THE RIVET IN GRANDFATHER'S NECK
A Comedy of Limitations
JAMES BRANCH CABELL
"To this new South, who values her high past in chief, as fit foundation of that edifice whereon she labors day by day, and with augmenting strokes."
PRISCILLA BRADLEY CABELL
"Nightly I mark and praise, or great or small, Such stars as proudly struggle one by one To heaven's highest place, as Procyon, Antares, Naoes, Tejat and Nibal Attain supremacy, and proudly fall, Still glorious, and glitter, and are gone So very soon;—whilst steadfast and alone Polaris gleams, and is not changed at all.
"Daily I find some gallant dream that ranges The heights of heaven; and as others do, I serve my dream until my dream estranges Its errant bondage, and I note anew That nothing dims, nor shakes, nor mars, nor changes, Fond faith in you and in my love of you."
PART ONE - PROPINQUITY
PART TWO - RENASCENCE
PART THREE - TERTIUS
PART FOUR - APPRECIATION
PART FIVE - SOUVENIR
PART SIX - BYWAYS
PART SEVEN - YOKED
PART EIGHT - HARVEST
PART NINE - RELICS
PART TEN - IMPRIMIS
In the middle of the cupboard door was the carved figure of a man.... He had goat's legs, little horns on his head, and a long beard; the children in the room called him, "Major-General-field-sergeant -commander-Billy-goat's-legs" ... He was always looking at the table under the looking-glass where stood a very pretty little shepherdess made of china.... Close by her side stood a little chimney-sweep, as black as coal and also made of china.... Near to them stood another figure.... He was an old Chinaman who could nod his head, and used to pretend he was the grandfather of the shepherdess, although he could not prove it. He, however, assumed authority over her, and therefore when "Major-general-field-sergeant-commander-Billy-goat's -legs" asked for the little shepherdess to be his wife, he nodded his head to show that he consented.
Then the little shepherdess cried, and looked at her sweetheart, the chimney-sweep. "I must entreat you," said she, "to go out with me into the wide world, for we cannot stay here." ... When the chimney-sweep saw that she was quite firm, he said, "My way is through the stove up the chimney." ... So at last they reached the top of the chimney.... The sky with all its stars was over their heads.... They could see for a very long distance out into the wide world, and the poor little shepherdess leaned her head on her chimney-sweep's shoulder and wept. "This is too much," she said, "the world is too large." ... And so with a great deal of trouble they climbed down the chimney and peeped out.... There lay the old Chinaman on the floor ... broken into three pieces.... "This is terrible," said the shepherdess. "He can be riveted," said the chimney-sweep.... The family had the Chinaman's back mended and a strong rivet put through his neck; he looked as good as new, but when "Major-General-field-sergeant-commander-Billy-goat's-legs" again asked for the shepherdess to be his wife, the old Chinaman could no longer nod his head.
And so the little china people remained together and were thankful for the rivet in grandfather's neck, and continued to love each other until they were broken to pieces.
PART ONE - PROPINQUITY
"A singer, eh?... Well, well! but when he sings Take jealous heed lest idiosyncrasies Entinge and taint too deep his melodies; See that his lute has no discordant strings To harrow us; and let his vaporings Be all of virtue and its victories, And of man's best and noblest qualities, And scenery, and flowers, and similar things.
"Thus bid our paymasters whose mutterings Some few deride, and blithely link their rhymes At random; and, as ever, on frail wings Of wine-stained paper scribbled with such rhymes Men mount to heaven, and loud laughter springs From hell's midpit, whose fuel is such rhymes."
PAUL VERVILLE. Nascitur.
At a very remote period, when editorials were mostly devoted to discussion as to whether the Democratic Convention (shortly to be held in Chicago) would or would not declare in favor of bi-metallism; when golf was a novel form of recreation in America, and people disputed how to pronounce its name, and pedestrians still turned to stare after an automobile; when, according to the fashion notes, "the godet skirts and huge sleeves of the present modes" were already doomed to extinction; when the baseball season had just begun, and some of our people were discussing the national game, and others the spectacular burning of the old Pennsylvania Railway depot at Thirty-third and Market Street in Philadelphia, and yet others the significance of General Fitzhugh Lee's recent appointment as consul-general to Habana:—at this remote time, Lichfield talked of nothing except the Pendomer divorce case.
And Colonel Rudolph Musgrave had very narrowly escaped being named as the co-respondent. This much, at least, all Lichfield knew when George Pendomer—evincing unsuspected funds of generosity—permitted his wife to secure a divorce on the euphemistic grounds of "desertion." John Charteris, acting as Rudolph Musgrave's friend, had patched up this arrangement; and the colonel and Mrs. Pendomer, so rumor ran, were to be married very quietly after a decent interval.
Remained only to deliberate whether this sop to the conventions should be accepted as sufficient.
"At least," as Mrs. Ashmeade sagely observed, "we can combine vituperation with common-sense, and remember it is not the first time a Musgrave has figured in an entanglement of the sort. A lecherous race! proverbial flutterers of petticoats! His surname convicts the man unheard and almost excuses him. All of us feel that. And, moreover, it is not as if the idiots had committed any unpardonable sin, for they have kept out of the newspapers."
Her friend seemed dubious, and hazarded something concerning "the merest sense of decency."
"In the name of the Prophet, figs! People—I mean the people who count in Lichfield—are charitable enough to ignore almost any crime which is just a matter of common knowledge. In fact, they are mildly grateful. It gives them something to talk about. But when detraction is printed in the morning paper you can't overlook it without incurring the suspicion of being illiterate and virtueless. That's Lichfield."
"Sophist, don't I know my Lichfield? I know it almost as well as I know Rudolph Musgrave. And so I prophesy that he will not marry Clarice Pendomer, because he is inevitably tired of her by this. He will marry money, just as all the Musgraves do. Moreover, I prophesy that we will gabble about this mess until we find a newer target for our stone throwing, and be just as friendly with the participants to their faces as we ever were. So don't let me hear any idiotic talk about whether or no I am going to receive her—"
"Well, after all, she was born a Bellingham. We must remember that."
"Wasn't I saying I knew my Lichfield?" Mrs. Ashmeade placidly observed.
* * * * *
And time, indeed, attested her to be right in every particular.
Yet it must be recorded that at this critical juncture chance rather remarkably favored Colonel Musgrave and Mrs. Pendomer, by giving Lichfield something of greater interest to talk about; since now, just in the nick of occasion, occurred the notorious Scott Musgrave murder. Scott Musgrave—a fourth cousin once removed of the colonel's, to be quite accurate—had in the preceding year seduced the daughter of a village doctor, a negligible "half-strainer" up country at Warren; and her two brothers, being irritated, picked this particular season to waylay him in the street, as he reeled homeward one night from the Commodores' Club, and forthwith to abolish Scott Musgrave after the primitive methods of their lower station in society.
These details, indeed, were never officially made public, since a discreet police force "found no clues"; for Fred Musgrave (of King's Garden), as befitted the dead man's well-to-do brother, had been at no little pains to insure constabulary shortsightedness, in preference to having the nature of Scott Musgrave's recreations unsympathetically aired. Fred Musgrave thereby afforded Lichfield a delectable opportunity (conversationally and abetted by innumerable "they do say's") to accredit the murder, turn by turn, to every able-bodied person residing within stone's throw of its commission. So that few had time, now, to talk of Rudolph Musgrave and Clarice Pendomer; for it was not in Lichfieldian human nature to discuss a mere domestic imbroglio when here, also in the Musgrave family, was a picturesque and gory assassination to lay tongue to.
So Colonel Musgrave was duly reelected that spring to the librarianship of the Lichfield Historical Association, and the name of Mrs. George Pendomer was not stricken from the list of patronesses of the Lichfield German Club, but was merely altered to "Mrs. Clarice Pendomer."
* * * * *
At the bottom of his heart Colonel Musgrave was a trifle irritated that his self-sacrifice should be thus unrewarded by martyrdom. Circumstances had enabled him to assume, and he had gladly accepted, the blame for John Charteris's iniquity, rather than let Anne Charteris know the truth about her husband and Clarice Pendomer. The truth would have killed Anne, the colonel believed; and besides, the colonel had enjoyed the performance of a picturesque action.
And having acted as a hero in permitting himself to be pilloried as a libertine, it was preferable of course not to have incurred ostracism thereby. His common-sense conceded this; and yet, to Colonel Musgrave, it could not but be evident that Destiny was hardly rising to the possibilities of the situation.
Concerning Colonel Musgrave one finds the ensuing account in a publication of the period devoted to biographies of more or less prominent Americans. It is reproduced unchanged, because these memoirs were—in the old days—compiled by the person whom they commemorated. The custom was a worthy one, since the value of an autobiography is determined by the nature of its superfluities and falsehoods.
"MUSGRAVE, RUDOLPH VARTREY, editor; b. Lichfield, Sill., Mar. 14, 1856; s. William Sebastian and Martha (Allardyce) M; g. s. Theodorick Q.M., gov. of Sill. 1805-8, judge of the General Ct., 1808-11, judge Supreme Ct. of Appeals, 1811-50 and pres. Supreme Ct. of Appeals, 1841-50; grad. King's Coll. and U. of Sill. Corr. sec. Lichfield Hist. Soc., and editor Sill. Mag. of Biog. since 1890; dir. Traders Nat. Bank, Sill.; mem. Soc. of the Sons of Col. Govs., pres. Sill. Soc. of Protestant Martyrs, comdr. Sill. Mil. Order of Lost Battles, mem. exec. bd. Sill. Hist. Assn. for the Preservation of Ruins. Democrat, Episcopalian, unmarried. Author: Colonial Lichfield, 1892; Right on the Scaffold, 1893; Secession and the South, 1894; Chart of the Descendants of Zenophon Perkins, 1894; Recollections of a Gracious Era, 1895; Notes as to the Vartreys of Westphalia, 1896. Has also written numerous pamphlets on hist., biog. and geneal. subjects. Address: Lichfield, Sill."
For Colonel Musgrave was by birth the lineal head of all the Musgraves of Matocton, which is in Lichfield, as degrees are counted there, equivalent to what being born a marquis would mean in England. Handsome and trim and affable, he defied chronology by looking ten years younger than he was known to be. For at least a decade he had been invaluable to Lichfield matrons alike against the entertainment of an "out-of-town girl," the management of a cotillion and the prevention of unpleasant pauses among incongruous dinner companies.
