
his chair, threw one leg across the other, and stroked the thin, colorless
line of his mustache.
"No, I suppose you couldn't," he said, quietly, after considering her
"So that my answer has to be final."
"I don't see that. Love is only one of the many motives for marriage--and
not, as I understand it, the highest one. The divorce courts are strewn
with the wrecks of marriages made for love. Those that stand the test of
life and time are generally those that have been contracted from some of
the more solid--and worthier--motives."
"Then I don't know what they are."
"I could explain them to you if you'd let me. As for love--if it's needed
at all--I could bring enough into hotch-potch as the phrase goes, to do
for two. I'm over fifty years of age. It never occurred to me that you
could--care about me--as you might have cared for some one else. But as
far as I can see, there's no one else. If there was, perhaps I shouldn't
She looked up with sudden determination.
"If there was any one else, you--would consider that as settling the
"I might. I shouldn't bind myself. It would depend."
"Then I'll tell you; there _is_ some one else." The words caused her to
flush so painfully that she hastened to qualify them. "That is, there
might have been."
"What do you mean by--might have been?"
"I mean that, though I don't say I've ever--loved--any man, there was a
man I might have loved, if it had been possible."
"And why wasn't it possible?"
"I'd rather not tell you. It was a long time ago. He went away. He never
came back again."
"Did he say he'd come back again?"
She shook her head. She tried to meet his gaze steadily, but it was like
facing a search-light.
"Were you what you would call--engaged?"
"Oh no." Her confusion deepened. "There was never anything. It was a long
time ago. I only want you to understand that if I could care for any one
it would be for him. And if I married you--and he came back--"
"Are you expecting him back?"
She was a long time answering the question. She would not have answered it
at all had it not been in the hope of getting rid of him.
He took the declaration coolly, and went on.
"Why? What makes you think he'll come?"
"I have no reason. I think he will--that's all."
"Where is he now?"
"I haven't the faintest idea."
"Hasn't he ever written to you?"
"And you don't know what's become of him?"
"Not in the least."
"And yet you expect him back?"
She nodded assent.
"You're waiting for him?"
Once more she braced herself to look him in the eyes and answer boldly.
He leaned back in his chair and laughed, not loudly, but in good-humored
"If that's all that stands between us--"
To her relief he said no more; though she was disappointed that the
subject should be dropped in a way that made it possible to bring it up
again. As he was taking his leave she renewed the attempt to end the
matter once for all.
"I know you think me foolish--" she began.
"No, not foolish; only romantic."
"Then, romantic. Romance is as bad as folly when one is twenty-seven. I
confess it," she went on, trying to smile, "only that you may understand
that it's a permanent condition which I sha'n't get over."
"Oh yes, you will."
"Things happened--long ago--such as don't generally happen; and so--I'm
waiting for him. If he never comes--then I'd rather go
It was hard to say, but it was said. He laughed again--not quite so
derisively as before--and went away.
When he had gone, she resumed her seat behind the tea-table. She sat
looking absently at the floor and musing on the words she had just spoken.
Not in all the seven or eight years since Norrie Ford went away had she
acknowledged to her own heart what, within the last few minutes, she had
declared aloud. The utmost she had ever owned to herself was that she
"could have loved him." When she refused other men, she did not confess to
waiting for him; she evaded the question with herself, and found pretexts.
She would have continued doing so with Conquest, had not his persistency
driven her to her last stand. But now that she had uttered the words for
his benefit, she had to repeat them for her own. Notwithstanding her
passionate love of woods, winds, and waters, she had always been so sane,
so practical, in the things that pertained to daily life that she
experienced something like surprise at detecting herself in this condition
of avowed romance. She had actually been waiting for Norrie Ford to
return, and say what he had told her he _would_ say, should it ever become
possible! She was waiting for him still! If he never came she would rather
go on waiting for him--uselessly! The language almost shocked her; but now
that the thing was spoken she admitted it was true. It was a light thrown
on herself--if not precisely a new light, at least one from which all
shades and colored wrappings that delude the eye and obscure the judgment
had been struck away.
She smiled to herself to think how little Conquest understood her when he
ascribed to her the ambition to graft her ungarnered branch on the stock
of a duly cultivated civilization. She might have had that desire once,
but it was long past. It was a kind of glory to her now to be outside the
law--with Norrie Ford. There they were exiles together, in a wild paradise
with joys of its own, not less sweet than those of any Eden. She had faced
more than once the question of being "taken into the orchard," as Conquest
put it. The men who had asked her at various times to marry them had been
like himself, men of middle age, or approaching it--men of assured
position either by birth or by attainment. As the wife of any one of them
her place would have been unquestioned. She had not rejected their offers
lightly, or from any foregone conclusion. She had taken it as a duty to
weigh each one seriously as it came; and, leaving the detail of love
apart, she had asked herself whether it was not right for her to seize the
occasion of becoming "some one" in the world. Once or twice the position
offered her was so much in accordance with her tastes that her refusal
brought with it a certain vague regret. "But I couldn't do it," were the
words with which she woke from every dream of seeing herself mistress in a
quiet English park, or a big house in New York. Her habits might be those
of civilized mankind; but her heart was listening for a call from beyond
the limits in which men have the recognized right to live. She could put
no shackles on her freedom to respond to it--if it ever came.
She discovered that Norrie Ford had come back, and that some of her
expectations were fulfilled by finding him actually seated beside her one
evening at dinner.
Miss Jarrott's taste in table light was in the direction of candles
tempered by deep-red shades. As no garish electricity was allowed to
intrude itself into this soft glow, the result was that only old
acquaintances among her guests got a satisfactory notion of each other's
features. It was with a certain sense of discovery that, by peering
through the rose-colored twilight, Miriam discerned now a Jarrott or a
Colfax, now an Endsleigh or a Pole--faces more or less well known to her
which she had not had time to recognize during the few hurried minutes in
It was the dinner of which Evie had said, in explaining her plan of
campaign to Miriam, "We must kill off the family first of all." It was
plain that she regarded the duty as a bore; but she was too worldly wise
not to see that her bread cast upon the waters would return to her. Most
of the Jarrotts were important; some were wealthy; and one--Mrs. Endsleigh
Jarrott--was a power in such matters as assemblies and cotillons. The
ladies Colfax were little less influential; and while the sphere of the
Poles and Endsleighs was in the world of art, letters, and scholarship,
rather than in that of fashion and finance, they had the uncontested
status of good birth. To Evie they represented just so much in the way of
her social assets, and she was quick in appraising them at their correct
relative values. Some would be good for a dinner given in her honor,
others for a dance. The humblest could be counted on for a theatre-party
or a "tea." She was skilful, too, in presenting her orphan state with a
touching vividness that enlisted their sympathies on behalf of "poor
Jack's," or "poor Gertrude's," pretty little girl, according to the side
of the house on which they recognized the relationship.
