THE DOMINANT STRAIN
THE DOMINANT STRAIN
BY ANNA CHAPIN RAY
AUTHOR OF "TEDDY, HER BOOK," "PHEBE, HER PROFESSION," "TEDDY, HER DAUGHTER," "NATHALIE'S CHUM," "EACH LIFE UNFULFILLED"
ILLUSTRATED BY HARRY C. EDWARDS
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1903
Copyright, 1903, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
All rights reserved
Published May, 1903
UNIVERSITY PRESS . JOHN WILSON AND SON . CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.
FROM DRAWINGS IN COLOR BY HARRY C. EDWARDS
"'Beatrix?' he said" Frontispiece
"'Can't you make any sort of an excuse for yourself, Sidney?' she demanded" Page 123
"It was so that Thayer liked best to think of her" " 205
"Beatrix still sat at the disordered table" " 245
"'I believe I might as well ask you now'" " 339
THE DOMINANT STRAIN
Beatrix smiled a little wearily. Intimate friends are sometimes cloying, and she felt a certain irritation rising within her, as she watched Sally's bright face under her French toque, and listened to the easy stream of chatter which issued from Sally's lips. Sally had never faced such a crisis as the one confronting Beatrix, that day. Moreover, she had dimples, and it was impossible to believe in the sympathy of a person whose dimples insisted upon coming into sight, even in the midst of serious discussion.
"If he hasn't already," Sally persisted; "he is bound to do it before the season is over. Then what shall you tell him?"
"Aren't you rushing things a little?" Beatrix inquired languidly. "Please do remember that I only met Mr. Lorimer at the Horse Show, and that it is three weeks to Lent."
"That's nothing," Sally replied flatly, but flippantly. "You subjugated Eric Stanford in half that time, and his gray matter has been in a pulpy condition ever since."
"I didn't know it."
"About his gray matter?"
"Oh, that is congenital trouble. I mean I didn't know that I had subjugated him. Besides, that is different. He was Bobby Dane's chum, and we took him into the family."
"Took him in all over," Sally drawled.
Beatrix's eyes flashed. There were things she would not say to Sally; there were also things which Sally could not say to her.
"I am so sorry," she said, as she rose; "but I must get ready for Mrs. Stanley's recital. How does it happen you aren't going?"
"For the most ignominious of reasons. I'm not bidden. Mrs. Stanley and I were on a committee together, once upon a time. We squabbled over some amateur theatricals, and she has cut my acquaintance ever since. I always did say that there is nothing like amateur theatricals for bringing out all the worst vices of humanity. If a Shakespearian revival ever reaches the heavenly host, Gabriel and Michael will have to play Othello and Iago turn and turn about, to prevent ill-feeling. Beatrix?"
"What do you honestly think of Mr. Lorimer?"
Beatrix hesitated. Then she faced her friend.
"That he is the most interesting man we have met, this season."
"That's not saying any too much. Still, it is an admission. Are you going to marry him?"
"He hasn't asked me."
"But he will."
"How do you know?"
"I do know."
"I'm not so sure of it." Beatrix laughed nervously.
"But if he does?"
"I—I'm not so sure of that, either."
"Beatrix! Why not?"
Beatrix untied the long ribbons which belted her gown, and stood drawing them slowly through and through her fingers. Sally leaned back in her deep chair and watched her friend keenly, mercilessly. She and Beatrix had fenced long enough; it was time for the direct thrust. Sidney Lorimer was the most available man on that winter's carpet. Moreover, for weeks he had been a patient follower in the wake of Beatrix Dane. Beatrix might be as impenetrable as she chose; but Sally knew that, during the past week, she had been reading the headings of certain suppressed chapters in Lorimer's history, and that they had changed her whole attitude towards the man. The signs were slight, too slight for him to have recognized them as yet; but Sally's curious, pitiless eyes had discerned them. She had discerned and disapproved, and she had resolved that no squeamish delicacy should keep her from preventing Beatrix's playing the part of a prude.
"He is the best-looking man of the season, and the best dancer. He took honors at Goettingen. He has any quantity of money." Sally ticked off the points on the tips of her gray glove. "And most of all," she tapped her thumb conclusively, "he is very much in love with Miss Beatrix Dane, and I want him to marry her."
"Oh, Sally, do be sensible!" Beatrix burst out impatiently. Then she pulled herself up sharply and turned to bay. "What about the Forbes supper?" she demanded.
Sally shrugged her shoulders, as she fastened her fur collar.
"Oh, Beatrix, you prig! Are there any men of our set who haven't been a little frisky?"
"Frisky! That is a milder word than I should use, Sally. The Forbes affair transcends friskiness and becomes the beginning of the pace that kills. It was intolerable; I can't forgive it."
Her face flushed; then it paled and hardened with the rigidity of self-control. Sally peered out at her through lowered lashes, and judged that it was time for her to remove herself. She had known Beatrix from their childhood, and this was the first time she had seen her jarred from her self-possession. She fastened the last hook with a jerk. Then she rose and went to her friend's side.
"I didn't mean to tease you, dear," she said penitently. "I know this has been worrying you; but don't let it get on your nerves and influence you too much. All men make slips at times. Mr. Lorimer is a good fellow, even if he has been a little fast. He would drop all that as soon as he was—settled. Besides, this isn't nearly as bad as ever so many of the stories we hear."
"No," Beatrix assented drearily; "but it is bad enough."
"Then you do care?"
"Care!" She laughed a little harshly. "Sally, truly I must send you off. It is time I was dressing, for I promised to go. I am sorry, but—"
"I am used to being dismissed; I shall come again." There was no hint of rancor in Sally's tone, yet she went away fully convinced that her own system of measurement could never reach the heights and the depths of her friend's mood.
Left to herself, Beatrix forgot her need for haste. She dropped down into a chair, and sat for many moments brooding over the fire. Her hand shielded her face; yet it could not conceal the anxious lines above her eyes nor the drooping lips. Lorimer had asked permission to call upon her, that evening, and she knew by instinct what the evening was holding in store for her. Confronted with the final decision, she was at a loss which course to take. Should she close her eyes to the plague-spot which might one day spread and spread until it tainted her whole life? The present was very tempting. Why not take it, and ignore the future? Most girls would wink at the suspicion which, during the past week, had been clouding her dream of perfect content. How far was she accountable for the future?
She dressed hurriedly; but when she reached Mrs. Stanley's house, the recital had already begun, and she dropped into a seat outside the music-room door. The artist was a new star upon the horizon. She had supposed him to be only one of the vast milky way which helped to shed a dim light upon Mrs. Stanley, as that good lady clambered slowly up the social ladder. Instead of that, Beatrix entirely forgot Mrs. Stanley's antics, in watching for the star itself. She even dismissed Lorimer from her mind, as she bent forward in eager listening to the invisible singer.
"Great fellow, Schubert!" her cousin observed, sauntering up to her side as soon as the recital was ended. "They say that this Thayer is daft upon the subject of him. Anyway, he manages to interpret him fairly well. What did you think?"
She pulled herself out of her absorption and laughed.
"Don't expect me to analyze him, Bobby. He is past that."
"Bad or good?"
"Good, if making havoc of my nerve centres is any test."
"Then you really liked him? I thought you didn't want to come."
"I didn't. Nothing but a stern sense of duty brought me; but it also brought its own reward. One hears such a voice only once a decade."
Bobby Dane eyed her askance.
"Sure this is yourself, Beatrix? I thought you scoffed at all baritones, and only delighted in maudlin tenors and anticking sopranos. I have hopes of you yet; but whence comes your conversion?"
"From this man, Mr. ——." She referred to the programme in her hand.
"Thayer," her cousin prompted. "Cotton Mather Thayer."
"Bobby! What a name for an artist!"
"For a punster, you'd better say; but at least one can't doubt its genuineness. If he had been going to assume a stage name, he would have chosen something more romantic."
"Who is he, and where did Mrs. Stanley accumulate him?"
Bobby rolled his eyes expressively towards the portly, satin-clad figure of his hostess.
"Mrs. Stanley hunts every lion that comes to Manhattan Island. As a rule, she catches only cubs; this is the exception which proves the rule."
"I haven't heard the name before."
"No; Thayer is a brand-new lion, but fully grown. Of course, with that name, his family tree sprouted in Massachusetts; but he has been in Germany and Italy for years. He only landed, the third, and is to make his formal debut at the Lloyd Avalons's on the twentieth. Don't you want to meet him?"
"N—no. I am afraid it would be anticlimax."
"Not a bit of it. He doesn't indulge in speckled neckties and an imperial. He is a man, as well as a singer."
"You know him, then?"
"Yes, as one knows any number of people. Lorimer has had him at the club occasionally, and I have met him there."
"Lorimer knew him well in Germany. Come and help burn incense before him, and do try to say something rational. Those fellows must get deadly sick of the inanities people talk when they are being introduced. If you make a good impression, perhaps I'll bring him around, some Monday."
"Wait till you see what impression he makes, Bobby. I'm not Mrs. Stanley, you know, and I'm not stalking any lions."
Even while he laughed at the sudden hauteur of her tone, he allowed his glance to wander over her with manifest approval.
"Good for you, Beatrix! But Thayer is a gentleman first of all, then an artist. A cad always shows himself at a strange club; but Thayer passed muster at The Critic, where even Lorimer isn't altogether popular."
"Why not?" she demanded sharply.
"Difference in taste in jokes," her cousin replied evasively. "I only spoke of it to show you that you were safe enough in knowing Thayer. Lorimer is a good fellow; even good fellows have their foes."
"But if Mr. Thayer hasn't—"
"Thayer hasn't been here long enough to get them. Give him time, Beatrix. Inside of six weeks, he will have every singer in New York slandering him. There's nothing more lovable than the way musicians stand by one another, when it's a case of fighting a successful rival."