In short, he was by all accounts the social triumph of his generation; and his military title, won by four years of arduous service at receptions and parades while on the staff of a former Governor of the State, this seasoned bachelor carried off with plausibility and distinction.
The story finds him "Librarian and Corresponding Secretary" of the Lichfield Historical Association, which office he had held for some six years. The salary was small, and the colonel had inherited little; but his sister, Miss Agatha Musgrave, who lived with him, was a notable housekeeper. He increased his resources in a gentlemanly fashion by genealogical research, directed mostly toward the rehabilitation of ambiguous pedigrees; and for the rest, no other man could have fulfilled more gracefully the main duty of the Librarian, which was to exhibit the Association's collection of relics to hurried tourists "doing" Lichfield.
His "Library manner" was modeled upon that which an eighteenth century portrait would conceivably possess, should witchcraft set the canvas breathing.
Also the story finds Colonel Musgrave in the company of his sister on a warm April day, whilst these two sat upon the porch of the Musgrave home in Lichfield, and Colonel Musgrave waited until it should be time to open the Library for the afternoon. And about them birds twittered cheerily, and the formal garden flourished as gardens thrive nowhere except in Lichfield, and overhead the sky was a turkis-blue, save for a few irrelevant clouds which dappled it here and there like splashes of whipped cream.
Yet, for all this, the colonel was ill-at-ease; and care was on his brow, and venom in his speech.
"And one thing," Colonel Musgrave concluded, with decision, "I wish distinctly understood, and that is, if she insists on having young men loafing about her—as, of course, she will—she will have to entertain them in the garden. I won't have them in the house, Agatha. You remember that Langham girl you had here last Easter?" he added, disconsolately —"the one who positively littered up the house with young men, and sang idiotic jingles to them at all hours of the night about the Bailey family and the correct way to spell chicken? She drove me to the verge of insanity, and I haven't a doubt that this Patricia person will be quite as obstreperous. So, please mention it to her, Agatha—casually, of course—that, in Lichfield, when one is partial to either vocal exercise or amorous daliance, the proper scene of action is the garden. I really cannot be annoyed by her."
"But, Rudolph," his sister protested, "you forget she is engaged to the Earl of Pevensey. An engaged girl naturally wouldn't care about meeting any young men."
"H'm!" said the colonel, drily.
Ensued a pause, during which the colonel lighted yet another cigarette.
Then, "I have frequently observed," he spoke, in absent wise, "that all young women having that peculiarly vacuous expression about the eyes—I believe there are misguided persons who describe such eyes as being 'dreamy,'—are invariably possessed of a fickle, unstable and coquettish temperament. Oh, no! You may depend upon it, Agatha, the fact that she contemplates purchasing the right to support a peculiarly disreputable member of the British peerage will not hinder her in the least from making advances to all the young men in the neighborhood."
Miss Musgrave was somewhat ruffled. She was a homely little woman with nothing of the ordinary Musgrave comeliness. Candor even compels the statement that in her pudgy swarthy face there was a droll suggestion of the pug-dog.
"I am sure," Miss Musgrave remonstrated, with placid dignity, "that you know nothing whatever about her, and that the reports about the earl have probably been greatly exaggerated, and that her picture shows her to be an unusually attractive girl. Though it is true," Miss Musgrave conceded after reflection, "that there are any number of persons in the House of Lords that I wouldn't in the least care to have in my own house, even with the front parlor all in linen as it unfortunately is. So awkward when you have company! And the Bible does bid us not to put our trust in princes, and, for my part, I never thought that photographs could be trusted, either."
"Scorn not the nobly born, Agatha," her brother admonished her, "nor treat with lofty scorn the well-connected. The very best people are sometimes respectable. And yet," he pursued, with a slight hiatus of thought, "I should not describe her as precisely an attractive-looking girl. She seems to have a lot of hair,—if it is all her own, which it probably isn't,—and her nose is apparently straight enough, and I gather she is not absolutely deformed anywhere; but that is all I can conscientiously say in her favor. She is artificial. Her hair, now! It has a—well, you would not call it exactly a crinkle or precisely a wave, but rather somewhere between the two. Yes, I think I should describe it as a ripple. I fancy it must be rather like the reflection of a sunset in—a duck-pond, say, with a faint wind ruffling the water. For I gather that her hair is of some light shade,—induced, I haven't a doubt, by the liberal use of peroxides. And this ripple, too, Agatha, it stands to reason, must be the result of coercing nature, for I have never seen it in any other woman's hair. Moreover," Colonel Musgrave continued, warming somewhat to his subject, "there is a dimple—on the right side of her mouth, immediately above it,—which speaks of the most frivolous tendencies. I dare say it comes and goes when she talks,—winks at you, so to speak, in a manner that must be simply idiotic. That foolish little cleft in her chin, too—"
But at this point, his sister interrupted him.
"I hadn't a notion," said she, "that you had even looked at the photograph. And you seem to have it quite by heart, Rudolph,—and some people admire dimples, you know, and, at any rate, her mother had red hair, so Patricia isn't really responsible. I decided that it would be foolish to use the best mats to-night. We can save them for Sunday supper, because I am only going to have eggs and a little cold meat, and not make company of her."
For no apparent reason, Rudolph Musgrave flushed.
"I inspected it—quite casually—last night. Please don't be absurd, Agatha! If we were threatened with any other direful visitation —influenza, say, or the seventeen-year locust,—I should naturally read up on the subject in order to know what to expect. And since Providence has seen fit to send us a visitor rather than a visitation—though, personally, I should infinitely prefer the influenza, as interfering in less degree with my comfort,—I have, of course, neglected no opportunity of finding out what we may reasonably look forward to. I fear the worst, Agatha. For I repeat, the girl's face is, to me, absolutely unattractive!"
The colonel spoke with emphasis, and flung away his cigarette, and took up his hat to go.
And then, "I suppose," said Miss Musgrave, absently, "you will be falling in love with her, just as you did with Anne Charteris and Aline Van Orden and all those other minxes. I would like to see you married, Rudolph, only I couldn't stand your having a wife."
"I! I!" sputtered the colonel. "I think you must be out of your head! I fall in love with that chit! Good Lord, Agatha, you are positively idiotic!"
And the colonel turned on his heel, and walked stiffly through the garden. But, when half-way down the path, he wheeled about and came back.
"I beg your pardon, Agatha," he said, contritely, "it was not my intention to be discourteous. But somehow—somehow, dear, I don't quite see the necessity for my falling in love with anybody, so long as I have you."
And Miss Musgrave, you may be sure, forgave him promptly; and afterward—with a bit of pride and an infinity of love in her kind, homely face,—her eyes followed him out of the garden on his way to open the Library. And she decided in her heart that she had the dearest and best and handsomest brother in the universe, and that she must remember to tell him, accidentally, how becoming his new hat was. And then, at some unspoken thought, she smiled, wistfully.
"She would be a very lucky girl if he did," said Miss Musgrave, apropos of nothing in particular; and tossed her grizzly head.
"An earl, indeed!" said Miss Musgrave
And this is how it came about:
Patricia Vartrey (a second cousin once removed of Colonel Rudolph Musgrave's), as the older inhabitants of Lichfield will volubly attest, was always a person who did peculiar things. The list of her eccentricities is far too lengthy here to be enumerated; but she began it by being born with red hair—Titian reds and auburns were undiscovered euphemisms in those days—and, in Lichfield, this is not regarded as precisely a lady-like thing to do; and she ended it, as far as Lichfield was concerned, by eloping with what Lichfield in its horror could only describe, with conscious inadequacy, as "a quite unheard-of person."
Indisputably the man was well-to-do already; and from this nightmarish topsy-turvidom of Reconstruction the fellow visibly was plucking wealth. Also young Stapylton was well enough to look at, too, as Lichfield flurriedly conceded.
But it was equally undeniable that he had made his money through a series of commercial speculations distinguished both by shiftiness and daring, and that the man himself had been until the War a wholly negligible "poor white" person,—an overseer, indeed, for "Wild Will" Musgrave, Colonel Musgrave's father, who was of course the same Lieutenant-Colonel William Sebastian Musgrave, C.S.A., that met his death at Gettysburg.
This upstart married Patricia Vartrey, for all the chatter and whispering, and carried her away from Lichfield, as yet a little dubious as to what recognition, if any, should be accorded the existence of the Stapyltons. And afterward (from a notoriously untruthful North, indeed) came rumors that he was rapidly becoming wealthy; and of Patricia Vartrey's death at her daughter's birth; and of the infant's health and strength and beauty, and of her lavish upbringing,—a Frenchwoman, Lichfield whispered, with absolutely nothing to do but attend upon the child.
And then, little by little, a new generation sprang up, and, little by little, the interest these rumors waked became more lax; and it was brought about, at last, by the insidious transitions of time, that Patricia Vartrey was forgotten in Lichfield. Only a few among the older men remembered her; some of them yet treasured, as these fogies so often do, a stray fan or an odd glove; and in bycorners of sundry time-toughened hearts there lurked the memory of a laughing word or of a glance or of some such casual bounty, that Patricia Vartrey had accorded these hearts' owners when the world was young.
But Agatha Musgrave, likewise, remembered the orphan cousin who had been reared with her. She had loved Patricia Vartrey; and, in due time, she wrote to Patricia's daughter,—in stately, antiquated phrases that astonished the recipient not a little,—and the girl had answered. The correspondence flourished. And it was not long before Miss Musgrave had induced her young cousin to visit Lichfield.
Colonel Rudolph Musgrave, be it understood, knew nothing of all this until the girl was actually on her way. And now, she was to arrive that afternoon, to domicile herself in his quiet house for two long weeks—this utter stranger, look you!—and upset his comfort, ask him silly questions, expect him to talk to her, and at the end of her visit, possibly, present him with some outlandish gimcrack made of cardboard and pink ribbons, in which she would expect him to keep his papers. The Langham girl did that.
