HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON
Author of Queed
To my first, second, and third reader
Who raises books by hand
Two Houses, with a great Gulf between; of V. Vivian, M.D., and what he thought of John the Baptist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Two Persons of More Importance, and why they went to the Beach in October; Miss Carlisle Heth, and how she met an Unwelcome Swain at Sea; how this Swain could swim enough for one. . . . . . 12
How Carlisle screamed when the Boat upset, or else didn't, as the Case might be; also of Mrs. Heth, who went down Six Floors to nail Falsehoods, etc. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Mr. Hugo Canning, of the well-known Pursuing-Sex; how the Great Young Man pursued Miss Heth to a Summer-House, and what stopped his Thundering Feet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Dialogue between V. Vivian, of the Slums, and Mr. Heth's Daughter (or his Niece); and what the lovely Hun saw in the Mr. Vivian's eyes, just before he asked God to pity her. . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Of Carlisle's Bewilderment over all the Horrid Talk; of how it wasn't her Fault that Gossip was so Unreliable; of the Greatest Game in the World; also, of Mr. Heth, who didn't look like a Shameless Homicide. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
How the Great Parti, pursued or pursuing to Cousin Willie Kerr's Apartment, begins thundering again. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
Supper with the Cooneys: Poor Relations, but you must be Nice to them; of Hen Cooney's friend V.V., as she irritatingly calls him; also relating how Cally is asked for her Forgiveness, and can't seem to think what to say . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Concerning an Abandoned Hotel, and who lived there; also of an Abandoned Youth, who lived somewhere else, Far Away; how a Slum Doctor dressed for a Function, such as involved Studs; and how Kern Garland wishted she was a Lady . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
A Beautiful New Year's Party, and who spoiled it, and how; how Something is done, after all, for she tells the Man plainly that he mustn't speak to her any more . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
In which Mr. Canning must go South for his Health, and Cally lies awake to think. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134
How V. Vivian still felt the Same about the Huns, No Matter what Sam Thought; also how Kern Garland lost Something at the Works, and what made Mr. V.V. look at her That Way. . . . . . . . 146
How Life was Gray and Everything was Horrid; how Carlisle went to Little Africa with Hen; how the Man spoke to her again, just the same, and what happened then; further, reporting a Confidential Talk with a Best Girl-Friend. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
In which Cally tells a Certain Person that she isn't Happy—Very 180
In which she goes to New York and is very Happy indeed . . . . . 190
Of Happiness continuing, and what all the World loves; revealing, however, that not Every Girl can do what the French People once did 201
Cally crosses the Great Gulf; and it isn't quite Clear how she will ever cross back again. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
Night-Thoughts on the Hardness of Religious Fellows, compelling you to be Hard, too; Happier Things again, such as Hugo, Europe, Trousseaux, etc.; concluding with a Letter from Texas and a Little Vulgarian in a Red Hat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
How it is One Thing to run away from yourself, and another to escape; how Cally orders the Best Cocktails, and gazes at her Mother asleep; also of Jefferson 4127, and why Mamma left the Table in a hurry at the Cafe des Ambassadeurs . . . . . . . . . . 249
In which Jack Dalhousie wears a New Dignity, and the Lame Stranger comes to the House of Heth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 266
That Day at the Beach, as we sit and look back at it; how Hugo journeys to shield his Love from Harm, and Small Beginnings can end with Uproars and a Proverb. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
One Summer in the Old Hotel; of the World's wagging on, Kern Garland, and Prince Serge Suits; of how Kern leaves the Works for Good and has a Dream about Mr. V.V.'s Beautiful Lady; of how Mr. V.V. came to sit in the Still Watches and think again of John the Baptist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 296
One Summer in Europe, which she never speaks of now; Home again, with what a Difference; Novel Questionings, as to what is a Friend, etc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320
How the Best People came to the Old Hotel again; how Cally is Ornamental, maybe, but hardly a Useful Person; how she encounters Three Surprises from Three Various Men, all disagreeable but the Last. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334
In which the Name of Heth is lifted beyond the Reach of Hateful Malice, and Mamma wishes that she had the Ten Thousand back again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 351
Concerning Women who won't remember their Place, and a Speech to Two Hundred of them, by Mr. V.V., no less; also revealing why Hen Cooney never found V.V. in the Crowd around the Platform . . 363
Of one of the Triumphs of Cally's Life, and the Tete-a-tete following, which vaguely depresses her; of the Little Work-Girl who brought the Note that Sunday, oddly remet at Gentlemen's Furnishings . . 378
A Little Visit to the Birthplace of the Family; how Cally thinks Socialism and almost faints, and Hugo's Afternoon of Romance ends Short in the Middle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 394
One Hour, in which she apologizes twice for her Self, her Life and Works; and once she is beautifully forgiven, and once she never will be, this Side of the Last Trump. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 410
How it sounded like an Epitaph, but still she would not cry; how she thinks of the Beach again, and hugs a Hateful Word to her Bosom; how Hugo starts suddenly on a sort of Wedding-Trip . . . . 427
Second Cataclysm in the House; of the Dark Cloud obscuring the New Day, and the Violets that had faded behind a Curtain, etc.; but chiefly of a Little Talk with Mamma, which produced Moral Results, after all. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 443
Time's Jests, and now the Perfect Apology, to stand a Lifetime in Brick and Stone; concluding with a Little Scene, which she will remember while she lives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 459
Her Last Day, in this History; how she wakes with a Wonder in her Heart, has her Banquet laid at the Board of the Cooneys, dreams back over the Long Strange Year; finally how she learns Something that not Everybody Knows: what it is like at the End of the World 476
In which to love much is to be much loved, and Kern's Dearest Dream (but one) comes True. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 495
"IS THIS MISS HETH?" (Frontispiece)
"THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG, SIR, MR. V.V." . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
"PLEASE DON'T TROUBLE, HUGO" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 260
"PAPA—I WANT TO INTRODUCE A GOOD FRIEND OF MINE—DR. VIVIAN". . . 474
From drawings by Raymond M. Crosby
Two Houses, with a great Gulf between; of V. Vivian, M.D., and what he thought of John the Baptist.
V. Vivian, M.D. by the paint upon his window, dwelt in the Dabney House; Mr. Heth—pronounced Heath if you value his wife's good opinion—dwelt in the House of his cognomen. Between the two lay a scant mile of city streets. But then this happened to be the particular mile which traversed, while of course it could not span, the Great Gulf fixed.
In one sense (though the wrong one) the Dabney House was the more impressive of the pair of domiciles: for it was seven stories tall and had two hundred rooms; while the House of Heth was only four stories and basement, and had but fourteen rooms, counting in the trunk-room. But physical size is size only: whereby hang few tales. Over and in the Heth House there prevailed the most charming air of ease with dignity, of taste plus means, that you could well imagine: while the circumambient atmosphere of the Dabney House, not to put too fine a point on it, was the abomination of desolation, or that abomination's little brother. Before the one stretched a brilliant street where imposing residences crowded each other just as close as they could crowd, and still be imposing, and residences. Behind the other stretched the likeliest the city could show in the way of slums, and, farther back, just over the brow of the sinister Hill, something less cheering than honest slums. One glittered upon the future; the other decayed into the past. And it would cost you—to clinch the comparison with the true and only—two thousand dollars a year, say, to secure Mr. Heth's house, negotiating with his executor at that; while in the great pile of the eponymous Dabney, you could have all of three rooms and (portable) bath for twelve dollars a month, though strictly cash in advance....
Cartographers, with their miserable mathematics, called this a statute mile, which, as we say, a brisk man can walk in the smoking of a cigarette. But the authors of the Blue Book, grave fellows who have better struck the scales from their eyes, would have computed you this distance at N, which is infinity: and so closed up the book. For what bridge shall cross the uncrossable, what ferryman ply for silver pounds on the Great Gulf? An image-breaking age; no doubt; but there are limits, in decency. No thread of destiny or clue of circumstance shall connect two Houses set upon the poles of the world....
So spoke the Blue Book: judging somewhat by the look of it, after all, pronouncing not without a touch of the weary wisdom which comes of knowing too much. But is it not written how the hussy Appearance wears a painted face, justly open to interrogation?—how there stands a summit from which a man shall see yet more sharply than his most admired authors, above referred to? Hence, look down. And behold, against the sunny day two clues now visible upon the bosom of the Gulf, to wit: the dark-eyed lad so oddly taking hired-carriage exercise up and down Washington Street, between eight-thirty and ten-thirty A.M.; and yon half-column of winged words in "The People's Forum" column of this morning's "Post," under the caption (supplied by the editor): "Severe Arraignment of Local Factory Conditions."
The Dabney House felt the pluckings first. They were Nobodies there; and by that token they were early risers.
* * * * *
She was fluttered to-day, was Mrs. Garland, by the nocturnal reappearance of her errant husband, Mister, as simply called: but she did not forget the iron rule. The "Post" was under the door by seven o'clock. Dr. Vivian perused by seven-fifteen. He perused with a peculiar and paternal gusto: for doctoring was not his meat and drink, and he had written these winged words himself. But of the vehicular lad he heard nothing till some hours later, when Labor Commissioner O'Neill, skirting the old park from Centre Street, where he had been for cigars, dropped in on the way back to his office.
Even here, the words came first. O'Neill had a "Post" in his hand.
It was then nearing eleven o'clock. The doctor sat at a tall old "secretary" between his windows, swinging round with expectancy as his friend entered. There were still people of a sort, human beings in a manner of speaking, in the waiting-room; but he let them wait now, that being what the room was for.
"Well?... How'd it strike you?"
The Labor Commissioner mopped his brow with a snowy handkerchief, which released into the office the scent of cologne. He was a stoutish man, and the morning, for autumn, was astonishingly warm.
"Well, it's ill-timed, V.V.," said he, without ill-humor. "And—kind of extreme. I told you the other day how I felt about it."
