by George Gibbs
Chapter I. Hermia II. The Gorilla III. The Ineffectual Aunt IV. Marooned V. Bread and Salt VI. The Rescue VII. "Wake Robin" VIII. Olga Tcherny IX. Out of His Depth X. The Fugitive XI. The Gates of Chance XII. The Fairy Godmother XIII. Vagabondia XIV. The Fabiani Family XV. Danger XVI. Manet Cicatrix XVII. Pre Gugou's Roses XVIII. A Philosopher in a Quandary XIX. Mountebanks XX. The Empty House XXI. Nemasis XXII. Great Pan is Dead XXIII. A Lady in the Dark XXIV. The Wings of the Butterfly XXV. Circe and the Fossil XXVI. Mrs. Berkeley Hammond Entertains XXVII. The Seats of the Mighty XXVIII. The Brass Bell XXIX. Duo
Titine glanced at the parted curtains and empty bed, then at the clock, and yawned. It was not yet eight o'clock. From the look of things, she was sure that Miss Challoner had arisen and departed for a morning ride before the breaking of the dawn. She peered out of the window and contracted her shoulders expressively. To ride in the cold morning air upon a violent horse when she had been out late! B—r! But then, Mademoiselle was a wonderful person—like no one since the beginning of the world. She made her own laws and Titine was reluctantly obliged to confess that she herself was delighted to obey them.
Another slight shrug of incomprehension—of absolution from such practices—and Titine moved to the linen cabinet and took out some fluffy things of lace and ribbon, then to a closet from which she brought a soft room-gown, a pair of silk stockings and some very small suede slippers.
She had hardly completed these preparations when there was the sound of a door hurriedly closed downstairs, a series of joyous yelps from a dog, a rush of feet on the stairs and the door of the room gave way before the precipitate entrance of a slight, almost boyish, female person, with blue eyes, the rosiest of cheeks and a mass of yellow hair, most of which had burst from its confines beneath her hat.
To the quiet Titine her mistress created an impression of bringing not only herself into the room, but also the violent horse and the whole of the out-of-doors besides.
"Down, Domino! Down, I say!" to the clamorous puppy. "Now—out with you!" And as he refused to obey she waved her crop threateningly and at a propitious moment banged the door upon his impertinent snub-nose.
"Quick, Titine, my bath and—why, what are you looking at?"
"Your hat, Mademoiselle," in alarm, "It is broken, and your face—"
"It's a perfectly good face. What's the matter with it?"
By this time Miss Challoner had reached the cheval glass. Her hat was smashed in at one side and several dark stains disfigured her cheek and temple.
"Oh, I'm a sight. He chucked me into some bushes, Titine—"
"That terrible horse—Mademoiselle!"
"The same—into some very sticky bushes—but he didn't get away. I got on without help, too. Lordy, but I did take it out of him! Oh, didn't I!"
Her eye lighted gaily as though in challenge at nothing at all as she removed her gloves and tossed her hat and crop on the bed and sprawled into a chair with a sigh, while Titine removed her boots and made tremulous and reproachful inquiries.
"Mademoiselle—will—will kill herself, I am sure."
Hermia Challoner laughed.
"Better die living—than be living dead. Besides, no one ever dies who doesn't care whether he dies or not. I shall die comfortably in bed at the age of eighty-three, I'm sure of it. Now, my bath. Vite, Titine! I have a hunger like that which never was before."
Miss Challoner undressed and entered her bathroom, where she splashed industriously for some minutes, emerging at last radiant and glowing with health and a delight in the mere joy of existence. While Titine brushed her hair, the girl sat before her dressing-table putting lotion on her injured cheeks and temple. Her hair arranged, she sent the maid for her breakfast tray while she finished her toilet in leisurely fashion and went into her morning room. The suede slippers contributed their three inches to her stature, the long lines of the flowing robe added their dignity, and the strands of her hair, each woven carefully into its appointed place, completed the transformation from the touseled, hoydenish boy-girl of half an hour before into the luxurious and somewhat bored young lady of fashion.
But she sank into the chair before her breakfast tray and ate with an appetite which took something form this illusion, while Titine brought her letters and a long box of flowers which were unwrapped and placed in a floor-vase of silver and glass in an embrasure of the window. The envelope which accompanied the flowers Titine handed to her mistress, who opened it carelessly between mouthfuls and finally added it to the accumulated litter of fashionable stationery. Hermia eyed her Dresden chocolate-pot uncheerfully. This breakfast gift had reached her with an ominous regularity on Mondays and Thursdays for a month, and the time had come when something must be done about it. But she did not permit unpleasant thoughts, if unpleasant they really were, to distract her from the casual delights of retrospection and the pleasures of her repast, which she finished with a thoroughness that spoke more eloquently of the wholesomeness of her appetite even than the real excellence of the cooking. Upon Titine, who brought her the cigarettes and a brazier, she created the impression—as she always did indoors—of a child, greatly overgrown, parading herself with mocking ostentation in the garments of maturity. The cigarette, too, was a part of this parade, and she smoked it daintily, though without apparent enjoyment.
Her meal finished, she was ready to receive feminine visitors. She seldom lacked company, for it is not the fate of a girl of Hermia Challoner's condition to be left long to her own devices. Her father's death, some years before, had fallen heavily upon her, but youth and health had borne her above even that sad event triumphant, and now at three and twenty, with a fortune which loomed large even in a day of large fortunes, she lived alone with a legion of servants in the great house, with no earthly ties but an ineffectual aunt and a Trust Company.
But she did not suffer for lack of advice as to the conduct of her life or of her affairs, and she always took it with the sad devotional air which its givers had learned meant that in the end she would do exactly as she chose. And so the Aunt and the Trust Company, like the scandalized Titine, ended inevitably in silent acquiescence.
Of her acquaintances much might be said, both good and bad. They represented almost every phase of society from the objects of her charities (which were many and often unreasoning) to the daughters of her father's friends who belonged in her own sphere of existence. And if one's character may be judged by that of one's friends, Hermia was of infinite variety. Perhaps the sportive were most often in her company, and it was against these that Mrs. Westfield ineffectually railed, but there was a warmth in her affection for Gertrude Brotherton, who liked quiet people as a rule (and made Hermia the exception to prove it), and an intellectual flavor in her attachment for Angela Reeves, who was interested in social problems, which more than compensated for Miss Challoner's intimacy with those of a gayer sort.
Her notes written, she dressed for the morning, then lay back in her chair with a sharp little sigh and pensively touched the scratches on her face, her expression falling suddenly into lines of discontent. It was a kind of reaction which frequently followed moments of intense activity and, realizing its significance, she yielded to it sulkily, her gaze on the face of the clock which was ticking off purposeless minutes with maddening precision. She glanced over her shoulder in relief as her maid appeared in the doorway.
"Will Mademoiselle see the Countess Tcherny and Mees Ashhurst?" Titine was a great believer in social distinctions.
"Olga! Yes, I was expecting her. Tell them to come right up."
The new arrivals entered the room gaily with the breezy assertiveness of persons who were assured of their welcome and very much at home. Hilda Ashhurst was tall, blonde, aquiline and noisy; the Countess, dainty, dark-eyed and svelte, with the flexible voice which spoke of familiarity with many tongues and rebuked the nasal greeting of her more florid companion. Hermia met them with a sigh. Only yesterday Mrs. Westfield had protested again about Hermia's growing intimacy with the Countess, who had quite innocently taken unto herself all of the fashionable vices of polite Europe.
Hilda Ashhurst watched Hermia's expression a moment and then laughed.
"Been catching it—haven't you? Poor Hermia! It's dreadful to be the one chick in a family of ugly ducklings—"
"Or the ugly duckling in a family of virtuous chicks—"
"Not ugly, chrie," laughed the Countess. "One is never ugly with a million francs a year. Such a fortune would beautify a satyr. It even makes your own prettiness unimportant."
"It is unimportant—"
"Partly because you make it so. You don't care. You don't think about it, voil tout."
"Why should I think about it? I can't change it."
"Oh, yes, you can. Even a homely woman who is clever can make herself beautiful, a beautiful woman—Dieu! There is nothing in the world that a clever, beautiful woman cannot be."
"I'm not clever or—"
"I shall not flatter you, cara mia. You are—er—quite handsome enough. If you cared for the artistic you could go through a salon like the Piper of Hamelin with a queue of gentlemen reaching back into the corridors of infinity. Instead of which you wear mannish clothes, do your hair in a Bath-bun, and permit men the privilege of equality. Oh, la, la! A man is no longer useful when one ceases to mystify him."
She strolled to the window, sniffed at Trevvy Morehouse's roses, helped herself to a cigarette and sat down.
Hermia was not inartistic and she resented the imputation. It was only that her art and Olga's differed by the breadth of an ocean.
"For me, when a man becomes mystified he ceases to be useful," laughed Hermia.
"Pouf! my dear," said the Countess with a wave of her cigarette. "I simply do not believe you. A man is never so useful as when he moves in the dark. Women were born to mystify. Some of us do it one way—some in another. If you wear mannish clothes and a Bath-bun, it is because they become you extraordinarily well and because they form a disguise more complete and mystifying than anything else you could assume."
"Exactly. You wish to create the impression that you are indifferent to men—that men, by the same token, are indifferent to you." The Countess Olga smiled. "Your disguise is complete, mon enfant—except for one thing— your femininity—which refuses to be extinguished. You do not hate men. If you did you would not go to so much trouble to look like them. One day you will love very badly—very madly. And then—" the Countess paused and raised her eyebrows and her hands expressively. "You're like me. It's simple enough," she continued. "You have everything you want, including men who amuse but do not inspire. Obviously, you will only be satisfied with something you can't get, my dear."