* * * * *
It is honesty's part to give you the man no better than he was. Lichfield at large had pampered him; many women had loved him; and above all, Miss Agatha had spoiled him. After fifteen years of being the pivot about which the economy of a household revolves, after fifteen years of being the inevitable person whose approval must be secured before any domestic alteration, however trivial, may be considered, no mortal man may hope to remain a paragon of unselfishness.
Colonel Musgrave joyed in the society of women. But he classed them—say, with the croquettes adorned with pink paper frills which were then invariably served at the suppers of the Lichfield German Club,—as acceptable enough, upon a conscious holiday, but wholly incongruous with the slippered ease of home. When you had an inclination for feminine society, you shaved and changed your clothes and thought up an impromptu or so against emergency, and went forth to seek it. That was natural; but to have a petticoated young person infesting your house, hourly, was as preposterous as ice-cream soda at breakfast.
The metaphor set him off at a tangent. He wondered if this Patricia person could not (tactfully) be induced to take her bath after breakfast, as Agatha did? after he had his? Why, confound the girl, he was not responsible for there being only one bathroom in the house! It was necessary for him to have his bath and be at the Library by nine o'clock. This interloper must be made to understand as much.
The colonel reached the Library undecided as to whether Miss Stapylton had better breakfast in her room, or if it would be entirely proper for her to come to the table in one of those fluffy lace-trimmed garments such as Agatha affected at the day's beginning?
The question was a nice one. It was not as though servants were willing to be bothered with carrying trays to people's rooms; he knew what Agatha had to say upon that subject. It was not as though he were the chit's first cousin, either. He almost wished himself in the decline of life, and free to treat the girl paternally.
And so he fretted all that afternoon.
* * * * *
Then, too, he reflected that it would be very awkward if Agatha should be unwell while this Patricia person was in the house. Agatha in her normal state was of course the kindliest and cheeriest gentlewoman in the universe, but any physical illness appeared to transform her nature disastrously. She had her "attacks," she "felt badly" very often nowadays, poor dear; and how was a Patricia person to be expected to make allowances for the fact that at such times poor Agatha was unavoidably a little cross and pessimistic?
Yet Colonel Musgrave strolled into his garden, later, with a tolerable affectation of unconcern. Women, after all, he assured himself, were necessary for the perpetuation of the species; and, resolving for the future to view these weakly, big-hipped and slope-shouldered makeshifts of Nature's with larger tolerance, he cocked his hat at a devil-may-carish angle, and strode up the walk, whistling jauntily and having, it must be confessed, to the unprejudiced observer very much the air of a sheep in wolf's clothing.
"At worst," he was reflecting, "I can make love to her. They, as a rule, take kindlily enough to that; and in the exercise of hospitality a host must go to all lengths to divert his guests. Failure is not permitted...."
Then She came to him.
She came to him across the trim, cool lawn, leisurely, yet with a resilient tread that attested the vigor of her slim young body. She was all in white, diaphanous, ethereal, quite incredibly incredible; but as she passed through the long shadows of the garden—fire-new, from the heart of the sunset, Rudolph Musgrave would have sworn to you,—the lacy folds and furbelows and semi-transparencies that clothed her were now tinged with gold, and now, as a hedge or flower-bed screened her from the horizontal rays, were softened into multitudinous graduations of grays and mauves and violets.
"Failure is not permitted," he was repeating in his soul....
"You're Cousin Rudolph, aren't you?" she asked. "How perfectly entrancing! You see until to-day I always thought that if I had been offered the choice between having cousins or appendicitis I would have preferred to be operated on."
And Rudolph Musgrave noted, with a delicious tingling somewhere about his heart, that her hair was really like the reflection of a sunset in rippling waters,—only many times more beautiful, of course,—and that her mouth was an inconsiderable trifle, a scrap of sanguine curves, and that her eyes were purple glimpses of infinity.
Then he observed that his own mouth was giving utterance to divers irrelevant and foolish sounds, which eventually resolved themselves into the statement he was glad to see her. And immediately afterward the banality of this remark brought the hot blood to his face and, for the rest of the day, stung him and teased him, somewhere in the background of his mind, like an incessant insect.
Before he had finished shaking hands with Patricia Stapylton, it was all over with the poor man.
"Er—h'm!" quoth he.
"Only," Miss Stapylton was meditating, with puckered brow, "it would be unseemly for me to call you Rudolph—"
"You impertinent minx!" cried he, in his soul; "I should rather think it would be!"
"—and Cousin Rudolph sounds exactly like a dried-up little man with eyeglasses and crows' feet and a gentle nature. I rather thought you were going to be like that, and I regard it as extremely hospitable of you not to be. You are more like—like what now?" Miss Stapylton put her head to one side and considered the contents of her vocabulary,—"you are like a viking. I shall call you Olaf," she announced, when she had reached a decision.
This, look you, to the most dignified man in Lichfield,—a person who had never borne a nickname in his life. You must picture for yourself how the colonel stood before her, big, sturdy and blond, and glared down at her, and assured himself that he was very indignant; like Timanthes, the colonel's biographer prefers to draw a veil before the countenance to which art is unable to do justice.
Then, "I have no admiration for the Northmen," Rudolph Musgrave declared, stiffly. "They were a rude and barbarous nation, proverbially addicted to piracy and intemperance."
"My goodness gracious!" Miss Stapylton observed,—and now, for the first time, he saw the teeth that were like grains of rice upon a pink rose petal. Also, he saw dimples. "And does one mean all that by a viking?"
"The vikings," he informed her—and his Library manner had settled upon him now to the very tips of his fingers—"were pirates. The word is of Icelandic origin, from vik, the name applied to the small inlets along the coast in which they concealed their galleys. I may mention that Olaf was not a viking, but a Norwegian king, being the first Christian monarch to reign in Norway."
"Dear me!" said Miss Stapylton; "how interesting!"
Then she yawned with deliberate cruelty.
"However," she concluded, "I shall call you Olaf, just the same."
"Er—h'm!" said the colonel.
* * * * *
And this stuttering boor (he reflected) was Colonel Rudolph Musgrave, confessedly the social triumph of his generation! This imbecile, without a syllable to say for himself, without a solitary adroit word within tongue's reach, wherewith to annihilate the hussy, was a Musgrave of Matocton!
* * * * *
And she did. To her he was "Olaf" from that day forth.
Rudolph Musgrave called her, "You." He was nettled, of course, by her forwardness—"Olaf," indeed!—yet he found it, somehow, difficult to bear this fact in mind continuously.
For while it is true our heroes and heroines in fiction no longer fall in love at first sight, Nature, you must remember, is too busily employed with other matters to have much time to profit by current literature. Then, too, she is not especially anxious to be realistic. She prefers to jog along in the old rut, contentedly turning out chromolithographic sunrises such as they give away at the tea stores, contentedly staging the most violent and improbable melodramas; and—sturdy old Philistine that she is—she even now permits her children to fall in love in the most primitive fashion.
She is not particularly interested in subtleties and soul analyses; she merely chuckles rather complacently when a pair of eyes are drawn, somehow, to another pair of eyes, and an indescribable something is altered somewhere in some untellable fashion, and the world, suddenly, becomes the most delightful place of residence in all the universe. Indeed, it is her favorite miracle, this. For at work of this sort the old Philistine knows that she is an adept; and she has rejoiced in the skill of her hands, with a sober workmanly joy, since Cain first went a-wooing in the Land of Nod.
So Colonel Rudolph Musgrave, without understanding what had happened to him, on a sudden was strangely content with life.
It was at supper—dinner, in Lichfield, when not a formal entertainment, is eaten at two in the afternoon—that he fell a-speculating as to whether Her eyes, after all, could be fitly described as purple.
Wasn't there a grayer luminosity about them than he had at first suspected?—wasn't the cool glow of them, in a word, rather that of sunlight falling upon a wet slate roof?
It was a delicate question, an affair of nuances, of almost imperceptible graduations; and in debating a matter of such nicety, a man must necessarily lay aside all petty irritation, such as being nettled by an irrational nickname, and approach the question with unbiased mind.
He did. And when, at last, he had come warily to the verge of decision, Miss Musgrave in all innocence announced that they would excuse him if he wished to get back to his work.
He discovered that, somehow, the three had finished supper; and, somehow, he presently discovered himself in his study, where eight o'clock had found him every evening for the last ten years, when he was not about his social diversions. An old custom, you will observe, is not lightly broken.
Subsequently: "I have never approved of these international marriages," said Colonel Musgrave, with heat. "It stands to reason, she is simply marrying the fellow for his title. (The will of Jeremiah Brown, dated 29 November, 1690, recorded 2 February, 1690-1, mentions his wife Eliza Brown and appoints her his executrix.) She can't possibly care for him. (This, then, was the second wife of Edward Osborne of Henrico, who, marrying him 15 June, 1694, died before January, 1696-7.) But they are all flibbertigibbets, every one of them. (She had apparently no children by either marriage—) And I dare say she is no better than the rest."
Came a tap on the door. Followed a vision of soft white folds and furbelows and semi-transparencies and purple eyes and a pouting mouth.
"I am become like a pelican in the wilderness, Olaf," the owner of these vanities complained. "Are you very busy? Cousin Agatha is about her housekeeping, and I have read the afternoon paper all through,—even the list of undelivered letters and the woman's page,—and I just want to see the Gilbert Stuart picture," she concluded,—exercising, one is afraid, a certain economy in regard to the truth.
This was a little too much. If a man's working-hours are not to be respected—if his privacy is to be thus invaded on the flimsiest of pretexts,—why, then, one may very reasonably look for chaos to come again. This, Rudolph Musgrave decided, was a case demanding firm and instant action. Here was a young person who needed taking down a peg or two, and that at once.
But he made the mistake of looking at her first. And after that, he lied glibly. "Good Lord, no! I am not in the least busy now. In fact, I was just about to look you two up."
"I was rather afraid of disturbing you." She hesitated; and a lucent mischief woke in her eyes. "You are so patriarchal, Olaf," she lamented. "I felt like a lion venturing into a den of Daniels. But if you cross your heart you aren't really busy—why, then, you can show me the Stuart, Olaf."