She laughed suddenly.
"How do you know, Bobby? You're not a musician."
"Heaven forfend! If I were, I should spend half my time on The Island, doing sentence for battery and breach of the peace. I have known a few musicians in my time, Beatrix, and I know their pleasant little ways."
They had joined the large group gathered at the head of the music-room, and were slowly working their way from the outer fringe to the focal point. As they waited, now advancing a step, then halting again, Beatrix listened in some scorn to the fugue of praise which rose about her, a fugue composed chiefly of adjectives heaped in confusion about the single, magical noun temperament. She shot a mischievous glance up at her tall cousin.
"Fancy any man having to live up to this sort of thing, Bobby! Divine and perfectly elegant do not suggest the same set of attributes, and I don't see how he can strike the golden mean between them. Somebody really ought to coin a new word for such emergencies as this."
Before her cousin could answer, the woman just ahead of them had buried the singer's hand in her own pudgy clasp.
"Oh, Mr. Thayer, that was such a pretty piece you sang last! It was a German piece; wasn't it? It was just sweet!"
And it was after such a prelude that Beatrix bowed in recognition of her cousin's introduction. Even as she bowed, there came a swift realization that she was facing no anticlimax. And yet the man before her was in no wise the typical musician. Tall, so tall that Bobby Dane, five feet ten in his stockings, seemed short beside him, well-dressed, well-groomed, he looked far more like a prosperous, alert man of affairs than an artist or a dreamer. Moreover, in spite of certain lines in his face, he was absurdly boyish to have sung those great songs. He could know nothing of the real issues of fate with which he had been juggling, could have no real conception of either hope or disappointment. Doubtless he had developed his Weltschmerz mechanically, imitatively, at so many marks or lire an hour.
Beatrix had always been distressed by the flatness of her one-syllabled name. It gained a new roundness now; and she raised her eyes, as Thayer spoke it, to meet the gray ones above her. They were clear and steady eyes, smiling, yet with a look in their depths which to her mind accounted for the insistent, troubled note in his singing. The lines about his shaven lips were firm, but mobile.
Bobby eyed the two of them quizzically. Then he broke in upon the tentative conversation which follows an introduction.
"Pass, Beatrix! That's quite original. I told my cousin, Thayer, that if she could hail you with a new adjective, I should present you as a candidate for a dish of tea, some Monday."
As usually happened with Bobby Dane's remarks, this proved the end of any serious talk, and Beatrix laughed, as she responded,—
"Please come alone, Mr. Thayer. My cousin monopolizes all the conversation, when he is present."
"And Miss Dane always demands a good listener. Like a conspirator, she relies upon your silence, Thayer."
"What a restful hostess!" Thayer answered lightly. Then, turning, he laid a kindly hand on the arm of his accompanist. "Otto, I wish you to meet Mr. Dane. Miss Dane, may I introduce my friend, Mr. Arlt?"
It was done simply; but the boy blushed with sudden shyness before the stately girl, whose fur collar alone had cost far more than his whole year's expenses. Beatrix met him cordially, for she had seen him standing ignored in his corner by the piano, and she liked the friendly way in which the singer had included him in the trivial talk. It was not until afterwards that she suddenly recalled the fact that she herself and her cousin were apparently the only ones to whom Thayer had introduced his companion. She pondered over the reason for this until, as she slowly mounted the steps to her own door, she abruptly recurred to the unanswered question which had been driven from her mind by the afternoon's events.
The old butler met her in the hall.
"Mr. Lorimer has just telephoned to you, Miss Beatrix. He can't come, to-night, he says. His horse stumbled and threw him just now, and his ankle is sprained. It will be a few days before he can go out."
And with utter thankfulness Beatrix accepted even this brief reprieve.
"Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will come floating back to you in time to be fed out to the next man."
"Bad for the next man's digestion, though!" Bobby Dane commented, as he set down his empty cup. "You needn't offer me any of your second-hand pabulum, Beatrix."
"You probably will be in such dire straits that I shall offer you the first chance at it, Bobby," she retorted.
"Another cup of tea, and two pieces of lemon, please," Sally demanded. "What is the particular appositeness of your remarks, Beatrix?"
"Mr. Arlt and Mrs. Stanley. Also the conservation of philanthropic energy."
Sally stirred her tea with a protesting clatter of the spoon.
"Beatrix, I am glad I didn't go to college. Your mind is appalling; your language is more so. May I ask whether you are going into slumming?"
"For the family credit, I must draw the line at the Salvation Army," Bobby adjured her. "A poke bonnet and a tambourine wouldn't be a proper fruitage for our family tree."
"What are you going to do, Beatrix?" Sally repeated. "It is something uncanny, I know. I felt it in the air, and that was the reason I stayed until everybody else had gone. I knew you wished to confess."
"But I didn't."
"Not even to ease your conscience?"
"My conscience is perfectly easy."
"But you said it was worse than slumming."
"It is. Slumming is aristocratic and conservative; I am about to be radical."
"Don't tell me it is spectacles and statistics," Bobby pleaded. "I abhor statistical women; they are so absorbed in collating material that they never listen to the point of even your best stories."
"Not a statistic, I promise you, Bobby."
"Nor a poke bonnet?"
"No; my choice is for toques, not pokes. Do you know Mr. Arlt?"
"Never heard of the gentleman." Bobby's tone expressed cheery indifference, as he bent over to prod the fire.
"But you met him, Bobby."
"It was in a crowd, then, and it doesn't signify that I've heard of him. Who is he, Sally?"
With the freedom born of intimacy, Sally was eating up her lemon rind, and there was a momentary pause, while she shook her head. Beatrix answered the question.
"He is Mr. Thayer's accompanist, that little German who was with him at Mrs. Stanley's."
"Have you heard Thayer yet, Sally?" Bobby asked parenthetically.
"No. I have heard about him till I am weary of his name, though, and such a name! Cotton Mather Thayer!"
"Did it ever occur to you the handicap of going through life as Bobby?" inquired the owner of that name. "It is a handicap; but it is also a distinct advantage. Nobody ever expects me to amount to anything. No matter how much I fizzle, they'll say 'Oh, but it's only Bobby Dane!' Now, Cotton Mather Thayer is bound to fill a niche in the—the—"
"Lofty cathedral of fame reared by the ages." Sally helped him out of his rhetorical abyss.
"Thanks awfully; yes. And then Beatrix will scatter her water-soaked breadcrumbs around him to coax the little sparrows to make their nests in the crown of his hat and get free music lessons for their young in exchange for keeping his head warm."
Beatrix frowned; then she laughed. Bobby was incorrigible, and there was no use in expecting seriousness from him. He and Sally were alike; Beatrix was cast in a different mould. She could suffer and enjoy with an intensity unknown to either of the others; yet she was close kin to her cousin in her appreciation of his irresponsible fun, even though it would never have occurred to her to originate it. Moreover, even if it had occurred to her, it is doubtful whether she could have accomplished it.
"Who gets first bite at your bread, Beatrix?" Bobby asked encouragingly. "Granted that Arlt, whoever he is, gets second nibble, who comes in ahead?"
"Mrs. Stanley." In spite of herself, Beatrix laughed at the logical application of her metaphor. Stout, energetic Mrs. Stanley was so like a greedy young turkey snapping up the crumbs dropped from the hands of her superiors.
Sally raised her brows.
"Knowing Mrs. Stanley's appetite, I only wonder that any of the loaves and fishes should be left over," she drawled maliciously.
"Mrs. Stanley has her good points, Sally."
"Not a point. She is all built in parabolic curves. Why can't you be accurate, Beatrix, as befits your higher education? You took conic sections a year before I did."
"All the more reason I should forget them sooner. Besides, haven't I begged you not to allude to the fact that I am a year older than you?"
"But is Mr. Thayer as great a singer as they say?" Sally asked, with sudden irrelevancy.
"Greater. He is almost perfectly satisfactory."
"Not yet; he will be, some day, if he can only have an unhappy love affair," Beatrix answered placidly, as she rose from the tea table and crossed to the open fire.
"That is an humane speech."
"Artistic, though. He needs just that to develop him. He strikes every note but tenderness."
"Tenderness is generally located at C in Alt, Beatrix. A baritone can't soar to that height; you should be content when he growls defiance and moans resignation."
"Besides," Sally suggested; "it is quite within the limits of possibility that Mr. Thayer might have a happy love affair. Would that answer your purpose, Beatrix?"
"Not in the least. It is his minor key that needs developing."
"Never mind," Bobby added. "Artists are scheduled for the unhappy loves. Therein lies the advantage of being merely a newspaper man."
Sally looked up inquiringly.
"Just what is it that you do, Bobby? I know you have a desk and a salary; but I've never been able to find out that you did anything but put your heels on one and your fingers on the other."
"That's because you aren't there to see."
"No; but I have heard. Do you ever work, really work?"
"Of course I work. I earn the jam to eat on my daily bread. I boxed the devil's ears, this morning."
"Luther redivivus! You and Beatrix will soon be great moral forces in the metropolis. Beatrix, is he really presentable?"
"Bobby, or the devil?"
"Neither. Mr. Th—"
"Mr. Thayer," the old butler announced imperturbably, and the subject of discussion came slowly across the great dusky room towards the circle of light around the table.
Even while she was suppressing her gasp of sheer embarrassment, Sally admitted to herself that he was presentable, very presentable. His manner was altogether free from the self-conscious graciousness of an artist off-duty; moreover, he was very big, very comely, very much stamped with the hall-mark of her own class. His eyes were steady; his shoulders were broad, but his hands were slim. As for Sally Van Osdel, she had one attribute of a great general; she knew how to beat a dignified retreat from an awkward situation, and she it was who broke in upon the little pause which followed the introductions.