"Horrors! What a bird of ill-omen you are. And I shall love in vain?"
The Countess snuffed out her cigarette daintily upon the ash tray.
"Can one love in vain? Perhaps.
/* _"'Aimer pour tre aim, c'est de l'homme, Aimer pour aimer, c'est Presque de l'ange.'" */
"I'm afraid I'm not that kind of an angel."
Hilda Ashhurst laughed.
"Olga!" exclaimed Hermia with a glance of inquiry.
"Haven't you heard? She has thrown her young affections away upon that owl-like nondescript who has been doing her portrait."
"I can't believe it."
"It's true," said the Countess calmly. "I am quite mad about him. He has the mind of a philosopher, the soul of a child, the heart of a woman—"
"—the manners of a boor and the impudence of the devil," added Hilda spitefully.
Hermia laughed but the Countess Olga's narrowed eyes passed Hilda scornfully.
"Any one can have good manners. They're the hallmark of mediocrity. And as for impudence—that is the one sin a man may commit which a woman forgives."
"I can't," said Hilda.
The Countess Olga's right shoulder moved toward her ear the fraction of an inch.
"He's hateful, Hermia," continued Hilda quickly, "a gorilla of a man, with a lowering brow, untidy hair, and a blue chin—"
"He is adorable," insisted Olga.
"How very interesting!" laughed Hermia. "An adorable philosopher, with the impudence of the devil, and the blue chin of a gorilla! When did you meet this logical—the zoological paradox?"
"Oh, in Paris. I knew him only slightly, but he moved in a set whose edges touched mine—the talented people of mine. He had already made his way. He has been back in America only a year. We met early in the winter quite by chance. You know the rest. He has painted my portrait—a really great portrait. You shall see."
"Oh, it was this morning we were going, wasn't it? I'll be ready in a moment, dear."
"But Hilda shall be left in the shopping district, finished Olga.
"By all means," said Miss Ashhurst scornfully.
Of all her friends Olga Teherny was the one who amused and entertained Hermia the most. She was older than Hermia, much more experienced and to tell the truth quite as mad in her own way as Hermia was. There were times when even Hermia could not entirely approve of her, but she forgave her much because she was herself and because, no matter what depended upon it, she could not be different if she tried. Olga Egerton had been born in Russia, where her father had been called as a consulting engineer of the railway department of the Russian Government. Though American born, the girl had been educated according to the European fashion and at twenty had married and lost the young nobleman whose name she bore, and had buried him in his family crypt in Moscow with the simple fortitude of one who is well out of a bad bargain. But she had paid her toll to disillusion and the age of thirty found her a little more careless, a little more worldly-wise than was necessary, even in a cosmopolitan. Her comments spared neither friend nor foe and Hilda Ashhurst, whose mind grasped only the obvious facts of existence, came in for more than a share of the lady's invective.
Indeed, Markam, the painter, seemed this morning to be the only luminous spot on the Countess Olga's social horizon and by the time the car had reached lower Fifth Avenue she had related most of the known facts of his character and career including his struggle for recognition in Europe, his revolutionary attitude toward the Art of the Academies as well as toward modern society, and the consequent and self-sought isolation which deprived him of the intercourse of his fellows and seriously retarded his progress toward a success that his professional talents undoubtedly merited.
Hermia listened with an abstracted air. Artists she remembered were a race of beings quite apart from the rest of humanity and with the exception of a few money-seeking foreigners, one of whom had painted her portrait, and Teddy Vincent, a New Yorker socially prominent (who was unspeakable), her acquaintance with the cult had been limited and unfavorable. When, therefore, her car drew alongside the curb of the old-fashioned building to which Olga directed the chauffeur, Hermia was already prepared to dislike Mr. Markham cordially. She had not always cared for Olga's friends.
There was no elevator in the building before which they stopped, and the two women mounted the stairs, avoiding both the wall and the dusty baluster, contact with either of which promised to defile their white gloves, reaching, somewhat out of breath, a door with a Florentine knocker bearing the name "Markham."
Olga knocked. There was no response. She knocked again while Hermia waited, a question on her lips. There was a sound of heavy footsteps and the door was flung open wide and a big man with rumpled hair, a well-smeared painting-smock and wearing a huge pair of tortoise-shell goggles peered out into the dark hall-way, blurting out impatiently,
"I'm very busy. I don't need any models. Come another day—"
He was actually on the point of banging the door in their faces when the Countess interposed.
At the sound of her voice Markham paused, the huge palette and brushes suspended in the air.
"Oh," he murmured in some confusion. "It's you, Madame—"
"It is. Very cross and dusty after the climb up your filthy stairs—I suppose I ought to be used to this kind of welcome but I'm not, somehow. Besides, I'm bringing a visitor, and had hoped to find you in a pleasanter mood."
He showed his white teeth as he laughed.
"Oh, Lord! Pleasant!" And then as an afterthought, very frankly, "I don't suppose I am very pleasant!" He stood aside bowing as Hermia emerged from the shadows and Olga Tcherny presented him. It was a stiff bow, rather awkward and impatient and revealed quite plainly his disappointment at her presence, but Hermia followed Olga into the room with a slight inclination of her head, conscious that in the moment that his eyes passed over her they made a brief note which classified her among the unnecessary nuisances to which busy geniuses must be subjected.
Olga Tcherny, who had now taken full possession of the studio, fell into its easiest chair and looked up at the painter with her caressing smile.
"You've been working. You've got the fog of it on you. Are we de trop?"
"Er—no. It's in rather a mess here, that's all. I was working, but I'm quite willing to stop."
"I'm afraid you've no further wish for me now that I'm no longer useful," she sighed. "You're not going to discard me so easily. Besides, we're not going to stay long—only a minute. I was hoping Miss Challoner could see the portrait."
He glanced at Hermia almost resentfully, and fidgeted with his brushes.
"Yes—of course. It's the least I can do—isn't it? The portrait isn't finished. It's dried in, too—but—"
He laid his palette slowly down and wiped his brushes carefully on a piece of cheese-cloth, put a canvas in a frame upon the easel and shoved it forward into a better light.
Hermia followed his movements curiously, sure that he was the most inhospitable human being upon whom two pretty women had ever condescended to call, and stood uncomfortably, realizing that he has not even offered her a chair. But when the portrait was turned toward the light, she forgot everything but the canvas before her.
It was not the Olga Tcherny that people knew best—the gay, satirical mondaine, who exacted from a world which had denied her happiness her pound of flesh and called it pleasure. The Olga Tcherny which looked at Hermia from the canvas was the one that Hermia had glimpsed in the brief moments between bitterness and frivolity, a woman with a soul which in spite of her still dreamed of the things it had been denied.
It was a startling portrait, bold almost to the point of brutality, and even Hermia recognized its individuality, wondering at the capacity for analysis which had made the painter's delineation of character so remarkable, and his brush so unerring. She stole another—a more curious—glance at him. The hideous goggles and the rumpled hair could not disguise the strong lines of his face which she saw in profile—the heavy brows, the straight nose, the thin, rather sensitive lips and the strong, cleanly cut chin. Properly dressed and valeted this queer creature might have been made presentable. But his manners! No valeting or grooming could ever make such a man a gentleman.
If he was aware of her scrutiny he gave no sign of it and leaned forward intently, his gaze on the portrait—alone, to all appearances, with the fires of his genius. Hermia's eyes followed his, the superficial and rather frivolous comment which had been on her lips stilled for the moment by the dignity of his mental attitude, into which it seemed Olga Tcherny had also unconsciously fallen. But the silence irritated Hermia—the wrapt, absorbed attitudes of the man and the woman and the air of sacro-sanctity which pervaded the place. It was like a ceremonial in which this queer animal was being deified. She, at least, couldn't deify him.
"It's like you Olga, of course," she said flippantly, "but it's not at all pretty."
The words fell sharply and Markham and the Countess turned toward the Philistine who stood with her head cocked on one side, her arms a-kimbo. Markham's eyes peered forward somberly for a moment and he spoke with slow gravity.
"I don't paint 'pretty' portraits," he said.
"Mr. Markham means, Hermia, that he doesn't believe in artistic lies," said Olga smoothly.
"And I contend," Hermia went on undaunted, "that it's an artistic lie not to paint you as pretty as you are."
"Perhaps Mr. Markham doesn't think me as pretty as you do—"
Markham bowed his head as though to absolve himself from the guilt suggested.
"I try not to think in terms of prettiness," he explained slowly. "Had you been merely pretty I don't think I should have attempted—"
"But isn't the mission of Art to beautify—to adorn—?" broke in Hermia, mercilessly bromidic.
Markham turned and looked at her as though he had suddenly discovered the presence of an insect which needed extermination.
"My dear young lady, the mission of Art is to tell the truth," he growled. "When I find it impossible to do that, I shall take up another trade."
"Oh," said Hermia, enjoying herself immensely. "I didn't mean to discourage you."
"I don't really think that you have," put in Markham.
Olga Tcherny laughed from her chair in a bored amusement.
"Hermia, dear," she said dryly, "I hardly brought you here to deflect the orbit of genius. Poor Mr. Markham! I shudder to think of his disastrous career if it depended upon your approval."
Hermia opened her moth to speak, paused and then glanced at Markham. His thoughts were turned inward again and excluded her completely. Indeed it was difficult to believe that he remembered what she had been talking about. In addition to being unpardonably rude, he now simply ignored her. His manner enraged her. "Perhaps my opinion doesn't matter to Mr. Markham," she probed with icy distinctness. "Nevertheless, I represent the public which judges pictures and buys them. Which orders portraits and pays for them. It's my opinion that counts—my money upon which the fashionable portrait painter must depend for his success. He must please me or people like me and the way to please most easily is to paint me as I ought to be rather than as I am."