It is widely conceded that Gilbert Stuart never in his after work surpassed the painting which hung then in Rudolph Musgrave's study,—the portrait of the young Gerald Musgrave, afterward the friend of Jefferson and Henry, and, still later, the author of divers bulky tomes, pertaining for the most part to ethnology. The boy smiles at you from the canvas, smiles ambiguously,—smiles with a woman's mouth, set above a resolute chin, however,—and with a sort of humorous sadness in his eyes. These latter are of a dark shade of blue—purple, if you will,—and his hair is tinged with red.
"Why, he took after me!" said Miss Stapylton. "How thoughtful of him, Olaf!"
And Rudolph Musgrave saw the undeniable resemblance. It gave him a queer sort of shock, too, as he comprehended, for the first time, that the faint blue vein on that lifted arm held Musgrave blood,—the same blood which at this thought quickened. For any person guided by appearances, Rudolph Musgrave considered, would have surmised that the vein in question contained celestial ichor or some yet diviner fluid.
"It is true," he conceded, "that there is a certain likeness."
"And he is a very beautiful boy," said Miss Stapylton, demurely. "Thank you, Olaf; I begin to think you are a dangerous flatterer. But he is only a boy, Olaf! And I had always thought of Gerald Musgrave as a learned person with a fringe of whiskers all around his face—like a centerpiece, you know."
The colonel smiled. "This portrait was painted early in life. Our kinsman was at that time, I believe, a person of rather frivolous tendencies. Yet he was not quite thirty when he first established his reputation by his monograph upon The Evolution of Marriage. And afterwards, just prior to his first meeting with Goethe, you will remember—"
"Oh, yes!" Miss Stapylton assented, hastily; "I remember perfectly. I know all about him, thank you. And it was that beautiful boy, Olaf, that young-eyed cherub, who developed into a musty old man who wrote musty old books, and lived a musty, dusty life all by himself, and never married or had any fun at all! How horrid, Olaf!" she cried, with a queer shrug of distaste.
"I fail," said Colonel Musgrave, "to perceive anything—ah—horrid in a life devoted to the study of anthropology. His reputation when he died was international."
"But he never had any fun, you jay-bird! And, oh, Olaf! Olaf! that boy could have had so much fun! The world held so much for him! Why, Fortune is only a woman, you know, and what woman could have refused him anything if he had smiled at her like that when he asked for it?"
Miss Stapylton gazed up at the portrait for a long time now, her hands clasped under her chin. Her face was gently reproachful.
"Oh, boy dear, boy dear!" she said, with a forlorn little quaver in her voice, "how could you be so foolish? Didn't you know there was something better in the world than grubbing after musty old tribes and customs and folk-songs? Oh, precious child, how could you?"
Gerald Musgrave smiled back at her, ambiguously; and Rudolph Musgrave laughed. "I perceive," said he, "you are a follower of Epicurus. For my part, I must have fetched my ideals from the tub of the Stoic. I can conceive of no nobler life than one devoted to furthering the cause of science."
She looked up at him, with a wan smile. "A barren life!" she said: "ah, yes, his was a wasted life! His books are all out-of-date now, and nobody reads them, and it is just as if he had never been. A barren life, Olaf! And that beautiful boy might have had so much fun—Life is queer, isn't it, Olaf?"
Again he laughed, "The criticism," he suggested, "is not altogether original. And Science, no less than War, must have her unsung heroes. You must remember," he continued, more seriously, "that any great work must have as its foundation the achievements of unknown men. I fancy that Cheops did not lay every brick in his pyramid with his own hand; and I dare say Nebuchadnezzar employed a few helpers when he was laying out his hanging gardens. But time cannot chronicle these lesser men. Their sole reward must be the knowledge that they have aided somewhat in the unending work of the world."
Her face had altered into a pink and white penitence which was flavored with awe.
"I—I forgot," she murmured, contritely; "I—forgot you were—like him—about your genealogies, you know. Oh, Olaf, I'm very silly! Of course, it is tremendously fine and—and nice, I dare say, if you like it,—to devote your life to learning, as you and he have done. I forgot, Olaf. Still, I am sorry, somehow, for that beautiful boy," she ended, with a disconsolate glance at the portrait.
Long after Miss Stapylton had left him, the colonel sat alone in his study, idle now, and musing vaguely. There were no more addenda concerning the descendants of Captain Thomas Osborne that night.
At last, the colonel rose and threw open a window, and stood looking into the moonlit garden. The world bathed in a mist of blue and silver. There was a breeze that brought him sweet, warm odors from the garden, together with a blurred shrilling of crickets and the conspiratorial conference of young leaves.
"Of course, it is tremendously fine and—and nice, if you like it," he said, with a faint chuckle. "I wonder, now, if I do like it?"
He was strangely moved. He seemed, somehow, to survey Rudolph Musgrave and all his doings with complete and unconcerned aloofness. The man's life, seen in its true proportions, dwindled into the merest flicker of a match; he had such a little while to live, this Rudolph Musgrave! And he spent the serious hours of this brief time writing notes and charts and pamphlets that perhaps some hundred men in all the universe might care to read—pamphlets no better and no more accurate than hundreds of other men were writing at that very moment.
No, the capacity for originative and enduring work was not in him; and this incessant compilation of dreary footnotes, this incessant rummaging among the bones of the dead—did it, after all, mean more to this Rudolph Musgrave than one full, vivid hour of life in that militant world yonder, where men fought for other and more tangible prizes than the mention of one's name in a genealogical journal?
He could not have told you. In his heart, he knew that a thorough digest of the Wills and Orders of the Orphans' Court of any county must always rank as a useful and creditable performance; but, from without, the sounds and odors of Spring were calling to him, luring him, wringing his very heart, bidding him come forth into the open and crack a jest or two before he died, and stare at the girls a little before the match had flickered out.
* * * * *
At this time he heard a moaning noise. The colonel gave a shrug, sighed, and ascended to his sister's bedroom. He knew that Agatha must be ill; and that there is no more efficient quietus to wildish meditations than the heating of hot-water bottles and the administration of hypnotics he had long ago discovered.
PART TWO - RENASCENCE
"As one imprisoned that hath lain alone And dreamed of sunlight where no vagrant gleam Of sunlight pierces, being freed, must deem This too but dreaming, and must dread the sun Whose glory dazzles,—even as such-an-one Am I whose longing was but now supreme For this high hour, and, now it strikes, esteem I do but dream long dreamed-of goals are won.
"Phyllis, I am not worthy of thy love. I pray thee let no kindly word be said Of me at all, for in the train thereof, Whenas yet-parted lips, sigh-visited, End speech and wait, mine when I will to move, Such joy awakens that I grow afraid." THOMAS ROWLAND. Triumphs of Phyllis.
They passed with incredible celerity, those next ten days—those strange, delicious, topsy-turvy days. To Rudolph Musgrave it seemed afterward that he had dreamed them away in some vague Lotus Land—in a delectable country where, he remembered, there were always purple eyes that mocked you, and red lips that coaxed you now, and now cast gibes at you.
You felt, for the most part of your stay in this country, flushed and hot and uncomfortable and unbelievably awkward, and you were mercilessly bedeviled there; but not for all the accumulated wealth of Samarkand and Ind and Ophir would you have had it otherwise. Ah, no, not otherwise in the least trifle. For now uplifted to a rosy zone of acquiescence, you partook incuriously at table of nectar and ambrosia, and noted abroad, without any surprise, that you trod upon a more verdant grass than usual, and that someone had polished up the sun a bit; and, in fine, you snatched a fearful joy from the performance of the most trivial functions of life.
Yet always he remembered that it could not last; always he remembered that in the autumn Patricia was to marry Lord Pevensey. She sometimes gave him letters to mail which were addressed to that nobleman. He wondered savagely what was in them; he posted them with a vicious shove; and, for the time, they caused him acute twinges of misery. But not for long; no, for, in sober earnest, if some fantastic sequence of events had made his one chance of winning Patricia Stapylton dependent on his spending a miserable half-hour in her company, Rudolph Musgrave could not have done it.
As for Miss Stapylton, she appeared to delight in the cloistered, easy-going life of Lichfield. The quaint and beautiful old town fell short in nothing of her expectations, in spite of the fact that she had previously read John Charteris's tales of Lichfield,—"those effusions which" (if the Lichfield Courier-Herald is to be trusted) "have builded, by the strength and witchery of record and rhyme, romance and poem, a myriad-windowed temple in Lichfield's honor—exquisite, luminous, and enduring—for all the world to see."
Miss Stapylton appeared to delight in the cloistered easy-going life of Lichfield,—that town which was once, as the outside world has half-forgotten now, the center of America's wealth, politics and culture, the town to which Europeans compiling "impressions" of America devoted one of their longest chapters in the heyday of Elijah Pogram and Jefferson Brick. But the War between the States has changed all that, and Lichfield endures to-day only as a pleasant backwater.
Very pleasant, too, it was in the days of Patricia's advent. There were strikingly few young men about, to be sure; most of them on reaching maturity had settled in more bustling regions. But many maidens remained whom memory delights to catalogue,—tall, brilliant Lizzie Allardyce, the lovely and cattish Marian Winwood, to whom Felix Kennaston wrote those wonderful love-letters which she published when he married Kathleen Saumarez, the rich Baugh heiresses from Georgia, the Pride twins, and Mattie Ferneyhaugh, whom even rival beauties loved, they say, and other damsels by the score,—all in due time to be wooed and won, and then to pass out of the old town's life.
Among the men of Rudolph Musgrave's generation—those gallant oldsters who were born and bred, and meant to die, in Lichfield,—Patricia did not lack for admirers. Tom May was one of them, of course; rarely a pretty face escaped the tribute of at least one proposal from Tom May. Then there was Roderick Taunton, he with the leonine mane, who spared her none of his forensic eloquence, but found Patricia less tractable than the most stubborn of juries. Bluff Walter Thurman, too, who was said to know more of Dickens, whist and criminal law than any other man living, came to worship at her shrine, as likewise did huge red-faced Ashby Bland, famed for that cavalry charge which history-books tell you that he led, and at which he actually was not present, for reasons all Lichfield knew and chuckled over. And Courtney Thorpe and Charles Maupin, doctors of the flesh and the spirit severally, were others among the rivals who gathered about Patricia at decorous festivals when, candles lighted, the butler and his underlings came with trays of delectable things to eat, and the "nests" of tables were set out, and pleasant chatter abounded.