"Your entrance was most dramatic, Mr. Thayer, for your name was just trembling upon our lips. Miss Dane has been asking us if we knew your accompanist, Mr. Arlt."
He turned to Beatrix.
"Otto? What about him, Miss Dane?"
"Only good. Miss Gannion was speaking to me about him, last night."
"You know Miss Gannion?"
He laughed silently from between his close-shut teeth.
"That can be interpreted in two senses."
"Not if you know Miss Gannion. She is of the salt of the earth."
"I am glad to hear you say so. She is the one person in the city to whom I brought an introduction. She was out when I called, so I am still a good deal at sea in regard to her."
A direct question would have been unpardonable; but Beatrix could see no offence in the note of interrogation in his voice.
"She is a dear little spinster of fifty, with endless interests and not a hobby to her name, the most downright, practical person I have ever known, and the most helpful to strangers and pilgrims in the city. It is quite incidental that she is uncommonly rich and uncommonly homely. Nobody ever stops to think about either fact."
"And she has heard of Arlt?"
"Yes, she hears of everybody. She has a great talent for putting young men on their feet and teaching them to walk alone. In fact, she is a perfect employment bureau for meritorious youth. Somebody wrote to her that Mr. Arlt has genius and grit, and not a guinea to his name, and she is trying to get him some engagements."
"She asked you to help him?"
"Yes. At least, she spoke about him, and asked me to keep my eyes open and to say a good word for him, when I can. What does he want, Mr. Thayer?"
"Whatever he can get."
"What does he need, then?"
"Everything." Thayer's tone was grave.
"At least, that is comprehensive, Beatrix," her cousin assured her. "He may even be starved into eating your chloride of manna."
She ignored the interruption.
"And you have known him for some time, Mr. Thayer?"
"Long enough to have no hesitation in vouching for him, both as a man and as an artist." His tone was not unfriendly, yet it was of dignified finality.
"Then why the deuce hasn't the fellow arrived?" Bobby rose, as he spoke, and planted his feet accurately on the middle pothook of the hearthrug.
"Chiefly because art is long, and we are all too busy to wait for it to display itself. Give him time," Sally suggested idly, for she was becoming a little bored by the discussion.
"Time is money, though. Perhaps a pension would do just as well."
Thayer frowned involuntarily. To him, his art was too sacred to admit of any flippancy in discussing it. He turned still more directly to Beatrix.
"Arlt is a thoroughly good fellow, one you are safe in introducing anywhere. He is only a boy, barely twenty; but he is one of the most satisfactory pianists I have ever heard. I don't mean I haven't heard better ones; but never one who has been more satisfying to my mood, whatever it is. His technique is not perfect, and he lacks maturity; but he has a trick of making people dissatisfied with other pianists and anxious to hear him play the same programme."
"And he will accompany?"
"I spare your modesty, Mr. Thayer. I think I understand. But really I haven't much influence. If I can help him, though, you can count on my doing it."
"All he needs is a little start. As Miss Van Osdel says, New York is moving too fast to wait for strangers to fall into step with the procession."
"He is a stranger, then?"
"He came over with me." Thayer hesitated. "I may as well tell you a bit about him," he went on. "It can't do any harm, and it may supplement Miss Gannion's story. He is that unhappy being, the youngest son of a younger son, and he has more ancestors than money. His father ran away to escape army service, and forgot to provide for his wife and children. The children died, all but two, Otto and a sister eight years older. He was half through his musical training, when she had a fall that crippled her, and the boy had to give up study and take to teaching. For two years, he fought a losing fight, giving lessons to stolid youngsters, playing at cheap concerts wherever he could get an engagement, and all the time slowly dropping deeper and deeper into debt. One night, he fainted in the middle of the accompaniment to The Erl-King, and it looked as if the King had claimed him. There were a couple of Americans in the hall who had been watching him for weeks, and they began to investigate the case. Arlt, it seems, hadn't eaten anything for two days; and, just as he had started for the concert, he had received legal notice that the next day his mother and sister would be turned into the street, because the rent was unpaid."
"And then?" Sally queried, as Thayer came to a full stop.
"Then they took him out to supper," he replied prosaically.
"And then?" Sally persisted.
Thayer spoke with some reluctance.
"Then they found him an engagement that paid a better salary, and they bullied him into accepting a little loan, until the first week's payday came around."
"That was so good of you!" Beatrix said impulsively.
He raised his brows.
"I wasn't the only American in Berlin at the time, Miss Dane."
"No; you said there were two of you. But there is no use in your denying that you were the one who sang The Erl-King."
"Circumstantial evidence convicts you, Thayer," Bobby said, coming to the support of his cousin. "You sang; you also fed him. Likewise, you brought him to America. Then wherefore deny?"
"There's no reason I should deny. I like Arlt, and for weeks I had been trying to get him as accompanist, so I gained by the affair. The other fellow didn't, though. He was no musician; but the case interested him. He not only backed Arlt financially, but he hunted up the mother and sister and did no end of nice things for them, the things that count: rolling chairs and extract of beef and all that stuff. He had nothing to make by the transaction."
"Were they properly grateful?" Bobby inquired.
"Yes, to the point of enthusiasm. The mother insisted upon doing his mending all the next winter, and the sister embroidered him a pair of huge antimacassars and a smoking-cap. It sounds funny; but it was grim, earnest tragedy mixed with pathos. He did it all with such tact that the poor creatures never half realized how for a fact they never came into the middle of his life at all. Arlt realizes it, though. That is one of the most pathetic phases of the whole situation. By the way, Dane, you know the fellow, I think."
"I wish I did." Beatrix spoke impetuously. "Plenty of people will give generously, but not many of them are willing to give humanely."
"Old Frau Arlt used to call him her Lieber Sohn, and fuss over him as if he were in dire need of her motherly care. He took it just as it was given. The two women lived too quietly to have heard of him. Otto never told them the truth; but outside the house his deference made up for the familiarity at home. It has been a pretty story to watch, and it has meant a comfortable life for two half-starved women."
"Who was the man?" Bobby asked idly.
"Lorimer. Sidney Lorimer."
Of course, as Bobby Dane had said, with such a name, Thayer's family tree had sprouted in Massachusetts. His Puritanism was hereditary and strong; it tempered the artistic side of his nature, but it could not destroy it. In the musical sense of the word, Cotton Mather Thayer possessed Temperament; but his Temperament was the battle-field where two warring temperaments were at constant strife.
In the year of grace sixteen hundred and thirty-five, Richard Thayer, freeman, landed in America. From Plymouth Rock, he strode straight towards a position of colonial fame. His children and his children's children kept up the family tradition and name until one of them, of a more theological bent than his cousins had been, annulled the custom of his ancestors and named his oldest son for the grim divine, Cotton Mather Thayer, and during the next one hundred and fifty years, Cotton Mathers and Richards had flourished side by side among the Thayers of eastern Massachusetts. They were strong men, one and all, quiet and self-contained in years of peace, grim fighters in seasons of war, and prominent citizens at all times, a godly, gritty, and prosperous race. Of such is the greatness of New England.
Their records, like the records of all good things, were slightly monotonous. They were born into orderly nurseries; they were graduated from the vicissitudes of teething and mumps into orderly, peaceful adolescence. They invariably married the most suitable damsel of their own class, and they passed from an orderly old age through an orderly churchyard into a heaven which the imagination of their surviving kin peopled with orderly ranks of angels, playing gilt harps in perfect accord. Their artistic ideals were bounded by Coronation and the pictures in The New England Primer and Godey. Blackberry shrub, to their minds, was the medium of riotous dissipation.
Under such fostering conditions, ancestral traits strengthened from generation to generation, until the race of Puritan Thayers culminated in one Cotton Mather who was born in the early decades of the last century, a grim deacon, a shrewd lawyer, and the owner of two or three ships which sailed from his own seaport town. Shrewd as he was, however, his logic failed him at one point. When his first child, Cotton Mather Thayer, was a tiny boy, the youngster was allowed and even invited to toddle about the wharves, clinging to the paternal thumb. On the other hand, when the boy Cotton was fourteen, he received a round dozen of canings for lounging about among the shipping. The thirteenth caning was one too many. It was more severe than the others, and it cracked the long-strained situation. The caning occurred in his father's office, after hours, one June night. The Thankful was booked to sail, the next morning at eight. When, at eight-ten, it slipped down the harbor, it bore away as cabin-boy and general drudge the stiff and sore, but unrepentant sinner, Cotton Mather Thayer, age fourteen.
His later adventures have little concern with the story of his son's life. He sailed over many seas, he visited many lands, mellowing by contact with many peoples the unyielding temper of his race. The possibility of failure never once entered into his mind. The Thayers always had succeeded, for they always had worked. In consequence, he took it quite as a matter of course that, at twenty-three, he should be commander of the Presidenta, stationed in the Baltic for a year of chilly inaction. St. Petersburg was near, and St. Petersburg, as the young commander found, held for him the focal point of the world, in the person of the pretty daughter of one of the court musicians. Twelve years later, while the Presidenta was stationed in the Mediterranean, its young captain died, leaving behind him in Russia a fragile wife and a little son who had inherited the name and character of the Thayers, curiously mingled with the artistic, emotional temperament and the rare musical ability of his mother's race.
It was no common combination. Russian art and Puritan morals are equally grim; yet the one yields to every passing emotion, the other is girded up by unyielding strength. Throughout his little boyhood, the child's nature seemed borne hither and thither by these two counter currents in his blood, now passing days of quiet, sturdy self-control, now swept by black gusts of passion which carried all things before them. Then, four years after his father's death, there came two events into his life: his mother's death, and the discovery that he had a voice. The one taught him the meaning of utter, absolute loneliness, for the alien blood of the Thayers had never been able to win many friends in the land of his mother's kin. The other proved to be at once a rudder to guide him over the uncharted future of his life, and an outlet for the pent-up passion within him. His voice was totally untrained, and as yet it broke into all manner of distressing falsetto fragments. Nevertheless, it gave him a cause for living, and it enabled him, the descendant of a taciturn race, to give utterance to the doubts and questionings which accompanied his growth to manhood. Bereft of his mother and without his voice, he might easily have become an ascetic or a criminal.