The face of the medico fell.
"I thought you said you approved of a good, pertinent letter, to show that the laity were backing you up!"
"I said a mild, easy-tempered letter might be all right. But—"
"Why, Sam, don't you think that's an awfully mild letter? You ought to see what I edited out of it."
"Well, you left in enough to let the 'Post' in for a damage suit, all right. You, too.... Only you won't have much to lodge a judgment against, long's you haven't got a billhead printed and charge regular fees like I told you."
"I'm perfectly responsible—far as that goes. Don't you worry."
The doctor's look showed that he considered O'Neill's pleasantry in bad taste, to say the least of it. He had told Sam often enough, one would think, that he meant before long to put in a good businesslike system of fees, small fees....
The Commissioner was continuing: "Point is, V.V., there's nothing gained getting these people's backs way up. They 're sore now. A little tact, a little bit of—"
"Sure thing. Look here, old boy, remember it's only a week since my report was in the papers, practically blacklisting those four plants, and I've already called personally on every one of 'em, putting it right up to 'em. You heard me at Heth's and the Pickle people's, yourself. I guess I put it up about as strong as could be done, hey? And that's all can be done till I get me some more law. Put it right square...."
But V. Vivian, gazing steadily over the chair-back, had obviously been stoking his inner fuel.
"Ah! Rousing public opinion's no use at all?... Why, don't you know that public opinion is the grandfather of your little statute-book laws? Don't you—"
"Yair. Know. See you say that in your letter."
"Well, it's a great truth!... How tactful will you feel some day, when one of those floors at the Heth Works collapses and kills a hundred people?"
Labor Commissioner O'Neill seemed unterrified by the grisly picture. He was strolling about the very large, bare, and strange-looking medical office, flicking cigar-ash where he would: a good-natured-looking Commissioner of thirty, wearing a glossy brown suit and strong yellow gloves. And his present pacific air was undoubtedly to his credit; certainly he had been annoyed when his eye first fell on the "Severe Arraignment," over his morning rasher....
"And that isn't the worst of it," shot the doctor again, flinging out an arm. "It's only a detail, I say, this factory end of it; only a symptom, don't you see? What we're dealing with is the most dangerous element in the life of this city! Tact!... When fire couldn't sweep through that new house of yours faster than the corrupting ideals of these people'll lick through this community!"
"Whe-ew!" said Sam O'Neill, this ground being not unfamiliar.... "Got to take 'em along slowly, Doctor, all the same. Rome wasn't built in a day."
"But mark my words, the vandals kicked it down in about fifteen minutes."
O'Neill felt vaguely worsted by this riposte. He was the older man, the practical man, with a proven ability to make money out of real estate; but old V.V., though talking like an anarchist of late, was admitted to have a verbal dexterity at debate. Argument was forced upon Sam, as it were. He demanded authority for calling these people corrupting; desired to know if V.V. knew any of 'em personally. And presently he was reading aloud from the letter in the "Post," reading retributively; one swingeing phrase after another.
"And here—here! Listen to this, will you?—'Why should we stand by and permit these shameless egoists of industry to bleed the strength from the community's sinew and grow rich by homicide at the cost of the race?'..."
Severe, indeed, the Arraignment seemed when read aloud to you in that tone. Gusto ebbed a little, mayhap. But it was clear that the medical author did not propose to retract; quite the contrary, in short.
"Permit! Ought to have asked why we applaud them, court them, envy them—"
"'Shameless homicides'!—and he calls it mild! Now, here, honor bright—"
"It's what they are—and more! You ask me if I know these people personally? I reply that in the truest sense I do know 'em, very well, for I've made a study of the type, d'you see?..."
Then the office door from the hall opened about a foot, a fat head in a gaunt bonnet protruded through the crevice, having rather a decapitated look, and a deep inflectionless voice said:
"Excuse me introodin', Doctor, I'm sure, but your sick here raskin' me kin they see you soon."
"In five minutes precisely ..."
Morning sunshine streamed through the unwashen windows. V. Vivian had risen in the ardor of his argument. Quite a different-looking man from the Commissioner he was observed to be, tall where the Commissioner was thick, eager where the Commissioner was easy-going. Rather a long face he had, sensitive about the mouth, lucid about the gaze, and hair of a tan shade which waved a little, no matter how crisply cut. The faded gray suit he wore contrasted unfavorably with his friend's new brown; on the other hand, his movements were not devoid of a certain lank grace such as the gods have denied to rotundity.
Yet when he stepped out from his quaint desk, it was suddenly to be seen that the young man limped, on his left foot: that this limp was not accidental or temporary.... A lame doctor: so it was with him. And yet the fire with which he spoke was surely not born of the pharmacopoeia....
"Take it in the large—that's all I ask! Look at your job from a social standpoint. I tell you, it's just these Huns, these yellow-rich Heths and Magees and Old Dominion Pickle people who're rotting the heart out of this fine old town. And the root of the whole trouble's in their debased personal ideals, don't you see? 'Get on' at all costs, that's the motto: slapping their money in their neighbors' faces and shouting, 'Here's what counts!'—spreading their degraded standards by example through the community—yellow materialism gone mad.... Oh, I know!—I know it isn't your slave-driving captains only. It's mainly the women pushing from behind—fat horse-leeches' daughters always screaming 'more, more'—when there's—"
"Leeches! Peaches, you mean! You ought to see—"
"When there's no way to get any more but to bleed it out of—Corinne Garland here!—which is duly done. Brutal egoism, that's the philosophy—"
"Police!" cried O'Neill, puffing good-humoredly. "Why, V.V.!—They're personally some of the best people in town! If you knew 'em you'd be the first to say so. Take the Heths now, just to show you—"
"Huns all! I do know them, I say, through to their little prehensile souls! You don't seem to get me.... Why, I feel sorry for them, Sam! I wouldn't mind much what they did if they were only happy with it! But, good heavens!... D'you know what this age needs, my boy? A voice crying in the wilderness...."
"H'm! Don't know about that. You'll find, where it's a matter touching their pockets, people don't listen to voices much, either in—"
"They listened to John the Baptist!"
"What?" said Sam, rather disliking these constant references to the ancient days.
"I say they listened to John the Baptist!" cried tall Dr. Vivian, slapping one impetuous hand into the other. "Yes, and came running and sweating to the desert, just to get a tongue-lashing from him—the very same old scribes and Pharisees that drive motor-cars down Washington Street to-day! And they'd run to him to-day, never fear! I tell you, there's a voice the heart is never deaf to! And that's what this age needs, Sam,—since you ask me,—a big, fierce prophet on the outskirts of the city; a great, grim, uncompromising hater, with a tongue that bites like a blacksnake whip. By George, they'd listen to him! He couldn't hide where your yellow Huns wouldn't come to him on their knees!"
"Let him do it, then,—go's far as he likes. Only don't ask me ..."
O'Neill had not failed to perceive how the talk wandered from the Labor Commission. Now, drawing on his gloves, he was struck by a humorous thought.
"You're looking for work, for trouble, you say. Why don't you sign on this John the Baptist job yourself?"
Oddly, the small gibe seemed to disconcert the orator. His cheek acquired a pinkness; unexpectedly, too, he seemed to lose the thread of his headlong thesis. However, he brandished his arms, gazing hard.
"That's as it may be! As it may be, my dear fellow! All I ... Ah," he said hurriedly, turning. "One minute.... There's some one knocking...."
And he went striding off with his unequal step toward his visitors' door—not his sick's—though it did seem that "Come in" would really have answered just as well as usual....
The stoutish Commissioner glanced after him, dimly surprised.
Boyhood friends these two, their ways had long parted while the younger followed away the descending fortunes of his father, the inventor of a double-turbine which would never quite work. Their reestablished intimacy now was of the thorough-going sort: witness Sam's letting him trot along on factory inspection the other day, something he'd have done for no other amateur, not on your life. Yet old V.V. was kind of puzzling at times, as now; wild-talking, then kind of reserved all of a sudden, like pulling down a shade on you. Talked different at different times....
Business awaited the Commissioner at his office in the Capitol, as he now recalled. However, V.V. was opening his dingy old door.
Without, in the corridor, there was seen standing a scraggly-bearded individual in a ragged shirt, which offered glimpses of a hairy chest in need of soap. A stranger this chanced to be, but the genus was by no means unfamiliar in the environs of the Dabney House. The young doctor's speaking countenance, confronting him, appeared to fall a little. Doubtless he had learned by now the usual business of such as these.
"Good morning," he said, in rather a firm way. "What can I do for you?"
The caller, having turned a china-blue gaze upon his host, wore a confused air. He spoke in a furry, plaintive voice, professional in its way.
"Jes lookin' fer the Doc a minute, sir, that's all. You ain't him, are yer?"
And then it came over Vivian who this man must be: surely no other than the Dabney House prodigal, spouse of his own fellow-lodger, landlady, and blanchisseuse. Upon that thought he stepped out into the hall, closing the office door behind him upon Sam O'Neill.
"Yes, I'm the doctor—and you're Mr. Garland, aren't you? Your wife and daughter are friends of mine...."
Mr. Garland accepted the introduction with signs of abashment, but stated his business simply.
"Doc, could you he'p me out with a coat like?"
"Oh ... A coat, you say?"
"Rags to my skin, sir. I 'clare you can see my meat...."
The bearded one inspected himself downward with feeble cackles, hollow parodies of gay derision. And he added, with the same mock dash, that he didn't mind his situation for himself, being used to taking them as they come; 'twas his missus seemed sort of shamed fer him ...
The pleasant-faced young man stood stroking his chin.
"Yes—yes—I can fit you out, I dare say," said he. "I—ah—have a coat in here that I think'll do you. Very nicely.... S'pose you wait here a moment, and we'll see—what we shall see ..."
He disappeared through a door down the hall, and returned presently, carrying a black coat of the sort commonly known as a cutaway.