And among Patricia's attendants Colonel Musgrave, it is needless to relate, was preeminently pertinacious. The two found a deal to talk about, somehow, though it is doubtful if many of their comments were of sufficient importance or novelty to merit record. Then, also, he often read aloud to her from lovely books, for the colonel read admirably and did not scruple to give emotional passages their value. Trilby, published the preceding spring in book form, was one of these books, for all this was at a very remote period; and the Rubaiyat was another, for that poem was as yet unhackneyed and hardly wellknown enough to be parodied in those happy days.
Once he read to her that wonderful sad tale of Hans Christian Andersen's which treats of the china chimney-sweep and the shepherdess, who eloped from their bedizened tiny parlor-table, and were frightened by the vastness of the world outside, and crept ignominiously back to their fit home. "And so," the colonel ended, "the little china people remained together, and were thankful for the rivet in grandfather's neck, and continued to love each other until they were broken to pieces."
"It was really a very lucky thing," Patricia estimated, "that the grandfather had a rivet in his neck and couldn't nod to the billy-goat-legged person to take the shepherdess away into his cupboard. I don't doubt the little china people were glad of it. But after climbing so far—and seeing the stars,—I think they ought to have had more to be glad for." Her voice was quaintly wistful.
"I will let you into a secret—er—Patricia. That rivet was made out of the strongest material in the whole universe. And the old grandfather was glad, at bottom, he had it in his neck so that he couldn't nod and separate the shepherdess from the chimney-sweep."
"Yes,—I guess he had been rather a rip among the bric-a-brac in his day and sympathized with them?"
"No, it wasn't just that. You see these little china people had forsaken their orderly comfortable world on the parlor table to climb very high. It was a brave thing to do, even though they faltered and came back after a while. It is what we all want to do, Patricia—to climb toward the stars,—even those of us who are too lazy or too cowardly to attempt it. And when others try it, we are envious and a little uncomfortable, and we probably scoff; but we can't help admiring, and there is a rivet in the neck of all of us which prevents us from interfering. Oh, yes, we little china people have a variety of rivets, thank God, to prevent too frequent nodding and too cowardly a compromise with baseness,—rivets that are a part of us and force us into flashes of upright living, almost in spite of ourselves, when duty and inclination grapple. There is always the thing one cannot do for the reason that one is constituted as one is. That, I take it, is the real rivet in grandfather's neck and everybody else's."
He spoke disjointedly, vaguely, but the girl nodded. "I think I understand, Olaf. Only, it is a two-edged rivet—to mix metaphors—and keeps us stiffnecked against all sorts of calls. No, I am not sure that the thing one cannot do because one is what one is, proves to be always a cause for international jubilations and fireworks on the lawn."
Thus Lichfield, as to its staid trousered citizenry, fell prostrate at Miss Stapylton's feet, and as to the remainder of its adults, vociferously failed to see anything in the least remarkable in her appearance, and avidly took and compared notes as to her personal apparel.
"You have brought Asmodeus into Lichfield," Colonel Musgrave one day rebuked Miss Stapylton, as they sat in the garden. "The demon of pride and dress is rampant everywhere—er—Patricia. Even Agatha does her hair differently now; and in church last Sunday I counted no less than seven duplicates of that blue hat of yours."
Miss Stapylton was moved to mirth. "Fancy your noticing a thing like that!" said she. "I didn't know you were even aware I had a blue hat."
"I am no judge," he conceded, gravely, "of such fripperies. I don't pretend to be. But, on the other hand, I must plead guilty to deriving considerable harmless amusement from your efforts to dress as an example and an irritant to all Lichfield."
"You wouldn't have me a dowd, Olaf?" said she, demurely. "I have to be neat and tidy, you know. You wouldn't have me going about in a continuous state of unbuttonedness and black bombazine like Mrs. Rabbet, would you?"
Rudolph Musgrave debated as to this. "I dare say," he at last conceded, cautiously, "that to the casual eye your appearance is somewhat —er—more pleasing than that of our rector's wife. But, on the other hand——"
"Olaf, I am embarrassed by such fulsome eulogy. Mrs. Rabbet isn't a day under forty-nine. And you consider me somewhat better-looking than she is!"
He inspected her critically, and was confirmed in his opinion.
"Olaf"—coaxingly—"do you really think I am as ugly as that?"
"Pouf!" said the colonel airily; "I dare say you are well enough."
"Olaf"—and this was even more cajoling—"do you know you've never told me what sort of a woman you most admire?"
"I don't admire any of them," said Colonel Musgrave, stoutly. "They are too vain and frivolous—especially the pink-and-white ones," he added, unkindlily.
"Cousin Agatha has told me all about your multifarious affairs of course. She depicts you as a sort of cardiacal buccaneer and visibly gloats over the tale of your enormities. She is perfectly dear about it. But have you never—cared—for any woman, Olaf?"
Precarious ground, this! His eyes were fixed upon her now. And hers, for doubtless sufficient reasons, were curiously intent upon anything in the universe rather than Rudolph Musgrave.
"Yes," said he, with a little intake of the breath; "yes, I cared once."
"And—she cared?" asked Miss Stapylton.
She happened, even now, not to be looking at him.
"She!" Rudolph Musgrave cried, in real surprise. "Why, God bless my soul, of course she didn't! She didn't know anything about it."
"You never told her, Olaf?"—and this was reproachful. Then Patricia said: "Well! and did she go down in the cellar and get the wood-ax or was she satisfied just to throw the bric-a-brac at you?"
And Colonel Musgrave laughed aloud.
"Ah!" said he; "it would have been a brave jest if I had told her, wouldn't it? She was young, you see, and wealthy, and—ah, well, I won't deceive you by exaggerating her personal attractions! I will serve up to you no praises of her sauced with lies. And I scorn to fall back on the stock-in-trade of the poets,—all their silly metaphors and similes and suchlike nonsense. I won't tell you that her complexion reminded me of roses swimming in milk, for it did nothing of the sort. Nor am I going to insist that her eyes had a fire like that of stars, or proclaim that Cupid was in the habit of lighting his torch from them. I don't think he was. I would like to have caught the brat taking any such liberties with those innocent, humorous, unfathomable eyes of hers! And they didn't remind me of violets, either," he pursued, belligerently, "nor did her mouth look to me in the least like a rosebud, nor did I have the slightest difficulty in distinguishing between her hands and lilies. I consider these hyperbolical figures of speech to be idiotic. Ah, no!" cried Colonel Musgrave, warming to his subject—and regarding it, too, very intently; "ah, no, a face that could be patched together at the nearest florist's would not haunt a man's dreams o'nights, as hers does! I haven't any need for praises sauced with lies! I spurn hyperbole. I scorn exaggeration. I merely state calmly and judicially that she was God's masterpiece,—the most beautiful and adorable and indescribable creature that He ever made."
She smiled at this. "You should have told her, Olaf," said Miss Stapylton. "You should have told her that you cared."
He gave a gesture of dissent. "She had everything," he pointed out, "everything the world could afford her. And, doubtless, she would have been very glad to give it all up for me, wouldn't she?—for me, who haven't youth or wealth or fame or anything? Ah, I dare say she would have been delighted to give up the world she knew and loved,—the world that loved her,—for the privilege of helping me digest old county records!"
And Rudolph Musgrave laughed again, though not mirthfully.
But the girl was staring at him, with a vague trouble in her eyes. "You should have told her, Olaf," she repeated.
And at this point he noted that the arbutus-flush in her cheeks began to widen slowly, until, at last, it had burned back to the little pink ears, and had merged into the coppery glory of her hair, and had made her, if such a thing were possible—which a minute ago it manifestly was not,—more beautiful and adorable and indescribable than ever before.
"Ah, yes!" he scoffed, "Lichfield would have made a fitting home for her. She would have been very happy here, shut off from the world with us,—with us, whose forefathers have married and intermarried with one another until the stock is worthless, and impotent for any further achievement. For here, you know, we have the best blood in America, and —for utilitarian purposes—that means the worst blood. Ah, we may prate of our superiority to the rest of the world,—and God knows, we do!—but, at bottom, we are worthless. We are worn out, I tell you! we are effete and stunted in brain and will-power, and the very desire of life is gone out of us! We are contented simply to exist in Lichfield. And she—"
He paused, and a new, fierce light came into his eyes. "She was so beautiful!" he said, half-angrily, between clenched teeth.
"You are just like the rest of them, Olaf," she lamented, with a hint of real sadness. "You imagine you are in love with a girl because you happen to like the color of her eyes, or because there is a curve about her lips that appeals to you. That isn't love, Olaf, as we women understand it. Ah, no, a girl's love for a man doesn't depend altogether upon his fitness to be used as an advertisement for somebody's ready-made clothing."
"You fancy you know what you are talking about," said Rudolph Musgrave, "but you don't. You don't realize, you see, how beautiful she—was."
And this time, he nearly tripped upon the tense, for her hand was on his arm, and, in consequence, a series of warm, delicious little shivers was running about his body in a fashion highly favorable to extreme perturbation of mind.
"You should have told her, Olaf," she said, wistfully. "Oh, Olaf, Olaf, why didn't you tell her?"
She did not know, of course, how she was tempting him; she did not know, of course, how her least touch seemed to waken every pulse in his body to an aching throb, and set hope and fear a-drumming in his breast. Obviously, she did not know; and it angered him that she did not.
"She would have laughed at me," he said, with a snarl; "how she would have laughed!"
"She wouldn't have laughed, Olaf." And, indeed, she did not look as if she would.
"But much you know of her!" said Rudolph Musgrave, morosely. "She was just like the rest of them, I tell you! She knew how to stare a man out of countenance with big purple eyes that were like violets with the dew on them, and keep her paltry pink-and-white baby face all pensive and sober, till the poor devil went stark, staring mad, and would have pawned his very soul to tell her that he loved her! She knew! She did it on purpose. She would look pensive just to make an ass of you! She—"
And here the colonel set his teeth for a moment, and resolutely drew back from the abyss.