Markham slowly turned so that he faced her and eyed her with a puzzled expression as he caught the meaning of her remarks, more personal and arrogant than his brief acquaintance with her seemed in any way to warrant.
"I'm not a fashionable portrait painter, thank God." he said with some warmth. "Fortunately I'm not obliged to depend upon the whims or upon the money of the people whose judgment you consider so important to an artistic success. I have no interest in the people who compose fashionable society, not in their money nor their aims, ideals or the lack of them. I paint what interests me—and shall continue to do so."
He shrugged his shoulders and laughed toward Olga. "What's the use, Madame? In a moment I shall be telling Miss—er—"
"Challoner," said Hermia.
"I shall be telling Miss Challoner what I think of New York society—and of the people who compose it. That would be unfortunate."
"Well, rather," said Olga wearily. "Don't, I beg. Life's too short. Must you break our pretty faded butterfly on the wheel?"
He shrugged his shoulders and turned aside.
"Not if it jars upon your sensibilities. I have no quarrel with your society. One only quarrels with an enemy or with a friend. To me society is neither." He smiled at Hermia amusedly. "Society may have its opinion of my utility and may express it freely—unchallenged."
"I don't challenge your utility," replied Hermia tartly. "I merely question your point of view. You do not see couleur de rose, Mr. Markham?"
"No. Life is not that color."
"Oh, la la!" from Olga. "Life is any color one wishes, and sometimes the color one does not wish. Very pale at times, gray, yellow and at times red—oh, so red! The soul is the chameleon which absorbs and reflects it. Today," she signed, "my chameleon has taken a vacation." She rose abruptly and threw out her arms with a dramatic gesture.
"Oh, you two infants—with your wise talk of life—you have already depressed me to the point of dissolution. I've no patience with you—with either of you. You've spoiled my morning, and I'll not stay here another minute." She reached for her trinkets on the table and rattled them viciously. "It's too bad. With the best intentions in the world I bring two of my friends together and they fall instantly into verbal fisticuffs. Hermia, you deserve no better fate than to be locked in here with this bear of a man until you both learn civility."
But Hermia had already preceded the Countess to the door, whither Markham followed them.
"I should be charmed," said Markham.
"To learn civility?" asked Hermia acidly.
"I might even learn that—"
"It is inconceivable," put in the Countess. "You know, Markham, I don't mind your being bearish with me. In fact, I've taken it as the greatest of compliments. I thought that humor of yours was my special prerogative of friendship. But now alas! When I see how uncivil you can be to others I have a sense of lost caste. And you—instead of being amusingly whimsical and entt—are in danger of becoming merely bourgeois. I warn you now that if you plan to be uncivil to everybody—I shall give you up."
Markham and Hermia laughed. They couldn't help it. She was too absurd.
"Oh, I hope you won't do that," pleaded Markham.
"I'm capable of unheard of cruelties to those who incur my displeasure. I may even bring Miss Challoner in to call again."
Markham, protesting, followed them to the door.
"Au revoir, Monsieur," said the Countess.
Markham bowed in the general direction of the shadow in the hallway into which Miss Challoner had vanished and then turned back and took up his palette and brushes.
THE INEFFECTUAL AUNT
The two women had hardly reached the limousine before the vials of Hermia's wrath were opened.
"What a dreadful person! Olga, how could you have stood him all the while he painted you?"
"We made out very nicely, thank you."
"Hilda was right. He is a gorilla. Do you know he never even offered me a chair?"
"I suppose he thought you'd have sense enough to sit down if you wanted to."
"O Olga, don't quibble. He's impossible."
The Countess shrugged.
"It's a matter of taste."
"Taste! One doesn't want to be affronted. Is he like this to every one?"
"No. That's just the point. He isn't. I think, Hermia, dear," and she laughed, "that he didn't like you."
"Me! Why not?"
"He doesn't like Bath-buns. He once told me so. Besides, I don't think he's altogether in sympathy with the things you typify."
"How does he know what I typify—when I don't know myself? I don't typify anything."
"Oh, yes, you do, to a man like Markham. From the eyrie where his soul is wont to sit, John Markham has a fine perspective on life—yours and mine. But I imagine that you make the more conspicuous silhouette. To him you represent 'the New York Idea'—only more so. Besides that you're a vellum edition of the Feminist Movement with suffrage expurgated. In other words, darling, to a lonely and somewhat morbid philosopher like Markham you're a horrible example of what may become of a female person of liberal views who has had the world suddenly laid in her lap; the spoiled child launched into the full possession of a fabulous fortune with no ambition more serious than to become the 'champeen lady-aviator of Madison Avenue—'"
"Olga! You're horrid," broke in Hermia.
"I know it. It's the reaction from a morning which began too cheerfully. I think I'll leave you now, if you'll drop me at the Blouse Shop—"
"But I thought we were going—"
"No. Not this morning. The mood has passed."
"Oh, very well," said Hermia.
The two pecked each other just below the eye after the manner of women and the Countess departed, while Hermia quizzically watched her graceful back until it had disappeared in the shadows of the store. The current that usually flowed between them was absent now, so Hermia let her go; for Olga Tcherny, when in this mood, wore an armor which Hermia, clever as she thought herself, had never been able to penetrate.
Hermia continued on her way uptown, aware that the change in the Countess Olga was due to intangible influences which she could not define but which she was sure had something to do with the odious person whose studio she had visited. Could it be that Olga really cared for this queer Markham of the goggled eyes, this absent-minded, self-centered creature, who rumpled his hair, smoked a pipe and growled his cheap philosophy? A pose, of course, aimed this morning at Hermia. He flattered her. She felt obliged for the line of demarcation he had so carefully drawn between his life and hers. As if she needed the challenge of his impudence to become aware of it! And yet I her heart she found herself denying that his impudence had irritated her less than his indifference. To tell the truth, Hermia did not like being ignored. It was the first time in fact, that any man had ignored her, and she did not enjoy the sensation. She shrugged her shoulders carelessly and glanced out of the window of her car—and to be ignored by such a personas this grubby painter—it was maddening! She thought of him as "grubby," whatever that meant, because she did not like him, but it was even more maddening for her to think of Olga Tcherny's portrait, which, in spite of her flippant remarks, she had been forced to admit revealed a knowledge of feminine psychology that had excited her amazement and admiration.
One deduction led to another. She found herself wondering what kind of a portrait this Markham would make of her, whether he would see, as he had seen in Olga—the things that lay below the surface—the dreams that came, the aspirations, half-formed, toward something different, the moments of revulsion at the emptiness of her life, which, in spite of the material benefits it possessed, was, after all, only material. Would he paint those—the shadows as well as the lights? Or would he see her as Marsac, the Frenchman, had seen her, the pretty, irresponsible child of fortune who lived only for others who were as gay as herself with no more serious purpose in life than to become, as Olga had said, "the champeen lady-aviator of Madison Avenue."
Hermia lunched alone—out of humor with all the world—and went upstairs with a volume of plays which had just come from the stationer. But she had hardly settled herself comfortably when Titine announced Mrs. Westfield.
It was the ineffectual Aunt.
"Oh, yes," with an air of resignation, "tell Mrs. Westfield to come up."
She pulled the hair over her temples to conceal the scars of her morning's accident and met Mrs. Westfield at the landing outside.
"Dear Aunt Harriet. So glad," she said, grimacing cheerfully to salve her conscience. "What have I been doing now?"
"What haven't you been doing, child?"
The good lady sank into a chair, the severe lines in her face more than usually acidulous, but Hermia only smiled sweetly, for Mrs. Westfield's forbidding aspect, as she well knew, concealed the most indulgent of dispositions.
"Playing polo with men, racing in your motor and getting yourself talked about in the papers! Really, Hermia, what will you be doing next?"
"Flying," said Hermia.
Mrs. Westfield hesitated between a gasp and a smile.
"I don't doubt it. You are quite capable of anything—only your wings will not be sent from Heaven—"
"No—from Paris. I'm going to have a Bleriot."
"Do you actually mean that you're going to—O Hermia! Not fly—!" The girl nodded.
"I—I'm afraid I am, Auntie. It's the sporting thing. You know I never could bear having Reggie Armistead do anything I couldn't. Every one will be doing it soon."
"I can't believe that you're in earnest."
"I am, awfully."
"But the danger! You must realize that!"
"I do—that's what attracts me." She got up and put her arms around Mrs. Westfield's neck. "O Auntie, dear, don't bother. I'm absolutely impossible anyway. I can't be happy doing the things that other girls do, and you might as well let me have my own way—"
"It's as simple as child's play. If you'd ever done it you'd wonder how people would ever be content to motor or ride—"
"You've been up—?"
"Last week at Garden City. I'm crazy about it."
"Yes, child, crazy—mad. I've done what I could to keep your amusements within the bounds of reason and without avail, but I wouldn't be doing my duty to your sainted mother if I didn't try to save you from yourself. I shall do something to prevent this—this madcap venture—I don't know what. I shall see Mr. Winthrop at the Trust Company. There must be some way—"
The pendants in the good lady's ears trembled in the light, and her hand groped for her handkerchief. "You can't, Hermia. I'll not permit it. I'll get out an injunction—or something. It was all very well when you were a child—but now—do you realize that you're a woman, a grown woman, with responsibilities to the community? It's time that you were married, settled down and took your proper place in New York. I had hoped that you would have matured and forgotten the childish pastimes of your girlhood but now—now—"
Mrs. Westfield, having found her handkerchief, wept into it, her emotions too deep for other expression, while Hermia, now really moved, sank at her feet upon the floor, her arms about her Aunt's shoulders, and tried to comfort her. "I'm not the slightest use in the world, Auntie, dear. I haven't a single homely virtue to recommend me. I'm only fit to ride and dance and motor and frivol. And whom should I marry? Surely not Reggie Armistead or Crosby Downs! Reggie and I have always fought like cats across a wire, and as for Crosby—I would as life marry the great Cham of Tartary. No, dear, I'm not ready for marriage yet. I simply couldn't. There, there, don't cry. You've done your duty. I'm not worth bothering about. I'm not going to do anything dreadful. And besides—you know if anything did happen to me, the money would go to Millicent and Theodore."