"There's the vest that goes with it, too," said he. "You might as well have that—though of course Mrs. Garland may have to let it out a little ..."
The man received the gifts in a somewhat awkward silence. Having eyed the proffered coat,—which in this dim light appeared to be quite a good one, newer-looking, indeed, than the one worn at present by the doctor,—his gaze wandered up and then stealthily away. His air of hesitancy was a little surprising.
"In the seams, you know," said V.V. "Make it bigger. She'll understand ..."
Then thanks came from the furry voice, effusive yet somehow rather sheepish: perhaps the man wasn't as experienced at this sort of thing as he looked. However, he shambled away with speed, appearing at least to know that when you had got what you wanted, that, and no other, was the moment to go.
Far down the corridor of the old hotel, he turned once, looking back furtively over his shoulder....
Vivian reappeared in his office, to be greeted with a grin by Sam O'Neill, who, having just thrown his cigar-end into the ruined fireplace, was ready to go.
"'Nother beggar, hey?"
"No—no ... Oh, no!" said the doctor, hastily. "Just a—ah—sort of a fellow wanted to see me ..."
He halted in the middle of the room; stood absently pushing back his hair; and his gaze, turned toward the window, became introspective, a little dreamy....
"What we were speaking of, Sam.... Just to show you I'm not so opinionated—so eccentric—as you seem to think. I read a great little thing the other day.... In a magazine article, it was, describing one of those so-called public balls—in Chicago, this one was. You know the sort of thing—an orgy: rounders and roues, young cheap sports, old rakes, all the demi-monde, rivers of alcohol.... Drunken women kicking men's hats off and lying where they fell.... Regular bacchanalia. Well, about one o'clock two men in evening clothes came into the gallery and stood looking down into that—maelstrom of infamous faces.... Then one of them said: 'John the Baptist would have 'em all grovelling in three minutes' ..."
He had told his story with a certain youthful expectancy, the air of one who confides, counting upon a delicate understanding. But Sam O'Neill, though perfectly willing to be delicate, could only say, after an anti-climacteric pause: "Is that right? Well, that bunch needed to grovel all right"—which was a little vague, say what you would of it, chilling somewhat....
"Well, what's your coryphees' ball but life?" muttered Vivian, knocking the ashes from the dead pipe he had been holding....
And then, turning away with the fire gone out of him, he added:
"All I say about these people is they'd be so much happier with their shells hammered off. What's getting rich but building a wall between yourself and the great common?... Seems to me God meant us all to be citizens of the world ..."
"That's right," said Sam, reassuringly. And then, as the two men walked toward the door: "Oh, I don't say that letter there'll do any harm, V.V. Maybe a little stirring 'em up's just as well ..."
At the door, O'Neill recollected, and spoke again: "Oh, say, V.V.! Saw your gay young friend Dalhousie just now. Had a pretty nice little load of bananas too ..."
V.V. halted dead, his look changing abruptly. Trouble gathered on his brow.
"Driving down Centre Street in a hack, looking sober as a judge, but—"
"What sort of hack?" demanded Vivian, as if a good deal might depend on that.
"Reg'lar sea-going," answered the Commissioner, confirming the worst. "Kind with the fold-back top, like you see principally at nigger funerals and aldermen's parades...."
But it was evidently no merry matter to V.V.
"Then he's off," said he, slowly, and glanced at his watch.... "He seemed all right when I saw him last night. Only you never can tell, with him.... I wonder if I could catch him...."
The Commissioner thought not. "He was headed straight for Centre Street Station, and that was a half-hour ago. Had a bag out front in the sea-going, too. Oh, thunder, he's all right. Little trip'll do him good...."
Left alone in his office, V. Vivian stood still, staring intently into space.
New-returned to his old home town, this young man was deep in love with twenty gallant schemes, from the general reform of the world, by his own system, to the repairment of the stomachic equipment of Tubby Miggs, aged six. But O'Neill's tidings of the vehicular lad knocked them all from his mind. He forgot the Huns; forgot John the Baptist; forgot even his sick, till one of the weller of them (as we may assume) knocked memorially upon his door....
What trouble was brewing for his frail friend Dal?
* * * * *
Upon this matter, now and henceforward, the other House was to have information first. Dusk of that day had fallen before the word came to the deserted hotel. But when it did come, the lame doctor broke his evening office-hour without notice, and caught a train by thirty seconds.
Two Persons of More Importance, and why they went to the Beach in October; Miss Carlisle Heth, and how she met an unwelcome swain at Sea; how this Swain could swim enough for one.
Mr. Heth perused the Severe Arraignment of himself about nine o'clock, over his second cup of coffee. He perused with indignation; but, being long since trained to keep a neat partition between downtown and uptown, he did not divulge his sentiments to the breakfast-table, and even carried the paper off with him to the office. By such demeanor, he abdicates our present notice. Mrs. Heth, hours later, bought a copy of the "Post" from a uniformed newsboy, to see what they had to say of the Associated Charities meeting on the evening preceding, and of her remarks in accepting the office of First Vice-President. Absorbed by this particular piece-in-the-paper,—for so the good lady named all journalistic efforts, from dry-goods advertisements to leading editorials on Trouble in the Balkans,—it was past three-thirty o'clock, post-meridian, or well after luncheon, before her eye chanced to alight on the Dabney House's winged words.
At this hour the ladies sat at ease in their private sitting-room on the seventh floor of the great handsome caravansary by the sea. For to-day, as it falls out, the House of Heth, just as we have it so firmly fixed on Washington Street, had split and transplanted itself; all that mattered of it, the soul and genius of the House, having flitted off seventy miles to the Beach for an over-Sunday rest.
It was the 29th of October, which should have meant grate-fires. On the contrary, two windows in the rented sitting-room were open, and Miss Carlisle Heth, laying down "Pickwick Papers," by Dickens, the well-known writer, now rose and flung wide the third.
"Whew!" said she, just as an ordinary person might have done. "It's stifling!"
Her mother, a lifelong conservative, presently replied:
"It isn't the heat, it's the humidity."
Carlisle looked out over the sunny sea, and wondered if her mother were never going to take her nap. She was twenty-three years old, and, Hun or no Hun, was certainly not displeasing to the fleshly eye. Also, she much desired to pass the time with a little sail, having already privately engaged a catboat for that express purpose. There was no reason whatever why she shouldn't have the sail, except that her mother was opposed on principle to anything that looked the least bit adventurous.
"There are cinders on me yet, in spite of my bath," added Mrs. Heth, whisking through the less interesting pieces in the "Post."... "Willie's train arrives at four-thirty, I believe?"
Miss Heth confirmed the belief.
"I wonder, really," mused the dowager, not for the first time, "what attraction the place can offer Mr. Canning. Men are strange in their choice of amusement, to say the least."
"He's tired of the hermit life, and wants to let down his bars and have a little fun."
"He could have all the fun he wants in town, Cally. He has only to make a sign—"
"Of course!—and be snowed under with invitations which would be odious to him, and probably roped in for something by Helen and Sue Louise Cheriton, say. He can have fun here, without its leading to anything."
She added, with perverse merriment: "At least he thinks he can, not knowing that two enterprising strangers are camping right across his little trail."
Mrs. Heth frowned slightly. She was a slim, rather small lady, and her fair face, at first sight, suggested an agreeable delicacy. To herself she acknowledged with pleasure that she was "spirituelle." To the observer, after a glance at her attractive upper face, the thick jaw and neck came as a surprise: so did the hands and feet. The feet, seen casually in a company, were apt to be taken for the belongings of some far stouter woman, sitting near. They were Mrs. Heth's, however; and she had also a small round birthmark on her left temple, which a deft arrangement of the hair almost concealed, and a small dark mustache, which was not so fortunately placed. She was sane and sound as to judgment, and her will had raised the House of Heth as by a steam derrick.
Miss Heth, gazing down at three or four hardy bathers, who splashed and shouted at the hotel float, said, laughing:
"Truly, mamma, what do you suppose the Cheritons would have given Willie for the splendid tip?"
Mrs. Heth's frown at her newspaper deepened; otherwise she made no response. She learned with difficulty, like a Bourbon; but many years' experience had at last convinced her that her daughter's occasional mocking mannerism had to be put up with. Conceivably there were people in the world who might have liked this mild cynical way of Carlisle's, seeing in it, not indeed a good quality, but, so to say, the seamy side of a good quality; the lingering outpost of a good quality that had been routed; at least the headstone over the grave of a good quality that maybe was only buried alive. But of these people, if such there were, Mrs. Heth was positively not one....
And Carlisle's next remark was: "What would you wear to-night, for the occasion?... Oh, there's a big motor-boat going by like the wind."
For though she might sometimes jeer aloud over processes, the daughter was known to be quite as serious at heart as her mother, over the great matters of life. Otherwise, look you, she might not have been at the Beach at all to-day. The fact was that she and mamma had not positively decided on this recuperative excursion (though they had practically decided) until after the arrival of Cousin Willie Kerr's notelet at breakfast: in which notelet Willie mentioned laconically that he and Mr. Canning were themselves going Beachward by the three o'clock train, and concluded his few lines with verbum sap, which is a Latin quotation.
Standing idly at the window, the girl had indeed been thinking of Mr. Canning before her mother spoke; and thinking with most pleasurable speculations. Truly he was worth a thought, was Mr. Canning, proud stranger within the gates—"house-guest," as the society column prefers it—for whom, if reports were true, many ladies fair had sighed, sickened, and died. And she, alone in her maidenly coterie, had already met the too exclusive metropolitan—four days ago, by the lucky fluke of turning in at the Country Club at an out-of-the-way morning moment, when she might have motored straight on home, and had been within an ace of doing so. An omen, wasn't it? Five minutes she and Mr. Canning had talked, over so-called horses' necks provided by his sedate host, and before the end of that time she had perceived an interest dawning in the young man's somewhat ironic eyes. With the usual of his sex one could have counted pretty definitely on the thing's being followed up. However, Mr. Canning, the difficult, had merely saluted her fascinatingly, and retired to re-maroon himself in the rural villa of his kinsmen, the Allison Paynes, where he halted for a week or two on his health-seeking progress southward.