To a boy of sixteen, trained to a life of strict economy, his slight income from his father's investments seemed enough for his needs, and he felt a boyish disgust when, one day, word came to him that his grandfather had died, leaving him the only heir to the large property laid up by eight generations of Thayers. His grandfather had refused to become reconciled to his son; then why should he assume post-mortem friendship with his son's son? However, by the time he was launched into German student-life, dividing his time fitfully between his university and his music, young Cotton Mather was forced to admit that an ancestral fortune was no despicable addition to the stock in trade of a man starting in life. He only needed to watch the grinding existences of some of his comrades to realize the value of money in shaping a broad artistic career. Instead of wasting his gray matter over details of ways and means, he could let that side of life take care of itself, while he gave his whole attention to developing the best that was in his mind and his voice.
Of course, he was extravagant; of course, he learned, among other things, some of the blacker lessons of the student world. However, the Puritanism of his ancestors stood him in good stead. It enabled him to come into close contact with the seamy side of life; but it decreed that the friction should never leave a sore spot behind it. It only hardened the fibre. When he ended his studies, he knew the world at its best and at its worst, but with this distinction: the best was an integral part of his life; the worst was an alien, a foe to be recognized and downed, however often it should face him.
From Goettingen, where he had met Lorimer casually, Thayer went to Berlin to devote his time entirely to music. Lorimer joined him there, more because he had nothing to call him back to America than because he had anything to call him to Berlin. During the next winter, the two men, as unlike as men could be, had shared a bachelor apartment, the one working industriously, the other playing just as industriously. It was during this winter that Lorimer had come into contact with the Arlts. It was during this winter also that Thayer finally decided to give up his other plans and make his profession centre in his voice. He had battled against the idea with the fervor of a race to whom "the stage" offered no distinction between vaudeville and grand opera, but inclined to the characteristics of the one and the scope of the other. For years, he had fought against the temptation; he yielded, one night, during the second act of Faust, and, in after time, he could always identify the chord which had punctuated his decision. Three hours later, he was studying that fraction of Baedeker which concerns itself with Italy.
He was in Italy for two years. Then he went back to Berlin for another year of grinding work, of passing discouragements, and of ultimate success. There had been many and many a day when his pluck had failed him, when he had questioned whether his voice was really good, whether, after all, it were possible to make an artist out of gritty Puritan stock; whether, in fact, he was not a thing of fibre, rather than a man of temperament. His progress was great; but his ideals kept pace with it.
It was one dazzling June morning when he took his final lesson. He had gone onward and upward until, for months, he had been in the hands of the maestro universally acknowledged to be the dean of his art. The maestro was an old man and chary of his words; yet even he was stirred to enthusiasm.
"My son, it is time for you to go," he said, as he rose from the piano and took Thayer's hands into his own fragile, elderly fingers. "I can teach you nothing more. It is now for you to work out your own reputation. Not much more of life is left in me; but, before it is ended, I shall hear your name spoken, both often and with praise. While I live, my house will hold a welcome to you. Auf wiedersehen!"
As Thayer went out into the sunshine, the glitter and the brightness of it all, of the day and of the future, dazzled him and made him afraid. Then of a sudden the blood of the Thayers, in abeyance during those mad, sad, glad years of study and of striving, asserted itself again. Obeying its behest, he turned abruptly from the street where he was seeking the impresario to whom his master had sent him. In that instant, he turned his back for many a long month upon opera and upon all that followed in its train.
One clean, cold night in mid-February, Thayer came down the steps of his club, where he had been dining with Bobby Dane. At the foot of the steps he halted long enough to button his coat to the chin and pull his hat over his eyes, preparatory to facing the cutting wind. Then, turning southward, he went striding away down the Avenue with the vigorous, alert tread of the well-fed, contented man. It was still early, so early that the pavements were dotted with theatre-going groups. He strode through and beyond them, along the lower end of the Avenue, and came under the arch, standing in chill, austere dignity at the edge of the wind-swept square. Over its fretted surface the electric lights shone coldly, and the deserted benches beyond brought to Thayer, fresh from the glow and good-fellowship of the club, a sudden depressing sense of his own aloofness from his kind. The club and Bobby were incidental points of contact, pleasant, but not permanent. Like the arch, he was alone, outside the rushing life of the busy town, something to be watched and commented upon, but never destined to be really in the heart of things. Bobby was a part of it, and Bobby had held out to him a welcoming hand. He had taken the hand, and had dropped it again. It was of no use. He did not belong. The sensation was not a new one to him. He had met it before and in many places. It came to him suddenly and unbidden, and it lay, a chilly weight, over all his consciousness. It always left him wondering whether he would ever become fully adjusted to his environment, whether it would ever be possible for him to come into perfect contact with his fellow-men.
As if the depression had brought with it a physical chill, he shook his broad shoulders and plunged his hands into the side pockets of his overcoat. Then, facing westward, he went on for a block or two and stopped at the door of a shabby boarding-house.
"Mr. Arlt?" he said to the maid, in brief interrogation.
She nodded and stood aside to let him pass. Thayer's tread on the dim stairway showed his familiarity with the place, as did the prompt calling of his name which answered his knock.
Without laying down his pipe, Arlt rose to greet his guest.
"You were so late that I was afraid you were not coming."
Thayer took off his fur-lined coat and tossed it into a chair.
"Haven't you learned that I always get around?" he asked. "I was dining with a friend, and we took things lazily."
"And now you expect to sing?" Arlt's accent was rebuking.
"Yes. I walked down here to get myself into condition. How is it? Are you feeling nervous over the prospect?"
Arlt had seated himself at the grand piano which completely filled one end of the dreary room. Now he drew a protesting arpeggio from the black keys and shook his head.
"Oh, that is a terrible woman, that Mrs. Lloyd Avalons! She was here again, to-day, to tell me about the programme. What does she know of music? She refuses the Haydn Variations and demands a Liszt Rhapsodie. If you are not firm with her, she will end by making you sing The Holy City with a flute obligato."
Thayer laughed unfeelingly.
"She is a Vandal, Arlt; but the world will be at her musicale, they tell me; and you will find it a good place to make your bow to an American public. Mrs. Dana told me, over in Berlin, that Mrs. Lloyd Avalons gave the best private recitals in New York."
"What does she know about music?" Arlt grumbled.
"Nothing, apparently; but the new-rich must have some sort of a fad, if they are to make themselves count for anything, and people will go to hear good music, even when they know it is a mere social bribe. Hofman could fill a Bowery dance-hall with the elect; you only have to lead them to the latest architectural vagary on Fifth Avenue. They are bound to be there, for, even while they scoff, they like to keep an eye on Mrs. Lloyd Avalons for fear she may prove to be worth knowing after they have snubbed her; so play your best. It may lead to other engagements to come."
"And the Liszt Rhapsodie?" he asked mournfully.
"Bad, I admit."
"It is detestable. The Rhapsodies are the forlorn hope of artists who have failed on Beethoven."
"Not so bad as that. Still, there's a way of escape. Announce to your audience that, by request, you are changing the number from Liszt to Haydn. I do request it most earnestly."
The boy looked up in admiring relief.
"How is it that such ideas come to you, Mr. Thayer?"
"My Yankee blood, Arlt. Now shall we run over my songs?"
It was characteristic of Thayer that, in consenting to make his American debut at the recital of Mrs. Lloyd Avalons, he had insisted upon the condition that he should choose his own assisting artist. How Mrs. Lloyd Avalons had heard of him in the first place was a mystery which he had made no effort to solve. From the testimony of several members of the American colony in Berlin, it appeared that all New York and half of Boston had heard of Mrs. Lloyd Avalons, who, for three or four seasons past, had been using her really choice musicales as a species of knocker upon the portal of New York society. By this time, she had passed the portal and was disporting herself in the vestibule, with one toe resting upon the sacred threshold. Socially, she was as yet impossible; but her recitals had won the reputation of being among the choicest tidbits of the season's musical feast, for she made up in money what she lacked in artistic sense, and, thanks to her agent, she had been able to discover certain new stars before they rose above the horizon. For this reason it was a distinct honor, Thayer was told, to be bidden to sing for Mrs. Lloyd Avalons, and therefore Thayer had promptly made up his mind that Arlt also should have a hearing upon this occasion. The boy already had decided to come to America. Thayer realized with regret how cold a welcome the country of his own ancestors was accustomed to extend to struggling young musicians. Arlt had genius; but he lacked both influence and initiative. The fight would be a long one, and Arlt's conquest would be at the expense of many a wound. Teutons are not necessarily pachyderms, and Arlt was sensitive to a rare degree.
As Arlt's fingers dropped from the keys at the close of Valentine's song of farewell, Thayer laughed suddenly.
"It is rather contrary to custom to be accompanied by the star of the evening, Arlt. I suppose I ought to have hunted up somebody else; but these other fellows make frightful work of my accompaniments. They hurry till they get me out of breath, and then they take advantage of the moment to drown me out. I'd like a baton, only I should beat the accompanist with it, before I was half through a programme."
The boy's color came.
"When another man accompanies you, I shall be dead, or incapable," he returned briefly. "I do not forget."
"Nor I. But do you also remember the last time we did this in Germany?"
"At my home? To Katarina?"
"It is my song, you know. I am superstitious about it."
"Mr. Lorimer was there, that night."
"Oh, that reminds me, Arlt, I heard, to-night, that Lorimer was engaged."
"Yes, to a Miss Dane. It is only just announced, to-day. I was dining with her cousin and he told me."