"I—I don't want anything to happen to you," said Mrs. Westfield, weeping anew.
"Nothing will—you know I'm not hankering to die—but I don't mind taking a sporting chance with a game like that."
"But what good can it possibly do?"
Hermia Challoner laughed a little bitterly. "My dear Auntie, my life has not been planned with reference to the ultimate possible good. I'm a renegade if you like, a hoyden with a shrewd sense of personal morality but with no other sense whatever. I was born under a mad moon with some wild humor in my blood from an earlier incarnation and I can't—I simply can't be conventional. I've tried doing as other—and nicer—girls do but it wearies me to the point of distraction. Their lives are so pale, so empty, so full of pretensions. They have always seemed so. When I used to romp like a boy my elders told me it was an unnatural way for little girls to play. But I kept on romping. If it hadn't been natural I shouldn't have romped. Perhaps Sybil Trenchard is natural—or Caroline Anstell. They're conventional girls—automatic parts of the social machinery, eating, sleeping, decking themselves for the daily round, mere things of sex, their whole life planned so that they may make a desirable marriage. Good Lord, Auntie! And whom will they marry? Fellows like Archie Westcott or Carol Gouverneur, fellows with notorious habits which marriage is not likely to mend. How could it? No one expects it to. The girls who marry men like that get what they bargain for—looks for money—money for looks—"
"But Trevelyan Morehouse!"
Hermia paused and examined the roses in the silver vase with a quizzical air.
"If I were not so rich, I should probably love Trevvy madly. But, you see, then Trevvy wouldn't love me. He couldn't afford to. He's ruining himself with roses as it is. And, curiously enough, I have a notion when I marry, to love—and be loved for myself alone. I'm not in love with Trevvy or any one else—or likely to be. The man I marry, Auntie, isn't doing what Trevvy and Crosby and Reggie Armistead are doing. He's different somehow—different from any man I've ever met."
"I don't know," she mused, with a smile. "Only he isn't like Trevvy Morehouse."
"But Mr. Morehouse is a very promising young man—"
"The person I marry won't be a promising young man. Promising young men continually remind me of my own deficiencies. Imagine domesticating a critic like that, marrying a mirror for one's foibles and being able to see nothing else. No, thanks."
"Whom will you marry then?" sighed Mrs. Westfield resignedly.
Hermia Challoner caught her by the arm. "Oh, I don't know—only he isn't the kind of man who'd send me roses. I think he's something between a pilgrim and a vagabond, a knight-errant from somewhere between Heaven and the true Bohemia, a despiser of shams and vanities, a man so much bigger than I am that he can make me what he is—in spite of himself."
"Hermia! A Bohemian! Such a person will hardly be found—"
"O Auntie, you don't understand. I'm not likely to find him. I'm not even looking for him, you know, and just now I don't want to marry anybody."
"I only hope when you do, Hermia, that you will commit no imprudence," said Mrs. Westfield severely.
Hermia turned quickly.
"Auntie, Captain Lundt of the Kaiser Wilhelm used to tell me that there were two ways of going into a fog," she said. "One was to go slow and use the siren. The other was to crowd on steam and go like h—."
"I'm sorry, Auntie, but that describes the situation exactly. I'm too wealthy to risk marrying prudently. I'd have to find a man who was a prudent as I was, which means that he'd be marrying me for my money—"
"That doesn't follow. You're pretty, attractive—"
"Oh, thanks. I know what I am. I'm an animated dollar mark, a financial abnormity, with just about as much chance of being loved for myself alone as a fox in November. When men used to propose to me I halted them, pressed their hands, bade them be happy and wept a tear or two for the thing that could not be. Now I fix them with a cold appraising eye and let them stammer through to the end. I've learned something. The possession of money may have its disadvantages, but it sharpens one's wits amazingly."
"I'm afraid it sharpens them too much, my dear," said Mrs. Westfield coldly. She looked around the room helplessly as if seeking in some mute object tangible evidence of her niece's sanity.
"Oh, well," she finished. "I shall hope and pray for a miracle to bring you to your senses." And then, "What have you planned for the spring?"
"I'm going to 'Wake-Robin; first. By next week my aerodrome will be finished. My machine is promised by the end of May. They're sending a perfectly reliable mechanician—"
"Reliable—in the air! Imagine it!"
"—and I'll be flying in a month."
The good lady rose and Hermia watched her with an expression in which relief and guilt were strangely mingled. Her conscience always smote her after one of her declarations of independence to her Aunt, whose mildness and ineptitude in the unequal struggle always left the girl with an unpleasant sense of having taken a mean advantage of a helpless adversary. To Hermia Mrs. Westfield's greatest effectiveness was when she was most ineffectual.
"There's nothing more for me to say, I suppose," said Mrs. Westfield.
"Nothing except that you approve," pleaded her niece wistfully.
"I'll never do that," icily. "I don't approve of you at all. Why should I mince matters? You're gradually alienating me, Hermia—cutting yourself off from the few blood relations you have on earth."
"From Millicent and Theodore? I thought that Milly fairly doted on me—"
Mrs. Westfield stammered helplessly.
"It's I—I who object. I don't like your friends. I don't think I would be doing my duty to their sainted father if—"
"Oh, I see," said Hermia thoughtfully. "You think I may pervert—contaminate them—"
"Not you—your friends—"
"I was hoping that you would all come to 'Wake-Robin' for June."
"I—I've made other plans," said Mrs. Westfield.
Hermia's jaw set and her face hardened. They were thoroughly antipathetic now.
"That, of course, will be as you please," she said coldly. "Since Thimble Cottage burned, I've tried to make you understand that you are to use my place as your own. If you don't want to come I'm sorry."
"It's not that I don't want to come, Hermia. I shall probably visit you as usual. Thimble Cottage will be rebuilt as soon as the plans are finished. Meanwhile, I've rented the island."
"And Milly and Theodore?"
"They're going abroad with their Aunt Julia."
"I think you are making a mistake in keeping us apart, Aunt Harriet."
"Why? You are finding new diversions and new friends."
"I must find new friends if my relations desert me." And then after a pause: "Who has rented Thimble Island?"
"An artist—who will occupy the bark cabin. My agents thought it as well to have some one there until the builders begin—a Mr. Markham—"
"Markham!" Hermia gasped.
"Do you know him?"
"Oh—er—enough to be sure that he is not the kind of person I shall care to cultivate."
And then as her Aunt wavered uncertainly. "Oh, of course I shall get along. I can't protest. It's your privilege to choose Milly's friends, even if you mean to exclude me. It's also my privilege to choose my friends and I shall do so. If this means that I am taboo at your houses, I shall respect your wishes but I hope you'll remember that you are all welcome at 'Wake-Robin' or here whenever you see fit to visit me."
Having delivered herself of this speech, Hermia paused, sure of her effect, and calmly awaited the usual recantation and reconciliation. But to her surprise Mrs. Westfield continued to move slowly toward the door, through which, after a formal word of farewell, she presently disappeared and was gone.
Hermia stared at the empty door and pondered—really on the verge of tears. The whole proceeding violated all precedents established for ineffectual aunts.
In the course of an early pilgrimage in search of an unfrequented spot where he might work out of doors undisturbed in June before going to Normandy, Markham had stumbled quite by accident on Thimble Island. There, to his delight, he had discovered the exact combination of rocks, foliage and barren he was looking for—the painter's landscape. The island was separated from the mainland by an arm of the sea, wide enough to keep at a safe distance the fashionable cottagers in the adjacent community.
Fire had destroyed the large frame cottage which the Westfields had occupied, but there was a small bark bungalow of two rooms and a kitchen that had been used, he learned, as quarters for extra guests, which would exactly suit his purposes. Somewhat doubtfully, he made inquiries upon the mainland and communicated with the agents of Mrs. Westfield in New York, with whom, to his delight, he managed to make the proper arrangements pending the rebuilding of the house.
He had established himself bag and baggage and at the end of two weeks a row of canvases along the wall of his room bore testimony to his diligence. To Markham they had been weeks of undiluted happiness. He was working out in his own way some theses of color which would in time prove to others that he knew Nature as well as he knew humanity; that the brutal truths people saw in his portraits were only brutal because they were true; and to prove to himself that somewhere in him, deeply hidden, was a vein of tenderness which now sought expression. Every day he was learning something. This morning for instance he had risen before daylight to try an effect in grays that he had missed two days before.
The day had just begun and Markham stood before his tripod facing to the westward painting madly, trying, in the few short moments that remained to him before sunrise, to put upon his canvas the evanescent tints of the dawn. He painted madly because the canvas was not yet covered and because he knew that within twenty minutes at the most the sun would rise behind him and the witching mystery of the half-light be gone. He stood upright painting at arm's length with a full brush and broad sweep of wrist and arm. Gobs of paint from the tubes melted into pearly-grays and purples in the middle of his palette to be quickly transposed and placed tone beside tone like a pale mosaic enriched and blended by the soft fingers of Time. His motive was simple—a rock, some trees, a stretch of sandy waste, backed by a rugged hill and a glimpse of sea, all bathed in mist; and his brush moved decisively, heavily at times, lightly, caressingly at others as the sketch grew to completion, while his dark eyes glowed behind their hideous goggles, and the firm lines at his mouth relaxed in a smile. For this moment at least he was tasting immortality—and it was good.