With the confusion incidental to the arrival from South America, the
settling into a new house, and the ordering of new clothes, Miriam had had
little of the old intimate intercourse with Evie during the six weeks
since the latter's return. There was no change in their mutual relation;
it was only that Evie was caught up into the glory of the coming winter,
and had no time for the apartment in Fifty-ninth Street. It was with
double pleasure, therefore, that Miriam responded one day to Evie's
invitation to "come and look at my things," which meant an inspection of
the frocks and hats that had just come home. They lay about now, in clouds
like a soft summer sunset, or in gay spots of feathers and flowers, on the
bed and the sofa in Evie's room, and filled all the chairs except the one
on which Miriam had retreated into the farthest corner of the bay-window.
Seated there, not quite in profile, against the light, her head turned and
slightly inclined, in order to get a better view of Evie's finery, her
slender figure possessed a sort of Vandyke grace, heightened rather than
diminished by the long plumes and rich draperies of the month's fashion.
Evie flitted between closets, wardrobes, and drawers, prattling while she
worked off that first event of her season, in which the family were to be
"killed off." She recited the names of those who would "simply _have_ to
be asked" and of those who could conveniently be omitted.
"And, of course, Popsey Wayne must come," she observed in her practical
little way. "I dare say he won't want to, poor dear, but it wouldn't do if
he didn't. Only you, you dear thing, will have to go in with him--to pilot
him and look after him when the dishes are passed. But I'm going to have
some one nice on your other side, do you see?--some one awfully nice. We
shall have to ask a few people outside the family, just to give it relief,
and save it from looking like Christmas."
"You'll have Billy, I suppose."
Evie took the time to deposit a lace blouse in a drawer, as softly as a
mother lays a sleeping babe to rest.
"No, I sha'n't ask Billy," she said, while she was still stooping.
"Won't he think that queer?"
"I hope so." She turned from the drawer, and lifted a blue gossamer
creation from the bed. Miriam smiled indulgently.
"Why? What's the matter? Have you anything to punish him for?"
"I've nothing to punish him for; I've only got something I want to--bring
home to him." She paused in the middle of the room, with her blue burden
held in her outstretched arms, somewhat like a baby at a christening. "I
might as well tell you, Miriam, first as last. You've got to know it some
time, though I don't want it talked about just yet. I've broken my
engagement to Billy."
"Broken your engagement! Why, I saw Billy myself this morning. I met him
as I was coming over. He said he was here last night, and seemed
"He doesn't know it yet. I'm doing it--by degrees."
"You're doing it by--what?" Miriam rose and came toward her, stopping
midway to lean on the foot-rail of the bed. "Evie darling, what do you
Evie's eyes brimmed suddenly, and her lip trembled.
"If you're going to be cross about it--"
"I'm not going to be cross about it, but I want you to tell me exactly
what you're doing."
"Well, I'm telling you. I've broken my engagement, and I want to let Billy
know it in the kindest way. I don't want to hurt his feelings. You
wouldn't like me to do that yourself. I'm trying to bring him where he'll
see things just as I do."
"And may I ask if you're--getting him there?"
"I shall get him there in time. I'm doing lots of things to show him."
"Such as what?"
"Such as not asking him to the dinner, for one thing. He'll know from that
there's something wrong. He'll make a fuss, and I shall be disagreeable.
Little by little he'll get to dislike me--and then--"
"And how long do you think it will take for that good work to be
"I don't see that that matters. I suppose I may take all the time I need.
We're both young--"
"And have all your lives to give to it. Is that what you mean?"
"I don't want to give all my life to it, because--I may as well tell you
that, too, while I'm about it--because I'm engaged to some one else."
Miriam went back, like a person defeated, to the chair from which she had
just risen, while Evie buried herself in the depths of a closet, where she
remained long enough, as she hoped, to let Miriam's first astonishment
subside. On coming out she assumed a virtuous tone.
"You see now why I simply _had_ to break with Billy. I couldn't possibly
keep the two things going together--as some girls would. I'm one of those
who do right, whatever happens. It's very hard for me--but if people would
only be a little more sympathetic--"
It was some minutes before Miriam knew just what to say. Even when she
began to speak she doubted her capacity for making herself understood.
"Evie darling," she said, trying to speak as for a child's comprehension,
"this is a very serious matter. I don't think you realize how serious it
is. If you find you don't love Billy well enough, of course you must ask
him to release you. I should be sorry for that, but I shouldn't blame you.
But until you've done it you can't give your word to any one."
"Well, I must say I never heard anything like that," Evie declared,
indignantly. "You do have the strangest ideas, Miriam. Dear mamma used to
say so, too. I try to defend you, but you make it difficult for me, I must
say. I never knew any one like you for making things more complicated than
they need be. You talk of my asking Billy to release me when I released
myself long ago--in my own mind. That's where I have to look. I must do
things according to my conscience--and when that's clear--"
"It isn't only a case of conscience, dear; it's one of common sense.
Conscience has a way of sometimes mistaking the issue, whereas common
sense can generally be trusted to be right."
"Of course, if you're going to talk that way, Miriam, I don't see what's
left for me to answer; but it doesn't sound very reverent, I must say. I'm
trying to look at things in the highest light, and it doesn't strike me as
the highest light to be unkind to Billy when I needn't be. If you think I
ought to treat him cruelly you must keep your opinion, but I know you'll
excuse me if I keep mine."
She carried her head loftily as she bore another gown into the adjoining
darkness, and Miriam waited patiently till she emerged again.
"Does your other--I hardly know what to call him--does your other fiancA(C)
know about Billy?"
"Why on earth should he? What good would that do? It will be all over--I
mean about Billy--before I announce my second engagement, and as the one
to Billy will never be announced at all there's no use in saying anything
"But suppose Billy himself finds out?"
"Billy won't find out anything whatever until I get ready to let him."
The finality of this retort reduced Miriam to silence. She allowed some
minutes to pass before saying, with some hesitation:
"I suppose you don't mind my knowing--who it is?"
Evie was prepared for this question and answered it promptly.
"I shan't mind your knowing--by-and-by. I want you to meet him first.
When you've once seen him, I know you'll be more just to me. Till then I'm
willing to go on being--misunderstood."