It looked like a parting forever, but wasn't, owing to that help which comes ever to those who help themselves....
To the sensible query, Mrs. Heth, lightening, replied: "Of course, the gray crepe-de-chine."
"I think so, too. Only there's a rip at the bottom. I'm sure Flora hasn't touched it since Mr. Avery put his large foot straight through it."
Having turned from the window, Carlisle yawned and glanced at the clock. The two ladies conversed desultorily of draped effects, charmeuse, and why Mattie Allen imagined that she could wear pink. Mrs. Heth ran on through the "Post." Carlisle put up "Pickwick," by Dickens, sticking in a box of safety matches to keep the place. Then she examined herself in the mirror over the mantel, and became intensely interested in a tiny redness over her left eyebrow. She thought that rubbing in a little powder, and then rubbing it right off, would help the redness, and it did.
"I asked Mattie why she said such long prayers in the mornings. That was what made me late for breakfast. Her feelings were quite hurt. Isn't her devoutness quaint, though?"
"She uses my house," murmured Mrs. Heth, "like a hotel. One would think it might occur to her that if she must mummer like a deacon she ought to get up—"
She broke off, her wandering eye having just then fallen upon the Arraignment.
"She didn't like our packing her off right after breakfast a bit either.... I'm devoted to her," said Carlisle, gently rubbing off the powder, "but there's no denying there's a great deal of the cat in Mats."
"Hmph!... Why, this is outrageous! I never read such a thing!"
"What is it?" said the daughter, not turning, clearly not interested.
"Here's a man saying he visited the Works with the Labor Commissioner, and that conditions there are homicidal! I never! Mmm-m-m. Here! 'I speak particularly of the Heth Cheroot Works, but all four stand almost equally as burning blots upon the conscience of this community'—"
Carlisle's attention was not diverted from her eyebrow. "The Works! He's crazy.... Who is the man?"
"A piece in the paper here—let me see. Yes, here's his name. Vivian. V. Vivian! There's no such man!..."
"Oh," said the girl, absently, "it's only some notoriety-seeking nobody.... Like the man who threw the brick at papa that election night."
"But nobodies haven't any right to publish such untruths!" said Mrs. Heth, more grammatical than she sounded. "They ought to be punished, imprisoned for it. 'Public opinion is the grandfather of statute-book law.' Where's the sense in that?..."
"It's probably one of those Socialistic things.... They said the man who threw the brick at papa was a Socialist."
"'Shameless egoists of industry—grow rich by homicide!' I'm greatly surprised at Mr. West for printing such fanatical stuff. I trust your father did not see this. He gave forty dollars to the tuberculosis fund, and this is his reward."
She fumed and interjected awhile further, but her daughter's thought had dreamed far away. From her childhood days she had carried a mind's-eye picture of the dominant fourth member of the family, the great Works, lord and giver of her higher life, which completely refuted these occasional assaults from socialists and failures. Their malicious bricks flew high over her girlish head. Presently Mrs. Heth rose, looking about for her novel, which was a glittering new one, frankly for entertainment only, and not half-cultural like "Pickwick." The two ladies moved together for the bedrooms.
"You had better get a little nap, too," said Mrs. Heth, "to be fresh for the evening."
"It's so early now. Perhaps I may stroll down for a few minutes first."
"Well—it's so quiet I feel as if we had the place to ourselves. But come up in plenty of time for a nap before dinner.... You're here to get two days of good rest."
"I'll shut the door between," said Carlisle.
Before long, from the mother's side of the door so shut, certain sounds arose indicating that after the morning's fitful fever she slept well. Carlisle, on her own side, quickly donned a white boating-dress, a blue fillet for her hair, and white doeskin shoes with rubber soles. That done, she went out through the sitting-room, shot down in the lift, traversed the forsaken lobby, and emerged upon the long empty boating pavilion which ran from the hotel's side-entrance well out over the water.
"The bell-boy gave you my message, Mr. Wedge?" said she, to the weather-tanned renter of boats. "How do you do? I'm late. How's the little Lady Jane?"
"How you, Miss Heth? Glad to see you back again, Miss. Lady Jane's trim as ever. Yes'm. And there's a little sou' breeze coming up—puffy, but just suit her."
"Bring her up a little more."
"Yes'm—there now! Feels most like summer, don't it?"
"But it doesn't look like it!" smiled Miss Heth, and glanced about at the emptiness of things.
"You'd ought to of seen her afore the hot spell," replied Mr. Wedge, with artificial hilarity....
Then the light air took the little sail and Carlisle slid away with the sunshine on her hair.
For half a week the breath of summer had confounded October, mid-autumn plucking a leaf from July's best book. Now, with the half-holiday at hand and a Sabbath to follow, a few others beside the Heths and the Willie Kerr select party had deemed it worth while to go down to the sea where the breezes blow. Only a few, though: the desolate quiet of a summer place out of season yet clung and hung over all. In a solitary corner of the vast piazza four coatless men sat idly drinking the rickeys of summer. These, indeed, watched the embarkation of the girl with interest, and when she stood a moment to get a knot out of the sheet, revealing the figure of the Huntswoman (though she was by no means one of your great Amazons), one of them might have been heard to say:
"Well, she can have me any time.... And, by crackey, she can sail!"
The remark betrayed the hypnotic influence: for she really could not sail very well. No athlete this lady; she had even let her saddle-horse go after the purchase of the second car; the sail now stood as her sole sporting activity, and that but lately taken up. However, she handled her bark with a tolerable efficiency. Keeping prudently inshore, yet feeling delightfully venturesome, she skimmed along by the row of shut-up cottages, and was soon lost to the stare of the rickey-drinkers, of whose interest she had been quite unaware, or, let us say, practically unaware....
Not for the eyes of anonymous transients or liberal-minded drummers had Carlisle Heth donned this charming boat-dress and put out upon the bounding blue. Not just to break the tedium of the afternoon, either; not even exclusively for the vast exhilaration of sailing, though undoubtedly she thrilled to that. But the interesting coincidence, giving a peculiar point to it all, was that the three o'clock train from town was due within the half-hour, and her present course lay dead across the line of the street from the station.
Travel-worn young men; desolate Beach; chagrin at coming; and then, presto, upon the jaded vision:—blue, sunny water, white-sailed boat, beautiful nymph. Great heavens, what a tableau!...
We well know how resistlessly the male of humankind is drawn to the female, at the mere glimpse of her flinging aside the tools of his trade, whatever it may be, and furiously pursuing to the ends of the earth. And we know, too (for the true poets of all ages have told us), how the female of our species goes her innocent ways full of artless fancies and sweet girlish imaginings, all unaware that an opposite and uproarious sex is in headlong pursuit. And how she springs up startled from her other-worldly dreams, to hear the thundering feet behind....
Yet we do know also of cases everywhere which make familiar principles not merely out of place, but fairly grotesque. You are hardly to conceive Miss Heth's pretty tableau as staged for, her prospecting journey to the Beach as concerned with, some ordinary male, of whom one could expect that he would pursue even extraordinary maids in an ordinary way....
The nymph sailed gayly, stimulated by agreeable anticipations. The minutes danced by with the skipping waves. A gust of wind slapped the solitary little canvas, and Carlisle's small but not incapable hand tightened upon the sheet. Her eye went dreamily over water and strand. Far down the shore, boys were swimming with faint yells, but the hotel bathers had tired and gone in. She seemed to have the great Atlantic to herself, and the fact seemed nice to her, and refined....
The years had passed since Carlisle Heth had formulated the careering importance, even the nobility, of marrying high above her. Aspiration, not your ditchwater cynicism, was the mainspring of her real being, as her mother well knew; and this supreme fulfilment had long glittered ahead as the ultimate crown, not of triumph only, but of happiness consummate. A little too long, perhaps: waiting princesses grow discontented. Vague dissatisfactions possessed the girl at times, for all her large blessings; mild symptoms stewed and simmered from her which surprised her in reflective moments, and her mother at all moments. These things, she knew well, came all from a single want. Her reach far exceeded her grasp. Her sighs were Alexander's.
Now, in the smiling and anticipatory afternoon, a limpid brook of girlish imaginings beguiled her with enchanting music, while realer water lapped her shallop, and the substantial breeze whipped her glorious hair about her yet more glorious face. This face, it is time to say plainly, attracted more than rickey-drinkers. Good men might here read their dearest dreams come true; had so read them. The fact deserves capitals, being enormously important. With one half the world only, as all know, is character destiny: the rest is bent and twisted, glorified or smashed, by Physiognomy, the great potter.
And this girl's destiny was obviously magnificent. Experience had long since convinced her, personally, of that. Hoarse testimonials from the pursuing sex she had had in superabundance from her fifteenth year. Yet, while these were duly valued as indicating the strong demand, she had waited, stanch to her destiny. Were not Alexandrine sighs her right? One so endowed could hardly be asked to rest content with the youth of the vicinage....
The cottage row was now well astern; the long string of empty bathhouses slid by, water foamed under the swelling sail. Gliding with the bark, dreamy retrospect met and joined hands with solider prospect. Carlisle threw round a measuring eye, and perceived that she had covered more distance than she had thought; had passed the limits of the board-walk and the beach, which was quite far enough, considering. She luffed cleverly, having a splendid blowy time of it, and put about. This done, she permitted herself to glance for the second time over the purview.
No cloud of smoke stood upon the horizon stationward, no human being appeared within such view of the strand as the cottages and bath-houses left to her. The train, evidently, was late. Well, as far as that went, there was no special hurry about getting back to the hotel. Mamma could only scold a little, as usual.