"She must be good. I hope she is also strong of character," the boy said, with a curiously deliberate accent which seemed characteristic of him. "He is a good man and a kind one; but he needs a steadying hand. I shall write to the mother and Katarina."
"Will they like the news?"
"Why not? Mr. Lorimer is their friend, and they will be glad of any happiness which shall come to him. To the mother, he is like a son, for she is simple-hearted and knows nothing of the world. To Katarina, he is like a god."
"But gods don't usually marry," Thayer suggested whimsically, as he took up his coat.
However, Arlt was ready for him.
"Zeus did, and Homer tells us how he quarrelled with his wife.'"
"Lorimer never will quarrel; he is too easy-going. By the way, you met Miss Dane at the Stanley recital. Do you remember her?"
Arlt's lips straightened thoughtfully.
"A tall lady in brown furs, who knew how to praise without making a fool of herself?" he queried.
"That is the one. I should judge that Lorimer has been making a systematic campaign ever since he met her, three months ago, and that, after all, it came suddenly in the end. Dane was noncommittal; but I think he doesn't like Lorimer any too well. Good-night, Arlt. We'll rehearse again, Wednesday morning; meanwhile, stick to your Haydn." And Thayer went away, out into the cold, crisp air, which greeted him now with all its tonic force.
Arlt's simple, boyish loyalty and lack of self-analysis always put him into good-humor. It was as infectious as the jovial temper of Bobby Dane, Thayer reflected enviously, with a sudden memory of the idle talk over their dinner. Strange what had put him on his nerves afterwards! Then his thoughts flew to Lorimer, and he wondered how his old chum would bear the harness of domestic living. Perhaps it was just as well that no idea crossed his mind of how far his story told to Beatrix Dane, the Monday before, had had a share in shaping the decision which was to change the whole character of her life.
The question of one's accountability for others is rarely an edifying subject of meditation.
"It isn't so easy to say airy nothings to an artist, when you know him behind the scenes," Beatrix said, suddenly shifting the talk back to the point of departure.
"Talk philosophy, then," Bobby returned.
"But I must say something to him, after he gets through singing; and now that I have seen him, three or four times, I can't launch into a sea of platitudes."
"I thought women could always go to sea in a platitude. It is as leaky as a sieve, and not half so likely to upset and leave one floating without any support at all."
Sally laughed outright.
"Beware of Bobby, when he turns metaphorical! He suggests a second-hand curio shop."
Lorimer glanced up at her, with a whimsical smile twisting his lips.
"Your own rhetoric isn't above reproach, Miss Van Osdel. But has it ever occurred to you that Young America has abandoned its sieve for a man of war? I met a callow junior from Harvard, the other day, and by way of making polite conversation, I asked him to suggest a clever subject for a debate. He promptly told me that at his eating club they had been discussing the origins of morality."
Bobby whistled, to the huge delight of the butler. That factotum revelled in the pranks of "Master Bobby" who had upset his dignity at least once a week for the past fifteen years.
"In our time we took our pleasures less sadly, Lorimer. What are we all coming to?"
"To congenital senility."
"That is nothing more nor less than the frugal trick of making both ends meet," Sally interpolated.
"But what shall I say to Mr. Thayer?" Beatrix reiterated.
"That it is a pleasant evening."
"That you hope he isn't very tired with singing so much," Bobby and Sally suggested in the same breath.
Beatrix made a little gesture of scorn.
"It is your turn, Mr. Lorimer. You know him better than the rest of us. What shall you say to him?"
"I know him so well that I rarely talk to him about his singing," Lorimer replied, with sudden gravity. "Thayer is too large a man to smack his lips over sugar-plums. He knows exactly what I think of his voice, that it is one of the best baritone voices I have ever heard. He also knows that I am perfectly aware of the fact when he sings unusually badly or unusually well. Under those conditions, there is no especial need of our discussing the matter. One can have reservations with one's friends, you know." As he spoke, his eyes met those of Beatrix, and a smile lighted his gravity.
At a first glance, Sidney Lorimer produced the impression of being a remarkably handsome man. The second glance, while it strengthened the impression, nevertheless set one wondering what had created it. His figure, his features, his coloring were all good, yet they were in no way remarkable. A wiry, nervous, clean-cut man, with brown hair and eyes, a slim, straight nose, and a well-set head, he would have commanded little attention had it not been for the nameless stamp set upon him by his training at an English public-school. It is impossible to analyze this stamp, yet it exists and insists upon recognition. Political life had called the elder Lorimer to England, and he had judged it better to take his only child with him and drop him into Eton than to leave him in America and send him to St. Paul's. He did it as a matter of convenience, not of theory; but when his boy was ready for a Yale diploma, the father confessed to himself that he was pleased with the result of the experiment. Young Lorimer would never be an important factor in the world's development; but he was an uncommonly attractive fellow, and could hold his own in any position where chance would be likely to place him. Only his lower lip betrayed the fact that his mother had been a woman of uncurbed nerves.
It was the evening of the twentieth, and Lorimer was distinctly nervous. He liked Arlt and was anxious for his success; but his anxiety for Arlt was as nothing in comparison with that which he felt for Thayer, to whom he gave the adoration that a weak man sometimes offers to one immeasurably his superior. Probably Lorimer's whole life would contain no better year than the one he had spent with Thayer in Berlin. Thayer's influence was strongly good, and Lorimer was of plastic material. It is doubtful whether Lorimer realized this influence; yet he was genuinely delighted to have Thayer within easy reach once more, genuinely wishful to have Thayer's American debut such an unqualified success that hereafter he would regard New York as his professional home.
Lorimer rarely was garrulous; he was unusually silent during the long drive to the Lloyd Avalons's. It was his first introduction to the pseudo-fashionable world, for his own family had been of conservative stock, and Beatrix and Bobby had been the first of the Danes to break down the barriers of their own exclusive set. To be sure, he realized that in a city like New York it was quite possible for circles of equal choiceness to exist tangent to each other, yet in mutual ignorance of one another; but his years abroad in slower-moving countries had not prepared him for the countless agile performers clambering up and down over the social trapeze. In his father's day, society had stood on an elevated platform and watched the performers as they played leap-frog on the ground. The performers had been as agile then as now; but their agility had been free from any danger of a tumble. Between the ground and the platform, there is no place of permanent rest. One must keep moving, or else be pushed to the ground.
As a rule, people forgot that there was a Mr. Lloyd Avalons. He was a little man with an imperial, and a total incapacity for telling the truth. In that, he was inferior to his wife in point of social evolution, for she had learned, from certain episodes which still filled her with mortification, that fibbing was bad form. To Mrs. Lloyd Avalons, her husband was a mere cipher. Placed before her, he added nothing to her value; placed after and in the background, he multiplied her importance tenfold. There were certain privileges accruing to a woman with a husband, certain immunities that followed in the train of matrimony. Mrs. Lloyd Avalons was quite willing to include the word obey in the marriage service; she had a distinct choice in regard to whom it should refer.
To-night, Lloyd Avalons stood slightly in the rear of the elbow of his wife who, resplendent in pale gray velvet and emeralds, was welcoming her guests on the threshold of the music-room. Her gray eyes were shining with a greenish light that matched the emeralds, for her lips were set in a conventional smile, and there must be some escape for her delight, as she counted over the tale of guests and recognized individuals of many a named species from the garden of society. All in all, this was the best success she had as yet attained.
She greeted Beatrix effusively, and cast a coy glance at Lorimer while she murmured a few words of congratulation. Then she fell a victim to one of Bobby's quibbles, and while she was struggling to see the point of his joke, the others made their escape.
"At least, the architect knew what he was about," Lorimer remarked to Beatrix, as they took their seats. "Thayer can't complain of the acoustic effects of the place."
"When have you seen him?"
"Just before dinner. He was in superb voice then, and a fairly good mood."
"Isn't he always?" she questioned idly, as she nodded to an acquaintance in the next row of chairs.
"Not always. As a rule, he is the best-tempered fellow in the world. Once in a while, though, he wraps himself up in his dignity and stalks about like an Indian brave in his best Navajo blanket. Nobody ever knows what is the reason, nor when he will go off into a Mood. It makes him an uncertain quantity. For my part, I would rather a man would swear and get it over with." Lorimer spoke easily. Unlike Thayer, he never collided with the angles of his own temperament.
"What does it do to his singing?"
"Depends on one's taste. I like it, myself, as I like a high-flavored cheese. People who pin their faith to Mendelssohn might be a little over-powered. Fact is, there is a strange streak in Thayer's make-up. I can't account for him at all."
"What is the use of trying? Aren't one's friends immune from analysis?"
"I don't care to try. I don't want to account for him; he is too large for that. I wish you might know him; but you never will. He's not a woman's man in the least."
Beatrix was silent for a moment. Involuntarily she was making a swift comparison of the way in which the two men spoke of each other. Lorimer's praise had been full of half-suppressed reservations. Thayer had made no reservations, he had scarcely uttered a word of praise, yet his hastily-drawn picture of Lorimer's connection with the Arlts had proved a determining factor in her life. It had been a new phase of Lorimer's character which Thayer had presented. It had revealed him in a new light and one infinitely more likable than any she had yet known. The Lorimer she had met, had been fascinating and a bit snobbish. The friend of the Arlts was altogether lovable. It takes greater tact and staying power to make friends outside one's social grade than in it. People suspect the motives of those who are crossing the boundaries between caste and caste; yet the Arlts had trusted Lorimer completely.