* * * * *
During the three more weeks that intervened before the family dinner
Miriam got no further light on Evie's love-affairs. She purposely asked no
questions through fear of seeming to force the girl's confidence, but she
obtained some relief from thinking that the rival suitor could be no other
than a certain young Graham, of whom she had heard much from Evie during
the previous year. His chances then had stood higher than Billy Merrow's;
and nothing was more possible than a discovery on Evie's part that she
liked him the better of the two. It was a situation that called for
sympathy for Billy, but not otherwise for grave anxiety, so that Miriam
could wait quietly for further out-pourings of Evie's heart, and give her
mind to the mysteries incidental to the girl's social presentation to the
Of the ceremonies attendant on this event the "killing off" of the family
was the one Miriam dreaded most. It was when she came within the periphery
of this powerful, meritorious, well-to-do circle, representing whatever
was most honorable in New York, that she chiefly felt herself an alien.
She could scarcely have explained herself in this respect, since many of
the clan had been kind to her, and none had ever shown her incivility. It
was when she confronted them in the mass, when she saw their solidarity,
their mutual esteem, their sum total of wealth, talents, and good works,
that she grew conscious of the difference of essence between herself and
them. Not one of them but had the right to the place he sat in!--a right
maintained by himself, but acquired by his fathers before him--not one of
them but was living in the strength of some respectable tradition of which
he could be proud! Endsleigh Jarrott's father, for example, had been a
banker, Reginald Pole's the president of a university, Rupert Colfax's a
judge; and it was something like that with them all. In the midst of so
much that was classified, certified, and regular she was as obviously a
foreign element as a fly in amber. She came in as the ward of Philip
Wayne, who himself was a new-comer and an intruder, since he entered
merely as "poor Gertrude's second husband," by a marriage which they all
considered a mistake.
With the desire to be as unobtrusive as possible, she dressed herself in
black, without ornament of any kind, unaware of the fact that with her
height of figure, her grace of movement, her ivory tint, and that
expression of hers which disconcerted people because it was first
appealing and then proud, she would be more than ever conspicuous against
the background of brilliant toilets, fine jewels, and assured manners
which the family would produce for the occasion. As a matter of fact,
there was a perceptible hush in the hum of talk as she made her entry into
the drawing-room, ostensibly led by Philip Wayne, but really leading him.
As she paused near the door, half timid, half bewildered, looking for her
hostess, it did not help her to feel at ease to see Mrs. Endsleigh
Jarrott--a Rubens _Maria de Medici_ in white satin and pearls--raise her
lorgnette and call on a tall young man who stood beside her to take a
look. There was no time to distinguish anything further before Miss
Jarrott glided up, with mincing graciousness, to shake hands.
"How do you do! How do you do! So glad you've come. I think you must know
nearly every one here, so I needn't introduce any one. I hardly ever
introduce. It's funny, isn't it? They say it's an English custom not to
introduce, but I don't do it just by nature. I wonder why I
shouldn't?--but I never do--or almost never. So if you don't happen to
know your neighbors at table just speak. It was Evie who arranged where
every one was to sit. _I_ don't know. They say that's English, too--just
to speak. I believe it's quite a recognized thing in London to say, 'Is
this your bread or mine?' and then you know each other. Isn't it funny?
Now I think we're all here. Will you take in Miriam, Mr. Wayne?"
A hasty embrace from Evie--an angelic vision in white--was followed by a
few words of greeting from Charles Conquest after which Miriam saw Miss
Jarrott take the arm of Bishop Endsleigh, and the procession began to
At table Miriam was glad of the dim, rose-colored light. It offered her a
seclusion into which she could withdraw, tending her services to Wayne.
She was glad, too, that the family, having so much to say to itself, paid
her no special attention. She was sufficiently occupied in aiding the
helpless blind man beside her, and repeating for his benefit the names of
their fellow-guests. As the large party talked at the top of its lungs,
Miriam's quiet voice, with its liquid, almost contralto, quality, reached
her companion's ears unheard by others. She began with Bishop Endsleigh
who was on Miss Jarrott's right. Then came Mrs. Stephen Colfax; after her
Mr. Endsleigh Jarrott, who had on his right Mrs. Reginald Pole. Mrs.
Pole's neighbor was Charles Conquest, whom she shared with Mrs. Rodney
Wrenn. Now and then Wayne himself would give proof of that increased
acuteness in his hearing of which he had spoken more than once since his
blindness had become total. "Colfax Yorke is here," he observed at one
time. "I hear his voice. He's sitting on our side of the table." "Mrs.
Endsleigh Jarrott is next but one to you," he said at another time. "She's
airing her plans for the reconstruction of New York society."
So for a while they kept one another in small talk, affecting the same
sort of vivacity that obtained around them. It was not till dinner was
half over that he asked in an undertone:
"Who is your neighbor?"
"I don't know," she managed to whisper back. "He's so taken up with Mrs.
Endsleigh Jarrott that he hasn't looked this way. I don't think he's any
member of the family."
"He must be," Wayne replied. "I know his voice. I have some association
with it, but just what I can't remember."
Miriam herself listened to hear him speak, catching only an irrelevant
word or two.
"He sounds English," she said then.
"No, he isn't English. That's not my association. It's curious how the
mind acts. Since I became--since my sight failed--my memory instinctively
brings me voices instead of faces, when I want to recall anything. Aren't
you going to speak to him? You've got the formula: Is this your bread or
"It's very convenient, but I don't think I shall use it."
"He'd like you to, I know. I heard him say to Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott as we
came in--while Queenie Jarrott was talking--that you were he most
strikingly beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. How's that for a
compliment from a perfect stranger?"
"I certainly sha'n't speak to him now. A man who could say that to Mrs.
Endsleigh, after having seen _her,_ must be wofully wanting in tact."
Mary Pole on Wayne's right claimed his attention and Miriam was left her
own mistress. Almost at once her attention was arrested by hearing Mrs.
Endsleigh Jarrott saying in that appealing voice which she counted as the
secret of her success with men:
"Now do give me your frank opinion, Mr. Strange. You don't know how much I
should like it. It's far from my idea that we should slavishly copy
London. You know that, don't you? We've an entirely different stock of
materials to work with. But I'm firmly convinced that by working on the
London model we should make society far more general, far more
representative, and far--oh, _far_--more interesting! Now, what do _you_
think? Do give me your frank opinion."
Mr. Strange! Her own name was sufficiently uncommon to cause Miriam to
glance sidewise, in her rapid, fugitive way, at the person who bore it.
His face was turned from her as he bent toward Mrs. Jarrott, but again she
heard his voice, and this time more distinctly.
"I'm afraid my opinion wouldn't be of much value. Nevertheless, I know you
must be right."
"Now I'm disappointed in you," Mrs. Jarrott said, with pretty
reproachfulness. "You're not taking me seriously. Oh, I see, I see. You're
just an ordinary man, after all; when I thought for a minute you might
be--well, a little different. Do take some of that asparagus," she added
in another tone. "It's simply delicious."