Carlisle smiled to herself, rather tickled by the thought of the brilliant march she and mamma had stolen upon the world. In five minutes, under stiff Mr. Payne's eye at that, she had indubitably interested Mr. Canning. And now, thanks chiefly to Willie Kerr's loyal enterprise, ...
Her returning eye fell upon a bobbing object in the water, very near her, and her heart missed a beat. Her lips moved soundlessly. Jack Dalhousie!...
The bobbing object, in fact, was the head of a man of the sea; a youthful swimmer who had come up on her unseen—behind her till she had put about. The lad was swimming rapidly, though with a curious waste of motive power, and was so close that Miss Heth seemed to herself to be staring full into his face. His course was laid dead across her bows; for other reasons, too, his piratical intentions were instantly obvious to the girl in the boat.
How did he dare!—after all these months ...
For an exciting second she plotted escape by flight, but the impulse was all but still-born. He would be on her before she could put about. The girl sat entirely still, regarding the swimmer in a kind of fascinated silence. The irony of fate, indeed, that, at a moment when her whole mind and heart were toward the rose-pink future, this scapegrace ghost from her only "past" should have risen out of the sea upon her. To dream of a Canning, and be entrapped by a Dalhousie!...
The youth sloshed alongside, laid hold of the boat's nose, and methodically and with some difficulty pulled himself in. The weight of his ingress tipped the gunwale to the water's edge, but Carlisle made no outcry. She was clear of head; and the heart of her desire was to be free of this misadventure without attracting attention from the shore.
She said in a sharp, clear voice: "Mr. Dalhousie, are you perfectly crazy?"
Dalhousie, in his swimmer's suit, sat stiffly forward, sluicing water into the bottom. He was a big and well-built boy, with a face that had no viciousness; but his dark eyes, with their heavy silken lashes, were hardly meant for a man. Neither was his mouth, for all that he sought to set it so firmly now.
"Mr. Dalhousie," he repeated with elaborate distinctness. "When d' I—draw that—title?"
The girl sat eyeing him with frosty calm: a look which covered rage within, not unmingled with perturbation....
He was a neighbor of hers, this audacious youth, though not of Washington Street; impecunious, and hence negligible; moreover somewhat notorious of late for a too vivid behavior: the distant bowing acquaintance of many years. This till the moment of indiscretion last May; when, encountering his dashing attractions in the boredom of a dull resort, far from her mother's restrictive eye, she had for an idle fortnight allowed the relation between them to become undeniably changed. Foolish indeed; but really she had thought—or now really thought she had thought—that the impossible youth took it all no more seriously than she. Not till her return home last month had he revealed his complete untrustworthiness: presuming, as she termed it, making claims and advances, putting her to trouble to keep her vernal unwisdom from her mother. Still, she had thought she had disposed of him at last....
Now there sat the unwelcome swain, her boarder, so close that she could have touched him. And her gaze upon him was like arctic snowblink: an odd look in pretty young eyes.
"You've no right to force yourself upon me in this way," said she. "You must get out of my boat at once."
"Oh, no, I mustn't, Carlisle. That's where you make—mistake. You've put me off—too often. Now—the time's come."
"You must be out of your senses. This is outrageous. I insist—I demand that you get out of my boat immediately."
"When d' ju—listen when I—demanded?"
His heavy resoluteness reduced her suddenly to the weakness of saying: "A gentleman wouldn't do such a thing.... You will regret this."
"Man," said Dalhousie, with the same labored slowness, "comes before gen'leman. An' the regrets—will be yours. I've come—to have a talk."
In the momentary silence, the drip, drip from his bathing-suit became very audible. The lad leaked like a sieve, all over her boat. Miss Heth glanced swiftly and vexedly from him, over the unchanged panorama. Empty water lapping empty beach; no one watching. Only now, in the sky over the station, there hung a haze of train-smoke....
Her eyes came back: and now she observed with some girlish anxiety the young man's unwonted solemnity, the strange brilliance of his eyes. A certain nervousness began to show through her cold calm: her unconscious hand wound the taut sheet round and round the tiller, an injudicious business in view of the gusty breeze. How to be rid most quickly of the interloper?... She might, of course, put ashore with him: but she particularly did not care to do that, and have all the piazza loungers and gossips see her in his somewhat too gay company. Most particularly she did not care to have her mother glance out of her upstairs window and be stunned by the same sight, with apoplectic cross-examination to follow ...
"Jack," said Carlisle Heth, hurriedly, in rather a coaxing sort of voice, "if you will leave me now, I will—I promise to see you in town next week."
A flicker touched Dalhousie's eyelid; but he said huskily, after a pause: "Promise? What's your promise worth? You've promised me before. You said—you loved—"
"I can't talk now. But on Monday afternoon—in the park—or at my house—whichever you prefer ... I—I'll explain. I give you my word of honor—"
"No! You've done that before—too. Explain! Howc'n you explain? Go on. Try now. Why've you—refused to see me? Why—"
Red stained the girl's cheeks.
"Then you'll force me to put in immediately," she said, with an angry reversal of tactics,—"and subject me to the humiliation of being seen with you. What a coward!"
"Humiliation!" Dalhousie repeated, flushing vividly. "You say that?"
"Can't you understand that it would be? Are you really so stupid? Haven't you learned yet that I don't ever want anything more to do with you?..."
Such remarks brought action and reaction. The lad's look must have warned Miss Heth that all this went rather far. In fact, she began a sort of retraction, a hurried little soothing away of her impolitic and fairly conclusive remarks. But Dalhousie interrupted her, rising unsteadily in the boat, his young face quite strange and wild.
Who would scrutinize the dying flickers of last summer's flirtation? All that mattered was only too well seen from the shore.
It was the smallest of the rickey-drinkers who bruited the mishap abroad, his eye having happened to stray through a slit between a cottage-side and a boat-house. At this time, with the approach of evening coolness, the hotel piazza was filling up a little; and at the man's word, the place was instantly in a turmoil.
There started, in fact, all the horrid rigors of amateur rescue work: of which the least said the soonest mended. It was presently noted by some coolhead that the renter of boats, having seen the disaster first, had already put out for the scene of trouble, rowing lustily. Nobody could beat him to his garlands now; that was clear; clear, too, that there really wasn't much peril, after all. So the motley gathering of idlers became content to stand upon the edge of the boat pavilion, gazing most eagerly, gossiping not a little....
The bystander, like the Athenian, ever desires to see or to hear some new thing. And really this spectacle was new enough to satisfy the most exacting.
Perhaps a mile over the water, a hundred yards or so from shore, the little boat Lady Jane lay side up on the sea. To it clung a young girl, well above water; near her appeared the head of a young man, a swimmer. So far, so good. But there was something wrong about this swimmer, something grossly discordant in his position in the picture. It developed upon close examination that the interval between him and the overturned boat was not decreasing. It was widening indeed; widening quite steadily.... Yes, there it was; unfortunately no longer open to doubt. The man was pulling for the shore and safety, leaving the girl to sink or swim as she preferred.
The sight was a strange one, resembling a defiance of established law. It staggered the eye, like the sight of water running uphill. People had seen the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and kissed the Pope's toe; but they had never seen anything like this.
A nasal, hawk-nosed individual in eye-glasses voiced the sentiments of all: "If that's your Southern chivalry, Warlow, the less I see of it the better."
Another spoke more sympathetically, yet with unchanged point: "Poor Dalhousie—born to trouble! Rye whiskey an' marryin' cousins—that's what's killed him."
A third, an elderly woman, with a rich voice, said: "I wonder what there was between those two...."
The actual rescue proved a tame affair. Suddenly attention was diverted from it by the cry of a certain winsome young thing, who, when the alarm was raised, had been among the first to scream.
"Oh, look at that little man. He hit him!"
"Serves him ri—Ah-h!"
It proved as the screamer said. The smallest rickey-drinker, not content with sounding the alarm, had gone brilliantly bolting down the beach. Taking his stand there at a given point, he had flung himself upon the youth who had so ably saved his own skin, as the latter waded ashore, and struck him savagely in the face. It was observed that the man from the sea seemed surprised by this attack. He stared at his small assailant in a confused sort of way; and then with passionate swiftness plucked hold of him by two favorite points of vantage, and threw him bodily into the water. This movement, as it chanced, turned his gaze seaward. The youth was seen to stand an instant, rigid as a bather in marble, staring out over the water he had traversed ...
Then he turned, heedless of the brandishings of the little man behind him, and went away toward his bath-house in the manner that is best described as a slink.
How Carlisle screamed, when the Boat upset, or else didn't, as the Case might be; also of Mrs. Heth, who went down Six Floors to nail Falsehoods, etc.
Miss Carlisle Heth sat cold and proud in the approaching lifeboat, picking at her sopping skirts. She ignored, hardly hearing, the conversation of her rescuer, hinting broadly that she should reveal these mysteries to him. Revelation, as she understood herself, was the contrary of her desire. The occurrences of the last quarter of an hour had actually dazed her; but the net result of them was sufficiently manifest. Her purpose had been to detach herself unnoticed from Dalhousie's gay fame. And now:—Look at the boat pavilion....
It was the bitterest moment of Miss Heth's well-sheltered young life. Of notoriety, of a vulgar sensation such as this, of malicious gossip, of all that was cheap and familiarizing, she had a deep-seated horror. Of the moment of reckoning with her mother, whose objections to noisy rumor rather surpassed her own, she felt a wholesome dread. There was also the matter of her personal appearance, which she conceived to be repulsive: she was confident that she looked a hideosity and a sight. Her eyes fastened from afar upon the staring faces on the pavilion. She saw hungry curiosity stalking there, naked and unashamed, and the sight sickened her.
For these faces, as individual faces, she felt indifference and contempt. But in the mass they seemed to assume the enormous importance of good or ill repute. What these people were saying of her and Dalhousie to-day, the world would say to-morrow.