High above him in the air there moved a speck, growing larger with every moment, but he did not see it or hear the faint staccato sounds which proclaimed its identity. The speck moved toward the sea and then, making a wide turn over the beach, swept inland near the earth noiselessly, and deposited itself with a quivering groan which startled him, directly in the unfinished foreground of the painter, throwing its occupant in a huddled heap upon the ground.
It had been a lovely foreground of sand and stubble, iridescent with the dew, rich with the broken grays and violets of the reflected heavens. And now—
He dropped his palette and brushes and ran forward, suddenly alive to the serious nature of the interruption. Upon the grass, stretched prone, face downward, lay a figure in leather cap, blouse and leggings. But as his hand touched the leather shoulder, the aviator moved and then sat upright, facing him. At the same moment the sun, which had been hesitating for some moments on the brink of the horizon, came up with a rush and bathed the face of the small person before him in liquid gold. The leather cap had fallen backward and a mass of golden hair which now tumbled about the face proclaimed with startling definiteness the sex of Markham's unexpected guest.
"Sorry to bother you," said the guest weakly. "She missed fire and I had to 'plane' down."
"Are you hurt?" he asked.
"No, I think not," she replied, running her fingers over her leather jerkin to reassure herself as to the fact. "Just shaken up a little—that's all."
Markham stood up and watched her, his arms a-kimbo, a tangle at his brow. It was quite evident to Hermia Challoner that he hadn't the slightest recollection of her.
"What are you doing out at this time of day?" he asked. "Don't you know you might have drowned yourself? Where did you come from? Where are you going?" The tone of his voice was not unkind—it was even solicitous for her welfare, but it reminded her unpleasantly of his attitude toward her the last time they had met.
"That," she replied, getting rather unsteadily to her feet, "is a matter of no importance."
The effort in rising cost her trouble and as she moved toward the machine her face went white, and she would have fallen had not Markham caught her by the arm.
"Oh, I'm all right," she faltered. But he led her up the hill to the cabin where he put her on a couch and gave her some whisky and water.
"Here, drink this," he said gently. "It will do you good."
She glanced around the room at the piles of canvases against the wall, at the tin coffee pot on the wooden table, and then back at his unshorn face and shock of disorderly hair, the color rising slowly to her cheeks. But she obeyed him, and drank what remained in the glass without question, sinking back upon the pillow, her lips firmly compressed, her gaze upon the ceiling.
"I—I'm sorry to put you to so much trouble," she murmured.
"Oh, that's all right," he muttered. "You got a bad shock. But there are no bones broken. You'll be all right soon. Go to sleep if you can."
She tried to sit up, thought better of it and lay back again with eyes closed, while Markham moved on tiptoe around the room putting things to rights, all the while swearing silently. What in the name of all that was unpleasant did this philandering little idiot mean by trying to destroy herself on the front lawn of his holiday house? Surely the world was big enough, the air broad enough. He glanced at her for a moment, then crept over on tip-toe and peered at her secretively. He straightened and scratched his head, fumbling for his pipe, puzzled. She resembled somebody he knew or whom he had met. Where? When? He gave it up at last and strolled out of doors—lighted his pipe and sauntered down the hill toward the devilish thing of canvas and wire that had brought her here. He knew nothing of aroplanes, but even to his unskilled eye it was apparent that without repairs the thing would fly no more, for the canvas covering flapped suggestively in the wind. A broken wing! And the bird was in his cage. His situation—and hers—began to assume unpleasant definiteness. For three days at least, until his supply boat arrived, from the mainland, they would be prisoners here together. A pretty prospect!
He strolled to his belated canvas and stood for a while puffing at his pipe, his mind still pondering gloomily over his neglected foreground. then regretfully, tenderly, he undid the clips that fastened the canvas, unlooped the cords from his stone anchors, wiped his brushes, shut his paint-box and moved slowly up the hill toward the house, his mind protestingly adjusting itself to the situation. What was he to do with this surprising female until the boat arrived. Common decency demanded hospitality, and of course he must give it to her, his bed, his food, his time. That was the thing he begrudged her most—the long wonderful daylight hours in this chosen spot, the hourly calls of sea and sky in his painters' paradise. Silly little fool! If she had had to tumble why couldn't she have done it on the West shore where there were women, doctors and medicines?
He placed the canvas and easel against the corner of his house, knocked out his pipe on the heel of his boot and cautiously peered around the jamb of the door to find his unwelcome guest sitting on the edge of the bed smoking a cigarette. He straightened sheepishly, not knowing whether to grin or to scowl. Neither of them spoke for a moment.
"Feeling better?" he asked at last, for the silence embarrassed him.
"Oh, yes, thanks."
She rose and flicked her cigarette out of the window.
"Where are you going?" he asked again.
"You're not fit—"
"Oh, yes I am—"
"Besides, you can't—"
"Your aroplane—it won't fly?"
She stopped in the doorway and glanced anxiously down the slope where her Bleriot had fallen.
"One wing is broken, you see."
She went down the hill, Markham following. She stood before the broken machine and looked at it dejectedly.
"Well?" he asked.
"I'm afraid you're right. It will have to be repaired. I'll go back by boat."
"Of course. But in the meanwhile I'm afraid you'll have to trust to my hospitality—such as it is."
She turned toward him quickly.
"The boat—my only means of communication, won't be here until Thursday."
Her jaw dropped and her blue eyes were quite round in dismay.
"You can't mean it!"
"It's the truth."
"Have you no boats? Does no one come here from the mainland?"
"No. I arranged that. I came here to work and didn't want to be interrupted—" And hastily: "Of course, I'm glad to be of service to you, and if you'll put up with what I can offer—"
"Thanks," she said. "I hope it's apparent to you that I'm not stopping of my own volition." And then, as though aware of her discourtesy, she turned toward him, a smile for the first time illumining the pallor of her face.
"I'm afraid there's nothing left for me then but to accept your kind offer."
When they reached the cabin he brought out a wicker chair and put it in the shade.
"If you'll sit here and try to make yourself comfortable, I'll see what can be done about breakfast."
She thanked him with a smile, sat submissively and he disappeared indoors, where she heard him pottering about in the small kitchen. It was very quiet, very restful there under the trees and an odor of cooking coffee, eggs, bacon and toast which the breeze wafted in her direction from the open window reminded her that the hour of breakfast was approaching. But, alluring as the odor was, she had no appetite. Her knee and shoulder hurt her much less than they deserved to, much less than the state of her mind at finding herself suddenly at the mercy of this young man who had aroused both her choler and her curiosity. Last night after her guests had gone to bed she had sat alone for a long while on the porch which overlooked the bay, unconsciously surveying with her eye the water which separated Thimble Island from the mainland. But it was a mad impulse that had sent her over the sea this morning, a madder impulse that had sent her to Thimble Island of all places, upon which she had descended with an audacity and a recklessness which surprised even herself. She realized that a while ago she had lied glibly to Markham about her mishap. Her Bleriot had not missed fire. From the perch of her lofty reconnaissance she had espied the painter working at his canvas, but her notion of visiting him she knew had been born not this morning, but last night when she had sat alone on the terrace and watched the pale moon wreathing fitfully among the clouds which hovered uncertainly off-shore. She had come to Thimble Island simply because impulse had led her here, and because she was accustomed, with possible reservations, to follow her impulses wherever they might lead her. That they had led her to Markham signified nothing except that she found herself more curious about him than she had supposed herself to be.
Her plans for the morning had provided for a brief landing while she tinkered with the machine, scorning his proffers of help; for a snub, if he chose to take advantage of their slight acquaintance; and for a triumphant departure when her pride and her curiosity had been appeased. Her plans had not included the miscalculation of distance and the projecting branch of the tree which had been her undoing. She found it difficult to scorn the proffers of help of a man who helped without proffering. It was impossible to snub a man for taking advantage of a slight acquaintance when he refused to remember that such an acquaintance had ever existed. The triumphant departure now refused to be triumphant or indeed even a departure. At the present moment her pride and her curiosity still clamored and Markham in his worried, absent-minded way was repaying her with kindness—a kindness every moment of which increased Hermia's obligation and diminished her importance.
She sang very small now in Markham's scheme of things and sat very quietly in her chair, like a rebellious child which has been punished by being put alone in a corner. She listened to his footsteps within, the clattering of dishes, the tinkle of table service and in a little while he appeared in the door of the cabin, redolent with the odor of coffee and bacon, and announced breakfast.
BREAD AND SALT
"Thanks," said Hermia. "I'm not hungry."
"But you can't get on without food."
"I'm not hungry," she repeated.
"Do you feel ill? Perhaps—"
"No. I'm all right again—quite all right. I don't know what made me feel faint. I've never done such a thing in all my life before. But you needn't worry. I'm not going to faint again."
Markham recalled the cigarette and believed her.
"But you can't get along all morning without food," he said.
She looked away from him toward the shore of the mainland where the towers of "Wake-Robin" made a gray smudge against the trees.
"Oh, yes, I can," she said shortly.
Markham eyed her curiously for a moment, then turned on his heel and went abruptly into the cabin whence he presently emerged carrying a tray which bore a cup of steaming coffee, some toast and an egg. Before she was well aware of it, he had placed the tray on her lap, and stood before her, his six feet of stature dominating.
"Now eat!" he said, quietly.