Beatrix had remained thoughtful for some time after Thayer's departure. Lorimer had called, that same night. His coming had been unexpected; it had taken Beatrix off her guard. She had been unfeignedly glad to see him, for his ten-days' absence from her life had been unprecedented in their acquaintance. The world is wide, yet, owing to some strange law of attraction, one invariably seems to meet the same people everywhere. Beatrix had greeted Lorimer more eagerly than she had been aware. She had tried in vain to keep the fact of the Forbes supper uppermost in her mind. Instead, it slid into the background, and its place had been taken by the thought of Lorimer's probable feelings when he received the smoking cap from the hands of Katarina Arlt. And the evening had hurried away from her. When it had gone, she had realized with a sudden shock that her girlhood was ended. She was the plighted bride of Sidney Lorimer, and, distrustful of her own mental grasp of the fact, she had ruthlessly waked up her mother to tell her what had occurred. Later, she had not understood the motive which had led her to her mother's room. As a rule, she was self-reliant, and adjusted herself to a crisis without caring to talk it over. For the once, however, she felt the need of being strengthened by the enthusiastic delight of Mrs. Dane whose sentimental hopes had centered in Lorimer from the hour of his introduction to her only child.
All this had passed in review through Beatrix's mind, and it seemed long to her since Lorimer's last words, when he said,—
"Don't think I am depreciating Thayer, Beatrix. He is one of the finest fellows who ever came out of the Creator's hands. In his worst moods, he is away ahead of most of the men one meets. Some day, I hope you may know him for what he really is."
There was true generosity underlying Lorimer's frank words. He was still smarting from his contact with Thayer, that afternoon, for Thayer had heard of a dinner at the club, on the previous night, and had spoken a quiet warning. It was only such a warning as he had given, a dozen times before; he knew just how Lorimer would resent it, then accept it, and it would have made no difference to him, could he have foreseen that, in his resentment, Lorimer's words to Beatrix would be slightly tinged with aloes. It is not certain that, foreseeing, he would have cared. Beatrix was nothing to him; of Lorimer he was strangely fond.
Beatrix had felt some curiosity as to the effect Thayer's voice might have upon her. Familiarity in all truth does breed contempt, and a second hearing often proves a disappointment. For Lorimer's sake, she was anxious to enjoy the recital, and she drew a quick, nervous breath as Thayer, followed by Arlt, came striding out across the little stage with the same unconscious ease with which he had crossed her parlor, the week before. As he waited for Arlt to seat himself, he glanced about the room, his practised eye measuring its size and the probable nature of his audience. For an instant, his glance rested upon Beatrix and Lorimer, and he gave a slight smile of recognition. Then his shoulders straightened and he came to attention, as Arlt struck the opening chord of his accompaniment.
He had chosen to begin his programme, that night, with the Infelice for, in spite of its Verdiism, it had been a favorite of his old master in Berlin. Before he had sung a dozen notes, Beatrix, bending forward, was listening with parted lips and flushing cheeks. Of Thayer as a man who had dallied with one of her cups of tea, she took no account; but his voice, sweet and flexible, was tugging at her nerves and setting them vibrating with its note of passionate sadness. Then, gathering power and intensity, it swept its hearers along upon its furious tempest; yet, as she listened, Beatrix felt herself inspired for, underneath it all, there was the same throbbing, insistent note which seemed to assure her that the singer had hoped and lost and fought and conquered, that he knew all about it, himself.
Lorimer nodded contentedly at the stage, as Thayer ended his song.
"That's all right; but they would better save their strength, for he never gives an encore for the first number. What do you think of Thayer now, Beatrix?"
She caught her breath sharply.
"That I should be a better woman, if I could hear him sing often."
"There's something in what you say. He makes me feel it, too. I never have heard him sing better, though he always does that song well. He told me once that he felt possessed with the spirit of his own grandfather, whenever he started it. From all signs, his grandfather must have been an intolerable old person to get on with, if he could rage in that fashion."
"Possibly he had occasion." Beatrix forced herself to speak lightly, though it was an effort for her to resume the accent and manner which befitted the place.
"Perhaps. He was a Russian musician with a young wife. Now for the Schubert group! Thayer's reputation is made, though; he can sing through his nose now, and they will think it a beautiful manifestation of individual genius. I only hope that Arlt will do one tenth as well."
It proved that Arlt did fully six tenths as well, and was applauded to the echo. To the undiscerning ear, he won even more than his share of applause; but Beatrix, her nerves still tense from The Erl-King, felt a difference in the quality of the welcome to the two musicians. The critical few were impartial, and in the case of Arlt they led a wavering fugue of the uncritical many. Arlt was young, small and insignificant. His tailor was not an artist, and Arlt was too palpably conscious that his coat tails demanded respectful care. Society applauded Arlt with punctilious courtesy; but it promptly took Thayer to its bosom and caressed him with enthusiasm.
Late in the evening, Beatrix brought her father to the corner where Thayer, with Arlt beside him, was still holding a sort of court, and the four of them were talking quietly when Mrs. Stanley came pushing her way towards them.
"I must add my word of congratulation, Mr. Thayer," she said, as she graciously offered him a pudgy bundle of white kid fingers. "You have made a wonderful success, and it won't be long before you have New York at your feet."
Thayer glanced down at his patent leather shoes.
"It would be a good deal in the way, Mrs. Stanley. Let us hope it will stay where it belongs," he answered gravely.
"How ungrateful you artists are! But I shall always be so glad and proud to think that your first song in New York was in my house."
"But it wasn't."
Her face fell.
"I thought—Wasn't that your first recital? I am sure you said—"
His smile went no further than his lips, for his clear gray eyes appeared to be taking her mental and spiritual measure, with some little disappointment at the result.
"It was my first recital, Mrs. Stanley; but not my first song. I sang German folk songs to Arlt's landlady, half the afternoon before. You remember Mr. Arlt, I think."
She glanced around with a carelessness which ignored the hand that the boy shyly extended towards her.
"Oh, yes, very pleased," she said vaguely. Then, with a resumption of her former manner, she turned back to Thayer. "And I thought you promised to drop in for a cup of tea, some Thursday, Mr. Thayer."
Beatrix was deaf to his answer. She had turned to Arlt who, scarlet with hurt and anger, stood alone in his corner by the piano.
"Mr. Arlt," she said gayly; "it is very warm here, and I know where they keep the frappe. Shall we leave my father here, and run off in search of some goodies? You ought to be hungry, after playing for two hours. Come!"
And Arlt, surprised at the sudden winning intonations which had crept into her voice, dodged around the portly back of Mrs. Stanley and followed Beatrix out of the room. For the moment, the haughty woman had changed to a jovial, friendly girl, no more awe-inspiring than Katarina, in spite of her wonderful gown and the fluffy white thing in her hair; and the artist, in his turn, changed into a normal hungry boy, as he followed her away.
So absorbed were they in each other that they failed to see Bobby Dane who met them upon the threshold, on his way to join the group they had just left.
"Beg pardon, Thayer; but can I speak to you for a moment?" he said abruptly.
His uncle turned to Mrs. Stanley with old-fashioned pomposity.
"May I have the pleasure of taking you to the dining-room?" he asked.
"What is it, Dane?" Thayer asked, as soon as they were alone, for Bobby's face showed that something was amiss.
"It's Lorimer in the smoking-room. That beast of a Lloyd Avalons has opened a perfect bar in there, and—and Lorimer is making a bit of a cad of himself," Bobby confessed reluctantly. "I tried to get him away; but he wouldn't come, and I thought perhaps you could start him. It's not that he is drunk, only he is talking rather too much, and I want to get him off before Beatrix gets wind of it. You know girls—"
"I know," Thayer assented gravely. "I'll see what I can do with him."
"You musicians make me deadly weary," Bobby proclaimed, from his favorite rostrum of the hearthrug.
"Is that the reason you are trying to sit on them, Bobby?" his cousin asked. "You'll find an easy chair just as restful to you and a good deal more so to the musician."
Bobby waved her remark aside.
"Don't interrupt me, Beatrix. I have things I wish to say."
"Very likely; but it is barely possible that somebody else also may have things he wishes to say, and can't, because you talk so much."
"Sally is busy eating bonbons, and Thayer would much better wait till I get through his indictment. He'll need all his voice to defend himself."
Sally glanced up.
"Go on, Bobby," she said encouragingly. "The sooner it is over, the better."
"Thank you. Then I have the floor. Thayer, I never believe in talking about people behind their backs, so I look you squarely in the eye and ask you if you ever realize that you don't amount to much, after all."
"Who told you?"
"Nobody. I evolved it."
"I didn't know you were a critic."
"I'm not, nor yet an interpreting artist. I create."
"What, I should like to know!" This was from Sally.
"Scareheads. I do them. If that's not creating, I should like to know what is. They never have any connection with facts."
"What is your grievance?" Thayer asked languidly.
"I was just getting to that. As I say, I create. You only interpret. I don't know as it counts that you don't try to interpret my scareheads, though some of them would make stunning fugues. Take the last one, for instance: Billions at Stake: Potato Corner in Prospect. You could work up something fine from that, Thayer. Think of the chest tones you could throw into the single word Potato!"
"Bobby, you are growing discursive," his cousin reminded him.
"No; it is only my rhetorical method. I shall bring you up with a round turn, before you know it. Well, granted that we represent the two classes, the creative and the interpretive, which is the greater?"
"How can we tell, unless you stand back to back?" Sally inquired.
But by this time, Bobby was fairly launched.
"The fact is, you singers and players have a smug little fashion of forgetting that there is a composer back of you. You don't sing extempore, Thayer, make up the song as you go along. You're nothing more than a species of elocutionist, you know, trying to show the people who weren't on the spot what the composer really did when he created the thing."
"Animated phonograph records, in short?" Thayer suggested.
"Yes, if you choose to call it that. Of course you count for something, else every composer could make a set of records and dispense with his interpreting artist once for all. But you fellows honestly do make an awful fuss about yourselves; now don't you?"
"Bobby!" Beatrix protested.