To know what this was, she would have given on the spot all the money she possessed (eight thousand dollars, birthday and Christmas presents, in United States bonds). But to run the gauntlet of those questioning faces was just a little more than she could endure. She was quick in action. She said:
"Land me here, Mr. Wedge. And you must walk with me to the hotel."
As she directed, so it was done. They landed there, and Carlisle and Mr. Wedge struck out hurriedly up the strand for the main entrance of the hostelry. When the cunning ruse became plain to the staring gallery, it was practically too late to do anything about it. You could not have caught the escaping pair without a sprint. However, each man promised himself to be the first to interview the boatman ...
After the humiliating cut-and-run, which stretched out interminably, Carlisle found herself, at length, in the haven of the brilliantly lighted elevator. Water dribbled from her skirt's edge; she was aware of the elevator boy's African side-glances. If she had been a different sort of girl, she could no longer have refrained from bursting into tears. Fine ending to her rosy journey this!—a sensational "scene" played out before a house of loafers, and now the babel of thousand-tongued gossip, linking her name amorously (so she suspected) with the red-painted ne'er-do-well. Charming background, indeed, for a remeeting with the heir of the Cannings.
Her plight was crushing to the distracted girl; but her anger, the wild resentment of a high spirit feeling itself abominably mistreated, made it impossible for her to be crushed. She would not lie down tamely and be trampled upon by malicious mischance. She would not ...
Mrs. Heth, just risen from her refreshing nap, heard the sounds of arrival in the adjoining room and opened the door between. Then she leaned back against the door-frame, her ladylike eyes starting from her head.
"Carlisle!... Oh, merciful heavens! What?—What on earth's happened?"
Miss Heth, already beginning to free herself of her soaking clothes, braced for the explanatory ordeal. Having no plan of procedure except to put herself in as praiseworthy a light as possible (thus avoiding a useless scene), she began in a hard, dry voice:
"I went out for a little sail. I thought it would be a nice thing to do, the sea was so smooth and calm. A—a man was out swimming near me, and he climbed into my boat. I ordered him out, and—and he jumped out, and—I upset. He swam off—leaving me in the water—and the boatman had to come out and bring me in. Oh, mamma!—I'm the talk of the place!"
Mrs. Heth took two swift strides into the room. She came like a cat, claws out, ready to pounce. Her splendid hair hung loose about her head, revealing the birthmark upon the temple, a round spot the size of a silver half-dollar. Ordinarily dull pink, this spot was slowly mottling in blues and purples: though evidently not with reference to the perils of the deep, so narrowly escaped by her only child.
"The talk of the place!—what do you mean?" she asked in a voice that sounded dangerous. "A man!—what man? Speak? What right did he have to get into your boat?"
"Of course he had no right to get into my boat, mamma," said Carlisle, dribbling water. "None whatever. That is what I told him, from the beginning. His name is Dalhousie. I—that part makes no dif—"
"Dalhousie! Colonel Dalhousie's son!—that young sot! Why, you don't know him, do you?—you never met him in your life—"
"Please don't storm and rant, mamma. It only makes things worse. As I was saying, when you interrupted, I—I met this man once—a long time ago. Some one introduced him, I suppose. That must have been it. I—I've never seen him from that time. He hadn't the faintest right to get into my boat—not the faintest. He—"
"But what did he do it for? What did he want? What was his purpose, I say?"
Carlisle turned away with a wet skirt to hang. It was certainly very difficult to explain things to mamma.
"Oh, mamma!—How can I tell you why he wanted to get into my boat? All this just wastes time. Perhaps he thought he would have a little flirtation. Perhaps he wanted to rest from his—"
"What did he say when he got in? He didn't just step on like you were a street car, did he? Speak up! What ex—"
"That's just it! That's just what he did. He climbed in, and didn't say a word. I at once told him to get out. That is what we talked about entirely. Then at last he got out, in—in an angry way—shaking the boat, and then I—I went over—"
"It passes belief! The young ruffian, after upsetting you, simply deserted—Were you in the water long? Are you cold? Do you feel like you were going to have chills?"
"No—I feel well enough, physically.... But—mamma—"
"You're going to have chills—that's it. No wonder! Wait! I never in my life!..."
She whisked into her bedroom, and, returning with the travelling-bag, produced a bijou flask with a silver top that turned into a little drinking-cup. Into the top she swiftly poured a thimbleful of excellent French brandy.
"Drink this. It will keep them off." And she added: "It passes belief...."
And then she walked the floor, her unexpected hands, so oddly stubbed and thick, clasped before her.
"You called out to him, of course? You screamed for his assistance?"
Carlisle, choking over the inflammatory draught, set the silver top down on the bureau. There was a gratifying absence of cynicism in her manner. She was always, as her mother knew, a serious girl at heart. She had to drink nearly half a glass of water before she could dislodge all the brandy from her larynx.
"Oh, mamma—how can I remember just exactly what I did? Please be reasonable. I was too excited and frightened, suddenly plunged into the water, to think what I was doing. The point—"
"You must have cried out. Of course you screamed for his assistance. And the young blaggard ... What time is it? Five o'clock? Then Willie's train is already in ..."
The spoken thought brought a full stop to the good lady's ejaculations, shot her mind in dead silence round a corner. She stopped walking, stood intently still. After all, what so serious had happened? Her daughter was, indeed, the talk of the place, which was an exceedingly undesirable thing; especially since an "exclusive" girl's name is so tender a bloom, and Mr. Canning was very probably downstairs listening to it now—the talk, that is. But, after all, young Dalhousie's dissolute misbehaviors were so well known, nobody could possibly ...
"They can hardly say anything to reflect upon you," the mother summed up aloud, frowning intently. "You have been foolish, most indiscreet. How you ever permitted anybody to introduce such a character to you passes my understanding. However—any attractive girl is likely to draw the attacks of ruffianly men. His conduct surpass—"
"Yes—but do you think everybody'll understand that?" said Carlisle, hurriedly, and rather felt that the worst was over. "That's just it, mamma,—don't you see? How do we know what sort of gossip is being bandied about downstairs now? You know people always put the worst possible construction they can on a—an episode like this!..."
Her mother wheeled on her, struck afresh in her dearest possession, namely: her pride in the prestige of the name of Heth in an envious and backbiting world.
"How do you mean, construction? What construction could they possibly—"
"Why, anything, mamma!—anything their horrid minds can think of. That I'm a great friend of this charming man's, for instance,—engaged to him, perhaps! That this exhibition in the boat was only a refined little lovers' quarrel—"
"How under heaven could any fool say—"
"Well, you know they'll wonder why he got into the boat in the first place, and say the hatefullest thing they can think of ... There are plenty of people who would like to see us h-humiliated."
Mrs. Heth, staring at her with an intake of the breath, then said slowly: "Ah—h!" And she took in a whole range of new possibilities with one leap of her immensely constructive mind.
"It isn't fair," said Carlisle, nervously, slipping into a pretty pink negligee. "And you know how a gossipy story flies, growing all the time—"
"I know," murmured her mother, intensely, as one who has suffered much from just that demeanor of stories....
The falling sun shot a ray into the white-and-cherry bedroom; peeped at the lovely girl sitting stiffly on the bed's edge, turned thick mote-beams upon the lady of deceptive delicacy who stood, with flowing brown hair and still more flowing robe de chambre, silent upon her peak in Darien. The leather-shod clocklet, which always accompanied these two upon their travels could now be heard ticking. Carlisle looked at her mother, and there were both apprehensiveness and dependence in her look. She herself was the cleverer of the two women, but very comforting it was to her to feel this rock-like support behind her now.
Into Mrs. Heth's gray eyes had sprung a kind of glitter, the look of a commanding general about to make an exterminative rush upon the enemy. Hugo Canning to be maliciously informed that her daughter was, had been, or ever should be engaged to Jack Dalhousie! Not while she retained her love of justice, and the power of locomotion in her limbs.
"Oho!" said she. "Well, I'll fix that ... I'll stamp upon their miserable lies ..."
The room telephone rang loudly, hastening decisions. Carlisle winced visibly. In her mood of acute sensitiveness, she was for not answering at all. But Mrs. Heth, the fighting man now in full possession of her, tossed off the receiver with a brigadier air.
"Well?" demanded she sharply; and then, continuing: "Yes. Oh, yes! Howdedo, Willie ... You've arrived, have you? (It's Willie Kerr, Cally.) What? Oh, yes. She's quite well, though naturally somewhat upset by the shock. It is a most unpleasant occurrence, and I feel deeply for the young man's father, and his friends if he has any. Certainly, Willie. We want the whole affair perfectly understood. Our position demands it. Yes. I want to talk with you about it, at once. Will you meet me in the Blue Parlor in ten minutes? Very well. Mr. Canning came with you, I suppose?... Ah, yes ... What? No, Willie! Not a line! You must put your foot down on that! This is entirely a personal matter and I will not allow a piece in the paper about it. I won't have it.... Ah. All right, then. I'll trust that to you. In ten minutes, Willie...."
The capable little general turned from the telephone to find the eyes of the lieutenant or private fixed fearfully upon her.
"Willie," she explained, hurriedly, "says there's a newspaper reporter hanging about—think of it!—trying to pick up something scandalous for his wretched sheet. Willie has promised to attend to him. He says he knows the editor or correspondent or whoever it is, and there won't be the slightest trouble in shutting him up. There shan't be either. Now to business."
At her best in action, mamma glided through the door into her own room, slipping off her robe as she glided. In an amazingly short time she was back again, breathing hard, and dressed for no-quarter affray.
"You didn't talk downstairs, Cally? No one pumped you as to what had happened?"
"No, I spoke to no one."
Mrs. Heth wielded hatpins before the mirror, the glitter surviving in her eyes.
"I am putting on a hat," she threw out, "to give matters a casual air. A public hotel's a hotbed of gossip. Everything depends on the story's being started right—on just the right note.... Thank God, I'm here!"
"Lie down," added Mrs. Heth, and Carlisle lay down.