"She would not have cared for me," he said, with a shrug. "I was not exactly the sort of fool she cared for. What she really cared for was a young fool who could dance with her in this silly new-fangled gliding style, and send her flowers and sweet-meats, and make love to her glibly—and a petticoated fool who would envy her fine feathers,—and, at last, a knavish fool who would barter his title for her money. She preferred fools, you see, but she would never have cared for a middle-aged penniless fool like me. And so," he ended, with a vicious outburst of mendacity, "I never told her, and she married a title and lived unhappily in gilded splendor ever afterwards."
"You should have told her, Olaf," Miss Stapylton persisted; and then she asked, in a voice that came very near being inaudible: "Is it too late to tell her now, Olaf?"
The stupid man opened his lips a little, and stood staring at her with hungry eyes, wondering if it were really possible that she did not hear the pounding of his heart; and then his teeth clicked, and he gave a despondent gesture.
"Yes," he said, wearily, "it is too late now."
Thereupon Miss Stapylton tossed her head. "Oh, very well!" said she; "only, for my part, I think you acted very foolishly, and I don't see that you have the least right to complain. I quite fail to see how you could have expected her to marry you—or, in fact, how you can expect any woman to marry you,—if you won't, at least, go to the trouble of asking her to do so!"
Then Miss Stapylton went into the house, and slammed the door after her.
Nor was that the worst of it. For when Rudolph Musgrave followed her—as he presently did, in a state of considerable amaze,—his sister informed him that Miss Stapylton had retired to her room with an unaccountable headache.
And there she remained for the rest of the evening. It was an unusually long evening.
Yet, somehow, in spite of its notable length—affording, as it did, an excellent opportunity for undisturbed work,—Colonel Musgrave found, with a pricking conscience, that he made astonishingly slight progress in an exhaustive monograph upon the fragmentary Orderly Book of an obscure captain in a long-forgotten regiment, which if it had not actually served in the Revolution, had at least been demonstrably granted money "for services," and so entitled hundreds of aspirants to become the Sons (or Daughters) of various international disagreements.
Nor did he see her at breakfast—nor at dinner.
A curious little heartache accompanied Colonel Musgrave on his way home that afternoon. He had not seen Patricia Stapylton for twenty-four hours, and he was just beginning to comprehend what life would be like without her. He did not find the prospect exhilarating.
Then, as he came up the orderly graveled walk, he heard, issuing from the little vine-covered summer-house, a loud voice. It was a man's voice, and its tones were angry.
"No! no!" the man was saying; "I'll agree to no such nonsense, I tell you! What do you think I am?"
"I think you are a jackass-fool," Miss Stapylton said, crisply, "and a fortune-hunter, and a sot, and a travesty, and a whole heap of other things I haven't, as yet had time to look up in the dictionary. And I think—I think you call yourself an English gentleman? Well, all I have to say is God pity England if her gentlemen are of your stamp! There isn't a costermonger in all Whitechapel who would dare talk to me as you've done! I would like to snatch you bald-headed, I would like to kill you—And do you think, now, if you were the very last man left in all the world that I would—No, don't you try to answer me, for I don't wish to hear a single word you have to say. Oh, oh! how dare you!"
"Well, I've had provocation enough," the man's voice retorted, sullenly. "Perhaps, I have cut up a bit rough, Patricia, but, then, you've been talkin' like a fool, you know. But what's the odds? Let's kiss and make up, old girl."
"Don't touch me!" she panted; "ah, don't you dare!"
"You little devil! you infernal little vixen? You'll jilt me, will you?"
"Let me go!" the girl cried, sharply. Rudolph Musgrave went into the summer-house.
The man Colonel Musgrave found there was big and loose-jointed, with traces of puffiness about his face. He had wheat-colored hair and weakish-looking, pale blue eyes. One of his arms was about Miss Stapylton, but he released her now, and blinked at Rudolph Musgrave.
"And who are you, pray?" he demanded, querulously. "What do you want, anyhow? What do you mean by sneakin' in here and tappin' on a fellow's shoulder—like a damn' woodpecker, by Jove! I don't know you."
There was in Colonel Musgrave's voice a curious tremor, when he spoke; but to the eye he was unruffled, even faintly amused.
"I am the owner of this garden," he enunciated, with leisurely distinctness, "and it is not my custom to permit gentlewomen to be insulted in it. So I am afraid I must ask you to leave it."
"Now, see here," the man blustered, weakly, "we don't want any heroics, you know. See here, you're her cousin, ain't you? By God, I'll leave it to you, you know! She's treated me badly, don't you understand. She's a jilt, you know. She's playin' fast and loose——"
He never got any further, for at this point Rudolph Musgrave took him by the coat-collar and half-dragged, half-pushed him through the garden, shaking him occasionally with a quiet emphasis. The colonel was angry, and it was a matter of utter indifference to him that they were trampling over flower-beds, and leaving havoc in their rear.
But when they had reached the side-entrance, he paused and opened it, and then shoved his companion into an open field, where a number of cows, fresh from the evening milking, regarded them with incurious eyes. It was very quiet here, save for the occasional jangle of the cow-bells and the far-off fifing of frogs in the marsh below.
"It would have been impossible, of course," said Colonel Musgrave, "for me to have offered you any personal violence as long as you were, in a manner, a guest of mine. This field, however, is the property of Judge Willoughby, and here I feel at liberty to thrash you."
Then he thrashed the man who had annoyed Patricia Stapylton.
That thrashing was, in its way, a masterpiece. There was a certain conscientiousness about it, a certain thoroughness of execution—a certain plodding and painstaking carefulness, in a word, such as is possible only to those who have spent years in guiding fat-witted tourists among the antiquities of the Lichfield Historical Association.
"You ought to exercise more," Rudolph Musgrave admonished his victim, when he had ended. "You are entirely too flabby now, you know. That path yonder will take you to the hotel, where, I imagine, you are staying. There is a train leaving Lichfield at six-fifteen, and if I were you, I would be very careful not to miss that train. Good-evening. I am sorry to have been compelled to thrash you, but I must admit I have enjoyed it exceedingly."
Then he went back into the garden.
In the shadow of a white lilac-bush, Colonel Musgrave paused with an awed face.
"Good Lord!" said he, aghast at the notion; "what would Agatha say if she knew I had been fighting like a drunken truck-driver! Or, rather, what would she refrain from saying! Only, she wouldn't believe it of me. And, for the matter of that," Rudolph Musgrave continued, after a moment's reflection, "I wouldn't have believed it of myself a week ago. I think I am changing, somehow. A week ago I would have fetched in the police and sworn out a warrant; and, if the weather had been as damp as it is, I would have waited to put on my rubbers before I would have done that much."
He found her still in the summer-house, expectant of him, it seemed, her lips parted, her eyes glowing. Rudolph Musgrave, looking down into twin vivid depths, for a breathing-space, found time to rejoice that he had refused to liken them to stars. Stars, forsooth!—and, pray, what paltry sun, what irresponsible comet, what pallid, clinkered satellite, might boast a purple splendor such as this? For all asterial scintillations, at best, had but a clap-trap glitter; whereas the glow of Patricia's eyes was a matter worthy of really serious attention.
"What have you done with him, Olaf?" the girl breathed, quickly.
"I reasoned with him," said Colonel Musgrave. "Oh, I found him quite amenable to logic. He is leaving Lichfield this evening, I think."
Thereupon Miss Stapylton began to laugh. "Yes," said she, "you must have remonstrated very feelingly. Your tie's all crooked, Olaf dear, and your hair's all rumpled, and there's dust all over your coat. You would disgrace a rag-bag. Oh, I'm glad you reasoned—that way! It wasn't dignified, but it was dear of you, Olaf. Pevensey's a beast."
He caught his breath at this. "Pevensey!" he stammered; "the Earl of Pevensey!—the man you are going to marry!"
"Dear me, no!" Miss Stapylton answered, with utmost unconcern; "I would sooner marry a toad. Why, didn't you know, Olaf? I thought, of course, you knew you had been introducing athletics and better manners among the peerage! That sounds like a bill in the House of Commons, doesn't it?" Then Miss Stapylton laughed again, and appeared to be in a state of agreeable, though somewhat nervous, elation. "I wrote to him two days ago," she afterward explained, "breaking off the engagement. So he came down at once and was very nasty about it."
"You—you have broken your engagement," he echoed, dully; and continued, with a certain deficiency of finesse, "But I thought you wanted to be a countess?"
"Oh, you boor, you vulgarian!" the girl cried, "Oh, you do put things so crudely, Olaf! You are hopeless."
She shook an admonitory forefinger in his direction, and pouted in the most dangerous fashion.
"But he always seemed so nice," she reflected, with puckered brows, "until to-day, you know. I thought he would be eminently suitable. I liked him tremendously until—" and here, a wonderful, tender change came into her face, a wistful quaver woke in her voice—"until I found there was some one else I liked better."
"Ah!" said Rudolph Musgrave.
So, that was it—yes, that was it! Her head was bowed now—her glorious, proud little head,—and she sat silent, an abashed heap of fluffy frills and ruffles, a tiny bundle of vaporous ruchings and filmy tucks and suchlike vanities, in the green dusk of the summer-house.
But he knew. He had seen her face grave and tender in the twilight, and he knew.
She loved some man—some lucky devil! Ah, yes, that was it! And he knew the love he had unwittingly spied upon to be august; the shamed exultance of her face and her illumined eyes, the crimson banners her cheeks had flaunted,—these were to Colonel Musgrave as a piece of sacred pageantry; and before it his misery was awed, his envy went posting to extinction.
Thus the stupid man reflected, and made himself very unhappy over it.
Then, after a little, the girl threw back her head and drew a deep breath, and flashed a tremulous smile at him.
"Ah, yes," said she; "there are better things in life than coronets, aren't there, Olaf?"
You should have seen how he caught up the word!
"Life!" he cried, with a bitter thrill of speech; "ah, what do I know of life? I am only a recluse, a dreamer, a visionary! You must learn of life from the men who have lived, Patricia. I haven't ever lived. I have always chosen the coward's part. I have chosen to shut myself off from the world, to posture in a village all my days, and to consider its trifles as of supreme importance. I have affected to scorn that brave world yonder where a man is proven. And, all the while, I was afraid of it, I think. I was afraid of you before you came."
At the thought of this Rudolph Musgrave laughed as he fell to pacing up and down before her.