She looked down at the food and then uncertainly up to his face. Never in her life, that she could remember, had she been addressed to peremptorily. His lips smiled, but there was no denying the note of command in his voice and in his attitude. Curiously enough she found herself fingering at the coffee cup.
"There's a lump of sugar in it," he added, "and another on the saucer. I have no cream."
"I—I don't care for cream, thanks."
There seemed nothing to do, since he still stood there looking at her, but to eat, and she did so without further remarks. He watched her for a moment and then went in at the door, returning in a moment with another cup of coffee and another dish. Without a word he sat on the step of the porch and followed her example, munching his toast and sipping his coffee with grave deliberateness, his eyes following hers to the distant shore.
Hermia's appetite had come with eating and she had discovered that his coffee was delicious. She made a belated resolution that, if she must stay here, she would do it with a good grace. He had offered to fill her coffee cup and to bring more toast, but, beyond inquiring politely how she felt, had asked her no other questions. When he had breakfasted he took her dishes and his own indoors and put them in the kitchen sink, then came to the door stuffing some tobacco into the bowl of his disreputable pipe.
"I hope I'm safe in assuming that tobacco smoke is unobjectionable to you."
A glance at his eyes revealed the suspicion of a smile. There was humor in the man, after all. She looked up at him more graciously.
"I suppose you're wondering where I dropped from," she said at last.
"Yes," he replied, "I confess—I'm curious"—puff, puff—"though not so much about the where"—puff—"as about the why. Other forms of suicide may be less picturesque than flying, but they doubtless have other—homelier—virtues to recommend them. If I wished to die suddenly I think I should simply blow out the gas. Do you come from Quemscott, Simsbury or perhaps further?"
He asked the questions as though more from a desire to be polite than from any actual interest.
"No—from Westport. You know I live there."
"No—I didn't know it. Curiously enough in the back of my head I've not a notion that somewhere—but not in Westport—you and I have met before."
"I can't imagine where," said Hermia promptly.
He rubbed his head and thatched his brows.
"Paris, perhaps,—or—it couldn't have been in Normandy?" he asked.
"I've never been to Normandy. Besides, if we had met, I probably would have remembered it. I'm afraid you're thinking of some one else."
"Yes, perhaps I am," he said slowly. "I've got the worst memory in the world—"
"Mine is excellent," put in Hernia.
He looked at her soberly, and her gaze fell, but in a moment she flashed a bright smile up at him. "Of course it doesn't matter, does it? What does matter is how I'm going to get ashore."
"I've been thinking about that. I don't see how it can be managed," he replied briefly.
"Isn't there a boat-house?"
"Yes, but—unfortunately—no boats."
"It's a very awkward predicament," she murmured.
"Not nearly so awkward as it might have been if there had been no one here," he said slowly. "At least you won't starve."
"You're very kind. Oh, I hope you won't think me ungrateful. I'm not, really. I'll not bother you."
He looked at her amusedly.
"Can you cook?"
"No," she admitted, "but I'd like to try."
"I guess you'd better leave that to me," he finished grimly.
He was treating her as though she were a child, but she didn't resent it now. Indeed his attitude toward her made resentment impossible. His civility and hospitality, while lacking in the deference of other men of her acquaintance, were beyond cavil. But it was quite clear that the only impression her looks or her personality had made upon him was the slight one of having met and forgotten her—hardly flattering to her self-esteem. He was quite free from self-consciousness and at moments wore an air of abstraction which made it seem to Hermia as though he had forgotten her presence. In another atmosphere she had thought him unmannerly; here, somehow it didn't seem necessary to lay such stress upon the outward tokens of gentility. And his personal civility, more implied than expressed, was even more reassuring than the lip and eye homage to which she was accustomed.
In these moments of abstraction she inspected him curiously. His unshorn face was tanned a deep brown which with his rough clothing and longish hair gave him rather a forbidding aspect, and the lines into which his face fell in moments of repose were almost unpleasantly severe; but his eyes which had formed the painter's habit of looking critically through their lashes had a way of opening wide at unexpected moments and staring at her with the disconcerting frankness of those of a child. He turned them on her now so abruptly that she had not time to avert her gaze.
"You'll be missed, won't you?" he asked.
"Yes, I suppose I shall. They'll see the open hangar—"
"Do you think any one could have been watching your flight?"
"Hardly. I left at dawn. You see I've been bothered a lot by the curiosity of my neighbors. That's why I've been flying early."
"H—m. It's a pity to worry them so."
Markham rose and knocked out the ashes of his pipe.
"You see, Thimble Island is a good distance from the channel and only the smaller pleasure boats come this way. Of course there's a chance of one coming within hail. I'll keep a watch and do what I can, of course. In the meanwhile I hope you'll consider the cabin your own. I'll be quite comfortable to-night with a blanket in the boat-house."
She was silent a moment, but when she turned her head, he had already vanished into the cabin, where in a moment she heard the clatter of the dishes he was washing. At this moment Hermia was sure that she didn't dislike him at all. The clatter continued, mingled with the sound of splashing water and a shrill piping as he whistled an air from "Bohme." Hermia gazed out over the water a moment and then her lips broke into a lovely smile. She made a quick resolution, got up and followed him indoors.
He looked over his shoulder at her as she entered.
"Do you want anything?" he asked cheerfully.
"No—nothing—except to wash those dishes."
"Nonsense. I won't be a minute. It's nothing at all."
"Perhaps that's why I insist on doing it."
She had taken off her blouse, rolled up the sleeves of her waist with a business-like air and elbowed him away from the dishpan unceremoniously.
"I'm going to wash them—wash them properly. You may wipe them if you like."
He grinned and fished around on a shelf for a dishcloth. Having found it he stationed himself beside her and took the dishes one by one as she finished with them.
"Your name is Markham, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes—how did you know?" he asked in surprise.
She indicated a packing case in the corner which was addressed in letters six inches high.
"Oh," he said. "Of course."
"You're the Mr. Markham, aren't you?"
"I'm not sure about that. I'm this Mr. Markham."
"Markham, the portrait painter?"
"That's what I profess. Why?"
He examined her, puzzling again, wiping the cup in his fingers with great particularity.
"Are you an anarchist?" she asked in a moment.
"Not that I'm aware of."
"Or a gorilla?"
"One of my grandfathers was—once a long while ago."
"Or a misogynist?"
"A grouch. Are you?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I am."
"I don't believe it now. I did at first. You can look very cross when you like."
"I haven't been cross with you, have I?"
"No. But you didn't like being interrupted."
"Not then—but I'm rather enjoying it now." He took a dish from her fingers. "You know you did drop in rather informally. Who's been talking of me?"
"Oh, that's the penalty of distinction. One hears such things. Are you queer, morbid and eccentric?"
"I believe I am," amusedly, "now that you mention it."
She was silent a moment before she spoke again.
"I don't believe it—at all. But you are unconventional, aren't you?"
"According to the standards of your world, yes, decidedly."
"My world! What do you know about my world?"
"Only what you've told me by your opinions of mine."
"I haven't expressed my opinions."
"There's no need of your expressing them."
"If you're going to be cross I'll not wash another dish." But she handed the last of them to him and emptied the dishpan.
"Now," she exclaimed. "I wish you'd please go outside and smoke." "Outside! Why?"
"I'm going to put this place in order. Ugh! I've never in my life seen such a mess. Won't you go?"
He looked around deprecatingly. "I'm sorry you came in here. It is rather a mess on the floor—and around," and then as though by an inspiration, "but then you know, I do keep the pots and dishes clean."
By this time she had reached the shelves over which she ran an inquisitive finger.
"Dust!" she sniffed. "Barrels of it! and the plates—?" She took one down and inspected it minutely. "I thought so. Please go out," she pleaded.
"And if I don't?"
"I'll do it anyway."
By this time she was peering into the corners, from one of which she triumphantly brought forth a mop and pail.
"Oh, I say, I'm not going to let you do that."
"I don't see that you've got any choice in the matter. I'm going to clean up, and if you don't want to be splashed, I'd advise you to clear out."
She went to the spigot and let the water run into the bucket, while she extended her palm in his direction.
"Now some soap please—hand-soap, if you have it. Any soap, if you haven't."
"I've only got this," he said lifting the soap from the dishpan.
"Oh, very well. Now please go and paint." But Markham didn't. He found it more amusing to watch her small hands rubbing the soap into the fiber of the mop.
"If you'll show me I'll be very glad—" he volunteered. But as he came forward, she brought the wet mop out of the bucket with a threatening sweep which splashed him, and set energetically to work about his very toes.
He moved to the door jamb, but she pursued him.
"Outside, please," with relentless scorn. "This is no place for a philosopher."
Markham was inclined to agree with her and retreated in utter rout.
On the porch he sank into the wicker chair, filled his pipe and looked afar, his ear attuned to the sounds of his domestic upheaval, not quite sure whether he was provoked or amused. At moments, by her pluck she had excited his admiration, at others she had seemed a little less worthy of consideration than a spoiled child, but her present role amused him beyond expression. Whoever she was, whatever her mission in life, she was quite the most remarkable young female person in his experience. Who? It didn't matter in the least of course, but he found himself somewhat chagrined that his memory had played him such a trick. Young girls, especially the impudent, self-satisfied kind that one met in America, had always filled Markham with a vague alarm. He didn't understand them in the least, nor did they understand him, and he had managed with some discretion to confine his attentions to women of a riper growth. Madame Tcherny, for instance!
Markham sat suddenly upright in his chair, a look of recognition in his eyes.
Olga Tcherny! Of course, he remembered now. And this was the cheeky little thing Olga had brought to the studio to see her portrait, who had strutted around and talked about money—Miss—er—funny he couldn't think of her name! He got up after a while, walked around and peered in at the kitchen door.