The most exhaustive details of the affair had not, perhaps, been laboriously collected as yet, but luckily Mrs. Heth was not the sort that requires a mass of verbose testimony and dull statistics. The right note awaited her touch six floors below, and time was pressing. Already her mind had flown well ahead, perceived with precision just what was required. Willie must be seen, and at least two ladies, of different sets, great gossips, for preference; and to these she would confide, with some little just indignation but without excitement, the astounding truth about the young blackleg who, having boarded and upset her daughter's boat, turned coward and scuttled off, ignoring her frightened cries. Nor would she fail to express her sincere sympathy for Colonel Dalhousie, whose heart (she understood) the behavior of his degenerate son had broken before now....
"Do you want Flora with you?"
"No—I'd rather be alone."
"Remain quietly here till I return."
Briefly framed in the doorway, Mrs. Heth added: "You must get some sleep to be fresh for the evening ... I'll nail their slanderous falsehoods."
Her daughter's glance upon her was touched with a flash of admiration, the more striking in that she herself was quite unconscious of it.
Exact definition of desire and a simple strength of purpose from which all aims of others bound back stone-dead: what brilliance of genius or quintessence of mother-wit can hope to outdo this immortal combination?
Echo, solitary, answers ...
Mrs. Heth's return to the upper regions, an hour later, trumpeted complete victory. The right note was struck; all was settled. Carlisle, it appeared, had trusted insufficiently to the virtue of the Heth name. Of horrid gossip there had been, at the worst, no more than a bare hint or two, an attenuated suggestion. Malicious as the world was, few, indeed, had dreamed any justification of Dalhousie's blackguardism. Already, it appeared, the hotel rang with objurgations of it, and him. Still, Mrs. Heth had struck the note, and struck hard.
Carlisle was bidden to sleep, after her trying experiences, to regain her poise and color for the evening....
Alone again in the twilight bedroom, the girl snuggled beneath a pretty pale-blue quilt, and absently scrutinized her pink and very shiny little finger nails. After the excitement and strain of the last hour and a half, she felt that she was now at peace. Nothing at all was going to happen. Nobody could say anything the least bit horrid about her, the least bit injurious to her position. She stood exactly where she had stood when she went out for the sail. She was not even going to have chills ...
She decided to dismiss it all from her mind and go to sleep, but her mind for a time refused to come into this agreement. Though that was exactly what she had meant not to do, the girl presently found herself thinking back over the whole occurrence, from the moment when she first saw Dalhousie in the water. In time vague doubts gathered and clouded her perfect brow. She became a little oppressed by the recollection of certain variations between what she had said and really intended to say to her mother upstairs, and what her mother appeared to have said to Rumor downstairs. For instance, she had never said that Dalhousie literally upset her boat, or even that he was exactly in the boat when it upset; and never said that she had screamed again and again for his help when she found herself in the water. No, she had particularly avoided saying those things, for justly angry and excited though she was, she hadn't considered it right to say anything that wasn't strictly true. Mamma just jumped right on ahead, though, paying no attention to what you said.
The whole thing had happened very unfortunately, she saw that clearly now. Of course, she couldn't tell mamma that she and Jack Dalhousie had quarrelled terribly in the boat and he had looked as if he meant to strike her, for then mamma would have asked, How could you have had such a terrible quarrel with a man that somebody barely introduced to you once, a long time ago? And if she had said pointblank, No, I don't think I screamed, mamma would have asked, Why under heaven didn't you scream?—and all this would have meant stopping for a long explanation right there, just when there was so much else to think about, and mamma almost bursting a blood-vessel as it was.
Still, she wished now that it had all been started differently. In the excitement, of course, she had not had time to think out every single thing carefully and definitely. It occurred to her now, after some meditation, that she might simply have said to mamma: "He had frightened me so by getting into my boat, that when I upset and I knew I wasn't going to drown, I didn't want to call him back"....
Darkness crept into the white-and-cherry bedroom. Till now, what with nearly drowning and mamma and everything, she had really thought very little about it from Dalhousie's point of view. Now it came over her, rather dubiously, that what everybody seemed to be saying of him downstairs did put him in quite a disagreeable position. But then, of course, everybody was a little worked up and excited just now. In a day or two they would forget about it, and the whole thing would blow over. Besides, he deserved the severest punishment for the way he had treated her; and as for anything he might say now (though as a gentleman he would hardly say anything and try to blacken a lady's character), of course nobody would listen to him for a minute.
And as far as that went, nobody would listen to her either. People never did. She regretted the whole occurrence as much as any one, but you could never correct flying gossip; everybody knows that. People always arrange the little details as they want them arranged, according to what makes the most exciting story, and they never pay the smallest attention when you come in with a just, mathematical face and say: "You haven't got it quite right there. There's a little mistake here...."
Worry, clearly, was out of place. It never does any good, as all philosophers agree; and besides, it brings wrinkles in or near the forehead. Carlisle turned on her other side and snuggled with more relaxation beneath the pale-blue quilt. Drowsiness stole over her, seducing thought. Presently she slept, and dreamed of Mr. Canning.
Mr. Hugo Canning, of the well-known Pursuing-Sex; how the Great Young Man pursued Miss Heth to a Summer-house, and what stopped his Thundering Feet.
Nor were the figments of sweet sleep too fanciful or far-flown. About eight-thirty o'clock, when Mrs. and Miss Heth stepped from a descending lift into the glaring publicity of the main floor, the first object that their eyes fell upon was Mr. Hugo Canning in the flesh. The second was Cousin Willie Kerr, even more in the flesh, trotting loyally at his side. At this precise instant, in short, the celebrated transient quitted the dining-room for the relaxations of his evening.
The coincidence of the moment was pure: one hundred per cent, as they say commercially. One takes it to mean that Destiny, having handled a favorite child somewhat roughly for a time, now turned back its smiling mother-face. The ladies Heth, having dined refinedly in their sitting-room, descended in search of cooling breezes, or for any other reason why. Over the spaces of the great court, half lobby, half parlor, Miss Heth had seen the masculine apparitions an instant before they saw her: or just in time, that is to say, to be showing them now her flawless profile....
It is easily surmised that Miss Heth's manner in action was contained, her habit the very reverse of forward. One seeing her now would be cheaply cynical, indeed, to say or dream that, with reference to some such conjuncture as the present, this girl had left a happy home many hours before. Her presence shamed every unworthy surmise. With a lovely unconsciousness she was spied walking her innocent ways toward the piazza with mamma, even now girlishly unaware that an opposite and uproarious sex was in headlong pursuit....
If this pursuit—to be doggedly literal—appeared to lag for a moment, if it did not seem to start with that instant elan which one had a right to expect, be sure that there was a complication of sound reasons for that. Kerr, in the circumstances, was the appointed leader of the chase; and Kerr hesitated. Canning's desire to avoid the local society and be left free to outdoor exercise and sleep was, in truth, only too well known to him. And to-night, worse luck, the distinguished visitor appeared even less socially inclined than usual: annoyed when the select little party he had expected from northerly haunts had been found represented at the Beach by a telegram instead; increasingly bored by the desolate air of the all but empty hostelry. "When's the next train out of this hell-hole?"—such was Mr. Canning's last recorded remark up to this not uninteresting moment.
Kerr, when he saw Mrs. and Miss Heth over the distance, merely made a genial exclamation, and then gazed. He was nearing forty, was Willie, short and slightly bald, with an increasing appreciation of the world's good things and as much good nature as his round figure called for. Canning's acquaintance he had by the chance of a lifelong friendship with Mrs. Allison Payne. By reason of a native clannishness and certain small obligations of a more material nature, he was more than ready to share his privileges with his brilliant cousins. But....
"So that's the drowned lady," said Canning's voice, rather moodily, at his elbow.... "Well, then, I know her."
"Dandy girl, Carlisle," exclaimed Willie, instantly. "Great little piece of work...."
One hundred feet away, opportunity unconsciously receded toward the piazza. Willie, having hesitated through no unfaithfulness, plunged with no want of tact.
"Got to speak to 'em a minute—make inquiries—cousins, y' know. D' ye mind?"
"My dear chap, why should I?"
"Awright—just stop and say howdedo," said the plump diplomatist. "Won't take a minute...."
And Canning, perceiving then that Kerr expected to make this stop in his company, said with an assurance not unbecoming to his lordly bearing: "If you please. And don't start anything, for pity's sake. I'm for bed in fifteen minutes."
So it all fell out, according to the book. So it was that the pursuing feet were free to thunder. So Mrs. Heth heard the voice of the leal one, subdued from a distance: "Howdedo, Cousin Isabel! How're you an' Carlisle this evening?..."
And so the maid turned, startled from her other-worldly dreams....
He was the greatest parti that had ever crossed her path, that was ever likely to cross her path. But Miss Heth faced him with no want of confidence; received his greeting with a charming bright negligence. One saw readily that such a matter as "making an impression" was far indeed from this maid's mind. If doubts, a vague uneasiness relative to the afternoon, still fretted the hinterlands of her mind (and they did), she was much too well trained, too resolute withal, to let them appear troublously upon the surface. Moreover, the nap of forty minutes, not winks, had been like the turning of a new leaf; and she was fortified, woman-wise, with the knowledge that she looked her best. Over her shoulders there clung a shimmering scarf, a pretty trifle all made of the scales of a silver mermaid. It was observed, however, that the gray crepe-de-chine quite justified its choice....
The meeting of four had been effected in one end of the wide garish space: among the loungers of the lobby, all eyes were turned in that direction. There were salutations; the introduction of Mr. Canning to Mrs. Heth; inquiries after Miss Heth's health. Quite easily the square party resolved itself into two conversational halves. Mrs. Heth, it was clear from the outset, preferred Willie Kerr's talk above any other obtainable at that time and place. She was, and remained, absolutely fascinated by it....
"It seems quite unnecessary," Mr. Canning was saying—but he pronounced it "unne's'ry"—"to ask if you are any the worse for the ducking...."