"Oh, yes; but I'm not meaning anything personal," Bobby responded amicably. "We know that Thayer's voice is beyond all odds the best we have heard for a three years. How do you do it, Thayer? You look as calm as a Dutch dolly; but you manage to tear us all to bits. Even I felt sanctified at your recital, and Miss Van Osdel's lashes were freighted with unshed tears."
"That must be one of your next week's scareheads," she objected. "I never cry in public where there are electric lights, Mr. Thayer; it's horribly unbecoming to most women. But I did have to say a nonsense rhyme over to myself, to keep steady."
"Yes, I taught you that trick," Beatrix asserted suddenly. "Lear is very soothing in an emotional crisis. The Rubaiyat for gooseflesh and Lear for tears is my rule. The Jumblies carried me safely through the fifth act of Cyrano. But go on, Bobby. We are nearly ready to change the subject."
"Now take that recital of yours," Bobby pursued meditatively. "You were there to interpret Schubert and Franz and those fellows; but nobody is talking about Schubert and Franz, to-day. It is all Thayer, Cotton Mather Thayer, Baritone. It's all right enough. You did them awfully well; but there's the Them in the background, and it's not decent to forget Them."
Thayer laughed good-naturedly. It was impossible to take offence at the mock seriousness of Bobby's harangue. Furthermore, it held its own grain of truth, even though the grain was buried in an infinite amount of chaff.
"I do occasionally remember that there was a composer," he suggested; "and, in case of the dead ones, you need somebody to sing them."
"Ye-es," Bobby replied grudgingly; "and in case of the live ones, too, sometimes. I have an idea that you make a good deal better noise out of it than most of these old duffers would do. It is only that you take all the glory for the whole business. The newsboys on the street corners have no right to take the credit for my scareheads."
"They are a self-respecting race, Bobby; they don't want to."
"How unkind of you, Sally! But the cases are analogous. And my final point, aside from professional jealousy, is the economy of time. You grub longer over learning to sing a song than it takes the composer to write it, and, when you're through, you've only reproduced somebody else's ideas. Why can't you be original? Next time you feel musically inclined, just say to yourself, 'Go to, now! Let us create!' It won't take a bit longer, and really it's not hard to do. I know, because, you see, I do it."
"Bravo, Bobby! I am delighted to hear that you ever do anything."
At the new voice, Bobby whirled around and bowed himself into a right angle, while Beatrix rose and crossed the room to greet the guest.
"Miss Gannion! What joy to see you!"
Thayer's Russian blood received swift impressions; his Puritanism made him weigh and measure with careful deliberation. Now, as he bowed in acknowledgment of the introduction, he was conscious that in Margaret Gannion he was meeting a woman who would bear either test. She seemed to him one of the most strongly individual women he had ever met; yet at the same time he had a comfortable sense of an infinite number of points of mental contact. Later, he was destined to learn that this sense was not imparted to himself alone. Margaret Gannion was tangent to many lives.
"What is the discussion?" she inquired, as she seated herself.
"No discussion at all, Miss Gannion. Bobby is doing a monologue on music, and the rest of us can't get a word in edgewise."
"Have you joined the ranks of the musicians, Bobby?"
"Yes, or the angels," Sally responded for him. "Nothing else could have such a fatal facility for harping on one string."
"I was so sorry to lose your recital, Mr. Thayer," Miss Gannion said, after a while, as she turned her steady brown eyes on the young man. "I was in Boston, that week, and I am told that I missed one of the treats of the season. When am I to have another chance of hearing you?"
Thayer hesitated for a moment, while his gray eyes met the brown ones that seemed to be taking his mental measure. Apparently both were satisfied with what they saw, for they exchanged a smile of sudden understanding. Then Thayer's face grew grave.
"Whenever you wish," he replied quietly.
"Does that mean you will sing to me, myself? I should never have dared hope for that."
"Why not? That is, if you will let me bring Arlt with me. I dislike to force him upon people; but he is the only accompanist I really enjoy."
Beatrix looked up with a laugh.
"You never asked if you might bring him here, Mr. Thayer."
Suddenly he rose.
"May I take that as a hint, Miss Dane? I can play a few accompaniments after a fashion." And, without waiting for the response which was sure to come, he crossed the room to the piano.
He sang Schubert's Haiden Roeslein and an American song or two. The hush over the room deepened, as the last words fell on the stillness,—
"Oh barren gain! Oh bitter loss! I kiss each bead, and strive at last to learn To kiss the cross—"
And, in the midst of the stillness, he rose and quietly returned to his old place by the fire.
It was long before anyone spoke. Then even Miss Gannion's level voice jarred upon the silence.
"You have a wonderful gift in your keeping, Mr. Thayer," was all she said.
But Beatrix was silent, her eyes fixed on the glowing coals. At length she roused herself with an effort. Reverie was not permissible for a hostess on her reception day. She came out of hers, to find that the conversation had broken into duets. At one side of the table, Bobby and Sally were sparring vivaciously; at the other, Miss Gannion and Thayer had fallen into quiet talk about certain common friends and about the simplest method of helping Arlt to gain the professional recognition he deserved and needed.
"I'm not potent at all," Miss Gannion said regretfully. "I only know people who are, and they are not always receptive in their minds. Still, I may be able to do something, and he made a good impression at Mrs. Lloyd Avalons's recital. In the meantime, bring him to my home, some evening soon. Friday is my day; but, if you don't mind—"
Thayer understood her.
"Arlt will like it a great deal better, and so shall I. He is a shy fellow, and he never shows at his best, when too many people are about."
Miss Gannion's face betrayed her relief. She had not meant to seem inhospitable; neither had she desired apparently to be scheming for a free recital. It was a precarious matter, this establishing social relations with a really great artist who had just expressed his willingness to sing in private life. Miss Gannion's acquaintance was large and of many lines; but Thayer was a new species to her, and she had felt somewhat at a loss how to treat him, as artist or as mere man. Thayer's answer inclined her to the latter alternative.
"What about Saturday, then?" she asked. "I shall be at home, that night."
"Please ask me, Miss Gannion," Bobby entreated.
Miss Gannion shook her head.
"No; you are too much in evidence, Bobby. You would distract my mind from Mr. Arlt, and this is his party, you know. Even Mr. Thayer is subordinate. But, Beatrix child, where is Mr. Lorimer? I thought surely I should find him here, to-day. I've not congratulated him yet. That was one thing that brought me here."
Beatrix flushed a little.
"Mr. Lorimer was called to Washington, last Thursday," she answered so evenly that no one would have suspected the wondering annoyance which his hasty note of explanation had caused her.
"Then he was here for your recital." Miss Gannion turned back to Thayer once more. "Didn't someone tell me you were old friends, Mr. Thayer? It must have been a very exhilarating night for him, this American debut of yours."
For the space of a minute, out of her four hearers, three were holding their breath. Under the promise of the strictest secrecy, Bobby had confided to Sally the story of the scene in the smoking-room; and, like two conspirators, they had spent a long evening in stealthy discussion of the best way to keep the matter from the ears of Beatrix. Sally liked Lorimer; Bobby detested him, yet to neither of them had the matter seemed of quite sufficient importance to justify a broken engagement, and they were too well acquainted with the strict code of Beatrix Dane to doubt what would be the outcome of the affair, if the facts were to reach her ears. Sally was less mature, less aware of the danger inherent in the situation, less strong in her condemnation of what she termed "friskiness." Bobby, with a shrug of his shoulders, admitted that a man should not be condemned for a first offence, that there was plenty of time to watch for a repetition of the affair, to warn Beatrix then and to allow her to take her own course as seemed good to her. Meanwhile, there was no use in disturbing her for nothing. It might be a single slip, such as all men are liable to make. Of course, as Sally argued, Lorimer had been under strong excitement, that evening, partly by reason of his own newly-announced engagement, partly by reason of the brilliant success of his friend. Lloyd Avalons was just the man to take advantage of such a situation, and to think it a huge piece of humorous hospitality to throw Lorimer off his guard. Lloyd Avalons had never joined the camp of the prohibitionists, himself, and he saw no reason for staying the appetites of his guests. To his mind, that Sidney Lorimer could drink too much wine in his house presupposed a certain intimacy. At least, if the incident were to be mentioned, their names were bound to be bracketed with each other. Like his wife, Lloyd Avalons possessed his social ambitions.
In the most accurate use of the words, Lorimer had not been drunk, only intoxicated. When Thayer, with Bobby at his side, had appeared in the door of the smoking-room, Lorimer had been more flushed, more garrulous than was his wont, more inclined to the French doctrine of equality and fraternity. In some moods, he would not have tolerated the arm of Lloyd Avalons which now rested across the back of his chair.
The scene lasted only for an instant. Thayer went into the room, accepted a dozen hot hands whose owners were trying rather incoherently to congratulate him upon his success, waved aside the wine offered him, and, with a word of excuse, bent down and spoke quietly to Lorimer.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Avalons," he said shortly; "but I have a message for Mr. Lorimer. He is needed on business, and I shall have to take him away. Please give my good-night to Mrs. Avalons. My cab is waiting, and I can set Lorimer down at his club." And, with a bow, he had left the room, with Lorimer sullenly following at his heels.
In Lorimer's room, Thayer broke the silence which had lasted during their drive along the brilliantly-lighted Avenue. He had watched his companion's face keenly and with an understanding born of similar scenes, and he knew it would not be well to use many words. However, as he was leaving Lorimer, he turned back.
"This is once too often, Lorimer," he said briefly. "You've somebody besides yourself to think of now. If I were in your place, I would have important business call me to Washington, in the morning, and I would stay down there for a few days. It will give you time to think things over, and find out just where you stand."
Miss Gannion nestled luxuriously back into the depths of her easy chair.
"Do you know, Mr. Thayer, it is a very wonderful experience, this having a species of court musician?"
He laughed the silent laugh she liked so well. It came from between close-shut teeth; but it lighted his whole face.