"Life!" he cried, again, with a helpless gesture; and then smiled at her, very sadly. "'Didn't I know there was something better in life than grubbing after musty tribes and customs and folk-songs?'" he quoted. "Why, what a question to ask of a professional genealogist! Don't you realize, Patricia, that the very bread I eat is, actually, earned by the achievements of people who have been dead for centuries? and in part, of course, by tickling the vanity of living snobs? That constitutes a nice trade for an able-bodied person as long as men are paid for emptying garbage-barrels—now, doesn't it? And yet it is not altogether for the pay's sake I do it," he added, haltingly. "There really is a fascination about the work. You are really working out a puzzle,—like a fellow solving a chess-problem. It isn't really work, it is amusement. And when you are establishing a royal descent, and tracing back to czars and Plantagenets and Merovingians, and making it all seem perfectly plausible, the thing is sheer impudent, flagrant art, and you are the artist—" He broke off here and shrugged. "No, I could hardly make you understand. It doesn't matter. It is enough that I have bartered youth and happiness and the very power of living for the privilege of grubbing in old county records."
He paused. It is debatable if he had spoken wisely, or had spoken even in consonance with fact, but his outburst had, at least, the saving grace of sincerity. He was pallid now, shaking in every limb, and in his heart was a dull aching. She seemed so incredibly soft and little and childlike, as she looked up at him with troubled eyes.
"I—I don't quite understand," she murmured. "It isn't as if you were an old man, Olaf. It isn't as if—"
But he had scarcely heard her. "Ah, child, child!" he cried, "why did you come to waken me? I was content in my smug vanities. I was content in my ignorance. I could have gone on contentedly grubbing through my musty, sleepy life here, till death had taken me, if only you had not shown me what life might mean! Ah, child, child, why did you waken me?"
"I?" she breathed; and now the flush of her cheeks had widened, wondrously.
"You! you!" he cried, and gave a wringing motion of his hands, for the self-esteem of a complacent man is not torn away without agony. "Who else but you? I had thought myself brave enough to be silent, but still I must play the coward's part! That woman I told you of—that woman I loved—was you! Yes, you, you!" he cried, again and again, in a sort of frenzy.
And then, on a sudden, Colonel Musgrave began to laugh.
"It is very ridiculous, isn't it?" he demanded of her. "Yes, it is very—very funny. Now comes the time to laugh at me! Now comes the time to lift your brows, and to make keen arrows of your eyes, and of your tongue a little red dagger! I have dreamed of this moment many and many a time. So laugh, I say! Laugh, for I have told you that I love you. You are rich, and I am a pauper—you are young, and I am old, remember,—and I love you, who love another man! For the love of God, laugh at me and have done—laugh! for, as God lives, it is the bravest jest I have ever known!"
But she came to him, with a wonderful gesture of compassion, and caught his great, shapely hands in hers.
"I—I knew you cared," she breathed. "I have always known you cared. I would have been an idiot if I hadn't. But, oh, Olaf, I didn't know you cared so much. You frighten me, Olaf," she pleaded, and raised a tearful face to his. "I am very fond of you, Olaf dear. Oh, don't think I am not fond of you." And the girl paused for a breathless moment. "I think I might have married you, Olaf," she said, half-wistfully, "if—if it hadn't been for one thing."
Rudolph Musgrave smiled now, though he found it a difficult business. "Yes," he assented, gravely, "I know, dear. If it were not for the other man—that lucky devil! Yes, he is a very, very lucky devil, child, and he constitutes rather a big 'if,' doesn't he?"
Miss Stapylton, too, smiled a little. "No," said she, "that isn't quite the reason. The real reason is, as I told you yesterday, that I quite fail to see how you can expect any woman to marry you, you jay-bird, if you won't go to the trouble of asking her to do so."
And, this time, Miss Stapylton did not go into the house.
When they went in to supper, they had planned to tell Miss Agatha of their earth-staggering secret at once. But the colonel comprehended, at the first glimpse of his sister, that the opportunity would be ill-chosen.
The meal was an awkward half-hour. Miss Agatha, from the head of the table, did very little talking, save occasionally to evince views of life that were both lachrymose and pugnacious. And the lovers talked with desperate cheerfulness, so that there might be no outbreak so long as Pilkins—preeminently ceremonious among butlers, and as yet inclined to scoff at the notion that the Musgraves of Matocton were not divinely entrusted to his guardianship,—was in the room.
Coming so close upon the heels of his high hour, this contretemps of Agatha's having one of her "attacks," seemed more to Rudolph Musgrave than a man need rationally bear with equanimity. Perhaps it was a trifle stiffly that he said he did not care for any raspberries.
His sister burst into tears.
"That's all the thanks I get. I slave my life out, and what thanks do I get for it? I never have any pleasure, I never put my foot out of the house except to go to market,—and what thanks do I get for it? That's what I want you to tell me with the first raspberries of the season. That's what I want! Oh, I don't wonder you can't look me in the eye. And I wish I was dead! that's what I wish!"
Colonel Musgrave did not turn at once toward Patricia, when his sister had stumbled, weeping, from the dining-room.
"I—I am so sorry, Olaf," said a remote and tiny voice.
Then he touched her hand with his finger-tips, ever so lightly. "You must not worry about it, dear. I daresay I was unpardonably brusque. And Agatha's health is not good, so that she is a trifle irritable at times. Why, good Lord, we have these little set-to's ever so often, and never give them a thought afterwards. That is one of the many things the future Mrs. Musgrave will have to get accustomed to, eh? Or does that appalling prospect frighten you too much?"
And Patricia brazenly confessed that it did not. She also made a face at him, and accused Rudolph Musgrave of trying to crawl out of marrying her, which proceeding led to frivolities unnecessary to record, but found delectable by the participants.
Colonel Musgrave was alone. He had lifted his emptied coffee-cup and he swished the lees gently to and fro. He was curiously intent upon these lees, considered them in the light of a symbol....
Then a comfortable, pleasant-faced mulattress came to clear the supper-table. Virginia they called her. Virginia had been nurse in turn to all the children of Rudolph Musgrave's parents; and to the end of her life she appeared to regard the emancipation of the South's negroes as an irrelevant vagary of certain "low-down" and probably "ornery" Yankees —as an, in short, quite eminently "tacky" proceeding which very certainly in no way affected her vested right to tyrannize over the Musgrave household.
"Virginia," said Colonel Musgrave, "don't forget to make up a fire in the kitchen-stove before you go to bed. And please fill the kettle before you go upstairs, and leave it on the stove. Miss Agatha is not well to-night."
"Yaas, suh. I unnerstan', suh," Virginia said, sedately.
Virginia filled her tray, and went away quietly, her pleasant yellow face as imperturbable as an idol's.
PART THREE - TERTIUS
"It is in many ways made plain to us That love must grow like any common thing, Root, bud, and leaf, ere ripe for garnering The mellow fruitage front us; even thus Must Helena encounter Theseus Ere Paris come, and every century Spawn divers queens who die with Antony But live a great while first with Julius.
"Thus I have spoken the prologue of a play Wherein I have no part, and laugh, and sit Contented in the wings, whilst you portray An amorous maid with gestures that befit This lovely role,—as who knows better, pray, Than I that helped you in rehearsing it?"
Horace Symonds. Civic Voluntaries.
When the Presidential campaign was at its height; when in various sections of the United States "the boy orator of La Platte" was making invidious remarks concerning the Republican Party, and in Canton (Ohio) Mr. M.A. Hanna was cheerfully expressing his confidence as to the outcome of it all; when the Czar and the Czarina were visiting President Faure in Paris "amid unparalleled enthusiasm"; and when semi-educated people were appraising, with a glibness possible to ignorance only, the literary achievements of William Morris and George du Maurier, who had just died:—at this remote time, Roger Stapylton returned to Lichfield.
For in that particular October Patricia's father, an accommodating physician having declared old Roger Stapylton's health to necessitate a Southern sojourn, leased the Bellingham mansion in Lichfield. It happened that, by rare good luck, Tom Bellingham—of the Bellinghams of Assequin, not the Bellinghams of Bellemeade, who indeed immigrated after the War of 1812 and have never been regarded as securely established from a social standpoint,—was at this time in pecuniary difficulties on account of having signed another person's name to a cheque.
Roger Stapylton refurnished the house in the extreme degree of Lichfieldian elegance. Colonel Musgrave was his mentor throughout the process; and the oldest families of Lichfield very shortly sat at table with the former overseer, and not at all unwillingly, since his dinners were excellent and an infatuated Rudolph Musgrave—an axiom now in planning any list of guests,—was very shortly to marry the man's daughter.
In fact, the matter had been settled; and Colonel Musgrave had received from Roger Stapylton an exuberantly granted charter of courtship.
This befell, indeed, upon a red letter day in Roger Stapylton's life. The banker was in business matters wonderfully shrewd, as divers transactions, since the signing of that half-forgotten contract whereby he was to furnish a certain number of mules for the Confederate service, strikingly attested: but he had rarely been out of the country wherein his mother bore him; and where another nabob might have dreamed of an earl, or even have soared aspiringly in imagination toward a marchioness-ship for his only child, old Stapylton retained unshaken faith in the dust-gathering creed of his youth.
He had tolerated Pevensey, had indeed been prepared to purchase him much as he would have ordered any other expensive trinket or knickknack which Patricia desired. But he had never viewed the match with enthusiasm.
Now, though, old Stapylton exulted. His daughter—half a Vartrey already—would become by marriage a Musgrave of Matocton, no less. Pat's carriage would roll up and down the oak-shaded avenue from which he had so often stepped aside with an uncovered head, while gentlemen and ladies cantered by; and it would be Pat's children that would play about the corridors of the old house at whose doors he had lived so long,—those awe-inspiring corridors, which he had very rarely entered, except on Christmas Day and other recognized festivities, when, dressed to the nines, the overseer and his uneasy mother were by immemorial custom made free of the mansion, with every slave upon the big plantation.
"They were good days, sir," he chuckled. "Heh, we'll stick to the old customs. We'll give a dinner and announce it at dessert, just as your honored grandfather did your Aunt Constantia's betrothal—"
For about the Musgraves of Matocton there could be no question. It was the old man's delight to induce Rudolph Musgrave to talk concerning his ancestors; and Stapylton soon had their history at his finger-tips. He could have correctly blazoned every tincture in their armorial bearings and have explained the origin of every rampant, counter-changed or couchant beast upon the shield.