"Oh, no—I'm quite well, thank you. We've suffered nothing worse than the spoiling of all our plans in coming here!"
The man's look politely interrogated her. "Oh, really? I'm sorry."
"We came, you see, to be very quiet. And we were never so frightfully noisy in our lives."
He smiled; made his small distinguished bow.
"You've reason to feel annoyed on all scores then. At any rate, it's charming to find you as our fellow guest."
And his eyes flitted from her toward Kerr, and then turned briefly upon mamma, and her strange little downy mustache.
Carlisle now perceived the disinterestedness, if not the faint weariness, in Mr. Canning's manner; she saw that he had forgotten the five minutes at the Country Club. The strong probability was, moreover, that he thought the worse of her for allowing herself to be nearly drowned in so vulgarly public a way. However, she was untroubled; she thought him, for her part, adorable to look at and of a splendid manner and conceit; and aloud she inquired, with her air of shining indifference, if Mr. Canning was not delighted with the Beach in October.
"Well, you know, I think I've been here before"—he said bean, most deliciously—"only I can't be quite sure. It seems to me a most agreeable place. Only, if it isn't indiscreet to inquire, what does one do in the evening?"
"Usually, I believe, one goes to bed directly after dinner. If one does this, and dines extremely late, the evening slips by quite nicely, we find."
"But the afternoons? Wouldn't they perhaps loom a thought long at times, waiting on for dinner?"
"There's napping provided for the afternoon, you see. And many other diversions, such as reading, walking, and thinking."
"Perhaps one should arrange to spend only afternoons at the Beach. You make them sound simply uproarious."
"We're a simple people here, Mr. Canning, with simple joys and sorrows, easily amused."
Mr. Canning looked down at her. However, Carlisle did not meet his gaze. Having already, in a quiet way, given him two looks where they would do the most good, she was now glancing maidenly at mamma, who conversed vice-presidentially of her Associated Charities policies.
"They must be brought to help themselves!" Mrs. Heth was saying. "Wholesale, thoughtless generosity is demoralizing to poverty. It is sheer ruination to their moral fibre."
"Promiscuous charity!—ruination! Just what I always say," chirped Willie. "Look at ancient Rome, ma'am. Began giving away corn to the poor, and, by gad!—she fell!"...
"Delightful! I see I shall like it here," Mr. Canning was observing—and was there perceptible the slightest thawing in his somewhat formidable manner?... "I too," said he, "have dwelt in Arcady."
The girl looked over the spaces, a little smile in her eyes.
"Ah, then you didn't need to be told that the sandman comes early there."
"But not, I think, when the moon shines bright—and the simple amusements you speak of seem to be waiting? Surely games in the evening are not altogether forbidden, or does my memory of the place deceive me?"
"You seem to remember it perfectly. But I thought your complaint was that there was nothing at all amusing to do in Arcady."
"Ah," said Mr. Canning, "but I'm having my second thoughts now."
She had given him a third, uptilting look with her speech; and now it was as if the great eligible had seen her for the first time. If the gaze of his handsome eyes became somewhat frank, this girl had been fashioned to stand all scrutiny victoriously. A mode which defined the figure with some truthfulness held no terrors for her; rather the contrary. Her skin was fine and fair as a lily, with an undertone of warmth, dawn pink on the cheek; the whiteness of her neck showed an engaging tracery of blue. Her mass of hair, of an ashy dull gold, would have been too showy above a plain face; but the case was otherwise with her. Her mouth, which was not quite flawless but something better, in especial allured the gaze; so did her eyes, of a dusky blue, oddly shaped, and fringed with the gayest lashes ...
"Besides," added the man, looking down at her with a certain lightening in his gaze, "as I remember, I did not say that there was nothing amusing to do. I merely, as a stranger, came to you begging some guidance on the point."
"I see. But I very much doubt my ability to guide you in that way, Mr. Canning—"
"I can only observe that you've thrown out a number of perfectly ripping suggestions already—walking on the piazza, for example. Mightn't we steal that diversion from afternoon temporarily, don't you think? Perhaps Mrs. Heth would agree to pursue the missing breeze so far?"
"That would be nice," said Carlisle.
You could distinctly hear his thundering feet now....
Strolling for four was agreed upon, and that simple afternoon amusement started. But, arriving at the piazza, the dowager discovered that, after all, the night air was just a little cool for her, and turned back, not without some beaming. She mentioned the Blue Parlor as her port of call, where smoking was forbidden. Willie, doing his duty as he saw it, dropped his cigar into a brass repository. He had faults like the rest of us, had Willie, but his deathless loyalty deserved a monument in a park.
Carlisle and Mr. Canning strolled on alone. She walked outwardly serene as the high-riding moon, but inwardly with a quickening sense of triumph, hardly clouded at all now. As she and mamma had planned it, so it had fallen out....
Many eyes had followed this shining pair as they quitted the common gathering-place. She, as we have seen, was inviting as a spectacle. He, to the nobodies, was simply one of the sights of the place, like the Fort. And his distinguished House was still a small one, at that, not yet arrived where another generation would unfailingly put it. If the grandfather of Hugo Canning had founded the family, financially speaking, it was his renowned father who had raised it so fast and far, doubling and redoubling the Canning fortune with a velocity by no means unprecedented in the eighties and nineties. To-day there were not many names better known in the world of affairs, in the rarer social altitudes, even in the shore-hotels of the provinces....
And the son and heir of the name and fortune, who now trod the Beach piazza with Miss Carlisle Heth, was obviously more than many sons of wealth, much more than a mere trousered incident to millions. This one saw in the first glance at his Olympian bearing; but Carlisle Heth knew more than that. Upon this young man the enterprising vehicles of modern history had, long since, conferred an individual celebrity. Often had the Sunday editors told their "public" of his exploits in the sporting and social realms, as they called them; not rarely had journals of a more gossipy character paragraphed him smartly, using their asterisks to remove all doubt as to who was meant. Before such an evening as this had ever crossed her maiden's dreams, Carlisle Heth had read of Hugo Canning....
It was a bad throat, a God-given touch of bronchitis or whatnot, that had sent the great young man south. This was known through Willie Kerr, and other private sources. Also, that he would remain with his Payne cousins through the following week; and in December might possibly return from the Carolinas or Florida for a few days' riding with the Hunt Club. Meantime he was here: and it was but Saturday, mid-evening, and a whole beautiful Sunday lay ahead....
From the piazza, after a turn or two, Miss Heth and Mr. Canning sauntered on to a little summer-house, which stood on the hotel front-lawn, not far from the piazza end. She had hesitated when he commended the pretty bower; but it was really the discreetest spot imaginable, under the public eye in all directions, and undoubtedly commanding a perfect view of the moonlight on the water, precisely as he pointed out.
In this retreat, "What a heavenly night!" exclaimed Miss Heth.
Canning, still standing, looked abroad upon a scene of dim beauty, gentle airs, and faint bright light. "Now that you say it," he replied, "it is. But depend on it, I should never have admitted it quarter of an hour ago."
"Oh! But isn't it rather tedious to deny what's so beautifully plain?"
"Should you say that tedious is the word? A better man than I denied his Lord."
"Yes," said Carlisle, not absolutely dead-sure of the allusion, "but he was frightened, wasn't he, or something?"
"And I was lonely. Loneliness beats fear hollow for making the world look out of whack."
"Doesn't it? And is there a lonesomer place on the globe than a summer resort out of season?"
"But we were speaking of fifteen minutes ago, were we not?" said Canning, and sat down beside her on the rustic bench.
The walls of this little summer-house were largely myth, and lattice for the rest. Through the interstices the dim brightness of the moon misted in, and the multitudinous rays from the hotel. There reached them the murmur of voices, the languorous lap of water. A serene and reassuring scene it surely was; there was no menace in the night's silvern calmness, no shadow of stalking trouble....
Carlisle imagined Mr. Canning to be capable of a rapid advance at his desire, and was opposed on principle to such a course of events. Still, she was saying, a moment or two later:
"And in the Payne fort on the Three Winds Road—I suppose you never feel lonely there?"
"Why fort, if one might know?"
"I've been told that you were awfully well barricaded there, prepared to stand any sort of siege."
Canning seemed quite amused. He declared, on the contrary, that neglect and unpopularity were his portion in a strange land.
"I'm an invalid on sick-leave," said he, "and my orders are to go to bed. Please don't smile, for it's all quite true ..."
He appeared to develop a certain interest in the moonlit talk. He proceeded in a voice and manner no longer purely civil:
"And, to bare my soul to you, I'm no fonder of being lonely than another man.... Do you know that, but for Kerr, you're my one acquaintance in all this part of the world? What shall we say of that? I sit at dinner, consumed by blue devils. I emerge, and behold, you walk across the lobby. Haven't I some right to feel that the gods are with me even at the Beach?"
Perchance she might have given him some information there, but instead she laughed musically.
"The god of the pretty speeches, at any rate! Must I tell you that you didn't look quite overjoyed when dear Willie came dragging you up?"
"I've no doubt I looked all sorts of ways, for I'd never felt more unfit for any society, including my own. The more is my debt to you for chasing my devils away.... But perhaps I owe you no thanks after all, as one guesses that you do these little services for others without any particular effort."
Carlisle glanced at him, smiling a little from her dusky eyes.
"Your experience is that most people find it a great effort to speak pleasantly to you, I suppose?"
"Again I point out to you that our talk is not of most people, but of you."
"Oh! And is there something particularly original about me? This grows exciting."
"I, for one, think that beauty is always original," said Canning, with sufficient impersonality, but no more.... "Still, we know, of course, that unaided it cannot drive the blues of others very far."
"After the sugar-coating comes the pill. Tell me in what way I have been deficient."
"Ah, that's yet to learn. To be charming by habit is an agreeable thing; but you haven't convinced me yet, you know, that you know how to be kind."