It was while he was helping himself to this delicacy that Miriam got the
first clear view of his face, half turned as it was toward her. He seemed
aware that she was observing him, for during the space of some seconds he
held the silver implements idle in his hands, while he lifted his eyes to
meet hers. The look they exchanged was significant and long, and yet she
was never quite sure that she recognized him then. For the minute she was
only conscious of a sudden, inward shock, to which she was unable to
ascribe a cause. Something had happened, though she knew not what. Having
in the course of a few minutes regained her self-control, she could only
suppose that it was a repetition of that unreasoning panic which had now
and then brought her to the verge of fainting, when by chance, in London,
Paris, or New York, she caught a glimpse of some tall figure that carried
her imagination back to the cabin in the Adirondacks. She had always
thought that he might appear in some crowd and take her by surprise. She
had never expected to find him in a gathering that could be called social.
Still less had she looked to meet him like this, with Philip Wayne who had
sentenced him to death not three feet away. The mere idea was
preposterous. And yet--
She glanced at him again. He was listening attentively while Mrs.
Endsleigh Jarrott's voice ran on:
"People say our society has no traditions. It _has_ traditions. It has the
traditions of the country village, and it has never outgrown them. We're
nothing but the country village writ large. New York, Philadelphia,
Boston, Baltimore--we're the country village over again, with its
narrowness its sets, its timidity, all writ _so_ large that they hide
anything like a real society from us. Now isn't it so, Mr. Strange? Don't
be afraid to give me your frank opinion because that's what I'm asking
Miriam herself made an effort to seem to be doing something that would
enable her to sit unnoticed. She was glad that Wayne was engaged by Mary
Pole so that he could no longer listen to the voice that wakened his
recollections. She looked again at the tall, carefully dressed man beside
her, so different in all his externals from anything she imagined Norrie
Ford could ever become. Norrie Ford was an outlaw and this was a man of
the world. She felt herself being reassured--and yet disappointed. Her
first feeling of faintness passed away, enabling her to face the situation
with greater calm. Under cover of the energetic animation characteristic
of every American dinner-party at which the guests are intimate, she had
leisure to think over the one or two hints that were significant. Now and
then a remark was addressed to her across the table to which she managed
to return a reply sufficiently apt to give her the appearance of being in
touch with what was going on around her; but in reality she was taking in
the fact, with the spirit rather than the mind, that Norrie Ford had
She never understood just how and when that assurance came to her. It was
certainly not by actual recognition of his features, as it was not by
putting together the few data that came under her observation. Thinking it
over in after years, she could only say that she "just found herself
_knowing it_." He was there--beside her. Of that she had no longer a
Her amazement did not develop all at once. Indeed, the position had an odd
naturalness, like something in a dream. The element of impossibility in
what had happened was so great that for the time being her mind refused to
meet it. She was only aware of that vague sense of satisfaction, of inward
peace, that comes when long-desired ends have been fulfilled.
The main fact being accepted, her outer faculties could respond to the
call that a dinner-party makes on its least important member. When the
conversation at her end of the table became general she took her part, and
later engaged in a three-cornered discussion with Wayne and Mary Pole on
the subject of an endowed theatre; but all the while her subconscious mind
was struggling for a theory to account for Norrie Ford's presence in that
particular room and in that unexpected company. The need of some
immediate, plausible reason for so astounding an occurrence deadened her
attention to the comparative quietness with which she accepted his
coming--now that she had regained her self-control, although she was
conscious of stirrings of wild joy in this evidence that he had been true
to her. Had she recalled what she had said to him eight years ago as to
the Argentine, and the "very good firm to work for," she would have had an
easy clew, but that had passed from her mind almost with the
utterance--certainly with his departure He had gone out into the world,
leaving no more trace behind him than the bird that has flown southward.
Not once during the intervening years did the thought cross her mind that
words which she had spoken nearly at haphazard could have acted as a guide
to him, while still less did she dream that they could have led him into
the very seat beside her which he was occupying now.
Nevertheless, he was there, and for the present she could dispense with
the knowledge of the adventures that had brought him. He was there, and
that was the reason of his coming in itself. He had hewn his way through
all difficulties to reach her--as Siegfried came to Brunhild, over the
mountains and through the fire. He had found the means--both the means
and the daring--to enter and make himself accepted in her own world, her
own circle, her own family--in so far as she had a family--and to sit
right down at her side.
She was not surprised at it. She assured herself of that. At the very
instant when she was saying to Mary Pole, across Philip Wayne's white
waistcoat, that she had always thought of endowed institutions of creative
art as belonging to the races of weaker individual initiative--at the very
instant when she was saying that, she was repeating to herself that the
directness, the high-handedness, and the success of this kind of exploit
was exactly what she would have expected of Norrie Ford. It was what she
_had_ expected of him--in one form or another. It was with a sense of
inward pride that she remembered that her faith in him had never wavered,
even though it was not until Conquest forced her that she had confessed
the fact. She glanced at Conquest across the table now and caught his eye.
He smiled at her and raised his glass, as though to drink to her health.
She smiled in return, daringly, triumphantly, as she would not have
ventured to do an hour ago. She could see him flush with pleasure--a rare
occurrence--at her unusual graciousness, while she was only rejoicing in
her escape from him. Under the shadow of the tall man beside her, who had
achieved the impossible in order to be loyal to her, she felt for the
first time in her life that she had found a shelter. It mattered nothing
that he was engrossed with Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott, and that, after the one
glance, he had not turned toward her again; she was sure he knew that she
understood him, and that he recognized her power to wait in patience to
have the mystery explained.
In the drawing-room he was introduced to her. Miss Jarrott led him up and
made the presentation.
"Miss Strange, I want you to know Mr. Strange. Now isn't that funny? You
can't think how many times I've thought how interesting it would be to see
you two meet. It's so unusual to have the same name, especially when it's
such a strange name as yours. There's a pun. I simply can't help making
them. My brother says I inherited all the sense of humor in the family. I
don't know why I do it, but I always see a joke. Can you tell me why I do
Neither Strange nor Miriam knew what replies they made, but a conversation
of some sort went on for a minute or two, after which Miss Jarrott whisked
him away to present him to some one else. When he had gone Miriam was left
with a feeling of spiritual chill. While it was impossible to betray a
previous acquaintance before Miss Jarrott, there had been nothing whatever
in his bearing to respond to the recognition in hers. There was something
that might have been conveyed from mind to mind without risk, and he had
not used the opportunity. In as far as he addressed her at all it had been
through Miss Jarrott, and he had looked around her and over her rather
than directly into her eyes.
During the rest of the evening she caught glimpses of him only in the
distance, talking now to one member of the family, now to another. It was
clear that Miss Jarrott was, in a way, showing him off, and that he was
received as some one of importance. She admired the coolness with which he
carried himself, while her inherited instincts gave her a curious thrill
of content that these law-making, law-keeping people should be duped.