His visitor had washed the shelves with soap and water, and now he found her down on her knees with the bucket and scrubbing-brush working like a fury.
"See here, I can't let you do that—" he began again.
She turned a flushed face up at him and then went on scrubbing.
"You've got to stop it, do you hear? I won't have it. You're not up to that sort of work. You haven't got any right to do a thing like this. Get up at once and go out of doors!"
She made no reply and backed away toward the door of the living-room, finishing the last strip of unscoured floor before she even replied. Then she got up and looked at her work admiringly.
"There!" she said as though to herself. "That's better."
The area of damp floor lay between them and when he made a step to relieve her of the bucket she had lifted, she waved him back.
"Don't you dare walk on it—after all my trouble. Go around the other way."
He obeyed with a meekness that surprised him, but when he reached the other door she had already emptied her bucket and her roving eye was seeking new fields to conquer.
"You've got to stop it at once," he insisted.
"It's the least I can do to earn my board. This room must be dusted, the bed made and—"
"No. I won't have it."
He took her by the elbows and pushed her out of the door to the chair on the porch into which she sank, red of face and out of breath.
"I'll only rest for a minute," she protested.
"We'll see about that later," he said with a smile. "For the present, strange as it may seem, you're really going to obey orders!"
She squared her chin at him defiantly.
"Really! Are you sure?"
"It's more than I am."
"I'm bigger than you are."
"I'm not in the least afraid of you."
"You hardly know me well enough to be afraid of me."
"Then I don't want to know you any better."
"You're candid at any rate. But when I like I can be most unpleasant. Ask Olga Tcherny."
Her gaze flickered then flared into steadiness as she said coolly.
"I haven't the remotest idea what you're talking about."
"Do you mean to say that you don't remember?" he asked smiling.
"My memory is excellent. Perhaps I lack imagination. What should I remember?"
"My studio—in New York. You visited me with the Countess Tcherny."
"I do not know—I have never met the Countess Tcherny."
The moment was propitious. There was a sound of voices, and Markham and his visitor glanced over their shoulders past the angle of the cottage to where in the bright sunlight into which she had emerged, stood the Countess Olga.
"Hermia, thank the Lord!" she was saying. "How you've frightened us, child!" She came quickly forward, but when Markham rose she stopped, her dark eyes round with astonishment.
"You! John Markham! Well, upon my word! C'est abracadabrant! Here I've been harrowing my soul all morning with thoughts of your untimely death, Hermia, dear, turning Westport topsy-turvy, to find you at your ease snugly wrapped in tte--tte with this charming social renegade. It is almost too much for one's patience!"
Hermia rose laughing, and faced the rescue party which came forward chattering congratulations.
"I thought my friends were too wise ever to be worried about me," she said coolly. "But I'm awfully obliged and flattered. Hilda, have you met Mr. Markham? Miss Ashhurst, Miss Van Vorst, and Mr. Armistead, Mr. Markham's island fortunately happened to be just underneath where my machine decided to miss fire—"
"You did fall then?"
"Well rather—look at my poor bird, there."
Salignac, the mechanician, was already on the spot confirming the damage.
"How on earth did you happen to know that you would find me here?" asked Hermia.
"We didn't know it," replied the countess. "We took a chance and came, worried to death. The head coachman's wife who was up with a sick child heard you get off and watched your flight over the bay in this direction. She didn't see you fall. But when you didn't return she became frightened and alarmed the household—woke us all at half-past five. Think of it!" She yawned and dropped wearily on the step of the porch. And then, as Markham went indoors in search of chairs, in a lower tone to Hermia, "With a person you have professed to detest you seem to be getting on famously, my dear."
"One hardly quarrels with the individual who provides one with breakfast," she said coolly.
At the call of Salignac, the mechanician, Hermia followed the others down the slope to the machine, leaving the Countess and Markham alone.
"Well," Olga questioned, "what on earth are you doing here?"
He couldn't fail to note the air of proprietorship.
"What should I be doing?" and he made a gesture toward his idle easel.
"Why didn't you answer my letters?"
"I have never received them. No mail has been forwarded here."
"Oh!" And then: "I didn't know just what to think—unless that you had gone back to Normandy."
"I'm going next month. Meanwhile I rented Thimble Island—"
"I wrote you that I was coming here to 'Wake-Robin,' Miss Challoner's place," she said pettishly, "and that I was sure there would be one or two commissions for you in the neighborhood if you cared to come."
"It was very kind of you. I'm sorry. It's a little too late now. I'm due at Havre in August."
She made a gesture of mock helplessness.
"There. I thought so. My plans for you never seem to work out. It's really quite degrading the way I'm pursuing you. It almost seems as if you didn't want me"
He leaned over the back of her chair, his lips close to her ear. "You know better than that. But I'm such hopeless material to work with. These people, the kind of people one has to paint—they want lies. It gives me a diabolical pleasure to tell them the truth. I'll never succeed. O Madame! I'm afraid you'll have to give me up."
"And Hermia?" she asked.
"An enfant terrible! Has she no parent—or guardians? Do you encourage this sort of thing?"
"I—Dieu! No! She will kill herself next. I have no influence. She does exactly as she pleases. Advice merely decides her to do the opposite thing."
"It's too bad. She's quite human."
The Countess Olga examined him through her long lashes.
"Are you alone here?"
"Yes. I'm camping."
"Ugh," she shuddered. "You had better come to 'Wake-Robin'."
She stamped her small foot.
"Oh, I've no patience with you."
"Besides, I haven't been asked," he added.
The others were not approaching and Markham straightened as Hermia came toward him.
"Olga, dear, we must be going. It's too bad to have spoiled your morning, Mr. Markham."
The obvious reply was so easy and so polite, but he scorned it.
"Oh, that doesn't matter," he said, "and I'm the gainer by a clean kitchen."
No flattery there. Hermia colored gently.
"I—I scrubbed his floor," she explained to Olga. "It was filthy."
The Countess Olga's eyes opened a trifle wider.
"I don't doubt it," she said, turning aside.
Miss Van Vorst in her role of ingnue by this time was prying about outside the bungalow, on the porch of which she espied Markham's unfinished sketch.
"A painting! May I look? It's all wet and sticky." She had turned it face outward and stood before it uttering childish panegyric. "Oh, it's too perfectly sweet for anything. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite so wonderful. Won't you explain it all to me, Mr. Markham?"
Markham good-humoredly took up the canvas.
"Very glad," he said, "only you've got it upside down."
In the pause which followed the laughter Salignac came up the slope and reported to Hermia that he had found nothing wrong with the engine and that the damaged wing could be repaired with a piece of wire.
Hermia's eyes sparkled. The time for her triumphant departure, it seemed, had only been delayed. "Good news," she said quietly. "In that case I intend flying back to 'Wake-Robin'."
A chorus of protests greeted her decision.
"You shan't, Hermia," shouted Reggie Armistead, "until either Salignac or I have tried it out."
"You will oblige me, Reggie," replied Hermia calmly, "by minding your own business."
"O Hermia, after falling this morning! How can you dare?" cried Miss Van Vorst, with a genteel shudder.
"Si Mademoiselle me permettrait—" began Salignac.
But she waved her hand in negation and indicated the wide lawn in front of the ruined buildings which sloped gently to the water's edge.
"Wheel it there, Salignac," in French, "and, Reggie, please go at once and help."
Armistead's boyish face turned toward her in admiration and in protest, but he followed Salignac without a word.
"It's folly, Hermia," added Hilda. "Something must be wrong with the thing. You remember just the other day—"
"I'm going, Hilda," imperturbably. "You can follow me in the launch."
Of Hermia's companions, Olga Tcherny alone said nothing. She had no humor to waste her breath. And Markham stood beside the group, his arms folded, his head bowed, listening. But when Hermia went into the cottage for her things he followed her.
"You're resolved?" he asked, helping her into her blouse.
"I wish I might persuade you—your nerves were—a little shaken this morning."
She paused in the act of putting on her gauntlets and held one small bare hand under his nose that he might see how steady it was. He grasped it in both of his own and then, with an impulse that he couldn't explain, kissed it again and again.
"Don't go, child," he whispered gently. "Not today."
She struggled to withdraw her hand, a warm flush stealing up her neck and temples.
"Let me go, Mr. Markham. Let me go."
He relinquished her and stood aside.
"As you please," he muttered. "I'm sorry—"
She turned, halfway to the door and examined his face.
"Sorry? For what?"
"That I haven't the authority to forbid you."
"You?" she laughed. "That is amusing."
"I would teach you some truths that you have never learned," he persisted, "the fatuity of mere bravado, the uses of life. You couldn't play with it if you knew something of its value—"
"The only value of life is in what you can get from it—"
"Or in what you can give from it—"
"Good-bye, Mr. Markham. I will join your school of philosophy another day. Meanwhile—" and she pointed her gauntleted hand toward the open doorway, "life shall pay me one more sensation."
He shrugged his shoulders and followed.
The machine was already on the lawn surrounded by Hermia's guests and preliminary experiments had proven that all was ready. Hermia climbed into the seat unaided, while Markham stood at one side and watched the propellers started. Faster and faster they flew, the machine held by Armistead and the Frenchman, while Hermia sat looking straight before her down the lawn through the opening between the rocks which led to open water.
"Au revoir, my friends," she cried and gave the word, at which the men sprang clear, and amid cries of encouragement and congratulation the machine moved down the lawn, gathering momentum with every second, rising gracefully with its small burden just before it reached the water and soaring into the air. The people on the lawn watched for a moment and then with one accord rushed for the launch.