He knew it was the Bona Nova in the November of 1619,—for the first Musgrave had settled in Virginia, prior to his removal to Lichfield,—which had the honor of transporting the forebear of this family into America. Stapylton could have told you offhand which scions of the race had represented this or that particular county in the House of Burgesses, and even for what years; which three of them were Governors, and which of them had served as officers of the State Line in the Revolution; and, in fine, was more than satisfied to have his daughter play Penelophon to Colonel Musgrave's debonair mature Cophetua.
In a word, Roger Stapylton had acquiesced to the transferal of his daughter's affections with the peculiar equanimity of a properly reared American parent. He merely stipulated that, since his business affairs prevented an indefinite stay in Lichfield, Colonel Musgrave should presently remove to New York City, where the older man held ready for him a purely ornamental and remunerative position with the Insurance Company of which Roger Stapylton was president.
But upon this point Rudolph Musgrave was obdurate.
He had voiced, and with sincerity, as you may remember, his desire to be proven upon a larger stage than Lichfield afforded. Yet the sincerity was bred of an emotion it did not survive. To-day, unconsciously, Rudolph Musgrave was reflecting that he was used to living in Lichfield, and would appear to disadvantage in a new surrounding, and very probably would not be half so comfortable.
Aloud he said, in firm belief that he spoke truthfully: "I cannot conscientiously give up the Library, sir. I realize the work may not seem important in your eyes. Indeed, in anybody's eyes it must seem an inadequate outcome of a man's whole life. But it unfortunately happens to be the only kind of work I am capable of doing. And—if you will pardon me, sir,—I do not think it would be honest for me to accept this generous salary and give nothing in return."
But here Patricia broke in.
Patricia agreed with Colonel Musgrave in every particular. Indeed, had Colonel Musgrave proclaimed his intention of setting up in life as an assassin, Patricia would readily have asserted homicide to be the most praiseworthy of vocations. As it was, she devoted no little volubility and emphasis and eulogy to the importance of a genealogist in the eternal scheme of things; and gave her father candidly to understand that an inability to appreciate this fact was necessarily indicative of a deplorably low order of intelligence.
Musgrave was to remember—long afterward—how glorious and dear this brightly-colored, mettlesome and tiny woman had seemed to him in the second display of temper he witnessed in Patricia. It was a revelation of an additional and as yet unsuspected adorability.
Her father, though, said: "Pat, I've suspected for a long time it was foolish of me to have a red-haired daughter." Thus he capitulated,—and with an ineffable air of routine.
Colonel Musgrave was, in a decorous fashion, the happiest of living persons.
Colonel Musgrave was, in a decorous fashion, the happiest of living persons....
As a token of this he devoted what little ready money he possessed to renovating Matocton, where he had not lived for twenty years. He rarely thought of money, not esteeming it an altogether suitable subject for a gentleman's meditations. And to do him justice, the reflection that old Stapylton's wealth would some day be at Rudolph Musgrave's disposal was never more than an agreeable minor feature of Patricia's entourage whenever, as was very often, Colonel Musgrave fell to thinking of how adorable Patricia was in every particular.
Yet there were times when he thought of Anne Charteris as well. He had not seen her for a whole year now, for the Charterises had left Lichfield shortly after the Pendomer divorce case had been settled, and were still in Europe.
This was the evening during which Roger Stapylton had favorably received his declaration; and Colonel Musgrave was remembering the time that he and Anne had last spoken with a semblance of intimacy—that caustic time when Anne Charteris had interrupted him in high words with her husband, and circumstances had afforded to Rudolph Musgrave no choice save to confess, to this too-perfect woman, of all created beings, his "true relations" with Clarice Pendomer.
Even as yet the bitterness of that humiliation was not savorless....
It seemed to him that he could never bear to think of the night when Anne had heard his stammerings through, and had merely listened, and in listening had been unreasonably beautiful. So Godiva might have looked on Peeping Tom, with more of wonder than of loathing, just at first....
It had been very hard to bear. But it seemed necessary. The truth would have hurt Anne too much....
He noted with the gusto of a connoisseur how neatly the denouement of this piteous farce had been prepared. His rage with Charteris; Anne's overhearing, and misinterpretation of, a dozen angry words; that old affair with Clarice—immediately before her marriage (one of how many pleasurable gallantries? the colonel idly wondered, and regretted that he had no Leporello to keep them catalogued for consultation)—and George Pendomer's long-smoldering jealousy of Rudolph Musgrave: all fitted in as neatly as the bits of a puzzle.
It had been the simplest matter in the world to shield John Charteris. Yet, the colonel wished he could be sure it was an unadulterated desire of protecting Anne which had moved him. There had been very certainly an enjoyment all the while in reflecting how nobly Rudolph Musgrave was behaving for the sake of "the only woman he had ever loved." Yes, one had undoubtedly phrased it thus—then, and until the time one met Patricia.
But Anne was different, and in the nature of things must always be a little different, from all other people—even Patricia Stapylton.
Always in reverie the colonel would come back to this,—that Anne could not be thought of, quite, in the same frame of mind wherein one appraised other persons. Especially must he concede this curious circumstance whenever, as to-night, he considered divers matters that had taken place quite long enough ago to have been forgotten.
It was a foolish sort of a reverie, and scarcely worth the setting down. It was a reverie of the kind that everyone, and especially everyone's wife, admits to be mawkish and unprofitable; and yet, somehow, the next still summer night, or long sleepy Sunday afternoon, or, perhaps, some cheap, jigging and heartbreaking melody, will set a carnival of old loves and old faces awhirl in the brain. One grows very sad over it, of course, and it becomes apparent that one has always been ill-treated by the world; but the sadness is not unpleasant, and one is quite willing to forgive.
Yes,—it was a long, long time ago. It must have been a great number of centuries. Matocton was decked in its spring fripperies of burgeoning, and the sky was a great, pale turquoise, and the buttercups left a golden dust high up on one's trousers. One had not become entirely accustomed to long trousers then, and one was rather proud of them. One was lying on one's back in the woods, where the birds were astir and eager to begin their house-building, and twittered hysterically over the potentialities of straws and broken twigs.
Overhead, the swelling buds of trees were visible against the sky, and the branches were like grotesque designs on a Japanese plate. There was a little clump of moss, very cool and soft, that just brushed one's cheek.
One was thinking—really thinking—for the first time in one's life; and, curiously enough, one was thinking about a girl, although girls were manifestly of no earthly importance.
But Anne Willoughby was different. Even at the age when girls seemed feckless creatures, whose aimings were inexplicable, both as concerned existence in general, and, more concretely, as touched gravel-shooters and snowballs, and whose reasons for bursting into tears were recondite, one had perceived the difference. One wondered about it from time to time.
Gradually, there awoke an uneasy self-conscious interest as to all matters that concerned her, a mental pricking up of the ears when her name was mentioned.
One lay awake o' nights, wondering why her hair curled so curiously about her temples, and held such queer glowing tints in its depths when sunlight fell upon it. One was uncomfortable and embarrassed and Briarean-handed in her presence, but with her absence came the overwhelming desire of seeing her again.
After a little, it was quite understood that one was in love with Anne Willoughby....
It was a matter of minor importance that her father was the wealthiest man in Fairhaven, and that one's mother was poor. One would go away into foreign lands after a while, and come back with a great deal of money,—lakes of rupees and pieces of eight, probably. It was very simple.
But Anne's father had taken an unreasonable view of the matter, and carried Anne off to a terrible aunt, who returned one's letters unopened. That was the end of Anne Willoughby.
Then, after an interval—during which one fell in and out of love assiduously, and had upon the whole a pleasant time,—Anne Charteris had come to Lichfield. One had found that time had merely added poise and self-possession and a certain opulence to the beauty which had caused one's voice to play fantastic tricks in conference with Anne Willoughby,—ancient, unforgotten conferences, wherein one had pointed out the many respects in which she differed from all other women, and the perfect feasibility of marrying on nothing a year.
Much as one loved Patricia, and great as was one's happiness, men did not love as boys did, after all....
"'Ah, Boy, it is a dream for life too high,'" said Colonel Musgrave, in his soul. "And now let's think of something sensible. Let's think about the present political crisis, and what to give the groomsmen, and how much six times seven is. Meanwhile, you are not the fellow in Aux Italiens, you know; you are not bothered by the faint, sweet smell of any foolish jasmine-flower, you understand, or by any equally foolish hankerings after your lost youth. You are simply a commonplace, every-day sort of man, not thoroughly hardened as yet to being engaged, and you are feeling a bit pulled down to-night, because your liver or something is out of sorts."
Upon reflection, Colonel Musgrave was quite sure that he was happy; and that it was only his liver or something which was upset. But, at all events, the colonel's besetting infirmity was always to shrink from making changes; instinctively he balked against commission of any action which would alter his relations with accustomed circumstances or persons. It was very like Rudolph Musgrave that even now, for all the glow of the future's bright allure, his heart should hark back to the past and its absurd dear memories, with wistfulness.
And he found it, as many others have done, but cheerless sexton's work, this digging up of boyish recollections. One by one, they come to light—the brave hopes and dreams and aspirations of youth; the ruddy life has gone out of them; they have shriveled into an alien, pathetic dignity. They might have been one's great-grandfather's or Hannibal's or Adam's; the boy whose life was swayed by them is quite as dead as these.
Amaryllis is dead, too. Perhaps, you drop in of an afternoon to talk over old happenings. She is perfectly affable. She thinks it is time you were married. She thinks it very becoming, the way you have stoutened. And, no, they weren't at the Robinsons'; that was the night little Amaryllis was threatened with croup.
Then, after a little, the lamps of welcome are lighted in her eyes, her breath quickens, her cheeks mount crimson flags in honor of her lord, her hero, her conqueror.
It is Mr. Grundy, who is happy to meet you, and hopes you will stay to dinner. He patronizes you a trifle; his wife, you see, has told him all about that boy who is as dead as Hannibal. You don't mind in the least; you dine with Mr. and Mrs. Grundy, and pass a very pleasant evening.