She hoped he would find an occasion for passing again in her direction.
If she could have only a word with him it might help to make the situation
intelligible. But he did not return, and presently she noticed, in looking
about the room, that he had disappeared. She, too, was eager to be gone.
Only in solitude could she get control of the surging thoughts, the
bewildering suggestions, the contradictory suppositions that crowded it on
her. She saw how useless it was to try to build a theory without at least
one positive fact to go on.
It was just as they were departing that her opportunity to ask a question
came. They had said their good-nights to Miss Jarrott and were in the
hall, waiting for the footman to call their carriage, when Evie, whom they
had not wanted to disturb, came fluttering after them. She was flushed but
radiant, and flung herself into Miriam's arms.
"You dear thing! I haven't had time to say a word to you or Popsey Wayne
the entire evening. But you'll excuse me, won't you? I've had to be civil
to them all--do you see?--and do them up well. I knew you wouldn't mind. I
wanted you to have a good time, but I'm afraid you haven't."
"Oh yes," Miriam said, disengaging herself from the girl's embrace. "It's
been wonderful--it really has. But, Evie dear," she whispered, drawing her
away from the group of ladies who stood cloaked and hooded, also waiting
for their carriages, "tell me--who is that Mr. Strange who sat next to
Evie's eyes went heavenward, and she took on a look of rapture.
"I hope you liked him."
"I didn't have much chance to see. But why do you hope it?"
"Because--don't you see? Oh, surely you _must_ see--because--he's the
Enlightenment came to her in the carriage while she was driving homeward.
During the five or ten minutes since Evie had spoken she, Miriam, had been
sitting still and upright in the darkness, making no further attempt to
see reason through this succession of bewilderments from sheer inability
to contend against them. For the time being, at any rate, the struggle was
too much for her. The issues raised by Evie's overwhelming announcement
were so confusing that she must postpone their consideration. She must
postpone everything but her own tumultuous passion, which had to be faced
and mastered instantly. She was fighting with herself, with her own wild
inward cries of protest, anger, jealousy, and self-pity, trying to
distinguish each from the others and to silence it by appeal to her years
of romantic folly, when suddenly Wayne spoke, in the cheery tone of a man
who has unexpectedly passed a pleasant evening.
"I had a nice long chat with the Great Unknown, who was sitting beside
you, when the ladies left the dining-room. Who do you think he is?"
After the shocks of the last two hours, she was prepared to hear Wayne
tell her, in an offhand way, that it was Norrie Ford. Nevertheless, she
summoned what was left of her stunned faculties and did her best to speak
"I heard them call him Mr. Strange--"
"Odd that was, wasn't it? But it isn't such a very uncommon name. I've met
"Oh yes. So have I."
"Well, who do you think he is? Why, he's Stephens and Jarrott's new man in
New York. He's taken Jenkins's place. You remember Jenkins, don't you?
That little man with a lisp. I had a nice long chat with him--Strange, I
mean. He tells me he's a New-Yorker by birth, but that he went out to the
Argentine after his father failed in business. Well, _he_ won't fail in
business, _I_ bet a penny. He's tremendously enthusiastic over the
Argentine, too. Showed he had his head put on the right way when he went
there. Wonderful country--the United States of South America some people
call it. We're missing our opportunities out there. Great volume of trade
flowing to Europe of which we had almost the monopoly at one time. I had a
nice long chat with him."
Her tired emotions received a new surprise as Wayne's words directed her
thoughts to the morning when she had made to Ford the first suggestion of
the Argentine. She had not precisely forgotten it; she had only thought it
of too little importance to dwell on. She remembered that she had
considered the idea practical till she had expressed it, but that his
opposition had seemed to turn it into the impossible. She had never
supposed that he might have acted on it--not any more than she had
expected him to retain her father's name once he had reached a place of
safety. In spite of the suddenness with which her dreams regarding him had
been dispelled, it gave her a thrill of satisfaction to think that the
word which, in a sense, had created him had been hers. To her fierce
jealousy, with which her pride was wrestling even now, there was a
measure of comfort in the knowledge that he could never be quite free from
her, that his existence was rooted in her own.
"Queenie Jarrott tells me," Wayne meandered on, "that her brother thinks
very highly of this young man. It seems that his business abilities are
quite remarkable, and they fancy he looks like Henry--the eldest of the
boys who died. It's extraordinary how his voice reminds me of some
one--don't know who. It might be--But then again--"
"His voice is like a thousand other voices," she thought it well to say,
"just as he looks like a thousand other men. He's one of those rather
tall, rather good-looking, rather well-dressed youngish men--not really
young--of whom you'll pass twenty within a mile any day in Fifth Avenue,
and who are as thick as soldiers on a battle-field at the lower end of
* * * * *
With the data Wayne had given her she worked out the main lines of the
story during the night; but it was not until she had done so that its full
significance appeared to her. Having grasped that, she could scarcely wait
for daylight in order to go to Evie, and yet when morning came she
abandoned that course as impolitic. Reflection showed her that her
struggle must be less with Evie than with Ford, while she judged that he
himself would lose no time in putting the battle in array. He must see as
plainly as she did that she stood like an army across his path, and that
he must either retreat before her or show fight. She believed he would do
the latter and do it soon. She thought it probable that he would appear
that very day, and that her wisest plan was to await his opening attack.
The necessity, so unexpectedly laid upon her, of defending the right
deflected her mind from dwelling too bitterly on her own disillusioning.
The morning having passed without a sign from him, she made her
arrangements for having the afternoon undisturbed sending Wayne to drive,
and ordering the servants to admit no one but Mr. Strange, should he
chance to call. Having intrenched herself behind the fortification of the
tea-table, she waited. In spite of her preoccupation, or rather because of
it, she purposely read a book, forcing herself to fix her attention on its
pages in order to have her mind free from preconceived notions as to how
she must act and what she must say. Her single concession to herself was
to put on a new and becoming house dress, whose rich tones of brown and
amber harmonized with her ivory coloring and emphasized the clear-cut
distinction of her features. Before taking up her position she surveyed
herself with the mournful approval which the warrior about to fall may
give to the perfection of his equipment.
It was half-past four when the servant showed him in. His formal attire
seemed to her, as he crossed the room, oddly civilized and correct after
her recollections of him. Notwithstanding her dread of the opening
minutes, the meeting passed off according to the fixed procedure of the
drawing-room. It was a relief to both to find that the acts of shaking
hands and sitting down had been accomplished with matter-of-course
formality. With the familiar support of afternoon-call conventions
difficult topics could be treated at greater ease.