Olga Tcherny paused a moment, her hand on Markham's arm.
"You will come to 'Wake-Robin'?" she asked.
"I think not," he replied.
"Then I shall come to Thimble Island," she finished.
"I shall be charmed, of course."
She looked over her shoulder at him and laughed. He was watching the distant spot in the air.
"You're too polite to be quite natural."
"I didn't mean to be."
"Then don't let it happen again."
The voices of her companions were calling to her and she hastened her footsteps.
"Ė bientt," she cried.
"Au revoir, Madame." He saw her hurried into the launch, which immediately got under way, its exhaust snorting furiously, and vanished around the point of rocks. In a moment there was nothing left of his visitors to Markham but the lapping of the waves from the launch upon the beach and the spot in the air which was not almost imperceptible.
He stood there until he could see it no more, when he turned and took his pipe thoughtfully from his trousers pocket and addressed it with conviction.
"Mad!" he muttered. "All—quite mad!"
Markham climbed the hill slowly, pushing tobacco into his pipe. Once or twice he stopped and turned, looking out over the bay toward the distant launch. The aroplane had vanished. When he reached the bungalow he dropped into a chair, his gaze on space, and smoked silently for many minutes.
Mad! Were they? Madness after all was merely a matter of relative mental attitudes. Doubtless he was as mad in the eyes of his visitors as they were to him. In his present mood he was almost ready to admit that the sanest philosophy of life was that which brought the greatest happiness. And sanity such as his own was only a sober kind of madness after all, a quiet mania which sought out the soul of things and in the seeking fed itself upon the problems of the world, a diet which too much prolonged might lead to mental indigestion. Morbid—was he? Introspective? A "grouch"? He was—he must be—all of these things.
His small inquisitor had neglected none of his failings, had practiced her glib tongue at his expense in the few hours in which she had taken possession of Thimble Island and of him. What a child she was, how spoiled and how utterly irresponsible! He identified her completely now, Hermia Challoner, the sole heiress of all Peter Challoner's hard-gotten millions, the heiress, too, it was evident, of his attitude toward the world, the flesh and the devil; Peter Challoner, by profession banker and captain of industry, a man whose name was remembered the breadth of the land for his masterly manipulation of a continental railroad which eventually came under his control; an organizer of trusts, a patron saint of political lobbyists, a product of the worst and of the best of modern business! This girl who had fallen like a bright meteor across Markham's sober sky this morning was Peter Challoner's daughter. He remembered now the stories he had heard and read of her caprices, the races on the beach at Ormonde, her fearlessness in the hunting field and the woman's polo team she had organized at Cedarcroft which she had led against a team of men on a Southern field. It had all been in the newspapers and he had read of her with a growing distaste for the type of woman which American society made possible. Peter Challoner's daughter, the spoiled darling of money idolaters, scrubbing the floor of his kitchen!
As he sat looking out over the bay thinking of his visitor, a picture rose and wreathed itself amid the smoke of his tobacco—the vision of a little working girl in New York, a girl with tired eyes and a patient smile, with the faded hair and the faded skin which came from too few hours of recreation—from too many uninterrupted hours of plodding grind at the tasks her employers set for her, a girl who would have been as pretty as Hermia Challoner if her youth had only been given its chance. This was Dorothy Herick, whose father, a friend of Markham's father, had been swallowed up in one of the great industrial combinations which Peter Challoner had planned. Markham, who had been studying in Paris at the time, had forgotten the details of Oliver Herrick's downfall, but he remembered that the transaction which had brought it about had not even been broadly in accordance with the ethics of modern business, and that there had been something in the nature of sharp practice on Peter Challoner's part which had enabled him to obtain for his combination the mills in the Wyoming Valley which had been in the Herrick family for three generations.
Markham knew little of business and hated it cordially, but he had heard enough of this affair to be sure that, whatever the courts had decided, Oliver Herrick had been unfairly dealt with and that a part, at least, of Peter Challoner's fortune belonged morally, at least, to the inconsiderable mite of femininity who read proof in a publisher's office in New York. He knew something of the law of the survival of the fittest, for he himself had survived the long struggle for honors which had put him at last in a position where he felt secure at least from the pinch of poverty, and whatever Oliver Herrick's failings among the larger forces with which he had been brought into contact, Markham knew him to have been an honest man, a good father and a faithful gentleman. Something was wrong with a world which pinched the righteous between the grindstones of progress and let the evil prosper.
It was an unfairness which descended to the second generation and would descend through the years until the equalizing forces of character and will—or the lack of them—brought later generations to the same level of condition. Markham could not help comparing Hermia Challoner with her less fortunate sister—Hermia Challoner, the courted, the fted, who had but to wish for a thing to have it granted, with Dorothy Herrick, the neglected and forgotten, who was bartering her youth for twelve dollars a week and was glad to get the money; one, who boasted that the only value life had for her was what she could get out of it, with the other, who almost felt it a privilege to be permitted to live at all. The more he thought of these two girls, the more convincing was his belief that Miss Herrick did not suffer by the comparison. She was doing just what thousands of other girls were doing in New York, with no more patience and no more self-sacrifice than they, but the childish vagaries of his visitor, still fresh in his memory, seemed to endow Dorothy Herrick with a firmer contour, a stronger claim on his interest and sympathies.
And yet—this little madcap aviatrix disclosed a winning directness and simplicity which charmed and surprised him. She was a joyous soul. He could not remember a morning when he had been so completely abstracted from the usual current of thought and occupation as today, and whatever the faults bequeathed by her intrepid father, she was, as Markham had said to Olga, quite human. There were possibilities in the child-and it seemed a pity that no strong guiding hand led the way on a road like hers, which had so many turnings. She was only an overgrown child as yet, flat chested, slender, almost a boy, and yet redeemed to femininity by an unconscious coquetry which she could no more control than she could the warm flush of her blood; a child indeed, full of quick impulses for good or for evil.
Markham rose, knocked the ash out of his pipe, walked over to his canvas, set it up against the porch pillar and examined it leisurely. But in a moment he took it indoors and added it to the pile in the living-room, fetching a fresh canvas and carrying his easel and paint-box over the hill to another spot, a shady one among the rocks where he had already painted many times.
He worked a while and then sat and smoked again, his thoughts afar. What sort of an influence was Olga Tcherny for the mind of this impressionable child? The Countess was clever, generous and wonderfully attractive to men and to women but, as Markham knew, her views of life were liberal and she was not wise—at least, not with a wisdom which would help Hermia Challoner. One doesn't live for ten years in Paris in the set in which Markham had met her without absorbing something of its careless creed, its loose ethical and moral standards. New York society, he knew, reflected much that was bad, and much that was good of the gay worlds of Paris and London; for Americans are unexcelled in the talent of imitation, but from phrases that had passed Olga's lips he knew that she had outgrown her own country.
Markham tried to paint but things went wrong and so he gave it up, swearing silently at the interruption which had spoiled his day. After lunch he tried it again with no better success, and finally gave it up and, taking a book, went out on a point of rocks where the tide swirled and cast in a fishing line, not because he hoped to catch anything but because fishing, of all the resources available, had most surely the ways of peace. The book was a French treatise on the Marxian philosophies—dull reading for a summer's day when the water lapped merrily at one's feet, the breeze sighed softly, laden with the odors of the mysterious deeps, and sea and sky beckoned him invitingly into the realms of adventure and delight, so dull that, the fish biting not, Markham dozed, and at last rolled over in the sunlight and slept.
How long he lay there he did not know. He was awakened by the exhaust of a launch close at hand and sat up so quickly that "Karl Marx," rudely jostled by his elbow, went sliding over the edge of the rock and into the sea. But there was no time at present to bewail this calamity for the man in the launch had brought her inshore and hailed him politely.
"Mr. Markham?" he questioned.
Markham nodded. "That's my name," he said.
"A note for you." The launch moved slowly in toward the landing and Markham met his visitor, already aware that there was to be a further intrusion on his solitude. He broke the seal of the note and read. It was from Hermia Challoner.
Dear Mr. Markham:
Life, as you see, has yielded me one more sensation without penalty. I am safe at home again, my philosophy triumphant over yours. There isn't a great deal of difference between them after all. You, too, take from life, Mr. Markham—you take what you need just as I do; but just because your needs differ from mine, manlike, you assume that I must be wrong. Perhaps I am. Then so must you, because you give less than I do.
There is but one way to justify yourself, and that is to give up what you are hoarding—what you prize most highly—your solitude. We want you at "Wake Robin," Mr. Markham. Will you come to dine and stay the night? By so doing you will at least show an amiable disposition, which is more to the point than all the philosophy in the world. We are very informal and dine at eight.
I am sure that if you disappoint us Madame Tcherny, who is already tired of us all, will perish of ennui.
Very cordially yours, Hermia Challoner
Markham read the note through and turned toward the cabin for pen and paper.
"Will you moor the launch and come ashore?"
"Oh, no, sir," said the man, tinkering with the engine, "I'll wait for you here. Miss Challoner said that I was to wait."
When Markham reached the bungalow he remembered suddenly that he had no ink, pen—or indeed paper, and yet a verbal reply would hardly be courteous. He stood in the doorway puzzling a moment and then went over to a trunk in the corner, opened it and began pitching its contents about. He straightened at last, put some garments on the bed and looked at them with a ruminative eye.
"Oh, I had better go," he muttered, rubbing the roughness on his chin. "I owe it to Olga. But why the devil they can't leave a fellow alone—" and, fuming silently, he shaved, made a toilet, and packing some things in a much battered suit case made his way to the launch.
At the Westport landing he found the Countess Olga, wonderfully attired in an afternoon costume of pale green, awaiting him in a motor.