"As wonderful as it is to have a good listener who always understands and rarely praises?" he asked.
Under her thin, middle-aged skin, the flush rose to her cheeks, turning them to the dainty likeness of youth.
"You say very pleasant things."
"True ones. If this keeps on, I shall begin using you as critic for all my new songs."
"Like the fabled dog? I wish you would. But, truly, I am not joking. You are quite spoiling me for my usual diet of recitals. Do you realize that, for the past two months, you have sung to me on an average of two hours a week?"
Thayer smiled contentedly down at her, as he sat by the piano, with one muscular arm thrown across the rack.
"Well, what of it?" he inquired.
"Nothing, except that people say you are refusing engagements."
"A fellow must have a little time to enjoy his friends," he returned coolly. "I can't be expected to sing, six nights a week."
"Your logic betrays your artistic nature. You have sung at five recitals, this week. This is the sixth night; but you've not been silent."
"You know you wanted to hear Faust sung again."
"Yes, and so did Mrs. Stanley want you to sing at her house."
He looked up sharply.
"Who told you?"
"Arlt shouldn't tell tales. But I had three good reasons for refusing: I don't like Mrs. Stanley; she doesn't treat Arlt as well as she treats her pug dog, and moreover you had asked me to dinner. I never sing after a good dinner."
"But you mustn't refuse engagements."
"I didn't. I kept one."
"Engagements to sing, I mean. You seem to forget that you are a star."
"All the more reason I should stop twinkling now and then. I can't be on duty, the whole time. Besides, Miss Gannion," he rose from the piano and came forward to her side; "we can't give out, all the time. We must stop occasionally to take something in, else our mental fuel runs low. I wonder if you realize that this is the one place in New York City where I can be entirely off my guard, entirely at home. A place like this means a good deal to an isolated man."
"I am very glad," she said quietly.
"Most people forget that a public singer has a private personality," he went on thoughtfully. "We are supposed to divide our time into even thirds, practising, singing and receiving compliments. It gets to be a positive delight to discuss the weather and the fashion in neckties."
"And to sing by the hour for your friends?" she inquired.
"It is our easiest way of speaking to them."
"But, on the other hand, you are demoralizing me completely. You have no idea what empty, formal affairs recitals seem to me now; they are so impersonal. I feel like grumbling, because I can't talk over each item of the programme with the one who does it. I said something of the sort to Miss Dane, the other day; but she told me she always dreaded the sound of a speaking voice after one of your songs."
"She might have a species of choral service evolved for social use," Thayer suggested dryly. "The Gregorian tones would lend dignity even to conventionalities, and they are quite within the powers of any amateur."
There was an interval of silence which Miss Gannion employed in bringing herself back to the physical world around her. Thayer's singing always swayed her profoundly; it gave her the impression of the ultimate satisfaction of a wish which had haunted her whole life. During the past two months, she and Thayer had established relations of cordial friendship. They had met frequently in the world which already was clamorous for Thayer's appearing, and Thayer was a frequent guest at Miss Gannion's home. He always sang to her; it had become so much a matter of routine that now he never waited for an invitation. Once seated at the piano, talking and singing by turns, she allowed him to follow out the bent of his mood; but, wherever it led him, she was always conscious of the insistent, throbbing note which told her that, underneath his self-control, there pulsed a fiery nature which was curbed, but not yet tamed, that the day might come when the Puritan would meet the Russian face to face, and the Russian would be dominant, if only for one brief hour. And then? Often as she asked herself the question, Margaret Gannion never swerved from her original answer. In the end, the Puritan would rule. No man could so dominate others and fail to dominate himself.
Thayer, meanwhile, had risen and was thoughtfully pacing the room. Miss Gannion shook off the last of her reverie and turned to watch him.
"What is it, Mr. Thayer?" she inquired suddenly.
He came back to the fire and, deliberately moving the trinkets on the mantel, made a place for his elbow. Then he hesitated, with his clear, deep-set eyes resting on her face.
"I think I am going to ask your advice," he said slowly.
"Or my approval. It amounts to the same thing in a man."
It was a direct challenge, and it was made with deliberate intention. Accustomed as she was to the semi-imaginary mental crises of struggling, strenuous youth, she yet shrank from the intentness of Thayer's mood.
He ignored the challenge.
"No; it is advice whether to act at all. Later, when I have acted, it will be time to demand your approval."
"But you may not like my advice."
"Very possibly. I am not binding myself to follow it."
Her color came again this time not altogether from pleasure.
"Then why do you ask it?"
"Because I need fresh light on the subject. As often as I go over it, I find myself in a mental blind alley, and I am hoping that, if I talk it over with you, I shall clear up my ideas and perhaps get some new ones."
His tone was dispassionate, yet kindly. With a pang, Miss Gannion admitted to herself the futility of her ever hoping to gain so impersonal an attitude. She was intensely feminine, which is to say, intensely subjective. Talking to Thayer in his present mood gave her the feeling that unexpectedly she had collided with an iceberg. Glittering coldness is an admirable surface to watch; but not an altogether comfortable one upon which to rest. The touch set her to stinging, although she realized that the sting was out of all proportion to the touch. She was silent, and Thayer went on,—
"You know the people, one of them much better than I do."
"Then it is not about yourself?"
Thayer shook his head.
"I rarely ask help in solving my own problems," he replied. Then, as he saw her face, he suddenly realized that he had hurt her in some unknown fashion. "That sounds rather brutal," he added; "but, if you will think it over a bit, you will see it is wise. I don't believe in wasting words, and there is no real use in talking some things over. A man knows he can't state his own problem impartially to someone else, so of course he isn't going to trust someone else's solution of the problem."
Her smile came back again.
"No," she assented; "but there is a certain comfort in talking things over."
"Not for me. If I have anything to do, I grit my teeth and do it, and waste as little thought upon it as possible. Iteration makes good into a bore. It is best to let it alone. And of bad, the less said, the better, that is, when it is a matter of one's own personality. But now I want to talk about Miss Dane."
"Yes. I have felt anxious about her lately, and I haven't known whether to keep still, or to speak. It all seems a good deal like meddling, and I really know her so little."
It was unlike his usual directness to wander on in this fashion, and Miss Gannion wondered. She started to speak; then she thought better of it and leaned back in her chair. The ticking of the clock and the snapping of the fire mingled in a staccato duet. A stick burned in two and fell apart, with tiny, torch-like flames dancing on its upturned ends. Methodically Thayer bent over and piled up the embers. Then he spoke again.
"And so I thought I would speak to you about it. You have known Miss Dane always, and you know New York and how it looks at such things. I imagine you take it more seriously, here in America. It is serious, God knows, and yet it may not amount to anything."
Margaret Gannion straightened up and spoke with a sudden assumption of dignity which seemed to add inches to her moral and physical stature.
"To what are you referring, Mr. Thayer?"
"I beg your pardon. I thought you knew. I am talking about Lorimer."
"What about him?"
Man as he was, Thayer flinched under her keen eyes. All at once, he realized that Margaret Gannion included among her friends Beatrix Dane, and that it was Margaret Gannion's habit to fight for her friends.
"I had hoped you would understand without my putting it into so many words. Lorimer has been my friend for years, and it seems rather beastly to begin talking him over; but—"
"But?" Miss Gannion's tone was as hard and ringing as steel.
"But he sometimes takes a little more wine than is altogether wise," Thayer replied, with brief directness.
Miss Gannion dropped back in her chair.
"Does—does he get—drunk?" she questioned sharply.
"No. That is too strong a word. He is imprudent, foolish. Still, one never knows what may come."
"Poor Beatrix!" Miss Gannion said softly.
Thayer faced her again.
"Understand me, Miss Gannion; I am not doing this for love of gossip. Miss Dane is nothing to me, and I like Lorimer immensely. But there is a good deal at stake, and I am not sure how much I ought to leave to chance. Lorimer is one of the most lovable fellows in the world, generous and loyal; but he is weak. He was born so; I fancy it is in the blood. If Miss Dane is strong enough and has tact, perhaps she can hold him steady. He can't be driven an inch; but he can be led a long way."
Miss Gannion brushed her hair away from her face with an odd, bewildered gesture.
"Wait," she said breathlessly. "I love Beatrix, and it makes me slow to take this in. How long has it been going on?"
Thayer's lips tightened.
"Ever since I have known him," he answered reluctantly.
"No, comparatively little."
"Well—" The lengthening of the word told its own story.
"Does it increase?"
His expression answered her, and she took the answer in perfect silence. It was a full minute before she spoke again; but when she did speak, her voice had the old, level intonation.
"Are you willing to tell me just how far the trouble has gone, Mr. Thayer?"
"It is a hard matter to measure. Lorimer drinks less than a good many men; but it takes less to upset him. In Germany, the students all drink, and he was with them. As a rule, he stopped in time, but occasionally he was a little silly. Once or twice it was worse."
"How much worse?" The question was almost masculine in its direct brevity.
"I helped him to bed."
She compressed her lips. Then,—
"Go on," she said.
"I can't tell what happened while I was in Italy, and Lorimer had left Berlin before I went back there, so I didn't see him till I came to New York. At first, I thought he had stopped all that sort of thing. His color was better, his hand steadier. I knew the temptation was less here, and I hoped he was so taken up with Miss Dane that he wouldn't have time to get into the wrong set. The night of the Lloyd Avalons's recital, he was not quite himself, and I advised him to go to Washington while the matter blew over."
"Strange I didn't hear of it," Miss Gannion said thoughtfully.
"Dane and I saw to it that the story shouldn't get outside the walls of the smoking-room. Dane is a good fellow, and no fool. He got wind of the trouble and came for me, and we hurried Lorimer away as fast as possible. The next day, I began to hear of a supper or two where Lorimer had been making himself a bit conspicuous."