"I'm very glad to find you at home," he began, feeling it to be a safe
opening. "I was almost afraid--"
"I stayed in on purpose," she said, frankly. "I thought you might come."
"I wasn't sure whether or not you knew me last night--"
"I didn't at first. I really hadn't noticed you, though I remembered
afterward that you were standing with Mrs. Endsleigh Jarrott when Mr.
Wayne and I came into the room. I wonder now if you recognized me?"
"Oh, rather! I knew you were going to be there. I've been in New York a
"Then you might have come to see me sooner."
"Well, you see--"
He paused and colored, trying to cover up his embarrassment with a smile.
She allowed her eyes to express interrogation not knowing that her frank
gaze disconcerted him. She herself went back so eagerly to the days when
he was the fugitive, Norrie Ford, and she the nameless girl who was
helping him, that she could not divine his humiliation at being obliged to
drop his mask. Since becoming engaged to Evie Colfax and returning to New
York, he perceived more clearly than ever before that his true part in the
world was that of the respectable, successful man of business which he
played so skilfully. It cost him an effort she could have no reason to
suspect to be face to face with the one person in the world who knew him
as something else.
"You see," he began again, "I had to consider a good many
things--naturally. It wouldn't have done to give any one an idea that we
had met before."
"No, of course not. But last night you might have--"
"Last night I had to follow the same tactics. I can't afford to run risks.
It's rather painful, it's even a bit humiliating--"
"I can imagine that, especially here in New York. In out-of-the-way places
it must be different. There it doesn't matter. But to be among the very
"You think that there it does matter. I had to consider that. I had to
make it plain to myself that there was nothing dishonorable in imposing on
people who had forced me into a false position. I don't say it's
"Oh, I know it can't be pleasant. I only wondered a little, as I saw you
last night, why you let yourself be placed in a position that made it
"I should have wondered at that myself a year ago. I certainly never had
any intention of doing it. It's almost as much a surprise to me to be here
as it is to you to see me. I suppose you thought I would never turn up
"No, I didn't think that. On the contrary, I thought you _would_ turn
up--only not just here."
It struck him that she was emphasizing that point for a purpose--to bring
him to another point still. He took a few seconds to reflect before
deciding that he would follow her lead without further hanging back.
"I shouldn't have returned to New York if I hadn't become engaged to Miss
Colfax. You know about that, don't you? I think she meant to tell you."
She inclined her head assentingly, without words. He noticed her dark eyes
resting on him with a kind of pity. He had cherished a faint hope--the
very faintest--that she might welcome what he had just said
sympathetically. In the few minutes during which she remained silent that
"I suppose," she said, gently, "that you became engaged to Evie before
knowing who she was?"
"I fell in love with her before knowing who she was. I'm afraid that when
I actually asked her to marry me I had heard all there was to learn."
"Then why did you do it?"
He shrugged his shoulders with a movement acquired by long residence
among Latins. His smile conveyed the impossibility of explaining himself
in a sentence.
"I'll tell you all about it, if you'd like to hear."
"I should like it very much. Remember, I know nothing of what happened
He noticed a shade of confusion in her manner, and hastened to begin his
Somewhat to her surprise, he sketched his facts in lightly, but dwelt
strongly on the mental and moral necessities his situation forced on him.
He related with some detail the formation of his creed of conduct in the
dawn on Lake Champlain, and showed her that according to its tenets he was
permitted a kind of action that in other men might be reprehensible. He
came to the story of Evie last of all, and allowed her to see how
dominating a part Fate, or Predestination had played in evolving it.
"So you see," he ended, "it was too late then to do anything--but to
"Or withdraw," she added, softly.
He stared at her a moment, his body bent slightly forward his elbows
resting on the arms of his chair. As a matter of fact, he was thinking
less of her words than of her beauty--so much nobler in type than he
"Yes," he returned, quietly, "I can see that it would strike you in that
way. So it did me--at first. But I had to look at the subject all round--"
"I don't need to do that."
He stared at her again. There was a decision in her words which he found
hard to reconcile with the pity in her eyes and the gentle softness of her
"You mean that you don't want to take my--necessities--into
"I mean that when I see the one thing right to do, I don't have to look
"The one thing right to do--for you?--or for me?"
"There's no reason why I should intervene at all. I look to you to save me
from the necessity."
He hesitated a minute before deciding whether to hedge or to meet her
"By giving up Evie and--clearing out," he said, with a perceptible hint of
"I shouldn't lay stress on your--clearing out."
"But you would on my giving up Evie?"
"Don't you see," she began, in an explanatory tone, "I, in my own person,
have nothing to do with it? It isn't for me to say this should be done or
that. You can't imagine how hard it is for me to say anything at all; and
if I speak, it isn't as myself--it's as the voice of a situation. You must
understand as well as I do what that situation imposes."
"But I don't intend that a situation shall impose anything--on me. I mean
to act as master--"
"But I'm neither so independent nor so strong--nor is Evie. You don't
"I don't have to consider any one. When I make Evie happy I do all that
can be asked of me."
"No, you would be called on to _keep_ her happy. And she couldn't remain
happy if she were married to you. It isn't possible. She couldn't live
with you any more than--than a humming-bird could live with a hawk."
They both smiled, rather nervously.
"But I'm not a hawk," he insisted. "I'm much more a humming-bird than you
imagine. You think me some sort of creature of prey because you
believe--that I did--what I was accused of--"
The circumstances seemed so far off from him now, so incongruous with what
he had become, that he reverted to them with difficulty.
"I don't attach any importance to that," she said, with a tranquillity
that startled him. "I suppose I ought to, but I never have. If you killed
your uncle, it seems to me--very natural. He provoked you. He deserved it.
My father would have done it certainly."
"But I didn't, you see. That puts another color on the case."
"It doesn't for me. And it doesn't, as it affects Evie. Whether you're
innocent or guilty--and I don't say I think you to be guilty--I've never
thought much about it--but whether you're guilty or not, your life is the
kind of tragedy Evie couldn't share. It would kill her."
"It wouldn't kill her, if she didn't know anything about it."
"But she would know. You can't keep that sort of thing from a wife. She
wouldn't be married to you a year before she had discovered that you
"An escaped convict. Why not say it?"
"I wasn't going to say it. But at least she would know that you were a man
who was pretending to be--something that he wasn't."
"You mean an impostor. Well, I've already explained to you that I'm an
impostor only because Society itself has made me one, I'm not to blame--"
"I quite see the force of that. But Evie wouldn't. Don't you understand?
That's my point. She would only see the horror of it, and she would be
overwhelmed. It wouldn't matter to her that you could bring forward
arguments in your own defence. She wouldn't be capable of understanding
them. You must see for yourself that mentally--and spiritually--just as
bodily--she's as fragile as a butterfly. She couldn't withstand a storm.
She'd be crushed by it."
"I don't think you do her justice. If she were to discover--I mean, if the
worst were to come to the worst--well, you can see how it's been with
yourself. You've known from the beginning all there is to know--and yet--"
She meant the brief statement to divert his attention from himself, but
she perceived that it aroused a flash of self-consciousness in both. While
she could hear herself saying inwardly, "I'd rather go on waiting for
him--uselessly," he was listening to a silvery voice, as it lisped the
words, "Dear mamma used to think she was in love with some one; we didn't
know anything about it." Each reverted to the memory of the lakeside scene
in which he had said, "My life will belong to you ... a thing for you to
dispose of ..." and each was afraid that the other was doing so.
All at once she saw herself as she fancied he must see her--a woman
claiming the fulfilment of an old promise, the payment of a long-standing
debt. He must think she was making Evie a pretext in her fight for her own
hand. His vow--if it was a vow--had been the germ of so much romance in
her mind that she ascribed it to a place in the foreground of his. In all
she was saying he would understand a demand on her part that he should
make it good. Very well, then; if he could do her such injustice, he must
do it. She could not permit the fear of it to inspire her with moral
cowardice or deter her from doing what was right.
Nevertheless, it helped her to control her agitation to rise and ring for
tea. She felt the need of some commonplace action to assure herself and
him that now, at last, she was outside the realm of the romantic. He rose
as she did, to forestall her at the bell; and as the servant entered with
the tray, they moved together into the embrasure of the wide bay-window.
Down below the autumn colors were fading, while leaves, golden-yellow or
blood-red, were being swirled along the ground.
"I had to do things out there"--his nod was meant to indicate the
direction of South America--"in a somewhat high-handed manner, and I've
acquired the habit of it. If I'd stuck at difficulties I shouldn't have
She looked at him inquiringly, as though to ask the purport of the
"You must see that I'm obliged to put this thing through--on Evie's
account as much as mine. After getting her to care for me, I can't desert
her now, whatever happens."
"She wouldn't suffer--after a while. She'd get over it. You might not, but
"She shall not get over it, if I can help it. How can you ask me to let
"Only on the ground that you love her well enough."
"Would you call that love?"
"In view of all the circumstances, it would be my idea of it."
"Then it wouldn't be mine. The only love I understand is the love that
fights for its object, in the face of all opposition."
She looked at him a minute with what she tried to make a smile, but which
became no more than a quivering of the lip and lashes.
"I hope you won't fight," she said, in a tone of appeal, "because it would
have to be with me. If anything could break my heart, that would."
She knew how near to self-betrayal she had gone, but in her eagerness she
was reckless of the danger.
"How do you know it wouldn't break mine too?" he asked, with a scrutiny
that searched her eyes. "But there are times in life when men have just to
fight--and let their hearts be broken. In becoming responsible for Evie's
happiness I've given a pledge from which I can't withdraw--"
"But that's where you don't understand her--"
"Possibly; but it's where I understand myself."
"Tea is served, miss," the maid said, coming forward to where they talked
in undertones. At the same minute there was a shuffling at the door and
Wayne entered from his drive. Ford would have gone forward to help him,
but she put out her hand and stopped him.
"He likes to find his way himself," she whispered.
"They tell me there's tea in here," Wayne said, cheerily, from the
"There's more than tea," Miriam replied in as bright a tone as she could
assume. "There's Mr. Strange, whom you met last night."
"Ah, that's good." Wayne groped his way toward the voices. "How do you do!
Glad to see you. It's windy out-of-doors. One feels the winter beginning
Ford took the extended hand, and, without seeming to do so, adroitly
piloted the blind man to a seat as they moved, all three, to the
For the next ten minutes their talk turned on the common topics of the
day. As during her conversation with Conquest a few weeks before, Miriam
found again that the routine of duties of acting as hostess steadied her
nerves. With Ford aiding her in the little ways to which he had become
accustomed since his engagement to Evie, hostility was absent from their
mutual relation, even though opposition remained. That at least was a
comfort to her; and now and then, as she handed him the bread and butter
or a plate of cakes to pass to Wayne, their eyes could meet in a glance of
Wayne was still enjoying his tea when Ford turned to him with an abrupt
change of tone.
"I'm glad you came in, sir, while I was still here, because there's
something I particularly want to tell you."
He did not look at Miriam, but he could feel the way in which she sat
upright and aghast. Wayne turned his sightless eyes, hidden by large
colored glasses, toward the speaker, and nodded.
"Yes?" he said, interrogatively.
"I would have told you before, only that Miss Jarrott and Miss Colfax
thought I had better wait till every one got settled. In any case, Mr.
Jarrott made it a condition before I left Buenos Aires that it shouldn't
go outside the family till Miss Colfax had had her social winter in New
Wayne's face grew grave, but not unsympathetic.
"I suppose I know what's coming," he said, quietly.
"It's the sort of thing that was bound to come sooner or later with Miss
Colfax," Ford smiled, speaking with an air of assurance. "What makes me
uneasy is that I should be the man to come and tell the news. If it was
any one you knew better--"
"You've probably heard that I'm not Evie's guardian," Wayne interposed.
"I've no control at all over what she does."
"I understand that; but to me there's an authority above the legal one--or
at least on a level with it--and I should be unhappy--we should both be
unhappy--if we didn't have your consent."
Wayne looked pleased. He was so rarely consulted in the affairs of the
family, especially since his affliction had forced him aside, that this
deference was a clew to the young man's character. Nevertheless, he
allowed some seconds to pass in silence, while Ford threw at Miriam a
glance of defiance, in which there was also an expression of audacious
friendliness. She sat rigid and pale, her hands clinching the arms of her
"It's a serious matter--of course," Wayne said, after becoming hesitation;
"but I've great confidence in Henry Jarrott. Next to Evie herself, he's
the person most concerned--in a certain way. I'm told he thinks well of
"He ought to know," Ford broke in, confidently. "I've nothing to show in
the way of passports, except myself and my work. I've been with him ever
since I went to South America, and he's been extremely kind to me. The
only certificate of character I can offer is one from him."
"That's sufficient. We should be sorry to let Evie go, shouldn't we,
Miriam? She's a sweet child, and very much like her dear mother. But, as
you say, it was bound to happen one day or another; and we can only be
glad that--I'm happy to congratulate you, Mr. Strange. Your name, at any
rate, is a familiar one. It's that of an old boyhood's friend of mine, who
showed me the honor of placing this young lady in my charge. We called
him Harry. His full name was Herbert Harrington, but he dropped the first.
You seem to have taken it up--it's odd, isn't it, Miriam?--and I take it
as a happy omen."
"Thank you." Ford rose, and made the blind man understand that he was
holding out his hand, "I shall be more satisfied now for having told you."
Miriam accompanied him into the hall, on pretext of ringing for the lift.
"Oh, why did you do that?" she protested. "Don't you see that it only
makes things more complicated than they were already?"
"It's my first move," he laughed, with friendly bravado. "Now you can make
She gazed at him in puzzled distress as the lift rose.
"I'm coming again," he said, with renewed confidence. "I've a lot more
things to say."
"And I have only one," she answered, turning back toward the drawing-room.
"He's a nice young fellow," Wayne said, as he heard her enter. He had
risen and felt his way into the bay-window, where he stood looking outward
as if he could see. "I suppose it must be all right, since the Jarrotts
are so enthusiastic Poor little Evie! I hope she'll be happy. It's
extraordinary how his voice reminds me of--"
She stood still in the middle of the room, waiting for him to continue.
Nothing he could add would have surprised her now. But he said no more.
Thinking that Ford might come again next afternoon, Miriam went out. On
her return she found his card--_Mr. Herbert Strange._ The same thing
occurred the next day, and the next, and so on through the week. She was
not afraid of seeing him. Now that the worst was known to her, she was
sure of her mastery of herself, and of her capacity to meet anything. What
she feared most was her sympathy for him, and the possibility that in some
unguarded moment of pity he might wring concessions from her which she had
no right to make. She hoped, too, that time, even a few days' time, would
help him to work out the honorable course for himself.
Her meetings with Evie were more inevitable, and required greater
self-repression. She was so used to the part of elder sister, with whom
all confidences are discussed, that she found it difficult not to speak
her heart out frankly.
"I heard he had been to see you and Popsey Wayne, and told you," Evie
said, with her pretty nose just peeping above the bedclothes, at midday,
on a morning later in the week. It was the day after Evie's first large
dance, and she had been sleeping late. Miriam sat on the edge of the bed,
smoothing stray golden tendrils off the flushed, happy little face.
"He did come," Miriam admitted. "Mr. Wayne made no objections. I can't
say he was glad. You wouldn't expect us to be that, dear, would you?"
"I expect you to like him. It isn't committing you to much to say that.
But you seem so--so every which way about him."
"I'm not every which way about him. I can't say that I'm any way at all.
Yes, I do like him--after a fashion. If I make reserves, it's because I'm
not sure that I think him good enough for my little Evie."
"He's a great deal too good!" Evie exclaimed, rapturously. "Oh, Miriam, if
you only knew how fond I am of him! I'd die for him--I truly believe I
would--almost! Oh, it was so stupid last night without him! All these boys
seem such pigeons beside him. I'm sorry now we're not going to announce
the engagement at once. I certainly sha'n't change my mind--and it would
be such fun to be able to say I was engaged before coming out."
"Twice before coming out."
"Oh, well, I only count it once, do you see? Billy's such a goose. You
should have seen him last night when I forgot two of my dances with
him--on purpose. He's really getting to dislike me; so that I shall soon
be able to--to show him."
"I wouldn't be in a hurry about that, dear. There's lots of time. As you
said the other day, it's no use hurting his feelings--"
Evie sat up suddenly in bed, and looked suspicious.
"So you're taking that stand. Now I know you don't like him. You've got
something against him, though I can't for the life of me imagine what it
can be, when you never laid eyes on him till a few days ago. Well, I'm not
going to change, do you see? You may as well make up your mind to that at
once. And it will be Billy or no Billy."
Nearer than that Miriam could not approach the subject through fear of
doing more harm than good. At the end of a week Ford found her at home,
chiefly because she felt it time he should. She secured again the
afternoon-call atmosphere; but she noticed that he carried a small
packet--a large, brownish-yellow envelope, strapped with rubber
bands--which he kept in his hand. She was struck by the greater ease of
his entry, and by the renewal of that sense of comradeship which had
marked his bearing toward her in the old days in the cabin. The small
comedy of introductory commonplace went off smoothly.
"Well?" he said then, with a little challenging laugh.
"I've been waiting for your move. You haven't made it."
She shook her head. "I've no move to make."
"Oh yes, you have--a great big move. You can easily say, Check. I doubt if
you can make it, Checkmate."
"I'm afraid that's a game I don't know how to play."
He stared at her inquiringly--noting the disdain with which her chin
tilted and her lip curled, though he could see it was a disdain suffused
"Do you mean that you wouldn't--wouldn't give me away?"
"I mean that you're either broaching a topic I don't understand or
speaking a language I've never learned. If you don't mind, we won't
discuss the subject, and we'll speak our mother-tongue--the mother-tongue
of people like you and me."
He stared again. It took him some few seconds to understand her
phraseology. In proportion as her meaning broke upon him, his face glowed.
When he spoke it was with enthusiasm for her generosity in taking this
stand rather than in gratitude for anything he was to gain by it.
"By Jove, you're a brick! You always were. I might have expected that this
is exactly what you'd say."
"I hope so. I didn't expect that you'd talk of my giving you away, as you
call it--to any one."
"But you're wrong," he said, with a return to the laughing bravado which
concealed his inward repugnance to his position. "You're wrong. I'll give
you that tip now. I'll fight fair. I sha'n't be grateful. I'll profit by
your magnanimity. Remember it's my part in the world to be unscrupulous.
It has to be. I've told you so. With me the end justifies the
means--always; and when the end is to keep my word to Evie, it will make
no difference to me that you were too high-minded to put the big obstacle
in my way."
"You'll not expect me to be otherwise than sorry for that--for your sake."
"No, I dare say. But I can't stop to think of what any one feels for my
sake when I know what I feel for my own."
"Which is only an additional reason for my being--sorry. You don't find
fault with me for that?"
"I do. I don't want you to be sorry. I want to convince you. I want you to
see things from my point of view--how I've been placed. Good Lord! it's
hard enough, without the sense that you're sitting in judgment on me."
"I'm not sitting in judgment on you--except in so far as concerns Evie
Colfax. If it was anybody else--"
"But it couldn't be anybody else It's Evie or no one. She's everything on
earth to me. She's to me what electricity is to the wire--that which makes
it a thing alive."
"To be a thing alive isn't necessarily the highest thing."
"Ah, but that doesn't apply to me. It's all very well for other men to
say, 'All is lost to save honor.' They have compensations. I haven't. You
might as well ask a man to think of the highest thing when he's drowning."
"But I should. There have been men who haven't--and they've saved their
lives by it. But you know what we've called them."
"In my case there'd be only you to call me that--if you wanted to."
"Oh no; there'd be--you."
"I can stand that. I've stood it for eight years already. If you think I
haven't had times when it's been hell, you're quite mistaken. I wonder if
you can guess what it means to me--in here"--he tapped his breast--"to go
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